The Mormon Church came out yesterday with a new website www.mormonandgay.lds.org, which replaces the former website www.mormonsandgays.org, which many Mormons did not know how to find or did not believe was approved information. While the website is a step forward in some ways, including being easier to find and more obviously church-approved, there are good reasons that LGBT advocates are rolling their eyes at some parts of it.
First of all, if you haven't seen the parent tip section on the site, https://mormonandgay.lds.org/articles/ten-tips-for-parents, you haven't seen one of the best resources ever for Mormon parents, many of who have grown up believing that if they did everything right they would never have to deal with their kids coming out. Some parents do great. Others don't do as well, even if they are loving, out of pure shock. Here are some of the best ideas:
1. Say "I love you."
2. Don't pray for an answer to "Why?"
3. Your child is a precious soul.
4. It's never too late to say "I'm sorry" if you blurted out the wrong thing.
The header on the website is "God Loves His Children," which is great. There are also videos on the website of Mormons who are gay. Using the word "gay" is in itself an enormous step forward, in my opinion. However, there is a tendency to revert to the "same-sex attraction" phrase, which is code for an attitude of pathology, no matter how often the church insists that's not the case.
The website stories insist that we don't know why some people are born with same-sex attraction. This is an improvement over stories that insisted it was caused by masturbation or by child sex abuse, equating homosexuality with sexual perversion. It's also an improvement over the insistence that God would never cause someone to be born this way, therefore it has to be a choice.
It's also problematic, in my opinion, that there is still a tendency to push gay Mormons into mixed orientation marriages, while insisting that that isn't what they're doing. Since this is the only institutionally approved way of having a temple-sealed family and therefore of being part of Mormon heaven, it seems a bit disingenuous.
Finally, there is a pervasive sense of sorrow over people who are LGBT. While we're being told that God loves "even gay people," as if that is someone more difficult than loving heterosexual people.
Along with the new website, there is an attached essay titled "Same-Sex Attraction" that is part of the series of "Gospel Topics" essays being added to periodically on the church website. Some thoughts on this essay, which has many of the similar good/bad moments as the new website. While it's great that the essay says "identifying as gay is not a sin" and that members who identify as such are still worthy to hold temple recommends and be called to serve in the ward, the section on "sexual purity" return to the theme of sin. Only heterosexual married sex is pure, while homosexual sex (including holding hands, kissing, etc) is "immoral" and "sinful and will "get in the way of our eternal progress."
The teen suicide rate in Utah is among the highest in the nation, and while no one factor can be pointed to as the cause of this, the attitude toward the LGBT community may be a significant factor. While Mormons often congratulate themselves on being kind and tolerant to all, and even in showing love to their gay friends and family members, I think that more Mormons need to give some thought to the reality of being gay and Mormon. What is the place of gay Mormons in heaven? Before you answer that they will be there with everyone else, consider the terms of this placement. If no one who continues to identify as gay is in heaven because they have been "healed," what message does this send to gay members of our community?
Are gay Mormons first-class or second-class citizens? What does it mean when we have no gay leaders of the church? How do gay members make sure their point of view is seen by the leadership and their concerns are heard? If you were told that you would be unhappy and lonely the rest of your life on Earth, but would be "cured" and happy in heaven, is that a useful thing to say? If we treat being gay as suffering or as a disease, how do gay members connect with other members without feeling they should hide this information? How do we become a true "body of Christ?" These are questions I feel the website and essay have left unanswered. While ambiguity can be a good thing, I am not sure it is here.