While reading over the Church's new Mormon and Gay website, one ultimate feeling and message pervades every story and every page: love.
God loves His children.
We are to love and empathize with others.
In fact, the first message on the home page written in bold letters is "God Loveth His Children."
While the new website states clearly and honestly much of what our Church leaders have already taught us, it also offers a few new insights into how Church members understand same-sex attraction and our brothers and sisters who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual.
Because the website focuses on homosexuality and same-sex attraction, it does not discuss gender dysphoria or transgender issues. As Mormon and Gay states, "same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria are very different. For example, those who experience gender dysphoria may or may not also experience same-sex attraction, and the majority of those who experience same-sex attraction do not desire to change their gender. From a psychological and ministerial perspective, the two are different."
As the website states, "There is no change in the Church’s position of what is morally right. But what is changing—and what needs to change—is helping Church members respond sensitively and thoughtfully when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other Church members, or elsewhere."
Feelings of Same-Sex Attraction Are Not a Sin
Elder M. Russell Ballard made our understanding on this point transparent:
“Let us be clear: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that ‘the experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including [those with same-sex attraction]’” (“The Lord Needs You Now!” Ensign, Sept. 2015, 29).
Those Who Identify as Gay Are Needed in the Church
We need diversity in the Church. Different perspectives and different life experiences strengthen us as a people and as followers of God. We need those who will share their stories, who will help us gain better empathy, and who will help us see and love as God does.
As Elder D. Todd Christofferson states, “Everyone has gifts; everyone has talents; everyone can contribute to the unfolding of the divine plan in each generation. . . . And when you who bear the heaviest burdens of mortality stand up in defense of God’s plan to exalt His children, we are all ready to march. With confidence we testify that the Atonement of Jesus Christ has anticipated and, in the end, will compensate all deprivation and loss for those who turn to Him. No one is predestined to receive less than all that the Father has for His children” (“Why Marriage, Why Family,” Apr. 2015 general conference).
No Two Stories Are the Same
From returned missionaries to parents of gay and lesbian children to victims of sexual abuse, the stories Mormon and Gay tells are brutally honest yet beautiful in their openness and insights. As you read and listen to these personal accounts and hear the perspectives of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and those who experience same-sex attraction, each story is unique. Each person's struggle is real and incredibly personal.
But whether struggling to reconcile their beliefs with their own sexual orientation or struggling to reconcile their faith with a family member's choices, each person has found increased peace and comfort when they turn to God's love and our Savior's Atonement.
Same-Sex Attraction Is Not a Choice, but Our Response to It Is
"The Church does not take a position on the cause of same-sex attraction," Mormon and Gay states. "While one may not have chosen to have these feelings, he or she can commit to keep God’s commandments."
An important part of this discussion is the response of Church members who learn their loved ones or ward members are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. "The parent of a child who experiences same-sex attraction or identifies as gay should choose to love and embrace that child," the site states. "As a community of Church members, we should choose to create a welcoming community."
We Can Fully Love and Include Those Who Live Differently Than We Do
Despite differences in faith, in lifestyle, and in choices, we should follow the Savior's example and fully love those in our families and neighborhoods who live differently than we do.
"What does it mean to love one another?" the site asks. "Love cares. Love listens. Love includes. Love inspires. Love is at the heart of what makes us human, for we are children of God, and 'God is love' (1 John 4:8). At the Last Supper, the Savior reiterated, 'By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another' (John 13:35).
"The commandment to love one another includes those who don’t see the world the same way we do. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained . . . 'The Father’s plan of salvation, which we know by prophetic revelation, places us in a mortal circumstance where we are to keep His commandments. That includes loving our neighbors of different cultures and beliefs as He has loved us.' (“Loving Others and Living with Differences,” Oct. 2014 general conference)."
Everyone Needs to Understand More About How Same-Sex Attraction Works
Whether a family member, friend, a laurel or priest you teach, a member you home or visit teach, we will all interact with those in our wards and families who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual. As a Church, it's important we build a culture of love, support, and acceptance and that we understand how we can best help and understand our fellow ward members.
It's important for us to understand what terms like sexual orientation, identity, emotional and sexual attraction, gay, lesbian, and bisexual mean so we can truly hear and understand what others are telling us, without jumping to conclusions.
There Is Still So Much We Do Not Know
"There is so much we don't know about this subject," Dallin H. Oaks says on a Mormon and Gay video.
Keeping this in mind will help us reach out with more understanding and keep an open mind even as we rely on our faith and the truths we do know.
These are difficult, complex topics that are even more complicated when you add in real-life experience. We should all exercise patience, love, and empathy as we all try to learn and navigate these new topics together.
The Mormon and Gay website is a launching point for members to begin building understanding, and just as the website's resources and stories will grow with time and new experiences, we too can grow as we embrace new opportunities to establish love and understanding.