This week in a BYU Provo marketing class of several hundred students, an employee of the LDS Church PR department came as a guest speaker on branding. He pulled up a website concerning showing love towards gay people and called it an “evil and faith-destroying website,” that had appropriated the Church’s logo to make unsuspecting viewers believe it was authoritative.
What was this sinister website? None other than mormonsandgays.org, which the Church PR department created in 2012 and proudly announced in the Deseret News and the Church Newsroom. The website includes video clips from prominent general authorities such as Elder Dallin H. Oaks, D. Todd Christofferson, and Quentin L. Cook, as well as the testimonies of many faithful members who experience same-sex attraction. While its primary intended audience was for non-members who were concerned about the Church’s stance on gay marriage, the site nonetheless contains valuable testimonies and counsel for everyone.
Clearly the PR employee did not do enough research before his presentation, and I think it is fair to call this an honest mistake. Several students from the course emailed the professor about the error, and the following class period he read an email from the presenter clarifying that the site was in fact genuine and that it will soon be updated with more resources for members and bishops. And the professor apologized for any confusion the previous lecture may have caused. He did not, however, recant his statement that mormonsandgays.org was a so-called “evil and faith-destroying website”, much to the confusion of those in the class who had anticipated such a correction.
While this incident is closed, it is a good illustration of deeper endemic problems in our Church culture that we should address.
1) Our message of love is under-publicized. mormonsandgays.org is actually a great resource that underscores the need for unconditional love. As Elder Cook explains in his video: “As a church, nobody should be more loving and compassionate. Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion and outreach.” Would that every member could hear this! Yet it is not on lds.org, nor does it follow typical LDS website style, and most members and bishops have no idea it exists. Even a Church PR employee didn’t recognize it! So though the brethren are preaching a message of love, they aren’t doing it in a way that most members can hear.
2) Mormons view acceptance and love of LGBTQ/SSA people with mistrust. We are so fixated on not accepting homosexuality that we often don’t accept homosexual people. This employee must not have bothered to read through the website; he just saw that it was about accepting gay people and assumed it was evil. And unfortunately, many of the students in that class (several hundred!) will walk away thinking the same thing. When a sibling or a friend comes out of the closet and eagerly shows them the website, hoping for acceptance, they will remember that it is a “fraudulent” site and refuse to look at it. We have a culture of turning our backs on LGBT people, and we have to work hard to unlearn that.
3) There are very few official resources for LGBTQ/SSA Mormons. Statistically speaking, there were a couple dozen queer people in that class. Of all the people there, they were the ones who probably visited the site the most, searching for answers on how to stay faithful. I can only imagine the pain they must have felt as the few words from prophets that emphasized their humanity were called into question. How many will be afraid to look for new resources now that the idea of “faith-destroying” websites has been planted? This presentation may have further isolated queer members.
4) Mormons have an “us vs. them” mentality towards LGBTQ/SSA people. There are the good people of the Church and the evil queer people prowling outside our doors. There’s never any overlap, no bisexual boys in the Deacons Quorum, nor transgender men in the choir, or even a lesbian girl in a BYU marketing class. We think we can say anything we want about “those people” because we have made them Other. The Church PR employee never stopped to think about the many queer people in that classroom, only in ensuring that everyone was warned away from deceiving homosexual topics, even when it meant steering them away from the words of our own prophets (albeit unwittingly). And the LGBTQ people outside of the Church are our siblings as well. Even if they had created the website instead of the Church, it is telling that many would refuse to engage with it without even reading it. The queer community has many flaws, but we Mormons could learn a thing or two about love, acceptance, community, and self-worth from them.
The sad part is that incidents like these occur every day among members of the Church. It happens in BYU classrooms, in Sunday School classes, and meetings with bishops. Members assume they know what the prophets are saying on issues of homosexuality, but they haven’t done the homework to actually read the words. Without changing a wit of doctrine, we could make the Church so much more welcoming for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Compassion, empathy, and real listening would help us become true disciples of Christ in loving our neighbors, even as our Father loves them.