“They’re loved. They’re supported. They’re part of the church,” said L. Whitney Clayton, who serves on the Presidency of the Seventy, making him one of the most powerful leaders in the Mormon Church. “We want them to feel happy and included in the kingdom of God.”
To that end, the church released its glossy new website Tuesday, filled with high-production-value videos of gay and lesbian people explaining how they manage to stay Mormon and find fulfillment without entering same-sex relationships.
But to advocates for LGBT inclusion, the new website’s words of welcome fall far short of sufficient. Welcoming gay people without welcoming gay relationships, they say, is no true welcome at all. And this website does not introduce any change to the strict position of the church, which last year declared that anyone in a same-sex relationship is an apostate, and their children cannot be baptized unless they are over 18 and have renounced their parents’ relationship and moved out of their house.
“It’s highly problematic,” John Dehlin, founder of the popular podcast Mormon Stories, said about the church’s outreach to gay people, before seeing the new website. “They’re acting like the most homophobic church in all of Christianity. And yet they’re trying to send this double message that gays are welcome.”
The videos tell personal stories. In one, a woman named Laurie paints tiles, walks on the beach near her California home, and plays a board game with her husband and son. She talks about her history of dating women.
“I ended up with a woman who I fell in love with and I felt like I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, and it felt right. But there were still times when I had this feeling that God did not want me in that life,” she says. She went to church. She married a man.
Another video features Josh, who has for the time being chosen a life of celibacy as a gay Mormon. “I’ve had to have conversations with God. God, why am I doing this?” he says in the video. “What God is going to bless me with in the next life is going to be the thing that brings me the ultimate happiness.”
They’re meant to set an example for other struggling Mormons and for congregational leaders at Mormon stakes across the country whose members might seek guidance. “We want everyone involved in dealing with these situations to feel hope — to feel that there are paths that one can walk and remain in the light and remain in what we believe is the doctrine of God,” said Von G. Keetch, another senior Mormon leader.
But to Dehlin, those examples are misleading. “They’re parading around dramatic exceptions, at the expense of the vast majority who will find those lifestyles to be toxic,” he said.
As part of research for his PhD, Dehlin said, he helped conduct a survey of 1,612 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who were currently or formerly Mormon. His team of researchers found that two-thirds had left the Mormon Church. Those who remained in the church — either entering heterosexual marriages despite their homosexuality or remaining celibate — reported far higher levels of depression and lower quality of life and self-esteem than those who left the church.
“These studies suggest that being gay and Mormon is toxic for most people, and it’s untenable for most people,” Dehlin said.