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LDS leaders speak out on same-sex attraction

Pamphlet attempts to clarify stance on issue

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LDS Church leaders have posted a new pamphlet on their Web site this week, answering questions often raised by church members regarding same-sex attraction and how to deal with it.

The new resource, which is being announced through a letter to LDS bishops and stake presidents, seeks to assure troubled church members of God's love despite challenges and questions, "including some related to same-gender attractions, (that) must await a future answer, even in the next life."

It does not touch on scientific theories about homosexuality or its origins but addresses how to deal with it from a spiritual perspective. The text uses the term "same-gender attraction" rather than "gay" or "homosexual" to distinguish between a lifestyle choice and an attraction only.

Church leaders were unavailable for comment on Thursday.

While few people have yet had a chance to study the new text, one therapist familiar with the content said it is a valid attempt by church leaders to reach out, acknowledging that anything official on such a volatile subject "can be misread. I feel for them," said David Pruden, executive director of the locally based Evergreen International — which specializes in counseling Latter-day Saints on the topic.

"People often ask why they don't talk more about it, but any time they try to, everyone is trying to manipulate what they say to read what they want to read into it," he said. The text has a compassionate and understanding tone, which some gay Latter-day Saints have said is lacking among some fellow church members.

The three-page document, expected to be made available soon in print form at the church's official Distribution Centers, is written in much the same tone as that used by top church leaders within the past decade, seeking to reach out and reassure Latter-day Saints that such "attractions alone do not make you unworthy."

"If you avoid immoral thoughts and actions, you have not transgressed (God's law of chastity) even if you feel such an attraction," it states, a point that has been emphasized by church President Gordon B. Hinckley and other top church leaders.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the church's Quorum of the Twelve has delivered speeches and wrote an article on the subject for the church's official magazine, the Ensign, in 1995. That article is quoted within the text, as are other past statements in official church publications.

The new document re-emphasizes the difference between attraction and behavior, citing the importance of faith in God, self-control and obedience to the church's law of chastity for members. "The desire for physical gratification does not authorize immorality by anyone," it states.

"True happiness depends on more than the expression of physical urges. These urges diminish as more fundamental emotional needs are met — such as the need to interact with and serve others," it says. "True happiness comes from self-control, self-respect and positive direction in life," as well as a "testimony of true doctrine."

It urges those who have felt rejected by fellow church members to "show love and kindness to others" in order to help change attitudes and "follow Christ more fully. No member of the church should ever be intolerant."

At the same time, "it is not helpful to flaunt homosexual tendencies or make them the subject of unnecessary observation or discussion," the document says. "It is better to choose as friends those who do not publicly display their homosexual feelings. The careful selection of friends and mentors who lead constructive, righteous lives is one of the most important steps to being productive and virtuous."

Pruden said the effort to produce such an official church document has been under way for at least a decade, and as church members deal more openly with the topic, a new resource was necessary. Opinions and input were sought from across a wide spectrum of LDS professionals and scholars, he said, noting his organization had no formal role in producing the document but was aware of the effort and provided limited input.

"Anything is better than where we are. I don't mean that in a negative way. This is a hard subject, and silence is hard on people who are often looking for input and ideas," Pruden said. "Some are begging for anyone that will give them some help and hope and a little clarity. From that standpoint, doing something (like this) is important."

He lauded administrators at church-owned Brigham Young University for their attempt earlier this year to clarify the subject for students worried about whether they are breaking the school's honor code if they are attracted to others of the same gender. "They were really trying to help students — not confuse or frighten anyone. They were trying to turn the temperature down under the pot," urging students to seek counseling from school officials without fear.

"A lack of information often leads people to speculate," he said, adding officials are seeking to help church members understand the faith's stance without "turning it into a drama."

To see the new document, titled "God Loveth His Children," go to www.lds.org, click on "gospel library" then search under "support materials."

On the net:

www.lds.org/God Loveth His Children

E-mail: carrie@desnews.com