Surprisingly, with an estimated attendance of only 300 at the conference, media outlets such as the Huffington Post, have picked up on the event as news worthy. But some have a very interesting reason for this, and I'm not sure that it's necessarily focused on the true content and purpose of the conference... at least I hope not.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune (SLT), an LDS bishop from Illinois, a featured speaker at the conference on Sunday, reportedly said that "the way gays are treated and perceived by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an "atrocity"". The bishop also said that "If you leave here not remembering what I have to say, remember this: I'm sorry". He then went so far as to say that " The straight members of the church have a lot of repenting to do".
However, conference sponsor and friend of sponsor are defending that what was reported by the SLT was not really what was said, or intended. They feel the bishop's talk was wrongly interpreted and have concerns that the bishop's message is being misrepresented. I've included video of the LDS bishop's talk below.
From my perspective this is really unfortunate, because in the end, this confusion only lends itself to a further communication breakdown between gay Mormons and the official LDS Church's position on homosexuality. In my opinion, a local bishop has no authority to ever speak in such a way that his words or personal position might be mistaken as official -- even if he covers himself by saying that they are not. This seems to be one of those situations where a decision was made to allow his opinion to be made public, knowing full well that the possibility of misrepresentation existed. One can only speculate as to the real reasons and motives this acting LDS bishop was allowed to address the conference. A recent blog post over on the LDS Newsroom comes to mind, titled: Informed Reading in This "Mormon Moment"
I think it's important to know, if you don't already, that there is an ongoing conversation amongst gay advocates, both inside and outside of the LDS Church, in regard to the responsibility that the Church should officially assume for the unfortunate suicides of young gay Mormons. It is a sad and sensitive issue -- one that easily incites extremely passionate feelings. There has been for sometime now, a call for the Church to officially apologize for its perceived mistreatment of gay Mormon members. Also, the position that the LDS Church takes, in particular the involvement of California's Prop 8, on same-sex marriage -- hotly debated as being anti-gay.
These are only two of the hot button issues that continue to fuel the chasm between gay Mormons and the LDS Church, and continue to create a divide that to many seems insurmountable. And yet, it is my understanding that conferences such as this one, hosted by Mormon Stories, is intended to help bridge this great divide and encourage healing for gay Mormons and their families. So it makes me sad when the purported focus of such an event is overshadowed by a potential misrepresentation that will only continue to fuel the fire.
I'm a firm believer that education creates understanding, and that as we come to understand others, our ability to love and accept increases. I believe that this principle works both ways. If we continue to find fault with each other, we will never find healing for those things that divide us. I also believe that intention is at the heart of all action. It is my opinion that the intentions of the LDS Church in relation to those with same-gender attraction has never been oppositional to individuals personally -- only toward the act.
Certainly I am aware of the 'history of homosexuality' in the Church, and its ongoing and unfortunate misrepresentation. I also know that much has been done and is currently being done to heal those wounds and create greater respect for those, within the Church, who struggle with same-gender attraction.
There is no question, in my experience, that members of the LDS Church are growing in their ability to better understand, love and accept gay members. And I believe that this is happening in direct relation to our embracing the official position of the Church, on the issue of same-gender attraction, and putting those principles into action.
Personally, I have a very tender place in my heart for faithful and active gay Mormons, who truly desire to be included in the gospel family. I am confident that there are many just waiting to feel confident enough, that members will embrace them with open arms, without judgement, truly emulating the love of Jesus Christ -- to safely welcome them back home.
I also believe that the majority of 'straight' members of the Church, sincerely desire to do just that...
Deseret News: Conference explores unique challenges of gay Mormons