Letter on same-sex marriage has Mormons talking, listening

Some Mormons left church in tears, distraught at the anti-LGBT sentiments tossed around by their fellow believers. Others emerged exuberant, surprised by the kindness shown toward their gay brothers and sisters.

Either way, at least they were talking — and in a religious setting — about an often uncomfortable, even taboo, topic: same-sex marriage.

Just days after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized the practice in all 50 states, the LDS Church sent its lay leaders in the United States and Canada an unusual request:

Read a letter from Mormonism’s top leaders to all members, reiterating the Utah-based faith’s steadfast support of “traditional” marriage and other stances on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, so the instructions said, but do it in another meeting than the main sacrament (worship) service and possibly use provided materials to lead a discussion about homosexuality.

This, the governing LDS First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote, should happen on either July 5 or 12.

In other words, save for the edict that the entire statement be read, officials with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not dictate how or when the materials should be discussed — an open-ended, individualized approach that is largely unprecedented in the LDS Church on such a major topic.

This ensured the experience would vary dramatically from region to region, ward to ward, bishop to bishop. And so it did last Sunday, according to reports from the Bay Area to Boston, Brooklyn, Baltimore and Boise, from Denver to Detroit, from Albuquerque to Atlanta.

Before the Sabbath ended, members were sharing their experiences on social media, both positive and negative.

“We were encouraged to prepare ourselves for the apocalypse after an unelected body trampled the Constitution,” Joseph Stuart tweeted.

It was “a train wreck,” filled with distrust and fear and ‘us’ verses ‘them’ comments,” wrote a Lehi member. “With the exception of one lovely woman, every comment and response was a reflection of perceived victimhood, how our religious freedoms are being attacked, and the persecution our church is under. There was almost nothing about Christlike love or compassion for those who are different than us. It was awful.”

But another Lehi member noted that “the bishopric member reading it prefaced it by talking about his friend who is gay and how much he loves that friend. Then the YW had its regular lesson and the topic came up and they were basically counseled to be good to everyone.”

In Bloomington, Ill., an attendee said, members asked questions such as “What if my friend invites me to their gay wedding?” or “What if someone who is gay wants to come to church?” The bishop replied, “Are they your friend? Tell them we’d love to have them.”

The letter itself counseled members to “love and treat all people with kindness and civility — even when we disagree.”

“We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same‐sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully,” it said. “Indeed, the church has advocated for rights of same‐sex couples in matters of hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment, and probate, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.”

In Rochester, N.Y., the bishop was “quite upbeat and even friendly in his approach,” wrote Jerry Argetsinger, a gay Mormon. “He said to the congregation, ‘Regardless of what you think about the SCOTUS decision, it is here to stay. So get used to it.’ ”