In an evolution from its past teachings, the Mormon Church launched a new website Thursday asserting that sexuality is not a personal choice.
An official statement at the top of the site reads:
The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
The church maintains its longheld position that it is sinful to "act on" homosexuality, a range of actions that runs from romantic hand-holding to gay sex. But the church's unqualified statement that "individuals do not choose to have such attractions" represents a departure from past remarks by church officials.
As recently as 2008, Mormon apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks said the church had no position on the "nature or nurture" debate and emphasized that "susceptibility or inclination to one behavior or another" could be resisted by faithful individuals.
More broadly, the new website — which can be found at the bluntly titled URL mormonsandgays.org — is the clearest illustration yet of the church's effort to soften its tone and reach out to gay Mormons and others who may have been hurt by its institutional support for having gay marriage banned in California.
Since 2008, when the church encouraged its members to get involved in the high-profile fight over Proposition 8 — and drew intense blowback from the LGBT rights movement and its allies — the church has worked to establish peace with the gay community. In 2010, it officially endorsed gay rights initiatives in Salt Lake City that stopped short of civil unions or marriage. And in recent years, the church has avoided playing a highly public role in other gay marriage battles.
Meanwhile, the public has grown more sympathetic toward same-sex marriage, with one Gallup poll this week showing more than half of Americans supporting it. And stories of gay Mormons struggling to reconcile their faith and sexuality have grown more common in the media.
This new site features videos of top church leaders talking about counseling with Mormons who suffered from AIDS in the '80s, and urging Mormon parents not to reject children who decide to pursue a gay "lifestyle."
"Let's not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender," says Elder Quentin Cook, another apostle, in one video.
It also splashes across its homepage an article headlined, "Love One Another — The Great Christian Imperative," and shows videos of gay Mormons who are living a "chaste" lifestyle, both celibate and married to opposite-sex spouses.
Church spokesman Michael Purdy told the Deseret News that the site, which is two years in the making, was meant to clarify the church's position on homosexuality.
"There are some aspects of our belief and practice that are simply not well understood," Purdy said, adding, "Too often these types of big, important issues are dealt with in sound bites, and often by individuals who do not have the complete picture of what the church is doing."