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Mormon Church disputes HRC, says news release about same-sex attraction 'can't be taken seriously'

Mormon Church spokesman Lyman Kirkland just sent me this statement regarding today's HRC news release:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released this statement regarding the HRC press release: "The HRC press release mischaracterizes the Church’s position and can’t be taken seriously."

-- Lyman Kirkland, Public Affairs, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Earlier Tuesday, the church posted an article on its blog titled, Context and Controversy. The post is vague but here's what it says:

Veteran newsman Ted Koppel, in a Washington Post opinion piece this morning, laments the passing of what he calls “a long-gone era of television journalism, when the networks considered the collection and dissemination of substantive and unbiased news to be a public trust.”

Koppel’s essay is an increasingly common refrain as traditional journalism undergoes a metamorphosis in the face of declining revenues and wholesale shifts of readers and viewers to the Internet. Context and balance are, more and more often, the casualties.

A case in point: On Saturday, 13 November 2010, the Church distributed a new administrative handbook to hundreds of thousands of lay leaders around the world. The handbook provides guidelines for administering local Church programs, serving members and ensuring continuity of Church operations around the world.

The previous evening, reporter Brian Mullahy of Salt Lake City’s CBS affiliate, KUTV 2, presented the station’s viewers with his interpretation of the significance of the handbook. From the nearly 200 pages of content, his report focused entirely on four short paragraphs included under the handbook heading “Homosexual Behavior and Same-Gender Attraction.”

This content was then adorned with footage from general conference and protesters around Temple Square, followed by comments from two gay activists. Mullahy says, “Now, more than a month later, this,” implying that changes in the handbook were somehow linked to those events.

Prior to the airing of the story, Public Affairs received a call from a KUTV producer inquiring about the handbook. We were quick to supply the station with broad context of the revised handbook, what it meant for local Church congregations and consequently what it meant for thousands of KUTV’s viewers. The KUTV report made no reference to any of that. In fact, far from the language change in the handbook being the result of public pressure, the process of revising it began in 2007 and copies were printed months ago. The information supplied in the handbook on the topic of homosexuality is entirely consistent with existing Church resources and encourages reaching “out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender.”

Were KUTV and other media justified in drawing attention to updated language in that one section? Of course. Was it presented in proper context and with the correct interpretation? Hardly. We all know that journalists will look for what they find “newsworthy,” but highly selective and misleading reporting is a disservice to the readers and viewers of KUTV as much as it is to the subject being covered.

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While I welcome the recent LDS policy changes in regards to homosexuals with with open arms, there remains one area of policy that still makes me shudder, that is explained in the new Handbook 2 of Administering the Church – 2010.

This is the current policy of permanently annotating the records of LDS church members who have once engaged in homosexual activity, thereby marking them permanently throughout their Church lives, in a manner that will guarantee that all new wards and leaders (and possibly even the membership) will be informed of the legacy of that person’s current condition and/or past life.

The Church sates that it reserves such permanent annotations only on the records of members “whose conduct has threatened the well-being of other persons or of the Church”, and this is done in order to help the bishop “protect Church members and others from such individuals” (p. #70).

Notably, there is no mention of this requirement for any person found guilty of repeated heterosexual activities, which shows that the Church still regards homosexual activity to be a much greater sin and threat to its membership.

The offence of “repeated homosexual activities (by adults)” is placed alongside other atrocities such as incest, sexual offense against or serious physical abuse of a child, plural marriage and predatory conduct (p# 71).

While the LDS church truly believes in and preaches repentance and forgiveness, even to the point described in D&C 58:42 - “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more,” current policies make the “remembering no more” part virtually impossible as “In all cases, an annotation on a membership record is removed only with First Presidency approval upon request of the stake president” (p. #70).

Such permanent markers for being a homosexual (or even claiming to be a reformed homosexual who has since repented and now refrains) is reminiscent of the pink triangle “annotation” given by Hitler and the Nazis upon all homosexuals rounded up and placed in concentration camps along with all of the others deemed undesirable at the time.

LDS people with a past that includes homosexual activities should be informed of this current policy so they can decide in advance, before submitting themselves to formal LDS disciplinary processes, whether they want the permanent stain of this annotation to mark the remainder of their lives in LDS fellowship.

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