Less than twenty days before a scheduled historic meeting between representatives of the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and leaders of Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons, the LDS Church has backed out.
In a letter addressed to David Melson, Assistant Executive Director of Affirmation, Fred M. Riley, one of two people designated by LDS Church President Thomas Monson to represent the Church, stated that, “after much consideration, we have determined that it would be best to postpone our anticipated meeting on August 11.”
Riley cited his recent acceptance of “a new assignment with the LDS church” as the reason for the postponement. A staff person at LDS Family Services told Affirmation that the meeting would be rescheduled after a new Family Services Commissioner is named in three to six months.
“We deeply regret the Church’s decision to put the dialogue between us on hold,” said Melson. “We wish Fred Riley well in his new position, and we hope that the Church’s decision is not related to the current political activity in California or to any lack of commitment on the part of the First Presidency to making the LDS Church a safe space for all of its members.”
The LDS Church is currently instructing its members to fight for passage of an amendment to the California Constitution (Proposition 8) which would define marriage as being between one man and one woman, ending the civil marriage equality that Californians now enjoy. Mormons in California are being instructed by Church leaders to give both time and financial contributions to the campaign.
Affirmation had offered an invitation to meet and to discuss issues on which the two groups could work together to Thomas S. Monson, President of the 13-million member church, shortly after Monson took office in February of this year. Monson accepted Affirmation’s invitation in early March and instructed Fred Riley and Harold Brown to meet with the top leaders of Affirmation.
“Gay & Lesbian members of the Church want a constructive dialog with the Church leadership and have waited many years for this opportunity," noted Affirmation Executive Director Olin Thomas. “We hope that President Monson will either designate a General Authority of the Church to meet with us on August 11, or that he will offer to quickly reschedule the meeting.”
Hundreds of families are broken each year, and many hundreds more are driven away from the Church when a family member comes out as being gay. The discomfort and the guilt that the non-gay family members feel in LDS settings can be every bit as severe as for the gay family member. This is a problem on which Affirmation’s leaders feel that they can work with Church leaders to everyone’s benefit.
As the attitudes of society have become more accepting of a greater diversity of people and ideas, the process of “coming out” as gay has become less traumatic and tends to occur at an earlier age. Couple this with the LDS Church’s official view (expressed on www.lds.org) that simply being gay is no longer considered a sin and should not bar anyone from holding a calling in the Church, and a change is being seen among gay LDS members.
“Increasingly, gay people in their teens and twenties want to be able to be able to live their lives as both Mormon and gay, and are not willing to compromise or to be forced to choose between their faith and their biological make up,” said Affirmation Young Adult Director George Cole.
In a personal letter to Monson, the Affirmation delegation invited Monson or any other General Authority of the Church to meet with them while they are in Salt Lake City on August 11. The letter was signed by Executive Director Olin Thomas of Virginia, Assistant Executive Director David Melson of Maryland, and Young Adult Director George Cole of California.