"A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you." John 13:34
Jesus Christ commanded his followers to love their neighbors no matter who or what they were. A new stance from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints echoes that commandment by accepting that people’s sexual orientation is not by choice but is how they were born.
The LDS Church launched a Web site, www.mormonsandgays.org, to discuss same-sex attraction and to encourage its members to be more compassionate to those who are gay and lesbian.
The site lists an official church stance that says, "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 of God's children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters."
Pima Stake President Craig Tyler said church leaders have spent a long time reviewing and studying the issue and that the new stance will affect church members in the Gila Valley who are dealing with same-sex attraction.
"There are a lot of challenges that people face in life," Tyler said, "and at this point, we don't have all the answers. But I am confident that we have a loving Heavenly Father who loves all of His children and wants us all to be happy and successful."
The mormonsand gays Web site states that while the LDS Church accepts gay and lesbian members to serve in church callings, it does so only if those members do not engage in homosexual activity. Clergy are not paid positions in the LDS Church and members are called to various offices, including the priesthood, bishopric and area leadership.
"Members of the Church who have same-sex attractions, but don't act on them, can continue to enjoy full fellowship in the church, which includes holding the priesthood, carrying out callings and attending the temple," the Web site states. "Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex.
The LDS Church is family-oriented and has staunchly defended marriage as only being between a man and a woman. Members are also asked to adhere to the commandment of the Law of Chastity that does not allow for sexual relations outside of marriage.
The LDS Church's new stance seemingly mirrors some regulations on homosexuality taken by other mainstream Christian churches, such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church, while still being unique in other areas.
The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, welcomes celibate gay and lesbian people but bars celibate gay men from Catholic seminaries. Catholics, like the LDS Church's new stance, believe a person's sexual orientation is not by choice and do not consider it a sin to simply be gay or lesbian but does consider it to be a sin to engage in homosexual relations. The Catechism states, "Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection."
The Presbyterian Church is even more accepting to homosexual peoples and passed a measure in 2011 to allow openly noncelibate gay men and women to be ordained as clergy. A smaller offshoot of the Presbyterian Church called the Presbyterian Church in America, however, does not ordain women or openly homosexual clergy.
The main Presbyter-ian Church amended the text of its Book of Order, which formerly banned noncelibate gay clergy who did not live "within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman." The revised text doesn't specifically mention gay clergy but removes the requirement of chastity for nonmarried clergy.
Other Protestant denominations that have also dropped bans on gay clergy include the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church.
However, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, Southern Baptists, still adheres to the belief that sexual preference is a choice and those who have same-sex attraction are committing a sin simply by having the attraction. Southern Baptists do not classify it as an unforgivable sin, however, and believe homosexual people can eventually overcome their sexual orientation.
With its new stance, the LDS Church hopes to encourage its members to "respond sensitively and thoughtfully when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other church members or elsewhere," according to the mormonsandgays Web site.
"It's a difficult situation," Tyler said. "It's a difficult challenge for families that struggle with it, but, in the end, there will be resolution and blessing forthcoming for those who strive to be obedient."