Mormons softening opposition to homosexuality … or not

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If you enjoy quality journalism, feel free to skip an Associated Press story out today on Mormons challenging their church’s stance on homosexuality.

But if you’re in the mood for a puff piece, wow … AP has produced a doozy!

From start to finish, this quasi-news report engages in unfettered cheerleading. Ready? OK!:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Wendy and Tom Montgomery went door-to-door in their California neighborhood in 2008 campaigning for the passage of an anti-gay marriage proposition. They were among thousands of faithful Mormons following the direction of a church that spent millions on the cause.

Then they learned last year that their 15-year-old son is gay — a revelation that rocked their belief system.

Now, Wendy Montgomery is leading a growing movement among Mormons to push The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to teach that homosexuality isn’t a sin.

Alas, AP never gets around to providing any concrete data to back up the claim of “a growing movement.”

The story does provide this big chunk of “background,” all without any named sources:

The Utah-based church’s stance on homosexuality has softened considerably since it was one of the leading forces behind California’s Proposition 8. A new website launched this year encourages more compassion toward gays, implores them to stay in the faith and clarifies that church leaders no longer “necessarily advise” gays to marry people of the opposite sex in what used to be a widely practiced Mormon workaround for homosexuality. In May, church leaders backed the Boy Scouts’ policy allowing gays in the ranks. Some gay Mormons who left or were forced out of the church say they are now being welcomed back — even though they remain in same-sex relationships.

Who says the church’s stance has “softened considerably?” The story doesn’t say.

Who are the gay Mormons welcomed back and allowed to remain in same-sex relationships? AP doesn’t bother to quote any of them.

That giant paragraph is followed by this transition:

It may seem like negligible progress to outsiders, but Mormon scholars say 2013 has been a landmark year for the religion on gay and lesbian issues.

How’s that for editorializing? (I’ll give it an A-plus.)

Throughout the story, AP presents the Montgomerys’ version of events as the gospel truth, such as:

One woman told Montgomery her children should be taken away from her and given to somebody who follows the teachings of the prophet. Montgomery and her husband had to step down from their church positions — he was the assistant bishop and she was a Sunday school teacher to teens — after parents flooded the bishop’s office with complaints that they were teaching homosexual propaganda that would turn other kids gay.

Their story is featured in a documentary made by the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University. The Montgomerys found the organization after getting frustrated with church therapists who told them Jordan was just going through a phase. The organization works with conservative religious families to help them navigate their doctrines while also accepting their gay children.

Does the woman who reportedly said offensive things have a name? Did AP attempt to contact her for a response? Apparently not.

Did AP attempt to contact anyone at the church the couple allegedly was asked to leave? How do church leaders respond to the Montgomerys’ claims? There’s no indication that AP felt a need to ask such questions.

Do the unnamed church therapists acknowledge telling Jordan that he was just going through a phase? Again, AP did not seem interested in quoting anyone other than the Montgomerys.

Meanwhile, AP boils down the church position on homosexuality to a single paragraph:

Still, the church has only gone so far. Church apostle Dallin H. Oaks reiterated this past weekend during a biannual conference that human laws cannot “make moral what God has declared immoral.” The church website, launched in December, reinforced that while same-sex attraction itself isn’t a sin, succumbing to it is.

Next up: “many” unidentified Mormons:

The contrasting messages from the church have left many Mormons struggling to figure out where they stand.

As to whether the messages really are “contrasting,” that would be a neat thing for a church official to comment on, right? Again, apparently not.

The AP story certainly takes a different tact and tone than a Salt Lake Tribune report by Godbeat pro Peggy Fletcher Stack:

On the second and final day of the LDS Church’s 183rd Semiannual General Conference, apostle Dallin H. Oaks bemoaned America’s dropping birthrates, later marriages and rising incidence of cohabitation as evidence of “political and social pressures for legal and policy changes to establish behaviors contrary to God’s decrees about sexual morality and the eternal nature and purposes of marriage and child-bearing.”

These pressures “have already permitted same-gender marriages in various states and nations,” Oaks told 20,000 Mormons gathered in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and millions more watching worldwide via telecasts and the Internet. “Other pressures would confuse gender or homogenize those differences between men and women that are essential to accomplish God’s great plan of happiness.”

An LDS eternal perspective does not allow Mormons “to condone such behaviors or to find justification in the laws that permit them,” said the apostle, a former Utah Supreme Court justice. “And, unlike other organizations that can change their policies and even their doctrines, our policies are determined by the truths God has declared to be unchangeable.”

The LDS stance against same-sex marriage might be misunderstood, elicit “accusations of bigotry” or trigger “invasions of our free exercise of religion,” he said. But “we should remember our first priority — to serve God — and, like our pioneer predecessors, push our personal handcarts forward with the same fortitude they exhibited.”

Hmmmmm.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Derek Johnson

    Pieces like this only have one goal: convince the public that even religious organizations will eventually abandoned the clear scriptures on homosexuality, so all religious people might as well follow suit. It’s so ironic: the same people who believe it’s morally right to walk out of a marriage if you hold no active emotions toward the other person tell everyone that who you are attracted to never changes.

  • dudeman1144

    pure propaganda

  • LetoII

    Couldn’t have said it any better than Mr. Derek Johnson here.

    I also really hated the glib use of the word “workaround” as in “what used to be a widely practiced Mormon workaround for homosexuality.” I would love to get a little background on this supposed phenomenon that the Mormon church engaged it. I would also guess that “workaround” was not their term for it, but that’s just me speculating.

  • Darren Blair

    As an actual Mormon, I can honestly say that there was more fluff in that AP article than in my pillow. There’s even more fluff in it than that old Maine Coon cat I used to have.

    For starters, the article ignores the fact that the church’s stance on Proposition 8 was based around both the legal definition of the word “marriage” and the way the church views marriage as a sacrament, especially in light of fears that churches may be legally obligated to perform same-sex marriages or risk discrimination lawsuits. It was on this point that the church drew the line in the sand, not homosexuality per se. I’ve actually spoken with fellow Mormons who are inclined to turn a blind eye towards common-law marriages for same-sex couples, and so the concept of the church being overtly anti-gay rights isn’t anywheres near accurate.

    From there, the lack of details raises more questions than answers, with some of these questions raising doubts about the actual credibility of the allegations themselves. For example, were those “church therapists” actually employed by LDS Social Services, or were they simply therapists who happened to also be Mormon? Big difference.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      From there, the lack of details raises more questions than answers, with some of these questions raising doubts about the actual credibility of the allegations themselves.

      I couldn’t agree more. As a reporter, facts are your friends. Report them as fully and fairly as possible. Ignoring them and telling only one side of the story just makes the news org look bad and even incompetent.

      • Darren Blair

        Also, I’d like to know what the paper defines as a “growing movement”.

        The media has made hay out of things like “Wear pants to church!” and “Let women into the Priesthood session of Conference!” in the past, only for the actual facts of the matter to be far more mundane (both seemingly provoked little more than a collective yawn and some ruffled feathers on both sides). This could well be just another case of that.

    • Taylor

      I like the reference “assitant bishop” instead of Bishop’s counselor. If you can’t get termonolgoy correct, then you lose credibilty.
      I agree, the fluff is amazing. The curch has been teaching the same doctrine on homosexuality for fourty years now, but because people (both members and non-members) intentionally misconstrued it one way for so long, now that it has been clarified people see it as a shift, and now some intentionally misconcture it the other direction.

      • LetoII

        Yeah, what did they mean by “assistant bishop”? I assume that was “counselor” or “member of the bishopric.” 1st assistant to the bishop is an assignment given to members of the Priests quorum, but I’m guessing it didn’t mean that.

      • Darren Blair

        I’ve had so many critics of the LDS faith – including various media outlets – blow smoke my way that my default response to documents like this here puff piece is to ask questions, poke holes, and pull threads.

        This article here is coming apart like a cheap shirt.

  • Philmonomer

    Not to be a downer, but that doesn’t look like any sort of official/permitted/authorized recording of the musical The Book of Mormon. I am pretty sure you aren’t allowed to repost it.