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Public relations or revelations? 

In March, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, “Mormon” for us common folk, shared a new revelation from God: LGBTQ people are no longer labeled “apostates” and the children of LGTBQ people can now be baptized in the LDS church. It looks like these Latter Day Saints are making some progressive steps towards equality!

Or are they?

The recent change within the LDS church is simply reneging on a previous policy, when God declared LGBTQ people to be apostates — in 2015.

This isn’t the first time the church has made quick changes in the name of a revelation. Back in 1834, the LDS church removed “Jesus Christ” from its name and then returned it in 1838, while other policies took longer to shift. It would take 126 years for the church to admit black congregants into the priesthood. 

When I asked the public affairs section of the LDS church about how the current change is being interpreted, they simply pointed me to their newsroom website, which states: “These policy changes come after an extended period of counseling with our brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and after fervent, united prayer to understand the will of the Lord on these matters.” 

I was confused by the lack of explanation, and I wasn’t the only one. To take a pulse on people’s thoughts, I chatted with some Mormon Reddit users.

“I personally was happy to hear it,” said Reddit user PXaZ, “but the lack of any sort of explanation or apology except to claim that yet again, this policy change is a result of revelation makes it a tough pill to swallow. This now asks people to accept that God proclaimed one policy only to completely reverse it only a few years later.”

John Leavitt, 28, an openly gay Mormon who grew up in Colorado Springs, asks similar questions: “Was this really God’s will? Did he really inspire this policy? Or is the church’s PR department just trying to cover their butts after some bitter reactions? Would God declare a policy change in his church and then, seeing that his children were unhappy with it, go ahead and revoke it?”

While current Mormons seem confused by the change, reasons are far clearer in ex-Mormon circles. “The rank-and-file, butts-in-pews Mormons tend to hold a much more liberal and embracing view of gays than the corporate hierarchy at church HQ [headquarters] in SLC [Salt Lake City] does,” said Reddit user crystalmerchant. “Which in my opinion, is driving the recent HQ shift to the left.”

This was probably most publicly seen when students at Brigham Young University, a Mormon college, protested the Honor Code Office for its treatment of LGBTQ students, the punishment of raped girls and incentives for tattling on fellow students. Something is clearly happening between the younger generation of Mormons and church leadership. Plus, major Mormon public figures are speaking out for LGBTQ rights. 

In 2018, Imagine Dragons’ singer and frontman Dan Reynolds created a documentary called Believer, which addressed LGBTQ suicide, the leading cause of death in Utah individuals between the ages of 11-17. The documentary was a powerful statement about how the shame around homosexuality in the LDS church is affecting queer Mormon youth.

Another factor that may have affected Mormon LGBTQ policy: Both the 2015 policy change and the 2019 change happened around the same time that Utah passed LGBTQ-related legislation — an anti-discrimination bill in 2015, and an LGBTQ protection bill in 2019.

So what is the actual cause? God changing his mind? Pressure from a progressive congregation? Legislation? But there’s a bigger question here: Does it matter?

Mormons and ex-Mormons alike mentioned that the change did little to repair the damage done to LGBTQ Mormons in 2015 because there wasn’t an apology for that policy — a policy that excommunicated a number of LGBTQ Mormons. 

And, although LGBTQ people are no longer apostates, they are still perceived as outside of “God’s Plan of Salvation."

In spite of the hurt, there are still LGBTQ Mormons who continue in their faith. When I asked Leavitt how he continues to be a Mormon as a gay man, he responded, “We are always taught that God is the ultimate judge because he is the one who knows our hearts. So I don’t read too much into what the church is telling me about this kind of stuff. I feel like it is personal and is between God and myself.”

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