The Straight Story on Gay Mormons (UPDATED)

The Salt Lake Tribune ran a story yesterday about an interesting seminar exploring gay Mormon issues. But the write-up of at least one speech had some rather serious problems with accuracy. Here are the first five paragraphs of the story:

The way homosexuals are treated and perceived by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an “atrocity” an LDS bishop from Illinois told a group of gay Mormons Sunday.

“If you leave here not remembering what I have to say, remember this: I’m sorry,” Bishop Kevin Kloosterman said at an interfaith service held at the First Baptist Church of Salt Lake City.

Kloosterman spoke at the final event of a weekend-long seminar dedicated to exploring gay Mormon issues, titled “Circling the Wagons.” He said he recently became aware of LGBT issues and his views changed from that of the church — that acting on homosexual urges violates its moral code — and had a “mighty change of heart.”

“I began to see the emotional wounds and scars that many of you have today,” Kloosterman said, “and I began to ask, ‘Where did you get these wounds?’ And the answer, unfortunately, was in the house of my friends.”

“The straight members of the church have a lot of repenting to do,” he said.

The reader who sent the story in alerted us to the presence of an actual transcript from the speech. It's brief and worth reading to compare to the report of what went down.

Now, if a Mormon bishop (which is a lay leader of a Latter-day Saints congregation) were to say that his own personal doctrinal views were at odds with the church's, that would be a huge story. Except he didn't. Not even close.

He did say that straight LDS members needed to repent and used the word "atrocity" to describe what has happened to homosexuals, although there is some dispute about whether he was discussing gay Mormons or just gay people in general. But nowhere did he say his views changed from that of the church, much less as it relates to whether homosexual behavior violates a moral code.

There is no quote from the transcript that supports that view. And, importantly, there is no quote in the story that supports the view.

It's a dramatic overstatement of his actual words. The reader who sent the story in noted:

Because such a statement if publicly uttered by a bishop would potentially be an excommunicable offense -- and would almost certainly end up with him being replaced in his office -- the journalist in me wanted to know his exact words. I also wanted to see a response by somebody, anybody, who would indicate how big of a break this is from LDS teaching. If a sitting bishop had denounced the church's sexual standards of behavior, I would have made it the lede of the story.

Indeed. If the Tribune's characterization were accurate, the paper would have buried the lede.

Joanna Brooks over at Religion Dispatches scored an interview with Kloosterman where he took issue with how his "atrocity" line was quoted as if he was bashing church leadership:

When you used the word “atrocity” to describe the world’s history of mistreatment of LGBT people—that’s a very strong word, and the way the Salt Lake Tribune reported it makes it sound like you were criticizing the Church and its leaders. Was that your goal?

No. The way the Tribune reports it takes my words out of context. I was not criticizing the Church. In fact, I felt and feel like we needed to support the leadership of the Church in their movements forward with our gay brothers and sisters. I did use strong words and strong imagery.

It looks like the reporter erred in trying to oversell an already interesting story about a Mormon bishop's intriguing speech at a conference for gay church members. There also might be the problem of reporters reading into what they hear rather than just letting the source speak for himself.

UPDATE: Reader Terry Orme comments:

For the record, The Salt Lake Tribune ran a correction in Tuesday's paper clarifying that Bishop Kloosterman was not challenging LDS Church leaders or official church positions. We also modified the story online to make that point clear. I'm a managing editor at the newspaper.

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