Mormons softening opposition to homosexuality ... or not

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."


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