Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a balanced approach to dealing with issues surrounding religious liberty and the protection of LGBT rights at a rare press conference on Tuesday: a call for legislation that protects religious conscience, while also supporting protections for gays and lesbians in the areas of housing, public transportation and employment, among other sectors.
Church leaders, who said they were motivated to speak out by increasing tensions between gay and lesbian advocates and religious freedom enthusiasts, adopted a "fairness for all approach," balancing "religious freedom protections with reasonable safeguards for LGBT people" — sentiments that they said have been long-held and revered in the faith, according to a press release issued.
Mormon leaders decried discrimination against gays and lesbians, though they affirmed that the church's view that sex belongs within marriage between only a man and a woman remains unchanged.
Four leaders — Dallin H. Oaks, Jeffrey R. Holland and D. Todd Christofferson, elders of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Sister Neill F. Marriott of the church's Young Women general presidency — spoke about these issues during a press conference aimed at helping reporters and the public at large understand the church's perspectives on these complex and contentious matters.
These ideals were perhaps best expressed through Oaks' bullet-pointed proclamations, which addressed the delicate balance between defending the individual rights of both religious people and members of the LBGT community.
"We claim for everyone the God-given and Constitutional right to live their faith according to the dictates of their own conscience, without harming the health or safety of others," he said. "We acknowledge that the same freedom of conscience must apply to men and women everywhere to follow the religious faith of their choice, or none at all if they so choose."
Oaks went on to proclaim that laws should be framed in a way that respects the balance of individual freedom, while also taking into account and respecting the beliefs of those who hold and express divergent ideals. Persecution of any kind, he said, whether it is based on economic standing, race, religious devotion, gender or sexual orientation is unacceptable, calling for respect across the board.
While The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will support ordinances aimed at helping stem discrimination in Utah and beyond, its leaders want to ensure that religious conscience and First Amendment protections are also in place within these laws, according to a statement.
"When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser," Oaks told reporters. "Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender."
Watch the full press event below:
Oaks cited examples of conflicts over religious conscience that have led to problems for the faithful. From the subpoenaing of pastors' sermons in Houston to the university system in California forcing Christian groups on campus to allow non-believing leaders if they with to retain official recognition, his examples have each played out in national media over the past year.
Church leaders said they want to encourage people from both sides to learn to accept profound differences.
"We must all learn to live with others who do not share the same beliefs or values," they proclaimed.
Read more about the church's announcement here.
Front page image via Shutterstock.com