By BRADY McCOMBS
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.
They are hopeful. 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.
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.
“For those who have been around as long as I have, to have Mormons and gays in the same sentence is quite something,” said Bob Rees, a visiting professor of Mormon Studies at the Graduate Theological Union and the University of California, Berkeley.
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 is not a sin, succumbing to it is.
The contrasting messages from the church have left many Mormons struggling to figure out where they stand.
Wendy Montgomery is among them. Her world changed after she read her son’s journal in early 2012 and learned he was gay.
“It made me question everything,” said Montgomery, 37, of Bakersfield, Calif. “I’m looking at this 13-year-old boy who is totally innocent and pure and an amazing kid and I think, ‘Either everything I know about homosexuality is wrong, or my son is not really gay. And, he’s obviously gay.’ I kind of had to unlearn everything I had learned.”
Wendy and Tom Montgomery set out on a grueling six-month spiritual journey as they reconciled their love for their son, Jordan, with the teachings of their lifelong faith. They let family, friends and church mates know he was gay and established that they wouldn’t tolerate any harsh treatment of their son.
They remain faithful Mormons, but have switched congregations after enduring ridicule from friends and fellow church members.
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.
Caitlin Ryan, the project director, has written a pamphlet specifically designed for Mormons that has been distributed throughout LDS churches in Utah. She said she believes the church is now paying attention to research that shows suicide has been a major issue with LGBT Mormon youth for decades.
Jordan Montgomery says in the documentary he had suicidal thoughts and was mortified of his parents disowning him.
Wendy Montgomery said she doesn’t know how long her son will remain in the church, but steps taken in the past year have given her hope that church leaders will one day reverse their stance that homosexuality is a sin.
“There are so many that grew up in my situation, in conservative, religious homes that are being taught this,” Montgomery said. “It’s just not accurate. It’s not right. And it’s so damaging to the kids.”