Hundreds of Mormon leaders, psychologists and individuals interested in homosexuality are meeting starting Friday in Salt Lake City for the 16th annual Evergreen International Conference.
Speakers will address topics such as addiction to pornography, building faith for healing, fitting into an LDS congregation, helping a child with same-sex attraction, developing healthy emotional boundaries, encouraging radical self-acceptance and dealing with same-sex attraction in a marriage.
"Homosexual feelings affect thousands of Latter-day Saints," said David Pruden, Evergreen's executive director. "The [LDS] Church is committed to assisting those who wish to live gospel standards, and Evergreen International is here to offer resources and information." Evergreen, which bills itself as "the leading organization for Latter-day Saints dealing with unwanted homosexuality," has no official affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but many LDS bishops and stake presidents are among the attendees each year. Also, its board of trustees usually includes one or more emeritus general authorities of the church and at least one such authority has spoken at the annual conference every year for the past decade.
This year, Elder Rex Pinegar, an emeritus member of the First Quorum of Seventy, will address the conference Saturday at 8 a.m. at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City. In recent weeks, the church's position on same-sex attraction has been in the news with the online publication of a wide-ranging interview with LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks and Elder Lance Wickman about homosexuality. In the interview, the two say the church does not endorse any specific therapy to overcome homosexuality nor any particular support groups, which would clearly include Evergreen.
That's OK with Pruden. "We've never endorsed any kind of therapy," he said. "Evergreen has never employed therapists. We provide names of therapists who will work with [clients] in ways that are consistent with [LDS] church standards. Dealing with same-sex feelings is very different from person to person; how they manage that process can be real different, too." Another keynote speaker at the two-day conference is Alan Chambers, a leading Evangelical authors who lived as a gay teen and young adult before he "overcame unwanted homosexuality." Chambers is president of Exodus International, a nonprofit, interdenominational Christian organization promoting the message of freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ. Since 1976, Exodus has grown to include more than 120 local ministries in the U.S. and Canada, according to its official Web site.
The conference also will feature testimonials by Mormon homosexuals "who have been successful in living the doctrines and standards of the [LDS] church while confronting difficult same-sex feelings in their own personal lives," Pruden said.
Fred and Marilyn Matis, an LDS couple whose son, Stuart, struggled to balance his homosexual attractions with Mormon teachings and eventually took his own life. The Matises, along with Ty Mansfield, a celibate gay Mormon, wrote about their experiences in an LDS published volume, In Quiet Desperation.
One thing Evergreen does not allow, however, is open dialogue on the topic.
"Using this conference to promote alternative philosophical or political views, or for seeking inappropriate relationships will not be tolerated," the conference publicity states.
The LDS Church entered the political fray earlier this year by suggesting support for the Constitutional Marriage Amendment that would limit marriage to one man and one woman. And many psychologists reject the premise that sexual orientation can be changed through therapy.
Pruden said discussions of these issues are outside Evergreen's mission.
"We don't want to turn the sessions into debates," he said. "This isn't an open forum for people with alternative viewpoints on homosexuality. There are plenty of forums for that. We try to avoid political topics