The Mormon church has quietly moved further from defining homosexuality as evil and the result of faulty parenting.
An unheralded new church publication, "God Loveth His Children," says gay feelings are neither learned nor chosen, and it counsels against rejecting a gay child.
Seemingly aimed at young people, the statement gently counsels individuals who feel attraction to and love for same-gender people to trust in God's plan and not act upon the transitory desires of mortal life — a period of "probation during which we face a variety of temptations and challenges."
It repeatedly warns against feelings of guilt: "Attractions alone do not make you unworthy. If you avoid immoral thoughts and actions, you have not transgressed even if you feel such an attraction."
It also says: "The Lord's command to 'forgive all men' includes the requirement to forgive yourself."
Spokesmen for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would not say what led the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency — the two highest governing bodies of the Church — to publish the pamphlet at the end of July.
"I dont know either," said Jan Shipps, a scholar and historian specializing in Mormons. But its placement on the church's Web site makes clear "that it would have to have been approved by the general authorities of the LDS Church."
Those close to the Mormon Church say the publication is neither the result of a religious revelation nor a policy change.
"This represents a continuation of a direction they began going in several years ago," said Terry Givens, the author of four books on Mormonism and a religion professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia.
A 1974 church pamphlet excoriated homosexuality as evil and castigated parents of gays for having raised their children poorly. By 1992, a new teaching suggested that biological factors could be at work.
The new document's admonitions include quotes from 1995 statements made by church President Gordon Hinckley.
"'The Book of Mormon' prophet Nephi voiced feelings we all have when he acknowledged that he did not 'know the meaning of all things,'" it says. "But he testified, 'I know that (God) loveth his children.'" (1 Nephi 11:17).
The church still expects gays to remain celibate. If they do, they will find themselves imbued with heterosexual feelings in the hereafter, which is peopled with families including a mother, a father and children, the document says.
"That is demeaning," said Gary Watts, a Provo, Utah, nuclear medicine physician and the departing president of Family Fellowship, an organization for the families of gays.
"It says you are defective — but if you hang in, God will fix it.
"Ultimately they need to get to a place where they can place value on committed, same-sex unions," said Watts, whose six children include a gay son and a lesbian daughter.
Church leaders say chances are slim it would deviate from its sanctions against active gay relationships.
"That's always been the position of the church," said Salt Lake City-based spokeswoman Kim Farah.
Church leaders are circulating the pamphlet to Mormons, Farah said.
The church, which claims 12 million members worldwide, evangelizes fervently. It is the second-largest religious group in California, with more than 750,000 adherents. Some 30,000 to 40,000 of them live in the greater East Bay.
A Mormon — Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — is running in the Republican presidential primary, drawing the nation's focus to the faith, its beliefs and its requirements.
Even critics of Mormon policy praise the more humble language of the pamphlet.
Affirmation, a support organization for gay Mormons, "welcomes any change," said executive director Olin Thomas. "I've never before seen forgiveness for youthful indiscretions experienced at a young age."
It "certainly has kinder language" than past teachings, said Walnut Creek writer Carol Lynn Pearson, whose seminal work about her late, gay husband, "Good-bye, I Love You," opened up an emotional conversation within the Mormon community.
She praised the pamphlet's anonymous authors for spelling out that gay love "is much more than lust gone amuck."
But she strongly criticized the claim that with individual effort, faith and "reliance upon the enabling power of the Atonement" has freed some Mormons from homosexuality.
That leaves "in despair those who have made the utmost effort without results, whose hands are bloodied from beating against a closed door," she said.
She connects two sets of data that to her suggest that gays account for as many as 30 percent of suicides among 15- to 24-year-olds in Utah.
Thomas noted that throughout its 177-year history, the Mormon hierarchy has revised its teachings on polygamy and African Americans attaining priesthood.
It has also abandoned its history of encouraging gay members to enter heterosexual marriages. The new document says "the perfect plan of our Father in Heaven makes provision for individuals who seek to keep His commandments but who, through no fault of their own, do not have an eternal marriage in mortal life."
Exact numbers are not available, but Watts estimates that 90 percent of gay Mormons leave the church.
"It's true," Thomas said. "Some leave, don't look back and say, 'forget this.' But a faith community can be a wonderful thing, a source of joy. There are people who would really like to be active in the church. There are all these things that are meaningful."
One gay former Mormon active in Affirmation said he believes the church will continue to broaden its attitudes.
"Thirty years ago, this would be really cutting-edge," said Ben Jarvis of Santa Clarita. "When I'm 70, all kinds of good things will be happening."