Provo - Among the many surprises coming out of the so-called "Mormon moment" was the attention on and interest in homosexual members of the LDS Church. Now, a conference scheduled for Saturday will attempt to navigate that difficult and sometimes contentious topic.
The conference, called "Same-sex Attraction: Reconciling Faith and Feelings," will take place Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Provo. According to promotional materials, the event will bring "together a number of people who have experienced same-sex attraction, including several persons who now have successful opposite-sex marriages." The conference promises to explore how those people have "reconciled their challenges and their traditional moral values." It also will include discussions on "sexual orientation change therapy."
The conference is being presented by the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists, and is sponsored by Evergreen and North Star, two LDS-oriented organizations that deal with homosexual attraction. Featured guests include author Ty Mansfield and his wife Danielle, author Laurie Campbell and her husband Dallas, therapist and Center for Gender Wholeness founder David Matheson and his wife Peggy, and Josh Weed, who has blogged about his marriage and same-sex attraction, and his wife Lolly.
According to Lili Anderson, president of the association, the conference is the product of conversations happening among LDS counselors and educators. In an email, Anderson pointed out that the topic is often misunderstood and that having more information is a good thing.
"Many people feel distressed about same-sex attractions," Anderson wrote. "Our purpose is to provide interested persons with information and hope from the perspectives of people who have dealt with these issues in their personal lives and therapists with a knowledge of the issue."
Anderson also reported that the conference is primarily for members of the LDS faith, though it is open to everyone.
"All of us agree that those who experience same-sex attraction can live lives of joy and fulfillment in a manner consistent with the LDS faith," Anderson added. "Sometimes therapy can help with this journey but the surest help for all of life's challenges is found in the atonement of Jesus Christ."
Anderson went on to say that the event will be about allowing participants to discuss the choices they have made.
But while Anderson focused on faith and overcoming challenges, the approach and sponsoring organizations of the conference are not without controversy.
Filmmaker Kendall Wilcox - who is producing a documentary called "Far Between" about "what it means to be homosexual and Mormon" - said among other things that change therapy has been rejected by medical experts.
"The (American Psychosocial Association) and other medical associations have all denounced it," Wilcox said. "There is no good science, peer reviewed science, to say that it's effective or even possible to change one's orientation."
Among other things, Wilcox pointed to a 2001 study by Dr. Robert Spitzer that was used for years as a foundation in "reparative therapies" designed to change sexual orientation. Earlier this year, however, Spitzer himself retracted the study, publicly apologized for its fallout and said efforts to change sexual orientation can indeed be harmful.
But despite the medical consensus on change and reparative therapy, Wilcox added, some in the LDS community have continued pursuing the treatment.
According to Wilcox, he struggled for years with the "cognitive gymnastics" of being LDS but also being attracted to same sex. At one point, he participated in Matheson's reparative therapy camp. But despite his efforts, Wilcox said he was spending considerable time and effort on self-judgment and self-loathing.
"I don't feel like that's what Heavenly Father wants me to be doing with my life," he said, adding that he and other gay Mormons feel their prayers have been answered with love and acceptance from God.
Wilcox went on to suggest that people need to come to their own conclusions about the sexuality and do what brings them the greatest degree of fulfillment. For him that was accepting what he described as his natural sexuality, though he doesn't begrudge participants in Saturday's conference who make different choices.
"I wholeheartedly support these individuals who have arrived at a different conclusion for themselves," Wilcox said.
He also suggested that anyone with an interest in the topic attend the conference and respectfully participate in the discourse.
Anderson did not comment on criticisms of change therapy but instead invited interested persons to attend the conference in order to hear panelists' perspectives.
The conference will take place in the grand ballroom of the Utah Valley Convention Center. It is free to attend, though a $5 donation is suggested.