93-year-old new Mormon leader claims the church loves gay people
The new leader of the Mormon Church has insisted the religion is supportive of LGBT rights.
Russell M. Nelson, 93, was appointed head of the 16-million member church after the previous president, Thomas S. Monson died age 90.
Speaking for the first time as its president – a position which makes him a “prophet, seer and revelatory” – he said God loves people regardless of sexuality.
The Church of the Latter Day Saints is opposed to gay relationships and refuses to allow women to be priests.
Asked about LGBT rights, he said there were “challenges with the commandments of God, challenges to be worthy.”
He continued: “God loves his children and we love them and there’s a place for everyone. Regardless of his challenges.”
One of his chosen counsellors, Dallin H. Oaks added: “We’ve got the love of the Lord and the law of the Lord.”
Mr Nelson, a former heart surgeon, also told reporters he wanted to stick to the “traditional teachings” of Mormonism.
A rift has grown in the church over the issue of same-sex marriage in recent years, with members leaving due to its opposition.
Since it opposed marriage equality in the case of Proposition 8 – which temporarily banned gay marriage in California – many members of the church have softened their stances on the issue.
Young Mormons in particular are increasingly approving of same-sex marriage, according to a Public Religion Research Institute poll released in June.
However, the leadership of the Church support radically different values.
The late anti-LGBT leader of the church, Thomas Monson – who died on Tuesday – is set to be replaced with an even more homophobic elder.
Monson refused to let women become priests and excluded LGBT families to the point where many removed themselves from the Church entirely.
Diane Oviatt, who has a gay son, was one of the people who left over its resistance to same-sex marriage.
“You don’t leave Mormonism easily…there is shunning that happens,” she said on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
Diane became an activist to try and change attitudes within the Mormon community, co-founding a support group for mothers of LGBT children which she called Mama Dragons.
While the Church doesn’t condemn same-sex attraction, it does require celibacy from gay people.
And in 2016, it introduced a hateful anti-LGBT policy which expelled same-sex couples and prevented their children from getting blessed or baptised until they were 18.
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When it comes to members in general though, support for same-sex marriage has steadily risen since it was legalised in the US.
Mormons have also increasingly disapproved of businesses which refuse to serve gay couples.
Many Mormons are confronting their crises of faith, with some of those who support LGBT rights seeking new tribes.
John Dehlin, who was excommunicated after raising questions about Mormonism on his podcast for those struggling with their faith, is a long-time supporter of LGBT youth.
He said there will be equality within the Church, but warned that it will take “20 or 30 years.”
Watch a video on the subject below: