Mormon Church: We Vow to Fight for LGBT Rights, but Don't Trample Our Religious Freedom; So. Baptist Leader Says LDS Is 'Naive'

(Photo: Reuters/Jim Urquhart)Dallin H Oaks, an elder in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, speaks to the media after a rare press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah January 27, 2015. The Church announced it supports the passage of laws protecting the LGBT community from discrimination, as long as they also protect religious freedom.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church, announced Tuesday it would back legal efforts to protect LGBT people from discrimination along with religious freedom protections. This middle ground approach is consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ, church leaders said.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called the effort "well-intentioned but naive."

LDS leaders acknowledged that the LGBT community has faced discrimination and violence against them. LGBT people should be protected from discrimination in housing, employment and other places where discrimination exists, they said, but religious freedom must also be protected in such laws.

At the press conference, Dallin Oaks, an elder in the LDS's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, mentioned several recent examples of religious freedom not being respected, including when California universities forced Christian groups off campus, the CEO of Mozilla was forced to resign, and the mayor of Houston tried to subpoena the sermons of pastors.

"When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser," Oaks said. "Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender."

The LDS position is consistent with four principles that are based upon the teachings of Jesus Christ, Oaks asserted: everyone has the right to live according to the dictates of their conscience as long as they do not interfere with the health or safety of others; freedom of conscience includes the right to choose one's faith, or no faith; laws should balance protecting freedom with respecting the fact the people have different values; and, persecution and retaliation of any kind are rejected.

The position is consistent with previous statements, the LDS leaders noted, such as their support for a Salt Lake City non-discrimination ordinance in 2009 and a 2010 statement condemning bullying of gay youth.

"I think the Latter-day Saints are well-intentioned but naive on where the reality stands today," said Moore, who added that he has met with LDS leaders often to talk about those issues.

"I do not think, in most instances, sexual orientation ought to matter in housing or employment," Moore continued, "but of course the proposals to address these concerns inevitably lead to targeted assaults on religious liberty."

Moore also noted that gay rights organizations have responded with "hostility" toward the LDS effort to find a middle ground.

"Nonetheless," Moore added, "I look forward to working with Mormons and others on protecting religious liberty for everyone in the years ahead."

He also reiterated that Southern Baptists believe that all LGBT people "are created in the image of God and ought to be respected," that "any sexual expression outside of marriage between one man and one woman is morally wrong," and "that freedom of conscience for those of us who dissent from the Sexual Revolution ought to be maintained."