PROVO, Utah (AP) — The leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed the religion’s opposition to gay marriage Tuesday, while explaining that leaders lifted a short-lived ban on baptisms for children of gay parents because they felt the “heartache” it caused.
Church president Russell M. Nelson’s remarks in a speech to students at the church-owned Brigham Young University were the most detailed explanation to date of the faith’s surprising move in April to repeal 2015 policies that banned the baptisms and labeled people in same-sex marriages as sinners eligible for expulsion.
“We knew that this policy created concern and confusion for some and heartache for others,” Nelson said. “That grieved us. Whenever the sons and daughters of God weep, for whatever reasons, we weep.”
Nelson claimed the original policy was motivated by love and a desire to prevent friction between the beliefs of gay parents and their children. Nelson became president last year but was a member of a top governing body called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when the policy took effect.
Nelson, 95, who is considered a prophet by church members, said the church’s longstanding opposition to gay marriage stems from a belief that he and other leaders must follow God’s law dictates that marriage is restricted to unions between a man and a woman.
He contended that leaders can’t change God’s laws but have the authority to adjust church policy.
The comments marked the latest attempt by the Utah-based faith widely known as the Mormon church to carve out a more empathetic stance toward LGBTQ people while adhering to doctrinal rejection of gay marriage amid widespread societal acceptance.
Critics say the balancing act has led to a confusing push-and-pull of policies that leave LGBTQ members and their allies confused and sometimes distraught. The 2015 policy angered many and led to protests and some defections.
The church considers homosexual relations a sin, forcing gay and lesbian members to avoid intimidate relationships to remain full-fledged members.
In a basketball arena packed with nearly 19,000 students, Nelson said that they must follow God’s laws if they want exaltation. Many of the men wore ties and women Sunday dresses.
“The arbiter of truth is God, not your favorite social media news feed, not Google, and certainly not those who are disaffected from the church,” Nelson said.
He said he and other church leaders resist social pressures as ordained apostles chosen to “teach truth.”
“In doing so, sometimes we are accused of being uncaring as we teach the Father’s requirements for exaltation in the celestial kingdom,” he said. “But wouldn’t it be far more uncaring for us not to tell the truth — not to teach what God has revealed?”
Laura Root was a lifelong member of the church until she was kicked out last year for being in a lesbian relationship. She called Nelson’s explanation of the policy and repeal just a few years later illogical.
She believes Nelson that he and leaders love LGBT members but said there is a disconnect.
“Is it loving to say, ‘Yeah we love you but we’re not going to give you the freedom to have romantic love in your life?” said Root, a 49-year-old mental health counselor in Boise, Idaho. “It does not feel loving to me. In fact, it feels very cruel.”
Joe Wheat, a 24-year-old from Corona, California, was among the nearly 19,000 BYU students who packed the basketball arena to listen to Nelson. Wheat said he was happy to hear that a policy that upset his LGBT friends was motivated by love.
“I know it’s really easy to hear about these policy changes and assume the worst,” Wheat said. “More than anything, I felt that everything that is done is really motivated out of love. It’s not meant to tear anybody apart. It’s not meant to hurt anybody.”