LDS Elder Says Question of Whether Church is Responsible for At Least 32 Deaths Can Only Be Answered by 'Higher Authority' on 'Judgment Day'
Mormon parents with LGBT children are outraged over a church leader's callous remarks last week concerning the youth suicide crisis that's been linked to a horrific new anti-gay policy.
Mama Dragons, a support group for those parents, reported lsat month that at least 32 young LGBT Mormons had taken their own lives since early November. That's when the church unveiled its policy — said to be divinely inspired — that labels people in same-sex marriages "apostates" and bars their children from being baptized until they turn 18 and disavow their parents' relationship.
Last week, Elder Dallin Oaks became the first Mormon leader to address the suicide crisis publicly, when he suggested that people are wrongly blaming the church for the deaths of their loved ones, according to audio of his remarks posted by the Mormon Stories podcast.
Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, added that the question of whether the church is responsible for the LGBT youth suicides can only be answered by "a higher authority" on "judgment day."
"I am angry," Mama Dragons member Brooke Caldwell, the mother of a transgender son, told Salt Lake City's Fox affiliate for a story that aired Monday. "I am fiercely angry at the church."
Mama Dragons' report about the 32 LGBT youth suicides is not verifiable and has been questioned by Utah state health officials. However, LGBT-affirming Mormon therapist Hollie Hancock told the station that if even one young member of the church has taken their own life, "we've lost too many."
“It’s as if we hear, 'Love your children, love your families, be there for your families, family is the most important thing in the church,” Hancock said.
“Except your gay children,” Caldwell added.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hasn't responded to media inquiries about Oaks' statements, which he made following a speech about the importance of religious freedom at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 9.
A member of the audience, Andrew Evans, referenced a comment Oaks' made about "social warfare," then explained that his gay Mormon friend had committed suicide in D.C. less than a year ago.
"You’ve gone on record that the church does not give apologies," Evans told Oaks. "Does religious freedom absolve you from responsibility in the gay Mormon suicide crisis?”
Oaks responded that Evans' question could only be answered "on judgment day."
"I can't answer that beyond what's already been said," Oaks explained, apparently referencing an official statement issued by the LDS church concerning the suicides last month.
Oaks also used the term "sexual preference," considered offensive by many in the LGBT community because it implies that being gay is a choice.
"I know that those tragic events happen," Oaks said. "And it’s not unique simply to the question of sexual preference. There are other cases where people have taken their own lives and blamed a church – my church – or a government, or somebody else for their taking their own lives, and I think those things have to be judged by a higher authority than exists on this earth, and I am ready to be accountable to that authority, but I think part of what my responsibility extends to, is trying to teach people to be loving, and civil and sensitive to one another so that people will not feel driven, whatever the policy disagreements, whatever the rules of the church, or the practices of a church, or any other organization, if they are administered with kindness, at the highest level or at the level of the congregation or the ward, they won’t drive people to take those extreme measures; that’s part of my responsibility to teach that."
"And beyond that," Elder Oaks adds, "I will be accountable to higher authority for that. That’s the way I look on that. Nobody is sadder about a case like that than I am. Maybe that’s a good note to end on."
Some responses via Twitter:
The ever smug, ever arrogant Oaks... https://t.co/J7mszZ81Bj— mikeutah (@LifeAfterMrmnsm) February 16, 2016