Churches not a-changin'

Evolution and religion are not two words that generally go together.

But there they were last week in stories about how prominent Mormon senators — including Utah’s Orrin Hatch and Nevada’s Dean Heller — had voted in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which protects gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people from workplace discrimination.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — himself a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — said the vote in favor of non-discrimination was not really out of the mainstream for his fellow Mormons, although not all of them voted for it.

“When I go to church here in Washington, D.C., I bet more people agree with me than disagree with me, and so the church is changing and that’s good,” Reid said, according to the Washington Blade.

But the church isn’t changing. It’s views on gays and lesbians are the same as they always were. The Mormon Church stands against gay marriage and believes gay conduct is a sin. But it also believes that discrimination and mistreatment are wrong.

Here’s some of what the church says on its website, lds.org, under the heading of “same-sex attraction”: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acknowledges that same-sex attraction is a sensitive issue which requires kindness, compassion, and understanding.

“The Church’s doctrinal position is clear: Sexual activity should only occur between a man and a woman who are married. However, that should never be used as justification for unkindness. Jesus Christ, whom we follow, was clear in His condemnation of sexual immorality, but never cruel.

“However, the Church firmly believes that all people are equally beloved children of God and deserve to be treated with love and respect.”

While some members of the church may have evolved on the issue, the church’s position is immutable: Gay conduct is wrong, but discrimination against gays and lesbians is just as wrong. That’s probably why the church endorsed an anti-discrimination bill passed by the City Council of Salt Lake City in 2009, and why church leaders have no problem with a Utah ban on housing and job discrimination against gays, while at the same time spending millions to fight the legalization of gay marriage in states such as California.

Recently, Pope Francis said something seemingly odd for a man who heads the Roman Catholic Church. Asked about gays in the priesthood, he replied: “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord? You can’t marginalize these people.” In a separate interview with a Jesuit journal, he said the church had become “obsessed” with issues such as gays, abortion and homosexuality.

“We have to find a new balance, otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel,” the pope said. “The church has sometimes locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.”

But the fact remains the Catholic church has not changed its beliefs about gays in the slightest. The pope was simply telling Catholics to keep their focus on the gospel message.

And that’s as it should be: Jesus Christ didn’t have much to say about gays, but he had a lot to say about how people treat each other, especially those who are the poorest, the sickest and the most vulnerable. While we may not agree on whether the teachings of any church should form the basis of public policy, while even fellow church members may not agree about their own specific doctrines, we should — all of us — be able to agree with Reid, Heller, Hatch and Pope Francis: Discrimination, cruelty and disrespect toward any person is wrong.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.