The Evergreen International Conference held in Salt Lake City last weekend attracted hundreds of gays, lesbians and their friends and family. Evergreen strictly follows the traditions of the Mormon Church and teaches that homosexuality can be overcome and even reversed.
The group is not officially condoned by the Mormon Church, yet one of its leading authorities, Elder Jay Jensen, was the keynote speaker and he gave Evergreen a stamp of approval. He told the crowd that it is possible to find solace and healing through Jesus Christ.
“I love the Evergreen Constitutional Statement,” Jensen said. “We like the way Evergreen faces.”
The Mormon Church holds the stance that gays and lesbians should simply ignore their homosexual feelings and remain celibate or date and marry members of the opposite sex whenever possible. However, many Mormons still believe it is their duty to change and overcome their temptations, said conference attendee Jared (members are often identified by only their first name to remain anonymous.)
Jared, 17, sat through the sessions of the conference flanked by his parents on either side, in hopes to overcome his ‘temptations,’ serve a mission, marry a woman and enjoy a typical Mormon’s life, just like his two older brothers.
“I have two years to conquer this,” Jared said. “By the time I turn 19, I am going to have this whole same-sex attraction mess taken care of so I can go on a mission and serve the Lord. I know he’ll bless me if I promise to do his will.”
Jared’s parents said they encourage him to pray and read his religious texts daily and if he does so, God will answer prayers.
“We heard it in general conference last year. Packer told us that a loving heavenly father wouldn’t make me this way. I just have to overcome all my sexual feelings and learn true control,” Jared said.
He joined the swim team his freshman year to help make and build healthy, non-sexual friendships with other young men, Jared said. He hopes that by building these friendships, his sexual attraction toward them will diminish. However, he admits there’s been little to no progress in that area since he first started noticing he was attracted to men during puberty.
The Evergreen Conference is an annual event and includes workshops, speeches and prayers. This year’s conference included a presentation by David Pruden, executive director of Evergreen.
Pruden said changing sexuality is possible for those that find the deeper reason they are attracted to people of the same sex and address those issues. He said one of the leading reasons people are gay is because of a lack of non-sexual relationships with members of the same sex.
“Nobody is born with same-sex attraction,” Pruden said. “Same-gender attraction is not the same as homosexuality. Isolation from healthy same-sex relationships makes your unholy attractions more acute.”
Pruden railed against the American Psychological Association who says homosexuality is a healthy expression of human sexuality. The APA, with more than 154,000 members, is the largest and most comprehensive group of psychologists worldwide. Pruden, on the other hand, has a degree in social work.
“The APA doesn’t get much right,” Pruden said. “(Homosexuality) is manageable and correctable. We know that for a fact.”
The APA does not endorse any therapies or groups, such as Evergreen, that would suggest changing sexuality is possible and it can even be detrimental to the mental health of the patient, said Jerry Buie, owner and director of Pride Counseling.
“I work a lot with gays and lesbians that have tried those therapies and my observation is that they are more severely and chronically depressed. They’re discouraged and often quite suicidal. The idea that their sexuality needs to change runs so deep, and these programs just reinforce that. Ultimately, it comes down to thinking if my sexual orientation doesn’t change, it’s because of my own lack of effort, which simply isn’t true,” Buie said.
In addition to promoting their own practices, the conference was riddled with other groups who promote the altering of sexuality. Groups such as Journey Into Manhood and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, were given prominent tables to promote their own conferences and events, which cost hundreds of dollars to attend.
While the Mormon Church denies any affiliation with Evergreen, it hosts the group at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building at their headquarters in Salt Lake City and sends speakers and presenters to the events, including Jerry Harris, a counselor for LDS Family Services.
Harris echoed the assertion that homosexuality was not in-born and comes from other factors that can be addressed and overcome.
“Most major religious groups have organizations that support the treatment of unwanted homosexual attractions,” Harris said. “It is one of the only issues that brings together Christians, Jews and Muslims.”
As Jared listened to the speakers, he grew visibly excited and scribbled notes throughout the day.
“I can do it. Just listening to these inspired men who receive inspiration from God lets me know that I can be normal and fit in with my older brothers and their families,” Jared said. “I want that more than anything else in the world.”