Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died Tuesday at 10:01 pm in his home in Salt Lake City surrounded by family, according to a statement by the church. He died at age 90 from causes incident to age. Monson has served as president of the church since February 2008.
The nine years he was president might have seen more involvement with LGBT issues than any time in its history.
In June of his first year, Monson sent a letter to California congregations directing them to get involved in the Proposition 8 battle to constitutionally define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
“In March 2000 California voters overwhelmingly approved a state law providing that ‘Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.’ The California Supreme Court recently reversed this vote of the people. On November 4, 2008, Californians will vote on a proposed amendment to the California state constitution that will now restore the March 2000 definition of marriage approved by the voters,” Monson wrote in the letter. “The Church’s teachings and position on this moral issue are unequivocal. Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan for His children. Children are entitled to be born within this bond of marriage.”
“We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage,” the letter ended.
Mormons donated hundreds of thousands of dollars and went door-to-door, and the LDS Church produced slick television ads that flooded the California airwaves.
When Proposition 8 passed in the state, the church was protested by large numbers of LGBT people and allies, including around 5,000 surrounding the Salt Lake Temple just 36 hours after the vote. A similar protest happened that same night in Los Angeles, drawing an estimated 10,000 as a website released a list of Mormon donors to the “Yes on 8” campaign. A second protest the following month drew many more to the Salt Lake Temple.
The LDS Church then released a statement, calling the same-sex marriage debate an “emotionally charged issue,” and asked for people to “act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility toward those with a different position.”
“No one on any side of the question should be vilified, intimidated, harassed or subject to erroneous information,” the statement read.
In all, the church released six statements in an effort to end the protests and anger against it.
When the California Supreme Court ruled Proposition 8 as constitutionally valid, the church released a statement welcoming the decision, which ended with “The Church believes that serious discussion of these issues is not helped when extreme elements on both sides of the debate demonize the other.”
In 2009, the church supported a Salt Lake City ordinance banning discrimination against gays in jobs and housing, and people wondered if the church was beginning to soften its stance on homosexuality.
In 2010, the church responded to a petition circulated by the Human Rights Campaign which decried a speech given by notoriously anti-gay Boyd K. Packer. While they didn’t distance themselves from his rhetoric, they did ask for compassion for gay and lesbian people.
“This Church has felt the bitter sting of persecution and marginalization early in our history, when we were too few in numbers to adequately protect ourselves and when society’s leaders often seemed disinclined to help. Our parents, young adults, teens and children should, therefore, of all people, be especially sensitive to the vulnerable in society and be willing to speak out against bullying or intimidation whenever it occurs, including unkindness toward those who are attracted to others of the same sex. This is particularly so in our own Latter-day Saint congregations. Each Latter-day Saint family and individual should carefully consider whether their attitudes and actions toward others properly reflect Jesus Christ’s second great commandment — to love one another,” the statement read, in part.
Then in early 2011, the church’s BYU Honor Code was updated to remove the ban on any “advocacy of homosexual behavior” defined as “promoting homosexual relations as being morally acceptable.”
In 2012, the church created mormonandgay.lds.org “in an effort to encourage understanding and civil conversation about same-sex attraction.” The website states that “individuals do not choose to have such attractions,” a stance that differs from earlier teachings. Of course, the sentence goes on to say, “they do choose how to respond to them.”
But changes to its policy handbook in 2015, the church would reintroduce the hard line it has on same-sex marriage after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against California in its Prop 8 appeal. In a section defining apostasy, the church added the line “4. Are in a same-gender marriage,” and that, “A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing,” before being of legal age, and even then, “specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage.” Further, the child could no longer live with the same-sex couple to be eligible to be baptized into the church.
The changes set off another firestorm in the public realm, and many people began resigning their memberships to the church. A church spokesman said that 1,500 resignations were received following one rally outside the Church Office Building.
Monson tweeted. “I plead with you to avoid anything that will deprive you of your happiness here in mortality and eternal life in the world to come.”
Excommunications over the past few years of prominent LDS policy detractors have also led to mass resignations.
Church growth has steadily declined since 2014. In 2008 when Monson was installed as president, church growth was at 2.6 percent year-over-year. Since 2014, growth has slowed to 1.56 percent. Church resignations spiked in 2014 at over 40,000 — nearly four-fold over those in 2008.
Estimates for yearly tithing income show the church brought in $8 billion in 2016 and a membership of 15,882,417.