LDS Church leader speaks to 'same-sex attraction' group

Salt Lake Tribune/September 21, 2008

Words alone would not belie William Walker's point.

"We live in a world filled with false messages," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints First Quorum of the Seventy member told his audience. "Wickedness is never happiness."

It was an all-purpose sermon fit for a wide range of themes. But the several hundred people gathered to hear Walker speak on Saturday knew there was a specific intent to his subtle words.

Evergreen International, a nonprofit organization for Mormons who wish to "overcome homosexual behavior," held its 18th annual conference at the Joseph Smith Memorial

Building this weekend. Although the group is not directly affiliated with the LDS Church, noted Mormon officials often speak at its annual meeting.

And with the church's recent advocacy on behalf of California's Proposition 8 - which seeks to constitutionally define marriage as a union between one man and one woman -

Walker's speech, just a stone's throw from the church's headquarters and Salt Lake Temple, had been "much anticipated," said the group's executive director, David Pruden.

But while Walker spoke of divorce, adultery, unchasteness, abuse and even smoking, he never directly addressed the issue of homosexuality, not even by using the clinical-sounding term Evergreen's adherents prefer: "same-sex attraction."

Rather, the retired banker read from the LDS church's 1995 "proclamation to the world" on how the church envisions God's plan for families. In that text, then-LDS Church President Gordon Hinckley declared "that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife."

Walker did not further elaborate, however. Instead, he devoted most of his speech to the Christian belief that no person is too sinful for salvation.

In the guarded Evergreen movement, adherents go only by their first names. A member named Matt said that he's been attending the group's conferences for years and has never seen an LDS general authority deliver anything more than very subtle indictments of homosexuality and gentle encouragement to continue "walking in the straight path," the theme of this year's conference.

"Every year, that is what we get," said Matt, a married professional who as been "struggling with homosexual feelings" for decades. "It's all about hope and atonement. Rarely do they stray from the bottom line."

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