SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A high-ranking Mormon leader Tuesday reiterated the religion's commitment to promoting families led by married heterosexual couples, but also urged attendees at a conservative conference not to shun those with opposing views.
M. Russell Ballard's remarks illustrate the faith's ongoing attempt to delicately balance a softened tone toward LGBT people with a doctrinal belief that God mandated marriage be between a man and a woman.
Ballard is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' governing body called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He spoke to about 3,000 attendees at the World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City.
LGBT advocates consider the World Congress of Families to be a hateful, dangerous group that espouses anti-gay rhetoric and legislation around the globe. World Congress leaders say critics are distorting facts to defame the organization.
"Society and law and popular opinion may change, but we know that society's version of the family cannot and will not substitute for God's purpose," Ballard said. "We must rally all the support we can to strengthen and protect our faith, families and freedom. Some are actively trying to strip of us these rights."
His comments come a week after fellow quorum member Dallin H. Oaks gave a landmark speech advocating for compromises between protecting religious liberties and prohibiting discrimination. Oaks also criticized Kentucky clerk Kim Davis for refusing to license gay marriages.
Ballard followed the religion's "fairness for all" approach in telling conference attendees during his keynote speech that they should extend a hand of fellowship to opponents in an attempt to find common ground even when core differences remain.
He used as an example the Mormon-backed Utah law passed this year that provided protections against housing and employment discrimination for LGBT people while also creating shields for religious freedom. Ballard, third in line for the Mormon Church presidency, said the negotiations between Mormon officials, legislators and LGBT groups reduced divisiveness in the community.
"We cannot and should not shun those who look or think or act differently than we do," Ballard said. "We demonstrate our best humanity when we show love and kindness to all God's children. We demonstrate our discipleship when we refuse strident tones, when we refuse derisive labels and when we enter the public square seeking fair outcomes through understanding and mutual respect."
Ballard's speech came after World Congress of Families Executive Director Janice Crouse opened the four-day event by calling it a pivotal moment in the world with marriage rates declining and young people waiting longer to wed.
Crouse said marriages between a man and a woman are foundations of societies. She argued married men work harder than unmarried men. They also earn more money and make better decisions, such as drinking less alcohol. Married women are safer and healthier, Crouse said.
"Marriage is the social glue that binds people together," Crouse said. "We are gathered here ... to flex our biceps as we work together across our various cultural differences to create a world where positive messages about the value of family will prevail."