SALT LAKE CITY – A top Mormon leader reaffirmed the religion's opposition to same-sex marriage on Saturday during a church conference — and reminded followers watching around the world that children should be raised in families led by a married man and woman no matter what becomes the norm in a "declining world."
The speech by Dallin H. Oaks, a member of a top governing body called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, followed a push in recent years by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to uphold theological opposition to gay marriage amid widespread social acceptance while trying to foster an empathetic stance toward LGBT people.
The Mormon church is one of many conservative faith groups navigating the challenges that arise from trying to strike the right balance.
"We have witnessed a rapid and increasing public acceptance of cohabitation without marriage and same-sex marriage. The corresponding media advocacy, education, and even occupational requirements pose difficult challenges for Latter-day Saints," Oaks said. "We must try to balance the competing demands of following the gospel law in our personal lives and teachings even as we seek to show love for all."
Oaks acknowledged that this belief can put Mormons at odds with family and friends and doesn't match current laws, including the recent legalization of gay marriage in the United States. But he told the nearly 16-million members watching around the world that the religion's 1995 document detailing the doctrine — "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" — isn't' a policy statement that will be changed.
After the Utah-based Mormon church received backlash in 2008 for helping lead the fight for California's Proposition 8 constitutional ban on gay marriage, religious leaders spent several years carefully developing a more empathetic LGBT tone.
That was interrupted in 2015 when the church adopted new rules banning children living with gay parents from being baptized until age 18 and clarifying that people in same-sex relationships are apostates. That policy drew harsh criticism from gay church members and their supporters who considered it a major setback from recent progress.
A year ago, church leaders updated a website created in 2012 to let members know that that attraction to people of the same sex is not a sin or a measure of their faithfulness and may never go away. But the church reminded members that having gay sex violates fundamental doctrinal beliefs that will not change.
Oaks on Saturday reiterated a church belief that children should be raised in heterosexual married households, not by gay parents or couples who live together but aren't married. He lamented that fewer children in the United States aren't raised in what the religion considers the ideal households.
"Even as we must live with the marriage laws and other traditions of a declining world, those who strive for exaltation must make personal choices in family life according to the Lord's way whenever that differs from the world's way," Oaks said.
Brittany Krallis Stapf, a lifelong Mormon who lives near Spokane, Washington, with her husband and sons, was among church members who were disappointed in Oaks' speech. In a phone interview, Krallis, 36, said she's teaching her sons, ages 12 and 9, to be inclusive and loving to everyone and stick up for LGBT members.
"My heart was pounding. It is very difficult to hear an apostle give a speech you feel contradicts the message you're trying to teach your children," Krallis said.
She said she knows many Mormons from her generation who share her hope that church leaders will eventually soften on the issue.
"Social change comes first," Krallis said. "At times, it's followed in the church."
The twice-yearly conference is preceding without church President Thomas S. Monson, 90, who is dealing with ailing health. It's the first time in more than a half century that Monson hasn't spoken at the conferences. Before becoming church president in 2008, he served on the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles starting in 1963.
Monson has scaled back conference participation in recent years, and in May, church officials said that he was no longer going regularly to meetings at church offices because of limitations related to his age.
Church presidents serve until they die.
Monson is the first church president since 1994 not to attend and make at least one speech, but prior to that, it was fairly common for presidents to miss conference toward the end of their lives.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, one of Monson's top two counselors, said Monson was watching from his home. "President Monson, we love you very much," Uchtdorf said.
Also missing will be Robert D. Hales, a top leader who was hospitalized in recent days. Hales, 85, has been a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since 1994.
Church leaders use the conference to deliver spiritual guidance to members and sometimes announce church news.
Jeffrey R. Holland, a member the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said he hears too often from Mormons that they feel like they don't measure up. He warned that the pursuit of Christ-like perfection shouldn't lead to ulcers, bulimia, depression or lowered self-esteem.
"Brothers and sisters, except for Jesus, there have been no flawless performances on this earthly journey we are pursuing, so while in mortality let's strive for steady improvement without obsessing over what behavioral scientists call "toxic perfectionism,'" Holland said. "We should not demean and vilify ourselves, as if beating up on ourselves is somehow going to make us the person God wants us to become."