Last week, 1500 Mormons gathered to publicly submit their resignations from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). After Church authorities distributed new guidelines regarding same-sex parents and their children, many LGBT Mormons and allies are choosing to officially remove their names from the Church registry—the most definitive way to separate oneself from the LDS Church.
In early November, the LDS Church distributed new guidelines to its 30,000 congregations hardening its position against same-sex couples and parents in the church. While the Church does not condemn same-sex attraction, it regards homosexual acts as a sin. Under the Church’s new guidelines, homosexual acts are now considered apostasy, and grounds for potential excommunication. The new guidelines also have consequences for the children of same-sex parents: any child under the age of 18 that primarily resides with a gay parent is not eligible to receive the sacraments of the Church. Sacraments include baptism—typically performed at age 8—and induction into the Priesthood—bestowed on Mormon boys in good standing aged 12 or above.
Once they turn 18, children of gay parents are eligible to receive the sacraments and engage as a full member of the Church as long as they no longer reside with their gay parent(s), formally reject their parents’ lifestyle, and receive permission from the Church’s highest authority—the First President.
The updated guidelines were received with both consternation and confusion among LGBT Mormon families. One 12-year-old Mormon boy, who was eagerly preparing for his ordination, lives part-time with his biological mother, who is in a same-sex relationship, and part-time with his biological father, who is in a heterosexual relationship. His stepmother, Alyssa Paquette, lamented having to tell her stepson that, due to his biological mother’s sexual orientation, he would no longer be accepted into the priesthood.
“It feels like a mourning process,” Paquette told Religion News Service, “The church is such a huge part of our lives, and to have that suddenly taken away from him is really challenging.” Even more challenging for the Paquettes is deciding what to do about their three other children, who, unlike their stepbrother, will not be barred from the sacraments.
“We feel like we can’t continue to participate in church with the policy as it stands,” Paquette said. “I don’t know how we’re supposed to sustain something that tears our family apart.”
Family togetherness is a strong value of the LDS Church, whose sacrament of Sealing is meant to ensure that married couples and children will be kept together even in the afterlife. For 24-year-old Brenner Zeller, who was among the 1500 who formally left the Church last week, family is a motivating factor for many choosing to leave the Church in light of its new policy. “We perceive it as tearing families apart and making children choose a religion over their parents,” he said to the New York Times.
The LDS Church has never wavered its position that heterosexual relationships are the divinely-sanctioned design for humanity, but has expressed increasing support over the past decade for initiatives that would protect LGBT citizens. In July, the Church made its first-ever donation to the Utah Pride Center, an LGBTQ-affirming organization that provides food to homeless youth.
For some in the Church, these stringent new guidelines represent a surprising departure from the Church’s attitude of increasing acceptance for LGBT people. University of Notre Dame professor of political science David Campbell, however, told the New York Times that the move fits the Church’s identity and needs as a minority faith group. He said,
“The church is walking a fine line between on the one hand recognizing the reality of changing mores in American society externally, but internally holding the line on its own doctrinal rigor—its own beliefs and teachings.”
D. Michael Quinn, who was excommunicated from the Church in 1993 for being openly gay, sees the move as an important marker of the Church’s identity as “a people apart.” “There is a tribal sense of who Mormons are and what their identity is,” Quinn told Religion News Service. “Same-sex marriage is a dividing point that the church cannot allow. This is boundary maintenance.”
As with any boundary line, some congregants have found themselves suddenly on the outside. While First President of the Church, Thomas Monson, urged congregants via Twitter to “avoid anything that will deprive you of your happiness here in mortality and eternal life in the world to come,” many of those that participated in last week’s mass resignation felt they had no alternative. “If your name’s in the church, if you keep your name in the church, you’re supporting their decisions and the choices they’re making and their doctrine,” Zeller said. “We don’t want to support them because they don’t support us.”
The Church’s negotiation between supporting the identities of its followers and upholding its doctrinal values will surely remain tense as congregants decide whether they can tolerate the new guidelines. The New York Times Editorial Board anticipates ongoing strife between the Church and its LGBT-affirming congregants:
“Religious organizations are entitled to set doctrine. Mormon leaders view heterosexual marriage as vital to eternal salvation. But those that continue to label sex between people of the same gender as a sin, and perpetuate harmful stereotypes, should expect a reaction from their congregations.”
LGBT-affirming Mormon organization Affirmation anticipates that some followers will leave the LDS Church for the Community of Christ, a “reorganized” movement of the LDS Church that welcomes women and LGBT people into its priesthood.
--by Caroline Matas
Image Source: LGBT Mormons, DC Pride. Photo by Tim Evanson, Flickr Creative Commons.