Showing posts with label Mormons Vs. Gays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mormons Vs. Gays. Show all posts

May 23, 2019

Millennials Are Leaving LDS Church By Leap and Bounds because of Judgment, Trust Issues

SALT LAKE CITY, (UPI) -- Mormon millennials are leaving the church at about double the rate of their parents and grandparents, according to a new book that draws on a study of four generations of current and former members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"We used to keep about three-quarters of people who grew up Mormon and now it's less than half," said Jana Riess, author of The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church. 
For LDS millennials -- the generation born from 1980 to 1998 -- the retention rate is 46 percent, Riess said. The problem is not unique to Mormonism, she said, noting that other faiths also are experiencing a drop in their membership.
The book is based on a 2016 survey of 1,156 Mormons and 540 former Mormons in the United States by Riess and Benjamin Knoll, a politics professor at Centre College in Danville, Ky., who helped analyze the data. Riess, a senior columnist for Religion News Service who lives in Cincinnati, also conducted dozens of in-depth interviews. 
They describe the survey as the most extensive collection of Mormon attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors collected by independent or academic researchers to date.
Reasons to leave
Eight out of 10 millennial Mormons are white, making them a little more racially diverse than LDS members 52 or older, who are 93 percent white. Older Mormons skew heavily Republican, while the millennials in the church are 46 percent GOP, 41 percent Democrat and 13 percent Independent, according to the survey. 
Ninety percent believe in God.
The study shows that LDS millennials are not as progressive as their non-Mormon millennial peers but not as conservative as their parents and grandparents, Riess said.
No one factor has driven the departure of members, she said. Feeling judged or misunderstood and not trusting the church leadership to tell the truth surrounding controversial or historical issues tied in the survey for the top reason cited for leaving the LDS Church by the millennials. (The historical issues themselves weren't motivators to leave -- the fact that they didn't hear about them from their ecclesiastical leaders was). 
"Millennials are most troubled by Joseph Smith practicing polygamy but least troubled by consenting adults who might wish to practice polygamy," Riess said.
The millennials' top two reasons also figured into the decision by members of older generations to leave but didn't rank as high, Riess said.
"Stopped believing there was one true church" was the most common reason for leaving given by Gen X members, with the Boomers and the Silent Generation citing not being able to reconcile personal values with those of the church.
Third for millennials who left was the church's position on LGBT issues, which didn't even make the top 10 on the list of reasons given by Silent Generation and Boomer Mormons who left the church. Of the current millennial Mormons, more than half say homosexuality should be accepted by society.
Other reasons for leaving included not being able to reconcile personal values with those of the church, drifting away from Mormonism, no longer believing there was one true church, the emphasis on conformity and the role of women in the church.
"Millennials have a different relationship to authority than previous generations," Riess said. "The majority expressed more reservations about unconditional obedience. They were more troubled by women not having the priesthood."
Alcohol, coffee
For Knoll, the study's most surprising findings were how many Latter-day Saints, including active members of the church, admitted to occasionally drinking alcohol or coffee.
The Word of Wisdom, the church's health code, tells members to abstain from alcohol, coffee, tea, tobacco and illegal or recreational drugs. Of current millennial and Gen X members (those in the generation preceding millennials) who responded to the survey, 40 percent said they had consumed coffee in the past six months, and in a separate question, fewer than one-third of them said avoiding coffee and tea was an "essential" part of a Mormon identity.
The most significant take-away was that while younger Mormons are disaffiliating at higher rates than in the past, the survey indicates "most millennials, as well as all members in general, are faithful, active and generally very happy with their participation in the LDS Church," Knoll told UPI in an email.
Noting that younger members are more diverse in both their religious belief and practice than previous generations, he added, "A key question going forward will be the extent to which LDS Church leadership and the broader community will be willing to welcome and integrate a more diverse generation of members going forward."
Riess and Knoll plan to use the study data to write a book on former Mormons and what their lives were like after leaving the LDS Church.
More information on the study is available online.
The Salt Lake City-based church, which was founded in 1830 in New York state, has about 16.3 million members worldwide.

February 5, 2018

Dan Reynolds Critical of a Church With a Scary Number of Teenage Suicides

Dan Reynolds addresses the crowd at the 2017 LoveLoud Festival in Orem, Utah. The Imagine Dragons frontman helped organize the event to benefit LGBTQ rights organizations.
Courtesy of HBO
Dan Reynolds is known to millions of fans around the world as the lead singer of the popular band, Imagine Dragons, because of hits like "Radioactive," "Thunder," and last year's chart-topper, "Believer."
The spiritual questions at the core of "Believer" are unmistakable, but also deeply personal. Now, though, Reynolds has taken those questions to new, more public terrain — the treatment of LGBTQ members of the church of Reynold's upbringing, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church.
Reynolds wrestles with the church's stance on same-sex relationships in a new documentary, also called Believer. It recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, which wrapped up last weekend in Park City, Utah. The documentary follows Reynolds' journey, from Mormon missionary to international rock star to LGBTQ advocate. 
Reynolds spoke with NPR's Michel Martin about growing up Mormon, how his view of the church has evolved and why he decided to become an advocate for Mormon LGBTQ youth. 

 Interview Highlights
On how he began to question the Mormon Church's stance on same-sex relationships 
When I was 18, I applied to go to BYU like my six brothers ahead of me — I have eight boys and one girl in my family. All of them went on Mormon missions, all of them went to BYU, and I was the first one in my family who was really on the brink of not getting into BYU. My grades weren't quite as good as my brothers' so I did a lot of after school and I got in by the skin of my teeth.
Then, one week before I was supposed to go, I met with a bishop and told him I had sex with my girlfriend of four years, and got kicked out of BYU — and that was a trigger point in my life. It was the first time that I kind of spiraled into depression. I was told that I had to stay home and all my friends went off to college and my roommate had to find someone else and I felt like a whole community was judging me.
I also felt like God saw me as this dirty kid who was sinful. And I think that was the first time that I started to think, you know, something's not right about this — telling a child that something that is innate, that is natural, that is beautiful, is sinful. And that was really destructive to me, and it's taken me years to see that and a lot of therapy and that's a small level of what LGBT Mormons go through — which is feeling guilt or shame about something that is innate, that should be celebrated, that is their sexuality, that is unchangeable.
Now that I've done the research and seen the suicide rate in Utah being the number one reason of death among teenagers, and LGBT youth are eight times more likely to take their lives if they're not accepted in their home or community, it's kind of been bubbling up for a long time for me. 
On putting together the LoveLoud concert to support the LGBTQ community
You know, I think the first knee-jerk reaction that I hear from most people that are not raised within religion or got out of religion, they say, 'Well, if it's such a dangerous place, leave religion. Leave Mormonism.' Or, 'Just tell these kids to leave Mormonism.' But it's not that simple because you're actually putting kids in a more dangerous position, a lot of times. If you just tell them, 'Hey, leave Mormonism' that could be leaving their home — getting kicked out of their home and putting them in, you know, a place of even higher chance of suicide, depression, anxiety and so, it's not that simple.
The question is how do we provide a safer place for them within the walls of religion until they get to a point where they can make a decision that's safe for them; you know, to either stay within their religious upbringing or leave. And so that's what LoveLoud Festival is about, is bridging the gap between religious communities — specifically Mormonism — and the LGBTQ community. But also, we wanted to do it right in Utah, right next to the church, right next to BYU, which is where I got kicked out of college so that the church has to see this.
On the backlash, he's received after the film 
You know, I had this conversation with my wife before we really stepped into this journey and we both kind of got to this point where we said, you know what, enough is enough and we have to follow our truth and follow our heart. You know, I've spent a lifetime trying not to offend people — that's one thing that Mormons are really good at is smiling and shaking your hand and doing everything they can to not offend you. And I have gotten to this point in life where I don't want to live that way anymore.
At the end of the day there are going to be people who look at this and say, "You're not Mormon enough," and then there are going to be people on the other side that are going to say, "You're not coming down hard enough on the Mormon church" and "You should leave," so I'm kind of riding this middle ground that I know is going to be offensive to people. All I can do is just be myself and follow my heart, and this is my path. 
On his family's reaction 
That's been the hard part. If I were, to be honest with you, the comments, all those things, I can let those things go. I've been in a band for years now that some people love and some people love to hate, I'm used to letting those things slide. But my family — that's hard. And my whole family is super Orthodox Mormon. And so none of them are particularly happy with me going down this road.
I sat down with my family member, who I'm not going to name, but they, you know, they said to me, "What if you get to Heaven and God says, 'Look at all these people you led astray and you made it sound like it was OK to be gay, and that's sinful.' " And so we obviously have pretty big ideological differences and theological differences at this point but, you know, my mom and dad came to the premiere and that meant a lot to me.
It's been a strange journey and me kind of try to put the family stuff out of sight and mind. The family is everything to me, and so having kind of a strained relationship with my family in this way is definitely the hardest part.
NPR's Isabel Dobrin produced this story for the web.

January 29, 2018

Gay Mormon Man Married Woman but Did Not Like It-Divorcing

 The Weed (Josh Weed)

It was close to six years ago when Josh Weed, a gay Mormon, went public with his rather unusual personal story: He had been married — happily — to a woman, Lolly for more than a decade. They had three kids and a “wonderful sex life.”


The story went viral for the obvious people-like-this-actually-exist?! reasons, but it also perpetuated the nasty myth that gay people who were religious could simply suppress their same-sex sexual desires and have wonderful opposite-sex relationships. (The couple was even referenced in a Supreme Court amicus brief on the anti-gay side of the Obergefell case that legalized marriage equality, though it’s unclear if they were aware of that in advance.)

Well, you’ll never believe who’s finally getting a divorce…

Weed explained the situation in a now-deleted blog post:

Today, we need to let you know that Lolly and I are divorcing.

Surely, there will be those who are amused or overjoyed. (One of the most common things that bring people to our blog from Google these days is the phrase “are Josh and Lolly weed still married.”) There will be those who feel Schadenfreude and who might relish in our pain, and in the embarrassment, we might feel in having to own up to our current reality. If that is you, I respect your reaction — I’ve reacted similarly to distant events in the past myself, and I know how it goes. I think this is human nature.

But along with this, there will be people who are very hurt, very saddened, very disturbed, very troubled, or whose very faith might be challenged by the sentence above. If that is you, I yearn for Lolly and me to be able to sit with you. Cheesy as this is, I wish we could all hold hands as the solemnity of what I just said above washes over us, so that we could then lean over and tell you: “it’s going to be okay.” Because it is.

Weed and his soon-to-be ex-wife say they still love each other (but not in that way) and that this is a decision they arrived at together. I don’t take any joy in the breakup of a couple with four kids. But I have so many questions…
Is he still Mormon?

Does he admit he was the poster boy for the anti-gay movement?

Does he feel bad about that?

Does he have any idea how many lives he must have ruined?

He hasn’t abandoned his faith… but that’s not very surprising. He spent more than a decade lying to himself about what he wanted in a relationship, so it’s not hard to believe he’d be confused about what he wants in a religion. (Spoiler: The LDS Church has no love for gay people who don’t want to be celibate.)

But I’m surprised to see that Weed readily admits his role in the anti-gay world. He seems like he’s genuinely trying to atone for what he’s done.

We’re sorry to any LGBTQIA person who was given false hope by our story, or who used our story as part of the basis for their life-decisions. We honor your decisions, whatever they are, and we’re sorry for any way in which our current trajectory might be unsettling or alarming.

I, Josh, am sorry to the many LGBTQIA people over the years that I subconsciously saw myself as different than. I am no different than you, and any degree to which I held on to the idea that I could be gay without being gay was, I see now, a manifestation of lingering internalized homophobia born of decades of being told this part of me was evil. It was an effort to belong to the “in-group” (heterosexual members of the Mormon Church) that I was actually not a part of.

I really want to be mad at this guy — and I am for his past — but I’m not sure what more anyone could ask him to do at this point. He admits the problem and he says he wants to be a part of the solution moving forward. In a way, he’s like a preacher who becomes an atheist: the (de)conversion carries more weight because of who he used to be. If Weed can convince Mormons that you can’t really “be gay without being gay,” then he’d be making a positive difference moving forward.

That doesn’t, however, mean we should forget about the damage he caused for so many years. What’s Weed going to do to prevent suicides that may have resulted from his actions? What’s he going to do about the anti-gay bigotry in the LDS Church? Where does he go from here?

I don’t care if he finds a same-sex partner. But his apology to the LGBTQ community rings hollow unless he follows it up with real action.

(Thanks to Dee for the link).   BY HEMANT MEHTA
 Story Posted on:

July 18, 2016

Lonely Struggle as Gay LDS Member Decided to End His Fight

Harry Fisher on his LDS mission in Rochester, New York.

On the night of February 12, 2016, Harry Fisher spent a few hours online: He scrolled through Facebook, checked his email. He searched Google Maps for nearby canyons and read through the lesson plan for a Sunday school class he would not live to teach.
Fisher navigated to, the official website for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and clicked on a page he knew well: the church-issued "Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual." 
From there, Fisher visited the webpage of the assigned lesson plan for the upcoming Sunday; it was titled "I Know in Whom I Have Trusted." The last section of the lesson suggested asking class members to analyze a chapter from the Book of Mormon and report on how the scriptural characters responded to discouragement.
    Perhaps Fisher was looking for answers himself.
    The 28-year-old Brigham Young University student was under stress in his final semester at school. He had fallen behind in his classes and failed a job screening that his mother said he had placed high hopes in. And in his last month of life, he publicly outed himself as gay on Facebook.
    The Sunday school manual's answers were meant to be a model for Latter-day Saints to follow. Some suggested answers included: "Read the scriptures," "Trust in the Lord and look to Him for support" and "Engage in mighty prayer." 
    This was the last webpage Harry Fisher ever visited.
    A search and rescue team used Fisher's internet history to locate his body high above Israel Canyon, a scenic hiking destination south of Salt Lake City, Utah. That history also paints a portrait of a man in his last days, struggling to reconcile his faith with his sexual identity. Death in a digital era lacks a sense of finality. Social media profiles remain, frozen in time. Personal videos can be replayed, and for a moment, the dead are resurrected in pixelated form.
    For Fisher's father, Paul Fisher, Harry's internet search history and Facebook profile provide pieces of a puzzle -- an incomplete jigsaw of Harry's last thoughts and final feelings.
    Paul Fisher shared his son's final Facebook posts, corresponding comments from friends, and a 30-day internet search history with CNN in an effort to shed light on who Harry was, what he loved, and what he believed. Harry's mother, Claire, also spoke with CNN. 
    The Fishers, who are divorced, agree that being gay was a source of loneliness for their son. They disagree to what extent the Mormon church played a role in fostering feelings of isolation. 
    Claire Fisher is a Mormon; Paul Fisher, though married to Claire for a decade, never joined the church. 
    But this much is clear: Their son's struggle to reconcile his faith with his identity was not his alone. Mormon leaders have been laboring to create a welcoming atmosphere for all members -- gay or not -- even as they hold fast to doctrines that regard homosexual acts as sinful. 
    On February 12, Harry Fisher closed his computer, leaving one last virtual fingerprint on Paul Fisher said that sometime in the hours that followed, Harry left his apartment -- taking his Bible and Book of Mormon, but leaving behind an empty gun case and a typed note. 
    With his Brigham Young University hoodie in his passenger seat, Fisher drove his 1995 Toyota 4Runner south from Draper to a final destination resonant with religious overtones: Israel Canyon. 
    Fisher left his scriptures in the passenger seat, bookmarked on Matthew 16:25: "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."
    A search team found Fisher’s body 11 days later, lying atop the canyon overlook with a gun at his side and three of his Mormon church membership cards in his pocket, Paul Fisher said.

    Harry's identity 
    Raised in the church, Mormonism constituted a foundational aspect of Fisher's identity -- but it was not his only identifier. He was a committed son and brother, a beloved bridge in a family split by divorce. He was a sci-fi junkie who avidly followed the Avengers, the Japanese anime show "Naruto Shippuden" and Star Wars. 
    He watched Portuguese language tutorials online, listened to Dan Carlin's podcast "Hardcore History," and reverenced Dostoyevsky. He ignored emails about overdue books at BYU's Harold B. Lee Library. He supported Bernie Sanders. He was also gay.
    Fisher publicly identified himself as gay only after he left his job with Ancestry, a website for genealogical research staffed by many fellow Mormons and headquartered in Lehi, Utah. In a January Facebook post, he disclosed how being both a member of the LDS Church and gay had been particularly difficult.
    "Many of my friends and family already know this, but for those who don't, let me let you know I'm gay. It hasn't been a secret, but I wasn't completely public with it before now because I worried that while I was at it might hurt my opportunities for promotion. Some of my closest friends at Ancestry were pretty openly anti-gay, so while I don’t know if any of my bosses were, and don't think they were, it seemed safer not to risk finding out." 
    Ancestry spokesman Brandon Borrman said the company was "deeply saddened" upon hearing of Fisher's death.
    "We were also horrified when we read of the concerns he had while he worked here. We believe this is (and strive for it to be) a place where everyone feels welcome and can live their lives without any worry of self-identification, retribution or discomfort. That said, we do not operate in a cultural vacuum. ... We hope that we can honor Harry's memory by continuing to improve ourselves as a company and by fighting for equality in the communities where we operate."
    Fisher's post went on to share that "being gay in Utah while being a Latter-Day Saint can be hard. ... It seems like every couple of Sundays I have to go out to my car to keep from crying at church."
    He then thanked those who had said "positive things about gay people, even if you didn't know you were talking about me. It really means a lot."
    That post gave Paul Fisher relief. "I thought, 'He's come out, he's OK. He's taken that big burden off of himself and everything is going to be fine.'
    "I couldn't have been more wrong."

    'Looking for a bullet'

    In the hazy wake of Harry's death, the Fishers are grasping to answer the most pressing question raised by suicide: Why?
    The Fishers, like many families, are left to deconstruct last words, subtle intonations, prolonged sighs -- pegging the formerly inconsequential as missed opportunities for intervention. There is always another clue to analyze, more to try to make sense of.
    In Harry's suicide, as in many suicides, there is never one simple answer. Paul Fisher believes the circumstances leading up to his son's death were complicated.
    In early January, Fisher decided to take on 22 credits in his final semester at BYU, where he had a 3.98 GPA. The heavy course load was an attempt to graduate by summer and move to Washington, D.C., where he was applying to become part of the Metropolitan Police Department.
    Harry's father believes his son saw the nation's capital as an escape.
    "Harry was looking for a more socially progressive community. He viewed D.C. and a job with the police department as his way out of Utah," Paul said.
    The week before final exams, Harry skipped school to fly to Washington for the physical portion of the police department entrance exam, which included a timed obstacle course. 
    He failed it by 2 seconds, his father said. 
    On his way home, he searched online for the appeals process for the entrance exam. Then Harry called his mother to tell her he was going to take the rest of the week off school, saying he "needed a few days to reconsider his options."
    Several days later, he was dead. 
    "It seems to me in retrospect that [his death] was really thoughtfully done and had been considered as a contingency," Claire said. "I believe there was a part of him that was looking for a bullet. He got to a point where he was just done."

    Latter-day labels

    On the day Fisher's body was found, Elder David A. Bednar, one of the church's top leaders and considered a "prophet, seer, and revelator," made media waves when he said, "There are no homosexual members of the church."
    Bednar was responding to a question posed by a member in Chile, who asked, "How can homosexual members of the church live and remain steadfast in the gospel?" 
    Bednar continued his response by encouraging Mormons to identify first as "children of God" instead of with a particular sexual identity. Nonetheless, Bednar's remarks incited a conversation among Mormons on the importance of language in sexual identification. It also ultimately pointed to another question: Is there room for gays in the Mormon church?
    The LDS church's labels for those on the LGBT spectrum have evolved over the past century. Before 1950, the church referred to homosexuality as "the sin that dare not speak its name," occasionally using the Biblical term "sodomy."
    In the 1960s, "homosexuality" entered the church's lexicon after leadership became concerned that the "practice" had begun to "infiltrate the church." The church began to use the term "same-sex attraction" in the mid-1990s, encouraging gay members to avoid "over identifying with [their] temporary mortal condition."
    Today, the church continues to use the term "same-sex attracted" when referring to gay members. One notable exception exists: the church's public-facing website The site was first released during Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign as an effort to address the church's stance on sexuality to the public. Targeted for a nonmember audience, the website is the first instance in which the church uses "gay" in an official publication.
    The church stresses that all, regardless of sexual or gender identity or marital status, are welcome to attend worship services weekly. But to be included in church records as an official member, congregants must abide by certain standards of conduct. Mormon members are taught that attraction to a member of the same sex is not a sin, but marrying someone of the same sex is. 
    Still, senior church officials have admonished members to reach out to gay Mormons with love. 
    "As a church, nobody should be more loving and compassionate. Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion and outreach. Let's not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender," Elder Quentin L. Cook said in a video released in 2012 on
    The church's desire to reach out to gay members is coupled with a doctrinal imperative to take a protective stance in advocating for traditional marriage. Mormon theology is founded on a core doctrinal belief that marriage between a man and a woman is essential for salvation in the highest levels of heaven. 
    Most publicly, the church organized significant support for California's Proposition 8 in 2008, which banned gay marriage statewide. In the years since, church leaders have expressed the view that all people deserve equal rights civilly. Top leadership has advocated for housing and employment protections for LGBT people. 
    But recent policy changes to church disciplinary handbooks for local leaders requiring the excommunication of members in same-sex marriages affirm that the church's doctrinal stances remain the same. 
    Meanwhile, LGBT advocates worry about the harm exclusionary messages could have on gay and lesbian Mormons.
    "You don't get much greater rejection than a top church leader telling you you do not exist," said Mitch Mayne, a Mormon from San Francisco and advocate for LGBT church members. Mayne was one of the first openly gay Mormon leaders. "I think it was a grave mistake to refer to LGBT identity not as an orientation but as a cross we must bear, a behavior," he said.
    Many LDS members, like Harry Fisher's mother, Claire, agree with the church's position that homosexuality is a challenge to be overcome by a lifetime of celibacy. Claire considers her son's sexuality to be a result of a "chemical effect" on his body, a "challenge" faced in his "imperfect human condition."
    "We spoke about these affinities a little over a year ago," Claire said, describing the time when Harry came out to her. "I asked him where he stood, and he said he had full intention to live within the bounds the Lord has set for these appetites and passions. He thought of himself as basically a Mormon monk."
    Still, Claire recognizes Harry's celibacy was a source of loneliness. "I think he may have seen this as an escape. It all came crashing in, he snapped. This was not an act of rebellion, of being angry at God, of being bullied at church, he just succumbed to the loneliness."
    Paul Fisher has a different perspective. He said he was not aware of his son's choice to remain celibate. "I just assumed one day he would show up with a guy at my door and I would meet his boyfriend."
    In January, unsubstantiated claims of an increase in suicide among gay Mormon youth prompted a public statement on gay suicide from the church-owned paper, Deseret News.
    "We mourn with their families and friends when they feel life no longer offers hope," church spokesman Dale Jones said. The article went on to outline how "constant love" from families and congregations can decrease risk factors for LGBT youth. However, church officials drew a line between "acceptance of a youth" and "embrac[ing] the individual's sexual identity."
    This is the difficult balance the church is weighing as it seeks to promote principles of inclusion while standing by its doctrinal positions.
    And now there are heightened consequences for gay members of the church: Choosing to live with a partner or marry a member of the same sex are grounds for excommunication.
    The church made that policy change last November. It also addressed the children of same-sex unions, rendering them ineligible for baptism until they are 18 years old and willing to denounce same-sex marriage.
    When the policy was leaked online by a whistleblower, the Mormon church found itself at the eye of a public relations hurricane. Thousands of members gathered in the church's Temple Square in Salt Lake City to resign from the church. Petitions circulated demanding disaffiliation with the Mormon church. College athletic teams across the country were encouraged to boycott games and matches with church-sponsored Brigham Young University.
    According to his father, Fisher followed the response to the policy change closely.
    "I don't know if [gay marriage] was something he considered," Paul says, "but he did express to me at a dinner after he came out publicly on Facebook that he hoped within 10 years the LDS church would allow gay marriage."
    Claire disagrees, saying, "Harry wasn't waiting for the brethren to come to their senses on anything."

    'Love is like a surgical knife'

    In the month before he died, Fisher renewed his "temple recommend" card -- identification used by the church's most faithful members to gain access to sacred LDS temples.
    He successfully passed a "recommend interview" with his bishop. His support of church leadership as "prophets, seers and revelators" was required to pass the interview and gain access to the church's most sacred places of worship. In Mormon doctrine, his eternal fate was contingent on the answer.
    In the interview, Fisher was not explicitly asked about his sexuality. The 10 questions required to receive a recommend are uniform in congregations across the world and none require members to state their sexual identity. He was, however, asked about his adherence to the church's Law of Chastity -- the standard prohibiting premarital sex and homosexual relations of any kind. 
    Additionally, Fisher was asked about his support for any organizations whose activities were not in line with church teachings. Fisher posted publicly about his response to the question on Facebook. 
    He said, "One of the questions asks, 'Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.' I answered no."
    According to his mother, Fisher put all three of his prior temple recommends in his wallet before he died. Yet in the last week of his life, he also spent time online exploring what it meant to "sustain" or support his leaders' edicts.
    In early February, Fisher accessed the page of a Terryl Givens' article, "What it Means to Sustain," on the LDS blog Times and Seasons eight different times. As a University of Richmond professor and active member, Givens speaks as a Mormon scholar closely affiliated with the church.
    The article was a published letter Givens had written to a friend who questioned how to support church leadership despite disagreeing with the recent policy regarding gay members.
    Givens' friend asked: "How can I sustain a leadership that I think has acted in error or unrighteously?"
    Givens answered that God required "faith and patience" from members who are led by fallible men and women. He said "the church is not a democracy" but insisted leadership was, overall, seeking to serve members with love. He believed Mormons could only exert influence on leadership "by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned."
    On January 28, Fisher changed his Facebook cover photo to a picture of an LDS temple. Overlaid on the image was a caption: "Love is like a surgical knife. Sharp and dangerous.” 


    While dozens of LGBT Mormon advocacy organizations have arisen with the advent of the internet, the church has been careful not to sanction any of these grassroots movements. And for devout members like Fisher, seeking answers from outside sources is often deemed subversive.
    According to his public search history, Fisher sought answers to his questions from the church. He never ventured into the large repository of anti-Mormon blogs and forums. Instead, he visited the church's website and typed the word "seek" into the scriptural search bar. He navigated to the page for Matthew 7:7: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you." 
    But Fisher found few resources for gay Mormons in official church publications. He pursued the next best option: blogs of active members asking similar questions.
    Fisher visited the blogs Times and Seasons, By Common Consent and Feminist Mormon Housewives, reading articles titled, "How did you become aware of gender issues in the Church and world?"
    Fisher later posted his own "thoughts about transgenderism" to Facebook. On January 10, he wrote: 
    "I feel very strongly, though, that people should have the right to look and act however they want, and to be called by whatever labels they want. So much that is evil in the world comes from categorizing people." 
    He concluded the post with a hashtag: #thegospelisbigger.

    An emotional soul

    Fisher's mother says she first noticed a change in Harry after he returned from his two-year LDS mission to Rochester, New York. She believes his exposure to a world outside Utah unsettled her son.
    "Ever since he came home from his mission he had a deeper kind of sadness. He had an emotional soul, but he had never been exposed to prostitutes and drug dealers like he was in western Rochester," Claire said. "He came home with a bit of cynicism, a bit more jaded about the human condition."
    She remembered the first thing Fisher wanted to do upon return from his mission was read "The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. For the characters in Dostoyevsky's novel, suffering is quasi-religious. Death and devastation are ways for the Karamazov brothers, like the biblical character Job, to draw closer to God. 
    Fisher asked his mother to read the book with him -- seeking someone to share his feelings with.
    "He wanted me to understand the depth of suffering in the human condition," Claire said.
    For many LDS missionaries, who leave their homes for 18 months to two years to proselytize in an assigned region of the world, loneliness is pervasive. Missionaries, many of whom leave on their mission immediately after high school graduation, are only allowed to call home on Christmas and Mother's Day, though they can email once weekly.
    This loneliness can be exacerbated for gay missionaries bereft of resources from the church and cut off from the internet, where many find solidarity with other gay Mormons. 
    "I don't think [Harry] knew he was attracted to men in high school. But the mission gives you the ‘in your face' realization that you may be attracted to that guy," Claire said. 
    Paul believes his son returned home from his mission with some questions about the church. Harry disliked the church's emphasis on attending "young single adult wards" -- groups designed for unmarried adults ages 18-29. He believed the prioritization of marriage in these wards (the LDS term for congregation) detracted from the focus on worshiping Christ.
    Soon after his mission, Fisher began attending a "family ward" -- Mormon congregations open to all. Upon realizing he was not married, the bishop overseeing the ward asked him to leave.
    "A bishop ordered him out of the family ward and told him to join a singles ward," Claire Fisher said. "He moved every year for the last five years, not laying down any roots."

    A lack of resources

    Paul Fisher wishes he had encouraged his son to utilize more LGBT resources and communities that exist in Utah. "I wish I had walked him into an organization like the Utah Pride Center. I wish I had shown him that this community existed. It doesn't mean he would have responded positively, but I wish I had."
    Claire Fisher says she spoke with her son about existing resources, but he rejected them. 
    "He had considered all the options that were open to him as someone who identified with same gender affinity. We had discussed the resources, namely North Star, but he rejected the idea and felt he would do it on his own."
    North Star is a "faith affirming" organization which seeks to provide resources for "Latter-day Saint individuals and families concerned with sexual orientation or gender identity."
    While the Mormon church has advocated publicly for equal rights for the LGBT community, it has left the provision of resources to the LGBT community to secular entities. To date, the church has not adopted any of the resources developed by Mormon LGBT advocates, including the Family Acceptance Project, a training program for families and religious leaders aimed at increasing acceptance of LGBT youth and addressing mental illness.
    The Family Acceptance Project is the only faith-based training program listed as best practice by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The materials were adopted by the Utah State Health Department as a resource for families last September in light of a threefold increase in youth suicides in Utah since 2007. 
    Andrea Hood, suicide prevention coordinator with the department, said there is no statistical evidence that the increase in suicide is connected to the LDS church policy change, or to religion in general, but it is difficult to say for certain as data on sexuality and religion are not always included in police reports. Hood also noted that religiously motivated discrimination is a risk factor -- along with mental illness, prior trauma and depression -- in teen suicides. 
    "We want to show them examples of adults who are LGBT who, if they have faced faith discrimination in their life, they have been resilient and that they are happy, successful adults who are thriving members of our community."
    Mormon leaders have been pitched the Family Acceptance Project in meetings with advocacy groups since 2008, but the materials have not been implemented. The church rarely adopts outside material for use in leadership training or member instruction, preferring to produce teaching manuals internally. 
    In the eight years since the church was introduced to the concept of the Family Acceptance Project, no materials have been produced internally with the aim of helping church leadership respond to at-risk LGBT youth. The church declined to comment on the adoption of the materials.
    Mayne, the openly gay Mormon leader, said the church has "completely missed the boat" in terms of providing resources for LGBT members. "It is a dangerous time to be an LGBT Mormon right now."
    Other members of the advocacy community agree, pinpointing the problem on an empathy gap.
    Kendall Wilcox, an openly gay LDS member, filmmaker, and former BYU professor, said, "To overcome that empathy gap, leaders need to do the work of stepping out of their homes and their offices, to have many, many long conversations with LGBT members about their lived experiences." 
    Erika Munson, co-founder of the LGBT advocacy group Mormons Building Bridges, said, "I would like to hear a little more compassion. I want to hear an acknowledgment of that pain -- that it is a pain that hits an identity. I want leaders to say, 'This is difficult, you are not alone, I am here for you.'"
    Claire says her son preferred to chart his course of reconciliation alone.
    Claire also is wary of how helpful the gay communities could have been for Harry. "In the support groups ... being in proximity to another gay man would exacerbate the issue if you're trying to get a hold on it."
    Claire laments the loneliness her son felt but underscores that his death is about more than just his sexual identity -- it was about the isolation he experienced in forming relationships.
    "Though his dad and his older sister are adamant that the Mormon church killed my son, it didn't. Loneliness did."

    'My work is finished' 

    On the last night of his life, Fisher called his mother one final time. In the conversation, she asked him what "he had come up with in terms of his future plans."
    Fisher often sought his mother's opinion when making life decisions. Yet that night, he grew quiet. With a sigh, Fisher said, "Mom, Mom you know, I know you mean well."
    Later that night, Harry Fisher left a typed note in his apartment. It read, "I know God loves me and that my work is finished."

    November 16, 2015

    Mormon Church Declares Gays to be Apostates and MormonGay Kids Barred from Baptism


    Janice Unsicker slurps hot chocolate out of a spoon at an IHOP in North Salt Lake City, utterly unaware of the controversy that surrounds her. When asked what she's been learning at her Mormon church, the 6-year-old smiles, simply saying, "About Heavenly Father and Jesus."
    Her father, however, has to figure out how to explain that things have changed.
    "Her grandparents have been preparing her to get baptized, and she's been excited about it," Todd Unsicker-Montoya says. "I still haven't even told her that now she can't. I don't know how."
    Under a new policy from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, children of same-sex couples are barred from being baptized. That includes Janice and her 3-year-old brother, Trevor, because they live with two dads who are married to each other. After they turn 18 years old, Janice and Trevor will have the chance to be baptized — but only if they disavow the practice of same-sex relationships and marriage.
    Hundreds of Mormons resigned their membership in the church Saturday in protest of the policy.
    The two children would be eligible for baptism if they lived with their heterosexual mother, but Unsicker-Montoya doesn't think his children should have to choose between him and the church.
    "I never had anything bad to say about the church until they did that," Unsicker-Montoya says. "It feels like a direct attack towards them. It doesn't feel fair to punish my kids for the lifestyle I'm choosing to live."
    Unsicker-Montoya is resigning from the Mormon church, and many members of his family are joining him, including his mother, Laurie Sheldon.
    "Where they say my grandchildren ain't gonna be welcome to be baptized, that kind of breaks my heart — I mean, really bad," says Sheldon. "I mean, you're not supposed to judge anybody, but I feel like now they're judging the kids and that's what hurts. To me, my son and his husband are the best parents ever."
    Todd Unsicker-Montoya, with his children, Janice and Trevor Unsicker.i
    Todd Unsicker-Montoya, with his children, Janice and Trevor Unsicker.
    Andrea Smardon
    Three of Unsicker-Montoya's siblings are resigning, as well as his ex-wife, who has been going to church with her parents and the kids.
    Church officials declined an interview, but in a recently released video, church leader Todd Christofferson explained that the intention is to leave no room for doubt. Same-sex marriage may be legal, but it's still a serious sin in the eyes of the church.
    "There's no kindness in misdirecting people and leading them into any misunderstanding about what is true, what is right, what is wrong, what leads to Christ and what leads away from Christ," Christofferson said.
    He said the policy was made out of concern and compassion for the children in households with same-sex parents.
    "We don't want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the church are very different."
    "It felt like a gut punch," says Kendall Wilcox, a faithful member of the church, who says these policy updates go against everything he's been working for.
    He's openly gay, but he tries to abide by doctrine. The church teaches that same-sex attraction is not a sin but acting on it is. Wilcox is part of a growing group that has been working within the church to try to build acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, but this announcement brings all that into question.
    "And in fact," Wilcox says, "we took it very personally, in terms of immediate self-doubt that we had been leading people down a false path."
    Still, Wilcox says the fact that the Mormon community is so torn on this issue shows that the empathy that church members feel for LGBT people is colliding with church doctrine.

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