25 June 2016

Overcoming homophobia

The mass shooting at Orlando two weekends ago hit me pretty hard. For a few days I was frequently on the verge of tears. I don't know any of the victims personally. Moreover, I don't have any friends who know any of the victims, so the sadness was not because of a specific personal connection. Rather it existed largely because a community important to me had been horribly attacked. Other gay people I know were mourning in the days following the attack. It was a tragedy for all of America, but it was also a tragedy specific to the gay community.

For a few days I did a fair amount of reading on-line and listening. Perhaps I engaged too much with the dialogue surrounding the tragedy, because in addition to news about the lives of the victims and expressions of support and sympathy for the LGBT community, there were also vile things said about gay people. For example, a pastor who doesn't live more than a few dozen miles from where I live, wished that evenmore gay people had been killed in the tragedy, citing God’s will for retribution for gays.

Picketing of funerals by extremists, hate speech, internal hatred - these are reminders that homophobia is frequently not very far away. It may be a minority of extremists that publicly vocalize or act on their deep intolerance, but how many in silent America sympathize with their views at least to some extent? How many have decided that the stereotypes they learned long ago about LGBT people are true and won’t bother to challenge those assumptions? How many put more faith in a modern interpretation of a few lines of text in an ancient holy book than in science, sociology, and common sense?

Marriage equality didn't erase the deep antipathy some people hold for sexual minorities. However, we live in an unmistakably different world than I grew up in a few decades ago. Many LGBT people are no longer in the shadows. Coming out, though always difficult, is generally met with more supportive friends and families. Straight allies are willing to publicly show their support for LGBT equality and mourn when gay people suffer injustice. Despite the tragedy at Orlando, and some of the hate speech that ensued, there were some beautiful expressions of love and solidarity too:

Like a powerful speech given by a conservative Utah politician.

Like prayers and acts of solidarity offered by American Muslims and Orthodox Jews.

Like the giant angelic wings built to shield mourners from anti-gay protesters at Orlando funerals.

And like this moving musical tribute to the Pulse victims by two gay singer songwriters.

12 June 2016

This is why pride

When I was in the closet years ago, I may have sympathized with those who voiced criticism of gay pride celebrations. 'Why do they need to flaunt their sexuality?'. 'I don't care what they do in private, but they don't need to be public about it'. Personally, I kept as quiet as possible about gay issues for the many years I tried to suppress being gay, but these were the dominant kinds of voices I heard growing up. It must have been true - gay people are selfish and perverted. Sadly there are many people that still feel that way. There are even a few, drunk in their own deluding hatred, who believe that gay people are worthy of death.

What is the point of gay pride parades, which usually occur around this time of year? They were born of events at the Stonewall Inn decades ago, where police violently cracked down on a gay club, and LGBT people fought back over the course of several nights. The events at a New York bar helped galvanize the modern gay rights movement and led to the first LGBT pride parades in the country which were held on the first anniversary of the riots.

A different gay club was again in the news in a huge way this weekend. In Orlando Florida, early this morning, a gunman terrorized hundreds of people at Pulse, killing and injuring scores. At this early juncture, motives and details aren't fully known, but it is said to be the greatest mass killing by a gunman in American history. The gunman appears to have had links to the terror group ISIS and was reported to have reacted to the sight of two men kissing several weeks earlier. He may have been specifically seeking out LGBT establishments for the attack.

Terror is often no respecter of persons, indiscriminate in its victims. Sometimes it is directed at specific groups of people like the innocent black parishioners worshiping in a Charleston, South Carolina church. Violence is the extreme end of a spectrum of prejudice and injustice that many minority groups, including LGBT people, have faced for decades.

Only one man pulled the trigger early this morning to inflict horrible violence on dozens of people. But there are others in our society responsible for perpetuating prejudice and misinformation about LGBT people, who enable an environment where even more extreme views or acts can take root. There are some who use language to incite discrimination or even violence. There are a few religious leaders that betray their sacred trust to inspire people and, in their bigotry against LGBT people, ignore the most fundamental precepts of their religion.

Pride is our community's response to oppression. Pride exists for the LGBT community to throw off the crippling burden of shame that society has long wanted us to live with. Pride serves as a reminder that LGBT people are a part of every corner of society - they are teachers, law enforcement, artists, scientists and business leaders. And as I read in an on-line comment earlier today, pride exists to let people in the closet know that they are not alone.


This June I imagine that pride celebrations across the country will feel more muted. There will be sadness that so much progress not-withstanding, there is still much hatred of LGBT people in the world. There will be some mourning that America is not one bit closer to solving her problem with gun violence. There may be a little more fear of a possible attack in the places where gay people meet. But pride also reminds us how far gay rights have progressed, especially over the last decade. It reminds us of the resilience of LGBT people and all they've faced as a community. In the tragedy of Orlando there can be a chance for greater compassion and greater understanding if we are open to that invitation. That can be the flower that grows from the ashes of this tragedy.

04 February 2016

Our youth

Every couple months it seems, Mormonism and LBGT issues intersect on the public stage and cause another stir.

Last week a spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expressed remorse for LGBT suicides in the Church, a move in response to information circulating in the media about an apparent increase in LGBT Mormon suicides following the Church's policy revisions in November about gay couples and their children.

The November policy announcement by the Church in essence declared firstly that members of the Church in same-sex marriages were apostates, and secondly that children of parents currently (or formerly) in same-sex committed relationships would be denied participation in Church ordinances until they were 18. There are more details, of course, but the salient point here is that the policy change (slipped into a church handbook meant only for leaders and then leaked to social media and the press) was another watershed moment in the history of friction between the LGBT community and the Church. Consternation about and condemnation of the policy was widespread, even among believing non-gay members of the church. At a minimum, several thousand people resigned from Church membership in response to the policy.

Seldom content to let dying positions extinguish peacefully when it comes to gay issues, Church leadership stirred controversy again several weeks ago when Elder Russell M Nelson, now second in seniority in church leadership, gave a speech at BYU Hawaii in which he described a process of deliberation about the policy among church leaders and claimed that the controversial policy was "revelation". That pronouncement seemed to up the stakes: the Church was now elevating the policy to a revelation (meaning it was God's will), and believing Church members unhappy with the policy could no longer readily dismiss it as just a human error by Church leaders, but had to grapple with the possibility that God really had something to do with this unsettling policy.

Finally, over the past week, discussion began circulating about a possible spike in the number of suicides among teenage LGBT Mormons following the November policy announcement by the Church. Active Mormons Wendy and Thomas Montgomery (parents of a gay teen) claimed that as many as 34 individuals have taken their life since the announcement. Names have not been released (understandably), but were collected through private conversations with family members or other individuals.

Last Thursday, through a spokesperson, the Church acknowledged the issue and expressed regret for this tragedy. That was followed by a lengthy article in the Church-owned Deseret News newspaper describing ways that families and church members can provide a more supporting environment for LGBT people. The article cited helpful information, including the evidence-based research produced by the Family Acceptance Project from San Francisco State University.

This is the background. (If you're reading this blog you more likely than not already know much of this news). Now for a few thoughts:

First, it is fair to give the church due praise for acknowledging this important issue. For a church that has often been tone deaf to the needs of the LGBT community, public acknowledgement of this problem is welcome. However, much more can and should be done by the LDS Church if they genuinely have concern for this demographic. Bishops and other church leaders need better training on how to discuss sexuality in their congregations and minister to the needs and concerns of LGBT members. Top LDS leaders need to use much more care in how they talk about LGBT people and their relationships in public. Condescension, demonization, or half truths are unacceptable. Finally, the Church would do well to sincerely apologize for numerous harmful and factually inaccurate statements made in past decades about homosexuality.

Next I acknowledge that it is probably nearly impossible to verify numbers when it comes to LGBT suicides in the Church. The causal factors of suicide are complex and probably can't be known in most cases, let alone attributed to a single specific cause such as friction between gay identity and religious belief. It also appears that we don't have the relevant data about LGBT suicides that would allow anyone to make conclusive statements about trends over time. Anecdotal evidence abounds, and I don't doubt that the evidence in the aggregate points to a problem, but one can only discern trends accurately with carefully-collected data over a sufficient period of time. Moreover, because of deep stigmas around both homosexuality and suicide (especially in Mormon culture), it would be extremely difficult for even a motivated researcher to gather the data in a systematic way that overcomes the various challenges of sampling this demographic.

But as has been pointed out repeatedly, each and every case of suicide is serious and devastating to the families and friends involved. Each death is the loss of a unique individual. That any person affiliated with the church, especially a young person, would feel such despair should be alarming to Church leadership and to members. It should cause great reflection: is there something about our doctrines or practices that are causing real harm to this community of people? With or without exact numbers, we have enough evidence to raise a serious alarm. I know gay Mormons who have contemplated suicide. A gay Mormon friend of a gay Mormon friend ended his life. I myself at times have felt significant despair about my sexuality, including deep despair about the intractable juxtaposition of being a gay man in a straight marriage. The anguish in our community is widespread, and seldom given voice in the Church. When our community or allies speak out, some defenders of the Church respond with insensitivity, seemingly giving more concern to the reputation of an institution than the tragedy of living human beings.

Third, we may not have reliable data on LGBT Mormon suicides in relation to other LGBT communities or non-gay Mormon youth, but we do have data on the general vulnerability of gay youth relative to non-gay youth. For gay youth generally, we know that they have more than a two-fold greater risk of suicide attempts than their straight friends. LGBT youth also experience much higher risk factors than their straight peers. Nationwide (and in Utah) up to about 40% of homeless youth are from the LGBT community (Durso and Gates 2012; Equality Utah). The top reasons for homelessness in these youth include rejection of their sexual orientation by parents, abusive home environments, and simply being kicked out because they were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. LGBT youth also tend to experience more bullying than straight youth (CDC 2014).

Fortunately, we also know some important things about how the risk of suicide and other harmful behaviors can be reduced. The Family Acceptance Project has shown that greater acceptance and love from families helps reduce risk of harmful behaviors in LGBT youth (Ryan et al. 2010). Letting youth explore and self identify as they see fit leads to greater happiness in these kids. Letting youth connect with other gay youth and supportive LGBT organizations helps too. A supportive school environment, free of homophobic teasing, also leads to greater well being of youth of all sexual orientations (CDC 2014).

Finally, I think it is vital to address what I feel is one of the root causes of despair sometimes felt in the Mormon LGBT community. As noted, the causes of suicide are complex and appear to often stem from other mental health issues for individuals who end their lives. But the Church bears some responsibility for creating a doctrinal and social environment in which harmful behaviors by LGBT youth or their families can become more likely. I think one of the roots of despair for many in the LGBT Mormon community is the exclusively heterocentric worldview of the Church, and the failure to theologically provide earthly and heavenly roles for LGBT people that are equally as hopeful and exalting as those promised to faithful married heterosexual couples and their families. How can a gay person feel fully connected with the divine when the very deepest of his or her desires are nothing like the heterosexual God of Mormonism? In LDS theology, same-sex relationships are forbidden here on earth and will have no part of heaven. For LGBT Mormons to feel fully accepted by God or the Church community, they have to deny, suppress or ignore a key part of who they are as a human being. They have to willingly forgo one of the key aspects of being human that brings joy. Even same-sex attractions, as promised by LDS leaders, are supposedly to disappear for gay members in the next life. It is no wonder then, as has been pointed out by many people, that a quick exit to the next life may at times seem like an attractive alternative for a gay person willing to do anything to rid himself or herself of same-sex attraction. But no rigid theology is worth a precious life.

The Church cannot address gay Mormon suffering simply through platitudes. Kind words do help; compassionate responses from parents when gay Mormon kids come out can indeed save lives; but some degree of despair will always be part of the overall gay Mormon experience until a more comfortable place can be made in the church for LGBT people. The divide between the living reality of LGBT individuals and the framework of Mormon theology must be narrowed. Whether or not that requires a change in Mormon theology is up to the church and the members to decide, but the loss of these gay Mormon youth - however many the count truely is - and the flood of LGBT members and their allies from the ranks of the Church demands a serious, innovative, and compassionate response from Mormonism. 

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2014. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health. Link to source.

Durso LE, Gates GJ. 2012. Serving Our Youth: Findings from a national survey of service providers working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Los Angeles: The Williams Institute with True Colors Fund and The Palette Fund. Link to study

Russell ST, Joyner K. 2001. Adolescent sexual orientation and suicide risk: evidence from a national study. American Journal of Public Health 91:1276-1281.

Ryan C, Russel ST, Huebner D, Diaz R, Sanchez J. 2010. Family acceptance in adolescence and the health of LGBT young adults. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing. 4:205-213. Link to study.

08 November 2015

It would be better that a millstone ...

It has been a busy weekend with back-to-back scientific conferences in two states. It has been a tiring few days, but in my spare moments I have been thinking a lot about the LDS Church’s new policy towards children of same-sex parents. I’ve absorbed what I could on-line: denunciations of the policy by critics of the Church, stories of families affected by these changes, and even a few defenses of the offensive policy. I’ve tried to assemble some thoughts early this morning, on a flight, and now at the PDX airport.

The new policy targets LGB people and their families in a few ways. First, it establishes that same-sex marriage is an offense of apostasy, and therefore requires mandatory Church discipline. (Note that not even actual serious crimes like child abuse mandate automatic church discipline.) It is a clear message to LGBT Mormons that the Church condemns the relationships that are most likely to bring them happiness. It sends a message to bishops that they cannot just let the nice gay couple in their ward sneak under the radar without punishment. Second, the policy sets out administrative rules for the children of parents that are (or have even been) in same-sex relationships. These children now cannot receive the main saving ordinances of the Church, including baptism, until they are 18. At that time, they cannot not reside in a same-sex household, they must attest that they do not accept the legitimacy of same-sex relationships (including mom or dad’s), and they must have permission from the highest authorities of the Church to then be baptized.

One has to seriously question any notion that this policy is needed to clarify church doctrine. If there is one thing anyone in the United States would know about the Mormons these days it could very well be the fact they are opposed to same-sex marriage. If that wasn’t obvious from Proposition 8, consider that it is repeated ad infinitum in general conference talks, press releases, stories by news media and by faithful members as they post their views on social media with family and friends. In fact, the Church’s anti-gay marriage position may be so well known that it could run the risk of drowning out the message that Mormonism should really focus on bringing to humanity – following Jesus’ example of love and service to transform one’s own soul.

As I’ve thought about the possible motivations for issuing the policy, it is impossible to surmise the actual intentions of Church leaders. Perhaps it is a way for church leadership to assert its relevance into questions of gay marriage and gay relationships that the Church has been solidly losing in the courts and in public discourse. One blogger thought the motivation might be a simple act of flexing institutional power, an assertion that wouldn’t seem inconsistent with other moments in Mormon history. Mostly, it seems very controlling to me. But regardless of the motivations, the potential for harm is great. True, for many Mormon or ex-Mormon individuals and families, this will have little relevance. For others it will result in disruption and conflict. In the end, it serves the interest of the Church only and few else. That is a sad indictment of a religion that claims to speak for God.

In my present circumstances, I don’t think the policy directly affects me or my children. I am still married to my wife (and not in a same-sex relationship) and my spouse and children only partly attend church. But we very well could be affected directly under different circumstances, especially as life evolves into the future. Thursday evening as I read the breaking news flooding over social media as I walked the isles of the supermarket, I felt a lot of anger. I felt hurt again, like an old wound was yet again being opened. Not content to leave us in peace, the Church needed to remind us of our “sin” yet again. The Church needed to remind us that God doesn’t approve of gay relationships yet again.

I do know of former gay Mormons who are much more likely to be impacted. These are friends and others who have previously been in mixed orientation marriages. They have divorced and left the Church, but their still-believing spouses wish to raise the children in Mormonism. These are among the families affected by this policy and these families are not necessarily a small minority in the LGBT community. I could write volumes about how difficult mixed orientation marriages are for everyone involved – straight spouse, gay spouse, and children. My own experience, which is no where from nearing its end, has involved years of navigating sorrow, disappointment, and confusion.

If I could articulate the root of my anger, it might be the repeated insensitivity of LDS church leadership towards the broader LGBT family, and especially towards those of us working through the complexity of mixed orientation marriages. Indeed, it was the doctrine and culture of Mormonism that created an environment in which these marriages were more likely to occur in the first place. Now, our complex and trying circumstances are left scattered over the battlefield Mormonism has waged with the LGBT community and we are largely abandoned. There is no official apology: “We are sorry to have once encouraged you to marry; we apologize for teaching false information about homosexuality; we regret that our doctrine on the family has been so narrow; we are sorry that you felt so much pressure to conform to a heterosexual ideal that doesn’t fit who you are.”

If the Church wanted to really help our families, policies that might further divide families should be the absolute last thing it would consider. It would provide resources to help us through family adjustments or through divorce; it would replace its false teachings about homosexuality and gay relationships with sound research on sexuality; it would plead with God to reveal a healthy and sustainable path for LGBT people within the Church. It would not issue a policy that only makes it harder for some of our families to reach a place of peace and reconciliation.

I don’t believe anymore, and for many reasons, not just because I’m gay. In many ways this chapter of life is over. Yet through extended family and close friends, because of a decade and a half of life dedicated to the Church, and through the cultural imprints that will continue to influence me in even small ways going forward, I won’t ever know a time when I’m not touched in some way by the Church. In many respects that legacy has been positive. But on sexuality, the Church is dead wrong. It owns a long legacy of incorrect teachings about homosexuality and it bears much responsibility for the damage that has caused to individuals and families.

The best outcome now for me is to part peaceably from the Church. I have done so all but officially. But, the Church needs to leave us alone too. If church leadership consistently chooses to turn LGBT issues into a cultural war, they will lose. If you look at the emerging science of sexuality and gay relationships, you will know they have lost. If you get to know a gay person, and see their struggle and humanity, you will know the church has lost. And if you consider the un-severable bond between parents and children, even gay parents and their children, you will know they have lost. Only a fool would think to stand between a mama bear and her cub.

To my LDS friends: please speak up about this policy. Please speak with your local Church leaders or write to Church leaders. Please support the LGBT Mormons and ex-Mormons in your lives, and especially the children of these individuals. 

29 October 2015

39 questions for the World Congress of Families

What exactly is it about same-sex marriage that threatens a straight marriage? How specifically does your gay neighbor’s marriage negatively impact your straight neighbor’s marriage? Won’t allowing gay people to marry increase the stability of society overall? Are loving gay relationships really more threatening to the stability of families than war, economic inequality, lack of educational opportunity, and environmental degradation? Is acceptance of gay relationships harming American society more than crime, unemployment, racism, public health crises, growing economic disparity, or worsening political gridlock? Can you cite any data that show a direct link between acceptance of same-sex marriage and heterosexual couples losing interest in marriage or having children? If gay marriage leads to the unraveling of society, why are European nations that have embraced marriage equality still prospering?

What exactly is a “traditional” or “natural” family? Which tradition is it based on? Is it a one male-one female marriage, or a male-female-female-…-female marriage traditionally present in some religious societies? Are traditional societies that accepted homosexuality in their culture wrong? What empirical evidence do you have that gay and lesbian couples are, on average, worse parents than straight parents? Can you cite any major peer-reviewed studies that support your position that haven’t been discredited by the scientific community? Is it more important for children to have two parents that fulfill specific gender roles or to have two loving parents (regardless of gender) that bring important personality differences to a family? Are families led by a single parent or by grandparents less than ideal too?

If marriage is principally for raising children, should older individuals or those who can’t have children be allowed to marry? Should a heterosexual couple that isn’t interested in having children be permitted to marry? Should a marriage just be dissolved once all the children of the family have moved out of the household to live independent lives? Don’t gay and lesbian marriages strengthen communities when they adopt children that heterosexual parents chose not to raise? To reduce foster care and strengthen communities, shouldn’t governments promote adoption of children by all qualified couples, including gay couples? How are the children of gay parents affected when their parents aren’t allowed to marry or their parent’s relationships are attacked?

What data do you have to show that LGBT people are not born exactly as they say they are? If sexual orientation is a conscious choice, why do virtually all gay conversion therapies fail to turn people straight? Would you, as a straight person, choose to be gay for a week just to prove to us that sexuality is chosen? If there is no genetic basis for sexuality at all, why are identical twins of gay men much more likely to be gay themselves? If one or more biological factors ultimately cause homosexuality, is it just or ethical to discriminate against an entire community for something that is innate?

Do you believe that religious freedom means freedom for all, including non-Christians and non-believers? Do you want freedom to practice your religion in your own homes or communities, or the special privilege of having your beliefs encoded in law? If your conferences aim to strengthen families, why do speakers spend so much time demonizing LGBT individuals and their families? Why are LGBT “activists” viewed as the enemy of the family? Why do your conferences and events include speakers that sometimes have very homophobic views? Why do attendees and speakers at your events work to help foreign governments pass harmful anti-LGBT legislation? Why does the WCF oppose hate crime legislation? Shouldn’t a just and free society protect fellow LGBT citizens from harassment or discrimination even if others don’t agree with them?


Are you willing to sit with LGBT people and open your minds to their stories? Will you listen to proponents of gay rights without labeling them “sexual deviants” or pedophiles? Will you accept empirical research about sexual orientation and gay parenting even if it contradicts your belief system? Do you have any LGBT people in your immediate or extended families? Do you treat them and speak to them in a way than lets them know how fabulous and valuable they are?

25 October 2015

The World Congress of Families

This week the World Congress of Families (WCF) convenes its 9th international conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is the first time the organization, founded about 20 years ago, has had a conference in the United States. Scheduled speakers and attendees at the event include the governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, and one of the senior apostles of the LDS Church, M. Russell Ballard. Affiliates of BYU and BYU-Idaho are also scheduled to speak at various points in the conference. The event is hosted by the Sutherland Institute, a conservative Utah-based organization.

The mission of the WCF is to “provide … sound scholarship and effective strategies to affirm and defend the natural family”. The “natural family” is a nuclear family comprised of a married man and woman. Unfortunately through their actions, agenda and associations, the WCF has made it fairly clear that LGBT individuals and families are not just viewed as non-ideal in this worldview, but as the enemy. Here are some important considerations when weighing whether the World Congress of Families and its affiliates really work towards the benefit of all families:

- The WCF has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

- In 2009, the United Nations prepared a statement urging that homosexuality should be decriminalized (homosexual acts are illegal in many countries). The WCF opposed this measure.

- WCF’s past partners include the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, both anti-LGBT organizations.

- The WCF openly admits to opposing hate-crime legislation and to laws that ban reparative therapy even while it tries to defend its self as not hateful.

- The WCF calls those who oppose their narrow definitions of family and human sexuality, “sexual radicals”.

- The Sutherland Institute which is sponsoring WCF’s conference in Utah this year, is opposed to same-sex marriage, same-sex civil unions, and recognition of LGBT people as a protected legal class. They also directly reject the idea that anyone is born gay.

- One of the plenary sessions of this year’s conference includes “The Future After the SCOTUS Decision”, a short series of talks that are quite unlikely to heap much praise on this landmark decision for equality in America.

- Another conference speaker is Professor Mark Regnerus, the author of a high-profile, but discredited, study that claimed to show the superiority of opposite sex parenting over same-sex parenting.

- Past WCF event speakers and organizers include Scott Lively, a rabid anti-gay activist who was intimately tied to the development of Uganda’s recent notorious anti-LGBT legislation that, in its original form, proscribed the death penalty or life imprisonment for homosexual acts. Lively previously claimed that “homosexuals created the Nazi party”.

Unfortunately, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has fairly strong links to the World Congress of Families. In addition to Elder Ballard’s planned keynote address during the opening day of the conference this year, there are other connections between the Mormon Church and this organization:

- Elder Dallin H. Oaks, another senior apostle in the Church, is an honorary member of the WFC board of directors.

-  LDS Apostles have apparently already spoken at past conferences of the organization.

- The renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir will be performing at the 2015 conference.

Of course every organization or individual has the right to peacefully advocate for their positions, but in the public sphere there is no free pass from the scrutiny of fact. While some WCF work probably does help some families, the organization’s activities and motives are suspect, and Latter-day Saints should seriously ask why their Church is affiliated with this organization. To the WFC and its supporters: If your “defense” of the family involves explicitly or implicitly tearing down other families, perhaps you are going about it all wrong?

Links to other perspectives:

- 3 Sept 2015 Salt Lake Tribune op-ed by a leader in Mormons Building Bridges, questioning whether the WCF really embodies Utah values.
- Inclusive Families Conference 2015 – held this weekend in SLC.

- A defense of WCF in the LDS Church-owned Deseret News.

04 October 2015

Why we leave

This weekend was general conference weekend for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While I would still agree with many thoughts expressed in recent conference sessions on topics such as service and forgiveness, I no longer believe many of the foundational doctrines of the church. In an effort to promote faith in the church and retain membership, sometimes leaders and members tend to simplify the reasons some decide to separate from Mormonism. This is an open letter to give some collective voice to why some Saints leave the fold.


Dear leaders and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

Most of us do not leave the Church because we are offended or because leaving is easy.

We leave because we have diligently read the Book of Mormon and other LDS scriptures and found anachronisms; miracles that are difficult to believe; and conflicts with western hemisphere archaeology, modern anthropology, and DNA studies of Native American populations.

We leave because we value reason and find over time that our deeper inquiry into Mormon history and doctrine culminates in an irreconcilable conflict between the Mormon worldview and what we learn of the universe from rational inquiry.

We leave because we find that the typical church narrative about Joseph Smith is inaccurate and incomplete. We struggle upon learning that there are multiple accounts of the First Vision, that Joseph took over 30 wives when some were still teenagers or married to other men, and that the Book of Mormon “translation” was closer to methods used in 19th century treasure-seeking than one might expect in an inspired scholarly translation.

We leave because we are women, or men who believe that women can do anything a man can do, and yet find that in the church women have few substantive leadership roles; that they can never preside over a man in the modern church; and that there are numerous inequalities between how men and women are treated in the faith.

We leave because we are LGBT and after long and intense struggles to reconcile our internal truths with Mormon doctrine, we find that the Church has no fulfilling or empowering place for us in its doctrine. We remember the years of harmful rhetoric, condescension or misinformation at the hands of the church and ultimately conclude that a much healthier existence is waiting for us outside the church’s narrow understanding of sexuality and family.

We leave because we have long hoped for a church that more fully embraces a diversity of political viewpoints, but find instead that the institution has been more focused on using its social and political capital to obstruct civil justice for all Americans as it did with Proposition 8 in California.

We leave because despite our respect for many wonderful people in the faith, we are not comfortable with recent church priorities such as its obsession with modesty and pornography, the negative rhetoric about LGBT families, its efforts to excommunicate those who openly challenge church doctrine or practice, and its investment in billion dollar real estate enterprises. We cannot understand the lack of transparency in church finances or instances when church leaders have misled others. We ask why we hear more from Mormon leadership about tithing or temple attendance than about great societal problems such as poverty, economic and political corruption, or environmental destruction.


We leave because despite the great challenges this brings to us or our families, we find greater peace of conscience outside the religion. We respect your choice to stay, but we hope that in bolstering your own faith, you will not misunderstand or trivialize our motives for leaving.

27 September 2015

A modicum of middle-aged wisdom

This is a post that may be more for me than anyone else. As much as I’m not eager to get older, I’m now middle aged. Most of the time life seems too busy for much introspection, but I’ve been away from home for a week and have had a lot of time alone to ponder. Such breaks are welcome because I think that middle age is a critical time to make course corrections where needed. Life only seems to accelerate, and I’d rather not wake up in my later decades and regret that I did not live in a way that is courageously me. A few thoughts:

- Question everything. Questioning isn’t merely doubt. It is the foundation of all learning because it is the first step in the scientific process that leads to observation, experiment, and eventually, truth.

- Inner peace is tantamount to quality of life. I’m still working on the formula that leads to its outcome, but enticing alternatives like power, prestige, money, or relationship status seem to be inadequate substitutes for the genuine peace of being happy with oneself. 

- Relationships with others are one of the principal joys of life (and vital for most people) but it is even more important to enjoy your own company and thoughts. You live with yourself more than any other person.

- Human intimacy – whether in friendship, parent-child relationships, or romantic love – is a beautiful thing. With time it seems to become more elusive. I mean that in the sense of changing interactions in our contemporary society, and also in the context of chronological age. It seems harder to meet and connect deeply with others as I age. It also seems harder to meaningfully connect with others when many whom I care most about live far away, and so much communication happens via electrons.

- Individuals who significantly disappoint you once or twice are very likely to do so again. Its not that I don’t believe in the capacity for human beings to change, it’s just that most people do so only infrequently and slowly.

- One thing I’m trying to learn better is to stand up for myself. I’m usually soft-spoken, deferential, and introverted. But I value honesty and respect and feel genuinely hurt if those courtesies are not reciprocated. My character traits are sometimes fodder for being taken advantage of. The goal: being more assertive being a jerk.


- Nature is superior to virtually anything humans can create. As remarkable as our species is, we cannot beat 4.6 billion years of evolution. Most of modern society is a created beast, a mix of historical inertia and the good and bad of human intentions. It is a world of one species, but we share this planet with several million others. I think it is a gross error to spend so much time in the human world that the truths of biology and geology disappear from our collective conscience.