Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Ex Com

In chatting, the topic of our current official relation to the LDS church came up. I hadn’t really thought of the implications of what occurred in regards to that topic, but now, thinking on it, it’s an odd story and I have to wonder what it says about the changing LDS policy regarding gay members.

My religious history is spelled out, here and here. Though I’ve left many modes of belief behind at finding them unsupportable, official counting from the bureaucracy of each is a different matter. The LDS church counted me as a member for most of my life, starting from my baptism, and officially counted me in their statistics even when I was holding other faiths.

I didn’t give it much thought, until the marriage debate heated up, and the LDS church began instructing members to act politically against equal rights for our families. We began to feel uncomfortable being counted as members. I mean, to be counted as a member of a group now acting against your home feels wrong for all sorts of reasons, not to mention not believing in its most basic claims, and we simply couldn’t abide by it.

R first tried to do it himself. He sent in our letters, explaining why exactly we wanted to be removed, and nothing happened. He sent another set and got some sort of dismissive reply (I wish I could remember the wording, but alas...). After some runaround on the phone, we gave up.

If I remember correctly, from there we put ourselves out in the media, speaking out against legislation. Regardless, it was no secret before then that we were gay and living together to anyone, not to our families, our neighbors, or our ward. Our Bishop was, in fact, R’s mission companion’s father and he knew well of us there. Yet, no hint of concern was shown anywhere by the church, and seemingly no desire to excommunicate us at all, even once we went from privately gay to activist gay.

Eventually the leadership did it again, and called on members to vote against our families, and that was it for us. We couldn’t be counted as part of a political force aimed at us. This time we did some online research on how, exactly, to be removed as members and found that certain specific items had to be done. It was some Baptist group that had the instructions. They were oddly complicated, but R put the right letters together, with the right wording, and sent them to the right place… But that was not the end of it.

We were asked if the Bishops could come visit us, and we agreed; we kind of knew and liked the guy. So he came. Though such a meeting is actually unnecessary to be removed, we wanted to be cordial.

At the door he was visibly uncomfortable but very pleasant. He came in and small-talked for a while. Then he asked why, exactly, we wanted out. I assumed our reasons would be more than apparent, but we explained it anyway, plainly and respectfully. But at that, he tried to talk us out of leaving. We were two gay men who had been together for a decade, live together in his ward, and speak out for equal rights for our families, and he didn’t want to let us out. Unexpected.

In asking around, I’ve known gay men who’ve been excommunicated for far less of a "gay lifestyle", but many years ago. Although I do know some gay men around these blogs were recently disciplined for their same-sex sexual activities, the cases involved breaking vows, and so I'm left a bit unclear. But it seems something must have changed, and for the better, right?

It actually became a sort of haggle with the local Bishop. He eventually talked us down from excommunication and into something else, the name of which I can’t quite remember (removal? I’ll have to find the paper.). In short, the way he explained it, we’d not be counted as members anymore, but we’d not be excommunicated, meaning, as he pointedly stated, there’d be no disciplinary action if we ever wanted back in.

Anyway, it was a solution we could both live with, though the more aggressive side of me was admittedly let down (I kind of wanted my day in court! If for nothing other than curiosity :-)).

At that we were all happy and we went back to small talk. As he left he expressed his regret for the situation and told us to call him if any of our neighbors gave us any trouble (really, unthinkable as our neighbors were great, but we very much appreciated the gesture). Again, we do very much like the guy, for obvious reasons, and I too wish the circumstances were different, but they are what they are. I was left feeling sorry for the tough position he was in.

So I guess, officially, with regards to the LDS church we’re not really Ex Coms; we’re now just like most of the world, nonmembers and potential converts ;-).

In thinking back on it, I’m struck by the LDS church’s reluctance to excommunicate two open and vocal gay men, such as us, R even being a returned missionary. I wonder if our experience is typical or rare. How much of it was in the hands of local management? It took significant effort to simply not be counted in their statistics, and they really didn’t want to take any steps. Who knows? For us there’d still be the fact that we don’t believe many of the claims of that particular faith, but maybe in our lifetime some families headed by gay couples will be welcomed and accepted in the LDS church, as is, without splitting up. Maybe we’ll show up at the next sacrament meeting with kids in tow and a bag a cheerios to test the waters ;-).

I don’t know, but this seems to be a positive and perhaps recent change in the LDS reaction to gay members, doesn’t it?


Master Fob said...

I suspect it's a case-by-case, bishop-by-bishop kind of thing. Another bishop more concerned with the politics of it all might have exed you for the sake of setting a public example, while a more liberal bishop might have encouraged you to attend with your husband and kids (well, perhaps a bishop in the Netherlands, at least). The LDS church is less standardized across the wards on some things than it is on others.

Foxx said...

According to the Church Handbook of Instructions, The purposes of Church discipline are (1) to save the souls of transgressors, (2) to protect the innocent, and (3) to safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the Church. Excommunication is generally reserved for what are seen as the most serious sins, including committing serious crimes; committing adultery, polygamy, or homosexual conduct; apostasy, teaching false doctrines, or openly criticizing LDS leaders. In most cases, excommunication is a last resort, used only after repeated warnings. A recent (2006) revision to the Church Handbook of Instructions states that joining another church is also an excommunicable offense, however merely attending another church does not constitute "apostasy". - Wikipedia, entry on Excommunication

I hate to be so cynical, but it seems like your Bishop was allowing his relationship with you and R get in the way of his job. Until something more official comes down the line, I can only chalk instances like this up as isolated, based on the current clergy. Another Bishop may not have been so lenient.

Gay BYU Student said...

Very interesting post. I think the church has become more liberal on fronts like this, but I'm beginning to believe that your case might be a little less orthodox. I think most bishops would have exed you two. Perhaps this bishop just understands a little more of your good nature and honorable intentions (with life in general). So much of these types of things is left up to local leaders.

Chris said...

I think some bishops let is slide when they think that negative publicity could result from disciplinary action

Mormon Enigma said...

How long ago was this? I know my Bishop is very open to people requesting their name to be removed from church records. All he needs is a signed letter. It can even be a handwritten note that simply says "please remove my name from the records of the LDS church" (and a signature). They can either mail it, or hand it to their home teachers (or priesthood leaders, or whoever came to visit them).

In my view of things (the gospel according to ME), church discipline is really only necessary when someone wants to improve their standing in the church but has committed serious transgressions that prevent it. It is part of the repentance process. If you don't feel any need to repent then there really isn't any need to be excommunicated.

In years past, excommunication was the only way to have your records removed. Allowing people to request to have their name removed from church records was a smart move IMOHO. It's a win-win situation.

Scot said...

Thank you all for the clarifications. I suspected as much.

But, in asking R about it, it seems the first set of letters (sent about 7 years ago, Mormon Enigma), were sent to our bishop. They got no reply. The second set, though, went into the church office building. They got a response to the effect that we didn’t request correctly and we’d not be removed; I take it that had nothing to do with the Bishop. The calls R made were to the LDS central offices.

In the final attempt (I think 3 or 4 years ago), we found the correct way to request online and sent the letter to the main church offices again. They must have instructed the Bishop to act, but not how to act (?).

They can either mail it, or hand it to their home teachers (or priesthood leaders, or whoever came to visit them).

They don’t send people to our home ;-). All we get are the Jehovah Witnesses.

Sir Jupiter said...

"...and the LDS church began instructing members to act politically against equal rights for our families."

The straw that broke the camel's back for me was the channeling of Church funds to that awful constitutional amendment than, say, malaria vaccinations for African orphans.

Kalvin said...

Honestly, I tried for YEARS to have my names removed. I went to several different people institute teachers sent letters to stake presidents all to no avail. I have had so many meetings with Bishops asking them to do it with accompanying letters and asking missionaries to remind them when I saw them on the street that I almost gave up. Then I did the same online thing that you did, and I finally got out of it. It's amazing.

In my opinion it's all about power. If you want out, they keep you in. If you want in, they kick you out.