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?