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Religious Disobedience 

Religious Disobedience 


A gay former Mormon asks his family to protest this Sunday when the church issues support for California's pending ban on gay marriage. He finds the bonds of love and family run thin in the face of dogma.

In an e-mail last Sunday morning, I asked my son in California (and indirectly my entire family) to walk out of church on Sunday, June 29, 2008 when their bishop stands up to read a letter from the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (otherwise known as the Mormons). I disagree with the reading of this letter because in it the Mormon prophet has asked all California Mormons to " all [they] can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of [their] means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman."

I thought that by asking my family to do this, I was simply asking them to send a strong message to Salt Lake City that they disagree with the idea that any church has a right to entrench clearly religious dogma into the constitution of a state or country. By asking my California family members (again, most importantly my son) to stand up and walk out of church, I was just asking them to defend my civil rights. My logic was that this would be a simple way for them to demonstrate the love that they profess to have for me.

I came out at age 45 after 25 years of marriage. And over the past three years my four children, two brothers, three sisters, and several of my more than 30 nieces and nephews have all in some way tried to communicate their unconditional love for me in spite of my "chosen lifestyle." Only a handful of them actually think I was born gay; and many, including my four children, have told me that they support my right to live a full and authentic life as a gay man. They all have a different way of saying it, but the message is clear: they do not have to agree with me in order to love me.

And yet before I can "live a full and authentic life as a gay man," the constitution must proclaim that I actually do have those kinds of rights. The high court in California has determined that this is in fact the kind of constitution the state has. My personal beliefs do not restrict a free expression of love between two people. As long as marriage exists as a contract in our modern culture it must be made available to any two people who wish to enter into it (while still holding fast to the existing laws and restrictions, such as prohibiting fundamentalist Mormons from marrying their close relatives, minor children, and having more than one spouse).

To walk out of church is not to disagree with the prophet, but to simply disagree with his efforts to force the religious dogma of the majority into the lives of a minority. In my mind, this act of protest would largely be symbolic. It would leave the prophet intact as a prophet. So I said to my family, "If you can muster the courage to do this, your professed love for me would be validated for the very first time because it would have been demonstrated by your willingness to defend my rights as an American citizen in the face of bigotry."

In response my older sister said, "You are asking us to choose between our God (our Father in Heaven) and our brother (you). I cannot, nor will I, go against what I know to be true, which is this church, and that it is guided directly by God through the prophet. I will never go against that."

The last sentence echoed in my mind. I had read a very similar line the night before in an e-mail from one of my favorite nieces. After regurgitating the tired line about her love for me in spite of my sinful "lifestyle," she finished with, "But I follow the doctrine and that includes the First Presidency and anything they sign in accordance with their callings as Prophets of God!"

I was stunned. Finally two people had found the courage to articulate their feelings. I re-read both e-mails and finally identified my fear. What if they serve up the purple Kool-Aid?

I really do not think there is a risk of the Mormon prophet taking millions of Mormons to their graves. But at what point in the infinite shades of gray between asking millions of followers to cast a vote and enticing almost a thousand followers to willingly drink cyanide does the Mormon prophet become a cult leader? I assert that it's at the moment the prophet decides he has the unmitigated gall to suppose he is within his rights to even ask.

If my son tells me on Friday that he supports me as a gay man, and then on Sunday listens quietly in his seat without speaking out or leaving in protest, what does that say? In America we pride ourselves on being free to "vote our conscience," so to me it means that I have already lost my son and my family to the cult. They have allowed their conscience to be subverted by the voice of a mortal man.

Today, after a lifetime of turmoil, I finally found the courage to resign my membership in the Mormon Church and admit publicly for the very first time that it exerts enough power over the minds of its congregants to be considered a cult. With this assertion, I close this chapter of my life.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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Lester Leavitt