Is the Mormon Church Amping Up Its Homophobia?

Mormon angel

The Mormon Church seems to keep getting more anti-LGBTQ, with a recent update to its guide for missionaries including the so-called November Policy against baptizing children of same-sex couples. But some LGBTQ church members and observers have dug in and will keep fighting for equality and acceptance.

The Salt Lake City–based denomination, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, adopted the policy in November 2015, or at least that was when it was leaked, hence the name. It denies baptism to children whose primary residence is with a same-sex couple. Once the children reach age 18, they can be baptized in the church, but only if they are no longer living with the couple and condemn same-sex relationships. The church, which has long opposed any sexual relationship outside of heterosexual marriage, also for the first time listed same-sex marriage under the definition of apostasy — the rejection of church teachings. These policies were added to the denomination’s leadership manual.

Then last month, the news broke that the church had added the language against baptism for children of same-sex couples to Preach My Gospel, a guidebook for Mormon missionaries.

“The policy is an ugly one — I think many Mormons agree on that, whether they’re gay, straight, or anywhere in between,” Mitch Mayne, a Mormon gay man who has pushed for greater inclusion in the church, told The Advocate via email. “It runs counter to one of our core missions — keeping families together — to require children renounce one of their parents to become a member, and seems heartless and arguably uninspired to deny blessings to sinless infants.”

“That said, it’s common operating procedure for new policy to be incorporated into guidebooks — this isn’t anything special with this policy in particular, and while unpleasant and unfortunate, doesn’t represent any kind of ‘doubling down,’” he continued, referring to the term used in a story from KUER, a Salt Lake City public radio station.

Some others don’t see it that way. Addison Jenkins, a gay Mormon who attends Brigham Young University, told KUER that when the November Policy was first leaked, it seemed like it had been rushed and not thoroughly considered — and he held out hope that it wouldn’t be permanent. Now the policy seems fixed in place, he said.

Political activist Fred Karger, who is not a Mormon but is a longtime observer of the church’s role in politics, also saw the policy’s inclusion in the missionary guide — and the Sunday school curriculum — as doubling down. In a recent op-ed for The Salt Lake Tribune, Karger called the policy “hateful” and called on prominent Mormon Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential nominee now running for U.S. senator from Utah, to denounce it.

Karger, a gay man who once sought the Republican presidential nomination himself, noted that Romney’s father, George, who once served as governor of Michigan, faced harsh criticism from fellow Mormons for supporting the African-American civil rights movement in the 1960s. At that time the LDS Church, while allowing blacks to be members, denied them access to leadership roles, including the priesthood — a policy that was not changed until 1978. The church still does not allow women into the priesthood.

In his op-ed, Karger referred to an essay Mitt Romney wrote on his campaign website on the anniversary of the white supremacist rally and counterprotest in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017. Romney took issue with Donald Trump’s remark that there were “good people” on both sides in Charlottesville. Romney further denounced racism generally and wrote, “We must foster equality if we are to remain a great and good nation.”

Karger urged Romney to speak out just as strongly for LGBTQ equality. “Why not write another essay and ask the leadership of the Mormon church to reverse their hate filled November Policy and welcome LGBTQ Mormons and their families back into the church?” he wrote.

Of course, Romney has not done any such thing, and he doesn’t have a good record on LGBTQ issues, having opposed marriage equality and more. His campaign website doesn’t mention LGBTQ issues at all, but it has a section about “religious liberty,” words so often used by the right to mean the freedom for businesses and nonprofits to discriminate against those who offend their religious beliefs.

Karger, like many others, also blamed the LDS Church’s anti-LGBTQ stance for the prevalence of teen suicide in Mormon-dominated Utah. Utah’s suicide rate for youth in general (ages 11-17) is one of the highest in the nation, and it has increased 140 percent since 2011. LGBTQ youth in the state are at particularly high risk for suicide. “Utah is dealing with a major crisis.” Karger wrote. “LGBTQ members of your church are facing the grueling effects of a continuing suicide epidemic that has spiraled out of control.”

Whether Romney ever responds or not, there are well-known voices urging the Mormon Church to become more LGBTQ-welcoming. This summer, Imagine Dragons front man Dan Reynolds, a straight ally who was raised Mormon, held the second annual LoveLoud festival in Utah, an event that offers musical performances, prominent speakers, and support for LGBTQ youth. Its proceeds benefit the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention group, among other charities. The Mormon Church even issued a statement of support for the festival in its first year.

There are also organizations like Affirmation, a support group for LGBTQ Mormons and their loved ones. Affirmation did not respond to a request for comment for this story; its website notes that its policy is to avoid commenting on church doctrine.

And there are individual Mormons like Mayne, a corporate communications professional in San Francisco who once served as executive secretary to his local bishop. He sees a divergence between the church’s written policy and its culture.  “We still do not see masses of bishops or local leaders seeking LGBT members on their records and calling them in to excommunicate them, as we feared we would when the policy was announced,” he said. “I doubt that will change with the addition of this policy into the baptismal guidelines — the culture of the church continues to move rapidly to a more Christlike inclusion, while the policy and the guidelines of the institution itself seem to remain behind, locked in fear and misinformation.”

“From a policy and guideline perspective, the church has never been a particularly friendly place for LGBT members,” he added. “If anything, with this November Policy, it’s gotten worse. But the culture itself has grown tremendously when it comes to inclusion and Christlike love. That can lead to a very schizophrenic experience for LGBT Mormons who, on the one hand, experience a lot of support from their fellow ward members and even their local clergy, but then see things like this which remind them that Mormonism is still very much a work in progress in terms of how we understand and respond to our LGBT brothers and sisters.”

He keeps in mind the Mormon doctrine that holds there will be continuing revelations from God, allowing for the church to evolve. “The church has changed much over our short history,” he said. “We have turned away from our wrong teachings on race and polygamy, to name but a few. Does this mean we will eventually turn away from our wrong teachings on what it means to be LGBT? I, for one, believe it does.”

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