Donate to RNS

Married. Gay. And Mormon. (Part 2)

As married gay Mormons, Nick and Spencer had already lived with having no callings, no temple recommends, and no access to the sacrament. Now they faced the possibility of excommunication.

Yesterday I posted the first half of the story of Nick and Spencer, a married gay Mormon couple who want to stay active in the LDS Church. I’ve never met Nick and Spencer, but I’m grateful that Kristin Lowe, a journalism student who followed them for months in preparing this profile, has brought their story to light.

I’m also grateful that they are still hanging in there with the Mormon people, and haven’t given up. And I’m grateful that even though their future is uncertain as members of the Church, many Mormons have welcomed them with open arms, both in their Hawaii ward and their new ward in Washington DC.

As we get ready to mark the second anniversary of Obergefell and legal same-sex marriage in all 50 states — not to mention the 170th anniversary of Mormon pioneers entering the Salt Lake valley in 1847 — I’m mindful of the fact that Mormon pioneers are still very much with us. They might be in your ward. — JKR

 

Part 2 of a guest profile by Kristin Lowe (for Part 1, see here)

Nick felt more confident about rebuilding their run-down brownstone home than he did about building trust in a new ward in Maryland. It’s easier to install cabinets or grout tile than it is to build understanding and love between groups of people.

Many LDS LGBTQ members say the church preaches a mixed message of Christ-like love and acceptance while simultaneously holding onto the core belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

Where does that leave the thousands of LDS LGBTQ members who wonder where they stand in the church and with God?

There was no telling what kind of reception Nick and Spencer would receive from new congregation members and local church leaders.

In November 2015, the LDS church’s message of inclusiveness and love towards LDS LGBTQ members fell flat when leaders released a policy change that many members—gay and straight alike—found alarmingly discriminatory. The policy affirmed the church’s position that same-sex marriages are sinful, and went on to state that there would be restrictions on priesthood ordinances for children whose primary residence is with a same-sex couple.

The policy change sent shock waves through the LDS church (see reactions here and here). For children of gay couples there would be no baby blessing, no baptism at eight years old, no ordination to the priesthood at age twelve for boys, and no temple attendance for either boys or girls age twelve and up. These rites of passage would all have to wait until the children were 18.

While those who balked at the new policy saw discrimination against innocent children, the church responded days afterward to clarify the policy’s intent. The church’s Director of Public Affairs, Michael Otterson, stated, “Church leaders want to avoid putting little children in a potential tug-of-war between same-sex couples at home and teachings and activities at church.”

Regardless of intent, the LDS LGBTQ community went into deep mourning. They mourned for a spiritual identity rooted in something beyond repeated disavowals and aversion, and yearned to be recognized as full members whether or not they chose to live an actively gay lifestyle.

Nick and Spencer were newlyweds of four months living in Hawaii at the time of the policy change. The leaked news of the policy reached Nick at the end of his work day. As he drove home, tears streamed down his face. After all the progress he had seen, it felt like a gut punch.

“We saw all of this progress happening, and there was this momentum. This policy just killed it. It just put up a stone wall, an impenetrable barrier. People gave up. So many people who were still trying to hold on, this policy ripped the carpet up out from under their feet. It shattered so many hopes, so many people’s desire to maintain what little faith they had in the church and the hope that it was changing.”

The sting of the policy has been real and lasting. Nick believed the church knew there would be collateral damage, that LGBTQ members would leave the church in droves. The realization that leaders of the church were okay with the loss is most upsetting. After all, isn’t there worth in even just one soul?

Still, Nick and Spencer decided to stay when so many others were leaving. Hope for change in the future is still the force behind their faith. Spencer said he determined to claim his place at church:

“We should demystify what gay means. The fact that Nick and I exist, it’s important that we exist. It’s important that we go to church. It’s important that we feel the spirit with people.”

After the policy change they determined they were going to be the best gay couple they could be, and hoped to help the dwindling numbers of active LDS LGBTQ members along the way.

After connecting with a member of the DC ward they were moving to on the LDS LGBTQ support group Mormons Building Bridges’ Facebook page, they hoped their new ward in Washington would indeed be as warm and inclusive as promised.

With the tie from Hawaii around his neck, an emblem of pressing on even when faith gets complicated, Nick approached the expansive red brick meetinghouse with Spencer at his side. The white windowed steeple and spire reached upwards, piercing the blue sky. A plaque by the glass doors read:

THE CHURCH OF

JESUS CHRIST

OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS

VISITORS WELCOME

Nick and Spencer entered the chapel together, and sat in a padded wooden pew in the center, four rows from the back. They listened to the prelude music as other members trickled in. Families with children filled entire pews. Older couples, working singles in professionally tailored suits, and a woman in a wheelchair found their seats, talking quietly amongst themselves. The meeting began with a welcome from a young counselor in the bishopric.

The music during sacrament meeting lifted Nick’s heart, and he thought of what Zion could look like and feel like for him and for Spencer and for the LDS LGBTQ community.

After the meeting, the congregation began filtering out of the chapel. A woman who had reached out to them on Facebook approached Nick and Spencer in the foyer and gave them each a big hug, her full lips parted in a smile. “We are so happy you’re here!”

When Nick and Spencer left the meetinghouse at noon, the air had warmed to a pleasant autumn mildness. The sky was still blue. They were still gay. They were still LDS. And, they were still welcome.

A few weeks after their arrival in Washington, Nick and Spencer met with the ward bishop in a formal meet-and-greet interview. The bishop in an LDS ward has the power to counsel with and discipline the members of his ward. The initial meeting with their new bishop worried Nick. He knew that the severity of the discipline could be much worse than what they had experienced in Hawaii.

According to the LDS church, when certain privileges are withheld the purpose is not only to discipline, but to teach. Nick and Spencer have already experienced discipline of one kind; the bishop stated that these conditions would continue in the new ward as they had in Hawaii—no sacrament, no callings, no garments, no temple.

When he asked them if they had ever been threatened with further church discipline, a slow and familiar feeling of dread stirred within Nick. This bishop meant more serious church discipline, as in excommunication. No, they had never been threatened with church discipline beyond the limitations to their membership; their membership itself had never been questioned. Even the possibility seemed devastating.

Nick told the bishop that they did not come to church with an agenda. They came for the same reason as any other members—to worship. The bishop went on to stress the importance of unity in the ward. Above all else, he wanted unity.

Nick and Spencer left wondering where that “unity” in the ward would leave them. Would their membership be tossed out for the sake of a unity of opinion, or could different opinions revolve harmoniously around the center of a church they all loved?

The following weeks were filled with dinner invitations from ward members, a casual lunch date with the bishop, and an organized crew of volunteers who descended to help unload Nick and Spencer’s belongings when they finally arrived from Hawaii. Despite the warm welcome from the ward members, their initial meeting with the bishop was a cold reminder that significant, painful challenges lay ahead as they face the possibility of further discipline by local leaders and church policy.

The dread of what-ifs scatter around them just as the never-ending renovation to-do list gets checked off and life settles into the comfort of routine. Nick and Spencer look to their future as not only a gay married couple in the church, but hopefully as a family with children. According to Nick, Spencer craves kids more than he craves food.

Children have an uncanny way of noticing and pointing out paradoxes in the world around them. Would the church—its beliefs viewed side by side with its lived realities—become more or less true to a child living in the thick of LDS church policy toward gays? Nick and Spencer wonder how they will navigate all of these complications when it is no longer just about them, when the pain of church policy becomes more full and real because it not only affects them, but their children.

In that future time that holds both their children and their church, Nick and Spencer hope that ignorance and lack of experience about the LDS LGBTQ community will be a thing of the past. Nick believes things can change:

“What if every gay person that has left the church went back to their wards, and said, ‘I don’t care what you guys say. I’m here. I’m not here to be disrespectful or disruptive. Let me worship. Let me come here to be spiritually fed. That’s what I’m doing.’ What would they do? And, what would happen? It would be normal!”

Until then, Nick and Spencer will continue building. Hope upon hope upon hope.

 

Kristin Lowe is an active member of the LDS Church who loves her faith and her faith community. She is currently a MFA student in the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism studying narrative nonfiction writing, while also learning to embrace the beautiful mess of being a mother of five.

Donate to Support Independent Journalism!

Donate Now!