“Openly Gay Mormon” Appointed To LDS Church Leadership Position: What Does This Mean?

This morning, my good friend and fellow ex-Mormon, Brett, sent me a link to this article in Religion Dispatches, written by Joanna Brooks, announcing an “Openly Gay Mormon Appointed to LDS Church Leadership Position”. The title of the article alone was enough to peak my interest and the contents within it definitely gave me a lot to think about.

Mitch Mayne– an openly gay man living in San Francisco- has been called to the position of Executive Secretary in his ward (which basically means his congregation), which is an executive-level position working directly with the Bishopric (that is, the leaders of the Ward) on administrative and pastoral functions.

Up until a year ago, Mitch was in a monogamous & committed relationship- with a man– when he decided that it was time to end his relationship for reasons “not related to religion.” Feeling that he needed “time to heal”, he chose to take a break from relationships altogether (which is likely one of the only reasons that he would be found “worthy” for a church calling.)

The article goes on to mention the church’s involvement in Proposition 8 and other anti-gay marriage movements, the divisive nature of those actions within the church’s membership and the varying opinions on homosexuality as a general rule amongst Mormons.

There are a lot of variables that affect my feelings on this. On one hand, it is good to see that the church may be relaxing its general view of homosexuals (note, not homosexuality). Regardless that this event occurred at the most autonomous level of the church rather than at a truly “executive” level where doctrinal values and changes are set, it’s got to start somewhere. Historically speaking, the fact that someone identified themselves as gay would have been enough for them to be “written off” so to speak. Back when I was part of the church, I’d have been shocked to hear of a gay person being called to do ANYTHING- let alone be a supporting office of the Bishopric.

On the other hand, I find this all very confusing– both on the part of Mitch and the Mormon Church. I’m just not entirely sure I understand the logistics of how this happened. Mitch was in a relationship with another man. A relationship in which one would assume they had sex (since the article states “monogamous” rather than “celibate”)- which is against Mormon doctrine if for no other reason than that it’s pre-marital. Big no-no.

While he did end the relationship roughly a year before being “called” (which provides time for “repentance”), it’s says that he ended it for reasons “not related to religion”. That begs the question of whether or not Mitch himself feels that homosexual relations are wrong. If he does, well… that opens a whole new can of worms I haven’t the space to get into. If he doesn’t, then is he truly a Mormon? The Mormon Church has made it very clear that they do not support homosexual activity in any way, shape or form. In fact, many gay people are excommunicated from the Church for engaging in homosexual activity- especially priesthood holders.

Even if you don’t try to figure out the nuts & bolts of how this occurred, it begs discussion around what happens in the future. For instance, when I came out my Dad said that the real reason what I was doing (having sex with men) was wrong is because it was outside the bonds of marriage. As gay marriage becomes a reality throughout the US- especially in California- what happens if Mitch meets another man, falls in love and chooses to get married? According to the article, Mitch agreed to “adhere to the same standards of sexual morality expected of heterosexual members”. If he’s married, he’s not engaging in pre-marital sex and thereby not breaking the Law of Chastity- unless the church then wants to play the “gay sex is wrong” card again.

If they do, wouldn’t all of this just be a ruse? If the Church isn’t going to accept its gay members on equal footing with its straight members when push comes to shove- would all of this just be a publicity stunt that’s trying to mend what was broken when the LDS Church decided to fund and drive Proposition 8?

My other issue with this is that while Mitch has agreed to adhere to the same expectations of morality as heterosexual members of the Church, how far does that extend? A single straight person called to this office would still be permitted to go on dates, hold hands, kiss and engage in at least a minimal level of intimacy. Could the same be expected of Mitch? Would those in his ward respect him and his church office if they saw him kissing another man or holding hands at the movies? If they saw him on a date, would they worry because they knew any resulting relationship would have to be either celibate or immoral by Mormon standards?

And what is Mitch’s take is on all of this? Perhaps he’s decided that he agrees with all of the Church’s teachings- which include that homosexual acts are wrong- and has chosen a life of celibacy. If that’s the case- and at the risk of sounding harsh- I don’t really think that a headline of “openly gay Mormon” should be applied to the article. In fact, I would think that there shouldn’t be an article at all. If the person in question has determined that being homosexual is wrong- or at the very least that engaging in any kind of homosexual relationship is wrong- then does the Church putting them in any kind of office deserve any sort of praise or applause? Not in my opinion.

On the flip side, perhaps Mitch doesn’t think any of those things. Perhaps he believes in the LDS Church doctrine except the parts dealing with homosexuality and/or pre-marital sex. If that’s the case, why would the Church put him in a position at all? Are they simply trying to capitalize on a situation where a gay man who is still active in the Church despite his contrary beliefs, is single and not looking to be in a relationship right now is willing to refrain from entertaining that option for the time being? They’ve called him to an office and- for now- it works because he’s single and apparently not looking to change that. But when he is released, if he just goes back to a relationship that is, at its very foundation, contrary to the teachings of the LDS Church, why have called him at all if not to try and “make amends” for the division they’ve caused within their own membership?

It’s a complicated thing to digest. But, at the end of the day, the Mormon Church does not support homosexuality. They believe it’s wrong. In recent years they’ve adopted the mantra “Love the sinner, Hate the sin” which is exactly what we’re seeing here. Mitch is called to serve because he’s willing to be single and celibate. But should that change… he’s out. So, while it may be nice that this particular Bishop in this particular Ward sees Mitch as worthy to “serve” for the present, it doesn’t change the harsh reality that he is not equal to those he is serving. It also doesn’t change that the message to all gay Mormon’s is still “Come and join us, but only if you stay single” – even if they found someone gay to deliver it.

  • Joseph

    I can’t really take the news at face value. I feel as though there’s something going on behind the scenes or we don’t truly have all of the information. After the time, money, and effort that the church put into Prop 8, I think that this is another stunt where it will come out that Mayne will be a story where a church member thought he was gay but has come back to the church to denounce his wrong doings. There’s gotta be an underlying alterior motive.

  • Darren

    I don’t think there’s any type of underlying conspiracy. I believe that the church may recognize that Mitch may be able to do the job better than any other person. and for once, and possibly in the future, they may be overlooking the fact that he’s gay and is focusing on his skills and what he does not who he is. A lot of churches today are starting to realize that homosexuality isn’t a sin as it was once thought to be. religious congregations are made up of people, so therefore, a religious can be as progressive as you or me. I believe that they may be taking a step in the right direction. most church groups don’t condone homosexuality because most don’t realize that gays can have monogamous relationships. Religion may not have been your good friend when growing up as a gay teen, but you have to look at it in a different point of view. They’re trying to stick to their morality, like any person would. and what they’ve been taught is part of their morality. Like a teen downloading illegal music, you eventually learn that what you were doing is wrong and ignorant. Well the church maybe growing up. I’m a gay Christian and it just annoys me when the gay community always talks about love and acceptance and then want to bash religious groups because of how they made them feel while they were growing up. You grew up, found out who you wanted to be, and nows its time to stop blaming the church. Yes churches have a LONG way to go. but if some churches are making a step in the right direction to make confused gay Christians feel thats its okay to gay and Christian, then try to look for the good in it, if you can’t support it.

  • I’ve still been thinking about this since I wrote the article yesterday. There are definitely a lot of holes in the story that would help people make heads or tails of this. That said, I’d like to comment to Darren:

    I’d love to see the Mormon church take a more realistic approach to homosexuality. That said, the fact that this man has been called to a position that does not have any authority outside of the most basic unit of the church (that is to say, this one, specific congregation) means- at least to me- that the CHURCH hasn’t relaxed its view, but this specific Bishop has, for whatever reason, decided that this man is “worthy” to serve. Obviously his superiors would be involved in this decision to a certain extent, but I have an extremely difficult time believing that this traveled very far up the chain past his Stake President. With that, I would be far more impressed and inclined to praise the decision if an actual Church authority made some sort of statement about it.

    That said, it still doesn’t really explain a lot of the questions that this brings up- and unfortunately, at least for those of us who were actually raised in the Mormon Church, they aren’t questions that you can just ignore and take all of this at face value. Yes, on the surface this looks like a step in the right direction, but with the Church’s very recent history of anti-gay sentiment, leading the charge in California against gay marriage and making it exceptionally clear what their stance is, this development seems both out of the blue and suspicious.

    Faith and spirituality are very personal things. It’s clear that despite the Church’s opposition to homosexuality, gay marriage, etc… this man has chosen to nurture and invest his faith in the religion. To that end, I support that this is his decision to accept the calling. Additionally, my commentary on this event isn’t intended to bash the Mormon church. It’s true that I don’t personally support them- or any religion for that matter, but the Mormon church is still extremely important to my family, and they are important to me. That said, this whole thing just seems suspicious and you can’t blame us for being wary of it given the Church’s very recent acts. It’s one thing to talk about how things were while we were growing up – but it’s quite another to talk about things that have happened over the last few years that make this a very strange occurrence.

  • Stephanie

    This is a pretty interesting article and, while I don’t normally comment on articles I read on the internet, I felt compelled to share my opinion on this one. Like Kevin, I was raised Mormon, but I’ve also lived in Utah (Mormon capitol) for most of my life. I feel I have some pretty good insight on the Mormon religion and their standpoint since it’s pretty much shoved down your throat everywhere you go in Salt Lake City, UT.

    Darren, I can understand your position about those being against religious groups and also understand that some religious groups are becoming more open-minded when it comes to homosexuality. Case in point, there is a Catholic Bishop recently appointed in Salt Lake City, that openly welcomes any LGBT person to attend Catholic services. He was on the news and stated that everyone should have an opportunity to worship God. This is a perfect example of how we all wish religious groups would accept their homosexual members.

    On the other hand, Kevin hit the nail on the head when he cited the LDS position on homosexuals as “Love the sinner, not the sin.” During the Prop 8 campaign, LDS leaders were filtering down a message that came from the LDS Presidency to vote YES to Prop 8 because homosexuality is immoral, wrong, and homosexuals were going to hell. So strict is their opinion on this that when a boy kissed another boy ON THE CHEEK while on LDS Church property, it became an issue for security. See this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/11/gay-couple-detained-after_n_230016.html

    They have had absolutely no problem whatsoever in stating their ugly opinions on this issue… until the HRC had a meeting with LDS leaders. You see, after a terrible rise in gay teen suicides, the LDS Church agreed it was a tragedy, but Elder Boyd K. Packer (who is also known to have some severe racial opinions as well) had this message to send to members during the Oct 2010 General Conference (a worldwide televised event that takes place twice a year where LDS leaders address their members from SLC, UT): “Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so!” as well as “Wickedness never was happiness”… these are after all of those gay teens ended their lives because they felt there was no hope and the LDS Church is just perpetuating that loss of hope. While the nation has banned together for the Trevor Project’s “It Gets Better” campaign, the most outspoken leader for the LDS Church lets his ugly discrimination spread to LDS members worldwide.

    But, as I mentioned, the HRC signed a petition demanding an apology from the LDS Church for those comments made by Elder Boyd K. Packer. And now… suddenly… the LDS Church’s official position has become “Love the sinner, not the sin”. It’s “Oh NO we don’t HATE or DISCRIMINATE against homosexuals! I mean… as long as they don’t ACT on those ‘sinful temptations’ then of course we love them!” In other words, you can state that you are gay as long as you assume a lifelong vow of celibacy and don’t engage in ANY intimate acts that may elude to homosexuality. Because, see, even if you’re not engaged in sexual activity with a member of the same sex, sometimes even a kiss on the cheek will get you in trouble. So I would say no, Kevin, that if Mayne chooses to date another man and attempt to hold hands or kiss, then that would effectively give him the boot.

    So basically my point is that I agree with Kevin because the LDS Church track record is the complete opposite of welcoming to homosexuals. I think that Mayne is in a Ward where the Bishop is an open-minded person and that his argument for calling Mayne to his position was that he was celibate and not seeking a homosexual relationship. What I find convenient is that this article made the news at all. It just feels too much like the LDS Church saying “See?! I told you we didn’t hate or discriminate! We even have a Gay in one of our Bishoprics!” But really? This is the same reaction they had when LDS Church also were denying African-Americans the right to hold the priesthood or any church calling. When Elder Boyd K. Packer was preaching his opinion on THAT issue, the LDS Church had to recant with “Nuh-uh! We let them in our churches!” It’s all a B.S. publicity show.

    Case in point, the Deseret News (owned by the LDS Church) printed the following article in response to HRC’s meeting with LDS leaders: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700072199/A-call-for-civility-following-Mormon-Apostle-Boyd-K-Packers-address.html

    The “good deeds” mentioned in that article occurred because a person who was also LDS got those things done. They were not done under direct order from LDS leaders, nor were they motions initiated by the LDS Church as an entity.

    I do hope that, someday, the LDS Church will become progressive enough to love all of God’s children, but I don’t have high expectations of that happening.

  • Stephanie

    Oops! Almost forgot… for further reading on Elder Boyd K. Packer’s message to our youth, read this:

    http://lds.org/general-conference/2010/10/cleansing-the-inner-vessel?lang=eng

  • @Stephanie,

    First of all, did you happen to notice that the Boyd K. Packer discourse you’re talking about had nothing to do with homosexuality? It was about pornography addiction. While the Church’s position is certainly clear, those who made him a scapegoat were obviously looking for an excuse.

    Secondly, you’re right: if Mitch Mayne is simply homosexuous, then that’s fine; no one would ever consider that a problem. If, however, he is a homosexual, then there is indeed a problem (just as there would be, with any kind of extramarital sex).

    So I guess the problem here is not than an “Openly Gay Mormon [was] Appointed to [a] LDS Church Leadership Position,” but rather whether or not one’s personal definition of the word “gay” actually describes Mitch Mayne. And until Mayne himself weighs in on that, this whole thing is a complete non-issue.