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.