Aug 16, 2016

'I'm not a Mormon': fresh 'mass resignation' over anti-LGBT beliefs

Critics of the church’s anti-gay stance continue to leave en masse, and say the exodus will go on as long as the church alienates the queer community

LDS church’s anti-gay stance
At age 14, Lila Steffensen started going to church alone. Her twin brother Jordan had come out as gay, and he and their mother had decided they no longer wanted to be a part of the Mormon church, which is headquartered in their home town of Salt Lake City, Utah, and espouses explicit anti-LGBT beliefs.
Steffensen was conflicted at the time, and years later, she stopped going. But she remained a member of the Mormon faith up until last week when she decided to officially cut ties with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS): on Saturday, she participated in a “mass resignation” from the Mormon church, one of more than a hundred people to file formal paperwork at a public event.
“I don’t want to be attached to the church any more, and I don’t want them to count me,” said Steffensen, 26, who works in sales. “I don’t want to be part of something that is a big con that mentally abuses thousands of people … I want to be able to say, ‘No, I’m not a Mormon’.”
Since November of 2015, when LDS leaders passed an anti-gay policy barring children of married LGBT couples from being baptized, the Mormon church has experienced a steady mass exodus, according to critics of the faith.
The controversial rule, adopted after same-sex marriage became legal in the US, said that if Mormon children of gay parents wanted to be baptized, they would have to denounce same-sex cohabitation and leave their family’s house when they turned 18.
Protests erupted, and within several weeks, Utah attorney Mark Naugle had helped more than 2,600 people file resignation papers.
Naugle – who left the church 15 years ago and now runs a website called – said that as of Monday, he had processed nearly 12,000 resignations since the mass departures began in November. Boosted by formal quitting ceremonies, like the one in downtown Salt Lake City on Saturday, Naugle said he now completes roughly 100 to 250 resignations a week.
“America is becoming less religious, and so is the state of Utah,” said Naugle, 31.
Despite intense backlash to the new policy – including concerns about a potential increase in depression and suicide among LGBT Mormons – leaders of the church, which is headquartered in Salt Lake City, have not shifted their views. As long as they continue to alienate the queer community, including transgender people, LGBT members and their allies will continue leaving in droves, critics said.
The mass resignations include some Mormons who have become inactive in the church for years, but want to formally dissociate, in part to ensure that the LDS church no longer includes them in statistics and stops encouraging them to return.
The church claims that it has more than 15.6 million members worldwide.
“I wanted to be off the rolls,” said Ivonna Earnest, 45, who resigned on Saturday. “I don’t want to be a selling point anymore.”
LDS church officials declined to provide statistics on resignations. In a statement to the Guardian, spokesman Eric Hawkins said: “We don’t want to see anyone leave the Church, especially people who have been struggling with some aspect of their life … We continue to extend love and respect to those who leave, and we stand ready to welcome any who may desire to return in the future.”
Leaving the church can be particularly challenging in a state like Utah, where a majority of residents are Mormon.
“It’s really important for people going through this to know that they’re not alone,” said Steve Holbrook, an ex-Mormon who helps organize mass resignation events.
Some who try to remain in the church and fight for change are ultimately forced out. Kate Kelly, a speaker at the Saturday ceremony, was excommunicated in 2014 after advocating for the ordination of women into priesthood.
The Utah woman said that Mormonism is defined by rituals and that many want to formally celebrate the act of leaving.
“The idea of the mass resignation event is to be able to mark your dissent with the way that the organization treats gay people, people of color and women.”
Treven Wood, a 35-year-old Provo, Utah, man who resigned on Saturday, said he had long wrestled with the decision to leave, since all of his family members are still active in the church – including his three children. But he said that he had become skeptical of many of the church’s beliefs and practices and was especially dismayed by the new anti-gay policy.
He said he had faced significant criticisms from his family since resigning and that his departure from the church has threatened his relationships.
“They don’t have to agree with it … but I would hope they would eventually come around and respect my decision.”
Gonzalo Arellano Pino, a 45-year-old gay ex-Mormon, said it was encouraging to witness so many people leave the church following the introduction of the “evil” policy forcing children to disavow LGBT parents.
“It’s refreshing to see that some light is being shined on the truth,” he said. “The time will come, I think, when the church will see the impact.”

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