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Thousands resign LDS membership in protest of church same-sex policy

November 17th, 2015 Posted in Opinion

Story & Photos by Morgan Pratt

SALT LAKE CITY — Recent changes to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ rules concerning the children of same-sex couples spurred thousands of Mormons quit their church on Saturday.

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? ask protesters at Saturday’s demonstration (Margan Pratt photo)

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? ask protesters at Saturday’s demonstration (Morgan Pratt photo)

Many of them met at City Creek Park in Salt Lake City to fill out their resignation paperwork, which they then mailed to the church headquarters, less than a block away.

An estimated 2,500 people who turned out for the demonstration against recent LDS pronouncements against the children of same-sex couples processed their official letters resigning from the church. Another 2,000 Mormons from around the country also resigned, protest organizer Lauren McNamara said.

Widespread protest erupted when LDS authorities announced the policy change Nov. 5, designating same-sex couples as apostates who may be excommunicated, and banning their children from the church until age 18.

Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” blasted from speakers as protesters marched around Temple Square and waved LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) flags. They then put their letters in a U.S. Postal Service mailbox across the street.

Cache Valley resident Tanner Gilliland was one of the thousands of people who left the LDS church this weekend.

“On Saturday, I saw what it really meant to mourn with those who mourn, and to comfort those that stand in need of comfort,” he said after the demonstration.

“The love was just palpable,” he said. “It was incredible. I was really moved and really humbled to be a part of something so meaningful and right.”

A Temple South mailbox overflows with LDS resignation letters (Morgan Pratt photo)

A Temple South mailbox overflows with LDS resignation letters. (Morgan Pratt photo)

Brooke Swallow, one of the event organizers, said there is a lot of dissension, outrage and hurt among former Mormons who left the church this weekend. But the mass resignation was also about compassion and helping people in the LGBTQIA community.

“No longer are people in Utah going to stand behind walls of silence,” she said. “No longer are we going to keep our mouths shut. The root of all of this extremism and hate is because of the fact that we are too silent. We need to raise our voices with alternative perspectives to break down these belief systems that tear down families.”

Swallow said the mass LDS resignation was also about preventing LGBTQIA suicides. Since announcement of the policy change, there has been a significant spike in the number of people calling in to the suicide hotlines throughout the state, she said.

“This is about love,” she said. “Our love is greater than their hate.”

Gilliland said he had already been in the process of leaving the church when the new LDS policy disallowing children of same-sex couples. That sparked him to make his resignation official.

When the time came for Gilliland to take the final step, he said, it was a bit anti-climactic.

“Strangely, I really didn’t feel anything,” he said. “I guess I was already so emotionally removed from the church. I know some people who felt like it was like going through a divorce, but I think I had already gone through the most painful and emotionally charged part of that.”

Gilliland said he went through that mourning process when he unofficially left the church in May. Before that, he said he considered himself one of the most devout Mormons.

There is a misunderstanding about those who resigned, Gilliland said. Many of those who left had been dedicated Mormons, he said. Leaving the church is a huge sacrifice for them, because they risk losing their friends, their family and, ultimately, their way of life.

“This is the cream of the crop,” Gilliland said. “People who cared the most, not the least who want to make a difference even at great personal sacrifice.”

Don Braegger was one of the speakers for Saturday’s event. He said that 25 years ago, he was on his stake’s high council in charge of young, single adult programs.

Thousands flocked to City Creek Park Saturday to support LDS members’ protest against church policy. (Morgan Pratt photo)

Thousands flocked to City Creek Park Saturday to support LDS members’ protest against church policy. (Morgan Pratt photo)

“I became aware of a recently returned missionary who had told a friend he was gay, and was struggling with where he was going to fit in the gospel plan,” he said.

Braegger said he wrote an anonymous letter to the young man. In that letter, he told him he was also gay, and he said he would make myself known to him to offer support in the near future.

“I have that 25-year-old letter here today,” he said. “It has a 29 cent stamp, but no postmark, because it was never sent,” he said. “Within a month, I learned in this young man had hung himself with his belt in his parents’ home.”

Braegger said he had been unable to overcome the despair knowing that the LDS church, the institution that he had given two years of his life, viewed him as a perverted, sick and defective individual.

“Why did I not reach out and offer support?” he said. “Because I was fearful of the fate as if my own secret would become known.”

As a father of three, he was living a false reality of being a straight man. He was in denial, he said, so he could receive the benefits of his church.

“If I had told this individual that I too was gay, I would be coming out gay,” he said. “It was too severe in its consequences.”

Braegger is now the father of seven children and nine grandchildren. He says he came out of the closet just nine months ago. But his disagreements with the church run much deeper than his sexuality not lining up with the church’s ideas about sexuality, and he wants to make that clear.

“All is not well in Zion,” he said.


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