A Letter to the Latter-day Saint Prophet: LGBT Policy Lacking in Love
by Dean Snelling
Submitted to Affirmation following The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s reversal of their November 2015 policy changes that prohibited children of LGBTQ parents from being blessed and baptized and characterized members of the church entering into same-sex marriages as apostates. These changes became known within the LGBTQ Mormon community as the “exclusion policy,” “policy of exclusion,” or “PoX.” The day after the reversal of this policy was announced, Nathan Kitchen, President of Affirmation, invited anyone willing to and share their authentic feelings and all their stories of grief, anger, relief, sadness, happiness, confusion, whatever they may be that surround the rescinding this policy. “As President of Affirmation, I want to be sure Affirmation does not hide you or your stories as we move forward,” wrote Kitchen in his invitation. If you have reactions or a story to share about the reversal of the exclusion policy, please send to [email protected]. You can also read other stories and reactions to the reversal of the exclusion policy.
In the fall of 2018, President Russell M. Nelson, prophet, seer and revelator of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to Vancouver, British Columbia to visit the members of the Church in our province. I prepared a letter to give to him in person at this special meeting. For security reasons, I was not permitted to give him my letter directly, but after explaining to the security guard that I had previously written to President Monson each time he visited the places where I had lived, I had decided to continue my tradition by writing President Nelson as well. The usher politely thanked me and promised that he would personally hand deliver my message to President Nelson.
The major portion of my letter discussed my life as a gay Latter-day Saint and discussed the 2015 policy the Church had made about children of gay parents. On, April 4, 2019, the Church released a new statement reversing that policy. The first two people to inform me were my husband, David who had seen the policy change on the front page of the New York Times and my daughter Emily, whose husband is a bishop and had received word directly from Salt Lake City about the change. My daughter Emily wrote to me:
I just wanted you to know that we are celebrating with you and all the LGBT community and their families the news of the reversal of the measures taken by the Church. I wonder if your letter was part of the weight that helped the change and am proud of you! As you said, it’s not that the Church isn’t true, but leaders are human and can make mistakes. Backtracking is a sign of wisdom and courage.
Below is the letter I wrote to President Nelson last fall concerning the policy:
Dear President Nelson,
Thank you for coming to see us in British Columbia. After I was interviewed by Elder Monson during my mission in 1964, and met him again in 1979 when he gave my wife a blessing, I began writing him notes whenever he visited the area where I lived. Thus, I continue the same tradition and am writing to you!
I am probably, one of the few here to represent those who are gay members, or like me, excommunicated, but faithfully attend church. I have been blessed to be able to receive the love and support of my stake president, bishop, and members of the ward I attend.
I would like to share my gratitude to you and the general authorities for encouraging members of the Church worldwide to love and welcome those, like myself, who have an attraction for the same sex. This is progress compared to the days of my youth when being gay was taught to be a choice and an abomination next to the sin of murder. Many at BYU obtained reparative therapy which included pornography, and excruciating shock treatments to vital parts of their bodies, sometimes inducing vomiting. Few, if any, transformed into heterosexual individuals. I never received those well-intended therapies until I met others, who allowed me to relieve, in some small way, their grueling experiences and the disappointment that followed when they were just the same as before. Several took their lives. Many of us who were gay at the time did our best to live two lives. One as a devout member and another in dark closeted areas where no one would see us. Having one person to love was out of the question, for our identity as a sick abomination would then become obvious.
It seemed, however, that there was a way to free oneself from the evil of homosexuality. If we married someone of the opposite sex, we were promised, with the Lord’s help, that we could be made whole and worthy. As a faithful Mormon who led a double life, I dreamed of the day when I could be married in the temple and have a beautiful family like other LDS people. Thus, in 1974, I married a lovely bride in the temple. Sadly, after only six years of marriage, she passed away leaving me with two daughters, ages 3 and 5, and a pledge that I would raise them in the Church. When she died, I was just as gay as I had ever been. In spite of living a double life, I kept my promise and raised my daughters in the Church.
After three years of being a widower, I foolishly married a sister who wanted to “save me” from the evils of homosexuality. We were legally separated for the majority of our marriage. In spite of my double life, I successfully raised my daughters to be faithful members in an area where the Church is not strong. Both have been to the temple, one has a temple marriage and after an interview with a general authority, was found worthy to support her husband in a stake presidency. She currently supports him as a bishop. They have five children. Of the three oldest, all have gone to the temple. One is a medical doctor and has been married in the temple, another has served a mission, and a third is leaving on a mission this month. My other daughter married outside of the Church, but, nevertheless, does her best to raise her three children, all under seven years old, in the Church.
1998 was a pivotal year for me. I was presented with an article by Elder Oakes from the October 1995 issue of the Ensign. Elder Oaks suggested that those who are gay are susceptible from birth to have that inclination. In spite of that, they are responsible for their actions. Fast-fix marriages were not encouraged so celibacy became the new solution.
The article was contrary to everything that had been taught to me previously. I was taught that being gay was a choice, was changeable, and getting married to someone of the opposite sex was a prescribed method to resolve the problem! I had unsuccessfully tried to follow the previous prophets when Elder Oaks 1995 talk revealed, as I had suspected, that I had been correct all along in believing that I was born, if not gay, at least with the tendency to be so! In addition, the Church taught, and still does, that those born with a mental or physical handicap, are not responsible for their inadequacies. Elder Oaks said that those who were gay were not responsible for their condition, but they were responsible for our actions. Remaining celibate was the only solution. Why then, as a gay person, was I responsible for my “birth defect” when those with other defects were not. In the Catholic Church, celibacy is a choice that young men make when they join the priesthood, or when young women become a nun. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is a lifetime requirement caused by a “birth defect!”
I became very angry! I felt that I had been lied to! When my activity in the Church gradually diminished, the stake president asked me why. My honesty was rewarded by being excommunicated in 2002, almost forty years to the day of my baptism. After my excommunication, I found it difficult to remain active. I attended the Community of Christ.
I did not like being promiscuous, but homosexuals had few places to meet other than in bars and places of disrepute. Gay members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had nowhere to meet other members of their faith who shared their same orientation. While I longed to meet Latter-day Saint gay men, church policies drove many gay members into more obscurity. My one refuge was on a gay dateline. There I found David, my future spouse. Although he was not a member of the Church, he did not drink or smoke, and lived a clean life. On January 17, 2004, David and I were legally married in a civil marriage in Vancouver. After almost fifteen years, we are still a happy couple. I felt I could, for the first time, hold my head high and no longer be ashamed or debase myself by hiding my identity with casual sex held in secret. Nothing is more degrading and dangerous.
Over the past fifteen years of my marriage, I have encountered life experiences that have been an important part of my progression here on earth. I have learned to share, to give and to take, to compromise, and to love another human being as much as life itself. These lessons in life could not, and would not have been learned in a life of celibacy. I have had to choose between leaving my spouse, or leaving the Church. With the Church’s poor record of constant policy changes, seemingly lacking inspiration, I opted to remain with my spouse, and trust in future revelation.
In the early days of the Church, the law of adoption was implemented for the first time in the Nauvoo Temple. On April 6, 1862, Brigham Young said of the law of adoption, “By this powe,r men will be sealed to men back to Adam, completing and making perfect the priesthood from this day to the winding up scene.” Brigham Young’s grandson, Kimball Young, reported that Brigham Young had stated in a letter that there will be a future time “when men would be sealed to men in the priesthood in a more solemn ordinance than that by which women are sealed to men and in a room over that in which women were sealed to man.”
My testimony remains firm that temple marriage is ONLY between a man and a woman, but I remain steadfast in my conviction that further revelation will come that will not conflict with this church doctrine, yet provide a secure and loving place for all of Heavenly Father’s children. Whether it be an implementation of the Law of Adoption, or some other law not yet revealed, I have faith that it will come…one day.
At David’s prompting, I returned to Church activity soon after we were married. We opened and operated a boarding home for seniors. The missionaries came each week to visit our seven residents, and the Latter-day Saints branch in our area sang for our residents each Christmas and Easter. I had hope that the Church would soften its approach to gay members and those like me, who were no longer members. This hope was blotted out at the end of 2015 when the first presidency made an official policy forbidding children of a gay parent who had ever been married or lived with another same-sex spouse or partner, from being blessed, baptized, or in the case of young men, be ordained to the priesthood until the age of 18, at which time the young adolescent must denounce his/her parent(s) as apostates living in sin. At 18 they must leave their parents home in order to be baptized and fend for themselves. How many young people at age 18 are able to support themselves while obtaining an education? President Nelson, forgive me, but I could not believe, and still can not believe that it was inspired to throw our children out onto the streets in order for them to be baptized, yet that is what the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ prescribed.
I had raised both of my daughters in the Church and taught them that celestial marriage was between a man and a woman. My marriage, a civil marriage, would last only until death. Why then, was I considered an apostate? If I had committed murder, embezzlement, been a pedophile, a rapist, or committed a myriad of other detestable deeds, the Church would have no problem allowing my children to be blessed, or baptized.
The leaders, however, explained that the new ruling was given in love so that the children would not be confused by living in a home with two same-sex parents, yet attending a Church that did not condone it. Evidently, it did not seem to be confusing for a child to live with a parent who was a murderer, etc., because those sins were more easily spotted and designated as sin. If I understood, it seemed that living in a loving family with two same-sex parents where family home evening, scripture study and family prayer was offered, did not represent the abominable behavior that gay people were supposed to have, thus the confusion. Gay members needed to return to the closet and continue to live in dark places, unheard, unseen, or be banished to a life of celibacy. I cried and cried when I read this policy, and could not, nor do I still understand or accept such a policy.
This policy brought me face to face with gay families that I knew. While one lesbian couple had successfully raised their daughter, another gay couple I knew was still in the process of raising their children.
The daughter of the lesbian couple told me that her two mothers had provided her with a loving, stable home. She explained that many of her classmates came from unhappy, broken heterosexual families. Her family was blessed with happiness and understanding. When questioned if being raised by lesbians tainted her sexual preference, her husband commented with a devilish grin, “My wife is VERY heterosexual!”
The gay married couple I know, adopted two boys and attended the United Church of Canada. With their oldest earning his Eagle Scout award, these two boys are finishing high school. Soon to be empty nesters, the two fathers decided to adopt another son, as well as a daughter. These four children would have been placed in foster homes, shuffled from one home to another if it had not been for this loving gay couple who adopted them to give them a stable loving home. Is this sin?
I had been alone with my children for half of their childhood. My home was in turmoil during the years of my marriages. I was far more capable of raising my daughters as a single gay man then as a pretended heterosexual husband.
It was unfortunate, but I did not come to the same conclusion that the leaders came to when they announced this new policy. I did not see anything in it that resembled love. In fact, the first thing I thought of immediately, without hesitation was that gay families attending Latter-day Saint wards might only prove that they were as capable, or more capable, in successfully raising faithful, strong and active Latter-day Saint heterosexuals! That would certainly cause difficulty for the Church.
Solution = new policy that eradicates the Church from further gay couples.
Result = No more gay couples = problem resolved!
Again, I ask for your forgiveness, but explaining that children would be confused by living with same-sex parents in a church that taught against gay marriage sounded like a rather feeble excuse to me, compared to my first impression that came to me instantly. I wondered how many people would think as I had when I first heard the policy. What a catastrophe for the Church! I was not certain where the grief of the policy would be felt the most: the grief given to the LGBT Latter-day Saint community, or the pain that would cause the entire Church to endure suffering by a policy that many members, potential members, and non-members would view as unChristlike.
A survey from the Public Religion Institute recently found that 40% of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the United States supported gay marriage in 2017, up from 27% in 2014, while the acceptance rate of members between the age of 18 to 29 was 52%, up from 43%. Members of the Church supporting gay marriage at 65 and older was the lowest at 32% up from 18% in 2014. The survey was based on 40,000 phone interviews. While church policy is based on modern revelation, and not on public opinion, it is disturbing that convert baptisms are down, while those leaving the Church are increasing. A large portion of those leaving are from the LGBT community, or their family, friends or other members who can not support the policy, such as the popular heterosexual Prime Minister of New Zealand, who was a member of the Church before she disagreed with early Latter-day Saint policies on homosexuals.
I was almost ready to fall back into inactivity again when I spoke to my bishop about the policy. He did not tell me anything I had not already heard, but suddenly I had a calm feeling come over me.
While Church doctrine concerning gay marriage has remained consistent, policies have constantly been flawed. It is impossible for anyone who has watched the transitions made by the Church over the years to have faith in gay policies that have constantly changed. Nevertheless, the small voice inside answered my prayers and I was able to find peace at last.
We have been taught to follow the brethren, but at the same time, to not follow blindly. We are all human. Stake presidents, bishops, high councilors, seventies, apostles, and prophets are more than anything… MORTAL HUMANS AND PRONE TO MAKE MISTAKES. “Look over the top,” an inner voice told me. Live my life the best I can. Support the brethren in their callings. If, by chance, these good men who are anointed to direct the Church should make a mistake, one day, if it not be in this life, it shall all be made clear. Then I shall understand. In the meantime, sustain the brethren in their callings, knowing that they are good men who are inspired, but who, like all of us, can be prone to make mistakes that may, or may not, be changed when and if the correction time comes. And so dear President Nelson, “I look over the top” for a day of complete understanding that will arrive for all of us.
I long for the day when I can once again be a member of the Church. Somehow I find it strange to be called an apostate and yet be told I am loved, but not have a place in the Church as a member. There is something amiss.
What parent would tell a child that they love them, yet cast them out? This is not the love that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught me to believe in, nor does it display the love that I believe Jesus has for me as the good shepherd who found ALL his sheep to be precious, but I can wait.
As a grandfather of eight grandchildren, I have, as a married gay man, been forced to remain distant from my daughters and grandchildren. The policy states that children of a gay parent may not live with their parents. Does this also mean that a gay parent can not live with their children? It does not classify if “living with” my children includes a holiday of a week or two. If I am sick, as an official apostate, am I to presume that my children can not stay with me to help take care of me? Because of this policy, I speak to my children on Skype, or on the phone. I no longer feel comfortable being in their company to “live” with them. The policy has successfully separated my family from me, even though my children have welcomed me to come see them, I can not. They can not stay with me, and I can not stay with them. While I do not like this policy, I accept that I must live with it until it is removed. Where is the love for those of us who are gay if our families are taken away from us? I can only presume that is what the general authorities believe, but I am sorry President Nelson, I can not.
I send you my love and sustain you as our prophet and also sustain your councilors, the twelve, and the others who are leading Christ’s Church. May Heavenly Father continue to bless you with light and future inspiration.
I did not share my letter to President Nelson with anyone after writing it, nor did I expect an answer from him. He must get so many letters. My letter was a personal one, not to be shared. However, with the removal of this policy, just eight months after writing my letter, I knew I had received the most beautiful response that was an answer to my prayers. I was stunned, realizing that perhaps, by chance, my letter, along with many letters from others, might have encouraged our President to reflect and offer prayers on our behalf. Thus I decided to share my letter, as I had not lost faith that changes would come, and I am quite certain, in due time, further changes will be on their way! There are a few responses to my letter that particularly touched me that I want to share.
From my brother:
Wow – You really spilled your guts out in that well-written letter. I can only imagine the joy that you are feeling right now. As to whether or not your letter had any influence on Church policy pertaining to gays … the Lord works in mysterious ways .. I believe it’s possible. I certainly believe that any General Authority (who read your letter) would be prompted to seriously ponder the issue. I hope this policy change brings you much peace and happiness…I know this issue has been a huge struggle for you throughout your life! God bless you.
My ministering elder who gave me a ride to the special conference with President Nelson and watched me give my letter to the security guard:
Yes, I thought of you when I heard about the policy change. As you and I have discussed there is doctrine and policies. Policies can and will be changed but it’s the doctrine that is what our salvation and testimonies should be based on. I admire your faith and your wiliness to voice your views in a nonconfrontational way. I’m sure your well thought out letter touched president Nelsons heart.
And a very simple note from the missionary who baptized me at age 16 in 1962:
Thank you for sharing this letter. You are a good man.