Gregory A. Prince: Looking at Life through the Eyes of Faith

Gregory A. Prince

Gregory A. Prince

“In spite of the fact that all of my mentors in science were hard-nosed agnostics or atheists, I have somehow been able to maintain my faith—indeed, thanks to them it is a better-informed faith”

by Gregory A. Prince

Affirmation Board Member Greg Prince delivered the following “Pillars of My Faith” speech at the Sunstone Symposium held in Salt Lake City on August 2, 2013.

A decade ago, during a week of lecturing at UCLA, I spent an hour interviewing the only Mormon ever to win a Nobel Prize. I suppose most of you are not aware that there ever was one—certainly you didn’t read about it in the Church News. Born in 1918 and raised in Provo, Dr. Paul Boyer graduated from BYU prior to doing doctorate work at the University of Wisconsin. In 1997 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on adenosine triphosphate, one of the most important molecules in biology. I interviewed him in his office in Boyer Hall, the home of the Molecular Biology Institute at UCLA.

The likely reason that Dr. Boyer never made it into the Church News—I’m guessing here—was suggested during our interview:

“I was particularly satisfied by a nice survey in Scientific American about religion and science, in which they did surveys of how scientists looked at monotheistic deity. It disappointed me that the percentage of scientists that believed in a monotheistic deity back in 1914 was around 40%, and it is almost that now. In a sense that disappoints me, because I look back and see how little the recognition of the ways we have found about our world and our biology has penetrated society at large.

In that survey, they also looked at the scientists of today to try and see how the level of accomplishment correlated with what their beliefs were. They found that the greater the scientific accomplishment, the greater the number that did not believe in a monotheistic deity. That was very clear. It was also very interesting that the mathematicians were more likely to believe in a monotheistic deity than physicists; the physicist were more likely than the chemists; and the biologists were the least likely.… So my atheism isn’t an intellectual struggle for me; it’s an intellectual consequence of my life in science. It would seem to me that it has been a natural path of learning.” (Paul D. Boyer interview, October 6, 2003)

As a practicing biologist for over forty years, I have a keen appreciation for where Dr. Boyer was coming from. Indeed, few of my colleagues in biomedical research have been active religionists. The fact that I am is likely due to circumstances largely out of my control. Another Nobel Laureate, Saul Bellow, described my situation in his novel Herzog:

“’You got trouble, I can see that. Jumping out of your skin. You got a soul—haven’t you, Moses.’ He shook his head, smoking his cigarette with two stained fingers pressed to his mouth, his voice rumbling. ‘Can’t dump the sonofabitch, can we? Terrible handicap, a soul.’”

Handicap or not, I have both a soul and an optimistic outlook that includes the ability to look at life through the eyes of faith, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. It is a gift that I cannot imagine having earned, but it carries with it a heavy responsibility to try to make sense of this world and the other, and to help others to do the same. In spite of the fact that all of my mentors in science were hard-nosed agnostics or atheists, I have somehow been able to maintain my faith—indeed, thanks to them it is a better-informed faith.

With that as background, I give a bit of foreground. I was raised in a conservative LDS household in Los Angeles. After high school I spent two years at what was then Dixie Junior College in St. George, Utah, where I had exposure to some fascinating characters that included a barber who was a member of the John Birch Society and proud of it; and a neighbor and home teacher by the name of Will Brooks—the 90-year-old husband of Juanita Brooks, whose influence on me began then, but blossomed in later years.

After Dixie, I served in the Brazilian South Mission, where a “nest” of liberal-thinking Elders exposed me to ideas that I had never previously encountered. Although they drove the mission president to distraction, their immediate effect on me was minimal—except that I took a copy of Bruce McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine to Brazil, but left it there.

gradually moved to the left—I didn’t switch my political party registration for another twenty years—and the shift was driven internally. I was discovering what I already was, rather than morphing into something that I wasn’t.

Within weeks of returning from Brazil, I enrolled in dental school at UCLA. The year was 1969 and the country—particularly the college campus—was in a state of turmoil over the Vietnam War. UCLA Ward was an amazing center of intellectual fermentation, with the medical and dental students generally occupying the right wing, the graduate students the left wing, and the law students brokering an uneasy peace. The most successful ward party in the six years I was at UCLA was “Monte Carlo Night,” complete with roulette wheel—albeit fake money—and a menu of non-alcoholic drinks that included the popular “Johnny Webster,” named after the bishop—who was not pleased. An LDS student newspaper, Contempo, was shut down by regional church leaders after it ran an unsympathetic review of BYU President Ernest Wilkinson’s book, Earnestly Yours. The ward Relief Society published its own periodical, Paper Plates, that included a memorable article entitled “A Day in the Life of the Holy Ghost.” A Gospel Doctrine class argument over the appropriate pronoun to use in praying—thee vs. you—was followed by John Cooley, a graduate student in philosophy, giving a closing prayer that addressed the issue by not using any pronouns. The waves of nostalgia still sweep over me more than four decades later—and the imprint of the experience has been indelible. I gradually moved to the left—I didn’t switch my political party registration for another twenty years—and the shift was driven internally. I was discovering what I already was, rather than morphing into something that I wasn’t.

The dual lessons that I learned from that experience have informed all aspects of my life ever since: First, always work on something that is important. Second, question everything, and then follow the data.

Two years into my UCLA career I had a conversion experience—into pathology and a second career. A year’s residency in autopsy pathology followed by a PhD in experimental pathology brought me under the tutelage of the hard-nosed scientists to whom I referred earlier. The dual lessons that I learned from that experience have informed all aspects of my life ever since: First, always work on something that is important. Second, question everything, and then follow the data.

After graduate school I moved from one coast to the other, taking up residence in Maryland for a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. I have lived in Maryland ever since, and have often been grateful for the 2,000-mile buffer that it affords me.

We purchased a home in Maryland without having any idea of the makeup of the ward in which we would live. Only after we moved in did we discover that a year earlier Lester Bush and his family had moved into the same ward. We quickly became closest friends and have remained so ever since. Lester also became my role model as someone outside the field of Mormon studies who brought his own tools to the task—he is a physician—and wrote an article for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought that changed an entire church. Over four decades we have spent countless hours together, thrashing through what we have seen to be the most important issues facing Mormonism. Data, not dogma, have driven our discussions. Through Lester, I became involved in Dialogue, an involvement that continues to the present. Along the way we were joined for several years by Tony Hutchinson, one of the brightest theological lights I have ever met—and one who we unnecessarily lost to Anglicanism. Tony’s ongoing doctoral studies at Catholic University constantly challenged and illuminated Lester’s and my thinking. I became—and remain—unapologetically liberal.

I remember vividly a visit to our stake by Boyd Packer who, in a moment of remarkable candor, told us that there would be times when we would go against what the handbook said, because it would the right thing to do for the situation.

Two years after we moved to Maryland, I was called to be president of the Gaithersburg Ward Elders Quorum, a calling I held for four years. That experience moved me from the theoretical to the practical. I learned, first-hand, that the Sabbath, indeed, was made for man, and not vice-versa. I remember vividly a visit to our stake by Boyd Packer who, in a moment of remarkable candor, told us that there would be times when we would go against what the handbook said, because it would the right thing to do for the situation. That brought to mind the story of my great-uncle when he was called to be a stake patriarch. Upon attending the first General Conference after his new calling, he paid a visit to his friend Joseph Fielding Smith, who congratulated him on the calling. My great-uncle said, “So where is my handbook?” Smith replied, “There is no handbook. Just rely on the Lord, and you’ll be fine.” Good advice then and now.

I grieve at the pain and suffering of single—particularly female and LGBT—Mormons, whose pain and suffering often come at the hands of the Church or its well-intentioned but ill-informed members.

My tenure as an Elders Quorum president was followed by three years as a counselor in a singles ward bishopric, where I became—and remain—painfully aware of our shortcomings in ministering to those who fall outside the norm of the Mormon nuclear family—a norm that paradoxically represents a smaller and smaller minority of LDS members. I grieve at the pain and suffering of single—particularly female and LGBT—Mormons, whose pain and suffering often come at the hands of the Church or its well-intentioned but ill-informed members.

My experiences as an Elders Quorum president had left me with questions about priesthood that lingered beyond my calling in the singles ward. After several years of waiting impatiently for the “real” historians to answer those questions, I followed the role models of Juanita Brooks and Lester Bush and began to research the subject on my own, beginning with my own library. Eight years and thousands of hours of research later, I published Power from On High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood. I learned, first-hand, two lessons from the experience—lessons that I had already learned second-hand from Juanita and Lester. The first was that serious scholarship, which included the use of the tools of science with which I was already equipped, is capable of shifting major paradigms of a religious tradition. In Juanita’s case it was the Mountain Meadows Massacre; in Lester’s it was the Church’s policy that excluded blacks from ordination to the priesthood; in mine it was the priesthood itself. The second lesson was that such paradigm shifts, even though beneficial to the Church in the long haul, are not welcomed by some church leaders. Juanita’s and Lester’s experiences had made me well aware of that. My own experience, which was far more benign than theirs, was further buffered by a letter that I received from Leonard Arrington shortly before his death that commented onPower from On High: “It is satisfying and sufficient that people you regard as faithful servants approve. We felt that way with approval from the First Presidency and a majority of the Apostles. Blessings on you!”

My own experience, which was far more benign than theirs, was further buffered by a letter that I received from Leonard Arrington shortly before his death that commented on Power from On High: “It is satisfying and sufficient that people you regard as faithful servants approve. We felt that way with approval from the First Presidency and a majority of the Apostles. Blessings on you!”

Power from On High led directly to David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, a 10-year project; and the McKay biography led directly to my current project, a biography of Leonard Arrington. I have been blessed not only with opportunities, but also with extraordinary access to data and people as a result of these projects, including over 700, recorded interviews, including many General Authorities.

On to the Pillars of My Faith.

Pillar #1 – Diversity is the lifeblood of a vital church

Nowhere in scripture is diversity better understood and celebrated than in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. He wrote first in generalities:

“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all…” (I. Cor. 12:4-6)

Think of those three concepts. Not only are there differences in thegifts found in members within the Church, but there are differences in the way in which members act as administrators, and differences in the operations—think programs—within the Church; and all of this is countenanced by the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God. The message is not “One size fits all.” Paul continued: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” (I Cor. 12:12)

Fair enough for a starter: there is one body, one church. In his Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul restated the same message: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” That said, the people who worship that one Lord, who hold to that one faith, who submit to that one baptism are quite different from each other. To make that point, Paul likened the church to a body, and the people to parts of that body:

“For the body is not one member, but many.
If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
And if they were all one member, where were the body?
But now are they many members, yet but one body.
And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
and those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.” (I. Cor. 12:13-23)

Let me repeat that last verse for emphasis: “Those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestowmore abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.” That reminds me of a time over a century ago, when Church leaders were working to achieve statehood for Utah. Given the need for political diversity, they urged members whose sensibilities went in a different direction that it was possible for a person to be a good Latter-day Saint and a Republican! I continue to hold to that possibility.

There is a tendency in the Church to have one size fit all, to eliminate the very diversity that is its lifeblood. That is a destructive tendency, one that was undoubtedly behind President Uchtdorf’s most recent General Conference address.

There is a tendency in the Church to have one size fit all, to eliminate the very diversity that is its lifeblood. That is a destructive tendency, one that was undoubtedly behind President Uchtdorf’s most recent General Conference address:

“While the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God.… This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father.… As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences. The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity.” (Ensign, May 2013, p. 59)

Pillar #2 – Doubt is one side of a coin whose other side is faith

Doubt has gotten a bad rap in this church. In the case of many including myself, healthy faith is contingent upon healthy and co-existent doubt. At least two others taught the same thing: David O. McKay and Jesus. In response to a young missionary whose doubts prompted him to want to leave his mission, and perhaps the Church, McKay wrote autobiographically:

“Over fifty years ago, when I was about to leave for my first mission, an agnostic friend said to me, among other things: ‘David, teach only that which you feel to be true – things about which you are in doubt, keep to yourself until your doubt is removed.’

Following that injunction, I went from what was known to what was unknown with respect to doctrine and Church policies, and today, believe me, doubts that shook me as a young man, as doubts are now shaking you, became as clear as Thomas’ assurance of the resurrection of the Savior when he said, ‘My Lord and my God.’” (Letter dated March 2, 1949 from David O. McKay to a young mission ready to give up his mission and come home. Clare Middlemiss Scrapbooks.)

The story to which President McKay referred is in the Gospel of John, and is usually referred to as the story of “Doubing Thomas,” even though it does not include that adjective. Beyond that, consider two other things about the story: First, Thomas was no different than the others in the Twelve, all of whom believed because they had already seen the resurrected Jesus. And second, Thomas was not chastised by Jesus for having been “wired” to believe only upon seeing. Rather, Jesus commended those who, being wired differently—or, in the teaching of Paul, had received a different spiritual gift—believed without seeing, but he did not place one kind of belief ahead of the other.

On another occasion, Jesus healed the son of a man who confessed his own doubt, while rebuking his disciples despite their belief:

    1. And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit;


    1. And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.


    1. He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.


    1. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.


    1. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.


  1. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. (Mark 9)

As for me, I believe some things, I hope all things, I doubt many things, I deny few things. And a phrase from one of our hymns, “Lead, Kindly Light,” gains increasing significance for me over the years:

“Keep Thou my feet;
I do not ask to see the distant scene;
One step, enough for me.”

Pillar #3 – Revelation occurs on both sides of the science: religion interface, albeit through different models

Revelation on the side of religion occurs in the language of religion; and on the side of science it occurs in the language of science, which is data. When either side attempts to co-opt the other, trouble ensues; and yet the two sides are not otherwise inimical to each other. For example, the statement, “God exists,” is informed by the language of religion; but the assumption of God’s existence is enriched by the language of science as it deals with the data points of history and defines the boundaries within which God’s works must be explained. However, using the language (and the tools) of science to attempt to prove that God exists, or to prove that this is the One and Only True Church Upon the Face of the Earth is a fool’s errand; and yet most of the volumes of my substantial library come from people who either were absolutely certain that they could prove the positive, or absolutely certain that they could prove the negative.

For a more recent example within the LDS tradition, think of the recent about-face that the Church laudably made in acknowledging, in the face of rapidly accumulating and overwhelming evidence from science, that homosexuality is not chosen. Where science can inform, it eventuallywill inform, and religionists will save themselves and their followers a lot of grief if they allow the process to occur naturally.

The interface between science and religion is fluid, and generally has moved in a direction that has expanded the domain of science. Think of biological evolution as an early example of the fluidity. For a more recent example within the LDS tradition, think of the recent about-face that the Church laudably made in acknowledging, in the face of rapidly accumulating and overwhelming evidence from science, that homosexuality is not chosen. Where science can inform, it eventuallywill inform, and religionists will save themselves and their followers a lot of grief if they allow the process to occur naturally.

As a practicing scientist, I have never had difficulty defining, for myself, which questions were on which side of the interface. Having defined the questions in that manner, I apply a simple approach: where faith informs, follow the faith; where data inform, follow the data.

Pillar #4 – Continuing revelation means continuing change, so get used to it

Historian Thomas Kuhn coined the term “paradigm shift” to describe the process by which scientific progress replaces old paradigms with new ones. Think of the ancient paradigm of the universe wherein the earth was the center of everything, and all other heavenly bodies revolved around it. As instruments and observers evolved, the increasingly precise measurements they made of the heavens were inconsistent with the earth paradigm. For centuries the problem was addressed by adding an ever-expanding list of exceptions to the rule—“epicycles”—until the old paradigm finally collapsed under its own weight and was replaced by a new paradigm: the sun is the center of the solar system and the earth revolves around it.

The heliocentric paradigm gradually began to sag under its own weight, with epicycles being added to support it in the same manner that the geocentric paradigm had been supported. It was later replaced by a series of paradigms as it was discovered that our solar system is but a speck of matter within the Milky Way galaxy, which in turn is but a speck of matter within a universe whose center was the Big Bang, billions of years ago, and whose circumference is expanding at an accelerating pace.

The same process holds true in matters of faith, with religion sometimes being the force driving the paradigm shift, and science being so at others. Think of the 1978 Revelation on Priesthood in the former instance, and the current LDS position on homosexuality in the latter. Those examples notwithstanding, I am constantly amazed at the willingness of Latter-day Saints to sustain the concept of continuing revelation on the one hand—after all, it is one of our Articles of Faith—and yet fight any semblance of change. To those who continue to fight change, I quote President Uchtdorf: “Stop it!”

There are many who are willing to die on the hill of the Book of Mormon’s ancient historicity. To them I say, “Grow up!” Science has already informed greatly on the issue of historicity, and will continue to inform “many great and important things.” Relax and don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Pillar #5 – The Book of Mormon is as the Book of Mormon does, so don’t freak out

Many people act as if the Book of Mormon is the “cornerstone of our religion” only because we have placed it in that position precariously, and all that keeps it from toppling is our constant fussing. Quite to the contrary, it gained and maintains its position because over a period of nearly two centuries it has been the primary means by which people who have encountered Mormonism have converted to it—not to the book itself, but through it to a better place of living. That position is independent of the book’s provenance, and yet there are many who are willing to die on the hill of ancient historicity. To them I say, “Grow up!” Science has already informed greatly on the issue of historicity, and will continue to inform “many great and important things.” Relax and don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

If you look at the history of biblical studies, you will see that the initial years of “higher criticism,” a century ago, sent shock waves through religious communities, particularly the fundamentalist ones whose houses were built on sandy foundations of scriptural literalism and inerrancy. Instead, what happened and continues to happen, thanks to biblical scholarship, is that the Bible is in a far stronger position than it was prior to “higher criticism.” Once my co-religionists who are defending their hill are able to make one paradigm shift, they will find the doors flung wide open to a deeper appreciation of what the Book of Mormon really is.

A primary challenge for Smith’s successors has been to decide which received symbols to maintain intact, which to remodel, which to discard—and which new ones to introduce in order to facilitate access of current believers to the Infinite. To the extent that new symbols resonate—and the CTR ring is a superb example of a relatively new one—the community is enriched. To the extent that outmoded symbols are retained, the community is restrained.

Pillar #6 – Symbols are the currency of religion, but they are ephemeral

The primary task of the founder of any religion is to provide the community of believers with a set of symbols that give them access to the Infinite. Joseph Smith’s symbols, both visual and verbal, were particularly powerful during the formative years of Mormonism, but many of them—for example, those borrowed from Freemasonry—lost their power over time, and some have been abandoned. Just consider a time, not that many decades ago, when one could purchase long-legged and long-sleeved temple garments made of 100% wool!

A primary challenge for Smith’s successors has been to decide which received symbols to maintain intact, which to remodel, which to discard—and which new ones to introduce in order to facilitate access of current believers to the Infinite. To the extent that new symbols resonate—and the CTR ring is a superb example of a relatively new one—the community is enriched. To the extent that outmoded symbols are retained, the community is restrained.

Pillar #7 – Interfaith work sharpens, not obliterates, one’s own religious identity

In the only press conference of his presidency, Thomas Monson made an extraordinary observation to this effect:

“I think we should not be sequestered in a little cage. I think we have a responsibility to be active in the communities where we live—all Latter-day Saints—and to work cooperatively with other churches and other organizations. My objective there is that I think it is important that we eliminate the weakness of one standing alone, and substitute for it the strength of people working together. There are many efforts where, as we get together as various religions in the community and work toward the common goal, it shall be successful. We have cooperated with Red Cross, the Catholic Church and other churches, to make this a better community and a better world.”

For many years I have been involved in the community of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, and for the past three years I have served on one of its steering committees—the only Mormon ever to do so. It took two minutes for them to decide that I wasn’t going to try to convert them to Mormonism, and since then we have gotten along fine. They not only respect my religion more than they did in the past, but also are cognizant of the fact that I—and Mormonism—have something of value to bring to the table. But I am the greater beneficiary, for I quickly realized that I had far more to learn than to teach, and that I—and Mormonism—had a lot of catching up to do even to pull even with the great and godly works that these other traditions are doing.

Having realized that, I am now in a position to work with them on problems of concern to all people and all religious traditions. There are genuinely bad people and genuinely grave threats throughout the world, and all that is required for their triumph is for people of good will to fail to work together. As we increasingly work side-by-side with each other, the things that divide us will gradually fall away as the things that unite us exert their priority.

Pillar #8 – The lost sheep is worth saving, despite the cost and the risk

Forty years ago, while attending a scientific meeting in Atlantic City, I visited a used-book store and purchased, for one dollar, a book entitled Lectures on Preaching. Written by Phillips Brooks, one of the premier religious leaders of the 19th century, it captivated me with its wisdom—and continues to do so today. One of his concluding statements gained special significance for me during the four years when I later worked in the trenches as an Elders Quorum president, the first time in my life that I had engaged directly in the work of saving souls:

“It is by working for the soul that we best learn what the soul is worth. If ever in your ministry the souls of those committed to your care grow dull before you, and you doubt whether they have any such value that you should give your life for them, go out and work for them; and as you work their value shall grow clear to you. Go and try to save a soul and you will see how well it is worth saving, how capable it is of the most complete salvation. Not by pondering upon it, nor by talking of it, but by serving it you learn its preciousness. So the parent learns the value of the child, and the teacher of the scholar, and the patriot of the native land. And so the Christian, living and dying for siblings’ souls, learns the value of those souls for which Christ lived and died.” (p. 280)

One of the most powerful metaphors of Jesus is that of the Good Shepherd, and he frequently admonished his believers to work selflessly in behalf of the sheep—particularly those who had strayed from the fold.

One of the most powerful metaphors of Jesus is that of the Good Shepherd, and he frequently admonished his believers to work selflessly in behalf of the sheep—particularly those who had strayed from the fold. Let me quote the Parable of the Lost Sheep that you have heard countless times, but make some observations that you likely have not heard so often, if at all:

“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” (Luke 15:4-5)

Observation #1: The default position is that any shepherd, upon finding that even one of his one hundred sheep had strayed, would leave the ninety-nine in order to retrieve the one. Jesus would have been incredulous to hear that any believer would respond to a strayed sheep simply by shrugging his shoulders and writing off the loss—and horrified to hear the words, “Good riddance!”

Observation #2: The value of the lost sheep is such that the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in the wilderness while he searches for the lost one. Ponder that for a moment—it is worth placing the ninety-nine at risk in order to pursue the lost sheep. I will leave it to you to decide for yourselves how much risk that is.

Observation #3: The shepherd will “go after that which is lost, until he find it.” A perfunctory effort is not acceptable.

What is the lost sheep that is of such value? Jesus did not describe its characteristics, and so we are left with the rhetorical question, “Who is it today?” Is it a black sheep? Is it someone who dresses differently than the norm? Is it someone with heterodox rather than orthodox viewpoints? Is it gay? Is it a Democrat? Is it a sinner whose actions offend us? Is it someone whose disability is off-putting to us? The point is that the features of that lost sheep are irrelevant to us, except to note that it was different than the 99. Yet how often are we eager to banish or kill—spiritually—the sheep that is different than the norm?

We have been taught from an early age, “If you do A, you will receive B.” Generally, that works. But sometimes it doesn’t, and therein comes the trial of faith.

Pillar #9 – Life is not formulaic

We have been taught from an early age, “If you do A, you will receive B.” Generally, that works. But sometimes it doesn’t, and therein comes the trial of faith. What happens when you observe the Word of Wisdom continually, but die young? What happens when you live a pure life, following all of the commandments, and yet never meet the person with whom you can go to the temple to be married? What happens when you do everything right in raising your children, but one of them goes astray nonetheless? What happens when a loved one receives a priesthood blessing promising restoration of health, but dies shortly thereafter? All of you are aware of times when the formula didn’t work, either for you or for someone close to you. What then?

The most profound book I have ever read is the Book of Job. A book of fiction, it nonetheless contains some of the most significant truths ever written. The book begins by informing us that Job was a perfect man, and thus ideally suited for a formulaic life. Having followed all of the commandments, he was entitled to all of the blessings—or at least that’s what the formula says. But instead, something else happened: Job lost everything that mattered to him—his family, his possessions, his health. Up to a point, he took it in with incredible patience—hence the term “the patience of Job.” But eventually he broke, and began to shake his fist at God.

First he cried out, “Why do the righteous suffer?” There was no answer from God, and no answer from the author of the Book of Job. Nor is there an adequate answer even today.

Later in the story, he cried out a second time, “Why do the wicked go to their graves smiling?” Or, in other words, why do the wicked prosper? Again, no answer from God, no answer from the author, and no adequate answer even today. “Deferred compensation” in both cases is the best we can do, but if you’re the one who just lost family, possessions and health, the thought of deferred compensation is not comforting.

Finally, Job’s patience was spent and he demanded of God a face-to-face meeting in order to set things straight—similar to what Ricky Ricardo said centuries later: “Hey Lucy, you got some ‘splainin to do!” God’s response came as a voice from the whirlwind: “When you get a face, we’ll talk.”

Thus, the real test of faith. Indeed, what need is there of faith if everything works according to formula? We hope for “deferred compensation,” but whether or not that occurs, we need a reality check for the here-and-now, a lesson in humility. The recent Supreme Court decision on Prop 8 underscores the importance of standing, and as was the case with Job, we are far short of having the standing to have everything explained to us now. Faith is Job saying to God, “Even if you send worms to destroy my flesh, I will not cease to see you.”

“Some decisions have been made and other pending, which will clear the way, organizationally,” President Kimball said. “But the basic decisions needed for us to move forward, as a people, must be made by the individual members of the Church. The major strides which must be made by the Church will follow upon the major strides to be made by us as individuals.”

Closing Remarks

So there you have the pillars of my faith—at least of today’s faith. My list a decade ago would have had some differences, and if I compile another list a decade from now, it also will have some differences. One thing that 65 years of age have brought is lesser confidence that I understand anything very well, but greater confidence that my unbelief—not disbelief—is sufficient.

Now, let me take a step back from self-analysis and make a few observations about the church to which I, and six generations of my ancestors, have belonged. With apologies to Pogo, “We have seen the Church, and it is us.” The Church thus is no better than its leaders and members at any given time.

Ten months after the 1978 revelation that changed the Church, President Kimball made a statement in General Conference that was largely overlooked, but that informs the future and our role in shaping it:

“Now, my brothers and sisters, it seems clear to me, indeed, this impression weighs upon me—that the Church is at a point in its growth and maturity when we are at last ready to move forward in a major way. Some decisions have been made and other pending, which will clear the way, organizationally. But the basic decisions needed for us to move forward, as a people, must be made by the individual members of the Church. The major strides which must be made by the Church will follow upon the major strides to be made by us as individuals. We have paused on some plateaus long enough. Let us resume our journey forward and upward. . . . We have been diverted, at times, from fundamentals on which we must now focus in order to move forward as a person or as a people.” (Spencer W. Kimball, “Let Us Move Forward and Upward,” Ensign, May 1979, p. 82)

The good news is that when we are on our game, the Church moves forward, in part because of what we as individuals do. But the bad news is that when we are not on our game, the entire church suffers—and we can’t merely point the finger and blame the hierarchy. Over a decade ago, in preparation for the McKay biography, I interviewed Arnold Friberg, who won an Academy Award for set design for Cecil B. DeMille’s epic movie The Ten Commandments; whose Book of Mormon paintings are Mormon icons; and whose painting of George Washington kneeling in the snow at Valley Forge is an American icon. Out of the blue he related a story that has haunted me ever since, and that I relate to you verbatim:

“To show you what an understanding DeMille had, he had a homing instinct for truth. You didn’t have to prove it. He just knew. He didn’t use our terminology, but he said to me, ‘The thing itself is given to the world through prophets. For a while it’s the real thing, but after a while the priesthood becomes priest craft. Then they become more interested in their buildings and their powers, and then they’ve lost it, and it has to be given again. It’s given over and over again. It hasn’t happened yet to the Mormon Church because they’re too young, but it will.’ I said that to Reuben Clark [who was then a counselor in the First Presidency], and he shot back and said, ‘Don’t think it can’t happen, Brother! If it were not for the promise that we will not completely lose it before the Lord comes, I would be very worried about this church.’ Now, he wouldn’t say that from the pulpit. You get to know these men in a little different way when they’re out here, instead of listening to the sermons.” (Arnold Friberg interview, November 16, 2000)

I interviewed Arnold on two occasions and, as if to reinforce what was already a powerful story, he related it again during the second interview.

I’ll end where I began, with a quote from my interview of Paul Boyer:

“I see the difficulty in our society, the need for association. Man grew up as a social animal. He had to survive by being part of a group, he couldn’t survive individually. So social interactions are certainly a part of our natural heritage. We need some things in our society that will do that. But at the present stage, when I look at religion in its past and present, I come to the conclusion that religion has perhaps done more harm in the world than good. It’s the basis now of our divisiveness among man and nations.”

We have our work cut out for us.

For personal stories from Affirmation community members, visit the Faces of Affirmation page. To get in touch with the Affirmation community, see our list of online groups.

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Randall Thacker

Randall Thacker grew up in Taylorsville, Utah, the youngest of three children. He recognized his attraction to the same sex when he was about 8 years old. He grew up focusing prayers, fasts, and birthday candle wishes on removing this attraction.

Not long after returning from a Spanish-Speaking mission to North Carolina, he reached out for help to his BYU bishop who referred him to counseling. The counseling focused on changing Randall’s orientation because he longed to create an ideal Mormon family with many children.

After graduating from BYU with a B.A. in History, Randall moved to Salt Lake City, where after falling in love with a straight friend, he returned to reparative therapy and began attending group therapy as well. Luckily, one of the group therapists introduced Randall to the possibility of self-acceptance.

Randall’s journey of self-acceptance was a long one though, which included a moment of great despair shortly after moving to Washington, DC in 2002. Thanks to compassionate friends and family and a new understanding that he could separate God from emotionally harmful doctrine, Randall moved on. After almost ten years of studying and visiting other faiths and at times none at all, Randall returned to regular attendance at his local LDS ward in 2011, embraced by ward leaders who are welcoming and affirming. “I know that God and spirituality are broader than just the LDS church, yet I also have a testimony of the Restoration and feel the Spirit guiding me to walk my journey of spiritual growth as a Latter-Day Saint.”

Besides his work with Affirmation, Randall is passionate about improving education in Mexico and loves his work as a management consultant and leadership coach, helping individuals and organizations reach their potential. He enjoys rowing, bicycling, running, skiing, reading, and spending time with family and friends.


John Gustav-Wrathall

John Gustav-Wrathall is an adjunct professor of American Religious History at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. He is the author of Take the Young Stranger by the Hand: Same-Sex Dynamics and the Young Men's Christian Association (University of Chicago Press, 1998). He has also published articles in Sunstone and Dialogue on being gay and Mormon, and is the author of the Young Stranger blog. Though excommunicated from the LDS Church, John has a testimony, and has been active in his south Minneapolis ward since 2005.

John became an activist for greater understanding of LGBT people at the University of Minnesota in the late 1980s, and was instrumental in the establishment of one of the first university-based LGBT programs offices in the U.S. He pioneered the establishment of an inter-faith LGBT ministry at the University of Minnesota. For three years he was actively involved in Lutherans Concerned (now Reconciling Works), as a member of the Twin Cities Board, coordinating their “Reconciled in Christ” project for the state of Minnesota, helping to build a movement of LGBT-friendly Lutheran congregations. Over the years he has spoken in churches and community forums, on university campuses and in religious assemblies and conferences (including at the Sunstone Symposium and at Affirmation conferences) about the issues affecting LGBT people in communities of faith.

John has served as the Minnesota contact for Affirmation since the fall of 2005, and was part of the conference planning committee for the 2012 Affirmation conference in Seattle. He served as Senior Vice President of Affirmation, 2013-2014. He was actively involved as a volunteer, trainer, and faith community leader in the campaign that successfully defeated Minnesota Amendment 1, which would have constitutionally banned same-sex marriage in his home state. He organized Minnesota Mormons United for All Families, and the “Mormon Allies” contingent of the Twin Cities Gay Pride parade in 2012.

He currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his husband of over twenty years, to whom he was legally married in Riverside, California in July 2008, and with whom he has foster parented three sons.


Tina Richerson

Tina Richerson grew up off the grid (without electricity or running water) in a part-member LDS home in the Columbia Gorge of Washington State she the second of six children. Her mother taught her faithfulness, charity, and to follow Jesus Christ. At age 13, while praying, Tina received a spiritual confirmation that, just like her uncle Michael, she too was gay.

In addition to her LDS upbringing, Tina’s life has been enriched by experiences in other religious traditions. In college she accompanied a girlfriend to a Pentecostal church, where she was received with open arms and felt God’s unconditional grace. Later she found a new spiritual path as she explored Zen Buddhism and began practicing daily sessions of meditation.

Eventually, Tina read the writings of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh who affirms that one cannot simply convert to Buddhism and leave one’s religious roots behind—that there must be a union of Buddhist practice and what one was raised to believe. “When I read this, I knew it to be true.” Tina says, “I knew that eventually I would have to return to the [LDS] church.”

Tina is currently active in her local LDS ward, where she’s out as a lesbian woman. She serves in her ward as the Ward Coir Director and in her Stake as the Director of the Family History Center. Tina also actively participates in the New York chapter of Affirmation.

In a talk given to her Relief Society she shared “I have learned that God’s will is not what I thought. I didn’t need to spend years trying to make myself straight. I just needed to ask for the guidance and courage to become who He created me to be, and He has given it to me, and continues to give it to me.”

Tina concluded her talk by quoting 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.” She follows the belief that change can only happen from the inside out. Attending church will spawn the growth and awareness we need.

Tina is classically trained in saxophone performance. She is a member of the internationally acclaimed Tiptons Saxophone Quartet and Drums, founded in 1988. Music is her passion and life’s work. When Tina is not touring with the Tiptons, she can be found playing with her own ensemble. As well as being a freelance musician in New York City, she enjoys physical activity and healthy food.

To hear Tina play the saxophone, visit her official website or the band’s website at


Karin Hendricks

Karin Hendricks grew up in Logan, UT in a loving and devout LDS family, and currently lives in Indiana with her spouse Tawnya. Karin has delighted in being a “mother” and “grandmother” to thousands of children and youth through her work as a music teacher and university professor. She and Tawnya also work locally, nationally, and internationally as researchers and advocates for music education, women, LGBTQ individuals, and youth.

Karin knew from an early age that she was “different,” and in her teens she began to privately meet with church leaders to find a way to change her sexual orientation. For the next 22 years she suppressed her same-sex attraction and endured a journey that mixed extreme church activity and leadership (including as President of every auxiliary organization) with various health problems, physical pain, and depression.

At age 39, Karin began a spiritual discernment process to help her reconcile her sexual orientation with her spirituality. It was in coming to recognize the powerful spirit in diverse places and people that she gained enough courage to be genuinely herself. She then came out to her parents and siblings, who amazed her with their unconditional love and genuine desire to understand. In her final trip to the temple, she had a powerful experience in which she came to understand that she should serve in a global capacity alongside her (then) best friend Tawnya. Karin and Tawnya were married in Massachusetts a year later, and have since enjoyed a loving, spirit-centered companionship that is modeled after the marriage ideals that were taught in both of their churches of origin.

Karin and Tawnya celebrate the diversity of divine expression in all people, religions, cultures, and individual life paths. Karin is grateful to Affirmation for providing her and others a safe and unconditionally loving space to be fully themselves. She is happy to serve among this community of unique individuals as they help one another cultivate a deeper inner peace.


Tawnya Smith

Tawnya Smith serves Affirmation as the moderator of the Teleconference Series on Healing. Tawnya became affiliated with Affirmation through her partner Karin Hendricks, the Spiritual Director of Affirmation. Tawnya is an arts educator with training in expressive arts therapy, and is currently conducting interdisciplinary research concerning spirituality and states of conscious awareness in arts learning environments.

Tawnya currently identifies herself as inter-spiritual, however, she grew up in and was a member of the Church of the Brethren in her youth. In her early twenties, at the time she came out to herself, she stopped attending church and began to study other religious traditions. During her late twenties and early thirties, she continued this intellectual study of the world’s religions and attended the Unitarian Universalist Church. Later she began to attend a Mennonite Church (a similar denomination to the Church of the Brethren) where she began to integrate and reconcile her spiritual self with her religious roots. Since that time, she has continued to open to new understandings and deeper perceptions of spiritual truths in any form. She especially appreciates Ken Wilber’s idea of the Three Faces of the Divine (first, second, and third person experiences of the Divine) as she finds that this honors and integrates all spiritual experience. Tawnya became familiar with the LDS church during the time of her courtship with Karin as she attended sacrament meeting and sang in the ward choir. Currently, Tawnya and Karin are exploring inter-spiritual understandings with the guidance of a spiritual director.


David Baker

David Baker grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and Amarillo, Texas with dreams of becoming an Air Force pilot probably inspired by the movie Top Gun. It was watching that beach volleyball scene that he should have realized his sexuality, but instead he went on to keep his attractions repressed until his freshman year at BYU when, after conferring with his bishop it was determined it was best if he didn’t continue his education at BYU.

David spent the better part of 3 years struggling to accept his sexuality as a part of his life instead of continually repressing it. The repression took the form of Evergreen-supported counseling to try to change his orientation, deep depression, and a suicide attempt. David rose out of his despair after a personal revelation in the temple in which he was told of the Savior’s love for him and the plan that he had for David to search for a husband.

Graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from the University of Utah, David moved out to Washington DC where he finally embraced the love of the Savior, accepted himself fully and found a ward that embraced him as an openly gay Mormon. He has since served in that ward in several callings, most notably the chair of the cultural events committee. He loves his ward and the friends, allies, and fellow LGBT members that he has met and helped to come out while in that ward.

Far from becoming the Air Force pilot that he dreamed of as a child, David started working on political campaigns in Utah and ultimately in Washington DC. He now serves as a digital strategist to political campaigns and interest groups and enjoys every gut-wrenching moment of it because of the joy it brings. His favorite political experience is when he got to read the The Book of Mormon in the White House’s private library. In the little spare time he has you can find David reading a biography, fencing, playing video games, volunteering, or still following the Savior’s personal call and searching for a husband.


Todd Richardson

Todd Richardson grew up in Grand Junction, Colorado. He comes from a large family, the eldest of 6 kids and 2 loving parents. Growing up, Todd realized he was attracted to the same sex but was convinced that when he found “the right girl,” the “problem” would go away.

After serving a mission and graduating from BYU, Todd moved to New York City to teach at a middle school. He busied himself with as much church service and work as possible, so as not to have to worry about his sexuality. Having no intention of ever coming out of the closet, focusing on other aspects of life seemed like the best use of his mental energy. However, randomly watching a YouTube video of a gay Mormon touched him deeply. It prompted him, for the first time in his life, to truly seek divine guidance with an open heart and mind. Self-acceptance came as he felt the undeniable peace of God’s acceptance-an acceptance he quickly realized had always been there.

From that peace came the desire to come out to friends and family. He is grateful for their unyielding support. He is also grateful for the lasting friendships he has made through Affirmation. Attending the Kirtland Affirmation conference in 2011 was a pivotal moment in Todd’s life; he is grateful for the opportunity to serve in the organization.

Currently Todd works at a charter school in Harlem, and goes to school in Maryland. He enjoys spending time with his family and friends, attending church, running, golfing, and vacationing.


Alasdair Ekpenyong

Alasdair Ekpenyong is an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University. He is the first to admit that he does not have all the answers, and it is this sense of awareness that leads him to so value the work of creating safe spaces for spiritual growth and exploration and.

He believes that everyone can stand to benefit in some way from such practices as prayer, study, conversation, and introspection--everyone can stand to benefit from reflecting on past and present truths and discovering new truths.

Though well-versed in Mormon history and theology, Alasdair also studies many other forms of theism and nontheism as a participant in the interfaith academic community. He enjoys using the methods of postmodern critical theory to better understand the place of himself and others within contemporary society and culture.

Alasdair's writing has appeared in such forums as the BYU Student Review and the interfaith blog State of Formation. He hails from Baltimore, Maryland, and lives in the Salt Lake-Provo area.


Trevor Cook

Trevor grew up in Mesa, Arizona, served a mission in Calgary, Canada, and graduated from BYU in International Relations and Linguistics. He used the time he saved not going on dates or having much of a social life to learn Chinese and continues to be fascinated by things China. He spent a year between Nanjing and Hong Kong after graduation and now is living a dream working at the US consulate in scenic Shenyang, Liaoning.

Although he enjoys the Middle Kingdom, Trevor misses hanging out with his five younger siblings and their growing families. He is grateful for a loving family and mostly happy childhood during which he was able to gain a testimony of a Heavenly Father and his love that has served him through later darker days and continues to sustain him. He is very proud of his parents who are reaching out to love and encourage a new and growing LGBT family at home in Arizona.

Sometimes Trevor wishes he could ditch his faith because it would make his life a lot easier. However, he can’t abandon his personal relationship with God, and--whatever life brings--he can’t see himself not praying. Similarly, while he has mixed feelings about the Church and his enthusiasm for the institution waxes and wanes, he believes in Zion and imagines he will always strive--in one way or another--to bring it about.


Fred Bowers

Frederick “Fred” Bowers has been a part of Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons for over 20 years. Fred has served in leadership roles at the chapter and national levels for many years including: Washington DC Chapter Director; Chapter-at-Large Director; Assistant Vice President for Strategy and Development; Affirmation National Board of Directors; Conference Director; and founder and current Director of the Affirmation People of Color and Allies Group.

A former career U.S. Air Force Financial Management Senior Non-Commissioned Officer, Fred is currently employed as a management and technology consultant for a leading international consulting firm and is involved with its LGBT business resource group. He also is involved with Out and Equal Workplace Advocates as part of their People of Color Advisory Committee. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management from John Brown University, and a dual master's degree in Public Administration and Management from Webster University. Fred is a native of Fort Worth, Texas, and currently resides in Arlington, Virginia.


Lismarie & Michael Nyland

Mike and I met in 1995 while attending BYU in Provo, UT. We were married in 1997 and graduated together in 1998, Mike with a BA in Geography and Lismarie with a BFA in Design and Photography. We currently live in Bremerton, WA (a ferry ride away from Seattle) and stay busy raising two girls and two boys.

2012 was an eventful and busy year for our family as we became involved with Mormons for Marriage Equality, marched in the Seattle Pride Parade, and attended the Affirmation Conference in Seattle. We continue to support the cause of full acceptance and equality for all of our LGBT brothers and sisters.


Suzi Fei

Suzi Fei lives in Portland, Oregon, and is a wife, a mother of one young daughter, and an active and devout Latter-day Saint. She has a Ph.D. in computational biology and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon Health & Science University studying cancer genomics. Over the years, she has served in many callings in the church including Relief Society presidencies and Oregon State University Latter-day Saint Student Association president.

Suzi has a deep love for LGBTQ Mormons and serves in several capacities that aim to increase love and acceptance within the church. She's on the steering committee for Mormons Building Bridges and the ally committee for Affirmation. She also formed a local group for gay Mormons in Oregon and SW Washington. Her husband, Yiyang, is on their stake’s high council and works with their stake president to train leaders and members in how to be more loving to gay members.


Duane Andersen

Duane Andersen is a film producer, writer, and director. His films have been released theatrically throughout the world and have played at major festivals such as Sundance and South by Southwest. Films he has produced include White on Rice, Surrogate Valentine, Last Kind Words, Congratulations, Daylight Savings, Crazy Beats Strong Every Time, and others. He is also CEO of the start-up company Brainwave Accounting Systems which is developing accounting software for independent media projects. He received an MFA in painting from State University of New York at Buffalo and taught as an adjunct art professor at Brigham Young University for nine years.

While Duane works professionally out of Los Angeles, he lives in the lovely town of Salem, Utah with his wife Rachel and their three sons. An active member of his local LDS ward he has served as a Mission Leader, an Elders Quorum President, and as a Counselor in a Branch Presidency (in Brooklyn, NY). His involvement in Affirmation and other LGBT causes stems from being raised by progressive LDS parents in Palo Alto, California and from his close association with gay teachers, mentors, and friends throughout his life. Recently several of his film projects have been gay-themed including the forth coming drama Facing East based on the play by Carol Lynn Pearson and the documentary An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi Story.

Duane has for years thought that what the church needed were its gay Jackie Robinsons. “Jackie Robinson was chosen to be the first black player to play in the major leagues by Dodger general manager, Branch Rickey, not because he was the best black player available, but because he had the strongest character,” says Duane. “Branch Rickey knew that he was the one who would not spit back, who would not give up, who would keep at it no matter what people said or did to him. We also need are more Branch Rickeys. We need the Bishops and Stake Presidents who are the ones speaking up. Who are standing behind their man (or woman), who are setting the tone.”


Peter van der Walt

Peter van der Walt lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He grew up in various small towns in a relatively staunch Calvinist family. He realized he was different at age four… and at age fourteen, in a conservative, Afrikaans high school, came out. After reading the Book of Mormon, pondering about its relevance to him as an out gay South African man and praying (for the first time in years), he had to come out again… but this time as a Mormon.

He began his career as clown at a local steakhouse… no, seriously. Since then he’s been a waiter, a guest house assistant, a bankteller, an assistant real estate assessor, an auctioneer and a medical practice manager – among other things. For the past ten years he stopped pretending to want a real job and he now writes professionally, in the communications and strategy fields.

He enjoys listening to and making music in his spare time, tortures himself at a gym, practices some martial arts (if he feels very inspired, say, after watching an old Kung Fu movie) and hangs out with family and friends.

Peter believes that being a Gay Mormon is a fascinating and amazing journey and that it should be a joyous one. It is true that there are many personal histories that include their share of hurts, scrapes, bumps and bruises – but it is also true that LGBT Mormons are loved by their Heavenly Father. Pete strongly advocates having some fun with your life and living each day as joyfully as possible.

Peter contributes to networking and communications, seeing service to Affirmation as a religious obligation for himself, as a gay Mormon… and as a way to make amazing friends all over the world and have some fun being both gay and Mormon. When it comes to living up to the measure of your creation, there’s no time like right now.


Mark Schneider

Mark Schneider grew up in western Pennsylvania as a 2nd generation Mormon, the third of four siblings. An idealist at heart, Mark took his faith seriously and sought to please all the right people by doing all the right things, sometimes at the expense of being true to himself. At nineteen, he went on an LDS mission to Florida where he learned valuable lessons from the Haitian community there: levity in the face of hardship, faith in God’s ability to communicate with His children according to individual need, and how to eat enormous amounts of rice in one sitting.

Upon returning from his mission, Mark envisioned a typical LDS life for himself, one with a wife, kids, and a church calling. Instead, God put him on the eye-opening path of the gay Latter-day Saint. He learned what it meant to fast and pray and hope for a change that would not come. He learned what it meant to not fully belong in the Church and what it meant to not fully belong in the world either. And he learned that, in spite of what people say, sometimes even the “right” people, God cares less about who we love and more about how well.

While Mark does not count out the possibility of a wife, being one part gay and one part straight, he is committed to the cause of the LGBT community out of principle and out of love. From his Mormon eyes, he sees the full inclusion of LGBT Saints in the Church as a critical step in its long walk to Zion.


Sam Noble

Sam Noble grew up in Muncie, Indiana, served a mission in Taiwan, studied business strategy at BYU, and has recently worked in Minneapolis for two years. Mark Twain said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” Sam has found that to ring true in his life as he’s successfully sought out opportunities to travel the globe since his mission, including working at the Beijing and London Olympics.

Although aware from a very young age of his attraction to other boys, Sam repressed his sexuality until after his mission. He then spent several years rediscovering God’s love and how his feelings for men align with that. During that time, he found love and support from Fred and Marilyn Matis and friends he met through their firesides. A counselor at BYU helped him come out to his wonderfully supportive family. He’s found love and truth to guide him in countless religious and secular settings, both in and out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He was introduced to Affirmation after meeting John Gustav-Wrathall while living in Minneapolis and is grateful and excited at the increased understanding happening in both LDS and LGBT communities. He has an ever-increasing testimony of the restored gospel and is currently active in the Muncie Indiana young-single-adult congregation.



Justin hails from Fairfax, Virginia, and before that, Texas. He served an LDS mission from 2006-2008 in Seoul, Korea. He's currently in medical school in Cork, Ireland.

Justin came out to his family on Christmas day in 2004, when he was a freshman at BYU. It was his Christmas present to himself. Since then, his family and friends have learned a lot about what it means to be gay and are now quite accepting. He continues to be pleasantly surprised and humbled by their understanding.

Justin was raised LDS but lost the faith as he grew up. He came back to the church in 2006--a journey inspired in part by Stuart Matis's story. He's glad for many of his experiences in the church but sincerely hopes for change in the organization and looks forward to when the LGBTQ community is fully accepted.


Prince Winbush

Prince Winbush III, 19, was born in Plano, Texas and grew up in suburban Chicago. He’s currently in his first year at Harold Washington College in Chicago, Illinois, studying Business Administration and Economics. Prince joined the LDS Church in 2008 with the full support of his Catholic family.

Prince came out to himself in late 2008 and struggled to tell his family for 4 years, but finally made the announcement in December of 2012. “I knew who I was and I knew my family still loved me, so I took the plunge,” Prince says.

Prince is still considering the next step--whether to continue with school or go on his mission. “I’ve wanted to be a missionary since the two elders knocked on my door and changed my life,” Prince says. He’s a bit hesitant as he fears making waves because of his sexual orientation.

This is Prince’s very first year in Affirmation. He found the group thanks to the Chicago Gay Pride Parade, where Affirmation Chicago marched. He’s very excited to meet new faces and work with everyone.


Melanie Carbine

Melanie Carbine moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan from Salt Lake City when she was 10. Fortunate to have grown up in a self-selected Mormon community of liberals and intellectuals, she has always been able to appreciate her religion for its spiritual benefits and community. Ironically, even though the first two people she saw kiss in public were women, she didn't realize her bisexuality was notable or different. She assumed all people's sexuality was as fluid as hers and would regularly conform to social expectations.

This understanding changed when she studied English Literature and Asian American Studies at the University of Michigan, studying also with performance artist Holly Hughes. It was among discussions with her straight and gay friends in college that she realized she was like both. Melanie didn't want to give up her religion but didn't think she should have to choose, so she hoped for change among Mormons and went on a mission in the Marshall Islands.

Working with so many young people and living in a developing country led her to a change in her career path. She received her teaching certification in K-8, Math and English. Teaching Middle School Math and English in both the Marshall Islands and now the DC area, she happened to be in the right place to find Affirmation. It's definitely a wonder to her to see the possibility of active LGBT Mormons accepted by their church communities. She also enjoys drawing, glass art and reading. Above all she loves traveling, being outdoors, and visiting friends.


Robert Moore

Robert grew up in Oregon and is 7th generation Mormon. When his family found out that he was gay, he was kicked out and disowned. He took what little money and clothing he had and bought a Greyhound bus ticket to Portland, Oregon.

“My first night sleeping on the street was very cold and rainy. On my second night in an effort to try to sleep indoors out of the cold put me in a situation that ended with me being raped." A few days later he was able to find a shelter for homeless youth. In the following months he found a paid internship and permanent housing.

Robert moved to San Francisco in 2007. Since the passage of Proposition 8 in California he has traveled the country fighting for Full Federal Equality for the LGBTQ community. Robert is an activist at heart and has stood up for marriage equality, women's rights, trans rights, worker's rights, LGBT people of faith, homelessness and suicide prevention. Since testing HIV positive on March 1, 2012 Robert is now working on HIV/AIDS awareness, advocacy and to end the stigma of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Since joining the leadership of Affirmation in 2009 Robert has served as the Young Adults Program Director, Outreach and Advocacy Director, Membership Director and in 2012 as Vice President.


Peter Howland

I currently work as a data entry specialist for a non-profit organization in Salem, Oregon, while residing in McMinnville, Oregon. I have attended Affirmation conferences since 2009, which is shortly after I became honest with myself and acknowledged that I am gay.

My spiritual journey continues to evolve. I am currently inactive in the LDS Church, but still (as far as I know) on the Church membership rolls. My path has led back to the Episcopal Church, which was the church my parents attended while I was growing up. Currently, I serve my local parish as a member of the vestry (the governing board of the parish).

I have no desire to completely sever my ties with the LDS church, and I fully support the members of Affirmation in whatever relationship they choose to have with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Joining the LDS Church after missionary service age, I have not served a mission. However, I did host missionaries in my home for three years, which was an interesting experience.


Rapha Fernandes

Rapha Fernandes, 22, lives in Guarujá, on the coastline of Brazil near São Paulo. He knew he was gay since he was a young boy. At age 17, Rapha fell in love with a returned missionary. They dated and lived together for a long time.

The relationship eventually fizzled out, and Rapha returned to his parents’ home. “I had my first interview with the bishop in the Church [and] my parents together, and the stake presidency and the bishop began ‘the therapy’ without much result,” says Rapha. “Today I live a normal life, I am happy, I love making friends and meeting new people. I love doing different things, traveling going to the movies, theater, and the beach.”

Trying to reconcile his orientation with the gospel was an overwhelming challenge for Rapha, who tried to commit suicide twice.

“The Lord has always comforted me, taking away all the feelings of confusion I had in my heart and turning them into a single feeling: I KNOW THAT MY SAVIOR LOVES ME, KNOWS ME, UNDERSTANDS MY HEART ABOVE ALL THINGS. That was enough for me to live from that day forward, accepting who I am, happy to be a member of the Church and not to be confused in any way.

“I know that when we need it, God’s holding us in his arms and saying in our hearts how important and big we are.”


Carol Lynn Pearson

Carol Lynn Pearson’s first contribution to the LDS gay community came in 1986 with the publication of her book Goodbye, I Love You, which tells the story of her marriage to Gerald Pearson, a homosexual man, their divorce, ongoing friendship, and her caring for him as he died of AIDS. The book is credited by many as opening the conversation in many homes about the subject of AIDS and about homosexuality in general.

Since then Carol Lynn has spoken to and encouraged thousands of LDS gays and lesbians and their families, as well as educating church leaders about the damage being done through inaccurate and unloving teachings about this important subject. In 2006, twenty years after the publication of Goodbye, I Love You, she introduced a stage play, Facing East, which tells the story of a Mormon couple dealing with the suicide of their gay son. The play won the “Best Drama” award for the year from the Deseret News (tied with Hamlet at the Shakespeare Festival) and went on to a limited off-Broadway run, a run in San Francisco, and subsequent productions by many community theaters and universities.

Also in 2006 she published No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons around Our Gay Loved Ones, a book that has healed many families and saved lives. Her most recent work is a small gift book, The Hero’s Journey of the Gay and Lesbian Mormon, which she describes as a traveling companion to give LDS gay people a better vision of the calling they have been given.

Carol Lynn served as a resource to her stake presidency in the ground-breaking work they did in the Oakland Stake in 2009. A report on that work can be found at her website,, where her books are also available.


Judy Finch

A convert to the church, Judy Finch is retired from a long career in elementary education. For nearly twenty years Judy has had a private psychotherapy practice, currently from her home office in the Oakland hills. Judy and her husband Richard have blended their family of six children in three states, soon-to-be 12 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren.

“My interest and commitment in Affirmation results from a gay son and two gay grandsons who have all left the church,” says Judy. “Having negotiated the rocky path of parenting gays, I feel excited about positive changes in our society and our Church. I feel part of a beautiful process guided by our Heavenly Father to promote understanding and unity.”


Jorge Valencia

Jorge Valencia has served since 2007 as the Executive Director of Point Foundation. The organization empowers promising LGBTQ students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential ­ despite the obstacles often put before them ­ to make a significant impact on society. He brings to this job a wealth of experience in managing and growing nonprofit organizations, a proven ability to design and manage the infrastructure of expanding organizations and extensive experience with, and sensitivity to, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) youth issues.

Before coming to Point Foundation, from 2001 - 2006 Jorge was the President and Executive Director of The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is a nationwide non-profit organization established to promote acceptance of gay and questioning teenagers and to aid in suicide prevention by operating the nation’s first round-the-clock toll-free suicide prevention helpline aimed at LGBTQ youth. Jorge’s leadership contributed to Trevor’s growth as a nationally recognized youth service organization.

As an openly gay man who grew up in a Mormon Latino family in Texas, Jorge has a keen personal awareness of many of the issues of rejection and marginalization faced by many LGBTQ youth, including Point Scholars. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brigham Young University in 1989. While at BYU, Jorge served as Vice President in charge of social activities for ASBYU (Associated Students of Brigham Young University). He performed for two years with Lamanite Generation, a performing arts group that travelled to China with late Apostle Neal A. Maxwell and then the southern states during Jorge’s tenure. Jorge served an LDS mission to Brazil and taught at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) for two years upon returning home.

Jorge’s diversity of life experience includes extensive travel abroad and within the United States. He is fluent English, Spanish and Portuguese and is a talented and accomplished public speaker. Jorge has a passion for helping LGBTQ youth and an ability to communicate that interest and passion effectively to both the LGBTQ community and the general public.


Gregory Prince

Dr. Gregory A. Prince was born and reared in Los Angeles, California. He attended Dixie College from 1965-67, graduating as valedictorian. He attended the UCLA School of Dentistry from 1969-73, again graduating as valedictorian. He received a Ph.D. in Pathology from UCLA in 1975, studying respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the primary cause of infant pneumonia worldwide. Over a period of fifteen years at the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins University, he and his co-workers developed the thesis that RSV disease could be prevented by administering antiviral antibodies to high-risk infants. He co-founded Virion Systems, Inc. to commercialize this thesis, and serves as its President and CEO. In 1989, Virion Systems and MedImmune, Inc. formed a joint venture to conduct clinical trials that ultimately resulted in the licensure by the Food and Drug Administration of RespiGam™ (1996), and Synagis™ (1998) for the prevention of RSV pneumonia in high-risk infants. Synagis™ is the first monoclonal antibody ever licensed for use against any infectious agent. He has published over 150 scientific papers.

In addition to a career in science, he has developed an avocation as a historian. His first book, Power From on High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood, was published in 1995; his second, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, was the recipient of four awards and is in its sixth printing. He and his wife, JaLynn Rasmussen Prince, are the parents of three children. He serves on national advisory boards of six colleges and universities: Johns Hopkins University, Montgomery College, Wesley Theological Seminary, University of Utah, Dixie State College and Utah Valley University.


Yvette Zobel

Yvette Zobel is originally an Idaho girl who spent her growing up years in Idaho Falls, Idaho . She journeyed next door to the state of Utah to attend Utah State University and has a degree in music with an emphasis in piano. After great adventures living in Washington, Oregon, and California, she and her family now reside in Utah. She has taught piano in her private piano studio for many years. She considers teaching music one of the most joyful professions possible! She is a wife and the mother of 4 children including a wonderful gay son. Yvette is an active and devout Latter-day Saint.

Yvette has deep love and respect for LDS LGBT individuals. She serves on the board of LDS Family Fellowship, a support group for friends and family of LGBT’s. Her passion and love for LGBT individuals has led her on a wonderful journey. As a result she has become friends with and worked with many great and noble people who have touched her life profoundly.

Yvette enjoys hiking, mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing, working out, and dabbling in music composition.


Doug Balls

Doug Balls is a man who loves the lessons of history and the world of travel. He grew up in the Cottonwood area of Salt Lake City. As a youth he spent his summers working on a ranch in the mountains of Northern Utah for his father. It was here that he acquired a deep appreciation and love for horses and the beauty and creation of nature. He served a mission for the LDS church in Scotland, attended the University of Utah, and later went onto embark on several entrepreneurial ventures mostly in the hospitality, travel and entertainment industry. Realizing his talents in event production and venue management, he has spent almost thirty years managing some of the finest venues in the world.

Doug knows that understanding is less important than that feeling of love and respect you can give to another. The goal is having more than mere acceptance, but experiencing the feeling of true inclusion and true pride. Currently residing in St. George, he lives his life expanding circles to bring others in. He is excited to be a part of Affirmation and is looking forward to making a difference.


Wendy Montgomery

Wendy Montgomery was born and raised in Southern California. She has always been a member of the LDS Church. She and her husband were married in the Los Angeles Temple in 1995. They had 5 children in 7 years – not recommended. They found out in January of 2012 that their oldest son (13 years old at the time) was gay. It has at times been unbearably painful. But it has also been an enlightening, spiritual and joyful journey. Wendy has many new LGBT-supportive heroes in the LDS community. The Montgomery family lives in Central California. Wendy is a voracious reader, loves history, and is doing everything she knows how to make the LDS Church more welcoming and inclusive of its gay members.


Ron Schow

Ron Schow splits his time between residences in both Pocatello, Idaho and Salt Lake City. He is Professor Emeritus at Idaho State University (ISU) where he has taught since 1975. Although semi-retired he continues to teach some in the School of Rehabilitation and Communication Sciences in the Division of Health Sciences.

A fifth generation Latter-day Saint with ancestors from Denmark and England, Ron grew up in Preston, Idaho. He served a mission for the LDS Church in the Central Atlantic States Mission (Virginia/N. Carolina, 1961-63). Later he graduated in Biology at Utah State University and then earned a Ph.D. in Audiology from Northwestern University in 1974. Before coming to ISU, he taught at Illinois State University (1972-75).

Ron is the author of numerous books and journal articles and was one of the editors of Peculiar People: Mormons and Same Sex Orientation (Signature Books, 1991). He had a close association with his nephew, Brad, who was gay and died of AIDS in 1986. That gave him a desire to study all the implications from professional and Church perspectives.

Ron has served in numerous church callings, including high council, bishopric, and as stake mission president. Currently, he serves as home evening chairman in a small branch for elderly members. He is the father of 5 children and 19 grandchildren. In addition to participating in his branch and stake in Idaho, he currently, attends when in Salt Lake City, an LDS ward and stake where sometimes there are several gay men attending. There he is in a supportive role to make the ward and stake a welcoming place for LGBT Latter-day Saints who continue to be or who might be encouraged toward activity in the Church.

Ron regularly attends LDS Reconciliation meetings in Salt Lake City, and Family Fellowship Forums in the Salt Lake/Provo area. These are groups in which he was a founding member and that he helped organize. LDS Reconciliation (now Affirmation FHE SLC) was formed in Idaho Falls in 1991 and continues to meet each Sunday night in Salt Lake City. Family Fellowship was formed in Salt Lake City in 1993. Many members of these groups are active in the Church and their meetings involve prayer, singing hymns and gospel discussion (Reconciliation) or scientific discussion (Family Fellowship) in a format which encourages wholeness and spirituality. Ron participates on the North Star Friends and Family discussion group and wants to support the emphasis in Affirmation of encouraging participation in the Church.


Fred Bower

Frederick “Fred” Bowers has been a part of Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons for over 20 years. Fred has served in leadership roles at the chapter and national levels for many years including: Washington DC Chapter Director; Chapter-at-Large Director; Assistant Vice President for Strategy and Development; Affirmation National Board of Directors; Conference Director; and founder and current Director of the Affirmation People of Color and Allies Group.

A former career U.S. Air Force Financial Management Senior Non-Commissioned Officer, Fred is currently employed as a management and technology consultant for a leading international consulting firm and is involved with its LGBT business resource group. He also is involved with Out and Equal Workplace Advocates as part of their People of Color Advisory Committee. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management from John Brown University, and a dual master's degree in Public Administration and Management from Webster University. Fred is a native of Fort Worth, Texas, and currently resides in Arlington, Virginia.


Sam Wolfe

Sam Wolfe is a civil rights attorney and advocate with the Southern Poverty Law Center who has led high-profile litigation of national significance. Sam founded and continues to help lead the Southern Poverty Law Center’s LGBT Rights Project. His work, often set in the Deep South, focuses on achieving greater respect and equality for LGBT people.

His cases include the first-ever, consumer fraud lawsuit challenging conversion “therapy” that purports to change sexual orientation from gay to straight. He represents transgender clients in employment and prison discrimination cases and initiated the first marriage equality case in Alabama. He also helped defeat a policy that prevented teachers from stopping anti-LGBT bullying, something never before accomplished by litigation. The suit also achieved a landmark consent decree that established a blueprint for remedying anti-LGBT school environments nationwide. Sam and his team have restored freedom of speech and expression to LGBT students in multiple Southeastern school districts – often negotiating resolutions without the need for litigation.

Previously, Sam was a litigation associate at a leading international law firm in New York City. He is a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center. The National LGBT Bar Association has recognized Sam as one of the Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40. Other experience includes service in U.S. Air Force special operations, and as an English teacher in Taiwan where he also was a bungee jump master.

Sam completed a two-year Mormon mission in northern France, Luxembourg, and Belgium. Later, he obtained an undergraduate degree at BYU. Although he recognized his orientation much earlier, it was at BYU that Sam met his first boyfriend and began activating as a queer Latter Day Saint. Sam has participated in Affirmation since “coming out” to his Mormon congregation during a fast and testimony meeting in 2006 and afterward facing excommunication.


Tom Christofferson

Tom Christofferson is the Chief Marketing Officer of J.P. Morgan Investor Services in New York City. Tom’s career in asset management and banking has given him opportunities to live and work in Europe and the US. Additionally, he has twice served on the global diversity council for his firm, and continues to be a senior sponsor there of its Pride business resource group. He is currently a member of the advisory board of his firm’s political action committee.

Tom was born in Utah and grew up in New Jersey, Illinois and Utah. He served as a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Canada Montreal Mission. Before and after his missionary service, Tom attended BYU. As part of his coming-out process he was an active member of Affirmation in Los Angeles in the late 1980’s before moving to New York.

In addition to his efforts with Affirmation, Tom has served on the boards of numerous non-profit organizations, on the finance committees of Senate and Presidential campaigns and is currently as a member of the National Advisory Council for the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah. Tom lives in New Canaan, Connecticut, with his partner of eighteen years, Clarke Latimer.


Anna Empey

I was born and raised in a small town in Washington state on my family farm. From a young age I knew I was different I couldn't pin point exactly how. It wasn't until I was at BYU in 2007 that I really realized that I was fully attracted to girls and that this was something I could not change. I recently graduated from BYU (December 2012) with a degree in Anthropology and I have been working in marketing and public relations.

In the last year, I have gone from fear and self-hate to more self-love and understanding for who I am. Now as I strive to understand who I am in terms of being Lesbian and LDS, a place that is uncomfortable at times, I am learning that I can accept and understand all of who I am without giving up either part of my identity. One of my goals in life is to make the world a better place, and help others understand their individual importance to those around them, that they are lovable and important.


Ellen Koester

Ellen Koester grew up in Defiance, Ohio, and currently lives in downtown Salt Lake City. Ellen grew up dreaming of changing the world, and is currently studying constitutional law, and government policy, with the goal of becoming a civil rights lawyer.

Growing up Catholic in a small town, it didn't take much for her to realize that she was different from other girls. This internal contention caused rifts between her and her family that were made permanent when she joined the Church in 2009, and subsequently when she came out in 2011.

Ellen joined the Church knowing that the Gospel was true and pure, but was blinded by the missionaries claim that being baptized would bring blessings. After a failed attempt at a mission, and months of following the exact letter of the law, an experience in the Oquirrh Mountain Temple changed her entire outlook on life, and on being a lesbian in the Church. From that day forward, she has been active in her wards, while actively seeking, and engaging in same sex relationships. Her final goal is to find and marry a woman who can put up with her endless projects, overactive enthusiasm, and countless pranks and antics.

Latter Day Saint by summer, but Powder Day Saint by winter, Ellen is often caught sneaking out of the house in the early morning, skis in hand to catch the tram for first tracks at Snowbird and Alta. In milder season's however, Ellen trade's in her ski boots for a good book, and a jam session on her piano.


Jamison Manwaring

Jamison lives in Salt Lake City and publicly came out in March of 2013 via a Youtube video. Subsequently, he and members of his family have done interviews with NPR's Weekend Edition, and other news organizations, about the experience of being a gay Mormon. He has found peace and happiness being his authentic self - an active believing Mormon and a gay man. He is dedicated to providing a supportive community at Affirmation for all LGBT Mormons who live with honesty and integrity regardless of life path including those who are a) in same-sex relationships, b) celibate, or c) enter into a mixed-orientation-marriage with full disclosure.

Jamison founded and leads the Affirmation Millennial group, envisioned the recent redesign and is a managing editor of the web-site. He joined the board of directors in January of 2014.

Jamison has been an Equity Analyst covering the software sector for Goldman Sachs since graduating from the University of Utah in 2012. Prior, he was a Summer Analyst for Barclays Capital in New York City. Before attended college, Jamison founded an online based real estate firm in Phoenix Arizona. He was born in Idaho Falls and is the youngest of 8 children.


Bryan Clark

Bryan is a recent graduate from Brigham Young University, with a BS in Exercise Science. He spent his childhood in Upstate New York with his 8 siblings, two of them being his triplet sisters. While he remembers vividly in his childhood being attracted to the same sex, it wasn't till relentless attempts after his mission of dating woman, that he fully realized his sexuality. He believes that as hard as the experience has been in coming out, that it's made him a more loving, Christlike person.

As an running aficionado, Bryan enjoys training for marathons and hopes to one day run the Boston and then an Iron Man. In his free time, you can also always find him baking something in the kitchen, clinking away on the piano or acting out Parks and Recreation episodes with his friends.


Patrick Wendel

Like many around here, I was born and raised in the LDS Church. I was born in Washington, but moved to Utah when I was young, so I was raised on the “Utah Mormon” bran. Went through life happy as could be, graduated from High school, graduated from seminary, and started getting ready to serve a mission. That is when the “shizz” hit the fan. I had struggled with porn for a few years, and in preparation for a mission, I was put on probation, to get things under control. My bishop, curious if it mattered that it was same sex porn, wrote to some uppity in Salt Lake to see what needed to be done to ready me for my mission. He advised counseling through LDS Family services. They have mission prep specialists there, and they would be able to determine if I would be ready to go and serve. So, into counseling I went. I was passed from one to another, who specialized in SSA issues. He was the first one who told me that it actually might not be a good idea for me to serve. I was adamant, and told him I would be serving. So, we tried working through different issues, and I learned some good things, but eventually hit a wall with him, and so I was switched to a different program. This one was specifically tailored to help young men with addictions to pornography. I love/hated that place. Learned a lot of great stuff, but again, it eventually stopped being useful and helpful. By that point, the counselor of that program told my Bishop that I was ready to put my papers in. My Bishop let me and my parents know that we were good to go, and that’s when I started feeling like I shouldn’t go on a mission. My parents did not like that as an answer. My bishop told me to pray again, because he thought I was getting wrong revelation.

From there, I went back to school up at Utah State where I had to start accepting the fact that I am gay. I couldn’t say exactly when I came out to myself as gay, it was a very gradual process. Mostly because, at the time, the church was still teaching that SSA is something that can eventually be “cured,” so even though I knew I liked guys, I still wasn’t “gay.” As I came to realize that this was something that wasn’t going to change, and as even the church started saying that we don’t know why people are this way, or if it will be something that is changed in this life, I had to start accepting the fact that this is how it would be the rest of my life. Then I went through the phase where I was still 100% devoted to the church’s teachings, and if they wanted me to stay celibate, then I would. I had to. From 2010, to 2012, That’s about how life went for me. Along with all this came feelings of depression, self-hatred, the works. I had only just begun to crack open the egg of emotional turmoil I held.

In 2013, everything changed for me. I started out the year just like any other, walking through campus with my head down, trying to avoid acknowledging the fact that there were very attractive guys walking past, trying to keep things under control, etc. But in one of my classes, I made friends with someone, (someone VERY attractive) and as the year went on, and our friendship grew, I ended up falling in love. Being in love completely changed my outlook on “SSA.” First of all, I can no longer think of it as a disease, or a problem, or a trial that I need to endure. No disease, no trial could possibly be so wonderful!! I truly felt that these feelings could come from God alone. It is by far the closest thing to God I have felt in my life thus far, and the surprising thing, was that these feelings were mine! They were coming from inside me! God is the source of all love and goodness. As his children, we carry that same capacity within us, and for the first time in my life, I felt just a glimpse of what it must be like to love as God loves. I could now believe that I was a child of God, because I found such a powerful manifestation of him, within me! It was incredible to feel that way about someone. Depression? Gone. Life was beautiful in ways it had never been. For years prior, I was overwhelmed with depression. I remember feeling shocked that life could hurt so much, and for so long! Nothing helped. And now, suddenly, it was exactly the opposite. I was shocked that life could feel so wonderful! Sleepless nights, fraught with loneliness and pain, were replaced with sleepless nights, giddy with the thought of seeing him the following day.

I could go on, but you get the idea. After an experience like that, I just couldn’t view SSA the same way. It couldn’t be bad. I knew it couldn’t, because nothing so wonderful could come from something ‘supposedly’ so evil. I was still very confused as the school year came to a close. At the time, I still didn’t realize how real it was. I was still doubting my feelings, their authenticity, and where they were coming from. When he left for the summer, life ended for me. I cried the first week. And the second. And the third. I would sit in church, tears running down my face all through sacrament. My bishop probably thought I was very spiritual. I wasn’t. I was going through my first heart break. And it hurt. That was last summer, and it still hasn’t stopped hurting. I still love him, and I am grateful that I do. Because as confusing as it has been, as I have started questioning my church leaders, and as I continue to question my feelings, and whether God affirms my love or not, It is nice to have that constant reminder that, ‘Hey, This is real.’ The feelings are powerful, and wonderful, and I cannot believe they come from anywhere but God. So, when the church tells me that marriage is between man and woman, and when an apostle compares my “inclination” to someone who is alcoholic, or has anger issues, it is there to remind me that they are not 100% correct. They don’t know what it is truly like. It has taught me that my spiritual development is up to me. My decisions in my life are between me and God. I no longer follow the structure of the church, and I have learned to take my spirituality into my own hands. I still love the church, and I still go. But everything is evaluated. I am a lot more cautious with my worship.


Scott Halle

Scott studied Psychology at BYU and has been working in the child welfare world for the last 6 years. He recently enrolled at the University of Utah to go back to school for business. He served a mission in Oakland, California from 2005 - 2007. Scott came out to his family just two years ago after struggling to come to terms with his sexual orientation and his faith in the LDS church for many years. Though not active in the church, Scott hopes to one day see greater acceptance and love of LGBT mormons from church leaders and its members. Scott enjoys the outdoors and anything adventurous. He has been skydiving and bungee jumping multiple times and is always looking for something new and exciting to try. Scott joined Affirmation a year ago and has enjoyed meeting so many wonderful people supporting the LGBT community.


Devin Bourne

Devin was born in Calgary, Canada but has grown up in Utah for the most part. The oldest of 6 children in a very Mormon family, he became aware that he had different feelings from the age of 4. As a teenager, he finally started to understand what these different feelings were, but tried his hardest to ignore and suppress them hoping that they would go away.

After many years of struggling alone, Devin came out to his Bishop and parents at age 18. He attended a year of counseling and then he served a mission in San Jose, California. Upon returning home, he continued to hope that he could find a way to marry a woman and have the stereotypical mormon family he has always wanted. But after several years of struggling and numerous experiences, Devin decided to change his perspective to one of more self acceptance.

Getting involved with several groups, he was able to make wonderful friends and find much needed peace in his struggle with his sexuality. The church has been a huge part of Devin’s life and he continues to attend and serve in his callings actively. “I love the Savior and I know this is where he wants me to be….in the church.” He hopes to show others that is possible to embrace your sexuality and still maintain your spirituality.

Devin is attending the University of Utah School of Pathology and will graduate with a Bachelors Degree in Medical Laboratory Science in May 2014. After graduation, he plans to apply to Medical School and fulfill his dream of becoming a Thoracic Surgeon. He loves playing the piano, traveling, reading, watching Star Trek, Nova, Downton Abbey, and The Big Bang Theory, and having fun with his amazing family.


Derek Lundahl

Derek was raised in northern Utah county and is the oldest of 4 children.

After serving a mission in the south of France he furthered his education going from USU to UVU. Graduating in Biology with a minor in Music.

He's met with several church leaders in trying to understand his purpose and the origin of homosexual/heterosexual feelings.

While finding there are many opinions out in the world. He feels very strongly that God loves him and his fellow LGBT brothers and sisters. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is true.

Admittedly he doesn't have all the answers. But he does know that God gave him this life for a purpose. Knowing with all his heart that God wants him to happy.

When not in school or work he loves running, singing, cooking, being outdoors, swimming, random adventures, volunteering, traveling and playing with their dog Zoey. He loves serving and helping those in need, wherever he can.


James Brinton

James Brinton is a native of Mesa, Arizona and has been a life-long member of the LDS church. After serving a mission in Japan, he pursued an education and moved to the east coast, where he works with individuals with disabilities in the Washington DC metropolitan area. As a counselor at Mesa Community College's Student Diversity and Leadership Retreat, he recognized a greater need for dialogue between groups within his own community, and has since helped plan interfaith service gatherings in Arizona and Washington DC.

After attending the DC Circling the Wagons Conference in 2012, he felt a growing desire to somehow be connected to the LDS ward and community where he lived. He now lives with his partner in Arlington, Virginia, attends his local ward and is very grateful for the blessings both bring into his life. He is inspired by the many LGBT individuals, allies, and family members across a spectrum of spiritual belief and experience who contribute to the conversation around the intersection of Mormonism and LGBT issues.


John Rodriguez

John Rodriguez was born and raised in San Francisco de Macoris, Northeast of the Dominican Republic. He joined the LDS Church when he was 15 years old, he was the first one to join the church in his family, they all followed him and were baptized later. He served a regular mission for the LDS Church in the southern part of the Dominican Republic, Hispaniola Island.served a brief period of time in Central America, in Guatemala. (1992-1994) He was a leader in his mission and his stake as well. as a child he recognized his attraction to same sex and accepted his identity during his mission recognizing that he was created different for a special purpose.John has a strong testimony of the restoration of the Gospel of JesusChrist,he is actually a less active member of the LDS church by own choice. Suffered discrimination and persecution in his stake but his behavior and leadership helped him to gain respect from members and other leaders. John Studied Hotel Management in the USA. and is currently studying Psychology, marketing and couching courses at Harvard University Online or Distance learning. He is also an activist for LGBTQ marriage equality and manages facebook support groups Mormons building equality and worldwide gay mormons, His brother Carlos Rodriguez is also a Gay mormon, served a mission and helps John organizing Affirmation Dominican Republic Chapter meetings and reach out campaigns. they are planning to organize meeting groups in other regions in the Dominican Republic as well as in other Caribbean islands.

Natalie Darling

Natalie Darling is a wife, and mother of 3 wonderful children residing in Murray, UT. She has studied natural healing, color, and personality traits for the past 15 years and gives private consultations through email. Natalie has also been active in the theater community for the past several years, serving on the Draper Arts council, performing in many shows, as well as working as production manager, choreographer, costumer, and music director. Her favorite thing to do is spend time with her family and friends.

As a typical Mormon, Natalie was pretty ignorant of the LGBT community until a friend came out to her as gay while they were in a show together. Knowing her friend needed and deserved love, acceptance, and full support, she reevaluated her understanding of what it meant to be gay and how Heavenly Father felt about His LGBT sons and daughters. In March 2014, she walked into an Affirmation FHE activity not knowing anyone, and within a few months had helped decorate and man a booth for the LA Pride Festival and marched in the parade, worked as the production manager for the evening programs for the 2014 Affirmation Conference, and had the privilege of meeting and entertaining many LGBT friends at her home for dinner parties..

She is currently a co-chair for the upcoming 2015 Affirmation Conference and is grateful for the opportunity to serve her incredible LGBT brothers and sisters in this amazing organization.


Jen Blair

Jen Blair was born and raised in the Wasatch Front of Utah and lived all her school years in the same house. She attended Brigham Young University and earned a B.A. in Elementary Education. After college graduation, she and her young family joined her husband on the adventure of medical school and spent time living in Missouri, Ohio, and Iowa before settling down in Twin Falls, Idaho. She is interested in politics and recently served a term as a precinct committeewoman. She has 4 amazing, talented, and beautiful children that occupy most of her energy.

Spirituality has always been an important guiding force in Jen’s life and entering the world of LGBTQ individuals has been faith changing. When her oldest child and only son came out in September of 2012, she knew life would never be the same. Spirituality remains important as she navigates life and motherhood.

Jen is now passionate about helping other people understand and love their LGBTQ friends and family members. She believes we can save lives and help develop healthy relationships. Jen loves to talk with her friends, and considers most everyone she meets to be in that category. Reading is one of her favorite past times, and her interest ranges from serious literature on religion, to the entertainment of fantasy. Most of her time, however, is filled up with raising her children. She participates as a board member of a children’s theater group, which all her children have participated in. This plays to her strengths as an efficient organizer and thoughtful planner. One of her most recognizable traits is a hoodie, an article of clothing she wears with relish.


Ron Raynes

Ron Raynes, 58, loves his mixed orientation family. He and wife Sue have managed to come out of the closet together during the last ten years. They are proud parents of three beautiful, all grown up now daughters. Ron and Sue joined Affirmation three years ago, and have worked to establish and build the Affirmation Affinity group for Mixed Orientation Families, which is a healing place for a variety of people impacted by mixed orientation marriage in their family life.

Ron was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, and after forty years of prodigal wandering in the wilderness, is thrilled to be back home. Ron joined the LDS Church at age 18, served a mission and did most of the things a good Mormon boy should do, like getting married. The only problem was, back in 1981 he wasn't willing to identify as anything close to being gay. Ron currently serves in his LDS congregation as a Home Teacher and is the Ward Choir Director.

Ron enjoys a variety of interests, such as vigorous singing in the Eugene Concert Choir, raising chickens and vegetables, and writing poetry. Someday he vows to paint landscapes and burden his children with them.

In his everyday life, Ron employs his creative talents as a Food Scientist, inventing ice cream for the masses. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. He has played around in product development roles for 30 years in the food industry and holds degrees in Food Science from BYU and Utah State University. Ron particularly enjoys the challenges of incorporating fudge and sprinkles into as many flavors as possible.


Beth Ellsworth

Beth Ellsworth grew up in Austin, TX, but now calls Minneapolis, MN home. She comes from a devout Mormon family with ancestors on both sides who joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its early days. She served a Spanish-speaking mission in New York City from 2000-2002. The stories and experiences of the people she met in her mission led her to an interest in immigrant rights and social justice issues. After recieving her B.A. in Theatre Studies from Brigham Young University, she did two years of graduate work at the University of MN focusing on Latin American Theater and Theater and Social Change. She also graduated from a training program in a somatic therapy modality called Global Somatics, and is working to build a massage and bodywork practice. Beth's somatic work recognizes the interplay between body, mind, emotion, and spirit in societal as well as individual healing. She a is a founding member of the People's Movement Center in Minneapolis, MN--an emerging collective of indigounous, people of color, queer and trans healers, artists, and orgainizers whose work is dedicated to supporting movements for social justice.

Beth's involvement in somatic and social justice work over the past several years gave her the insight and courage to embrace her bisexuality and gender fluidity, parts of herself that she had denied and pushed away for most of her life due to her Mormon upbringing. While working in a community-based immigrant rights theater program as an allied supporter, she felt the strong spiritual prompting that it was time to re-direct her advocacy efforts towards her own Mormon community. Since then she has been working in connection with Affirmation in order to build support among LGBTQ+ Mormons figuring out their own paths to productive lives that are affirming of both their faith and sexuality or gender idenity. Beth maintains strong feelings of connection to her LDS heritage and faith, considering it her spiritual birth-place and the "home" where she is to do her work in life. Yet, her spiritual practice and belief have shifted and she claims a less orthodox version of Mormonism than she once did. Beth is active in her local Affirmation chapter and also is a member of the Affirmation Leadership Team where she helps to run the Women and Non-binary People and Bisexual+ affinity groups. She is also creating a performance piece which will explore the interplay between queer identity and religious/spiritual identity from a Mormon perspective. She hopes this piece will help to build understanding betweeen the LGBTQ+ and LDS communities.


Justis Tuia

Justis normally serves as both the Program Manager of the Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations Program and as a Program Officer with the Magnet Schools Assistance Program at the U.S. Department of Education (ED). In these roles, he oversees a portfolio of discretionary grants in the areas of diversity, arts education, arts integration, strategic foreign languages, communication, leadership, STEM, gifted education, international baccalaureate, and cross-cultural understanding. For the duration of the Obama Administration, however, he is serving as a special advisor in the Office of the Director at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), where his portfolio consists of diversity and inclusion initiatives across the Federal workforce. His interests and specializations lie in the areas of program management, process optimization, research methods, cross-cultural communication, comparative politics, and East Asian foreign affairs. Justis joined the Federal workforce in January 2010 as a Presidential Management Fellow after spending several years working in the fields of higher education and human resources. His first position with the Federal government was with the Department of Defense at the Pentagon, where he split his efforts between the Office of Culture, Religion, & Military Equal Opportunity and the newly established Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response. He currently serves as the president of LGBT and Allied Employees at ED, the principal representative for Asian American Pacific Islander Connections, a board member of the Joseph Priestly District of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and a member of the Truman State University National Alumni Association Board of Directors. He is a former International Scholar Laureate and Diversity Fellow of The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. He earned an MA in International Communication from American University's School of International Service and a Bachelor of Arts degree, summa cum laude, in Political Science from Truman State University.


Laura Skaggs Dulin

Laura Skaggs Dulin holds a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from San Diego State University where she specialized in therapies suited to multi-cultural contexts; with a further emphasis in LGBT/SSA related issues.

Since 2013, Laura has endeavored to develop culturally competent and research based outreach interventions to promote the greater well-being of all LGBT/SSA Mormons. Laura co-produced “The Forefront Talks youtube series: A story about coming out in church and how to ideally support those who do” and published an Op-Ed in the Deseret News refuting the use of gay conversion therapies. Laura continues to write on her personal blog “Stars in the Ocean” to promote increased social support for LGBT/SSA Mormons no matter what their life path.

Presently, Laura is a regular contributor on the podcast: a dialogue that attempts to equally and respectfully honor both spiritual and sexual orientations and gender identities. She is also a co-producer on the Far Between documentary project which is an upcoming film exploring what it means to be Mormon and homosexual.

Laura married her husband, John, in the San Diego, California Temple 12 years ago. Together, they’re the parents of two cherished daughters.

The Forefront Talks

Op-Ed in the Deseret News

blog Stars in the Ocean

Far Between


Richard Keys

Richard Keys calls Sacramento, CA, home, and has been a life-long member of the church. In addition to BYU, a South German mission, and a temple marriage, he has held many church callings in teaching, music, and leadership. Along the way, Rich gained a strong testimony, as well as a very personal and practical relationship with his Heavenly Father, the Savior, and the Atonement. “When I go to my personal sacred grove, Heavenly Father is not standing above me or sitting on a throne; He’s on a sofa with His arm around me, and I’m feeling His unconditional love as we discuss how things are going in my life. He doesn’t judge; He teaches me.”
Rich majored in Music and Business Administration in college, minored in Silliness, and had a career in Human Resources Mgmt. Following a divorce, he realized he was gay and finally understood why West Side Story and Barbra Streisand meant so much to him as a teenager. He prayed how he could endure to the end as both divorced and gay in his church, and the Spirit’s plan was specific: “Keep your sense of humor, act a little silly, and spread that around and share it with others, because they’re going through tough times, too, and you may be able to help them endure things as you endure them too.”
He was led to a high councilor that he did not previously know, and was told the Lord had an important work for him to do: To help members understand what it means to be gay and what it does not mean, and to help build bridges among both members and non-members. Coming out as both gay and a temple-worthy Mormon, he’s been led by the Spirit in everything from sacrament meeting talks to the dating scene. That includes Affirmation, which he discovered and joined shortly after coming out to himself. Meanwhile, he volunteers as a pianist at various nursing homes and dreams of the day when cuddling will become an Olympic sport.





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