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When personal beliefs on LGBTQ issues and sustaining leaders clash: A missionary’s story

Adam and Sunny Smart

December 16, 2019

Adam and Sunny Smart

Adam Smart and his mother, Sunny Smart.

by Joel McDonald

Yesterday morning the Salt Lake Tribune published the courageous story of Adam Smart, a young man from Meridian, Idaho who left for Ventura, California in September to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Adam’s stake president recommended him for his mission and Salt Lake issued the call with their blessing, fully knowing Adam’s privately held views supporting same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights. After two months, Adam returned home from his mission over an ideological clash between his mission president who didn’t feel him worthy of a temple recommend because of these views, and his hometown stake president who did.

Affirmation President, Nathan Kitchen, had a chance to speak with Adam’s mother, Sunny Smart, when the story broke. Sunny said, “Adam is brave in so many ways. He chose to share his story because he is concerned for others who may face a similar difficulty. Coming home early from a mission carries its own weight. To have that broadcast is such a vulnerable and bold choice. We are blown away by this boy and have been since he was very small.”

Kitchen sees these types of stories surrounding LGBTQ issues unfold world-wide in the church, and it appears to be intensifying as the church continues to assert its position in the politics of LGBTQ rights in the United States. “This political action fragments the topic of same-sex marriage into a political issue and a doctrinal issue,” Kitchen says, “And when that happens, leaders and members alike have a difficult time distinguishing between their acknowledged right to hold different opinions, beliefs, and positions on such issues and sustaining the Brethren and doctrine.”

“Adam’s story was a much-needed conversation to have, but I weep at the toll it exacted on Adam during the time it took his mission president to be calibrated on the issues, and change his mind. This was a vulnerable story for the Smart family to share. They have my love and support,” Kitchen says. “It shines a light on what is happening at the intersection of LGBTQ families and the church. Affirmation is committed to supporting LGBTQ individuals and their families as they navigate their intersections.”

Sunny knows that this is only the beginning. She says, “Our hope is in line with Adam’s, that this will be a catalyst for important questions, discussion, and training so that others will have a better experience.”

Read Can Latter-day Saints disagree with their church on gay marriage? Case of the lost wallet may offer clues by Peggy Fletcher Stack on the Salt Lake Tribune website.

Update: After Affirmation published this report, Sunny contacted Nathan to add the following to this complex story.

Sunny writes, “Our stake president was supportive of Adam before his mission, but ended up supporting the mission president and area authority, thereby completely abandoning and failing Adam when he most needed support.

The stake president and I had been working together since last October on LGBTQ outreach. He asked me to train all the bishops in the stake. We had become incredibly close.

For him to turn on Adam instead of standing up to other priesthood leaders was a betrayal of the highest magnitude. I honestly think it sealed the deal for Adam coming home.”

This article was submitted by an Affirmation community member. The opinions expressed are wholly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Affirmation, our leadership, or our staff. Affirmation welcomes the submission of articles by community members in accordance with our mission, which includes promoting the understanding, acceptance, and self-determination of individuals of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and our vision for Affirmation to be a refuge to land, heal, share, and be authentic.


  1. James on December 22, 2019 at 4:25 PM

    This post is missing the end of the story!

    >Within a few days, Nakken had a change of heart himself. The mission president called Smart to say he was sorry, that he now had approval to give the missionary a recommend without requiring him to abandon his perspective on LGBTQ issues.

    >He urged Smart to stay.

    The young man was not forced to return home, and was granted a temple recommend in the end. Sure the mission president made a mistake. But it is incorrect and unfair to portray the way this post does. I applaud the mission president for having the courage to admit error and change his mind. We need many more like him to do likewise.

    • Joel McDonald on December 30, 2019 at 1:43 PM

      Thank you. The full story is linked to. We were offering an additional introduction and commentary to the published story.

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