I Wrote a Letter to My Church…Now I Could Be Excommunicated

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” -Benjamin Franklin

Meet Dane Rowley, a committed husband and father of 2 young boys, a dedicated college administrator and, a devout, lifelong member of the Mormon church. Being Mormon isn’t just Dane’s religion, it’s his cultural heritage, and the foundation of his social network, too. In fact, Dane comes from a long line of Mormons that stretch back to the beginnings of the movement for 6 generations. Dane was raised in a devout Mormon home. He describes his experience as a child and youth as ‘great’ and shares that the church gave him ‘focus and stability’, and taught him ‘to be a good Christian.’ In other words, from a very young age, Dane’s faith and involvement in the Mormon church has been very important to him.

But, a recent change in church policy and Dane’s reaction to it, may put his involvement with the church in danger. And, it all started, on November 5th, 2015, when a  change to policy which was intended only for church leadership to know the full details of, was leaked to the public by an anonymous source.

About a week ago, I reached out to Dane, and asked that he share his story here, on the Front Yard Frontier. The following is my interview with Dane.

What was the policy change within the Mormon church that started all this for you?

The policy, in effect,  stated that the children of monogamously paired gay parents will no longer be given names in the church or allowed to be baptized, ordained to the priesthood or serve a mission until they are 18+ AND have disavowed their parent’s relationship AND moved out of their home. Being a married or committed gay couple is now labeled apostasy*.

When the policy was leaked, many people in and out of the church were upset. A few thousand members resigned very publicly. Others quietly noted how incongruent it all seemed with what they personally believe. Lots of op-eds and articles have since been written. There was also a sharp increase in suicide hotline calls, in suicide among Mormon teens in the weeks following, and an increase in families being torn apart as divorced parents renewed fights for custody and children were forced to choose between their parents or their church.

*Apostasy is a term used to describe those whom the church believes have rejected the revelations and ordinances of God, changed the gospel of Jesus Christ, or rebelled against the commandments of God, thereby losing the blessings of the Holy Ghost and of divine authority. Individuals labeled apostates lose church membership and can no longer enter the Temple.

When you first heard about the policy, what was your reaction to it?

I was immediately repulsed by it. The church’s record of welcoming LGBTQ people has been mixed and the church’s theological opposition to homosexuality and marriage equality is well documented. However, calling married gay couples “apostates” was shocking. To make it impossible for the children of those gay married couples to participate in the most basic sacraments of the church, based on their parent’s relationship crossed a line I couldn’t stay silent about. These children would not be given a blessing and name (a ritual soon after birth), and would not be allowed baptism, confirmation, ordination to the priesthood or allowed to serve a mission.

How did you arrive at next steps to take in voicing your dissent?

As the policy came to light, I continued to hear stories of teens and adults in crisis, teens being made homeless by parents, families being torn apart and even suicides as a result. Early on I began writing a letter to my local leaders. At first it was angry. But over the span of 2-3 weeks I made edits and changed the focus and tone significantly. And, I knew that once I sent the letter that I may face church discipline.  And I did. My Temple Recommend* was taken and I was instructed that I could not participate in the Confirmation of my nephew scheduled for the following week. I was also warned that continued opposition to the policy and the doctrine behind it could result in additional discipline.

*A Temple Recommend is the paperwork required for Mormons to enter Temple. Temple recommends are given to members of the Church who have completed what Mormons believe are the preliminary steps of faith: repentance, baptism, and confirmation.

What issues do you have with this policy?

The church’s rhetoric towards LGBTQ people continues to cause tangible and incredible harm. The church has a General Conference twice a year (April and October) that is broadcast around the world. Those familiar with homelessness and suicide attempts in Utah report that there is a marked increase in homeless teens and hospitalizations following conferences in which gay people or families are stigmatized. In the weeks following the November 5 policy there has been a 4 fold increase in calls to groups like the Trevor Project. There has also been a rise in suicides in Utah, but with how they collect data it is impossible to draw a direct correlation. This Sunday a particularly harsh sermon was given by a senior church Apostle in which he upped the ante by calling this new policy a direct revelation from God.

6 teens became homeless that night.

Why is it important for you to speak out about this policy?

First, it stems from a clear call I felt last summer to speak out more publicly in favor of marriage equality and LGBTQ rights in general. Too many people I know and love have been wounded, some almost to death, by the actions of my church and other religions who have taught them to hate the person God made them to be. I can’t stand by in the face of such pain and suffering.

What is your hope for the church and your place in it moving forward?

Until Sunday I had hoped that the church would back down from this policy over the coming months and years. It actually already lessened the scope of it one week after it was leaked based on the huge backlash that went through the Mormon and post-Mormon communities, as well as in the mainstream global media.  But now that the person next in line for the church’s Presidency recently called the policy a “revelation,” I have less hope. As for me, I don’t know what my place is anymore. I’d like to think that voices like mine are welcome and embraced. But the reality may prove to be different.

If you do face apostasy, how will it affect your life and would it be worth it to you? If so, why?

If I am brought before a “Disciplinary Council” and am excommunicated for apostasy it will have a huge impact on my relationships with my parents and siblings. The fabric of the church is woven into so much of our family dynamic, culture, practice and relationships. I wouldn’t be shunned and my children wouldn’t be treated differently but there would be a gulf separating us. It would also cause enormous pain to my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, who see excommunication as a kind of separation from God. Based on what the church teaches, excommunication would make void my baptism in the church, as well as my ordination to the priesthood, and an important part of my connection to my wife and sons. Mormons are married in temples for “time and all eternity” which means they believe that unless a marriage is conducted in a temple with the right authority that marriage will end at the death of either spouse. In other words, [the church teaches] my wife and I would no longer be together in the hereafter and would not be eternally linked to our children in the same way either.  I personally don’t believe that my excommunication would have such results. However many people I know and love would feel that way and their pain would cause me pain.

Still, excommunication would be worth it if the alternative is being silent about things that matter. Excommunication would be worth it to teach my sons that the gift of choice and inquiry and asking questions and staying true to ourselves should not be squandered for anything or anyone. It would be worth it if there is a little more light shed on the church and how unevenly discipline is applied to some but not to others.  It would be worth it if it sends a message to LGBTQ people in crisis that they are not alone and that they have an ally who is willing to stand with them. It would be worth it if people who are in the closet see at least one person in their life who is ‘safe.’

Thank you, Dane, for sharing your story with us. My hope is that it inspires others to speak up about this important issue. And, that your courage and conviction leads to positive change within your faith community.

For more resources on this issue check out the following:

http://www.sufferthelittlechildren.org/

http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/

http://www.ldsfamilyfellowship.org/

http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/commentary-understanding-the-handbook

http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/president-nelson-handbook-change

http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/handbook-changes-same-sex-marriages-elder-christofferson

This entry is part of a series called Frontline Fridays, a series where I’ll feature a different interview on the Front Yard Frontier every Friday. Learn more here.

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