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Barron: The LDS Church Needs to be Held Accountable

Cass Palor
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saint’s temple in Salt Lake City | Chronicle archives.


This article was originally published in print on May 13.

Content Warning: This article discusses suicide, and has a brief mention of sexual assault.

“Continuing revelation from God.” That is what the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cited when reversing the controversial November 2015 policy which prohibited the baptism of children of LGBTQ parents and labeled faithful LGBTQ church members “apostates.” However simple an explanation, when President Dallin H. Oaks made this announcement, he forgot to mention the devastating impacts of this policy: the state’s increased suicide rate, the reinforcement of bigotry and fear within the Latter-day Saint community and the hundreds of Latter-day Saints who resigned or lost their membership over this policy. By ignoring these consequences and instead choosing to remind members that “policy isn’t doctrine” during this revocation, church leadership has quietly skirted accountability for the pain inflicted by the anti-LGBTQ policy they enacted.

In Utah, the leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 14 and 21 is suicide. Anecdotally, it is known that after the church announced the anti-LGBTQ policy in November 2015, even more young lives were lost. While some researchers like Justin Dyer claim there just is not enough data to connect the church with the state’s ever-increasing suicide rate, the correlation is not far-fetched when considering the church’s stance towards same-sex attraction. Experiencing same-sex attraction is no longer considered a sin in the Latter-day Saint faith, but acting on such attraction can not only result in a loss of membership, but may even cost an individual their eternal family. This is compounded by the inconsistency of enforcement within lower-level leadership — some bishops consider a formal same-sex relationship to be the line in the sand, whereas others recommend discipline for holding hands or kissing, acts that are not usually disciplined in opposite-sex relationships.

Considering the severity of the consequence for their sexuality, young LGBTQ members may begin to believe that their only chance at salvation is by choosing to end their own lives — in their religion, suicide has little impact on their eternal standing. Even though previous church documents established the church’s position that “marriage [is] between a man and a woman” prior to the November 2015 policy, this policy singled out LGBTQ members to label and isolate them from their religious community. Research shows that social isolation is one of the main risk factors associated with suicidal outcomes.

The November 2015 policy has also rewarded a culture of bigotry and fear in the broader, diverse Latter-day Saint community which extends the devastation of LGBTQ members’ lives outside of church meeting houses. Singling out this community reinforces a sense of otherness and distance toward LGBTQ people. It also creates greater opportunity for abuse. A former BYU student anonymously shared their experience on the Honor Code Stories Instagram page which read in part, “I’m gay … I was raped and blackmailed; I was told if I didn’t have sex I would be reported to the Honor Code Office and outed … the language [in the Honor Code] around sexuality is still really ambiguous … I thought that I would be kicked out.” Sadly, this story is not unique to BYU or the larger community, and many similar, painful stories have been featured on social media. By raising the consequences of being gay and “acting on it” for members, this policy has allowed predators to weaponize individuals’ sexuality to abuse them.

Mark Naugle is a Utah attorney who has helped over 10,000 members of the church resign their membership since 2009. Prior to November 2015, Naugle had only filed 375 resignations. In the week following the new publicly announced anti-LGBTQ policy, Naugle says he received about one resignation request per minute from members around the world — believers who could not reconcile the new policy with their own faith. One woman who submitted her resignation commented on the mass exodus of faithful members, “I think there’s a real misconception on the part of [still] active members that those who are leaving … weren’t believers anyway. The opposite is the truth.” Church membership numbers similarly decreased as married gay members faced church discipline and excommunication based on their sexuality regardless of their spirituality.

Dan Reynolds, frontman of Imagine Dragons and founder of Utah’s LoveLoud music festival for LGBTQ youth, tweeted in response to the announcement of the policy change: “Progress doesn’t happen overnight. It happens in small steps. Today we are one step closer.” However, calling this reversal “progress” seems too generous. While it is important that this policy was reversed, the three and a half years the policy was enforced will have lasting impacts. The fact that it was enacted in the first place, seemingly in response to increasing equality for the LGBTQ community, sends a message. Tyler Glenn, an openly gay former member of the church, pleaded with people in the wake of the reversal: “Don’t forget the lives that were lost to suicide, the pain this policy caused in so many families.” An independent study found more than 70% of LGBTQ Latter-day Saints suffer from PTSD from attending church where their sexuality was regularly demonized.

And as of yet, there has been no announcement on if and how the church plans to reinstate the membership of LGBTQ members excommunicated under the policy. Church leaders need to be held accountable for the grief caused by this incomplete revelation, but if the men responsible do not face any consequences, perhaps there is comfort in knowing “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”

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About the Contributor
Morgan Barron, Opinion Writer
Morgan Barron is an opinion writer. Barron has written for the Daily Utah Chronicle since August 2017. A Utah native, Barron has always been interested in local politics and how lawmakers' decisions and actions affect Utahns. Joining the Chrony was a non-obvious choice for a mechanical engineer, but she believes joining the paper rounded out her STEM education to make her a more effective communicator and engineer.

Comments (21)

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  • D

    DevanApr 25, 2020 at 10:52 pm

    The mormon church has a very nasty habit of seeking out predators and making them bishops and stake presidents.Google it. This is a church wide problem. I was born in the mormon church. After I came back from a mission several young ladies in their early 20’s in my stake came forward about being assaulted by local priesthood. My dad was in the stake presidency and my family was treated like royalty in the stake. I went and got information from those ladies and found their evidence compelling. I wrote a letter to the mormon hq in Salt Lake city and asked them to do something. I foolishly believed the morons at the top were actually apostles and would do something. Nothing happened. I then gave the information/evidence to the local police. After that the stake president and several bishops in the stake told the mormon community God had talked with them and told them I am mentally ill! The surprise was most everyone who used to be my friends believed them! Wow can’t get more cult mentality than that. The singles ward bishop told me several times that God told him I’m mentally ill. I contacted the California medical board and explained my bishop was practicing psychiatry without a license and telling people I’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness when that’s not true. I explained the situation that my bishop started lying after I reported the stake president to the special victims unit. The so called apostles in Salt Lake City, who support predators, were forced to dishonorably dismiss the bishop from his position. My dad became offended and disowned me. The mormon bishops in the area didn’t take the hint and kept lying about my character. My stake president was a lawyer. I wrote a very detailed letter to the California bar association and to the law firm he worked at. After that the lying mormon clergy in my city decided it was a stupid idea to bring attention to themselves. They left me alone. I wrote mormon hq and told them to take my name off the records of their cult as I don’t support them supporting pedophiles.

  • N

    Niall SorensenJun 12, 2019 at 9:16 pm

    There are a lot of “faithful saints” on here who want to be told that all is well in Zion. Personally, I have faith that one day the church will make room for gay members, that it won’t treat same-sex behavior as a sin, and that it will find a place for these relationships in the plan of salvation. What if that happened? Would you follow the prophet then? Or would you go to Colorado City and start an offshoot? Seriously, brothers and sisters, a little introspection wouldn’t hurt anything.

  • M

    Mike GriffithMay 28, 2019 at 4:57 am

    This article is a sad example of sub-standard journalism and obvious bias. As others have pointed out, before the new policy, members who struggled with same-sex attraction were not labeled “apostates” as long as they kept the law of chastity.

    It is not “bigotry” to maintain a moral standard that is plainly stated in the Bible. If someone does not like that standard, they are of course free to go their own way. Church attendance is voluntary. If they don’t like what is taught, they can simply to a different church, or to no church.

    Finally, why in the world would anyone need a lawyer to help them resign their membership? If they’re not going to attend church anyway, why do they even care if their name is on the church rolls? But, if they want their membership revoked, if they just can’t stand the idea of being listed as a member, they can get this done very easily on their own.

    If anyone should be held responsible for anything, it is those who tell people who feel same-sex attraction that they were born that way and that there’s nothing they can do about it. There are tens of thousands of people who can personally attest that those claims are false because they overcame and abandoned same-sex attraction and are very glad they did.

    • W

      Wesley SyphusJun 5, 2019 at 3:11 pm

      One could argue that from your website that you have a bias leaning towards conservatism and certain interpretations of social issues and the United States Constitution. Is bias not what helps guide our daily lives? I would love to hear your thoughts on this and what bias means to you.

      Some of these LGBTQ youth have no option but to go to church. You must step into the shoes of these youth who are living in households, neighborhoods, communities, schools, and church congregations and are being told that their way of life or sexual orientation is wrong or even sinful.

      I would also consider you taking a look at your own sexuality and how it would feel for someone to tell you that your sexuality is wrong based on what a church says. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

  • C

    CpMay 27, 2019 at 10:01 pm

    They set you up for failure- why there is responsible participants

  • S

    SammyMay 27, 2019 at 5:24 pm

    Ummm, the only person responsible for suicide is the person commiting suicide. Although I agree that calling the 2015 statement “from God” is dumb and then three years later to say it was just a policy change is pretty dumb. It creates a sense of distrust in the brethren for member with brains inside their heads. I certain know they are all apostles, doesn’t mean I trust them.

  • C

    CpMay 27, 2019 at 4:54 pm

    I love this. I am not same sex attracted, nor do I have gender issues, but I was raped and abused like crazy growing up in the lds/Mormon church in Fmr Utah. I am in my early fourties now, still struggling just to survive and live through the truth of what my childhood was like. This comes from being told that I was from generations of patriarchs and so it was my duty to obey, not given choices. It was bad. I am female, but it is and was worse for my brother’s.

    I do however believe in God, the universe, truth, Christ, etc. But the lies are what makes people so sick.

  • T

    Tracy JohnsonMay 27, 2019 at 4:02 pm

    How incredibly ignorant can people be? Every revision of this organization’s hand book (of morman) has been politically charged. Remember when black men could not hold a title in the organization? Hell, remember when pervy men like J. Smith and B. Young had multiple sex partners (so called “wives”)? And they were looked up to, and everyone holding their job title since has been held up as a “profit”? WTF?? So the homophobic, bigoted organization has such a hold over people of the state of Utah, that Children are dying, where’s the CDC??? Somebody needs to call B.S.!

  • B

    BillMay 27, 2019 at 3:25 pm

    Past doctrine might explain the current approach eg
    “Now take a person in this congregation who has knowledge with regard to being saved… and suppose that he has committed a sin that he knows will deprive him of that exaltation which he desires, and that he cannot attain to it without the shedding of blood, and also knows that by having his blood shed he will atone for that sin and may be saved and exalted with the God, is there a man or woman in this house but what would say, ‘shed my blood that I may be saved and exalted with the Gods?’”

    – Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 4, pp. 219-220

  • J

    Jim BriscoMay 27, 2019 at 3:01 pm

    Sounds like you don’t understand enough about the situation. Some of this is misinformation. You shouldn’t influence lots of people without enough factual information from both sides. Keep in mind that most of the negative bander come from those who have been deceived by the modern immoral schism and in my opinion are reacting out of anger, guilt and frustration with things they don’t fully comprehend.

    Leaders of the Church pray daily about these issues and are led by the Spirit of Prophesy. They are not lead about by “popular opinion” or secular ideology. This is what sets apart a divine organization. Every thing they do is out of Love for others!

  • S

    Scott CarlsonMay 27, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    I’m not sure if the author has properly investigated the church’s policy and doctrine on suicide. To state that suicide has little impact on their eternal standing is not accurate. And to suggest that coming out is viewed as worse than suicide is irresponsible and wrong. Far too many “claims” are made in this editorial. We’re all entitled to our opinions, but they should be based on facts and not our perceptions of others actions… especially when representing a news outlet.

  • K

    Karen DerrickMay 27, 2019 at 11:06 am

    There’s a lot less fear and bigatory than you think, within the church, and many of the Brothers and Sisters in the church prefere to look at people as people on an individual basis, including same sex oriented people.
    I for one am not going to scream Sinner and run away, because Buddy I have sinned and enjoyed it while i was sinning. Now, not so much.
    I have faith in our leaders and don’t doubt that this is a tough topic for everyone to handle.
    “The Church” doesn’t need to be held accountable. People within the church will be held accountable for all things. And if someone misspoke, that person will apologize and hold himself accountable.
    Suicide is something church leaders need to work on understanding, and helping church members battle. It’s an epidemic across the globe.
    Abuse, sexual and mental/physical is addressed and dealt with. Most often privately. Or if needed the authorities are contacted.
    This is a pretty generalized article that can be taken many ways.
    Sorry if members have dealt with you poorly, and with hatefulness. They will be dealt with I’m sure.
    Just my thoughts and experience.
    Blessings to all God’s children no matter who or how you srlf identitfy

  • S

    Sylvia T. ClarkMay 27, 2019 at 10:25 am

    Great article. Hope everyone reads it. We need leaders that are not name-caller bullies. We need leaders that so respect for all people.

  • C

    ChanceMay 27, 2019 at 10:03 am

    Haha wow! There is so much wrong with this article. I started to take pieces and correct them in a comment, but the comment quickly became just as long as the article itself. Sad that people are basing their opinions off of conjecture, surface judgment, and perception without any fact driven argument around. You cannot attribute suicide rate to something if you have no evidence that it affected it at all. Correlation does not equal causation, and in this case especially there’s noy even correlation! Purely conjecture and opinion, don’t take this article as more than that.

  • C

    CarsonMay 27, 2019 at 1:47 am

    Anyone who has problems with the church doesn’t understand the doctrine. It all rests on the Book of Mormon. If you truly read it and follow it’s teachings, life isn’t all that bad.

  • B

    Brenda BakerMay 26, 2019 at 9:25 pm

    You don’t have to have an attorney to resign your membership. You can write a letter to the church yourself and ask for this to be done for fee.

    • B

      BenMay 28, 2019 at 10:19 pm

      For FEE? Hmmm.

  • B

    Brenda BMay 26, 2019 at 9:21 pm

    It is considered a sin to the LDS to kill yourself

  • L

    LDS WatchmanMay 26, 2019 at 8:32 am

    The opening line of the article states that the previous policy from November 2015 “prohibited the baptism of children of LGBTQ parents and labeled faithful LGBTQ church members ‘apostates.'”

    This is wrong. Faithful homosexual members who kept the law of chastity and were not involved in the sinful practice of same-sex sexual relations were not labeled apostates.

    It was those homosexual members and former members who were living in a homosexual relationship who were labeled apostates.

    In the closing line of your article you stated “that we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ.”

    Yet you are condemning the leaders of the church for labeling someone an apostate for conduct that goes against the teachings of the Bible, in which it is stated that those who are engaging in same-sex sexual relations are given over to a “retrobate mind” and “going after strange flesh” and that “there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.”

    If anything the church leadership should be held accountable for removing the label of apostate from those who engage in these wicked practices.

    You can’t quote from the scriptures and suggest that the leaders of the church should be “held accountable” by Christ while at the same time condemning them for following the scriptures and calling a spade a spade (aka an apostate an apostate).

    As for the issue of teen suicide in Utah, there has never been a link established between the church’s teachings against same-sex relations and teen suicide.

    I don’t doubt that teens who identify as homosexual have a much higher suicide rate than other teens, but whose fault is this?

    Is it the LDS church and other conservative Christian churches who hold to the Bibke?

    Or is it the LGBTQ activists who convince these teens that engaging in same-sex relations is natural and will bring them happiness contrary to what the Bible teaches?

    The problem is the LGBTQ activists.

  • J

    Joseph's MythMay 26, 2019 at 2:42 am

    You cannot ever get blood from a turnip

  • C

    CiceroMay 25, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    Again the claim is made that somehow the strict sexual moral codes of the LDS Church causes or increases suicides. But evidence does not support this. In fact the only studies done on depression and suicide in Utah that measures the differences between Mormons and non-Mormons shows that Mormons commit suicide at a rate lower than the non-Mormons. Additionally, ex-Mormons commit suicide at the same rate as people who were never Mormon.

    This suggests that membership in the Mormon Church decreases suicide rates. Probably due to the lower social isolation among Mormons, because of their home and visiting teaching programs, social activities, and bishop interviews.

    Sometimes it is pointed out that Utah has a higher suicide rate than the nation, but the cause of this is well known. It’s due to the altitude and chronic oxygen deprivation. It’s why Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, and other high altitude states also have high suicide rates.