By Terry Blas
Some days I don’t want to think about the fact that I was raised Mormon, or that I was a missionary, or any of that stuff. Some days I really need to talk about it. Today is one of the talking days.
Some people reading this won’t know much about what it means to be Mormon (or “a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as they now prefer to be labeled.) I can’t blame you—it’s a relatively small religion. But it’s mind-blowing for a lot of Mormons to realize that most of the world doesn’t even know what Mormonism is. Most LDS people who grow up in a densely Mormon area are so entrenched in that culture that they sort of see Utah as… well, the whole world.
A few years ago I was part of a documentary called Latter-Day Glory. It follows me and my friend Jonathon as we interview a group of people who identify as LGBTQ and somewhere on the active/inactive Mormon spectrum.
I’m gay. I’m ex-Mormon. While filming the documentary, I had my name and records removed from the church, which was a surprisingly simple process. There’s a website (QuitMormon.org) where a lawyer will do it all for you and the church can’t contact you or force you to talk to your bishop, who will likely alert your family and friends. The church likes to make it as difficult as possible to try and keep you from leaving, but you don’t have to do things their way.
Anyway, there’s something I need to get off my chest. It’s not going to gain me any LDS friends, but I think it needs to be said. It’s considered controversial within Mormonism, but to me it’s logical and simple.
I don’t think you can be Mormon and gay. Not healthily, anyway.
One of those things is a choice and one of them isn’t—and you’re only going to do one of them well. If you commit to being LDS then you can’t live an authentically gay life. They teach that you can’t “act” on being gay. They don’t even SAY the word “gay”. They use “same gender attraction” and teach members to say that they “have SGA.” I don’t say that. I’ll never say that. To say that is to imply that I have something that is changeable or curable, like a disease. To say you are gay or trans or bisexual, any of that, is to admit that that is an unchangeable part of who you are. When you act on that, the church can excommunicate you. You’re no longer Mormon.
I think the reason there’s so much resentment and frustration building up inside of me is because I’ve left the church, and I find it difficult to sympathize with those who are LGBT and feel the need to cling to Mormonism, culturally or spiritually.
I know that every situation is different. I know everyone is at a different point in their journey and I do my best not to judge or be harsh. I try to remind myself that there is a big difference between the liars and those who are lied to.
Someone asked me once if being gay was the reason I left the church. It’s part of it, but it’s just one reason out of many.
The church’s treatment of women, minorities, and the LGBT community. DNA science and archeology disproving the Book of Mormon very easily. The endless anachronisms it contains—steel and silk and chariots and horses were not in Central America at the time the book claims to be a record of. The Book of Mormon plagiarizing View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith, and The Golden Pot by E.T.A Hoffman, among others. I could be completely straight and it wouldn’t change any of that.
I recently heard someone talk about the church’s treatment of LGBT members by using the analogy of a burning building, and claiming that you can’t just run away from that. That things need to be done to change it from the inside.
You can absolutely run away from a burning building.
If you’re in a burning building, the first thing everyone tells you to do is GET OUT. If you don’t, you’re going to end up burned or dead.
You can’t change a church from the inside, especially not one with as much money as the Mormon church.
Churches only change when threatened financially. Money is why the Church of Scientology fights so hard to keep their tax exempt status. It’s why Mormons no longer practice polygamy and African American men can now receive the priesthood. It’s not because the prophet received divine revelation from God, it’s because (in the case of African American men getting the priesthood) on March 11 1977, President Jimmy Carter threatened Prophet Spencer W. Kimball with removing the church’s tax exempt status if they didn’t allow black members to receive the priesthood. Other schools had also started refusing to play BYU at football because of its racism. Divine revelation indeed.
Latter-Day Glory talks about how high the suicide rate is among LGBT youth in Utah. There’s plenty of evidence that being in a religion that rejects your sexuality is harmful, and the numbers speak for themselves. So in my opinion, it’s irresponsible to tell kids to stay in a community that influences their sense of self-worth so negatively, and puts them in such a damaging state that they think it’s better to be dead than to live an authentically gay lifestyle. (An LDS leader once taught that any parent would rather their child come home in a coffin than having broken the law of chastity.)
Most people don’t realize that organized religion is a political entity. In many and most cases, the constitutions or legal codes of entire countries are built around religious precepts or blueprints. We can’t escape the influence. So I think it’s naive to adopt a “believe whatever you want” attitude toward an organization that consistently gets involved in local and global politics. If you’re an active Mormon, you literally give the church ten percent of your income. That money goes toward funding things like Prop 8 and sending out letters telling members to vote against medical marijuana legalization because the church owns stock in a lot of prescription drug companies, and legalization would damage its income.
Leah Remini (one of my heroes) has an amazing Scientology expose series, where she shows how powerless the average Scientologist is when it comes to the church’s operations and practices. (And how incredibly damaging and insane the “religion” is.) If in that series she said: “I’m going to be the best Scientologist I can and use all the power of Xenu to change the church from the INSIDE,” we would think she was crazy. Why do we think it’s any different with Mormonism?
Historically and statistically, churches only change when threatened with loss of money.
If a famous or high-profile LDS person says that LGBT LDS youth issues are important to them but doesn’t help amplify the stories of individuals no matter where or what shape or form they come in, it’s hard to believe they care about much more than personal exposure. If you’re on a fast moving train and running in the opposite direction, it doesn’t really matter. You’re still going where the train wants you to go. So while you’re sprinting through the cars on the way to the caboose, ask yourself if you are one of the liars or one of the lied to.
[WATCH: Interview with Terry Blas, gay ex-Mormon cartoonist]