Please accept my apology for writing this letter. I have to this point in my life avoided criticism of my Church leaders and feel extremely uncomfortable offering criticism now. I do so only after considerable time spent in meditation and prayer with more than a little fear of reprisal. But at the same time, I feel it imperative to document last week’s interview with you and humbly offer suggestions that might have made the experience positive.
Our meeting on Wednesday evening was emotionally and spiritually draining. Admittedly, I have never participated nor anticipated that I would participate in an ecclesiastical interview that was so devoid of a spiritual basis or for that matter, the Spirit. That its tenor and content were so antithetical to your character and basic Gospel principles was shocking and disappointing.
As I have spent much if not most of my adult life as a bishop or bishop’s counselor, I learned early that if I wanted to ensure the presence of the Spirit during an interview, I needed to comply with the Lord’s directive in Section 121 of the Doctrine & Covenants:
34 Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
35 Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—
36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to acover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.
39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
40 Hence many are called, but afew are chosen.
41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile...
With that in mind, let me share my specific concerns about the interview:
1. My wife and I mentioned in a previous meeting with you that rather than tell the members of the ward individually about our divorce and the reason for the divorce (my homosexuality) we planned a discussion at our next empty nester family home evening to which we would invite the regular attendees as well as many of our friends with whom we feel a private discussion unnecessary. It was our feeling that this would alleviate a myriad of questions from peripheral friends, reduce gossip about my fidelity, reduce the impact of my homosexuality on my business, and address questions and issues surrounding our experience in a mixed orientation marriage. We also planned to distribute Carol Lynn Pearson’s book, No More Goodbyes, an anthology of the lives of gay latter-day saints.
At no time did we plan to or anticipate addressing doctrinal issues related to homosexuality. My wife and I agreed that our get-together was neither the time nor place to do so.
When you told my wife a week ago that you felt uncomfortable with us discussing doctrine, we were both surprised by the question and unconcerned because discussing doctrinal topics was not nor ever was our intention.
You can well understand why your declaration in last week’s interview without any preface or preparation that my wife and I are apostate and would be subject to church discipline if we failed to cancel our home evening group meeting was shocking and hurtful beyond words. Your inability to explain what we had done to warrant such a charge except for the fact that 1) we were planning to distribute a book about the gay Latter-day Saint experience whose author is a member of the Church in good standing, 2) I had questions about the efficacy of our marriage covenant, and 3) that I believe blind obedience to Church leadership is contrary to the teachings of The Prophet (please refer to the attached letter written by President George Albert Smith), undermined your message and credibility.
You never explained why you believed my wife was in a state of apostasy.
Let me again assure you that at no time have my wife nor I preached, taught or encouraged any doctrine or philosophy that is contrary to or undermines Gospel principles. We have been and will continue to support these principles that have always been the foundation of our belief and action. I believe that if your accusation was made public, it would be more shocking to members of our ward, our family and our friends than the fact that my wife and I are divorcing or that I am gay.
2. Your demeanor and tone was aggressive and confrontational. To ask of me in an angry manner and a raised voice the sacred questions of the temple interview was not only inappropriate, but verged on blasphemy. Moreover, your approach showed no gentleness or meekness, nor any sense of love unfeigned. I was shaken to hear a shepherd in Israel deal with a member of his flock with such insensitivity and hostility.
3. To summarily order my wife and I to cancel our Monday night meeting without discussion or for that matter any idea on your part of the nature or the content of the meeting showed no attempt, as Covey has advised, to “first seek to understand and then to be understood.”
That you could provide us no rationale for ordering us to cancel the meeting other than that my wife and I are apostate, showed that you obviously had your mind made up prior to our meeting and were more in tune with your own fear and bigotry than the Spirit.
4. Our family home evening group has intentionally remained unconnected with the Church or the ward. Its organization was not instigated by the ward. No callings, support or sanctions have been extended by the ward. Except for the first month or two three years ago, we have made no attempts to announce the meeting time and place in Church or at church functions. Since its inception, my wife and I have emphasized that the group is not associated with the ward, but is a private group of individuals who my wife and I choose to invite to our home.
Since you have never attended one of these meetings nor asked us about the nature of the meeting, let me share the agenda. As with nearly every activity we hold with family and friends, we begin with prayer. Following the prayer, a member of the group provides a short lesson. The content of these lessons vary, from discussions about finance and economics, to health and wellness, as well as occasional topics of a Gospel nature. After the short lesson, we invite participants to share refreshments and visit throughout the evening. People usually remain for several hours to visit and fellowship. Because this is a neighborhood event rather than a religious meeting we regularly have at least one inactive member or an occasional non-member in attendance.
Let me emphasize that this activity was initiated by my wife and me and at no time did we seek ecclesiastical support, permission or input. For you as a church leader to assume authority to dictate what we discuss, what we do and who we invite into our home and to threaten discipline if we fail to comply categorically with your directive, seems to be antithetical to Joseph Smith’s admonition that he “teaches correct principles and let[s the people] govern themselves” and clearly moves into the territory of unrighteous dominion.
5. You showed you know little about my wife or me personally, about our character, about our spiritual natures or our personal journeys nor made significant effort to learn. Despite the fact that we have spent our lives devoted to prayer, study, obedience and service while searching for understanding about homosexuality and the nature of our relationship, you made clear that only your feelings on this issue were compliant with God’s will and failure to recognize that would bring us to a state of apostasy, resulting in disciplinary action.
6. It was obvious to me at the end of the interview that you recognized that you had crossed the line when you began redefining the course of the interview by saying that you had not called into question our temple worthiness or membership in the Church and that it was permissible for us to hold a meeting to discuss our divorce and my sexual orientation so long as it was not called family home evening.
Despite your effort to reconstruct the awful experience, it will indelibly remain as an example of a Church leader failing to follow the Spirit and instead creating an environment of conflict and contention. The Savior in his sermon to the Nephites following his resurrection made clear from whom contention originates. It is difficult for members of the Church to have confidence in leaders that initiate and perpetuate anger and conflict.
As the Lord directed leaders in the Church, “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood…” Despite this command, you unfortunately exercised your authority without discussion or clear understanding. Rather than using kindness and love unfeigned, you commanded and demanded compliance with no tolerance or attempt to understand. In the end, you forced my wife and me to beg you to pray that you might have even the least bit of confidence in us or our decisions to which supplication you initially failed to reply.
Again, I apologize for having written this letter, but I felt compelled by the Spirit to share my feelings and observations. I hope you can accept it in the spirit in which it is written and I hope you will give at least some thought to my observations. I want to assure you that my wife's and my commitment to the Gospel transcends mistreatment by any Church authority. Despite your efforts, my commitment to Jesus Christ and his mission will not be diminished.