The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

1,500 Mormons quit church over new anti-gay-marriage policy, organizer says

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their supporters at the Salt Lake City temple after mailing their membership resignation to the church. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

This article has been updated to reflect Brigham Young University’s response to allegations about its policies concerning students who have left the Mormon Church.

There are more than 6 million Mormons in the United States. But, after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a ban on baptizing children of same-sex couples last week, there were about 1,500 fewer after a mass resignation Saturday in front of the LDS temple in Salt Lake City.

“We had an incredible turnout,” attorney Mark Naugle told CNN. “I was slammed for three hours. Some people stood in line for an hour and a half.”

Naugle, whose family left the church 15 years ago, collected letters from what was billed as a “Mass Resignation from Mormonism” on Facebook. With lawyers and notaries on hand, participants planned to sign letters of resignation and march around the temple before depositing some in a mailbox near the church office.

At the event and on the event’s Facebook page, some explained their reasons for resigning.

“I have given up so much for this church and this is my reward,” one commenter who said she had a gay daughter wrote. “Increasing prejudice and discrimination for my child who never chose her orientation and only wants the same plan of salvation that everyone else gets. Another kick in the stomach. For the sake of my active children I have just been content to be inactive. But now I feel I must make a statement. I absolutely cannot remain silent any longer. I’m sorry to offend any believers. I really am. But I must speak out, let the chips fall where they may.”

“I feel like if your name’s in the church, if you keep your name in the church, you’re supporting their decisions and the choices they’re making and their doctrine,” Brenner Zeller, a gay man whose husband also grew up Mormon, told the New York Times. “We don’t want to support them because they don’t support us.”

Naugle, who said he would present letters to the church on Monday, said the recent policy change pushed some church members over the edge.

“The fact that it affects children really upset people,” Naugle told CNN. “Most people are disaffected from the church already, and this was the final straw.”

[Mormon Church announces new policy regarding children of same-sex couples]

A letter released by the Mormon Church last week ahead of the mass resignation offered a “clarification” of the policy change that attempted to soften the blow.

“All children are to be treated with utmost respect and love,” a letter from President Thomas Monson and his two counselors, Henry B. Eyring and Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, as The Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein reported. “They are welcome to attend Church meetings and participate in Church activities. All children may receive priesthood blessings of healing and spiritual guidance.” However: “We are obligated to act with that perspective for the welfare of both adults and children. The newly added Handbook provisions affirm that adults who choose to enter into a same-gender marriage or similar relationship commit sin that warrants a Church disciplinary council.”

[Mormon Church: Policy on same-sex families protects ‘harmony’]

Another statement said the church was acting in the interests of children.

“With same-sex marriage now legal in the United States and some other nations, the Church felt the need specifically to address such marriages in the Handbook to draw a firm line and encourage consistency among local leaders,” wrote Michael Otterson, managing director of the church’s press office. “In particular, Church leaders are concerned for children – whether biologically born to one of the partners, adopted or medically conceived. In reality, very few same-sex couples would bring children for the formal Church ordinance of naming and blessing, since this creates a formal membership record. But Church leaders want to avoid putting little children in a potential tug-of-war between same-sex couples at home and teachings and activities at church.”

Resigning from the Mormon Church, it seems, is much more complicated than not showing up on Sundays — and, for those deeply involved in the Mormon community and its way of life, can have far-reaching ramifications.

“Having your name removed from the records of the Mormon Church can be a very emotional experience,” explained, a Web site organizers of the mass resignation linked to. “It can affect your family, your job (if you work for the Mormon Church), your friends or even your spouse (if your spouse is Mormon). If you currently attend Brigham Young University, or another Mormon Church owned University, you could lose your accreditation and be expelled. There are many who have been unable to receive their diplomas or even their credit transcripts after having their names removed. The Mormon Church does not forgive, and it does not forget.” (UPDATE: In an e-mail to The Post, Brigham Young spokesman Todd Hollingshead responded to the allegation that the school does not release transcripts to students who have left the church: “This is completely false. As with most universities, the only reason we would hold an academic record is for financial reasons — meaning money is owed to the university.”)

The Web site claimed that those who do not pursue and complete all steps of the formal resignation process will be “hunted down indefinitely by the Church for reactivation attempts.

And the Web site warned that completing the formal process of resigning from church membership still may not put an end to efforts to get an former member to return. “If you live around Mormons it is inevitable that they will pursue you as a neighbor,” it read. “This is an unfortunate side effect of being Mormon — every member is a ‘missionary.’ Also know that while your name is considered ‘removed,’ you will still be counted among the alleged ’14+ million’ members until you are 110 years old.”

Another protest called the “Utah Rally for Love, Equality, Family, & Acceptance” was planned for planned for Saturday, Nov. 21.

“There is a new generation rising here in Utah!” a Facebook announcement of the event read. “We rally together on November 21st, to show our state, and our nation, that we stand together as a community dedicated to believing that everyone deserves Love, Equality, Family, and Acceptance In large numbers our voice will be heard; it is up to EVERY ONE OF US to be the voice of change.”

In a tweet last week, LDS President Monson appeared to address those who were contemplating leaving the church.

“I plead with you to avoid anything that will deprive you of your happiness here in mortality and eternal life in the world to come,” he wrote.