This is co-authored by Beckie Weinheimer, the author of the young adult novel Converting Kate, a mother, wife, auntie, library volunteer, and lover of swimming in very cold oceans.
Earlier this month, a newly revealed letter detailed how the Church of Latter Day Saints, or the Mormon Church, believes that people in same-sex marriages are "considered apostates and could be excommunicated" and children of same-sex couples are not allowed to be baptized into the church until age 18, instead of the usual age 8. Since then, 1,500 Mormons have requested their names be removed - with many of them doing so in person on Saturday in Salt Lake City.
This latest exclusionary policy pushed us over the edge, too. While we -- mother and daughter -- have been inactive members for a while, we just submitted our official letters of resignation to the Church. This is why.
Beckie Weinheimer (Mother):
As a teenager in the 70's when many young women were wearing mini-skirts, joining "Take Back the Night" marches, and protesting the Viet Nam war, I was making whole wheat bread, kneeling so my mother could make sure my skirts hit the middle of my knees, and memorizing a new verse of the Book of Mormon each morning. Then throughout the day I would repeat it in my head if I were exposed to worldly evils, like a person swearing, or wearing "immodest clothing," or drinking a beer.
My great-great-great grandfather crossed the plains to Utah with other faithful Mormon pioneers, fleeing religious persecution in the east. I am the eldest of nine children. I married my college sweetheart -- a returned missionary whom I met at Brigham Young University -- in a Mormon temple. I was a stay-at-home mom raising my three girls with daily family prayers and scripture reading and a very selective TV watching and reading list. I considered Sweet Valley Twins to be too smutty for my girls to read and the sitcom "Full House" a dangerous influence encouraging bickering between siblings.
My husband and I served in leadership positions in our congregations and were devoted, giving hours every week to the Church. That changed when two propositions funded by the Mormon Church hit the ballots in California. Both were trying to stop the legalization of gay marriage. It was then that I decided I could no longer follow the faith of my family and ancestors and dear friends. It was personal.
I had several gay friends whom I knew to be very good people. One was my special needs daughter's teacher who spent one half hour each school day one-on-one with her, helping her learn to drive her electric wheelchair. Another was a friend who dropped out of college to raise his sister's child. Ironically, despite the love and kindness these men have given, they and their children are being discriminated against.
The Mormons make it hard for you to leave the faith. After my family and I did, other families in our church put our names on temple prayer lists, dedicated "Fast and Testimony" day to us (a day when you don't eat or drink) and worst, local missionaries or leaders would stop by our house to try and bring us back. In Virginia we had a bishop who felt it was his God-given right to come knocking on our door whenever he wanted. He came so often, that I threatened him with a restraining order.
I did not go to the trouble to request my name be removed from church records, however, until now. This is too far. My youngest sister, daughters, and three nieces have joined me. When I think about the current policies, I wonder, what would Jesus do? I believe he would say: Suffer the little ones to come unto me, including if you or your parents are gay.
Holly Kearl (Daughter)
I fully believed in the Mormon Church doctrines and its teachings growing up. I felt comforted, special, and I loved the bond it gave me with my relatives and friends. Around age 12, I noticed that I did not have the same rights or value as my male peers. I began questioning this, just a little.
Then in high school I took a philosophy class that changed my world view completely. By the end of the class, I identified as atheist and I still do. This was also when Mormons put financial support behind anti-gay legislation in California and I learned that until 1978, black people were not given the same rights within the church as their white peers. What horrible bigotry.
The final straw came one early morning in January 2000. All Mormon high school students must attend "seminary" every weekday to help them avoid temptations. My class was at 6:30 a.m. and on that fateful day, the lesson focused on never questioning the prophet - current or past. Ever. This is a recurring lesson and there is even a children's song called "Follow the Prophet" that reiterates this message.
Sitting in the class, I realized that if there is no room for dialogue, disagreement, questioning and compromise about the policies of religious groups, governments or other leaders, then it is a dictatorship. It is a cult. It is not a healthy environment conducive to progress. I never returned.
The strictness about not questioning Church leaders is alarming. In college, I wrote a paper for a historical research methods class on the suppression of Church history by Church leadership. Many scholars have been excommunicated for writing an accurate depiction of history. In part, the policy is to hide the flaws of past leaders and to limit questions about Church doctrine.
Women cannot hold the highest offices of the church nor can they hold the priesthood, which Mormons believe is the "power and authority to act in the name of God." Twelve-year-old boys are "given" the priesthood (with a higher level priesthood given to them at 18 years) and they have more religious power and ability to hold direct communion with God on behalf of others than do adult women. Women who have questioned this and who have even dared to pray to a "Heavenly Mother" in addition to a "Heavenly Father" have been publicly chastised and even ex-communicated.
I love my relatives and friends who are still active in the Church and I have stayed silent publicly this long partly out of respect to them. But I cannot be silent any longer and I hope my friends and family will consider what it means to still be an active Mormon today.
I am glad that 1,500 Mormons have requested their names be removed. I hope this will be a turning point for the Mormon Church to recognize that its policies around sexual orientation --but also around gender -- are archaic, barbaric, and do not promote love, progress, or equality.