In January of 2012, Jordan (not his real name, changed at his request to protect his identity) was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two charges:
1: An inappropriate sexual relationship with someone of his own gender
2: An act of aggression against the church, stemming from his response to questions from investigators from his former mission about the church’s involvement in Prop 8
I would like to note from the start that the first charge—an inappropriate sexual relationship—occurred in 2010, and Jordan had previously gone through a disciplinary council and had resumed full fellowship after following the guidelines set forth at that council—and since then has been living within the confines of the policy as we understand it today.
It’s also important to understand that the allegations surrounding the acts of aggression stemming from Prop 8 occurred in 2008, when Jordan had just returned to California after faithfully serving his mission in another state.
This is Jordan’s story.
Me: How long have you been a Mormon? Tell me about your mission.
Jordan: I have been a member for 18 years—I’m 27 now. My family joined the church when I was nine, and I was baptized into the faith along with my whole family. For my mission, I was originally called to serve in the Philippines, but at the last minute was reassigned to a state here in the US, where I served a faithful, honorable mission.
When I returned from my mission to my home ward in California, I was asked to serve as a missionary there—and was set apart, which is traditional for missionaries. In my home ward, one of the current missionaries had been sent home by emergency transport, and the local mission president knew I’d just returned, so he asked me to step in and cover until a replacement could be formally assigned to my home ward. I did so happily—I loved being on a mission—and served about an additional two months as a missionary in my home ward and the adjacent ward.
Me: When did you know you were gay?
Jordan: I’ve known since I was about eight, I think. I knew that I was different than the other boys I had as friends, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to be able to define what that difference was. As a kid, I just got a long better with girls and had much more in common with them. It wasn’t until later that I realized that the ‘difference’ I felt between me and other boys was actually my sexual orientation—that I was gay.
Me: Does your family know? What has been their response?
Jordan: Yes, my family knows. At first, it was really difficult—they didn’t speak to me for two years. But since then, they’ve softened a lot and have come to understand this is how I am—that I can’t and don’t want to change—and they want to be in my life. If you looked at my family life now, you’d never even guess there had been such a big divide for so long, so things are good now. And, in fact, I think being gay has been a blessing—it’s allowed me to have some really meaningful conversations with my Dad about things that happened in my childhood, and has opened up a window of communication we didn’t have before. It’s actually strengthened my family ties in that way.
Me: What were the events that led to your excommunication?
Jordan: On my formal church record, there is a notation of my disciplinary council that was held back in 2010 for having sexual contact with my boyfriend 9 months previous to the council. My then current Stake President knew about it, and everything was fine—I thought it was a closed issue.
I think I need to talk about my past council to give this some context. I went to my previous Stake President and told him I’d had sex with my boyfriend a few months earlier. I wasn’t compelled to go, no one forced me, but I felt like it was the right thing for me to do. My Stake President then—he was really kind. His response to my admission was to say that he felt that pushing me away from the church—expelling me—would increase my spiritual danger, so he wanted to keep me closer. He told me that under the conditions of the informal probation, I was to attend the temple twice a week and meet with my bishop twice a week. His philosophy was that I was in spiritual jeopardy—and that being punitive—punishing me by pushing me from the church would increase that jeopardy. At the time, I felt like it was a slap on the wrist—but in retrospect, really appreciate his compassion and feel like that was the correct way to handle it. I felt like I grew closer to my Savior through that process.
Well, my new Stake President—he had other ideas. Something prompted him to look through my records and call me in, I’m not sure exactly what it was, but I think that some of my friends who knew about my past council approached him and said they didn’t think it had been handled correctly—that I should have been dealt with more harshly.
When he called me into his office, he told me that this had been completely mishandled, that I should have been excommunicated from the get-go, and that following that there would be a mandatory year waiting period before I could even consider being re-baptized.
(Note: According to the 2010 ‘Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops’ there is no policy in the LDS church that mandates excommunication for sexual transgression, homosexual or heterosexual. There is no place in the handbook or anywhere in LDS policy or doctrine that makes an ‘if/then’ statement when it comes to church discipline. Each case is taken on its own merits, and as such, is complicated—like life itself. The decision to excommunicate or disfellowship a member is always left to the discretion of the presiding local authorities. Excommunicating and disfellowshipping LGBT members has, however, become something we culturally do as a faith. But it is a choice local leaders make; it is not a mandated outcome.)
I do know that he never talked to my former Stake President to understand his reasoning for the decision he made. And even though my previous Stake President was okay with how I’d done, my new one viewed it as a problem. At first, I agreed with him, because he indicated there was mandatory excommunication and then this year waiting period to return. I didn’t know until I talked to you that’s not the case—there is no policy that states that.
At first I think he genuinely wanted to understand what had happened. But once he realized that I wouldn’t apologize for being gay nor would I apologize for the manner in which I broke my covenant, the whole spirit had changed from understanding to discipline.
At the same time, we had a missionary in our ward that I fell in love with. I’d told a few of my friends about it and one of them must have communicated that to the Stake President. In one of my meetings with him he spent 30 minutes berating me—with his voice raised so loud that people outside his office could hear—about my personal conduct and making sure I have respect for other people’s boundaries, under the wrong assumption that I had acted on my feelings about this missionary. And I had not! I tried to tell my Stake President that all I said to the missionary was this: “I hope that when I find that someone special in my life that he possesses all the great qualities you have.”
Whatever the Stake President had been told—what he was accusing me of—it wasn’t the truth! He said I made an inappropriate sexual advance on a full-time missionary that was unwanted and unwarranted. I tried to tell him what had really happened—that this wasn’t the truth—and he just kept interrupting me and telling me that he did not want to hear of this behavior anymore.
In fact, at one time he actually said to me, “I do not care to understand.”
Never, in my almost 20 years of service to this church, have I had a priesthood leader raise his voice and scold me in this fashion. Finally, I’d had enough. After 30 minutes of this, I stood up and said, “This interview is over. You’re so concerned about validating the misperceptions of a missionary and other people in this ward that you have absolutely no concern for hearing the truth, or even hearing my side. There is nothing more for me to say.” And I left.
Me: So this all happened even before your disciplinary trial? What was that experience like for you?
Jordan: During the council…the questions they asked me…oh my gosh. When the council concluded immediately upon arriving home I threw up, curled into the fetal position and cried the entire day. It was the worst thing I think I’ve ever experienced.
They were hurling questions at me about the events of 2010:
- “What was the extent of your sexual interaction?”
- “Who was the act committed with and is he a member as well?”
- “Do you feel that your sexual tendencies have hindered your ability to have faith in Christ?”
- “Have you ever been sexually abused as a child by anyone, family or non-family?”
- “When you had sexual contact with this other man, did you fully recognize the repercussions of your actions and how it would affect his salvation?”
This council was no longer about the act itself, this was way bigger than I realized. This meeting was not about how to help me, it was to gather information. There was no opportunity for me to actually talk, to tell my side of things—and the repeated questions about my childhood, it felt so…dirty. It made me feel dirty and really uncomfortable. And some of these questions were coming from the Stake representatives that had been assigned to speak in my defense—but they were all in the same boat. It was so obvious to me there wasn’t a single person in that room that had my best interest at heart—no one wanted to listen, no one wanted to hear—they had their minds made up before this even began. It didn’t feel like a trial to me, it felt like an arraignment and sentencing.
One of the things that bothers me the most is I had a former Bishop in attendance I’d asked to be there—so I could at least have some emotional support, someone in my camp. But even he wouldn’t support me. When they asked me if I knew how my actions affected me and the man I broke my covenant with, my Bishop’s response (before I could respond myself) was: “Well, Brother Jordan had a learning disability in high school, so he probably didn’t understand the full repercussions of his actions.” So not only was he not on my side, I feel like he used confidential information about me to make me sound mentally incapacitated. I am certainly not mentally nor am I spiritually incapacitated!
Then we began the questions about Prop 8. In 2008, when I was serving my mission in Pennsylvania (not the actual state where he served; changed to protect his identity), I had some investigators that I’d stayed in contact with. They were great people, and they kind of had a challenge with the church’s stand on gays and lesbians, but were moving forward anyway.
When I left my mission and returned to California, several of them called me and asked me if it was true—if the church was backing Prop 8. I really didn’t know, and I told them that. A few days later, I attended a broadcast from Salt Lake that included the church’s stand on Prop 8, so then I knew it was true. When the investigators from Pennsylvania called me the next time, I was honest with them—I told them the truth. They asked me if I supported the church’s involvement, and I was honest with them again—I did not support it. I told them that it felt wrong to me for the church to get involved in a public policy issue—that the God I knew and loved would probably be embarrassed at the way this campaign preyed on people’s fear, paranoia, and ignorance.
I guess that my honesty was viewed as an act of aggression against the church. The questions they asked me about this didn’t feel like they came from a good place, either. One of the most troubling was when they asked me, “When you were asked questions about the church’s involvement by these investigators, did you receive a prompting from the Spirit to ignore the question?” I felt like what they were asking me is if Satan was enticing me to tell the truth!
When this whole thing started, I genuinely felt like it was approached with a spirit of friendship and support. But as time progressed, and more faulty information was fed to my Stake President, the entire process changed to what really felt like an attempt to protect this missionary from a predator—and that they viewed me as that predator. It also became clear that over time, this became less about the fact that I broke my covenants by having sex, and more about the fact that I broke my covenants by having sex with another man.
All told, the council lasted about two hours. At the end of it, I was excommunicated. I went home alone.
Jordan: Can we take a break? I want to tell you something. Something I’ve never told anyone.
Me: Of course. What is it?
Jordan: I’m afraid….I’m afraid of telling this story.
Me: Why, Jordan?
Jordan: Well, in my last meeting with the Stake President, he gave me a strong…warning, I guess. He told me that I should refrain from talking to anyone about this, even my family. He told me I should keep this to myself, and if I did talk about it—and he found out—that there would be repercussions.
Me: I think it’s important for you to be honest, Jordan, and share your perspective. Why do you fear him? You’ve already been excommunicated.
Jordan: I am fearful of this man, Mitch. I am scared of him, plain and simple. It’s like—it’s like he’s bullied me—I don’t know what he can do to me, but I’m afraid to test him. One of the things I dreaded most about this whole council and trial is that I’m terrified of this man.
Me: Do you feel safe continuing? We’ll only continue if you feel okay with it.
Jordan: Yes…yes, I think it’s the right thing to do. I’m not going to cover for this man. I’m done lying for the church and protecting things like this. Let’s move on.
Me: Okay. I’m so sorry, Jordan. How did it make you feel to be expelled from a faith that you’ve considered a home—a sanctuary—your entire life?
Jordan: (sobbing) It hurts so much. In a very real way, it makes me feel like not only have I had family issues, but the one place I’ve always counted on—that I’ve always considered my home—they didn’t even want me. I translated that into God not wanting me anymore…to some extent, I guess, I still believe that’s true.
Me: We say that these councils are designed to help bring you closer to the Savior. That wasn’t the case for you?
Jordan: No! It made me question whether or not the Savior even cared about me! These men are supposed to be representatives of God and that line of questioning—it wasn’t about trying to help me, it was about how best to apply punishment! It was as if they were saying that who I am—a gay man—was responsible for God distancing himself from me so that I’d fail. They made this all my fault! While I accept full responsibility for my actions I also recognize in criminal justice terms, “the punishment didn’t fit the crime.” Though, to them, it seemed enough to condemn me.
Me: Do you think your testimony of our Savior will ever recover? Will it ever be the same?
Jordan: (sobbing) I hope so…I hope so. I really do. I don’t see a way to do that, if anything this has made me feel so distrustful of my Savior and God. I feel abandoned. If God were really in charge of this church, there would be some justice here. The only thing that was served in this process was finding reasons to expel me from the church. That doesn’t feel like the God I once knew.
I feel so betrayed…I trusted these men. I can understand non-members wanting to rip me apart and tear down my testimony, but this—these men are supposed to be my spiritual leaders! They’re supposed to help make me better. Instead their own biases clouded their judgment. These men only served one purpose that day and I find this most troubling—I feel like these men are doing the will of the adversary.
Me: So this has negatively impacted your view of the church and your leaders?
Jordan: Yes. After going through this, seeing what an unclean and unrighteous process it is—I think the church has lost its way. I’m a returned missionary, I know my church history, and I know my scriptures. When I compare this to the way the church was set up originally, it’s just not the same. I don’t believe Joseph Smith would stand for acts of persecution like this—he himself was persecuted! And the one thing he made so clear is we stand for ourselves but we don’t enforce our will on others—it’s morally irresponsible, but that’s exactly what we did in Prop 8. The church has gotten so involved in such dirty politics in so many ways—I don’t think I would ever go back. It doesn’t feel clean. And more importantly, I don’t think I could ever put myself at spiritual risk of being persecuted by men like this again. I don’t think I could take it.
Me: What are your hopes and dreams when it comes to intimacy, love and relationships? Do you see Mormonism playing any kind of role in your future?
Jordan: I would like to have a healthy relationship with a man I love. Will the church play a part? No. I don’t know what I feel about relationships, really—after spending a lifetime of hearing that being gay is wrong and unfulfilling…I don’t know what to believe. I don’t know what to feel. But being stripped of my faith, of such an important part of my identity, in some ways it makes me want to pursue that same level of safety and sanctuary in a committed monogamous relationship with a partner.
Me: What is your biggest fear?
Jordan: That this is going to affect me for the rest of my life. This trauma…this betrayal—it’s left a huge scar on my soul. When I started meeting with these other missionaries a few weeks ago—just so I could feel the spirit a little bit—they told me they needed to get permission from my former Bishop to even meet with me anymore. I feel completely closed out from the one thing that used to be my bedrock. Even as a non-member, this still haunts me. It’s everywhere I turn. I’m afraid it will never go away, that I will never heal.
For the rest of my life, the 18 years I dedicated to my God through this church—that will haunt me. This…it’s ruined so many of my relationships, destroyed so many of my friendships. My support network is gone. And while it is gone, I fear that I will never be free of this, even when I’ve been presented with the prospect of a healthy relationship with a man, somehow the impression in the back of my mind came to the forefront of my mind telling me that no lasting happiness could be had in a same sex relationship.
I don’t know what I’ll do now.
Me: So what do you think is next for you?
Jordan: I really don’t know. It’s not that I don’t have a testimony of the gospel, I believe in so much that is right about the gospel. But this has put more questions into my head than I had before, and I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to answer them. God is a God of many things—logic included. Nowhere in the Book of Mormon or in our scriptures do we talk about homosexuality, nowhere do we talk about these kinds of trials and councils—if it were important enough to God, He would have included it.
My relationship with God will never be back to the way it was. I don’t foresee that changing.
I’ve known Jordan now for several months—he was always an upbeat, optimistic young man. But his once cheery countenance has vanished. The smile I am used to hearing in his voice is gone. I had to pause several times in our conversation to allow him to recover. At times, he was sobbing so intensely it was impossible to understand his words. It was clear as we spoke that this process has shattered him.
In the literally thousands of stories I’ve heard from my fellow MoHos, this one left a scar on my soul deeper than most—I can only imagine the wound it left on Jordan’s. I walked away from our conversation feeling full of heartache at the deep level of pain and betrayal my brother feels as a result of a process that we tell ourselves is designed to bring people closer to the Savior.
I fully acknowledge how difficult it is to be in a leadership capacity in this church—the demands are relentless, and we as leaders are very human, capable of fallibility. I acknowledge that this story is complex—full of hearsay, rumor, and innuendo. Yes, there may indeed be other sides to this, but this side—Jordan’s side—deserves to be told.
And independent of all those other factors, when someone walks away from a church meeting of any kind and says, “I don’t feel like my relationship with God can ever be repaired,” then something in the system—if not the system itself—has gone very wrong, indeed.