Mormon Church Threatens to Excommunicate Gay Marriage Supporter

A Nebraska man has said that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has threatened to excommunicate him over a Web site that asks the church to change its position against gay marriage. 

In a letter to several Utah and California news outlets, Hastings, Nebraska resident Andrew Callahan, wrote that he became an advocate for gay marriage in June, after church leadership issued a letter to California members asking them to support Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that seeks to ban gay marriage in the state. Callahan, who is straight and who describes himself as “a Mormon high priest in good standing,” said that he “almost immediately began trying to get the Mormon Church to change its position on the issue.”

“This just reminded me so much of the racial bigotry that Mormon leaders have historically been so famous for,” he said. “Our past leaders insisted that racial bigotry against blacks was God's divine idea, now current ones are promoting this same kind of bigoted nonsense about gays and lesbians.”

Shortly after leaders issued the letter, Callahan and other like-minded Mormons set up a Web site called “Signing for Something,” for all current and former Mormons and their loved ones to post statements expressing “their opposition to the Mormon Church’s political stance.” During the summer, Callahan also wrote to hundreds of “middle level church leaders” stating his disagreement with the church’s position and asking for their support.

Callahan said he quickly came to the attention of church leaders in Salt Lake City. On Aug. 18, he said Utah leaders dispatched a “Notice” to “virtually all” U.S. Mormon leaders, instructing them and their congregations to “disregard” any communications from Callahan.

When Callahan wouldn’t back down, he said his bishop, Bryan Woodbury of Clay Center, Nebraska, paid him a visit on Sept. 11.

“Bishop Woodbury offered me a chance to resign my membership in the Mormon Church, and when I declined, the bishop stated that there would be disciplinary action and that my membership in the Mormon Church was ‘not mandatory,’ Callahan said.

Eleven days later, Woodbury delivered a letter from Callahan’s Stake President, Weldon Sleight, inviting Callahan to attend a disciplinary council—in which stake presidents and council members present evidence of a member’s disobedience to church teaching. It is typically ends in excommunication for the member.

In the LDS church, stake presidents (the equivalent of bishops in other Christian faiths) alone have the power to excommunicate members.

The text of the letter, posted to Callahan’s Web site, reads: “The Stake Presidency is considering formal disciplinary action in your behalf, including the possibility of disfellowshipment or excommunication, because you are reported to have participated in conduct unbecoming a member of the Church and have been in apostasy.”
Initially, Callahan’s disciplinary council was scheduled for Sept. 26. On that day, however, gay Mormon support group Affirmation reported that Sleight postponed Callahan’s council “in the wake of mounting criticism and media coverage.

”We have decided to defer your disciplinary council to a later date given this politically charged election season,” wrote Sleight in an email to Callahan. “We feel that a more measured and considered discussion can be held at a date sometime in November,” Sleight wrote, “Meanwhile, we invite you to meet with the stake presidency tomorrow night at the same appointed time to discuss you situation.”
Affirmation also said that Callahan is “one of several” Mormons in states as diverse as California, Hawaii and Utah who have faced church discipline or harassment because of their opposition to Proposition 8.

Although Callahan’s council has been put off for now, Callahan told the Hastings Tribune that his excommunication was “a foregone conclusion.

“I’m sad, but I’m not going to apologize for opposing bigotry and I’m not going to beg them to keep me as a member of the church,” he said, adding that he has not attended church in the past few years because of a “crisis of faith.”

“I’m no longer certain that the Mormon Church is the one true church, which is what the church preaches,” he said.

On the day Callahan’s disciplinary council was to have taken place, Callahan received a bouquet of pink carnations from the LDS Safe Space Coalition, a four-year-old initiative working to ensure safety and respect for gay and lesbian Mormons in their wards. The color pink, according to the organization’s Web site ldssafespace.org, is a worldwide symbol of “‘Safe Space.’”

“We don’t want Andrew to suffer through these excommunication proceedings alone,” said coalition founder Brecken Chinn Swartz. “We want Andrew and others to know that there are many others out there who support them for being true to their hearts, even in the face of tremendous pressure.”

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