Members of Affirmation, group for LGBT Mormons, says even peaceful protests could embolden church members in their anti-gay views
The LGBT community should proceed with caution in confronting the Mormon church and its faithful over their support for Proposition 8, according to members of the Dallas branch of Affirmation, an international support group for gay Mormons.
Chuck Schenck, co-chairman of Affirmation Dallas, said while boycotts and peaceful protests may be in order, their focus should be educational to avoid emboldening the church and its members in their anti-gay views.
"Throughout their history, the Mormon church has been persecuted, according to them. They have been misunderstood, and that’s kind of a badge of honor for them. So as we try to boycott them, as we protest, I think it’s only strengthening their faith," Schenck said.
"Boycotting them and attacking them is going to just affirm their faith, because then they’ll go into persecution mode. It’s the evil people persecuting the righteous, and therefore, ‘I need to stick with the righteous,’" he said.
Schenck, 42, who voluntarily left the Mormon church after coming out as gay about seven years ago, said although the LGBT community must walk a fine line so that its strategy doesn’t backfire, gays should exert "some pressure" on the church in the wake of Prop 8.
"If you want to have a protest in front of the Mormon church or the temple, I don’t have a problem with that," Schenck said. "Demonstrate who we are, that there is that anger, but back it up with education. Back it up with something they can relate to and understand.
"Let the members of the church know that we are their brothers, sisters, neighbors, co-workers, bosses, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, teachers, students," Schenck added. "They need to know how their actions affect us and our families. Perhaps we should appeal to their sense of empathy, love, charity and concern for others. We shouldn’t fear them nor should they fear us."
Mormon church leaders encouraged members to donate their time and money to groups supporting Prop 8, the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in California. And according to some estimates, contributions from Mormons accounted for 45 percent of the $38 million raised by Yes on 8.
In response, LGBT demonstrations have been staged outside Mormon temples nationwide since Prop 8 passed Nov. 4. Some in the LGBT community have also called for boycotts of businesses owned and led by church members who contributed, including Plano-based Cinemark Theatres and CEO Alan Stock. In Dallas, a newly formed LGBT direct action group, Queer Liberaction, recently staged a protest outside a Mormon bookstore on Preston Road.
Schenck and other members of Affirmation Dallas, which formed about a year ago, said they weren’t surprised by the church’s role in supporting Yes on 8. The Mormon church has more than 13 million members worldwide, including some 270,000 in Texas, and is the fourth-largest Christian denomination in the U.S.
Members of Affirmation Dallas said the church can be very effective in getting its message out to members, who are intensely loyal and believe the church president is a living prophet. They also said Mormon doctrine places a greater emphasis than some evangelical Christian faiths on heterosexual marriage, which is seen as the only path to the highest level of glory in Heaven.
"It’s more than Leviticus for the Mormon," Schenck said of the denomination’s teachings about homosexuality.
"When the prophet asks you to do something, it’s as if Jesus Christ is asking you to do something," he added.
Despite its anti-gay views, the church has made progress on the issue in recent years, Schenck and other Affirmation members said.
The church once advised those struggling with "same-sex attraction" to undergo "reparative therapy" and enter heterosexual marriages.
But in a pamphlet published last year, church leaders acknowledged they don’t know what causes homosexuality and said members should show tolerance toward gays.
Schenck said the goal of Affirmation is to provide a safe place for gay Mormons, regardless of whether they’re still members of the church, to discuss their personal situations.
But he stressed that that the group is independent from the church and isn’t seeking its acceptance.
Schenck, who completed a Mormon mission to Brazil and graduated from the church-owned Brigham Young University, said he was living in Dallas with his wife and four kids about seven years ago when he was outed at work. He declined to talk specifically about what happened, saying that it represents "a dark place" for him.
"My whole world just started crumbling," he said. "I thought my life was just absolutely over. I was distraught — fetal position — as low as you could possibly go."
Schenck left his family and eventually moved to Las Vegas, where he was introduced to Affirmation by another gay Mormon. In response to Schenck’s ordeal, his conservative Mormon parents accepted a mission as church representatives for Evergreen, a Mormon ex-gay therapy program.
But Schenck said his ex-wife and children are supportive and have also since left the church.
After moving back to Dallas, where he now lives with his partner and works as a recruiting manager for an executive services consulting firm, Schenck convinced a friend to help him launch Affirmation. The group now has a mailing list of more than 20, including about seven to 10 people who meet monthly.
"We provide support — emotional, educational support — for one another in whatever we’re going through, and I think in that way, it can save lives," Schenck said of the group. "To those people who are struggling and trying to reconcile being Mormon and orthodox and what my life is going to be outside the Mormon church, you’re going to be OK."
For more information on Affirmation Dallas, call 214-520-3747 or e-mail DFWAffirmation @gmail.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 12, 2008.