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Church leadership post for an openly gay Mormon
Mitch Mayne, who is openly gay, hopes his newly assumed Mormon leadership position will increase understanding.
September 24th, 2011
10:00 PM ET

Church leadership post for an openly gay Mormon

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

(CNN) - Early on in life, Mitch Mayne knew exactly who he was.

He would race home from school to watch reruns of “Star Trek” and swoon over his crush, Captain Kirk. At 8, after his parents converted, he was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a faith he embraced. Even after he drifted away from the LDS Church following his parents’ divorce, he came back to Mormonism on his own in his mid-20s.

It is where he feels spiritually at home, irrespective of the fact that, for the past 10 years, he’s been openly gay.

“I’m a man that lives in two worlds that a lot of people don’t think intersect,” Mayne said. “Both sides of myself exist in me. It’s part of my DNA, part of my makeup.”

Actively Mormon and openly gay: It's the sort of combo that might leave people wondering. After all, the LDS Church teaches that homosexuality, specifically if same-sex attractions are acted upon, is a sin. And the church has actively backed measures to ban same-sex marriages.

Now, Mayne finds himself in the spotlight as he embarks on a journey he says “belongs to all of us.” In mid-August he was selected, or called (as Mormons say) by local church officials to serve in an LDS Church leadership position in San Francisco.

Mayne’s appointment may have generated attention, but he’s not the first gay Mormon to assume a leadership role in the church.

In Seattle, Washington, and Oakland, California, gay men have reportedly served in LDS Church leadership roles, Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote in her piece about Mayne in The Salt Lake Tribune. What makes Mayne unique, Stack said, is that he "may be the first local LDS leader to announce his orientation over the pulpit.”

Late last month, from the pulpit, Mayne revealed - to anyone who didn't already know - who he is:

"I am a gay Latter-day Saint.

"I don't want pity. To pity me is to make me a victim. I want understanding. To understand me is to love me as an equal.

"I don't want tolerance. If I am tolerated, I am disliked in some way. I want respect as a fellow striving child of God - an equal in his eyes.

"I don't want acceptance. To accept me is to graciously grant me the favor of your company. To accept me is to marginalize me with the assumption that I am less than you. I am your peer. I am neither above you nor below you."

Mayne shared these words during a farewell address to the Oakland ward he long attended, amid an announcement that he would be leaving because he had been named the executive secretary to the bishop of the Bay Ward. It is a role in which he'll offer administrative help but also take part in shaping congregational work.

“While that’s not a big accomplishment in and of itself,” Mayne said, “it is a remarkable accomplishment for the simple fact that maybe for the first time, a man was called to a priesthood leadership position not in spite of the fact that he is gay, but partly because he is gay.”

For those unfamiliar with LDS Church vernacular, a ward is essentially a congregation or, to use Catholic terminology, a parish. Various wards fall under the auspices of a stake, the rough equivalent of a diocese. In this case, the Bay Ward is one of three wards that make up the San Francisco Stake.

The LDS Church, which entrusts local leaders to determine local callings, does not pay clergy, nor does it send would-be bishops to seminary. So Mayne, like the bishop who called him to serve, is a volunteer who works for the church on top of his full-time corporate communications job.

Don Fletcher, an ophthalmologist, said that when he was called last month to serve as the bishop and leader of the Bay Ward he wanted to make sure every Latter-day Saint in his ward knew they were welcome, including the vast majority who weren't showing up. Of the 950 members on the books, only 150 were appearing in the pews.

Because the Bay Ward serves a geographic area in San Francisco that includes the famously gay, rainbow-flag-waving Castro neighborhood, it stands to reason that a segment of those not attending church are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Among those who have been absent are members who grew up steeped in Mormonism, faithfully served as missionaries and have families still active in the church. For Fletcher, making members of the LGBT community feel comfortable enough to walk through his congregation's doors is personal.

Fletcher has a gay family member with AIDS and says he has seen firsthand how isolating that can be in the Mormon world.

“I love my church and have a lot of faith, but culturally we haven’t done a good job in dealing with people who are gay when they face life challenges,” whether that be coming out, depression or struggles with suicide or illness, Fletcher said. “I wanted to address it in the ward I live in.”

The response in his ward, and from other Mormons he has heard from, has been nothing but positive, "uniformly, no exception," the bishop said. And, he added with a laugh, in the past month he’s broadened his own knowledge – or, rather, his lingo base - learning about “the ‘Moho community,' Mormons who are homosexual. That was a new one to me.”

The LDS Church's top leadership, and by extension many Mormons sitting in pews, heavily supported the campaign behind Proposition 8, the 2008 California initiative to ban same-sex marriage, which is currently tied up in the state’s high court.

Church doctrine says members should avoid sexual relations until marriage, which only can exist between a man and a woman. But the church’s involvement in the Prop 8 battle, and the Mormons who financially fueled the effort, created rifts in wards, spawned protests outside LDS temples and pushed some members, likely already on the churchgoing fence, out the door.

The Oakland First Ward, which Mayne attended for more than a decade, held a series of meetings to help heal those post-Prop 8 wounds. He said he sees his new church position in San Francisco’s Bay Ward as an extension of such bridge-building and a positive evolution from where he once was. The appointment will allow him to do extensive outreach in the LGBT and Mormon communities.

“It’s been hard to be a gay Mormon,” Mayne said. In the course of his life, he said he came out "no less than three times to bishops and stake presidents, and each time I was pushed back into the closet. … This is an opportunity to take my own pain and challenges and make it an opportunity to help. How can I not do that?”

He and Fletcher have already seen dividends from Mayne's calling. On a recent Sunday, Fletcher said he looked out to see seven formerly absent members take their seats in the pews because Mayne is there.

“I talked to a couple that hadn’t been to church in 20 years,” Fletcher said. “I’m not reinventing doctrine. I’m just trying to put in place what Jesus Christ would have us doing. … Even if you’re in a gay relationship and have no interest in living all the commandments, you’re still welcome in church, by all means.”

The development has stirred up discussion far beyond California. In one week, Mayne said, his personal website, which links to a blog in which he writes openly about who he is, received 30,000 views from 67 countries.

“I’m not a lone wolf on this,” he said. “I just happen to be a face of it. … There is a place for everyone at our savior’s table.”

But not everyone is as confident that Mayne’s calling will make a difference.

“I’m conflicted about this,” said Eric Ethington of Salt Lake City, the founder of the LGBT blog PRIDEinUtah.

“On the one hand, I view this as a positive step forward for the church, a church that has a history of extreme persecutions against the LGBT community,” he said. “But on the other hand,  I worry about LGBT people … because the church teaches you that you cannot reach your full potential and have full acceptance in the church unless you marry someone of the opposite sex.”

Ethington was raised in the LDS Church and says he was kicked out of the house when he came out at 17. He later closeted himself and married a woman in an LDS temple, only to divorce a couple of years later after realizing he was kidding himself.

“I can’t share (Mitch’s) optimism, but I share his hope,” he said. “Whether the church is ever going to change its policies, that’s a question for (LDS Church President) Thomas Monson. But one thing I hope the church will do, and maybe Mitch can help with this, is educate local leadership. Some kids are gay. … And that’s OK.”

Ethington pointed out, though, that Mayne, who was in a longtime monogamous relationship until a year ago, was only able to get his church calling because he’s not currently with someone.

“If he falls in love again and wants to be with that man, he won’t be allowed to serve,” he said.

Matt Mosman, a high councilor with the San Francisco Stake, said that if Mayne were to find himself in another romantic relationship, there would be an expectation that he would step down.

But the expectation that Mayne will abstain from premarital sex while in a leadership role, Mosman added, is no different from what would be expected of a single man who is not gay.

“The idea that a gay man who is not currently active in a gay relationship could serve actively in a high-ranking calling – that is a policy in the Mormon church that you could argue has been around since the church’s inception,” said Mosman, who works in corporate development.

For now, Mayne looks forward to his service and to promoting conversations and understanding. He will not, however, commit to a life of celibacy and hopes, “for all my gay brothers and sisters,” that same-sex marriage will someday be an option.

“I’m not saying I have an intent to go out and sin,” he said. “Here’s where I am; I am able and willing to serve. But I don’t have a crystal ball and don’t know what the future holds.”

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Homosexuality • Mormonism • Same-sex marriage

soundoff (1,700 Responses)
  1. RedefineMormonism

    So....what are the Gays going to redefine next???
    Being openly Gay and Mormon is obviously an oxymoron, but they like to do that sort of "word play".
    Because that's all it is!!!

    September 25, 2011 at 8:06 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      You mean like how you just demonstrated being Christian and non-judgmental is an oxymoron?

      September 25, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • El Flaco

      Joseph Smith invented Mormonism in the first place. Brigham Young redefined it to suit his needs. Later, church elders redefined Mormonism to exclude polygamy – which had been one of Mormonism's core beliefs. Religions should change their beliefs to suit the times. It's just a bunch of made-up stories anyway. All you have to do is make up some new stories that teach whatever it is that needs to be taught. In this case, Mormons need to give up their anti-gay bias to get more in step with the times.

      September 25, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • NW1000

      Jesus taught us to judge. He judged sin. The greatest harm one can do to a sinner is allow them to continue in sin, and never tell them the truth that could save them.

      September 25, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • El Flaco

      NW, you are in no position to determine what is a sin and what is not. Your interpretation of the Bible – what it is and what it says – is yours alone. Use that knowledge to direct your OWN life. Your comments about my life are as unwelcome as my opinion of yours.

      September 25, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  2. AtheistSteve

    Jesus surrounded himself with a dozen men.
    Transubstantiation has people believe that symbolically eating his body and drinking his blood is fine too.
    Sounds pretty GAY to me. 🙂

    September 25, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • NW1000

      You sound like a nut.

      September 25, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  3. El Flaco

    If you are gay and Christian, you have a problem. You can't stop being gay, so the only thing you can do is stop being Christian.

    September 25, 2011 at 7:55 am |
    • JBizzle

      Why would you stop being a Christian if you are gay and whole heartedly believe in Christ?

      September 25, 2011 at 8:07 am |
    • El Flaco

      Because Christianity teaches that all gay men and women will go to hell. There is no payoff to being a Christian if you are gay. You should simply choose another religion that won't cause you so much internal stress. I have a friend who was a devout Christian until she married a devout Jew. Now she is a convert and appears to be very happy.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • Sean

      El, I believe that was perhaps the most anti-Christian statement I've ever heard. I think you need to reexamine how good of Christian you in fact are. Jesus would never turn anyone away. He would be disappointed in the hatred you just displayed.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • El Flaco

      I'm a Christian in the sense that I was born into a Christian culture and Christian values like the golden rule and the brotherhood of mankind saturated my thinking. I do not believe in the Christian gods: Yahweh, God, Christ, and Satan. I believe that Jesus' bones are still buried somewhere under the pavement in Jerusalem.

      If you need a religion, it really doesn't matter which one you believe as long as you believe in one of them. The need for religion is built into our brains by evolution. As near as I can tell, a happy Buddhist is just as happy as a happy Christian.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  4. Mike in Montana

    I am not guy.. However.., we are ALL children of God and his love, and should be treated with love and undersanding. What would Jesus do ? (WWJD)..

    September 25, 2011 at 7:53 am |
  5. NW1000

    What a stupid article.
    Why don't you do a story on somebody who is actually in church because they want to be, and actually believe the bible?
    Always some freakish, weird angle.

    September 25, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • JBizzle

      Maybe, you just need to open yourself to the possibility that this is a huge step in Americans showing society that they believe all men are children of God. Even if you are gay. Sounds like a pretty inspiring story to me.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:09 am |
  6. D Jensen

    It doesn't matter who you are... One day... EVERY knee will bow.

    September 25, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • Roger

      So you're saying Jesus will give everyone a final chance where he shows up in person or something and they can choose to accept him? Because I thought all the Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Mus1ims, Ba Hai, etc., all just went straight to he11.

      September 25, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • John Richardson

      Not every knee. Nope.

      September 25, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Yet another Steve

      I don't claim to be an expert in anatomy, but I don't think a knee is actually capable of bowing. Bending, yes. Bowing, no.

      September 25, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  7. Sunday

    Let us pray and uphold people who are called to serve the Lord, may their life so reflect the true calling as an act of service to God.

    September 25, 2011 at 7:48 am |
  8. Indignant

    Well, I guess the gay part is mute given that mormanism is a false faith...more of a cult, being gay just sort of solidifies the fact that he will be condemned by God unless he repents. My prayers are with him to a) read his Bible..not the book of mormon and b) to repent his lifestyle.

    September 25, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • JBizzle

      I'm not mormon, but unless you've studied their beliefs pretty thoroughly, you wouldn't be so quick to renounce someone else's religion. That's like renouncing every religion in the world other than your own. It is a form of Christianity, and it's pretty hateful and ignorant to call fellow Christians false believers. Maybe you should look at your own faith. You are preaching the bible, yet you are insulting other followers of Christ.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • Kace

      All religions are cults. By the way, the word is "moot".

      September 25, 2011 at 8:18 am |
  9. maniacmudd

    uh....., This is weird.... boy's are kicked out of the now Mormon controled Boy Scouts, but this guy can preach gay. What message are the mormons sending to the scouts?

    September 25, 2011 at 7:48 am |
  10. A in Pa

    Self denial and devotion to religion, surprise!

    That article has me really irritated!

    So one guy wants to commit to a celibate lifestyle, what about the millions of others who don't want religion and don't choose celibacy, but will be subject to hate crimes and discrimination?

    Christians on their high horse, again!

    September 25, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • JBizzle

      Those who subject others to hatefulness and discrimination would there for not be considered true Christians. It's hard to judge one's devotion when you have yet to experience it. And what exactly is this dude denying? If anything, he's subjecting himself to possibly harsh judgement because he is sure of himself.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:16 am |
  11. liz

    He is gay a Mormon and fooling himself. Mormons will never accept LGBT community or their lifestyle without doubt they will say he and his partner will never get into heaven or be blessed by 'God'. Nothing will ever change the Mormon Church has just found a way to spin their hate while using a gay man as a beard.

    September 25, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  12. max

    Enough already! Don't want to hear it!

    September 25, 2011 at 7:36 am |
    • GentalCritic

      Max – Turn the channel, turn the page. You are empowered to do that so that you don't have to hear it.

      September 25, 2011 at 7:59 am |
  13. Joshua

    If you are openly gay and still choose to be a Mormon you have a capacity for self abuse above and beyond the average man. Same thing if you are black and Mormon. As nice as the people seem to be it is a religion of hatred and bigotry and you better watch out if you ever break one of their practices while you're a member of their church. I have an ex-Mormon friend who was ostracized from his community and shamed from the pulpit of his former church when he divorced an abusive spouse. Mitch Mayne is an openly gay man in an openly bigoted religion. That's a pretty crazy way to live.

    September 25, 2011 at 7:36 am |
  14. Darrin

    Its now on CNN

    September 25, 2011 at 7:35 am |
  15. paul

    agree

    September 25, 2011 at 7:32 am |
  16. yoyowo

    God be with you and may others see your beauty.

    September 25, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • David

      God be with you and may others see your CONFUSION AND SIN

      September 25, 2011 at 7:50 am |
  17. Scott

    Well, I see we've got our required pro-gay story of the day.

    September 25, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • Mark

      Ain't that the truth. What is it with CNN? Must be some editorial big shot who no one can seem to say no to.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Chuck

      The agenda continues. Just try it.... Your children will like it!

      September 25, 2011 at 8:22 am |
  18. slt

    Wow, all the good ones are either gay or married, now they are mormon too.

    September 25, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  19. Katrine

    I'm happy that he is speaking out. With so many teen committing suicide for being bullied as gays, we need more people like this guy to point out the distinctions between pity, acceptance, tolerance and total equality.

    September 25, 2011 at 7:26 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      I agree...eventually we may see a decline in the bigoted statements and fallacies surrounding being gay and in turn may see a decline in the suicide rate attributed to this. It is heart wrenching when you hear of innocent children taking their own lives due to society not accepting them.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  20. Ellis

    And this is news?

    September 25, 2011 at 7:20 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      Yes b/c it allows the christian bigots to come out and play. It exposes the freaks who think being gay is a choice and not natural. I give this man credit for not being afraid of who he is.

      September 25, 2011 at 7:23 am |
    • gobnait

      TruthPrevails: You seem to be intimating that you're very accepting of alternative lifestyles yet you demonstrate NO tolerance for opposing points of views. A bit hypocritical, n'est-ce pas?

      September 25, 2011 at 8:16 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      I'm extremely accepting of alternative lifestyles. What I refuse to accept is that people use a bible to dictate how they live and what is right/wrong. I have christian friends and muslim friends and jehovah friends and friends who believe in numerous different things...the difference is they are not bigoted...they accept that people are who they are and that good/bad does not come with a price tag.
      I believe in human rights according to the laws set out by the governing bodies of our world, not the laws set out by a book written 2000 years ago.
      The ones saying that being gay is a disease are dead wrong and the hypocrites, not me!

      September 25, 2011 at 8:25 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.