By Sam Clayton (originally posted to his blog http://carnivalsofaffection.wordpress.com/)
My little brother Emmett was recently denied his wish to serve a 2-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church), because he revealed that he could not teach that gay marriage was wrong or that gay people or relationships were any different than heterosexual ones in the eyes of God. Now that he has finally told his story (and has given his permission) I would like say something too.
Many people are familiar with how central a mission is to the lives of young Mormon men, as well as how much of a sacrifice of time and energy they are. I served one in the 1990s at the age of 19 to Atlanta as did my older brother to South Africa, and even our father served one in the 1960s to Argentina. After his whole life of wanting to follow in our footsteps and earnestly planning to do so, my brother began the application process this past year. And since he knew it could be a sticking point, he felt he should mention that he could only go if they knew he supported the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry and that in fact he felt that there was actually nothing wrong with being gay at all.
His statement caused some muted tremors, and after traveling up and down the hierarchy the answer came back clear. Even though he himself was heterosexual and was keeping all church standards, and was a profoundly sensitive, caring, socially conscientious, scripturally knowledgeable, spiritual person, the answer was no, he could not serve a mission. He was told that he needed to fast and pray until God told him he was mistaken. Instead of causing a big scene Emmett in characteristic form quietly accepted the answer and began looking for a new direction in life.
I am not writing this to express shock or outrage in the behavior of the Mormon leadership, because frankly there is nothing particularly shocking about it. The church, in many ways a wonderful institution, is very clear about its positions on the heterosexual standard and gay and lesbian issues, and is extremely clear about the consequences of not supporting the positions of church leaders. And it has every right to set these standards. The shocking behavior is rather that a young, believing, heterosexual member of the church would behave in the way my brother did. The outrage is that a sincere member with nothing ‘personal’ on the line would form these opinions and be willing to sacrifice their mission rather than change them. That a young man would feel more loyalty in his heart to how he felt about love and fairness and equality than to what his church leadership was saying about it.
For me, and many other gay Mormons who sincerely wanted to stay in the community and who asked that the church alter or adapt their positions on sexual orientation, we were told that we were only looking for ways to justify our sinful desires. But what will happen when heterosexual members of the church in good standing, start seeking the same changes? What will happen when the sea change that is happening across the western world creates a social landscape where more and more regular Mormons tend to believe that gay and lesbian people are just normal people who are actually being discriminated against? I believe my relatively shy but incredibly brave little brother is at the forefront of this phenomenon.
When I first found out it was happening I contacted him and told him to please not to do it for us, meaning me and my sister Alicia who is also gay. Our youngest siblings Emmett and Molly have grown up their whole lives knowing us as such, and have met our girlfriends and boyfriends and have seen our parents treat us and our relationships with dignity and complete acceptance. Not wanting him to miss out on something I knew he cared deeply about I told Emmett that I would totally understand if he wanted to serve a mission. That I would not take his modifying his statements as a condemnation of me or gay people in any way. He answered that though of course he was impacted by our experience he was not doing it for us, that he had to do it for himself, and because it was the right thing to do.
Even though I left for my first year at Brigham Young University before he was born it was always obvious to me that Emmett was a quiet, thoughtful, and independent person. In the last 3 or 4 years however he has grown into an unusually expressive and intelligent man who is very conscientious and concerned with equality, the feelings of others, and those who are outcast or in need, and the true nature of spirituality. I am deeply struck by his quiet, unshowy courage in this intimidating situation, and for his commitment to standing up for his moral convictions. As a gay person I am very touched by these actions, but as a brother I am deeply proud.
No matter what Emmett decides to do in life I want him to know that I am deeply impressed with his sense of self, the beauty of his soul, and have an incredible amount of faith in his ability to follow his inner instincts. I also want him to know he has family and people who love and support him, and accept him no matter who he is or what he wants to do in life, simple or grand, conventional or unusual. And I want him to know that he has not lost out on his mission. Standing up for equality and acceptance, and caring about misfits and those who are vulnerable in society, is a very old Christian principle, and the world is constantly in need of those who possess these traits. Also, absorbing the deeper teachings of spirituality have often put sincere believers at odds with the organizations they learned those teachings in, which at times are unfortunately more interested in their own traditions and pride, than in the heart of their own message. Emmett I love you very much, am inspired by you, and am very proud of you my brother, and your mission.
Sam Clayton, originally from rural Washington State, served an LDS mission and attended BYU in the 90’s, where he worked with the administration to increase fair treatment of the LGBT community, and graduated as an openly gay student. He currently lives in Berlin, Germany.