My Little Brother’s Mission

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.

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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.

10 comments for “My Little Brother’s Mission

  1. Jacob
    March 19, 2013 at 6:22 am

    Change is coming! Jesus said nothing regarding gay marriage, neither did Joseph Smith. This strong stance against gay marriage is going to turn out the same way as Brigham Young’s stances on black people receiving the Priesthood. Oops a bad interpretation!

    • Janet
      November 17, 2013 at 11:20 pm

      I have the outmost respect for this boy and it takes a huge amount of courage although i disagree with your comment. You might wanna read the Book of Mormon one more time…. It does mention that only men and women should be together. I’m not anti-gay or homophobic but I do stand for my beliefs. I know the lords teachings and I believe that lgbt Mormons are contradictory. I feel like lgbt’s should be free to whatever they want and have their own rights BUT I find it offensive when they start preaching in place of the prophet. Mormon teachings are the lords words and you shouldn’t twist them. And the time that Brigham Young was alive there were different understandings of African American people. It wasn’t necessarily a racism thing but more of a policy. Elder Holland said that there was no specific recordings of why it happened but it did and Brigham Young was a prophet AND a human, he had his own personal opinions along with guidance from our Heavenly Father. Being homosexual is not a sin unless you act on it, that’s what the LDS church teaches. It is more of a moral issue which the African American thing was not morally wrong, I agree it was wrong but there are reasons it was changed and policies against homosexual mormons won’t. It’s just like if a heterosexual person were to have sex before they were married. President Monson said that homosexuality is not part of our Heavenly fathers plan for us and it never will be. We are supposed to be sealed in the temple with our families and you can’t do that if you can’t even reproduce with your spouse. I’m not trying to start a fight, I’m just defending my religion. ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤

  2. Anonymous
    March 19, 2013 at 9:10 am

    What a brave young man. I am in awe of his courage.

  3. cole turk
    March 19, 2013 at 10:23 am

    I always knew I was different (not in a bad way)growing up. I went to BYU. I remember the Thanksgiving dinner at my sisters house with her roommates, my girlfriend and my parents when out of the blue i stated that i wanted to go on a mission. I went through the usual steps, a physical, language test at the MTC and the necessary interviews with my Bishop and Stake President. I knew I was gay, but back then, (1984) I did not label myself as such with the word, but had had a boyfriend for 2 years. Both my Bishop and Stake President were long time family friends and during the necessary Worthiness Interviews, neither asked me any questions that would or could potentially prevent or delay my departure on a mission. I personally believe that both knew my orientation but knew me well enough to know that my desire to serve for 2 years was sincere and that my orientation was not going to be an issue. Even more interesting, when I returned and had my Release Interview with my Stake President, he strongly advised that I not rush into marriage, a common practice for return missionaries. Of course, I returned to BYU, my boyfriend, my girlfriend, church meetings, etc. Over the years I have said and still believe and say that my orientation was not an issue or hindrance in my desire to teach others about the gospel. Since then I have had to nephews on my partners side serve missions, knowing fully that their uncle and his partner were gay. If the Church is going to do this, what is to stop them from allowing the child of a gay or lesbian couple from serving a mission. Are the children of gay or lesbian couples or the siblings of gay or lesbians supposed to choose? Is this a modern day version of Sophie’s Choice?

  4. Norman Thompson
    March 19, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Fantastic post. Moving and important.

  5. Becki Jackson
    March 19, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    My heart is broken, knowing this young man will miss out on his rightful chance to serve a mission, and so proud of him for his refusal to do something he didn’t feel was right. I have been lucky, I guess. I am honest when I have a temple recommend interview. I tell them I support my family and friends who are homosexual, and have been told there is nothing wrong with it. I did have a bishop tell me that I shouldn’t join a protest or bad-talk the church about their stand on gay marriage, though. All my love to this young man and his family.

  6. Renae
    March 20, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Having Emmett as a friend, I can personally say that his courage in all things has been continually inspiring. He has been blessed with the understanding and loving nature that most men his age can not comprehend. What he did was something to be praised. He stuck to his guns. Years later, I will still look back and proudly say Emmett was my friend, and one of the greatest men someone could ever have the privilege to meet.

  7. Luke
    March 20, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    Emmett is a true representation of what it’s like to be Christ-like. He struggles just as we all do but does not let that interfere with his desire to better both himself and the people around him. Being LDS myself, I wish there were more men and women out there who were willing to stand up for what they believe to be right despite the oppositions that may rise out of it. Thank you Emmett for being a good friend and a good man, even when the world and I aren’t deserving of it. Thank you Sam for writing this article. Both of you are inspiring individuals, try and be patient with us who are still working on getting their crap together. We’re working on it.

  8. Alicia Clayton
    March 23, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Thank you Emmett…and Sam. I love, adore, and respect you. Thank you for your responses… especially his friends. I don’t think my experiences with the church will ever totally heal but deeply respect my families ideology that the church will evolve/change. I am the other gay sibling. This not going on a mission is a huge loss in our culture but I am intrigued and quite respect the man he is becoming.

  9. Catherine Colette Murphy
    March 24, 2013 at 6:03 am

    Emmett is the kind of person that churches all over the world (no matter what religion) should strive to have represent them.

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