San Francisco, USA - Late Sunday, news came across the Mormon grapevine: an openly gay Mormon man named Mitch Mayne had been asked (or “called,” in Mormon parlance) to serve as a leader in an LDS congregation in San Francisco.
Before receiving his call to serve in San Francisco, Mayne had been attending an LDS congregation in Oakland, where Mormons have been especially active in efforts to repair damage to interfaith and LDS-LGBT relations since the LDS Church’s heavy involvement in California’s 2008 Proposition 8 campaign.
Mayne was also in a committed, monogamous relationship with his male partner. About a year ago, Mayne decided to end his relationship, for reasons not related to religion. It was, he said, the hardest thing he ever did: harder, even, than burying his parents.
Mayne felt he needed time to heal, and he chose to take a break from relationships altogether. Several months later, Bishop Don Fletcher of the San Francisco Bay Ward asked him to serve as ward executive secretary, a leadership position that serves with the ward lay-pastoral leadership (or “bishopric,” in Mormon terms) to coordinate congregational administrative and pastoral functions and to participate in congregational executive-level decision-making as well.
“I was floored,” says Mayne. “I told him: ‘My entire life I’ve known I was gay. Why would I have lived my life to be worthy of serving a bishopric-level calling? A calling that as I gay man I’ve been told I was not entitled to? I am a three-dimensional person.’”
After a frank discussion with local Church leaders, Mayne committed to adhere to the same standards of sexual morality expected of heterosexual members of the LDS Church, and he agreed to serve.
(Sources I spoke with in the San Francisco Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints confirm that Mayne’s calling was conducted according to LDS Church policy and that it does not represent an innovation but simply an implementation of policies permitting any member who is found worthy by their local priesthood leaders to serve.)
“I love my Heavenly Father, and one of the ways I express that love is through being my genuine self, and honoring the way He made me,” Mayne told me. “I now have a unique opportunity to focus on helping other people.”
Mayne is particularly committed to reaching out to the many LGBT Mormons who live within his congregation’s service area.
“We have so many people on the Church records who are inactive, whose families are still members. Many of them served honorably as Mormon missionaries. Many identify as LGBT. I want them to understand that like me they do have a home here,” Mayne says. “As an openly gay priesthood leader, I hope my example also shows that not only do they have a home here but they have a path.”
A home. A welcoming home in a religious tradition that has a profound and lasting impact on its members, and a chance to express their faith through the path of service: that’s what Mitch Mayne and many other LGBT Mormons want.
In LDS communities, where lay congregational leaders have positions analogous to those of priests, pastors, and rabbis, news of Mayne’s calling is having an impact, revealing continuing divisions among Mormons and questions about evolving Mormon views on homosexuality.
There is, in fact, no consensus Mormon view on homosexuality. While most Mormons view homosexual sexual activity as a sin, Church leaders have expressed divergent perspectives on LGBT issues, ranging from condemnatory and derisive to ameliorative and compassionate.
In the past, LDS Church leaders have endorsed conversion therapies, or encouraged gay Mormons enter heterosexual marriages. Some have declined to use the terms “gay and lesbian” and instead have used the words “same sex attraction” in order to make the case that homosexuality is not an inherent and lasting feature of personhood. Consequently, many conservative Mormons continue to believe that sexual orientation is changeable, a gravely sinful “lifestyle” choice to be simply rejected, or a condition to be “struggled” with and overcome, like alcoholism.
Liberal Mormons tend to view homosexuality as a naturally-occurring human trait that is not abhorrent to God. Some congregations welcome participation by openly gay people who maintain chastity. Other Mormons, however, feel that it is unjust and impossible to expect gay Mormons to abstain from intimate relationships their entire lifetimes.
The LDS Church’s recent investments in anti-marriage-equality campaigns like Proposition 8 have created deep divides in Mormon families and communities, giving those who take the most condemnatory view of homosexuality a sense of institutional backing, while discouraging many liberal Mormons and LDS people with LGBT friends and relatives.
“The Mormon community—gay and straight—is starved for reconciliation on gay issues,” Mayne observes.
Even as some conservative Mormons are expressing confusion over Mayne’s call to serve, others are expressing hope and joy.
“One of the most heartening things is the straight people—people I don’t even know, from across the country—who have written me to say, ‘My wife and I have been praying for greater understanding and light on LGBT issues in the Church for years. This issue has been tearing us up. But hearing about your call strengthened our testimonies both of the Church and of our Savior.’”
As heartening as this kind of reaction to his new calling has been, Mayne also finds it quite daunting to be among the first if not the first openly gay LDS man called to serve in a congregational leadership capacity in the post-Proposition 8 era.
“I’m just Mitch Mayne,” he told me. “I’m not anyone’s savior. I’m not a spokesman for the LDS Church. I don’t set doctrine. I’m sure as heck not Joseph Smith or Harvey Milk. I’m just here and available to serve. And that’s what’s exciting. By serving my Mormon community, I get to serve my Savior, Jesus Christ, and I love Him so much.”