I am a Refugee: A Letter from the Camps

Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission – to be of service to them whenever they require it.

St. Francis of Assisi, 1182-1226


Today I am not hearing a voice so necessary to the policy conversation. So I am supplying it. I am a November 5th refugee. The November policy instantly created refugees. As refugees we have no privilege in the church, although we used to be dripping in it. As refugees we used to have a home among the saints, although now we are gathered in camps along the outskirts and borders. As refugees we once felt safety in the stakes of Zion but now live with the continual threat of spiritual terrorism.

Like most refugee situations, you never really hear about life in the camps. It is a much more rewarding and universal experience to talk about the conflict that created the refugee in the first place, but not many stop to consider the actual conditions of the refugees born from such conflict.

Although every member, gay or straight, is impacted by the policy, not everyone is a refugee of the November 5th policy.

You may be fully aware of the conflicts in the new civil rights movement. You may be highly ashamed of the church for its behavior. You may even feel sadness and anger. Yes, you are AFFECTED by the November 5th policy. However, the policy also EFFECTED a change so hostile to children and their gay parents that it created an unsafe environment causing a population of Mormons to flee the stakes of Zion where we now congregate on the outskirts, driven from our spiritual home.

As long as the policy is in place, we cannot safely return as full and equal members. Our optimism, hope, and testimonies are fading as we wait.

It is hell in the refugee camps.

The past two years we have seen members pour into the camps as well as a steady stream of those who end up resigning and leaving the camps for parts unknown. Some in the camps are hunted, found, and excommunicated, but a vast majority of refugees are either invited to resign or resign on their own. I am beginning to wonder if resignation is the goal of the church in the treatment of the November 5th refugee.

After the second manifesto Francis M. Lyman chaired a church committee to investigate plural marriages and excommunicate any who still practiced it. You can do this if you are rooting out an illegal practice such as polygamy which is strictly against the law. However, it is a public relations nightmare to set up a committee in the church to investigate legal same sex marriages and excommunicate members who are following the law of the land.

It is simply easier to make a hostile environment for the homosexual with children, set up refugee camps, dole out platitudes while peppering the refugee with invitations to resign, and simply out wait or outlive the homosexual member.

Here in the camp, I see the death of testimony all around me, every day as we wait. The stench of death constantly reminds me that I may be next.

In an interview I did with for the Associated Press the day after the policy was announced I made a one sentence observation that was buried deep within the article: “I am no better now than an illegal polygamist.” Nothing could be more true.

In the long term management of the homosexual in the church, the church has decided to treat same sex families like polygamists.  This “othering” is our mark. Our skin of gayness identifies us as a modern day Lamanite.

Now that our “otherness” has been established and a few “hunt down and kill” excommunication examples were made in the community, we are met with kindly invitations to resign and “it will all go away.” My Stake President sat in my home, a home where I work hard to create a space to foster the Spirit for my children, and desecrated the holiness by inviting me to resign because “I will excommunicate you if you ever marry again.” The irony did not escape me that I had a son out on a mission inviting souls into the church at the very same time I had a Stake President in my home inviting me to leave the church.

We live in a constant state of fear as a refugee. Most of us don’t even go to church anymore, not because we don’t believe, but because we do not feel safe. Any interaction we do have with the church only puts us closer to the orbit of leaders who have personally put us on notice that bad and ignominious things await us including the terrifying erasure of blessings and covenants… of sealings to our children.

It concerns me and frightens me. The entire set-up I just described is a state of spiritual terrorism. The mood of the refugee is to just lay low, keep your head down and wait this all out.

At this point you may think you are watching “The Godfather.” You may think that what I describe happening in our November 5th refugee camps certainly sounds like an exaggeration; there is no such thing as spiritual terrorism. Everyone has heard of wonderful examples of leaders refusing to enforce the policy.

I am here to witness that things are not OK. They are not OK at all in this era of the policy.

It is common to discount the experience of the refugee, even blame them for their condition, especially if it seems extraordinary. I have seen the testimonies die, the resignations happen, even the suicides because of the policy. I cannot be silent. I am living as a refugee right this very moment. I understand exactly what is happening because I live it. I am surrounded by hundreds who live it and experience the trauma of the policy refugee.

Non-members and excommunicated members look at us in disgust and pity and tell us to “Just leave!” The crazy thing is we are hearing the same message from our church leaders, “Just leave!”  To our ears this is hearing calls from both sides for our spiritual deaths. We have no home in our belief.

You have heard the cry, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief”

Yet the refugee cries, “Lord, I believe; help my belief. Strengthen it as I wait, ever the refugee. A pilgrim and a stranger cast upon the rocky shore.”

This is why I am writing you from the outskirts of Zion, I do not know how much longer I can survive here in the camps. I feel my testimony weakening. I can feel a coldness setting in to a soft heart and contrite spirit.

I end my letter with some wisdom. I hope to be a survivor of the November 5th refugee camps. And from this hope I leave with you an observation of the refugee.

On January 2nd, 2015 I stood in an upper room of the Brooklyn Borough Hall in New York City to see the St. Francis of Assisi exhibition. I was surrounded by beautiful and illuminated 800 year old documents of church governance and worship from the period of St. Francis. Mormons know St. Francis as the author of the hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King.” However, it is not well known in Mormon circles that St. Francis was a part of the saving monastic and mendicant orders that lead the church away from her intimate relationship with politics, wealth, and corruption and the policies and practices that accompany such relationships.

While I was at the exhibit, Dr. John Edwards from St. Francis College gave a short lecture on the Franciscan order and its place in church history. He spoke that for two thousand years the Catholic Church went through cycles of decline and renewal. St. Francis was part of the great renewal in the medieval church. He spoke of other renewal cycles such as the Gregorian reforms and the Council of Trent. All answers for God’s people when the church went astray.

Cycles of decline and renewal and a church going astray were new concepts for me. Catholic Church scholars have 2000 years to be able to look with comfortable enough hindsight to identify periods of decline and renewal. The thing that impressed me the most about the lecture was that Dr. Edwards was extremely respectful to the Church even when in periods of decline and corruption.

In the Mormon Church we barely have 200 years of hindsight, and because of this it is not at all comfortable to identify periods of decline and renewal yet. We are still too close to see such things objectively without our identity being threatened. We can’t even apologize yet to those hurt by such cycles. Because of the short age of the church we are not allowed the freedom to even faithfully discuss times of decline, because we do not have comfortable enough yet hindsight to be able to bring the subject up without sounding heretical.

In our young history as a church we have already experienced two major periods of decline and renewal. Both have left a deep and permanent imprint on the identity of the church. The first was polygamy and the second was denying the blacks the priesthood because of race.

Today we are right in the middle of the third major crisis: the treatment of the LGBT+ in the church. The policy was just a reminder that we are not anywhere close to renewal. But the resolution will certainly come and will certainly leave another deep and permanent imprint on our identity as a church.

I foresee a day where my great grandchildren cannot fathom living in a church that discriminates against the LGBT+. I foresee a day where my great grandchildren struggle to reconcile the words of prophets and apostles of my day about the LGBT+ with the practices and policies of the church in their day. I know this will happen because we are already doing this with the first two crises of the church. I foresee a day where all worthy members, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are equal in the church.

I speak of equality and renewal from a place of hope. It is the hope of the refugee kept alive as long as the candle of faith continues to flicker. Every November the 5th, just don’t see the policy, see the refugee.

st francis


5 thoughts on “I am a Refugee: A Letter from the Camps

  1. I love this, Nathan.

    I wonder if you know a little about the status of LGBT members of the Catholic church. If the LDS Church changes its policies (which I think is obviously the only remedy here) but does choose to continue prohibiting same-sex marriage as a matter of doctrine, do you see them following a similar path to the Catholic church? Or something different?

  2. Good question Erik. I am not familiar with the position of Catholic LGBT. However concerning our current path as a church, I feel that if society will allow it, they will press forward with the policy and within a generation, successfully rid the church of any same sex couples who happened to be in the church at the policy enactment either through death, resignation, or excommunication.
    I feel there is a hope that the policy will have the same effect as the first and second manifesto by making same sex marriage as icky to the next generation of Mormons as polygamy is to us today, literally stopping the flow of same sex families in the church.
    The problem is that polygamy is a learned religious practice that can be unlearned in a generation. No one is born a polygamist. However Mormons will continue to have homosexual children, policy or not. So unlike polygamy where you just have to put a policy in place and it becomes a social non issue within Mormonism once the people have unlearned it, homosexuality is a never ending wave that will constantly confront the policy, keeping the issue fresh generation after generation.
    Polygamy was never the law of the land. With new homosexual Mormons being born into the church everyday and with same sex marriage the law of the land, it will be harder to rationalize withholding fellowship to an accepted group of people as time marches on.
    Will we be treated like polygamists where same sex marriage is seen as an equivalent evil to polygamy or will we follow the trajectory of the blacks and the priesthood where we will eventually have equality in the church?
    I do not know the path. It all depends if this is the hill that the church decides to die on.

  3. I am a refugee with you. Sending you love, support, and the hope that you, and I and others will ALL have the ability to always hang on to our testimony of the Savior, His Gospel, His priesthood power, and His true church.

  4. Thanks Nathan. I too am a refugee, because I am the straight spouse who walks with the LGBTQ and there is no place for me. Love you Nathan, thanks for sharing.

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