No Longer Welcome
An account of my excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
By Alan Blodgett
October 21, 1999
Prepared as a Case Report for The Mormon Alliance
On April 8, 1999 the Beaverton Oregon Stake Presidency and High Council convened a disciplinary council which excommunicated me from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was charged with "reported conduct unbecoming a member of the church." The specific conduct cited was cohabitation with another man in a gay relationship.
I am a fifth generation Mormon. I was born in 1933 in North Ogden, Utah, on land that had been in the Blodgett family since 1851. I attended elementary school in Ogden. In 1947 my family moved to eastern Oregon where I attended high school. I received two degrees from Brigham Young University, majoring in accounting and business, and served in the US Army. I did not go on a mission. While I was in the Army, I married the one woman in my life. She became the mother of my four children. We have fifteen grandchildren.
In 1962 I became a Certified Public Accountant. At this time I was asked by a counselor in the First Presidency to accept employment at church headquarters as an auditor to assist in the church's overseas building and education programs. This job began a 23-year career at church headquarters, first as an auditor, then later as assistant comptroller, comptroller, and Managing Director of the Financial and Investments Departments. I left church employment in January 1985, to become president of a financially impaired savings and loan institution. The job ultimately led to a position with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) where I managed troubled savings and loans and worked out their resolutions until 1996. After this I become controller of a construction equipment fabrication company in Portland, Oregon. On March 31, 1999, I retired from this job. Eight days later the church excommunicated me.
As a youth I suspected I was a homosexual. As an adult I became certain. Even so, for 28 years subsequent to my marriage I was successful in holding this issue in abeyance. My wife and I both realized that something was missing in our marriage, but we were committed to each other and to our children. However, after our children began leaving home, our relationship started to falter and became increasingly troubled during the 1980's. Fearing the failure of our marriage, and not wanting to be employed by the church when it happened, I left church employment. My wife and I separated in early 1988 and later divorced civilly. I met my partner, Jerry McCormick, later that year, and we have maintained a home together in Portland since then. Jerry is a nurse with a remarkable talent in caring for the aged and the physically and mentally handicapped. I am open about my love and appreciation for him. I have a good relationship with my children, grandchildren, former wife and other members of my family.
My mother and father were married for 36 years until my father's death in 1969. My mother has been very active in the church; my father never attended after his childhood. I was active in the church from my childhood until 1991. Prior to 1988 I held many ward and stake positions, including serving in three bishoprics and a high council.
My work required me to divide my time between Salt Lake City and Portland and when my wife and I separated in early 1988, I chose Portland as my primary residence. For the first three years I lived in Portland I occupied an apartment in the center of the city and regularly attended church services in the Market Street Branch, Beaverton Oregon Stake although I declined accepting a church calling. In 1991 my partner Jerry and I moved to our present home, which is near downtown Portland, located in the Gabriel Park Ward, Beaverton Oregon Stake. I did not feel welcome in this ward and attended only a few meeting there.
HIGH PRIEST GROUP LEADER RON BROWNING
The beginning of the action leading to my excommunication began in early June 1997. The High Priest group leader, Ron Browning, and an assistant unexpectedly came to my home for a visit. This was the first personal contact I had had from a Gabriel Park Ward priesthood leader since I had moved into the ward six years earlier. My job with FDIC had taken me to Denver for a year and my church membership apparently followed me and was sent back to my Portland ward after I returned. Brother Browning said they had come to welcome me into the ward as a new member. Later, I couldn't help but wonder if a secondary reason for the visit was to learn more about the way I lived. Whatever the reason, Ron Browning is very much a gentleman. He is pleasant, interesting, understanding and informed. By the time of my excommunication, he had become bishop of the ward. I have a deep respect for him.
I explained to Brother Browning that I had become inactive in the church, and while I attended meetings from time to time, it was usually in the wards of family members or friends or at a meetinghouse nearer to where I lived. I also told him of my brief involvement in the ward at the time I moved into the area but that I had felt unwelcome in the ward and stopped attending.
By way of background, the Market Street branch president, his wife and others always warmly greeted me in the branch. During the second year I lived in the branch, the branch president visited me at my apartment and learned that I shared my home with my partner, Jerry. The branch president continued to be cordial, but never again asked to participate in branch activities. Shortly after moving to the Gabriel Park Ward, the bishop called to tell me that my membership records had been transferred to the ward and to advise me when and where the meetings were held. The bishop seemed rather formal and quite impersonal. I couldn't help but wonder if the Market Street branch president had told him about my living arrangements. I attended the ward services for a few Sundays but not once did a member of the bishopric or the high priest quorum leadership greet me. Several of the Gabriel Park Ward members had been on assignment to the Market Street Branch and knew me and must have pointed me out. I felt that I simply was not welcome in the ward, and did not attend the ward again until six years later, after Brother Browning's visit.
I don't recall whether I told Brother Browning at our first meeting that I was living with another man, but it should have become evident to him during his visit. Brother Browning encouraged me to attend Priesthood meetings and provided me with the meeting schedule.
STAKE PRESIDENT ROBERT FULKERSON
On June 23, 1997, the week following Ron Browning's visit, I received a telephone call from Robert Fulkerson, who stated he was President of the Beaverton Stake. He asked if he could come by and see me at home the next night. When I pressed him for the purpose of his visit, he said he would like to meet me and had received a telephone call from Elder Glenn Pace (a general authority and president of the Northwest Area) who told him I might be living in an "alternative lifestyle." I told him it was all right for him to visit but found myself somewhat upset for what I felt was an arrogant attitude. His final remark was, "I will be by about 7:15 tomorrow evening, and I will likely bring the bishop along also."
As one might expect, the meeting was very much on my mind the rest of the evening and all the next day. I rehearsed every possible script, ranging from being hostile, to crusading the gay cause, or to saying nothing. I wondered if the church had finally decided to deal with my membership because I had become highly visible as a national officer of Affirmation, an organization of gay and lesbian Mormons, and Gamofites, an organization of gay Mormon fathers. I told myself that it didn't really matter what the church organization did with my membership, I would always be a Mormon at heart. In truth, however, it did matter, and I was distressed by the prospect of being separated from the Church. I prepared myself for what I believed might be a brief visit during which I would be handed a letter announcing the time and place my case would be considered by a disciplinary council.
At 7:15 the next evening the doorbell rang. I invited the stake president and the bishop, Dean Douglas, into my home. They appeared a little too formal in their dark suits to be visiting on a summer evening. My first reaction was, "I misjudged the president." I could tell immediately that he was not an arrogant man, but a warm and genuine person. The bishop, who had been in office only since April of that year, seemed equally as pleasant. Our initial talk was about professional matters; the stake president and I have both been involved in banking and have a number of experiences and acquaintances in common. I commented that after living in this house for six years and never having a priesthood leader visit me before, I was surprised that I would have the high priest group leader one week, then the stake president and bishop the next. The stake president told me that Elder Glenn Pace had not only advised him that I might be living an "alternative lifestyle", but that he might want to be in contact with me as well. My conclusion was that church headquarters was subtlety directing the stake president to look into my living arrangements and deal with my membership.
I decided to be open with the stake president and bishop and mentioned Jerry, my partner of nearly ten years, and referred to myself as a gay man in order to get away from a term I dislike, "alternative lifestyle." Both the stake president and bishop seemed to be genuinely interested in my personal situation and my thoughts regarding the gospel and the church. They did not express judgment or condemnation. They listened to me state my strong belief that the church should extend a hand of fellowship to its gay and lesbian members. I maintained that the church was losing much by excluding the fine and talented group of people in the gay and lesbian Mormon community, that it was a tragedy for the church and also for the individuals. The stake president obviously had a rather good understanding of the gay situation and asked thoughtful questions, including one about monogamy among gays. The only heated comment, on my part, came when it was suggested that Evergreen was an organization that might help an individual change his or her sexual orientation, or at least change their behavior. I expressed my view that there is no evidence that a gay person can change his or her basic feelings, and that to offer people a false expectation is wrong. In parting, the stake president asked me if I saw a way that I might again become more involved with the Church. My response was that I was unlikely to change a great deal, and as much as I hoped for it, the church was also unlikely to significantly change its attitude toward gays; so I didn't foresee being welcomed by the church in the foreseeable future. Even so, the bishop invited me to participate in the July 4th activities being held by the ward and to attend church services. After a pleasant hour the stake president and bishop departed. I felt that our discussions had allowed them to gain a better understanding of what it means to be gay. I couldn't help pondering what might happen next. Whatever that might be, I would still be pleased that the stake president and bishop had taken the time to listen to me. I felt that they would take action, if it were left to them, only after a great deal of thought.
I did attend the Gabriel Park Ward July 4th celebration. Both Bishop Douglas and President Fulkerson, also a member of the ward, warmly greeted me. The bishop invited me to sit with him and his family, and we had an interesting chat while eating. A few weeks later President Fulkerson called to invite me to an ice cream social at his home following a stake activity. He emphasized that I was welcome to bring my partner with me. I attended, but alone, and was graciously received by President and Sister Fulkerson and the others from the ward who were present.
Over the next several months I attended church meetings more regularly than I had since leaving the Market Street Branch. I became casually acquainted with a number of the ward members, including Myron Child, a counselor in the bishopric. Hardly a Sunday went by, however, that I didn't hear a comment condemning homosexuals, feminists, and others who support liberal causes such as freedom of choice, birth control and sex education in the schools. Marriage was extolled as the only way to gain exaltation. A multi-stake single adult workshop I attended seemed to focus on finding a marriage partner, whereas I felt more emphasis should have been given to discussing ways that a single person can have a meaningful and useful life. The last meeting I attended was a stake conference session on January 18, 1998. Soon after I wrote to a friend, "A couple of the speakers were pretty good, particularly the stake president. He is a good guy, and I have appreciated getting to know him."
Two weeks later on February 3rd, I was called in to the stake center to meet with President Fulkerson in his office. This proved to be an eventful meeting, for it changed my attitude toward the church significantly. President Fulkerson was considerate and pleasant as he had always been. The meeting lasted an hour and 15 minutes and ended because others with appointments were being kept waiting. We discussed many things including my involvement in Affirmation and Gamofites. I told him that, in my view, a primary purpose of these organizations is to convey the message that a homosexual person can continue to have the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives and cherish their Mormon heritage even though they feel condemned by the church leaders and, at times, even by their own families. We discussed my relationship with my partner, and I told him how important he had been to me over the ten years we had been together. President Fulkerson summed up matters by stating again that he had contacted me because of a telephone call he had received from Elder Glenn Pace; and while he personally preferred not to judge me because there were many things he did not know or did not understand about homosexuality, it was nevertheless his duty as a stake president to follow the procedures of the church as set forth by its leaders. He encouraged me to become active in the church again, to attend meetings and to prepare myself to receive assignments. He left me with the feeling that an intimate, but non-sexual, relationship with my partner might be acceptable, but that it should be kept as a personal matter, and that participating in church activities with my partner could be a problem. He, choosing not to take any action at that time, said he would like to give more thought to the matter with the benefit of our discussions and that he would call me in again.
I left the meeting with President Fulkerson with a sense of despair. I was being forced to conclude that there was no place for me in the church. Even though the president was considerate and understanding, it was clear that my fate would be dictated not by his personal choice, but by the policies and procedures of the church. The only options being given to me were either to return to the darkness of the closet and outwardly pretend to be straight, or to abandon my relationship and live the remainder of my life alone. Fellowship in the church was not mine to be had. On March 19th, I wrote the following to a close friend:
While I was impressed with the kindness and thoughtfulness of my Stake President during our visit and appreciate him in many ways, I must confess that his message sounds louder and louder in my ears each day as I contemplate what he said. The bottom line of what he said was: There is no place in the church for a gay man. The simple fact is that if we wish to enjoy fellowship we must pretend to be straight.
For a time I was thinking that perhaps I should become more involved in church activity and find friends within the ward and stake. The way I feel now, to become actively involved in the ward is likely to bring more grief than happiness. I recognize the church has the right to decide what type of persons they will fellowship. However, in excluding classes of people (intellectuals, feminists and homosexuals) outcasts are created. As an outcast we must decide if we can accept standing on the outside and merely looking in; or should we walk away and find a more hospitable environment. I can see why an increasing number of people are asking to have their names removed from the membership rolls rather than accept the "outcast" label for themselves. I never thought I could voluntarily withdraw from church membership but I am no longer so sure. I am acquainted with many who have resigned their membership to put behind them the sense of being rejected by the church. They simply no longer wish to be a pariah as a consequence of their being honest and open about their feelings.
The February 3rd meeting was the last time I saw President Fulkerson. A few months later his employer reassigned him to serve a tour of duty in Hong Kong. Midway through 1998 he was released as stake president and replaced by Myron Child who had been a counselor in the Gabriel Park Ward Bishopric.
STAKE PRESIDENT MYRON CHILD
For many months I heard nothing. My home teachers, wonderful neighbors whom I had known since the Market Street Branch days, came by regularly and kept me posted on changes in the stake presidency and ward positions. Bishop Dean Douglas was also transferred by his employer and was replaced as bishop by Ron Browning, the former high priest group leader.
I thought that since I had gone back into inactivity, perhaps nothing would happen with respect to my membership, just as nothing had happened during all the years prior to my first meeting with President Fulkerson. That was not to be, however. On November 21, 1998, I received a call from Rick Wilson, Executive Secretary of the Beaverton Oregon Stake, requesting that I meet with State President Myron Child at his office the next day at 1:30 PM. He said he did not know the purpose of the meeting.
I met with President Child as requested on November 22nd. In contrast to meetings with the former stake president, President Child spent little time on pleasantries and got right to the point. He explained that President Fulkerson had turned over this unresolved matter to him and that it was his responsibility as the new stake president to follow through.
President Child said, "I understand from President Fulkerson that you were living in an alternative lifestyle. What is the situation today?"
I replied, "Exactly the same as when I met with President Fulkerson. My lifestyle has not changed for nearly 11 years. I am a gay man, and I live with my partner whom I love."
He then asked, "Is it a sexual relationship?"
I responded, "That is a private matter, and I don't care to comment about it. You shouldn't make assumptions about this, however, for they could be wrong."
The president said, "The church teaches us that homosexuality is wrong."
I asked him, "Where did Jesus -- or Joseph Smith -- speak against homosexuality?"
He then paraphrased President Gordon B. Hinckley's recent statements on homosexuality. The actual statement given by President Hinckley at the preceding October General Conference was:
People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves so-called gays and lesbians. My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God. They may have certain inclinations which are powerful and which may be difficult to control. Most people have inclinations of one kind or another at various times. If they do not act upon these inclinations then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church. If they violate the law of chastity and the moral standards of the Church, then they are subject to the discipline of the Church, just as others are.
I responded, "I disagree with President Hinckley. The church is wrong not to extend fellowship to all its members, even those who are gay or lesbian. All God's children are needful and deserving of the gospel." I argued that the situation for gays is very different than that of single straight individuals.
According to church policy, a straight person can date with the hope or expectation of marriage. For a gay person, dating a person of the same sex is not considered proper and there is no hope of entering into a satisfying and loving relationship that is sanctioned by the church. I could see that nothing I said made a difference to President Child. The prophet had spoken, and his word was not to be questioned.
President Child stated that we are commanded to marry for the purpose of multiplying and replenishing the earth. When I replied that I had married and was the father of four children and had 15 grandchildren, he asked me if my partner (who has never been a member of the church) had been married and had children.
"No," I responded.
He then asked, "Isn't your relationship with your partner keeping him from fulfilling this commandment?"
After meeting for about 15 minutes, President Child advised me it was his duty to hold a disciplinary action, and I should expect to receive a letter from him announcing the date, most likely after the holidays. He said I could attend or not attend as I wished. I was taken back by his abruptness which was in stark contrast to President Fulkerson's warm manner. As I rose to leave President Child professed friendship. I responded that I did not see his actions as those of friend. I departed without the traditional handshake.
The month following my first meeting with President Child was a period of soul searching and questioning. Why was I now being singled out for discipline and likely excommunication? President Child had commented that mine would be the first disciplinary action initiated since he had become stake president. Certainly I wasn't the only member of the stake to be living in a non-marital relationship. I had been living openly with my partner for the past ten years and church leaders had long known that I was gay so why was this becoming an issue now? I wondered if the church might be punishing me because they regarded me as an activist. I also wondered if church leaders had intended all along to take this action, but had waited until enough time had passed that the things I had learned while I was a senior employee of the church would have less of an impact if I were to discuss them openly. I doubt that I will ever know for certain what sparked the action against me.
A second question I asked myself after my November meeting with President Child was: "What should I do?" I not only spent many hours pondering this question, but posed it also to numerous friends, acquaintances and family members in personal discussions or by means of the Internet. Their suggestions and encouragement were numerous and varied. All are to be thanked, but four individuals deserve special mention for the comments, resource materials, and editing assistance they provided me. They are Lavina Fielding Anderson, my "Relief Society President Forever" and a marvelous source of wisdom; Robert J. Christensen, a fountain of ideas and a master with words; Larry Mann, a philosopher of great vision; and Jay Bell, a master of research. The alternatives suggested to me by friends included 1) doing nothing while ignoring the whole process; 2) making this a media event to draw support for the gay and lesbian cause; 3) engaging legal counsel to seek redress for slander and damages; 4) seeking the intervention of general authorities I know; 5) using whatever ammunition I had gained from years as a church financial officer to damage church leaders; and finally 6) reasoning with the stake president, that there was no ground for excommunication according to the newly-issued Church Handbook of Instructions or in the interest of equity and fairness. I decided on the latter approach.
In mid-December I received a Christmas card from the ward bishopric with the message: "May the hope that was born that silent, holy night remain in your heart throughout the year." This inspired me to write a lengthy letter dated December 20th to President Myron Child and to Bishop Ron Browning. In this letter I stated that I neither wanted to lose my membership nor did I think it would be right. I hoped that greater good and greater justice would come from my being left a member of the church than from cutting me off. I commented that based on my reading, the newly issued Church Handbook of Instructions (then available on the Internet) did not provide a basis for my excommunication. I stated that I was going to resist losing my membership for I considered myself to be a Mormon to the core, and I believed myself to be a good person. Perhaps I should have stopped there, but I couldn't resist expressing my view that church policy with respect to gays and lesbians is neither practical nor realistic, even though I know full well that many of the church leaders regard disagreeing with them to be an act of disobedience. The views I expressed were to be repeated in my presentation to the disciplinary council and are contained later in this report.
The holidays came and went, and I did not hear from the stake president as he had told me I would. I suspected he was holding off going forward until after he had shared my letter with someone at church headquarters and had received a reply. After a long silence I was called in again by President Child on February 21st. At this meeting the President Child was more cordial than the first time we had met. He thanked me for a Christmas card and the letter I had sent to him. The following account of the meeting is based on my notes:
President Child said his opinion had not changed. He then led out by asking me to answer two questions. The first was, "Do you believe the Church is a fallen Church?" And the second, "Do you believe that Gordon B. Hinckley is a prophet of God?"
My answer to the first question was, "Of course not, but this doesn't mean I must agree with everything the church does." To the second question I replied, "My answer to your second question is that I sustain President Hinckley as president of the church, and as prophet, seer and revelator, but I do not always agree with him. I specifically disagree with his statements on homosexuality."
I made an attempt to get President Child to understand my view of why gay and lesbians should be extended fellowship even when they are in a same- sex relationship. It seemed to me that President Child had little interest in listening to or understanding my views. It appeared to me that he saw things as black or white. The church is true; therefore when the prophet speaks, he speaks for God. Period.
President Child referred several times to "gay tendencies," each time expressing the view that persons with such tendencies can change if they desire to do so. I expressed strong disagreement on this point.
The summation made by President Child was that since I am a self-professed gay man and since I live with another man whom I say I love, it must be presumed that I am living contrary to the teachings of the prophet. He then stated that he believed he had no alternative but to take action on my membership.
Perhaps over reacting, I exclaimed, "It is wrong for you to take church membership away from someone who wants to be a member, and I believe it is discriminatory! It is because I am a gay man. There must be thousands of other church members less worthy than me, yet nothing is being done about their membership!"
The stake president's reply stunned me. "What if we allowed you to mingle in the church, how would the youth interpret it? Many might feel your lifestyle was OK and want to follow it. This simply cannot be allowed. The prophet has declared that living as a gay person is not acceptable. Those with gay tendencies can change if they want to!"
I then asked him outright, "Are you saying I should leave the companion I love and have been with for 11 years?"
"That would be best if you are sincere about wanting to remain a member of the church," he responded.
I felt the former stake president was sincerely seeking understanding. With President Child, I felt no amount of discussion was likely to change his views. The prophet had spoken out against gays sharing their lives with each other! No further consideration was in order.
The date proposed for the disciplinary council meeting was March 11th. Since I was in the process of retiring from my place of employment and had heavy commitments through March and wanted time "to prepare my defense," I asked for a delay of one month, which I was granted. The disciplinary council meeting was then set for April 8th. I was then asked, "What do you have in mind in presenting a defense?"
I answered, "I don't know yet."
"Let me know if you plan to bring others with you, would you please?" President Child requested. Then he added, "I really want to help you!"
"I can't believe that. What you are doing is wrong. But you must do what you believe to be your duty," I replied. The meeting ended.
PREPARING A DEFENSE
After leaving the February 21st meeting with President Child, I realized I did not know what the specific charges against me would be. I therefore called President Child March 2nd and asked him what the charges were going to be so I could better focus my defense. He replied, "Conduct unbecoming a member of the church."
I then asked, "What is the conduct that you find unbecoming."
He was silent for a moment then said, "I will get back to you on that."
I then asked him, "Tell me why a church court is necessary. To my knowledge no complaint against me has been made, and I have never confessed to anything."
He paused and said, "I will get back to you on that also."
I then asked, "Since church courts are now called disciplinary actions, why am I am being disciplined?" He didn't respond. I asked if I could have as many witnesses present as I felt would help my cause and perhaps a lawyer. He paused and said witnesses would be allowed within reason. I started to ask him if he had shared my December 20th letter with the area presidency or church headquarters, but he ended the conversation before I could complete my question, saying he needed to pick up his wife from the hospital where she had undergone surgery the previous day.
At this point I had little doubt that I would be excommunicated, and the thought actually gave me some relief. I did not intend to give in, however. It disturbed me that I was being singled out because I had admitted to being gay, and not because of any known "misbehavior." It disturbed me even more that there are thousands of gay men and women who are denied church fellowship and that seems so un-Christ-like. If the church is indeed true and if it is the vehicle for the gospel of Jesus Christ, then shouldn't it be open to all who seek to be His disciples?
President Child did not call me back as he promised to do. The next I heard from him was in the form of the following letter delivered to my home on March 8, 1999. It was hand delivered, ironically, not to me but to my partner Jerry who answered the doorbell. Jerry told me, "A couple of nervous middle-aged guys were at the door and called me Brother Blodgett. I told them I wasn't Brother Blodgett; then they handed me this letter and asked me to give it to you." I was in the next room when this happened. The letter dated March 7, 1999 reads:
Dear Bro. Blodgett,
The stake presidency is considering formal disciplinary action in your behalf, including the possibility of disfellowshipment or excommunication because you are reported to have participated in conduct unbecoming a member of