Mormon Priest Threatened with Excommunication in Marriage Row

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Sep 22, 2008

A Hastings, Neb., Mormon man has been threatened with excommunication by his bishop for working against an anti-gay amendment in Calif.

This past summer, the leadership of the Mormon church has instructed its membership to support Proposition 8, the ballot initiative in Calif. that, if approved in Nov., will rescind marriage parity for gay and lesbian families.

Also this past summer, the church published a new document that clarified the church's stance on marriage for gay and lesbain families, as reported at EDGE.

The new document was seen by some as a reversal of the church's earlier opposition to all forms of recognition for gay and lesbian families, because it included language supportive of existing domestic partnership laws in Calif., while condemning marriage equality.

Andrew Callahan, who says that he is "a high priest in good standing" in the Mormon church, contacted the media by means of an email, dated Sept. 21, in which Hastings claimed that his efforts to counter the Mormon leadership's instruction had included co-creating a Web site "where Mormons, former Mormons, and friends of the Mormon Church could write letters and post them online to state their opposition to the Mormon Church's political stance."

The result, Callahan said, was a visit from his bishop that amounted to a threat of excommunication from the Mormons.

Callahan recounted, "In late June the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints... issued a letter to its members in California encouraging them to support Proposition 8, an amendment to the California constitution that will eliminate the right of same sex couples to marry.

"The letter asked members to do all they could to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating both money and time."

Continued Callahan, "Although I'm a resident of Hastings, Nebraska, not California, I almost immediately began trying to get the Mormon Church to change its position on the issue.

"This just reminded me so much of the racial bigotry that Mormon leaders have historically been so famous for.

"Our past leaders insisted that racial bigotry against blacks was God's divine idea," Callahan continued, adding, "now current ones are promoting this same kind of bigoted nonsense about gays and lesbians."

Stated Callahan, "I'm a Mormon high priest in good standing and have served in many local leadership positions in my more than 20 years in the Mormon Church."

In that capacity, Callahan not only helped to create the Web site where pro-marriage equality Mormons could speak out, he "also wrote hundreds of letters to middle level church leaders stating this opposition to the plan put forth by top leadership in the Mormon Church, and invited the middle level leaders to join with me in that opposition."

The church's leadership seemingly took note of Callahan's efforts; claimed Callahan, "On August 18, the Mormon Church headquarters in Salt Lake City disseminated a 'Notice' to virtually all of the Mormon ecclesiastical leaders in the United States, directing them to 'disregard' communications from me.

"The Notice also directed that the lay membership of the Church be told to disregard me."

Nonetheless, Callahan recounted, "I continued my efforts, contacting lay members directly in several states, and also starting a petition online that asks the Mormon Church to immediately discontinue its political organizing activities and financial support of the California amendment."

Callahan's continued efforts on behalf of preserving marriage equality seemingly led to a visit from his bishop.

"On September 11, 2008, my bishop, Bryan Woodbury of Clay Center, Nebraska visited me stating that he was there by assignment of higher authorities in the church," Callahan recounted.

"Bishop Woodbury offered me a chance to resign my membership in the Mormon Church, and when I declined, the bishop stated that there would be disciplinary action and that my membership in the Mormon Church was 'not mandatory.'

"Bishop Woodbury indicated that he would be back 'pretty quick' with a letter from the next higher level ecclesiastical leader," Callahan continued.

"This was clearly a threat of excommunication, because bishops have full authority to discipline high priests in the Mormon Church with every form of church discipline except excommunication, which must be done at the next higher level."

Continued Callahan, "Bishop Woodbury stated that the reasons for the excommunication would be that I am 'going in a different direction' from the church, and I am in 'opposition' to the Mormon Church."

Added Callahan, "The bishop gave the analogy that if I were a member of a gay and lesbian organization and collected signatures on a petition supporting Proposition 8, that organization would probably kick me out, and suggested that the Mormon Church was about to do that to me now."

As reported by various media, including a Sept. 20 article by The Wall Street Journal, the instructions issued by the Mormon leadership for its members to support the ballot initiative seem to have had a discernable effect.

The Wall Street Journal article said that of the nearly $15 and a half million that have come pouring into the effort by the state's marriage equality opponents, more than a third have been contributions by Mormons.

The article said that figure came from the campaign manager of the anti-gay-family group, Frank Schubert, along with other sources, including an organization that keeps tables on finances reckoning the Mormons' contributions might be even higher--perhaps more than 40 percent of the total.

Campaign consultant for pro-marriage equality group No on 8, Equality for All, Steve Smith, was quoted in the article as saying, "all of a sudden, in the last few weeks, [the anti-marriage side] are outraising us, and it appears to be Mormon money."

The group trying to preserve the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian families has collected about $13 million, the article said.

Though the leadership of the Mormon church had phrased support for the anti-gay amendment as "a matter of conscience" in urging its membership to contribute, some local church officials reportedly had told Mormons that it would endanger their souls not to give.

The Wall Street Journal cited the church's top leadership as saying that was not consistent with the church's official position.

The article indicated that the Mormon leadership's instruction to its members to "do all you can" in support of the anti-gay amendment may be due to the fact that if Calif.'s legalization of marriage equality weathers the challenge at the polls, marriage equality in other states may pick up momentum.

Recent polls nationwide have indicated that in the last four years, since the 2004 election in which marriage equality was a hot-button issue used to energize conservative voters, opposition to gay families solemnizing their ties has dwindled.

More locally, polls in Calif. Show a 14 percent margin of voters opposing the revocation of the right to marry, the article said.

But the issue has drawn huge amounts of money from around the country to benefit both sides. Anti-gay Catholic lay organization the Knights of Columbus contributed $1 million; the anti-gay group Focus on the Family has chipped in nearly a half a million dollars.

Pro-marriage leaders have warned that even though the polls show that marriage equality is leading, the outcome could be very different, both because there may be a large number of voters who are as yet undecided, and also because precedent has shown that even when a majority of voters say they are supportive of marriage rights for gay and lesbian families, once they in the voting booth, a significant percentage who polled as supportive of marriage tend to vote against the rights of gay families.

The issue of Mormons involvement in the issue is especially relevant to the tenets of Mormon faith, the article reported, citing a University of Richmond professor of literature and religion.

Prof. Terryl Givens explained that Mormons believe that families continue into eternity, with spouses continuing to procreate even after death.

Heterosexual marriage is also believed by Mormons to be a prerequisite to attain the highest level of bliss in the spiritual world.

The article quoted givens as saying, "This all explains the Mormon difficulty with homosexuality," adding, that in this framework of faith, "same-sex attraction doesn't find a place."

The article noted that it is unusual for the Mormon church to involve itself so directly in political matters.

One other notable exception was the church's official oposition to the Equal Rights Amendment three decdades ago.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2008-09-22 22:18:58

    This afternoon the bishop delivered a letter from the stake president, stating that a disciplinary council is now scheduled for Friday, September 26 at 6:30 p.m. in the Kearney, Nebraska Stake Center. They will consider disfellowshipment or excommunication because I have been "reported to have participated in conduct unbecoming a member of the Church and have been in apostasy."

  • , 2008-09-22 23:17:55

    Andrew Callahan has stated on various blogs that he has not been an attending and believing Mormon for over 5 years. To claim that he is a "Mormon Priest in good standing" is disingenuous, to say the least.

  • , 2008-09-23 00:02:07

    Andrew Callahan should be commended for standing up for his beliefs and trying to help others. More people should follow his example.

  • , 2008-09-23 12:13:30

    If Mr. Callahan opposes the beliefs and political stand of the Church, then being excommunicated should not be a problem for him. Why would he want to belong to an organization he opposes? Mr. Callahan has mischaracterized this situation, his standing, and the character of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. A man without integrity deserves neither respect, nor the sympathy of the media or anyone else.

  • , 2008-09-24 10:12:00

    Mormonism is an obscenely rich cult like $cientology. They should be ashamed of demanding more money from their overworked, tithed, members when the coffers of this cult are overflowing. The Mormon leader, Tom Monson, sat on 14 executive boards in LDS corporations because of his ecclesiastical position and is a multi-millionaire.

  • , 2008-09-24 14:30:06

    LOL - I always have to laugh when one of the few churches with an UNPAID CLERGY is accused of profiting from their members. LDS leaders do not profit from their service financially. Many have given up very profitable professions for their life of service. Accusations otherwise are simply unfounded and untrue.

  • , 2008-09-24 15:28:22

    There is a long history of US churches addressing politcal matters as their faith directs - slavery, housing discrimination, abortion, prostitution, polygamy, youth marriages, regulation of drug use, poverty, child abuse. Mr. Callahan will be more comfortable in a church that does not to rock the boat. Perhaps he dislikes Reverend ML King for encouraging political action?

  • , 2008-10-19 14:37:43

    If you do not believe the President of the Church is a prophet of God, then why would you want to belong to the church? You can always look for another church that supports the positions you believe in. Like you really think you’re going to change the church?? If I felt like I couldn’t support what church leaders have asked me to do, I would leave the church and do what I needed. I wouldn’t be calling the press, whining about the injustice of it. No one is making you stay in a church you can’t agree with--in fact, they’re giving you the opportunity to leave. Sounds like Mr. Callahan is looking for his 15 minutes of fame.

  • , 2009-01-05 13:09:58

    He was probably excommunicated because he was directing people to information about resigning from the church, not because of his stance on the issue. The people behind the Mormons for Marriage site (an anti-prop 8 site) were not disciplined.

  • , 2010-09-20 16:51:46

    I’m always somewhat astounded that some people become emotional and feel unduly treated when called before church disciplinary boards. For hell’s sake, if you don’t believe the religion, get out and leave it alone. Of course Joseph Smith said that this is unlikely. Once you’ve left neutral ground, he told one stalwart, you can never go back. In your case, you shine brightly in your own small world and then you just sputter a few times and burn out, and no one will remember you or your cause. I don’t think there’s anything particularly brave or valiant in what you’re doing. The world is full of religions and fighting them is senseless and puerile. It’s done for a sense of personal vengeance and pettiness, and a feeling of vindictiveness. I’ve read similar things lately on former Jehovah’s Witness sites. Right now, you’re riding high on a martyr complex and no doubt feeling hurt and put out upon. You feel like you’re the victims and that whatever you do to get back at the church is justified, and there’s a sense of obligation about it. You’re compelled to write the bitter jabs or you’ll be eaten from the inside. I predict you’ll seek out every word of sympathy and solace as a means of reinforcement (I’ve seen it happen a million times). You’ll laugh off messages like this, but they’ll end up bothering you more than you let on. Every former Mormon I’ve ever known seeks constant reinforcement for apostasy because deep down they’ll always wonder if they did the right thing. That’s what keeps them going in writing anti-Mormon stuff. They’ve gotta have those messages of reinforcement and they become like drugs. You may just think I’m blowing smoke, but I’m not. You’re gonna keep changing, though you won’t see it or recognize it as much as your friends and associates do. After your excommunication, no one will really care unless you keep smacking the tar baby, which is what you’ll probably do. But please...don’t play the victim. It’s just stupid and disingenuous. Your best bet would be to take some time off and figure if you really want to go down this path, because once you start down it, there’s no coming back. People like Oliver Cowdery came back because their hearts never really left. He was retired, sick and otherwise well off, but he left everything and trekked out to Utah to rejoin the saints and beg their forgiveness. The thing about Mormonism, Judaism and ancient Christianity was that they all had witnesses. Muhammad didn’t. Neither did Ann Lee, William Ellis Foy, Ellen G. White or any other visionary. Cowdery was one of those witnesses and he repented, came back to the church and died maintaining what he’d seen and heard. He didn’t even want his old office and standing; any priesthood would do. I’ve seen what apostasy’s done to people and I’d just be certain this is what you want. But again, please don’t play the victim.

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