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Pro-Gay Mormon Couple Targeted by Church, Leave Faith

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday February 25, 2008

Mormons have been punished for speaking on church issues, and fired from university posts for missing church while tending to the homeless or protesting the church's stance against marriage equality.

When Peter Danzig, a devoted Mormon and player with the Latter Day Saints Orchestra, wrote a letter to The Salt Lake Tribune in 2006, to express his dismay over the firing of a BYU adjunct professor who spoke out against the church's support of an anti-gay constitutional amendment (including recruitment from within the church's ranks to bolster the amendment), he, too, came under scrutiny from church authorities. Finally, after being suspended from the orchestra, both Danzig and his wife quit the church rather than wait to be excommunicated.

The Salt Lake City Tribune reported in an article published today that Danzig's original concerns, that Mormons who disagree with the church's positions are not free to express their concerns, have persisted throughout his ordeal.

Danzig's more than year-long endurance of what the Tribune article called "grueling attacks on his motives and [church] membership" started with the June 14, 2006 publication, in The Tribune, of a letter in which Danzig wrote, "I wish to express to Jeffery Nielson that I admire his courage and that I stand with him."

Nielsen, an adjunct professor at Brigham Young University, had been fired after the publication of an op-ed piece, also published in The Tribune, in which Nielsen wrote a protest regarding the church's support for an amendment to ban marriage equality.

The Mormon Church has a lengthy history of financing anti-gay family constitutional amendments, starting in 1998 when the church provided over $1 million toward getting anti-gay amendments banning marriage equality passed in Hawaii and Alaska.

The church actively encouraged its members to support a similar amendment on the federal level. Wrote Danzig in his letter of support for Nielsen, "I was troubled that my church requested I violate my own conscience to write in support of an amendment I feel is contrary to the constitution and to the gospel of Christ."

The church has an equally lengthy history of punishing its own should they step out of line. In 1993, The Tribune article reported, six intellectuals from within church ranks who had spoken or written on Mormon issues were subjected by the church to accusations of apostasy.

A professor of history at Brigham Young University, Steven Epperson, was fired when he missed church because he was working with the homeless; Epperson, the Tribune article said, belonged to the same congregation as Danzig.

But the church says that members do have the freedom to disagree and debate the church's stance without fear of reprisal.

The Tribune story quoted church spokesperson Scott Trotter as saying, "There is room in the Church for honest disagreement regarding church positions."

Continued Trotter, "Disagreement on doctrine only becomes an issue when a church member acts in open opposition to the church or its leaders."

Danzig, the Tribune article said, had attempted to establish from the beginning that, for all that he was concerned, he was not in opposition to the church.

Even so, church officials moved quickly to suspend Danzig from the orchestra, with a secretary from the office of the church's First Presidency, Michael Watson, phoning orchestra administrator Barry Anderson to ask, according to Danzig, if it might be the case that "an enemy had infiltrated the orchestra."

Things got worse from there. After more than a year of attempting to set things right, to no avail, both Danzig and his wife quit the church in December of last year.

Church officials would not comment on the Danzigs' experiences; the Tribune quoted Trotter as saying, "Communications of this nature between church leaders and members are considered confidential."

The Tribune also reported that though Danzig had written an account of the situation, he was warned against publishing his account.

Others had also come forward regarding Nielsen's firing, without consequence, the article reported; the church itself issued statements about homosexuality during the period of time when Danzig and his wife were fruitlessly attempting to set things right, with the church giving nods to the possibility that homosexuality is innate and not given to change.

These positions were, the Tribune story said, the same as the ones Danzig had advanced.

Danzig's wife, Mary Danzig, said, "I felt like my world had come crashing down when Peter told me he might be excommunicated."

Continued Mary Danzig, who had been involved in church organizations, "What would happen to my family in the eternities, in our community, in our extended family?"

Said Mary Danzig, "I found myself coming completely unglued every Sunday. I spent a great deal of time hiding in the bathroom crying with my little girls."

The Danzigs' former fellow congregant Bill Bradshaw was also quoted in the article. Bradshaw, a professor emeritus of Brigham Young University, has a background in microbiology. The article said that Bradshaw has given talks on the subject of homosexuality, citing evidence for homosexuality's inherent biological origins, as opposed to being a choice.

Moreover, the article reported, Bradshaw and his wife chair the Mormon organization Family Fellowship, which supports church families with GLBT members.

Bradshaw himself ended up called in for a chat with his bishop, but, Bradshaw said, "Our bishop responded very favorably to the conversation."

Continued Bradshaw, "He was very sympathetic."

As for the church's loss of the Danzigs, Bradshaw said, "Now I can't sit in church next to Peter and Mary and their kids and I can't sit next to gay members of the church, whom they were defending."

Added Bradshaw, "The bottom line is I don't have the fellowship of loving people and that's a hurt for me."

Looking back, Danzig said in The Tribune article, "Part of the reason for writing the letter was to find out if there was room for personal conscience in this church."

Added Danzig, "I was very hopeful. But now I know there is none."

Said Danzig, "This has been a painful journey for me."

Danzig went on, "I have seen the church abuse too many, including my family, without anyone daring to speak out. It is important to me that the silence about this abuse end."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. 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.