Angry? You bet. Tyler Glenn’s latest song and video boil with rage. Glenn, a gay man and former missionary, was embraced by the church for his advocacy in building the inclusivity bridge. That is, until the LDS church’s November 5th policy change regarding homosexuals—a change that codified those in same-gender marriages as apostates, required their excommunication, and forbade the baptism of their children under certain conditions. The policy change hit him hard, like a gut punch, he says. Feeling himself betrayed, denigrated, and literally dismissed over his sexual orientation, Glenn took a hard look at less-visited areas of Mormonism and decided he could no longer believe. The release of “Trash” depicts a stunning reversal of attitude toward his faith heritage.
As a practicing Latter-day Saint, I understand how hard it is to watch the video, but Glenn has gifted those of us outside the LDS LGBTQ community a front row seat to the agony the November 5 th policy has caused him. It’s imperative we put down our defenses and witness this hard truth – all of it – even the moments we find profane. When Glenn clasps his own hand and makes gestures reserved for the temple, try to see more than a defiled symbol; see a man who feels both rejected and deceived by his church and his heritage; see a man who, in his anguish, declares himself sacred as he covenants with, by, and to himself. With these gestures, he forces us to face what may be the most important question for this generation of Mormons: Is anything more sacred than human life?
The idea that human life is the most sacred of God’s gifts feels innate to me. Perhaps this is why so many react with sorrow to Glenn’s depiction of his suffering. People are saying that it’s sad to see so much anger, sad to see Glenn lose faith, sad he can’t let it go and move on: sad, sad, sad. Perhaps, though, our reaction should run deeper than sadness.
After all, the word “sad” is self-focused; it describes our own reactions to Glenn’s suffering, but demonstrates no empathy. The requirement of the Lord is to turn ourselves outward, not inward—to reach beyond our own perspective into that of another and discover the power of empathy. As Alma writes in Mosiah, we are called to mourn with those who mourn and to comfort those who stand in need. By striving to feel the pain of another person—as that person feels it rather than in the way we think they should (or should not) feel it—we become more like our Savior, who descended below all things. Only after understanding the pain of others can we bring any real comfort. As difficult as it may be to watch “Trash,” and as difficult as it may be to consider Glenn’s journey through the deeper recesses of LDS history, we must make the attempt. We must understand him (and love him) if we, as a Church and as a people, are to do better.
Of course, Alma asks us to do more than to simply mourn and comfort. He tells us that we must also “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.” Nowhere does He say we should bear witness of structures or hierarchies, and he certainly doesn’t tell us to bear witness to a disastrous policy.
So, here is my witness: God lives and Jesus is our savior. Divine love will never hurt us, nor can it betray us.
I think I lost myself in your new religion
You say a prayer for me like a superstition
The love of God embraces us—no matter what—because of our innate worth to our divine Father and Mother. Man is that he might have joy—and there can be no joy without love.
We were always made for love
No man is trash. All human life is treasure. Tyler Glenn—and every other LGBTQ person—is a treasure, whether they believe as we do or not. Unfortunately, the November 5th policy looks to devalue, not prize, our homosexual members and their children. In the six months since the policy change, I’ve heard the arguments that it is a loving policy. This view, it seems to me, does not really mourn with those who mourn. To defend the policy risks ignoring the perspective of the people who have been most deeply affected, who feel discounted and who feel set aside as waste. Tyler Glenn’s voice speaks a hard reality, and we need to do more than merely hear it with our ears. We need to try to feel his experience in our gut. This empathy will draw us to Christ.
Some who are born with intellects that don’t fit the norm are considered by the Church to be exempt from sin, and we teach that they are guaranteed salvation. But those born with a sexual orientation outside the norm are told there is no place for them in the plan of salvation. The first concept bridges a gap in our doctrine with love and gentility. Does the second concept seem borne of the same? It is imperative as Mormonism evolves and builds between its doctrinal gaps, it does so with the innate truth that human life matters most.
Tyler Glenn is leaving Mormonism.
If you wanted me to stay
I’d prepare my days away
Because it failed him. Because Mormonism, in Glenn’s eyes, has valued itself more than it values him.
I know that’s hard to hear. The notion is offensive to some. But watch the video. Repeatedly. Clear to the end where you will see the singer sprawl on the floor of a grounded elevator as if dead to us, a red X slashed across his face. Set aside your defenses and feel his agony. Don’t mourn him; mourn with him. Reflect deeply on what his experience has been. Then cry to the Lord and see what truth He reveals.
Bio: Lisa Torcasso Downing resides in Texas and is adjunct faculty for Collin College. She has served as fiction editor for both Sunstone and Irreantum, the literary journal formerly published by the Association for Mormon Letters. She is the author of the Adventure of the Restoration series, as well as the mainstream young adult novel, Island of the Stone Boy. Downing is a convert to Mormonism with more than thirty-five years of active membership under her belt. She maintains a personal blog presence at outsidethebookofmormonbelt.com.