Letter from: Shawn Holman
Re: Gay Mormon hoped suicide would help change church
The Consequences of Condemnation
When he took his own life by shooting himself in the head last week on the
steps leading to his church, Stuart Matis also left this world with a hope
in his heart. In his suicide note, he wrote, "Perhaps my death might become
the catalyst for some good."
I did not know Stuart, but I can understand why he would want his death to
bring about some such good. As a Mormon, he was raised to have faith in an
idealistic future in which his people, the Latter-day Saints, would labor
endlessly together in God's name to end all strife and ensure everlasting
peace on Earth. Either Stuart had lost faith in his people by the time he
reached those steps last week, or he believed the cold cement could be an
altar on which he would sacrifice himself to hasten the day of
reconciliation he dreamed of so desperately.
Stuart was gay and felt painfully betrayed by his religious leaders. His
proof: the vigorous multi-million dollar campaign of the Latter-day Saint
(LDS) Church over the past three years to bar gays and lesbians from
securing the right to civil marriage in Hawaii, Alaska, and now California.
In a letter he wrote sometime before his suicide, he told his cousin exactly
how dejected he felt as a result of his church's efforts to block state
recognition of gay and lesbian unions.
He wrote, "I read online that the Church had instructed the Bishops to read
a letter imploring the members to give of their time and money to support
[CA Proposition 22, the Limit on Marriage Initiative]. I almost went into a
panic attack. I cried for hours in my room, and I could do very little to
console the grief of hearing this news." Now we grieve at hearing the news
of his suicide, which seems to be a consequence of the LDS Church's anti-gay
policies and campaign.
Having grown up gay in the LDS Church myself, I empathize with the feelings
of betrayal Stuart described in his letter. He must have been taught as I
was that Latter-day Saints are given the special charge to bless all the
people of this world with God's perfect love, even in times of great
adversity and strife. Stuart was probably quite familiar with a frequently
recited scripture from the Book of Mormon that requires the faithful "to
mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of
comfort" no matter who, no matter when. The question I share with Stuart
is, what comfort is there in knowing our religious leaders willfully condemn
gays and lesbians to inequality?
Gay and lesbian Mormons like Stuart often lead isolated lives tormented by
the contradiction between the Church's doctrine of unconditional love and
their express condemnation of gays and lesbians both within the church and
in the public sector. Stuart wrote: "I simply refuse to acknowledge that
God in any way desires that his gay children are marginalized.. I also can't
imagine a Mormon who professes to love both God and his neighbor will allow
himself or herself to believe that homosexuals should be treated as
When ecclesiastical leaders profess to love the sinner while hating the sin,
the indictment that we are 'sinners by nature' leaves so many gays and
lesbians feeling helpless and hopeless. By describing as sinful even our
most innocent impulses to love and be loved, to build families together, and
to enjoy recognition of our commitments to each other by the churches in
which we were raised, religious leaders give lip-service to the principle of
unconditional love they preach from their pulpits. Love such as this is
conditional at best and sanctimonious at worst. We are barred from
participating in the cardinal rites of church and state that are available
to our non-gay neighbors.
Gays and lesbians are, thus, presented with a false choice between the
blessings of inclusion in a community of faith and the opportunity to give
sincere expression to our loving natures. When abandoned by our churches to
this social-limbo in which we enjoy neither religious acceptance nor civil
equality, life itself can feel excruciatingly empty and meaningless. This,
I imagine, is possibly close to the dismal emotional state Stuart was in
when he decided that his life was no longer worth living.
The tragedy of Stuart's death is made especially poignant when considered in
the context of the Mormon social history of the 19th and early 20th
centuries. The Latter-day Saint legacy is one of great suffering,
persecution and even bloodshed by a traditionalistic majority that refused
to recognize the Mormons' constitutional right to practice their religion
freely. How bitter is the irony, then, that the LDS Church, which now
enjoys unparalleled prosperity, is levying its wealth and resources against
another minority engaged in the struggle for civil equality and freedom.
In the wake of Stuart's symbolic sacrifice, LDS Church leaders have a
responsibility to reflect on the implications of their campaign and to
acknowledge the consequences of their condemnation. They must question
whether they are willing to risk the loss of even one more innocent life for
the sake of their politics, and answer for themselves whether they are still
justified in their crusade against same-sex marriage.
As with any suicide, we are left with several distressful unanswered
questions. When Stuart arrived at his church doorstep, would he have gone
through with his desperate act if the doors had been open rather than
locked? What if he had found inside a throng of welcoming arms that
embraced him no matter what pain, anguish, or love was in his heart? In his
final words, Stuart voiced a simple, yet profound truth that should not be
forgotten. "I am now free," he wrote, "I am no longer in pain." Would he
have had to escape to another world in order to have the pain of his
exclusion eased if his religious leaders had not forsaken him to chose
between his love and his God?
-- frank morris susa is a writer living in New York City.
Assumptions / by Frank Morris Susa - http://www.columbia.edu/~fs94
The above is an Op-Ed about the suicide of Stuart Matis in Los Altos,
CA. The author, frank morris susa, is a queer activist and writer living in
New York City. frank serves on the executive committee of Affirmation: Gay &
Lesbian Mormons as a Director of Youth & Young Adult Resources.
Please circulate widely. Permission to publish this piece is granted to all
publications and individuals who wish to do so. Please notify frank by
email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (212) 870 8936 if you print the
piece. Feel free to contact him with any questions or responses, as well.
Copyright (c) frank morris susa, 2000.