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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended July 29, 2000
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Letter Sent to Mormon-News: 22Jul00

Letter from: J.L Parkin

Re: Mormons won't let gay quit church without fight

Dear Editor:

As a long-time reader of the Examiner, I found Carol Ness's July 17th article, "Mormons won't let gay quit church without fight" to be biased, poorly researched, full of errors, and, worst of all, malicious. Such an article is far beneath The Examiner's usual stellar reporting.

I followed both San Francisco papers' coverage of the Proposition 22 battle, and, while feelings were high on both sides of the incendiary issue, by and large the San Francisco mainstream journalism was as fair as could be expected. However, Ms. Ness' article tasted like obvious sour grapes. While the Mormon church was heavily involved in the pro 22 campaign, Ms. Ness must acknowledge that they were only one of a large cadre of community groups. Yet Ms. Ness seems to need a single villain, an evil empire, to blame for Prop 22's passing.

As an active member and leader in the LDS church, I am intimately familiar with the name removal process. It is a straightforward and simple one, which must be initiated _in writing_ by the member desiring withdrawal. My experience with nearly a hundred such requests has been that only a fraction -- maybe ten at the outside -- have actually written the letter (which need be no longer than 2 sentences). While Ms. Ness' article did not discuss it, the many more who don't write affect those who do. Allow me to explain.

Time has shown that members who don't write letters of name removal have their reasons. For example, they have not actually made up their mind to leave, or, a spouse is putting pressure on them against their will (a frequent case), or, a church visit simply came at a difficult time. The fact is, many who have verbally asked for name removal have actually returned to fellowship within the church some time after their request. (Incidentally, it's rather ironic that those unwilling to write a short letter often charge the church with harassment for its similar lack of "simple" action.)

Because many express desires to withdraw, but then return, some church leaders are hesitant to actually act on these _written_ requests, thinking that the person may return some day. While these feelings come from genuine concern for the member (and may actually be valid), an unwillingness to honor written requests is also contrary to the church's primary tenet of "moral agency" -- that God-given, fundamental right to choose one's own destiny. I have had discussions with leaders reluctant to initiate these written requests, but never once have I found it to be because the church or its leaders are "a vindictive bunch of cult members," as Ms. Ness advances.

Another problem in the name removal process is the simple fact that LDS leaders are all lay leaders. Thus, in addition to their heavy load at church--which includes counseling, providing food and housing, attending to spiritual welfare--LDS leaders also work, raise families, volunteer in the community, and so forth. When one is concerned with so many productive aspects of life, processing the paperwork to remove someone's church records does not readily fall at the top of the list. While understandable, this is truly unfortunate. Ms. Ness' article, though, acknowledged none of these circumstances, and, instead, made strong inferences that the LDS church had sinister reasons for holding unhappy members against their will.

The article barely made a feeble attempt to speak with any LDS leaders on this process, and instead, handed an open mic to those with an ax to grind. Isn't this contrary to the first rule of Journalism 101? Just as there might be a worldwide Mormon conspiracy to take over the world, isn't there also the slightest possibility that church leaders could be trying their humanely best to meet a myriad of competing needs while failing at some? And what about speaking with those who requested name removal and immediately received it? They do exist.

Additionally, Ms. Ness' facts about the LDS church were often erroneous. For example, suggesting the church spies, harasses, invades privacy, reveals confidences, announces transgressions, proclaims punishments, and so forth, borders on slander. In my years as a church member, I've seen lapses of clear judgement, but not vengeful, hateful behavior, as Ms. Ness asserts. In fact, anyone who is acquainted any active Mormons knows they are far too busy juggling multiple duties to worry about spying, harassing or forming secret KGBs. Articles such as Ms. Ness' merely promulgate the same kind of attitudes against one group that she wants to quell against another. (And, not incidentally, one that the LDS church has faced since its beginnings.) Since when did such behavior ever benefit either side, or the public in the middle?

Finally, it's dismaying that Ms. Ness (and her editors) chose to present such a one-sided view of the LDS church. Again, anyone who is familiar with Mormons can use Christ's own standards for judging: "By their fruits ye shall know them." While by no means perfect, Latter-day Saints work very hard to be honest, true, benevolent and to do good to all. Yes we fail, though often unwittingly, yet we persist. It's a shame that Ms. Ness resorted to old fictions rather than discovering the LDS church's own perspective through balanced interviews, equal coverage and fair journalism.

Maybe, just maybe, Ms. Ness would have discovered -- like the thousands who join the LDS church each year -- that the church is diligently trying to do good by magnifying its divine mandate, though often fumbling along -- just like most of us.

While I appreciate the desires to tell newsworthy stories, I hope that the need to sell papers in a town with its own obvious biases does not overcome your journalistic integrity. Telling people what they want to hear does not necessarily make it truth.

JL Parkin
Pasadena, CA


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