Several hundred people with roots in the Mormon faith gathered in Salt Lake City on Saturday to renounce the church's new policies targeting gays and their children in an event that marked the latest illustration of the fervor the rule changes have caused.
Billed as a mass resignation by Mormons, people filled out paperwork and dropped off the resignation letters at a church building. The large majority had stopped attending church years ago. But they said the new policy that bans baptisms for children of gay parents until the kids turn 18 and disavow same-sex relationships spurred them to come and formally cut ties and have their names removed from the faith's membership rolls.
"We're supposed to love our children like God loves us," said Teresa Schofield, a former Mormon who stopped attending more than a decade ago. "To ask someone to turn their back on their own child or for a child to turn their back on a parent, that's unnecessary."
The rally came one day after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stood behind the policies issued on Nov. 5, while providing more explanation and clarifications.
Officials said the rules are intended to prevent children from being caught in a tug-of-war between teachings at home and church. They clarified that the rules apply only to children living primarily with a same-sex couple.
They also said that while the children of gay parents won't be given the full spectrum of ordinances, they aren't barred from attending worship services.
Mormon church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement that officials hope the expanded clarification issued Friday will provide understanding and context to Latter-day Saints who were considering leaving the faith.
But the new guidance didn't sway those in attendance at the rally, attended by at least 500 people. Speakers harshly criticized a new set of rules that also make gay marriages a sin worthy of expulsion.
"If you are hurting today, you are not alone. If you are angry today, you are not alone," said Lauren Elise McNamara, one of the event organizers. "We are here for you and your families. Today we expand from members of a church that excludes to members of a world community that embraces. A world that is choosing love."
Across the street from the park where the rally took place stood one counter-protester who defended the church: Brandon Robertson. Dressed in a suit, the 20-year-old gay Mormon from Orem, Utah, held a sign with Bible verses and a picture of Jesus Christ and said people should stand behind what church leaders say.
The rules, issued to local leaders around the world, prompted a flurry of discussion on Mormon websites, with the idea of targeting kids ruffling even conservative Latter-day Saints who rarely question church decisions.
After the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last summer to make gay marriage legal nationwide, church leaders wanted "to draw a firm line and encourage consistency among local leaders," the Friday news release said.
In addition to providing a forum for people to renounce their membership, event organizers wanted to show people there is life after Mormonism, even in a place like Utah where more than half of the state is estimated to be practicing Mormons.
The Associated Press