Johnny Townsend: Ye cannot serve both love and hate

As a Mormon, I saw parents and leaders teach young people to hate LGBTQ folks.

“The shooter is Mormon,” I texted my husband the moment I learned the man who’d killed five and injured eighteen at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ bar was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

My husband texted a single word back two minutes later. “Arggg!”

After writing the first book on the Upstairs Lounge fire, an arson at a French Quarter gay bar that killed thirty-two people in 1973, I react to news of bar deaths with an added degree of horror. Happy Land. The Station. Pulse.

Regina Adams, a trans woman from my ward, was one of the survivors of the Upstairs fire. Her partner was not so lucky.

My husband and I both served full-time LDS missions in Italy. After we returned to the States, Gary was ordered by his bishop to undergo electroshock torture. I was ordered to meet with an ex-gay therapist.

We chose love instead.

We were both excommunicated.

As the years went by, we listened to continued hateful rhetoric from LDS leaders and LDS politicians. We watched the repulsive Prop 8 campaign. We rolled our eyes over the Proclamation on the Family. Yet we still managed to be shocked by the “November Policy” of 2015 barring church ordinances from children of LGBTQ parents.

Then a couple of weeks ago, we saw LDS Church leaders come out in support of marriage equality.

I was surprised to find the news had no emotional impact on me. There had never been any reason the LDS Church couldn’t have maintained its own rules for members and let LGBTQ folks who weren’t members live their own lives, the way Mormons already do for folks who drink coffee or smoke cigarettes or watch R-rated movies.

The new policy of “compassion” is such a no-brainer that it was difficult to feel overly excited. Basic human decency is a pretty low bar for a prophet of God.

And then came the Colorado Springs shooting at Club Q and the glib, smug reactions from right-wing figures.

When news of the Upstairs Lounge fire first reached the residents of New Orleans, many joked about the “weenie roast” in the French Quarter. After churches refused to bury the dead because they were gay, people joked that the victims should be buried instead in “fruit jars.”

When I told my LDS cousin I was researching the fire, she wrinkled her nose in disgust and said, “You’re writing about people who died in a bar?”

In recent months, with right-wing religious and political leaders working hard to deny gender-affirming care, trans advocates have pointed out that this oppression will increase suicide rates.

It’s an ineffective argument because many of these right-wing leaders are perfectly fine with such an outcome. Those who drive youths to suicide don’t even need absolution from Jesus. They’re well-practiced at absolving themselves.

As a Mormon, I saw parents, teachers and leaders teaching young people to hate LGBTQ folks. I saw my fellow congregants laugh at gay men dying of AIDS. And I see many religious conservatives now happy when someone else’s kid kills gay or trans folks.

Or when real men attack Drag Queen Story Hour. When patriots threaten to bomb a Children’s Hospital.

Our hands are clean, we tell ourselves. We publicly deny responsibility, but in our hearts, we fully understand we’re responsible for “cleansing the world” in preparation for the Second Coming and we’re proud we did our part.

A basic law of physics is that an object in motion will stay in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force. A train barreling toward a crossing can’t stop in two seconds just because someone stepped onto the tracks.

And LDS leaders can’t stop the animosity, disdain and hatred they’ve created among their followers simply by saying one or two nice things. Not after decades of preaching animosity, disdain, and hatred.

One of Matthew Shepard’s murderers was a Mormon. An Eagle Scout.

I remember one of my zone leaders in Naples attacking a gay couple riding a Vespa.

As a stake missionary in New Orleans, I heard two missionaries discussing a gay member: “Homosexuality must be next to murder.”

No. What is next to murder is teaching animosity, disdain and hatred.

If it’s true that we cannot serve both God and mammon, it’s also true that we cannot serve both love and hate.

LDS leaders have finally come out in support of secular same-sex marriage equality. That’s a good thing. But it’s going to take far more than that to stop the 16,000,000-car train full of hatred they already set in motion.

When I heard about the shooting in Colorado Springs, I was angry and heartbroken and scared.

But when I learned that the alleged shooter was a member of the LDS Church, all I could feel was absolute and utter disgust.

Guess who taught me that?

Johnny Townsend

Johnny Townsend, Seattle, is the author of, among other books, “Am I My Planet’s Keeper?,” “Racism by Proxy” and “Queer Quilting”