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Activists, mostly inactive Mormons, resign from LDS Church at SLC event

SALT LAKE CITY — A group of a thousand-plus — mostly younger, inactive Mormons — gathered Saturday afternoon in City Creek Park to sign letters of resignation from the LDS Church.

The majority of those who signed letters on or prior to Saturday already had stopped believing or attending worship services years ago for a variety of reasons, according to a poll on the event's Facebook page. They decided to leave The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints formally on Saturday to join in solidarity with others expressing resentment about recent changes to church policy regarding same-sex couples and their children.

"We want this event to make a statement to the church today that its treatment of those we love has led us to this moment," event organizer Lauren McNamara said.

The church affirmed its doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman in an online update Nov. 5 to its handbook of instructions for local leaders — stake presidents and bishops. The changes clarified that members who engage in same-sex marriage or cohabitation are considered in apostasy for choosing to abandon the church's doctrine of marriage.

The updated handbook also included a new policy that children whose primary residence is in the home of a same-sex couple cannot be baptized until they turn 18 and disavow same-sex marriage. Church leaders said the policy was designed out of concern for the current and future well-being of children and the harmony of their home environment.

Local attorney Mark Naugle gathered resignation letters at the event and said he would mail them to the church on Monday. Naugle said he has gathered a total of 1,500 resignations since Wednesday. Others marched together to fill a mailbox on the corner of South Temple and State Street.

Two polls on the Facebook page for the event, which billed itself a mass resignation, showed that the majority who planned to attend had stopped believing years ago or already were inactive.

In one poll, 197 of 278 people said they hadn't believed in years, while 14 said they were active Mormons.

In the other poll, 595 of 948 said they were inactive, 200 said they already had resigned from the church and 76 said they were non-members. Only 33, or 3.5 percent, said they attended church weekly.

Brooke Swallow, who stopped attending church in 1997 and resigned her membership three years ago, conducted the event. Born and raised LDS in Orem, Utah, where she now raises her children as secular humanists, she called the protest "preventative activism."

She said LDS culture in Utah has made positive strides. Her children are not shunned for being outside the church in a largely LDS community, but she feared the new policies will lead to shunning and suicides.

"The spirit of the policy may be compassion," she said, "but some people will follow the policy, not the spirit of the policy."

The event lasted three hours, including a march around Temple Square.

A church spokesman said leaders hoped clarifications provided Friday about the policy changes would help those with questions.

"We don’t want to see anyone leave the church, especially people who have been struggling with any aspect of their life," Eric Hawkins said in a statement. "The church exists to build people and help them heal, and there isn’t one of us who doesn’t need help at some point in our lives. We hope that (Friday's) guidance from church leaders and the additional commentary will help provide understanding and context to some who may be considering resigning their membership. It’s extremely important that our members read what leaders have said, and do not rely on other sources or interpretations or what people think they have said."

There have been other resignation events and protests in Salt Lake City in the past three years, but the 15-million member church continues to grow, Harvard professor Noah Feldman noted this week.

"Some have asserted that more members are leaving the church today and that there is more doubt and unbelief than in the past. This is simply not true," Elder Quentin L. Cook of the faith's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said at the church's April general conference. "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never been stronger. The number of members removing their names from the records of the church has always been very small and is significantly less in recent years than in the past."

In fact, Elder Cook added in the talk's footnotes, since 1990 the actual number of members leaving the church has decreased as the church has almost doubled in size.

"The percentage leaving is greatly reduced," he added.