This week, rockstar Tyler Glenn will launch his new solo album, “Excommunication.” As a teaser, he has already released two music videos, Shameless, and the highly symbolic and controversial exmormon coming-out video, Trash. You can take three minutes to watch it now. I recommend full screen.
We exmormons have never had an anthem before. Not officially. Sure, we’ve clung to some of the obvious mainstream pop greats, like REM’s Losing My Religion, Tori Amos’s Crucify, or one of my favorites, Sarah McLaughlin’s Witness. (I’ve got a whole playlist of atheist-themed music right here.)
As true-blue Mormons, we had a hymnal cram-packed with songs that praised the Church and all its trappings. We had many musical ways to express our feelings. But since leaving, we have to make do with whatever generic anti-religious or faith-transitiony music we happen to come across, and bend it to fit our specific experiences.
But not anymore, thanks to rockstar Tyler Glenn, frontman for Neon Trees, a Mormon who came out as gay two years ago, and who optimistically clung to the belief that his Church, which claims to espouse “the pure love of Christ,” had a place for him.
For those of us who hoped the LDS Church was trending to broaden their range of invites to the spiritual banquet, our hopes were crushed last year, when they made it clear that gay, bi, trans, and queer folk (like me) would be denied the full earthly blessings of marriage and family. Not only that, but our children would also be denied the sacred saving ordinances and blessings of the Gospel, and all the social benefits that come along with it, the most important of which is a sense of belonging in your family and community.
No other “sin” in Mormon canon has this designation.
This policy change has come to be known as “The Exclusion Policy,” and in my mind, it encourages and excuses further bullying among Mormons against LGBT people and their children.
This must have been a soul crushing time for someone like Glenn, who did as he was taught and stood up for the Church, who risked mockery from worldly critics, who remained loyal, and sincerely believed the Church was making progress toward opening their arms to welcome LGBT members fully into the fold.
It was soul crushing for me, and I’ve been out of the Church for fifteen years.
In response, Glenn has spent these months, especially since April when he released Trash, using his musical and speaking talents to express his deeply felt conflicts over this policy, over its effects on gay Mormon youth, over his faith crisis, over uncovering the lies the Church has taught, over his sense of betrayal, and over his exit from Mormonism. These past months, he has done as he was taught by the faith of his birth: He’s stood up for what he believes.
As much as we like to think human beings are rational, we primarily think in emotion, symbols, and imagery. This is what I mean when I speak positively of “spirituality”, this irrational aspect that is central to our humanity. Music is important for our spiritual selves. It is symbolic and resonates the multiple parts of our minds in sync toward a particular theme or idea in a way that words and logic can’t.
Music is a mantelpiece of Mormon culture, and I was a musical child. We were taught a scripture: “For [God's] soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” D&C 25:12
As a spiritual atheist, I have room in my symbolic mind for a bigger God than the Mormon God of my youth, a God who can delight in all kinds of songs, any song that arises from the sincere heart of man. Not only does he think the simple, off-tune passionate Primary song of a six year old is delightful, he also would think that the angry, critical, irreverent exmormon, mourning his loss in a high-production-value music video, is delightful. It is an honest expression of one of his children revealing genuine, raw pain, and pointing a much-needed accusatory finger at an organization which has legitimately wronged a whole class of people. Several classes of people, in fact: Gay Mormons, heterodox Mormons, exmormons. Or pretty much any Mormon who is, as Glenn described of himself and many of the rest of us have as well, a square peg in a round hole, a round hole which refuses to accommodate the shape of the peg, and expects the peg to contort until it is snapped in half.