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'Believer' Explores Working for Human Rights Change Within the Religion You Revere
June 25, 2018  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

Call Dan Reynolds (top) a contemporary Don Quixote.

The windmill against which Reynolds tilts in Believer, a documentary premiering Monday at 8 p.m. ET on HBO, is the policy of the Mormon Church on same-gender relationships and marriage.

The Mormon Church is against both. Really against them. Reynolds supports them.

Reynolds, who has a higher profile than your average LGBTQ activist because he’s the lead singer of the popular rock band Imagine Dragons, considers himself a Mormon. He was raised Mormon, he went to Brigham Young, he spent two years on a Mormon mission, and he didn’t marry his girlfriend, Aja Volkman, until she had converted.

He does not, he says in Believer, “want to denounce Mormonism.” He accepts much of what the church teaches. He loves his family, all of whom are devout Mormons and all of whom would be wounded if he were to leave the fold.

So he’s got this dilemma. He feels as though whichever way he goes he’ll seem to be judging and hurting someone.

On the other hand, he also feels like he has to make a moral decision and take a stand. Dismissing the issue as somebody else’s problem, he increasingly believes, makes him complicit in a denial of basic humanity and human rights.

Now it also should be acknowledged that this whole subject may seem narrow and abstract to those outside the Mormon church, or perhaps to anyone who isn’t a Mormon struggling with feelings your church warns will lead you to purgatory.

But Believer makes the issue broader. Reynolds isn’t only dealing with the issue of same-gender relationships and sin, which is weighty enough, but the near-universal question of whether it is better to fight for change within the organization you feel needs that change or whether it makes more sense to leave and challenge from without.

Reynolds argues throughout Believer for staying inside, though his hope suffers a serious jolt.

He and Tyler Glenn, lead singer of Neon Trees and a Mormon who publicly outed himself as gay, decided to speak up for tolerance through a cause-driven music festival called LoveLoud (top), which featured themselves and a number of other musicians.

Held in Utah, the festival was a huge success, and Reynolds said it led to a dialogue between himself and officials of the church. He was very hopeful, he said, that the church would reconsider its policy, which is that same-sex attraction is not a sin, but the minute even the slightest physical manifestation arises, the perpetrator has disobeyed the Lord.

Glenn recounts how he and his partner planned to raise their adopted children as Mormons until the church said it would not baptize children of any same-sex union until they were 18 and had renounced same-sex relationships.

After that, said Glenn, he no longer considered himself a Mormon.

Reynolds says at the end of the film that he will continue the fight. He’s planning another LoveLoud festival and helping to organize and support those who are also working for a change in church policy.

Reynolds is a particularly interesting activist here because, among other things, he and his wife Aja Volkman have three children. So he’s already juggling a lot in his life, with the family and his career in addition to the fact, not emphasized in Believer, that he has suffered from both depression and ulcerative colitis – which many think is the combination that plagued Kurt Cobain.

In any case, he vows to continue this fight, and Believer notes that he has had a flood of responses from teenagers and adults who are grateful that a Mormon with Reynolds’s profile will take the flak that comes from standing up for them.

To be honest, rock ‘n’ roll fame isn’t the kind of thing that seems likely to sway elders of the Mormon Church. Dan Reynolds says windmills aren’t the kind of thing that deters him, either.

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Another very well written piece by David, thank you. As for Dan's burden, we all have similar ones, one way or the other, so he should be an inspiration for us all. Whether to fight from within or from the outside IS a hard decision, but, in either case, our job, if we disagree, is to fight, somehow, some way. Don't be silent when you disagree, it's a death knell.
Jun 27, 2018   |  Reply
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