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Prince Research Excerpts on Gay Rights & Mormonism – “18a – Andrew Callahan”

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18a – Andrew Callahan


“A person using the name ‘Dale Callahan’ is currently conducting an extensive letter-writing campaign to priesthood leaders, members, and missionaries. In the letters, he denounces California Proposition 8, which is an amendment to the California Constitution defining marriage as between ‘a  man and a woman.’ He urges Californians to vote ‘no’ on the proposition. We are not certain if this is a former member of the Church by the name of Dale Callahan or someone merely using that name.

Church members should be made aware that Dale Callahan is not affiliated with the Church and does not speak for the Church in any way. His communications should be disregarded.” (LDS Public Affairs Department to General Authorities and the following leaders in the United States: Area Seventies; Stake, Mission, and District Presidents; Bishops and Branch Presidents, August 18, 2008)


“I just got a call from my bishop. He is coming by today at around 3 Central time.” (Andrew Callahan email, September 11, 2008)


“A Hastings, Nebraska Mormon man has been threatened with excommunication by his bishop for working against an anti-gay amendment in Calif.…

Andrew Callahan, who says that he is ‘a high priest in good standing” in the Mormon church, contacted the media by means of an email, dated Sept. 21, in which Hastings claimed that his efforts to counter the Mormon leadership’s instruction had included co-creating a Web site ‘where Mormons, former Mormons, and friends of the Mormon Church could write letters and post them online to state their opposition to the Mormon Church’s political stance.’

The result, Callahan said, was a visit from his bishop that amounted to a threat of excommunication from the Mormons.

Callahan recounted, ‘In late June the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints… issued a letter to its members in California encouraging them to support Proposition 8, an amendment to the California constitution that will eliminate the right of same sex couples to marry.

‘The letter asked members to do all they could to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating both money and time.’

Continued Callahan, ‘Although I’m a resident of Hastings, Nebraska, not California, I almost immediately began trying to get the Mormon Church to change its position on the issue.

‘This just reminded me so much of the racial bigotry that Mormon leaders have historically been so famous for.

‘Our past leaders insisted that racial bigotry against blacks was God’s divine idea,’ Callahan continued, adding, ‘now current ones are promoting this same kind of bigoted nonsense about gays and lesbians.’

Stated Callahan, ‘I’m a Mormon high priest in good standing and have served in many local leadership positions in my more than 20 years in the Mormon Church.’

In that capacity, Callahan not only helped to create the Web site where pro-marriage equality Mormons could speak out, he ‘also wrote hundreds of letters to middle level church leaders stating this opposition to the plan put forth by top leadership in the Mormon Church, and invited the middle level leaders to join with me in that opposition.’

The church’s leadership seemingly took note of Callahan’s efforts; claimed Callahan, ‘On August 18, the Mormon Church headquarters in Salt Lake City disseminated a ‘Notice’ to virtually all of the Mormon ecclesiastical leaders in the United States, directing them to ‘disregard’ communications from me.

‘The Notice also directed that the lay membership of the Church be told to disregard me.’

Nonetheless, Callahan recounted, ‘I continued my efforts, contacting lay members directly in several states, and also starting a petition online that asks the Mormon Church to immediately discontinue its political organizing activities and financial support of the California amendment.’

Callahan’s continued efforts on behalf of preserving marriage equality seemingly led to a visit from his bishop.

‘On September 11, 2008, my bishop, Bryan Woodbury of Clay Center, Nebraska visited me stating that he was there by assignment of higher authorities in the church,’ Callahan recounted.

‘Bishop Woodbury offered me a chance to resign my membership in the Mormon Church, and when I declined, the bishop stated that there would be disciplinary action and that my membership in the Mormon Church was ‘not mandatory.’

‘Bishop Woodbury indicated that he would be back ‘pretty quick’ with a letter from the next higher level ecclesiastical leader,’ Callahan continued.

‘This was clearly a threat of excommunication, because bishops have full authority to discipline high priests in the Mormon Church with every form of church discipline except excommunication, which must be done at the next higher level.’

Continued Callahan, ‘Bishop Woodbury stated that the reasons for the excommunication would be that I am ‘going in a different direction’ from the church, and I am in ‘opposition’ to the Mormon Church.’

Added Callahan, ‘The bishop gave the analogy that if I were a member of a gay and lesbian organization and collected signatures on a petition supporting Proposition 8, that organization would probably kick me out, and suggested that the Mormon Church was about to do that to me now.’…

Though the leadership of the Mormon church had phrased support for the anti-gay amendment as ‘a matter of conscience’ in urging its membership to contribute, some local church officials reportedly had told Mormons that it would endanger their souls not to give.

The Wall Street Journal cited the church’s top leadership as saying that was not consistent with the church’s official position.…” (Kilian Melloy, “Mormon Priest Threatened with Excommunication in Marriage Row,” EdgeBoston.com, September 22, 2008)


“On Monday, Callahan received a letter from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that said, ‘You are reported to have participated in conduct unbecoming a member of the church and have been in apostasy.’” (“Nebraska Man Faces Excommunication for Speaking Out Against Marriage Ban,” Advocate.com, September 24, 2008)


“Just after the leaders of the Mormon Church encouraged California Mormons to work hard to pass Prop 8, I swung into action with others to try to defeat Prop 8, and get the Mormon Church to butt out of California politics. I helped start the website ‘Signing for Something,’ where Mormons and friends of Mormons can speak out on the issue by writing letters stating why they support Prop 8 and oppose the Mormon Church’s stance.…” (Andrew Callahan, “Mormon Church to Excommunicate Me for Speaking Out Against Prop 8,” www.calitics.com, September 24, 2008)


“Dear Brother Callahan,

We have decided to defer your disciplinary council to a later date given this politically charged election season. We feel that a more measured and considered discussion can be held at a date sometime in November.…” (Weldon Sleight, Stake President, to Andrew Callahan, September 25, 2008)


Callahan: We started our little website, the “Signing for Something” website.  What I actually thought was the most fun about that was that we started up with no budget, no advertising, nothing; just spreading it essentially by word-of-mouth among dissident Mormons.

Prince: The power of the Internet.

Callahan: But it was very slow.  A group of us started talking at the end of June.

Prince: So right after the Church jumped in.

Callahan: Yes, almost immediately.  We started talking initially through private messages on the Post-Mormon website.  Then, we started corresponding by email, and we decided to do something, a website.  It took us a few days to organize, and by July 4th, Signing for Something went live.  It was really not getting much notice.  We were trying to promote it to everybody that we knew, but it just wasn’t getting much notice.

That was when I came up with my idea.  The other people who were involved in Signing for Something were all upstanding, straightforward, honest people; and I had just a little bit of skullduggery in mind.  I had a different belief about the leadership of the Mormon Church.  I was still a member—I was a high priest at the time, although I hadn’t been active for a while.

I had noticed a tendency over the years—I had had to attend lots of leadership meetings—and you can get the feeling at this level, whatever this level is, are just a little bit paranoid about the guys at the next level up.  The guy at the next level up might think that I’m not quite devout enough, so everybody is trying to one-up everybody else, and they’re all afraid of each other.  So I came up with the idea of writing to middle-level folks—stake presidents, mission presidents, temple presidents, Area Seventies—and I sent out maybe three- or four-hundred letters.  I also sent postcards.  There were some variations in the letter, but it basically said: 

“Dear President So-and-so:

We are a group of people who are organizing in opposition to the First Presidency.  You have been recommended to us, and you probably know who recommended you.  We’d like for you to join our ranks.”

Then, it had some other stuff.  I sent this out to hundreds of people at this middle level.  And of course, in there I mentioned the website, “Signing for Something.”  I also sent out some postcards that had the same idea.  Some of the letters had little sheets from what I referred to as the “Faith and Repentance Committee,” and we were going to try to get people to use the code words “Faith and Repentance,” and know that that meant that we were in opposition to the teachings of the First Presidency on gay marriage.

So I sent these out with the idea that a lot of these middle-level managers would freak out.  And they did.  They, then, passed the letters on to the First Presidency, or to somebody in Salt Lake.  Probably the first one or two they got, they ignored, saying, “This is some kind of an anomaly.”  But then when they got a few more, the Church drafted a letter, and at the end of August they sent out a letter that was read all over the United States and Canada, telling membership generally that if they received a letter from this guy Callahan, just ignore it.

This was like the “bean in the ear” concept: you don’t tell a child not to put a bean in his ear, because what’s the first thing that kid’s going to do?  Put the bean in his ear.  Well, after those letters were read in Sacrament Meetings, Relief Society meetings, Priesthood Meetings all over the country, people googled this guy Callahan, and traffic on our website went up about six-fold after the first weekend; and then it doubled again the next weekend.  So that’s how we actually began to get some press for the Signing for Something website, because the Church did our advertising for us to its own membership.  There are three-and-a-half-million of the Church in the United States, Greg.  I had a $100 budget.  I couldn’t have gotten the message to them; they wouldn’t have listened to me.  But a letter from the First Presidency, they will read.  The letter that was read in all these meetings across the country technically wasn’t from the First Presidency; it was sent out by the First Presidency, but the letter was from the Public Affairs Office, or something like that.  I don’t know if you have noticed, but in the last dozen years there have not been many letters from the First Presidency.  They are really hands-off; they want everything to come out of Public Affairs, and that way they can always make the argument that it was not an ecclesiastical leader, it was not an ecclesiastical statement; it was just a policy statement made by some policy person, and not a religious leader.

Prince: The Department of Defense calls that “plausible deniability.”

Callahan: Yes, that’s exactly their stance.

So anyway, my goal was to get some positive press for Signing for Something.  Or not even necessarily positive, but just press in general.  And then I did.

Shortly after that was when I got the letter telling me that they were going to consider me for discipline if I didn’t want to resign.  They asked me if I wanted to resign, suggested I resign, and I said, “No, I’m not going to resign.”  Then I got the letter saying they were going to excommunicate me.  When I got the letter saying they were going to excommunicate me, that was when I did the thing with my local newspaper and my local TV station, and I think Channel 4 in Salt Lake, the one Chris Vanocur used to be on.  He did a number of stories on me.

(Andrew Callahan, March 25, 2015)


Peter: When Proposition 8 came out and it was clear the Church was really going to throw its weight behind it, both of us really wanted to do something.  It was close enough to when we had our story that it felt like people might listen to us, or maybe we could help organize.  We had met a lot of people, and it was our first experience with activism.

Greg: How did it feel?

Peter: It was very, very empowering, but really terrifying.  We were still kind of scared of the Church.  “Signing for Something” was the initial thing we finally came up with.  There were people who wanted to do a mass resignation, but because I am an idealist, I was really adamant that you can’t just do that, because then the people who matter, people who are a lot like I was, who are in the Church and care—those were the people who were getting hurt, and those are the people the Church might listen to.  “If you all resign, that’s great and that says something, but we need to build a coalition where people who are in the Church can be part of it.”  We had a really diverse group of people.  

I think we did something that I haven’t seen done very well before.  We did have people who were resigning in protest, but we also had letters from members who were concerned.  I wanted it to be broad.  We organized it around the petition that was very specific about the issue, so it wouldn’t wander off-topic.  The people who were resigning, were resigning specifically about the issue.  Then we asked for a letter-writing campaign of people to write letters of their own experiences and thoughts.

Mary: We had over a thousand who signed.

Peter: Then, we were going to deliver this to the Church, in-person.  That was the scariest thing either of us had done.  We were the only people in Salt Lake who were involved in this.  There are no activists in Salt Lake!  They are so underground here.

Mary: Not so much now.

Peter: It’s been different, but at the time we couldn’t find anybody who was willing to do anything public in Salt Lake.  How are you going to deliver a petition if you don’t have boots-on-the-ground in Salt Lake?  So we decided to organize that half of it.  Andrew Callahan was running the website, and I think he very much enjoyed the notoriety.  He was the public face of it.  We did most of the writing, in terms of creating the petition.  We had a committee.  We tried to get a lot of people involved, but a lot of people kind of fled as soon as it became anything.  They were willing to provide some intellectual help.

John Dehlin was interested in being involved, but I think it was a little too scary for him at the time.  I remember him saying that it bothered him that the intellectual dissenters didn’t seem to care about this issue.  He was concerned we wouldn’t make enough of an impact for him to risk everything at the time.  I felt upset by that, but I think it’s a fair decision—where you want to make your mark.  It’s important to follow your own heart about how public to be and when.

We finally got it all together.  We coordinated it with the ex-Mormon conference, so we got a number of people who had been following Andrew’s antics to come with us.  We had a pretty good crowd.  I think we were very savvy about imagery.  We printed every letter, we printed every name on the petition, and the whole thing was about a ream of paper.  We thought, “There are fifteen big, important people there,” so we decided to print a copy for each of them.  We wrapped them in pink ribbon.

Mary: We brought flowers to represent the people who had lost their lives.  We brought carnations to represent all the Mormons who had committed suicide because they were gay and couldn’t reconcile it.  And then, we walked over from the City Creek Park, singing, “Love One Another.”

Peter: We had a prayer, and then we walked over to the church headquarters.

Mary: We had good press coverage.

Peter: We were terrified.  From a TV perspective, they decided very foolishly—you know how the Church Office Building has stairs going down?  They decided to meet us at the door, which allowed our whole crowd to come and fill up the stairs.  So it looked like there were hundreds and hundreds of people there, because the cameras were down at the bottom, looking up.  We were singing, “Love One Another,” and we had everybody who came set one item down as they filed through.  Then, Andrew and I talked to the low-level person they sent out to talk to us.

I have to say, though, that we were so scared.  Didn’t you [Mary] call them to say, “We are delivering a petition.  Will somebody be there?”

Mary: I was terrified.  I wondered if they were going to start yelling at me.

Peter: It was so scary.  But to have gone over there and sung a hymn and delivered a petition was the most empowering experience I had ever had in my life.  I showed up at this place that I had grown up ten minutes from, and walked past almost every day of my life, this huge tower-of-power staring down at us.  To dare to do something that might offend someone there—and respectfully.  I think we pulled it off really respectfully.

Then, they politely ignored us and dumped the flowers in the garbage.

(Peter and Mary Danzig, March 2, 2015)