BANGOR, Maine — Jeremiah Miner is shedding his religion but not his faith.
Miner, 28, of Bangor is leaving his religious denomination because he is gay and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints won’t allow him to marry his partner even though Maine voters now have legalized same-sex marriage.
Miner and his partner, who also was raised a Mormon, are building a life together with family as its foundation — an essential value within the denomination.
“I don’t feel like I’m giving up my religion,” Miner said recently. “I disagree with the church on this issue. If that means that I have to be excommunicated, then, so be it. Right now where I rest spiritually is I’m just trying to figure everything out. I can’t call myself Mormon anymore because who knows what will happen with that. But I still consider myself a very spiritual person.”
Miner did more than just stop attending services, called sacrament meetings, at the Mormon church on the corner of Grandview Avenue and Essex Street in Bangor. He gave his bishop, the lay leader who heads up the congregation, a letter admitting that he is a practicing homosexual.
Church teaching states that, “Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and the family is central to the creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of his children,” according to information posted on the denomination’s website, lds.org.
That does not allow Miner to marry Ammon Whigham, 25, of Bangor in the church. The two have said they plan to adopt children and create a family based on many of the lessons they learned from the LDS church.
“I want you to know that I still respect the church, what it does for the world, and for the lives of its members,” Miner said in his letter, which he shared with the Bangor Daily News. “I was in love with the church at one point, but we had an abusive relationship. I was never going to be what the church wanted, and I spent much time and energy trying to still make it work. I am tired of making it work, and have decided to let you do what you feel is necessary.”
Miner’s bishop, Hans Peterson of Bangor, said on Nov. 2 that he had received Miner’s letter but the church did not plan to take steps to excommunicate him as Miner suggested.
“The [disciplinary] council has a lot of discretion in what kind of action, if any, it takes,” Peterson said. “We couldn’t really ascertain if he was a member. If he is, he’s not active.”
Miner said Nov. 14 that he has been contacted by Stake President Hazen E. Martin. The two are scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss Miner’s status within the denomination. Miner expects to be excommunicated.
“It would not be unusual that somebody who was active in church in another place moved here and would not be attending on a regular basis,” he said. “It also would not be unusual that they would then decide to speak with someone in the church about something.”
The LDS church is lay-led and does not have ordained clergy. Martin is above Peterson in the church hierarchy and oversees congregations in the northern half of the state.
By leaving the church, Miner, in a way, is swimming against the tide. The LDS church has been the fastest-growing denomination in the nation during the past 10 years, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives. Across the country, nearly 2 million members joined the denomination, bringing the total to 6.14 million adherents.
In Maine, membership has increased by 3,565 members since 1990.
Eight of every 1,000 people in Maine were Mormons in 2009. That makes the denomination one of the fastest-growing in the state.
The church was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith in upstate New York after the angel Moroni told him where to find gold tablets containing God’s revelations, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Smith said he translated the record with divine help and published it as the Book of Mormon. It recounts the history of some tribes of Israel that migrated to North America centuries before Christ.
Latter-day Saints were persecuted and forced to move from New York to Illinois, where the founder was assassinated. In 1846, Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, led the rapidly growing flock to Salt Lake City, Utah, where it flourished.
In 1890, the church ended the practice of plural marriage. Six years later, Utah was admitted to the union as the 45th state.
Miner, one of 10 children, was raised on a farm in Cedar City, Utah, where his father owns the local butcher shop. Miner and his siblings helped out on the farm and in the shop from the age of 8until they turned 18 and left for college.
Like nearly all young Mormon men, Miner went on a two-year mission at the age of 19. After his his mission in Indiana, he returned to college and realized he was gay.
“I was very against homosexuality,” he said. “I would frequently make blog posts against it. [My roommate] was the first person that really showed me that being gay didn’t affect the kind of person you have to be. That it doesn’t have to mean what everyone else says that it means. I realized this was a part of me, and the reason I’d been fighting so much against because I saw it in myself and I was afraid of it.”
Miner said sending the letter to the bishop was the final step in his coming-out process that began about five years ago.
“I started with my friends because I felt comfortable with them,” he said. “Much, much later I told my parents and the rest of my family. That was significantly more difficult. Just because I was afraid to tell them for fear of rejection because they are very, very Mormon. It’s not OK to be gay in the church. Well, it’s OK to be gay in the church; you just can’t do anything about it.”
Miner said his family disowned him for a while, but now he is in close contact with them.
“I think what was so hard for them is that they didn’t really know anyone [who is] gay,” he said. “Most people in Utah don’t. I’m sure they do know them but they don’t know that they are gay. I didn’t come out until I moved to Maine because I didn’t want to live around my family while I dealt with that rejection. I thought it would be easier to be in a space where I knew I was accepted and would be OK before I told them.”
Miner and Whigham, who is one of eight children, came to Maine three years ago so Miner could attend graduate school at the University of Maine and study communications. Miner now works in training and development at a bank in Rockland. Whigham is studying to be a dental hygienist.
The two met in Cedar City, Utah, where dating as a gay couple was difficult.
Whigham, whose family roots are in Hawaii and parents are divorced, worked in the local Starbucks, even though his religion forbid him from drinking coffee and other caffeinated beverages. They met at a party.
“He didn’t know I was attracted to men,” Whigham said. “We hung out a lot and realized we happened to be really connected.”
But they didn’t tell anyone about their relationship for almost a year. Whigham had attended many Miner family dinners as a friend and was well liked by all. When Miner came out, that changed dramatically.
“My mom threatened to kill him,” Miner said.
“I was the scapegoat,” Whigham added. “She thought I turned him gay.”
Whigham’s family, which he said was not as devout as Miner’s family was, immediately accepted his homosexuality and his relationship with Miner.
The couple have not had a wedding or commitment ceremony but plan to marry in two or three years after Whigham completes school and they are able to save some money for a large wedding to accommodate their large families. As a sign of their commitment to each other, each wears a plain gold band as an engagement ring, Miner said.
Miner and Whigham own a house in Bangor. It is full of photos of their families and family heirlooms.
Old storm windows a neighbor had put out in the trash were rescued by the couple and now hang in the stairwell to the second floor of their nearly century-old home. Photos of their parents and siblings rest behind the panes of glass.
On their dining room wall is a 100-year-old tapa cloth that has been in Whigham’s family for several generations. Made from the inner bark of mulberry or fig trees, the tapa cloth is beaten rather than woven, he said. It is decorated with colorful designs and used as a floor or table covering.
Commitment and dedication to family is one of the things both men said they learned in the church and from their families growing up. Miner said there are things about being an active Mormon that he will miss.
“I’m going to miss the sense of having a community wherever I went,” he said. “It was always really easy being Mormon because you knew you had an instant social connection wherever you went.
“I will miss doing certain things with my family that we used to in the church,” Miner continued. “In Mormonism, you go to the temple [in Salt Lake City, Utah]. That’s a really a big important thing and I really loved going to the temple, but I really, really loved going to the temple with my family. It was just a really peaceful time. It was bonding moment for us, and I know that I’ll probably never have that again, and that’s definitely what I’ll miss most.”
During the past two years, Miner’s family has accepted his sexual orientation and embraced his relationship with Whigham. That was evident on Election Day, Miner said Thursday.
“When it was announced that ‘Yes on 1’ had passed, Ammon and I just sat and cried,” he said. “I had family members texting me congratulations for the next few days. We both grew up in a state and culture that made us think it would never be possible for us to live as a couple.
“It feels amazing to know that this passed, mostly because my neighbors felt it should,” he continued. “All this serves as a huge validation that we made the right move coming to Maine. In the end, I hope Maine is the turn of the tide in our struggle, and that other gay couples in the country will one day feel the same validation Ammon and I feel.”