While it might not be common knowledge, Dan Reynolds, frontman of the famous American indie-rock band, Imagine Dragons, was born and raised in the Mormon faith. Growing up in a conservative household, Mormonism wasn’t just a religion to him and his family, it was their entire life.
“You eat, sleep and breathe Mormonism,” said Reynolds. “I attended church every Sunday, went to ‘Young Men’s’ once a week to learn about God as well as an evening of Scouting. When I got to high school I also woke up at 5 a.m. every morning to attend a church education class before school started five days a week. Mormonism truly was a part of my every decision since the day I was born.”
Even to this day, Reynolds holds onto his faith as a Mormon missionary, but his perception of the world around him through that lens has undoubtedly changed since his youth.
The Mormon church Reynolds was raised in has been outspoken for years about its stance on relationships. It upholds that sex is allowed only between a married man and woman. This view was made publicly explicit when the church loudly opposed same sex marriage in their support of Proposition 8 in California, an amendment originally passed in November 2008 that declared, “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
Young Mormons like Reynolds were taught to “hate the sin but love the sinner,” a poor guiding principle that feigned acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the Mormon church. “It actually is a cloak and dagger suggestion,” said Reynolds. “Mormon LGBTQ youth are told there is place for them within the church, however they must either practice celibacy, lie about their sexual practices in probing interviews with church leaders, enter into a mixed orientation marriage (marrying outside your sexual preference), or tell the truth about their sexual practices and face church discipline and excommunication.”
In his documentary, “Believer,” Reynolds decides that, as a Mormon missionary and celebrity, standing on the sidelines while LGBTQ youth struggle and take their lives in his Mormon community in Utah and across the United States is a true act of bigotry.
Throughout the documentary he explores his personal experiences and thoughts as a Mormon missionary, reaches out to those marginalized by the church and works on LoveLoud, a music festival designed to bring Mormons and the LGBTQ community together in Reynolds’ home state of Utah.
“I spent many years in conflict between the teaching of the faith and what my heart was telling me,” said Reynolds. In fact, the relationship between Dan Reynolds and his ex-wife, Aja Volkman, was strained by his Mormon faith. He believed in the expectation of following in his family footsteps by marrying a Mormon woman, and she worried over his faith and what that meant about his stance on the LGBTQ community.
Despite this friction, they realized their love for each other and got married. However, some friends did not attend the wedding because they disagreed with the teachings of Reynolds’ faith and thought Aja had married into Mormonism. This served as a worthy eye opener for Reynolds as he started to grapple with his faith.
In the battle between his faith and his heart, Reynolds decided on a compromise focused on love and awareness. “I had many friends who were LGBTQ and Mormon that lived with constant anxiety and guilt because they were being taught that their innate sense of being, their most beautiful and sacred right to love, was flawed and sinful,” said Reynolds. “I saw how hard they fought every day to hide it from their Mormon families. Try to force themselves to change their identity, but of course they could not.”
According to Reynolds, it was time for a change in the Mormon community that he knew wouldn’t happen overnight. But with the alarming suicide rates of LGBTQ youth in Utah raising 141.3 percent from 2011 to 2015 and the statistic saying these youth are eight times more likely to take their own lives if not accepted by their home or community, Reynolds knew he had to try.
“I can’t change the church,” said Reynolds. “But hopefully I can help start the conversation at the dinner table.”
Reynolds partnered with Tyler Glenn, lead vocalist of Neon Trees, a former Mormon and gay man, to put on the LoveLoud music festival and create a safe space for Mormons and the LGBTQ community to come together and start that conversation.
Reynolds brought on stage a 13-year-old girl named Savannah to tell her story about coming out as gay during testimony at her church service and being cut off after referring to herself as a lesbian. He also invited the parents of Stockton Powers, a young man who committed suicide after feeling condemned when he came out as gay to his Mormon community, to speak to the audience.
After these heartfelt stories and his wife, Neon Trees, Krewella and Joshua James and Nicholas of Walk the Moon performed, Reynolds entered with the other members of Imagine Dragons and made his stance clear.
“To our LGBTQ youth,” said Reynolds. “I LOVE YOU. Fully. Completely. I celebrate you. You are beautiful and worthy of love. I hope you let yourself find it and find peace and security in that place. You deserve it. I will fight for you.”
By no means is this documentary about Reynolds denouncing his faith and calling Mormonism a religion of bigotry. He is still a devout Mormon. He does not believe that all Mormons are bigots. He is still close with his traditional Mormon family and wishes no ill feelings upon them or their faith.
“There’s parts of Mormonism that I really love, but then there’s also parts that I don’t love and, in fact, I think are incredibly hurtful and are even killing our youth,” said Reynolds. “My goal is to retain the things that I love, but certainly be at odds with the things I don’t love, and hopefully use my platform to at least start a dialogue.”
In a heartfelt speech at the Trevor Awards hosted by the Trevor Project, an American non-profit organization focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth, Reynolds admitted that he had spread this hurtful part of the Mormon gospel as a young man and told members of the LGBTQ community that their lifestyle was a sin. In tears, Reynolds says he wishes he could take it all back, knock on every door and apologize to everyone he ever hurt.
If nothing else, this documentary is a testament of how far he is willing to go to make his apology known and felt throughout both the Mormon and LGBTQ communities. Change will not come easily, but as the second annual LoveLoud music festival is closing in on Salt Lake City, Utah in late July, there is hope knowing that someone like Dan Reynolds is lighting a spark of love and acceptance.