I imagine it isn’t easy being a Mormon missionary.
Knocking on doors all day seems like tough work, especially when your bright enthusiasm for the Gospel is mostly met with middle fingers and the discouraging echoes of slammed doors. Before forming one of the biggest bands of the 21st century, Imagine Dragon’s Dan Reynolds was one of those clean-cut boys in a white shirt and black tie, armed with a pious zeal to spread the word of Jesus Christ. But now, almost a decade later, he has embarked on yet another mission to proselytize stubborn minds. Although this time around, he faces an even more bullheaded audience: his own Mormon church.
In the new HBO documentary Believer, Reynolds tries unraveling Mormonism’s internal homophobia, igniting a conversation long overdue about a deep and harrowing concern that grows larger each year within the queer Mormon community: teen suicide.
When you are as big as Dan Reynolds, you naturally have a lot of fans. Unsurprisingly, a lot of fans means a lot of fan mail, too much for any one person to go through by themselves. Reynolds does his best to sift through much of it as possible, but what he found wasn’t just felt-tip drawings and gushy love letters. A pattern started to emerge. He began to notice that many of them were penned by young, closeted LGBTQ Mormons, lonely and depressed teenagers who looked to his music as their only outlet for their repressed feelings, to Reynolds for even the smallest semblance of the acceptance they felt they could never receive from their own family. These letters directly coincided with the unnerving suicide rates among gay teens in the state of Utah. Suddenly, this issue became tangible for Reynolds, a thing he could hold in his hands. As he came to understand the depth of this devastating reality, he was faced with endless questions: How can I help solve this issue? Do I reject my own faith? Is there really anything I can actually change?
Fueled by a keen sense of duty and guilt, it didn’t take long for Reynolds to find the motivation to do something about it. In 2017, he teamed up with Tyler Gleen of Neon Trees to create LoveLoud, a concert dedicated to creating the first-ever sanctuary for queer Mormons, to spark “a vital conversation about what it means to unconditionally love, understand, accept and support our LGBTQ+ friends and family.” When I asked Dan about what he hoped the concert would achieve for the Mormon and queer community, he responded with optimism, but also evoked a sense of urgency about the matter: “I hope that people are moved, and that especially the LGBTQ community feels loved, and that there is a better future in store of them. And then I hope people realize that we can’t continue down this road that orthodox faith is going down because it is hurting our youth, it is killing our youth.”
For a man that spent years reconciling with his own religion, it was touching to see Reynolds so happy about what he achieved for the Mormon community, for his family, for himself. This is the kind of film that goes beyond mere entertainment. It is education, imparting critical knowledge that will motivate and encourage audiences to fight for queer rights. It is pride, a collective feat won by the indefinite persistence and love of the LGBTQ+ and Mormon community. At the closing of the film, he shares that he will “continue to knock on this door until someone answers.” It is quite ironic that his time as a missionary was the very thing that prepared him for his battle with the Mormon church. But perhaps that’s the point. Despite the inherent contradictions that often laces religion’s past and present, its teachings in their most pure essence promote acceptance over hatred. In fact, Believer teaches us what might be the most important tenant of all: to love unconditionally.
BELIEVER IS AVAILABLE MON, JUN 25 AT 8:00 PM ET ON HBO GO AND HBO NOW.