Dan Reynolds, lead singer of the Grammy-winning Imagine Dragons, is on a mission.
That’s nothing new for him. Just after finishing high school, Reynolds spent two years in Omaha, Neb., where he knocked on thousands of doors as part of his commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On average, only one in 100 homes he approached would let him in to share his message.
His new mission is trying to get the Mormon faith to be more inclusive for the LGBTQ community. The focal point of his efforts, the LoveLoud music festival, is the subject of “Believer,” a documentary that debuted Monday on HBO. It was released to coincide with June’s Pride Month festivities.
The determination Reynolds learned during his two years in Omaha became the foundation for his commitment to spark a change in church thinking.
“One of the things I talk about in the documentary is that a determined Mormon is a very scary thing,” Reynolds says. “Mormons are taught to persevere for what you believe in. So really, the Mormon Church is really to blame for me rallying so hard for LGBTQ rights within the Mormon Church.”
How determined is Reynolds? He stresses he is “ready to go to war” and looks at the documentary as the opening salvo of a long and difficult battle to bring about change.
Directed by Don Argott, “Believer” looks at how after becoming aware of skyrocketing teen suicide rates in Utah, Reynolds decides he’s been silent too long about the Church’s intolerance towards the LGBTQ community. He starts with an apology to Neon Trees lead singer Tyler Glenn, who, after publicly coming out, left the church after he learned of its opposition to same-sex marriage and policies banning children of same-sex couples from being baptized before age 18. Reynolds works with Glenn to help coordinate the first LoveLoud Festival, intended to promote greater LGBTQ inclusivity in the Mormon community.
Reynolds has focused his attention on the Mormon Church but wants to show through the documentary the need for more inclusiveness is something that needs to be embraced by all religions.
“Mormons are only about 1 percent of the U.S. population. The documentary is pointed at people of (all) Orthodox faiths. That’s a lot of the population,” Reynolds says. “It is really far-reaching to teach that to be gay is a sin.
“I think that the 20,000 people we reached with the first concert is a grain of sand. I hope this documentary gets into the homes of families, they sit down and watch it together and there are discussions around the dinner table. That’s the most important thing.”
“Believer” includes behind-the-scenes footage of Reynolds as he deals with a long string of setbacks leading up to the concert. It also looks at those who are personally dealing with the church. Savannah is a young girl who comes out during a church service by saying “I was made the way I am, all parts of me, by my heavenly parents. They did not mess up when they gave me freckles or when they made me to be gay. God loves me just this way, because I believe that he loves all his creations.”
There are also heartbreaking stories, such as the one shared by Alyson and George, whose teenage son, Stockton, committed suicide after feeling alienated from his community.
“Believer” also shows how Reynolds’ marriage to Aja Volkman was a major piece in his decision to find support for the LGBTQ community. There’s no question in Reynolds’ mind that he’s on the road he is today because of her.
“She is such a spirit of love and acceptance and activist since she was a little kid, which for me as a Mormon was an alien thing,” Reynolds says. “As a Mormon you want to live an inoffensive life. It’s a vanilla life of working to make people feel happy.
“She instilled in me the courage to stand up and to offend sometimes in my life.”
“Believer” shows how Reynolds needed that strength, as the initial LoveLoud Festival was almost canceled due to problems that popped up in the final weeks. The concert does happen, but the results aren’t what Reynolds wanted. Months later, despite encouraging talks with the Church, an announcement at its biannual general conference made an even stronger stand against the LGBTQ community.
Reynolds vowed to hold LoveLoud annually until it’s no longer necessary and swears to “continue to knock on this door until somebody answers.”
There are some signs of hope as LoveLoud 2018 is July 28 at Rice Eccles Stadium, the venue that served as the main stadium for the 2002 Winter Olympics. It has a capacity of more than 45,000, double the location for the first LoveLound.
“Progress is being made as I have gotten countless letters from parents who have told me that their child has come out to them post-LoveLoud because they had the courage to do it,” Reynolds says. “That’s small change and it matters because those are lives that are being potentially saved.
“That being said, it also feels like we took two steps forward and 10 steps backwards. I think that is something that happens in the world of activism. When you are trying to make change, people are going to push back. Then it comes down to whether you are going to say ‘well we tried’ or say ‘we are coming back at you.’”
If only one life was saved by his efforts, Reynolds would be grateful, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be happier 10, 100 or more young people were saved. That’s why he always feels like there is more he could be doing.
Reynolds learned during those two years in Omaha to be so determined that backing down is never an option. Plus, there are days when he believes taking the international fame he has earned as a singer, songwriter, musician, multi-instrumentalist and record producer is part of God’s plan for him.
“I think it is hard for me not to believe that when I have had a one-in-a-billion life. It would be crazy to think that there wasn’t something bigger in play here,” Reynolds says.
“Believer” is available on HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO and partners’ streaming platforms.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.