Part 1: Understanding Mormon Church’s New Same-Sex Marriage Policies

“Mormon Church Labels Same-Sex Couples Apostates”

“Mormon Church to Kids: Disavow Gay Parents to Join”

“Mormon Church Punishes Children of LGBT Parents”

“Children with Gay Parents Aren’t Welcome in Mormon Church”

I felt sick to my stomach as I read headline after headline last Friday. I felt ashamed, embarrassed, and confused to be even remotely associated with anything that could be so horrendous.

It’s been almost a week since the new policies in the LDS Church’s Handbook 1 came out (an eternity in the blogosphere). I understand my thoughts on the topic are probably irrelevant at this point, but as much as I wanted to pop off an immediate response, I found that every time I sat down to write,

I literally couldn’t get any words out.

Ultimately, I realized I NEEDED time to process this, because frankly…

I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t understand it.

And how could I publicly discuss something that I couldn’t wrap my own head around?

Rather than separately answering every question I’ve gotten pertaining to the LDS Church’s new policies affecting married same-sex couples and their children (why did the Church do it? how could the Church do it? what do I think about it? how could I belong to a Church that did it? and on and on…), I figured I would simply write a post from my own perspective and on my own terms. I still think I’ll end up answering most of the questions I was asked, but if not let me know.

I took a week to find some clarity and perspective on all of this.

I’ve asked a lot of questions. I’ve spoken with my Bishop and the Assistant Secretary to the First Presidency of the LDS Church. I’ve studied, done a lot of reading, and of course prayed. a lot.

I’ve read several blog posts and commentaries written by Mormons who have elected to resign their Church membership over this; while I absolutely understand and appreciate their feelings, it saddens me to see that many have based their decision on incorrect information (most likely borrowed from the media), rather than studying it out themselves to gain a fuller picture of the situation.

For those who are choosing to resign membership, you are still loved and will be missed. But I do hope that those who are contemplating leaving will at least leave well-informed.

I firmly believe that it is possible to not fully understand, agree with, or accept every decision that is made by Church leadership, and still maintain faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Church, and its leaders.

While I still have mixed feelings about parts of the policy, I can say I have gained greater understanding about it. I also don’t believe most of those headlines are accurate portrayals of the new changes (but I’ll get into that).

These new policies have also forced me to address an issue I’ve deliberately shied away from since I’ve become a Mormon:

Publicly acknowledging that I belong to a Church that condemns homosexuality.

I’ve avoided discussing this issue (The LDS Church’s views on homosexuality) for a long time, mainly because it’s so hurtful to so many, and some of my dearest friends are gay and I love them completely and without judgment or reservation.

Is it possible to support my faith and not offend and hurt the people that I love? I hope so.

My goal in writing isn’t to change your mind or feelings about the LDS Church, but to help people understand what these new policies are and what they will actually look like in practice; many of the facets that people have found to be “shocking” are actually consistent with the views and policies the Church has always had.

I’ve decided to break this post up into two parts, mainly because there’s a lot of information, but also because the new policies can be categorically divided into two parts:

  1. Those that affect Mormons in same-sex marriages
  2. Those that affect the children of individuals in same-sex relationships

This first post will only address the policies relating to Church members in same-sex marriages. I’ll discuss the policies pertaining to children in part 2.

What are “The Handbooks”?

Leaders in the LDS Church operate under guidance from two handbooks, Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops and Handbook 2: Administering the Church.

(If you’re already wondering “What is a ‘stake president,’ click here for an explanation on LDS Church structure and organization).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated:

“While [the] handbooks do not have the same standing as the scriptures, they do represent the most current interpretations and procedural directions of the Church’s highest authorities.”

Together, the handbooks help to direct and maintain polices, programs, and procedures in the Church.

Handbook 2 is publicly available and provides administrative instructions for auxiliary organizations in the Church.

Handbook 1 is specifically intended for stake presidents and bishops, and it details policies and procedures pertaining to those offices. It is NOT publicly available.

The new policies which affect same-sex couples and their kids were included as updates to Handbook 1. The updates, which were distributed to bishops and stake presidents last week, were publicly posted via social media by a former member of the LDS Church who was recently excommunicated.

I spoke with Ron Mortensen, Assistant Secretary to the First President of the LDS Church, and asked if I could get a copy of the policy change to read myself. I was told that making copies out of Handbook 1 is not permitted, but individuals can ask a Bishop to read them the changes. Clearly the changes are on the internet, but if you want to go through the “proper” channels, that’s the way you should go.

I honestly don’t know why access is restricted to Handbook 1, and some people are now expressing concern over this seeming lack of transparency.

The Updates to Handbook 1: Couples in Same-Sex Marriages

The changes that have been added to Handbook 1 addressing individuals in same-sex marriages include:

  1. Homosexual relations have always been considered a serious transgression according to the Handbook, but it was further clarified to include “homosexual relations, especially sexual cohabitation
  2. A disciplinary council is now mandatory for LDS Church members in same-sex marriages
  3. LDS Church members in same-sex marriages fall into the classification of apostasy

What is an Apostate?

News headlines made it a big point to highlight that the LDS Church considers married same-sex partners apostates…

But I wonder how many people understand what that word means…

Apostasy: When individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel, they are in a state of apostasy (LDS.org)

Apostate: Latter Day Saints who have seriously contravened or ignored cardinal Church teachings (publicly or privately) are considered apostates, whether or not they have officially left the Church or affiliated with another religion (Encyclopedia of Mormonism)

When one actually considers what it means to be apostate (to be in open opposition to the teachings of the LDS Church and its leaders), it’s difficult to construe the word as slanderous or derogatory.

The LDS Church has always been incredibly vocal and constant in its opposition to same-sex marriage (think Proposition 8, The Family Proclamation, or any of the other countless statements made by Church leaders), as well as its stated belief that homosexual actions are sin:

“The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters” (MormonsAndGays.org).

Because a person in a same-sex marriage is electing to live in open and long-standing opposition to Church doctrine, same-sex marriage implicitly fits the definition of apostasy.

Why the Change was Made

So if the Church doctrine hasn’t changed, why bother to make the update at all?

In an interview to address these changes, D. Todd Christofferson (a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) explained:

“With the Supreme Court’s decision in the United States, there was a need for a distinction to be made between what may be legal and what may be law of the Church and the law of the Lord and how we respond to that. So it’s a matter of being clear; it’s a matter of understanding right and wrong; it’s a matter of a firm policy that doesn’t allow for question or doubt.”

Why Does the Update  Single out Gays?

People commit all sorts of sin, why put so much emphasis on what gays are doing?

In actuality, the LDS Church views all sexual sin (any sexual relations outside of marriage) as serious, whether homosexual or heterosexual:

“The prophet Alma taught that sexual sins are more serious than any other sins except murder and denying the Holy Ghost (see Alma 39:3–5)” (True to the Faith)

Elder Christofferson said:

“We regard same-sex marriage as a particularly grievous or significant, serious kind of sin that requires Church discipline. It means the discipline is mandatory — doesn’t dictate outcomes but it dictates that discipline is needed in those cases.

Spencer W. Kimball stated:

“Let it therefore be clearly stated that the seriousness of the sin of homosexuality is equal to or greater than that of fornication or adultery; and that the Lord’s Church will as readily take action to disfellowship or excommunicate the unrepentant practicing homosexual as it will the unrepentant fornicator or adulterer.”

What are disciplinary councils?

I think when people read about “apostates” and “disciplinary councils,” they envision Nuremberg-esque tribunals or the Spanish Inquisition–or maybe that’s just me. To be honest, before all of this, I had no clue what disciplinary councils were or what they are used for.

“Discipline” itself is a scary word which carries harsh connotations, but in the context of the Church, it’s merely a tool by which ecclesiastical leaders can help individuals identify transgression, to navigate through the process of repentance, and to provide assistance as people seek to align their actions with the standards of the Church.

It does not involve punishment, nor is it about shaming or condemning. Church discipline includes “restrictions and conditions of repentance that prompt a person to reevaluate their situation and return to full fellowship and activity.” Restrictions might include prohibitions on taking the Sacrament, teaching in classes, performing Priesthood duties, or giving talks (aka “sermons”) in Church.

Regardless of membership standing in the Church, all people are always welcome to attend public Church meetings.

In actuality, disciplinary councils are held only in the case of significant sin (ie: abortion, sexual sin, any type of abuse), serious criminal activity (ie: robbery, fraud, drug dealing) and cases of apostasy (again, “the repeated, clear and open public opposition to the Church, its leaders and its doctrine,” including “attempts to persuade other Church members to their point of view or publicly insist[ing] the Church change its doctrine to align with their personal views”–this includes polygamy).

The three purposes of disciplinary councils are to:

  1. Help the individual repent and return
  2. Protect the innocent
  3. Protect the integrity of the Church

Before a disciplinary council is ever called, local church leaders (aka bishops) will meet with these individuals (often multiple times) to discuss their behavior, their thoughts and feelings. If the individual chooses to continue their behavior, a disciplinary counsel will be initiated.

These councils usually happen at the local level, and involve a two-way discussion between the individual and their bishopric, or possibly stake leadership.

The result of a disciplinary council is largely dependent on the desire and attitude of the individual. Obviously, if the person is repentant and desires to align their actions with Church standards, the outcome would be different than if he or she were defiant or contentious, or had no intention of changing.

Excommunication

Excommunication is the most severe outcome of a disciplinary council; it’s rare and is only used as a last-resort. Excommunication results in a loss of Church membership, meaning the person’s name would no longer be on the records of the Church; the individual could still attend Church if they chose. Rebaptism would be necessary if they chose to become a member again at a later time.

My Thoughts

As far as this change is concerned—specifically relating to the individuals in same-sex marriages—I can’t say I was totally shocked by it. With same-sex marriage becoming legal across the nation, it seemed inevitable that the LDS Church would have to 1. Clarify its position on same-sex marriage and 2. Implement a uniform procedure by which local leaders could address those in violation of the Church’s standards.

This specific policy only impacts those who are already members of the LDS Church; in turn, meaning those who are most likely already familiar with the Church’s stance on homosexual relations, sexual immorality, and same-sex marriage. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to any Mormon in or contemplating a same-sex marriage that church discipline would likely be required for those who are choosing to make permanent the decision to live contrary to the Church’s standards.

As far as how I feel personally, I feel torn between both sides.

On the one hand, I support the standards set forth by the LDS Church, because I believe the Bible to be the word of God, and I believe that the leaders of the LDS Church are called of God. I also believe the LDS Church (as do all Churches) has the right to maintain its doctrinal integrity by implementing and enforcing moral requirements for its members.

Having said that, that in no way impacts how I feel about people who are gay; married or not, with children or not, and especially the wonderful and amazing friends I have who are gay. There is no place in my heart for judgment, and I love each of them exactly the same as I always have, and I always will; in my heart and mind, nothing has changed. I am not perfect, and there are plenty of standards within the Church I fall short of. Who am I to condemn anyone else?

But I am acutely aware that for many, that’s not good enough; that it’s not enough to say to someone, “I love you and I don’t judge you,” all the while professing to support a faith that considers a fundamental part of who they are to be wrong. I get that.

But how does one reconcile that?

I don’t know. And it kills me.

All I can say is, it’s true: I do love and do not judge those who are gay. I believe a person’s sexual orientation, while an important part of who they are, does not define who they are. I am drawn to others who are kind and funny and caring and filled with goodness, regardless of what they look, how they worship, or who they love.

I also believe there needs to be more compassion and a greater sense of inclusion by Mormons toward the LGBTQ community. While I don’t think most Mormons have animosity toward or dislike gays by any means, many seem to be somewhat fearful of or uncomfortable with even the idea of them, and there absolutely are Mormons who would prefer to lock themselves in their hermetically-sealed Mormon neighborhoods than deal with anyone or anything that is strange or foreign to them.

The LDS Church has made huge strides as of late to advocate for the rights and inclusion of the LGBTQ community, recently supporting anti-discrimination laws against LGBTQ people. Leaders have also increased emphasis on standing by standards on homosexuality, while preaching increased kindness, understanding and compassion.

Many Mormons are working to support gays in their communities by bringing awareness to LGBTQ issues, attending pride events, and finding commonality with those who may be different, like the organization Mormons Building Bridges.

Now more than ever, Mormons have a duty to reach out to those impacted by these policies with open arms and loving hearts. Rather than hide in the shadows hoping that this will all blow over, Mormons need to be the ones to start a dialogue and begin building bridges. Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said:

“As a church, nobody should be more loving and compassionate. Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion and outreach.”

To those who are gay, I’m sorry you’ve been hurt by the policies, beliefs, or doctrines of the LDS Church. I’m sorry if you’ve been made to feel unloved or unwelcome. I’m sorry if I have made you feel unloved or unwelcome.

I’d like to hear your thoughts, comment below if you’d like.

Part 2 of this post, addressing the policies directed toward the kids of same-sex parents, will be out soon.

3 thoughts on “Part 1: Understanding Mormon Church’s New Same-Sex Marriage Policies

  1. I love reading your thoughts. And I love that you took the time to actually research all of this. My opinion, for what it is worth, is we are not the ones being asked to judge these people. That is why it is in a handbook for those who have been given that responsibility (and though it would be nice to read that entire handbook I can see why it is kept private. I think people are inclined to judging and the handbook could easily be skewed by people to judge). I read a book about the new intolerance in college and I have often thought of that during the debates about gay rights and the church. The truth is there needs to be understanding on BOTH sides of the fence. Most of the people I know who are gay don’t believe in God which is a huge part of my life, just like being gay is a huge part of their life. They can judge me for my “overzealous” commitment to a church that requires so much from me but I feel that is doing the same thing they don’t want done to them. At some point we all just have to say “we can love people while not agreeing with everything they do”. We aren’t asked to judge. We are in fact commanded not to judge. We are only commanded to love and treat people with respect. Right now the focus is on gays. But one day it will be on another group but the principles will be the same. Love don’t judge, from both sides. You are doing a great job by finding answers and continuing to love!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “We aren’t asked to judge. We are in fact commanded not to judge. We are only commanded to love and treat people with respect.”

      THAT SAYS IT ALL!!

      Thanks so much and I so appreciate that you took the time to read and share your thoughts, which I happen to agree with completely!

      Like

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