This is the second segment of a two-part post discussing the new policies recently released by the LDS Church. If you missed Part 1, take a minute to read it—I think it will offer a lot of background and context for this discussion.
Trust me, I fully understand that these changes have been the most confusing, most upsetting and most heart-wrenching.
They have been for me too.
A Brief Aside…
Before I start talking about the policy itself, I want people to understand that while I’m not gay and am not personally affected by these changes, I am particularly sensitive to them.
While I could have been baptized and confirmed in the Church, I would not have been able to attend the temple or be sealed to my spouse or my children. My son would not have been able to receive the Priesthood. My husband and I would most likely not be married, because interracial marriage was discouraged by the Church.
So while I won’t pretend to know what anyone personally affected by these new changes is feeling (and while I understand that the reasons and justifications for each of these restrictions is completely different), these policies have brought up some seriously raw emotions for me for a variety of reasons.
This isn’t the time to get into details, but I have managed to reconcile and make peace with the Church’s past policies pertaining to blacks; it’s taken a long time, an insane amount of study, an untold number of prayers, and even a few days where I seriously contemplated leaving.
The point is, I (as well as many other black Mormons) have managed to maintain faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the LDS Church. I whole-heartedly believe it’s possible to make sense of these new changes affecting gays and their families as well–maybe not totally or all at once, but understanding is possible.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency has said:
“Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.”
This has been the case for me with other issues I’ve faced in the Church, and as time passes I’m finding that for me, it’s the case again.
What Changes Were Made?
Several changes were made to Handook 1, part of which addressed Mormons in same-sex marriages (Part 1 discussed these specific changes in depth). Just to reiterate, they are:
- 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“
- A disciplinary council is now mandatory for LDS Church members in same-sex marriages
- LDS Church members in same-sex marriages fall into the classification of apostasy
This post will deal specifically with the changes that were made involving children with parents in same-sex relationships. Those changes include:
- Children with parents in same-sex relationships (married or cohabitating) cannot receive a name and a blessing.
- These children may be baptized, confirmed, ordained, or serve missions upon turning 18 years old if:
- They have received approval from the First Presidency of the Church
- They meet the requirements for each ordinance
- They disavow same-sex marriage/cohabitation
- They do not live with a parent in a same-sex marriage/cohabitation
Additional guidance was released November 13, 2015 by the First Presidency of the LDS Church, clarifying a few points on these changes:
- Priesthood ordinance restrictions (ie: receiving a name and a blessing, baptism, confirmation, etc.) only apply to children whose primary residence is with a couple living in a same-sex marriage/cohabitation
- Children living with same-sex parents who have already been baptized in the LDS Church may continue to receive additional ordinances
- All children may attend church meetings, church activities, and receive priesthood blessings of healing and spiritual guidance.
Why Were These Changes Made?
Why? Why? Why?
This is the question everyone is dying to understand.
The Importance of Children
Immediately following the public release of these new changes, the Executive Director of Equality Utah countered by stating:
“[All churches have the] religious liberty to welcome or exclude whomever they desire. But we know that children of same-sex parents are treasures of infinite worth…In our universe, all God’s children have a place in the choir.”
Of course they’re treasures of infinite worth. And they do still have a place in the LDS Church.
In a statement released November 13, 2015, Michael Otterson (Managing Director of LDS Church Public Affairs) emphasized the worth and value of all children:
“If there’s one thing that virtually all Christians agree on, it’s Jesus Christ’s tender love of children. Both the Bible and Book of Mormon deliver touching accounts of His love for ‘little ones,’ blessing them and forbidding His disciples from keeping children from Him. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the family is reverenced and children are its centerpiece.”
Reduce Conflict/Promote Harmony in the Home
The common justification in all of the statements made by Church leaders in the last week has been the desire to reduce potential conflict in homes which have same-sex parents.
The LDS Church has always viewed homosexual relations as sin, and these most recent policy updates classify same-sex marriage as a potentially excommunicable transgression. Understandably, this fact could be a source of bitter feelings and contention in homes where children are making commitments and covenants to uphold the standards of the Church, while their parents are living contrary to those standards.
Michael Otterson stated:
“In particular, Church leaders are concerned for children–whether biologically born to one of the partners, adopted or medically conceived…Church leaders want to avoid putting little children in a potential tug-of-war between same-sex couples at home and teachings and activities at church.”
The First Presidency has said:
“Our concern with respect to children is their current and future well-being and the harmony of their home environment.”
And finally, Elder Christofferson stated:
“[The policy] originates from a desire to protect children in their innocence and in their minority years…We don’t want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the Church are very different… In the meantime, they’re not placed in a position where there will be difficulties, challenges, conflicts that can injure their development in very tender years.”
What Does it Mean to “Receive a Name and a Blessing”?
While many are upset that children with gay parents are being denied anything solely based on their parents’ relationship status (and understandably so…), I think very few non-Mormons actually have any understanding of:
- what these ordinances are or
- what affect restricting these ordinances will actually have on these children’s ability to worship in and be blessed by the Church.
Naturally, understanding both of these things can help people to understand how this change could possibly have been made.
Doctrine and Covenants 20:70 states:
“Every member of the church of Christ having children is to bring them unto the elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name.”
Also known as a “baby blessing,” it’s usually performed within the first several months of a baby’s life (our kids were 6-8 weeks old). The baby is held, and then literally given a name and a blessing (a prayer for things such as good health, wisdom, a desire to live righteously, other spiritual gifts etc.) by a Melchizedek Priesthood holder; often the baby’s father when/if possible or appropriate.
Obviously, most kids already have a name by two months old, but the “name” is now part of the child’s first official Church record: a Child Blessing Record.
Elder Christofferson explains:
“When…there is the formal blessing and naming of a child in the Church, which happens when a child has parents who are members of the Church, it triggers a lot of things. First, a membership record for them. It triggers the assignment of visiting and home teachers. It triggers an expectation that they will be in Primary and the other Church organizations. And that is likely not going to be an appropriate thing in the home setting, in the family setting where they’re living as children where their parents are a same-sex couple.“
The naming and blessing ordinance, while a meaningful and spiritual experience for families, is not considered a saving ordinance (one necessary for exaltation) and is not a requirement for membership in the LDS Church; as an adult convert, I didn’t have this ordinance.
Why Make Them Wait Until 18 to be Baptized/Confirmed/Ordained?
Officially…I don’t know.
The LDS Church really hasn’t given any guidance other than the official statements that were quoted earlier.
One possible reason is it forces kids with same-sex parents to wait until they are at an age in which they are intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally mature enough to make the decision and commitment to join the LDS Church, which considers same-sex marriage/relationships a sin; there would understandably be additional thoughts, feelings and factors that might be too difficult for a younger child to effectively consider.
Additionally, it’s not really appropriate for a Church to be discussing such a mature topic with kids as young as seven or eight; not only do they not really have the capacity to understand (when I was seven I thought “sex” was holding hands…), it just seems indecent to discuss sex, homosexual relations, sexual sin, etc. at that point.
Another possible reason is that involuntarily delaying baptism removes the responsibilities associated with these ordinances, without denying the individual any of the eternal blessings.
Responsibilities Associated with Baptism
Baptism and confirmation are requirements for membership in the LDS Church, and once these ordinances are performed, a chain of events is kicked into motion which over time require increased commitments, responsibilities, and expectations.
This is because Mormons view baptism not only as a symbolic act of being born again, but more importantly as an outward expression of a covenant we make with God, in which we promise Him that we will take Jesus Christ’s name upon us, keep His commandments, and serve Him to the end.
In this light, we believe that after baptism God now expects us to keep His commandments and to serve others in and out of the Church; some of these commandments include keeping the Sabbath day holy by attending Church meetings and not participating in recreational activities (read TOTW on this topic here), accepting Church assignments and responsibilities when they are extended to us, remaining chaste, sustaining and obeying the counsel of the Prophet and other church leaders, living the Word of Wisdom which includes refraining from coffee, tea, drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol, and–for males–serving a two year Church mission, etc.
We are blessed when we keep these Commandments, and there are eternal consequences when we don’t, as described in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 2:34-39:
“Ye are eternally indebted to your heavenly Father, to render to him all that you have and are; And now, I say unto you…that after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord...Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever. And now I say unto you, that mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment.”
Exemptions For Those Not Under the Law
Sin is defined as;
“To commit sin is to willfully disobey God’s commandments or to fail to act righteously despite a knowledge of the truth.“
Notably, one must have a knowledge of the truth. James 4:17 says that “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
James E. Talmage, a former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated:
“According to the technical definition of sin it consists in the violation of law, and in this strict sense sin may be committed inadvertently or in ignorance. It is plain, however, from the scriptural doctrine of human responsibility and the unerring justice of God, that in his transgressions as in his righteous deeds man will be judged according to his ability to comprehend and obey law.To him who has never been acquainted with a higher law the requirements of that law do not apply in their fullness.“
Likewise, Paul tells us in Romans 4:15 that “where no law is, there is no transgression.”
By removing the ordinances of baptism, confirmation, and ordination, it effectually removes the requirements, responsibilities, and duties associated with them as well.
Elder Talmage goes on to say:
“For sins committed without knowledge–that is, for laws violated in ignorance–propitiation has been provided in the Atonement wrought through the sacrifice of the Savior; and sinners of this class do not stand condemned, but shall be given opportunity yet to learn and to accept or reject the principles of the Gospel.”
In his statement released last week, Elder Christofferson said something very similar:
“And so with the other ordinances on through baptism and so on, there’s time for that if, when a child reaches majority, he or she feels like that’s what they want and they can make an informed and conscious decision about that. Nothing is lost to them in the end if that’s the direction they want to go.”
Additionally, Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said:
“In the broad reach of the Atonement, generous provision is made for those who die without a knowledge of the gospel or the opportunity to embrace it, including children under the age of accountability, the mentally impaired, those who never come in contact with the gospel, and so forth.”
In this sense, these new policies are not only a temporal protection, but possibly a spiritual one as well.
Why Ask Them to Disavow Same-Sex Marriage at 18?
If a child with same-sex parents chooses to be baptized and confirmed or serve a mission at 18, he or she must disavow same-sex marriage.
Elder Christofferson stated:
“This is a parallel with polygamy. Anyone coming out of a polygamous setting who wants to serve a mission, it has to be clear that they understand that is wrong and is sin and cannot be followed. They disavow the practice of plural marriage. And that would be the same case here. They would disavow, or assent I guess would be a better way to say it, to the doctrines and practices of the Church with regards to same-sex marriage. So they would be saying, as you said, not disavowing their parents, but disavowing the practice.”
If, at the age of 18, a person with gay parents has decided they want to belong to the LDS Church, it’s not surprising the LDS Church would want to extend full-disclosure by ensuring this person knew, understood and accepted the Church’s stance on homosexual relations and gay marriage.
Would it be better if this point was emphasized after they joined?
Additionally, it’s very possible that as a missionary, this person would not only have to accept the Church’s stance on homosexual relations and gay marriage, but would also have to teach it to others who were learning about the LDS Church.
But to be clear, children are NOT expected to disavow, disown, stop loving, or break ties with their parents. There is only a desire to ensure they understand Church standards before they commit themselves to membership and all that it entails.
It’s taken me a long time to get here, but I support the spirit of the decision.
Are there things about it I don’t like? Yes.
Do I think it will be easy once in practice? No.
Having been involved with the Young Women’s organization for six years, I’ve spent a lot of time with the youth in the Church. I’ve gotten to know and have grown close with a lot of young girls and their families. They’ve come from incredibly different backgrounds, from the stereotypical Utah-Mormon family to incredibly dysfunctional, broken homes; some have been wealthy, some homeless; some were the only Mormon in their family; some had great support systems, others none. As you get to know and appreciate their individual strengths and weaknesses, and as you gain a first-hand look into their personal and spiritual challenges, you seriously grow to love them.
And worry about them.
What I can tell you is that the ages 12-18 are really really hard for most kids. They are struggling to belong and to fit in at home, at school, on their sports teams, and everywhere else;
the one place they shouldn’t feel that way is at church.
I am deeply, deeply worried that as much as we say these kids are welcome, they won’t come because they don’t feel welcome. Even for the kids who are too young to know exactly what is going on, these policies make their family seem different and separate.
And to a kid, different is rarely a good thing.
Not only will these kids not come, they may mistakenly believe that they are being treated differently because they aren’t as good as other kids. that they aren’t wanted as much as the other kids. that they aren’t as important as the other kids. that they have done something wrong.
Unless the Church makes a serious effort to counter these false beliefs, these policies will end up being incredibly damaging to these kids’ feelings of self-worth, not only as a person, but it may cause them to doubt that they are a child of God.
I think many of these kids will feel ashamed that their parents’ marriage or partnership isn’t approved of or condoned within the Church. Their parents will likely feel unwelcome at Church and won’t want to be involved, decreasing the likelihood of their children participating.
Their parents may not want to associate with other parents in the Church out of fear of judgment, meaning they probably wouldn’t attend or be involved in other Church activities. Again, this decreases the likelihood of regular attendance at Church activities outside of Sunday meetings, including mutual, young men’s/young women’s events or camps, Scouting activities, or primary activity days, and these are the primary opportunities for kids to bond and make friends within the Church.
To be honest, I don’t know how common this scenario will be. I don’t know how many gay-married-or-cohabitating-Mormons-with kids there are in the world. I would assume it’s not that many. But no matter how many or few there are, it makes me sad to think that there are kids out there that don’t feel welcome in the Church that I love, and that there are parents who feel like their kids aren’t welcome.
As a mom, I am disgustingly protective of my kids, so I am very sensitive to how awful it is to feel like someone is picking on or excluding your child.
I know there are people who have left the LDS Church because of this, gay and straight. I sincerely hope that for those of us who are still members of the Church, we make it our job to extend love and welcome hands to ANY and ALL people who want to be numbered with us (and even those that don’t), especially the kids and youth.
If you know kids who fall under this new policy, watch out for them, invite them to sit with you, offer to take them to Church, don’t treat them differently, and be welcoming to their parents and the rest of their family. It’s not anyone’s job to judge; in actuality, we are commanded to not judge.
I know most people don’t believe it right now, but I’ve seen first-hand and been the recipient of the kindness, selflessness and goodness that are found in the LDS Church–it is honestly a place where people are trying their best to be Christ-like and to take care of those around them, whether they believe the same things or not: now’s the time for Mormons to prove that.