Sunday, November 8, 2015

The LDS Church's New Policy on Children of Gay Parents

Word leaked on Thursday that the Church had made an update to Handbook 1, the Handbook that's only given to church leaders. The new policy for children of gay parents is as follows:

Now many people have pointed out that this treats the children of gays or polygamists as worse than children of rapists and murderers. They do this not to say "Let's treat the children of rapists and murderers worse!" but to point out that these children seem to be being punished not for their own sins but for their parents' transgressions.

It also says discipline may be necessary for attempted murder, rape, or sexual abuse, but it's mandatory for same-gender marriage. Think about that.

The way this news came out was awkward. It wasn't through a press release, or presented in a way where explanation for the change accompanied it. It was leaked online, where many who first saw it thought it was a hoax, and then a church spokesman confirmed it was true. When I first heard about it, I was angry. Why this change? Why?

Later came an explanation from D. Todd Chistofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Why not a member of the First Presidency? Why not a more senior Apostle? My belief is that it's because Elder Christofferson's brother is gay.
Consider this reasoning:
Michael Otterson: On November the 5, the Church made some changes to its handbook in relation to same-sex marriage and its policy towards the children of same-sex marriage partners. Could you explain why that was necessary?
Elder Christofferson: 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. It’s a statement to remove any question or doubt that may exist. We recognize that same-sex marriages are now legal in the United States and some other countries and that people have the right, if they choose, to enter into those, and we understand that. But that is not a right that exists in the Church. That’s the clarification.
Michael Otterson: So in the last couple of years there’s been a tone from the Church of understanding and acceptance of those people who experience same-sex attraction, and this policy seemed to be rather abrupt. What actually prompted this handbook change?
Elder Christofferson: To some degree it came from questions that have surfaced in different parts of the world and the United States. 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. We think it’s possible and mandatory, incumbent upon us as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, to yield no ground in the matter of love and sympathy and help and brotherhood and serving in doing all we can for anybody; at the same time maintaining the standards He maintained. That was the Savior’s pattern. He always was firm in what was right and wrong. He never excused or winked at sin. He never redefined it. He never changed His mind. 

A couple things. No one has any doubt what the Church's official stance on gay marriage is. Did something happen recently? Was this a reaction to the recent Pew poll that showed Mormons are becoming more open to the idea of gay marriage? Maybe it's in response to groups like Mormons Building Bridges and Affirmation that are trying to create a safe space for gays within the Church. We don't really know. But something that is clear here. This is a policy change; it's not a revelation. I think they're trying to slam the door on wiggle room.

But this idea that the Savior never redefined or changed His mind on sin. We have the Gospels. Where else have we heard the Savior's words? The Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants, right? We have modern prophets, and the teachings of the church is that they speak for the Lord. But we don't hold that they're infallible; they sometimes get things wrong. Consider what President George Albert Smith said about interracial marriage in 1947: "We are not unmindful of the fact that there is a growing tendency, particularly among some educators, as it manifests itself in this are, toward the breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between whites and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine."

From Brigham Young to Harold B. Lee, the prophets of the Church upheld the policy on not allowing African men to hold the priesthood and African men and women from going to the temple. This finally changed in 1978 thanks to Spencer W. Kimball. And when you take into the account of the Race & the Priesthood essay, we know now that any previous prophet could have had the 1978 revelation if they'd been ready and willing to receive it, for the ban was instituted under false beliefs and customs.

So the hope is being held out by some that the Church will recognize that, yes, gay people are born that way. It's been the teaching of the Church, including by leaders as recent as James E. Faust and Boyd K. Packer, that it is a choice, but the Church's own Mormons and Gays website allows for disagreeing with that.

Something else to consider. This equates gay families and polygamous families. I don't know how widespread it was known throughout the church, at least to non-leaders, that children of polygamous families were treated this way. Elder Christofferson said it's been that way for generations, and maybe it has been. When I checked the 1998 Handbook 1, there's no reference to the child of polygamous having to be at least 18. It does refer to the requirement of First Presidency approval, and the child had to "repudiate" the practice of polygamy. The wording now is "disavow." Disavow is actual a better word than repudiate.

Disavow: to say you are not responsible for something
Repudiate: to reject; to refuse to accept something

I read this next idea somewhere else but I can't remember where, but I'll add it here. Is there any other circumstance in Handbook 1 that requires someone else to be 18 for baptism even if parents approve? No. It's just the children of gays and polygamists. Now why would that be? Could it be that both of them provide family settings that are outside of the eternal model of one-man one-woman as we've been taught (except polygamy is still technically accepted; it is still church doctrine that there will be polygamy in the Celestial Kingdom, even if we don't talk about it.) If a child lives with his straight mom, and his dad has come out, married another man, and that child grows up only knowing this as his norm, and he sees that Dad and Mark are happy and it's normal, well, that's a problem. And if child grows up with a father and three mothers, and all three mothers are nice to her, and it feels like a loving relationship, well, that's a problem. Children of rapists and murderers are not a danger to the church, because it's obvious that the acts they've committed are heinous and wrong.

It's also a problem to equate the children of gays and polygamists because of church history. For over fifty years, polygamy was taught as the way of heaven. The first seven presidents of the church were polygamists. After the 1890 Manifesto and the 1904 "No, Really, We Mean It" Manifesto, polygamy was eliminated from the LDS Church, 99% because it was illegal. 

So the Church has in effect removed parental consent from the equation for these children. So why are all other children baptized when they're 8? Said Christofferson: "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."

Nothing is lost? What about the companionship of the Holy Ghost from ages 8-18? What about the 12-year-old boy who can't receive the Aaronic Priesthood like his peers, the 14-year-old girl who can't go to the temple for baptisms like her peers, solely because they have a gay parent who got married? Baptism is a saving ordinance. It's fundamental to the church. If it's no big deal for these kids to have to wait until they're 18, why shouldn't we wait until anyone is 18 in order to join?

Now this policy change may provide more legal protection for the Church when it comes to future lawsuits over their stance on LGBT issues. Then that's more of a corporate move than a church move. This policy - not doctrine - hurts people. This policy - not doctrine - alienates people. This policy feels like a retrenching wedge. It makes the Church look bad, and it's having repercussions.

I had a good day at church today. Sacrament meeting was the primary program. I got to see a couple of my kids participate. My son's back from his mission, so this was his first Sunday to attend with us. And my entire family was there. My wife and all of my kids. Since my wife has joined Community of Christ, this is no longer a common event. In Elder's Quorum, I taught Lesson 21 about Temporal & Spiritual Welfare. We had a great discussion. I'm in a good quorum, in a good ward. No one at church brought up this policy change. Maybe most of them hadn't heard of it. But it's there in the back of my mind.

I've prayed about this. I can't say I've found peace over it. I sustain the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, but that doesn't mean I blindly obey nor take everything they do and say as the will of the Lord. We need this better explained. For now, I'm opposed.


  1. Well written--thanks for being willing to take a position on this subject, and I'm glad your position is humane and intelligent.

  2. Thank you, John; you found the words for what's in my heart.