Even more news coverage along with social media outrage and defenses occurred over a recent policy update to the LDS church handbook of instructions (Handbook 1 for Bishops, Stake Presidents, and Mission Presidents) than when the church published an essay on it’s own website that Joseph Smith instituted polygamy with up to 40 women and one being as young as 14 when he married her. This is most certainly not the first bit of opinion you have read on the issue so I won’t bother going through the details of how the information was made public and how the people on one side or the other are over-reacting or under-reacting. The thing that I want to do as I write this is clarify in my own mind and in print what this policy change means for me.
I find The policy, as originally written and as later clarified, to be quite draconian and seems to be, whether intended or not, a dividing line within which the church has circumscribed itself. It is damaging to all families with any homosexual members at all and seems to be producing either degrees of disaffection or increasing loyalty among believing members. The policy makers and enforcers may as well mail out scarlet letters for children of gay members because they will be treated differently by their fellow congregants. Apparently, the proverbial ‘dark marks’ are put on gay members and children of gay people out of love for these children, because exclusion is the way Mormons show love towards kids according to E. Christofferson. The reality is that this policy will not limit cognitive dissonance and confusion in children unless they are kept away from the church or anyone that espouses the same views as the church (i.e. extended family members and neighbors in an area with a high Mormon population) which makes me wonder, on my cynical days, if this was not the original intent (that is, to keep the ‘gay influence’ as far away from regular church members as possible, including any of those that sympathize or simply don’t outright reject homosexuality as anything but a behavioral contagion). Also, according to Christofferson, this policy was necessary because the church’s position on Marriage equality and homosexuality was apparently not clear enough despite numerous official statements and press releases over the last two and a half years. After going through the Mormon newsroom pieces and official first presidency statements on the subject I just don’t see how this could possibly be the case, the messaging had been crystal clear (See Appendices A and B)
One week later the First Presidency released a clarification letter with the intent of making clear what was apparently unclear in the plain reading of the policy. The letter indicates that the policy only applies to children “whose primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship,” which decreases the number of children adversely affected by the policy as it was originally written which would have included all children that live with a same-gender married parent at any time. Essentially these children are barred from Mormon rites of passage, which are considered to be a requirement to be saved and avoid eternal damnation and function as important social milestones within church culture. The brethren did not choose to recant the policy they chose to decrease the number of children that were affected after the social media firestorm exposed the policy for what it is—a bigoted blunder.
One of the many things that stands out as wrong to me is that for a church that embraces personal agency as one of the greatest gifts God has given his children along with the special connection to the divine that church members have access to through the Gift of the Holy Ghost (conferred to every newly baptized member) they sure don’t seem to believe in those concepts. I just baptized my daughter a few weeks ago and listened to talks leading up to the baptismal date as well as at the baptism service proclaiming this special gift, confirmation of the holy spirit, as an infallible guide for us in our mortal experience. A Liahona or compass that we, even as young children, can and should always rely on to help us make good choices and find our way back to heaven, but not for kids with gay parents. The thing is, even with the ‘clarification’ the church seems to believe that if a child has two gay parents and primarily resides with these two gay parents the child’s ability to choose the church is not their own and the Gift of the Holy Ghost is insufficient to help them make the right choices. Presumably this is because the most insidious of all influences the world could muster are right in their own home—two homosexuals that allow their kid to go to church.
It really makes me think how much the leaders of the church really believe in agency and personal revelation via the Holy Ghost. It is as if a child of two gay parents must be deluded, mentally ill, or have nefarious intentions if they actually wanted to join the church. Such a child, with parental approval of course (because consent of both parents is an already existing policy), couldn’t be sane and sincere in this presumably righteous desire. Otherwise, why would such a policy be needed? They must protect the church and other children from this kind of ‘satanic’ infiltration. A child with homosexual parentage surely must be a wolf in sheep’s clothing because such a child obviously wouldn’t join a church that hates their parents merely because they believed the church to be good and true, there must be some ulterior motive. I can think of no other reason why the church would need to formulate policies that primarily affect a group of people that have done no wrong of their own, other than being raised by gay people.
Additionally, this policy is another layer of ‘protection’ against children and parents that actually have faith in the church. As I mentioned above there already is a policy in place that prevents children from being baptized if both parents do not consent to the child’s desire to be baptized. What this means is that the policy only affects families that are in agreement and all parental parties want the child to be baptized. Those families that do not agree on church membership or baptism, and therefore are already producing confusion and cognitive dissonance in the children, are barred from baptizing their children until such agreement is attained. Families that have agreed that raising their kids in the church is the right parental decision now do not have the liberty to make that decision, at least according to the new policy. Children of gay parents will always be visitors at church unless the gay parent relinquishes primary custody. They will be outsiders as their friends get baptized and advance in the priesthood.
This policy limits agency, prevents a population of believing parents from baptizing their children, and effectively denies the efficacy of confirmation and the Gift of the Holy Ghost—because homosexuality.
As an active Mormon the policy itself troubles me deeply but what has troubled me even more is the reaction to the policy by many members. There has been a lot of fringe and post-Mormons expressing outrage and disgust over the policy and I personally know several highly believing and very active members that have also been disturbed and confused by the policy. The most disturbing set are those that are accepting the policy without any question of its moral quality or correctness and also without any sign of empathy for those affected or troubled by the policy. The whole covenant concept of being ‘willing to bear one another’s burdens‘ has been thrown out the window and replaced with policy worshiping and boundary maintenance. Sentiments like “the prophets prayed about this so it must be right” just grate on my nerves and spirit, but maybe it is just that I haven’t been able to recall that scripture that says “no matter how you feel or think, just do whatever the prophet says.” It’s as if this policy is a new revelation that has been made sacred and must be obeyed otherwise our collective salvation is at stake.
[Update: According to Elder Nelson the policy is indeed a revelation straight from God. See here. The problem is that a reporter with claims to inside sources describes a different experience for the 12 when they first saw the policy. Nelson calls it “sacred” others report a feeling of being “startled.” With Elder Nelson having played an important role in the 2008 Prop. 8 political activity, and having consistently spoken about the millennium, gender roles, and most recently the ‘prophets can never lead you astray’ idea, it wouldn’t surprise me that, for Nelson, hearing this exclusionary policy was indeed a ‘sacred experience.’ I’d like to think for others it was not so sacred.]
I find the above attitude towards harsh exclusionary policies offensive and deeply discouraging. For the last three years I have been struggling to find a place in the church. I am a doubter that loves the church and feels a great deal of affection for my experiences in the church. I want the young men and young women in my ward(s) to have similar experiences and want the church to truly be a hospital for the sick, but more and more it seems to be more of a special club that takes care of it’s own (as long as “it’s own” doesn’t have anything to do with being gay or hang around gay people). I’m finding less room at church where I can wrestle to find God and and work through my own questions about life. I’m getting more and more of a feeling that I might have to do that elsewhere. For a long time I have felt that the church is getting more open and inclusive. There will always be bumps in the road, I know that, but this policy is signaling to me that there are lines that members do not cross and according to the top leaders they will not and cannot ever cross. For the first time I am wondering if this is the church for me to continue in. For the first time I am thinking that maybe the 6+ generations of Mormons in my family line are to stop with my family. For the first time I am thinking maybe rather than trying to change a church that does not care about what its members think or feel and only cares about the top leadership’s views (because those must be God’s views), perhaps I can do more good being part of a church that actually values my participation beyond my tithing dollars. I am still thinking, but I haven’t thought this seriously about such a change before.
Note  “A Seventy,” he continued, “does not represent the people to the prophet but the prophet to the people. Never forget which way you face!” see Robbins, Lynn General Conference October 4, 2014
Church news, Commentary and Official Statements from Mar 2013 to Nov 2015 Regarding Same-Sex Marriage
NEWS RELEASE — 26 MARCH 2013
Church Reaffirms Position on Marriage Following Supreme Court Hearing
“We firmly support the divinely appointed definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman because it is the single most important institution for strengthening children, families, and society.”
NEWS RELEASE — 7 NOVEMBER 2013
Church Responds to Inquiries on ENDA, Same-Sex Marriage
“On the question of same-sex marriage, the Church has been consistent in its support of traditional marriage while teaching that all people should be treated with kindness and understanding. If it is being suggested that the Church’s doctrine on this matter is changing, that is incorrect.”
OFFICIAL STATEMENT — 20 DECEMBER 2013
Church Statement on Court Ruling Regarding Same-Sex Marriage in Utah
“The Church has been consistent in its support of traditional marriage while teaching that all people should be treated with respect. This ruling by a district court will work its way through the judicial process. We continue to believe that voters in Utah did the right thing by providing clear direction in the state constitution that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and we are hopeful that this view will be validated by a higher court.”
OFFICIAL STATEMENT — 10 JANUARY 2014
Church Instructs Leaders on Same-Sex Marriage
“Changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established. God expects us to uphold and keep His commandments regardless of divergent opinions or trends in society. His law of chastity is clear: sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife. We urge you to review and teach Church members the doctrine contained in The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”
NEWS RELEASE — 6 OCTOBER 2014
Church Responds to Supreme Court Announcement: Court Chooses Not to Hear Same-Sex Marriage Cases
“The succession of federal court decisions in recent months, culminating in today’s announcement by the Supreme Court, will have no effect on the doctrinal position or practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is that only marriage between a man and a woman is acceptable to God. . . Nevertheless, respectful coexistence is possible with those with differing values.”
NEWS RELEASE — 12 MARCH 2015
Explaining Religious Freedom and LGBT Rights
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints remains strongly committed to marriage between a man and a woman as the only marriage consistent with the laws of God. This commandment and doctrine comes from sacred scripture, and the Church is not at liberty to change it. However, the Church accepts that same-sex marriage is now legal in a majority of the states. Among the public, the issue remains highly divisive and controversial.”
OFFICIAL STATEMENT — 26 JUNE 2015
Supreme Court Decision Will Not Alter Doctrine on Marriage
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acknowledges that following today’s ruling by the Supreme Court, same-sex marriages are now legal in the United States. The Court’s decision does not alter the Lord’s doctrine that marriage is a union between a man and a woman ordained by God. While showing respect for those who think differently, the Church will continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman as a central part of our doctrine and practice.”
NEWS RELEASE — 30 JUNE 2015
Church Leaders Counsel Members After Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Decision
“Changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established. God expects us to uphold and keep His commandments regardless of divergent opinions or trends in society. His law of chastity is clear: sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife.”
VIDEO — 6 NOVEMBER 2015
Church Provides Context on Handbook Changes Affecting Same-Sex Marriages
“We regard same-sex marriage as a particularly grievous or significant, serious kind of sin that requires Church discipline. . . 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.”
COMMENTARY — 13 NOVEMBER 2015
Understanding the Handbook, By Michael Otterson, Managing Director, Church Public Affairs
“There is no change in the doctrinal position that sexual relations between people of the same sex are sinful. . . With same-sex marriage now legal in the United States and some other nations, the Church felt the need specifically to address such marriages in the Handbook to draw a firm line and encourage consistency among local leaders.”
Church news, Commentary and Official Statements from Feb 2013 to Aug 2015 Regarding Homosexuals and the BSA
NEWS RELEASE — 6 FEBRUARY 2013
Church Cautions Against Speculation On Scouting Decision
“The recent announcement that BSA planned to make a policy change in its standards for membership and leadership has triggered intense debate [regarding allowing homosexual leaders or scouts to participate in the BSA] from many segments of society.”
OFFICIAL STATEMENT — 6 FEBRUARY 2013
Church Statement on BSA Decision to Postpone Vote
“The Church is following this proposed policy change very closely. We believe the BSA has acted wisely in delaying its decision until all voices can be heard on this important moral issue.”
NEWS RELEASE — 21 MAY 2015
Church to Monitor BSA Policy Discussion
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responded Thursday to an indication by the Boy Scouts of America of possible policy changes in relation to gay Scout leaders by issuing the following statement:
‘We have noted the comments by Boy Scouts of America President Robert Gates in relation to possible policy changes in the Boy Scouts of America. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will, of course, examine any such changes very carefully to assess how they might impact our own century-long association with the BSA.'”
NEWS RELEASE — 23 MAY 2013
Church Responds to Boy Scouts Policy Vote
“Sexual orientation has not previously been—and is not now—a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops. Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest.
These standards are outlined in the booklet For the Strength of Youth and include abstinence from sexual relationships. We remain firmly committed to upholding these standards and to protecting and strengthening boys and young men.
The Church appreciates BSA’s reaffirmation of its commitment to “duty to God,” which includes service to others and moral behavior—central principles of our teaching to young men. As in the past, the Church will work with BSA to harmonize what Scouting has to offer with the varying needs of our young men. We trust that BSA will implement and administer the approved policy in an appropriate and effective manner.”
NEWS RELEASE — 13 JULY 2015
Church Comments on Boy Scouts of America Resolution on Adult Leader Standards
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the following statement Monday regarding the Boy Scouts of America resolution for adult leader standards:
‘As a chartering organization, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always had the right to select Scout leaders who adhere to moral and religious principles that are consistent with our doctrines and beliefs [I interpret this to mean ‘not homosexual’ or at least not engaging or endorsing homosexual activity]. Any resolution adopted by the Boy Scouts of America regarding leadership in Scouting must continue to affirm that right.'”
OFFICIAL STATEMENT — 27 JULY 2015
Church Re-evaluating Scouting Program: Concern expressed over BSA policy change, lack of global reach
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released the following statement today after a vote on a policy change by the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board to admit openly gay leaders:
‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote by the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board. In spite of a request to delay the vote, it was scheduled at a time in July when members of the Church’s governing councils are out of their offices and do not meet. When the leadership of the Church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined. The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America.
As a global organization with members in 170 countries, the Church has long been evaluating the limitations that fully one-half of its youth face where Scouting is not available. Those worldwide needs combined with this vote by the BSA National Executive Board will be carefully reviewed by the leaders of the Church in the weeks ahead.'”
*The above statement was viewed by many to be controversial and disingenuous. Read here.
NEWS RELEASE — 26 AUGUST 2015
Church to Go Forward with Scouting Program: Will continue to evaluate options that meet its global needs
“BSA has reiterated that it expects those who sponsor Scouting units (such as the Church) to appoint Scout leaders according to their religious and moral values ‘in word and deed and who will best inculcate the organization’s values through the Scouting program.’ At this time, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will go forward as a chartering organization of BSA, and as in the past, will appoint Scout leaders and volunteers who uphold and exemplify Church doctrine, values, and standards. [I again interpret this to mean ‘not homosexual’ or at least not engaging in or endorsing homosexual activity]”