November 06, 2015

Rethinking Mormon policies about married gays and their children

LDS church office building
One article on the Salt Lake Tribune has 3202 comments (and counting) this morning. No, I did not read them all. But I get the feeling that most of the comments mirror the sentiments of this sampling:

"The LDS Church. Always looking for new ways to alienate people and turn them away."

"Pitting parents against children is their MO [modus operandi] and has been their MO for a very long time."

"For those active [M]ormons that find the latest pronouncement of apostasy for those engaged in sex marriage or co-habitation offensive or embarrassing, you can make your voice heard."

"So kids get to suffer for the "sins" of their fathers? How Christ like [sic]."

Of course, the Tribune isn't the only website posting articles discussing the LDS (Mormon) Church policies related to gay marriage. The other articles I have seen have sparked similar commentary. As a Mormon who tries to be faithful, I feel obliged to respectfully dissent from the outcry against the church I know and love. To me, the policies make sense. They are not embarrassing. They are not shocking. Here’s my personal opinion why.

First, context. The LDS policies I'm referring to come from an updated version of a handbook for church leaders. The updated handbook appears to have first been made public by John Dehlin (who was recently excommunicated from the Mormon Church) on Scribd. The policies are these:

·         “Serious [t]ransgression . . . includes . . . homosexual relations (especially sexual cohabitation)” and “apostasy refers to members who [among other things] . . . [a]re in a same gender marriage.”
·          “A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing.”
·         “A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may [not] be baptized and confirmed, ordained, or recommended for missionary service” unless church leaders believe that the child (1) is of legal age (currently, 18 in the United States), (2) no longer lives at home, (3) and disavows gay cohabitation and marriage.

Now, I will do my best to explain why I think those policies are wise guidance from the First Presidency for the times we live in.

It should come as no shock that the Mormon Church (along with most other Christian churches) condemns homosexual relations, especially sexual cohabitation. This has always been the case. What is new is an express, blanket determination that members in a same-gender marriage are apostate [i.e., abandoning or renouncing Mormonism]. This makes explicit what should have been implicit. It’s safe to say that if you’re Mormon and you enter a gay marriage, you’re not only breaking the sexual laws of the church, but you’ve essentially thrown up a white flag: You have told the world that you no longer have any interest in even trying to live the sexual laws of the Mormon Church. How could this not be an act of apostasy or abandonment of the Mormon Church?

Now, there may be members of the Church who plan on entering a gay marriage, in hopes that one day the Church will fundamentally change its doctrines, especially in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence. The updated LDS Church policy makes it clear that that door is forever closed (though that should have already been clear from previous official Church statements that the Supreme Court Decision Will Not Alter Doctrine on Marriage). This type of clarity is, in fact, a good thing for Mormons and non-Mormons who experience same-sex attraction. They don’t have to make important life choices (like whether to become or stay Mormon, or whether to enter or continue in a homosexual lifestyle) based on guesswork. They know the Church’s stance and what to expect. They should abandon any misplaced belief that the Church will change in this regard.

The policies regarding children are perhaps more controversial. To some those policies are difficult to reconcile with the LDS doctrine that people are punished for their own transgressions and not for the sins of their parents. But I don’t see the policy as a punishment. The policy is instead the product of careful balancing of competing principles applied to a complicated situation. Try to honestly answer the following questions:

·         Should the Mormon Church baptize minors against the consent of a gay parent?
·         Should the Mormon Church baptize a non-minor who still lives at home against the consent of a gay parent?
·         Should the Mormon Church baptize anyone who believes gay cohabitation and marriage are okay, when a fundamental LDS doctrine is that gay cohabitation and marriage are the opposite of okay?

My answers are, “No, no, and no.” I have a hard time believing that many non-Mormons  or anti-Mormons would disagree. These policies can’t be evidence that the Church’s modus operandi is to “pit children against parents” or brainwash children to call fundamentally wrong what parents believe is fundamentally right. The policies suggest the opposite.

The Church policies show respect for parental control—even homosexual parental control—and peace in the home—even homosexual homes. The Church can wait. Would-be church members can wait. There comes a time when respect for a child’s freedom of choice must trump respect for a parent’s contrary wishes or beliefs. And the LDS Church says, in these sensitive circumstances, that that time comes when a child becomes an adult and lives on his or her own. It is a hard line to draw, but that line seems reasonable to me. That gives gays ample opportunity to raise their children according to the dictates of their own consciences, without worrying too much about Mormon missionaries trying to teach their children the exact opposite.

I suppose it could be possible that a set of gay parents would want their children to become Mormon, but I have a very difficult time imagining it. Mormonism stands strongly for eternal, traditional families. Why would a gay parent ever want a child to join a church that fundamentally opposes the composition of the household?

I will leave it at that for now. Law school, work, and other priorities are calling to me. I hope that I have not said anything abrasive. Please comment below, especially if you disagree with anything I have said. Thanks for reading this post. If you enjoyed it, I recommend a similar post published by one of my good friends. It is available here. Borrowing the words of that friend, "my post is intended for help and perspective, not as [official] pronouncements of Church doctrine or policy."

God bless.

***UPDATE***
Since posting this, the LDS Church has publicly discussed the updated policies via an apostle's video interview and an official letter to church leaders. Both are worth your time.

4 comments:

  1. A very thoughtful response and not baptizing the child protects them from being torn between conflicting beliefs and standards until they are old enough to choose for themselves and able to live accordingly

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  2. Very thoughtful and good spirited.

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  3. I am struggling with this from the perspective of the children and feeling hurt that they cannot receive the blessings so precious to us all, until they are 18. I also know that these are not the dictates of men but are via revelation and thus I must trust that they are right. I know that this will hurt and alienate some people but I guess that is part of life in these times. In my 68 years I have seen right become wrong, and wrong become right. It will only get worse. There are consequences for our actions and choices. With this ruling there will be no doubts as to the consequences. Thanks you.

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