≡ Menu

The Logical Fail of the New Handbook Rules:
Writing Policy with Bad Code

Over the last couple of chaotic days, I’ve seen a number of misrepresentations of the new church policy. Some people are willfully misconstruing (of course, because how else does a religion-baiter maintain relevance?), but some of the responsibility lies with the church. The crew who wrote this policy got it wrong.

The Logical Fail of the New Handbook Rules: Writing Policy with Bad Code

One of the incorrect statements I keep hearing is that the policy disallows baptism of children whose parents have ever been in a same-gender relationship. But it doesn’t. But it kind of does. The policy is badly written and hard to follow. Add to that what I think (hope?) are some unstated assumptions and it turns the policy from a difficult one to gobbledygook.

Below I’ll be fisking with the new handbook policy (Handbook 1, number 16.3) in purple (how appropriate!) and my own thoughts in black. My point is to note what I think is the intent of the policy as it is currently written, what it can’t logically mean, and what I hope (and pray) will be changed.

Here we go! 

Children of a Parent Living in a Same-Gender Relationship

This is the title of the section. Note the entire section is written to address a particular situation that is clearly described. This section is to clarify issues concerning children who have a parent who is living in a same-gender relationship.

It’s not written to clarify issues concerning children who have parents who are dating someone of their own gender, parents who thought about orientation in high school, or even parents who used to live in a same-gender relationship. It is only about children who have parents living in a same-gender relationship.

If this is not the issue you are concerned about, this is not the section for you.

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.

This paragraph states that a child who has a parent living in a same-gender relationship (which includes both unmarried and married) cannot be blessed and, subsequently, be listed as a member of record.

Per my post, Same Sex Marriage and the New Church Policies, I think there are a number of logistical and administrative reasons why church leaders believe the issue of homosexuality is problematic enough and that parents are influential enough that they want to withhold this membership until children in these situations are adults. While it may not be fair and may be painful, it still may be reasonable given the other (also possibly unfair and painful) costs involved.

My personal impression is that these concerns would be nearly completely alleviated by limiting this restriction to children living with parents who are living in a homosexual relationship. For now, however, that is not what the policy states. With whom the child lives is not part of the consideration.

A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may be baptized and confirmed, ordained, or recommended for missionary service only as follows:

This paragraph, similarly, states that a child who has a parent living in a same-gender relationship (which includes both unmarried and married) cannot be baptized/confirmed, ordained in the priesthood, or go on a mission.

As per above, I see valid reasons why this policy may be needed, but think most concerns would be addressed if this restriction only applied to children living with the same-gender couple, given how much influence that circumstance provides.

A mission president or a stake president may request approval from the Office of the First Presidency to baptize and confirm, ordain, or recommend missionary service for a child of a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship when he is satisfied by personal interviews that both of the following requirements are met:

Here we have the paragraph that contains the bad code. The if-then statement presented in the policy moves to the then. That then includes an or condition that will never apply.

Clear? It looks something like this:

Same Gender Policy Fail

This paragraph only kicks in if the if statement is met. If it’s not met, you never get this far. You exit the program. As written, this policy and these conditions are only relevant to a child who does have a parent who is living in a same-gender relationship.

Since the A of the if A or B statement was a condition in the original if statement, the if A or B will always be true. The “No” in orange is the fail point. The “…who has lived…” statement is completely nonsensical because the “No” will never apply.

Either the administrators intended this to be a condition in the original if statement—to keep the program running—or it’s superfluous.

  1. The child accepts and is committed to live the teachings and doctrine of the Church, and specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage.

This condition requires the child to specifically commit not to live in their own same-gender relationship and not to support such relationships. (This same condition applies to all of us, although it may not be so specifically addressed.)

  1. The child is of legal age and does not live with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.

This condition requires the child be…well…not a child. Again, odd wording. It also requires that the former child does not live with a parent who lived or lives in a same-gender relationship.

My impression is that this condition would be more helpful if it applied only if the parent was unrepentant about the former same-gender relationship. (Obviously, someone currently living in a same-gender relationship would not be considered repentant.) If they had lived in a same-gender relationship sometime in the past, and formally repented, I see no reason why this should impact the living arrangements.

I’d like to conclude by giving the public relations department a bit of a pass. While this was certainly a PR disaster, I suggest the PR department was never informed about the event in the first place…and only in the problematic after place. I mourn with them as well.

Here’s hoping the powers-that-be will revisit, reconsider, and rewrite.

{ 30 comments… add one }
  • Charles Duckworth III November 8, 2015, 5:05 pm

    This is the best post on the interwebs on the policy changes.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 8, 2015, 5:12 pm

    Thank you and welcome, Sir Charles!
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Same Sex Marriage and the New Church PoliciesMy Profile

  • mindy November 8, 2015, 5:29 pm

    Brilliant analysis. I’m more surprised at the sloppiness of this whole event than the policy itself. 🙁

  • Angie Gardner November 8, 2015, 5:31 pm

    Wow, it’s so confusing I’m not sure I even understand your very thorough explanation of it. 🙂

    My opinion here. Before it was ever put into the handbook (presumably by the First Presidency and Q of 12, not church PR, although I do wonder sometimes who is really running things) it really should have gone through a more thorough vetting process. Legal, PR, and here’s a thought – talking to people who are *impacted* by it might be nice.

  • IdRatherNotSay November 8, 2015, 6:23 pm

    Correct me if I am wrong, but after reading massive numbers of comments online bashing the church over this new policy, I am finding what I think has become a consistent misinterpretation. People are claiming that children are being forced to choose between their gay parents and their religion/community. If I am understanding this correctly, that is not the case. As I read it, the children (18 year olds, whom I do consider children as well) are not being “forced to disavow their gay parents,” they are being required to disavow gay marriage, which the church considers to be sinful behavior (and I believe any church has the right to claim what is sinful behavior. It is part of what makes a church a church). I do recognize that the “child” cannot be living with the gay parent who is living with a gay partner, but let’s not blow this out of proportion and claim that this equals cutting off ties/shunning their parents.

    I get that people are hurting over this. I am not trying to minimize that. I have hurt over some church policies as well… But I am growing so weary of reading, “I can no longer affiliate myself with a church that does not support equality.” Ummmm… Not to harp on the church, but we haven’t fully supported equality, ever (women’s issues, blacks and the priesthood) and acting on same sex attraction has never been accepted… So why pretend like everything was perfect up until now and then suddenly claim that this church is no longer equal? It is what it is. Yeah, it is a poor policy implemented at a poor time, but life hurts. We’re here to grow.

    One last thing. I agree with your former post, Alison, about this “living an authentic life” garbage. All it means is, “let me do what I want and not call it a sin.” In my opinion, living an authentic life, in these people’s opinions, means living like the “natural man” (or woman).

    Look, I have church issues. I haven’t been in a while. I wish the church was more accommodating of minority groups (including gays). I would like to hold the priesthood, though I do not agitate for it. I have issues with the tithing “doctrine.” I have feminist tendencies. I have awakened, in the last couple of years, to the reality that my church is not exactly what I thought it was. But it’s still my church. I still believe it is the best gig in town, and I’m still claiming my faith and am willing to follow the bretheren (along with my own personal revelation).

    Sorry. Didn’t mean to hijack your post.

  • ChanJo November 8, 2015, 6:41 pm

    I read the policy on a news site about 15 times trying to figure it out. I knew there was something wrong, but couldn’t pinpoint it. Thank you for straightening out my brain! I can rest now.

  • Kathy November 8, 2015, 7:09 pm

    I’d be very uncomfortable advising the First Presidency that they “failed” to write their intents correctly – or that they re-write, which would bring further vitriol from the masses. As it stands, General Leadership have painted with a broad brush, and reserved the right of local, stake and mission leaders to petition the adjustment of these regulations according to individual circumstance. This story was leaked and then shamelessly inflamed by the media, who are the only ones I would advise “failed” to write the correct intents of the church.

    What this does, is protect all of us, our children AND the church from the PC anti-religious zealots who’s agenda knows no bounds. A few points….

    1. If my husband and I split due to his coming out, and he enters into a marriage with his new honey – and as the custodial parent I want my kiddies baptized, he could sue me for full custody and if he’s lucky a liberal judge will side with him that I have attempted to “alienate” the kids from him by virtue of baptism into a church that considers his lifestyle a sin. This guideline protects all minor children who may be used as pawns over this issue and keeps them out of the courts, whether or not their ss parents are currently saying “they would never do that” or “I support their choice for baptism”.
    2. If by allowing minor children of homosexual couples to be baptized into the church, there is potential for those couples to then view this as akin to “anchor babies” and try to demand they receive membership based on their child’s membership, which leads into….
    3. Categorizing ss married couples as “apostate”, removes any doubt as to their church standing and declares they are indeed NOT full functioning members with “rights” to marriage inside our buildings and temples. As long as religious freedom is protected, the sanctity of our temples is preserved.

    It is becoming clearer as the months pass, that the extreme left’s agenda will not be satisfied until total approval, absolute inclusion and joyful celebration of all things LGBT into every facet of society is accomplished including religious membership in whatever church they choose. The church knows what God means and requires of His Kingdom. Our leaders can see the slippery slope ahead and is wise enough to apply the brakes wherever they can.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 8, 2015, 7:19 pm

    …the children are not being “forced to disavow their gay parents,” they are being required to disavow gay marriage…

    Yes. I addressed that briefly in my other post. They disavow the sinful practice, not the parents. And the truth is, we all disavow sin when we get baptized, when we go to the temple, and (in theory) every time we take the sacrament. And, of course, we’re always supposed to be disavowing sin.

    But it’s still my church. I still believe it is the best gig in town, and I’m still claiming my faith and am willing to follow the bretheren (along with my own personal revelation).

    Honey, that wasn’t a hijack at all. Brava!
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Same Sex Marriage and the New Church PoliciesMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith November 8, 2015, 7:33 pm

    I’d be very uncomfortable advising the First Presidency that they “failed” to write their intents correctly – or that they re-write, which would bring further vitriol from the masses.

    I’m not. 🙂 They could not have written their intentions correctly because the policy logically fails. Either they intended the condition of “…who has lived…” to be in the original if statement or they didn’t intend it to be in the policy at all. As it stands, it is in an or statement that can never apply. So unless you’re saying that they intentionally threw in a superfluous statement in order to confuse people, then it’s written incorrectly.

    As it stands, General Leadership have painted with a broad brush, and reserved the right of local, stake and mission leaders to petition the adjustment of these regulations according to individual circumstance.

    I completely disagree. As written, there is not a provision for local leaders to petition for exceptions. It is, in fact, only after the conditions are met (adulthood, move out, disavow behavior) that petition can be made for the former child can move forward in church membership.

    If you think the policy intends to provide that provision, it’s yet another mistake, because it’s not there now.

    This story was leaked and then shamelessly inflamed by the media, who are the only ones I would advise “failed” to write the correct intents of the church.

    I absolutely agree that it was shamelessly leaked (by someone who had responsibility but no integrity). I also agree that the media had a field day with it. (Both should have been predicted.) But those facts don’t compel me to ignore the failures in the written policy. Unless those are corrected, they are going to cause more problems than we already have.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…An Open Letter to BYU Fans: 3-Step 12th Man PrimerMy Profile

  • Left Field November 8, 2015, 7:51 pm

    I think “child of legal age” is intended (or can be interpreted) as an indication of relationship, rather than age. As in: “I have three children, and two of them are adults.” No matter how old you are, you can still be the child (i.e., son/daughter) of a parent who is in a same-sex relationship. And I think all instances of “child” in the policy can reasonably refer to an offspring, rather than specifically a minor. For that matter, I’m not sure anyone has noted that the policy as written would apply to a 50-year old convert, who would be expected to not live with his parents, and to disavow gay marriage before being baptized. Maybe if you’re a senior couple signing up for a mission, you should expect to be questioned about your parents’ living arrangements.

    Lots of news headlines and commenters have said that the policy only applies to minor children living with a gay parent. Some have insisted that it could not possibly be referring to children in a divorce situation. But the policy isn’t even a little ambiguous on that. If you have a parent who lives in a gay relationship, you can’t be baptized. It doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter if you live in an active LDS home with Mom and Stepdad bringing you up in the gospel. If you have a gay biological father out there somewhere that you might never have met, no baptism for you. It doesn’t matter if you have already been sealed to your stepfather. It doesn’t matter if your gay father wants more than anything for you to be baptized and raised in the gospel. The policy says no baptism until you turn 18.

    If the policy were intended to only apply to children living with a gay parent, then it would need to say so. But it would also need to define “living with.” If the gay parent has joint custody, can you get baptized? What about visitation rights? If you ever spend the night with the gay parent? If you stay the night only when the parent’s partner isn’t there? If you ever visit the parent? If you have spent the night any time in the last five years? But the policy doesn’t require this to be defined, because it doesn’t make a distinction about where the child lives. As written, it would apply to a child who has never met the gay parent. It would apply to the child of a young single mother who immediately broke up with the boyfriend, even if neither she nor the child had any further relationship with him. The “natural child” wording would seem to even apply to a biological parent who is not the child’s legal parent.

    It’s a mass of confusion.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 8, 2015, 8:01 pm

    I think “child of legal age” is intended (or can be interpreted) as an indication of relationship, rather than age.

    Yes, I’m sure you’re correct. And, really, it makes sense to write it that way to be clear about who is being referenced.

    For that matter, I’m not sure anyone has noted that the policy as written would apply to a 50-year old convert, who would be expected to not live with his parents, and to disavow gay marriage before being baptized. Maybe if you’re a senior couple signing up for a mission, you should expect to be questioned about your parents’ living arrangements.

    That’s actually pretty funny…and true…and messy…

    If you have a parent who lives in a gay relationship, you can’t be baptized.

    Not exactly. It’s not a “gay relationship” that gets the policy in gear, it is co-habitation (married or not).

    It doesn’t matter if you have already been sealed to your stepfather.

    Hmmm. Unless I’m mistaken, you can only get sealed after a legal adoption. (Is that correct?) If so, the bio-father wouldn’t matter. As far as the church is concerned, biological children and adopted children are equal, so an adopted father would be the only father in question.

    It’s a mass of confusion.

    Amen.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…TLC and the New LyricsMy Profile

  • Left Field November 8, 2015, 9:12 pm

    “Not exactly. It’s not a “gay relationship” that gets the policy in gear, it is co-habitation (married or not).”

    Yes, I was writing imprecisely. But in my defense, I wasn’t composing formal text for the Handbook. On the other hand, “living in a same-gender relationship” could be understood to refer to a sexual relationship not involving cohabitation. But it goes on to list two options: “whether the couple is married or cohabiting,” as if those are the only two possibilities. What if they’re copulating like rabbits, but maintaining separate residences? I don’t know. “Cohabiting” might just be a euphemism for “having sex,” rather than meaning “living together.” Another example of not-quite-precise-enough language.

    “Hmmm. Unless I’m mistaken, you can only get sealed after a legal adoption. (Is that correct?)”

    That is basically correct, or at least it was 15 years ago when I went through the process. But you could also do the sealing to a stepparent if the other legal parent gave written permission. In my case, we had to sue (in absentia) for termination of parental rights, before the adoption, before the sealing. (Though there was no gay issue involved, BTW.)

    “If so, the bio-father wouldn’t matter. As far as the church is concerned, biological children and adopted children are equal, so an adopted father would be the only father in question.”

    Except that the policy refers to “a natural OR adopted child of a parent…” So arguably, even if the “natural” father has lost parental rights, and is no longer a legal parent in the eyes of the law and the church, the policy puts both the adoptive, legal, sealed father and the “natural” father on the hook for no gay cohabitation.

    Or a biological, still-legal father could give permission for a sealing to the stepfather, in which case, an infant might have been sealed to a stepfather, but be ineligible for baptism due to the subsequent living arrangements of the biological father, EVEN if all three parents ( of various sorts) want the child baptized. .

    It is a mass of confusion.

  • Kathy November 8, 2015, 9:31 pm

    I think the mass of confusion comes from all the many ways society and in particular the LGBT community has convoluted the definition of marriage and all the many ways they can engage in adult relationships that deviate from the one God has designed.

  • Jim Foster November 9, 2015, 9:37 am

    Without addressing the merits of the handbook change I would like to comment on your article:(1)\”This condition requires the child be…well…not a child.\” One of the definitions of a child is \”a son or daughter\” (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/child). The earlier use of child as you referenced from the handbook is \”child of a parent\”, so the use in the handbook is consistent and appropriate.(2)I agree with you that as you reference the handbook (I do not have access to the handbook, so I only can refer to your reference) there is a logical inconsistency in the wording. The rules listed lower only apply if the parent is living in a same-gender relationship, so after precluding the parent having lived in a same-gender relationship but not now doing so from consideration, it then erroneously applies rules that were already precluded. However, I do not believe your flow chart accurately reflects the problem but was helpful to bring this inconsistency out. Notwithstanding this logic error as quoted I understand the intent.

  • IdRatherNotSay November 9, 2015, 12:49 pm

    I think Kathy explains the ‘why’ better than anyone I know. For a church that believes homosexuality is a terrible sin, it makes sense why they are doing this from many perspectives. It is tragic that innocent children are affected in the wake… But it is never going to be a perfect scenario.

    Thanks, Kathy

  • Oregonian November 9, 2015, 1:37 pm

    jim foster i cannot tell what your argument is with the flow chart. it is right and it even agrees with your own description.

  • Tiago November 9, 2015, 2:50 pm

    I think the “has been or is” statement could be included because this policy affects people for a long time and the parent’s relationship status might change during that time. I wonder if once you get classified as a child of someone living in same-sex relationship, you remain that way for the rest of your life, whether or not your parent stays in that relationship.

    For example, let’s say a man has a seven year son and leaves his wife for another man. The son can not get baptized because his father is living in a same-sex relationship. But let’s say the relationship doesn’t last and the dad is single again by the time the son is 16. Would the son then be able to get baptized and receive the priesthood at 16? I don’t think so. I think he would still have to wait until he was 18 and would still need first presidency approval.

  • Chris November 9, 2015, 3:59 pm

    Where did you acquire the official new wording of the leadership handbook? It isn’t accessible through my lds.org account because I’m not a leader.

    Also, I don’t believe this particular handbook is supposed to be perused by just anybody. That’s probably why the PR wasn’t well managed.

  • IdRatherNotSay November 9, 2015, 4:52 pm

    I think that based on Kathy’s reasoning, the 18-year-old business is about more than being of legal age to make a decision. It also means that the “child” is no longer under anyone’s custody so nobody can sue anyone and essentially take kids away from one parent or the other over baptism.

    I will admit that in the beginning, the policy bothered me and made no sense but now, I fully understand. It sucks, but the church has to work around the laws of the land and I think this is the best compromise they could make.

    Additionally, I believe they made some parts intentionally confusing. That way, there is room for some case-by-case scenarios.

    Again, I don’t like it, but I am not sure the church has a choice. They have to balance their beliefs with the law. They’ve kind of been backed into a corner.

  • Kathy November 9, 2015, 9:27 pm

    I’d Rather Not Say – I had a similar sad reaction when I first read the news about this issue. But knowing I sustain my Prophet, I pushed passed my initial knee jerk reaction, and started to read and research. A couple of the best articles on this – LEMMONYTHINGS.COM “This much I know: My take on the LGBT Mormon Controversey” and “The 9 Facebook Myths about the Church’s New LGBT Policy”. Both are really well written and offer clarification and peace.

    Here’s another thing to consider in some cases of parents wanting to ensure baptism for their kids …. Will a gay person stay in a heterosexual relationship long enough to ensure that all the children are baptized at 8, “for the sake of the kids” – and then split off to a new SS partner? Once a child has been baptized, they are baptized, and plenty of baptized kids currently live with one parent in a homosexual relationship. Hopefully those kids have another parent they can lean on to fill in the spiritual gaps.

  • kimberly cherrine November 10, 2015, 10:32 pm

    The last part stating a child and implying by wording actually adult.His being used by interpretation of mean any age child of a parent (so you could be 25 like my daughter or 50 or 60, since you are ALWAYS the child of your parent. This reasoning is being used to say this apply to my 25 yr old daughter and that she should not get a limited recommend renewed without doing the steps laid out. REALLY? Overreach much..maybe not when being told its clear and to be followed as laid out …ARE YOU SURE ABOUT THAT? Also some are reading it that if you have ever lived with a bio parent who has co-habbed..So my 25 yr old who has only been with her bio dad 7 days at age two still counts…All we keep getting is it can’t be but it is, this can’t be ..but we have to do as laid out as worded…IF the intent is as “ASSUMED” i’m good…If it is as written, we may be forced to leave,,no way should my daughter have to face to face (again does not say face to face, in a letter, email how a disavowal should happen) we are being told only a face to face will do..no way is my daughter face to facing with her abuser ever! CLEAR UP THE WORDING..including using terms legal parents, cause some also said by using just parent that can mean bio parent even one whose rights have been terminate…I hope I made sense..This a mess, we don’t need overeachers having fuel for fire and hurting even more people

  • Cynthia L. November 11, 2015, 12:18 am

    Alison, I didn’t know you had such a software engineer heart! Very well explained.
    Cynthia L. recently posted…Behold Our Little OnesMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith November 11, 2015, 12:58 pm

    Haha. It’s a survival requirement to live with my husband. 🙂
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Same Sex Marriage and the New Church PoliciesMy Profile

  • Rebecca November 11, 2015, 10:01 pm

    Someone on By Common Consent referred me to this post, because it appears that under the new policy, my born-in-the-covenant son is ineligible for baptism because of the “has lived” language.

    You mention the section heading, that it specifies it is for children whose parents are currently living in a same-sex relationship. I understand that. However, there’s no reason whatsoever to specify “has lived” if this is meant to apply only to children currently living in such a household. Why add the past tense if it’s for current situations?

    To my eye, it seems carefully crafted to exclude children whose parents previously “lived in” (not even necessarily cohabitated in) a same-sex relationship. If it were meant only for children whose parents are currently in that situation, there would be no need for the extra verbiage bringing in past relationships as well.

    The policy says what it means. The fact that it is exclusionary to the point that it challenges one’s conscience doesn’t mean it doesn’t say what it says. It says what it says.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 11, 2015, 11:21 pm

    Yup. And it doesn’t say what you think it says. But you need to read the entire post because, yes, it is extra verbiage and nonsensical, as written.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Suffer Little ChildrenMy Profile

  • Left Field November 12, 2015, 8:17 am

    Kimberly, the policy does not say, suggest or imply that one has to disavow gay marriage TO the gay parent. Not face to face, not by phone, not by email, letter, Morse code, smoke signals, homing pigeon, interpretive dance, or a wag of the finger. Anyone in this situation does not have to communicate any disapproval to the parent AT ALL. The policy has a lot of troubling implications, but this isn’t one of them. Disavow belief in gay marriage to the bishop or whoever conducts the interview.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 12, 2015, 9:37 am

    kimberly cherrine, you bring up even more clarity issues.

    Some have surmised that the “child” merely refers to relationship rather than age, so this section applies even to adults as long as it refers to the person who is their parent. It absolutely can be read that way, but that brings up more problems rather than less.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…An Open Letter to BYU Fans: 3-Step 12th Man PrimerMy Profile

  • Marie Thatcher November 13, 2015, 12:11 pm

    Yes, present tense prevails. I wonder if they’ll rewrite the handbook addition to take out the useless “has lived”?

    http://www.lds.org/pages/church-handbook-changes?lang

  • Alison Moore Smith November 13, 2015, 3:12 pm

    With the clarifications to the policy, it appears that the “ever lived” comment is completely extraneous. So it’s not the positioning that was bad, but the inclusion.

    Leaving in such a far-reaching clause when it wasn’t intended to come into play at all is a serious oversight. :/
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Same-Sex Marriage/Cohabitation Policy Clarification: Time to Fire the Legal DepartmentMy Profile

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge