The last few days have been a frenzy of activity in the LDS world. As someone with a more progressive view of things, it has been a pretty difficult few days. I have been inundated with information from both sides and finally have a minute to sit down and reflect on all of what I’ve seen and heard. Here is my take on things.
First of all, I want to give some information for context. I am active in the church, a returned missionary, temple recommend holder, and have callings in the church. My husband is currently bishop of our ward (makes for some interesting times at our house!).
I think we all know by now what the policy says, so I won’t reiterate that here. What I would like to focus on are the explanations of the policy that I’ve heard and seen, including the video that the church put out last night in which Elder Christofferson gives insight and context to it. My concern is not so much with the apostasy aspect of this for adults, so I’m focusing on the other part of it, which involves blessing and baptizing children of gay parents.
1. This policy is to protect children.
When I first saw this, I thought protect them from what? As I’ve read, the general idea I’m getting is to protect them from needing to make difficult judgments on their parent’s lifestyle, which they may hear at church. According to Elder Christofferson, we are also protecting them from having their names on the records of the church and being on Primary rolls and possibly have home and visiting teachers assigned to the family. I hadn’t realized before that being on a Primary roll or having someone watch out for your family’s welfare was necessarily a bad thing, but I digress.
First of all, it is somewhat concerning to me to think that what might be taught in church is so anti-gay that children cannot process it. Sure, we are taught that marriage is between a man and a woman. I have never really seen it get much deeper than that in Primary. Perhaps a little deeper in the teenage years, but not much, and by this age children are much better able to think critically and sort things out for themselves. Remember, we are talking about children who are living this every day of their lives. They are fully aware of the controversy of it and the challenges it might entail. They aren’t going to hear anything at church that they have not heard or felt before. I would like to flip this around for a moment and consider in what ways having their name on the records of the church and even attending church might be good for them. It would show them that we don’t see them as someone “other” than us. They had absolutely zero control of the family they were born into. If they want to come to church and participate fully and their family is supportive of that, then who are we to say this could not be a strength to them? I believe it could be, and in most cases, would be.
I have seen things like custody disputes mentioned. If taking your children to church violates custody agreements, then don’t take them to church or make them members of a church that you can’t because of your custody agreement. Duh. Enough said on that?
Imagine applying this policy to other sins. “Sorry sweetie, you can’t be a member of the church because your mom lives with her boyfriend. You might hear in church that we don’t do that and we wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings. So, sorry, you can’t be a member of the church.” Or “Gee Johnny, it would be great if you could get baptized, but I know your dad drinks and smokes. You might hear in church that we don’t do that. It might cause a conflict with your dad if you get baptized, so we are protecting you from that conflict.” I guess this doesn’t sound as ridiculous to some people as it does to me, but I’m just scratching my head on that one.
2. Why would gay couples want their children involved in the church anyway?
I have to be honest, this argument irks me more than any other. To put it bluntly this is not our business! We don’t question the motives of why anyone else brings their kids to church, why would we question it of a gay couple? If they have decided as a family that they are okay with it it is not our business. Believe it or not, there are a lot of gay couples who fully believe in the teachings of the church and want their children to learn them, they just inconveniently are gay. There are people who were in mixed orientation marriages who are now divorced and one partner is in a gay relationship, and the heterosexual parent wants their child raised in the church but now cannot. Sure, they can take them to church and teach them about the church, but their kids cannot fully participate as members. When all the other kids get baptized, sorry your child cannot because your ex-spouse is gay. Even if all the adults are totally okay with the child getting baptized. When all the other boys are passing the Sacrament, your son cannot. When his peers are preparing for missions, he’s just waiting until he can turn 18 so he can get baptized after renouncing his parent’s lifestyle. This is not good for kids. It is not good families.
How about this concept? We call bishops and stake presidents to be discerning of situations like this. Parents, gay or straight, have stewardship and insight about their unique children and their unique situations. Most people in the world are actually reasonable, thinking people. Let’s trust people to be able to make these decisions on what is best for this child and best for this family. It may certainly be the case that church membership is not appropriate in some cases, but in some cases it might be completely appropriate. And I don’t see why having a child’s name on record as ever being problematic. It might mean someone attempts to contact the family at some point to see why they don’t come to church. And?
3. Baptism makes children accountable. It’s unfair to make a child accountable for something that goes against the beliefs of their parents.
To me, this is a fantastic argument for making the baptism age 18 for everyone. I don’t know a kid out there who agrees with everything their parents do, or everything the church does for that matter. As they grow older, they think. They start to think more critically and to realize that most things in the world are much more nuanced than they had thought. They make mistakes. They sin. They question. This is true of my kids who are active in the church and live with their heterosexual parents, and it’s true of the gay couples’ kids too. Our kids are going to mess up sometimes. They are going to learn about repentance and forgiveness. They are going to learn to think for themselves, hopefully. They might completely reject the church. Would it have been better for them never to be baptized if they end up rejecting it? If that’s the case, it’s the case with everyone who rejects it, not just children of gay couples. Do you know anyone who has a perfect Mormon life anymore where they aren’t faced with difficult things that go against the teachings of the church? I don’t know many. In my own family we have experienced all kinds of challenges to our faith, from alcoholism to suicide to teenage pregnancy to homosexuality to apostasy to criminal activity and on and on. There are hard things in life, even in Mormon families, no doubt. Our children will be exposed to these and have to reconcile it with their faith. Children from gay families are just as capable of processing these challenges as other children are, in fact maybe even more so since they are exposed to it their entire lives. Who knows, perhaps the church might even be a clarifying source for them in a time where they are trying to sort it all out for themselves.
4. This is the same policy as the policy on polygamy, and that’s been around a long time and no one seems to have a problem with that.
First of all, don’t even get me started on polygamy. Second of all, I actually didn’t know it was policy not to allow blessing or baptism of children from polygamous families until the Brown case recently was in the news. So I learned something new there. Interesting.
Most of what I said above applies to these children as well. However, I do not see coming from a polygamous family and coming from a family with gay parents as the same at all. People aren’t born polygamous. This is a choice they make, usually on religious grounds, and almost always because that’s how their family was and they don’t know any different. That is very different from someone who is gay. But regardless of where you stand on polygamy, I think what I said above still applies. Why can we not address these situations on a case by case basis? You could have the same thing happen to a child as with a mixed-orientation marriage. There are people who are monogamously married and then decide to practice polygamy, divorce, and one parent is monogamous and may very well want to raise their children in the church. Situations like this would happen so infrequently that it seems completely feasible to me to trust our parents and trust our bishops to be able to navigate them when they arise, rather than a blanket policy.
5. We are making too much of the “disavow” gay marriage as a requirement for baptism of an adult child.
Elder Christofferson made a parallel here to polygamy, and how a child from a polygamous family would also have to disavow polygamy. Yes, I think you can disavow a practice without disavowing a person. However, polygamy is pretty clearly outside of the realm of what is considered socially acceptable, and in fact, is illegal. Gay marriage is more of a political issue and very personal social issue in my mind. In fact, I think it was recently Elder Christofferson who said that we can politically support gay marriage and remain in good standing in the church. If this is the case for the rest of us, why is it not the case for children of gay couples? Is it enough for them to say, “I will not enter into a gay marriage” or do they actually have to say they don’t agree with gay marriage PERIOD? Because so far, none of the rest of us are asked to do this, and this is an unfair thing to ask children who love their parents and respect their relationship to do.
Finally, just to illustrate the “real life” application of this, I will share 3 scenarios from my own life to show that these cases do indeed occur. They will be very loosely based so as to protect people’s identities.
First, a woman is married and has children, is raising them in the church, but at some point falls in love with another woman, divorces her husband, but still holds to many teachings of the church and wants her children to remain in the church. She has custody, and has a child who has not been baptized yet. His older siblings are all baptized, but now he’s not only “othered” from his church, he is even othered from his own siblings. At a time of divorce and difficulty in his very young life, he doesn’t even church membership to hold onto.
Second, a girl has been raised by gay fathers, who were both returned missionaries and had a general belief in the church, although did not practice actively because of their relationship being outside of church bounds. However, the grandparents are all very active in the church and take this girl to church, with not only the permission but the complete support and encouragement of both of her fathers. They support the church teachings in their home, other than gay marriage. This girl is “raised” in the church but can never fully participate. What if at age 16, she decides she would like to serve a mission someday and would like to be baptized and start those preparations. She can’t. She must wait until age 18 and then must disavow gay marriage before doing so. While she is not gay and will thus never be getting gay married herself, she believes that her fathers have the right to be legally married and will not disavow their marriage as being legitimate.
Jimmy and Sally are high school sweethearts. He has inklings that he is gay, but is advised to go on a mission and get married, which he does. They have children and both serve in the church. Finally, he realizes he cannot do this anymore, and they divorce. He eventually marries, while his ex-wife remains single. They share custody. Now Sally not only has the pain of losing her marriage, she also cannot have her children fully participating in the church as members.
There is much more that could be said, but this is too long already. My basic premise is that a blanket policy in regards to the children of gay parents is not the best course of action here. Bishops and parents are given stewardship and discernment and are fully capable of making these decisions based on what is best in a given situation. Children from gay relationships do not need any more othering than they already get. I am sad that they are now getting it from a place that should be a refuge and haven for them if that’s what they and their parents want.