Mormon Momma has 1,565 published posts and 347 drafts—most of them mine. Last night my Facebook feed filled up with references to yesterday's two changes in church policy. Soon after I began getting private messages and emails, asking my take on the new church policies. If I wanted to write today, this wouldn't be the topic. It would, instead, come from one of the other 340-ish posts I've already started. But this issue is exploding, so I'll do my best.
I reserve the right (as always) to change my mind or reconsider. At the top I will ask readers to consider the many factors in play before giving a reactionary response. (That's just about all I've seen on social media on either side.)
Homosexuality and Consistency
One of the overriding principles in my life is consistency. I try to make sense of the world and of my positions and values. Almost never do I take a hard stance based on my feelings without some rational basis included. When I do make a position, I try very hard to make it fit coherently with the others. That's not always possible, but I believe one day a grand, unifying theory will emerge.
Homosexuality is a topic I've mostly avoided. It's complex; I'm undecided. I have lots of friends who are gay and my kids have more (that's generational but also a result of being professional performers (stereotypes usually exist because of real patterns)). I have written related posts, trying to make sense of what I see and hear. (Examples include: Can God Proscribe Behavior and Transgenderism, Caitlyn Jenner, and Why Feelings Rule.) Given the plethora of complex moral issues, I've had plenty to think, read, and write about without spending time on issues related to homosexuality, but it's come to the forefront once again.
Right up front, yes, I do think God can actually say that some behaviors are good and some are bad. I also think he can say that some behaviors are preferable and others are not. Really. Truly. And given that even every atheist (although atheism is devoid of reason) has a value set, let's just agree that everyone categorizes behaviors along some values spectrum, including you.
My general—still unrefined—position about homosexuality (as in homosexual behavior) is that it is morally wrong. In my worldview it falls in with fornication, adultery, and, yes, polygamy—three other sexual practices that I also believe are morally wrong. (And, no, I do not give a conditional acceptance to polygamy.)
This makes sense to me for another, perhaps unorthodox, reason. I believe we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. (No, that's not the unorthodox part and, no, there is absolutely no compunction against speaking about her openly. Stop spreading that nonsense. Just stop.) I believe that “God” is both of them—Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father— together, working as one. (Check out the Daughters of our Heavenly Parents event!)
I don't believe Heavenly Mother is in a back room scrapbooking or attending to her latest case of the vapors. I believe she was actively involved in the creation and has always been actively involved in our lives. I believe that the two of them—male and female, two complementary parts—are necessary to form a complete God and that, thusly, those who choose to reject that model (just as with other eternal principles) are choosing to limit their eternal progress.
I don't believe there is one Heavenly Father and a harem of Heavenly Mothers. I believe in an actual one-to-one eternal relationship.
I realize that brings up questions about the ultimate pairings. (And, no, as much as I love my Julie Flinders, I don't believe Saturday's Warrior is a doctrinal essay.) Such issues don't seem terribly complex to me. In short, I actually believe all the eternal spouse hype without all the baggage.
Now I'll try to make sense of these new policies in that context and without the benefit of an official church statement. (I understand the church is going to make a statement within the hour, so there may be an addendum coming sooner rather than later.)
To the best of my understanding, yesterday the church made two significant changes in the handbook without making a public statement. This isn't particularly unusual, except that the topic is so politically charged that it was probably unwise. When the policies hit social media, the excrement hit the fan. The church confirmed the policies, but did not comment further. Of course, few others refrained thusly.
In the cacophony, I've heard a lot of misrepresentations (that the church “makes” children living in SSM households “apostate,” that adults who lived as children in SSM households must “renounce their parents,” etc.) If you're going to disagree with the church, at least don't build a straw man to do it.
Perhaps the church administrators thought the new policies would fly under the radar. Perhaps they thought it wouldn't be such a big deal. The church essays were also initially published without comments or even links from the newsroom.
There seems to be an enormous blindspot in church administration that renders them unable to better anticipate these reactions. I'm shocked anyone in PR could have thought this would go by unnoticed, but I can't explain it otherwise. Sometimes I wonder if the department is filled with old guys and gals who haven't yet connected in the online space. Or something.
Note to the LDS Public Relations Department: I have absolutely no expertise in PR, and yet it still seems I'm about 2000% better at anticipating social media response. Shout out to me next time and I'll give you some advice!
Same Sex Marriage and Membership Rules
Handbook 1, number 6.7.2 now reads (change highlighted):
When a Disciplinary Council May Be Necessary
… It includes (but is not limited to) attempted murder, forcible rape, sexual abuse, spouse abuse, intentional serious physical injury of others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations (especially sexual cohabitation), deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, …
Handbook 1, number 6.7.3 now reads (change highlighted):
When a Disciplinary Council is Mandatory
As used here, apostasy refers to members who:
Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.
Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.
Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.
Are in a same-gender marriage.
Formally join another church and advocate its teachings.
The church—which has always held that homosexual behavior is sinful—has now further codified the always existing position that those who actively engage in homosexual behavior are living contrary to gospel principles and there may be consequences. This now specifically includes living together as a homosexual couple and being legally married as a homosexual couple (something that, as we all know, has only recently become an issue in the US).
Same sex marriage has now, specifically, been identified as apostasy. In the eyes of the church, it is not the same as merely engaging in behavior that is contrary to church doctrine, but as an active repudiation of the gospel plan.
This doesn't seem particularly controversial or surprising to me given my beliefs about couples and eternal unions and godhood. Does it to you?
Children of SSM Couples and Membership Rules
Handbook 1, number 16.3 has been added:
Children of a Parent Living in a Same-Gender Relationship
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 be baptized and confirmed, ordained, or recommended for missionary service only as follows:
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:
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.
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 is the policy that is causing the most ruckus, anger, outrage. It seems to have been modeled after the policy for (not) baptizing children of polygamous parents. Given the similarities between the new and the long-standing policy, I find the current public weeping and wailing to be overwrought. I'm sure it's sincere, but I have never, once, ever, in all my years seen anyone rent their garments over the baptismal exclusion of poly-marriage children. I asked one such friend and she explained her new outspokenness now this way:
Yes, we feel sad when someone is hurt, but the pain is that much greater the closer you are to that person.
So at least some of this new concern is because of personal relationships. I suspect it also comes because of personal support for same-sex unions and the hope that the church would eventually reverse its position rather than retrench.
If someone can't be baptized until they are an adult, they do miss out on the blessings of being a member for that decade. I do think that is significant (more for boys than girls, given that they are excluded from more activities). Just as I was sad that I could not be a Boy Scout and could not pass the sacrament or participate in priesthood ordinances as a youth (or now…), it is sad that some will be precluded from participation in many blessings of membership that they would otherwise choose for the ten-year period until they are adults. I'm sorry for pain this may cause. Some of the policy is problematic enough and sweeping enough, that I suspect (and hope) it will be changed and refined, much as I hope other church policies are changed and refined.
Even if you don't like the policy change, there are obvious problems with children who are members of record in a church in which their parents don't fully participate and/or whose behavior is at odds with central church teachings. There can be a great deal of familial discord when someone is taught disparate things in various places and lives a life specifically contrary to those teachings.
That said, I do not think this decision was made primarily to protect the children or families. I think God does a fine job of that. Whether they get baptized now or later is no real issue in the grand scheme of things. God doesn't condemn us for things beyond our control. Rather, I think the policy change is mostly a logistical and practical one.
When my husband served a mission to Samoa the members and missionaries were dealing with a rash of former “aisakulimi baptisms.” Translate that to “ice cream baptisms.” It happened when some overly-enthusiastic and ethically-challenged missionaries promised ice cream to anyone who got baptized. The result of having masses of children on record, but lost to the system was chaotic, time-consuming, and confusing.
Similarly, in Boca Raton, we had a number of girls in our Young Women program who were baptized without much in the way of testimony, but lots in the way of thinking the missionaries were cute and giving them lots of attention. These girls had full parental support—because many of their parents were thrilled to have someone take them off their hands for many hours per week—but their memberships without conversion were an administrative difficulty.
To be clear, yes, the salvation of a soul is worth the bother. But the rest of us are just fallible humans, too, and we can be overwhelmed with responsibility.
The church does allow children in many circumstances to join without participating parents as long as those parents give full approval. This is true although there are a lot more precautions in place than many people seem to realize. Still, let's not get into a haystack fallacy here and refuse to recognize that some familial situations are more likely to be problematic than others.
In the cases of both polygamy and same-sex marriage, the only way for a marital unit (for want of a better word) to conform to church policy would be for them to split up. It seems to be the church's positions that polygamy, same-sex marriage, and some other circumstances are far enough outside the manageable norm that it is best to delay membership until the child is an adult and able to understand and deal better with a possibly complex situation.
I'm not asking you to agree with the decision or to ignore the pain this may cause to some. (I'm haven't done so myself.) Rather, I'm asking you to reasonably acknowledge that there are many factors in play and many ramifications to a policy on either end.
What are your thoughts on the issue?