A message to my LDS friends who love the church:
This week there was a policy change within the handbook of the church stating that children of same-sex couples could not be blessed or baptized until they were 18, to which many responded with pain and anger, while others scrambled to add insight in hopes of softening the blow.
Some applauded the church for taking a moral stand (though controversial), while others immediately announced their intent to resign.
My Facebook news feed has never been filled with so many divisive comments over one single issue as I’ve seen this week. It’s been sad to watch MY friends pulled in two different directions, as the idealogical chasm instantaneously spread wider than its ever spread before.
I had no plans to add my comments to the fray. At first, to be honest, it was because I felt alone in my point of view, and lacked the words to convey how I felt. But as more and more people began to share the other side of it, I still refrained because there now seemed to be plenty of others saying it for me. But there are a few things I haven’t heard anyone else say yet, so here are my two cents.
I have many friends who are members of, or are sympathetic to the LGBT community, and so I preferred to remain neutral in the forum. With nerves so raw and emotions so high, it’s not taking much to offend either party, and I don’t want to offend anyone. The message of my books and programs is irrelevant to this issue, so I didn’t plan to speak of it on my blog.
But there is one thought that keeps troubling me. I believe there are some who are still confused and have not yet decided how to feel about it. People who love the church, who genuinely want to see the controversy in a different light than how they’ve seen it so far, who want to “stay in the boat” as it faces the next white squall, but who have not yet found peace on either side of the issue.
If that’s where you’re at, this was written for you.
(To keep this post on topic, only comments and replies from those in this category will be permitted.)
When I first heard the news, I was shocked because it sounded like the policy was an underhanded snub to gay parents, by punishing the child for their same-sex marriage. It took me by surprise, and I suspected it would trigger a lot of anger in a lot of people. I checked the official newsroom of the church and there was nothing there. No explanation. That it was originally leaked to a news station by an excommunicated member of the church and presented without context didn’t help.
Effectively, some of the earliest reports unexpectedly exposed us en masse to anti-Mormon literature through trusted news sources – not anti because the news wasn’t true, but because it was spun in a derogatory light with nothing available to counterbalance the perspective presented. Like a poison, even a small dose of anti can be crippling if not fatal to one’s faith.
So my second reaction was, “What about this do I not yet understand?”
I asked that question because I wanted to believe that the change was inspired by the head of our church, the living Jesus Christ. I aspire to be a disciple of Christ, and at face value, the policy didn’t seem very Christ-like. However, I also knew that I would never get a witness from God about anything without first considering its possibility.
I presume that there are a lot of people on BOTH sides of the controversy who checked in with themselves and measured it against their world-view. If it fit their beliefs about God and morality, they were comfortable with it. If it went against their beliefs about God and morality, they were troubled by it. Naturally, everyone’s going to check in with themselves.
I tend to be conservative in my views, so you’d think the policy would have felt comfortable. But it didn’t. It seemed to fly in the face of several well-established principles to which I subscribe, such as “men will be punished for their own sins” and Jesus’ invitation to “suffer the little children to come unto me”.
I certainly hadn’t scheduled time to wrestle with something like this. I didn’t really want to stop and figure it all out. I had things to do, a birthday party to throw, shopping to complete, children to transport, laundry to fold, and customer service tasks to fulfill for my business. But this issue was big enough that it demanded my attention, at least until I could find peace of mind one way or the other.
So in hopes of getting some divine perspective, I asked a second question, “What could have possibly motivated such a change?”
Two scenarios came to mind:
1) Since same-sex marriage is still considered a serious sin within the church (one which is now considered apostate), I wondered if perhaps the leadership felt it wise to prevent same-sex marriage from seeming normal to other impressionable Primary children. Seeing it as normal in the world is a much different thing than seeing it as normal in a church which forbids it.
Regardless of membership status, all children are welcome in Primary. But maybe the leaders thought that if a child from a same-sex marriage is seen as a visitor and not as a member, perhaps any comments shared could be received by the other children with something of a filter. Maybe they would be able to understand that the visiting child comes from a different kind of environment than what is acceptable for members of the church, and so, we teach them to welcome and include the visiting child for as long as he or she wants to take part in the children’s organization, but to also be prepared that what is said by the child (through no fault of his or her own) may not always agree with the principles we follow as members in the Proclamation to the Family. I realize this explanation is weak and may seem harsh or exclusive… but remember, I’m just sharing my thought process as I scrambled to understand possible motives for the policy change myself.
2) My second thought was a realization of how merciful the policy was. At face value, it didn’t seem merciful at all. It seemed hateful and cruel. But I know my church to be anything but hateful and cruel, having been an active member for nearly forty years. So I thought I must not have the whole story. That’s when a second scenario came to mind:
Ordinances such as baptism are misunderstood if one equates “eligibility to receive them” with “being loved”. Baptism is not a badge of acceptance to a social club, it is a sacred covenant with attendant responsibilities. You have to understand the depth and significance of the covenant of baptism in order to understand how this policy not only affirms its significance, but how the policy in fact promotes the family, preserves parent-child relationships, and demonstrates wisdom in timing. After all, “The family is the basic unit of the kingdom of God on earth. The Church can be no healthier than its families. No government can long endure without strong families,” as President Spencer W. Kimball affirmed over thirty years ago. We should not be surprised that the church would stand compassionately in a position that encourages peace and harmony in the home.
Nobody is denied baptism, when the time is right. In this case, eligibility is set to age 18, when the child is legally free to live how they choose, and old enough to be on their own.
It also demonstrates mercy, because along with the ordinance comes a covenant, to which the child would be accountable. There are responsibilities and expectations that come with official membership, so membership should not be taken lightly. This new policy, I thought, is perhaps a way of giving the child a chance to make those covenants at a time and in an environment where they are more fully able to keep those covenants, and not come under condemnation for making promises before God that they may not be able to keep.
I’ve seen this particular explanation given many times since. The official statement finally given by the church touches on it here.
Honestly, it’s kind of inconvenient to be a member. With baptism comes a lot of responsibility, and it requires a lot from us, as we each take an active part in the ministry, without pay. But it’s what we covenant to do, because it brings forth other blessings that make it well worth the effort. I’m still convinced that it’s the organization through which God’s program for gathering Israel is carried out, in preparation for Christ’s second coming.
And as for members leaving the church, this truly is historic, and frankly, prophesied. IF the church is Christ’s true church, then we are sifting ourselves by how we respond to policy changes. Policy will probably continue to change as needed to respond to forces that threaten the church’s ability to administer the principles and ordinances of the gospel, in light of new laws and so forth. The ‘what’ remains immovable, while the ‘how’ gets adjustments sometimes.
We’ve been warned that there would come a day when we would no longer be able to rely on anyone else’s testimony of the church, of whether it is divinely guided or not, but that we must gain our own. We will not be able to endure on borrowed light. The church is either what it claims to be, or it isn’t. Joseph Smith either saw God, or he didn’t. President Thomas S. Monson is either a true prophet today, or he isn’t. Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, is alive and leading this church right now, or he isn’t.
You might ask yourself: Have I read the Book of Mormon? Have I tested Moroni’s promise? Have I done the same thing to find out if Joseph Smith was a prophet, and whether we have a living prophet today?
If so, and if he serves as the Lord’s mouthpiece, then we should be careful not to reject what is declared. The good news is that none of us are expected to blindly accept anything that is declared.
On the contrary, we are responsible and expected to take our concerns directly to the Lord and get our own personal witness of whether or not any declaration is divinely inspired. Without a personal witness, we will not stand. We will not see clearly, and we will not be able to remain faithful through the last days through the final preparations before his return.
Nobody is asking anyone to trust anyone else in this matter. We’ve all been invited to find out for ourselves, and to get a witness – an unmistakable answer from God himself. It’s literally available to everyone.
Ideally, no matter how we feel about this, we should ALL turn to God for clarity, not just social media. Our eternal welfare hangs in the balance.
I’ve tested Moroni’s promise, and I’ve come to know that the church is Christ’s restored church on the earth today, and I think we are seeing a manifestation of Lehi’s dream, real time. Many are so ashamed by this policy that they have decided to resign. “…And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, …and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost”.
To my friends reading this, if you sincerely desire to stay in the boat, you’re not alone. Be careful what you say until you have the clarity you seek. It seems that the most angry, disgusted, and defensive words are thrown the fastest and loudest. Take time to process your emotions. I wouldn’t want to agonize with regrets one day and be left to say, “I just didn’t understand; and because of my angry words toward the church, look how many were lost!” Hold off until you can process your disgust or disappointment privately with the Lord, seek his will, and then speak only with peace. Avoid the potential anguish and grief that comes from spewing angry words that can’t be unsaid.
But most of all, don’t take my word for what’s right and wrong… you know how to get answers! Sometimes when answers are slow in coming, we begin by simply choosing to believe. I choose to believe every day. Sometimes the witness only comes after we make a choice and begin moving in that direction. Sometimes the witness only comes after we put our life in greater harmony with the teachings we already know to be true.
Yes, it may seem easier to just leave. But I believe this is still God’s program for gathering Israel in preparation for Christ’s second coming, and there is still a work to do. Find out what God would have you do, and then do it.
There is a lot of ministering that is needed in the world. A lot of love, and service needing to be rendered. Love and service can be rendered inside and outside of the church. ALL the Christian churches do this, and non-Christian organizations do this work too. But it is the duty of the tribe of Ephraim to gather in the pure in heart, and supply the saving ordinances and covenants that prepare his people to receive him, and soon. This isn’t just about who feels loved and who doesn’t feel loved inside the walls of a certain building. To argue that this policy is mean or non-loving is shallow and misinformed.
His work is a gathering of the pure in heart – the humble, the teachable – and as Zion is established, those whose hearts are not prepared will feel out of place, offended, and hate what it is. People claim to be more enlightened because THEY would not deny baptism to a child who lives in a same-sex marriage home. So, they’re loving. But are they humble? Are they teachable? Can they pause to recognize the wisdom and mercy on which the policy is based? Are they humble enough to see how the policy demonstrates love and respect to gay parents who (the church acknowledges) are the ultimate authority over those children, even if the church disagrees with their lifestyle?
Sure, membership is inconvenient, and some people already feel burdened by their membership and only needed one last thing to feel justified in leaving for good. Conveniently but sadly, this controversy has given them the permission they’ve been looking for.
One friend of mine was particularly concerned about members who have already gone through so much in the process of learning how to embrace their gay children. These grandparents now agonize that their grandkids won’t be able to be baptized as members, when they had previously hoped to facilitate that.
But hopefully the grandparents will see how this can be a really good thing for ALL involved. It prevents the church from dividing families over doctrinal disagreements while children are under legal guardianship. It respects the family unit, it respects gay parents, and it respects the law. And in essence, perhaps the children of same-sex marriages under this policy are in some ways just as unaccountable as a child who is not yet eight – a concept that should give grandparents a comforting perspective.
Let me share something that adds another important perspective, written by Delisa Bushman Hargrove:
…I used to believe that acceptance of baptism had to be immediate. It took me some time to process that, while absolutely necessary for salvation, there is a time and season for all things.
I first encountered proselyting restrictions as a BYU foreign exchange student in Jerusalem. As a Mormon, I signed an agreement that I would not discuss/proselyte my religious beliefs to residents of Israel.The agreement was reached by the Israeli government & the Church. We respected the law of the land.
The second time–and more particularly emotionally potent for me because I’d become a student of Arabic & Near Eastern Studies–was when, as a missionary in Scotland & while living in Germany, I couldn’t share the Gospel with Muslims. That was hard for me when sincerely approached. I recognized that their lives were in jeopardy if they returned to their country and came to understand the Lord’s respect for life.
A missionary served in our ward in Texas who was a child of polygamous parents and from a polygamous community. He told us about the process it took for him to join the Church. He had to wait until he was 18 and then had to receive special permission from the First Presidency to be baptized. He did not have to “divorce” his family, but did have to recognize the difference in lifestyle and understand covenant expectations.
I’ve fasted and prayed with teenagers who sought parents’ approval for baptism. Sometimes approval was granted. Sometimes it wasn’t, and the child waited the several years to be baptized at/after 18. During those times of prayer, I realized how much the Savior respects parents and their agency. I really appreciated that, as a leader, I shouldn’t/wouldn’t pursue any course of action to underhandedly somehow subvert a parent’s desire for his/her child so that the child could be baptized.
And, today. The Church has been such a voice in the same-sex arena, that I feel that the new policy shows respect to LGBT parents. (no driving any doctrinal wedge between parents and a young child or in any way implying that it will take their children to “save them” from their parents.)
I read the policy in the handbook and did not see anything that indicated the child has to publicly denounce their family. I keep thinking of Elder Christopherson whose brother is openly gay, and who still attends an LDS ward, and the love that is evident within their family.
I do believe that God loves all of His children and acts lovingly and respectfully to each of us.”
Have courage, get your answers that you need for peace – you are promised that you will receive them if you lack wisdom and ask of God (James 1:5). Then stay the course.
Here are a few more posts that provide additional perspective on this policy, which may be helpful:
And again, here is the official statement by the church:
I’m confident that as you get your answers, you will not only find peace of mind, you will feel God’s love and compassion for those on both sides of the issue, because that what a true answer from God feels like. Most of all, you’ll feel it for YOU, because he wants to assure you and fill you with his love, especially when you’re on the right track.
Updated 11/10/15: Some believe this is only an issue in the minds of those whose faith is not strong enough to trust their church leaders. I want to address this. There are many who have faith in Christ, but who are not so sure if the church leaders are inspired by him. That’s an extra hurdle to get over, and some get over it more easily than others, while some don’t see a need to, and some have tried, but tripped on the way. We need to have patience and understanding for everyone, no matter where they are in that process. I believe we will be judged only according to our understanding, and what we did with what we know. So, let’s be sensitive and try to remember that we’re all just “walking each other home.”