When my wife and I first saw the Washington Post’s salacious headline last night claiming the “Mormon Church makes same-sex couples apostates, excludes children from blessings and baptism,” we looked at each other in horror.
We went to Facebook and saw similar sentiments from other faithful Mormons lamenting what appeared to be another dagger to the hearts of our already suffering LGBT brothers and sisters.
We didn’t want to believe that we would be part of such a cruel and exclusionary organization.
And thankfully we aren’t.
As we take a deeper look at the implications of the LDS Church’s policy change, we see that the Post’s headline does not even begin to tell the whole story.
The leaders of the Mormon Church are not villains. This policy is not as heartless as the headlines make it out to be.
In fact, the policies in question not only protect the interests of the Church (as you would expect any policy to do), but actually serve to protect the interest of the families of same-sex married couples.
Think about this idea for a second.
To understand the policy change, you must first understand the foundational truth of Mormonism: that families are at the very center of God’s whole plan for us. Everything else revolves around the divine model of the family. Put in simple terms, the teaching looks like this:
Heavenly Father + Heavenly Mother produce and tenderly instruct their children to grow up to become like them
In life, we feebly attempt to follow this model. We grow up in homes with flawed, imperfect parents who pass-on their flawed, imperfect ways to us, hoping they didn’t mess us up too bad. Then we go on, still as fallible humans who, with the help of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, might have the hope to not repeat history. But—let’s face it—it’s inevitable. We’re pretty weak.
Despite these imperfections, the home serves as the primary means and model through which little humans learn how to not only become healthy adult humans, but also to become like God. The Church of Jesus Christ is here to support families in their efforts to do exactly this—to teach us the values and principles that, if applied, will help us overcome all of our many human weaknesses to become more like our Savior. The family is everything.
Nothing comes before family—no matter its form
Children are best reared in a loving, unifying environment. There, they can learn and grow and come to understand how to make decisions for themselves. Parents are the ultimate teachers in this process. The Church is always subordinate to families—even to non-traditional families!—and always takes a supportive role. In economic terms, the Church and families are complements, not substitutes.
Ideally, the critical moral education for children occurs in the home as parents lead their children in family prayer, scripture study, meaningful service, family home evenings, etc. Each of these activities is designed to help children learn the principles that, when applied, result in real, meaningful happiness. All the Church programs are designed to reinforce this spiritual education.
This is precisely why this policy change is consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ. It puts families—specifically the parent-child relationship—above the earthly administrative body of the Kingdom of God.
Everyone avoids any perceived “custody battles”
Divorces are always ugly and sadly the ones who often pay the heaviest price are the children. The tug-of-war between the parents leaves emotional wounds that some never quite recover from.
The divergent values of LDS theology and same-sex marriage are not changing any time soon and will thus continue to be a source of pain, not only for the children of same-sex couples who choose to pursue Mormonism and their parents, but to all of us who love them.
The outpouring of pain and confusion and love for those who have to personally grapple with these matters, leaves all of us wanting to help lighten our brothers and sisters heavy loads, not add to the burden.
With this policy, the Church, understanding the supremacy of the family, defers to the parents and by so doing preempts any potential “custody battle” between the primary caregiver (the parents) and the outside support system (the Church).
Again, this is a good thing for the families of same-sex marriages and all of us who love them.
Lets Children Be Children
Children today are forced to grow up way too fast. The formative years of a child’s life should be defended not just because of the significant impact it has on the child’s longterm psychological development, but more importantly because those years can—and should!—be some of the happiest of our lives.
The new policy encourages the children of same-sex married couples to walk the journey of life at their own pace.
All life is is us choosing every day to walk toward the light. Each day we do this, that light will grow a little brighter. We keep doing that and eventually we’ll all get there.
But life is very long, and eternity is even longer. Mormon doctrine reminds us that the long arc of life extends well beyond the constraints of birth and death and that because of that, we will each have the chance to enjoy eternity. We’ll all get there.
Let’s not rob kids of those precious years by forcing children to grapple with emotionally-taxing values/doctrinal divides between his/her own mortal parent’s and LDS doctrine before they are ready and mature enough to handle such a struggle.
For goodness sake, it’s hard enough for us “grown-ups!”
Of all the issues Mormons face with making sense of Mormonism in the context of modernity, perhaps none is as painful as the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. We see our gay brothers and sisters face overwhelming struggles reconciling their identity, orientation, and biology with Mormon theology amidst vocal pro-gay messaging and unyielding pro-traditional marriage and relationships messaging from the Church.
For children of parents who have gone through this wrenching experience, the struggle will continue. They will be uniquely exposed to the hardest of those questions to grapple with them before they make serious covenants or family-altering (dividing?) decisions about becoming Mormon.
Protects Children from Unwise Local LDS Leaders
So what would happen if the Church did allow the children of SSM couples to be baptized at age 8?
Ward Council members would actively encourage children to attend primary and church meetings in preparation to be baptized. Here, they would learn materials that directly conflict with the teachings they were raised with and had modeled for them in their own homes. Having friends, local church leaders, etc. actively lobbying young, impressionable children to jump aboard the Old Ship Zion and renounce their parent’s lifestyle before really understanding what that entails seems distinctly anti-Christian.
Understanding this minefield, the Church is wise to put a policy in place that protects same-sex married families from the whims of local lay leadership.
I would much rather have Presidents Monson, Eyring and Uchtdorf consult with the Lord on whether or not the child of a same-sex couple be baptized before age 18 than a new, inexperienced bishop, bless his heart.
Allows the Church Be True to Their Standards
The Church’s teachings on marriage are not part of a throw-away doctrine. It’s crystal clear that “marriage is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children” and that that truth isn’t about to change in Mormonism.
The policy reinforces the Church’s beliefs while respecting the boundaries of the same-sex parents.
Why it matters
The division between progressive sexual mores and the teachings and doctrine of the LDS Church seems to grow wider every day. The Church has made and continues to build bridges where possible to enable gay members of the Church, their loved ones and all others to navigate the chasm.
While policies like these appear to be, at best restricting or cruel at worst, they in practice actually help protect the interests of all parties involved.
One always-thoughtful LDS friend of mine put it this way:
I feel comfortable assuming this policy was well-intentioned. Not because I’m a Pollyanna, but because it actually seems like the most likely explanation. Put this in context with Elder Holland’s talk and Elder Oaks speech on Kim Davis, it seems a particularly odd time to retrench through an intentionally hurtful policy. It also seems unlikely that the motivation behind this was *merely* to draw a moral line in the sand, considering how this policy is of a piece with the other policies we have that render the church subordinate to families (parental consent to baptism, spousal consent to baptism, etc.)
We have a long way to go in healing the wounds around this issue, but the policy change as articulated in the new Handbook 1 is likely our best hope of raising the happy, well-adjusted children of the next generation who will help sort it all out down the road.
One final thought.
Someday we will all understand
I picture the day when each of us will return to the presence of our loving Heavenly Parents and Jesus Christ, each will embrace us and in that embrace, melt away all the pain and sorrow and anguish we had to bear here on this earth. We will understand with perfect brightness the errors of our ways, the folly of our selves and our fellow humans and finally comprehend the magnitude of the ineffable grace of a Savior who never, ever gives up on us.
Of course, Jesus Christ is the answer. So let’s do our best to emulate His perfect example and give our brothers and sisters who have different perspectives the benefit of the doubt.
The new Church policy requiring the children of same-sex marriages to forswear same-sex marriage, no longer live in the same house as their parents, and … is actually a big win for gay families.
1. Same-sex married couples can trust that their child will not have to prematurely choose between them and the LDS Church.
2. Children of same-sex couples can enjoy their childhood years without being stuck in a tumultuous moral custody battle.
3. The Church maintains its policy that it’s role is always supportive to the family unit and protects itself from getting in the middle of things.