I only have a few minutes to write today (actually, I don’t even have those), so this is going to be a fairly quick and knee-jerk reaction to the policy issued yesterday by the LDS Church.
In case you missed it, the Church revised the Handbook of Instructions to address same-sex marriage. It included same-sex marriages under the definition of “apostasy,” which just means that if a member enters into a same-sex marriage it requires a disciplinary counsel. The same is true for polygamous marriages. The policy also provides, however, that children of same-sex couples are not eligible to receive a “name and a blessing,” and they cannot be baptized before reaching majority without First Presidency approval.
That second part has struck a sore part with many members, including many of my friends. I’m not going to discount how troubled some people are by that (I lost my mind over “ponderize” merchandise, so I won’t be throwing rocks from my glass porch), nor am I going to suggest that people just thoughtlessly “follow the priesthood” and accept something they don’t like.
I would, however, at least try to soften the blow.
Let’s be honest: The Church is between a rock and a hard place on this issue. The Church’s stance generally about the LGBT community has softened considerably over the years, and the Church has even been active in supporting gay rights under many circumstances. But at the same time, doctrine is doctrine, and the Church’s position is that homosexual activity is wrong and same-sex marriages are not approved of God. Having those two positions (both of which I support) results in a pretty tricky balancing act on the policy high wire. What do you do when parents who reject core doctrines of the gospel still want their children to be treated like every other child associated with the Church? One the one hand, you want to be decent, fair and loving to people. On the other, the Church needs to able to maintain the integrity of its doctrines and institutions. (By the way, the “name” portion of the ordinance just means you are listed on the records of the Church. We don’t refuse to recognize the names of kids who aren’t members of the Church or anything goofy like that).
There are no easy answers, and no solution is going to be acceptable to everyone. The “name and a blessing” thing is relatively easy. That ordinance is performed for “children of record,” babies who are born to LDS families. It is a way to make them officially part of the Church even though they won’t officially be members until they are eight years old and are baptized. If the Church doesn’t recognize the marriage (and the marriage would result in the excommunication of the parents) then the child is not a child of record. My understanding is that this is how it would be handled if it were a child of a polygamous marriage as well. Similarly, if a man and a woman are married but both are excommunicated for some reason, their children born after that time would not be “children of record” and would not receive a name and a blessing. (It isn’t unusual when parents are less active in the Church, divorced, or one parent is excommunicated that a child will receive a name and a blessing, but in all of those cases at least one of the parents is a member of the Church).
If I’m getting any of this wrong, somebody tell me. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a leadership position, and I happily haven’t cracked open the handbook in ages.
Baptism is a little different, because children can be baptized into the Church, even if their parents aren’t members. But we hold our noses when we do it. There are plenty of reasons for that. We want to be sure that the child is making an independent decision, that she understands that nature of what she is doing, and that she actually has a testimony of the gospel. Where the parents are living in a manner that openly defies the doctrines and practices of the Church, it is extremely difficult to make sure that is the case. I’ve been told by my nephew, who dealt with this issue on his mission in Utah, that the policy for baptizing children of polygamous marriages is handled pretty much the same way that the new policy addresses children of same-sex marriages. There will be an avenue allowing for it, but the Church wants to be sure that everyone is on board, knows what they are doing, and the child isn’t being baptized into a unworkable situation.
The changes to the handbook will be and are being treated by the general media as an attack on children of same-sex couples. I get that, but I think members of the Church have to be careful about getting caught up in reading it the same way. It’s ironic that the Church typically is criticized (unfairly) for trying to trick people into baptism, the idea being that we will do anything to get somebody into the waters, and now we are being chided for being careful about the circumstances under which someone is baptized. Again, there is no way the Church can deal with this issue without loud squawking from a lot of people.
I understand the reaction that some are having to the policy, but our reactions don’t need to be overreactions. This is the first time the Church has had to deal with this issue, because this is the first time that gay marriages have been legally recognized. There is bound to be some revision of the policy as the Church learns through experience what works, what doesn’t, and how best to manage the balancing act.
There is always “something” in the Church that we can find to upset us. I’ve been annoyed, offended, and riled up more times than I can count. But I am always brought back to the sixth chapter of John, in which many of the disciples had become offended at Christ’s teachings and had abandoned Him. He turned to His twelve and asked if they also intended to leave. Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:66-69). Indeed, where else would I go? It is in the restored gospel of Christ that I have found meaning in my life and my relationship with God, peace in my mind, and comfort in my tribulations. It is the greatest of understatements to say that the Lord and His servants have earned my patience, and I will not go looking somewhere else when hurt occurs.