Change in the Air

The recent policy change in the church surrounding children of gay parents has made me think a lot this weekend.

This season of my life has been a season of a lot of changes. Four-and-a-half years ago I wouldn’t have batted an eye at this announcement, but right now it has been a hard thing to read. I’ve had a couple of nights to sleep on it. I guess here’s how I feel: this rule makes it harder for individuals and families to make the choices that are right for them, not easier. I hope the church realizes that and changes it’s policy.

This policy really doesn’t effect me personally much. But it does make me feel like more of an outsider. If children of gay parents have to disavow the practice of gay marriage and cohabiting before being allowed to be baptized…where does that leave the other members of the church who are fine with the idea of gay marriage? Are we all free to support gay marriage and still participate fully in the church? Is it enough to just say, “I’m not going to marry someone of the same sex, but I understand everyone needs the ability to make the choices that are best for them, and I think gay people who get married are making a fine choice for themselves”? Life is too complex for these sort of hard-line rules.

This is the excerpt from the interview with Elder Chistofferson regarding the new policy change:

Michael Otterson: Why are the children of these same-sex partners an issue here?

Elder Christofferson: Well, in answering or responding to your question, let me say I speak not only as an apostle in the Church, but as a husband, as a father and as a grandfather. And like others in those more enduring callings, I have a sense of compassion and sympathy and tender feelings that they do. So this policy originates out of that compassion. It originates from a desire to protect children in their innocence and in their minority years. When, for example, there is the formal blessing and naming of a child in the Church, which happens when a child has parents who are members of the Church, it triggers a lot of things. First, a membership record for them. It triggers the assignment of visiting and home teachers. It triggers an expectation that they will be in Primary and the other Church organizations. And that is likely not going to be an appropriate thing in the home setting, in the family setting where they’re living as children where their parents are a same-sex couple. We don’t want there to be the conflicts that that would engender. We don’t want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the Church are very different. And so with the other ordinances on through baptism and so on, there’s time for that if, when a child reaches majority, he or she feels like that’s what they want and they can make an informed and conscious decision about that. Nothing is lost to them in the end if that’s the direction they want to go. In the meantime, they’re not placed in a position where there will be difficulties, challenges, conflicts that can injure their development in very tender years.

Compassion for the child is the reasoning the church is giving for this policy change. That sounds nice, it just doesn’t really make sense.

Is it going to be complicated for a child of a gay couple who would like to be a member of the church? Most likely, yes. Is it also complicated for children of straight couples where one parents actively dislikes the church and the other parent believes fully in the church. Yep. Is it complicated for me, as the wife of someone who actively dislikes the church, and as someone who has many doubts, to still have a strong desire to participate in the church. I certainly find it complicated. So I feel like there is no one right answer. Do I wish my friends and cousins who had part member families had been required to wait until they were 18 to be baptized? No. Membership and baptism in the church was a blessing for most of them. I feel like the same would be true for children of gay parents who were being raised in the church. If the kids are at church, there’s probably a good reason, so why prevent them from enjoying all the blessings associated with the church?

In my situation, Ricardo would rather my kids had nothing to do with the church. On the other hand, I attend regularly and I want our kids involved. He’s now very respectful of my reasons for wanting this. I have a really complicated relationship with the church, to the point where I am completely unsure if I would call the church”true.” This is still an ongoing process for me, as I figure out my spiritual life. But the church teachings about eternal families, temples, and a loving, involved God are rooted at my very core. My spirituality is very Mormon. It is also very meaningful to me. So take a look at my situation. We have a child–Andrew, with two parents, neither of whom is your typical Mormon. There are things going on in our home that are not congruent with church teachings because of this. Yet, Andrew was blessed by my father as a baby, he goes to church every week we are healthy and able, and at eight, I will probably want him to be baptized. It is setting him up for a complicated life to be sure, but do I think it would be better for him to be out of the church or to not have these ordinances done? Well, I must not, because we’re still going to church.

Life is complicated, but I can see thousands of situations where a gay couple with kids could be in this very same position. Maybe one partner in a gay couple has a strong testimony and dedication to a majority of Mormon beliefs, but sexuality was too important a part of their life to live a celibate life. Maybe they made the best choice they could for their situation and got married to a same sex partner they love, and yet they continue to find their spiritual life in the LDS church. I could foresee this couple wanting their kids raised in the church. This sort of thing actually does happen sometimes. I don’t see the point of preventing these kids from full participation in the church.

There are better ways to show compassion. How about primary lessons about baptism that include stories and examples of children who choose to wait or who are asked to wait until they are adults to be baptized, and how that is okay sometimes. How about young men’s and young women’s lessons that talk about reasons it’s okay to choose not to serve a mission. If it’s really about compassion, then the change should help the people we are supposedly showing compassion to, not hurt them or make their lives more difficult.

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One Response to Change in the Air

  1. stubbazubba says:

    Because I can’t write this anywhere else, I’m writing it here:
    I agree with everything here. This policy (about the children of same-sex couples) is problematic on many, many levels.
    1) The policy is under-inclusive for its given rationale. There are many, many households where children will be taught things that disagree with what they learn at church. To an extent, mine was one. If the Church is that concerned about confusing children or creating tension in the home, this policy should apply to a huge swath of children from non- or part-member homes. Instead, it is selectively applied to those from same-sex couples.
    2) The policy intervenes far too late to effect its given rationale. If the Church is concerned about children being burdened with a message that conflicts with the values in their home, merely not allowing baptism will not prevent it. It is the lessons taught in church that create the message, and the conflict, in the first place. Baptism has little to do with it, actually. Forbidding baptism won’t stop the situation the Church is allegedly trying to prevent; that would require disallowing the children of gay households from attending church meetings, which the Church has not done (in fact, it still invites and welcomes these children to attend church, encouraging the tension it allegedly is avoiding).
    3) The policy then backtracks on its given rationale. If the Church is concerned about not creating tension in same-sex households, then requiring would-be converts to move out of their homes and disavow their parents’ lifestyle in order to be baptized at 18 should not be part of it. But it is, so the tension is not avoided, it is required.
    4) The fact that this is similar to the policy for polygamists makes it worse, not better. The policy for children of polygamist families was instituted in the early 20th century as polygamy continued in the Church despite the formal disavowal in 1890. The Church needed to extricate the members practicing polygamy in order to finally wash its hands of the affair and satisfy the intense scrutiny of outsiders. The policy worked. Polygamists were cut off from LDS communities and eventually left to form their own. Today, LDS members rarely interact with polygamists, and polygamists generally do not come into contact with the Church. The effect of the policy is that many fewer children of polygamous families actually join the Church than otherwise would. That is not a protection of children, it is an abandonment of them. If this policy is intended to work the same, it is similarly not going to protect children, it pushes them away from the light of the gospel.
    5) Already, the policy has led to greater anguish in an already marginalized community. It’s difficult to live in an LDS community when you are homo- or transsexual, and already there has been a wave of YouTube videos and posts attesting to the increased shame, guilt, confusion, self-loathing, and suicidal thoughts of young people affected by this policy. Now, the heterosexual children in same-sex households will enjoy that agony, albeit to a lesser degree.
    6) This policy was wholly unnecessary. Individual assessments of the needs of children in same-sex households was more than sufficient to prevent undue hardship in the home, and minors who want to be baptized require both parents’ permission anyway. There were already mechanisms in place to address any issues relating to children in these households. By forcing the issue in such a strange way, the Church not only restricts local leaders’ ability to focus on the individual in favor of labels, but it also ostracizes a sizeable community who otherwise enjoyed the benefits of church membership and further endangers the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of those it alleges to protect.
    There’s been a long string of questionable decisions by the Church in recent years, but this may be the most transparently wrong-headed. I can only hope that the Church will figure this out down the road. For the moment, I cannot in good conscience boldly represent a gospel of peace, redemption, and charity that simultaneously implements and doubles down on a policy that will all but certainly lead to the suffering of a defenseless and innocent minority.

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