One of the things I find most fascinating about my Savior is how He teaches me lessons with such patience. If, in any given situation, I fail to learn the lesson He’s intended for me, He quickly provides another situation in which I’m given another opportunity to learn. And these chances usually come with a few bruises, scrapes, and the occasional black eye.
So it is with my Mormon Church. Last week, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints altered the handbook of policy instruction for local leaders, making two major changes: First, the definition of apostasy was expanded to include anyone in a same-sex marriage, making Church discipline mandatory and no longer left to the discretion of local leaders. Second (and for many, far worse), children of LGBT couples are barred from blessings at birth and baptismal rights until they are of legal age (most Mormon children are baptized at age 8), and even then not without permission of the First Presidency.
Mormons have a deep history of persecuting LGBT individuals. Think back to 2008, when our involvement in California’s Proposition 8 caused such grief and heartache for our LGBT brothers and sisters. Not so visible was the strife it caused inside our very own Mormon community. We lost many Mormons as the fierce campaign supporting Prop 8 pitted mother against daughter, and father against son — eroding families, the cornerstone of the church
Just seven years later, it’s “déjà vu all over again,” as Yogi Berra might observe.
This time it feels self-mutilating. Instead of campaigning to impose unconstitutional public policies on the rest of the world — a battle that we lost when the U.S. Supreme court upheld appellate court rulings supporting same sex marriage — we seem to be cutting off our proverbial nose to spite our face. In short, we have told LGBT members that if they avail themselves of this right, they will be excommunicated from the church and, worse, that their children (adopted or natural) will be penalized for their parent’s transgressions — never mind the church’s own Second Article of Faith which boldly asserts that people are accountable only for their own actions, not their parents’.
Until this most recent announcement, the church seemed to soften its rhetoric. Apostle Dallin Oaks’ talk in Sacramento called for balance and accommodation. Apostle Jeffrey Holland’s remarks in the Church’s semi-annual General Conference in October were built around a young gay man. And even Apostle Russell Ballard’s measured remarks to the odious World Congress of Families in Salt Lake offered a hand of fellowship to those who view things differently.
But there is little balance, accommodation, or hand of fellowship to be found in the new policies laid out last week. It should come as no surprise that many Latter-day Saints see little evidence of Christ’s hand in it.
Perhaps good things will emerge from this latest setback. In the embarrassing wake of Proposition 8, engaged Mormons began participating in LGBT Pride celebrations around the country, extending a hand of friendship and welcome that many in both communities wanted and needed. Entire congregations in San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Boston began outreach to LGBT members, inviting them to back just as they are — single, married to someone of their own gender or anywhere in between. These Mormons were — and still are — amazing examples of our Savior’s unconditional love.
But just like Prop 8, last week’s announcement changed the landscape once again. An email I received from an engaged Latter-day Saint seemed to capture the anger of many like her: “I’ve been a firm opponent of LGBT marriage. But this…this, especially with the exclusion of children, is too much for me to bear.” We have, in essence, pushed the fringe to the outside, and the middle to the fringe. Instead of squashing a desire for reconciliation between these two communities, we have likely fueled it.
Like the woman who emailed me, what is particularly damaging to LGBT families and our faith — is withholding the saving baptismal covenant to children, whom we believe are without sin. It seems to fly directly in the face of counsel from the Savior who taught, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)
Yet we have tossed aside that directive, and are holding hostage an entire generation of children. We’re transforming them from innocents into a group of untouchables, to whom we seem to be delivering the message, “You are ‘extra parts;’ outside the scope of your Savior’s love, His atonement, and His grace.”
But that’s the funny thing about the world; our Savior didn’t make any “extra parts.” Everyone matters, and everyone has a place in His plan. Just because we as humans don’t know how LGBT individuals and their children fit into our Savior’s kingdom doesn’t mean He hasn’t known all along.
The price some families and children will pay for this policy will be high. Research from The Family Acceptance Project tells us that rejection puts children at significant risk for depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and even suicide. But ultimately, I believe, it will be the institution of the Church itself that suffers most–and as with Prop 8, it will be at our own hand.
Whenever I write an article like this, I strive diligently to find the optimism contained in the challenge. I am a firm believer that life never presents us a problem — however ugly — that doesn’t have a gift in its hands for us. And while it’s difficult right now to see any potential gift, I still have faith that my Savior can take this stone and polish it into something good. For while these changes may have come as a surprise to many, they did not come as a surprise to Him; He already has a plan to make this right.
Will we finally learn the lesson our Savior intends? I don’t know. But I do know that if we fail again to understand what He’s trying to teach us, we will be presented with another (and likely equally painful) opportunity to learn it.
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