Why Does It Matter? On the New Mormon Policy Barring Children of Same-Sex Couples from Baptism

Posted: November 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

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On Thursday, November 5, 2015, revisions to the LDS Handbook of Instructions 1 were leaked to the public. Among those revisions there is now detailed a new policy concerning the children of same-sex couples, in which such children cannot be baptized into the church at the typical age of eight. Instead, these children must wait until age 18 and disavow the practice of same-sex cohabitation and marriage before they can become members of the church. News and social media outlets have erupted with this news, leaving many who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Mormon church scratching their heads.

Most people know the basics about the Mormon church. After Mitt Romney’s run for President of the United States in 2012, Mormons found themselves in the political spotlight and a major campaign to familiarize people with the church went worldwide. The Book of Mormon musical hit Broadway just a year before in 2011, a satirical comedy developed by the producers of South Park. Mormons are now frequently distinguished by their missionary efforts, and they are referenced often in pop culture.

So most people already know that the church takes a strong position against gays and that they have a history of applying political and social pressures to try and combat the “gay lifestyle”. If you don’t know, here’s the skinny (summarized from rationalfaiths.com “Timeline of Mormon Thinking About Homosexuality”):

Mormon leaders first equated homosexuality to that which led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (calling it sodomy) in 1855. In 1876, sodomy became illegal in Utah Territory – a felony punishable by 23 years imprisonment. Active efforts to remove the “stain” of homosexuality from the membership continued with various leaders speaking out against this “abominable sin” over the course of the century.

In 1962, any members having convincing evidence that they’d engaged in homosexual deeds were barred from attendance at Brigham Young University – the Mormon sponsored college. Pressure continued, and in 1965, five BYU students that had been counseled about homosexuality committed suicide. This led to campus policies that were termed the “gay witch-hunts” and the Church Handbook of Instructions was updated to include homosexuality as an ex-communicable offense.

The Miracle of Forgiveness, published in 1969 by Mormon apostle and prophet Spencer W. Kimball expressed the belief that masturbation would lead to homosexual behavior. Pressures against homosexuality were now extended to other “deviant” sexual practices, and masturbation and pornography became regular topics for leadership to call out as dangerous and spiritually damaging.

In 1976, efforts to “cure” homosexuals led to the experimental use of electroshock therapy at BYU. Several of the participants committed suicide. In that same year, apostle Boyd K. Packer gave his talk “To Young Men Only”. This talk was then turned into a pamphlet distributed for all young men in the church, and it urged them to exercise self-control and not engage in any “unnatural” sexual acts, again hinging on the belief that masturbation would lead to homosexuality.

House Bill 3 was passed in 1977, making homosexual marriage in the state of Utah illegal. Thanksgiving 1988, Gordon Church, a 28-year-old Southern University Student and gay Mormon was murdered by Lance Wood and Michael Archuleta in “what is one of the most horrific hate crimes in Utah history”. And still the attacks and pressures continued, Boyd K. Packer again taking the lead with a talk in 1993 calling feminists, intellectuals, and homosexuals the “three enemies of the church”.

In 1995, the church Presidency sent out “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”, accepted as an additional, official, church doctrine on par with scripture. Members were urged to frame and place the proclamation on the walls of their homes and read it frequently. It detailed the Mormon views on sexuality, gender, and marriage, specifically detailing the gender roles of men and women and stating that sexual relations were meant to be had only between a man and a woman lawfully wed.

In 2000, “President Gordon B. Hinckley released a statement that is read in every Latter-Day Saint congregation in California that urges members to ‘redouble their efforts’ to pass Prop. 22 a law stating ‘only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California.’ Prop 22 passed.” In that same year, Stuart Martis committed suicide after drafting and sending a letter to the Brigham Young University student newspaper detailing his emotional plight and urging students to harbor more tolerance toward gays.

Finally, comes the familiar Proposition 8 in California in 2008. About half the donations for Protect Marriage came from LDS donors, and about 80-90% of the volunteer base for door-to-door canvasing was LDS members. Then, in 2012, right along with Mitt Romney’s campaign, the church starts trying to improve it’s image. They accept the Boy Scout policy allowing gay scouts. The Mormons Building Bridges organization is formed, inspiring thousands of LDS members worldwide to participate in Pride parades, and the church releases a new website on Mormons and Gays entitled “Love One Another: A Discussion of Same-Sex Attraction”.

So, it is quite clear that the Mormon leadership considers homosexuality a serious sin. They’ve quite actively sought to stamp it out of their membership through every means possible from their very foundation in the mid-1800s. Those familiar with this history are not at all surprised by this new policy, but many are confused by the resultant outrage and media attention it has garnered.

One question and reaction I’ve seen repeated over and over as members and ex-members are coming to terms with this has been:

“So what? Why are you surprised? It’s nothing new. The church has always been clear about it’s position on homosexuality.”

To that, I’ve frequently responded:

“Of course I’m not surprised. But I AM angry.”

Why? Why does it matter?

Mormons make up a very small portion of the world population. There are approximately 7 billion people in the world today, and the Mormons claim to have a membership of approximately 15 million, though this is grossly exaggerated. Church records count children who’ve received their baby blessings even though they haven’t yet been baptized, and they count any member who has not explicitly insisted their name be removed from the records. So this number includes many inactive and apostate members as well. A recent Pew Survey shows that approximately 36% of those raised LDS have abandoned the faith. So active Mormons actually make up less than 0.01% of the world population. Many people are completely unaffected by this policy and rightly confused. Why so angry?

“Anybody who is gay shouldn’t associate themselves with such a hateful church. Just leave.”

While I agree, it isn’t that simple.

There have been and always will be gay members in the Mormon church. This is because people are BORN gay. Even church leadership has come to recognize that people “cannot choose who they are attracted to”. They claim to “love the sinner, but hate the sin”. They believe that those who “suffer” from same-sex attraction must battle this “temptation” in order to abide by the “Law of Chastity” which requires sexual activity be practiced only between a married man and woman. Individuals born into this church face a very real struggle for acceptance and understanding.

They will be indoctrinated from birth. They will be taught that their church is the “one true church” and that living by it’s teachings is the only way to guarantee the salvation of their eternal souls. Their sexuality will be stifled. And this is already resulting in turmoil and strife. While most people outside the Mormon church’s sphere of influence are coming to accept their homosexual friends, relatives, and neighbors, members of this church look on homosexuality with fear and distaste. Children who come out to their Mormon parents are often disowned and kicked out of their homes. Between 20 and 40% of the homeless youth in Utah identify as LGBT. And the youth suicide rates in Utah are the 5th highest in the nation.

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The homophobic teachings of this church is HURTING their members who identify as homosexual. They are trying desperately to live up to the expectations of their parents, peers, and supposed god. Trying desperately to find love and acceptance. Trying desperately to change what they CANNOT change, because they are told that their feelings are sinful, wretched, and disgusting. The Mormon church is not battling to keep something outside from coming in – it is battling to eradicate a “problem” within its own ranks, and this battle is succeeding in driving its gay youth to suicide.

And now they’ve shifted targets. Now they want to cause even more damage by singling out the children of gay couples. Obviously, if a same-sex couple is married or cohabiting, they’ve already rejected the teachings of the Mormon church. Excommunicating them and labeling them apostates would be an understandable move for the church to take, considering it’s track record. An upsetting continuation of homophobic bigotry, to be sure. But understandable. Those affected by such an action would already be on their way out and hopefully have a strong support network they can go to for dealing with the rejection and potential family fallout.

But this is going to be affecting more kids. And this is where many people will fail to understand why this is such a big deal if they aren’t familiar with the inner workings of the Mormon church. So here’s how it works:

  • Newborn babies get a name and blessing, with their names getting added to the records of the church.
  • At 8 years old, children are baptized, receive the “Gift of the Holy Ghost”, and become official members of the church.
  • At 12 years old, male children receive the Aaronic Priesthood. This allows them to participate in the blessing and passing of the sacrament and to perform baptisms.
  • Also at 12 years old, all children can participate in performing proxy baptisms for their dead relatives in the temples.
  • Also at 12 years old, all children can receive callings of leadership in their respective quorums and classes.

All these things will now be denied to the children of gay couples in the church. And if anybody remembers what it’s like to be part of a peer group where you’re excluded from the majority of the activities, they’ll understand why this is such a bad thing. Imagine trying to explain to an 8 year old child why he can’t get baptized like all his peers. Imagine the strife it will cause. Imagine the division between parent and child, as all involved are taught that the blame falls on the shoulders of the couple who chose to marry against church teachings. Imagine growing up in a home that would have been loving and accepting and tolerant, but that will now be torn by this injustice.

Now, many have asked “why would any gay couple let their child go to this church, anyway?”

REMEMBER –

There have been and always will be gay members in the church, because they are BORN gay. Those growing up in this church will face a very difficult time getting out, especially if they grow up in Mormon dominated areas like Utah, where the cultish peer-pressures and censorship of anything outside the Mormon sphere will keep them in the dark. Many of these gay members will continue trying to live according to church teachings all the way into adulthood. They will marry someone of the opposite gender, striving to maintain a hetero-normative lifestyle. They will have children with their spouse. And then… as has so often, already, happened… they’ll finally come to terms with their sexuality and “come out” to their spouse. They’ll divorce, effectively leave the church (whether or not they actually request their name be removed), and find a relationship with someone with whom they can actually be happy. But they still have kids, and shared custody with an often still-believing parent.

Striving to show an example of love, acceptance, tolerance, and compassion, many families in these circumstances are trying to “live and let live”. The child is being permitted to choose baptism in the church, if they want it, and everyone involved ends up being kinder and more open-minded toward differing views for their efforts. Now the Mormon church says “Forget that. We can’t let our members think it’s okay to be tolerant of gay marriage. We’ve got to nip this in the bud.”

The SCOTUS ruling legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, overruling the Utah bill that made it illegal in 1977. So the Mormon church made a political move in response, not unlike the political move they made barring polygamous households from their membership in 1890. Only then, the Mormons had been practicing polygamy until the United States declared it illegal. So they disavowed the practice (via “revelation”) and instituted a similar policy to separate themselves from those families that refused to discontinue the practice. With absolutely no concern for how such policies would affect the children involved, the Mormon church is heartlessly playing a game of politics.

Those who believe the church is true and that Gods laws are “unchanging” will support this, showing little to no sympathy for the resultant pain and suffering. They will pin the blame on the gay parents. They will continue to cause division and strife. They will further cement the bigotry, hatred, and homophobia, creating a hostile environment for any homosexual who happens to be unlucky enough to be born into their community.

This policy change matters, because it HURTS people. Innocent people. People who are entrenched in a world they will not know how to escape. People who deserve and NEED our compassion and help. And this problem is NOT going to go away with time. It will only get worse. Unless we take a stand. Unless we redouble our efforts to reveal the false teachings of this hate group and help free it’s victims.

It matters. Because every life matters. Because nobody should have to live in constant fear. Because nobody should be forced to reject their nature in order to be accepted by family. Because the members are blind to the damages they are causing and need their eyes opened. Even now, there is an apologetic rhetoric circling through the membership in response to this news. Already, a Mormon apostle is spouting lies meant to soothe the membership into acceptance. We need to expose those lies for what they are. We need to show people the REAL EFFECTS this policy change will have on the children they are supposedly “protecting”.

They are driving their children to suicide. And that should not be tolerated.

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