Good Intentions Do Not Good Policy Make


This is a discussion of the recent change in church policy towards homosexuals and their children. Here is the policy, and here is the interview with Elder Christofferson explaining the policy.

This is a policy, not doctrine. Never have we made a claim that policies are infallible.[1] Apostles and prophets are not perfect and make mistakes.[2]  I do not condemn any leader for their mistakes. I am no less human than they. I have compassion and understanding. Their motives are generally pure and their intentions benevolent. Imperfection implies that there are errors in policies and teachings past and present. The task of determining error is not simple. We are to study it out in our mind and then ask if it is right (D&C 9:8). We are to seek learning even by faith and by study (D&C 88:118). We are to reason together (D&C 50:11).

This is me, trying to make sense of something I find senseless. I claim no answers and no conclusions, just questions and observations.

There are two branches of this policy. One categorizing adult couples in same-sex marriages as apostates. The second affecting their children. Although, an unpleasant change, a stronger policy towards gay adults is consistent with what has been taught and practiced. The only peculiar thing there is that other, more serious sins (rape, domestic abuse, deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, attempted murder) do not require mandatory disciplinary counsels. It raises gay marriage from simply being a sexual abomination, to being apostasy.  A status that the other sins, do not have.  That aside, I will discuss the change in how the church treats the children of said couples.

First, the why. What is the intent? Why the need? How is this intended to help children? All agree that children are innocent. I have no question that fostering healthy children is the central motive. It isn’t difficult to imagine the distress that exists in a child when a church teaches that your parents who love and raise you and your very family foundation are a grave sin before God.

Exclusion vs Inclusion

Elder Ballard taught in the October 2001 general conference, “I have been a full-time missionary, twice a bishop, a mission president, a Seventy, and now an Apostle. I have never taught—nor have I ever heard taught—a doctrine of exclusion.”  He goes on, “That is our doctrine—a doctrine of inclusion. That is what we believe. That is what we have been taught. Of all people on this earth, we should be the most loving, the kindest, and the most tolerant because of that doctrine.”

Without changing the church’s position on homosexuality the conflict can be mitigated in two ways. First, by choosing inclusion, the church can choose not to emphasize the sin. Doctrinal emphases ebb and flow overtime. Poverty is immoral, but our emphasis of it was strong at the formation of the church, has since ebbed, but recently come back into focus.[3] The other option is to exclude these children from formal church obligations. Thus, “they are not placed in a position that will challenge their development in their very tender years.” Elder Christofferson further explains, “We don’t want the child to deal with issues where the views of the parents are very different from the church.”

Let us walk through the implications of this reasoning. Because there is family conflict, it is better for a minor to stay outside the church. The chief princible he invokes for rationalizing it, is the importance of avoiding cognitive dissonance in minors. We have many exceptions to this. All juvenile converts experience this conflict. Interreligious dialogue is frequently a point of major contention. Especially when this is within the family. In all of these cases, the parents will be living and promoting a life-style contrary to the church’s teachings. Conflicting family-church messages are unavoidable. This scenario applies to non-converts as well. If a family is in the church, but then one or both parents leave. Church-family conflict ensues. Now, the church rightly attempts to lessen this, by requiring minors to have both parent’s permission before joining, but this action certainly does not eliminate the conflict.

Other examples of family-church conflict include the North American policy to not allow an inclusive civil wedding, before the temple sealing ceremony. First hand, we have experienced the division, pain, and conflict that this avoidable exclusion causes. There is no sign that this family conflict causing policy is going to be changed.  If church-family conflict is to be avoided, why is there no work to mitigate it, here?

Children and adolescence must face constant cognitive dissonance between teachings at home and teachings outside. Avoiding the dissonance is not the answer. Teaching children to have confidence and independence through critical thinking skills is the answer. Any child whose parents do not fit the ideal mold will experience these conflicts. A primary child whose parents were not married in the temple will feel this conflict.

Do homosexual parents provide more Mormon-religious conflict than others? Not necessarily. In fact, in some cases, this policy may create more conflict. Think of a gay-Mormon couple who left only because the church excommunicated them. They still attend church. Their children are raised in the church. However, children now have to deal with the conflict that they cannot be baptized, they cannot pass the sacrament, and they cannot accompany their friends to perform baptisms for the dead. This is a serious conflict that most often would result in the family leaving the community of the church.

In times past, gay members were counseled to marry and make a mixed-orientation marriage work. With faith, these members did so. Many of these marriage later dissolved after they produced children. If a father who tried faith for decades, and ultimately chose a single-orientation union, their children will suffer under this policy. Children that only exist because of the church’s counsel in decades past. This policy is not a gross conflict-mitigating policy. It may not even be a net conflict-mitigating policy. It may harm more children than it protects.

As to the objection that this only affects a very small number of members, recall that Christ left the 99 to seek the one. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” Our church should be a safe place for all God’s children.

A Measure of Success

Because of the diversity of humanity and the nature of human institutions, every policy will cause pain to somebody. Additionally, every policy will not cause pain to somebody. The existence of gay members of the church who support this policy is an insufficient indication that the policy is appropriate. We need to weigh the degree of pain and suffering that it inflicts. Baptisms have already been canceled and baby blessings permanently postponed. For some first hand anecdotes of the pain of this policy, read here and here. These aren’t abstract concepts, but real hopes and dreams cut short because we do not allow a little ambiguity or a little uncertainty for member’s views about God’s will on a single issue.

Parallels between Polygamist and Same-Sex Parents

Elder Christofferson: “Polygamy and Same-Sex has a parallel. We’ve had these policies concerning children in polygamist families for decades.” I am not sure what I think about the policy towards children of polygamist parents. Regardless, I focus on same-sex couple’s children. How are the two groups similar? How are they not?

The similarities.

  • Under current church policy, both types require a break-up of the family unit in order to be sealed as a celestial-family. Other sins of children’s parents are potentially able to be resolved, while keeping the family unit intact.The exception is that a polygamist family may be sealed once one of the wives is diseased.

That’s it. I cannot think of anything else. Let us discuss the differences.

  • Polygamy was born in secrecy.[4] For a period it was public, starting in 1852. But by the 1880’s it was secret again, as to avoid federal prosecution. After the manifesto of 1890, new polygamist marriages continued in even greater secrecy.[5] Elder Oaks once commented, “The whole experience with polygamy was a fertile field for deception.” After the second manifesto in 1904, polygamist marriages continued, but without the authorization of church leaders. Eventually, this lead to schisms. The practice continues today, even by those who outwardly appear to be members of the Salt Lake church.The strict policies towards children of polygamist families are designed, to a certain extent, to test the doctrinal affiliations and to root out secret polygamist unions within the fold of the church.
  • Polygamists today are so because of their conviction that God commanded polygamy as an eternal principle that will never be taken away from the Earth. They use the teachings of John Taylor and the nebulous and political manner that the manifesto was issued to justify this doctrinal belief. This is all very internally Mormon. It is part of the Mormon history and identity.Gay marriage, in turn, has no internal justification. At least nowhere near the degree that polygamy has.
  • The Colorado City sect notoriously manipulates and shelters their children. If the Salt Lake church were to be perceived as a threat, the experience of those who leave might be made even worse.
  • LGBT individuals didn’t choose it. Polygamists do choose it. Polygamy can be taught, being gay cannot. Because of this, children of polygamists are more likely to be polygamists than children of non-polygamists. No such relationship exists for same sex parents and their children. Parents cannot inculcate homosexuality.

Unintended Side-Effects

I ask whether each detail of the policy is necessary. Does it accomplish its goal? And at what cost?

A Name and a Blessing

Because a baby blessing is not a salvific ordinance, it has other purposes. Elder Christofferson alludes that “it triggers membership records. It triggers an assignment of home teachers. It triggers an expectation to be in primary and other church organization.” These seem to be administrative reasons not to do it. There seems to be other, softer ways to achieve this goal. Additionally, he implied that it happens to “members of the church.” George Q. Cannon had the following to say about baby blessings:

“In some minds there seems to be an idea that there should be a different form of blessing for children born of non-members and for those who are identified with the Church; and it is from such sources that in the case of children belonging to members of the Church ‘the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ and all the attendant favors are frequently conferred upon the child. This is all wrong. If we take the example of our Lord and Redeemer, who is our pattern and whose example we cannot too closely follow, we find that He blessed all who were brought to Him. We have no hint that He asked whose children they were, or the standing or faith of their parents. His remark was, ‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven;’ and He laid His hands upon them and blessed them. All little children, no matter what their parentage may be, are innocent in the sight of heaven, and they should be received as such and blessed as such.”

The Editor [George Q. Cannon], “Topics of the Times,” Juvenile Instructor 34 (March 1, 1899): 137-138. Reprinted in Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 61 (March 30, 1899), 198-199; Latter-day Saints’ Southern Star 1 (April 29, 1899): 170.

Public baby blessings are a paramount event in the lives of new parents in our community. It is a solemn symbol of unity, hope, and prayer. Excluding this rite causes pain, including it causes no harm.

Delayed Baptism

Christianity has an interesting dichotomy in relation to baptism.  Baptism for infants initiates salvation and introduce innocent children into the community of the church, being a symbol of faith from the parents.  The other is baptizing those who are old enough to be accountable for their actions and mature enough to understand a Christian commitment.  We Mormon fall between these, by requiring baptism at an age sufficiently old enough to understand right vs. wrong, but not quite old enough make life long commitments.  Why do we baptize so young?  So that our youth can be endowed with the Holy Ghost; a revelator, comforter, and protector.  Why deny youth these fortifying blessings, indeed, these necessary blessings, when they have parental support to continue to keep their covenants?  If these ordinances are necessary for children of straight parents to endure the winds of adolescence, why are they not needed for those with gay parents? I’ve seen comments to the effect of “children in this situation can still have the light of Christ.” Everytime we suggest that these committed, but unbaptized, youth will still have the light of Christ diminishes our belief in the importance of the gift and constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.

Disavowing the Sins of Parents

Here I simply ask, why must they disavow the sins of their parents? Who else must disavow the sins of their parents? What an uncomfortable position. I do not agree with my parents on many topics. But to formally come out before a priesthood leader and say they are wrong would be an emotionally traumatic experience for me. It would feel like betrayal.  They are my family, they sacrificed and raised me.

Why this sin? We don’t have to formally disavow the previous generations many other sins? Certainly there are many other sins (rape, adultery, abuse, neglect) that are worse in the eyes of God than living in a monogamous homosexual relationship.  Children of abusive parents have a higher likelihood of repeating the behavior themselves.  We do not require these children to disavow their parents sin.  Maybe we should?  Or perhaps we could be merciful and understanding of the internal conflict an 18 year old must feel.  By choosing to get baptized in our church, they are already making a choice of loyalty towards the church in the family-church conflict.  Why is that level of commitment insufficient?

Additionally, we can support same-sex unions politically and still remain members in good standing [6].

Again, how does this policy help us to “do good”?

Move Out

This is one that continues to baffle me. Nowhere else in scripture or commandments does our standing before the Lord depend on our place of residence.  There are ideal living conditions, no doubt. The home is a temple. But in no way has this been considered universal. How many times have we heard stories over the pulpit in general conference about creating personal divine presence while living in unsavory conditions in the military or in times of poverty.

Think of the youth who wants to join the church despite being raised in a same-sex parent home. That takes an incredible level of commitment. Yet, with this policy, it is not enough. The eighteen year old, must forge out and live on their own. As I understand it, they can live a dorm with a gay roommate, but they cannot live in the home they were raised in.

What a wedge this requirement places between the parents and the child. What good is done by this policy?

The Message

Finally, what is the message to LGBT Latter Day Saints? The one I hear is, “You’re not welcome.” “We’re incompatible.” “You do not belong in our community.” “There is no way to make this work without insurmountable conflict.” “You are better off without us.” “We don’t want your children.” “There needs to be distance between you and the children that we do take.” “We are protecting your children from us.”

There have been many pleas by members of the church to their critiques for patience and understanding. We members rightfully ask for slow and fair judgement. We want them to understand the context and the motivation. But what about when the context and motivation aren’t sufficient? Good intentions do not good policy make. I leave asking, whether the good coming from this policy actually outweighs the negativity? Yes, there will be some less conflict. But only at the cost of exclusion. Why is this church not for everyone?

If there are any better answers or explanations, I’m all ears.

[1] Was it the will of God to not have women speak in general conference for 150 years? Was it also the will of God to not let them pray in general conference for 180 years? Or was it the universal condition of human imperfection that caused it?  For further discussion see my collection of quotes here and a nice discussion by Nathaniel Givens, son of Terryl and Fiona Givens here.

[2] “imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with.” E. Holland April 2013. “And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.” E. Uchtdorf October 2013

[3] The 2009 addition to the missions of the church to include “care for the poor and needy” is a recent example.

[4] Emma was unaware of Joseph’s wives for well over a year. Polygamy was vehemently denied publically both in newspaper and in scripture. D&C (1844 ed.) Section 109.

[5] My own great great great grandfather, Leonard John Nuttall married a third wife during this period, secret enough, that the family histories do not record it.



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