Stupid or Inspired?

Much has been written about the LDS church’s new policy that denies church ordinances and membership to the children of gay parents. I couldn’t think of much to say other than to express my total disagreement with the policy, so that’s what I did earlier this week.

An LDS friend and I were discussing the policy, and he said there were only two possible explanations for it: either church leaders were “stupid,” or they were “inspired” (his words). I told him I thought there were any number of possibilities, and he naturally asked for some examples. I had planned to write a thoughtful post about other possibilities, but then the church issued a “clarification” that preempted my response.

To recap, the church policy was as follows:

Children of a Parent Living in a Same-Gender Relationship:

A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing.

A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may be baptized and confirmed, ordained, or recommended for missionary service only as follows:

A mission president or a stake president may request approval from the Office of the First Presidency to baptize and confirm, ordain, or recommend missionary service for a child of a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship when he is satisfied by personal interviews that both of the following requirements are met:

  1. The child accepts and is committed to live the teachings and doctrine of the Church, and specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage.
  2. The child is of legal age and does not live with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.

This is worded such that:

  1. No child living with a same-gender couple will receive a name and a blessing in the church.
  2. No child living with a parent who “has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage” can be baptized, receive the priesthood, or serve a mission until they have turned 18, don’t live with that parent, and disavow the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage.

In short, taken at face value, the policy applies to the children of anyone who has ever lived in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage, regardless of their current situation. I know a man who, while he was a BYU student, met a guy at the MTC, where they both taught a foreign language. They lived together until they graduated essentially as a couple, being both roommates and lovers. A few years later, this man married a woman and has children. As the handbook is worded, his children would be affected by this policy in the same way as the children of a parent currently living in a same-gender relationship.

One need not be a prophet, seer, or revelator to predict the outrage among church members and non-members alike. My LDS friend said that church leaders must have anticipated the outcry because to suggest otherwise would mean they were (again in his words) “stupid.” He acknowledged that the policy made no sense to him and was troubling, but he suggested that sometimes the Lord inspires His servants to make decisions that don’t make sense to the rest of us, and if we are patient, we’ll see the wisdom in it.

I agreed with my friend that these church leaders would have thought long and hard about the change in policy, and I said they probably considered that the loss of a few members and some temporary bad PR was an acceptable cost of setting a definite boundary. I dismissed rumors that church leaders were caught off-guard by the reaction, especially among members of the church. It seemed likely that they expected “fringe” members to leave the church over this issue, but then such members are not their focus, anyway. Certainly, Elder Todd Christofferson’s  brief video interview gave no indication that the church would reconsider or reverse its decision; basically, he just tried to reassure members that this was done with good intentions and that they should follow the prophet. The policy, then, didn’t seem like a crazy one-off, but a carefully deliberated policy change run through all the normal channels of the church bureaucracy and ecclesiastical hierarchy.

In that spirit, I thought of all the possible reasons for the policy. The obvious one is, as another LDS friend put it, “boundary maintenance and prophylaxis” to prevent creeping acceptance of homosexuality among church members. In a more cynical moment, I thought perhaps this might be a manufactured crisis designed to further the “great sifting” some keep speaking of between the wheat and the tares. In the end, I didn’t think it was either stupid or inspired, but rather a needlessly cruel policy that, intentionally or not, divided families and hurt children.

But today the LDS church’s First Presidency issued a “clarification” of the policy. The important parts are as follows:

The provisions of Handbook 1, Section 16.13, that restrict priesthood ordinances for minors, apply only to those children whose primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship. As always, local leaders may request further guidance in particular instances when they have questions.

When a child living with such a same-gender couple has already been baptized and is actively participating in the Church, provisions of Section 16.13 do not require that his or her membership activities or priesthood privileges be curtailed or that further ordinances be withheld. Decisions about any future ordinances for such children should be made by local leaders with their prime consideration being the preparation and best interests of the child.

Whatever else I can say about this, it is not a clarification but a clear retreat from the earlier policy.

Again, the policy as originally published covered children of “a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship.” Now it’s applied only to those children whose “primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship.” (I’ve already heard from a couple of attorney friends that this wording may cause even more problems in custody arrangements, but I’ll let others discuss that.) The second paragraph allows for some baptized members to be “grandfathered” in as members fully eligible for church ordinances and participation. This is also a clear retreat from the policy as originally published.

Obviously, this policy affects fewer children, but it still restricts the membership and ordinances of children for something they haven’t done. Likewise, it does nothing to change the clear message that same-sex couples and their children are not welcome in the church.

Had the policy been written with these “clarifications” in the first place, there probably would have been some outrage, though probably less among church members (at least that’s my guess). But it took more than a week for these clarifications/changes, and in the first attempt to “clarify,” Elder Christofferson made no clarifications whatsoever. In the meantime, faithful members I know and love have been agonizing over their membership in a church that treats gays and lesbians this way. People I know who were on the margins of the church told me it was the last straw for them, and even some people who wanted to stay in the church left over this. The church has likewise endured a lot of bad press over the new policy.

Looking at the big picture, I realize I was wrong. If, as I believed, church leaders had carefully crafted this policy as they believed they had been inspired from God, there would be no retreat, no walking back in the face of public criticism. What this tells me is that they really hadn’t considered how this would be received and were probably quite shocked at the outcry.

In the short term, it was wise to dilute the harshest parts of the policy, but there is one effect that I think may be lasting: a number of people I know had never considered that church leaders could be wrong. They had absolute trust in the wisdom and basic goodness of their leaders, and they never had any reason for fundamental disagreement with them. Until now. A lot of members have realized that their leaders got this completely wrong, and not just in a “mistakes of men” sort of way, but in actively hurting families and children. Probably most members will accept the “clarifications” as given, but I wonder if the brethren have altered the foundational relationship of trust they had with many members. I suppose we’ll find out.

I’m sure many church apologists are now saying this was all just a tempest in a teapot, a misunderstanding. Me, I think I have the answer for my friend.

Stupid.

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12 Responses to Stupid or Inspired?

  1. Agellius says:

    I thought from the start that it had to be sloppy drafting since it made no sense unless it was meant to apply to situations where the child lives with a same-sex couple, based on the explanation that was given by Elder Christofferson. I realize you think they’re now backtracking, but I think this is what they meant all along but just screwed up on the wording.

    • runtu says:

      Well, then we’ll just have to disagree. It seems to me that if they had meant only situations where the child lives with a same-sex couple, they wouldn’t have said “has lived or is living” in such a situation twice. Once is sloppy drafting. Twice is deliberate.

  2. belaja says:

    They’re not backtracking. It’s like when they changed the temple wording for women from “obey” to “hearken” (and then defined “hearken” as “listen and do what you’re told.”) They did not expect the backlash because they assumed it was all supersecret in the handbook and the only ones who’d know about it would be those blindsided by it.

    I think they also figured that people would just sort of “calm down and carry on.” It happened in 1978 when they changed the priesthood “policy.” There were people who took out full-paged ads in Salt Lake papers, decrying the change, and a chunk of people who left the church over it.

    The difference, of course, is that most people welcomed the 1978 change as move in the right direction. This is a sudden giant leap backwards from the baby-steps they were making in the right direction. People didn’t calm down and carry on over the 78 change. They welcomed it with open arms because it was right and aligned with their consciences. This is just the opposite.

    This is hubris to the nth degree.

    • runtu says:

      As I said, the ugly parts are still there, though it will likely affect fewer kids. The message hasn’t changed: we don’t want gay people or their kids.

  3. Agellius says:

    I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing. I meant that it didn’t make sense to me unless it applied to situations where the child lives with a same-sex couple, as opposed to situations where one of the child’s parents is in a same-sex couple but has no contact with or authority over the child.

    The “has lived or is living” phrase refers to the situation where the child seeks baptism, etc. after he has attained his majority. In other words, it evidently is intended to refer to a child who was raised by an SSM couple, whether or not he still lives with them as an adult.

    Again, sloppy drafting. But hey, it’s a handbook, not the Code of Canon Law. They probably didn’t expect it to be held to the standard of precision that one expects of a legal statute.

    • runtu says:

      Knowing how careful the church in drafting policy, especially when it might have legal implications, I very much doubt this was a matter of sloppy drafting. I should say I’m glad it will affect fewer kids, but it still hurts people.

    • David Macfarlane says:

      The scuttlebutt is that Kirton McConkie drafted the initial policy. I would expect attorneys to have played out every possible repercussion of various wordings. If that’s the case, they said what they meant, but the echo chamber kept them from accurately predicting the fallout. Public relations 1; lawyers 0.

  4. malkie says:

    God and the GAs need to take a course on technical writing.

    Their communication skills are terrible – and this is not the first piece of evidence of their lack of ability.

  5. Steve55 says:

    The wonders and speed of the internet age never cease to amaze me. Here we can see the exegesis of a future scripture unfold before us at warp speed. A week ago God meant any child whose parent had lived or was living in a gay relationship, today it only for those children in a primary residence. (Primary is a nice use btw, did anyone else notice how they tied children of Primary age to children in a primary residence? Truly inspired.)

    I look forward to the next installment of further light and knowledge from God as His mouthpieces sort out what it is God really wants from the children of people He hates. Should only be a few days.

  6. jiminpanama says:

    I read the post last week and I really couldn’t believe what I was reading. Like it was an exmo propaganda article. I was wrong. It was from the church. It doesn’t feel right and it isn’t. Pretty cluelessly written. Totally out of touch

  7. […] Latter-day Saints I know have struggled with the recent “policy change” that labels same-sex couples “apostates” and bars their children from baptism. […]

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