My struggles with a new policy of my church

To begin with, I have to say that I love the doctrines of my church. I love the things found in our scriptures: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. I love the temple ceremony, which we are not supposed to say much about, but which basically teaches the same doctrines found in our scriptures.

While there are some members of my church who think every word of our highest leaders is gospel truth, it has been a long time since I believed that the leaders of my church were perfect or that everything they ever said was true. I have not believed it was necessary for them to teach absolute truth 100% of the time. I have not believed that God required them to be perfect or to always do his will.

In the past several years, however, my relationship with the church has become more and more strained. Personal events and local matters turned my involvement in the church into a burden and a source of pain, rather than a source of healing.

Then, at the same time as I was experiencing personal difficulties that pushed wedge after wedge between me and the church, its leaders were doing everything they could to support a political battle in the United States: the fight against same-sex marriage.

When the U. S. Supreme Court decided to end the battle over same-sex marriage in this country recently and required it in every state, it had already been legal in some other countries and some parts of this one for years, without any negative effects.

Initially, I opposed it as a huge experiment, but over time all of the non-religious arguments to stop same-sex marriage seemed completely disproven to me. I also knew that gay and lesbian people are no different from others except for the gender they are attracted to, so they have the same desire to have family relationships as other people. When only religious arguments remained in my mind, stopping gays and lesbians from marrying seemed like forcing other people to follow someone else’s religious beliefs.

So my views on this issue evolved, as President Obama said his did, but I did not expect the church to change its position on homosexuality or the acceptability of same-sex marriage. I did wish they could speak with more kindness and empathy, or even perhaps acknowledge the level of sacrifice that the church’s teachings require of people who experience same-sex attraction.

All of these things and more were behind a recent blog post I wrote about several passages from the Book of Mormon. One of the passages I cited was the one that said “Charity is the greatest of all and whosoever is possessed of it at the last day, it shall go well with him.” I complained that many Mormons seemed to misread this scriptures as “Chastity is the greatest of all….”

Then, just a few days after I posted that wish, the situation became worse. The church formulated a new policy for dealing with members who were married to someone of the same sex. The new policy was leaked to the public and a furor began.

One part of the new policy declared that anyone in a gay marriage was an apostate and their local leaders would be required to hold a disciplinary council to decide if they could remain members of the church, but what really pained me and some other members were the restrictions placed on the children who live with them.

Children living with same-sex parents can no longer be blessed as babies, be baptized or be ordained to the priesthood. (We bless babies after birth instead of baptizing them. We baptize children when they are eight years old or older. Boys are generally ordained to the priesthood when they turn 12).  Now minors who live with a same-sex couple cannot be baptized. They may only be baptized when they turn 18 if they say they believe homosexuality and same-sex marriage are wrong. This is not a statement that is required of anyone else.

After the policy became public knowledge and some members expressed their outrage online (including me), the church leaders made three attempts to calm the waters. First, one of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was interviewed by the spokesman of the church. He tried to explain the reasons for the policy, but his words did nothing to calm the rising rhetorical tide. Instead, horror stories began to accumulate on the internet about how the policy was being applied, and some people speculated it would apply to many more situations.

The following week, the highest leaders of the church, the First Presidency, released a letter clarifying the policy and offering further justifications for it. They said it was aimed at children who lived primarily with a homosexual couple (which is how I had originally understood it). They said children who had already been baptized could receive the priesthood and continue forward. They said that bishops could contact the First Presidency if they had questions about special circumstances.

This letter didn’t help much, either, and hundreds of already-disaffected members of the church organized a mass resignation from the church (most people who leave the church don’t bother to formally resign their membership).  This propelled the news about the policy into the national and international media.

After another week, the First Presidency released a revised letter, which seems to be their final communication on the matter. This time they did not include any justifications of the policy and they added a statement that all children should be treated with love and respect. They also said that children of homosexual couples should be welcome at church.

I don’t know what someone reading about all this for the first time would think about their latest words. I know that it did not change how I felt. So, I would like to explain why this still bothers me.

As I think some people will already understand, I cannot see how you can treat children with love and respect at the same time that you tell them they cannot be baptized, especially when both they and their parents want that to happen. I don’t know how you can tell a child that the true church will not allow them to be one of its members without communicating to them that God does not want them, or at least that the church does not want them. I don’t know how you can say that to an adult without communicating the same message, for that matter.  To me, this seems like the opposite of love.

As a parent, as someone who worked at elementary schools for a dozen years and as someone who has taught children of baptism age at church, I cannot see how this policy can do anything but hurt children. The number of children involved will be small, but I do not want to see one child hurt this way. My understanding of the words and actions of Jesus Christ is that he would not want that either.

Even so, I have basically decided to remain in the church. Its doctrines mean too much to me and I have had too many deeply spiritual and deeply meaningful experiences in the church to walk away. Yes, some parts of my journey in the church have been difficult, but I think those parts come from the imperfections of human beings rather than from any doctrine. I claim the god-given right to be imperfect, and if I have that right then so do the leaders of my church.

In my church, speaking out against our leaders is a potentially serious thing and I am uncomfortable doing it, so I will finish with the words of blogger Rachel Held Evans, who wrote about a part of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn where Huck believes he will go to hell if he protects Jim, a runaway slave…and chooses hell over betraying his friend.

“‘Your feelings don’t matter,’ they say.

“‘Your feelings cannot be trusted,’ they say.

“‘Once you start listening to your feelings, over and beyond the plain meaning of Scripture, it’s a slippery slope to hell,’ they say.

“A part of me agrees. I want to be faithful to the inspired words of the Bible, not bend them to fit my own desires and whims. Being a person of faith means trusting God’s revelation, even when the path it reveals is not comfortable.

“But another part of me worries that a religious culture that asks its followers to silence their conscience is just the kind of religious culture that produces $200 rewards for runaway slaves. The Bible has been ‘clear’ before, after all—in support of a flat and stationary earth, in support of wiping out entire people groups, in support of  manifest destiny, in support of Indian removal, in support of anti-Semitism, in support of slavery, in support of “separate but equal,” in support of constitutional amendments banning interracial marriage.

“In hindsight, it all seems so foolish, such an obvious abuse of Scripture.

“…But at the time?

“Sometimes true faithfulness requires something of a betrayal.”

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