SALT LAKE CITY – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released statements Friday morning intended to give the public and church members context and clarification behind policies regarding the children of same-sex couples.
Last week, news broke that the LDS Church had amended its policies toward married and cohabitating same-sex couples and their children. The reported changes sparked a media storm, caused upset among some church members and provoked a great deal of backlash from critics of the church.
“That prompted questions from many Church members, who were mostly reading media headlines portraying the instructions as a rejection of children and refusal to name babies,” Michael Otterson, Church Public Affairs managing director, said in a commentary released Friday on MormonNewsroom.org and sent to media. “Members understandably had specific questions about how the announced change might affect their loved ones.
“The episode demonstrates clearly the dangers of drawing conclusions based on incomplete news reports, tweets and Facebook posts without necessary context and accurate information.”
The recent policy changes were made to the church’s “Handbook 1,” which provides guidelines and instruction for the church’s lay clergy.
Within the LDS church, married and cohabitating same-sex couples are considered to be living in a state of apostasy – opposed to church doctrine. The policy amendments state the children of these couples are rendered ineligible for many church ordinances, such as baptism and receiving priesthood ordination, until after they are 18.
When 18-year-old members of the church want to serve missions, they must no longer be living with same-gender parents at the time and must also disavow the practice of same-sex marriage, and approval must ultimately be obtained from the church’s First Presidency.
Infants in same-gender parent homes are also restricted from the ordinance of receiving a name and a blessing within the church.
“In particular, Church leaders are concerned for children–whether biologically born to one of the partners, adopted or medically conceived,” Otterson said. “In reality, very few same-sex couples would bring children for the formal Church ordinance of naming and blessing, since this creates a formal membership record. But Church leaders want to avoid putting little children in a potential tug-of-war between same-sex couples at home and teachings and activities at church.”
The First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles, the leadership body of the church, sent a letter to the church’s general leadership Friday clarifying the church’s policy, particularly in relation to children of same-sex couples.
The Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles provides the following guidance in applying provisions on same-gender marriage recently added to Handbook 1:
Revealed doctrine is clear that families are eternal in nature and purpose. We are obligated to act with that perspective for the welfare of both adults and children. The newly added Handbook provisions affirm that adults who choose to enter into a same-gender marriage or similar relationship commit sin that warrants a Church disciplinary council.
Our concern with respect to children is their current and future well-being and the harmony of their home environment. 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.
All children are to be treated with utmost respect and love. They are welcome to attend Church meetings and participate in Church activities. All children may receive priesthood blessings of healing and spiritual guidance.
“Because the letter was an instructional document to leadership throughout the world, and not a Church-wide announcement through LDS.org or through Church Public Affairs, there was no additional information or context on the usual Church websites,” Otterson said.
On Nov. 5, copies of the amendments to “Handbook 1” were posted online – not by the LDS Church – but by blogger John Dehlin, founder of the Mormon Stories Podcast, who was excommunicated from the church earlier this year.
Around 24 hours following news media picking up on the amended guidelines, the LDS Church released a video interview with church apostle Elder D. Todd Christofferson addressing the matter. He reiterated the church’s stance that it doesn’t want the church to put children in situations of conflict between the church and their parents.
“We don’t want there to be the conflicts that that would engender,” Christoffereson said. “We don’t want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the church are very different.”
“This sensitivity to family circumstances is practiced elsewhere,” Otterson added in his commentary. “For example, the Church doesn’t baptize minor children without parental consent, even if the children want to be associated with their LDS friends. A married man or woman isn’t baptized if the spouse objects. Missionaries don’t proselytize in most Muslim countries or in Israel, where there are particular sensitivities with family. In some African and other nations where polygamy is practiced, anyone whose parents practice polygamy needs special permission for baptism so they know that a practice that is culturally acceptable for many in the region is not acceptable in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
The church’s handbook is primarily meant to be used as a “standard reference point” for church leaders when making decisions, Otterson said. It is generally not available to the public.
“Because it is a policy and procedural manual, the Handbook is not written in language that is necessarily contextual or explanatory,” Otterson said. “Church leaders are encouraged to use the Handbook in conjunction with the guidance of the Holy Ghost.”
However, while the book provides instructions, individual circumstances are to considered on a case-by-case basis.
“No handbook can answer every question or address every circumstance,” Otterson said.
As reported by Fox 13 News, Troy Williams, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group Equality Utah, issued the following statement in regard to the church’s policy clarification:
The past week has been difficult for both the Mormon and LGBT communities. There has been particular pain amongst families with both LDS and LGBT members. The new clarification from the Church helps children who are being raised by both gay and heterosexual parents. However, we are disappointed that children born of same-sex parents must still ‘disavow’ their parent’s (sic) marriage. This is a hurtful requirement for any child. We are grateful for the outpouring of love from many members in the LDS Church who have reached out with compassion toward our community. We have felt your love. We are also grateful to the many open and affirming faith congregations throughout Utah who welcome LGBT families without exception.
St. George News Assistant Editor Cami Cox Jim contributed to this report.
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