ST. GEORGE — Earlier this week, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints removed a policy that prohibited children of polygamists from officially joining the religion without disavowing their parents’ beliefs and moving out of the family home. But some say this may not have a large impact.
The LDS church originally used the policy to set a precedent, later using similar ideology to establish an edict excluding children of same-sex couples in November 2015. In April, the policy excluding children of LGBTQ parents was revoked.
Now, children from plural communities can join the church so long as they are at least 8 years old and have the permission of at least one parent or guardian. These rules are the same ones that apply to kids from other households and those from LGTBQ couples.
“The handbook has been updated to reflect earlier announcements by church leaders related to the baptisms of children whose parents are in a polygamous or same-sex relationship,” spokesman Daniel Woodruff wrote in an email sent to members Tuesday.
Shirlee Draper, a previous Short Creek resident who left the Utah-based polygamist sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now works for Cherish Families, an organization that assists individuals who have left polygamous communities. Draper told St. George News changes in church policies rarely affect faithful practitioners.
In the grand scheme of things, Draper said, she hasn’t seen a lot of juveniles from plural communities wanting to join the mainstream church, especially most of the children that leave FLDS homes, because they are dealing with a great deal of trauma.
In many cases, the children leaving communities and families practicing plural marriage are more focused on finding stable food and shelter and working through debilitating mental illness, and they often don’t have the opportunity or the desire to concern themselves with church policies. In these cases, Draper said, survival trumps religious considerations.
“Our purpose is to make sure people have stability in their lives and they have their basic needs met so they can go on to make their own best decisions,” she said.
Despite these experiences, policies like the one keeping polygamist children from being baptized isolated potential members from the mainstream church. Draper said revoking policies like the one keeping polygamist children out of the church does affect a number of people who have left plural communities.
The more that organizations try to demonize underserved and ideologically rural or separate populations, the fewer services these communities receive, the less education the members earn and the less financially stable their children become, Draper said. The church’s decision to open another door for children of plural communities to enter through is a step in the right direction, she said.
“The more bricks we can take out of the wall, the more we can use those bricks to build a bridge,” Draper said. “For the church to take out one of the bricks in this wall that separates this population can only be a good thing.”
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