A new LDS Church policy barring the children of married gay parents from membership or baptism in the church has sent seismic waves through the Mormon community, leaving many Church members confounded by the Church’s open contradiction with closely held tenets of Christianity, including the New Testament’s declaration of unconditional love for and acceptance of children.
LDS Church leaders explained Friday that the controversial new policy, modeled on the Church’s treatment of polygamous families and their children, is designed to “protect” children of LGBT parents from experiencing “conflict,” a claim that some Mormons and many non-LDS people have found it difficult to accept.
If protecting the children is a concern for the LDS Church, it might attempt the following:
- Affirm immediately that all children are beloved of God, entitled to saving ordinances, and welcome to participate in the life of the church.
Barring children of LGBT families from membership or baptism in the Church strikes at the very heart of Christian teachings about God’s special care for children and the essential role of baptism. It marks them as expendable. It also ensures that children of LGBT families will have virtually no opportunity for religious education within the LDS tradition during their critical formative years. Mormonism places great emphasis on the religious education of children. It is when we are children that we learn fundamental lessons about the love of God, the power of prayer, and the role of the “still small voice”—the Holy Ghost—in guiding our lives. These lessons shape and provide a foundation for our lives, and are cherished even by adults raised as Mormons who are no longer orthodox practitioners of the faith.
- Acknowledge the role of complex contemporary families in the religious education of children.
Mormonism is a faith deeply rooted in families. Among the most beautiful and treasured Mormon doctrines is the teaching that intergenerational family ties continue after death. Many Mormon families with LGBT members have taken refuge in the belief that no matter how difficult the conflicts between Church doctrine and the reality of homosexual lives, these conflicts will be resolved by God in the eternities. Barring the children of married LGBT parents from learning about and participating in the Church hurts all family members—including the former spouses of gay Mormons and their extended families.
For generations, Mormon leaders encouraged gay men and women to marry straight partners and have children. Today, there are many LDS mothers and fathers who have divorced from gay partners but continue to wish to raise children in the Church, often with the support of the gay parent. Their children should not be excluded from growing up in the Mormon faith.
Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins of the children of gay Mormons are also deeply hungry for children to belong to the LDS Church and understand and benefit from their Mormon heritage. They should be allowed to participate fully in these children’s religious education with the parents’ consent.
- Affirm the ability of families and children to live with and love through complication and conflict.
Mormonism teaches that the Holy Ghost is a gift given by God to guide us through life’s many difficult questions. As a parent in an interfaith Mormon family that takes exception to Church politics and teachings on homosexuality and the role of women, I affirm that children (and adults) are deeply capable of handling complexity, that it is possible for a family to say, “We may disagree, we may not fit the institutional model, but there are many wonderful things we can and should learn from our faith.” Mormon families around the world in many different circumstances—including Mormons of color, interfaith families, divorced families, feminist families, and politically progressive Mormon families—do this every day. The Church should honor the complexity of how faith is actually lived.
- Advocate expanded protections for LGBT families.
If LGBT parents are not protected from discrimination and violence, their children are left unprotected as well. If the LDS Church wants to protect the children of LGBT families, it should use its powerful political resources to ensure that laws barring discrimination against LGBT people in housing and employment are fully enforced, and that violence directed against LGBT people is recognized and fully prosecuted as a hate crime. The state of Utah’s hate crimes statute does not include crimes against LGBT people; this should be changed immediately. Children are vulnerable when their parents are not protected by the law against hateful violence.
- Protect LGBT children and teens.
Twenty to forty percent of all homeless youth are gay. Thirty-nine percent of gay homeless youth say they were kicked out of their homes. According to experts, of the thousands of teenagers who will sleep on the streets or under bridges in Utah tonight, fully half of them are LGBT kids, the majority from Mormon families who have kicked them out. The Church should provide for these children and work with families to prevent the despair and confusion that lead to abandonment.
The Church should also support a legal end to so-called “conversion therapy.” For decades, Mormons were taught that homosexuality is a condition that could be changed or subdued through prayer, heterosexual marriage, fasting, or even aversion or electroshock therapy. Practitioners of dangerous and abusive “conversion therapies” continue to operate, preying on desperate families and young LGBT people. Over the past two years, I have been working with a courageous young gay woman named Alex, who was held for eight months in an unlicensed in-home conversion therapy facility run by Mormon people who used the faith as an instrument of abuse.
Her story and the stories of many others like her make it clear how expendable LGBT people are to the LDS Church today, a painful reality underscored by the Church’s new policy.