I write this as a heterosexual person, one who is not directly affected by the new strictures in the Church Handbook of Instructions (CHI). For that reason, this is all very easy for me to say. I do not blame those who are ‘closer to’ this situation if their reaction is different from mine. I do not blame those who will leave. However, let’s get one thing straight from the beginning: those who made this decision did not relish it. The Brethren do not look for ways to kick people out of the Church or make it impossible for them to join in the first place. At the same time, whatever stand you take, I will not criticize. I ask for the same courtesy from those reading.
After considerable thought and prayer over the past 12 hours or so, this is the conclusion to which I have come so far as I’m concerned: This is a test. A very real, very severe (for more than a few) test.
When I first heard about the revisions to the Church Handbook of Instructions regarding those in same-sex marriages and their children, I was confused. Upset. I actually tweeted that if we trust other 8-year-old kids to decide to be baptized, shouldn’t we trust all of them, regardless of parentage? That is genuinely how I felt right off the bat. However, when the inevitable post came up on the Peculiar People writers’ Facebook page as to who was going to write about the change, I realized I had a story and a set of personal experiences that might help shed light on things…a story that has helped me understand why the Church takes the line it does concerning same-sex marriage and its attendant issues, and a set of personal experiences that give me confidence in the changes so far as the children go. I am not saying they are going to help anyone else or change any minds, but I wanted to share them nonetheless, because they help me, at least, take the emotion out of this issue, particularly at a time like this.
First, the story:
During the second half of 2008, a lot of serious things were happening in my life. I had given up my temple recommend over my opposition to Prop 8 (I did so voluntarily — my leaders didn’t come after me about it, nor would they have been within their rights to do so), and so had had to resign my place as an ordinance worker at the Salt Lake Temple, which I had very much enjoyed until it became clear to me I could not continue in good conscience due to my disagreement with the Church’s heavy efforts to get 8 passed out there. I was definitely adrift by the end of September, and so didn’t watch October Conference. During the week following GC, though, I had a bunch of friends who knew my situation tell me they’d thought of me during Neil L. Andersen’s talk, “You Know Enough”. To shut them up, I decided to watch the talk online. Considering the effect it had on me at the time, I would advise anyone having serious heartburn about the CHI changes to do the same. This need not be the end of your membership in the Church. Your choice, of course, but jumping should never be the first reaction.
In short, I knew he was right. I knew that the foundational principles of the gospel were still true to me, and that I needed to let them decide for me whether I wanted to stay in the Church or not. Again, I was looking at this from the perspective of a heterosexual person unaffected by the direct consequences of the potential passage of Prop 8. In short, that talk saved me from cutting myself loose completely. As I watched it, the thought kept going through my head, “You need to write him a letter. You need to write him a letter.” So, I did.
To make a long story short, about a month later, I ended up in Elder Andersen’s office. I was terrified, because I felt sure that he was going to ‘read me the riot act’ about my choices and behavior to that point. He was going to call me to repentance; I was sure of it. Quite the opposite ended up being true. As I wrote in my journal-blog at the time,
“I think the thing that surprised me most about meeting with him was how clear he made it that this is my decision–whether to stay or to go. I had thought he was going to spend a lot of time trying to reason with me as to why I should stay, but he didn’t. He said that it was my choice to make and he would respect me either way.”
Ever since, I have tried to take that attitude whenever someone is seriously considering leaving the Church or actually does leave. I think it is the Christlike option and wish that more members and leaders would pursue it. Your personal beliefs about what the person is doing or thinking are secondary to the fact they are entitled to do and feel however they like. It is between them and (hopefully) God. I have nothing to do with it. All I can do is offer my witness, and that is what I’m trying to do here.
So, what about the Church’s reasoning behind Prop 8 (and, I would imagine, the Supreme Court’s decision allowing same-sex marriage nationwide earlier this year)? Here is what he said to me during that meeting in November 2008:
“I also think I better understand now why the Church did what it did with Prop 8 in California. Elder Andersen said there are two major societal issues on which the Church takes a stand–abortion and gender. In this case, gender roles were being discounted in that it would have been made “OK” for those living in one state to remove the role of gender in committed relationships. The Brethren never saw this as a political issue–it was moral all the way, although brought up in a civil-legal arena. I get it now and I’m not as angry as I was before.”
This is not going to make sense to everyone who reads it. It is not going to be acceptable to everyone who reads it. However, to me, it is the leg upon which I stand to allow me to continue to be a faithful Latter-day Saint when things like what happened with the CHI occur. It is what stopped me from spiraling out of control last night when the changes became public.
In these situations, I choose to think, “Well, it must be THAT important to God.” That is enough for me. I do not think these things come from human beings. I do not think they are arbitrary. I believe that they are agonized over because it is clear they are not going to be popularly accepted, that people are going to quit the Church over them, that they are going to be the source of considerable controversy.
However, at the same time, I believe that the obligation the Brethren are under to God is absolute. They are required to put away their individual feelings about an issue and speak with authority from God or risk losing that authority. In this case, I think they are proof that the Family Proclamation, though not canonized scripture, is not just a bunch of words. Gender really is an essential characteristic of premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. Marriage between a man and a woman really is ordained of God, and because this is a foundational truth, the Church cannot act otherwise.
The issue of minor children of same-gender parents was especially difficult for me, as it would reasonably be to most people. They have no choice in the matter — their parents are who they are, so why not let them be blessed as babies or baptized as children? My personal experiences are woven into my response:
Neither baby blessings, nor baptism at age 8 are required for salvation. I was baptized at age 18, and I doubt my super-Catholic parents would have okayed it earlier had I started meeting with the missionaries before I went to college and was of legal age. God cannot, and so is not going to, hold against you the age at which you are baptized (or, for that matter, whether you were blessed as an infant or not). I personally believe God was paving the way for me throughout my growing-up years so that when the time and circumstances were right for me to join the Church, I could do so as quickly as I did (12 days total). I know He can do this for others because He did it for me. I believe He wants converts to make a decision based on sincere study, prayer, and receipt of confirmation upon which they can stand with confidence. Some of them will have an extreme amount of adversity to wade through in order to make a good go of it (I didn’t have all that much, comparatively), so He wants them as strong and as converted as possible from the get-go.
In my mind, if their parents allow them to do these things, I see the interested children of same-sex parents attending Sunday meetings and youth activities, making good, solid friends, and building toward age 18 and their ultimate decision at that time. Maybe they won’t decide to go for baptism and maybe they will. The goal, I think, is to try and cultivate the ground as much as possible during the growing-up years…to change the potential thorny feelings the parents have toward the Church into something at least neutral, if not in favor of the child becoming LDS. God knows the potential division that will be caused if the child decides to make the required disavowal of same-sex marriage. He wants their parents to have the chance to see the good that their child’s association with Mormons has brought into their life and that they want to be baptized for good reasons and not hurtful ones. When the door to baptism opens for that child, He wants the parents to be able to know (even if they choose not to) that the child can still love them and be in their lives without agreeing with their relationship status…that it is nothing against them, as they are all children of God. How they take their child’s decision is up to them, but by that time, no one on the Church side could be faulted for not going through this process in good faith.
Bottom line: If someone is meant to join (and stay in) the Church, they will. I believe that sincerely. When I was baptized, I thought I was going to lose my family. I had just come off 14 years of Catholic school, for which my parents had sacrificed considerably to make possible for me. I felt indebted to them for that. I had wanted to become a nun–a Carmelite, if you’re savvy–up until a few months before I was baptized. I was really all-in with Catholicism…until I wasn’t. I chose possibly severe division within my own family because I knew the Lord wouldn’t drop me cold if I followed His will for my life. There is still a religion-shaped hole in my relationship with them, and I would imagine that children of same-sex couples will have a same-sex marriage (??)-shaped hole in their relationship with their parents, should the child choose to be baptized. At the same time, I know it is possible to care more about your relationship with your parents/child than about the fact the child has publicly stated their disagreement with something the parents hold dear and consider intrinsic to their very being. My parents and I did, and do to this day. However, if the parents do not choose this path, the Lord wants the child to have a strong enough testimony and enough solid people around them to support them through the loss. So, they are being given years to build these things…this cocoon of sorts…in case it is needed when the time comes.
Even if the kids are only able to start going to church and such once they turn 18, that support system can begin to be established then. That’s what happened with me — the Church didn’t come into my life until I was out from under my parents’ thumb, but when things got rough, which was soon after I first started meeting with the missionaries, I was OK. I had people, and they will too if the need arises. Of this I can bear personal testimony because I can speak of it from personal experience.
Do I understand this whole thing even close to completely? No. Do I expect to? No. However, I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt to those who made these changes. God’s will is effing hard sometimes, but this is how we prove ourselves worthy of not just eternal life but exaltation — by becoming ‘yielded and still’. Continuing, like Adam, to sacrifice though we know not why for a long time. Knowing, like Nephi, that God does not give a commandment unto the children of men save He provides a way for them to accomplish it. Do we just read these scriptures or do we choose to put ourselves in a position to prove them in our own lives? Do we REALLY trust Him? Do we REALLY believe in revelation, even though it may be contrary to our political or social ideas? There are spiritual principles and covenant-deep challenges at work here, should we choose to see them and work through them despite the shock and anger and despair we may be feeling.
Again, I do not blame those who are in crisis over these changes. I lost it for a time last night myself. I only seek to give one member’s perspective on them, in the hopes that my thoughts can possibly prompt calm in others’ minds and hearts. The sledding just got rougher, but I hope that we can get along as well as possible as a Church body in light of these most recent events. Search, ponder, pray. If these changes come from Him and you are willing to let that be the case, He will let you know one way or the other (Moroni 10:4-5 is true no matter what).