IN what is regarded by many as a startling U-turn, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has reversed a 2015 ruling that classified people in same-sex marriages as ‘apostates’, subject to excommunication.
Earlier this month, Mormon bigwig Dallin Oaks, above, announced – hooray and hallelujah! – that children of parents who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender may now be blessed and baptised.
And the church will no longer characterise same-gender marriage as “apostasy”, although it is still considered “a serious transgression”.
The church, Oaks said, wants to:
Reduce the hate and contention so common today.
The church was rocked by a major backlash after it ruled that children of same-sex couples would not be able to join the Mormon Church until they turn 18 — and only if they move out of their parents’ homes, disavow all same-sex relationships and receive approval from the church’s top leadership.
In addition, Mormons in same-sex marriages would be considered apostates and ordered to undergo church disciplinary hearings that could lead to excommunication, a more rigid approach than the church has taken in the past.
The new policy was an effort by the church, which has long opposed same-sex marriage, to reinforce and even harden its doctrinal boundaries for its members at a time when small but increasing numbers of Mormons are coming out as gay or supportive of same-sex marriage.
Said Erika Munson, above, co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges, an organisation supporting LGBTQ people in the community:
I was close to tears. I couldn’t believe it. I felt so much gratitude for every Latter-day Saint who raised their concern about the policy. They made the pain incredibly visible at a time when the church is not growing as much as it used to, when there’s real concern about retention and about millennials leaving. I don’t see how church leaders could have ignored that.
It gives me hope. This is the fastest turnaround I can remember the church has ever done on anything. It doesn’t stop the damage that’s been done, but it does stop further damage.
But for some LGBTQ Mormons, there was a big omission in the church statement: no apology for the policy it introduced in 2015.
Said Kendall Wilcox, also a co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges and an openly gay Latter-day Saint:
Sadly, this change did not come with a recognition of fault by the institutional church or its leaders. No apology. That would have gone a long way in healing hearts and soothing souls. Just a simple statement that they were wrong.
Kathy Carlston, who has housed many homeless LGBTQ people in her apartment with her wife, Berta Marquez expressed fear in 2015 about the impact of the policy on the young people they served. They prayed that church leaders present and past would keep the youth in their community safe. Then last year, Marquez took her own life. Carlston said:
I don’t think the full reason [for her suicide] was that she didn’t feel welcome at church, but it was a factor.
She said Marquez was suffering from withdrawal from anti-anxiety medication.
At a time when she was in crisis, she was in pain, she was unable to go to her church family for refuge.
Carlston said her wife would have viewed this policy change as a major win.
I am filled with a lot of gratitude, just grateful that future generations will not have to suffer in the way that our generation suffered.
But she still wants an apology from the church’s highest authority, its President Russell Nelson, above, who is also a retired heart surgeon.
If I ever had the chance to sit down with President Nelson, I would remind him that as a physician, he made an oath to do no harm, and when harm is done there needs to be reparations. Repentance is a foundational principle of the church. It’s a gift from God. The church needs to utilize its own teachings to make it a safe place for all its members.
Meanwhile, the work continues at a resource center for LGBTQ+ young people and their families in Utah called Encircle. Founder Stephenie Sorensen Larsen started working on the plans for the center just a couple of months after November 2015.
It’s important to remember that these youth and the LGBTQ community often see themselves as sinners and second-class citizens in a religion and in communities that they love. Most of the youth that come to Encircle still believe deeply in the faith that they were raised in. When you believe that God doesn’t love you as you are, they’re left in this place where they have so much self-hatred. It’s sad to see these young people feel so much shame for who they are.
Larsen says the policy change is a good step, but she knows her work is not done.
For the church, it’s a flip of a switch and this is over. For the LGBTQ community, they’ll deal with this for a lifetime. I wish it fixed everything, but the same kids will be here next week.
Hat tip: Mark Palmer