Friday, November 6, 2015

Church policy on children of gay couples: An act of mercy and compassion.

It's the #1 trending topic on Facebook right now (Nov. 6, 2015): The Mormon church has affirmed that their policy does not allow children of gay couples to be blessed, baptized, or receive other priesthood ordinances, as long as they are living with the parent who is living in a homosexual relationship.

Unfortunately it's trending because most of the world misunderstands the purpose behind this policy. Most headlines say something to the effect of "Mormon church announces ban on baptism of children of same-sex couples".  Many use the phrase "Mormon church excludes children of same sex couples".  The vast majority see this as a way for the LDS church to punish those who don't agree with them.

People who are offended by this policy do not understand the purpose of ordinances such as baptism. In the LDS church, a person is considered an official member of the church when they are baptized, but that is not the reason we baptize our members.  Baptism is first and foremost a covenant with God; you promise to live by His standards and in return He promises to forgive your sins AND give you the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. That is the purpose of baptism. If someone breaks God's commandments after making the covenant to keep them, they are under a greater condemnation than if they had violated His standards without making the covenant. This is one of the reasons we don't baptize children before they are 8 years old: they do not understand what is right and wrong, and if we were to put them under covenant to always do right, we would be setting them up for failure since they don't know what that means. Instead, we wait to give them that responsibility until they are ready to live up to it.

I want to share a brief story about a woman I taught on my mission. For this blog post, we'll call her Sarah. Sarah was a single mother who wanted very badly to be baptized. She believed in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, she had a testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that he saw and heard what he said he saw and heard.  She attended church every week, and was constantly praying and studying her scriptures. She knew it was true and tried her best to live the commandments. But Sarah was not allowed to be baptized because of one thing: Sarah worked in a prostitution house.

Now, let me be clear, Sarah was NOT a prostitute.  She fully lived the law of chastity.  Her job at the prostitution house was to "assign" girls to customers.  She was basically the receptionist who made the work flow easier.  She worked there because it was good money and most of her hours were at night, which allowed her to be with her kids during the day. She didn't agree with the work; in fact most of the time she encouraged the girls who worked there to get out of the industry.  She in no way wanted to be part of it, but for the time it was how she provided for her family.

We could not baptize Sarah while she held this employment - not because we thought she was being rebellious or because we wanted to exclude her, but out of love and mercy for her specific situation.  Had we baptized Sarah, she would have been held to a covenant and responsibility which, under the circumstances, would have been impossible for her to live up to.  How could we expect her to "always remember Him (Christ)" when she spends 40+ hours a week around people in the act of fornicating?  How could we promise her that the Holy Ghost would be her companion to teach her and warn her of danger when she is constantly in an environment that He won't enter?  It was better to wait until she was in a position where she was actually capable of living her covenant before asking her to take that responsibility.

That is the same thing the LDS church is doing with children who live with same-sex parents who are living in a homosexual relationship.  These children are not being excluded from blessings, but rather they are being given a break from being held to the same standard as the vast majority of members. Their home environment makes it almost impossible for the Holy Ghost to dwell with them because they are constantly surrounded by a lifestyle that embraces one of the most serious sins a person can commit.  The Church isn't saying "We don't like you (or your parents), so you can't be part of our club". They are saying "We recognize that it would be almost impossible for you to keep these covenants, so we are relieving you of the responsibility...for now."   If the church were to baptize those children, it would be setting them up for failure because they are not in a position where they could fully keep their covenants. It is an act of mercy towards those children, not an act of punishment. In releasing them of responsibility, those children CANNOT fall under condemnation for breaking their covenants, because those covenants were never made. This means that if they were to violate God's laws (which is more likely to happen if they are being taught at home that such a lifestyle is okay), then God can show greater mercy to them because they were not under obligation to keep them in the first place.

It is the same when the church needs to remove someone's name from the records through ex-communication.  It isn't a way of saying "You were naughty so we don't want you anymore" but rather a way of saying "you aren't in a position to keep your covenants right now, so you are relieved from that responsibility until you can put yourself in a position to keep them".

Now, obviously those who aren't baptized or have been ex-communicated cannot receive certain blessings, such as having the promise of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, or receiving forgiveness of their sins by renewing their covenants through partaking of the Sacrament.  But they can do their very best to live God's commandments, and they will still receive blessings in accordance with those laws to which they adhere.  They are always welcome to attend church, to participate in activities, and to volunteer/participate in almost every aspect as those who are currently baptized. They are not condemned for not participating in something that is not available to them. God understands their situation and judges accordingly.  He will never hold someone accountable for something that truly is out of their hands.

If there is a child of a same-sex couple who wants to be baptized but cannot (due to this policy), and they live their life in accordance with the gospel anyway, they will receive as many blessings as God can give them. They will still receive the promised blessings to the laws to which they are obedient.  If something should happen to them and they die before they are at the age when they can leave home and choose to be baptized, God will not deny them the fullness of His blessings.  I believe He will treat that situation the same as He does children who die before the age of accountability.  They are not condemned or lost because they died before they had a chance to be baptized.  They are saved because God is understanding that it was not their fault.

I would now like to finish my story about Sarah.  Sarah decided that it was a higher priority for her to be baptized and receive the promised blessings that come with that covenant, than to continue working at a place where she felt she could always count on a secure pay.  After months of struggling with the decision, she quit her job and was baptized the very next morning.  It was really hard for her to find work after that, but she never returned to the prostitution industry.  To this day (as far as I know) she is still really struggling to find employment that pays as much as when she worked as the receptionist - but she is happy because she lives her covenants to God, and He in turn makes up the differences that she can't provide financially.  She has received her temple recommend and been able to enter the temple in Buenos Aires.  The act of making her wait until she was in an environment to fully live her covenants and fully receive the promised blessings was one of mercy and compassion.  Waiting gave her the chance to keep her covenants from the start, rather than make them prematurely, and then break them.  Waiting set her up for success rather than failure.

I give thanks for leaders who understand that some situations make it more difficult to live your covenants, and that they willingly extend mercy to people in those situations by not holding them accountable.  I support the church and their policies, and I testify that God loves and wants all of his children to come home.  These policies only further facilitate that possibility.

***Some may wonder why I did not address the part of the church policy that states that members who embrace a same-sex couple lifestyle by living with or marrying a partner of the same gender are considered "apostate".  I didn't bring it up simply because it needs no explanation. This has always been the standard of the church, and this is not something that will change.
See the first paragraph under "Same-Gender Relationships" for why this standard will not change***
**Also please note that the views expressed in this blog post are not representative of the views of the Church.  I speak solely as myself and the views expressed are my own.**