08 November 2015

It would be better that a millstone ...

It has been a busy weekend with back-to-back scientific conferences in two states. It has been a tiring few days, but in my spare moments I have been thinking a lot about the LDS Church’s new policy towards children of same-sex parents. I’ve absorbed what I could on-line: denunciations of the policy by critics of the Church, stories of families affected by these changes, and even a few defenses of the offensive policy. I’ve tried to assemble some thoughts early this morning, on a flight, and now at the PDX airport.

The new policy targets LGB people and their families in a few ways. First, it establishes that same-sex marriage is an offense of apostasy, and therefore requires mandatory Church discipline. (Note that not even actual serious crimes like child abuse mandate automatic church discipline.) It is a clear message to LGBT Mormons that the Church condemns the relationships that are most likely to bring them happiness. It sends a message to bishops that they cannot just let the nice gay couple in their ward sneak under the radar without punishment. Second, the policy sets out administrative rules for the children of parents that are (or have even been) in same-sex relationships. These children now cannot receive the main saving ordinances of the Church, including baptism, until they are 18. At that time, they cannot not reside in a same-sex household, they must attest that they do not accept the legitimacy of same-sex relationships (including mom or dad’s), and they must have permission from the highest authorities of the Church to then be baptized.

One has to seriously question any notion that this policy is needed to clarify church doctrine. If there is one thing anyone in the United States would know about the Mormons these days it could very well be the fact they are opposed to same-sex marriage. If that wasn’t obvious from Proposition 8, consider that it is repeated ad infinitum in general conference talks, press releases, stories by news media and by faithful members as they post their views on social media with family and friends. In fact, the Church’s anti-gay marriage position may be so well known that it could run the risk of drowning out the message that Mormonism should really focus on bringing to humanity – following Jesus’ example of love and service to transform one’s own soul.

As I’ve thought about the possible motivations for issuing the policy, it is impossible to surmise the actual intentions of Church leaders. Perhaps it is a way for church leadership to assert its relevance into questions of gay marriage and gay relationships that the Church has been solidly losing in the courts and in public discourse. One blogger thought the motivation might be a simple act of flexing institutional power, an assertion that wouldn’t seem inconsistent with other moments in Mormon history. Mostly, it seems very controlling to me. But regardless of the motivations, the potential for harm is great. True, for many Mormon or ex-Mormon individuals and families, this will have little relevance. For others it will result in disruption and conflict. In the end, it serves the interest of the Church only and few else. That is a sad indictment of a religion that claims to speak for God.

In my present circumstances, I don’t think the policy directly affects me or my children. I am still married to my wife (and not in a same-sex relationship) and my spouse and children only partly attend church. But we very well could be affected directly under different circumstances, especially as life evolves into the future. Thursday evening as I read the breaking news flooding over social media as I walked the isles of the supermarket, I felt a lot of anger. I felt hurt again, like an old wound was yet again being opened. Not content to leave us in peace, the Church needed to remind us of our “sin” yet again. The Church needed to remind us that God doesn’t approve of gay relationships yet again.

I do know of former gay Mormons who are much more likely to be impacted. These are friends and others who have previously been in mixed orientation marriages. They have divorced and left the Church, but their still-believing spouses wish to raise the children in Mormonism. These are among the families affected by this policy and these families are not necessarily a small minority in the LGBT community. I could write volumes about how difficult mixed orientation marriages are for everyone involved – straight spouse, gay spouse, and children. My own experience, which is no where from nearing its end, has involved years of navigating sorrow, disappointment, and confusion.

If I could articulate the root of my anger, it might be the repeated insensitivity of LDS church leadership towards the broader LGBT family, and especially towards those of us working through the complexity of mixed orientation marriages. Indeed, it was the doctrine and culture of Mormonism that created an environment in which these marriages were more likely to occur in the first place. Now, our complex and trying circumstances are left scattered over the battlefield Mormonism has waged with the LGBT community and we are largely abandoned. There is no official apology: “We are sorry to have once encouraged you to marry; we apologize for teaching false information about homosexuality; we regret that our doctrine on the family has been so narrow; we are sorry that you felt so much pressure to conform to a heterosexual ideal that doesn’t fit who you are.”

If the Church wanted to really help our families, policies that might further divide families should be the absolute last thing it would consider. It would provide resources to help us through family adjustments or through divorce; it would replace its false teachings about homosexuality and gay relationships with sound research on sexuality; it would plead with God to reveal a healthy and sustainable path for LGBT people within the Church. It would not issue a policy that only makes it harder for some of our families to reach a place of peace and reconciliation.

I don’t believe anymore, and for many reasons, not just because I’m gay. In many ways this chapter of life is over. Yet through extended family and close friends, because of a decade and a half of life dedicated to the Church, and through the cultural imprints that will continue to influence me in even small ways going forward, I won’t ever know a time when I’m not touched in some way by the Church. In many respects that legacy has been positive. But on sexuality, the Church is dead wrong. It owns a long legacy of incorrect teachings about homosexuality and it bears much responsibility for the damage that has caused to individuals and families.

The best outcome now for me is to part peaceably from the Church. I have done so all but officially. But, the Church needs to leave us alone too. If church leadership consistently chooses to turn LGBT issues into a cultural war, they will lose. If you look at the emerging science of sexuality and gay relationships, you will know they have lost. If you get to know a gay person, and see their struggle and humanity, you will know the church has lost. And if you consider the un-severable bond between parents and children, even gay parents and their children, you will know they have lost. Only a fool would think to stand between a mama bear and her cub.

To my LDS friends: please speak up about this policy. Please speak with your local Church leaders or write to Church leaders. Please support the LGBT Mormons and ex-Mormons in your lives, and especially the children of these individuals.