There’s been a lot of chatter since the recent announcement that children of LGBT parents could be blessed and baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, especially given that the previous policy barring their baptisms until they turn 18 was just formalized in 2015. Deseret News has a nice opinion piece about the friction that exists between certain doctrines and the challenge of properly emphasizing each. In this case the challenging balance between loving our fellow man and condemning sin. I won’t reproduce the article here, but it makes some nice points. From President Oaks’ remarks, it’s clear that the Lord is inviting us to lean further on the side of understanding and compassion.
While talking about the policy change in seminary, I had a student say, “Does this mean gay people will be welcome at church now?” That question hurt my heart. I replied, “Who is not welcome at church?” The class just sat there in silence. Seems we have room for more compassion and understanding.
Now to the subtleties of the policy change:
In talking to Church members, reading news articles, and perusing social media, it appears the general perception is that the Church simply reversed the baptism policy. But upon closer reading, it seems there was a more subtle policy change that then led to the reversal of the baptism policy. That subtle change is described in President Oak's statement: "Previously, our Handbook characterized same-gender marriage by a member as apostasy. While we still consider such a marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline.”
What many church members may not know is that Church Handbook 1 specifies a difference between transgressions that may require a disciplinary council, and transgressions that always require a disciplinary council. There are some mistakes that only involve a disciplinary council when the individual is seeking full repentance. This list includes a variety of serious transgressions There are other actions that, whether a person wants to seek repentance or not, the Church feels an obligation to actively pursue disciplinary action to protect innocent Church members and the reputation of the Church itself.
This means that there are certain things a person can do that will get them removed from the church, whether they want to repent or not. Some struggle with this policy, but it is only rational that the Church has a right to remove members who act contrary to Church teachings. Transgressions on this list include murder, incest, child abuse, and apostasy. Apostasy is a broad term used to describe members who consistently oppose the church, intentionally teach false doctrine, follow apostate sects, or formally join another church. All of this of course after ample encouragement to stop.
Up until this announcement, entering into a same-gender marriage was considered apostasy. The change announced by President Oaks means that same gender-marriage will no longer be on that list of transgressions that demand a disciplinary council, but instead will fall onto the list of transgressions that may require a disciplinary council. Thus, priesthood leaders no longer have an obligation to actively discipline members in same-sex marriages. Instead (presumably) that disciplinary process would only come if and when the member seeks repentance.
With this change, the policy about the children is a logical consequence. Before, when same-gender marriage was considered apostasy, a priesthood leader had an obligation to actively pursue their removal from the church. It made sense to say that the children of such people should not be baptized. It was a conflict of interests of sorts. Now that deeper conflict has been removed.
Many are skeptical or critical of such changes as they occur in the Church. Perhaps in the future I will address this in greater depth, but to those who see this as evidence that Church leaders are in fact not inspired, I would say this:
First, If you study the history of the Church in any degree of depth, you will see that it has always been so in the Church. The process of revelation,"line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” has always been messy, a crooked path that makes little sense until you see it in hindsight. If we duly consider our own efforts to be guided by revelation throughout our lives, we would likely see the same pattern. God is not in the business of holding our hands through everything. He doesn’t do it for us individually and he doesn’t do it for the Church. He never has, even though an overly simplistic view of Church history makes it seem otherwise. I believe this is due to both our mortal frailties and by design of God’s plan. It takes work to find our way by faith.
Lastly, If it troubles us to belong to a church that periodically changes policies and practices, it could be worse. We could belong to a Church that doesn't change. Imagine that! Many people see our claim to modern revelation as a convenient excuse to make changes whenever Church leaders want. But to be fair, isn’t that the whole point? Why would we even need modern prophets if it weren’t to help us adapt to changing circumstances in the world?