Exclusive club

On Thursday,  November 5, 2015 (yesterday), the LDS church updated its handbook of instruction.  This is a manual that is intended for local lay leadership of the church (bishops and stake presidents) to provide general instruction on how the church should be run.  Among the changes were two points that discriminate against homosexual couples.  The first is that "Are in a same-gender marriage" was added to the list of offenses which qualify as "apostasy" (see an image of that quote here).  The second is that children living with parents who are in a same-sex relationship (whether married or not, whether natural born or adopted children) are not allowed to be given a name and a blessing in the church (an ordinance performed on infants) nor to be baptized and become members of the church.  Once they reach the age of 18, if they move out of their parents' house and disavow their parents' relationship, with the permission of the President of the church, they may be allowed to join.

I spoke with a friend last night who is an active Mormon and one of the very few I know who is fine with openly criticizing church leadership (which should constitute apostasy, according to the first item in the list in the image linked above).  He said that he believed this change was instituted by some subcommittee somewhere and once the higher church leaders (the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) hears about it, they'll reverse it.  He seemed to believe it would happen within the next couple months.  I am more skeptical.  Time will tell.

However, I will say that I believe this policy to be discriminatory and harmful.  It harms the church because it shows the church as intolerant and unwelcoming of gay people.  It is complicated because the church has made efforts in recent years to try to build bridges to be more inclusive of gay people.  They haven't done much, but it is significant for them.  They have gone from asserting that being gay is sinful to asserting that there is no sin in being gay.  Students at BYU who come out as homosexual in the past would have been expelled, since it would be found to be a violation of the honor code.  However, now gay students are not expelled unless they are sexually active.  (I realize this isn't much, but it is progress.)  This new policy is several steps backward for the church.  It sends the clear message that gay people are not wanted, and their children are also not wanted.  I know several gay former Mormons who have children through their past marriages to people of the opposite sex.  Their children are affected by this.

It is a harmful policy because it alienates gay people.  It exacerbates the already unstable relationship between the gay community and the church.  It sends the message that gay people are not wanted.  It discriminates against innocent children who are raised by loving same-sex couples.

I agree with my friend that this policy will eventually be reversed, but I believe it will be much longer.  I believe it will be years or even a couple decades before the policy changes.  Brown v Board of Education was ruled in 1954.  The LDS church continued its discriminatory policy against black people (which banned them from holding priesthood positions) until 1978.  The church has always been dragged kicking and screaming behind society into a more tolerant worldview.  This issue is no different.  It was popular to discriminate against gays as recent as 20 years ago.  It is now popular to accept and tolerate gays.  A majority of voters now believe that gays should be allowed to marry.

But I also believe that this policy contradicts the church's own doctrine.  I will cite several sources indicating why I believe this.  These will all be taken directly from the church's website, LDS.org

The second Article of Faith states: "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression."
So, for this argument, let us concede the church's assertion that engaging in homosexual behavior is sinful (in this case, cohabitating with a partner of the same sex).  According to this article, people should be held accountable only for their own sins.  So the parents (the gay couple) can be held responsible for this sin.  But the children should not.  They have not committed any sin.  They have not engaged in any homosexual behavior.  They are being banned from church because their parents have sinned.

These last four are examples of welcoming statements, inviting all to come unto God.  The first three are canon, they are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  The last is a General Conference talk given by one of the members of the First Presidency, the highest governing body of the church.

2 Nephi 26:33 : "...and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile."

Luke 18:16 : "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God."

Isaiah 55:1 : "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price."

Dieter Uchtdorf's talk "Come, Join With Us" given October 2013: "Regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church."

I believe these three (and many others, I'm sure) are quite clear.  All people who want to come to church and worship Christ should be allowed.  All people.  Not just straight people.  Not just white people.  Not just tall people or thin people or beautiful people or rich people.  All people.  If you're poor or ugly or black or brown or gay or trans, you should be welcome.  The only requirement is an earnest desire to follow Christ.  In another talk given by Dieter Uchtdorf entitled "The Merciful Obtain Mercy", he said, quoting a bumper sticker he had seen on someone's car, "Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you."  Many talks have been given to the effect that church members should be tolerant of other members and allow them to be in a different place along their path to salvation, asserting that no one is perfect so no one should judge others for being imperfect.

I will conclude with an assertion of my own personal policy.  I welcome people who are different.  I welcome gay people, straight people, black, white, brown, tall, thin, fat, short, sexy, plain, educated, uneducated, religious, and irreligious.  I have many friends who belong to different categories.  I feel no need to exclude any of them from my life because they are different from me, whether those differences are innate or personal preference.  I do exclude some people from my life.  These are people who have treated me poorly.  I had an uncle who railed on me for being gay and for being critical of the church.  I have a friend I knew from Knoxville who relentlessly attacked me for being gay.  I have cut a handful of people out of my life because they have made my life unpleasant.  But I welcome anyone who wishes to contribute in a positive way. I do not turn away people who are Mormon.  I do not turn away people of any particular faith.  I do not turn away anyone based on traits out of their control.  I judge them based on how they treat me and how they treat others.  And I believe that is the best criterion by which to judge people.