Over the last two weeks, the LDS church has had their new pol­i­cy on LGBT and LGBT chil­dren leaked, pro­vid­ed an expla­na­tion by Christof­fer­son, then final­ly “clar­i­fied” through a state­ment from the first pres­i­den­cy and com­men­tary from Church Pub­lic Affairs.

The church stat­ed that the “ques­tions” regard­ing the pol­i­cy change was caused by “incom­plete news reports, tweets and Face­book posts with­out nec­es­sary con­text and accu­rate infor­ma­tion” that the church was appar­ent­ly going to give to lead­ers. This so-called clar­i­fi­ca­tion was any­thing but. It was a mod­i­fi­ca­tion and back­track, in order to appease the large back­lash from active and inac­tive church mem­bers.

Handbook 1, Section 16.13 policy as released

Let’s look at the Hand­book 1, Sec­tion 16.13 lan­guage regard­ing chil­dren of gays to see why.

A nat­ur­al or adopt­ed child of a par­ent liv­ing in a same-gen­der rela­tion­ship, whether the cou­ple is mar­ried or cohab­it­ing, may not receive a name and a bless­ing. A nat­ur­al or adopt­ed child of a par­ent liv­ing in a same-gen­der rela­tion­ship, whether the cou­ple is mar­ried or cohab­it­ing, may be bap­tized and con­firmed, ordained, or rec­om­mend­ed for mis­sion­ary ser­vice only as fol­lows:

A mis­sion pres­i­dent or a stake pres­i­dent may request approval from the Office of the First Pres­i­den­cy to bap­tize and con­firm, ordain, or rec­om­mend mis­sion­ary ser­vice for a child of a par­ent who has lived or is liv­ing in a same-gen­der rela­tion­ship when he is sat­is­fied by per­son­al inter­views that both of the fol­low­ing require­ments are met:

1. The child accepts and is com­mit­ted to live the teach­ings and doc­trine of the Church, and specif­i­cal­ly dis­avows the prac­tice of same-gen­der cohab­i­ta­tion and mar­riage.

2. The child is of legal age and does not live with a par­ent who has lived or cur­rent­ly lives in a same-gen­der cohab­i­ta­tion rela­tion­ship or mar­riage.

Now to review the “clar­i­fi­ca­tion” released on Novem­ber 13, 2015

The pro­vi­sions of Hand­book 1, Sec­tion 16.13, that restrict priest­hood ordi­nances for minors, apply only to those chil­dren whose pri­ma­ry res­i­dence is with a cou­ple liv­ing in a same-gen­der mar­riage or sim­i­lar rela­tion­ship.
[…]
chil­dren who already have been bap­tized and are are active in the church but are liv­ing with same-gen­der cou­ples can con­tin­ue to receive priest­hood ordi­nances.

The clar­i­fi­ca­tion states that 16.13 only applies to “chil­dren whose pri­ma­ry res­i­dence is with” the par­ent in a same-sex mar­riage. Also, any cur­rent­ly active child is com­plete­ly exclud­ed from this pol­i­cy change, essen­tial­ly “grand­fa­thered” into a ver­sion of Hand­book 1 with­out sec­tion 16.13.

Evidence the Policy Clarification was a Post Hoc Modification

So why isn’t the church’s clar­i­fi­ca­tion just that – adding con­text to the released pol­i­cy? Because the hand­book pol­i­cy, as released, lacks crit­i­cal cri­te­ria and con­tains super­flu­ous lan­guage in light of the clar­i­fi­ca­tion. One impor­tant sen­tence shows how:

A nat­ur­al or adopt­ed child {miss­ing cri­te­ria} of a par­ent liv­ing in a same-gen­der rela­tion­ship […] may be bap­tized and con­firmed, ordained, or rec­om­mend­ed for mis­sion­ary ser­vice only as fol­lows:

First, the clar­i­fi­ca­tion adds in the qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the child to have “pri­ma­ry res­i­dence” with the par­ent. This sort of qual­i­fi­ca­tion needs to be in the hand­book in order to be enforce­able long-term. There is no hand­book for the Hand­book. The Hand­book lan­guage has only one qual­i­fi­ca­tion regard­ing res­i­dence sta­tus, and it applies to the par­ent. No such cri­te­ria applies to the child. Adding a con­di­tion is much more than just pro­vid­ing con­text.

Sec­ond, the clar­i­fi­ca­tion waives sec­tion 16.13 for already bap­tized mem­bers. As far as I am aware, “grand­fa­ther­ing” is essen­tial­ly unheard of for church pol­i­cy changes. Did they grand­fa­ther in the active mem­bers cur­rent­ly liv­ing in a same-sex rela­tion­ship from the apos­ta­sy pol­i­cy change? No. Here is where the rub­ber meets the road: had this been their ini­tial inten­tion, there would have been no real need to include any ordi­nance beyond bap­tism in the pol­i­cy. The phrase “and con­firmed, ordained, or rec­om­mend­ed for mis­sion­ary ser­vice” is unnec­es­sary if the pol­i­cy is only sup­posed to apply to already bap­tized mem­bers. This “clar­i­fi­ca­tion” is only clar­i­fy­ing in that it shows the church is reflex­ive­ly soft­en­ing their posi­tion after real­iz­ing just how many peo­ple were affect­ed by the orig­i­nal lan­guage. There are a full 18 years of chil­dren that are poten­tial­ly impact­ed by the orig­i­nal pol­i­cy, while the parts they didn’t change, like the baby nam­ing and bless­ing, only impacts rough­ly a month or two of new­borns at this moment.

In order to bet­ter illus­trate the point, let’s look at a few alter­na­tive word­ings for this Sec­tion 16.13.

1. How the policy would have been written to not need clarifications

So, had the church always been plan­ning the con­text and clar­i­fi­ca­tion as they claim, what should the pol­i­cy have looked like? There are many ways they could have approached it; I’ve includ­ed one below. Uncor­re­lat­ed Mormon’s blog has an alter­na­tive approach to the same end. This is what the pol­i­cy should new be changed to in the Hand­book, in order to actu­al­ly enforce the pol­i­cy as mod­i­fied:

A nat­ur­al or adopt­ed child of a par­ent liv­ing in a same-gen­der rela­tion­ship, whether the cou­ple is mar­ried or cohab­it­ing, may not receive a name and a bless­ing. A nat­ur­al or adopt­ed child of a par­ent liv­ing in a same-gen­der rela­tion­ship, whether the cou­ple is mar­ried or cohab­it­ing, may be bap­tized and con­firmed, ordained, or rec­om­mend­ed for mis­sion­ary ser­vice only as fol­lows:

• The child is already bap­tized and wish­es to be ordained or rec­om­mend­ed for mis­sion­ary ser­vice;
• The child’s pri­ma­ry res­i­dence is not with the par­ent liv­ing in a same-gen­der rela­tion­ship; OR
A mis­sion pres­i­dent or a stake pres­i­dent may request approval from the Office of the First Pres­i­den­cy to bap­tize and con­firm, ordain, or rec­om­mend mis­sion­ary ser­vice for a child of a par­ent who has lived or is liv­ing in a same-gen­der rela­tion­ship when he is sat­is­fied by per­son­al inter­views that both of the fol­low­ing require­ments are met:

1. The child accepts and is com­mit­ted to live the teach­ings and doc­trine of the Church, and specif­i­cal­ly dis­avows the prac­tice of same-gen­der cohab­i­ta­tion and mar­riage.

2. The child is of legal age and does not live with a par­ent who has lived or cur­rent­ly lives in a same-gen­der cohab­i­ta­tion rela­tion­ship or mar­riage.

2. What the policy could have been while still protecting the church

As explained in Mor­mon Sto­ries Episode 587, there is a poten­tial tort lia­bil­i­ty the church may be try­ing to avoid with this pol­i­cy change. Please lis­ten to that episode if you are inter­est­ed in bet­ter under­stand­ing this con­cern. Essen­tial­ly, bap­tiz­ing the church may cre­ate a “spe­cial rela­tion­ship” between the church and the chil­dren, which could be a basis to sue the church direct­ly or one of the oth­er orga­ni­za­tions of the cor­po­ra­tion which is the church. One exam­ple giv­en is if the active par­ent uti­lizes the church’s teach­ings in order to alien­ate the child from the gay par­ent, and I’m sure there are oth­er poten­tial sit­u­a­tions.

Giv­en their desire to avoid such a lia­bil­i­ty, I pro­pose my non-lawyer­ly rec­om­men­da­tion for what could have mit­i­gat­ed that lia­bil­i­ty, with­out being quite so archa­ic and big­ot­ed:

A nat­ur­al or adopt­ed child of a par­ent liv­ing in a same-gen­der rela­tion­ship, whether the cou­ple is mar­ried or cohab­it­ing, may not receive a name and a bless­ing with­out writ­ten approval of each par­ent with cus­tody rights. A nat­ur­al or adopt­ed minor child of a par­ent liv­ing in a same-gen­der rela­tion­ship, whether the cou­ple is mar­ried or cohab­it­ing, may be bap­tized and con­firmed, ordained, or rec­om­mend­ed for mis­sion­ary ser­vice only if each par­ent with cus­tody rights main­tains a writ­ten approval of the child’s full church par­tic­i­pa­tion. Such approval is allowed to be with­drawn by the par­ent at any time. as fol­lows: A mis­sion pres­i­dent […]

Under this approach, both par­ents must con­tin­ue to be in favor of the child’s par­tic­i­pa­tion. I believe this would indem­ni­fy the cor­po­ra­tion of the church to a large degree, while not pun­ish­ing those fam­i­lies where church atten­dance is still encour­aged or at least per­mit­ted.

3. What the policy would be if the purpose was to protect the children

In Elder Christofferson’s inter­view, the First Pres­i­den­cy let­ter, and the Church Pub­lic Affairs com­men­tary, the same point was made: “Our con­cern with respect to chil­dren is their cur­rent and future well-being and the har­mo­ny of their home envi­ron­ment,” and “Church lead­ers want to avoid putting lit­tle chil­dren in a poten­tial tug-of-war between same-sex cou­ples at home and teach­ings and activ­i­ties at church.” How­ev­er truth­ful or noble those con­cerns may be, the Sec­tion 16.13 real­ly does noth­ing direct­ly to pro­tect chil­dren in that way.

For­bid­ding a nam­ing and bless­ing, bap­tism, con­fir­ma­tion, ordi­na­tion, or mis­sion rec­om­men­da­tion has noth­ing to do with stop­ping a tug-of-war between home life and church teach­ings. The things being pro­hib­it­ed are all rit­u­als of the church. Any child attend­ing but not par­tic­i­pat­ing in the rit­u­als is still hear­ing every sin­gle teach­ing of the church. To reit­er­ate one more time: the church’s anti-gay teach­ings have no rela­tion to the pro­hib­it­ed rit­u­als.

If the church is actu­al­ly going to pro­tect the chil­dren from the church’s teach­ings, I rec­om­mend they adopt the fol­low­ing pol­i­cy “clar­i­fi­ca­tions”:

A nat­ur­al or adopt­ed minor child of a par­ent who has lived or is liv­ing in a same-gen­der rela­tion­ship, whether the cou­ple is mar­ried or cohab­it­ing, may not attend church. receive a name and a bless­ing. A nat­ur­al or adopt­ed child of a par­ent liv­ing […]

Short and sweet, right? Alter­na­tive­ly, the church could also rec­om­mend the par­ent in a same-gen­der rela­tion­ship be giv­en full cus­tody so that the child is not sub­ject to church teach­ing at home, dur­ing church activ­i­ties such as home teach­ing, vis­it­ing teach­ing, fam­i­ly home evening, etc. I don’t see them tak­ing this approach, even though it is the only solu­tion to achieve their stat­ed goal.

4. What the policy should be

Final­ly, I want to end with what the pol­i­cy should be, in my per­spec­tive. The first of my two rec­om­men­da­tions is to just remove Sec­tion 16.13 com­plete­ly. Alter­na­tive­ly:

In accor­dance with Arti­cle of Faith 2, a nat­ur­al or adopt­ed child of a par­ent liv­ing in a same-gen­der rela­tion­ship, whether the cou­ple is mar­ried or cohab­it­ing, should be treat­ed equal­ly in every way. Ward or Branch lead­er­ship should check any mis­treat­ment or bul­ly-type behav­ior that may occur due to the church’s strong posi­tion against same-gen­der rela­tion­ships. may not receive a name […]

5. Other alternatives?

Do you agree with my revi­sions?
Are there any oth­er “clar­i­fi­ca­tions” you would rec­om­mend the church adopt?
Let me know in the com­ments!

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Wes TrexlerDave MackOwen Leonard Recent comment authors
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Dave Mack

The only ques­tion I would ask to this is. Are gay par­ents going to want their chil­dren to attend a church that con­sid­ers their union in rebel­lion against Gods law of chasti­ty?

The church has the same pol­i­cy regard­ing chil­dren who are from polyg­a­mous fam­i­lies. I do not know of any sto­ries that polyg­a­mous par­ents are demand­ing their chil­dren be allowed to be bap­tized into the church.

I would be sur­prised if gay par­ents demand­ed that their chil­dren be allowed to be bap­tized. That being said we live in a soci­ety were any­thing can hap­pen.

Owen Leonard
Owen Leonard

It is entire­ly pos­si­ble that the gay par­ent has joint cus­tody and is ful­ly sup­port­ive of their child attend­ing church with the straight par­ent and being bap­tized, even if they have > 50% cus­tody. In fact, if you search, you will find posts and face­book com­ments of this actu­al­ly tak­ing place. Just because some­one is gay doesn’t mean they are 100% against the church, or don’t see good in the church.

Dave Mack

I guess I see that as con­tra­dic­to­ry for gay par­ents to sup­port their chil­dren attend­ing a church that sees them as apos­tates but to each their own.

Owen Leonard
Owen Leonard

Yes, it is con­tra­dic­to­ry, but there are more things that keep peo­ple con­nect­ed to the church than just doc­tri­nal agree­ment. Peo­ple stay, or sup­port their chil­dren stay­ing, for social, famil­ial, and cul­tur­al rea­sons. It can be real­ly com­plex, and real­ly only explained ful­ly by the per­son in that par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stance.

Dave Mack

You make some valid points.

There is noth­ing that states that chil­dren of gay par­ents can­not attend church meet­ings or church spon­sored activ­i­ties. Hope­ful­ly lead­ers and their lds friends will be con­sid­er­ate of their sit­u­a­tion.
As of now though chil­dren in this sit­u­a­tion who want to get bap­tized will have to wait till they are 18 or get spe­cial approval from the first pres­i­den­cy.