Children of same-sex parents no longer able to be baptized
Earlier this month, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints caused controversy within and outside the church when elders changed the handbook’s policies regarding homosexual relationships.
Also known as the Mormon Church, the handbook was edited to regard those in same-sex relationships as apostates and removed the right to baptism from their children until they are adults.
“There was a need for a distinction to be made between what may be legal and what may be the law of the Church and the law of the Lord and how we respond to that,” said Elder D. Todd Christofferson in an interview posted on the church’s website.
The church’s handbook is a guide of church policies written by church elders for church leaders. In the Mormon Church, apostasy is a loaded word, basically a traitor to the church and its teachings, defined by Brigham Young University’s Mormon encyclopedia as when “an individual or community rejects the revelations and ordinances of God.”
John Gustav-Wrathall, senior vice president of Affirmation, an LGBT Mormon group, said he had heard rumors brewing but received confirmation that they were false – so the group was as shocked as anyone else with the change.
“Even to people that I know who are in the know were surprised by this,” he said.
Christofferson explained that the reason for not allowing children of same-sex couples to be baptized is the same as children of polygamous families – the church did not want to confuse children with what they were seeing at home and then being taught at church, and when they are of age they can make their own decision.
“We don’t want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the Church are very different,” he said. “When a child reaches majority, he or she feels like that’s what they want and they can make an informed and conscious decision about that.”
However, this decision has left even conservative Mormons confused, since the children have no control over their parents’ sexual orientation, and it would require them to denounce their parent’s lifestyle. Also, family is a big part of the Mormon faith.
William McKell, a gay Mormon living in Coral Gables, first heard about the changes from a group he is a member of on Facebook, Mormons Building Bridges. Members started posting on the page, and some threatened to leave the church.
McKell was an active member of the church until he came out. He is still listed as a member in church records, but chose not to have it removed out of respect for his devout family. Instead, he considers himself to be culturally Mormon.
“A lot of people when this whole decision was made, they said ‘That’s a fucking hypocrisy and I’m leaving,’” McKell said. “I felt a confirmation of, I knew they never really accepted me. I can’t really say I was very hurt. I’m kind of glad they revealed who they really are.”
He added that a woman on the group said she is working to have her name removed from the Church records, and her straight brother is doing the same out of solidarity. McKell’s own family was stunned by the ruling.
“[My dad is a] very logical guy and up to now he does what the church does,” he explained. “When his sister came out as a lesbian in the ‘80s he was totally not with it. But now since it’s me, it’s been harder… his words exactly were ‘I don’t know why they did this.’”
Gustav-Wrathall has children himself, so hearing the ruling was painful for him. He also noted that many LGBT people might not be a part of the church, but out of tradition raise their children in the church and still support it.
“These individuals have sacrificed to put kids on missions and have supported their kids in the church and this just felt like a brutal slap in the face to them,” he said. “The feeling that I had initially was the church was basically telling us that we’re so toxic that anybody we touch is not acceptable and doesn’t belong…. I don’t think a lot of people were necessarily buying that this is for the protection of children.”
Gustav-Wrathall said that after they heard the news, those involved in Affirmation fasted, prayed, and held a vigil. To counter the ruling, they are planning a campaign to profile different LGBT Mormons and their families to put a face to the issue. When he went to church the following Sunday, he said a line of people came up to hug him and show their support for him and his family.
“This has terrified a lot of gay and lesbian parents I’ve talked to. They felt this was a calculated effort to put a wedge between them and their kids, by saying you have to choose in order to be a member of the church,” Gustav-Wrathall said. “We all need to work together as a community, conservative and liberal.”