In April of this year, I listened with relief as Dallin H. Oaks, second in line in the Mormon leadership, announced prior to the semi-annual General Conference that the November 2015 policy proclaiming same-sex married couples apostates, subject to excommunication, and their couples ineligible for baptism or full inclusion in the church until age 18, when they would have to obtain permission from The First Presidency after renouncing their parents’ lifestyle. At the time, I was appalled and called for Mormons to express their protests by wearing black (to represent mourning) along with rainbow ribbons (to express support), as I did during the next three and a half years.
Ultimately, I was unable to continue to participate in the Mormon church and started a sabbatical only months before the policy ended. I could no longer unsee the deep inequality of LGBT members in the church, who are told that they are welcome, but that there is no place for them in heaven unless they are changed by God to be straight and cisgender. There are other problems in the church, including financial transparency and women’s equality, but it was my seeing those who were trying to stay in good fellowship being pushed out either explicitly or implicitly, told they must be celibate their whole lives (something that is very un-Mormon in my understanding of doctrine) and to take the entirety of the work of educating others onto their own shoulders.
Nonetheless, I was glad that the policy (as I thought) had been changed and that the leadership was, perhaps, coming to see what the problems were in their insistence in using the wrong labels “same-sex attraction” instead of “gay” and other rejecting terminology for those they claimed to love. I had hoped it was a step forward, though I thought it was cowardly for the leadership to refuse to issue an apology of any kind or even to admit that the policy had been a policy in the first place and not a revelation from God.
Now, after President Russell M. Nelson’s talk at BYU this week, combined with peeks of the new Handbook, which shows no change regarding the excommunication of “apostate” same-sex married couples, I realize that the supposed reversal of the policy never occurred as promised by Dallin H. Oaks in April 2019 ( https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/first-presidency-messages-general-conference-leadership-session-april-2019). It was an “adjustment” only, and such a small and cowardly one that I am not only disappointed but honestly disgusted by the move.
After explaining that parents who requested an exception to the policy directly from the First Presidency were most often granted it (something never suggested as possible in the original Handbook policy, at least not until age 18), Nelson says, “ As a result of our continued supplication, we recently felt directed to adjust the policy such that the baptism of children of LGBT parents may be authorized by bishops without First Presidency approval, if the custodial parents request the baptism and understand that a child will be taught about sacred covenants to be made at baptism.” https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/russell-m-nelson/love-laws-god/
The only difference, which we are apparently supposed to applaud the Mormon church leaders for because of their “love for the children” is that now, instead of having to get permission from the First Presidency for baptism, children of same-sex married couples (many of whom were born in mixed orientation marriages which were encouraged by the church) can now be given exceptions by their bishops. Children are “allowed” to be baptized, but it is not automatic as it is for other children, and same-sex parents are still going to be shamed — and can be denied permission.
That’s what we’re supposed to celebrate? This is no change in attitude at all toward LGBT people. There is no love here, no understanding, no attempt to sit in another’s experience, and no grace. This is a tiny PR move, so that the First Presidency can point to local leadership as the cause of any problem and wash their hands of it, freeing up their time to do the undoubtedly far more important work of overseeing the building of temples and other financial investments of the corporate church. Honestly, I don’t know why I expected better. If I’m angry at the bait and switch, I am forced to remind myself of the old adage: Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. I’ll try not to be so gullible or hopeful the next time around.
(H/t to Radio Free Mormon and Bill Reel on this one: https://radiofreemormon.org/2019/09/7446/)