As introduced in a previous post, here is a proposed “map” of the conversation happening right now. Feedback is welcome!
1. Do these recent policy changes reflect coldness or cruelty on the part of Church leaders?
- Yes, of course. Even if not intended to be cruel, the practical effect on families can only be described as such. Anyone paying attention should be able to see that.
- Even though the intention may have been positive, the larger practical effect of these policies is outright cruel. A mistake was clearly made. If people were paying attention, they would see that.
- Neither in intention nor in its practical effect do these policy changes reflect inherent cruelty to children or families. Those open to hearing where the Church is coming from will be able to understand at least that.
2. Won’t these new policies be harmful and damaging for any child with a gay parent?
- Yes, of course. It will be deeply painful for children not to be able to be baptized like other children around them. By excluding a child from full participation in the church, they may be prevented from developing sensitivity to the companionship of the Holy Ghost in their formative years. In addition, these children will feel further stigmatized. Anyone who has a gay parent will be affected.
- Those making this claim seem to be ignoring the intense pain a child may experience hearing teachings at Church that contradict the experience they trust at home. In this sense, this policy respects the family structure in place without forcing a young child to decide between his or her family and the Church – placing that child in an impossible situation. Only children where full custody is held by a gay couple will be affected.
3. I understand the Church drawing a line on same-sex marriage, but why did they bring children into this?
- Church leaders clearly crossed a line by involving children. It’s hard to see whatever could have motivated this, except a mean-spirited and callous attitude toward gay families.
- The legalization of gay marriage forced the Church to take action to protect all involved – including children. Without a clear line, ordinances would also have been the scene of continual conflict between the Church and gay families – something that some gay activists had openly hoped might one day press the Church’s hand to make changes.
4. Are these new policies about exclusion, barring or denying people blessings?
- Yes, of course. How else can ordinance restrictions and disciplinary councils be understood. It’s hard to understand why not even children of rapists and addicts face these kinds of restrictions in the Church.
- Although in the short-term these policies function in a restrictive way, no individual will be denied ordinances or blessings when they are ready. This follows the policy towards polygamous families – who (like gay families) differ from other family circumstances in that the latter has no intention or hope of helping the Church to change its beliefs and actions to align with their own. Thus, the same level of potential conflict does not exist across these circumstances.
5. What would Christ Himself think of these new policies?
- Christ never turned away children during his own ministry, so the Church is clearly ignoring how He acted. Since God doesn’t punish children for the action of parents, He must be abhorred by these changes. To be Christ-like means, among other things, to include and accept everyone as they are and who they are.
- Christ has authority to judge and did not shy away from drawing a line at God’s law (including where children were concerned). Even though Christ was willing to meet with and love everyone, that’s not the same thing as saying he accepted and included everyone. The gospel message centers on how God intends to change us in a mighty way – rather than only accept us as we are.
6. Why would the Church need to draw such a sharp line on gay marriage – when increasing numbers support it?
- Because of fear, hatred and misunderstanding. If religious conservatives understood gay people and how normal their lives are, they wouldn’t need to fear.
- Because of what is embraced as God’s will. For a people who believe we are literally children of God with the potential to become like our Heavenly Parents, it seems sensible to want to preserve a clear pathway to exaltation – including for those who currently identify as gay.
7. Doesn’t this decision illustrate how far removed from the needs and desires of actual members that Church leaders have become?
- You bet. Church leaders are far removed from the daily affairs of real people – and seem to know (and care) little about the problems they are facing. Among other things, this decision disrupts people’s trust in the moral authority of the prophets.
- Not quite. After receiving requests from local leaders, Church leaders spent many months contemplating and pondering the right course forward. To those more closely involved in the process, it seems clear this was not an easy decision – and made in response to more than larger public opinion alone.
8. Doesn’t this represent a departure from the “progress” the Church was making?
- Unfortunately yes. This is both surprising and shocking given the positive steps the Church had been taking – rather than moving towards the fairness and compassion that others have encouraged. Two steps forward, twelve back.
- From one view of “progress,” it may appear this way. But there are different visions of progress – just as there are contrasting views of fairness and compassion. And from a religious conservative worldview, there is a consistency in the Church’s stances both towards marriage and public dialogue itself – even as members continue to stretch in their love for those who disagree.
9. But doesn’t the Church care about the happiness of gay individuals?
- Clearly not. Otherwise, they would support what gay individuals find to be bringing them happiness – and appreciate how painful their stance continues to be for the gay community. This is utterly shocking – and contrary to what an organization attempting to follow Christ should ever look like. Furthermore, it seems to be an attempt to subtly pressure gay couples to remain in traditional marriages.
- Of course it does. But different understandings of fundamental identity and eternity lead to different conclusions about the pathway to ultimate happiness. And for Mormons, that involves becoming like our Father and Mother in the practice of family life. Even if it doesn’t yet seem possible for some, we hold out that ideal as something to strive for as best we can (without pressuring or forcing anyone who disagrees).
10. All in all, isn’t the Church responsible for a great deal of pain right now – just as they have long been to the gay community?
- Clearly yes. If Church leaders didn’t insist on putting out so many hurtful things, the burden and suffering of gay Mormons would be relieved. This unfair and unkind decision is the sole reason for this week’s sorrow – and creates a situation of impossible dilemma for gay/SSA individuals in the Church.
- To attribute all suffering to adherence to what we have always held to be God’s law is to ignore the myriad, hundreds of factors in human pain. At least some responsibility for the current furor goes to Mormon activists who cultivated an expectation that the Church was ‘on the way’ to changing in a way that raised hopes in possibilities contradictory with consistent prophetic statements. Many have found the dilemmas that can seem unending and inherent as potentially workable and resolvable within the current doctrine of the Church.
Living out the Stories. Depending on how you answer these questions, of course, you will understandably arrive at very different conclusions about appropriate next steps.
For those who see the Church’s action as inherently cruel, reflective of fear, damaging in its impact and thus disappointing to God Himself, this policy change will naturally be seen as a departure from recent Church efforts and a reflection of sheer lack of care towards the gay community. In turn, Church leaders will be understood as largely responsible for great pain – both inside and outside of the gay community.
For those who see the Church’s action as reasonable steps within a religious community, ultimately beneficial and reflective of God’s will, this policy change will be seen as consistent with the Church’s recent efforts and a reflection of love and care – however differently defined those terms might be understood. In turn, the pain of this week – both inside and outside of the gay community – will be understood to arise from the discrepancy between widely embraced societal expectations that have evolved farther and farther away from the Church – enough so, to provoke clashes like this one.
If these differences in perspective and interpretation still seem baffling and impossible to stomach or grasp, that’s really okay. Especially on irreconcilable differences such as these, the goal of dialogue is not simply peace (or “ultimate reconciliation”) – but rather, clarity and better (mutual) understanding.
Even though, as Arthur often emphasizes, ultimate reconciliation between these communities may not be found, he also adds, “like those Allied and Axis troops who decided to play soccer together instead of killing each other that one famous Christmas eve so many years ago. Let’s hold to affection and respect, even if we sometimes wear different uniforms.”