Or, calling out apostolic doublespeak.
You may not have noticed, but a whole lot happened last year at the intersection of Mormonism and Gaydom. In fact, I had personally forgotten just how much had happened until I plugged “LGBT LDS” into Google News:
The LDS Church backs an LGBT nondiscrimination bill in Utah, that provided it creates exemptions for religions.
The bill passes, marking the first time a Republican-controlled state expanded LGBT rights. Lots of people are thrilled, though plenty are skeptical about the exemptions the Church got.
Also, it turns out the LDS Church helped write the bill in the first place.
The Church also rushed to clarify that members who supported marriage equality in public social media posts would not be subject to Church discipline.
After attending a summit on marriage and the family at the Vatican, LDS Apostle L. Tom Perry warns in General Conference against “counterfeit and alternative lifestyles that try to replace the family organization that God Himself established.”
In response, the Church sends out slightly grumpy, slightly conciliatory letter to be read in all U.S. congregations.
President Boyd K. Packer, one of the most controversial members of LDS leadership, due in large part to his hardline approach to homosexuality, dies. (He was preceded in death by Elder L. Tom Perry, and followed by Elder Richard G. Scott, but neither of them are nearly as strongly defined by their anti-LGBT views)
The LDS Church donates money to a Salt Lake City LGBT organization that works with homeless gay youths.
Meanwhile, the Boy Scouts of America announce they will permit openly gay scoutmasters; The LDS Church issues a scathing response, threatens to pull its support from BSA, and—in a blatantly false attempt to avoid seeming too harsh—claims that the Church has “always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation.”
But a few weeks later, the Church turns around and says it will stick with the Boy Scouts—for now (ominous music plays in background).
Around the same time, Tom Christofferson, brother of LDS apostle D. Todd Christofferson, who achieved some level of bloggernacle fame for actively attending church with his long-term partner, announced online that he had left his partner and was seeking to return to full fellowship with the Church.
Elder M. Russell Ballard speaks at the controversial World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City, an organization labelled a hate group by some LGBT rights organizations.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks implicitly criticizes Kim Davis for refusing to sign marriage licenses for gay couples.
And, on a related note, Salt Lake City elected its first gay mayor.
Oh, and in one little oversight, the Church may have published a children’s magazine three weeks after marriage equality came to America that looked suspiciously like rainbow-ified temples:
While all of this was happening, I was just beginning the coming out process. There were so many times I wanted to get on Facebook and laud the Church or harangue the Church for whatever was in the news that week, and I couldn’t do it, because I wasn’t out yet, and there were too many social consequences that I wasn’t ready for. That was really when I first began thinking I wanted to start a blog. I needed an outlet for everything I was feeling.
But part of me feared that, because I had decided to wait until the New Year, there wouldn’t be as much to write on. 2015 really was a rather unique year in Gay/Mormon relations.
Apparently, I was wrong to fear. 2016 is young, but already, the president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles is out there declaring that the Church policy causing so much angst these last two months is not just an administrative policy, but a revelation directly from God.
My cynicism was misplaced; it seems the Church isn’t done handling these issues in the worst of all ways.
I don’t have much to say about this, simply because I think it is so patently absurd. But such absurdity must nevertheless be addressed at least briefly.
Here is what President Nelson claimed on Sunday:
We sustain fifteen men who are ordained as prophets, seers, and revelators. When a thorny problem arises—and they only seem to get thornier each day—these fifteen men wrestle with the issue, trying to see all the ramifications and various courses of action, and they diligently seek to hear the voice of the Lord. After fasting, praying, studying, pondering, and counseling with my brethren about weighty matters, it is not unusual for me to be awakened during the night with further impressions about issues with which we are concerned. And my brethren have the same experience. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counsel together and share all the Lord has directed us to understand and to feel individually and collectively. Then we watch the Lord move upon the President of the Church to proclaim the Lord’s will.
This prophetic process was followed in 2012 with the change in minimum age for missionaries, and again with the recent additions to the Church’s Handbook consequent to the legalization of same-sex marriage in some countries. Filled with compassion for all, and especially for the children, we wrestled at length to understand the Lord’s will in this matter. Ever mindful of God’s Plan of Salvation and of His hope for eternal life for each of His children.
We considered countless permutations and combinations of possible scenarios that could arise. We met repeatedly in the temple, in fasting and prayer, and sought further direction and inspiration. And then when the Lord inspired his prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord, each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation. It was our privilege as apostles to sustain what had been revealed to President Monson.
Compare those claims with what actually happened last November.
On Thursday, November 5, rumors began spreading on social media that Church handbooks had been changed to declare married same-sex couples apostate, and to prohibit the children gay individuals from being blessed in the church as babies, being baptized into the church at age 8, and from being ordained to the priesthood in their teenage years (for young men). Such children would be permitted to join the Church once they were 18, as long as they were no longer living with their gay parent, and they denounced their parents’ same-sex relationship.
By that evening the Church public relations department had confirmed the rumors. On Friday, November 6, Church apostle D. Todd Christofferson was interviewed by a Church PR official, arguing that these changes were necessary to because same-sex marriage is “particularly grievous,” and because, out of “compassion,” the Church wanted to protect children from conflicting messages at church and at home. Despite membership in the Church, with its accompanying blessings, being portrayed as utterly vital to the well-being of children as young as eight-years-old in all other contexts, in this one circumstance Elder Christofferson confidently declared that “Nothing is lost to them in the end” if they join the Church after they turn 18 and denounce their families.
Reaction among Mormons, including active, faithful, and relatively conservative Mormons, was fierce. Many initially believed the social media posts describing the policy were a hoax, and were stunned when the Church confirmed the changes. The number of blog posts and Facebook posts discussing and debating what the policy meant were overwhelming.
One consistent topic of discussion online involved an unfortunately common experience among LGBT Mormons: a man and a woman marry, have children, and later divorce, when one of the parents comes out as gay and decides to pursue a same-sex relationship. The policy, as written, prohibited children of such unions from being blessed, baptized, or ordained. As such, a child could live primarily with her straight, active, faithful Mormon father, but would be prevented from being baptized because her mother was living with another woman. Additionally, the policy, as written, implied that children who had received some, but not all ordinances—those who had been baptized, but were not yet old enough to receive the priesthood, for example—would not be allowed to progress through later ordinances.
By Thursday, November 12, the Salt Lake Tribune was reporting on rumors that the Church would back down from the policy.
On Friday, November 13, the Church issued a letter clarifying that the policy would not apply to children who did not live with their gay parent, and did not apply to children who had already been baptized.
This, of course, did not end the controversy. In early December, Salt Lake City mayor Jackie Biskupski met with LDS leaders, delivering to them a letter expressing her sadness regarding the new policy. In late December, a prominent gay Mormon, John Gustav-Wrathall, met with LDS leaders and left “cautiously optimistic” that the policy would be subject to further changes.
I don’t know what will come next. My own reaction to the policy included exasperation and sadness and, to quote our very best president ever, Josiah Bartlett, “is it possible to be astonished and yet, at the same time, not at all surprised?” The long and short of it is that I of course reject this kind of exclusionary policy. But the LDS Church can set whatever standards it wants.
But far, far more important to me is that we all stand together and ensure a spade is called a spade. This is a policy. Not only is it malleable and changeable—it has already been changed. It was changed one week after it was released. And when an apostle stands up and says “We considered countless permutations and combinations of possible scenarios that could arise. . . And then when the Lord inspired his prophet . . . to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord, each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation,” we have an obligation to point out the lies inherent in this tale.
You cannot claim that this policy was the will of the Lord when you changed it one week later. You cannot claim that you considered all of the consequences of such a policy when, upon being confronted with some unwanted consequences, you changed it one week later. I’m glad it changed. A willingness to change is a good thing. But retroactively declaring a policy to be pure revelation brushes already existent changes under the rug and makes future change that much more difficult. And for that reason, we should stand up and call this spin on the issuance of the policy what it is: absurd.