From the Backlist: New Policies

Ever wondered what the ZD backlist is like? Wonder no longer! This is one of many, many discussion threads over the last couple of days.

Lynnette: Another person I know just sent in his resignation letter. I feel like I’m watching a disaster unfold in real-time.

I usually start out upset at things and then calm down some. But this is going in reverse. The more time goes by and I see the effects of this, the more awful stories I encounter, the more horrified I am.

Vada: I’m horrified, too. The posts Jerilyn has been sharing are just about killing me. Especially the ones of parents trying to explain this to their children. Or of parents knowing they’ll have to, but not knowing how. I can’t imagine having to explain to my 7yo that he can’t get baptized next year, even though his brothers did recently. Or explaining to my almost 11yo that he won’t be able to pass the sacrament next year like everyone in his age. It breaks my heart, and I don’t even have to do it.

Lynnette: I feel like there’s been a lot of discussion about hypothetical children who might have cognitive dissonance while real actual children are getting directly harmed.

Galdralag: I am very persuaded by the legal arguments that Seraphine summarized** earlier—I think the lawyerly, business-focused element of the Church hierarchy was looking to get ahead of evolving United States legal precedent that could weaken their stance against solemnizing gay weddings.

But I honestly wonder –  did Salt Lake take into account the sheer number of people that would be affected? They keep so many stats on members. Did they think about how many people are on record who have come out of mixed-orientation marriages? (Do they even have that data?)

The trouble is, either way is terrible. If they didn’t bother to research the human impact, that seems horribly un-Christlike. And if they did have the stats and went forward with it, it feels even worse. After all, if they felt that this was absolutely necessary, shouldn’t they have considered the human toll and prepared bishops and families? Made a Church-wide public announcement and prepared local leadership on how to provide pastoral care and guidance? As it is, all I’m seeing from across the LDS belief spectrum is reeling and shock.

Melyngoch: Ironically, if they had given a legal defense in the weird little staged interview video they put out, I think that would have been easier to buy, and have fit perfectly well into their legal persecution narrative, that we have to stand against SSM nationally because if we don’t, eventually the bad activist judges will come after us for refusing to perform same-sex marriages. And it would have shuffled off some of their own culpability onto the wider legal landscape; i.e., this looks like a really horrible draconian policy, but we had to do it because of how wicked the world is.

But that wouldn’t have been nice. And the most important thing, always, is that we can tell ourselves we do the things we do because we’re so damn nice.

Lynnette: I’ve been wondering that as well. Did they even think about the ramifications for so many of the members? As you say, it’s troubling if they did, and troubling if they didn’t. I may be naive, but I tend to suspect the latter, that they really didn’t think through this at all.

Vada: I tend toward the second view as well. The way this has been talked about so many places and by so many people, it’s as though they’re imagining this affecting some future subset of minor (child) investigators. It’s as if they don’t realize there are so many children already active in the church who are directly affected by this.

Lynnette: And I think there’s an underlying assumption that in cases where gay parents have children, they would of course oppose them being raised in the church. (I even just barely read a comment along those lines at BCC.) But the situation is so much more complex.

I’ve found that people are surprised that there even is an LGBTQ Mormon community; they see it as a kind of contradiction in terms, just like some see Mormon feminists that way. Because they don’t do things like go to Affirmation, they have no idea that there are many LGBTQ Latter-day Saints who actually have a tremendous desire to be in the church to whatever extent the church will allow. Though I’m currently feeling more ambivalent than I have in a long time, I’d still generally place myself in that category.

Galdralag: Exactly. It seems that there is a large contingent of the LDS faithful who are unaware of how many LGBTQ-identified people would love to participate in the Mormon fold if there was space for them. I wish Mormonism didn’t create so many incentives for people to remain closeted.

Lynnette: I’ve seen shock and disbelief coming from unlikely places, not just the usual suspects. And I keep wondering, are they really going to stick to this? Is it possible for them to back down without losing face and having to say they made a mistake, which they generally seem highly reluctant to do?

Lynnette: I’ve seen this article going around and it’s really gotten me thinking:

I’m particularly fascinated by this thought: “What I admire about the Jewish faith, and what I would like my Christian brothers and sisters to extract from it, is that we conceive of the relationship with God as consisting of 613 commandments, or 613 strands. Even if we are not living in accordance with God’s will in one area, there are still so many other commandments that we can keep.”

He asks, “Are they saying that this one single aspect of their life is so all-encompassing that it negates the possibility of any relationship with God?” Unfortunately, I suspect the answer might be yes. Homosexuality is understood as not just one of many sins, but something all-encompassing, something which taints everything in your life. Maybe even the church wouldn’t go so far as to say that it negates your relationship with God, but it certainly puts it in a category unlike anything else.

And why is that? I realize that heterosexual marriage is a central part of the LDS vision of the afterlife, but I think there’s more going on here. Is it too cynical of me to say that at least part of the problem is that gender roles are at stake, and the church will go to extremes to preserve them?

Petra: I’m aware I’m coming from a place of great privilege as I say this, since I’m not personally affected by the new policy, but what has fired me up the most about this is the way it was approached and messaged—or, more accurately, not. The fact that this is a policy in Handbook 1, only available to select leaders (almost all men), the fact that it was updated without any broad announcement, the fact that Church PR clearly had to scramble to put together a response: all of it leaves me inflamed at the sheer cowardice of the move. I believe this policy is a mistake and is cruel, even if unintentionally, but the lack of communication around it just enhances that cruelty. Their launch plan seemed to be that families affected by the policy should learn of it only when their baby blessings were denied and their baptisms cancelled, adding surprise to their heartbreak—and, what’s more, putting the hard conversations in the mouths of overworked and tired bishops everywhere, rather than the mouths of the men responsible for the decision.

They have the right to run the institution how they want, and they don’t owe us explanations of everything they do, but, when we commit our time and our money and our broken hearts to the kingdom of God, don’t they owe us anything at all? Their answer from this seems to be no, ours is not to reason why, and it breaks my heart all over again to feel that the men with this stewardship don’t regard their flock as deserving to know that the fences have been moved and where they are now.

Lynnette: Yeah, how were they imagining that this would play out? That it would only come up in private conversations with the bishop?—which as you say, is really blindsiding people. But you’d think they would have anticipated some kind of outcry once that got out to the general membership, which it seems like it inevitably would, secret handbook or not. They really seemed caught off their guard by the reaction. Though maybe there is stuff in the handbook that stays generally secret (and also frequently ignored, like the counsel to talk to your bishop before having a vasectomy) with regard to the general membership. But this affects too many people to have stayed quiet, I think, even if it hadn’t been leaked.

Mike C: I really appreciate these comments. It helps me process this whole thing in a safe space. I am simply stunned by the meanness and can’t think up one compelling reason for it, and certainly not any of those that Elder Christofferson put forth.

I’m afraid, Lynnette, that I may be part of this train wreck. Things had been especially discouraging lately, with a bunch of bad stuff at church (e.g., multiple lessons on defending the family, testimonies of the evils of working women, cheerleading of Paul’s sermon on women being subservient to men), which had me wondering why I keep going, even though I love our ward members. And now this.

What makes me want to leave is that this policy and how it was handled confirms that the hateful policies and rhetoric towards gays (I don’t believe the apostles actually hate gay people) are going to be baked into the system for decades. And that doesn’t bode well for women’s issues either. If I’m going to start a spiritual renewal elsewhere, I’d rather start sooner than later, while I still love God, rather than wait for all this to slowly poison my soul.

Melyngoch: Mike, I’m right there with you. All my fantasies about what the church cares about have been exploded. I thought we really did value openness and inclusion, inviting everyone to the gospel and making a faith community for everyone who wants to be in it. Obviously there’s always been a ton I disagreed with in terms of policy, governance, power structures, and morals, and obviously I haven’t seen this inclusiveness played out perfectly in real life. But I didn’t even know how hard I believed in this core of good will in the church until last week, when I had to stop believing in it.

I’ve had powerful experiences that have caused me to stay in the church. I’m in the middle of a powerful experience that might cause me to leave it.

Lynnette: I hear you, Mike. If this doesn’t get changed—wow. We really will have institutionally embraced an anti-gay position, even more than we had in the past (did anyone before last week think that was even possible?) It totally makes sense that you’d be interested in looking elsewhere.

A close friend just texted me that she was resigning. I look around me and just see spiritual devastation.

Vada: LGBTQ+ teens are definitely one of the most compelling “why I stay” reasons. Even the conservative TBM Mormons are going to end up with some LGBTQ+ kids. And if everyone who doesn’t think they’re an abomination/sinful leaves, how much worse will it be for them? How many more deaths will there be?

Melyngoch: That’s a really compelling reason to stay. And since you’re straight, you might even be allowed to work with some of those LGBTQ+ kids.

Petra: Can I keep harping on my pet topics about this? I also resent the explanation that this is just an extension of our polygamy policies; Elder Christofferson said this in his justification video:

“For generations we’ve had these same kinds of policies that relate to children in polygamous families, that we wouldn’t go forward with these ordinances while they’re in that circumstance and before they reach their majority, and that’s the same sort of situation we’re dealing with here, so it’s something we have had a history with.”

First of all, just because we have a draconian policy towards one group of people doesn’t justify extending that policy to others. Second of all, polygamy and gay marriage are demonstrably different in lots of ways, but especially relevant here is that gay marriage isn’t embedded in a competing faith tradition, and particularly not one deliberately trying to subvert the Church’s legitimacy of ordinance ownership. Third of all, it’s a lie: the 2006 handbook only dictated that children of polygamists 1. accept the doctrines of the church and 2. renounce the doctrine of polygamy to get First Presidency approval. It didn’t require that they reach their majority, and it didn’t require that they not live with their parents.

That said, I do suspect that a lot of the Church’s response to the “threat” of gay marriage is driven by polygamy and the fear that one day it will be made legal again, which would put the Church in an impossible place given that they renounced polygamy only on the basis of its legality rather than its doctrinal correctness. It makes sense to me, then, that even if the gay marriage = polygamy analogy doesn’t work on deep reflection, at base it might be driving the genesis and structure of the policy.

Lynnette: The polygamy thing is frustrating me for the reasons you mention. It maybe seemed like a convenient template, one that could then be pointed to to refute any claim that gays were being singled out.

Vada: To take another tangent in this conversation, one of the claims on apologetics sites that bugged me the most was that the church didn’t make “these people” apostates, their behavior did that. Um, no. The church specifically redefined apostasy in the CHI to include them. You can argue that they made themselves sinners (I won’t agree, but I can at least respect the argument), but the church clearly is the one who made them apostates. And don’t say it’s because they rejected the plan of salvation or the family or whatever and therefore rejected the church’s teachings and therefore have to be defined as apostates. If rapists and abusers are not automatically defined as apostates, gays don’t need to be, either, thank you very much, even if you do think it’s a particularly grievous sin.

Lynnette: What’s really getting to me, in a similar way, is people blaming the parents for setting up this situation—when in the cases of all these failed mixed-orientation marriages, it’s actually the church that set up the situation.

Melyngoch: I’m also concerned that the connection with polygamy sets up the potential for making support of same-sex marriage grounds for being refused a temple recommend. We all sort of mostly know, even though it’s nowhere made explicit, that the “support or affiliate with groups whose teachings are contrary to the church” question is about polygamist groups. But the fact that it’s not explicit, just sort the unwritten order of things, has always made that question a potential site of abuse. And if we’re serious about treating gay marriage like polygamous marriage, then it would be easy enough to assume groups whose teachings are contrary to the church would include groups that support SSM.

Lynnette: I’ve been wondering that, too. It seems like that could potentially knock out an awful lot of people.

Ziff: I think (hope?) that if they did start to push that—like if you don’t sufficiently distance yourself from your gay friends and family members you can’t have a temple recommend—it would blow up on them *really* fast. But then, I’ve been wrong before on what things they seem to care about blowing up on them (none).

Lynnette: So I’m grappling with the question of staying. I don’t think I’m going to leave, for a number of reasons. But as I was just telling Eve, I find that I’m more bothered by that decision than I have been. Like am I just taking the easy way out?

Seraphine: I’m considering the “should I stay” question more seriously than I ever have before. I don’t think any answer to the question is the easy way out. All answers are hard

Lynnette: Yeah. I’m just trying to work through my motivations, which are complicated. If I’m honest, I partly stay because I’m a contrarian and feeling like the church wants me gone makes me want to stay and cause trouble.

Seraphine: If I were to stay it would be so others like me weren’t alone. Or for the LGBTQ+ youth. I’m too emotionally raw to make any hard and fast decisions right now

Lynnette: This is the thing. Part of me still can’t believe that they’re really going to keep this as it is, and not revise it at least some. Because it’s so incredibly unreasonable. I honestly can’t believe that they wouldn’t see the consequences and re-think things. But maybe I’m naive?

I just don’t know. I’m wavering between thinking okay, the church has gone in a hardline anti-gay direction—this is really the hill it’s going to die on—and thinking oh wow, this is so inept, they’ve got to change it once they really get what they’re doing.

Eve: I think I’m in denial, in that I can’t believe this is really happening and that this is what the church really wants. I keep waiting for some softening clarification because this just blows my mind.

Seraphine: I’m not feeling optimistic or hopeful about a retraction.

Seraphine: Or even change.

Katya: I think they’re at least going to have to clarify the part about children of divorced parents, because that seems to be the biggest source of confusion at the moment.

Ziff: One random thought about them changing this policy: Since it’s in Handbook 1, they could sneak the revision out and not talk about it. Like they were hoping to do this time. Except if they revised it in a positive way (can I hope for that to happen just once?) and it got leaked, it would actually make them look good, or at least less evil. And maybe they would mind less that they were being seen changing their minds about something.

Petra: One thing I worry about in them softening it or walking it back, though, is that such a revision would help people feel better about it, when really nobody should feel good about this at all, even if it doesn’t apply to children of divorced parents or other common scenarios. A policy like this for even one child in the Church is wrong.

Vada: I had the same thought, Petra. I mean, I think they will have to clarify, since different bishops are telling people different things as to whether this applies to kids of divorced parents. I do really want them to say no it doesn’t, because I don’t want it to apply to anyone, and that would make a lot of kids it wouldn’t apply to. But on the other hand, I kind of want them to say yes it does apply, simply because I think if it doesn’t so many more people are going to decide they’re okay with the policy and it can get swept under the rug, when it needs to stay in the forefront of people’s thoughts until it’s changed all the way.

Lynnette: My hope is that they’d find it difficult to just walk back a little, because it wouldn’t be coherent. Like if they changed it for kids of divorced parents, it would be hard to make the case that those kids could handle cognitive dissonance while others couldn’t.

Seraphine: Just a heads up—John Dehlin wrote on his wall that a stake president reported he just got a letter that there will be “clarification” on the policy from the 1st presidency/Q12 in the coming days.

Lynnette: Here’s my guess, despite what I just said: they’re going to change it for the kids in the divorce situation, but no one else.

Petra: No, even better—claim it never applied to kids in the divorce situation, since that way they don’t have to admit to a change.

Vada: Sadly, yes, I see that as the most likely.

Lynnette:  Yeah this “clarification” is going to be framed as what was meant all along, rather than an actual change. And then all the defenders will explain that they knew that all along, and we were silly for misinterpreting it.

Petra: Another point, while I’m harping: on top of all the other problems, this policy also reveals (yet again!) how US-centric the Church is. Apparently all those European and Canadian children haven’t merited “protection” for the past decade.

Galdralag: YES! This has been driving me nuts. Why the hand-wringing now? Same-sex marriage has been on the books in other countries for years; non-U.S. LDS folks have been confronted with this exact issue in the past and the Church has been fine. Why the fanfare and freakouts now? It it’s such a big deal, and if we are truly a global faith, why weren’t there similar major policy shifts when other countries had changes in legal precedent?

Petra: Also, another feminist angle: it hurts a little to see all the hand-wringing for the poor 12 year old boys (some of them) who will be denied ordination, when nobody has cared at all about the poor 12 year old girls (all of them) who have been denied ordination forever.

Vada: I agree with this somewhat… I mean, I hate the unequal treatment, but for me this is more about destroying kids’ hopes and expectations. And so I’m really worried about those 12yo boys because they’ve been hoping and expecting and waiting for a day that now isn’t going to come for them, even as it comes for their peers. And that kills me. Sadly, girls’ hopes and expectations in this regard tend to get stomped out of them when they’re a lot younger than 12.

Petra: Yeah, I totally get the reasons why, and I think the point about expectations is the crux of the issue, but it is a little ironic to me to see it.

Petra: Also, if they revise or clarity please please please can they say same-sex instead of same-gender? I mean, c’mon!




** From an earlier backlist discussion, Seraphine summarized lawyer James Oord’s podcast on ATF explaining the possible legal rationale behind the policy change:

He essentially argues that the church is mitigating legal and financial risk. His points are:

1) the church has a history of being treated badly by the US government and as such is very risk averse, and
2) there are new cases in family law around the issue of parental alienation for which the church could bear legal responsibility.

Essentially, gay parents who have joint custody can make the case that their ex-spouse is alienating their child and that the church bears some legal responsibility. By formulating the policy in the way they have, children cannot be “alienated” from parents until they’re legally adults, which eliminates any legal responsibility the church may have. He essentially argues that the church decided to avoid this legal/financial risk, they decided to use the model of how they’ve handled polygamy to formulate their current policy, and that they ultimately determined that mitigating the legal and financial risk was more important than the emotional/human/PR damage that we’re currently seeing being played out. (He also argues that due to the insularity of the group of men making the decisions, both in the church hierarchy and the church’s legal counsel, he’s uncertain whether or not they understood the full extent of the PR collateral damage.)


  1. I’ve thought a lot about what Vada brings up as a reason to stay: to support LGBT+ youth in the ward. I really do understand the reasoning of that, but I worry a little that at that age, in most wards, most of these kids will be no where near out of the closet. So is the other side that I have 2 or 3 kids in my ward that are sitting in silence and fear, and seeing my active participation in the ward as a tacit support of the churches policies? Unless you are called to the youth program, how much can you actually speak up where these kids will hear you? Anyway, that question was a big one I had when I made the decision to resign. I never resolved that for myself…

  2. I keep wondering what I’m missing in all this. Having a family member that has struggled with this issue and seeing him happier than he has ever been since accepting his own ssa, I’m not sure the leaders get it. Yet, having read an article talking about Elder Cook’s experience as a leader dealing with this issue and hearing about his heartbreak over the issue, I wonder why he would agree to this. Or even Pres Uchtdorf whom I would have expected differently from. Why would they agree to do it?
    Is it the legal ramifications?
    Is it the “hill to die on?”
    Is it ignorance of what ssa really is?
    Is it that “if we can’t change them, it is better that they are not part of us so they aren’t judged by our standards?”
    And then to put it out after General Conference so that it can “die down” before the next conference? Is so they don’t have to address it as much? It will be intruding in April to hear what they say about the membership numbers.
    Quite frankly, I’m still stunned. We had a regional conference last week and the themes were love the sinner and please don’t leave.
    I just don’t get it.


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