I think I hadn’t realized how much hope I had that the rumored clarification/revision would substantially address the problems caused by recent policy changes until the clarification actually arrived. My heart sank when I read it. I will say that I’m happy to hear that many children who had temporarily fallen into a state of limbo will now be allowed to be baptized. I actually guessed that would happen; it seemed like denying baptism to children in joint custody situations was going to be a step too far for even conservative church leaders. But the fact that other children are still left out in the cold is deeply troubling. Even if the policy only applied to a single child, we’ve crossed a certain bridge now, in terms of what we’re willing to do in the name of rejection of gay marriage. It’s not pretty. And I worry that it will be very difficult to go back.
To some extent I’d waited to process what this really means for me because I wanted to give the church some time to think things through and better explain itself. I didn’t want to make a decision in any direction while things still felt somewhat up in the air. And as I just blogged, for whatever reason, I seem to be coping okay. I don’t feel any rush to decide anything. But I feel like I have more information now about how the church is going to deal with these things going forward. And I need to do some serious thinking.
I don’t think our leaders are malicious, or out to cause deliberate harm. I think they’re struggling to work through some knotty issues related to how to maintain rejection of a practice they find abhorrent but which is now not only legal, but more and more being accepted as normal and okay. (Though notably this concern didn’t arise until things shifted in the U.S., which is telling.) Honestly, this feels like a situation where they’re making things up as they go along—but I’m not sure they could do otherwise.
I do wish they would simply drop the explanation that this is about protecting children. The clarification/revision makes this explanation even less coherent, because now children who have one parent in a gay relationship are said to be okay for baptism, even though they’re still going to have to grapple with the dissonance created by learning at church about how sinful that parent is. On that score, I’m not sure that their situation is drastically different from those who are being raised primarily by gay parents. But the latter can’t be baptized, ostensibly because it would be too confusing. It’s a clear double standard. And I can’t help but think that there is something to the notion this only became a problem when it affected straight people.
One of my frustrations from the beginning with this has been the sense that they’re not saying straight out what their intentions are, that they’re waving their hands in the direction of protecting children while aiming at something else. And that something else, I strongly suspect, is doing what is seen as necessary so that gay families won’t feel welcome at church. I feel like that’s a cynical thing to say, and that bothers me. But I’m not persuaded of any other read on the situation. The problem I see them dealing with is that it’s difficult to maintain that same-sex marriage is a grievous, grievous sin, and that holding to that view is of the utmost importance, if those in same-sex marriages are cheerfully attending church and raising their children there. The attendance of such families could only have the effect of normalizing the practice, and I think the church wants to avoid that at all costs.
So they’ve weighed those factors and done what they see as necessary to maintain their absolute rejection of same-sex marriage. I have no doubt that they see the benefits of taking this stance, but I’m not sure they’re aware of just how deep the costs run. The board of directions of Affirmation just put out this response, which notes,
The policy, even with the clarifications, has caused tremendous pain within the LGBT Mormon community. We are aware of widespread depression directly related to the policy change, not only among LGBT Mormons, but among their family and friends. Leaders of Affirmation have had to work round the clock to reassure and comfort heartbroken individuals within our community worldwide.
The new policy and clarification seem to assume that very few gay or lesbian Mormon couples have a desire to raise their children in the Church. Yes, many have left activity because they felt excluded, were disciplined, or were treated insensitively by members and church leaders. Yet, there remain a significant number of gay and lesbian Mormons who are same-sex partnered, married or planning to marry, who also have or hope to have children, and had planned on raising them in the Church.
I think it’s particularly important to talk about the existence of these people, because I’ve seen so many church members assume that gay and lesbian couples wouldn’t want to raise their children in the church anyway, so this does little harm.
These issues already feel like they’ve been discussed to death. But while I don’t want to be dramatic, I suspect we’re only at the beginning of the fallout from this. (On that note, check out this post at BCC.) It hits not only LGBTQ members but also their families and friends. It solidifies the church’s image as being deeply anti-gay, and that’s going to have consequences for all members, as well as prospective converts. I lived in California during Prop 8, and I think it took a long time to recover. There were a lot of casualties. And my unhappy estimate is that this is a worse blow.
I have this idea that if I talked to a GA about whether I was personally welcome at church, they would say, of course you are. Everyone is. But I also think that they see LGBTQ members in the aggregate as a danger to the well-being of the church, and in that sense, my continued participation—especially if I decide to enter a relationship—is a problem. I don’t feel hostility aimed at me personally, but I do feel that church leaders don’t want people like me to feel too welcome. Maybe that’s a distinction without a difference. But there are some real mixed messages being sent right now.
I’ve spent the last decade or so in a liberal area of the country. It’s felt a bit like a cocoon. My local leaders have been incredibly supportive of LGBTQ members, and I’ve honestly felt like I could make it work. I’ve been able to envision a future for myself in the church. I’ve seen a lot of a progress, and I’ve felt a lot of hope. Now I’m wondering whether I’ve just been naïve. Honestly, I feel like collateral damage.
This is a very long-winded way of saying that I’m disappointed in the clarification/revision. I do see the dilemma, I think: is there a way to avoid increasing homonormativity without excluding gay couples? Maybe not. But I do think it acutely raises the question of whether it’s worth dying on this hill, especially when looking at the human cost.