Be in the know with the latest news and views, sign up here to receive Meridian’s email.
It may be surprising, but those who lead the Lord’s Church don’t check what’s trending on Facebook or take a poll or consider what journalists at a national media source might write about a policy when receiving revelation in their role as prophets, seers, and revelators. They have a better place to look for answers.
As most everyone knows who pays even the slightest attention to social media, the changes the Church made to their Handbook calling same-sex marriage apostasy and saying that children of those families couldn’t be baptized until they reached age 18, created an earthquake that reverberated across the Internet and in the national press.
Many people, unfortunately including members, heaped derision upon the Church, the apostles and particularly this new policy. Some were pained, some said they were disgusted, and some said they had never felt more discouraged in their lives. Some declared that this was the end for them and they were leaving the Church for good. Some who had already left the Church said this is why they left.
We do not trivialize anyone’s pain, but so much anguish comes in life because of leaping to judgment when the entire context, history or realities are not laid out for us–in this case of a new policy that at first to many seemed shocking.
Two Competing Assumptions
Two competing assumptions are at work behind the judgments made on this handbook change.
Those expressing their dismay on Facebook about this policy followed the first assumption. This is that the General Authorities are acting out of animus, bigotry, short-sightedness, or backward, out-of touch thinking. They are insensitive, unfeeling or narrow. They have no sense of the pain of those who can’t be baptized. They have not progressed as far as their critics. It is as if many were thinking, “Ah, ha. We’ve gotcha. Proof of what I’ve always thought. This Church is profoundly judgmental and cannot arise to my higher level of understanding.”
Many may feel that to defend those whom they see victimized by this policy, they must complain. A sign of being truly loving and a champion of the downtrodden is to take on the Church.
They may not fully admit their assumption at its heart is that they see themselves as walking on higher ground than the apostles or coming from a more loving, compassionate place. Yet, they assume that they are more enlightened and more tolerant than the prophets and apostles whom they choose to criticize.
Of course there are many nuanced variations on this assumption.
Some go like this: The apostles are inspired, but only sometimes, and in this case they really blew it. Or they are men just like any men and their statements become their critics’ opportunity to climb on their Internet soapboxes and sound off.
The preface to the Doctrine & Covenants which lays the foundation for why the following revelations will be given says, “They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god.”
In this Internet age we might amend that scripture to say, “They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man talketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god.” (See D&C 1:16).
With the Internet everyone has a microphone and even a megaphone. Instead of saying, there might be a context here that I don’t understand, we leap to support people we see as victims.
It is ironic to think that somehow we could do a better job of watching out for the Lord’s children than the Lord Himself with His principles and commandments.
A Stronger Assumption
The other and truer assumption with which people saw this policy change is that the prophets and apostles who lead this Church are the chosen mouthpieces of God on this earth. This Church is headed by the living Christ who does nothing “save he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). They have been trained, chosen and gifted for this heavy responsibility with revelatory power including seership, which allows them understanding of what is and what will follow. They are not perfect, but they are chosen and trustworthy.
If they tell us something that is difficult to hear, we should trust that they have a perspective that supercedes our own because they have an intimate companionship with the Lord that supercedes our own. They are a steadying force in a world that tosses us to and fro with every philosophy and wind of doctrine.
We come to this understanding of who the prophets are and what role they play, not just because someone else told us so, but because we have paid the price to know them, to read and study their words and what they teach us about the scriptures. We have seen their goodness and have tested their words. We have had our own witness, which is available to all who are willing to invest in spiritual things.
We have paid the price to study, ponder and pray and we assume that what we have come to know gives us insight not available to those reporting on the Church for the national press.
If we believe that the men who lead us are prophets, we look at everything they teach us from the Proclamation on the Family to changes in the handbook with entirely differently eyes. If we don’t immediately understand something–like why a child living in a same-sex married family, cannot be baptized at the age of eight–we assume this policy is based on revelation and compassion.
Even if we do not understand its meaning or context immediately, we don’t rush to judgment, pronounce it wrong or unfeeling, but instead we seek to understand. We also assume that if we don’t understand immediately, that time will bear it out.
Whatever happened to someone hearing the word and going home and pondering and praying about it rather than flipping on their phone and spilling their emotions on Facebook which can go to thousands of people, affecting their testimonies as well?
This, of course, also takes a kind of humility on our part–an acknowledgement that we “see through a glass darkly” for many reasons–we are mortal, our experience is limited and we don’t understand everything clearly. We are subject to the trends and persuasions of our time. Sometimes we are subject to the voices of many friends on the Internet or the sophistications of fluent advocates for the latest philosophy.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, in a video published on the LDS Newsroom, gave context, about why children living in same-sex relationships will not be able to be baptized at age eight. He says that not only as an apostle, but as a husband, father and grandfather, he has compassion.
“This policy originates out of that compassion. It originates out of a desire to protect children in their innocence and in their minority years. When, for example, there is the formal blessing and naming of a child in the church, which happens when a child has parents who are members of the church, it triggers a lot of things, first a membership record for them. It triggers the assignment of visiting and home teachers. It triggers an expectation that they will be in primary and in the other church organizations.
“That is likely not going to be an appropriate thing in the home setting, in the family setting where they are living as children where their parents are a same-sex couple. We don’t want there to be conflicts that that would engender. We don’t want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the Church are very different—and so with the other ordinances on through baptism, and so on.
“There’s time for that if when that child reaches majority he or she feels like that’s what they want and they can make an informed and conscious decision about that. Nothing is lost to them in the end if that’s the direction they want to go and in the meantime, they’re not placed in a position where there will be difficulties, challenges, conflicts and injure their development in very tender years.”
Of course, it has long been the case that children living in polygamous families could not be baptized, which has caused no uproar. It is also true that Muslims are generally not taught the gospel, nor baptized because it may put their lives in jeopardy in their countries of origin and again divide them from their family. It has also been true that both parents have to assent to have a child baptized when a couple has been split. Bishops can tell you that it is sometimes very difficult or impossible to get one partner to agree to a child’s baptism if they are no longer in the faith.
The Church does not seek to be a source of contention in a family’s life.
Not allowing children in same-sex marriages to be baptized is a policy designed to safeguard their family relationships, not to punish them or their parents. In some cases this may even save families from battles that would have legal ramifications or use the Church as a weapon against other family members.
So, there is a very good reason that has nothing to do with animus why this apparently bewildering policy exists now that same-sex marriage is legal. And the reasons are much more sophisticated than this brief synopsis allows.
The Courage to Call Sin What it Is
But what about the other part of this new policy that has deemed entering a same-sex marriage as grounds for apostasy? Elder Christofferson explains that, too:
“We regard same-sex marriage as a particularly grievous or serious kind of sin that requires church discipline. It means the discipline is mandatory. It doesn’t dictate outcomes, but it dictates that discipline is needed in those cases. It’s a statement to remove any question or doubt that may exist. We recognize that same-sex marriages are now legal in the United States and some other countries. People will have the right if they choose to enter into those and we understand that, but that’s not a right that exists in the Church. That’s the clarification…
“It is a matter of being clear. It is a matter of understanding right and wrong. It is a matter of a firm policy that does not allow for question or doubt. We think it’s possible and mandatory, incumbent upon us as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, to yield no ground in the matter of love, and sympathy, and help and brotherhood and serving and doing all we can for anybody at the same time maintaining the standards he maintained.
“That was the Savior’s pattern. He always was firm in what was right and wrong. He never excused or winked at sin. He never redefined it. He never changed his mind. It was what it was and it is what it is. That’s where we are, but His compassion was unexcelled and His desire and willingness and proactive efforts to minister, to heal, to bless and to lift and to bring people toward the path that leads to happiness never ceased. That’s where we are. We are not going to stop that.
“We are not going to yield on our efforts to help people find what brings happiness, but we know that sin does not. We’re going to stand firm there because we don’t want to mislead people. There’s no kindness in misdirecting people and leading them into any misunderstanding into what is true, what is right, what is wrong, what leads to Christ and what leads away from Christ.”
However unpopular that position may be in this current age, the Lord will not yield and neither will those who are His mouthpiece. They cannot and in that there is safety for us all. How insecure we would be if the Church took polls to see what the doctrine should be.
One woman on Facebook said she was going to stand and fight the Church on this. She had been rallied to this cause. However, well intentioned she believes herself to be, her actual goal is to remake the Church and the doctrine in her own image. She will not succeed.
If the General Authorities were seeking her approval or for a public relations success, they would be putting us all in jeopardy of losing the iron rod we cling to. We can be grateful that the prophets refuse to seek popularity or bow to pressure.
The Spirit of the Age
In any age there are philosophies that become widely accepted, voiced by the elite, repeated in classrooms, and finally become the outlook of the rest of us. Survey the intellectual history of the world, and you can see the spirit of each age, which swept the people along and governed their choices.
Sometimes the spirit of an age leads people to higher places, often it does not.
There was, for instance, a sense of freedom, a thirst for liberty and an understanding of a nation under covenant which animated the first people to the shores of America and the founders of this nation. They believed in natural law, which was another way of saying God’s law as the fountain of truth. That sense has faded.
Our time and sensibilities are quite different. The spirit of our age has tossed away the idea of natural law, thrown off the reality that there is a truth that is discoverable, and embraced with ferocity the sense that the most crucial thing we can be is our own measure of the world. We create our own morality–and living with authenticity to ourselves is the highest expectation. Instead of God creating us, we create our own gods who do not trouble us with anything uncomfortable.
In this atmosphere a new sexual freedom has developed and people are defined by their sexuality. Instead of being a whole, eternal, multi-faceted human being, whose identity and intellect are vast, people are heterosexual or homosexual or any of dozens of other defined sexualities. This is a reduced identity, contracted to be a mere caricature of ourselves.
The spirit of this age, too, says that acting on our sexuality is inevitable. To expect any sort of abstinence is impossible, oppressive, a form of bondage.
God does not seem to be impressed with the spirit of our times and thus, His prophets, as prophets throughout history, will be scorned and dismissed. It is especially regrettable, however, when it is by Church members.
A Key Insight
President Harold B. Lee said, “The entire foundation of my testimony is that God the Eternal Father lives, that Jesus Christ is his only Begotten Son and lives, that they appeared to the prophet Joseph Smith and through him restored the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ with all the keys and that through Joseph Smith came the Book of Mormon and the other great revelations which comprise the restitution of all things and his successors have those keys and they continue to receive revelation to guide us in these tumultuous times. That is the foundation of my testimony. It is the building on the rock.”
He also said, “Until the members of this church have that conviction that they are being led in the right way, and they have a conviction that these men of God are men who are inspired and have been properly appointed by the hand of God, they are not truly converted.”
President Lee warned, “Now the only safety we have as members of this Church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet, “as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; … as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (D&C 21:4–5).
“There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory'” (D&C 21:6).
It is a sad thing that some let the announcement of the last few days drive a wedge in their testimonies, because for each of us our relationship with God is a precious thing and there is something terribly shattering about feeling conflicted. But this is the time to hold on that God is in his heaven, loves his children perfectly, knows how to do His work, and has chosen apostles and prophets to be His mouthpiece. You will not do a better job of defending His children, than God will Himself. Trust Him.
An incident in Missouri underscores the importance of holding on with trust and a long view. In the 1830’s persecution flared against the Latter-day Saints many of whom were still fragile and young in their faith. They were driven from Ohio, they walked on bleeding feet in winter when they were expelled from Jackson County, they saw themselves the objects of an official governmental Extermination Order, making it legal for Missourians to kill a Mormon. They lost homes and children and every city they sought to establish.
For the less steady, Missouri was a time of sifting. John Corrill was one who had once thrown himself wholeheartedly into the cause. He had not whimpered at the expulsion from Jackson County; he had offered to be whipped or die for the gospel; he had wandered homeless into Clay County; he had stood by the Prophet in all things—and now it was enough. He had lost his faith in Joseph Smith. He wrote, “Calculation after calculation has failed, plan after plan has been overthrown, and our prophet seemed not to know the event till too late. If he said, ‘Go up and prosper,’ still we did not prosper, but have labored and toiled, and waded through trials, difficulties, and temptations, of various kinds, in hope of deliverance. But no deliverance came.”
Others, however, did not give up. In the face of great adversity, they grew in faith and courage. Eliza R. Snow, struggling out of Adam-ondi-Ahman in the dead of winter, was taunted by a militiaman, “Well, I think this will cure you of your faith.” Looking him square in the eye, she replied, “No, sir, it will take more than this to cure me of my faith.” Then she, with twelve thousand others who felt the same way, trudged eastward to the Mississippi River.
May we stand with Eliza.