The Church recently confirmed some changes to its Handbook of Instructions provided to bishops and stake presidents. The Handbook prescribes doctrines, policies, and procedures for administering the Church and serving members.
The changes are three-fold:
- Those who enter into a same-sex marriage are considered apostate, and will need to undergo Church discipline possibly resulting in disfellowshipment or excommunication;
- Local leaders should seriously consider Church discipline against members cohabitating in same-sex relationships but not married;
- Minor children in same-sex households are not to be baptized into the Church until they reach adulthood At that point they must understand and accept the Church’s doctrine regarding the sinfulness of same-sex acts and marriages in order to be baptized
The first two points can hardly be surprising—homosexual acts have long been grounds for Church discipline. The only change is placing same-sex marriage in the category of apostasy, which requires that disciplinary action be taken.
The third point has led many to mistaken claims, including:
- The Church is making minor children whose parents are in same-sex marriages “apostates”;
- The Church is “punishing” children for their parents’ sins.
These conclusions reflect unfamiliarity with the important considerations the Church must take into account when working with children and families.
The Church has long honored parental authority
No minor child may be taught or baptized without the consent of his or her parents. Thus, the Church defends the parents’ authority and the parent-child relationship even in a matter—baptism—which the Church regards as ultimately essential for salvation.
Furthermore, the Church does not believe that a child who cannot receive baptism because of their parents’ action will be condemned. All have a full and free opportunity—either in this life, or in the next through vicarious temple ordinances—to accept the gospel. Others cannot prevent this forever. But, in some cases, a child must wait to be baptized if the parents’ actions make it necessary.
Standards the same for children in polygamous families
The policies regarding children with same-sex married parents is the same as that for children whose parents are in polygamous relationships. In both cases, the children cannot be baptized while they are minors living in such circumstances. They must also both be interviewed carefully to confirm that they understand and accept the Church’s doctrine on same-sex relationships or unauthorized plural marriage.
It would be inappropriate and unfair for the Church to expect minor children to cope with the issue of divided loyalties. All children need the support of a family. Ideally, that support should be provided by a married mother and father. Some children do not have that advantage, but it is still important that the Church does not undermine a polygamist family’s relationship between parents and child, or a same-sex couple’s relationship with a child they are parenting.
To baptize a minor child in such a situation would be to put the child in a difficult position. Those who choose to be baptized must wholeheartedly endorse the Church’s doctrines and principles. Yet, children whose parents are in a same-sex marriage would be told at home that their parents’ marriage was valid and a model to follow; at Church they would hear that the marriage was invalid and deeply sinful. At best, this could be confusing; at worst, it risks alienating the child from to parental figures.
The Church is trying to balance the importance of baptism with the importance of family harmony and relationships. A child of parents in same-sex relationships might not be able to easily reconcile the love he feels for his parents with the teachings at church that the parents’ relationship is sinful. It takes maturity to be able to love and respect others whom we believe to be acting wrongly. When the child reaches adulthood, and is ready to make the mature choice to make covenants that require renouncing his parent’s (or parents’) lifestyle, and accept all of the challenges and implications of that choice, the time will be right for baptism.
Were the Church to do otherwise, its critics and detractors would likely complain that it was undermining parents’ authority or depriving the minor member child of the benefits of family life by teaching against same-sex acts and same-sex marriage.
Protecting the Church from those who would manipulate it
Those who are the members of polygamist groups have also, on occasion, sought to have their children join the Church in order to access temple ordinances. Thus, parents may occasionally push children into Church membership to achieve goals of their own, and not out of sincere belief.
In a similar way, it is conceivable that at least a few same-sex parents might seek to use a child’s baptism as a way to make a political point in the media, or gain leverage over a local Church unit’s handling of their same-sex relationship.
Children and local Church leaders should not be put in such a position, and so the Church’s policy protects both.
Decisions ultimately made by the First Presidency
The decision whether to baptize adult children of same-sex married parents will not be made by local leaders. Local leaders can only recommend a course of action to the First Presidency. Such situations can be messy and complex; guidelines and policies probably cannot capture all the various circumstances or complications that will arise in a pluralistic society with widely differing views of marriage. The decision in all such cases will be made by the First Presidency, and not left to the sole discretion of local leaders.
This will help ensure uniformity among similar cases Church-wide, and also assure that those who make the decisions—the First Presidency—have the widest possible base of experience upon which to draw. As time goes on, as Church leaders seek to address individual cases, they will likely improve in their understanding of what best suits the needs of the child, the parents, and the Church.