Many Latter-day Saints have struggled with the Church’s new guidelines in the Handbook of Instructions on dealing with same-sex relationships and children raised by same-sex couples. It’s a sensitive issue for many, especially those of us who have close family members who are gay or who are otherwise strongly affected by the issue of same-sex marriage. While the Church’s statements to clarify the guidelines have been helpful (see the context provided by Elder Christofferson at MormonNewsroom.org and the recent letter from the First Presidency with some clarification), it has still been easy for Latter-day Saints to feel pain and confusion over this highly charged, sensitive issue, especially when we see bitterness or disappointment from those we love.
For those who are confused and disappointed by the policy guidelines regarding families same sex marriage, I’d like to point to the example of one woman who has been an inspiration to me and many others here in Asia and in other parts of the world. She’s given me permission to share a letter she wrote to a friend about her personal struggle with the new guidelines. I think the way this faithful woman dealt with the issue is an excellent example for how to deal with these kind of challenges intelligently, but also with patience and faith. I don’t know if the conclusions she draws about the need for some kind of policy like this are correct, for that involves complex legal matters. I need to explore that matter later, but for now, I want to call attention to the approach she took.
She has given me permission to use her name, but I’ll just call her “Jeannie G.” Here’s the letter:
Like you, I was upset by the new church policy on gay family members when it was first announced. Many members who don’t personally know any gay people (or think they don’t know any) seem to be less troubled by the new policy. But for those of us who have gay friends and family members, it was hard not to feel distraught.
I would like to share with you my experience in dealing with this issue in hope that it might help you in your own struggle.
In recent years I have been heartened by the small but significant steps taken by the Church to provide support to gay members and their families. These include: Acknowledging the difference between feelings and behavior. Advising parents to support their gay kids, and not to kick them out. Encouraging gay members to stay with the church, because we need them, and creating the mormonsandgays.org website. All showed much needed acceptance and respect for a maligned group of members who didn’t ask to be gay. As the website states: “With love and understanding the Church reaches out to all God’s children including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”
After these efforts, the new policy seemed to take a step backwards. It first struck me as unkind and unnecessarily painful. My heart goes out to gay members who still have a testimony, or are trying to salvage their testimony, while hoping to find a supportive environment in the Church that they love. I was heartsick with the implied message of the new policy: “You are not wanted here. The Church is no longer your home.”
I am extremely grateful for the gospel. I grew up in a difficult family situation. I could not have survived without the support and direction of the Church. The gospel saved me. So it pained me to think that the innocent children of gay members would be excluded from the resources and strength of the Church community.
I have found the gospel provides rich satisfying truths and a clear logic. I was totally baffled by the new policy that seemed to have none of those defining hallmarks.
After a three week struggle with many heartfelt, tearful prayers, I got an answer. Most of my inspiration comes in the night or early morning, as did this. I awoke one morning to find this answer: The Church had to do it. With legalized gay marriage, the Church is now vulnerable to being sued by some LDS gay couple claiming a right to a temple sealing. Children of gay couples could also sue, thus the need for them to formally disavow the gay lifestyle should they join the Church at age 18. The policy was not intended to divide family loyalties. It is to provide legal protection to the Church. Understanding the legal reasoning, despite my negative first impression, helped me see that the Church is not trying to denigrate those with same sex attraction. Although it creates a wrenching dilemma for gay members, I now see that the general authorities clearly had to institute this new policy. Currently it would be difficult to sue with the religious guarantees that presently stand. I believe the church is putting the policies in place now for the future safety and well being of the institution.
Although it would have helped if the Church had reiterated the positive message from the website while announcing the new policy, I hope that gay members can still find solace from mormomsandgays.org website. It’s still up and running.
I worry that with married gay members now facing a disciplinary council for apostasy, some members might feel justified in condemning or mistreating all gay people. We need to remember the policy was established not to condemn gay members, but rather to protect the temple. As disciples of Christ we are to give succor and support to all those who struggle, whether gay or straight. That love and support is needed now more than ever in these difficult times.
I hope this has been helpful.
This woman is a powerhouse of compassion and intelligence, and if you know her personally, I think you would agree. I always learn something from her. Thank you for caring and for your example of dealing with a challenging, difficult issue.
Update, Jan. 5: Whatever the reasons are behind the policy, I think those who strongly disagree with it should realize that people with different views on gay marriage are not necessarily driven by hate or bigotry. Too many people are trained to think–a word I use loosely–that those who disagree with them must be VEPs (Very Evil People). There is a genuine debate here, as there is on many social issues, and intelligent people can be on both sides, even intelligent non-Nazis. To assume that the guidelines and policies related to gay marriage are driven by bigotry and hate is neither fair nor reasonable. See “The Brethren are not Bigots” by Cassandra Hedelius, a thoughtful and valuable post.
Since we don’t have infallible leaders, it is possible for mistakes to occur. Faithful Latter-day Saints who disagree with a decision or policy can fairly wonder if it’s a mistake, and if so, hope that it will be swiftly corrected. On the other hand, we should also be willing to ask if perhaps there is something we personally don’t yet understand or see properly. We should have the courtesy and civility to recognize that leaders who view something differently aren’t necessarily bad people or failed leaders, and may have legitimate reasons for their view that we don’t yet appreciate. That’s a reasonably faithful approach to sustaining our mortal leaders. Denouncing them is not.
For those interesting in understanding this issue, an excellent discussion is provided at FAIRMormon.org in “A Look at the Church’s New Policy on Children of Gay Couples.” This touches briefly about some of the legal issues that could be involved and may suggest that Jeannie G.’s conclusion has merit. It also carefully explains what the policy does and what it doesn’t do. What you’ve heard about it may not be very accurate or fair.