Well, that was weird.
Just over three years after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced its policy of refusing to baptize children of gay church members until said children are 18, the church’s leaders reversed themselves.
Left hanging amidst all the news coverage yesterday was an answer to why the church leaders changed course so quickly. The big question: Was this a matter of doctrine or changing political realities?
The Deseret News, which is as close as one can get to an official voice of the church, said the following:
SALT LAKE CITY — Children of parents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender may now be blessed as infants and later baptized as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to updates announced Thursday to November 2015 church policies intended at the time to maintain family harmony but perceived as painful by some supporters of the LGBT community.
The church also will update its handbook of instructions for leaders to remove the label of apostasy for homosexual behavior that was applied beginning in November 2015, said President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, who announced the changes on behalf of the First Presidency on Thursday morning during the leadership session of the church’s 189th Annual General Conference…
In a news release, the First Presidency said the changes were the result of extended counseling with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and "fervent, united prayer to understand the will of the Lord on these matters."
The article added that the switch was a change in church policies, not in church doctrine, but then added that “current revelation overtakes past teachings.”
So, maybe someone had a revelation about this? You see, “revelation” is not a word typically associated with policy decisions. That’s a doctrine word.
The now-rejected policy was put into the place by the late LDS President Thomas Monson, who died more than a year ago. It sound to me like his successor decided to wait a decent interval, then reverse course, but the Washington Post pooh-poohed that idea. Kalamazoo College religion scholar Taylor) Petrey said:
… he was especially surprised by the new policy because the president of the church, Russell M. Nelson, was one of the old policy’s most vocal defenders.
“He called it a revelation, which is the highest status of church teaching there is,” he said. “To see that rescinded while he’s the head of the church is a shocking reversal.”
The Salt Lake Tribune’s veteran religion-beat pro Peggy Fletcher Stack was likewise trying to make sense of it all and her piece has by far the most information.
In November 2015, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints instituted a policy deeming same-sex married couples “apostates” and generally barring their children from baby blessings and baptisms.
Such harsh and restrictive rules triggered widespread protests and soul-searching. Hundreds, maybe more, resigned their church membership. Even believers felt wounded and betrayed. Families were torn. Tensions erupted. Some were disciplined by the church. Some died by suicide.
On Thursday, the Utah-based faith walked back all the hotly disputed elements. Church rituals for children now are OK, and LGBTQ couples are not labeled apostates. The shift comes after 41 months — by Mormon historical standards, an astonishingly rapid reversal.
“Absolutely true,” said historian Matthew Bowman, author of “The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith.” “Generally, church policies are changed much more slowly and often, when they do change, there is not this sort of announcement.”
The speed of the about-face, Bowman added, “reflects the turbulence that this policy and its implementation created among members, as well as among bishops and stake presidents."
So it sounds like the higher-ups were getting major static from lower-echelon church leaders about this policy. Could the move have been a pragmatic one, maybe asking why the kids should be punished for the sins of the parents?
I’ve checked other secular and gay media for coverage, but haven’t found much else that goes beyond announcing the change and getting reaction.
A note to the Associated Press: The church’s semiannual General Conference is this coming weekend, which makes the timing of this announcement even more curious.
Next up: Gay couples who decide to have their kids baptized after the new policy change. I’d love to hear what some of the 8-year-olds (which is the youngest that LDS kids can be while undergoing the rite) have to say about this. I hope there will be folks out there covering that.