Being Mormon and on social media at all, it was difficult not to notice that my church has shifted its policy toward gay Mormon participation to a more hard-lined, less inclusive, some will say less loving, position. I haven’t dove deep into it. Maybe I never will. This issue doesn’t affect me full on. I’m not gay, no one in my immediate family is gay. But I’ve read their stories. I know people who are gay. I know people who know people who are gay. Thinking about it at all, it’s hard not to sympathize with those people in pain because of this policy.
But I also have some sympathy for what the church is trying to do. They are trying to walk a mighty fine line. They admit that same sex attraction is not a choice:
The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
The church no longer recommends (at least not necessarily) a gay person marry someone of the opposite gender. I hope they have stopped recommending reparative therapy. Instead, they advocate celibacy. By all accounts, mixed orientation marriages largely end up in divorce, and reparative therapy is ineffective and damaging. I’m not an expert on this subject, I’m just repeating what I’ve read.
But of course another option is to fall in love and marry. The church policy clarifies the church’s response to that choice. A gay couple who marries will be subject to a disciplinary council for apostasy and children raised by these couples will not be eligible for baby blessings, baptism, priesthood or missionary service until they turn 18, no longer live with their parents and disavow the marriage relationship of their parents. I didn’t know this before, but the church has had a similar policy in place for years, without scrutiny, for polygamous families and their children. There are reasonable arguments out there that try to explain and defend this.
I have a ton of respect for Bill Reel and he comes down hard against the policy in his podcast here.
Here’s my fairly convoluted take. First of all, I think the dynamics of a same sex marriage is different than polygamy. I think reasonable people can find similarities. And if I squint, I can see why the church puts them in the same basic category and creates policy that treats them similarly.
Because of the shift society has made on this issue and the fact that the law has changed, choosing gay marriage is considered apostasy, not just sin. I think this distinction is important and it’s why I think this logic falls a bit short:
In the LDS Church, children born out of wedlock can be blessed, baptized, and approved to serve a mission.
Children born to rapists can be blessed, baptized, and approved to serve a mission.
Even children born to murderers can be blessed, baptized, and approved to serve a mission.
But children born to faithful, loving, monogamous couples in a same-sex marriage or other committed relationship will henceforth be excluded from all three of those things.
People who embrace and live in gay marriage are considered apostates, those who commit murder or rape are terrible people. Those born to parents who are actively living an apostate life need to put more of an effort to show they have embraced Mormonism and its core tenants despite what they may have been learned by those who raised them. Those born to terrible people are simply embraced and loved. To me, this makes some logical sense. The point here is that apostates can be good, they simply disagree with basic tenants of Mormonism. You can be an apostate and be good. You just can’t be apostate and be Mormon.
And this is the point I’m trying to get to. We shouldn’t treat apostasy as a pejorative. It doesn’t have to be seen negatively, though in practice it is. Perhaps we need another word. Here’s wikipedia:
Apostasy (/əˈpɒstəsi/; Greek: ἀποστασία (apostasia), “a defection or revolt”) is the formal disaffiliation from, or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. It can also be defined within the broader context of embracing an opinion contrary to one’s previous beliefs. One who commits apostasy (or who apostatizes) is known as an apostate. The term apostasy is used by sociologists to mean renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to, a person’s former religion, in a technical sense and without pejorative connotation.
The Mormon church has made it clear that it’s made families, traditional husband, wife, children families, foundational. The church recognizes that the traditional family is not realized by everyone: the never-married, the divorced, the widowed. But members are encouraged to strive for marriage and children and support others who have. That’s what membership in the church requires, as it stands today. I will say, though, this focus on the family narrows the theology, mostly because it doesn’t recognize and make appropriate and compassionate room for the gay population. Unlike polygamy, this is difficult, because gay people are inter-dispersed among us. They may be, without our choice, our brothers, our sisters, our cousins, our friends and yes, our parents.
And for Mormons, families are both foundational and essential for salvation. We are saved with God not just by ourselves but in our relationships, especially in our most intimate relationships. For better or for worse, this is what the Mormon church is today. This is what is driving, fundamentally, its behavior.
So, what is a gay person to do? They can try to make a mixed-orientation marriage work, they can try to make a run at celibacy. Slipping in these efforts is tolerated. The church supports and has compassion for those who are trying to live up to the standards, recognizing we all fail. But those who choose gay marriage have simply chosen a different path. The church calls this apostasy. Can we still be friends?
I’m loathe to use this term. It’s pejorative. It’s divisive. Someone who falls in love with a same sex partner and marries may still believe and support the church in every other way. They may still value the community. Their family members are also likely members of the church and they hope to preserve and deepen these relationships within a faith journey. Labeling someone an apostate is not a way to build relationships. I think this is why gay Mormons are at elevated risk for suicide.
I don’t know what to say about all of this. All I can do is love, the believer, the non-believer, the faithful, the doubter, and especially given this definition of apostasy, the apostate. That’s all I can really do.