Yeah, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is relaxing internal restrictions on LGBTQ people in the church. Children of same-gender couples can now be blessed and baptized in the church, and married, queer Mormons are no longer subject to excommunication.
Yes, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The same Church that raised $500,000 per day to fight marriage equality in California. The same Church that cut ties with the Boy Scouts of America after the Scouts opened their membership and leadership to queer people, and *gasp* girls. The same Church that, in 2015, declared same-gender marriage to be an apostasy, and barred their children from being baptized.
The announcement came on April 4 from the presiding body over church leadership, the First Presidency. In that statement, President Dallin H. Oaks said, “While we cannot change the Lord’s doctrine, we want our members and our policies to be considerate of those struggling with the challenges of mortality.”
The very positive policies announced this morning should help affected families. In addition, our members’ efforts to show more understanding, compassion, and love should increase respect and understanding among all people of goodwill. We want to reduce the hate and contention so common today. We are optimistic that a majority of people—whatever their beliefs and orientations—long for better understanding and less contentious communications. That is surely our desire, and we seek the help of our members and others to attain it.
Huh. This reversal comes as a bit of a surprise, given the Church’s track record regarding LGBTQ people. Why would the Church reverse their doctrine after four years?
It might have something to do with the exodus of younger followers from the Church that followed the 2015 announcement. Discontent with the Church has been brewing among younger Mormons for some time now. Last year, a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 52 percent of Mormons aged 18-29 supported same-gender marriage, compared to 32 percent of Mormon seniors. As the demographics in the Church change, the doctrine and leadership will need to change if the Church wants to survive.
It’s doubtful whether or not this decision comes from a genuine place of acceptance and support on the part of the Church. The First Presidency clarified that while same-gender marriage isn’t an apostasy anymore, it is still a “serious transgression” and “the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.”
How that immoral conduct is treated is an obscure church matter. Also, the 2015 rules allowed children of queer couples to be baptized in adulthood, only with the consent of church leadership and if the child disavowed their parents. Without that disavowal, the Church can gain younger followers without alienating their parents while the Church punishes and excludes them.
Or, like so many other institutions in America currently, the Church is at a crossroads. The announcement precedes the national meeting of Mormon leadership, the General Conference. These changes to Church practice are certainly going to be scrutinized there. The outcome of the Conference could determine the future of queer inclusion for one of the most conservative institutions in the country.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.