No part of the new LDS policy on same-sex couples has generated more controversy — and criticism — than its prohibition against Mormon rituals for their children.
Stories flooding social media tell of canceled baby blessings, postponed baptisms, aborted priesthood ordinations and withdrawn missionary applications. Even many devout Mormons — including congregational and regional leaders — report distress, despondence and despair over the upheaval.
After all, families and children are at the center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Utah-based faith spends much time, money and energy raising up what it sees as a righteous generation through programs introduced to kids as young as 18 months old.
From the moment children are born, they are embraced by the Mormon community in a ritual known as a “blessing” — similar to a “christening” — in which infants are given a name and prayerfully celebrated in a public gesture. They also are entered onto the church’s rolls.
LDS kids attend Primary and receive more religious instruction before — and after — they are baptized at age 8 and become official members. As teens, they attend Young Men and Young Women programs and are urged to serve full-time missions (at age 18 for males and 19 for females).
Sons and daughters of murderers, adulterers, fornicators, drug addicts, unwed mothers, divorced parents and sometimes non-Mormons can be welcomed into the community with such special rites, born of the Mormon belief that children are born innocent, rather than carrying the weight of their parents’ sins.
Defending or offending families? • Now, the church says children whose parents currently or have been in a same-sex relationship cannot participate in those rites. They must wait until they are 18 before they can seek approval from the governing First Presidency to join the LDS Church.
To do so, they no longer can live with their parents and must disavow their parents’ marriages.
The change was prompted by “compassion,” Mormon apostle D. Todd Christofferson explained in a 10-minute video interview last week. “It originates from a desire to protect children in their innocence and in their minority years.”
LDS leaders “don’t want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the church are very different,” he said, noting that “nothing is lost to them in the end” if these children join the faith when they become adults.
Some Mormons share that view and defend the move.
There is “no degree of punishment that exists in these new changes,” a blogger at lds.net argued. “Children must simply wait until they can legally make their own decision to join the church, rather than relying on their parents’ approval.”
Utahn Ashley Blackburn echoed that sentiment.
“Most of us are products of our upbringing,” Blackburn wrote to The Salt Lake Tribune’s Public Insight Network. “It makes sense to me that the church would require a child from a same-sex household to be an adult and completely comprehend what ramifications will come with becoming a member of the church — [including] disavowing their parents’ marriage — before they make the decision of baptism.”
She does not believe, the active Mormon added, that her church’s leaders are doing this to “spite the gay community. They are, in my opinion, trying to garner a safe and loving upbringing for those raised in a gay household.”
If these religious rituals are not crucial to a young believer’s upbringing, others argue, why does the church emphasize them so much?