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 among 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 also was applied 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.
“The very positive policies announced this morning should help affected families,” President Oaks said. “In addition, our members’ efforts to show more understanding, compassion and love should increase respect and understanding among all people of good will. 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.”
Church leaders make clear distinctions between church doctrine and church policies and said Thursday’s changes are limited to policies, according to a news release on the church’s official website.
“These changes do not represent a shift in church doctrine related to marriage or the commandments of God in regard to chastity and morality,” the release said. “The doctrine of the Plan of Salvation and the importance of chastity will not change.”
In November 2015, the previous First Presidency led by the late President Thomas S. Monson issued policies and handbook instructions that children living with a same-gender couple could not receive baby blessings or baptism and that entering a same-sex marriage was apostasy requiring a church disciplinary council, Disciplinary councils can lead to excommunication.
At the time, church leaders said they were concerned about creating confusion and conflict in families headed by same-sex couples. As they shared the changes Thursday, they focused on treating all people with love, kindness and civility.
President Russell M. Nelson, who succeeded President Monson as church president, was president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 2015. He said in early 2016 that the November 2015 policies were the result of revelation. Latter-day Saints believe that God directs the church through ongoing revelation through a living prophet, the church president. President Nelson, who became the church president in January 2018, told general and area authorities from around the world during Thursday morning’s meeting that a flurry of policy changes over the past year were inspired by revelation.
President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, said the church needs God’s direction to meet changing circumstances and he has guided changes in the church’s practices and policies throughout its history.
President Oaks said the faith’s leaders cannot change God’s doctrine, but they want church members and church policies to be considerate.
News of the three policy updates announced Thursday are being sent to priesthood leaders around the world and will be included in online updates to “Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops,” according to the news release.
• All parents, including those outside the church or LGBT, now may request a blessing for a baby by a worthy, authorized priesthood holder, President Oaks said. Local church leaders should instruct the parent or parents that the blessing, an ordinance that places the child’s name on formal church records and triggers a lifelong series of church contact, would mean congregation members will contact them periodically and propose baptism when the child turns 8.
• Beginning immediately, children 8 and older whose parents identify themselves as LGBT may be baptized without First Presidency approval, President Oaks said. Latter-day Saints baptize by immersion, and baptism and confirmation give a person membership in the church.
President Oaks said local church leaders should obtain permission from custodial parents for a child’s baptism and ensure that they understand the doctrine church members will teach a baptized child and that he or she is making a covenant to live the principles of the gospel as taught by the church.
• While same-gender marriage by a church member still is considered a serious transgression, President Oaks said, it no longer will be treated as apostasy for purposes of church discipline. The clarification aligns the church’s response to violations of the church’s doctrine of the law of chastity — sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife — whether they occur in heterosexual or homosexual relationships.
“These policy changes come after an extended period of counseling with our brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and after fervent, united prayer to understand the will of the Lord on these matters,” the First Presidency said in the news release.
The First Presidency also issued a joint message with the release on Thursday.
“We pray these teachings will be received in the same spirit we received them from the Lord and have shared them with our leaders — as positive and inspiring instruction that will bless many lives,” The First Presidency said. “With gratitude we acknowledge God’s continuing guidance and love for all his children and invite our members to renew their commitment to follow the teachings of the Savior, Jesus Christ to love God and to love one another.”
The church does not consider it a sin to feel attraction to another person of the same sex. Faithful members with those attractions serve Latter-day Saint missions, hold church positions and worship in Latter-day Saint temples.
Leading up to the November 2015 policies, LGBT church members and supporters had expressed gratitude for developments in the church, including the launch of its mormonandgay.lds.org website and its fairness-for-all approach, which undergirded the Utah Compromise. That compromise became national news when it became a law in Utah providing legal protection for LGBT people in housing and employment while strengthening religious freedom protections.
At the time they announced the November 2015 policies, church leaders maintained their longstanding position that church members should not exclude or be disrespectful to those who choose a different lifestyle. They also said church members could express political support for same-sex marriage without consequence to their church membership.
Still, some said the policies were painful for them and critics launched petitions calling on guest performers to cancel appearances with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and to boycott games against Brigham Young University, the church’s flagship school.
Throughout the church’s history, Latter-day Saint leaders have instructed church members that current revelation overtakes past teachings. For example, after the 1978 revelation that extended the priesthood to members of African descent, the late apostle Elder Bruce R. McConkie said faithful people would get in line with a modern, living prophet and forget everything Elder McConkie and other leaders had said about blacks and the priesthood “with limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.”
“It is a new day and a new arrangement,” he said.
In fact, President Oaks said last June that he was among white American church members “who felt the pain of black brothers and sisters and longed for their relief” before the priesthood restriction was lifted after 126 years.
Some church policies have changed quickly. For example, the church dropped Jesus Christ from its name in 1834, then restored it in 1838. Church leaders also changed the length of missions for men from 24 months to 18 months in April 1982. The First Presidency reinstituted 24-month missions in November 1984.
The general sessions of the 189th Annual General Conference will be held Saturday and Sunday. Today’s news marks the first time the church has released information from a leadership session for general and area seventies leading into a general conference.
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