SALT LAKE CITY – In an effort to help church members, the public and the media better understand the purpose and context of recent policy changes relating to children of same-sex parents, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, sat down for a video interview in Salt Lake City Friday with Church Public Affairs Managing Director Michael Otterson.
During the interview, Christofferson addressed the onslaught of questions and backlash that have ensued since the new policy went into effect Thursday and was added to the church’s “Handbook 1” policy and instruction guide for local-level church leaders.
The new policy restricts the natural or adopted children of same-gender parents from being baptized and receiving other church ordinances until the age of 18. It also blocks babies in same-gender parent homes from receiving a name and a blessing within the church.
In addressing the new policy, Christofferson said:
In answering, I speak not only as an apostle in the church but as a husband, as a father, as a grandfather. Like others in those more enduring callings, I have a sense of compassion and sympathy and tender feelings that they do, so this policy originates out of that compassion. It originates from a desire to protect children in their innocence and in their minority years.
When, for example, there is the formal blessing and naming of a child in the church, which happens when a child has parents who are members of the church, it triggers a lot of things: First, a membership record for them. It triggers the assignment of visiting and home teachers. It triggers an expectation that they will be in primary (church organization for children) and in the other church organizations, and that is likely not going to be an appropriate thing in the home setting and the family setting where they’re living as children, where their parents are a same-sex couple.
We don’t want there to be the conflicts that that would engender. We 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.
While the new policy has made waves both in and outside the church, Christofferson said a similar policy has been in place for many years relating to children in polygamous families.
“The situation with polygamous families, for example, and same-sex marriage couples and families really has a parallel,” Christofferson said. “For generations, we’ve had these same kinds of policies that relate to children in polygamous families – that we wouldn’t go forward with these ordinances while they’re in that circumstance and before they reach their majority (years), and that’s the same sort of situation we’re dealing with here. So, it’s something we have had a history with. It’s a practice that really is analogous, that’s been the case over many generations.”
“Anyone coming out of a polygamous setting who wants to serve a mission,” he went on to say, “has to be clear that they understand that is wrong and is sin and cannot be followed. They disavow the practice … of plural marriage, and that would be the same case here. They would disavow – or assent, I guess, is maybe a better way to say it, to the doctrines and practice of the church as regards same-sex marriage.”
For children in same-gender parent homes, church ordinances can be entered into when the child becomes an adult and can make informed and conscious decisions, Christofferson said.
“Nothing is lost to them in the end if that’s the direction they want to go,” he said, “and in the meantime, they’re not placed in a position where there will be difficulties, challenges, conflicts that can injure their development in very tender years.”
Once children in same-gender parent homes have reached legal age, according to the new policy, in order to be baptized and become members of the church, they must disavow the practice of same-sex relationships and commit to living church teachings and doctrine. They must also no longer live with their same-gender parent or parents. When those two conditions are met, before the individual can be baptized, ordained to a priesthood office or recommended for missionary service, a mission president or stake president must obtain approval from the church’s Office of the First Presidency.
Christofferson emphasized that children are not asked to disavow their parents but rather the practice of same-gender relationships, which are considered a serious sin within the church.
“We recognize that same-sex marriages are now legal in the United States and some other countries and that people have the right, if they choose, to enter into those, and we understand that,” Christofferson said. “But that’s not a right that exists in the church – that’s the clarification.”
We think it’s possible and mandatory, incumbent upon us as disciples of the lord Jesus Christ, to yield no ground in the matter of love and sympathy and help and brotherhood and serving and doing all we can for anybody – at the same time maintaining the standards that he maintained.
That was the savior’s pattern. He always was firm in what was right and wrong. He never excused or winked at sin. He never redefined it. He never changed his mind – it was what it was and is what it is. And that’s where we are. But his compassion, of course, was unexcelled. And his desire and willingness and proactive efforts to minister, to heal, to bless, to lift and to bring people toward the path that leads to happiness never ceased. That’s where we are. We’re not going to stop that. We’re not going to yield on our efforts to help people find what brings happiness, but we know that sin does not.
And so we’re going to stand firm there, because we don’t want to mislead people. There’s no kindness in misdirecting people and leading them into any misunderstanding about what is true, what is right, what is wrong, what leads to Christ and what leads away from Christ.
Christofferson clarified that the policy does not bar minor children in same-gender parent families from receiving priesthood blessings.
“When we’re talking about blessings, priesthood blessings given to those who are ill or who want a blessing of comfort or guidance, that’s open to all,” he said, “and we would expect that to be done throughout their lifetime – from infancy on, as long as that’s the desire of the parents and of the child. That’s something we are anxious to provide. … Where there’s any kind of need – for blessings, for counsel, for help of whatever kind that can be offered – we want to do that.”
Christofferson added that the church’s efforts to support equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals remains unchanged.
“This is really two sides of the same coin,” he said. “On the one hand, we have worked with others and will continue to do so to protect rights and employment and housing and that sort of thing for all. On the other hand, there needs to be a respect and acknowledgement of the rights of a religious community to set its standards and to live according to them and to teach and abide by its own doctrines, such as regards marriage in this case.”
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