OPINION — Utah likes to portray an image of being a family-friendly state, with the welfare of its children at the forefront.
The problem with images is that they can be easily distorted, as we are finding out.
During a recent conference about child abuse, it was revealed that Utah ranks eighth in the nation for overall child abuse and first in sex abuse incidents against children.
The state remains at the bottom of the list when it comes to per-pupil funding for education.
Utah’s kids were dealt yet another blow with a policy issued by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Thursday that proclaims that children living in a same-sex household may not be blessed as babies. They cannot be baptized until they are 18, and, at that time, may only be baptized if they disavow the practice of same-sex cohabitation or marriage, stop living within the household of their same-sex parents and request to join the church. Before they are baptized, they must first receive permission from the church’s First Presidency.
Normally, Mormon children are blessed as infants and baptized at the age of 8, which the church instructs is essential to salvation.
It was also revealed Thursday that the church also now views those in same-sex relationships as being apostates, which affects temple rights and church membership. Until church officials acknowledged the policy change, the matter was handled on a more local level and left to the discretion of local leaders.
We already knew, of course, that the LDS Church has a strong position against same-sex marriage, from official announcements to the amount of time, money and personnel assigned to fight same-sex marriage in California in 2008.
We know the influence the church has had on the Utah Legislature and governor’s office, which fought long and hard – and unsuccessfully, I might add – to influence the United States Supreme Court when it was hearing arguments on same-sex marriage.
Now, the church is trying to flex its muscle by using children of same-sex couples as pawns in what has become more of a political game than moral issue.
And, it is unfair.
We are supposed to support our children, encourage them, teach them to respect and love their parents, something that this latest policy change seems to forget.
We are to embrace all of our children the same without separating one group from another. We are to teach them fairness, honesty, love.
The church policy shift does none of that, instead creating a disparity in how young Mormons are treated, leaving some in a lesser position than others.
Interestingly, the policy change was not issued through the church public affairs office, instead being discovered when an LDS policy handbook was leaked online.
Church officials were slow to respond to questions from the media and general public.
It was, to put it kindly, handled very poorly.
Instead of a general announcement, the policy was sent quietly to local church leaders.
The impact was immediate and far-reaching.
The church has tried to reconcile its decision by comparing those in same-sex relationships in the same category as fundamentalist Mormons who still practice polygamy, which the mainstream church has also disavowed.
Let’s not split hairs here and argue the fact that polygamy and same-sex marriage have nothing in common other than being condemned by the church. Let’s keep this focused on the children, who now have no clue why they are not allowed to participate in baptism and must, to become members, disavow their parents when they reach the age of 18, move out of their family households and ask permission to join the church.
All, of course, in the name of salvation.
Look, if we make exceptions for anybody on this fragile planet, they should come in the way of helping our children grow into healthy minds and bodies. There are enough cruelties in this world without making children feel like outcasts from their church or being forced to turn their backs on the parents who raised them, fed them, clothed them, saw to their needs.
We have enough damaged children roaming the Earth, crippled by the inequities of life, racism, poverty, bigotry and predators of every kind without harming them any more.
But, there will be a lot of lines drawn in the sand by these children someday who will have to make a choice between their parents and a church that shuns those same parents, no matter how supportive, loving, or attentive they may be.
Church apologists, and there are many, have been trying desperately to paint a “nothing’s changed” face on all of this, citing the church’s history of opposing same-sex marriage.
While that is true, it must be pointed out that children were never a part of this equation.
I seriously doubt there is anything that can be done on a legal level because of the protections churches have gained.
They have, from the birth of the nation, been given free rein.
They don’t pay taxes, are not bound by the Constitution or rule of law regarding who may be a church member or what levels of leadership one may attain or be barred from.
They are even given wiggle room to preach from the pulpit, as we have seen in the fight against same-sex marriage and the support – from money to bodies – the church has thrown behind its argument that marriage is the domain of one man and one woman, even though their tax break supposedly precludes them from entering the political arena in any way.
I am saddened by this turn of events.
I always thought the purpose of religion was to spread kindness, to embrace our fellow man and woman despite our differences, to be forgiving, merciful beings.
I was taught to hate the sin but love the sinner and, of course, to do unto others as I would have them do unto me.
I guess that’s off the boards now, and that’s a shame, because if ever there was a time for faith and spirituality, kindness and love, now is that time.
I guess that’s why there is such a vast chasm between faith and religion.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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