Dear LDS Church: Yes, it absolutely is punishing children for their parents’ actions

My testimony situation (i.e., lack of such) isn’t, as far as I can tell, about the LDS church’s many anti-inclusion policies or the many statements made by church leaders that can be seen as insensitive, tribal, reactionary, etc. However, I won’t blame anyone who leaves the church over this new policy change. It really is mind-boggling to me how people claiming to lead the church established by Jesus could have made these rules. I suppose, if I still felt connected enough to the doctrine to need to decide where I stood vis-a-vis the church, I might need to tell myself that the modern church, just like ancient Israel, is capable of being led by people who make really, really questionable decisions.

In typical adorable-yet-horrifying-native-Utahn naive fashion, lds.net both summarizes the issues and clarifies my reasons for being taken so very far aback, in a blog post defending the changes (note: copy-pasted on 11/7/2015, 5:45 a.m. EST):

The first change edits the definition of apostasy. The new definition adds that entering a same-sex marriage constitutes apostasy.

The second change requires that for children of same-sex couples to be baptized they must be adults, and specifically reaffirm their testimony of eternal marriage.

OK, I get the first one. The church is opposed to gay marriage, so if you still do it, you’re really breaking a rule the church has said is important. However, I also note that the church is opposed to divorce for many reasons, abortion for most reasons, etc., and I don’t think you get labeled “apostate” for those, or for not paying tithing or for refusing to do your visiting teaching, but whatever, for right now. Maybe Christopher D. Cunningham needs his shameless apologism skills sharpened.

The “second change” is the one causing the backlash, and the one that I, too, find unconscionable. As many others have noted, that responsibility-deflecting, pleasant-toned statement above hides at least two critical policy changes that affect people who have committed no “sin”:

A. You can’t get a name/blessing or be baptized if you’re under 18 and your parents are in a same-sex marriage
B. If you ever want those blessings, you now have a special requirement to denounce gay marriage

(A) creates a separate class of church members by applying a special rule that doesn’t exist for others. that’s problematic, to me. (B) is much more so: people are punished for their parents’ transgressions.

The lds.net blog post responds to this “myth” with the following: “Children must simply wait until they can legally make their own decision to join the Church, rather than relying on their parent’s approval.” Yeah, that’s not a myth-debunktion; it’s just a restatement of the policy. If baptism means anything, or is a blessing in any way, then restricting it for a class of individuals based on the actions of their parents is, absolutely, effectively a punishment. The blog-post-that-only-its-writer-could-love goes on to claim that this new policy change is completely reasonable and even necessary, with some really transparently silly defenses, which I respond to below. I suppose a lifetime of learning to think critically has destroyed my ability to believe political spin, which is what this is–and it’s pretty ham-fisted, at that.

Defense #1: “While a parent in a same-sex relationship could theoretically approve of their child’s baptism, questioning their motivation to do so would be prudent since they have so prominently rejected the teachings of the Church.”

Response: If continuing to live in a way contrary to prominent church teachings is ‘rejecting the teachings of the church’ and is therefore grounds for one’s children to be denied baptism, then there’s a whole big slew of things that need to be included. Murder, many cases of divorce, ongoing child abuse, refusal to pay tithing and offerings, lack of doing one’s home or visiting teaching, etc. It is completely unclear why people who “reject” the church’s teachings by being same-sex married should have their children’s baptisms prohibited while parents who, for example, continue to work in venture capital or fly drones that kill children in Yemen or participate in making nasty R-rated movies or refuse to do their home teaching can still have their kids baptized. For flippity-fricken-sake, as far as I know the children of practicing satanists can be baptized, as long as their Baphomet-worshipping parents give permission. Being gay and married can’t possibly represent a more fundamental rejection of the teachings of the church than belonging to the Church of Satan, can it?

Defense #2: “These changes could also help protect children”  because there could be custody battles and divorce involved in these cases.

Response: This one is transparently silly. Yes, many children of gay parents could end up in a custody battle, and yes, a judge could reverse a finding and change custody, thereby changing which parent gives consent for baptism. But the number of children to whom this applies in gay marriage situations is much smaller than in straight marriages; divorce is incredibly common, even in the church, as are various nasty kinds of custody battles. Even more tellingly, the church’s new policy apparently still prevents you from being baptized even if all parents involved give permission. If this were about custody battles, the policy would be about children in custody battles. it’s not.

Defense #3: “All children, of course, continue to be welcome at all church activities, including primary, and Sacrament meeting. And in following the example of the Savior, all children are entitled to blessings of comfort and healing.”

Allowing some blessings doesn’t negate the fact that others have been denied. And I can’t believe Christopher D. Cunningham actually wrote that a policy denying baptism based on the decisions of one’s parents is “following the example of the Savior.”

Dear Chris, maybe you need more practice at defending the indefensible. It’s not easy, as you’ve just found out.