SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — New Mormon church rules targeting gay members and their children have triggered a firestorm of backlash from church members of all political backgrounds.
Mormon scholar Patrick Mason said the symbolism of targeting kids has riled up even conservative, orthodox Latter-day Saints who don’t usually get on the LGBT bandwagon or question church decisions.
Under the new rules, issued last week, children living with gay parents are barred from being baptized until they’re 18. After that, they can be baptized only if they disavow same-sex relationships.
The policy also makes gay marriages a sin worthy of expulsion. It marked a dramatic detour from the religion‘s recent push to carve out a more compassionate stance on LGBT issues.
“The surprising impact has been the amount of people who are confused and troubled and disturbed and, frankly, repulsed,” said Mason, associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in California and Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies. “And these aren’t just progressives and LGBT advocates. … They are saying: ‘This doesn’t feel right. This doesn’t square with me.'”
He said the furious blowback is leading to widespread speculation that church leaders are working on revisions to the policy, which was leaked to the public after being emailed to church leaders around the world.
Because the rules were made in the church handbook, and not considered doctrinal change, Mormon leaders have wiggle room if they choose to revise them.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spokesman Eric Hawkins didn’t immediately have any comment on the speculation.
The new policy probably directly affects only a small number of Mormon families because not many same-sex couples with children are active in the church, Mason said. But it also could impact children who have one gay parent.
Mason said one possibility for revisions would be to address rules for children with only one gay parent, perhaps those with parents who are divorced. In past generations, many gay Mormon men married women at the encouragement of church leaders as a way to overcome what the religion calls “same-sex attraction.”
For the past several years, the church has tried to walk a delicate tightrope of becoming more gay-friendly while holding onto its belief that God intended marriage to be exclusively between a man and a woman. Leaders gave multiple speeches preaching a “fairness for all” approach that encourages compassion for gays while protecting religious liberties.
Members had bought into the new message of compassion and begun putting those lessons into action, Mason said. He called the rules the most damaging public relations move by the church since it urged members in 2008 to bankroll and support California’s gay marriage ban.
Church leaders said the changes were designed to reiterate the conservative faith’s doctrinal opposition to gay marriage and provide clarity to lay leaders around the globe asking questions after last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriages. The revisions also allow children of gay parents the chance to mature before making a decision about whether to fully invest in a faith that shuns their parents’ sexuality.