By guest blogger Joseph A. Hollenbaugh
The leaked news of a new LDS Church policy denying church affiliation to the children of same-sex couples brought widespread reactions of shock, disbelief, and consternation.
The news spread quickly after a Church spokesman verified the authenticity of documents posted by activist blogger John Dehlin. The leaked documents instruct LDS Church leaders to generally disallow children of same-sex couples from formal affiliation with the Church.
Social media exploded with outrage and confusion at this policy, which apparently punishes children for the legal (but church-condemned) actions of their parents, in contradiction of basic church doctrine.
The most common question seems to be, “why?”
Why go after the children?
Is it simple hatred or gross prejudice? Is it some kind of legal game? What rationale can there be for targeting children?
I confess, my own first reaction was complete confusion. I have been associated in various ways with the LDS Church for more than fifty years, working in many roles with access to restricted information. I earned degrees in journalism and in law from BYU, and contributed to a text on Utah juvenile law. This new policy initially struck me as utterly out of character for the Church, and as a completely idiotic move. Unfortunately, I finally realized that it is neither; it is, rather, quite characteristic, and deviously clever from the perspective of Church leaders.
From its early days, the Church has never shied away from identifying itself with power. It proclaims itself a kingdom, the Kingdom of God on earth. Church founder Joseph Smith declared himself the mouthpiece of God, and stated that he alone possessed the power to bind the heavens. Church doctrine explicitly considers the Church as the exclusive repository of the authority required to reconcile mankind to God (see Articles of Faith 4 & 5).
The Church itself holds the ultimate power of determining who may, and who may not, obtain the most important of God’s gifts and rewards.
For believers, there can be no greater desire than to maintain “good standing” within the Church, which is tantamount to acceptance by God himself. To lose one’s place in the faith (or never to gain it) is to lose one’s place with God. It is the ultimate rejection, the ultimate failure, and the ultimate loss. Is it any surprise that Church leaders exercise that power fervently and jealously? And this late move against same-sex couples is simply that; a raw exercise of power.
You might say that is obvious, but to what end? Why this? But power needs no motive; it is its own motive. Yet the power to punish innocent children, or withhold “blessings” from them, seems entirely gratuitous on the surface. This policy, however, is not about punishing children. It is about exploiting children. Yes, exploiting. As in, using children as a means to an end. As in, using children as leverage to control the parents, and extended families, and the courts of the Intermountain West of the United States.
The use of Church affiliation as a means of control and coercion by Church leaders is nothing new, but the recent policy is a calculated and ingenious mutation of the practice. The Church has long used political and economic power to control its environment and membership. Yet political and economic power are trivial compared to the power over eternal reward or punishment for individuals and their families. The new policy brings all of these powers to bear and makes children the pawns in a devilishly intricate chess match.
How does that play out?
First, the policy is a pressure tactic.
By separating children of same-sex couples from the Church, the leadership places a burden on gay parents to remain in inauthentic traditional marriages. The social pressure to do so is already a heavy restraint on gay parents. Now, a gay parent who believes in the religion faces a new hellish choice – be controlled by the Church, or make your children suffer.
Keep in mind that for a believing parent, the imperative to have children receive baptism is a matter of eternal life and death. That parent can no longer decide for himself or herself alone; but also risks the eternal welfare of the child.
This is similar to the common criminal tactic of threatening a loved one in order to coerce somebody. The pressure expands outward to straight co-parents and to extended family. Those people can no longer adopt a tolerant stance toward the gay parent. For the sake of the children, co-parents, birth parents, grandparents, and other family members will be induced to exert tremendous pressure on gay parents. The message will be, either comply with the Church’s dictates, or if not, then yield your parental role and rights to the “traditional” parent.
The only way to truly understand such pressure is either by experiencing it firsthand, or by observing the pain and heartache it induces, leading even to suicide.
Second, the policy is a legal tactic.
It exploits the hyper-conservative legal culture in Mormon-dominated communities and states. In matters of divorce, the custodial arrangements for children are governed by the “best interests of the child.” With same-sex marriage now legal and endorsed as such by the US Supreme Court, local courts would be hard-pressed to accept an argument that a same-sex parent’s household, per se, weighs against the best interests of the child.
So the Church has provided a new argument, i.e., the same-sex household will harm the best interests of the child by interfering with the child’s religious affiliation and training. It is even conceivable that an interested party might argue that the child’s (or other parent’s) constitutionally-protected interest in free exercise of religion is being infringed by allowing the child to live with a same-sex parent.
Add in the pressure from extended family and the community, all arguing that the best interests of the child are being harmed by the same-sex parent, and judges will have a handy rationale for defying the legal acceptance of same sex marriage.
Can anyone doubt that a Church with a former state supreme court justice as a senior leader, is capable of such legal maneuvering? And especially when that leader, Dallin Oaks, has been at the forefront of the Church’s ongoing war against same-sex marriage rights?
The new, seemingly bizarre LDS policy targeting children of gay parents, when placed in this perspective, no longer seems gratuitous or simply hateful. Rather, it falls into place within the Church’s never-ending quest to control, coerce, and dominate individuals.
Exploitation of children, families, and the law in order to maintain its hegemony seems to be standard operating procedure for the religion that claims Jesus as its head.
Bio of Joseph Hollenbaugh:
Joseph has been involved with the LDS church for more than fifty years, having followed the church-prescribed path of baptism at age eight, priesthood ordination at age twelve, seminary graduation, mission at age 19, temple marriage, and a large, church-active family. His church service included serving in most ward and stake positions. He earned his degree in Journalism (B.A.) and Doctorate in Law (J.D.) at BYU. Joseph resigned from the church in 2005 when he felt unable to accept the doctrine of exclusivity and also church attitudes toward gender, race, and gay rights issues. He now works as a self-employed consultant and enjoys his quest to free himself and others from the burden of false beliefs.