Advocates for LGBT Mormons say they’re seeing an unprecedented uproar in the past week about a new church policy banning the baptism of same-sex couples’ children and declaring married gay couples apostates. Some longtime advocates say they know dozens of Mormons quitting over the new policy. A public group resignation is planned for Saturday and reports are surfacing that church leadership may already be preparing to tweak the controversial edict.
“I’ve seen lots of painful things, but nothing so widespread, in terms of the devastation and heartbreak. I personally talked to dozens of people who are walking away. And these aren’t people with LGBT ties. These are ardent, faithful, in-the-box believing Mormons who can’t abide this,” said Wendy Montgomery, an Arizona Mormon who has a 17-year-old gay son and who co-founded Mama Dragons, a group for church mothers with gay children.
When the group was founded four years ago it had six members. It now has more than 500. She worked to create groups like Sit With Me Sunday, a program that helps LGBT people who want to come to church but are afraid to connect with someone to take them. The volunteer running it shut it down last week after news broke of the new policy, Montgomery said. “She said, ‘It’s no longer safe to invite them. It’s better if we tell them to run.'”
The new policy, which was put quietly in a handbook but leaked last week, says children living in a same-sex household may not be blessed as babies or baptized until they are 18. At that time children may disavow the practice of same-sex cohabitation or marriage and stop living within the household and request to join the church, the new policy said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Before the change, the church’s policy was that same-sex marriage might require discipline and it was usually left up to local leaders. Now that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the country, the church decided to identify those in a same-sex marriage as apostates, or people who renounce their faith.
Rumors began this week that the church’s 15-man leadership — three in a body called The First Presidency and 12 in a lower-level unit called the Quorum of the Apostles — might change the document following the uproar.
The Salt Lake Tribute on Wednesday cited excommunicated activist John Dehlin as saying a major church governing group “sent out a memo to regional leaders, saying that ‘there will be additional clarification on these changes from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve [Apostles] in the coming days,'” the Tribune quoted Dehlin as saying.
“Many Mormons are calling on their church leaders to modify this new policy on same-sex couples — particularly the limitations affecting the children — and soon,” the Tribune reported.
The piece, by plugged-in Salt Lake City religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack, focused on experts who see a huge difference between a “policy” — which is how leaders described the change last week — and “doctrine.”
“LDS Church guidelines that exclude gay couples and their children from some Mormon rituals may be official, but these new rules are not necessarily divinely endorsed — and could easily change,” she wrote Wednesday.
Former Mormons and others announced Wednesday that there will be a “mass resignation” from Mormonism Saturday at a Salt Lake City park. Critics of the church have in recent years occasionally held public “resignations,” emphasizing LDS bureaucracy that keeps people on the books until they formally quit and hoping to further their cause.
The Facebook page for the event has about 1,000 saying they are coming, though some may be people who long ago left the church, and not new refugees.
A Utah lawyer told local station KIVI that he personally is helping more than 1,000 leave the church. You don’t need a lawyer but because the church is known for its record-keeping and for keeping members on their books, some apparently enlist lawyers.
News of the policy came after several years in which the church has made deliberate, public efforts to show compromise with LGBT advocates, and seek to tamp down internal culture wars.
The church worked with gay advocates in Salt Lake City to come up with an anti-discrimination law compromise that included a new affirmation of religious freedom rights. A few weeks ago, a top Mormon leader gave a talk to lawyers about the tensions between gay rights and conservative religious Americans and said both sides really need to give. Many saw the Mormon church as working to be a leader on the conservative side in encouraging Americans to accept differences as equals.