A few days ago, I witnessed cognitive dissonance occur in real time. We all have moments of cognitive dissonance in our lives. As humans with complex brains and thinking processes, it's part and parcel of our experience. But I've never seen 180s occur so quickly.
When the leaked screen shots of the new handbook policy on same-sex marriage (now it's listed as apostasy) and the treatment of children of parents in these relationships began circulating, there was almost universal, knee-jerk reactions against this policy. The general feeling among those who immediately take to social media with their reactions amounted to:
There is no way that the LDS Church would ever do this. This has to be an anti-Mormon lie. This is wrong, and it's so terrible that an apostate is making stuff up and circulating this.
For most of the people I know, good, honest, faithful people, the knee-jerk reaction to this whole thing was that it was wrong, and, as such, there could be no way the Church could actually promulgate such a thing.
Over the next couple of hours, though, the same people who decried this policy as too terrible to contemplate as coming from men of God were defending it — defending it voraciously against all-comers.
Everyone waited with bated breath for an official response. To hear a rationale. For those who turned on a dime, once the truth of the matter was confirmed, the Church's explanation of the matter via Elder Christofferson was enough. “It's for the children” echoed everywhere.
However, for many of us who have serious concerns about issues and have been hoping for continued progress for the Church, it wasn't enough. In fact, I am worried that, as (Elder Christofferson's gay brother) Tom Christofferson pointed out in a recent interview, that the focus is more on groups than on individuals.
And on “othering” those undesirable groups. The idea is to keep saying “it's for the children” over and over again, and focus on children of same-sex couples who have never grown up in the church. However, as one active member pointed out, most of the children affected by this situation in a practical manner are already in LDS congregations.
This is by far the greater number of children affected by this. While so many of the people I've seen (the very same people who abhorred this policy before they realized that it is sanctioned) are simply saying “It's about love and respect for children as well as the gay community!” they aren't stopping to consider the actual, practical ramifications in the real world. They don't need to. An apostle has come out and proclaimed that the policy is love and respect, and there is no need to trouble about it further.
Here are some of the other other points raised, that Elder Christofferson and the “wheat” of the Church don't seem to want to have to worry about:
The biggest problem with this policy, as related to the “protecting the children” claim, is those most likely to be impacted are already faithfully involved with the Church. And let's be clear: Trying to remain in the Church all those years, watching those around you receive what are taught as necessary blessings (thank heaven the girls are protected from the thorny ordination issues) is going to be a real wrench. That's going to be more difficult than anything else and put more strain on families.
It's going to cause more conflict and heartache. And it's going to unnecessarily cause shunning situations. We've already got a gay teen suicide problem in the LDS Church. We don't need to add resentful, worried heterosexual teens to the mix. Teens who are treated second-class because of their parents. (Let's hope that this policy wasn't thought through since that implies that the Church is actually trying to teach children to resent their parents as the cause of their being treated differently.)
A long-time member with a gay father (who remains in the Church and married to her mother) completed an interesting thought experiment. What if this policy has been in place when her own father came out as gay — and what if he had gone on to divorce her mother and live with a new same-sex partner?
Don’t, for one second, think you would have been protecting me from anything–not being allowed to be baptized would have been a source of deep sorrow and shame for me. Not to mention what this would have done to my mother, who was and is a committed member of the church. This would have absolutely broken her heart. To add that burden on her after all that she carried…there are no words for that cruelty. And I have to wonder what it would have done to my relationship with my father? Would I have resented him? Would I have been able to overcome the awful rhetoric we use towards our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and actually see my father for the amazing, Christ-like man he is? I hope so but I don’t know. I am absolutely certain that this policy would have destroyed my family in ways I cannot even fathom.
It's also interesting to note that the same people concerned about “conflicting messages” aren't worried about the conflicting messages of interfaith families, the children of single parents, or the conflicting messages children receive when they live with people who aren't living all the tenets of the gospel they are taught weekly at church.
When my ex stopped going to church, my son was faced with lessons at Church decrying those who stopped going. These were people who were lazy, who wanted to sin, who didn't do enough to stay faithful. They weren't righteous. He lived in a home with someone who didn't live the teachings of the gospel, and who even sometimes spoke out against them. At the same time, he attended Church each week.
What did he learn from this experience? That my ex is still a person. A good person. And that life is rarely cut and dry. And that there are conflicting messages everywhere we go — church, school, home, the grocery store.
He learned similar lessons when he met people of other religions and people who smoked. Once you see someone as a person like any other person, you are more understanding and sympathetic.
And accepting of them.
I don't even want to think about what this policy will do to custody battles in the Mormon Culture Region. The lovely example above, of a Mormon mother co-parenting with her gay ex and raising her children in the gospel, will come under serious strain. This family appears to have come to a place of mutual respect and love, even with all the “conflicting messages” for these boys.
With this new policy in place, all of this actual love could conceivably become a thing of the past.
Instead, it's very, very likely that bitter custody battles will ensue as faithful Mormons try to ensure that they have sole custody so that their children can be baptized and be set on the path of a “normal” upbringing.
Until now, many families have been navigating this on their own. While obviously not everyone has the same experience, and there are undoubtedly negative experiences as well as positive, the fact of the matter is that the new policy reduces options for creating loving relationships and family environments following the divorce of mixed-orientation couples.
While the policy doesn't explicitly state that such shared custody arrangements are taboo, the practical applications of this policy and the very real messages it sends are very, very clear:
- This arrangement is unacceptable
- If you let your child live part of the time with his/her gay parent, you could be endangering his/her salvation
I really, really want Steve Bloor's guest poster Joseph A. Hollenbaugh to be wrong on this one. But when you look at the likely real-world outcomes, he's probably right. This policy has the practical effect of potentially driving a wedge between parents and children in a way that encourages children to grow up without actually seeing loving, monogamous homosexual relationships in action and label their parents as “others.”
Separating the Wheat from the Tares: I'm Firmly on the Side of the Tares
But it's clear that this might be meant to draw a line. Yes, the LDS Church recognizes the legality of the situation and calls for love. But at the same time, this has also turned into a “wheat from tares” moment in many eyes. I've seen it in posts on social media. It is clear that many see this as a line in the sand.
Lately, we've had a lot of General Conference talks referring to obedience and following our leaders. The Church seems to be gearing up to ask for loyalty to the brethren, as the mouthpieces of God. And woe be unto you if you raise questions and issues rather than toe the line. As Mormon dissent has become more pronounced in recent years, it appears that we need clear dividing lines.
Old practices, from polygamy to what, exactly, Joseph Smith meant as a role for women, can be seen in terms of things we used to have, and items to be reconciled. But same-sex relationships? This is an easy one to draw a line on because the Church has never approved.
But I can't be among the wheat right now. If being among the wheat means that I do a complete 180 on something I know in my gut is wrong, just on the say-so of someone else, I'd rather be a tare.
It's interesting what we've become. I think about it a lot as Harold B. Lee's quote, used during the turmoil of the Civil Rights movement and the anguish over the treatment of blacks by the Church, has been flung around a lot in the last few days.
We all know how that went down. Eight years later, doctrine and policy were changed, and decades later, the Church tried its best to make it out that it wasn't really doctrine and that is was just the wrong-headed notions of fallible leaders. (Of course, the wheat is fairly certain that this policy is doctrine from God, despite the fact that, from what we've seen in the past, these types of prophetic policies can be denounced by later prophets as not being from God at all.)
Interestingly, though, that's not what earlier leaders seemed to think. While they wanted obedience (what leader doesn't?), there was still the acknowledgment that questioning was important. Tares tend to cling to the following statements, although the wheat would probably pummel us for posting such heresy on Facebook:
No, instead we're told obedience to the brethren is a requirement. Sustaining them, in the current vernacular, means agreeing with everything they say and assuming it is the final say until otherwise overturned by a future leader. We are even promised that if we follow what we're told, and it turns out to be wrong later, we'll still be blessed for the obedience. This offers comfort to some. And that's fine. I don't have a problem if that's what you believe. If you find it essential to exercise faith in this way, even if you don't understand or even agree, that's fine. I just can't get there.
Maybe it's hubris, but I believe that, if there is a God, I like to think we're supposed to learn and grow and learn how to make our own decisions.
I think it's telling that the initial reaction to this policy was an almost-universal, “No way!” Instinctively, it feels wrong.
If being among the wheat means I need to bury that instinct and smother my inner compass, and stop asking deeper, critical questions about the real-world ramifications of this policy, just because I'm told to, I'd rather be a tare.