SALT LAKE CITY – Gay and lesbian Mormons and their supporters are reeling over a rule change by church officials that says members in same-sex marriages can be kicked out and their children are to be barred from being baptized unless they disavow homosexual relationships.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disseminated the handbook changes this week to local church leaders around the world. The goal was to provide clarity to lay leaders who run congregations, church spokesman Eric Hawkins said.
But the revisions triggered a wave of anger, confusion and sadness for a growing faction of LGBT-supportive Mormons who had been buoyed in recent years by church leaders’ calls for more compassion and understanding for LGBT members.
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“It feels like they are extending an olive branch and hitting you with it,” said Wendy Montgomery, a Mormon mother of a 17-year-old gay son. “It’s like this emotional whiplash.”
Montgomery said Friday the news left her son sobbing and forced her and her husband to consider leaving a religion they’ve belonged to for generations. She said the couple has been trying desperately to stay in the church despite a harsh reception to their son coming out.
Montgomery also echoed a response shared by many on social media: She can somewhat understand the hard stance on same-sex marriage, but she can’t comprehend singling out gay couple’s children.
“We just put a scarlet letter on these kids,” Montgomery said.
“This isn’t my church. I don’t see God in it. I don’t see divinity it. It just feels evil.”
Hawkins noted the church is simply reiterating its doctrine, which clearly states homosexual activity is a sin and that God intended marriage be between a man and a woman.
“The Church has long been on record as opposing same-sex marriages,” Hawkins said in a statement. “While it respects the law of the land, and acknowledges the right of others to think and act differently, it does not perform or accept same-sex marriage within its membership.”
The changes come as other religious groups that oppose gay marriage struggle with how to approach the issue of children of same-sex spouses.
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The new rules stipulate that children of parents in gay or lesbian relationships – be it marriage or just living together – can no longer receive blessings as infants, be baptized when they are about 8 years old, or serve mission as young adults unless they:
– Disavow the practice of same-sex relationships.
– Turn 18 and no longer live with gay parents.
– Get approval from their local leader and the highest leaders at church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
The church views these key milestones as acts that bind a person to the faith and as promises to follow its doctrine.
The changes align with the way the church addresses children in polygamous families, said Matthew Bowman, associate professor of history at Henderson State University. They’ve left Mormons everywhere shaken up, he added.
The handbook revisions also for the first time list being in a same-sex relationship as an offence that can lead to being ousted from the religion.
This is a category known as apostasy, which until now has been reserved primarily for people who practice polygamy, teach inaccurate doctrine or publicly defy guidance to church leaders.
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Last month, two high-ranking church leaders delivered speeches that gave LGBT advocates hope that the faith was moving toward greater acceptance. The leaders reiterated the religion’s commitment to promoting families led by married heterosexual couples but also urged people not to shun those with opposing views.
That message of “fairness of all” appeared to distance the faith from the blowback that came when it was a major backer of California’s gay marriage ban in 2008.
Mormons appear to be slowly growing more accepting of homosexuality, albeit at rates that still put them among the least accepting among major religions, a new survey from the Pew Research Center shows.
In a survey done last year, 36 per cent of Mormons said homosexuality should be accepted by society. That’s up from 24 per cent in 2007, the last time Pew conducted its U.S. Religious Landscape Study.
Support for gay marriage is lower, with just 25 per cent of Latter-day Saints approving same-sex unions.
©2015The Associated Press