SALT LAKE CITY (Christian Examiner) – Hundreds of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints resigned their membership Saturday after LDS leaders announced earlier in November that children of same-sex parents cannot be baptized in the church.
A group calling itself "LDS Church Mass Resignation" on Facebook said it was calling for the church to hear its voice that discrimination against gays and lesbians is wrong, but it is ultimately unclear how many resignations actually took place since the church is the only body that can disclose that – and it is not disclosing the information.
The group's Facebook page indicated that more than 2,000 Mormons may have been planning to resign. When the protest group gathered in front of the Mormon Temple on Saturday, however, the number was only in the hundreds.
On Nov. 5, leaders in the church adopted a new policy for the Mormon handbook which claims "a natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabitating, may not receive a name and a blessing." Members of the church found to be in a same-sex relationship are also subject to church discipline.
Once the child being raised by same-sex parents reaches adulthood, he or she can become eligible for baptism, in which the initiate's name is pronounced in the Temple, and for appointment to missionary service. They must first, however, acknowledge the church's teachings, especially on marriage.
On Friday, the Office of the First Presidency for the LDS issued a clarifying statement about its recent decision to amend its handbook.
"Revealed doctrine is clear that families are eternal in nature and purpose. We are obligated to act with that perspective for the welfare of both adults and children. The newly added Handbook provisions affirm that adults who choose to enter into a same-gender marriage or similar relationship commit sin that warrants a Church disciplinary council," the statement said.
"Our concern with respect to children is their current and future well-being and the harmony of their home environment. The provisions of Handbook 1, Section 16.13, that restrict priesthood ordinances for minors, apply only to those children whose primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship. As always, local leaders may request further guidance in particular instances when they have questions."
For children who have already been baptized into the church, prior to being placed in a living situation where the parents are in a same-sex marriage, ordinances and "priesthood privileges" cannot be withheld, the statement said.
Further commentary on the matter from the church blamed the media for misleading Mormons on the matter.
"The episode demonstrates clearly the dangers of drawing conclusions based on incomplete news reports, tweets and Facebook posts without necessary context and accurate information," a statement from Michael Otterson, managing director for LDS Church Public Affairs, said. He also admitted, however, that the church may not have handled information about the change well.
"Because the letter was an instructional document to leadership throughout the world, and not a Church-wide announcement through LDS.org or through Church Public Affairs, there was no additional information or context on the usual Church websites. That prompted questions from many Church members, who were mostly reading media headlines portraying the instructions as a rejection of children and refusal to name babies. Members understandably had specific questions about how the announced change might affect their loved ones," Otterson said.
The Mormon handbook is the guide for more than 30,000 Mormon churches worldwide, but it cannot answer every question, Otterson said.
"Because it is a policy and procedural manual, the Handbook is not written in language that is necessarily contextual or explanatory. Church leaders are encouraged to use the Handbook in conjunction with the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Sensitivity to individual circumstances is learned through the Spirit, Christ's teachings and example as found in the scriptures, from talks and teachings of General Authorities, and from the leaders' own experience and exposure to real-life situations," Otterson said.
According to Otterson, the LDS church does not regard same-sex attraction as a sin, but acting on the attraction is. He also said the new information in the handbook only addresses a "narrow range of situations involving children of same-sex couples."
Mormons added homosexual practice as an act requiring excommunication from the church in 1968.