Gospel Q&A is a series from LDS Daily that strives to answer important gospel questions from readers. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the policy changes surrounding baptism and the children of LGBTQ members. Specifically, we’ll be looking at the questions, “Why did President Monson make it so children of gay parents can’t get baptized if President Nelson was only going to rescind it later? Doesn’t that prove it President Monson was acting in prejudice and not prophecy?”
Do you have a question you’d like to see answered? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave it in the comments below.
It’s important to note, as I begin to respond to this question, that while I seek to bring truth to each of my responses, I am in no way impartial in my attempt to answer these questions. It would not only be pure foolishness on my part to continue to be impartial after knowing what I know and having received the witnesses I have received, but it might even be detrimental to others’ faith if I suggested I were impartial and unbiased.
That doesn’t mean I never have questions. In fact, I believe sincere questions asked with real intent (meaning that we intend to act on what we know once we learn the answers to those questions) are what bring about the greatest growth in our testimonies. If we ask the question in humility and sincerity and faith, questions are a beautiful way to grow.
When I am posed with a question that I’m struggling with, I start with what I know and expand from there. It seems a huge waste (of time, energy, answers already given) to begin from scratch with every new question.
If I’m an astrophysicist wondering about the planets’ revolutions around the sun, I don’t have to re-convince myself of the reality of gravity. It’s the truth. It’s a given.
Similarly, when I have a question, I start with what I know.
I remember when the new policy regarding children of homosexual parents was announced. In 2015, it became churchwide policy that children living primarily with LGBTQ identifying parents could not be baptized or given an infant “name and blessing” without First Presidency approval. I felt so confused and a little like I had had a blow to the gut. I sat in wonder, frustration, and darkness. I can only imagine just how acutely painful this announcement must have been for the LGBTQ Latter-day Saint community. I honestly felt confused and angry. I couldn’t piece together how this policy fit with what I knew and believed.
So, I decided to seek understanding starting with what I knew.
I knew President Monson was a prophet.
And I knew Jesus Christ led Him as a prophet.
And I knew Jesus Christ is over His Church—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I did not know how this policy fit in with what I thought was fair, but I knew if I listened and prayed that I could know these things.
So, I started with listening.
What did the church leaders say was the reasoning behind this decision?
Elder D. Todd Christofferson gave some clarification to the policy. “It originates from a desire to protect children in their innocence and in their minority years. … We don’t want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the Church are very different.”
As I pondered this as well as the writings and videos available at the time, another important piece of the puzzle came to mind.
The baptismal covenant, whether entered into at 8 or 48, is a binding covenant and the person being baptized is under obligation to keep the covenant he or she has made.
It would seem there are some in the Church who view baptism as a rite of passage—an activity entitled to all 8-year-old children.
I knew a woman once who had been baptized many years earlier, but had made life choices inconsistent with her baptismal covenants. She had a son and desperately wanted him to be baptized, but neither she nor her son had attended church, partaken of the sacrament, or otherwise kept the commandments for many years. She could not understand why her bishop recommended that her son’s baptism be delayed until he was ready to live up to his covenants and she was ready to support him in living his covenants.
After more than a year of waiting for her son to be eligible for baptism (without changing any of their habits), my friend decided to do as her bishop directed and start taking herself and her son to church. They came for several months where her son learned about baptism at primary. Finally, his bishop recommended him for baptism and he was baptized. He came to church the next day to be confirmed, and I believe that’s the last Sunday either of them attended church (in many years).
Is my friend’s son better off than he was before baptism?
Before, he wasn’t going to church or living according to the commandments, but he was under no commitment to do so.
Now, he has made eternal covenants to keep the commandments—and yet he still does not keep the commandments. In this way, his baptism serves more to condemn him (for not keeping the commandments after covenanting to do so) than it does to bless him. It was not a punishment of her bishop to ask her to wait—it was an opportunity for them both to prepare.
Back to the policy change of 2015.
I didn’t understand it. I thought, “Why? Why would the Church ask this of families already feeling marginalized?”
My answer came from trusting what I already knew. That this is Christ’s church and He leads His prophets. When I listened to and prayed about their words, I felt that truly the Church does not want to divide families. The Church is a vehicle for binding families eternally. But pitting a child between her parents and her church seems like a pretty big ask for an eight-year-old. She would be responsible and held accountable for keeping her baptismal covenants—likely without strong support from her parents. That puts the child at risk. It puts the family at risk. It’s a tough spot for everybody.
But I sincerely believe that the intent was exactly what the Brethren said it was—to protect children and families from having to be in that tight spot.
Fast forward to 2019.
When President Nelson changed the policy, was he undoing what President Monson had done?
The new policy stated,
“Effective immediately: Children of parents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender may be baptized, if the custodial parents give permission for the baptism and understand both the doctrine that a baptized child will be taught and the covenants he or she will be expected to make.”
The time in between the policy changes did and should change perspectives for all of us whether the policy applied or not.
Baptism isn’t a rite of passage. We shouldn’t herd people to it or through it without acknowledging the individual and how prepared he or she is to live the very real covenants they are about to make.
Does the child truly know and understand the covenants he or she is making? Is the family prepared to support and help that child live his or her covenants? This doesn’t mean we should delay all baptisms, but I do think it means we should be making more effort to see that children are prepared for baptism by the time they are eligible for baptism.
It’s time we gave child baptism more weight and let it be what it is—a commitment to God to get and stay on His covenant path.
I believe the change in policy after years of it being in place will help bishops, parents, and missionaries consider more closely the circumstances under which children are making these eternal, sacred covenants.
And honestly, that’s a good thing for all parents and leaders. Let us use these policy changes to acknowledge the significance of the baptismal covenant and re-commit ourselves to better prepare our children for the weight of these covenants.
Disclaimer: While all of my answers will use scriptures and/or words of modern prophets, I do not represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t believe any of my answers are comprehensive. I’m just one person using the gospel I have been blessed with to bring hope, peace, and answers to other seekers of truth.