Mormon News, November 9–13

On Friday the LDS First Presidency sent a letter to bishops and stake presidents with guidance for interpreting the recent additions to the Church Handbook of Instructions. As worded, the original policy change, which temple-doorwas leaked to international media coverage, indicated that children of gay parents could not be named and blessed, baptized, or serve a mission until they reached eighteen years of age. The child would also have to renounce the parents’ relationship. The letter explains that the prohibition will be limited to those who are being raised by same-gender parents (without extending to situations where there is mixed custody) and only if a child has not been baptized already. If the child has been baptized, his or her membership will not be stripped and future ordinances will not be withheld. The First Presidency did confirm that LDS members who enter into a same-sex marriage would be called to a disciplinary council.

The clarification is offering Mormons some relief after a week of turmoil, hurt, and outrage. LDS-themed blogs and social media groups discussed little else, and nearly every professional news outlet covered the story in a variety of ways. The New York Times, the Associated Press, and the Salt Lake Tribune ran stories about mass resignations, protests in front of Temple Square, and petitions asking artists to cancel upcoming performances with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or for the NCAA to take action against the BYU football program. Although the clarification reduces the number of children affected by the policy, Julie Smith compiled a list of potential unintended consequences that the policy might cause.

Michael Otterson, managing director for LDS Public Affairs, added his own commentary chiding members, news media, and non-members for “drawing conclusions based on incomplete news reports, tweets and Facebook posts without necessary context and accurate information.” Some members immediately retorted that the unqualified language in the handbook, the church’s attempt to implement a wide-reaching new policy quietly, and the lack of response from the church for over a week contributed to their perplexity.

Coming on the heels of the new LDS policy, a Utah judge ordered a foster child removed from the care of a married lesbian couple this week, only to later reverse himself. Judge Scott Johansen, a graduate of Brigham Young University, initially said that the nine-month-old girl should be removed from the foster parents’ care because children are better off with heterosexual couples. In the resulting uproar, even Utah’s conservative Mormon governor, Gary Herbert, criticized the judge, as did Hillary Clinton. On Friday Johansen reversed his order and instead scheduled a future hearing to determine “the best interests” for the child.

Chelsea Shields, an LDS feminist who served on the executive board of Ordain Women, recently spoke on how to influence religious change in a TED Talk. Shields reviewed the importance of religion in life, the challenges—including excommunication—of trying to have a voice as a feminist, and the shock she received from secular friends who told her she was wasting her time. She gave the talk in a sleeveless dress and pointed to her shoulders to highlight how deeply embedded Mormon cultural beliefs can create challenges for the heterodox in their own families.

News update by John Hatch, acquisitions editor