Third Crack: The November 5th Policy
Part of a series about My Faith Journey.
So at this point, I felt that, at a very personal level, I was starting to question the things I'd been taught at church. My negative experience with the bishopric really shook my faith in the local leadership. I thought to myself: Okay, maybe the local leadership is rotten, but surely the General Authorities are rock-solid, right?
Well, at this point, I became more cognizant of the (for lack of a better term) "war on gays" that the church has been fighting for years. (The Prop 8 battle was a big flashpoint.) The church has taught for years that same-sex attraction and homosexual behavior is a sin (though they have recently softened their stance on the "attraction" part).
When I think of the term "sinners", I think of murderers, rapists, thieves, arsonists, and the like -- people who are actively doing harm and making the world a worse place to live in. I have a lot of gay friends. By and large, they're good people. The gay people I know are educated & skilled workers who are gainfully employed, tax-paying, citizens. Many of them maintain good relationships and generally help make the world a better place. If two, consenting, adults get together and have an intimate encounter that doesn't result in any injury, jail time, or loss of property, I can't understand why we should lump them in the same category as murderers, rapists, thieves, & arsonists. It just seems like a mismatch.
There was another thing that bothered me about the church's adamant opposition to gay marriage: In the early history of the church, the membership was a small minority of the population and members engaged in an unconventional marriage practice (polygamy) and were persecuted for it. Nowadays, we have a different minority group (gays) engaging in a different unconventional marriage practice (gay marriage), and the church seems all too eager persecute them. It seems to me that the church (as a whole) should've learned a lesson about compassion from their history, but they've failed to learn it. Another example: The church treated blacks as second-class citizens for over a hundred years. I see the church doing exactly the same thing with gays now. It's like they've learned nothing.
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was legal nationwide in the U.S. This decision dealt a decisive blow against the church. Less than 5 months later, on Nov 5th, 2015, the church updated their Handbook to say that the lawfully wed gay couples would be instantly branded as "apostates". This just smacked of "sour grapes" for having lost the Supreme Court decision. It also came across as terribly unfair. The church doesn't automatically slap the "apostate" label on child molesters, drug addicts, or even heterosexual adulterers, but they do for gay couples? This just seemed way out of proportion.
Even worse, the other part of the policy change was that the children of legally wed same-sex parents would not be allowed to participate in any of the LDS rites of passage (baby blessing, baptism, confirmation, priesthood ordination, etc.) This was a really low-blow. Picking on adults is one thing, but picking on kids? That's a whole different level. It also seemed like a direct refutation of the fundamental doctrine that "children are not guilty for the sins of the parents" (c.f. Ezekiel 18:19-20, AoF#2). One of the explanations given by the General Authorities was that this policy was to "protect" kids. I had a hard time understanding that. It seemed to me that this policy would further marginalize a group of people who already felt ostracized, and put an already at-risk group even more at-risk. Nevertheless, at the time, I held my tongue and took a "wait and see" approach.
Well, three months later, I saw a news article which reported that, since the policy was instituted, 33 gay LDS teens had committed suicide. 28 of these suicides occurred in Utah.
The average number of teen suicides per year in Utah is ~35 (see: this article). Within 3 months, we had hit 80% of our annual average of teen suicides. That's alarming. The conclusion here is obvious: this cruel policy change had made these young people feel so worthless that they took their own lives. (Some left suicide letters to that effect.) That's deplorable. Also relevant: Dallin H. Oaks spoke at a press conference following this report, wherein he officially expressed the church's condolences to the families of those teens who had taken their lives. This tells me that the church was tacitly accepting some degree of accountability for this tragedy. We were promised that this policy would "protect" kids. A spike in adolescent suicides sounds like the exact opposite of "protecting" kids to me.
The General Authorities of the church approved this policy and they are supposed to be "prophets, seers, and revelators". Did these "prophets, seers, and revelators" really not see this coming? Or worse, maybe they did foresee this spike in suicides and proceeded with the policy change anyway, fully aware of the tragic loss of life that would occur? I remember reading in the New Testament that Jesus explained how to discern the quality of prophets. He said: "By their fruits you shall know them." I had to ask myself: Are these good fruits? After lengthy consideration, I arrived at a conclusion: I simply can't believe that these men are called of God or are doing God's work. The modern-day apostles look a lot more like the Pharisees of the New Testament than the apostles of the New Testament.
Another thing that appalled me was to see the reaction of church members to this news. Many members tried to discount the numbers, saying that the reported 33 suicides was too high, and that the number was probably lower, as if to suggest that there is an "acceptable" number of suicides. As far as I'm concerned, one is too many. I was also appalled to see that this horrifying news was not sufficient to get the church to reverse their anti-gay policy. It became clear to me that the church cares more about orthodoxy than it does about human lives.