In the Salt Lake Tribune today, Peggy Fletcher Stacks reports that, as some Mormon experts respond to the public demonstrations of anger at their church's new policy targeting gay couples by targeting their children, they're noting that the new policy is not doctrine: it's policy. And policy can change.
It's analogous, they say, to the longstanding Mormon policy targeting black families by forbidding the priesthood to black males. For a very long time, this was understood as Mormon "doctrine."
And then social attitudes about racial discrimination (and laws permitting overt discrimination) changed, and the LDS church discovered this was a "policy" and not a doctrine. It then changed that racially biased policy.
One Mormon expert predicting that the LDS church will bitterly regret the policy it has just enacted is scholar D. Michael Quinn, who was excommunicated by the church in 1993 but continues to consider himself Mormon. Kimberly Winston quotes Quinn in a recent Religion News Service essay:
"I am sure everyone feels regret about this," said D. Michael Quinn, a scholar who was excommunicated by the LDS church in 1993 but still considers himself a Mormon. "The leaders who have instituted this have done so without any relish. They have done so with regret. All Mormons down the line will look at it as regrettable."
Here's a sample of some of the regret already pouring out within the Mormon community: this is Mormon scholar Mary Barker, writing at Religion Dispatches:
This decision is a terrible mistake. It uses children to punish parents. It uses children to protect the pristine image of the Church by putting same-sex families at an even further distance. And it does so in the name of Jesus, whose birth was first announced to shepherds, a group considered unclean in the society of the day; a Jesus who ate with publicans and sinners; who first announced his divinity to a Samaritan woman (a hated minority) of questionable moral standing (she had many men); who first appeared as the resurrected Lord to a woman tradition says was a prostitute; and who surrounded himself with children, commanding his followers to be like them.
And here's how the new Mormon policy appears to some non-Mormons who had previously admired the LDS church due to its strong family-and-community-oriented culture: this is Mary Dillon of Park Lake, Utah, in the letters column of today's Salt Lake Tribune:
I am a transplant from Washington, D.C. For the past 14 years, I have been defending, and even praising, the LDS Church for its family- and community-oriented culture. I've been impressed by the joy I've seen at the airport as missionaries come home to balloons and signs and loving relatives — in one case, a mother actually racing up the down escalator to embrace her returning son. I've seen people reach out to their neighbors with food and prayers and love.
Well, it's over for me, guys. Now you are telling children of same-sex parents that if they want to be baptized in your church, they will have to wait until age 18 and then abandon ("disavow") their families. That's just plain mean. You are finally too weird for me.
Policies of churches, as well as their doctrines, have always shifted as cultures shift. The teachings and practices of churches exist in a give-and-take, reciprocal relationship, so that those teachings and practices shape cultural norms, but are also shaped by cultural attitudes and cultural shifts.
Shifts in cultural attitudes (e.g., how slavery eventually came to be viewed in many cultures, or how women are regarded) help refocus — and correct — church teachings and practices. I have no doubt at all that at some point down the road, the LDS church will have to do some very unhappy atoning for its attack on the LGBT community at this point in history. As will other Christian churches whose leaders have attacked LGBT human beings in recent decades, the Catholic church included . . . .
The reactionary response to this growing recognition that right-wing churches have placed themselves on the wrong side of history vis-a-vis LGBT rights is to try to insist that anti-gay teachings are doctrinal teachings set in stone and essential to the very foundations of churches. Even within many conservative churches, however, fewer and fewer adherents are buying these reactionary arguments for all kinds of reasons: they know and love LGBT people and see that their LGBT family members and friends are being unfairly vilified by anti-gay "doctrinal" teachings; they recognize that bashing LGBT people has nothing at all to do with the teaching of Jesus, and that it betrays the most essential doctrines on which the Christian churches are founded, etc.
Meanwhile, I think that, as with the some 2,400 members of the LDS church who are now leaving its fold, many of us will have no choice except to walk for some time in the desert, as we seek religious communities more oriented to the good news of Christ in our lives and the lives of others. Especially when our current church homes not only treat LGBT human beings with conspicuous cruelty and injustice, but when many of our fellow church members keep their mouths tight shut as this cruelty and injustice are dished out to a targeted segment of the human community . . . .