This is a guest post from Michael Davidson.
Last week, I attended all four days of the World Congress of Families IX, held at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City. I’ve been letting the experience sink in and marinate prior to submitting a post on the topic. I didn’t want my post to be knee-jerk, as I was very much in an animated state of mind throughout this week. There was so much to comment on, that I was waiting for one theme or another to rise to the top, because otherwise I would have written a treatise. On the surface, it was energizing for a bunch of Mormons, Hindus, Catholics, Muslims, Evangelicals, Sihks, “mainline” protestants, and others to find common cause on issues related to the family.
I suspect that this Congress was more LDS than previous efforts due largely to the fact that it was in Salt Lake City (or in spite of that?) and the fact that the main organizers of the Congress are solid members of the Church. But the viewpoints presented were quite diverse. Last week, Elder Ballard’s opening remarks were shared on this site. He bore powerful testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the important role of families in the work of the Lord. His testimony and others born by LDS presenters, were unique at the Congress, where most other Congress participants were almost exclusively concerned with the here and now.
This is not to say that the non-LDS presenters were not serviceable in their discussions. I was inspired by the work and commitment of those presenters who are opposing elective abortion throughout the world. There are some amazing people working in NGO’s at the United Nations trying to hold back the force of “international law” in terms of abortion rights under the guise of “reproductive health.” There are some really impressive organizations, like Heartbeat International, that are putting their money where their mouth is in helping pregnant women across the country and world to choose life for their unborn children. I was thrilled to meet Luca Volonte, who spoke about gathering one million people for a march in support of life over abortion in Italy. (Those of you who have spent time in Western Europe will know what an accomplishment that was and is.)
It was a thrill to hear from real-life warriors against some of the most vile threats against society. I attended a session with Tim Ballard, the man behind Operation Underground Railroad. Imagine a mix between James Bond, Atticus Finch and the most unassuming family guy you ever met and you might get a good approximation of him. This guy leads jump teams into foreign countries to rescue children from human traffickers. Schedule time now to go see The Abolitionists next March, it will be playing in a theater near you. Gerald Molen (Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List) produced the film, and he equates it to putting out Schindler’s List in 1940. See the trailer here.
And, don’t get me started about how much I was impressed by Clay Olsen of Fight The New Drug.
There was so much more that I can’t really get into in this post without completely taking over M* for the next couple of weeks. The good news is that most of the presentations will be posted to youtube in the coming weeks and months, and I would commend them to you. Perhaps if I see presentations released online that will be of interest to this group, I’ll suggest that they get posted here.
The news items of yesterday, though, caused one theme to rise to the top for me. One of the things that I heard repeated, over and over again, was dismay at how “the Churches” have fallen down and failed in their duty to support and champion the family. I was surprised to hear this from Catholics, and surprised to hear their evidence of this from different places around the world. It was shocking to hear John-Henry Westen (founder of lifesitenews.com) speak about how difficult it has been for him to involve Catholic clergy in Canada in supporting pro-life causes. I was surprised to have heard this from Baptist ministers, who lamented that too many of their brothers were more concerned about maintaining their tax exempt status than they were about actually teaching the truth about families. Many of the mainline Protestants lamented the well documented retreat of their denominations from the family. In this, I felt some appreciation that there is no question where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands on these issues, and I know that there was no small amount of holy envy from other Congress participants on this point. Of course, there are examples of rogue bishops and stake presidents that take it upon themselves to turn a blind eye on these issues, but that likely is what required the changes in the Handbook of Instructions publicly acknowledged yesterday.
So, in the aftermath of the World Congress of Families, the timing of these clarifications was serendipitous. After listening to many new friends bemoan the way in which their own faiths have fallen asleep at the switch, I could point to Elder Ballard’s talk as proof that we haven’t, and this just puts the exclamation point on it.
Looking specifically at these changes in the Handbook, contracting a same sex marriage is now specifically defined as an act of apostasy. I suggest that it has always been so, and so nothing has changed except that this is now spelled out for those who willfully or ignorantly missed the memo. It is no secret that the Church has long been opposed to same-gender marriage, and you would be hard pressed to find a General Conference this century where this has not been addressed by multiple members of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve. One simply cannot enter into a same-gender marriage without acting “in clear, open and deliberate public opposition to the Church,” which has always been one definition of apostasy. I suspect that there was some need perceived by the Brethren to make explicit what almost everyone knew was already the case.
In the same vein, the specific mention of “sexual cohabitation” as one aspect of homosexual relations as part of the definition of a “serious transgression” is not anything new. Like the “change” above, it is more telling that this needs to be spelled out so specifically. This suggests to me that this is more suggestive that there are (unfortunately) a few too many bishops and stake presidents out there that need to have their hands held a bit too much, because anyone in this Church who doesn’t understand the homosexual cohabitation isn’t something that rises to the level of a serious transgression, they just haven’t been paying attention.
The last of the three changes is the only real change, and is the one from which the Church will likely take the most heat. It essentially puts children living in households led by a homosexual couple on par with those raised in polygamist households, and does not allow for such children to be baptized without approval from the First Presidency and upon the following conditions:
The child accepts and is committed to live the teachings and doctrine of the Church, and specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage. [and] The child is of legal age and does not live with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.
People are complaining that the requirement that the child “disavow the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage” is cruel, and is an equivalent to disowning their parent. However, that is certainly not the case, and I find it to be dishonest to make this assertion. Rather, it is simply a manifestation of the child’s willingness to accept and live in accordance with the teachings and doctrine of the Church, which is a requirement for baptism in all cases. This is only necessary (in my own humble opinion) among the children of polygamists and gay married or cohabitating parents because of the situations that these children will be living in and under during their childhood years. To allow a child to be baptized while they are living in a situation that is a flagrant violation of very basic doctrines of the Church is to invite disaster. What eight year old child, living with Dad No. 1 and Dad No. 2 could be reasonably expected to hold to and observe the doctrines of the Church, including the inherent sinfulness of their family unit while living in that unit? In such situations, it is better for such a child to reach majority to make a decision that necessarily must include a commitment to doctrine that condemns the structure of the home in which they grew up, in whole or in part, as sinful.
In my final analysis (at least for purposes of this post), it seems important to remember what it is that the Church is, and what it is not. The Church does not exist to help people feel good about themselves, or to validate the lived experience of various individuals. This is not a social club. The whole purpose of the Church is to assist God in bringing to pass the eternal life and exaltation of as many of this world’s inhabitants as possible. This work is done on an individual basis, by leading individuals to have faith, repent of their sins, participate in the various saving ordinances and endure to the end. We fail in that duty if we decide to selectively teach and enforce the laws and commandments given to us by God. Validating and supporting individuals in grievous sins does nothing to save their souls, and only invites greater damnation.
As more and more people in society move away from the family as ordained by God, and as more and more faith traditions turn their backs on these things, the Church will become more and more a city on a hill. Those that oppose the work of God will complain about our light pollution as they seek out the dim and dark things in the world, but that is the task set out for us. And, more and more, people of good will and faith will see that we are among the few, or perhaps the only, that stand for the family and will come to our shores even as the world seeks to destroy the light we reflect from the Savior.