Last fall when the LDS Church Handbook statements on gay couples and their children were leaked to the media without context or explanation, it created some division and misunderstanding across our community and within the church.
Particularly because of our work with families, we were sad that it initially sounded so dictatorial and unloving; but we were grateful for the subsequent clarification, wherein the church explained that “a purpose of the Handbook is to provide bishops and other leaders with a standard reference point when they make decisions” and assured that “church leaders are encouraged to use the Handbook in conjunction with the guidance of the Holy Ghost” and with “sensitivity to individual circumstances.” And finally, we welcomed the reassurance that “Of course, there are always situations that fall outside general guidelines.”*
Unfortunately, many never saw the clarification and so their concerns continue to fester.
We take the clarification to mean that local leaders across the world will work with love and respect concerning individual families and situations within their congregations, doing all they can to ensure that the church’s doctrinal position about gay marriage does not put any child in some kind of tug of war between the church and his or her parents.
One thing we know for certain: It would be hard to find an institution or a group of leaders anywhere that cares more or focuses more attention on the welfare and well-being of children than the LDS Church.
As members of that church, but with so many of our contacts and clients not being members, we always find that when we get on the subject of families, we have so much more in common than we have differences. We also find ourselves frequently trying to build bridges and avoid misunderstandings. For what it’s worth, here are our thoughts on how to do that on this particular issue:
When a sincere “questioner,” whether a member of the LDS Church or not, asks about the church’s stance on same-gender attraction or gay marriage or about church policies or guidelines regarding gay couples and their children, remember that the basic question they are asking, in one word, is “Why?”
Members of the church to whom that question is asked should not feel defensive or threatened. On the contrary, this is the very question we should want to be asked, and the very question we should ask ourselves — the question of “Why?”
We should think of “Why?” as an invitation. It is an invitation to explain the church’s doctrine and belief concerning the eternal family. When that doctrine is expressed and elaborated, the questioner has a far better chance of understanding and being tolerant of the church’s policies and guidelines. This spiritual explanation approach works far better for us than some kind of political argument, which inevitably gets us labeled as intolerant, prejudiced, bigoted, homophobic, or worse. When we simply try to outline what we believe spiritually, the results and the feeling of understanding are always better. We say it something like this:
Mormons believe in a pre-mortal life where we all lived as children of a Heavenly Father and Mother—where we were all, literally, brothers and sisters. We believe that this earth was created within God’s plan as a place where we could grow and learn through this mortal experience of challenge, agency and choice. Marriage and procreation are essential parts of this plan because they provide bodies for other earth-bound spirits and because they form families that we believe are eternal. These families constitute the expansion of God’s family and form the organization of his government and kingdom in the spirit world and heaven that follow this life.
In that context, it is much easier to understand why we believe that God’s definition of marriage is a committed union between a man and a woman that fulfills his plan and implements key elements of it.
Explaining these beliefs to those who challenge us may not cause them to agree or to accept the same beliefs, but it can definitely give some context and logic to our position. And it can lend some understanding about the reasons the church tries to walk such a fine line between holding fast to what we believe is God’s definition of marriage and at the same time loving and respecting all people and following the law of the land.
And by the way, we feel that these same doctrines and beliefs are part of the underlying reason that the LDS Church is so concerned about the deterioration of heterosexual marriage; and why it works so hard to strengthen families and to remind us that everyone, married or not, is part of a family and an extended family and that the quality of those relationships have more to do with our happiness than any other factor.
Hopefully a positive outcome of the whole handbook issue will be a conscious and deliberate effort by us all to understand each other better and to keep asking and answering the wonderful question “Why?”
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors and founders of JoySchools.com who speak worldwide on family issues. Their new books are “The Half Diet Diet” and “Life in Full.” See valuesparenting.com