"And I will save thy children" (1 Nephi 21:25)
The Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now stipulates that children whose primary residence is with "adults who choose to enter into a same-gender marriage or similar relationship" cannot be blessed and named upon the records of the Church nor can they be considered for baptism and membership in the Church until the age of 18 (First Presidency Letter of 13 November 2015; for the study, prayer, revelations, and confirmations leading to the policy, now also see President Russell M. Nelson, "Becoming True Millennials," 11 January 2016, https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/archive/worldwide-devotionals/2016/01?lang=eng).
Enrollment on Church records, the first step to baptism at the customary age of eight, would inevitably lead to a struggle--a tug-of-war--between the doctrine and practices of the Church and the choices of parents, with the child unwittingly and innocently caught in the middle. The result would be an unfair, and untenable, test of loyalty. "Filled with compassion for all, and especially for the children," the presiding Brethren began the rigorous, "wrenching," "sacred process" of seeking divine revelation and of waiting on the Lord's Prophet, according to President Russell M. Nelson. "Our concern with respect to children is their current and future well-being and the harmony of their home environment" (First Presidency Letter). The updated policy aligns itself to "revealed doctrine" "that families are eternal in nature and purpose" (Letter) and "originates from a desire to protect children in their innocence and in their minority years. . . We don't want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the Church are very different," says Elder D. Todd Christofferson. He speaks of "difficulties, challenges, conflicts that can injure their development in very tender years" ("Elder Christofferson Says Handbook Changes Regarding Same-Sex Marriages Help Protect Children," lds.org).
"All children are to be treated with utmost respect and love. They are welcome to attend Church meetings and participate in Church activities. All children may receive priesthood blessings of healing and spiritual guidance" (First Presidency Letter). Although Church meetings will always remain open to all children, enrollment on Church records might not help everyone. Enrollment requires visits to the home to teach doctrine and to explain to both children and parents all the duties of membership. Such thoroughgoing home instruction, by official Church teachers, in the laws governing chastity, family, and marriage, as preparation for baptism, would persistently counter any parental teaching, in a variety of circumstances, about chastity and forms of marriage being a matter of individual choice. Latter-day Saint Scripture uses strong words to describe all violation of the law of chastity: even what the Book of Mormon calls "so great a crime" (Alma 39:5, 7).
The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob best describes that inevitable clash of cultures today in these words spoken long ago:
"It burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained, because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to admonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds; and those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds.
But, notwithstanding the greatness of the task, I must" (Jacob 2:9-10).
And prophets and apostles today, "notwithstanding the greatness of the task," and with love's "great anxiety even unto pain," teach "an everlasting hatred against sin" (Alma 13:27; 37:32). Yet the Church also upholds all parents in their right to raise their children as they please and to shield, as they please, "delicate minds," even "children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God" (v. 7). Children may yet suffer; for legalizing same-sex marriage, as all must acknowledge, is a social experiment in its very first stages. That being so, a question comes to mind: As same-sex parents come to discover in many of their children a refinement and a delicacy, even a longing for all that is chaste and all that is pure, how shall they reach them?
Parental reassurances to children about the mindless bigotry of recoiling billions in every place and culture, before 2015--and far beyond 2015--will not convince the more thoughtful. The thoughtful mind resists social conditioning and inevitably comes to see "things as they really are" (Jacob 4:13). Besides, does the record of humanity show any instance where parental immorality of any kind will not, later if not sooner, shame the tender, wound the refined, and distress the noble? Nor law nor loyalty can withstand shame. The Book of Mormon, which seems to consider every circumstance of human life, directly poses the question of whether posterity will "look with joy" upon their forbears or "shrink with shame."(Jacob 4:3; 2:6). That stark and staring dilemma will remain long after the conditioning fades.
Not only does the comprehensive Book of Mormon sound the warning; it shows the consequence. We accordingly read of some so "displeased with the conduct" of their adulterous fathers "they took upon themselves the name of [righteous] Nephi, that they might be called the children of Nephi" (Mosiah 25:12).
These truths apply to every parent and in all circumstances. Even conscientious Jacob, who, "weighed down" with "desire" and "anxiety," labored to teach his own children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," worried whether his posterity would "learn with joy and not with sorrow, neither with contempt, concerning their first parents" (Jacob 2:3; 4:3; Enos 1). Jacob thus teaches us first to set our own homes in order, and to repent if we fail, in any respect, "to bring up" our own children "in light and truth" (Doctrine and Covenants 93:40).
Yet to set our own homes in order, someone must define what a Latter-day Saint home is, what any Christian home is--and what it is not. With whom should the responsibility of defining the Latter-day Saint home and family rest? No matter deserves our closer attention, especially following the Supreme Court decision of June 2015 regarding same-sex marriage. The policy updates, as a thoughtful, apostolic response to the decisions of the Court, do serve to define and to set in order the Latter-day Saint family. Once defined to the view of all, in light of such sweeping and unprecedented judicial rulings, the Latter-day Saint family, secure in its identity and its purpose, may move forward in its divine mission to bless the lives of the whole human family. All parents will be upheld in their choices; neighbors will live in peace; children will play with children.
Despite the Church's avowed desire to safeguard children who otherwise might be caught in a fundamental conflict of loyalties, there are those who challenge the policy as being inherently unchristian. Some even proof text Luke 18:16: "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God."
We may charitably set aside the matter of citing scripture to oppose living oracles of God, who counsel together, in the sight of God, for the benefit of every Latter-day Saint family, to ask instead whether Luke 18:16 rebukes and forbids the Church's current policy on recording names or on baptism?
While the Lord calls little children, whom He also names holy, to come unto Him, additional scripture sheds light on the journey. The Book of Mormon addresses the nurture of children by righteous parents, parents who impart tender, chaste, and delicate teachings, even parents "who prepare the minds of their children to hear the word" shared by a welcoming Lord (Alma 39:16). We learn of Helaman, who specifically chose names for his sons to stir memory of ancestral "first parents," Lehi and his son, Nephi, as models of holiness (Helaman 5:6). (To whom will married same-sex parents point their own children as models of holiness?) Helaman, we are told, "did do that which was right in the sight of God continually and he did walk after the ways of his father. . . And it came to pass that he had two sons. He gave unto the eldest the name of Nephi, and unto the youngest, the name of Lehi. And they began to grow up unto the Lord" (Helaman 3:20-21).
The question then arises What are the circumstances under which a child may "grow up unto the Lord?" Or, What may hinder such growth? Such questions are, properly speaking, "grown-up questions," and no blithe and simplistic repetition of "Suffer little children" or "Forbid them not" will suffice for an answer. No. Better to call to mind the words of Paul: "Brethren, be ye not children in understanding" (1 Corinthians 14:20). The New International Version translates: "Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children" (see biblehub.com).
"Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children!"
For the laws, covenants, and practices governing Latter-day Saint families today, we turn to the Doctrine and Covenants, a book of revelations of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors. These are the words of the Lord Jesus to all families today.
From the Doctrine and Covenants we learn that Christ's commandments about teaching and raising children in His families and in His Church, which together make up His Zion, is no simplistic matter. Instead it requires--the Lord's own covenantal choice of words--an intense and thorough preparation of "the minds of their children" to receive His word by the power of the Holy Ghost.
"Inasmuch as parents have children in Zion. . . that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents. For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion. . . And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord" (68:25-8).
What does Section 68 have to do with the specific updates in Church policy today? Everything! Again, the updates came only after the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriages. The policy thus responds to decisions giving the sanction of law to immorality by making clear that a "willing and obedient" alignment to the law of the Lord governing and defining family is what the Lord requires of those who seek to establish His Kingdom and His Zion (see Isaiah 1:19; Doctrine and Covenants 64:34). How can we know whether the decisions of prophets and apostles accord with the will of the Lord? The answer is simple: Do the living oracles align themselves with the canonized revelations, laws, and covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ?
Jesus commands all parents today "to bring up your children in light and truth" (Doctrine and Covenants 93:40). "Intelligence, or in other words, light and truth," we are instructed, "forsaketh that evil one" (93:42). What claim to light has apostasy? what claim to truth, abomination? "To grow up unto the Lord" is to be brought up in intelligence and then "to walk uprightly before the Lord" forever.
When children live with parents whose lives contradict God's teachings about family and eternal marriage covenants, who will prepare their minds with the "doctrine of repentance?" Who will teach them to "walk uprightly before the Lord." How can they begin "to grow up unto the Lord?" The words of Jesus in the Doctrine and Covenants nevertheless reveal a saving pattern for loving friends, relatives, and grandparents who ponder and pray for answers: "Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers" (112:10). "I know thy heart" (v. 11).
(See now the far more comprehensive and caring words of Elder Neal L. Andersen, Conference Report April 2016, "Whoso Receiveth Them, Receiveth Me": https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2016/04/whoso-receiveth-them-receiveth-me?lang=eng)
Smugly quoting Luke 18:16 in a campaign for permissiveness in the name of compassion veers from "the Savior's pattern. He always was firm in what was right and wrong. He never excused or winked at sin. He never redefined it" (Elder D. Todd Christofferson).
Christians "mourn with those who mourn." They strive to befriend, to comfort, and to reclaim. But "sorrow and sighing" over "the blight man was born for" must "flee away" before the "joy and gladness" of the Zion road (Isaiah 35:10). Even as we so kindly serve, we must also be on our way, rejoicing.
Demanding questions face all who might tell stories of Jesus to challenge His living apostles: Do I understand children? Do I understand kindness, justice, or mercy? Would there be any kindness "in misdirecting people and leading them into any misunderstanding about what is true, what is right, what is wrong, what leads to Christ and what leads away from Christ" (Elder Christofferson)?
To think otherwise is a dodge. Those who challenge the apostolic directive regarding blessing and baptism certainly do not wish to subject children to a wrenching stress over loyalties. What, then, do they seek? They seek for the Church of Jesus Christ cheerfully, graciously--gradually, if need be--to give up entrenched bigotry and to embrace change, change, change! But would this not be to surrender her high standards of purity?
Such pleas for change parade as faithful dissent born of Christian kindness but inevitably unfold as "hard speeches" (Doctrine and Covenants 124:116). Jesus asks us to "lay aside" all our "hard speeches" (124:116). Appeals are made to the Brethren to recognize the great potential for suffering under current policies--as if policy rather than sin lay at the root of human sorrow. Some, as if posting their own 95 Theses, multiply reasons and cases, trace ramifications and delineate difficulties. The word of the Lord, quick and powerful, cuts through the sophistry (see Helaman 3:20).
The word of the Lord cuts through it all: "Be ye clean"
(Doctrine and Covenants 38:42; Thomas S. Monson, "Preparation Brings Blessings," Conference Report, April 2010).
Others argue that the Church is digging itself in in the face of a sea-change. There is no more frontier, they say, no remaining refuge "far away in the West," and thus no escape from tidal social and generational change.
They have forgotten Zion. Glorious things are sung of Zion! And glorious things will yet be sung: "And the wicked stood and trembled, filled with wonder and surprise." Zion will rise in wonder and her glory will surprise the world.
Service and teaching, nurture and admonition, in a loving Latter-day Saint home make family the model for greatness in Zion. Christ has provided home life for children "that great things may be required at the hands of their fathers" (Doctrine and Covenants 29:48).
"Great things"? Great things will be required, must be required, at the hands of fathers and mothers in Zion. Great things signifies great teaching; it points our minds forward to a generation capable of building Zion; it culminates in teaching purity out of a pure heart. What is Zion? "And this is Zion: THE PURE IN HEART." In Zion, to the wonder and surprise of all the world, will yet remain parents who can teach their little children the words of the hymn "Dearest Children": "Cherish Virtue! Cherish Virtue! God will bless the pure in heart."
And, no matter the circumstances of the lives of His dearest children--poverty, hunger, war, even apostasy--God will ever bless the pure in heart.