In the last two years I've discerned a palpable shift in overall Mormon attitudes about homosexuality. Alongside greater acceptance in society, there's been increasing openness in our church, as seen in yesterday's well-attended Gay Pride March in Salt Lake City. But judging from the way homosexuality is still treated in the Church Handbook of Instruction, we have a significant way to go.
I can't pinpoint a precise date when I started to recognize that instead of being part of a stubborn minority of Mormons who cared about GLBT rights, I was part of a growing community of faithful Latter-day Saints who long for equality for all people regardless of sexual orientation. But this transformation has indeed been happening -- not just in the media but on the ground, in the Mormon communities I see and know. Good Mormons who just a few years ago might have felt comfortable making homophobic judgments or remarks are expressing to me that they are rethinking this issue.
One dramatic sign of that is yesterday's March for Gay Pride in Salt Lake City, for which more than 300 Mormons dressed in their Sunday clothes to "send a message of love to Utah's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community by joining the annual parade" for the first time. According to the Associated Press, parade marshal Dustin Lance Black (see prior blog post on his new Mormon-themed film Virginia) tweeted that the sight over "over 300 straight, active Mormons" showing up to march moved him to tears.
But in my Facebook feed today, smack dab in the middle of such encouraging stories, is a discussion of a church policy I'd never even heard of before last month: that at leaders' discretion, some gay Mormons have a permanent annotation placed in their official church record if they have a history of homosexual behavior.
If it were standard policy to place such an annotation in the record of any church member who had confessed to any kind of sexual transgression that opposes LDS standards (including heterosexual fornication, adultery, etc.), that would be more fair than the system we apparently have per the 2010 Church Handbook of Instruction. However, the policy does not mention heterosexual sex as conduct that "has threatened the well-being of other persons or of the Church," instead lumping adult homosexual behavior with incest, sexual and physical abuse of children, and "predatory conduct":
6.13.4 Records with Annotations, pp. 70-71
In areas authorized by the First Presidency, an annotation may be placed on the record of a member whose conduct has threatened the well-being of other persons or of the Church. An annotation helps the bishop protect Church members and others from such individuals.
When a bishop receives an annotated membership record, he follows the instructions in the annotation. Church headquarters will automatically annotate a person’s membership record in any of the following situations:
1. The stake president or bishop submits a Report of Church Disciplinary Action form showing that the person was disciplined for incest, sexual offense against or serious physical abuse of a child, plural marriage, an elective transsexual operation, repeated homosexual activities (by adults), predatory conduct, or embezzlement of Church funds or property.
2. The stake president or bishop submits written notification that the person has been criminally convicted for one of these transgressions.
3. The stake president and bishop jointly submit written notification that the person has committed one of these transgressions before or after excommunication or name removal.
In addition, the stake president and bishop may jointly recommend that a person’s membership record be annotated for other conduct that threatens the well-being of other persons or of the Church.
In all cases, an annotation on a membership record is removed only with First Presidency approval upon request of the stake president.
This revelation came up in the recent Mormon Stories interview with So You Think You Can Dance? champion Benji Schwimmer. A church leader had told him that because of his history of homosexual activity, an annotation had been placed in his record that stated he could never receive a calling in the Church that had him working with children. That's not because Schwimmer has ever had any kind of history of sexually abusing children, but because the ludicrous equation made possible by the CHI (Gay = Child Molester) in his case resulted in a permanent restriction on his ability to serve in the Church.
At first I was inclined to hope that what happened to Schwimmer was an isolated, unfortunate incident; local LDS leaders can sometimes act with a surprising amount of autonomy. This act did not represent the church of love that I am privileged to call my home.
But today I read the CHI policy for myself, and was saddened, even disgusted.
This needs to change. Adult homosexual behavior is not any more inherently predatory toward children than adult heterosexual behavior is. While it's important that the Church protect children against known child molesters, it's appalling that homosexuals are placed by default in the category of abusers.
That is not the gospel. We can do better than this.
The image of a gay couple holding hands is used with permission of Shutterstock.com.