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Earlier this year, I wrote about about how the Mormon church laudably apologized for its past racism, yet its leaders were repeating the errors of history by continuing to insist on anti-LGBT discrimination. Well, the next chapter of that story has just been written:

In a major policy announcement, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says children living in a same-sex household may not be blessed as babies or baptized.

… “A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing,” the policy reads.

Natural or adopted children living in a same-sex household will only be allowed to be baptized once they are 18, disavow the practice of same-sex cohabitation or marriage, and stop living within the household, according to the policy.

By design, this rule punishes the children for the “sins” of their parents. It bars young people from membership in the LDS church, not because of anything they’ve done or anything they believe, but because of the nature of their family, something they have no control over. I can only imagine the shock, sadness and suffering those kids will feel when their parents have to explain to them why they can’t associate with Mormon friends their own age.

Not only that, even once the children of same-sex marriages reach adulthood, they have to effectively disown their parents before they’ll be allowed to participate in the church – requiring them to move out of home and avow a belief that their parents’ marriage is sinful and illegitimate. In the name of holiness, the LDS church is doing everything in its power to pry families apart and turn children against their parents.

For many disaffected Mormons and ex-Mormons, this was the last straw. Human-rights activist Kate Kendall, who was brought up Mormon, was moved to quit the church once and for all, calling the new policy “gratuitously cruel and stigmatizing” (source) and decrying it as a reversal of tentative signs of a thaw in the church’s attitude toward LGBT rights. Last weekend, hundreds of people organized a mass, formal public resignation on the doorstep of the Salt Lake City Temple to protest:

Many who attended the Salt Lake City event brought rainbow flags in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. They also hoisted signs with slogans such as “LDS: Love Doesn’t Separate.”

At one of several tables, attorney Mark Naugle helped Mormons expedite their paperwork to resign their memberships in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their forms were then dropped into a file box, which was rapidly filling 90 minutes after the event began, for mailing to nearby LDS Church headquarters to have those members’ names removed from the faith’s rolls.

And my friend Luna Lindsey wrote about how this policy promotes child abuse in God’s name, with reference to her own experience:

I’ve seen firsthand what happens when bullying and abuse is modeled by authority, even as lowly as a first grade teacher. It’s even worse when LDS leaders try to claim this comes from God himself, the ultimate authority. Members of the Church learn a powerful lesson: That God condones abuse.

…I don’t see how I can walk into that Chapel again. I don’t see how I can align myself in any way with a religion that willfully refuses to be accountable for the damage they are causing, for the hearts being scarred, and even for the lives being lost.

Lindsey also points out that this policy treats same-sex relationships as a worse sin than assault, rape or murder.

I have to admit that, as an atheist, I have mixed feelings about this. I understand the ostracism, the bullying, the stigmatization that can come from being the lone outsider in a highly religious community. I can’t fault people for wanting friendship and social outlets, and when the LDS church is the biggest and nearest source of those things, there’s a powerful incentive to fall in line. It’s natural that people who’ve found a way to fit in would feel anger at the church authorities who are now taking this source of community away from them.

On the other hand, I still have to wonder: why on earth would a gay or lesbian couple want to be part of a regressive, oligarchical faith like Mormonism? Why would you want to bring up your children in a church which teaches that your love and your marriage are sinful and evil? Shouldn’t there be a kind of “You can’t fire me, I quit!” dynamic going on here? (That’s the exact point the people who participated in the mass resignation were trying to convey.)

When I brought up this point about pro-gay Christians in general this summer, one of the more common apologetics was that some liberal people believe that Christianity is true despite the exclusionary attitude of specific churches. But that excuse can’t work for people who continue to live in same-sex relationships while belonging, or wanting their children to belong, to a church that considers them apostasy. By definition, if you identify as Mormon, it’s because you believe the leaders of the LDS church have the most correct understanding of God’s will. It just doesn’t make sense to believe that while also insisting they’re wrong to exclude children of same-sex couples.

In the short term, this decision will cause pain, suffering and heartache among the families that it punishes. But in the long run, the greatest harm inflicted by this rule will be the harm that the LDS church is doing to itself. By handing down this decree, it’s firmly cemented its place as a religion of the past. Among people who have no preexisting tie to the church, it will be a bright neon sign sending a message of unwelcome and exclusion for all who don’t fit a particular, narrow set of parameters. It’s a signal of intolerance that will cause the next generation to turn their faces away, and it’s no less than the church deserves.

Image credit: Ricardo630, released under CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons

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DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...