In the event you have not heard the news, here is the controversy in a nutshell: The Church Handbook of Instruction, the secret manual that has supplanted the scriptures as the Standard Operating Manual for all bishops, stake presidents, and other local leaders, was recently amended to prohibit babies from being given a name and a blessing by anyone if one of the parents of the child is involved in a marriage or relationship with a person of the same gender. Further, any child of a parent in such a relationship will not be permitted to be baptized until he or she turns eighteen years old, and even then no baptism will be allowed until the candidate disavows the relationship his parent was in. The child would also have to meet additional criteria of a sort most of us would find unreasonable, if not abhorrent. You can see the actual document for yourself by clicking here.
This represents such a radical departure from the doctrine of Christ that when the news first broke, many faithful members of the church refused to believe it was true. But those who read my last post would have been able to put two and two together and figure out exactly why this policy has been instituted at this time: if the Church held the same status under the law as when it was organized by Joseph Smith in 1830, it would be directed by religious principles. Alas, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was long ago converted from a church into a Corporation Sole, an act that reorganized the Church's basic structure, and gave the erstwhile "Church" an entirely different legal status, leaving it vulnerable to the whims of societal change. (If you have not read my previous post as yet, I recommend you do so now in order to have a foundational understanding for what follows.)
Whereas the church that was founded by Joseph Smith operated under the distinct doctrines of Christ, The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operates under the doctrine of political expediency. By definition, any church that has been incorporated cannot claim the Lord Jesus Christ as its sovereign head. The State is the sovereign in an incorporated Church.
That's not just speculation on my part; it's a legal reality. What it all translates to is this: if the Board of Directors of the Corporation of the President expect to keep the Corporation intact, at times they are forced by circumstances to relinquish the religion. This abandonment of principle has occurred many more times than we would like to believe, as documented here.
The primary reason why incorporated Churches will do anything to avoid a confrontation with civil authorities, even to the point of giving up religious principles, has been neatly summarized by the following two experts:
"When a church incorporates, it becomes a 'creature' of the state. Having created the incorporated church, the State governs them via corporate law and public policy, grants and revokes privileges, burdens them, restricts them, penalizes them, and can dissolve them." (Peter Kershaw, "Does the Government Control Our Churches?")
"The IRS determines, subject to costly and time-consuming challenge, whether a restriction has been breached by a 501(c)3 organization. These restrictions subject a religious organization to suit in the courts for violating a federal government law. Fundamental public law is above biblical principle if the two conflict." (Jerald Finney, Separation of Church and State: God's Churches: Spiritual or Legal Entities?, pg 37.)
Why Can't We Just Live Our Own Religion?
Few people would dispute a church's right to determine its own policies regarding same-sex relationships. Although the Supreme Court recognized that homosexual couples have the right to marry, the court's decision is properly manifested in the civil arena; it does not mean a particular church would be required to perform a ceremony marrying two persons of the same gender. And since many churches consider homosexual activity to be a sin, a church has the right to discipline or exclude from membership anyone who engages in such behavior, just as a church has the right to discipline or exclude from membership any heterosexuals who violate the scriptural law of chastity.
But what has outraged so many Mormons over the new policy is that it represents a radical departure from church doctrine and tradition, and that departure is radical in a multitude of ways. In the first place, by prohibiting the baptism of a child whose father or mother happens to be in a same-sex relationship, the institutional Church now appears to be visiting the sins of the fathers onto the heads of the children.
Further, in D&C 68:27 the Lord Himself has directed us through revelation to have our children baptized once they reach the age of accountability. LDS Church leaders have now abnegated that clear commandment, directing bishops that children of certain families not be permitted to be baptized at all until they reach 18 years of age. Once that age has been attained, the child is further required to completely disavow their parent's lifestyle. It doesn't matter how any of us feel about same-sex cohabitation; this demand that any child should be required to denounce a parent in order to enter into the covenant of baptism is a clear abuse of ecclesiastical authority.
Now, I'll be the first to concede that some children probably aren't ready for baptism at eight years old; many simply aren't capable of understanding the commitment they are making. But what if a child asks to be baptized at age fourteen? Wasn't our founding prophet capable of religious understanding when he was that age? Or how about sixteen, or seventeen? If a teenager with the ability to comprehend the meaning of the ordinance expresses a desire to be baptized, does any other person truly have the authority to tell him he cannot? If so, where did he get that authority? Certainly not from God.
This change did not come as a result of any revelation from God. The Lord did not amend his previous revelation. If he had, that new revelation would have been read from the pulpit at general conference and voted on by the membership. It would not have been quietly sneaked into the Church Handbook of Instruction by the Church's legal firm.
It shouldn't be hard to imagine why the Church's current management felt it necessary to take this drastic step. It appears to have been instituted as preparation for a possible difficulty the Church may soon face as a result of the recent supreme court ruling on same-sex marriage. I believe the Board of Directors of the corporation realizes it's only a matter of time before it faces a legal challenge that might require the Church to permit same-sex marriages within the walls of its temples.
This is a possibility that I'm convinced has been the topic of many long meetings among the hierarchy of the Church, and has been for many years leading up to the supreme court ruling. As ridiculous as it may seem to most of us that the Church would ever bow to societal pressure in this matter, keep in mind that this is no longer an actual church as traditionally defined. It is, in legal contemplation, a world-wide corporate conglomerate doing business as a church, and as such it cannot afford to run afoul of fundamental public policy.
The LDS Church itself is licensed by the State to perform marriages in its own temples. It is not too much of a leap then, to assume that one day "public policy" could dictate that entities so licensed to perform marriages between a man and a woman, may also be required to grant the same privilege to persons of the same gender. If this possibility is even hinted at, our Church is going to have a huge problem. It will find itself either forced to bow to the will of the State in this matter, or it will have to cease performing all weddings, both in temples and in chapels. Mormon weddings, including sealings for time and all eternity, will be a thing of the past.
The Clue Is In The Handbook
In recent years the LDS Church has shifted its stance regarding homosexuality among its members. In the past, anyone declaring himself to be openly homosexual was immediately subjected to Church discipline, and almost always expelled from the Church. This is what happened to my best friend in my senior year of high school, a wonderful kid I had brought into the church, but who later admitted to having feelings for me of a nature I had never suspected. Eventually he found new friends, and he and I went our separate ways; but when he admitted his sexual proclivity to one of the Young Men leaders, that leader took immediate steps to have my friend excommunicated. This was around 1971, and was the normal procedure back then when homosexuals were discovered within the ranks of the Church. (It was not known then that many hundreds, if not thousands, of devoted gay members secretly served missions, then went home and dutifully married an unwitting young maiden in the temple for time and all eternity.)
Today the Church recognizes that same-sex attraction is a fact of life for some people, and that such tendencies in a person don't mean that person cannot have a strong testimony of the restored gospel. So it is not unheard of today for someone to be both LDS and homosexual. I happen to know a gay man who is the gospel doctrine teacher in his ward. The official position of the Church today is that same-sex attraction in a member becomes a problem only when that member acts on his feelings and engages in sexual relations with another person. In other words, the law of chastity holds for all members of the church, whether gay or straight.
But with the recent supreme court ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges, the very existence of homosexual members within the church brings with it the possibility of an unwanted confrontation. What would happen if two faithful, devoted, temple-worthy members of the church who happened to be homosexual approached their bishop with the desire to be married in the temple according to the tenets of their faith? And what if that bishop denied them that wedding? Could the Church face the possibility of a legal action by the State requiring them to treat such a marriage in exactly the same manner it would if the couple had been a man and a woman? Could it not one day be considered "fundamental public policy" that a gay couple should have the same access to a wedding as any other couple in the Church they happen to belong to, especially when that Church is licensed by the State?
I believe the possibility of this hypothetical scenario occurring one day is what has been keeping our leaders up at night.
But they have also come up with what they believe could be the solution to this problem.
Concurrently with the new policy inserted into the Church Handbook of Instruction prohibiting the children of gay couples from being either blessed or baptized, another important policy change was inserted in Handbook 1 at page 6.7.2. What this policy change does is place same-sex marriage in the category of apostasy.
Like it or not, I had to admit this was a brilliant legal maneuver. Although sexual relations between two persons of the same sex remains in the category of sin, same-sex marriage now constitutes full-blown apostasy from the Church. Why? Because apostasy infers a complete rejection of the core fundamentals of the entire religion and all its teachings.
Mildly serious sins such as rape, robbery, or attempted murder can be repented of without the sinner necessarily having to undergo formal disciplinary proceedings. But Apostasy? That's a serious one, Bubba. Take it from me, all it takes is the mere accusation that you are an apostate, and you're out on your butt.
If that doesn't qualify as taking the name of the Lord in vain, I don't know what does.
The thing that makes Monson's odd testimony all the more disconcerting to me is that at least one blogger has noted and documented that in the past ten years, Thomas Monson "has not borne testimony of any of his own Church’s unique foundational doctrines, including the truth of the Book of Mormon or the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith in any of the church’s General Conference meetings"
But he enthusiastically bears his testimony of the corporate handbook.
Since the legal definition of "apostasy" is the "total renunciation" of one's previously held religious beliefs, labeling a person an apostate effectively obviates any obligation a church might have to accommodate that person. In other words, the apostate, being in a state of apostasy, automatically forfeits any right to be served by an ecclesiastical authority that he, by nature of his apostasy, has effectively rejected as having no religious authority over him in the first place.
Even in the current political climate, no church would be required to perform a marriage ceremony for a couple who are not members of that church. Same-sex activity and cohabitation with a person of the same gender has always been considered sinful behavior in this church, but now the act of legitimizing such sinful behavior in a marriage contract represents willful rebellion against the religion itself. That effectively places the apostate couple in the category of "non-members." And since the Church already has a firm policy in place that non-members are not permitted to be married in our temples or our chapels, the request for a temple marriage is moot.
So that takes care of that.
But why the unusually harsh ruling regarding baptisms for the children of these so-called "apostates"? Why punish them by refusing to allow their participation in an ordinance the Lord requires those children to have?
I really don't know the thinking behind that. I can only speculate that the Brethren are convinced that in order to make this charge of apostasy stick, it was necessary to claim that those who apostatize from this church are so furiously hateful in their apostasy that their disdain for the Church could conceivably rub off on their children, unduly influencing the children to embrace their parent's rebellion. It would not do, then, for apostate children to infiltrate the Church until they have been thoroughly vetted by those in authority.
Will The Strategy Work?
Whatever the plan was, it was not intended to attract such widespread public notice. The intent was to quietly slip these policy changes into the Church Handbook of Instruction without attracting any undue attention. That plan went out the window after someone working in the many layers of Church Bureaucracy leaked the document to John Dehlin, who then published screenshots of the CHI inserts on the internet.
The result was a virtual firestorm, resulting in the very type of publicity that could backfire on the corporate Church. Already every major news organization from CNN to the New York Times is reporting on the flood of members who are fed up with the hypocrisy and taking steps to resign.
If the time ever comes when the Church finds it necessary to employ this strategy, it could be seen by the Church's adversaries as a legal trick that lacks any true validity in doctrinal tradition. The other day the Church trotted out one of its general authorities to try and attempt damage control, but that interview was conducted by the Church's own head of Public Relations, so you can imagine how lame and unsatisfying that interview was. It did nothing to clarify why the Church's leaders had chosen to disobey God.
Of course, if the leaders really want these headaches to go away, they could easily solve all their problems by dis-incorporating the Church. That would place them once again under the protection of the first amendment to the constitution, removing the church from any and all interference from government lawsuits.
But this they will not do. As Moroni observed when looking into the Church in our day, "ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches..." The risk in dis-incorporating the Church is the possibility that a lot of the perks the Brethren enjoy would evaporate, and they would be forced to get regular jobs between conference gigs just like the Book of Mormon says they should.
As I related in my last post, Congressman George Hansen confided in me some years ago that he personally knew several general authorities who would prefer the Church rescind its corporate status. He did not name those particular apostles, but he did say they differed from the newcomers in that the old school apostles were firmly rooted in the doctrines of the faith. Those general authorities are all dead now, replaced by corporate yes-men who can't imagine the Church operating in any other form than the business model they have grown accustomed to.
I grew up in a different era. I can't imagine such theological giants as LeGrand Richards, Mark Petersen, Ezra Taft Benson, Howard Hunter, Harold B. Lee, Joseph Fielding Smith, or even Bruce McConkie sitting still while their lesser informed Brethren gutted the church of its core teachings on baptism and turned the church into the obvious counterfeit it is today.
It may very well be too late to turn this thing around. I highly doubt the Church will be reformed from the inside by its current administrators. We'll most likely have to wait until Christ returns as promised to set his house in order.
Let's hope by then there's still something left worth saving.
One Further Note:
I realize not many people follow the links I provide in these pieces, but if you are at all interested in how incorporation has turned churches in America upside down, I urge you to watch this one hour video by Peter Kershaw. But beware: during the two or three minutes Paymon spends introducing the speaker, the sound levels have not yet been adjusted, so if you are wearing earphones when the sound gets corrected about four minutes in, be careful or you'll get blasted.