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3 Insights on the Church's new policy

15 November 2015

If you haven't noticed, everyone is freaking out over the Church's new clarifications on the great issue of our time. If you've been out of the loop, there were two pieces:

  1. A clarification that entering into a homosexual marriage fits under the official definition of apostasy in Church disciplinary councils (not exactly earth-shattering).
  2. Underage children of homosexual couples could not be be baptized or receive infant blessings.
The latter point caused some stir. OK, "stir" is perhaps not the right word. Maybe chaos? Media frenzy? Insanity? Critics cried foul and sarcastically quoted Christ's injunction to "suffer the little children" to come to Him. Dramatic headlines soon rang out about "thousands" fleeing the Church over this new policy. And even though these headlines about mass resignation are largely false (only about 3% of those removing their names so far have been semi-active), it's definitely an issue worth addressing and discussing.

First, if you haven't actually consumed the official sources, please go right now and check out the official announcement wording from the Church and the interview with Elder Christofferson. After that, I would like to share the following three insights that have occurred to me as I've thought and pondered on this:

1. We must understand the serious nature of baptism

I think many outside our Church (and perhaps some inside it) either do no understand or have forgotten the sweeping breadth of what baptism is. Too often we view it as a nice little Church event where the kid gets to be the center and gets his little CTR ring and gets welcomed into the Church. But it's so much more.

If we read over the familiar verses in Mosiah 18, we see that baptism is a promise to:
  • Participate actively in Church your whole life
  • Accept His name and the Church's name as the integral part of your life (ridicule and all)
  • Serve God, and serve everyone
  • Keep all of God's commandments
  • "stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death"
I can't stress enough how big that is. Baptism in our Church is not some religious rite of passage. By choosing to be baptized, you are swearing a solemn oath to uphold the Gospel and its doctrines, to defend the Church and its policies, and to do all in your power and build up God's Kingdom until the end of your life. That is a serious promise. And God is serious about us keeping it. To quote Elder Holland's somber words, "God will not be mocked."

Frankly, it's amazing enough to me that the Lord considers any child ready to enter into such a daunting commitment. Even more so for an 8-year old child under guardianship of a homosexual couple. Given the fact that being baptized is by definition espousing a set of doctrines and practices that unequivocally denounce his parent's choice as an egregious affront to God's most sacred institution, it any wonder that the Church finds it inappropriate for that child to commit himself to?

I love how Elder Christofferson points out that the purpose of this policy is to address a fringe edge case where children are being placed in a tug-of-war between their home situation and their faith. In this way, it is both a concession to the gay guardians, as well as a way to assure no one enters baptism that isn't ready.

2. The Lord expects more than "buffet Christianity" in this Church

The other piece that I think gets misunderstood or forgotten is different but related to the first. Namely: we must understand that we as baptized members do not have the prerogative to pick and choose which aspects of the Gospel we will like and accept as truth, and which ones just don't sound good to us. I call this concept of picking and choosing which pieces you like and which you don't "buffet Christianity." (I'll have a little prayer with a bit of mercy topped with forgiveness and a whole lot of "don't judge," but I'll pass on the Sabbath Day observance and tithing).

Maybe that works in other religions, but it just doesn't fly here. As Pres. Hinckley famously said:
"Each of us has to face the matter-- either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing."
You have the whole enchilada. Now I grant that we all suffer from doubts and we are all learning and struggling with different concepts along the way. There is nothing wrong with that. But at the end of the day, the Gospel always comes as a package deal. You simply cannot separate the blessings and the fellowship from the commandments and the doctrines. You hold to both, or you lose both.

This is why I am so confused by long-time members who claim to believe in the Church and its leaders, yet somehow feel they can make an exception for social or moral policies that they don't particularly like or don't yet understand. In one breath they testify of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Priesthood, the Prophet, and the Church. Then in the next they criticize the Brethren, the leadership, and the Prophet for speaking out on a sensitive moral issue.

In one article I read, one such activist lamented to the newspaper reporter his shock at the announcement. He said it seemed like a surprising move, like the Church was "closing the door on discussion" on acceptance of gay marriages in the Church.

Personally, I wasn't aware God had opened up his doctrine for discussion in the first place.

When I hear of members trying to convince the Brethren to alter the divine course set forth for the Church by revelation, I am reminded of this chilling rebuke to apostate Israel:
"This is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord: 
Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:
Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us
... ye despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon" (Isaiah 30:9-12).

3. Stay in the ship... even when it changes course

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were on a cruise. One day, we specifically chose to eat lunch on the side of the ship where it was shaded-- away from the sun. A few minutes later, we were surprised to find our shade disappearing. We looked outside the window to find that sure enough, our ship was turning around-- going in the opposite direction of our destination.

Of course, we knew that meant the captain didn't know where he was going, so we opened the window and jumped into the ocean.

No, that would be ridiculous. We knew the captain was in control. We knew he was much more familiar with these waters than we were. He had the GPS and the sonar, and we trusted that he knew what he was doing. So we fought off the impulse to jump by scarfing down some more food, and awaited the further instructions / explanation we knew would come.

I'm sure you see where I'm going here. As the gulf between conventional societal wisdom and the Church grows, the sage counsel from the "watchmen on the tower" will seem more and more initially strange to all of us because our ways are not his ways. There will be more and more issues and course tweaks like this new policy that will likewise cause us to perk up and say "Hmm, I wasn't expecting that." We will have nothing but our testimonies to rely on, and it will happen to everyone. Ezra Taft Benson said it like this:
"Every man eventually is backed up to the wall of faith, and there he must make his stand."
The question is, when the course is altered and the Church moves in a direction we didn't expect, what will we do? Will we jump ship, assuming the Brethren must not know what they're doing? As the Savior pleaded, "Will [we] also go away?"

Or will we be patient? Will we pay attention? Will we trusting the Captain at the Helm, and never stopping for a moment from enjoying the exquisite blessings of the Gospel in the interim while we "wait upon the Lord" for further instructions / explanations?

If anyone reading this is considering jumping ship, I plead with you to listen to the words of Elder Ballard last month, inviting us to "stay on the Old Ship Zion, which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to hold on with both hands" (God is at the Helm). The Gospel is not some shaky moral dinghy-- it is a large cruise ship, replete with the richest blessings Heavenly Father has ever bestowed on His children. It is stable and sure, and you can never find the same stability or peace anywhere else.

Meet with your Bishop to talk about it. Study it out. Fast. Pray. And listen closely next General Conference. That combo can work miracles and save souls.

Back to my cruise. A few minutes after we had turned around, the captain came on the intercom and explained that a ship had gone down in this area during a hurricane several days prior and that someone had spotted what might be wreckage. Since we were the only ship in the area, we were asked by the coast guard to investigate and report back to them.

Likewise, when issues arise, we are promised that if we wait, ask, and listen, Heavenly Father will give us the answers we need. They will come in His own way and in His own time, but they will always come. We and our posterity will be eternally grateful that we chose to remain on board.

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