The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stunned me this week by announcing that it was dropping its infamous 2015 “Policy of Exclusion” (as it is commonly known among groups who consider it infamous).
The policy had prohibited the children of same-sex couples from being baptized into the church until they became an adult (Mormons are usually baptized at age 8, like I was). The policy also required children of gay parents to formally renounce their parents’ marriage relationship in order to qualify for church membership. And it labeled any Mormons who entered into a same-sex marriage as “apostate,” signaling their outsider status in the church.
As of Thursday, those abusive and draconian church policies are gone.
It stunned me that church leaders dropped the Policy of Exclusion after only three and a half years. Mormon change usually moves at a much more glacial pace.
It stunned me that the policy was dropped after it had been so aggressively reinforced by church leaders. In 2016, the policy was elevated to the status of “revelation” by now-church-president Russell Nelson, who described its origin as a direct communication from God to then-prophet Thomas Monson (not mentioning the fact that Monson suffered from dementia at the time). The way Nelson told the story, the spirit confirmed to the other apostles of the church that the policy was a direct communication of God’s will.
As time went on, despite many members vocally expressing distress about the policy, church leaders continued to reinforce the Policy of Exclusion, even as recently as 10 months ago, when it updated its Preach My Gospel manual for missionaries.
Having the Policy of Exclusion removed from the books is a good thing — and the fact that the First Presidency of the church published the change in a direct letter to members of the church on Thursday is especially surprising, as changes typically happen quietly and imperceptibly — but since it was announced, I have felt more pain than cause for celebration.
I’m merely an ally when it comes to the Mormon LGBTQIA+ community, but I will never forget what a gut punch it was for me in November 2015 when this policy was announced to local church leaders and then discussed online (it wasn’t “leaked,” as is sometimes discussed; church leaders merely had not prepared for the policy to be discussed by the general membership and local leaders).
It was painful to me because it was such an egregious example of church leadership abusing their power, and because I understood how spiritually violent the policy was against so many people — children, non-straight people. Lives have been lost in the fallout of the Policy of Exclusion, including from among my own personal friends.
In the announcement Thursday, church leader Dallin Oaks (who has preached many, many hurtful and ignorant things in the past regarding homosexuality and gender) spoke condescendingly toward LGBTQIA+ parents:
“Children of parents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender may be baptized without First Presidency approval if the custodial parents give permission for the baptism and understand both the doctrine that a baptized child will be taught and the covenants he or she will be expected to make,” an official church summary of Oaks’ message reads.
In other words: Gay parents, you need to know that your children will be taught things at church that contradict your family structure.
“A nonmember parent or parents (including LGBT parents) can request that their baby be blessed by a worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holder,” the statement continues, ignoring the LGBT parents who are not nonmembers of the church. “These parents need to understand that congregation members will contact them periodically, and that when the child who has been blessed reaches 8 years of age, a Church member will contact them and propose that the child be baptized.”
No sense of welcome or inclusivity. No acknowledgement of the harm of the 2015 policy. No apology. No remorse. No sense of growth, only a reinforcement of a structure in which church leaders dictate God’s will without flaw.
The church’s biannual General Conference is this weekend. In fact, it’s on my television right now as I finish preparing this very newsletter, but I’m not giving it a spot “on my radar,” because I’ve been burned too many times before. The church leaders and what they have to say are (and probably will always be) somewhere on my radar, but I have to push them off to the margins of my radar.
If church leaders ever repent for the 2015 policy, or for the many other institutional sins of the church, including covering up abuse, excommunicating faithful church critics, racism past and present, and self-idolatry, I will be ready to listen, forgive, and help build something better. But until that basic step is started, I cannot take them seriously. Church leaders have lost all credibility with me, even as I’m grateful for this one step this week.
PS Correction from last week’s newsletter: The New York Times is not one of the news publications to have teamed up with Apple for their subscription Apple News+ service. The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times are two newspapers that are participating, however.
On my radar: April 5-11, 2019
To put something good on my radar, please get in touch.
Friday, April 5
📺 Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (New episode @ 9 p.m., CW) — The final episode! Followed by “Yes, It's Really Us Singing: The Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Concert Special!” Plus: a behind-the-scenes documentary is available now on CW Seed. It’s been quite a run.
📺 Our Planet (Premieres April 5, Netflix) — David Attenborough (Planet Earth) returns with more nature documentary footage.
Saturday, April 6
📺 Saturday Night Live (New episode @ 11:30 p.m., NBC) — Kit Harington hosts with musical guest Sara Bareilles.
Sunday, April 7
📺 Barry (New episode @ 10 p.m., HBO) — The second season continues!. Trailer.
Monday, April 8
📺 The Twilight Zone (New episode, CBS All Access) — Jordan Peele’s reboot of the classic anthology series. Am I going to have to sign up for CBS All Access for this? (Yes.) Trailer.
Tuesday, April 9
📺 Fosse/Verdon (Premieres @ 10 p.m., FX) — I would be thrilled to see any series tackle the story of iconic theater artists Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, but with Lin-Manuel Miranda as executive producer and a cast that includes Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell (and Norbert Leo Butz!) I could not be more excited about this.
Thursday, April 11
NYC: 🎭 Seth Meyers Writers: Crate Night w/ Set Fires (UCB Hell’s Kitchen @ 9 p.m.) — The writers of Late Night With Seth Meyers will perform live! I recently saw them perform jokes that had been written for and cut out of their TV show, and I still think about it. Amber Ruffin is a wonder to behold. More info.
Chicago/Online: 🎟 Star Wars Celebration (Convention in Chicago, April 11-15) — I would love to go to one of these in person some day, but last time I remember they streamed some events live, including the debut of the Last Jedi trailer. I’m looking forward to whatever Lucasfilm has to reveal, especially news about the Jedi Fallen Order video game. More info.
🎬 Movie Marathon Series: The MCU in chronological order — I’m doing a series of movie marathons this year, and the first is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, leading up to Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame. More info.
🎬 Movie Marathon Series: Bob Fosse/Gwen Verdon — My next movie marathon is in preparation for the FX biopic series Fosse/Verdon. More info.
At the end of each newsletter, I look to — the past! — to mention the most most notable pieces of culture I've been paying attention to, whether they were previously on my radar or not.
🎬 Shazam! (In theaters) — This movie did not look good to me from the trailers, but its 91% score on Rotten Tomatoes was enough for me to check it out. Turns out, it’s one of my new favorite superhero movies. I take exception to the D.C. model of “superhero as god,” which imagines a Classical Greek-like standard of “ideal” physical beauty and perfection. Shazam! perpetuates that myth of ideal human physique, which can be harmful and boring. But the film has an exceptionally crafted story, as well as several laugh-out-loud moments. And forget popular movie Oscar: Give this movie an award for Best Casting Director. The entire ensemble, mostly of young actors, is an utter delight to watch in every scene. Jack Dylan Grazer (It) gives an especially gifted performance.
🎧 Code Switch: “Respect Yourself” — In this episode, the Code Switch team unpacks “respectability.” Listen.
🎧 Elizabeth Banks on The Business — I always love Kim Masters’ interviews with folks in the film business, and I especially loved the frankness of the recent discussion with Elizabeth Banks. Listen.