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The leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon) have reversed a church “policy” that was implemented just three and a half years earlier.
The original policy made on November 3, 2015, stated how “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.” In addition, the baptism of “a child of a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship” was allowed only if the child was legally an adult (18) and committed to the teaching of the church while not living “with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.”1
That decision resulted in loud protests by some members, including more than a thousand who claimed that they resigned their membership following that decision because they felt children were pawns in the church’s stance against homosexuality.2
Reversing that policy, Dallin H. Oaks, the first counselor in the church’s top leadership called the First Presidency, explained on an LDS Church website on April 4, 2019 that “effective immediately, 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.”3 In addition, “babies of nonmember parents or parents (including LGBTQ parents) can request their baby” to receive an official blessing.
POLICY OR DOCTRINE?
Many were puzzled and even shocked by the quick turnabout by leaders of the “restored” church of Jesus Christ, which began in 1830. These leaders — called the prophet and apostles — claim to have a direct connection with God Himself. As one official church manual puts it, “The General Authorities are representatives of the Savior. They hold the priesthood and the keys to direct the work of the Lord’s Church. As we follow their counsel and sustain them with our faith, obedience, and prayers, we will receive great blessings.”4
In the past two decades these leaders have been very sensitive to the slowing church growth, as the convert numbers continue to lag while many members are exiting out the back door. Last year the church had its smallest numerical gain since 1978 when those who officially left the rolls were subtracted from those who were baptized.5
Referencing the original decision made in 2015, Russell M. Nelson — an apostle at the time but who became the church’s top leader in January 2018 when previous president Thomas S. Monson passed away — claimed in a January 10, 2016 talk that the leaders make decisions based on God’s guidance. He even claimed that it is not unusual when he and other leaders are “awakened during the night with further impressions about issues with which we are concerned.”
He used the word “feel” to describe what he called “the prophetic process”: “The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counsel together and share all the Lord has directed us to understand and to feel individually and collectively. And then we watch the Lord move upon the President of the Church to proclaim the Lord’s will.”6
Nelson described the leaders’ thinking process in that controversial 2015 decision: “Filled with compassion for all, and especially for the children, we wrestled at length to understand the Lord’s will in this matter. Ever mindful of God’s plan of salvation and of His hope for eternal life for each of His children, we considered countless permutations and combinations of possible scenarios that could arise. We met repeatedly in the temple in fasting and prayer and sought further direction and inspiration. And then, when the Lord inspired His prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord, each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation. It was our privilege as Apostles to sustain what had been revealed to President Monson. Revelation from the Lord to His servants is a sacred process.”7
Notice the words Nelson used concerning the leadership’s decision: “inspired” by the Lord, the “mind of the Lord,” the “will of the Lord,” “spiritual confirmation,” and “sacred process.” Most importantly, he used the phrase “revelation from the Lord.”8 Could Nelson have been any clearer that the initial decision to ban children of homosexual parents from blessings and baptisms was ordained by God Himself?
Three and a half years later, Nelson—now 94 years old—explained the “policy changes” in a message from the First Presidency on April 4, 2019. He cited Doctrine and Covenants 42:61, one of the faith’s four scriptural books, while saying “the Lord has blessed senior Church leaders with ‘revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge…that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.’”9 Henry B. Eyring — the second counselor in the First Presidency — stated, “The Lord has led by revelation through prophets from the time of Adam and Eve to the present day, and such revelation to His servants will continue until He comes again.”10
The message conveyed was that the leaders, not the membership, are the captains of this religion. Just the fact that a verse was cited saying “revelation upon revelation” meant that they intended this “policy” change to be credited as originating with God. If this is the case, one must wonder if God would have had His representatives on the earth make the controversial 2015 decision in the first place when He would have known it was going to have to be changed just a few years later.
For all intents and purposes, the reversal of the 2015 policy is nothing less than a pragmatic attempt to soothe a membership that has expressed numerous qualms about a decision that made children look like victims. In addition, the ruling could be considered a peace offering to an angry pro-homosexual culture, including many LGBTQ residents who reside in Salt Lake City.
THE PROBLEM WITH MORMONISM’S CONTINUING REVELATION
According to the official teaching of the LDS Church, the four written books of scripture (the King James Version of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C], and the Pearl of Great Price) are called the “standard works” and are considered “scripture.” In addition, “the inspired words of our living prophets are also considered as scripture.”11
The Doctrine and Covenants was compiled in 1835 by Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. These “revelations” were taken from the Book of Commandments that were published in 1833. David Whitmer, one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, insisted “the revelations were printed in the Book of Commandments correctly.”12
However, the evidence shows that a number of changes were made between 1833 and 1835. Church historian B. H. Roberts, who was a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, wrote in the church’s official history book series that “some of the early revelations” published in the Book of Commandments “were revised by the Prophet himself in the way of correcting errors made by the scribes and publishers; and some additional clauses were inserted.” In addition, paragraphs were added “to make the principles or instructions apply to officers not in the Church at the time some of the earlier revelations were given.”13
Contradictions between the two volumes abound. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, the founders of the Utah Lighthouse Ministry in Salt Lake City, Utah, researched this issue back in the 1960s and discovered that, while many of the changes were grammatical or structural, many others were not.14
One important example concerns Joseph Smith and his ability to translate the Book of Mormon — first published in 1830 — by the use of a magic seer stone. Book of Commandments 4:2 cites God as explaining how Smith “has a gift to translate the book, and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift; for I will grant him no other gift.” When this verse was reprinted two years later in the Doctrine and Covenants, it was changed in D&C 5:4: “And you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift, until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.” There are other examples showing how God’s words were changed to say something much different than what was originally printed.
Of course, there were important changes made to plural marriage (polygamy, or one man with two or more wives) in 1890 and the priesthood ban on those with black skin prior to June 1978. Concerning God’s initial endorsement of polygamy, second president Brigham Young taught in 1866, “I heard the revelation on polygamy, and I believed it with all my heart, and I know it is from God — I know that he revealed it from heaven; I know that it is true, and understand the bearings of it and why it is.”15
Fourth President Wilford Woodruff said in 1869 that “if we were to do away with polygamy, it would only be one feather in the bird, one ordinance in the Church and kingdom. Do away with that, then we must do away with prophets and Apostles, with revelation and the gifts and graces of the Gospel, and finally give up our religion altogether. . . He has told us to do thus, and we shall obey Him in days to come as we have in days past.”16 A plethora of additional citations from other 19th century leaders stating how God had commanded polygamy can be given.
A little more than two decades later, however, Woodruff was singing a different tune. In an excerpt published at the end of the “Official Declaration — 1” banning polygamy in 1890, Woodruff stated that “the Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place” had he not signed the Manifesto, including the possible confiscation by the United States government of the church’s four temples and risking imprisonment of the church’s leaders. As Woodruff put it, “I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write.”17 Is this any different than what Nelson and the other leaders did in reversing the 2015 policy?
While the church’s decision in 2019 to reverse its 2015 edict may not have been as earth-shattering as banning polygamy in 1890 or allowing blacks to hold the priesthood in 1978, the change still holds ramifications. For one, it appears that either the church leaders did not hear from God in 2015, or they did not hear from Him in 2019. Otherwise, why the sudden turnaround?
The decision must be confusing for many church members. Some may even wonder if this is just the beginning of more changes in the future, including a possible recognition of homosexual marriages or allowing females to hold the authoritative priesthood. If the winds of political correctness and keeping members happy is more of a priority than following anything taught in the Bible, then the belief that this is an organization guided by leaders having direct communication with God ought to be rejected.
Eric Johnson works with Mormonism Research Ministry (mrm.org) in Utah and cohosts the daily radio show/podcast Viewpoint on Mormonism. He has coauthored several books on Mormonism and is a co-editor (with Sean McDowell) of Sharing the Good News with Mormons (Harvest House, 2018).
“Too often in our contemporary culture, theologically informed beliefs are not considered a legitimate claim to knowledge.” — Frank Beckwith