New Church policy impacting same-sex couples and their children originates out of compassion, said Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“This is about family; this is about love and especially the love of the Savior and how He wants people to be helped and fed and lifted, and that’s the whole motivation that underlies our effort,” said Elder Christofferson in a video interview.
The interview took place after the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles updated Church policy regarding same-sex marriage in Handbook 1, an instruction guide for bishops and other priesthood leaders. The changes, which mandate Church discipline for same-sex couples, also update Church policy impacting their children.
The revisions were outlined in a letter that was sent to local Church leaders throughout the world and affirmed the Church’s doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman. It also clarified that entering a same-sex marriage is considered “apostasy” and requires a Church disciplinary council. In addition, the handbook addresses “children of a parent living in a same-gender relationship.”
During the video interview, Elder Christofferson said he is sympathetic to the questions that have arisen from the new policy. “They’re difficult, they’re sensitive, they tug at the heartstrings and they’re very real.”
He said the changes were necessary because the Church regards “same-sex marriage as a particularly grievous or significant, serious kind of sin that requires Church discipline.”
“We recognize that same-sex marriages are now legal in the United States and some other countries and that people have the right, if they choose, to enter into those, and we understand that. But that is not a right that exists in the Church. That’s the clarification.”
Further, he said, in the United States and in other countries around the world there needed to be some distinction between “what may be legal and what may be the law of the Church and the law of the Lord.”
“It’s a matter of being clear; it’s a matter of understanding right and wrong; it’s a matter of a firm policy that doesn’t allow for question or doubt,” Elder Christofferson explained. “We think it’s possible and mandatory, incumbent upon us as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, to yield no ground in the matter of love and sympathy and help and brotherhood and serving in doing all we can for anybody; at the same time maintaining the standards He maintained.
“That was the Savior’s pattern. He always was firm in what was right and wrong. He never excused or winked at sin. He never redefined it. He never changed His mind. It was what it was and is what it is and that’s where we are, but His compassion, of course, was unexcelled and His desire and willingness and proactive efforts to minister, to heal, to bless, to lift and to bring people toward the path that leads to happiness never ceased.”
Elder Christofferson said Church leaders will not yield on their efforts to help all people find what brings happiness, “but we know sin does not.”
“There’s no kindness in misdirecting people and leading them into any misunderstanding about what is true, what is right, what is wrong, what leads to Christ and what leads away from Christ,” he said.
Speaking not only as an Apostle, but also as a husband, father and grandfather, Elder Christofferson said the new policy originates out of compassion. “It originates from a desire to protect children in their innocence and in their minority years. … We don’t want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the Church are very different.”
For example, Elder Christofferson explained that a baby blessing in the Church places a child’s name on the records of the Church and triggers many things — including the assignment of home and visiting teachers and the expectation that the child will attend Primary and other Church-sponsored activities. “That is likely not going to be an appropriate thing in the home setting, in the family setting, where they’re living as children where their parents are a same-sex couple.”
After the child reaches maturity, he or she can make an informed and conscious decision about their own Church membership, said Elder Christofferson. “Nothing is lost to them in the end if that’s the direction they want to go. In the meantime, they’re not placed in a position where there will be difficulties, challenges, conflicts that can injure their development in very tender years.”
Elder Christofferson said the Church policy is analogous to policy for children born to polygamist families.
Just as has been Church policy regarding polygamist families, children of parents in a same-sex relationship will need to assent to the doctrines and practices of the Church with regard to same-sex marriage before entering Church membership or missionary service, he said. They are “not disavowing their parents, but disavowing the practice,” he emphasized.
The new policy comes just months after Church leaders called a press conference in January and announced their unequivocal support for legislation protecting LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment.
In what they called “fairness for all,” Church leaders also affirmed their support for religious freedom.
The new policy is “really two sides of the same coin,” Elder Christofferson said. “On the one hand, we have worked with others and will continue to do so to protect rights and employment and housing and that sort of thing for all. And on the other hand, there needs to be respect and acknowledgment of the rights of the religious community to set its standards and to live according to them and to teach and abide by its own doctrines, such as regards marriage in this case.”
Elder Christofferson said the new policy does not restrict priesthood leaders from blessing those who are sick or counseling those who want and need assistance.
“Where there is any kind of need for blessing, for counsel, for help of whatever kind, that can be offered; we want to do that,” he said.
More information about the new policy is available on lds.org.