Children of parents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender may now be blessed as infants and baptized in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints without First Presidency approval, President Dallin H. Oaks announced Thursday morning, April 4.
In addition, the Church will no longer characterize same-gender marriage by a Church member as “apostasy” for purposes of Church discipline, although it is still considered “a serious transgression.”
The changes, issued at the direction of the First Presidency and announced during the leadership session for the Church’s 189th Annual General Conference, “do not represent a shift in Church doctrine related to marriage or the commandments of God in regard to chastity or morality,” wrote the First Presidency in an official statement released by the Church. “The doctrine of the Plan of Salvation and the importance of chastity will not change.”
Instead, the changes reflect the continuing revelation that has been a part of the modern Church since the Restoration. “These policy changes come after an extended period of counseling with our brethren in the Quorum the Twelve Apostles after fervent, united prayer to understand the will of the Lord,” wrote President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors in the First Presidency, President Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring, in the statement.
In announcing the changes, President Oaks said “the very positive policies” should help affected families. “In addition, our members’ efforts to show more understanding, compassion and love should increase respect and understanding among all people of good will. We want to reduce the hate and contention so common today. We are optimistic that a majority of people — whatever their beliefs and orientations — long for better understanding and less contentious communications. That is surely our desire, and we seek the help of our members and others to attain it.”
The policy changes come three and a half years 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 November 2015 policy, which mandated Church discipline for same-sex couples, also updated Church policy impacting their children.
- Children of parents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender may be baptized, 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, said President Oaks.
- A non-member parent or parents (including LGBT parents) can request that their baby be blessed by a worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holder, said President Oaks. These parents will 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, said President Oaks during the leadership session.
- While Church leaders still consider a same-gender marriage by a member to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline. Instead the “immoral conduct in heterosexual and homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way,” he said.
The new policies have been sent to priesthood leaders worldwide and will be included in online updates to the Church Handbook for leaders.
President Oaks said the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches members to love and treat all people with kindness and civility — even when they disagree. While Church doctrine will not change, Church members and policies should be considerate of those struggling with the challenges of mortality, he said.
“With gratitude we acknowledge God’s continuing guidance and love for all His children and invite our members to renew their commitment to following the teachings of the Savior Jesus Christ to love God and to love one another,” wrote the First Presidency.
During the general conference leadership session, President Nelson told the leaders that they have been “eye-witnesses to revelations from the Lord as He guides the affairs of His Church.” During the past year the Lord has blessed senior Church leaders with “revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge … that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:61), he said.
The Lord has led by revelation through prophets from the time of Adam and Eve to the present day, said President Eyring of continuing revelation. “One reason is that we need the Lord’s direction to meet the changing circumstances, and He has guided changes in practice and policy through the history of the Church.”
In recent months and years, for example, the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have changed the way Latter-day Saints worship on Sunday, the organization of priesthood quorums, the way members minister to one another, and regulations regarding missionary service. Members have also been asked to embrace “home-centered, Church supported” gospel instruction and to use the proper and full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Throughout Church history, leaders have implemented some changes to policy for only a short time. For example, to help early members distinguish themselves from other Christians, Church leaders changed the name of the Church to “the Church of the Latter Day Saints” on May 3, 1834. Four years later, Joseph Smith received revelation that prompted a change: “For thus shall my Church be called … even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:4).
And, in April 1982, Church leaders announced the length of missions for young men would be 18 months. The First Presidency announced in a November 1984 letter that young men would again serve two years.
During the general conference leadership session, President Eyring said revelation to Church leaders will continue until the Savior comes again.
The First Presidency said they pray the teachings from the leadership session will be received in the same spirit they received them from the Lord — “as positive and inspiring instruction that will bless many lives,” according to the Church’s statement.
“With gratitude we acknowledge God’s continuing guidance and love for all His children and invite our members to renew their commitment to follow the teachings of the Savior Jesus Christ to love God and to love one another.”