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priesthood-blessing-37771-galleryIt has been a volatile and emotional few days since the leak of new Church policies regarding same-sex marriage and children being raised in such marriages. We have discussed those matters already, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Twelve has explained some of their rationale as well. The First Presidency also recently released further details.

Many are understandably emotional, and their compassion and concern reflects well upon them. Some questions will probably be addressed only on a case-by-case basis by the First Presidency.

Many “sound bite” or “bumper sticker” complaints on this topic have appeared on social media and elsewhere. Many of these reflect serious misunderstandings or distortions of LDS scriptures and doctrine. Few answers can come if we begin from inaccurate starting-points or assumptions.

We here review and correct a few of the most common.

The Second Article of Faith

“We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” (2nd Article of Faith).

Some have claimed that the new policy violates this doctrine. This is mistaken, on at least three points:

First, the second Article of Faith is a rejection of the doctrine of “original sin” from creedal Christianity, which held that all mankind remained under condemnation for Adam’s sin. LDS doctrine, by contrast, teaches that Christ unconditionally atoned for this original sin, which is thus no longer operative (Moses 6:54). This Article of Faith has nothing to do with issues such as those presently under consideration.

Second, as Elder Christofferson has explained, the new policy is intended to protect children and their relationships and experiences from the consequences of others’ decisions. Unless one wishes to argue that the leaders of the Church are lying, there is no punishment being affixed at all, and none intended.

Third, Church doctrine nowhere teaches that children or others cannot be adversely affected by the choices of others. In fact, part of the tragedy of sin is that the negative effects of our actions may spill onto others. The Book of Mormon treats this matter repeatedly—the descendants of Laman and Lemuel were deprived, for a time, of gospel truths and ordinances because of the choices of their parents. The Lord made ample provision, however, for them to receive all possible blessings even if they had to wait.

We should instead “minister” to the children of same-sex marriages

Some have claimed that these children need to be “ministered” to—which is certainly true. The unstated presumption is that the Church and its members will not do so, or will be unable to do so, because of these policies.

In the Book of Mormon, the risen Lord spoke of those who are not yet eligible for baptism:

Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them (3 Nephi 18:32).

Clearly, then, being a member of the Church—or even at present being eligible for Church membership—is not a prerequisite for being “ministered to.” Arguably, Church members are under even greater obligation toward such souls who are not at present full covenant members of the Church.

The policies announced will, to be sure, mark off minor children of same-sex marriages as somewhat distinct. This can have the effect, however, of focusing leaders’ and members’ attention upon them because of their unique situation. Approached with the proper attitude, the policy can thus emphasize and remind shepherds of the particular and unique needs of these members of the flock.

To “minister” is to serve. It is almost a truism to point out that we are commanded to serve everyone, regardless of their baptismal status, or even interest in joining the Church. There are many examples of ministering to those who are not members, only to have them later join the Church (e.g., Alma 22:23).

All can and should be “ministered” to—in and out of the Church, regardless of baptism. To insist or imply otherwise reflects either a deep confusion or sophistry.

“Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me”

In all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the disciples attempt to prevent parents from bringing small children to Jesus. Jesus rebukes the disciples, saying “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).

Some imply that this means that Jesus would insist that all children be permitted to be baptized immediately. While a surface reading might lead some to that conclusion, an examination of the scripture’s context and other LDS doctrines demonstrates otherwise.

We will consider five areas that should be considered.

First, Luke’s account makes it clear that the “little children” were “infants,” and that the parents desired that Jesus “would touch them” (one presumes to bless them—Luke 18:15). The parents were not seeking baptism or membership in the covenant for the children; they were seeking a blessing or contact with Jesus.

Second, pay attention to what happens immediately after Jesus makes his pronouncement: “He took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them,” says Mark, and “he laid his hands on them, and departed thence” recounts Matthew. Jesus did not baptize these children, or urge them to repentance as he did everyone else. Instead, he simply invoked God’s blessing upon them. (As discussed further below, such blessings are explicitly available under the new policy.)

Third, Jesus held out the little children as examples: “of such is the kingdom of heaven.” He did not, then, see these infants or young children as requiring baptism or repentance—they were already in a pure, saved state as they were.

Fourth, the Joseph Smith Translation teaches that the disciples tried to forbid the parents from bringing such children because they (the apostles) understood that such children were already saved. They therefore sought to spare Jesus’ time or attention for others that needed his saving ministry: “The disciples rebuked [the parents] saying, There is no need, for Jesus hath said, Such shall be saved” (JST Matthew 19:13, click footnote b).

Fifth, the Book of Mormon is clear that to claim that “little children” require baptism is to grossly misunderstand the gospel and the doctrine of Christ (Moroni 8; compare 3 Nephi 17). Mormon instructs Moroni to focus instead on “teach[ing] parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children” (Moroni 8:10, emphasis added).

This meme thus misstates the context and teaching of the New Testament, Joseph Smith’s commentary upon the text, and the Book of Mormon’s clear instruction regarding baptism and “little children.”

Such children can already come to Christ and are already accepted by him without the need for any ordinances. Elder Christofferson emphasized that minor children affected by the policy can still have precisely what Jesus wanted to offer the children brought to him in the New Testament: 

When we are talking about blessings, priesthood blessings, given to those who are ill or want a blessing of comfort or guidance, that’s open to all. We would expect that to be done throughout their lifetime, from infancy on as long as that’s the desire of the parents and of the child. That’s something we are anxious to provide…. 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.

The policy explicitly permits, then, the provision of precisely what Jesus provided when he said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” The policy does not contradict these scriptures, it follows them precisely.

“Such children will be denied the gift of the Holy Ghost”

Church members understand that the influence of the Holy Ghost can be felt by anyone. However, they regard the “gift of the Holy Ghost” as a blessing which accompanies baptism and confirmation. As Joseph Smith taught:

There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him.[1]

Thus, this concern has perhaps the most superficial plausibility of the issues we’ve considered here.

It omits, however, a crucial factor. We must not be so legalistic as to think that God is hamstrung or restricted until an ordinance is performed. An ordinance and the covenant that accompanies it is not a magic ceremony of some sort. It is, instead, a physical symbol and public expression of our inner commitment to God. The associated covenant is ratified by the necessity of God’s priesthood power and supervising priesthood keys performing and authorizing it. But, God may bestow his gifts and blessings upon whomever he chooses, especially if they are at present unable to participate in the ordinance that is usually required.

In Joseph Smith’s example, Cornelius would not have had the Holy Ghost to continue with him had he refused baptism, since he would be making a choice to reject the ordinance which God commanded him to undergo.

If, however, Cornelius had his experience prior to Jesus’ resurrection, he could not (yet) have been baptized, since Jesus instructed his disciples to only approach the House of Israel (Matthew 10:6, 15:24). Would we really expect, however, that Cornelius would have then lost the spirit of God in his life simply because he could not be baptized, through no fault of his own? Of course not.

God simply does not operate with such capriciousness. If a non-member is invited to be baptized, has the means and opportunity, and refuses, then she cannot expect the Holy Ghost to continue with her. She has refused to obey, and refused to make a covenant. However, if a non-member is unable—for whatever reason—to be baptized, God will not condemn or penalize her for an opportunity she does not have. There are many throughout Church history who have not been able to be baptized for many years, due to political or other reasons.

One well-known example is Italian Latter-day Saint Vincenzo Di Francesca, who discovered the Book of Mormon in 1910, but did not know to what church it belonged.[2] He was censured by his own Christian denomination for preaching from it, and only learned the identity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1930. An apostle came to baptize him in 1932, but was prevented by political strife. Other attempts were made, but these likewise failed. From 1940–49, no contact with the Church was possible. Vincenzo was finally baptized in 1951. He had thus desired baptism for over forty years.

We do not believe, however, that God would not or did not bless such a faithful believer abundantly, despite a lack of baptism through no fault of his own. (A Church video— How Rare a Possession— has dramatized the story of Vincenzo, and can be viewed on-line.)

The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that when righteous people are prevented from fulfilling a commandment of God through the actions of others, God does not require that commandment to be fulfilled. He also does not punish those who do their best. (See D&C 124:49.)

Latter-day Saints ought to understand this concept better than almost anyone, since our doctrine of vicarious ordinances for the dead makes it clear that God does not punish his children for that which they have not yet had the opportunity to receive.

As President Joseph F. Smith taught:

The presentation or “gift” of the Holy Ghost simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment.[3]

The “gift of the Holy Ghost” is thus a blessing of the covenant; it gives “the right” to this blessing if we are faithful. But this does not preclude God bestowing such a blessing on others who are worthy, according to his own mind and merciful purposes. As President Harold B. Lee observed, “The bestowal of the gift [of the Holy Ghost] is actually, then, a command to so live that when we need and desire it, we may have the accompaniment of the power of the Holy Ghost.”[4]

Any believer who is unbaptized through no fault of his or her own can keep this commandment, and reap the promised blessings as well. When asked what would happen to those who believed, and yet were prevented from obeying a commandment, President Joseph F. Smith said: “I reply that every man and woman will receive all that they are worthy of, and something thrown in perhaps on the score of the boundless charity of God.”[5]

Conclusion

It is understandable that good and faithful people may have questions about how this new policy will be administered. We encourage any with questions to study the scriptures, reflect  upon what apostles and prophets have to say on the matter,  ponder and pray, exercise patience, and look deeper than the slogans, memes, and sound-bites.

[1] Joseph Smith, cited in “For the Times and Seasons. SABBATH SCENE IN NAUVOO; March 20th 1842,” Times and Seasons 3/12 (15 April 1842): 752; see also History of the Church 4:555.

[2] See “I Will Not Burn the Book,” Ensign (January 1988), https://www.lds.org/ensign/1988/01/i-will-not-burn-the-book?lang=eng.

[3] Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Co., 1959), 60–61.

[4] Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Co, 1996), 96.

[5] Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses, 20:30–31 (7 July 1878).



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