Continuing Revelation

Gregory A. Prince is the author of several articles and books, including Power from On High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood, and co-author of David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. He is president and CEO of Virion Systems, Inc. and he is a board member of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and The Journal of Mormon History.

In the late 1970s, while serving as an Elders Quorum president, I witnessed what may have been the only same-sex wedding (same-sex in the sense that both partners had Y-chromosomes) ever to be performed in a Latter-day Saint temple. A year earlier, a woman who had undergone transsexual surgery was baptized in our ward. Leaders in the mission and the ward were fully aware of her status—indeed, the baptism recommend (which the bishop later showed me, since the subsequent wedding involved a member of my quorum) bore the words, “She is a transsexual.” Several months later an elder moved into the ward, the two of them fell in love, and they announced their engagement. They expressed to the bishop a desire to be married in the temple, and after he and the stake president interviewed the couple, the stake president wrote a detailed letter to the General Authority who supervised that area of the country, explicitly stating that the bride-to-be had undergone transsexual surgery.

A short time later, that General Authority wrote back to the stake president, authorizing their temple marriage. (The bishop also allowed me to see that letter.) My wife and I were invited to attend the wedding, and when we got there we were surprised to see that the ceremony was performed by the same General Authority who wrote the letter.

The sequence of events occurred in the early days of transsexual surgery, before there was a church policy that addressed the issue. Late in 1979, a year after the wedding, a chapter of the General Handbook of Instructions that dealt with church discipline was rewritten, retitled, and sent to wards and stakes throughout the Church. The chapter that had been “Church Courts” was now called “The Church Judicial System.” It made no mention of transsexual surgery. A subsequent revision of the chapter, issued in October 1980, addressed it for the first time. Investigators were treated differently than members:

• Investigators considering transsexual operations “should not be baptized.”
• Investigators who had already undergone such operations could be baptized so long as a notation was made on the membership record, but such individuals were barred from receiving temple recommends—which would have precluded the temple wedding that I had witnessed.
Members, however, were placed in an entirely different category and subjected to the harshest possible treatment from the Church:
• “Members who have undergone transsexual operations must be excommunicated. After excommunication such a person is not eligible again for baptism.” (Italics added in this and subsequent quotations.)

The next edition of the General Handbook of Instructions, published in 1983, contained a subtle but substantive change in the policy. While a member excommunicated for having undergone transsexual surgery was not eligible for rebaptism, excommunication was no longer mandatory: “A change in a member’s sex ordinarily justifies excommunication.”

In January 1985 a revision of the section “The Church Judicial System” was sent to church leaders. Once again there was a subtle but substantive change in the policy: “After excommunication, such a person is not eligible again for baptism unless approved by the First Presidency.”

In March 1989, a new edition of the General Handbook of Instructions was issued, this time with a completely rewritten policy, one that used the word elective for the first time but did not define its meaning:

Church leaders counsel against elective transsexual operations. A bishop should inform a member contemplating such an operation of this counsel and should advise the member that the operation may be cause for formal Church discipline. In questionable cases, a bishop should obtain the counsel of the First Presidency.

The current Handbook, issued in 2010, has no significant changes from 1989.

There are two levels on which church policy on transsexual surgery may be instructive for the newly announced policy regarding same-gender couples and their children. The first is that both are within the broad spectrum of LGBT issues, which are still unsettled and unsettling within the LDS Church and the larger society. The second is that pattern of policy evolution seen in transsexual surgery may be repeating itself. Consider that in both instances, before there was a policy there was leniency: I witnessed first-hand a same-sex marriage in the temple; and until November of this year same-gender couples were not labeled apostates nor were their children denied blessing and baptism. When a formal policy was first issued, it was hardline in both instances: No temple recommends for transsexual converts, and mandatory excommunication for members undergoing surgery, with no possibility of rebaptism; and the labeling of same-gender couples as apostates and the forbidding of their children to be blessed or baptized. In the case of transsexual surgery, there was then a gradual, usually subtle modification of the policy, with the first significant change occurring three years later and the process of change continuing to the point where, in 1989, only a shadow of the original position remained.

How far and how soon the policy on same-gender couples may change cannot be predicted, but it is instructive to note that the first modification came only eight days later—as contrasted to three years in the case of transsexual surgery—with “a natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship” being changed to “children whose primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship.” Elder Dallin Oaks recently and famously stated that the Church does not apologize. Note that the remarkable changes in the policy regarding transsexual surgery were never accompanied by an apology—or, for that matter, even an explanation. But they were remarkable changes, nonetheless. And what is continuing revelation, if not change?

Comments

  1. Eric Facer says:

    Most informative, Greg. Thank you.

  2. Eve of Destruction says:

    Tips for Allies of Transgender People

    Understand there is no “right” or “wrong” way to transition – and that it is different for every person.
    Some transgender people access medical care like hormones and surgery as part of their transition. Some transgender people want their authentic gender identity to be recognized without hormones or surgery. Some transgender people cannot access medical care, hormones, and/or surgery due to lack of financial resources. A transgender identity is not dependent on medical procedures. Just accept that if someone tells you they are transgender – they are.

    Don’t ask about a transgender person’s genitals, surgical status, or sex life.

    It would be inappropriate to ask a non-transgender person about the appearance or status of their genitals, and it’s equally inappropriate to ask a transgender person those quesions. Don’t ask if a transgender person has had “the surgery” or if they are “pre-op” or “post-op.” If a transgender person wants to talk to you about such matters, they will bring it up. Similarly, it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask a non-transgender person about how they have sex, so the same courtesy should be extended to transgender people.

    Avoid backhanded compliments or “helpful” tips.

    Know your own limits as an ally.

    http://www.glaad.org/transgender/allies

  3. Perhaps a look at the enormous variability in biology might shed some light on this issue. LDS leaders are suspicious of the social sciences, often substituting revealed theology for them. But the sciences that describe phenomena with a strong basis in physical or molecular reality are harder to get around. A couple of examples might shed light on the current discussion.

    1. Testicular feminization is a condition where a person is born with genetic XY chromosomes (male=XY female=XX) and they look like girls. It is also called complete androgen insensitivity. It is often not discovered until the girls get old enough to menstruate and don’t. Mothers (and hopefully fathers) are giving these children baths and changing diapers and don’t notice a difference. They have the external appearance of women in every way but do not have ovaries or a uterus. They have testis in their abdomen and they have the microscopic appearance of testis not ovaries. One might speculate that they were supposed to be boys and might have been male in the pre-existence and when resurrected they will have a correction of this biochemical abnormality and might be male. In cultures where menstruation is never mentioned, people with testicular feminization often marry as women and are unable to have children. A guy unaware of menstruation could be married and have an active sexual life with his wife with this condition and not know she was not genetically female. I think culturally most of those afflicted are treated like women who are unable to have children. To be more sensitive the name is being changed to complete androgen insensitivity. And to confuse matters more there are incomplete androgen insensitivity syndromes with partial development of several varieties.

    2. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is a large complex set of conditions where some of those affected are born with ambiguous genitalia. Adrenal glands also make sex hormones and when metabolic abnormalities happen, about every imaginable variation of partially male /partially female is possible. The surgeries and treatments to change the anatomic gender of a person were developed to treat these individuals and get them to be as close to normal as soon as possible and preserving fertility in some cases. Success has been remarkable but remains less than perfect . Some of these people with CAH end up in the sex industry displaying their private anatomic abnormalities for entertainment and money. A bar on Bourbon Street in New Orleans specializes in this vile business. (At least it did in the 1980’s when I was stationed near there in the military and many people on base talked about it.) Some become prostitutes and are at huge risk of being murdered when a client doesn’t exactly get what he paid for.

    Both conditions have articles on wiki and many links if more information is desired.

    The boundary between dysfunction and variability of the mind is cloudy. How a person becomes gay or transgender is complex but strongly rooted in biology and psychology. Some of it within the realm of choice but definitely not all of it. My sassy daughter, when barraged with a huge load of instruction in the LGBT topic during freshman orientation, made up a condition to add to the mix. She claimed she was species-disoriented. She was born a human girl but she knew in her mind that she was a rabbit, at least partially. She started a club on her liberal ivy league campus and had a few other people join who identified as species disoriented. She walked or sometimes hopped around nibbling carrots and wiggling her nose. Hilarious but insincere and insensitive, I admit. Any instructions in the handbook for when to excommunicate those with species disorientation?

  4. First, thanks for this historical context with quotations. I appreciate the reminder how messy and shifting our policy often is.

    Second (and please pardon this long sentence), I am struggling to embrace my testimony of God patiently waiting on His church while we SLOWLY get a glimpse of his will for us. I understand revelation is messy stuff and rarely a stone tablet walked down the hill. But when it appears so very easy, quick and half-baked for really bad “policy” to be instituted by His prophets to exclude and harm people in the name of God and his “Doctrine”… and at the same time it appears so very hard, slow and internally debated for His prophets to obtain a fully formed doctrinal revelation to include, expand and bless people (e.g OD2)… I struggle. Times like this, I struggle.

    You ask “what is continuing revelation, if not change?” I am not sure. But I expect it to be more effective and a greater blessing and principle to humanity than the slow grind of mortal inquiry and lingering fears and prejudice.

  5. Thank you for the informative comment. However, I have to disagree that there is any hope for true revelatory based change. The church never changes unless there is strong sustained outside pressure from the public, the media and other institutions. Have schools stop playing BYU and put the tax exemption in play and there will be a “revelation.”

  6. While I find this fascinating, I have trouble viewing the evolution of this policy change strictly in terms of “continuing revelation.” Such a characterization suggests that the particular policy in place immediately before the revised one was adopted was just as divinely inspired as its predecessor. Coupled with Elder Oaks’ pronouncement that the church does not issue apologies, this has an Orwellian quality to it: “The Priesthood ban was God’s will prior June 8, 1978 and lifting that ban on that date was also God’s will.”

    Regrettably, this mindset seems to have prevailed in the recent “clarification” issued regarding the handbook change for same-sex marriages. There was no admission that the original policy was poorly drafted (which it was) or that anything was being “corrected.” Rather, the church was simply “clarifying” what apparently should have been obvious to the rest of us.

    Perhaps I am misconstruing the manner in which Greg is using the phrase “continuing revelation.” If by that he means that our leaders don’t always get it right the first time, that their understanding of the Lord’s will often (though not always) improves with experience, I fully agree. But I find it difficult to accept the notion that the Lord was the author of each iteration of the church’s policy on members who have undergone a transexual operation. And it would be truly refreshing if the church were to admit that it’s first approach to a problem was not quite right, which is why a “clarification” was necessary (note: such an admission is NOT an apology).

  7. Eve of Destruction says:

    It is distressing that the most compassionate result the author is personally aware of occurred when there was *no* applicable policy. The 1989 iteration does not show the level of appropriate action that a would-be ally who reads one short page of frequently asked questions is able to generate. It does not show even as much understanding or compassion as Mike’s sassy college freshman daughter showed, which was not much. Yet because its tone is somber and lawyerly and it comes from those in authority, and we are supposed to see it as a blessing to have this “continuing revelation” (is that what the policy handbook contains now?). Having no policy allowed more possibility of compassion and inclusion than having the current policy, both on trans issues and on same-sex marriage.

  8. A little weird to have a piece basically saying “watch out, you’re next”.

    I don’t think there’s so much to be afraid of, even though this has a severe “leadership roulette” element to it. The few publicized instances that have gone to the First Presidency have been hopeful.

    I think what has helped are the many instances of gender ambiguity as well as the doctrines on eternal gender and gender complimentarism (is that a word?). Since we don’t have an “eternal gender detector”, with the easily confirmed science of gender ambiguity, it’s wholly possible for someone to be born with the wrong gender who will be restored to their proper gender in the afterlife. We do the best we can with what we have in mortality, having faith that God has it all in hand.

    It’s when we get to attractions and actions on those attractions that we get into trouble. if a MtF woman is attracted to women, and has not transitioned, she can be married in the temple to a woman. She will, however be highly aware of the untenability of her position (as will hopefully her spouse), and suffer wondering what her final state will be.

    Yes, there will likely be continuing revelation on this, but I don’t see it as a need to be afraid, but to be hopeful and have faith that God (HM + HF) will have it all right in the end, and that we’ll have time to get used to whatever that end will be.

  9. kellywsmith says:

    Another “intellectual” outlining his criticism of the church in a faithless recounting of events that we cannot corroborate because there are no names or real facts other than being able to see changes in the handbook, if anyone had all of them to verify the claims.

    This article is similar in tone and objective as those who criticize Joseph Smith and his attempts to understand how to live the law of Polygamy, but was not told “how” to live it.

    In the words of Neal Anderson: “give Joseph Smith (and might I add current leadership) a break”.

    The constant drumbeat from this BCC group regarding anything to try and change the Church’s clarification on SSM is wearing very thin. Where is the faith? Where is the desire to change and striving to follow the prophet? Instead we have article after article that undermines the doctrine and questions authority.

    Please hold onto the iron rod and not be part of those in the great & spacious building ridiculing and questioning those leading the church.

  10. When people say they hate the Bloggernacle, it’s because of comment threads like this one.

    The author cannot win: for some, he is a poor ally that needs education. For others, he is an “intellectual” (scare quotes mandatory) that is ridiculing and questioning those who lead the church.

    Y’all are embarrassing sometimes. This is why we can’t have nice things.

  11. Anon for this says:

    kellywsmith,

    This article is similar in tone and objective as those who criticize Joseph Smith and his attempts to understand how to live the law of Polygamy, but was not told “how” to live it.

    I have to disagree here. Joseph was given instructions on how to live it (Doctrine & Covenants 132). The fact that he violated several of those instructions is difficult for many of us to reconcile without resorting to the convoluted explanations of “carefully worded denials”, the definition of virgin, and consent (and lack thereof) of the first wife.

    But I digress…

  12. BlueRidgeMormon says:

    Steve Evans FTW. Sadly.

  13. Rather than an easing of church policy on the transgender issue, I see a shift in the level at which decisions are made. The temple marriage you refer to in the 1970s would not happen today. Was the decision regarding that temple marriage made at a lower-level general authority level? It seems like it. And in today’s handbook, a member who has undergone a sex change operation is likely to have a church disciplinary council that involved First Presidency involvement.

    I don’t think policies on these issues are going to change much. If anything, the change has been simply the level at which disciplinary issues are finalized. How realistic is it to expect all local leaders to understand the pathophysiologic backgrounds to the small handful of conditions that can result in gender ambiguity?

  14. Thank you, Kelly, for calling everyone to repentance. We always appreciate it. Especially when you don’t address the original post or any of the prior comments. I guess I ought not feed the trolls, though.

    Greg, your story says something different to me. Rather than continuing revelation, to me the story demonstrates groping in the dark – without inspiration of any kind. I don’t see the hand of the Lord in the evolution of our treatment of transgendered people.

  15. Clark Goble says:

    FarSide, I think the notion of continuing revelation simply is that revelation can change our formal institutional teachings. I don’t think it implies in the least that all prior teachings were inspired. (Making here no claims one way or an other about this particular set of teachings)

    If apostasy (in the sense of organized heresy) is, as I suspect, primarily an issue of perceived political threat, then one would assume it would change when the perception of threat is over.

    I should note that the issue of apostasy (in the sense of organized heresy) seems a different issue from the moral code of the church on sexuality. I think that, especially in the past, expecting the brethren to fully understand all the biological complexity is difficult. Even in the science a lot is still blurry with many people tending to adopt a view where everything is genetic whereas there’s most likely a range with individuals. Even acknowledging that much of all of this is likely biological doesn’t necessarily clear up the theology.

  16. I wish God would finally make up his mind about this, it’s so unsettling!

  17. hope_for_things says:

    Thanks to Greg for sharing his personal experience and the interesting history on this topic, this is very helpful to consider.

    As for revelation, I do like the liberal use of the term in this context of change occurring. We shouldn’t put limits on the divine will, and assume that our current policy or doctrine on any subject is set in stone or fully represents the divine will. I like how the author is showing the evolution of this policy and describing the process as developing revelation. Our understanding is ever changing.

    The current policy with respect to LGBT individuals isn’t a perfect reflection of God’s will. I would venture to say that it isn’t even close. Yet, I can still consider it a part of the revelatory process, and recognize that it will take additional influence and effort before the policy is closer aligned with true principles and the love that should be reflected towards all people regardless of their orientation.

  18. hope_for_things says:

    After allowing for the complexity of our history and evolving positions on this and other issues, I would love to see our church leadership and culture evolve on the way that these issues are discussed. It would be so helpful if once a new policy or doctrine is introduced, if right up front it is openly acknowledged that this new idea is not perfect. It would also help if they asked for the feedback and input of church members formally, and if mechanisms were put into place for us to provide meaningful feedback.

    I can imagine a future time where church leaders humbly express the difficulty in receiving revelation. Where church leaders openly acknowledge the need for grass roots revelation from the members to help our church body to better represent and reflect the principles of godliness and the teachings of Jesus. I can hope for a day where church leaders don’t falsely proclaim that they are right and any criticism of their positions are evil. It will take a lot of humility and repentance for us to get to this future, but that is what I envision.

  19. I think you are probably correct, Clark, though I think the church often (mistakenly) conveys the impression that everything emanating from Salt Lake has the Lord’s blessing. This “over promising and under delivering” creates credibility problems and encourages unrealistic expectations when it comes to our leaders. They, like the rest of us, often learn by trial and error, seeking the Lord’s guidance but sometimes making mistakes anyway.

  20. FASCINATING post. Thank you, Greg Prince.

  21. Nadine Hansen says:

    Greg:

    They have NOT “modified” the policy. It remains in the handbook exactly the way it was written. What they have done is give permission and maybe instruction for local leaders to disregard the policy.

  22. Loved this post. So many lessons here, but for me it underscores the importance of making your own choices according to your own values no matter what the handbook or church leaders say. It’s tragic that so many people believe the answer is to follow the directions no matter what, but while this may lead to administrative efficiency it can also lead to unnecessary pain and suffering when the directions inevitably change.

  23. @hope_for_things, I don’t disagree with your hope for a more open, humble process, but I can’t help but think of my experiences as a university instructor and the horrible debacles that always seem to ensue when I let my students into my “process”. Explaining to students why a course is designed the way it is seems to invite them to re-evaluate all the decisions I already made, which inevitably leads to some of them deciding I was wrong in my decisions, especially once the course gets hard. And since I already set a precedent of openness, they feel free to make their objections known, which becomes infectious, rather than them just buckling down and silently dealing with an imperfect course design like every student in the history of ever has had to do. And no, fixing the “problems” doesn’t help–the course evaluations still come back negative since the initial problems are the disaffected students remember. Better to just present the course requirements as if they were gospel and move on with the semester. I’ve yet to meet a group of students who can handle a flat hierarchy in the classroom–they’re paying for me to be an authority figure shoveling knowledge into their heads, not a co-learner, even if the latter is more productive and closer to the truth. This is the lens through which I see the church’s approach to policy changes–their opaqueness and lack of apologies has negative consequences, but just not as negative as all the other approaches they could take. Like a teacher who can redesign a course next semester, the church also modifies policies after seeing how they work out.

    Not a perfect analogy, I know, but this is how I see it. Teachers with different experiences would probably see it differently. This isn’t much help on the revelation angle to the discussion, of course.

  24. In an online era the Handbook is a somewhat amorphous concept. I remember going through the training for the Handbooks when the latest version was released in November 2010. Of course it wasn’t a but a matter of weeks before a letter was received from the First Presidency that provided additional insight / a change to a particular section. And as such, suddenly, I found myself looking at the printed Handbook as less up to date than the online Handbook that’s available on LDS.org.

    So Nadine, the Handbook has been updated with that clarification because those letters have always been regarded as part of the total context of the guidelines and policies for administering the Church at the local level. As a Bishopric we had a file with all of the letters received from the First Presidency that added context to the changes made since the last Handbook was printed. I would be surprised if most Bishoprics don’t operate in the same fashion. But collectively we tended to look to the online version of the Handbook with policy questions because the Church regularly updates that text because it is so easy to do so.

  25. hope_for_things says:

    Owen, you bring up some good points. I don’t claim to know the best solution to solving these issues organizationally, and I think your instructor student example has some valid application. But how else do we move forward with a culture that is so authoritarian, so black and white, and so lacking in official mechanisms for feedback from members. Even the common consent idea that this web page is named after, is virtually lost from its original intent, there is no common consent in the 21st century church. The system seems to be broken, and while my vision for a new future has flaws, I see it as an improvement, perhaps naively so.

  26. Greg, thanks for the excellent post. It’s disappointing that we Mormons have such a hard time processing something as simple and normal as the process of figuring out what’s right and eventually doing it. Sometimes I wonder if the notion of continuing revelation with all the weird folklore and orthodox baggage that comes with it often prevents us from actually receiving much of the revelation that God has in the hopper waiting for us.

  27. Greg, Any idea what happened to the couple in the intervening years?

  28. I think this policy, as well as the recent SSM policy can best be understood by D&C 121:39:

    “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of _almost all men_, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” [Emphasis mine]

    Practically everybody falls prey to what is described in this verse, including our leaders.

  29. What I find interesting is how many people instantly try to put any policy or doctrine of the church in the worst possible light. I read the changes to the handbook and the subsequent reactions and thought, “Yes, that’s what it says but this is how it’ll be applied.” By-in-large the clarification a few days later mirrored those thoughts.

    I suspect that the changes to policy are a reaction to phone calls and letters the brethren have been receiving, not from people anxious to force or avoid change, but from bishops and stake presidents dealing with real people in real time. I’ll wager that somewhere there is (or was) a court case involving a child of a same sex couple and one of the partners changed their mind, either about the baptism or about the relationship. Things are a mess that wouldn’t have been a mess had a policy been in place. The dilemma is that no one knows you need a policy until you have the mess.

  30. Amazing how many take it for granted that this story is true.

  31. shazidaoren says:

    @grendel – If you remotely knew who Greg Prince is, you would take it for granted as well. Few, if any, have his knowledge or integrity, plus decades of in-depth experience in the topics listed.

  32. I know that the history of the church is not to seek clarifications or to give them. The term “clarification” does not appear in our scriptures. We sometimes look back on policies and say, ‘Maybe that was poorly drafted and will lead to terrible results, some intended and some not,’ but we look forward and not backward.

  33. MikeInWeHo says:

    shazidaoren: Amen. There is great evil being committed against LGBT Mormons, but history teaches us that humans of good intention can be completely blind to the consequences of their actions. This is especially sad in light of Mormonism’s rather unique ability to innovate theologically as more light is received. Bottom line: It doesn’t have to be this way.

  34. John Harrison says:

    I love that Greg Prince is kind enough to share an extraordinary experience that he witnessed first hand.

    I hate that some readers, because they can’t wrap their heads around what Greg Prince (Greg Prince!) has presented decide that Greg must be lying. This because the only alternative is that they are wrong about something, which is obviously lying, therefore Greg Prince must just be making things up for no apparent reason other than to throw away the credibility that he has spent decades cultivating.

    This is cult-like thinking at its finest.

  35. Very good post. It would appear that attitudes towards transsexual operations have hardened significantly among some of the LDS church leadership.

  36. Very interesting to read. I was not aware of this. Thanks.

  37. Thanks for this post.

  38. BronsonBronson says:

    John Harrison & MikeInWeHo ever heard of the “Appeal to Authority” logical fallacy? Quite frankly, I couldn’t care less about the credentials of the author; I too question the validity of this story.

  39. lastlemming says:

    Greg Prince has no authority. He has credibility. Big difference.

  40. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Those who are questioning the validity of story are missing the point. Greg merely uses the story to set up the argument that this is a policy that has been repeatedly ‘clarified’ and is now different from when it was initially instituted in very important ways. Doubting the story (which I don’t, although I am not able to verify it), doesn’t dismiss the argument that policies change over time (which, in this case, is definitely verifiable). Instead of dismissing the argument because you are skeptical of the opening story, try actually engaging with the argument.

  41. I am too lazy to verify the authors claims or the source documents quoted, let alone the central premise of the post. Therefore the author is a liar because his point challenges my paradigms. In summary: so-called, iron rod, scare quotes. I rest my case.

  42. it's a series of tubes says:

    Anyone who thinks LDS policy cannot change dramatically on a sexual issue has clearly never read the letter, dated January 5, 1982 and signed by all 4 members of the First Presidency: Kimball, Tanner, Romney, and Hinckley. That brief sentence on the second page that begins “The First Presidency has interpreted…”? Bombshell, then quickly reverted/pretended like it never happened, because it was redonkulous.

  43. A big difference is the internet. How many people in the church had the slightest idea about the evolution of handling transexual surgery? How many had any idea there was a policy at all? With the internet each and every change is going to now be broadcast to the world. I think this will necessarily entrench those making policy decisions and they will be very reticent to make modifications.

  44. I think this will necessarily entrench those making policy decisions and they will be very reticent to make modifications.

    Heaven forbid that transparency cause decisionmakers to spend a little more time before they pull the trigger.

    The Policy™ was already in print (or at least on galleys for printing) before anyone outside of the Church Office Building knew about it. At the very least stake presidents would have been briefed on it, and perhaps had their opinions solicited. Speaking as someone who’s worked on policy for both government agencies and regulated entities, this is not how you do things.

    A policy rollout botched this badly would result in multiple firings at any other organization.

  45. Great post! However, I’m having trouble considering policy statements revelation. I don’t know if it is or not. I haven’t noticed a claim by the church that it is revelation, I’m doubtful it is. I often think the church hopes we will assume policy is doctrine.

  46. Brian, I’m in complete agreement with you. But it seems most of the core membership doesn’t make any distinction between the two. The attitude is anything that comes from the brethren is from God, thus revelation. Therefore if you question anything that comes from the brethren, you are ultimately questioning God. Except that there are plenty of examples where the brethren have been wrong ….but nevermind that!

  47. Great post by Greg,

    My own experience with proselyting someone who was in the midst of a sex change validates the policy Greg mentions for the period when I was on my mission.

    As we look at marriage across the history of the church, there have been numerous changes. Ultimately all these matters of sexuality, gender, and orientation relate to Mormon eschatology regarding marriage.

    In 1845, Brigham Young had a policy that a woman could not be sealed to her deceased husband unless the proxy became her temporal spouse. This is a policy that obviously has been updated, a policy that was abandoned almost as soon as there was no longer a need to ensure that every saint that desired it could gather to the west.

    I like to think of policies as being similar to military tactics. The overall military objectives and strategy may remained largely unchanged. However as conditions on the ground altar, changes in tactics (policies) are reasonable and even to be expected.

    Therefore policy changes should not get anybody terribly twisted up merely because there is a change. Obviously when the policy change indicates that your understanding of the overarching strategy was so fundamentally wrong as to be contradicted, then there is need to determine whether or not you were on the side whose strategy you thought you were supporting.

  48. The “Church” is not monolithic. I think the latest gyrations make that clear that there are many moving parts and often political battles. Note the revision of Elder Packer’s remarks a few conferences ago. The odd story of transsexuals could easily be explained by someone, early, saying so some one else, “You take care of this.” Then when more cases arise there is a committee assigned to investigate where the hard liners dominate and apparent “un-Christlike” attitudes prevail.

    I saw the choice of the recent three apostles as a compromise between the conservative and the liberal factions of the Church. The liberals got one but lowest seniority position. The conservatives are stronger but have to give a little to the weaker liberal faction.

    So you can expect that the initial response to problems may vary because it could be handled by an individual. The more cases that present themselves, the more powerful conservative voices will dominate. Then a reaction sets in and these punishing policies have to be moderated.

  49. In the OP, the last two sentences: “But they were remarkable changes, nonetheless. And what is continuing revelation, if not change?”

    That presumes “revelation” was involved. Anywhere/when among the changes. Does God continually (even if that spans decades or days) change his mind, make corrections, become persuaded by council? That is the history of our Church doctrine and policies.