Exclusion policy, meet the latest strength of youth
November 5th was the anniversary of the Exclusion Policy, the 2015 declaration that same-sex couples who married would be excommunicated as apostates and their children barred from blessings, baptism, and other rituals until they turned 18 and condemned their parents’ lifestyle. Googling that today, the bulk of articles on the policy speculate how many left the Church in its wake.
When that divine revelation got rescinded just 4 years later, God’s one true prophet cast our loving Savior as bad cop. Though leaders “cannot change the laws of God,” President Russell M. Nelson said in an address reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, they can “adjust policy when the Lord directs us to do so.” The brethren are being just as compassionate as they possibly can.
That was on my mind this week when I read about the latest changes to the Church’s For Strength of Youth pamphlet, which has since at least the 1960s been handed out to Mormon teens telling them how to “dress, act, and live.”
The 1990 version called homosexuality a perversion and said that “unnatural affections” ran counter to God’s plan. The 2011 version was all about blessings revoked and potential unachieved if youth strayed from the path: “Consequences follow as a natural result of the choices you make. Some sinful behavior may bring temporary worldly pleasure, but such choices delay your progress and lead to heartache and misery….True freedom comes from using your agency to choose obedience.” And choosing disobedience? “If you delay repentance, you may lose blessings, opportunities, and spiritual guidance. You may also become further entangled in sinful behavior, making it more difficult to find your way back.”
This week, in the Salt Lake Tribune, Peggy Fletcher Stack contrasts the 9th (2011) and the 10th (2022) versions of the norm-setting pamphlet, drawing heavily on a post from Wheat and Tares. The update focuses more on values than specifics. No more explicit condemnation of bare midriffs and more than a single earring per ear. Instead there are sentences like this: ” “The Lord’s standard is for you to honor the sacredness of your body, even when that means being different from the world. Let this truth and the Spirit be your guide.”
I cannot read this as affirming individuality; it’s more like a strict parent saying “You already know, so I don’t have to tell you,” or like an image-sensitive Church doing damage control, softening the language without shifting the culture. It will let those with scrupulosity guess and second guess themselves over whether they are good enough. Heck, I don’t even suffer from this particular form of OCD, and that ambiguity would have fed my self-doubt.
Still, the latest version of the pamphlet was announced at General Conference by Brother Kind himself, apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf, which makes me think there must be more than doublespeak. The Wheat and Tares post applauds that the pamphlet now contains some magic words: “God trusts you.” Surely that can bring comfort when the ‘am I good enough’ loom in adolescence (and beyond).
I have no doubt bishops, parents, and plenty of Church members will treat the older standard as some sort of higher law and cast a disparaging eye on bare shoulders, double earrings, beards, tattoos, and more-important decisions. But I hope today’s teens will live up to the title of the pamphlet, turn to their elders and say, “God trusts me.”
For inspiration, they can look to those who left the Church (and protected the family) when faced with November’s exclusion policy.