ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says it's going to let children of gay couples be baptized. The decision was announced today at the General Conference leadership session in Salt Lake City, Utah. It rolls back a 2015 policy that restricted the baptisms. The church also announced that it would no longer refer to LGBT couples as apostates. Lee Hale covers religion for member station KUER are and joins us now. Hi, there.
LEE HALE, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Explain why this reversal is so significant.
HALE: This is a difficult policy, or it was a difficult policy for a lot of Latter-day Saints, not just gay Latter-day Saints. But it seemed like children were being held accountable for how the church saw their parents. There's almost, like, a biblical feeling of, like, the sins of your fathers - you know, being responsible for that. That felt inherently wrong to a lot of Latter-day Saints.
On top of that, I think, culturally, Latter-day Saints have been a lot more open to their gay members, their LGBT fellow members of the church. And this felt kind of just - it felt painful. And it felt surprising and shocking in 2015 when it became a reality. And so I think a lot people are breathing a sigh of relief today.
SHAPIRO: What led to the reversal?
HALE: Well, the church isn't very open about how these decisions are made. And they're very deferential to the president, Russell M. Nelson, and his counselors. But this is the week - we're leading up to the Church's General Conference which happens biannually. And the top church leadership meets before General Conference, and they announced it in that meeting. Basically, the reasons given were that this would relieve a lot of tension and pain that these gay couples and their families would be going through. But I think that was always kind of there.
SHAPIRO: Now, the church says it will no longer consider LGBT couples apostates. But it still considers same-sex relationships to be sinful. Explain that distinction.
HALE: Well, this is really important. So in kind of the excitement from some members about this change, there's still the reality that it is a - very difficult to be gay and a Latter-day Saint. And the church still sees any relationship - it's important to say that being gay is not the sin in the eyes of church leaders but that acting on that relationship, as they would say - being in a sexual relationship is the sin. And that hasn't changed.
But that word apostate was really strong. Like, you basically can't find a stronger word to describe sin in the church. It basically means someone, you know, in a rebellion of what the church stands for. And so lessening that, I think, gives some relief. But I think people are quick to say - well, it doesn't mean that they have the approval or the confidence of their church that what they're doing is right.
SHAPIRO: What has the reaction been from church members after this announcement?
HALE: It's been mixed. I'm seeing - I mean, it's one of those days where Mormon Twitter is exploding, right? You might imagine. But there's a lot of people who are relieved. I think there's a lot of Latter-day Saints who were trying to support this policy because they want to support their church but were inwardly struggling - and not just gay Latter-day Saints. These are Latter-day Saints - I think across the board - were having a hard time. And for them, you see relief. You see that they can finally feel like they can support and sustain their leaders in a way they haven't been able to the last two years.
On the other side, there's a lot of Latter-day Saints and people who have left the church who say, well, this doesn't make it right. You know, the last 3 1/2 years, while this policy was intact, there's been a lot of pain. People are, you know, talking about how - there's, anecdotally, suicides that have come from how people feel about how this church saw them and saw their relationship and their connection to God.
And it's - I need to make it clear; the church did not apologize today. This is not an apology, and they're not saying, we made a mistake. They're saying this is a revelation. And that gets confusing, too, because it was initially a revelation. And this is a revelation taking it back.
SHAPIRO: Got to leave it there. Lee Hale of member station KUER. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.