Update: The Church has released clarification on the policy mentioned here. The text (published Fri, Nov 13) can be viewed here: https://www.lds.org/pages/church-handbook-changes?lang=eng

While I was a freshman at BYU, I tried to get to know new people every chance I could get. I wanted to hear their stories, understand what made them tick inside. The best place to find people who would talk to me was the cafeteria. Find someone sitting down somewhere that has just begun eating, strike up a conversation, and see where it goes.

Oh, the beauty of not knowing you're awkward. :)

My freshman year I met a girl in the cafeteria who, after a few minutes, told me she was a convert to the Church. That's not a big surprise; while many students I met at BYU were there because they perceived social pressure to be part of the Church (and used their attendance at BYU to assuage concerns of their families), I met just as many who had come a long way to be there. This girl was one of them.

She grew up in a polygamist family. When she was little, polygamy seemed somewhat normal to her. She knew that most people had just one mom, but she had multiple moms. Eventually her mother got out of the relationship and took her daughter with her, and years later the daughter met missionaries and wanted to be baptized.

Under Church policy, children born in a number of situations, including unsanctioned marriage situations (polygamy, polyandry, etc) must show that they have the ability to safely support themselves and a testimony of the nature of the family - which sometimes means disavowing the nuclear family where they may have spent much of their lives. This policy isn't about politics, though it obviously supports the Church's stalwart stance on the nature of families; the policy is about the importance of each child. The policy applies universally, and, while laws vary, is especially applicable in countries where polygyny, polyandry, and/or group marriage are still legal, customary as per cultural norms, or both.

This daughter was not permitted by her mother to be baptized, so she waited until she was 18, then went through the process on her own. She had to have an interview with a member of the Quorum of the 12 or First Presidency (if I remember right), and talked about how awesome that experience had been for her - to be able to talk with an apostle one-on-one about her childhood, her growing faith, and her simultaneous love for her parents.

I was jealous and somewhat shocked.

My baptismal interview was with my bishop, who I didn't really know very well... and I was 7 years old, about to turn 8. I remember he asked some questions. But that's all I remember. Yes, this young woman had come from a family situation that she eventually had to renounce - she had to openly renounce the choices of her parents... but people get to have baptismal interviews with an apostle? The apostles take notice of something like this?

Another young man was from mainland China. He had a friend who was a member of the Church, but his friend wasn't allowed to share the gospel with him. He told him if he wanted to learn more, he'd have to travel to Hong Kong. Years later, when he was old enough to do so, he traveled to Hong Kong, met with missionaries, and decided to be baptized. Then he returned to his town in the mainland. His friend had moved away, and now he was one of very few members. He had to rely on his own faith. Then he came to BYU.

A few years later, while serving a mission, I met a young man who told me he wanted to be baptized... but was afraid of the potential reaction of his family. I learned shortly thereafter that baptism would be more complicated than normal: since his family opposed it, and he was from a fundamentalist Muslim state where the law was to kill those who betrayed the faith, he would have to find a way to be completely safe before his baptism could happen. And, again, it would have to be approved by an Apostle.

Of all the people I met in the cafeteria and on my mission, the ones who I felt most connected to were people like these. The people who had been born into difficult circumstances, but who found the gospel anyway. The leaders of the Church took special notice of them, even though sometimes they had to wait for those blessings. Yes, each of them had to work for their faith. Yes, they all had to wait. But in working and waiting, they felt like modern-day pioneers. While they regretted the situation of their early childhood, they felt a profound sense of gratitude for the deep testimony they had gained - sometimes far deeper than their peers. And they were so much more faithful, happy, and grateful for it.

The students I met who had been raised in the Church from early on sometimes took their membership, and their faith, for granted. The Church was often just a social club to them, and BYU was just a way to extend the masquerade and get cheap tuition. When something happened in the community, or in their lives, to shake their faith, they were much faster to lose their foundations. Those who had fought for their membership, and those grown in the faith who had actually gained a personal testimony, were totally different.

The policy governing the baptism of children born to polygamous/polyandrous (multiple mothers or multiple fathers) relationships has been around for as long as I can remember. Mainland China hasn't allowed missionaries or temples ever. And neither have some Muslim or other states. Since there are places where practices contrary to Church teachings are accepted, and children learn a huge amount from their parents until they leave home, it makes sense that the Church would want to ensure that children born in every situation honestly understand the gospel. When talking with the people that the policy has affected, I've only ever seen a profound sense of gratitude and love. The fact that the Church required the blessing of a member of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles or the First Presidency for their baptism was never seen, to them, as an obstacle. On the contrary, it was a memorable, life-changing blessing.

Recently the Church added to the list of special exceptions children with parents living in same-gender sexual cohabitation or marriage situations (making the policy apply in all countries, whether same-sex marriage is legal or illegal). And, for some people, this is apparently the end of the world.

Under the policy, local leaders are directed to not make a personal decision based only on worthiness when someone presents for baptism in the Church. Instead of having to determine a child or adolescent's actual understanding and dedication to fundamental doctrines about the family, local leaders submit the request to the First Presidency, and they'll make the decision.

It also explicitly states that individuals in same-sex sexual cohabitation or marriage may not present their children for an infant blessing and outlines factors that will influence the First Presidency's decision: Individuals with parents of the same sex will need to disavow same-sex marriage both in word and deed - by showing a personal, lasting commitment to traditional marriage, by no longer living in a home where same-sex marriage is sanctioned, and by being completely free to make their own decisions legally and physically without required consent or potential interference from same-sex parents. Freedom to make your own decisions depends on country and local laws: in the US, you have to be 18 to make your own decisions.

That's it.

So the daughter of lesbian parents can come to Church whenever she is able and sit next to the young man from a Muslim nation, the girl whose parents were polygamists, and the kid who was baptized at 8. She can go to classes with them. Get her Young Women medallions and go to Girl's Camp. Attend Seminary and Mutual. Hold responsibilities and help plan activities. Give service. Fast, pray, and receive Priesthood blessings at her own request. Make plans to be married in the temple someday. And when she becomes legal age, she can move out of the house, choose to join the Church, and prepare to receive her Endowment in the temple.

In our world today, it's easy to think that everyone deserves whatever they want, immediately and now. That being an official member of the Church should be freely available to anyone who wants it, when they want it. But the reality is that God has always been a God of His own timing. And there are plenty of stories dating back to the Bible of people who wanted to join the family of God... who had to wait.

Two come to mind: a leader in the Roman army believed in Christ, but he was a Gentile. His servant was sick, and he knew that Christ had the power to heal. So he approached him and asked for help. Christ healed his servant, and even told the officer that he had greater faith than some of the Jews Christ had met... but didn't baptize the man. He would have to wait for Peter to begin preaching to the Gentiles. (Luke 7:2-10)

Another woman approached Christ and asked for help. She was also a Gentile - simply meaning that she was born to non-Jewish parents. In her response to Christ's questioning, she expressed how grateful she was to be able to symbolically feed on the crumbs that fell from the Master's table, even if she wasn't yet part of the family. Christ healed her daughter... but yet again baptism didn't happen immediately. (Matt 15:22-28)

Why was God - Jesus Christ Himself, the Savior of the World - unwilling to baptize these people who had professed (and shown at great duress) complete faith in Him? Perhaps it was because of political sentiment and the effect it would have on the early Church. Perhaps it was for their safety - to ensure they had a more welcoming environment and didn't become instant martyrs. Perhaps it was because they still held to pagan beliefs and customs embedded in their culture and everyday reality, and there wasn't yet a community of believers large enough where they could learn what to do and what not to. Perhaps it was to allow them to continue to exercise faith on the periphery.

Whatever the reason, God Himself understands all personal situations, blesses His children, and always charts the path they will need to follow to find baptism. In His eyes, life is just a speck in time. And any blessing we have to work or wait for, He will give us a hundredfold.

I believe that God loves all His children. I also believe that He will give all of us the best possible opportunity to receive the gospel, no matter where, how, or when we were born. Sometimes that means that people live their lives without the gospel in far-off places and times, and make a difference in the lives of people during mortality, then accept the gospel after. Sometimes that means being born in the covenant, sealed to an eternal family at birth by nature of two parents who keep their covenants. And sometimes that means choosing to follow God and wait for His blessings.

The people I met in the cafeteria and on my mission were special people. People who had worked against all odds to find and join and stay a part of the Church. While their parents vocally disagreed with Church doctrines and policies, they quietly grew in their own testimonies and treasured the fact that they were known by God and His prophets. In some situations, and by some people, perhaps their trials and the changes required in their beliefs and culture would have been taken for granted. But they weren't taken for granted... partly because the Church told *everyone* that they were special. 

If you're a new part of that group, welcome. I can't promise it will be easy. It's hard to have to wait for blessings from God, especially when people around you feel that you're entitled to them. It's hard to see people around you who take the Gospel, and the simplicity of their lives, for granted. It's hard to see everyone else's dreams come true while yours have long since shattered. It's excruciatingly painful to see people you care about who turn away from the truth... people who have never truly seen God in their trials... or who don't understand what the Gospel really means.

But, more than anything else, it's amazing to feel God's love... and to know that you are His. To have a personal relationship with the Lord of all creation. To be able to speak with Him and hear His voice and see His hand in all things. To have a perspective on life and a testimony and a connection with the Heavens so secure that nothing can shake it. It makes it all worthwhile.

Your life *will* be hard. Likely you'll face major trials long before others do. Maybe you'll have to put your dreams on hold for mortality. Maybe you'll cry yourself to sleep for years. Maybe you'll study the scriptures and pour out your soul to God trying to understand who you are. Maybe you'll lose yourself in service, or reach out and help others, or search deep within yourself to find peace. Whatever happens, definitely you'll find yourself like the people in the scriptures and the BYU cafeteria - having to work and wait on the Lord, having to trust in His timing, having to have faith in His words.

God has good things planned for you. He loves you. And because He knows you, your circumstances, and everything about you, He allowed your life to be hard in the beginning... so you could be stronger in the end.

One post ahead: God Knows What He's Doing
Two posts ahead: Dear Little Brother (to children with same-sex parents)

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