Baptism Hurdle Removed for Some Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals
by Joel McDonald
On December 15, 2021, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the completion of its new General Handbook in English. This handbook available to all members of the Church and the general public replaces Handbook 1 and Handbook 2, the former having been only available to stake presidents and bishops. The first chapters of the new handbook were published last year, which included some additional clarity for LGBTQIA+ members of the Church, but minimized LGBTQIA+ identities.
Included in the completed handbook is a change in requirements for individuals seeking baptism into the Church who have “committed a same-sex sin.” Previously, these individuals would need to be interviewed by a mission president before being cleared for baptism. With the new handbook, missionaries can conduct the baptismal interview as they would for any other person seeking baptism into the Church, removing a hurdle for those with past same-sex sexual relationships.
It may now be easier for gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals to be baptized as Latter-day Saints, but doing so requires them to make a commitment to obeying the “law of chastity, which prohibits any sexual relations outside the bonds of a legal marriage between a man and a woman.” For gay and lesbian members of the Church, upholding this commitment means celibacy or entering into a mixed-orientation marriage.
The removal of this hurdle is in line with what Dalin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, said in 2019 when announcing the reversal of church policy that characterized the entering into a same-sex marriage as apostasy subject to excommunication. At that time, Oaks said, “immoral conduct in heterosexual and homosexual relationship will be treated in the same way.”
The Church continues to view sexual relations within a legal same-sex marriage as immoral, equal to fornication or cohabitation, as if the marriage does not exist. Married or unmarried, same-sex couples may be subject to church discipline, including the calling of a membership council and, for endowed members, withdrawal of church membership (previously known as excommunication).
Edited on December 23, 2021, to add:
The wording of the requirements for transgender individuals seeking baptism into the Church was changed with this handbook update. The current version states that those seeking baptism who have “completed transition to the opposite of his or her biological sex at birth,” must be approved by the First Presidency after being recommended by a mission president for baptism. The previous version read that this was required of those who have “completed transition to the opposite gender of his or her biological sex at birth.”
The handbook also states that “a transgender person may be baptized and confirmed if he or she is not pursuing elective medical or surgical intervention to attempt to transition to the opposite of his or her biological sex at birth.” As members, transgender individuals are highly encouraged by the Church to not transition socially or medically. Any kind of transition will prevent transgender members from receiving or keeping a temple recommend, as “temple ordinances are received according to a person’s biological sex at birth.”