The 2015 November Policy of Exclusion
The November Policy of Exclusion, or the LDS Church policy to ban LGBT, was a controversial policy change by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in November 2015. This policy update was initially leaked to the public and was later officially confirmed by the LDS Church.
The policy specifically targeted same-sex couples and their children. It stated that members of the Church in same-sex marriages were considered apostates to the church, and their children, whether biological or adopted, were not allowed to receive baby blessings, baptism, confirmation, or other ordinances of the church until they reached the age of 18. At that age, they could be baptized if they both disavowed same-sex cohabitation and also received approval from the First Presidency, the highest governing body of the church, after interviews with a Stake or Mission President. This was a major obstacle for children to face essentially barring them from participation and acceptance in the church.
This policy caused significant controversy both inside and outside the LDS Church. Many members and outsiders criticized the policy for its exclusionary and discriminatory nature, particularly concerning the children of same-sex couples. It led to public protests, resignations from the church, and internal dissent among some members. The church stood by the policy and it’s leaders defended it by relating this treatment of same sex marriage to their treatment of imagined polygamous marriages. They clarified that they didn’t want to put these children in a place where they are taught contradictories from home compared to what the church teaches.
A few months after the policy, President Russell M. Nelson stated that “the lord inspired His prophet to declare the mind of the Lord” and that this “Revelation from the Lord” is a “sacred process.” This elevated the policy to “revelation from God” status. By doing this, they basically stated that it wasn’t up to them and that it was God who made the call, and shame on anyone who would disagree with or challenge God.
Reversing the Policy in 2019
The policy was originally released and leaked on November 3, 2015. On April 4, 2019, the LDS Church reversed this policy. Less than 4 years after the policy of exclusion was deemed a revelation by senior church leaders, the policy was changed. During a leadership session prior to general conference the leaders of the church announced this reversal. They made the announcement before General Conference sessions and to leadership only, though the church news ran an article about the change, there was no mention of the change during general conference to the general membership. Likely the church leaders didn’t want to draw any more attention to the fact that 1) the revision was in fact a reversal of a recently controversial policy, and 2) that there was a controversial policy in the first place. The newroom article buried the actual changes beneath various quotes from the (new) First Presidency and talk of continuing revelation.
This is a positive step to see the church make. They had created a damaging policy and then even though they had initially defended it and called it revelation, finally concluded that it would be better to not have these new policy additions, so they rolled it back. This takes courage to do, it’s essentially admitting that they were wrong. This reverse is admitting that their revelation from God was wrong. While the reversal is a great step, the fact that they came out with the policy in the first place overshadows the reversal. The policy leak itself and then they were forced to rescind the initial policy when the backlash was so severe. This even after giving full credit for the policy (or blame) to God and revelation received by the prophets and apostles leading the church! It shows that they are more directed by board meetings and public opinions (at least the ones that affect the name and image of the church and the church’s own tax exempt status) than by revelations direct from God.
The church announcement and statements surrounding this reversal categorized it as a mere policy adjustment, but it is in fact a full reversal of the 2015 policy. The 2015 policy stated that children of married LGBT couples could not be baptized without first presidency approval, while in 2019 these children may now be baptized without approval of the first presidency. In 2015, they categorized same-sex marriage as apostasy and deserving of a mandatory church discipline, and in 2019 they reverse this policy and state that “it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of church discipline”. If this is not a reversal than what is? It’s not merely another adjustment in a series of adjustments to a policy, it’s a 180 return to what the policy was before the initial policy of exclusion.a return to before all the push back and criticism.
At this wonderful general conference time, it is our privilege to bring together senior leaders of the Church from around the world to provide instruction and to unify our effort to bring God’s children closer to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This morning in a leadership session the First Presidency provided instruction on several important topics. We are pleased to share with our members and friends some very positive messages from that meeting.
President Russell M. Nelson reflected that throughout this past year, the Lord has blessed us with “revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge … that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:61). We are all eyewitnesses to revelations from the Lord as He guides the affairs of His Church. President Nelson taught of ministering and repenting, sharing that as we embrace the gift of repentance we will rise up and minister in a holier way and make our homes centers of gospel learning. Israel will be gathered on both sides of the veil, and we will help in preparing the world for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
President Dallin H. Oaks instructed that the Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility — even when we disagree. God has promised all blessings to those who strive to keep His commandments, and we have a duty to “bear one another’s burdens that they may be light” (Mosiah 18:8). While we cannot change the Lord’s doctrine, we want our members and our policies to be considerate of those struggling with the challenges of mortality. In his remarks, President Oaks shared information about changes to recent Church policies related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members. (More information on that announcement is included below.)
President Henry B. Eyring spoke of continuing revelation in the true and living Church, teaching that the Lord has led by revelation through prophets from the time of Adam and Eve to the present day, and such revelation to His servants will continue until He comes again. One reason is that we need the Lord’s direction to meet changing circumstances, and He has guided changes in practice and policy throughout the history of the Church.
We pray these teachings will be received in the same spirit we received them from the Lord and have shared them with our leaders — as positive and inspiring instruction that will bless many lives. With gratitude we acknowledge God’s continuing guidance and love for all His children and invite our members to renew their commitment to follow the teachings of the Savior Jesus Christ to love God and to love one another (see Matthew 22:37–39).
The First Presidency
Details shared by President Oaks
At the direction of the First Presidency, President Oaks shared that effective immediately, children of parents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender may be baptized without First Presidency approval if the custodial parents give permission for the baptism and understand both the doctrine that a baptized child will be taught and the covenants he or she will be expected to make.
A nonmember parent or parents (including LGBT parents) can request that their baby be blessed by a worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holder. These parents need to understand that congregation members will contact them periodically, and that when the child who has been blessed reaches 8 years of age, a Church member will contact them and propose that the child be baptized.
Previously, our handbook characterized same-gender marriage by a member as apostasy. While we still consider such a marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline. Instead, the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.
The very positive policies announced this morning should help affected families. In addition, our members’ efforts to show more understanding, compassion and love should increase respect and understanding among all people of goodwill. We want to reduce the hate and contention so common today. We are optimistic that a majority of people — whatever their beliefs and orientations — long for better understanding and less contentious communications. That is surely our desire, and we seek the help of our members and others to attain it.President Dallin H Oaks in General Conference Leadership Session
These new policies are being sent to priesthood leaders worldwide and will be included in online updates to our Church handbook for leaders. These changes do not represent a shift in Church doctrine related to marriage or the commandments of God in regard to chastity and morality. The doctrine of the plan of salvation and the importance of chastity will not change. These policy changes come after an extended period of counseling with our brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and after fervent, united prayer to understand the will of the Lord on these matters.First Presidency Shares Messages from General Conference Leadership Session, A Message from the First Presidency
Readers were required to scroll to the bottom of the article after the tease that “President Oaks shared information about changes to recent Church policies related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members. (More information on that announcement is included below.)” The First Presidency announced that children of parents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender could now be baptized and blessed as infants. The revision also stated that individuals in same-sex marriages would no longer be considered apostates subject to mandatory discipline and excommunication. This reversal marked a significant shift in the church’s approach to LGBTQ+ issues and was received with a range of reactions from members and the public. Noting that both the November policy of exclusion was a revelation and the reversal of this policy less than four years later was also deemed a revelation from the Lord.
The ban was, in other words, a clear revelation.
More than three years later, Nelson says it’s now the Lord’s will to reverse that policy — and that this is also a revelation.Mormon leaders reverse LGBT policy, raising the question: What is revelation?, Jana Riess
President Russell M. Nelson, who succeeded President Monson as church president, was president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 2015. He said in early 2016 that the November 2015 policies were the result of revelation. Latter-day Saints believe their church is the restored church of Jesus Christ and that God directs the church through ongoing revelation through a living prophet, the church president.
President Nelson, who became the church president in January 2018, reiterated in his talk to general and area authorities from around the world during Thursday morning’s meeting that a flurry of policy changes over the past year were inspired by revelation.Church to allow baptisms, blessings for children of LGBT parents, updates handbook regarding ‘apostasy’: Revelation’s role
I suspect most Mormons will see this change as a very welcome move. In coming days, there will no doubt be a great deal of discussion on this change. First, if the November Policy was a revelation in 2015, un-revealing it in 2019, less than four years later, deserves some explanation. There seems to be some confusion about what is a revelation, what is a doctrine, what is a policy, and what is just an administrative decision, or whether these labels even mean anything anymore. Second, it’s still rather unclear what is the status of LDS individuals in a gay marriage. Local leaders need to get some additional clearer guidance on how to proceed.LDS Church Rescinds the November Policy
The November Policy of 2015 was under the leadership of President Monson. The First Presidency of 2015 included Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor, Henry B. Eyring, and Second Counselor Dieter F. Uchtdorf. In January 2018 President Monson passed away and the First Presidency was reorganized as President Russell M. Nelson, with First Counselor Dallin H. Oaks, and Second Counselor Henry B. Eyring. It was started and revoked by some of the same leadership, and Russell M. Nelson was president of the Quorum of the Twelve in 2015 when the policy began. This could be a reason to point to the leadership change, but we also have Russell M. Nelson as the primary leader responsible for backing up the first policy as a revelation!
Later in September 2019, President Nelson reiterated in a BYU Devotional that the church leaders are led by revelation. He explains that the policy changes were again due to revelation and motivated by love, but he doesn’t explain how to reconcile that revelation led to both the policy in 2015, and the policy reversal in 2019. The two policies are literally the exact opposite of the other. How can revelation lead to two diametrically opposed policies in the span of just over 3 years? Did God change his mind? This is similar to the priesthood ban which disenfranchised all black members of the church, but where the priesthood ban lasted for 150+ years, this ban which disenfranchised children and same-sex couples only lasted 3.5 years.
Russell M. Nelson, as president of the church, and head of the First Presidency called in the calvary and included the First Presidency as well as the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in his claim that they cannot change “laws of God” but “when the Lord directs” them, they can adjust policy. He’s setting up the scenario where the policy change is to be considered revelation because it came by direction from the Lord. This is eerily similar to the church leadership who stated that they couldn’t remove the priesthood ban on blacks without direction from God because it was his law. It’s a convenient way of avoiding the blame since they are placing it on God. They throw God under the bus and simply state in a dumbfounded way that it’s up to the man upstairs to tell us to adjust these policies, we can’t make the decision on our own, they are his laws after all. They can sidestep the questions about why the policy needed reversing if it came from God in the first place since we can’t know God’s mind.
Interesting too that he states the church leadership knew that the 2015 policy affected people and created concern, confusion, and heartache. Did they know this before enacting it in the first place? Assuming that they only know this from the experienced ridicule and pushback they received when it was first leaked. They were made aware of the concern at that point, but at least they admit here that “the policy created concern and confusion … and heartache” and also that they knew it! But also they state that the policy in 2015 was motivated by love… What kind of misstep is this? God directed them to do it, and they did it out of love, but 4 years later it needed reversing because of the concern confusion, and heartache it caused. Wouldn’t God know better than to have done this in the first place? Does he lack foresight? Or is it simply a snafu of the leadership acting as men of their times?
Nice wordsmithing by President Nelson here to state that the new policy adjustments clarified that homosexual immorality would be treated in the eyes of the church in the same manner as heterosexual immorality.” He doesn’t mention the state of apostasy in the 2015 policy or the removal of this apostate status in 2019, he leads listeners to believe that it was a clarification, when in fact it was a reversal.
Here is the relevant transcript from his BYU Devotional he gave on September 17, 2019. Just a few months after reversing the policy.
My dear young friends, exaltation is not easy. Requirements include a focused and persistent effort to keep God’s laws, and rigorously repenting when we don’t. But the reward for doing so is far greater than anything we can imagine, because it brings us joy here, and “never-ending happiness” hereafter.
Thus, our commission as Apostles is to teach nothing but truth. That commission does not give us the authority to modify divine law.
For example, let’s consider the definition of marriage. In recent years, many countries, including the United States, have legalized same-sex marriage. As members of the Church, we respect the laws of the land and abide by them, including civil marriage. The truth is, however, that in the beginning—in the beginning—marriage was ordained by God! And to this day it is defined by Him as being between a man and a woman. God has not changed His definition of marriage.
God has also not changed His law of chastity. Requirements to enter the temple have not changed. And our desire for there to be love at home and harmony between parent and child has not changed.
Though we of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles cannot change the laws of God, we do have the charge to “build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations.” Thus, we can adjust policy when the Lord directs us to do so. You have recently seen such examples. Because the Restoration is ongoing, policy changes will surely continue.
Perhaps I can illustrate this through policy adjustments regarding those who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) and their children. (I realize that other initials could be added to this acronym, but LGBT should suffice for the purposes of this message.)
Consider the policy announced in November 2015 related to the advisability of baptism for the children of LGBT parents. Our concern then, and one we discussed at length and prayed about fervently over a long period of time, was to find a way to reduce friction between gay or lesbian parents and their children.
Because parents are the primary exemplars for their children, we did not want to put young children in the position of having to choose between beliefs and behavior they learned at home and what they were taught at Church. We wanted to facilitate harmony in the home and avoid pitting children and parents against each other. Thus in 2015, the policy was made to assist children and their parents in this circumstance, namely that children being raised by LGBT parents would not automatically be eligible for baptism at age eight. Exceptions to this policy would require First Presidency approval.
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have continued to seek the Lord’s guidance and to plead with Him in behalf of His children who were affected by the 2015 policy. We knew that this policy created concern and confusion for some and heartache for others. That grieved us. Whenever the sons and daughters of God weep—for whatever reasons—we weep. So, our supplications to the Lord continued.
We also took note of LGBT parents who sought permission from the First Presidency for their children to be baptized. In nearly every case where the LGBT parents agreed to teach their children about—and be supportive of—the covenant of baptism, the requested exception was granted.
As a result of our continued supplication, we recently felt directed to adjust the policy such that the baptism of children of LGBT parents may be authorized by bishops without First Presidency approval, if the custodial parents request the baptism and understand that a child will be taught about sacred covenants to be made at baptism.
We also determined that LGBT parents may request that a baby be named and blessed by one who worthily holds the Melchizedek Priesthood. It is important that these parents understand that ward members will contact them periodically, and that when a child who has been blessed reaches eight years of age, local leaders will recommend that the child be baptized.
Finally, we also clarified that homosexual immorality would be treated in the eyes of the Church in the same manner as heterosexual immorality.
Though it may not have looked this way to some, the 2015 and 2019 policy adjustments on this matter were both motivated by love—the love of our Heavenly Father for His children and the love of the Brethren for those whom we serve.
Because we feel the depth of God’s love for His children, we care deeply about every child of God, regardless of age, personal circumstances, gender, sexual orientation, or other unique challenges.The Love and Laws of God, President Russell M Nelson, BYU Devotional, Provo, Utah, September 17, 2019
It seems Russell M. Nelson wanted to explain that these 2019 changes which reversed the unpopular November Policy of Exclusion in 2015 were 1) motivated by love, and 2) revelation from God, so don’t get mad at him or other church leaders. This position doesn’t hold water, but it’s the only way he could remove the troubling policy, and save face as a prophet of God.
He clearly considers both the 2015 policy to be a revelation, as well as the 2019 reversal. He considers nearly everything he says to be revelation too. He asks us to ask Heavenly Father if he’s a prophet and if this was a revelation. He wants good feelings and submission to keep members in line and to find their testimony about these policies being a revelation. Just like missionaries ask investigators to ask God if the leaders are called by God and the Book of Mormon is true. If you pray and don’t get the answer he expects you to, you obviously didn’t pray hard enough or you didn’t have a sincere heart. Follow the same formula and there is no possible way to declare that the policy is not of God, or the reversal is not of God, or that RMN is not the mouthpiece of God.
What was your experience with these two policies? Were you concerned or confused by the initial policy of exclusion in 2015? Were you more comforted by the reversal in 2019, or did it cause serious cognitive dissonance by putting the fickle nature of church leaders on full display? Share your own experience or faith deconstruction story at wasmormon.org.
- The LDS Church and The November Policy of Exclusion – POX 2015
- Does President Nelson Talk With God? Do Any Church Leaders?