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No part of the new LDS policy on same-sex couples has generated more controversy — and criticism — than its prohibition against Mormon rituals for their children.

Stories flooding social media tell of canceled baby blessings, postponed baptisms, aborted priesthood ordinations and withdrawn missionary applications. Even many devout Mormons — including congregational and regional leaders — report distress, despondence and despair over the upheaval.

After all, families and children are at the center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Utah-based faith spends much time, money and energy raising up what it sees as a righteous generation through programs introduced to kids as young as 18 months old.

From the moment children are born, they are embraced by the Mormon community in a ritual known as a "blessing" — similar to a "christening" — in which infants are given a name and prayerfully celebrated in a public gesture. They also are entered onto the church's rolls.

LDS kids attend Primary and receive more religious instruction before — and after — they are baptized at age 8 and become official members. As teens, they attend Young Men and Young Women programs and are urged to serve full-time missions (at age 18 for males and 19 for females).

Sons and daughters of murderers, adulterers, fornicators, drug addicts, unwed mothers, divorced parents and sometimes non-Mormons can be welcomed into the community with such special rites, born of the Mormon belief that children are born innocent, rather than carrying the weight of their parents' sins.

Defending or offending families? • Now, the church says children whose parents currently or have been in a same-sex relationship cannot participate in those rites. They must wait until they are 18 before they can seek approval from the governing First Presidency to join the LDS Church.

To do so, they no longer can live with their parents and must disavow their parents' marriages.

The change was prompted by "compassion," Mormon apostle D. Todd Christofferson explained in a 10-minute video interview last week. "It originates from a desire to protect children in their innocence and in their minority years."

LDS leaders "don't want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the church are very different," he said, noting that "nothing is lost to them in the end" if these children join the faith when they become adults.

Some Mormons share that view and defend the move.

There is "no degree of punishment that exists in these new changes," a blogger at argued. "Children must simply wait until they can legally make their own decision to join the church, rather than relying on their parents' approval."

Utahn Ashley Blackburn echoed that sentiment.

"Most of us are products of our upbringing," Blackburn wrote to The Salt Lake Tribune's Public Insight Network. "It makes sense to me that the church would require a child from a same-sex household to be an adult and completely comprehend what ramifications will come with becoming a member of the church — [including] disavowing their parents' marriage — before they make the decision of baptism."

She does not believe, the active Mormon added, that her church's leaders are doing this to "spite the gay community. They are, in my opinion, trying to garner a safe and loving upbringing for those raised in a gay household."

If these religious rituals are not crucial to a young believer's upbringing, others argue, why does the church emphasize them so much?

"It's important to keep in mind that infant [blessings] and child baptism [are] not necessary for salvation in Mormon teaching, so these policies do not, in theory, hinder a child's ultimate salvation," St. Louis LDS writer Rosalynde Welch said, so these policies "need not be read as an indictment of the worthiness of children of gay couples, nor as an ultimate bar to their salvation."

However, she said, the policies remain troubling.

They seem "to challenge the cherished Mormon teaching that 'in the ordinances [of the priesthood] the power of godliness is manifest,' " Welch said. "They do indeed block the power of God from manifesting in these children's lives through the ordinances of baptism and confirmation."

Turning away children • Angela Clayton, a small-business owner in Scottsdale, Ariz., views the policy as "injurious and ineffective," with "unintended consequences."

"My best friend growing up was not a baptized member. She could attend activities, but not be baptized. Her exposure to spiritual experiences was limited. By age 18, she did not choose to join the church," Clayton wrote on the Mormon blog Wheat and Tares. "That is, as I imagine the church knows, the most common outcome. When we place hurdles in the way of positive church experiences, when youth are on the fringe with no responsibility and are seen as extra or peripheral, they seldom join."

Even Christofferson's brother, Tom Christofferson, who is gay, worries about how this policy will play out.

About 30 years ago, Tom Christofferson asked to be excommunicated from the LDS Church because he couldn't stop being gay. His family continued to embrace him, even when he entered into a monogamous same-sex relationship. About eight years ago, he felt prompted to return to Mormonism.

"Look, I'd really like to be able to come back to church and learn and feel the spirit and discover the path of a disciple," Tom Christofferson said he told his LDS bishop. "His welcome was immediate. ... I was already excommunicated, mind you, so I was a nonmember at the time, but the welcome and acceptance I felt in my family and my ward were both important in my own process of being able to move toward something I really needed in my life."

With this policy, the apostle's brother told a Rational Faiths podcast, he fears for gay Mormons, including the children.

"Will they have the same opportunity? Will they be able to go to church even though they are in a committed monogamous same-sex relationship and feel welcome? To make both of them feel welcome and to make a place in the congregation for both of them? Or are we sort of now saying that the scarlet letter has been attached, and we can't do that, let alone how it affects the children?"

Tom Christofferson further challenged the policy's treatment of gays "as groups instead of as individuals."

"I feel like my relationship with the savior is an individual one," he said. "If there is a concern about a family, then let's deal with that family."

In an email, Christofferson said Mormons are "people of good intent, who want to be kind and inclusive."

"There is great wisdom in the song our children sing: 'I'm trying to be like Jesus; I'm following in his ways. I'm trying to love as he did, in all that I do and say,' " he wrote. "I hope all members of the church, regardless of what they are thinking and feeling about the policy change, will seize the opportunity to be more engaged, and more lovingly present, with LGBT members of their families, their congregations and their communities."

Joanna Brooks, a Mormon writer and scholar at San Diego State University, argued that "barring children of LGBT families from membership or baptism in the church strikes at the very heart of Christian teachings about God's special care for children and the essential role of baptism."

"It marks them as expendable," Brooks wrote in a Religion Dispatches essay. "It also ensures that children of LGBT families will have virtually no opportunity for religious education within the LDS tradition during their critical formative years."

It's not that tough, she added, for young people to deal with contradictions between their own lives and church teachings.

"Children (and adults) are deeply capable of handling complexity," Brooks said. "Mormon families around the world in many different circumstances — including Mormons of color, interfaith families, divorced families, feminist families, and politically progressive Mormon families — do this every day."

A 'flawed' but 'glorious' faith • If the LDS Church's new policy had applied to children of nonbelievers, not just to gays, state Sen. Stephen Urquhart would have seen it in his own life.

"My childhood was sloppy. My family was messy. After our already-unsound foundation was rocked by tragedy, my mom, my brother and I joined the Mormon church," he wrote on Facebook. "We were in free fall, and the Mormon church caught us, supported us and saved us. Yes, it is flawed, but the Mormon church is a glorious institution."

Urquhart's dad did not believe in the faith's tenets, the son said, but "100 percent appreciated and supported his boys' devotion to the religion. He encouraged and paid for my mission. Why? Because he realized that he fell short. He knew that we needed help. And he was proud that we had the discipline to believe and live according to our faith."

The St. George Republican, who pushed for statewide nondiscrimination protections, worries about the children of gays.

"There are same-sex couples who want nothing to do with the church, but fully support their children's devotion to the religion," he said. "You shouldn't cut people off from full participation — especially if you believe that they need an extra portion of help and salvation."

Urquhart draws a parallel to Mormonism's previous ban — discarded in 1978 — against black men and boys holding the faith's priesthood and black women participating in temple rituals.

For more than a century Latter-day Saints "ostracized" blacks, "denying them rites and privileges," he said, then "explaining away the racial bigotry as a mystery of God."

But, he said, "it was just bigotry ... [that] found its way into church practice (and leadership manuals) and was, then, unfortunately, followed for generations. It was never of God. It was fear, misunderstanding and bigotry."

That same thing is happening today with the treatment of gays, Urquhart wrote. It is based on "fear, misunderstanding, and bigotry. It's not of God. It's of man."

And, he concluded, "it needs to change."

Twitter: @religiongal