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At BYU devotional, church president details ‘love and laws of God’ in description of 2015 and 2019 LGBT policy announcements

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, wave to students after a devotional at Brigham Young University’s Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, wave to students after a devotional at Brigham Young University’s Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO, Utah — In a remarkable devotional address to young adults at BYU Tuesday, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pleaded with students to ask God if church leaders “truly are the Lord’s apostles and prophets” and offered a detailed description of gospel love and law that motivated them to make church policy adjustments that affected the LGBT community in 2015 and 2019.

“We knew that this policy created concern and confusion for some and heartache for others. That grieved us,” said President Russell M. Nelson, who is revered as the church’s prophet.

“Whenever the sons and daughters of God weep — for whatever reasons — we weep,” he added. “So, our supplications to the Lord continued.”

BYU students began to line up at the Marriott Center at midnight, and packed the building to see President Nelson in person an hour before the devotional began. About 280 miles to the north, BYU-Idaho released morning classes early so its students could watch the live broadcast, also. LDS Business College in Salt Lake City postponed a devotional by its own college president so students could watch what became a worldwide young adult broadcast.

Those young adults heard President Nelson provide a significant look into church leaders’ thinking behind the November 2015 policy announcement that First Presidency approval would be required for baptism of children of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents.

His remarks also were the first public statements by a senior leader on April’s new update to the policy, which allows bishops to authorize baptisms if parents request them and understand their children will be taught the church’s doctrine on marriage.

“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,” President Nelson said.

President Nelson’s remarks on the policy were part of a talk structured around five truths he called absolute and divine:

  • All are sons and daughters of God.
  • God loves all with perfect love.
  • Some truths are divine and incontrovertible.
  • Jesus Christ appoints prophets and apostles.
  • The Holy Ghost confirms divine truths.

He used an example from his career as a pioneering heart surgeon to demonstrate the existence of divine truth. In the 1950s, his research team learned that potassium chloride added to blood flowing into the coronary arteries instantly stops a beating heart. Returning blood with a normal sodium/potassium ratio to the heart instantly returns it to its normal beat. The finding made open heart surgery possible.

“But what if it doesn’t work?” a professor asked him.

“It always works, because it is based on divine law,” he said, likening it to the laws of gravity, foil and lift that allow planes to fly.

“Each is an absolute truth,” he said. “Doctors and pilots do not have the power to change those laws, but their understanding of them safeguards lives.”

He said the church’s prophets and apostles teach about God’s laws to safeguard his children, then described leaders’ thinking in 2015 and earlier this year.

“Consider the policy announced in November 2015 related to the advisability of baptism for the children of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents,” he said. “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.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson stands before speaking at a devotional at Brigham Young University in Provo on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson stand before President Nelson speaks at a devotional at Brigham Young University in Provo on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“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 8. 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.”

Earlier this year, they felt directed, he said, to adjust the policy, which also allows LGBT parents to request baby blessings for their children and clarifies that local church leaders should treat homosexual immorality the same as heterosexual immorality.

He said prophets and apostles are in a position to observe and feel God’s love for his children, especially those who are struggling.

“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,” he said.

At the same time, they must teach nothing but truth, without modifying divine law, he said.

“Sometimes we as leaders of the church are criticized for holding firm to the laws of God, defending the Savior’s doctrine and resisting the social pressures of our day,” he said, adding, “In doing so, sometimes we are accused of being uncaring as we teach the Father’s requirements for exaltation in the celestial kingdom. But wouldn’t it be far more uncaring for us not to tell the truth — not to teach what God has revealed? It is precisely because we do care deeply about all of God’s children that we proclaim His truth. We may not always tell people what they want to hear. Prophets are rarely popular. But we will always teach the truth.”

Finally, he pleaded with students to “seek earnestly a confirmation from the Spirit that what I have told you is true and is from the Lord.”

He added, “Ask your Heavenly Father if we truly are the Lord’s apostles and prophets. Ask if we have received revelation on this and other matters. Ask if these five truths are — in fact — true.”

Madison Brown was third in line when the 22-year-old arrived at midnight to stand in line. The Ashburn, Virginia, native graduated from BYU in public relations in August. She never missed a devotional or forum during school and always sat on the front row. She usually showed up two hours early. This time she arrived 11 hours early. She slept for about an hour in a hammock she put up between two trees.

Her brother, Garrett, 18, a freshman in economics, joined her in the morning but still had to skip his economics class.

“He’s making an extra effort to speak to the youth and young adults, and we appreciate it,” Madison said before the devotional.

Before his talk, the audience sang, “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet.” After his talk, President Nelson stood, pointed at and waved to each section of the arena, drawing smiles and chuckles. As he left, students continued to smile lovingly at him.

Olivia Demordunt, 22, a junior in political science from Eagle, Idaho, said the talk was important for young people struggling with concerns for their LGBT family and friends because President Nelson went beyond surface information to show the process and motivation behind the church’s policies.

“It was really comforting to have him show how each decision, in November 2015 and in April this year, was made out of love,” Demordunt said. “It’s easy to point fingers, but it was awesome to see it was done out of love.”

Her roommate, Catherine Marcheschi, 22, a junior majoring in pre-business from Bountiful, Utah, said that initially, the 2015 policy change wasn’t an issue for her, but as she served a church mission and was exposed to more people and returned home to learn about friends and families who struggled with it, she had to form her own opinions.

“I feel like especially at this age and during this time, there’s so much confusion about our gender and identity and we all have family members and friends who have struggled with these issues,” Marcheschi said. “He showed a lot of love for us by coming here, sharing more information and inviting us to pray that he is a prophet.”

This was President Nelson’s 22nd talk at BYU.