Thursday, June 9, 2011

Church Guidelines Finally Allow Susan to Meet her Birth Mother

I had a situation that started in 2004 that I wanted to write about.  A sister named Susan asked to meet with me saying that she had researched and now was very close to identifying her biological mother.  She wanted to meet with her but wasn’t sure if she should.  She didn’t want to meet for medical reasons but simply out of curiosity, a longing get to know her birth mother and to understand the reasons behind why she was given up for adoption.

I wasn’t sure how to counsel her so in preparation for our meeting I looked in the manual of instructions (the 1999 version) where I had remembered seeing something on the topic. I love the manuals provided by the church and refer to them often. The instruction given is that local leaders should discourage adopted children from seeking to identify their natural parents (the full text is added to the bottom of this blog post for your convenience).

The manual didn’t tell me how I was to go about discouraging Susan from identifying her Mother.  This is the part of church leadership that can become difficult and where personal opinions come in to play. One leader may say one thing and another may take a completely different approach.  The end result should be the same throughout the worldwide church though in that we discourage the adopted from seeking to identify their natural parents. 

When we met I told Susan that since she was sealed to her adopted family who have always loved her and who raised her in the gospel she should be very considerate of their feelings.  I explained that if I had adopted a child I might feel that I had been an inadequate parent if my son or daughter told me they wanted to find their “real” parents.  Had I not been real? Had I not loved and raised them? Susan thanked me and said she had kept that in the forefront of her mind throughout the process.  She had actually discussed the issue with her parents and assured them that they are and will always be her ‘real’ parents.  She let me know that her parents were completely comfortable with her finding and getting to know her biological mother.

I then asked her to consider how upset her birth mother might be.  I explained that she has likely moved on and raised her own family by now.  Contacting them might only cause embarrassment and stress to all involved.  Susan agreed that this scenario does happen sometimes in cases such as this.  She also let me know however that her mother had registered with an adoption agency indicating that she would like to have contact with her daughter if ever the opportunity arose.  

As a last resort I showed her the counsel in the manual and then asked her to fast and pray about the decision. I did make it clear that the decision was hers and hers alone to make.  I felt like I had done my best with regards to my duty of following the instruction given by my inspired leaders to discourage her from identifying her Mother.  The rest I would leave in the Lords hands.

Being a woman of great faith and strict obedience Susan came back a few days later and said that she just couldn’t go against the counsel of church leaders and feel right in her heart at the same time. She decided to not contact her birth mother. 

I thought this was the end of the matter and was surprised some two years later when Susan asked again about it.  She was aware that a new manual of instructions had been created (in 2006) and wanted to know if the counsel was still the same.  I confirmed that the exact same words were present. 

I thought long and hard about this guideline after she came to me that second time but felt in the end that ‘The Brethren’ in Salt Lake City are inspired and know what is best for people.  I understand (as did Susan) that there is no doctrine or scriptural counsel against seeking out ones biological family but many church members simply feel safer living by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of the Lords servants whether it be a guideline, a policy or simply a teaching.  Susan actually said to me that “if church leaders are inspired enough to know that people will ask such questions and think it important enough to give guidance in the matter (in an official leaders manual) then it must be there for a good reason”.  I couldn’t argue with that.    

However whilst going through the new 2010 manual in November I was immediately drawn to the same section and noticed a significant change.  Allow me to quote:
“Questions regarding the exchange of information and contact between adopted children and their biological parents should be handled with sensitivity. The legal rights and emotional needs of all relevant parties should be considered.”

I immediately picked up the phone and rang Susan to let her know of the change – that the manual no longer instructed me and other leaders to discourage people from identifying their birth parents. She was in tears and thanked me for letting her know of the change.   

I am happy to report that with the assistance of the adoption agency Susan and her mother were reunited on December 20th 2010.  The mother was cancer stricken and in hospital but was able to let Susan know that she had always wondered about her first beloved daughter and had thought about and prayed for her daily. Seeing her was an answer to many a prayer. They were able to speak twice before the mother passed away (which occurred peacefully in her sleep).

Susan’s ‘new’ half sister Lisa asked about the process by which she was able to locate her natural mother.  Susan explained that she had thought about making contact way back in 2004 but was advised by leaders of her church not to do this.  Lisa asked why this was so and which church had felt it their right to advise her on such a personal issue.  This gave Susan a chance to talk about prophets and apostles being on the earth again today and the blessings she has received from following their guidance in all things.

Lisa couldn’t hold back the tears as she thought about the moments that could have been had Susan made contact 6 years earlier when their mother was in full health.  Lisa felt it was an absolute tragedy that those years had been needlessly without contact. 

Of course Susan and I know that the Lord has his own timetable and purpose for things. In fact we see it as nothing short of a miracle that this guideline change was made and then noticed by me just in time so that she could meet her mother. 

I know that the Lord blesses us as we seek to follow our leaders from the local level right up to our loving church president even Thomas S. Monson, and I leave these thoughts with you in the sacred and holy name of Jesus Christ, amen. 

*This is from the 1999 and 2006 manual (in the church policies section). This instruction remained in force until November 2010 when a new manual was provided (I can provide screen shots of these pages if requested):

Adopted Children and Their Natural Parents
Local leaders should discourage adopted children and their adopted parents from seeking to identify the children’s natural parents.

When adopted children have genetic or medical problems, the family may seek medical information about the natural parents but should be discouraged from seeking their identities.

Here is the same section in the new 2010 manual:

Adopted Children and Their Biological Parents
Questions regarding the exchange of information and contact between adopted children and their biological parents should be handled with sensitivity. The legal rights and emotional needs of all relevant parties should be considered.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this president. Truly we do thank thee, O God, for a prophet. To guide us in these latter-days. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Zippy said...

What "Lisa" doesn't understand is that yes, "Susan" missed out on 6 years of interaction with her mother and half-sister. However, her obedience to every jot and tittle of counsel provided by Church leaders may have persuaded the Lord to help her avoid many other negative events and tragedies. Who know how many traffic accidents, home fires, child sicknesses, she may have avoided or how many positive blessings she may have received from being obedient. Pres. Paternoster, you may want to *consider* having a fifth Sunday lesson on developing a better understanding of the harms avoided and blessings received by strict obedience to the teachings of Church leaders.

Jonas said...

Surely this proves that there is a living prophet today, and that we are indeed lead by modern revelation!

Praise to Men who commune with Jehovah! Blessed be their ever great names!

Bjorge Queen said...

How wonderful that Susan was able to use her birth mother's death as an opportunity to bear witness to Lisa of her sweet testimony of the gospel. There are so many every day situations that can be turned into missionary opportunities.

kolobian said...

Indeed, the mysteries of godliness are truly beyond our finite imaginations, but the Lord always makes things right in the end.

The short time we have on this earth is nothing compared to the eternities in which we will be able to visit our family members on their respective celestial spheres or perhaps during celestial general conference.

Had Susan disobeyed the counsel of the Lord's anointed prophets and selfishly sought to spend the last few years of her mother's life together, she may have missed out on the blessing of having an eternal family unit.

Blessed be the name of our God!

Brother Heber said...

The inspiration that flows forth from the Church Office Building is truly a testimony to the truthfulness of the restoration of Christ's Church.
To change the manual to allow this sister two conversations with her mother is surely a testimony to that Joseph saw what he said he saw.
The church is true.

Brother Heber said...

I was wondering if our inspired leaders have changed their direction on the adoption of African American children by white parents?
I understand they were fence sitters in the pre-existance but with all the changes in the new handbook I wondered if God has changed his council in this regard?
I am but a lowly servant of Christ in the capacity of Young Men's president and am not allowed access to the manuals. I feel I am meant for bigger and better things in the Lord's church but am being held back by the more liberal cafeteria members in my ward. But I digress.

Anonymous said...

I was adopted then reunited with my birth-mom in 1989. Whew.... Looks like I missed that divine brethern intervention in 90's. We were the second in utah to reunite! For me it was nothing but divine intervention! But had the brethern said not to do that God would have had to backed off & I wouldn't have the wonderful relationship I do now.

My "real" mom is the mother who raised me & fortunately she loved me enough to support me to fill that missing piece in finding my birth-mom. They even met... It went great! This was a gift from God!!!

I'm glad the brethern didn't interfere!

- Sister Sweetie

Anonymous said...

It's good for us to all remember that the Lord and his servants can require anything of us: our time, our talents, our emotions, our psychological well being, our futures, our savings, even our very lives, if asked. (I for one, am willing to do all of this and more, much more if asked.)

This sister's obedience in following the brethren, even though the counsel changed over the years, is testament to her faithfulness. Faithfulness that was more than amply rewarded by the fact that she eventually did meet her mom before she died. I'm sure if she had met her earlier it would have turned out bad, because she wouldn't have been on the Lord's side of the line, but because she waited she had a chance to preach the gospel. When someone is sick, vulnerable and near death, this can be a very successful time to make converts.

And really, even if the mom had died before they had a chance to meet, just imagine the sweet and lovely reunion they would have had on the other side of the veil one day. (Assuming the mom eventually accepted the gospel and her temple work was done for her, and that she didn't refuse the missionaries in this life if she ever had the chance, that is.)

My fellow brothers and sisters. I humbly bear my witness that it all works out in the end as long as we follow the brethren. Whether they are right (which they always are anyway) or sometimes need to make minute, tiny, insignificant changes in policy, we are truly blessed either way. "Whether by my own voice, or the voice of my servants, it is the same!"

What a blessing to live in these latter days when true prophets, seers, and revelators are here to pretty much tell us everything to do. It makes life so much easier and fulfilling.

Thank you President Paternoster for your wise counsel. You truly have the gift of discernment.

P.S. It's so funny, but whenever I read your blog I feel certain we where friends, or dare I say, even sons of the same Heavenly Mother in the pre-existence. Does the spirit whisper the same to you?

Your brother in compassionate correlation of all proper policies, Bro. Hyrum Christensen.

Delbert F. Uckdorf said...

In situations like this where the Lord reveals to His servants a new inspired policy to replace the previous inspired policy, it is important not to forget all the related inspired counsel that has not been rescinded. For example, if an LDS birth mother is approached by her biological son, and he identifies himself as being afflicted with the tragic condition known as Same-Sex Attraction, she can love and associate with him, but only withing the strict bounds the Lord hath set through his inspired servants. Specifically, she should make clear to her SSA afflicted son that if they are ever seen around town with her son's boyfriend, her son should not expect her to introduce her son's boyfriend to their friends and acquaintances. The same goes for adopted children who meet a birth parent who has since become afflicted with SSA. So in our rejoicing over this new inspired policy, brothers and sisters, let's not get carried away and become complacent, but be ever vigilant to continue to observe all other inspired counsel until it is reversed by new inspired counsel.

Cindy said...

I think you did well discussing the concerns that could come from a child contacting their birth mother. It seems that Susan was well prepared for this meeting and some may see it as a tragedy that the contact did not happen sooner. However, it was after your council for her to fast and pray about the situation that she decided not to. Sometimes we make decisions which we think we feel good about but forget to include God in the process. I'm sure this sweet sister's faith was strengthened as she saw how the holy spirit had prompted you to call her right away and how this allowed her to see her mother before she died.
I'm not sure how things would have turned out has she decided to ignore her feelings of uneasiness about going against the council of the leaders but what she did get was an amazing experience that probably brought her closer to her Savior and one she will cherish forever.

Anonymous said...

I feel that possibly some here are not sincere in their comments and may be violating the rule against being "light minded".

Just because God has made a change that we don't understand, that doesn't mean the prior policy was wrong. It may be a situation similar to that of the Negro and the priesthood. In that case, obviously God ran out of unworthy spirits to send into the Black bodies that people were making.

Though we don't know in this case due to the lack of relevant scripture, couldn't it be that the spirits being sent into bodies destined for adoption, are also now more valiant, and therefore also deserve a different set of rules?

Do not mock what you do not understand.

☼ Dayna said...

Even though it seems a tragedy that Susan knew her birth mother for but a short moment in time, think of the many blessings that will be bestowed upon Susan now and in the eternities as she follows the prophet's counsel to do her family history.

She now has an entirely new branch of souls to track down and give them their chance for eternal happiness as she performs their work in the Holy Temple.

In this life, even if a window of opportunity closes, the door to the temple is always open.

Spencer said...

I'm not seeing what the big deal is. But then again, I apparently chose not to come to earth as an adopted child, so I may be biased.

But whether the issue is truly important or not, it's one of policy, not doctrine. Policies and procedures come and go with the times, as we have seen in the Handbook of Instructions.

But fundamental doctrines such as exaltation, celestial marriage, the Godhead, etc are eternal and NEVER change. And yes, that is also in the Handbook.

Joseph K. Packer said...

It is good that Susan was obedient to the word of the leaders of the church which is the same as the word of the almighty God. Had she not paid attention to the leaders of the church of God she would have burned in hell or suffer a horrifying illness. But since she was obedient to the leaders then she will be blessed and not tormented for an eternity.

Stake Pres. said...

Thank you for all the comments.

Brother Heber as YM pres you should have the manual. If not you may still access it on, I have provided a link as a note at the end of this blog post.

Hyrum Christensen I’m sure we were friends in the pre-existence.

The Church is true Brothers and Sisters.

Welltraveledpair said...

Spencer, I have to correct your last statement. Fundamental doctrines do change as God reveals more light and truth to his servants, the prophets. Until 1836, God chose to let Joseph believe in the Trinity. Clear references to God being a "spirit," Jesus being the incarnation of God, and the Holy Ghost being the "mind" of God are found in the Lectures on Faith in the 1835 Book of Commandments, Joseph's re-translation of the Bible, and in his sermons. Then, in 1836, the Lord reminded Joseph that in 1820, he (Joseph) had seen the Father and the Son as separate, glorified beings. This allowed Joseph to start to write the inspired version of the First Vision that we use today.

With regard to Celestial Marriage, the Lord chosen to reveal his truth in an incremental manner as well. In 1836, He gave Joseph permission to have his way with his live-in Nanny, Fanny Alger, before he revealed the true nature of the New and Everlasting Covenant of Polygamy in 1843 (Joseph's affair with Fanny "prepared him" for Polygamy, as Richard Bushman would say). Later, he eliminated the "polygamy" part in 1890 and then "for real" when he authorized his prophet to excommunicate John W. Taylor (the son of prophet, John Taylor) in 1911, officially ending the practice in the LDS church.

With regard to exaltation, the Lord revealed to Brigham that (1) the Father came to earth as Adam and (2) was continuing to progress in knowledge and power, creating a rift with some of the apostles who hadn't been so enlightened. After Brigham died, the Lord chose to reverse these doctrine.

The Lord works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.

Anonymous said...

Pater obviously has WAY to much time on his nosters.

Anonymous said...

Kory you are so right on! Do you have anymore on similar issues about the mysterious wonders God performs? I think my dad should see!

Molly said...

Damn you Paternoster, damn you to hell! I see right through you. If only the Danites were still a viable tool in the Lord's hands and Blood Atonement was still in effect....

Stake Pres. said...

You would have me killed Molly?

anonymous78 said...

I am sure that is not what she meant President, you are following all of the church guidelines and using official church sources. I think she sees you are nearing the pure clarity that comes with sainthood (very white and delightsome), for she can see right through you. Maybe if she could shake your hand she would realize the difference between an evil spirit and the spirit of God?

Stake Pres. said...

This is true anonymous78. I hadn't looked at it that way. Then I should thank dear Molly for her faith and righteousness.

anonymous78 said...

Exactly, she is just confused over discerning between the spirit of God and the spirit of Satan. They look and act very similar. (She responded correctly for a spirit of Satan, although involving a priesthood leader would have been more appropriate).

Danites and Blood Atonement were only necessary to remove the spirit of Satan; once she learns the difference--which can be very difficult--handshakes are essential here, she will see right through you with clarity, knowing you carry the spirit of God.

You may want to refer her back to your previous blog post, I think it will help: