Guest Post: A Blessing Withheld — A Letter to my Area Authority

by Hope

Preface: This is a letter I never sent; I have instead chosen to publish it here because I believe it will ultimately do more good to tell the story widely.

Dear Elder,

Recently, my infant son was given a name and a blessing by his father. My husband, concerned for our child and thoughtful of how to make this moment special for our entire family, requested that I hold our son during the blessing. I consented with a full heart. We requested permission and our bishop agreed that it would be a good way to bless our willful and older-than-typical child; we felt the grace of God in his response. It was minutes (or perhaps hours) before the blessing was scheduled to occur that we received word from our apologetic bishop that this decision, so carefully and prayerfully considered, blessed by the Spirit of God, had been vetoed by you, our area authority.

We have not met, so you cannot know what it had meant to us, to present our child to God jointly (even with me sitting down, as to avoid even the semblance of priestesshood). You cannot know the great reverence with which we regard his birth. The event of his baby blessing ought to have been cause for celebration and joy, but for us it was neither.

It is my hope that, upon reading this, you will better understand the needless pain and offense that the church causes mothers by systematically excluding us from the naming and blessing of our children. I hope you will be our advocate with those in authority to make decisions that affect change.

It feels like the greatest offering of your heart is crushed violently beneath careless feet.

It feels like the widow’s mite that is mocked and rejected.

It feels like all we have been told, about men and women holding the priesthood together, eternally, as a family unit, is  a big, fat lie.

It feels like motherhood, the calling of our hearts, which extracts its price dearly in the currency of sleep, heartache, tears, milk, and blood, is regarded as nothing.

It feels like an eternity of separation.

It feels like being betrayed.

It feels like being stoically, silently cloistered.

It feels like being diminished.

It feels like being shamed.

I had heard women before express their sorrow and dismay at similar circumstances, but I was still surprised when it happened to me. That morning, my heart broke, and I am still putting together the pieces. Someday we will have another baby, and I do not expect that we will present that child before the church. What a shame; how lovely it could be!

Yours respectfully,

Hope

(photo by National Library of Ireland on The Commons (Christening Day) [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons)

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29 Responses

  1. Liz says:

    Hope, I’m so sorry that this happened to you. It’s needlessly hurtful and abusive. I wish this story were less common than it is.

    • Hope says:

      Thank you, Liz. In all my experiences of sexism in the church, this was the first that was actually an act of spiritual violence. I’ve also been so surprised at how common it is.

  2. Happy Hubby says:

    I appreciate that you posted this, but didn’t actually send it.

    I assume you don’t mind if others (such as myself) send this on in our name (not connecting you or this site) and express how heartbroken I am to hear a sister’s heart being broken.

    • Hope says:

      Please do! I still might decide to correspond with this gentleman, and I think that anytime that someone in a position of authority can understand the pain of those they serve, it is better for us all.

  3. Doe says:

    Your last two sentences send an important message! You are powerful!

  4. Aimee says:

    The action of this leader was needlessly heartbreaking and unnecessarily interventionist. Thank you for following the spirit and trying to do what was right by your son. And thanks for sharing it here. I hope it will help soften some hearts hardened by their own authority.

    • Hope says:

      I think this is my biggest criticism of the situation, also. I, too, hope that this piece that I wrote from that place will help leaders understand that the symbolism of this small thing is really a big thing.

  5. Ziff says:

    Wow, this is powerful. Thanks for sharing it. I’m so sorry that you were stopped from holding your baby. It’s absurd that leaders are so afraid of women’s cooties that they can’t even permit this simple method of participation

  6. Caroline says:

    This is just awful. I think one of the things that makes me feel most hopeless and demoralized as a Mormon feminist is seeing this sort of thing happen, of seeing women marginalized and excluded in the church FOR NO GOOD REASON. It doesn’t take priesthood to hold a baby during a blessing. There’s no reason a woman shouldn’t conduct a baptism service. There’ no reason a woman shouldn’t be Sunday School President or Ward Mission Leader or any number of other callings that have somehow accrued to priesthood holders. This situation with you being denied the chance to hold your baby during a blessing seems particularly cruel. I’m so sorry — and so outraged — that this happened.

    • Hope says:

      It is frustrating to see such simple examples of pointless sexism. It’s so hard to defend the church when things like this are commonplace.

  7. Roger Andersen says:

    I just wish the Bishop in this case had understood how to at most ask for forgiveness (and ideally, not even that) rather than permission. I wish he could just have let it go. Mine would have.

    • Hope says:

      That is my wish also. That bishop was, in many ways, exemplary, and one of the more hurtful things about this situation was that it felt like he did not defend me when the church told him to do something that would be hurtful to me and to my family.

  8. Lily says:

    There is probably no way to say this without sounding mean, so let me apologize in advance. Women NOT participating in baby blessings is standard operating procedure. I’m surprised that you were surprised. And while I understand you were disappointed and this was probably painful, the laundry list you created is simply too over the top. This is one reason that Mormon Feminists, and I say this as a Mormon Feminist, are often not taken seriously. There are simply too many things in this world that are heart breaking and soul crushing for us to use this type of strong language to describe this situation.

    • Hope says:

      I actually hadn’t planned on holding our son to bless him because I knew it was iffy. I had heard stories of women being stopped right up in front of the Sacrament meeting, which is why I told my husband he needed to get permission beforehand (he genuinely did not think permission was necessary, and didn’t believe we would face any difficulty at all). I also didn’t want to insert myself and pretend like the ritual is egalitarian when it isn’t (even if I privately believe it should be). But I had witnessed older babies in wards with rule-following bishops be held by their mothers. And so when my husband asked me to hold our son (who, due to circumstances beyond our control, was also an older baby), I said that I would if our bishop gave permission.

      I also agree with your general criticism that strong language shouldn’t be used in situations that don’t warrant it. I don’t think this situation would have inspired such strong language from me, either, if I hadn’t felt such assurance that God approved of our arrangement, and if the rug hadn’t been pulled out from under us at the (literal) last moment. Our bishop could have been quietly corrected after the fact. I genuinely don’t believe it even occurred to my leaders that it would be anything more than a disappointment to me, when in fact it was surprisingly and powerfully hurtful to have my church leaders act so contrary to my witness from the spirit and without understanding that what they were doing was violent.

  9. Risa says:

    After a lifetime LDS church attendance, I started attending a nondenominational Christian church a couple years ago. When children are dedicated the entire family is brought up on stage, the children’s ministry pastor (a woman) reads a Scripture the family has chosen for their child and the Lead Pastor says a prayer over all the children. It’s beautiful and simple and no one is excluded. It hurts my heart that in the LDS church women are continually excluded in the important rituals of their children’s lives because they are women.

  10. Andrew R. says:

    I would be interested to know why this wasn’t sent. I understand publishing it here, but why did you not send it?

    • Hope says:

      I have had this debate with myself many times, and there are several versions of this letter in my notes. I still may send one of them, but I feel like I haven’t yet composed the right one for our situation.

      It’s hard to tell your priesthood leader that you felt God apologize to you for the thing they did in his name. I’m still trying to find the right way to do that.

      • Andrew R. says:

        In my opinion, as unimportant as it is, I think you one you posted is a version you could send. It is perhaps a little over the top with this list of feelings – but they are your feelings and expressing them does no harm.

        I don’t know if you know your Area Authority personally. I have had the pleasure of meeting with many of them. Some are much better than others – especially those of more mature years. I have been friends with two before their call. They are just men, most have been stake presidents, though not all, and all know they are human beings.

        If his response to this is anything less than, “sorry I can’t do anything more”, then you have lost nothing. Anything more is a bonus. If he starts to get upperty then I would send the letter and response to the member of the seventy (or area president) overseeing him.

        Sure, he just followed policy. And I suspect that the brethren are well aware of where many sit with this policy. But that doesn’t mean that telling him how this affects you will not be beneficial – even if it doesn’t change policy.

  11. J says:

    So, if a baby is sick and needs a blessing the mother can’t hold her baby during the blessing?!! I don’t see how baby blessings are any different. They are not a required ordinance, right?

    • J says:

      And, if you got permission to bless your baby at home, would it even matter? It seems like a cultural thing to me.

      • Hope says:

        Your arguments are my arguments. Also, I’m pretty sure the only problem the church has is with women holding the baby for a public ritual (as opposed to a home blessing), which just feels hypocritical.

  12. aredthread says:

    Our previous bishop actually suggested that women should hold their babies as a way to include them in the blessing. We didn’t think there were any more babies in our future at the time, but we went on to have another and he was blessed last Christmas Day. Even though we have a different bishop now, it never occurred to me to ask him if I could hold my own baby during his blessing. After all, my holding him and keeping him calm had nothing to do with the actual ordinance and everything to do with being his mother.

    I held my toddlers on my lap for their blessings after we adopted them, too. I think women should just do this if they choose. We’re no more part of the ordinance just sitting there than the kid holding the microphone is. There’s absolutely nothing disrespectful or inappropriate about this practice, and it’s certainly nothing that should require permission from anyone.

  13. throwawayaddy says:

    I’m always saddened when I hear stories like this.

    Not bragging or rubbing it in: we blessed all 4 of my children at home with family and friends around (all of the children between the age of 6-10 mo.– due to the fact that they are all adopted and all the legal ends needs to be tied up before blessing).

    My wife held every chubby, squirming, one of them, without question and without a second look. The only question I ever got was from a brand new bishop who asked if he could check the handbook and see if I could do it at home instead of Sac Mtg. 10 minutes later he said that at-home was fine.

    I’ve had a bishopric member present for 1 of them (invited as a friend, 1 assigned to attend to be a witness from the aforementioned brand new bishop), and nobody said anything.

    It makes me so sad/mad that mothers get denied this for no specific, established, written, doctrinal reason, and that so many people think it has to be standard operating procedure, including the area authority.

    For future mothers/events: Don’t even bother to ask. Just do it. If confronted, ask to see the leadership manual paragraph that says you can’t.

    Not that this helps. Sorry.

    • Andrew R. says:

      Actually there is a “specific, established, written” policy. It is in Handbook 2, 20.2.2.
      “When blessing a baby, Melchizedek Priesthood holders gather in a circle and place their hands under the baby. When blessing an older child, brethren place their hands lightly on the child’s head.”

      So, the mother could hold the baby in such a way as the brethren could “place their hands under the baby”. However, this would be awkward. I therefore understand why some bishops, not wanting to make a mistake, might not allow it.

      Personally, I don’t care. If I was asked, and I was a Bishop, I would probably let it go – but I would also be worried about backlash, setting a precedent, etc.

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