Guest Post: What Would You Have Said?

Circle of Promise by Synthia Saint James

by Emily U

My baby girl was recently blessed at home.  It was a very small gathering, with just my family, our bishop, and our home teacher present.  Our extended families listened in via Skype.  After the blessing, my almost 4 year old son started crying.  I asked what was wrong and he said he wanted to stand in the circle, too.  He’d felt left out of what he sensed was an important event.  Our bishop kindly told him that was a righteous desire, and some day he’d be able to.

Fast forward a few months, and my son still wants to talk about why he couldn’t participate in his sister’s blessing.  He asked me this morning why children can’t stand in blessing circles, and I replied that you have to be an adult.  Then I thought I’d better tell him the whole story, and I said, “And you have to have the priesthood.”  To which he replied, “Why can’t mommies be in the circle?”

I wasn’t prepared for this question, and was surprised it would occur to such a young mind.  My husband just smiled and shrugged, as if to say “I’m not touching this one.”  So I told my son the truth:  I do not know why mommies can’t stand in the circle.  It’s just a rule our church has.  Maybe some day mommies will be able to.

I felt like it was a totally unsatisfying answer, but he accepted it.  I have a nagging feeling like I failed him in the answer I gave, but in thinking more about it, I don’t know what else I should have said.  So I’d like to know, what would this community of bright, independent-minded people tell their children when they ask questions like this?

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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44 Responses

  1. Teal says:

    I would have told him that Mommy got to grow the baby inside of her for 9 whole months while Daddy had to wait for the baby to come out to meet her, and that the blessing (and later, her baptism and confirmation) are Daddy’s chance to do something special for his sister. Everybody needs different ways to play a part in a baby’s life that are special and sacred, and when he is older, he too will get to bless his babies and his wife will get to carry them. Then I would explain to him all the ways he gets to play a special role in his sister’s life.

  2. Molly says:

    This will sound harsh, but I think the more important question is why do parents accept bigoted practises and perform them in front of their children, who in their innocence can see how exclusionary they are?

    • Janna says:

      I think your point is really interesting, and effectively, turns our pointing finger back on us. By participating in the practice, we communicate that it’s “okay”. So, how do we handle the desire to have our children blessed by the gift of the priesthood and still uphold our disgust of the bias surrounding it? It’s tough.

  3. Caroline says:

    Emily U, I think you handled the question pretty well, actually. I give you credit for saying that you don’t know why women aren’t in the circle. I think it’s safer to say that than to create justifications for why women aren’t involved.

    And as for the question about what I would do, this would probably never come up for me since my husband and I do at home blessings in which we both hold the baby together.

    But if he were witnessing a more traditional blessing and wondering why women can’t be involved, I’d say that it’s a current practice that only men do baby blessings, but that I hope that practice changes someday. That it would be wonderful for men, women, and children to participate in this very special blessing for the baby. And that when he grows older and has a baby, he and his wife can decide together if they want to include women and children in the circle in their home.

    • cchrissyy says:

      Besides pointing out that we don’t know why, I always talk about how every church is different and in this one, women don’t do that but in other churches, they do.

      That way it’s not anything wrong with the women, it’s just a difference in church practice.

      Also, we do actually visit churches where girls and women have visibly roles up front, so the kids understand that reality.

      • ESO says:

        Do you point out that other Church’s don’t have the same kind of Priesthood? It seems that would be an important inclusion.

      • cchrissyy says:

        ESO, I’m not quite sure how you mean that, but if i understand your question, no I don’t point that out because I don’t believe that way.

      • cchrissyy says:

        I wanted to add, I’m not only talking about priesthood/pastorship and churches that have women priests. I’m also talking about visible roles for girls, such as acolytes, scripture readers, and taking part in entrance processions or bearing of gifts to the alter.

        For instance, when I was 8 or 10 and attending a conservative Lutheran church with a male pastor and a leadership council made up all of elders, I was an acolyte, which is like an alter girl/boy, wearing robes and lighting the candles at the very beginning of the service.

        Later, as a young adult in Catholic church, I was a “Eucharistic minister” , a job which puts you right up by the alter during the consecration of communion, puts you 1st to receive it (other than the priest) and then you take the bread or wine forward and distribute it to the congregation, which includes for instance saying “the Body of Christ” as you present it to each person in line, and offering a blessing on the head of any who come up but do not partake.

        My point is that even churches without female clergy do have obvious and important roles “up front” for women and girls.

        On a tangent, there was also a life-size statue of Mary near the alter of that 2nd church. How’s that for demonstrating a real-life woman with a celebrated, crucial role, put front-and-center during a worship service without needing it to be priesthood?
        : )

  4. Emily U says:

    Teal – Yes, it would have been a good opportunity to tell my son about some ways he can play a special role in his sister’s life. I’ll try to work that in some time…

    Molly – Um, not helpful.

    Caroline – I wish I’d done what you did, having both me and my husband hold the baby. And including my older child would have been nice as well. A week after our baby blessing I went to one in a friend’s home where the mother and father held the baby while their older son stood beside them within the circle. It was beautiful, and reminded me of the concept of eternal families.

    On another note, in thinking about my bishop’s comment that it was a righteous desire to want to stand in the circle, I wonder what he would have said if my son had been a girl? This touches on a core question about women and the priesthood. Is it a righteous desire to want to hold the priesthood, or a power grab? I think it’s the former, but I’m sure not everyone does.

    • Ziff says:

      On another note, in thinking about my bishop’s comment that it was a righteous desire to want to stand in the circle, I wonder what he would have said if my son had been a girl?

      Yeah, that stuck out to me too. If it were a girl who had asked, would that make it a wicked desire?? Ridiculous.

  5. Alisa says:

    If your son had been a girl, your bishop would have answered like Teal, I bet. This is how my parents answered it. I don’t accept that biological motherhood compares to Priesthood at all. Men experience physical changes to be fathers (climax and ejaculation at conception, elevated prolactin levels during their partner’s pregnancy, etc.). I think the biological rewards of becoming a father are so great, and I dislike how they are downplayed by the Church. My husband stays at home with our son, and I see how they’ve bonded and attached to each other. Add to it that my husband does all the Priesthood ordinances on top of being the stay-at-home parent, and my 9-month long biological role is definitely more minimal in comparison to my husband’s full-time nurturing in the last year when my son is actually conscious and needs a parent to imprint on.

    EmilyU, I think there’s a lot of power in saying you don’t know but you choose to be faithful anyway, and letting your child hope that things can change.

    • Shawn says:

      I think that “letting your child hope that things can change” is setting up for an even more painful and disenfranchising experience later in life when he/she realizes that things haven’t changed, may never change, and that you sold them on an unrealizable dream. If a child questioned why two men or two women could not be sealed together, even if they loved each other, even if they were legally married (in the states where that is allowed) would you encourage them to hope that could change in the future? Certainly there are some things (procedural) that may change in time, but there are some fundamental doctrinal things that likely will not change any time soon, if ever.

  6. CatherineWO says:

    A year ago I attended the temple sealing of an adopted child to his parents. Their older child (then six years old) was able to be there with them and was invited to stand next to his mother during the sealing. Also, a grandmother held the baby on the altar. It seems incongruent to me that at a sealing other family members could be part of the “circle” though they were not part of the ceremony, but in a baby blessing, women and children are not allowed to be part of the group.
    As for what to say to the four-year-old’s question, I think you handled it well Emily. That’s a tough one.

    • Alisa says:

      This really is a threadjack to talk about this presentation here, but it’s riddled with problems and is incongruent with the temple ceremony.

      First, there’s a lot in here I’ve heard before, notably collected in Beverly Campbell’s Eve and the Choice Made in Eden. This book talks about how LDS theology praises and exalts Eve for her righteous choice. This is what I’ve often been taught growing up in the Church, and I think it’s wonderful. However, this is totally contradictory to the temple ceremony. My problem with this presenation is she’s so excited about the “hearken” covenant Eve and all her daughters must enter into, which was only recently changed from an “obedience” covenant. She’s so excited to put a man between her and God. That, to me, is unacceptable in equal partnership. That celebration of putting her husband above her in the heirarchy is problematic. It cannot be equal.

      One, of many things that’s problematic is that she clearly defines that equal partnership only applies to how men and women lead in the home. What she basically describes is that men will lead everywhere in the world, in business, in the Church, and they will also be equal partners with their wives in the domestic sphere too. Wives will only have the domestic sphere, and they will share their leadership there equally with their husbands. I don’t see this as a feminist argument.

      Ordinances of the 1st tree (the tree of knowledge): she defines the ordinances of the first tree as those of Eve’s stewardship, which are menstruation, childbirth, lactation. These are the ordinances of the body, she says, and belong to women’s stewardship. The ordienances of the 2nd tree (tree of life) are Priesthood ordiances, the stewardship of Adam, of men. This is just a creative way of saying men need the Priesthood to balance the sexual power of women. It negates biological processes in men that mirror those of women. Why does she ignore the onset of men’s nocturnal emissions, their ejaculation resulting in the creation of life, and their development of prolactin as they lay with their pregnant wives (which works for men like oxytocin does for women and gives them protective impulses and makes them highly sensitive to their newborn baby’s cries)? Negating men from the ordinances of the first tree, which is to deny their biological changes and ways they participate in creating life, is equally bad of denying woman’s Priestesshood, ordinances of the 2nd tree.

      • ZD Eve says:

        According to Campbell, menstruation is, an _ordinance_?

        Oh, good grief. I’m definitely going to have to take a look at this for myself.

      • Emily U says:

        ZDEve,

        Here’s the relevant quote from Hudson Cassler:

        “Priesthood is a man’s apprenticeship to become a heavenly father, and I believe that women have their own apprenticeship to become like their heavenly mother. The ordinance—and they are ordinances—of body and of agency—pregnancy, childbirth, lactation—the spiritual ordinances of the First Tree are not less powerful or spiritual than the ordinances of the Second Tree. Women have their own godly power.”

        If pregnancy is an ordinance, then she’s using a very different definition of that word than everyone else uses. That’s got to be the most creative way of saying women perform ordinances that I’ve yet heard….

    • Alisa says:

      Yes, I’m still thinking about this and the problems this creates. One more is that she is saying that b/c Adam hearkened to Eve (one man hearkening to one woman), it’s totally fair that all women hereafter need to hearken to all men. Each man in the current Church is not taking the fall by first hearkening to his wife, and in fact the Church ensures that each woman takes the covenant to hearken her husband before she is sealed to him in the temple, meaning that her temple marriage is formed with her always-already committed to hearkeining to him (and he does not have to take Adam’s fall of hearkeining to her when they are first sealed). This one place where the phenomenology breaks down with making each of us an Adam and Eve – Adam and Eve were married before the fall, but temple-sealed couples are not usually already married before they put themselves in the physical space of Adam and Eve and go through those motions.

      For instance, here’s the story of Adam and Eve:

      1. Eve fell
      2. Eve talked to Adam
      3. Adam hearkened
      4. Adam fell
      5. Eve was told to hearken to Adam, since Adam had first hearkened to her

      But here’s what most women in today’s Church experience:

      1. “Eve” goes through the endowment ceremony
      2. “Eve” submits and says she will hearken to her husband
      3. “Eve” gives her future husband her new name
      4. “Eve” gets sealed and hearkens to her husband

      It’s just not fair to say that all men have first hearkened to their wives and should be subject to the stewardships reserved for the actual Adam and Eve. I find her idea is also in violation of the principle behind the 2nd article of faith (if we’re meant to apply that “men” means humankind and “Adam’s transgression” mean’s the Fall of Adam and Eve). In addition, women hearkening to men, she says, is a type of consequence of the fall. I do not understand why the restored gospel/kingdom of God would want to enforce the conditions of the fall, when a good case could be made that b/c of the Atonement, the Fall has been overcome, as well as social structure brought with it that places men above women. Why couldn’t equity between male and female be a part of Christ’s atonement and the restoration of the gospel? Why must we submit to just-after-the-fall conditions in the Kingdom of God? Especially as society and the Earth are moving away from this consequence by giving equity to both sexes (slowly moving, but faster than the Kingdom)?

      • Caroline says:

        “Why couldn’t equity between male and female be a part of Christ’s atonement and the restoration of the gospel? Why must we submit to just-after-the-fall conditions in the Kingdom of God?”

        That’s my question too. Why on earth are we commanded to follow a fallen world idea? Shouldn’t we be aiming for the equality that existed before the fall?

    • Alisa says:

      Sorry, EmilyU, for threadjacking, but I had to respond to these ideas about men’s Priesthood being necessary to balance women’s sexuality. Men have sexuality too, let’s not deny that in trying to make excuses for why men give baby blessings and women do not.

      • spunky says:

        I support your thoughs in regard to this Alisa. I personally found Campbell’s book interesting- but… the parts that I found interesting involved none of her thoughts or ideas. She pretty much copied and pasted the majority of thought in regard to Eve from Jewish historians, which I found made strong feminist points. When Campbell tried to support the argument with her own thoughts, I found her statements weak and well…useless. I personally see issue in offereng a blessing through a prayer as a woman– after all don’t all of us “bless” the food at meals? I suppose the circle signifies a unified family blessing, but I see no more authority in a male centrific ritual than I do in a women’s prayer circle, therefore, if the ritual doesn’t work for you, I say skip it. I mean really- is a child any less “blessed” if they are given a blessing in (male) ritual compared to a blessing offered in a (female/child/family/male) prayer? To say so implies that prayer is weak, or at least weaker. And I do NOT believe that one bit.

      • Emily U says:

        No need to apologize, Alisa. I appreciate your thoughts on this. I think Valerie Hudson Cassler makes some good points, but I think your point about men and women living the conditions that existed right after the fall is a better one. Why, indeed, in a post-atonement world, would those conditions be clung to?

  7. wondering says:

    This might be a little bit off topic, but how do you have a baby blessing at home? Does the bishop have to be present? If so, what would happen if you told your bishop you blessed the baby at home without him present–would it still go on the records (or do baby blessings not go on records anyway)? When you have it at home, is the mother allowed to hold the baby (like you said you did, Caroline)? Sorry for all the questions, but I have heard people talk about having blessings at home and don’t understand the protocol.

    • Emily U says:

      We asked for the bishop’s permission, and he readily agreed to let us have it at home. He didn’t have to be there, but we invited him to. We have a blessing certificate and my daughter is a child of record. At my friend’s home blessing, a member of the bishopric was there, but I think this was in the capacity of a friend rather than in an official capacity. I’m not sure what the General Handbook says about who holds the baby, but I know of a few mothers who’ve done it.

      Caroline – did you ask for your bishop’s approval regarding holding the baby, or just do what you felt was right for your family?

      • Jessawhy says:

        I think a member of the Bishopric has to be at home baby blessings (although I don’t think there was one when we blessed our sons out of state . . .) Perhaps it depends on the bishop.

    • Caroline says:

      Wondering,
      Here’s how it worked for us. We had the blessing at home with all our friends and family present. We didn’t get the blessing certificate because in order to get that you need the bishop or a counselor present. I personally don’t care about that (it’s just good for scrapbooking), so we just did the blessing the way we wanted to and then had the clerk enter our child in as a child of record.

      A baby blessing is not a saving ordinance, so it really doesn’t matter if you do it “officially” (i.e. in the presence of the bish) or if you do it unofficially. My husband is pretty TBM, so he did inform our bishops (two kids, two different bishops) that he and I would be holding the baby while he said the words to a blessing that we wrote together. Both bishops gave their approval. They simply regarded it as a parents’ blessing, and felt like it was fine for a mom to be touching a child during a blessing. My husband did bless the child invoking the words “by the power of the Melchizedek priesthood which I hold” (didn’t say “we”) but then later he switched to “we” when he actually got to the blessing part.

  8. Teal says:

    I don’t know if I necessarily agree with the idea of practicing blind faith in front of our children in the form of “I don’t know why, but I participate anyway”- and while I agree that men do clearly have a central part in conception, their emotional role in the actual development of a child in utero is slight in comparison to a woman’s. For me this is not a justification, but a valid reason, and the baby blessing is a great vehicle for a husband to feel connected to his child, although the idea that the mother hold the baby is beautiful and appropriate.
    As to the ceremonies that take place in the temple- the idea of “hearkening to one’s husband” was not in the original covenant but came about sometime after 1930… also, most of the ceremony (including the symbols and tokens) are lifted straight from Masonic Ceremonies- they are almost identical. Do with that what you will.

    • Caroline says:

      Teal, do you have a reference for the women’s obedience covenant coming into play in the 1930’s? I had heard elsewhere that it was added in after Joseph Smith, but I couldn’t find a reference for it. Thanks!

    • Emily U says:

      I appreciate Alisa’s point that men have biological changes that accompany their partner’s pregnancy. But I agree that they’re small compared with what women go through. I do believe that growing a baby’s body is a uniquely feminine gift, and that there’s something sacred about that. And I like the idea of my husband being able to also give a gift in the form of a priesthood blessing. But I can’t follow that logic all the way into the idea that because women give physical life that men’s counterpart should be exclusive possession and exercise of priesthood. Sure, each of our mothers sacrificed greatly for us in a physical way for about 2 years through pregnancy and infancy, but why should that mean that for the rest of our lives, men must be the ones to deliver our saving ordinances?

  9. ESO says:

    I like your “I don’t know” answer. My daughter (6) has told me on several occasions where it wouldn’t have been easy to have THAT talk that I will be performing her baptism. I guess I should just get it together and have that talk.

  10. makakona says:

    caroline, we blessed baby four at church, but it was in a classroom and without any member of the bishopric present. we told them after the fact and while we had witnesses, they never asked us about them or spoke to them… just added her as a child of record and gave us a certificate a week later.

    we’re blessing baby five soon and are unsure of how we want to do it. blaaaaaah.

  11. Stephanie says:

    So I’d never heard about mothers being able to hold the baby before in a blessing, and I thought it was a beautiful idea (I’m expecting a baby girl soon, so I’d love to incorporate this idea into our plans if possible).

    However, I just looked at the church handbook and it says that “Only brethren who hold the necessary priesthood and are worthy may perform an ordinance or blessing or stand in the circle.” (http://lds.org/handbook/handbook-2-administering-the-church/priesthood-ordinances-and-blessings?lang=eng&query=baby+blessing). On another page specifically discussing baby blessing, the handbook says “only Melchizedek Priesthood holders may participate in naming and blessing children.”(http://lds.org/handbook/handbook-2-administering-the-church/priesthood-ordinances-and-blessings?lang=eng&query=baby+blessing#202).

    That seems to suggest that church doctrine prohibits women holding the baby or being in the circle, regardless of permission from a bishop, but maybe there’s another interpretation I’m missing. Thoughts?

    • Emily U says:

      I think it depends on how you define “stand in the circle.” If it’s the guys with their hands on each others shoulders, then a woman in the center of the circle wouldn’t technically be standing in the circle. But that’d only be important if you were worried about following the letter of the handbook law, and I’d take exception to the idea that everything in the handbook is doctrine 😉

    • Caroline says:

      Hi Stephanie,
      Yes, current church policy (not doctrine) is that only priesthood holders stand in the circle for an official baby blessing. Which is why we didn’t do an official one. We did what might be considered an unofficial parents’ blessing, though it was identical in form to a formal baby blessing — with the exception that my husband did not give a “name” to the baby. He just blessed the baby as we both held her. That was the compromise we made in order to appease my husband’s TBM relatives.

      Think of it this way — if the baby was sick and needed a blessing, would there be anything wrong with the mom holding it while the dad gave a blessing? That’s how our bishops conceived of this blessing we did. And like I said, they both gave their approval (though I personally didn’t see why my husband felt like he needed to get it.)

      I think there’s actually a lot more flexibility out there if people are creative and talk about it. Depending on your bishop, and depending on the amount you plan and prepare before you talk to him, I imagine you could also get permission to do something like this, if you were interested.

      • PostScript says:

        I know people reading this blog don’t really want to hear this, but it is indeed a doctrine, not just a policy:

        D&C 20:70

        “Every member of the church of Christ having children is to bring them unto the elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name.”

      • Caroline says:

        postscript:
        Exactly. Every member is to bring the children forward. Why can’t the mother and father bring the child forward, the mother hold the child, while the elders bless? I see lots of room in the D and C passage to include women more.

  12. ssj says:

    I thought your answer was perfect, especially for a 4 year old. This issue is obviously very complex and you can tell him about that when his cognitive development is more advanced and he can understand it better. However in the end, it all comes down to what you told him. We don’t know why women don’t have the priesthood…. we just don’t have it.

  13. Georgia says:

    I had a friend who held her baby during the blessing.

    This is a little off topic, but kindof the same thing… When I was 9 years old we went to the temple and had my little sister sealed to the family. She had been adopted. During the sealing I vividly remember them asking the family to come to the alter, and when I approached the person said “Oh, not you.”

    That has always bothered me, I realize that I was already sealed to my parents but not being allowed to participate was something that always stuck with me. I still don’t get why the ceremony is done this way, and it seems the same with blessings.

  14. Hannah says:

    I haven’t read all the comments, but I’d like to add this. It may or may not be relevent to add that I’m from the UK. I don’t know.

    Over here I’ve witnessed several naming blessings where the mother held the child in the circle, while the priesthood placed their hands on the baby to bless it. I’ve also witnessed the naming blessing of two adopted children, each of which sat on their new mothers lap during the blessings.

    I know the women aren’t participating in the actual blessing of the child, but they are included within the circle.

    I don’t think there’s any reason why a mother or another child couldn’t be included in this way, it’s just down to the individual bishop how (in)flexible he wants to be about it.

  15. Sarah says:

    Oh sigh. Well there are a lot of ideas. I thought that FAIR article was weird. But I am open to new ideas. I consider it though, that its something I will have to experience. I’m young, dating seriously, for 8 months, not married yet, so I still have yet to have the temple experience.

  16. jan smith says:

    I’m pretty comfortable with not knowing things. I’ve had kids in primary and Sunday school and at home ask “why” questions about the priesthood, and my answer has always been, “I don’t know; what do you think?” I kind of like not being expected to know the answers to everything. And as I age, and have even fewer answers, I worry even less. I care less about many things and more about few things. I care more about looking at my lovely Delphiniums and less about my vegetable garden not being ready this year. I also care less about who is ordained to a priesthood office and who is not. I’m pretty sure the reason I don’t really care is that whatever the answers may be, I will keep doing what I do and living how I live.

    One of the questions I’ve had is why anyone needs the priesthood when, with no special permission, they can have faith. Recently I have found an answer. This is only one answer, and certainly not definitive. My husband and I have a son (I’ll call him PJ) with a genetic abnormality, which causes a variety of difficulties. He struggles with social interactions and is sometimes annoying. He’s easily frustrated and confused by the mass of data constantly swirling around him. When he was 14 we moved into a quite remarkable ward and became acquainted with the priesthood leaders.

    The bishop talked to us about PJ, and made it clear that he would follow our lead regarding any kind of priesthood ordinations. After a few weeks in the ward we decided this was a good time for PJ to move into that social realm of ordained boys. The young men’s leaders talked to us about PJ and welcomed him into their classes. The young men made a point of saying hello to him wherever they saw him and inviting him to activities and their birthday parties. The boys and their leaders taught PJ how to pass and prepare the sacrament. When he passed, they gave him an assignment he was likely to manage without excessive frustration. Because he liked doing “door duty” during sacrament meeting, they frequently gave him that as an assignment. PJ doesn’t really belong with any group of children. As part of a priesthood organization, a group of boys embraced PJ, a strange and somewhat lost boy, and gave him a place to belong.

    Whether or not people should be kind to each other is not particularly relevant to me. It is relevant that these boys are kind. My favorite church song says, “Jesus said love everyone, treat them kindly too.” I still don’t care who is ordained to do what. But I’m so grateful that through their priesthood experiences the boys in our ward treated our son kindly. For me this is a good enough reason for the priesthood to exist.

  17. Barbara Saunders says:

    I have been reading some records I just inherited that have me perplexed. My grandfather was a seventy in the 109th Quarum, as is meticulously recorded along with many other callings. Among the genealogy records, there are two parents blessings, one being a blessing of this grandfather and the other of his sister. The wording at the top of the pages say “Parents Blessing”. They further say that the blessing is given through “the power of the priesthood which we hold”. That grandfather was born in Salt Lake City in 1879.
    My question- when did this practice stop? Was there an inspired direction from one of the prophets? Who was it from and when? I doubt that women would have sought this change.

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