Guest Post: Waiting to be a Witness

By Katie

My life has grown me into a daydreaming feminist who was once the poster child for benevolent patriarchy. I’ve been married to an amazing man for 10 years and have three wonderful daughters. I love to travel, celebrate holidays, and enjoy good food with the people I love.

My twin daughters turned eight in February of this year. Since January, I fought to be a witness for my twin daughters’ baptism. My husband fought for me, too. Shouldn’t a mother get to play some active role in the spiritual milestones of her children? I found it insulting my female eyes didn’t even count enough to be considered a witness at church. For years, attending baptisms of children brought me some anxiety: seeing the kid hugging complete strangers who were men from the stake participating in their confirmation while not even acknowledging the mother. Most baptisms, you’d have no idea who the mother was. I knew the drill, I’ve been benched at baby blessings too; men and boys tend to be the active participants running the church.

I pleaded my case to the stake president: for years every Sunday in Young Women, I had chanted and promised to be a witness of Christ at all times and in all things and in all places, and my own church wouldn’t even allow me to do that. In the scriptures we read that Christ chose women to be the witnesses to what Christians would consider the greatest ordinance of all – his resurrection. If women are good enough for Jesus, it seems like we should be good enough for the Mormon church.

We waited many weeks while my request to be a witness and conduct my girls’ service went up the ladder. I felt like I was asking for crumbs of participation, a pretty reasonable request. There’s precedent, too: I’d shared an article from the Ensign describing how President Kimball had his wife be the witness for a baptism in India.

The longer we waited, the more I actually started to think someone maybe wanted to listen to my voice and would take my concerns seriously. My stake president said he went to the area authority and maybe one level higher. But then they came back with a hard no. My stake president said, “Why would you even want that? Really, would that even be enough for you if we’d said yes? Being a witness is no big deal; no one even really records who the witnesses are. What we’ll allow you is better: you can give a talk. That should be what you want anyways; it’s more meaningful.”

I wanted to hold off on the baptism, but a few months delay was all the compromise my husband was willing to make, so we worked together and made the decision for our family to go back to our favorite ward in London where we knew they would make room for us, would make room for me to be comfortable. They gave us as much love and allowances for our desires as the Handbook of Instruction would allow. My girls were baptized in June of this year. I didn’t count as an official witness like I’d desired to be and fought for, but I stood in the water and held each twin that wasn’t being baptized. The ward members were the ones coming up with ideas of what we could do so I felt included even if I actually wasn’t included in an official capacity. I welcomed everyone to the service and felt a little in control of that spiritual experience. It was special and peaceful for me. I was glad to not be left on the sidelines as a mother sitting in the pews with everyone else on my child’s special day. I spoke about strong and spiritual women and did my best to be an example for my daughters even though I felt a bit deflated submitting to the will of the patriarchal system I was working under.

Now it seems if I’d just been able to hold out a few more months, I would have been able to be a witness at my own kids’ baptism. Why we are still having to fight for such small things in 2019 when women see so much more equality in society outside the church is a problem that once you see, you can’t unsee. In my real life circles, it doesn’t seem to be one people want to see or discuss.

All of a sudden, with one press release, a woman not being allowed to act as a witness in the LDS church went from “no big deal” and “why would you want that anyway” to a great and joyous blessing. I guess we’re only allowed to want things after they’ve been given to us. Women waiting around for men to decide what they’re allowed to do gets old pretty fast. That’s not how God works; that’s how men work. The older I get and the older my girls get, the more I care about living intentionally and in ways that feel right to me, not just doing or saying things to meet others’ expectations. I believe I have as much access to the divine as anyone else, and I want my girls to feel that in their lives, too. I only have this one life, and I’ve spent too much of it waiting around for what others choose to allow me. I feel hurt they couldn’t accommodate my righteous requests when I so earnestly pleaded for them. We can’t go back and have a do-over of my daughters’ baptism. So until the big, new revelation from the president of the church is that women will have equal opportunity and representation at the decision making levels of the church and not be presided over by men who have the power to choose whether or not to listen to women, I no longer care about the small changes to make a broken system slightly less sexist.

As the English poet William Earnest Henley said, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

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27 Responses

  1. EmilyB says:

    I am so sorry you had to go through all of that!

    My Catholic friend got to hold her baby and witness his baptism, no problem, and that was over a decade ago!

    But now that Mormon women are “granted permission” to witness their own childrens’ baptisms, I am appalled that even children are being given the same authority as the women too, and even more disgusted that the church’s newsroom saw fit to tack on Oaks’ homophobic/transphobic tirade to the announcement for good measure, when we sisters are the loudest champions for LGBTQ equality. For every inch they give us, it seems they are determined to take a pound of flesh with it. I for one am glad that I refused to wait around long enough to let them take it from me anymore.

  2. Ziff says:

    “I guess we’re only allowed to want things after they’ve been given to us.”

    I think this is so perfectly spot on. It’s only now, decades later, that it has become maybe okay for people to admit that they wanted the priesthood/temple ban on black people to end sooner than it did (President Oaks even admitted feeling this way). But for issues that are current, or in the recent past, I think you’re exactly right. There is no space whatsoever in the Church for anyone to openly admit that they would want a change in the Church.

  3. DD says:

    “That’s not how God works; that’s how men work.” My sentiments exactly. I hope and wish that I will be able to hold my child during their blessing when that day comes.

  4. Moss says:

    Very well said, Katie.

  5. Judith Curtis says:

    This is a really important account of dealing with baptisms when we are women and mothers. I hope the system will expand as time goes on.

  6. Chiaroscuro says:

    this line was so powerful to me “I guess we’re only allowed to want things after they’ve been given to us.”

  7. Megan says:

    This is so true, the same people who will shame you for questioning policies of the church are the ones rejoicing on FB after the changes.

  8. DT says:

    Megan, your words are so true. You cannot mend a back broken by condemnation by tossing a handful of confetti!

  9. Em says:

    Amen. I don’t even have anything to add except yes to every darn part of it.

  10. Anon says:

    Appreciated so much. Thanks for pointing out the irony of motherhood in the church—it is supposed to be the most important job and yet moms are not allowed to actively participate in any of the spiritual milestones.

  11. Katie says:

    Meanwhile your poor husband was waiting around wishing he could birth those babies and feed them with his body so he didn’t feel like a worthless bystander at his children’s birth.

    If you are a woman who feels like you played no part in your child’s baptism because you couldn’t give a nod…then you have some thinking to do.

    My husband baptized the children that I birthed, had the majority responsibility of teaching gospel principles to, kept alive, etc…

    When they got baptized my first thought was “nailed it!” I then gave myself a high five.

    My husband played the minor role in the whole deal. And I am supposed to feel like a victim of the patriarchy because I can’t stand and nod? Nope.

    Side note-I just asked my daughter who witnessed her baptism and she said “did what?” Also, she thinks you are a moron. (Ok, I added that part. That wasn’t true…but I hope she would because I am raising the kind of girl who has critical thinking skills and isn’t a perpetual victim)

    • DT says:

      Katie, this response is unfair and there is no appropriate place and time to call someone a moron, regardless of whether you agree or not.

      • Katie says:

        How did I know that out of everything I wrote you would focus on the joke? Is it because it’s so much fun to be victims? The response is completely fair, and I can think of around a million times it’s appropriate to call someone a moron. Agree to disagree on that one.

    • Morgan says:

      Just because you don’t feel something doesn’t mean someone else’s feelings are invalid. I’m so unimpressed with so-called self-professed followers of Christ who insult and hurt those who feel differently than they do. It’s cruel.

      • Katiethecruel says:

        Yeah, I don’t like being called “cruel” anymore than Katie (the author) likely doesn’t like being called “a moron.” Stop calling me names or I am going to tell on you!

    • Violadiva says:

      Katie, not the author of the post but the author of this dismissive and unnuanced comment, your words here are in violation of our comment policy and constitute a personal attack mingled with discrediting the author’s personal worthiness. If you wish to participate here further, please keep our guidelines in mind if you do so.

      https://www.the-exponent.com/site-map/comment-policy/

      • Katie says:

        Dang, I hadn’t read the policy. I will let’s my 8 year old daughter know to watch it. Thanks for the heads up. I would hate to get kicked off of this wildly popular website.

      • Katiethecruel says:

        PS Sorry about my terrible grammar and syntax. I am catching up on my conference talks and I only post when the choir sings or a woman speaks, so I was rushing.

    • Brittany says:

      “She thinks you are a moron.”

      Good thing you clarified that was you because I hope your daughter become far, far less cruel than you are. Great example of Christian behavior and mourning with those who mourn. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  12. Tina says:

    My mother in law was a feminist in the 70’s and early 80’s. When I asked her why she isn’t anymore she told me that feminists always had something to complain about and never were happy. Enjoy those nods!

    • Violadiva says:

      Being happy in life while being dissatisfied and angry with oppressive systems that harm and exclude women are not mutually exclusive.

    • ElleK says:

      I’m a feminist, and smashing the patriarchy makes me exceptionally happy, so ymmv I guess?

      But seriously, feminists are responsible for changes large and small throughout history and today that continue to give huge benefits to humanity as a whole. Women can vote, go to school, have their own credit cards and bank accounts, receive equal pay (in theory if not always in practice), own and inherit property, and any number of other things because of the advocacy of feminists.

      Also, mocking other women and diminishing their pain is not only petty and cruel, it’s not allowed here. Please read and follow our comment policy should you wish to engage further.

      • Katiethecruel says:

        This is why no one listens to feminists…because you guys can’t handle opposition. “It’s mean”…”It’s cruel”…”I’m telling!” If you can’t win an argument without blocking people and silencing them…you might want to rethink your arguments, sweety.

      • Anna says:

        Katie the cruel, if you can’t win an argument without insulting people, then you don’t have much of an argument.

        And Exponent doesn’t ban people for disagreeing, they ban people for insulting those they disagree with. So, if you get banned, it isn’t because you disagreed, but because you use insults to try to make points.

  13. Kimberly says:

    It’s amazing how meaningful something someone says is “no big deal” becomes when you are forbidden to do it. I guess this new nod to women and children being allowed to witness now is a way to emphasize that the concession remains “no big deal”. It’s a wish granted with a backhand for good measure for asking.

  14. Julia says:

    I was so moved by the picture of you in the water with your twins. We are limiting our imagination of what is possible with God.

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