Guest Post: Waiting to be a Witness
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.”