Stake President Denies Temple Recommend to Nursing Mother
A young Mormon mother has been denied a temple recommend by her Stake President for breastfeeding her child in public without a cover.
The Bishop of her ward called her in and gently explained that members of the ward had complained to him about her breastfeeding at church without a cover. The ward members assumed that seeing her exposed breast was making it difficult for the young men and the recovering porn addicts to avoid impure thoughts. The Bishop asked the woman to either cover up or nurse in the mother’s room. When she informed her Bishop that she wouldn’t be changing her views or behaviors about nursing on-demand and uncovered, she thought the issue was over.
The woman, her nursing baby, her three older children and her husband all participate in Sacrament meeting services from the foyer. The breastfeeding takes place while seated in chairs in the foyer. This sister is most comfortable in the foyer because she can still hear the meeting and participate in the ordinance of the sacrament while staying outside with her active children to avoid disrupting the meeting. The mother’s room in her ward building is accessed through the women’s bathroom, making it difficult for her husband to accompany her, and is too small to accommodate her other children who follow her there, nor are the sacrament trays brought in to any mothers while there.
Three weeks later she and her husband were called into her Stake President’s office and they both took along their Temple recommend paperwork to be signed. As part of the interview, the SP brought up her public breastfeeding. He quoted from the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet, told her “It’s a modesty issue” and blamed her for the men and boys having impure thoughts. When she pressed him for specifics about breastfeeding being included in the FTSOY pamphlet, which it is not, he maintained his position that she should be covered or in the mother’s room. When the sister insisted that “this isn’t my problem,” he rebutted, “It is your problem. And if you do it again, we’re going to kick you out of the building.”
When she again resisted his biased opinion and disagreed with the way he was sexualizing breastfeeding, he firmly said that by not sustaining her leaders and following his direction to cover while nursing, she was not eligible to have a temple recommend. When she told the Stake President that she’d be doing what she could to find out from a higher authority about the uncovered nursing, the SP taunted, “Go ahead. I’ve already called Salt Lake. They agree it’s a modesty issue.”
The woman excused herself from the room, at which time the Stake President informed her husband that if he supported his wife, he too would be denied a recommend, but that if he supported his religion, he could receive his recommend. The Stake President further advised him to “Control your wife. You are the patriarch of the family. You tell her how she is allowed to breastfeed.”
The woman’s husband defended his wife, stood by her choices and stated, “She’s her own person. I don’t control her.”
The family hasn’t been to church for the past several weeks because of feeling unwelcome. The woman grieves the loss of her temple recommend, and believes that without a recommend, her “spiritual well-being is at stake.” She struggles with feelings of depression and has lingering health issues. She wishes for a resolution with the ward members, bishop and stake president that is a peaceful reconciliation where she may continue to nurse uncovered in the foyer, as she has been doing.
Part of her story has also been posted here.
Among nursing Mormon women, this issue is not new. Laws in most US states permit women to breastfeed, covered or uncovered, in any place where they are legally allowed to be, and cannot be asked to leave or cover. There is some confusion as to whether this same right is extended to private church property. If a Mormon church is allowed to discriminate against a nursing mother for breastfeeding without a cover, (on private church property), is it the local leader who may enforce such discrimination? Mormon women from all over the world report that they nurse uncovered in plain view in their ward buildings without issue. Without a direct policy from church HQ, a mandate not to nurse in plain view would be at the discretion of a local leader.
As stated in the above 2013 SLTribune article, the LDS church has not articulated a church-wide policy or statement about breastfeeding while on church property. Without a policy given at the general level, these types of stories will continue to occur. Imagine an investigator, new convert, or visitor attends a ward where openly breastfeeding is forbidden. How would they communicate that the rules of the ward building are different from the laws of that state without the woman feeling unwelcome?
While some mothers and babies can easily nurse under a cover and prefer to do so, there are a number of reasons why this doesn’t work for some mothers, including a baby who thrashes around wildly if their face is covered or the blanket cover makes mom and baby overheated and uncomfortable. Regardless, the choice for a mother to cover or not cover should not be made by an unrelated man.
By contrast, Pope Francis has stated publicly that mothers may nurse openly during services at the Sistine Chapel, which would logically extend to other Catholic congregations worldwide.
Inherent in this story are several harmful dynamics at play simultaneously:
- Hyper-sexualization of female breasts. In this story, the Stake president, Bishop and ward members all participated in the sexualization of breastfeeding and the objectifying of this sister’s breasts. While breasts can be part of the sexual experience of men and women, reducing their purpose to titillation or arousal obscures their primary purpose of providing milk to babies. A woman who uses her breasts to feed a child is literally filling the measure of their creation. Countless works of art hanging in church buildings around the world depict women breastfeeding. If the members of the ward are sensitive to the young men and recovering porn addicts, what better way for them to observe what breasts are best at doing than by noticing a mother nurse her baby?
- Perpetuation of rape culture. Telling a woman that she is responsible for the sexual responses of men is an example of rape culture. Telling a lactating adult woman that she is not abiding by the clothing and dress standards set for teenage girls is an example of rape culture. The 2ndarticle of faith clearly states that “men are responsible for their own sins.” Blaming women for the inappropriate sexual responses of men is not only unfair, it’s not doctrinal.
- Prioritizing the male sexual gaze and comfort over the comfort and convenience of mother and baby. Perhaps the ward should provide blankets for the young men and recovering porn addicts to put over their heads so they can avoid looking at the nursing mothers in their wards? If a woman attends church and wishes to participate in the ordinances and classes, and is most comfortable to nurse where she is, every accommodation should be made so she can be included without stigma.
- Perpetuation of Polygamy Culture – Possession Fallacy and Women as Reward Fallacy. Seeing a woman as a sexual object to be possessed or controlled is a by-product of the lingering polygamy culture in the church today.
- Promoting disunity in marriage partnerships. By pressuring the husband to choose between supporting his wife or acquiescing to the stake president’s demands, the Stake President positions the husband as the one who can control his wife, bring her back in line with what male priesthood authorities are requiring of her, or risk his own standing in the church.
- Unrighteous Dominion. Both the Bishop and Stake President overstepped their stewardships in dictating to this woman the acceptable way for her to mother her children. Beyond that, the Stake President exercised unrighteous dominion by conflating the couple’s temple worthiness with their obedience to his biased and non-doctrinal opinion. This is an example of ecclesiastical abuse.
One cure to this misguided impression of public breastfeeding is found in the words of Isaiah, where Jesus himself is likened unto a nursing mother: “But, behold, Zion hath said: The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me—but he will show that he hath not. For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.”
If all members of the church could see breastfeeding mothers as a type of Christ, women could comfortably nurse anywhere they are without fear of judgment. Church leaders often remark that the calling of motherhood is holy, akin to men exercising the priesthood. It’s hypocrisy for a male church leader to condemn a righteous mother for mothering in the best way for her and the baby. By their own logic, if women have motherhood and men have priesthood, shouldn’t those domains be separate and individual? Would a woman ever be allowed to dictate to a man how to use his priesthood?
In order to prevent future overreaches of institutional power that negatively affect mothers and babies, we need a church-wide statement of support for nursing mothers. We need to remove the barriers and difficulties placed upon women for how they mother their children and we need to make it easier to be a woman in this church. We need our women-leaders in the General Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary to advocate for the nursing mothers of the church and encourage an official statement of support from the church spokespeople.
Please write to the female General authorities and ask for their active support for the nursing mothers of the church. Many mothers already nurse publicly in church without repercussion. Without an official statement, women will remain at risk for judgment and exclusion if their chosen way of nurturing their babies doesn’t align with the preferences of a local priesthood authority.
You may send your letter of support and encouragement for such a statement to the female general authorities: President Jean Bingham, Sister Sharon Eubank, Sister Reyna Aburto, President Bonnie Cordon, Sister Michelle Craig, Sister Becky Craven, President Joy Jones, Sister Lisa Harkness or Sister Cristina Franco
to this address
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
50 East North Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84150
ETA: Address for the RS building where the women’s offices are held is 76 North Main Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84150.
THIS ADDENDUM WAS PUBLISHED JULY 24, 2018.