I have a close friend I grew up with whose husband became mentally, emotionally and physically abusive towards her after several years of marriage. He eventually was arrested for the physical abuse and began treatment for a variety of mental illnesses he suffered from.
He met with his stake president during this process while he and my friend temporarily separated. He was not allowed a temple recommend, nor to use his priesthood for a set amount of time (my recollection is that it was a six month repentance process). During this time, their oldest daughter turned eight and wanted to be baptized. Because it was important to this man to baptize her, they chose to postpone the ordinance until his stake president allowed him to perform it himself. My friend explained her husband’s frustration at the treatment, and that he felt it was unnecessary to bar him from baptizing his child over an “argument” between he and his wife that “got out of hand”.
I stand in awe of my friend, a spiritual woman who has shown exceptional faith since we were young together. While her husband was angry with the six month time frame when he was not allowed to use his priesthood authority, his righteous wife has never been able do any of the things that he so eagerly awaited the return of. Because the punishment for a wicked man in this church is the same as the reward for a righteous woman, I feel moved to ask for change.
My own son turned eight at the end of 2014 and was baptized by my husband. My husband is a wonderful man and I had no issue with him performing the baptism. I did however, notice several major discrepancies between our participation that day, even though we have both been equally invested in raising and caring for our son in every other way.
I had planned to ask my dad and my father in law to be the witnesses to the baptism, but forgot to ask them in advance. When it was time for my husband and son to enter the font, my bishop asked me who would be serving as witnesses, and I quickly motioned to the two of them to go up front on either side. Neither of these men knew anyone presiding at the baptism, and it occurred to me that I could have literally pulled any man off the street into the stake center that day to serve as a witness. I didn’t have to prove that they held the priesthood, were worthy, or even a member of the church. Checking that a child goes completely under water is not a priesthood ordinance. Why do the witnesses have to be men? What about me, his mother? If a woman was literally the first witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I believe a woman could be allowed to witness at a baptism. Even that small participation on that day would have meant the world to me.
After the baptism, we went to another room for the confirmation. The empty chair awaiting my son was front and center, so I sat down directly in front of it, determined to be as close to him as possible during this important event. Unfortunately my bishop (non-maliciously) picked up that chair and moved it to the opposite side of the room right before the blessing. He was simply making more space for the men who would stand in the circle, but inadvertently excluded me by doing so. I was sitting with my two younger daughters and a small niece at that point, and there were no available chairs to move to anyway. I stayed where I had originally sat down, mildly disappointed.
Almost immediately after the blessing started, my five year old daughter started crying. She was trying to draw a Minecraft character that her brother liked on a card the primary presidency had passed out, but couldn’t make it look right. I tried to hush her and told her to wait until after the blessing was over. She became more upset, and begged me to draw it for her as I tried to quiet her down. Her cousin and little sister both started wiggling around at the same point, and my daughter was clearly on the verge of a hysterical meltdown right in the middle of the prayer. I whispered, “hand it to me and I’ll try to draw it”, and hoped that would calm her down. Instead she saw I was only holding her card and her voice became high pitched as she started to cry again, “I need you to draw a creeper for me for Benjamin!”. I tried to draw a “creeper”. Unfortunately, I don’t know what a creeper character looks like, and as my daughter saw me pretending to draw a made up character, she became even more upset and cried, “you’re ruining my card for Benjamin, and that is not a good creeper!”
The next thing I knew, I heard my husband say “Amen”. I’d tried so hard to carefully make myself a part of that day, but I still missed almost all of the blessing my husband gave. I looked at the men who stood in the circle shaking my son’s hand, and realized my son didn’t even know the counselors in the bishopric, both who were up there. Men who my son had no connection to stood peacefully and heard every word of his blessing. As his mother, I sat in a chair across the room and tended to children, missing it almost completely. Over years of attending baptismal services, I’d seen other moms not hear their child’s confirmation and swore that would not happen to me too. But it did.
There has to be a better way. I don’t think loving Heavenly Parents want mothers to be on the sidelines on such an important day.
Honoring our past.
Envisioning our future.