Thought experiment about baby blessings

madonna_con_il_bambino

Sassoferrato (1609-1685)

I heard over the weekend from a friend who wanted to hold her baby while her husband blessed him. She would not be, or even appear to be, participating in the ordinance itself in any way. She simply wanted to cradle the child while it was blessed, like any mother would do during a sick baby blessing and anointing by priesthood holders. She and her husband told the bishop of their plans to bless the baby at home at an extended family gathering, and for her to hold him. Up the chain the news went, to stake president and area authority. The message came back down the chain that she was not to be allowed to do this. 

She did not feel peace or the Spirit confirming this instruction at all, but in order to avoid causing any problems with her leaders, they redid the blessing in their ward Sacrament Meeting.

“We did two blessings (the one that meant the most to us at home, and one for the records at church). I didn’t want to do the one at church because I feel it delegitimized the one we did at home. We didn’t want to ruffle any feathers.”

Here’s my thought experiment: Close your eyes. Imagine a small throng of Heavenly host, including generations of my friend and her baby’s ancestors, looking down on these events with interest and love. Imagine the kindly great-great-great-grandmothers’ faces. Imagine that special sparkle in the faded color of a great-great-uncle’s eyes, like I remember seeing in my doting grandfather’s eyes near the end of his life when his grandchildren were the most dear sight in all the world. Imagine saints who made unimaginable earthly sacrifices, and a throng who have all embraced every good thing in that heavenly realm where they now reside.

tiepolo

Tiepolo (1696-1770)

Now imagine that crowd shouting “Hosanna!” and embracing each other in jubilation and relief when the decree came down the chain from area authority to stake president to bishop to that dear mother and her husband. “Truth has prevailed again in the town of Lindon, UT!” they sing. “The error and shadows of a baby being held by his mother during a priesthood blessing flee from the glorious light of this policy and the Love of our Savior!”

Can any of us imagine this? Then why are we doing this?

Comments

  1. I am too sad. I felt my heart sink when reading this and I hoped that it could not be true. Sometimes I just get so tired of trying to understand.

  2. Unfortunately, Cynthia, I think many of us (Mormons excluding you and myself) can imagine the latter scenario, especially when the idea extends to other acts like baptism or marriage. I’ve heard the arguments regarding ordinances vs. blessings, but to me it’s all the same inasmuch as I don’t see God as the scrupulous bureaucrat I once thought he was.

    God bless that child, even if her/his bishop, stake president, and area authority may see the blessing as holding secondary importance to arbitrary administrative desires.

  3. A friend of mine was inactive for a while and they ended up blessing their baby when he was a toddler and he sat on his mother’s lap for it. I guess it’s a case of #notallwards

  4. The local and area priesthood leaders may have felt they had no choice. Though I don’t know what the secret Handbook says about holding babies for a priesthood ordinance, see the following from the Gospel Fundamentals manual on lds.org:

    The Blessing of Children
    …The father, if he holds the Melchizedek Priesthood and is worthy, or another person who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood, holds the baby in his arms, assisted by others who must also hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, and says a prayer. …
    https://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-fundamentals/chapter-21-ordinances?lang=eng

    Not having a choice does not imply approval of this apparent policy.

    Such a blessing is not a necessary ordinance of salvation. We don’t do it for convert members. I don’t know if it is deemed necessary to create a Church “membership” record for unbaptized children, but I doubt it. At least in some cases it is not done for young children of a convert family.

    I have wondered whether the apparent policy is ultimately derived from the story of Simeon in the Gospel of Luke (“… when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.”) and the notion of bringing a new child into the community’s holy place to be blessed. The blessing in the congregation has a legitimate function for the community.

    I am sorry this mother felt it delegitimized the family blessing at home. I don’t see it that way, but believe they both have an important place — one for the family, another for the congregation. While I do not like the apparent policy and believe it unnecessary, even discouraging and potentially offensive in our cultural context, I applaud the family’s decision to do both blessings. I would choose to think of the second as a ward family event separate from the first. It could even be thought of as catering to the weaker in faith (Romans 14) so as not to disturb their faith, if one thinks that the local and area authorities had any choice in the matter.

    Blessings to you for the valuable thought experiment and to your friend for being both courageous enough to do the blessing at home holding the baby and willing to do one again at church for the ward family so as not to disturb those weaker in faith or authority.

  5. I’m with you, Cynthia.

  6. It’s a stupid policy, and your friend behaved in an admirable way.

  7. The handbook section on naming and blessing children is not secret. It does not say that a person who holds the Melchizedek priesthood must hold the baby. https://www.lds.org/handbook/handbook-2-administering-the-church/priesthood-ordinances-and-blessings?lang=eng#202

    The gospel fundamentals manual, in my opinion, is descriptive, not prescriptive. That is, it is describing the way the ordinance is done, not defining the limits of how it may acceptable be done. And even if it is prescriptive, I think it’s pretty clear that when it comes to defining policy, the handbook trumps a manual that’s purposely designed to be basic and introductory and not a statement of policy.

    I obviously have no keys for the ward, stake, or area where this happened, but in my opinion, there’s nothing in the handbook or in the scriptures, or in the nature of the ordinance, that prohibits the request, and denying it is contrary to the spirit of the handbook, which cautions that “While preserving the sacred nature of the blessing, leaders should make every reasonable effort to avoid embarrassment or offense to individuals or families.”

    I assume, though I don’t know, that the decision is probably out of an abundance of caution, born out of fear of violating the statement that “In conformity with this revelation, only Melchizedek Priesthood holders may participate in naming and blessing children.” The notion seems to be that we must avoid anything that could look like “participat[ing]” in the ordinance by non-melchizedek priesthood holders.

    But I think it’s a misreading of the handbook to interpret that as forbidding mothers from holding their children, because in context, that statement isn’t defining participation, it’s paraphrasing/implementing D&C 20:77, which says that “[e]very 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.” So to the extent that “participate” is ambiguous, I think we resolve that ambiguity by going to the scripture that the handbook provision is based on. That scripture speaks of “lay[ing] their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ,” and “bless[ing] them in his name.” “Participate” here means lay on hands and bless. It doesn’t mean hold the kid for the convenience of those giving the blessing.

    And in fact, limiting “participate” here to the actions described by the scripture it is based on is consistent with the way we read the rest of section 20, especially the part about the sacrament. Section 20 says that only priests, not deacons and not teachers, can “administer” the sacrament. Should we, then, out of an abundance of caution, to avoid the appearance of having deacons and teachers administer the sacrament, discontinue the practice of having teachers prepare the sacramental emblems before they are blessed and having deacons pass them after they are blessed? Nope, we limit “administer” to mean the actions that section 20 actually describes when it gives the form for the ordinance: kneeling and saying the prayer. I think it only makes sense to interpret “participate” in naming and blessing children in a consistent way.

    But that’s just my opinion.

  8. “Can any of us imagine this?” No. But then again, I can’t imagine the gods approving of Abraham’s sacrifice of Issac, or a myriad of other “obedience” tropes in our teachings.

    “Then why are we doing this?” Because allowing women any visible participation in priesthood ordinations, no matter how small, opens the door to the painful/contentious issues surrounding our policy of denying priesthood ordination to women. It’s the same principle that prevents young women from holding the microphone during baby blessings. Yes, it’s petty. But it’s easier than actually addressing the elephant in the room.

    FWIW, the best solutions I can offer are to focus on your own family and what you can control. As one example, a mother can write down her inspiration for the child’s blessing and the father can then read or memorize that inspiration when he performs the blessing. In this way, the mother’s words can be part of the blessing even if her hands are not.

    Also, I think that JR’s comment is correct as far as not judging the local leaders. The handbook is pretty clear on this one. If I’d been in their shoes, I would have followed the policy too. But I also would have made clear to the couple that a public baby blessing is optional and not required to enter the child on the records of the church.

  9. I am planning to ask my Bishop if I can hold my son for his blessing this summer. If/when he says no, I am planning to carry my son up to the front for his blessing and to carry him back after. It is a small way to participate but it will mean something to me.

    My friend asked her bishop if her non-member father could hold the microphone during her sons blessing two years ago. The answer was an emphatic no.

  10. Sorry for going all admin law on the handbook. :)

    But honestly, having a basic sense of the basic principles of administrative law could go a long way in local leaders reading the handbook more consistently across wards and stakes, and in keeping the handbook from being interpreted in ways that it wasn’t intended, and keeping the interpretation consistent with the scriptural principles that it is intended to implement.

  11. Dave K, we posted over each other, I think. But for the reasons I explained in my comment above, I emphatically disagree that the handbook imposes this policy, or, if it arguably does, that it does not in any way that is close to clear.

  12. it's a series of tubes says:

    Amen to Steve and JKC’s comments. A sad example of bone-headedness all the way down the chain.

  13. JR offers what I believe is a unique application of Romans 14 to support the accommodation of unwise applications of the handbook by priesthood leaders: “[Holding a second blessing to placate the leaders] could even be thought of as catering to the weaker in faith (Romans 14) so as not to disturb their faith, if one thinks that the local and area authorities had any choice in the matter.”

    This strikes me as quite wrong. The notion that the flock should have to accept being lead into a thicket because it doesn’t want to damage the shepherd’s weaker faith is bonkers. I’m not saying that flocks shouldn’t follow shepherds, but the reasons for doing so do not include solicitude for the shepherd’s weak faith.

  14. gst, You have appropriately described what should be the case. I have described what has sometimes actually been the case in my personal experience with a weak mission president. Whether it would be the case for Cynthia’s friend is another matter. “Thicket” is a rather inappropriate metaphor for the minor inconvenience of doing a baby blessing at church with a priesthood holder holding the baby in addition to doing one at home with the mother holding the baby. Such an extreme metaphor is bondkers.

  15. A member of our ward, who was not a member when his daughter was baptized, was allowed to stand in the font even though he didn’t actually baptize her. Just another proof point that individual experiences may vary. I think sometimes we’re willing to “do extra” in order to win over a potential convert, like in the above scenario, but feel more comfortable following the red book more strictly when applied to us common members.

    I’m sorry this was your experience. Such a little thing that would go a long way.

  16. JR, with respect, I take issue with this statement: ““Thicket” is a rather inappropriate metaphor for the minor inconvenience of doing a baby blessing at church with a priesthood holder holding the baby in addition to doing one at home with the mother holding the baby.” For a woman who feels systematically excluded from the administration of church ordinances, this is not a minor inconvenience. For a woman who desperately wants to be involved in the liturgical raising of her child, this is not a minor inconvenience. For an intelligent woman who can find no spiritual or analytical reason to be excluded from an ordinance that she desperately wants to engage in, it is not a minor inconvenience. This is an unfortunate example of minimizing someone else’s hurt because it doesn’t match your experience. I’m pretty sure the mother in question is reading this post. Maybe you could rephrase.

  17. Of course holding two ceremonies in itself may just be a minor inconvenience. But what’s really the issue is the mother being told that her participation is not only not only superfluous, not only unwelcome, but it actually invalidates the effectiveness of the ordinance. The suggestion that you are so ritually unclean that you somehow invalidated a gospel ordinance by just being too close to it is not a “minor inconvenience,” it’s a major insult. And I don’t think it’s incumbent on this mother to suck it up because it would shake the bishop’s faith to have to confront the fact that his parsing of the handbook is leading to an unchristian result, Romans 14 notwithstanding.

  18. Maybe I’m just missing something, but what’s so offensive about “thicket”?

  19. It does seem a bit vindictive to insist on redoing “officially” a blessing that is in no way necessary for either eternal things or for church records. A baby blessing is just a nod to “bringing the child before the Elders” that turns too often to pageantry and stuffing every possible related male into something resembling a circle.

    (And I so hesitate to add to the number of male appearing voices, especially since so many seem to be offering justification rather than commiseration.)

  20. There is nothing in the OP to indicate that the mother was told that her presence would invalidate the effectiveness of the ordinance. While that may have been the case, instead, the OP indicates that is was the mother (nothing about anyone else) who felt that the additional blessing at church delegitimized the first. I offered some possible ways of avoiding that feeling which we have no indication was initiating by anyone other than the mother’s own thoughts. If it was, then it may be unavoidable and those who initiated would, in my view, have engaged in despicable behavior. I suspect we have a number of commenters here, including Karen H. and quite likely myself, who are imagining facts that we are not given in the OP. I should learn to be as direct and succinct as Steve Evans — but I probably won’t.

  21. Apolgies. I think I misread this “The message came back down the chain that she was not to be allowed to do this.” If that meant she was not allowed to hold the child for a blessing at home, then Karen H. is quite right in my view. If it meant she was not allowed to hold the baby for a blessing in sacrament meeting, then I believe that to have also been entirely inappropriate given JKC’s report of the handbook I had not found. Still, in my experience of church leadership from the local through the area authority level (and the mission president level), it remains possible that those who participated in that decision felt [incorrectly] they had no choice.

  22. If this bothers you as a woman, and it should IMO, then don’t do the blessing at the church. The blessing at home IS a valid blessing even if it doesn’t ‘check the box’ for “baby blessing”. So it’s only a “Father’s blessing” with exactly the same blessings extended. Don’t cheapen that by doing a second\alternative blessing.

    – Bishop, we’d like to bless our child on Sunday. My wife will hold the child while I bless it.
    – I can’t allow that
    – Well then we won’t have a “baby blessing” but instead will be doing a “Father’s blessing” at home with family

  23. This is policy. Policy changes. I recall my non-member father holding one of my younger siblings while they were blessed. He must have held me too because he was certainly used to the idea by the time I was old enough to remember him being involved with the others.
    Changes such as this one are an artifact of a larger church and probably a result of a serious of minor, unimportant variations, which together over time resulted somewhere in practices that were over the edge from acceptable. Rather than cutting back only to the acceptable the line was drawn far enough away that the edge would never again be approached.
    I suspect much of the handbook was probably developed that way.

  24. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I’m with Jax on this. The baby blessing (naming, specifically) isn’t necessary (although, it may have social significance). I’m not even sure why there’s a need to consult a Bishop if you’re doing it at home. Do it, and tell him later (and let the Clerk know what name to put on the blessing certificate, or in the record). Not even a need to say anything about a mother holding a child. Those details are none of a Bishop’s business. It reminds me of the instructions for funerals in a Church building. It’s clear that the Bishop should preside, and is in charge. However, it isn’t required. If you aren’t happy with the Bishop’s decisions, have the funeral somewhere else and do what you want. I think the same can be applied to baby blessings. The Bishop gets to make certain decisions when it takes place at Church, in his Sacrament Meeting. But, he doesn’t even need to be invited if you do it somewhere else.

  25. Professor Lockhart says:

    “Why are we doing this?”

    Good question.
    Why was a blessing from a circle of Priesthood holders insufficient? If Christ picked up her child and blessed her, would that not be sufficient if the Mom was not holding her?

    I think shoehorning new cultural traditions that aren’t authorized is a concern. The same concern the church has with an anything goes approach to letting any Priest bless the sacrament at home whenever they want to.

    The angels and the Lord understand the sincere intent to introduce inclusive innovations when it’s there. And they also are saddened by the my will be done that is often on the edge of taking hold my those seeking to be push the boundaries..

    Happily, the family was understanding and agreed to correct the mistake.

    I’m quite sure plenty of ancestors in heaven are saying, “Seriously, just get over your perceived slights. From the global order, technology, society, to the restoration, you never had it so good. Stop looking for things to feel oppressed by”.

    Knowing the slightest bit of sacrifices our ancestors endured to have extremely modest lives with little security, I can’t imagine there’s a lot of sympathy for some of our perceived cultural failings.

  26. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    “agreed to correct the mistake” – What was the mistake? Seriously, was the blessing not valid and needed to be repeated?

    And, “just get over your perceived slights” can be applied to both sides in this event, equally.

  27. Tragic, Cynthia. And, of course, you’re right about the hypothetical. What is so wrong with us? I believe the right-wing politics that have so pervasively invaded our religious culture is the source for this bureaucratic officiousness.

  28. Aturtle- my brother in law was told three weeks ago he could not do a baby blessing at home without the bishop there. On the Sunday in question he, wife and baby arrived late (very late) (let he who is not a first time parent and without newborn babies cast the first stone) to Sacrament meeting. So, the question was asked, could we do it later at home, since all the families were already gathered. And we were told, no, not without the Bishop. Why the Bishop could not stop by that evening I don’t know. But I do know my nephew was not blessed, neither official “Baby Blessing” nor a “Father’s Blessing” .

  29. If the “The baby blessing (naming, specifically) isn’t necessary (although, it may have social significance).”

    Why does the Policy specifically forbid it?

  30. This reminds me of the ‘battlefield commission’ story told by Elder Packer, which tells me that family bonds and parental feelings should be considered just as much as any administrative concerns.

    Another time I was in a distant city. After a conference we were ordaining and setting apart leaders. As we concluded, the stake president asked, “Can we ordain a young man to be an elder who is leaving for the mission field?” The answer, of course, was yes.

    As the young man came forward, he motioned for three brethren to follow and stand in for his ordination.

    I noticed on the back row a carbon copy of this boy, and I asked, “Is that your father?”

    The young man said, “Yes.”

    I said, “Your father will ordain you.”

    And he protested, “But I’ve already asked another brother to ordain me.”

    And I said, “Young man, your father will ordain you, and you’ll live to thank the Lord for this day.”

    Then the father came forward.

    Thank goodness he was an elder. Had he not been, he soon could have been! In the military they would call that a battlefield commission. Sometimes such things are done in the Church.

    The father did not know how to ordain his son. I put my arm around him and coached him through the ordinance. When he was finished, the young man was an elder. Then something wonderful happened. Completely changed, the father and son embraced. It was obvious that had never happened before.

    The father, through his tears, said, “I didn’t get to ordain my other boys.”

    Think how much more was accomplished than if another had ordained him, even an Apostle.

    It would be great if we dispensed with the notion that women’s physical presence interferes with priesthood authority. Wasn’t there a story about Camilla Kimball participating in a blessing of Spencer Kimball? If we changed the wording to ‘Priesthood and Family’ baby blessing, could the mother hold the baby?

  31. “Imagine saints who made unimaginable earthly sacrifices…”

    I don’t think the woman who was taken at 19 to be a 50-year-old’s fifth polygamous wife is going to have a whole lot of sympathy with this “terrible insult.” I don’t see any reason she couldn’t hold the baby during the blessing, and I personally wouldn’t even be put out if she gave the blessing, but I do feel that nurturing a hurt, stoking outrage, and soaking in resentment over something like this is excessive. Or at least, that’s the feeling I have after reading the post and comments. I’m for gentle, persistent, and charitable pressure.

    We had the same issue in our stake recently, and the family simply blessed their baby at home (no bishop present).

  32. The purpose of a baby blessing is to celebrate the arrival of a new soul in our family and our community. It is to bring us together in a joyous event. Bishops who worry about doing the blessing right should remember that this is the primary purpose of the blessing. If, by your excessive concern for protocol, you are making it something other than a joyous event, you are not doing it right.

  33. Single Sister says:

    Honestly. Let the woman hold her baby. I’m sure Jesus would be fine with it.

  34. Since none of you feel inclined to actually quote the handbook (which is available to everyone), here is why you don’t just wake up one day and decide to give your baby a name and a blessing and then “tell” the bishop or clerk that you took it upon yourself to perform that ordinance. Except for father’s blessings, consecrating oil and blessings of healing and comfort, all other ordinances that are in some way recorded are to be done under the authority of the presiding officer, in this case, this bishop.

    Handbook 2, 20.1 states in part:
    Performance of a saving ordinance requires authorization from a priesthood leader who holds the appropriate keys or who functions under the direction of a person who holds those keys. Such authorization is also required for naming and blessing a child, dedicating a grave, giving a patriarchal blessing, and preparing, blessing, and passing the sacrament. Melchizedek Priesthood holders may consecrate oil, administer to the sick, give father’s blessings, and give other blessings of comfort and counsel without first seeking authorization from a priesthood leader.

    And, if you’re going to dream up ways for women and non-members to participate in ordinances without invalidating them, you open up the door to a wide range of possibilities.

    Stand in the font while child/relative/friend is baptized.
    8 year olds are still small enough to sit in lap of mother/nonmember parent while being confirmed
    Stand in font in temple while child /relative/friend is baptized (endowed men/women only)
    Kneel next to child/friend/relative being sealed (endowed men/women only)
    Serve as witnesses in all instances where witnesses are required, in and out of temple
    Assist holding infant in name/blessing — just ask person serving as voice to expressly note person (mother/friend/relative) doesn’t hold priesthood

    I’m sure there are other ideas. I can argue in favor of all these examples, claiming they would not invalidate the ordinance. Luckily I’m not a prophet, seer or revelator, or hold the keys that determine these kinds of things, so I don’t have to worry about judging how boneheaded they are. If you aren’t worried about formally giving your child a name and blessing, then skip it altogether and do your own thing. Let father give a blessing. Let mother give a blessing. Heck, let older siblings give a blessing if you want. Let your non-member relatives give the child a blessing. Whatever suits your fancy. The clerk can add your child to the records without it being in connection with the formal ordinance.

  35. Kevin Barney says:

    My thoughts:

    I suspect the “participate” language of the Handbook has a very specific genesis. As STW correctly says, a long time ago it used to be common to allow non-LDS or otherwise unordained fathers to stand in the circle. This was a way to honor the father and make him feel a part of things (in what is after all still a missionary oriented church). I think they would finesse the prayer in such cases to something like “those in the circle holding the Melchizedek Priesthood.” Apparently, the PTB eventually thought better of that practice, and thus the HB wording. IOW, “participate” was intended to carry its normal connotation of genuinely appearing to participate in the actual giving of the blessing.

    Of course, a mother simply holding her child does not have the appearance of “participating” in the actual blessing of the child. (A friend pointed out on that standard the deacon who holds the microphone would be deemed to be “participating” as well.)

    So we get a couple of phenomena driving this. First, a lack of historical context why the participation clause was likely added to the HB. Second, an unwillingness for your average bishop to make this call himself, but to send it up the line. Third, the tendency to want to erect a fence around the Law. And fourth, sensitivity over the whole issue of women not being eligible for priesthood ordination.

    The remedy, as several have suggested, would appear to be to do it privately at home, inform the clerk of the date later, and whatever you do don’t ask anyone’s permission. It remains a grand truth in this faith that sometimes it is easier to ask forgiveness than it is permission.

  36. Kevin Barney –my only quibble is that if you don’t ask for permission on the front end, don’t expect your bishop to accept what you’ve done or somehow confirm it. If you do something without his permission it’s as if it wasn’t done at all. Otherwise, we’d have people baptizing their children without oversight from bishops, men ordaining other men and women to the priesthood and so forth. There has to be some order in things.

  37. The common statement “it is easier to get/seek forgiveness than permission” was stated to the assembled BYU student body by Marion G. Romney, Counselor in the First Presidency. I was there. Thanks for reminding us of that principle.

  38. two of our children were blessed at home. Our second, because my husband’s grandfather had just had a stroke, & was not able to come to the ward. There were no male members from my side of the family, because I am a convert & there were none. That left my husband, his father, & his grandfather. My husband was the ward clerk & informed the bishop that we would be blessing our son at his grandfathers home, in order to accommodate his grandfather’s limited function, No one had a problem with it; as the ward clerk, my husband represented the bishopric. In hindsight, it may have helped that my husband’s father was the bishop of his ward, & we could easily have moved the blessing to that ward & from thence to “home” – this was in southeast Idaho, where members simply find a way to get it done.

    Our youngest was blessed at the old Riverview Nursing Home, that used to be adjacent to the Riverview Hospital in Idaho Falls, where the same grandfather was recovering from a broken hip. Again, my husband was the ward clerk, & represented the bishop (different bishop). My husband did point out to this bishop, who was hesitant, that it is difficult to make a priesthood circle of 2, but quite possible with 3. He also may have mentioned that his father was still the bishop of a ward, & that the blessing could easily move, if needed.

    I loved my baby’s blessings, but it is not a required ordinance. In situations that are being made more difficult than necessary, the infant church record can be created with a “permission date” instead of a “blessing date”. That is the date on which the parents have given permission for a church record to be created. What would prevent a family from giving the blessing at home, then creating the record from a “permission date”, thereby bypassing multiple varieties of unpleasantness. The baby can be taken to Grandma & Grandpa’s ward, “because they are old & cannot travel this far”. There are multiple ways to side-step unpleasantness.

  39. Handbook 2, 20.1 is a good example of drafting nonsense (or inadequate explanation):
    “… Such authorization is also required for naming and blessing a child … Melchizedek Priesthood holders may consecrate oil, administer to the sick, give father’s blessings, and give other blessings of comfort and counsel without first seeking authorization from a priesthood leader.”

    The parents have already named the child on a birth certificate or otherwise, before such a “name by which he/she shall be known on the records of the Church” is given. No authorization is required for a Melchizedek priesthood holder to bless his child. So, unless the first part of 20.1 is speaking only of “naming and blessing” as a single thing necessary to create a Church record for a “child of record.” It is essentially meaningless, except as it affects what happens in sacrament meeting.

    I expect there is also no authorization required for a non-Melchizedek priesthood holding father (or mother) to give a child a parental blessing, so long as they do not purport that it is a Melchizedek priesthood blessing. What do y’all think on that?

  40. The sexism in what happened here is hard for many members to see, and sometimes it’s easier in this day and age to understand it in terms of racism, by switching out “men and women” for “black people and white people”.

    What if you informed your bishop that only white people would be actually in the circle, but a beloved family member who is also black was just going to hold the child while the white people preformed the ordinance? And then the orders came down from on high saying, “You know, just to be on the safe side and to follow policy, were going to ask you to redo the blessing at church without any black people up there, okay?”

    The person holding the child isn’t performing any ordinance or blessing that requires priesthood – they’re just holding something. We’d be offended to hear a church leader imply that having a black person touching the child somehow invalidated the blessing, and it needs to be done over with only white people. But most members are okay hearing that a woman holding her child makes the blessing invalid. And that’s sexism.

  41. Dog Spirit says:

    The greater issue I see at play here is the loss of community in the rigidity of bureaucracy. Good or bad, people want to have a ritual that feels right to them and includes important people in a way that is reflective of family love and unity. The Church’s rigidity, however, prevents adaptation. A common solution is to do two rituals: a meaningful one that embraces the whole family and reflects their individual situation, and an official one. It’s how I did my wedding and will probably be how I bless my kids. For me, that’s fine, and worth it to have the second, approved ceremony to avoid any turbulence.

    But ultimately, I think something is lost if what should be community celebrations are relegated solely to the private family or if the community ritual is done only to check a box. I wish I could celebrate with my community in a way that also includes my family and reflects my heart. A little variation in baby blessings would be a lovely reflection of the diversity in our congregations. But if form trumps tender feelings and relationships, our most meaningful ritual moments will increasingly head underground.

  42. Martin–I’m sure the women here appreciate your valuable insight; as a priesthood holder, you are uniquely suited to decide whether the way women feel is “excessive”, and it is good of you to share that decision with the rest of us.

  43. I especially liked how Martin not only decreed his own decision, but also spoke on behalf of historical women who were the victims of patriarchy wrongs in the past. It helps to have a priesthood holder interpret their feelings on patriarchy for me.

  44. In this case, I’d do the baby blessing at home and skip the spectacle at Church. It’s not a saving ordinance – the name you give the baby doesn’t depend on the actual blessing, and the membership record creation doesn’t require a blessing to have taken place.

  45. Amen, Nepos. Amen.

  46. 3 Nephi 17:21 And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bare record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.

    When Jesus blessed the little children, do you think he required the mothers who were holding their babies to pass them to the fathers before he would bless them?

  47. (I’m not trying to be dismissive, just pragmatic. I hope no one considers that offensive. In the interest of making it a good experience for all, this seems like the best way to do things given the constraints. Bishoprics I known have already created the membership record long before the blessing ever occurs, if it ever occurs, and no one is actually tracking to see if the blessing occurs.)

  48. STW and EmJen: Not to keep repeating myself, but I disagree that there is a policy against mother holding their baby. I think it’s an accretion to the handbook. At the very least, it’s not clearly stated in the handbook, and is against the spirit of the rule that is in the handbook that doing the ordinance correctly needs to be balanced against offending the family unnecessarily.

    IDIAT: I did quote the handbook above. I guess you just didn’t feel inclined to read the comments before passing judgment on them. The section you quote only says that it requires authorization, it doesn’t say anything about a mother (or anybody else) holding the kid. For the reasons I explained in my earlier comment, I don’t think there’s any policy against this.

    Kevin: That’s what I’m saying. The deacon holding the microphone is another good example–actually an even better one than the deacons and teachers participating in preparing and passing the sacrament without “administering” it. I also agree with you that having a mother hold the kid isn’t “participating” in the sense the handbook, paraphrasing section 20, uses it. I mean, you could read it that way, if you were giving “participate” a very broad reading and taking a super-cautious avoid-any-appearance-of-impropriety approach, but if church leaders had taken that approach around the turn of the century, we’d still have adult priests doing the sacrament every week with no participation from teachers or deacons. They thought better of it, because they balanced safeguarding the purity of the ordinance against the importance of having young men feel that they had a place and a role in the church. Why not take that same approach here?

    My point is that I don’t think the handbook mandates this “policy,” and in fact, it at least arguably mandates balancing maintaining the purity of the ordinance against other important considerations. That doesn’t mean “anything goes” and that we should feel free to ignore the prescribed forms, but it does mean that we should be very careful about interpreting those prescribed forms to require things that the scriptures don’t, and that the handbook itself doesn’t expressly require, where doing so would cause someone to feel excluded.

  49. JKC. I meant the gay policy excluding children of gay parents from being blessed and recorded on the records of the church.

  50. My mistake, EmJen. Yeah, there’s no ambiguity about that one.

  51. JKC: Section 20 actually forbids priests from officiating in the sacrament. That ordinance is reserved for elders, unless no elders are present.

  52. Aaron Brown says:

    When our daughter Grethe was born (now 2.5 years old), my wife and I decided to hold her baby blessing at home. I think the Handbook says your Bishop must be in attendance at home blessings — a rule we considered ignoring — but we had no problem with our Bishop being there, so we decided to invite him. My wife also announced that she wanted to hold our daughter during the blessing. If memory serves, the Handbook contained a bit of ambiguity on the appropriateness of this, but not much — it required a bit of a creative reading to justify. (I could be wrong about this; I no longer remember the precise verbiage, and am too lazy to look it up).

    I called our Bishop and informed him of our plans. He balked somewhat at the idea of Stina holding Grethe during the blessing. I think he was concerned this might be a political statement about women’s ordination, though I insisted that it wasn’t. She just wanted to participate in some way. He called to consult with our stake president, who immediately gave his permission for Stina to hold our child, so the issue became moot. (I have no idea how the SP would’ve responded if we’d wanted Stina to hold the child during a blessing held during Sacrament meeting).

    The blessing went well. Stina held the child. We had non-member neighbor friends in attendance — who probably wouldn’t have attended had we performed the blessing at church — and they just raved and raved about how cool the whole ritual was. (Admittedly, they may have done so even if Stina hadn’t held the child, who knows). Our Bishop was visibly moved by the whole experience. I don’t recall his exact language, but he insisted to me that it one of the most spiritual blessings he’d ever attended.

    It’s possible our Bishop was just saying that. Just being effusive on a special day. But I don’t think so. He seemed quite genuine in his reaction.

    Yeah, any rule prohibiting this is just dumb.

    Aaron B

  53. Come to think of it, the decision in the OP undermines the “men are priests, women are mothers” argument that some use to justify the priesthood ban against women. If that were true, then a mother should certainly be able to hold her own child during a blessing.

    Of course, the whole “men=priests, women=mothers” is held in contempt (and rightly so) by Mormon feminists; but incidents suggest that the Church authorities don’t really believe it either!

  54. I’m not sure that’s true, Paul. It does say that priests are not to take the lead in meetings unless there are no Elders, but it doesn’t say the same thing about the sacrament. It does say that theyir duty is to lead meetings when no Elders are there, but that when Elders are there, priests are only to “teach, expound, exhort, and baptize,” but it’s silent as to administering the sacrament when Elders are there.

    You are right, though, that section 20 does make administrating the sacrament a duty of the Elders, but we don’t mind letting priests do it because it gives them a place and a role in sacrament meeting, and there’s enough ambiguity that it’s not clearly permitted.

  55. *not clearly prohibited

  56. This “Mothers may not hold their babies during the blessing” seems a symptom of a much larger issue: Control.

    ‘Control or be controlled’ is a defensive and false mindset, yet it seems immanent in our hierarchy (and imo, one of the biggest reasons we’re losing so many youth. See also “Which Way Do You Face?”).

    I think D. Michael Quinn captured it best when he responded to a Q & A with: “You don’t use force with regard to 47 East South Temple. They don’t acknowledge that word.”

    That’s how I’m seeing it, anyway. I hope I’m wrong and it’s just an aberration.

  57. JKC: what part of “only” is ambiguous?

  58. Ask the leadership if a woman can pass the sacrament, and when they respond no ask them why they do every Sunday. Every time a Deacon allows a woman to pass a try down the row to the next person they are passing the Sacrament. A woman should be allowed to hold a baby during a blessing for the same reason. It’s not fundamentally changing the meaning of the ordinance in any way.

  59. Aaron, that sounds like a wonderful and spiritual experience for you and your family.

    But still, you should probably re-do it at the church without your wife, just to be safe.

  60. Cynthia, Nepos, sorry, my comment should have followed the example of the post and been presented as a thought experiment: imagine the woman who was taken at 19 to be a 50-year-old’s fifth polygamous wife and looking down in love from the exalted sphere, and now imagine her rising up in outrage at the horrible insult that young mother absorbed at the unrighteous dominion of her priesthood leaders. Can you picture it?

    There — I didn’t “decree” my opinion that time (plenty of men, at least some holding priesthood I assume, sympathize with your opinions and their opinions aren’t a “decree”), and you can come to your own conclusion that yes, yes, she is indeed alight with outrage.

    Or maybe I should stick with the great, great, great uncle with his twinkling eyes, who had been required to abandon his family to serve a mission, or that doting great, great, grandfather who Brigham Young had relocated twice just after he’d rebuilt, and ask if you can picture them crying out in indignation “Behold, that young mother’s plight!” Because they’re the males in the OP — their feelings I might be qualified to interpret.

    Yeah, this comment is pissy, and you should probably just delete it, but the “thank you, you male priesthood leader for explaining everything to me, a poor woman” schtick has gotten really, really old. I’ve come to the conclusion that “mansplaining” is essentially anything said (decreed?) by a man that doesn’t agree with the “feelings” of a woman. I’m also beginning to think it’s as much boundary maintenance as anything. My comment was “Ok, I agree, but I think you’re making too big a deal out of it (which I think can do more harm than good)” and your response was “How dare you tell me how big a deal it is!”

  61. I really don’t think the post is making too big deal out of it. It’s just observing that this policy doesn’t really pass a sniff test, which is (I’m proposing in the post), “Do angels in heaven think this is of good report or praiseworthy?” There aren’t supposed to be any pitchfork moments in the post. That might be kind of a Rorschach thing on your part, I don’t know.

    And yes I do think that–precisely BECAUSE of the much bigger fish they had to fry–the angels would think that leadership insisting that the blessing was invalid and needed to be redone was silly an unfortunate and unnecessary. I can’t imagine that anyone who has that kind of experience and vision would look on this obsession with who holds the baby as a good use of anybody’s time, energy, and loss of good will.

  62. The fact that it comes right after “he is to take the lead of meetings when there is no elder present,” and starts with “but when there is an Elder Present” suggests there are two categories: 1) Stuff priests can’t do when elders are around, and 2) Stuff priests can do. If the “only” is meant to be absolute, then the verse saying that they can’t take the lead when elders are around is redundant.

  63. Is gst being sarcastic?

  64. My friend asked her bishop if she could carry her baby during the nine month human gestational period. He explained to her that, no, that would not be appropriate since there was a 49% chance that the baby would be male, and if that was the case, her attempts to sneak her way into the priesthood by housing his male spirit would be completely inappropriate. Some women will stop at nothing to circumvent the gender ban on priesthood.

  65. Sometimes I’m distracted by real life that my reading comprehension suffers when I skim through the comments, so I may be off the mark with the game being played. But I can totally “imagine the woman who was taken at 19 to be a 50-year-old’s fifth polygamous wife and looking down in love from the exalted sphere, and now imagine her rising up in outrage at the horrible insult that young mother absorbed at the unrighteous dominion of her priesthood leaders.” Because that woman almost surely would’ve been taught by her Relief Society leaders, with the approval of all male priesthood leaders from her bishop to the prophet, the protocols of giving hands-on-head, consecrated-oil sealed healing blessings. Holding a baby while the local priesthood-holding men gave it a baby’s blessing wouldn’t register with her as something significant enough for a mother to require special permission to do. If the mother of the child wanted to do so, nobody would see any reason to forbid her, and certainly not the potential reason being that she was trying to exercise authority that was not hers.

  66. @old man, yes a pretty safe assumption that gst is being sarcastic.

  67. Yes, MDearest!!

  68. Call me crazy, but technically if the mom is an endowed member, she has been given the required priesthood. No?

    We really need to articulate women in the church and their priesthood authority.

  69. pconnornc says:

    I don’t think there are any voices here that recoil at interpretations that allow non-priesthood holder involvement (holding infant/microphone). I think you hear voices that are empathetic to trying to understand the principles and doctrine (baby blessings being a priesthood ordinance) and the challenge of wrapping policy around that. I guess I give leaders a measure of slack that they are neither mean, sexist or dunderheads – just trying to do their best. In hindsight I probably make dozens of policy mistakes in my home that in my head are based on sound principles and doctrine.

    I do think that it is hyperbole at best when we call this situation “tragic”. There are true tragedies out there, and to call every regrettable action that could have been avoided a tragedy minimizes what a true tragedy is.

  70. Martin, don’t be such an ass all the time.

  71. “I don’t think there are any voices here that recoil at interpretations that allow non-priesthood holder involvement (holding infant/microphone)”

    Well, except, you know, THE CHURCH. Scattered reports from lucky wards notwithstanding, Area Authorities have been instructed to squash this practice and are so instructing stake presidents and bishops.

    “I guess I give leaders a measure of slack that they are neither mean, sexist or dunderheads – just trying to do their best.”

    And who, precisely is not doing giving leaders a measure of slack, or assuming hey are mean, sexist, or dunderheads who are not trying their best?

  72. The actual definition of tragedy is a bad situation that could have been avoided. If it’s not avoidable, that’s not tragedy, that’s just fate.

  73. Yes, that is one definition of tragedy, though it is limited by some to extraordinarily or disastrously bad situations. But another in common modern usage found in multiple dictionaries in one form or another is: “A disastrous event, especially one involving distressing loss or injury to life” without reference to avoidability and including natural world events. While it sometimes irritates me that news writers tend to call every very bad thing a “tragedy”, I might as well recognize that doing so has resulted in adding another meaning to the word. At this point, neither is the only “actual” definition.

  74. RockiesGma says:

    Hawkgrrl for the win!

  75. it's a series of tubes says:

    Today, Hawkgrrl wins all the internet things. Well played, indeed.

    Area Authorities have been instructed to squash this practice

    Cynthia, can you shed more light on this statement? Are you saying that Area Authorities have received specific instructions from a GA that mothers are not to be allowed to hold an infant during an ordinance? If so, can you source? I’d be interested to see the instruction.

  76. Pedant: cool story, bro.

  77. Steve, leave Martin alone. He needs a safe space.

  78. Is he an ass? Maybe so. But Steve, Martin is a Mormon.

  79. A Mormon may bless their own children in their own home. There is nothing in any of Mormon scripture including Doctrine & Covenants that says otherwise. Also, there isn’t anything that prohibits the mother from holding the child being blessed in their home either. Who other than the mother is best suited? Mother’s have more contact with their children and it is a given that child and mother would have a unique connection during this important moment. Feeling at ease during the blessing is bonding for mother and child and conducive to a full and more prompt healing.
    I’m a Mormon and I’ve been very vocal in Church and online about the many abuses the Church is heaping upon the poor but I can see all of our Church is in need of advocacy as well. The top leadership of the Church as well as much of the leadership at the stake and ward levels are granting themselves the self assigned “authority” to go against God’s plan in regard to the many rash decisions affecting the poor and as the “scales fell from my eyes” I see our leadership has been much too free and loose in regard to Mormons across the social-economic spectrum of the Church. The leadership can’t make up rules as they go just because they feel threatened by a more aware membership. This is what a despot does. Even the old testament has prophetesses mentioned and if it weren’t for Mary Magdeline and the women who accompanied her providing financial support for Jesus ministry how far would the ministry have gotten? There is even good evidence in the Pauline literature that Jesus considered Mary a deciple and more evidence of the same in the Gospel of Thomas not canonized but non the less backing up statements of Jesus himself. The New Testament states non are slave, and there are no male or female in Christ (paraphrased). So given that statement and others throughout scripture it has been and is against the law passed down by God and His Son Jesus to disallow women total participation. And yes I’m aware of Paul’s statement “let the women be silent.” I know Paul was a well educated and well intentioned man but was evidently biased. Paul cited no prior written authority that I have come across and we all know as stated within the 13th article of faith “we believe in the Bible in as much as it is correctly translated.” In the past 10 or 15 years there have been more accurate translations by Mormons and non Mormons including one of my favorites and friend of the Mormons Dr. Michael S. Heiser. There are few researchers that are more meticulous than Dr. Heiser.
    Throughout scriptures all are one in Christ.

  80. Loursat, giggling at your comment.

  81. If I were the prophet, on my first day I would issue an executive order mandating that all Church laws, instructions, and procedures should be (loosely) interpreted in the most loving and inclusive manner possible. My second executive order would be to create a Church liaison office to indentify issues and advocate for members regarding issues like the hypothetical presented above and the uneven treatment of members by leaders in different jurisdictions. Church leaders (local and above) have proven (and admit) to be fallible, and I’m sure most of us have observed or know of local incidents where leaders exercised very poor judgement. And there is currently no formal mechanism for redress.

    My third executive order would be to mandate complete historical and financial transparency (but that is another topic).

  82. Johannesdedoper says:

    I have observed several instances where an inactive or non-priesthood-holding father will be allowed to hold the child, while the priesthood holder gives the baby blessing. How is that different than the mother holding the baby?

  83. millermsrm60aol hit the nail on the head:

    “The leadership can’t make up rules as they go just because they feel threatened by a more aware membership. This is what a despot does.”

    Ding ding ding ding ding!

    (except the leadership technically *can and they *do.)

  84. The camel’s nose under the tent. Pretty soon the camel will be inside. Got to watch those camels!!

  85. Why even bless babies in church at all? It’s just a substitute for infant baptism. Let the child’s name be on the records of the church when the child is old enough to be baptized.

  86. Felix: Because the founding document of the Church, D&C 20, suggests that it every member of the Church who has children should have this ordinance performed on the children. See verse 70.

  87. Thanks, Steve. This is off-topic, but I can’t help asking another question. Why does the D&C tell us to bless children? It’s not a saving ordinance, but it is an ordinance that gets recorded.

  88. NoWayIdentifyingMyself says:

    Well this is fascinating. 57 years ago it was perfectly fine for a NON-member father to hold his own child during a baby’s blessing and naming:

    “Worthy fathers who hold the Melchizidek Priesthood should be encouraged to bless their own children.
    Only those holding the Melchizidek Priesthood should be invited to participate in the ordinance of blessing and naming of children; but where a father, whether a member of the Church or not, requests permission to hold his child while the officiating elder gives the blessing he may be permitted to do so, but they should not be encouraged to make the request.” (General Church Handbook, 1960, p. 56-57)

  89. Aussie Mormon says:

    Similar wording was in there from 1940 until 1985, however it went from “may” to “if he requests” to “if he insists” before finally being removed.
    It’s useful to note though, that until 1923 there wasn’t anything there at all about naming/blessing children, and no instructions about how to do it until 1928.

  90. I held my baby while my husband, father and brothers (all current or former leaders in their wards/stakes) blessed her at home. I didn’t ask permission to do so, because I knew it was right. It was a powerful, joyful moment for our family. We reported the blessing to our bishop, who created a record for her.

  91. @NoWay that’s interesting. Such a strange piece of advice “they should not be encouraged to make the request.” Talk about hiding a light under a bushel. It’s sad to think there are almost certainly some fathers who would have loved to do this and felt hurt by not doing this, who didn’t know to ask.

  92. Cynthia L, the handbook is full of irony and strange advice. Consider the policy in CHI 2 that members should consult with their bishop before getting a vasectomy. Ironic because, until 2010 members, didn’t have access to CHI 2 and so had no ready way to know of this instruction. And strange because bishops are not given any advice as to what to counsel members other than to that the church discourages the procedure. So unless the bishop decides to go off on his own thinking, the meeting should last about 20 seconds.

  93. Fred, on Jan 24, wrote, “If I were the prophet, on my first day I would issue an executive order mandating that all Church laws, instructions, and procedures should be (loosely) interpreted in the most loving and inclusive manner possible.”

    This instruction, more or less, is already in the Church Handbook of Instructions. How’s that working for you?

    I find it interesting that leaders ignore or modify huge parts of the handbook, but if the application of a particular rule would result in a really noxious result, the thinking seems to be that the rule must be really important so let’s enforce it to the letter.

  94. Accurate, gst.

  95. Why do we think that is? Sort of a “the expert must know what they’re doing” Milgram-like thing?

  96. Rachel Rasmussen says:

    I’ve witnessed a baby being officially blessed in the arms of its mother. *shrugs* I’m sorry she wasn’t allowed, but I think you’re over thinking this.