Church Announces Change in Gender Restrictions for Ordinance Witnesses

First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Witnessing Ordinances

Early in this dispensation, the Lord instructed that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:28). Consistent with this direction, members of the Church serve as witnesses when sacred ordinances of salvation and exaltation are performed.

We are pleased to announce procedural adjustments for the two individuals who serve as witnesses to baptisms and sealing ordinances. These adjustments are effective immediately in all temples and in all Church units. As invited by presiding authorities:

1. Any member holding a current temple recommend, including a limited-use recommend, may serve as a witness to a proxy baptism.

2. Any endowed member with a current temple recommend may serve as a witness to a living or proxy sealing.

3. Any baptized member of the Church, including children and youth, may serve as a witness to the baptism of a living person.

We trust that you, as individuals and families, will find great joy in your service as you help provide saving ordinances to Heavenly Father’s children.

Sincerely yours,

Russell M. Nelson
Dallin H. Oaks
Henry B. Eyring

Comments

  1. So pleased with this!

  2. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Anyone know whether the limitation to males was in force since Nauvoo, or was it more recent?

  3. Jack of Hearts says:

    Such welcome news.

  4. More recent.

    “Historian Ardis Parshall describes how women used to serve as official ordinance witnesses in the temple until the 1950s, when Joseph Fielding Smith, later to become church prophet, said it was no longer “proper” to do so. No other explanation was given. (See here for Parshall’s response to yesterday’s announcement.)” I don’t want this comment to go in the comment filter, so just look it up if you want the full article.

  5. Heptaparaparshinokh: when Joseph Smith announced the availability of baptism for the dead at the funeral of Seymour Brunson, he didn’t make any other rules about the procedure. No one jumped in the water at that point. It took weeks before someone ventured to do the ritual. The rules were fluid: women baptized for men and vice versa for example. The witnessing aspect appears in an 1842 letter by Joseph Smith but does not specify the gender of witnesses. I’m sure J. Stapley will clarify the historical evolution here at some point.

  6. Here’s the link to what Emjen was quoting from historian Ardis Parshall

  7. “As invited by presiding authorities…” I’ve had experience with couple getting married wanting to specify what witnesses signed their marriage certificate and with people being baptized wanting to choose eligible witnesses. I wonder if “invited” will be taken by some to exclude volunteering or requesting, as in not-seeking-after-a-calling.

  8. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Nice to see priesthood creep reversed, then.

  9. Billy Possum says:

    The times, they are a changin’.

  10. Troy Daniel Cline says:

    These are babystep-positive changes, but didn’t Russell Nelson just make a point in his BYU address about how church leaders don’t give into social pressure? Please. All changes in the church only ever come about because of social pressure.

  11. Billy Possum says:

    Maybe what RMN meant was that the Church doesn’t give in to social pressure *alone*. But one can imagine social pressure ultimately producing revelation, on which the Church does act.

  12. OK, so great changes, hoo-rah, but can I just pause for a second on this one: “Any baptized member of the Church, including children and youth, may serve as a witness to the baptism of a living person.” Erk! What??? We are going to have 8 yr old kids witnessing baptisms?? I can think of two problems here: 1) gee thanks for lumping women in with children once again–it’s pretty clear where women fit into the church once again, and 2) haven’t they ever heard of a little thing called “baseball baptisms”? This seems ripe for eager young stat-hungry missionaries to abuse.

  13. It is discouraging that “women” were not mentioned in this letter from the First Presidency. (Children and youth are mentioned – but not women.) This change in procedure came in part by the Ordain Women’s 2016 campaign called “Ready to Witness” (https://ordainwomen.org/ready-to-witness-campaign/) and by the constant pleading of women (and men) to change the policy.

    Here is the letter I would have loved to read from the First Presidency:
    ““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`
    Early in this dispensation, the Lord instructed that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:28). Throughout most of the history of the restored gospel only ordained male members of the Church have served as witnesses when sacred ordinances of salvation and exaltation were performed.

    We have heard from countless women about their desire to stand as witnesses of God in all times, and in all things, and in all places. We have been reminded that women were chosen to serve as the first witnesses of the resurrected Christ.

    The First Presidency has taken this matter to the Lord in prayer and have received the answer that God desires all his children to be witnesses of His son Jesus Christ. We are pleased to announce procedural adjustments for the two individuals who serve as witnesses to baptisms and sealing ordinances.

  14. Angela C, how exactly do you envision this promoting “baseball baptisms?” All the witnesses do is say, “Yup. I saw that person get dunked.”

    All baptisms will still be approved through the mission president, so I’m not sure how stat-hungry missionaries could abuse the change.

  15. Dr. Cocoa, I think historically it has been mission presidents who encouraged the sort of behavior Angela mentions. My friends who have served as mission presidents have told of the pressure to baptize and that that gets passed on to missionaries. “Success” drives can create some strange activity as my own missionary children have told me. I’m not suggesting this is a gateway to abuse, it might figure in something like that though.

  16. Dr Cocoa: if children can witness baptisms, that means that instead of missionaries having to rope in ward members as witnesses, they can get kids to do it. It removes one check on their potentially shady behavior if they are prone to baptize kids without their parents’ know-how. Now they don’t even need the local ward members or parents to witness. Mission presidents aren’t present at baptisms anyway.

  17. Angela, are you a member?

    No adult witness every stopped a missionary from baptizing a shadily sourced convert. It’s never done without mission president approval and the child witness is irrelevant to that decision in everyone’s eyes. They don’t sign off on anything other than shake their heads if a toe stuck out of the water or the prayer was flubbed.

  18. Lcn, no need for insults. Angela’s mission memoir is one of the best of the genre. She knows what she’s talking about.

  19. I think this change is really important for the corps of female missionaries out there. They are the natural choice for witnesses of their converts. That’s a solid for sure.

  20. Mausolean says:

    I’ve had some negative reactions to the kids and everyone else being included as well. But then I think of my daughters – and I am grateful. I may never see all the changes that I feel are needed in my own lifetime – but my daughters are growing up with a very different reality and in a different church.

    Having them be able to be witnesses – having women in that role – will undoubtedly lead to more changes in the future. It’s a small but important way of getting certain folks used to seeing non-adult-men in visible roles.

    Also very excited for my son, who will grow up seeing his sisters and mom as witnesses and being a witness himself together with girls and women. That matters.

  21. If I remember correctly, Angela’s mission memoir included a story when the sisters had trouble getting elders to stay after church long enough to perform a baptism. Or something like that. It was kind of shocking to me because I can’t imagine having that kind of difficulty. In my experience, (same mission, years later) baptisms were always attended by all the missionaries in the district, sometimes the zone. Which is also why it’s hard for me to imagine child-witnesses facilitating baseball baptisms: finding someone to witness for me was always the easiest part of the baptism anyways.

    But if you’re in an environment where you have difficulty finding someone willing to perform the baptism, I can see the argument.

  22. Angela C: I’m still not seeing how this changes anything. Ward members weren’t ever required to attend convert baptismal services previously. There was never a requirement that a ward member serve as a witness. Missionaries serve as baptismal witnesses all the time.

    So stat-hungry missionaries could have-with permission of their mission president-planned, performed, and witnessed a baptism all along without the need of involving ward members. Why would they now drag children into a shady service to serve as witnesses when another set of missionaries would do just as well?

  23. I was hoping they were going to swap it up and make Priesthood holders ineligible to be witnesses. Still, I like this change.

  24. Grateful for this change. Praying for a continued softening of hearts and boundaries until we are finally one.

  25. Brian Fabbi says:

    My first reaction was that this was a great change. I was happy for the people I know who the change would help. Then I read comments and Twitter, and I saw how some people had different reactions. It didn’t make sense to me, and my knee jerk reaction was to just ignore them, or discount their feelings. I am very sorry for that reaction.
    I talked to my sister, and she helped me to understand better why people felt like they did. I wish I could fix things, and I want to make it all better, but all I can really do is be kind and loving to the people in my life. I’m good at that. I can accept others feelings and try to understand them.
    On balance, I know many people will be helped, and I feel bad for those who are hurt. I love you and want to help, but I don’t know how.

  26. lastlemming says:

    At least for sealings, my preference would be to require one male and one female witness, but this will do. I have speculated in the past that a change such as this might result in some tensions at temple weddings since there will generally be four parents but only two witness chairs. To resolve that, I suggest a tradition that first preference should go to the father of the bride and the mother of the groom.

  27. As someone who does a lot of genealogy and then shares the names with the temple, I know something about the very practical need for this change. Men needed to be freed up from serving as witnesses in order to get more male ordinances done. You needed five men in every sealing session for the dead, the sealer, two witnesses, and one man to serve as the father and one as the son. Now you only need three. Given the enormous backlog of male ordinances compared to female shared with the temple, it was taking approximately twice as long to get a male name completed as a female name. This was not sustainable long term.
    And I do not believe Ordain Women had anything to do with this change.

  28. Well, apparently, I did witness baptisms on my mission according to one of my former district leaders who has reminded me of that today. I was also unaware that women never did baptismal interview, another thing I did on one occasion since I was the only one who could speak French in my district. I can certainly think of some baptisms that I would not have been willing to witness that were shady or coercive. Nobody would have asked me because they would have known I would have objected to what they were doing. Those types of baptisms were usually portrayed to be different than what they were after the fact.

  29. Is that a recent rule that all baptisms must be approved by the mission president? I never talked to my mission president about any of my baptisms, either before they happened or afterwards.

    I recall once or twice being asked to interview another companionship’s investigator before they were baptized, although I was never trained on how to actually do it, and I don’t remember ever having anyone officially interview ours (of dozens that we had).

    We went through the discussions, had them come to church a couple times, and if they accepted the invitation they were baptized. We had a little booklet of forms we filled out and would turn in the completed forms at zone conferences for each baptism performed.

    Did I just totally miss something really important?

  30. AK Transplanted says:

    I really appreciate all of the changes being made. They seem to be grounded in a common-sense re-evaluation of the way things are done in the church. It’s so easy over time to creep into following the “foolish traditions of our fathers,” and we forget why we do things.

  31. Dr Cocoa,

    My mission president never approved any of my (totally legitimate, by the way) baptisms during my mission. Potential converts had to be interviewed by a district or zone leader. Because divorce was not available where I served, there were occasional couples baptized who were not married. Those required stake president approval. Those who had committed a serious sin also required stake president approval. Where is there a requirement for mission president approval?

    I am glad the change has been made. I could suggest a couple more.

  32. Another Roy says:

    Not a great way to introduce the policy change – especially since women are not even mentioned. It is almost like they are trying to fram this as anything but a victory for women or for women’s concerns. I do think there is scriptural support for those being old enough to be baptized to also be old enough to “witness”.
    Mosiah 18:9 talks of baptized individuals standing as a “Witness of God”
    D & C 20:37 lists as requirements for baptism that the individual “Witness before the church” that they have repented.

  33. Western Rover says:

    @AM: Mission president approval would be required outside a stake, as it also is for many other things that would be under a stake president’s jurisdiction when inside a stake (e.g. the 3rd signature on a temple recommend). It would not surprise me if “baseball baptisms” were performed more often outside stakes.

    @DeAnn S: I know a prepper who is convinced these changes are to get ready for the day coming ever nearer that civilization collapses, with the same confidence that you believe the change came in part by an advocacy group that few members have heard of.

  34. These policies change over time, but from what I remember, mission president or stake president approval was only required if the person had an abortion, paid for an abortion, engaged in homosexual sex, or killed someone. (Don’t get me started on lumping those categories together). The interview is supposed to be conducted by the district leader (or zone leader if the district leader is one of the teaching missionaries). Maybe I’ll look it up later to see if this has changed. It’s probably easy to find in Preach my Gospel.

    I’m certain that our mission president knew nothing about most baptisms until after they were reported in the monthly news letter.

  35. Shaking my head. I should have known a positive policy change would be met with complaints.

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