The baby blessings we do in the LDS Church are a wonderful ritual, in my opinion. I’ve pondered what kinds of things I might say when blessing my own little one ever since I first thought about becoming a father. As I’ve become increasingly feminist over the years, I developed a desire to do everything possible to include my wife in the blessing. After all, she did all the work through pregnancy and labor, and the baby blessing is the most public presentation of the culmination of that work. Why should the man get the spotlight? Could my wife hold the baby during the blessing? Could she say some words of her own?
Being that both of us are somewhat reserved socially and not intent on rocking the boat, we felt uncomfortable with those options. What I decided on was that I would use inclusive phrases in the blessing such as, “Your mother and I…” whenever possible. I congratulated myself for being so thoughtful.
Days before the blessing, however, something dawned on me. I had overlooked another option so obvious that I’m embarrassed to admit it: I never even considered asking my wife what kinds of things she would like to hear in the blessing. Wow. My wife, of course, was quite content to provide me with her ideas. (Side note: maybe I should read more Mormon feminist blogs.)
Critiquing Religious Practice
Now, I’ve been accused at times of actively searching for problems with my church; you know, “making mountains out of molehills” or “seeing a bogeyman in every closet”. This charge is sometimes, although not very often, true. I do affirm that there are sexist elements* in our doctrine, our manuals, our rhetoric, and when I discuss this with others, I am usually told that these religious or cultural elements are divinely inspired, irrelevant, invented, or isolated.
To put it concisely, the realization that hit me so strongly is this: if a guy like me can’t even spot something I’m actively looking for—namely, inequalities and ways to minimize them—how in the world would these problems be acknowledged or understood by someone who refuses to even admit there is systemic inequality in the way we treat and speak about women?
The funny thing is that I’m not suggesting that seeking my wife’s input on the blessing is at all a controversial move. I don’t think even the most conservative Mormon I know would find it objectionable. However, I searched Church publications for guidelines on the blessing of children. Nowhere did I find a suggestion to consult with the mother to determine what blessings she might seek to have imparted on her own child. In fact, this possibility doesn’t appear in guidelines about any ordinances for which it might be highly advisable. I realize that a lot of men just improvise the blessing, saying whatever they feel prompted to say at the moment. But a lot of other men prepare, and in my opinion the occasion calls for it. And even if the father doesn’t gather any thoughts beforehand, shouldn’t the mother still be given the chance? In my opinion, the fact that something so obvious (and yet so simple and so wholesome!) is neither commonplace in practice nor in guidelines, constitutes powerful prima facie evidence of systematic inequality.
Our Worldviews Limit Us
Social scientists who speak on phenomena like structural racism or sexism emphasize just how difficult it is for people to step outside their own worldviews. We survive day to day by interpreting the data we accumulate in our lives and forming it into patterns. Anything that doesn’t fit our current pattern is in jeopardy of being miscategorized or even ignored, and this can happen without us even being the least bit aware of it. None of us is excluded from the confines of a worldview. Everyone has blind spots, even when we’re consciously aware of our vulnerabilities in that regard.
That’s why, even though it’s difficult, I think it’s so important to try to see the world through other people’s eyes and give them the benefit of the doubt when they are pointing out something that we simply cannot see. Yet unfortunately, whenever a critique of my religious community surfaces, by far the most common reaction is to shout it down rather than consider what merit it might have. Whether it’s politics or even religion, we would all do well to curb fanatic, unquestioning cheerleading and to always leave the door open to the possibility that someone else might have a decent idea that would improve our own corner of the world.
*I want to be sure to head off all notions that when I’m calling for equality I’m pretending men and women are exactly the same, or trying to erase all differences between the sexes, or saying women should act like men, or that men are disposable, etc. That’s just plain nonsense. The changes I’m calling for relate to roles, duties, and rhetoric that unnecessarily limit what women can or should do.
Trevor, great post. Little suggestions like the ones you have mentioned can go a long ways towards building bridges among those in the LDS community
While I am partial to voicing what is prompted by the Spirit during any type of blessing/prayer instead of prepping beforehand…I like these ideas. Letting a mom hold the baby during the baby blessing…genius! What a fantastic, small change that would send such a message of inclusivity to Sisters, and create a bonding moment between husband and wife. Sounds like a beautiful thing to me. If I weren’t done having babies – I would make that happen for the next one. In some wards the Bishop asks the mom to stand up for a little recognition after the blessing. That is nice. But this sounds even better.
I agree with so much of what you have written. Let’s hear the different voices, without being afraid or threatened. My thoughts, though, on father’s blessings is that they are from The Father; and as such, it doesn’t matter what I or my husband would have the baby be blessed with. It is an intuitive and spiritual process, and our desires for what we want for the baby should not get in the way of what the Spirit tells us The Father wants the baby to be blessed with. It is really a small example of seeking God’s will and not our own.
This isn’t a rebuttal to what you said at the end of your thought, just something to chew on.
As I was studying for my Doctrine and Covenants post that I am writing for our blog, I ran across some interesting things:
1)Doctrine and Covenants 109, which is the Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer, was written with the help of Oliver Cowdery.
“From Saturday 19th attended Heb.[rew] School, up to Saturday the 26. Nothing of note’s transpiring. This day our school did not keep, we prepared for the dedication of the Lord’s house. I met in the president’s room, pres. J. Smith, jr. S. Rigdon, my brother W.A. Cowdery & Elder W. Parish, and assisted in writing a prayer for the dedication of the house.” (Oliver Cowdery Journal (March 1836), located in Church Archives:
2) Section 102 is the minutes of the first high council of the Church. It was written in the hand of Orson Hyde. Joseph Smith and the complete council made extensive corrections of the original. Not necessarily a “revelation” in the classic sense in that more than one person worked on it – yet it scripture.
My mission president advocated this very thing 30 years ago as we served in the North Carolina Greensboro mission. He encouraged his elders to visit with their wives and discuss the blessings that their wives and the mother of their child would like to see sealed upon their child. And they weren’t just generic “when you get old enough you will find a companion and be married in the temple” kinds of things. They had to do with gifts, character, personality, etc. Unfortunately, many don’t realize what a great opportunity they have as they take this infant in their arms and seal up him the blessings of heaven and eternity. It is such a grand way to begin life. We give our children “back to school blessings”. Why would we not want to give our child the best blessing possible when they are beginning the most challenging “school” that they will face?
I am a woman, I have had 6 children. I am very very grateful for my husband going off of inspiration and not pre planning or trying to ask me to come up with things for the blessing. You see, some of my children’s blessings have blessed them with specific things and talked about trials they would face. It is something I am just learning about right now, 6 years later. There is no way my husband or I could ever know what things my children will face, but the Lord does. The Lord is blessing them with things they need. You forgot the Lord in the blessing. I have had times in my life…when Satan and his followers have tried to attack me and to be quite honest, I don’t want my husband’s “blessing” or a pre planned speech that comes from my husband, I NEED the Lord and I have been eternally grateful for the blessings I have received from the Lord, through my husband’s hands. I want the same for my children, I don’t want what me or my husband can think up for a new baby, I want what the Lord has to give them, for he knows all things, especially pertaining to my children. It is hard to wrap this up in the comments sections, blessings that have been the most powerful thing I have experienced.
I am also a mother, and realize that baby blessings are partially expressions of the father and partially promptings of the spirit. They always have been. As such, I appreciate this wider approach. This is not a viewpoint of little faith.
I don’t think the only point inspiration can flow is while the father is speaking the words of the blessing. I felt just as inspired while I contemplated my daughter’s future in discussion with my wife beforehand as I did when I was standing in the circle blessing my daughter.
And it’s not like I used a cheat sheet or read the blessing off a napkin (not that I’d condemn anyone choosing this route). To me, it was simply a matter of preparation.
It’s similar to how we train missionaries: study and prepare by the Spirit so you can teach by the Spirit.
As to whether the words I ultimately uttered were my will or God’s, well, I confess I have no idea how to distinguish my will from God’s, but I don’t think God has the slightest problem with me blessing my daughter with what I feel is best for her either. 🙂
Exactly. This notion that inspiration can only happen in the moment of the blessing is strange to me.
Great post and discussion. Thanks!
I am just finding out about a kidney disease my children have 6 years later, and there is no way we would have known that our family would have to deal with it, but the Lord did, and during her baby blessing, she was blessed with specific things in regards to this. Gratefully our children were blessed through inspiration from the Lord, because that is what they need. When I was attacked, I asked my husband on the spot for a blessing, and there was no preparation in it and it was the most powerful blessing in my life, because it came from the Lord. I am eternally grateful for my husband and using the priesthood to bless our family.
Here’s a comment made in another forum by a member of a non-LDS Mormon group:
“In Reform Mormonism fathers AND mothers name and bless the child together at home in the presence of family and friends. The ordinance and event is celebratory.”
love this. thank you!
Wow. Trevor, what an insightful, timely post. Thanks for sharing your eye-opening experience. I agree: our own “world veiws” are often quite limiting. This is really key to the whole inequity issue, isn’t it? And key to what seems like one of the last big challenges of the world and most especially the church in moving closer to what I believe is the true model of Godhood, family, man/womanhood. We all know moms and dads are each inspired in their own unique ways with regard to their children. Why wouldn’t both be included in this beautiful blessing ritual?
You’re the age of my own kids. I don’t know why, but this gives me great hope — that younger men and women at earlier ages are considering weighty matters. . . I think I’ll send them this link. Again, nice work. And congratulations to your family.
And what “world-view” is valid? And who makes that determination? I grow weary of hearing about somebody’s “world-view” because of the high potential of colliding ideas and “world-views” that makes cultural confrontation between sacred and secular systems unavoidable.
When we reason this way, we sound eerily similar to Korihor’s humanistic preaching in the Book of Mormon that “every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength”, thereby arguing that his listeners had no need for Christ and His Atonement. “And thus [Korihor] did preach unto them, leading away the hearts of many, . . . yea, leading away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms.”
I find it interesting that the main tenet of the Mormon Feminists is this: “As Mormon women, we call upon the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Relief Society General Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to thoughtfully consider and earnestly pray about the full integration of women into the decision-making structure of the Church and the question of women’s ordination.”
One of the bullet points to their premise, and one of the steps to the final goal of women ordination, is: “Lift the prohibition on women’s participation in the blessing of their children.”
Here again is another example of “to what end?” You decide. What agenda or “world-view” are you going to align yourself with?
Very powerful, Thank You
A few points.
1)I suppose it’s ultimately up to God to determine which worldviews are valid. I like the one I have at the moment because it works for me; I’m certainly not going to insist that it’s the best one or only correct one. (But I may occasionally evangelize it to others. Heh.)
2)RE: Mormon Feminism, it’s certainly not a monolithic movement, and I know for a fact that many staunch Mormon feminists aren’t interested in ordination, and even more aren’t primarily concerned with it. Most of the efforts right now seem to be focused on eliminating doctrinally irrelevant differences (see, for instance, LDS Wave).
3)To what end? To the full realization of the premises that “all are alike unto God” and that Mormon theology has the potential for more equal treatment of women than current practice and culture produce; to help people understand that many of today’s prescribed gender roles and inequalities are actually harmful and constraining to lots of women; and to deeply contemplate whether much or most of the differences in the way women are treated are likely due to the traditional privilege that men have held and not due to God’s will.
Then why identify yourself with feminism? Does it define you in some way? In the Book of Mormon, in 4th Nephi, it discusses the state of the people after Christ’s coming thus: “There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.” Labeling yourself as a “feminist” is the same thing, in my view, as calling oneself some sort of “-ite.” It also presupposes some sort of alignment to an ideology, an agenda, which may or may not be in harmony with the Gospel and General Authorities of the Church. If you truly believe that “all are alike unto God” then the “feminist” label needs to go away.
Elder Oaks said, “A woman’s righteous and appropriate desires to grow and develop and magnify her talents—desires strongly reinforced by current feminist teachings—also have their extreme manifestations, which can lead to attempts to preempt priesthood leadership, to the advocacy of ideas out of harmony with Church doctrine, or even to the abandonment of family responsibilities.”
If we insist on referring to ourselves as a “feminist”, then we need to be very cautious, and it could lead to us loosening our grip on the iron rod.
I do certainly believe “all are alike unto God”, yet I still identify as “male”, “drummer”, “father”. Labels don’t have to be judgment statements about moral superiority.
Labels can indeed be negative, especially when they are used to divide “us” from “them”, and to denigrate “them”. But when we are the ones intentionally applying them to ourselves, they still have some use. When I say I’m a “Mormon”, I’m communicating something about my heritage, my lifestyle, etc. Of course, labels are always liable to be misinterpreted, and there’s a risk in that. Many Mormons and/or conservatives are averse to “feminism” and see it as a dangerous or fringe movement, even if they fail to understand it or familiarize themselves with feminist moderates. But I think that’s actually a good reason for moderates to take a label upon themselves and influence the movement.
Well said Trevor
I clearly remember a specific Baby Blessing given in a Philadelphia, Pa. Ward. I can’t recall whether the child’s parents were not members or less active, but the loving Grandmother sat on a chair in the center of the circle representing the family, instead of having an unattached Ward member do the honors. The child was comfortable and Grandma moved by the Spirit of the blessing given. It felt right! How about this for an idea….during testimony sharing, the mother could easily share her personal testimony of Jesus Christ and add her thoughts on what good experiences she hopes and prays will come into her babies life! More baby blessings are given in the comfort and quiet of our homes and I like that idea.
Before my son was blessed, my husband very thoughtfully sat down with me and we wrote down all the blessings we hoped for our baby. It was his idea, and him being a very strong feminist, I shouldn’t have been surprised. My in-laws didn’t have a baby blessing at the church, but instead invited a small amount of family to the house, we all stood in a circle, the father prayed and then each person said what they hoped for the child. It was very sweet and quite beautiful.
My husband and I wanted to bless our baby at home, but the first counselor of the bishopric said it was strongly discouraged. He said, “The baby blessing is for the ward, not the family.” That comment definitely rubbed me the wrong way. Isn’t the blessing for the family and, more importantly, the baby? Maybe I’m wrong.
With local leadership it just depends on who you ask. A blessing at home I think is very common.
That’s not even close to being right. The naming ordinance is for the baby. It is a prayer to Heavenly Father from the father on behalf of his child. The hand book doesn’t mention a filled pew clause.
I don’t remember much of my first child’s blessing, but my youngest I remember well. It was a great experience for all of us. I enjoyed this post!
I like this idea!
Thank you for the post. I am a feminist and a Mormon. I always gave my babies a private blessing the night before the public one. It consisted of holding them in the rocking chair and expressing my personal desires for them, to them and to God. It was intimate and quiet, which I always preferred to the public blessing. And, personally, that is where I’ve generally found God, more in the private than the public rituals. Having said that I believe the church would be richer for all involved if there was greater equity between male and female in our spiritual practice.
I agree. Thank you for sharing.
Beautiful. Thank you for this!
I have to agree with Natali — you forgot the Lord in all of this. Is the blessing about you, your wife or the child God has entrusted to your hands? Let me take a different angle … if the Savior was in attendance and offered to bestow a blessing on your child while you both sat with the congregants, would you feel cheated? Ot is no different.
Our Heavenly Father has given authority and keys that allow such pronouncements. We act as proxy of Him; all that is required is that we be in-tune. Priesthood power comes from righteous living (and that includes selfless motives). I say this with all meekness and brotherly kindness — brother there seems to be an element of pride in this article I find disturbing. I get the desire for more inclusion, but, if we aren’t careful with our approach we can exclude the one person who should be First on our list (capitol F) and that is the Lord. I counsel with my wife before every blessing, because we share the role of raising our children equally (and because she’s so wonderfully intuitive). But we are simply extensions of the real Teacher.