An Ordinance Considered

Forgive me if this is too personal.

I'm supposed to baptize my son on Saturday.

Those bored people who have followed my brief career as a fabulously overpaid writer of essays and blog posts probably know that much of my writing time is spent trying to figure out why my relationship with the Church seems to much more complicated and painful than it's advertised to be.

If the scriptures were to define me as forgivingly as possible, they'd say I am the kind that lives by faith. I don't know anything about the divinity of Jesus, the prophethood of Joseph Smith, or the correctness of the church they supposedly established together. All this is beyond me.

That's OK when life is normal, when you can live at arm's length from the ideas and institutions that have consumed you for so many years. But when you find that you are expected to initiate your very own son into that labyrinth of doctrines and covenants you have been painfully negotiating for years, I think you need to decide if what you're being asked to do is a good thing.

In a way, I feel like I'm walking onto a puppet stage, and that strings will come down to attach to my arms and mouth. Then they'll make me say the prayer and lower my very own son into the water. And the whole time my mind and soul will be wondering, just what is going on here?

Are ordinances moments that take us over, dance us around, and leave us to interpret them for the rest of our lives? Or can they be a language helping human beings connect with each other?

Right now I feel like I'm putting my son in the care of a rich uncle that doesn't really like me and whom I don't quite trust.

I don't want to feel like this. I want to feel that baptizing my son is a good thing. But doctrine and theology aren't going to help.

What I'm hoping is that you nice folks out there in Blogland can tell me your stories of being baptized or baptizing someone, where the baptismal act meant something to you beyond getting your soul saved. How some of you, perhaps in my same position, were able to construct a story that helped you make the baptism meaningful.


  1. Well ya know I’ve never been a big fan of the motherhood=priesthood equation. But perhaps this is a time when turnaround is fair play. The birth of my son was a sacrament to me. He issued from my body accompanied by water and the Spirit. A joyous, exhuberant meeting! Now you get the same thing. You and your son can only benefit from this bonding experience as, through water and the Spirit, you become his spiritual father and usher him into the body of Latter-day Saints. Ultimately he will decide what relationship he will have with Deity and with the Church. But for now you and he can unite in your connection to the spiritual forces of the Universe. Good luck with your struggles and a big hug from me on that special day.

  2. RorySwensen says:


    Sometimes we can safely stop wrestling and just experience our culture and our rituals. I think this is one of those times where you can relax and just “be”.

    This baptism will be a time to celebrate the best of our people, the best of our teachings, the most inspiring of our hopes. It will be a meaningful and concrete experience for your son, a veritable right of passage on his journey through life. It will also be a time to celebrate among your family – celebrating the event for your son, and the shared beliefs and experiences among one another.

    Bored in Vernal is right when she says that “Ultimately [your son] will decide what relationship he will have with Deity and with the Church.” But at this age, he needs to have things fairly concrete. There will be time in the future to talk about the subtleties, to examine the rituals, to question what it is all about – but now isn’t that time for him. Right now it is important for him to belong, to be inspired, to take important steps on his way to becoming a man. This is but one of them.

    As he continues to mature he will start to have more questions. He’ll begin to see shades of gray. And he will see a father who not only openly and honestly wrestles with his own spirituality, but who also celebrates and values his culture and heritage. I think he’s a pretty lucky little boy.

  3. Matt Thurston says:

    You’ve just expressed a question or fear I think about all the time. The last “official” ordinance I performed was the blessing of my third child. This was fairly easy for me in the sense that I had very few misgivings. In fact, the official naming and blessing of a child is a tradition I felt very good about, a rite that feels to me like a three-way link between myself, my child, and God. In many ways I likened myself unto Kunte Kinte from Alex Haley’s “Roots”, a book I’m very fond of. In it, according to the Mandinka tradition, the father carries the child into a field by himself late at night, and under the moon and stars, whispers the baby’s name in his/her ear three times before anyone else can hear the baby’s name. Then the father holds the child upward to the heavens and says, “Behold, the only thing greater than yourself!”

    Unlike naming blessings, Baptism, and later, Priesthood blessings, seem to be a four-way link between child, father, God, and the Church. As you say above, the rite comes packaged with a host of meanings, behaviors, expectations, etc. I feel unsure about myself. Fortunately, I have three more years until my oldest is ready for baptism. Hopefully by then I’ll feel less unsure. Until then, I’m just as interested in the responses to this question as you are.

    By the way, I heard John Remy say some interesting things about giving his son the priesthood at one of the Sunstone Symposium sessions. Maybe he’ll have something to say…

  4. johnremy says:

    Matt, that’s a beautiful Haley reference. Makes me wish I could go back and try it again (if my kids were small enough to lift up towards the heavens). 🙂

    Stephen, I’ve really struggled with this as well. I kept myself active long enough to baptize both of my children and to give the priesthood to my son. The latter act was so disconcerting (mainly because there would be no parallels for my daughter) that I decided that it would be my last official act (at least for now). Strangely, this has brought me a sense of peace and freedom–I’m no longer the marionette getting all tangled up in the strings. So I’m afraid that I don’t have anything soothing to offer, other than companionship.

  5. janaremy says:

    I can’t tell you the story of my baptizing anyone…But I can tell you how I felt when my children received their ordinances from their father.

    I was glad that it was him, and not a generic church leader, who performed the ordinances. The blessings, baptisms, confirmations, and ordination were done with the love and conviction of a parent trying to do the best for his child. When he prayed over our children he didn’t use rote formaulaic phrases, he spoke from his heart and soul, and with great spiritual power.

    Though my belief in the salvific necessity of such ordinances may change over time, I will always remember the sincerity with which John performed them. I hope our children will remember that, too.

  6. Mark IV says:

    My response is pretty close to what Rory said in comment # 2.

    Start with the great things about the church. For me, it was inspirational to witness our response to disister relief last Fall in New Orleans and the Mississippi coast. Each weekend, over 1500 men left work on Friday, drove all night (some as far as 600 miles), worked all day Saturday, slept on the ground that night, worked all day Sunday and drove home Sunday night in order to be at work on Monday. They did this at their own expense, and they did it for 12 weeks. I don’t think any other organization on earth could accomplish that voluntarily, and I don’t think those results can be completely disconnected from our doctrine.

    So my suggestion would be to see the baptism as an event where you initiate your son into a culture that produces that kind of people.

  7. Nick Literski says:

    Janaremy’s comment about fathers performing ordinances is well stated. I didn’t plan it that way, but I came out of the closet about six weeks before my youngest daughter’s baptism. It was very important for her to have “daddy” perform that baptism, but “daddy” wasn’t able to do so. I was technically worthy at the time, but no longer believing in the whole model of “sin” and “atonement.” Further, it would have required hiding the fact that I had come out until after the baptism was performed (though I’d technically be worthy, I seriously doubt many bishops would allow such circumstances). Eventually, my daughter would have been old enough to figure out the conditions under which I had performed the ordinance, and she likely would have been troubled by it.

    As her father, I helped her select a good man to perform the ordinance. As the situation at home deteriorated, I was unable to remain in the area to attend the baptism, but I felt things were in good hands. I had previously expressed to my ex-wife that I had no problem with any good man performing the ordinance–I only drew the line at one person who was NOT, under any circumstances, to baptize my daughter. I was determined that my overbearing, “play the family patriarch,” egotistical father-in-law would NOT perform that ordinance, particularly since he would have taken a certain delight in doing it when I couldn’t.

    Of course, my daughter’s choice of who would baptize her didn’t end up doing it. You can guess who DID end up performing the ordinance.

  8. Dan says:


    This is an issue that is close to my heart, as it’s an issue that I’ve struggled with, too. Bottom line is that I agree with everyone here and encourage you to do the ordinance and enjoy every minute of it. Leave all your conflicted feelings behind.

    In his banquet address at Sunstone this year, Ardean Watts speaks about being a designated babysitter during times when family members are participating in temple ordinances but says, “I have participated in the blessing of grandchildren as a true believer and in my heart of hearts I know there is virtue in the ceremony and I rejoice.” Amen.

    In an Sunstone editorial I wrote several years ago, I shared my disappointment over a bishop’s decision not to allow me to ordain my son to the priesthood (now some six plus years ago). If interested, here’s a link that story.

    Have a wonderful time Saturday!Dan

  9. jana says:

    I was thinking about your post last night and I realized that in some ways women might have more freedom to have doubts or heterodox ideas, simply because women usually aren’t in positions where they are having do perform ordinances or espouse doctrine from the pulpit.

    While I do wish that both men and women held priesthood offices in the church, perhaps because women can’t, they are fortunate because they are freed from the guilt and frustration that you are feeling over your son’s ordinance.

  10. Stephen Carter says:

    At the same time, perhaps that’s why these things are put in place, to either call the wayward to repentance, or to urge conformity. I can see how events like this might make a person more aware of how he or she is interacting with his or her family or community. Perhaps they are little crucibles to bring out some thought in a person.

    Worked with me, I guess.

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