Faith

My Son Is Not Baptized And That Is Okay

My son isn't baptized. I'm okay with that and he hasn't missed out on any blessings.

My son's mother has refused to provide permission for his baptism, and I'm not only okay with that, I support her decision.

I wasn't okay with it at first. When his mother and I decided to separate, I knew it would become an issue, and I was troubled and confused with how to approach the topic with him and his mother. It would not be appropriate to represent her side without her personally contributing to this article. What I have felt is appropriate to share, I wrote in my blog post, "Because I loved her I left her."

However, there is some risk to not including details. Generally, when I share my experience with why I am okay with my son not being baptized, someone almost always dismisses my experiences because their divorce and ex were hostile and not agreeable in the least. My not sharing the details in all its messiness, pain, resentment, years of court and finical ruin is with purpose. The absence of my sharing isn't to be mistaken as an absence of those trials; rather, it’s an example of how I personally decided to model healthy behavior to my children.

Learning With Every Opportunity

Today, as my son and I drove home from church, he did what he does every Sunday afternoon drive home:  he was reviewing what he learned in Sunday School class. Today, after sharing the particular lesson, he also reflected on how it's sometimes difficult to hear the teachers get excited about his class graduating primary this year. They mentioned how the boys will be able to start passing the sacrament. He said, "I wanted to raise my hand and say, not everyone will get to pass the sacrament." But he didn't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. We used the opportunity to revisit the meaning of baptism, priesthood and looking forward to when he turns 18 and can get baptized.

The conversations are always wonderful. Sometimes the conversations are started as a result feeling left out and sad, like today. Sometimes that feeling continues throughout the conversation, and sometimes he has a rekindled hope that his mother might provide her permission. What makes it a little more difficult too is his older brother is baptized. He is the only one in primary and in his current family dynamic who is not baptized. Whenever and however these conversations come up, we explore and validate his emotions and feelings without removing them. We also never frame the conversation in any way that suggests his mother is wrong or bad for her not providing the permission.

Praying Without Parenting

Over the years, we have prayed and fasted many times that his mother would be willing to change her decision. But this was not the prayer we should have been having. Although it’s appropriate on occasion to have faith that others will change their hearts, this was not the only prayer we should have been having. In a divorce especially, there is a huge problem with each separating spouse "parenting" the other. This is often done through divorce decrees, court, manipulation, threats, using children as "pawns," and "righteous indignation" (which is a form of spiritual abuse).

Not only as a divorced father, but as a therapist who routinely works with divorcing couples in the church, I've routinely seen good parents become so fixated on demanding their child's other parent accommodate religious activities that they become abusive. One parent had become convinced that her child would be denied all the blessings of the church if they couldn't get baptized. She spent years in therapy, court and tens of thousands of dollars attempting to get her child's father to grant permission for baptism. Her child during this period began to mirror their mother’s anxiety and fear of losing blessings. The child also started to view their father as an evil man who hated God.

Why is it spiritual abuse? When we place ourselves in a position of power to control, dictate or parent someone in a way that removes, blocks and prevents their choice, it's abusive. When religion is used as that vehicle of control, its religious/spiritual abuse. We don't get to parent, control or demand how our ex decides to parent. Their house, their rules. Our house, our rules.

Isn't it spiritual abuse to deny a child's baptism? No. It could be abuse if that parent is denying baptism out of a desire to hurt the child or the other parent. But this is problematic. Because we don't get to read people’s minds and hearts. But what if the ex SAYS they are doing it to get back at the other parent? Well, pay it no attention. Some people are more married divorced than when they were married.

Abuse is a serious accusation. I have no tolerance for abuse in any form, as a parent or therapist. If the child is in emotional, spiritual or physical danger, there is no gray area. What I have seen, however, is the word "abuse" used to describe a behavior one doesn't like or agree with in the other parent. Neglect is another word that is sometimes lightly used too. For example, the child's other parent is being "neglectful" by not agreeing to be consistent with church attendance or agreeing to let the child be baptized. Divorce is already difficult enough for us and our children. In most divorces, there are going to be clear differences in how each parent decides to parent or not parent. The best thing we can do is teach our children how to thrive in this environment.

Pray And Fast To Change Your Heart

Through our frequent prayers and fasting, it became clear my son was becoming overwhelmed, overwhelmed in not seeing his mom's "heart change," feeling like he was not having enough faith, feeling like he must continuously ask/pester her for permission and fear of getting her angry. Also, I was communicating a subtle and sometimes not so subtle message that his mom was wrong. Quietly, our prayers have never stopped for her to change her heart. But now we pray for a change of our own hearts. In this hyper-focus to change his mother’s heart, we were missing beautiful opportunities to learn and prepare for baptism — whenever that might happen.

When he would ask questions like, "Why won’t my mom let me get baptized?" instead of focusing on the differences in parenting, we would validate and explore how he could love and support his mother. We also explored how God will never deny him any blessings and that we should find ways to serve, and strengthen OUR OWN faith. This has radically and wonderfully changed the spirit of our conversations. Religion has not become a divide in my son and his mother’s life. Where pain could have thrived, beauty and love flourished. Neither I nor my son get to "tell" his mother how to parent. But we have taken the opportunity to learn our Father's will in our lives, in our current situation.

Changing Our Heart Will Increase Our Love For Others

Some parents decide to leave the church, and that's okay too. One of the most destructive things parents can do to their children is engage in "holy wars." Whether that's a parent who decides the LDS faith is bad and requests their name be removed from the records, or one whose religiosity changes over time, or a parent who insists on unwavering church attendance and service, there is a place for each of these parents in parenting well-adjusted and healthy children. But regardless of one's belief in God or the LDS church, what are we teaching our child if they can't love the parent who thinks differently? To a child, you have placed them in an impossible situation. You are communicating that if they stop believing as you do, they will experience the same rejection you are showing the other parent.

Sometimes the situation is reversed. Some parents who believe the church is hurting their child will go to the same lengths to prevent them from attending. But regardless of which parent it is, this divisiveness teaches children how to hate. Or at the very least, how to condition their love based on someone else’s belief system. Learning how to change our own heart restores confidence and expands our ability to love and value others.

No Blessing Is Ever Prevented Or Delayed

My son will not be passing the sacrament when he turns twelve. But that is not to be confused with a denying or preventing of his blessings. As sacred and symbolic as the sacrament is, the act of passing should never be confused as the blessing. My son knows and is intimately familiar with the covenants made in baptism and passing and taking the sacrament. He has been blessed with a spiritual growth, insight, maturity and faith that is far beyond what I had at his age. Sure, it’s difficult at times for him and I to know he's not going to be passing the sacrament or doing temple work with the other youth. But we use that as an opportunity to have our hearts changed and our faith strengthened.

I encourage those in similar situations to exemplify to their children who don't have permission to be baptized to find ways to love and grow, how to lovingly honor their other parent’s decision, how to expand one's faith beyond controlling others, and how to use faith to increase one's agency.

For those serving in callings over youth in similar circumstances, find ways to model the same love. Frame the conversation in ways the youth can participate versus focusing on what they can't do. There is never anything wrong with exploring or understanding a child's situation. But generally, do that with their parent. What I do recommend avoiding is asking "why" questions like, "Why do you think your mom won’t let you get baptized?" But rather, explore with the child what they are doing to grow in the gospel, and emphasize that our loving God will bless them fully in their desires.

I am so thankful for each of my son's teachers who have done exactly this. Their love and support has made this process easier to experience.

Daniel A. Burgess is the author of the forthcoming book on LDS Sexuality. The creator and Admin at the Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages" and content developer at its accompanying Blog, "Mormon Marriages."

Marrying Outside Of Faith

Anonymous Question Series:

The following two questions are so similar that I choose to included them both in this response. 

Q: I met a man who is generous, grateful, patient and compassionate but knew nothing about my faith, which is important for me. Is happiness possible with such a person who does not believe in Christ?

Q: Would different faiths workout in a marriage?

See also:

Happiest Marriages

How to Train Your Spouse

Marital Myth of Communication

Book: "Real Love"

A:

The quick answer, yes! Be mindful that it must be guided by the Lord.

Yes, absolutely. However, as you know, marrying outside the faith adds an additional complexity to the relationship. Though, marrying within the faith doesn't guarantee success or happiness, having an interfaith marriage or marrying someone without a faith also doesn't mean you can't have a successful and happy marriage. You must simply be aware of the potential challenges.

Here are some interesting statistics: 21 Intriguing Interfaith Marriage Statistics

As I have shared in my other post, Happiest Marriages, there has to be a solid foundation of true love — a foundation of what it means to truly adore each other. You must not in any way go into the marriage with the belief that you will "convert" your spouse. Neither should the other ever make you feel the need to compromise your beliefs to any degree. Go into the marriage recognizing that it is inappropriate for you to make your spouse comply to your belief system, just as it would be for them to make you loosen up on your belief system. You will both need to explore what it will look like to raise kids and if that will be in or out of the faith. It will be hard, but if you can both truly embrace each other in adoration, and the Lord guides you in that direction, then yes, absolutely, it can work — and it can work really well.

Organization And Culture Of The Gospel

“And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Luke 12: 29-31)

Every church meeting is influenced by three things:

  • The gospel of Jesus Christ

  • The organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

  • The culture of church members

The gospel of Jesus Christ is pure and eternal, and consists of the doctrines and principles that are the pathway that lead us to becoming like Jesus Christ, and thus exaltation.

The organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the manifestation of the gospel of Jesus Christ on the earth in our dispensation. Although the gospel has not changed, the organization of the church has had slight differences through the dispensations. For example: the law of Moses had a very different church organization than the way ours does today, however, the gospel and purpose behind it remains the same. The organization is divinely inspired and is led by the mouthpiece of the Lord, the prophet, and is put into practice by us, the wonderful but imperfect members of The Church. Although the organization is perfect, the execution is not always perfect.

The culture of the church consists of the habits and traditions of the members of The Church. Some of those cultural traditions are harmless — like putting carrots in your green jello or the never discussed but fierce competition to see how many folding chairs you can carry at a time after the meeting is over so you can finally go home and eat dinner (that is if Mom will ever stop talking). However, the danger of the culture is that some of it begins to be taught as doctrine, which can lead to giant misunderstandings and misconceptions. (Click here for an example regarding the phrase "moderation in all things.") When we, as members of the church, are not diligent in our personal gospel study direct from the source — the scriptures and the words of the prophets — and having our study confirmed by prayer and personal revelation through the Holy Ghost, we are in essence learning the possibly unfounded culture of The Church and not the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ.

In Alma chapter 1, there was a man who "had gone among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God."  (Alma 1:3, emphasis added)  We aren't actually told what his intent was; it could have begun well meaning. Maybe he was even the Sunday School teacher, but in the end he was teaching what HE termed to be the word of God, not the "pure testimony," meaning the doctrine, as Alma suggests to us in Alma 4:19. His teachings were not correct. They were not doctrine. In fact, because it was unfounded in the doctrine, what he was teaching was priestcraft. (Alma 1:12) But "he did teach these things so much that many did believe on his words." (Alma 1:5, emphasis added)

I guarantee you that the many who did believe on his words were not the ones that were sincerely and regularly studying their scriptures (more than just reading, but also studying with the intent to learn). They were the ones who were familiar with the doctrine, but not so familiar that the subtle but significant inconsistencies or errors. And those same people, who again may have been well meaning, would repeat that priestcraft to their respective classes and families. And just like that, a church "culture" had begun to be taught like doctrine.

Learning the gospel from the culture of The Church will not be enough to reach exaltation. We cannot let ourselves be satisfied with it. Personal and sincere study of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to become like our Heavenly Father.

Guest post by Amy R. Nelson. Find more of her writings on her blog “They May Be Light” by clicking here.

The Apostle Peter: A Story Of Unshakable Obedience And Faith, Not Failure

“Some time ago a newspaper in a distant town carried an Easter Sunday religion editorial by a minister who stated that the presiding authority of the early-day church fell because of self-confidence, indecision, evil companions, failure to pray, lack of humility, and fear of man. He than concluded:

Let us as people, especially those who are Christians and claim to abide by the Word of God, not make the same mistakes and fall as Peter fell. (Rev. Dorsey E. Dent, “A Message for This Week.”)

As I read this, I had some strange emotions. I was shocked, then I was chilled, then my blood changed its temperature and began to boil. I felt I was attacked viciously, for Peter was my brother, my colleague, my example, my prophet, and God’s anointed. I whispered to myself, 'That is not true. He is maligning my brother.'” —Elder Spencer W. Kimball

There is no problem with the story of Peter. The way we traditionally read the story of the Apostle Peter might be an incorrect narrative of his character and misrepresentation of the scriptural account. For all the great our beloved Peter did, we often focus on the story of his “fall” and how quickly he repented and became the “Rock” upon which the church was built. It is a miraculous story: the power of the Atonement, a story of how even the best of us can fall away — even deny the very Lord who has given us life. But yet, even with such denials and sins brought on in times of fear and loneliness, pain, or lapses in faith, the poignant power of the atonement reaches beyond our despair and can redeem. Not only does it restore us to what we once were, but it propels us to greatness and unshakable faith. President Gordon B. Hinckley's heartfelt description of the Apostle Peter is as follows:

“My heart goes out to Peter. So many of us are so much like him. We pledge our loyalty; we affirm our determination to be of good courage; we declare, sometimes even publicly, that come what may we will do the right thing, that we will stand for the right cause, that we will be true to ourselves and to others.

“Then the pressures begin to build. Sometimes these are social pressures. Sometimes they are personal appetites. Sometimes they are false ambitions. There is a weakening of the will. There is a softening of discipline. There is capitulation. And then there is remorse, followed by self-accusation and bitter tears of regret …

“If there be those throughout the Church who by word or act have denied the faith, I pray that you may draw comfort and resolution from the example of Peter, who, though he had walked daily with Jesus, in an hour of extremity momentarily denied the Lord and also the testimony which he carried in his own heart. But he rose above this and became a mighty defender and a powerful advocate. So, too, there is a way for any person to turn about and add his or her strength and faith to the strength and faith of others in building the kingdom of God.” (“And Peter Went Out and Wept Bitterly,” Ensign, Mar. 1995, 2–4, 6)

This is the narrative you hear in connection with the tragic and great events of Peter's life in occasional conference talks, sacrament meetings, Sunday School lessons and family home evenings throughout The Church. This version of the Apostle Peter's story is also taught in our current manuals (Lesson 26 of the New Testament Sunday School Manual).

The doctrine is true, but the story might not be. Although this doctrine is pure and correct — the atonement is miraculous, infinite and able to make you into something greater then you now are — it may NOT be the lesson learned from the life of Peter. In no way am I suggesting our leaders have led us astray; the principles of the atonement they teach are most certainly true. I do wonder, however, if the use of the Apostle Peter is an accurate example of this lesson. It doesn't make sense and isn't consistent with his character.

Source: LDS Media

As an early-morning Seminary teacher and now as a Sunday School teacher, I saw how easy it was for the youth to default to the “primary answers” when studying the scriptures but failed to take Nephi’s admonition:

“And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” (1 Nephi 19:23)

Therefore, to help them “liken all scriptures” to themselves, I challenged them to ask a simple question about everything they read: “What does that really mean?” It would go something like this.

Jennifer, will you read John 18:10-12?

Yes, of course Brother Burgess.

10 Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.

11 Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?

12 Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him,

Class, what do we learn from Peter and Christ's response in this story? Yes, Cameron.

Peter was faithful to Christ and Christ forgives everyone. (the Primary answer, not wrong, just not likening the scriptures to ourselves.)

Great answer Cameron, BUT, what does that really mean to you, to us? Kevin, yes, what do you think it really means?

Well, I know if I was Peter I would be excited to protect a man I admired and loved, especially if it was the Savior. I would want to show him how much I trust him and would be willing to defend him. I can’t imagine what Peter felt about the Savior. But last week I found out that someone at school was bullying my little sister, and I wanted to find that person and beat them up. My sister gets on my nerves at times, but I would do anything to protect her.

Wonderful answer Kevin, I believe that helps us understand a little better what Peter's love and respect for the Savior was like. Additionally, even with that great love Peter had for the Savior, what lesson does the Lord teach Peter that will help us with how we show love to those like your sister and her bully?

As for the “denial” story of Peter, I can’t help but ask, “What does that really mean?” What if I were Peter, sworn absolute loyalty to Christ, loved him, admired him, cared profoundly for him, would willing give my life for him? Peter wasn't empty in his words. His actions were evidence of his desires, faith and love. Why would he rebel from his established character and do exactly the opposite of what he did just moments previous. Fear? A moment of weakness? There is no evidence of such, no indication, no patterns to suggest the slightest fear or wavering faith.

In 1971, then Elder Spencer W. Kimball examined his fellow apostle's traditional story and felt it didn't make any sense. Therefore, he likened it to himself and provided a much different perspective and this interesting observation:

"Much of the criticism of Simon Peter is centered in his denial of his acquaintance with the Master. This has been labeled “cowardice.” Are we sure of his motive in that recorded denial? He had already given up his occupation and placed all worldly goods on the altar for the cause. If we admit that he was cowardly and denied the Lord through timidity, we can still find a great lesson. Has anyone more completely overcome mortal selfishness and weakness? Has anyone repented more sincerely? Peter has been accused of being harsh, indiscreet, impetuous, and fearful. If all these were true, then we still ask, Has any man ever more completely triumphed over his weaknesses?...

If Peter was frightened in the court when he denied his association with the Lord, how brave he was hours earlier when he drew his sword against an overpowering enemy, the night mob. Later defying the people and state and church officials, he boldly charged, “Him [the Christ] … ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” (Acts 2:23.) To the astounded populace at the healing of the cripple at the Gate Beautiful, he exclaimed, “Ye men of Israel … the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate … ye denied the Holy One … And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:12–15.) (Speeches of the Year [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1971], pp. 1–8.)

Elder Kimball considers the possibility that stress, confusion or even lack of understanding were factors:

Could it have been confusion and frustration that caused Peter’s denial? Could there still have been some lack of understanding concerning the total unfolding of the plan? Being a leader, Peter was a special target of the adversary. As the Lord said:

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:

But I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not. (Luke 22:31–32.)

Peter was under fire; all the hosts of hell were against him. The die had been cast for the Savior’s crucifixion. If Satan could destroy Simon now, what a victory he would score. Here was the greatest of all living men. Lucifer wanted to confuse him, frustrate him, limit his prestige, and totally destroy him. However, this was not to be, for he was chosen for and ordained to a high purpose in heaven, as was Abraham.

Peter followed the Savior to his trial and sat in the outer court. What else could he do? He knew that many times the Savior himself had escaped from the crowd by slipping out of their clutches. Would he again do so? (Speeches of the Year [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1971], pp. 1–8.)

A denial would be uncharacteristic of Peter and incongruent with the record we have of him. He was faithful in all he did and desired to never leave his Savior's side. An examination of his interactions with the Lord shows nothing amiss:

  • Peter meets Jesus through his brother Andrew who was a follower of John the Baptist. (John 1:40-41)

  • Peter willingly leaves his career and livelihood as a fisherman to follow Jesus (Matthew 4:18, Mark 1:16-18)

  • Peter has Jesus heal his sick mother-in-law. (Matthew 8:14-15, Mark 1:29-31, Luke 4:38-39)

  • Peter demonstrates great faith in Jesus when casting his net to the other side of his boat after an unfruitful night of fishing. (Luke 5:4-7)

  • Jesus knows the heart and character of Simon and changes his name to Peter (from the Greek word petros, meaning rock or stone). (Mark 3:16, Luke 6:14, John 1:42)

  • Peter becomes one of the witnesses to a miracle Jesus performed, raising a little girl back from the dead. (Matthew 9:23-26, Mark 5:37-43, Luke 8:51-55)

  • Peter's desire and faith to become like Jesus is demonstrated when he sees Jesus walking on water. He is the only Apostle who asks Jesus to command him to walk to Him. Peter's inability to completely do so should not be viewed as a failure, but rather how great our Lord is and how Peter's faith was greater than any other's in that boat to even try to do as Jesus was doing. (Matthew 14:28-29, John 6:19-20)

  • Peter makes a pronouncement about the deity of Jesus. (Matthew 16:16, John 6:68-69)

  • Jesus tell Peter why he is the rock and that the Church would be built on him. (This couldn't possibly be a man who would deny Christ.) (Matthew 16:18)

  • After Jesus proclaims that He will be killed and then rise on the third day, out of love and concern, Peter "rebukes him" and forbids it. But Jesus sternly informs Peter it must happen, and it is the adversary's desire He not complete his mission. (Matthew 16:21-23, Mark 8:31-33)

  • Peter, along with James and John, witnesses the transfiguration of Jesus and the appearance of Moses and Elijah on a mountain. (Matthew 17:1-3, Mark 9:2-3, Luke 9:29-32)

  • When Jesus is arrested by the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, Peter takes his sword out and cuts off the ear of a servant. (Matthew 26:51, Mark 14:47, Luke 22:50, John 18:10)

But what about Jesus's prediction that Peter would deny Him three times before a rooster crowed? (Matthew 26:34, Mark 14:30, Luke 22:34, John 13:38) And what about Peter telling Jesus that he would never deny Him? (Matthew 26:35, Mark 14:31)

In reference to Peter's interchange with Christ and his denial, John F. Hall (FairMormon Bio), Professor of Classics, Comparative Studies at BYU, says the following in his book "New Testament Witnesses of Christ: Peter, John, James and Paul":

"Close examination of the original Greek of John's account (John 13:38) reveals that the phrase "till thou hast denied me thrice" is structured around the verb αρνηση, a second person singular future verb form. Virtually the same verb άπαρνηση, in the same second person singular future indicative form, appears in Matthew (26:34) Mark (14:30), and Luke (22:34). Although the tense is future, and may accurately be construed as indicating a prediction or prophecy of Peter's future behavior, it is possible that such a rendering is not at all the meaning of Christ's statement. In Greek, a future tense verb in the second person can also be construed to express a command, just as if it were an imperative form of the verb. The usage is given the grammatical term of the "jussive future." It occurs not infrequently in both classical and koine Greek.

Accordingly, if the future in these passages is interpreted as a jussive future, then Christ would seem actually to be giving Peter a command to deny knowing Him, and Peter's protestation would seem to reflect his dissatisfaction about such an instruction. This rendering appears very much in keeping with Peter's natural courage ..." (Pg. 65-66)

John F. Hall then make this insight in the context of this information:

"Restraint would test Peter's faith so much more, for he was being refused permission to expose himself to the tribulations that Christ must undertake alone." (Pg. 66)

What a wonderful and harmonious interpretation of the Apostle Peter's story, equally powerful and profound as the traditional version but probably a more accurate view of Peter's character. Once again, in the words of President Kimball,

"What was he to do? Could he do more? What would have been the result had he admitted his connection? Would he have lived to preside over the church? Peter had seen the Savior escape from crowds many times and hide from assassins. Is it conceivable that Peter also saw advisable advantage to the cause in his denial? Had Peter come to fully realize the hidden meaning in the oft-repeated phrase “Mine hour is not yet come” (John 2:4), and did he now understand that “now is the Son of man glorified” (John 13:31)?" (Speeches of the Year [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1971], pp. 1–8.)

So, what should you do the next time you hear the traditional version of the story of the Apostle Peter? Just listen and ask in quiet reflection: "But what does that really mean?" And allow the Spirit to guide your understanding as you liken the lesson to your own life.