a symbolic rite of passage?

Wendy P writes:

I’m in the middle of a ‘post-Mormon’ issue that I’d love to explore. My mostly non-active daughter (age 7) wants to be baptized, mainly to fit in with her active LDS friends and family members. Is it disingenuous to have a child baptized, who really isn’t an active member or believer? She was “born in the Church” and goes to church a few times a year, so she’s familiar with the teachings, but really isn’t a candidate in the traditional sense.

As a post-Mormon parent, can you make baptism for your child a sort of hybrid between orthodoxy and merely a symbolic rite of passage, in order to feel a bond with peers and family?


C. L. Hanson is the friendly Swiss-French-American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! Follow me on mastadon at @chanson@social.linux.pizza or see "letters from a broad" for further adventures!!

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26 Responses

  1. Rogan says:

    I sure wouldn’t let her get baptized. She is seven! Step up to the plate mom. She is a kid, and needs a parent to make this kind of life choice for her. If she still wants to make that choice upon reaching a REAL age of accountability, then give her that option. But baptizing eight-year-olds is like alcoholic parents giving their kids peach schnapps, because the kid asks for it. Sure, the kids WANTS the booze, because she sees grandma and mommy and daddy drinking it all the time. But the issue probably has more to do with the parent dealing with post-mormon issues more than it has anything to do with the well being of the child. Why curse a kid with a lifetime of Mormon weight when things could be so very different?

  2. Hueffenhardt says:

    I don’t see why not. Of course, she will have to pass the Bishop’s test first. Depending on the Bishop, it may go very easily, or he may want to grill you and use the occasion of your daughter’s baptism to get you more involved in the church.

    I’d say do whatever is best for you and your family, after all it is your lives. If you find out that getting her baptized causes more grief than it is worth, then you can reverse the effects through name removal if necessary. Do what you want, and only what you want. Of course, the Church can limit possibilities that they have control over if they don’t want to allow you to do things your way. That is their prerogative, and it is your prerogative to “pick up your marbles and go home”.

  3. carolyn says:

    You must still live in Utah, or LDS peer pressure wouldn’t be so influential. As a convert who lives just outside DC, I don’t entirely understand the pressure to fit in. Naturally, this pressure is part of what the LDS church relies upon to get additional baptisms/members.

    I’m not opposed to letting your daughter join, there may well be many benefits to being active in your ward (wards vary so much and yours may be great), but you realize that this pressure will not end at baptism. It will continue throughout her life until she either moves from Utah or finds a new set of reliable friends/new identity.

    I don’t know why you are inactive, but if your daughter is old enough, you may want to discuss your experiences and let her see there is more to joining a church than receiving acceptance and approval.

    If she is purely into church for the leverage it provides her for acceptance, you can even play the game of disapproving parent while the ward rallies around a valiant child who direly wishes to join. She will have attention and support until she is 18. If she joins now and then drops out, she will be marked; if she rejoins, there may be forgiveness, but she may be a project (not a valiant child with obstacles) for a long time afterward.

  4. Hellmut says:

    Some of my friends had a similar issue, Wendy. Dad baptized their older daughter. By the time, it was the younger daughter’s turn, they had left organized Mormonism.

    YD mentioned that she wanted to be baptized. When the parents followed up, it turned out that she wanted to be dunked by daddy.

    So, next time the family went to the ocean, daddy dunked YD and she was fully satisfied.

  5. WendyP says:

    Thanks for the comments so far.

    Carolyn, we do live in Utah and the peer pressure is great. That, in itself, really isn’t a reason for baptism, but sometimes it’s easier to go along with the crowd, but do it on your *own terms*. When in Rome, and all…

    Rogan, I agree with you on accountablility. I don’t believe even active Mormon children really know what they are agreeing to when they are baptized, but like I said in the initial post, maybe I could have her see it more as a symbolic rite of passage.

    Hueffenhardt, the bishop in my area is exceptional. Almost makes me wish I could believe again. Almost, but not quite. 😉 He’s tried getting us back to church and knows it isn’t going to happen. He knows we left for intellectual reasons that cannot be overcome, and realizes our daughter will not be your typical baptism candidate.

  6. Rogan says:

    Okay, so you call it a ‘symbolic right of passage.’

    A passage into what? A symbol of what?

    Bonding with peers and family?

    Carolyn gives the best advice, because she recognizes that this has nothing to do with symbolic anything, and everything to do with social leverage.

    If your daughter wants the most social leverage, her best course is to sprinkle the possibility of her baptism into her Mormon peer circles like chum into shark infested waters. She will enjoy ten years of the best social leverage money can’t buy, and then she can go to college where she can make a really informed choice.

  7. fta says:

    Wendy- What about the possibility of having a ceremonial rite of passage for your daughter–on your (and her) terms? Do something that is special to both of you, do the ritual in your own way (let her get immersed if she wants), and say your own things, rather than the pre-set prayer? Get her a pretty dress, a crown of flowers, make her feel special. Involve God if you’re into that; don’t if you’re not.

    I’m sure you can find some rituals such as “signing with the promise of baptism” online. Another source would be a book called Women-Church; it contains suggestions for such rituals.

    This might invite scorn from more traditional Mormons, but her 8-year old friends just might be jealous, rather than worried that your daughter is involved in some “pagan” ritual!

    I understand that pressures of being in Utah, but I would agree with the earlier comment that letting the church baptize your daughter would be much more than just a ritual.

  8. Hellmut says:

    Getting a child baptized for social benefits might be a good idea. The price is, of course, that she will remain on the membership rolls and be pursued by home teachers until the end of her days.

    If, on the other hand, it is more about the ritual then just have your ritual to satisfy her need to feel special. Your own ritual also has the advantage that you are in charge. Nobody can force a program on you and your husband or you can perform the ceremony.

    In an official setting, you might find yourself excluded, which would work against your daughter’s status because many of her friends will be married by their fathers. There is an implied message that there is something wrong with her parents.

    I don’t know that you want to do that to your family.

  9. WendyP says:

    Rogan, by “symbolic rite of passage”, I just mean she’ll feel like a big kid, like her cousins and friends after their baptisms. Also, she’ll feel like she belongs, without necessarily having all the indoctrination of a traditional baptized member. Her baptism will have a different meaning, because we will give it a different meaning. I don’t belive she believes in the church’s docrine, because she doesn’t know it–she just wants to fit in.

    I really like Hellmut’s idea of dunking her in the ocean etc, but I don’t think she’d see it as “real”.

    Sometimes I feel guilty that my girls are labelled the “inactive kids”, because of my decision to leave the church. Even though I feel it is best for them in the long run, right now, it causes distance and stress for them (and me!).

    I don’t mind fence-sitting on this issue. I will not attend church, but if they want to go with grandma now and then, I don’t stop them. It’s their choice. I also feel if she wants to be baptized, I should let her have some say in the matter.

  10. WendyP says:

    There is an implied message that there is something wrong with her parents.

    Hellmut, you touch on a subject that will be uncomfortable. The actual baptism. He father wouldn’t be able to dunk her, because he also has left the church.

    We’ll be at the mercy of family who will give the talks and the prayers and perform the actual baptism, and yes, there will be the implication that something is wrong with us.

    I will actually insist that my husband and I participate. Maybe an unorthodox talk or two might shake things up.

  11. WendyP says:

    fta, I love your ideas, I just don’t think my daughter would see it as real. She’s only ever seen it done the LDS way and she’s seen it often, with so many cousins.

  12. Rogan says:

    If you let her get baptized, the church will organize a committee to pick her up each week and bring her to primary. A social thing will turn into belief, and before too long you will have a stranger in your house who is preparing for a mission and trying to reactivate you.

    Eventually she will either come to a mature faith, and live a life of genuine belief, with pain in her heart because she will never have a ‘forever family’ with her mom and dad, or she will fall away, and resent that her parents got her baptized.

    Those are the most likely stakes. Are they acceptable? If so, dunk away. If not, wait until she is old enough to make a REAL choice. If she wants to get baptized when she is sixteen, it will be way more meaningful and memorable than it will be at eight.

  13. chanson says:

    I’m kind of torn on this one.

    Personally, I think the baptism itself wouldn’t bother me, but (as Rogan points out) the adult leaders of the religion will take it as meaning that you give consent for them to teach her their beliefs.

    I lean towards the idea that my kids should be at least 16 before being allowed to officially join a religion, but I’m not sure what I’d do if we were in a community where a religious ceremony is a standard rite of passage that all the kids were doing…

  14. Hellmut says:

    Rogan’s concern speak to a real problem. The way to deal with that is that parents explain their choices to their children every day.

    Another technique is to study religion comparatively. For example, if children attend the LDS Church with Grandma then it might be good for them to see Catholic and United Unitarian meetings. That way, they will acquire perspective, which will help them to arrive at sound judgements.

  15. WendyP says:

    Rogan’s concern speak to a real problem. The way to deal with that is that parents explain their choices to their children every day.

    I take this very seriously. Everytime they attend church or go to a church sponsored activity, I ask what they did and what they learned. If I consider it in some way too indoctrinating, I always talk about how I believe differently and why.

    I really don’t know what to do. I appreciate the discussion. It’s nice to hash things out with others, instead of just in my own mind. I know there are post-Mormons out there, they just don’t seem to live in my very LDS neighborhood (and family).

  16. Rogan says:


    If your daughter’s friends practiced Scientology, would you let your eight-year-old child join that religion as a symbolic gesture?

    Do you still SORT OF believe in Mormonism? I have to ask, because for a person who has REALLY lost faith in Mormonism, it is hard for me to imagine any lasting good coming from baptizing my own young child into that faith.

    We have a child the same age. My son will turn eight soon, and baptism isn’t even on the radar. When we go to visit Mormon grandma this summer, I will be very careful to make sure she doesn’t stick her Mormon talons into my precious little boy. His mind is not for sale/lease.

  17. WendyP says:

    Do you still SORT OF believe in Mormonism?

    No. I’ve been inactive since 1990 (right after my temple wedding that freaked me out). I’ve been actively studying the religion since 2003 and am quite convinced it is a man-made fraud.

    If your daughter’s friends practiced Scientology, would you let your eight-year-old child join that religion as a symbolic gesture?

    Good point. I really have no great fear of Scientology or Mormonism. I don’t think *casually* associating with either one would be detrimental. Maybe by exposing her to it (and other religions) will keep her from becoming a zealot it the future. Kids love to rebel. I can just imagine me insisting she stay away from the LDS church her whole childhood, only to have her meet a nice LDS boy as a teen and completely write me off as a heretic as form of rebellion. Yikes!

  18. chanson says:

    Actually, I think there’s a real benefit in making sure that your chidren are exposed to different belief systems when they’re young.

  19. Hellmut says:

    I agree with Wendy that prohibitions would be counterproductive. There are a lot that parents can do in terms of teaching critical thinking skills and to encourage skepticism.

    Asking questions is always productive. When my children were two and a half, I would create situations where they would challenge what I was saying.

    For example, in the car I would sing out: “There is the subway station. Fort Totten!” and my daughter would sing back: “Noooo! College Park!”

    It’s a playful way to teach them that they can think for themselves rather than submitting to authority figures.

    I also spend a lot of time explaining my reasons to children. The trade off is that it takes a lot more effort to change behavior but in the process the children learn how to think.

    In matters of religion, it’s good to explain one’s views in terms of values. When children understand the relationship between values and views then they will be able to argue their view themselves.

    Besides attending a variety of religious services, children can also learn about religion in documentaries about history. My son, for example, loves Greek mythology. He knows their most important Gods and wants to be an archeologist. We get all the materials, books and DVDs, in the local library.

  20. Rogan says:


    I think we are on exactly the same page. We both want our children to learn how to THINK. But if your young child wanted to experiment with a box of broken glass, you might have second thoughts about how to teach your child critical thinking when it comes to broken glass.

    The question is this — is baptism into Mormonism at age 8 more like a box of broken glass, or more like a box of thin mints?

  21. Hueffenhardt says:

    I look at this differently than Rogan. I believe that people can draw boundaries, even with pushy and persistent priesthood and auxiliary leaders. I don’t believe that things will get out of hand, especially if the parent stays on top of things as Wendy has already been doing. They won’t kidnap your daughter. They would wait until she is an adult before they would ask her to make secret oaths. And as I said before, even if things got really bad, you can have her name removed by writing a letter.

    But, I think the real heart of the matter is in making sure that the daughter understands what baptism means to her and to everyone else (extended family members, church members, etc). She (and you) need to fully understand her motives. Did someone say something to her? How would she feel among peers if she were never baptized? Be particularly watchful for if she has adopted the mindset that baptized people are better than non-baptized people. And make sure that she realizes that she does not have to do anything she does not want to do (attend Sunday meetings all the time, bear testimony, etc) and if she starts feeling pressure, she should tell you. The only other thing is to continue what you are doing by teaching her to question in her mind the things she is being taught and make sure she understands at an age appropriate level why you don’t believe what Mormons believe.

    I think you could pull this off if she wants to and you are cautiously ok with it.

  22. I’m always the last belle to the ball!

    Personally, if this were to come up with my children, I would ask them nonconfrontationally why they want to be baptized. I would help them to understand what baptism really is intended to mean (not just a club initiation). I would ask them to explain the basic beliefs. I wouldn’t give my consent until I felt that my children understood in a significant way what they were getting into, that they were doing it because of true belief, that they understood what else was out there, had heard some of my concerns with Mormon beliefs, etc. They would probably be pretty old before I was satisfied. 🙂

  23. TWank says:

    This one is an easy one for me. I have eleven and eight years since my ex and I made the exact same decision in how to deal with my daughters. Both of them were baptized when they were eight. They were thoroughly indoctrinated and taught the purpose of baptism before being baptized. At the time of their baptism, neither myself or their mother was active or believing, although both extended families were.

    If you ask my nineteen and sixteen year old now, they will both deny being believers or members, but it was their decision. Letting them get baptized at eight to appease grandparents or friends at school was a rather benign and safe lesson in autonomy. You want to teach your daughter to think for herself and in the long run she won’t disappoint (and unlike some devout believers) your love and acceptance of your daughter won’t change if she decides she likes to go to church (just unlikely if she thinks for herself and has you to come home to after Sunday School to discuss things with.)

    So that is my two bits.

  24. WendyP says:

    Thanks Jonathan and TWank.

    TW, nice to know you’ve been through the whole thing and come out the other side with a positive result!

  25. Jesse says:

    hell no! dont ruin your daughters life! I am still a youth stuck in an active LDS family, and I cant stand it! let your daughter know that she can still fit in, even in Utah, without being baptized. I suppose it’s easier for me, living in Denver to hide my LDS membership, but it is still hard. I can’t stand this shut-up-and-listen cult!

  26. chanson says:

    Jesse — I completely sympathize. My experience as a non-believing teen in a strict LDS household is not something I’d care to repeat.

    This particular case is a little different though: the parents are non-believers, so if and when the daughter decides she doesn’t want anything further to do with this organization, her parents will back her decision. Really, that makes all the difference. The worst part is being at odds with your parents since they end up having a whole lot of say in life decisions you are ready to be making for yourself. And knowing that you disagree with their beliefs can inspire them to try to micromanage your life that much more closely…

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