Sarah Jane Weaver: Why the policy change of women as witnesses isn’t really a change at all

On a hot, August day almost 25 years ago, my husband and I knelt at an altar in the Jordan River Utah Temple and united our family through sacred sealing power. My endowed siblings and parents were with me in the room. My father served as a witness of the sacred covenants we made with the Lord and one another.  

My husband, on the other hand, had only one member of his immediate family with him in the temple that day — his older sister. Raised by a less-active mother and Catholic father, my husband and his sister had each found their way along the covenant path. His journey, in fact, came largely as he followed her down the path. As they traveled together, her witness of the Savior became his witness.

I thought of my sister-in-law Wednesday, Oct. 2, when President Russell M. Nelson announced a historic policy allowing women, youth and children who are baptized to serve as witnesses to baptisms; allowing worthy temple recommend holders, including youth with limited-use recommends, to witness baptisms in the temple; and allowing women who are endowed to serve as witnesses to temple sealings.

Women can serve as witnesses for baptisms, temple sealings, President Nelson announces in historic policy change

Women and children who are baptized can now serve as witnesses to baptisms, the Church announced Oct. 2, 2019. Worthy temple recommend holders, including youth with limited use recommends, can also witness baptisms in the temple. Additionally, women who are endowed can serve as witnesses to temple sealings.
Women and children who are baptized can now serve as witnesses to baptisms, the Church announced Oct. 2, 2019. Worthy temple recommend holders, including youth with limited use recommends, can also witness baptisms in the temple. Additionally, women who are endowed can serve as witnesses to temple sealings. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

There is no doubt that “witnessing” her brother’s sealing — had that been an option then as it is now — would have brought my sister-in-law great joy. It would have also meant much to me. My children and I have enjoyed the fruits of the seeds of testimony she nurtured in her brother.

And so I celebrated the new policy with others across the globe who sustain a living prophet and apostles.

President Nelson said the adjustments will allow “covenants to be planted in the hearts of people.” This is a pattern we have seen in the discipleship and witness of women throughout the history of the Lord’s Church.

My own history is filled with women whose lives have been defined by their witness and discipleship.

My grandmother lived with my family in the final years of her life. Congestive heart failure limited her physical abilities; as a child I found a place of refuge sitting on the side of her bed.

When my father’s business failed and my mother returned to full-time employment, her days were filled with work and struggle. Still, on Sundays — every Sunday for months and months  — she made and delivered dinner to our neighbors whose father was dying of cancer.

And many hours of my teenage years were spent with a young mother in my ward, who was a friend to me. When her husband’s pornography addiction led to their separation, she became an example to me of the power of forgiveness and hope.

I celebrate the women in my life whose living witness of the Savior and His Church reminds me that this policy change isn’t really a change at all.

As each of these women — and so many, many more like them — clung to their covenants, their lives became a living witness of the Savior.

They were like Mary, who first witnessed the Resurrected Lord.

So as I ponder the most recent policy change, I celebrate that my missionary daughter can be an active participant in the baptismal service of those she teaches and that I might one day “witness” the temple sealing of a child or someone else special to me. I celebrate that baptismal covenants will sink deep in the hearts of the young women I love as they “witness” live and proxy baptisms. And I celebrate that baptized children will be able to add their voice to 16 million more across the globe as they “witness” baptismal covenants.

But mostly I celebrate the women in my life whose living witness of the Savior and His Church reminds me that this policy change isn’t really a change at all.