I will not be at the Priesthood session on October 5th. I live in Dallas and after much searching for plane tickets, I reluctantly decided it was too expensive for me to attend. I would love to be there, to stand in solidarity with my sisters and to inspire our church leaders with our desire to fully participate in the Lord’s work. I am more excited about the gospel than ever before and I still wanted to share in this visible action of faith in our living church so I set out to find a “proxy” to take my place at Priesthood session. I thought of several old roommates who were living in Utah and I considered asking a few aunts but ultimately I felt prompted to ask my little sister Natalie.
Natalie’s testimony started to unravel in High School. The inequality she saw between men and women was stark and the intolerance she saw toward gays was inexcusable. When her best friend (he was literally the boy next door since she was 5) came out of the closet during her senior year, she became even more sensitive to the Church’s treatment of gays. I remember assuring her that the church was true even if there were a lot of things that didn’t make sense to us. After all, the church was a work in progress and we believed in continuing revelation. Surely everything would be sorted out eventually.
I encouraged Natalie to apply to BYU even though she didn’t feel it was a good fit considering her misgivings with the church. I promised her she’d meet so many amazing people and she’d see there was a place for her in the church. That was the experience I had at BYU. I found a niche of liberal, cheese-loving, International-Cinema-going friends that strengthened my testimony and reassured me that I belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Natalie acquiesced and went to BYU and I prayed that she’d have a good experience. She didn’t. Instead, everywhere she looked she saw reminders of the inequality that bothered her. As the church got involved with proposition 8, I saw Natalie’s fragile testimony disintegrate. It was an incredibly painful time for her to be at BYU and she constantly thought of transferring. I tried to come up with reasons for her to stay at BYU, hoping it would buy time for her to find her testimony. “It’s so cheap” I’d say, “you’ll have to take out loans if you leave – or worse, live with our parents” or in my more desperate moments “your religion credits won’t transfer you know, can you really let all those credits go down the drain?” I successfully persuaded Natalie to stay and she admits it wasn’t all bad. She taught Sunday School and enjoyed visiting teaching, but when she graduated from BYU, she effectively left the church.
It has been a year since Natalie graduated from BYU and I have accepted her decision. I realized I was straining our relationship by treating her like I was disappointed. She is happier now and has a stronger relationship with God than she did while she was at BYU. I think the inequality she saw in the church made it hard for her to find God there. It was too distracting and upsetting. Natalie has been blessed with a powerful testimony of equality and unfortunately that testimony came in conflict with her faith in the church. It doesn’t have to. Equality can be reflected and reinforced by the church. We are a church that believes in continuing revelation. The catalyst for the restoration of Christ’s church was the prayer of a 14-year-old boy who asked for wisdom. We must ask for direction from God.
When I asked Natalie to stand in for me at Priesthood session I worried she might think I was trying to lure her back to church and be offended. And maybe I am. Okay I am. I do respect her decisions. I do trust she is doing what is best to protect her relationship with God but my testimony of the church is a light in my life and I still want to give that to her. When I asked Natalie, she immediately said yes with no question of my motives. Today she emailed me saying: “I support the movement for you and for my nieces. The issue is important to me because I want them to grow up in a more egalitarian church where they can know and pursue their full Divine potential as daughters of God that their Heavenly Parents want for them. Their little personalities and characters are already so distinct and bursting…and I want them to grow up assuming the roles intended for them, the roles and empowerment that you and I had to search for and unravel. The issue is important to me, regardless of my own beliefs about the church now, because of my fellow sisters around the world who have so much to offer their communities. And for the members (mothers, children, etc) who do not have access to a worthy male priesthood holder in the home, but who could benefit from a worthy woman.” I was moved to tears by her loving support and generosity. I was humbled that when I realized what Natalie was trying to give my daughters and me.
Recently I posted Christy Clegg’s letter to Elder Ballard on Facebook and an old friend commented, “Anyone willing to challenge an apostle of the Lord is just looking for a reason to leave the church and will soon be on their way out.” It is disheartening when concerns about something as serious and essential as equality are so easily dismissed with an attack on motives. Christy is a close friend of mine and I know the sincerity of her heart. I know the sincerity of my own heart. I have been blessed to have a clear personal witness that the church is true and it sustains my testimony despite the inequality I see but I do not judge those who have left. I know the sincerity of Natalie’s heart. She wasn’t looking for a reason to leave; she was looking, desperately, for a reason to stay. I am still trying to give her one.