In light of recent excommunications, I have been torn about remaining a member of the church. I have wondered if staying and remaining (relatively) silent about my feelings regarding gender and marriage inequality, and about ecclesiastical abuse, means I am being complicit in these wrongs. I felt that I either needed to leave, or I needed to practice being more authentic as a member — even if only a marginalized one who does not hold a temple recommend and currently holds no calling.
I woke up early on Sunday (an unusual occurrence for me) and was inspired to write out the testimony I would give in church (see below). I was terrified, my heart was racing, but I felt I had to do it, and I did.
A few sentences into the third paragraph–at which point I was tearing up–a woman in the back of the chapel stood up and loudly proclaimed, “You need to stop!”. I paused my testimony, turned to the bishop, and asked him if I needed to stop. He looked like a deer in the headlights, so I decided I would probably stop to avoid further contention. I turned back to the audience and the woman in the back again loudly proclaimed, “You need to stop!” I looked at her and, still standing at the pulpit, still teary-eyed and blubbering a little, replied to her, “We are called to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. How dare you call yourself a Christian!” (I swear I am not usually this brave), and went back to my seat next to my husband. I did some full on silent-ish crying after that while the bishop abruptly brought the meeting to a close and his counselor bore a quick but firm “the church is true” testimony to end the meeting.
A host of people, including the bishop, came up to me afterwards, gave me hugs, and apologized for what had happened. Some even said they agreed with me.
My amazing visiting teacher found me afterward and we talked in her car during Sunday School, then walked back in for RS afterward. A few more people gave me hugs, and the RS counselor even hugged me and whispered in my ear, “You’re awesome.”
It was still very emotionalday at church, but I feel like I did something that I needed to do, and that God was with me through it.
Here is my testimony I didn’t get to finish:
Testimony March 1, 2015
I like fast and testimony meeting because people share things about their lives – sometimes deeply personal things like personal struggles or successes that give me a glimpse into the real life of that person. I’ve been a member of this church my entire life – 32 years to be precise – and it’s sometimes easy to see the other members of a ward as nice people in nice suits and dresses devoid of personal struggles. I’ve moved around a lot since high school, and have been in seven different wards during that time, so it’s made getting to know people on a personal level even more challenging. Fast and testimony meeting helps me get acquainted in this sense, without the discomfort of having to approach a complete stranger and ask intrusive questions about their inner spiritual lives. (I’m an introvert, so approaching strangers in general is stepping outside of my comfort zone.) Listening to other people’s stories and learning about their struggles helps me view the world from another perspective. I feel that it helps me develop empathy and become more Christlike.
In fact, I wish we could have more fast & testimony meetings. Christian and I once attended a Quaker meeting and learned that Quaker’s basically have a version of fast & testimony meeting EVERY Sunday, except that people are encouraged to stand up only if they truly feel moved by the Spirit to do so, and it’s okay to have long periods of silent meditation if nobody gets up for a while. One of my favorite Relief Society lessons ever was when Christian and I were attending a ward in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was the Sunday right after the Boston Marathon. As most people know, the Boston Marathon is a pretty big deal and there are many spectators. The teacher had been one of these spectators and had chosen to watch the race at a spot near “Heartbreak Hill”. It is the last hill of the marathon, somewhere around mile 20. Needless to say, after running really fast for 20 miles, marathoners are tired and really have to push themselves to get over the hill. The teacher described the experience of watching runners struggle to make it over the hill, the looks of both fatigue and determination evident on their faces. The crowd of spectators would cheer them along, and that encouragement from the sidelines inevitably helped many of them over the hill. The teacher had been inspired by this experience to make the RS class session an opportunity for members of the class to get up and share their deeply personal “Heartbreak Hill” experiences — difficult experiences that they might be going through at that very time but that perhaps nobody or very few people knew about. And after each woman shared her experience, the class members would clap for her, just like the spectators cheering along the runners in the race. I can’t share the details of the experiences shared that day (this was a condition of the class session), but I can guarantee that I felt greater empathy, compassion, and a sense of belonging that day in Relief Society than ever before.
With this in mind, I would like to share some deeply personal things about me today. I have been considering resigning my membership from this church lately. After 32 years as a member of this church, this is not an easy thing to consider. It is a painful prospect. But the fact is, I don’t feel like there is an acceptable place for me in this church anymore. I don’t believe some of the things I once did, nor do I think I ever can. Specifically, I don’t believe that the gendered segregation of leadership and priesthood responsibilities in this church is doctrine inspired by God. I think that gender, like race, is one of the MANY differences among us that conspires to divide us rather than unite us. In my professional life as a physician, I have been encouraged to use my talents to accomplish anything I desire to help advance human health. Yet, in this church, I see half of the members systematically excluded from opportunities for service based on their femaleness. I can help save lives in a hospital, but I cannot pass the bread of life to members in my ward. Young women can aspire to be CEOs of companies, but can’t aspire to be a counselor in the bishopric. I recall our very own bishop, when he was called to the position less than a year ago, bear his testimony of how much he had longed to serve as a bishop, how he had looked forward to it for years. Why is this desire righteous in a man but sinful in a woman? How much more could the Sister Missionaries accomplish if they could give blessings and baptize members? There are some places in the world where female members far outnumber male members, but a branch or ward cannot be formed without a certain number of priesthood-holding males. How tragic that women should be denied access to a community of Saints solely because of a lack of male peers.
I know that for most of you, these concerns seem less important than they do to me. Some may be thinking that by bringing up my honest feelings all I’m doing is making people uncomfortable and discontented. If these problems are irrelevant to you, then I ask for your charity: all of us will have doubts and struggles some day, and these are mine. I also think that it is inevitable that in a community of Christians who believe in the sanctifying power of service, there will inevitably be some women who want to serve the world in a way other than motherhood, and these women will either need a chance to talk about these feelings, or need to forever struggle with feelings of inauthenticity and isolation in our congregations. The latter is the space I have occupied for the past decade.
Within the last year, two prominent Mormons that I admire have been excommunicated. One of these was Kate Kelly, one of the founders of the group called Ordain Women. I have been a member of this group since early in its inception. When my family and friends read my online profile, a few of them responded unkindly. I have been told that if I don’t believe 100% of the church’s teachings, I should just leave. I have been called an apostate. I have been accused of being power-hungry. I have had the “motherhood-priesthood” argument explained to me in 100 different ways, none of which hold water in my view. In the past I tried fasting, praying, and studying scriptures and conference talks to try to understand how sexism can possibly be okay at church. I was in a state of spiritual agony for years trying to understand. It wasn’t until I accepted the nagging thought that it wasn’t okay that I felt at peace. Now, denying this fact would be going against what my mind, heart, and soul tell me to be true. Sadly, being true to myself in this way puts me in a very tentative place – one in which the threat of possible excommunication hovers constantly overhead.
Despite my unorthodox beliefs, I have an unshakable testimony of Jesus Christ, of his teachings, and of the love God has for each of us. I will never abandon that. I also believe firmly in many of the teachings contained in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. = I cherish our doctrine of continuing revelation, but I believe that revelation can be constrained by cultural forces and human imperfections. Whether I choose to stay or not, I love this community for what it represents – a community of people striving to do their best to be good and to do good in this world, and I hope it continues to inch forward toward Zion.
Honoring our past,
Envisioning the future.
Marina, the author of this post, has a profile on Ordain Women.