On March 15, 2015 my local priesthood leaders threatened to remove my temple recommend because I am on the Executive Board of Ordain Women. My conscience would not allow me to resign, so I encouraged them to reconsider. They did hold off, but on June 21st–exactly one year after I witnessed the church excommunicate my friend Kate as I sat next to her–they stripped me of my recommend. I have faithfully held a recommend since I turned 12, and I continue to follow Christ to this day. Taking my recommend harms me as a person, places a man between me and God, and labels me as worthless (the natural meaning of not being worthy). This type of tribal shaming is not the Way of Jesus Christ. Jesus called all unto him, blessing the least of these in His society: He lifted up and gave status to women. In contrast, my leaders have forbidden me from speaking in church and threatened me with further discipline if I disobey them. I am stating what happened publicly in hopes that I will be the last woman to be disciplined for authenticity and refusal to submit to my local male leaders. It’s important to me to be an example of worthiness and courage to my daughters and my twins due this winter.
By stripping me of my recommend, my priesthood leaders are inhibiting my ability to be a good example as a mother in our culture. Such discipline sends the message to every Mormon–including my family, my fellow congregants, my LDS neighbors, and my own children–that I am not worthy. The importance of worthiness for a temple recommend is emphasized to all LDS children from toddlerhood on. As small children we sing songs about remaining worthy, and Mormons of all ages are taught weekly that temple worthiness and temple marriage are the highest achievement to which we can ever aspire. We are taught that temple worthiness is necessary if we want to be together forever with our families after we die. We are taught that our ability to live eternally with God after this life depends on temple worthiness as well.
If I cannot bring my authentic self to church without being censured and told my questions are dangerous and shouldn’t be expressed publicly, this situation additionally negates the example I wish to set for my children of integrity and courage. On June 21st my leaders also put me under formal sanction to not speak because of my questions regarding inequality, a sanction my former leadership in Texas had similarly imposed on me before we relocated to Georgia. “Not even in the hallways,” my Texas leader decreed. But I could not remain silent, especially after I heard Church spokeswoman Ally Isom publicly state that conversations about difficult topics including women’s ordination and the priesthood/temple ban for Black members were welcome in a congregation, in Sunday School, in women’s meetings. Sadly, my experiences have not mirrored Isom’s inclusive invitation.
I feel strongly we need to have real conversations about the female priesthood ban and sexist policies that such inequality propagates worldwide. Examples include:
1) Current eternally polygamous sealing doctrines and policies that affect widowed men vs women differently (widowers can have their subsequent marriages solemnized for eternity in the temple, widows cannot)
2) Teaching youth misogynist verses of D&C 132 instituting polygamy which remain scripture
3) Ignoring how the pre-1978 priesthood ban also forbade Black women and girls from entering temples too
4) Erasing most of Mormon women’s voices and history from correlated instruction
5) Forbidding mothers from even holding their babies for naming ceremonies
6) Male-only leaders routinely interviewing girls and women alone to judge worthiness–explicitly asking about their underwear and sexual practices.
Until women are at the highest levels of decision-making, I worry misogynist cultural artifacts like these–and many more–will remain, and women will continue to be told not to worry about it, but instead take the patriarchal status quo on faith and remain silently obedient. Hurting Mormon girls and women need a space to air these questions and concerns in LDS congregations throughout the world if there’s any chance our culture will move beyond the damaging vestiges of patriarchy—quite literally “the traditions of our fathers” the Book of Mormon warns against.
I have never encouraged others to follow me or Ordain Women. We are called to follow Christ, and only each of us as individuals can answer what that means practically and spiritually in our lives. For me, in part that meant asking my questions about equality and women’s ordination publicly, and because I followed my conscience I can no longer attend my religious tradition’s saving rituals. I can’t attend the weddings of my siblings, cousins, or friends anymore. I cannot even enter the Salt Lake Temple where my husband and I were married 7 years ago, or worship there with my family whose pioneer ancestors helped build it. Mormons believe that we can receive comfort from our ancestors while meditating in the temple as heaven is close there, and I am devastated to lose that connection to the divine.
I admit, the thought crossed my mind to comply to priesthood leaders’ demands, acquiescing to a silent and obedient existence. But when I soul-search, study, and pray about the decision, I received my own answer: Equality always comes at a price to those who fight for it. But if I don’t stand for what I believe is right, who will? If now’s not the right time to publicly voice our desires for change, then when?
Kristy is launching the Ordain Women Podcast and will host its first episode release this Sunday. She and Kate Kelly will discuss church discipline and more specifics about this developing story.