[This is the second in a two-part series by Mark. Today he discusses lessons learned as a male ally on October 5th. In the last post, he discussed his history as a Mormon feminist.]
Just after six o’clock, Saturday evening, October 5th, I was facing the freshly locked and roped off door of the Tabernacle. To my back, the sun reflected brightly off of the western granite face of the Salt lake Temple and onto the fluttering American and Utah flags flying atop a giant flagpole. I was absorbed in the evening light, when I heard the high, sweet voices of my sister. I glanced to my left and saw Kate Kelly leading our Ordain Women group in “I am a Child of God.” The voices rose, and the spirit flooded my heart. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I knew I would never be quite the same again. I have been privileged to work with Ordain Women as a male ally. This experience has taught me three very important lessons.
- I care deeply about the Church.
- God is never the source of inequality.
- My role as a male ally is important, but different.
I Care About the Church
I left the church in 1995, after a difficult two-year period following the September Six. Paul Toscano had recently become the Chapter 13 Trustee in Utah, and I had come to know and like him through our interactions in Bankruptcy Court. We had gone to lunch a few times, and heard about his experiences. During this period, I realized that members were being excommunicated, because they believed like me. This realization sent shockwaves through my life. These two years were the hardest years of my life. My loss of naïve belief was extremely painful. In the fall of 1995, I quit attending church altogether.
For those who have not gone through such an experience, the next eighteen years may sound strange. Despite breaking from the church, I could not let go of much of what I believed. During these years, I would say my nightly prayers, ponder the meaning of life, and usually fall asleep listening to hymns. (O My Father is by far my favorite hymn.) I missed churched. But, I did not know how to return to an institution, which seemed incapable of separating itself from injustice. Specifically, I could not see a way back to an institution, which denies women access to authority, because this act of denial causes so much pain by delivering the message to women that they are something “less.”
I was raised by Mormon feminists, and cannot accept the proposition that inequality comes from God. My grandmother, Beatrice Peterson Marchant, was a widow, who lived just west of Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. She raised fifteen children in her small two-bedroom home, with detached garage. She lived among the poor of Salt Lake City, and championed the underdog. In 1968, she won a seat in the Utah State House of Representative. As a state representative, over the next four years she fought for women’s rights. After Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, my grandmother founded the ERA Coalition of Utah, and fought for ratification. Despite numerous personal attacks from members in her ward, as well as attacks in the press by people calling themselves Mormons, she remained active, until her health failed in the 1980’s.
My mother, Elva Marchant Barnes, served side by side with my grandmother in the fight for equality during the 1960’s and 1970’s. However, my mother ended her active participation in church in the mid-1960’s, after a particularly contentious interview with a politically active, conservative bishop, who disagreed with her beliefs on women’s rights. My mother had brought my father into church activity, but my bishop pushed her out the door. She went on to accomplishments in other areas, including successful fights for consumer protection legislation, six years of service on the Utah State Board of Regents, and a very long tenure as Chairman of the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority, administering student loans in Utah.
During the fall of 2012, I read Joanna Brook’s “The Book of Mormon Girl.” I loved it. I started thinking of the possibility of another way to be Mormon. I liked the idea of reclaiming my Mormon heritage and putting on the cloak of unorthodox Mormonism. For a few months, I raised the possibility or returning with a few Mormon friends. I began listening to podcasts like Mormon Matters and Mormon Stories. I joined Facebook groups, such as Feminist Mormon Housewives. During these few months, I learned how Mormon I still am. Despite two decades away from the church, I still cared.
In early April of 2013, I listened to a podcast, which mentioned Ordain Women. They were holding a Saturday evening launch event, at the same time as the Priesthood Conference Session. Immediately, I understood that this was the real thing. I had to be there. On April 6th, I arrived at the University of Utah Student Union Building an hour early (yes I was excited for the event.) I ran into Kate Kelly, her father Jim, and Margaret Toscano in the hall outside the theater, where the event was to take place. I listened to the speakers, and was moved. I laughed and cried with Debra Jenson, as she gave a very heartfelt (and entertaining) talk about her road to Ordain Women.
Ordain Women finally gave me a path back to the church. Ordain Women gave me hope that things can change. We can be a part of the revelatory process. The history of the church demonstrates time and time again that God calls people to knock and ask and plead for revelation. These people are not always the same people who are called to ultimately receive the revelation. Understanding this role, I once again have hope and feel that I have a place in the Church.
God is not the Source of Inequality
Throughout history, human beings have succumbed to the temptation to justify their domination over others, but declaring it to be the will of God. If you are a king, a slave owner, or the patriarch of a family, it is tempting to believe that life will be easier, if you can convince people that a challenge to your authority is a challenge to God’s authority. This trick is historically so pervasive that most people accept it, without question.
Several years ago, while preparing to teach a class on the origins of law, it dawned on me how effective this trick has been at all times in all parts of the world, and a tool to maintain control. Only with the Enlightenment period did people begin to question this tactic. While we have made great strides in overcoming this pernicious idea in the governments and businesses of the developed world, this idea is still very strong in many homes and churches.
We need to recognize that inequality, based on claims of authority from God, violates the greatest of all the commandments. Jesus Christ taught in Matthew 22: 37-39 — “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” This is the standard that Jesus gave us for measuring the legitimacy of all other teachings. In verse 40, Jesus continued: “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” None of us want to be treated as “lesser than.” Inequality violates the commandment that we love our neighbors as ourselves.
The Role of a Male Ally
As I watched the events unfold on Temple Square, I was elated. It was the feeling I have as a litigator, when I recognize that the other side has committed a serious error, and I can feel the trial swing my way. What I soon realized was that for the women of OW, the emotions stirred by the event were much more complicated.
Even though I was standing with the Ordain Women group near the doors to the Tabernacle, it was clear to me that as a man at any moment, I had the option to walk through those doors. Nobody would question my right to be there. Nobody would be concerned that I was unworthy. Nobody would argue that I was “less than” what was required to walk through those doors. My maleness would ensure my “right to enter.”
While the women also saw that things were going well for Ordain Women, they still had to stand in front of the large wooden doors and ask: “may I enter?” Each had to bear to pain of being told, you are not sufficient; you may not enter. I could see the pain, as the male usher rejected this plea from each daughter of God. Walking out of the north gate of Temple Square, I looked over at my friend April. I felt my gut wrench, as I saw the pain in her eyes.
I am committed to this cause. I am in it for the long haul. I will do all that I can to see that women receive the priesthood. I believe that as male allies, we were able to contribute in a meaningful way to the cause, and I feel that we need to work to recruit more male allies. However, on Temple Square, I also learned that “it is not about us.” As male allies, this has to be an act of love for all the women in our lives.