Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday. My mother is one of the strongest and most courageous women I know. Her story and her journey played an integral part in my decision to submit a profile to Ordain Women and to serve on the Executive Board of Ordain Women.
My mother is 86 years old. She has been a Baptist all of her life. (Admittedly, when my father, who was a Methodist minister, was alive, she attended the Methodist churches where he was the pastor, but her heart was still in her Baptist church).
She joined New Robbins Branch Missionary Baptist Church (a small country church in Screven County that her mother and favorite uncle had helped to establish) when she was eight years old, through full immersion baptism. She was a faithful attendee of Sunday School and the Baptist Training Union. As she grew older, she served as a delegate for her church at the Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Association and Sunday School Convention. Although changes in her life took her from Screven County in south Georgia to Meriwether County in west Georgia, she quickly found her another Baptist church—Mt. Venus Missionary Baptist Church–to join, this time through Christian experience.
The Baptist faith, like the LDS faith, is steeped in patriarchy. For many years Baptist churches refused to ordain women to the offices of bishops, deacons, or pastors, ostensibly based on the scriptures found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. My mother grew up in the midst of all the patriarchy. However, while she paid lip service to the patriarchy, her life and her actions show that she has, in actuality, been a pioneer for equality in faith.
For over thirty years, my mother has served as the clerk of her church, a position that her church believes should be restricted to men. Prior to serving as the clerk, she served as assistant clerk (another position that her church believes should be restricted to men) for over twenty years. My mother was initially placed in those positions because, in her small country church, there was no one else who could perform the tasks. She remained in those positions because her service has been recognized as exemplary by her fellow members, her church leaders, and her local community.
During her service in those positions, she has not only been an advocate for more women serving in leadership and administrative positions, but she has actively recruited women for and placed women into those positions. For example, the current Sunday School president is a woman, women serve as ward captains (members assigned to help collect tithes and offerings from other members), women have served as her assistant clerk, and the person who is being groomed to take my mother’s place as clerk is a woman.
Over the years, as she has served in those positions, my mother has moved away from even paying lip service to the patriarchy. She no longer accepts the notion that there are positions in the church that women cannot fill. Instead, she now has a deep and abiding belief that, as daughters of God, women can and should be equal participants in serving and working in God’s church.
As I watched my mother serve alongside the men in her church and hold positions in her church that were (technically) reserved for men, I began to formulate my own beliefs that the divine work can best be done if all of God’s children are allowed to participate in that work, fully and equally. I did not cast aside those beliefs in 2008 when I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I also was not unaware of the governing structure of the Church. However, I joined the Church believing that if the men in the Church exercised righteous dominion in the use of their priesthood authority and accepted women as equal partners in the doing the divine work, then the fact that women were not ordained to the priesthood would not create any imbalance of power and would not result in any inequity in the way that women were treated in the Church.
That belief was tested when I realized that, although we did not have enough ushers in our ward, we could not ask any of the women to serve as ushers because that position was reserved for men. It was tested even more when I realized that several administrative functions, particularly functions related to keeping records or handling money, were not being performed as quickly or as efficiently as they could be because, once again, there were not enough men to do them, even though there were several women who could have performed those functions. It was tested again as I watched older men in the ward prepare and administer the sacrament because there were not enough young men to do so even though there were several young women who could have done so. It was tested even more the first time I witnessed a baby blessing and realized (much to my surprise and dismay) that no women were included in the circle, not even the baby’s mother. However, I think the death knell for that belief came (even though I may not have recognized it at the time) the first time I witnessed two converts—a woman and a man–being confirmed and then saw the man be ordained to the priesthood, not because he had been deemed so much more worthy or qualified than the woman, but simply because he was a man.
Each time there was another test of the belief that had allowed me to join the Church, I spent a lot of time crying and praying. Each time I told myself that if I just continued to magnify my calling I could ignore all the ways that the Church that I loved treated all the wonderfully gifted and talented women in the ward as having less value or importance than any man in the ward. Then there came a day when I was sitting in a meeting where the topic was, once again, how we could not accomplish a task that we all agreed would help to build God’s kingdom because we needed to increase the number of Melchizedek Priesthood holders. As I sat in that meeting, I thought about my mother, the strong, brave, stalwart woman of faith that she is, a woman who has faithfully served over half a century in church positions that, according to her faith, are reserved for men and who has done so with grace and distinction. I realized that I could not be true to the example set by my mother if I did not follow in her footsteps and do everything that I could to make sure that LDS women are full and equal participants in serving and working in God’s church. That day was when I decided to submit a profile to Ordain Women. As my mother’s daughter, I could do no less.
Honoring our past,
Envisioning our future.
Bryndis, the author of this post, is on Ordain Women’s Executive Board and the Chair of the Intersectionality Committee.