My thoughts are with Elder Hamula and his family as they process his excommunication. This has brought back painful memories and I have cried over the news. Excommunication from the LDS Church is the most serious form of discipline.
As Elder Ballard described in A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings, “Excommunicated persons are no longer members of the Church. Therefore, they are denied privileged of Church membership including wearing of the temple garments and the payment of tithes and offerings […] they are not entitled to offer public prayers or give talks. They may not hold a Church position, take the sacrament, vote in the sustaining of Church officers, hold a temple recommend, or exercise the priesthood.”
It still surprises me that the time a person needs community and the blessings of communal sacrament the most is when they are rejected and denied it. When a person is excommunicated, yet is still a believer, there are serious psychological consequences when a perceived eternal family member is removed from the family.
I know this, because I lived this. As I have mentioned before, my father was excommunicated on Easter Sunday when I was 14 years old. He was not fully reinstated into the Church until I was an adult and was already sealed to another priesthood holder, my husband. For an extended period our family did not have an ordained priesthood holder in our home; I had no brothers or close male family members that I could rely on for priesthood access. My mother, two sisters, and I learned to navigate LDS patriarchy without an ordained patriarch. There were many injuries along the way—stories that are not mine to share. However, I know what is feels like to be shunned, ignored, avoided, rejected, pitied, and patronized by my community for mistakes that had nothing to do with me.
I have written about my concerns of being a member of a patriarchal religious community here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I have written about it at Feminist Mormon Housewives, Ordain Women, Rational Faiths, and The Transfigurist. I have discussed it at A Thoughtful Faith Podcast, and the Mormon Transhumanist Association Conference. I will keep voicing this concern until this issue gets resolved. People, often women, are still unnecessarily suffering at the hands of patriarchy, especially in regards to excommunication.
It has been over 20 years since my father’s excommunication, and our family is still healing from the trauma. For me, part of that healing processes is ordaining women to the priesthood. Women cannot receive the fullness of the gospel and full participation of the LDS community without it. There is no other way. We are taught to be self-reliant, but are denied the tools to do it. We are taught we have priesthood authority, but are denied ordination. We are taught to give our time, talents, and service, but we are denied our fullest, sincerest participation. We are taught to nurture, care for, teach our children, but we are denied full participation in their priesthood ordinances.
My mother could not baptize us, confirm us members of the Church, give us blessings of healing, stand as a witness at my temple sealing, or fully participate in priesthood rituals with her six grandchildren. There is no reason why she shouldn’t be able to have the communal priesthood authority to bless the lives of her children and grandchildren. There is no reason she should have to ask another man to come into our home to bless her three daughters when she was a worthy and capable woman.
This is not about shaming anyone, airing dirty laundry, or sharing intimate details about people’s personal lives, history, or mistakes. This is meant to illustrate there is real harm in the patriarchal governance of the LDS Church, especially in relation to excommunication. The same mistakes keep happening. Women are still hurting due to the faults of patriarchal priesthood holders. Women are still denied LDS autonomy and it won’t change until we confront these issues openly, honestly, and compassionately. Change happens when a person in the community is brave enough to raise their hand and say, “Something bad is happening to me and it’s not my fault. Please, let’s fix this.” Change doesn’t happen when the community responds by saying “Put your hand down. You’re being negative when you should have more gratitude. Your experiences and concerns aren’t worthy of consideration or can be patronizingly placated.” Change happens when people acknowledge that real people in their community are silently suffering due to inequitable policies and power imbalances. I do not think female ordination will solve all of our problems with regards to excommunication, but it’s a start.
As for Elder Hamula, the details of his or anyone else’s excommunication are none of our business (unless law enforcement is necessary). Being excommunicated from the LDS Church can bring a complete sense of loss and hopelessness. I’m not being melodramatic when I say the disillusionment of eternal family sealings can bring people to absolute meaninglessness and suicide. I hope the Hamula family will find healing and comfort with one another. My heart bleeds with them, especially his family members that will suffer from this through no fault of their own. Elder Hamula and his family have a long road ahead of them, and I offer my solidarity, love, and support.
Only two weeks ago I read with delight the talk from Eva Witesman of BYU: the one that progressive Mormons were heralding it as a golden message encouraging young women to gain an education and fulfill their potential. The talk resonated with me because, as a teen, I had been drawn to the church partially because of the Young Women Value Knowledge what I believed was a challenge to gain as much education as I could.
So, it was with excitement that I saw Witesman’s most recent attempt at sharing wisdom. This time it was an op-ed in the Deseret News. My excitement lasted one sentence. Then I got to the second sentence that implied that women who leave the church are following “a secular, godless, power-driven reality… better suited to our intellects, our ambitions, our self-respect.”
And the hits kept coming. Witesman dismisses the very real struggles women in this church face. She implies that they fall for “pretty lies” and “empty promises.” She claims they experience “a lonely, cold, confusing emptiness.” And she uses that gem “counterfeit” that has been used to describe non-traditional families.
Look. Lots of strong, intelligent, accomplished women stay in the LDS Church. And many of them do so happily, sharing Witesman’s confidence in their divinity and power. I respect that decision and the women who make it. It is unfortunate that Witesman doesn’t seem willing to give that kind of respect to women who leave. Women who leave the LDS Church do so for myriad reasons ranging from the destructive and continuing doctrine of polygamy, countless inaccuracies in what is presented as our history, a lack of transparency from general authorities and leaders, and cultural pressure to choose between professional and personal goals.
Leaving the church is not a result of, as Witesman claims, not knowing the difference between “what is real, and what is misunderstood.” For many women, leaving the church is the end result of a painful journey that includes fear of losing their friends, family, and community. And many do lose some or even all of those things. But they feel called to leave in order to fully become their true selves.
I’m sure what Witesman wrote reflects her own experience. The problem is that, in doing so, she dismisses the experiences of others, and she does so using hurtful and disrespectful language. For some reason, it seems, Witesman chose to diminish other women in order to defend herself. And that falls far short of several other Young Women Values I learned as a teen: Individual Worth, Good Works, and Integrity.
The Ordain Women Fall Conference Action will be a Trek for Equality! WE NEED AND WANT you to join us in Salt Lake City.
Saturday, September 23rd, we will meet at3 pm at This is the Place Heritage Park for an opening prayer service. We will then begin a walk to the Salt Lake City Cemetery to pay respect at the graves of several women, important to our faith. We will continue to the Conference Center to attend, as a group and in person, the first session of the 187th Semiannual General Conference of the Church.
Sunday, September 24th at 9 am, Ordain Women will hold a morning devotional and blessing service, presided over by women.
The six-mile trek will take two hours and will honor the diverse journeys of faith made by many members of the LDS Church, recognizing the commitment and bravery required to actively seek and follow the promptings of the Spirit. The devotional and blessing service will be an opportunity for women to reclaim the power to preside over their own meetings and to administer blessings when called by the Spirit.
Start making your travel plans now and stay tuned for more details!
In the years that I have been engaged in openly and publicly advocating for female ordination in the LDS church, one of the most common responses from men and women in the church comes along the lines of, “if you want extra meetings on Sundays, I’d gladly trade you,” or “I don’t know why you would want even more responsibility, women already do everything!” Never mind these statements are contradictory (do women in the church have more free time or less free time than the men, exactly?) it has never stopped being remarkable to me that this is what the Power of God on earth is reduced to when I express a desire to access it.
It’s funny because when I listen to or read talks from the “priesthood” session of conference, there is a different theme:
Brethren, our ordination to the priesthood is an invitation from the Lord to walk with Him. And what does it mean to walk with the Lord? It means to do what He does, to serve the way He serves. –Eyring, April 2017
Many things may help strengthen our younger brothers to rise up in the priesthood, but nothing will be more powerful than our helping them develop the faith and confidence that they can draw on the power of God in their priesthood service. – Eyring, October 2016
Think of this: the priesthood conferred upon us is the very same power and authority through which God created this and numberless worlds, governs the heavens and the earth, and exalts His obedient children. – Nelson, April 2016
Let’s please decide once and for all what being a Priesthood Holder ™ really means. It either means you have access to the Power of God and this edifies you and everyone around you, or it just means you have access to leadership positions in the church that take a lot of time and effort.
Maybe both? But then one or the other cannot be used to dismiss my desire to be a part of it.
To be clear, I’ll continue to advocate for access to it either way. Women need to stand with men shoulder to shoulder both spiritually and within the hierarchy, if the church is ever to achieve full gender parity. But, you should get your story straight.
This post originally appeared on Rational Faiths.
It was with interest and a hint of a head shake that I listened to the news that women would be allowed to wear pants or pantsuits to work at the Church Office Building and other Church-owned places of business. Having never worked for the LDS Church myself, but knowing several women who did, this was an issue I had heard about for years but was not personally invested in. It felt like an important moment for those other women—and the men who can now remove their suit jackets on hot days—and I celebrate this for them.
I can’t, however, help but notice that it is 2017. It has been almost 25 years since women in the United States were given permission to wear pants on the Senate floor. It’s been 50 years since Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore rocked capris on television. And it was less than five short years ago that Mormon women united to wear pants to church in symbolic solidarity with each other. And here we are, well into the 21st century, and our culture is now moving toward the idea that women can be respectful and professional without a strictly prescribed gendered dress code.
So, I celebrate that, in our community, women will be allowed to make clothing decisions. (I’m also pretty stoked about the paid family leave. But I digress.) I recognize the shift in thinking and open-mindedness that had to come before this decision could be made. And I hope that this is a small step toward more trust for women in all areas.
There’s been a lot of talk about testimonies and what should or shouldn’t be said in a testimony. I have often marveled at the way members of our community open their hearts to share with others. I have been blessed to witness bravery and vulnerability, love and pain, faith and doubt as I listened to precious testimonies. Today, I feel inspired to share my testimony with you, my community.
I believe firmly that each and every person on this earth, in this human family, is part of my eternal family. I have felt love and comfort from Heavenly Parents and feel called to love each of you as my siblings in that family. This drives me to listen to others who live lives so very different than my own and then to help amplify their voices. I strive to learn and grow, as I work in solidarity with my siblings, and help bring about the equality and justice that I believe is the proper order from our Heavenly Parents.
I believe that, in heaven, each of us is valued as individuals. The idea that my Heavenly Parents knew me as the distinct person I am was one of the first things that drew me to this faith, and I cannot release that idea. We are each called to serve and build a society of integrity and righteousness. And those callings are based on the gifts and talents unique to each individual, not on sex, gender, race, color, national origin, sexuality, or class.
I believe that my most important duty as a member of this human family is to listen. I must listen for the promptings that will guide me to do good and valuable work. I must listen for the words that will help me learn and grow. I must listen to you. I believe that listening is a gift and I pray that I can be better at offering it wholeheartedly.
I offer this testimony in the sincere hope that each of us will take a moment to think about what we believe and what we are called to. And if you feel like sharing those thoughts, I will be here to listen.
“Conscience knows no gender”
Mormon Newsroom, March 8, 2017
Despite efforts to mischaracterize Mormon feminists like me as mere malcontents, it actually delights me when I’m able to affirm Church statements, policies and practices. Such is the case with the Mormon Newsroom’s post marking this year’s International Women’s Day. If you missed it, it deserves your attention, because it makes a pretty good case for the sort of moral activism in which Ordain Women engages.
Called “Women of Conscience,” the statement reads, in part, “Voicing your deepest convictions and living your highest truths may challenge the culture around you.” However, it continues, “Freedom of conscience is vital to the exercise of moral agency, especially in the face of opposition. We forge our identities by taking a stand on what is right and wrong.”
Not surprisingly, the statement punctuates the LDS Church’s current emphasis on the importance of religious freedom, which I also affirm as long as it isn’t used to cloak discrimination. It also explains that taking a moral stand not only includes challenging gender inequality in the secular world but also within our religious communities: “Limiting religious expression disempowers women from a broad range of faiths. … The best kind of religious freedom enables women to determine their own beliefs [and] to speak out when they see shortfalls in the practice of their faith traditions …”
Ordain Women offers a space where Mormon women collectively can speak out about one of the major “shortfalls in the practice of [our] faith tradition,” namely, that our church fundamentally disempowers women and limits their expression within its organizational structure by denying them an opportunity extended to all men and boys in our congregations, priesthood ordination. Until organizations like Ordain Women are fully embraced within the fold, however, the LDS Church’s statement remains aspirational.
Last week my 14-year-old daughter and I enjoyed an incredible trip to the Grand Canyon. We hiked to Havasu Falls and spent four days camping with friends. There were several teenagers in our group, many of them Boy Scouts. Naturally, our conversations often included comparisons between Boy Scout camps and girls camps. One of those conversations went something like this:
Young man: Is it weird for you guys to camp with guys around?
Me: Um, no. There are always men at girls camp.
Young man: Wait. What?
Me: Yeah. There are always at least two men, priesthood holders, at girls camp.
Young man: Oh. I guess that makes sense.
Me: Really? Would you like it if there were always women at your Boy Scout camp? Do you think your leaders need women to keep you safe?
Young man: I guess not…
Me: Would you like it if your dress code—say, your swimsuit—was determined based on the presence of those women?
Young man: What do you mean?
Me: Well, young women are told that their dress restrictions, including having to wear a t-shirt and shorts with their swimsuits, are because the priesthood holding men might feel uncomfortable.
Young man: That sucks. [To my daughter]: You have to wear a shirt over your swimsuit?
Daughter: No. I go to Girl Scout camp. We don’t have those rules.
This interaction was observed by a few other teenage boys. They were surprised to learn that adult women like their mothers are not trusted to properly and safely oversee a camping trip with young women. They were surprised to hear about the dress code restrictions for young women. Basically, they had no idea how different the rules and opportunities were for girls and women in our culture.
Which leads me to ask: What else don’t they notice? Do they notice that they receive continuing levels of responsibility and mentorship as they advance in priesthood ordination while the young women of their age receive neither? Do they notice that at the age of 12 years old, they were able to participate in holy services that their mothers are barred from? Do they realize that adult women in this church are never called to lead or preside over men, helping boys and girls to naturally associate leadership with maleness. Will they recognize the inherent inequality that pervades our culture?
I hope these young men will remember this camping trip fondly; I know I will. But I hope they will also remember this conversation and begin to notice the things they have assumed are the natural order and I hope they will then think about how unnatural much of it is. We need men to see; and we need men to lend their voices to this movement. Please join us by submitting a profile with Ordain Women.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. … Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Among the Ordain Women FAQ is the question, “Why should I care whether or not women are ordained in the LDS Church, the Roman Catholic Church, or elsewhere?” We answer, in part, “To subjugate women and deny them equal access to decision-making authority in any community–religious or otherwise–opens up a space for more extreme forms of discrimination and abuse. Everyone in our communities, Mormon and non-Mormon alike, feels the negative impact of religious beliefs and practices that marginalize women.” Religious inequality impedes the progress of our faith community and spills over into the broader secular community. It can impact everything from women’s reproductive rights and protection from domestic abuse to equal educational, economic and political opportunity.
OW has often joined with women of other religious traditions to highlight the need for gender equality in our faith communities. Next Sunday, we have the chance to support our Catholic sisters at Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW) as they raise their voices for women’s equality in the Roman Catholic Church.
Sunday, May 7, 2017, marks the 54th annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations, a day when Catholics pray for those who minister in the church and for “young men and women to hear and respond generously to the Lord’s call to the priesthood, diaconate, religious life, societies of apostolic life or secular institutes.” Though this official language seems inclusive, WOW points out that the traditional call to prayer “neglects to footnote those ministries where women are rejected, silenced and punished for following their call to ordination.”
As such, OW encourages all who care about gender equality to support WOW’s Witness for Women’s Equality on World Day of Prayer for Vocations. How? Join WOW in prayer and action next Sunday as they urge “the Roman Catholic Church to open the discussion on women’s ordination and reflect on its own participation in the oppression of women by denying women’s equality in Christ.”
WOW’s prayer, as is OW’s, is that the global Church will “transform and renew its institution and practices to become a prophetic voice and witness for global gender justice, … uphold the Gospel message of equality and honor the vocations and ministries of all its members.”
It’s been just over four years since I wrote my Ordain Women profile. I see it as a love letter to the gospel and principles I believe in. See, when I came to the LDS Church as a teenager I was already a headstrong, militant feminist, and in this place, I found what felt like a home. I fell in love with the Young Women values of Individual Worth, Divine Nature, and Good Works. I believed that this gospel—that spoke of loving Heavenly Parents who knew me—was truly a place that saw me for what I knew I was: equal.
When I learned that I would never pass the sacrament or participate in a baptism because I was a woman, I felt in my bones that this inequality was not of God. I asked my questions and was told to pray. So I did. I prayed. And still, felt that this inequality was not of God. So I prayed some more. I prayed for 25 years and never doubted that my Heavenly Parents saw me as equal and that eventually my church would too. Well, in March of 2013, the next answer to those prayers came: Ordain Women.
I am proud of my profile. I am proud of the work I have done with Ordain Women. I believe we are acting as Zelophehad’s Daughters (Numbers 27) who saw an inequality, an unjust law that disenfranchised women, and asked the prophet to change that law. They went to the prophet with a specific solution and asked him to go to God. And he did. And the law changed. Because a few women spoke out.
So, now is the time for me to invite you… yes, YOU to write a profile. If you see this inequality in even one small way—the removal of women from blessing circles, the stagnation of young women as their male counterparts continue to advance in responsibility and service, or the absence of women from leadership—then I challenge you to submit a profile for Ordain Women and lend your voice to the chorus that asks the general authorities to go to God, seeking the ordination of women.