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.
A year or so ago, we had to put down our cat of nearly 19 years, the aptly-named Isis. I say aptly-named, because Isis was a bit of a terrorist, particularly with houseguests, who would inevitably ignore our warnings to keep their distance. Still, we got used to having Isis around, loved her for what she was, and even found some of her naughty behavior amusing.
When I came home from the veterinarian’s office, empty carrier in hand, I began to de-cat the house. I immediately got rid of Isis’s litter boxes, of course, washed and put away her water and food dishes, and parceled out her toys to more deserving pets. What surprised me, however, was that I’d become so accustomed to living with cat paraphernalia that throughout the week I kept stumbling across things that escaped my notice. Isis’s carpeted kitty cubby, for example, remained in the hallway near our bedroom for almost a week, where I walked past it–almost tripped over it, really–several times a day. It wasn’t that I was particularly sentimental. It was just that I failed to notice it was there.
Having grown up in the LDS Church, where we learned public speaking by giving two-and-a-half minute talks in Sunday School, I immediately recognized this experience as the stuff of which such talks–and countless object lessons–were made. What remnants of needless attitudes, practices and policies, particularly with regard to gender, do we retain simply because they’ve grown familiar and, as such, unquestioned?
It usually takes some kind of disruption in our routine thoughts and experiences to open us to needed change–a tragedy or an epiphany or something as mundane as a question or a conversation.
In Ordain Women’s Conversation Three, I wrote: “As we obtain more light and knowledge, our [lives,] institutions and policies should reflect that increased wisdom. Church members … play a part in this process. We ask questions and articulate the need for revelation.”
Similarly, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf told us that “… if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. … How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know, but couldn’t get past the massive, iron gate of what we thought we already knew.”
On this Easter Sunday, President Uchtdorf’s remarks bring to mind the image of the open tomb–the stone rolled back, no massive iron gate concealing the revelation within–and the possibility of a religious community without obstacles to women’s equality.
When we first conceived of the April social media action, I thought it would maybe catch a few people off guard; give them pause; make them think. I wasn’t prepared for the way our action—demonstrating the way women are almost entirely invisible at important moments in our faith—would play out so literally in the talks and prayers given at conference. Of the 36 talks given in the conference, only four were from women. And only one of those talks was given in a general session. One.
I know people like to say that it’s the message that matters and that if you’re focusing on the gender of the speaker you’re trying to be offended and that there are so many Seventies that need a chance to speak and that four of the nine (yes NINE) positions held by women were newly called and on and on and on.
But here’s what I don’t get: if gender is an essential, defining characteristic, if LDS women are Incredible!, and if Mormon women are equal, valued, and needed, then why are we silenced? The words of our leaders, exalting the value of women, ring hollow when their actions are so clear.
It’s been more than 20 years since we had a conference that so clearly demonstrated the inequality of women in our church. We are teaching a whole new generation that women are not leaders and that their words are only important to girls and other women. And we cannot sit idly by for it. So, I am inviting anyone concerned about what happened—or didn’t happen—at this general conference to write about your concern and share your hopes for the future of our community. Go to http://ordainwomen.org/submit/ and submit your profile today. We need your voice because it’s not being heard anywhere else.
Yesterday (4/1/2017) during General Conference there were 18 speakers and 6 prayers offered. We heard no female voices.