Today’s Sunday Spotlight comes from Hannah! She so eloquently expresses how silence can equal agreement and the need to take a stand and voice your opinion, even when you may be in the minority!
What gives you hope for the future?
The small changes I see, like the inclusion of women in planning sacrament meetings give me some hope. But mostly what gives me hope is I see more and more people seeing the problems with the way we treat women in the church.
Tell us more about your connection to Mormonism?
I was born (of goodly parents!) into Mormonism, and was raised in a fairly progressive family. We were Sunstone Mormons if you know what I mean. I felt a lot of angst in my adolescence and young adult years trying to reconcile my testimony and love of the church with attitudes and policies that I felt were oppressive and wrong.
What was your favorite calling?
My favorite callings are working with the young women and teaching relief society.
What are some of the things you love about the Church?
I love Mormons. I love the community, and the goodness and the commitment that you find from church members. I love the teachings of Christ, of the atonement, and I love the concept of Heavenly Mother.
What prompted you to put up your profile?
When Ordain Women launched back in 2013, I was quietly excited. I strongly believed in the need for women’s ordination, but I didn’t feel especially called to the priesthood myself. I was excited that people were fighting for this, but I didn’t really feel like it was my fight. That changed in March 2014 when I read the response to OW’s request for tickets to the priesthood session from the Church PR department. Two sections really stood out to me. The first was:
“Women in the Church, by a very large majority, do not share your advocacy for priesthood ordination for women and consider that position to be extreme.”
The second was:
“Your organization has again publicized its intention to demonstrate on Temple Square during the April 5 priesthood session. Activist events like this detract from the sacred environment of Temple Square and the spirit of harmony sought at General Conference. Please reconsider. If you feel you must come and demonstrate, we ask that you do so in free speech zones adjacent to Temple Square, which have long been established for those wishing to voice differing viewpoints. They can be found on the attached map. As fellow Latter-day Saints and friends of the Church, we invite you to help us maintain the peaceful environment of Temple Square and ask that you please follow these details in your continued planning. In addition, consistent with long-standing policy, news media cameras will not be allowed on Temple Square during General Conference.”
Those two quotes hit me in the gut. The first was so dismissive and shaming, and on top of that, who cares if most of the church thinks the position is extreme? Just because an opinion is a majority one doesn’t mean that it’s the right one. The thing that really got me is that I knew that I was implicitly being included in that majority, simply because I hadn’t spoken up about what I really believed. I didn’t want to be included in “the very large majority”, because I believed (and still believe) that they are wrong. That is what prompted me to write my profile.
The second quote is what prompted me to attend the priesthood action at temple square. Requesting, that faithful members of the church stand outside with the people who come every year to taunt, to yell to hate, was a slap in the face. It is not ok to say that women don’t want the priesthood, and then when a group of women prepares to demonstrate that they want the priesthood, tell them please don’t demonstrate that.
What has been the reaction of your ward/ family/friends?
My family and friends have been really great for the most part. I have a lot of extended family who don’t agree with me, but they are really respectful for the most part. We don’t really talk about it much, although I would be happy to have more of a dialogue with them about my beliefs, I also don’t want to make them uncomfortable. Interestingly, I’ve gotten lots of messages from family and friends who aren’t Mormon, who are really supportive. It’s been really cool to see how much people who aren’t connected to the church are invested in this, and are watching to see what happens.
My ward has been pretty cool with my involvement. Although, last year when I was teaching a lesson on the priesthood to the young women a bishopric member spontaneously showed up to listen in. (I managed not to corrupt the youth, and all was well.) When my profile went up I was in the Young Women’s presidency. A few months later I had a baby, and went on a little hiatus. (My baby was born the week after Kate Kelly was excommunicated, which provided a convenient opportunity to step away from church for a bit.) While I was on my maternity leave the Young Women’s president called me and we ended up talking about my involvement with Ordain Women, and she told me she was cool with it, but to please not talk about it with the young women at all because she thought that was inappropriate. I totally get where she was coming from, and she was very nice and respectful about it. Ultimately I decided to resign that calling. I am just not in a place anymore where I am willing to censure myself about women and the priesthood. I don’t really think it’s a fair request.
Have you had the opportunity to attend any actions? How did they effect/change you?
The priesthood action in April 2014 came with very bad timing for me. I was six months pregnant at the time, and I have rheumatoid arthritis that makes it difficult to stand for long periods. I live in Cleveland, Ohio, and I couldn’t afford a ticket for a one day trip to Salt Lake City. But I knew that I needed to be there. I received funding to help cover the cost of my trip, and the ticket was booked. April Young Bennett loaned me a wheelchair so that I would be able to make the trip from City Creek Park to Temple Square, and then wait in that line of 500 people.
I remember that before we left the park, we sang a hymn, and I was filled with such peace. There was so much love in that group. I felt surrounded by the spirit. Two dear friends of mine were with me, and pushed my wheelchair in the rain and hail I carried names in my pocket of people who wanted to attend but couldn’t, including my father and my sister.
When it was my turn at the doors to the tabernacle, I said what I came to say. That I wanted to go in, that I wanted to listen to the words of the prophet, that I wanted women to be able to fully participate in our church, that I wanted my daughter to be born into a faith where she was valued as much as any man. Like all the women before me, I was turned away. And it was sad, but knowing I had put my own face and name out there to say what I truly believe took the sting away. I left that day feeling energized and hopeful.
That all came crashing down when I read the statement released by the church PR department. The way they characterized the event was totally untrue. The part that particularly galled me was the statement that we would not leave when asked. Maintaining respect and reverence was important to us, and the plan was to leave immediately if asked. We were never asked to leave. At least, not that I heard or saw. In fact, they had a little area roped off for us to wait in line, which seems like an odd step to take if you are planning to ask people to leave.
I spent the next day quietly sobbing in the Dallas airport while I listened to general conference on my phone. It was hard to reconcile the messages of love and truth with the hurtful and dishonest treatment I had just received. It’s still hard to reconcile that.
I haven’t attended church regularly for about a year now. I really felt the need to step away and get some perspective. I have lost a lot of trust in the leadership of our church in the last two years. I don’t expect perfection from the prophet or the apostles. They are just human beings, like all of us. I think they love the church members a lot. But while I don’t expect perfection, I do expect accountability and transparency, and I think those two thinks are sorely lacking.
Although I’m not currently attending church, I consider myself fully, actively Mormon. This is my church, and I still love it. I may have lost trust, but I still have a lot of hope. I truly believe that Mormon Women should and will someday be ordained.
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.
Today’s Sunday Spotlight comes from Donna. A wonderful peek into her life in which she shares personal stories, hopes and faith.
- What gives you hope for the future?
What gives me hope is that more and more people are speaking up, are obeying the Saviour’s commandment to ASK, to KNOCK. The drops of “asks” will soon become an ocean! I have hope that the Lord will hear our pleas and He will, according to his own time, ordain women. I hope it will be in my lifetime.
From the New Testament we learn that people must believe before miracles can happen. Jesus could not perform any miracles in Nazareth because, the scriptures say, of the “unbelief” of the people. We must rid ourselves of “unbelief” before this miracle can happen!
- Aside from ordination, what are some changes you would like to see implemented immediately in the Church?
I would like to see girls and young women treated with equality. When a 12 year old girl says to me “I want pass the sacrament!” I won’t say “Sorry, you were born a girl.” I will answer “I want that, too.”
If you want evidence of different treatment of males and females in the church, just compare the Eagle Court of Honor to the Young Women Recognition award. For boys, I have seen the following: banquets, special nights, speakers, out of town relatives fly in, live eagles flying around the room, Indian dancers dancing, a US Senator speaks, etc., etc., etc. For girls? We hand them a necklace. Usually in the hallway. If we remember. The message: boys are more important than girls.
One more anecdote: At a church history site, the man talking called up all of the young boys out of the audience and told them “You are so special because you will hold the priesthood.” A young girl just sat looking at the ground and asked later “Why aren’t girls special?” Again, the message couldn’t be clearer: boys are given special privileges just for being boys.
- Tell us more about your connection to Mormonism?
My mother’s family has been Mormon for many generations.
- What was your favorite calling?
I have been the president of the Relief Society, Primary and Young Women. I was an early morning seminary teacher for 12 years. I really enjoyed working with the young women, and they loved me, too, and often told the bishop how much they loved me. One young woman told me “You’re the only church leader I have ever had that didn’t treat me like I was a problem.” She was a feminist, are you surprised?
- What are some of the things you love about the Church?
I love serving others, and the church provides a structure for doing that in abundance. I miss that the most. I am thinking of volunteering with the Girl Scouts because I miss working with girls and I will teach them that they deserve the very best in life, and they deserve equal opportunities.
- What are some examples of gender inequality you see in the Church?
This would take many volumes to tell, but let me just say one thing. Leadership of the church has always been by only male priesthood holders. I believe the church would be a better, richer place if women had a part in leadership of the whole church and not just auxiliaries.
- How did you discover Ordain Women?
My daughter Kate Kelly said to me one night – “Mom, I am going to start an organization called Ordain Women. It will have a site where people can put up their profiles. Would you do one?” And the rest is history!
- What prompted you to put up your profile?
I have always believed that women should be ordained, and that one day it will happen. Just read D & C 76:95. It says all have equal power and dominion in the Celestial Kingdom. So if that is the most celestial way, why shouldn’t it be that way in the church right now?
I didn’t have the courage to speak up on my own (mea culpa!) but when I knew others would be making the same public statement, I knew I could do it. Ordain Women gave me the courage to open my mouth. I believe in the phrase “Do what is right, let the consequence follow.” I know it is right to finally obey the Saviour’s commandment to ASK for what I have believed all my life. And so I – tremblingly – put up my profile.
- What has been the reaction of your ward/ family/friends?
My extended family is very divided on the issue of whether women should have equal opportunities, and so we don’t talk about the issue at all.
My ward members have mostly shunned me, except for a very few women who still speak to me. I can count them on one hand. Not one single person in my ward or stake has said “I am sorry for what your family is going through.” Not one. This has been one of the surprising blessings of being a part of Ordain Women – I finally know that these people are not my friends, and in fact many were secretly my enemies. It is very freeing to know that, to know how deceitful and hypocritical people can be. My ward leaders have punished us by not allowing us to do service in the temples, and by not allowing us to serve in callings. We have been called “disgusting,” and yelled at by ward members. Our mailbox has been bashed in many times – we finally gave up and just set it on a rock.
- Have your feelings grown or changed since submitting your profile?
I have not been to church since June 23, 2014, the day my daughter was trash-canned by the church. It is just too painful a place to be for now. The one time I went into the church building for a few minutes I was screamed at by a person I barely know.
I have grown spiritually stronger and stronger since my profile went up. I know without any doubt that it was the right thing to do. The people who oppose Ordain Women have reacted in such a hateful, petty, mean-spirited way, that I am glad I am not among such a group. We are standing on the right side of history, just as those brave souls did who spoke up for removing racial discrimination in the church pre-1978. God bless them! God bless us!
- Have you had the opportunity to attend any actions? How did they effect/change you?
I have attended many Ordain Women events. They have been universally uplifting, intensely spiritual and personally strengthening.
The most spiritual meeting of any kind that I have attended in my life was the non-denominational service “Equal in Faith” meeting held in March 2015 at the Community of Christ chapel. It was so powerful that I wept the entire meeting – tears of joy! Many women who are ordained ministers and leaders in other churches spoke. Their talks and their examples were so powerful, and provided a vision of what it will be like when women are ordained in the church. The whole room was filled with love and light and joy!
We sang this Hymn, and I sobbed so hard, it was hard to sing a note. That refrain about “Justice and Joy” just reverberates in my soul on an almost daily basis! It is my favorite hymn of all time.
A few excerpts:
For Everyone Born, A Place at the Table
For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread,
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star over head.
And God will delight when we are creators
of JUSTICE, and JOY, compassion and peace;
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice. Justice and joy.
For woman and man, a place at the table,
revising the roles, deciding to share,
with wisdom and grace, dividing the power,
for woman and man, a system that’s fair.
For everyone born, a place at the table,
to live without fear, and simply to be,
to work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
for everyone born, the right to be free.
- Do you have any examples of sharing your OW testimony to others?
I am recognized many places I go in Utah. “Are you Kate Kelly’s mom?” people often ask. They universally say “Thank you – to your daughter and your family, for what you are doing! Thank you for your courage!” They often say “I want things to be better for my daughters.”
I have never once tried to “convert” someone to Ordain Women. Our examples speak loudly, and the rest is up to them.
- How do you see the perception of OW changing with ward members/family/friends?
One of my favorite Ordain Women anecdotes is from a woman I spoke to in line at a priesthood session action. She stayed with her grandmother, and they had a very heated argument about whether women should have equal opportunities. Then they went to bed. When they awoke the next morning, her grandmother said to her “Why shouldn’t women be ordained?” and they hugged and cried.
One story from my own life. A non-Mormon co-worker watched the news coverage of the first priesthood action. He said he was brought to tears watching women who were so reverent, devoted and sincere. He said “A church that inspires such devotion, such righteous desire, deserves a closer look.” He asked about having the missionary discussions. Sadly, when Kate was excommunicated, he said “I am not interested in hearing any more about a church that would do such a violent and hateful thing.” Like many others, he was stunned at the hateful actions of church leaders and is no longer interested in the church. It is sad that it didn’t have to be this way. It could have been “Thank you, Sister Kelly, for caring about this issue. We are not making any changes right now, but we’ll call you if we do.” What would have been wrong with that?
As a toddler my dad would strap me into a backpack and go on hours-long hikes, exploring nature: forests, streams, hills. Growing up he took all of my siblings and me to the library every week. We loved going to the library and picking out epic chapter books he would read with us every night. We would read about and dream of glorious adventures together.
When I was five years old my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. “Judge or a waitress,” I replied. He let me know implicitly and explicitly from that very young age that I could be, and would be, anything I wanted. My dad didn’t ever have to tell me “you can do anything a boy can do” … I just knew inherently that I could because of how he treated me.
My dad called himself the “laundry king” and could always be found in his kingdom (the laundry room) folding clothes after he got home from work. He picked me up from all of my soccer games. He learned how to French braid my hair; he would spray my two feet of dark-brown hair every morning with “No More Tears” tangle spray, and put my hair in two braids. It wasn’t special that he did the laundry and braided my hair. It was sensible.
In high school my dad gave me an internship at the newspaper he ran. He lent me his camera and let me take photos of community events for print. He trusted me and let me grow. Late one night when I was 16 years old, I took the family mini-van for a spin with friends without asking my parents’ permission. I returned guiltily to the house after crashing it into the neighbor’s mailboxes. I still remember to this day my dad gritting his teeth and summoning all of his emotional reserves, “I am disappointed. But most of all, I’m just glad you’re ok.”
My dad, a convert to the Church, encouraged me to serve a mission – to say “encouraged me” does not quite capture his commitment to the idea. He was tremendously persistent. When I served my mission in Barcelona, Spain, he sent one postcard per day to me my entire mission (that is not hyperbole…every day). He made them himself. They were cut out of cardstock and decorated with photos, newspaper clippings, stickers, or photos from magazines. They were eccentrically scrapbooked reminders that he never forgot about me. Not even for one day.
My dad is the kind of father you would find in a world where the word “feminist” is unneeded. Where the fact that women and men are equal is so very apparent and obvious that stating it goes completely without saying. Gender parity comes naturally.
He calls me a “renaissance daughter of the restoration.”
When I told my dad I wanted to start a group called Ordain Women, he immediately said, “you were born for this” and started preparing a profile for the site. He has been at every Ordain Women action. At the launch event on April 6, 2013 my dad wore a suit and tie, as reverent as any Church meeting. He took so many photos that people in the crowd got suspicious that he was documenting the event for those in Church headquarters. I had to reassure them that he was a proud parent, not a spy.
The pain of my excommunication has been hardest on my dad. Growing up he was the most zealous Mormon you could ever meet. He carried several copies of the Book of Mormon around in his car and would give them to everyone he met. He would give them to the guy who filled up his gas at the gas station or to people he met on the ski lift. I even remember a story of him giving one to Daniel Ortega, notorious dictator, on a trip to Nicaragua.
My dad moved to Provo, Utah to take a job at BYU. He left behind a beautiful town and community that he loved in Oregon because he felt called to be amongst the Saints.
My dad converted to Mormonism, leaving his Lutheran upbringing behind. Something his parents and family never really understood. Now he is feeling so devastatingly ostracized by his LDS community, the pain he caused his parents is felt afresh, even though they have long since passed.
He wrote this poem:
Missing Mom & Dad
Copyright Jim Kelly May 2015
I haven’t mourned Ruby and Earl for nearly two decades
Although I miss them from time to time and wonder
What they’re up to.
They were strong Nordic stock who scratched an honest
Living on the Northern Plains with simple Lutheran faith in
Hard work and a just God.
When I went away to college I found a new religion.
It broke their hearts.
The whole time our kids were growing up they couldn’t
Understand and I couldn’t understand why so we just
Didn’t talk about church.
Our new faith wasn’t Sunday-only and for nearly forty years
We towed the line and did our best to help build the kingdom
With all the faith we had.
When we finally asked why women aren’t equal we were shunned.
It broke my heart.
Sundays are the hardest days because we’d spent almost
Two thousand weeks worshipping in a pattern we owned
And now it’s broken.
We still yearn for the fellowship of the body of Christ and
Our testimonies are intact but our faith in men is doused
So tonight I’m grieving.
When I get to heaven I’m gonna track down mom and dad.
It will mend our hearts.
His pain and heartache have recently manifested physically and my dad had to have emergency bypass surgery. Yet, through the pain, both physical and spiritual, he continues to smile. He has an absolutely unquenchable zest for life. He also had a rigid moral compass. He says that standing up for women “just makes sense.”
Girls learn by example; and, I have learned:
A father is someone who stands up for his daughters.
A father is someone who looks at his girl children and sees possibility. He propels their potential.
A father is someone who lets you know, every day of your life, that your worth has nothing to do with how you look, what other people say about you or who you are partnered with.
A father is someone who has your back.
A father takes pride in parenting, and sees his role as the Laundry King as part of his preparation for the eternities.
Marion is an Ordain Woman supporter who lives in Norway; she’s formerly lived in Germany and Sweden and served a mission in England. You can read her profile here.
My (Swedish) mother joined the church when I was an infant. We lived in Giessen, Germany at the time. I was baptized in Munich at age eight. Later, after moving to Sweden and being a less active-family for a few years, we started going to church again when I was fourteen. We had to travel far at the time to get to church. It was a challenging, but important experience for me to travel/ponder/search/ pray. I’ve had a number of precious spiritual experiences growing up, and many of them have been facilitated (or caused) by me being a member of this church. I served a mission in England, and that year-and-a-half made me a happier person as I managed to focus less on my own life and more on other people. My family in Norway (where I live now) are not members / active members.
My favorite calling was probably working with young women! That was lovely, but is quite a while ago. I also enjoyed being an institute teacher and am enjoying being a gospel-doctrine teacher. It is intellectually and spiritually demanding and therefor rewarding to teach. I am not a perfect visiting-teacher, far from, but I find the visiting-teaching program inspired and inspiring.
I love the opportunity to sing together, to be quiet together, to ponder together, to explore faith and theology together. The opportunity to get to know people quite rapidly – easier, really, than when I meet friends in other places. I am in essence an introverted person and getting down to the “what is the meaning of the universe” and “why am I here” -type of questions suits me well, as I’m not very talented at small talk at all.
I love the theological concept that there is a part of each individual that was not created by God, but that is light, and that was given a spirit (soul) and then a body. I find this autonomy interesting; is solves (part of) the teodicé-problem – in my mind at least. It also makes us free moral agents; accountable and important in the unfolding history of this world.
However, I do see some inequalities. Men interpret and make the doctrine – our theology. They can listen to women if they want, and are encouraged to do so today, but when push-comes-to-shove no woman can say “Thus Saith the Lord” (Or “Thus Saith our Heavenly Mother”!). Over the centuries, this has caused the perceived “proper” role of women to be very narrowly defined and problematic to relate to for many of us. In my opinion, this imbalance also caused the church to venture out on the unhappy path of polygamy. Women such as Emma Smith and the female Relief-Society were not listened to and were not adhered – causing grave theological AND practical problems still today. Excuses for polygamy such as “we do not understand today” and “the Lord can command what he wants” come from a lack of empathy with our Mormon foremothers who had to sacrifice joy to an excruciating, and in my mind outrageous extent. The fact that female voices can easily be classified as “unfaithful”, “disobedient” or “selfish” if they do not agree with church-leadership aggravates the problem.
We see similar equality-deficiencies today in developing countries that we – as latter day saints – do not readily want to be compared to. Because most all of our male leaders sincerely try to follow Christ, we think that this unhappy power-dynamic will have no negative impact on us. But it does. It has. To the detriment of both men and women.
I also see very little recourse for women in disciplinary situations. We are at the mercy of all men and only men. As a people we are encouraged not to trust in the arm of flesh. But as women, in our religious community we tend to be found lacking if we do NOT trust in the “arm of flesh” (our men and ecclesiastical leaders) 100%.
A lot of – perhaps all of – the issues that were raised in the document “All Are Alike unto God” I find important. A couple of the issues led me to the paradigm where I am today. Men and women ought to make the same covenants with God – everywhere and in all places. Women ought not be one more step removed from deity than men. Worthiness or eligibility-interviews ought to be performed by a member of the same sex. (More work for the Young Women & Relief Society presidents!)
I discovered Mormon Feminism in 2011 as I was reading about the female Nobel-prize-winners Sirleaf, Gbowee & Karman I came across a list of “50 politicos to watch” with Joanna Brooks on it. This led me to read her book, blog, and expand my facebook friend-list with some wonderful, accomplished Mormon feminists. (Gratitude forever for adding me!). So at the first Ordain Women action in October of 2013, I was well aware of it and watching – and pondering.
After a not-so-glorious experience in the temple where I questioned my own honesty and authenticity in raising my hand at a particular part of the endowment-session, I had come to a crisis in praxis. It was almost physically painful to feel inauthentic. I have to add here that I believe family-history work is very inspired/inspiring, and that I cherish some symbols and the aspirational egalitarianism of the Temple. But just as many other women I have found parts of our theology not so easy to digest. Some weeks later I found the above-mentioned “All Are Alike” document. After postponing a bit and pondering it, I signed.
In 2013 after Ordain Women had their first action I had a sudden paradigm shift: I realized that we could fix each and every sexist problem listed in “All are Alike”, but new problems would just keep on cropping up – because the root of it all was our unequal heed to female/male voices. In other words, if women are not present in equal numbers at every decision-making table we will only go astray again – and again – and again. This I also hold to be true for a lack of diversity in other aspects. We are still a very white church when we look at our leadership. I was nudged further towards to posting when I saw a friend put up a very well-worded post and discussing it with her. Putting up a profile has helped me feel “whole” and authentic as both a Mormon and a feminist.
I think some ward-members were pretty jarred about it, I do not know, but imagine that I have been the subject of ward-councils more than once. I was very kindly but strongly encouraged to take my profile down, but I could not do so and continue to feel as an authentic person, so I declined. My family in Norway (where I live now) are not members. My husband is somewhat perturbed, I think, about the amount of time I spend online, but does not comment otherwise. I think of him as a feminist, even if that is not a label he has applied vocally to himself. Equality is, I think, very important to him. Most of my close friends are only happy and encouraging about it. Many other relatives and co-workers are probably more “perpetually surprised” that I am a Mormon “still”, but I feel only love and acceptance.
I hope that some members are seeing Ordain Women for what it is: a friendly “space for Mormons to articulate issues of gender inequality they may be hesitant to raise alone.” Activism suits me – I am an activist at heart and I think it is my responsibility to raise my voice and apply my mind in all walks of life where I see room for improvement. Some people may be different – perhaps their true talent is service, not seeking change – those roles are not mutually exclusive, but we certainly can express goodness in seven billion different ways. I respect that. I hope my views can continue to be respected. I hope there will be a greater level of acceptance for persons that do not quite fit the “Mormon mold.”
I’m a convert to the Church, and before I became LDS I attended the local United Methodist Church with my family. We had a female pastor whom I loved and looked up to, and I confided in her quite a bit as I progressed through my teenage years. We remained close even after I was baptized; she attended my wedding and even spoke at the ring ceremony.
I have been LDS for nearly 15 years now, and while I appreciate my faith leaders on both a local and a general level, it makes me sad that women are so absent. Women don’t sit on the stand at our local sacrament meetings, and we scarcely hear from them at all during General Conference. The Church likes to boast of the Relief Society being the largest organization for women in the world, but the leadership is chosen by those outside the organization and rotated faster than some bishoprics. Even within Relief Society each Sunday, we only study the words and lives of men.
I know that good Relief Society and Young Women’s leaders can make incredible differences, but it’s different from leading, caring for and counseling an entire congregation. I’ve had first-hand experience with how wonderful it is to have a woman in such a leadership position, and I hate that I have no good answers for my daughters when they ask why women can’t be bishops. My hope is that someday I won’t have to think of any – that women’s voices will be as visible and valuable as men’s, and that women will be ordained to the priesthood.
Today’s Sunday Spotlight comes from Joanna! Just when you think she can’t get any better, she does!
What gives you hope for the future
I believe Mormons are amazing, good, divine people and I believe that they will both individually and collectively strengthen their families, communities, countries and ultimately the world.
Aside from ordination, what are some changes you would like to see implemented immediately in the Church?
I would love to see women consulted more, women guiding more and given more chances to administer and teach instead of just ‘serve’. Many of the most spiritual experiences of my life included women stepping out of their assigned roles and truly administering to those around them.
Tell us more about your connection to Mormonism?
I was born in Provo, Utah and lived there until I was 8 when my BYU professor Dad took a job at the U of U so we moved to Draper. I’m a descendant of Hyrum Smith and raised to be very proud of that heritage. I had liberal/intellectual Mormons around me all through my formative years from my parents, aunts/uncles and local leaders that really helped me to realize that personal revelation is the best part of Mormonism.
What was your favorite calling?
I loved being a Relief Society teacher, I felt like it pushed me out of my comfort zone but I learned so much. I also loved being primary chorister. The first year is rough to come up with new material/interest every week but after that you realize that the kids just want to sing and enjoy and learn about goodness, it becomes easier.
What are some of the things you love about the Church?
I love our people. I love our traditions. I love our corny music. I love our crazy, mixed up history and am constantly amazed at where we are now. I love baptism and it’s symbolism and I love the Priesthood.
What are some examples of gender inequality you see in the Church?
I see it everywhere, everyday from the fact that my 12 year old son gets personal letters from the stake president to the fact that my daughter will never feel like she can seek ultimate answers from her leaders. I rarely hear women speaking in church and I rarely see men in my area respecting them fully.
How did you discover Ordain Women?
I read about it on Feminist Mormon Housewives and said out loud to my computer screen, “these are my people!”
What prompted you to put up your profile?
I put up my profile when I realized that most women in the church were seeing Ordain Women Supporters as faceless… the women in my childhood ward were saying awful things and I was convinced that if they realized WHO they were saying this about, a fellow sister, that they would stop and listen, respect and stop the vitriol. (I was wrong.)
Have your feelings grown or changed since submitting your profile?
I am more committed then ever. I now not only have faith that one day women will receive the priesthood, I know it will happen someday and I know that even though that growth is hard… as a church we will get there.
Envisioning our future.
Today’s Sunday Spotlight comes from Laura, who has some wonderful ideas for women in the Church, aside from ordination.
The things I love about the Church are that it fosters organizational leadership, public speaking, teamwork, community. I think the visiting teaching program is great when it works – which it has for me these past few years. I have a truly wonderful visiting teaching companion.
However, you walk into any ward building and the art on the walls portrays men, men preside everywhere, men do all the tasks of administering the ordinances and governance of the Church, men are featured in the lessons and stories we tell at Church, the scriptures are almost exclusively about men and when they are about women, it is glossed over, our Deities are all male; men are everywhere you look—women are invisible.
Changes I would like to see in the church beside the ordination of women:
- Removal of the Proclamation on the Family; consignment to the dustbin and denounced from the pulpits of General Conference as a misguided and utterly repudiated document. I would like to see the general authorities stand up in General Conference and state that every LDS family should remove that document from their homes and that it should be stricken from the pages of Young Women’s Personal Progress booklets and removed from any curriculum. I would like to see a letter sent to every ward and branch to be read from the pulpit stating that the Proclamation should not be in the homes of the righteous. I think that document has been the worst hate speech the Church has disseminated since they spoke of Blacks being cursed.
- I would like to see the Relief Society given complete—as in Chinese Wall separation—autonomy from the priesthood in their governance. I would love to see them given half of the gross receipts of the Church annually with no strings attached to develop and oversee their own programs, curriculum and calls to service. Then, stand back and watch us build the mightiest force for good the world has ever seen.
- I would like to see the Relief Society have half of the building budget for each building built by the Church to design their spaces. Relief Society leadership signatures should be required to sign off on all building plans of any kind before they can be built.
- I would like to see the Young Women brought entirely under the auspices of the above imagined Relief Society.
- I would like to see every calling that does not require priesthood to be open to and filled by women as often as by men.
I discovered Ordain Women on the web. I don’t remember how but I caught wind of that launch meeting, but I was going, and nothing was going to get in my way. I was the first person in the room. For a bit the women on the panel (all who were strangers to me then but are no longer!) and I just looked at each other. We wondered if it was going to be just us. The room gradually filled, and since it was the weekend of Conference, I reported on my Facebook page that I had just been to the most uplifting session of Conference I had ever attended. I left there euphoric that day! What a treat it was.
I take any opportunity provided me—including being assigned a talk in Sacrament meeting—to bear my OW testimony. I have engaged others one on one in any way they were willing (and then some!)
My ward found out I supported ordaining women when I told them from the pulpit in Sacrament meeting. My bishop already knew because I had told him and he was a bit blasé about it. I am sure it never occurred to him that I would have the courage to “mention” it in a Sacrament talk. (Don’t ask me to speak in Church unless you are willing to get the full story. Just a friendly warning.) I have never really connected with this ward. We moved back to Utah from Ohio and I was in such a state of exhaustion for so long that I fell right out of the habit of going to church. Months turned into years and Ordain Women tipped me into full blown can’t sit through it—just can’t keep my mouth shut and I don’t want to be “that person” who everyone wishes would just shut up already!
My family has been polite for the most part. I don’t hear what they say behind my back, but I really wish they would say it to my face. I am slow to take offense, and I understand where they are coming from—I’ve been there! Let’s have a conversation; I will be respectful and gentle with them as long as they are at least civil to me. If they cannot be civil, I will simply bow out of the conversation. My mother wrote me a letter explaining why I was being led into the wilderness. I was soooo excited! We were going to have a real conversation!! I wrote back and have not heard word one about it since. I became obnoxious on Facebook at one point and called out some people by name. I got a response from a male cousin in the form of a page and a half letter giving me all the explanations you have all already heard about the role of women in the gospel. I was thrilled! I wrote back six or seven pages in response. Well, that conversation ended with a well meant “I don’t want to cause contention.” Don’t we love that word, “contention” and all the healthy and respectful conversations it shuts down?
I have only grown more convinced that Ordain Women is a prophetic movement over the last couple of years. This was a conversation that was festering under the surface, and the first priesthood action was a much-needed lancing.
I have attended every action. Each has been ave two girls who just astound me. They are 18 and 21, and they are– well, astounding! They are smart, perceptive, bold, generous and have a sense of themselves that I didn’t begin to have until I was into my 40s. I also read reports on Facebook about children as young as eight and nine years old, girls and boys, looking around at church and asking penetrating and insightful questions about the inequality they see there. It just takes my breath away at how these future leaders are observing and commenting on things that I did not see for many years. Even then only in a way that I had a hard time grasping and putting into concrete terms. For those who see the Church in Ozzie and Harriet terms, there is a storm upon us that will sweep away the stultifying traditions of our fathers with the force of the last great wildfire that swept Yellowstone. In its wake will come a renewal that will be as exciting to some as it will be as terrifying to others.
It gives me hope that there is a large group of general authorities who are in their dotage and cannot live much longer. I have hope that those coming up behind them tilt more toward my daughters than toward my parents.
I am standing next to my mission president in the Fukuoka Japan Airport. I see my mother walking toward me down a long corridor. She looks tired, and a bit older than I remembered. Her red hair is tousled and the streaks of white I see are new. She just traveled half way around the globe to be with me, her son, at the end of my mission. As I spot her, a thought leaps into my mind. “Is my mother going to hell?”
I know, as Mormons we do not believe in a literal hell of fire and brimstone, but we do believe in being cut off from the presence of God, and losing Eternal Life. Would a cutting off be the effect of my mother’s unorthodoxy?
As a small child in the 1960s, every Sunday morning we piled into my dad’s 1961 Plymouth, and drove three minutes to the Bountiful Tabernacle. It is an old white building located at the intersection of Main Street and Center Street. Pioneers constructed this building during the turbulent years of the Mormon Reformation, and completed their work in 1863. Each Sunday, we would sit in the pews of the chapel and stare up at the giant mural of Joseph Smith painted above the stand.
My mother was the more religious of my parents. She married my father in the Salt Lake Temple in 1951. She was only nineteen at the time. My impression is that my father was ambivalent about Church. He had experienced things during the war that lessoned his enthusiasm for strict adherence to any religion. But, he loved my mother, and went to church for her sake.
My childhood memories have faded, but I still remember the last Sunday we attended church as a family. It was the late summer of 1965, and my mother scheduled a temple recommend interview with Bishop Stahle after Sunday school. The interview did not go well. My parents quickly dragged my brother and me to the car. My mother was livid. I remember her saying something about her underwear and not going back to church as long as women do not have the priesthood. Years later, I learned that in the interview Bishop Stahle grilled my mother on intimate aspects of her life, which she found entirely inappropriate. From that day forward, my brother and I attended church alone.
During the 1950s and 1960s, my mother underwent her own personal transformation. She graduated from college, started a career, gave birth to two children, became politically active, experienced the civil rights movement, and saw the rise of the John Birch Society and its growing conservative influence within the LDS Church. Her world was leading her toward a new moral paradigm. The temple recommend interview was simply the catalyst the brought it all to a head.
My mother’s story is not unique. This same basic storyline played out in my own life during the 1990s. I have watched in unfold in the lives of some of my children. During my time with Ordain Women, I have heard this same basic story again and again. I see it unfold in the lives of parents with gay children. It takes place as people expand their horizons through education. It happens to people who devote time to helping the sick, the poor and the broken. The mechanisms vary, but this is a process of moving to a higher level of morality through perspective taking.
At the heart of this story is a movement beyond orthodoxy, and to a true acceptance of the words Jesus uttered on the Mount.
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Matthew 5:3-12King James Version (KJV)
Chelsea Shields Strayer calls this process “Radical Empathy.” This is a state in which people gain the ability to see the world through the eyes of people very different from themselves. It is a state in which they literally feel the pain of others, despite great differences in culture, geography and life experiences.
This process of moving to a higher level of faith and morality is explained in James Fowler’s classic book, “Stages of Faith,” published in 1981. The basic problem is that like many religions, our LDS culture exists largely at what Fowler calls “Stage 3.” The following is a summary of this stage of moral and spiritual development.
Stage 3 – Synthetic, Conventional Stage
A person will normally move into the third of James Fowler’s Stages, the Synthetic, Conventional stage around puberty but apparently, many adults never move beyond it.
Here authority is located outside the self – in the church leaders, in the government, in the social group. Religious concepts are what Fowler calls “tacitly” held – the person is not fully conscious of having chosen to believe something. Thus the name “Synthetic” – beliefs are not the result of any type of analytical thought. Any attempts to reason with a person in this stage about his beliefs, any suggestion of demythologizing his beliefs is seen as a threat.
The name “Conventional” means that most people in this stage see themselves as believing what “everybody else” believes and would be reluctant to stop believing it because of the need they feel to stay connected with their group. It turns out that most of the people in traditional churches are at this stage. And in fact, Fowler comes right out and states that religious institutions “work best” (p. 164) if the majority of their congregation is in Stage 3. (Now THAT explains a lot of the preaching we hear that sounds destined to discourage people from questioning! To properly assure their continuance, churches need people to remain in Stage 3. )
When a person cognitively realizes that there are contradictions between some of his authority sources and is ready to actually reflect realistically on them, he begins to be ready to move to the fourth of James Fowler’s Stages.
Moving beyond Stage 3, is a very painful experience. It feels like your world is coming apart, your foundation is breaking away, and everything you thought you knew seems to crumble around you. In Fowler’s terms, this period of turmoil is Stage 4. This is what my mother experienced in 1965, at the time of her interview.
To answer the question that started this essay: “No, my mother is not going to hell.” At the time she flew to Japan to spend two weeks traveling the country with me, she had transcended the turmoil of Stage 4, and was experiencing a higher level of morality. Unfortunately for me, standing in the Fukuoka Airport, I was still decades behind her in moral development. While people at Stage 3 may believe that those who have moved beyond are in danger of damnation, my faith is in a loving and just God. My mother, and the growing thousands who share her journey to a higher moral plain, have absolutely nothing fear.
Honoring our past,
Envisioning our future.
Mark Barnes, the author of this post, is on Ordain Women’s Executive Board and is the Male Allies Committee Chairperson.