[This is the first in a two-part series by Mark. Today he discusses his history as a Mormon feminist. In the second part, he discusses lessons learned as a male ally on October 5th.]
Raised a Mormon Feminist
“Why does Ordain Women matter to me?” After all, I am a middle-aged man in a secure career. By all measures, life has been good to me. Why spend my time and energy fighting for a cause that does not seem to directly impact my life. The truth is, I was raised a Mormon feminist. For me to live inside of Mormonism, I have to have hope for change.
My grandmother, Beatrice Peterson Marchant, was a feminist. During the time I knew her, she was a widow who lived just west of Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. She had raised her fifteen children in her small two-bedroom house, with a detached garage. The garage also served as sleeping quarters, in earlier years, when her children still lived at home. She lived among the poor of Salt Lake City, and was always a champion of the underdog.
In 1968, she ran for the Utah State House of Representative. As a nine-year-old boy, I remember going from door to door in her district handing out fliers. Miraculously she won the race, and spent a great deal of time over the next four years fighting for women’s rights. After Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, she fought for its ratification in Utah. After leaving the legislature, she was president of the ERA Coalition of Utah. Despite numerous personal attacks in her ward and in the press by Mormons, who opposed her stance on equal rights, she was an active Mormon to the end.
My mother, Elva Marchant Barnes, served side by side with my grandmother in the fight for female equality. However, my mother had ended her active participation in the Church on a day in the mid-1960s, after a particularly contentious interview with our bishop. He saw my mother’s stand for women’s rights as a stand against the church. I still feel the hurt and anger, which flowed from my mother as we left church early and silently rode home on that Sunday so long ago.
African Linage and the Priesthood
In the early 1970s, my uncle, Byron Marchant, was a young returned missionary from France, who was starting his new family with my aunt Gladys in an old red brick home on 500 East, across the street from Liberty Park. Byron had been the tennis pro at the park, and he loved the neighborhood. He was called to be the Liberty Ward scoutmaster. Unlike most wards along the Wasatch Front, the population living within the geographical boundaries of Liberty Ward was poor and heavily minority. Byron had encouraged both member and nonmember boys, alike, to join the Liberty Ward scouting program. His troop’s senior patrol and assistant senior patrol leaders were both of African decent.
The Church announced a new policy with regard to the Boy Scouts. Ward deacon quorum presidencies were also to occupy the scout troop leadership positions. This meant that the top two leaders in his troop would be banned from holding any leadership positions in the troop. Convinced that this new policy simply overlooked the unusual demographics of the Liberty Ward, Byron began to climb the ladder of the Church hierarchy looking for a sympathetic ear. He was convinced that if they listened, they would make an exception for his troop. From bishop to the First Presidency, there were no sympathetic ears. Rather there were rejections and strong warnings that his pleas could result in his excommunication.
These warnings were prophetic. In October of 1977, Byron raised his voice from the balcony of the Tabernacle during a conference session. He voted no, and declared that he could no longer sustain the Brethren. Shortly after, he was excommunicated. Eight months latter, President Kimball announced to the world that the Lord had spoken. Male members of African ancestry could now hold the priesthood. The announcement came on a day in June 1978, when I was in the Language Training Mission (now the MTC), preparing to leave on my mission to Japan. Despite all of the prior church opposition to black ordination, when the announcement came, new missionaries, myself included, were running through the halls, shouting and celebrating this glorious revelation.
Looking back on the sacrifices of my grandmother, mother and uncle, it has been a great blessing to be surrounded by people who were willing to do what is right in the face of great opposition and personal sacrifice.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
To me the fight for equality is a fight for the true heart of Christianity. Matthew relates the following story in Chapter 22, versus 34 – 40.
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
The second commandment is a statement of the Golden Rule. Treat others like you would like to be treated. It is a commandment like unto the first commandment. In other words, we show our love for God by treating others like we would like to be treated. In this one short sentence, Jesus laid out the great law of equality, and on this law “hangs all of the Law and the Prophets.” This is our standard of morality against which we should judge all other policies, rules or commandments in the Church.
I am a father and a grandfather. I have three sons and one daughter. I also have three grandsons and one granddaughter. God works both inside and outside the Church. My daughter is very bright and committed. She is currently working on a doctorate in psychology. Her inclination is to act for a better world. She was in Haiti after the earthquake. She was in Joplin, after the tornado. She has volunteered in orphanages in Mexico, Central America and Kenya. She raised money for poor children in India, who could not afford glasses, and every Pioneer Day in Salt Lake City, she organizes an event to feed the homeless. My daughter is a natural leader and an active Mormon. The ordination of women will ensure that my daughter’s talents, and the talents of millions of other women in the Church, are not wasted. As a priesthood holder, my daughter will be able to use all of her skills for the building up of the Kingdom. Without ordination, I fear that someday may daughter, like my mother, will come face to face with her second-class status, and decide that her best option will simply be to leave the Church behind.