Today’s Sunday Spotlight is from Cory, a male ally who shares his perspective on Mormonism and gender inequality.
Tell us more about your connection to Mormonism?
My first really meaningful interaction with Mormonism was when I was dating a girl who was a member of the Church during high school. She had a really great relationship with her dad and that was something that was missing in large part from my life. By watching her family, I learned a lot about the Church- both good and bad.
At the very end of my senior year, I was talking to another friend, who was an inactive member. I was wondering what life held after high school, because I didn’t have any plans in place and I voiced those concerns to her. She invited me to take the discussions in her home. Her family had always loved me and treated me well, so I accepted the invitation. I became a “golden contact” for the sister missionaries and was baptized shortly after I graduated.
One thing that I remember from my experience in taking the discussions and committing to baptism that really stuck with me was my baptismal interview. All of my discussions were with the sister missionaries from my friend’s ward. I lived in different ward so, just prior to my baptism, the elders from my ward came to interview me. I expressed some concerns about them interviewing me since I had always met with the sisters. They told me that the sisters didn’t have authority to conduct this interview, anyway. I found it odd, but ended-up getting interview by two elders about my age who I had never met before. I remember feeling a tremendous loss that the sisters weren’t a part of that process.
What gives you hope for the future?
In general, I am an optimist. I also find joy in some really simple things like spending time with my family. I think being able to find joy easily makes having hope sort of natural. I also have a strong belief in the inherent goodness of people. More specifically, I see society trending toward more moral positions on issues. Even though people may be less religious than in years past, they are more moral in the way that they view social justice issues. I think the separation of morality and religiosity has really pushed through old dogmatic walls and has led us to a place where society can address equality issues through new eyes. While I find great value in the scriptures, I also think that understanding historical context is a really important part of the scriptures. Understanding how changes in technology and science impact the scriptures is a really important part of how I approach sacred texts. That allows my views to change while still being rooted in the past in a meaningful way.
Aside from ordination, what are some changes you would like to see implemented in the Church?
I really would like the Church to consider how it impacts people who don’t fit “the mold”. Single people, divorced people, LGBTQ people, people who cannot have children, women, people who have nuanced faith and others receive messages from the Church (often inadvertently) that tell them that they are not good enough. There is a great deal of pain caused by this. If Jesus Christ really made the sacrifice that the Church says He did, then the power of the Atonement is enough to compensate for any of our shortcomings. Like President Uchtdorf said, there’s room for everyone in the Church. We don’t need to be homogenous, because our differences (if they are errors on our part) can all be fixed through Christ’s sacrifice. I know that it would take a huge shift from the general membership of the Church to openly accept people who are that different in the Church, but I think it is critical for the Church’s long-term sustainability.
What are some of the things you love about the Church?
I really love that the Church mobilizes to serve people. I love that people are so dedicated to trying to help one another. I also really love Joseph Smith’s early vision of the Church. He was sealed to friends in the temple. I think he saw the ways that we are all interconnected and wanted that to be a really important part of the Church. Maybe, more than anything, I love that the Church teaches that we all have access to God.
Have you had a favorite calling in the church?
Absolutely! I was the Gospel Doctrine teacher in my ward. It was great for me because I not only had the responsibility to come prepared, I had a chance to highlight areas that I think were sometimes left undiscussed. It was a great couple of years for me. I was spiritually fed regularly and was really sad when I was released.
What are some examples of gender inequality you see in the Church?
There are so many. From unequal spending on the Young Men and Young Women to women not being allowed to approve their own budgets to the concept of presiding authority being determined by your sex, the Church is filled with examples. I’m not sure that I have a lot to say that’s new here. There is a scriptural basis for a lot of this and, until we have the courage to really look closely at the context of those scriptures, we will remain stuck in an unequal paradigm. For example, Paul said, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.” If we accept that scripture blindly, we will ALWAYS be battling for gender equality in the Church. If we can look at and say, “Wow. Paul really had some outdated views about women. Isn’t it great that we have come so far in this area? I wonder what we can do today to advocate for equality in the Church so that history won’t look at our day like we look at Paul’s day.” Having the courage to question things like that can become a springboard to making the Church an organization that is leading the way in the struggle for justice, equality and morality. I think we have a long way to go still, but I’m hopeful that we can get there.
A specific personal example of gender inequality has to do with my daughter. After making it pretty clear to her Achievement Day leaders that she wanted a lesson about more than doing crafts or ironing, they finally planned a physical fitness lesson. One of their challenges was to see how long each of the girls could jump rope. Let’s just say that the leader’s arms got tired after five minutes and my daughter never got to see how long she could go. She was so upset by that. When I contrast that with my boys’ experience in scouts and their training to do a triathlon, I realize that we aren’t doing the girls in the Church justice. Some girls want triathlons. Some boys don’t. It’s time to start recognizing the importance of individuality in our youth and treating them as people instead of roles.
How did you discover Ordain Women?
I have always taken issue with folk doctrine in the Church. One prevalent doctrine, in particular, was the idea that women have to wear a skirt or a dress to be considered appropriately dressed for Church. I could never support the idea that a woman in a denim jumper and a t-shirt was somehow more respectful to God than a woman in a sharp pantsuit. When Wear Pants to Church Day came up, I was a huge proponent. I contacted one of the organizers of that event and expressed support for what they were doing. Hilariously, I cautioned her that some people may take this as an effort to have women receive the Priesthood, so they should really be careful with what they are putting out there. I’m embarrassed to admit that the development of my feminism was a little slower than I wish it could have been.
I supported Let Women Pray when that came up, too. The fact that a woman hadn’t prayed in General Conference was rooted in no doctrine whatsoever and I suspect it wasn’t even done intentionally. Sometimes we just get stuck in doing things the way that have always been done. So I joined the movement that eventually led to sister Jean A. Stevens saying a prayer in the April 2013 General Conference.
Then Ordain Women showed-up. Supporting it really seemed to be a natural progression of the causes that I had supported. As I had supported the various movements that asked hard questions about gender equality in the Church, I really started to study the issue. As I read about Deborah in the Old Testament, I had a thought solidify in my mind- women had held the Priesthood anciently. The men who wrote the Bible didn’t say much about it, but Deborah’s contributions to Israel were so significant that they couldn’t be ignored. For Deborah’s contributions to be mentioned in the Bible (where we essentially see Paul telling women to shut-up) is a testament to what a great leader Deborah had to have been. As I read about the early days of the restored Church, I came to realize that Joseph Smith had envisioned a larger role for women than any religions of that day did. Women gave blessings and ran the Relief Society as an autonomous organization during Joseph Smith’s time as the President of the Church. The more I researched, the more I found precedent to support the idea that female ordination and gender equality are important gospel principles. It became easy to support OW at that point, so I submitted a profile.
What prompted you to put up your profile?
There were a couple of experiences that were key in my support of Ordain Women and gender equality in the Church. The first experience came early in my marriage. My wife wasn’t doing something I wanted her to. To try to get her to do it, I tried to pull Priesthood rank. I said, “My COUNSEL to you is…”. I immediately felt awful and manipulative, but I was determined to stick to my guns. That was until my wife began laughing at me. That experience made it clear that neither I nor my wife were comfortable with our relationship being built on either of us having more power than the other person. That moment established the equality in our marriage. When your personal life is built on a foundation of gender equality, it seems natural to want the same thing from your experience in the Church.
The second experience was having our daughter. She was holding her head up on her own from literally the day she was born. She was physically strong and we enrolled her in a dance class at age four to give her an outlet for her desire to be physically active. After a month, she voiced her displeasure with dance and wanted to try gymnastics. After a few weeks, they had a “meet” that was really just a show for the parents. I was unfortunately unable to attend. That night, I asked her about her meet mentioning that I heard she received a medal. She replied, “EVERYONE got a medal, Dad. I want to see if my gymnastics is better than the other girls’!” She went on to become a state champion. She has played volleyball and is currently playing tackle football in Pop Warner- her passion. Watching her made me realize how much I wanted her to grow-up outside of many of the gender expectations of the Church. I want her to decide what she wants to do free of externally-imposed expectations or restrictions.
I felt like submitting my profile to Ordain Women was a way to show my daughter that I felt that way. In fact, I wanted her in the picture I submitted for my profile, so that she would know what an important part she played in my submitting it.
Have your feelings grown or changed since submitting your profile?
I really wanted to keep this as positive as possible, but I have to delve a little into the negative to accurately answer this question. I found out from my current Bishop a few months ago that I was released from my calling after pressure from some ward members. That pressure did not come from my performance in my calling, but rather from the perception that I was “dangerous” after writing a blog piece that supported my opinion that Kate Kelly was not guilty of apostasy prior to her disciplinary council. I also wrote a subsequent piece for the OW blog that made many members of my ward uncomfortable. After meeting with my Bishop (a man who I love and respect) it became clear that my being at Church makes a lot of people uneasy. I felt that discomfort and have attended very infrequently as a result. My wife ended up resigning her membership after Kate was excommunicated. The easy answer would be for me to resign, as well, but I don’t want that. I still love the Church and want to be a part of it. It’s just very difficult to feel like my ward is my home. I want to find a way to change that, but I have to be able to find an authentic way to make it happen so far.
On a much more positive note, at the beginning of last school year it was the time that I would usually give my children father’s blessings. After my support of gender equality, I really felt like I needed to put my money where my mouth was. I asked my wife to bless each of the children. She did so under the authority of her love as a mother. I can tell you that the Spirit was present at those blessings more than any other blessing that I have ever witnessed. After that experience, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that love is the strongest spiritual authority there is. That realization seems consistent with what Jesus taught his disciples.
Have you had the opportunity to attend any actions? If so, what was your experience?
I attended a local action where my wife and I went to Priesthood Session at our local stake center, dressed in purple. As we entered, one of the counselors in the Stake Presidency warmly greeted my wife and then said, “Oh, sweetie, this meeting is just for the boys.”
She smiled and said, “I know.”, and walked right past him to take her seat. I admire her spirit.
How have people close to you reacted to your advocacy for women’s ordination? Do you see people’s opinions changing?
My wife and children have been incredibly supportive. My parents, who are not members, support my advocacy, but have asked me why I don’t just leave the Church since it doesn’t reflect my values with respect to gender equality. It’s really hard to put into words why I want to keep working to make the Church a better place in my view. For someone who hasn’t seen the beauty of the Church, it’s easy to just look at the shortcomings. The Church, in my view, has some work to do with respect to supporting equality, but that doesn’t mean that I think I should through the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. It’s a beautiful organization despite having a few issues that I see as needing to be fixed.
Do you live or have you lived outside of the USA? What impact do you imagine women’s ordination having on the church internationally?
I have never lived outside of the US, but I imaging gender equality being a universal good. I know that that may present issues in many cultures, but taking appropriate steps forward in every culture seems like a good course of action.