Posted by on Aug 30, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

This Sunday Spotlight features Jeremy. Here he shares how he first became aware of feminist issues and what he hopes for the future of women in the LDS Church.
 Jer Portrait
I was born and raised in the Church, as the fifth and final child of a Danish immigrant father and Utahn mother. I grew up in the church along with my four older siblings, participated in the Hill Cumorah Pageant two times in the early 1990’s, and matriculated through church programs while serving as a missionary in Hong Kong, a Ward Mission Leader in a single’s ward in SLC, in a Sunday School presidency in South Bay of San Francisco, and several forms of teacher in SLC, California, and now in Alexandria, VA where I currently serve as an Elder’s Quorum instructor. I am Mormon because it is my heritage, but more importantly I am Mormon because I cherish the concepts of Agency, the Plan of Salvation, and the understanding that God is a partnership of Heavenly Parents.  
 
I first became aware of feminist issues on my first date with my wife, and many experiences have blossomed out of that event almost 8 years ago into a growing awareness of feminist issues, inequality in the LDS church, the submitting of our separate OW profiles with my wife before Kate Kelly’s excommunication, to my realization that I grew up feeling gender non-conforming through my exploration of other OW profiles, becoming educated on biological sex and gender, and processing my feelings which led me to write a new updated profile about biological sex and gender. In hindsight, my first date with my wife, Mallory, had an inflection point – a moment that could have ruined the evening, but luckily didn’t. She mentioned that she was a “feminist,” which prompted the response “does that mean you hate men?” from me. She laughed it off and explained that feminism is the belief that the sexes are equal, and this appears to be the moment when I began to contemplate biological sex, gender, and gender roles for the first time. Eight and a half years later, after a long series of events including: 
 
1. becoming involved in the Ordain Women movement
2. reading “Women and Authority” which explores the concepts of feminism, diety, patriarchy, and the institution that is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
3. becoming educated on fellow Latter-Day Saints who are experiencing general dysphoria over the patriarchy and asking for change
4. the rising awareness of transgender issues – I am starting to really understand who I am and where I belong. 
 
I’m not transgender, but I’m not Don Juan or Hulk Hogan either. Growing up I rarely seemed to understand or relate to the perspectives and experiences of my peers, teachers, coaches, leaders, etc. that were male, but I would often easily understand or relate to the perspectives and experiences of women. This phenomenon remained perplexing to me up until this year as I have learnt more about the intricacies of biological sex, gender, and sexuality while trying to process my discomfort with “traditional marriage” campaigns, religious based patriarchies (especially within my own faith), and related reactions to the arising transgender issues. As I studied, it became increasingly clear to me that biological sex transcends our current two narrow categories, and that in turn has implications for sexual orientation, gender identity, and numerous other areas.

As time passes, our culture seems to become increasingly aware of the numerous perspectives and the multitude of experiences that are possible for people in this life. Biological sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation are a lot more varied than we have previously realized, perhaps as varied as the wide pallet of skin hues around the world. This realization has helped me process the fact that there may be a reason I have rarely identified or understood the perspectives and experiences of other men. I may be biologically male, but I’m not sure that I fit or perfectly align with the socially constructed concept of what it means to be of the “male” gender. Thus, I don’t feel like a woman trapped in a male body, but I also don’t feel like a Don Juan or a Hulk Hogan either. I may have identified better with women my whole life because I may be somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum, and I may just be closer to the female side of that spectrum than the male side, and I’m okay with it.
Lake Family-11 (1)
 

I remain hopeful despite the recent wave of excommunications against members expressing doubt, questioning the patriarchal institution, and advocating for women’s ordination because our church has a long history of members advocating for changes they perceived as unjust, unchristlike, and/or immoral.  One such example was the prominent LDS sociologist Dr. Lowry Nelson, he communicated his difficulty in accepting a “doctrine of inequality” that resulted in “the Negroes [not being] entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel,” e.g. Priesthood ordination, after he was consulted over the existence of “pure white people in the rural sections” of Cuba to discover the efficacy of doing missionary work and the feasibility of establishing congregations in Cuba.  Another example is the first wife of Orson Pratt, Sarah M. Pratt, who declined an offer from Joseph Smith to become one of his “spiritual wives” in 1841 Nauvoo, that encounter began a series of events that pushed her, her husband Orson Pratt, and their children in and out of the Church several times while Sarah advocated against the practice of polygamy in Nauvoo and Utah.

Additionally, I still hope that changes could be made to make the Church a more equal institution – more reflective of our Heavenly Parents, whom I envision as co-equally ruling over us, their creations.  Firstly, having a two year old daughter, I would I like to see “worthiness” interviews for young women conducted by other women (e.g. Relief Society and/or Young Women’s Presidency members) instead of men.  Placing older men in a room with younger women to discuss sexual relations, thoughts, actions, experiences, etc. doesn’t seem appropriate in any context. Ever.  It carries the possibility of abuse by men who may knowingly or unknowingly develop a desire for such conversations and for creating circumstances for inadvertently causing unintended shame or unwarranted guilt

Secondly, I would like to see the silence around Heavenly Mother lifted.  A survey of historical teachings about Mother in Heaven conducted by BYU Professor David L. Paulsen and BYU student Martin Pulido found that Heavenly Mother may have and does play many roles beyond simply reproduction/nurturing, that the cultural “sacred silence” around Heavenly Mother does not appear to have been advocated for by any General Authorities at any time, and that the historical data from General Authority talks/statements provides a highly elevated view of Heavenly Mother and suggests that she fills a multitude of roles, such as procreator, parent, divine person, co-creator, co-framer of the plan of salvation, and as being generally involved in this life and the next.

Thirdly, I would like to see women be able to serve and/or assist in more callings and roles that don’t explicitly require ordination.  For example, reducing gender disparity in leadership callings throughout ward/stake/church hierarchies, by calling women to Sunday School Presidencies, calling men to Primary Presidencies, calling women as Ward Mission Leader, etcetera.  I would like to see women be allowed to serve as witnesses in baptisms, mothers be allowed to hold their infants during naming/blessing ceremonies, and women be allowed to, perhaps, serve in other priesthood calling/roles by granting Bishops and Stake Presidents the ability to call women to callings that make use of their Priesthood authority/keys, analogously to the work women do in the temple under the authority/keys of the Temple President.

I love that our Church is run by volunteers, which occasionally leads to problems, but forces us as members and forces our leaders to put a lot of reliance on the Holy Spirit, and allows for the hand of the Lord to be revealed.  Henry B. Eyring talked about this sort of reliance when he discussed his experience after being released from a calling.  A member sought his advice, and although he initially resisted, he finally listened to their problem and waited for the divine inspiration he was accustomed to receiving, only to have nothing come.  I love being able to serve in the Church, and I currently serve in my favorite type of calling – teaching. I love the access to the spirit I end up feeling as I prepare and teach lessons.