Today’s Sunday Spotlight features Noel. She discusses how important it has been to surround her self with supportive, faithful individuals who have created a community where it is okay, perhaps even encouraged, to have questions.
I didn’t join OW until the summer of 2014. I was a newlywed and had a broken heart after Kate’s exing. I knew of OW from the start. I was supportive, but had my heart set on a goal of teaching at BYU. I thought if I could get a job there, I would be able to help guide those students, who like me had doubts and concerns. Give them a different path for their lives, both by example and through talking with them. However, those dreams faded when I was passed over for more than one job based on a rather strange confluence of events.
After the second job had come and gone, I decided enough was enough and that I had to put my voice in with the women of OW. I had to be part of the change that is so desperately needed.
Growing up in the Church, I never really saw women as “less than.” This is largely thanks to my unorthodox parents and ward leaders who never told the girls we weren’t allowed to do things based on gender. My leadership encouraged the young women to attend high adventures, to gain real skills, and to look at alternative futures. My Young Women leadership consisted of women who had married outside the Church and women who were on second marriages. These women showed (by example) that there were other paths. Their words told us that there was one path to hope for and to seek after, but we knew that reality didn’t always follow that path.
When I say my parents weren’t orthodox, I mean it. My dad was a convert; he converted four years into my parents’ marriage. My mother is the daughter of converts and nearly lost her family because she chose to marry my dad. She once told me that she knew that she was meant to marry him, and that following that prompting was more important to her than her family’s disapproval. My grandparents did come around and were an active and supportive part of their marriage.
As I think about my mom’s experience with marrying my dad, I contemplate the injustice that she faced by the church. As a woman marrying outside the faith in the Seventies, she was precluding herself from the temple blessings. She knew that choosing to marry a Catholic man meant she would not be allowed entrance to the temple. I think of the courage and faith it took her to marry knowing that she wouldn’t be allowed to enter the temple. What makes this even more profound in light of OW is that men were allowed to marry outside the temple, but still be active temple participants. It wasn’t until the 1986 that this rule was changed and parity was given.
My parents taught all their children to be free thinkers, to come to their own decisions. This often meant living with consequences we didn’t like, but we were always told to think for ourselves. Our house was filled with religious books, which ranged from mostly LDS, to overviews of other faiths. Nothing was held back. Dinner was a time to ask all the questions that were haunting us. My parents openly answered these questions. It’s no wonder that in this environment of questions, I started to see flaws in my faith tradition.
One of my strongest memories of seeing the flaws in the faith, started with a well-intentioned lesson on eternal marriage. Being the daughter of a convert, my grandparents were not members, so sitting in a class that taught they would be separated after death. This did not sit well with me and I remember crying myself to sleep any time that these lessons were given. I could not understand how loving Heavenly Parents could be so cruel. My grandparents spent more of their earthly life together than apart. It would be hell to them to be separated. I learned quickly that it was okay for me to be a faithful member and to question teachings that didn’t seem in line with the gospel I was being taught. This idea that my grandparents weren’t going to be allowed to be together forever was forcibly rejected by my young mind. Why? Because my Heavenly Parents would judge the content of my grandparents’ hearts and see that they were truly meant to be eternally bound.
This is just one of many ways that I started to see the flaws. In my heart of hearts, I know that our Heavenly Parents see all their children as equals. That gender, sexual orientation, marriage status, etc don’t preclude their children from full activity and worship.
I got a sense of this inclusion living in Baltimore City. I attended the single’s ward there and I never felt that people would be uninvited for being different. In fact, I posted one night on Facebook that I was working on my talk (about the Atonement) while watching Kill Bill. The next day, my bishop approached me and laughed with me that my talk was not what he expected based on my Facebook post. That day I breathed a sigh of relief because I could be me.
This idea of all are welcome was consistently reiterated to me as I taught Gospel Doctrine. I stood in front of the class and openly admitted that I found the stories of the Bible to be just that, stories. They taught great lessons for us to learn, but they weren’t meant to be taken literally. My stake president and his counselors were in attendance. No one corrected me. In fact, this theme was continued throughout several other lessons, and I was thanked for being so honest. I am indebted to these friends I made, they gave me a community of fellow doubters who were all trying to find their place.
As I consider the future and what it holds, I am heartened when I look at the little people in my life. My stepsons are wildly dedicated to the idea of feminism. They do their part to show me love and support as I try to be bold about who I am and what I believe. My nieces and nephews are such loving and strong little people that I know they will be able to stand up and take charge of the church and world. I have hope that through the efforts of those in groups like Ordain Women, Mormons Building Bridges, Mormons for Equality, Sunstone, etc that one day I will be able to say,
All are alike unto God: male and female, black and white, gay and straight.
God is a Mother and a Father.
Mormon women matter.
(p. 140, Book of Mormon Girl)
And mean it.