Thursday, April 11, 2013

An Open Letter to Those Who Do Not Understand Mormon Femnists

For many people, the phrase “Mormon feminist” is an oxymoron.  For others, it’s akin to heresy.  For me, it’s an identity.  It’s part of who I am.  Because so many people do not understand how it is possible to be both, and because I have read so many blog posts and Facebook comments recently expressing disdain and distaste for women who identify as Mormon feminists, I would like to explain what it means to me to be one.

First of all, let me say that my testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not based on whether or not a woman prays in General Conference, or on what I wear to church, or on whether I will ever see my daughters pass the Sacrament.  Rather, my testimony is based on my understanding of the teachings of Christ and on the love I feel from Him in my life.  There are many things about which I feel comfortable saying “I believe”, but there are not many things about which I feel comfortable saying “I know”.  However, one thing I do know is that my Savior loves me.  I know He knows me personally, and I know He sees not only who I am now, but who I want to be.  When I am at my lowest He is there to lift me up and He gives me strength when I am weak.  Because I know He loves me, I also know that God loves me.

Many people who are opposed to feminism in the Church assume that what feminists are seeking is equal power – that all we want is the Priesthood.  It is true that there are women agitating for the opportunity to hold the Priesthood.  But this is only a small part of what feminists want, and it is not something that is wanted by all who identify as feminists.

Instead, what feminists want are equal rights.  We want to be acknowledged as important, and not just for our ability to give birth and to nurture children.  Yes, these are important qualities that women possess, but not all women will become mothers.  What, then, is their role in the Church?  What of the women who do not wish to be placed on pedestals and told that they are better than men, or more spiritual, or more righteous?  These are tokens, and they feel like a condescending pat on the head.  I do not wish to be better than any man, or any woman.  I only wish to be equal.

On April 6, a woman made history in the Church, and all she did was offer a prayer.  Of course, women pray all the time, even in public.  But this particular prayer closed the first session of the 183rd annual General Conference of the Church.  And until that moment, no woman had ever been invited to offer a prayer in a general session of General Conference.  Why not?  No one really knows.  There is no clear reason, except that women had never prayed in Conference before.  Tradition.  A group joined together and wrote letters, requesting that a break in tradition be considered.  Amid outcry from members who did not understand why anyone cared, the letters were sent to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.  According to the official Church spokesman, the decision regarding who would pray was made months before General Conference, so it seems likely that women (a woman prayed to open the concluding session of Conference on April 7) were already slated to pray before the letter-writing campaign even began.  However, I firmly believe that, regardless of when the decision was made, God heard the prayers of the people advocating for change and He answered them, in His own way and in His own time.

When Joseph Smith was a boy, God did not just appear to him and tell him to start a new church.  Even though I’d like to think that this was in His plans all along, it wasn’t until Joseph went to God in prayer and ASKED Him which church to join that God gave him the answer that he should not join any, but that God had a work for him to do.  In the scriptures we are told, over and over, to ask for help.  “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” -James 1:5.  “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”  -Matthew 21:22.  “Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” -3 Nephi 14:7.  And over and over and over.  God is pretty clear that He keeps the lines of communication open.  He welcomes our questions, and we are told that He will answer us.

Why, then, if we believe these words so strongly, and if we believe that God listened to the prayers of a 14-year-old farmboy, do we find it so hard to believe that God will listen to and answer the prayers of hundreds of women?  President Gordon B. Hinckley, Prophet and President of the Church from 1995-2008, was asked in an interview if he thought women could ever be given the Priesthood in the Church, if the current policies could ever change, and he answered, “Yes.  But there’s no agitation for that.”  That was in 1997, and perhaps there was no agitation then, but now, in 2013, there is.  I don’t think it’s such a leap to believe that it’s possible that things could change.  Who are we to claim to know and understand God’s plans?

I participated in the now infamous “Wear Pants to Church Day”.  I did this for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I felt it was important to stand up for those women who feel marginalized in the Church.  And whether or not anyone else THINKS women should feel that way does not change the fact that there are women who DO feel that way.  After Sacrament Meeting was over that day, I had a woman give me a hug and thank me for wearing pants.  I didn’t know before then that she felt that, but she needed someone to wear pants for her, and I’m glad I followed my heart and chose to do so.

It is wrong to tell others how to feel.  We are human; we cannot always control our emotions and our experiences.  We all come from different places in life, and things touch us in different ways.  What feels right to me will not feel right to everyone else.  There are many Mormon women who are perfectly comfortable with the way things are in the Church, and I applaud and genuinely congratulate them.  But there are also many Mormon women who do not.  For one reason or another, or for many reasons put together, we do not feel represented, understood, heard, or respected in the Church.  This is certainly not to say that we do not feel these things from God, but rather from the men who run the Church here on earth.  And this is why we have chosen to speak up and speak out.

I do not know whether women will ever hold the Priesthood in the LDS church.  I don’t even know if this matters to me or not – I haven’t figured that out yet.  But what does matter to me is that women have a place in the Church where they feel safe, loved, and understood.  Where they feel represented and respected.  Where they can share in worship and love without worrying that they will be turned away by other Church members for questioning tradition.  Because if the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about love, then why are those of us who do not fit into the traditional Mormon mold being shown so little love from our fellow Church members?

Please show us, your sisters, some love and respect.  Please make an effort to understand where we are coming from.  Please stop belittling us for feeling the way we do, even if you do not understand how or why we could feel that way.  Please do not make it harder for us to stay in the Church.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is perfect, even if His followers are not.  He welcomes our questions.  All we can ask is that, as His people, you do the same.  We need your love; please don’t turn us away.

24 comments:

  1. Love this. Brilliant blog post!

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  2. The words of my heart! Thank you thank you for writing them!!

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  3. This is absolutely wonderful. As you know, I don't identify as a "Mormon feminist", but I identify with so much that Mormon feminists stand for (does that make sense? Hope so!). I think my favorite part of your post is where you talk about how God has these plans, but he's not putting them into place until we PRAY and ASK. I think that's all He wants. Communication from us with Him!

    Anyway, beautifully put. I'm a better person for having read this. Thank you.

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  4. I am not a Mormon Feminist. I don't understand why they feel the way they do. I'm also someone who believes that God loves everyone, and I try to treat those around me accordingly. I'd like to think that I've treated Mormon Feminists kindly despite my lack of understanding. Thank-you so much for a beautifully written blog post about the bounteous love God has for us and we should have for all His children. He does not ask us to judge those around us, He simply asks us to love everyone. Thank-you for reminding me of how I should treat everyone!

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  5. You took the words right out of my mouth. Thank you.

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  6. This was very nicely written. I do not consider myself a Mormon Feminist; I do not seek out any more responsibilities than I already have! (Note: I am currently a Relief Society president.) However, it saddens me to think there are women out in the church that do not feel accepted or equal or welcome or even comfortable in their various congregations or the church as a whole for whatever reason. My stewardship over the women in my ward has been a constant struggle to give people the opportunity to feel loved -- to NOT feel judged -- and to be given a chance to grow spiritually and feel the blessings of living a righteous life in accordance with whatever direction they need to develop. And for the record, I do not feel that Men "run" this church -- God is most definitely in charge, and it is through His servants, Male and Female, that this church operates as well as it does. Thanks again for your insight!

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    1. Thank you for your thoughts. It sounds as though the women in your ward a blessed to have you. One thing I would point out, though, not to be contentious (because you so clearly are not!), but to clarify: as a feminist, I do not seek out more responsibilities than I have, either. I currently teach the 4 year olds in Primary, and I love it, but I have been an RS president and though, due to extremely unusual circumstances it only lasted a short time, it was the most challenging calling of my life. I would never ask for more than that. For me, it's not about callings or responsibilities, but about recognition and respect. Regardless, thank you so much for commenting and sharing your thoughts.

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    2. "For me, it's not about callings or responsibilities, but about recognition and respect." I really appreciated your article, how you encourage love and understanding. I certainly hate the nastiness that has been circulating around this debate for too long. However I don't feel like I understand the issue any better from reading this. Are there specific things you want changed on an international level, or local level? Recognition and respect are quite vague and subjective. What do you mean by "equal rights"? I remember so many talks/articles by both men and women that address the issue of women who do not marry or have children, that their lives can and should be wonderful and productive. I hope this doesn't come across contentious, I truly don't understand and I would like to.

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    3. Suzie, you're right - "recognition and respect" are very vague and subjective. And, to be honest, I'm not sure I can articulate exactly what I meant by that. In my post up there (in the 3rd from the last paragraph), I talked about how there are many women who do not feel "represented, understood, heard, or respected in the Church", and these would perhaps have been better word choices. Regardless, your question is about specific things that I would like to see changed, and I can give you a few examples, ones that will also tie in with your question regarding "equal rights".

      I would like to see women represented in callings that do not require the Priesthood but are traditionally held by men (such as ward clerk or Sunday School president), and I think it would be awesome to see men in callings that are traditionally held by women (such as Primary presidency). I would like to see budgets for the YM and YW programs become more equalized. Currently many wards have a separate budget for Scouts that greatly exceeds the budget allotted to the YW, and in many wards the activities that the Scouts participate in are much more exciting and cool than the YW activities. I would like to see opportunities for women to be able to confess to a female leader (perhaps the RS president?) as opposed to a male bishop, if she would feel more comfortable that way - I think this would be particularly helpful when it comes to discussing sexual sins. I would like to see girls be taught about chastity without being told that they are responsible for boys' actions (when you teach girls that they need to dress modestly or the young men won't be able to control themselves, this is putting the responsibility on the girls).

      A great post to read that helps sum all this up much better than I can can be found here.

      And you certainly didn't come across as contentious. I appreciate you asking questions and trying to understand. I read something the other day that I love: "I don't want you to think like me. I just want you to think." I may not change any minds, but at least maybe I can help change some hearts.

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  7. Also, I'm a fellow Mo-fem and your newest follower. :)

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    1. And, if I recall correctly, a fellow Portlander to boot, right? Thanks for following! Can't wait to meet you in person sometime!

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  8. Allie as always you are wonderful. I appreciate your post and the way in which you present your thoughts and concerns. As many have commented, I also don't identify myself as a Mormon Feminist but I understand why many women do and support them in their efforts. Just a question to understand where you are coming from. You commented that you are not looking for more callings,but more recognition and respect. Those are things I have never felt lacking in my experiences so I guess I'm wondering what specific things you would like to see that would help you feel recognized and respected? Hope that makes sense. Love ya!

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    1. Love you too, Em!

      As far as what I would like to see that would bring about more recognition and respect for women in the church, I would have to start with saying that the whole cultural idea of telling women that they're better and more spiritual than men needs to stop. This isn't recognizing women for anything that they can do, just for being "the gentler sex", and it's really just reverse sexism. It doesn't make things more equal to say that women are better than men, it just tips the scales the other direction. It's like a pat on the head and then a shush.

      While I was thinking about my answers to this question, something happened at church yesterday. I teach the CTR 4 class, and halfway through the lesson we decided to take a drink break. There are four kids in the class, three girls and a boy, and when I lined them up to walk through the hall, the boy ended up in front. As we were passing the Primary room, a lady complimented the kids on how reverently they were walking, and then, very sweetly and cheerfully exclaimed, "And with the Priesthood leading!"

      This perfectly illustrates a part of our Church culture that is so wrong. First of all, the kid is four. He's not "the Priesthood", nor will he even be eligible possess the Priesthood for another eight years. And what do attitudes this teach little girls about their place in the Church? Is is to always walk at the back of the line, so to speak, so "the Priesthood" can lead? I know this sister' comment was completely innocuous, and she meant no harm whatsoever, but that actually kind of makes it a little bit worse. Why not recognize the kids - both boys and girls - as individuals and not as potential Priesthood holders and, oh yeah, girls. How about respecting them for all the things they have the potential to become - doctors, teachers, firefighters, garbage truck drivers, parents, CEOs, scientists, whatever, rather than pigeonholing them so early on.

      I don't know if this truly answered your question, but I don't think there's really a short answer to that question. At least, I hope this helped.

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  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and opinions. :) It's always nice to hear your perspective as it is seems to always be one of genuine love, concern and acceptance.

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  10. Well said :) I'm grateful for any respectful voices sharing their thoughts on this topic! I think the "All Are Alike Unto God" petition and Neylan's article are really fascinating to think about and discuss although I too don't feel like 100% of the items listed on the petition are what I feel should happen. http://www.fairlds.org/fair-conferences/2012-fair-conference/2012-to-do-the-business-of-the-church-a-cooperative-paradigm

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    1. Thank you, Tracie! Surprisingly, I haven't seen that Fair article before, so thanks for sharing that with me!

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  11. I would have had to close my eyes and take deep breaths if I had been there for the "with the priesthood leading" comment. :)

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  12. I loved Elder Holland's talk. I love how he described this as "a church in process." It sounds planned and prescribed and guided by God. His Hand is guiding this work, not ours. And I'm so thankful that it is. He sees when it is the right time to add the next ingredient to complete this perfect recipe.

    I also love how Elder Holland counseled us to "please don’t hyperventilate if from time to time issues arise that need to be examined, understood, and resolved. They do and they will. In this Church, what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember, in this world, everyone is to walk by faith."

    Faith enables you to support the process as it happens because you know it will be good.

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    1. I, too, loved Elder Holland's talk. One of the most touching stories from the scriptures for me at this point in my life is the story Elder Holland related of the man who cried, "Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief." This is echoed in my heart often lately. His statement "hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes" is beautiful to me. This is why I can stay in the Church. I don't know everything; I don't know much, really, but I do know that my Father in Heaven loves me, and at this point that's enough.

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  13. Just wanted to let you know, I think this is an extremely well written article on a topic that has caused quite a bit of contention. I agree with you and appreciate the respectful tone you express. :)

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