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.