Yes, I'm writing about this.  I don't really want to, but writing is how I organize my thoughts.  I'm tired of reading things about Kate Kelly's excommunication and Mormon feminism, I'm so exhausted but my voice matters. My experience matters. This subject matters. I've actualy tried to write about my feelings before but it always stays in my draft folder.  There are several reasons.  One, the subject is so large that it's hard to organize my writing.  A blog post is not enough.  A dissertation or book of memoirs maybe, not a blog post.  Also, I'm afraid to share my feelings. Something positive that's come out of this whole church/feminism/ Ordain Women drama is that people are talking about it.  I'm not as afraid to be me.

I have to preface this with the fact that I am a woman of faith.  I am a disciple of Christ.  I want to serve. I do have doubts, but I also have a lot of hope.  There are so many things I hope are true. My religion has been front and center in my life for my whole life.  I have had many spiritual experiences. I've felt so much peace.  I feel like it's in my DNA. I feel the strength of my ancestors who viewed the prophet Joseph Smith's body after he was killed, walked across the plains to find peace, and built up a life on the beautiful land in Utah. My grandmother, a temple matron, would sit me in front of the mirrors in her bathroom and teach me about eternity. I spent countless mornings snuggling next to my mother in her bed while she read to me from the scriptures. I am invested.  This is my path, but I don't always fit the mold of the Mormon woman (spoiler alert, there isn't a mold).

There is also pain in the church for me. I thought I'd try to explain. I know a lot of people have a hard time understanding.  I'm not sure I know all the reasons myself.  I understand things in imagery, and last night I had several images run through my mind as I was trying to fall asleep.  It helped me to understand what I was feeling. Just because I struggle with these issues doesn't mean that I think everyone should see it my way.  I'm actually jealous of women in the church that love the way things are set up.  I envy people that never doubt.  This is me, though.  It does not make me less of a Mormon.

I need to preface this with, I am a feminist and have been for almost as long as I can remember.  If you are surprised I am a feminist, you might not fully understand what a feminist is.  Actually, when I hear someone say, "I'm not a feminist" I am so baffled.  I just thought everyone would think men and women are equal (I did not say the same) and should be afforded the same opportunities, respect and value.  When I was young, I was warned about being a "women's libber".  I was told to stay away from feminism. There was shame associated with it, but once I got to college it was a feast. I learned so much.  I had the support of wonderful professors and had so much to read and think about.  I had private conversations in offices with wonderful women who instructed me and taught me with love.  They were also woman of faith. I felt like this was my awakening.  I learned language to explain feelings that I have always had. But with this awakening came troubling feelings that I didn't know how to reconcile.

For a while, I felt so much confusion and sadness surrounding polygamy in the church.  No matter how people tried to explain it, the thought of a woman being required (for salvation) to share her sexual partner was so degrading. Women seemed to be given as rewards, prizes to men. I remember one evening I was driving to a friend's cabin with Willie and two other friends.  It was a long drive and it was snowing.  We were in a deep, safe conversation and this is the first time I vocalized that I felt like God must not love me as much as a man if he and his prophets and church treated women like this.  I finally realized why it hurt so bad. I felt unloved by God.

My next moment of realization was in the temple a year or so later.  I was sitting on a bench reading in the scriptures.  I was reading in the Doctrine and Covenants about polygamy. I was thinking about the words "unto my husband". It was always right there, bothering me, hurting me.  Then I had a moment of realization where God and the church separated. I could see that the church was not always right.  Humans make mistakes.  Understanding is limited. I didn't have to have answers to everything.  I didn't need to explain everything. This was the start of my managing the paradox of a human organization and an eternal God and where I fit in.  God did love me as much as a man.  If it didn't seem like it in the church, then I had to first believe God and then forgive the humans running his church.

That was about 14 years ago.  For the most part, I have been so happy in the church. I have had wonderful leaders.  I have loved my bishops and my mission president and my Stake Presidents. I have been respected and given opportunities to learn and serve.  I have a spouse who is my equal partner.  There is no presiding in our home, just partnering.  But there has always been this yearning for female voice in the church. What about Heavenly Mother?  Do we not have any information about her because she doesn't exist? Some people say there are many Heavenly Mothers (something I do not believe).  Why aren't we seeking more knowledge about her? Why are there only men on the stand?  We seldom hear women's voices in general conference. I started to feel a great void for the voice of women in the church.  This is not anger or power grabbing.  It is sorrow.  We have inherited patriarchy.  It's everywhere, not just in the church, but in the church it is solid.  It is so strong. It's defended as God's way. I don't place blame but I yearn for change. I don't think having one gender holding the power (spiritual, administrative, decision making, financial, doctrinal) is beneficial to anyone.  

Then Ordain Women came on the scene.  I had never seriously thought about women's ordination. It was too foreign. It was too extreme. Then once the subject started to come up more, it took about 15 minutes of seriously thinking about it and my mind opened up.  I saw myself standing in the circle when my babies were blessed.  I saw me inviting my mother to join in the circle.  I saw me administering to Willie when he was in need, something so personal and wonderful.  I saw sister missionaries finding joy bringing the converts they love into the waters of baptism.  I saw sisters from the Relief Society giving blessings to women about to give birth, like our early Mormon ancestors. I saw Young Women blessing and passing the sacrament. I saw women's voices being recorded in the scriptures and in our lesson manuals. I saw women speaking in general conference with stories and experiences that I recognized, teaching and expounding doctrine.  I saw women on the stand. I felt a wholeness.  I saw a true partnership of the men and women in the church. Just the possibility of it healed me. Just imagining it gave me so much hope. I realized that what I was feeling was a righteous desire.  I was okay that we weren't there yet, but I hoped for change.  

I have admitted that the approach of Ordain Women made me uncomfortable, but silently I felt guilty for Kate Kelly taking the fall for opening such a wonderful conversation and giving so much hope.  I loved her for it and every time someone spoke unkindly about her or Ordain Women, it felt like they were saying the same to me. It came up so much at church.  It hurt and I tried to defend her.  I tried to defend us.  Part of me can't believe she'd even try to rock the boat. You can't do that! Another part of me realized that this was the only way to be heard.  It was the only way for us to start talking.  Then when she was excommunicated, my hope was gone.  Then came pain and a lot of tears. I had a false hope. I thought things could change.  I thought the brethren would pray about women's ordination or at least try to listen.  I thought other members of the church would see what I saw. Instead, they cast her out. 

People can write lengthly explanations about why Kate should have been excommunicated or how she was wrong, or how she deserved it, but all I feel is the loss of my hope.  People can speculate about why women don't hold the priesthood, but nothing feels right to me. Now I have to raise a daughter and explain to her that God does love her as much as a man and she has great potential as a complex, multifaceted daughter of God even when it doesn't always feel like it in our church.  

9 Comments:

  1. Margy said...
    You wrote this beautifully, Sally. Thank you for sharing your journey and your vision of a wholeness that seems entirely possible, though the path to it will be human and crooked.
    Michelle said...
    Thanks for writing this, Sally. I have struggled to sort out my thoughts on this matter. There have been times where I have felt that something was not quite right with women's role in the church. I agree that Ordain Women's approach also didn't feel right. But I loved the questions that were being posed. When I found out that Kate Kelly had been excommunicated, I felt a profound sadness. For her, for the church, for myself. I am struggling with this and the church's involvement in the politics of same sex marriage. But I still have hope. I see good in the core of the Gospel and I feel that there is truth that we don't yet know, so I am hanging on to hope that change will come.
    Amy said...
    Very well written, Sally. I think it's okay to yearn for change. It will happen, although it seems very slowly. I love you!
    Neylan said...
    Thank you for this honest and loving exploration of very complicated feelings.
    kate said...
    Yes, thank you Sally. I decided this week to leave the church for now, but I love hearing about people with questions finding ways to work through it and stay. I admire you. I have this hope that if I hear enough stories from men and women who feel this kind of struggle yet stick around, that I'll be able to figure it out too someday.
    Anonymous said...
    I love the title of your post, Sally. It's good to pin down thoughts with words, and sometimes it's surprising to me to articulate how I really feel, because it's the first time I acknowledge to myself that that's the way I actually do feel. Sometimes it's tough to face. Sometimes it's even scary (maybe that's why I don't do it as often as I should). But I do think it's healthy. Thanks for sharing.

    Chip
    Kathy said...
    Beautiful post. Well put.
    Karina said...
    I apologize for this lengthy comment. These are my thoughts on the priesthood but polygamy is a different subject for me and one that still bothers me. Thank you for your post Sally! I agree with so much of it.

    I had a dream last night. I was in a large hall with hundreds of other women. It was some sort of a church meeting. There was an announcement made that women were going to be able to receive a portion of the priesthood to be able to give blessings to others. I thought to myself, “This would really be useful. I could give blessings to my children when they are sick and Dan is not around.” The women that wanted to receive this privilege, just needed to line up and they would receive it by the laying on of hands. When I looked up to the front of the hall. there was already a woman getting it.

    Then I looked to my left and there was President Monson. I asked him, “Do you agree with this?” It was sort of a strange question to ask because apparently I was at a LDS event. He told me with love and no feeling of me being less important than him because I am female, “No. Because we need to NEED each other”.

    Life is not about equality. Life is not equal. I look around and I see women who have lost multiple babies- I have lost none. That is not equal. I read about the living conditions in portions of Africa and I see how I am living. That is not equal. I see many people around me (especially in Orem) that come from good families with good parents who loved them unselfishly and tried their best to keep the commandments and teach them the doctrines of the gospel. I come from a different sort of family. That is not equal.

    Are those who have an unequal life from others loved less by the Lord? I would say, No! Life is not about equal opportunity, equal blessings and equal privileges.

    Do I treat my children equally? They would say I don’t. Do I love them equally? Of course. Each of my children have different strengths and weaknesses and if I treated them equally then it would be unfair. It would be unfair because I would be helping them in areas that they didn’t need the help and they would be desperately needing my help in areas that they would be FAILING.

    This is the way it is with women and men.

    Without intending to be degrading towards men- Men NEED the priesthood. It is quite obvious to notice that women usually have a more spiritual side to them. It is more natural for them to think of others and help and nurture them. They are more easily empathetic. On the other hand, men, even the most caring and loving ones, tend to be more selfish and think less consistently of others.

    Having the priesthood, strongly encourages men to think of other peoples problems. When they give blessings to others they learn of those people’s struggles and problems (problems that we women have already heard about or noticed) and those men leave from giving those blessings being more Christlike and more unselfish.

    Having the priesthood allows men to be in charge of organizations. If women had the priesthood and could be Bishops, Stake Presidents etc they would CERTAINLY be Bishops, Stake Presidents, etc. I think many (if not all) of the men in those callings would gladly hand the responsibilities over to others- especially a woman. However, the men in those callings then wouldn’t receive the blessings they are getting from thinking of others and serving others. Because really in the LDS church, being a Bishop is more about extra work and helping others work through their struggles than it is about prestige and power.

    Life is about learning, growing, having faith in Christ and developing Christlike traits and strengthening relationships with others. So as I see it, right now things are set up in a good way in the LDS church to achieve this goal.
    Sarah Moore Oliphant said...
    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing. Though I do not know you, reading your words makes me feel less alone.

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