I expected that I would be writing all about the wonderful time we had in London and all of the interesting information I learned and how that new information has affected the way I view the world, but I have to momentarily pause those thoughts because I feel the need to write about something else.
I have tried to avoid the topic of how I feel about the Ordain Women movement, mostly because I am not entirely sure how I feel. I feel strongly that women are not always treated equitably in the LDS church. I feel very strongly that women need to have more leadership, teaching, and doctrinal authority within the church. In recent years, I have felt through my own experiences, study and prayer that the dominant line of thinking that motherhood = priesthood is completely false. I feel very certain about that, because I don’t believe that God views me as any less because I am not a mother and may never become one. I don’t believe God thinks that the work I have to do here in this life is anything less because I am not a mother nor is it any less because I am not a man. So there’s the rub. I haven’t been sure whether or not women need to be given the ability to hold the priesthood in order to rectify the inequalities that I see in the church. However, what I am beginning to see is that we shouldn’t pretend that there is no inequality, and perhaps the only way that we can do that is by demanding full equality.
Several recent events and situations have pushed me here, and here is my explanation of them, from most recent, to most conscious-shifting.
1. I strongly dislike the tone of many people (including some of my own Facebook friends) and the tone of this letter when it comes to discussing the Ordain Women movement. I dislike the way other people have discussed women who are sincere in their faith asking sincere questions. I don’t think these women should be considered “radicals” because they are asking important questions about women in the church. I don’t think the line of response that “women already have equal authority” in their families without the priesthood is a fair answer. We aren’t talking about the division of labor in the home; we are talking about who has the authority to receive revelation for the church, for others; to officiate at all church functions; to speak with doctrinal authority. Those responsibilities are currently vested with one sex. The reality is, that permeates everything in LDS culture. When I offer a comment in Gospel Doctrine class, no matter how much I have studied, prayed about, and feel correct about my answer, if a man challenges it, I am usually immediately deemed wrong by some segment of the membership simply on account of my sex (because I lack the priesthood authority of a man). If you don’t believe it, try challenging any man in any priesthood position (whether or not they have authority over you) and tell them they are wrong about something when clearly your experience and study tells you that they are. That is troubling. That is why women don’t participate in Sunday School at the same rate as men or Relief Society sometimes feels like “cry and feel testimony hour” instead of a venue where heavy doctrinal discussion and learning can take place.
2. Women in the church do themselves no favors, nor other women favors, by refusing to acknowledge that some women do not find fulfillment in the standard view of women as only “wives and mothers.” Yes, some women may find their only fulfillment through being a wife and mother, but many women want or need something else. Today, I got an email from someone in the Relief Society presidency asking me if I was going to the Relief Society dinner on Thursday night. I want to quote directly from what I was asked in the email, “Are you coming to the Relief Society Birthday Dinner on Thursday night? I hope so! Because I was hoping you could share a 2 to 4 minute testimony of how you are “Embracing The Season Your In” (writer’s grammar mistake using your instead of you’re, not mine) as being a wife.” I had to read that email over and over again, because I was so put off by it. In no way do I define my “season” of my life as being a wife. I love my husband and feel glad that I have him as a partner to go through life, but if someone came up to me and asked me to define who I was, wife wouldn’t remotely be mentioned. That is a marital status, that isn’t my individual identity. That has nothing to do with how I believe my Heavenly Parents see me. That says nothing about whether or not I am worthy of eternal salvation. This is just another example to me about how easy it is for women to only be categorized in the LDS church based on our familial relationships. Are you a wife? Are you a mother? Are you single? How you answer those questions determines the “season” of your life, not anything else about what you believe, what you do, or who you actually are.
3. The line that “all women are mothers” even if they don’t have children is a false statement, but commonly made in the LDS church. Why is this? One thing that the LDS church is famous for is a very narrow and defined view of what a “family” is. After all, we have a proclamation about it. In that, motherhood is equated with the “rearing and nurture” of children. The second I open my mouth at church about any child-rearing related topic, I am immediately told, “I don’t get it, because I don’t have kids” or “just wait until you have kids of your own.” My opinion about what other people do with their kids is invalidated because I don’t have kids. They certainly don’t want my input or to have a serious discussion on how I view child-rearing. Instead my “mothering” is meant to do things like, offer up free babysitting, etc. That is the extent of it. That isn’t being a mother. That is being a child care worker. We cannot both define “motherhood” in narrow nuclear-family terms and then “motherhood” as some synonym for womanhood. That doesn’t work. You cannot have it both ways. If you want to open up the concept of motherhood to all women, then you would necessarily have to redefine motherhood apart from narrow familial roles, and I don’t know if that is something the LDS church would be willing to do.
4. Not being a mother in the LDS church can be devastating if you truly believe the blanket statement that “being a mother is the most important thing” a woman can do. It isn’t comforting when you are not a mother, through no fault of your own, to be told that what you do with your life will always be lesser than what someone with children will do. I refuse to believe this, but when this is what you are constantly told from the pulpit, what do you do? I can tell you what I did. I looked in the Old Testament of all places. I am involved in an ongoing study of women in the Old Testament, and it has been incredibly illuminating. As it turns out, those women didn’t fit into neat nuclear-family packages. They were incredibly diverse, and amidst a world where women were treated like chattel to the nth degree, even still a few women managed to be great civic, military, and spiritual leaders. A prostitute named Rahab helped to deliver a conquering Israel, after all. These women did a lot more than simply raise children. God spoke to many of them and gave them revelation. He did for a slave woman named Hagar. People sought out the wisdom and counsel of Deborah. It is only through their stories that I came to feel like, yes, there is a function for me on this earth just as important as every single woman with functioning ovaries. For women who are believers in the LDS church, I see that our Heavenly Father endows each of us with the ability to decide for ourselves, what our lives will be. We are individuals, each with different circumstances and all of us have an important work to do, regardless of the circumstances of our lives. What we have in common is that each of us need the Atonement. What makes us each important is that our Heavenly Parents want each of us to return to them and be endowed with eternal glory. What is “the most important” work we do on this earth is different, because the circumstances of our lives are different, and there isn’t a single one of us that is more important or less important than the other.
Women deserve to be taken seriously when raising serious questions. I have yet to hear any of the peanut gallery mocking the “Ordain Women” movement seriously speak to their concerns. Instead, their reply generally is something like “if you don’t like the way the church is, why don’t you leave it” or something like this. That isn’t satisfying to people whose testimonies, experiences, and studies have led them to this point. I am deeply serious about this. Every time I hear someone mock the very real questions that I have based on my own experiences, then I feel like that person doesn’t want to believe that I have a place in this church. But I want to believe that I do. I want to believe that asking questions and being sincere is what leads to changes. That is what happened in 1978. It is important that we not be glib. It is important to take these things seriously.
So maybe in answer to the relief society email I received earlier today is this, “This season of my life is not defined by my being a wife, but me realizing that the older I get, the less I can claim to know, the more humble I need to be in seeking out answers to questions that have been presented by the circumstances of my life and the more I learn about the experiences of others. Our seasons are defined by our own determinations of what we want our lives to be, dealing with the realities of what our lives are, and not settling for what we are told it should be by someone else.”