A common jab at the person who complains about something relatively trivial in the eternal scheme of things — bad service at a restaurant, annoying people at the theater, a car nice car with a flat tire, a slow internet connection — is to tag their complaint thusly:
While it’s true that we would all do better to accentuate the positive and count our blessings (research soundly confirms that choosing to see the real good in the world has enormous benefits toward improved happiness), it’s also worth noting that pointing out the truth that “things could always be worse” (and it is always true) doesn’t solve problems nor does it usually help much. This is called the fallacy of relative privation.
My purpose is not to encourage the Relief Society to pass out a sign up sheet to take dinners to every family in the ward who has a hang nail — or even to indulge the negativity some constantly display — but to note that true sisterhood and brotherhood asks us to see the pain of others as real pain, even if we don’t fully understand it.
Many of you are now passing through physical, mental, and emotional trials that could cause you to cry out… “When I have tried all my life to be good, why has this happened to me?”
Now, I wish to encourage those who are in the midst of hard trials, who feel their faith may be fading under the onslaught of troubles. Trouble itself can be your way to strengthen and finally gain unshakable faith. Moroni, the son of Mormon in the Book of Mormon, told us how that blessing could come to pass. He teaches the simple and sweet truth that acting on even a twig of faith allows God to grow it.
Dozens and dozens of times over my life I have seen people in the church go to extremes to be inclusive — even to the point of harming others.
For example, I’ve seen girls at Young Women Camp who literally stood nose to nose with the priesthood leaders, screaming every curse word in the book (at least every curse word I have ever heard), stealing all the things of value from other girls’ bags, and threatening other girls to “beat the @#%$! out of you in your sleep. The “leader” response was to gently (but firmly!) chastise them and politely ask them to stop.
No one was sent home. No one even had their parents called. Because, you know, “we don’t want to drive them away from the church.”
[For the record, that was my oldest daughters first-year Beehive camp experience. (I was a ward young women leader, but didn't go to that camp that year due to having just given birth.) I told the stake leaders my child would never go to camp again and my ward wouldn't be part of any more stake camps if I had any input on the matter. Of course, the next year I was made a stake camp director. But, rest assured, it was a very different experience.]
I’ve seen something entirely, utterly, almost unfathomably different amongst the self-proclaimed “faithful” church members the past few months. Endless blog posts, social media comments, and face-to-face communication directed toward those who are part of Ordain Women (and other groups addressing gender disparity in the church) — loudly cheered and celebrated and shared and liked and praised — has included some of the most hateful rhetoric I’ve seen from church members in my 49 years in the church.
To be clear I’m not part of OW or any other official group. But I do feel some of their pain and I have since I was four years old.
I didn’t grow up hearing feminist indoctrination and getting my panties all up in a bunch about it.
I grew up in a traditional home in Utah’s “Happy Valley.” My dad was a math professor at BYU and my mother a stay-at-home very domestic homemaker who cooked, cleaned, sewed, and the whole bit. (She was also a scriptorian with a BS in economics (not home economics) and graduate work in the same. She was an incredibly talented pianist and conductor. She did not partake in crafts other than some embroidery and incredible knitting — and she never made “coffee table grapes.”)
Of my entire large “gang” of buddies, only one had a working mom. Only three had non-LDS parents. (Not because we were mythically forbidden to have non-LDS friends (quite the opposite in all my experience), but because demographics dictated it.) We were completely active Latter-day Saints, including church attendance, activity attendance, weekly Family Home Evenings (of the lesson manual variety, not the hang out and play games variety), daily family scripture study, twice daily family prayer. We all graduated from seminary and graduated from BYU (some of us more than once). Plus rabid BYU football fans. The whole nine yards.
In spite of all the religious/cultural/social training and upbringing and indoctrination, the gender disparity in the church has bothered me since the day (at age four) I learned that my dad wasn’t doing all the baptizing and confirming just because my sister asked him to. It was because my mom wasn’t allowed to participate. I was bowled over.
So let me express to you that I know you don’t all share my feelings. My own mother could not for the life of her understand what my deal was. I get that and I respect that. I only ask the same in return.
In my experience, LDS women fall into three very broad, general categories:
- Totally, completely content with the status quo. Believe current organization is God’s will because if it were not God would change it. Believe whatever changes occur will be inspired without human intervention. Realize that inspired practice/policy/doctrine change does not mean anything was wrong because the past practice/policy/doctrine was right for the past and the present practice/policy/doctrine is right for the present and the future practice/policy/doctrine will be right for the future.
- Totally, completely content with the status quo because being a “faithful” LDS member requires one to submit to the church leadership and to accept their inspired counsel. Would never question anything church leadership does because it would be wrong to do so — more wrong than any of the wrongs that might occur in an imperfect organization. Obedience, faith, waiting on the Lord, enduring, etc., are the primary duties and obligations of faithful members. [This is where I think the survey problem comes into play.]
- Believe in the gospel, love the church, but see problems with practice/policy and organization, particularly in how culture molds policy. Unsure of distinction between policy and doctrine, particularly in light of historical authoritative statements and changes. Believe there is historical precedence for open discussion about troubling issues. Believe that issues involving those with no authority are often overlooked/misunderstood because…they mainly impact those with no authority.
For the first four years of my life, I was in category #1. From the time my mom explained to me (in 1968) that there was enormous gender distinction in the church, I moved to #2 with the proverbial “shelf” full of unanswered questions. When I was about 43 years old — mostly out of a sense of spiritual exhaustion — I moved tentatively, an inch at a time, to category #3.
I’m fine with how you feel and which category you choose to belong to, as long as you can live in the world of what is real. I’m not insisting the church is wrong about anything nor that you need to agree with me. I’m insisting that:
- by definition, the church is sexist — and in the real world, that has consequences that we ought to deal with honestly, for the sake of both current members and potential converts.
- you shouldn’t be telling people to leave the church if they aren’t in your category and, in fact, you shouldn’t believe you are the arbiter over their level of faithfulness.
What does this whole discussion have to do with this video or its message? I didn’t intend the post to have anything to do with female ordination. It started out very differently. But as I wrote it kept coming back here. Because maybe those of you who are telling these women to leave don’t understand the trial they are experience and so you label it as “unfaithfulness” or “dissent” or even “apostasy.”
I would like to suggest to you that those who have asked the church leaders to pray specifically about women in the church — not just to get a yes or no response on ordination and (more to the point) not just asking about “how best to value and enhance the amazing contributions of women,” but asking for clarification about Mother in Heaven, about our eternal roles, about what a priestess is, etc., — are not apostate at all. Rather, they are showing the ultimate faith and perhaps a faith you can’t even comprehend. Perhaps even a faith greater than your own.
In spite of the fact that they feel marginalized and excluded and subjugated, they are hanging on as members of the church. They are grasping that twig of faith and begging for mercy and consideration. And they are taking those pains and hopes and desires of their hearts to the church leadership themselves. Because they believe in the keys and authority you seem to think they don’t.
That might require much deeper faith and commitment than participating in an organization where you feel happy, comfortable, valued, and fulfilled.
For some of us this path hasn’t been comfortable or even carefully selected. For those like me the path isn’t even clear. I don’t know where I want to stand and with whom I want to align myself. But I do know my heart has been heavy for decades now. No matter what I did or where I served or how I submitted or how many days I fasted and prayed or how many temple sessions I attended, it was just always there, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the foreground. (To be honest, more in the foreground in the temple than most places as the ceremony highlights female subordination.)
Often, due to the nature of the church and particularly women’s place in the church, many of us have repeatedly picked up these gender issues and placed them forcefully back on the “shelf.” We put them away so they won’t be a bother or thorn in our sides or a label that will be used against us by other members of the church. We do it so we won’t be relegated forever to the callings where we “can’t do any damage.”
Instead of embracing them as sisters and doing all you can to help them see the joy of the church, you castigate them. Instead, I ask that you extend love and compassion for the very real trial they are enduring with faith.
If we have faith in Jesus Christ, the hardest as well as the easiest times in life can be a blessing. In all conditions, we can choose the right with the guidance of the Spirit. We have the gospel of Jesus Christ to shape and guide our lives if we choose it. And with prophets revealing to us our place in the plan of salvation, we can live with perfect hope and a feeling of peace. We never need to feel that we are alone or unloved in the Lord’s service because we never are. We can feel the love of God. The Savior has promised angels on our left and our right to bear us up. And He always keeps His word…
His love is unfailing.