for all of the sad angry anxious righteously indignant fearful brave ones. on all sides of the story.

Invocation / Benediction

Father, Mother, help me piece together the contradictions of my life:
White cotton, red satin, brown polka dot; torn Sunday dress, Navajo rug, frayed baby blanket.
Make me insistent on every lonely shred, willing to sacrifice no one.
Where there is no pattern, God, give me courage to organize a fearsome beauty.
Where there is unraveling, let me draw broad blanket stitches of sturdy blue yarn.

Mother, Father, give me vision.
Give me strength to work hours past my daughters’ bedtime.
Give me an incandescent all-night garage with a quorum of thimble-thumbed
grandmothers sitting on borrowed folding chairs.
We will gather all the lost scraps and stitch them together;
A quilt big enough to warm all our generations: all the lost, found, rich, poor, good, bad, in, out, old, new, country, city, dusty, shiny ones;
A quilt big enough to cover all the alfalfa fields in the Great Basin.
Bigger. We are piecing together a quilt with no edges.
God, make me brave enough to love my people.
How wonderful it is to have a people to love.

This poem I wrote was originally published in Exponent 2. For forty years, Exponent 2 has been the print chronicle of Mormon feminism. After the excommunications of 1993, women stopped subscribing out of fear. Let it be different this time. Please subscribe: http://www.exponentii.org.

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The real Mormon moment is now.

The real Mormon moment is now.

The facts are now established: at least a dozen Mormons in the U.S. have faced or are facing discipline for expressing criticisms of the Church or support for same-sex marriage or women’s ordination on-line, on Facebook, on Twitter, even in anonymous chat rooms.

The implications of the facts are even more troubling. They suggest that the LDS Church supports what must be a substantial enterprise monitoring the on-line activity of its members in the United States, if not worldwide.

Of course, this is not a surprise to progressive Mormons who have populated those Facbook groups and web forums.

We have in fact been waiting for this moment—waiting to see whether our religion could survive the insularity, militancy, and suspiciousness engendered by its nineteenth-century persecutions, and outgrow as well the highly centralized and controlling corporate-bureaucratic style of the twentieth-century LDS Church, to adapt to the new realities of the internet era, including greater openness among Mormons with doubts or concerns about controversial aspects of our history and doctrine.

We hoped this day would not come. Because we know that excommunication courts are a nineteenth-century Mormon solution to twenty-first century Mormon problems. Exiling and shaming a dozen, two dozen, one hundred, one thousand heterdox Mormons won’t close the book on women’s issues, or LGBT issues, or historical controversies in Mormonism. You could rid the church of an entire generation of querulous bloggers and grassroots organizers and another will rise and take its place. Because these controversies are not private and individual. They are not personal problems. They are the product of Mormon history, Mormon doctrine, and Mormon culture. We didn’t invent them. We inherited them, as will the generations to follow, each taking its turn in the search for truth. Because that is what Mormonism means.

We had hoped it wouldn’t turn out this way. Maybe it still won’t. Maybe the highest profile excommunication court—that scheduled this Sunday in Virginia for Kate Kelly, a believing Mormon woman and one of the founders of the web-based Ordain Women campaign—will end without Sister Kelly having her baptism and marriage nullified, her membership in a Church she served as a full-time missionary expunged.

Over the last decade of on-line blogging and organizing, Mormon progressives have found many reasons to hope for more openness in our Church. We noted every year we put between us and the high-profile excommunications of Mormon feminists and historians in the 1990s. We noted that the hunger for excommunication on doctrinal controversy seemed to have ceased. We used the internet to regroup and grow in numbers. The Church even developed its own web-based resources to acknowledge and address its own controversies—historic and contemporary.

This, we thought, was a good sign. A sign that we might not need to fear losing our membership, our place, in a cherished tradition, just for having and voicing questions, doubts, and differences, even sharing them with others, even organizing on-line forums where other Mormons who could not speak their questions at church could find support, answers, resolution, a reason to keep trying, and a way to express their continuing fidelity to a religion that asks so much of them.

We told ourselves to not to be afraid. Even when we were. We just kept on writing. Even when we knew we were being monitored.

But already knowing that we were being monitored makes it no less shameful to see the facts in print.

Nor does it diminish the pain of seeing a religion characterized by beautiful audacity in its doctrines and daring in its difference manifest such a want of courage, a smallness of spirit, and fearful rigidity when it comes to its own heterodox members.

Nor does it diminish the fear and despair this new wave of disciplinary actions is inciting among progressive Mormons who have anxiously wondered over this past week whether a letter or a meeting request might be on the way for them too.

Over the past few days, I have been getting Facebook messages and phone calls from rank-and-file Mormons not interviewed by the New York Times relaying that they too have been accosted or called in by their bishops for voicing support for greater equality for women in the church, or same-sex civil marriage rights.

“I’m really a nobody,” wrote one woman. “Just a stay at home mom who doesn’t particularly go out of her way to take up too much space on the internet.”

Church officials deny high-level coordination of the pushback against progressive and heterodox Mormons. But it is also being reported that at least one high-ranking leader has instructed local LDS clergy that support for women’s ordination should be viewed as apostasy—a serious charge in Mormonism. Without question, that instruction and the national news of Kate Kelly’s court has created a climate wherein local Church leaders now feel obliged or empowered to call in and even take disciplinary action against less orthodox members of their own congregations.

It is Friday. Kate Kelly’s court is scheduled for Sunday, as are many more informal disciplinary conversations between local leaders and heterodox Mormons. There is still time for a different kind of signal to go out, from Salt Lake City—a signal that could empower a different kind of action, a standing down on all sides, a putting away of defensiveness and fearfulness, a putting to rest of Mormonism’s nineteenth-century ghosts and twentieth-century control issues.

It is Friday and we hear nothing from our religious leaders in Salt Lake City. We hear only from the Public Relations department, which seems to be doing the best it can to get grips on a situation that has outgrown its control, a situation that makes Mormons appear once again in the public eye as the insular, suspicious, dogmatic, simple-minded, intolerant, and spiritually violent Mormon caricatures that once populated nineteenth-century magazines.

It is Friday. We talk amongst ourselves: the men tasked with the heavy burden of convening an excommunication court this Sunday in Virginia, and the Mormon men and women who will convene simultaneously at candlelight vigils scheduled nationwide.

I dream that a voice from Salt Lake City (if not somewhere even more exalted) will say, in the words of a cherished Mormon hymn, “All is well. All is well”—not because it is right now, but because faith means holding to the hope that it will be. A signal of peace for every one of us who agonizes—while the outside world watches mutely or wonders aloud why we even bother—over how our beloved faith will respond to the pressures of the twenty-first century.

Forget Mitt Romney. Forget the Book of Mormon musical. Forget—yes, forget—the LDS Church’s multi-million dollar “I’m a Mormon” campaign designed to rebrand contemporary Mormonism as diverse and welcoming.

This painful, pivotal time is the real Mormon moment.

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Room for All in this Church

(Friends, please take a moment to read and share this statement, released today by a number of Mormon bloggers and podcasters, about the threatened excommunications of Kate Kelly and John Dehlin.)

Room for All in this Church

We face a difficult and pivotal moment in Mormonism as LDS leaders and church members wrestle more openly with complicated aspects of our faith, its doctrine, and its history—often in spaces afforded by the Internet. In light of possible disciplinary action against prominent voices among us, we the undersigned Mormon bloggers and podcasters affirm the value of the conversations that take place in the LDS “Bloggernacle” and express our hopes for greater understanding and compassion from all of us involved in current tensions.

May we all remember, as scripture teaches, the intricate intertwining of mercy and justice. May we all follow the admonition to seek understanding before judgment, even as we address matters that can be difficult to talk about.

Scripture and tradition teach us that excommunication is one way of maintaining the boundaries of a religious community. But we believe that excommunication is not the best way to address conflict over doctrine, policy, or tradition. We ask our leaders to consider other ways of maintaining boundaries, strengthening Church members, and encouraging them to grow spiritually within Mormonism’s large and embracing community without the fear and despair the threat of excommunication sows not only in those threatened but in their families, friends, and those who share similar concerns about LDS Church doctrine or history—even those who do so silently. We are deeply encouraged by the recent news about the prospect of de-escalation in at least one of the current cases and pray for positive steps towards reconciliation.

The issues in Mormon doctrine, history, and practice highlighted by those facing church discipline are much larger than any one individual. It is not only unavoidable that these issues will continue to be discussed; such discussion is good for the health of our religious community and faithful to the truth-seeking spirit of the Latter-day Saint Restoration. As bloggers, podcasters, and passionate contributors to good, healthy online discussion, we affirm our commitment to continue speaking openly and publicly, and encouraging others to do so as well. We will continue to use online spaces to grow in knowledge and faith, to attempt to present and see many sides of each issue, and to reach out to those expressing pain, heartache, and loneliness. It is our experience that these conversations can bear good fruit as Latter-day Saints mourn with those who mourn and reflect on, deepen, and renew their faith.

We are grateful for our membership in this Church and for the unique opportunities the Internet has provided us to share our Mormon experiences, questions, and hopes. We pray that a spirit of clemency will guide the words and actions of everyone—especially those who bear the heavy responsibility of ecclesiastical discipline of Church members—and that the words of President Uchtdorf will hold sway: “Regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church.”

Signed:

Dan Wotherspoon, Mormon Matters podcast
Jana Riess, Flunking Sainthood blog (Religion News Service)
Natasha Helfer Parker, The Mormon Therapist blog
Paul Barker, Rational Faiths blog and podcast
Michael Barker, Rational Faiths blog and podcast
Mark Crego, A Thoughtful Faith Support Group (Facebook)
Lisa Butterworth, Feminist Mormon Housewives
Joanna Brooks, Feminist Mormon Housewives
Gina Colvin, KiwiMormon blog
Lindsay Park, Feminist Mormon Housewives
Jared Anderson, Mormon Sunday School podcast
Daniel Parkinson, No More Strangers blog
Bill McGee, Sunstone
Mary Ellen Robertson, Sunstone
Stephen Carter, Sunstone
Michael Stevens, Sunstone
Chelsea Shields Strayer, LDS WAVE
Tresa Edmunds, LDS WAVE
Chelsea Robarge Fife, Mormon Feminist Cooperative
Kalani Tonga Tukaufu, Feminist Mormon Housewives
David Landrith, Mormon Mentality
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, Mormon Matters podcast
Jerilyn Hassell Pool, Rational Faiths blog
Spencer Lake, Clean Cut blog
Brittany Morin-Mezzadri, TheLadyMo blog
Katie Langston, Feminist Mormon Housewives blog
Hannah Wheelwright, Young Mormon Feminists blog
Erin Moore, Young Mormon Feminists blog
Kimberly Lewis, Feminist Mormon Housewives
Nikki Hunter, Feminist Mormon Housewives
Nancy Ross, Nickel on the ‘Nacle blog
Mark Brown, The Mormon Hub (Facebook)
Alicia Jones, LDS Left (Facebook)
Elise Villescaz, LDS Left (Facebook)
Emily Summerhays, Feminist Mormon Housewives
Mindy Farmer, The Inquisitive Mom blog
Jeff Krey, A Thoughtful Faith Support Group (Facebook)
Lori Burkman, Rational Faiths blog
Laura Compton, Mormons for Marriage
Alison Moore Smith, Mormon Momma blog
Heather Olsen Beal, Doves and Serpents blog
Brent Beal, Doves and Serpents blog
Ed Snow, Doves and Serpents blog
Erin Hill, Doves and Serpents blog
Meghan Raynes, Exponent blog
Aimee Hickman, Exponent blog
Rachel Hunt, Exponent blog
Liz Johnson, Exponent blog
Libby Potter Boss, Exponent blog
Heather Moore-Farley, Exponent blog
April Young Bennett, Exponent blog
Deborah Farmer Kris, Exponent blog
Jessica Oberan Steed, Exponent blog
Carolyn Kline, Exponent blog
April Carlson, Exponent blog
Sariah Anne Kell, Exponent blog
Chelsea Sue, Exponent blog
Emily Clyde Curtis, Exponent blog
Emily Updegraff, Exponent blog
Dayna Patterson, Doves and Serpents blog
Cheryl Bruno, Worlds Without End blog
Katie Evans, Zelophehad’s Daughters blog
Kristy Benton, All Are Alike Unto God blog
Lori LeVar Pierce, All Are Alike Unto God blog
Rebecca Reid Linford, All Are Alike Unto God blog
Paula Goodfellow, All Are Alike Unto God blog
Cheryl McGuire, All Are Alike Unto God blog
Kay Gaisford, All Are Alike Unto God blog
Lorlalie Pallotta, All Are Alike Unto God blog
Wendy Reynolds, All Are Alike Unto God blog

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Your guide to the Ask Mormon Girl archive

Howdy, beloved friends and visitors!

Welcome to the world of Ask Mormon Girl, a four-year archive of columns on the ins-and-outs, ups-and-downs of living the “it’s complicated” version of faith. Since January 2010, perfect strangers sent queries to askmormongirl@gmail.com. And I did my best to answer, before turning it over to the AMG community of readers, who always brought wisdom, love, humor, and exceptional insight. Thank you all so much.

For the time being, I’m not taking new queries. But I do encourage you to peruse the vast Ask Mormon Girl archives. You can use the site’s search function in the right column toolbar, click on relevant categories in the wordcloud also at right, or (if you’re really determined!) read the entire archive month by month. There is much here to keep you company whether you’re in faith transition, or you wonder about sticky spots in Mormon history and doctrine, or are a feminist, or a budding LGBT ally, or are one of the many, many Mormons (or Catholics, or Jews) who always feel like the odd duck at the potluck.

I hope you’ll find something in the archives to soothe you. You’ll find me popping in from time to time over at the legendary Feminist Mormon Housewives blog, where I love to cook up trouble–like scholarships and feminist summer camps–with my rowdy Mo fem friends.

As my childhood heroes Donny & Marie Osmond used to sing, “May tomorrow be a perfect day / May you find love and laughter along the way / May God keep you in His tender care / Til He brings us together again. Goodnight, everybody!

Or as my yoga teacher Dave says, namaste.

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OUCH! How do I deal with cruel Mormon Facebook reaction to Ordain Women?

Dear AMG:

I’m slowly coming out of the Mormon feminist closet.  I don’t know where I am yet with the ordain women movement.  I’m still in the process of praying.  So far, all I know (through sweet, personal revelation) is that it is OK to ask God things.  He loves it when we come to Him with questions.  This is as far as I’ve gotten.  I’m still reading, praying, listening.  

But I’m so heartbroken over the general reaction to what these incredibly brave women did last Saturday.  Friends, family, people I know, people I don’t know, people who claim to be disciples of Christ have been downright nasty about these women and their motives and who they are, and what kind of testimonies they have and where they should go shove their ideas.  

For one, thing, I’ve sworn off Facebook until eternity is over.  But here I am, (in the heart of Utah) with my “radical” views and opinions and all around me are people waiting with sticks and a match to burn the witch. How do you get over this?

When things get murky, I really do try to get into that “what would Jesus do” boat.  Which is why my heart is hurting so much.  Where is Jesus in these Facebook exchanges and comments sections?!  These people wear their Mormon membership like a badge, but tell those searching for honest answers to go start your own church, no room for you here is Christ’s church? Or immediately discount my testimony and voice because I have a few questions about policy vs doctrine?  My heart seems paralyzed with fear and sadness.  I absolutely get why people leave the church.  The gospel is true, but the people aren’t.  

Help?

PK

Dear PK:

(The short answer to your question:  read pages 184 – 185 of The Book of Mormon Girl.  A longer answer follows.)

A web design genius friend made two word clouds last week.  One was composed from the profiles of the men and women on Ordain Women.  It was a nimbus of loveliness:  words like “faith,” “prayer,” “revelation,” “hope.”  The other was composed from the comments pasted to the Ordain Women Facebook page, ostensibly by defenders of the Mormon faith, and it was a miasma of mean:  words like “apostasy,” “leave,” and so forth.

We saw similar behavior during “Wear Pants to Church” last December.  Nothing new here, of course—except to newbies like yourself.  And there are so many of you, now, arriving everyday in the precincts of Mormon feminism.  Welcome, sister, welcome, and please don’t feed the trolls or mind the haters.

What you are seeing on those flaming Facebook walls and pages is this:  Mormonism has an autoimmune disorder.  Ridiculed by segments of the American mainstream for 150 years or more, encouraged to see “the world” today as hostile to their faith, lots of Mormons move through life with their defenses up. Way up. Problem is, at times Mormons become so inflamed, so tender, we turn those defenses onto people within our own community.

Women’s issues have the power to provoke particular inflammation within our community.  And part of the reason (aside from general human misogyny) is that 160 years ago in Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph Smith told the women of the early Church that he’d make of them a “kingdom of priests.” He set into place elements of the endowment ceremony:  an initial articulation of a connection between women and priesthood.  And then, he was martyred. Fragments of Joseph’s vision survived through the years in the women of Mormonism’s first and second generations, in practices like washings and anointings before childbirth, in the institutional independence of the Relief Society.  But many of these have disappeared almost entirely from mainstream Mormon memory:  drummed out by correlation.  And 160 years later, we have no idea what Joseph meant.  Ordain Women is placing full faith in the doctrine of continuing revelation and asking Church leaders to try and figure it out. Which is scary. For everyone.  Especially for people who have been raised on a Sunday School curriculum that insists we already have all the answers tied up in neat, correlated columns.

That historical perspective may be of little comfort when one is actually faced with straight up in-box cruelty in the name of Jesus. Jesus himself, of course, has a lot to say about these kind of situations in the New Testament.  Matthew 5 is always a favorite. That’s a chapter I resort to when, sometimes, I have to mosey out of a church meeting when an ill-thought sacrament meeting talk gets off into the anti-gay and anti-feminist weeds, and sit with my kids on the steps out back and read the scriptures. Everyone has limits, after all.  Know yours, and gently honor them.  I applaud your Facebook hiatus.  Spare yourself reading the comments on most blog posts about women’s issues in Mormonism.  And fortify yourself with lots of Matthew 5.  Dig even deeper into the New Testament. Lots of the early Church apostles knew what it was like to put up with pernicious meanness.  And if you’re going to be in it for the long run, as I hope you will, you may have to supplement even further.  Memorize the prayer of St. Francis.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, the truth;

Where there is doubt, the faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled, as to console;

To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Perhaps you’d like to start committing long passages from President Uchtdorf’s talks to memory. I myself must admit I find my mind going time and time again to this opener from Adrienne Rich’s poem “Integrity”:  “a wild patience has taken me this far.”

Patience, yes, indeed. Because it has been 160 years and we still have no idea what Joseph Smith meant when he told the women of early Mormonism he was going to make of them a kingdom of priests.  And I’ve had two very devout women I love and admire tell me that they’ve had personal revelation that someday priesthood ordination will come.  I have not had that experience. “How long until women’s ordination?” non-Mormon friends ask.  “I’m on the five hundred year plan,” I tell them. I do not know that I am joking.

What I do know is that we have a long road to Zion, we Mormons, especially if one reads the comments on Facebook as revealing something about the inner states of Mormonism.  Because yes, those comments absolutely do reveal more about the innards of their authors than they do about the objective merits of the cause they purport to contest.  And imagine, if it hurts you to read them, those comments, can you imagine how it feels to live with a corrosively bilious form of “righteousness” (or abject terror and defensiveness) pumping through your veins every day?

But here’s the most important thing:  God is merciful, God loves surprises, God roots for the underdog.  For every caustic “righteous” commenter on Facebook, there are two more in your own ward who have the same questions you do but are afraid to speak them out loud, and three more who really don’t care what you think about women’s ordination.  They’re just trying to nurse a fussy baby through Sacrament Meeting, or make it through another week of a soulkilling job they hate.  They’re trying to get through the day, by the grace of God, as are we all.  And perhaps if we can love one another, every day that passes will take us all one day closer to figuring out what Joseph meant, or to working our collective fearful defensiveness out of our collective system, or to an even fuller version of the marvel that is Mormon theology.  Even if it takes five hundred years.

You are going to need courage, and patience, and love.   You’re going to have to see the nastiness for what it is:  fear, mostly, but also ignorance.  Along the way you’ll find allies.  You’ll find your heart, your mind, your voice, and your soul.  Courage, sister.  You’ve got MoFems on your side, and believe me when I tell you there are few braver women in the western world.

Now, who has words of courage for PK?

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Is Mormon Faith Crisis for Men Only? Or did the NY Times Miss Half the Story?

Beloved readers and visitors:  Since concluding my series on the theology of LDS gender and priesthood, I’ve taken a summer breather.  But this week, I’m back with something to say about Sunday’s front-page New York Times article on disaffection, historical controversy, and faith crisis among contemporary Mormons.

Please check it out by visiting Feminist Mormon Housewives.  Click here.

 

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Should Mormon women be ordained? Or are they already priesthood holders?

For several weeks now, I have devoted my columns here to my own personal exploration of the question of women and priesthood ordination within the LDS Church.  What set me to this project was the launch of OrdainWomen.org, a set of profiles published by Mormon men and women calling for ordination of LDS women to the priesthood.

Even though I have been a committed feminist for more than twenty years, I never felt the same kind of visceral connection to the priesthood ordination issue that I had so readily felt on other issues of fairness and equality.  Seeing the faces of friends go public on-line in support of ordination at Ordainwomen.org made me wonder why.

Perhaps it was because I had not studied the issue carefully enough?  Perhaps studying the LDS scriptures and doctrines that structured priesthood ordination would help me arrive at a better understanding of the matter, and perhaps at some stronger personal conclusions, I wondered.  So I set out to understand Mormon theology on gender and ordination, on its own terms.  I studied scriptures, historical and contemporary writings by church leaders, church handbooks, and ceremonial liturgies from the LDS temple.  I also studied scholarship by historians of Mormonism who have carefully and extensively tracked changes in LDS doctrine and practice over time pertaining to priesthood and gender.

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