Monthly Archives: December 2012

Ask Mormon Girl: Pants-to-Church Sunday left me a bit bruised. Help?

Merry Christmas, AMG family.  And profound thank yous to the AMG readers including Carole, Dan, Kim, and others who have supported the Family Acceptance Project this holiday season!

This week’s question grows out of last week’s Pants to Church Sunday, a grassroots-organized event that united Mormon feminists and their allies in a quiet demonstration of visibility and hope for renewed conversation about traditional gender inequalities in the LDS Church.  If you read some of the coverage (like this New York Times piece), you may also know that a modest gesture like wearing pants to church engendered a fierce backlash from some quarters.  And this week, we’re going to speak to it.  Here’s a letter from a sweet sister pants warrior:

I stopped going to church about six years ago, and my separation from

the community and tradition I grew up in was painful for years. After

finding your blog and going to the Sunstone conference this year,

however, I have felt an incredible amount of peace and hope—I felt I

could belong in a progressive Mormon community, and my feminist voice

could be heard and valued.

Because of this recent reconciliation, the online backlash to Wear

Pants to Church Day was especially discouraging. Even though I have

separated myself from mainstream Mormonism and didn’t encounter

face-to-face antagonism, it was hurtful to read comments from people I

grew up with telling Mormon feminists to get out. Like others who

followed the discussions, I read that I don’t belong, that my

experiences with inequality are based on personal weakness, and that

God’s word on gender will never change.

I love the faith I grew up in and want a place somewhere inside, but

after last week I have the old sense that I am not welcome–that my

experiences can’t fit within the Mormon framework. I want to be part

of the change for greater acceptance within the church, but I also

want to be part of a community where my voice is valued.

Did you feel any of this? Do you have any advice/encouragement for

fellow Mormon feminists who took an online beating?

Oh, beloved pants warriors.  I know it’s time for egg nog and sugar cookies, but let’s take a collective assessment of our post-pants-to-church-Sunday selves.

Y’all doing okay out there?

What a wild week that was.  And mind you, I wasn’t even an organizer!  Nor a Facebook pants warrior engaged in one-on-one combat with the pants-haters!  But after hours, on the Facebook, oh yes, I tried to help bandage the poor pants warriors who came back night after night rhetorically bloodied and bruised.

And yes, it was daunting.  To be out there and berated by Facebook’s Mormon posse comitatus, those self-selected defenders of “the faith” who assume the right to revoke the baptismal certificates of anyone who doesn’t worship their way.  Plenty of them out there.  Men as well as women.  And guess what? Though they be numerous, none of them are the boss of the great Mormon movement.  This is a movement made up of millions upon millions of us who have loved the faith, and each of us has a say in shaping its future.

So, yes, we took some heat from random jerks on Facebook.

Did anyone take a physical beating?

Did anyone go to jail?

Did anyone lose a job?

Did anyone lose a home?

Did anyone lose a life?

Because that’s what feminists around the world face and have faced.  Across time.  And all the time.  From the iron-jawed angel suffragettes who were beaten for demanding the vote early last century.  To the men and women in India this weekend protesting the government’s lax prosecution of rape, who were struck with batons and fired upon by water cannons, and the young Pakistani girls disfigured by Taliban acid attacks because they wanted an education.

None of this, sister pants warrior, is to say that what you faced didn’t hurt. I do remember my first in-box full of mean mail.  And my second.  And my third.  And how I learned.  I learned to set my Facebook privacy settings high, to bounce messages from people who reeked mean, and also to listen to people I disagreed with who may have had a point, even when it was uncomfortable. And not to take it personally.

And most of all, I learned not to let people get into my head.  After all, would you let a threatening stranger get past the front door of your house?  No? Then, why let them in your head? To take up residence in the living room of your brain and tell you that you don’t deserve to live? That you don’t deserve your own faith?  That you don’t deserve to claim Mormonism—a religion so many would write off as ridiculous and incredible, but which you, mighty heart, have found reason to love?

Yes.  You can choose not to let them in.  You can choose not to engage every random self-appointed meanie who gets up on your Facebook wall, or inbox, or Twitter feed.  You can choose not to read the on-line comments, which will be predictably cruel, semi-literate, and marginally insane.  You can save your breath and energy.  There’s plenty to spend it on.

As Mormon feminists, we’ve just witnessed the largest concerted Mormon feminist effort in history.  After three decades of having the dominant message in our culture being “feminism = excommunication,” a message that has made us afraid to be in our own church, grassroots Mormon feminists found a way to renew our courage, find allies, and wordlessly but firmly insist we have a place here too.  Not so easy to get rid of us.  Not so easy to write us off.  We claim this faith too, in its difficulty and its beauty.

Did it hurt, the cruel reaction?  You bet.  Was it productive, the restarting of a frozen conversation? You bet.  Did we confront our own fear?  Yes.  Does one feel a bit tired and even perhaps exposed after confronting one’s own fear, so publicly?  Yes.  And did Pants Sunday reveal we have so much work to do? Yes.

We’ve got to keep being public.  We’ve got to keep the conversation going.  Most LDS people—including many, many Mormon feminists—just don’t know Mormon women’s history like we should.  We’ve got to teach ourselves (start with the links embedded here) and build the resources to educate the younger ones coming up.  We’ve got to build scholarship funds for Mormon feminist single mothers. We’ve got to fund publications like Exponent. We’ve got to write books on Mormon feminist thought, experience, and theory.  We’ve got to finish our college educations.  We’ve got to spend less time in private Facebook groups, and more time on public blogs like Feminist Mormon Housewives where our conversations are recorded for history, because Mormon women’s history matters.  Less time fighting with strangers and more time talking with men and women who want to learn.  Less time worrying about what others think and more time knowing our truths and living our lives.

Sister Pantswarrior, we Mormon women are raised to crave approval.  But this world needs leadership, and leaders by definition can’t wait for others to approve before they identify and act to meet needs. Think of our Mother Eve.  Don’t crave approval. Know who you can get some nurturing from when you need it, because we all need it sometimes.  But more than approval crave knowledge.  Crave wisdom.  Crave courage. Crave oxygen.  Crave humor. Crave solidarity.  Crave community. All of these make the lumps that come with Mormon feminism—and you can certainly handle them–so much easier to take.

Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow @askmormongirl on Twitter.

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Ask Mormon Girl: I’m a Mormon girl in love with an amazing non-Mormon man. Should I marry him?

How appropriate to celebrate this second night of Hannukah with not one but two queries about interfaith marriage.  Read them with me, dear AMG community, by the dwindling light of the menorah:

I am a single woman in my early 30s, and I’ve been a member of the Mormon Church my whole life. I learned to read by reading the Book of Mormon. I grew up in Utah, attended BYU, and served a mission. I can count on one hand the number of Sundays I’ve missed sacrament meeting in the past ten years. Mormonism is fundamental to my religious beliefs and my personal sense of identity, and it is the community that I identify with most strongly.

For about a year now, I’ve been dating a man who is not a member of our church (I’m avoiding the temptation here to go on a long digression about what an incredible person he is, how supportive he is of me, and how much I love him). Early in our relationship, I gave some thought to the question of whether I would ever be willing to marry a non-Mormon. As our relationship has progressed, this vague hypothetical question has led to some much more concrete thinking about what an interfaith marriage would be like for me, for him, and for us. How could I help a non-Mormon spouse to feel like a member of my ward family when he is not a member of my church? I am willing to add his religious observances to our worship as a couple and as a family, but should I also be willing to give up some of my participation in my own faith – for example by attending the temple or Sunday services slightly less often in order to spend more time as an entire family? Is it wrong to make those types of sacrifices? Is it wrong not to? Is it naive to think we could raise our children to fully participate in two different faiths? If it is even possible, would it strengthen or weaken their ability to develop a personal relationship with their Heavenly Father?

The doctrinal and afterlife issues around a non-temple marriage are an entirely different topic, and one that I am personally much more at peace with than my questions about how one might make an interfaith marriage work in this life.

 I realize that the answers to many of these questions may be different for every family, and that we need to continue to discuss them more as a couple as we continue to think about our future. Still, I would be interested to hear your perspective and that of your readers.

SN

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Ask Mormon Girl: I’m nervous about answering the temple recommend interview questions! Help?

First, friends, before we get to this week’s query, an update:  one of the women who wrote in last week asking if there were a place for “liberal female converts” in Mormonism has committed to getting baptized on December 15, and she’s inviting all of us to participate with her on that day by praying for and with her.  She sends her thanks for your beautiful responses and encouragements. As do I. And really, since I ran that post, I’ve heard from at least five other self-identified liberal women who are feeling spiritually led to Mormonism, fully aware of their own deep misgivings about some Church positions on LGBT issues and gender.  And I’m stunned. All I gotta say is, born-and-raised Mormons, get ready–this religious movement is still moving.

Second, a call for your input and maybe help. A public suicide by a junior high school student in Utah who reportedly had been subjected to homophobic bullying has me feeling fervent about the life-saving work of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University.  Professor Caitlin Ryan studies how family response to LGBT young people shapes their health outcomes–and she has produced an amazing research-based guide for Mormon families who are trying to live the faith and respond in healthful ways when their kids come out of the closet. (Is there someone you know who could use this wonderful guide?)  Here’s the thing that blows my mind: Professor Ryan is an adjunct faculty member who has to raise all the funds required to keep the Family Acceptance Project alive.  She’s saving lives, and she deserves our support.  What can we do?  I’m thinking about putting together an Ask Mormon Girl Family Acceptance Project  Chrismukkah Raffle.  (It will need a snappier name, of course.)  I’m putting together a raffle package with autographed copies of the *now out-of-print* self-published first edition Book of Mormon Girl, as well as the updated and expanded Simon & Schuster edition, two never-before published essays, a “Keep Mormonism Weird” bumper sticker, and a pound of my own secret-recipe homemade Christmas English toffee.  Are you a crafter? Writer? Artist?  Would you like to contribute something to the Ask Mormon Girl Family Acceptance Project Chrismukkah raffle?  Let me know this week by emailing askmormongirl@gmail.com, and if there’s enough interest, I’ll launch the raffle next week so we can raise some money to keep all members of our community healthy, safe and loved.

And without further delay, here is this week’s question–on a subject of perennial concern to unorthodox and nontraditional Mormons.  And readers, I know you’ll have words of wisdom, so I’m gonna let you answer the whole thing yourselves:

I’ve been a member all my life, married in the temple, actively involved and now going through a tough period trying to figure out exactly what I believe.  My oldest daughter married in the temple which was wonderful and I have a son that will probably do so in the next year or so as well as two younger children.  My recommend has expired and I have recently been seriously trying to figure out how I feel about some of the temple questions and whether I can honestly say yes to them as of course I want to be able to attend my son’s wedding when this happens but I also am determined to be fully honest to myself and the Bishop.  Here are the questions which I’m confused/struggling with.

 #1 Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?  If God restored the church through Joseph Smith and we believe he’s a prophet he must be pretty hands off with our prophets and general authorities since they have said/done things that seem to contradict each other over time (polygamy, birth control, blacks and the priesthood, etc.)  I recognize that some of this is cultural and has to do with the time period they live in but how does that also fit and include God whose directing them?  I’ve always been taught and understood that God is more actively involved in directing the prophet and church.  As I get older I’m wondering whether that is actually the case as it seems more likely to me that the brethren honestly try to talk through issues, weigh things and decide as a group what they feel is the best course of action.  Are they getting their answers the same way we are through various spiritual feelings and not a more direct revelatory experience that I had assumed was happening with the prophet? That’s ok if that’s the way it’s happening but it’s not what I have been taught or lead to believe growing up in the church.  That raises the concern then about how we would know what things actually are coming from God as his will and what things are the decisions that the brethren have agreed upon.  How do we know what we should accept and support believing it’s God’s will and a requirement he expects of us? If that’s how things work with the prophet and brethren and always has since the restoration then I don’t understand that since we are taught he is our Father.  Why would he be so hands off with his own prophet when in the Bible and BOM it clearly demonstrates he was quite active in guiding those prophets?  It just doesn’t compute with how I feel as a mother to my children and how I handle helping, teaching, guiding them as their parent.  Why set up a system which is so vague that you have so many different religious groups honestly struggling to find the answers and find out the truth as well as people in the restored church itself?  If spiritual feelings/experiences are guiding and directing our brethren just like in our own lives then how do we trust that their spiritual experiences carry any more weight than other religious leaders?  How can we really know what the truth is?

#3.  Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days? – I think this means do I believe that Joseph Smith actually had the first vision, received the keys to claim that he’s a prophet and the authority to organize the church with the necessary ordinances and teachings needed for salvation.  Does that mean I can still have doubts about other things that he did and disagree with some things that he did?  It’s confusing because we are taught that the current prophet won’t lead the church astray and yet Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy is very difficult for me to understand.  Would God allow a prophet to handle that the way Joseph did?  There was definite deception about it not only to Emma but the public.  When I look up on lds.org this is what the official church site quotes from President Hinckley: ” Our entire case as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the validity of this glorious First Vision. It was the parting of the curtain to open this, the dispensation of the fulness of times. Nothing on which we base our doctrine, nothing we teach, nothing we live by is of greater importance than this initial declaration. I submit that if Joseph Smith talked with God the Father and His Beloved Son, then all else of which he spoke is true. This is the hinge on which turns the gate that leads to the path of salvation and eternal life.”  So he clearly says that if the first vision actually happened then all other things he said were true.  That seems to mean I would have to accept/believe that what he said and did regarding polygamy was what God wanted.  This is hard for me to believe so where does that leave me? 

#4 Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?  According to lds.org it says under the topic of prophets:  “We can always trust the living prophets. Their teachings reflect the will of the Lord, who declared: “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). Our greatest safety lies in strictly following the word of the Lord given through His prophets, particularly the current President of the Church.”  Here again it leaves me confused – it doesn’t ask me do I agree with the President of the church as the prophet, seer and Revelator as well as sustaining the other general authorities and local leaders?  Is asks if I sustain them. What exactly does sustain mean?  The dictionary says it means “to support, hold, or bear up from below; bear the weight of, as a structure.”  If I support someone do I have to agree with everything they say/do?  It’s so vague that I can’t figure out exactly what they are asking??

 #7 Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?  I don’t agree with the church’s practice toward LGBT people or its support of Prop 8.  My oldest brother is gay and has been in a committed relationship for 15 years.  I don’t think it’s healthy the way we teach about sexuality in the church or it’s affect on LGBT youth/adults.  So where does that leave me with this question?  Obviously I agree with those that oppose the church’s opinion on this and support their efforts for marriage equality.  So how would I be able to say “yes” to this question? 

 I respect the advice/opinions of the people who read and post on this blog and have so enjoyed feeling the community of people who I feel are honestly trying to grapple with these various things while holding onto the wonderful experiences and feelings they have about the church.  I so need help in understanding how you are dealing and handling these various questions as I feel so conflicted.

Readers, thank you for being the kind of people the author of this letter wants to turn to.  Now, let’s honor her trust.  Comment away.  I am grateful for your insightful, thoughtful contributions.  They do touch lives.  My soul is a witness.

Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow @askmormongirl on Twitter.

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