Category Archives: feminism

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?

74 Comments

Filed under feminism

Ask Mormon Girl: What is priesthood? And don’t Mormon women already have it?

Last week I had dinner with an old friend from graduate school who has since been ordained as an Episcopal priest.  I joke with him that he’s my personal chaplain—half-joking, really:  over the last eighteen years, I believe he’s seen enough of me and my family to know me pretty well, and I’ve seen enough of him and his family to value his moral seriousness and his wisdom.  We talked for a few minutes about Mormon feminism.  “You’ve made a new beachhead,” he observed.  “Now it’s time to deepen the work.”

My friend Jim put into words something I’ve certainly been feeling.  When I started this blog, all but a few women were still afraid to say “Mormon feminist” in public and those who did could face tremendous pushback.  That’s the legacy of the Mormon feminist firings and excommunications that started in 1993 and went on for almost a decade.  But just in the last twelve months there has been an incredible burst of energy and organizing:  Pants-to-Church, Let Women Pray, the gorgeous new “I’m a Mormon Feminist” website with real live profiles (add yours?), and most recently, Ordain Women.  (There are more, but I can’t even keep up with them.  Really.)

The LDS Church offered a response to the growing concern with ordination last week.  But for me, both Ordain Women and the Church’s response highlighted that there is tremendous inspecificity in our day-to-day use of the word “priesthood.”  It has become customary to use the idea of “priesthood” to simply name everything men do and women do not do in the contemporary LDS Church.   Which is wrong.  There is a far more complicated story—theologically, historically—to know and tell about priesthood in Mormonism.  It’s time to deepen the work and teach ourselves that story.

I am a scholar by training.  Study is very important to me.  Mormon culture can be anti-intellectual, and it has been customary to characterize scholars as people afflicted with or susceptible to pride.  Certainly some of us are, as are people in every profession.  But any scholar worth his or her Ph.D. understands that scholarship is in fact a practice that requires humility and discipline.  It takes humility to unlearn the collection of half-baked ideas and comforting slogans that stand in for truth; it takes discipline to search out and assess data, reflect carefully on the methods one uses to process the data, and to follow the data where it leads. Arrogance is asserting a claim that belies a much more complicated reality; humility for me is acknowledging how complicated reality is and trying to understand it.

That’s what I want to do with priesthood. I want to study.  I want to understand.

So people, I’m gonna get my study on.  I’m convening a study hall.  Right here at AMG.  What is priesthood?  And do Mormon women already hold it?  Let’s study on it.  I’ll bring data.  You bring data.  We reflect, think, discuss, and learn together.

Continue reading

113 Comments

Filed under feminism, priesthood

Ask Mormon Girl: Time to come out of the closet as a Mormon feminist. How do I tell my husband?

Over the last couple of years I feel I have been transforming. I am no longer the completely accepting Mormon woman, who accepts all the teachings of the church as truth, and just say, “I’ll understand it in the eternities. Don’t worry about that now.” I think I started to see something going on within myself when I lived in California during the Prop 8 stuff and was not in alignment with what seemed to be every other Mormon’s opinion. I started reading Feminist Mormon Housewives at first because it appalled me a little. But then I actually started to agree with some of the things that I was reading. Then I started reading Ask Mormon Girl and recently added Young Mormon Feminists. I had a realization that I actually AM a feminist.

My problem is  . . . How do I come out of the closet?

My husband is not completely traditional in his beliefs and opinions. Right now, he is a stay-at-home dad, and I am the bread winner. But overall, he is a fairly traditional Mormon man. I keep worrying that he will see the blogs I read and discover that part of who I am and it will be a major “thing” between us. Do I just come out and say it? Or do I give it to him gently? And if it is gently… how would I do that?

TR

Continue reading

64 Comments

Filed under feminism

Ask Mormon Girl: I’m a 31 year old Mexican Mormon and . . . feminist. Help?

First, dear readers, I want to thank you for the outpouring of support for the gay elder I wrote about last week.  Your letters are winging their way to him in an unnamed region of the globe.  Thank you for your words of kindness, courage, and compassion.

This week’s letter comes from a woman in Mexico.  I’ve been seeing more than a few of these lately.  Young women, usually.  Places like  Brazil and Russia.  The story is often the same.  They were hungry, courageous, willing to be different, tuned into the bigger questions, and looking for answers.  They found the LDS Church.  They gave their lives to it.  And then, complications materialized. As they do for most of us.  Sooner or later.

Here’s the letter:

I have been LDS since I was 19. I’m a convert. Now, I’m 31, single and studying for a masters in population and development. My story began as many here in Mexico. I met in high school a nice friend, and she turned out to be mormon. I did have mormon family but they were inactive and never spoke about church. So, I met the missionaries and got baptized really fast. My mom did too, few days after.

I can’t deny that I was happy and comfortable in and with the church. I even entered the Temple. I didn’t serve a mission, not even really had a plan about doing that since I’m a daughter of a single mother. And yes, that influenced in myw hole life and of course at church. I get really sad about the fact that I cannot get sealed with her (since she never married my father).

I served as an YW president in my ward for really a lot of years. Then, I was called as 1st counselor of YW in the stake; that’s when I saw the big difference between women’s and men’s opinions at church. Always, at our meetings our leaders asked for solutions for the problems that we were facing, but when we offered our opinion and/or solutions we weren’t listened to at all. Always, the main objective was to keep young men safe, not really our women and girls.

For example, one of my church friend´s mom suffered a terrible attack by her boyfriend. She was at the hospital for about 3 weeks; she´s still alive by God´s mercy. When I talked with our leaders about that, one said: “Well, it´s natural, she was doing not so good things in her life.”

That’s when I asked for help outside church, so that´s how I met a group of feminists in my town. Since then, I understand so many things. I understand that violence isn´t only physical, and then I realize that there was spiritual violence too. The saddest part is that I found that we suffered of that kind of violence at the church, at Jesus’s church.

Continue reading

15 Comments

Filed under feminism

Ask Mormon Girl: I’m in a missionary love quandary. Help?

 

Two letters this week, both about love and missionaries.  What a topic.  It’s true–I once promised myself to a soon-to-be missionary after a tram ride to the top of Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon.  (All Mormon girls do at one time or another.)  And it’s true, I failed miserably, miserably, to wait for that missionary.  You can read the whole saga in The Book of Mormon Girl.  Every painful detail.

This week’s two questions come to us from young women who are also thinking about “their” missionaries. And, yes, well, there are some painful details here too.

Letter the first:

I’m not a Mormon, and I’ve met a Mormon guy on mission that I’m interested in.  From what little I’ve read it seems Mormons on mission aren’t allowed to have any kind of dating interaction with females.  So I get that, but are they allowed to be friends?  If so, how do I go about letting him know I’d like to be friends without seeming like I’m coming on to him?  I don’t want to be inappropriate or offend him or get him into trouble.

And here’s the super-easy answer.  No, I’m really sorry, but you can’t be friends with the missionary.  Make him a lasagna, drop it off at a neutral third party location, and then say sayonara.  Really.  It’s the most merciful thing you can do.  He’s supposed to be 100% focused on finding people to teach and serving the community.  He’s supposed to be 100% celibate.  Like a eunuch.  He can’t do that with you as his friend.  Because you’re cute.  You smell like Bath and Body Works. When you laugh, the way your head tilts–it’s irresistible. And he’s 20.  Big boundaries.  No “friendship.” End of story. Sorry.

Letter the second:

For the past 7 years, I have been best friends with an amazing guy. We were both LDS. He’s always had a huge crush on me and I’ve known that, and he continues to feel that way while on his mission currently. The problem is that since he has left, I am a completely different person. No longer go to church, have a boyfriend that I live with, etc. 

The man I am with is amazing. I do love him and enjoy everything about him. The problem is that my friend is coming home in August and suddenly I am having these thoughts for him and the church and I’m freaking out because for so long I thought that I didn’t believe in the church, but I miss it and I miss the people and now I am torn between two worlds. 

I’m afraid…afraid of changing my mind about what I’m doing. The man I’m with does in no way believe in any religion. I don’t know how to go forward or how to make a decision. I love him. And thinking about leaving him for (pretty much) another guy/lifestyle feels like I’m betraying him and that hurts. 

If you were me, what would you do? 

You know what worries me about this letter, love?  You tell me all about these two “amazing” guys in your life.  You ponder the possible betrayal of their feelings. But I hear nothing about you.  As if you are a pile of iron filings that can be magnetically drawn this way and that by the influence of the men who love you.  But what about you?  If both your missionary and your lover (*poof*) magically disappeared from the face of the earth tomorrow, what kind of a conversation would you have with God? If all men–every last sweet handsome one of them–(*POOF*) magically disappeared from the face of the earth tomorrow–all the grandfathers, fathers, priesthood leaders, bishops, brothers, husbands, boyfriends, used-to-be-boyfriends, friends–what would you do with yourself?  Or, in the words of the great poet Mary Oliver:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Notice that she does not ask what you think someone else would like you to do with your one wild and precious life.  It’s yours, honey–all yours.  It’s sacred.  And it’s scary.   And in that power to choose, that is where you meet God.

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

16 Comments

Filed under feminism, missionaries

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.

67 Comments

Filed under feminism

I’m thrilled by the big change in Mormon women serving missions. But my heart hurts too. Help?

Today’s announcement about the change in missionary age for young women was, of course, wonderful news. I am delighted my daughter will grow up in a church and culture that will promote her spiritual development, allow her to serve, and allow marriage to happen at the proper time and place (and I sure hope that is well into her 20s.) I felt the spirit telling me how wonderful a change this is, but my heart was broken that for me it is a change too late in coming. 

 How do you let go of anger and hurt from growing up in a culture and institution that taught things about the role of women and about the timing and urgency of marriage that shaped pivotal decisions in your life? I’m grateful things will be better (at least in this respect) from now on, but I can’t help but grieve for what might have been.

 B.A.

Continue reading

167 Comments

Filed under feminism