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.
(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?