Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My Feminist Mormon Perspective: The Messiness and Beauty of Revelation/Revolution

There are many Mormon Feminists who are not members of Ordain Women, who still supported them in their choice to attempt to attend the Priesthood Session of the 183rd Semi-Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  There were 200 members of Ordain Women, who showed from all over the US, and as far away as Germany, (in skirts and dresses, and clothed with humility) to stand in line, so that they could stand and request to sit in any empty seat, not already filled by someone else.  There were enough seats for every single man in the line, and the men were told to go around the women, to the head of the line (and men in the building confirmed that not all seats were filled, in fact rows were vacant) Still each woman waited, requested a seat, and each woman was turned away. 

The emotions, throughout the night, of the women who stood in line, their families and loved ones, male members of Ordain Women who were allowed in without their female counterparts, and the MoFem community in general, covered almost every emotion you could name. As Kate Kelly said, before they were turned away, she truly believed that if the men who were there to bar them from the meeting, could see how pure their intent was, that they would be allowed to enter.   (If you don't personally know someone who is part of Ordain Women, I really hope that you will take the time to read this entire post, and get to know their hearts.) There was excitement at the number of women who showed up, many of them coming from across the country, (one came all the way from Germany to attend) and there was a sense of solidarity and triumph from just being there, together, as more and more women joined the group, and got into line. 
Then, as the doors closed, and all of the women were still outside, the entrance cut off from view by a landscaping/garbage truck, the range of emotions ran soul deep.  Mostly with pain, loss, sadness, rage, but also some relief that things weren't worse, that there was no retaliation. 

(Some had worried that the church might have tried to have them arrested for trespassing, or that names would be taken and excommunication hearings would start, that would make the September Six, just a forerunner.  While I never thought there would be a reaction like that, the talk earlier that day, describing a caricature of a straw feminist, I did understand why some worried.)
That pain, and deep sense of loss, and not knowing how to move forward, is still a constantly reoccurring feeling, and I suspect it may be weeks, months, even years, for some participants to resolve the feelings of betrayal that many have described, in conversations in Mormon feminist online communities and in a loose check-in system, out of which, some are envisioning a Mormon feminist visiting teaching program. 

As has been repeated often by women who were there, the garbage truck being put to block the door, was a horribly clear statement to them, that they were not only unwanted, and unworthy.  Many saw that truck as a message that their hopes, love, dreams and desires to be seen as equally important to the men in the church, as something that belonged in the trash.   

That doesn't mean that there aren't many good things that came from October Conference, or even specifically the Priesthood Session, but that night those things were not so easy to see.  I would like to share a few of these positive things that I have seen, which have come from the talks, actions and discussions about the 183rd Semi-Annual General Conference. 

As I watched Priesthood session with my husband, one thing I noted, was a juxtaposition that I thought was important, and Elisothel (at Feminist Mormon Housewives) wrote about feeling similar feelings about the talk, given by Frère Caussé, literally during the same time that the group from Ordain Women, was walking away from the location of the pulpit that he spoke from. Elisothel captures the moment better than I could, (and you should really go read the whole post) when she explains;

"I know the nets are crawling with the negative optics of an elder speaking of unity, saying to be inclusive while a few hundred feet away ushers turned women away at the doors to the conference center.  But consider:  did Frère Caussé know the Ordain Women event was happening?  Was he speaking to the brethren to open the doors?  Perhaps he did not know, and this was the talk The Lord told him to give.  Perhaps he did know, and in spite of likely fallout, he gave it anyway, at the behest of God. Either way, I believe in this talk, finally, God was speaking to women.  I cannot imagine a better talk for the occasion of the Priesthood session during the Ordain Women effort.
In that talk I heard the Lord teaching me about the standards of love and inclusion we are under obligation to employ as Christians and Latter-Day Saints.  I heard the Lord gently but clearly instruct us to open the doors, and to open our hearts.  I heard the love of the Lord, not just someone saying he loves me."

As I have listened to this talk several times, and each time I have felt, that the Lord is talking to each of us, asking us to open our hearts to one another, to new thoughts and ideas, and I believe that some of those ideas will relate to feminism, and more recognition of the mistakes of the past, and that many people who struggle with questions of history or faith, and that asking questions is honorable, as Elder Uchdorf acknowledged earlier that day.  I suspect that this will be a talk that will be referred back to for decades to come, as a turning point in creating badly needed space for questioning and healing. and that there will, and must be, a stronger role for the female members of Christ's church.  I don't know if ordination will be part of that, but I fully believe that we will learn more about our Heavenly Mother, (Heavenly Parents, mentioned by a Carole M. Stephens, was exciting for several friends) and hopefully the priestesshood which Mother holds. 

While many were frustrated by the RS Conference, held the weekend before conference, I choose to see the Relief Society Conference through Edward's eyes, as he explains so well in this post.
(He is a male member of Ordain Women, the co-founder of the Finding Heavenly Mother Project, and one of the best men I know.  He did not have tickets to the RS Conference, but easily gained admittance, (using the same method that Ordain Women attempted to use to attend Priesthood Session) even though his calling has nothing to do with Relief Society, he has never been a member of the  Relief Society, and does not ever intend to become a member of RS.)
As he shared, he sees the emphasis on making and keeping covenants, as being preparatory to receiving the opportunity to make more covenants.  We may disagree about whether it is priesthood or priestesshood, which will be the additional spiritual responsibilities and blessings, as I had read his blog post, before I had a chance to watch RS Conference, I could also see those
glimpses of eternal preparation that Edward describes when he says:

"Sister Reeves encouraged sisters to “claim your blessings” in the temple.  I am greatly moved by the courage of my sisters in Ordain Women who are claiming their blessings in the priesthood.  I know this will bring amazing blessings not only to them but to everyone they serve and to the whole church and the world.
The Spirit has borne witness to my spirit that by supporting women’s ordination I am fulfilling my covenants to stand as a witness of Christ—who invites all people, female and male, to work in His vineyard—and to build up the kingdom of God on earth."

So was Edward wrong, because the group from Ordain Women was not allowed into the 183rd Conference's priesthood session?  No, I don't think so.  There are several other things that happened during conference, including the over-the-pulpit admission that past mistakes have been made, and that the church has not always been forthcoming about them, in this talk by President Uchdorf.  As people continue to study, implement, and ponder the  sometimes contradictory things taught, and those inconsistencies lead to divergent actions taken, I think that there will have to be continuing communication, to clarify policy and doctrine, and with that clarity, will come lasting changes.  Many of those inconsistencies, make me think that the entire church is being prepared, for changes that are important, especially for a global church that now has more members outside the US.  Many of the old answers aren't only hurtful to women, but they are hurting the international church, as well.  

Joanna Brooks did a fantastic job of bringing in many of the voices and stories, from women who participate in Ordain Women in . (Please read the entire story, it is all great!)  In her Monday morning Religious Dispatches post, she quotes Kate Kelly, as she explains that there is a different between feeling loved and cared for, and equality.  Kate encapsulates one of the most important things that feminists try to teach both women and men, who oppose Mormon Feminism, solely on the basis of their lack of feeling unequal.

“I have heard from many women, ‘I see nothing wrong with the status quo. I feel equal,’” said Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly to a pre-demonstration gathering in a downtown Salt Lake City park. “To them I say: you can feel respected, supported and validated in the church, but equality can be measured. Equality is not a feeling. In our church men and women are not equal.”

As I have read, not only the posts I have linked to, but the  comments and many links you will find in them, I have been able to find hopeful, wonderful things that have fed my soul.  They are well worth the time and energy.  In so many places, I have found that the words of my brothers and sisters in Christ!

They have given me the chance to see the reflection of my soul. Their words, lead me to believe in, and see, a better me, a better church, a better world, and it starts with each of us following the advice to make room for everyone, whether they have doubts, or sin differently than we do. Christ has invited us all to Come Unto Him, and so we must be able to approach Him, with those who are different than us.  

If we are able to make room for each person, learning to love each one with our whole hearts, then making room in the church, for people we know we will learn to love, (if we don't already) will be simple, even if it means making our hearts bigger than they are now!


  1. thank you, julia. beautiful. we all deserve to be heard and understood. that's what zion is all about.

  2. This. Is. Beautiful.

    If we are able to make room for each person, learning to love each one with our whole hearts, then making room in the church, for people we know we will learn to love, (if we don't already) will be simple, even if it means making our hearts bigger than they are now!

    Thank you! This gives me hope! Your whole blog gives me hope, but this post was the balm my soul needed today.

  3. This comment was in my morning email. I love you too Kendra.

    Julia, Thanks for your hope filled conference round up post. I didn't watch very much if conference. Between the few talks I watched, (obviously not the right ones, because I didn't catch any of the ones you talk about, and I had to walk away because if the tears and anger) and spending too much time responding to trolls on Ordain Women, I had pretty much decided I was really ready to leave the church. Like Joanna B (is that really *the* Joanna Brooks? OMG, I read and like a post she read and commented on? Sorry, my Bieber moment is over) said, we all deserve to be understood, and I felt like you shared the beauty of some parts of conference, while understanding that there were some very not beautiful moment too.

    I don't know how to do a comment on you blog, but you can share this there and/or on Facebook. Thanks for being someone who is truly Christlike.

    The Other Kendra

    (I have a sister and a friend named Kendra. My friend signs as The Other Kendra, partly as an inside joke, and partly because my sister does not feel this way about me.)

  4. (This took more space than I expected.)

    #1. I have been feeling so mad since conference. I'm not a feminist, I didn't go to Priesthood session with Ordain Women, but I knew they were going, and like women giving prayers in conference, it seemed like such a small thing to ask, that I was sure they would be let in without much fussing, and then the women would just look silly, making a big deal about such a small thing. In fact, I had a blog post written, ready to post on Monday, about how silly all of the feminist things are, from pants to conference prayers to attending priesthood session. I obviously haven't posted it to my blog, but it is posted on my heart, and the more I read about the way the women conducted themselves, and the way they were treated, the more upset I get. Part of it is that I was wrong, and I hate to be wrong. I was sure, very sure, that this latest protest was just another meaningless display. Sure, some men and women act stupidly to things, and Wear Pants to Church Day brought out the crazies, as they "defended the church" against women wearing pants. I never would have worn pants, (although I wear a pantsuit to church when I travel, since I never know if a building will run colder than I like) but after the death threat, I joined Jessica, (the only Mormon feminist I know, who serves with me in the YW program) and along with several of the YW, I showed up to church wearing pants, not because I'm a feminist, but because no one should be subjected to that kind of craziness, over something that isn't against the rules.

    The Kate Kelly quote, and the Doves and Serpents series of charts and graphs, showing different ways of looking at inequality in the church, have been grating on my nerves. What do you mean, "Equality is not a feeling?" And why must the graphs show so clearly, the things I prefer not to think about? Why am I wasting time worrying about the women turned away from Priesthood session, when I have no connection to them at all? Why am I so mad? Why does this make me mad and how can I stop having every new piece of information about the Edward going to RS session, and Michelle Mormon's post about being there, make me want to hit something or someone? Jessica, the only feminist I know in real life, came over at the wrong/right time today. While catching up on a friend's page, she had a link to your post, and suggested that it was a good explanation, to help non-feminists who were trying to understand the dynamics between Ordain Women, non-OW feminists, and why it isn't a split in feminism. (Several of our ward members were cackling with glee over what they thought would turn into a split, divide and annihilate feminists.) She was right that it seems Mormon feminists don't all agree on everything, but no one at Ordain Women is saying you aren't a feminist if you don't join them, and feminists who aren't part of it, seem to be supportive of people being whatever kind of feminists they want.

  5. So, I clicked on the link, (which just took me to the blog, and first read Michelle's post, and then yours. I'm not sure what it is about your posts and comments, but I can't just dismiss the things you write, because I hear them as I read them, and I guess you could say that I have a testimony that you are someone that Heavenly Father wants me to listen to you. (I have read a lot of your comments on other sites, as Juliathepoet, and I occasionally read through a blog post or two, if you link to something.)

    As you suggested, I read all the articles you linked to, including the comments. I kept looking for the evil feminist(s) who were making me so mad. I wanted to know who they were, and I wanted to tell them to stop making me mad. I wanted to be able to yell, scream, punch or hit you or Jessica. I wanted to stop every feminist from writing, especially Mormon feminists, so I could stop feeling that way. I called Jessica, and I asked her if she could come over for a little while. After our kids were playing with Legos, I told her how mad I was, and how much I wanted to stop being mad. I yelled and cried and read out loud all the posts I had printed off so that I could symbolicly burn them. She let me get it all out of my system, and them she asked me the question that I think has already changed my life forever, "Are you mad at Mormon feminists, or are you mad that we need Mormon feminists?"

  6. #3. I don't know how my life will change, but the only honest answer is that we need Mormon feminists, and I am mad that we need them. I'm mad that in Christ's church, feminism seems most consistent to what Christ and Joseph Smith taught. I read your comment on Russell's post today on civil societies, and I realized I am mad that we don't really teach the 9-13th Articles of Faith. I'm mad that we (women) used to have a more prominent role in the church. I know the family story that my great-great-great grandmother was given a blessing by one of Brigham Young's wives, who was visiting her sister at the time and came to help with the delivery of my g-g-g-grandma's first child. I always assumed it was because there were no men around, and being yhe prophet's wife was the best substitute without one. I'm mad that I wouldn't even know how and why blessings were given by women, and that using the whole bottle of oil was normal, and not just an accident, (which is what my mother told us) and she died before I could find out if she knew the truth about women giving blessings, or if she had been lied to about it too.

    Heck, until Jessica sent me to a post on Keepapitchinin, about women giving blessings of healing, I wouldn't know about it, since it is a forgotten detail in the new RS history book. That is where I learned that RS used to run itself, without having the bishop, stake president or anyone tell them what to do. I often wonder if Ardis sees herself as a feminist historian. She certainly is making it easier to understand the RS, as it used to be, in a way no church lesson or manual has ever done. Instead of one page a month, they had their own magazine, printed by and for the RS! Why didn't I know this before I turned 40? Why didn't I learn these lessons from my teachers, leaders, seminary and institute instructors?

    I'm sorry for being so condescending, mean and angry towards you, even if it was only in my head. I'm going to start rereading your My Feminist Mormon Perspective posts, not because I'm ready to be a feminist, but because I think there is more that I could learn from you than I have before. I'm sorry this is long, but my husband would freak out if I posted this on my blog. I figure I can send the link to Jessica and a few other people and tell them I'm the Melissa in the last comment. Thanks for writing and commenting and being so real. So many people are afraid to live with ambiguity and working to make something better, like the church, when it might not change while you are alive. I'm not a feminist, but I'm not mad at feminists now, just mad that we need them. I'm mad that the ushers at Priesthood session didn't calmly let the women in to hear conference, in the same way Edward was invited in to RS. I don't think Christ would have turned anyone away!


  7. Melissa, I love you. You've just perfectly encapsulated what so many of us have gone through in becoming Mormon feminists.

  8. That was beautifully articulated Melissa! Thank you so much for sharing your heart!

  9. So great to see that Jessica, just by being open with who she is, gave Melissa a way to know who to go to, when the dissonance got too loud.

    I don't generally see myself as a very brave person. I live the gospel as best I can, I love my nieces when they come for a weekend slumber party, and I am working hard to finish my degree in counseling. I would love to have a husband, and kids of my own, but I di believe that our Heavenly Parents gave me the gifts to help people who have fallen, or best shoved diwn, and cant get up on their own. I am a doctor for broken hearts, warped minds, and for the wounded who are left behind by their religious communities. I decided that while I love seeing patients, I want to help train a new breed of LDS counselors, people who are not only looking for a job at LDS social services, but instead want to get in the trenches, and serve those who Christ served.

    I encourage my patients and undergrad students to bring me the things they read that make them truly feel an emotion, whether it is a "good" or "bad" emotion is not judged. This is to help people find ways to connect emotionally and spiritually, when they are out of practice when it comes to feeling anything on a profound level. (I see this in most people, but the LDS culture of putting on a good front, faking it until you make it, or the spiritual brinksmanship that turn into ongoing rivalries, make it hard for many Mormons to simply feel an emotion, especially a painful one, or one that, when bottled up, when it is opened up, there is an explosion of self. Picking up the pieces, and putting them together again, can be hard without friends who you can let loose a tirade, about the unfairness of life, the crappy month you are having, or the anger the comes from realizing you might be wrong, when you were *so sure* that you were *Right."

    I originally started reading this blog because one of the women I am currently counseling, brought a printed out copy of the prophetess post and the hypocrisy poem. Man, that poem should be sung as a triumphal song at MoFem, and LDS LGBT events! Fight the hypocrisy, win your self respect, and prove the bastards wrong! (Even people who know me well, would be surprised that I am so passionate about these causes. I use many of Julia's posts with my clients, but I am realizing that I have more to learn from Jessica, Melissa and Jukia, about how to speak out more, and reach out to my ward members, and not just my patients.

    I have also enjoyed the perspective that Michelle brings, as a convert who is deeply conversant in the bible, who joined the LDS church and has taken on so many worthwhile projects, that touch so many. (I am hoping for more Christ/biblical posts in the future Michelle!) thank you Michelle, Edward, and Julia, for your commitment to broadening the views and voices, reaching out to Heavenly Mother, which seems to inevitably lead to reaching down, and lifting others up.

    Keep up the good work, and someone please put the hypocrisy poem to music. An iTunes hit in the making I tell you, and maybe a battle cry for those who love a little sarcasm with their irony.

    Just Christa


Comments Are Always Welcome! You don't need to agree to have something great to say!

Please be respectful to yourself and to others. Offensive language, personal attacks and spam will be deleted.