Tag Archives: LDS

An Open Letter to the LDS Church on Breastfeeding

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This letter was written on behalf of an acquaintance who was facing challenges from church leadership to her decision breastfeed “in public” at church (meaning that she did not excuse herself to the Mother’s Room). I spoke at length with her about the situation before I wrote my letter. Out of respect for her request that this situation not become public, I have held this letter for many months. Now, I feel comfortable sharing it.

Given that today is the first day of World Breastfeeding Week and a breastfeeding in church situation just came up again, I feel like now is an especially appropriate time to share this.

While it is addressed to the members and leaders of my faith, the same principles apply to members and leaders of all religious congregations and to members and leaders of the community at large.

Our Little Miss is now 22 months old and still breastfeeding. I still nurse her in public if she needs to. My hope is to encourage people everywhere to support women who breastfeed so that they and their babies can have the benefits of  breastfeeding until the physiologically normal age of weaning.

Dear members and leaders of the church,

I am an LDS mother. I have a beautiful almost-5-month old girl. From long before she was born, my husband and I have been making decisions with her best interests at heart. We have had long, intense conversations about the choices we are making.

It is important to us to give Monkey everything she needs to grow up healthy and strong and smart, with a conversion to the gospel and reliance on Heavenly Father.

One of those keys for us is breastfeeding her.

My husband and I have had long conversations about breastfeeding “in public”, which means anywhere from an intimate dinner with friends to during a trip to the mall. Somewhere between these two is attending church.

After those conversations, we have decided that not only is it appropriate for me to breastfeed M in church – in the chapel, during Sunday School or Relief Society (or during Young Women’s if I got called to serve our young sisters) – it is valuable to more than just M and me.

When Little Miss was born, breastfeeding was not easy for me. Like many modern women, I had not been exposed to it the way my grandmothers were. I had to learn how and I nearly gave up. I wish I had known someone in my ward who could help as my family is all far away. I wish I had grown up more exposed to breastfeeding (and since I am the oldest of four and my mother breastfed all of us, I was exposed to it some and it was still not enough). I wish that it had not been so foreign to me.

Ultimately though, when I breastfeed Monkey in public, my goal is not to offend. It is not to make a statement. It is not to educate others. It is simply to feed or comfort my baby.

When I do not “excuse myself” to another room, I do it not to throw my beliefs in someone else’s face. I do not wish to make others uncomfortable. I simply want to be a part of whatever else is happening or be blessed through participation in church and still do what is best for my baby.

We live in a world that is increasingly sexualized and our exposure to human bodies increases while our comfort level with our own bodies decreases. This is especially new of women and new mothers.

Like me, few women instinctively know how to breastfeed and there are many, many barriers to doing it. Unfortunately, one of these for LDS women is a culture that discourages us from any sort of familiarity with our own bodies. In an effort to stay “morally pure” we are not given the skills we need to be good mothers. This is tragic.

It has long-reaching consequences for the young men in the church as well. They are taught (as girls are as well), that “sex is bad, until you get married”. At the same time, they see semi-nude images almost everywhere they go.

For many, the taboo nature of a woman’s body in the LDS faith coupled with the sexualization of her in modern culture leads our young men to be curious. Some of them turn to parents or church leaders for answers while others, sadly, turn to friends and peers and the internet. This natural curiosity leads some of them down dark paths of addiction to pornography that takes excruciating work to overcome.

When leaders of the church ask women to cover up while breastfeeding their babies at church (or worse, go to another room), they reinforce these world-created narratives of a woman’s body and add barriers to something that is already not easy. They create secrecy or shame where there is none and they alienate women who often need the church interaction the very most.

Church leaders and other members would do woman an incredible service to every member of the church if they actively supported breastfeeding moms who care for their children (sometimes despite personal discomfort or inconvenience and public, cultural and familial disapproval) in the way their children most need. Sometimes this means uncovered at an unclothed breast.

A woman’s body is sacred and should be honored and respected, especially when it is being used to do exactly what our Heavenly Father purposed it to do: provide bodies for His spirit children and nourish and rear them.

Thank you so much for your support of us as breastfeeding mothers.

Lacey

P.S. This little package – a nursing cover – was delivered to an acquaintance of mine this week. It came from the Young Women of her ward. I am beyond horrified that this lesson is being taught to the Young Women by their leaders. Breasts, like nearly every part of the body, have both a utilitarian and a sexual purpose. This attitude creates shame, fear and unfamiliarity with breastfeeding. It should never, ever happen. Let’s work together to normalize breastfeeding, end the modesty debate and support mothers and babies everywhere!

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Remembering the good people

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I’ve been pretty vocally critical recently about some of the negative things going on in the church. There’s a lot of pain and a lot of contention, a lot of questions and chaos and processing and trying to sort everything out.

As a lot of us have been sorting through everything that has happened in the last week, we are also trying to buoy each other up, to restore our faith in an organization we love.

Sometimes we get very focused on the problems and lose sight of all the truly good people within the church. Sometimes we need to be reminded of all the good around us. To that end, we have been sharing stories of good experiences with (male) priesthood leaders. Many of these stories are from people who are outside of doctrinal or cultural orthodoxy whose Priesthood leaders (mostly Bishops) addressed their unorthodoxy with love, kindness and respect. I share these stories with you with their permission.

From E.S.

I was [recently] pulled into the bishop’s office regarding comments I had posted [on Feminist Mormon Housewives] which someone had brought to him. We discussed and he said something along the lines of “What it seems to me that you are saying in all these comments is that you have a problem with hypocrisy, and that’s something I think we agree on. Carry on.”

From K.A.

When I was about 20, I realized I was losing my testimony — I was unhappy and uncomfortable at church, felt like I was lying about who I am because I WAS (I kept quiet and didn’t say much at church bc I didn’t want anyone to think I was Weird or Out There — which was a huge problem in my tiny home ward in a small town, so even in Seattle I was sure I’d be ostracized) — and I finally knuckled down and went to speak to the bishop. For a good fifteen minutes, I just expunged all of my negative feelings and fear of alienation/difference/etc. to him.

And my bishop was quiet through the entire mess, laughed quietly once I’d finished and said, “Well, that was a lot,” and then looked at me straight in the eye and asked me how I felt about it. I said I was confused, and hurt, and didn’t know if I belonged at church anymore, and he said, “How do you feel about what you’re doing specifically?”

I was taken aback. I was so used to having judgment passed down on me from authority figures. I had no idea how to respond to an authority figure in the church asking me to analyze my own behaviors and determine my own judgment for them. And that’s what he did. At no point in the conversation did he call me to repentance, or tell me any of what I did or thought was wrong or a sin. He simply asked me if I’d prayed about any of it (I had), and what answers I’d gotten. At no point did he tell me that I had to wait for my opinions to fall in line with Heavenly Father’s (as future bishops have done) — he asked me about the revelation I personally had received for myself, and then he told me he loved me and that he was there for me.

I’m still a member because of the unyielding Christlike love that bishop. I have an intensely strong testimony of the power of personal revelation, and he helped cement for me that my relationship with my Heavenly Father is personal and, though sometimes mediated through the church, that I am in control of my own sphere of personhood and spirituality. I love him.

From that moment on, I opened up. I taught an RS lesson about living with doubt — not overcoming it, as seems to be the only avenue given to us by talks, but actually identifying and acknowledging your doubt and being okay with its being there. I talked a lot more. I got friends. I found out that there were LOADS of other women in my ward who felt the same way I did about many things, but were equally afraid to open up about it for fear of being judged.

To this day, I’m grateful to my YSA bishop. He is such a good, good man.

From C.H.

My temple recommend interview was Sunday, and I’ve barely talked to our bishop before (I moved into the ward recently). In the “do you affiliate…” question I jokingly responded “Well, I am a Mormon feminist, but I don’t consider that to be contrary to the teachings of the Church as defined by that question; historically that question was designed for polygamists.” The Bishop smiled and said “discussion is healthy and your perspective is welcome.” He then pulled out a postcard of a patchwork quilt of the Temple (full version was hanging in his office) that the ward had made a couple of years ago to celebrate diversity. “My goal is to have a ward that celebrates our diversity” he said. “Everyone belongs in this quilt.”

From B.C.

My Bishop is not someone I knew very well before he got called to be Bishop (about 3 months ago) and I gave a talk 2 or 3 weeks ago in which I talked about my doubts. I didn’t talk in specifics, but I did say that finding out about the uglier, not known aspects of church history is what caused me to doubt. I went from idolizing Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (like many LDS people do) to really not liking them much at all and questioning whether they really were prophets. These doubts led me to understand the atonement of Christ a little bit more and to realize just how important it is… if Prophets of God make mistakes and need the atonement that everyone needs it. I have had people tell me before that I need to keep quiet about having doubts so I was very happy when my Bishop thanked me and said (with lots of sincerity in his eyes and voice) that he knew there were people who needed to hear what I shared. Since then I have ‘come out’ to my bishop as a Mormon feminist and he has been nothing but understanding and encouraging. My Bishop even emailed me to see if I was ok after the news broke yesterday about Kate Kelly’s “court of love.” I believe he is a good man who cares about me.

From E.M.

When I was 19, I felt strongly that I needed to get endowed, even though I had been a member for less than a year and there was no mission or marriage on the horizon. I went to talk to my bishop about it, and while he was not in favor of it at first, he felt an impression that he should let me. Then he went down to talk to the stake president, a man whom I’d never met. The stake president was staunchly against it until they knelt together to pray over the matter. When they finished praying, the stake president did a complete 180 and agreed to see me for a recommend interview. It was a strong witness to me about priesthood leaders receiving inspiration for those they preside over, and a wonderful example of righteous men who listened and prayed instead of just going with what they knew to be true.

From T.R.

When my brother came out, my mom … insisted he see the bishop. Thank goodness we had a very kind and gentle man for a bishop. He said ” I am just a regular guy, I have no training to help you with this, the church has some brochures I can give you, but they are inadequate for this. The church has no good help or counseling that I would recommend. I do know that God loves us and we don’t have all the answers.” He was very honest and he did not lecture or condemn. It was more honesty than a lot of gay members get. …This was one man who didn’t judge, and we are grateful for that.

From J.A.

On Sunday, I asked a member of the stake presidency how to deal with the treatment I get for being a home birth midwife, as most think it’s “weird”, when it is a calling that my husband gave me a blessing and set me apart for.
He said “sometimes we have to be Zion in Babylon”

From L.T.

Back when I first started homeschooling, I had two preschoolers, and one school-aged child. We were also building our home, and doing a lot of the work ourselves, so homeschooling was suffering. Very few people in the ward even knew we were homeschooling. And certainly not the bishopric. During this time, I was called to be the ward music chairman. When I got set apart, my sweet Bishop set me apart for my calling, and then proceeded to give me a blessing to ease my mind about teaching my children, and to give me strength as their mother. I still get a little teary thinking about it. I knew that he was listening to the Spirit as he gave me that blessing, and gave me the exact blessing I needed at that time.

From K.N.

Our bishopric [recently] facilitated a combined RS/PH discussion on same-sex attraction. It was an open, beautiful, and loving discussion. Their sincere desire to help both us and those around us feel loved was palpable. They emphasized giving and receiving Christlike love, and they practiced that love as they listened to our varied thoughts, painful experiences, and concerns without judgment. It was amazing. They helped us navigate a very difficult, sensitive subject with compassion, and proactively initiating the discussion took a lot of courage on their part.

From L.S.

I recently had a conversation with my Bishop regarding my thoughts about Ordain Women and the cultural attitudes in Mormonism. I was feeling very battered, frustrated and confused. My bishop really took the time to listen to me. He also encouraged me that when I heard others speak negatively about my sisters that I take courage and speak up, correcting them. He said that he would have a discussion with the ward council about addressing controversial issues withing the church and how important it is that we love each other. I walked out feeling more confident, more loved and safer than I had in a while. His care really helped rejuvenate my spirit.

From B.W.

Every year, our ward combines with a couple of other wards in the area and rents out the local water park for one night. Each year, starting when he was our bishop, our former bishop goes to the water park. He probably weighs about 400 pounds. With no shame, he puts on his swim suit and makes a big production of repeatedly going down the biggest water slide and spraying all of the kids who wait at the bottom. He creates a tidal wave! I served as a Relief Society president under this bishop, and he came to every correlation and welfare meeting with an agenda and a purpose. Once he had discussed what was on his agenda, he went around the room to each individual and asked if we had anything that we would like to discuss. I felt that he made special efforts in my case to make sure that he was getting the Relief Society point of view from me.

From R.D.

My bishop and I were discussing personal prayer. I told him that I included Heavenly Mother in my prayers. I told him I wasn’t leaving Heavenly Father out, just praying to both of them now. He was fine with that (but also asked me to be sure to only do so in private because the current direction for the whole church is to pray only to Heavenly Father). There’s so much light in my Bishop, it’s amazing. I feel safe with him.

 

— If this was helpful to you, and you would like to see it become a regular feature, let me know. I’d also love to receive more stories of wonderful church leaders. This has been one of my favorite projects. We definitely are navigating a difficult place in Mormonism right now, but it’s so important to remember all the wonderful leaders and good things about our church! —

 

A response to The Style of Being: Mormon Feminism and Being Snarky

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A couple of days ago, I shared a link on my Facebook page from Feminist Mormon Housewives on becoming heretics and the pain that comes from being outside the box of cultural Mormonism.

As part of the discussion that ensued, a link from The Style of Being was shared. I started to write a response and it turned out that I had a lot to say on the topic.

I am not a member of Ordain Women and I have not appreciated all of their actions. After much study and prayer, I do not know how I feel about women’s ordination. However, I do know that OW isn’t the bogey man that cultural Mormonism makes them out to be.

Here’s my response to Mormon Feminism and Being Snarky

Men and Women are NOT THE SAME…

This is true. But women and women are not the same. Neither are men and men.

If I look at each of my girlfriends, I see a few places where we overlap – we all love each other, for example – and many, many places where we differ. Some of us are driven, headstrong, stubborn and unforgiving of the things that stand in our way. Others are more inclined to “float” through life and are content with what life brings them. All of us have our soft spots and our hard spots. Not one of us is the same as another.

More than that, how are we defining things that are traditionally female? Compassion? Love? Gentility? Easy going? What would you call “female” attributes?

My husband and I often joke that I make a better man and he makes a better woman, based purely on stereotypical roles.

My husband is naturally more compassionate than I am when it comes to someone being injured. He gets a headache or damages his hand or something and I’m like “Well, take some Tylenol and get over it.” On the other hand, when I fell and hurt my wrist and scrapped up my leg, he took care of me for a couple of days before he started to be annoyed with me.

He tends to be more patient, easier going, more inclined to follow, softer than I am. Those are wonderful attributes and I strive to emulate them in many places.

With that kind of background, I have to wonder: how would you define “what makes [you] inherently female”?

Lastly, OW uses a grammatical imperative. That’s their goal. However, they are not telling anyone else what to think. They are telling members of their organization – people who are exercising their right to freedom of association – to gather around a common ideal. They are expressing their opinion that women’s ordination is the only way to fix the gender inequalities in the church. They also claim to be asking the questions: Can women be ordained? And why can’t women be ordained? We can disagree about methods, but it is your interpretation that they are telling women what to think, not necessarily reality.

Priesthood Responsibilities Are Designed to Grow Good Men

Absolutely we need man and woman together. We do complement each other. Of course women cannot do it all. I could never manage two jobs and a child without my husband there with me. We support each other. But what his role is and what my role is are defined by us in concert with God. Right now, my role is to be the primary breadwinner. I currently have more earning potential than he does and it’s helping keep us out of crippling debt. Meanwhile, he is the SAH parent. He’s actually pretty good at it too. And Monkey needs her dad. She needs her mom but she also needs her dad.

Also, while my husband stinks at housework (pretty sure Priesthood is not going to fix that) he is generally, as I stated above, the kinder, softer one and more inclined to follow instead of fight. Soooo… maybe I need the Priesthood responsibilities to teach me skills my husband is already good at.

And, really, I don’t understand how blessing and passing the sacrament or serving in leadership roles is “tailored to [the men’s] needs.” These are positions that are pretty generic across the church and many women could benefit from them as well as men.

Yes, western women do tend to do “everything”. Some of this is because when women work outside of the home, they still find or make time to keep the house and see their children (working moms do more housework and more childcare than their working fathers counterparts). This doesn’t mean that men are slacking or that they are being pushed out by women. Men and women just make different choices. Doing “everything” is a choice women make. Everyone should feel like they can choose how to spend their time. A strong man is not going to be pushed out by a woman. Our goal should be to have strong men to complement strong women, not weak women to pacify weak men. Limiting the priesthood to men only simply because we are afraid men “need” the priesthood to be spiritually equal to women undercuts men and unfairly punishes women.

The Priesthood is Not a Status Symbol, Yo

Yes, I know this. This statement is at best misinformed and faulty. Wanting the priesthood does not mean wanting some kind of status symbol. It means wanting the equal treatment that is incredibly difficult to achieve without ordination to priesthood office.

When Kate Kelly says that equality can be measured, she’s not talking about something theoretical. She’s talking about necessity of having men and women as part of the church.

If one Sunday, no men showed up for church, Sacrament meeting literally could not be held. If no women showed up, meetings could go on as scheduled (there might be some scrambling in the primary, but otherwise everything would function as normal).

Moreover, priesthood ordination does lead to more influence within the church. Factually, there are very few roles that allow women to influence the direction of the church. I’m not talking doctrine here; I’m talking culture and, especially, policy.

On the ward level, there’s an appearance of near equality. Wards have the Bishop and the RS President, the Sunday School President and the Primary President, the Young Men and Young Women Presidents. However, only the bishopric is allowed to actually extend callings, and a bishop can turn down a RSP’s request (and it is a request; she has no real authority to do anything but ask) for a certain teacher, counselor, etc. Additionally, you have the EQP, which is really more the RSP’s equivalent, and the HP Group Leader. Men outnumber women in leadership positions at the ward level almost two to one. Also, while the Primary President is traditionally filled by a woman, it does not have to be, while the Sunday School President is specifically a male-only position.

When you get to the stake level, that equality of administration lessens. There’s the Stake President and the Stake auxiliary presidencies. There is no Stake EQP and the HP President is the Stake President. However, there are 12 high counselors (which is a priesthood function). There are five men for every one woman in stake leadership (unless you are counting auxiliary counselors which evens the numbers to 2.5 men for every one woman; better but auxiliary counselors have significantly less authority than the high counselors and usually only the presidents are part of ward and stake counsels).

There are no female equivalents to Area Authority 70, General 70 or the Quorum of the 12. We do not even know who the women who serve on the auxiliary general boards are.

Even if we assume for a minute that this is how Jesus Christ wants His church to be run, we still need to address the more policy and cultural elements of Mormon inequality. How many women are involved in the curriculum writing committee (CWC)? I don’t know.

However, Chieko Okazaki did shed a little bit of light on this process:

I was the education counselor, so I worked with one of the men on the curriculum committee. We wanted to change the manual so that it brought up modern-day problems that women have to face and focus on how to implement some of the gospel doctrines and principles in dealing with the problem.

I had written a general outline, and the Relief Society presidency approved it. So I talked about it to a man on the Curriculum Committee. He went to his boss, and the boss said, “We don’t

need a new manual for the Relief Society.” “Why don’t we need a new manual?” “We already are writing a manual for them.”

So he came back and told me that a new manual was already being prepared. I asked what it was, and he said, “Well, it’s the manual on Harold B. Lee.” It was the first one in that series of teachings of the Church presidents. I asked, “Why are they writing a manual for us on Harold B. Lee?” He didn’t know.

I told the presidency, so we went and asked the Curriculum Committee, “What is this all about?” They said, “Well, we’re already almost finished with the first book.” We said, “You’re almost finished with the first book, and you didn’t tell us that you were doing this? Why is this is the first time we have heard about it? Chieko has been writing an outline in relation to what women need.” So I asked, “Who is writing this manual?” It turned out to be five men, and the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Society would have the same lessons.

I asked, “Why aren’t the women included in this?”

The RSP was significantly shut out of the process.

There is ONE book that is an official church publication addressing the heritage of the Relief Society. In the first three chapters, Women are mentioned or talked about 1.3 times as frequently as men, but men are quoted twice as often as women. In a book about the Relief Society. If you remove the scriptural references (quotes from the scriptures and scriptural references to women), the ratio of women to men references becomes about equal while the number of men to women quotes stays about the same.

This is not a doctrinal, but a cultural/policy issue which has many ways of being addressed, but ordaining women is certainly one of them. I don’t know that it’s the best solution, but it is probably the quickest.

Lastly, the idea that if women were ordained there would be no need for men in the church is completely ridiculous. Maybe men could spend more time with their families if their wives were administering in the church. We could have YW pass the sacrament as well (that may not be needed everywhere in the Mormon Bubble, but it absolutely has been an issue in some of the wards I’ve lived in). Some branches could become wards and some groups that cannot be branches due to lack of priesthood leadership due to a lack of active men could become branches.

Same Destination – Same Airline – Different Carry-on Luggage

Since we are supposed to become like our Godly parents, it would be really great if we actually knew anything about our Heavenly Mother. Or what “eternal gender roles” look like. Also, my husband can totally have little-m motherhood. He can be pregnant and carry a baby for 9-10 months. Let me tell you what, I am not a fan of pregnancy at all. Once “those little rugrats” are earthside, they need both mother AND father. Studies show that an absentee father is extremely detrimental to child development and healthy adulthood. Fatherhood deserves a lot more respect than we give it.

Priesthood has no other equivalent, as far as we know, and it is not a gender role.

Trust in the Lord with all Thine Heart

Well, yes, of course. I haven’t spoken to one member of OW who has not come to their opinion on female ordination other than through study and prayer. This is not often an easy decision to make. It marks you as an “unbeliever” in the eyes of many. However, many of these women, our sisters, are trusting God who is directing them to be part of this. “We” assume that because they are different, they are not following God. This is silly and judgmental and hurtful. The history of the church shows revelation often comes from the top down in response to a request from the bottom up.

You may not like how the questions are being asked. I agree that tone is important. It is unfortunate that much of the tone of this entire discussion has been set by people who have not taken time to study and pray about the issue (I am not referring to OW). Labeling someone an apostate for not asking a question the “right” way is asinine. It perpetuates a negative tone.

We don’t know why women are not ordained. Full Stop.

It is simply how the Lord put it, maybe period, maybe for now, but any other reason is not true. We have a responsibility to seek after truth. We have a responsibility to ask difficult questions. We have a responsibility to not get stuck in the Mormon Box, to study and pray about this and many other topics. We have a responsibility to not believe what the media says, what the church PR department says, or what OW says without knowing as much as we can about the entire situation, praying about it when we begin our study and then praying about it after our study and listening and following whatever the Holy Ghost tells us. THAT is trusting in the Lord. THAT is not relying on the arm of flesh.

The Restoration continues. We believe that God will yet reveal many great and important truths pertaining to the kingdom of God. We must ready ourselves to accept whatever that is. It may be ordaining women.

Feminism’s make over

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I was recently recommended to a facebook group for Feminist Mormon Housewives (fMh) by a friend of mine, following a number of posts about women and authority in the LDS church.

Some days I really appreciate the sisterhood of the fMh page and sometimes I wonder what I’m still doing there.

There are still many of the liberal leaning (or out-and-out political progressive), pro-choice, anti-gender role, angry, my-way-or-the-highway feminists in this world. There are many of them in Mormon Feminism. Many of the topics that come across the fMh feed are very liberal. It also can be very blunt, black-and-white and unforgiving. You think there’s an evil patriarchy or you’re not a feminist. You support a woman’s “right” to chose an abortion or you’re not a feminist. You don’t think Motherhood and Priesthood are equal and if you do you’re not a feminist.

It’s not always a very friendly place to be and sometimes I feel a little like I’m in the lion’s den. I regularly feel out of place, but that’s pretty par for the course everywhere I am (both online and in “real” life).

One of the things that comes up from time to time in our feministy conversations is about how we know people who are actually feminists but won’t claim the title. It frustrates many people while others have expressed a sort of “wink nod” superiority about knowing their friends are feminists even when their friends won’t admit it.

The truth is that even when you (collective) get beyond the stereotype of what a feminist is, there are still legitimate reasons people reject feminism. Instead of describing what these reasons are, some of which can be overcome by feminists and some of which we have no control over, I’m going to provide a few suggestions on how Mormon feminism (and strictly Mormon feminism, although some suggestions do apply across the board) could provide a more inclusive environment for those who are seeking to understand women’s issues in the church today.

 

1. Drop the phrase “The Patriarchy”

This is a term used differently by Mormons and the rest of the (feminist) world. In Mormonism, there is talk about the Patriarchal Order, about the great patriarchs, about Patriarchal Blessings and all of these things are good things. Patriarchy in the world, however, is a mancentric environment that shows a preference to men while subtly (and not so subtly) oppressing women. It’s a really hard juxtaposition for people to reconcile.

In general, I actually hate the phrase “the patriarchy” anyway because I don’t think the system in place actually benefits men. It just harms everyone. It’s not “patriarchy” when we assume that all men are rapists and pedophiles. It’s not patriarchy when we assume that young women need to dress modestly so that young men can control their thoughts. It’s not patriarchy when we assume a man and a woman can’t serve in a presidency together (with at least one or two other people) because they might develop feelings for each other. None of those are patriarchy, but they are the system the world calls patriarchy. These attitudes aren’t real patriarchy but they are really harmful.

By abandoning the word patriarchy as the descriptor of our concerns about the church, we can remove a significant barrier to recognizing there are concerns we would like addressed in the church.

2. Quit diminishing motherhood.

I’m sure this will ruffle some feathers. However, I see this phrase a lot in feminist discussions: “Mother does not equal Priesthood. Motherhood equals fatherhood. Priesthood equals priesthood.” Although I am certain it is not the intention, this statement’s de facto result is not lifting up fatherhood. It’s lessening motherhood. In a church that claims to put motherhood right at the top of all callings and responsibilities possible, it’s hard for mainstream Mormons to understand that you might want “more” because wanting more makes motherhood less.

Further, Mormon feminists often make statements that come across as critical of not only the motherhood/priesthood comparison but also of the motherhood as a calling attitude that many women in the church hold.

Instead, Mormon feminists should embrace motherhood as the pinnacle of Earthly and eternal callings. We should also lift up fatherhood, explain how difficult it can be on families and on motherhood when fathers spend excessive time outside the home fulfilling Priesthood callings, and address training and policy concerns in the church before seeking for Priesthood ordination as the missing link to equality. Feminists should realize we don’t know everything about Big-M Motherhood. We must know the doctrine on motherhood and understand why leaders hold it up as equal to Priesthood. We should understand that when the church leadership talks about Motherhood they are perhaps talking about something different than childbearing. We should strive to know as much as we possibly can about Heavenly Mother.

When we have done all that and can articulate it, we should be able to tell others that we love and appreciate their calling to bring spirits into the world and that we feel as though there are other things the Lord would like us to take on. Not more, but other. We should point out that there are times and seasons for certain things and that a woman’s childbearing little-m motherhood years will be comparatively short. We should point out that historically women in the church ran their own businesses, studied as midwives and doctors, served in political office, gave blessings by laying on of hands, managed the Relief Society as an independent and full organization (which included hospitals, it’s own budget and magazine) and fulfilled church callings all while still being good and faithful mothers to their children and wives to their husbands.

If Mormon feminists can help others understand that what we want is what our foremothers had and that none of that demeans motherhood or contributes to the worldly attack on women, we have a greater chance of coming to the table with soft and open hearts.

3. Separate feminism from liberalism

This is incredibly hard. Many feminists, even Mormon ones, are very politically liberal (progressive even). Feminism naturally has a soft spot for issues like gay marriage as both women and homosexuals have traditionally experienced inequality and oppression. However, by hitching the feminist wagon to politically progressive issues, feminists effectively exclude anyone who does not agree politically. If, instead, feminism can “stay on track” and address the social and legal reasons for inequality, we can address real issues instead of getting sidelined by other things that divide us.

3.1. Abandon abortion as a feminist issue

Ok, this one might be a dream. Abortion and reproductive rights are almost a holy grail of feminism. It’s also possibly the single most divisive issue in all of the modern sociopolitical sphere. I think most Mormon feminists – and many feminists outside of Mormonism – will say at the very least that abortion is not ideal. Abortion is especially offensive in Catholic and Mormon spheres where life begins at or before conception respectively and being born is incredibly important.

If Mormon feminism could completely abandon abortion as an acceptable solution to an unwanted pregnancy, and to do so vocally, it would make feminism much more palatable for those taking tentative first steps towards feminism. Moreover, Mormon feminists could lead out by focusing on alternatives (all of them) and by focusing on making men equally responsible for the unborn (and then for the birthed) baby, creating potentially legitimate non-abortion solutions for women outside of both Mormonism and feminism.

4. Focus on the (small) stuff we want

A lot of times feminism is seen as a negative, angry movement. Sure, there are things that we get angry over. That’s human nature. However, sometimes I think Mormon feminists come across as complainers. Instead, we should focus on what positive things we would like to see. I would love to see one lesson a month from the manual Daughters In My Kingdom. I would love lessons that focus on Heavenly Mother, Eve and Mary. It would be amazing to have a Teachings of Emma Smith manual or from Eliza R. Snow or from other LDS women leaders. I would love to have a Relief Society magazine or a whole section in the Ensign just for women (more than the page for the Visiting Teaching message). I’d love to have the RS General Board speak in General Conference or at least know who they are and occasionally hear from them in firesides or the Ensign. These are small to moderate changes but they would make a huge difference for many women.

4.1. Celebrate the small victories

Sort of a subpoint to the previous one, there was a lot of skepticism and actual hurt feelings on fMh when the portraits of the women presidencies were put up in the Conference Center. Small victories are often met with scoffing and even offense. I get it. It also seems like adding insult to injury. However, instead of rejecting them, we should celebrate the little step forward. Change is hard but one small change opens the door for another which opens the door for several more. Many small changes make larger changes possible. It takes time but we should celebrate them instead of feel insulted that they are so small and slow coming.

5. Be educators not just agitators

In the context of this post, agitating means primarily public advocacy in a blunt, straight forward or forceful way, especially an attempt as a group to get a question or issue addressed in the public domain. Of course there is a time when agitating for something is absolutely the right course of action. I won’t fault anyone who, after careful study, meditation and prayer, decides that our Heavenly Parents want them to agitate for an issue. I, personally, am no stranger to agitation on many topics.

However, whenever a person or group agitates they also educate. If the agitation-based education creates a negative perception of a group or individual, that group has actually worked against themselves.

Sometimes, we need to take a step back from our agitating and take control of educating. There is SO MUCH about women in the LDS church that we as a church don’t know (thanks, correlation). Daughters In My Kingdom addresses some of that ignorance and there are amazing things taught in the Relief Society Minutes available from the Joseph Smith Papers project. However, if we’ve preconditioned our brothers and sisters in the church that we will “accept nothing less” than what we are agitating for, we have already alienated them from any future conversations. Getting some of what we want is going to take quiet, assured, well-studied education and we have to lay the education foundation before it will even be possible to get some of the big things we want.

There’s something to Proverbs 15:1 when it says “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grevious words stir up anger.” Sometimes, we need to step back from fighting and speak softly. There are times for both agitation and education, but we cannot forget that education is how you win hearts and minds. Agitation is a secondary, but less effective, tool. Sometimes because it feels more productive, we choose agitation first. Education is always more effective.

6. Never, ever demean or diminish someone else’s experience.

Every one of us is going to have a different experience. Some women really do feel completely comfortable with their position in the church. They do not see themselves and unequal. We have to respect that. Some women have a point or two that frustrates them but are generally content with the structure and hierarchy in the church. We have to respect that too. Just as we hope that no one will diminish our experience, we must never use phrases like “gilded cages” or “flaxen chains” when it comes to our sister’s experiences in the church.

Instead, we should completely own our own experiences. We must not ask that our sisters and brothers accept our world views, only our experiences as real and valid.

 

I am not a typical Mormon feminist. I’m sure there are some who will take issue with my suggestions. I also know that some both within and outside feminist circles I may be criticized for claiming the term feminist at all. However, I am neither ashamed to be a feminist nor to be one who doesn’t fit in the feminist box. My perspective can help bridge the gap between those who struggle with women’s roles in the LDS church and those who are completely comfortable in them. We can’t reach everyone, but we can alienate everyone that doesn’t fit in the box. By considering our approach, ridding our language of buzz words and non essential ideologies that create barriers and sharing our stories and our history, we will create a more inclusive environment that will help us achieve greater equality and unity in the LDS church.

Heavenly Mother, Where Are You?

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I thought I would be sharing a different post today. In fact, I have two other posts partially drafted that I thought I would be sharing shortly.

However, I have something that really struck me this morning that I feel like I wanted to share. LDS General Conference is coming up in just a few short days (April 5 and 6 and you can watch it live online). Mack and I have tickets to the Saturday Morning session, something I’m very excited about. We’ve lived in Utah for four and a half years and have not yet made it to a conference session in person (First World Utah Mormon Problem, I know).

As we approach General Conference, it is tradition for members of the church to pray for guidance and direction on things that they are facing and to watch the Conference sessions in a spirit of receiving answers. I also try to do this and have had really enriching experiences as I’ve seen Conference answer questions for me and for others. Sometimes these talks were almost as if they were written specifically for me or for someone close to me.

This spring, I am hoping and praying for something I hadn’t even considered six months ago. It is surprising and humbling to me to see the way that my mind and my heart have changed over the last six months as I have prayed and studied and prayed and listened to the promptings of the Spirit.

I join with women throughout the world, but especially here in America, in my longing to hear and know more about my Heavenly Mother.

The LDS doctrine of God teaches us that we have a Heavenly Father who is literally, biologically our Father. He is the Father of our Spirits, which make up half our Soul, and the Father of Adam and Eve’s Physical Bodies, the other half of our Souls. We are also taught, though with much less regularity or depth, that we have a Heavenly Mother who is the Mother of our Spirits and Bodies.

I believe that when we speak of “God” we are talking about Heavenly Father AND Heavenly Mother just as much as we are speaking about Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost when we reference God. When we talk about Heavenly Father we often do so without understanding that Heavenly Mother’s hand is in the blessings we receive and Her ears hear the prayers we pray.

In fact, in the April 1978 General Conference, Elder Neal A. Maxwell (then a member of the presidency of the 70 and later called the the Quorum of the 12) taught that:

“Finally, remember: When we return to our real home, it will be with the “mutual approbation” of those who reign in the “royal courts on high.” There we will find beauty such as mortal “eye hath not seen”; we will hear sounds of surpassing music which mortal “ear hath not heard.” Could such a regal homecoming be possible without the anticipatory arrangements of a Heavenly Mother?”

There are other references to Heavenly Mother throughout LDS Church teachings, but as Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley taught in October 1991 (when he was a member of the church presidency but not yet president of the church):

“Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. That doctrine rests well with me….[However]…we have no revealed knowledge [of her].”

My heart aches at that statement.

The LDS church is founded on the believe and claim that continuing revelation did not end with the Bible and that truth continues, even to this day, to be restored to the Earth. We believe that “[God] will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” Surely the doctrines surrounding Heavenly Mother are one of those things.

As a Mormon woman seeking for truth and desiring to know more about who I am, what my role is in both mortality and Eternity and especially as I learn Salvation, I want to know more about my Mother. I want to know who She is. I want to see Her hand in my life. I want to know the ways She is preparing me for my return and how she is preparing the heavens on my behalf. I know she is.

So as I approach General Conference I am praying for even just a glimpse of my Heavenly Mother. I know She is real and I am certain Her presence will be at General Conference just as I believe my Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ will be. I am praying that the speakers words will reflect that. I know that I’m not alone in this.

As women of God throughout the world, we really should want to know both our Heavenly Parents. Mormonism is a religion of Revelation. I’m praying that we receive more this weekend.

On Modesty, Chastity and Responsibility

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Oh boy… This is a huge and potentially very controversial topic. It’s also one that’s getting a lot of buzz in the last week or so in my online community (mostly among Salt Lake Mormons).

For reference, you should start with reading Elder Tad Callister’s article in the March 2014 Ensign.

Before we go any further, I want to emphasize that disagreement with the end result of a message does not mean I do not sustain the brethren, that I don’t believe in continuing revelation/inspiration or that I reject the basic teachings of chastity, morality and modesty. My mom always says that “Good information leads to good inspiration” and so it’s important to communicate with our church leaders if there’s a problem. I believe that the best way for us to understand if our teaching method is useful is by openly discussing the content and end result of those teachings and analyzing their effects and value.

I have previously written a little bit on modesty mostly in relation to breastfeeding (see The Modesty Question, Why The Mothers Room Makes Me Sad, and A Few Points of Clarification). In fact, most of my evolving thoughts on modesty in my LDS faith has come as I’ve become immersed in my mothercare education (pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, breastfeeding, etc).

I have become increasingly unsettled with the messages we are sending our young men and women and young single adults in the LDS church in regards to modesty, chastity and responsibility. This concern has caused me to really critically study the materials put out by the church on modesty and chastity, particularly that which is directed towards the teenagers in the church. The more I read the less appropriate I think the direction we have taken is.

There is an inconsistency in how we teach modesty and morality to our young men and young women. Take this statement by Elder Callister:

Immodest Dress
Our dress affects not only our thoughts and actions but also the thoughts and actions of others. Accordingly, Paul the Apostle counseled “women [to] adorn themselves in modest apparel” (1 Timothy 2:9).
The dress of a woman has a powerful impact upon the minds and passions of men. If it is too low or too high or too tight, it may prompt improper thoughts, even in the mind of a young man who is striving to be pure.
Men and women can look sharp and be fashionable, yet they can also be modest. Women particularly can dress modestly and in the process contribute to their own self-respect and to the moral purity of men. In the end, most women get the type of man they dress for.

Unfortunately, there is no mention here about the impact of how a man dresses on a woman. There’s no mention of how a man’s behavior towards a woman might influence her dress. There’s no discussion at this point on how important it is to control one’s behavior – not merely thoughts – even in the presence of an improperly dressed woman.

If women can “prompt” the thoughts and actions of men into impure paths, surely men can do the same for the women in their lives. Yet Elder Callister neglects to mention that men might also have a responsibility to help women live modestly (and not just because it helps the men keep control of their thoughts).

In fact, while preparing this post I spoke to a number of now adult men (primarily my peers) about what they were taught growing up about their responsibility towards young women. In almost every case the only answer was “to encourage them to dress modestly”. Most could not tell me what that meant or why they were counseled to do so.

Elder Callister does emphasize in following paragraphs that we (general) must control our thoughts but there is never any reciprocal direction that men influence women.

There is, however, the potentially ominous statement (taken in whole) that “…most women get the type of man they dress for.” Without flying off the handle, is it possible that the adversary might use that statement to attack a young woman who has been raped or abused to justify a young man’s immoral or abusive behavior? This gets uncomfortably close to victim blaming to me.

And again, do men also get the type of woman they dress for?

Take also the entry on modesty from the For The Strength of Youth pamphlet. Young women are counseled thus:

Young women should avoid short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back.

Meanwhile, the church’s direction to young men is non-specific:

Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance.

I am left to wonder a little if there was nothing else to say to the boys? Should they not be counseled that tank tops are immodest? What about pants that are so baggy as to show their underwear? Jewelry that is over the top? What about going shirtless while they play basketball or work in the yard? Could no specific direction be given to the young men? Or do young men not need the direction because modesty is only an issue that young women need details spelled out on.

In actuality, I somewhat like the guidance to Young Men. Direct but without being so specific as to micromanage or leave room for the “but the pamphlet doesn’t say this…” type rationalizations. In fact, why couldn’t the guidance simply be:

Young men and young women should maintain modesty in their appearance. As you strive to dress modestly, allow the Spirit to guide you and talk to parents and church leaders if you have questions.

We see this same sort of language in other parts of the FTSOY pamphlet and elsewhere in church teachings to youth. It is not unreasonable to think it could extend to modesty.

If this message seems to simply be because of the difference between men and women, you should compare also the upcoming August 2014 curriculum for youth on Eternal Marriage. Under the sub topic What Are The Lord’s Standards for Dating?, there are three talks from past conferences, one for young men and two for young women. The article for young men focuses on being prepared for marriage in a well-rounded way: financially, emotionally and spiritually. The two articles for young women – one from the priesthood sesson of conference – focus heavily on being sexually pure, almost to the exclusion of everything else.

Over and over I’m afraid the message we are sending is one that objectifies and continues to sexualize young women instead of rejecting the world’s message that women’s bodies are primarily sexual.

There is no doubt that this world is increasingly oversexualized. I am so thankful for a church that is holding a line, even though it is not popular or easy, in an attempt to stem the tidal wave of immorality in the world around us.

There is also no doubt that men and women are different and from time to time need different lessons. However, we do a major disservice in our lopsided teaching of responsibility to each other and to self when it comes to modesty. Our young women deserve more and our young men are capable of far more than “we” give them credit for.

It’s time to teach modesty in an unsexualized way, one that recognizes that culture plays a huge factor in how we view how men are “wired” and what the purpose of a woman’s body is.

Lacey and Mack-Professional Pics 192

(I’ve been asked to add a photo. On my wedding day, not only was my dress modesty in the traditional sense, but also modest in the sense that it was affordable and simple and it fit me well. It made me feel good about myself. It was not however, warm and most of my temple pictures are of me bundled up. I suppose my point is that “modest” doesn’t guarantee something is appropriate under every circumstance. It’s important that when we’re talking about modesty we’re not just talking about a list of rules for young women to follow to keep young men out of trouble.)