Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Mormon Feminist of a Different Stripe Against Priesthood Protests

Yes, for the first time in public, I have claimed the title of feminist.  A Mormon feminist.

In Mormonism, feminism is an "f-word".  And I twisted and spun and bent myself in an attempt to not label myself as such.  I've called myself a feminist-ally or -empathizer.  Most recently I've come to most closely define myself as 'one who advocates for change and improvement of gender inequalities within my Mormon culture and Church - WITHOUT changing the principles and doctrines of the gospel'.

I looked myself in the mirror and said, "Self, sounds pretty much like the definition of feminist to me."  And so I am.  To think that all feminists are the same is rather simplistic.  Like calling all fish only "fish" whether it be salmon, trout, angelfish, cod, sturgeon, goldfish, or shark.  We have liberal, social, radical, militant (the feminazis), marxist/socialist, cultural, eco, and a peculiar mormon type of feminism.  And amongst mormon feminists there are a thousand different types of us, too - just like there are marble, cut throat, rainbow, brook, and bull types of trout!

Because of this over-generalizing and stereotyping of the word and all it's negative connotations: It's terrifying to claim Mormon feminism.  I grew up hearing about the 'evils of feminism' and the destruction it reigns on the family.  I saw women excommunicated for feminism.  Mormon feminism is a dangerous place to be - we open ourselves for judgment and ridicule, as evidenced by a recent Sabbath lesson I ended up walking out of when the teacher claimed, 'those who wear pants to church don't understand the Plan of Salvation'.  I mean, really, just because my friends wore pants means they don't believe in this?


When I was present at April General Conference to see a woman pray there for the very first time...tears of happiness were wept that there is one less thing that my daughter will NEVER see she can't do, by the mere fact of her being a female.  I was enveloped by a sweet feeling of love from my Father in Heaven.  And as I left that historic meeting I had a conversation with a friendly elderly usher who made sure to share his opinion that anyone who was happy to see a woman pray is a step away from apostasy.  {sigh}

But I know God lives and loves me.  I know Jesus Christ is the son of Heavenly Father and Mother and that He is my Savior.  I know my Savior walked the earth.  He established his church here with apostles and bishops.  He did not come to minister to the well but to the sick and lowly and in need.  In His actions and teachings I see quite possibly the Gospel's first feminist, as I can only imagine his actions regarding females (including the adulteress) were groundbreaking in his cultural and historical context.  I believe the priesthood authority was lost and the earth was in apostasy after the apostles' deaths.  I know God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to a young boy in 1820 to restore His Church to the earth.  He restored the priesthood authority that was lost and organized a new dispensation of the Gospel with prophets and apostles, evangelists and bishops, priests and deacons.  I honor the office of High Priest that my husband holds.  I know Thomas S. Monson is God's prophet on the earth today.  I know we have continued modern revelation.  And I know it's through my Savior's grace that I am saved, after all that I can do.  I know God has provided Plan of Salvation that allows me to return to live with him again and an opportunity for families to be Together Forever.  I mean, does it sound like I'm close to apostasy?  (I know my parents think so :-)

So what happened in my life to turn me to Mormon Feminism?  Well, God did.  I'm serious.  Fifteen years ago I was about as culturally and religiously conservative as can be - the only hope in my life growing up was to be a Mother in Zion: barefoot and pregnant.  I was taught this was my role, Heavenly Father's plan for me.  This was God's plan for all women.  As I chased this elusive dream, I faced years of God's plan of infertility for me instead, and I came to a realization: my identity and worth and role in this life wasn't limited by my ability to bear children, by my femaleness.  God sent me here for MORE.  I wasn't sent here to endure to the end of this trial so I could be granted motherhood in the eternities.  I was sent (as we all are) as a Child of God with a unique spirit full of strengths and talents that God wanted me to use to build the Kingdom of God.  Sometimes that includes being a mother and sometimes it does not.  Heavenly Father gives us all personal revelation to help guide our path back to him. 

Because I couldn't have children, I have earned a bachelor's degree in accounting; have had the opportunity to work full-time for an apostle, celebrity, and community housing agency; and have been exposed to so many types of people, ideas, and value systems to make my head spin.  Heavenly Father's plan for my life has led me to have been close friends with millionaires, democrats, homosexuals, alcoholics, and tree-huggers.  His plan has included 4 time zones, IVF, foster care, and acceptance of mother of a only child.  Meanwhile I have served as Relief Society President, Primary President, Gospel Doctrine teacher, and a variety of other teaching and leadership positions.  I've worked amongst the priesthood leaders and administration of the Church.  I've witnessed miracles happen and prayers answered - and I've been the recipient of gender discrimination several times.  All of these life experiences have changed who I am, how I think, and what is important to me.  It has changed the filter with which I view the world and eternities.  I have told Darik, "It's not my fault I'm a different girl than you married.  Blame Heavenly Father, he did this to me and made me who I am today!"

 So I'm different.  And this different brain with different life experiences has led me to study prophets' words and church history that has given me different answers than what I learned growing up.  The organization of the Church taught me a lot of things over my whole life.  Most things were accurate and doctrine, and some things were opinion, cultural traditions, and good intentions gone horribly awry.  Through my study my faith has been strengthened.  I've learned that faith must be about the content of divine revelation, not the means or humans by which it is revealed.  I do not believe in prophetic infallibility, that prophets can't make mistakes.  We are taught prophets will never lead the church astray from salvation (has never happened yet) - and that's quite different than never making a mistake or mixing up their own opinions in teachings sometimes.  Joseph Smith himself insisted he was subject to human error and should not be held to a higher standard than he holds himself.  There are a lot of questionable things in our Church history, unexplained things.  Because my testimony is rooted in the content of divine revelation, and not it's method it doesn't matter even if some of them are true!

 Do I believe Joseph Smith had a vision for the women's Relief Society that has become unrealized?   Most likely..  Do I believe the prophets and apostles have taught that God the Father has an equal in God the Mother who is His co-creator?  Yes!  ("A Mother There": A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven; David L. Paulsen & Martin Pulido. BYU Studies Journal 50:1)

Do I believe there are changes that can and should be made in our church's programs to equalize the funding and structure of programs between males and females?  Yes!  As Primary President I realized over $100 in ward budget was spent per cub scout per year (registration during rechartering for boys and leaders, badges and awards, fees for boys and leaders, and supplies for activities [which is meager compared to the $$ flowing straight to BSA]) while my ward budgeted less than $5 per girl of the same age per year.  If I wanted to have Ellie have a similarly enriching experience as the boys through Girl Scouts, it would cost $300+ in registration and fees and countless hours of volunteer parental service, (which is provided by our church structure for the boys).

Do I believe we need to change the conversation of shame and fear that surrounds our teaching of modesty and sexuality and causes more problems than it solves?  Yes!

Do I believe there are some positions in the church that don't require the priesthood that can be done by women and have been done by women in the past (Sunday School Presidency, anyone?)?  Yes!

Do I believe there should be more female representation in decision making boards and councils of the Church that are over mixed-gender organizations (Welfare, Church Board of Education, etc.)?  Yes!  The Church has already started making this change with the new organization of "Mission Leadership Councils" that have sisters equally represented.

Do I believe women should be ordained to the priesthood?  Eh....  Now?  No.  In the future?  Perhaps.  After studying all the divine powers Heavenly Mother has and uses, all the words I hear in the temple and women I see administer, I believe it's a possibility that women are ordained and use the priesthood in the hereafter.  Knowing what I know of my fellow saints and Church leaders - if this is to be a change of new revelation (Article of Faith 9, "we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.") do I believe that now is when it will happen?  No.

Do I believe women who advocate for the priesthood now should be protesting and trying to gain admittance to Priesthood General Meeting?  No.  Why?  One word:  Contention.  It produces a spirit of contention that I have seen generate death threats and scorn and everything that is opposite of love.  IF this change is to happen - I personally believe it will not happen now.

Dear fellow Mormon Feminists,

I believe your protest hurts my chances of advocating and realizing change in all my other areas I'm concerned about.  It pains me when I feel your actions hurt what should be the goals of us all.  Don't things come line upon line and precept upon precept?  If the answer to women's ordination is no (for now or even in the future), can we all just take a step back?  Can we work on an outpouring of love for each other that breaks down barriers instead of builds them up?  That makes the Body of Christ one? 

Has God revealed everything there is to be revealed?  About the Kingdom of God?  About the Plan of Salvation?  As I spend some time over at the Mormons and Gays website I get the feeling that, no, there is so much to this life that is a mystery.  Even in the Plan of Salvation.  And come October 5 I'll kiss my husband on the cheek, send him to Priesthood meeting with a heart full of love, and snuggle down for a girl's night.  Not because I don't believe in your cause (it's a possibility), but because I don't believe in your timing.

Love,

A Mormon Feminist of a Different Stripe

8 comments:

  1. I really, really wish we could get together for a girls night while Darik is at the Priesthood meeting. This post is fabulous! You are fabulous!

    Yes! YES! YESSSS!

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  2. I love this. You've articulated so much that I've wanted to say. Thank you!

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  3. Love your testimony, Kristine. I am not a feminist; I feel good and content with where things are, but I appreciate what you shared and the way you shared it! You are a good and strong woman.... a beautiful product of your life's experiences. Enjoyed reading this. Miss you and your great family. -Summer

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  4. I appreciate a lot of what you say in this blog post. The things that you mention that need changing? All of them are really important to get closer to what God means this church to be. Moreover, I get why you're feeling the way you are about the peaceful action regarding Priesthood session and the Ordain Women organization.
    However, I'd like to offer an alternative viewpoint towards what's currently happening in Mormon Feminism. I firmly believe (and history has taught us) that a successful social campaign needs both its radicals and its moderates. Look at the Civil Rights movement (whose work is far from over) - the two big leaders have been Martin Luther King Jr., the moderate, and Malcom X, the radical. I firmly believe that MLK's success was largely due to Malcom X's presence - when the only people agitating foe social change are moderates, then everybody finds the movement radical. However, a true radical makes the moderate viewpoint reasonable, acceptable, and easier for the cult rally conservative to swallow.
    Every movement needs its Malcom Xs and its MLKs. So thanks for being a MLK; let's appreciate the risk that the Malcom Xs are taking that makes your ideas that much more likely to happen.

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    1. Braeden, thanks for your comment. I agree that social change is brought about by all people on the spectrum of advocacy.

      But there are a few things at play that make advocating for social change withing Mormonism different. The most telling is 3 Nephi 11:29. The spirit of contention is not of God and leads men to anger and to contend one with each other. Peacefully walking to the conference center or around it is fine. But creating conflict and contention is not the Lord's way. And when security is going to have to be called to remove women from the doors attempting to enter - yeah, that's a spirit of conflict and contention.

      My other argument is that social change happens when moderates are the face of the movement and the radicals are on the fringe. If Malcolm X had pushed too hard too far and co-opted and became the face of the movement; MLK Jr would have never been able to accomplish what he did. Malcolm X got attention and opened some minds, but was not the cause of change.

      That is not the case with the Mormon feminist movement. The most extreme are the face of the movement and by mere self-identification others marginalize and dismiss everything I saw because I'm somewhat associated. The visceral reaction that most Mormons have to the label feminist is a barrier, and the 'Malcolm Xs' of our movement are building that barrier higher.

      We'll have to agree to disagree on this point. I see why you believe it, in theory it makes sense. But on the ground I think the context is different and in reality my experience has been the opposite.

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  5. LeeAnn Reeder10:21 AM

    Kristine, I guess I too am a Mormon feminist of your stripe. I do see inequalities in some policies of the church and in the activity portion of the spectrum. I have never been the recipient of LDS gender discrimination, or if I have I did not notice it. I believe the we, as women, have a very special role to play in all of Heavenly Father's Plan and that includes using the power of God (the priesthood) to administer to His children and build the Kingdom of God here on earth and to ready it for His Coming.
    I do not wish to be ordained to the priesthood at this time, because I have access to every revelation and saving ordinance that any Elder or High Priest does. I do agree with you that we do not know what it truly means to be a High Priest and Priestess unto the Most High God and I am excited to find out what it is that Heavenly Mother does. I am sure that She will be very pleased with you and your testimony and dedication to the Kingdom of God and that you will be enveloped in both Father and Mother's arms when you report home. Love to you always, Aunt LeeAnn

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    1. Love you SO SO much! Thanks for your comment :-)

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  6. Rozan9:50 AM

    Ditto LeeAnn. From Mom

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