Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dear Mormons: Count Me Out!

I'm a Mormon.
Views from the Diaspora on the LDS Ordain Women Movement 

On April 5, 2014, a group of brave, dedicated, faithful women, some of them personal friends, tried to attend a semi-annual conference that has traditionally had a large “No Girls Allowed” sign on its front door—and has no plans to change its exclusionary and hurtful practices any time soon. Of course, my friends were turned away. These women are part of the Ordain Women movement in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Today, the New York Times reported that Ordain Women founder and human rights attorney Kate Kelly had been summoned to a disciplinary hearing, where she may be excommunicated from the church she has fought so hard to change. Mormon Stories podcaster and gay rights advocate John Dehlin, a husband, father, and fifth-generation Latter-day Saint, was also summoned to a church disciplinary court in what Flunking Sainthood’s always insightful Jana Riess has predicted may signal the beginning of a new Mormon purge. 

I’m no longer a practicing member of the Church. But like many of my friends who have stopped attending Sunday meetings, I still consider myself culturally Mormon. When Facebook asks me for my religious views, the best thing I can say is, “It’s complicated.” So I’ve watched from the sidelines as my feminist friends who are still faithful Latter-day Saints agitate for change, cheering my girlfriends on, but believing that it’s not my fight. My suspicions, rooted in historical fact, are that no one ever got anywhere by walking up to the doors of the patriarchy, knocking politely, and asking to be let in.

I haven’t weighed in on Ordain Women until now because frankly, I felt like my voice didn’t count, that it wasn’t my fight. After all, I left on my own. I’m not like Kelly, who told Buzzfeed’s Laura Marostica “I never considered leaving the church. That was never on the table for me. I’m more of a person who’s like, ‘Well, I’m in an institution and I can see it needs to be improved. It needs to change; I don’t need to leave.’” Talk about the faith to move mountains!

In response to OW’s plans to attend the Priesthood Session in April, the church’s PR spokesperson Jessica Moody attempted to minimize and marginalize the efforts of my faithful friends: "Women in the church, by a very large majority, do not share your advocacy for priesthood ordination for women and consider that position to be extreme," she told Ordain Women, saying that 1,300 women who signed the OW petition were not significant in a worldwide church of 15 million members.

Well, if you’re going to count them, maybe it’s time to count me.

Because here’s the thing. When the Church says that it has 15,000,000 members, they are counting me, and lots of women like me. They’ve never formally kicked me out, at least not to my knowledge, though I’m WAY more apostate than Kate Kelley or John Dehlin. In fact, I’m so apostate that I actually went to the Dark Side, joining the Roman Catholic Church, which former Mormon General Authority called “the great and abominable church” in his first edition of Mormon Doctrine (a statement which, to be fair, was repudiated by other Mormon leaders).  Sorry, Mormons, but #OurPopeBeatsYourProphet.

Unlike many of my post-Mormon friends, I’ve never formally asked to leave. It wasn’t that big a deal to me. I still get monthly newsletters from my Relief Society visiting teachers and the occasional much appreciated plate of brownies or other home-made treat.

But if I count as a member, then I should count as a woman who left the church because I felt marginalized by policies that relegated me to the position of a second-class citizen. Motherhood does not equal priesthood, or even womanhood, for that matter. And nothing I know about Jesus leads me to believe that is God’s plan for me, or for any other woman I know.

Some of us who are still counted as members simply lacked the patience or just plain perseverance to continue to fight from within. So we drifted away, one by one, feeling, as I did, increasingly marginalized and irrelevant in a culture that emphasizes and celebrates two-parent, so-called traditional families as the pinnacle of righteous living (and hey, girls, as a carrot at the end of life’s stick, women can be “Heavenly Mothers” to millions of spirit children. No thanks—I didn’t like being pregnant in this life, so I’ll pass on that in the next one).

I can’t give you any hard and fast numbers. But everyone knows the Mormon Church is losing members fast, as both new converts and the long-time faithful grapple with cognitive dissonance, discovering less-sanitized views of their religion’s formerly white-washed (I chose that term deliberately) history.

After I expressed support for my OW friends on Facebook, one of my friends, a woman I deeply respect who is still an active member, messaged me to say that she just didn’t feel like she needed the Priesthood, since she always had access to its blessings. I remember feeling that exact same way when I was married. But after my divorce, I realized that in fact, I did not have access to those blessings in the same way married women did.  

Indeed, the issue of gender inequity affects both my former (cultural) faith and my new (spiritual) faith, as Chris Henrichsen noted in his article, “We Are Already Seeing an Exodus of the Faithful.” He quoted BYU Professor and Catholic Damon Linker’s oddly prescient observation: “in both Catholicism and Mormonism, there’s often nowhere else to go. It’s either love it or leave it.”

It seems a lot like the Pharisees’ approach to Jesus’s radical notion: “Love thy neighbor.” It's not “judge thy neighbor.” Not “expel thy neighbor.” But “Love thy neighbor.”

To John, Kate, and all my friends who are fighting for love within the religion they have chosen, I wish you every bit of luck on your spiritual quest. They would be silly and short-sighted to lose you. But to the people whose interpretation of love is to close doors and shut windows, to those “faithful” church members, I say #MormonsCountMeOut.


Patty O. said...

I totally agree with this! I too have left, for so many reasons, but chief among them is how I was treated as a woman. The final nail in the coffin, though, was seeing how my daughter was being treated and marginalized. I just couldn't do it anymore. And for this reason, I didn't feel like the OW movement was mine to fight, though I wholeheartedly support it. But you're right: they're counting me and my family when they calculate their membership numbers, so they should count us in the OW movement as well.

Nicole said...

Thank you for this. I have been feeling many of these things. I never resigned my membership because it just didn't matter to me, but I realized this week, it does matter. Not only is my name being counted as one of the status quo, but it also makes me complicit in the churches action. I left the church 15 years ago. I still think that because of my devout mormon upbringing I am culturally mormon...I even live in the heart of mormonism, but I am making it official. I can no longer be counted with this organization. Not only does it make me feel uneasy, there isn't room for me here. I have to admit, the liberation feels good. And to the women on the inside, my heart is with you.

Ashley Beal Photography said...

The thing is, if you have a testimony of Mormonism as Kate Kelly is claiming to have, then you understand who is at the head of the church. That would be Jesus Christ himself. Now you can say whatever you want about what YOU yourself believe but what these OW ladies are claiming is that they have this testimony, they support their church leaders, that they are strong women of faith. So how then, do you have this testimony and then presume to petition the church to change it's doctrine. Petition Christ himself. ????????? Seriously makes no sense at all. The is a worldy issue that has no place in Christ's church…women inequality, feminism, petitioning and demonstrations. Jesus Christ loves all equally, whether your male, female, a lawyer, a mother. So OW made a 'stand' or I guess you could say, made a 'show' or a 'mockery' and petitioned the prophets of the church (and by proxy, Christ himself) which was the first problem. Then when they got an answer, which was 'No, you may not receive the priesthood, men and women have different roles in the church.' They turned up their noses at that answer and continued to petition some more. That is the very definition of apostate. My question is, if you are unhappy in a church that you think oppresses you, why in heavens name are you apart of it? Grow a pair and go find happiness elsewhere. For the rest of us, 14 million (I'll give you 1 million non-mormon mormons such as yourself) mormons, we are happy and though we all have questions we turn to our savior for answers, not for the world.