Occasionally, I wake up in the middle of the night with something in my head that my brain starts blogging about. After I mental draft for 30 minutes or so, I give in, get up, and get on the computer. So, it’s 4:18 a.m., and you’ve been warned.
Facts: I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church has been spotlighted quite a bit in the media lately. Such attention leads to a lot of online “chatter,” including long comment threads on national media sites. Even though my better judgment tells me not to read those threads because they are crawling with trolls, I sometimes do, and good grief, people are ignorant.
Anyway, people sometimes use these forums to voice their concerns about “Mormons” and what they believe. An informal calculation in my head tells me that about 75% of these critics are just dead wrong, and about 25% almost have it right, but they’ve severely misunderstood some point of our doctrine. Simply stated, they are simultaneously misinformed and sure they’re not. It’s frustrating.
One of the common threads I’ve seen running through these “discussions” is that Mormons are oppressive to certain populations (women, blacks, homosexuals, etc…). All of these claims make my brain rattle and I want to yell at the universe, “Come on! Have you ever met a Mormon? Have you been to a worship service? Or watched a faithful Mormon family in action? Or read our scriptures (including the Bible)? It would not take long at all to figure out that those claims are preposterous!!!” But, you know how the universe ignores all that fist shaking and pointless yelling, so here I am venting on my blog. I could not even pretend to tackle all those “issues,” but I’ve just got to address the women one. I probably won’t do it justice (and frankly, internet trolls scare me to death), but it is with a small dose of trepidation and a large dose of fire in my bones that I must express what womanhood means to me, and what I believe it means to my church, and in short: to God.
Let’s start with an anecdote, shall we? Approximately one hour ago, my daughter woke me up to tell me she peed in her bed. Her sheets were wet, her clothes were wet, and she was cold. I helped her change out of her clothes, washed her body with a warm washcloth, stripped the sheets, started the laundry, and tucked her into a new bed. She asked me to wrap her in the blankets “like a burrito,” and I did. I kissed her on the head, she snuggled down into the mattress, smiled, and said “good night.” As I walked out of the room, I turned off all the lights, and in the dark journey back to my bed, I was given some thoughts. (Sometimes thoughts are given, not just thought.) I reflected on recent news stories of children who are abused or neglected. I thought of people in the world who would have yelled at or beaten their daughter for wetting her bed. I imagined how someone who was caught up in the after-effects of drug or alcohol use might have ignored her and left her to fend for herself or spend the night in urine-soaked, cold sheets and clothing. And in the middle of all those heavy thoughts, I felt a keen sense that my Heavenly Father was happy with how I just treated his little child. I knew He noticed it, loved it, honored it. It felt like I did exactly what the Savior would have done if he were here. I knew that my role as a mother, a woman, and a nurturer was important. But even more than important. It felt divine– God-ordained and God-beloved– even in all the apparent simplicity of the moment. Like all truths, this truth about the divine role of women is often buried in the details of daily living, and certainly often drowned out by the voices of a noisy world.
I usually like to avoid discussions about feminism because all those noisy voices are sometimes angry and adamant, quick to judge and accuse and assume, and often very slow to listen. There is gospel context for feminism, but like most things in the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is addressed in very different ways and terms and foundations than are common in society at large. I think that society’s attempts to promote the cause of feminism rely too much on intellectualism and the hope that the brute force of strong, powerful, calculating, soldier-like women can stamp out any doubt of their abilities. Feminism, in its truest sense of the word, can be best achieved when women spend more time focusing on the power that is already inside of them and using it to its fullest influence rather than trying to create opportunities for power in the world around them. I just made that up while I’m typing, but it feels right.
The definition of feminism is “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.” Based on this definition, without doing interviews or actual research, I think it’s safe to say that 99% of the men I know are feminists, and yes, that includes Mormon men. I would also venture to say that, according to that same definition, both the prophet and apostles of our church and our Heavenly Father are feminists. I know that sounds weird because it’s a crossover between society’s semantics and a gospel context, but I believe it’s true. They believe in and champion the rights and power of women.
It’s important to distinguish that true, basic feminism is about rights and not roles. Perhaps this is where we and “the world” part ways a little bit. Even though women are capable of and have a right to do almost everything that men can do, they are also free to choose the role(s) they will play in society. I use the word “almost” because, by divine design, men and women are different, and no matter how hard a woman tries to do what man can do, she cannot (barring bizarre medical intervention) actually be a man. I will never be a father, a grandfather, an uncle, a husband or a brother; and no man will ever have the privilege of being a mother, a grandmother, an aunt, a wife, or a sister. I imagine that eventually society will want to change how those terms are used because they “discriminate,” but while we still have a little bit of sense left in us, let’s admit that some roles are simply predetermined by gender.
In the document, The Family: A Proclamation to the World, the prophet and apostles declare,
All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. . . .
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.
A careful look at words in that proclamation like beloved, divine, destiny, and sacred help us to see how eternally valuable and God-ordained both roles are. There is no gender hierarchy.
It is in this context of different responsibilities that I embrace the role of priesthood authority in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Just as in a marriage, men and women are equal partners that respect one another and work together as they fill different roles. During Jesus Christ’s life, he called several men as apostles to help him direct and administer the business of his church. A careful reading of the New Testament also shows that Jesus included righteous women in his ministry and considered many of them among his closest friends and most faithful disciples. Likewise, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, women have many opportunities to lead and administer the programs of the church. The men of the church receive the priesthood, which is the authority to act in Christ’s name, and its purpose is to minister and serve others in the example of Jesus Christ himself. All women in the church are members of the Relief Society, whose motto is “Charity Never Faileth.” They, too, seek and are given opportunities to serve and minister.
Women do not hold the priesthood because the Lord has not commanded it, but we are given many, many opportunities to be leaders in the Church. I have served as the president of the young women’s organization and children’s organization in my local congregation, and I have been a teacher of adult Sunday School classes, scripture study classes for youth, and many, many other classes, lessons, conferences, etc. I love being a woman in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I always feel my contributions are important and appreciated.
Rather than gloss over some of people’s mistakes, it’s important to state that even if my contributions as a woman were not appreciated by some of the men at church, I could still know with confidence that they are valued by God. The vast majority of priesthood leaders I have worked with have always approached their assignments with humility and treated me in a way that was respectful. They have often sought my opinions and often applied my suggestions. I did know a man once at church that scoffed at women’s contributions and ability to lead. He passed that attitude on to his sons, two of which I taught in early-morning Seminary classes. And though we both served on a ward council together and he was a “fellow citizen with the Saints,” let’s be clear: this guy was a jerk. So, yes, some members of the church get it wrong, but in my experience, that is a small few. Over time, it became clear that this particular man was living a life ripe with hypocrisy, and he eventually lost his membership and standing in the church, and he lost his family as well. So, let’s be careful to distinguish between the Church’s views on womanhood and the misguided personal philosophies of some of its members. In this and in any other point of doctrine, a member of the church who does not live its teachings and standards is not a good poster child for the church at large.
Society (and members of this church or any church) gets these gender issues wrong whey they fall into any sexism at all, which to the chagrin of many self-proclaimed “feminists,” also includes extreme views of the feminist doctrine. In my opinion, this mistake happens when “advocating equal” moves into the realm of competition– when genders are pitted against each other and either gender tries to raise itself above the other, claiming superior rights or roles, with hierarchical intentions. I do not believe that is what God wants. He loves His sons. He loves His daughters. Period. He has divine purposes for both of them, and we do ourselves and others a great disservice by overstepping His plan for His children and trying to dictate our own generalized rules and exceptions to those rules. The key to solving that mystery in your very own roles, in a truly spiritual sense, is simply having a personal relationship with God, communicating with Him, and having confidence in carrying out His plan for you and your family. I can’t emphasize this point enough: Study the scriptures and His doctrines (like the aforementioned proclamation), and seek personal revelation. Heavenly Father will help you know how to apply these principles in your own family.
In short (it’s a little late for that, isn’t it?), being a woman is a wonderful thing. Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is also a wonderful thing. Women are powerful. We have divine qualities and eternal influence. What matters most to God will probably never matter most to society, and that’s okay. It really shouldn’t surprise us, given that His doctrines have been mocked and scorned since the beginning of time. We second guess ourselves and judge others when we pay too much attention to what someone else or societal trends at large say women “should” be. Knowing our Heavenly Father, however, and coming to an understanding of who He wants us to be, leads to peace and confidence and an amazing sense of self-worth and power. And sometimes, in quiet moments in the middle of the night, when your children sleep quietly in their warm, dry beds, He helps you remember the beautiful role of womanhood. And when He speaks to you, despite critics, internet trolls, and horrible headlines, the universe starts to feel right again.