We Were Meant to be Courageous

Updated 7/15/14: Op-Ed by Mormon women on the “End of the Mormon Moment”

Kate Kelly’s ex-communication from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has me thinking. I’m not Mormon, but I’m a member of a (local) church that has seen some turmoil over the last five years. We’ve lost three pastors – some by choice, other by grave “sin” – and the effect has been a heavily splintered congregation. The latest split has perhaps been the most profound, not due to “sin” per se, but to a large chasm of opinion about the “right” amount of influence, insubordination to church leaders, and the sowing of discontent — much like the charges brought against Kelly. It split our church, and left me with a sour taste regarding our current church leadership and their abilities to be good stewards. Honestly, I think they really messed up.

I think part of the problem is a lack of diversity on the Elder Board. See, my church also does not allow women to hold the penultimate positions of leadership, eldership, similar to the LDS church where women cannot hold the priesthood. Women do important jobs in the church, no doubt, but women cannot hold the title of Elder, part of the group that “heads” of the church and who makes decisions about the path of the church, the employees, the finances, etc. Women can’t do those jobs.

Prior to the Kelly story, I was troubled by the lack of women in high positions, especially since I think a dear (female) friend of mine would make an excellent elder in our church. I think at least one woman might have been able to temper the egos involved in the decision. But I wasn’t TROUBLED by it. True, my church attendance has been pretty spotty since our last pastor left, but I’d chalked that up to the turmoil and the fact that more than half our church left, leaving worship services feeling empty, even of God’s presence. I told myself I just needed to be more faithful, for scripture says that God is anywhere two or three are gathered in his name, and at least my husband was there.

But now I’m TROUBLED. I don’t know if Kelly violated the rules of her religious organization, who likely has the right to kick out whomever it chooses — it’s an organization in addition to being what their members believe to be the voice of God’s church. But I cannot help but feel a great sense of compassion towards her, and some admiration for her bravery. She likely knew that her actions would lead to serious repercussions, even if she didn’t agree with the results. I think she chose to sacrifice herself for a purpose larger than herself. From what I can tell, Mormons are having deep conversations among themselves and in public with non-Mormons about what just happened.

But now I feel like a coward. I love how Kelly has refused to accept the ruling that she must repent, for insisting on equality cannot be wrong. It just cannot. MLK said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” There are few things I believe in more than the equality of humans. While I believe we all have roles to pay, outside of what is ruled by biology (childbirth, breastfeeding…not sure what else) I don’t believe that there is some “natural” divisions between who can be a leader and who cannot. Between who can guide and teach and who cannot. Between who can make decisions affecting a large number of vulnerable people and those who cannot. Not everyone is meant to be a leader. Not every woman or every man should be a leader, guide, or teacher. But I have yet to hear any good reason, other than because the Bible says so, which is usually a ridiculous argument, and in this case even notable Biblical scholars disagree on this issue of requirements for elders that includes gender. And even if the Bible says so, why should I believe that God intended me, solely because I’m a woman, to not have a equal say as to the leadership of His church? Why would I believe that?

Of course, there is a larger argument as to why believe in God at all. Short answer, for me, is that it’s the only way I can understand the purpose of life at all. I choose to believe in God and in the divinity of Christ Jesus because it makes sense to me. 

The exclusion of women from the highest seats of power and influence in the church is something I do not understand, something that does not make sense to me. So why do I continue to support a church who does not believe as I do about one of my core values? How can I continue to support a church that sees me as inferior, for everything a woman can do a man can also do, but not vice versa? How can I continue to be a part of a practice that I believe oppresses me but cloaks itself in “obedience”? 

For this reason, I am deeply TROUBLED. For now, as I (sort of) keep my distance, all I can do is pray. I hope, if nothing else, He gives me courage, either to accept what is despite my misgivings (and hopefully also understanding of why what is…is) or to be brave enough to seriously not just question, but challenge. God Help Me.

girl power

I can’t quite put my finger on why I don’t like this article, except that parts of it ring, just, well, wrong. For example, the first three sentences:

I WAS born in 1982 — about 20 years after the women’s rights movement began. Growing up in what many have called a post-feminist culture, I did not really experience institutional gender bias. “Girl power” was celebrated, and I felt that all doors were open to me.

Really? A couple of issues:

1. The “women’s rights movement” did not, could not, have began 20 years prior to 1982, i.e. 1962. I could understand if she at least took it back to the suffrage movement. That would then be the early 20th century, much farther back than 20 years pre-1982. But I think most would take it to 1848, the year of the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY.

2. I was born in 1981, a year earlier than this author. Who are these “many” that have called our culture a post-feminist culture? I still do not feel assured that I will forever have the right to control my reproductive abilities. I still earn less than comparable men for comparable work. I assume she got this phrase from somewhere, and I may be the only one who hadn’t heard it before, so I googled “post feminist culture” and came across a number of results on the first page. One of them came close to describing a post feminist culture without having too look too deep. In regard to the vilification of celebrity women:

“There is incredible ambivalence in a post-feminist culture towards women in the public sphere.”

In a nutshell, despite years of equal opportunities, the media – and the people who watch and read – prefer the stay-at-home mother over a woman who lives her life in public, particularly one who is overtly ambitious or successful in making money.

“Years of equal opportunity”? Goodness, the gender differences in the very decision to work or stay-at-home is but one example that opportunities are not equal between men and women.

3. Institutional gender bias. There is so much complexity in those three words, taken separately and taken together. The author seems to be saying that she never felt discriminated against due to her gender identification. That, however, is far removed from the absence of institutional gender bias. As I can gather from my quick read of my handy-dandy sociological dictionary, for some institutional bias is about opportunities and outcomes of groups. It seems that an individual can’t technically experience institutional bias except in so far that they are a member of an affected group. There is also a question of intent – I always learned that institutional racism, for example, differed from one-on-one racism in that because race prejudice was embedded in institutions that we could no longer think of racism as something that hinged on the intent of the individual. In the author’s case, where she states that “girl power was celebrated,” it seems that she conflates these two issues – the absence of institutional gender bias with the absence of blatant sexism.

4.

I also can’t help but look at the picture of the author and shake my head at another white woman who claims to speak for all women. Granted, it seems she is talking about college-educated women, where the similarities may be stronger than when talking about women in general. But I remember – and note that I am only a year older than the author – having heated discussions with white women about how we are not the same, and the issues we face are different. One small issue, but so important for so many black women hitting the job market, is the issue of hair. When I graduated from college, I rocked a mean ‘fro. But I was so nervous to wear my hair in its natural state because I was perceived to be “militant”. Other styles I wore at the time, like twists or braids, were deemed to be “unprofessional.” Some gave me the advice to press my hair prior to interviewing. This is something that my white female peers did not have to deal with.

There are other things I object to within the article, but after so much is wrong with the first three sentences, I’m not really surprised by my reaction to the rest of it. What do you think, in particular about the rest of the article? Do you agree with my reactions to the first paragraph?