Today my family attended a Bat Mitzvah service in a reconstructionist congregation. Before the service began, the rabbi explained that the prayers in the service were amended from the traditional ones to be gender inclusive. Also, when a prayer offered a blessing on the Jewish people, a clause was added to extend the blessings to all people. The feminist in me was satisfied by the desire to be inclusive, even as I was a bit startled by the cantor who played the guitar as she sang and by the musician who added drum accompaniment to the more rousing parts of the service.
For me, what was most memorable about the service was when the girl’s mother approached the dais to present her daughter, Rose, with her first prayer shawl. The mother wore a shawl identical to the one she wrapped over Rose’s shoulders. Both were hand-dyed a vibrant green and purple. As she did this, her mother explained that they had made the shawls together.
It’s embarrassing to me now, but as I saw this I started crying. Big hot tears welling and rolling down my cheeks. I’m not much of a crier–so I was caught completely by surprise. And I was more than a bit embarrassed, too, given that it wasn’t a particularly ‘touching’ part of the service.
But when Rose’s mother stood there on the dais and spoke, I recalled my own desires to participate in my children’s ordinances–particularly my desire to conduct my daughter’s baptismal service. Coming-of-age rituals like Bat Mitzvahs and Baptisms and Priesthood Ordinations offer an important moment for a community to validate the spiritual and physical maturation of its children. For me, being denied a role in the LDS ordinances (other than sitting on the sidelines), hurts deeply. I know the intention is not to make me feel a less important member of God’s Kingdom, but it’s hard to see it any other way.
Jana, why in the world would you ever feel embarrassed by those wonderful big, hot tears? Could they be simultaneously tears of joy for the legitimacy and meaning of the ancient and liberalized celebration you were witnessing, as well as tears of lamentation for the less-than-legitimate modern and conservative desert that you find so difficult to accept?
I probably shouldn’t have felt so embarrassed about my tears, but I just felt so surprised by them and they were a bit out of place in the moment. Later in the ceremony after Rose read successfully from the Torah and gave her interpretation of the passage, her parents acknowledged that she was now an adult and that was the place where tears were flowing for many people. But I didn’t notice anyone else being so moved by the prayer shawl part–but I was the only Mormon in attendance (besides my spouse and kids) so I doubt anyone else felt the same contrast with their own religious experience.
Jana, please don’t take this the wrong way–and I am not seeking to minimise or marginalise your feelings, which are obviously deep and very tender–but baptism is not a “coming-of-age ritual.” Baptism is an ordinance of the gospel, commanded by the Father and administered as He directs, for His own eternal purposes and for our sakes. The gospel and its ordinances, and the priesthood that administers them, does not belong to President Hinckley, the Twelve, your bishop, or anyone else in its so-called hierarchy . It is without father or mother, without beginning of days or end of years. It has very specific purpose, administered in a very specific manner, according to the laws revealed by God.
It seems that problems with the “male” priesthood and its administration arise when people equate authority and power, and speak of “power in the priesthood” as if it were some magical facility bestowed on the holder and that is withheld from all others. Authority has never carried power, unless through abuse of the authority and then only to the abuser’s condemnation. Authority refers simply to organisation.
The decision regarding who is given authority must be clear (or we would have rival claims), and it must be arbitrary (or else it would lead to pride). That is why only some are called to have authority. Yes, it is discrimination, but discrimination is important because it how the Lord organises His people. A short read of the scriptures will reveal the Lord discriminates constantly, but He loves each of us equally and is no respecter of persons.
If a priesthood holder treats non-priesthood holders, including women, as inferior, they automatically forfeit any power or influence in the priesthood. God, who “owns” the priesthood, withdraws it from the person and they are left unto themselves. They are actually worse off than if they had never received the priesthood.
“Power” comes from faith. Faith means exercising hope based on evidence. It is a rational thing, and the basis for all action. Without faith, nothing gets done. It does not matter what your church position is, or whether you hold the priesthood or not. Unless you have the power to act, and to inspire others to act, you are useless.
Imagine two people isolated on remote islands. One has a ‘higher’ priesthood position. The other has no priesthood, but far more faith. Who could achieve the most (i.e. has the most power) in their situation? The answer is the one with the most faith of course, because they will act to get the most done to correct their predicament.
People without authority have just as much power as people with authority, because they have just as much ability to exercise faith and to do good. But in order to work effectively, we need to be organised, and that is where authority comes in. A person with more faith will want to respect positions of authority. But the only power comes from faith and I have known a great many women with far more faith than the priesthood brethren around them that held the authority.
My only reply to your comment, my friend, is to say that it’s all too easy to accept LDS notions of power and privilege when one bears the title of “The Bish.”
Even though “The Bish” stated that it was not intention to be so, I found his comment to be utterly condescending and patronizing to Jana (who, by way of full disclosure, I should mention is my beloved partner).
1. Whatever baptism’s salvific effects, it is still a rite with social consequences. It is most definitely a rite of passage, and combined with the teaching that a child is generally baptized when they reach the age of accountability, it can be easily argued that it is a coming of age ritual. Perhaps what “The Bish” intends to say is that it is not *merely* or *primarily* a coming of age rite. Church leaders regularly highlight the social benefits of rites in addition to their importance to salvation.
2. The priesthood is effectively male. And power does equal authority in practice. Male leaders, while generally well-intentioned, have enormous power over the women they interview, call, admonish, etc. and regularly make decisions that affect the happiness of their followers.
3. “The Bish” said: Yes, it is discrimination, but discrimination is important because it how the Lord organises His people. A short read of the scriptures will reveal the Lord discriminates constantly, but He loves each of us equally and is no respecter of persons.
This is the sort of logic Christian slaveowners in the South used to defend and prolong the heinous institution (and that Church leaders used to perpetuate discrimination against blacks for decades).
4. “The Bish” also said: If a priesthood holder treats non-priesthood holders, including women, as inferior, they automatically forfeit any power or influence in the priesthood. God, who ?¢Ç¨?ìowns?¢Ç¨¬ù the priesthood, withdraws it from the person and they are left unto themselves. They are actually worse off than if they had never received the priesthood.
Maybe god says “Amen” to the authority of that man in the spirit, but in practice many abusive priesthood holders remain in office, doing incredible emotional harm to members of the flock. I’ve seen lives seriously damaged by bishops and stake presidents who were excommunicated years or even decades after their sins and abuses started. Their social authority and power remained even if the spiritual part was gone. Pretty words, “Bish,” that don’t seem to mesh with the real world.
At any rate, it is deeply satisfying to belong to a congregation where women and men are truly equal in every way, and where there is no need for Orwellian doublespeak about compassionate discrimination and power not equaling authority.
The Bish sighs back.
I have no idea what “LDS notions of power and privilege” really means in the context of being a disciple of Christ. That is all I am interested in being.
JohnR, baptism and the other ordinances of the gospel are not negotiable. We come to Christ on His terms, which are the terms of the Father. You may (speaking in the universal “you”), if you so desire, seek to alter those terms to suit your own agenda, but the Lord will not accept anything at our hands He has not authorised. This is the word of the Lord which we have placed ourselves under covenant to obey.
You are quite correct. My intention was that baptism is “not merely or primarily a coming of age rite.” Baptism certainly sits within a social context, but it is an ordinance of the gospel, the direct commandment of the Father to all His children and the primary message Christ delivered to the Nephites (cf 3 nephi 11). That I would need to defend this as a concept astonishes me.
Male leaders, while generally well-intentioned, have enormous power over the women they interview, call, admonish, etc. and regularly make decisions that affect the happiness of their followers.
I don’t live in Utah. I don’t live in the USA. I live probably as far from Utah as you can get without actually falling off the planet. Even here however we have male leaders that exercise unrighteous dominion and undue influence. I find that tragic, wherever it occurs. I was not trying to marginalise your wife’s concerns, her feelings, or apologise for the abuses that I know (probably better than most) can, have and do occur within the church.
I have sat as a bishop. I have never interviewed a married woman without her husband being present if he so desired. If I needed to interview privately, I always made sure that her husband knew and was seated nearby (usually outside my door). He was always invited into the interview as soon as whatever private portion was concluded. I always made it clear that the sister was not bound by any “rule” not to share the content of the interview her husband, in any case.
For single women, I always invited them to have a close friend present on similar terms (i.e. seated nearby and present once the private portion was complete, if the person so desired). I could find nothing in the CHI that would prevent me from doing this. I found it enormously beneficial for all concerned and hope that I was never guilty of wielding any “power” over a woman, regardless how well intentioned I may have thought I was being.
I also hope any decision I made that affected the happiness of any one “following” me (I am not their light, I only hold it up for them to see) would only be to increase it.
I’m sorry you thought my comments were “Orwellian doublespeak.” The world painted by Orwell was a close to hell as I can imagine. Such things should be as far from the Kingdom of God as possible.
It was my unfortunate experience in the course of over 30 years’ membership in the Mormon church to find that the cold, heartless, and unfeeling treatment of individuals and their concerns were typically defended by citing issues of “proper authority”. Individuals in the church are often, in my experience, seen and treated as merely cogs in the wheel of “God’s plan”, not as human beings with tender feelings that can be injured by such treatment.
The exclusion of women from participation in ordinances involving their children is just one example of this. Despite the fact that I don’t have children of my own, I can fully understand your feelings of loss, Jana, at not being able to participate in such rites.
This is a bit of a tangent, but I’m quite curious about what you said above:
“I have sat as a bishop. I have never interviewed a married woman without her husband being present if he so desired. If I needed to interview privately, I always made sure that her husband knew and was seated nearby (usually outside my door). He was always invited into the interview as soon as whatever private portion was concluded. I always made it clear that the sister was not bound by any ?¢Ç¨?ìrule?¢Ç¨¬ù not to share the content of the interview her husband, in any case.”
1) Have you ever interviewed a married man w/o informing his wife? If/when doing so, did you let her know that she could be present if she so desired?
2) When you interview married men do you have the wife sit outside and then enter the room when the private portion is included?
3) Do you affirm to men that they aren’t bound by any rule not to share the content of their interviews with their wives?
4) In cases where there may be an abusive husband in a marriage, do you still offer for the husband to be present when you interview the wife?
5) When interviewing women married to not-LDS men, do you still offer for the husbands to be present in the interview process if they desire it?
I think I need to reword my statement above, Jana.
What I should have said is that while I don’t have children, I can fully understand why you would feel the loss of not being able to participate in ordinances involving your children. It goes without saying that a) because I am not you and b) because I am not a mother, I can’t fully understand how you feel about that issue or any other.
I have experienced a similar feeling in another church service. I attended a Congregationalist church and was surprised to find myself crying to see both men and women involved at every level – young candle holders ( I don’t know what they’re called), deacons and deaconesses administering communion, a husband and wife participating in the baptism of their child. The best way I can describe the feeling was like a hole in my heart being filled with a healing balm.
Yes, we can look at the writings of Paul and read that women should not speak in church. We can read in writings of Brigham Young that blacks are the servants of satan. We can read terrible things in the Old Testament about all sorts of Gentiles. But that cannot be our frame of reference. Where human rights and religion collide, human rights must prevail.
Christianity seems to slowly be accepting people, group by group. The LDS church is accepting more people too, but very slowly (I think specifically of a greater acceptance of homosexuals during my lifetime). At some point in the future, this church may be at a point where I can feel comfortable being fully engaged.
There is too much uncertainty in the authenticity and origin of all of our sacred texts for us to base discriminatory policies upon them.
My oldest child will be baptized this summer, and I have to say that it doesn’t bother me in the least that I will not be involved in the ordinance per se. I figure that I’m already deeply involved in the process of teaching her the principles of the gospel, and that I will be the one who determines in large part the program of the baptismal service, helps her to dress and get ready, etc. I don’t feel the need to be involved in every aspect of it. It didn’t bother me to put my infant children in their father’s arms and send them up to the front of the chapel to be blessed by my male relatives and friends either. It doesn’t upset me that women do not participate in the priesthood ordinances of the LDS Church. If other churches allow women to do so, that’s fine, but I don’t feel any envy or longing to do it myself. I look at it as different roles, not anything in particular to do with male/female stuff. In my experience, it’s been the women who do most of the work and therefore hold most of the power in practical Church matters. On the few occasions I’ve been challenged by “priesthood authority” (most of these by callow elders during my mission), I nearly always came out on top due to greater maturity, knowledge of the scriptures or Church policy, and a lack of desire to show off or exercise authority over others. Others, both women and men, have had a different experience in the LDS Church, and I acknowledge that, but I just wanted to bring up that not every woman feels pain at being excluded from certain rites or business of the Church. I’m not one of those who’s “relieved that I don’t hold the priesthood” – if I had it, I hope I would do my duty – but it doesn’t upset or offend me that I don’t.
1) Have you ever interviewed a married man w/o informing his wife? If/when doing so, did you let her know that she could be present if she so desired?
Wherever possible I would interview as couples. I always instructed my Exec Sec to inform the other partner of any interview request. Not everyone was that concerned to be present, but it was important the invitation was there.
2) When you interview married men do you have the wife sit outside and then enter the room when the private portion is included?
Yes, couples were invited in most cases, depending on the nature of the interview. For instance, if the interview was more of a “simple” PPI then I would see the priesthood holder separately, mainly for convenience sake, unless he wanted his wife present.
3) Do you affirm to men that they aren?¢Ç¨Ñ¢t bound by any rule not to share the content of their interviews with their wives?
Absolutely. The content of the interview does not belong to me or the church. I am the Lord’s agent. The interview is between the Lord and the individual, as are their covenants.
4) In cases where there may be an abusive husband in a marriage, do you still offer for the husband to be present when you interview the wife?
If the abuse was known (thankfully very rare) or suspected then it was up to the wife. More than once the abusive partner was the wife, however… Wherever there was abuse the intent was to reconcile and correct the problem. As I said, thankfully this was very rare. I would hope it is rare where you are, but I get the feeling not.
5) When interviewing women married to not-LDS men, do you still offer for the husbands to be present in the interview process if they desire it?
I depended entirely on the individuals concerned whether or not they would attend. Most could not be bothered. However, the non-member husband was always made aware and the invitation extended. I always considered the wife’s feelings as well, as to whether she wanted him present. My instructions to Home Teachers were always that the non-member spouse (male or female) was to be as respected as the member and included in the visit if they desired. I found being inclusive in this manner softened hearts and removed barriers to understanding.
In my experience, it?¢Ç¨Ñ¢s been the women who do most of the work and therefore hold most of the power in practical Church matters.
Really? As a non-Mormon, I’ve always wondered who decides how money from tithes gets budgeted and spent. Is it effectively the women of the Church? How about at the highest levels? It’s unclear to me how many women are members of the highest … committees?
OK, I just answered my own question via Wikipedia, which tells me that the Prophet is a man, all his counselors are men, all of the Twelve, all General Authorities…
So maybe I don’t get the poster’s point. I’m an outsider, of course, so hope that I can get some clarification. Perhaps the poster meant at the Ward and Stake levels? Is the Church is structured so that most of the power is at the Ward and Stake levels? And the General Authorities don’t have much power? But that can’t be right, can it?
Maybe the poster is using a nuanced version of the word “practical” that is over my head as a non-member. The original poster, as a woman, seemed to be saying that she wasn’t able to participate in certain ceremonies. Is the commenter saying that lack of influence over that practice isn’t a practical matter?
I really don’t understand Villate‘s words.
I think the use of the word “power” is the problem here, JohnW. “Power” in the Church is generally not wielded over other people, at least not when things are going as they should. “Power” to make decisions about what is taught as doctrine, about policies, etc., does reside with men, I suppose, but hopefully it is used under the inspiration of God rather than for personal aggrandizement or gratification. I realize that there are individuals who do abuse this “power” within the Church, but I hope and believe that they are a small minority and that they will be held to account for their actions, harmful though they may be.
About the use of the word “practical” – Most of what gets done, locally speaking, in the Church is done by women. They’re the ones who check on each other and each other’s families, do the work of the wards (taking meals to people, teaching lessons on Sundays, arranging activities and therefore the money that is spent on them, etc.), and encouraging their husbands, home teachers, local leaders, and so forth to do things or make changes on a local level. The Bishop generally chooses the leaders of the various quorums and auxiliaries, but if a woman is in a leadership position in an auxiliary, she chooses her own counselors in most cases and determines the direction the auxiliary will take, which I guess that is a form of power. Anyone, male or female, can decline a calling. Technically I suppose they are supposed to “report to” or “get permission from” their male leaders, but in my experience, the Bishop nearly always relies on the good judgment of the people involved and usually doesn’t even check up on them. On a macro level, the General Authorities are men, though most of the auxiliaries are led by women. I don’t know that these women are considered GAs, but they have a fair amount of “power” in deciding what will happen in the auxiliaries they lead on a Church-wide basis, again subject to “review” or whatever, but I suspect left quite a bit to themselves in practice. Many of the committees that create Sunday School and other curriculum, decide the disbursement of tithes, etc. are made up of men and women (probably not in equal numbers) and they are under the supervision of various members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Quorums of the Seventy, who are men. If this is power, then I guess the men hold a lot of it. Men are good at bureaucracy. Human nature being what it is, I’m not sure that women would do that much better a job were they the ones in “power”, to be honest.
On a personal level, women don’t hold any “power” over the membership status of other men or women. I suppose the Bishop and Stake President do, so I guess you could consider that a lack of power for women. However, individual Bishops and Stake Presidents do not randomly go around revoking membership or challenging folks on their worthiness to belong to or participate in the Church. If there is a disciplinary council of some sort, the men on the Stake High Council and/or ward level will make decisions, hopefully informed by the account of the individual involved and inspired by the Holy Ghost rather than their own seeking for “power” over others. I think it is extremely rare (though not impossible) that this is not the case. There are plenty of people who were excommunicated in the 1990s who believe that there was a vendetta against them. I don’t know whether this is true or not. Some Church authorities certainly didn’t like what these individuals were saying at the time and may have abused their “power” in these situations. However, I fail to see how having women on a disciplinary council involving either men or women would make the situation any less stressful and distressing or any more “egalitarian.”
At the heart of this matter, in my view, JohnW, is my belief that “men” didn’t set things up this way, God did when He organized the Church through Joseph Smith and anciently through Jesus Christ. There’s no evidence in the scriptures that Jesus ordained any women to the priesthood or even that women held prominent positions in the early Church, only that they did most of the work, as they do now, while men blathered on about doctrine and policy and argued amongst themselves about who was right or wrong. I don’t know why women don’t hold the priesthood and therefore don’t hold “power” in the Church. I have faith that God has a good reason for not bestowing the priesthood on women and that if He wanted them to have it, they would. Obviously, other people in the Church do not feel this way and believe that unconscious sexism or something more sinister is at work. I tend not to believe this. As usual, I have gone on too long. My only point in making the original post was to point out that not all women feel oppressed or hurt by the “inequality” of not having the priesthood. It’s a shame that some do and that those feelings cause them distress. I feel certain that the Lord will eventually explain Himself to them to their satisfaction. For me and for many other, though, it’s not an issue.
Something occurred to me as I have been thinking about this issue and the discussion that Jana’s post has prompted:
Not only are women in the church not allowed to do things like give blessings to babies or confirm their children at baptism, but they aren’t even allowed (that I have ever seen or am aware of) to stand in the circle while a priesthood holder pronounces the blessing.
If it is just a matter of “authority”, and only holders of the priesthood having the authority to pronounce a blessing, what authority would it upset to let a mother stand in that company as her child is blessed or confirmed, rather than be confined to sitting in the audience as if she has nothing at all to do with the child?
Villate: Again, as an outsider, I don’t understand a lot of the subtleties that you’re discussion. I wonder if blacks in the Church felt the same type of passive acceptance before 1978. In retrospect, would that attitude make historical sense? “God has a good reason. Oops, not any more!”
I’m not super-confrontational, so haven’t asked every person I’ve met who was an adult in the Church pre-1978 about this. But none of the ones who’ve discussed it with me said, “It was a good policy.” The seemed to regard it as more of a historical blemish and embarrassment.
Every single time I read these discussions of the nature of power, authority, the meaning of the priesthood, and gender roles in the Church, it sounds to me, as an outsider, as contorted rhetorical arguments in support of something that people know doesn’t make objective sense.
That’s the same thing I hear when read statements which I’ll paraphrase as, “Well, that’s the way Jesus Christ set things up. Let’s somehow find the strength to be obedient.” Maybe because obedience in this case implies overcoming something that we don’t understand otherwise or doesn’t make sense without Authority telling us that it’s so.
I guess I have to be content with showing up every once in a while to ask questions which cause awkward silences.
JohnW – Some Black members apparently did feel some sort of passive acceptance, since there were a fair number who joined the Church. I don’t understand why that restriction was in place, either. It seems to me that for some reason, God wanted it in place. He could easily have changed it if He had seen fit. I don’t buy the “the Church was just too racist to accept them” argument that so many put forth. Joseph Smith didn’t seem to have a problem. If Brigham Young was truly a prophet, and that’s open to debate for many people, but I think he was, then I would think that if God told him when he first started saying, “No, blacks should not be ordained” that He wanted them to be ordained, Brigham would have done it. For some reason, God did not say this to Brigham and the policy became set, only to cause problems later when people began trying to justify it rather than simply saying, “God wants it so.” For whatever reason, God allowed this to go on for some time. There is a lot of evidence both from his own writings and others’ that David O. McKay thought a lot about “the Negro problem” and even petitioned the Lord to allow the priesthood to be given to all worthy men as early as the 1950s. For whatever reason, God did not permit it at that time. Apparently He later changed His mind or allowed things to happen that had not happened before. I don’t know why. I don’t know why God does or allows a lot of things. God’s ways are not our ways. You’re right, it doesn’t seem to make sense that in the LDS Church, women are not ordained to the priesthood. But that’s the way it is. Perhaps it will change, though I doubt it, and frankly I can’t see what good it would do except to make a few women feel better about themselves and give a lot of others even more work to do than they already have plus put them under covenants that the men aren’t doing so hot a job living up to right now as it is. You’re not making me feel awkward, JohnW. I put it all on God. 🙂 He’s got plenty of ‘splainin’ to do already, and I’m sure when we march up to Him at the judgment to angrily demand that He tell us the purpose of this or that that He’ll do it and we’ll say something like, “Oh, that. OK.” In the meantime, I try to act as I think Jesus would have me act and be kind and loving toward those around me, hoping that His atonement will make up for my many shortcomings. How would having the priesthood and more “power” in the Church make me any better at doing that?
I think it’s interesting that Jana and Elaine both seem to see having or not having the priesthood as being somehow related to women’s relationships with their children. When I think of what it means to hold the priesthood, participating in ordinances involving my children doesn’t even enter my mind. The priesthood is not a tool to help parents become closer to their children (well, I guess the sealing ordinance helps parents be closer to their children). It exists to be the way to exercise the power of God in behalf of any and all people.
I guess for me, I don’t have a problem with some people having administrative authority and some people not having it. But that it totally hinges on whether one has a Y chromosome, doesn’t make sense to me. There are also all kinds of ways that women could be more involved in ordinances that they are denied for whatever reason. I gave the example in my post of wanting to conduct my daughter’s baptism service. It made no sense to me that I couldn’t stand up and announce the program but that a priesthood holder that didn’t even know my daughter had to do it. Standing in the circle at blessings and ordinations (as discussed in an earlier comment) is another example of a rather arbitrary way that women are shut out of such events.
What initiated this post was an emotional surprise. It is even in Jana’s title! Yet, nearly all responses have blithely passed right on by without even considering its deeper message: a cry from something deep within asking to be noticed–asking to be heard.
I want to return to that beautiful place and wonder what that message truly was — and still is. I don’t want Jana to be embarrassed, sorry or ashamed or — God forbid — have to defend herself! Yet that is what seems to have happened. Instead, all I see in reply is a lot of lofty rationalizations without any apparent true interest in or validation of her deeper, emotional and spiritual message. I want to return to that place, Jana, and not allow it to be eclipsed by head stuff, all of which seems asleep to the beauty of the meaning of those shawls, the mother-daughter relationship–their intimacy; the spirit of it all; the depth of the tradition that the modern rabbi expanded to include every soul. What Light!
Having shared this post with my own beloved wife, she asks: “Why can’t those people just accept Jana’s experience for what it is? It was beautiful! And why can’t they share her sorrow?”
Eugene, your validation and kindness means a lot to me. My post wasn’t intended to re-hash women and the priesthood issue (although that seems to invariably stem from any discussion about ‘women’s issues in the church’).
When my kids were given the Holy Ghost we spoke about it as a comforter, as a blanket being wrapped around them to warm them and to protect them from evil. The prayer shawls were, symbolically, like that. But that the gift came from the mother to her daughter–the very embrace of the shawl mimicking the embrace of her mother. That was so very powerful. It spoke to me with many layers–the one addressed here of my grieving for not being able to participate in my kids’ rituals. Also present were my feelings about my own troubled relationship with my earthly mother (I’m working on that, but it’s complicated stuff), my sorrow about the death of my father (he was always more of the hugger in my family and some days I just ache to feel his secure arms again) and my own longing to connect with the divine feminine–my Heavenly Mother.
Perhaps I should ask Villate and Bish and JohnW and others speaking on this thread…What experiences have you had that have caught you by surprise with a feeling of deep spiritual hunger or loss? I would love to have you share them with me/us.
Jana, I think I know exactly what you experienced.
One of the first times I attended a United Church of Christ service, I cried too. It was the a Sunday near the 4th of July, and I was moved by hymns that talked about God blessing the whole world, other countries being wonderful, etc. It was so unexpected. That and the gender inclusiveness in the hymns. I was stunned by the careful way the hymn authors included men and women, male and female pronouns. It was what my soul needed and I felt filled in a way I had never felt filled in Sacrament Meeting before.
I am determined to remain an active member of the Church, so in the face of institutionalized LDS patriarchy I am doing what I can to take control of my spiritual life. I sing gender inclusively in all my meetings, no doubt raising the eyebrows of those around me. I speak and read inclusively in lessons. I stand in the circle (circle of two – me and my husband) when my baby is blessed. If I can ever summon the spirituality, I will lay hands on and bless my children. The LDS church may exclude me from certain types of leadership and the performance of ordinances at church on Sunday, but I refuse to let it stand in my way in my own home. I will do what I need to do to feel like a full human being.
I read Villate response to JohnW with interest. It’s fascinating how some women can feel so empowered by the current church structure, and others feel so marginalized. My husband is ward clerk. ‘In the bishopric’ so to speak. And I am continually frustrated by the hours worth of decisions that are being made by 5 men in a room together with no input from women. No women helping to decide callings, sermon topics, 5th Sunday presentations, etc. It makes me very sad to think about.
But in those moments of sadness, I also try to remember that these 5 men are well intentioned people doing their best to figure out ways to help people. And that goes for most of the men in the general hierarchy of the Church. They are indeed (unknowingly) perpetuating a troubling status quo, but they are also trying to help and inspire people to be better.
All I can do, JohnW, is hope and pray for the Church to change. And it will. I just have to wait it out. I don’t have Villate’s faith that God is responsible for the bungling the Church has done in the past. I chalk it up to people being the products of their prejudiced time, as well as to institutionalized inertia.
Bravo Jana! Yes, that is the question to ask of all us responders: What experiences have you had that have caught you by surprise with a feeling of deep spiritual hunger or loss? Please share.
And Caroline, the Church IS changing! It can’t help doing so as leaders at all levels wake up and find the courage to honor their personal consciences beyond the sleeping institutional ones. As far as the LDS Church is concerned, I see two outmoded and ill-advised policies about to bite the dust: seniority and exclusivity.
Thanks, Jana, for such a touching story.
As for the discussion that followed, all I’m going to say is my current mantra: Life isn’t about being right; it’s about learning to love. I am so discouraged that Mormonism so often is used to create division instead of as a stepping stone to connection.
Note to Bish:
Thank you for answering my questions. I see much compassion in your approach to your role as bishop. I have experienced few who are as thoughtful in their calling–particularly in being inclusive of marriage partners. Thank you for sharing.
For whatever it is worth… I am a disempowered male in the church. (Let us face it, if you don’t have IT in the church, you just don’t have it. No matter what sort of steroids flow in your veins.)
In these later years I have come to understand that someone needs to organize and keep it functioning. Someone needs to do the job of baptizing. Just like at work, the boss does all the talking in the meetings because someone has to, apparently (if the boss is male, and sometimes if she is female).
My wonderful wife had way more power in the Church than I ever did, as RS president, YW president, Camp Director, and many other important callings. She also had a huge impact on the family and its direction. In some ways I moved the mouth but she said the words. Feminine influence.
The bottom line… Why are all McDonald’s Restaurants the same? Because it works. Why don’t we change the Church and make it look different? Because it works. Why do we put up with the misery of hard nosed bishops who, because the mantle of judge sits so heavily on them, make our children leave the Church? Because, overall, it works.
Why can’t we do things differently? Because it might not work!! Can women participate in a more meaningful way in the Church and still have it grow at 6% or 7% per year? I can not tell you that.
Your unhappiness is the price of making things work. My children leaving the Church are the price of making things work. Women are disempowered because it works. Apparently the Church must, overall, benefit. A policy will not change unless it is shown not to work, and even then maybe not.
At the risk of sounding disrespectful, there are lots of things that “work” that are just plain wrong. Take, say, the slave trade. And personally I wouldn’t say that Mcdonald’s “works”–horrible tasting food, awful service, impersonal multinational corporation. bleh. Give me homegrown veggies and handmade bread any day. The church certainly doesn’t “work” for everyone and it changes all the time because of revelation and/or social expediency. I see no reason why the church would break if women were offered leadership roles/priesthood authority.
In fairness, maybe you should let us know what it means to “work.” Does it mean that the church functions, that it grows, that it brings personal uplift to its members? Because this statement
“Your unhappiness is the price of making things work”
is very sad, and unfortunately, true in many cases.
To me, growth does not mean the church ‘works’. When I see something beautiful and touching in a church meeting (of any faith), that ‘works.’ When I feel like the service I give is meaningful, that ‘works.’ I think religion can only ‘work’ if it is inclusive. Otherwise, what is the point of religion?
Jana, I just wanted to thank you for posting this. Even though my children are both boys, it hurt so much to see them blessed and not be allowed to participate. I think I can understand why the placing of the shawl was such a touching moment. I too longed to be included in my children’s spiritual progression, but had to watch from the sidelines. Like Caroline mentioned (although my beliefs about God have to be worked out first), if I can ever summon the spirituality, I fully plan on giving my two boys blessings or at least some kind of communication of what I hope for them in life.
Jana, here is my answer to your question “What experiences have you had that have caught you by surprise with a feeling of deep spiritual hunger or loss?”
One Sunday last October while attending the tiny parish of the local Russian Orthodox Church here in Los Alamos to sing with them in their regular Sunday morning liturgy service, I had a surprisingly deep response of weeping. I so love to sing this wonderful ancient music and especially to sing an entire Biblical chapter when asked, as I was that morning. It is a marvelous tradition.
Generally, in the Orthodox Sunday liturgy, there is a window of time allotted to the priest to speak extemporaneously as he is moved by the Spirit. How I wish I?¢Ç¨Ñ¢d had my pocket recorder! Priest John began by recounting an event in the life of Jesus (I don?¢Ç¨Ñ¢t even remember the specific verses now) to demonstrate the Savior’s lack of fear: He needed no protection, no fortresses. The priest then moved into a message specifically designed for those present and I was moved to tears for the remainder of his mini-sermon. He spoke of how Jesus set the example of the vulnerability required to commune intimately with the Spirit of His (our) Father. The priest then spoke of poets and painters and artists of all kinds, who must open themselves to be vulnerable in their search for the divine connection. They then must struggle to express their experience through art. From there Father John spoke of all the saints, whose icons lined the parish walls, that they are revered (not worshiped!) by the Russian Orthodox tradition for having lived lives of vulnerability, which was manifest in their works and legacies.
Suddenly I understood! And my long-term discomfort with such artifacts vanished.
As Priest John closed his remarks and turned to leave the lectern, I was moved to exclaim ?¢Ç¨?ìAmen! The truth has been spoken!?¢Ç¨¬ù With a surprised smile (such exclamations are not normally heard in such meetings!) The priest turned back around to face us all, humbly bowed, and with obvious joy quietly said, ?¢Ç¨?ìThank you?¢Ç¨¬ù.
It was one of those spiritually enriching moments, and I left the parish grounds wanting to share it with my greater family.
I don’t know whether it’s positive or negative that I have not had a lot of significant feelings of spiritual loss or grief in my life, certainly none related to what I can or can’t do at Church. I have at times felt surprise that people who do not seem to be living lives conducive to spirituality proclaim great feelings of love for and from God, and dismay that I, who try to observe the commandments I’ve been taught and pray and study the scriptures in an effort to know God and Jesus Christ better, have only infrequent experiences of feeling loved and approved of, though some of these experiences have been profound and continue to affect me. My mission president once told me, with pride, that I was a very low-maintenance missionary, meaning that I did my job competently for the most part, with little additional instruction or assistance from others. I think I’m that way in my life as well. If I had not been born to LDS parents and had not developed a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon at a relatively young age (about 15, I think, when I read it through for the first time), I doubt that I would be particularly religious as an adult.
Caroline – Not all wards function the way yours does. I’m aware of at least one ward in which there is a “Sacrament Meeting Coordinator”, a woman, who chooses the topics and songs and even makes suggestions for people to speak, though of course a member of the bishopric extends the actual calling to speak. In our ward, the women make nearly all the decisions about how the budget is spent – the priesthood quorums almost always end the year having held few or no activities, while the Primary, Relief Society, YW, and Activities Committee (chaired by a woman in our ward – me!) use all of theirs. In addition, welfare money and goods, though disbursed officially by the Bishop, are effectively approved and assigned by the Relief Society president. There is a lot of flexibility in wards, especially out in the boonies where there’s a shortage of members to fill necessary callings and where the bishops may not have been indoctrinated with the Utah mentality. I’ve never encountered a ward in which the bishop or bishopric exercised absolute power over all the doings of the wards, though I’ve heard of them. Then again, the closest I’ve ever gotten to Zion is Southern California.
Working, I guess, in this context, means living and growing. At some level Mac Donald’s “works” because it is a dynamic company making money and growing. It also causes pain. You may not like it, but it “works.”
A book that clearly colored my thinking about the Church is Darwin’s Cathedral by Sloan, I believe. He talks about religions in terms of Darwinian success. He mentions the Mormons as one of the archetypal Darwinian successes.
You know, in your heart of hearts, that Darwinian success means pain. Think of all of the pain that competition and survival of the fittest requires. Now remember that God is the author of this regimen. I think it is the test of life to live in the Darwinian world and to live an altruistic life, not to worry about the pain and uncertainty and death.
We are all surely caught up in a Darwinian struggle, if not with lions, then with virus and bacteria and other religions like Islam and Catholicism. We even are Darwinian in our breeding success, think sexual selection, and think about all the pain that entails.
In this Darwinian context, the Church works in that it is seeming to survive and grow. There will be pain.
If you looked up “Sunstone” in the dictionary, it would have a picture of Jana’s “. . .and I rarely cry.”
Long time since I commented here, but it’s a slow day at work, and I was touched by Jana’s story. There is much we can learn from other cultures and religious traditions, and perhaps the effort should be, within the existing strictures of the church, to try and make more opportunities for involvement.
I’m always a little saddened when I see those who sincerely want more spiritual blessings from church involvement and activity feeling excluded. There is much sadness and pain, and there is also much joy in church service. I don’t know how to overcome many of the obstacles you see to your involvement in the church, and the ordinances in particular.
ScottsValleyBob, the church works through Darwinian evolution? Our architecture may have McDonalds-like tendencies, but I certainly hope we aren’t really that completely homogenized. I’m not sure where you’re coming from, but I don’t see the church locked in a struggle with the evangelicals in a survival of the fittest battle.
I’d be interested in hearing ways within the existing policies that we could be more inclusive of people like Jana. (I hope that doesn’t sound condescending. I didn’t think it was until I saw it on the screen. I’m not sure what I meant by “people like Jana”). I think we’ve made progress, albeit somewhat too slow for some. In our ward, women regularly give the opening prayers in sacrament meeting, and they are not usually paired for prayers as married couples. We include singles as much as possible in leadership and activities. We’ve tried to equalize as much as possible the activities of YM and YW. But certainly there is more we can do, while we anticipate perhaps greater changes in policy and practice, if not doctrine.
Kevinf, a year ago I wrote a huge blog post just on that topic – practical things that can be done on a ward level to include women more.
Some of the things go a little outside the bishop’s handbook, but several don’t. Here are a few:
-call a woman Sunday school president
-encourage teachers to quote women in lessons
-Invite the RS president to come to PEC and/or other bishopric meetings
-call a female clerk
-make women anchor speakers in sacrament meeting
-call couples to have co-equal joint callings
Thank you. I’ll take a look at your post. Interesting to note that in Elder Ballard’s book “Counseling with our Councils”, one of the key themes he seemed to hit on is that too often the sisters of the church are overlooked and not utilized enough in ward and stake councils. He basically rebuked priesthood leaders for failures in this area particularly.
I just was reading along and it triggered me wanting to tell my story a little – sorry. So I am a divorced mother of 5 children, whose father left the church and did everything he could to destroy my children’s budding testimonies, the end result being that none of them are active, all are grown, my daughter came home to live with me a couple of years ago to attend medical school, bringing her boyfriend. She wouldn’t marry him because of fear of mnarriage (very messy divorce). the spirit told me to let them live in my home and I did, accepting them both for who and where they were. I love them both dearly. Then a few months later the bishop called me to be RS President. No sooner was I called than he began a campaign to force my daughter to either marry or end her relationship – despite the fact that her boyfriend was non-Mormon (not even believing in God), and my daughter was completely inactive. Neither flaunted their living arrangements, but the Bishop of course stated that it was open knowledge that they lived together in my home. However they had moved in when I was an obscure ward member who never spoke up in church because of my shame over my divorce and my only calling had been RS pianist. I certainly was not seeking a more prominent position and was stunned when he called me. Most of the pressure was on me because I (rightly or wrongly) tried to protect my daughter and boyIfriend from his forceful methods, while still trying to work with them to move them towards marriage and possibly even church activity. He met with her twice, about 6 months apart, the last time he came down on her hard enough she called all her brothers and sisters and they all decided to give up their church memberships. I was absolutely DEVASTATED. In fact I think it was about the worst moment in my life, and if it had not been for God giving me an incredible experience I do not know what I would have done. I decided to go to the Stake President – and I informed my bishop of this plan – after breaking down in tears. The stake pres was actually very wonderful, asked me what I wanted him to do – and I requested the bishop not be allowed to talk to any of my children again (he had had several other unpleasant and inappropriate interactions with them and the situation was pretty out of hand with my kids being disrespectful to him and him getting more and more worked up),. The stake president did as I asked, the bishop followed the stake president’s direction, and I was able to calm my children down. None of them are active altho a couple of them have gone a couple of times. My daughter finally decided on her own to get married – and we had an incredible (non-temple) marriage, that brought great joy and peace to our family – and I was told by mormons and non-mormons alike it was probably the most beautiful, spiritual and FUN wedding they had ever been to.
I don’t know why I wanted to share this story – I think it has lots of lessons about power, abuse of power, judgment vs love, etc. I just know the church is a very painful organization. My stake president called it an “appalling” organization. I also know LOTS of miscarriages of justice occur in the church (not necessarily speaking of myself) but that God is perfectly just and judges us by the desires of our hearts, not where we are or anything like that. I sure have felt powerless a lot of times – working with this bishop was really hard, but I did survive 2 1/2 years of RS pres with him. I have no idea whether any of my kids will ever desire to come back to church, right now they are pretty negative about it. It is pretty hard to continue to want to go – very lonely and all that. Sometimes I just stay home cause I feel too emotional to go. I wished women had more of a voice in the church, I wish the bishop had been a little more sensitive, but he is who he is. I don’t know if I wish women had the priesthood – I wish we all had good, supportive husbands!
I think short of women having the priesthood there are a TON of changes the church could make that would improve women’s status – but I think they are afraid if they make any changes we will want more and more. I don’t think that would happen. It would be nice if they would let mom’s participate in blessings, at least passively. I agree that women do have a lot of positions in the ward, but they are all auxiliaries, when you get to the stake level or above – the auxiliary presidents are among the least powerful positions in the church. Ward women have far more power than their stake and church counterparts. I think that is really sad. I don’t think church headquarters listens to women at all really, I tried to train my bishop to listen to women, but he really doesn’t get it. Our stake president seems able to do that however. So I guess I was lucky there
I know I am late commenting here, and I don’t know if anyone will read it but Jana. But this morning I have been reading these comments and they strike me as farcical in the extreme. The things that Vilate is saying could very well be coming from my mouth, except that I would be saying them in a sarcastic tone of voice. Just take a look at some of these statements and use a “BiV voice” in your head as you read them (not my real voice, my Eleanor Roosevelt blog-voice):
Most of what gets done, locally speaking, in the Church is done by women. They?¢Ç¨Ñ¢re the ones who check on each other and each other?¢Ç¨Ñ¢s families, do the work of the wards (taking meals to people, teaching lessons on Sundays, arranging activities and therefore the money that is spent on them, etc.), and encouraging their husbands, home teachers, local leaders, and so forth to do things or make changes on a local level. And that proves that we have power, or that we do the slave-work?
The Bishop generally chooses the leaders of the various quorums and auxiliaries, but if a woman is in a leadership position in an auxiliary, she chooses her own counselors in most cases and determines the direction the auxiliary will take, which I guess that is a form of power. Anyone, male or female, can decline a calling. Technically I suppose they are supposed to ?¢Ç¨?ìreport to?¢Ç¨¬ù or ?¢Ç¨?ìget permission from?¢Ç¨¬ù their male leaders, but in my experience, the Bishop nearly always relies on the good judgment of the people involved and usually doesn?¢Ç¨Ñ¢t even check up on them. Yes, we do have the awesome power to decline a calling. And when we are there, we can do what we want, as long as it doesn’t rock the boat or attract too much attention. I guess that’s a form of power, right???
On a macro level, the General Authorities are men, though most of the auxiliaries are led by women. I don?¢Ç¨Ñ¢t know that these women are considered GAs, but they have a fair amount of ?¢Ç¨?ìpower?¢Ç¨¬ù in deciding what will happen in the auxiliaries they lead on a Church-wide basis, again subject to ?¢Ç¨?ìreview?¢Ç¨¬ù or whatever, but I suspect left quite a bit to themselves in practice. Many of the committees that create Sunday School and other curriculum, decide the disbursement of tithes, etc. are made up of men and women (probably not in equal numbers) and they are under the supervision of various members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Quorums of the Seventy, who are men. If this is power, then I guess the men hold a lot of it. Men are good at bureaucracy. Human nature being what it is, I?¢Ç¨Ñ¢m not sure that women would do that much better a job were they the ones in ?¢Ç¨?ìpower?¢Ç¨¬ù, to be honest. Will you just review this statement and analyze what point you have just made, dear???
There?¢Ç¨Ñ¢s no evidence in the scriptures that Jesus ordained any women to the priesthood or even that women held prominent positions in the early Church, only that they did most of the work, as they do now, while men blathered on about doctrine. And now it becomes more obvious why you don’t want to hold the priesthood. There will always be some women who are content to retreat to the kitchen to wash the dishes while the men blather on.
When I think of what it means to hold the priesthood, participating in ordinances involving my children doesn?¢Ç¨Ñ¢t even enter my mind. The priesthood is not a tool to help parents become closer to their children (well, I guess the sealing ordinance helps parents be closer to their children). Well, I guess maybe rites and ordinances can help parents be closer to their children–isn’t this what Jana’s post is about?
Sorry to be so catty, but it’s that time of the month, another reason why women should obviously never hold the priesthood.
As a non practicing Mormon I stood on the outside of the SL temple while my daughter was married. The grooms parents from Houston were with me and they did not appreciate the fact that their only son was getting married and they were excluded from this most important event. Needless to say they are less than impressed with this Exclusionary church, they were graciously polite but if the church leaders could only open their eyes to see the bitterness caused by their exclusionary practices they would never again say that mormonism is about families. Mormonism is about splitting up families in the eyes of hundreds of thousands of people.
I believe much of the negativity toward mormons like Mitt Romney comes from this kind of insulting behaviour that the church dishes out daily and has no understanding of the bitter feelings many people have for the church because of these insults. No missionary lesson will ever be powerful enough to overcome the insult of excluding parents from one of the most important ceremonies of their and their childrens lives.
Thank you for sharing this reminder of how women aren’t the only ones who might feel excluded from LDS ordinances. My spouse went through a similar experience with his family because of their frustration that they couldn’t attend our wedding ceremony. It was hard for them and at the time I had very little sympathy because I was wholly focused on my own dreams about my wedding–I couldn’t see how it must’ve hurt to be marginalized in this important ritual for their oldest son.
I have been considering and researching a vein of concern which is loosely fits into this blog. It is a concern relating to the policies of the church dealing with disfellowshipment. Specifically, not allowing participation in church meetings, not being able to pray publically, not taking the sacrament (when worthy), and not being able to hold a calling (of any type). If a person is living worthy and is abstaining from the pratice for which one was disaplined, how are any of these policies going to help???? I agree that there is some benefits and purposes; like protecting the name of Christ and where much is given much is required. There is also a benefit of increased appreciation for these things once they are again regained. However, do these benefits and others outweigh the problems they create?
It is my experience in the last 8 years being involved in a well established 12 step program that getting one involved as soon as possible is the best way to helping the individual. Will it help an individual more to make a commitment to keep the commandments through the ordinance of the sacrament or to have them not participate? Will it help the seeker of forgiveness more to not participate in gospel discussions in gospel doctrine (or essentials) and priesthood or to contribute his strength and experience (testimony) to the group? Will it help the individual more to hold a calling and commitment to contribute to the ward (this could be scouting, activities committee, and a host of other callings that don’t necessarily equate spiritual purity) or for the individual to do nothing to contribute? And how can a person praying and asking for the spirit to be in a meeting hurt anyone?
Now I know that there are exceptions to all of these examples but if one is feeling repentant and has experienced the love of Heavenly Father why does the church ,in general, require a year after such to forgive and include the individual?
For added context, here’s my report of the same Bat Mitzvah.
I have no idea what ?¢Ç¨?ìLDS notions of power and privilege?¢Ç¨¬ù really means in the context of being a disciple of Christ. That is all I am interested in being.
If that were true, you wouldn’t sign yourself “the bish” and you wouldn’t make nonsense claims like “The decision regarding who is given authority must be clear (or we would have rival claims), and it must be arbitrary (or else it would lead to pride).”
the utter fallaciousness of that statement is demonstrated by A) the fact that there have been rival claims to power in the LDS church, ranging from the schism between those who followed Joseph’s son and those who followed Brigham, to those who claimed for so long that black men should also have the priesthood, to those who argue that women should be given the priesthood today, and B) the pride and arrogance of so many priesthood holders, who feel that their status is somehow a mark of their righteousness.
If you truly don’t know what “LDS notions of power and privilege” really means, in the context of being a disciple of Christ or in any other context, it’s because you’re not paying attention, not asking the appropriate questions of yourself and the god you worship. You SHOULD know, because much of Christ’s ministry was devoted to making explicit, turning inside out and showing the inadequacy of the notions of power and privilege current in his day. If you can’t take that lesson from the New Testament and apply it to your own life and your own day, just as the Book of Mormon commands, you’re failing to do your job, not only as a bish but simply as the disciple of Christ you claim you’re interested in being.
A couple thoughts were going through my head as I was reading the comments. I’m not going to share my first thought, because its motive was to marginalize and contain Jana’s and others’ feelings about the topic, and fortunately Eugene called me to repentance. Thanks, Eugene, and thanks everyone else for your comments.
This led me to my second thought, and it has to do with expectations of the Church. Many of us, practicing or non-practicing Mormon alike, think that the Church should be everything to everyone. Is this because of the way the Church is sold, or should it be, if it really is led by revelation, everything to everyone? I wonder because Mormons often conceive of the Church as having the whole truth. This is fallacious–the “world” is not nearly as spiritually impoverished as one might guess from the average Sacrament meeting–but nonetheless prevalent. Maybe Mormons also romanticize the benefits of church?
My own sense of spiritual loss came earlier this year. After four years at BYU, I could definitely feel the Church membership’s distaste for heterodoxy. Not feeling emotionally strong enough to ingratiate myself weekly on a congregation that didn’t fully value me, I wondered if I should stop going to Church. I resolved that I would, for the sole reason that I couldn’t go to the temple if I stopped going to the Church, and my experiences in the temple lately had been the opposite of my experiences in Church; I felt too valued!
I still go to church, and I still don’t feel fully appreciated there. But I think that experience helped me realize that I needed more emotional support from my family and close friends and to place such expectations on total strangers, no matter what commandments they live by, was unrealistic and unfair.
I don’t mean to imply that others’ experiences are similar or that they should learn from my example. My point is just that, however heretical it may be, I believe the Church can’t be everything to everyone. This sounds callous, but I’m not trying to say “shut up and like it.” On the contrary, by saying this I’m hoping to remove a stigma from stating how the Church has failed to meet one’s needs.
My mom accompanied me when I took out my endownments. This is a great way for a mother to participate in an important ordinance.
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