A Perfect Baby Blessing

Months ago, my husband and I decided we’d each give Ava a baby blessing. It was a very controversial decision for an LDS family to make.  That is because, in our church, only fathers with the higher priesthood may participate in the public blessing and naming ritual for new infants.  Mothers must sit among the congregants while the baby is being blessed.

But my husband and I are products of a country where, outside of religion, women and men are very nearly equal.  As a parent, I want to send a clear message to our daughter, beginning with her first blessing, that this equality would not end at the doors of the church.   I don’t have the priesthood—but I don’t need the priesthood to give my child a blessing.  I have the right, as a daughter of God, to pray over my children, and expect He will provide guidance, blessings and inspiration in return.

Ava

And so, with only our parents and bishop to witness, Jang held Ava first and gave her a beautiful blessing, which I recorded.  I won’t share it all, but the most touching moment came when he asked God to give her “the strength to know that it’s okay to be different and to be yourself.”  He continued, “I bless you with the desire to accomplish great things in your life…with ambition and leadership that you can be a shining light to other people.  That other people can look to you as someone who is faithful and trustworthy.”  Since a baby blessing more often conveys the parent’s hopes for the child, rather than any prophecy, hearing my husband say these things about our daughter warmed my heart.  I hope Ava will be a trailblazer and example for many people, both inside the LDS faith and outside of it.  We smiled at each other when he finished.

Then it was my turn.  I’d stayed outside the priesthood circle, at my hubby’s request, but now I stepped forward to hold my child.  The bishop, my father and father-in-law stood somewhat awkwardly around me.  I’m sure none of them had any idea what this moment would look like.  Truth be told, neither did I. It was a blessing my own mother had never voiced.  I felt a little uncomfortable coming forward then— but the instant Ava was in my arms, her face brightened, and I felt a calmness come over me.  She recognized me, her mother—and as her mother, this was exactly what I should be doing for her.  Thankfully, I’d thought and prayed beforehand about what I wanted to say; and when all the men had moved to the side or taken their seats, I began to speak:

“Ava this is a special day for you.  This is a day where all your family is gathered together to celebrate your birth.  We’re so very happy you’re a part of our family.  You’ve been blessed with an even temperament and a sweet nature, and we truly hope that these character traits continue in your life.  As your mother, I pray that Heavenly Father will bless you with the ability to clearly know right from wrong, and to be a guide for your siblings and an inspiration for those around you.  It’s important now to stand for things that are right and true.  We hope that you’ll always stick close to the Church and close to your Heavenly Father, and say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

As I spoke, I somehow felt a rightness to my words.  I wondered if that is how fathers feel when they bless their children.  In that moment, I was happy, surrounded by family as I held my baby daughter.  I had stuck to my commitment to bless her out of sheer principle—there had been times when Jang and I wondered if it would be worth it to go ahead with the mother’s blessing, fearing how our friends or church leaders would react.  But I can tell you, when we each blessed our daughter in turn, it felt so right; so complete.  As parents, we are a team, and we stood together that day.  And I believe God stood with us as well.

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Another One Bites the Dust: John Dehlin is Ex’d

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To anyone keeping abreast of Mormon issues, John Dehlin’s excommunication wasn’t a surprise.  John is someone who actively questions LDS faith and culture (including hot-button issues like the priesthood ordination of women and same-sex marriage).  However, in doing so he has helped provide a voice for many individuals who feel disenfranchised and disenchanted within the Mormon church. I don’t know if his excommunication was the “right” decision; in the end, I think that question is irrelevant. John’s leaders had the option to excommunicate him and they did so.  In the end, if an ecclesiastical leader wants a vocal member to be excommunicated, they can almost always find grounds to do so.

There is no doubt the popularity of his controversial Mormon Stories podcast made Church leaders uncomfortable.  In the end, it is because John found a large and sympathetic audience for these controversial views that Church leaders decided to charge him with “[leading] others away from the Church,” and thereby excommunicate him. Interestingly, the February 9 letter detailing John’s excommunication did not list (as grounds for the action) John’s support for same-sex marriage and women’s ordination; but John has alleged these were the impetus for his disciplinary proceedings.

[Here is a link to John Dehlin’s publication of his excommunication letter and transcript of his penultimate disciplinary council.  The Church’s response is here also.]

I don’t like this recent round of excommunications.  Even if Kate Kelly and John Dehlin were misguided, their goal wasn’t to lead people astray from the Mormon church.  Just the opposite.  They were trying to make the Church a more welcoming place for its members—all of its members.  The gays.  The feminists.  The non-apologist historians.  The people struggling with addiction and depression and so many other issues.   In truth, the typical LDS member is no longer the Republican, white, heterosexual prototype (from a nuclear family) that I pictured growing up; and we don’t always fall in line when a Church leader answers a question with “because I said so”.  A substantial portion of the Church membership is now forcefully telling the Church it wants change; and they are motivated, well-read and tech-savvy individuals who can easily spread their ideas/beliefs/knowledge to the public.  Will the Church listen to these groups and allow open discussion of its beliefs and practices?  Or will its refuse to examine the correctness of its policies, procedures and doctrinal beliefs, or allow its members to do likewise?

The Church has never been the forerunner of change.  It generally follows cultural trends; it does not create them. However, Elder Cristofferson (an Apostle) recently stated that members may speak out about opposing beliefs and even support groups like Ordain Women.  They would only be disciplined if “someone is out attacking the church and its leaders.  If that’s a deliberate and persistent effort and trying to get others to follow…trying to pull people, if you will, out of the church or away from its teachings and doctrines.”

Elder Cristofferson’s statement is a small concession towards freer speech and discussion among the members; but its a concession nonetheless.  And let’s not forget, that two Apostles even agreed to speak on Trib Talk and take questions from its audience is already a huge step for these men, who traditionally communicate with the public in a much more scripted, controlled manner (like General Conference).

Time will only tell if the Church will continue to silence dissenting voices, like John Dehlin, or move towards a more conciliatory approach.  I take comfort in knowing that, for every John Dehlin, there are probably a hundred others who are not excommunicated for their public discussions. And that number is growing every day.

My Husband “Gets Me” Because He’s Asian

I’m a little different than the average Mormon girl. I’ve often voiced my opinion that women should have equal rights and standing in the Church with the men.  This attitude may have put off a beau or two over the years. Fortunately, I married a man who not only appreciates my egalitarian views, he embraces them.

Jang was the only Asian I ever dated in college.  With a student population that is roughly 84% Caucasian, it was practically a given that I’d mostly date white men at BYU.  Then I met Jang. He asked me out, I said yes, and the rest is….well…history.

When you’re dating, you tend to hide the crazy a little bit.  I don’t think Jang quite grasped the depth of my “feminist” leanings until after we were married. It wasn’t long into our marriage, however, before we were having deep discussions about my dissatisfaction with women’s role in the Mormon Church. At that point, I discovered something amazing; he not only appreciated my feelings, he understood them.  Like, really understood them.

Being a racial minority, Jang knows all too well how it feels to be marginalized.  Over the years, he’s explained to me what it felt like to be an Asian kid in the Bronx; the insults, the threats, the constant feeling of being different. He talks animatedly about Jeremy Lin, Ichiro, Wu Tang Clan and Daniel Dae Kim, all for the same reason—they each brought Asians (or Asian culture) into the public eye. America’s acceptance of these groups or people as “cool” made my husband, by extension, feel validated by the mainstream.  Because Asians don’t have a strong presence in any mainstream media.  Their voices aren’t heard.

Jang often tells me how, growing up, he’d search for faces like his on favorite shows, in his favorite sports teams or in the movies.  He never found them.  He’s still looking for them. He understands what it’s like to feel unrepresented by institutions you hold dear.  To not only feel that you’re not being listened to, but also to wonder if the institution even knows you have a voice at all.

So, yeah, he gets it.  He understands my fruitless childhood search for a strong female presence in LDS magazines, in General Conference, in the leadership or even at the pulpit on Sundays.  He comprehends how hard it is to feel like the odd (wo-)man out, to feel that your opinions and feelings aren’t understood or being represented by the people in power. So when I tell him my frustrations with Church culture, and he says he understands how I feel, I believe him.

Growing up, Church culture made me feel like my dissatisfaction was sinful. But American culture has made Jang feel like his dissatisfaction isn’t important.  Both messages are wrong; they’re so…wrong.  We’ve each chosen to reject these untruths.  It’s a process we’ve gone through together, and the experience has made us closer.  It’s odd, but working through my complex feelings towards the Church has helped me understand my husband, and his complex racial identity, better. The main difference now between our experiences is recognition of the problem; while the Mormon church is now debating its treatment of women, the mainstream culture still doesn’t seem to believe racism towards Asians exists.

I often think, what if I’d married in the other 84%?  Would a white man understand my feelings as well and Jang?  Maybe. But it may have been difficult for that man to truly empathize with my situation.  That’s why I so admire the men, and especially white men, who do speak out against gender inequality in the Church and elsewhere.  Because it’s one thing to recognize a wrong exists; but it’s an entirely different thing to have felt that same wrong in your own life.  Experiencing discrimination, and then seeing it inflicted on someone else, gives you feelings that are hard to describe—but they’re strong, and compelling, and having that shared experience binds you to that other person.

Every time I speak with Jang, I’m impressed by the richness of his life experiences.  I hope he’ll share them with you sometime; I’m so glad he’s shared them with me.  He’s been a listening ear and a sympathetic voice during all my struggles.  He’s my rock.

Not my Baby

This April, you won’t see us blessing our daughter in a church. Her father won’t hold her up, Lion King-style, in front of an admiring audience as I sit silently in the back pew. This decision makes us atypical among our Mormon friends. But I simply don’t like the message that the typical baby blessing projects—that Jang, as the head of our household, is the only one worthy enough to bless and present our baby before the congregation.

Let me just tell you how our family works; there is no head of the household.  Jang and I approach religious worship as we do all other aspects of our marriage—as equals.  That’s not to say there’s no division of duties; I recently became—gulp!—a stay-at-home mom.  Thus, by default, I get to make many of the day-to-day decisions on raising our kids. Jang is the “breadwinner” and full-time working parent.  So, although he asks my opinion on many work-related things, he does not consult with me on most decisions about how to run his law firm. It’s not because we necessarily believe in proscribed gender roles; this division of duties, for us, is about what is practical.

But excluding mothers from participating in baby blessings serves no practical purpose.  It is only about division, about demonstrating the “proper” priesthood order that governs the Church today.  In doing so, I believe the Church undermines women’s roles in creating and raising that baby; some would see it as another example of how women are marginalized in the Church today.

Let me tell you the thoughts that go through my head when I think about letting my daughter be blessed in the traditional way. For nine months, I suffered intense bouts of nausea, terrible acid reflux and exhaustion, before laboring to bring her into this world.  Since then, I’ve been her constant companion.  Often, mine is the first face she sees in the morning and the last one before she sleeps at night. In my divine role as her mother, I’m responsible for her nurturing, care and safety. Yet, on the day when she is recognized by my Church, and given a name and a blessing, I’m essentially nothing to her; I don’t even have the standing to be able to bring her before my fellow members and say, “Look! Here is my daughter.”  Nope; I’m just another face in the crowd.  Any adult Melchizedek priesthood holder, although a stranger to her, can participate in this blessing circle. But not me.

View More: http://kayla-brooke.pass.us/ava

I had the traditional baby blessing with my first child. I won’t apologize for this decision; my husband and I wanted to include our new ward in the blessing, because of their many kindnesses to us. Before the blessing, I remember asking the Bishop if I could record it, so that my son could later listen to his father’s words. That request was met with such a firm (if kind) no, I didn’t dare ask if I could participate in the blessing circle. Later, I regretted my choice.  I now firmly believe that there is no justification for prohibiting me, or any other woman, from participating in blessing her child.

The thing is, my ideas about revelation and blessings have come a long way since first blessing our son almost three years ago. I know now that every person, whether a priesthood holder or not, has the right to ask for (even promise) blessings upon their family. I’ve discarded the image of my husband as being the head of our family and the primary source of God’s revelation for us. As my children’s mother and primary caregiver, I know their spirits and personalities more intimately than anyone. And while I emphatically believe in the sacredness of priesthood blessings, and I believe my husband will receive revelation to guide our children’s future lives, I also know I can too.

And so, we’ve made a decision; this time around, we won’t bless our baby in a church. Her father won’t carry her ceremoniously up to the mount of revelation, leaving me behind with the masses. In this at least, I will not be a second-class participant in my children’s religious lives. Not only will I hold her during the blessing, I may even say a few words about my baby as well. Because, if I speak, it will be as a mother who prays over her children constantly, and who has already called down numerous blessings from Heavenly Father for her small family. Asking God for revelation and blessings, particularly concerning my children, is something I am entitled to do as a mother, without regard for any institution (religious or otherwise) on this earth. And so, if I choose to speak, I have no doubt the Spirit can be with me, as well as my husband, to give us direction for her future life. I don’t need for it to be officially recognized by the Church for the words to proceed from God. In conducting the blessing this way, I do not feel I’m undermining my husband’s priesthood authority; I hope I am complementing it.

I hope the blessing can be an opportunity for our family to establish healthy interactions, not only with the Mormon church, but with one another as well.  With this decision, I want to show my children that their father and I are equals before God, both at home and at Church.  And since that equality is not apparent in the blessings that take place in Church today, our daughter’s will take place where it belongs—in our home.

And I’m recording the entire thing, darn it.

Apostasy: What is it Again?

I was glad to have the First Presidency issue a statement on recent events. The excommunication of Ordain Women co-founder, Kate Kelly (along with pending disciplinary actions against other Mormon individuals) has thrown the Mormon world, not to mention my world, into a furor.


The First Presidency’s statement reads:

In God’s plan for the happiness and eternal progression of His children, the blessings of His priesthood are equally available to men and women. Only men are ordained to serve in priesthood offices. All service in the Church has equal merit in the eyes of God. We express profound gratitude for the millions of Latter-day Saint women and men who willingly and effectively serve God and His children. Because of their faith and service, they have discovered that the Church is a place of spiritual nourishment and growth.

We understand that from time to time Church members will have questions about Church doctrine, history, or practice. Members are always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding. We feel special concern, however, for members who distance themselves from Church doctrine or practice and, by advocacy, encourage others to follow them.

Simply asking questions has never constituted apostasy. Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.

The Council of
The First Presidency and
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


This statement is, to my knowledge, the first time the LDS Church has publicly disclosed the definition of “apostasy” as provided in the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions (Vol.1).  Volume 1 of the Church Handbook outlines the responsibilities of Church leaders and provides detailed information about Church policies and procedures, including how disciplinary councils are held (i.e.,  ecclesiastical trials during which a member of the Church is tried for alleged violations of Church standards). Coincidentally, this particular Handbook is only available to certain ecclesiastical leaders in the Church, and so the procedure of disciplinary councils, and even what constitutes an ex-communicable offense, is often a mystery to the average LDS lay member.

Why is apostasy such an important word here? Generally, it is the reason why members are currently being excommunicated from the Church. In the end, apostasy is the charge by which, if proven at a disciplinary council, the Church revokes an individual’s membership and temple covenants.

Oh snap. That’s clear, isn’t it?  The Church says its okay to ask questions.  It’s sad the First Presidency even has to iterate this point, but if my recent Facebook discussions have taught me anything, it’s that this point actually needs to be made. So, for the record, ASKING QUESTIONS = OKAY.

In asking these questions, you’re only in danger of committing apostasy if you do one of two things:  1) Repeatedly act in clear, deliberate and open public (CDOP) opposition to the Church or it’s faithful leaders; or 2) Persist, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine. First, acting in CDOP opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders. That obviously means you can ask questions if the answers correspond with Church doctrine, but you can’t ask questions in a way that opposes the Church leaders…doctrine…practices…customs…culture….wait, have I gone too far afield here?


1. Repeatedly Acting in Clear, Deliberate and Open Public Opposition to the Church or its Faithful Leaders.

What is the right way to ask controversial questions, without acting in opposition to the Church? Should we not talk about topics that might make the Church or its leaders look bad, or un-clarified doctrine? Are we allowed to regularly disagree with our Sunday School teachers? Write opinions that differ from the Mormon mainstream on a blog post?

Acting “in clear, deliberate and open public opposition” may seem like a sufficiently restrictive term; but it can actually be applied to a wide range of behavior and discourse, whose characterization as CDOP opposition would be almost entirely based, not on how the agitator feels about his or her actions, but on how the recipient of the agitation  perceives this opposition.  The Science magazine offers a wonderful analysis of this behavior: simply put, we judge others’ behavior primarily by what we observe (their actions), but we judge our own behavior by our actions, thoughts, feelings and intentions. So we can often misperceive the intentions and feelings behind others’ actions.

Ally Isom and the Church Public Affairs department have a real problem with improper tone. However, if our brief foray into psychology has taught us anything, it is that we don’t all measure impropriety the same way. Therefore, behavior that may seem like deliberate antagonism and rebellion to an institution, may be perceived as necessary agitation and debate to the actors. Without defending their actions, I believe this is the disconnect that exists between some Ordain Women members and their ecclesiastical leaders.

In a June 19, 2014 press statement, Jessica Moody, from the Church Public Affairs department, emphasized just how important an individual’s perceived intent is when the Church analyzes his or her behavior: “How and why one asks is as important as the questions we’re asking.”

Ms. Moody continues, “What causes concern for Church leaders is when personal motivations drive those conversations beyond discussion, and a person or group begins recruiting others to insist on changes in Church doctrines or structure. When it goes so far as creating organized groups, staging public events to further a cause or creating literature for members to share in their local congregations, the Church has to protect the integrity of its doctrine as well as other members from being misled.”

So, sharing your opinions in local Sunday School meetings is okay.  Asking questions in chat rooms, on Facebook, and on a blog seems to be okay too.  It’s the tone and the persuasiveness of your arguments that could get you into trouble. And your tone will be judged by what the Church, as your ultimate judge, perceives your intentions and motivations to be.

On the one hand, I feel like the Church spokeswoman is saying, “You will know if you have proper intentions in asking your questions. If you publicly air controversial views, make sure you’re not trying to persuade others to take that winding path. Learn from Ordain Women.  Don’t petition, demonstrate, or put out informative pamphlets trying to change Church doctrine or structure.”

On the other hand, my cynical mind would add the following interpretation to Ms. Moody’s Public Affairs statement: “If you advocate for a position that isn’t strictly in keeping with Church practice, feel free to express your opinions—just don’t oppose current Church practice/doctrine/policy. And if you do, act alone; don’t make your arguments too persuasive, so that other people follow you.”

Following this logical trail leaves me with several concerns. How effective an examination of Church doctrine/practice/policy can we make, before running the risk of a disciplinary council? Should we just keep the difficult questions a private matter as Kate Kelly’s leaders counseled her? I want to voice my questions and opinions and have a sounding board for these thoughts.

There’s merit in public discussion: when you publicly discuss and develop your ideas, you get to see if they make sense.  If your ideas are logically sound, won’t others be attracted to your ideas, and start to share them, then possibly follow them…and is this wrong, even if the ideas are controversial?

It seems, with Kate Kelly’s excommunication, the Church is trying to set some clear boundaries about what its members cannot do—recruit others to insist on changes in Church doctrines or structure (that’s an interesting one); organize into groups; stage public events to further a cause [to change doctrines or structure]; or create literature for members to share in their local congregations. All of which Ordain Women has done. To this list, Elder Whitney Clayton would unofficially add that public advocacy for the ordination of women is apostasy, advice which Kate Kelly’s local leaders took all-too literally.

At this point, I feel I should mention that neither the Church Public Affairs statements, nor Elder Clayton’s private remarks, are doctrine. I’m not sure if, under the strict meaning of the word, even the First Presidency Statement is doctrine. However, at the very least, these comments reflect current Church culture, practice, and the standards by which questioning minds will be judged today.


2. Persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine. The First Presidency press release also cautions against statements that contain “false teachings” or which mislead other members. This corresponds with the second part of the definition of apostasy provided by the First Presidency: persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.  Clearly, Kate Kelly’s local leaders felt impelled to correct false doctrinal teachings about women and the priesthood. To that end, Ms. Kelly’s stake president asked her to take down her website, disassociate herself from Ordain Women and publicly repent. Her refusal to do so led to her excommunication.

Putting aside for a moment that women’s ordination to the priesthood is neither fully supported nor contradicted within Mormon doctrine, it’s difficult for us on the blogosphere, who are interested in this topic, to know from this ecclesiastical counsel exactly what we can and cannot say on the subject.

Let’s just say we won’t advocate for the ordination of women. Then we’ll be safe from charges of apostasy, right?  Unfortunately, Kate Kelly is only one of several Mormon activists facing disciplinary action for airing their opinions: those facing charges of apostasy include John Dehlin, gay rights advocate and founder of the Mormon Stories podcast; Alan Rock Waterman, founder of the Pure Mormonism blog; and now-excommunicated Denver Snuffer, Jr., author and founder of the Denver Snuffer blog. Their writings analyze, and advocate, the writers’ beliefs about a diverse range of subjects—same-sex marriage and attraction; church history and theology; the corporate arm of the Church; and doctrinal topics like priestcraft, the Word of Wisdom, current tithing practices, and polygamy.

I can only assume their local leaders relied on the definition of apostasy provided in Church Handbook of Instructions (Vol. 1), in deciding to charge these members with apostasy. And the truth is, each and every one of these individuals could be found guilty of the charge—because, in the end, the definition of apostasy is, well… so darn broad.

Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.

To be fair, the local LDS leaders did instruct these individuals (I’ll call them the Foursome) what they could do to avoid excommunication.  However, these leaders did not always iterate what specific beliefs got the Foursome into trouble in the first place, or why these beliefs contradicted Church doctrine. This concerns me, a blogger, because in some instances the individuals were actually excommunicated, without knowing why their beliefs were false.

What’s more, local leaders have a lot of discretion in deciding whether individual has taught false doctrine, or acted in opposition to the Church and its faithful leaders.  Church spokeswoman Jessica Moody recently commented on this subject, “[The] standard procedural handbook says: ‘Local presiding officers should not expect General Authorities to tell them how to decide difficult matters. Decisions on Church discipline are within the discretion and authority of local presiding officers as they prayerfully seek guidance from the Lord.’ ”

So, even if the Foursome’s ecclesiastical leaders had clarified the false doctrinal teachings for these individuals, their leaders’ explanations would not apply to any interpretations my bishop or stake president might have of Church doctrine.

There are undoubtedly positive results from giving local Church leaders discretion in convening disciplinary councils and defining apostate behavior and beliefs. Disciplinary councils are at times referred to as “councils of love” because they can offer a repentance process based on that member’s particular sins (and there are a multitude of ways to sin). Many leaders who have participated in these councils will say they have felt the presence of the Lord’s Spirit attending them during the process.

But even with all those positive accounts, there is no member of the Church who wants to be in front of a disciplinary council. And, unfortunately, even with recent statements by Church Public Affairs and the Office of the First Presidency outlining some unacceptable behavior, I’m not sure a critical thinker and writer within the Church will know how to clearly avoid prohibitive Church actions in the future.

The New York Times and the Huffington Post report at least dozen Mormons in the U.S. are facing discipline for expressing criticisms of the Church or support for same-sex marriage or women’s ordination on-line, with several more unofficial reports of disciplinary action coming in across the blogosphere.

I’d hope an LDS member with questions finds his or her Church leaders to be a generally tolerant group; but our leaders’ current scrutiny of social media is troubling. And there is still a lot of gray area when it comes to defining what makes an online discussion acceptable or unacceptable; not only because apostasy is so broadly defined, but because our local leaders have great discretion when disciplining the members in their jurisdiction.

I’ve heard a fair number of stories where local Church leaders responded to questions about LDS doctrine and practice with acceptance, respect and even support. I’ve also heard several accounts when the individuals were very surprised their bishops had taken exception to their online comments. It’s important to note here that no disciplinary action takes place in a vacuum. I’d like to think it takes more than just one online comment, Facebook post or discussion group to violate Church policy and irk your local leaders.

For good or for ill, the Church disciplinary process is a very localized affair that relies on subjective interpretations of, not only doctrine, but also an individual’s behavior, intentions, and beliefs. Done under the perfect guidance of the Holy Spirit, I actually believe this can be a good implementation of ecclesiastical judgment.

However, when such an active community of bloggers, writers, chatters and Facebook posters is given only general guidelines, and varying implementation of those guidelines, it’s also hard to know when we risk Church discipline for an expressed thought. As someone who explores her faith through questioning, exploring and discussing her ideas, I’d like to know before I’m in danger of the judgment; facing the great unknown of the disciplinary council is a gamble I just don’t want to make.


For a list of references used in this post, click here. This is not an official web site of the LDS Church.

Father’s Day Discourses

In light of recent events in the LDS Church, I was very interested in the Father’s Day sermons that would be given in various wards. Reading the stories on the Mormon message boards provided me with moments of hilarity but also hope. Here’s a wonderful story (re-posted with the author’s permission):

Exploring Sainthood Father's Day post

Why the LDS Church Needs Feminists

I’d like to reflect on my upbringing in the Church. To me, the Church’s relationship towards women alternates between benign patriarchy and austere rigidity. This was demonstrated to me from a young age, as I heard from my leaders about the woman I was supposed to be.

This lesson came from the top-down, most notably during General Conference. In the dearth of female speakers, we listened to the aged men before us tell us about their saintly mothers, persevering wives, and angelic daughters. They taught us to be ministering angels, selfless spouses, and gentle advocates for Christ. We were their better halves, with a divine nature that was to be both celebrated and protected, at all costs.

These spiritual giants told us that we were the true examples of Christ like behavior to the men and children under our care, but in the same breath upheld the divine mandate that men were to preside over us in family and Church life. If a woman should ever wish to leave her divinely appointed role as a stay at home mother, she was in some way going against the mandate of God. The ideal woman supported and upheld the men in her life, from infancy to adulthood, never asking for a thank you or recognition in return. For her entire life, she would be a silent witness as her man achieved prestige and recognition, both professionally and in the Church.

The majority of lessons and activities for LDS girls seemed focused on molding each of us into this “ideal” woman. Our virtue was one of our most important assets, and so in conduct, thought, and language, we had to be pure. Upholding this rigid standard was even more imperative because, owing to our more spiritual natures, we had to protect the men in our lives from transgressing the law of chastity, either in thought or in deed. Cultivating the Spirit was essential to this end; and so we had to regulate our music, television, movies, conversation, and, most importantly, our dress.  We were repeatedly counseled that Christ had said if a man looked on a woman to lust after her, he was committing adultery already in his heart.  We would literally be leading the young men down the path to hellfire if we did not scrupulously moderate our dress, the most easily identifiable way of controlling the men’s nearly uncontrollable sexual libido.  For the modest young woman, wearing sleeveless dresses or short skirts was anathema. A glimpse of shoulder or thigh could easily cause a young man to have sinful thoughts. In that case, the sin was equally ours.

If, Heaven forbid, we were to transgress sexually, we would be forever tainted by that act. In pointed analogies, we were told we would be broken vessels, or chewed up gum, should we commit this sin. Losing our virginity before marriage would be a scar that would mar our souls, and we would forever know that we hadn’t remained true and faithful to our commitments.

Every Wednesday, we would hold activities (often involving crafting or cooking) and socialize with the young men, who we knew were being molded to become strong, confident providers for us. In Sunday lessons, when we were divided into our all-girls meeting, we would hear stories about the spiritual promptings that shaped our leaders’ lives: when they knew their husband was “the one”; the many times they’d had to rely on the sensitive whisperings of the Spirit to perform their roles as housewives and mothers. Never were we encouraged to work outside the home; this was only a last resort, if our husbands turned out to be unable to provide. I remember feeling a secret shame for that archetypal, incapable husband. Correspondingly, we were encouraged to pursue higher education, but it was only to complement our future roles as spouses and mothers. Education was, at its heart, a contingency plan. I can only remember a single lesson, in the five years that I was in this youth program, when the girls had a career night—one of the highlighted careers being a stay at home mom.

During the summers, while the young men went on grueling 3-day bike rides, white water rafting trips, and camped out in primitive conditions (all to bond them to one another and to develop the inner strength needed to confront the hard world) we had  “Girls Camp”. Our Camp emphasized spiritual, as opposed to physical, development, and so for five days we would recline in comfortable cabins, eat prepared meals and have activities designed for our enjoyment. We would do crafts, cook foil-wrapped dinners, play volleyball, and have testimony meetings on the well-manicured grass at nights. At all times, women and priesthood leaders supervised us; and at night, the men would take shifts to patrol the camp, scaring girls who ventured out after bedtime by rustling the bushes, making us shriek with fear and run back to the safety of our locked cabins.

Every significant role in Church was, and still is, held by men. The Bishop served as a spiritual guide to the ward. He and his male counselors always sat at the front pulpit on Sundays, directing the meetings, calling upon speakers, and supervising the administration of the sacrament. He collected our tithing, gave regular addresses to the congregation, and we confessed our sins (even those of a sensitive nature) to him. His counselors supervised the running of the ward as well—overseeing activities, conducting interviews, and handling all monetary transactions in the ward. Ultimately, all planned activities, all callings, and all Church meetings needed the approval of this man, the Bishop, before they could proceed.

Our male counterparts, the young men, carried out the sacrament. For a few moments every Sunday, these goofy boys would transform into solemn priesthood holders as they meticulously repeated the words of the sacrament prayers and blessed the bread and water. Then, in a uniform, white-shirted column, they passed the sacrament to the congregation. In this way, the entire sacrament became, not only a moment to remember Christ, but an opportunity to see the overriding patriarchy of God’s Church in action.

As a youth, I struggled against this institutional inequality; from my insistence on wearing pants (so I could somehow feel equal to the men) to my failed attempts to organize the first-ever white water rafting trip for young women.  When I went to college at BYU, there was less of a division between men and women in our youth wards—we were similar ages and had shared activities—but the structure of the Church was the same. In addition, I was also surrounded with adult byproducts of this youth training program. The consequences for not conforming to Church norms would be social rejection.

As I finished my undergraduate studies, then an LDS mission, I found myself an unmarried and working adult. The only option for me then was graduate school—this would serve the dual purpose of buying me more time to get married, and better equipping me for a rewarding job if I could not find a spouse.

In the rigorous intellectual environment of BYU Law School, I began to consciously address the pain from my LDS upbringing for the first time.  I realized my childhood in the Church had some positive, as well as negative, results. My upbringing had cultivated in me a feeling of worth as a child of God, a strong sense of right and wrong, and an enquiring mind. However, one of the reasons I even attended law school was because I had graduated college with no career plans. No one in my Church experience had prepared me for the “what ifs” of life as a single adult. I was terrified of being a working adult with only an undergraduate education, because my degree did not guarantee me a rewarding and satisfying job. Only through the gentle prodding of my parents did I begin to study law.

Then, as a lawyer, I found myself confronting this same anxiety. Why, I wondered, as a well-educated adult, would I still feel ill equipped and frightened of going out into the work force? Goodness knows my parents had always encouraged me to have a prestigious career. I can only point to the messages I received from the Church, both stated and un-stated, as the root of this anxiety. By differentiating us at a young age, often with separate activities and separate doctrinal lessons, I was taught that I was different from the young men. The General Authorities and local leaders then answered the question of how I was different. At heart, I was a foil to them—more sensitive, tenderer, more spiritually inclined. I was not to compete with the men in my life—I was to complement them. My highest calling in life would be to raise and nurture children, and so any vocational aspirations would take away from fulfilling this goal. Ultimately, I was at no loss to explain my inadequate and fearful feelings of being a career woman—it’s a wonder I contemplated pursuing a legal career at all!

I support the doctrine of the family and the priesthood; but I am troubled by the control that men have in nearly all aspects of Church administration, both temporal and spiritual.  Does it take having the priesthood to manage the finances of a ward; to conduct a sacrament meeting; to organize ourselves as women and young women; even to pass the sacrament? Why is there this overriding need of the men in the Church to elevate women on a pedestal while denying them full expression as human beings? I am not a foil to you men. I am not a complement to you, your other half, or your ideal spiritual being. I am a child of God, and the standard I should be held to is how my character emulates Christ’s—not your sainted mother, your silent wife, or your revered pioneer ancestress.

I hope, as men and women of my generation assume leadership roles in their wards, stakes and areas of the Church, this cultural inflexibility towards women’s roles will change. The young women of today need us to be their examples, need so-called “feminist” women to speak up, assume more leadership roles, and prepare for futures outside of the roles of mother and homemaker. Let us grow and develop as individuals, not to be viewed as lesser or greater than you men. In the end, we are all equal before God.