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.

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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.

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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.

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.

 

Supporting Women: A Family Affair

I was on Temple Square with my family yesterday.  We were there to support the Ordain Woman movement. And it was amazing!  I’m not a member of Ordain Women.  It’s not that I don’t agree with their premise that women could be ordained to the priesthood.  But Elder Oaks’ remarks at the 2014 Priesthood session, and recent statements by the LDS Church, seem to close the lid on that subject- at least for now. 

I’m not posting to argue the doctrine on this issue.  Many of you have your minds made up that women shouldn’t hold the priesthood, and I respect that.  But for all those who would only be getting your information on the 2014 priesthood demonstration from local news media, I’d like to tell you what I experienced on Temple Square yesterday.

My husband, Jang, and I brought our two-year-old son to the demonstration.  Because of naptime, we were running late, and would just arrive at the tail end of the event.  We parked our car at City Creek and quickly made our way to Temple Square.  Within moments, we saw the Ordain Women line.  And it…was…huge!  It started at the Tabernacle door and wrapped most of the way around the large circular building. Mind you, the women started lining up at 4:30 pm.  We got there after 5:30 pm.  That means women had been approaching the door and been turned away for over an hour before we got there.  Some estimates put the number of participants at 500+ people, and I’m inclined to believe that figure is accurate.

And that wasn’t the most impressive part.  This next part, you might not believe, but I swear it’s the truth—the line was almost entirely comprised of men and women.  The sight was so impressive my husband and I stopped for a moment and took it in.  I even teared up a little bit.  The men and women in that line were standing side-by-side, happy and peaceful.  They looked like there was no other place in this world they’d rather be.  It was exactly what I’d always dreamed of seeing in our Church.  Men and women, working together as participants with an equal voice.  The symbolism of that just astounds me. 

I hadn’t been sure if I would stand in line, and I definitely wasn’t going to push Jang to join me if I did.  But the urge to join with these people quickly became overpowering.  And bless his heart, Jang was right beside me as we quickly took our places at the back of the line.

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Our family together in the priesthood session standby line.

As we stood in the slow-moving line, we started chatting with the women and men around us, who were all very friendly.  Some were staunch supporters of OW.  Others, like me, were there to show their support for all the Movement had already accomplished to expand women’s role in the Church.  We talked and laughed as we recounted our reasons for coming.  For some, just getting to the demonstration had been an adventure. 

Then, the conversation hushed as the front of the line came into view.  An Ordain Women spokeswoman was positioned to the side, and as we drew up by her she explained that each person or group would have the chance to speak to the usher at the front of the line.  We would be turned away, and should then quietly leave the Square.  She invited us to a devotional later that night, and then left us to close the short distance to the Tabernacle door. 

To the side, I saw groups of people move to the side as they were turned away from the Tabernacle.  An OW representative was standing by to give a supportive hug to those recently rejected. Some individuals seemed excited and relieved; others, mostly women, had tears streaming down their faces.   I sympathized with these latter women, who felt this rejection so deeply.  Jang and I unabashedly eavesdropped on the woman in front of us who, as she was turned away by the matronly usher at the door, explained that this denial by the Church would be the final one for her—she was leaving the Church.  

Then it was our turn.  Jang and I approached the kindly woman at the door.  She had been there for hours at this point, but she radiated calmness and compassion.  I had watched her sympathetically listen to the countless women and men before me, some of whom were quite emotional.   We both knew that she would have to turn us away, and I had nothing to say in protest.  So I shook her hand and thanked her for listening to all the people who had gone before me.  She apologized for having us stand in line so long with an infant, and after a little more chitchat, we were on our way.

Yes, my husband and I were turned away from the door of the Tabernacle.  Yes, if Jang had gone by himself he probably would have been let in.  But honestly, that experience was one of the most special of my life.  And I’m so glad I could share it with my wonderful, supportive husband and friend.

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Jang and I being kindly turned away from the Tabernacle.