Are we not bonded?

Posted by on July 28, 2014 in death, feminism, Gospel, grief, Mormon women, Relationships, women | 12 comments

2014-06-24_1403628991

My grandmother passed away a few days ago.

I wrote before of the tender acts of service she received before she passed – the pots of soup, the flowers that kept her home cheery and beautiful, the visits from family members and friends who were touched by her life.  The final weeks of her life were filled with even more tender watchcare - her husband, her children, and her grandchildren were able to show their love for her by tenderly washing her body, rubbing her feet, sitting with her, holding her hand, administering medicine, helping her walk – literally sustaining her all the way through her final breaths on earth.  She was so loved by her family – it was simultaneously a time of holy ministry and tremendous grief.

I’ve thought a lot about those final months – how we were all desperate to see her one last time, to give her one last hug or to say one last “I love you.”  We knew that our mortal separation was imminent, and so it seemed like we were all frantic to make sure that we crammed in as many experiences and loving words as we possibly could.  We didn’t know the day or hour that she would die, but we knew it would be soon, and the impending separation drove us to her bedside.

I’ve heard before that the threat of separation is what bonds us – we would have no incentive to get to know one another or spend time with each other if there were no risk of it ever being over.   If we had infinite time, we wouldn’t feel the pressure to uncover the stories that motivate us, or feel anxious to say the things in our hearts.  After all, when people are in a life-threatening situation, don’t they call the people in their lives to say one more “I love you?”  When we see the news of a child accidentally drowning in a pool, don’t we hug our children a little tighter and treat them a little kinder?  We sometimes have the illusion of having all the time in the world – when I lived in Indiana, where I truly thought our family would live forever, I admit that I had little motivation to go to every single play date or make sure I attended every book club.  But after our situation abruptly changed and I was faced with just a few weeks before we moved out of state, I felt a frenzied need to talk with my friends just one last time, or to go grab cheesecake one last time, or to sit and talk with them one last time.

And yet, while I find so much beautiful truth in it, this concept of separation as a bonding agent makes me a tiny bit worried about our faith communities.  While the initial shock has mostly subsided, there is still so much pain out there – so many Mormon feminists are just plain tired, and many are walking away.

And what really, really bothers me is that so few people seem to really care.

True, the Mormon feminist community grieves it heavily.  And there are some Bishops and other church leaders who are truly concerned about the exodus of people from the church that has been happening for quite some time.  But what I mostly see is people brushing it off, saying things like “Those people never really had testimonies in the first place,” or “Good!  It’s about time they go find another church!”  It’s like an acceptable cost to many members – there is no grief, no rush to the bedside of those who are spiritually ailing.  No casseroles brought to their homes, or pleas for them to stay.  No pronouncement from church headquarters, begging people to stick it out and proclaiming their love for each member.

And it just makes me wonder – are we not bonded?  Where have we failed?  What are we missing that we don’t more fully grieve the loss of our brothers and sisters from our community?

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12 Comments

  1. The missing link is that there is hurt on both sides, a fact that I don’t see acknowledged very often. It hurts for me to go to work, with people who already have an axe to grind against the LDS church, and listen to coworkers applaud the actions of recent Mormon feminists for ‘sticking it to the old white men’. It’s about time, they say, that people woke up and realized that the so-called prophets aren’t really prophets…because no matter how many times agitating feminists say they sustain the prophets, their actions are interpreted otherwise by people who are not familiar with the issues.

    It hurts. And it hurts when the national and local media are called in to scrutinize, comment, editorialize, and criticize doctrine that they don’t fully understand. And they don’t want to understand that doctrine because all they are looking for is the quick, sensational headline.

    It hurts to hear about a woman who was taking missionary discussions, and beginning to embrace the gospel suddenly decide that she isn’t interested after all because she heard on the news that the LDS church is abusive, coercive, and treats women poorly.

    It hurts to hear feminists give the impression that the male leaders in this church seek power over women. Those are our husbands, fathers, and brothers and by and large they are good men who truly care about their congregations and are doing the best they can. It is frustrating to see Kate Kelly drag the names of two men through the mud, and subject their families to the media circus she created; and then watch while she determines what is revealed to the press.

    It is especially hurtful to be judged by our feminist sisters. Yes, the judgement goes both ways. I have seen comments here and profiles on OW that imply LDS women who are not on board with the ideas of feminist LDS women are too lazy, too uneducated, or too indoctrinated to recognize the supposed coercion, sexism, and discrimination that our male leaders engage in. That we are too afraid to ask the hard questions. I asked those questions, I struggled and prayed, and because my answer is different than yours doesn’t make it lesser.

    I try to be fair-minded, I have quietly been researching the experiences and opinions of LDS feminists for a while now. I regularly visit this site, and I read the thoughts of feminist members. At times my heart has been moved with compassion for your struggles. At times my heart has been hurt. At times my mind has been changed.

    I don’t want you to leave. I confess, in moments of hurt I have thought it would be better if you did, and I am sorry for that. I probably can’t help with struggles about doctrine; that is a highly personal journey, but I can give a listening ear. I can continue to empathize by trying to understand the feminist perspective. I can keep in mind feminist experiences when I give lessons, and I can be compassionate about how I approach certain issues without compromising doctrine.

    Public agitation is hurtful. It is humiliating. It is insulting. It is polarizing. I believe it actually undermines what the feminist community is trying to accomplish. I am not saying we shouldn’t seek to express concerns, or get questions answered; but there must be a better way to accomplish those ends.

    And I am truly sorry for your loss. No matter where we are individually on the political or religious spectrum, we are bonded by empathy for that kind of grief.

    • Shelley, thank you for your comment. I totally agree that the pain goes both ways – I can see how the church being portrayed in a negative light is hurtful to many people, especially those who find a lot of peace in the church’s current stances. I have lots of friends and family who have had your same experience – they’ve also prayed about these things, and we’ve received different answers. I think that’s ok, and as long as we keep the dialogue going with compassion and empathy, there can be that bond and that grief for losing each other.

      I guess my concern is that, culturally, we don’t have a lot of room for people who have different answers. What do we do when we pray about the same issue and get different answers? I think it’s called “personal revelation” for a reason, meaning we’re not necessarily supposed to get the same answers – that’s the beauty of the diversity in the gospel. Nothing would ever go forward if we didn’t have any diversity of thought or opinion (and I’m guessing you’d agree with me on that). And so I wonder how we can change the cultural perception of “get on board or get out” that I feel is so pervasive. We don’t have to agree to be bonded to each other, but I agree with you that there needs to be empathy and compassion from both sides. And I guess that’s what I feel is lacking in a lot of ways. And my concern is that if you lack empathy but still agree with the church, you still aren’t separated from your people – there’s no loss to grieve. But if you leave the church, regardless of whether you have empathy for those who are hurt by the actions of feminists or not, it seems that very few in the community grieve your loss. And so I wonder how we can bond ourselves to each other in a way so that, if somebody leaves, no matter their actions or feelings, we notice, and we mourn that loss.

      And I think you mention a good way for it to happen – “I probably can’t help with struggles about doctrine; that is a highly personal journey, but I can give a listening ear. I can continue to empathize by trying to understand the feminist perspective. I can keep in mind feminist experiences when I give lessons, and I can be compassionate about how I approach certain issues without compromising doctrine.”

      If we could get more members to just listen, even without compromising or changing opinions or doctrine, I think we would take a huge step forward as a faith community.

      • I think part of the problem is that the members HAVE listened, in a way.

        For so many, church is seen as a haven, a place they can go to worship according to their heart and not have to explain themselves constantly. Even in the LDS corridor, where I did not grow up but now find myself to be, I’m constantly having to apologize for my faith.

        More and more, having any faith at all is freely mocked. We’ve had to defend ourselves at school as we grew up, have fought to keep our faith as we have left parents, and are still fighting to preserve an environment of faith for our children in a world that is increasingly hostile to it.

        Then, to find that the one place you thought you could belong is also under attack…well, it goes beyond pain. To be accused that you haven’t listened enough to those who complain about the things that bring you peace…goes beyond pain. The one place you feel at home is being painted as nothing but a source of pain for others.

        You see their pain, you feel it, but you can’t fix it. Casseroles don’t make the problems any better. And they don’t even help, the way they help someone who is physically disabled. More to the point, there are so many problems out there that CAN be helped. How could it be anything but a relief when the person you see feeling so much pain and fighting against the Church finally decides to take a step back from it? (Or is forced to?)

        I am not someone who finds the Church a haven. It is far more a source of challenge and distress to me, and has been most of my life. I am among the vanishingly few who feel much of the pain described by “the feminists,” but have learned to deal with it in “mainstream” ways.

        But the “believing members” are caught between a rock and a hard place. They cannot change anything, and indeed love—and need—some of the very things that people are wanting to change. When compassion IS shown, it is rarely adequate or accepted. (And I say this as someone who has been interacting online in this sphere for years. We who love the Church are not loved or wanted here.)

        How can those in such a difficult place be any less human about their reactions than those who are in the difficult place you understand better? They HAVE listened, over and over again. Many of them have lived through it themselves. But when their listening is rejected, when their perspective and testimonies have no place, is it any wonder when they are relieved that the situation is being resolved, even if the resolution isn’t one they would want?

      • You make a good point about what is at stake for someone who feels the need to leave the church, I can’t imagine walking away from the gospel, it would be truly devastating and would affect every aspect of my life. Thank you for that thought.

        I agree, Liz, that personal revelation is a beautiful and marvelous gift; and one of the best parts about the gospel. I love that we can share our personal insights with each other to enlighten and uplift. I rejoice in different points of view. I am of the opinion, however, that our personal revelation should be shared at an appropriate time and place. Sunday school and Relief Society classes are composed of many members in different places in their own spiritual journey, who sometimes are not ready to be confronted with the ‘controversial’ aspects of the gospel in such a public venue. What about the poor teacher who may be just delving into the meat of the gospel and is presented with questions she can’t possibly answer in a classroom setting? Let us all be conscious of how our opinions and questions are presented lest we become a stumbling block to someone whose faith is fragile.

        We do need more compassion, and I believe we just need more time. Heavenly Father has to address the needs of all of His daughters, so changes that feminists want may come slowly, which means your answers are not wrong, and mine are not wrong and we all have to have faith that God will do what is best, when it is best.

      • Shelley, I have a sincere question for you. You said, “I am of the opinion, however, that our personal revelation should be shared at an appropriate time and place.” You then went on to say that church is not that place. For someone like me who feels strongly about female ordination and has a lot of questions about the church, where is that time and place? You mentioned in your comment above that “Public agitation is hurtful. It is humiliating. It is insulting. It is polarizing. I believe it actually undermines what the feminist community is trying to accomplish.” The problem I see is that that leaves me without a space to share my personal revelation. The public agitation of Ordain Women has given me a space that I couldn’t find before, to share my views without disrupting Sunday School. What do you have in mind when you say that there is an appropriate time and place?

      • Sure, Jenny…visiting teachers, a good friend, family, spouse; and the best answers come from private study and prayer. Forums like this one are a great resource because when people are ready to educate themselves, then they can find information to help discover the answers they seek. The distinction is looking for answers when one is ready to find them versus having questions thrust upon you when you are not. I guess my opinion comes from my own experience. I was a new gospel doctrine teacher, and feeling very inadequate, when during a class I was teaching a very knowledgable gentleman began to pepper me with questions that I was not prepared for…deep doctrine that had no easy answers and had no place in a general Sunday school class. The gospel is many layers, and we all learn line upon line; jumping ahead too many lines while lacking complete understanding of the basics is a traumatic thing for many people.

        My main problem with OW is their confrontational tactics. The profiles are a way for people who are of like mind to connect and support each other, but I believe OW goes too far when forcing the issue onto the rest of the membership by protesting at the priesthood session, among other things.

        I understand that members of OW feel that these tactics are the only way to get the attention of church leadership; but I still believe that they do more harm than good.

      • I see what you are saying Shelley. It’s not the website but the direct actions that bother you. I understand what you mean about having to gain insight line upon line and not being pushed before you are ready. I definitely agree that it is inappropriate to go deeper in a Sunday School class than the class is ready for. I also think that as a teacher or a student you can kind of gauge where the rest of the class is at and how far you can go. Ordain Women may be a big leap for some people, but I feel that the church as a whole is ready for it. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a painful process to go through. I have personal experience with that. I had the idea of female ordination thrust upon me when I wasn’t really fully ready for it. I went through a painful process of dealing with the cognitive dissonance, but I needed that outside pressure in order to keep working through it. That’s what I feel like these direct actions do. They keep the conversation alive and put just enough pressure on the members of the church to keep working through their cognitive dissonance on the issue. I also feel like Ordain Women, through these direct actions has widened the space where talking about the ordination of women is more acceptable. You mentioned talking to visiting teachers, family, friends…I never could have brought this subject up with any of those people before Ordain Women, but since OW I have had conversations with all of them. The idea of ordaining women and female equality in the church is even brought up more regularly in Relief Society than it ever was before. I feel like that is really what Ordain Women is trying to do with the direct actions, just widen the space where it is appropriate to talk about these issues.

      • I have enjoyed this discussion today, and I appreciate the viewpoints expressed. To maintain the spirit of the discussion, I will not go into the specifics of the problems I have with OW’s tactics on the issue of female ordination. I do agree that OW has opened the debate, but I think it is optimistic to presume that the way the debate was opened is beneficial. I can only speak of experiences with my acquaintances and family, but two years ago most were neutral on the topic of LDS feminism; but now I believe I can safely say that most of my acquaintance have very negative feelings about the public agenda of OW and Kate Kelly. I feel there is a great deal of anxiety from my friends about what the future holds…I don’t like to speak for others, but fruits of my conversations with them lead me to believe they feel attacked and betrayed by women who publicly claim to be sisters. I’m not sure I can agree that that kind of pain is a good thing in the short run or the long run.

        I think you are correct in stating that it is up to the student and the teacher of a class to gauge how questions are being received by the class in general, and if you feel comfortable discussing your views in your Sunday school class, I think that is awesome, and I’m glad you have that support. I think that an increased sensitivity to how our comments and questions affect those around us is one way to increase compassion and understanding within our ward families.

  2. Beautiful and tragic. This is something that will stick with me and I’ll be wrestling with it in my quiet moments today. Well written, Liz.

  3. I have also felt great grief and pain at the excommunication of Kate Kelly. But I have discovered I’m bonded to a whole group I previously considered “other”. The non LDS in my life (some of them strangers) have offered a stunning abundance of compassion and listening. No one has campaigned for me to leave the LDS faith, but now I know I have sisters and brothers in Christ that would welcome me. They’ve cried for me when I’m too tired to cry anymore, they’ve listened, they’ve shared their own personal encounters with the love of Jesus reminding me that no one, not even a prophet can separate me from the love of the Savior. I used to despair as I’d consider the “one heart, one mind, no poor among them” definition of Zion. How could I work in my ward where I feel like an unwelcome stranger to achieve this? I’m still plodding along one relationship at a time in my ward trying to act to build Zion. But in the meantime I’ve found Zion in the hearts of wonderful people that I used to think of as outside my faith. I’m bonded. Maybe no one in my ward will grieve if I one day leave my faith. But I have many sisters and brothers I can count on to grieve with me. We are bonded through their ability to act on the love of Jesus. They are Zion. The boundaries are far larger than I ever imagined.

    • I love this, Cruelest Month, and I totally agree – when we stop thinking of Zion as “the church” and instead as our global family, it opens up something incredible. I just wish church members could open that tent up a little further, too.

      It reminds me of Natasha Helfer Parker’s article about well-differentiated families and poorly-differentiated families. I just wish we could be a little better-differentiated so that we had a little more room for diversity and tolerance in our family group, and actually cared that so many people are going elsewhere to find community.

  4. This is beautiful Liz and I love the discussion it started. It’s making me think about my own experience lately and how I have very few things bonding me to the church. One of those things is my Sunday School class where I can be me and share my thoughts and insights in an environment where people will love me and look at me the same when class is over. I can’t say I have that same experience in Relief Society. Another thing that has helped me to feel bonded to the church is the few friends who have reached out to me as you mentioned in your post, and brought me fresh-baked bread and gone on walks with me just to listen. It really makes such a difference. I hope we can grow as a church to a point where these experiences are the norm and the negative ones are the exception. Thank you for your thoughtful post!

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