As Sisters in Zion

sisters in zion

I see you’re hurting. This was never your battle. You like things the way they are. You have felt loved and honoured in our faith. You don’t want the balance you have found in your life to be upset. You feel that the assertions made by Kate Kelly, myself and a growing list of others–that women are not equal in this Church–are not only untrue but hurtful. This simply isn’t your experience. You proclaim, “stop speaking for me! These are not my feelings at all!” You feel betrayed, perhaps even belittled.

I honestly don’t know how to share my frustrations with the inequality I see every.single.day and still honour your feelings and experiences. Sometimes I would give anything to be able to watch a television show without seeing the blatant sexism,  to look at toys my daughter will probably ask for in a few years without considering subliminal dis-empowering messages. I wish I could go to church without this stabbing feeling in my heart that cries, “when will this end?” But like Pandora who couldn’t put everything back into the box, I realize the futility of trying to pretend I don’t see it. The only thing I have left is hope–hope for change, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for eventual peace.

But I know you don’t feel this way. How will our thoughts and experiences co-exist? How can I exercise that hope in asking, in conversing, in writing and acting while making space for my sisters who feel differently? I don’t know yet, but I want you to know that I honour you. I claim you as my sister even if I know you may not claim me as yours. I want us to join hands and learn to understand one another, to carry one another’s burdens and to work together to build a sisterhood in Zion. Perhaps being of one heart and one mind doesn’t mean that we agree or see things the same, perhaps it just means that we learn to honour one another and knit our hearts together in spite of our differences.

I don’t have the answers, but let’s keep trying.

Amy

Mother, writer, dreamer, hopeless romantic, opera singer, reader, researcher, lover of Jesus, Mormon and a feminist. I spend my days taming toddler tantrums and kissing boo boos. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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16 Responses

  1. Bad Wolf says:

    This brought me to tears. It is what I have been feeling but couldn’t find the words to say. Thank you. Thank you.

  2. Lovely again, Amy. I think most sisters who are don’t share you view do, in fact, want to sit with you in peace and love on the same pew. These are the quiet ones, who, like you, are trying to find a way to honor the Other. love you

  3. Heather says:

    I really liked this. I am totally the person this is written to. I do not see those inequalities daily in my life, I don’t know why I just don’t see it. I do understand that there are those who do and I love and cherish their friendship/sisterhood the same as I would hope they would love and cherish mine. I know we are all sisters and I know just like anything we can love and support one another even if we do not agree on everything. We all have struggles & differences but as sisters we need to lean how to look past all of that and lift one another up instead of tearing each other down. It saddens me to see all of the anger that surrounds this topic. I feel like the anger and lack of understanding from some is dividing us instead of helping us to be united as sisters.

  4. Shelah says:

    This is beautiful, Amy. Thanks!

  5. Deborah says:

    Thank you, Amy! I am one who does not see the same inequality in the Church that you see (although I see it plenty of other places) but I also TRULY believe that as Sisters in Zion we should all work together, stick together, and love one another. I see that you feel pain and my heart aches, even while it doesn’t understand. It also hurts so much to see the vitriol expressed by those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. My opinions on some of these topics differ from yours, but I know that you are still my sister or my daughter or my friend, and we can always love each other. I hope you know that despite the ugliness you experience when you post your feelings online that many of us do NOT condone or want to participate in the ugliness, and I think that we are in the quiet majority.

    • Marylee Daniel Mitcham says:

      Deborah, you are so right about the vitriol. From either side it is a pulling apart which shows a lack, a big lack of empathy and desire to understand another’s pain.

  6. Catherine Worthington says:

    Thank you for this lovely, heartfelt post, Amy. I appreciate every single effort to reach out in love and respect to others during this difficult time.

    There is one very important point that I would like to make though. It seems like too often women in the Church are categorized (and/or categorize each other) as either 1) feminist and pro-Ordain Women or 2) anti-feminist and anti-Ordain Women–as though these were the only two options. I would like to make it very clear that it is possible to be a strong feminist and yet not align oneself with Ordain Women. Or, to rephrase that since “feminist” has unfortunately become a dirty word to so many: It is entirely possible to see injustices and to care deeply about women and issues of equality and still not agree with the stated mission and/or tactics of Ordain Women. Likewise, it is entirely possible to be a feminist (see above definition) *and* a devoted, faithful member of the Church.

    Eric Samuelsen recently wrote a beautiful post on his blog, Mormon Iconoclast, wherein he spoke of two hypothetical Mormon women, one who is upset by perceived sexism in the Church and the other who doesn’t perceive any sexism at all. Here’s a link to that post:

    http://www.mormoniconoclast.com/pain/

    And here is the comment I left on that post wherein I claim that there is a third woman–woman 3.

    Catherine Worthington on June 26, 2014 at 12:04 am said:

    Beautifully and sensitively written, Eric. Thank you.

    But there is a third woman.

    This third woman is bright, inquisitive, thoughtful, spirited, and faithful. She seems to have been born with an strong sense of justice and from a very young age is quick to spot evidence of discrimination and inequality. She goes to college (of course she does) and serves a mission, both because she loves the gospel and because she believes it’s the duty and the privilege of every capable young woman as well as every capable young man. She comes home, finishes school, probably starts graduate school, meets a strong, faithful man to whom she can be equally yoked, marries in the temple, and, when the time is right, begins raising a family. She may or may not decide to pursue a career at this point, but she most definitely has an identity apart from “mother,” and actively participates in a variety of projects and causes in addition to serving in the Church. There are times that she feels real frustration as a woman, both in the Church and in society at large, and clearly sees a need for reform in many areas. She reads, thinks, writes, discusses, asks questions, and isn’t shy about expressing her opinions or voicing her concerns. She self-identifies as a feminist and works very hard in every way she can to promote equality for women both in the Church and out. She also has a rock-solid testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and sees the Church as the body of Christ, headed by Him, and led on the earth by a living prophet who holds the keys for the revelation of all things pertaining to the Church at large.

    She loves the doctrine of the existence of a Heavenly Mother and longs to know more about Her. She wants to know what it means to be a woman in God’s Kingdom and in the eternities. She wants to know that she is relevant in the grand scope of things, that she matters in crucial and enduring ways beyond her ability to reproduce. She wants to know where to look to see what she can become. She yearns for a more open and official acknowledgment of our Heavenly Mother and a clearer understanding of Her nature, for with that, she believes, will come so much else–divine empowerment, a sure knowledge of Woman’s central place in the Plan, and an absolute conviction of her eternal worth and relevance. She believes that many, if not all, of the practices and prohibitions that are most troubling to women in the Church would gradually disappear as the majesty and centrality of our Heavenly Mother are understood and embraced by men and women alike. The ongoing dismissal of Mother and the unspoken taboo of even speaking about Her creates a gnawing ache inside her, not only because it makes her feel like a motherless child, but because it causes her to doubt her own significance and relevance in the eternities. Is she to have no connection with her spiritual children? Will they never acknowledge her or speak to her? It is a devastatingly crushing prospect to contemplate. She commits herself to learning more about her Mother.

    Then a group called Ordain Women appears on the scene. As a feminist, she is intrigued, but the more she reads of their mission statement, goals, and approach, the more uneasy she becomes. She has rejoiced as she has seen real progress being made in the Church–women being invited to speak (and then pray) in General Conference, a genuine effort toward more inclusion of women and greater respect for their voices in the councils of the Church at all levels, the insistent and persistent teaching that husbands and wives are equal partners in the home, the universal condemnation of unrighteous dominion and abuse of any kind, the changes in missionary age and policy, etc. She sees that attitudes are changing and views are broadening and her fear is that this new group, with its imperative name and its insistence that the only way equality in the church can ever be achieved is through the ordination of women to the priesthood, is going to push the cause of feminism in the Church back several years if not decades. She believes that we must be wise and level-headed, that we must take care not to undermine any progress that has been made or trigger any kind of institutional resistance through haste, militancy, or divisiveness. She sees that the movement is in the right direction and believes that, as Elder Holland reminds us, “this is a divine work in process.”

    But by far her greatest concern with regard to Ordain Women is the approach they have chosen to take–an approach which is decidedly secular. While she sympathizes and agrees with many of the concerns and questions raised by Ordain Women, she emphatically rejects its methods and what she can only call the arrogance of its position. She sincerely wonders how the leaders of this group can presume to have the insight, the perspective, and the knowledge to proclaim that “it is clear that Mormon women must be ordained in order to be full and equal participants in their church.” Are they completely unwilling to consider other possibilities–or to consider that maybe they aren’t even aware of other possibilities? She’s also disturbed the group’s disingenuous insistence in certain settings that they are only asking the leaders of the Church to pray about the issue (a request that woman 3 would be fully on board with!) while the official website boldly declares: “We call for the ordination of women.” Which is it? Are they asking the leaders to pray about this or have they already decided what the answer must be and will settle for nothing else?

    Though she cannot align herself with the Ordain Women movement, woman 3 is deeply saddened by the unkind and judgmental things she hears from people on both ends of the spectrum and often finds herself defending her more progressive friends to her more conservative friends and vice versa. It feels like a blow to her gut when she learns that Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women, has been called in for a disciplinary council, but she remains optimistic and hopeful. After all, didn’t President Uchtdorf just give a landmark talk in the last General Conference declaring that there was room for everyone in the Church? But she’s also disheartened by the spin that Kate Kelly gives the whole thing, going directly to the national press and using inflammatory language like “charged with apostasy,” “threatened with excommunication,” and “tried in abstentia.” And when Kate chooses to post ad hominem attacks against her bishop and his two counselors on her facebook page shortly before the scheduled council, woman 3 loses a substantial amount of respect for her.

    Still, woman 3 is stunned, bewildered, and heartsick when the action taken is excommunication. She sincerely believes that there is room for everyone in the Church, that we must be allowed to voice our concerns and ask our questions without fear of being silenced or cast out, and that the gospel of Jesus Christ is, by very definition, all about love, light, redemption, and inclusion.

    • Shelley says:

      Thank you, thank you, thank you, Catherine! I believe Mormonism embraces all levels of ‘gray’ and I would say there are many more than three types of women….there are millions of types as we are all different, special, unique and beautiful daughters of God. Who loves us. I have been sickened by the Ordain Women media fest, I am heartsick to hear my anti-LDS co-workers talk of things in the light of only Kate Kelly’s point of view. I feel that the whole movement has been detrimental to the gospel as a whole and LDS women specifically. I have been quietly researching the feminist LDS viewpoint for a while now, and I saw your article last year warning the OW movement that their methods might backfire, and you were right. I have watched the reaction to Kelly’s excommunication on this site, and while I am sad that Kate Kelly has been disciplined, I also think that she has twisted some of the facts for the media and it bothers me to see her placed on a pedestal.

      Amy, your post is also beautiful. I want you to know that your expressions do not go unnoticed by those of us who do not feel the same as you. I asked questions about women and the priesthood many years ago and was blessed with an answer that gave me peace, so the ordination thing has never been an issue for me. However, since I have been researching and reading this site and others, I have been more conscious of the way I speak of and think of my sisters who feel that they are not equal. It has been a process, and it didn’t happen overnight, but I think I have learned much. As a result of what I have learned, I have had some wonderful conversations with my own daughters, and I know my empathy for the feminist perspective has increased, and while I may never agree on certain things, I want all women to feel loved and included.

      I think the key to a better understanding is good old-fashioned Christlike behavior. Think the best of the other person, rather than the worst (she is an apostate vs. she is an oppressed woman who does not know she is oppressed). Avoid assumptions (she wouldn’t want to listen to me because she is fill-in-the-blank, she has never questioned anything, she just does what she is told). Learn about each other, listen…really listen, to what the other person is trying to communicate and understand that all have been hurt by recent events in different ways.

    • Naismith says:

      Nicely done.

    • Shauna Kruse says:

      Thank you for describing me!!! I lived your comment so much I posted it to my Facebook. I believe it speaks for many LDS women. Group 3 is much larger than anyone realizes.

  7. MargaretOH says:

    Thanks for a nice post, Amy. I think many in our community are yearning for peace. I spoke with a woman in my ward last week who is intelligent, compassionate, and devout. She has never struggled with feeling unequal in the Church. We had a long conversation about Mormon feminism and I was glad that she felt safe enough to ask questions that had clearly been bewildering her. As I described how many feminists were hurt by Kate’s excommunication because it feels like, although they want to stay, the Church doesn’t really want them, she said, “You mean they WANT to stay? I thought they just wanted to leave, which makes me sad, but of course I wouldn’t want to force them stay.” I was shocked– of course we want to stay! How can anyone not realize that? But she hadn’t. Then she said, “Well, if they just want someone to say that they’re welcome and loved at church, I can do that!”

    I think there are a lot of women in our church like that–full of love and compassion, but not really understanding the needs of those who are struggling. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that they truly don’t know what their feminist sisters need and don’t know how to ask. Seeking out women like that and trying to establish a connection with them is, I think, the best we can do to bring the flock together.

  8. Jenny says:

    I love this Amy! I hope that we can learn to speak to each other better like you’ve done here. To love, to share our experience and frustration, to admit that we don’t have all the answers. I am so tired of reading blog posts that preach and belittle, so this was refreshing.

  9. Melody says:

    Beautiful and healing. Every woman should carry this letter [or one like it] in her heart. We need each other.

  10. Naismith says:

    Thanks for this.

    I have found that speaking in the second person (“you”) can be problematic from whatever point of view (not that I am perfect in this myself.) Although I am not a supporter of OW, the first paragraph does not quite represent my thoughts either.

    For one thing, a lot of non-feminists do not particularly “like things the way they are.” We speak up all the time when we see mindless sexism that seems to treat women as less. But at the same time, some of us can accept that different treatment may not automatically be less. I ran into this when I noticed a plaque honoring Eagle Scouts that appeared in the hall outside the Relief Society room. I complained to the bishop that we should also be honoring YW who completed their goal-setting program, and I was surprised at this different treatment since my girls were all recognized in sacrament meeting and given a well-attended weeknight service like an eagle court of honor. The bishop patiently explained that of course they had a plaque made for the girls, but the YW presidency had chosen to put it in their own room. Since the YM don’t have a room of their own, the scoutmaster and YM presidency, after wandering around the church and considering various locations, decided to put it in that hall since they met most often in the RS room. So the two groups were different, and the YM were more visible, but it did not amount to inequality, and if anything the YW were privileged by having their own room. Should the bishop have overruled the YW presidency and ordered them to put it in the hallway in order to have an appearance of equality?

    There are facts, and there are interpretations of facts. During my years of parenting toddlers, I took screaming struggling kids out of the library, stores, restaurants, performance venues, and so on. Never once did someone stop me and assume that I was kidnapping a child. It was a fact that I was carrying a screaming toddler. It was open to interpretation whether I was kidnapping a child or being a responsible parent.

    I acknowledge the differences in the way men and women are treated in the church. But as to whether those differences amount to inequality is an interpretation and opinion. The recently popular rhetorical technique of trying to claim the ground of being a measurable fact to bolster one’s opinion is indeed a belittling frustration for some of us. My feelings are as valid as those of others. I do not deny their opinions as less valid than mine, but please let’s not try to pass off an opinion as a fact. So that is one thing that would be helpful all around.

    I am also very open to others who have questions. I would have viewed it much more positively if the name of the group was ORDAIN WOMEN? rather than in the imperative and declaring a “need” for ordination. I don’t claim to have all the answers and I am not going to tell another woman that if she just prays or whatever that she will have the same opinion that I do. So that would be another thing if we can all come from a viewpoint of humbly questioning rather than lobbying to get our own viewpoint accepted (from whatever direction).

  11. Caroline says:

    A wonderful, generous call, Amy. Thank you. I often struggle with the question of how I can honor the experiences of women who don’t feel belittled and disappeared by the sexism of the church. What I have come to is the value of sharing our stories. My story is important, and so is other women’s who feel differently. Maybe together we can create a more well rounded and truthful portrait of what it is to be a Mormon woman.

  1. June 26, 2014

    […] I honestly don’t know how to share my frustrations with the inequality I see every.single.day and still honour your feelings and experiences. Sometimes I would give anything to be able to watch a television show without seeing the blatant sexism, to look at toys my daughter will probably ask for in a few years without considering subliminal dis-empowering messages. I wish I could go to church without this stabbing feeling in my heart that cries, “when will this end?” But like Pandora who couldn’t put everything back into the box, I realize the futility of trying to pretend I don’t see it. The only thing I have left is …read more […]

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