International Series: Seeing Past the Coin

We are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from women who are posting for the first time in English. Their voices have been missing from the conversation about gender and Mormonism, and their posts highlight the diverse experiences of LDS women throughout the global church.

Today’s post comes from Elissa.  Elissa lives in Greenville, South Carolina for now. She is married, has three children, and works part time as an English language tutor so she can pretend she’s still all international.

Elissa

I was born in Salt Lake City, a fourth-generation Mormon, ancestors having come variously by wagon train, on the ship Brooklyn, and with the Mormon Battalion. I was planted firmly in the LDS corner of the vineyard with the Mormon flower the only one in sight.

And then came the pullback. The intriguing beauty of all the other flowers. How could it be—with the grand diversity of this splendid field—that mine is the one true flower? Examining it carefully, decades ago in my thirties and forties, I found that to my eyes (and who else’s eyes could I possibly use, even though I see through a glass darkly?) there were some pretty evident flaws—historical and doctrinal positions that seemed indefensible and that felt wrong. Many today who come to feel that way find it highly distressing. I found it thrilling. I gained a new respect for God, a new delight in every one of the billions who inhabit this planet.

-Carol Lynn Pearson, “Why I Stay”

I have been married for 22 years, and nearly half of those have been spent outside of the United States. My husband and I are both American, but his job has taken us to Mexico, France, and the United Kingdom, and all this time out of our own country has affected our family in many ways. For one thing, taking your kids abroad when they are three, four months, and not born yet, then bringing them back eight years later has some good entertainment value. Living in post-9/11 France does not prepare them for American uber-patriotism, and they do not know what to do with being compelled to recite the pledge of allegiance each day. (Actually, they do know what to do: refuse.) They are amazed – AMAZED – at the miracle of Paas tablets. They say things like, “What’s Wal-Mart?” They are self-conscious about everyone understanding them, so they argue in French in public. They don’t get the most common of cultural references. (The down side of this one is they don’t share your grief when Mr. Rogers dies.) They spend a year asking you the names and values of coins (“Remember, ‘le dime’ is the word for tithing, so you can remember that a dime is ten cents.”). They rage against Imperial units, but rhapsodize about toast; discussing where they had the best toast and what is the perfect method of making it (apply butter BEFORE toasting). They just find the nearest tree when they have to pee at the school picnic. (I kid you not, I once saw an adult woman having a wee behind the map at a park in one of the above named countries. Little boys didn’t even have to make a pretense of hiding.) They get kicked out of class for correcting their teacher’s pronunciation of “Versailles.” If they have a speech impediment, everyone thinks it’s an adorable accent. It’s fun.

Since I am clearly given to deep thoughts regarding the effects of expatriation on our lives, you will be surprised to know that until now I had not given much thought to how it influenced my feelings about the my faith. However, it may not be a coincidence that it was in France that the thought, “It’s possible there’s not a God,” wormed its way into my consciousness and open consideration. Or that it was during our next stint abroad in England that I accepted that uncertainty instead of trying to fix it.

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“Let Her Enter”

I received my endowment last year on April 27th  (sans marriage or mission at age 21…. I was ready and didn’t take no for an answer) and, I must say, I loved it. Let me rephrase: I loved the spirit that I felt there. As a feminist, obviously certain things bothered me. And as a woman of the world, certain things confused (read: freaked) the hell out of me. Still, one of the first things I said to everyone (after whisper-shouting, “I’m in a cult!”) was, “I’m home.” Despite all the imperfections and oddities of the temple, I feel at home there. Everything feels so natural and heavenly. When I’m in the prayer circle, it’s an otherworldly experience and I feel angels surrounding me. I feel a strong spiritual camaraderie with the other Saints as we pray for ourselves and for others. When I converse with the Lord through the veil and enter into “His” presence, for me, it symbolically represents being worthy to enter the presence of my Heavenly Family. I imagine that’s how it’ll be when I literally pass through the veil–– I’ll converse with my Father and enter into the warm and teary-eyed embrace of my Savior and my dear Mother. She will be absent to me no more.

As June 8th has come and gone, I thought about something: Had I been a member on April 27th, 1978, none of this would have happened. As a Black woman I would, literally, be on the outside looking in. Having gone through the temple, it breaks my heart to think about that. For all my feminist misgivings I have about the temple (the unreciprocated promise of obedience, the wording of the initiatory where my eternal blessings are attached to my non-existent husband, the silence of Eve after a certain point in the ceremony, etc.), I have a testimony of the temple. So it pains my heart to think that just 36 years ago, I would not have been able to receive those blessings.

I think of Jane Manning James, particularly. She was an African-American woman who traveled all the way to where the Saints settled in Illinois and lived with the Prophet Joseph Smith. She then made her way to the Utah Territory where she began to petition to receive her endowment. She petitioned the First Presidency multiple times to no avail. In the end, a special ceremony in the temple was performed in which she was sealed as a servant to Joseph Smith and his family. Sister James wasn’t even allowed in the temple when that “sealing” was performed. My heart aches thinking of Jane James as she faithfully pleaded with the Brethren to receive her endowment, but was denied every single time. Simply because she was black.

Jane_Elizabeth_Manning_James

My heart aches thinking of all the black pioneers before 1978 who joined the Church, but were not able to be sealed to their loved ones forever. My heart aches thinking of the countless number of fathers who couldn’t even bless and heal their own children because of their race. My heart aches reading this account from Darius Gray (a renowned Black Mormon pioneer who joined the LDS Church in 1964):

“I remember being in a Sacrament meeting, pre-1978, and the sacrament was being passed and there was special care taken by this person that not only did I not officiate, but I didn’t touch the sacrament tray. They made sure that I could take the sacrament, but that I did not touch the tray and it was passed around me. That was awfully hard, considering that often times those who were officiating were young men in their early teens, and they had that Priesthood. I valued that Priesthood, but it wasn’t available.”

As a woman, not being able to pass the sacrament because of my gender is hard enough, but to not be able to even touch the tray that represents the body and blood of the Savior? My eyes fill with tears at the thought. I can’t even imagine being a Black member of the Church before 1978. To be denied receiving my temple recommend simply because I was born in the wrong skin color would have given me great sorrow that I can’t even comprehend.

Despite whatever feelings you have about the temple and the priesthood, there is an amount of thankfulness that should be given, as those blessings would have never been denied to you. If you are of African ancestry, be so thankful for modern revelation and that He will send more down to guide us. And especially as women, we must all be thankful for June 8th, because if that day has shown us anything else, it is that there is hope for our future in the Church. Just as the beginning of equality for African-American Latter-day Saints happened on that day, our day of equality for female Latter-day Saints will soon come upon us. It inevitably will.

Until that day, I will celebrate June 8th. I will be thankful for the lifting of the Priesthood Restriction. I will be thankful for the great blessing it is for me to perform temple ordinances. I will continue to feel the strength of my ancestors as I complete their temple work. I know they will bless me and thank me for enabling them to progress in the Spirit World. I am the link that will bind the generations of my family. I know their spirits wept with joy on June 8th, 1978. They knew that eventually somewhere down the line, one of their posterity would embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And they knew that June 8th, 1978 would provide the opportunity for me, one of their posterity, to be the link that binds. Without that miraculous revelation, they would not receive the blessings that they have now received. And neither would I. On that most sacred day, the Priesthood was, once again, restored.

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Guest Post: Mormons, Garments, and Body Image: A Survey

By Nancy Ross

Jessica Finnigan and I are conducting research into body image and garments. We’ve had an abstract accepted by a journal and now we’re in the survey stage. Please help us out by taking this survey.

When the topic of women’s bodies comes up within Mormonism, we’re usually referencing some element of modesty culture. But for many of us, our bodies and our religion continually interact every day through the wearing of garments. Both men and women wear garments, but men and women have very different experiences with their bodies and we hypothesized that men and women may also have very different experiences with their garments as well.

A lot of people have been asking why we would research such a taboo and personal thing. Don’t we know that asking questions about people’s underwear is inappropriate? I can’t speak for Jessica, but I can tell you that my relationship with my body and my garments have changed a lot in the ten years since I’ve been endowed.

Over time, my experiences with my garments have changed, largely as a result of changes in my body. When I went through the temple for the first time, I had a very positive experience with the initiatory, the ordinance associated with receiving garments. Thereafter, my garments were an extension of that positive experience. I was also surprised that garments had such short sleeves and weren’t calf length. I had been dressing hyper-modestly for years in an effort to not offend God and I was relieved and excited to wear short-short sleeves. Initially, garments freed me from my excessive modesty. They were almost liberating and a sign of my sincere commitment to the gospel and to God.

But they never stayed in place, with the legs always rolling up and the lacy necklines trying to climb out of my modest shirts. The lace was always itchy and the waistbands dug into my skin. I got rid of all of my feminine hygiene products with wings.

Despite difficulties, I still saw them as holy. Pregnancy changed my body and I tried to find garments that would accommodate my growing and changing form. My new state left my body feeling extra sensitive and the poorly-placed seems and limited fabric options of maternity garments led me to buy my preferred fabric in much larger sizes.

When my daughter arrived, I tried to continue wearing my bra over the garment top, but it just didn’t work. Even my most traditional and believing relatives said that nursing tops were a waste of money. That summer, temperatures rose to 117 F and I wore skirts daily to promote air circulation around my swollen legs. Pregnancy and childbirth had not been kind to my body.

At that time, garments became a hair shirt that I wore to fulfill a religious duty. I had never seen them as a sacrifice before, but the sacrifice of wearing them in extreme heat with a swollen body was a difficult physical sacrifice on a top of the many I was making with a breastfeeding newborn. I knew that I could not take a break from them because to do so would be to lose my temple recommend, a symbol of my worthiness before God.

At that time in my life, I felt I had little worth. My garments were a symbol that God was demanding and ever-present. I didn’t like my garments or my duty to wear them, but I wore them anyway. I struggled with my body and I struggled with my garments and I felt that God was in the mix somehow.

Today, my relationship with my garments is different from what it was then. My body is scarred with the marks of pregnancy and childbirth, but its general shape has returned to normal. With my garments, the legs still roll up, the lace is still itchy, and I still can’t use hygiene products with wings. I am still committed to the gospel, and even to wearing garments, but I do not see God in my garments anymore and I am happier for it.

Nancy Ross is a life-long member of the LDS Church. She is an assistant professor in art history at Dixie State University and conducts social science research on Mormons in her spare time.
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Fix This!

Recently the mission president of the Denver North mission came to our ward to inform us that elders would no longer be able to visit single women investigators without a priesthood holder from our congregation going with them. Our ward has many capable sisters, many who have served missions themselves, who would be excellent chaperones for these types of appointments but apparently this is unacceptable. He told us that this was standard church policy, that it is written in the handbook and that there could be no exceptions.

Unsurprisingly, this has proved to be a significant hardship for our inner city ward that struggles with a lack of priesthood holders to fill all the callings reserved for men. These are good men but they are already spread too thin. They simply do not have enough time or energy to take this on. Which means that my husband, as bishop, is the one that has to go out with the elders so that they can share the gospel with women.

Mr. Mraynes already has a demanding career which the church has now put a second, unpaid full time job on top of. The nights and/or weekends he has to go out with the elders is time away from his children–time that is already in too short supply. What does it profit the church if they potentially gain one soul but lose the souls of our four, young children because their father is never home?

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Guest Post: Marriage Equality in Utah

Mary Danzig is a fiddler/violinist and mom. She performs with her husband Peter in the folk/newgrass duo Otter Creek.

Photo: Tom Smart, AP

My first memory of a wedding ceremony is sitting spellbound in front of a TV while Princess Diana walked down the aisle in her glorious dress with the mile long train.  In contrast, my three daughters’ first memory will include a young woman in her Chuck-a-Rama work shirt waiting in a long line with her newborn baby and partner to obtain a marriage license.

On Friday afternoon hundreds of people dropped what they were doing and rushed to the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office when they learned that Amendment Three (which prohibits same sex marriage) had been overturned.  They wanted to get married.  They didn’t know how long the window of opportunity would be open.  Many had waited years, even decades, to marry.  They weren’t going to waste another moment.

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We Are Daughters and Sons of Heavenly Parents

We’ve recently had some discussion here at The-Exponent about the potential benefit of revising the young women’s theme to include reference to Heavenly Mother. If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to visit this blog post and read the beautiful letter written by a currently-serving ward young women’s president. This small change could have far-reaching impact in terms of affirming the value of all women in the church, young and old, simply by including (not even by name) the God who looks like us, a God who is a woman. I fully support this suggested change.

Having said that, if I were in a position to institute church-wide change in the youth programs I would prefer something else entirely.

First of all, I would likely do-away with Boy Scouts of America as the young men’s program. (I can hear the gasps now. But I’m serious about this.) I understand this program applies primarily to youth in North America and is not a global program. I also realize that BSA has a wonderful structure and is beneficial for many young men. But I would prefer that both the Young Women’s and Young Men’s program center on Christian discipleship. Personally, I would prefer that no one stood to recite a theme. But if young women are reciting the YW theme each week, then why aren’t young men reciting the Scout Motto? If there is value in ritual recitation of a list of virtues, then wouldn’t we want our young men to share in that benefit?

I believe that girls and boys are inherently, biologically different. Women and men seem to have interests and ways of responding to the world which are influenced by their biological make-up, specifically via chromosomes and hormones that make us into one sex or the other. I celebrate the differences of the sexes. I also acknowledge the wide range of expression of gender in the world.

yellow doorHowever, when it comes to living a gospel-centered life, there is no difference between us. All are alike unto God. We are all asked to bring the same thing with us when we approach the door of discipleship: a broken heart and contrite spirit. Jesus doesn’t ask for a list of values. He only wants our will, our desire to follow Him. When we surrender our will to Him, we become One in Christ and with each other. After that, His grace is sufficient to transform us into our best, most unique selves–women and men, boys and girls–with or without recitations.

If I had the power to change the weekly practice of reciting a theme, I would encourage Young Women and Young Men (grown men and women too) to share a common theme. It would go something like this:

We are daughters [sons] of heavenly parents who love us – and we love them. We stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places as we strive to live the Doctrine of Christ, which is: Faith in Him, repentance, baptism by immersion for remission of sins, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and serving our neighbors. We will answer the Savior’s call to love one another as He loves us – today and every day.

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