“My entire belief system has shifted”

My name is Sherry. Forty-eight. Mom of three with four bonus children! Happy, fun with a liberal heart and mind. I live in Utah, with my husband, our two cats (Prince Jerry and Princess Madeline). I’m constantly creating, looking for inspiration, and always up for an adventure.

Andy Carter/flickr/Creative Commons

At the young age of 8 years old, I was baptized into the Mormon Church, also known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I didn’t really know much about the church or religion other than I knew it was expected of me to be baptized and my parents were members.

I think I realized around age 10 or 11 that my family was exclusively different from other families in the church. By this, I mean the way other families behaved versus the way my family (parents) behaved.

My friend’s parents would hold weekly Monday night family nights. My parents didn’t do that. My friend’s families would pray together, pray at meals and read scriptures. My parents didn’t do that either.

I learned the word hypocrite at a fairly young age. One morning after a Sunday school class I was called a hypocrite by another young girl. At that moment, I didn’t know what the word meant but I learned later on and it devastated me. I began to dread going to church because of the other children and I always felt like my family was different. I mean, my family had never even been to the temple, let alone, sealed for time and eternity. Nevertheless, I had to go to church every Sunday, Wednesday and any other afternoon or night that an activity took place. My childhood and preteen social life revolved around the Mormon Church, which at the time didn’t seem too awfully bad.

I didn’t learn about the church history or what Mormons truly believe until just a few years ago. Of course I had heard rumors about Joseph Smith and his mystical and enchanting behavior and obviously I knew about Brigham Young’s polygamy. At any rate, I didn’t give any of it much thought and continued on with my “beliefs” and developed a rather judgmental attitude towards anyone who didn’t believe the way that I did or practice Mormonism.

Here is an example: after my husband I were married in the Salt Lake Temple in 2006 our son (my stepson) had recently returned home from his mission. He met a girl who was not a member of the church and asked her to marry him. I was furious! I was mean to his fiancée and talked behind her back. It breaks my heart now just knowing how mean and closed minded I was. I have since, apologized for my behavior and we are close and I love her unconditionally.

A few years ago, I read a book by Rebecca Musser called The Witness Wore Red. It’s a story about the woman who brought Warren Jeffs, the “prophet” from the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS), to justice. While reading her book I noticed quite a few similarities between the FLDS and the LDS churches. In fact, almost everything was the same except for the polygamous relationships. It really bothered me. I couldn’t shake the feeling off and decided that I needed to do more research on the Mormon Church’s history.

With that said, after a full year of research, reading and studying I made the decision to be fully authentic with myself. What this meant was that I could no longer subscribe to an organization that had more flawed history than what I was willing to put my trust and faith into.

It has been a journey and a huge eye opener for me. I have some family who continue to accept me and some who do not. It’s taken a toll on my marriage and we have had some tough times. We are still together though. I have learned not to discuss or bring up religion with my husband. I accept him as a person and love him. His beliefs are not my beliefs. My thoughts are that we don’t have to share the same beliefs in order to be a couple. It’s still uncertain to me if he would agree with that statement. We just don’t “go there.”

I no longer believe in patriarchy or that men are the only ones worthy to hold higher positions than women. I no longer believe that “God” only wants straight people or members of the Mormon Church in heaven, or in Mormon terms, the “Celestial Kingdom.

My entire belief system has shifted. I went from certainty to uncertainty in a very short time. I believe I’m a good person and I don’t feel a need to belong to an organized religion to prove that to myself or anyone else and if there is a God, I don’t think he/she cares either.

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What I love about Mormonism

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Recently I had a friend ask me what my favorite thing is about Mormonism.  I was surprised by how touched I was by the question; frankly, I’m much more used to getting the question of, “Why don’t you just leave Mormonism?”, which always stings a little and puts me on the defensive.  However, being asked about my favorite parts of Mormonism gave me the opportunity to really think (and then be effusive) about what I really love about my faith and my community.  And since talking with her, I’ve been able to really ponder further and come up with even more things that I cherish.

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To say what is truth?

27I have not been able to stop thinking about an essay I read a few months ago: “Oh Say What is Truth? Understanding Mormonism Through a Black Feminist Epistemology”  The author argues that in Mormonism truth is acquired through feeling, citing D&C 9:8, as well as through lived experience; these are the ways we “find out for ourselves.”  These methods of determining truth are part of a black feminist epistemology set forth by Patricia Hill Collins, and the essay argues that her ideas are very close to Mormon methods of determining truth.

Taking feelings and lived experience a step further, Collins argues that a collective dialogue is essential to furthering and developing the truth that each person has acquired, and that each person has a moral obligation to share her truth.  Collins wrote, “The fundamental requirement of [a collective dialogue] is the active participation of all individuals. For ideas to be tested and validated, everyone in the group must participate. To refuse to join in, especially if one really disagrees with what has been said, is seen as ‘cheating.’” The essayist concludes, “Because we all have a truth to speak, to fail to speak our truth especially when it is needed most – when it is being contradicted – is to fail the community’s efforts to build collective, experienced-based truth as a whole body.”

I try to live as though participating in collective dialogue is a moral obligation.  For years I’ve felt that speaking my truth regarding gender equality in Mormonism is one of the important purposes of my life.  For example, Mormonism is patriarchal, but I believe patriarchy is a Judeo-Christian heritage not inspired by God, passed down through many years of unchecked sexism, and now entangled so that it touches nearly every aspect of Church culture and much of Church doctrine.  How do I live as part of a religious community with strongly held traditional beliefs and while hoping for radical change?

I do it by talking.  I use inclusive language, I comment often in Sunday School and Relief Society, I get up in fast and testimony meeting a few times every year, I give carefully crafted talks that are both diplomatic and radical, and I write for a Mormon feminist blog and paper.  I speak my truth wherever I can.  This can be scary because it opens me up for criticism and judgement, but it can also create unexpected connections with people who resonate with what I’ve said.  In the context of contemporary American life it may seem tame to speak truth in one’s own small community – others have spoken up at much greater cost than I have, and to greater effect.  But to do this consistently, to remain attached to a community that has expanded my spirit but also makes me weep, this takes courage and staying power.

So, my ideas matter, even if, or especially when, they are contrary to the status quo.  And if a collective dialogue is needed to develop and advance knowledge, then I need to keep showing up for that dialogue.  I also believe that organizations need insiders working for change for that change to become possible.

But here’s the problem.  What if I’m a lone reed?  In my experience there needs to be a critical mass of people in a Sunday School discussion to get an idea afloat.  It’s great when that happens, and the discussion becomes enlightening and enlivening.  But what if comments or questions fall flat and the teacher marches on with the lesson as planned?  What if people hold your truth in contempt, or possibly worse, just ignore it?  A dialogue in which everyone participates sounds great, but in does that ever happen in real life?  What if, as happened to me earlier this month, a First Presidency letter, the bishopric’s selection of the theme for sacrament meeting, and the material in the talks and discussions form a unified block of content that I don’t resonate with?  Are comments against such a backdrop useful, or contentious even if contention is not my intent?

I’m lonely and tired, friends.  So please, give me your stories.  When you speak up, how does it go?  What do you learn?  Does it create a spark for generating sincere discussion?  Or does your spark fall to the ground, extingushed?  If it’s the latter, what does that mean?

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Two years after I submitted an Ordain Women profile, this is what I’m thinking

Hotel_Dieu_in_Paris_about_1500My babies were delivered in hospitals, safely and pleasantly enough.  But delivering in a hospital was not always so safe.  Many women died in European and American lying-in hospitals in the 17th to 19th centuries from childbed fever – an infection of streptococcal bacteria in the uterus that spread to the bloodstream causing sepsis and, usually, death.  Childbed fever can occur in women who deliver at home, but it was so prevalent in lying-in hospitals because doctors unwittingly spread the bacteria from one woman to another through bad hygiene.  Mortality rates averaged around 1 in 5 to 1 in 4, with some epidemics being close to 100% mortality.  

Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor, began looking at mortality in the maternity ward at the General Hospital in Vienna in 1846.  He noted that doctors patients died at a rate 5 times higher than the midwives patients and set out to find out why.  Ahead of his time, and without knowledge of microbiology, he came up with a procedure that dropped maternal mortality by 90%.  It was washing hands in a chlorine solution.

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Exponent II: A Journey of Discovery

Fall Winter 2015 coverExciting news! The double issue for Fall 2014 and Winter 2015 is in production and will be mailed on April 30th. You don’t want to miss this 68-page celebration of Exponent II’s 40 years in publication with writings from so many beloved Mormon feminists like Gina Colvin and Lavina Fielding Anderson (not to mention the ones listed on the cover)!

Our Letter from the Editor comes from former assistant editor and Exponent permablogger, Heather Sundahl. Heather is entering her 20th year of Exponent II involvement, and there’s no one better to introduce this issue, the last piece of our 40th anniversary celebration.

Whenever people talk about Exponent II’s origin story, the word “discover” is always used. In 1972 Susan Kohler “discovered” a stack of original Woman’s Exponents published a century earlier whose purpose was to advocate for “the Rights of the Women of Zion, and the Rights of the Women of all Nations.” And as you can read in the retrospective essays of Claudia Bushman, Laurel Ulrich and Judy Dushku, within two years of that unearthing a brave group of women in Cambridge would decide that the time was right to start anew.

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Easter 2015: a Look at Past Easter Posts on The Exponent

A Little Bit of Paradise by Jana RemyThis week, I was feeling sad that I don’t get to be with my ward on Easter Sunday. I’m sure General Conference will be lovely this weekend, but I’m always a little sad on those years when Easter and General Conference converge. Knowing that I wouldn’t get to hear an Easter talk from a member of the ward. I turned to my other beloved Mormon community here at The Exponent and came across so many pieces that have spiritually fed me during past Easter seasons.

Easter Posts
The Easter Basket by Mraynes: “I went home and pulled out my own Easter basket, the one I had picked all those years ago. It wasn’t the ornate basket of my daydreams, rather it is beautiful only for its simplicity. All of the magic that was lost the day my father revealed truth was captured for me in this basket. This, this, was the perfect basket for my little girl.”

Easter’s Promise by Heather: “Sometimes in winter, when my sweet flower beds are buried under 3 feet of packed, salty snow, I just know nothing can survive. But not too long ago, when it seemed winter would never end, I went out my front door and saw little purple crocuses poking their heads out of the ground.”

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