It’s like an old quilt, worn-out with holes and not much to look at, but warm and cozy to wrap yourself in when you need comfort. This is how I perceived the Why I Stay panelists at Sunstone feel about the church (I enjoyed the panel very much, by the way). They are aware of the problematic history, doctrine, and policies, and yet they choose to stay.
And I get that. I want the church to be a comforting place for people who need comfort. That is our job as Christians, after all. When I think of my friends in the ward, I feel that comfort. We’ve been in our ward for nine years. Ward members who saw my son as an 18 month old in 2004 will see him ordained to the priesthood next summer. The community of support and love is wonderful and almost all I need.
Except that it’s not. I need a church that embraces my values, especially the value of equality. I need a church where I can attend and hold on to my integrity (I currently check mine at the door each week). I need a church where women are not only told that they’re valuable, but are ACTUALLY VALUABLE in making decisions that affect us all.
A recent example of the prominence and importance of men in the church involved the leadership change in my ward. One bishopric counselor who had been serving for less than a year was reassigned back to his semi-permanent calling of Scout Master. Apparently since he left, some of the young men had not acquired their Eagle Scout awards, and a more committed Scout Master was required. So, ward leadership was shuffled, an entire Sacrament meeting was devoted to this man and the new counselor. The importance of these changes were punctuated by the presence of the entire Stake Presidency. I was really upset and Mark asked me why. I said, “Would there ever be a young women’s calling that is so important that they would rearrange the entire Bishopric to make sure that the young women were properly staffed?”
Perhaps situations like this are a symptom of the greater problem of lack of emphasis, or acknowledgement of the Divine Feminine. Our worship services are void of nearly all feminine influences and it pains my soul. Yesterday, a friend of mine was lamenting the fact that Relief Society lessons hardly ever contain stories of women. And while we could find some stories to substitute, they wouldn’t hold they same power because the women they belong to didn’t go on to become members of the Quorum of the 12, or prophets. It’s easy to see the value of formative experiences of current leaders, it’s harder to see the value of women’s experiences when we hardly see any women at a church leadership level.
During Sacrament meeting a few weeks ago I was overwhelmed by the patriarchy and had a feeling that I was suffocating. I couldn’t breathe, then I realized that it was as though I was drowning. I saw myself underwater, staring up at a blurred group of men in suits and ties. They looked down at me and I could hear them saying, “You don’t need to breathe. You’re just fine. Don’t worry, don’t struggle.”
I was terrified.
I still am terrified.
What’s come to me most recently is that raising sons in this church may be even more difficult than raising daughters. And as it happens, I have three sons. It’s certainly easy to point to unequal treatment in YM/YW and ask a girl how she feels about it and help her see why inequality is wrong. Harder still is to tell a son that he doesn’t deserve the privileges he’s got as part of the male sex. Inequality seems less important when he’s standing on the advantaged side. It’s my job to tell him that he’s not really that special when the gift and power of the priesthood tell him otherwise. Power is a heady drug, even, maybe especially ecclesiastical power. Add to that a mother who is apparently “power hungry,” and it’s easy for a boy to dismiss this concern.
Part of me wonders if it’s possible to shake the feeling of suffocation and replace it with the cozy feeling of a warm quilt. I recognize that while I’d like the church to change and I’m certainly taking steps to make that happen, I’m not in any capacity to make it happen and I can’t hold my breath any longer.