Exponent II Classics: Pharisees and Sinners

Laurel T. Ulrich
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Vol. 4, No. 4, Spring 1978

I sometimes hear Mormon women talk about being caught between two worlds. They can’t identify with the hostility of secular feminism, yet they feel ill-at-ease and mistrusted in their own small wards. This conflict, though painful, is unavoidable, it seems to me, and it holds rich opportunities for service and growth.

A few years ago, as I prepared a Relief Society lesson on obedience, I decided to try a little object lesson on my class. I went to the meeting in old jeans, with my hair stringing down over my shoulders. I was quite pleased with the thought of the Pharisaical responses I would provoke and with the discussion this would stimulate later in the lesson.

But I had not anticipated how difficult it would be for me to walk into the room. I found myself buttoning my coat higher, sitting down hurriedly in a corner, and twisting my ankles back under the chair to hide my sneakers. Having deliberately violated the norms of my community, I was ostracized by my own self-consciousness long before I was rejected by anyone there. I have tried to remember that.

I have also tried to remember how much fun it was to give that lesson when I finally took my coat off and stood up. Part way through, I confessed that my costume was intentional and asked the women to share their honest responses to it. One sister, fresh from Utah, said: “Well, I thought it was pretty strange, but I decided to ignore it. I’d heard they did things differently back here.” (Needless to say, she and I became good friends!)

The bishop’s wife said: “I was shocked at first, but I knew you and so I didn’t worry.”

“But what if you hadn’t known me?” I asked. The answers were thoughtful and brought out the expected points about Love, Tolerance, Judge Not That Ye Be Not Judged. I know the Pharisees in my class learned something that morning, but the Sinner learned even more.

I had barely survived my own period of Culture Shock in that ward. I had left an unusually open and accepting Mormon community, and at every turn in the new one I offended and gave offense. I’m not sure which was the bigger mistake—to pounce on my sisters with my well-polished collection of new ideas or to go into hiding nursing my differences. Both responses showed a remarkable lack of confidence in myself and in them. It took me awhile to learn that people can’t reject you if you know you belong.

For more Exponent II Classics, click here .

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. Deborah says:

    Wow, Emily — we must be on the same wave-length. I paraphrased a quote from this during my lesson on Sunday.

  2. Caroline says:

    Great choice, Emily.

  3. Eve says:

    I loved this essay, too, since the misfit dilemma she describes is one I currently find myself in (and I’m guessing I’m not alone!). I wish I could find the confidence to claim the sense of belonging that she does at the essay’s end.

  4. EmilyCC says:

    I wish I could take credit for finding this one, but Evelyn, EXII’s webmistress sent it to me.

  5. Dora says:

    Hmmm … I’m constantly battling the Pharisees that run amok in my head. It’s better now that I’m no longer in a singles’ ward. It’s much easier now that I am easily distracted by cute toddlers.

  6. Seraphine says:

    I wasn’t familiar with this essay, but like the other commenters, I definitely identified with it. Thanks for posting it!

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