Mormon Feminists: Who Stays, Who Goes

Here’s my theory: feminists are more likely to choose to stay active/partially active in the Mormon church if they fall into these two categories.

1)They are drawn to Jesus. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they dwell a lot on the mystical aspects of the atonement, but at the very least, they appreciate Jesus as a teacher, they focus on his social gospel message, and they appreciate the way in which he reached beyond social boundaries to empower and uplift all he comes into contact with. Additionally they may be drawn to the symbolic aspect of the Christian message – that of transformation, change, reconciliation, and redemption.

2)Their spouse (if they are married to a Mormon) is invested in activity in the Church. I’ve been learning a bit about feminist ethics, and one train of thought (though this is disputed) is that women often choose relationships over principles. So even if a woman doesn’t really believe in Mormonism’s truth claims, she might make efforts to remain active or partially active for the sake of her relationship with her spouse.

This doesn’t apply to those feminists which were excommunicated. And of course there will be many who don’t fit my theory. I can think of some women who choose to not practice Mormonism even though they do fall into one or two of these categories above. But I’m pretty sure that these categories do hold for most of the Mormon feminists I know who have chosen to remain active.

Is there another criterion I’m missing? I thought about adding a category about believing in or at least being open to Joseph Smith’s claims about gospel restoration. I think a lot of active Mormon feminists I know would fall in there, but there are some who don’t. I suspect Jesus is more of a lynchpin than Joseph.

What do you think? Does this theory hold true for you or the Mormon feminists you know?

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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55 Responses

  1. I do think that my adoration of Jesus plays a significant role in my activity in the Church, but without a belief in Joseph Smith’s claims about restoration, particularly the restoration of priesthood authority, I think I’d be just as likely to be active in Catholicism.

  2. Sarah Farmer says:

    Quite frankly, it is my daughter that keeps me active. As the single mom of a special needs teenage girl, the church has provided an amazing support system, a community of accepting peers who have strong values, and a place where I can safely let others watch over my child and help raise her. With a mentally disabled child, I don’t have to fret about whether or not church leaders are teaching her aspects of Mormon culture or doctrine that I have issues with. To my girl, church is simply a place where we talk about Jesus and people are really nice. I can have my feminist perspective and raise my daughter as I please, all within a family atmosphere. Were I living alone, I’d probably have continued attending the Unitarian church. But I am very happy in my ward, and they are very accepting of my life, liberal views, and nontraditional family.

  3. Sarah Farmer says:

    Oh…I’m also appreciate that the church provides a place for my daughter to interact with spiritual men and who are willing to give us blessings whenever I request them and who treat her with love and respect. Not having a father, I think the church has offered her an avenue for interaction with caring family men and male role models that she wouldn’t otherwise have. All the men in my ward have been very respectful of my single parenting and don’t seem to have any issue with my being an outspoken feminist; it has broadened my perspective of Mormon males (having grown up in Provo, my view was not always positive).

  4. Jessawhy says:

    Caroline,
    Great post!
    This is a little different than the dichotomy Kendahl mentioned to me a while ago. Hers was that in order to stay active in the church, you either have to
    1. Like the people (culture, etc) or just like being at church most of the time.
    2. Believe the church is true.

    What you’re saying about women putting relationships above principles rings true to me. I’m not sure that I admire that about myself, but it’s part of the way I’ve been socialized and it’s also partly about my priorities. This conversation would be interesting to discuss in a panel of couples where one spouse has left the church. Looking at the difference between how the husband vs the wife negotiates those changes would be very interesting.

  5. Stephanie says:

    I do not fit into either category. I am inactive, and am very drawn to Jesus, and appereciate his message, even the more mystical aspects. I love that he spent time with the poor, social outcasts, and “sinners.” In fact, it is my love for Jesus that makes long-term activity in the Church difficult for me. I feel so often that Church meetings stray from teaching about Jesus, and focus on becoming “The Church of the Proclamation to the Family of Latter-Day-Saints,” or “The Church Against Gay Marriage of Latter-Day-Saints.”

    I’m being a little sarcastic there, and I don’t feel that way all the time, but it is hard. My relationship with Jesus is very personal, and I can’t seem to find a need for an institution to supplement beliefs I already have.

    I also have an extremely active Spouse. In fact, he is ward missionary, an idea that amuses me since he works on “reactivation.” My name is on the list given to him by the Bishop. I tell him he is lucky because he fulfills his calling simply by hanging out with me.

    • motion de smiths says:

      This is kinda where I’m at right now. Though not technically inactive, the church is doing a pretty poor job of teaching about Christ. So much emphasis is placed on works and barely any on grace.

      In fact, I was teaching Gospel Essentials the other day and I emphasized the grace part in my lesson. And of course, immediately after I talked about how we can never save ourselves, that we have to rely on Christ, it went right back to works. A TBM piped in to say “yeah, it’s about all the little things we do every day, the good and bad.” Again, the people turn to their own works.

      Meanwhile, I’m like…sigh.

    • addy moreno says:

      I feel the very same way you do. The church does a very poor job focusing in Jesus. Its so very sad and it breaks my heart.

  6. Stephanie says:

    PS @ Jessawhy, regarding one spouse who has left, and one who has stayed: negotiating is the only word to describe the situation. We negotiate. It feels like we negotiate every single week. Sometimes, I do wish I could just suck it up and pretend every week.

    The hardest part is my desire to do anything to make my Spouse happy, and my desire to be spiritually sustained, which doesn’t happen for me at Church. Where do I draw the line between sacrificing something for my Spouse, and sacrificing my sense of self?

  7. Merkat says:

    Interesting thoughts, Caroline. By the way, I enjoyed your paper (I attended the Claremont conference last week)! What a great day!

    I stay because I feel well utilized and I actually enjoy being at church. I like the culture in general, although sorrow at many aspects. For example, we had a lesson on the priesthood at institute and I was shaking with anger during it (long story). When I worked in primary I cried when I heard a little girl ask who gets the priesthood and being told the men do. Possibly her first exposure to patriarchy.

    I’ve been able to have many leadership callings in my ward and stake and feel that I am really helping others and doing good work- for me being a leader allows me to challenge patriarchal norms. I am able to speak in other wards about whatever I want to talk about in my stake calling, and have a lot of autonomy.

    I don’t think I’d ever be able to leave- I feel better being in and sharing my views with others. I’d be disappointed if “Mormon Feminists” simply stayed because of their husbands- talk about being presided over! But I get what you are saying about relationships.

    I believe in the gospel, but don’t feel a strong attachment to Jesus. I like the service and teaching aspect, but get turned off when evangelizing about Jesus and being saved. This was interesting to think about, at a time when I am trying to evaluate what is meaningful to me and how to find fulfillment in what I do.

  8. Melanie says:

    I find the many recent theorizations about why people leave really interesting. I have a hard time reducing my reasons for leaving- especially as I think back on what an emotional, heady, scary time leaving was- into a dichotomy or precise framework.

    If anything, my relationship with Jesus empowered me to leave. I no longer had the confidence in the priesthood (thanks, glass ceilings and YSA programs) to believe that it/they could mediate my relationship with Christ. The atonement felt too infinite for all of the constraints.

    Having no spouse and no family in the Church made it easier to leave, as did the move from my home stake about a month before I left. The community and callings had kept me active for several years. It was a relief to leave them a thousand miles away and finally start making claims to my own happiness.

    In that vein, I can’t discount the impact graduate school had on my leaving either. It gave me a voice and a sense of self and possibility that I hadn’t been able to find when the Church was the central institution in my life, not to mention inspired the aforementioned move.

    So I say all that, but you know what? I left because I was exhausted. I was tired of fighting for my testimony every single week. I don’t know that a different outcome for factors 1 or 2 could have changed the fact that I had nothing left.

  9. Corktree says:

    Very interesting Caroline. I’ll have to think about this some more, only because I know that I want to go back to church, but I’m not exactly sure *why* yet.

    I do know that Jesus is the strongest part of my testimony, but I don’t really feel that I hear enough about Him at church, so I feel like I could enhance my relationship with Him on my own.

    And as for my husband, a very active convert, I haven’t felt guilty in letting him go alone so far, so I don’t know if that’s what makes me want to go back. (He also sees me on the inactive list Stephanie, it’s a weird feeling, but at least he has a sense of humor about it)

    I think that these reasons do affect a lot of women that stay, but I also think it has something to do with what Jessawhy mentions. If you don’t believe it’s the only source of truth, or if you don’t enjoy going or the people, it’s very hard to make yourself sacrifice to go; and for me it IS a sacrifice. I dislike so much of church culture and don’t identify with most members I meet as far as many of my interests go. And I don’t enjoy anything about my ward, where for almost 4 years I left each Sunday wanting to cry. That type of negativity should not have to be endured. So for some people, I suppose the argument could be made that church is about community and supporting and serving, but for me it just wasn’t, even if I tried my hardest to think outside myself and focus on others. So going back will be a challenge.

    And I’m finding it harder and harder to hold on to the belief that it’s the one true anything. I love some of our unique doctrines. I think the Church has a lot of truth. I think much of it is/was inspired. It may even have the MOST truth, or be the right kind of truth and the only source of it for some people who shouldn’t look elsewhere. But I can’t deny that for some, it is NOT the right place and that they would be better off in another tradition. That’s been hard to come to terms with, especially since I wish I felt better about seeking out another tradition for myself. But for some reason I don’t. I feel good about supplementing and seeking ways and truths to add to my understanding of and relationship with God, but I actually feel that I am supposed to stay a member. In fact, I feel more and more lately that I’m supposed to stay to help bring about the changes that I would like to see.

    And I think I can do that. I can stay if God wants me to because S/He has a plan for me that I can feel good about. I couldn’t come back if it was just to be quiet or accept the status quo. I couldn’t go back and act the same or do the same things. If I go back, I’m doing my part to inspire change and to be a positive example.

    Sorry for the length, this really hit something.

    • Amy says:

      Corktree, I really identify with a lot of the things you are saying. For many years, I would also come home from church more sad than before I went. And I had to keep asking myself, “Is this really what it’s supposed to be like?” But, I have continued to go, and I do know that despite all of the people in the church who aren’t perfect, and frankly, make a mess of everything (myself included)- this is the place where all of the truth lives and that I need to take the sacrament each week and try to help others- even if all the rest of church is a bust for me. I was able to find a close friend in my ward a few years ago and that has helped my experience at church. However, there are certain classes I still like to stay away from because certain people talk as if they know everything and are either close-minded or confusing. I also feel like many of us confuse the church with our unofficial “church culture”. Some people who like it, mistakenly base their testimonies on some of that. Some of us who don’t feel a part of that can feel as if the church is based on that and want to leave. Neither of which is what I believe the Lord would want. I still believe the church is true, but I think it is a shame that some of us feel so much negativity from our church-going experience and I’m not sure how to reconcile that.

      • Lauren says:

        I hate to fall back on a cliche, but the saying “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” comes to mind. A testimony of the gospel doesn’t have to be/shouldn’t be a testimony of church culture. You should go to church because you believe God has commanded you to, and because you want to obey God’s commandments and feel that taking part in the sacrament each week is an important part of the gospel. The other church culture stuff doesn’t matter, in my opinion. I feel like it’s there as a support for those members who want it, but if you don’t feel like it’s a benefit to you, or that it’s a negative aspect in your life, discard it and find other support systems that are meaningful to you. But bottom line is, in my opinion, that IF you have a testimony of the Gospel, you need to be there on sunday, taking the sacrament, and being in the Lord’s house.

      • Corktree says:

        Just to be clear, my testimony is not and never was based on anything related to culture. But what it *was* based on was not always unique to the LDS church, so being miserable in that setting didn’t make sense.

        Now, I’ve actually been attending the sacrament meeting of another ward as a way to demonstrate a willingness to God to accept this particular commandment in my life. It’s very much an act of obedience as a trial of whatever faith I have left. BUT…I also truly believed that when I decided to take a break from church attendance, that God was with me and supporting my decision, and I have learned a lot about myself and my faith in that time with very positive results in the end. But now I feel that God is telling me it’s time to go back with my family. I know I will struggle through most of it, but I am bound and determined to make the most of it and to find a place where I can be myself and share who I am and what I believe without fear. I just hope it goes smoothly.

      • Caroline says:

        Amy and Lauren,
        Thanks for sharing your ideas. I agree that it’s a shame so many have such negative experiences with church on Sunday, despite beliefs of its truthfulness. Makes me wonder what can be done to improve the situation…

      • Amy says:

        Corktree, I hope you didn’t think I was assuming that your testimony was based on culture. I think your response just brought to my mind some things I was thinking about. Thanks for the insights.

      • Corktree says:

        No Amy, I didn’t get that. I really appreciated your comment and insights as well.

        I mistakenly took Lauren’s comments to be directed at me specifically, where they were actually more general, and I do agree that if you feel the Church is your religious home and you believe in it, then you should probably try to attend as God wants you to (you meaning general you).

  10. cchrissyy says:

    I don’t see the connection for #1 (Jesus). Did you have personal examples in mind? I can’t think of any, but logic tells me that Jesus can be found in many, many other places so I don’t get how that would be an anchor to stay when a person is otherwise unsatisfied with this denomination.

    I also would propose another factor – heritage. Separate than the issue of current family relationships that you mentioned in #2, there is also the rootedness of being “from” this community or not.

    • Emily U says:

      I agree. I feel the weight of my Mormon heritage (ancestors on both my mother’s and father’s side emigrated from Nauvoo to Utah), and the potential disappointment of my grandmother in particular motivates me not to leave the Church.

  11. Rebecca says:

    I’d say both of the two choices apply to me. I’m absolutely drawn to Christ as the central figure of my faith. In fact, I try to keep things really simple and just focus on His message. I don’t think much else really matters – truly. I also have a spouse who is invested, although I have the best of both worlds in a way because my spouse is very tolerant of me and my sometimes unconventional ways.

    Corktree brought up the idea of staying to effect change. I also sometimes feel like I can do that in subtle ways. I do know a couple of feminists who felt that way when they were younger but who have now become much less involved. Although they are still occasional sacrament meeting attenders, they are not particularly invested in activities such as accepting callings or attending the temple for example. They have found a place on the borders. I find myself wishing for them to be involved, teaching, and contributing.

  12. CatherineWO says:

    For me, it’s your number two. Though belief in Christ is definitely a factor in my spiritual life, I don’t see it as a reason to stay active in the LDS Church, for the same reasons that others here have noted. I don’t need church structure to feel the Grace of God in my life.
    For me my relationship with my husband trumps my feminist ethics. I have really struggled with this. My husband would not leave me if I were to leave the Church, but a recent weekend road trip, when we had many hours together, made me realize that it would hurt him very deeply. After almost 38 years of marriage, I just can’t do that to him. He is a good man and struggles, as I do, with the conservative politics and culture of church members. He understands and sees much of the sexism in the Church, but, though he tries to be open-minded, I know he feels threatened by the passion of my feminism.
    I have a unique situation in that my disability gives me a ready excuse to not actively participate in the Church. I attend Sacrament Meeting with my daughter and her family (not my own ward), since that ward is willing to accomodate my needs (a fragrance-free area in the back of the chapel). I’m not sure what I will do when they move out of the area (probably sometime this summer) and my husband is released from his calling in the stake presidency (probably next fall). I have not sat with him in a church meeting (other than on vacation) since we were students at BYU 36 years ago. The idea of sharing worship with him after all these years is very appealing, even if it is in a church which I feel has been abusive to me as a woman.

  13. Caroline says:

    Thanks for your comments, everyone!

    Alisonwonderland, I’m sure many Mormon feminists would agree that JS is an anchor for them in remaining active.

    Sarah Farmer,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I think you added an important criterion to consider: children. The church sure does provide an active and involved community to help teach and love children.

    Jess,
    Yes, that panel would be interesting. I think K’s framework is interesting to consider and works on a number of levels. Though I do know some who don’t necessarily believe a lot of the truth claims and they don’t necessarily enjoy going to church, but they do so for their families and because they do at least agree with the Jesus stuff. Ergo my theory. 🙂

    Stephanie and motion de smiths,
    Yes, my theory definitely doesn’t work for you. I agree that the Church needs to do a better job of focusing on Jesus and grace. Stephanie, it sounds like you haven’t found a new religious community. Is that right? Do you miss one at all? And I think your question here is huge: “Where do I draw the line between sacrificing something for my Spouse, and sacrificing my sense of self?” I have no real answers, but I’ll tell you what I often do. I attend a United Church of Christ church to be spiritually fed with a focus on Jesus, and then I also attend LDS church too – which has its good days and its bad days. I see that as a pretty nice compromise since my devout husband and I both get what we want to some extent. I also have decided to focus on the value of community and creating relationships with my ward members. I may never agree with everything they say, but I am participating in community, which I find kind of fulfilling.

    Merkat,
    Thanks! Did you come up and say hi to me? I hope so.

    Yes, I feel best about my participation in my Mormon community when I am actively involved and helping in some way. A couple of weeks ago I taught Gospel Doctrine, and I felt great about it. I was able to impart my thoughts about Jesus and Mary and lead the class along with me and I got nothing but positive feedback. It felt great to discuss my vision of the Christian message with my ward people.

    I think this all leads to another criterion of being able to stay: do we feel like we are helping, contributing, able to use our voices? If so, we’re more likely to stay.

    Melanie,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I loved this line: “The atonement felt too infinite for all of the constraints.” Also, I found this line moving and so sad – but I know what you mean. “I was tired of fighting for my testimony every single week.”

    Corktree,
    “for almost 4 years I left each Sunday wanting to cry. ” Yes, this is a huge factor in not being able to stay. If the negative feelings are overwhelming, it would be so hard to continue attending. I’ve been pretty successful over the last couple of years of dissociating somewhat from the negative I see there. Prop 8 did drive me over the edge, I admit, but since that’s died down, I’ve been more emotionally removed from the problems and it doesn’t hurt like it used to. That’s a blessing.

    “But I can’t deny that for some, it is NOT the right place and that they would be better off in another tradition.” I totally agree with that. Think of our gay friends. They are much better off somewhere else.

    “If I go back, I’m doing my part to inspire change and to be a positive example” Yes! that’s part of my motivation.

    cchrissyy,
    The reason I picked number one is because several of the progressive Mormons I know who are active cling to Jesus. They may have issues with JS, church culture, gender norms, etc. But at least they can go and hear about Jesus and feel good about their kids learning about Jesus. They may have to nuance some of those teachings, but they can agree with the bedrock idea that Jesus taught us imp’t things about how to interact and treat others. I agree that one can find Jesus in other churches, and probably more compellingly, but I’m thinking about what the bare minimum one needs to believe in to stay active — and I’m thinking it’s Jesus centered for a lot of people. The Mormon feminists I know who have really questioned Christianity or become atheists/agnostics have not chosen to stay active.

    Yes, the heritage factor is a big one too. Good point.

  14. Conifer says:

    In my case you’re partially right. I stay for 4 reasons:

    1) I haven’t made up my mind yet. pretty sure without these other reasons I’d be gone, though.
    2) I have friends there and value the social network.
    3) I think it’s good for my kids and family. Mostly.
    4) This is a big one, and it’s your #2 — my spouse is invested. It costs me nothing to keep going for him.

  15. AdamF says:

    This relationships/principles thing is interesting, especially the disdain some have for those who tend to value relationships more. While I don’t think it’s an either/or issue that some might, I actually have a lot of respect for people who may put the relationships a *little* higher than principles. Relationships are key to survival. Babies and children die without touch and connection. Adults go crazy without it. While I DO think having principles that one follows and sticking to them is important, I don’t have a lot of respect for those who mock people for valuing significant relationships a little more.

    • Corktree says:

      I have to respectfully disagree. It doesn’t seem right to assume that people who choose principles over family in determining church attendance are neglecting their relationships. I think in some ways and situations, removing that negativity and obligation may actually strengthen a relationship. Are you talking about commenters that have disdained people valuing relationships, or just people you’ve encountered? I certainly don’t think it’s a bad thing to sacrifice for the sake of others, but to imply that those who don’t aren’t valuing relationships isn’t fair.

    • Corktree says:

      Sorry Adam, I was being just a bit sensitive of someone thinking that I neglected my relationships because I valued my personal beliefs and needs as requiring precedence for a while. I see what you’re saying.

  16. kew says:

    I go firstly because it means a lot to my husband and is relatively easy for me. So for the sake of our relationship, I’m willing to stay active. I have yet to find something more productive to do on Sunday mornings.

    Again with the relationship thread, I do have a few friends that I enjoy seeing.

    And then there is heritage/family. My temple recommend expired over a year ago and I have no desire to renew it (fine on performance issues, not fine on testimony issues), except that two of my siblings may get married in they next year or two and I have no idea how I am going to deal with that.

    Finally, I like RS activities that have food. I am not at all interested in learning how to be a better member missionary tonight, but there will be a chocolate fountain. I’ll probably go hang out instead of watching TV at home by myself.

  17. C. says:

    I stay faithful because no matter how many questions, frustrations, and glaring problems I see in Church administration (and I see many, on various levels)…I believe it is a fundamentally good and true organization that’s been bogged down by its own history, and more importantly self-created culture. All of the issues I see are ones that can (and I believe will be) fixed.

    Do I have a particularly close relationship with Christ? Not as close as I should. I’m not a very spiritual person and come from the God Helps Those Who Help Themselves school of thought. I struggle with the Church – particularly the organizations (male as well as female) falling so short of their potential and power. Do I continue in the Church because of my husband? No. If anything, both of us strongly dislike our ward (a young married one in Provo) and don’t like attending, but we take turns dragging each other out of bed and going, “Yes, it sucks, but it’s true. Damnit.”

  18. Jennifer says:

    I think it is somewhat offensive that you just offhandedly assume that most women that read this blog don’t actually believe the Church is true, and need some other reason to stay active.

    • EmilyCC says:

      I assumed that #1 meant that someone believes the Church is true by focusing on Jesus, like it is through Jesus’ message that we get our testimonies of the Gospel. Is that right, Caroline?

      I know I stay because I feel like the answer to my prayers was, “You can find truth other places, but I want you to do my work here in this church.”

  19. Michael says:

    “This relationships/principles thing is interesting, especially the disdain some have for those who tend to value relationships more. While I don’t think it’s an either/or issue that some might, I actually have a lot of respect for people who may put the relationships a *little* higher than principles. Relationships are key to survival.”

    AdamF,

    It sounds as if your perspective comes from someone who easily fits into the pattern accepted by LDS culture. When you do not fit into that pattern (i.e. older single man or woman, single-mother, divorced member, gay or lesbian member, childless couple, etc.) then basing one’s church activity on relationships is fruitless and, in many instances, very painful. In fact, it can be downright harmful to your mental state if one tries to deny their true nature or keeps themselves socially isolated due to unnecessary guilt unrelated to their relationship with Christ.

    However, if you fit into the happy, nuclear heterosexual family, right-wing Republican, middle-class American LDS pattern then church activity based solely or primarily upon relationships can be a wonderful support to help maintain strong marriages and help parents raise their children with values.

    For me, as a gay LDS single man living the law of celibacy and having been forbidden to love in this life by the Prophet, my ONLY reason for remaining in the church is my testimony of the Restored Gospel, my relationship with Christ, and my opportunity to attend the House of the Lord on behalf of those that have passed on. If it was not for these things, I would have returned to the Catholicism of my childhood long ago. The Catholic faith is much more centered upon Christ in its weekly worship that we tend to be as Latter-day Saints.

    • AdamF says:

      ‘basing one’s church activity on relationships is fruitless and, in many instances, very painful”

      Agreed…

    • AdamF says:

      “if you fit into the happy, nuclear heterosexual family, right-wing Republican, middle-class American LDS pattern”

      I’m mostly happy, definitely not right-wing, and don’t know what class I’ll be in when I finally finish school sometime in this decade. 🙂

    • AdamF says:

      “For me, as a gay LDS single man living the law of celibacy and having been forbidden to love in this life by the Prophet, my ONLY reason for remaining in the church is my testimony of the Restored Gospel, my relationship with Christ”

      *Like*

      I don’t disagree with anything you have said. I’m certainly not disparaging principles… also notice you said “relationship with Christ” – I think for some people a relationship with God or etc. can really be a huge source of comfort and strength, not unlike the benefits of a relationship with another human being. I obviously cannot speak for your experiences though.

  20. Two of Three says:

    I’ll be brief as most of what I feel has been said. I go for both of those reasons. I feel connected to Christ as much as I’m irrated by doctrine I don’t agree with. But I also feel as uplifted and connected to Diety through tai chi. The main reason I attend church is to preserve the relationship I have with my husband. He would not only be hurt if I went inactive, he would chalk our relationship up to “time only” and stop investing in it. My marriage would wither. As a child of divorce myself, I can not do that to my children. And when he is not being preachy, I really adore the guy. Yet there is that soft little voice in my head that asks, “When do I get to be who I am?”.

    • Two of Three says:

      Sorry. “irritated”

    • CatherineWO says:

      Excellent question–one I ask myself regularly. Not only would I like to be more honest with other church members, but also with my husband. Part of my caution is because I don’t want to hurt him, but part of it is also because of his ecclesiastical position over me. He knows there are things I would like to be more open about, and we have agreed that when he is released from his current calling, we will sit down and have a nice long talk. Ironically, I think we will then find that we are closer in our feelings and beliefs than it now appears.

  21. Caroline says:

    Rebecca,
    I too am an idealist and am drawn to the idea of staying to effect subtle change. I think of it like this: I’m better off for having this community, and my community is better off having me, with all my heterodox ideas. When either one of those ceases to be the case, I can absolutely see how one could choose inactivity.

    CatherineWO,
    Thanks so much for your story. I can’t imagine not attending a church meeting with my husband for 36 years! And I understand where you are coming from when you say you can’t hurt your husband like that. The same thoughts crossed my mind, particularly when I was about to snap during the Prop 8 fiasco.

    Conifer, you point to this kind of tight knit community keeping you active. I agree that that’s a powerful reason to stay.

    AdamF,
    Thanks for your comment. This was one of my huge insights as I was taking a class on feminist ethics – that using relationships as a criterion through which to make a choice is just as ethical as using principles. It’s just different.

    Corktree,
    I didn’t get the sense that AdamF was condemning those who put principles first. I think he was just saying that he didn’t like people who privilege relationships to be disparaged as unethical. (At least, that’s how it came off to me.)

    Kew,
    I hear you about the food! That’s one of my main motivations for going to activities. That and just to socialize a bit.

    C,
    I love your conversations on Sunday morning. 🙂

    Jennifer,
    I’m not assuming anything about what the readers here believe. I’m just listing what I hypothesize as the bare minimum of what it takes for most to stay active in the Church. Of course, belief in JS’s restoration claims will characterize a large number of Mormon feminists.

    Emily,
    Well, I don’t think I was assuming anything about a testimony of ‘church is true’ in my number 1 Jesus criterion. (As I mentioned above, I was listing what I saw as a bare minimum to stay active.) Though that testimony may go hand and hand with being drawn to Jesus for a large majority of Mormon feminists.

    Michael,
    thank you for sharing your story. It’s good to keep in mind the perspective of those who won’t marry during the relationship vs. principles discussions.

    Two of Three,
    “He would not only be hurt if I went inactive, he would chalk our relationship up to “time only” and stop investing in it. My marriage would wither.” This is so sad. But I suspect you name a fear a lot of people feel as they consider leaving.

    CatherineWO,
    Your comment points to the awkwardness of marriages in which one member is an ecclesiastical leader over the other. I hope you get to have an open and vulnerable conversation with your husband one day, once he’s released.

    • AdamF says:

      Exactly – I have just seen a lot of people actually have contempt for or openly disparage those who value relationships even slightly more than principles. I don’t have a problem with anyone’s opinion on which is more important, only with those who hold others in contempt because basic human needs for connection happen to be slightly more important for that person.

  22. spunky says:

    This is an interesting idea. I was thinking a little about feminist awakening earlier today, and came to the conclusion that my feminist awakening came when I was a Laurel in a Laurel-Priest conference (formerly P/L- I changed it as the rebellious stake Laurel rep). The last-day speaker was a woman who basically said all women were supposed to be mothers, and I knew – KNEW- God had something more for me. I had come to learn that at the conference that life was more than mortality… so for me, I think that is where my personal spiritual divide occurred.

    I participate in the “corporate church” (my term) to a degree (sacrament meeting, VTing, accepting callings), but it is my personal relationship with Christ and my belief in the atonement that encourage me to invest personal time in these areas. For me- it is the Relief Society and what I see as core irreconcilable differences in feminism that drives me out of the corporate church. My spouse is easy- if I said I wanted to quit, he would support that and would quit as well, because we would retain personal worship at home. (as we are remote and of late have been cut off form the church, we have had more than a few Sunday services at home anyway.)

    I suppose that would put me into the first group… but I think the trick is in defining the term “active”. I have known people who were considered inactive- or at least “worrisome” because they only attended sacrament meeting and didn’t hold a calling. Does active include families who do the sacrament at home, but skip any talks or lessons when they can’t or don’t attend a corporate church building? I read scriptures, pray daily, etc. but rarely attend all 3 hours, etc. I guess… I am not sure I am “active” in a traditional sense. Is active a state of a spiritually enlighteneing mind in a Mormon sense of reading scriptures, praying, listening to confercne, etc. or is “active” in physical attendance and in participation in auxillaries and activities?

    • Caroline says:

      Those questions about what constitutes ‘active’ are good ones, Spunky. I would consider people who attend somewhat and/or who engage in Mormon practice in their own homes as practicing (to some degree). I’m starting to favor the word ‘practice’ over ‘active.’ Doing religious studies with students of other faiths has made me realize that some of our lingo just doesn’t make sense to others.

  23. Janna says:

    Spot on, Caroline.

  24. TopHat says:

    I’m a feminist Mormon and I still attend because I’m in denial and still think I’m a TBM. 🙂

    I jest, but it’s also true. I believe all the things I think are required to consider oneself a TBM and so I insist that there’s a place for me by continually going. Also my ward is the bee’s knees. If you all moved out to the Bay Area, we’d find a place for you. <3

  25. I’m down with Jesus, but I definitely don’t go for my husband, since he stopped attending last spring. I do think I’ve established a place of comfort for myself within my ward (by showing up, bringing food, and being myself), which has a wide range of folks, so I go for my friends there (including my visiting teacher, with whom I attend the Burgerville Sunday School class nearly every Sunday). I also go because of my immediate family (my mission-serving parents and all my siblings are far more orthodox than I am), and because of my pioneer heritage–some of my 28 Utah Pioneer ancestors literally died for the church, and I think that should not be taken lightly.

    Here’s another reason I probably don’t share with many of you: I go because the church affords me a performance outlet. 🙂

    • Caroline says:

      Janeannechovy,
      I think you point to a way for Mormon feminists to potentially survive as practicing Mormons – by contributing, serving, etc. one can build up enough credibility to be oneself to some degree and be accepted to some degree within the ward. I think this is possible, but I admit to feeling pretty stifled in my RS. I just think a lot of people would turn on me if I revealed too much of myself.

  26. lazyfoxeranch says:

    It’s a pretty darn good theory, for which I fit.

  27. Apame says:

    I haven’t read through the comments, but I’d add to your second category that they might stay for their spouse and also for the feelings of their immediate and/or extended family.

    Still ultimately the same point: relationships over principles.

  28. Debra says:

    Well, I can say that much of this thread has rung true for me! I went through a period of deep soul searching, that I am not completely sure is over. During much of that time, I also experienced significant challenges with the culture of the ward we were living in, and the extreme black and white thinking, legalistic leadership style of the bishop, with whom my calling required me to directly interact.

    I also went through a profound soul awakening, not only as a feminist, but also as a woman who has always been invested and involved in spiritual things. The Lord literally blew the top off of the mormon spiritual universe, and I have never been the same since. My profession and personal interests have expanded in ways that are significantly outside of the conventional Mormon box, and I know that it is the Lord and Godde themselves who have lead me here.

    During the time of my deepest soul searching, I did distance myself from the church to a degree. I held callings, but did not participate in the social life of the ward or stake for a number of reasons. Later, I started only attending sacrament meeting, and then began attending another ward’s sacrament meeting. I felt very comfortable with that choice, and know that the Lord supported me in it, in the context I was in at the time.

    Since then, we have moved to another state, with a very different culture in general – even more conservative!, but so far, I like the ward members I am getting to know. I also know that I will only be in the ward temporarily, so it is easier to have a live and let live mindset.

    I still see and feel disturbed by the subtle gender bias, and presumption of male dominance and male centrality, and am trying to find a balance for myself, when I personally don’t buy it, period, yet my husband has been called to be in the bishopric, and so that adds another layer of politics.

    I have remained active in the church because of my connection to Jesus, with whom I have a personal and intimate relationship, and because of my testimony of the fundamental message of the restoration, even seeing the incompleteness of it. When it came down to it, I knew that I know this, and could not deny it, and that my life would not be as happy outside of the church.

    I also feel called to stay to be an instrument and influence for change.

    I also believe in the reality of temple covenants, committments, and blessings. My husband and I have made those covenants together, and part of what we are called to do in the big picture of things, is related to those covenants. Have lost two previous husbands through divorce, this is precious to me.

    Lastly, I do think where you live makes a difference. Culturally, the church in the Bay Area of California is very different than northern Colorado, and even more different than east Texas!

    • Caroline says:

      Debra,
      Thanks so much for sharing your story. I love reading about other Mormons’ experiences with feminist awakenings and how they consequently navigate their church experience. I think you point to another key factor in Mormon feminists being willing to stay active: the belief that their presence will benefit the community somehow. That resonates with me.

  29. Diane says:

    I have come to the decision to leave the Church. I feel as though I am being stonewalled by my Bishop. Its’ been well over thirty days and have not received my exit papers. This is almost as hurtful as the reasons why I have left.

    The last time I went to church was a fast and testimony meeting three months ago, just before I got up to speak, a sister told me that I had Satan in my heart and didn’t have enough faith in God because I have problems with Depression and Anxiety . She also began shoving scripture in my face to support what she was saying. I’m not kidding. I was absolutely livid and as a result my testimony, well sucked. I spoke to the Bishop and he refused to let me confront her and he also declined to speak to her with regard to the issue. I then asked if I could give a talk about what the correct doctrine really is about illness. He refused. I was and am still pissed. He didn’t want me to talk about it. So, I’m suppose to raise my hand and support this man who basically wants me to be complicit in my own abuse. ITS ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT HAPPEN.

    This has not been the first time that a member of the Bishopric, indeed even the Stake President know of other instances where this kind of abusive behavior has happened to me and they all want me to act as if nothing is wrong. This is very hurtful. Whatever feelings I may have had for the church are completely gone. I feel disconnected from the church that is talked about from the pulpit as opposed to the church that is practiced behind closed and the two can no longer be reconciled

  30. Caroline says:

    Diane, what an awful situation. It’s unbelievable that a fellow ward member could be so hateful to you. It’s also sad that your bishop is unresponsive to your requests. I hope you eventually find peace in your journey.

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