“Coming Out” as a Mormon Feminist in Support of Ordination—On TV

Photo by D'arcy Benincosa

Photo by D’arcy Benincosa (That’s me in red on the far right.)

If you would like to demonstrate your desire for women to hold the priesthood but didn’t make it out to Salt Lake City to join Ordain Women at the Priesthood Session last October,  you have another chance. Ordain Women has decided to attend the April 2014 priesthood session.

I participated in October, in spite of  my fears  about declaring my desires to participate in the priesthood so openly. Before Ordain Women, I had enjoyed semi-anonymity, using only my first name here at the Exponent.  My involvement in Ordain Women resulted in a pretty dramatic “coming out” as a Mormon feminist to  my Mormon family, church leaders and predominantly LDS local community.

The day that the Ordain Women October Priesthood Session Action event Facebook site launched, someone directed my parents to my positive RSVP.  This had the potential to go very badly, considering that we had a big ol’ fight after someone pointed out my support for  Pants to Church Day in 2012.  However, my dad sent me a short, tactful email requesting my “thoughts on this.” I emailed back telling him that I support ordination of women and included a copy of my Ordain Women profile.  My father responded with a long letter that essentially said that my parents did not know whether they agreed with the concept of women’s ordination, and that they dislike public demonstrations, but they trusted me and would not try to stop me from doing something I felt called to do.

I was one of four women who signed a letter to officials at church headquarters requesting tickets to Priesthood Session for 150 women.  The day Church Headquarters responded was busy for me. I was painting a new guest room in preparation for hosting a friend from out of state who would stay at my house during the priesthood session event.  The LDS Newsroom responded to our letter requesting tickets,  gave copies of our correspondence with Church Headquarters to the press, and announced a new policy that Priesthood Session would be broadcast live.  So the press called us.  I was on TV that day on all local Salt Lake City TV stations. My neighbor across the street called me to ask if my house had flooded, as that was the only explanation she could think of for all the TV crews at my house.

I thought more concerned family and friends would contact me after I was all over the news.  The Ordain Women website had about 20,000 views that day, with mine being the most viewed profile, so I was pretty sure people were looking me up.  But I mostly got radio silence.  My best friend from high school sent me a thoughtful letter saying she didn’t want ordination, but she was following my posts and was impressed with me and with other Ordain Women supporters.  Two college friends who have left the church because of gender discrimination issues contacted me to express their admiration for my efforts. Two strangers sent hate mail.

My stake president called a few days before the priesthood session.  He wanted me to get a babysitter and bring my husband and meet with him that very night. I was not able to accommodate his short-notice meeting request but we met a week after the Priesthood Session action.  He extended some advice and caution but assured me that I would not be disciplined for supporting women’s ordination.

The day of the priesthood session action my dad came over to speak with me.  He told me that although I had personally received radio silence, he and my mom had received many calls from concerned relatives and friends ever since I had been on the news.  (At this point, I feel it necessary to mention that I am 37 years-old.)

“Why don’t they call me?” I asked.

“That’s what I tell them. Call April.” My dad responded correctly.

However, he had written down the questions people were asking, some of which, he confessed, were kind of offensive, and he was wondering if I would mind answering them for him.  We had a nice talk as we went over two legal size pages of questions.

When I arrived at the park to meet Ordain Women supporters who would walk together to the priesthood session, I saw crowds of women talking to reporters about their desire to fully participate in the work of the Lord as priesthood holders. After spending most of my life following social stigmas that silence women and compel us to feign that we love our exclusion, it was like a miracle to see so many women willing to openly express their righteous desires to fully participate in the church. That was the best part of the evening for me.

When we arrived at Temple Square, a church spokesperson met us and asked to speak with the four women who had been corresponding with her–including me. She seemed like a lovely person but, of course, she did not have good news for us.  We would not be admitted.  However, we were not asked to leave, either.

While we waited in line, one of the men attending priesthood session took it upon himself to police us. He marched up to us and told us we were “out of order.” He was saying things like, “You think women should baptize? Pass the sacrament? Be bishops?” as if that would be horrible. But one of my friends disarmed him with some talk about their shared Scottish roots and he calmed down.

I was near the front of the line, so I was one of the first to be turned away personally. I thought I was prepared for that, but I was a little surprised at how hurtful it felt to me. I knew that invited men had participated in the General Relief Society Meeting inside the Conference Center and uninvited male spectators were allowed to watch it in the Tabernacle the week before, so I was prepared to be admitted to the Tabernacle but refused entrance to the Conference Center.  Instead, women were forced to stay outside. Many of the other women were crying as they were turned away.  I did not shed tears, but I realized later that my sadness was apparent anyway, when I read this.

Since I was done so soon, I offered to help a wonderful sister who came all the way from Germany to claim the international tickets her bishop had ordered for her at Will Call. To my knowledge, she was the only woman among us who was successful at getting tickets from her local priesthood leader. We went to Will Call where, for the first time that evening, I encountered a grumpy, angry volunteer usher instead of a trained, smiling PR professional. He shooed us away from the Will Call line, not even allowing us to ask if my German friend’s tickets were there, and demanded that we go to Gate 20.

“What do you think is at Gate 20?” asked my German friend.

“A PR professional who will tell us that the session is only for men and boys,” I replied. And I was completely right. Unfortunately, that particular PR professional happened to be a really nice person from my own ward, who is married to my Relief Society President, whom I also really like. That was probably the hardest part of the evening for me. I felt sorry for this German woman, who had come so far and so desperately wanted to get into the session, and I felt bad that my neighbor had to go through the unpleasantness of enforcing the gender restriction. And I wondered if we were still friends.

This photo of me appeared in Al Jazeera America

This photo of me waiting my turn to request entry to the priesthood session appeared in the local news.

That evening, I was so weak and exhausted I asked my friend to drive the car.  I attributed my discomfort to the stress of the day until I developed a fever and realized I was actually physically ill.  Of course, virtually everyone attributed my sickness to a weakened immune system due to stress, so maybe that distinction is irrelevant.

While waiting in line at the Priesthood Session, a reporter had asked the woman standing beside me how she felt.  She said she felt proud. I am glad the reporter did not ask me that question.  I did not feel proud yet.  I felt tired and sad and sickly.  But now, looking back, I also feel proud.

I am coming back to the Priesthood Session this April and this time, I am not afraid.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is an advocate, mother, professional, lover of the arts, hater (but doer) of housework and seeker of truth. Podcast: Religious Feminism Podcast Twitter: @aprilyoungb

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29 Responses

  1. Bonnie says:

    Darcy, I’m so proud of you. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts for years. Keep the faith. (And by that, I mean keep faith in the idea that women will, one day, be treated with equity).

  2. Yeschef says:

    I don’t understand you. I am a female LDS member. It sounds to me like you do not understand the gospel and want to force it to form to your desires. You don’t represent me or my gender or my faith. Start your own church so it can be just the doctrine you want, not based on truth.

    • Olea says:

      Who does represent your gender?

    • Bonnie says:

      Yeschef, she is not saying that she represents you, but she does represent thousands of us. When you tell someone you disagree with to “start your own church”, is that what King Benjamin meant when he said to enlarge the place of our tents? Your message does not fit into the message of love and acceptance that our Savior taught. Do you imagine our missionaries are out searching for people who fit a check list and do not vary from such a narrow definition of “Mormon” that differences are not tolerated? Three of my children have served missions, and none mentioned that they were forbidden to teach or to even baptize feminists. That is probably a good thing since their parents (and even they) are feminists.

      I understand that it can be scary to recognize that there is great diversity in our Church, and it can be even scarier to celebrate it. Nevertheless, that is exactly what I believe Christ would do. If diversity were not of God, nor meant to be celebrated, our Lord and Savior would have wasted a great deal of time creating a world and a people filled with such magnificent variety.

      • HarryStamper says:

        Diversity…if women had the priesthood the church would be less diverse. The restriction helps with the diversity appreciated by feminists. Stay diverse.

      • April says:

        Harrystamper, a common critique of women’s suffrage was that it would “unsex” women–that they would somehow become just like men if they had the same opportunities to vote and participate fully in their governance. Time has proven that equal opportunity does not yield sameness.

    • April says:

      I would recommend studying this essay before telling people to leave the church http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2012/12/15/if-you-dont-like-it-leave-and-religious-pluralism/

  3. Melody says:

    Thank you for this beautiful and very personal essay. And for your courage all the way around.

    I read the blog post you linked to (written by the law professor friend) his words touched me deeply as well. Although I have not felt the call to join OW women, nor am I convinced female ordination by male leaders is the only way to reach our goal of equality within the LDS church, (dare I say, “God’s goal”? Yes, I do.) I am profoundly grateful for the way OW is shining light on the problem. Light. That’s what it’s all about for me. And you are a bright light, April. Thank you again.

  4. Anon This Time says:

    April, I want to thank you and your sisters who stood in line at conference. You, who had the courage to put up your profiles and speak the words out loud. You absolutely represent me. I wish I could stand beside you at this point in time. Perhaps someday I will. But I am so thankful for women like you who are not afraid to stick your necks out for all of us. God bless.

  5. Julia says:

    April,

    I so loved reading your account of this day. You are dear to my heart.

    I’ve always considered you to be brave and strong and capable. You are a leader in Ordain Wonen…and I’m so proud to know you.

    Once again, I will see you in April as we stand in line to request tickets to General Conference, Priesthood Session.

  6. TooBad says:

    ” Ordain Women has decided to attend the April 2014 priesthood session.”

    At one point I saw nothing wrong with what OW did in October. Doing it again in April seems like grandstanding to me. If they do in fact decide to do this again in April, I can no longer support their efforts because what I want and what they seem to want are far too divergent.

    • spunky says:

      I don’t know what you “want”, and I don’t understand why a second peaceful action would cause you to jump ship if you supported the first action. Would you explain?

  7. Mark Hamilton says:

    I have read some of the radical statements made by ordain women on Facebook. I cannot say totally agree with the groups goals, but it doesn’t help the discussion when ordain women doesn’t moderator it’s Facebook page.

  8. Dabrina Dutcher says:

    I have followed your posts and activities in the realm of equality with the LDS religion with great interest for years. I’ve never felt as if I should comment because I left the church many years ago over these same issues. I couldn’t believe that a religion that relegated 50%+ of members to subordinate status could possibly be true. I also saw great harm in allowing my child to be exposed to an environment in which he was taught that he wielded more power and authority by virtue of his gender. However, if strangers are allowed to send you hate mail over your activities then surely cousins (cousin-in-laws?) are allowed to send notes of support and admiration. Thank you for doing what you are doing. Thank you for following your heart, speaking out, drawing attention to an important issue, and trying to right an obvious wrong. I have tremendous admiration for you and your husband. You guys have raised awesome kids, have an admirable relationship dynamic, and set a tremendous example of balancing families and careers. Please consider this note of love and support from your normally silent cousin as some counter-balance to those hate-letters!

  9. Caroline says:

    April, what a wonderful post. Thank you for your courage — for your courage in writing about your thoughts and experiences on this topic, for your courage to be a leader in Ordain Women, for your courage to talk publicly to the press, and more. You are a model for me. I tend to compartmentalize and not reveal much of myself to others who I know would disagree with me. May your bravery inspire more bravery in me.

  10. Tressa Nichols says:

    I confess I do not understand the anger that seems to be driving this movement, however I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps you have had priesthood leaders that have made you feel like less of a participating member. That has not been my experience. For me, asking for the priesthood is tantamount to asking why Heavenly Mother can’t be Heavenly Father, and if that is your question, perhaps our experiences with the gospel really aren’t relatable at all. Isn’t it possible that God gives the priesthood for a reason to men other than to dominate over women? I would also ask if there isn’t also possibly a reason that the church would want to exclude women from priesthood session, other than the fact of their exclusion. I have read some of the talks from the priesthood conference session, and I cannot imagine the overwhelming embarrassment that our brethren would have being lectured on pornography, and masturbation with a woman sitting next to them. Do what you feel you must, but please take into account the possibility that it is a kindness to the brethren to exclude the sisters, not an exercise in sexism.

    • April says:

      Tressa, you are making a lot of assumptions here. I will try to address them one at a time:

      1. This movement is not driven by anger. It is driven by a desire to fully participate in the church we love.

      2. This movement is not retaliation for personal offenses some women may have received at the hands of poor leaders. However, I do believe the lack of female representation in church is a systemic problem that causes some women to have poor experiences in the church and I believe that full inclusion of women would address these problems and help us to build a better church. If you do not see any systemic problems, but are interested in learning more about them, I suggest the following reading: http://www.ldswave.org/?p=402

      3. You assume that Heavenly Mother does NOT have the priesthood. I do not share this assumption. Here are some readings you may consider on this topic:https://byustudies.byu.edu/showtitle.aspx?title=8669 http://rationalfaiths.com/heavenly-mother-divine-body-and-priesthood/

      4. You ask, “Isn’t it possible that God gives the priesthood for a reason to men other than to dominate over women?” I answer. “Absolutely!” I believe that the priesthood is the power and authority of God on Earth. I believe it can be used to bless God’s children and help us become more like our Heavenly Parents.

      5. Finally, I do not object to men’s only or woman’s only meetings. If both men and women had the priesthood, there is no reason why we couldn’t continue to have gender-specific meetings to address the sensitive issues you mention. Ordain Women seeks to attend the Priesthood Session as a way of demonstrating our willingness and desire to participate in the Priesthood. This is not a protest of gendered meetings.

      • Tressa Nichols says:

        Sister Bennett, I was surprised and pleased to find that you are married to someone I considered a good friend in college. I always considered Jared to be one of the kindest people I knew. I would like to respond to your response, although I’m not sure how good of an idea that is in reality. Generally when these kinds of discussions progress they only serve to entrench both sides in their original opinions, and don’t actually produce any common ground.

        First of all, I am sorry that my assumptions seemed to bother you. Being part of this movement, your readings of the literature may seem more benign than an outsiders interpretation. While you assert that anger is not the driving force, it is really hard to get through the literature without an acknowledgement that a fair amount of it is pretty angry. Even the literature you provided links for. But that is my perspective, and it is admittedly colored by a warm bafflement of this movement.

        Second, I did not say that Heavenly Mother doesn’t have the priesthood, just that she is not Heavenly Father. As we know very little about her, we can only make assumptions about her role and powers. I would assume that Their marriage and authority probably works a lot like a good marriage works here.

        The last two points, we seemed to agree on, so that’s at least a start. It would be shortsighted for members of your movement not to acknowledge that from an outside perspective, the drive to attend the men’s meeting is the loudest drum in the room. It is possible that in using that as impetus to gain ground, you are losing the flute section– those of us who may have some common ground with you, but can’t get past the spectacle.

        May I tell you what my biggest problem with this movement is? It isn’t that there isn’t inequality in the church. It isn’t that there aren’t things that shouldn’t be improved, freed, moved forward. It is that in losing the institution of a male priesthood, we may lose the most tangible symbol of Heavenly Father that we have. When the man takes my temple recommend at the front desk of the temple, it is God welcoming me in. When I go to the Bishop to confess my sins, it is God hear council from. When the Patriarch gives me a blessing, it is God who speaks. I do not think the loss of those symbols would be a gain for the church.

        That being said, I would definitely agree that there are administrational changes that could be made within the church that wouldn’t lose that symbol. I was bothered a bit (a lot) by the repetitious idea of the need for sisters to have equally “prominent, prestigious, and public,” role as the brethren. I sincerely hope that is not the definition of success for this movement. In the eternal scheme of things, none of those things are eternal.

        I would be very interested to learn what your definition of success is for this movement. When will you be able to say you have won?

        I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my comment.

        Sincerely,
        Tressa Nichols

      • April says:

        Sister Nichols,
        I agree with you that we are unlikely to find common ground. But I would ask you to ponder something. It is apparent that you have a testimony of Heavenly Mother, and yet, while you see symbols of God when male people perform sacred roles, you say we would lose those symbols if a woman performed those sacred roles. If we have a Mother in Heaven, why must symbols of divinity be male? What can’t a woman serve as a symbol of divinity? Is a woman’s eternal potential less divine than that of a man? Do you really think that only men can become like God and act like God, because godhood is inherently masculine?

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