Mormon Exceptionalism…Keeping Us From Being Exceptional

By Jenny

I can’t get through a Sunday at church without hearing it.  In fact, I have made a game for myself, counting how many times I hear it.  Testimony meeting is so pregnant with it that I struggle to know whether to go to church and win my game or to stay home and avoid the pit in my stomach.  It starts with a phrase like, “I am so grateful for the church because…”  Then it ends in a statement about why our church is so much better than the world, why our doctrine beats all other Christian doctrines, why we as God’s chosen people are far more enlightened and superior to all those people in the dark because they don’t have the gospel.

This is hard for me to write because it was hard for me to accept when I first started becoming aware of Mormon exceptionalism.  I don’t like speaking harshly and negatively about my culture.  I’ve lost a lot of friends for speaking boldly and I don’t want to lose more.  But I see a problem that is keeping us from progressing.  Mormon exceptionalism is keeping us from being truly exceptional.  This is especially the case in regards to women and equality in the church.

I find that when I am discussing women and the priesthood with people, the conversation doesn’t make it very far because of the big mountain of exceptionalism that is in our way.  I get it.  I’ve scaled that mountain.  It wasn’t easy.  At the bottom, all I could see was the looming mountain above me.  I thought that we as Mormons were the grandest thing around.  My mountain was my whole view, so I really thought it was everything.  But at the top, once you can see beyond the erroneous belief that Mormonism is better than every other religion, you can see all the other peaks for miles and miles.  Then you realize that your mountain is not everything, that it is only one mountain among many.

In regards to women and the priesthood, the mountain looks a little like these quotes from three women who have spoken out recently on the place for women in this church:

“So the LDS alone among all Christian religions assert that not only did Eve not sin, but she was rewarded for her courage and wisdom, and God was assuring her that, just as she fulfilled her role in the Great Plan of Happiness, Adam would step up to the plate, and he would perform his role in the Great Plan of Happiness, and that would entitle him to rule with her. This is absolutely revolutionary and astounding doctrine among all the Christianities!” [1]

This quote comes from an essay written by Valerie Hudson about why men and women have different roles.  I have to dissagree.  I don’t see anything revolutionary or astounding about our doctrine as opposed to other Christian doctrines.  In the temple narrative, Eve was not rewarded for her courage and wisdom, she was placed under Adam’s rule to hearken to his counsel as he hearkens to God’s.  Just because we tend to applaud Eve culturally despite our doctrinal language doesn’t mean that we have this phenomenal understanding of Eve and women’s roles compared to everyone else.

“…for years I’d searched the world over to find any organization—the largest governments and religions, multinational businesses, worldwide charities, major universities—where as many women had as much bonafide responsibility and authority as they do in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that I hadn’t been able to find even one.”[2]

This is a pretty big mountain that Sheri Dew has created.  So big in fact, that she can’t even see beyond it to see that her statement is ludicrous.  How many businesses in the world have female CEOs?  When is the last time our church had a female CEO?  You don’t have to look very far at all to see that other governments, religions, businesses, charities, and universities are doing better for their women than we are.  But you can’t look very far when this mountain blocks your view.

“I find it a little bit ironic that the world is trying to instruct the “poor LDS women,” who are so oppressed, and in the backwater, and if they could only come out into “enlightenment.”… Because I just don’t see where that enlightenment is.”

“I recently spoke at the United Nations and it was interesting because we are faith-based, I represented a faith-based organization. Because we are conservative morally, a lot of people thought that our doctrine about women and men was conservative. Far from being restrictive and conservative, and we sometimes get labeled that way, my contention is that the Church’s doctrine about the roles of women in the family, and the church, and the community, and the nation, and the temple and how men and women relate to each other and interplay and support each other and work together is the most moderate, and powerful, and enlightening and energizing doctrines that I know about. And if people truly understood it, it would blow their mind.[3]”

This quote comes from a recent talk given by Sharon Eubank at the FAIR Mormon symposium.  While I actually enjoyed the talk, and felt that it was great for raising the level of the conversation about women in the church, this part gave me that same familiar pit in my stomach that I often feel during testimony meeting.  I agree that we have some pretty great doctrines in our church.  I also agree with a major point that she made during this speech, that one of our problems is that our doctrine and our practice don’t always mesh.  But I highly doubt our doctrines would blow the minds of those poor simple fools out in the world, if they only understood them.  She may not see enlightenment out in the world, but that doesn’t mean that it does not exist.  It’s just that we have this big mountain in our way, blocking our view.  I am grateful at least that she is attempting to help us scale the mountain, by admitting that maybe we do need to change our language, maybe we don’t have everything right, maybe our practice does not always match our doctrine, maybe we could be better.   I just think that we will be able to climb this mountain faster without comparing ourselves to others.

I understand that most members don’t even realize how much we do this as a church.  If you haven’t noticed it, I challenge you to a game.  Sit through testimony meeting or read Sherri Dew’s book, and count how many times the claim is made that we are fine because we are better than other religions.  Or we are exceptional because we believe this and this that someone else doesn’t believe.  Just see if you can get through church without hearing about how much better we are than the rest of the world.  Once you notice it, you can’t stop noticing it.

This type of comparison is not a good argument for truthfulness in our church.  Truth can stand on its own.  Truth is only diminished when we have to qualify it by saying that we have more of it than someone else.  Comparison is an ineffective argument for why women in our church are fine and don’t need the priesthood.  I don’t care if we are better than Muslims or Catholics or anyone else.  I want to be better than we are.  I don’t want us to just think we are exceptional, I want to be exceptional.  The question we should be asking is not, who are we better than, but how can we be better that what we are right now?  I do think we have something unique and beautiful to offer the world, but who wants a gift given out of pity or pride?  The world in it’s vast array of faiths, ideologies, cultural constructs, knowledge, and experience also has a beautiful gift to offer us.  It is a magnificent view of eternity and a better understanding of our surroundings that we can only see from the top of our mountain.

And just so you know that I am not trying to be disingenuous toward women like Sheri Dew who are talking about women and the priesthood, and are even doing a lot of good in keeping this discussion alive and healthy, I will end with a quote by Sheri Dew.   “God rarely moves the mountains in front of us, but He always helps us climb them.”—Sheri Dew.  I have faith that our Heavenly Parents are helping us as a church to climb this mountain so that we can see a better view of what the world truly is, and how we fit into that view.

[1] Valerie Hudson http://mormonscholarstestify.org/1718/valerie-hudson-cassler

[2] Sheri Dew “Women and the Priesthood: What One Mormon Woman Believes.”

[3] Sharon Eubank http://blog.fairmormon.org/2014/08/12/best-of-fair-14-sharon-eubank-this-is-a-womans-church/

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“There is Room for You” / “Il y a une place pour vous”

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français

This was the theme of the regional YSA conference here in the northeast. Hosted in New York City, it was a two-day conference, however I was only able to attend the Sunday session, which is just as well.

While the Sacrament meeting service was lackluster and disappointing, the evening fireside (presented by the always fabulous, Sistas in Zion) was spectacular and uplifting.  They talked extensively on the conference’s theme and reiterated how “there is room for you”.

Unsurprisingly, as a feminist young single black Mormon convert from New York, the number of times I felt that there hasn’t been room for me is too many to count. Even now, I recently made the decision to stop attending church services on a regular basis. However, my testimony of the Gospel is still strong. I read the Book of Mormon, I pray when I feel inspired or prompted, I believe in the Plan of Happiness, etc. I can even believe the idea that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri! It is my testimony of the Church that is weak and failing (that is a post for another time).

So… is there room for me? For us?

President Uchtdorf says there is. In his October General Conference address, he speaks, “If these are your desires, then regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!”

I’d still like to think that when I am ready to return, there will be room for me. If not, I’ll make room. I know it’s there. I just have to find it and carve it out. There wasn’t room for Christ while he went about His ministry–– He was rejected and despised and considered a radical. But nonetheless, He went about His Father’s business and He made room. And his disciples  and friends followed and supported Him, while gaining new supporters and friends. Heck, there wasn’t even room for Mary at the inn, but that didn’t stop the Savior from being born! Mary made room for Him! Now, not only is there room for Christ, there are mansions dedicated to His name! And He tells us today there is room for us. And I believe it.

Now, I’m not trying to compare myself to Christ in any way shape or form. Nor am I about to start my own denomination in the name of making room. I’m simply noting the example He sets in creating a place for those who felt there was no place for them before. And His story proves that there are always friends to be found and be there for you. And that they will hold your place in the room for when you return.

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That’s what I’m hoping for. As I take this much needed step away from the institutional Church, I am counting on dear friends to save a seat for me. I am counting on friends to tell me they are there for me on my journey. If there is to be room, not only I, but others must make room as well. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone. For many, once they leave, others shut the door and claim the seat they once had is gone. Nothing is farther from the truth. I echo the theme of the regional conference and of President Uchtdorf: There is room for you.

Regardless of whether or not you return, there is room for you. Either in the church building or in the hearts of your fellow Saints. At the very least, there is room for you with me.

 

“Il y a une place pour vous”

Voilà le thème de la conférence régionale des JA du nord-est des Etats-Unis qui a eu lieu à New York City pendant deux jours. Je n’ai assisté qu’à la session du dimanche.

Même si le service de Sainte-Cène a été décevant, le coin de feu de la soirée (présenté par le groupe Sistas in Zion) était spectaculaire et édifiant. On a beaucoup parlé du thème en insistant qu’il y a bien « une place pour vous. »

En tant que convertie jeune, célibataire, féministe et noire, je ne peux pas compter le nombre de fois où j’ai senti qu’il n’y avait aucune place pour moi. Récemment, j’ai décidé d’arrêter de venir à l’Eglise régulièrement. J’ai pourtant un témoignage fort de l’Evangile. Je lis le Livre de Mormon, je prie quand je me sens inspirée, je crois au Plan de Salut. J’arrive même à croire que le Jardin d’Eden se trouvait en Missouri ! Mais j’ai aussi un témoignage que l’Eglise est faible et est en train d’échouer (ce qui est tout un billet pour un autre moment).

Alors…y a-t-il une place pour moi? Pour nous ?

Président Uchtdorf dit que oui. Dans son discours de la conférence générale d’octobre 2013, il dit, « Si c’est ce que vous désirez, alors, quelles que soient votre situation, votre histoire personnelle ou la force de votre témoignage, il y a de la place pour vous dans l’Église. Venez nous rejoindre ! »

J’aimerais croire que quand je serai prête à revenir, il y aura une place pour moi. Sinon j’en créerai une. Je sais qu’elle est là, je dois la trouver. Il n’y avait pas de place pour le Christ : on l’a rejeté et l’a haï et l’a traité de radical. Mais malgré tout il faisait l’œuvre de son Père et il faisait de la place pour lui. Et ses disciples et ses amis le suivaient, ce qui attirait d’autres disciples et amis. Il n’y avait même pas de place pour Marie à l’auberge, mais cela n’a pas empêché au Christ de venir au monde. Marie a fait une place pour lui. Maintenant, non seulement il y a de la place pour le Christ, il y a même des châteaux dédiés à son nom! Il nous dit qu’il y a une place pour nous, et je le crois.

Je ne me compare pas du tout au Christ. Je ne vais pas non plus créer ma propre réligion. Je note l’exemple qu’il nous donne de créer une place pour ceux qui n’en avaient pas une avant. Son histoire prouve qu’il y aura toujours des amis à trouver, et qu’il garderont votre place pour quand vous reviendrez.

Voilà ce que j’espère. Pendant cette pause de l’Eglise institutionnelle, je compte sur mes amis de garder une place pour moi. Malheureusement, ce n’est pas le cas pour tout le monde. Pour beaucoup d’entre nous, une fois partis, d’autres ferment la porte sur eux et prennent la place que nous avons quittée. Rien ne peut être plus loin de la vérité. Comme le dit Président Uchtdorf : il y a de la place pour vous, qu’elle soit dans l’Eglise ou dans les cœurs des saints. Au moins, il y a de la place pour vous avec moi.

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Relief Society Lesson 21: Proclaiming the Gospel to the World

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français
Click for Spanish Translation/Traducción en Español

manuel coverWhat does it mean to “proclaim the gospel to the world?” Since I am only one person, I don’t know how to proclaim something to the whole world. But sharing the gospel with people I know sounds like something I can do. I would start this lesson with that simple adjustment in focus, bringing the scope down to the personal.

Here are four main points you may wish to discuss (condensed from five in the manual).

1. Gratitude for truths we’ve learned in the gospel, and opportunities to share what’s most meaningful to us

Lessons about sharing the gospel sometimes focus so much on ways to get people excited about talking about the Church, that they bypass the “why.” Invite the class to first think about the good things, the joy, that spiritual truths have brought to their lives.

• Ask the class: What gospel principles mean a lot to you right now, as in today, or in the past week?
• Invite them to silently answer this question: Is there anyone you might like to share that with, as a way of connecting with someone? Perhaps a sister, a friend, a parent, or your journal?
• Ask the class: What gospel principles have meant the most to you in the past year? Have you had conversations about that with people you know?

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Why do we ask?

Sisters, new and old, at the Exponent II Retreat

“Sisters, why do we ask? Why do we ask if we are worthy? Why do we ask if we are expendable? Why do we seek approval? Why do we ask for protection? It has not come. It may never come. I wish it were otherwise. I believe we deserve better. I believe God wants better for us. But the asking orients our movement in particular ways that our own history shows to be of dubious benefit to women’s leadership and autonomy. Let us remember the profound lesson of Linda King Newell’s essay “A Gift Given, A Gift Taken Away”: it was when Mormon women started asking, seeking approval from Church hierarchy to give blessings of healing and before childbirth, that’s when the power was lost. We will not find equality by waiting for approval from headquarters. We must find our leadership within ourselves, in our relationship to God, and in taking responsibility for meeting the needs of our people.

I think of Lowell Bennion’s favorite saying, from the Bhagavad Gita, “To action alone thou has a right, not to its fruits.” The fruits of our feminist labors must not be measured in terms of our ability to move a few powerful men in the Church Office Building, or gather information about them, or work our privileged connections to them, or make them in anyway the object of our focus. They have their work to do; let us do ours. Let us turn instead to our sisters, our mothers, our daughters—worldwide, of every color. What are the issues that connect Mormon women across class and continent? Where are we vulnerable? Where are lives precarious? What are our needs? There is leadership to be claimed in naming and organizing around those needs and identifying and criticizing the exclusionary power structures that have created them. That independence of vision, that resilience in the face of what will surely be continuing cycles of retrenchment, that must be our charge for the next forty years. That is prophetic leadership. With or without approval. With or without ordination.”

Joanna Brooks, Exponent II Retreat, 2014

Why do we ask?  We do it all the time. We ask to hold our babies during their blessings.  We ask to teach a lesson about Christ (instead of the Book of Mormon witnesses) on Easter Sunday. We ask to meet with the Bishop, and then we ask again to implement changes on the ward level to make women more visible.  We ask for food orders.  We ask for funds.  We ask for power, and we ask for authority.

There have been times when we haven’t asked – we’ve just done

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Sacred Music: She Is Wisdom

When I heard earlier this year that the Heavenly Mother art contest was not receiving as many submissions as it had hoped, I decided to try my hand at writing lyrics for a hymn.  Although I’m not very musical and have never written a lyrics or poetry before, I decided it would be a nice diversion on Sundays. In fact, my church attendance was often clouded by my thoughts of what troubled me about church attendance and doctrine, so the act of focusing on my love and understanding of God the Mother created a positive energy for my Sabbath.

Indeed, the act of pondering a Mother in Heaven and her divine attributes was wonderful worship.  My soul felt soothed and healed in ways I hadn’t felt in years.  As I moved through the song, patterning it after familiar hymn couplets, I found myself trying to merge both the divine feminine and Mormon sides of my spirit. While my family sat at church, I sat at home in front of my mother’s piano, the one I had played during my childhood.  I felt the love of both my mothers as I accessed both a natural and heavenly sense of creation. I struggled to represent my desire to know God the Mother, my pain and discouragement over her absence and hope that her existence is real.   In the midst of this creation, I felt love and joy.

And while my poem was not recognized by the Heavenly Mother contest, I found that this did not bother me at all.  The act of thinking, praying, and creating was more than enough reward for me.

My dear friend Christine, helped me write some music for the verse, but we have not yet finalized the tune, so in the meantime, I put the words to a hymn. I share it here only as an illustration of my point that the journey can be more valuable than the destination.

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You Never Know / On ne sait jamais

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This video has made the rounds on facebook this week.  I tend to avoid videos, especially ones made by the church, about motherhood.  Mostly I avoid them because they are emotionally manipulative.  They show only the perfect moments of life, making it look like the ideal is a perfectly clean home, perfect children, and a perfect mom.  I have long since given up hope on attaining that perfect life, so I don’t like my emotions being manipulated to believe that that is true motherhood.  Against my better judgment, I clicked on this video.  Why did I click on it?  Maybe it was out of curiosity.  Maybe it was because I am desperately searching for a positive message right now for me as a stay at home mom.  Maybe it was because I wanted to see a message based in reality, one that would empower me as a mom.

I was surprised to find that this video started off in a less than perfectly clean home, with a mom who was not out of bed when her kids were up.  The video came closer than any I’ve seen lately, to the reality of my life as a SAHM.  My emotions were pulled in to the story because this lady was me, or at least the me I am trying to overcome.  But the life is mine.  What I saw before my eyes was my own morning.  Scrolling through facebook while she’s dreading the day ahead, hearing her two oldest fighting first thing in the morning, placing food in front of a child who doesn’t want to eat it…  Finally! I thought, A real portrayal of what it is like to be a Mormon SAHM.

As the video continued, I mourned with this Mormon mother.  I know her.  I know that she has been programmed like a robot, to only say, “yes, yes, yes.”  She is hard-wired to sacrifice, sacrifice, and sacrifice some more, for her children, her neighbors, her sister, anyone whose day might be made brighter by her selfless acts of service.  She gives and gives, without replenishing the well from which others take.  I recognize her sighs, the vacant lifeless features of her face as she gives her life and passion away, the disappointment that quickly fades as she resolves to be what everyone else needs her to be.

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The Family is of God

LDS congregations will soon have their annual Primary programs. This year, the theme song that the children will sing is The Family is of God. I love the catchy tune and clever rhyming pattern of this song, so I created this meme about it that you can add to your Pinterest boards or print as a scripture bookmark.

Our Father has a family. It’s me! It’s you All others too We are His children. He sent each one of us to earth Through birth To live and learn here in families. God gave us families To help us become what He wants us to be. This is how He shares His love, for  The Family is of God.   Working together parents Guide Provide And love And teach the gospel to their children. A family kneels in family prayer To share Their love for Father in Heaven.   The parents’ calling is To care Prepare To nurture And to strengthen all their children. They teach their children To obey To pray To love And serve in the family.      I’ll love and serve my family And be a good example to each family member. And when I am a mom or dad So glad I’ll help my family remember: God gave us families To help us become what He wants us to be. This is how He shares His love For the family is of God.  Adapted from the song by Matthew Neeley

 

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