Seeking for Power that Enables
For about a year and a half I met endlessly with men who saw themselves as my authorities trying to beat me into submission. Their method ranged from stating their authority to questioning my inner authority. They tried to tack labels on me (apostate, dangerous, fallen), they talked about me behind my back, they grasped for something they could use as leverage against me (my temple recommend, my church calling), and eventually they settled into shunning me and causing others to shun me until I disappeared completely, curing them of their problem.
In this process they actually omitted a few tactics that could have worked toward a more constructive solution. They didn’t listen and they didn’t try to understand. Instead of reasoning with me with compassion and love, they sought for dominion over me. It’s problematic when someone is taught that they have a power and authority by virtue of that power being passed by a simple act of laying on of hands, without having to do the work to really use the power. D&C 121:41 teaches that the power and authority that we call priesthood actually only works through “long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned. By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—“ D&C 121:41-42, emphasis added. Pure knowledge is what enlarges our souls so that we act without hypocrisy.
The scripture goes on to say that it is okay to call someone out with a harsh rebuke as long as you show afterward “an increase of love toward him[her] whom thou hast reproved lest he[she] esteem thee to be his[her] enemy.” D&C 121:42, gender-inclusive language added. I love how this scripture says that priesthood power and influence can only be used with pure knowledge. To me, that means that if you are not 100% sure of another person’s heart, intentions, and life experience, you can have no power or influence in rebuking them with harshness. That isn’t to say that you can’t disagree with them as equals or share how that person’s words feel to you. That is a very different thing than taking the authority on yourself to rebuke someone with harshness. This kind of rebuke requires pure knowledge and compassion to be effective.
Unfortunately, in the patriarchal structure that I have experienced, this idea of compassion and pure knowledge takes a back seat to authority. Because the God of patriarchy is an authoritarian God who gives His power to men to be the presiding authority on earth, we lose the fact that God is pure knowledge and compassion. As women who are trying to rise in power and equality with men, as we seek to have our own power recognized by the church, I think it is important to examine this. What does our power look like? Are we trying to participate in the existing power structure that promotes hierarchies of authority. In Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd writes,
[box] “The kind of power women need is not ruthless controlling, self-serving, dominion-seeking power—power without benefit of love. It is not staying up by keeping others down. What we need is a potent, forceful power, yes, but one that is also compassionate, that enables others as well.” (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, pg. 198)[/box]
Lately I have seen too much of this “ruthless, controlling, self-serving, dominion-seeking power” within our Mormon Feminist community. As equals, we can disagree with each other and with other people of our faith who see things differently. There is nothing wrong with standing up and sharing your truth. We do need a “potent, forceful power.” But I believe that power can only come from compassion, love, and pure knowledge. I have seen conversations where women will pile angry, hateful personal attacks on a man who misspeaks and comes across as though he is mansplaining. Instead of using logic and good communication skills to express to him how his words feel to them, they beat him into submission and suffocate him with their anger. Instead of enabling him to rise above the tendencies that he most likely accrued through years of patriarchal training, they brand him as a mansplainer or a sexist. This is only one example of this type of conversation that I have seen.
When you make a “you are…” statement, you are assuming authority over that person’s identity. It’s okay to say, “You are being racist,“ “You are acting bigoted,” “The words you used are sexist.” But the moment you tell someone, “You are sexist,” is the moment you cross a boundary into assuming authority over that person’s identity. If you don’t have pure knowledge about that person, then your labels will ultimately shut down any productive conversation you could have with them at that point. That’s why it didn’t work for me when my bishop tried to label me as an apostate. I also won’t accept the labels of my fellow Mormon Feminists who certainly don’t have a pure knowledge of me, as many of them know me only online. When I’ve tried to voice my concerns and my desire for more love and compassion in our discussions, I’ve been told that I’m weak in my feminism, that I’m a victim of patriarchy which tells me to be meek and submissive.
I disagree with that. Compassion and love is our power. If truth is on our side, then let’s use logic instead of labels and personal attacks. Let’s work to gain pure knowledge which will enlarge our souls, instead of making snap judgments of people we may not even know in real life. Feminist issues are important to me, but I will always choose my humanity over my feminism. I have no desire to see women enter a social structure as equals with men in which we continue to seek for authority and power over each other. We will not realize the full potential of our power by pushing anyone down. We will only find power through love that enables.
If it weren’t for a friend of mine who taught me by “persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned,” I would not understand feminism the way I do today. She had patience and pure love for me which was a force more powerful than any other coercive measure she could have used to convince me of the error of my ways. I am forever grateful that she enabled me to rise above my patriarchal conditioning with her love and compassion. I will offer that same gift to others.