We Are Putting Our Eggs in the Wrong Basket

In the wake of Kate Kelly’s excommunication a lot has been said about the proper way to do things, the proper way to ask questions, the proper way to advocate for change. As someone who is interested in making changes regarding gender in the Mormon church my ears perk up at these suggestions–I would love to know the most effective way to see progress.

The most concrete suggestion has been to seek for changes on a local level. I don’t think this is a bad idea, there are so many little things that can be done in our local congregations that would make women’s experience in church much better.

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BYU: A Feminist Reflection

View of BYU from the top of the SWKT, 2014

As a teenage convert to the LDS Church from New York City, going to BYU and studying in Utah was the equivalent of going to the Vatican or Mecca–– I would be studying on holy ground. BYU was the place where all good Mormons went (at least, according to my bright eyed and bushy tailed new convert self). So despite acceptances to other colleges such as Mount Holyoke, Pratt Institute, the University of Michigan, and others, I put my deposit down at BYU. And, much to the dismay of my non-member parents, I attended.

I arrived in Provo ready to be among my Mormon brothers and sisters. I was ready to embrace all that Mormon culture had to offer. I would finally be accepted for who I was as a faithful Latter-day Saint! Well, that was the idea, at least.

Back home in New York, after being introduced to the Church, I was considered a conservative among a vast sea of liberals (this was New York City, after all). As a result of my affiliation with the LDS Church and because of my desire to fit in with my new faith, I embraced conservative ideals–– I was anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, believed a woman’s place was in the home, supported Republican leadership, et cetera. This was part of joining the Mormon Church, right? So I went through my four years of high school defending those conservative ideals, believing it was what the Church wanted for me and was the way to true happiness.

In Provo, all those beliefs started to unfurl. I saw what I supposedly believed in the faces of others. When people I knew at BYU began to express homophobic tendencies (including one friend who believed that homosexuality was a choice), I cringed. When the female friends I associated with only aspired to be stay-at-home mothers with no other contingency plan or any further hopes or passions, I was in shock.  When my friends believed that people outside the Church were lacking in happiness or true joy, I was saddened. Did I really believe that? Did I really support those things in high school? Are these really the ideas the Church espouses and wants me to embrace? Obviously, my testimony began to fall apart and unravel as I tried to figure out the difference between doctrine and culture. However, that is for another day and another post. The point here being that I kept my testimony, but BYU eventually turned me into a diehard liberal and feminist.

Okay, so I became a liberal and a feminist. Now what? Who was I supposed to relate to? Who was I supposed to confide in? The only way to find that out was to just be myself. I wasn’t completely in-your-face about my new ideology, but when people said things that offended my newfound liberal and feminist conscience, I spoke up. I got to know people who also spoke up and expressed similar views as I. Essentially, I put out feelers as to who I could trust. They didn’t necessarily have to be as liberal or as outspoken as I was, but I did have to trust them enough to speak my mind. And I was lucky enough to find quite a few friends who were openminded and loving. Even a few feminists, much to my joy. Finding online support groups such as Young Mormon Feminists and Feminist Mormon Housewives helped with my sanity a great, great deal. I was not alone.

As I prepare to graduate from Brigham Young University (by the time you read this post, I’ll have probably walked across the stage at commencement already), I look back at my time here and realize that as a feminist, things weren’t so bad.

A text as my friend was sitting in her Marriage and Family prep class at BYU

Yes, I had to deal with people mocking the sincere and faithful members of Ordain Women. I had to restrain myself from verbally lashing those who blatantly insulted and demeaned our homosexual brothers and sisters. And if I had a dollar for every time I heard “those feminists”, I would be able to afford quite a few Cafe Rio pork salads. But overall, I was able to find my niche. BYU helped me develop into a feminist I don’t think I would have become had I gone somewhere else. I suppose it’s because it was easier to stand up for what I believed in, after being confronting with viewpoints I didn’t believe in. BYU was a refiner’s fire. And as I began to shine brightly with that feminist glow, others were able to draw nearer to me. I found dear friends who felt the same frustrations as I did and celebrated the same victories as I did. The friends and associates I found here truly saved me here from suffocating here at BYU. And though many of my friends wouldn’t consider themselves liberal or feminists, they are openminded. And that’s all I really ask for in friendships. Some of my good friends are among the most conservative Republicans you’ll ever meet. But we’re friends because they’re able to listen to my views, respectfully disagree (or, reluctantly agree), and still continue to be my friend. I am grateful for those friends, as well. Those who listen, regardless of political or religious belief. Those who are able to not let politics or religious conservatism get in the way of a fruitful friendship. It also helped my sanity a great deal that I studied within a fairly moderate and left leaning department here at BYU, with decidedly openminded and caring professors. I was also able to take classes from and identify other feminist and left-leaning professors here, and that has given me great hope for BYU. Even my church leaders, conservative as they were, were empathetic and listened to my concerns and were extremely caring.

So, looking back at my time here at BYU, I can honestly say as a feminist that I enjoyed and appreciated my education and experiences here. BYU helped me to define my beliefs (politically and religiously), introduced me to the most amazing and interesting people, and learn patience and empathy. I realize that many people with similar views did not have the same positive experience as I did, and that saddens me. But at least for this New York City convert, attending BYU proved to be a character defining experience that has shaped the person I am now, feminism and all.

I wouldn’t change it for the world. (Well, maybe a few things….)

For those who went to BYU (either in Provo, Idaho or Hawaii) what was your experience? Looking back, would you have chosen another school to attend? How did you survive? Would you encourage others to attend? What were some feminist successes or failures you had while studying at a Church school?

If you didn’t attend a Church school, how were your experiences elsewhere as a feminist or liberal member of the Church?

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Voices from the Exponent Backlist: Planning a Child’s Baptism

pinterest baptism programLast year about this time, I began planning my almost-eight-year-old’s baptism. I’m a huge fan of religious rituals that welcome children into the community–I love a Jewish bar or bat mitzvah, a Roman Catholic infant baptism, a Mormon baby blessing, etc. I think these rituals build our children and build our communities.

But, I didn’t want my son to feel like his choice to be baptized made him better than anyone else. We have family and friends who have chosen to not be affiliated with the Church, and he had questions about that. Why was his choice to be baptized a good one? Why were other peoples’ choices not to be Mormon just as valid? Difficult conversations, those were (and will continue to be). However, they helped me frame how I wanted his baptism…as a gift from his community to show their love and the love of our Heavenly Parents’ love. After all, the covenants we make at baptism are simple and beautiful: we become members of our community, we take on the name of Christ, and we promise to keep the commandments, including helping each other and serving God.

On our backlist, one of our permabloggers has a friend whose child is getting baptized. She asked for help finding a reading that would be meaningful to her, as someone with beliefs that differ from her mainstream Mormon family, that would also be comfortable for those in attendance. Here are some suggestions from our backlist:

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We Can Do Both

I was walking down the South Hill of BYU’s campus discussing a lecture I had recently attended with one of my only openly feminist friends. The lecturer had argued that women’s abilities were best spent at home raising children (read sons) that could then go out and change the world. For two young, idealistic feminists still trying to find their place in the world and in the church this talk was devastating. We were smart, capable, ambitious women with the potential to be a force for good in the world. I remember my friend saying, “I can do both! I should do both! Anything other than that is a cop-out. It’s me not being brave. It’s me wasting the talents God has given me.”

It was an important moment in my life, one that has stayed with me as I went on to motherhood, graduate school, and career. But that lecture was certainly not the last time somebody has declared that I am better suited at home, that any contribution I make to the world pales in comparison to what I can do for my children. Indeed, just this weekend I had a conversation with a very genuine woman who has raised and home-schooled an impressive number of children. All of those children went on to get degrees, sometimes multiple degrees, from ivy-league universities and are now making an important contribution to our society. When she heard, however, that I have four children and am trying to complete my Master’s thesis she urged me not to finish it but to pull my children out of public school and home school them instead. She sweetly argued that whatever honor I would get from finishing my degree would be nothing compared to the reward I would receive from making my children successful. Considering her record, I admit that her argument was both persuasive and guilt-inducing. I love my children, I want more than anything for them to be successful and I fear that my choices have negatively impacted them at times. 

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Ah! Turn Me Not Away

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Stephanie Lauritzen, an OW action participant, being turned away from Priesthood Session. Photo taken by Josh Johnsen.

On Sunday morning I flipped through picture after picture of women being turned away from the doors of our worship places. The Mormon Tabernacle choir sung in the background. Tears streamed down my face; many of those women are my friends. All are my sisters.

Ah! Turn me not away, Receive me tho unworthy. Hear Thou my cry, Behold, Lord, my distress.

I have performed this song countless times but the cry remains with me always. Hear Thou my cry.

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