To say what is truth?

27I have not been able to stop thinking about an essay I read a few months ago: “Oh Say What is Truth? Understanding Mormonism Through a Black Feminist Epistemology”  The author argues that in Mormonism truth is acquired through feeling, citing D&C 9:8, as well as through lived experience; these are the ways we “find out for ourselves.”  These methods of determining truth are part of a black feminist epistemology set forth by Patricia Hill Collins, and the essay argues that her ideas are very close to Mormon methods of determining truth.

Taking feelings and lived experience a step further, Collins argues that a collective dialogue is essential to furthering and developing the truth that each person has acquired, and that each person has a moral obligation to share her truth.  Collins wrote, “The fundamental requirement of [a collective dialogue] is the active participation of all individuals. For ideas to be tested and validated, everyone in the group must participate. To refuse to join in, especially if one really disagrees with what has been said, is seen as ‘cheating.’” The essayist concludes, “Because we all have a truth to speak, to fail to speak our truth especially when it is needed most – when it is being contradicted – is to fail the community’s efforts to build collective, experienced-based truth as a whole body.”

I try to live as though participating in collective dialogue is a moral obligation.  For years I’ve felt that speaking my truth regarding gender equality in Mormonism is one of the important purposes of my life.  For example, Mormonism is patriarchal, but I believe patriarchy is a Judeo-Christian heritage not inspired by God, passed down through many years of unchecked sexism, and now entangled so that it touches nearly every aspect of Church culture and much of Church doctrine.  How do I live as part of a religious community with strongly held traditional beliefs and while hoping for radical change?

I do it by talking.  I use inclusive language, I comment often in Sunday School and Relief Society, I get up in fast and testimony meeting a few times every year, I give carefully crafted talks that are both diplomatic and radical, and I write for a Mormon feminist blog and paper.  I speak my truth wherever I can.  This can be scary because it opens me up for criticism and judgement, but it can also create unexpected connections with people who resonate with what I’ve said.  In the context of contemporary American life it may seem tame to speak truth in one’s own small community – others have spoken up at much greater cost than I have, and to greater effect.  But to do this consistently, to remain attached to a community that has expanded my spirit but also makes me weep, this takes courage and staying power.

So, my ideas matter, even if, or especially when, they are contrary to the status quo.  And if a collective dialogue is needed to develop and advance knowledge, then I need to keep showing up for that dialogue.  I also believe that organizations need insiders working for change for that change to become possible.

But here’s the problem.  What if I’m a lone reed?  In my experience there needs to be a critical mass of people in a Sunday School discussion to get an idea afloat.  It’s great when that happens, and the discussion becomes enlightening and enlivening.  But what if comments or questions fall flat and the teacher marches on with the lesson as planned?  What if people hold your truth in contempt, or possibly worse, just ignore it?  A dialogue in which everyone participates sounds great, but in does that ever happen in real life?  What if, as happened to me earlier this month, a First Presidency letter, the bishopric’s selection of the theme for sacrament meeting, and the material in the talks and discussions form a unified block of content that I don’t resonate with?  Are comments against such a backdrop useful, or contentious even if contention is not my intent?

I’m lonely and tired, friends.  So please, give me your stories.  When you speak up, how does it go?  What do you learn?  Does it create a spark for generating sincere discussion?  Or does your spark fall to the ground, extingushed?  If it’s the latter, what does that mean?

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Introducing our Heavenly Mother’s Day Series

CW: Suicidal thoughts

I moved to Oakland five years ago. One of my first outings in the Bay Area was a gathering at Carol Lynn Pearson’s house where she gave each of us copies of her play, Mother Wove the Morning. It sat on my shelf for months because I didn’t want to open up Heavenly Mother-less wound I had.

When I finally read it, half a year later, I discovered that I was right in that it was an intense experience. I loved reading it and yet I ached. I wanted a relationship with Heavenly Mother, but I didn’t know how. Unfortunately the bigger question for me was “why.” Why should I have a relationship with Her?

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March 2015 General Women’s Session: Bonnie L. Oscarson

Bonnie L. Oscarson, General President of the Young Women’s Organization.

It is no small task to prepare an address for a worldwide sisterhood with varying experiences and privileges, let alone one tasked with defending the Church’s doctrine and teachings on the Family. There were some powerful moments in this talk where long past due truths were acknowledged and new possibilities were presented to women. But there were also times when President Oscarson fell back into the tired rhetoric so often present in Church discourse on the Family.

President Oscarson started her talk by telling the story of  Marie Madeline Cardon, an early Italian convert to the Latter-day Church. This is a remarkable story of a young woman who bravely stared down an angry mob of men and powerfully rebuked them. She claimed power from God and protected the missionaries and fellow believers in her family’s home. I am thankful that this story has been added to our record and that there is now one more example of a woman assertively standing up for herself and her beliefs. These are the role models our young women need.

I was also immensely grateful that President Oscarson openly acknowledged that life often presents unforeseen challenges and that many women do not live the “ideal” that the Proclamation on the Family puts forward. While I personally find the statement that we must “teach to the Lord’s pattern” reductive, I know there are many who are comforted when their individual experience is honestly recognized and not disappeared into a sanitized ideal. And amen to Oscarson’s admonition to plan for contingencies. While I hate to lump education and a satisfying career into the “Plan B” category, too many women have and continue to be hurt by the seemingly official sanctioning of only one life path.

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The 5th Sunday Project

the 5th sunday projectIn today’s world of internet communication, we Mormons have access to a lot of information about our faith. [ ie – Websites are dedicated to our temple ceremonies, scriptures, and interests. The Bloggernacle is full of thoughts and attitudes about devotion, practice, and culture. And The Church itself puts out videos, article, recourses, and essays on lds.org.] Some of this information is troubling and difficult to absorb. Many are concerned. These concerns range from authenticity questions about LDS scripture to race imbalances.

My concern is for women in the church. I am concerned that in our patriarchal structure of governance, women have limited visibility and voice. I am concerned that in the exclusivity of male-only Priesthood, women have a reduced development in spiritual gifts and inadequate outlets sacred expression.

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#VisibleWomen Series: Please consider Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Stake Presidency Members to have rotating speaking assignments as often as members of the High Council

Here is the letter I’m sending to general and auxiliary authorities, and (slightly revised) to my local leaders:

 

Dear Leader,

I’ve been a Relief Society member for almost 20 years.  During that time I got married, became a mother, graduated from two universities, began working in my profession, and held several callings in Relief Society, always including that of Visiting Teacher.  I’ve taught and been taught by my fellow sisters and received support in life transitions, and have appreciated the company of my peers and the wisdom of women farther along in life than I am.

I have learned something from each of my Relief Society Presidents and have regarded them as inspired women with stewardship for me.  I can name most of them and picture a talk or an event where they said something meaningful.  But as I think back on my years in Relief Society I realize I don’t remember any of my Stake Relief Society Presidencies.  I never even knew most their names.  I rarely if ever heard them speak.  Though I believe they had a spiritual stewardship over the women in our stake, I can’t think of anything I learned from them because I did not know them.  This has also been true of the Stake Young Women and Stake Primary Presidencies of my youth.  By contrast I’ve always known who the Stake President and his counselors were.

It occurs to me that this is a loss, for me personally, and I think for the majority of women in the stakes I have lived in.  There must be a way to benefit more often and more directly from the wisdom and spiritual strength of the women called to leadership positions in the stakes of the Church.

Would you please consider Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Stake Presidencies to have rotating speaking assignments as often as members of the Stake High Council speak to the wards of the Stake?  Similar to how women in the General Presidencies of the Church speak in General Conference?  There are no doubt other ways to get to know our stake leaders, but this would have the benefit of allowing all women (and children and men) to hear their words, whether or not they attend Relief Society on Sundays, and whether or not they’re part of a particular auxiliary.

My stake is geographically large and diverse, and while I always appreciate the contact with the stake membership and the Stake Presidency that High Council speakers bring, I really feel the lack of contact with the women leaders of my stake, particularly the Stake Relief Society Presidency.

Thank you for your consideration.

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