We are All Members of the Feminist Body of Christ

Posted by on March 6, 2013 in Journeys | 24 comments

Mourn with Those who Mourn by Aimee Evans HickmanWhen people ask me why I stay in the Church as a feminist, I often begin with a favorite scripture from 1 Corinthians 12:21, “And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee.”

I love the analogy in this passage, where Paul says that the members of the Church make up the body of Christ, and that like our body parts, our individual spiritual gifts have a particular contribution to make the body of Christ live and breathe.

As a Mormon feminist, some days I feel like I live in a church full of eyes. As part of a hand, I feel like I have contribution to make with my spiritual gift–the knowledge that women are often unable to claim their own spiritual authority because of inherent inequality in the current structure of the Church.

(Let’s be clear, many days, I wonder if “gift” is an accurate descriptor of this knowledge.)

Just as the Church needs great orators, musicians, missionaries, and ministers, we also need feminists, womanists, members of the LGBTQ community and other marginalized people reminding us of Jesus’ radical message that the Gospel is for all and most importantly, that the Church needs these individuals’ spiritual gifts to build Zion. Without members sharing their diverse knowledge and talents, the body of Christ will not live and breathe.

For a few years now, I’ve felt pretty comfortable as part of the Mormon feminist hand, helping to make up the body of Christ. But, in the last decade or so, the most extraordinary thing has happened.

There are lots more Mormon feminists, and they aren’t all hands like me.

They have different priorities for change and different ways of trying to make that change happen.

It’s taking some getting used to, this diversity of ideas all under the umbrella of Mormon feminism. First, I want to celebrate that we have built up a community large enough to have real discussions and disagreements about how our mission should be carried out.

But, I’m also concerned about the tone of those discussions and disagreements.

I see people belittling and being belittled, throwing around hurtful words like, “ignorant” and “naïve” and more complicated insults like, “I’ve been doing this longer than you (implied “so I know better”)” or “I’ve been hurt so much (implied “more than you”).”

I see Mormon feminists <raises hand sheepishly> who believe that their way is the only right way. I see harsh judgment of ideas and plans on the feminist blogs and FB and unfair critiques of established organizations.

“That will never work.”
“Your way is too slow.”
“Your way is too fast.”

These statements in and of themselves are not problematic, especially if followed up with feedback on how to make a new idea work or even why it won’t work. We’ll never get anywhere if we can’t honestly debate and work together.

But, sometimes, it feels like we’re tearing each other down just because we’ve been torn down so often in the Church. We’re the child who’s been spanked, so we go kick a dog.

When I start to be overly critical, I’ve found it helpful to use Paul’s framework that I have clung to for remaining active in the Church. I’ve started to look at my Mormon feminist community as another manifestation of the body of Christ.

A few years ago, women in Utah started Segullah, a paper that shared the stories of Mormon women, much like Exponent II. In fact, it started because they liked parts of Exponent II but were uncomfortable with other components.  I was hurt. I was mad, and it took a couple years before I went and read their blog, another year before I got my subscription.

This is where I gained my testimony of the Mormon feminist body of Christ. Their writing is not in competition with Exponent II. It compliments and enhances our cause. They reach an audience that we can never hope to reach. I have repented and embraced my Segullah sisters. (I also have some guilt that I have not contributed to their magazine as they have to mine.)

It’s an exciting time in Mormon feminism. We have tools that our MoFem sisters of the 1960’s and 70’s never dreamed of. This creates hard decisions: do we focus on our illustrious 19th century history? Do we tell our stories of hurt, injustice, and triumph? Do we stage sit-ins? Do we write letters? Do we leave, or do we stay?

I think the answer is, “Yes” because we are all members of the body of Christ. It makes sense that God would want us to each use our different talents to bring about God’s work.

With these different approaches comes the need for sensitivity. At a MoFem retreat I attended recently, a woman said, “I need more women to speak up! This year, I’ve stated in my ward that I think the Church’s postion on same sex marriage is wrong, that women should have the priesthood, and I’ve prayed to Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father. Where are the rest of you?”

Initially, I felt hurt and chastised, but over time, I’ve realized that because she is safe to say those things in her ward, one day, it may be safe for me to say those same things. Just as I hope she knows that because my spiritual gifts and geographic location are different from her’s. So, I will do different radical things like being the only woman who wore pants to my ward last December and emailing my bishop and Relief Society president suggesting a sacrament meeting devoted to Relief Society this month.

When I frame my participation in the Mormon feminist movement as being merely one member of a body, I feel both less burdened with this seemingly impossible task and more accepting of other’s contributions.

Tell me what your contributions are as a member of the feminist body of Christ and how you would like your Mormon feminist sisters and brothers to help.

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24 Comments

  1. This is so good. My contributions are small – I feel like the most important thing I do is just stay. The most important thing my Mormon feminists sisters and brothers can do is to stay with me, in spite of everything.

    • Thanks, EmilyU! I’ll stay with you :)

      I recently learned that the Church only counts someone as having left if they send a letter of resignation. It makes me all the more grateful for the women who have left with a letter stating their hurt and pain and for the women who have been excommunicated for their feminist work. It’s a more forceful way of showing the leadership that this is a real problem.

      I think some of us are called to stay. But, I think there are others who are called to leave, and others who just hurt too deeply. I am happy for them when they find peace and fulfillment outside of the Church (even as I’m sad for myself and the Church for having lost so many lovely and powerful sisters).

      • Emily

        I would have to disagree with your statement that with regard to the church only counting the people who have officially sent in a letter of resignation. The reason I feel this with has to do with General Conference. At every General Conference its mentioned how many infant baptisms, how many new wards and stakes are formed. Yet, the church never mentions(so, we are left to guess) exactly how many people leave. I find this odd.

  2. I am working on being patient. With myself and with others. Sometimes, I want all my feminist brothers and sisters (and myself,) to act and think perfectly, because I feel like we have so much to offer. When we make mistakes, I’m critical, and it doesn’t help or make anything better. So I try to be patient.

    • I’m glad this resonated with you, Stephanie. Honestly, I mostly had to write this post for myself as I work on being more patient and accepting. I sent it first to a friend to make sure I just hadn’t projected my feelings onto all of Facebook and MoFem blogs.

  3. I agree with Emily U: this is so good. And so important.

    I don’t think that I am a snobby person in general, but recognize that I can be when it comes to things I really care about. And Mormon feminism is something I really care about.

    My current offering: I can testify of Heavenly Mother (sometimes in Sacrament on Fast Sunday, but mostly when I teach Sunday School lessons or sit in Relief Society). I can also offer context whenever there is a door to talk about our feminist, spiritual foremothers or women and healing blessings (which came up in my ward last week for the very first time).

    I can present papers on Heavenly Mother at academic conferences to audiences including members and non-members alike. I can tell members in public and private conversations that we are in fact allowed to talk about Heavenly Mother (and can back it up with the BYU Studies article I spent four months of my life researching: “A Mother There.”)

    And Emily CC, you really are brave! (I couldn’t wear pants that Sunday because of a nephew’s baby blessing and various pressures from in-laws/couldn’t even get myself to write my own very kind Relief Society President about the Relief Society’s birthday. The best I could do was suggest it to my Bishop father, in a ward far, far away.)

    • Rachel, thanks for chiming in with your examples which illustrate my point. The things you’re doing sound so scary to me. It means a lot that you’d say I’m brave because I think the same thing about your work.

  4. This is so important, Emily. There have been a few times when I have had my feelings hurt, or been offended in the feminist community. I think it helped me to understand what things I found most important to me, and to focus on those. For the other things that I don’t feel as motivated to fight for, I see no reason for me to dissuade others of their passions, so I encourage them, though I may not take action myself.

    As for my part, I feel like I need to seek for the women who feel they have no voice, and hopefully encourage to or help to give them voice. To be heard, supported, lead and educated, by those who might otherwise feel like they have nothing to contribute. I suppose that is somewhat passive, but my intentions are loud and driven. We all should have a voice, Mormon or not, active Mormon or not, American or not, parents or not.

    • Spunky, I feel the same way. For a few months, I felt really tired and torn because there are projects and organizations that I didn’t feel like I could support because of my concerns or time constraints. I try to be encouraging now even if I don’t have the time or desire to be active in the latest project myself.

      You have taught me much on all of these fronts. Thank you.

  5. Great post, Emily! I love your idea of the feminist body of Christ.

    I’m not sure what I’m doing other than trying to teach my kids well, and saying egalitarian things at church. I should definitely do more.

    Also, I love that you said you’re a hand. Does this mean that when people give Mormon feminists a hard time, we can say, “Talk to the hand!” and direct them to you? ;)

    • Exactly, Aaron!

      And, I think you do so much as a role model of what a male Mormon feminist looks like. I know you’ve helped Nate.

      • Thanks, Emily. I really appreciate hearing that.

  6. Amen, Emily. Beautifully said.

    I’ve also been on a journey the last few years learning to appreciate the various gifts and visions of Mormon feminists of all stripes. I think Lorie Winder said something important a few years ago, something along the lines of, “Mormon feminists need women like me who press for structural change and a total reinvisioning of the place of women in the church. I make other Mormon feminists look reasonable to average church members.” I had never thought of it like that before, but I think she’s right on a number of levels. We need the visionaries keeping in mind huge goals of large scale gender inclusion. But we also need all those women who work every week within their congregations to quote from women, keep women’s needs in mind, value women’s thoughts and voices, etc.

    • So true! I think women like Lorie also have pushed me to expand my vision and realize what I need to claim for myself, even when it makes me uncomfortable or flat out terrifies me :)

    • Of course you realize, Caroline, I think my matter-of-fact, non-belligerent advocacy for women’s ordination is supremely reasonable. But, as you suggest, the perception of my position as radical creates a space for those who stop short of public advocacy for women’s ordination to appear less threatening. I confess to frustration at the slow pace of change. I hope, however, that my continued advocacy for women’s ordination is percieved by those in Mormon feminist community as good-hearted persuasion rather than unrelenting bludgeoning.

  7. Love this. We’re all necessary. Each one.

  8. Lately, the vehement discussions and disagreements about strategy amongst Mormon feminists has reminded me of the rivalry between Carrie Chapman Catt of NAWSA and Alice Paul of NWP prior to passage of the women’s suffrage amendment. Was the 19th amendment a reward for Catt’s dignity and diplomacy? Or was Paul’s political and media pressure a bigger factor in the success? I don’t pretend to know, but I am glad that so many women were working for suffrage in their own ways, whatever ways those were, because something worked and now I enjoy my voting rights.

    • Thank you, April…I feel like I need to look more at historical examples of how other movements focusing on equality (like suffrage and Civil Rights) managed this dynamic to see ways I can do this better.

  9. Emily, thank you for this post. I haven’t ever self-identified as a feminist, I guess in part because I don’t feel like I “fit” exactly. I love the Exponent and Segullah and ZD blogs, because I love to feel of the spirit and sisterhood shared there, because I agree with many of the sentiments and convictions, because I love beautiful writing.

    And, while I can’t help but post a comment if I have something to say, I haven’t really felt like part of the group. But maybe there is room for me, and maybe I don’t have to look and sound exactly like these women I admire, in order to belong. Maybe I’m not a hand, but maybe I don’t have to be. Maybe it’s enough to be an arm, helping to lift or carry or embrace.

    • That’s a lovely analogy, Olea. Thanks so much for sharing!

      If it helps, sometimes, I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere. But, I truly believe we all have a place. I’m glad you’re one of us :).

  10. This is a beautiful post, Emily (ha! unintentional pun: Post, Emily) I’m old enough to have swung back and forth a few times between active feminism (though I rarely call it that) and “rest” periods, and I’m swinging back rather fiercely this time, perhaps due to a difficult bishop who is hurting my teenage daughter with his well-intentioned but quite anti-progressive power plays. When things like this happen, I generally write letters or emails and try to enlighten and broaden views. I’m always clear but respectful, because EVERYONE has a place in the choir, even those we vehemently disagree with. Paul’s analogy holds up on all levels.

    I’m reading “The Dance of the Dissident Daughter” now by Sue Monk Kidd and it reinforces what I already knew as a person raised Protestant: Mormon doctrine is the most female-affirming Christian theology out there. (Kidd was a strong Southern Baptist Christian writer who woke up to her need for a feminine experience of God.) The dissonance between our doctrine and our sexist practices and cultural beliefs are what really get to me. And the fact that our lives as women are defined by men. I share stuff like this, mostly in private conversations with other women, because I think it’s the women themselves who are asleep. In my work on stake and ward councils, I generally experience real vision and goodness from our male leaders. We all suffer for lack of Mother. I’m not about blaming; I’m about awakening.

    I appreciate the plug for Segullah — I have been on the staff for years and I do think we reach different audiences, but all for the same grand cause: the cause of Christ.

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. Well done.

  11. Emily–I just adore your insights and honesty. This post really resonates with me and reminds me to be grateful for the varieties of Feminists (and non). I’m lucky to live in a tolerant bubble and respect people who take risks that I don’t have to.

  12. Thanks so much, Lisa!

    I love Dance of the Dissident Daughter, and I love Segullah.

  13. I will quote Caroline and say: Amen, Emily. Beautifully said.

    Like the women who have commented before me, this really resonates with me – first, because Corinthians 12 is one of my MOST favorite parts of the scriptures and I think of it often as I worship with the Saints – and second, because it feels good to frame the MoFe world in this way.

    When I think of the body of Christ, I remember that we are each contributing to the work – and the it moves forward with all it’s pieces – and I am less frustrated with different approaches.

    Thanks for reminding me who much we are EACH needed.
    Suzette

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Daughters in My Kingdom: “Something Better”: The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo (Chapter 2) | The Exponent - [...] may give — in the church generally, as well as to the cause of Mormon feminism (which Emily CC spelled out …
  2. I am a Mormon Feminist | Experimental Criticism - [...] We are all members of the feminist body of Christ. (the-exponent.com) [...]

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