When the Questions Aren’t There (Thoughts on Tuesday’s Press Conference)

Photo by Bekah Russom on Unsplash

Two Sundays ago, my 3.5 year old daughter had her first day of primary and my 1.5 year old daughter started nursery.

They both loved it. My oldest chattered the whole ride home about her fun teachers and the silly snowman song she’d learned (we apparently have never given “Once There Was a Snowman” enough air time in our house). And except for one small breakdown when my youngest realized I’d left the room, my baby thought that nursery was a blast: from the singing to the slide (am I right that nursery toys so much cooler than they were when I was a toddler?) to the entire box of raisins she got to munch on as her teacher pointed to pictures of smiling kids and explained that all of us are children of God.

Both that Sunday and the one that followed were mostly easy and carefree mornings for my little Mormon girls. What they didn’t know is that our presence at church that first Sunday in January– all together and for all 3 hours of church for the first time in more than half a year—had come as a result of hours of difficult talks in the car over Christmas break, wherein their pragmatic father and ardent mother had tried their darndest to tackle the pressing questions that busy work schedules had made it easy to put off for so long:

Should we start going back to church as a family?

If so, should we start taking the girls to 2nd and 3rd hours? What would that look like exactly?

And if not, what then?

To answer these questions, a lot of other ones had to be taken out and discussed on that long car ride between my parents’ and his while our girls slept in the backseat: questions about temple ordinances and towel duty, about the beauty of a shared spiritual language, about the 2015 policy that still perplexes and pains us, about a history filled with both the inspiring and the disturbing, about how and where we could improve at reaching out and setting boundaries, and about what kinds of experiences and frameworks we want to give our girls.

Whenever my husband and I have these kinds of especially serious, long, and targeted discussions, we seem to take turns being the one ready to step up the effort and the one who is ready to throw in the towel. This time, I was the one on empty. But as we both did our best to listen and validate and articulate what we were feeling, we both finally agreed that, yes, we’d start going to church again.

Two days later, President Monson passed away.

And 12 days later, my husband and I listened closely as the newly instated First Presidency responded to Peggy Fletcher Stack’s question (starts at about 18:10):

 “…What will you do in your presidency to bring women, people of color, and international members into decision-making for the church?”

I’ve felt a deep sense of urgency every time I’ve thought back on this question– and others, like the one posed by the AP’s Brady McCombs’—over the past couple of days.

They’re the kinds of difficult questions that my husband and I, thinking of our daughters, felt compelled to carefully examine in the car just two weeks earlier.

And they’re the kinds of questions that I had desperately hoped to find rooted within the consciousness and consideration of the First Presidency—men who will not only be directing the church that many families like mine are struggling to work out a sustainable connection to, but men who, like all of us, cannot possibly petition heaven for an answer to a question that was never planted in their hearts in the first place.

I readily admit that I have never had to answer tough questions in a highly-scrutinized press conference at any time in my life, let alone at the age of 93. I will also say that as many times as I’ve disagreed with them, I love and sustain those men. Their faces are familiar to me, and each of them at different times throughout my life has provided counsel that has strengthened and comforted me. Their words have mattered to me, and as a mom who wants to know whether and/or how to raise two daughters in this church, their words matter especially to me now.

Here is what I know:

  • That one day, when my girls ask what it is that they can do and become as daughters of God, that they will deserve better than a pedestalizing response that limits their influence to submissive and supporting roles.
  • That when they someday question the lack of representation they see in an institution that matters to them, that they will deserve better than to be dismissively told that labels like gender and race don’t matter by a man who has actively used his power to draw and enforce boundaries around those same categorizations.
  • And that one day, when they approach those in power with the kinds of sacred questions that result from wrestling with the implications of a God who sees people of every race, nation, sexual orientation, ability, and gender as having equal and infinite worth, that my daughters will deserve to sense that those same kinds of questions—and the lives they represent—are continually before their leaders, too.

It’s been a long time since I’ve expected perfection from the church or any human—prophet or not—who belongs to it. And I didn’t listen to the press conference the other day expecting this newly formed body to suddenly have polished and progressive answers to these kinds of questions. But if what matters most isn’t where we’ve been but where we are headed, then in a top-down organization like the LDS church, it matters a great deal that the questions troubling so many of its members are being carefully considered by those in command.

And nothing about the reactions or answers I saw and heard during that press conference gave me hope that that is the case.

My husband and I aren’t going to draw any sort of long-term conclusion based on one disappointing press conference. But this Sunday, my family isn’t going to be in an LDS church building—not because we want to make some kind of statement with our non-attendance, but because for the first time in a long time, we’re both on empty. Hauling your heavy questions with you each week to a place that doesn’t know what to do with the kinds of questions you bring gets old. And nothing saddens me more about it all than when I think back on how excited my 3 year old was last week when she woke up knowing that she’d be going back to Primary, and how happy my baby was after sacrament meeting to run out of my arms and into her nursery class.

I want this for them. I want them to experience the fun and quirky and beautiful things that I got to experience as a young girl growing up in the LDS church. But if Mormonism cannot feel and sit with with the kinds of God-given questions that I know my inquisitive girls will find growing within them someday, then they deserve better.

aly

Aly grew up in Wyoming and now lives in Washington with her husband and two daughters.

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22 Responses

  1. Jannie B says:

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. Your daughters, my daughters and sons, and all of US deserve better. Your analogy of running on empty so adequately describes my current, worn out state.

  2. Jason K. says:

    Sitting with you in the heartache and hoping you find peace.

  3. Liz says:

    “Hauling your heavy questions with you each week to a place that doesn’t know what to do with the kinds of questions you bring gets old.” Yes, exactly this. This post really, really resonates with me. Thanks, Aly.

  4. Primary is the place where the gospel is truest: we are all children of God, Jesus loves us, snowmen melt and apricot trees will bloom again in the spring.

  5. Quest says:

    Primary can be an unsafe place too, where sections of the Proclamation on the Family about gender roles are touted as scripture, and kids are taught to sing Praise to the Man without teaching them about that man as a human with serious problematic history, and where teachers and leaders who push back against certain verses of certain songs or ask for rephrasing to be more accurate lose their callings for being dangerous to childrens’ testimonies of a church. Primary is the best of us, unless correlation and the appearance of reverence and loathing of individual life paths for girls and women not related to motherhood becomes more important than Jesus Christ and kids’ felt love. And that happens a lot in a Church culture that does not tolerate nuance, grey area, difference of opinion or gender equality.

    The hauling of questions to church is exhausting. And laying down the burden was the greatest decision of my life.

  6. Meredith says:

    Throughout my faith transition and my path to OW, I have held onto the hope that our leaders were cognizant of gender inequality or at least women’s feelings of anguish about it. I truly have believed that the status quo would eventually change because leaders were paying attention to our concerns and seeking revelation about it. I was absolutely floored while watching the press conference to discover they have no idea. They aren’t cognizant. They aren’t concerned. They didn’t even anticipate the question being asked. I am so hugely deflated. And now I have to teach RS tomorrow on Eyring’s talk – “The Lord Leads His Church.” So much heaviness in my heart.

  7. Mark N. says:

    All my life, they taught me that good fruit doesn’t come from a bad tree. I eventually had to stop questioning the fruit and look to the tree instead.

  8. Rebecca S says:

    Thank you for sharing. I was so confused after Tuesday’s events. During the first part, when the new prophet and first presidency were announced, I felt the spirit testify of their divine calling. And then during the second part I thought, wow, how can they seriously not have prepared to answer any of these questions? I don’t know how this internal conflict of mine gets resolved.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Meredith, I’m with you. It was almost embarrassing for me to watch President Nelson attempt to answer that question.

  10. Wally says:

    I keep coming back to Bruce Hafen’s classic BYU devotional address from decades ago, “Love Is Not Blind: Some Thoughts for College Students on Faith and Ambiguity.” What he referred to as “ambiguity” we would now probably call “cognitive dissonance.” Whatever, he proposes three ways of dealing with what boils down to the gap between the ideal the the real. First are the optimists, for whom everything is rosy. They can’t see the problems because they are blind. They want to live in a bubble. Obviously, too many Mormons fit this category. Second are the pessimists. They see only the problems. Many of those who leave the Church over various issues fit this category. The final group he calls improvers. They see the ideal; they see the way things are; they recognize the gap; but they try to do something about it. And it’s very hard to help create positive change from the outside. If you want a couple of examples of improvers, you can’t do much better than Lester Bush and Armand Mauss on the blacks and priesthood issue. Do good work. Be thorough. Eventually, someone like Spencer W. Kimball will be open enough to pay attention. Then change is possible.

  11. Steve says:

    Aly, I feel your sorrow, your frustration, and your concern. I am aware that this issue is troubling to so many people. It troubles me.

    I hope you’ll allow me to ask a couple questions I would ask you if you were my good friend sitting next to me and sharing your thoughts and concerns with me. You see, I believe that since the days of Adam and Abraham, Moses and Isaiah, the Lord’s leaders have been little more than “Grandpas who hold the keys of the Priesthood.” They are men who make mistakes, nothing more, but they still have a calling and hold the keys. These facts make me pray for them earnestly to receive the revelations they so desperately need. And I fully expect them to make mistakes.

    May I ask you to elaborate on what you feel would have been an appropriate answer to the question, given President Nelson’s life experience and current position? How would YOU have answered the question, if you were the 93-year-old “Grandpa who holds the keys of the Priesthood,” having the same life history that President Nelson has? What exactly do you wish President Nelson had said that would have allowed you to decide to attend church again with your little girls?

    You are not alone in your questions. I feel strongly that those of us who share your concerns must make our voices heard… If only so that others like us IN the Church know that they are not alone. I hope you’re in my ward, and I hope I will see you there. You are not alone, and I need your help in church if I’m ever going to convince others like us that they are not alone.

  12. Aly says:

    Steve,

    Thanks so much for your comment. So much of what you said resonated with me; our feelings on this subject aren’t all that different.

    If we’re judging the responses given at the press conference through the lens of “these are 93 year old grandpas who were raised in a different time/in a conservative, high demand faith tradition,” then I think it’s safe to say that their responses were probably better than what one might expect from the average person who fits those same descriptors. My 91 year old great grandpa would have fared much worse with those same questions.

    However, the problem I have with judging their responses solely through that lens is that these aren’t just a bunch of old grandpas who watch the Hallmark Channel all morning and head downstairs every afternoon at 4 pm to play BINGO with the other assisted living residents. Like I said in the OP, in a top down church like ours, these men hold *massive* amounts of decision-making power. That’s something many Mormons take great pride in, in fact: that public opinion matters very little to those men. Outside pressure and members’ voices have brought about eventual change in some noteable instances, of course, and slow shifts take place over years and years. But in the end, those old grandpas have great influence over what my daughters will see and experience and be taught at church. They are the ones who, in the end, *must* be able to set aside biases and hear the questions of those in their stewardship and open their hearts to being moved by the spirit to expand and shift their thinking. If they were just some old dudes who held some keys and gave televised, heavily edited talks every couple of years, then my disappointment in their responses would be different. But they aren’t. And as a Mormon who loves this church and cares deeply about the direction it’s headed in, I think it’s not only logical but my responsibility to hold them to a higher standard.

    Which, by the way, wasn’t even all that high. As I described in my post, I set a pretty low bar there: that it wasn’t even good answers that I had hoped for, but some indication that the questions being asked were ones that they had even heard, That they had recognized and felt the heartache and struggle that each of those questions–none of which were new–represented. Instead, their responses felt completely taken aback or patronizing. The questions weren’t there–in their minds or their hearts–and as a mom trying to decide how my kids will engage with the church, that troubles me.

    Lastly, I’m very sympathetic to the “if everyone like you leaves then how will change ever happen?” line. It’s been the thing that has kept us going back our whole married lives. The other side of that coin, though, is that it’s hard. And please don’t read that in the weak, whiny way that millenials like me are assumed to approach life. I mean that I have fought and struggled for years with the tension I feel between what I see and feel at church and what I feel God has taught me about Them and their love for their children. I’ve served faithfully in YW for most of the 4 years I’ve been married, and worked hard to find ways to do my part in helping the church continue to be more inclusive and kind at the local level. The *other* other side of that coin, too (this is a unique sort of coin) is my responsibility as a parent to be deliberate and thoughtful about how I want to raise my daughters. I have no desire to shield them from hard things or perspectives that I may disagree with. But the questions the church tries to answer–Who am I? Why am I here? Who is God? How does God feel about their children?–have huge implications for one’s self-worth and for the way one approaches God and others. The impact of all that isn’t somehow softened just because it’s old guys who are in charge.

    Like I said in the OP, we’re not making any long-term decisions based on one lousy press conference. But last Sunday, we attended a church where both men and women lead. Where the pastor wore a pin on his pastor shawl (I don’t know what it’s called…) that told parishioners that this place welcomes and affirms LGBTQ people. Prayers were said for the homeless, for displaced peoples, and for those brought to our country as children whose fates now hang in the balance. During Sunday School, a Muslim woman had been invited to talk to us about her culture and beliefs, and about the ways that Islam and Christianity are similar, and how we as Christians can form better relationships with Muslims around us. It was beautiful, and the first time in a long time that I’ve felt peace in a church service. I don’t know if/when we’ll attend that church again, but it was a reminder of what a church can be and do. I will never stop hoping that the LDS church can move and change in Christlike ways, but I don’t know either what our involvement there will look like.

    • Steve says:

      Aly, thank you for your response. I only stumbled onto this blog recently. You are clearly a very deep thinker and an excellent writer. Much better at writing than I am, I’m afraid. Thank you for the time you put into your response.

      Again, if you were sitting next to me having this discussion as one of my deep-thinking friends, I think I would respond with something like, “That was an intelligent, though perhaps ironic, response. I asked you a very specific question, and like the 90-year-old great grandpas you (probably rightly) criticize, you didn’t answer my specific question, and it didn’t appear that you had truly ever thought about it in the way I expected and hoped you would think about it.” (My wife reacted the same way to your response. She suggested that it appears you want the Church to change and you want these men to change, but you are possibly not clear on how, exactly, that might look or happen.)

      I’d like to point out that YOU might think or feel you answered my question, but unfortunately, I do not think you did. I wonder if the First Presidency feels like they, too, answered the question put to them. And while some people, I would think, feel their answer was probably sufficient, you do not.

      Of course, you have made a point that we should hold our leaders to a higher standard than other 90-year-old great grandpas. And you have agreed they exceed the standard set by their octogenarian and nonagenarian peers. Still, you want to hold them to something even higher than “higher than their peers,” which you have not specifically identified, but which you also want to say is not too much to ask.

      I personally think that imagining or demanding our church leaders to be better people than the best of their peers is wrong. It’s a widespread problem within the Church, and it was created by the leaders themselves, who (in their pride and imperfection) asked people to not question them or their decisions, as if we should expect perfection from them. And while you clearly state you don’t expect perfection, you are apparently expecting something more than “what IS”—although you have not defined what exactly you’re expecting.

      The belief—nay, the decree—that the church leaders are better than everyone else is wrong! And I feel it must be fought from within the Church.

      Nothing about an Apostle, Stake President, Bishop, Relief Society President, Young Women’s Counselor, Missionary, or Primary Teacher should make us think they should think or act better than the best of their peers. And the same goes for the First Presidency. I believe we SHOULD question our leaders, because we KNOW they are imperfect and make mistakes. And we should question them in the exact way we would want people to question us, if we held those same “keys” (which I will define using your words as “*massive* amounts of decision-making power”) on our shoulders.

      What kinds of decisions would you make, if you held those keys? Do you think holding those keys would make you a different person than you are now, or would you be the same Aly? Would you handle the job better than all of your peers? How many people do you expect would disagree with your decisions? How would you hope they would express that disagreement? Do you know exactly which problems would be your chief concern while leading a massive, worldwide organization? Is it inappropriate to expect that the problems and questions that perplex you and me as “millennial” ward leaders are different than the problems and questions that perplex the nonagenarian president of the Church? When the millennial “flavor” of leadership reaches the general authority level, then these questions will be more thoroughly debated and pondered by that leadership. I’m not sure we can expect more than that.

      I agree, it would be fantastic if the “Moses” of our time would come out and say, “I wrestle with the questions of…why women don’t hold the priesthood… and why good LGBTQ people can’t marry in our temples…every night in my prayers.” But I just don’t think we can expect him to say that, because even in his own life, it must SEEM like these are incredibly recent, non-eternal questions, TO HIM. We may need to wait patiently until the First Presidency contains a person who has been surrounded by these questions for a significant portion of his life (like you and I have). But if all those people who deeply consider these questions exit the Church, what then?

      I don’t judge you in any way. And the church you visited sounds very accepting. If you feel impressed by God to go somewhere else, then who am I to ask you not to go? And in the case you don’t feel like you are receiving direct, clear revelation from God to go to another church, consider for a moment the possibility that these leaders, like you, don’t receive a constant stream of clear revelation, either, and they aren’t yet ready for the questions you and I have. OR, alternatively, they DO have a constantly clear stream of revelation, and you and I aren’t ready for the answers they are getting. Or perhaps truth is somewhere in the middle?

      I will openly say, “I don’t know!” I don’t know. I don’t KNOW if I am right or if they are. And that’s ok. (And I am unlikely to stand up and say, “I am right, and you are wrong,” until I KNOW that to be the case. For now, I’ll stick to what I know.)

      Because there are only a very few things I DO know. God lives and loves me and my children. My family and I are children of God with infinite worth. We are completely unique expressions of creation. Jesus Christ is God’s Son, the Only Savior and Redeemer. The Bible and the Book of Mormon contain the word of God. God spoke to Joseph Smith as to a prophet, and Joseph was the prophet of the restoration, holding the keys of the Priesthood, which he passed on to people who, though imperfect, hold those keys.

      Those are the things I teach my children. And this potential hiccup from the great grandpas who currently make decisions doesn’t change anything about what I know.

      I appreciate your serious contemplation of this matter with me.

  13. Steve says:

    Aly, thank you again for your reply. Mormons generally don’t like contention. I sense that you and I know that a healthy discussion can lead to serious reflection and even a change of heart. And it is truly a pleasure to discuss these things with someone so thoughtful and intelligent. Please accept what I have written below as an offering of my sincere thoughts, which I wrote while also hoping I can learn from you. This is not merely a “contention” I hope to “win.” In other words, I hope you know I am not a troll, just hoping to pick a fight.

    You provided a basic idea of changes you hope to see in the Church. You say, “I want the church to embrace more inclusive policies and practices, and to be more willing to allow more people who don’t fit the straight, white, American male mold to take part in decision-making.”

    I want that, too. And while I choose to see it happening (not as quickly as I might like, of course, but still happening), it appears you do not. My current Salt Lake City area ward has a black man in the bishopric–the only black man in the ward. (He is hardly a “representative” quota of the ward. He’s just a good man.) The stake on which I served as a (young) high councilor included as many women in as many decision-making meetings as possible–wherever the attendance was not specifically spelled out in the handbook. Missions today are, I understand, including women in Zone Leader and District Leader councils. General authorities regularly give talks of inclusiveness and understanding. The Genesis Project is growing and becoming mainstream. The General Relief Society meeting has the same prominence now as the General Priesthood meeting.

    Nevertheless, you concluded that, as indicated by this press conference and other frustrations you have experienced, the apostles do not have the “humility and thoughtfulness and care to be moving the church ever closer to what God wants for us.” I reiterate my hope for you to express what exactly would have indicated to you (in that press conference) sufficient humility, thoughtfulness, and care. I additionally ask whether you KNOW exactly “what God wants for us” to the point that you could clearly declare God’s will to others. (Forgive me for beating the same drum, but you keep committing what I consider to be the same ironic flaw.)

    You say you wanted the First Presidency to “[indicate] in some way that they cared,” and you feel they did not so indicate. I have twice asked you to tell me exactly what that would have looked like, and you have twice declined to give it a go. Instead, you declare that their tone and words just didn’t satisfy you, but you hesitate to put yourself in their place and answer the question the way you think they should have answered it.

    If, after you have pondered Peggy Fletcher Stack’s question for five days, you cannot clearly, directly articulate a response to the question that would have satisfied you, how can you expect them (the “old white men”) to provide such a response on the spot? It would appear nothing they could have said in that moment would have satisfied you, and so I humbly suggest you should not blame them for failing to meet your nebulous, after-the-fact expectations of them.

    Their failure to state a caring, understanding, progressive response to your liking does not mean the Good News of the Savior’s Gospel, as restored through Joseph Smith is suddenly not true. Nor does their failure to express sufficient care and understanding (in your eyes) even mean that they, in fact, do not sufficiently care or understand. I have watched their response two more times since reading your OP, and I feel that they, in fact, answered in a spirit that was primarily one of love and care, though they may not have addressed or contemplated in that moment all of the concerns that were in the hearts of Sister Aly H or Brother Steve H (me).

    To be fair, it would appear that the new First Presidency does not perceive elevating women or people of color to the Quorum of the Twelve as their most pressing duty. But they also did not rule it out. Perhaps their personal relationship with the Lord leads them to wait on Jesus for direction and not to press him with an agenda.

    —–
    What follows are a few paragraphs of personal reflection and consideration, based on our conversation so far.

    Is Jesus currently pressing the apostles for women and people of color to join the Quorum? It would appear they do not feel such pressure. Is that because they don’t have a connection to God? Or is it because God is truly not pushing for it? (Or worse, is it because the members of the First Presidency actually hate women and people of color, and they want to maintain power and control over them? This suggestion is so ludicrous in my mind, I’m going to continue as if I never brought it up.) I don’t know! That may be a false dilemma. It could be that God is patiently working in various ways (for example, see my third paragraph above)–and it could also be that I don’t understand the methods and mind of God as well as I wish I did. If I were God, I might have insisted on gender and racial equality from the very beginning and destroyed anyone who tried to subvert my will. But I am not God, and that is evidently not what God has done. So, since I believe in God, I am content to let God work in God’s way, and I am confident that God will accomplish whatever God wants to accomplish. And I will do my best to help God just exactly as I feel inspired to help.

    Which leads me to ask, are these men truly representing God, and is this God’s Church? If the Church of God must be led by people who agree with my personal philosophies, who answer every live press conference question as if the answer came directly from God, and who never make mistakes, then this is clearly not the Church of God. Such a Church does not exist! So, I must look for other indications that this is God’s Church, which I personally find in restored scripture, in the general goodness and love of those who truly follow its teachings, in the happiness the doctrines bring to me and my family, and in the spiritual witnesses and revelations my family and I have personally received. I personally feel, based on my study of scripture, that as long as the leaders of the Church are genuinely encouraging the membership to seek Christ and follow his clear teachings, they are probably not too far off the mark. As I mentioned previously, the doctrines I KNOW are few, and they remain unaltered by the mistakes of the institutional leaders.

    Do I need the institutional Church? Can I cling to the doctrines of Christ without it? It is unlikely my children will believe in holy scripture, personal revelation, eternal families, sacraments and ordinances, covenants, the atonement of Christ, and other doctrines dear to me if they do not see me studying and practicing all of these things and associating with others who also believe. It is unlikely my children will develop a personal relationship with God if they do not see me expressing my own relationship through nonjudgmental service to others, including toward the “household of faith”–a household filled with frustratingly imperfect people. It is unlikely that those I love, including my extended family and closest friends, most of whom participate in the institutional Church, will listen to my personal brand of Mormonism–and grow closer to God because of it–if my voice comes from outside the Church. I suppose I need the institution, then, to be an effective teacher of the doctrines I feel I have received from God. If I want to guide those I love to Christ (and I do), I currently feel I must do so within the institution organized by Jesus through Joseph Smith.

    —–
    Aly, you have summarized my position as “we actually shouldn’t question or be critical of [our leaders].” Nothing could be further from the truth, and I’m afraid you have either misunderstood me, or else you have built a straw man of my words.

    If you KNOW what the leaders should be saying or doing differently, by all means, question them. Criticize them and invite them to do better. Write to them. Humbly make your voice heard in church and in council meetings. Continue to share your thoughts and questions on the internet. Make your own local leaders aware of the questions in the hearts of the true believers–and make them aware of the answers to those questions that YOU have received for your own personal life. Support your answers with the word of God. Remind those who question you that it’s OK to doubt, it’s OK to question. Invite others to turn to Jesus by adhering more closely to his words, as you understand them. I have done literally everything I just suggested.

    But, according to your post, you “don’t claim to know exactly what those shifts should look like or when, or how.” I agree that you are allowed to “expect more.” We should all expect more. I believe the apostles expect more of themselves, and I believe recent changes in the Church indicate promising movement forward, slow as it may be. However, unless you have worked to bring about your specific expectations (which REQUIRES that you first know what your specific expectations are), please don’t suggest that the framework of the Church has failed you and your daughters. Rather, you may not have allowed for, or created the possibility for, it to succeed.

    • Steve says:

      This was a response to a reply from Aly. I’m not sure where it went…

      • Aly says:

        Steve,

        When asked a question, there are many ways that we can indicate to others that the question being asked means something to us. E.g., “That’s an important question–one that we know troubles many. We recognize and honor thst pain.” “That’s a question that matters to me. (Insert thoughtful response.)” “Thank you for asking that. This is a question all of us continie to sit with and pray over.” I didn’t give specific examples of what it can sound like when you are asked a question that matters to you because I didn’t realize that needed to be spelled out. Those are some examples.

        I am also not a good enough writer to know how to describe “not condescending or taken aback” in great detail. All of us know, though, what it feels like to share a sacred question with people and sense that that question matters to others vs. hear a response that sounds thrown together or patronizing. Pedestalization is patronizing (and not answering the question that was being asked). Telling us that labels don’t matter to God when in fact our policies present a very different view is patronizing. Again, you are free to agree or disagree with my assessment there. But that is what I and many others feel when we listen to the press conference.

        You indicated again that maybe God has other things he cares about more than that institutions and peoples better support and hear the voices of all, including women, gay members, non-white members, etc., and find ways to better invite all of God’s children to see each other as brothers and sisters of equal and infinite worth to God. I disagree. And presenting that sort of God to my girls matters far more to me than that they attend a church where they will hear the story of Joseph Smith praying in a grove of trees or that a man named Alma taught the gospel to a group of people in ancient America. Those stories matter to me (and I can teach them to my girls regardless of where we attend church) but not more than a God who loves all. That is something that matters so much to me that I want the help of a church to bring to my girls. And the answers to the questions asked by people like Peggy Fletcher Stack are how we also answer the question of how God thinks about his children.

        Lastly, I *have* worked to bring about my expectations, Steve. I’ve worked very hard to present to my young women a more inclusive and forgiving God than the God I imagined growing up. I’ve worked very hard writing posts like this one to present a perspective that is both kind and honest about the struggles and questions that I and others like me face as we try to work out a meaningful connection to the church. I’ve worked hard to explain my thoughts to people like you in many different settings. I’ve tried to live my life in a way and actively support causes that I think demonstrate my belief in a God who loves and reaches out to all of their children. I’ve had many age appropriate conversations with my 3 year old about race, gender, and sexuality (that one sounded like “Some of your friends have two dads and some of them have two mom’s. They are families that God loves just as much as he loves our family”). I’m surprised that you would suggest that I’m not actively working to move in the directions I’ve described, and I’m not sure what it is that you’re demanding to see. That I’ve ordained myself to the priesthood if that’s an end point I think we need to reach? That I’ve conducted the wedding ceremony of a gay couple if that’s what I think Mormon leaders ought to eventually do?

        I have nothing else to offer this conversation, so this is my last response. I hope you’ll keep reading this blog–listening to and trying to understand perspectives you might not like or that you feel are lacking.

      • Steve says:

        Aly, thank you. This has been enlightening. I appreciate your thoughtful responses.

        I can see that your example responses WOULD have been appropriate for 93-year-old President Nelson. He should probably learn to respond to all questions that way.

        I did not mean to offend you by suggesting that you had not worked to bring about change. I feel certain you have accomplished some much-needed change. I imagine your daughters, your young women, your blog readers, and others have benefited from what you have done. And all those you have loved and influenced will continue to benefit from your unshakable faith in God and in the doctrines of the Restored Gospel, even as you (openly) disagree with current Church policies.

        Until your most recent responses, you had not defined (to me) the precise changes you were seeking to bring about, and I think it is impossible to actively pursue changes that you have not (at least personally) defined. Are your goals the goals you stated? Is it your goal to be ordained to the Priesthood and to conduct a gay wedding? If those are your goals, and if you have received clear revelation from God that you should be doing those things, then YES!, I encourage you to work towards those goals while you actively serve in the Church (until they kick you out or until God commands you to leave). However, if those are not your specific goals, or if God has not specifically commanded you to pursue them, then I suggest that you 1) clearly define the changes you hope to see, 2) clearly define your role in those changes, 3) seek confirmation from God that you should work actively to fulfill your role, and 4) try to accomplish all this from within the framework of the Church, unless steps 1-3 REQUIRE you to leave the Church. You will have much less influence on the institution of the Church from outside the Church.

        I’m on your team, Aly. I don’t want to lose an ally.

        So you know, I agree with you that God has no more important message than how much he loves all his children. I personally believe God loves all humans equally (except I’m not completely certain how that personal belief squares with the idea that God calls Jesus his “Beloved,” which literally means “favorite,” and God also seems to have an extra affinity for a certain group of people labeled “children of Israel”). I believe every person has infinite worth to God. As I’ve previously mentioned, I teach these things to my own children (my 4 girls and 2 boys). In fact, I repeat several specific affirmations to them every night in an attempt to make sure they know these things. “You are a child of God with infinite worth. God loves you and accepts you. You are always more than enough. You are a completely unique expression of creation….” and many more.

        I guess I am just not as certain as you are that these principles, which you and I hold so dear, are damaged by the way human institutions and churches are organized. These principles are eternal and transcendent, and they cannot be damaged. Furthermore, I think the LDS apostles believe and teach these principles; I could easily support these principles using the words of modern Church leaders.

        The manner in which imperfect humans organize and lead the Church can have zero effect on the infinite worth my children have to God. Whether or not a person has decision-making “keys” in the Church has nothing to do with how much God loves that person. In my view (and you are free to disagree), it does not follow that if God loves everyone equally, the Church must give administrative decision-making power to everyone equally. Those two things are completely unrelated. I don’t give a damn about decision-making power. I don’t need a position to tell me I’m just as important to God as the President is. The fact that my daughters might never be Bishops does not make me feel that God loves them any less. And if, one day, my daughters actually become Bishops and my sons do not, it will not for one minute make me think that God loves my sons any less than my daughters. Still, I will rejoice when women and/or people of color are ordained to the Quorum of the Twelve. I will actively teach others that a minority female apostle can do everything a white male apostle can do. But it’s not within my power to call apostles, and God hasn’t yet commanded me to campaign for minority female apostles.

        Furthermore, any other church I might attend will also be led and organized by imperfect humans, and I will certainly find problems there, as well, which I will either have to put up with, fight, or else drop out. And I don’t want to spend my life dropping out of churches. That path is unlikely to help the faith of my children.

        So, as long as the church I choose to attend is still (arguably) teaching the words of Christ and leading people to Him, and as long as they don’t kick me out, I’m going to do as much good as I can and work to bring about change from within, because that is where I will have the most influence on those I love and care about.

        Bless you in whatever change God has commanded you to pursue.

      • Steve says:

        I should also mention that if you disagree with or do not believe the DOCTRINES of gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through Joseph Smith, then that’s an entirely different matter. No one should remain in a church as life-pervasive as our Church if God has taught them that the DOCTRINES are not true. But if the DOCTRINES of the Church are true, and the policies and leadership are wrong, then (see my previous comments)

      • Liz says:

        Steve, you mentioned that you’re new to the blog. As a blog admin, I ask that you review our comment policy:

        http://www.the-exponent.com/site-map/comment-policy/

        I appreciate that much of your comments are speaking from your own experience, which is absolutely welcome. However, there are several times that you’ve told Aly that her experience is invalid or that she somehow isn’t church-ing right (for example, “you may not have allowed for, or created the possibility for, [the church] to succeed” and stipulating under which conditions she should stay in and/or leave the church). Those comments are very close to violating our comment policy. Aly also doesn’t owe you lengthy explanations on her motivations and experiences, although she has graciously responded several times.

        Please keep all of this in mind if you comment again.

  14. Ziff says:

    Great post, Aly. I was (am) similarly discouraged.

  1. January 25, 2018

    […] Exponent II blogger Aly wrote: “[My daughters] deserve better than a pedestalizing response that limits their influence to submissive and supporting roles. … [They] deserve better than to be dismissively told that labels like gender and race don’t matter by a man who has actively used his power to draw and enforce boundaries around those same categorizations.” […]

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