Will we be silenced again?

One by one they throw us from the tower and we spread our wings and fly linda sillitoeMy name is April Young Bennett.

About three years ago, I published my very first post at the Exponent. I identified myself only by my first name because I was scared. Terrified. Silenced.

I loved my Mormon faith, but I could also see its flaws—how the sexism embedded in its culture, policies and doctrines were affecting my life. I had more than complaints; I had ideas! I wanted to contribute to my church, to make it a better place, but my input was not wanted because I am a woman. 

The Exponent gave me a forum to air my views, but I continued to sign my posts with only my first name.

It wasn’t my fault that I was scared. I grew up in a culture of fear. People who dared to publicly discuss the church’s flaws were cast out of it when I was still a child. When I reached adulthood, I thought I was the only Mormon in the world who cared about sexism because people with questions stopped asking them. It wasn’t safe.

A little over a year ago, Kate Kelly invited Mormon women to try again. We could be bold. We could ask for what we want.  We could break taboos that silence us, speaking out in public instead of limiting ourselves to semi-anonymous cyberspace.

We could use our real names.

Mormons accuse each other of “going public” as if it were a sin, as if the phrase from the Book of Mormon, “All is well in Zion” were a script we should follow, instead of an example of “carnal security” that “cheateth [our] souls.” (2 Nephi 28:21) We hope that by keeping our opinions to ourselves, our faith community will appear to be perfectly happy. We are living advertisements, wooing potential converts. We can’t actually address our problems while we are busy hiding them, but we hope that no one else will notice our issues because we don’t mention them in public. Building Zion takes a backseat to keeping up the appearance of Zion.  We lay aside scriptural admonition to “lay aside…all guile, and hypocrisies” (1 Peter 2:1).

We even punish “going public” as if it were a sin. Enforcing silence through church discipline isolates the problem, but these so-called problems are people, children of God, members of our congregations entrusted to our ministry.

We are isolating people.

We sacrifice our own children in our quest to feign contentment. We let them suffer, believing that they are all alone, the only crazy people in the whole church who see any problems, because the only voices they hear complaining are the ones in their own heads.

While this culture of fear and silence hurts everyone, Mormon women are particularly isolated when public discourse is silenced. Mormon men may hope for opportunities to enact reform from within the church hierarchy. At the least, they have peers, members of their own quorums, within these decision-making positions. The risk of speaking out is particularly high for women because women are disciplined by panels made up entirely of the opposite sex, may not read the rules and procedures by which they may be punished, and are not afforded the same protections that men enjoy. Women are more expendable than men because so few women are needed to fill church callings.

We are sacrificing human souls and our own integrity because of the faulty assumption that potential converts are looking for a church of Stepford wives. I challenge this assumption. I believe that potential converts would prefer a congregation where reformers may stage peaceful demonstrations; problems are identified, discussed and resolved; and people respect each other while vigorously and publicly disagreeing. I highly doubt that people are looking for a church that punishes people for seeking reform by casting them out from their congregations, invalidating their saving ordinances, and breaking their eternal bonds to their families. Sexism itself drives people away from the church, not talking about sexism. The church could be more attractive to potential converts if we addressed sexism and made our faith a safe place to be female.

Instead, the cycle begins again, and now Kate Kelly and others find themselves selected to be cast out for breaking the silence. Kate Kelly’s stake president assures her, “You are not required to change your thinking or the questions you may have in your own mind, but you need to make it a private matter.” (Emphasis is mine.)

In support of Kate Kelly and in defiance of this renewed attempt to silence and isolate Mormon women, I have updated my Exponent profile to my full name. I am done cowering. I will not be silenced.

Today, I have two questions for you, my Mormon feminist sisters and brothers: “Will we be silenced again?” and “What is your name?”

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is an advocate, mother, professional, lover of the arts, hater (but doer) of housework and seeker of truth. Twitter: @aprilyoungb

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73 Responses

  1. Liz says:

    I admit that it’s easy for me to put my name, because when people google “Liz Johnson,” they’re going to find about 300,000 other people with the same name.

    But I’m Liz Layton Johnson. I don’t know how to be silent – I never have. My parents said that I was born talking and I haven’t stopped. I will try to be speak with humility, and I will try to speak with integrity, but I won’t be silent. It isn’t in my God-created DNA.

  2. TopHat says:

    I noticed yesterday that your full name was on your picture on the right! Now I know why. 🙂

    When I first started blogging on my personal blog… oh, something like 9 years ago, I was very anonymous. I didn’t my mention my name anywhere and was only “TopHat.” In 2008, I got involved in some well-known lactivism and I realized I couldn’t hide in anonymity anymore, so since then, I’ve been upfront on that blog and elsewhere that “TopHat” is me, Heather Moore-Farley.

    I think names are very powerful. In the Church, names are associated with covenants. Abram and Sarai were given the names Abraham and Sarah when God covenanted with them. Jacob became Israel. At baptism, we take on the name of Christ. In the temple, we are also given a new name. Names are powerful.

  3. Liffey Banks says:

    My name is Katie Henderson, and I am tired. Today I’m just not sure this fight is worth it anymore. But tomorrow or someday I may feel up to it again. And I won’t be silent.

  4. Ziff says:

    Stellar post, April! I love this:

    “We hope that by keeping our opinions to ourselves, our faith community will appear to be perfectly happy. We are living advertisements, wooing potential converts. We can’t actually address our problems while we are busy hiding them, but we hope that no one else will notice our issues because we don’t mention them in public. Building Zion takes a backseat to keeping up the appearance of Zion.”

    Precisely spot on.

    Sorry to be a wimp, but I’m still hiding behind my pseudonym. I really appreciate your courage, though!

  5. Sarah Giorgis-Pratt says:

    I am Sarah Giorgis-Pratt. I am a feminist, a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a teacher, an ally.

    But above all, I am Sarah Giorgis-Pratt.

  6. nat kelly says:

    My name is Natalie Hamilton Kelly of the Skyway Ward, Renton Stake, and I will not be silenced.

  7. Nadine Hansen says:

    I come from a long line of courageous Mormon women. My fifth great-grandmother, Abigail Mead McBride was 78 years old when she crossed the Great Plains, the oldest pioneer to cross in 1847. My third and fourth great-grandmothers shivered and nearly died at Martin’s Cove. My friends, Maxine Hanks, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Lynn Knavel Whitesides, D. Michael Quinn, and Paul Toscano were cast out in 1993 and I remember the fear. Now what must be cast out is the fear.

    I am Nadine Hansen, and I will not be silent.

  8. Caroline says:

    “I believe that potential converts would prefer a congregation where reformers may stage peaceful demonstrations; problems are identified, discussed and resolved; and people respect each other while vigorously and publicly disagreeing. I highly doubt that people are looking for a church that punishes people for seeking reform by casting them out from their congregations…”

    Amen. Our church only makes itself smaller, more limited, and more parochial when it casts out its own for asking important questions. My name is Caroline Kline, and I will continue to ask questions about troubling ideas and practices as well as praise the empowering and ennobling which is there within our faith.

  9. Amy says:

    For so long, I tried to hide behind my fear. I made an altar of my orthodoxy and sacrificed my conscience on it. But this last year, I learned that my calling is not to fit in, my calling is to be the radical person who holds out her hands to others, who speaks her conscience and who stands for the hurt and the oppressed. My name is Amy Isaksen Cartwright and I will not be silenced.

  10. Elissa says:

    Thank you, April. This is brilliant and so heartfelt. My name is Elissa Hardy-Schafer, and all of you involved in this work have helped me be brave.

  11. Deborah says:

    I am Deborah Farmer Kris,and I have never been more proud or grateful to have the association of the good women of Exponent, both those who blog with me and those who find refuge in our company. You are my sisters (and brothers).

  12. Melody says:

    My name is Melody Newey, always has been, always will be. It’s a good name. I’m a good woman. I am the same person when I am silent and when I speak up. I honor both the strength that comes from doing my work while keeping silent, and the courage it takes to speak up. Great post, April!

  13. Morgan Stanfield says:

    I am not a Mormon, but I am a feminist who stands in solidarity with you. My name is Morgan Stanfield, and I would not join a church that made me a second class citizen for eternity based on my sex, nor would I join one that excommunicated members for making requests to leaders or talking about the experiences of outsiders. What I would be proud to join is a strong, caring, intelligent community of activists like I see active in Mormon feminism today, despite the trials you face in your own communities for seeking equality. Thank you for being a great example of feminism.

  14. My name is Monica Pignotti. I have a blog waywardewe.wordpress.com and no, I will absolutely not be silenced and if the Church wants to come after me, bring it on!

  15. Catherine Agnes Roebuck says:

    My name is Catherine Agnes Roebuck, and I will not be silenced. Appearances be damned; I’m here to build Zion and to shout to all the lambs “There is room for you in this pasture. There is room here next to me, as much room as I can create by speaking out loud and living authentically.”

  16. Charla says:

    Beautiful post. “In support of Kate Kelly and in defiance of this renewed attempt to silence and isolate Mormon women, I have updated my Exponent profile to my full name. I am done cowering. I will not be silenced.”

    Charla Willian, Westfield, Indiana.

  17. fMhLisa says:

    My Name is Lisa Patterson Butterworth of the Vienna Woods Ward, Meridian North Stake, and I will not be silenced.

  18. Jess R says:

    “Kate Kelly’s stake president assures her, “You are not required to change your thinking or the questions you may have in your own mind, but you need to make it a private matter.” ”

    Here is my biggest problem with this: how are we supposed to get answers to our questions if we can’t ask them?? Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge believer in personal revelation and prayer. But I also believe that often God answers our prayers through other people.

    I am not ready to give up my pseudonym yet, but your courage and strength is inspiring. YOU are an answer to prayer. Thank you.

  19. Becca says:

    I’m Becca Price, from the Riverview UT stake. I’ve ‘come out’ to my ward as a feminist, and I’m ready to own it online also. I claim my voice and my power, and stand in my truth with clarity.

  20. mountaingirl says:

    My name is Angela Jo Isaacs of the Murray 2nd ward and I will not be silenced. I will speak out for LGBT rights and women in the church and in the world. I will speak out for love and understanding.

    I love my ward and my church. I want to stay. I want to make space for myself and others. And I will not pretend that there are not problems and people that we hurt as a church.

    Thank you April Young Bennett.

  21. Corrina says:

    April, thank you so much for your voice and courage. You are an inspiration to me!

    I’m not ready to put my full name out–mostly for internet privacy reasons (not related to the church), but I value you and our other sisters for doing so! I will NOT let these events silence my voice in my ward.

    I don’t want to thread jack, but I’m not sure where else to ask this. I’ve listened to Kate on the SLTrib blog video, and she talked about her reasons for not flying back to VA for her court (namely, she is taking care of an ill family member and also that she cannot really refute any of their claims against her, b/c they are true–i.e. “You have a blog.” “You are asking the Brethren to pray about women having the Priesthood.” etc.)

    But I can’t help wish that she would go back and fight for her case. I know it’s her decision, but what are your thoughts on this, April? I guess I’m just having a hard time understanding why she won’t go. (Or urge her Bish to reschedule in order to fit her schedule.) I’m asking this in all sincerity.

  22. Markie says:

    ” Sexism itself drives people away from the church, not talking about sexism.” Exactly! My name is Margaret Britsch Peterson and I will talk about sexism (and all manner of other -isms) until there is no more sexism to talk about.

  23. Lisa Noel says:

    I didn’t change my name when I married, but the church, the Air Force, and the state of Florida did. It took my new ward over a year to figure out I was that inactive woman they couldn’t contact. I still have some (usually male) leaders who insist on tacking on my husband’s name.
    My name is Lisa Noel Mathis, and I will not be silent.

  24. Lorie Winder says:

    Powerful post, April. I’m Lorie Winder, daughter of Jeanne Carlston, granddaughter of Dorinda Dorius, Emmeline Fisher and Thurza Malin, great granddaughter of Elizabeth Parker, Lydia Ranck, Anne Marie Pederson and Anna Marie Staaleson. Though I’ve parsed far too many words for patriarchs, I’ve rarely been silent and now cannot be.

  25. Libby says:

    My name is Libby Potter Boss. I live in the Belmont 1st Ward, Cambridge Massachusetts Stake. I love the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints too much to be silent when I see discrimination or unrighteous dominion.

  26. Lisa says:

    This is such a beautiful post. Thank you. My name is Lisa Hadley and I believe in asking questions. Otherwise, how will we get any answers?

    “You can cage the singer but not the song.” -Harry Belafonte

  27. Member #000-1344-7912 says:

    I’m Anarene Holt Yim from Indiana. Thanks to all of you, and Amen to April’s spot-on post.

  28. Emily U says:

    I’m Emily Updegraff. I never want fear to get in the way of people talking to one another. I keep thinking of this: “For God hath not give us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

  29. sarah farmer says:

    Full name: Sarah Lynn Farmer!

    Rock on sisters! I’ve never been silent and I never will be!!

  30. Heather says:

    My name is Heather Sundahl and I believe that asking hard, thoughtful questions is at the core of our faith. There is no other way.

  31. Melanie Landon-Hays says:

    Melanie Landon-Hays, Monmouth, Oregon and I am tired of being urged to be quiet. Thank you sisters for solidarity and giving me courage the courage to speak up as much in my church life as I have done in my real life, so that church can be real too.

  32. Maren says:

    I didn’t use my full name as this us my first time on the site; maybe next time.
    I just wonder what would happen to Eliza R. Snow if she were alive today? Would she be excommunicated for laying her hands on to heal the sick, to call down blessings, to prophesy, & to exhort leaders to treat women more equally? (She did all this and more!)
    Just wondering if she’d still be an elect lady to emulate, or a black sheep apostate to scorn?

  33. CatherineWO says:

    Love this post. I’m Catherine Wheelwright Ockey currently from Helena, Montana, and I am happy and honored to add my voice to the rest of yours. What a grand chorus!

  34. David Brasher says:

    I do not understand why you want to reform the LDS church. It is either true the way it is, and the prophet speaks for God, or else the prophet is a fallen prophet who God is displeased with, and the church is not the way way God wants it to be.

    I think you would have better luck abandoning the LDS church and forming your own church. You could ordain women, and fix other issues, but keep the parts of the Mormon church that you like.

    • Wayne Borean says:

      David,

      You are saying that change should never happen – something the church itself disagrees with you on.

      Wayne

      • David Brasher says:

        The LDS church is not actually true, as many people seem to think it is. I agree that there should be female bishops, stake presidents, apostles, and prophets. But if the church were true, then God would have already induced his supposed prophet to make this change. This change has not occurred, so either God does not want women to be ordained, or else you have a fallen prophet who does not listen to God. You will make no progress unless you can remove him from power, or abandon his false church and start your own which better suits your needs. The church is not a democracy. You cannot effectively lobby for changes and call for votes. The people at the top will generally just ignore you or punish you, and if you actually believe in the church you are lobbying, then you are going against the will of God.

        (I should clarify that I believe the LDS church is not true and there is no God. But I am playing along with you guys and speaking hypothetically as if there was a God, Mormonism in some form was true, and you had grievances you wanted addressed.)

      • Wayne Borean says:

        David,

        My Father-in-Law, who was a really smart guy, and knew Thomas Monson fairly well. He also didn’t like him.

        I wish Dad was still alive. I’d like to talk to him about the things that are going on.

        Wayne

  35. Charlotte says:

    I am Charlotte Willian of the University Ward in the Bloomington Indiana stake. Christ taught that his disciples are “the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do people light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” I hope that each light left here reaches someone lurking in the shadows of fellowship, hurt or fearful or lonely, and invites them to draw nearer and find welcome and warmth.

    Thank you for an outstanding post.

  36. Maren says:

    Of course you fit here!!! We’re all expressing ourselves in a safe format.

  37. Stephen Mark Barnes says:

    My full name is Stephen Mark Barnes (I go by Mark), and I will not be silent.

  38. Wayne Borean says:

    I said a while back that I think that ordaination of women will happen. I still think that.

    But it may not be this year, or even this decade.

    The entire discussion has been fascinating. In our family, I’m 100% for ordaining women. My wife is 100% against ordaining women. Our daughter, who is in her early twenties, isn’t sure what she thinks. Nor are the boys, who are a bit older.

    I’m surprised at how many people here have said they feared speaking out. That is an unhealthy situation, which needs to be addressed.

    Regards

    Wayne Joseph Borean

  39. Cherie Pedersen says:

    I have already lost family members who cannot be true to themselves and be active members of the church because of current LGBT and sexist attitudes and policies. I do not want to lose others, particularly an upcoming generation of granddaughters and grandsons. I long for a church where everyone sincerely seeking for further light and knowledge has, as Carol Lynn Pearson puts it, a place at the table, and where no one is afraid to speak their truth. I am a fourth generation Mormon whose ancestors paid a heavy price for their membership in this church. Mormonism runs through my veins and is at the heart of everything I am and everything I do. I am Cherie Taylor Pedersen and I will not be silenced.

  40. Barbara Bodily says:

    My name is Barbara Bodily and I am a Mormon feminist. Thank you for this post, April. The one thing I can say about this horrible treatment of Kate Kelly is that although it is stirring up such sadness and anger among us, I do think that the positive is that many of us are angry in a healthy way. The kind of anger that propels us to action. Even if the church authorities (which as upper class white men over 50, make up such a tiny percentage of the American population) don’t or can’t see that we are equal to them in every way, we can see it and pay attention.

    I am beyond appalled that the church leadership would rather excommunicate Kate Kelly than sit down with her face to face and hear her out! Even if they only view her as a “lost sheep”, isn’t it their responsibility to support her?

    I am disgustingly reminded of the 3 men who were excommunicated for going public to state that black men should have the priesthood. This was 2-3 years before the leadership were magically inspired to “allow” black men to hold the priesthood. It was always their right as children of Heavenly Father and Mother. It wasn’t wrong before 1978. Neither has it ever been wrong for a woman to be a priestess.

    Personally, I can no longer be a part of an organization that allows me so little value. In patriarchal societies women are valued for having children. If you are not having children or your children are grown, there is very little use for you in this church. How many amazing, talented, wise, faithful, intelligent women over 45 are in this church? How many of them have an opportunity to share those gifts?

    I sincerely hope that the sexism in Mormonism is ended because of the women who want to be there.

  41. Kristin Norton says:

    I will just start out by saying I am an atheist ex-mormon so you all know where I stand. I truly wish you women would vote with your feet and get the heck out of dodge, if you know what I mean. That being said I love seeing women stand up for their rights in any venue. I love this post. Keep fighting ladies. Also, just a thought. Why don’t all the men who are married to or love these women refuse the priesthood themselves as a show of support? My husband would be mad as hell and totally behind me. A priesthood strike would be an amazing show of support.

  42. Laura Penn says:

    My name is Laura Catherine Steele Pennock and I will not be silent. I live in Bountiful and my bishop knows my name. I spoke in Sacrament Meeting recently about these problems and was hauled into my bishop’s office to be told that what I did was wrong. I did not apologize. I still do not apologize. I have nothing to apologize for, I did nothing wrong. I stand by what I said and the appropriateness of the forum in which I said it.

  43. Terry Manning says:

    I became a Mormon feminist back in 1976 when I was a student at BYU. Dallin Oaks was president of the Y then. We had a forum in which the speaker, a female professor at the Y, spoke about why she was a feminist. I believe Elder Oaks had asked her to speak; he certainly took no issue with her topic or ideas. I had always, even as a small girl, believed that women should have the same rights as men. I am sad that almost 40 years has passed and we are still fighting these battles.
    My name is Terry Manning.

  44. Jon says:

    At the great and last day many feminists will be saying
    I chose my feminism over my exaltation.

  45. Cindy says:

    From 1985 until 2002 I was a loud voice about many things. In 2002, the Church initiated excommunication proceedings on me, and frightened me into obedience to their commands to be silenced. My name is Cindy Spencer Le Fevre. Although I am still frightened, I will no longer be silent. Silence poisons the soul.

  46. Jon says:

    Feminists support these things

    Gay marriage
    Goddess worship Kimberly on FMH openly advocates setting up your altar to worship the goddess
    Abortion
    As long as feminists support these evil things they are doomed to fail

  47. Jon says:

    Ziff
    Do you really want to blog where everybody agrees with you or says I love this post it really resonated with me?
    I would rather hear what’s on everybody’s mind no matter how positive or negative it is

    • Ziff says:

      That’s a fair question, Jon. There’s definitely something to be said for hearing different views. That being said, I have two concerns.

      First, the differing views you tend to offer are so repetitive and simple-minded (“Feminists hate God.” “Feminists are giving up their salvation.”) and so unrelated to the specific posts you’re commenting on that it’s difficult to see what you’re saying as any attempt to seriously engage. You’re pretty much just trolling and trying to get people riled up with outrageous comments.

      Second, I think there’s value in having a safe space where Mormon feminists can talk without people calling us to repentance every five minutes. You can go to tens of thousands of Sunday Schools every week and likely find plenty of people who will agree with you that feminists are the devil’s own spawn. By contrast, there are very few places where Mormon feminists can congregate, even virtually. It’s not unreasonable, I think, to police some of these safe spaces to shut the opposing voices out.

  48. penny says:

    Please stop I implore you..A dear friend of mine was investigating the church based on these kind of articles she is no longer wanting to listen It is hard to investigate the church with outside criticism but when there is so much contention within it makes it uninviting..as members we should focus on sharing the gospel rather than on our own personal agendas Please

  49. Breiana says:

    My name is Breiana Wagner and I am a feminist Mormon. I was raised in the church and I have mormon blood all the way back including Brigham Young and Willard Richards. I served a mission in Omaha Nebraska. I love the church and it’s members. At the same time I have been very hurt by the male centric culture and teachings of the church. I am very upset about the discipline proceedings against Kate Kelly and they have driven me out of my anonymous feminism and into the open. I will not be silent.

  50. Winifred says:

    How can you
    Lead an open rebellion to Temple Square and expect zero consequences? Life don’t work like that .

  51. Tiffany Moss Singer says:

    My name is Tiffany Moss Singer and I will not be silent. My records reside in the Springcreek 17th Ward, Springcreek Stake, Springville, Utah. My doubts and hurtful experiences within the church are valid and they deserve to be shared every bit as much as glowing expressions of belief and contentment. I will not deny the personal witness of the Spirit on subjects I have spent years wrestling with, no matter the institutional consequences. Should the Strengthening the Members Committee like to talk to me, you know where to find me.

  52. Dollie says:

    As I read the poem A Skeptic’s Prayer, by Margaret Munk a few months ago, and begun to cry, I thought to myself “No more. I will not be made to feel worthless for not fitting into the sexist gender roles any longer.”

    My name is Dollie Valerie Gomez-Venegas, and I am free.

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