A Journal Entry from Many Years Ago, before I Found my Voice

I recently rediscovered this journal entry that I wrote several years ago, before I started analyzing church policies and advocating more equitable changes, before I had ever been interviewed by a reporter about gender issues within my faith community,* before I became an activism organizer for Ordain Women, before I started the Religious Feminism Podcast, and before I wrote a book for feminist activists.** 

Before I ever imagined I would do any of those things, this is what I was thinking.  Today, as I read the last question I asked myself in this diary entry from so long ago, I smile and answer, “Yes.”

“It sure made me mad when that feminist woman said women aren’t equal in our church on TV a few days ago,” said my Sunday School teacher.*** My classmates audibly gasped.  As they indignantly muttered their how-dare-she’s, I bit my tongue and glued my eyes to the baby in my lap.  

He went on to give the sort of sermon we Mormon ladies are used to.  “Men and women are equal,” he told us.  I agree.  

“God loves women,” he continued. I agree with that, too.

“Men and women have different roles in our church, but they are equally important,” he concluded. Lost me there.  Still, I stayed focused on my lap, afraid that if I looked up, my eyes would shoot darts at that very nice, harmless man. 

“What did you think about Sunday School?” my husband asked cautiously that night.

“He was just saying what everyone else says,” I replied.  “We have created a culture where it is more important to call women equal than to treat women equally.”

The very next week, a member of the Relief Society presidency relayed her recently returned missionary son’s explanation about why women couldn’t have the priesthood.  He told her that there is a scripture somewhere that says God loves women and also, women can bare children and men can’t. She bore testimony that pregnancy is just awful, but she would rather do that for a few months of her life than have the priesthood. 

“Today in Relief Society, I learned that women shouldn’t have the priesthood because our uteruses make it possible for us to gestate.  That makes about as much sense as saying that men should have the priesthood because their penuses make it possible for them to pee standing up,” I reported to my husband.  “And we got this information by way of the counselor’s 21-year-old son.  An adult woman with a lifetime of church experience considers the 21-year-old boy that she raised a greater authority than herself on female roles and purpose.”  

“Our culture reveres returned missionaries,” my husband pointed out.  

“I’m a returned missionary. I’m not revered,” I countered.

“Our culture reveres male returned missionaries,” he corrected himself.  

Two weeks in a row, I kept my mouth shut until church was over.  I did no harm.  I did not offend those nice people who were teaching my classes.  I did not damage my reputation as a “good” Mormon.  

I believe in choosing my battles. These weren’t important battles.  Neither of those people had any authority to change the status of women at church, even if my comments could have changed their minds.  Neither person wanted to repress women.  Neither was an enemy of women.

But then I wonder, did I really choose not to fight these battles?  Or am I incapable of opening my mouth?  

Did I really do no harm?  Or was there someone else in that room like me, someone who feels alone, baffled that no one else can see the inequity, wondering if she belongs in a church where she is the odd woman out among so many like-minded individuals? 

At church, I have learned to be silent.  (Apparently, I have also learned to write my thoughts in chiasmus.)  But should I be silent?  When should I speak?  

After being silent so long, do I know how to speak?

* Speaking of which, I recently spoke with a radio host in Germany on the topic of how to find and raise our voices.  Have a listen here:

April Young Bennett interviewed by Kara Johnstad, Voice Rising, iHeart Radio

**My new book, Ask a Suffragist: Stories and Wisdom from America’s First Feminists, covers what modern activists can learn from the first generation of American activists. You can find it through these sources:

Order Ask a Suffragist from your local independent bookstore.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

***At this point, so many years later, I don’t remember the identities of the ward members who made these comments, and it doesn’t matter.  Their comments weren’t offensive—just jarring to my feminist sensibilities—and their words were typical of what I have heard many other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say on many other occasions.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

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7 Responses

  1. Anna says:

    You say that those comments were not offensive, but they were. It is just that we women were also taught not to be offended when our status as children of God is insulted. We were taught that everyone is equal, but boys get all kind of perks that girls don’t get. It starts early that this is fair and equitable when clearly it is not. But we are taught not to even see it. We are taught that men and women are equal and that scrubbing toilets for the church is just as important as making decisions about how the church will be run. After all, all callings are equally important. (Come to think of it, scrubbing toilets is probably more Christlike than dictating to women how to run “their” organization.) We are taught that all callings are equal, but the Bishop gets all the praise and honor, while the Relief Society president puts in as many hours as the bishop but her work is all behind the scenes. The RSP has all kinds of work to do, but only borrowed authority to do it with. But that is equal. I will skip the long rant about how morning sickness is supposedly equal to giving the baby the blessing and that no man has ever died while giving a baby blessing but women still do die in childbirth. This is all fair and equal. We are taught that we are the problem if we get offended.

  2. Miriam says:

    After a lot of soul searching and prayer, I have come to believe that priesthood is not something that you “hold.” It doesn’t come through tradition or men’s authority, or even by laying hands on heads. It is not based upon “keys.” It is not based upon age, sex or race. It is really based on your relationship with God. I don’t see God as this authoritarian, rule-with-an-iron-fist kind of patriarchal God. I see Heavenly Parents. A diad. Two become one. Elohim (plural), equally yoked. Beautifully perfect in their balance of maleness and femaleness. Working, loving, creating, choosing, teaching, and rejoicing with glory…together–Their throne side by side. More than even seeing a bishop with his wife on the stand at church on Sundays, I see no stand, with all of us on the sacramental floor, working together encouraging each other in our relationship with Christ and Elohim. No hierarchy. Not setting each other up for more important callings than others. No tug of war…this male/female thing, for we all pray together, kneel and worship and follow the spirit. Sigh. In the meantime, my husband and I realize this beautiful balance in our home…within a safe place to practice the gifts of the spirit that are no longer sought after in a church setting, while we too, bite our tongues on Sundays because the unbelief of the people will not tolerate men and women who both understand that God is no respecter of persons. May God bless you to soar.

    • Andrew R. says:

      “After a lot of soul searching and prayer, I have come to believe that priesthood is not something that you “hold.” It doesn’t come through tradition or men’s authority, or even by laying hands on heads. It is not based upon “keys.””

      Which is a belief you are entitled to have. However, it is not scriptural. It is absolutely the Doctrine of this Church, which we profess holds the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, that priesthood keys, authority and power may only come by the Laying on of Hands. So much so that we Confirm members, living and the dead, by the laying on of hands.

      We ordain, the living and the dead, by the laying on of hands, and we seal and confirm initiatory ordinances, for the living and the dead, by the laying on of hands. Indeed the whole reason for Temple and Family History is that ordinances are physical practices.

      This is not to say that I do not agree with everything else you wrote. Whilst the priesthood is conferred this way, access to its power – for men and women – comes by the means you have laid out.

      No one who has been ordained has any “power” unless they use the priesthood in accordance with the message in Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

    • So much solidarity, April. My journal entries from years ago show a woman who was trying hard to swallow patriarchy, and it made me so angry and inside I felt destroyed. As someone who was trying to be a good Mormon woman, I just didn’t have anywhere for that anger to go. I’m so glad that I found this community.

  3. Andrew R. says:

    “(Apparently, I have also learned to write my thoughts in chiasmus.)”

    I believe that makes them scripture – certainly heard that as a proof for the Book of Mormon.

  4. Andrew R. says:

    ” We are taught that all callings are equal, but the Bishop gets all the praise and honor, while the Relief Society president puts in as many hours as the bishop but her work is all behind the scenes.”

    In my experience this is a bit unfair on members. I respect my Bishop because of his calling – not because of the type of man he is. I taught him in young men, he has been a so-so member, but there is nothing that stands out that makes me admire him as a man.

    Our RSP however I respect entirely because of how she does her calling, the love and care she exudes to the sisters in our ward.

    Our Bishop will be released and another, so-so, bishop will take his place. I hope the RSP never gets released – though I know she will do one day.

    Being a great follower of Christ, who lives (is the very essence of) the two great commandments, is what really matters – not the calling.

  5. Miriam says:

    Andrew R, good points. Let me clarify so you have a bit of context.

    What I am trying to say is that access to God’s power and especially gifts of the spirit are not dependent upon race, religion, gender or age, only relationship and faith in the Giver of all good gifts:

    Moroni 10:
    6 And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.
    7 And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever.
    8 And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them.
    9 For behold, to one is given by the Spirit of God, that he may teach the word of wisdom;
    10 And to another, that he may teach the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
    11 And to another, exceedingly great faith; and to another, the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
    12 And again, to another, that he may work mighty miracles;
    13 And again, to another, that he may prophesy concerning all things;
    14 And again, to another, the beholding of angels and ministering spirits;
    15 And again, to another, all kinds of tongues;
    16 And again, to another, the interpretation of languages and of divers kinds of tongues.
    17 And all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ; and they come unto every man severally, according as he will.
    18 And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that every good gift cometh of Christ.
    19 And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that all these gifts of which I have spoken, which are spiritual, never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men.

    My grandmother was healed by a blessing given to her by the laying on of hands by her relief society president and her mother in 1930. They all did not “hold” anything, except faith in Christ, a love of God, and had permission from the Lord to use His power. Just because they had their hands on her, didn’t mean she was healed, though the sign of faith is the laying on of hands. I could give you many examples in early church history where women gave healing blessings if you are interested.

    Yet, I have also seen miraculous blessings given by faithful men who are ordained Melchisedek priesthood “holders.” Faith and the will of the Lord were the qualifiers, and I am grateful for their inspiration and revelation from on high. These men were bestowed priesthood by the laying on of hands to be sure, but they still had to exercise faith and permission to use God’s power.

    I know of a 6 year old boy named Joey, who recently was the conduit for healing his aunt who was seriously ill by praying over her in the name of Christ as he laid his little hands on her head. Joey is way too young for an ordination of a priesthood office, but man, he was able to do do amazing things with the Lord’s permission!

    Joan of Arc had the gift of the administration of angels as she received revelation and power from on high to save France. She was not ordained in a temporal sense, but she was commisioned of the Lord and received commandments from Him to do what she did. She was burned at the stake by those who had “authority” and “keys” because she would not deny her revelations.

    There are prophetesses in scripture–not many, though I wish we have record of more–Hulda, Anna, Miriam, Deborah. (I wish we had modern day examples in this church, but that is sadly not the case. Too much unbelief, maybe?) Their prophesies were directed by the Lord and they were commanded to share their revelations to bless the lives of others. They had no “keys” perse, just a humble relationship with heaven.

    All other gifts of the spirit that Moroni lists (and Paul too, in his letter to the Corinthians) are not dependent upon gender, race, age or religion. For every Latter Day Saint member who possesses one of these gifts, I can find just as many or more from other denominations. God is no respecter of persons.

    I really could go on and on, but it all does boil down to your point from D&C 121 in that priesthood is based upon righteousness and relationship with God. But then, maybe the disconnect comes from what the word “priesthood” really means. As I’m sure you are aware, in the temple, men AND women have priesthood bestowed on them. It is just an injunction however. If you listen to the wording, it is all future tense. Nothing is actually given to you. All blessings are predicated….as is true for those who are deceased.

    I very much believe Nephi when he stated, “For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.” 1 Nephi 10:19

    Hope that helps. I don’t mean to argue, just clarify my position. I’m very glad we can at least agree on the other points. God bless!

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