Cozy Quilt of Suffocation

Worn QuiltIt’s like an old quilt, worn-out with holes and not much to look at, but warm and cozy to wrap yourself in when you need comfort. This is how I perceived the Why I Stay panelists at Sunstone feel about the church (I enjoyed the panel very much, by the way). They are aware of the problematic history, doctrine, and policies, and yet they choose to stay.

And I get that. I want the church to be a comforting place for people who need comfort. That is our job as Christians, after all. When I think of my friends in the ward, I feel that comfort. We’ve been in our ward for nine years. Ward members who saw my son as an 18 month old in 2004 will see him ordained to the priesthood next summer. The community of support and love is wonderful and almost all I need.

Except that it’s not. I need a church that embraces my values, especially the value of equality. I need a church where I can attend and hold on to my integrity (I currently check mine at the door each week). I need a church where women are not only told that they’re valuable, but are ACTUALLY VALUABLE in making decisions that affect us all.

A recent example of the prominence and importance of men in the church involved the leadership change in my ward. One bishopric counselor who had been serving for less than a year was reassigned back to his semi-permanent calling of Scout Master. Apparently since he left, some of the young men had not acquired their Eagle Scout awards, and a more committed Scout Master was required. So, ward leadership was shuffled, an entire Sacrament meeting was devoted to this man and the new counselor. The importance of these changes were punctuated by the presence of the entire Stake Presidency. I was really upset and Mark asked me why. I said, “Would there ever be a young women’s calling that is so important that they would rearrange the entire Bishopric to make sure that the young women were properly staffed?”
Perhaps situations like this are a symptom of the greater problem of lack of emphasis, or acknowledgement of the Divine Feminine. Our worship services are void of nearly all feminine influences and it pains my soul. Yesterday, a friend of mine was lamenting the fact that Relief Society lessons hardly ever contain stories of women. And while we could find some stories to substitute, they wouldn’t hold they same power because the women they belong to didn’t go on to become members of the Quorum of the 12, or prophets. It’s easy to see the value of formative experiences of current leaders, it’s harder to see the value of women’s experiences when we hardly see any women at a church leadership level.

During Sacrament meeting a few weeks ago I was overwhelmed by the patriarchy and had a feeling that I was suffocating. I couldn’t breathe, then I realized that it was as though I was drowning. I saw myself underwater, staring up at a blurred group of men in suits and ties. They looked down at me and I could hear them saying, “You don’t need to breathe. You’re just fine. Don’t worry, don’t struggle.”

I was terrified.

I still am terrified.

What’s come to me most recently is that raising sons in this church may be even more difficult than raising daughters. And as it happens, I have three sons. It’s certainly easy to point to unequal treatment in YM/YW and ask a girl how she feels about it and help her see why inequality is wrong. Harder still is to tell a son that he doesn’t deserve the privileges he’s got as part of the male sex. Inequality seems less important when he’s standing on the advantaged side. It’s my job to tell him that he’s not really that special when the gift and power of the priesthood tell him otherwise. Power is a heady drug, even, maybe especially ecclesiastical power. Add to that a mother who is apparently “power hungry,” and it’s easy for a boy to dismiss this concern.

Part of me wonders if it’s possible to shake the feeling of suffocation and replace it with the cozy feeling of a warm quilt. I recognize that while I’d like the church to change and I’m certainly taking steps to make that happen, I’m not in any capacity to make it happen and I can’t hold my breath any longer.


Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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10 Responses

  1. Angie says:

    My personal belief is that if an institution is harmful and based on lies or untruths, then I will do everything I can to keep my children away from it. To do otherwise is to knowingly harm or lie to my children.

    That being said, there are many institutions that are built on true and good principles, but can be flawed and even toxic in practice: governments, schools, NGOs, families, sororities and fraternities, etc., etc. I think a lot about what is was like to be LDS and of African heritage before 1978. What was it like to proselyte for a church that withheld membership, priesthood, and temple blessings? Why would someone do that? In my opinion, it is because these individuals never lost sight of the “Jesus Christ” in the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”

    Regarding the sacrament meeting you described in the OP, I believe that you are right on – men were being glorified, not God. And the reasons for this could be not acknowledging the Divine Feminine…or it could be just plain old sin and pride. In other words, it is God who saves our youth, not a particular individual who needs to be celebrated in our worship service. Maybe the leaders aren’t ignoring women – they are ignoring God. And because this is sinful, the meek and humble suffer.

  2. Holly says:

    Hi Jessawhy–

    I believe you when you say you’re drowning. I remember that feeling–it’s awful. I don’t know if everyone gets to this point before they leave, but I stayed absolutely as long as I could and when I finally left, I did it because if I didn’t, I was going to die. I hope that if you’re no where near a shore, you at least find a life raft or life preserver soon.

    This is how I perceived the Why I Stay panelists at Sunstone feel about the church (I enjoyed the panel very much, by the way).

    except that this year one of the panelists had had his name removed from the records of the church, another stopped attending years ago, and another refused to pay tithing. There were only two people on that panel who could hold a temple recommend. In 2013, at least, the panel was as much about why people stay involved in Mormon culture as why they stay active in the church.

    People–including me–talk a lot about the importance of their Mormon heritage and the sacrifices of their ancestors and what they learn from that and what it makes possible for them.

    I think about how my ancestors were willing to leave possessions and loved ones and cherished ideas and businesses and jobs and God only knows what else, and pack just a few things into a covered wagon, and then walk across America in the snow, all because they felt a profound allegiance to the truth as they understood it and believed that these renunciations and sacrifices would make their lives better in the long run.

    I get why that makes some people feel they have an obligation to stay in the church. But personally, at some point, I felt it was what gave me permission to leave. After all, I was only doing what my ancestors had done. Where would I be if my ancestors felt they couldn’t leave the religion of their forebears? What if they felt they had to change the church they were already in instead of searching out a new spirituality that made more sense to them?

    On top of that, think about the foundational story of all monotheism: Adam and Eve left paradise so they can could learn and study more and have experiences IN THE REAL WORLD.

    It’s what you have to do to learn and grow, and generally it turns out OK. But so often Mormons are all about staying in the garden.

    • alice says:

      I’m proud of you, Holly.

      If there’s one thing being a pioneer DOESN’T mean, it’s doing the same thing generation after generation out of obligation. I have never really understood why the church conflates the pioneer tradition with accepting the same-old-same-old.

  3. Danielle says:

    Some days I feel like I can just simply throw out (or ignore) the bad and embrace the good of Mormonism. Other Sundays (like yesterday discussing the topic “Men of the priesthood”) I’ll have a moment, like you described, where the overt sexism is unbearable, ‘suffocating.’ I’m in the church for the long haul and really hoping these overwhelming moments become easier to shrug off, and less painful, eventually.

  4. Corrina says:

    Thanks for sharing your very personal feelings and thoughts, Jessawhy. I especially appreciated what you said about being more fearful raising your sons than daughters. I have 3 daughters and haven’t put much thought into what it must entail to raise balanced, thoughtful, grounded sons in the church. Just last week, my 13 year old nephew was lamenting the fact that his 8 year old sister is always complaining about not going camping like he does. I tried to explain to him that, indeed, he gets many more opportunities to camp in the church than she ever will. It was a very new thought that had never occurred to him.

    I also relate to what you said when your dh did not immediately see the “why” of your frustration that Sunday. I feel lonely much of the time, b/c I feel pain in many instances w/ the church, and I get tired of pointing those moments out to my dh. (Although when we talk about it, he totally gets it and is very supportive.)

    Your imagery of drowning and suffocating is very powerful. You definitely need to find a way to relieve that–it’s not good for you–I hope you can find that relief in which ever form it comes. I’m sorry you’re feeling such pain right now. Here’s a virtual quilt hug!

    I was dreading the Priesthood lesson yesterday, and it ended up being fantastic and giving me a bit of hope. The teacher (who is in her late 60’s) kept is simple. She emphasized that men are NOT the priesthood. She brought up the fact that we don’t know why women don’t hold it and that it is a hard struggle for many women in the church (in a very validating, loving way). She also spent the majority of her lesson talking about the 1978 revelation, and I know she was trying to get across that this is also how we women feel now. So many women in the room were touched and went up to her after RS to thank her for her lesson. So it just gave me new hope that there are more women than I realize who may have these thoughts–they may not call themselves feminists like I do, and most would never agitate for change–but when they hear truth, it speaks to them. In that moment, I felt united with the other sisters and didn’t feel so alone.

    Sometimes I worry that my daughters will grow up and wonder what the heck I did by raising them in this church. One of my biggest fears is that they will look at me and think I was brainwashed into it all…

  5. April says:

    I wish I had good advice, but I am also raising 3 little Mormon boys and I have the same questions.

    This resonates with me;
    I need a church where women are not only told that they’re valuable, but are ACTUALLY VALUABLE in making decisions that affect us all.

    My missionary experience taught me that women are not ACTUALLY VALUABLE because we assigned values to people: we had goals to baptize a minimum number of men (no minimum number of women.) The mission president explained that this was because women are consumers of services in the church but men are potential leaders. Other returned missionaries have told me about similar goals in their areas. Just today, a currently serving senior missionary wrote to Ordain Women to voice her support. She is saddened that in her mission, they only have goals to baptize male members. “The worth of [male] souls is great in the sight of God.”

    Okay, this comment is not reassuring, but I guess it underscores to me how important it is that if we stay in this church, we have to do something to make things right. We can’t ignore this stuff.

  6. EmilyCC says:

    I love this post. It shows so clearly how harmful church attendance can be for some people. The image of drowning is particularly poignant, and I hope it will help those who think people are being “overly sensitive” to see the real pain that happens.

    I wonder if it becomes more difficult to raise boys or girls with eyes to see the problems of a patriarchal culture depending on the desired outcome. I very much want all three of my kids choose full participation in the LDS Church when they grow up. Though flawed, I feel like Church activity has made me a better person.

    I feel like it’s relatively easy (for me) to raise my boys to see the problems because as males in the current structure of the Church, they have a chance to really solve these problems and look good doing so.

    But, I struggle as I teach my daughter the same because I think, “Well, why on earth should she stay and be subjected to this with no power to change things beyond using the same tactics her mother and grandmothers and great-grandmothers have used?” (which, if we’re using them on generation #4, how good are they?)

    Ultimately, my sons and daughter will choose for themselves, but every time we pray to our Heavenly Parents, every time I tell her a story about a woman in the scriptures or in Church history, I worry and wonder how I can ask her to try and stay and make it work.

  7. Ziff says:

    Great post, Jessawhy. Depressing, but I really like your description of your experience. Drowning and being told that everything is okay, and you shouldn’t worry about it.

    Regarding raising boys versus raising girls in the Church, I wonder based on what you and EmilyCC said, if it might be easier for girls to see the issues in the Church because the power differential is never in their favor. So it’s difficult for girls in obvious ways. But it’s difficult for boys in non-obvious ways, because they have to learn to recognize their privilege and realize that not everybody gets what they get. Which I guess is just a way of restating what you both already said.

  8. CatherineWO says:

    You have so beautifully articulated my own struggles with patriarchy in the church. Suffocation and drowning are such apt metaphors. It finally became so painful for me that I have backed out of activity almost completely. I do attend Sacrament Meeting maybe half the Sundays, but I make the decision whether or not to go on a week to week basis, and sometimes, when I do go, I have to get up and walk out in the middle of it. I too struggled with how to raise my children (one son and three daughters) to see the good, yet reject the pain caused by unequal treatment, so I understand those concerns. However, I think your own consciousness of the problems will transfer to them in what you do and say. They are watching and they will learn. Somehow mine did and yours will too.

  9. Melody says:

    Wow! This is a powerful piece of writing. You’ve painted a beautiful picture of the state of modern Mormon patriarchy and its effect, not only on women, but ultimately on the entire organization. I stay because I find God here. Also, because I want the LDS church to evolve – and what little actual power I have will be lost to the cause of the evolution of Mormonism if I leave. Besides, my gut and my soul are clearly and firmly committed to my LDS faith. This is where I want to be and I believe God fully supports my desire to stay and contribute here.

    Now, I want to articulate something that I feel, but haven’t given words to. So, bear with me. I feel like your perceptions and response to the current condition of the church is a result of your spirit – your eternal spirit – recognizing error. There is no greater power than this. Our vision of the truth of male/female equality carries with it the powers of heaven. Regardless of what we see around us, there is more power in Truth than in any other force. I sincerely believe those who work to bring equality to any setting in this lop-sided patriarchal world are being assisted by unseen legions of angels. Sorry if that sounds sappy, but it’s how I have experienced this struggle in my own life.

    We are traveling through these precious decades of our lives with a view of our own little “blip” on the timeline of eternity. The wider view will show miraculous things coming from women like you, who possess the power to see and speak the truth.

    Thank you, Jessawhy. I love you for writing this post. And the title is priceless!

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