Digging Up Our Patriarchal Roots

IMG_7216 By Jenny

In the wave of Kate Kelly’s excommunication, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people criticizing Ordain Women for making the church look bad.  Now the rest of the world thinks our leaders are just a bunch of privileged misogynistic men trying to uphold an archaic patriarchal tradition.  It’s Ordain Women’s fault for trying to ruin the church.  They created an ugly schism in our church.

These comments remind me of some comments I received about my backyard earlier this summer.  I had spent weeks laboring in the corner of my yard to uproot the sod so that I could build a sanctuary.  I wanted a place where I could sit and ponder and pray and write and be close to God.  As I wiped the sweat from my dirt stained face, I often wondered if the work I was doing was worth it.  The roots of the sod were deep and entangled.  It took great effort just to get up one small patch of sod.

I thought about the other options my husband and I had considered.  We thought about just covering up the sod with black fabric and mulch, hoping that all the roots would die.  That’s what we had done under our deck however, and now we had grass sneaking up through the rocks.  I didn’t want to risk the chance of grass infiltrating my sanctuary.  It was hard work to uproot the sod, but I felt like it was going to be worth it in the end.

Of course I could have left the sod as it was.  There was nothing wrong with grass.  It was soft and stable.  It grew easily, was easy to maintain.  But it also left this corner of my yard like everything else in the yard: just a place to look at and to mow.  I had a more beautiful vision for it.  I wanted a place where I could sit and enjoy my yard.  I didn’t want just plain grass, I wanted a variety of plants that change colors in the seasons, flowers that bloom, and a fountain of water.  My vision was beautiful, and it carried me through the work that it took to get there.

I had friends who visited my home during this time who didn’t have my vision.  Whenever anyone came into my backyard, the first question was, “Why are you digging up your grass?”  This was always said with enough incredulity that I couldn’t help but look at the ugly gaping hole of dirt that was left behind by my work.  Patches of sod were strewn around, making the corner of my yard look awful.  It truly looked like I was destroying my backyard.   At those moments I began anxiously describing the vision I had for that area.  It was usually lost on them.  That’s okay.  It was my vision, and it was going to be beautiful.  But first I had to get through stripping away what was already there.  I didn’t enjoy that work, but it was necessary.

Now I sit here in my sanctuary, as I write this.  It’s no longer an ugly gaping hole of dirt and uprooted sod.  It’s a beautiful place with young, growing plants and flowers, a small stone fountain, and a swing that I can sit on to enjoy the beauty around me.  It’s a place where I can get the spiritual nourishment and joy that I need, a function that the grass didn’t afford me before.  As I sit in this beautiful place to write, I am thinking about the church and what a beautiful sanctuary it could be for us as women, and also for men.  Right now it feels like it is deeply entrenched and entangled in patriarchal roots.  The traditions and doctrines are stable and secure like grass.  It’s not bad.  Really, the church is good.  But it could be better.  As it is, it doesn’t provide us with what we need for spiritual growth.  I have a vision for this church as a beautiful sanctuary of diversity, growth, and change, free of patriarchy.

The problem is that we don’t all share that vision in the church.  Those who don’t see it only see the big ugly gaping hole we are creating.  They think we are trying to ruin the church.  They don’t understand why we would try to root out what seems like perfectly good, stable tradition and doctrine.  It’s no wonder the church has tended to cover up the negative aspects of our culture instead of doing the work to uproot them.  It’s easier that way, and it keeps us from fully seeing the ugliness.  So is it the fault of OW and other feminists that the church doesn’t look at its best right now?  My feeling is that this is just a normal, natural process in building Zion.  If we want all the beauty that God has to give us, if we want our church to be all that it can be, we have to be willing to dig up what isn’t working and deal with the ugliness that that process will cause for a time.

I wish we were at a place where we could be planting and beautifying with the doctrines that have blessed and enriched my heart and soul.  The church is good, but oh how it could be better.  Once you’ve seen the vision of Zion as it could be, it’s hard to be satisfied with how it is now.  I wish we were at a the point where we could be planting and beautifying our Zion, but we’re still endlessly digging at those patriarchal roots and tearing out what can’t co-exist with the more beautiful things.

Christ taught us about this in his parable of the sower.  The sower went out and sowed seeds representing the word of God in different places.  Some fell by the wayside and were eaten by birds.  Some fell on rocks and couldn’t dig deep enough roots.  Some fell among thorns and were choked.  The only ones that grew and brought forth fruit were the ones planted in good ground.

I submit to you, that the word of God also can’t grow among patriarchal grass.  The roots of patriarchy will suck the nourishment out of the feminine aspects of God’s word.  In the midst of these patriarchal roots, we as daughters of God cannot speak to Heavenly Mother and She can’t speak to her daughters.  If She does speak to us, we are not allowed to express our experiences openly.  We can’t claim our power and authority from Her.  The feminine spiritual experience simply cannot flourish amidst stifling patriarchal roots.  We need to dig them up in order for the young and beautiful plants of feminine divinity to grow around us and bring greater joy and serenity to our worship.   It may be painful, brutal work, it may leave an open gaping wound in our church for a time.  But patriarchy must be uprooted in order for our church to grow and to become something more beautiful and functional for our spirituality.

After the last week’s events I am sad and frustrated and exhausted.  But I plan to continue the endless work that has already begun, because I want the church to be beautiful again.  So my friends in the church who haven’t seen the beautiful vision of Zion that I have seen, I know it is hard for you to see good in the church’s gaping wound.  You stand there watching my fellow feminists and me labor in dirt and sweat to tear at these roots.  You look at us in confusion, wondering why we are concerned about a little grass and why we would want to change it.  Some of you tell us we are delusional and that we are making the church look bad.  Some of you say that we are apostates who have lost our way and don’t understand what we are doing.  Maybe you can try to understand when we tell you about this beautiful vision of a place we are trying to create.  Maybe you can try to see the negative patriarchal roots that we have found through our labors.  Maybe you can even bend down and see and feel it from our perspective.  If we work together in unity and love, the work will go faster and our church will become a beautiful sanctuary were we can all sit and enjoy the warmth of God’s love and the beautiful and precious parts of God’s word that haven’t been able to grow yet in our church.



Jenny graduated from BYU with a bachelor degree in humanities. she teaches yoga classes and spends her time hanging out with her four kids, reading, writing, and running.

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20 Responses

  1. Emily U says:

    Jenny, this really resonates with me. I’m currently experiencing the difficulty of tearing up sod, as I’m trying to create a flower bed along the length of my back yard fence. It isn’t pretty, but it will be. I’m going to hold to your analogy each time I hear someone say OW and/or feminists are hurting the church.

    “So is it the fault of OW and other feminists that the church doesn’t look at its best right now? My feeling is that this is just a normal, natural process in building Zion. If we want all the beauty that God has to give us, if we want our church to be all that it can be, we have to be willing to dig up what isn’t working and deal with the ugliness that that process will cause for a time.”


    • Jenny says:

      Ha! I’m glad I’m not the only crazy person spending time this summer digging up sod. That’s great. Thank you for your comment!

  2. Amy says:

    This really resonated with me as well. It’s so difficult when there are so many people who have a vision for that sodded area to share that vision. Grass is definitely easier–little to maintain (correlation), already there, and so, so, so much work to uproot it. As someone who has recently found a love of gardening but is so overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to turn an overrun backyard into something glorious, I understand the desire to just leave the problems and suggest that “it doesn’t bother me” or “it’s just too much work.” Thank you for your analogy, Jenny.

    • Jenny says:

      Exactly! I think part of my reason for writing this was that I felt the same emotions from working in my yard that I did from online feminist work. It’s just so much work!

  3. Having also recently dealt with removing sod, next time I’m biting the bullet and renting the sod cutter. Make the machine do the work.

    The analogy doesn’t work so well for me, unfortunately. The trouble is that the grass, with it’s deep and interlocking roots, is far more lasting than whatever other things are planted there. Grass can survive floods and storms where other, “prettier” plants can not. It also makes it seem like you have to remove the entire thing, the entire Patriarchal structure, to put in something nicer. Isn’t the goal to have space for both the grass and other plants to work together? Maybe I’m just making this more complex tan it needs to be.

    Maybe sod removal just left too much of an impression on me to want to do it that way again. Now if the only made a sod cutter that took care of stumps.

    • Emily U says:

      Grasses can definitely be part of a beautiful landscape. I’ve got ornamental grasses along with my roses and daisies.

      Grass is certainly good at preventing soil erosion, but a lawn is also vulnerable to grubs and weeds, and it’s also a lot of work to keep it “pure” (which is an artificial state, really). Hurrah for plant diversity!

    • Jenny says:

      It’s true that grass is easier to maintain and a lot more durable. I would say the same is true of patriarchy, maybe because it seems to have deep and entangled roots as well, maybe because its been around for a long time. Some of my new, fragile feminist plants are already struggling to make it right now. This new space I have created definitely requires more care and probably wouldn’t make it during a flood. But it’s still worth it to me to have it because it gives me what I need. You hit on an interesting idea that maybe encompasses one of the great fears that people have of the feminine. It may not feel as safe and secure as patriarchy. It may require more work to maintain than patriarchy. Maybe the fear is that by tearing out some of these patriarchal roots, we are weakening the structure of the institution.
      Maybe part of that is that it does appear to others that we are trying to tear out the whole thing, even though that’s not really true. I didn’t tear out all of the sod in my backyard. I only wrote about the part that I did tear out, just like feminists aren’t talking about completely tearing out all masculine influences in the church. We only write and talk about the ones that are keeping us from achieving what we want to accomplish for our feminine space. It would have been way too much work to tear out all my grass, and it would have afforded me nothing. I didn’t need a whole yard of plants. I just needed a little space with variety, having only had grass from the time we moved in. So you made a good point. Patriarchy is not all bad. We need the masculine interpretation of spiritual things just as much as we need the feminine. As our church is right now though, it feels like all we have is grass and no space for women. We need to create that space for the feminine divine and I think the only way we can do it is by tearing out the patriarchal influences that are inhibiting it. For instance, I don’t think we can create a beautiful space for the feminine so long as the patriarchal hierarchy of the church is in place. That isn’t to say that we should create a matriarchal hierarchy. Like Emily said, a combination of grass and plants is perfect. Beautiful landscaping requires balance. A beautiful church is also going to require balance. Thanks for your comment. I also think a sod cutter might have been nice. Too bad we don’t have something like that for patriarchy…though maybe the internet is our sod cutter.

  4. Whoa-man says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you! Thanks for all your digging and sowing.

  5. Jeff G says:

    Paradoxically, the reason why the analogy does not work is also the reason which motivates feminists within the church. Namely, whatever visions we might have for the church, they do not come from God. We are simply not authorized to receive revelation for how the church ought to function or be structured. Of course, the fact that no woman is authorized to receive such revelation just *is* the point at issue here, isn’t it?

    There is, however, another disconnect. To be sure, I have every reason to believe that whatever damage is done to the church, it will, like our muscle tissues grow back even stronger. But the credit for this strengthening of the church goes to God’s direction from above, not those who damaged it from below. Neither Judas nor Pilate get any credit whatsoever for the good that came from the crucifixion and atonement even though it was their actions that directly led to such things. Of course, nobody associated with OW is on par with Judas or Pilate, but their cases do illustrate the point quite clearly.

    In the end, I think your post highlights the reasons for condemning rather than praising OW.

    • Jenny says:

      Jeff, the church as it is structured right now may not give women authority to receive revelation for the church, but that does not mean that God can’t or won’t give us visions of what They want for the church. God’s ways are not man’s ways. I believe that the patriarchal structure of the church is the fault of man, not God. Our Heavenly Parents will speak to whomever They choose and whomever is ready to hear what They have to say. I also fundamentally disagree with your premise that God is the one who will heal the wound that the church is experiencing. God gave us this vineyard to prune and take care of. It is our responsibility to take care of it and to make it beautiful and functional.

  6. Libby says:

    Jenny, this absolutely resonates with me! I’m remembering Chieko Okazaki’s talk about storing fruit: in one place, bottled peaches are appropriate; in another, a woven basket of mangos and papayas us appropriate. The principles are the same, but the specific application needs to be appropriate for the context.

    If we say that grass is the only plant we should be growing, we might just as well say that Utah Mormons are the only kind of Mormons there should be, or that men are the only Mormons there should be. Back to Chieko: our diversity is our strength.

  7. Amy says:

    Another reason this resonates with me: grass is very durable and easy to maintain, but it’s also among the least sustainable and ecologically-friendly options. Grass does not give back to the earth. It takes and takes and takes. While a diversity of plants–whether edible or medicinal–may be more work, they give back to us. It’s a mutual submission where we give the time and reap the rewards with food, salves, tinctures, pollen for honey, etc. Patriarchy is easy to maintain but it does little to give back to the earth and creates an ecological imbalance.

  8. Caroline says:

    Jenny, I love this so much! So many of your sentences resonated with me, but I’ll point out one I was particularly drawn to:

    “I submit to you, that the word of God also can’t grow among patriarchal grass. The roots of patriarchy will suck the nourishment out of the feminine aspects of God’s word. In the midst of these patriarchal roots, we as daughters of God cannot speak to Heavenly Mother and She can’t speak to her daughters. ”

    Yes! I am waiting and hoping for a post-patriarchal Mormonism. Then every member of the church can develop and contribute as leaders and followers in ennobling ways, coming to know both God the Mother and Father.

  9. Mufka says:

    Jenny – Thanks for your words! While I don’t agree with ALL of them, I repect them and appreciate your devotion and voice. Thanks for writing! I will keep reading, engaging & learning from my sisters who put themselves out there!

  10. Liz says:

    I really, really loved this. There was an area authority that came to our stake for stake conference a couple of years ago, and he mentioned the “I’m a Mormon” campaign (that was running lots of ads in our area). He talked about how everybody’s favorite guy from those commercials was the guy with the long hair, beard, and a motorcycle… but he wondered aloud how we would probably treat that person (even subconsciously) if he walked into our ward building.

    He then mentioned that he loves to hike, and that he often spends time in the mountains looking at all of the beautiful meadows, with wildflowers and variety. And how he can look down from the mountain and see people with their manicured yards of grass and carefully selected plants. He pointed out that God made the meadows, and that we – as a society – want to turn those meadows into carefully manicured yards. He bemoaned this tendency to want to shove people into molds or carefully turn them into something of our own design, when God already made them into something beautiful, and yet we don’t always see it.

    With your analogy of grass and patriarchy… this analogy has even more meaning to me. Thank you so much.

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