Guest Post: I Found Answers on the Internet
By Amy West
Remember those times when people half-jokingly warned about looking for “truth” on the internet? We sat in Sunday School and asserted how the only relevant, valid materials were those annoyingly selective “Church-approved resources.” The problem is that in spite of combing through the Church’s resources many times, in search of answers to heart-wrenching questions that have left me despairing for years, I couldn’t find them. So I turned to the web. And in spite of all the admonitions and stern smiles accompanied by a shudder at the notion of looking for anything “spiritual’ on the internet, I found answers there. But allow me to place my story in context.
I have struggled with severe, debilitating depression since I was 11. While some of the initial causes could be attributed to genetics, difficult family dynamics, and sometimes my own poor decisions, I feel now that much of it has come from my religion.
There is good in the Church. Good people, even. The gospel seed is there. But in my opinion the good in the Church is often compromised by the bad. I don’t blame my choices on the Church; I do hold it accountable for the wrongs it has done. I am responsible for my own life, no matter what damages have been dealt. But just as I am responsible for the choices I make, I am sometimes responsible for causing harm. And the Church, though it is an institution rather than an individual, is no different.
For a religion that puts so much weight on repentance, the Church as an institution has demonstrated little belief in the need for its own penitence. But some may argue that we as a people are the Church. I would say yes, and no, because the responsibility for various policies and teachings falls onto the institution. So we have to hold the institution accountable. If not us, then who will?
Many of the ecclesiastical abuses that have come to light seem not only to be the result of human fallibility, but they also seem to occur repeatedly because there is no system of accountability. At every level in the Church, a woman’s voice can be silenced or superseded by the patriarchy. Ultimately, they dictate what we can and cannot do. So what would happen if women were able to hold men accountable? Perhaps they would finally understand that no amount of apologetic allusions to “gender roles” can justify a system that inherently places men in a position of authority over women, or the abuse that inevitably follows.
We don’t have to be the same to be equal. But differences do not justify inferior treatment. Women already are equal to men; it’s time we stopped pretending they’re not. It’s time for the patriarchy to renounce the implications that they are infallible and should not be held accountable or be wrong while they justify sexism under the premise that we can’t all do the same thing. And what does that really mean? That women are not qualified to lead and men are, simply by being male? What are the valid reasons a woman can’t be a leader of men and a man can’t spend more time nurturing children? Why do women’s responsibilities and wisdom need always be subservient to the patriarchy?
I have spent hours digging through archives and scripture trying to find a definition for my feminine worth, only to find even more assurances that it doesn’t exist. How can I reconcile evidence of egregious inequalities in the Church to a “loving Heavenly Father?” And where is my Mother?
For all of its assertions of doctrinal certainty in even the most hurtful and discriminatory of practices, the Church is very selective in the revelations it chooses not to pursue. And the questions that follow in the silence are deafening, with the implication being that there is something wrong with me. Why do I keep noticing these discrepancies when everyone else seems fine with them, they ask? Am I so wrong to want more from my Church? Does struggling with depression equate to lacking faith and being unworthy? How can I be so ungrateful for the blessings afforded by an eternity defined by “assimilation into maleness,” as Carol Lynn Pearson has said so eloquently?
These questions remain. And I think real answers would require admissions of fault and human error. But I’ve realized now that the carefully edited, packaged words of men cannot answer the most important questions of my heart: Who I am, and what I am worth? I still believe the questions that initially drove me to my search are questions that deserve answers, but more than just that, accountability. Not reassurances, but solutions. Above all, they are questions that have a right to be heard—and to be received with compassion.
So I found my answer on the internet in the most unexpected way: the love and acceptance I have felt from those who have never met me yet understand that we are to bear one another’s burdens will endure far longer than the arbitrary words of the patriarchy. It cannot be rewritten to appease critics, changed to cover up faults, or amended to fend off honest questions. Love is borne of Christ; like Him, that love endures. And that is the answer that will remain when all else does not.
Amy West is an aspiring pharmacist and author who lives with her husband and akita puppy. She is passionate about women’s equality, other social issues, and understanding others’ perspectives. Her recreational pursuits include writing, working out, sewing, playing video games, and trying new things.