Guest Post: If All Sisters Spoke of the Temple
By Tatiana Scoll
“I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
These are the words of feminist Sarah Grimké (revived by Justice Ginsburg). They were written in 1838, the same year Joseph Smith fled to Missouri and began his first polyandrous marriage. Washings and anointings had already been performed in the Kirtland temple, but the endowment ceremony was still four years away. Feminism would not touch Mormonism for a long time. Once it began to swell in the ranks, Elder Packer would brand the movement an enemy. That was in 1993, when I was seventeen. I didn’t want to become an enemy of the people I loved most, so I did not ask for or expect equality, let alone fight for it, as I would in any other arena of life. By choosing the church over my own sense of fairness, I lost a giant piece of self-respect.
Today the church is looking better: the temple ceremonies are much improved. Will feminists be happy with these changes? Are they a victory for equality in the practice of faith? Yes.
What kind of success is it if a person can’t speak of it? If silence is required to honor what is sacred, then women will never speak of themselves or of their own relationship to Deity. The temple changes are good, but they come with the reinforcement of a huge problem—it’s the same foot on our throats, cutting off air, cutting off words, cutting off connection to one another.
If all sisters could speak freely about the temple, what conversations would we have in our homes, in our meetings, with our friends, with our mothers, with our grandmothers?
Many would celebrate. They would rejoice that a vital covenant can be made directly to God rather than through a husband. They would give praise for all the improvements that result in more equality and, therefore, more dignity for women.
Some sisters would tell you with tears of joy that their prayers have been answered. Some might mourn the long years spent waiting for God to help His daughters in need.
Some sisters might say they always thought that wearing a veil was beautiful. Some might say it was strange, because no one ever explained it. Some of us would weep, remembering the humiliation we felt when hidden behind it.
Some sisters would express worry. Are they bound to the old covenant or to the new one? How do they reconcile past decisions to follow a husband’s leadership at the expense of their own judgment?
Some women would admit their surprise. Why did this happen? Maybe they didn’t notice a problem before, never heard their sisters complain, never saw the agony of those who felt inferior in the kingdom of God, never knew how some cried alone, always alone, because this thing was not to be shared.
Some might tell you they are puzzled. How are such revisions possible? If ordinances are this changeable, how reliable are they? And if something so foundational can be altered, are women more justified in hoping for the priesthood?
If sisters could speak openly of the temple, they might ask what today’s ceremonies teach about gender and marriage. They might ask if this proves that previous objections to the ordinances were righteous after all. They might ask if it’s okay to stand for equality now. Is it finally acceptable to be a feminist?
A feminist might ask why there was no apology to accompany these changes, or even an explanation. A feminist might say it’s like an Emancipation Proclamation, but without the proclamation—it’s hugely important to women, and yet, to leaders, it’s not worth mentioning. A feminist might say the absence of communication feels like expert gaslighting, like an insistence that there was no prior issue. A feminist might notice that the polygamy change got a manifesto and the 1978 priesthood change got worldwide news coverage, but when women significantly shift toward equality in their covenant tie to God, it can’t even be verbalized. In fact, there are multiple reminders—online from the Mormon newsroom and in the temple from the First Presidency—insisting that the changes should not be discussed. Some would tell you that the silence feels like a kick in the face.
If sisters could speak freely, a few might remind you that in 2014, the church showed the world our garments and temple clothing, something we all covenanted to keep private. Clearly, when there is a need, leaders see fit to talk openly about even the most sacred, previously unmentionable things. There is a need again.
If all sisters could speak of the temple, you would hear heaps of profound grief. You would hear it not just from women abused by husbands who were empowered with a superiority they learned in the temple, but also from those who suffered in marriages that were unequal in any way. In fact, you would hear it from all of us who were taught to see our eternal, divine selves as dependent. We all suffered from sexist teachings, sexist ceremonies, and the required silence surrounding them.
I know what I would say to the brethren. With your feet lifting off our necks a little, we are gasping for air. Women need to speak, to remind one another that they matter, that fairness and equality are just and good, and that self-respect has always been worth fighting for. If all sisters spoke of the temple, old wounds could heal. Our relationships with our sisters, mothers, daughters, husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons could increase in understanding and love. There is no other way but to speak.