How do you feel about that?

Dante et Béatrice by Odilon Redon

A while back, with the feedback of Exponent readers, I completed a detailed analysis of church policy and its effects on women and submitted it to my Stake President, who had agreed to pass it on to General Authorities of the LDS church.

Months later, my stake president met with me and told me that a member of the Presidency of the Seventy (He didn’t tell me his name or which Quorum of the Seventy he belonged to) said that they had shared the report in their “quorums” (Which quorums? Unknown) and told him to tell me that they appreciated all the work and thought I had put into it. My stake president felt that Mystery General Authority actually did appreciate my effort, was complimentary about the report’s quality and not at all defensive about its content. According to Mystery General Authority, they were already working on some of the policy changes I had suggested and after reading my report, were now considering some of the other suggestions that I had made that they had not thought of before (Which suggestions? I dunno).

That General Authority’s anonymous response had been vague, kind, noncommittal and nonthreatening. It wasn’t a good response, nor was it a bad one.

But when I told fellow Exponent blogger EmilyCC about what he said, her response was perfect. “April,” she said. “How do you feel about that?”

Well, I felt frustrated.  This cleverly crafted response precluded any follow-up on my part as an advocate, and any accountability on the part of priesthood leaders. Even as priesthood leaders promised change, they upheld patriarchy by excluding me. But I was also relieved.  Previous interactions with my stake president had been hostile and threatening, and I was glad that Mystery GA had modeled a more calm reaction and pointed out that my work had value.

It was something of a relief to me that before breaking out into either congratulations or condolences, my friend gave me space to explore how I felt about my news.

Since that time, I have noticed that “How do you feel about that?” is a kind and empathetic response to all kinds of ambiguously good or bad news:

“I’m quitting my job.”

“I’m moving.”

“My in-laws are moving in.”

“I’m pregnant.”

“I’m not pregnant.”

I wish I had thought to ask, “How do you feel about that?” when I heard the (joyful?) (devastating?) news that a friend had given birth to a child with Down’s syndrome. ( I wrote about my actual, more awkward attempt at congratulating her here.) With the help of this simple question, I feel better equipped to express empathy for my friends and family as they experience their life journeys, without imposing my own opinion about how they should feel.

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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8 Responses

  1. Brittany says:

    April, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. As I have become a member of the Exponent community, so many topics have come up that I wish to communicate with general authorities about without knowing how. Thank you for writing more about your process and the various reactions involved. I also appreciate your insight into showing empathy to other women (and men) when receiving news. I feel encouraged knowing that so many of the issues I care about are receiving attention from church leadership. Please let me know what I can do to help you in your efforts!

  2. Not your main point, but still perhaps relevant:

    If your stake president’s terminology was accurate, then your report was given to one of seven men: There are seven presidents of the Seventy (co-equal, and without counselors), who are members of the 1st or 2nd Quorums — they preside over all the Quorums of Seventy; the quorums don’t have individual presidencies. The First and Second Quorums are “general authority Seventies” with responsibility for the entire Church, while the others are “area authority Seventies” whose responsibilities are limited to the Areas to which they are assigned.

    So your “mystery man” is one of the seven presidents, and it’s likely that the quorums who reviewed it are the First and Second (or parts of those quorums, at least). Perhaps the area authority seventies responsible for this region of the world might also have been included because it’s an issue that arose here, but I think it’s unlikely that area authorities for other regions would have been included at any early stage.

    You can see the Seven Presidents here.

  3. Jill says:

    Great work, April!

    One thought on the veil issue. My mom asked me when I expressed doubt about covering my face that helped me immensely, “Well which side of the veil do you think you’re on during that prayer? You’re in the Lord’s presence—you’re symbolically on the other side.” I loved that thought. It’s basically the only way to get me through the ceremony.

    I’ve felt sad my whole life that my very close friends and other family members weren’t at my sealing because they weren’t old enough or endowed yet. It wasn’t how I imagined my wedding day; dressed in Masonic robes covering my beautiful (modest) dress (not even my own veil used!) without mutual commitment to each other. No words to each other of love, commitment, respect, kindness…

    I wish tithing could be on the table. I absolutely love giving to someone in need. It’s disheartening to think I’ve given basically an entire home of tithing. I haven’t paid off my mortgage yet, but I’ve paid off the same price of a home in tithing money.
    I always thought a large portion was going to help those in need; it was a major theme of the relief society originally. Instead, I’ve helped support and fund temples, not someone who really needs my money. I’ve let the church invest my money instead of me—there’s nothing left over once a gross tithe is paid (which is what I feel they want me to believe). I want to be generous to my own children, and give them good memories too. I can’t. I have to pay full tithing to be worthy to go to the temple where I can feel…so confused.

  4. Andrew says:

    It would certainly be interesting to know what they thought was worth considering, and maybe incorporating into policy.

    Of course what you see as policy, in some case in your document, others will see as doctrine, or at least based on an underlying doctrine.

    Some of the policy changes would be difficult to implement worldwide, and some many in the church might wonder why they are there – since, as I have often said here, some of what you are asking for happens out in the rest of the world.

    But much of it would be great to have solid policies on.

  5. Your final point (I’m passing over the rest, I have mixed feelings of sympathy and a bridge too far), how useful it is to ask “How do you feel about that?” really hit me. I have a friend whose husband recently died, a friend with recently diagnosed breast cancer, and I myself am facing surgery for a cancerous tumor. How do we each feel? Great thought!

  6. c7oscuro says:

    Perfect words to help empathize with friends and foes alike. Why are we often so hesitant to ask? Why do we think we are supposed to intuit these things?

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