It’s The Hope That Kills You. Alternate title: Rebirth.
It’s a catch-phrase I learned from the heartwarming show Ted Lasso that feels a little too on-the-nose. They say it about soccer; I feel it about this church.
I’ve written extensively about hope; I consider it to be the defining characteristic of a Mormon Feminist. Plenty of people write the church off when they find it to be replete with imperfections; the Mormon feminists put their shoulders to the wheel. With grit, they work and speak and reign in patriarchy like a cosmic game of whack-a-mole. Except in this case, the moles are bigger than you and everyone around you pretends they don’t exist. It almost invariably grinds us down and in the end, few of us stay.
When I became a Mormon Feminist, I was sure that the vestiges of Patriarchy that I couldn’t unsee were actually invisible to everyone else, as they had been for me until they suddenly weren’t. I thought we would change. I didn’t know that there were decades of faithful feminists before me; that Mormon Feminism is nearly as old as Mormonism. I didn’t know how hard it was to move a mountain.
Misogyny was the first systemic injustice that I saw; the first glimpse of a God that did match the theology of my childhood faith. Heteronormativity was the second. Racism was the third. But injustice begets injustice; systems of hierarchy bleed into evolving manifestations of oppression. All of them were here all along. Sometimes people say the quiet part out loud, but the church’s commitment to a white, heteropatriarchal vision of goodness was baked into the vision very early on. Shifting our people to the hope of Zion, which is incompatible with even a gentle white heteropatriarchy, is more weight than our collective and increasingly intersectional backs can lift.
These past few years have been brutal on morale. It is in this unbelievable cross section of time and space where I have felt the last drops of optimism I held for my home faith drip away. When Stephen Colbert was interviewed about his own religious views, he said “The church is a flawed and human institution, for whom I always have hope”.
Finding Mormon Feminism was like coming alive. But there was so much I didn’t know. My naivety was a gift.
What am I to do when the hope is gone? Is this what it means, for the hope to kill you? That you keep sitting in the stands or playing on the field until either victory or inevitable defeat break your heart?
Young Mormon feminists do amazing work. Carried by optimism and with a shield of ignorance they are protected from the death strokes that came before. They are manifesting a better future. Build a better church, friends. Build a better Mormon Feminism too. Make it a goodly tradition. Speak up, write out, construct a theodicy that is better, more expansive, inclusive, inspiring. Dream up a better existence.
The difference between a Progressive-Mormon and a Post-Mormon isn’t testimony; it’s hope. Imperfection is not the enemy of the church; it is moral stagnation without repentance or improvement that slowly poisons living water. People do not need perfection. They need love and safety and goodness. We need reason to believe in a beautiful future, or at the very least a better one. When the bet changes, people go.
President Hinckley told us that Mormon should mean “more good”. I wish that was (still?) true. Finding out that I could find more good elsewhere was, once again, like coming alive. Like breathing fresh air after a lifetime underground. A rebirth from bitter ashes.