Just a Mom Asking Her Church to Stand Up to Gun Violence
I have feelings about calling myself “just a mom,” but there are times when it is the identifier I choose.
Recently, on a long plane ride to a retreat with my husband’s company, I was seated with a couple going on the trip who I hadn’t met before. The woman next to me worked out of a different office than my husband. In introducing myself, I faced the familiar problem of what to say about myself. If I mention that I am a writer and independent scholar, that immediately brings up issues of religion and feminist politics. Not always the ice breaker I want. So I went with something along the lines of, “I’m a stay-at-home mom with four children.” After a brief, polite conversation, we occupied ourselves in companionable silence.
A few hours into the flight, the woman turned to me and asked what I was reading. It was a thick stack of loose pages I had printed from an advanced copy of the Spring 2022 Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought special issue on Heavenly Mother. I was reading and marking it up in preparation for the Dialogue in Review broadcast/podcast. She was intrigued, and this led to a longer conversation about her interest and experience with Roman Catholicism, the philosophy clubs she and her husband host, and my work in Mormon Studies researching 19th and 20th century Mormon women’s history and my participation with Exponent II.
After a while, she stopped me and said, “You should have led with this stuff! You’re not just a mom.”
I understood what she meant. She thought I should lead with the work I’m clearly passionate about, even if I do not get paid for this work. But for me, it’s more complicated than paid versus unpaid work, care work versus work I can easily put on a resume. As a sixth-generation Mormon woman living in Utah, there are people in my neighborhood, community, faith tradition, and extended family who would consider my work divisive. That’s not the vibe I’m going for in casual conversations with an acquaintance, so I like to get a sense of someone’s political and religious affiliation and establish some basic mutual trust before I talk about my research and writing. I consider motherhood to be a relationship, not a role, but sometimes it’s easier to lead a conversation with being a mom.
At other times, like now, there are issues that transcend the divisions within the Mormon continuum. Bigger than any issue I see in the Church or the political party I’m most aligned with. Sometimes, there is something so significant and horrific and heartbreaking that nothing else about who I am or what I do or think matters more than my responsibility to care for and protect my children.
In the wake of the shootings in Buffalo, NY and Uvdale, TX, I am not writing as a feminist intellectual or a partisan voter. I am not writing in regards to my level of belief in truth claims or my current participation in the Church. I am just a mom. I have layers of intersecting privilege, but I am just a mom.
I am just a mom who sat at my six-year-old’s kindergarten graduation yesterday and mentally thought through what I might do if a shooter entered the room. I am a mom who looks around the grocery store, gym, theater, arcade, and baseball game asking myself the same question. I am a mom mourning with the families for whom these questions are not hypotheticals.
I am a mom of four beautiful children. And because I believe there is no such thing as “other people’s children,” I am compelled to seek protection not only for my children but for all of the children who just want to go to school or church or the grocery store in safety and freedom from violence. I likewise want this safety and freedom for their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, teachers, faith leaders, and community members. I want the kind of freedom and safety where we will no longer face the grim reality that it is a matter of when, not if, there will be another mass shooting.
I am just a mom asking the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to use its immense political and financial resources in support of sensible gun reform in the United States.
The Church gets involved in massive political efforts when it believes there is a moral imperative to do so. Most famously in the last fifty years, it has been to fight against the Equal Rights Amendment and marriage equality. They do this in the name of protecting the family. But we do not have to “protect the family” by defending our right to discriminate on the basis of gender and sexual identity. We can do better. We can protect families—all families—by working for sensible gun control legislation and other efforts to reduce gun violence.
The Church knows how to do this. They know how to activate the ward and stake networks for political activism. They know how to encourage members to write, speak out, and vote not as members of the Church, but as concerned citizens. They know how to avoid financial issues in regards to being a tax-exempt religious organization by having members donate directly to other organizations in the political fight. The Church also has lawyers and lobbyists already on the payroll, and they know how to put pressure on LDS legislatures on the issues they care about most. They’ve done this before. They can do it again if they choose to consider the lives and safety of children, families, and vulnerable populations as a moral imperative.
Gun violence impacts everyone in the United States, but it is also a racial justice issue. Gun violence disproportionately impacts communities of color and marginalized populations. In memory of the March 2021 Atlanta shootings, Nicole beautifully wrote about the role of white supremacy, misogyny, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia that undergird so much of the gun violence in the United States, and how we must reject these ideas as our common enemies. President Nelson called on “members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice.” Following BIPOC leaders in the approach for how to seek sensible gun control legislation is one way we can put our money where our mouth is in abandoning prejudice.
As a Church, we know how to use our resources for political purposes in the United States. Let us do so now in a way that strengthens all families.
I am not a lawyer or politician. I don’t have priesthood ordination or a seat on any decision-making council of the Church. I don’t have the kind of money or influence that sways legislation or determines Church priorities. I don’t have a career that provides me with a paycheck.
I’m just a mom who kissed my boys this morning before they walked to school and prayed that it would not be the last time that I do so.
I’m just a mom, and I am asking the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to lead in meaningful action to protect families and root out racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and other common enemies by seeking sensible gun control legislation so that children can go to school and people can grocery shop in safety and freedom.