I didn’t ask the woman at the door of the tabernacle if I could come to the priesthood session. Elder Oaks had already answered my question, although he had not directed his answer to me. I strained to hear him talking to the men about me, a female member of Christ’s church who wanted to serve God as a priesthood holder. I listened through a cell phone as I waited outside in the rain, where I had been waiting in a line labeled “Standby” for nearly two hours.
It wasn’t a real standby line, even though it was labeled as such. Where I stood, behind hundreds of women hoping against hope to be admitted to the priesthood session, I saw men who entered the line behind me redirected to the real, unlabeled standby line. A man with a Temple Square name badge was saying, “This is not the priesthood standby line, I’ll tell you that.”
There wasn’t much point to asking the woman at the end of the fake standby line if she would let me in to the priesthood session after she had already refused hundreds of other women. Instead, I asked her about Church PR. I wanted to know why the church PR department had ignored our many written requests for meetings with general authorities but responded to our request for tickets to the priesthood session with an open letter, addressed to me and three other women, with our names across the top, that was published in the Deseret News before I even received it. I wanted to know why that open letter made false claims that Ordain Women had said things that none of us had ever said.
I guess what I really wanted to know was why the church had rejected my offering. I asked to speak with my church leaders. I asked that my questions be taken to God by His prophets. I asked for the opportunity to serve my God and my church in expanded ways. With the exception of this one woman, who had patiently received us at the end of that line, most of what I received was cutthroat PR tactics that treated me as an enemy.
I suppose that Elder Oaks answered my questions, explaining that a woman is just an “appendage“ to the priesthood. But he wasn’t speaking to me. He was speaking to other men at a session I wasn’t allowed to attend.
It wasn’t the first time the leaders of our church had talked about me and my female peers at the priesthood session. When I was 21 years-old, I was two months into my mission when President Hinckley, the very person who had signed my mission call and sent me to the far-away land where I was serving, gave a talk about sister missionaries during the priesthood session of General Conference. The first thing one of the male missionaries said to me after returning from the priesthood session was, “Boy, President Hinckley sure doesn’t like sister missionaries!” When I read it, I learned that the offering that I was making right then, serving my God and my church as a missionary, had been rejected by the prophet, who would have preferred that women like me stay home. Acknowledging that an all-male session was an odd place to talk about sister missionaries, Hinckley added,
“Now, that may appear to be something of a strange thing to say in priesthood meeting. I say it here because I do not know where else to say it. The bishops and stake presidents of the Church have now heard it. And they must be the ones who make the judgment in this matter.”
And so, that idealistic, excited 21-year-old missionary version of myself died a little that day. It was one of the first times I realized that men, attending male-only sessions and serving in male-only callings, would make judgments in matters of how I should serve my God in my church without my input.
Yet, I served with all my heart, might, mind and strength. I led people to God. I tolerated leadership from teenage boys who were younger, less mature and often less knowledgeable than I was, but eligible for leadership positions that I was excluded from. I worried about mission goals to seek out male converts instead of female. My mission president explained that the church needed priesthood holders—men—to administer the church. Women weren’t needed.
Today, I mourn for the idealistic young missionary I used to be. I miss her. I remember her desire to serve. I remember her faith and love for the gospel.
I also mourn for the 12-year-old girl I used to be. I endured a Sunday School class that went through eight different Sunday School teachers in one year because none of them could tolerate the gang of young, male, priesthood-bearing bullies who spent each Sunday School hour shooting spit wads, knocking over chairs, and tormenting the girls and the teachers in the class. Unlike my teachers, it never occurred to me to quit that class. I came every week, bracing myself for the boys’ torture but still eager to hear God’s words at my church. My 12-year-old self loved the church too much to let bullies keep me away.
And I mourn for the 8-year-old girl I used to be. I set a goal to read a dozen volumes of Bible stories in preparation for my baptism and memorized tales of my scripture heroes. I remember my joy as I stepped into the baptismal font, my resolve to keep my covenants. I remember my father smiling and waiting in the water to baptize me. I don’t remember what my mother was doing at that moment.
What is left of these younger versions of myself has been tainted, if not lost. I feel like these qualities in me were
intentionally quenched by my faith community. My church has rejected my offerings again and again, refusing my service because I am a woman.
I wonder how I will continue to protect my faith while I endure yet another rejection. Today, I read new falsehoods written by the Church PR Department about our efforts at Temple Square yesterday and news stories from church-owned media outlets that underestimate our numbers by less than half. I struggle to reconcile the fact that the church that taught me honesty and kindness does not employ these virtues toward me and other women like me.
I worry about younger girls who remind me of myself. What if they, like me, can never honestly say, “I don’t want the responsibility of the priesthood”? How will they avoid the censure of their Mormon peers, their church leaders and the PR professionals the church hires? Will they grow up like me, never able to understand how a desire to avoid responsibility in God’s work is a virtue? Will they be satisfied as “appendages to the priesthood”? Will their offerings be rejected? Will their faith and idealism and excitement for the gospel dwindle?
I hope not, but sometimes it is so hard to hope.