The Spirit of Fear
“Wow, that scares me to death but please connect me,” I replied when I was invited to connect with a new group that would “unapologetically advocate for women’s ordination in the Mormon church.” That group became Ordain Women.
Openly advocating for women’s ordination breaks a taboo that has been prevalent even among Mormon feminists. My first, reflexive feeling about it was fear of censure and discipline. Almost immediately thereafter, a scripture came to my mind:
“God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Why do I fear the people I love? Why do I fear the church I love? Why do I feel powerless to speak my truth? God didn’t give me the spirit of fear. God didn’t make me powerless. God gave me power and love and a sound mind.
When I look at this issue with a sound mind instead of fear, it makes perfect sense to address the root of gender inequality in the church. As long as women are only auxiliary to the priesthood, inequitable policies, practices and norms will persist. I can continue addressing each of these small and great inequities one by one, but why shouldn’t I say what I mean and ask directly for what I believe is right? I believe women and men should be treated as equals and given equal opportunities, not that the church should discriminate slightly less against women. By actually saying what I mean and asking for what I believe to be right, I am using the spirit of power, love and sound mind that God has given me.
At a recent business conference, I saw a playful video replicating the Solomon Asch Experiment. Students in a classroom were asked a simple question. All but one of the students were actors who gave the same, incorrect answer. The only remaining student repeated the wrong answer although it was apparent that she didn’t believe it was right. This pattern repeated itself again and again. A few brave souls did reply correctly, but their faces blushed with shame when they said the obvious truth.
Then the researchers changed the experiment. One actor in the room—just one—said “I see this differently” and gave the correct answer. All of the other actors continued to say the same wrong answer as before. Yet, when her turn came, that final student confidently said what she knew to be right. She spoke the truth.
At this point I started to cry. At work. With all my colleagues surrounding me, laughing at this silly video.
I was imagining myself surrounded by people reciting the most beloved Mormon platitudes about women and the priesthood:
- “Men and women are equal in the church.”
- “Men and women have separate but equal roles.”
- “All of the blessings of the priesthood are available to women.”
- “Women don’t need the priesthood because they have influence/motherhood/spiritual superiority/husbands.”
- “Women lead their own organization.”
- “Women have as much say as men in the councils of the church.”
- “It doesn’t matter who holds the umbrella.”
- “Women don’t want priesthood authority.”
These platitudes would be reassuring if they weren’t so obviously untrue.
It is time for me to honor the sound mind God has given me. It is time to think straight about women and the priesthood instead of reciting soothing falsehoods. I am ready to speak the truth as I see it. On October 5, I will be among women attending Priesthood Session of General Conference, presenting ourselves to church leadership as prospective Elders.
My presence at Priesthood Session will be my way of saying, “I see this differently. I see that women are not equal to men in the church. I see that we lack the blessings of priesthood service. I see that our contributions are limited by our auxiliary status. I see that when only men hold the umbrella, women are overlooked and misunderstood. I know that many women want priesthood authority. I am one of them.”
Making such a bold statement in person, instead of within the safe, semi-anonymous void of the Internet, is scary for me. But God didn’t give me the spirit of fear.
Women will come to Priesthood Session in the spirit of power and love that God has given us. We will not protest. If admitted, we will reverently enjoy the session. If barred, we will peacefully leave. I hope great masses of women join me there, but even if I am one of only a few, I pray that I can make as much impact as that solitary person who paved the way for others to speak the truth by saying, “I see this differently.”