When the Questions Aren’t There (Thoughts on Tuesday’s Press Conference)
Two Sundays ago, my 3.5 year old daughter had her first day of primary and my 1.5 year old daughter started nursery.
They both loved it. My oldest chattered the whole ride home about her fun teachers and the silly snowman song she’d learned (we apparently have never given “Once There Was a Snowman” enough air time in our house). And except for one small breakdown when my youngest realized I’d left the room, my baby thought that nursery was a blast: from the singing to the slide (am I right that nursery toys so much cooler than they were when I was a toddler?) to the entire box of raisins she got to munch on as her teacher pointed to pictures of smiling kids and explained that all of us are children of God.
Both that Sunday and the one that followed were mostly easy and carefree mornings for my little Mormon girls. What they didn’t know is that our presence at church that first Sunday in January– all together and for all 3 hours of church for the first time in more than half a year—had come as a result of hours of difficult talks in the car over Christmas break, wherein their pragmatic father and ardent mother had tried their darndest to tackle the pressing questions that busy work schedules had made it easy to put off for so long:
Should we start going back to church as a family?
If so, should we start taking the girls to 2nd and 3rd hours? What would that look like exactly?
And if not, what then?
To answer these questions, a lot of other ones had to be taken out and discussed on that long car ride between my parents’ and his while our girls slept in the backseat: questions about temple ordinances and towel duty, about the beauty of a shared spiritual language, about the 2015 policy that still perplexes and pains us, about a history filled with both the inspiring and the disturbing, about how and where we could improve at reaching out and setting boundaries, and about what kinds of experiences and frameworks we want to give our girls.
Whenever my husband and I have these kinds of especially serious, long, and targeted discussions, we seem to take turns being the one ready to step up the effort and the one who is ready to throw in the towel. This time, I was the one on empty. But as we both did our best to listen and validate and articulate what we were feeling, we both finally agreed that, yes, we’d start going to church again.
Two days later, President Monson passed away.
And 12 days later, my husband and I listened closely as the newly instated First Presidency responded to Peggy Fletcher Stack’s question (starts at about 18:10):
“…What will you do in your presidency to bring women, people of color, and international members into decision-making for the church?”
I’ve felt a deep sense of urgency every time I’ve thought back on this question– and others, like the one posed by the AP’s Brady McCombs’—over the past couple of days.
They’re the kinds of difficult questions that my husband and I, thinking of our daughters, felt compelled to carefully examine in the car just two weeks earlier.
And they’re the kinds of questions that I had desperately hoped to find rooted within the consciousness and consideration of the First Presidency—men who will not only be directing the church that many families like mine are struggling to work out a sustainable connection to, but men who, like all of us, cannot possibly petition heaven for an answer to a question that was never planted in their hearts in the first place.
I readily admit that I have never had to answer tough questions in a highly-scrutinized press conference at any time in my life, let alone at the age of 93. I will also say that as many times as I’ve disagreed with them, I love and sustain those men. Their faces are familiar to me, and each of them at different times throughout my life has provided counsel that has strengthened and comforted me. Their words have mattered to me, and as a mom who wants to know whether and/or how to raise two daughters in this church, their words matter especially to me now.
Here is what I know:
- That one day, when my girls ask what it is that they can do and become as daughters of God, that they will deserve better than a pedestalizing response that limits their influence to submissive and supporting roles.
- That when they someday question the lack of representation they see in an institution that matters to them, that they will deserve better than to be dismissively told that labels like gender and race don’t matter by a man who has actively used his power to draw and enforce boundaries around those same categorizations.
- And that one day, when they approach those in power with the kinds of sacred questions that result from wrestling with the implications of a God who sees people of every race, nation, sexual orientation, ability, and gender as having equal and infinite worth, that my daughters will deserve to sense that those same kinds of questions—and the lives they represent—are continually before their leaders, too.
It’s been a long time since I’ve expected perfection from the church or any human—prophet or not—who belongs to it. And I didn’t listen to the press conference the other day expecting this newly formed body to suddenly have polished and progressive answers to these kinds of questions. But if what matters most isn’t where we’ve been but where we are headed, then in a top-down organization like the LDS church, it matters a great deal that the questions troubling so many of its members are being carefully considered by those in command.
And nothing about the reactions or answers I saw and heard during that press conference gave me hope that that is the case.
My husband and I aren’t going to draw any sort of long-term conclusion based on one disappointing press conference. But this Sunday, my family isn’t going to be in an LDS church building—not because we want to make some kind of statement with our non-attendance, but because for the first time in a long time, we’re both on empty. Hauling your heavy questions with you each week to a place that doesn’t know what to do with the kinds of questions you bring gets old. And nothing saddens me more about it all than when I think back on how excited my 3 year old was last week when she woke up knowing that she’d be going back to Primary, and how happy my baby was after sacrament meeting to run out of my arms and into her nursery class.
I want this for them. I want them to experience the fun and quirky and beautiful things that I got to experience as a young girl growing up in the LDS church. But if Mormonism cannot feel and sit with with the kinds of God-given questions that I know my inquisitive girls will find growing within them someday, then they deserve better.