Where the power and influence are.
This coming November, it will be two years since I purposefully stopped attending church. While I know the way I relate to my faith and church activity seems to have permanently changed, there are still times I feel naked and insecure about the fact that I don’t go to church.
I think this comes in large part from the things I was taught about people who were raised in our faith and don’t go to church. It comes from the way people talk about our church as being the most true thing there is and that anything else is “counterfeit.” It comes from the way my parents actively chose not to go to my brother’s non-temple wedding and knowing the same thing will probably happen to me. Sorting through these feelings is messy and delicate and painful.
Even though I feel confidence and assertiveness in my decision-making, sometimes I still feel vulnerable making these choices. I don’t know if that will ever go away completely. Sometimes it feels like there will always be a small part of me that is the little girl version of myself on the inside feeling shameful that I’m not going to church anymore, even though I understand the reasons why I don’t feel comfortable being active and why it isn’t something I’m able to do anymore. Whatever your reasons are, those are valid. And just so it’s said, there are so many valid reasons not to be active, including simply not wanting to be.
I have thought a lot about the best way to use the resources I have in relation to our church and what things (if any) will bring about certain much-needed changes. I have heard people in our church say that the only way to have any power to make change is to stay active in the church. I have heard people say words to the effect of, “once you’re gone, you’re gone” and imply that once you no longer choose formal activity in our church, your ability to have power or influence is no longer there.
In a specific situation where I heard these types of statements, I immediately responded with assertiveness. I said that for many people, being or not being at church is a matter of safety, emotional well-being, and life and death. These things are not cut and dry, even if we want them to be. Even though I spoke assertively, inside, I felt frustrated and misunderstood and angry.
These were the things I reminded myself of in that moment and afterward (and I will always work so hard to say to myself):
- Your power is not derived wholly or in part from a patriarchal power structure created wholly or in part by men, period.
- You carry your power with you wherever you go.
- It is delicate and powerful and subversive to make decisions from a place of self-knowledge, intuition, and experience.
- Your power comes from your worth as a human being, period.
- Making choices that are congruent with your beliefs, desires, and well-being is powerful and subversive. Heavenly Mother does not want us to make choices that ignore these important parts of our lives.
In the moment and for quite a while after, I kept thinking about what was said and what it means about my own power. As a trauma survivor, having the ability to make choices for myself and exert power in my environment are both necessary for the recovery process and basic safety and comfort in the day-to-day. What I want to say unequivocally is that while our social capital and status within a certain system may change, each of us always has power and influence, period. The idea that our power and influence come from the way we relate to a patriarchal power structure is wrong, and it distracts from the profound power and influence we independently have as human beings. It makes me sad and angry to think that people (especially women) ever feel that anything external to them (e.g., one’s faith, family, or job) is what makes them truly powerful. This is not true.
I recognize that when we make bold choices regarding our activity in and connection to the church that vary from the status quo, some people see and treat us differently, and this can affect our level of social capital within the specific system of the church. This is really painful and difficult and sad. However, as women and people, one of the gifts feminism affords us is the potential (and hopefully the ability) to make choices that are right for our safety, bodies, well-being, and situation. This can be incredibly empowering and powerful (see Mindy Gledhill’s lovely song “Rabbit Hole”). For me, those choices mean stepping away from formal church activity and church/temple attendance and exploring other avenues of faith and spirituality, such as engaging with my faith here through writing.
In a recent blog post, Courtney Kendrick really beautifully talked about how at certain points in her life when she was a practicing Mormon, she envisioned herself as being a person who would make changes in our church from the inside. She compared these efforts to throwing yourself at a brick wall over and over. She talked about how she realized over time that trying to make these changes only bloodied her, and stepping away from the brick wall and not fixing the cracks in it is what would allow the wall to eventually tumble so that something new and better and more effective could be rebuilt. I loved the way she talked about it. I am still actively trying to figure out what my faith situation will be long-term and what the end outcome will be for me. What she said felt right.
I understand how messy and delicate this is. My nieces and others that I love very much are very active in our faith and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Even if I am not able or would like to be active, I care so much about the faith environment they are in. I care about how it affects them, and I care about how it affects others who are still operating in that environment, whether that is by choice, necessity, or another important reason.
I have been reading a collection of essays written Audre Lorde. In “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” she powerfully describes the role of community and celebration of differences among women (Lorde, 2018, p. 18):
“As women, we have been taught to either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean the shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretence that these differences do not exist.”Audre Lorde
What this means is that all of us need each other. We need to be able to talk about our pain and our vulnerabilities. We need to understand and support each other in our differences and in doing what is right and best for us, whatever that is. And we need to remember that our power is not centered from the structure of the church and our relation to it. To suggest our power and influence centers from the structure of the church and our relation to it is an extension of patriarchy. We need to remember we carry our power with us wherever we go. We need to remember that power doesn’t change.