One of the most shocking realizations I had as I began to explore feminism was the discovery of the use of the magic word.
I tend to find that the first few weeks of really understanding one’s stance on the subject of feminism is accompanied with sadness, frustration, and the curse of either uncomfortable silence or even less comfortable speaking. The power of speaking though, is that you get it out; you do the brave thing. And I really do believe that people need to hear new ideas. I really honestly believe that the world would be a better place if the truth were spoken…even if it’s just a little 20 year old BYU student in a tiny apartment.
Then one day my Relief Society President cornered me between Gospel Doctrine and Relief society. Apparently my comments, questions and concerns had gotten around, and she wished to address them. Mostly she just listened, and since she seemed a rational human being, I hashed out my concerns.
The next three weeks were some of the biggest shockers of my life. Now, let me give you some background on myself first. I am, in essence, the model Mormon. Beehive, Miamaid, Laurel President. I wear my medallion, my gospel in action award. My father has been a bishop and branch president several times. He holds a rather high government position. My beautiful mother is a perfect housewife, elementary education major in college (BYU). Both parents met at BYU, married by 21. We are a no-cussing, FHE holding, Christmas-card looking family. I come from a line of Mormons going back to Hyrum Smith, and a line of housewives….going back to like…Moses. lol.
My Mormonism was of the “embraces all truths” variety. My father, surprisingly liberal in his approaches to doctrines. My mother, conservative. Somehow, having both parents raise me, left me with a conservative outer core, and a liberal, open-minded inner core. But, I thought that’s how everyone was. This WAS Mormonism. Balance, zen, the searching for truth and revelation.
Which is why it was such a shock to discover that my Relief Society President had informed my Visiting Teacher that I was reading “anti-mormon-literature” ( what ELSE would have filled me with such irrational concerns?)….who then informed my roommates that I was reading “anti-mormon-literature” who then informed me that I was reading “anti-mormon-literature”. And that’s when I knew things were insane.
Now, I had been reading the Bible? The Woman’s Exponent ( the original), and the Juvenile Instructor (the original)? Maybe they were counting my recent readings of Sue Monk Kidd? Maybe they were counting feministmormonhousewives? The Book of Mormon? As I stare at my shelf I’m starting to wonder if they were suspicious of “The Tao of Pooh”.
Not being exactly sure what to do, I went down to my visiting teacher, sweetly informed her that she must have confused me with someone else, since I am NOT reading anti-mormon-literature (an explanation she seemed, at least outwardly, to accept) though I did work with official church archives and publications at work, which might have caused the confusion. The matter never reared it’s ugly head again…at least not so far…though I still have the hardest time smiling at my RS president nowadays. And there was the brief awkward moment during my ecclesiastical endorsement when the first councilor in the bishopric leaned forward and said “I understand you have been reading some…difficult…things a work”, and I informed him that I wasn’t working there anymore (cause I wasn’t…I was taking a break to work on my cohort teaching) which seemed to calm his fears and the rest of the interview went down without a hitch.
The more I think about it, “anti-mormon-literature” is something more of a magic word. I once tried to explain my concerns to someone in this way. “People always say that ‘So-and-so was a strong, vibrant member of the church…until (dun dun dun) they started reading some ANTI-MORMON-LITERATURE, and then they left. It is like there is some magical book entitled “Anti-mormon-literature” which, upon being opened, sucks out the immortal soul of the reader.
But here is my take on the subject- there is no soul sucking book (*hands in the air* Though…I mean…I could be wrong.). There are only concepts and thought processes which people come across. And they do not leave because they are possessed with demons, but probably because of the irrational reactions they receive from others, or the way that these concepts are addressed by current official doctrine, and since many regard the gospel as an all or nothing approach…or they just can’t take the overwhelming condemnation and persecution of their selfs or beliefs…they leave. This is not to say that ,sometimes, these thought processes are not completely irrational (No! Murdering is part of God’s eternal plan! Adultery is ok, as long as it makes me feel better. Babies taste best with a little A1 sauce! I am the spawn of aliens and Oscar the Grouch….) but it is these thought processes…and not “anti-mormon-lit” ( whatever THAT is) that caused these people to leave…and I’m going to make the case that, most of the time, their thought processes are not irrational. The better response to when people leave the church would probably be like” So-and-So was interested in the Church’s position on __________. So-and-so found that The Church disagreed with what they believed was right and-after the ward members repeatedly minimized the concerns/they were no longer able to continue behaving in accordance with their belief without excommunication/ Sister What’s-Her-Name became intolerable/the could no longer morally justify the official stance/ they were withering under the persecution- they left the church.
I mean, if Anti-Mormon-Literature is defined as anything that draws up concerns within the church members about a current policy, then was “The Origin of Species” anti-mormon? The “feminine mystique?” The “I have a dream” speech? Were Lehi’s calls to repentance anti-gospel as revealed at his time ( the dude was, after all, not a Levite. If Yaweh wanted to correct his people, why didn’t he go through them, since they were already the religious leaders?) Was Abinadai’s speech anti-gospel as revealed at his time ( since he went up against the official institutionalized policies of his organization) Why didn’t God just tell the preists?.
Just because a thing makes you rethink your current position doesn’t make it anti-you. I mean, raise your hand if you think the first vision was Anti-Joseph Smith?
One of the best examples I can think of this flawed way of thinking is the story of Jonah. Jonah, told by Yaweh to go preach to the Ninivites, thought that preaching the Gospel was, in essence “Anti-Ninivite” and spent days waiting for God to destroy them after he preached. But God knew better. Preaching new truths, and offering new enlightenments and understandings to the people is actually quite Pro-Ninivite.
Even reading things you don’t agree with helps you grow, because you recognize WHY you don’t, which strengthens you.
This was news to me when, one day, I asked the 100 hour board (BYU) if it would be OK if I didn’t make my children go to YW if the curriculum was still sexist. One of the posters seemed honestly sympathetic to my plight and wrote that, while, yes, there is some “funny” stuff in there, you cannot spend your life protecting your children from opinions that you disagree with. You can use these times to teach them critical thinking skills and deeper, clearer understandings. Those are valuable lessons, even if the “lessons” themselves have questionable value.
You see, I tend to follow, what I like to call the “Can’t kick downstairs” policy.
There is a famous quote, often quoted by more conservative members, in which Brigham Young states “Every time you kick ‘Mormonism‘ you kick it upstairs; you never kick it downstairs. The Lord almighty so orders it.” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 351).
Many use this to prove that any time the church gets in trouble, it will only strengthen their current stance. I see things a little differently. Every time the church is put under a microscope, it only offers the chance for improvement. If there is a legitimate problem ( say, the ceremonial subjugation of women, or religiously backed racism), then we only grow if we approach this with humility. It is through extreme critique that the church was pressured into hours and hours of intense fasting and prayer from it’s leaders to allow black men to have the priesthood. No other methods worked. It was only through extreme pressure that the church was forced to give up polygamy ( which was beginning to become abusive and a little creepy. It would disturb many members to know how much of Mormon polygamy in many areas was a lot more like a Warren Jeffs ranch than the wealthier, more educated polygamists in Salt Lake City…I being a descendant of many of those wealthier polygamists, whose marriages I actually rather respect. I can go on about the benfits of polygamy, but they do not overwrite the problems). God loves all his children, and will use various methods to correct them, if they are humble. A friend of mine tried to explain to me one day how it was good that the Church opposed the Equal Rights Amendment and the Civil Rights Acts ( and I will admit that the ERA had it’s own problems) because it may have eventually forced the church to give blacks or women the preisthood (which apparently, they couldn’t do). My response- “Oh heaven forbid! We get in trouble for our oppressive behavior!”..and I don’t honestly beleive that the ERA or the Civil Rights Act would have had such an effect anyway…besides maybe making people be more disgusted with us.
As far as I have seen, the times that the church has been under fair, logical, and morally based censure (see, I’m not a big fan of the Missouri 1800’s mobocracy, led by political fear mongers, racists, sexists, and evangelical extremists) then, we have tended to be humbled, and from that humility, come out on top.
It would be the biggest compliment ever if i could say that you can’t kick jddaughter downstairs. I would like to be that humble and open to correction from God, and his other rational children. I seek improvement to make me more tolerant ( I am not, naturally), loving (another struggle) and a better teacher (nothing is tougher than correction from instructors…I tend to think I’m awesome…natural woman tendency). But every person’s journey and growth is different.
One of the great benefits of being raised by both a moderately liberal parent and another highly conservative parent is I get to see the benefits of each side. I know that I can grow in both directions, and I welcome it.
So, everyone. Let’s go learn something new! Time to read some pro-Mormon literature….like the Ramayana and something by Stephen Hawking!