A long time friend, my sisters-in-law’s best friend actually, wrote the following on her Facebook status as a result of some accusatory and insensitive posts regarding the excommunication of the founder of Ordain Women, the feminist group advocating ordaining women to the priesthood in the Mormon church. As a single mom, she explains why she feels women should get the priesthood and gives the reader(s) perspective on how it feels to be in her position.
The purpose of this post is not to try to convince people that women should or shouldn’t have the priesthood- that is for the Brethren to sort out. This is not intended as criticism of church officials or people whose opinions differ with those of my guest writer. I believe that where a person stands on an issue is ultimately up to them, but that it’s impossible to make the best choice unless both sides have been fairly represented. I hope that by reading this, my reader(s) will better understand my friend and the others in her boat.
Without further adieu and with her permission, I give you Rachel Hoffman:
I believe there is something very wrong when we start celebrating someone’s excommunication from their faith or post things that are mean spirited. Even though I am hardly a devout Mormon, I actually watched General Conference in April and one of the talks that really stuck with me was that of Sister Bonnie Oscarson when she said, “I invite you to not only love each other more but to love each other better.” I think that in the last week, we all may have some room to improve in this area. With that being said, I want to tell you why I feel the way I do about how women are treated in the church. Feel free to disagree but please do so respectfully and thoughtfully.
When someone says that Kate Kelly is leading others away from the church by teaching them false doctrine, I have to wonder why the leadership of the church thinks that I blindly accept anyone else’s view just because they publicly made a statement, advocate for something different or politely asked to be admitted to an all men’s meeting during General Conference. Contrary to what they may think, I actually make thoughtful decisions about my life every day. Many of the friends that I love, promote conservative ideas and statements on Facebook and other social media sites. If you know me at all, you know that I am not what most people would call conservative but more of a liberal. Some might choose to put “bleeding heart” in front of that and I accept that title with pride. I think we can just agree to disagree and that is that. I have yet to find myself running out to join the Tea Party because somebody is advocating for that side. I can almost guarantee that I will be a democrat for the rest of my life. While you may think that I am going to hell in a hand basket for my views, I don’t really think I am going to convert you over to my side either. We can agree to disagree but it is insulting to me as a human being to have an organization seemingly assume that I don’t think for myself. Kate Kelly and Ordain Women did not change the way I think or convince me to “follow them”. I was already someone that just happened to have the same questions and concerns about patriarchy in the church. If anything, they are what made me want to come back to church. I thought that maybe I could finally feel comfortable and that there was a place for me there.
Being a single mother in the church is really, really hard. You kind of don’t fit in anywhere. When I go to the family ward, I feel awkward. When I go to the singles ward, I feel awkward. The last time I was in Relief Society someone said that they were concerned about the children that are growing up in a home without priesthood holders. Well, in my opinion, there is a simple solution to that and I guess I am told that I should bring it up on Sunday in Sunday School because that is the more appropriate forum and tone. I doubt that would be any less awkward than I already feel. Anyway, I sat in Relief Society that day thinking how odd that was. I mean, here I was a single mom raising a son without a priesthood holder in her home. Not only that, I grew up in a home that didn’t have a priesthood holder in my home. My dad is not a member of the church. Do you have any idea what that felt like to me? It felt alienating. The woman that brought this up is kind and had good intentions but I don’t think that she realized how alienating these comments were to me. I know she had a genuine concern for these children but I could not help but wonder if she realized there were probably more single parents and part member families in the room. I mean, I had to wonder what she thought was going to happen to my poor kid.
As a kid and as an adult, I have never been comfortable asking people for priesthood blessings. You know how I mentioned that the family ward and the singles ward now often feel awkward? Well, asking people you don’t know or kind of know or even people I do know to come to my house and give me a blessing or a family member a blessing feels awkward. Maybe it shouldn’t and it is my issue but it is my reality. I recognize that my reality may be different from yours. However, if I was a single dad in the church that held the priesthood, the whole situation would likely be significantly less awkward.
I think that there are a lot of women that don’t feel comfortable discussing their personal and/or sexual transgressions with male only leaders. I think it can be violating for a woman to be asked detailed questions about her sex life by a man and not have other women present in a bishop’s office or disciplinary councils. I think that not having men and women in leadership positions in the church puts women and children at more risk for abuse. There should be a balance and we don’t have that right now. I know that many of the women in the church are totally okay with the way things are and that is okay. I know that there are women in the church that have suffered abuse at the hands of male leaders. I know that there are women that don’t really feel the need to hold the priesthood but do want a more equal voice. I know that there are many women in the church like me that don’t want to feel awkward because they have a different type of family than what is typical. We are actually a diverse group and I think it would be wonderful if we were able to embrace that.
So, while you may agree with the church’s decision to excommunicate Kate Kelly, I hope you make the conscious decision not to “celebrate” this or say that “she deserved it”. Take time to hear both sides of the story and proceed with kindness and let’s try not to judge one another so much. In the end, it really isn’t for any of us to judge anyway. I don’t personally know Kate, but I know that she did what she felt was right for her and she stood up for me and other women that are afraid to stand up for ourselves and often feel awkward. She is our sister and I admire her for being brave enough to stand up for what she believes in whether you think it is right or wrong. It takes personal conviction and character to do what she did. She is a Human Rights attorney and must see injustice in the world that we are probably not accustomed to seeing. Some of you may not think that it matters and maybe it doesn’t but the fact that she is somebody that is not afraid to stand by her own convictions and is willing to advocate for others inside and outside of the church actually speaks volumes to me about her character.
In 2010, I had the opportunity to visit Tibet where I saw Buddhist people praying on the streets while surrounded by soldiers with machine guns. That is where I realized that there is a whole other world out there that faces oppression and hardships. It was humbling to see them continue to practice what they believed while facing such oppression. The thing that most stood out to me was their resiliency and humility. When a woman on our tour set down her camera to do something, she told me not to leave her camera unattended. Our Tibetan guide immediately said, “Don’t worry. We are taught to be kind and honest. Nobody is going to steal your camera.” For us, this was such a foreign concept but I have never forgotten it. We had already made a judgment about the character of the people around us without knowing them or their belief system. The Buddhist people that we essentially accused of being dishonest, continued to smile, be kind to us and pray despite our judgment.
While I hope that I one day see change in the church, I also hope that I can follow the example of these men and women in Tibet and be less judgmental. I hope that we can all love each other better and be kinder to each other. I hope that we can remember that we are all God’s children and that we can learn things from each other. So, let’s stop deciding who is right and who is wrong and move forward. Let those of us that feel sad and hurt heal without having to see posts about how wrong you think we are or how “apostate” you think we are becoming. As a young child in primary, I was taught to be kind to others. Even though I feel awkward at church when I do go, I hope I can always be kind and try to see where you are coming from without being hurtful. We should move forward and listen to each other and love each other better.