Madwoman Out of the Attic

a feminist trudging forward in a patriarchal world

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Why I Stay


I know a friend of a friend who has been asked to write a Dialogue article on women and the Church and why certain feminists have decided to stick with it, despite the difficulties. She wanted me to send her some of my ideas on the subject, and I figured I would use my blog to get some of my ideas out.

Why I stay: it's a hard question to answer right now, as I am at a low point in church activity. I usually go to Sacrament, but take off afterward due to the lackluster teaching in my ward. I have begun to run out of patience. The black and white statements in talks and lessons are wearing me down.

But despite all of that, I am somewhat committed to remaining at least a partially active member. I can locate a few reasons for this.

1. Mike. I adore Mike, and the Church is hugely important to him. I know it really hurts him and frightens him to think of losing his eternal family by me deciding to not participate in the Church anymore. He married me thinking we'd be an active Mormon family (I thought the same) and I want to do my best to keep that vision somewhat alive for him. I can't give him a total and full embracing of all tenets and teachings of the Church, but I can show up every week for at least Sacrament Meeting and attend some Church functions. And I can try to not be so critical of leaders and things that are said that I find narrow-minded and hurtful (I need to be much better about that - New Years Resolution number one)

2. Mike. He's the best human male I've ever met. Hands down. Kind, ethical, compassionate, thoughtful. And really smart. Sure, there are some things I would change (e.g. his politics and lesser interest in helping animals), but overall he is an incredibly good person. And the LDS Church helped produce him. I can't forget that. Every time I wonder why I stay, I look at him and know that the Church can indeed do very good things for some people and teach some very good principles. It helped fashion a marvelous human being in Mike.

3. While I find a lot of Joseph Smith's actions particularly during the Nauvoo period deeply problematic, I like his radical vision of a new religion. I find compelling his vision for the divine potential of humans, male and female. I like his radical approach to battling poverty through the United Order. I think his ideas about the spiritual and divine potential of women were particularly revolutionary, as when he "turned the key" to the Relief Society and organized them "in the order of the priesthood." I think our present day Church has unfortunately retreated from the liberated vision Joseph Smith had for women and their auxiliaries. I also like to remember that the original endowment ceremony that Joseph Smith created did not have the women's hearken covenant in it.

4. I stay because I now realize I can choose what to believe in. I stay because I now realize that I have the privilege, the right, and the responsibility to embrace those wonderful LDS ideas that empower me and to reject the ones that don't. And this realization - that I can choose what to believe in, that Mormonism is not an all or nothing proposition - has liberated me. By rejecting the ideas that tear me down and hurt me (men presiding in the family, women having to hearken unto husbands, a circumscribed definition of womanhood, polygamy as my eternal future), I am now at liberty to embrace the ideas which I love that are also a part of my faith. It inspires me to no end to know that the Jesus we Mormons believe in is the same Jesus who went out of his way to include and teach the outcasts of society, to break taboos, and to uplift all humans despite race, sex, or class. That is the Jesus I accept and love, and any ideas that have crept into Mormonism that go against that, I roundly reject.

5. I stay because I know that leaders need to be allowed to make mistakes and grow. At this point in my spiritual life, I am on a religious journey that privileges my own conception of God's wishes and my own conscience over the statements of Church Authorities. I now realize that all human beings, including Church leaders, are subject to their own cultural contexts, and that even the wisest, most wonderful leaders can allow unfortunate cultural ideas to creep into their conceptions of the gospel. I am trying to be more compassionate towards these leaders. After all, they are human, and I am human. And I know that I make mistakes too.

5. I stay because of my own fallibility. This realization of my own fallibility has also profoundly affected my relationship with the Church. Just as I need Jesus to forgive me for all the mistakes I make, I know that I need to forgive the institutional Church for the mistakes it makes. It's not easy to do. I am extremely hurt by the ways women are routinely shut out from the general Church hierarchy, by the ways women's voices and ideas are lost or ignored in nearly all Church talks and lessons. But I need to give the Church time to progress. This is the gospel of progression; it is also the Church of progression. And I have reason to hope that it will indeed progress with time. (After all, blacks did eventually get the priesthood.)

6. I also stay because, in order for the Church to progress, it needs people like me to stay. The Church benefits from having all types of people of various ethnic backgrounds, ideologies, and political persuasions. The more types of people it has, the more types of people it can help. Besides, this is my church too. If progressive, liberal people keep leaving the Church, it will be left with a population that grows steadily more conservative and homogeneous in ideology. This would negatively impact its ability to be the inclusive and compassionate church I know it has the potential to be.

7. I stay because I care. Despite all my issues with the current hierarchical structure of the church and certain doctrines I find disturbing, I really do care about it. I have shed countless tears over the problems and unfairness I have perceived in the institutional Church. After all, this is my religion, my heritage, and my identity. My ancestors sacrificed and died for this religion, and I want this to be an institution they would be proud of. I want to be proud of it. I desperately want it to be better than it is, just as I want me to be better than who I am. And if I don't stay, I will no longer have the same types of opportunities to help it progress.

12 Comments:

Blogger Brooke said...

Caroline, it could not be more perfectly said. I fully appreciate and feel very in sync with your comments. And you say it so eloquently!

1/02/2006 10:05 PM  
Blogger NFlanders said...

Very nice comments. I especially like points 4 & 6. Unfortunately, I think the Church tries to encourage the all-or-nothing view.

The more people like you who stay, the stronger the Church is.

1/03/2006 1:38 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Brooke and Ned,
Thanks for the comments. I'm glad my perspective rings with some Mormons, since I know others would be totally horrified :)

Brooke, I've been going to your other blog - I hope you write another post sometime soon:)

1/03/2006 11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read your posting before by linking from the FMH site. I appreciate your thoughts and agree with most everything I've read.

I am curious, where did you find information regarding Joseph Smith's temple ceremony not having the hearkening part in it? When was it changed and by whom?

1/04/2006 11:50 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Anonymous,
I think I most recently heard it at a conference on Mormonism at the Claremont Colleges. Kathleen Flake, an LDS professor of history, was giving an informal job talk and it came out in the discussion afterwards.

Also there's a book called "The Mysteries of Godliness" that details all the changes that have occurred in the temple since its inception. I'm quite positive it would have something in there about it, but I'll have to check.

1/04/2006 7:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the feedback on the book. I relate to your thoughts and appreciate knowing that there are others out there who believe/feel the same way I do. You just put it into words a lot better than I ever could.

Just wait until you have kids involved. You'll add a few more reasons to your list.

Thanks again! Please keep sharing all your wonderful thoughts.

The same anonymous who wrote previously.

1/05/2006 3:09 PM  
Blogger jana said...

caroline:

i want to hear more about your new calling and the "special" RS project. Any news to share?
:)

1/09/2006 1:30 PM  
Blogger Lynnette said...

Thanks for this post; I always find it helpful to read about how others have thought through things and made sense of a decision to stay in the Church despite the difficult aspects. I seem to go through phases where I feel so hurt and angry that I think that I'm going to have to eventually leave . . . and yet somehow I never have, for many of the reasons which you mentioned.

(By the way, I've also very much enjoyed your comments on FMH.)

1/12/2006 1:07 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Hey Jana,
My library calling was rescinded :) and he instead gave me a calling to do compassionate service. That sounds more meaningful to me so I was happy to accept that immediately. I do however hope that the scope of compassionate service isn't limited to arranging casseroles for post-partums. I've never been comfortable intimating in any way that men are somehow incapable of preparing a dinner themselves.

Lynnette,
Thanks for dropping by. I'm glad you found my thoughts on staying interesting. They probably make me sound more together when it comes to church stuff than I actually am. I still have a lot of angst at the patriarchal structure of the church and how males dominate every aspect of our institutional worship.

1/12/2006 5:31 PM  
Blogger Agent Bucky said...

I enjoyed reading your reasons for staying; I tend to relate to your feelings on the church. I agree that there exist uniquely mormon doctrines that are empowering to women, but which some institutional patriarchy tends to undermine.

"At this point in my spiritual life, I am on a religious journey that privileges my own conception of God's wishes and my own conscience over the statements of Church Authorities."

Your beliefs here mesh with mine, and this is a large reason in why I don't attend church. I thank you for staying with it and wish you luck in helping to raise awareness from within.

1/18/2006 4:29 PM  
Blogger Deborah said...

I think you should post a version of this at Exponent II. . .

2/05/2006 11:23 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Deborah,
I've been thinking of doing that... I wasn't sure if it would be too edgy for them.

2/05/2006 6:32 PM  

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