Some Relevant Background

Today I posted a comment on a blog post about Mormon Feminism sincerely asking other Mormon women what they believe are the innate differences between men and women that warrant our different spiritual and ecclesiastical roles. One person responded, “Well if you don’t want to rely on the Family Proclamation…” before delving into the rest of her answer.

Many months ago I posted a comment on my own blog confessing to my difficulty with the parenting role the church assigns to me because of my gender. A friend and reader responded by referring me to a talk by a church authority articulating gender roles in the exact same manner I had just expressed frustration with.

Many years ago I confessed in a college-level church education course that I didn’t understand how God could have asked the early Mormons to practice polygamy. My instructor told me to “pray about it” and that one day I would understand.

Here is some relevant background information you might find handy when engaging with a member of the church who has questions about certain highly controversial aspects of our history, culture, and doctrine.

We want to rely on the teachings of the church. We have consulted our scriptures and read our conference talks and articles. We have prayed, oh Lord we have prayed. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here asking questions. When I have trouble understanding why gender roles in the church are the way they are, the Family Proclamation is not going to solve my lack of understanding. It is the source of my lack of understanding. When I become frustrated trying to conform to my prescribed role, a talk about the importance of motherhood is not going to solve my frustration. It is the source of my frustration. When I express opposition to religious practices that my heart and mine tell me are not from God, prayer is not going to bring me back in line. It is the reason I am falling out of line.

It is insulting to presume that the unorthodox believers, the agitators, the so-called radicals, are starting from a place of opposition to the church. We are starting from a place of faith and love. I know women who went to the temple to find God and came out in a tailspin. I know Sunday School teachers who delved into Mormon history to better serve their wards and came out shocked. I know I turned to scriptures and to the leaders of my church to confirm my divine worth as a daughter of God and came out ripped in half. God might love me, but the institutional church does not.

It is insulting to assume that we do not spend hours on our knees, praying for clarity, for guidance, for strength to become perfect people because then, maybe then, we might see as you do. Praying for absolution when we fail. It is insulting when you pity us for this trial of faith when it is not our faith that is lacking, and the only trial is living in an unjust world. 

We all have more to learn. If you have information about or insight into one of these issues, please share it. I’d especially love it if you explain how the information shapes your perspective or how you came to your view of things. But don’t make the mistake of assuming that just because you don’t have all the same questions, you must have all the right answers.

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7 Responses to Some Relevant Background

  1. Steph says:

    “just because you don’t have all the same questions, you must have all the right answers.” That was very beautifully said.

  2. Hi, you don’t know me at all, I read your post from a link on a friend’s profile. I don’t know if this will help, but I hope you will take it in the spirit it is meant. I’ve been on a quest for knowledge lately, myself and as I struggle to be patient and understand, one of the things I keep coming back to is the choice to follow God or not. Sometimes, I get really caught up in the mortal side of the Gospel, and I just have to step back and say, “Do I love and trust Heavenly Father enough to do what I don’t want to or what I don’t understand?” I find I can endure a lot more, or at least continue on the right course in spite of the questions (which I think you are trying to do) when I keep that as my focus. I guess it’s just a way of reframing things that has been useful for me. And I do trust Him, and that He wants me to be happy, even if His particular route doesn’t make sense.

    That being said, I’ve also thought of something Elder Oaks said in a CES Fireside. (The one on Dating vs. Hanging Out, years ago). He said (paraphrasing), that general authorities teach the general doctrine of the church, and that as individuals, we are responsible to seek how to apply it in our lives. It reminds me of the Joseph Smith statement where he says he teaches doctrine and the people govern themselves. You specifically mentioned your parenting role. Well, I think you are entitled to make a decision with the Lord about how that doctrine applies to you personally. I don’t know what that will be, but whatever it is, you don’t have to justify it to anyone but the Lord, and if he’s okay with it, then you are fine. The doctrine teaches us ideals, but we don’t live in an ideal world, and Heavenly Father knows that. He just wants to help us each to be happy, and if we trust him enough to obey the direction he gives us based on how to apply His teachings in our individual lives, then I think he’ll hold up his end of the bargain.

    Again, I don’t know if any of that helps or even addresses your concerns. I’m pretty simple-minded, and tend to stick with the basics, so I know it’s not the most insightful material. But I wish you the best as you seek knowledge and understanding, and I trust that Heavenly Father wants you to find it and will help you do so. Good luck!

    • Sandy says:

      Thanks so much for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. I share your general approach when it comes to most things I don’t understand. I trust God, so I do the things I know are right and hope everything works out. I also agree with your statement about ideals and individual application in principle. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and have realized maybe the Family Proclamation says what it says about gender roles because that is the ideal family set up that works best for most people and I am one of those that the apostles speak of with “exceptional” circumstance. If that really is the reason for the church’s teachings, I am okay with that. My instinct tells me most families would be okay with men and women working in either the provider or nurturer role or some combination of both, but I don’t need to be right. I know my understanding is limited to my own experience. The problem is that it seems dangerous to think in terms of exceptions. There aren’t often exceptions to God’s commandments. What makes me so special and unique that I don’t have to follow them? Reassuring everybody that there are “exceptions” to certain unpopular rules seems like an invitation to break the rules you don’t like. I don’t want to do that. I want to know if it really is that essential that I am the one to stay home with my kids instead of my husband. If it is, if it is really so important that it’s worth reiterating a dozen times at every General Conference, then maybe I should think about changing my entire life around to follow that guidance. If it’s not a divinely prescribed role, of it’s instead reflective of societal mores, then it’s probably not worth trying to reshape my life and everything I believe. Thank you again for your comment. It definitely gives me something to think about.

  3. Thanks so much for this fantastic post. I’ve linked to it from Facebook (got it from our mutual friend Kara). You’ve articulated what I feel with beauty and eloquence.

  4. Amanda says:

    I keep thinking of maybe emailing Sheri Dew. I recently read another of her works where she talks and talks about why she is OK with men being ordained with the priesthood here on earth (seems to always be the focus nowadays), and then in the context of working with priesthood leaders within the church she gives this tiny little snippit of “I wasn’t OK with the gender roles assigned in the church, but now I am.” That was not a direct quote; I unfortunately don’t have the book on hand. This particular vague reference is in her book, “The Beginning of Better Days.” It is incredibly frustrating to always be cut off from this golden treasure at the end of the rainbow. WHY are you now OK with gender roles defined by the church? HOW EXACTLY did you reach that conclusion?

    I don’t know how she figured out how to be fine with it, but I want to know her process — or anyone’s process who figures it out.

  5. Rebecca says:

    I appreciate your thoughts. I am one who assumes you are coming from a place of opposition, and I apologize for that. I have never had the questions and issues you do. I am okay with gender roles. Sure, maybe because I am in the “ideal” Mormon family. However, men and women ARE different. They are made differently, they think differently; they just are different. A great book to read on that is by Leonard Sax, called “Why Gender Matters” . I read it once I had a boy and girls, and it was enlightening for me to see the truth of his words in my children. It is not an LDS book or anything, just an interesting study on the difference in boys and girls, backed by studies. But I didn’t really start this to say that. In general, men really are more motivated to work to support the family and women (in general) really are more tuned to nurturing the children. Stereotypical, yes. But true. I’m okay with the gender roles, maybe because it works for me and I have never had the questions. And, I confess, there has never been a job I wanted to do badly enough to go do it. I’m happier at home with my kids. I think if you have something else that works for you and your family and you feel good about it, go for it. (Fine, I have only read this post and know absolutely nothing about your situation.) I know that my husband’s mother was not happy at home. His older siblings had a much different childhood than he did because she went back to school and got a job and was working full time by the time he was in school. She was much happier, and the family was much happier. I think your family situation and decision of who does what is between you and your spouse and the Lord. It isn’t my place to judge, although I know at church we do love to do just that.

    I also see it as, if you give women the priesthood (here on earth), what do the men have? Nothing. They have nothing else to offer. Women have replaced them in everything else. Plus, I have zero desire for any more responsibilities. I have enough to do and I do not need anything else. I also don’t feel like I am unequal or treated as less-than because I am a woman. I have never, ever felt that from church. And as a military brat, now married to a military man, I have lived in a LOT of wards…. all in the “mission field”. But even my stint at BYU never made me feel like I wasn’t as good as a man, or as privileged as a man. I’m not sure how you came to feel that way, but I am sorry.

    I can see how it would be really frustrating to be told to reread the Proclamation in response to questions about gender roles. I think that must be the “Gee, I have no idea” answer. I really liked the response above by Elise. I honestly do not understand why you have issues with gender roles or wanting the priesthood, because I am one who assumes it is a lack of faith. I suppose now that I’ve read this, it might be more a lack of sensitivity from others. I guess I do not really have an answer for you, but I appreciate you opening my eyes to a difference of thought in a way I do understand. And I’m sorry for being so lengthy.

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