Monday, April 7, 2014

No We Won't Ask

I work hard to be publicly positive. I tend toward depression, and I found I was much happier when I distanced myself from current events news and activism that is just about trying to get my voice heard. I look for ways to do things with more immediate effects, because that makes me happy. Calling for peace in Iraq before the second Gulf War and campaigning for politicians I didn't personally know mostly just made me frustrated, anxious, and sad. But I'm about to join another activist movement, because I'm really sad, today, and I really care.

I believe in ongoing revelation. I believe that the leaders of the LDS church are called by God, and that they most likely seek and receive revelation from God on a daily basis. I've known people who did, like my amazing mission president, Halvor Clegg. He also taught us a lot about how revelation works. You have to ask the right question. You have to stay focused on the question. You have to interpret the answer correctly, so if the question isn't constructed well, the answer might be really ambiguous (if one even comes). You have to be humble and willing to do whatever God asks. Sometimes even Seventies don't get the right answers, so you listen attentively, and then you go do whatever God wants you to do. Maybe it's what the Seventy said, and maybe it's not.

I have resisted posting a profile with Ordain Women. I want women to have the priesthood. I don't see any theological barriers to it, and I think it would make the LDS church better in both predictable and unpredictable ways. But I've been willing to hold back, assuming that our leaders are aware of the complex issues involved with such a social change, and hoping that they really have been praying about it--despite the public silence on the question. They almost never tell us what they pray about, and I'm mostly fine with that. So, giving them the benefit of the doubt, I trust the Lord is directing His church and get on with the little practical service I manage to do and the too many apologetic, speculative, theological blog posts that I obsess about.

This General Conference has broken my internal stalemate. It's going to take me a bit to pull the pictures together and maybe make a video, but I'm going to put up a profile with Ordain Women. The public answer given to the Ordain Women movement appears to be: We will not ask because the answer has already been given--Men are to have the priesthood.

I speak to the air and to my friends and family, because I don't expect this question to be answered, but I plead to my church leaders--Tell us that you are praying about women's ordination. Tell us what you are asking. Tell us that the answers are unclear, or even contradictory among you, and that you are continuing to seek illumination and unity on this troubling subject. Or tell us what you have prayed for and that you have received a decisive, unified answer. Give me a reason to trust you on this issue. I choose to continue to trust you in my life, including ignoring a few pieces of your counsel that don't apply to me or have been hurtful to me or others, but I fear that my children will not. I fear that they will grow up and never experience the joys of Mormonism that I have felt. I fear this immensely.

It may be possible to blame me in this loss. Everything I teach my children will be colored by my feelings of exclusion and marginalization. As I feel that my leaders are not representing people that I love to God, but are only dictating partially understood messages downward toward us, I am unable to speak the same sincere reverence for living prophets I have long felt. As I turn from hurtful teachings about modesty and sexuality toward my own moral authority that has made my life happier and richer, I can't teach my children to rely on the church for correct guidance on these issues. I can't teach them the trust I grew up with and that has enriched my life in so many ways. I have to give them a more complicated truth, and I don't think they are developmentally ready for it. Without that indoctrination while they are young, I'm not sure they will have the patience to stay when they start to care about moral issues where the church is imperfect.

As I feel that God has revealed to humans demonstrable and measurable truths about how equality makes societies happier, more peaceful, and safer for women, yet my leaders reject these measurable truths, I find myself echoing Stirling Talmadge, geologist and son of James E. Talmadge, who said:
Without multiplying instances in support of this contention, I feel justified in claiming that no man, whatever his ecclesiastical position, ever was or ever can be justified in dogmatizing regarding those physical things that are amenable to measurement or scientific investigation; and, if he has made the mistake of so dogmatizing, he has no right to cast an irreligious accusation against the man who, by research and measurement, finds out the facts that show the dogma to be false. Such dogmatism has probably contributed more than any other single factor to the apparent rift between science and religion. But if any system of theology insists on holding to dogmas contrary to demonstrated facts, the scientist who knows the facts cannot accept such a system and be honest with himself. Due to such a cause, many a scientist has found his faith destroyed; but the destruction was brought about by the untruthful dogmas and not by the truths revealed by his scientific measurements.
What was once true of evolution is now becoming true of social issues. We are better at measuring social effects of organizational policies. Putting women in charge in significant numbers makes science better and more creative. It makes businesses more competitive. It makes countries more peaceful. It makes workplaces safer for women. I am unaware of studies reporting any measurable harms that have sometimes been predicted by nay-sayers when women's rights have been advocated. I don't want Mormonism to lose my children, or my children to lose Mormonism. It's already lost my sister and her family--largely over women's rights. I don't want to lose more, because Mormonism is my life. It is all truth. It is the Zion I hope to build. It is the great hope for humanity. It is the loving God who revealed Himself to a boy and who promises to reveal Himself to each of us. I hope I can give my children the faith to hope and wait. But right now I'm sad and afraid.


  1. Amen. I love the church, and take my covenants very seriously But sometimes (more often as of late), I feel like sustaining the church has become more an act of patiently waiting for them to figure things out rather than looking to them for direction. . .

  2. I love you Jonathan! I think you know well our struggles with James and same gender attraction issues - I have no opinion on this matter - because quite frankly, I am still nursing other questions that have shaken my faith to the core. Know that you are loved and missed in high point! Don't know why - but this is Gary in HP NC - not anonymous

  3. Powerful, poignant, and heartrending. I'm seeing so many people that I love and care about having the same sort of reaction. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I appreciate your words, Jonathan. I might disagree with several of your assessments regarding certain doctrine-related topics, but I truly appreciate people who do critically examine their faith narrative. I have learned a lot over my lifetime, especially the past 10 years. I grew from a place where I believed that anything that made me question my faith was evil to understanding and acknowledging the growth that comes from doing just that. As Thomas Jefferson said, we must "question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear." I am a lover and seeker of truth, and I believe that this is a foundational aspect of Mormonism -- even when it sometimes leads down paths that the culture itself contradicts. This weekend's conference, in my opinion, echoed just this: to seek out personal revelation and to find the truth for ourselves.

    I really would encourage you to feel uplifted by these conference talks rather than saddened. I am a woman who is perfectly content with not holding the priesthood keys (because I see how I access them every day). I lack the eloquence to express myself here, but honestly, I see the marriage covenant and husband and wife acting together as one as a 'fullness', if you will, of the priesthood power. Yes, my husband held the keys since he was 12, but just as anything is with life, line upon line, precept upon precept, he has learned and continues to learn how to use them correctly and for the greatest benefit of others. I believe that marriage takes it to the next step, if that makes sense. I cannot quite explain it, but through my own study of the topic and personal revelation, I do not feel excluded, marginalized, or as if I did not play a very important role in the priesthood.

    >>>I do not have the talent of being succinct (I am sorry), so this will continue in the next comment.<<<

  5. >>>continued from above<<<

    While I am content with things how they are, I do recognize that others are not, and they do feel excluded or marginalized. I have learned not to discount any possibilities in the future, and while I do not expect it, I would not be surprised if one day women are granted the priesthood keys. However, such revelation does come at the correct time and through the Lord's mouthpiece. We cannot hurry such things along even if we have received answers ourselves to these questions. Yes, I still struggle with trying to explain why the priesthood was not granted to all worthy men until 1978, but this is where faith, which honestly cannot be explained rationally or scientifically despite all attempts to do so, comes in. Heavenly Father had His reasons. He has His reasons now.

    I do trust that any such revelation that is pertinent to our exaltation will be revealed in its due time, if God deems it necessary. Is it fair for those who struggle with feeling marginalized or persecuted? No. But that is where patience and faith really play a role in defining and examining one's religious narrative. Some of the greatest lessons I have learned in my life were through experiencing my own feelings of marginalization and persecution, within and outside of the church. Honestly, I would not want to change anything that I have experienced and how I experienced it, despite how painful it was. Such experiences truly led me to "question with boldness" and delve into depths and crevices of my soul that I did not even know existed. Those agonies led me to greater faith and knowledge. Yes, the refiner's fire is incredibly agonizing, but the result of going through it is something I would never deny to anyone. Perhaps, just perhaps, not having certain revelations revealed at times we may believe they should be do greater good than harm. Only God knows, but I truly believe that if we want to be happy in this Church and with our own personal progress, we must trust Him that things are going exactly as they must. In the meantime, we have a golden opportunity to help bear one another's burdens, teach and spread knowledge to others, and help lift up those who are struggling as they continue to go through that fire.

    For this reason alone (though there are many others), this weekend's conference can be considered hopeful. I pray that those who are disappointed may see this hope as well, and feel comfort in their souls.

  6. Thank you, Michelle. I hope there are many like you who are open to the questions we may need to ask in the future. It really is the talks that say to me "we already know what's right" without even telling us what questions have been asked that I find hardest to deal with. How can I judge their revelation, if I don't know what questions they asked? By my own personal revelation is the answer I'm left with, and my personal revelation is ambiguous on this subject. So my equation looks something like this: (Dogmatic pronouncements without satisfying rational argument) + (ambiguous personal revelation) + (many reasons revealed to my intellect to promote gender equality) = sadness. I try to look for the uplifting in Conference, but I do it better by reading and skimming. I don't feel any happier at being labeled a sinner or heretic now than when I was for believing in Evolution as a teenager. I will go back and look for the gems, though. "Go search in the depths where it glittering lies, or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies, tis an aim for the noblest desire." The Lord is in charge. I just wish his mouthpieces would talk with us, not to us.