My Journey To Mormon Feminism: Living Up To Our Doctrine

Two weeks ago I wrote about the events and emotions that lead to the beginning of my journey to Mormon feminism. I wrote in response to a dear friend's questions. The second part of her question was what Mormon feminism means and why I think it is necessary. As I have pondered this question I have struggled with what to say and how to say it. In his BYU Education Week address today on the gospel and social media, Elder Bednar reminded members to make sure their online communication met certain criteria. Two of the items on his list were authentic and uplifting. I sincerely pray that I may be both of those things.

The most basic definition of feminism is that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. A simple statement, but one layered with complex social and historical context. As an LDS woman, I believe our core doctrine teaches that men and women are equal in worth and potential in the sight of our Heavenly Parents. However, throughout human history and among the faithful, there has also been inequality. I also believe that the current official polices and procedures of the church along with cultural traditions could improve to live up to the lofty doctrine we claim.

Scriptures, both ancient and modern teach the equality of men and women. In the beginning God created both men and women in his own image. We are all his children. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi taught that God considers all his children precious, all of equal worth in his sight:  "... he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile." 

Many of our modern leaders have taught that women and men are equal in the sight of God. I am sure many volumes could be written about the empowering and affirming messages from our leaders. I have included below a few examples.  

Elder John A. Widtsoe
“The place of woman in the Church is to walk beside the man, not in front of him nor behind him. In the Church there is full equality between man and woman. The gospel, which is the only concern of the Church, was devised by the Lord for men and women alike” (Improvement Era, Mar. 1942, p. 161).President

President Spencer W Kimball
"The scriptures and the prophets have taught us clearly that God, who is perfect in his attribute of justice, “is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). We know also that God is perfect in his love for each and all of us as his spirit children. When we know these truths, my sisters and associates in this divine cause, it should help us greatly as we all experience much less than perfect love and perfect justice in the world. If, in the short term, we are sometimes dealt with insensitively and thoughtlessly by others, by imperfect men and women, it may still cause us pain, but such pain and disappointment are not the whole of life. The ways of the world will not prevail, for the ways of God will triumph. We had full equality as his spirit children. We have equality as recipients of God’s perfected love for each of us."

Gordon B Hinckley
"First let me say to you sisters that you do not hold a second place in our Father’s plan for the eternal happiness and well-being of His children. You are an absolutely essential part of that plan."

What beautiful reassurances.

What does Mormon Feminism mean to me? I have a testimony that Father in Heaven and our Savior love, honor, and respect women. I believe they want each of their children, men and women to live up to their full potential. That potential is, for both men and women to become justified, sanctified and glorified, to dwell with God and become like him. I believe that here on earth they want each of us to have full access to the blessings of the restored gospel and to live in a manner consistent with equality. When I say equality, I do not mean that men and women must be the same. Quite the contrary, I believe that "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." (The Family: A Proclamation to the World)

Why do I think it is necessary to label myself a Mormon Feminist? I also believe there have been messages throughout the years that do not live up to these ideals. My purpose in the next few blog posts will be to detail those issues that are most meaningful to me. Before I start, I would like to add a disclaimer. I am at the beginning of a journey, one that I expect to continue for a long time. These are my thoughts today and they may be imperfect, uninformed, and still developing. I do not speak for all feminists; each has issues they consider important.

In a BYU Devotional address, titled "Women of Righteousness," Elder Ballard shared a portion of a letter sent to Church headquarters. This letter reflects the fear and doubt that many LDS women have. They sense, through countless acts and words, that in the eyes of the church their only worthwhile contribution is as a wife or mother.

"I have a wonderful husband and children, whom I love deeply. I love the Lord and His Church more than I can say. I know the Church is true! I realize I shouldn't feel discouraged about who I am. Yet I have been going through an identity crisis most of my life. I have never dared utter these feelings out loud but have hidden them behind the huge, confident smile I wear to church every week. For years I have doubted if I had any value beyond my roles as a wife and mother. I have feared that men are that they might have joy, but that women are that they might be overlooked. I long to feel that I, as a woman, matter to the Lord."

The following list includes some of the areas I believe we, as a people and the body of Christ are lacking in creating church where women matter, where their contributions and value go beyond one template:
  1. Visibility 
  2. Modesty and Virtue
  3. Priesthood Authority, Power and Blessings  
  4. Teaching and Leading with Authority
  5. Inequality in Marriage 
  6. Marginalizing
  7. The Missing Feminine Divine  
I began to expand my thoughts on these issues in this post, but found I had too much to say. Instead, I will break down these topics into separate posts. I hope that focusing on what I see as problems will not detract from the great good that flows from Christ through the gospel and His Church to women. Elder James E. Talmage stated that “the world’s greatest champion of woman and womanhood is Jesus the Christ.” I believe we there are things we can do as his disciples to live up to his example.   

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