The train station in central Corbeil is a squat, unremarkable structure that serves a suburban rail line. On a spring morning my companion and I were sitting in that squat little station, waiting for a train to come while eyeing co-travelers with that missionary eye: “will I have the guts to approach this person”? That morning, I don’t think we approached anybody. It’s not easy to do.
As we were waiting for the train, I heard the noise of an argument and then screaming from the main hall of the train station. My companion and I got up to see what was happening, and were shocked: a man and his girlfriend were having an argument, and the man had struck this woman (who was now on the ground, in pain). As we and several others approached, the pair continued shouting at each other. The man then removed his belt and proceeded to lash the woman with it as she lay on the ground. I had never seen something that awful before, and was stunned. As the man whipped this woman with his belt, a dozen or so men (myself included) gathered around and encircled the attacker. He ignored us, consumed with some fury that is difficult to describe. One man among us stepped forward to attempt to stop the attacker, and was whipped in the face. In a few moments the police arrived and took the attacker into custody.
My companion and I went our way, taking the train to someplace I don’t remember and probably knocking doors fruitlessly and wandering the streets. I don’t remember much else from that day. But I do remember, every day, that I was not the one who tried to stop the attacker. I should have been that person, but I wasn’t. I was a servant of Jesus Christ, set apart to represent him, but I was slow to act, slow to help, too afraid to do anything. And let’s keep some perspective: I wasn’t presented with the prospect of going behind enemy lines on a suicide mission — I had the chance to stop a man from beating his girlfriend in public. I did nothing. This was cowardice.
As a man in the Church, you don’t have to look very hard to see people being treated poorly. Typically, it’s the women who suffer: ‘unimportant’ callings; no recognition for their work; exclusion from the ‘important’ conversations; casual, jokey sexism; the arbitrary enforcement of gender roles that we don’t understand. I find myself again standing by as people I know and love suffer in front of me. Let me clarify: I don’t really believe that female ordination is the answer (I view this as new wine in old bottles), and I am not meaning to say that the Church is some evil male oppressor, beating women down in fury. On the contrary, I believe the vast majority of LDS women feel happy, and I think the Church is pretty darned great. But I’ve also seen men (and sometimes women) in the Church who use their callings (or the mere fact of their gender) as an excuse to belittle women. I’m haunted by my own history of cowardice and sexism. And I just want to say that I’m sorry, that we really, really need to do better, and that I’d like to help where I can. Women deserve the chance to lead, to teach, to manage affairs in the Church and we don’t let them do this nearly the way we should. There are enormous wells of potential out there that are unrealized because of gender. There must be countless ways we can remedy this while still realizing the importance of families and the ultimate priority they present.
I won’t be standing in the line with the Ordain Women folks (for many reasons, but mostly because heck I’ll just watch online, thanks). At heart I am in many ways a party line, orthodox member. But I don’t like the cowardice of sexism that our Church structure permits, and as a servant of Jesus Christ I hope I can do something to help.