There is a painful conversation swirling in our culture; whispered sorrow, frustration, anger, fatigue, and a tentative raising of voices asking for more representation in the governance and care of this institution that we call our spiritual home. Millions of women are members of this institution charged with doing God’s work on earth, an institution that theoretically demands the very best that each member has to offer. What can be said to those women who feel that their best is not wanted, valued, or needed?
The world of non-Mormonism is not difficult to live in. Many honorable, spiritual, and kind people do it. The barriers to removing oneself from the body of the church can be low. Particularly when a person feels that their life experience is misunderstood and undervalued. Insisting on strict compliance despite complicated circumstances involving worth and personhood essentially amounts to showing a number of people—valuable souls and sisters—the door. There may be a painful stumble on the way out, but compared with the pain of staying in, it’s a stumble that increasing numbers of women—loved sisters—are choosing to take.
This raises an interesting question for those who lead the church, and therefore—according to the doctrines of the church—speak for Christ. Are we more concerned with boundary maintenance than universal care for souls? Is boundary maintenance the more Christian choice? Are we so certain about the eternal rightness of our cultural attitudes about gender that the loss of these souls from our fellowship is worth rigidly and publicly enforcing those boundaries?
The current message from the PR professionals charged with publicly responding to women’s voices seems to be that some women have defined themselves out of the church. Their desire for participation in church governance is so anathema that they are no longer fellow saints and will neither be listened to nor responded to. The message seems to be that “we’ve explained to you what valid attitudes, feelings, choices, thoughts, words and actions are, but since you insist on owning your own attitudes, feelings, choices, thoughts, words, and actions you don’t belong here. Comply. Be assimilated. Or don’t belong.”
But how can you argue that our sisters have defined themselves out of Christ’s care? If the sunshine of the meadow where the 99 live is painful to bear for some—given the tender scars earned through complicated lives as lambs under the care of the Shepherd—then what is the responsibility of those charged with the care of God’s lambs? Bid good riddance to those seeking more inclusive ground?
Ultimately, when lines are drawn, and acceptable female behavior is modeled, it creates a clear picture to women watching this cultural disruption unfold and it sends them a message–even to those not directly involved in organized groups seeking for greater inclusion in governance. The spokespeople of the church are selling a dubious product—submission and feminine agreement—that is not palatable to an increasingly large number of concerned and thoughtful women whose public lives and responsibilities are ever-increasingly at odds with their expected demeanor at church. Dressing it up through proxy self-congratulatory language extolling the “treasure” of “bold women” who dare to publicly agree with the status quo and current authority is unconvincing. The problem of female alienation within the church is real. Is there enough loving energy to solve the problem? Or are we only capable of the tepid drive to politely show our sisters the door?