Here is our newest guest: Rebecca J. When
prodded coerced to write a bio, she replies: “I’m a writer, a housewife and a lifelong Mormon. I have a personal blog, which I write under “madhousewife,” which is an homage to the Sue Kaufmann novel and not a commentary on my emotions. I used to be a journalist, but now I mostly write fiction, which has gleaned me mostly rejection (though I did recently move up to the hand-written rejections, which was nice). I have four kids, two of whom are toilet-trained (mostly). I also tap-dance–poorly, but with joy.” Welcome Rebecca!
As this is my first post for BCC, I feel obligated to break the ice somehow. I could make like I’m giving my first sacrament meeting talk in a new ward and say how I’m really nervous but so grateful for the opportunity and maybe tell the cute story of how I met Steve Evans, but that’s probably been done. I don’t know any jokes, either, so I guess I’ll just have to go straight into my prepared remarks.
Mormons love conversion stories. So do feminists. Mormon feminists must love conversion stories twice as much as anybody. A common Mormon feminist conversion story will tell how a naive, true-blue Mormon girl started out thinking feminism was for godless abortion-lovers and how over time she learned that feminism was merely the radical idea that women are people–oh, and also, that she could vote Democratic and still be a good Mormon. It’s less common to find a story about a Mormon woman who converts to feminism without converting to liberal politics in general, but certainly those stories are out there. It’s even less common to find a story of a Mormon feminist who started out as a liberal and converted to conservatism, while simultaneously diving headlong into the abyss of religious doubt. I am that lonely, prone-to-hyperbole Mormon feminist.
I grew up in a home that was culturally conservative but also open-minded, in the best sense of that word. When I was old enough to vote, I registered as a Democrat because my mother was a Democrat. Also, it seemed less square than being a Republican. I was far more interested in politics than anyone else in my family, though, and the more I learned, the more Democrat-ish I became. I supported progressive income taxes and universal health care; I opposed war and nuclear weapons and heavy defense spending. I was generally distrustful of authority. I joined Amnesty International’s Partners of Conscience. I subscribed to Ms. magazine and Utne Reader. I also subscribed to the Progressive, but I mostly did that just to get the free Anti-Bush (41) t-shirt, which I wore proudly throughout his administration. I was initially leery of Bill Clinton because he seemed too conservative for my tastes, but as I have always been a pragmatic sort, I eventually supported him and rejoiced in his victory and subsequent re-election. I was also a vegetarian, but you probably already guessed that.
I said my prayers, studied my scriptures, served in the Relief Society presidency, did my visiting teaching, did other people’s visiting teaching, went to the temple, and continued to vote Democratic and support gay rights and oppose tax cuts for the rich, because for me politics was not about religion or a lack thereof. I found justification for my politics in my religious beliefs, but that was neither here nor there. I was a SuperMormonGirl who married a SuperMormonBoy, a freshly-returned missionary who graciously snatched me from the gaping jaws of spinsterhood at my tender age of 26. And that’s when everything went to hell.
No, it was not my husband’s fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, particularly–it was just life happening, like life does. My mother died, I got married, and I got pregnant, all within a few months. It was a lot of stress. It was easier to be righteous when I was single. It was easier to serve willingly. It was when I became obliged to serve that the resentment started creeping in. I found out what I was made of, and it wasn’t such SuperMormonStuff as I thought it was. And this was before my first child was born and I quit my job to be a full-time caregiver. You can imagine how things went from there.
So where did the conservative politics come in? Well, it may never have happened if it hadn’t been for Bill Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal–and no, it wasn’t the sex or the definition of “is” that disturbed me so much as the alleged legal misconduct and, more significantly, the Democrats’ tepid response to it. My decision to change party affiliation, while based on principle, was impulsive and somewhat dramatic. I didn’t kid myself that if one faction was corrupt, the other had to be virtuous. I still entertained thoughts of taking back my party, after this whole impeachment debacle was over. Unfortunately, in my zeal for proving a point, I accidentally stumbled upon some basic political theory, and I found it reasonable. And the rest is apostasy.
I can’t argue that one political persuasion is best or most in line with Mormon doctrine. It isn’t difficult to find religious justification for a number of political positions. I also have a well-developed talent for cynicism, which has given me some perspective. When you get right down to it, one nation’s party politics are just not all that significant in the grand scheme of things. For goodness sake, my husband proposed to me while wearing a Ronald Reagan shirt, knowing that I had voted for Clinton twice. As important as the science of government is, there is just a whole lot more to life and people and the universe. All of it needs to be considered.
Which brings me back to religion. I was teetering on the brink of personal apostasy, or perhaps I had already gone there. I was angry with God about a lot of things. I hated the memories of my former experiences with divine revelation because I couldn’t repeat them. I felt abandoned and misunderstood and overwhelmed. Everything about church irritated me; gender issues didn’t even begin to cover it. The scriptures told me I’d receive no witness until after the trial of my faith, and so I had reconciled myself to having my faith tried. That was all well and good when the Holy Ghost was calling the shots, but after the Holy Ghost and I stopped being on speaking terms, the list of things I couldn’t believe just kept growing longer and longer, and I became more and more miserable.
As I mentioned earlier, though, I am a practical sort. I married a conservative, practicing, R-rated-movie-shunning, decaffeinated-cola-swilling Mormon, and I had several children with him. Leaving the church was not an option. Well, it was an option, but it would have had negative consequences that were not options, as far as I was concerned. So I had to find a way to be Mormon even if I didn’t feel like being Mormon, even if I didn’t believe a single whit of it. I had to, and so I did. I made a mental list of all the things I did believe, regardless of whether or not the Church taught them. I made a mental list of everything I liked about Mormonism, regardless of whether or not I believed it. And then I set about trying to reconcile my two lists.
I haven’t done it. Reconciled them, I mean. They’re still two separate lists, mostly. But they’re getting cozy there, side by side. And I realize that while my political evolution has been separate from my religious evolution, the two are somewhat analogous. I embraced a new political philosophy because I freed myself to think about government in a different way; I was willing to step back, consider that I had been wrong, and keep my mind open to extreme possibilities, as it were.
In my religious journey (for lack of a less-corny word) I have been doing much the same thing. While there are some doctrines I have difficulty swallowing, I won’t give up on the possibility that they’re true. I also won’t give up on the possibility that there’s an alternate explanation, and maybe the Church doesn’t have it entirely correct. What I care about is results: what will make me a better person and the world a better place? I’m not obligated to believe any particular thing–which doesn’t mean I don’t have strong beliefs. I just put them in perspective. It is less than intellectually satisfying at times, but just as privatizing Social Security gives me more options for my financial security, this deregulated style of Mormonism affords me greater opportunity for faith, also known as hope.
Okay, that’s stretching the analogy a little too far. But I like it.