Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why I am becoming uncomfortable with the Ordain Women Movement

When first hearing of the Ordain Women's Movement's desire to attend the General Priesthood session, I was intrigued. While I do not agree with their views, I nonetheless saw them as faithful sisters who had a genuine question to ask our church leaders: could they attend? And could they be viewed as prospective elders? I believed their planned event to be respectful, as they sought no deceptive means of entry and did not intend to carry signs or banners. Most important, I believe in asking questions to God as well as our church leaders to achieve greater clarity and understanding. And from my perspective, I perceived that they were doing just that.

On Tuesday morning, the Church announced its decision regarding the Ordain Women's request. They were denied tickets, but remarkably, our leaders implemented a seminal adjustment: they would allow the General Priesthood session to be broadcast live, and invited these women to watch it, should they choose. For a church that institutes changes at a glacial pace, I was surprised and pleased. I immediately felt the love of our leaders who heard these women's earnest desire and enacted a decision that I think works well as a compromise. 

The Ordain Women Movement then, has received an answer to their posed question. However, the response given by Kate Kelly (the movement's founder) made me wince:

"We will be in the line for standby tickets to the priesthood session on Oct. 5 to demonstrate our continued willingness and desire to attend. We are demonstrating our faith by standing at the door and knocking."

Kelly's statement, I believe, now marks her as a protester (a title that she was ironically trying to eschew in the first place.)  But what makes me uncomfortable is that she considers flouting our church leaders' decision as a sign of faith. And I cannot stand by that. When our church teaches, "Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you," it does not necessarily always mean that we will "receive" the answer that we want. Rather, when auxilary church leaders state their answer (and show a willingness to adjust), I believe that they represent the Lord's voice on earth, giving me reason to hearken. Unfortunately, I don't believe these women's decision to stand in line will help create a spiritual ambiance for an important meeting.

Instead, I believe that the Ordain Women Movement will be more effective if they continue to propagate civil dialogue on this issue. It is obvious that they are smart, faithful women, and I respect their ability to articulate their points. And in return, I pray that disagreeing members will display charitable measures toward their opinions (see my post on toleration). They are, after all, our sisters in the gospel. While I do not support female ordination, I stand behind cultural and institutional changes to help women better understand their divine potential (see this post). I am not sure if all of my envisioned changes will ever be realized. But with the recent lowered mission ages for women, thoughtful conversations on chastity and modesty, and adjustments to the Young Women Program, I believe that I have many reasons to be optimistic.

Perhaps we are not going to have every change we want on our timetable, if ever. But if we believe that this church is led by Christ himself through a prophet and apostles, then let's stand by what they say. And if our received answer to a desire is "no" or "not yet," let us pray for greater faith and understanding--as well as an increased willingness to yield to the Lord's timing.*

*This sentence has been slightly changed to include the phrase "or not yet."

Photo by David McConeghy

Monday, September 23, 2013

Beyond Hemlines: How I plan to teach my daughter about modesty

I am a single woman with no daughters of my own. However, in reading several recent articles about modesty, from a father using creative measures to teach appropriate dress, to even an exploration of how Pope Francis is a paragon of a modest lifestyle (a view that I especially appreciated), I have been musing how I plan to teach my girls this principle. While I recognize there is a place to teach women modesty in terms of their relation to men, I believe that our modesty discussions can be more enlightening when they are more grounded in the scriptures. I wish to teach my daughters that modesty is an necessary attitude that is prerequisite to receiving personal revelation.

Certainly, covering oneself appropriately has been in place from the very beginning. Consider how Adam and Eve, when, finding they were naked in the Garden of Eden, made makeshift clothing from fig leaves prior to speaking to God. In doing so, I believe that they both established a precedent of covering oneself appropriately prior to receiving further divine instruction. The act of dressing modestly then, may be viewed as an outward manifestation of one's willingness to hear the voice of the Lord in our lives. Moreover, God continues to enforce this principle of modesty as he prepares coats of skins for them to wear, prior to their exit from Eden (Genesis 3:19).

But modest dress is only half the equation when it comes to acquiring divine counsel; it involves our spirit as well. While we do not emphasize it enough, our church also teaches that modesty includes appropriate language and behavior. In acquiring a spirit of modesty then, we can look to Philippians 4:8:

"Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and and if there be any praise, think on these things." (Phil. 4:8).

When our outer dress is mirrored by our inner spirit, we can teach young women that they will feel God's peace within them (Philippians 4:9). And just as the temple is a sanctuary for hearing the Lord's voice, so should we take care to ensure that our physical body is a safe edifice for our spirit to receive divine guidance.

I hope that our modesty discussions can look beyond explaining the length of a skirt, a shirt's degree of tightness, or a shirt's neckline. Rather, we can give our young women a sense of empowerment as a they learn that they are indeed capable of seeing God's hand about their lives--provided that they are willing to prepare themselves, both in body and spirit.  
Photo by Wikipedia.

Monday, September 16, 2013

"In All Patience and Faith": The Need to Sustain Our Leaders

This evening, I had a humbling moment when I was gently reminded of the importance of sustaining our church leaders "in all patience and faith" (D&C 21:5). It is important to recall that our church leaders, though I believe them to be divinely called, are nonetheless fallible people. Yet as I have also expressed, I believe that generally speaking, a church leader's willingness to spend ample time on their calling throughout the week is a strong indication of their sincerity toward their flock. I would like to share an example.

This evening, I attended a forum hosted by our stake president (a leader who oversees several congregations of our churches), where he invited us to ask questions about two controversial issues the church is facing: priesthood ordination for women and homosexuality. One woman asked him a question about why priesthood ordination is not available to women, and our stake president attempted to answer this question briefly through what he called a "business management" comparison, which I and some other women found perplexing, if not troubling. While I do not believe in female ordination for women, I wanted further clarification as to what he meant by his comment. I raised my hand and politely asked if he could expand his comparison further, so that I could gain further insight.

I never could have predicted what happened next. He immediately stated that his comparison fell flat, and apologized for making it in the first place. I was surprised and slightly embarrassed, as I certainly did not intend to make a stake president appear foolish in front of an audience. But as I sat down, I saw a priesthood leader whom I could support wholeheartedly.

Why? some may ask. After all, he did not answer the question. But as I sat down, I saw a priesthood holder who cared enough about our group to the extent that he was willing to be hurled questions that did not likely have a clear answer. I saw a priesthood holder who is trying to grapple with difficult questions his congregation members have and attempting to articulate them to the best of his capabilities. Finally, I saw a priesthood holder who was courageous to admit his fallibility.

I did not come away from the meeting with answers that necessarily absolved all of my questions. But I did leave with a greater resolve to sustain and support this priesthood holder who, alongside us, is trying to comb through a torrent of complexity that does not involve simple answers. How can I not show love and patience to this leader who, an engineer by profession, has a position where he becomes a marriage counselor, therapist, disciplinarian, and a perceived expert on church doctrine? And how can I not offer my sustaining hand to a leader who is striving to fulfill all of these titles to the best of his capabilities?

Let us be merciful and forgiving to our leaders who are in a position that they did not ask for. Let us attempt to show support toward their efforts, "in all patience and faith."

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

How I Confront Doubt: Part 2

Since responding to Hans Mattson's experience with encountering doubt, I have been interested to read the range of responses both here and elsewhere, ranging from effusive praise to vitriolic criticism. I would like to take this opportunity to respond to readers' concerns from my post:

1. Whether or not our church has the responsibility to teach members its history.

With the Internet's all-encompassing presence in our society, I am confident that our church will become more transparent about our past. And I think that more frank discussion and openness about these issues can be accomplished in two ways:

 1. Talking about these issues outside of church meetings, such as Institute (weekly church education classes) and special firesides (Sunday evening meetings).
 2. Members being willing to put forth additional study into Mormon scholarship.

I believe that official Sunday meetings, however, are an arena where we should continue to primarily focus on our doctrine, not on controversial historic events.

2. Why I only chose Mormon authors as resources.

Some were irritated that I only chose Mormon scholars as resources to draw from. I included those sources to demonstrate that other Mormons have seriously contemplated and researched the issues that Mattsson brought up. I definitely understand that part of scholarship is drawing from multiple perspectives to ascertain truth. However, Mormon studies has traditionally consisted of either active Mormons or scholars with an obvious ax to grind. There have not been many non-Mormons who can describe the faith in a dispassionate fashion (Jan Shipps is an obvious exception).

However, as this New York Times article describes, Mormon studies is becoming a more promising field, with more non-Mormon scholars making strong contributions. One of them is John G. Turner, who recently published Brigham Young, Pioneer Prophet with Harvard University Press. Interestingly, he stated in this article that our church leaders gave him "unfettered access" to historical documents, which gives me more confidence of our church's increased transparency. I genuinely look forward to how Mormon studies continues to emerge and shape itself in intellectual circles. 

3. The argument of a faith-based choice not being an intellectual act
In the future, I will elucidate further on this topic. In short: I believe it is unfair to criticize those who make faith-based choices, as religion is certainly not the only place where we cannot necessarily "prove" everything. Philosophy, for example, is inherently based on axioms. And science, though ostensibly the area of "hard evidence," is also a field where scientists have to exercise "faith" in their colleagues as well. A friend with a PhD in computer science from MIT, for example, affirmed that she has to assume that scientific observations are truthfully represented and that, often, claims from other scientists go unverified. We often choose to think and make choices based on confidence in someone or something, not necessarily on hard proof. Yet, as theologian Marilynne Robinson explains, "The world would be a very empty place if it were not in fact axiomatic." I definitely agree.

In closing: I believe that members struggling with doubt deserve respect and understanding. After all, as I have stated in a previous post, doubt is not inherently bad, but rather, an experience that can deepen our understanding of our faith. I pray and hope that with increased conversations and acquired knowledge, members can better walk the road of faith and doubt.

Image by mattpeel10.