Like every other human being on the planet, there are things in my life that I would consider trials. Mental health wackiness. Being single in a married church. Financial insecurity, and wondering whether I’ll ever get a job.
However, the fact that my perspective on the church is informed by feminism is not one of them. And I find myself bristling when concern with feminist issues is placed in that category, as if it were an affliction to be borne. As if some people have to struggle with illness or unemployment, and others come down with a bad case of feminism.
There are those who hold far more conservative political views than I do. I might disagree with their perspective. But it would be condescending in the extreme for me to treat this as a kind of personal trial for them, and express sentiments along the lines of, I feel so sorry for you that you are afflicted with this, and I can only pray that you will be able to overcome this point of view and find peace. Yet I’m thinking of a TA at BYU who commented on a paper about feminism written by one of my sisters, “I feel so sorry for women like you.” Or a home teacher years ago who compared having feminist questions to dealing with the effects of emotional abuse, both situations that required recovery. Or the sentiment I’ve heard more than once along the lines of, I used to see things in a feminist way, but now I’ve moved beyond that particular trial, and I hope you will as well.
I think there is sometimes a tendency among Latter-day Saints to hear any question about doctrine or practice as a request for personal reassurance. But when I raise questions about the implications of male-only priesthood, for example, or the way in which liturgical practices are gendered, I am not looking to be reassured that a) God loves women, or b) the church is true, so not to worry. In fact, if both those statements are correct, it makes such gendered practices more difficult to make sense of, not less. And I think resorting too quickly to such answers can be an all too convenient way of not grappling with challenging questions.
Yes, church practices regarding gender have caused me personal pain; of course these kinds of questions are more than abstract ones for me. But I see them as qualitatively different from “trials,” at least in the sense the term is generally used in the church. I realize people have very different perspectives on these issues, that there is disagreement about what various doctrines and practices actually mean. But I think we owe each other the courtesy of taking other people’s questions (feminist or otherwise) seriously, rather than dismissing them as a kind of personal trial for the person who raises them.
- 8 February 2010