This guest post comes to us from Esther, a globetrotting sociologist and West Coast native. She loves Jesus, her family and friends, Jimmy Fallon, Michelle Obama, fresh salsa, and Tillamook cheese. In that order.
The obvious drawback of belonging to the Only True And Living Church On The Earth is associating with a lot of people who like to be right all the time. There may be One True Church, but there is not one true political party. Unfortunately, sometimes we confuse our gift to know the truth with an ability to know all truth and to assume that whatever truth God has given to us applies to everyone else. Is it possible that God could inspire two different people to vote for two different political candidates?
Truth is not defined by the right answer to a multiple choice question. Finding and achieving truth is a process of identifying our personal moral values and making our choices and actions consistent with those values. Our values will be as unique as our personal experiences and will inform our political views. Church membership will, inevitably, represent a variety of political (and religious) views.
It’s a funny thing growing up in a blue state and belonging to a church with most of its membership in red states. We Blues find ourselves in predominantly red congregations and feel the hostility toward our kind. Satan, we are told, invented socialism (probably even drafted the Affordable Care Act) in the pre-mortal life. While the War in Heaven was, as far as I can tell, about good (charity) versus evil (selfishness), the battles on earth look a lot more like American two-party politics. We Blues learn to listen politely and keep quiet because we are incessantly bombarded with messages that our worldview is not in harmony with the Gospel. We sincerely strive to align our political view with our religious convictions. When we are told the political views we hold are wrong, it feels like a critique of our testimonies, spirituality, and righteousness.
During the last election year, like every year, the missionaries challenged our family to invite nonmember friends to Church. All of the friends who came to mind were Obama-supporters. We did not dare bring them to church where Romney-loving and Obama-hating remarks had become commonplace. At that time, the Gospel Principles teacher, a dear friend of ours, admonished new members and investigators to extricate themselves from the Big Bad World where unbelievers subscribe to dark lore about evolving apes and a Big Bang universe. On one hand, I wanted to spare my friends the discomfort. On the other hand, I became a classic enabler, trying to keep the problems in the family a secret from the outside world.
The Ordain Women Movement
I boast a pretty standard Faithful Mormon Lady profile: returned missionary; married in the temple to another returned missionary; four children; have never said no to any calling, big or small; and support my husband in all his endeavors. I have not joined the Ordain Women (OW) movement, but I see myself in those women. They are well-educated, modestly dressed, socially and environmentally conscious, loving wives and mothers, who still, somehow, find time to read their scriptures. They abhor social inequality in all its heterosexist, racist and classist forms. They avoid conspicuous consumption, deplore sexualized images of women in the media, and teach their daughters to do their math homework. They do not believe poor people are lazy or the righteous can be easily identified by their prosperity. Noticeably, they lean left.
While the question of women and the Priesthood seems to have an obvious answer for many members of the church, I am still patiently waiting for the Spirit to guide me on this issue. I believe I am entitled to a spiritual confirmation of Priesthood ordination practices. As a sociologist, it is easy for me to see the everyday sexism in the Church, and I understand that ordaining women would alter the current gendered power dynamics. I applaud OW activists for recognizing this. These covenant-keeping women (and men) look and think and love the Church a lot like me, so I do not find the movement offensive. The attacks on these women are, frankly, ridiculous. You cannot discount their intelligence (they know their stuff) or discredit their virtue (not so long as virtue is measured in hemlines) or question their self-evident commitment to the Church and their families.
Last week’s publicly released response from the Church PR Department to the leaders of the OW movement for requesting tickets to the Priesthood session of General Conference smacked of good old-fashioned public shaming. Unfortunately, for people like me who are sympathetic to both sides of the question and are honestly seeking answers, it did very little to clarify women’s relationship to the Priesthood. What it successfully did was vilify decent and faithful believers, muddle some very important doctrines, and draw a line in the sand to make truth seekers feel guilty for asking questions after the pattern set by Joseph Smith. Not surprisingly, the line only re-inscribed political color lines.
The Color Divide
At present there are Reds and Blues on both sides of the OW issue. However, as the debate continues — and it will — I predict the fault lines will trace and exacerbate the rift between Reds and Blues. As I listen carefully to both sides, I cannot help but notice that the same people who characterize the OW movement as a bunch of confused, angry, heathen women happen to be the same people who tell me climate change is a conspiracy and Obama is a Kenyan. Because Church leadership and membership is overwhelmingly Red, and the Church credits itself for not telling its members how to vote (except when it does), it has managed to ignore the ever-expanding chasm between Reds and Blues for some time. The OW movement is exposing the ugly political divide in the church and the lack of voice and representation among those who think and vote blue.
For feminists, our gender beliefs are tightly and inextricably linked to our broader political views on everything from fighting modern slavery to saving the planet. The sit-down-and-shut-up argument that the current state of Priesthood ordinations reflects an eternal, natural order – aside from being doctrinally unsupported and countering basic temple teachings – does not jibe with our political worldview or testimonies of the Gospel. Whether or not they acknowledge it, Reds are also highly attuned to and invested in gender politics. When Church PR paints OW activists as unfaithful, it is difficult to decipher whether they are paying attention to the issue at hand, women and the Priesthood, or are simply displaying a knee jerk reaction, fearful of losing ground in broader American political debates.
The political rift in the Church caused by American politics cannot be ignored by a global church with vast missionary efforts and hopes of spreading to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. Though we are often depicted as morally inferior, Blues are invaluable to the Church’s work and, I would wager, are more often on the front lines of the Church’s reactivation and member missionary efforts. Because we tend to live in blue states and cavort with other Blues, for better or worse, we are prominent ambassadors for the Church.
Now that a group of Blues finally have the courage to raise an issue – one that directly addresses Gospel doctrines and not the Second Amendment or the War in Iraq that we have been treated to so generously over the past decade — they are labeled divisive and unnecessarily political. Has the Mormon Church forgotten its radical and liberal roots? Faithful OW activists should be lauded for asking the hard questions in their quest for moral consistency, integrity and truth. Instead, they are demonized and banished to the free speech zone with the anti-Mormon protesters. We Blues left standing agog on the sidelines get the message: Reds Only.