Zelophehad’s Daughters

“Apostasy,” Part I: What Kate Kelly’s Apostasy Means to People Like Me

Posted by Melyngoch

I loved my mission. It was by far the time in my life when I felt the happiest and most confident in the Church, most certain of its truth, most integrated into its community. Swedish Mormonism seemed an idyllic and open-hearted version of its American cousin, where the utter weirdness of the Church relative to the dominant, very secular Swedish culture meant that the Mormons trying to keep their church alive needed everyone–they couldn’t nudge each other out over small things, they couldn’t afford to reject the weirdos or the disaffected. The boundaries were bright and the margins were thin–if you were willing to be in at all, you were in all the way.

I know that I’ve romanticized things wildly, that I was linguistically and structurally shielded from whatever petty politics likely went on under the surface, and I know that in my own memory, I gloss over how tired and frustrated I often was. No one I ever taught ever got baptized, of the many inactive people I met with, none came back to church, and my numbers were always abysmal (though I was graced with two mission presidents who never said a word about it), but I got to know such interesting people, and I felt like I was doing God’s will. I worked mostly in small branches, relatively isolated from the mission and zone leadership; I saw missionaries other than my companion only infrequently, and we were mostly in charge of our own work and our own decisions. I had a tiny, hard, barely-effective contribution to make, and it was deeply, wholly satisfying to be making it.

Coming home was a shock, and then a long slow unravelling that I’ve been trying to make sense of ever since. Church is different when you’re not a missionary, it’s in your native language, and you’re a single woman in your late twenties. It was startling to re-encounter some of the church’s more toxic rhetoric about women, and unnerving to find out just how big and devastating Prop 8 had actually been. And yet I could still stay, still work, still contribute, while I was in a singles’ branch. I was dating someone seriously, and it looked like I would move safely on to those essential female contributions I had yet to make—getting married and raising up babies. Except then I broke up with that someone, most people stopped speaking to me, I was released from my calling and not given another one, my attendance became haphazard, and eventually I was quietly (without being asked or told) removed from the branch. Other elements of what had been a supportive spiritual network collapsed; my spotty attendance took a decisive turn into inactivity; and while I am still a believing member, it’s hard, now, to feel that it matters whether I go to church or not. I encounter a few friends there, but I find more suspicion and pity, and structurally, I am asked and allowed to contribute nothing. It feels nothing but empty, trying to find God in a place where I can barely recognize myself as a person.

~

I am not a member of Ordain Women, though I am deeply grateful that OW exists and has enabled a conversation that has been taboo for most of my life. I wish the leaders of the Church would take Ordain Women’s question seriously, ask God intently, and address it directly. I’m honestly willing to engage the possibility that God indeed intends the priesthood to be only for men, but I rarely see anyone rise to rigorously defend that position, so much as flail to assert the inevitability of the status quo. We can’t have a real conversation about gender and ordination until it can be excised as an issue from the benevolent sexism, saccharine idealization of motherhood, and clouds of chicken patriarchy that support and imbue official discussion about it. And while I lack OW’s conviction that women should be ordained, I am convinced, in every fiber of my being, without a shadow of a doubt, name your favorite testimony cliché here, that women absolutely must be integrated into church governance. We have a system that allows well-meaning men to take women’s input into account if they want to; we need a system that makes it impossible for them not to, that makes women a part of the decision-making process, not an auxiliary to it.

Despite my reluctance to join Ordain Women properly, I was happy to join them in line outside of the Tabernacle in April and ask for entry, on the grounds that serious questions should be taken seriously, and that respectful insistence on questions being heard is the only reliable route to institutional self-examination. It was a small thing to do as a part of a larger movement that is part of a much larger church, a tiny contribution in the aggregate, but it had been so very long that any contribution I could make was valued. For the first time in so very long, I felt a glimmer of what I felt on my mission—the satisfaction in the small thing I could do, the hope in God to make up the rest. My tiny, hard, barely-effective contribution was meaningful, and acceptable, and I clung to that. I still cling to that as I’m working towards activity again, against all of the reasons to give up.

~

I used to say, with characteristic melodrama, that if the Church excommunicated the leaders of OW, I would be out too, done with a church that does not brook dissent and clearly doesn’t want me. Now the unexpected reality of this situation has put the lie to my claims; I am crushed and angry and sad, but not going anywhere. Ordain Women suggests, literally but also by the figure of its very existence, that there is room for me in this church, room for an array of Mormon beliefs, and an array of ways to act on those beliefs. The Church itself suggests nothing of the same, but it did, it has–I cannot go into a church building and not think about my mission and everything that has changed and vanished in my life since then. If Ordain Women is apostate, then I do not know quite where I stand, but I will not leave just because I am passive-aggressively invited to do so; if OW is apostate, then the Church has re-defined apostasy in a way too broad not to apply to me, but I do not accept that ad-hoc and invective re-definition. It’s clear in a myriad of ways that the Church, or elements of it, doesn’t want me, but I don’t grant those elements the right to decide that–if this is the true church of Christ, then the dizzying spin of Public Affairs means nothing to the state of my membership. The only small, hard contribution I can make may be to stay here and reject the rejection; so be it.

20 Responses to ““Apostasy,” Part I: What Kate Kelly’s Apostasy Means to People Like Me”

  1. 1.

    Beautiful, and beautifully said, Melyngoch. I admire the strength in your conclusion!

  2. 2.

    “stay here and reject the rejection” Yes! I love it. Who is the Church PR department to tell me what it looks like to be Mormon?

  3. 3.

    It would be easier to resign myself to staying if I felt like I had a choice in the matter… if I didn’t feel so trapped.

  4. 4.

    Thank you for expressing what I know is felt by so many – including ME.

  5. 5.

    I’ve been struggling mightily with the, “Well, where does this leave me now?” question. Thank you for sharing your own feelings on the matter.

  6. 6.

    “I will not leave just because I am passive-aggressively invited to do so.” I think recent actions have made thousands of LDS feel the same way. But I think LDS leaders both local and general are almost entirely unaware this is the message they are sending. Somehow they think they are sending a message of love and inclusion.

  7. 7.

    I too am struggling with this, praying and pleading for some kind of clarity. I know that if Kate is kicked out then I should be too. It’s so wrenchingly jarringly wrong to do that to her! I’ve tipped toward leaving in the last day or two, but habits of thought betray me. I logged onto my ward directory to check something and then felt sad that I won’t be able to do that much longer. I remember that time my Bishop really helped me tremendously to deal with something very difficult, and I remember all the great friends with whom I share a church.

    I decide I can’t take this anymore after reading some of the rhetoric online from the many people who are in favor of excommunicating Kate, then the next moment I call myself a true believing Mormon in a discussion about the faith. I think I have Multiple Mormon Personality Disorder. I’m some superposition of a believing- and an ex-Mormon. It’s as though the church I thought I belonged to is no longer there. It has morphed into something that maybe it was all along but I just couldn’t see it or believe it.

    If I join the Community of Christ can I still be Mormon? It seems to work well for some. Even if I believe in Heavenly Mother and eternal progression? Will I always be an outsider?

    If I stay will I be interrupted, overruled, silenced every time I speak my true feelings? Will I be stuffed into a box too small to fit?

  8. 8.

    Melyngoch, You’ve beautifully articulated much that I’ve struggled to after this events of this week. Thank you.

  9. 9.

    Beautiful. I was in a very small, very urban ward for a couple of years during the beginning of my faith crisis. Although there were some of those weird, “Why aren’t you married yet” moments that reminded me I wasn’t quite “normal” (29 years old, single female), for the most part I feel like my time there was how you describe your mission. We were so tiny and so poor, everyone’s contributions were not only welcomed but very much needed, mine included! I often think that if I hadn’t moved away I would still be in the church – not so much because of belief or faith but because of the works and service and Christ-like love that I got to be a part of every week.

    I’d really like to see a Mormonism where “The boundaries [are] bright and the margins [are] thin” – and where this is verbalized and valued at the institutional level. I hope those of you that are staying to fight the good fight can help get it there.

  10. 10.

    Stay, please, all of you – don’t leave the rest of us with no one for company but – well, you know. Them.

    We need you. I need you. Even if – especially when – I disagree with you. Knowing that I disagree with you sometimes, and being forced to figure out why, makes me stronger and better and sometimes it changes my mind. Agreeing with you changes me as well, and always for the better. I learn, I stretch, I grow.

    You help me change my heart, and changing my heart is why I’m here. It’s why Jesus came for me, for us.

  11. 11.

    After hearing the news about this whole thing my first reaction was, I’m done. That’s it. I’ve heard a thousand variations on the theme of “we don’t want you, please go away,” and I was ready to follow their advice and head for the door. But in the days since then I’ve thought about the sweet fellowship and sense of spiritual strength and community I felt as a missionary and then as an expat in a small tight-knot branch, and I’m reminded just how good it is when it isn’t bad.

    I’m still not sure where I stand, or where I’ll go from here, but reading this was like reading my own thoughts. Thank you.

  12. 12.

    *knit

  13. 13.

    .

    I’m the most orthodox person I know because we all have the opportunity to define orthodoxy for ourselves. It’s better than letting certain other people define orthodoxy for us.

    On the other hand, I’m not a big fan or drawing lines at all. This is still the commercial I remember best of all commercials I’ve ever seen:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrIVJaryqA0

  14. 14.

    I lived in Sweden for four years and loved my ward there so much.

    I’m glad you’re staying and rejecting the rejection. I am too.

  15. 15.

    Sorry for your struggles. These same ups and downs are more common than you think, so you’re not an outlier there. I know myself how unpleasant it can be when you don’t quite fit into the personality or the culture of your ward so I’m very sympathetic. I have to say though that I think you’re making a serious logical error.

    Kate Kelly’s excommunication does not in any way prove that your ideas or your conception of the gospel are not welcome in the church. Her excommunication is the very predictable result of her actions, not her beliefs.

    She is absolute in her position. 100% equality (as she defines it) and “nothing less will suffice,” in her own words. She says, among other things, that men and women must be equally represented in the callings of bishop, stake president, prophet, etc.

    To accomplish this she says “direct action” is the only option. Direct action means doing things like her group did at conference. It means boycotts, protests, and anything that will put public pressure on the church, in order to force the hand of church leaders.

    This can end in one of three ways. Her movement is successful and women receive the priesthood with 100% equality on her terms. Or her movement doesn’t realize success and continues in this fashion, and the church accepts “direct action” taken against it indefinitely. Or she is excommunicated because obviously the church can’t accept either of the first two options.

    By approaching the church this way, there was only one possible outcome. I’m sorry you feel alienated from the church but please don’t see this as a reason for it. Excommunication would be the result for any person who took this stance and this approach toward the church, no matter what the issue.

    I hope the best for you.

  16. 16.

    Rich, 5 years ago our stake was reorganized. As part of it 2 polynesian wards were disbanded and these members encouraged to attend the ward they were in geographically.

    Some of them did but the majority refused. They set up their own ward, and collected the tithing and used it to sue the bishops of the wards they were supposed to attend, and the Stake President. They lost but appealed to a higher court.

    What would you think would be an apropriatre response from the church? It seems to me they are being much more defiant and agressive than OW but.

    Recently the Area presidency (who were probably responsible for the original decision) invited all the rebelious ones to a dinner to discuss a reconcilliation. Some of the bishops they sued have been replaced by polynesians, and most of them have returned to activity.

    I’m not sure what this group that organised defiance have done to be treated far more kindly than Kate Kelly?

  17. 17.

    Rich, I support Kate’s actions and view them as ethical. I have participated in them to the degree my beliefs align with OW’s. And in fact one of those beliefs is that it is responsible and acceptable to take public action when the Church has ignored you (for decades), and that if you truly believe you are witnessing injustice you should act. Direct action became OW’s “only” option when the Church refused to hear them any other way.

    You see it as obvious that the Church can’t just have people taking “direct action” against it, which I find a little hilarious and a little sad. That’s only true if the Church is more interested in being authoritarian than it is in being good. A church that can’t even tolerate extremely polite, well-behaved dissent is neither healthy nor good.

  18. 18.

    Geoff A., that’s a fascinating case, and heartening to hear it ended in reconciliation. You kind of have to be willing to take a meeting for that to happen, though.

  19. 19.

    I love you, Melyngoch. Thanks for sharing this piece of you.

  20. 20.

    […] my co-blogger Melyngoch wrote of her drift into […]

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