An Open Letter to President Nelson

DEBORAH: Dear President Nelson,

Thank you for accepting the call to serve as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and congratulations. I listened yesterday to both the announcement of the newly formed First Presidency and to the press conference which followed. I was pleased to hear you reiterate that women’s voices are needed in church. As a practicing Latter-day Saint, a convert of several decades, as a woman who married in the temple with her family outside, and as a mother and grandmother, I have some things to voice that are important for the future of our church.

We share a belief in the lessons of the Book of Mormon, including the accounting of the “pride cycle,” a cycle that begins with a manifestation of God and is followed by righteousness, but a cycle that ends approximately 200 years later with a church lost in its own pride. The outcome is either repentance and a new manifestation of God, or destruction. The first vision occurred in 1820. It’s now 2018. Surprisingly, when asked, my active LDS peers think, as a matter of faith, that it is impossible for our church to be either prideful or destroyed. This is a faith they manifest in your office, but it is a faith that undermines a key warning found in the keystone of our religion. It’s frightening that they don’t see how prideful their assumption is.

Every General Conference, we are reminded that those in authority speak for God, but, in my nearly 40 years as an adult member of this church, I’ve never heard an authority mention that the gift of the Holy Ghost I possess is the same gift of the Holy Ghost you possess. Yes, members are told to pray to know that what the leadership says is true, but if the answer a member receives isn’t precisely the preferred one, they are shamed and blamed; we are told our hearts are not sincere. With my woman’s voice, I admonish you who lead the church to remember that the priesthood does not trump the gift of the Holy Ghost, that my gift of the Holy Ghost functions according to my own faith and not according to your authority over me, and that you cannot control the powers of Heaven and their manifestations to me. To assume you can would be prideful.

President Nelson, in your response to Peggy Fletcher Stack’s question about the place of women in the church, you revealed some faulty assumptions. Please understand that women in the church are damaged when faulty assumptions fall from the lips of the man who is expected to speak as God. It was bad enough that you forgot to frame an answer about women without prodding, but then you placed us on the same old pedestal and informed us its where God wants us to stay. But women have divine agency—ownership of our own lives!—and the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide us. Your authority cannot righteously prescribe the life path of women.

Women are personalities with autonomy, individualized gifts, insights, and purposes in life, and yet your answer on Tuesday treated us as if God sees us only as servants who exist to improve the church by improving men. This view not only chains women to a pedestal, it insults men who are perfectly capable of becoming good all on their own.

I know women who followed what they believed was prophetic counsel, forfeiting careers and education in order to replenish the earth quickly and with gusto. They wed, often too young, plunging into marriages for which they were ill-suited, and then having more children than they acknowledge they should have. Please stop teaching our girls that emotion is the same as revelation, and that women, a demographic which you seem to think has more emotion than men, are more spiritually “in tune” than men. This teaching compels women into dangerous marriages and compels children to be raised in abusive homes or in the shadows of divorce.

I’d like you to remember that the church has, historically, shamed us—even threatened our salvation—in order to encourage us to form relationships that were not healthy for us. I understand that you are a polygamous man, having been sealed to two women consecutively, and will, therefore, have a bias, but the reality is, polygamy has been a poison for women. And its vestiges remain with us, haunting us at the altar, as we bear and raise our children, and, heaven help us, when we find ourselves in need of divorce and/or sealing cancellation.

Perhaps when you hear a woman speak against polygamy like this, you think something like, “Oh, if the sisters only understood the glory of polygamy!” At your invitation, I’ll speak boldly and tell you that such sentiments, when expressed, are an exercise in unrighteous dominion. Intent matters, and the intent is understood by its result: sentiments like that manipulate (“encourage”) women to second guess their judgment, including any inspired leaning toward a life that doesn’t embrace a theology which subjects them to men. If you don’t think women are lower than men, and if you don’t think God thinks women are lower than men, then rethink a theological outlook that confines us to a one-size-fits-all existence.

For you to gain clarity and peace about what I’m voicing, I recommend, in your time of meditation, imagining Mother in Heaven so you can receive in your heart what She would say to you as you go forward leading the Church. I suspect She’ll impress her love for you on your soul and then instruct you that a woman’s voice doesn’t matter if it doesn’t lead to action. No woman’s voice has been more silenced than hers. Listen. You will likely hear her tell you that women want more than simply to be heard.

My parting words are the words I’d say to any of my brothers in leadership: always remember to look up more than you look to your right or your left.

My prayers are with you, President Nelson. Do more than listen.



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36 Replies to “An Open Letter to President Nelson”

  1. Thank you for this. Beautifully said. The gender issues were the first “crack” in my belief system as a teenager, and they only grow stronger with time and proof. For this and other reasons–including the leader worship and frequently encouraged outsourcing of one’s ability to reason and receive personal inspiration–I cannot any longer participate in the church. Many of its teachings are offensive to my conscience and to my dignity as a woman. This cannot be of God.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved the ENTIRE article but a couple of things I lived more!
    “I’ve never heard an authority mention that the gift of the Holy Ghost I possess is the same gift of the Holy Ghost you possess. “ Thank you for that clarification because men/leaders seem to assume that a woman’s gift of the Holy Ghost is somehow less than theirs. God gives the gift of the Holy Ghost to those who humbly seek it. He does not give the gift of the Holy Ghost in varying dosages with the largest dosage going to the men/leaders.

    “I admonish you who lead the church to remember that the priesthood does not trump the gift of the Holy Ghost, that my gift of the Holy Ghost functions according to my own faith and not according to your authority over me, and that you cannot control the powers of Heaven and their manifestations to me. To assume you can is prideful.” AMEN AND AMEN.

    Your eloquent words are a balm to my soul. Thank you for caring.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m an fierce advocate that the Holy Ghost is distributed solely on individual merit and fairly. 🙂 Thanks for reading!


    1. Michelle, thank you for commenting. I understand that this won’t resonate with every LDS woman. It does resonate with a large number, however, particularly those who have felt marginalized or, in some way, have been negatively impacted by the vestiges of our polygamous history. I appreciate that you added “for me” to your comment.


  3. Thank you, thank you for this very beautiful and thoughtful response. You expressed my thoughts much more eloquently than I ever could, and I love you for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank goodness that since you are a man, you can speak for her! What a relief that must be. My dad can beat up your dad.
      PS: my grandma says you fight like a cow.


    2. Jason, thank you for your comment and for representing your mother’s feelings. Please convey that I appreciate her taking the time to read my thoughts. I understand that I can’t and don’t speak for *all LDS women. I am, after all, one person, one voice. I find, however, that there are many LDS women who *do think similar thoughts, but who are concerned that expressing them may cause them trouble in their social and religious circle. I’m not a young woman, though hardly old enough to have a foot in the grave, and in all my years as a practicing LDS, there has been one favored narrative for women–that of wife, homemaker, and mother. I have always been a stay-at-home mom myself, working part time a few times, as my children aged. I managed to get a graduate education while being a stay-at-mother. I have a very kind and supportive husband. And I’ve observed that some women who follow this same path don’t really hear so much from the women who have not been as blessed as I have been.

      I cannot use this little space in a comment section to detail some of the difficulties many LDS women suffer, mostly in silence, but I invite your mother (and you if you are either of age or have her blessing) to continue reading Sisters Quorum. Here she/you will find the voices of women with a variety of relationships with the church. Some are fully active and recommend holding, and some have stepped away for reasons that are genuinely painful. I find its helpful to understand the perspective of people who are not like me as I pursue acquiring the wisdom and love of our Heavenly Parents.

      I’m sure I miss the mark here and there, just as everyone. Including our kindly new president of the church. Sustaining doesn’t mean agreeing.

      My best to you.


  4. I’ll be the first man to make a post here, standing with my sisters with a strong AMEN to every word. I love you sisters and I am with you and support the cause of no longer marginalizing women in our church! Let it end!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you for your voice of reasoning. For speaking so many womens` truth. These last days have been tough. But with this post, my tears finally came. Oh, how I wish this would reach the top though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect “the top” realizes there were some pretty, um, weak moments in the press conference. I remain hopeful that, going forward, each of the Brethren will be better prepared to answer basic questions, including questions about the roleS of women in the church.

      I’m a little tired of hearing in a variety of places that “women just want to be heard.” No. We demand change. Ordination doesn’t have to happen, in my opinion, for change to occur right now.

      I fear these men have been in their own echo chamber too long. I fear women like me are cast as malcontents. I suspect the marginalization of our voices will continue. But just as love always wins, so does self-respect. Women need to speak up, as equals, to be treated as equals.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. We all appreciate you.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is so excellent.

    He won’t, of course, read or listen, but I hope for the sake of my sisters who remain that somehow the message will be recieved anyway.

    As for me, the counselor choices and that press conference were the final straws, as it were. I don’t have enough genuine hope for improvement, and have started formulating and implementing an exit strategy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re probably correct. But its important to use my voice to, at least, communicate to other women that they aren’t alone. So many were left sick at heart after that press conference, after the last several years. Even if he doesn’t hear, I’m made stronger for claiming my voice. I’ll take that.


  7. Thanks for this. The past few days after watching the announcement and news I’ve been.. simmering? There’s been this underlying frustration that I could t quite put my finger on. Your post has helped me bring clarity to the feeling and applied balm at the same time. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In my college communications class I was taught to speak for myself, not for others. My life experiences and the stories I tell myself about them are mine. Your life experiences and the stories you tell yourself about them are yours. I appreciate reading your point of view. I appreciate your transparency. I appreciate having my paradigm expanded. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Sherlyn, for your measured voice and consideration my point of view. Heavenly Father hears and understands us. What you represent is, in my opinion, exactly how our Heavenly Parents must want us to treat one another and an optimal way for us to grow toward becoming more like them.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.


  9. Thank you for your empowering words. Beautifully written!
    In life change is inevitable, growth and knowledge are optional. There are those who fail to see the evolving world, including the evolution of the homo sapins.
    Some say that the “digging in of the heels” method to prevent the Church from bending to the World is proof that God does not change. When something does change through “revelation” then it’s proof of falsehood because “God doesn’t change.”
    My gut tells me both of those models are wrong, and everything is intended to change and evolve. It’s the very essence of “line upon line, precept upon precept.” We learn and grow, and then improve it a little more by letting go of old ways that just don’t work so well any more.
    Sometimes you do need to fix “what ain’t broke,” because there is a better way. When are courageous and try a better way, you find it was indeed broken, or at least in need of a significant tune up.
    It is indeed a sign of pride, when the hidden message is “we’ve always done it this way, and will continue the status quo.”
    Bravo on this letter Sister !


  10. Deborah: I am curious. What type of policies were you hoping would be changed with the change in presidency? You said that you did not favor ordination. Is it the teaching that womens primary role is to be mothers?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Come on buddy it literally says what she wants. Did you read it? If you didn’t see it, you might want to ask yourself why that is?


    2. Hi Chris, thanks for reading and leaving a comment. You make the assumption that I don’t favor ordination simply because, upthread, I commented that I don’t think female ordination *has to happen for change to occur in the church. I think ordination for women is a foregone conclusion, at some point, and I will welcome it. But I won’t advocate for that change now because I think a change in ordination that occurs before a general shift in the respect women receive will, ultimately, reinforce the status quo. In other words, if ordination occurred today for women, I see one of two things following. Either women would still not be allowed in leadership (The compromise: “You’re ordained to a lesser priesthood without office.”), or, if leadership positions were handed out, they’d likely only go to women help build the pedestal. I think the attitude change needs to come first.Or that that would be the better option.

      Neylan McBaine’s book, Women in Church, lists ways women could be empowered under the current system and without ordination. I’d go a little farther than she does in some places, but the book gives some great starter ideas. I sincerely think women do not need the priesthood to be treated as equals in authority. The church has moved toward treating women in marriage partnerships as equals in authority. (And just to be clear, I reject the notion that we “borrow” priesthood from the men who preside over us. Pres. Oaks reasoned us toward that in a way that seems wholly without reason to me.)

      You asked about policy changes. I didn’t advocate for or against any policy here, though the entire Exclusion Policy is toxic and should be done away with. I do, however, advocate here for an emphasis to be placed on the gift of the Holy Ghost, which has nothing to do with policy. Women are told we don’t need the priesthood because we are better than men. (I reject that of course.) We are left thinking we have less access to God, less authority, less reason to identify as an individual. Yet,we all access God through the gift of the Spirit, not through priesthood. I want to hear that emphasized. But sadly it won’t be.

      Again, thanks for reading.


  11. Beautiful comments. Thank you for your clarity of thought and process. If I may add one more thing to ponder..One thing I have noticed about myself in the last decade, and I think it might have to do with turning 50 (I hit menopause, and I think my “give a darn” button about certain things busted), is that I no longer feel it important to ask for the power I have always possessed. Those types of questions don’t need to be asked anymore, because for 50 years, I’ve just been shamed or blamed for the answers anyway. We cannot ask for the power from men, because we’ve had it all along. It’s the Dorothy/Shoes/Kansas and Feather/Dumbo analogies.

    If I ever have a Peggy Fletcher Stack moment with Nelson, I think my question will be “”When will y’all not be intimidated and scared anymore by the knowledge that we women are your equals in every way and when will you make it official worldwide, or will we have to do it for you?”

    I’d love to hear his answer to that.


    1. Amen, Lori! I’m of your generation and I agree wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, recognizing this in ourselves doesn’t mean others will recognize it. In fact, my observation and experience is that women who realize we have this power are marginalized all the more. Personally, I don’t care. I don’t need their machine to use my influence. I’m so glad you commented. Your words are wise.

      Thanks for reading. Please come back again. We have quite a collection of women who are or have been discovering this power. And we certainly hope to include voices of readers whenever we can.


  12. Your powerful words make me feel so much less alone. I felt angry and horrified in that interview, but you have given my emotions a constructive and bold voice.
    I wish I could give you a hug.
    Thank you. Thank you.


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