DEBORAH: If you’re an LDS woman and you watched the January 2018 press conference that followed the formation of the new First Presidency, you likely have a particular moment carved into your brain—that prolonged moment when Pres. Russell M. Nelson responded to a question posed by Peggy Fletcher Stack (Salt Lake Tribune) regarding forthcoming advances in gender equity and diversity in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. First he gave a tribute to her family, followed by a salute to the diversity of men who lead the Church in 188 nations, which included a reminder that “somebody’s going to be left out, but it doesn’t matter because the Lord’s in charge.”
Once he finished responding, Stack, from her seat and without benefit of a mic, can barely be heard to nudge, “What about the women?” President Nelson’s response? “I love them.” (See 18:43 to 22:40 of previous link.)
A few days ago, By Common Consent published guest blogger Kenneth Merrill’s “What I Wish My Prophet Would Say,” which is his six-point wish list for change announcements to be made in the upcoming April 2020 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To recap, he asks the First Presidency to put its weight into commanding members not to kick one another out of the Church or their homes, to be inclusive, to be environmentally aware, and to admit the church has done some abusive things, including protecting sex offenders. By the close of it, Stack’s faint voice was ringing in my mind: “What about the women?”
Maybe Merrill doesn’t wish for woman-specific improvements in the Church. Or maybe he hasn’t thought about how the experience of women needs to be improved, or even how improvements for women would benefit men. Maybe the status quo feels natural to him. I can’t say.
But the status quo is uncomfortable for me, and likely even more uncomfortable for women of color, non-binary people, or women who are otherwise in the margins. I can’t represent all these women with my list, but I can invite each to leave their hopes in a comment box or to submit them to SQ as a guest post. I do, however, feel it safe to say that my list represents, in part or in full, the hopes of a good number of Mormon women.
And now, my wish list of things I hope the First Presidency will say:
- Tell us that women in the Church are no longer to be discussed as if they are a uniform collective who excel at nurturing and who exist primarily to reproduce and raise a righteous generation. Please stop discussing us only in terms of the ‘hoods of mother and wife.
- State how happy our Heavenly Mother is to see us excelling in our chosen professions (in or out of the home) and speaking up about matters of import to our communities and nations. Tell us She applauds our humanity, our self-governance, and the way we grow our intellect. Tell the Church that She is displeased when Her daughters are treated dismissively or told the greatest thing they could ever do is get married, reproduce, and sacrifice themselves.
- Give us a Heavenly Mother who exists in the next life as something more than a perfected physical body deigned to produce spirit children. The teaching is irrational and emotional, and LDS women are increasingly exhausted by the way it diminishes our worth and denies us both autonomy and individuality.
- Announce that callings formerly held only by male priesthood holders are now open to female priesthood holders. (See what I did there?) Or open them to women without priesthood. A woman armed with the gift of the Holy Ghost can handle anything.
- Admit that the root of historic Mormon polygamy was very often spiritual and temporal coercion, that women were shamed and spiritually threatened into accepting marriages that were excuses for men’s “inspired” infidelity, and that official representations of what it was to be a polygamous wife in early Mormonism have been whitewashed. Next, improve youth lessons on consent and then come clean to our girls that the “new and everlasting covenant” is code for eternal polygamy; the two are intertwined.
- End confession by women to men. END it. And while you’re doing this, end it with all minors as well.
I’ll stop here, even though I’d happily enlarge this wish list. I admit to expecting accusations that I lack faith. Unlike Merrill’s list, much of mine would require the force of divine, revelatory intervention. Petitioning for such things has fallen out of fashion, even if Joseph Smith saw such questions as faithful. And yet, hope remains my best expression of my faith.
In a handful of months, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the First Vision in General Conference. I anticipate calls to increase missionary work and strengthen testimony. For me, seeing this church, which was founded on revelation, return to doctrinal revelation (versus policy change) would do more to strengthen my testimony and inspire me to share this gospel than any pageantry or flowery words could possibly do.
The Church isn’t a show. It’s people. Approximately half of its people are women. So please, good Brethren, stop limiting women because of a perspective rooted only in tradition—an ancient, cherry-picked tradition at that. Let God heal us all. And don’t tell us you love us. Show us.
Sisters Quorum exists to give voice to those who are not being heard and is seeking submissions. If you have a story to tell, SQ invites you to visit our submission page for guidelines.