READER POST: The first religious value I remember being taught was obedience. Obedience to authority, to the priesthood, to adults, to parents, and to God. I learned about a God who tested His children. A God who gave and took at His mysterious will, according to a metric that made no sense from my mortal perspective.
He gave Abraham and Sarah a son, and then asked them to give up their child’s life in sacrifice…a test that only ended when He was confident Abraham would obey. I learned about Mary consenting to be the handmaid of the Lord and that it was an honor to be chosen to do so. I learned about a God that gave multiple wives to powerful men, who in turn gave children to their husbands. I learned about a God who commanded Emma to support her husband as he took more wives, and that she would face condemnation if she didn’t comply. I learned that (for at least one woman) the promised blessing of giving herself to the Prophet in marriage was exaltation, but the punishment for her refusal, a fiery sword.
I learned that I could not trust myself or my own thoughts and desires but that I should seek the constant companionship of a male Spirit to tell me what I should do. I learned that when a man in authority asks me about my chastity, I should answer his questions or face losing benefits of church membership, like temple access. I learned that failure to obey powerful men brings loss, stigma, and a sense of unworthiness.
And unfortunately for me, all of these lessons were learned in the context of being a survivor of child sexual abuse. I learned all these concepts and stories against the backdrop of having my agency, my body, and my sexuality sacrificed to the will of adult men “with authority over me,” as LDS often say.
Perhaps most frightening of all, I also learned that I should not refuse any request from an all-powerful male God. Whether it was as small as giving a talk or accepting a calling when asked, or as large as my career and life choices, obedience to the male God was the first law of heaven. Not my will, but His be done.
Now, take a moment to stand in a sexually traumatized girl’s shoes. Resolve yourself to perfect obedience to those bigger and stronger than you. Feel that trembling fear of a powerless child. Imagine that your life and your soul depend on perfect obedience.
And then, add in our unique doctrine that God, whom we must never disobey, has a physical body. A male body. Consider that I knew He would test me in personal ways that probably wouldn’t make sense to me. Remember that I was still a child, a victim, and afraid for good reason. Not only did I lack a healthy, adult perspective, I was given several scriptural and historical examples of females sacrificing their sexuality for God’s purposes.
My unavoidable conclusion was that God the Father was not safe for me.
If you are disturbed by my conclusion, then perhaps you can start to sense the darkness and fear of a mind formed by such grotesque, childhood trauma and sustained by teachings of strict patriarchal obedience. Because I had these severe wounds (through no fault of my own), I was incapable of seeking healing from a Father God.
How, under these circumstances, could I have submitted, with complete vulnerability, before His absolute power and authority?
I could not. I didn’t feel safe baring my wounded, naked soul before a God, with His male form. He was the last person I felt I could turn to with my wounds.
When I have had physical maladies, I’ve been given the option to request female nurses and doctors to tend to me. We understand that it is sometimes appropriate and necessary to allow a patient the option of requesting a caretaker of a particular gender. The option was given, and I exercised my agency.
When I was seeking therapy for my trauma, there were discussions around whether a female or male therapist would be helpful or detrimental to me. It was understood that trying to heal vulnerable experiences with someone who didn’t feel safe to me would be extremely counterproductive and re-traumatizing. The option was given, and I exercised my agency.
If we mortals, with our limited understanding, can recognize the necessity in providing gender specific care for our bodies and minds, why can’t we understand that sometimes we need gender specific care for our wounded souls? Why can’t you understand, my dear Brethren?
When I had finally done enough work to feel safe opening my soul to Father God, I was 32 years old. I vividly remember my first prayer without fear toward Him. It was profoundly beautiful. But it was also an impossible feat prior to that moment. I had lived 32 years without divine comfort.
Here is what I plead with you to understand: having a Mother God to connect with is not a lighthearted, froofy, feel good thing.The ability to pray to Heavenly Mother is not something superficial or unnecessary. One of your number recently taught us not to pray to Her, adding, “It’d be wonderful to sit back and make up all kinds of comforting doctrine [about Heavenly Mother], but Latter-day prophets are constrained to not do that.” Once again, another man in power and with authority imposes his will on me by denying me a relationship with my Mother God because he’s “constrained.” He matters. I do not.
Brethren, it is absolutely VITAL to those of us who have experienced gender specific trauma to be able to address the Heavenly Parent who is best able to heal us.
I lost years of potential healing and divine connection because I kept God at arms length. Remember, our earliest understanding of God usually comes from our early earthly experience with authority. For those who had loving parents, this is a beautiful thing. For those of us who did not, it is absolutely devastating. Having the option to pray to my Heavenly Mother could have saved me decades of loss, struggle, and pain. Can you not see that a feminine God would have been so much healthier for me in my situation? The simple act of changing a title could have eased the healing process tremendously. It could have prevented continual re-traumatization, feelings of worthlessness, and fear.
This is not a simple matter of doctrinal nicety. Knowing we have a Heavenly Mother while not being allowed to pray to her has the consequence of damming up the healing of so many of Her wounded children. Don’t cut off half of our connection to divine healing potential in the name of a technicality.
Let’s facilitate healing in every way we can, so that we can honor our covenants to mourn with those that mourn and to comfort those that stand in need of comfort. Let’s bind up the broken hearts and invite our Heavenly Mother in for that process. She is needed.
Kelsey Bileen is a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a mother of four, and a trauma survivor who describes herself as “mildly heretical.” She likes bunnies, the color blue, and collecting half-finished projects. She says she is new to knowing God’s Grace. The artwork featured below is her own.
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