Anon over at one of those other blogs asked an interesting question:
I am curious though about how you explain (to yourself) the fact that there are a good number of women who do have serious “problems” with the church. Since you are able to remain aloof to such issues, even while witnessing a wide array of more ruffled reactions, you must have given some thought as to the reason. Why is it, do you think, that some women become so sad and or angry?
First, let me say that ‘aloof’ is definitely the wrong word to use in my case. When I was in college and grad school, I was anything but aloof. What I was, in fact, was one of those sad and angry women who considered leaving the church. But I’d had enough spiritual experiences by that point that I was able to hang on.
There was a ground zero moment for me, when I wasn’t sure that I wanted to–or could–hang on any longer. I decided that I’d go to the temple and finally ask my big questions. This scared me to death. If I didn’t like the answers, well, I knew I wouldn’t be able to blame it on a misunderstood ancient passage, or a human leader showing his fallibility, or any of the other justifications we sometimes use. Nope–prayer in the celestial room is the Supreme Court of inspiration: if you don’t like the answer, there’s no appeal. It’s the end of the line.
You’ve probably determined by this point that what I heard confirmed my instinct that women are not second-class citizens in God’s country.
Now that I’ve had this experience, and can back it up with evidence that pleases (some) people, like interpretations of difficult texts and more knowledge of church history and doctrine, I consider it a personal mission to try to help people who struggle with the same issues that I once did.
I’ve been accused by people I like of doing hermeneutical dances or interpretive handstands to make things mean what I want them to mean. I don’t think that’s true and here’s why: You know that super-cheesy and overdone object lesson about the rocks and the sand and prioritizing your responsibilities? Well, let’s redeem that image. The knowledge that I have gained through prayer is those rocks. My rocks have the words WOMEN ARE NOT SECOND CLASS IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD engraved on them, and they go into my jar first. Everything else–from what is in the scriptures, to what is in the temple, to what is taught over the pulpit–is sand. I’ve decided to prioritize the rocks, because they came directly from God. If the sand can be made to fit around the rocks (and it almost always can), it is allowed into the jar. But I’m not going to put the sand in first–because my rocks won’t fit. And, if some of the sand won’t fit because it does suggest that women are second class citizens, then I won’t put it in the jar. In fact, I’ll dump it on the feet of anyone who thinks it should be in my jar.
Why, then, might it sometimes seem that coming to conclusions that show that women are equal in God’s eyes requires some fancy footwork? Will you indulge another analogy? A few years back, they restored the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel. It took quite a bit of effort (and technology) to get the gunk off. The result, though, was that the artwork appeared as it was originally intended to look. Perhaps some were shocked at what was underneath if they had convinced themselves that the painting was supposed to be dark and dreary. Perhaps they complained that nothing that required so much effort–artistic handstands, cleaning dances, if you will–could claim to be the uncomplicated truth. Centuries of sexism have left us with a grimy view of what God intends for women. When I peel off the layers of accumulated gunk, don’t accuse me of being unfaithful to the original just because it took a lot of effort to remove the accretions.
None of this means that I’m pleased as punch to see members of the church advocate that women are, in some way or another, secondary. But I’ll stand with President Kimball on this one; he said that “[Women] desire to be respected and revered as our sisters and our equals. I mention all these things, my brethren, not because the doctrines or the teachings of the Church regarding women are in any doubt, but because in some situations our behavior is of doubtful quality.”
I, too, don’t think that the doctrines concerning women’s equality are in any doubt–but often the behavior of individual church members is of doubtful quality. It is my prayer that we will all be able to separate what is true from what is said, and that any person struggling with these issues will receive her own witness of the truth.