There’s a lot to read online right now about the plight of Mormon women. I am sincerely saddened by the disciplinary action taken against both Kate Kelly and John Dehlin. I also sympathize over the angst, stress and pressure I’m sure church leaders are feeling as they are trying to do their best in maintaining the purity and integrity of the church while striving to be as loving and kind as they know Christ expects them to be. Not easy ground to walk for both sides. I am not interested in debating or defending anyone or anything at this time. However, amidst all that is being said about the challenges of being a woman in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I really want to share with my friends and family, that my personal experience of growing from girl to young woman to mother in this church has been an extremely positive one. I don’t believe church leaders are perfect but I do know that there is a divine magic in this religion. I have been to church meetings in Taiwan, Ghana, Croatia, Russia, England, Scotland and Amsterdam and have felt the same feeling – that God is dancing with Mormons all over the world. The music plays for both the men and the women.
This is what I want to write about – (what you may not be reading in the New York Times) - how empowering and strengthening being a Mormon woman can be. Every Mormon woman is also a member of what is called “The Relief Society”. The Relief Society is a philanthropic and educational women’s organization and an official auxiliary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . It was founded in 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois, USA and has approximately 6 million members in over 170 countries and territories. The Relief Society is often referred to by the church and others as one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the world. Our mandate is to reach out to those in need and to offer service to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the other women of our churches, neighbourhoods and communities. Having this focus has enriched my life in ways I can’t even begin to describe. As I have stretched to reach out to women around me I have been supported and strengthened in return. Last night, I went to Second Cup to meet with three other women of my church. We met up because that’s what Mormon women do. Every member of The Relief Society is assigned a companion and then given a list of women in the church who they are responsible for. Every month we are asked to check in with the ladies on our list, find out how they are doing, offer to lend a hand if they are in need of help or an ear if they need someone to talk to. We are called ‘visiting teachers’ because we are asked to not just connect socially but spiritually as well.
When I was in Taiwan the English speaking church I attended was full of wealthy Americans: I recall a CEO, international lawyer, pilot and a diplomat – it was also well attended by Filipino women who had left their country and sometimes their children to work abroad so they could send money home to their families. The women visit taught each other and took care of each other. It is an extraordinary setting for people of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to come together and to offer each other varied perspectives and experiences.
Relief Society presidents are full of stories of connection and community as they are involved in overseeing relief efforts: women sending meals to the sick, sewing blankets for a new baby to be wrapped in, offering babysitting when a mother needs some help. We Mormon women are a part of an extraordinary grass roots support network – something every woman and every mother really shouldn't have to do without. We create it ourselves, its ours and its beautiful when we as women invite God to orchestrate our efforts.
Amoung us last night was a grandmother who is also an office manager, a young aspiring accountant, and two stay at home moms. Diverse as we were, and despite the fact that we didn’t know each other very well, we came together because that’s what we were assigned to do. We talked for an hour and a half, sharing stories of personal tragedy and sorrow and discussing how we met those difficulties with faith and prayer. Each one of us had a story of how God showed up in our lives and let us know how worthwhile and loved we are. Each one of us spoke confidently of how important we knew our lives were and expressed gratitude at having the opportunity to navigate the tough waters of life with the winds of divinity guiding our sails.
Being a Mormon woman means believing that our worth is inherent and not based on our physical appearances, economic or social status. Being a Mormon woman means we acknowledge the divine worth of those around us as well. Being a Mormon woman means that our husbands must sit through three hours of moral training every week as they hear over and over about how to be more loving husbands and fathers and how they won’t be gambling, drinking, smoking or even looking at other women. Being a Mormon woman means our husbands are told that WE are their top priority and that it is their responsibility to take care of their families just as we believe it is our responsibility to take care of them as well. Being a Mormon woman means watching men in suits with baby toys attached to their belts as they entertain babies in the halls when they are not in classes learning to become more Christlike, more loving, more forgiving and more patient – even on beautiful Sunday mornings when I’m sure they would be much happier golfing, fishing or resting.
This is the stuff you may not be reading about right now, but make no mistake, despite some seeming structural inequalities, Mormon women are very privileged in many ways. I’m hoping that if any Mormon women happen upon this post that they will use the comments section to post experiences when they felt emboldened and empowered as a Mormon woman (please no Kate Kelly or Ordain Women bashing).