Must Motherhood Deny Womanhood?

Glancing at my female Facebook friends’ profiles the other day I noticed something that struck me as very interesting. Most of my LDS friends’ profiles state where they are from, or the university they attended, or cite them as “CEO of the Jones Family Enterprise”, or something of that adorable sort. My non-LDS friends, however, list the companies they work for or the businesses they own. My LDS friends have, by-and-large, opted out of the workforce entirely, while my non-LDS ones have stayed in the game, pursuing both career and motherhood. Doubtless my never-Mormon friends value their children above all other pursuits, however they don’t eliminate those pursuits simply because they take some of their energy and attention. They have feminine identities apart from their role as mother.

In contrast, Mormon women are taught, actively and repeatedly, to focus solely on their families. They are told that their only worthy pursuits are wifehood and motherhood and that all else is unimportant.

“Do not … make the mistake of being drawn off into secondary tasks which will cause the neglect of your eternal assignments such as giving birth to and rearing the spirit children of our Father in Heaven” (Spencer W. Kimball).

“Young mothers and fathers, with all my heart I counsel you not to postpone having your children. Do not use the reasoning of the world, such as, ‘We’ll wait until we can better afford having children, until we are more secure, until John has completed his education, until he has a better paying job, until we have a larger home, until we’ve obtained a few of the material conveniences,’ and on and on.

“Mothers who enjoy good health, have your children and have them early. Husbands, always be considerate of your wives in the bearing of children.

“Do not curtail the number of your children for personal or selfish reasons. Material possessions, social convenience, and so-called professional advantages are nothing compared to a righteous posterity.” (Ezra Taft Benson)

 

“I recognize … that there are some women (it has become very many in fact) who have to work to provide for the needs of their families. To you I say, do the very best you can. I hope that if you are employed full-time you are doing it to ensure that basic needs are met and not simply to indulge a taste for an elaborate home, fancy cars, and other luxuries. The greatest job that any mother will ever do will be in nurturing, teaching, lifting, encouraging, and rearing her children in righteousness and truth. None other can adequately take her place.” (Gordon B. Hinckley)

With messages like these no wonder LDS women are less likely to work outside the home 1 and/or complete a college education. 2

I’m one of those women. I got damn good grades in school. I graduated with honors at the top of a prestigious program from a good university (not BYU). I had a marketable degree and nothing but a wide open future in front of me. With all the world laid out before me all I wanted was to have babies. And unlike my non-LDS friends it didn’t occur to me to pursue both a career and motherhood. I loved school and learning but I knew all along that the purpose of an education was to make me a better mother. I knew I should have as many children as my husband and I desired and could handle and I knew that we should not delay the start of our family.

Don’t get me wrong. I wanted each and every one of my babies, desperately. It actually took me a year to tell my husband that I wanted a baby (I knew he was not yet ready), another year or so to talk him into it, and almost two years to conceive. By the time our oldest was born I was beyond ready. I happily quit my job and relished the long hours I spent snuggling my blue-eyed baby girl. I love being a mother and do not regret the decision to become one.

What I do wonder, though, is how much of my desire to have children was me and how much was the incessant message of the LDS church. I wonder if I hadn’t been LDS if I’d have pursued graduate studies like I considered or dived into a career after college instead of just getting a job. Would I have looked for more opportunities to work part time? Would I have kept my foot in the business world? Would my husband and I have looked for more equitable ways to share the responsibilities of parenthood and career?

Currently I stand at a crossroad in my life. My kids are growing up. My youngest starts kindergarten in the fall and I have spent the last 12+ years of my life in the role of stay at home mother. My husband has been diagnosed with a degenerative, chronic health condition that will likely leave him unable to work at some point in the not too distant future and here I sit, feeling lost for what to do next. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a kick-ass woman and I’ll figure it out eventually, but damn it, it would sure be nice to have done what my non-LDS friends did: combine motherhood with work in one way or another because that’s what you do.

Over my next few blog posts I’d like to examine the messages being taught to LDS girls and women and the way those messages influences the choices they make to subjugate their personal growth, desires and needs for the so-called good of the family. As I do this, I’d love to hear from you. What are your personal experiences? How have these anti-feminist Mormon messages affected your life and choices? Have you struggled with your identity as a woman since distancing yourself from the LDS church?  Do you feel that your womanhood is dependent on your motherhood?

Why I’m happy to say “NO” to the Young Women’s program

Ladies and gentleman gathered together in this great worldwide kitchen, I would like to testify to you of that great frosty spirit that speaks to the hearts of the profet and the 12 popsicles. We often see that our messages share a theme and by that we know that the spirit of Jack Frost has delivered to us a message that is important for our lives.

Our profet shared recently how his tender feelings toward his daughter helped him make the courageous decision to leave the LDS church. When someone with children decides to abandon the LDS religion, their faithful friends and family often wonder, “What about your kids?” Dear friends and family, our kids are often the very reason why we finally leap into the great abyss of the post-Mormon world. Perhaps we could keep up appearances for our own sakes, but when we contemplate dragging our children into the murky waters of LDS doctrine and culture we realize we can pretend no longer. It is simply too dangerous to the beautiful, vibrant people they are and have the potential to become.

Our profet was not the only one thinking about his offspring over the last few days. I have three daughters in addition to my first-grade son, whom I mentioned in my inaugural post. My oldest daughter turns twelve this week. Were we still attending the LDS church that would mean Sunday she would be welcomed into the Young Women’s program. As a woman who spent six years as either an advisor or member of a Young Women’s presidency, I know the program and the culture well. With my daughter’s twelfth birthday approaching my mental wheels have been turning and this is the letter I have written to her. You can lay it side-by-side with the profet’s letters to his children and see how parental love influences those of us who turn away from the faith of our upbringing.

Dear Oldest Daughter, About to Turn 12:

Because you are the smartest, most terrifying, and most amazing girl I have ever known I will be honest with you: I am so relieved you will not be starting the Young Women’s program next week. It would have crushed the girl you are in order to make you the Mormon girl you “should be”.

In the Young Women’s program you would have learned that a woman’s place is in the home, nurturing and caring for her children, of which there should be as many as she and her husband can handle. Before you had a chance to develop dreams of your own, your future imaginings would have been molded and shaped until they involved a vague university experience, followed by a young marriage and stay-at-home motherhood.

In Young Women’s you would be taught that education is important, because someday you will be a mother and you will need an education to teachyour kids. And what if something happened to your husband and you were forced to work? What if you can’t have kids and you have nothing worthwhile to do other than work? What if you (okay, not you but someone sort of like you) got divorced and were compelled to work or face poverty? Well, then, you’d wish you’d gotten an education, right? You would learn that for a woman, a career is a backup plan and little more. Whatever your interests and passions are, whatever your intellectual or creative capabilities, nothing you can do is as important as being a mother. For some reason boys are simultaneously capable of being fathers and having careers, but for a woman that isn’t possible. A woman who works because she wants to when she has young children at home won’t do either thing well and is sinning.Frazzled-Mom-from-Jennifer-Pereyra1

You would have learned that because you are a woman you are unable to hold the priesthood. You would have been taught that it’s okay, because you’re so gentle and sweet that you don’t need any special powers to give you access to God (never mind that no one in their right mind would ever call you gentle and sweet, dear spitfire daughter of mine). You would have learned that to question the division of leadership in the church on strictly male/female lines would be to question the prophet, yea, even God himself, and that would be horribly wrong, so you should never do it.  Men have the priesthood, women have motherhood, and that’s all there is to it.

You would have learned that your body is something to be hidden, maybe even something to be ashamed of, and that it is a horrible thing to let other people see it, especially boys. Red Sweater

Because boys, in all their mysteriousness, are unable to control their thoughts when they see a girl in a sleeveless shirt. You would be responsible for boys’ thoughts. And if boys have bad thoughts they might do bad things, like masturbate, look at pornography or attempt to “neck” or “pet” with you. You would learn that your clothing determines the way boys treat you and you deserve whatever treatment you get.  

You would have learned that it’s okay for an adult male you don’t really know to meet with you in a small room and ask you questions about sex. You would believe that if you ever touched a boy or let a boy touch you, you would need to go alone into a room with this man and tell him everything you and that boy did. In detail. Because that would be the only way you could be forgiven of such a horrible sin.

You would have learned that sexual sin is the sin next to murder. That’s because sexual feelings can lead to the creation of another human being, and is the means by which God sends his special spirits down to earth, and that any act that incites sexual feelings is a sin. As your body begins to develop normally and sexual feelings emerge in all new, powerful ways you would be told that those feelings are bad unless you are married. And don’t go thinking that just because you can’t sexually explore another human being you are allowed to sexually explore yourself in the meantime. Oh no. All of that, your body, the other person’s body, all of it, must remain a total mystery until your wedding night. And then you will have the most sacred, amazing, spiritual sex and Heavenly Father will be so happy.

You would be taught that homosexuality is a grave sin and that same sex marriage is a major threat to your beliefs and the future of civilized society. You would learn that someone who is gay probably chooses to be gay. But being gay is okay, sort of, if the person never, ever acts on those feelings. A gay person must live his or her life in complete romantic isolation, with no hope of romantic partnership or sexual release. Difficult as that would be, it would be worth it because then the gay person could go to heaven where Heavenly Father would cure his or her homosexuality.

In Young Women’s you would be taught that marriage is your ultimate end-goal. Once you have dated a boy for a few weeks and are ready to be wed, the temple is the only place on earth that you should get married. Your wedding there will be the most amazing day of your life and a wedding anywhere else would be a bitter disappointment. You would learn that it’s okay if some of your friends or family members can’t be there because they aren’t active, tithe-paying, worthy members of the LDS church. That’s a choice they make and if that means they can’t see their child/sibling/grandchild/best friend be married, then so be it. It’s their own fault. You would learn that the only way for you to be with your family again is to be married in the temple. You would not learn beforehand what promises you would make. You would not be prepared for anything you would see or do once you are inside and you would not be able to discuss what goes on in the temple with anyone, thus leaving you to ponder your concerns for years, all the while believing there is something wrong with you because you don’t “get it”. You would be taught that if you are married in the temple, and you and your husband and all your kids stay righteous then you will be together forever. Anyone who screws up will be left out of heaven. Making bad choices or turning your back on the LDS faith means that you lose your family forever.

You would learn that you got to come to earth and be in a Mormon family as a reward for being so good and righteous in the pre-existence. This means wonderful things for you. You might at times question what that says about people who are born in third-world countries without the LDS church. You wouldn’t think too much about it but you would realize that on some level that makes you superior to them. You’d feel bad for them but you’d know they deserve what they’re getting right now. Maybe you would hope to go on a mission and teach them so they could be happy like you.

You would learn that you are happy. No one else is happy like you are happy. If ever you think you feel sad, you don’t. You have the one true gospel, the knowledge of whom you are, why you are here, and where you are going and this makes you blissful. It makes you happy when you don’t get to hang out with other kids who aren’t LDS. It makes you happy when you turn down a perfectly nice boy that you really want to go out with because you’re only 15 years and 11 months old. It makes you happy when you are sleep deprived from getting up 2 hours earlier than every other teenager at school so you can go to seminary at 5:30 a.m. It makes you happy to have extra callings, 4-5 hours of weekly church meetings, Young Womanhood recognition award goal-setting, scripture study, temple trips, constant example-setting and family home evening on top of the usual 7-hour school day, 2 hours of nightly homework, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and social engagements of the average teenager. You are happy even though you are exhausted and stressed and always worried that you’re not good enough and you may never make it to the Celestial Kingdom. You are happy. You are happy. You are happy.11949864631307763657smiley107.svg.med

You would learn that if you want to have a testimony of something you should bear your testimony of that thing, even if you don’t believe it’s true yet. If you want to know if something is true you pray about it. If you don’t get the answer that it’s true you keep praying about it. Maybe you fast and study your scriptures more. If you still don’t get the right answer it’s probably because you’ve done something wrong and you need to repent so you can feel the Spirit. So you repent, pray, read, fast and bear testimony and if you still don’t get the answer that it’s true then maybe you just need to set it aside for a while until some later day when you’ll understand things better. You would learn that the church is always right and if the spirit doesn’t tell you that then you will always be wrong.

You would learn that to think differently is to be wrong. You would learn that on many issues you don’t have to think much at all because the prophet has told you what is right. You would learn that you cannot question the prophet, or the 12 apostles, or the stake president, or the bishop. The only person you are allowed to doubt and question is yourself.

uncertain_by_monicanyan42-d6r11iz

So because I love you I am happy that next week you’ll be home with me on Sunday morning, making waffles or playing basketball in the driveway, not walking into the Young Women’s room at church and reciting the Young Women’s theme and swallowing the Young Women’s messages. I want so much better for you than all of that.

 

The One True Church of Internet Mormons

“If you want to know what a Mormon believes, you should ask a Mormon, not a critic or a book or anything else.” -Every Mormon ever

“Don’t tell me what I believe.” -Also every Mormon ever

I want to make it clear, with no uncertainty, what Mormons believe with respect to “the true church.” Fortunately for Mormons, I am one and have been for many years, so not only am I qualified to answer questions on Mormon belief, but I can also tell Mormons what they believe with respect to their core doctrines.

I’ve been a part of a number of debates recently with some Mormons online who express a more liberal belief, wherein they insist that it’s acceptable in God’s eyes for a person to follow whatever they feel God tells them. That sounds great to most religious people in general, but that is not what Mormons believe.

I can just hear some Mormons shouting right now, “Oh yes it is! You are a liar!” Dear Mormon, allow me to remind you of what you actually believe.

Say I’m investigating your church and the Baptist church at the same time. I read the Bible and Book of Mormon both in their entirety. I reach the point where I need to ask God which church I should join. I ask sincerely, with real intent, having faith that God will answer, and he does. And he tells me I need to be a Baptist.

Now, more and more “Internet Mormons” when they hear stories like that are responding, “That’s great! You need to follow that path!” And I agree with them, personally. If you have an experience in which you feel very strongly that you should follow a particular spiritual path, and it’s not harming you or anyone else, then you should follow it if you feel so inclined. But that is not what the Mormon church teaches. The Mormon church teaches:

“And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, … the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased…” -God Himself 1

They also believe that the LDS church is the only church with authority from God to perform essential saving ordinances that allow one to live in God’s presence. 2 They teach that you absolutely cannot live in God’s presence if you live your life as a Baptist doing good your entire life, but refusing to ever be a Mormon (now or in the eternities) because you feel you’re following what God has told you. They also believe that God would never tell someone to join another church and stay there forever if they met with the Mormon missionaries, read the Mormon scriptures, and sincerely wanted to know which church is God’s true church, but yet that has happened to many, many people in this world. To make sure I wasn’t insane and that the church didn’t change its doctrines to agree with what Internet Mormons are claiming, I chatted with a few missionaries to get the truth:

MissionaryChat

This LDS doctrine that God has only one truth and only one church has become a point of dissonance for many Internet Mormons because they want so dearly for the idea that people can follow any spiritual path they want to be true. They want it to be true because that’s what a loving compassionate person would believe. That’s what mainstream religions teach. But Mormonism is not a mainstream religion – it does not teach that. If it did, there would be little need for temples (specifically proxy ordinances for the dead). Mormon missionaries’ instructions would be completely different. Many of the church’s other required teachings would of necessity be different as well, such as tithing, the Word of Wisdom, Sabbath observance, etc., because once you allow people to believe in whatever god or religion they want, you have to allow them to believe in whatever religious teachings they want across the board.

Mormonism is a very rigid dogmatic religion at its core today. You are expected to follow what the prophet says and maintain a current temple recommend, which requires you to follow a strict set of rules and beliefs that other religions would not require. 3 And if you don’t follow them, you are risking your eternal salvation.

For any Mormons out there that disagree with me, I suggest you try this: leave the church. Live your life in service to others doing more good than you ever have, but without Mormonism. If you did that, how would your family react? How would your ward friends react? How would your bishop and stake president react? You know exactly how they’d react. They would not be ok with you following that path, even if you felt God specifically told you to follow it, and you know it.

To be clear, I think it is wonderful that so many Mormons are accepting of other viewpoints and spiritual paths these days. But when they proclaim to non-Mormons that they believe their spiritual path is good as long as they follow what God tells them, they are contradicting their own missionaries. You will never hear Mormon missionaries tell their investigators to not join the Mormon church in favor of another church. So if you’re a Mormon and think people should follow whatever path God tells them to follow, you need to either get in line with what your prophet says or you need to start believing and proclaiming that the LDS church is not the one true church, and that “cafeteria Mormonism” is acceptable at all levels of church leadership and belief. It’s time Mormons own up to what they believe about their own church. The Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley said:

“the Church … will expect loyalty from those who profess membership therein.” 4

I don’t care if you’re an uptight chapel Mormon or the most liberal Internet Mormon. GBH loyaltyOwn your religion. According to church leaders you can’t be lukewarm. In the same talk referenced above the prophet of the church said: 

“They who are not for me are against me” (2 Ne. 10:16)

“Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing.”

Bear in mind, I’m not the one telling you this – it’s your leaders that are saying it. If you disagree with your leaders you are essentially a Korihor like the rest of us. If you believe these guys are called of God then you’d better fall in line and be loyal. Because according to your own religion’s holy books and leaders you can’t have it both ways.

  1. See D&C 1:30
  2. See Handbook 2: Administering the Church
  3. To my knowledge, the church does not publicly publish its temple recommend questions, but they can be found over at MormonThink.com
  4. See President Hinckley’s talk entitled Loyalty