Guest post by Anonymous. The writer has experienced being a female in the church for four decades and is trying to make a space in the world where her daughters don’t feel like being female is a flaw.
My ten-year-old daughter walked up to the pulpit in her black pants and blue button-down shirt. Her outfit was finished with two braids I had twisted for her that morning and a necklace that boldly declared, “I Am a Child of God.” She had sat on the edge of her seat, legs shaking, while the bishop gave his testimony and she stood up as soon as he was done. She’s so small that he had to pull out the step and help her adjust the microphone. Her testimony was simple but powerful.
She said that she had been learning about Heavenly Mother from a book at home and that she was trying to focus on her and not just Heavenly Father. She said that she includes Heavenly Mother in her prayers and that knowing about Her made her feel like there is a place for women in the church. She told me later that she forgot to mention how safe it makes her feel to know her Heavenly Mother loves her and she thinks of this love when she’s scared at night. She feels safer with a Mother God than a Father God.
As she sat down next to me, I cried tears of joy and tried to ignore the fear of what other people would think. She had her convictions; I had my knowledge of what would be socially acceptable. I hugged her and kissed the top of her head and told her how proud I was of her and how much I felt the Spirit as she bore her testimony. Throughout the second hour of church, women sought both me and her out to tell us how much they appreciated her testimony.
But that joy was shattered when my husband and I were called into the bishop’s office that very night to find out “what we were teaching our daughter.” When we pulled up to the building, there was only one other car in the parking lot. He was taking the time out of his evening solely to deal with us. We talked in circles for an hour with him saying he has “no doubt” that there is a Mother in Heaven, but that until “the brethren” tell us to, we shouldn’t pray to her or even talk about her too much. I cry 98% of the time that I bear any testimony and 99% of the time I am in conflict with someone, but I felt a strange calm come over me as I bore testimony to him of a divine feminine and the importance of acknowledging Her and learning more about Her.
It meant nothing to him. He is a white, cis, straight man with conservative political views in a conservative town. He cannot fathom what it is to feel like you don’t belong or are not valued as much as another human. To be a small girl in primary class who is asked to look at a picture of a male God and told to identify how you are the same and are made in His image. To be a woman in a YSA ward and be told that you should not teach the bible because you are not a man and you cannot understand it as well. To be told that the insights you share in Sunday School about a scripture verse is the wrong answer. To be a 40-year-old woman and watch 11-year-old boys be given more power than you will ever be allowed in that room.
He can speak in a soft voice and profess concern, but he cannot know what it is to not belong and then to be told that you and your young daughter need to keep your mouths shut so that we don’t get offended by what others say and leave the church and then not make covenants and not be exalted in the next life. (Exalted how? To what? What is our purpose and what are they promising us as women if we do not have an example to look to?)
A testimony of a Heavenly Mother equal to a Heavenly Father earned me the question of whether or not I had a testimony of Jesus Christ. As if they cannot coexist. The Jesus I know honors women. The Jesus I know would have hugged my 10-year-old child and complimented her on her outfit because he knew she had picked it out so carefully. The Jesus I know would accept her offering.
The next question was whether or not I had a testimony of the church. Is a testimony of Christ and a testimony of the church not the same thing? Apparently, it is not. It is not enough to profess a belief in Jesus Christ and make an effort to follow him. To be counted worthy and to be welcomed, I must also promise to follow a group of men who claim to speak for God and have all the answers for everyone. My own relationship with the divine, my own spirituality is not welcome there.
I have fit in through the years by following the program and checking the boxes and keeping my mouth shut. But now that I’ve opened my mouth, I no longer blend in. And neither does my daughter. Her small voice is too loud, her faith in the divine too expansive. They want me to diminish her and keep her quiet. But I’ve taught her that she can be anything she wants and that she has as much value as anyone else. And she looks around at church and sees that it is not true there.
This post is part of a series, Contemplating Heavenly Mother. Find more from this series here.