“They just don’t understand”

A few weeks ago as I sat in a lesson in Relief Society, the phrase, “they just don’t understand the Gospel…” was muttered. At first, I really bristled at this trope. It seemed to be a way to suggest that the speaker was somehow superior to others who do not agree with her conclusions. But as time has passed, I’ve reflected much on this statement. For a long time, I fought it. I wished to cry, “no, no, no! I DO understand!” but the reality is that they are correct. I don’t understand.

I do not understand how gender roles are so central to the Gospel when I always thought the Gospel was the good news that Christ died for my sins, that He was resurrected, and that through Him, I may live again.

I do not understand a Gospel that tells me that my greatest calling is to become a wife and mother when I remembered Jesus telling the woman in the crowd that it is not motherhood, but hearing and obeying the word of Christ, that makes me blessed (Luke 11: 27-28).

I do not understand a Gospel that tells me the greatest use for my time and talents is in the home when it was Jesus who taught me the greater part was to hear his word and to sit as his feet in preparation to teach it to others (Luke 10: 42).

I do not understand a Gospel where I’m told that my role is separate but equal from a man’s when the scriptures teach me there is no male or female in the Lord (Galatians 3:28; 2 Nephi 26:33).

I do not understand a Gospel that was first proclaimed by a woman chosen to act as the witness to the resurrection, when 2,000 years later, I am unable to witness the baptism of a mortal in His name.

I do not understand a Gospel that tells me that my uterus defines my role with God when I was always believed God looked upon the heart, the same organ that beats in men and women alike (1 Samuel 16:7)

I do not understand a Gospel that teaches me I cannot approach God in my own right but only through my husband whom I hearken and obey.

I do not understand a Gospel that claims to follow Jesus’s teaching to leave the 99 to go after the one and then excommunicates the one, casting her out of the fold all together, after refusing to even have a conversation.

I do not understand a Gospel that teaches the importance of two-parent families, that we have loving Heavenly Parents, and then denies their daughters and sons access to the Mother.

I do not understand a Gospel that teaches me to come to know truth “by study and also by faith,” but then treats me as a cancer when I study the more troubling and difficult aspects of our faith and history and am, unsurprisingly, troubled by them.

I do not understand a Gospel that teaches that God’s ways are higher than our ways, but then practices tribalism and exclusivism in relation to truth claims and upholding the status quo, which is certainly a practice of the “natural man.”

But more than all of that, I do not understand how it’s difficult to see how in spite of all of this, I could not understand.

Mother, writer, dreamer, hopeless romantic, opera singer, reader, researcher, lover of Jesus, Mormon and a feminist. I spend my days taming toddler tantrums and kissing boo boos. I wouldn’t have it any other way.


  1. Thank you for this post. You have so beautifully stated what is in my mind and heart as well. Whenever I am discouraged by the prescribed gender role rhetoric that, sadly, factors so prominently in the church, I study the Savior’s life and and am uplifted. The gender roles we are taught tastes like bitter fruit and no how many times that fruit is presented, my soul rejects it as untrue. I take great comfort in the good news that IS the gospel.

  2. As I read your post I realized how selfish I am. I can walk today because of my podiatrist. My wife is alive because of two key decisions made by her transplant surgeon. These two women, both wives and mothers (with house husbands), would not have been there if they followed prescribed gender roles and been at home with their children,

    When I first started teaching history I had a lesson about race. I started by telling the stories of Benjamin Banneker, Charles Drew and Norber Rillieux. The kids easily got their importance. But the key point got them to think. I reminded them of Slavery, prejudice and Jim Crow. The question then, how much did we deny our society by those actions? How many life saving inventions never happened? How much great work never occurred?

    I was quite pleased with the lesson for several years. Then a very bright young lady asked me about women. How much did we deny society by the cultural straight jacket we put women into?. I was the one that learned the most that day.

    In regards to what you wrote about women in the Church, I think I could ask similar questions.

  3. The church did not mind having a conversation with her she just didn’t like the answers she was given and fought against the council she was given.

  4. I have to say meh. I am person of sound body and mind and I choose to be a part of this gospel. I don’t understand these type of posts. I have read many. My sister advocates for what she believes to be equality in the church, she also has a profile on OW, wears pants to the temple (no one seems to care). I have read everything she has ever sent me with an open mind. This is can go round and round forever. For every point you make a counter point could be made and then made again. I have read articles quoting scriptures and Joseph Smith even to support points of inequality and in some cases ordain women. It amuses me because the same scriptures and in some cases quotes by the same prophet’s would shatter those same arguments. But I agree with you “You do not understand” and maybe neither do I. But I do feel that understanding, true understanding will not be brought about this way. The ranting’s into blogosphere and demonstrations at conference. That much has been made known to my heart. Before you cast me off as another bitter Mormon mommy who is threatened by change and question asking, allow me to assure you I am not those things.

    • You’re right, C. For every point I make, there is a counter point. I guess my hope in writing this is twofold. First of all, that people are able to claim when they don’t understand. For me, that’s our fixation on gender roles as “the Gospel.” For so long, I’ve fought hard saying, “no! I understand! I understand!” but the reality is that I don’t and I have reasons for not understanding, and it’s not that I don’t read the scriptures, pray, or think long and hard about these things. Secondly, the Gospel is not gender roles. The Gospel is that Jesus lived and died for us and taught us how we should live. Everything after that is cultural construct, so let’s move all the conversations about women’s ordination, gay marriage, politics, etc., out of the conversation about “the gospel,” and acknowledge them as secondary. I believe that when we can shift that conversation, we’ll have a church with more Jesus and less June Cleaver, and I think that’s very important.

  5. Beautifully states exactly how l am feeling. Thank you for saying so eloquently and thoughtfully what only comes sounding bitter and angry when l attempt to say the same thing.

  6. The first half of the piece is interesting. The second half is just inflammatory and contradicts your proposed purpose.

    Don’t undermine your own ideas by dragging Kate Kelly into it. (If you don’t understand by now why she was excommunicated, nobody can help you.) If you want to discuss getting gender roles out of church, don’t bring her up. It just makes you sound like another Kate Kelly apologist, which is a surefire way to get most rational people to stop taking you seriously.

    The Gospel isn’t telling you that your uterus defines you. A church might be, but the Gospel isn’t. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a fluid thing. The Church of Jesus Christ is a fluid thing. Saying “I don’t understand a Gospel that (insert anything you think is wrong with the CHURCH here).” doesn’t make any sense. The Gospel does not teach that women can’t wear pants to the temple. That’s the Church. You’re getting these things very confused.

    Nothing is going to change in the church until the women in the church start treating each other in a more Christ-like manner. They could start ordaining women to the Priesthood tomorrow and we’d still have the same issues with women in the church judging other women in the church. Working wives and mothers would still be judged by stay at home wives and mothers and vice versa. It is a situation that the women of the church have created themselves and they need to stop blaming the Brethren of the church for it. Most of the pressures that women feel come not from Bishops and male leaders, but from within the Relief Society itself. So until you can learn to stop judging June Cleaver, or any woman who would choose to be like her, stop throwing stones at those God has picked to run His church.

    It’s good that you don’t understand. NOBODY DOES. That’s the point. Faith is about NOT understanding. Faith is taking your son up to mount to sacrifice him, not understanding why, but because God told you to do it. Faith is following your father out into the wilderness because God chose him to lead you. Faith is going to get the brass plates with no understanding of how you are to obtain them. Faith is waiting patiently for a church to change on Gods time and not your time. It’s following the direction of His current leaders. Either God is leading the Church or He isn’t. You don’t understand what He’s doing with gender roles in His church? Good. Now be Nephi and not Laman. Be Peter and not Thomas. Have faith, or don’t.

    • A surefire way to get most rational people to stop taking you seriously is to put a premium on not understanding. “Faith is about NOT understanding”, what a seriously rational approach–Not.
      You’re getting these things very confused, but I suspect nobody can help you.
      Here’s a quote on faith by Tillich
      “Faith consists in being vitally concerned with that ultimate reality to which I give the symbolical name of God. Whoever reflects earnestly on the meaning of life is on the verge of an act of faith.”

      • Surefire way #2 – Use extremely outdated 90’s lingo so people know you haven’t left your cave in 20 years…… not.

        Seriously though, why make a point when you can google faith and throw a quote down. It is so much easier that way. Especially a quote that has nothing at all to do with the topic. Here’s another Tillich quote on faith, it also has no bearing here, but hey, it’s from Tillich, right?

        “Faith as ultimate concern is an act of the total personality. It is the most centered act of the human mind…it participates in the dynamics of personal life.”

        Thanks for that Tillich! Now back to the topic ………..

    • I’m sorry you found the latter half of my post to be inflammatory. This was never my intent. I may have lots of questions and concerns, but I love the Church greatly. My purpose in writing this, as I described in a comment above, was to disarm the jab behind “they don’t understand..” I have a feeling that the people who utter that phrase also don’t understand, they just happen to not question the particular thing they are talking about in that moment, and that’s okay too. I just wish we wouldn’t look at someone else’s heartfelt and sincere questions as a lack of faith. I continue on in faith in spite of my mammoth of questions, but now I will embrace “they don’t understand” because it’s true. And through embracing my lack of understanding, maybe others can stop assuming my faith is weaker or less informed than their own.

  7. Dude
    I’ve read Tillich over 30 years ago in my cave. So that would be 80’s lingo, for sure.
    Even then bringing up rationality to delicate female minds was heavy duty calcification. But not as calcified as blaming women for following(or not) the foolish teaching of the fathers and not examining why the fathers teach those things. Cuz that’s throwing stones (and if I remember my monty python, “Who threw that stone? Come on” “She did. He did. He. Him.”)
    But if you want to go with silly prattle about faith from your rational mind,– Go ahead teach those mythological stories to justify subservience to leaders. Hey, it’s faith.
    I was raised on Talmage and Widstoe, so my bias is we are to understand and by gaining understanding we could comprehend the mind of God. Or would that be the ultimate concern for the ultimate reality?

  8. “I do not understand a Gospel that was first proclaimed by a woman chosen to act as the witness to the resurrection, when 2,000 years later, I am unable to witness the baptism of a mortal in His name.”

    – Amy 14 August 2014

    Amy, you are correct in your understanding that Christ appeared to Mary after his resurrection. He said to her, “go tell my brethren…” Mary was gracious; she did not complain that the Lord choose to give the priesthood to men. She was content with witnessing him and worshiping him.

    Any man, woman, or child can witness a baptism and they can “go tell” others of what they witnessed. They can focus on the good feelings of the Holy Spirit that accompanies baptismal services. They can witness to others that Jesus is the Son of God and that it is only through him that we are saved from sin and death. Any woman can do any of this- just as Mary could.

    Amy, a few short weeks ago you wrote that you were called in to your bishop’s office and you were afraid that he was going to discipline you for your role in the Ordain Women group. You were relieved to learn that he only wanted to talk with you about a calling in the ward.

    In fairness to him and members of your ward, perhaps you should go back to him and let him know that you “do not understand the gospel.”

    Perhaps you should let him know that after he met with you to discuss a calling that you went back to Salt Lake a couple of weeks ago and preached at the Ordain Women’s latest gathering. Perhaps you should let him know that it is your understanding that Ordain Women is not an apostate group.

    Perhaps you should let him know that you don’t understand the First Presidency’s letter dated 28 July 2014 which addressed the concerns and questions of Ordain Women wherein they wrote, “Only men are ordained to serve in priesthood.”

    Let him know that it is your understanding that “the scriptures teach me there is no male or female in the Lord.”

    Tell him that you believe the Family: A Proclamation to the World is outdated and needs to be rewritten to fit your understandings.

    He really should know that it is your understanding that the Church today, “…practices tribalism and exclusivism in relation to truth claims and upholding the status quo, which is certainly a practice of the “natural man.”

    Confess to him that you are also guilty of tribalism since you have joined the Ordain Women tribe- an apostate group lead by Kate Kelly whose purpose is to fight the Lord’s prophets.

    One last suggestion: perhaps you should let the world know your full name when you blog and let them know that although you are a member of the Church you don’t sustain the leaders of the Church.

    • You have made very direct and personal suggestions as if you know very well the difference from light and darkness. And as if you know Amy. I do not know Amy and I do not know you. But your comments are very inappropriate because they do not add any insight to the discussion but only myopic projections of how you understand people, the gospel and the difference between right and wrong. Get down from the Babylonian tower of your pride. That is my suggestion (a direct and personal one). How does it feel now?

      • Sterling does not know me personally, but he pretty obsessively follows everything I write. As for his comments, my leaders know I blog at Exponent as Amy so I’m not sure this is going to have the “zing” he’s going for.

    • Sterling Ashley Ingram, please familiarize yourself with our comment policy before attempting to post another comment to the Exponent blog. It is against our policies to let anyone call into question anyone else’s faith, worthiness, or commitment to the gospel. A second violation will ensure that anything you attempt to post will be moderated.

      Furthermore, your attempt to “out” Amy by using her full name–which, you’ll note, we have modified? Please don’t have the ill will or poor grace to do that again.

      • I don’t use my full name while blogging for a number of reasons, among which, I have young children and I choose to keep personal information somewhat limited as a safety measure. I would hope that you could respect that, Sterling Ashley Ingram.

  9. Excellent post, Amy. This is a small tangent, but I think this issue suggests a reason why everyone–from apologists to attackers of the Church–has a difficult time nailing down what Mormon doctrine is. Because it’s not some coherent set of beliefs. It’s whatever Church leaders say it is at the moment, and that can (and does!) change all the time. So in the past few decades, they’ve decided that the doctrine of the Church is very focused on gender roles. When there wasn’t enough in the scriptures to back that up, they wrote the Family Proclamation to bolster their claim. But it doesn’t relate (or have to relate) to older Mormon doctrines, or to more basic Christian doctrines. But the point is, it doesn’t *have* to. I think (and I’m sure I’m not telling you anything new) that you don’t understand because it’s not understandable–at least not in a framework where things are supposed to hang together and make sense. It’s understandable only in a framework where the only rule is to follow the leaders, whatever they may say.

  10. If you sincerely want to have an actual conversation on this issue, then perhaps dropping habitual use of the pejorative “trope” would be a helpful step. (I was going to respond to the earlier post on balancing, because I do have some things that have worked for our family, but decided that was not worth my time if my comment would be just dismissed as “trope.”)

    It seems to me that the real problem here is a dumb-ass creator who, for whatever reason, chose to make two different genders. If that stupid mistake hadn’t been made In The Beginning, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We could just all live our lives as clear equals.

    So how to deal with two different genders? The answer I hear all around me is for women to act as much like men as possible: limiting their family size, not being tied down to the servitude of breast-feeding, not taking time away from career.

    The answer I hear at church is different, but that doesn’t make it wrong. The world’s philosophy is not the gold standard of truth.

    I appreciate that I might see things differently if I lived in Utah where church gets intertwined with culture. But I don’t, and neither do most LDS>

    I honestly don’t know very many if any LDS IRL who DON’T ask questions. A lot of us do. But not all of us are confident enough to demand that the church conform to our way of thinking. That seems to be a critical difference. And I am increasingly humble each time that I am wrong (about whether we got to choose our gender in the preexistence, about whether construction on the BYU Jerusalem Center should stop, and so on…)

    For example, I am not sure that it is the church that “denies their daughters and sons access to the Mother.” It might be that the Mother Herself wants to play it that way. And maybe she even wants us to follow in Her footsteps.

    And so many of those “examples” in the OP paint the church in the least favorable light. “Which picture would they use” of the church? Seriously, if I thought that ” I cannot approach God in my own right” then I would be outta here.

    • Naismith, I’m sorry if my word choice frustrated you. I do think that phrases like “they just don’t understand…” and the pedestaling of motherhood has become a trope, or at least trope-like. That’s not to say that these aren’t valid conversations or that there isn’t room for differing opinions, just that the rhetoric we use in the Church surrounding that conversation has become pretty empty. We just say things without really thinking about them. I do this too and I expect people to call me out on it.

      All in all, I do think that conversation is what is most important. I believe this is how we’re going to find God–through understanding and working to understand one another. People often assume that because I’m a feminist, I’m anti-SAHM or anti-“feminine” persuits. I’m not. I’m a SAHM who not only breastfeeds but is a breastfeeding advocate and practices extended breastfeeding. I am a seamstress by trade. I love homemaking and housekeeping. What I don’t love is how we’ve created these things as the one-size-fits-all approach to womanhood and how we hold those things up as the Gospel. They’re not. The Gospel is the Good News that Christ lived and died for me and for you to save us from our sins.

      As for the response about denying access to the Mother, I have read the accounts of many who have found the Mother and great fulfillment through that journey. I do not think it is incorrect that most people in the Church would suggest they should not be doing that, not because the Church has received any burning testimony or revelation to not do so (none exists in our formal canon), but for whatever reason, we don’t know.

      I accept that I am wrong a lot of the time, but I don’t enter this conversation to be “right.” I enter this conversation because I feel God in it. I feel the Divine in grappling and wrestling with these questions.

    • It might be that the Mother Herself wants to play it that way. And maybe she even wants us to follow in Her footsteps.

      You’re proposing that Heavenly Mother is aloof and unresponsive and wants us to be that way too? That is a novel if completely depressing theory. If we parented our kids that way they’d be speaking to therapists or we’d be speaking to Child Protective Services.

      Talk about not understanding! I sure don’t.

      • Actually, no, that is NOT what I am proposing. I am proposing that we don’t know. And I could try to break the word limit for commenting in spouting off one hypothesis after another as to why this might be, but it wouldn’t change the fact that we don’t know one way or another.

        I can accept that the truth might indeed be that a conspiracy of dumb old white men purposely deny us information and access to Heavenly Mother. But in the face of strong evidence to back up that theory, we have to give weight to other alternatives as well. Including that Heavenly Mother knows exactly what is going on with the church on this planet, and approves.

    • Naismith, as a regular reader of the Exponent, you must be aware that we do not blame a “dumb ass creator” for making two different kinds of people. We praise our Creator for making hundreds of thousands of different kinds of people, and wish to see our community recognize and value all people for their unique qualities and goals, instead of trying to categorize them into only two groups, mandating that all people in the same gender group do the same thing. Also, as a regular reader, you have surely noticed that there are several posts at this site that support women’s choices, including choices to breastfeed, stay at home with their children, and choose how many children she should bear. If you wish to have an “actual conversation,” pretending this site is something it is not is not helpful.

      • I was not accusing you of blaming a dumb-ass creator. I was the one (“it seems to me…”) pointing out the failing of the Creator, if the goal indeed was to create a world in which each individual has the same range of talents, responsibilities, and so on.

        Ursula LeGuin’s THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS is a great introduction as to how that may play out in humans. I ran across the idea of not needing genders in my studies of plant reproduction.

        Not all religious ideologies have a close tie between a creator and the god who is in charge of the world. But ours does. And because the Creator intentionally chose to have us with two genders, I can accept that those two groups may have different roles. Equal roles.

      • Are we certain God created only two genders? That doesn’t seem to be reflective in the lived experiences of many humans on our planet nor is there scriptural reference to gender at all (though there is for sex, but the two are not synonymous.)

  11. I do not understand how The Church can teach that “the prophet will never lead us astray,” and yet Brigham Young and 130 years of prophets after him perpetuated hateful racism that hurt people everywhere – both men and women who happened to have dark skin. That racism led Mormons astray for 130 years.

    I do not understand that The Church now dismisses this hate filled history but just saying it was “cultural,” and yet can’t see that the same discrimination against women is “cultural” also.

  12. What’s not to understand? The Gospel is a giant fairy tale propagated by fallible, biased men, with no concern for factual reality. It therefore does not matter how logically inconsistent the whole thing is or how disconnected from reality it may be. The ultimate goal is to engineer conformity in the constituents, extract tithing, and propagate the beliefs down into the next generation.

    The only thing *I* don’t understand is how anyone can continue to willingly associate with such an immoral organization. The only reason they get away with such brazen behavior is because the members let it happen.

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