Several weeks ago I was witness to a horrific act of spiritual violence. A leader in my ward called three women to speak on marriage but used their life stories to represent a telestial, terrestrial and celestial existence. I don’t want to go into too much detail out of respect for these women who were unwitting participants in his spiritual abuse and because it’s not really the point of this post. Suffice it to say that there were hurt feelings and tears shed by many women in my ward who do not live up to this leader’s view of what a celestial existence is for women of this church.
But something amazing happened in response to this stunt. I was given a glimpse of the possibility and power of sisterhood. The mood going into Relief Society was depressingly bleak; as I said, there were sisters in my ward who were deeply hurt by what had been said and how the meeting had been structured. The teacher got up and said that the lesson was about the Millennium but instead of focusing on all of the weird speculative doctrine we have on this topic she instead felt inspired to talk about how we as sisters could live a millennial existence today. She then proceeded to lead one of the most beautiful discussions I have ever participated in. The sisters in my Relief Society honestly shared how hurt they felt when they are judged for perceived shortcomings. We discussed that by being non-judgmental and supportive of each other’s choices and circumstances that we bind the power of Satan to divide us and in so doing, can live in peace and love. By the time the lesson was over it truly felt like we as a Relief Society were one step closer to Zion.
The room which had been so dark only an hour before was now alive with electric energy. Instead of allowing hurt feelings to fester and divide us, the sisters in that room indirectly rejected what had been said and done in sacrament meeting and chose to say instead, “No, we don’t want any part of that. We want to love and support and cherish one another for who we actually are.”
The power in that room was unbelievable. I have felt the power once before and again I was struck by the beauty of it. I imagine that this is what Emma and Eliza and Emmeline pictured when they sought to form a society of priestesses. Women standing united and accessing the power and love of God together. Oh how I long for this.
But a society such as this where women stand together, I fear that perhaps we are our own worst enemies in achieving such a thing. Too often we allow male leaders–the patriarchy–to convince us that there is only one right way to be a Mormon woman and then let our differences divide us. Marrieds vs. Singles. Stay at home moms vs. Working mothers. True believers vs. Questioners. We lose power by allowing these arbitrary boundaries to separate us.
In order to achieve the kind of power that I felt in that room we have to live by the mantra, “I’m okay, you’re okay”. This requires a good deal of assertiveness and that is never easy. I have learned, however, that when I present myself authentically to other women and allow them to do the same, regardless of our differences, our relationship is deeper and we both feel more powerful and at peace.
It is no accident that our culture and religion place high value on conformity to an ideal; conformity allows power to remain centrally localized. Unfortunately, there is no room for women here. Rather, it is up to us to become the society of priestesses that our foremothers dreamed of. It is up to us to reject the boundaries put in place by the institution, they are meaningless. Instead, our loyalty should be to each other as sisters. We should honor and rejoice in the unique experience that each one of us has to give, realizing that we would be less without it. I will never be one step closer to the Celestial Kingdom if I judge another woman on her marital status but I know I can be one step closer to Zion, one step closer to my Savior, one step closer to Mother if I love my sister for her whole self.