United We Stand

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.


  1. Once in a talk a well-meaning missionary gave some examples of different ways to approach the sacrament. He contrasted an individual who was quietly sitting and pondering the meaning of the atonement to a mother who was fussing with her child and had to quickly grab and eat some bread. He then talked about the importance of really comptemplating the meaning of the sacrament. I could tell by the comments of the women in RS that they were ill-at-ease about this statement. There were a lot of comments along the lines of, “Caring for children is important and just as worthy as sitting still and pondering the sacrament.” I was impressed that the RS sisters were willing to say that they disagreed with this statement given that there is such a tendency to want to be nice and not critical of others.

    • Male privilege much? Remember, it’s only possible for you (a man) to take the sacrament “reverently” and ponder the atonement because your wife is taking care of your kids. Think about it. I’m glad to hear the sisters in your ward weren’t buying it.

  2. Thanks for sharing this story of redemption. What a positive approach–too bad we have RS first and Sac Mtg last; it would be nice to build on/redeem themes.
    I liked learning recently that Jewish women are exempt from the ceremonial laws of temple attendance at particular festivals, prayers at particular times, etc, and the rabbis concluded that it is because the work they are doing is more important. If you’re nursing a baby, that takes priority over a morning prayer at a specified time. Or if you’re caring for aged parents, that’s more important than making it to Jerusalem for the Passover. So the missionary can take the Sacrament reverently, and the women sacrificing to even get their children through the Sacrament are also being reverent, by worshipping God training the next generation.

  3. I’d like to say, “Unbelievable!” but I know it’s all to common. Reminds me of the woman taken in adultery – what about the man?

    I loved your post. United we stand!

  4. Loved your story. The true power and potential of the Female Relief Society has been hamstrung by the way the priesthood is administered. I know Julie Beck would disagree; I claim the right to disagree with her. Glad to hear the sisters on your ward decided to stand together.

    It sounds like the bishop–or counselor, but it must have been the bishop–needs a talking to.

  5. This reminds me of an instance my mother told me about, where the speaker had all the women come up on the stand with him, then told the men in the audience that if they didn’t shape up, he was going to get their wives. A lot of “oh yeah?” and teeth grinding over that one.

    I think some people (and not just men) just get their kicks on trying to show off their own “spiritual superioriy”. It tends to be a hurtful example of how not to be humble.

  6. What an awful experience. I really can’t believe that happened, even though I probably should be able to. I want to echo Course Correction–I really hope someone talked to that leader and let him know how out of line that was. I’m so glad that this wasn’t one of those cases in which the patriarchy-supporting women actually make it worse, and that you were able to support each other in rejecting that horrible experience.

  7. This is a wonderful story of female solidarity and redemption in the face of utter insensitivity/spiritual brutality.

    I’ve been reading in my feminist ethics class theories about how men (or maybe I should say constructions of masculinity) tend to be associated with the transcendent, the sublime, the abstract, etc. Your story seems to me to be an example of this. Your leader, in trying to get his point across about principles/abstract ideas of how to live life forgot that he was dealing with real people in real life situations who need support and care, not judgment.

  8. While I love the beautiful ending…….Don’t leave us all hanging. This is one juicy story! OMGosh, what in the world happened in that meeting? What were the women asked to speak on? Marriage in general? Were the women divorced, not endowed, and temple married? Did the bishop open the meeting with his stance, or close the meeting with it? What did he say? Maybe one of these women can do a guest post for us. Give them the option of telling their story. In all my years of church attendance, this ranks near the top of list for Sacrament meeting horrors. Someone has got to talk to the stake president about this — and to the bishop. That’s nice that we can comfort each other when abuse happens, but we shouldn’t stand idly by and let it slide. From what I know of you, I have a feeling you’ll take the bull by the horns.

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