Guest post by Angry Ally. She blogs here here.
I grew up most of my life with an emotionally abusive sister. There was nothing I could ever do right in her eyes. In my family, she was the “problem child.” She would throw fits, scream and shout, and verbally abuse everyone around her. But I was always her favorite target.
It was hard for me not to respond to this kind of treatment with more anger, yelling, and poison. Many times, I did. When I sought out help from my parents, they would always say “ignore her,” “be a peacemaker,” “don’t cause trouble.” This was because my parents were more interested in not having to deal with a fight, rather than correcting, or even acknowledging, my sister’s harmful behavior. I eventually moved out of the house and decided that I, as an adult, didn’t deserve this treatment and wouldn’t put up with it anymore. I wanted to stand up for myself. But yelling back just made me into even more of a bad guy in the eyes of my family.
Now, as a Mormon feminist, I’ve seen lots of opposition to our many causes. One of the main complaints of our critics is the “contention” we are causing. They say anything that causes contention is of Satan and does not belong in our Church – therefore, we as Mormon feminists, are wrong.
This is a horribly dismissive and generalizing statement. Beyond the rudeness and ignorance of it, though, I wonder about its origins.
As Christians, we are taught to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus tells you to turn the other cheek, love your neighbor, and other rhetoric that essentially tells you to just suck it up. There was one time in the New Testament that Jesus was driven to anger: He freaks out when vendors are selling wares in the temple. In my experience, this story has always been glossed over. What we learn from it is that you shouldn’t disrespect sacred places. What we don’t learn from it is that maybe sometimes it is okay to stand up for ourselves and our convictions.
In an article I recently read, it states “Born-again Christianity and devout Catholicism tell people they are weak and dependent, calling on phrases like ‘lean not unto your own understanding’ or ‘trust and obey.’ People who internalize these messages can suffer from learned helplessness.” The same is true in LDS culture. I believe that from “learned helplessness,” we are also learning that it is a sin to stand up for yourself. This might stem from the belief that sinners will get their just rewards in the end, so we can just sit back passively and wait for it to happen. Wherever this attitude started, it has now evolved into a culture where making any sort of “contention” is wrong and a condemnable offense.
We idolize Joseph Smith for standing up for his beliefs, but also constantly emphasize the guidance he receives from Heavenly Father. In a moment of Joseph’s weakness in jail, he is given comfort directly from Heavenly Father.
We also never hear the stories of Joseph standing up for himself. Joseph illegally burned a printing press that was saying bad stuff about Mormons. We gloss over this occurrence, like others, because it is not “kosher.” Yet, despite the ethical implications of teaching about this event, from it we could also learn that anger that drives you to stand up for yourself is okay. We have many other heroes throughout history that teach us the same lesson: Joan of Arc, the Founding Fathers, suffragettes, equal rights activists of the 1960s, etc. Our popular heroes in Mormonism don’t stand up for themselves – they flee or they endure.
As Mormons, we live in a very homogeneous culture. And people like it that way. Members of the Church love to look around and see other people who look and act like them. It makes them feel safe and secure, as if they are part of a larger family. Others who do not fit into the homogeneity, such as those who identify as Mormon feminists, are further outcast because they are rocking the boat. We are told by our LDS peers to leave because we are causing contention. We are ruining their safe haven, and we threaten to disillusion themselves of their beliefs. It doesn’t matter that our actions could result in some very positive change. Acknowledging the need for that change is what our critics fight against. And so we are labeled as “contentious.”
I honestly have to wonder: what’s wrong with a little contention sometimes?