I wondered about some of the key periods or experiences in your life that formed your feminist thought?
Well, I think my Mormon faith fed my feminism from a very young age. And I think I was sort of born this way- with questions and dispositions, progressive leanings. My mom writes in her journal a story of when I was six years old and I was talking to her about the second coming, and I said “Mom, you mean when Jesus comes back, the pollution is going to be gone and people aren’t going to be mean to each other any more?” And she said yes, and I just cried and was so happy. So I think from a young age I’ve always hungered for a kinder world, a better world, and my faith has fueled that hunger.
The first time I remember being consciously aware of gender issues-feminism- was when I was in fourth grade, and the equal rights amendment was up for ratification and the church was very opposed to it. And I wanted to write my fourth grade term paper on the equal rights amendment. I was very interested. So I think all of these issues have been part of what is important to me since I was really young. I’ve just had sort of a hunger for knowledge and a hunger for progressive causes.
And my Mormonism, I do think, nourished all that hunger in me. And I did experience Mormonism growing up as a place where, as a young girl, I was taught that my spirit mattered- my mind mattered. That the glory of God was intelligence, that I should pray for answers, that I was entitled to receive answers if I lived faithfully and asked humbly. And Mormonism was a haven from a world that taught that women mattered because of their appearance.
And then, like so many other Mormon women, as I grew up I encountered more conservative dimensions of the faith and wrestled with them. But looking back, I think that is just part of a normal coming of age process. We all have questions, as we mature, about our faith and why it matters.
Feminism and LGBT issues were obviously important enough to you to cause you to temporarily part with your faith, or to feel like the church left you. Why those specific issues?
I really can’t explain it. I know that when I was twenty-one and a number of Mormon feminists were excommunicated, and I considered myself a Mormon feminist, I just felt really, really sad. It’s that simple. I felt a lot of sadness. I felt that the church that was my home, that made me, was closing out people like me. And I didn’t want to be closed out; I felt deeply, deeply sad. And that did lead to a period where I did step away from church activity for a while. I never stopped calling myself Mormon and I never left the church, I just stopped going because it was too painful. And I know there are people who have been through the same- times where you feel that you can’t go for whatever reason. But there came a point when I decided it was important to come back and try- try and pass down to my daughters the faith that I loved so much. So I found my courage, and I came back.
And with gay issues too…it’s just a deeply seated emotional, spiritual impulse in me that God loves everyone- that everyone must be treated with dignity, compassion. That’s how I understand God to work. So…during years when people I love who are Mormon have been very involved in anti-LGBT equality efforts, it’s been…painful. You know, it made me sad. But, you know, I still value my faith, the faith that binds us together across disagreements and differences.
When you did start going back to church, was there a mental reconciliation with feminism with the church- an intellectual component- or was it more of an emotional process?
I think… both. Emotionally, it felt really good to be able to come back. And there are a lot of people who make it work, even with questions and doubts.
But I also think a lot about history- about the history of our church, and the history of all religions. In every faith there is a history in which people who love the faith have asked hard questions, and had disagreements, and wrestled with things. I just see myself as belonging to a long Mormon story. There is a long Mormon story that’s unfolding over the years and in the chapter I appear in, there have been hard things that have happened, but I really believe the story is headed good places.
How do you reconcile your vision for the future of a more accepting church, with the belief that the leaders speak for God’s will now?
I am just a member of this church. I’m just a regular rank-and-file Mormon, so you know, for me that means that I sustain the leaders of the church, and at the same time I may feel differently about certain political issues. So I am a proud Mormon, I’m a supporting member of this church, but at the same time I feel obliged, because of my beliefs, to support equality in the civil sphere in the state where I live for people who happen to be gay. So that’s how I reconcile it.
What would you say to students who are going through the sort of ‘loss of innocence’ phase who are struggling to reconcile their faith with their feminism, or their faith with whatever it may be?
Get as much education as you can. Learn about Mormon history. Learn about Mormon history- learn about other great debates in the history of Mormonism, and how the people who came before us handled disagreements.
You know, it means something to be a part of the Mormon story. It’s a really beautiful and unique faith tradition. There is so much to be proud of, and everyone has a role in building the future of Mormonism.
So be patient with yourself if you have seasons of doubt, questioning. Be authentic to yourself, and know that as long as you’re searching for truth, good things will come.
You talk in one of your blog posts about wanting to see more visible female leadership in the church without necessarily changing any doctrine. Why should women be leaders? Why should we be visible in the church?
Why not? (laughs)
For the doubter, for the skeptic.
Well, I’ll say it this way. I think there are really great things ahead with the change in missionary age- with people who are not Mormon getting used to seeing young Mormon women as representatives of the faith. I think it’s going to have long-term effects.
There is a misperception in the world that Mormon women are subjugated; that we’re not capable of independent thought; that we’ve been duped into believing what we believe. And that’s not true. There are so many strong, intelligent, committed, powerful Mormon women, that when the only face of the faith that non-Mormons see is non-female, it doesn’t reflect who we actually are.
So I am so excited that more young women are going to get to serve missions, and that the outside world will get used to seeing women as a public face of our faith.
What do you hope to see for secular feminism?
I think feminism is about finding a more joyful, truthful life, and that there is so much to celebrate in the accomplishments of feminism- women’s education, women’s self-confidence, women’s social and political empowerment- that I’d like to see that infectious, joyful, celebratory spirit come back a bit. You know, because that is the best message of feminism- and it’s also a Mormon message- that life is about joy and knowledge, and feminism leads to both those things. It’s not all about sadness.
Its like: you will be happier if you understand your body better. You will be healthier. And you will be a better Mormon if you understand your history better, including the history of Mormon women. More knowledge is good; it leads to struggle, but also to joy. It leads to joy.
I think that’s what you live, it seems like, and what you give to a lot of people.
There are hard periods. But it goes somewhere better. It gets better.