Another website, another book. More tears, more agony. Faith transitions are tough. Not just tough, sometimes they’re outright debilitating. I spent nearly a month sitting at the computer, crying and searching for anything that could restore my faith—in God, in Jesus as the Christ, in the Church. Anything. As I searched in absolute agony for anything that could rekindle my faith, the words that I had thought and spoken in the past echoed in my ears: “they just don’t understand”, “they just don’t want to work hard enough to make the Gospel work in their lives”, “obviously it’s because they’re unworthy” or “they just need to choose to believe. It’s not that hard.” No words are quite as haunting as the ones that we have uttered, especially when we realize just how wrong we were.
You see, none of these applied to me. I had sacrificed just about everything upon the altar of my faith. I had given up my music and all opportunities to work outside the home in order to be a stay at home mother. I had entered into a marriage that had odds stacked against it from the beginning, because I had been assured that this was God’s plan for us. I had left family and friends to move to a foreign country with my family, all because of one word: Faith. And in spite of all of that, I had become what I so greatly feared in others—a doubter. The puzzle did not fit together the way it had before. The people I had loved and respected so greatly, that I had looked to as the infallible way before me, were clearly imperfect. Atrocities had been committed within my own faith tradition in the name of God or, worse yet, because someone had considered what one man or another had said to be God’s words. Devastated cannot even begin to describe it.
I was terrified of this new information and therefore, started to create an exit plan. What would life outside of the Church look like? Would my marriage survive? How would we raise our children? My identity was so fundamentally entwined with Mormonism that I couldn’t even imagine what life might look like without it. Even more, I didn’t want to know. I wanted to stay, but I didn’t have any idea as to how I could do so in good conscience.
At this time, our second baby was a few months old and, traditionally, this was the time for a baby naming and blessing. My husband had recently felt compelled to take a break from the Church because of life-long wounds that were continually reopened. He needed some time to heal. I was still active and participating.
Despite the fact that a baby blessing and naming is not a saving ordinance, and despite the fact that I was assured that my prayers were as efficacious as any man’s, I could not bless my baby. If we chose to adhere to this tradition, neither of her parents—those who know her best and are responsible for her care and nurturing— could speak the words of God unto her. This troubled me. I could not imagine a God that would cut parents out of such an important event—both because of who they were born to be. There had to be another way.
Simultaneously, Ordain Women was receiving a lot of buzz in Mormon feminist circles. Before, what I had seen from the outside as a group of “angry apostates,” I now realized were women who loved their church greatly but many had experienced the same agony and transition as me. Many of them had also questioned, “If my prayers and devotion are seen equally in God’s eyes, then why is it that the act of pronouncing blessings is restricted from women? Why is it that women are given no true ecclesiastical authority? Why is it that women could participate in the pronouncement of blessings inside of the temple but not without?” These are answers to which there are many folk-doctrinal reasons, “women are too busy. Women hold a parallel priesthood through motherhood (despite the fact that men do not need fatherhood to hold the priesthood). Women are too sacred. Women are already so virtuous. Etc., etc., etc.” but there were no official, doctrinal, or scriptural reasons to uphold it.
And so, one late night after cuddling that sweet little baby I could not name or bless, I sat down to write the words of my heart to support my sisters of Ordain Women. My testimony was so simple at this time of many questions: I am grateful for faith in Heavenly Parents. I want my children to know that all are alike unto God—both male and female.
With trepidation, I hit “submit.”
If I had known then about the transformation of my faith that would come from that one tiny click of the mouse, that trepidation would have been replaced with celebration.
I knew that my choice to publicly support the request for women’s ordination would not be acceptable to my family or many of my close friends. So, I began to study everything I could about women in the early Mormon and Christian traditions. While I could know what felt right in my heart—that persons should not be defined by their body parts but by their hearts, talents, and desires—I knew that wouldn’t be convincing for the nay-sayers in my life.
What I discovered was astounding. I found women of the early Relief Society who laid their hands upon their sisters and daughters to heal and to give mother’s blessings to the women in labour. I was inspired by the way they led their own autonomous women’s organization outside of male jurisdiction, one over which women, rather than men, presided. I read of female prophetesses and great female leaders. I read of feisty feminists who fought for women’s rights at the encouragement of the men in the Church. This was in stark contrast to the woman I was told to be today—the one who called upon her husband and male home teachers for blessings, despite the fact that they could never know what it was to walk around in a woman’s body; the woman who yielded to male authority in the Relief Society; the woman who recognized only males as prophets, seers, and revelators; the woman who was told that feminism was the devil’s work.
As I was learning more about the earliest women of the Church, women who were performing acts that looked a whole lot like what we prescribe today as “priesthood responsibilities,” I also began to read of women in the early Christian tradition. I found deaconesses, prophetesses, and female apostles. I read of the early Hebrews worship of Asherah, a Mother God. Though their stories are scattered and few, they are there—almost hidden for only the most inquisitive to find.
Suddenly a light went on: Joseph Smith didn’t have access to all of this information. He didn’t know that the Hebrews had worshiped a Goddess and yet he taught of our Heavenly Mother. The Nag Hammadi Gnostic Gospels had not yet been uncovered, and yet Joseph taught of the divine within each of us. He encouraged the women of the Church to lay their hands upon the heads of their sisters and brothers to perform gifts of healing despite the deeply patriarchal society that existed at the time. He told the Relief Society that they were a kingdom of priests.
Perhaps this was no accident. Perhaps Joseph was inspired after all.
My prayers had been answered. I had prayed that God would open up a way for me to believe again. Despite the concerns from others that making my questions about women’s ordination vocal and public would lead me out of the Church, they had, in fact, brought me back to faith. All because of one little “submit” button.
I will likely never be able to say that I “know” anything the way that some people suggest they do. My faith is no longer the small seed that was insulated and protected. It has burst its seams, cracked its shell, and all but destroyed itself. What is left is something much more real. While plants are much more vulnerable to the elements than the seed they were in the beginning, they have become what they were meant to become. Shedding the protection and the certainty of our shell is painful and terrifying. With so many people wanting you to enter back into the place of simple, safe faith, it’s tempting to acquiesce. But you soon discover that it is not possible.
Once you have burst the shell, you must grow.
“Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” Alma 32: 28