It seems like there are many bad stories of close-minded leadership in the Mormon Church. I have a good story. Not about my bishop (although I appreciate his obliviousness) but about my relief society president.
Around the time Kate Kelly was notified of her pending disciplinary process, I outed myself to my ward as a Mormon feminist and Ordain Women supporter. Two weeks later my bishop requested to meet with me. It seemed like everyone I knew was having bad discussions with their bishops. I thought I was in that position, a not good meeting with the bishop position. Once I was there, it was pretty obvious my bishop did not care that I supported Ordain Women; he just wanted to call me as a relief society secretary and move on with his life.
The relief society president, on the other hand, did care. In fact, she had called me because of my personal beliefs.
She wanted me to give her feedback on how I felt I was treated at church and how the lessons affected me. This came as a surprise to me. From her comments in church, I knew she held very traditional and orthodox beliefs. Was this all some elaborate trap? I couldn’t quite comprehend someone who was as traditional as she was truly wanted to know if I, a Mormon feminist, felt marginalized.
About a month ago, she called an ‘urgent’ meeting. It had become an ongoing theme in our relief society lessons that several women would bubble over about how we should follow the prophet’s every word no matter what they say and then there would be a rebuttal from a couple of other women about the importance of personal revelation and how not every statement from an apostle or prophet counts as teachings we must follow. I had participated in some of these not so friendly discussions.
My relief society president wasn’t concerned that there were distinctly different beliefs being discussed but that there was a divide between the “letter of the law” believers and the “spirit of the law” believers (my labels, not hers). So she had put a lot of thought and prayer into a way to unify everyone. She specified that the goal was not to force everyone to believe the same thing, but to help people be friends regardless of how and what they believed.
Her idea was to challenge everyone to read and listen to Pres. Monson’s words for three months. We have a schedule of things to read and discuss in groups.
My first thought was along the lines of “I don’t like the hierarchy of the church, I certainly don’t want to focus on words coming out of it.”
My second thought was “…that sounds like so much work…”
My third thought came around a little, “well, it would be interesting if it worked.”
So, despite my complete distaste for men that I struggle to believe are prophets, I am going to take this challenge seriously and see if it 1) makes me like Pres. Monson, 2) helps me be more comfortable and friendly with women I openly disagree with and 3) unifies women in my ward.
I’ll admit I have serious doubts about if any of these three will happen, but I hope at the end I will tell a story with some good in it. Today I just want to acknowledge that there is at least one traditional Mormon relief society president who wants unity without uniformity and that she is actively doing something about it.