As a basic outline, most Sunstone panels start with a presentation by the speakers and then go into a question/answer segment.
TW: Heavenly Mother, racism, sexism, LGBTQ issues/absuse, the death penalty, lynching, sex trafficking, suicide
Why I Don’t Need Heavenly Mother
Marina N. Capella is a recently minted pediatrician practicing at a community clinic in San Diego. She had an Med from Harvard, and an MD from UC San Diego.
Christian Anderson is a genetic researcher affiliated with UC San Diego and UC Irvine. He has a BS from Stanford and an MS from the Scrips Institution of Oceanography.
Janice Allred speaks and writes on theological topics. She is the author of God the Mother and Other Theological Essays.
“We propose that God and his partner/partners transcend the concept of gender… which would be different if we were born in a different time or place… which we argue God was. We don’t need God the Mother nor God the Father, we just need God.”
- All the essential aspects of a God are already present in the traditional Godhead.
- Three are many attributes important to mortal identity that are NOT important to God’s identity, including sex and gender.
- The doctrine of a Divine Feminine can have negative implications.
- The concept of a post-sexual God has several positive implications.
- The argument is part of a wider cultural shift in the meaning of sex and gender.
Point One: “a truly omnipotent God does not need a collaborator.”
Point Two: “the purpose of Jesus’ life on Earth was relevant… his testicles or lack thereof are not.” Marina said that the problem with the idea of an eternal example of a body is that God’s body already is unlike ours, despite sex or gender. If God can walk through walls or be transcended, is is almost certain that God can change gender or do away with gender entirely.
The idea of a heterosexual God couple excludes gay or lesbian God couples, and then that moves into the idea of a blue eyed God, Mexican God, or Cambodian God. This seems impossible and, because many social groups shape identity, God would have to have far too many identities to represent everyone.
“As man is, God once was, but He got over it.”
Marina also said that “we hope [these groups] will lose saliency in the eternities… It is not that God has no genders, but has experienced all genders, and so can understand all genders.”
She also quote Cheiko Okazaki, saying: “There is nothing you have experienced as a woman that he does not also know and recognize. On a profound level, he understands the hunger to hold your baby that sustains you through pregnancy. He understands both the physical pain of giving birth and the immense joy. He knows about PMS and cramps and menopause. He understands about rape and infertility and abortion.”
Point Three: Christian went on to say that gender is not different enough— in a way that transcends mortal body— that they need complimentary roles. He contended that there are not divine roles or eternal duties, but simply a Heavenly Parent, who can take on and portray all aspects of Godhood.
The other problem with Heavenly mother is that it could easily lead to a “submissive Goddess” rhetoric.
It also adds to the hyper focus on the Nuclear Family, specifically the idealized nuclear family that less than 50% of families actually have. It emphasizes the genetic relationship between us and God, rather than “their love based on inherent goodness.”
Christian also rejected the idea that women cannot become like God because of their sex. “Right now, we see the world through gendered eyes and apply this gendered lens around us.” He said that “gendered cultural baggage” will not continue through the eternities, and thusly does not require a gendered God.
Point Four: Marina clarified the benefits of not having a Divine feminine, including homosexual eternal families and room for intersex people. She pointed out that “the majority of organisms on this earth spend most of their life with no sex at all” and argued that gender is much more complicated than the binary.
She also said that marriage— especially internal marriage— is about much more than learning gender roles. It’s about learning to “love as God loves.”
Point Five: Christian then acknowledged that they are arguing a minority point, but pointed out that this argument is part of a larger cultural shift from second wave to third wave feminism. He said “second wave feminism made it more acceptable for women to behave in masculine ways… while third wave feminism suggests that we no longer need to think of ourselves as either masculine or feminine.”
“Every week when my calling allows it, we attend a meeting ending with a prayer to ‘God the Father, God the Mother, Beloved Friend.’”
Conclusion: Marina said that of course it is important to be able to picture God as female, but we should picture the Feminine Divine as an aspect of God, rather than picturing God as an exclusively cis-female God.
“We affirm the doctrine of an embodiment for all Gods.”
Respondent: Janice Allred raised three points in counter:
- Christ is a living being, not a hypotheses to be proven. While it is important to explore questions of God, it is also important to remember that “God reveals himself, herself to us.” Jesus is embodied in a male body and was resurrected in a male body. Coming to this world again in this body will bring about the resurrection. “The scriptures emphasize the importance of the male and female bodies in creation… which signifies the presence of a camel deity equal to him.”
- Embodiment is an important part of God and God’s reality. God had to limit Himself to a body in order to create the universe. Embodiment is essential to personhood. “The masculine and feminine elements united in a human soul are the fundamentals of personhood.” Janice argues that a personal God must be embodied in someway, and she also argues that this cannot be embodied in a generalized way.
- There are not eternal gender roles, and everyone should have the opportunity to embody many roles. Difference is essential to reality, and mandating sameness would undermine equality. In her theological work on the Godhead, she has found that God the Father and God the Mother fulfill all the roles of Godhood.
Paul and Margaret Toscano also jumped in with their own personal experience with “post sexual transcendence.” I honestly could not write it down, but it was the most hilarious thing I have ever heard. I super recommend finding a way to listen to it. I am 99% sure that Sunstone records this.
*Protip: look up Robert Kirby’s article on Heavenly Mother. It’s hilarious.
All Fall Short: An Interfaith Panel on Sin
Katie Langston is pursuing dual master’s degrees in marriage and family therapy and theology at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota and Luther Seminary in the Twin Cities.
Robin Linkhart serves in the office of the Seventy for Community of Christ, signed to the Western USA Mission Field. She is president of the Sixth Quorum of the Seventy.
Caru Das Adikhary is the president and founder of the Krishna temples in Spanish Fork and Salt Lake City. A Hindu and Vedic priest, he performs marriages, housewarmings, and birth ceremonies.
Fatimah S. Salleh earned a PhD in mass communication at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is currently earning an MDiv at Duke University.
Katie: She started by announcing “sin is not a particularly sexy topic… although sin in and of itself can get pretty sexy.” Katie is new to the Lutheran tradition, and immediately admitted that she is still wrestling with the concept of sin, and finds the Mormon concept of sin she was raised with “troubling.”
Among progressives, we are kind of not supposed to talk about sin. It can be judgmental. Especially when we name other’s sins. “Since talking about sin leads to exclusion and self loathing, we should probably just avoid talking about it, right?” The opposite is the more conservative ideal of being in the “not even once club.” Which is just essential not even possible. “Although singing hymns while thinking naughty thoughts only makes it impossible to not think naughty thoughts while hearing the hymns.”
Katie pointed out that Mormons literally use the word “worthiness” to describe are sinfulness or lack thereof. But she also asked “what if sin doesn’t just start and stop with action?” She posits that sin might be a “weight of being.”
Martin Luther said “sin is the state of being curved in on ourself.” This essentially means that we seek all things for ourself, both our gifts and the blessings of God. This is manifested in greed hypocrisy, self righteousness, judgement, condemnation, and all the other nasty habits we have.
“Something very dangerous happens when we ignore sin, and that is we ignore the reality of evil” which can lead to turning our back on those who suffer from true evil in this world. Child sex slaves, abused LGBTQ youth, and those who suffer every day are evidence that sin exists and is a legitimate problem. However, this sin is not about us. When we fear punishment for sin, we create comparisons and turn the problems and evil in the world into ourself again. But when we recognize that sin is a system, a “feature of human existence over which I am powerless,” we can turn ourselves to God. And “the business of saving sinners is what God is all about.”
Katie called herself a Universalist, meaning that she “does not believe there is an expiration date on grace.” She talked about how God “takes us, warts and all” and uses us to make salvation possible. This is, in her opinion, in the definition of grace.
“God’s grace is not God being forgiving to us even thought we sin, it’s God being a source of wholeness and making me complete… God makes beautiful things even out of my own shit… It’s God saying ‘I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word.’”
Robin: Robin talked about an awareness of sin as a child, mostly in the form of “the dreaded list” of dos and don’ts. She was born into the Community of Christ church and could not wait to be baptized at age eight. A few hours into the party, her uncle caught her teasing her younger sister and told her “she had a big black mark on her clean slate.” Robin remembers being horrified that should could not even make it a few hours without a flaw.
“My God had become some sort of Santa Clause God, making a list, checking it twice. Declaring us naughty or nice. But at the same time, my heart ached with devotion to this God… and I was convinced He loved all children of this world no matter what. It was exhausting. Then, I learned about Grace.”
The Community of Christ theology is largely work based and sin is portrayed as “a very slippery slope.” Until the 80s and 90s, the theology remained consistent with a preaching chart from the 1890s, with sin and salvation as opposites, with a thing, narrow path to salvation following a series of specific life choices. The opposite way was the “broad way,” focusing on works of the flesh, instead of the spiritual fruit of the “enlightened way.” “It was like sin’s own mega game of Shoots and Ladders.”
However, these preaching charts have now been mostly replaced by scripture, grace, and should searching questions. According to Robin, this forced each individual in her faith to look in the mirror and “learn to recognize the image of God… and be reflectors of God and live out God’s dream on the world… We do this best when we place the living God at the center.”
“We do a good job to catch a fleeting glimpse of God in the aftermath of our own human brokenness.”
Robin said that God loves without bounds or conditions, and offers a restoration and redemption without regard to people’s past failings. “None stand outside the guiding grace of God.” Christ works “endlessly to bring peace and reconciliation… to make up whole. This is grace, God’s love freely offered.”
Works come after love and grace. So, she asked, who qualifies for love and grace? Simply, everyone. It is simply our job on this earth to “promote human flourishing” and do good to others on earth, God does the rest. “To understand the nature of God in that way clarifies our relationship with God, others, the planet, and ourselves… it is not about God and me, it is about God and us.”
Sin is “throwing up our hands in despair and saying [all the bad things] are out of my control… God created us to be agents of love and goodness. Do the choices we make everyday matter? Absolutely. But God has so much more to do than keep tally of voiceless follies… All God created us to be is actively engaged in the process of peace.”
Caru: First, Caru said this was turning out to be mostly about God. Because God is light and goodness, and darkness is the lack of light, which means that God-centeredness is the way we manage sin. If you turn your back on the light, you are lost in shadow and can’t know what you are doing. “The basis of sin is to accept that I am the center of the universe.”
“I didn’t create this body, so I don’t get to make up it’s purpose… It was created by an intelligent designer for a specific reason. So even before we run off to join a good cause… ask why is God’s thumbprint on me?.. God created us to give back, for LDS it’s the idea of consecration. We get everything… we need to sustain us…All that comes from God. Are we just to take all of that, put a period there, and say ‘thanks God?’” Instead, Caru says we should put a comma after God’s works. He gives to us so that we can give back, both to the world and to God.
“The question that will be asked is ‘Did you use what I gave you to glorify me?’”
Caru talked about how in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna talks about how we can approach God and ask for help in all things, but if we reject this help and do it on our own, we are responsible for the consequences. This is called karma and vikarma in Hinduism, which is essentially the concept for “we reap what we have sown.”
The vikarmic activities, the activities that lead to misery, fall into four categories: inappropriate sex, avoiding family obligations, meat eating, and consuming foods/beverages that aren’t good for us. Good karma is sowing good seeds, bad karma is sowing bad seeds. But good and bad are just opposite sides of the coin, neither will give you total release from the world. There is no support in scripture that “good people go to the Kingdom of God… It’s only those who are God centered.”
Fatimah: Fatimah said sin is “anything that takes you away from the love of God.” Which she was originally told by her baptist minister, who said it was simply that easy. For example, if two people want to get married and love each other, who are we to tell them not to do that?
But what is the love of God, and how do we know when we are encroaching upon it?
Fatimah also wanted to tell us that she loves sacred texts, “the Old Testament is Days of Our Lives on Crack,” and essentially the Bible stories are records of people finding their way with God. In Matthew 25, Christ says “those who have done this are close to me… those who have one this are far from me.” The two big commandments are about intimacy and relationships and “what it’s like to roll in a relationship with God… and if we weren’t sinning, we wouldn’t take people away from God… to go God-work is to do love-work.”
She pointed out that Jesus never talked about watching too many rated R movies or sleeping around, He said “when I was hungry, you fed me.” “What it looks like to feed a hungry person spiritually? It’s to tell them God loves them.” The commandments are a lot less about doing specific things, but about how to draw into God’s love and into each other. “God is not judging us from some precipice… God is judging you from the hunger. From behind bars… but lets widen this. What if sin was not doing those to biggest commandments?… what if it was denying love when we shouldn’t have?”
“Draw closer to God and God’s love work? Is us learning how to love each other.
“Sin is anything that takes you away from the love of God.”
Why We Stay
Gina Colvin is a lectuer at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. She hosts the podcast A Thoughtful Faith, and blogs at Kiwi Mormon.
Ken Driggs has written extensively about Mormon and legal history topics. He is the author of Evil Among Us: The Texas Mormon Missionary Murders.
Kalani Tonga is a lifelong member of the church. She is an active Mormon single mother of five children who helped found the FEMWOC blog for Mormon women of color.
Mitch Mayne is a national voice on Mormon LGBT issues, focusing especially on improving the health, mental health, and well being of Mormon LGBT youth in the context of their faith.
Fatimah S. Salleh earned a PhD in mass communication at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is currently earning an MDiv at Duke University.
This will be the thirteenth year Sunstone has had this panel about “personal alchemy” and what keeps prominent individuals in the ProgMo community in the LDS church. This is a break from the “angst we so often talk about because it’s easier” to talk about the good things for a minute.
Gina: Gina told us how her words for this conference have come to her in bursts, like her Mormon faith for the past few months. Sometimes like a storm and sometimes like a heartache. And “we are living through an unprecedented time of turmoil and change” as “good, good people slowly abandon the pews… in a community that has often failed them.”
She had any of us who have thought of leaving the church in the last two years raise our hands. It was more than a third of the room.
“Over and over again I have witnessed the rage and injustice you have had to endure… and I weep for what you have gone through… be it excommunication, social shunning… you are still my people… All I can say is why I stay today.
“Reason one, I’m a God girl.” Gina said she is a spiritual seeker at her very core and her “home page is Mormonism.” She has visited and loved other faiths, and she happily said that many other faith traditions have helped her in her faith. Gina told us about times she had been embraced and blessed by those of other faith traditions, including a time when she was asked where she was going by students on the street and she replied “to find God.”
God gives her comfort and security, and, in her view, nothing can separate us from God. And she had no doubt that Mormonism is where God wants her today.
Her second reason for staying in the church is to speak out about her beliefs and her life experience in the church. About two years ago, she “interviewed my stake president” asking him questions about supporting same sex marriage, thinking the church is racist, and having doubts, to which her Stake president replied that not only did she belong, she was a critical part of the church. She makes it her mission to speak out in Sunday School lessons when people say “bollocks.” Which she admits is satisfying, although troubling.
“Reason number three, I stay because I haven’t been excommunicated yet.”
*cue so many applause*
Somehow, her leaders don’t want to get rid of her, and Gina admits to having won leadership roulette. None of her leaders are being mean to her at this point.
Her fourth reason is that she is a sociologist. She knows that change comes from the minority, not because one day the majority randomly wakes up and demands a change in the status quo. “There will always be victims in groups, who need change and improvement… But change and justice will come.” She talked about how there were only 200 of us at the OW action in 2013, but it was enough to prompt swift and subtle changes in the church. She’s optimistic about social reform, as it is typically precedented by fear and anger. And she has seen plenty of that.
Her final reason is that, despite everything, the church has been good to her. “Every church is troubled by its lingering stupidity, and Mormons have that in spades. But stupidity isn’t Mormonism’s only story… I stay because I realized that Mormonism is worth revising… because I’m convinced that all of us need a place to detach from the narrative or either or… I stay because while I don’t need the church to be right, but I believe it could be just.” She said she stays because she loves talking about Jesus, and because she is a born troublemaker.
“But finally, I stay because of love.”
Ken: “I’m 66, semi retired, and I’ve had a great life.” Ken talked about the blessings of his work, health, and family. “And I believe that my life has been comfortable and successful largely because of my Mormon upbringing… and I believe very strongly that every success that I’ve had in life has been because of the church.”
Ken expressed his gratitude for the Word of Wisdom. He told us about being a criminal defense lawyer, and how he has seen the problems that can be caused by breaking the Word of Wisdom. He also told us about believing in journal keeping. “And, I stay because of the Atlanta Ward in the Atlanta Stake… it is the most interesting, most diverse, most stimulating, most challenging place in the church.”
The Mormon teaching about the human condition— why we are where we are, where we going— really appeals to Ken. When he went to the University of Florida and got into existentialism he started loving the idea of being in control of his life, and that has remained his concept. He said that living a comfortable life made it easy to pick up prejudices about people who make other choices. Then, Ken went to law school and became a Public Defender. One of his first cases was representing everyone at the largest mental hospital in Florida. An early job was to keep a man from committing suicide while they added 100 years to his life sentence. Then he got into Death Penalty work, and Ken couldn’t help but realize how incredibly privileged he is.
He said in his work, it was easy to see people who didn’t seem to have a chance, who seemed to be abandoned by God, but “I feel my Mormonism wrestles with that… In Mormonism, we are challenged to reach out… find those people we can be a positive influence to and make a difference… That’s how I conceptualize eternal progression.”
Ken said that most of the Mormon people he knows are people who are trying to do right. And there are problems, and all sorts of things that he struggles with, but as a whole he “believes that Mormonism is a church that will make you a better person.”
He also told us he believe that “there isn’t one Mormonism…. there’s this whole range of Mormons. And I believe, I’m in a ward that’s mostly converts, and through most of my life I’ve been the guy who asks the awkward questions in Sunday School classes… and it made me really realize that your testimony is your own.
“The dumbest thing you can do as a Mormon is unscrew your head and pour in beliefs that aren’t your own… if you let someone give you faith, you’re going to crash and burn… you’ve got to have confidence and you’ve got to do it yourself.”
Ultimately, Ken concluded that “I stay in the church because it makes me a better person… I love Sunstone because I meet people and it’s like ‘you might be coming from a different place, but you know what? You’re here to make the world a better place too.’”
Kalani:Kalani called herself “the black sheep in an otherwise very orthodox family.” She rebelled as a teenager and came to the U to play volleyball, but eventually transferred to BYU. But she also said she has more of a U of U personality.
Kalani said she has always been a questioner, she wants to know the what and why. “And it seems like every time I make a plan, God changes it up. And it’s happened too many times for me to think it’s a coincidence.” When Kalani was pregnant with her oldest child, her now-ex husband went to prison for six years. She had always wanted to have a lot of kids, but with only one child at 32, she thought she would have to resign herself to a smaller family. And then she had four kids in two years. “And I always kind of joke that God has a mean streak in his sense of humor… ‘You always said you wanted a big family! I’m gonna make it happen! And then I’m going send your husband back to jail’… And there have been dark days, and some days I want to take the advice of Job and curse God and die… In fact, I distinctly recall looking up at God and flipping him the bird. And I think God giggled, because God has a mean streak in his sense of humor.
Kalani told us she had planned out everything she was going to say, but this last Sunday her bishop called her into his office for a chat. She said he was awesome, and her bishop answered every single question kindly and well. So, once again, God was interrupting her plans.
“When I think about leaving, the images of my friends and my family members pop into my head. And even though I know they love me, I often wonder if they love the church more… And I don’t want to hear ‘we love you even though you’re not active’… so one of the reasons I stay during my exceptionally dark times is because of fear. It just is. But it isn’t the only reason I stay.”
Kalani said that God is calling her to be Mormon.
When she was leaving her husband, she remembers him driving away with their last $20 to buy beer, and asking God if she could leave him yet, and God said no. Shortly thereafter, she was pregnant with her youngest child. But if Kalani had left when she wanted to go, that youngest child wouldn’t be hers.
“So sometimes, when I’m sitting church, I look up and ask ‘is it okay for me to leave yet?’ and I heard the answer ‘no.’ So I’ve resigned myself to being a Mormon.” Kalani then told us about times that people were kind and good, and how “that’s what I think the church is about.” And she’s been both on the inside and outside of that, and “she wants to belong to the body of Christ. But, as someone who has received so much kindness, I also want to make others feel as if they belong to the body of Christ… I want to make people feel loved and remembered and like they belong.”
She also acknowledged that not every path has to stay in the church, and she even knows that someday her path might not be in the church.
“But for now, I stay to make a path for me and my children. I stay because I love the gospel. I stay to make things better… and I never want anyone to hear ‘I love you even though’… I want to be one of the difference makers. And that is why I stay.”
Mitch: He started by asking anyone who has ever felt “outside looking in” to stand up. The whole room stood up. As we sat down, he told us “you belong here. And imagine how amazing it will feel when we all belong like this every week in church.”
Mitch is an openly gay, active member of the LDS church, and he gets the question “why don’t you just leave?” constantly. He told us that he feels this question overlooks something about Mormonism: Mormonism isn’t a religion. “Mormonism is a culture that deeply embeds itself into who we are as humans.” He talked about how Mormonism impacts everything from what we eat and drink to where we go to college and what we do for a job. “Mormonism is our spiritual DNA, it’s who we are and will become… and leaving can create a hole in our identity.
“But it’s hard to remain committed to an organization when each week you feel as if you don’t belong there…
“Instead of talking about why I stay today, I want to talk about how I stay.
- I am able to stay because I understand there is a difference between the Church and my Savior. And I have built my faith on my Savior. Putting my faith in the church instead of Christ is a lot like putting faith in the sales team instead of the product… And having an expectation is a lot like having a premeditated resentment… I recognize the church for what it is: one of many spiritual pathways to our Lord… expecting the church to be an expert on all things is a lot like going to the hardware store to buy bread, they can’t sell you what they don’t have… When I let go of unrealistic expectations on other, I allow the the freedom to screw up… which in turn lets me be free of the unnecessary burden of resentments.
- I am able to stay because I have developed a relationship with my Lord, comprised of traditions both from Mormonism and other faiths. I think of this as diversifying my spiritual portfolio… When we cast a wider net, we discover that our Savior is in fact all around us… We learn that our Savior does not hide himself from us… Because my spiritual practice is both broad and deep, I can engage in some small way, every day… This contact with my Savior… helps me become more humble, more grateful, more gentle with my fellow me.
- I am able to stay because I recognize that I am the one who is responsible for my spiritual wellbeing… We all that the gift and responsibility of personal revelation… We cannot or should not outsource this to anyone else in our lives… We are both in need of and obligated to receive revelation for ourselves… My friend once figured out a test for what is our responsibility, she called it the Hula Hoop Test… within the space of the hula hoop around us is my responsibility for my spiritual wellbeing, anything outside if of secondary important or no importance at all… I also have some responsibility to those outside the circle… To be kind to others… To recognize that other people have the right to live their own life… To treat all others with courtesy, gentleness, and love… And I know that I can attend to things outside the circle only after I have managed what is inside it.
- I am able to stay because I am not in the business of letting anyone tell me how to live my life… Most days, it seems like I can’t be Mormon enough for my LDS community or gay enough for my LGBT community… Seek council from trusted friends and wise sources, but I also listen critically, and I have learned that there is a big difference between those who share an experience to strengthen a testimony and to dictate my choices… I can recognize the later because they almost always start with the phrase ‘you need to’… the ONLY opinion of me that matters more than my own is that of my Savior… and really, what other people thing about me is none of my business.”
For Mitch, these four philosophies have helped him remain in the church. But underneath all of that is a firm testimony of his Savior, and a belief that everyone is equal in the eyes of God.
“I don’t believe it is ever my job to condemn or criticize another person, my job is to walk beside you… and lend you a hand when you stumble.”
Fatimah: Fatimah started by saying she has loved this religion. Mormonism introduced her to Jesus (“and I really like Jesus”), and it introduced her to service (“and I sometimes like service”). It introduced her family to Utah, where her single mother found more help than anywhere else.
“But let me tell you that as a woman of color, who feels she has a preaching call, that I have never fueled more rejected… I don’t know how I could be more marginalized… and now I’m working on being seen from the margin… So I’m going say I’m working on staying.”
Fatimah’s “stay” looks very different. “And I don’t know if you would call what I am doing staying… The church wouldn’t call what I am doing staying.” In her daughter’s baby blessing, her husband said “may you, as a child of God, know no limits” and Fatimah says that in the middle of that blessing she realized her daughter wouldn’t be able to do that in the church. “Because I can take a lot when it comes to be, but don’t mess with my kids… There is a whole new kind of militancy that comes over me with my kids… Are they lynching my kids in the pews?”
“Yes, I ask the hard questions, and yes I bring the hard questions to my church.”
Fatimah asked the MOST AMAZING RHETORICAL QUESTIONS that I didn’t have time to type. Get the recording.
But she did ask that, if she was going to get all her kids to church— “and I always said I lose more religion going to church”— is the church going to preach life into her family? Because as a mother of “three brown boys” she wants her religion to be speaking into her children’s life. Because the world will take that away if the church isn’t adding to it.
But the LDS church introduced her to Jesus. And the Book of Mormon.
“So what does my staying look like? It looks like me showing up at Sunstone. It means that when I have down time, I write sermons on the Book of Mormon… When it comes down to it, I may not sit in the pews some Sundays. Most Sundays. But the things I hold true, I ain’t ever letting go… So my ‘stay’ looks like ‘I’m taking them with me.’”
Fatimah said that Mormonism will stay with her. That it will be with her at every pew she preaches at.
And the Book of Mormon is the only religious book that is written to their enemies.
“This community stays with me… God lives, for me. God knows Fatimah by name, by tear, by struggle. She knows every one of her four children. God knows what I fear and what I need. I am grateful God has seen me through 24 years in the Mormon tradition, I am glad I had 13 years in the Islamic tradition.
“Bring on truth, bring on light, bring on God, because the way I see it, I’m going to need all of it.
“And where ever you are, it’s okay. Even if it means leaving.
“God loves us. May we be a good people. May we be good to each other… Be good to each other.
“In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
FEMWOC: Women of Color Crash the Bloggernacle Party
Gina Colvin is a lectuer at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. She hosts the podcast A Thoughtful Faith, and blogs at Kiwi Mormon.
Bryndis Roberts is an adult convert to the LDS Church from the Black Baptist Faith. She is an attorney and had her own firm, Jenkins & Roberts LLC.
Jennifer Gonzalez is an information designer, immigrant rights advocate, and founder of Torchlight Legal, and non-profit/tech startup supporting asylum seekers.
Natasha Smith describes herself as a Unitarian Universalist Mormon. She has a BA from the University of Chicago and works as a criminal defense paralegal.
Kalani: Kalani started by sharing a bit about the history of FEMWOC. Last October, the FEMWOC community came together after a series of conversations in the online feminist community where women of color were being shut down and shut out of conversations. And thus FEMWOC was born. It was originally a FB group, a place to go that was just for their community: where it was okay to be angry and okay to be sad an okay to be themselves.
As these conversation progressed, “it was so exciting because we realized this was something special that we had… what are we going to do with this?” And so they started the blog.
The tagline is “by us, about us, for us” with “us” being women of color in the MoFem community.
Last October, Kalani has just ended an abusive marriage to a high profile member of a Tongan gang. She said it took her a lot of time to realize it was abusive because “he never hit me… But he would tell me he had shot people for being less disrespectful… and I believed his implied threats.” Kalani said that she looks back on her marriage, and had mostly empathy for her ex-husband because of the situation he grew up in, where he was constantly stripped of his dignity, power, and control. “And sometimes, when people lose control, they try to regain it in weird ways.”
Kalani said that it took her a long time to look at her situation and more specifically her husband’s situation and realize that it was a result of systemic racism. “Because he was an asshole sometimes, but it was also something so much bigger… these systemic things really created the person who was my husband.
“So I want to talk about what lead me to the place where I said ‘you know, I should marry a known, violent gang member, have his babies, and live happily ever after!’”
Kalani then told us about four relationships with Polynesian men she had had through college. The first was a man who “was honestly so good to me,” but after two years of dating without marriage in sight, she broke things off. Because marriage was what she was supposed to do. “Because I thought it was more important to find someone who would marry me, than to find someone who would love me and cherish me… and almost immediately after we broke up, he found a white woman and marriage her right away… Which would be a sucky story in and of itself, but it happened to me three more times!… and every time they either married someone who was all white or all Polynesian.”
She had heard in YW that she was supposed to marry someone of her own race, and eventually was almost convinced that she was unmarriageable. “Which lead to one of my more interesting life choice of finding a known criminal and thinking we could make things works.” Which is why she says she wants to “karate chop people in the neck” for teaching damaging, harmful, outdated material. Because this harmful marriage— the price of “being a brown body in this white church”— is the most impactful way the LDS church had touched Kalani’s life.
This lead to FEMWOC because Kalani believes it is a space where women of color can combat the harmful messages they receive in this white church. “And I hope this can help me be a better mother and a better woman and help my daughters grow up to be strong and confident in ways I was not.”
Natasha: When Jennifer was about six years old, she really wanted to go to Disney Land. She was living in Germany at the time, but she asked her mom and begged because she thought it would change everything in her life. She was convinced that if she could get to Disney Land and meet Mickey Mouse, she thought he could use his white gloves and his white magic to turn her white.
Her biggest issue with her race at this age was that she didn’t look like her mom or the people on TV. As an autistic, biracial child, she struggled with a sense of belonging and acceptance. Which is one of the major reasons she joined the church.
Yet, as a teenager, she was still researching skin whitening methods. “I learned when I was young that being a good Mormon meant emulating whiteness, and setting aside blackness.” She learned about the important of raising a family in the covenant, and when she got her patriarchal blessing, all she wanted to hear was that she would get married, to prove her leaders wrong. “But I learned quickly that ‘dating the right meant dating the white,’ and no one would date outside their race… We are part of a religion that believes that righteousness can be manifested fully through appearance.”
When she left the church, she found a community that valued how she looked. No one compared her to Whoopi Goldburg anymore.
She no longer felt too trashy or too frumpy in Mormon modesty, among her new community, her body was sexy. She was almost 18 before she had her first kiss, but then she embraced masturbation and her sexuality (and is still embracing masturbation), and learned to love herself physically, even the black parts. Learned to own herself.
This was true of her faith as well. She doesn’t fear atheism because she accepted it as a possible reality to embrace her faith. She did the same with her race. Then she decided it was time to go back to religion. She met her husband at FHE, and even though she overlooked him originally for being Mormon and white, “he accepted my enlightenment” and they got married. But the wedding night was awful, “even though I had had sex previously, I couldn’t figure out how to do it as a Mormon… and I had to think, ‘man, maybe it’s true. Maybe black guys ARE better.’” She now admits that it’s not true.
“We had to try the sexual things we thought were wrong, or naughty… We had to try.” They both had a hard time overcoming the Mormon mindset and “we eventually went to that place of fear, and accepted who we are as a people in a religion… and accept who we are for all of our desires.
“This is what I think we’re doing in FEMWOC, I mean, obviously, not exactly what we’re doing in FEMWOC. Next meeting maybe. But I’m finding a place to accept me… Mormonism won’t accept me on it’s own… So I’m creating my own belonging, I shouldn’t have to, but there it is…
“And I’m inviting you all to stand in this acceptance and belonging with us.”
Jennifer: Jennifer is a 36 year old single Mormon “who has never taken a sabbatical, so I am well on my way to the 40 year old virgin.” She decided recently to stop going to the mid-singles ward, and is now going to a family ward to reclaim her own social life.
“But when you are single in a church that has talked about marriage since you were about seven… you go through all those phases.”
She told us about flirting, then dating, then going to college where everyone was getting married except for her, then grad school where everyone was married except for her, and then leaving the Mormon community where everything thought she was cool, except she was Mormon “which got really weird around the second to fourth date conversation.”
Jennifer also says that, even though no one has ever said “I really like you, but I can’t bring a Mexican girl home to Idaho,” but when “Mormon missionaries lay in bed at night imagining the girl they’re going to marry, they don’t look like me.” In her school single’s ward, she was asked on her first ever guy-likes-girl date. He had just come home from his mission in Mexico, was very interested in her favorite type of “musicka,” and brought her to Betos for “nostalgic” food. And she artfully blew him off on any fourth dates because “I was really tired of talking about Mexico.”
She told us more awful dating stories, coming to the conclusion that “there is a very significant likelihood that I will never marry, will never have a partner in this life, and if I do it will come at a very high price.” She has found that she will either have to push her ethnic or her religious identity to the side. Because she is very tired of dealing with white fragility on dates and is tired of knowing that if she wants to have a good time, she should probably not talk about the things she cares about.
“So now I have to find out who I am, as a brown woman, as a latino woman, in this very constrained environment… in a community where I am nothing but a body, and it is sub par to them…
“And one of the things we do at FEMWOC is just put this story out there.
“But it’s not just out there, it’s everywhere. And I don’t know where it ends. And this refrain, these beats and echoes, is part of every moment.”
Gina: “So, there I was, I was 17 in the flush of you. I was a brown bastard with big boobs and a bitching attitude. And I turned a white boy’s head, and his body came from high places… And he had never sat with a negro girl on the pews who didn’t wear her purity like a color. Purity is a color, did you know that? It’s white.”
The idea for FEMWOC came out of immense frustration, because “it was always an odd feeling to be talked about, not with… so FEMWOC was born as a safe harbor… a place where we aren’t required to be careful or polite… under the white, male, Mormon gaze… And at the same time, recover from white feminism.”
(Honestly, this was beautiful and incredible, listening to the recording.)
“We actively intersect our various identities… We are many, many, many things, too many things, all at the same time.”
Bryndis: When Bryndis joined the LDS church in 2008, she came from the Black Baptist Faith. And that faith does not seem to have a problem with talking about sex, so when she got into the LDS church, she was a bit confused. About why there was such a focus on modesty, why men felt they could comment, and she tries to be a wise, reasonable matriarch, but “when a man walks up to you and has the temerity to say that, a karate chop to the neck sounds pretty good.”
But she figured she could deal with it because she was a “strong, black woman.” But she was appalled by the stories her younger sisters would tell. Like interviews where bishops asked young girls if they had engaged in beastiality.
“We started FEMWOC so we could have some real discussions about these things… But we couldn’t have these discussions in the same place with [white feminists]. Because when I was bold enough, or when my sisters were bold enough, to share their feelings, you would come in and take those feelings away… But not being liked because you don’t have red hair is nothing like being called the n-word… nothing like showing up in court and having the judge be in his chambers with his secretary, and when the judge asks if they lawyer is here and the secretary says yes, the judge says ‘but I didn’t see anyone but that colored lady.’”
Bryndis created FEMWOC for a place where she, and other women of color, could be safe from other people’s lack of understanding.
“This might seem a little far out, but I would rather believe we have imperfect leaders than and imperfect God.” (In relation to the Priesthood ban, and the current racism.) “Lots of reasons have been forth for… not treating people of African decent as anything resembling equal… Maybe the church was teaching about the curse of Cain, and maybe church leaders really believe that. But I believe it was more than that. I believe it was fear of the black man, the savage man, who was intent upon defiling the sanctity of white womanhood… It may make you uncomfortable to even think about that, but are you more motivated to think about our leaders being motivated by things that are ugly and awful, or our God?”
She talked about William McHarry and his priesthood and how he was excommunicated, at least in part, for practicing polygamy with white women. How there was a shift in the rhetoric after that, and how Brigham Young eventually took the priesthood away from black men entirely. Which, of course, meant that black men would have nothing.
“I submit to you that if we are going to really live the premise that ‘all are alike unto God’… we need to get rid of the idea that skin color matters at all…
“If you really want to be an ally, if you really care about the pain that women in brown skin endure, you will make sure that none of this is ever taught to any brown child again.”