Pithy Phrase

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a woman, I put away childish things.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stone Throwing in Relief Society

I left Relief Society literally shaking with rage today.

The lesson?  "Standing in holy places", from an address given by President Monson last October.  Sounds like a typical Relief Society lesson.  I surmise I could make something decent out of it if I had been asked to teach it.  Unfortunately, the well-meaning teacher started out with this question:

How have you seen the world worsen since you were younger?

Oh yes.  Well.  It started out alright (depravity on TV, increasing sexualization of women and children), but quickly devolved from there.

One woman mentioned the horror that is sex education, especially since abstinence is no longer taught. (False.  I guarantee the majority of sex ed classes will at some point say that abstinence is the only sure-fire way to prevent pregnancy and STDs.  However, it is clear that teaching abstinence alone does not work with teenagers.)  She gloried in the days when parents didn't have to talk to their children about sex at all (because who wants to talk to their innocent children about something so dirty and vile?).

Another told us that her high school now provides daycare services for its students. (I admit it is legitimately sad that this school needs a daycare).  She then went on to say that when she was in high school, one girl got pregnant, and she never saw that girl again.  She implied this was a good thing (because of course girls who get pregnant in high school ought to be hidden and denied their education [the boys responsible require no such punishment]).

There was mention of women choosing to have children without husbands.  According to my Relief Society, such women should know that God does not approve of them being mothers and that a house without a husband is "unstable" (even though it was acknowledged most women who choose this are well educated, high-earners in their thirties.  But apparently it's not okay to want a child unless you're married.)

Of course homosexuality and gay marriage were mentioned.  (I don't know how I feel about this anymore.  My gut says to let everyone live their lives as they will.  I certainly regret my involvement in the California brouhaha.)

People on welfare were subtly put down, and one girl explained how sad it was that there are oodles of moms on TV with careers, and how "the stay-at-home-dad is often the funniest character on the show."  (This one hits home as I had a working mom and a SAHD growing up.)  She ended with a familiar spiel about the unique nurturing capabilities that only women have (deep breaths).

The teacher then read this quotation from President Monson's address: "It is essential that we reject anything that does not conform to our standards, refusing in the process to surrender that which we desire most: eternal life in the kingdom of God."  I raised my hand.  I said that we must differentiate between "reject" and "judge."  I openly admitted that the conversation was making me uncomfortable because I felt like there was a lot of judgment going on.  I said that we should stand by what the prophets say (a statement I only partly agree with), but that doesn't mean we should judge people who don't live our way of life.  What's going to happen when you meet a homosexual person?  Are you going to reject him or her?  Jesus told us to love everyone.  What did he say to the woman taken in adultery?  He told her that he didn't condemn her.  Just love people and leave judgment to God.

I should have said more.  I should have said that no one is perfect.  I should have said that Jesus told those accusing the woman that they, as sinners, have no right to cast stones.  I should have said that I bet there are women in the room who have struggled with some of the things that are being bashed.  That at least one woman in that room will have a child who is gay or who gets pregnant out of wedlock.  That, in my opinion, President Monson meant that we should live our own lives in accordance with our standards, not shun all who do not live their lives in that way.  That President Monson's talk was actually about prayer.  That being a SAHD or promoting sex ed is not the same as "surrender[ing] . . . eternal life in the kindgom of God."  I should have said that such judgmental opinions are the exact things that give Mormons a bad name and drive people away from/out of the church.

We hardly got through any more of the lesson.  It ended up being little more than a bashing session.  Some smiling lasses carefully responded that we have to make righteous judgments everyday.  Ugh.  There was just so much, dare I say it, hate going around that room.  Husband said it sounded like Rameumptom day in Relief Society.  "We thank thee, Lord, that we are so much better than everyone else."  That's not what religion is supposed to be about.

It's days like this that make it hard to be Mormon.  I believe the core doctrines, but I just can't stand the people sometimes.  Then again, I don't want to judge Mormons either.  I know these ladies, and on the whole they are very nice.  What is it about Mormanity that takes devout, well-meaning people and drills such bigotry into them?

Any answers?


Kyra Orr said...

People act strangely when they scent an opportunity to be superior, and "rightly" so. I think it's partly just sophisticated bullying, where the bully's motivation is to validate him/herself by demeaning someone else. Also, sometimes people just don't understand that they're being hateful because they are taught from a young age to label people and avoid those that don't have the right labels.

Lisa and Bennett said...
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Lisa and Bennett said...
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Teenage Librarian said...

Honestly. Your post makes me remember why I left the church. There are a lot of core doctrine that I don't agree with but could still attend. But the people? I personally think people ruin religion. And it makes me sad :(

Sara said...

I'm so sorry. That sounds really hard to sit through. I'm glad you stood up for what you believe in. I'm sure there were other women in the room who appreciated what you said. If nothing else, you should keep going to give them courage and hopefully together you can increase the civility of discussion in your ward.

Catherine said...

Jenna, you will find that sometimes people are not perfect. The church is true. But people are not always in the right.

Patience and humility can be hard to put in place in circumstances when you feel others are being wrong. I've been in church when I heard people openly be racist, when my husband is Mexican. That was hard.

It was harder when my mom was against him too, and she was in the wrong there. It would have been easy to question the church as a result but I was luckily reminded by others that while the gospel is perfect, people within it arent, and can make mistakes.

These days my mom loves my husband but that was honestly the hardest thing I have ever dealt with. You are a strong, intelligent and beautiful woman. You will be prompted when something is wrong, and prompted when something is right.

Keep yourself close to your husband, your family and your Heavenly Father and they will help you in tough situations. It is always okay to stand up for what you beleive in, when you have the holy ghost on your side.

Much Love,


Lyndi Pratt said...

Hmmm well it's sad that people haven't quite figured out the "hate the sin, love the sinner" thing yet. Honestly, it sounds like you were dishing out a fair bit of hate/judgement yourself. Seems like they've got a ways to go on their testimonies, but we all do.

At the risk of sounding like I'm judging you...

Jen, it seems like a lot of the time you're looking for the bad in Mormon people. And boy, you're finding it. I think you'll keep finding it your whole life if that's all you look for. I think you'll be happier in Relief Society if you just worry about yourself and how you're worshiping God.

I think it's sad that you're placing the label of bigots on "Mormanity," not only placing a label on them for yourself in your life, but publicly placing that label on Mormons for all those who read your words. Sad because it's an overgeneralization - a big one. You haven't met most of the Mormons in the world. Broadcasting the immaturity of a few congregations to all of your bloggers/facebook friends, and claiming that "Mormanity" turns people into bigots is some serious extrapolation.

Rachel said...

This scripture helped me last night when I was struggling with something said in church: "Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it epointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son." Jacob 4:5 It hit me, that even though the Nephites knew a better law would be coming they still kept the Law of Moses. I can hope for better, but until then I will keep the counsel of the prophets of the Lord. Good luck. Sounds like a lesson I would have had a hard time keeping quiet in, Relief Society is my safe place to have questions in the gospel, and as a teacher I try to make it a safe place for others to question and grow.

Unknown said...

Jenna, I appreciate the comments because I have heard things like it as well - and it IS challenging to sit through.

However, I have sat through many more Relief Societies where the comments were rational, reasonable, and uplifting. I don't want you to ignore the good that comes from Mormanity. It will only make you dread that last hour of church and make eventually lead you to resent your peers.

I want to hear about your achievements and talents. I want to hear about your feminism in action. I want to hear how you take gospel truths and the Proclamation and apply it to your life as an ambitious, intelligent, and healthfully skeptical woman. Define feminism with your actions.

An outsider reading your blog would have no idea who YOU are. You don't need to be narcissistic, but it would be very valuable to hear about the good that you have done and want to do. You are smart. You are going to graduate school in a program that will do a lot of good.

I want to hear about how you use your talents to contribute to the church. It's hard to not feel frustrated with comments in church. I personally have a hard time with the spa voice that often accompanies the lesson. I go the route of zoning out and reading on my own in the manual.

You shouldn't believe that your talents make you an outsider or an outrageously rebellious churchgoer. There are many men and women that put great value on women balancing work and family! At such a young stage, your peers are just trying to find out who they are and what they need to contribute. Be patient with them. To generalize (and judge, whoops) your peers in RS got married very young. Doing this can sometimes (judging, again) stunt independent development. They are where they are and they will continue to progress. Allow their progression - don't condemn them to an existent of ignorance (which unfortunately, some will still remain, but let's be hopeful!)

You have the capacity to redefine a feminist Mormon. There are many that stomp around, irritated at the comments and policy. Don't become that. Be a feminist in your contribution to the culture. It would be a waste for you to be on the sideline brooding; you've got too much to offer.

I challenge you to consider what you will contribute. You have so many remarkable talents. What are you going to do for the Church in the next 10 years? How do you want to accomplish change in the culture? You can't change your external environment directly - put I believe you can indirectly through your own actions and attitudes. You'll be phenomenal when you focus on your contributions. I'm so impressed with the way you take your surroundings and think deeply about them. I don't want to see you become the bitter feminist. We need more contributory feminists, which you DO have the propensity to become.

Samantha said...

Just so you know Jenna, every time I read your blog I feel more validated about my life choices--especially choosing to have a full time career with a kid or two along the way. What I probably hate most about the LDS culture, especially at BYU, is that we stamp women down to a ridiculous stereotype that MUST. BE. FOLLOWED. And if you don't follow said mold, you are a freaky weird outcast, who obviously doesn't belong at church.

It is super nice to know that there is someone out there who thinks more like me....I always feel less alone after reading your blog :]

Lori said...

The Church needs you. The members of the church need you. Please be willing to bear His cross in pain and sorrow and hurtful RS lessons. If you leave (even in your heart) your precious and strong voice will be silenced for all your sisters in Christ.

Jessica Rose said...

I've got to agree with Lyndi and Unknown on this one.

I will be the first to agree that Relief Society can be--and apparently was here--totally irritating. I can't handle the "church voice" and the accompanying presentation. I can't handle girls raising their hands and saying that we need to be modest so we can "help the boys."

That's part of the reason I became an EFY counselor last summer. I met SO many young girls who were struggling/struggled with the same doctrinal questions and frustrations about the "Mormanity," as you put it, that I did and STILL DO, and they didn't want to feel like bad people because of it. So we got out our scriptures and started looking for answers and, guess what, we found some. (And none of them were supported by the ridiculous fable that modesty "helps the boys.") They were shocked to find 1) not only that other people had the same questions and even "adults" (like I'm an adult or something?) were still questioning, but also, more importantly, 2) that the scriptures ENCOURAGE us to question. From tithing to baptism to prayer, PROVE ME NOW HEREWITH. That's frankly one of the reasons I KNOW that this Church is true. (Why would God tell us to question if doing so lead to his obvious failure?) (Also--that being said, there are methods of questioning that are better than others. Googling a topic, for instance--not so good of an idea. I wouldn't google a legal case and expect to get an unbiased report of the issues; so why would I google "baptisms for the dead" or "garments" or "priesthood" and expect any different?)

My testimony goes in cycles. I struggle with an issue, study it out, and find an answer. Sometimes it is more difficult than that, but that's the idea. The point is this: I don't go looking for things to criticize.

Perhaps this is an exaggeration. There have been plenty of testimony meetings where I have sat back in my comfy (okay, not at all) chair and inwardly--sometimes outwardly--griped and groaned about how some girl knows her boyfriend is true and another boy has a testimony of Jimmer/Cougar football and some other person is just so sad to leave the ward because she's getting married but the only reason she exists anyway is to have babies...I don't need to go on. I am too critical and judgmental myself.

The point of the point is this: when I go looking for bad in people or in the Church or whatever, I'm going to find it. And it's clear that you do too. It's not hard--frankly, it's a whole lot easier than not, because NOT means having charity and of COURSE charity is more difficult. Of course, finding Christ-like love for someone, particularly when he/she is saying irritating things, is really, really hard. But it's also a commandment.

Am I excusing inappropriate comments or racism or bigotry? Absolutely not. But I'm also challenging you to rise above it. It's not like you spend all your time in class listening for things to be irritated about. You go in wanting to learn. Sometimes, you get a boring/dumb lecture. Sometimes you change your life. ...and the same goes for Relief Society.

Jessica Rose said...

Yeah yeah yeah, I've got a lot to say. No big deal; I'll get paid by the hour.


A couple weeks ago, I was complaining in a similar vein to one of my roommates. Instead of allowing me the pleasure of my well-placed pithy opinion, she suggested that, instead of reveling in my irritation for the last hour of church I should simply try to actually apply the lesson to myself. Instead of critiquing the comments, I should figure out a way to make it personal. It sounds trite; it sounds a little juvenile; but for some reason, it just clicked. Now the lesson isn't about "prayer" and "ohmygosh I had the greatest experience when I prayed because I was scared of a bug and then my husband/boyfriend/dad came and squashed it so I know the church is true" (true story from a recent meeting!)--the lesson is about how I, personally, need to improve my relationship with my Heavenly Father. Again...sounds really not like an epiphany. But it WORKS.

I'd also like to remind you that when you generalize Mormons and "Mormanity," you are generalizing me. You are generalizing almost every bright, funny, educated peer you've known at BYU (Elizabeth Schulzinger? Hannah Horsepool? Kyra?). You are generalizing all of my friends at the law school who, in addition to being much smarter than I am, agree with me (and you) on fundamental issues of gender equality, feminine rights, and education. This morning in criminal law class we had a lively debate about gay parenting rights related to criminal law. It was also awesome to see how, despite our difference of opinion about the particular case reading, we ALL agreed that the sexuality of a couple should not be a determining factor in measuring parenthood abilities.

Any person reading your blog would think that such a discussion would a) not be possible at BYU and b) not resolve at such a conclusion.

Summary: question ALWAYS. Constantly challenge and chew on the issues that bug you. Rebuild and reinforce your foundation. Go to the temple. etc. etc. etc.

...but don't generalize. Don't tell me that partaking of this Church and interacting with its followers unavoidably leads to social failure and racism--because it doesn't. Like all churches, like all schools, like all groups of ANY kind, the people have their foibles (some are more unfortunate, and some are more public, than others). But this doesn't make the doctrine less perfect. That doesn't make the Priesthood less real. That doesn't make my prayers (or even those of people who really ARE bigoted racists) less heard.

You, Jenna, have the ability to change the way the Church is viewed by EVERY PERSON YOU MEET. You are incredible. You are admirable. You are educated (and going to be more so! SO COOL!), intelligent, interesting, personable, gorgeous, and hilarious. People are going to see you and form their own opinions of "Mormanity"--so, Jenna Miller, what are YOU going to be? How are YOU going to change what people think of Mormanity?

Liz Brown said...

This is the reason why I absolutely hate church and do not go. I cannot stand the people. I would much rather be among people who will be willing to accept everyone for themselves not for their choices and not their title nor what they wear or do, but for who they are inside. And people who actually want to get to know others because they do not have any idea what that person has been through and they want to share experiences, not shove their own beliefs on others.

Valentine said...

I could feel my anxiety rising as I read further and further into that post. Rameumptom day indeed. I have sat through so many of those lessons myself and being reminded of them does not make me eager to go back (although at other times I sort of do want to). "How have you seen the world worsen"—honestly, what is the point of even asking that question? Is there any way to answer it without judgment and self-righteousness? The condition of the world shouldn't matter to us, shouldn't change anything about the way we live our lives. Our "righteousness" should not be relative to anything else, and unless we're looking to compare, then why does it even matter what the rest of the world is doing?

Jenna said...

I pinned this quote from By Common Consent after a RS lesson much like you described: http://pinterest.com/pin/95208979592115567/

Angie Horsley said...

Well I will no longer go to Relief Society. It does seem they do not like it when someone just has differences.