An acquaintance of mine recently shared the following nightmare:
“I had gone to the stake centre because I was supposed to teach the youth a folk dance at their leadership conference. But when I got there I couldn’t find anything to do with the church. The chapel was a movie theatre, the gym a hockey rink, the classrooms were full of businessmen/women having meetings, or people selling stuff, and the bathrooms were a food court. When I finally found the youth, they were huddled around a picnic table. I asked them what was going on, most just laughed at me, but one very sad looking girl stepped forward hanging her head and simply said, ‘There’s no room for God here anymore.'”
Horrifying in its simplicity, this nightmare spoke to me, chillingly. I could not stop thinking about it. And regardless of whether I can make it relate to my topic here today, I felt I needed to include it in this post and asked for permission to reprint the experience. If an underlying meaning doesn’t immediately jump out, then I am not sure I can make you see it. This naturally leads to the blatant, bold question, “Is there still room for God in the Mormon Church?” While you may want to dismiss the question as absurd, the answer is probably more complicated than you want to admit.
Earlier this summer, this article appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. In it, Ashley Isaacson Woolley jumps all over the Ordain Women movement, an organization calling attention to gender inequality in the Mormon Church while also petitioning the Church’s leaders to go to the Lord about these issues, including the possibility of ordaining women to the Church’s priesthood. Woolley begins,
“As an LDS graduate of Harvard Divinity School, which trains clergy and religious scholars, I might be expected to align with those who believe the LDS Church should ordain women. I do not. While I respect their opinions and desires, I do not share them. More importantly, I am uncomfortable with their methods for seeking change in the church, which work well for other causes like civil rights campaigns in the public square but are, in my view, inappropriate for advancing personal views in the LDS Church.”
I expect more from Woolley and her Harvard credentials, which she makes sure to include within the first 10 words of her Op-ed. First, I will begin with the nitpicky. She makes the antecedent for the relative pronoun “which” in the first sentence perfectly clear, probably because she wants to make sure that we with degrees from inferior institutions of higher learning understand exactly what they teach at that there Harvard Divinity School. However, she becomes more careless with her writing as the piece progresses. The second time she uses the same relative pronoun, she uses it incorrectly, but it is difficult to figure that out right away, making the sentence confusing. When she says, “I am uncomfortable with their methods for seeking change in the church, which work well for other causes like civil rights campaigns in the public square but are, in my view, inappropriate for advancing personal views in the LDS Church.” Here, the syntax makes “church” the antecedent of “which.” This forces the reader to wonder whether she or he has encountered a typo: shouldn’t “work” read “works”? Once you figure out that Woolley means the antecedent to be “methods,” any argument she wants to present has already lost momentum.
I know. What am I talking about? Pride. But it’s more than that. If you have a good argument, I don’t care what credentials you have. Woolley’s attempt at ethos backfires, Perhaps there is another reason she feels the need to lead off with her credentials? Well, she’s a woman. It’s sad, but our society has been programed to put less stock in what a woman says. If you don’t believe me, then why does Woolley feel the need to declare her credentials as a woman opposed to the Ordain Women movement? Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women is a human rights attorney, but the movement’s website doesn’t lead off with that. Ordain Women knows their message holds all the clout it needs, no credentials necessary. While Woolley’s motivation may be an unconscious stab at the patriarchy, she does have some preoccupation with pride, even if it isn’t her own. A couple of weeks later, in a Faith piece for Deseret News, Woolley takes a stronger position against Ordain Women, including the following:
“Beyond the threat to Mormon dignity is the harm done by Ordain Women to the very cause it claims to support — women’s well-being in the church. The church seems to have begun a deliberate process of addressing gender issues long before Ordain Women appeared, with changes to certain policies regarding missionary service and women’s visibility, but now this group puts the church between a rock and a hard place.
“On one hand, any change on gender issues will be credited to Ordain Women, which [would] be inaccurate and set the devastating precedent that controversial publicity-seeking interest groups are an effective way to make the church conform to one’s personal views (Ordain Women draws a false parallel with events leading to past changes in the church, a discussion for another time). On the other hand, the church may hesitate to make changes to avoid appearing bullied or shamed by Ordain Women.”
Woolley has placed the Church in the very position she argues OW has, between a rock and a hard place. Sure, to the outside world, the Church appears to give into pressure whenever it makes steps toward equality. But that is not their audience here. The LDS Church should not be in the business of pride, ever. Have we forgotten the most prominent lesson The Book of Mormon teaches us? Pride comes before the fall. And whose pride is it? Who is it that falls? If you think the words of The Book of Mormon are directed at anyone other than Mormons, you need to stop focusing on the introduction to the text and pay closer attention to the actual text. If you have ever read through The Book of Mormon, you know that the “pride cycle” always involved the “righteous” or, more accurately, “the people of God.” Most often, those righteous men and women would head down a dark path and turn from the Lord in a relatively short time frame. We immediately think of their depravity. We think of their vile sins. Of course they fell away. Bur “others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28:21).
We live in a world where, despite what many parties of religionists think, things are not strictly black and white. In fact, that is exactly what Jesus tried to teach the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were, to some degree, greater sinners of his day than even the woman taken in adultery. But the times have changed. Their pride does not exist among the Lord’s people today, right? I suppose that all depends on where you pitch your tent. In some follow-up posts I will answer this question in an effort to discuss what the culture of the LDS Church has turned into in a relatively short time.