Thursday, June 26, 2014

Race and Gender

Will Mormon women change the church from within? Mormonism is vastly larger than Laestadianism, but there are many parallels, and when I heard this story on the radio, I felt a surge of hope for people of all religions who are working within to push for humanitarian reform. 
Earlier this week Kate Kelly, the founder of a group advocating for women to be ordained into the Mormon priesthood, was excommunicated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for apostasy.
“For Mormons it’s really the equivalent of spiritual death,” said Natalie Kelly, a Seattle-based member of that group, Ordain Women. She is not related to Kate Kelly.
She explained to KUOW’s David Hyde onThe Record that to be excommunicated from the church means that a person is stripped of the blessings of the church and the sealing covenant that Mormons believe allow a person to live with his or her family after death – a central tenet of the religion.
Apostasy, Natalie Kelly said, is believing in false teachings or falling away from the church. In the case of Kate Kelly’s excommunication, she said the decision about whether a woman seeking equality was apostasy was made entirely by a group of men. Women are never allowed into the disciplinary process of the church because they do not have priesthood.
Priesthood is essential for taking part in the administration of the church, including budget decisions, rituals such as baptisms and blessings, and speaking at church.
“So when women are excluded from the priesthood that means they are excluded from the entire decision-making of the church from the very top, down to the bottom. Every woman’s decision is always subject to a man’s approval,” Natalie Kelly said.
Ordained men of the church also influence the curriculum taught.
"You might have lessons for teenage girls about chastity teaching that a girl that has been sexually assaulted is ‘like a licked cupcake,’" Natalie Kelly explained.
“There’s an incredible emphasis on women’s modesty, covering women’s bodies, that women’s bodies are a source of temptation for men – and it’s all driven around a male-centric view of the world because men are the people in charge making all of these decisions.”
Natalie Kelly said that the role of women in the Mormon religion has decreased since the church’s founding in the early 19th century, when women had more ritual authority. She said even in Seattle, where Mormons are often more progressive about issues such as female ordination and gay marriage, the church leadership still receives instructions from Salt Lake City.
But she thinks that the church, which until 1978 would not allow the ordination of blacks, will evolve to include women more.
“I absolutely believe that women will be ordained into the priesthood someday,” she said. “There’s no way my children’s generation is going to pass without that happening. And I think that when that day comes, the excommunication of Kate Kelly and other feminists in previous generations that have been excommunicated is going to haunt the church in the same way that previous priesthood restrictions currently haunt the church.”
What do you think? What changes do you think you'll see in your lifetime?

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Margaret's Story (The Voices Project)

I want to thank "Margaret" for sharing her story. Please consider telling yours.

IF IT'S NOT OKAY

My father was not from the church originally, but joined later on (mainly because he met my mother, who he wanted to marry, and saw that the only way to marry her was to join the religion). So he joined, dated my mother for a year or two, got engaged, and as is typical with OALC (Old Apostolic Lutheran Church) couples, got married a few months later and then nine months after that, I was born. Now what my mother couldn't know and what she couldn't see—because she was so naive and so fully inundated with the message that marriage is what a young woman should aspire to—was that my father was troubled.

He was controlling (which she likely mistook for love), he was arrogant, he was opinionated, but because all of this fit within the ideal that the OALC sets for women—that the husband is the protector, that the woman should listen to him and obey him, that the woman is merely the helpmate—she wasn't able to spot the red flags. What ended up occurring was years of abuse not only of her but of me, her daughter. It was verbal, it was physical, and there were times that he was sexually inappropriate. 

Amongst all of this, my brother and I were being raised in the church. I went to high school desperate to fit in with the OALC youth, but just couldn't. Among other things, they were racist, they were rude, they were so concerned with materialistic items and who was dating whom that it made me nauseous—nobody cared about doing anything besides sitting in the Fred Meyer parking lot and smoking a cigarette (or five). It was so frustrating that at the age of sixteen, even though I was abused at home and terrified to my core, I refused to go to church.
 . . . even though I was abused at home and terrified to my core, I refused to go to church.
Of course, there was fallout. There was a lot of talks with my parents, who were disappointed. Then there were the meetings with the preachers, several of whom told me that my desire to play sports and to go to college was foolish, and that I should focus on being a good helpmate for my future husband who would, as one put it, "just be paying off your college debts while you raised the children anyway. Why would you want to put a good man through unnecessary debt?"

But the most important thing about my story—and what I desperately want people to know—is that after I left, I went to college. I graduated, and am a nurse, making good money at a job I love. When I left, it gave my mother the strength to leave, too. She now has a college degree and a new husband who is not from the church and makes her brilliantly happy. My little brother just went to his first prom and couldn't have had a bigger smile on his face. The struggle is unimaginable when you are going through it and there is a depth of pain that is almost unbearable. You feel like a failure because you couldn't fit in, you feel embarrassed of yourself and your desires, but the truth is, you were just strong enough to stand up for yourself when what you knew what happening was wrong. 

You saw a group that was fervently bent on a religious ideology that was fundamentally wrong in the way that it was executed and you chose not to stand for it. Instead of standing for constant judgement and rigid rules that somehow dictate whether or not you will be saved, you realized that there was a way to live life with love in your heart for everybody. It is terrifying to leave something that was completely your way of life, but now the choice is up to you. 
. . . you realized that there was a way to live life with love in your heart for everybody. 
I chose to go to college and get a nursing degree. I chose to get engaged to a wonderful man. I chose to be a nondenominational Christian and have never been stronger spiritually. I realized the joy that going to a really good movie can bring. The overwhelming amount of choices you can make is amazing, and though daunting at first, soon you realize that your life is your own. 

You can be free of abuse, you can create the life that feels good for you, and you can still be a Christian. The poisonous lie that exists in the OALC that that church is the one way to get to Heaven is just that, a lie. It can be difficult to realize that those you thought were your family and friends will not recognize you and will still be believing that lie but understand this: they cling to it because they were too weak to see that there is good in all people, not just the OALC, and the word of God is good, no matter what Christian denomination you might be.
Learn to live free, and remember: "If it's not okay, it's not the end."

***

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why We Need to Tell Our Stories

Recently I was asked why I remain interested in Laestadianism, with the implication that I should have "moved on" from my quirky upbringing, as it has so little relevance to my life now. I found this TED video relevant to that question. It is by forging meaning out of our struggles that we make sense of our lives, and by telling our stories that we give permission to others to live authentically. 

"Oppression breeds the power to oppose it, and I gradually understood that as the cornerstone of identity."

"It took identity to rescue me from sadness. The gay rights movement posits a world in which my aberrances are a victory. Identity politics always works on two fronts: to give pride to people who have a given condition or characteristic, and to cause the outside world to treat such people more gently and more kindly. Those are two totally separate enterprises, but progress in each sphere reverberates in the other. Identity politics can be narcissistic.People extol a difference only because it's theirs. People narrow the world and function in discrete groups without empathy for one another. But properly understood and wisely practiced, identity politics should expand our idea of what it is to be human. Identity itself should be not a smug label or a gold medal but a revolution."