Mormon women must be heard

Boston Globe, October 7, 2000
By Courtney Black and Maxine Hanks

When recently asked, ''Will there ever be women priests in the Mormon church?'' Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the church, said in The Boston Globe: ''Insofar as I can see, no. The women have their place.... they have a voice in determining policy and doing many things in the church. I haven't found any complaint among our women. I'm sure there are a few, a handful somewhere who may be disaffected for one reason or another, but I've never seen any evidence of it.''

With all due respect to our remarkable 90-year-old church leader, we find his words unfathomable in the face of reality. Many Mormon women have voiced deep dissatisfaction for generations, loudly and clearly, in print and in person, alone and in numbers.

Thus we want to correct a misconception repeatedly set forth by leaders of the Church of Latter-Day Saints in the media: We are not content; we do have complaints.

In fact, so many women have expressed dissatisfaction that every LDS leader is likely aware of these difficulties. For example, in 1988, hundreds of women contacted church headquarters asking why they couldn't participate in the priesthood blessing of their own babies. During the following years, women who tested this or other priesthood issues were censured or disciplined. From 1993 through 1995, some of these women were excommunicated.

Mormon women are in a bind. If we disagree, we reap trouble; if we relent, we lose our voice. These are our choices: to conform, to risk church discipline, or to leave. When our leaders say they ''hear no complaint,'' it is because they have intimidated women into compliance. Few women will risk excommunication.

Still, if we say nothing, we support the false impression that we are content. And leaving is not a solution. Mormonism is more than a religion; it is a cultural heritage. To leave Mormonism is to leave our culture, our ethnicity, our life, our family, our inheritance. We and our grandmothers have built this church - creating the community, bearing the children, cooking, cleaning, caring for everyone, doing the daily labor necessary to make Mormonism work.

We carry the Mormon vision while denied the right to conceive it; we bear great responsibility for the success of our community without power to define our responsibility or ensure its success. This is disheartening at best, exhausting at worse.

Meanwhile, Hinckley speaks of a hundred Mormon temples ''looking heavenward.'' Mormons have built temples for 160 years. Like fine china crushed into the stucco of the first Mormon temple to make it sparkle, women have poured their lives and hearts into this church for seven generations. For a hundred years our grandmothers exercised religious voice and authority - giving blessings, creating policy, leading women's programs and publishing women's views.

Yet in our church today, all women's programs, leaders, and texts - even the leading women's speeches - are designed or governed by men. All church doctrine, theology, and policy are created by men. While women may be included in ''discussion'' about issues and policy, the ''decisions'' are still made by men.

Thus, when women disagree with male leaders, we are often ignored or dismissed, marginalized or ostracized - until our religion feels less like home and more like another brick-and-mortar building. This puts women in a position of having to choose between our conscience and our church, between our fulfillment and our heritage.

We live in contradiction and dissonance, our hearts breaking.

Personal spirituality is the core of Mormonism. Yet men tread upon our religious freedom, intrude on our voices, and inhibit our relationship with god. Only we ourselves can determine if God is working through us. Men may deny the existence of female theology, but it remains for us to define. We are not content to be denied our voice nor our decision-making power in Mormonism. Our intent is simple: to speak for ourselves and have our rightful place in church governance.

Meanwhile, church leaders continue insisting that women are happy in ''their place.''

We are joined by 50 Mormon women from around the world. More women are signing on every day, knowing that each will be questioned by church leaders warning her to retreat. Men do not speak for Mormon women. We speak for ourselves.

Courtney Black is a Mormon who lives in Seattle. Maxine Hanks, a writer, was excommunicated for her book ''Women and Authority: Reemerging Mormon Feminism.''

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