We Are Responsible for Asking the Questions
Twelve years ago, a conversation with my then-boyfriend turned to the topic of husbands presiding over wives. I couldn't understand why such language was necessary in a relationship of equals. My boyfriend speculated, among other things, that it might simply mean that the man was ultimately more responsible for the family's success than the woman.
We explored that idea for a bit, but the more we talked about it the sicker I felt. As this dark feeling came over me, I first articulated to myself a truth I would later often return to: that I am fully human, fully responsible before God, an agent in my own right, and an equal partner in the truest sense of the word. My future husband would need to see me as such for any marriage to survive. And God must see me as such as well.
As a person who insists on the inherent equality of men and women, I continue to have questions about women's place in Mormon theology and in the structural organization of the Church. Thankfully, I have found in that boyfriend a husband who honors me as equal partner, but women's subordinate position in the LDS Church organization and some teachings is something that, unlike my marriage, I cannot reformulate. I forthrightly admit that like Joanna Brooks, I hope for change. I also rejoice in the questions that my Mormon sisters interested in issues of gender bring to the table. Whether their lynchpin issue is Heavenly Mother, women's ordination, the raising up of women's voices, gender roles, or increased opportunities for women, I affirm the importance of asking these questions.
In this I echo Benedictine nun Sister Joan Chittister, who when asked in an interview about women's roles in the Catholic Church made this reply: "What is going on right now is simply the seeding of the question. It comes down to how many snowflakes does it take to break a branch? I don't know, but I want to be there to do my part if I'm a snowflake. Now, I'm a woman. How many women's voices will it take before we honor the woman's question? I don't know. But I am conscious, and therefore I am responsible."
Like Sister Joan, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to raise my voice, ask my questions, and in so doing, encourage my fellow Mormons to do the same. These are vital issues we raise, ones that have to do with the eternal identity and destiny and worth of half of God's children. While these questions are of such immense weight and importance to me, I have the sinking feeling that the vast majority of members and leaders don't think much about it. But when that branch eventually breaks and the woman's question is seriously addressed and honored by both leaders and members, I have every hope that opportunities for women's contributions will abound, and that our Church family will be all the healthier, all the more vibrant for its breadth and expansiveness.
Seeing my Mormon sisters likewise feel such responsibility to raise their voices and ask their questions evinces to me a healthy vitality. Just as the biblical metaphor of the body of Christ insists on the place and importance of everyone in the Church, I believe in the importance of a multiplicity of Mormon women's voices. There is a robustness, a dynamism, a health in an institution that can accommodate heterodox voices, and that same heterodoxy enriches and adds vitality to the world of Mormon feminism.
Caroline Kline is a mother of two, co-founder of The Exponent blog, and Ph.D. student in Women's Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University.