The news of the recent feminist-centered changes to the temple has brought joy and rejoicing to many. That is important. It is valid. But it also brings sadness and grief to others. This, too, is important and valid.
These are steps forward. As one Mormon Feminist once shared with me, “Small changes that help address any existing inequality are like completing mile one of a never-ending marathon. But we have to start somewhere.”
I rejoice that we are completing Mile One.
I would like to share my thoughts about looking beyond to the miles we have yet to go. I am a survivor, as many women are, of insidious and horrific spiritual abuse, by church leaders and within personal relationships. I have felt massive amounts of sorrow, confusion, and pain in my journey to healing. I share this grief with many other survivors.
Earlier in my recovery, I attended a battered women’s group in a heavily populated LDS area. The majority of the women who were survivors of domestic abuse, also experienced damaging spiritual abuse within their relationships. These women were nearly all Mormon. They had seemingly shiny temple marriages, gorgeous wedding photos, Pinterest-worthy homes, children dressed in matching Sunday best; how perfect things looked from the outside. But, unbeknownst to even those closest to them, they suffered extreme and unimaginable amounts of religious-based abuse in their own homes, a place that is supposed to be safe and free of fear. This abuse was also often compounded by their church leaders, who, instead of protecting or helping these women, told them they needed to obey, honor, and heed unto their husbands, some even quoting portions of the endowment, sealing, or initiatory ceremonies and using scripture and quotes from prophets as proof for this unethical counsel. This spiritual abuse was often perpetuated and justified by temple language, doctrine, policies, and beliefs. It became apparent to me that the rituals, the ceremonies, and the ordinances of the temple enabled spiritual abuse towards women, sadly, in the context of eternal salvation, obedience, and righteousness.
I rejoice that abusive men may have less to language draw from the temple to rationalize abuse in these ways. I rejoice that the decision-makers decided to finally listen to the heartache that many women have held privately for years when it comes to the temple. I rejoice that women may feel more equal and see themselves as worthy and deserving of safety and peace. I rejoice that these changes may lead to more empowered women within the church.
But still I grieve. I grieve for the ones who were harmed. For the ones who were lost. For the ones who were forgotten about. For the ones who never felt this empowerment. For the ones who tried and tried, but were still abused, shamed, coerced, and manipulated. For the ones who wondered amidst this confusion, “Is this really what God wants for me?”
To magnify the exact gravity of the pain that still exists among many women and survivors, I ask these persisting questions to the same decision-makers who hold a multitude of future fates within their reach:
Can you take back the moment I first went through the temple with an alarmed and confused look in my eyes, wondering how I was the only one who felt this way?
Can you repair the mistrust I felt for those I respected for reinforcing misogyny?
Can you ease my need to forgive myself for those women I also led and were left alone, who surely had this same sorrow?
Can you give me back all the silent tears I cried thinking that I was the problem?
Can you replace the lost years of having no opinion because it wasn’t valued anyway?
Can you rewrite all those situations I willingly settled for sexism?
Can you erase all those moments I felt unimportant and less than because I am a woman in a system where I come last?
Can you remove the torment I felt for so long because I was the wrong type of Mormon who had issues with the temple?
Can you give me back all the time I spent trying to make it work despite my dissonance, convinced that this was God’s way?
Can you give me back those moments that unrighteous dominion was exercised over me and undo the palpable powerlessness I felt in those situations?
Can you acknowledge the moment that I realized that the pain of staying was greater than the pain of leaving?
Can you replace the community I lost because I finally chose my safety over my religion?
Can you remedy all of the now-tainted memories of nuancing the notions away to nothingness?
Can you erase the shame I felt when the bishop told me I needed to be a better wife and mother instead of being prideful and perseverating on issues of inequality?
Can you give me back those countless occasions that my own covenants were coercively used against me?
Can you extract those times I dared to speak from of place of vulnerability about my personal pain with the temple, which only further alienated me from the faithful women who saw no issues?
Can you rectify that awful feeling I felt when I realized that I gave away my eternal existence to a man who hopefully would choose to yield righteous authority over me, if there even is such a thing?
Can you replace the principle that I must outsource my own authority to another person?
Can you release the bishop who told me to always hearken to a man, even in abuse, because my temple covenants said so?
Can you acknowledge that the hurt and pain my family (and many others) have endured is everlasting and irreparable?
Can you provide inclusion in these rites and rituals for our LGBTQ sisters and brothers?
Can you address the continued existence of male-centered polygamy, male-only priesthood, and male-dominated leadership?
Can you address the underlying problems of the policies/doctrine rather than treating the symptoms of it?
Can you do even one of these things?
No. You can’t. Or you won’t.
Yet, here I am, strangely, happily acknowledging Mile One. Assessing the miles to go. Hurting at thoughts of what other traumas lie upon our alter. Forsaken by signs and traumatized by tokens. Unable to shield myself from the problems. No longer willing to veil my face to the issues. Clothed in the robes of righteous indignation. Still seeking further light and knowledge on the senselessness of so much spiritual suffering.