As children of covenant, we turn to our Heavenly Father at all times and in all circumstances for His guidance and answers to life’s most difficult questions and challenges. Life is a test. Whether we experience emotional pain due to a personal trial of faith, or are negatively affected by those nearest to us (for divers reasons), we seek the relief and peace, which can only be found through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

When the Conversation Does Not Support the Doctrine

Recently though, there’s been a noticeable uptick in online conversations focusing on pain – namely, emotional pain experienced by some Mormon women; most self-described as feminists. This pain is directly associated with being a female member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is said to be the result of a widespread, perceived gender disparity.

The dialogue goes something like this: LDS women in large numbers are experiencing deep pain due to feelings of inequality in the Church and therefore… Most often, these feelings are in response to a negative encounter(s) a sister has had with a person who exercises priesthood authority -- a man. Other female members (presumed to have never experienced similar pain) are labeled as judgmental of the expressed pain -- making it difficult for those struggling with pain to find unity and empathy among the body of the Saints. In order to fix the perceived inequity, changes in LDS Church policy must be made. And from the most progressive voices, only female priesthood ordination will ultimately satisfy.

Note: This post is not about whether or not changes in LDS Church policy should or should not be made and what those changes should be. It is about what the catalyst for change within the Church should be based upon. Is it inspired? Or, is it contrived? And, does it matter?

Apostolic Warning About Perceived Inequality in the Church

Elder M. Russell Ballard gave this pertinent instruction during a 1993 General Conference address (perhaps more relevant today) titled: EqualityThrough Diversity. He said, “In these latter days, we see people, increasing in number, who urge others to feel and voice dissent when frustration and hardship enter their lives. They would have us believe that the Church or its leaders are unfair to women, or that women are denied opportunities to realize their full potential within the gospel framework. Sisters, we know that the Church is made up of mortals, that priesthood leaders are fallible, and some may not always handle their stewardships with suitable sensitivity. However, I want you to understand this plain truth: the gospel of Jesus Christ provides the only way for women or men to achieve their full potential as children of God. Only the gospel can free us from the terrible effects of sin. Only by following God’s plan for us, with faith and determination to live ultimately in eternal families, can we qualify for eternal life in His presence. Ideally, the Church and the family do not inhibit our progress. They expedite it by putting our feet firmly on the gospel path that leads us back to God. We each have the privilege to carefully and prayerfully seek the Lord’s will for us regarding our individual challenges and dilemmas. Personal revelation is personal, indeed. It is not based on gender or position but on worthiness. It comes in response to sincere inquiry. However, revelation for the Church comes only through the Lord’s prophets, seers, and revelators. In these confusing times, keeping our feet on the gospel path can be difficult. We hear many persuasive voices urging us to turn our backs on revealed truth and embrace the philosophies of the world.”

The scenario above is also blamed on a purported increase of females leaving the Church and it not being friendly for women going forward into a progressive secular society – particularly for Millenials. Therefore, changes in Church policy must be made so that Mormon women will no longer experience the pain and alienation, which results from the current experience of the status quo Mormon culture.

The Catalyst for LDS Church Policy Changes

It should be of concern if potential policy changes were based on such criteria. In all likelihood the emotional pain that is suffered, due to relationship malfunctions, not intended in the gospel plan, would not spare any of us from the inevitable pitfalls of dealing with mere mortals – male and female. As you might imagine then, this is a sensitive issue to broach – not wanting to offend or minimize the experience of those in pain.

With that said, I feel that we are facing a similar problem (or stumbling block) that we have recently had in understanding righteous, temporary 'judgment' – it being misunderstood as un-Christlike. The current trend to identify ‘pain points’ of our sisters and how it is inflicted by other members may very well be the intent of the adversary to divide us. We often see these dynamics closely related as they are frequently discussed in tandem -- one bringing the other into play, so to speak. The point is both have their place in bringing us together, if we apply Christlike principles or to divide us if used to manipulate and control. Let us never forget, Satan is the master of deception and contention.

True Doctrine Understood Changes Attitudes

Holy scripture proclaims, and it is the Relief Society motto that: Charity Never Faileth. When charity is exercised toward others, we are assured success – or rather the ability to overcome and make right all things.

Charity is the “pure love of Christ.” God’s love, in its Fulness, is manifest in the Atonement. As mortals, naturally, we lack greatly even a smidgen of this charity. We learn that charity is a spiritual gift, of which all are commanded to seek. We’ve learned that without charity we are useless to the Lord and will fail at all attempts to act contrary. Charity brings into our lives the grace of God – His power to endure to the end and love, as He loves.

Sister Sheri Dew taught about the power, need and source of grace during the 2014 BYU Women’s Conference devotional. She said, “Every divine gift and every spiritual privilege that gives us access to the power of heaven comes from Christ or through Christ or because of Christ. We owe everything to Him and to our Father in Heaven, including the privileges of receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost; of receiving personal revelation and gifts of the Spirit; of being endowed in the temple with knowledge and priesthood power; of learning the “mysteries of the kingdom even the key of the knowledge of God”; of having angels on our right and on our left; of receiving all the blessings of the Atonement; and of receiving eternal life, the “greatest of all the gifts of God.” With this understanding, it is a quandary that we would look to any other source, or answer, for the comfort and healing, which we so desperately desire when afflicted with the pains of mortality!

Emotional pain is real – let’s make no mistake about it lest we risk minimizing another’s reality. Mortality is notorious in assuring that all will find need of reconciliations aplenty. God’s plan and His gospel provide the remedy -- thus, the conflict at hand.

The Advocacy to Minimize the Atonement

In the case of emotional pain brought on through Church association, coupled with perceived gender inequality, however, the ‘pain holding’ becomes suspect. It is reasonable then for those with similar experiences (less gender issues), or not, to feel perplexed by a supposed need to, in a sense, exploit shared experiences for a cause -- versus seeking relief through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and moving forward. It feels to minimize faith, actually. Therefore, it is legitimate to have this conversation so that we might discern if a possible motive for the holding of pain exists and if so, appropriately challenge the thought process.

I believe that we need to carefully discern the cause of all division of thought in what and how and if Church policies in regard to female members should or should not change. Frankly, we should expect change continually, in regard to policies in general – not doctrine. Change is positive when it is inspired.

However, do we really want or feel it inspired if changes to increase the work of salvation were motivated by emotional pain either intentionally or unintentionally and caused by those who hold the keys of the priesthood? Personally, I don’t. And in fact, I am compelled to reject such a thesis.

In a 1989 General Conference address titled ‘The Canker of Contention’ Elder Russell M. Nelson said, “My concern is that contention is becoming accepted as a way of life. From what we see and hear in the media, the classroom, and the workplace, all are now infected to some degree with contention. How easy it is, yet how wrong it is, to allow habits of contention to pervade matters of spiritual significance, because contention is forbidden by divine decree.” Christ Himself spoke adamantly about contention when He insisted that, “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me [saith the Lord], but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (3 Ne. 11:29–30.)

To be Seen, Heard and Valued as Women in the LDS Church

News Flash: Many women in the Church, throughout the years, have had uncomfortable experiences with priesthood leaders (men) and women, too, which have left them feeling sad, depressed and lacking control of a temporary situation.

I could offer a number of personal stories -- products of my over 37 years of activity in the Church. I’ve served as a Relief Society president once and as a counselor numerous times. I’ve served as the Relief Society education counselor on the stake level, twice. And, I’ve served as the Young Women’s president twice and as a counselor more times than I can count. I share these positions with you, not to wave my Church ‘resume’ but rather to make a point. You bet that with that many opportunities to engage with other members, male and female, I have had a glitch here and there along the way. And a few, have left me with having to deal with deep emotional pain, requiring desperate pleas to my Father in Heaven for relief and the ability to forgive and most important, forget.

I’ve stood at the precipice of  ‘that’ black hole (those having been there know), which could have easily sucked me in, making it very difficult, if not impossible, for me to crawl out. If I had made the choice to give in to the bitter feelings, which had completely overwhelmed my soul during those times and inflicted such deep sorrow that I could not alone handle, I might, even now, be lost. Of note (which must be pointed out), is that my emotional pain because of my willingness to serve in the Church was not due to male only encounters. These are problems of mortality, relationships, and differences of perspective and opinion… personalities, perhaps, and frankly, lack of inspiration.

In each of the negative encounters that I’ve had to negotiate in order to press forward and not allow the adversary to take hold, my only answer, literally, was to access the Grace of God, through His Son Jesus Christ – and I knew it! I needed Him and nothing else would suffice, lest by my own choice I place myself in bondage, incapable of feeling the Spirit as I always had before. And then, the blame game would have inevitably ensued – as it always does when we choose to be a victim.

“Grace is divine power that enables us to handle things we can’t figure out, can’t do, can’t overcome, or can’t manage on our own. We have access to this power because Jesus Christ who was already a God, condescended to endure the bitterness of a fallen world and experience all physical and spiritual pain.” ~ Sister Sheri Dew

Come Unto Christ and Take His Yoke Upon You

Without going into personal details, because I have learned how emotional pain places us in bondage, is intended to incite fear and create barriers, and can be used to manipulate people and conversations, a sweet friend has allowed me to share her very intimate thoughts during a recent exchange, on topic.

“I'm feeling that the solution to the pain these women feel is [to develop] a very personal intimate relationship with God. I don't mean to say they aren't faithful, aren't praying or studying. There is a quote by Sister Dew – she said, “Sisters, some will try to persuade you that because you are not ordained to the priesthood, you have been shortchanged. They are simply wrong, and they do not understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.” When that is quoted many, get offended, as if we are insulting their knowledge of the doctrines. I believe this quote applies not only in the macro, but also in the micro. Maybe even more importantly in the micro. What is their understanding of their personal doctrines, personal commandments?

One of the most difficult things to understand is [the self]. Why do things upset us? Why do we let other things go? If we are continually looking for outside answers, we will forever be getting the wrong answers because that is not where they are found. Yet, we look for outside answers because they are easier than doing the inner work. That inner work can feel like there is a wrecking crew in your heart and mind. Blaming someone else can be tempting. Even when others have offended in very real ways, there is inner personal work to do to heal. While God views us with mercy in these situations, it doesn't mean he takes away the need for inner work.

A personal example might explain more clearly.

Most of you know the struggle I have had with my priesthood leaders throughout my divorce. I was deeply wounded by my bishop; I feel he made things worse. In my pain and confusion over my own feelings and life situation, I couldn't connect with him. As I [worked] on myself, coming to understand and heal, I [realized] there were very real structures in my own heart that predisposed me to take what he said negatively. I am not absolving him, but I am saying that as I heal my own heart I can see the way to communicating with him more clearly, in a way that he can learn to counsel women in my situation more sensitively and I can receive counsel from my priesthood steward. This is all a process, one that takes as long as it takes. Honestly, it is frightening to walk; I wish there were a different way.

The problem is, if someone had not extremely tactfully presented me with the idea that I have work to do to heal from what others have done, I would have just built more fortifications in my heart, instead of beginning the work to tear them down. Yes, the responsibility for a kingdom of God focused on respecting God's daughters and sons relies on priesthood leaders acting in righteous ways, it also requires each member doing inner work.

If I'm completely honest with my opinion, I feel those at the heart of [the Ordain Women movement] have deep personal work they are avoiding. The greater the outside chaos created, the better it distracts attention from the real work waiting in their own souls. I'll repeat: even when others have offended in very real ways, there is inner personal work to do to heal, to access the atonement. Our pain clouds our view of the Savior, our access to the Spirit. Doing the inner work to clear pain from our view makes the synergy between priesthood and sisterhood more likely.”

Perhaps these are hard things to hear. Actually, I know they are because when I wasn’t personally in the right space to hear them myself, I lashed out at my giver.

Hope Through the Atonement of  Jesus Christ

Fortunately, the pain I experienced during those tough spiritual trials are years behind me. Today, I am actually grateful for having had to wrestle those demons, realizing just how vulnerable every single one of us are to the fiery darts of the adversary. My heart goes out to all in bondage to emotional pain. However, there is hope the minute you turn away from all things that cause you to remain and instead make the choice to look to God and live.

I’ve come to know the power of the Atonement and that His Grace truly is ‘more’ than sufficient. I have learned with new eyes the beauty of gender diversity in the work of the Lord and now see it as truly brilliant! I wouldn’t have it any other way. God’s way is to make us equal with Him and that requires us to apply every characteristic of Christ in our daily comings and goings. He uses opposition to grow gods.

Because of my sensitivity to the current conversation, where I feel that emotional pain is potentially being used to manipulate a broad conversation to advocate policy changes in the Church, I feel it’s important to share my insights and cautions even though I know that, for some, what I have to say will not be well-received and, likely, strongly opposed. But I know that the pain we experience in this life is not intended to control, manipulate or divide us. It is to, in contrast, bring us to our knees that we may come to rely on our Savor and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and apply the Atonement to our lives – truly experience it. Only in this way, will we ever come to know the depth of love our Father in Heaven has for each and every one of us, His Children, equally.

“Tell your Heavenly Father how you feel. Tell Him about your pain and your afflictions, and then give them to Him. Search the scriptures daily. There you will also find great solace and help.”
Sister Linda S. Reeves


Kathryn Skaggs

Recommended reading on similar topic:

Mormon Women: Thoughts on doctrine, culture, structure, practice, visibility, change

The Millennial Star: Using Joy to Overcome The Pain Narrative

Mormon Women Stand: Pain - Embrace Peace or Seek Incomplete Solutions

You might also enjoy listening to this FairMormon podcast. I was interviewed along with my co-founder for Mormon Women Stand. Much of what was discussed is applicable to this conversation: 

Articles of Faith 14: Mormon Women Stand – Defending Prophetic Authority

And this from The Rains Came Down: Female Ordination: How to Stop Hurting

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