Kate Kelly, Mormon feminist and founder of the Ordain Women movement, was recently denied her excommunication appeal by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her actions toward gender equality were deemed as apostasy and cause for excommunication. I am hurt by this decision and I feel a personal loss as a fellow Mormon.
Gender equality within religion is not a just a Mormon issue. There are women everywhere searching for their place in their respective religions. We love our faiths and we are an essential part of them. Women of the Wall are standing for equality in Judaism by requesting rights to activities reserved for men. Despite opposition, there are Catholic parents wanting their daughters to have the opportunity to be altar servers. After decades of discussions, a woman has been consecrated as a bishop in the Church of England. Women and men all over the world are standing up for something greater than what their religion is offering.
Even within Mormonism there is progress to be made. Women do not have adequate representation in our correlated manuals, scriptures, apostleship, or Godhead. The ordination of women to the priesthood would be a good start. It would offer women more leadership opportunities that have been lost since the origins of the Church, but ordination alone will not offer equality. It goes much deeper than that.
We are looking for the re-emerging Goddess, our Mother. “No matter how many times she is rejected and even killed, the Goddess always re-emerges in one form or another.” (Strangers in a Paradox, 49)
Mormonism is progressive in recognizing the existence of a Heavenly Mother. However, despite Her existence we do not pray to Her, or formally recognize Her as part of the Godhead. In Mormon theology it is not out of the realm of possibility to conclude that without Heavenly Mother, the Spirit Mother of even Jesus, our Godhead would not even exist. George Q. Cannon (LDS Apostle, 1860-1901) stated, “We are the offspring of Him and His wife.”
Orson F. Whitney (Bishop, 1878-1906) explained that “there was once a time when that Being whom we now worship—that our eternal Father and Mother were once man and woman in mortality.” But despite the beauty of the passage, Mormon women are left without an adequate role model for their aspirations. We rarely speak of our Mother. If deification is the ultimate goal of Mormonism then an immortal example of the feminine would be of paramount importance. The association of the feminine with God is disregarded, and we are suffering the percolated effects of Her absence. Women not being ordained to the Priesthood is just a symptom, similar to Her absence in religious texts.
Imagine scriptures or sermons written in a female superlative, not male. For example, here’s what a modified excerpt of the inspired King Follett discourse would say:
"GODDESS HERself was once as we are now, and is an exalted WOman, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! ... I am going to tell you how GODDESS came to be GODDESSES. We have imagined and supposed that GODDESS was GODDESS from all eternity. I will refute that idea ... It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of GODDESS, and to know that we may converse with HER as one WOman converses with another, and that SHE was once a WOman like us; yea, that GODDESS HERself, the MOTHER of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible." [caps added for emphasis]
Now imagine spending your youth reading scriptures and other religious texts in the female superlative instead of the male. I would venture to say that there would be more than a just few men who would be confused as to where they fit into the eternal plan of their Goddess, especially if men were denied ordination to Her Preistesshood and were only granted its blessing through the authority of women.
This would most certainly be a problem. But even so, I certainly don’t suggest we move toward a single matriarchy filled with text and rhetoric in a female superlative. A balanced approach of both feminine and masculine would be ideal, but the feminine is rarely mentioned.
Some refute that our Mother is too holy to speak of and that is the cause of Her absence in our rhetoric. To that I say Her sacredness is not an excuse for Her neglect. To worship a male God in no way diminishes His glory and such should be true of our Goddess. Worship is a product of Her glory which is no less than our Father’s.
But despite Her absence, we press forward. We seek Her, even when we don’t know whom we seek. We thirst for more beyond the biased God depicted through a predominately masculine lens.
If we are to find balance in the future of our religion we must embrace the re-emerging Goddess. As Erastus Snow (LDS Apostle, 1849-1888) avowed: "If I believe anything God has ever said about himself…I must believe that deity consist of man and woman.” We must recognize that the feminine, as well as the masculine, is a part of each of us. And in so doing we will be able to transcend the expectations and limitations of pre-determined gender roles to build up our religion(s) as equal partners with God(s) worthy of worship.