We are the church: becoming a Latter-day Saint woman
by Britta Jensen
After my long daily commute across B299, one of the deadliest roads in Bavaria, I listened to the recent LDS Church news conference welcoming our newest prophet. It was five o’clock in Germany and already dark. Snow, sleet and rain alternated at various times throughout the afternoon, leaving road conditions hazardous.
When I turned on the broadcast it was easy to forget my daily toils, the ever-present needs of my various students, and the oft misunderstood role of being a single, Mormon female. When a journalist asked President Nelson how the LDS Church means to address the needs of the marginalised females (resorting to interrupting the conference with a loud shout: “What about the women?”) I felt quite strange and disappointed. This reporter was clearly directing this question to the wrong gender. If you want to know about LDS/Mormon women: ask us!
I am on what would be considered– by individuals unfamiliar with my church’s doctrine–on the “outskirts” of Mormon society. This has been a frustrating theme of my life: trying to explain that I am not on the outskirts, but neither am I “mainstream.” Neither of these labels are important to either a daughter of God or a Mormon woman. In addition, nothing about me would suggest to any close acquaintance or beloved friend that I am in hiding.
In an average LDS congregation you will find that the vast majority of women my age are married, often have children, and do not work full-time to earn their living. I work fifty hours a week, live in a country where I am a minority culturally and ethnically, and have never been married (or proposed to). However, slide forward 15-20 years and those odds change. Many women become widowed, some divorced. Others have never have the chance to marry (yet!). But, we are not invisible, peripheral, or on the margins of the church. We are central, essential and beloved. I currently am in the leadership of the women’s organisation of a German congregation. By all rights and reason this should not be: I do not fit the mould of what society often perceives to be a “Mormon woman.” Thank goodness society isn’t making the decisions when it comes to church leadership positions.
It is important to understand some of my personal history and how I have come to these conclusions about my status as a gender equal and as a leader. Unlike the common perception of Mormons, I was not born in Utah. I also have never lived anywhere longer than eight months where I was the religious majority. I was born in the U.S., however, 22/38 years have been spent living in: Japan, South Korea, Argentina, and Germany. The longest I lived in the U.S. was in New York City for nine years. Unfortunately, with my quirky personality, I was often a target for ostracisation as a youth attending church programs. The bullying became so severe and the racism against me so marked I had to attend a Protestant youth group. But, I would not let anyone steal my love of the gospel of Jesus Christ, or what I knew was the right direction for my life: in the church. I was not bullied because I was a woman. The reasons have more to do with the bullies than do with me. Being surrounded by loving female role-models (inside and outside my church) has been what has fostered this desire to try to do the same for the next generation.
I have had moments of doubt, almost a decade of struggling with inactivity (not feeling particularly interested in attending church regularly) because of a variety of reasons that I do not wish to make a public record. However, no one in the church, despite many periods of extreme bullying, took away my ability to believe. No one ever made me feel that as a woman I was a lesser vessel of the Lord. Instead, it has been my fellow sisters in the church, most especially in New York, Korea, and Germany who have brought me back, who have nurtured me, fed my spirit and helped me to heal from deep psychological scars.
I don’t think many men are qualified to talk about the lives of women, which is why I feel it’s important for women to talk about being LDS. Many LDS women are so enmeshed with their local communities that they don’t receive much “mic time” outside of the church pulpit. It could be because the vast majority of us are too busy doing the following:
*volunteering in our communities
*making a living
*becoming more educated
*trying to raise the standard of living of those less fortunate than ourselves
*supporting and helping family members in crisis
It isn’t our way to brag, to list our accomplishments, or make public our CVs. We feel that our work, our love, and our lives should be a token of what we believe. None of us are content to lurk in the shadows.
I wanted to share my thoughts, on this very cold, but promising midwinter, as a life-long Mormon. I remain true to my roots, yet endeavour to never be invisible, but always indispensable to my fellow-women and men. I’m fairly certain other Mormon women feel the same.