Pain and Healing Form a Woman’s Perspective

Gretta Whalen is a graduate student, writing tutor, and Young Women advisor in Los Angeles. When she finishes her thesis on Religion, Boredom, and Modernity, she hopes to watch a lot more television.

Full disclosure: I am a Sunday School teacher’s nightmare. For example, when my seminary teacher suggested that masturbation leads to homosexuality, I raised my hand and declared if that were true, then every boy in the class was gay. And probably some of the girls.

It did not go over well.

This incredulity characterizes the approach I’ve always had to my issues with the church. Whenever I encounter something confusing, contradictory, or upsetting for any reason, I rarely shy away from pushing for a fair answer, even in cases where there isn’t one.

When I was 24, I got engaged to the best boyfriend I’d ever had—a fellow Mormon with whom I had fallen uncharacteristically and unreasonably in love. Before our wedding and my endowment ceremony, I wanted to learn everything I could about the temple. I was determined to enter the temple, eyes wide open,  with as much of an understanding of the promises I was about to make that I could possibly muster. Basically, if they were sacrificing human babies in the temple, I wanted to know beforehand, so I wouldn’t have to make an awkward exit the week before my wedding.

As I researched the history of the temple, the endowment ceremony, and polygamy, I didn’t come across anything I hadn’t heard before, but now that my future husband had a face — a really cute face, I might add — the language of the temple ceremony–and the concept of plural marriage–had a devastating affect on me.  I hated the thought that I belonged entirely to my husband, but that he might have to be shared by me. I resented being told that my desire to be my husband’s only wife was a reflection of selfishness on my part. I remember very distinctly driving with my fiancé to LAX to pick up his recently temple-married sister, who came into town for the endowment ceremony and sealing of one of hers friend. The conversation on the way across town turned to my concerns about the temple and polygamy. Because my fiancé (now husband) loves me (and hates being in trouble), he stayed mostly out of it. But his sister, though well meaning, was condescending and utterly dismissive. She tried to assure me that regardless of what I’d read, the reason I was upset was that I just didn’t understand. She couldn’t tell me why, but she assured me that all my questions would be answered by the temple ceremony.

They weren’t.

Now that I’ve become active in the Mormon Feminist movement, the feelings I experienced that day with my sister-in-law have resurfaced. People tell me my decision to wear pants to church last December was silly, disrespectful, and misguided. They tell me that my choice to write to church leaders, asking them to let women pray in general conference, is similarly ill-conceived; that if I just understood my divine role, I would get that women don’t need to pray in public. They insist since that they’ve never felt pain from exclusion or oppression in the church, and that if would just put aside my worldly pride, I wouldn’t feel it either. Believe me, I would love this pain to go away. I would love to feel valued and included as many of my Mormon sisters do. But I don’t. I hurt. I ache. So, I don’t need my well-meaning friends to explain why I shouldn’t be in pain. I need them to hear me. I need them to just accept that I am in pain. I need them to try to understand my burden. And maybe, if it’s not too much trouble, help lighten it.

I see this same thing happening to my gay family and friends when they talk to members of the church about their feelings of rejection and isolation. Their pain, anger and sorrow are real. Yet all too often, members are dismissive of their concerns. They urge them to have more faith, endure to the end.  For them, enduring to the end means celibacy and not experiencing romantic love. They tell them that homosexuality is a trial, and that homosexual behavior is a sin. They chastise their gay brothers and sisters for asking questions, expecting answers, and agitating for change. They tell them that we don’t understand why homosexuality exists, but that someday we will. They remind them that their only choices are adherence to church standards of behavior or ostracism from their community. Many church members don’t hear their gay brothers and sisters. They don’t try to accept and understand their burden, and they certainly don’t try to help them find a way to make it light.

When Mormons are baptized, we promise to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that need of comforting. Nowhere in this admonition are we charged with deciding whether or not someone’s torment and sorrow are warranted. So let’s bear each others burdens. Let’s stop dismissing and disparaging each other. Let’s carry and support each other, for as long as we have to, until we finally get answers and our pains are healed.

12 comments for “Pain and Healing Form a Woman’s Perspective

  1. Carol Lynn Pearson
    February 23, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Thanks for this, Greta. I so appreciate you reminding us all (well, not me–I need no reminding) that just as the work is not finished in bringing our LGBT brothers and sisters into the fold of equality, the work is also not finished regarding our teachings and policies regarding women. MILES to go before we sleep.

  2. Gretta
    February 23, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Thank you, Carol Lynn Pearson!

  3. HalfTheSky
    February 23, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    Wow. CLP commented on your blog post. Darn cool. I teach GD tomorrow on the first principles of the gospel. I’m going to brazenly plagiarize your last paragraph. Beautiful.

    • Gretta
      February 23, 2013 at 7:11 pm

      It’s not plagiarism if I give it to you, right? Good luck with your lesson!

  4. Candice Grundy
    February 23, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    Gretta! Once again, you have proven to be a hero and all around awesome person! Thank you so much for your courage, questions, and compassion. You are letting your light shine and Heavenly Father (and little old me) are proud of you!

    • Gretta
      February 25, 2013 at 9:57 am

      Love you, Candice!

  5. Bob Rees
    February 24, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    So, Gretta Parkinson, the cute little girl I knew in Westwood all those years ago has grown up into a thoughtful, compassionate, articulate Latter-day Saint woman. Not surprising given your parentage, but I am nonetheless proud of you. You go girl!

    Bob

    • Gretta
      February 25, 2013 at 9:56 am

      Thank you, Bishop Rees! You’re too sweet.

  6. Bob Northrup
    February 24, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Your last paragraph is an absolute masterpiece. A wonderful and thoughtful conclusion.

    • Gretta
      February 25, 2013 at 9:57 am

      Thank you, Bob.

  7. Wendy Montgomery
    February 26, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Your last two paragraphs describe this past year in my life PERFECTLY. Everything you said was spot on. How I wish my family, ward community and friends could see what they are doing to my son, and my whole family. The pain is most definitely real, yet I am dismissed or told often I am wrong and losing my testimony because I have questions and search so hard for answers. Sounds like we are kindred spirits. Thank you so much for what you wrote, Gretta!

    • Gretta
      February 26, 2013 at 10:08 pm

      You’re welcome, Wendy. I feel for you and your son. I hope it gets better. I know it can.

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