When we speak plainly of divorce, abuse, gender identity, contraception, abortion, parental neglect, we are thought by some to be way out of touch or to be uncaring. Some ask if we know how many we hurt when we speak plainly. Do we know of marriages in trouble, of the many who remain single, of single-parent families, of couples unable to have children, of parents with wayward children, or of those confused about gender? Do we know? Do we care?Those who ask have no idea how much we care; you know little of the sleepless nights, of the endless hours of work, of prayer, of study, of travel—all for the happiness and redemption of mankind.Because we do know and because we do care, we must teach the rules of happiness without dilution, apology, or avoidance. That is our calling.I once learned a valuable lesson from a mission Relief Society president. In a conference, she announced some tightening up of procedures. A sister stood up and defiantly said, “Those rules can’t apply to us! You don’t understand us! We are an exception.”
That wonderful Relief Society president replied, “Dear sister, we’d like not to take care of the exception first. We will establish the rule first, and then we’ll see to the exception.”
— Boyd K. Packer, General Conference, April 1994
I sit in a house wanting for housework but housework has a churchy quality about it. It is always there and there is never a time when I can say it’s perfect. A recent event occurred with Sister Beck’s talk entitled “Mothers Who Know”. A firestorm of protest erupted from women who were left out of her picture that seemed to put too much emphasis on housework. I think a few of Sister Beck’s sentences could have been better thought out but as a woman who knows how difficult it is squeeze the thoughts in my head past the tongue in my mouth, I know that with time and experience Sister Beck will parse her few allotted words more precisely. So the issue for me is not about the first brief talk of a new Relief Society President, it is in how we as members react to statements from leaders that leave us wanting.
We have to always deal with LDS culture that demands conformity by disallowing contention. It can be seen as restrictive, oppressive and dysfunctional. Or it can be seen as creating an environment that is welcoming and safe for everyone regardless of predisposition or circumstance. Mormon Manners function as any set of standardized manners function in any society. Everyone knows what fork to pick up, when to lift it and what to say while doing it so no one stands in awkward isolation outside of the group. I know that I will be safe and welcome in our Mormon world within a world if I extend the same manners to others regardless of our idiosyncrasies or ill conceived words.
The topic has re-emerged because of a presentation regarding this petition given at Sunstone West on Saturday. I identified myself as a critic of the petition in the Q&A and two of the presenters were kind enough to approach me after the session. They were delightful women and I hope to get to know them better. I was not comfortable during the presentation, particularly when their own critics were ridiculed by reading emails (and those emails were certainly silly) in a mocking voice. When I spoke to the women in person, however, something quite different happened. But it happened because we all immediately and unconsciously slipped back into Mormon Manners and met in the familiar place where we say and do the things that make one another feel comfortable and welcome. That is when the magic happens and we can see one another as individuals with important things to say. That is when we open our eyes and ears.
I have only had one petition and that was to request a sealing cancellation. I resented that I had to do this for many years –until I received a response. Only then did I see that we may be in a church of rules but we were all treated as exceptions. Can we come together as women with this realization and turn our efforts to making sure that each exception is attended to by us rather than expecting it to come in every random twenty minute talk? I think we can and I think we will be better for it.