When I was excommunicated from the Mormon church just over a year ago, I was widely quoted as saying, “Don’t leave. Stay, and make things better.”
Many felt that asking women to stay in a church that doesn’t value them as equals was confusing and dangerous. While probably true, at the time I was torn. I didn’t want them to succeed in forcing us out of a space we had fought so hard to claim.
Just this past week a young woman, heartsick and exhausted over the treatment of LDS women, contacted me for advice. She remembered my thoughts to “stay and make things better,” and was determined to do just that. However, when I originally made that statement, I, too, was hurting and exhausted. I hadn’t had time to experience the wonderful resolution and beauty that exist outside of Mormonism.
It is a refreshing discovery to experience the easy peace that comes when you stop struggling to reconcile your heart with a faith community that devalues you.
I let her know that staying is not the only honorable choice.
The decision for a person to stay active in the Mormon church should be based on an honest evaluation of its benefits, and not fear.
The popular home-organizing guru Marie Kondo offers some tips that seem applicable to organizing your spiritual life as well as your shelves. In every quest to de-clutter your living spaces, she encourages people to take out every possession they own and examine it. When deciding to keep or get rid of any given item, Kondo encourages the aspiring de-clutterer to ask themselves: “Does it spark joy?” If the item does not spark joy, it should be discarded to free up space.
I encourage Mormon women to ask themselves a similar question: does my participation in Mormonism spark joy?
I’ve had a year since my excommunication to reflect on my personal answer to this question, but embracing the result has been empowering.
While serving a Mormon mission in Barcelona, Spain, I bought a puffed-sleeve T-shirt with the words in swirly cursive “Stop believing things that are not true” across the chest. At the time, I arrogantly thought of it as funny because I was proselyting that Mormonism was the one true church with a monopoly on truth and goodness. My affinity for that saying has changed over my journey, as it now inspires me to be honest about whether Mormonism sparks joy for me.
It is like discovering air in your lungs for the first time, to let go of the heavy burden of dogma and injustices that act like ritual in Mormonism’s charade to assure us that all are equal. The price of agony needn’t be paid to a church that isn’t willing to hear you and hold you in that pain. They don’t deserve your anguish.
It has been indescribably freeing for me to stop believing that men have control over whether or not I go to heaven. They don’t. In excommunicating me and continuing to punish others, male leaders of the church are gambling on a future of controlled obedience.
It won’t work. We tried to make a middle space where authenticity and orthodoxy could co-exist. Church leaders rejected that. Therefore, it’s not a sign of defeat or weakness to leave an institution that causes you pain. It’s quite the opposite.
I don’t wish for Mormon women to follow me -- or to follow anyone. I want them to follow their own hearts, aspirations and dreams. Sometimes the culmination of that journey will lead them out of the church -- and that’s O.K.! There is hope and joy to be found in abundance outside of Mormonism. There is calm and rest for your soul, and equal opportunities for your daughters. For many women the safer and more peaceful choice is to leave the church.
Give yourself permission to make the best choice for you and your own wellbeing. Put your faith in yourself and in women.
Always remember, you have power. You can exercise that power by sending a message to the church and voting with your feet. You can remove your name from the records of the church as a way to communicate to male church leaders why they can’t keep you or others like you. This has been my husband’s choice, and for many, many people I respect and admire.
A mass resignation event is scheduled in Salt Lake City at City Creek Park on Saturday, July 25, at 2 p.m. I think it is important to register dissent and let church leaders know the cost of their rigidity.
In the end, there is no one true way to dismantle patriarchy. It will take both people on the inside continuing to agitate and people leaving the church and marking their dissent to facilitate the necessary equality overhaul of Mormonism. But, no one should be made to unduly suffer for the cause of religious parity.
Male leaders colonized our minds to make us think we had to play by their rules to be taken seriously. But, we don’t have to stay and “endure all things” for our critiques of the patriarchal system, and the harm it causes, to be valid. Our level of orthodoxy does not determine the legitimacy of our thoughts, desires, concerns and demands.
After a year, the version of me who wants to urge people to stay has evolved.
I wish now to amend my original advice: If the church does not “spark joy” in you, leave with your head held high.
(Kate Kelly is a co-founder and former board member of Ordain Women. This commentary first appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune.)