Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ordain Women, Midsingles, and the Trouble with Agency

Have you ever wondered why a third of the hosts of heaven left God to follow Satan? I have. I've spent hours of time wondering why, when presented with God's eternal Plan, some shouted for joy, and others left the service of God forever. When I was younger, I couldn't comprehend it. How could someone, faced with the prospective glories of exaltation, simply leave them behind? As an adult, I'm starting to understand.

We often talk about the Celestial Kingdom as if it is heaven, and everything else is a version of Hell. We Mormons haven't really left our Protestant ideas of glory or punishment behind. We act as though, by following the commandments and doing all that we have been commanded to the best of our abilities, we will be justified by our sacrifices, forgiven by Christ, and enter into the Father's presence. But it doesn't work like that.

King Benjamin makes it clear that even if we spend all our energy, all our time, on doing everything the Lord asks us, we would yet be "unprofitable servants." A waste of investment for our Father.

We cannot be justified by keeping the commandments. Rather, keeping the commandments is our version of a childish "I love you mommy" scrawl across a piece of paper we have been given by our parents, with a pencil we were given by them. Keeping the commandments is nothing more than a token: an outward manifestation of the change we are experiencing in our hearts, of the love we are learning for our infinitely patient, infinitely loving Father in Heaven.

Keeping the commandments is something we eventually do out of love, not duty.

Many people right now are chafing at the restrictions on behavior the Church represents. Enforced with a VERY uneven hand, some who support things like Ordain Women are being brought up before disciplinary councils, warned to stop publicly agitating for change, and even excommunicated. Others who do similar things are free to continue participating in their wards without even having a real discussion about it with THEIR leadership. And many are upset about this lack of "fairness" in the whole process.

Right now, I'm chafing under similar feelings but about a whole other problem. Not long after my divorce, I began agitating for change in the Church, though of a wholly different type. I've been begging, pleading, hounding, counseling, and urging my leadership to implement a better solution for midsingles in the Church.

I don't have exact numbers, but I know that keeping midsingles active in the Church is a real concern. Many of us are dropping off the active roles like flies, probably a far greater demographic percentage than are leaving the Church over priesthood issues. Singles like me, custodial parents, are barred from participating in singles' wards. We aren't allowed to move our records, hold any kind of calling, or even bear our testimonies in singles wards. Noncustodial parents are free to do all of that. We either attend our family wards, where schedules and other responsibilities keep us from having the time to participate in singles activities and we become isolated, or we bounce back and forth, becoming unknown in our family wards, and being one of a large number of itinerant wanderers.

Magnet wards would go a long way to helping us single parents find a place in the Church. The best part about it is that almost no resources have to be expended. It's basically just a matter of waving the magic wand, picking a ward from the stake, and designating it as a ward to which singles in the right age range can move their records if they wish. That real ward, with all the auxiliaries functional, and with all the needs of a real ward, would maybe have a committee of singles to organize singles activities, maybe have a singles Sunday School, organized efforts to reach out and fellowship inactive singles in the stake, but would otherwise be just like other fully functional wards in the Church.

Some time last year, I finally convinced my bishop and stake president to bring up the issue to the Area Authority, only to have it die there without any response. Frustrating, but expected. And I moved, so now I have to start the whole process of begging, etc. with my new leadership (though I'm not sure I have any more gumption to give the matter.) Meanwhile, other areas of the Church have flourishing magnet wards. It's just not fair.

Just like with the issue of women and the priesthood, this lack of consistency and fairness is a feature of the Church, not a bug. Things are inconsistent and frustrating for a reason. We are meant to rely on the Spirit for inspiration, and so are our leaders. That frees us to act according to the dictates of our conscience. Sure, this "feature" is incredibly frustrating, but once you realize what the real point of Church is, it becomes a great deal easier to stomach.

Have you ever asked yourself why, given that we can all have the Spirit, it is even necessary to have the Church, with all its bureaucracy and red tape? Why can't we just be spiritual, dispensing charity on our own? Typically, the answers are standard: "priesthood," "ordinances," etc. But it goes far beyond that.

We don't have a Church to "administer God's will on the earth." At least, not the way you're thinking. The Church isn't meant to be a way for God to give us perfect rules, commandments, and flawless administration. Rather, it's a vehicle for Zion. It's not the end that's the point: it's the process.

If God suddenly commanded President Monson in a still-small-shake-his-bones voice, "TOMMY! IT IS TIME TO GIVE WOMEN THE PRIESTHOOD. AND, BY THE WAY, YOU NEED TO GET SOME MIDSINGLES MAGNET WARDS STARTED UP. I'M TIRED OF HEARING MY SINGLE-PARENT SONS AND DAUGHTERS PLEAD TO ME FROM THE DUST WITH MANY TEARS AND LAMENTATIONS," what would be the result? Why, we'd all have what we wanted, right?

The goal would be achieved.

But what wouldn't we have? Well, President Monson's heart, and the hearts of the 12 wouldn't be changed. They would not have learned compassion and understanding for our plight. Nor would they have strengthened their ability to merge reason with the promptings of the Spirit. They wouldn't have worked through their own assumptions. Plus, those of us down in the trenches wouldn't have learned patience, prayer, fasting, and trust in the Lord and His servants.

The deal as it is now is HARD. People's agency and imperfection sucks, especially when God's will is being filtered through them. Trust me, I know how very hard it is for more reasons than the easy one I choose to share here. It rakes our hearts and souls over the coals, makes us battle with self-doubt, anger, frustration, and fear. It isn't fun.

But because of things I have seen, I truly believe it is for our good. I think that the red tape and priesthood order, and all the mess that comes with it is so we can learn to love each other, navigate through uncertainty, and become acquainted with imperfection and weakness. I believe there is something in this process that we need to experience in order to know and love God, in order to understand and wield His power.

Please, be patient with the process. You will be blessed for it.


  1. I have a brother who is a mid-single leader out in Reno who has worked the same struggle for a while now as well.

    I wish I could find the quote but, I remember a word picture of God flying around in a chariot shouting the gospel through a megaphone. If the goal was only bodies in church, He could do it Himself. The goal is to make more beings like God and that takes work.

    If we think that other people are frustrating at the ward level, imagine having to deal with all 7 billion of us at once.

  2. Not every single person feels the way you do. When I was single I HATED singles wards. I went for about a year, then went back to the family ward. I wanted to be around families, children, grandparents, etc. A singles ward felt false to me. Right now I wonder why the young singles get the devotionals, Institute classes, etc. Don't us older folks need/want the continued gospel education too? I attend a small branch (twig actually) out in the boonies where the majority of the members are semi -literate, poor speakers and teachers and I'm starving to death! High Council Sunday is the highlight of the month! There is no equality or fairness anywhere in the church, at least not during this lifetime. But I'm convinced that the Lord is mindful of us and gives us the tender mercies we need at the time we need them. Press forward with steadfastness in Christ; He is our rock to cling to.

  3. I'm not sure I ever heard the rule about not having children in the singles ward. I went with my daughter for awhile. But I was the only one the bishop had ever encountered, and I felt pretty conspicuous, and I left after sacrament meeting because they were no auxiliaries to attend. So I'm not sure I'm the best example lol.

    Overall, I've liked your series of posts on singles a great deal. Its nice to know I'm not the only one that struggles with these things. I've had slightly different complaints. For example, I think they should have a much better outreach and transition for people 25-35. This includes better activities that allow a variety of people to attend, but also getting the word out better starting in the late 20s, so there isn't a massive drop in activity for people in their 30s when they realize they are both too old and too young at the same time.

    This is often a cascading effect, and one that I've personally witnessed, as I go to mid singles activities and everyone is at least ten years older, but I go to YSA activities and everybody is ten years younger (and many of them are the age of children of mid singles I've met.) So I've stopped going to just about everything from church meetings to activities because its rather futile and incredibly frustrating to try, literally, thousands of times (counted between meetings, activities, institute, and some dates) and coming up with the same problems.

    I appreciate you trying to change things. I don't think you'll be successful, but you still try which is admirable. I've been in single limbo for a long time since my divorce, so I'm done with my trying phase. Anyways, thanks for letting me offer a slightly rambling response.

  4. I have a son who no longer goes to the mid-singles ward in our area. The people just did not treat him well enough. It makes me sad when he goes to church and comes out feeling bad because he does not fit the mold. All he really needs is friends. It would be nice if he could have a calling as well. It will not happen though, because he does not understand them and they do not understand him. He was a great missionary. It is too bad that all people need to learn how to love all by themselves.

  5. I really like your faith. And I like your idea of magnet wards—it gives people a huge element of choice, which I think is important. With that kind of system, if you want to be around single people and make dating a part of your church experience, then it’s there for you, but you don’t have to rush into it, or even pay attention to it at all. It fits together neatly.

    However, I don’t think Church organization is structured around choice right now. I don’t think all of our leaders trust us. They probably have good reasons for feeling that way, although it seems unfortunate to me. The conversation is about shoulds not coulds, at least for lay members (which in theory includes all of us, but in practice not really). This leads to, like you said, very inconsistent messages.

    I have a coworker who has the opposite situation as you: she is a mother with a child who just wants to stay in her family ward, but keeps getting pressured by her home and singles ward leaders to move her records to the singles ward and attend there. I don’t know which, if either, policy is the default one, and I don’t think it matters, since either choice may be appropriate for certain individuals.

    But since our leaders don’t trust us, they feel they have to make a choice that harms one segment of our membership, and sometimes both. So to me, the real problem is getting that to change.

    Unfortunately, that’s an incredibly difficult thing to do.

    Having been both a leader and a follower at different times in my life, one of the few things I have noticed that is shared in both roles is an awareness of the other’s shortcomings. Leaders never really understand the people they’re leading, not fully, and so can’t fully direct them properly. On the other hand, whenever followers are given the freedom to choose, there is inevitably a huge number that chooses poorly. These bad choices always seem to result in leaders creating even more rules, which in turn create even more things that are disobeyed by the followers. That is, in essence, the cycle of every gospel dispensation, our own included. Moses ended up with his Law, and we have ended up striking out half of the second verse of the Word of Wisdom. And having rigid definitions of what constitutes a “ward,” and not allowing most people to switch from one to another.

    The only solution I have seen to this is to make everyone leaders, and for whatever reason, I guess we aren’t ready for that yet.



Unfortunately, I've found it necessary to screen comments. Unless your comment violates the commenting policy, it will show up as soon as I can approve it.

Popular Posts