God the Mother
by Janice Allred
Equality and Diversity
[p.250]It was my husband’s parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary and a three-day family reunion had been planned to celebrate it. Unlike earlier family reunions which had been held in the mountains or by a lake in an environment offering many outdoor activities and providing places where the children could gather for games or visiting or just hanging out, this reunion was in Denver where my husband’s parents live. The planners had wanted to honor their parents at a party which their friends and extended family members could attend. The Allred family is large and none of the brothers’ and sisters’ families live in Denver. This meant that most of us had to stay in motels. Although activities were planned, my children missed the spontaneous, friendly atmosphere of the reunions they had enjoyed in other years.
The planned activities of the first day were a morning hike in the nearby mountains and the party honoring the grandparents in the evening. Because we had had car trouble on our way to Denver, we did not arrive at our motel until 4:30 in the morning, so we were late arriving at the hike and consequently our five youngest children missed hiking with their cousins. (We have nine children. Two of our older sons were unable to attend the reunion, and our eldest daughter, her husband, and one other son didn’t arrive until later that afternoon.) We spent the afternoon at the motel, and the party that evening did not meet their expectations of what a family reunion should be or match their memories of what reunions had been in the past.
The first activity of the second day was an early morning temple session for the adults. I had some reservations about attending this activity. Although I had a temple recommend, one of the brothers and his wife did not, and I did not feel it was right to plan events which excluded some family members. My own membership was being threatened at the time because of [p.251]an essay I had written on God the Mother which had just been published in Dialogue: A Journal of Monnon Thought (and which is reprinted in this compilation), and I was sensitive about the feelings of rejection a person experiences in being excluded. However, I decided to attend the temple session because my oldest daughter and her husband would be there and I wanted to be with them in the temple as many times as I could before this privilege was denied me.
My husband, David, and I woke up early, dressed quietly, and slipped away, leaving the children peacefully asleep. We returned a few hours later to a scene of chaos. We learned that about ten minutes after we’d left our two-year-old boy had woken up and screamed because I was not there. He woke everyone and insisted on being carried around the parking lot so he could look for me. Some of the children had managed to find the breakfast the motel served, but they were still starving, they said, because it had been inadequate. The younger children had spent the morning watching TV, rolling around on each other, and fighting; and the older children had spent the morning trying to appease the baby and get the younger children to be quiet so they could sleep. They all began complaining bitterly as soon as we entered the room. After commiserating with them, I reminded them that they were supposed to be dressed in their Sunday clothes, ready to go to the park for the family picture. They all rebelled against going, protesting that they did not want to put on their Sunday clothes, did not want to be in the family picture, and wondered why, since there was nothing for them to do, they had suffered the horrible trip over. (It had, indeed, been a horrible trip. To keep the engine from overheating, we had had to drive with the heat on, even though it was July, and wait many times at the side of the road while the engine cooled off.) We finally persuaded them to be in the family picture to please their grandparents.
After standing an hour and a half in the sun while the photographer tried to get fifty people to stand still and look in the same direction, our children’s mood had not improved. They demanded to know if the next activity was something they would enjoy. David sheepishly told them that it was a lunch at a nice restaurant for the adults. Our older children, who are adults, wanted to know if they were invited. “Well,” David admitted, it’s not actually for adults; it’s for my parents and their children and their spouses.” Our married daughter huffily remarked, “If they’re not going to invite us, at least they could refrain from calling us children.” To assuage their disappointment, we told them that the activiry after lunch was specifically planned for the children. It was swimming in grandma’s and grandpa’s [p.251]neighborhood pool. We assured them that this would be a lot of fun as they had reserved the pool just for the family and after swimming there would be pizza. They were somewhat appeased, so we gave them some money to buy sandwiches for lunch and went to the restaurant.
When we returned, the younger children were all waiting impatiently in their swimming suits. The older children had gone in our other car to see the sights of Denver, and the baby, John, was asleep. The children got a ride with one of their uncles to the pool, and David and I waited for John to wake up. About an hour later, we drove over to the pool. David stayed in the car to take a nap, and John and I found a chair to sit on while we watched the swimmers. I noticed other people there besides our family. Oh well, I thought, another disappointment. After a while, my eleven-year-old son, Enoch, came up to me and inquired in an irate voice, “Did you know that some of your brothers-in-law are ageists and moneyists?”
Recognizing that this was not a question about my knowledge of the prejudices of my brothers-in-law but an invitation to inquire further, I said, “I haven’t given that question much thought. Do you think they are?”
“They are. I don’t think they are; they are,” he said indignantly. “They think that just because they’re older than us, they can tell us what to do. Should someone be able to tell someone else what to do just because he’s older? No, I don’t think so. They think because they support us they can tell us what to do. Is it our fault we can’t earn money? Should they be able to tell us what to do just because they have more money than us? I don’t think so.”
Wondering what had caused this discussion, I inquired further and learned that while the children had been swimming, the lifeguard had suddenly blown her whistle and announced, “Adult swim only!” She had made all the children get out of the pool. Enoch had protested that it wasn’t fair and tried to get her to let them swim. However, she was adamant about enforcing a pool rule which set aside fifteen minutes every hour for adults only. Apparently at this point Enoch had gotten into a discussion with his uncles about children’s rights and discovered their ageism and moneyism. While Enoch and I were talking, the lifeguard again blew her whistle and announced, “Adult swim only!” This time the children all obediently climbed out of the pool. My other children came over by me and huddled shivering close to me as two adults had the pool to themselves. “It’s not fair!” my thirteen- year-old daughter exclaimed. “Could they get away with this if they said, ‘Whites only can swim,’ or ‘Men only can swim’? No, but because we’re children we don’t have any rights.”
[p.253]I have taken some time to explain my children’s feelings of being excluded, rejected, and ignored. The reasons I have given to explain these feelings are formal and structural ones-the arrangement of the program, the physical setting, the rules of the pool. I haven’t discussed deeper family issues and my own feelings of rejection which also played a part in these events. And surely there is another side to this story. Perhaps my children’s unhappiness was their own fault; perhaps they should have made their own fun and been grateful for the activities provided for them. For every complaint of an injustice, there is a justification of it; for every objection to a privilege, a rationale for it.
Issues of inclusion-exclusion, rejection-acceptance, justice-injustice) privilege-disenfranchisement, and power-powerlessness are present in all groups. The way we deal with them both as groups and as individuals reflects our values and commitments. As a church community concerned with how its members treat and value each other, we should give serious consideration to how these issues affect the way church members relate to each other. One way of understanding these issues is in the tension between equality and diversity.
Equality and diversity seem to be opposing concepts. Equality is sameness, diversity difference. However, as concepts these ideas depend on each other. Without an idea of sameness there could be no idea of difference, without an idea of difference no idea of sameness. Diversity is a necessary quality of existence. Physical reality depends on the existence of opposing forces, space requires different dimensions, and time is defined by change. Human societies recognize and are structured by different roles and functions, which are necessitated by the different personal qualities, resources, situations, and opportunities of its members. While difference is real and existential, sameness is ideal or conceptual; indeed, the concept of sameness is a necessity for thought. Thought depends on recognizing the identity of persons, objects, and patterns. Identity, of course, must be established by contrast, so it is equally true to say that difference is a necessity of thought. Similarly, there are equalizing and stabilizing forces in nature and society. Nevertheless, it is generally true that difference is a fact, a feature of reality, and equality is an ideal that must be imposed conceptually or brought about by unnatural means. We must desire and work for equality.
The ideal of unity, oneness, and equality is strong in Christianity. Jesus prayed to the Father that his disciples might “be one, even as we are one” Oohn 17:22). In the Doctrine and Covenants he tells the people of his church, “Be one: and if ye are not one, ye are not mine” (38:27). The scrip-[p.254]tures that describe the church of Christ or the people of God in times of righteousness characterize them as being united. Concerning the city of Enoch the scriptures say, “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there were no poor among them” (Moses 7: 18). The members of the early Christian church “were of one heart and one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common” (Acts 4:32). Mormon describes the equality that existed in the church of Christ that was established after Jesus visited the Nephites. “There were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. And they had all things in common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift” (4 Ne. 2-3).
Since equality can never be absolute, what kind of equality should the church of Christ seek? Some kinds of equality, such as equality of personal characteristics, or talents, or experiences, seem undesirable and impossible to achieve. The scriptures mention an equality of possessions. It seems to me that there would be problems in achieving this without sacrificing other important equalities, and there might be a number of ways of implementing the ideal of having all things in common, but it is significant that a righteous church is always described this way. It shows that the people of God take the ideal of equality seriously and that real equality must have material and structural manifestations. It cannot simply be spiritual. Indeed, the Lord declares that spiritual equality cannot be attained unless we become equal in earthly things. “For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot become equal in obtaining heavenly things” (D&C 78:6).
Why should we seek an equality that is difficult and finally impossible to fully attain? Seeking any kind of equality-equality of possessions, income, education, or opportunity-must be based on a belief in a deeper equality, in the belief that all human beings are of equal value. The Lord tells us that we should esteem every person as we esteem ourselves and if we do this we will seek other kinds of equality.
And again I say unto you, let every man esteem his brother as himself—
For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou here—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just?
Behold, this have I given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I [p.255]am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine (D&C 38:25-27).
The belief in human equality can be supported by philosophical arguments and scriptural texts, but philosophical arguments and scriptural texts have been used to support all kinds of privilege, inequality, and oppression. Although rational and authoritative arguments playa part in forming our beliefs, deep commitments and beliefs are formed in our experiences before they are consciously formulated. The belief in human equality is formed principally in religious and self-transcending experiences, in our loneliness and efforts to communicate with others, in our ethical concerns and desires to live justly, in our despair at our own selfishness and horror at the crimes of humanity, in our own pain and compassion for the pain of others, in our search for truth, and in our reaching in faith for God.
A philosophical argument for human equality, which is the idea that human beings are all of equal value, might go like this: Value does not exist apart from a being who values. All values, then, exist in relationship to the ones doing the valuing. Evetything other than valuing beings has only instrumental value. All objects, ideas, institutions, and artistic creations have value only in relation to human needs and desires, since value is a human creation; only human beings have intrinsic value. There can be no reason for valuing one human being over another. All arguments defending superiority are self-serving. Since no one is capable of taking an objective standpoint, of escaping his or her own subjectivity, we must conclude that each person (or valuing being) is of equal value.
The belief that all people are of equal value is often based on the belief that God created each of us and loves each of us equally. From the philosophical point of view which I have just presented, this argument has validity since God exists outside of humanity, is superior to humanity, and thus can take an objective view of the matter. The problem, of course, is knowing what God thinks and has said about this matter. Many people believe that God favors certain groups, often groups they belong to, or that he values people according to their merits, merits which they believe they possess or could possess if they tried hard enough.
For me, Christianity offers in the atonement of Jesus Christ the most compelling reason to believe in human equality. God became a human being. Could there be a better way to show how much he valued us? He sacrificed his eternal life in his birth and in his death to give each of us the gift of eternal life. In his atonement he made himself equal to each of us. How, then, can any of us claim to be superior to anyone else?
[p.256]In one of the great statements of human equality, the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Jefferson bases human equality on God’s creation of humanity and asserts that this equality means that every human being has certain basic rights simply by virtue of being a human being. These rights are given by God and cannot and should not be taken away by any person, government, or institution. The most basic human right is freedom, the right to self-determination, and all other human rights arise out of this one.The scriptures teach that God grants human beings free agency, the power to act on their own desires, the power to follow their own wills. Allowing, honoring, and protecting the agency of every human being is fundamental to affirming human equality.
Freedom is the principle which unites equality and diversity. Societies that try to bring about specific equalities through coercive means end up destroying the fundamental equality of individual worth, which is based on freedom. To achieve a mandated and principled uniformity, they trample on and destroy the actual desires, aspirations, and lives of the people the uniformity is supposed to benefit. If one group gets to choose the ideas, values, lifestyle, or possessions that the whole society is to have, that group is made superior to the rest. If everyone is given the freedom to choose his or her own ideas, values, lifestyles, or possessions, many specific inequalities will result, but the fundamental equality of individual worth is maintained. If diversity is a value and not simply an unavoidable reality, it must be based on the ideal of human equality, which affirms individual freedom. Without this ideal of equality, differences tend to compete and try to eliminate each other. Equality helps diversity by providing an equal arena in which all may flourish.
In her book, Conscience and Courage (New York, 1994), Eva Fogelman provides empirical evidence for the dependence of diversity on the ideal of equality. She explores reasons why some people risked their own lives and the lives of their families to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.
In talking with rescuers from all kinds of different homes, I found out that one quality above all others was emphasized time and time again: a familial acceptance of people who were different. This value was the centerpiece of the childhood of rescuers and became the core from which their rescuer self evolved. From the earliest ages, rescuers were taught by their parents that people are inextricably linked to one an-[p.257]other. No one person or group was better than any other. The conviction that all people, no matter how marginaL are of equal value was conveyed to children of both religious and nonreligious households (259).
A free society is committed to the principle of human equality, but it cannot guarantee any specific equality without abridging freedom, so the kinds and degrees of equality actually attained in a society depend on the choices of its individual members, acting alone or in groups. Equality cannot be static, but must be balanced with diversity. It cannot be an obligation without abridging freedom. It must remain an ideal that can only be brought about as individuals value it and choose to bring it about.
Of course, societies and governments must restrict freedom in some way. However, in a free society such restrictions are to protect the freedoms of each member. A free society is committed to the principle of individual worth, and this commitment is honored by recognizing that certain human rights cannot be abridged and must be protected. The Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution names some of the most important of these rights-freedom of religion, of conscience, of speech, of the press, of assembly, and of due process. Section 98 of the Doctrine and Covenants dedares that protecting individual rights is the only legitimate function of government.
And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me …
And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this cometh of evil.
I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed, and the law also maketh you free (vv. 5, 7-8).
Because the right to make one’s own decisions regarding one’s own life is the most basic freedom, a free society must be democratic; all members must participate in government. Ideally each person should have an equal voice in all decisions made by any group he belongs to. Although there are different ways of implementing this ideal, the right of every member to participate must be honored.
I have argued that a society committed to the belief that all human beings are equally valuable must be democratic and must recognize and protect basic human freedoms. Certainly Jesus has said and demonstrated that he esteems each of us equally and that his love for each of us is unconditional, and he has told us that if we do not follow him in esteeming each other equally, in loving each other unconditionally, we are not his church. [p.258]The LDS church today is not democratic and I believe it falls short in recognizing and protecting basic human freedoms in its own structure. As members of the Mormon church, we should be concerned about the institutional aspects of the church which deny and work against the principle of equality. However, as indicated, the degree of equality any group attains depends to a great extent on the values, commitments, and choices of its indi~ vidual members. In the remainder of this essay I would like to discuss four principles which individuals can follow to promote equality.
The first principle states that in relationships of inequality, the person with greater power, knowledge, talents, possessions, or any other resource should use that resource to benefit the other person(s). It is important to reiterate that this is an ideal for individuals to pursue, not an obligation they must fulfill. If a society were to make this principle an obligation, then specific equalities and the means for achieving them would be mandated and the individuals freedom to give gifts and to determine what gifts she wants to give and how and when to give them would be curtailed.
Jesus taught this principle to his disciples. They were interested in holding positions of power in his kingdom so they could make decisions and tell everyone else what to do. Jesus told them that they misunderstood the nature of his kingdom.
Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority over them.
But it shall not be so among you: But whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be your chief among you, let him be your servant:
Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:25-28).
Power should not be used to control, abuse, or exploit others but to em~ power them, and gifts should be shared. In giving gifts the giver should consider the needs and desires of the ones to whom he is giving. Although giving is a human need, the giver should focus on the needs of the other person rather than on her own need to give or on any other reward she may hope to gain from her service. Otherwise she is using rather than helping the other person.
The second principle that promotes equality tells us that we must honor everyone’s gifts. Paul used the metaphor of the human body to describe the church of Christ. Each part of the body has its own function, but [p.259]all parts serve the body and are parts of the whole. Augustine elaborates on this metaphor.
The eye alone in the body sees, but is it for itself alone that the eye sees? It sees both for the hand and the foot, and for the other members of the body. For if a blow is coming toward the foot, the eye doesn’t tum itself away refusing to give warning of danger. Again, the hand in the body works well enough, but is it only for itself? It also works for the eye. If a blow is directed, not at the hand, but at the face, does the hand say, “I shall not stir; it’s not coming at me!)? And so the foot serves all the mem~ bers, by walking, and the tongue speaks for all the rest of the body which is silent (in Ann and Barry Ulanov, Cinderella and Her Sisters [Philadelphia, 1983], 148).
Some gifts are easier to see the value of and to honor than others. The gift of negativity, pessimism, skepticism, of seeing problems and pointing them out is usually not welcomed, but it is truly a gift. The body has an immune system and pain receptors which are necessary for the body’s health. We don’t welcome fever, but it’s one way the body fights infection; we don’t welcome pain, but it’s the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong.
I have a son who is endowed with the gift of negativity. He abhors anything fake or sentimental. It took me a while to learn how to respond to and honor this gift in him. One reason I was finally able to understand it is because I have it myself, but this was also a reason why I struggled with him to overcome it, to cheer him up rather than mourn with him, to solve his problems rather than acknowledge how bad they were. Because I had struggled with my own darkness for so many years, his threatened to overwhelm me, but finally he helped me learn the value of negativity and how to use it to help others. It is difficult for a person to have his gifts be unacknowledged, unwanted, rejected. It is almost a rejection of himself. My son wrote me this while he was at the Missionary Training Center preparing for his mission.
I am lonely. There is a strange irony here. That it is exactly because I am with my companion constantly that I am so alone. I never have time to just relax and recover myself. Being with people constantly is draining and I never have time to restore my energy … My district thinks that I am weird. They think that I am cynical, depressed, very pessimistic, and just generally a very bitter person. I, however, am trying to be positive, but still people think that I am negative. My companion told me that I am the most negative person he has ever met. I just don’t know what to [p.260]do. I am trying to be a good and happy person and yet I am never able to come close to this.
Almost every time I try to talk or explain myself to anyone they will not listen. For example, I was talking to the AP last night about the gospel. He thought that the gospel was “all truth” [that] kind of thing. At this point I got really excited because I now had the opportunity to show him what the gospel really is. However, when I told him my opinion, he thought that I was just contradicting him because I had the “spirit of contention.” Moreover, he wouldn’t even listen to me and immediately ended the conversation. This happens a lot. This [is] a thing that I had never before supposed: people do not want to talk nor do they want to discuss. They do not want the truth; they only want peace, not the kind of peace that comes with unity of heart and mind (which only comes by working out your disagreements and viewpoints in dialogue) but surface, shallow peace.
Later, while on his mission, he wrote: “One thing I learned [at the MTC] though is that the right to complain is absolutely essential. I need someone to complain with. When I think of the absolute loneliness I felt at the MTC, I get mad.” He then said that he had a hard time with his first companion because he insisted on a positive attitude, but his second and third companions didn’t mind if he complained and even joined in occasionally. He wrote, “My third companion was downright pessimistic. It was so re~ freshing.”
Honoring the gifts of every person means acknowledging the validity of his feelings, considering her ideas seriously, and accepting the value of the gifts he has to offer. It means being willing to be changed by her. Another important principle in seeking equality involves role-changing. We must change roles to promote equality. The analogy of the church as the body of Christ has limitations. Although evety role and the gifts it requires are valuable, they are not equal. The brain is more important than the hand, the heart more important than the foot. The president of the church is more important to the church than a nursety worker. Everyone knows this, and affirming the value of the nursery worker does not change this fact.
The church’s teaching that men and women have different but equal roles is false because roles are not equal. The fact that different roles are both necessary and important does not make them equal. Human beings have equal value, but roles do not. The idea that cettain groups of people must fill certain roles and that they are innately endowed with the capacity [p.261]to do so identifies the person with the role and makes her value depend on filling that role. This denies the intrinsic worth and freedom of the individual human being. This teaching about gender roles is especially damaging because it assigns the role of leading, governing, and making decisions to men and the role of nurturing others, caring for them, and serving them to women. This assignment of roles is based on the presumably divinely ordained order of things in which men have the priesthood and women have motherhood. Although I cannot discuss the reasons here, I believe that equating priesthood with governing or decision-making power is a mistake. The individual is the locus of decision-making power and any group which believes in human equality should be democratic. Although every person also needs to develop the gift of nurturing and serving others, this role cannot be obligatory but must be undertaken voluntarily. Not all women are mothers, and mothers are not the only ones who serve and nurture others.
Each of us is a whole human being with a whole body, and we must all experience some roles and develop some gifts. Such roles and gifts include learning and teaching, leading and following, thinking and feeling, talking and listening, nurturing and being nurtured, planning and carrying out plans, choosing and allowing someone else to choose, and solving problems and creating or discovering problems.
Roles involve relationships. In functioning in one role, I relate to another person who functions in a complementary or reciprocal role. The most fundamental relationship is of giving and receiving, and most roles can be thought of as variations of these two basic ones. To show how these two roles are continually and necessarily being reversed and shifted, I would like to tell a story.
We were living in Princeton, New Jersey, where my husband, David, was a graduate student at the university. He served as the seventies group leader in our ward. Being responsible for promoting missionary work, he was often assigned to home teach or visit inactive or part-member families. Since he was never given a partner, I usually served as his unofficial partner, and we usually took our children with us. (We had one baby when we arrived in Princeton; two more were born while we lived there.) I was a very shy person at the time and had no confidence in my ability to carry on a conversation. However, I enjoyed making visits with David because he always found something interesting to say and also had the gift of drawing out the other person. Relieved of the burden of carrying the conversation, I was able to enjoy getting to know many different people and engage in one of my favorite activities: observing people and trying to understand them better.
[p.262]As I watched David interact with many different people, I noticed that he always seemed to be able to quickly discover a topic that the other person knew a lot about. He gave the impression that he was overjoyed to find someone who would enlighten him about something he’d always wanted to know. This was not a false impression. He was genuinely interested in what the other person had to say. Although we later learned from some of these people that at first they thought he came on too strong, they were won over by his interest and care. I observed that he made friends by letting people give him something he sincerely appreciated. This made them receptive to what he had to give them, and opened the way for friendship to develop.
There is an inequality in the roles of giver and receiverj the giver is superior because she provides something to the other which he lacks. However, on another level the receiver also gives because he provides the giver the opportunity to receive the happiness that results from giving. The original giver thus becomes a receiver, who on another level again becomes a giver. This paradox, in which the roles of giver and receiver are continually reversed, reveals the necessity and reality of role-changing. However, since the secondary level giving often goes unacknowledged and unrecognized, it is important for every person to be an active, first-level giver as well as receiver. If, when giving a gift, we can convey our recognition that the other person also has valuable gifts to give and give her the opportunity to do so without imposing a feeling of obligation, we can give gifts without demeaning those we give them to.
David was able to turn an unequal relationship—church representative sent to retrieve a straying member or capture a non-member—to a friendship by giving the other person the opportunity to give him something in an easy and pleasant way, recognizing the worth of the other person by shifting the roles of giver and receiver.
I saw this happen in a wonderful way when we were sent to help a circus family. They were a family of recent converts who were employed by a traveling circus. While passing through our area, they had all become sick and had stayed in a motel to recover. By the time they were well enough to travel, the circus was in Florida and they had no money left to rejoin the circus after paying their motel bill. They contacted the church and asked for help. Our bishop was given the assignment of taking care of them. He decided that the church could pay their bus fare to Florida, and he assigned the Relief Society to take them some food and see how much luggage they had. The Relief Society president returned with the report that they had a lot of stuff but nothing to pack it in. The bishop called David, told him [p.263]about the situation, and asked him to get a few boxes together and take them to the family. David got the impression that the bishop was concerned that this family might have joined the church to benefit from its welfare program, so he wanted to make sure they understood the church did not have unlimited funds to rescue them from every difficulty they found themselves in. He also mentioned, possibly as an indication of the kind of people they were, that they had an unwed pregnant daughter.
We found some good, strong boxes and I got together a few newborn baby clothes that my baby had outgrown. We took our three little children with us to the motel to help the circus family pack. When we got to the motel, we found that the family consisted of a mother, a father, and two daughters, about twenty and seven years old. At first the family was shy and seemed embarrassed to have us there, but David had many questions about their life in the circus and we were all interested in what they had to tell us. In fact, we were thrilled to meet a real circus family. The father was a lion tamer and the mother helped take care of the lions. They were worried about whether their lions were being properly taken care of in their absence. Rebecca, our daughter, wondered what the father wore in his performance. It turned out his outfit was hanging in the closet and he was glad to put it on for us and show us some of his techniques. The oldest daughter was a clown and she showed us her costume. Her little sister said, “She usually has to wear stuffing to make herself fat, but now she doesn’t. She blew up like a balloon, but soon she’s going to pop.” She laughed, delighted at her own wit. This was a good opportunity for me to ask about her baby and give her the baby clothes I had brought.
As we helped them pack their things, we continued talking. I remember David admiring an old clock they had and asking about its history. It became apparent after awhile that they wouldn’t be able to fit all their possessions into the boxes we’d brought. The mother said that the bishop had told them they might have to leave some of their things behind. “No, no,” David exclaimed. “You need your things. I can get some more boxes/’ I told them that we had once moved from California to Utah on the bus with twenty boxes of stuff and there hadn’t been any problem or extra cost in getting them to transport it for us.
Just before we left, the mother opened a little refrigerator to reveal a large quantity of steak. She said that they’d bought it for their lions, but the circus had left before the lions finished it. “We offered it to the ReliefSociety ladies who were here,” she said, “but they didn’t want it. Maybe you can use it.” We accepted it with enthusiasm, telling them that it would be a [p.264]treat for us since David was a graduate student and we couldn’t afford to buy steak. The mother then got out a few dishes and asked me to return them to the Relief Society ladies. “I was real worried we wouldn’t be able to return them,” she said. When I gave them to the Relief Society president a few days later, she said, “Well, I never thought I’d see those again.’! “They were really concerned about getting them back to you,” I told her.
Changing roles helps us understand and sympathize with different perspectives. This helps us to function better in each of the roles of a complementary pair. Sometimes we function in one role so long, we forget what it is like to play the other role. Recently I had the opportunity of playing some roles that I am not accustomed to. These included child, stupid person, invisible person, and bad person. Of course, I was once a child and have many memories of being a child, but I never really considered myself one. My recent experiences showed me that a child is often considered a stupid person, an invisible person, or a bad person. These roles are certainly not necessary or valuable, but people sometimes find themselves playing them.
My family and I spent the fall of 1993 in Mexico. My formal instruction in Spanish consists of Spanish 101 at BYU in 1969. David speaks Spanish and I am interested in languages, so whenever I hear Spanish I tty to understand what is being said. This has given me enough knowledge of Spanish to get the gist of simple conversations, but my ability to speak is limited. I discovered that a person’s perceived intelligence is linked to her ability to speak, and many times I felt that I was perceived as stupid or, just as often, my inability to speak simply made me invisible.
We attended church at a ward in Saltillo. The people were friendly and kind to us, but my poor Spanish made it hard for me to know what was going on. We had three sons, ages ten, eight, and five, in Primary. Since their Spanish was even worse than mine and no one in the ward spoke English, the bishop called me to work in the Primary as a translator for them. There were usually no more than four other children in Primary and only two Primary workers, the Primary president and one counselor, so we formed a large part of the Primary. I do not know what causes the difference, but Mexican children are better behaved in formal situations than American children. They sit quietly and do not talk unless they are called on. Since I have doubts about the value of compelling children to sit quietly, my children have not been trained to sit quietly and they have no natural aptitude for it either. Even when they understand what is going on and are interested, they have trouble staying in their chairs. I offered them rewards if they would just try to sit quietly, and they did try, but it [p.265]was too hard. They couldn’t do it. I tried to translate for them, but as I told them what I thought the Primary president had just said, I missed what she was saying. She frowned at us and asked us to be reverent and other things we couldn’t understand. Although I believe she genuinely liked my boys, we felt her disapproval. I felt like one of my children. We were bad. We didn’t know exactly why. We wanted to be good, but it was too hard. We had no way to explain that we were really good on the inside. We broke the rules and that made us bad.
In being cast into the roles of stupid person and invisible person and in identifying with the role of child seen as a bad person, I was able to understand some of the feelings of people who are treated as if they are stupid, invisible, or bad, and I hope I was able to learn how to avoid casting other people into these roles. I feel I was able to benefit from being put into these negative roles because I do not really consider myself to be stupid, invisible, or bad. I am afraid that not everyone who assumes these roles has that advantage. To achieve equality we must avoid identifying people with the roles they perform; to do this we must change roles and encourage others to do so as well.
We now come to the fourth principle for promoting equality. In discussing this principle I will return to the concept of free agency which unites equality and diversity. I have tried to show that freedom is the foundation for recognizing and establishing individual worth; we cannot esteem each person equally unless we grant each person his or her agency. The fourth principle states that we must honor the agency of every person. Honoring the agency of the other person requires more of us than simply granting him his agency. We must recognize and try to understand her in her subjectivity. I am a subject. I live in subjectivity and value myself simply because I am myself. I experience myself as free; in my subjectivity I think, feel, and desire, and I express my subjectivity in choosing and acting. To honor the agency of another person, I have to acknowledge, understand, and interact with him or her as a subject who lives in freedom. This means being willing to see the world from the other’s perspective. This is difficult and frightening because it requires me to question and finally change in some way my own world view.
During the year and a half that I underwent a long process of church discipline, which included two church courts and finally resulted in my excommunication, I had many occasions to reflect on how difficult it is to un~ derstand another person’s perspective and how few of us are willing to try. Because I made my situation public, I had the opportunity to talk to many people about it, read denunciations of my character in letters to the editor, [p.266]and hear reports of what others said about my motives and views. This was truly an educational experience, another opportunity to understand what it means to be considered a bad person. The Janice Allred I read and heard about was not the person I experienced in my subjectivity. Instead of simply rejecting the perspective of these people, I tried to understand why they saw me the way they did. I tried to understand their perspective. I do not know how well I succeeded, but it grieved me that so many people seemed to be unwilling to try to understand me or the values and causes I was espousing. I did not expect them to agree with my decisions or views, but I did hope they would be able to say something like, “I see that this is difficult for you,” or “I see this causes you pain, or I don’t think you’re making the right choices, but I see that you are trying to do what you think is right.” There were many people who did understand, sympathize, and offer support, which meant a great deal to me. However, they usually already shared some of my views about the importance of freedom of speech and independent scholarship, or were aware of the problems of spiritual abuse and authoritarianism in the church, or they themselves had had problems which marginalized them in the church. While this in no way diminishes what they offered me, it does show how difficult it is to question our own subjectivity by imaginatively entering into the subjectivity of the other person and thus valuing and honoring it.
Most of us would rather change the other person by manipulation or coercion than try to understand her, which would mean we might have to change ourselves. We cannot understand another person, we cannot imaginatively enter his subjectivity, without being changed ourselves. Paradoxically, to influence change in another person, we must accept him as he is; we must love him as he is and not demand that he change. Change comes from within, and none of us has the right to change another person. We must honor her will as it already exists. By honoring her agency, by esteeming her as she is, we invite her to understand us and thus be changed herself.
Honoring the agency of the other person, then, unites us in a profound way. This unity, not sameness in possessions, philosophy, or purposes, is the basis of Christian community. Requiring people to achieve any kind of uniformity violates individual agency. But doesn’t God require us to submit our will to him? Perhaps God dictates the lifestyles, ideas, and purposes of his people and they achieve unity by submitting their wills to God. But in granting us OUf agency, God gives up his own sovereignty in relation to each of us; he permits us to act on our own desires) and I believe that he also wants us to act on our own desires. My husband) David) had two experiences [p.267]which helped him, and me, learn what it means to give our will to God. This understanding reveals the nature of Christian unity.
The first year we lived in Princeton, our little ward met in a Presbyterian chapel several miles from our home. David often had meetings after church and I would wait for him with our baby daughter who was a few months old. Usually I didn’t mind as I always had many thoughts to think. I would play with my baby Of nurse her in the car and read, or sometimes someone would talk to me. One Sunday after church I had a Primary meeting to attend and David waited for me with Rebecca. The meeting lasted longer than it should have because there was a lot of friendly visiting. I enjoyed this as it gave me an opportunity to get to know some of the other women. After the meeting I went looking for David and Rebecca and finally spotted them in our car. When I got to the car, I saw that David was angry and that Rebecca was screaming. He shoved her at me saying, “Here, nurse her.” “I’m sorry it took so long,” I apologized, “but I wait for you every week.” “Yeah, but you can nurse her,” he shouted back. I sat in hurt silence as he gunned the engine and sped out of the parking lot. David writes of this experience:
I had been waiting impariently in our Rambler with a fussy baby while Janice attended a Primary meeting after church. When she came I angrily raced out of the parking lot of rhe Rosedale chapel knowing that I was going through a puddle and splashing Sari Gruber and ElDee Norton—and in a rage, not caring.
Sari, bless her, followed the Doctrine and Covenants direction from our Lord that if we are offended or hurt, we should contact the offender. She called me in our apartment. My rationalizations for my acrions which I had set in defense like pike men on a srockade’s walls crumbled to dust. And hanging up the phone, I was in tears. I wept as though my heart would break at my hurtful nature. I tried—I did say aloud, “Jesus, take me, take my will, so I won’t hurt [others].” I heard in my mind the thought, “That is not right. To do that, to alrer the will, would be ro destroya precious eternal thing. It cannot be done.”
Human will, the foundation of free agency, is so precious that God will not destroy it even in its pride and sin. Giving up our will to God does not mean eradicating our own desire, but transforming it, and the principle of transformation is love. Twenty years later David had another experience in which he gave himself to God, but in a different way. This time he felt a powerful desire to comfort his fellow human beings in their sorrows and disappointments, to share their pains and joys. Of this experience he writes, [p.268]“So I turned my whole self to God and discovered she was there waiting. She had been there all the time.” Comparing the two experiences he writes, “At that time I had turned to God in my pain, wishing to be taken from my humanity and sinful nature. Now I turned to God in my longing and in my desire to be with her and comfort her in her pain and longing for us, her children, and to help in her work, and she accepted me in my weakness. For what have we to offer God in the end but our weakness and longing, our vulnerability and our hearts and our desires?”
David’s desire to help God in her work of comforting and nurturing her children opened his mind to a vision of her as the Comforter and opened his heart to receive the love of God. This love expanded his soul so greatly that he felt that his heart would burst. The prophet Enoch describes a similar experience: “And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Enoch, and told Enoch all the doings of the children of men; wherefore Enoch knew and looked upon their wickedness, and their misery, and wept and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned and all eternity shook” (Moses 7:41). Like God, Enoch loved the people of the earth in their sins and misery and longed to help them. When he saw in vision the people at the time of Noah destroyed in the Flood, “he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted.” But finally he was brought to rejoice when he saw the coming of the Son of Man to redeem his people.
The love of God, the love that he and she have for us, the love that manifests itself as she is with us in our sorrows and joy, the love that manifested itself as he sacrificed his life on the cross for each of us, this love that fills our hearts and expands our souls enabling us to love every other human being, this love is the source of our desire to seek equality and the power that enables us to attain equality and rejoice in the diversity that comes as a gift from God when we use our gifts to bless others, when we honor the gifts of every person, when we change roles with others, and when we hold every human will sacred and honor its agency.
Wherefore, let us all pray unto the Father and Mother with all the energy of our hearts that we may be filled with this love which they have bestowed upon all who are true followers of Jesus Christ, that we may become the people of God, their sons and their daughters, that we may not cast any out of our community, that our love may be great enough to encompass every person, that when they appear, we shall be like them, for we shall love each other, even as they love us.