SHORT AND SIMPLE ADVICE FOR A YOUNG MORMON WOMAN
Meredith McKell Graff
I have no right to give advice to young Mormon women, since I am no
longer a Mormon. I chose to leave the Mormon Church twelve years ago, as opposed
to them forcing me out on "charges," brought at an excommunication
hearing. I have no regrets about
officially leaving the Church; the only thing I have really missed is the
vigorous, pioneer_like singing in the Church's congregations and choirs. I would
not be honest, however, unless I warned you of the things I did which
contributed to my traverse "down the high road to apostasy" that
someone not wanting to become an ex_Mormon could avoid if she knew about these
First, a young woman should make education her primary priority from age
eighteen until age twenty_two, when she graduates college. She should not be in a rush to get married, and should ignore
the innuendo, rude comments and questions from those who believe all unmarried
young women are old maids by age twenty. She should, however, also be aware that
merely getting an education is a rebellious and revolutionary act in the
viewpoint of some older, more traditional Mormons. She should hold fast to the knowledge that her education is
like having an insurance policy against the death or divorce of a spouse, or the
possibility of not having a spouse at all.
Food and shelter do not grow on trees and though she may be comfortable
living with her parents, they will not be around forever.
A young woman needs to be able to take care of herself and an education
will go a long way to provide her the means to be self sufficient.
Second, once educated, she will become increasingly aware of the
ignorance and stupidity of many members of the LDS Church in their capacities as
lay ministers. This ignorance
will be exhibited not only about Church related subjects but general knowledge
and information as well. She will
hear it pontificated from the pulpit and taught in the religious classroom.
She will hear it expressed in her home by women and men on Church_related
visits. It is important for her not
to question or correct these poor uninformed colleagues.
If she does, she will be targeted as a doubter, or worse, particularly if
the ones she questions are male and in authoritative positions.
Her best stance is to "keep her own counsel," that is, keep her
opinions to herself. That way no
one will know she disagrees. She
should tell herself it is not her duty to enlighten her fellow members. Quietude
is a valued quality in Mormon women, so she will not be questioned if she
appears shy or reticent. Instead of being reviled, she will be respected.
Third, she should remember the adage, "If you can't deal with the answers, then don't ask the questions." This is just as true of Mormon adults who ask questions about their religion as it is for children who go looking for their Christmas presents before December 25. Knowledge carries with it responsibilities. Once you learn something new, you cannot continue to live as you did before you gained the additional knowledge. Consider Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden: a story retold many times a day in Mormon temples all over the world. Once Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, she recognized her undressed condition and was embarrassed to be naked. She was not able to continue as if nothing had happened. She urged Adam to share the knowledge she had gained so she would not have to be all by herself with her new insight. Once he saw she had made a fundamental change that left him out, he chose to increase his knowledge also. I once heard a little poem that went like this: "I wish I could go back/ and be the person that I used to be/ but I have lived and learned so much/ that the little thoughts don't fit me anymore." For the young Mormon woman who wants to remain comfortable in the Church this means to not read apostate, or unofficial LDS publications. I am not an advocate of ignorance, and the adage "Ignorance is Bliss," is so often misstated that most people think Shakespeare intended it that way. Instead, he said, "If ignorance were bliss, t'would be folly to be wise." It is an imperfect solution that I offer young women, but the educated Mormon woman needs to know that there are many rational and intelligent publications that shed doubt on many of the premises, and even historicity of the Mormon Church. If the LDS member does not want to deal with the unsettling consequences of confusing and conflicting information about her beliefs, she should avoid these discoveries.
I was a five_generation Mormon. My
ancestors were associates of Brigham Young; my great_grandfather, Milo Andrus,
led several wagon trains from Mormon Grove, Missouri to
the Salt Lake Valley. Another
ancestor, Edmund Ellsworth, led the first handcart company to the vale of
Deseret. I earned an Associate of
Arts degree from Brigham Young University.
I shepherded tourists and visitors through the Seattle Temple as a guide
in the month before it was dedicated and closed to the public.
No one can say that I didn't know enough about the Mormon Church.
My problem was that I knew too much and wanted to know more.
I have always had a thirst for learning and am an insatiable reader.
My parents raised me in an educated household where they taught me to
think and reason things out for myself. I
was encouraged to ask "why," and I was never limited in my goals
because I was a young woman. They
also taught me to be honest and to honor my family name.
My final days as an LDS woman began innocently enough. I just wanted to know for myself about Church history and doctrine. Much of my research was done in the BYU Library during a couple of summer weeks on campus while I was working on my Bachelor of Independent Studies degree. Once I began finding out that not all the facts agreed with the Church's official history and doctrine, I wanted to pursue these discoveries. I was warned by local Church authorities in my home congregation to "believe on faith" . . . to "stop asking questions." These admonitions seemed like veiled threats to me and I wanted to know why these men were so afraid of me finding out things for myself. When I heard them, I reasoned: "If the Church is true then my research will bear this out." Of course, once I learned that the Church had rewritten their history many times over, altering historical information and even drastically changing doctrine, I began to believe I had been lied to by Church leaders (who may or may not have known they were lying) all my life; I realized I could not continue to have my name attached to a religion that contradicted my basic, essential beliefs. I realized that what I had thought was "my church" existed only in my head; I had been sifting out and ignoring any information that contradicted what I wanted "my church" to believe. Although there were good values, beliefs and practices in the LDS Church, I could not be a part of the institution anymore. I had come to the point where the additional information had forced me to change. Just like Eve, who, when she realized she was naked, had to find foliage to cover herself; I had to act upon the new insights I had gained as well.
The young Mormon woman needs to take things she hears at Church
gatherings with a "grain of salt," not taking everything she is told
or taught literally, nor should she allow herself to be too concerned with the
proliferation of nonsense. To be
comfortable in the Church, she should ignore the pontificators and "know_it_alls."
She should also ignore those who seem to think they know better than she
how to live her life, whether the subject is getting married, having children
(whether to have them, when to have them and how many), having a career or any
number of other subjects that are private and personal and no one else's
business. She should avoid speaking
her true feelings aloud or correcting any ignoramuses she encounters in Church
groups. She should also be wary of
voicing her concerns to anyone but her closest friends or her spouse.
She should never publish her true views that might contradict the
conservative element in the Church. She
should guard her own ignorance assiduously, or be aware of the consequences of
asking questions about Church issues.
Finally, the most important things a young Mormon woman should know are
these: God (or "Heavenly
Father" to the patriarchists) loves her no matter what she believes, and is
there for her always. God knows our
hearts and is a greater entity than we credit the Deity.
We ourselves are much more than we see when we look in our mirrors.
We not only knew what our lives would be like before we entered this
life, but we in fact, planned our lives ourselves.
We are not only the creators of our own life's plans but have the
on_going ability to change our circumstances.
We are not acted upon by God, Church or humankind.
We chose our own paths and can change the course of our lives any time we
want. Most of the time, however, we
tell ourselves we cannot change things in our lives; instead, we believe we are
trapped. In fact, we are just
afraid of the unknown and are willing victims of our circumstances.
When we see we are free to do whatever we want to do and others are also,
we will stop allowing ourselves to be victims and start being actors in our own
life's drama. These are the beliefs
that have sustained me in the twelve years since I ceased participation in the
Mormon Church. These beliefs can be
capsulized in the sign I have hanging in my kitchen, "People are as happy
as they make up their minds to
The solutions I offer young women who want to remain faithful to the LDS Church are not solutions I advocate; I also know that had I followed the advice I now offer, I could have remained in the Church. The final question I came to ask myself was, "What is more important, my personal integrity, or my membership in the LDS Church?" It was not easy to make the decision to leave. I don't wish the pain associated with excommunication (even if I did choose it, it is still painful), the sorrow of my Mormon family, or the initial fear of being alone outside the Church on anyone. On the other hand, in many ways, the decision I made in 1983 to ask to be excommunicated from the LDS Church was the most liberating, empowering and exciting decision I have made in my life.
Note: The author is now a successful attorney in 2003. She submitted this article for exmormon.org nearly 10 years after writing it.