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Mormon women confront power and patriarchy in the LDS church

View of the temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with its six spires in Kensington, Maryland, near Washington, DC, April 18, 2022. - Like something out of a science fiction novel, with its six golden spires and pristine white walls, the Mormon Temple in Washington, DC, has intrigued those who have seen it for decades but have never been able to enter it. Their curiosity will soon be satisfied: for the first time in almost half a century, the temple will open its doors to the public. (Photo by Eva HAMBACH / AFP) (Photo by EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images)
View of the temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with its six spires in Kensington, Maryland, near Washington, DC, April 18, 2022. - Like something out of a science fiction novel, with its six golden spires and pristine white walls, the Mormon Temple in Washington, DC, has intrigued those who have seen it for decades but have never been able to enter it. Their curiosity will soon be satisfied: for the first time in almost half a century, the temple will open its doors to the public. (Photo by Eva HAMBACH / AFP) (Photo by EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images)

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Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, use a safe computer and contact help. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.SAFE (7233), or visit https://www.thehotline.org.

Listen to our latest ‘First person’: The fight to ‘ordain women’ in the LDS church.

This month, a Utah man murdered his wife, mother-in-law, and five children, before killing himself.

The tragedy has surfaced a conversation among Mormon women about power and safety in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“The husband has the power of God, and the wife doesn’t,” Meg Conley says. That’s a fundamental difference that plays into the way that many men treat women within the LDS church.”

Today, On Point: Listening to women in the LDS Church.


Meg Conley, writes the Homeculture newsletter. Spent 35 years as a member of the LDS church, stopped attending services in 2020. (@_megconley)

Jana Riess, senior columnist at Religion News Service, where she covers primarily Mormon issues. Member of the LDS church for nearly 30 years.

Donna Kelly, attorney at the Utah Crime Victims Legal Clinic.

Also Featured

Kate Kelly, founder of the Ordain Women movement in the LDS church. She was excommunicated from the church in 2014. (@Kate_Kelly_Esq)


MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: In a span of just four days this month, three different men in three states shot to death their entire families. On January 7th in High Point, North Carolina, officers discovered four bodies in a home. Police Captain Matt Truitt said a 45-year-old man killed his wife and three children, ages 18, 16 and ten. And then he killed himself.

That same day in Lee Township, Michigan, a 34-year-old killed his long-term partner. He also killed his two daughters, ages 13 and ten, before killing himself. News reports found that their mother had been trying to get out of the relationship and get the girls out of the house.

And a few days earlier, on January 4th in inner city Utah, police discovered a 42-year-old man murdered his wife, mother-in-law and five children in their home. The children were ages 17, 12, seven, seven and four years old. Enoch City manager Rob Dotson said the man then killed himself.

Officers entered the residence at approximately 4 p.m. and discovered three adults and five minors deceased inside the home and each appeared to have sustained gunshot wounds.

Three family murder suicides in just four days. Men gunning down their entire families. So the deadly threat of domestic violence is as real and as widespread as ever. And it touches every community in this country. This is On Point. I’m Meghna Chakrabarti. And today we are going to take some time to focus on the tragedy in Enoch, Utah, specifically because it surfaced a difficult conversation within that community itself, specifically within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mormon women are talking about why their community, their church, which puts family at the center of its values, did not do more to protect the family.

At least three years ago, eldest daughter Macie had detailed multiple assaults to the police, including one where she was choked by her father and, quote, very afraid that he was going to keep her from breathing and kill her and quote. Well, the tragedy has led some Mormon women to reflect and some publicly on power, safety and vulnerability in their community.

So we are going to listen to them today. And we’ll start with Meg Conley. She writes the Homeculture newsletter. She was also an active member of the LDS Church and for more than 30 years, she stopped attending in 2020. And she joins us today from Denver, Colorado. Meg, welcome to On Point.

MEG CONLEY: Thank you so much for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: I wonder first if you might describe what kind of community Enoch is, because I know you’ve been in touch with lots of people from Enoch. It’s only about a town of, what, 8,000 people? How would you describe the community?

CONLEY: Yeah, well, because of my work, I do hear from a lot of women in the Mormon community, and when I started writing and talking about this atrocity, I had the privilege to hear from many, many women from Enoch and the surrounding community. Many of them are women who still attend the LDS Church. They described a close-knit community that has always been conservative but has become increasingly conservative with the strain of conservatism that a lot of people call Trumpism.

They described of close sisterhood, you know, kids running in the halls of, you know, hallways of church and church activities and kids playing in the front yard. But they also described an ongoing suppression of female voices. Of the female experience.  One woman I spoke to said that any woman who tried to share experiences that were maybe not completely in line with, you know, the happy nuclear family was considered mouthy, which is an interesting choice of words, because in the police report, when Macie went to the police to tell them that her father was abusing her, he said he wasn’t abusing her, but that sometimes she did get mouthy and he had to keep her in line.

CHAKRABARTI: So what I hope to learn, and I hope our listeners can learn today is really how life in the LDS Church may help us understand what happened in Enoch. So, I mean, first of all, can you tell me just from the women that you’ve talked to who are still at Enoch, I mean, do they have a sense of shock about what happened or are they feeling like it was inevitable? Can you tell me more?

CONLEY: Yeah. I don’t think that family annihilation ever feels inevitable, right? I mean, it’s such an extreme act of violence. Everyone I’ve heard from was shocked by that. By the ultimate act of violence. Many of the women I’ve spoken to knew the family and did not know about the abuse that had gone on before, but were less shocked that there was domestic violence happening behind closed doors and had stayed secret. Because they know that’s kind of the nature of that kind of violence.

It thrives in secrecy. I want to stress that. It’s a complex picture because there are, you know, families made up of, well, partnered people, obviously, in that community. There are women who are outspoken and men who appreciate outspoken women, too. I think that it would be a mistake to not understand that complexity. But I think that sometimes we are tempted to find a very neat narrative. Because ultimately that makes it less scary for the people not in that community, because we’re able to say, Well, it happened there, but it won’t happen here. But as you said at the beginning of the show, this is happening everywhere.

CHAKRABARTI: That’s exactly why we wanted to start the show this way, because it’s never just sort of one thing that happens to one community at one time and we can find reason ABCD and say, Well, it’ll only happen over there. We wanted to acknowledge that right at the top. And at the same time, though, it’s not that often I have to say that for those of us outside the LDS church, unfortunately this is happening through tragedy, but that we get a chance to hear people who are having, you know, pretty honest conversations within their communities.

And because of the nature of this tragedy, it’s kind of opened up that door. Because you’ve written really passionately about it. I read the post that another, I believe, former LDS woman, Gabrielle Blair, wrote on her newsletter Design Mom. She was talking about it quite extensively because she grew up in a town, not Enoch, Utah, but one similar to that.

And, you know, she writes about how she was feeling this like unbridled anger because she said that the kind of abuse that was being reported … many men in the community knew of. And so that’s the kind of thing that I’m interested in. Like what’s the structure of a community specifically within the oldest context that might lend knowledge of these kinds of difficult situations to persist without something being done. Do you have the beginnings of the answers to that?

CONLEY: I do have the beginnings, and I love that newsletter from Gabrielle. She’s actually still active in the church.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, good. My mistake.

CONLEY: I love that piece. Yeah. I think that power structures inform, well, most of the difficulties in America, and that’s true also in the LDS Church. So the LDS church has a male only priesthood. And the priesthood is like, defined by people within the LDS church is the power of God you have. You can act with the power of God. And so what that means practically within the church is that LDS men are the only ones who can have leadership roles within the church.

So a bishop, which is kind of like, you know, a priest or a reverend within the LDS church, that role can only be fulfilled by a man. And there’s a hierarchical structure that, you know, goes from the bishop all the way up through other layers of authority and leadership, all the way to the top, to the president of the LDS Church, the prophet. Those are all men. Women can hold what LDS people call callings within the church. It’s a volunteer only organization.

Up to a certain point, once you get to the higher leadership levels, there is some compensation. But because it’s a volunteer organization, your bishop might be your next-door neighbor. It could be your plumber. Like, it depends on how big the community is. And he has authority within your life as long as you are the bishop. Women don’t have authority. Women have a call to serve.


CHAKRABARTI: Today we are talking about women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And we’re talking about how Mormon women are feeling right now about power and vulnerability in their lives and within their church. And I want to express with clarity that we did reach out multiple times to the LDS Church with requests for interviews or a statement. They did not grant us either. However, the church’s website states in part, quote, The Lord expects us to do everything we can to prevent abuse and protect and help families. No one is expected to endure abusive behavior, end quote.

It also says reports of abuse should never be dismissed and that church leaders and members should fulfill all legal obligations to report abuse. That’s from the LDS Church website. I want to bring in Jana Riess into the conversation now. She’s with us from Cincinnati. She’s senior columnist at Religion News Service, where she covers primarily Mormon issues. She’s been a member of the church for nearly 30 years. Jana, welcome to you.

JANA RIESS: Thank you.

CHAKRABARTI: And also with us from Salt Lake City is Donna Kelly. She’s an attorney at the Utah Crimes Crime Victims Legal Clinic. Donna, welcome to you.

DONNA KELLY: Thank you so much.

CHAKRABARTI:  So really, what I hope is to hear a conversation, you know, between the three of you, because we’re here to learn. And so, Jana, let me turn this towards you. Meg had been talking about the role of the bishop in a Mormon community. Can you tell us more about that? Because I’m trying to understand how, you know, information and the willingness to have influence in each other’s lives works in in a community like Enoch City, Utah.

RIESS: Great question. The role of bishop is hugely important in any LDS ward, which is the language for a congregation. A bishop in Mormon culture is not the same as a bishop in, for example, Roman Catholic or Anglican/Episcopalian culture. The bishop is in charge of a relatively small area, not a large city area, that sort of thing. And as Meg said, the bishop is someone who has a day job, right? This is a volunteer calling. It’s a calling that can sometimes take 20 to 40 hours a week on top of whatever the day job may be.

But my concern particularly is that bishops receive very little or too little training in how to deal with allegations of domestic violence or of sexual assault or child abuse. I think that things are, I hope, anyway, moving in a more positive direction in the church. But in the past, the essential answer from members of the church has been, well, that could never happen here. And there’s really no more damaging statement that could happen for a victim or survivor of abuse or domestic violence than the expectation that that person has walking into the bishop’s office, I’m not going to be believed.

And I also think that the structure, the ecclesiastical structure that Meg was referring to is, you know, very much a patriarchal, all male structure of hierarchical authority. Women do have callings. I have one. I’m active in the church and I love the church, but I can’t make any decisions in the church that affect the lives of men or even my own life. I’m never in the room where it happens, right? I’m not in the room where decisions are made. And what that creates is a system in which men have a lot of knowledge of each other, and they have spent a lot of time together in meetings.

They have spent time serving together in their callings. And women are essentially in a separate sphere. And so when a woman walks into the bishop’s office, the bishop may know the man who is being accused far, far better than the wife or partner who is accusing him. So automatically the deck is stacked against women. And the ecclesiastical structure of the church unfortunately reiterates that.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So, Donna Kelley, it seems to me that if I’m understanding this correctly, you know, bishops, while not paid, nevertheless, they are representatives of the LDS Church in the communities where they live. And so, therefore, you know, pick up on what Jana said. What happened in Enoch is an extreme example, Right? But how likely is it that there’s knowledge already in the community amongst bishops or other members of the church that, you know, a family is struggling or that there’s a pattern of domestic violence?

KELLY: I think that depends on the particular family. And in this particular example, one of the things that is significant is that the daughter was coming forward and talking about strangulation. We all know in the criminal justice system, we all know that strangulation is a red flag for future homicide. And so when those kinds of statements are being made, we need to pay attention. And one of the biggest problems in the way that things are dealt with in the LDS Church is we are asking these lay persons who are men to deal with a problem that is very complicated and very difficult to solve with virtually no training.

They do not understand the dynamics of sexual assault. They do not understand domestic violence and how to cope with it. And they’re thrown into a situation where they are expected to solve a very difficult problem that they don’t understand. It would be like putting me in a room with someone on a table and saying, you know, say a quick prayer and then go do heart surgery. You know, I know nothing about heart surgery, but we are asking them to deal with a problem that they don’t even understand.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. Meg, can you tell me a little bit more about how in the years that you were a member of the church, an active member of the church, like on a day to day or weekly basis, Like how what did the relationship look like in terms of what you might turn to a bishop for?

CONLEY: Yeah. I mean, that kind of evolved for me. Originally, you know, as a I got married, you know, 21, I was very, very Mormon. And so I relied on my bishop for a lot, whether it was seeking advice for what our family should do or if I, you know, I had a sorrow I needed to unburden. I wanted, you know, the authority of God to, like, live next door to me. Wouldn’t that be lovely if somebody had insight because of this special mantle that was placed upon them? As I grew up, I guess I began to understand that we are all just people, and I was able to see how the power structure within my ward and then also the greater church, women’s voices … could serve but not be heard.

And I was able to see how even with the best-intentioned bishop, that power structure was ultimately harmful, not just to the women and children in the ward, but to the men. Two men deserve to be in an organization where women are equally empowered. I keep thinking about how we’re talking about … the bishops don’t know how to solve these problems. But time and time again, when I talk to women who have gone in to talk to their bishops in different states across this nation, when they tell them about domestic violence, it’s happening in their own homes.

The bishops are trying to solve a different problem. The problem the bishops are universally trying to solve. In every story I’ve heard is how do we keep this family together? Because that’s why I’m here, not how do I help remove this woman and her children from danger. And so I think that it’s not that the bishops don’t want the women to be hurt. But it’s not a top priority compared to making sure that the families stay intact. The most that I’ve heard from any woman that’s reached out over the past two weeks, the most intervention that they’ve gotten from a bishop is the suggestion that they go to family counseling, to marriage counseling specifically so that the husband and wife can learn to not provoke each other, which is absolutely awful advice.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. Jana, will you pick up on that? Because I think Meg’s pointing out something that’s quite interesting about what she’s saying that the bishop’s focus is. And it’s  especially important to know if that person, that man is the first point of contact when a woman or a girl needs help about something happening within their family.

RIESS: I think what she said is right on. And the theological underpinnings for that is that Mormons believe in eternal marriage. If a couple has been married in the temple, that marriage is considered sealed for time in all eternity and the family will be together forever. So a bishop in the Mormon world is not just trying to preserve a marriage for this life, but potentially a marriage, sealing a family, sealing for eternity and for generations to come.

I would also pick up on this question of what happens when a woman goes in to talk to her bishop about abuse, because in 2018, so five years ago, we had a pretty high-profile case of this making the news. And that was when Rob Porter was serving in the Trump administration. The FBI, in conducting its usual background checks on Rob Porter, discovered that both of his ex-wives had accused him of abuse, one of whom had gotten a restraining order against him, had photographs of when he punched her face. Both of those women had gone to their LDS bishops. The first one said that he was choking her. And as Donna has already said, that’s a red flag for very, very serious problems to come.

And her bishop apparently did not take that seriously. It was only when the first wife was speaking with a colleague about it, and the colleague said that is not acceptable. He was very concerned to hear that her husband was choking her, which you would think that anyone would be. And I’m not saying that the bishop wasn’t necessarily concerned, but apparently he didn’t do anything. And then in the second wife’s case, she went to the bishop and discussed the abuse, and she was asked by her bishop, Do you really want to file this protection order against him, considering the effect that that might have on his career?

So in that case, the bishop wasn’t only trying to preserve an eternal marriage, but also to protect the reputation of the abuser. And I think that is a very disturbing idea.

CHAKRABARTI: So, Donna Kelly, I’d love to hear from you about how the structure of the LDS church, the priesthood, which is not like the priesthood of the Catholic Church, let’s say. … What happens when we’re crossing over from, you know, internal sort of church community issues to things that cross over into the legal system?

Because the legal system is its own separate thing, in every state, ostensibly a secular legal system. In communities like Enoch, though, do we have members, you know, like bishops who are also part of the legal system? Or what happens when a woman tries to reach out beyond the bounds of the LDS Church for assistance in domestic violence cases?

KELLY: It is very common in Utah for there to be professionals in the criminal justice system who are also very much leadership in their local church ward or stake organization. And so it’s very common to have that kind of overlap. And what Jana said about protecting the reputation of the individual, I think is very true. Also protecting the reputation of the church. The church does not want to see things be very public and publicly discussed because they are concerned about the image of the church. And so there’s another layer to this whole thing of protecting the church and its image. And so I think that that plays in as well.

CHAKRABARTI: I don’t know how many cases you’ve actually tried or worked on of domestic violence cases. In how many has a bishop actually come to be, you know, a witness for the woman or family you’re representing?

KELLY: So that is a very discouraging thing for us in the legal system. I have a rough estimate of cases that I’ve handled, and over the 32 years and probably about 3,000 victims that I’ve worked with. And it was not unusual to see bishops speak for perpetrators, to have them come into court or to have them write letters of support and so forth, try to seek the release of a defendant, for example, or try to influence the sentencing of the defendant.

But in the 32 years that I have been a prosecutor, I have never once seen a victim be spoken for by their bishop or church leader. Not once. And many times, the victim will be asked to leave the ward because they’re being too disruptive. I’ve had teenage girls asked not to attend their own high school anymore because they’re causing too much of an uproar, you know, by reporting a sexual assault or a violent incident. And so there is very much a sort of undercurrent in this whole problem of protecting the image of the church as well.

CHAKRABARTI: So I’m going to repeat this again, because this is the kind of information that takes us beyond anecdote and to the realm of plausible pattern. Donna, you’ve said that in your three decades of representing domestic violence victims and more than 3,000 cases that you have never once had a bishop come to support or represent the woman, but oftentimes they would come and testify or support the abuser. Correct?

KELLY: Yes, that’s correct, sadly so. And once I was on the Sex Crimes Task Force in Utah County for a number of years, and we had church lawyers come and speak to the group, and they said, well, of course, that’s what we do. We’re in the business of saving souls. And so we are concerned about his soul being saved. But what they discount is the damage that they do to victims.

CHAKRABARTI: Donna … you were talking about the fact that there was sort of a different intention or purpose when bishops came in cases of domestic violence that you had represented. And I wanted to let you complete that thought.

KELLY: Well, I think that the major thing, if the church is really sincere about saying we need to do everything we can to prevent abuse. What they need to do is develop specialists who know how to deal with these problems, who have training and experience, and take some of that off of bishops who are not trained and have those experts work with victims because the problem is going to continue. If nothing changes, the problem will continue.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, I want to just play a couple of bits of tape here, because we did hear from On Point listeners who had some thoughts about the LDS Church. One of them is Haley. She lives in Bountiful, Utah. And she said Mormons are very focused on the idea of family, as we’ve been discussing here today. And here’s part of what she told us through our Vox pop app.

HALEY: The most cherished belief in Mormonism is the idea that families can be together forever. And they’ve even made that phrase into a children’s song.

Families can be together forever through Heavenly Father’s plan. I always want to be with my own family, and the Lord has shown me how I can.

This idea that if you do everything right, if you follow the Mormon path and you make covenants in the Mormon temple, then you can be with your family in heaven forever.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, I also want to play a little bit of tape. This is from back in 2002. And Gordon Hinckley was the LDS Church president at the time from 1995 to 2008. And here he is speaking at the church’s April 2002 general conference during what’s called the priesthood session, which was not open to women.

GORDON HINCKLEY: The wife you choose will be your equal in the marriage companionship. There is neither inferiority nor superiority. The woman does not walk ahead of the man. Neither does the man walk ahead of the woman. They walk side by side as a son and daughter of God on an eternal journey. She is not your servant, your chattel, or anything of the kind.

CHAKRABARTI: In that same speech, Hinckley talked about domestic abuse, and he called it disgusting and tragic.

HINCKLEY: Any man in this church who abuses his wife, who demeans her, who insults her, who exercises unrighteous dominion over her, is unworthy to hold the priesthood. My brethren, if there be any, within the sound of my voice who were guilty of such behavior, I call upon you to repent. Get on your knees and ask the Lord to forgive you. Pray to Him for the power to control your tongue and your heavy hand.

CHAKRABARTI: That’s Gordon Hinckley, who was the president of the LDS Church from 1995 to 2008. Speaking there in 2000. Jana, I hear the messages loud and clear from Hinckley back then, about 20 years ago. And at the same time, in this conversation, you know, I heard Meg describe that, you know, women in Enoch were saying that they felt that if they talked even talked about issues that were a step away from how they were serving their family, that they were considered mouthy.

That’s a really specific word, mouthy. And then Donna was talking about how, you know, girls who had reported abuse in their homes and their families were considered disturbances in their communities. I mean, these are specific ways of looking at women when they need or decide to speak out. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

RIESS: Yes. And I’m glad you played that excerpt from President Hinckley. I think that was very important. And for a prophet, Hinckley was the president of the church. Mormons regard as a prophet, to say that woman walked side by side to her husband is important. What we don’t get there is an equally strong statement to women saying the equivalent of, If you are being abused, you have rights. You need to stand up. You can tell everyone what’s going on. You are important enough that we will risk the reputation of the church to save your family. Those are messages that Latter-day Saint women need to be hearing from the pulpit.

One thing that I would also point out is that there is an evolving kind of rhetoric in the church about gender roles. As Mormonism moves from a pretty straight up patriarchy to an attempt at a softer patriarchy to something that may be in the future truly empowering for women. Right now, we’re in this middle stage where one of the documents that is quoted often, although not yet canonized, as Scripture is called, the Proclamation on the Family or formally the family, a proclamation to the world.

And it says that husband and wife are equal partners. Very, very similar to what President Hinckley was just quoted as saying. It also says that men have the job of presiding over their families. To preside is to lead, to preside as to be the person in charge. To preside is the person who has the last word. And so there is a tension there. Is it equality or is it patriarchy? Well, yes, it’s both right now.

CHAKRABARTI: Donna, can I just get a brief response from you about this following question? And I want to acknowledge I’m speculating here, speculating as a non-Mormon, but in hearing all of you talk about the importance of this idea of the eternal journey that a husband and wife take in Mormonism. … Is there any possibility that, you know, Michael Haight, who had already had this pattern of violence that was subsequently revealed … if he could not have his marriage remain intact on Earth, that he was in part propelled to, you know, send them all to heaven through murder to continue that eternal journey?

KELLY: It’s really hard to get around to the mind and figure out what the intentions of a perpetrator are. But one of the things that perpetrators want to do is sort of preserve their power and their image and their influence. And that may have been this person’s idea of doing that. I don’t know. I can’t say, but I know that things become much more violent and much more dangerous for a woman when she tries to leave a violent relationship. So that is not the timing of everything, the filing of a divorce and then the violent episode. That is not unusual. In fact, it is very predictable.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. The question was just beating against the inside of my skull and I had to ask. But I know that it’s total speculation. Now, listen, it was so fascinating, Jana, to hear you talk about this evolution, because we are seeing some of that come from, you know, within very particular aspects of the LDS Church, women in particular. And I want to acknowledge that the voice we’re about to hear is Kate Kelly, who is Donna Kelly’s daughter. So acknowledging that there, and Kate founded the group Ordain Women roughly a decade ago. And as we mentioned earlier, only men in the Mormon Church get to hold the priesthood. So here’s what Kate and her group Ordain Women did.

KATE KELLY: We decided to ask for the priesthood because it is the backbone of the church. It’s literally called the patriarchal order of the priesthood. So every male person over the age of 12 gets the priesthood and no women do. We launched in 2013 where we went to the tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. We were, you know, all dressed in our Sunday best.

And we met at a park and we walked down to the tabernacle in a single file line, and we politely went up to the door and asked to be admitted to the priesthood session, one by one.

So the first woman went, Hi, I’d like to attend the priesthood session, please. They said, No.

The second woman went.

They said, No.

The third woman went. They said no. And we went through so that every single woman could have that experience.

And I remember one reporter from Al Jazeera was like, wait, that’s it? The Internet is breaking because you, like, politely stood in a line. But that was the case. It was nothing short of revolutionary for Mormon women to confront the hierarchy in that way and be told to leave but refused to go.

You know, you don’t typically have a singular moment in your life where you realize that the community you’re part of does not value you, does not consider you to be in any way equal. And so as we stepped away, one by one, each of us was having that visceral, crushing reality of something.

October rolls around, we do it again. They’re more angry this time. They try to shut the gates of Temple Square and close us out. A tourist was coming out of the gate and I grabbed it. And so we physically forced our way onto Temple Square. We started getting people joining our group who were, you know, bishops in a ward or people with very high callings or prominent families in Mormonism. And it was getting more and more popular. And the more they clamped down, the more sympathetic we seemed. And eventually they decided that they were going to excommunicate me.

I was in Salt Lake City when I opened the email and it said that I had been excommunicated. I immediately collapsed basically on the table because for Mormons, spiritual death is worse than physical death. And spiritual death, being excommunicated is eternal.

I don’t have hope that the future of the organization will be inclusive. But women themselves are changing. Women are demanding more. They’re expecting fewer violations of their own autonomy and dignity. And that, I think, is hopeful. And that is the radical change that we will see.

CHAKRABARTI: Jana, we only have about 30 seconds remaining in this conversation. I just wonder if you could give us a final thought about what this moment [means] in the LDS Church and women in the church?

RIESS: Yes, I think that things are changing and things are changing for the better, but they are changing because women are stepping up and asking for that. It’s not going to be handed to us. And so when women speak out, when women speak up, changes can happen in the LDS tradition. They happen glacially. Change is very slow, but it is progressing.

Related Reading

Salt Lake Tribune: “Donna Kelly: Lawmakers should reject proposals that would harm victims of crime” — “I urge your opposition to Sen. Todd Weiler’s SB 87 and SJR 6. In brief, the proposed changes contained in these two measures allow deposition of victims by defense attorneys, a change that will further traumatize victims.”

Religion News Service:How to stay Mormon after a faith crisis (if staying is what you want)” — “When Christian Kimball was a young man, he checked every Mormon box: mission, temple marriage, leadership callings, a successful career. As a grandson of LDS prophet Spencer W. Kimball, he had a family legacy that was fully intertwined with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But in the 1990s, when Christian was serving as a bishop in Massachusetts, his faith started to fall apart.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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