Thursday, January 27, 2022

I read the following piece aloud at a fast and testimony meeting for my ward. I'm sharing it here because it has brought courage and encouragement for others, and I hope it will continue to.


A few weeks ago I taught a Relief Society lesson during which I shared the following statement: I am Channing. I am a feminist mormon woman who appreciates the contemplative and mystical. I am beloved by God. I feel alone and disliked at church. I feel like I am not wanted here because I talk about things that make people uncomfortable. Church is painful for me, but I deeply desire a religious community that I feel safe and welcome in.

After the lesson was over, some of my good friends came up to me and showered me in love. “Channing, we love you. Just be yourself. Don’t worry about what other people think.” I really appreciated that because it was a good reminder of a few things.

First, it was a necessary reminder that I am loved, and that my responsibility is ultimately to God, who created me in their divine image. Secondly, this experience showed me something incredibly important. It showed me where I have been sacrificing my god-given and blessed authenticity for belonging to a church community because I do worry what other people think. I worry about it a lot, because unfortunately, what other people think has an impact on me, on my children, on my family, and on my real, lived life.

I desire to bear testimony of my heart, and to offer clarification for my statement in that Relief Society lesson that day: I feel alone and disliked at church. This is why.

I share a strong and incredibly deep relationship to God, and not just any God, but my God. My God is a god whose love surpasses understanding, transcends boundaries, whose capacity to shift and continually surprise in the most joyful ways fills my heart with awe and wonder. I love God. I could bring myself to weeping with the knowledge of the depth and breadth of the love that literally holds me, you, us, this entire world in its soft and gentle hands.

It is this love that shapes my understanding of the world. It is this love that shapes my understanding of all beings. If God is a god of love, or even better, like our hymn says, if God IS love, and if we are all created in the image of the Divine, then we too, are loved. Love, deep and abiding, more incredible than we could ever imagine. We are not just made in the image of love, which makes it sound like we are a derivative work. No, we are literally created in love. Which is why God and people are so incredible to me. Every day we walk amongst the images of God. CS Lewis once wrote, 

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

This is what informs my approach to God and the world. The world and all living, creeping, swimming, walking, talking, flying, thinking, eating things upon it were made not just in the image of Love, but literally hold Divinity within. 

This understanding commands respect for all beings. If we all carry evidence of the Divine within, then we all each have the capacity to bring God’s love forward into the world. This also means that each of us have something to teach the world about Love, about God.

Our first meeting back from the pandemic centered around a Gospel Doctrine lesson about the Shakers. The first words I heard in that meeting were ones of seemingly light-hearted joking about the Shakers, but I was ashamed to have heard them. “No wonder they all died out,” someone said, referring to the Shaker belief against sexual relations between married couples. It was these opening statements that set the stage for what would turn out to be a lesson focused on “us vs. them” thinking, as if we, in the form of the early church, could provide them a way out of their delusion.

In the weeks since, I have still continually seen, in this very ward, more of the “us vs. them” type of thinking. Some of us have been brave enough to name our supposed enemies, always in the guise of “not understanding” or “deceived by Satan,” among them: LGBTQ persons, the other political party, people who have left the church, etc. And instead of maintaining our belief that every being is a child of God, we, collectively, have given ourselves permission to trample their names under our feet and prematurely harvest them as tares.

Because of my stubborn belief in the inherent Divinity in all, a belief that was formed in me in my early days in Primary, a belief that was born in the very walls of the church, I have, for the last 5 years of my membership in the church, stood up for those who have been forgotten and misnamed as “lost.” Those lost sheep, the 1 that Christ seeks out because the 99 have not. LGBTQ people, women, victims of abuse, liberal snowflakes, all those ones are not lost of their own accord. They are lost because we have refused to create a space for them in the safety of our walls. Because of this, I too have inched closer and closer toward the margins of belonging, because I am seen as antagonistic, intimidating, threatening, intense, and sometimes even misguided or that I have lost my own testimony.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I have read the very same scriptures you hold in your hands. I have read the words of Jacob the prophet in the Book of Mormon, who called the church to repentance for the treatment of women and children. How very like them we really are! As a woman, I feel very unwelcome and unloved here. Many of you might be asking yourselves, why? I am more than happy to share!

In the four months we have been attending in person, I have attended three times as many meetings where only men speak in Sacrament and only men teach, as compared to meetings where at least, but only ever, one woman speaks in Sacrament meeting. I believe this is due more to an unconscious bias than a purposeful exclusion of women, but combined with the small, one hundred thousand cuts to my soul I experience at church, it is a weight that is unbearable. We sing songs to Father and Son, say prayers to and in the name of the Father and Son, speak only in he and his pronouns, dare to name God as exclusively male, we literally ingest maleness through the sacrament, bread and body and water and blood of exclusively male deities. The scriptures are written by, for, and about men. 93% of general conference talks are given by men. Every time! 

As a woman, I can only experience God in these walls by translating the male experience into my own. I have no permissive access to a female God, even though Heavenly Mother is secretly, sacred revered in our theology. I do not have the priesthood. I cannot hold the majority of church callings, because they all belong to those who have priesthood. And though this is bandaged by claims that I have access to priesthood power through my temple covenants, I still experience unequal access, unequal representation, unequal opportunities, because I was born a woman.

Some will claim that I imagine my own oppression at the hands of the church. But I ask you, what am I to tell my sweet, beautiful daughter, who knows in her heart that she can do and accomplish and be anything in the world: an Olympic gymnast, a dancer, an artist, a teacher; that she will be unable to ever hold the power of God, never give a blessing to her children, never hold a calling she can act independently in, never really be able to access a relationship with God independent of her husband… what am I to tell her? When I told her, gently, that this would be her experience in the church if she chooses to be baptized, she said to me, “Mom, I will tell them they are wrong. Girls can do anything and everything boys can. Girls are smart and strong, and so am I.” Will you tell her otherwise?

And it is precisely because I say these things, precisely because my testimony hinges on the Love of God and I dare to speak against the things that stand in the way of Love reaching all corners of the earth, that I too, find myself on the margins of the church. Because I dare to speak the name “Heavenly Mother” or “Sophia,” because I dare to express my pain at the hundred thousand million erasures and cuts to my very soul as a woman, that I am named a danger to you all. It is because of this that some of you have taken it upon yourselves to call up your church leaders and complain to them about me. It is because my words are threatening, poking, confronting you and your refusal to be surprised and open to God, that you push, sometime violently, against my comments in classes. It is precisely because I am being myself, because I am being the Channing God made me to be, fiery, whip-smart, quick, and deeply passionate, that I feel more belonging on the hot asphalt in the parking lot of this building than I do on the pews with people who feel I am too much for them.

I stand here as a testimony and a warning. If we, as a collective church, continue to push out voices like mine, voices that call in the night for belonging, for change, for recognition, acceptance, welcome, love, voices that cry from high city walls for justice first and peace second, feet shod with proclamations of inclusion and radical love; if we close our ears, shut our eyes, shield our hearts, border our nations, who is it that cannot hear or see God? Who must repent? Has our faith so hardened into certainty that we can no longer be surprised by the God of Love?

People have said, Channing! Be yourself, do not worry what other people say or think. I am here, now, a woman in her power, who sees what she sees, who feels what she feels, and knows what she knows, being myself. Speaking and giving language to what has weighed on my heart for the better part of a year, and saying to you all: I am not welcome here and I know it, and I refuse to pretend that I do not recognize the ways you’d wish I’d disappear. I also refuse to pretend that I do not feel the fire of God burning in my heart every moment, and that it is this fire that calls me to speak on the behalf of the downtrodden, to lift up the hands that hang down, to call upon the church to feed and clothe the poor with their surplus and give the inheritance to those whose names are written upon the record of the church as commanded in the Doctrine and Covenants, to forget not the needy, the outcast, the Samaritan, the prostitute, the leper, the tax collector, and act as Jesus did. Where are the long tables set with feasts of wisdom? Where are the weeping tears of the psalms, calling for God’s presence because it has been lost? God does not speak here because we already pretend to know what God says!

There are some who will question by whose authority I have to speak these things, and this is a valid question. I have waited a lifetime to be recognized as a worthy and whole woman in the church, and I have yet to see it happen in real and tangible ways beyond lip service. I have waited with baited breath at general, stake, and ward conferences for the proper authorities to recognize the power and presence and worthiness of all marginalized identities, including my own, and I have yet to see it happen. If I have waited and waited and waited for liberation to occur through the proper channels AND sought faithfully for humility and patience and counsel from those same authorities AND read the scriptures, said my prayers, attend church like a very good Mormon girl, AND still feel an indescribable ache to be seen and known AND leave this building every Sunday weeping because I do not feel safe or loved here AND know, because my own freedom, liberation, and wholeness is promised in the scriptures, not in the future but in the here and the now, what am I to do, but speak to my own pain and erasure through the only power I can ever really claim: the power of God in me?

There are some, who, after today will be making more phone calls and wanting me to be called in for discipline. Pick up your phone. Let them know that Channing Parker showed up as herself here today. I am right with God in my heart, and I am not afraid. I no longer wait for belonging and acceptance in a community that cannot, will not, accept me as one of their own, because I already know who I belong to. I know whose name is written upon my heart, and I know by whose power I speak here today. I am Channing Parker. I am a daughter of Love. I was raised on the apron strings of my Mother in Heaven, I learned at the feet of Jesus the Christ, I am embraced by a Father of Justice and Mercy. My conscience is clear, and I go out from here in peace, with one final question I beg of you:

If God is love

And one does not feel love

In the church,

Is God in the church?

In the name of Our Mother, amen.

© Channing B. Parker. Design by FCD.