This past Monday night I had the most wonderful opportunity. Our church received an invitation for a woman of our faith to participate in an interfaith panel discussion being held at the Women’s Resource Center on the University of Illinois’ campus. My Stake President asked if I would sit on the panel and represent the church, and I accepted.
The topic of discussion was gender roles within our faith tradition. They provided me with a list of questions ahead of time, but told us they would also be letting the conversation grow naturally. The audience was encouraged to come ready to ask questions and the majority of our time was spent answering their inquiries. We ended up discussing dating, engagement, sex, women and education, birth, the role that family plays in marriage and dating, modesty, homosexuality, chastity, family time, sex education, interfaith and interracial marriages, divorce, our sacred texts and their role within families and marriage, doubt, marriage traditions and practices and many other important things!
Want to hear something surprising though? The discussion was about gender roles in our faith/church and not one person asked me about being an oppressed Mormon Woman or about Women and the Priesthood! Can you believe that?!? I was rather disappointed. I would have really loved to answer that one!
When I first accepted the assignment I was nervous. The U of I is a liberal campus and the topics were sensitive ones. I knew it was likely that there would be lesbian couples in the audience (there were) and that my views on most moral issues would seem antiquated and even offensive to some. However, most of my feelings of apprehension left as I prepared by study and by talking to friends in advance about the subject. General conference also filled me with all kinds of COURAGE and even a willingness to be MOCKED or PERSECUTED if necessary (It totally wasn’t! Everyone was very respectful!). And at the end of the day Corey promised that if things went south he’d start a fire in the bathroom, so there you go! I knew I’d be fine! 🙂
By the time the panel actually arrived I was filled with a good kind of nervous energy. I was excited to learn about other faiths and see what we had in common. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to bear testimony of the principles of the gospel that have brought me so much light and happiness!
Joining me on the panel was a Jew, 2 Sikhs, and a Unitarian Universalist. It was wonderful to become more acquainted with their faiths! As I suspected we would, we had much in common with the Jewish and Sikh traditions. Unfortunately we had almost nothing in common with the Unitarian Universalists. It is mind blowing to me to know that there are members of the LDS faith that leave and end up landing with them. As their representative spoke verses of 2 Nephi 28 and the teachings of Korihor (specifically that whole “whatsoever a man did was no crime,” business) kept coming to mind.
Anyway. I walked away from the experience with renewed gratitude for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Despite how neat it was to see the commonalities between us, there were also some key, key differences. How grateful I am for clear, meaningful, protective, happiness-producing commandments and standards! For prophetic and personal revelation! For a knowledge of the true nature of the Godhead!
It really was such an uplifting experience. I felt the spirit guiding my words, and I am grateful I was able to share my testimony of eternal families, the atonement, the sacredness of sexuality and birth, the nature of God as forgiving and fair, our divine identities as His children etc.
I know not everything I said was well-received, but I did my best to clearly, compassionately and succinctly articulate and explain our beliefs. It’s a tough thing to do when time is limited and the issues are complex! (Especially for someone as verbose as myself!) Anyway, I would hope that even if people didn’t agree with me they were still able to understand what I said and have a respect our high moral standards.
And you know what? I could tell some things were very well received! I got the feeling that people thought Family Home Evening was a very sweet idea indeed! (It got a few “awwww’s.”) And as I explained why modesty had been so empowering to me, I got quite a few “I never thought about it that way before,” head-nods, so I thought that was great too.
After the discussion ended a pregnant woman from the audience came over to talk to me more about birth. She said that the idea of birth being sacred rang very true to her, so we (and my dear Rachel who came!!!) talked a little bit more. And yesterday I got an email from an audience member with an amazing story who wants to meet with me and is interested in learning more about our faith. We have a phone chat set up for this evening and I’m excited to see where that story goes!
For a girl who never got to go on a mission, getting to officially represent the church, even in this small way, was an honor. If I ever get the opportunity to do something like this again, I will certainly take it!