My daughters and I watched a mamma duck abandon her duckling. The duckling wasn’t able to fly and it just cried and cried. Have you ever heard a baby duckling cry? The sound carries amazingly far and is pitifully heartbreaking, especially if you witnessed the abandonment. I felt helpless. How do you help a vulnerable duckling? My girls were determined to do something, they just weren’t going to let it die. But the problem was the duckling wasn’t even within our reach, it was on the other side of a fence in someone else’s backyard. We talked to the neighbor but were not allowed into the backyard to save the duckling, the owner did agree to not let her dogs out in the backyard though. After a half-hour of watching and listening to the duckling from a distance to see if it would come out so we could help it, I began to grow disheartened. At that point, I wanted to tell my girls some lie like, “The mamma knew the duck was ready to be on its own and that’s why it flew away and the duckling is going to be okay” because it would be so much easier to become blind to the uncomfortable truth than to confront the truth.
Growing up I was voluntarily blind to the gender inequalities within my faith community. It seems easier to deal with the painful truth by ignoring it. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to take off my blinders, and it’s been both uncomfortable and scary. I have felt frustrated, betrayed, confused, and helpless as I take in the gender inequalities.
I came across an interview with Chieko N. Okazaki yesterday morning. She knew what it is like to live in the midst of contradictions, and I personally think she navigated those contradictions beautifully. One reason I find her thoughts helpful is that for one, she is courageous enough to say that sometimes the leaders in the Church get it wrong. The apostle who said what he said in the 1950s would not say that today in 2021. And I think opening our eyes and being honest about that is important. It is easier to find some reason to justify wrongs and ignore them than it is to look at it honestly. For example, this is tempting to do in a marriage. If your spouse is being a jerk, it is sometimes easier to close your eyes and ignore it, maybe even justify it to others, or to justify your own poor behavior because of their poor behavior, but it is so much harder to be honest about it and then respond to it in a morally courageous way.
The second reason I love what she said is that she chooses to stay out of integrity even though there are hurtful contradictions within the Church. She’s not staying so that she can indulge in the victim position. She’s not staying and then allowing herself to be treated like a doormat. She’s not staying and then justifying her poor behavior. She’s staying while maintaining her self-respect. And because she stayed, because she saw things how they really were, because she didn’t just close her eyes and justify how things were, she made a difference for the better.
However, I don’t think it’s always the right thing to stay. I think everyone needs to make that decision for themselves. The best way for me to think about this is to relate it to marriage. If you are in a bad marriage you can make the decision to open your eyes and be honest about the condition of your marriage, or you can go blind to it and tell yourself everything is okay. It’s hard and uncomfortable to look at things as they really are and it’s even harder to confront those issues. But if you choose to open your eyes and see things how they really are, you then have another decision to make: are you going to stay in the marriage or are you going to leave the marriage? That is a difficult question that should not be treated lightly and demands honesty. Can you really continue in the relationship under the conditions that you are in? Is it wise to? How are you going to respond? This is how I navigate my relationship with the Church. I’m not sure the right answer for everyone is always the same. It’s not always the right answer to stay. It’s not always the right answer to leave.
The thing that matters is your reason for leaving or staying. What’s motivating your to leave or to stay? Are you staying because you don’t want to deal with the invalidation from your family, friends, and community? Are you staying but don’t want to deal with the discomfort of seeing things as they really are? Are you leaving because you don’t want to deal with a flawed relationship and work through the challenges of an important relationship that’s got some flaws? For me, the thing that I find honorable when someone chooses to stay or leave isn’t what their choice is but how they are making that choice.
Are there inequalities within the Church? Yes. Does everyone think so? No, and a lot of people within the Church have some annoying justification for the inequalities. Has the Church made progress? Yes, but that doesn’t mean we need to stop confronting the rest of the gender inequalities. It makes me hopeful to see the progress that has been made, however, I’m not yet content with where we are at. But I am choosing to stay because, for me, even though it’s a flawed relationship, it’s still one I want to choose to be a part of.
Chieko N. Okazaki
Here’s the link to the full interview with Chieko N. Okazaki
“I remember when I was a student at the University of Hawaii during World War II, one of the apostles of the Church at our stake conference spoke. I was a member of the Japanese Branch, and of course we all went, although I have to say it was hard for us to go to the tabernacle because everybody else was white people. We felt that we were intruding somehow. Many servicemen were present, and this apostle said very bluntly, “I want all of you soldiers to know that you are not to get into the situation where you would like to be married to any of these people. And you women, you are not to get to the point of integrating yourself to the point where you think you are going to be married to one of these men. Each of these men has a person waiting for him in one of the wards in the city they come from.” I remember how surprised I was. It was a completely new topic to me…I thought, “Why is it that the Church doesn’t look upon us, who are of a different race, as worthy to marry a white Mormon man? If we are daughters and sons of God, I don’t think the Lord would look at us and say, ‘You’re different, so there are things you can’t do.’” I realized that I was still learning about the gospel, but that was a contradiction that I tucked into the back of my mind.
I had to think more about the contradictions when Ed and I moved to Utah. (Ed was Japanese like me.) One of our friends was marrying a white person, and they could not get married in the temple because the state had what was called a “Mongoloid law.” They had to go to Canada to get married in the Cardston Temple. That was in 1951. I remember thinking about that scripture when the Lord said, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold,” and I could understand that, where ethnicity was concerned, I really was not of this fold. So Ed and I really could have left the Church here in Utah. What I understood as the gospel message didn’t match what we encountered so often with the people. There was a big gap in so many ways. Again, my mother’s wisdom helped. She said, “Know that you know the truth”—she wasn’t a Mormon. She was a Buddhist until she died—“and others haven’t learned it yet. So just hold fast and let the rest go.” So that’s what we did. We just held on and tried to look at the doctrines of the gospel rather than how people behaved sometimes, and believed that our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ would not look at us as any different from white members. For a long time, we weren’t asked to serve in any Church callings. But I’m glad to say that when our wards got to know us and realized that we could contribute, we were asked to serve.