On Obedience

4421129027_8e06c5afb3_bThis poem by the beloved Mormon poet Carol Lynn Pearson has been haunting my waking and sleeping thoughts all week:

Obedient Girl

Everybody was proud of this little girl.
She loved to please and obey.
She got good grades
And she baked good cakes

And she cleaned her room each day
(And she came home pregnant at seventeen).
She loved to please and obey.



I have two daughters (ages 14 and 17) and one son (11).  In light of the awful events of this week for Mormons, I am left wondering–even more so than ever: 

  • What is the role of obedience in their lives? 
  • What should I be teaching them about obedience? 
  • Is obedience inherently good or noble?  If so, why?
  • Obedience to what/whom?
  • How do we go about deciding what laws/rules we will obey?

I’m not gonna lie.  I like it when my kids obey me.  I love few things more than coming home from work and discovering that they have done their chores and thrown away the wrappers from the snacks they ate.  (Okay, now I am lying; they pretty much never throw away the wrappers from the snacks they ate; they leave them on the floor and on the couch and it turns me into a rage machine, but I digress . . .)  I like it that they follow the rules at school because it makes my life and theirs easier.  I like obeying traffic laws and I pray pray pray that my 17 year old obeys them.  And that other people similarly obey them when she’s on the roads. 

So yeah, I’m not anti-obedience. 

But I am very troubled right now about the primacy of obedience in the Mormon landscape.  Frankly, it scares me to contemplate continuing to communicate that primacy to my children.  And it scares the shit out of me to think about communicating to my daughters that they should subjugate themselves, their minds, their questions to male authority figures who will tell them that they are acting in God’s name.  Because now we’ve upped the ante.  It’s not just men we’re supposed to obey; it’s God.  A male God.  And they are girls living in a religious system which grants women absolutely zero institutional or spiritual authority.

When I was a young BYU student in 1993–already married at the ridiculously young age of 20–I learned to obey.  I watched in fear as feminists and intellectuals were censored and excommunicated.  I was just a dumb kid, but it scared me because I thought I might be a feminist and maybe even an intellectual some day.  What did that mean for me? 

I know what it’s meant for me.  It’s meant 20 years of living in fear of censure, of punishment, of reprisal, of being cut out of my spiritual and biological family.  Not for saying or wishing or questioning the wrong things (although that’s part of it, to be sure); for not being obedient. 

I don’t know what the future holds for me in terms of Mormonism, but I simply will not–I cannot–stand by and allow my girls to follow in my obedient footsteps. 

(But if they want to start throwing away their snack wrappers, I’m down with that.)