Melinda Gates, in her book The Moment of Lift, argues that “tradition without conversation kills moral progression.” In other words, for example, traditions organized and written by white wealthy American men without input from or conversation with non-white, non-wealthy, non-American, or non-men keep morality stuck in a white wealthy American male paradigm that marginalizes the rest. I believe this. However, evidence shows that humans throughout history progress beyond their dominant traditions. People absent from the rooms where dominant traditions are made often create personal traditions, small rebellions, and stories that are not reflected in the dominant tradition. In her book, Mormon Women at the Crossroads, Caroline Kline shares the hidden traditions and stories of active Latter-Day Saint women of color in Botswana, Mexico, and the U.S. She gives voice to the marginalized and finds an abundance within and beyond Mormon tradition. I believe these women can change what Mormon tradition is and revive its moral progression.
Many of the women in Kline’s book expressed some form of embracing ambivalence. Embracing ambivalence is the act of allowing two or more conflicting ideas to exist at the same time. Developing this quality is a sign of moral maturity. These women of color create their own spaces, their own traditions where “neither the priesthood ban and the temple ban nor polygamy [is] of God” (122), where “I am the priesthood holder in my house” (127), where Heavenly Mother’s voice “came from the earth” (149), where “we are a dreaming people, so I dream many things” (147), where “you don’t have to be a white person to be a Mormon” (144). These women’s stories are incredible displays of resilience and creativity as well as evidence that tradition is being created even when the dominant, privileged tradition does not premise it.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints embracing ambivalence is not taught in the dominant tradition. In fact, contradictorily, tradition promotes “choose the right,” “hold to the rod,” “follow the prophet,” and “don’t be deceived.” The dominant tradition also reflects ideas and a history that voiced anti-racial marriage, silencing Heavenly Mother, and that Black skin negates priesthood; basically, Mormon tradition oppresses and marginalizes women of color while promoting binary thinking. This is why women of color should be included in the dominant tradition. These women’s experiences are vital for the church to progress. If women of color continue to be left out of the tradition-making conversation, moral progression for the church will be killed.
While reading Mormon Women at the Crossroads, I experienced vivid dreams; dreams of trapped, suffocating women smiling and waving as heavy steal lids were placed over the containers they stood inside. But these women are not trapped or suffocating. These women are already progressing beyond the traditions of the church, creating spaces where they breathe and belong. I think it is the church that is suffocating. Kline has given the church an opportunity to start a conversation with women of color, I suggest they take it.