All is Not Well in Zion; But God is Still At the Helm

I’m looking forward to this weekend’s General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with mixed feelings. There is both an outpouring of joy and anticipation as well as some sorrow and anxiety. On the one hand, I’m gathering at Conference with my extended family for some very tender celebrations. On the other, I’ve been feeling burdened by the pain of a growing body of women who I imagine will attend with weary hearts, leery of hearing messages that tell them to stay in their place. Not that I think that's a message that our leaders will be trying to deliver. But their hearts are sore, and it can be hard not to hear what we fear.

Two weeks ago, thousands of those women reacted to a Church Instagram post with unexpected fervor. The post quoted a snippet from Sister J. Annette Dennis` March 17th address, “There is no other religious organization in the world, that I know of, that has so broadly given power and authority to women.” In reality, Sister Dennis was talking about the priesthood power with which all women who make temple covenants are endowed, and the post has since been edited to provide the broader context. But the original meme struck a raw nerve and set off a firestorm of many thousand replies, most of them disputing it. There were anguished stories of being demeaned, forgotten and of feeling hopeless about the eternities. There were others who admonished the writers to quit complaining and stop trying to cause drama. And there was distress and anger about a recent change of practice in San Francisco Bay area stakes. Relief Society presidents there had been sitting on the stand during Sacrament meetings for a decade until October, when an area authority requested an end to the practice. 

On Wednesday, March 20th, the Instagram account posted a reply to the outpouring of dissent, thanking the women for sharing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences and promising that they were being forwarded to Church leaders. Then, an inexplicable glitch happened with Instagram itself, and more than 8000 comments suddenly disappeared. (Meta Communications, which owns Instagram, told the New York Times that there were no glitches that day affecting comments, but complaints on Reddit forums prove that there were). The timing could not have been worse. Commenters assumed that it was the Church account that deleted their messages and reacted with outrage at being silenced. Some said this was the final straw that convinced them they were not wanted in the Church. That afternoon, the glitch was resolved and all the comments reappeared. But the glitch was so unusual and the timing so bad that many followers of the post continued to believe that it was the Church that deleted and then restored the comments. 

I can’t watch this and say nothing. I love the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for more reasons than I can list. I feel like the depth and the breadth of the gospel of Jesus Christ can’t even be measured. I am stunned by unexpected beauties in His nature and His plan. And I have had ample witness that His Church is true, founded by His hand, and that our leaders are actively seeking and receiving His guidance. 

At the same time, I and my children are among those who’ve been hurt in the ways that some of the Instagram commenters described. I embraced the model for marriage relationships that the Church used to teach, that defined my role as “help meet” to my husband (without him having any such role toward me), that placed me under him, and that somehow put him between me and God. I allowed myself to be controlled, dominated and used, and kept believing that if I could just learn to be the help meet God had called me to be, my husbands (I’ve been married twice) would rise up and fulfill the enormous potential I saw in them. Eventually, I had to leave both marriages in order to keep myself intact.

I feel like I’m straddling two worlds, one that orbits around faith in living prophets and a Church that is actively led by Jesus Christ, and another that anguishes over injustices that exist and are defended in that same Church. I feel a longing to speak my truth to each of those worlds. 

I want to start with devoted Saints like me who find safety in following the prophet. To these friends, I want to say, please don’t be threatened by the voices of people who speak of being harmed by the Church. Believing in a living prophet does not require us to cling to a belief that the Church is perfect, has the final word or holds the high ground on every given issue. In fact, Nephi warns that Satan’s last-days strategies include the following: “others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well – and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell”(2 Nephi 28:21).  

As the Brethren have been telling us since at least 2014, “the Restoration is an ongoing process.” Trusting in Jesus Christ allows me to open my heart to the reality that the Lord is continually leading us out of darkness, as fast as we are willing to be led, even while darkness still encroaches in ways that do genuine harm to some in our midst. But inspiration depends on information, and we all have roles to play in the kingdom of God. That means it’s okay, even necessary, to listen to the voices of people who are hurting from the darkness. 

Here is a tiny sampling of the comments, chosen in order to focus on the aching hearts of the writers, even though they open cans of worms that I can’t properly address in this post: 

“I have been struggling with my testimony of the church in the past year BECAUSE of the misogyny I’ve faced in the church. If I had power and authority, I would be able to have come follow me discussions without a priesthood holder to supervise. I wouldn’t have to feed ideas to my male counterparts for stake leadership to listen to them. I wouldn’t have high counselors telling other women “boy, does she like to talk” after stake council meetings” Samm Page

The way that the church is set up in its current system is wholeheartedly unhealthy as a place for young girls to grow up in. They are told in just about every unspoken way that their voice doesn’t matter as much as a man’s, they are not needed or necessary to be present to make one single decision, and that any kind of spiritual inspiration they could even possibly have cannot even really be trusted bc it can always be overruled by a man in every instance. This system breaks a woman’s ability to form trust with her inner compass… No little girl will ever naturally learn these things. Her best lot in life is to hope for a man that doesn’t abuse his patriarchal power. Sadly most men don’t even know they’re doing it. Lots of emotional harm is paved with good intentions.” Pam Lacey Heggie

“Several years ago I was released from a RS presidency so that I could travel with my husband to his remote speaking engagements as a high councilor. Not to speak alongside him, just to sit there and wrangle our five young kids in front of strangers. When it became obvious I was struggling with this, my Bishop’s advice was to be more like Nephi and go to the mountain (temple) more often. I told him that’s the problem, I’m not Nephi. I’m Nephi’s wife, mother, sister and daughter. Where were they when Nephi was on the mountain? What were their stories? What even were their names?... I’ve often felt that if I could just hear from other women, I could learn to navigate it all better. It led me to study church history about the women in the early church which just led to more hurt to see how forgotten and hidden they have been… I’m a woman in this church who would desperately like to stay engaged. I’m hoping the church will begin to treat women as Christ did, bringing them to the table and letting them learn at His feet.” Julia Layman Baker

Twenty years ago I started seeing the truth of the invisibility and control of women in this church and all the patterns. To say it broke my heart is an understatement. I have loved and believed and trusted and obeyed and served this church with all that I have… It broke my heart and left my spiritual identity in shambles wondering if it was just me? Maybe I couldn’t trust myself?...Who even is God to me anymore? Do I even know him? I prayed and prayed and prayed. I kept trying to doubt my doubts. But the sad painful truth has been the pebble in my shoe I have walked with ever since. There is goodness and good people here. Things that have undeniably blessed my life and given me purpose direction and meaning. God has spoken to me in undeniable ways and when I asked for peace about many of these things, would not give it to me. Now I’m learning to accept that God won’t give me peace about it because these patterns are not rooted in truth or in them. I wish so much this statement shared here was true, but I cannot add my amen. the dissonance is too difficult to ignore. I can respect that this is not the experience for some women and people. But I won’t lie, I’m thankful for the opportunity for SO MANY WOMEN to share their voice and heart and experience. I feel less alone in this painful pattern. I still go to church every Sunday, im still holding out hope that we can change. Please please please hear us. This is real 🙏.” Brooke White (who is an LDS pop artist and actress. One long time follower responded to her post, saying she can no longer follow Sis. White because of these opinions). 

“As the wife of a YSA stake patriarch, I was verbally assaulted by a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, in front of about 20 young single adults at the back of the chapel. The stake president had invited me to join my husband on the stand as an example of a happy marriage. The Seventy stopped me and informed me in a very loud voice, in front of the members, that only the Priesthood are to sit on the stand, unless speaking or directing or playing music. Please help me to understand how that honors women.” Cristie Gardner

“When you picture yourself exalted, after staying on the covenant path, together with your family, able to progress and create… picture all the joy and wonder of that, and then impose the same treatment for yourself that we currently have on Heavenly Mother, (i.e. your beloved children are told they cannot talk to you. They aren’t allowed to know you, or thank you, or reach out to you, or know that the beautiful orchid was your idea, or sing praises to you, or see you as a role model of what they themselves can become), are you genuinely okay with that? Are you at peace with being told you can’t actively parent/comfort your children, while they go through the crucible of trail and pain and growth? …Some here say these comments come from a place of malice/desire to stir up contention but this question and the comments from my fellow sisters come from the most opposite place of that. I don’t like contention and am a keep the peace person, so we speak out of deep pain.” Ashley Hoth

I am grateful that the Church is sending clear signals that these voices matter and are being heard. Sis. Dennis wrote a general reply to the comments, saying, “Thank you for reaching out and taking the time to share your feelings. As we read through the comments, we were moved by some of the experiences you’ve had. As a member of the General Relief Society Presidency, I can assure you that we and our Church leaders are listening and learning from the things you have shared with us. We love and pray for you and all our sisters everywhere. Please know we hear you, we need you, and we care.”

Similarly, at an Oakland Stake Conference in March, Elder Mark A Bragg, the area president who requested an end to women sitting on the stand, responded to a question about his reasons. He said, in part, “My intention was never to hurt any feelings or make anyone feel lesser. So I know that’s not going to satisfy everyone for an answer, but I share that with you with love and with my great gratitude for you and for helping me understand these issues that you feel strongly about.” He also said he would be counselling with auxiliary leaders and the Priesthood and Family department about it. 

Half of my hope in writing this post is to contribute to a culture where people who are hurting like the women quoted above can bring their broken hearts and their aching questions to their brothers and sisters in their home congregations  and be met with empathy instead of scorn. That we will not close ranks against them and treat them with suspicion or withdraw from them because they have problems with current church teachings or practices. I’m hoping we can make them welcome and safe to keep asking their burning questions. I believe we can and need to do that by holding space for the continuing restoration to eventually overthrow every form of bondage and inequity. Because if we are not supposed to claim all is well in Zion, that means our testimonies do not require us to defend an imperfect status quo. 

This leads to what I want to say to my other world, those who are struggling with inequities in the Church. To these friends I want to say, Don’t leave! All is not well in Zion, but we will get there, because Jesus Christ is at the head of this Church and He will lead us there. As we trust Him and speak with the power of the Holy Ghost, we can partner with Him in building a society of one heart and one mind, where there are no poor among us and we dwell in joyous righteousness. 

I have struggled with apparent inequities for as long as I can remember. As far as gender equity goes, I had the great advantage of an earthly father who treated me like I was as smart, capable and worthwhile as anyone he knew. And I don’t think I ever saw him boss my mother. That helped in forming my expectations about my Heavenly Father. It made it possible for me, when I saw dissonance, to anchor my faith in what I know about God, And to realize that meant that certain aspects of our worship and our covenants could not mean what they seemed to mean, because my Heavenly Father did not see me as second place. It has also given me confidence that, whether our current approach to Heavenly Mother is divinely directed, or whether it’s one more area where we are still coming out of darkness, it’s our Heavenly Mother and not our Heavenly Father who has decided to let that distance be in place at this time. Our Heavenly Parents are equals. 

Even so, I have struggled with broken paradigms that have made me vulnerable to abuse. It wasn’t until two years ago that I discovered that the Church is actually discarding the women-are-subservient model that I grew up with. I knew about and noticed changes in the temple, but I’d assumed they were issues of rephrasing the same doctrines, which I was still trying to understand, in order to avoid the ways that they were being abused. I didn’t realize the model had changed until I accessed a 1973 Ensign article on “Strengthening the Patriarchal Order in the Home”. There was a note at the top, saying, “Articles in the magazines archive may reflect practices and language of an earlier time. More current messages from the magazines on the relationship between husbands and wives include “Spiritual Treasures” and “Achieving Oneness in Marriage.” See also “Marriage” in Gospel Topics.”  The newer teachings said things like ”Marriage, in its truest sense, is a partnership of equals, with neither person exercising dominion over the other.” 

Right before Nephi warns against saying “all is well in Zion,” he prophesies “at that day shall [the devil] rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good” (2 Nephi 28:20). I find this warning sobering. There’s a peculiar energy about anger: it causes me to feel powerful at the same time that it undermines my real power, the power that comes from Jesus Christ. Anger hardens my heart and deafens my ears, making it impossible to connect with the people who are making decisions I find hurtful. In other words, anger delivers me into Satan’s domain. 

But as I focus on Jesus Christ and I anchor in my covenants and in daily study of the Book of Mormon, the fear retreats and I don’t feel angry anymore. People on the outside, who don’t believe that the Church is actually Jesus Christ’s, tend to portray Church leaders as more concerned with maintaining power and status than with building the kingdom of God. Sometimes, I can find myself worrying that they may be right in some cases. But if that is occasionally so, it’s neither new nor fatal. The Lord promised through Joseph Smith, “no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing.” Judas was one of the original apostles. John C. Bennett was a member of the First Presidency under Joseph Smith. Jesus Christ was able to move forward His work despite the worst they could do. The Church is His and His redemptive power extends beyond the grave.

When I am tempted to anger because I see people being actively harmed by practices and teachings that may be based on gospel misunderstandings, I find great comfort in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is keenly aware of and reaching after all those “that are broken off and are driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people” (1 Nephi 21:1). Over the last few years, I have experienced a growing conviction that there is much more going on in mortality than meets the eye. I have felt a fire-in-my-belly assurance that there will come a day when the Lord reveals His redemptive purposes to us all, and we will fall to our knees in wonder and awe at the unspeakable goodness and wisdom of His whole work. Every aspect will overflow with righteousness. He has given me tiny glimpses of that future day. Like Nephi, “he has filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh” (2 Nephi 4:21). Because of those experiences, I can trust the Church to His more-than-capable hands, and focus my attention on what I can do, right here, right now, to be building Zion where I stand. 

God is doing His work. He who made the Red Sea part will heal me, you, and all of us of our brokenness. And it will be His greatest miracle. So, when we have imperfectly said what we felt prompted to say, and when we’ve been disappointed because it doesn’t seem like the words have hit home, that’s when He counsels us, “Be still, and know that I am God.” 

Finally, I’ve heard women say they left the Church because they could no longer be satisfied by the “crumbs” that Church leaders were giving them. But I deeply believe what Sis. Dennis was saying about no other religious organization being able to offer women anything that compares with the power and authority made available to them in the temple. I believe that, independent of gender, faithfulness to temple covenants offers us the same power and authority that Alma the Elder exercised when his faith and prayers brought an angel to intervene in the life of his son. I believe it literally promises us the same power and authority that were given to Nephi son of Helaman, whom the Lord commended for unwearyingness, for fearlessness and for seeking the Lord’s will over his own life. The Lord then said, “I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will” (Helaman 10:5). 

This is not “crumbs”. Isn’t this the very thing we yearn for – the power to gain a heart like God’s and the authority to effectively partner with Him in blessing the lives around us and bringing forth Zion? For myself, I want Zion with all my heart. I would gladly give my life for it. So I am leaning away from anger and mistrust and into my faith in the mercy and the care of Jesus Christ. 

To both my worlds, I want to testify, All is not yet well in Zion because we’re not there yet. And we’re not supposed to pretend that we are. But it’s okay, because Jesus Christ is real and the Church is His. Zion is our destination not our current location, and He will lead us there. 


  1. This is wonderful, Rebecca! Such a sensitive, tender issue, and you treated it so well. Thank you for bringing light to this is such a thoughtful, positive way!

    1. Thank you for this. I feel some anxiety about how these words are landing, so this is really encouraging for me!

  2. This was such a tender well written piece that captured an open heart understanding so many different perspectives. Thank you so much taking the time to write such beautiful words

    1. Thank you so much! Your appreciation means a lot and reassures me about how this is coming across.

  3. Well said. We all have to keep on trucking.

  4. We are a church of imperfect people. I am 81 and my husband of 55 years has only belonged to the church 18 years. During those 37 years I learned that I had as much standing in Father in Heaven's eyes as any priesthood holder, that I had as much right to inspiration for my callings and my family. My husband and I are now partners, serving the Lord together but doing different tasks and leaning on each other for support before the Lord. Marvelous times are before us.

    1. Amen! Kay, thanks for bringing your personal experience to this discussion! I've watched your example and seen the faith you nurtured in your children during those formative years when you were their only member parent. And what a delight when your husband became your conscious partner in serving the Lord. I'm excited with you to see those marvelous times ahead.

  5. You’ve articulated the dissonance I feel at times. Thank you for your preparation to speak out!

  6. Well written and openly accepting that there are “real” issues that people are facing is so helpful for continuing the conversation. Most choose to say, “all is well in Zion”. We need more scrutiny and accountability like this.


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