I had a recent conversation with one of my sisters in which she shared that she'd recently learned about Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to compete in the Boston Marathon. My sister was shocked to learn that Switzer broke this gender barrier in 1967.
My sister is hardly what you'd call a feminist, but she was appalled that something like this happened so late in history—during both our parents' lifetimes, even. This was almost fifty years after women had been constitutionally granted the right to vote in the United States, she reasoned. How could it have taken so long for the culture to catch up with values of equality that should have been firmly in place decades before?
I agreed with her, of course. It does seem crazy that Switzer faced such opposition because she was a woman. And it does seem crazy that all this happened recently enough that she's still alive. But as I sat there listening to my sister express her disappointment with her own society, all I could think about was the Mormon ban on black people holding the priesthood and attending the temple.
In answer to my sister's little rant, I mumbled vaguely, "Yeah, there are a lot of things like that that really should have happened way before they actually did." I wasn't going to press the issue, of course. I suppose that was my totally ineffectual way of trying to plant a seed of doubt.
But I don't really blame my sister for not making the connection between the sexism of the Boston Athletic Association and the racism of the LDS church. The story of Switzer affected her because she could identify closely with it. My sister, obviously, is a woman. During her college career she was in an environment overwhelmingly made up of men because of the major she'd chosen. I'm sure she experienced a bit of sexism and at the very least a bit of masculine condescension.
But my sister has never been black. She doesn't have much in the way of shared experiences with black people as far as racism is concerned. So while she is opposed to racism, she hasn't arrived at any sort of disappointment with the church leadership for waiting so long to repeal its racist policies—because they don't resonate with her as deeply because they don't affect her. She probably just hasn't given it a lot of thought. And I can completely understand that because I'm the same way. It took leaving the church for me to start to face some of the things that I should have always cared about but had never been confronted with. It's something I'm still learning to do and something that I hope I never stop being able to do.
It would be more than a decade after Switzer first ran in the Boston Marathon that Spencer W. Kimball would reveal that God suddenly had no problem with black people holding the priesthood. The United States government does tend to enjoy claiming moral authority in certain areas, but it does not claim to speak for God himself—and yet, bafflingly, as far behind the curve as the US government can be when it comes to things like race, gender, and sexual orientation, it's still far ahead of the religious institution that claims to be the only one hundred percent divinely sponsored church on the face of the earth.
It was 1954 when the United States Supreme Court ruled that public schools needed to be desegregated. It was 1978 when God revealed that the Celestial Kingdom would be desegregated. It was 1967 when Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to compete in the Boston Marathon. It was 2013 when Jean A. Stevens became the first woman to pray in a session of General Conference. It was 2015 when the United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples are constitutionally guaranteed the right to marry. When will the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints catch up?
When will it actually start to take the lead, like God's true church should?