Title: Chelsea Shields on How I’m Working for Change Inside My Church at TED Talks Conference – Transcript
Speaker: Chelsea Shields [Full bio]
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Chelsea Shields – Activist, Anthropologist, Consultant
Religion is more than belief. It’s power, and it’s influence. And that influence affects all of us every day, regardless of your own belief. Despite the enormous influence of religion on the world today, we hold them to a different standard of scrutiny and accountability than any other sector of our society. For example, if there were a multinational organization, government or corporation today that said no female could be on a leadership board, not one woman could have a decision-making authority, not one woman could handle any financial matter, we’d have outrage. There would be sanctions. And yet this is a common practice in almost every world religion today.
We accept things in our religious lives that we do not accept in our secular lives, and I know this because I’ve been doing it for three decades. I was the type of girl that fought every form of gender discrimination growing up. I played pickup basketball games with the boys and inserted myself. I said I was going to be the first female President of the United States. I have been fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment, which has been dead for 40 years. I’m the first woman in both sides of my family to ever work outside the home and ever receive a higher education.
I never accepted being excluded because I was a woman, except in my religion. Throughout all of that time, I was a part of a very patriarchal orthodox Mormon religion. I grew up in an enormously traditional family. I have eight siblings, a stay-at-home mother. My father’s actually a religious leader in the community. And I grew up in a world believing that my worth and my standing was in keeping these rules that I’d known my whole life. You get married a virgin, you never drink alcohol, you don’t smoke, you always do service, you’re a good kid. Some of the rules we had were strict, but you followed the rules because you loved the people and you loved the religion and you believed.
Everything about Mormonism determined what you wore, who you dated, who you married. It determined what underwear we wore. I was the kind of religious where everyone I know donated 10% of everything they earned to the church, including myself. From paper routes and babysitting, I donated 10%. I was the kind of religious where I heard parents tell children when they’re leaving on a two-year proselytizing mission that they would rather have them die than return home without honor, having sinned.
I was the type and the kind of religious where kids kill themselves every single year because they’re terrified of coming out to our community as gay. But I was also the kind of religious where it didn’t matter where in the world I lived, I had friendship, instantaneous mutual aid. This was where I felt safe. This is certainty and clarity about life. I had help raising my little daughter. So that’s why I accepted without question that only men can lead, and I accepted without question that women can’t have the spiritual authority of God on the Earth, which we call the priesthood. And I allowed discrepancies between men and women in operating budgets, disciplinary councils, in decision-making capacities, and I gave my religion a free pass because I loved it.