A Mormon feminist manifesto

There was a time when I struggled with labeling myself a feminist. I’ll be the first one to say that there are certain flavors of feminism that are ridiculous and/or disturbing. Two things changed my mind. First, the realization that I am a Christian and that I am not willing to forsake that name because of ridiculous and/or disturbing groups that also self identify as such. Second, I became a student of our history.

The women of the restoration are numbered among our greatest heroes. Recently, I sat in the Relief Society room for a meeting. We worship in an older building and the most recent renovation can be dated by the last President whose portrait adorns the wall. Elaine Jack. As I looked over the images, I fought to keep from weeping. The experiences of these sisters filled me and I named them. I choked on the realization that no one else in the room could do the same.

When you study our history, you realize that things now are not the only way the Church can function. You see how programs grow and diminish. You see policy develop and the impact of revelation. You grow compassionate for our progenitors and our peers. It is also painful. When those who believe that their modern world-view is God’s eternal truth proclaim their view as the only way things can ever be done, they profane every saint that went before them, including our prophets.

We are blessed to live in an age when many obvious fights have been won. Our sisters who were stripped of the vote in the 19th century battled to receive it again. Higher education is available and the Church proclaims that it is the religious obligation of both young men and women to receive as much as they can.

What then could the Mormon feminist want? I can only speak for myself, but there are a number of things. The battles that have been fought in the Occident are still unrealized in much of the world. Illiteracy, abuse, economic deprivation, political repression and chauvinism are rampant among many of the Saints’ communities. I hope for education among my community as well.

Many think that Mormon feminists believe that a male only priesthood is sexist. I think that perspective lacks historical perspective. Joseph Smith proclaimed that he would make of the sisters a kingdom of priests and extend to them the keys of the kingdom. The third Relief Society President and wife of both Joseph Smith and then Brigham, Zina Young, was known as the Priestess of the Temple (matrons were not the Temple President’s wife until 1922).

How could I condemn the mother of a child that longed to lay hands on and bless the baby knowing that every prophet until 1951 advocated the practice and whose wives did the same? How could I condemn the mother of a daughter whose opportunity for growth is not paralleled to that of her son? I can’t. I can only comfort those who need comfort.

I believe that the current Church authorities have the rights and keys to govern the Church. I sustain their policies and am grateful to be a member. I hope that the vision of Zion will be realized in my lifetime and I will work for it. Just as the Church authorities have commissioned changes in the temple ritual, in administrative policies and worship services, I believe that the Lord will continue to move his work forward and that His advocacy for women will be realized on Earth.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this J. It warmed my heart.

  2. Well put, JS. There are places in the US Orient (North Atlantic Seacoast) where occasionally women are invited to participate in the blessing of their children. One dear friend, opting not to push too many buttons, elected to write the blessing for her husband to memorize. It was beautiful and inspired. A standing room only meeting was held in Cambridge a year ago to discuss Mormon feminism, the spirit of which I still remember fondly. I am eager to continue to understand ways that we can be true to our institutional church and its authorities while being true to the insights we gain from humanism and feminism, merging them all in our communion with other humans and God.

  3. This is a post worth saving and returning to. Thanks, Jonathan.

  4. I believe that the Lord will continue to move his work forward and that His advocacy for women will be realized on Earth.

    Amen, and amen. The Lord invites all to come to Him, and yet His ministry is especially to the outsiders, the lost, and the socially marginalized. His mission is to me, but it is especially to the victims of sexism within our community — both in the US and especially the poorer regions of the globe.

  5. write the blessing for her husband to memorize

    Rebecca,
    Are you reading?

  6. Steve Evans says:

    “How could I condemn the mother of a child that longed to lay hands on and bless the baby knowing that every prophet until 1951 advocated the practice and whose wives did the same?”

    Amen, J. This is the kind of feminism I love and the kind that will inevitably rule in our Church as (I believe) it surely does in heaven: men and women being completely equal sources of succor and comfort to their families.

    Your post also raises something vital and something widely overlooked — a real sense of women’s history in the Church. We study the prophets and apostles, but do we know anything of our past female leaders besides MAYBE Emma or Eliza R. Snow? Emmeline Wells at the outside? That strikes me as a major omission by all of us.

  7. This is one of the only posts on LDS feminism that I have read that came across as holistic and full… and for what it’s worth, I too beleive that with future revelation, the completeness of our roles will eventually be unveiled.

    I am also more keenly aware of how lacking my knowledge is of our foremothers… That might be a wonderful post, Steve- a breif synopsis of some of our women in history with suggested reading??

  8. J. Stapley, thanks for bringing a historical perspective to this issue. You make some excellent points.

  9. I asked my wife if I could be a feminist, and she said no… :)

    Steve E, I’ll quibble with you.
    We, as a church, study our prophets. We don’t study our apostles outside of the current set. And many people don’t study the current set outside of what they say in conference. Many can’t even name the whole current set. Many can’t name all the prophets.

    Here is my major issue with what you are saying J., I follow Gordon B. Hinckley as the current Prophet, not any prophet before 1951. I trust him. If he says this is the way things are now, I pray about it and say ok. When I joined the Church, it was Gordon B. Hinckley who was revealed to me to be the living prophet.

    I hope this doesn’t come off as too deragatory, since if the prophet changed it all tomorrow, I’d say ok too, but I’m not gonna campaign for it to be changed.

  10. Matt W., I follow Gordon B. Hinckley too. As I said in the post, I believe that the current authorities have the right to govern the church. So really, I don’t see what your point is.

    …and thanks for the kudos, all.

  11. Matt,
    I think J is saying he hopes and prays for certain things, but he is not agitating for it. That’s the diff.

  12. Julie M. Smith says:

    How could I condemn the mother of a child that longed to lay hands on and bless the baby knowing that every prophet until 1951 advocated the practice and whose wives did the same? How could I condemn the mother of a daughter whose opportunity for growth is not paralleled to that of her son? I can’t. I can only comfort those who need comfort.

    This argument begs to be rewritten substituting polygamy . . . I love the rest of your post, but the statement that I quoted strikes me as a weak spot.

  13. Steve Evans says:

    Matt W., the ignorance of our membership towards former prophets and apostles is surpassed by a tremendous margin by our almost complete lack of knowledge about our female leaders, past AND present. Our failure to know much about our church’s past/present hierarchical leadership doesn’t excuse our failure to know anything about women in the church.

  14. Julie, aren’t you forgetting President Woodruff’s revelation?

  15. Steve Evans says:

    Matt, the real problem with your beef towards J. is that you falsely set up Pres. Hinckley in opposition to the pre-1951 practice of letting women bless their children. Pres. Hinckley has made no pronouncements on the issue, nor has any prophet of the Church for that matter.

    No, we are talking about policy modifications done in an oblique manner that simply wiped out a major blessing in women’s lives, without clear revelation on the matter. One day an ellipsis occurred in a policy handbook, and that was that. Again, history is the best revelator if you want to examine the current state in this respect, but the gist is that you are wrong to hint that the current Prophet has put forward any opposition to women blessing their kids. Desiring that practice to return is not tantamount to not supporting the prophet.

  16. Interesting post. I’ve often wondered at BRM’s reference to 2 NE 26:33 about the reopening of the priesthood to all worthy male members, and his statement that we should take the Lord at his word. The scriptural reference to “…black and white, bond and free, male and female…all are alike unto God”, seems clear to me.

    I have been reading Elder Ballard’s book on councils, and he mentions multiple times in the opening chapters that too often as church leaders, we have only asked women to fulfill assignments, not to participate fully in councils, and rebukes this shortsighted and repressive practice. My wife, serving as YW president a decade or so ago, used to bristle when she and the Relief Society president were never asked if they had anything to discuss in Ward Council. Thankfully, I have seen positive changes in this area.

    My wife, while thankful for the priesthood blessings I have given in our family, has always wondered why a PH blessing has more power than a prayer of faith, and I have to say that I am not sure that it does. There is something comforting in the ritual of a blessing, and it normally involves others, even if just as spectators. But if God is just, which I believe, why would he value this more than a humble sister’s fervent prayer?

    That’s a question I don’t have an answer to, so I refer back to 2 NE 26:33, and encourage my wife’s prayers in behalf of others we love.

  17. Julie M. Smith says:

    Re #14,

    If your argument is that we had an explicit revelation ending polygamy but we didn’t have an explicit revelation ending, for example, the practice of women giving blessings, that is slightly different.

    But, still, I don’t think we need an Official Declaration for every change in order to accept that change or to think it is valid.

  18. This is really nice J. I’m glad you are a “feminist”. And I am so glad you support women doing things to bless each other and their families. I’m with you on the spreading of education everywhere we go.

    One thing I think about it the mental health of the women in our church and how it relates to all this. These are just based on my observations, but I meet lots and lots of women with young children, staying at home to honor that commandment and care for their children and they feel depressed and stuck and worthless and they lose any idea of their own power. The single women in the Church also get stuck since exaltation and a feeling of being fully active in God’s plan involves marriage. Joseph Smith didn’t really include women in exaltation until he revealed that we had to be couples in heaven, married to receive all that God has. Anyway, I know lots of single Mormon women who feel desperate and hopeless because there may be little hope of them marrying and so the Church stops working for them somehow.
    I’m not sure what the answer is, or what changes we need to make, but this is what most stresses me out about women and the Church.

  19. Julie, how could that possibly effect whether or not you would condemn someone for wanting such a blessing? I would also prefer that you read my post a bit better. I explicitly state that the authorities of the Church have the right to make policy.

  20. J. #10- Ok, let me elaborate a little. the 1951 line drawn in the sand seems to imply things were better before 1951 than they are now. This is what I found problematic. I think the Church and society is improved now as to then, even on the issue of Gender equality.
    Oh and I apologize for completely skipping your last paragraph enitrely when I skimmed through the first time around. It defintiely changes your message quite a bit…

    Steve (#13) – The resources are there for anyone who has the interest in reading them about women leaders in the Church. And not knowing anything about women in the church is a little over reaching. I know about a lot of women in the Church. My daughter, My Wife, my mother in law, her mom, etc. I even know my Relief Society President, her councilors, the RS teacher, and the “enrichment” coordinator. More seriously, I think Sheri Dew is extremly well known in the Church, as a past counsilor in the RS. And I think the other past general RS presidents and primary presidents get more exposure than, say, past general sunday school presidents or YM presidents. (who were also 70s) For that matter, I can name Bonnie D. Parkin and Siter Menlove(Cause she has a funny name) but none of the other auxilary leaders currently.

    Steve #15- I do set up President Hinckley as opposed to women holding the priesthood. I have not read a study as yet that goes over why women stopped blessing their children save that the blessing of children was a priesthood blessing. Anyway, more to the point, it was my understanding, and what I’ve been taught as a member of the Church, that women could give blessings in emergencies. (I know historically, blessings were not always given in emergencies by women. I also know women used to do the speaking in tongues thing a lot.) I think modern medicine has decreased the emergencies where a priesthood holder couldn’t get there to a very small number.
    I wonder if blessings where at one time not considered a priesthood ordinance in the church? I say this because I know of no situations where women performed other priesthood ordinances.

    Anyway, while I have seen much history to show how women once performed blessings, I haven’t seen any evidence to show the nature of how the change from then to now took effect. I would be interested in such a study.

  21. first, I think the original post is beautiful and there is no need to debate j’s personal thoughts.

    second, the ensuing arguments are really interesting to me.

    we believe in a living Prophet who leads
    and guides the church becuase he speaks for the
    Lord. And yet we can see how American
    social customs dictate the direction the prophet and apostles take the church.

    Now I’m not trying to cause trouble or dispute
    their authority, I just bring that up for argument
    and also to remind folks that they are just men
    with their own ideology.

  22. niobe, I hope I am not seen as attacking J. I think he is ruddy brilliant and a heck of a guy. I am just expressing my opinions, not condemning anybody elses.

  23. In my hierarchy of concerns, this or that “feminist” issue has never ranked all that highly for me. Must have something to do with my being a guy. And yet, I am sympathetic with most of the concerns that my self-described feminist LDS friends have had.

    Now that my wife has been wrestling with the role of women in the Church — at least in certain ways — for some time, and especially now that I have a daughter, I imagine that I will become much more attuned to the ways in which Mormon girls and women are treated in the Church or in LDS culture. If so, you can be sure you’ll get to hear me moan and groand about it. We’ll see.

    I certainly concur with all of J’s thoughts.

    Aaron B

  24. Sometimes I’m so bothered by online feminist agitation that I wonder if I could rightly label myself as an anti-feminist. But this Manifesto is so vague and innocuous and I don’t find much to argue with. That’s also why it doesn’t really seem like a “Feminist Manifesto” at all. I would expect a manifesto to have some concrete policy recommendations or something.

    If Mormon feminism is about trying to teach people to treat each other with love and respect, or if it’s about not condemning mothers who would like to bless their baby or who feel like their daughters don’t have the same opportunities for growth as their sons, I’m on board. And I also fully support efforts to fight “Illiteracy, abuse, economic deprivation, political repression and chauvinism” wherever they’re found.

    Many think that Mormon feminists believe that a male only priesthood is sexist.

    Don’t many Mormon feminists believe this, or at least that restricting Church government to males devalues or is otherwise detrimental to women?

  25. This post says what I’ve been feeling, better than I could have said it. Thanks!

  26. I really enjoyed this post. I can’t quite parse the meaning of the second sentence of the sixth paragraph, but I am reasonably certain I agree with everything that was written. Indeed if this post is what Mormon feminism stands for, then I think (and hope) it will have many adherents. Who will argue against bringing to an end illiteracy, abuse, economic deprivation, political repression and chauvinism?

    The devil, of course, is in the details. Mormon feminism, if it is to be a coherent movement, needs to better articulate not only its goals, but also the proposed means of achieving them. It’s all well and good to say that you want to end economic deprivation but quite another to come up with a viable strategy for doing so. And if it is to be Mormon feminism, there must be a distinctively Mormon component to the underlying philosophy. Thus far it appears that distinctiveness lies in Mormon feminism’s desire to win women fuller participation in priesthood ordinances. I hope the distictively Mormon portion of Mormon feminism is, or becomes, much more than this because 1) it seems too slender a reed to rest an entire movement and risks permanently ghettoizing feminism within the Mormon community and 2) it doesn’t strike me as nearly ambitious enough.

    So perhaps someone who knows more about these things than me will educate me. Is there such a thing as Mormon feminism and, if so, what makes it distinctively Mormon?

    On a side note, the church is already actively engaged in ending illiteracy, abuse, economic deprivation, political repression and chauvinism and, while its track record is not perfect, it could be an incredibly strong ally to a group that wanted to tackle, say economic deprivation. Middle class American’s lives are naturally focused on middle class concerns, but the church has some great infrastructure already in place for those who want to get involved in, say, poverty issues.

  27. Steve Evans says:

    Mat, right on — Mormon feminism has to be about much, much more than ordinances.

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    Matt #20, re: your request for education on the topic of women giving blessings and the trajectory of that practice in the Church, see this prior post by J. Stapley and also the classic study by Linda King Newell, “A Gift Given, a Gift Taken: Washing, Anointing, and Blessing among Mormon Women,” Sunstone Vol. 6 No. 5, Issue 29 (September-October 1981), with responses in the same issue by D. Michael Quinn and Irene Bates.

    (The Newell article was also reprinted in Sunstone Issue No. 115 in 1999.)

  29. Mathew, excellent points, but I am not sure there is anything else unique to “mormon feminism” besides it’s relationship to the priesthood, either in ordinances or in administrative positions. I believe any other issue it would espouse is just rhetoric it uses to puff itself up, as the rest of the church is doing all those other items outside the title of feminism. Perhaps the only other realm of mormon feminism, is that of celebrating Mormon females, as Steve Evans has suggested above. If the celebration of Female mormon role models is the goal, I applaud it, and nominate Ardis Parshall to head the movement.

  30. Steve Evans says:

    Matt: “Perhaps the only other realm of mormon feminism, is that of celebrating Mormon females, as Steve Evans has suggested above.”

    Whoa, whoa there smokey. Please don’t put such words in my mouth. I do not believe that celebrating Mormon females is the only other realm of mormon feminism, nor would I characterize what I have in mind as “celebrating” Mormon females. That sounds ugly, condescending and frankly a little stupid, like we decided to take Emmeline Wells on a Daddy-Daughter date or something.

  31. cj douglass says:

    I hope that the vision of Zion will be realized in my lifetime and I will work for it.

    J,
    Great post but this part is a little fuzzy for me. Are you saying that Zion will be realized when woman are able to participate like they did pre-1951? If the alteration or demise of certain programs(ala correlation) were the end of such participation then I’m curious what would happen to allow these pre-1951 practices continue. Do you or anyone know that they will?

  32. Kevin: Thank you. I read J.’s post, but am havng trouble with the sunstone site, when I click on the Link to the appropriate article, I seem to get “Fires of the Mind” instead. I am very interested in why the change in policy on these particular ordinances. I’ll try it again from my home PC, and see if there I have better results.

    Steve: I apologize, that is not what I intended at all. If the vernacular of “celebrating” is an issue, let’s just say “telling the sotries of”. You di d say telling the stories of LDS women was an area that was lacking. I think LDS females need female LDS role models. That sounds reasonable. So I used the role model vernacular I am familiar with, “celebrating”. You did not say this was the only arena of Mormon Feminism outside the above two mentioned, but I am suggesting it is. If you have some idea of another realm special to Mormon Feminism, please tell.

  33. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah, Matt, I’m having the same difficulty. That is the correct issue of Sunstone; you can see the Newell article and the two responses in the Table of Contents. But it is not included in the magazine text below. I think it is a glitch on their website. Sorry about that.

  34. #21

    I think the original post is beautiful and there is no need to debate j’s personal thoughts.

    Yeah, except that’s kind of what a “manifesto” is–the public display of one’s thoughts.

    #30

    Whoa, whoa there smokey…. That sounds ugly, condescending and frankly a little stupid

    The smokey part? I can’t agree more.

  35. #34
    yes, but i just didn’t want it to get ugly.

    as these things often do.

  36. J., from RT discussing over at the Thang a while back, I found this about an “official message in 1946 which called an end to women’s right to heal, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that women should not try to heal the sick and instead should always “send for the Elders of the Church to come and administer to the sick and afflicted.” ”

    I am quoting RT here, and am unaware if the source material for this is online or in the Article Kevin suggests. This is further confusing to me because JFiS wasn’t President of the Church until 1970 and wasn’t even president of the 12 until 1951. Why would he be issuing an official statement in 1946.

    I guess this is more for RT than anyone else, but the resources on this are pretty dang limited.

  37. Matt, Kris and I will be publishing a new history of women and healing this year (if you come to MHA you will catch some of it). There is just so much that isn’t published. The interpretation of the JFSII letter you mention isn’t accurate. There is no “death knell” of the practice. Moreover, while the letter did encourage sisters to seek for the elders, it did not proscribe women participating in the ordinances. JFSII also wrote in the Improvement Era in 1955 that men and women could administer together.

  38. Ardis Parshall says:

    amri (18) – Some social aspects of church life may stop working for single women, but the church and the gospel do not. The single women you know need to focus more on service and temple than they do on worldly definitions of achievement.

    /s/ single woman

  39. #26 and #27 – I’d like to see the doctrine of our Mother in Heaven developed more as a distinctive part of Mormon feminism. Maybe if we had more about Mother in Heaven and her role and authority, the current lack of priesthood wouldn’t be so troublesome to some.

    Of course, developing doctrine about Mother in Heaven is up to the prophet and apostles, not to the feminists. We can guess, wish and assume all we want, but that doesn’t make it doctrine.

  40. Here’s how I know something isn’t yet fully realised and that Zion is not yet complete:

    God : Goddess
    King : Queen
    Priest : Priestess
    Father : Mother
    Priesthood Office : ?

    One could substitute “?” with Relief Society, I suppose, but I know some women for whom such a suggestion would fall flat. So, we can hope, perhaps, for a fuller day.

    But I want to echo what has been said: Mormon feminism is not just about Priesthood; in the way we speak, and talk, and study, and teach, and socialise, we must offer Mormon women an equal voice in the church and in their families.

    Specifics?

  41. Melinda: “Of course, developing doctrine about Mother in Heaven is up to the prophet and apostles, not to the feminists.”

    Someone with more of an axe to grind might point out that developing doctrine is really up to God, as a way of downplaying or negating the concept that with the right attitude at the top, all our doctrinal inequalities could be fixed.

    That’s not my view — so much of our paternalism in the Church is cultural or based on readings of policy, not revelation — but it’s probably fair to anticipate objections like these. Otherwise we might start to think that public protest will affect church policy, a la ERA, and I think if handled in the wrong way that approach could be a tremendous mistake.

  42. Steve – that is a good point. However, most major revelations have occurred because the prophet asked a question. “Why could Abraham have an extra wife,” asked Joseph Smith. God revealed polygamy. “Why do people spit tobacco juice all over the floor,” asked Joseph Smith. God revealed the word of wisdom. “Why can’t the blacks hold the priesthood,” asked Spencer W. Kimball. God extended the priesthood to all races. “Who is Heavenly Mother and what is her role,” asked Future Prophet. God revealed amazing doctrines about Heavenly Mother.

    It would run counter to God’s typical pattern to just drop a revelation on the Church without the current prophet and apostles actively seeking for revelation on the topic.

  43. Re: 38 Maybe it was just me, but surely the temple ordinances are almost entirely wrapped up in the couplehood of now and the hereafter. While there are some parts that I love, most ordinances leave me out as a full actor. Plus it feels a little patronizing when people say, Oh? You’re single? why do you just do more service? Or go to the temple more often? Like now that I for sure don’t have anything to do (ie wife-ing and mothering) then I should do this…

  44. Amri, to be fair, Ardis is speaking from experience. I don’t really know, because my experience is limited, but I do tend to believe that focusing on serving others has a dramatic effect. I hope that this isn’t patronizing. Also, I tend to recommend to the folks that don’t enjoy some of the ordinances of the temple to focus on others.

  45. J. I don’t mean to discount service or the temple. I think service is for everyone and can make anyone feel better no matter what their lot in life is. I think everyone should make time for it. If someone tells me to do service just because I’m single, it is a little condescending. Am I being too touchy?

    I don’t mean to discount Ardis’ experience either. I’m glad she’s found ways to make her life good for her through the temple. I think it’s just fair to acknowledge that going to the temple more isn’t necessarily going to make life better for a single person, for many reasons but one of them could be that its ordinances are geared toward the marrieds.

  46. amri, if you chose very tedious service that overwhelmed most of the rest of the activities of your life but had an irrational but overwhelming love for the people you served so tediously, you would at least have something in common with parentals. i don’t think the service recommendation is really that far from suggesting the core of parenthood to those who cannot participate in the formal system.

    that is certainly better than my recommendation, which is that single Mormons should provide extensive free babysitting for the parentals, you know, training for the afterlife and what have you (single men and women are welcome to help out).

    (i am poking fun at amri mostly and do not mean to disparage the difficult plight of singles navigating a complexly family-based religious community.)

  47. Revelation is an odd thing. If we think that only the president and apostles can get revelation on important subjects, then that will disadvantage us in our progression since the revelations for the whole Church are for the lowest common denominator.

    Revelation is available on any subject to any person. This applies also to Mother in Heaven. What is means is that you may be stoned for announcing your new knowledge. But, you know, some people are called to be martyrs.

    I personally think that God pours out revelation on people and will give it to you on whatever subject you want. Sometimes the lowest common denominator effect is important and necessary.

    As for women and men and power, most of what we ascribe to the priesthood is in reality gifts of the spirit, open to all people. Some people are just afraid to use them. Or do not use them out of deference to custom or politeness.

  48. In #40 Ronan said, “Mormon feminism is not just about Priesthood; in the way we speak, and talk, and study, and teach, and socialise, we must offer Mormon women an equal voice in the church and in their families”

    I think there are so many opportunities for change here that don’t involve policy or doctrine that could make a big difference. They are simply traditions of our fathers that need to be changed. May I cite a few examples from my own recent experiences:

    The speakers for our Ward Christmas Eve service were all the former bishops of my ward. While it might have been a nice idea, there were no women speakers at the event. This subtly gives the message that men, and only former leaders at that, are the most important speakers. This would have been easy to fix.

    We have had several sacrament meetings based upon the threefold mission of the Church with speakers comprised of committee members from the HPG, once again no female voices. I asked the HPGL if women could be included in these committees — certainly when making a ward plan for redeeming the dead, I would imagine women could make meaningful contributions.

    Just small things like that could make a big difference in my opinion. There are plenty more I can think of. ( I haven’t even started on the YW program)

    Also, way back at comment # 11 or so, there was a discussion about agitating for change. I am very much in favour of feminists claiming a voice in the church (see here for one experience) I think when we strive to communicate our desire for change with the right intention, we can often make a difference.

    Thanks for the great post, Jonathan — you’ve inspired a good discussion.

  49. P.S. Hey, I’ve used to acronyms that aren’t included yet! :)

  50. kris, your scheme of inventing fictional acronyms in an effort to foil our admin has failed.

  51. Kevin Barney says:

    Melinda no. 39, you might find my article on Mother in Heaven of some interest.

  52. Ardis Parshall says:

    Amri — By referring to temple and service, I didn’t mean to suggest that merely attending the temple more often, or rendering routine service was a way to fill up the wasted hours (I hope you’ll join me in screaming and throwing things the next time somebody suggests that the way for me to overcome my loneliness is to bake cookies for the neighborhood kids). No, I meant that despite my current and perhaps mortality-long singleness, the temple teaches me the possibilities that are open to me in the eternities *as* a woman. I hate the patronizing way it’s usually phrased — “No blessing will be withheld from righteous women who do not have the opportunity to marry in this life” — but aside from the wording, the promise behind that is real. The temple reminds me of what’s coming. It works.

    And as for service, I have found a private way to render service to my God and my church and a small portion of my fellows, that requires all my talents and available time, and that is exquisitely satisfying, even though there isn’t any other person in this world who knows quite what I’m offering. I couldn’t offer that service if I had a family — although as satisfactory as it is, I’d trade it in two minutes for the opportunities of having a family.

    I’m not suggesting time-filling temple attendance or unimaginative service as a solution to the trials of singleness. I’m simply unwilling to suggest that whatever difficulties I do have as a single are caused because the church no longer works for me. To the contrary, the church helps me get past most of those difficulties.

  53. “Mormon feminism is not just about Priesthood; in the way we speak, and talk, and study, and teach, and socialise, we must offer Mormon women an equal voice in the church and in their families”

    What is distinctively Mormon about this other than the fact that we are talking about Mormon women as opposed to women in general? Does Mormon feminism simply refer to undertaking basic feminist ideals and applying them in a Mormon context? If it does, I have to admit I’m disappointed.

    I thought it would refer to taking teachings, doctrines, ideas and practices that are distinctly Mormon and melding them with select feminist ideals to create a new philosophy. Given how often we rightly praise our feminist Mormon forebearers, it seems their writings and especially their causes could provide a general framwork. Perhaps a historian can fill in some of the blanks, but as I understand it the animus behind their excellent work for political equality and social justice was the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

    While many of the projects undertaken by Mormon feminism might have the same goals as other varieties of feminism, but their genises may not. At the same time, Mormon feminism would be willing to reject ideals that do not square with the restored gospel and promote positions that may be unpopular in other branches of feminism. Emmaline B. Wells found herself out of step on the question of polygamy with the East Coast establishment feminists with whom she made common cause in the fight for suffrage. She apparently did not think it a betrayal of her sisters to defend the one and fight for the other. Nor should Mormon feminists think they must tow the line on a variety of issues that conflict with the gospel.

    In my mind, Melinda’s comment in #39 is the best example of the sort of thinking that will lead to a distinctive Mormon feminism.

  54. Your post also raises something vital and something widely overlooked — a real sense of women’s history in the Church. We study the prophets and apostles, but do we know anything of our past female leaders besides MAYBE Emma or Eliza R. Snow? Emmeline Wells at the outside? That strikes me as a major omission by all of us.

    When I taught the Sunday School 12-13 year olds the year of “prophets of the church,” I also brought in information about a contemporary woman each week, typically his wife, sister (in the case of Eliza R. Snow) or a general relief society president who served at the same time. I thought it important to provide those role models. I’d like to see it incorporated into the manual itself.

  55. Kevin Barney – thank you for the link to your article. It’s been a year or two since I read it. I really like the evidence for a female deity you find in the Bible, as well as your affirmation that our belief is based on revelation, with the Bible backing up that knowledge but not originating it.

    I would still like to see some solid doctrine on what Mother in Heaven does now. Women are taught that their roles as a wife and mother are divine and holy, and yet we don’t see our divine and holy role model. Knowing what Mother in Heaven does while Father in Heaven guides the Church and answers prayers would lend substance to the GAs’ feminist claim that men and women work together in equal partnership in marriage.

    A few commenters asked what is uniquely Mormon about Mormon feminism. I think a more fleshed out doctrine of our Heavenly Mother would make Mormon feminism distinct from any other feminism, with a radical contribution to make to feminist discussion.

  56. Re: #39 and 42

    Melinda writes, Most major revelations occurred because the prophet asked a question.

    While not untrue, this comment tells only part of the story. It wasn’t idle curiosity that directed the question that led to his receiving the Word of Wisdom. Joseph was responding to a problem. Emma was tired of cleaning up the black tobacco mess and made her discontent known to Joseph who inquired about it. The revelation that WW had that ended the practice of plural marriage was in response to an urgent political problem. The priesthood ban was having a negative impact on the church’s ability to continue to grow internationally (among other things!). It was an issue that quite literally demanded attention based on a growing situation.

    And so forth and so on.

    Prophets tend to pose questions of the Lord when they seek solutions to problems. This means that in order for any revelatory progress to be made on “women’s issues” such issues would need to enter the consciousness of church leaders as “problems” that need addressing. This seems unlikely in the current state of affairs, especially without what some might call “agitation.”

    A Boston Globe article from October 7, 2000 reported the following: When recently asked, “will there ever be women priests in the Mormon church?” Gordon B. Hinckley, President of the Church, said “in so far as I can see, no. The women have their place. . . . They have a voice in determining policy and doing many things in the church. I haven’t found any complaint among our women. I’m sure there are a few, a handful somewhere who may be disaffected for one reason or another, but I’ve never seen any evidence of it.”

    If President Hinckley doesn’t see any evidence that women are disaffected or have complaints then he has little reason to seek further light and knowledge on the matter.

    As for the question of Heavenly Mother it seems President Hinckley has already considered it. His effort did not end with “amazing doctrines about Heavenly Mother” being revealed, however.

    In a meeting for church regional representatives in 1991 he said “I have looked in vain for any instance of a prayer to our Mother in Heaven.” He said he considers “it inappropriate for anyone in the Chruch to pray to our Mother in Heaven,” and then instructed regional representatives to “counsel priesthood leaders to be on the alert for the use of this expression and to make correction when necesary. Such correction . . . should be firm and without equivocation.” (See Linda P. Wilcox “The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven.”)

    That’s not to say that some future prophet won’t address this again, but I think he’d have to have a sense that a lack of information about this doctrine was causing a real problem in and for the church, a problem serious enough to drive him to his knees seeking revelation.

  57. I should clarify that my reference to Melinda’s #39 was to her first paragraph only.

  58. Kevin 51 (since you brought it up, on the whole Asherah thing, is Baal in this old mythology the HG or the Devil in your opinion?)

  59. J., you made me cry – thank you for this post.

  60. Melissa, that is an excellent summary. I would like to add one comment to this point that you made:

    As for the question of Heavenly Mother it seems President Hinckley has already considered it. His effort did not end with “amazing doctrines about Heavenly Mother” being revealed, however.

    In a meeting for church regional representatives in 1991 he said “I have looked in vain for any instance of a prayer to our Mother in Heaven.”

    The rest of his quote states that he has looked in vain in the scriptures for any instance of prayer to Mother in Heaven. Perhaps I’m making an assumption, but I just figured that he hadn’t prayed to Heavenly Father for a revelation on the matter. I could have told him he wouldn’t have found anyone praying to Heavenly Mother in the scriptures. I didn’t get the impression he’d asked for a revelation or new guidance on this issue.

    I completely agree that further revelation on this point will not happen until a prophet perceives a need for revelation.

  61. Also, is the Queen of Heaven in Jeremiah 44 Heavenly Mother? Any takers?

  62. Thanks for this post!

  63. Nice post J. I have had the same experience in my study of Mormon history. “programs grow and diminish”, “compassionate for our progenitors” Good stuff.

  64. I really liked this post, J, and I think my fgaveorite part was learning about this “priestess of the temple,” idea, rather than the temple matron. This is something I knew nothing about. My own history is severly lacking and I appreciate what I learn from your posts, insights and knowledge. Thanks for this thought provoking manifesto.

  65. kristine N says:

    I loved this post. Just a question–didn’t RS manuals used to have lessons about former RS presidents? I could totally be misremembering (especially since I was probably in primary at the time) but I thought I remembered seeing RS manuals that were separate from priesthood manuals as a kid, and having those manuals be more focused on female leaders.

    I think it would be cool to have a “Teachings of the Prophetess” book, either focused on several past female leaders, or a series akin to the “Teachings of the Prophets” each focused on a past female leader. I’d also love to see the men teaching from it, but I suspect there might be issues there. I really don’t think women are taken as seriously as leaders, spiritually or intellectually, by men or women. I think there are broader cultural pressures reinforcing the idea that men are smarter and better leaders (just watch a little TV if you want examples). I also think as we’ve become more concous of this we’ve gotten better, but I think fixing social conditioning in our male-female interactions will require a whole lot of vigilance and agitation to fix completely (if that’s possible)

  66. Kristine N. I think why we don’t take general RS presidents more seriously has little to do with Gender for the general masses. I think we also do not take General Sunday School Presidents, the Presiding Bishopric, General YM or YW presidencies, or to a lesser extent, 70s as serious as leaders, because they are not Q12 or FP. Of course, we don’t take the Q12 as seriously as the FP. Also, for men, I think we turn of because the GPP is talking to the Primary, not to the men, the GYWP is talking to YW, not to the adults, and the GRSP is talking to the RS, not the the church, or at least, that is the preception. So far, I am not even aware if the GYMP or GSSP have been enabled to speak to the church as a whole.

    Personally, what I think would be more impactful than a Teachings of the GRSPs of the church in RS, would be to have the GRSP be allowed to speak in priesthood to men about the needs of women in the church. I think that would be impactful.

  67. “impactful”?

  68. aw, I’m just joshin’. I’m syncing up with the download of your granular input.

  69. kristine N says:

    yes, impactful.

  70. kristine N says:

    Drat! I thought I was being teased. Why didn’t I use impactful in my post?

    Matt, the amount of attention we give a person says quite a bit about how seriously we take them. I think it really says something that women are always on the bottom rung of that ladder. Personally, I think it would be more impactful (yeah! I get to use it too) on our attitides if women were viewed as similarly intellectual or theologically inclined as men.

  71. Heartfelt thanks, J.

  72. Molly Bennion says:

    Kristine, the manual issue falls into the “you don’t know how good you have it until it’s gone” category for me. I was known to complain about the superficial quality and the predominance of quotations by men in the old manuals. But they were far superior. Yes, there were introductions to influential women in the church, issues and examples from women’s lives, examples of poetry, music and sculpture from non-member women as well as men, pictures of women serving, studying and praying etc. Back then, it never occurred to me women could be handed a manual virtually void of any mention of them–oh, and then another, and another…

  73. Kristine N: Why don’t you feel women are similarly intellectually and theologically inclined to men? I feel they are. (As an example, My Favorite Teacher within the BYU religion dept. is Camille Fronk Olson.) I think the problem isn’t one of intellect or theological background, but of authority and audience. The Authority issue is one I don’t want to address, as I am of a mixed mind about it, but I feel the audience issue is more measureable. Women don’t typically precieve talked in Priesthood session as being written to them, and Men don’t generally perceive talks in RS seesion as being written to them, and no one pays attention when the primary presidency speaks. Personally, I think the General Primary Presidency should address the parents of Children every conference, because kids aren’t listening, and I would love to hear counsel on how to be a better parent or primary teacher from them. I want the RS president to address the husbands in conference, and I want the YW president to address the Bishops on the needs of YW. I think this change in who the women are addressing will be more impactful (there’s that word again) than taking the same old quotes from the same old leaders saying the same old things. Why was Sheri Dew so memorable as an LDS leader. Because she didn’t get lumped in with the stereotype of the Utah Woman with the voice of a mouse who’s just so tolerant and patient. And now she’s not in the RS presidency and in my opinion, is more impactful than any member of the RS presidency. For that Matter, besides Sheri Dew and Elaine Cannon, are there any other lds women who regularly published?

    Ok, this comment is becoming a rant, so I’ll stop now.If it’s unintelligible, it’s because my self-editor is busted at the moment.

  74. molly bennion says:

    Matt, Regarding women publishing and speaking with power from something like the inside, early on, Emmeline B Wells and the whole Women’s Exponent group and Susa Young Gates, who had an office close to the leaders; more recently, Chieko Okazaki. Her books were big sellers.

  75. Molly, Sister Okazaki is a great example. I believe she broke the barriers I am speaking of as well.

  76. I like Sheri Dew for her dynamic speaking style, but I didn’t hear innovative content from her. Her words just had different ethos because she’s a single career woman. On the other hand, Elaine Jack, Chieko Okazaki, Aileen Clyde were a dynamite presidency. Sister Jack made a point of celebrating diversity and launching the literacy program. Sister Okazaki took on racism and was a working mother herself for a time because she loved teaching. Sister Clyde is a feminist. She has spoken at Exponent II and she recently reviewed Martha Sontag Bradley’s book about Mormons and the ERA. I recommend “Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society” by Jill Mulvay Derr, Maureen Ursenback Beecher, and Janath Russell Cannon for a crash course on women from the beginnings of Mormonism. It ends with Elaine Jack’s presidency. It’s great!

  77. Joanne, I will certainly add this to my queue of books.

    I am not sure what you mean by “innovative”.

  78. Space Chick says:

    Matt, I read your comment 66 to mean that the general RS presidency doesn’t have more of a voice because they’re just an auxiliary, and no auxiliary gets that much of a voice at conference or in any other broadcast. But that still doesn’t justify the situation, it just pushes it back a level. If the highest office a sister can hold in church government in general RS president, and the general RS presidency doesn’t get airtime because it’s simply an auxiliary, then I would still conclude that women are themselves auxiliary, and not equal to men in church government. So either we make an exception for RS as a special case, or we put a woman into the FP or Q12. Otherwise, we’re not in a “separate but equal” position, we’re at “separate and not equal”. We keep protesting that women are treated equally, but the ground truth continues to contradict that. If the administration of the church can’t provide demonstrate equal treatment in action, then how can we hope for the rank and file to change, without an living example to guide them?

  79. Matt W. — An idea is innovative if it invites us to apply the gospel to women in a fresh way. Not that the traditional way is bad, but it’s using the same lens, and it doesn’t challenge us to search, to be open to alternative interpretations to God and the world.

    Sheri Dew has been extremely motivational, and her personal and professional background has positively colored her message and impact. But I think that’s different from taking a risk and exploring a change in message.

    In fairness, I know much more about Presidents Jack, Okazaki, and Clyde than I do about subsequent leaders.

  80. I’m an occasional visitor to this site and I’ve pondered this article for many days. I’ve never replied to a blog before, and perhaps my comments have are posted after the “expiration date”, but here goes…

    I should probably make clear that the goal of seeking greater equality within the our homes, the Church and the world is imperative – though I think the word “balance” fits much better than “equality”. I am constantly striving for this and also for better understanding on how I can exercise and influence to this righteous goal.

    I realize that there are practices that have been followed or taught in the past within the Church. Yet I am cautious when reflecting on those as a “better” or even preferred way or doctrine as compared to their practice or teaching today.

    The Lord has seen fit to refine and improve our understanding of doctrines and practices as we progress as saints. Whether it be the Word of Wisdom, sealings in the temple or how the Gospel is preached to the dead – as our understanding has grown, we have moved forward and been blessed.

    Not to make light of the serious need for balance in our homes and Church, I do believe that none of us long for the times when we could chew tobacco and be temple worthy or be sealed to someone other than our loving wives or husbands in the temple. I don’t know where the practice of allowing non-priesthood holders to participate in blessings falls along the spectrum, but I believe it is worth considering.

    Secondly, as I ponder this notion of balance and equality, I temper it with the great revelation we have received on the family. The Lord has revealed clearly that we are fundamentally different – even in the spirit world before coming here.

    If we are different, with different strengths and roles, I wonder if sometimes as we strive by our own understanding for “equality” – if we would push past the Lord’s understanding and wish for something that is not in harmony with His vision of what we should be.

    I believe this principle of aligning our personal goals and visions of ourselves with the Lord’s is a challenge for each of us – regardless of gender (though based on comparisons of Women’s Conf addresses to Priesthood Conf addresses – it appears we men are consistently more challenged.)

  81. pconnor, thanks for your comment. I think I see what you are getting at, but I think we need to be careful to project our situation today as the ultimate situation (though saints and the rest of humanity are wont to do so). The Proclamation on the family may very well be inspired, but it is not a revelation (nor for that matter are the rest of the proclamations issued by the church heirarchy). The last two revelations we have received (OD2 and D&C 138) are very different in nature.

    That said, Woodruff frequently talked about going down to the river and being baptized for women and not having a recorder present and then receiving more light from the prophet on the matter. I think that we sometimes conflate current policy with more light, which I don’t necessarily see.

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