Setting Apart Our Daughters to Prepare and Pass the Sacrament

M. David Huston lives and works in the Washington DC metro area. He is a husband and father of four who has previously written for poetry, international affairs, and LDS-related publications.

“Dad, can I ask you a question about the priesthood?” my daughter inquired on a recent Saturday afternoon. 

“Sure… let’s hear it,” I encouraged.

“In our church we believe that when women are set apart to do a calling, they fulfil that calling using the priesthood.  Is that right?”

I affirmed that she was correct. “Yes, that is what Elder Oaks explained back in 2014. He said that when women act in any calling they exercise priesthood authority in performing duties associated with that calling.”

My daughter nodded at my reply (I guess she knew she was right), and continued along these lines: “Then why can’t the Bishop just call the young women to be ‘sacrament passers’ or ‘sacrament preparers’ and then set them apart to do the calling? I mean, if the church is going to keep saying that the priesthood is needed to do those things, and if women have access to the priesthood through callings, then by calling the young women to these responsibilities and setting them apart they should have all the priesthood they need… right?” She made eye-contact with me and waited patiently for a reply.

I took a few beats to think about her suggestion (honestly something I’d never considered before, at least not in the way she presented it).  “You know what?” I said, “that makes sense to me; I don’t know why we couldn’t do that.”  And with that, my daughter gave a little shrug and walked out of the room.

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A Comic (But Not Comical) Take on Mormon History

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

As an intellectually-inclined, book-obsessed, life-long member of the Mormon Church, I have read many histories of my religion. I’ve read so many, in fact, that unfortunately I sometimes forget that such histories aren’t necessarily being written for knowledgeable believers like myself, and I end up criticizing them for getting some small detail wrong or for skipping over some academic controversy, forgetting that the purpose of good histories is to tell a story, one that draws you in. And when it comes to telling a story about a religious movement, presenting something compelling is essential, because if the story-teller can’t convey the circumstances or the feeling that drew people into the faith in the first place, the history can’t succeed at all.

All of that is to say that I wish I had been able to get over my intellectual pre-occupations and more fully enjoy the amazing accomplishment of Noah Van Sciver’s Joseph Smith and the Mormonsa wonderfully researched and captivatingly (and sometimes quite beautifully) drawn graphic novel when I first read it. Across more than 400 pages, Sciver presents an unconventional telling of the 19th-century, frontier American beginnings of the faith he was raised in, departed long ago, but has maintained a curiosity about and a confused sympathy for ever since. The tale it tells is mostly straightforward; it emphasizes some characters who rarely get much attention in typical Mormon histories, mostly bypasses some of the most intriguing beats in the story of Mormonism, and some might even argue that it is overly apologetic in its treatment of Joseph Smith. But as a literary whole, it needs to be acknowledged as a history as solid as many more scholarly ones, something I didn’t appreciate at first. [Read more…]

Faith, Reason, and CES

Last week, the Deseret News published an essay by Elder Clark Gilbert, the commissioner of CES. (Remember, CES is over the church’s secondary education system, including the BYUs and Pathways.) In it, he argues for the distinctive—and critical—role religiously-affiliated colleges and universities play in our broad network of secondary education.

And honestly, I found the essay deeply troubling.

Not, let me point out, because I disagree with Elder Gilbert’s premise. I’ve spent my entire academic career teaching at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. We’re a Jesuit school, and our sense of Jesuit identity is central to our mission and to the way we educate our students. This mission encourages us to center justice, as well as the well-being of our students, faculty, and staff. It motivates and permeates the education we provide.

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The Role of Reconciliation

Photo by D. Clark on Unsplash

M. David Huston lives and works in the Washington DC metro area. He is a husband and father of four who has previously written for poetry, international affairs, and LDS-related publications.

Pope Francis’s visit to Canada in July was a lesson in the importance of acknowledging and accepting responsibility for past missteps as part of moving into world of a new possibilities.  As has been widely reported, Pope Francis’s visit was seeking to address the abuse of indigenous/first nation groups at the hands of Christians generally and Catholics specifically.  Though news reports earlier this year of the discovery of nearly 170 unmarked graves on the grounds of a residential school for first nation children might have been the catalyst for this specific visit, the history of Christendom’s mistreatment of indigenous peoples (in the Americas, but also in many other parts of the world including Africa) is undisputed.  Many Christian colonists and explorers terrorized and subjugated those with whom they came into contact, and often committed these terrible acts on the basis of now-discredited theological ideas. 

Now, to be clear, Pope Francis did not directly do the things for which he apologized, nor did the Catholic church over which he now presides.  He did not authorize the colonization of Canada by Catholic adherents. He did not dedicate funds to the building of the now-closed boarding schools where the graves were found. All those actions were before his time.  And yet Pope Francis still sought reconciliation?  Why?

The answer is, I believe, found in the Sermon on the Mount. 

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Once more for the people in the back

There is no contradiction between the first and second great commandments. They are the same thing.

That is all.

The Adverbs of Zion

“Majestically? Does that have a musical definition I don’t know about?”

When my non-musical Catholic husband whispered this question during sacrament meeting a few weeks ago, he opened my eyes to one of our hymnbook’s quirks. Alongside their time signatures, every one of our 341 hymns includes an adverb.* These aren’t the traditional Italian adverbs with classical meanings, like “allegro” or “andante.” Instead they seem to be rough English descriptions meant to cue stylings separate from speed.

As an organist I find these descriptors helpful. Even if a hymn has the same time signature, I’m more likely to pull out the trumpet stop for “majestically” and the dulciana stop for “prayerfully.” When I tried to explain this musical approach, my husband started flipping through the hymnbook and making fun of all the other adverbs. “Earnestly?” “Expressively?” “Resolutely?” Would the minor word difference actually change my musical choices? He theorized a bored 1980s hymnbook editor had just pulled out a thesaurus, knowing the exact adverb meanings wouldn’t matter since amateur LDS organists notoriously play everything too soft and too slow.

Curious, I came home and decided to map out the hymnbook’s adverbs.

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Bishops on Abortion

Chris Kimball is a friend of BCC and former bishop.

INTRODUCTION

Abortion is controversial. Controversy presents an opportunity and challenge for hard thinking. This is one small corner of the hard thinking, focused on the role and practice of a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is not a global statement or manifesto, and not intended as an invitation to debate all the issues with abortion. 

As an introduction, here is the LDS Church’s position from the General Handbook of Instructions as of September 2, 2022, followed by my personal views and position.

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Religious Liberty and Short-Termism

On Wednesday, a Texas district court found that the ACA’s mandate that insurance cover PrEP violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. (Opinion here.)

A couple quick explanations before we go on: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was a law passed by Congress to essentially overrule a Supreme Court decision. It was meant to provide religious practice with a higher level of protection than the Court was affording it. PrEP is a drug that significantly reduces the chance that a person will get HIV from sex or injection drug use.

A handful of people (and one corporation) challenged the mandate that insurance cover PrEP, claiming that their religious beliefs and practice required them to have access to insurance that didn’t cover PrEP, either for themselves or their employees. And, in the first instance, they won.

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How to beat an autocrat: Fear not—i.e. don’t cave, friends

by Abigail J.​, CES employee

A few months ago I wrote regarding the problematic nature of changes to conditions of employment (“opted-into” or not) and increased scrutiny over CES faculty. Some of you commented with further information from your corners of the CES world, including changes to the endorsement questions being sent out to bishops. Peggy Fletcher Stack then picked up the story, and her characteristically fantastic reporting subsequently drew out something of a confession (albeit a misleading half-truth of one) from the Church Newsroom hours later: indeed the endorsement questions were changing—“for new hires” so they said.

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Value and Giving Things Up: Some Thoughts on Volleyball, Muskets, Clergy Confidentiality, Costly Signaling, and, of course, BYU

I believe—really, really believe—that the BYU Athletics Office spoke for the University and the entire Church when it said, in response a recent incident at a volleyball match, that “All of God’s children deserve love and respect, and BYU Athletics is completely committed to leading out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice of any kind and rooting out racism.”

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BCC Press is Baaaack—and Here is Corianton

After a brief summer hiatus, BCC Press is back with our ELEVENTH book release of 2022. And boy, are we excited.

The Corianton Saga, edited by the inimitable Ardis E. Parshall, represents years of careful archival work, transcribing, and editing a series of documents that, taken together, tell one of the wierdest and most wonderful stories in the Mormon Universe.

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Anti-Racism, the Bystander Effect, and BYU

Friday night, a racist BYU fan harassed a Black women’s volleyball player playing for Duke. Among other things, he threatened her and called her a racial slur that is arguably the most offensive word in the contemporary English language. And nobody—not the students surrounding the racist, not the game officials, not BYU’s athletic director, nobody—took actions to stop it.[fn1] (And it’s not like BYU officials didn’t know—Rachel Richardson, the Duke player at whom the racist invective was aimed, said that BYU’s coaching staff was told what was happening. And I’ve been to volleyball games at the Smith Fieldhouse—you can definitely hear what people shout.)

Utah’s governor expressed his “disgust” and sadness at the story, and rightly pointed out that we need to fix society so that “racist a**holes like this never feel comfortable attacking others.” And Sunday night, BYU’s women’s volleyball coach issued an apology and a promise to do better.

But the thing is, this wasn’t an isolated incident. And it’s going to happen again.

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This is Wrong

I am temperamentally and philosophically disinclined to Internet activism, and I am generally not righteous enough to be calling others to repentance. But I want to be on the record about this.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2022/08/27/byu-duke-volleyball-racist-incident/

This is wrong. And it’s not just wrong that one fan was yelling the N word. It’s wrong that all the other fans, and the BYU team and coach did nothing. There is no excuse for silence or politeness in this situation. We have to do better. ALL of us.

New Institute Class: towards a “pedagogy of the question”?

David Aubril is a French teacher and regular BCC guest blogger. He follows with great interest the contemporary debates on Gospel and Church matters from France.

I recently received an email from the Church about a new Institute class, Finding answers to our questions. I went through the materials and found it very interesting. Lesson 3, in particular, questions the idea that “it is inappropriate to ask questions regarding the doctrine, teachings, policies, and history of the Church” and encourages students to accept their questions as part of the faith process. Elder Uchtdorf explains: “Inquiry is the birthplace of testimony. Some might feel embarrassed or unworthy because they have searching questions regarding the gospel, but they needn’t feel that way. Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness ; it’s a precursor of growth.”

Will that new class initiate a shift in our teaching practices?

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Kate Holbrook (1972-2022)

KateKate Holbrook (born January 13, 1972) died August 20, 2022, her mortal life ended by a rare cancer of the eye that threatened for a decade before taking her from us over the course of the last year. We are utterly bereft, and we are also filled with the joy of her existence. Kate was born in Santa Barbara, California, in the desperate confusion of the early 1970s, to Kathleen Stewart and Robert Holbrook. Kate was raised by her mother and her grandmother, Belle Fillmore Stewart, in Provo, Utah. After serving a Church mission to Samara Russia and graduating from Brigham Young University, she moved to Boston because she’d loved a rainy afternoon spent there when she was 13. There she worked at Boston University, graduated from Harvard Divinity School with a Master of Theological Studies, and began a doctorate in Religious Studies at Boston University. She also met and married Sam Brown. In their middle 30s they realized that they were at heart mountain people and returned to Utah. They are the proud parents of three wonderful children: Amelia, Lucia, and Persephone Holbrook-Brown. In Utah, Kate completed her PhD (remotely) and started her career as an historian of Latter-day Saint women, employed by the Church History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She edited and/or wrote many books, articles, and other expressions of her careful thought and warm caring. She paid special attention in her scholarship to the relationships between food and religious community. Kate lived with abiding passion and care. She read voraciously and with great sympathy. In the last year of her mortal course, she fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting Kenya, driven by her childhood reading of Out of Africa. Her entire being sparkled with the possibilities of literature, including the stories of East Africa and Karen Blixen.

Kate loved Jesus with her whole heart. There wasn’t a part of her that didn’t breathe God and Gospel. She was honored to lead teams to tell the story of the Latter-day Saints to outsiders and the stories of women to her fellow Saints. As she contemplated her passage from mortality with great sadness, it was not because she lacked confidence in the reality of an afterlife. Instead, she mourned her physical absence from the mortal lives of her beloveds. She held in her hands and her heart both the certainty that death is not the end of us and the terrible tragedy of mortality cut short.

Her father and her grandmother (beside countless generations of the ancestors she honored with her scholarly work) preceded her in death. The others remain, hallowed by her memory and her abiding presence. Funeral services will be held on Saturday, August 27 at 11am at the Bonneville Stake Center, 1535 Bonneview Drive in Salt Lake City. A viewing will be held the evening before from 5–7pm at the Larkin mortuary at 260 E South Temple in Salt Lake City. Kate loved flowers the way she loved food, viscerally. However, she asks that instead of giving flowers, well-intended friends donate to the Kate Holbrook Endowed Scholarship Fund at BYU for primary caregivers of young children pursuing graduate work in the humanities: https://kateholbrook.org/scholarship

For those unable to attend, services will be streamed via Zoom. Please visit Kate’s obituary page at http://www.larkincares.com for further information.

Happy Birthday, Sister Jean!

In 2018, when the Loyola Ramblers burst into the NCAA basketball Final Four, my school burst into the national spotlight.

But it wasn’t just Loyola University Chicago: it was also the Ramblers’ chaplain, Sister Jean. She became a fixture on TV, on the internet, and even in the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum.

Today, Sister Jean celebrates her 103rd(!) birthday. Among other things, the plaza outside of the main Loyola Campus has been renamed in her honor and, on Tuesday, she’ll throw out the first pitch at the Cubs game.

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Two Things the Church Can Do Now to Improve Its Response to Child Abuse

My cobloggers have offered excellent commentary about the disturbing news about child abuse coming out of Arizona. Everything from suggestions about how we could better help abuse survivors to systemic changes we can make to reduce the incidence of abuse to discussions of confidential confession itself to how the church could have better drafted its first press release.

All of these discussions are crucial as we attempt to protect our children and limit (or better, eliminate!) abuse. But the church’s most recent press release[fn1] crystalized something in my mind, and suggested two things that the church could do in the short term, as we work toward a long-term without abuse.

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The Psychology of the Confessional

Since the national breaking story about the Church’s abuse hotline and an Arizona bishop providing cover for a father to continue to sexually abuse his daughters, film it and distribute it for over seven years, there’s been quite a bit of online discussion about whether the Church really has priest-penitent privilege. The Church is asserting that it does. Some members are saying “Does it, though?”

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Yearning and Trane

Yesterday I watched Chasing Trane, a documentary on jazz luminary John Coltrane. (I mentioned Coltrane my introduction to Coltrane in my tribute to Dr. Ray Smith.)

The documentary is a perfectly acceptable review of a fascinating life. And what really struck me was Coltrane’s spirituality. He was a religious seeker and, like Bach, he sought to elevate his listeners through his music, to bring us closer to the transcendent and the Divine.

And his approach toward religious transcendence is nowhere as explicit as in his suite “A Love Supreme.” (Jason K. wrote about “A Love Supreme” in a Mormon Lectionary Project post seven years ago.)

“A Love Supreme” is a different approach to religion than we as Mormons usually take, in our music or in our rhetoric. Our hymns are generally composed in four-part harmony with classic voice-leading. The lyrics comfort. The harmonies and melodies are familiar and comfortable. Any dissonance ultimately resolves.

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We can—must!—do better.

A woman with red hair tosses a small, laughing child into the air.

While this post is certainly inspired by a recent—and explosive—AP news article and Salt Lake’s entirely predictable and altogether tepid response, it isn’t (strictly speaking) about the scandal. I don’t know enough about the particulars of the serious and credible allegations against the Church to really weigh in… But I’m a careful observer of the human condition and an active member of several policy making circles, so I hope you’ll indulge me in a little bit of sideline commentary.

The rage over the allegations is still white-hot, and who can blame folks? We’re talking about children, here, our most vulnerable—and literally the “least of these”, “our little ones”. But at some point, we’ll need to step back a little to collect our thoughts, if we’re ever to actually effect change. Burning stuff down is cathartic—and can actually be useful—but longterm success requires cooler heads and reasoned arguments.

It’s only in the rarest of circumstances that evil is naked and unadulterated. In our fallen world, most evil is actually found in the cracks between what we should be doing and what we actually accomplish… It’s not the incendiary evil of dictators and movie villains—but the dry, scratchy evil of a whole bunch of people doing less than their best. It’s the wages of mediocrity. It’s banale. It can even be boring… And it’s often (though not always) the direct (but largely unintended) consequences of bad systems.

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What would ‘doing it well’ look like?

“How did you get this number?”

“I found it online. I was amazed that the church would have a helpline like this for–“

“This line is only for bishops or sometimes other priesthood leaders. We can’t talk with survivors.”

“Is there a church hotline for survivors?”

“No. Please contact your bishop for support. Goodbye.”

I’d been “in the field” — if you can even call it that (fn1) — for about two months when I made this phone call in spring 2009. I was poring over every written work, talk, or resource ever published by the church or its leaders on family violence and stumbled across the helpline in an online chat forum. I was delighted — at least until I saw a few people commenting that it didn’t do survivors much good because it was only for bishops and priesthood leaders.

No way, I thought. You can’t support the survivor if you don’t support the survivor — like, you can’t address abuse if your services exclude the people who have been abused. This can’t be right. There’s no way the church missed something that basic.…right?

So I made this call. And found out that the people I thought must be misrepresenting the church’s position were telling the truth. The church had invested huge resources and effort into addressing abuse, and then had excluded abuse survivors from accessing them.

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A Few Minor, and Hopefully Helpful Editing Suggestions on the LDS Church’s Recent Statement about Abuse

Church Offers Statement on Help Line and Abuse

The abuse of a child or any other individual is inexcusable. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands with the victims and survivors of abuse and desires to use its resources to prevent abuse and to protect those who experience it. The Church must never be used as a screen to hide abusers from the consequences of their actions.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes this, teaches this, and dedicates tremendous resources and efforts to prevent, report and address abuse. Our hearts break for these children and all victims of abuse.

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The Clergy-Penitent Privilege–Questions and a Suggestion

At this point, I assume most of our readers have seen today’s AP story. If not, you can read it here (but be warned: it’s disturbing and disgusting and the church—rightly, imho—comes out looking terrible).

What underlies this miscarriage of justice is the clergy-penitent privilege. And what is that? It’s a legal privilege that protects confessional communications between clergy and a person who goes to the clergy for spiritual counselling.

It’s a state-level privilege, meaning it’s created and governed by state, not federal, law. And in every state it differs at least a little. And honestly, privilege broadly—and clergy-penitent privilege in particular—is outside of my area of expertise. I understand it broadly, but the contours are tough and specific.

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What the Actual F***?!?

So, I guess the reason we have all those billions is to pay off settlements in civil lawsuits for sexual abuse?

There will be and should be hell to pay.

Burn Kirton McConkie and everyone behind this “risk management” call-line to the ground.

Mercy and Justice are not polar opposites

A few weeks ago, I was attending my new ward and the bishop got up to speak. He was talking about the power of the atonement and, honestly, there are so many ways to understand the atonement I don’t really mind if people disagree with me regarding how it works. But he said something that I’ve heard a lot, that is a natural extension of the way that we talk about the atonement, but that I think completely misses the point. He said, at one point, that the essence of the gospel and the atonement was the reconciliation of justice and mercy (which I agree with), which is hard to understand because they are polar opposites. It’s the last part that I think needs reconsideration.

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The Etymology of Telestial Revisited

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Christian Nationalist Is Incompatible with Mormonism

Yesterday, this piece on Christian nationalism ended up in my Twitter feed. In it, Amanda Tyler, the Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty explains why it is absolutely critical for Christians to step up and expressly denounce Christian nationalism.

What is Christian nationalism? The BJC describes it as explicitly promoting the idea that Christianity should explicitly infuse the U.S.’s “public policies, sacred symbols, and national identity.” Implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) it also holds that the only true Christians/Americans are white, conservative, and born in the U.S.A.

It is critical to point out here that there’s a difference between saying (as a voter or a politician), “My values influence my policy preferences” and saying “The laws of the country should codify [my version of] Christianity.” The former, Tyler points out, allows for some work across the aisles, some vision of a better society. She points to Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, a Baptist pastor, and Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford, a former Baptist youth pastor, among others.

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On “Laws Related to Abortion”

Several weeks ago, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, the church made a change to its official statement on abortion. Reaffirming its political neutrality, the church gave explicit permission for members to “choose to participate in efforts to protect life and to preserve religious liberty.”

What does that mean? Well, the church explicitly permits abortions in cases of rape, incest, in cases where the pregnancy imposes a serious risk to the mother’s health or life, and in cases where the fetus has serious defects and will not survive.

That is, the church recognizes that there must be some kind of balance between the rights of a pregnant person and the rights of a fetus. In at least some circumstances, that balance favors the pregnant person. Which makes sense—in Mormonism, we don’t have any theological commitment to when life begins. We have, of course, scriptures that suggest it may be sometime before birth (John leapt in Elisabeth’s womb when Elisabeth heard Mary) and scriptures that suggest maybe not (Jesus spoke to Nephi the day before He was born). And from a policy perspective, stillborn children are not recorded as births or deaths on church records and no temple work can be performed for them.

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You Didn’t Fail at Church Checkbox Parenting

One of the worst things I’ve encountered online among church members is the idea that if your children leave the church it’s because of you, their parents, did something wrong.

It’s obvious that this is awful in so many ways, but I want to talk about the fear and shame and church conditioning that underlies it.

Because let me tell you, as a mom of young adults and teens who is looking around at the other parents my age with their kids, pretty much every single church family I know is dealing with the loss of expectations that all their children will grow up to be church members who marry in the temple. Church checkbox families are no longer the reality for really any family and we need to confront that as a church.

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Transcript: Mormon Women’s Whiplash

This transcript of the first episode of the Third Hour podcast has been lightly edited for length and clarity. You can read more about how the podcast got started and listen to the audio here.

Richelle: Joining me today are Natalie Brown in Boulder, Colorado; Carolyn homer in Washington, DC; and Emily Butler in Cleveland, Ohio. Welcome, friends. So Natalie, let’s start with you. I’d like to jump right into your whiplash post. What inspired you to write and share it?

Natalie: So someone I’m close to sent me a news article about the new General Relief Society President, Camille N. Johnson, and pointed out that she had practiced for thirty years as a lawyer and was the president of her law firm. I know that this person sent me this article in order to make me feel better and to point to the progressive options that women increasingly have in the Church because I have been experiencing a lot of angst about what to do in terms of a career since mine has not gone quite as I planned, or as I had hoped for. But rather than making me feel happy or optimistic, it actually made me feel angry and overwhelmed and frustrated. I had reactions ranging from, “Well, why didn’t you support me like ten, twenty years ago when I was making these decisions?” And to be clear, the person who sent me this article has supported me in very many ways, but there are also many encounters I’ve had in the Church that have been less supportive of women’s careers. And at the same time, I wanted to scream because I’m now a caregiver who had to like, teach her children remotely during the pandemic. It’s like, “Well, are you saying that caregiving then isn’t enough to be a Relief Society president, that actually we do care about all those skills you learn on the job?” And so I felt that the caregiving that I’m now doing that is perfectly on-script with what a Mormon woman is supposed to do is still undervalued and unpaid, and that those skills are not recognized. So I felt a lot of whiplash and mixed emotions.

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