How Bodies Matter: A Response to “Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother”

This is the first in a series of responses to Taylor Petrey’s “Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother,” recently published in the Harvard Theological Review.

Margaret Toscano is an Assistant Professor of Classics and Comparative Cultural and Literary Studies at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Her research focuses on religion, myth, and gender. She has published extensively on Mormon feminism. 
Taylor Petrey states his complaint against certain Mormon feminists (i.e., me–Margaret Toscano, Janice Allred, and Valerie Hudson Cassler) on page 16 of “Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother”: “Mormon feminists writing about Heavenly Mother have been complicit in heteronormative narratives that universalize a subset of women as the hypostasis of ‘woman.’” Taylor’s argument ignores the complexity of the god narratives I have explored over the years, as well as the multiplicity of images I have put forth to represent women and the Female Divine.

Taylor says I put forth “a singular mother who represents the plurality of her daughters” (9). It is only possible to assert this if you pick out statements where I focus on the Heavenly Mother and ignore those where I explore other goddess figures from Mormon sacred texts. [Read more…]

Book Review: As Iron Sharpens Iron.

By proving contrarieties truth is made manifest. –Joseph Smith, Jr., 1844 [1]JSmith_Iron_cover_1024x1024

Without Contraries is no progression. –William Blake, ca. 1790 [2]

[I]t must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. –Lehi, ca. 588-570, B.C. [3]

As iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. –Attributed to Solomon, recorded ca. 8th Century, B.C., by the scribes of Hezekiah [4]

As Iron Sharpens Iron: Listening to the Various Voices of Scripture, is a collection of 17 fictional dialogues between men and women in the scriptures addressing topics on which the interlocutors seem to have different viewpoints. The title is taken from the proverb that as one piece of metal can be used to sharpen another, debate with a friend sharpens a person’s wit, insight, and perception (Proverbs 27:17). [Read more…]

But Where Am I?

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Recently, my ward decided to perform reenactments of the Restoration in Primary. It’s a sweet idea—certainly well intentioned—when you don’t think about it for long: Joseph as a boy praying in the Sacred Grove, the angel Moroni appearing to the boy Joseph, the translation of the Book of Mormon with Joseph and his scribe, the baptism and gift of the Holy Ghost by the Susquehana River.

My first reaction, however, was not sweet. I was piercingly sad. All I could picture were the faces of the little girls in Primary. Not a single active role in the reenactments could be given to a girl child. I understand the complexities here- what can the Primary President do? Things happened as they happened, and imposing 21st century parity on historical religiosity shouldn’t be done. Right? [Read more…]

Your Letters are Expected Though

Five years ago, in a new ward, our tiny son took immediately to a man on the front row of the gospel principles class–a wide-armed, rugby player of a man who shook our hand and nearly lifted us off the ground.  He was big and bright and new.  Baptized just a few months before, though schooled in Mormonism for many years.  There was something about Jack’s sincerity and insistence in speaking often about social justice that endeared us to him without reservation.

A couple of years ago Jack started to bring his friend, Vince, to church. Every Sunday Vince wears a black shirt and pants nearly as dark as his skin.  The grandchildren that hold his hands as he walks into sacrament meeting run to hug Jack. Another family has saved them a spot on the bench with them. Vince doesn’t often speak out, but it is clear that he is both gentle and wise with experience as he accepts these offerings with grace.

At Vince’s baptism he spoke about his time in prison and how at a low point he knew he wanted to find God, his sweet family peppering the baptismal room chairs calling out “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” [Read more…]

Heavenly Mother in the Harvard Theological Review

We’re pleased to host a series of guest posts on Taylor Petrey’s recently published article on the Mormon theology Heavenly Mother. Taylor will introduce the series, and later in the week, we’ll have commentary from Margaret Toscano, Caroline Kline, and Kristine Haglund. This is intended to be a discussion of Taylor’s article, not a grab-bag of ideas about Heavenly Mother, so please read the entire linked article before commenting.
–BCC Admin.

Taylor G. Petrey is Lucinda Hinsdale Stone Assistant Professor of Religion at Kalamazoo College, where he teaches biblical studies. In 2016-17, he is Visiting Associate Professor at Harvard Divinity School and a research associate at the Women’s Studies in Religion Program where he is pursuing a project on Mormonism and gender.

This post is for the discussion of my new article, “Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother” in Harvard Theological Review 109.3 (2016).

In this article, I compare Mormon feminist analysis of Heavenly Mother to broader feminist theologies of a Divine Woman. The revival and rearticulation of Heavenly Mother in Mormon feminist thought roughly parallels the rise of feminist theology. [Read more…]

Helping Hands in an Unnamed Storm

I must admit that I’ve rarely been very taken with the sacrament ordinance. Perhaps it’s because the mundane nature of deacons with untucked shirts and overly-long ties doesn’t mesh well with my high-church sensibilities, or perhaps it’s because sacrament meetings for the last seven years have mostly consisted of trying to keep my children reasonably quiet, but I’ve tended to side with Ralph Waldo Emerson who believed the ritual a bit too “dead” for his living faith. My family’s penchant for a lack of punctuality typically means we stay out in the foyer Sunday mornings, anyway. Which is usually fine with me.  [Read more…]

“Work Makes the Difference”: A Church Welfare Proposal

I have a sure-fire proposal to improve church welfare.

Church welfare admittedly has a long and storied history. In 1936, the Church officially inaugurated the Church Security Plan. President Grant explained that the purpose of the plan was to provide

sufficient food, fuel, clothing, and bedding to supply through the coming winter, every needy and worthy Church family unable to furnish these for itself, in order that no member of the Church should suffer in these times of stress and emergency.[fn1]

In 1936, the Great Depression, which hit Utah hard, was still a recent memory, and its effects were still being felt in Utah. So it makes plenty of sense that church leaders were trying to establish a procedure that could help members weather the financial storm.  [Read more…]

How Did Mormon Know That? History and Propaganda in the Amalakiahite War #BOM2016

Alma 47

enlist-posterLet’s start with one of the most devastating satirical moments in Don Quixote. This scene begins in Chapter VIII of the first book. Quixote has already had his adventures with the windmills and the prostitute at the roadside inn, and now he encounters a group of travelers accompanying a lady on her way to meet her husband. Assuming (as he is wont to do) that the woman is being held against her will, Quixote rushes to her defense, starting a fight with a Biscayan gentleman attending her.

Quixote and the Biscayan fight for a while, and the latter gains the advantage. He raises his sword for a killing blow, and just as he does, the narrative stops abruptly–and the narrator tells us that the record doesn’t go any further and that this is everything we now can say about Don Quixote de la Mancha. But the narrator refuses to give up, and, one day he finds an Arabic manuscript in a marketplace that references Dulcinea del Toboso. This turns out to be the work of the famous Arab historian, Cid Hamete Benengeli and, conveniently, it begins at exactly same point in the story that the previous manuscript left off. The narrative problem is solved. [Read more…]

How Mormons Could Matter: The Machiavellian Case for Dumping Trump

There are lots of good reasons for Mormons to vote against Donald Trump in November. For one thing, he doesn’t seem to value the Mormon vote much. His recent Op-Ed in the Deseret News was just a cut-and-paste job from his standard stump speech with no attempt to consider how Mormons, or Utah voters, might see the world in unique ways. Unlike Hillary Clinton, he could not be bothered even to pay a staffer to get the Mormon stuff right.

Or there is the fact that Trump has built his campaign by stoking resentment towards both minority religion, as Mormons once were, and immigrants from Hispanic countries, who are quickly becoming the most important constituency in the International Church.

And let’s not forget that a Trump surrogate recently ridiculed Mormons by referring to the moderate pro-immigration stance that LDS leaders have taken as an instance of “moral incoherence.”

But I am not going to talk about any of that (well, except for the fact that I just talked about all of it,  but I’m done now). Instead, I want to talk about another reason that Mormon voters should reject Donald Trump and his brand of conservatism decisively. This is a purely self-interested, cynical, Machiavellian reason to vote for Hillary Clinton (or even a third-party candidate). If Trump is defeated in Utah, Mormons will actually start to matter in the world of politics. [Read more…]

How to Feed a Crowd

 

Note: This post was submitted by Christy, a participant in this year’s pilgrimage along the Via Francigena who was instrumental in the creation and execution of the recipe described herein on the third day on the trail in a rustic cabin on the shores of Lac de Champex.

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Meal preparation and enjoyment site

Take stock of everything in the available kitchen. Ask yourself key questions such as “Do I have salt? Pepper? Oil? Random utensils for reducing vegetables from their whole selves into smaller units? A very large pot?” If the answer to all of those questions is yes, proceed as follows:

Walk to the nearest grocery store. Take care to not trip on the steps down the hill. Once you have arrived, after traversing crowds of similarly hungry hikers, determine what ingredients interest you most, and purchase accordingly: [Read more…]

Captain Moroni’s “Religious Freedom” Problem–and Ours #BOM2016

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It is no secret that Mormon has a massive man-crush on Captain Moroni. We see this both in the name of his son and in his effusive statement that, if everyone were like the good Captain, “the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men” (Alma 48:17). Hero-worship can be a dangerous trait in a historian, though, and Mormon’s unqualified adoration often conflicts with the story he is trying to tell. A close reading of one of these conflicts might help us better understand one of our own. [Read more…]

Scripture and Mormonism: A Brief Look at Some Useful Ideas.

I want to point out some good reads in scriptural understanding here, and I’ll focus on the Bible since it’s the primary book of scripture on which other Mormon scripture comments, quotes, or critiques.

Probably the most familiar books in the Bible for Latter-day Saints are Genesis and the New Testament Gospels. Genesis is part of the Pentateuch or the first five book of the Old Testament, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The current state of scholarship in the Pentateuch consists of three main approaches.
[Read more…]

The Laundry List

People sometimes talk about what changes they’d like to see at Church.  I’ve decided to compile a little list of things that I would change, provided that (a) my voice mattered and (b) God ever ratifies my list.  These items are in no particular order.  Some may respond that the Church already offers some of these things.  If so, you’re welcome to explain in the comments.  My response, generally, will be that there are pockets within Mormonism where such things are offered/taught, but not as a general matter. [Read more…]

Into the MTC she goes

Schwester Peck (on the left).

Schwester Peck (on the left).

It was over six years ago that I posted about dropping off my youngest son at the MTC for his mission to Finland. Today I dropped off my daughter for hers to Berlin, Germany. She follows her four brothers who did the same. She was so scared, yet excited and determined. She is one of the most courageous woman I know. I bought for her a set of Ashmae’s Brave Women Cards and one of them was left intentionally blank and says “You belong here.” That is true of Emily. [Read more…]

Of Bodies and Temples

I teach Primary, and the theme for this year is “I know the scriptures are true.” As someone who loves the scriptures, and who deeply enjoys discussing them with my eight-and-nine-year-olds, this is a theme I can really get behind. Still, I have some reservations about how the Primary curriculum establishes children’s relationship to the scriptures. In this post I’ll use this month’s Sharing Time scripture to lay out those reservations and to discuss how we might do better.

This month, the designated scripture is 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, slightly redacted to read: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? … [F]or the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” I love this scripture. In fact, it’s one of my favorites. The Corinthian saints are having problems with schism (see 1:10), and here Paul uses the beautiful image of the collective church members as a temple, home of God’s Spirit, to invite them to greater unity. [Read more…]

Women of Vision

WomenofVision-599x449Yesterday my family and I went to Chicago’s Field Museum. After checking out several other exhibits, we went to the Women of Vision exhibit.

Women of Vision shows some photography that 11 female photographers have shot for various National Geographic stories. The exhibit is (not surprisingly) spectacular. Organized by photographer, the subjects range all over the map, from women’s lives (there was a great display of women in Afghanistan) to architecture to religion (Muslims, Uigars, Christians in the Middle East, shamanism) to African animals.  [Read more…]

Sister Wives Series #9: Sarah Jane Hamilton (the 8th wife)

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Sarah Jane Hamilton Gardner Howard (1842–1924)

Part 9 in a series; see the rest of the series here.

The year after Archie was married to 34-year-old Norwegian Serena, Archie was married and sealed to his youngest—and, at six feet, his tallest—wife yet: his 8th wife, Sarah Jane Hamilton. Sarah Jane married Archibald just ten days after her 15th birthday. She was the youngest of Archie’s wives by nearly a decade, and she was a full 24 years younger than his first wife, Margaret (my g-g-g-grandmother). Two years into this marriage, Sarah Jane would give birth to a boy, James Hamilton Gardner. This would be the only child she and Archie would have together, as Sarah Jane would leave Archibald soon afterward, followed by a divorce. [Read more…]

The Worst of All Possible Worlds? Religious Pessimism and the Gospel of Hope

There is no room in the city
for respectable skills…and no reward for one’s efforts.
Today my means are less than yesterday; come tomorrow,
the little left will be further reduced. So I’m going to make for
the place where Daedalus laid aside his weary wings.
                                    —Juvenal, Satire 3, lines 21– 26

Something is profoundly wrong in our country. Once, we were a great power, but our standing has been jeopardized by corrupt rulers, burdensome taxes, and a population that has lost its spiritual moorings. Unchecked immigration has flooded our nation with cheap labor and a large population that does not even speak our language. Sexual perversions abound, and it is becoming impossible to tell the difference between men and women. This is without a doubt most corrupt and lascivious generation that has ever lived on earth.

[Read more…]

Early Morning Seminary and Sleep Deprivation

Is Early Morning Seminary worth it? This is a question I ask myself every year. At the kickoff for seminary, the seminary director explains each year that the reason we do Early Morning Seminary is to teach the kids they can do hard things. That’s the same reason we were told we do manufactured Trek reenactments, too. But is doing hard things a good justification in and of itself to do something? I have seen fairly severe impacts to my kids as they’ve gone through 4 years of seminary. The sleep deprivation at a crucial growing period when they are supposed to be achieving grades that enable them to get a good college education seems like a high price to pay for daily religious education from amateur volunteers. [Read more…]

The pride cycle, the prosperity gospel, and grace.

Ah, the pride cycle: the idea that humility leads to righteousness, which leads to material prosperity, which itself leads to pride, which then leads to sin and to a loss of material prosperity, which leads back to humility. So it goes. [Read more…]

So about that Op-Ed

I provided a brief op-ed to the Salt Lake Tribune about the BYU situation. They tell you never to read the comments, but I’ve seen some floating around the internet and wanted to address a couple of points.

[Read more…]

Via Francigena Liveblog

 

Via FrancigenaMembers of the BCC community have been embarking on an annual pilgrimage since 2013. The first took us along the famed Camino to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. It was such a success that we founded the Mormon Society of St. James and decided to do it again, choosing Olav’s Way to Trondheim as our next project. In 2015 we walked to Canterbury, where we picked up credentials for the Via Francigena, which, if you follow in the footsteps of Archbishop Sigeric, begins there and ends in Rome.

We did so until Dover. But lacking a boat and sufficient time, we decided to return in 2016 to tackle the portion of the “road that comes from France” that crosses Switzerland. Next year we plan to walk the final 100 kilometers of the Via Francigena to Rome; details will follow as plans solidify. But for now, watch this space for updates on our travels in the coming week from the Rhône valley to the Great St. Bernard Pass.

[Read more…]

Moroni 9:9 and Lucretia

Moroni 9:9, with its claim that women can be deprived “of that which is most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue,” is something of an infamous scripture, and justly so, because it suggests that chastity and virtue can be passively taken from someone instead of actively given away. As EmJen explains:

What’s objectionable is not that they lost their hymen, but that they were forced against their will, they were raped. Their virtue cannot be taken, it can only be given away, and when given at the point of a gun or through other coercive means, it’s rape, it’s not being unchaste. This should be evident to anyone who reads it; it’s kind of an obvious point. Most women will immediately realize that if there is no consent, there is no loss of virtue by the woman, and that a man who forces or coerces a woman, robbing her of consent, is committing a heinous crime against her.  But that doesn’t mean she is at fault.

This critique ably clarifies what the scripture misses about consent and female agency (see also Kristine’s post), but it doesn’t explain the worldview in which it makes sense to say that virtue can be taken away. This post is going to attempt that, because I don’t think that we can do better until we name such assumptions and get them out in the open. After all, the Personal Progress section on virtue still includes Moroni 9:9.

[Read more…]

The Second Post on Etiology and Race in the Book of Mormon #BOM2016

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In an earlier post, I argued that, early Mormon traditions to the contrary, we should not view the story of Laman and Lemuel’s curse as an etiological tale about the origins of Native Americans. In this second post, I will argue that, after a certain point in the text, it is not even correct to see the this story as an etiological tale about the origins of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon. At this point, the definition of the term “Lamanite” shifts to include things that cannot be accounted for by the curse narrative in 2 Nephi 4.

I cannot locate this point exactly in the text, but I am pretty sure that it occurs some time between two crucial passages set during the two continental wars that frame the book of Alma.

[Read more…]

Five Finger Discount

I might as well tell you about the only time I ever deliberately stole something. The theft just so happened to take place on the exact day that I met my future husband, though he has nothing to do with why I did it. (Not consciously, anyway. <— Ha! That is going to be mildly to moderately funny when you find out what I stole!)

Twelve years ago my friend Lianna pulled me aside in a panic at her wedding reception. A garter! She’d forgotten a garter! How would her groom’s older brother ever get married if he didn’t catch the garter at their wedding?? Luckily I, an otherwise respectable young Mormon woman, somehow knew exactly where the nearest lingerie shop was, so I enlisted my friend Christa to keep me company and we set off for Naughty or Nice, determined to save the day.

We quickly located a suitable specimen and made our way to the register where the cashier handed me a receipt to sign and motioned toward the pen jar. Well, imagine my surprise and supreme delight to there discover a veritable hoard of Bic pens with tiny plastic penises on top! They were flesh-colored and everything!! I gingerly made my selection, signed the receipt, and would have returned the pen to its holder had the cashier not at that exact moment turned her back to fold some unmentionables.

[Read more…]

Sister Wives Series #8: Serena Torjusdatter Evensen (the 7th wife)

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Tarjer Serine “Serena” Torjusdatter Evensen Gardner (1822–1911)

Part 8 in a series; see the rest of the series here.

“Let us think with pride of our pioneer dead
And follow the exemplary lives they led.”
—Annie Gardner Francis (Serena’s youngest child)

Archibald’s 7th wife, Terjer Serine Torjusdatter Evensen, was born in Risør, Norway, an untamed land surrounded by lakes and hills, fjords and fens, wrapped round with a coastline that had already been an important fishing and shipping port for hundreds of years. [Read more…]

King David, Corianton, and Sex #BOM2016

Alma 39-42

DavidThe Latter-day Saint scriptural tradition contains two great cautionary tales about sex: the first is the story of King David, who saw Bathsheba bathing on the roof and summoned her to his quarters—an assignation that ended with the betrayal and murder of Bathsheba’s husband. The second is the story of Corianton, the son of Alma the Younger, who abandoned his missionary duties among the Zoramites and dallied with “the harlot Isabel”—thus imperiling the entire mission and bringing disrepute on the followers of Christ.

On the surface, these cautionary tales seem to have the same message, which is something like, “don’t follow your sexual impulses (except under carefully controlled circumstances) or bad stuff will happen.” It’s a message that Mormons hear a lot. But when we start looking at the differences between the two stories, we start to see very different understandings of human sexuality and religion at work. And, in this case, the differences are much more important than the similarities. [Read more…]

The Basis of Religious Freedom in the Book of Mormon.

The Nephites in the time of Alma and Korihor apparently had principles of law that recognized the importance of religious freedom, like our First Amendment free exercise guarantee. But the nature of that freedom–what it protected, the reasons they gave for it, and how they thought about it–were different from our concept of religious freedom. [Read more…]

When Your Calling and Election is Sure (I): The Jerusalem Bishopric

In 1841, Lutherans and Anglicans decided that there were enough Protestants in the region of Jerusalem that they should be served by a formal church functionary. The region of service was to include Syria, “Iraq,” (the term at the time was “Chaldea”) Egypt, and Ethiopia. As you can imagine, such a scheme was bound to leave controversy and discomfort in its wake. And your imagination would be correct if it did that.
[Read more…]

Guest Post: Mormon Research Funding Database

Logo-Funding-1This post comes to us from Jessica Young, who is working on a database of funding sources for Mormon Studies research.

Today, I have a very important announcement. Hopefully it is about something you never knew you needed, but soon won’t be able to live without.

Right now the very first (and only, to my knowledge) database for fellowships, grants, scholarships, and awards for Mormon studies research is underway. We anticipate launching the site on 1 September 2016, provided all goes to plan.

In the meantime, we need your help! [Read more…]

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