The Revolution will be cross-stitched

Mat’s suggestion of hanging the Manifesto on his wall instead of the Proclamation on the family reminded me of a favorite discussion topic of mine: obnoxious feminist sayings I would like to put in a counted cross-stitch sampler. Examples: “A clean house is a sign of a wasted life,” “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people,” or my favorite, from Franklin S. Richards on woman suffrage in Utah: “If the price of statehood is the disfranchisement of one half of the people…I am content to share with them the disabilities of territorial vassalage till the time shall come, as it will come in the providence of God, when all can stand side by side on the broad platform of human equality, of equal rights, and equal capacity.” The reason for cross-stitching them, of course, would be to see how many months it would take one’s visiting teacher to notice the horrific sentiments thus displayed.

There’s a serious point beneath the humor (there always is with me; can’t help it–I’m descended from a long line of depressive Swedish preachers), that we often form judgments of what is appropriately Mormon based on issues of style. One of the things I loved most about the summer seminar on women’s history at BYU last year was how Claudia Bushman would come to gatherings with her needlepoint in hand. From time to time she would look up, smile, say something jaw-droppingly radical like, “maybe someday they’ll have special wards just for single sisters,” or “Mormon feminism is dead,” and then go back to stitching. Half the time people, even quite conservative people, would just nod and go on with the discussion. When Aileen Clyde visited, we all noticed how she, every inch the picture of East Bench gentility could say things in her perfectly modulated church lady voice that NOBODY could possibly get away with saying. I could say things about why it’s good for women to work outside the home that nobody else could say, because I am (for now, and for as long as I can stand it) a dumpy stay-at-home mom with three cute blond children.

So here are my questions for you self-proclaimed liberals: how much do you self-censor or adapt yourself to the prevailing styles of expression in order to fit in with your congregations? (especially those outside of Cambridge or Manhattan) Is this bad, or is it a useful way to check your prejudices and knock the sharp edges off of your opinions? What happens if you don’t do it, or if you’re not good at it?


  1. Aaron Brown says:

    (3) Two people are 10 times more powerful than one. All it takes is a second opinion (in agreement with yours) voiced in a class to give your opinion weight and respectability. If two people agree on a point, other class members will assume there are more where they came from, and how can a comment be out of bounds if multiple Church-goers are coming to the same conclusion?

    (4) Following up on (3), if you know you have an ideological ally in Church, sit on opposite sides of the room — never together. You’re easier to dismiss collectively if you’re sitting as a “liberal block.” Sit far apart, and your ideological foes will feel surrounded. :)

  2. Aaron Brown says:

    Am I the only one here who thinks the 1000-character limit on comments really BITES?

    Aaron B

  3. Amen Karen!!!!

    We do indeed blog, us lazies. Actually, you’re dead on. I blog because I can’t get all this content at church. I crave the community and I crave the discussion, and while Church is good, it don’t gimme what I need….

  4. Kristine says:

    Another not-equal-opportunity strategy (sorry guys) for enhancing credibility: PREGNANCY. You can say absolutely anything you want if you smile demurely and fold your hands over your belly in the universal pregnant woman pose. Of course, it’s a somewhat self-limiting tactic. Also, a word to the wise: nursing a baby during Sunday School does not have remotely the same effect ; )

  5. Cross-stitched feminist themes? You have a wicked sense of humor, Kristine.

    The real question is when feminism will begin to adopt multi-level marketing. :)

  6. Aaron Brown says:

    How to effectively share potentially “unorthodox” opinions at Church? Some thoughts:

    (1) If you think what you have to say is unduly controversial, you’re likely to act like it’s controversial. And if you act like it’s controversial, it’s likely to be perceived as controversial. Act like what you’re saying is no big deal, and it will probably be perceived by most as no big deal.

    In other words, how comments are received is mostly a function of delivery, not substance. (Not always the case, but very often so.)

    (2) I concur with the claim that you’re more effective if you’re well-known and established in a ward. And make waves sparingly. If you’re always the guy with a chip on his shoulder, you’ll be easily dismissed. If you pick your battles carefully, you’ll be more of a force to reckon with.

    To be continuedÂ…

  7. I believe partisan remarks are out of line at church. Conservatives don’t seem to agree. Our bishop’s wife is one of the worst offenders. The whole gay marriage issue has opened up the flood gates in our GD class. Every week I’m tempted to say this sounds more like the Church of Ronald Reagan than the Church of Jesus Christ..we’ve only been in the ward here 6 months…but I can’t take much more!

  8. I have the advantage of living in an inner-city ward in Atlanta. If I were to poll our ward, I am virtually certain that Kerry would beat Bush going away. While there are certainly Republicans in our ward, only one of them, if you can believe it, wears it on his sleeve, and even he is entirely tolerable. Beyond that, there are several liberals that serve to counterbalance him, including myself (a counselor in the Bishopric) and our Elders Quorum President. As a result, Sunday School rarely delves into political matters, and almost never in a partisan way.

  9. I now give to you the formula to be able to say ANYTHING you want in Sunday School (I think that’s safe, give there are about 6 people who read this website…):

    “I agree with (brother/sister X) and like what s/he had to say about (a. Jesus b. Charity c. The Scriptures). Going along with that I think_________, then just say anything you want with a big smile. (The big smile is mandatory). You can completely contradict brother/sister X. It doesn’t matter. You just have to do it in the right way. :o)

  10. I should say, however, that the level of commentary in our ward is not particularly scholarly or intellectually challenging. A large percentage of our members are fairly new converts. Most of our members have not been to college. As a result, we focus on the basics, which is fine by me. I spent 18 years growing up in a Utah ward that can only be defined as rabidly Republican. I’ll take this any day (and get my fill of intellectualism here and at that other blog during the week).

    [sorry if this double posts–doesn’t look like it went through the first time.]

  11. I sometimes self-censor and sometimes don’t. I have defended evolution in EQ. I have defended vegetarianism in Gospel Doctrine. I have regularly expressed my opinions on matters of administration when I disagree with them (which is a few in this stake). At the same time, I wear a white shirt on Sundays (although I wish I had a four or five button coat to go with it).

    Some of my sharper opinions are rounded more at church then they are at home. As such, I get in more gospel “disagreements” with my wife than I do at church. :-)

  12. I think most people want to fit in, regardless of politics or church perspective. I don’t wear white shirts and decline to go on missionary splits (which get handed out in Elders Quorum as a matter of routine these days) and I blog. Pretty mild stuff.

    There’s probably a difference between new arrivals and people who have been in a ward for several years. Long-timers are known quantities and can get away with more nonconformity.

  13. I think the needlepoint idea is absolutely brilliant. Reminds me somewhat of this, which I heard about in the news recently (and sorry for the cusswords):

  14. I try not to get too political during official three-hour Church on Sundays. If I do, I end up offending someone and I come home upset. I feel that Church should be a neutral ground where we feel like we can be united with each other. The problem is, others start to politicize the gospel doctrine lessons, etc., and I feel like I have to defend the other side. I have an impossible time trying to let a comment like, “I heard this report on Dan Rather, well he said it in a Democrat way, but…” (Democrat used as a demeaning adjective) slide.

    But, Enrichment night and other activity nights are open season.

  15. I’ll tell you this much. I have, on plenty of occasions, refused to say amen to a prayer or a testimony. I understand that “amen” means I am in agreement with what has been said. If I disagree with what was said, I do not say amen. This is particularly true for life stories on testimony Sunday.

    I also find that if my wife says something in GD that I beleive, she usually gets away with it. So the trick is to get her to beleive it. :-)

  16. Aaron Brown says:

    I’m really not kidding here. I lead or participated in enough discussion groups at BYU to observe the dynamic. It also can work at Church.

    Having said all this, I’m now in a ward where I’m almost never inclined to make waves. I don’t know how much of that is due to the nature of my ward, and how much is due to the changing nature of myself…

    Aaron B

  17. Kristine says:

    Karen, I love it! I also think it helps A LOT to be pretty; makes the big smile part work better. I sometimes wonder how much more mainstream I would seem if I were just a little cuter. Come to think of it, if I were cute, I’d probably BE more mainstream–less time alone in high school and college for reading!

  18. Kristine says:

    Karen, I should probably clarify that the needlepoint *fantasy* is just that–I’m utterly inept at all forms of crafts (although my 7-year-old is teaching me how to knit, and I’ve made a baby blanket of which I’m rather proud).

    If you happen to be interested in three cute blond kids, we could negotiate… If you call me at 4:45 just about any day of the week, I’d probably pay you to take them : )

  19. Karen, is there a guy equivalent to that formula? Or is this a manifestation of the “informal power” being touted on the other board?

    I hate to admit it, but I have to really tone down my public persona at church or it freaks people out. The other week I was reading Brodie in the halls and a couple of people came to me and said, “you know she’s not a member, right? Pretty radical stuff there!” and I just nodded and said it was a gift.

    I find I have to dumb myself down a lot (apparently with lasting effect), and play nice. In church lessons, for example, I want to make sure not to offend anybody if I can, and try to tow the party line as much as possible, if only for the new members and converts — and this is in Manhattan. Visiting family in more established areas of the church is just agonizing. I mean, do I say ‘amen’ to prayers thanking the Lord for Pres. Bush? Sheesh!

  20. Kim, you make me think of Macbeth, act 2 sc 2:
    “But wherefore could not I pronounce ‘Amen’?

    I had most need of blessing, and ‘Amen’

    Stuck in my throat.”

    My response to you would be that of Lady Macbeth: “Consider it not so deeply.” In other words, saying “amen” doesn’t mean as much as it used to. Crying aloud “amen” might, but we don’t do that in our Church. With some talks, I take “Amen” to mean, “Good Riddance!”

    p.s. to you other Elizabethan scholars out there, I know that wasn’t really Lady Macbeth’s reply to those lines. But close enough! Sheesh!

  21. Kristine,

    I emailed your post to a couple of good friends, because I enjoyed it so very much, and thought they would too. One misunderstood, and thought I had written it, and wondered when I took up needle point, why I was in Utah last summer, and then was very shocked to hear me say I had three blond children–and briefly wondered if I had been leading a double life. (Mind you this friend was from my SINGLES WARD!)

    Her final comment: LetÂ’s just say youÂ’d better feel passionate about what youÂ’re stitching if itÂ’s going to take a year to make it.

    Words to live by….

  22. Kristine, I don’t babysit kids anymore, because when I do I no longer have the desire to get married, and I think that is perhaps one dream I should hold onto–you know, for the sake of the eternities and my unborn children and all… :o)

  23. Kristine, more of your “informal power”?? No wonder we men resort to sexual discrimination.

    Mary, I totally agree with your comments that the emphasis is on unity during the 3-hour Church time. Sometimes though it’s impossible to avoid temptation and blast out controversy (particularly in boring lessons).

    Aaron’s tips are, as always, spot on — but they sound like Al Queda’s guide to making comments (“how to make your comments, undetected among the infidels!”). I just hate the idea of having to pick my battle, sit strategically in the room, etc. It’s too much effort! What’s a lazy and obvious liberal to do?

  24. lazy liberals blog.

  25. Lynne,

    I’m sorry about your ward situation. It’s hard enough moving into a new one without all the unwanted political drama. One possibility is total, abrupt, perhaps absurd non-sequiters. Just to throw a wrench into the momentum…

    them: God told George Bush to bomb Iraq.

    you: That’s really interesting, and you know what else, you know what I’ve never understood? if the war in heaven was like a family council, then why did God kick Satan out? OR Was there only one copy of the brass plates in Jerusalem in 600 B.C…. why didn’t Nephi just take his gold and buy them from someone else–like the brass plate store? (You get the idea…)

    Of course, if you’re new to the ward, then they might think you’re crazy–so you’ll want to take that into account in your cost benefit analysis.

    Seriously though, changing the subject firmly but kindly is often the best solution. Normal people get the message, and clueless ones get drowned out…Plus, your GosDoc or Relief Society teacher will probably kiss you after class. (in a chaste and appropriate way…)

  26. Lynne, my branch is the same way. These past three weeks though, the church house interior was re-painted and they removed the carpet in the cultural hall and replaced it with hardwood floors. The fumes from the paint and varnish on the floor made it so that we’ve only had sacrament meeting for the past three weeks. Now that we’re going back to the three meetings I think we’ll get an earful.

  27. Such a delicious topic. I was excited all night to hear what people had to say. So:

    Kristine: Sadly, I’m NOT pretty, and I think I may be a crazy radical as a result, but I’m a happy crazy radical. ;o) Seriously, I think that as long as you *act* like you’re pretty you get the same result. It’s all about the confidence and the smiling. That’s a lesson I will never underestimate.

    Aaron: We had a conversation about this one Sunday in Cambridge…I had never thought about it before, and now I can’t NOT think about it when I’m at church…you’re the expert and I’ve never forgotten it!

    Mary: I don’t try to be political at church either. I think it’s inappropriate on both sides of the fence. Sometimes I think there may be a broader philosophical battle that needs to be waged, but I choose them carefully, and think before I act. (I hope….inevitably, I will now really tick someone off at church this week…)

  28. This reminds me of the time someone in a church talk was praising the accomplishments and virtues of Barbara Bush, at which point my wife and I leaned to each other with the same quote in mind: “No success can compensate for failure in the home.”

    Also reminds me of the time I had to decide wether or not to say “amen” after a woman bore her testimony–of Lee Greenwood.


    In my ward we’re blessed with a few intellectual agitators in Sunday School–and they’re mostly older men in white shirts, so they can get away with it. I’m kinda like Steve–only occasionally do I dare ride their wake.

  29. Steve Cannon says:

    When I’m teaching in HP and someone says something like “I think if someone doesn’t believe in God they need to work harder on their testimony” (In response to my confession that I don’t). I just smile and say, “I certainly appreciate your opinion. It has a lot of good evidence. It’s just not MY opinion.” And that seems to work. Of course that’s my HP Quorum.

  30. yeah, Karen, I hear you. The good news is it’s different with your own kids. The bad news is that it isn’t *completely* different.

  31. Yeah, the space limits really bite. I can upgrade to 3000-characters per comment by paying Holoscan something like $10/year, but wifey has forbidden all blog-related expenditures.

    Plus I just looked at the Site Meter at we’re at 666! Look out!

  32. Steve Evans says:

    Man, this post gets better the more I read it. Two and a half years later, let me thank you for it again, KHH.

  33. Hey Steve, just looking at one of Aaron’s old comments about the space limit you used to have in the comments thanks to haloscan. I remember frustration in those days with the comment limit too. But, perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing after all? Something to force people to be succinct or fail to make their point?

  34. Steve Evans says:

    lol, yeah John. I miss the days when people had to be to the point. Safe to say those days are looooooonnnnnnnnnng gone.

  35. I ended up reading this post two or three times this morning. I held back from commenting because it was an old post and I didn’t want to break any rules … but I can only agree that it’s a great post.

    BTW, was this post written by the Kristine who lives in NYC? If so, I bumped into her, hubbie and baby a few weeks ago at a BBQ. Cool family.

  36. Steve Evans says:

    Dan, nope. I don’t know a Kristine that lives in NYC. This is the one-and-only-Swampscott Kristing.

  37. I think Dan meant Christina Taber-Kewene.

  38. Yep.

  39. I am curious about how often y’all hear pro-republican comments at church. I live in a deeply deeply red area of a red state is a ward dominated by SAHM families with a 80-90% activity rate. Everybody votes republican except for our ward clerk who is a native not a transplant. I never hear political comments in GD, or EQ. I often feel the issue is over played in the bloggernacle. Am I wrong?

  40. rleonard, yup, you’re wrong.

  41. I think the demographics of my ward are pretty mixed, but no one talks politics there either, probably because there is an awareness that people don’t necessarily share each other’s political views and because most people are walking on eggshells trying not to offend anybody.

  42. (by demographics, I mean allegiance to political parties)