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?

I sat in the foyer, contemplating how I felt and how I wanted to deal with this for my own children. In the four Gospels, we have women witnessing Christ in a multitude of ways and times, including during the devastation of his crucifixion, and on the glorious morning of his resurrection: And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre. (Matthew 27:60-61)

But where are we in the iconic stories of the Restoration? And what does that mean for the little girls sitting and Primary and seeing no faces representing their own? Everywhere our sons turn, they see what it looks like to be represented. They see examples of what leadership looks like in our faith tradition, of what they can aspire to, not only as they grow up here in their own families and faith, but in the eternities. Sitting in Primary, where can a little girl look to see what she may aspire to? Where are the pictures on the wall telling stories of her foremothers, and giving her ideals to which she may fit her own story? Where are the tales allowing her to be an actor in her own life, rather than a passive consumer of others’ stories? The stories we tell matter, and seeing faces that look like ours help us place ourselves above the fray and realize our potential.

I did not send my daughter to Primary for those lessons. My sons are already out of Primary.

But this doesn’t solve my newly opened Pandora’s box. As I sat in the foyer contemplating the absence of the feminine—both in story and in vision—the realization rolled slowly over me that it was a problem far beyond the sweetly-intentioned play planned in my little ward Primary.

The feminine face of creation isn’t anywhere.

In Mormonism, we teach that gender is eternal. We teach the same sociality here on earth will take place in the eternities, and that man and woman, husband and wife, are necessarily sealed together into families in the grand order of things. This is the foundation of the belief that gender is eternal; it takes a man and a woman to create life. I’m willing to gloss over the notion of viviparous spirit birth and all the complicated mess associated with that possible theology. But the fact remains we teach gender is eternal, and both genders are necessary for exaltation.

So… where am I in the highest, most sacred creation myth of my faith? Where is the feminine divine in the organization of the heavens and the earth? I find myself stunned, like the girl-child in Primary, watching a reenactment in which there is no representation of me or anyone like me, no place I can imagine myself as an actor in my own progress, no face I can see that shows me to what I can aspire, and no example of what eternal life means for a woman.

The only place I can find a representation of my role is in the fallen world.

Have the good men I associate with, love, sustain and am raising even noticed this absence? This glaring vacancy? It’s hard to see through the crowd of examples these men can to look to, and it’s possible they haven’t even noticed that their sisters are staring into a vacuum.

But how can you tell them what you don’t see when you have no voice?

I am back in the foyer, my breath catching in my throat, my heart pounding in my chest. There is a tiny wave of panic in this realization, and I fall back on my faith security blanket: God is not a jerk. It may seem trite, but it works well in challenging situations.

The Restoration started with the prophet Joseph Smith, but it is not over. The Restoration is an ongoing act. It’s been almost 200 years since Joseph entered the Sacred Grove and asked God for further light and knowledge, but that’s merely a blink in eternal time. We have been promised the windows of heaven are open, but the Lord has also told us he does not interfere in our agency. He will absolutely allow us to blunder and to stumble and, ultimately, to learn. There will be further light and knowledge about the other half of God’s children when, like the impetuous boy Joseph, we ask.

It’s just very hard to ask for what one cannot see.

Comments

  1. And this overreaction is part of the problem.
    There are MANY stories of women that are key parts of the restoration.
    The fact that your ward didn’t portray any of them is your ward’s issue, not a gospel issue.

    “Not a single active role in the reenactments could be given to a girl child.”

    Where is Mary Rollins saving the sacred documents?
    Where is Lucy Mack Smith leading a group of saints (to Kirtland I think?)
    Where is Emma being commissioned to create the first hymnbook?
    Where is the penny fund or the glass collecting that helped build the Kirtland Temple?
    Where is the formation of the Relief Society?
    And love or hate polygamy, that wouldn’t have been possible without the faith of so many sisters. (But we don’t want our daughters to know about that right?)
    Where is Mary Fielding Smith healing her oxen?
    Where is Eliza R. Snow?
    And so many more…

    Such complaining about a problem instead of working to do better elicits little sympathy.

  2. James, your dismissiveness of my experience is part of the problem.

    Those examples are all later events in the formation of the church. And those examples do nothing to address the invisibility in our theology, which is the really big question.

  3. Silly women with their overreactions! Thank goodness you are here, James, to explain to Tracy and the others why they are wrong. Take a break, jocko.

  4. Are there no girls involved at all Tracy? Not even as narrators?

  5. I have felt what you are talking about so keenly as my daughter has entered Young Women’s over the past few years. Though we have had many good, kind, and enlightened male leaders who have done their best to include the young women in the great narrative of the Restoration, it is always male leaders doing the including and young women experiencing the pain of being an afterthought. And I think you hit on the reason: the entire fabric of the Restoration mythos is male. It’s about what boys and men did to translate the Book of Mormon (which contains only three named women, one of them a prostitute), to restore the priesthood (which is an entirely gendered sort of authority), and to Restore a church organization (in which men are in charge of just about everything).

    I think you also hit on the great promise of the story: the Restoration is never finished, This is the point of “continuing revelation.” The canon is never closed, and the story is never complete. We can keep changing the story until we get it right.

  6. I’d like to see a play that turned the tables and told the early Restoration story as if Lucy and her daughters were the primary players: Say, Lucy’s concern that Joseph wasn’t attaching himself to any church, the girls’ watchfulness of their brother as he asked his questions and read his scriptures, and then the family’s reception of Joseph’s accounts. We would see the women and girls learning to accept his accounts *just the way we have to* as people who didn’t witness those events ourselves. It would take a gifted playwright and some creative reading of the records to do it, and would need to portray the women’s actions as contributions to the Restoration and not merely to their individual salvation. We need to see women’s activities and concerns and struggles accepted as contributions to the Kingdom and not as impediments.

    You’re right, Tracy. We do have to see the Restoration as an ongoing enterprise. It wasn’t over in 1820, or 1830, or 1844, or 1847. It isn’t over yet.

  7. Susan, I don’t know. I didn’t send Abby. I imagine the could have asked girls to take part, but the fact is, all the active roles were for men/boys.

    Michael, yes. The men aren’t just in charge of most things- they are in charge of everything. The only time a woman is in charge is when a man is overseeing her work. But my big-picture question is, if gender is eternal, where is the feminine in the divine creation? Why are just men doing the creating? Lets consider what that means, if it’s right. (I do not believe it’s right, ftr.)

    Ardis, that’s a lovely idea. It would move the women in the story into roles as actors in the narrative, and would be so healing. I do take solace in my faith that we are unfinished, and that keeps me going most of the time.

  8. I don’t meant to pile on, so I won’t repeat the point that Tracy and Steve already made so well in response to James’ post. It’s a shame that James’ dismissive attitude overshadowed what could have been a positive contribution of pointing out that the history itself gives us enough raw materials to include women’s stories if we have the will to do so, because the stories that James brings up could create all kinds of openings.

    And in addition to Ardis’ very cool idea, I would also suggest a story of the restoration as a frame tale told through the eyes of Jane Manning as she made her way to Nauvoo with her family.

  9. What you’ve described here is exactly how I felt going through the temple for the first time. Where do I fit into all of this? Do I simply disappear? Is this how God feels about me? Carol Lynn Pearson’s recent book about polygamy talks about the idea of eventually “crossing the plains of Patriarchy into the land of Partnership.” I hope so much that our stumbles eventually lead us closer to that. Thanks for being willing to share your thoughts about that ache and emptiness that many of us experience sometimes as Mormon women.

  10. Tracy, I don’t know that we know that “just men are doing the creating.” When I look at a flower I see a woman’s fingerprints. The plurality of the “Gods” in the creative councils makes room for the possibility of women being involved. And if it’s true that “the same sociality here on earth will take place in the eternities, and that man and woman, husband and wife, are necessarily sealed together into families in the grand order of things. This is the foundation of the belief that gender is eternal; it takes a man and a woman to create life” I certainly see the creative hand of my wife in our home and family life, and so I would certainly hope that sociality continues in the eternities.

  11. I simply cannot relate to this post on any level. I feel no sense of panic because I do not see “faces like my own” in any story, religious or otherwise.

    To say that a girl cannot relate to or appreciate the stories of our church history or our scriptures or anything else because she doesn’t see faces like hers in them is a slippery slope. Can black boys not relate to the restoration because Joseph Smith was white? Can Canadian girls and boys not relate to the restoration because Joseph Smith was American? Are Chinese girls at even more of a disadvantage because they are NEITHER male NOR American?

    To say that we must be like, look like, identify with the figures in these histories based on ONE feature, physical or otherwise, is to make these stories and people and ourselves so much smaller! What makes the restoration story special is not the number of X chromosomes present on stage. What makes the resurrection story special is not that there are Y chromosomes on stage. That doesn’t mean that we can’t feel something special about the gender of the people involved. Hooray for women in the scriptures, however many or few! But to limit ourselves as women to having special feelings about or relating to only the readings that feature women is to miss the point entirely.

    Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. But it is only ONE characteristic of our eternal identity and purpose. Faith, hope, charity, courage, compassion, strength, endurance, obedience, humility (and too many others to name) are also essential characteristics of our eternal identity and purpose. Both men and women can and must have all of those characteristics as disciples of Christ. We can exercise and cultivate those characteristics regardless of our gender. We can learn lessons about these characteristics from stories of people of all genders, of all ages, of all nationalities, of all circumstances in every moment in history. There is a bigger picture, and it is so much more beautiful and has so much more depth and life when viewed as a whole instead of focusing in on just the gender-specific parts.

  12. And James, as much as I want the story of Mary Fielding Smith and her ox to be true, it’s been debunked.

  13. Bro B, I firmly believe that IF gender is eternal, there is NO other way than for women to be a part of it. *However* as our current creation narrative is presented, there are no women who are part of it. This is what I am trying to point out.

    Emily, that’s fine and good that you have no problem with the way things are, and that you cannot relate. I’m happy for your comfort. Not everyone shares it. And yes, I was thinking of others who do not see their faces represented- blacks, asians, non-American whites, etc… I *do* think it matters that stories encompass a broad spectrum of humanity, and I do think representation matter to human inclusivity. I do.

    For the purpose of this post, I kept my examples to my own world, and my own experience. That’s the nature of narrative, and I was giving my readers the benefit of expecting them to extrapolate my meaning.

    Again, there are many, many stories later in church history of women’s contributions- some true, some not. I was speaking directly to what we call the Restoration historically, and to our own creation myth, enacted daily all over the world, which is absent the eternal feminine.

  14. It’s somewhat ironic that Primary was founded by a woman as a way to “feminize” the boys and ended up leaving the girls out.
    http://timesandseasons.org/harchive/2007/12/primary-was-intended-for-boys/

  15. This is amazing!
    This is the reason why I am constantly praying to Heavenly Mother and Father asking if womens spiritual lives and experiences matter. (Which I think they do but it certainly seems they aren’t valued in the LDS church.)
    The hope of continuing revelation is what keeps me going.
    This is why I am trying to live in a way that shows that we as a people are ready and willing to receive revelation and are asking these hard questions.
    This is why I am hoping to be an example of the change I wish to see in the church.
    This is the reason I keep asking and wrestling with these problems even when I’m told, by both men and women, “not to think about it too much” or that “it’s not that important”.
    Because what my role as a woman in the eternities will be, matters.
    Because the value of my spiritual life and experiences as a woman matters.
    Because my foremothers spiritual lives and experiences matter.
    Because my sisters in Zion who are currently struggling to get through this thing called life, their spiritual lives and experiences matter.
    Because I want to make sure that my daughters who have not been born yet, that they will know that their spiritual experiences and lives will matter.
    And like Lena Dunham said in her video about sexual assault “not because she is someone’s sister, mother, daughter, friend, girlfriend, wife, etc, but because she is someone.”

  16. James, your response would be laughable if it weren’t so painful to read. Please think twice before dismissing women centered posts such as this one. You can have no understanding of just how much this post resonates with some of us.

    Ardis, I like your idea of enacting the restoration as viewed through the eyes of Joseph’s female family members. But if there are no journal accounts of what these women actually felt/said I’m afraid it’s just a bunch of guessing. Sadly we have to resort to this at times. It’s like the BOM Girls Who Choose God. I love reading it to my girls but it also saddens me how much the authors had to project to create a substantial story involving women.

  17. The feminine face of creation isn’t anywhere.

    The first sentence of Taylor Petrey’s article “Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother” highlights the basic problem:

    When feminists interrogate the symbolic realm of religion, they often expose much of the theological discourse as an idealized projection of a masculine subjectivity.

    Mormonism has made room in theory for feminine subjectivity, but Mormon praxis in this regard is still a desert that’s yet to rejoice and blossom like a rose.

  18. Grant Hardy says:

    This may be a bit peripheral to to topic at hand, but it’s disappointing that the chapter heading for Alma 19 never mentions Abish, even though this is the only chapter in which she appears. It’s not like the Book of Mormon has a superabundance of female characters, but to the author of the 1981 headings, she was invisible.

  19. Emily – I want to agree with you. I really, really want to. But I can’t. I read your final line (“There is a bigger picture, and it is so much more beautiful and has so much more depth and life when viewed as a whole instead of focusing in on just the gender-specific parts.” Yes!) and then I look at how the focus of the church teachings lately is hyper focused on gender-specific roles. I want to belong to a church that helps us to learn together to develop characteristics of Christ. My girls are told their path is through being a wife and motherhood (like literally, that’s been the topic in YW for the last month). Boys are told it is through priesthood duty (leadership? – also literally, as this was the topic of July).

    Maybe this is all a people problem, but if it is it’s coming from the manuals, themes, leadership the Church.

    “Can black boys not relate to the restoration because Joseph Smith was white? Can Canadian girls and boys not relate to the restoration because Joseph Smith was American? Are Chinese girls at even more of a disadvantage because they are NEITHER male NOR American?”

    The above to me feels like a really important question. Back in my missionary days (overseas) we downplayed the American aspect of the Restoration in a way that always felt disingenuous to me. We had to do so though because the natives generally didn’t relate to it. Or for that matter the cultural stories about church history. It would be interesting to see how natives of other cultures / backgrounds responded to this.

    As someone raising four daughters, I resoundingly agree with everything in this post. James is right that there are some wonderful stories of women in church history. None of them are included in manuals, themes, stories that are used to teach kids’ lessons though. Therefore they don’t exist for our girls and young women. Which in an of itself says something about how LDS culture view women’s voices.

    I also agree that it comes back to the narrative of Eve in the temple – the defining example of what it means to be a woman in the gospel. I stopped attending the temple years ago because I can’t handle it. God *is not* a jerk.

  20. Peter, I am halfway through reading Petrey’s article right now- I hadn’t started before I wrote this today, and kind of which I had. It’s tremendous.

  21. Jennifer in GA says:

    Kelsimarie’s thoughts echo my own, as well as what Tracy so thoughtfully points out in her piece.

  22. Bro B. “When I look at a flower I see a woman’s fingerprints. The plurality of the “Gods” in the creative councils makes room for the possibility of women being involved.”

    That’s sweet. But until we have a temple video and language that actually includes a woman in the creation process, or general conference talks that attribute any sort of real power and influence by our Heavenly Mother, it’s all only a “possibility” isn’t it? That’s just not enough for some of us. Because then there’s also the possibility of other scenarios, like a spirit childbearing Heavenly Mother who has no other real power, is absent from the lives of her earthly children, and views her husband as her God. I despise that scenario but I have no real assurance, especially given what we hear in the temple, that it is not reality. Which is why, like Tracy, I have the fallback of “God is not a jerk.”

    Reassurances from male members that the possibility exists of Her being Great aren’t really helpful. There is no substance behind your reassurances. I appreciate and share your expression of hope. But I’d also appreciate some empathetic frustration from my fellow male members that we don’t know more about Her. Maybe then we’d get somewhere.

  23. This is what I meant by “how do you even ask for what you cannot see?” The way things currently are, *men* are the only ones in position of authority to petition the Lord for further light and revelation, and as good and wonderful as those men may be, it is not apparent they can *see* the vacuum.

    The average LDS man has a hard time hearing women, even when they are crying out, about their invisibility. NB: This thread and countless others on BCC.

  24. Kristiina Sorensen says:

    Emily, I appreciate your message that the gospel applies to all of humanity, but I think the post makes a very important point. Many people are so accustomed to a narrative where white men are at the center of all action that that it feels like those stories must be universal. But just because we are accustomed to whiteness and maleness doesn’t mean that we are color-blind or gender-blind.

    Imagine if instead of Joseph Smith, we had as our founding figure a young Chinese girl who had gone out into a rice paddy to pray. Would North American men be just as willing to join the church? If an elderly Kenyan woman and her two Kenyan counselors had been called to lead the church today, would it be just as easy for boys in Bountiful, Utah, to see their future in the church? If 48 weeks of the year, the only people mentioned in Primary were Indian women, wouldn’t your kids look around eventually and say, “But what about us?”

    We all look to the people we see and the stories we hear as we work out our place in the world, and if the stories we hear in church are all about white men, it leaves a lot of people out.

  25. But doesn’t the fact that there are more members of the church outside the United States than inside answer that very question?

    I want to believe your concerns about the level of faith of North American men, boys in Bountiful, UT, and “[my] kids” come from a good place. It’s great to want everyone to feel represented and included. But it does a discredit to the believers to suggest that they would believe less if they were less “alike”.

    Having spent a great deal of my life living and working with people of other races, cultures, languages and religions, I can tell you that I understand deeply the need to belong to and identify with a community. All I am saying is that if we are so focused on the things that make us different (Joseph Smith was white, but I’m not; Joseph Smith was a male, but I’m not; …), we are missing out on all the things that make us the same. More importantly, we are missing out on the things that actually matter. Being white or American or male is NOT what qualifies you for heaven. If anyone feels disenfranchised because Joseph Smith was white, American, male… They’re missing the point.

  26. Emily, do you have an answer to my greater theological question?

  27. Maybee, it’s is no moral guess work to retell a familiar story from the viewpoint of another character than it is to tell the story from the usual overworked sources. I’ve heard historians say that we can’t write a biography of X because X didn’t leave a diary — and that’s bunk. A good historian, a good storyteller, can write authentic history not from guesswork, but from clues that are Hidden in Plain Sight. The trick is getting people to notice the women who are there all along.

  28. You know what would be cool? An Abish 5k. I don’t know exactly how yet but I’m going to run this past someone someday and make it happen. Thanks Tracy.

  29. The trick is getting people to notice the women who are there all along.

    Yes. Which is why, if gender is eternal, it’s *necessary and vital* that to God the Father, there was a God the Mother during creation. So what is happening that we have a story of only men organizing and creating the universe then…? It’s the lens through which the story was told.

  30. James, in 2014-2015 the seminary program introduced a brand new manual for the D&C course of study. (It was the third of four new manuals, the last of which – New Testament- is getting used for the first time this year.) You can find the entire text on line, and if you look up, you’ll find that the examples you cite are pretty much missing from the curriculum. It was nine months of priesthood organization, which is important but which got really repetitive; more to the point, there was very little in there with which the young women in my class could identify. I don’t dispute your point that women were there and that they played various important roles but they’ve been largely left out of the narrative which we have been given to share. And that’s just a small example of what Tracy is talking about.

  31. Also, as interesting as those stories are, they come later. They are historical stories, and they are not vital to the Restoration as we understand it. ALL the Restoration roles have been played by men. To quote a dear friend:

    I can’t think of a single womanly event that was critical to the Restoration. Women believed, and so the Church grew; women had children, and so the Church grew; women baked the bread and washed the clothes so that men could serve; woman worked and donated so that men could build things — but is there really any single act performed by any single woman without which the Church would have failed?

    This is the stage on which women many experience the gospel. This is a very real pain- a pain I cannot believe comes from God, but rather as a side effect of living in the fallen world. I am asking, pleading, crying out for, further light and knowledge. I need someone to hear me!

  32. Clark Goble says:

    Kristiina, a contemporary of Joseph Smith who founded a similar visionary church was Ann Lee. Her followers thought she was the incarnation of Jesus Christ as his second coming. She attracted a fairly large following for a time. (D&C 49 actually addresses the movement somewhat) The main reason the movement isn’t around is due to the celibacy they held as the highest good.

    I suppose one could ask whether it would grow the way other movements grew after they got past a critical mass. But there definitely were female led movements in the 19th century.

    While I want more women figures, I simultaneously don’t mind the most of the Bible comes from a culture completely alien to me. I certainly don’t see myself in them in a strong sense. Yet I can simultaneously admire their characteristics and seek to emulate them. Honestly my biggest hero of the restoration is Zina Huntington and I don’t find any problem identifying with her. Of course some people do need someone who looks very close to what they look like. But I’m not sure that’s the dominate state. (I honestly don’t know the numbers – but even if it is a minority that of course doesn’t change what their feelings are)

    The solution is of course to highlight better heroes of the restoration like Emma Smith, Zina Huntington, or Eliza R. Snow. However as we saw with the Brigham Young priesthood manual people get quite upset if one just presents useful vignettes of their life without also delving into the other aspects. Since all were tied to controversial things, I suspect that’s why their treatment has been mixed. Indeed a common criticism I remember from the period when the Church tried to elevate Emma Smith as a model more were criticisms because it downplayed the other aspects of the history. Whether that’s why we don’t see Emma Smith style hagiography as much anymore isn’t clear.

    It’s a thorny problem. It’s hard to deal with Emma without dealing with her opposition to many things in Nauvoo and her refusal to come west. Likewise it’s hard to deal with Eliza without dealing with her stormy relationship with Emma over polygamy. And Zina, despite being the greatest figure in my view, is great precisely because of what she went through with her husband, polandry and then marrying Brigham Young rather than her original husband after the death of Joseph.

    Tracey, I don’t think it’s true that only men can petition the Lord for further light. We all can and should do that. It’s just that we can’t receive revelations on behalf of the church.

  33. Clark, only men are apostles and only men are prophets in this dispensation. Are there suddenly women I don’t know about who can receive revelation for and make changes churchwide?

  34. I just read the BYU news report with the update about the Rape cases / Honor Code mess. It was so clear reading it that the entire situation is related to Tracy M’s big question.

    Clearly the BYU leaders care. They don’t want girls hurt in any way. It’s wonderful that they seem to be taking the situation so seriously and engaging with professionals on many levels.

    But as I woman I was very aware of the problems in church culture that would lead to a ‘duck and cover’ response to rape. I’ve been aware of them since I was a teen. Which leads me to wonder why church leaders didn’t know of these issues. My best guess is that as men they never considered any of it. It wasn’t on their radar, or if it was on their radar it was dismissed until it became such a media storm they were forced to take off the blinders and become aware.

    What other situations do we have in the church that are dismissed or not-noticed because they don’t fall into the life paradigm of a while, middle-class male?

    I’d guess lots.

  35. I wasn’t going to say anything (when the OP just makes you hurt in an empathetic way but you’re a white male who’s not credited with empathy what is there to say??) but Emily’s comment brings to mind my initial reaction which (really) was ‘why aren’t they assigning roles randomly?” Black and white, male and female, bond and free? Isn’t it an accident of history and cultural setting and story telling that the players in the traditional restoration narrative are predominately white men/boys? That’s not the important part of the story anyway and it’s a mistake to perpetuate it. (But I know it happens and I don’t deny the hurt.)

  36. Heard a great sacrament meeting talk about Abish on Sunday by the primary president (if I recall correctly, she quoted Grant Hardy on Abish during the talk), on her example as a member of the church being a missionary tool. Then the concluding speaker, the WML, got up and said we’d heard a good talk about Ammon (who was mentioned only once right at the beginning). Seems like it’s a long haul to get women recognised. The men just aren’t hearing, any more than they’re seeing!

  37. Ardis, good point. I suppose I’m just wishing for more meat about these women. And I think I’m also a bit fearful that an extrapolated account of what they felt or did wouldn’t be seen as valuable by some of the membership. That being said, I would be more than stoked if a Primary Presidency had kids act out the story of the Restoration through the eyes of the women. At minimum they would be there, in that Primary room, and the kids would be learning their names.

    In Sharing Time once we played a quiz game. There’s this genius kid in there, like 10, who knows more than most adults about the scriptures. He was on fire, getting all answers correct. He even correctly pronounced “Rameumpton!” But when asked the name of Joseph Smith’s wife? He had no idea. That was really rough for me, her complete absence from this kid’s vast knowledge bank. I almost cried!

    It wasn’t a trick question, either. I purposefully used the word wife, not wives ;)

  38. Clark Goble says:

    Tracy M, I’m noting the distinction between praying for something to happen to the church, praying for information (which can come personally) and then something becoming a revealed public doctrine.

  39. I am aware of that distinction, Clark. It does nothing to solve my questions.

  40. Clark, recently representatives for Ordain Women stood outside the church office building with hundreds of letters by fellow members petitioning the leadership for the ability to stand as witnesses in baptisms, among other things. They were told the letters would not be received and they’d have to mail them. The women stayed there, on the sidewalk, two days. Such a simple, respectful thing, to open the door and accept the letters. I’m not a member of Ordain Women and I didn’t even write one of those letters, though I wasn’t opposed to what they were petitioning. I’ll keep praying for us to receive further light and knowledge, but acts such as this by male leadership are what make me feel completely powerless as a woman in this Church.

  41. keepapitchinin says:

    Oh, Maybee! That’s dreadful! And I’m afraid I agree that through-a-woman’s-eyes still wouldn’t be valued by most … I only hope that it might be a game-changer for that one little girl in the second row, who really had no idea that women were ever there at all. Kind of like how I felt last year when (was it Julie Smith? probably, although it could have been Ben S.) discussed the probability oh women being present for the meal where the Sacrament was introduced. That possibility meant the world to me.

  42. I had never thought of that before, but that possibility is tremendously important to me.

  43. I appreciate Christian Kimball’s excellent comment. What objections could there be to casting a reenactment like the one in Tracy’s Primary without regard to gender or race? Is it that such casting would be historically inaccurate? The truth is that we treat these stories more as myth than as history, even for those who are descendants of early pioneers. And what would a ward do in Peru or Fiji or Ghana, where there are no white children to play the roles? The point of this type of activity is to give the children a sense of personal connection to the story. Include them all and give them all the chance for that connection. It shouldn’t be a tremendously confusing thing to cast a little girl as Joseph Smith; children can handle that sort of thing. It just requires a slight adjustment in the settled mindset of some of our adults.

  44. But church policy says no cross-dressing. :)

  45. Kevin Barney says:

    I love your idea, Ardis. And the fact that we have Lucy’s book would help to ground such a portrayal.

  46. You jest, JKC, but I guarantee you there are people who would use that as a reason to refuse to do it gender/race neutral.

  47. You’re so right, Tracy.

  48. Richard Bushman shared an insight that I didn’t know about and hadn’t considered before I read it from him: when Joseph Smith actually obtained the gold plates from the Hill Cumorah, it was only after he was married to Emma; and Emma was there a the hill with him the day he obtained the plates. He didn’t obtain the plates alone — Emma was there too. That’s a detail I’ll include now when I teach about Joseph Smith and the gold plates (and its the kinds of detail that should have been included in the Primary vignette mentioned in the OP; though, as mentioned, I only first heard about it well into my adult life, and not in an “official” Church publication).

  49. Clark Goble says:

    Maybee, given the political nature of the “handing of the letters” I think most would see it as more complex than you suggest. Saying that because they don’t legitimate a political stunt makes women feel powerless seems problematic, I confess. But these things are complex and I fully understand people prefer to think of Monson having the power rather than God in all this. Thus directly petitioning the person who actually will make any changes seems pointless.

  50. Clark Goble says:

    Sorry, that came off harsher than I intended. Let me just say I think those who want change should be petitioning God about the issue and also praying to find out what deity wants. I fully admit that political agitation towards the leaders of the church bothers me (and I suspect most members) a great deal. So I don’t have a lot of sympathy for what I see as political stunts aimed more at the media than anything else.

  51. Chiaroscuro says:

    I totally feel you on this Tracy. If gender is so essential and eternal, I’d think there would be a place for women beyond bearing and rearing children in the here and now of mortal life, but we don’t even have a peak at what that looks like. The ‘motherless house’ is a sad place to be.

  52. “God is not a jerk.” Amen.

  53. What venue do women have to make their voices heard? We are told not to even write letters to apostles, they will be sent back to our stake presidents. How can our leaders know our hearts if they won’t listen to us, won’t even read our letters? Further, what kind of leadership even is that? Revelation comes to this church from the top down, no other way. It comes from God, THROUGH the president of the church. How can he have any idea what to ask of the Lord if his ears are stopped and he won’t even hear their cries? They are ASKING to be listened to. That is not the same as telling him what to do, and they are using the proper Mormon channels- they are asking the prophet to ask God. What could be more Mormon??

  54. Tracy M, I’m not sure I can even identify your greater theological question. Is it that you don’t see Heavenly Mother’s role in the creation story? Is it that you don’t understand how there can be so much unreported on the female side of things when clearly gender is so important to Heavenly Father? Is it that you don’t feel entitled to further light and knowledge because you’re a female? I can read your anguish, but I can’t quite locate its source in your article.

    I’m sure I can’t tell you what Heavenly Mother’s role in the creation was or why we don’t have a record of it. But it’s my opinion that whatever Her role, She wasn’t worried about getting equal representation in the scriptures we have today. It’s my opinion that She’ll get credit for Her accomplishments and contributions in due time, and that whenever we learn about Her role in things, we’ll be satisfied.

    I’m sure I can’t give you an answer about why women’s stories don’t get equal coverage in the scriptures. I could say something about the culture of the times they were written in, or I could speculate about records that may have been edited or lost, but even I acknowledge those are pretty shallow answers. All I can say is that while I would rejoice in more stories about women, more examples of girls, more female role models, the best I can do is cherish the ones that I have, learn equally about how to develop as a disciple of Christ from the stories of men, and try to live up to the doctrines of the Gospel however they’re presented.

    And I can trust, like you in your faith blanket, that God is not a jerk. God influences us but does not control us. Mormon himself wrote about the Book of Mormon “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God […].” The scriptures are true, but they are not perfect. That is why we are exhorted to pray about them after we read them. The Holy Ghost will tell us all things that are true.

    And that brings me to not feeling like you are entitled to further light and have no voice. One of the greatest takeaways from the story of the restoration, it is that we ALL have a voice and God WILL respond to those who seek Him. The scriptures promise that over and over again. Particularly relevant to this thread is this excerpt from 2 Ne: “he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … and all are alike unto God.” If you don’t ask because you think He won’t answer, how is that any different from Laman and Lemuel (1 Ne 15:8-9)? You DO have a voice. Use it. God WILL answer.

    I don’t know that I’ve addressed your greater theological question at all, if I have, certainly I haven’t answered it. But I keep coming back to the bigger picture: God the Father loves ALL of His children, regardless of their gender, color, social status, etc. and His purpose is to share ALL that He has with ALL of His children.

    “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. […] He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? […] For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
    Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    Words written by a male about God (male) and Jesus Christ (male). But my word! If that’s not enough to fill you up to the very brim with hope and courage and peace? … I can’t imagine anything that would.

  55. Emily, your comments are now longer than my whole post. I am not asking you to solve this for me. I have been pondering a question I find very large and perplexing. I don’t have answers, right now only questions. That doesn’t mean my testimony needs propping up- the fact I am here at all is a testament to my faith. I have NO doubt of God’s love. None whatsoever.

    I’m going to be very clear and simple here:
    In our creation story as is presently presented all over the world, multiple times a day and in multiple formats, there is no divine feminine. If I am eternally feminine, and my role is to progress and grow and learn to be like the Lord, where is my role in that eternity? I trust that it is there, because I trust God. However, as is currently symbolically presented, Creation is the realm entirely of men. If gender is eternal, how is that possible, and where are the women?

  56. We know more about what Heavenly Mother *doesn’t* do than what She does. That seems strange to me. She didn’t participate in the creation, She didn’t have anything to do with the war in heaven (and you better believe She was concerned, since it was Her begotten son volunteering to atone for the sins of the world), She doesn’t communicate with Her children currently on the earth. We don’t know if She is equal partners with God or even how many of Her there are.

    The idea that my husband will someday be creating worlds without my input seems really weird to me. He has a business degree; I am a chemist. Which one of us has a better understanding of the natural world? ;)

  57. Tracy M – I wasn’t trying to solve it for you. Just answering your question. If you didn’t want to know my thoughts, you shouldn’t have asked. ;-)

    What I still fail to understand is how in your post you can talk about waves of panic based on what you’ve boiled down to a very simple set of questions here. I’m just not getting what there is to be so heart-poundingly, breath-catchingly worried about.

  58. Emily wrote, “All I can say is that while I would rejoice in more stories about women, more examples of girls, more female role models, the best I can do is cherish the ones that I have, learn equally about how to develop as a disciple of Christ from the stories of men, and try to live up to the doctrines of the Gospel however they’re presented.”

    The best we can do is much more than this. If we believe that revelation continues, then we must demand more of it. We must do so humbly, but we must do it. Revelation comes to those who seek. Docile submission is a dead end.

  59. This is a great post, Tracy. I hope for a gender-blind, color-blind, nation-blind, religion-blind world in which humans see each other simply as humans. I wish the Church could be a leader in that regard. But I don’t think we’ll ever get there if we keep doubling down on our classifications of each other.

  60. David Day says:

    I don’t have all of the answers. At the risk of mansplaining, let me share a few thoughts. After reading this, if I ever end up being asked to “write” a primary program, I might try Ardis’s idea (but probably fail, it would take a skilled writer to do that and I’m a clunky amateur). What I would do is round up as many of the stories involving women as I could and be sure to include them in the narrative. I think some of the sisters saw the plates (it was Moroni who showed them to Mother Whitmer, right, and aren’t there some other stories of sisters seeing the plates?) The tibdbit above about Emma getting the plates with Joseph is something I did not know.

    Second thought, I’ve really enjoyed Julie Smith’s chapter on the roles of women as seen through the eyes of Luke (traditional) and Mark (priestesses) in the new Iron Sharpens Iron book. My one word summaries of the those roles are an oversimplification, so don’t read too much into them.

    This article did touch me deeply. One surprising thing I’ve heard Neylan McBaine say is that she tends to hear in larger numbers from people like me (i.e. a man with daughters) than she is to hear from women.

  61. Loursat, amen.

  62. @Joni – My mission president and one of the past counselors of the Salt Lake temple presidency both bore their testimonies to me on separate occasions that our Heavenly Mother was indeed present in the Garden of Eden during the creation of Adam and Eve. I believe that, too. I know it’s not a lot to go off of, but both of their sacred testimonies left a powerful impression on me. I just thought I’d throw that out there as a neat thing!

  63. “I’m just not getting what there is to be so heart-poundingly, breath-catchingly worried about.”

    Can I become a God? All temple rites and even some previous church presidents say no. I am a priestess and a queen, maybe one of many (divine concubines) unto my husband, who rules and reigns over many worlds and me.

    That’s what we are teaching our daughters. That their brothers and male counterparts can be kings and gods creating worlds without end. Women…?

    I know your answer already, just trust in God that it will all work out and we’ll be gloriously happy with how it turns out. But we are taught this in our theology as women.

  64. Thank you, EmJen. That’s exactly what we are teaching. If or until something changes, that’s where we have planted the flag. I do not doubt God’s love, thus I find this to be an area where we have incomplete light and knowledge.

  65. Clark “given the political nature of the “handing of the letters” I think most would see it as more complex than you suggest”

    Political? Complex? Let’s strip it down of the bureaucracy and politics. I’m yearning for a religion that cares less about PR than it does about doing what is right. Two people carrying letters approached the Lord’s anointed and were turned away. Those letters carried the voices, stories, and yearnings of hundreds of members. What’s the harm in opening the door, thanking them with a smile, and delivering them to the intended audience? Because there was most assuredly harm in not doing so. WWJD?

    “I think those who want change should be petitioning God about the issue and also praying to find out what deity wants. I fully admit that political agitation towards the leaders of the church bothers me (and I suspect most members) a great deal. So I don’t have a lot of sympathy for what I see as political stunts aimed more at the media than anything else.”

    In it’s infancy, OW’s primary purpose was to find out what deity wanted regarding women’s ordination. That’s it. Had the leadership agreed to ask the Lord on their behalf, and even if the answer was no, maybe there wouldn’t have been the resulting activism at the Priesthood Session.
    When your local leadership puts off your questions, when the higher leadership won’t even entertain your questions, I can see why they would go to the media. They want to be heard. I can handle a “no.” What I can’t handle is “I don’t care enough about you to even ask”

    Do you feel a power, a potential within yourself? I’ll bet you are able to exercise that power regularly. And when you attend the temple you catch a pretty amazing glimpse of what your potential looks like, and it may even influence how you see yourself now, as a man on earth. Clark, I feel a power, a potential within myself. But I have no idea what that potential is, not really. And this influences how I see myself as a woman on earth, who am I really, anyway? So what do I do? Keep praying? And waiting for a man to come to the realization on his own that clarity on this issue is important and then ask God? Keep swallowing the frustration as the voices of my sisters are ignored? Voiceless and powerless, Clark.

  66. EmJen and Tracy M, I have NEVER heard that in our theology. Show me where that is written in our theology.

  67. Emily, have you been endowed in the temple?

  68. wreddyornot says:

    I believe the people who should sincerely feel as Tracy describes are we men. Why are we that way so much, so androcentric, so patriarchal? Why have we been? Why will we be? Is that a gap between man and God? Why do men always feel like they have to drive the narrative? Why do men have to prescribe what’s the right way to go about things? Why do people like Emily submit to men without wanting others to ask and wonder why?

  69. Tyler, that’s great to hear. (I don’t mean that sarcastically, even if it sounds like I do!)

    I like to think that She wasn’t just there, She was participating.

    But then you have to ask yourself how mortal men, even well-known intentioned ones, have the ability to exclude Her from the narrative.

  70. I think that the big theological question, “where is the divine feminine” is the most important question that Latter-day Saints need to ask right now. It is also a huge anthropological question about the development of religion going back about 3000 years, with both Judaism and Christianity implicated in her disappearance. This may well be the greatest scandal in history.

    The divine feminine was all over the polytheistic ancient world. It was a natural connection: the creative, generative principle has always been associated with the feminine. It is women’s bodies that create life; It was the feminized deity that created all life. It just made sense. The development of a gendered, monotheistic deity required the relentless crushing of any mention of, or adoration for, a feminine divine. A lot of the Old Testament is about this. And while the prophets are continually preaching against Baal worship, what they were really upset about was the worship of Astarte/Astaroth, the feminine deity worshiped in the fertility cults. It had to be stamped out, but it kept resurfacing because of the deep need that people have for a feminine divine.

    Christianity was even less effective in stamping out the feminine divine, who emerged in the form of Mary very early on and has flourished through the many different versions of Mary/Madonna that are worshiped all over the world. In significant ways, I think, the history of both Judaism and Christianity is the history of the feminine divine refusing to be suppressed.

    Latter-day Saints have, in the theology of Heavenly Mother, an eloquent and theologically significant answer to the question, “where is the feminine divine?” But the culture wars of the last 30 years have prevented us from acknowledging this and giving it the place it belongs in our culture and our religion. I think that this has been very destructive to the spirituality of both male and female Latter-day Saints. But I am encouraged by the fact that the desire to approach the feminine divine is so powerful in both men and women that She always finds a way to emerge.

    Nobody puts Mother in a corner.

  71. Tracy M, I sure am. I recognize some of that wording, but you and I both know that’s not verbatim. I would love to know where in the temple it tells me that my husband can create worlds without end and I cannot. Where in the temple does it tell me that I cannot become a God?

  72. Amen, Michael. So, so good.

  73. wreddyornot, that’s a bold accusation. To say that I “submit to men” and that I do not want others to ask and wonder why? Bold.

    To be clear, I do not submit to men. I join them as an equal participant in the human, Christian, Mormon experience without waiting to be invited. Nobody told me I couldn’t. Don’t start with the “if we can’t pass the sacrament, hold the Priesthood, march in the parade, … we’re not really equal” rhetoric. My experience is not diminished because it is not the same. Equal participant does not mean identical participant.

    As for not wanting others to ask and wonder why, ask away! Wonder away! Have all the panic attacks your little hearts can handle! I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t ask questions. I’m suggesting that we should ask God our questions. He’s the only one with the answers. But the mere fact that we CAN ask God should leave us feeling more empowered than panicked, and the fact that He has promised that He will answer should leave us at peace. THAT is what I advocate. Active faith. Nothing more, nothing less.

  74. Emily, you know how carefully we must tread when talking about the temple. That’s part of the ambiguity in my original post.

    I don’t think I can specifically address the comments EmJen made without drawing too close to the line, and I will not quote anything to you. But I understand it from EmJen’s perspective, based on many times of hoping to hear otherwise.

  75. Clark Goble says:

    Maybee I’ll drop out of the conversation both because I think this is getting pretty tangental to the OP (where for the record I think we need especially in primary to include the young girls) but also because I recognize there’s a certain dominate political view here I just don’t share.

    I’ll just say that this wasn’t only about delivering the letters. To portray it as if it were primarily about that is just disingenuous in my opinion. Likewise it seems pretty dubious to assume Pres. Monson and his councilors aren’t aware of the desires of Ordain Women.

  76. I’m just gobsmacked by the deep discomfort that Tracy’s question elicits. Questions without trite answers are okay. Talking points and quick rejoinders don’t solve problems. Why is complexity and doubt so hard to accept?

    Tracy keep thinking, keep agitating, keep pointing out the heterogeneity of our culture. We need these questions.

  77. @Joni – Yes! That’s an important clarification, thank you! She was there and very much participating, I believe that as well. (And don’t worry – I didn’t take it sarcastically. Isn’t it so sad how so many sincere things on the internet come across as sarcastic?)

    And as for the second point, I don’t know. We obviously lack resources in terms of canonized revelation when it comes to the topic of Divine Womanhood, and I’ll be super excited if and when that changes. I lean towards the causation being somewhere in the realm of seeing through a glass darkly.

    But my personal belief is that we have a Heavenly Mother who is in every attribute as Divine and Holy as the Father, and that She loves us and is just as involved in our salvation and exaltation as the Father is. I can’t help but believe that whenever I think about how awesome my parents are and how much I adore and admire my wife and my daughter.

  78. Emily, don’t expect to have a discussion about the details of the endowment here. I personally see it more the way you do, I think. That is, I think it is highly symbolic, says very little that we can take as a literal reflection of the eternities. What it seems to imply about the roles of men is, I would say, something about which we actually know very little at all, and the apparent exclusion of women from the story shouldn’t be understood to limit the roles of women in eternal reality. But some would say that my view doesn’t take it seriously, and that if you take the endowment the way many of the early saints apparently did, the implications for women are not great. That’s not the view I choose to take about it, but it’s also not an unreasonable way to understand it, and not unsupported by the history, either.

    So go on believing as you do, but try to have some understanding for those who see it differently.

  79. “Have all the panic attacks your little hearts can handle!”

    A little less passive aggressive condescension please…..

  80. Ok Clark. And I’ll just say that characterize the delivering of the letters as a political stunt is also disingenuous. And though it may seem dubious to you to assume the leadership isn’t aware of the desires of Ordain Women, since we haven’t really had much communication from them on that front, I guess we’ll have to just keep assuming away.

    Also, I’m curious what is the “dominate political view” you are referring to? Women agitating for change at all? The OP is fantastic. “The feminine face of creation isn’t anywhere.” This bothers me. I’m not the activist type, but perhaps the best way I can practice my religion is to agitate for further light and knowledge.

  81. Can Canadian girls and boys not relate to the restoration because Joseph Smith was American?

    No, we can’t. We also don’t know why we have to hear about Prop 8 every Sunday.

  82. “Tracy M, I sure am. I recognize some of that wording, but you and I both know that’s not verbatim. I would love to know where in the temple it tells me that my husband can create worlds without end and I cannot. Where in the temple does it tell me that I cannot become a God?

    Emily, as said elsewhere, I’m not going to point out the specifics that are found in the temple, but I will point to another woman, Susa Young Gates, who asked similar questions to President Joseph Fielding Smith as described by LDS Historian Lisa Olsen Tait, who answered her in a letter: “God is a man. His wife is queen but is not and can never be God. Yet without the woman, he could not be God either. No man can attain to the godhead alone or without the woman. No woman can attain to the godhead but can and will share the dignity, honor and exaltation of that matchless climax of power and glory with her husband.” In a later letter President Smith asked Susa Young Gates, “Is it not sufficient honor the woman that the man is dependent upon her for a fulness of exaltation and that he cannot attain to it without her?”

  83. Ah, so that’s where the “appendage” come from…

  84. Emily, you say that all you want is for people to ask God their questions and take comfort in his promise that he will answer. But the effect of your advice is to silence people and to frustrate their need to express their concerns. You would pat us on the head and send us on our way: “Now say your prayers.” That’s not how things work in a healthy community of the Savior’s disciples. Your brothers and sisters need your compassion, but you seem to be hardened by political ideology. Please open your heart to understand the pain that others express, even when you do not feel that pain yourself.

  85. My experience has been that to note the absence of women in the Mormon narrative of eternity is to invite chastisement: I’m not praying enough, I’m not studying enough, I’m not using my imagination enough. Obviously women are eternally necessary! Why do I have to have everything spelled out for me? It all comes down to this: it’s incumbent upon me to fill in the blanks that the church has left. If I can’t see the women, that’s my failure. Well, if it isn’t the church’s responsibility to teach me, to explain things to me that I don’t understand, cool. I’ll feel free to believe whatever I believe, then. But I’ve noticed that it troubles people deeply when I say I no longer believe in Heavenly Mother per se, even though there’s no scriptural evidence of her existence as a distinct personage (i.e. separate from God the Father). I’m expected to fill in the blanks myself, but make sure it isn’t incompatible with the all-male template I’ve been provided. I don’t have a problem believing that women are important to God and in the scheme of eternity. It’s the church’s curriculum that has a problem with it. (I won’t be so foolish as to assert that Mormonism has an official theology.) If you’ve mentally written women into the narrative so you can feel comfortable with it, awesome. Whatever works for you. Just don’t try to tell me that’s what the church teaches. Don’t sell your own imagination short.

  86. “Have the good men I associate with, love, sustain and am raising even noticed this absence?”

    I’m not among those you sustain (thank God), but I have noticed, in large part because you have taught me to see, Tracy. Thank you for this post.

  87. newastronomy says:

    God is not a Jerk was always my fallback too! Then I looked at the evidence the church presented, about the past, present, and future for women and realized, if they were true, he was actually very much a jerk. And I couldn’t give him or his church my daughters. So we told our extended family our 8 yr old daughter’s baptism was canceled and stopped attending. It’s been hard, and heartbreaking, but I couldn’t wait or fight anymore for the LDS God and his church to stop being jerks. My daughter’s deserved better. Hope you have better luck than I did! :'(

  88. wreddyornot says:

    To respond to what Emily said above:

    “To be clear, I do not submit to men.”
    * * *
    “I’m suggesting that we should ask God our questions. *He*’s the only one with the answers. But the mere fact that we CAN ask God should leave us feeling more empowered than panicked, and the fact that *He* has promised that *He* will answer should leave us at peace.”

    Hmmmm . . .

    So Clark, is that the classic tactic of a type? Label something political and withdraw. Is that what you do because you’re following what the brethren do on these issues? Because, yes, that’s what they do, is withdraw from addressing these important issues with us, isn’t it?

  89. it's a series of tubes says:

    Emily, as said elsewhere, I’m not going to point out the specifics that are found in the temple, but I will point to another woman, Susa Young Gates, who asked similar questions to President Joseph Fielding Smith as described by LDS Historian Lisa Olsen Tait, who answered her in a letter: “God is a man. His wife is queen but is not and can never be God. Yet without the woman, he could not be God either. No man can attain to the godhead alone or without the woman. No woman can attain to the godhead but can and will share the dignity, honor and exaltation of that matchless climax of power and glory with her husband.” In a later letter President Smith asked Susa Young Gates, “Is it not sufficient honor the woman that the man is dependent upon her for a fulness of exaltation and that he cannot attain to it without her?”

    JFS was a good man, but this was not the only time he was wrong. His statements here have been expressly refuted over the pulpit in general conference addresses by later prophets. I’ll chase down others, but here is a clear one:

    “Let there be no question in your mind about your value as an individual. The whole intent of the gospel plan is to provide an opportunity for each of you to reach your fullest potential, which is eternal progression and the possibility of godhood.” Pres. Kimball, Oct 1978.

  90. I don’t have panic attacks, nor do I think Tracy does, either. But her questions resonate with me because I am deeply and badly damaged from having unmet needs over the course of my life in the church because I am female. Tracy, in the OP, is pointing out a specific and gendered lack that we have, and is managing the criticism coming her way with graceful tenacity. If I were to tell my story and fend off those who would angrily deny my reality, I might well develop panic attacks. Instead, I have pain and sadness because I can’t find my place in the church and have so little voice to ask the questions I have, with hope to receive real answers. I also cling to the belief that God is not a jerk, but pretty often, Their children are.

    I agree with Michael Austin (11:54am) that the big, question that would settle many of these smaller issues is, Where is the divine feminine? We need her in our public discourse and theology to inspire and edify all of us, and to keep the sniping to a minimum.

  91. Clark Goble says:

    wreddyornot, if I thought it wouldn’t bother Steve I’d get down into the nit and gritty. But I respect that this is his blog and try to maintain the decorum here. I can but point to what has been revealed and note that if either Heavenly Mother or Father wanted more right now they can do so when they wish. I’d immediately listen and try to follow. When we agitate for things when God has said no or not now for we end up with things like losing the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon.

    I suspect on many practical matters we agree. I just don’t think truth is open to political agitation. When that happens we get propaganda rather than truth.

  92. Clark–is there any evidence to suggest that the brethren have asked for revelation about Heavenly Mother and been told “no” or “not right now”? The history of the Church suggests that, in fact, God cannot (or at least does not often) reveal things whenever He feels like it unless people are asking questions and open to guidance.

    I think it may be less important whether they actually get any answers to these questions, than that they ask them. I, for one, would feel very differently about these issues if I had the sense that the questions felt anywhere near as urgent to the men in charge as they do to me.

  93. Michael Austin says: August 30, 2016 at 11:54 am
    That was a mic-drop of a comment. I was also thinking of the anthropological roots of male dominance (see sexual selection in human and animal evolution). Those same forces would tend to manifest in (male) religious and political leaders over millennia that repressed women. Perhaps this is part of “the natural man” that males might justify as nature, but makes them “an enemy to God.”

  94. How about a newsroom statement, Clark, since that may be how God communicates with us nowadays. Can you point to any of those telling members of the Church to stop seeking revelation?

  95. D Christian Harrison says:

    I’m not able to peruse the comments… I only made it through James’s benighted entry before realizing what I wanted to say:

    I want a church where Tracy sees herself—where the talks from the pulpit, the songs in primary, the articles in our magazines ever reminder her of her exalted place in the now and the hereafter. Not simply as a child of God… but as a daughter.

    I want this for all the Tracys.

    Sometimes we post to discuss ideas… sometimes we lay our load at the feet of our neighbors. Now is the time for holding hands and listening carefully; the marketplace of ideas can wait.

  96. Behold, here is wisdom: [see D Christian Harrison’s comment]

  97. Thank you, DCH. I want the same for you.

  98. Tubes – I love that Pres. Kimball sees womanhood that way. But why does what he says in conference trump the temple ceremony which uses pretty specific language on the roles of men and then the roles of women in the eternities?

    And if the temple ceremony is wrong or too vague or something else then why hasn’t the wording been changed? That the wording hasn’t changed on this when it has on other items (therefore a review has occurred) to me seems pretty significant.

  99. Clark Goble says:

    A#4, like this? BTW – nothing I said indicates I think we should stop seeking revelation. However we should listen to the answers God gives when he answers.

  100. Sorry to be obtuse, Clark, but what has God said about Heavenly Mother? He hasn’t told us Her name, or even how many of Her there are.

    Or are you counting statements such as GBH saying ‘we don’t pray to Heavenly Mother’ as revelatory? They may very well be. Unfortunately, for a lot of faithful women, those statements raise more questions than they answer.

  101. “JFS was a good man, but this was not the only time he was wrong. His statements here have been expressly refuted over the pulpit in general conference addresses by later prophets. I’ll chase down others, but here is a clear one:

    ‘Let there be no question in your mind about your value as an individual. The whole intent of the gospel plan is to provide an opportunity for each of you to reach your fullest potential, which is eternal progression and the possibility of godhood.’ Pres. Kimball, Oct 1978.”

    That’s lovely (although not in general conference, btw). But it hasn’t filtered into the temple theology. It hasn’t filtered into the minds of many young women in my generation who believe their husbands have the priesthood responsibility to take them to heaven (with the understanding that they can’t go to heaven without them).

    And Heavenly Mother is not thought of as a God. If you notice in that same talk, President Kimball refers to “your mother in heaven.” No caps as reserved for godhood. Enough ambiguity that She could be one of multiples.

    So we have two competing narratives of where women belong, some vestiges of damaging theologies propounded by prophets like BY and JFS mixed with later prophets like SWK and GBH who promoted women as incredible with progression potential.

    Can you see why Tracy is wondering “Where am I?”

  102. And if you don’t believe Tracy, maybe someone like Silver Rain, who eloquently shows different and oftentimes brilliant viewpoints on this blog and others and I believe has a testimony born of hardship and spirit-filled soul-searching.

    She has said “It doesn’t matter how hard and long I have tried to fulfill what God has commanded me, even though it was diametrically opposed to what I wanted for myself. Because I am not acceptable to the sons of God, the blessings of eternal life are forever closed to me. The blessings of the priesthood cannot exist in my home. I may be a daughter of God, but I will never be a mother in Zion, or the support to my husband I have covenanted to become.”

  103. Why haven’t the GA’s answered the big question here–could it be that they don’t know, and God hasn’t told them? And are we sure that we know that they haven’t asked?

  104. As far as I can tell, that says keep asking questions? It makes no claims that these questions have been answered?

  105. Clark Goble says:

    Joni I’d be the first to say we know very little about Heavenly Mother and I’d love to know more. I don’t know why you’d think otherwise. What we have to go on until more public revelation is pretty limited. I’d add that I don’t think we know much about God period. At best we can say the restoration increased our knowledge such that we know God is embodied and a lot else. But given that even there many key texts are non-canonical and not clearly revealed (say the King Follet Discourse or the Sermon in the Grove) even there it’s unclear how much we know. (Take Blake Ostler who has a theology fairly different from the traditional reading of the King Follet Discourse).

    All I’m saying is that political agitation probably is not the right approach to gaining knowledge.

    I’d be the first to agree that many things that have been taught raise more questions than they answer.

  106. It doesn’t matter how many women’s voices are raised when the men in charge will not or cannot hear them. That’s (one of) my point(s).

  107. Love this comment here from Clark: “It’s hard to deal with Emma without dealing with her opposition to many things in Nauvoo and her refusal to come west. Likewise it’s hard to deal with Eliza without dealing with her stormy relationship with Emma over polygamy. And Zina, despite being the greatest figure in my view, is great precisely because of what she went through with her husband, polandry and then marrying Brigham Young rather than her original husband after the death of Joseph.”

    Nailed it. I mean, none of the men in these stories had any problems with each other.

  108. wreddyornot says:

    Thanks for responding, Clark. Some see earnest asking while others characterize it agitation. The message linked raises more questions than it answers. In fact, does it even answer anything? My first question from it: God=Him? That’s the way a very privileged set of men worded it; it’s not as if God signed it.

  109. I guess I don’t see agitation as a bad thing. Agitation led to the overturning of the priesthood and temple ban, it got us the Word of Wisdom, it got a lot of Joseph Smith’s questions answered.

    I don’t really see it as a political thing, either. Heavenly Mother much too great to be contained by any political party.

  110. it's a series of tubes says:

    And if the temple ceremony is wrong or too vague or something else then why hasn’t the wording been changed? That the wording hasn’t changed on this when it has on other items (therefore a review has occurred) to me seems pretty significant.

    ReT, similar arguments were made regarding the priesthood restriction, over and over again, and we know how wrong those were. Just because something “is”, or “has always been”, doesn’t mean it is correct, complete, or final.

    I’m no scholar, but I know that God is not a jerk. Men and women are absolute equals in the sight of God. And God is, of necessity, a divine feminine and a divine masculine.

    Any words, statements, talks, ceremonies, manuals, or practices to the contrary are either flawed, wrong, or incomplete and will eventually be corrected or superseded. Like we learn in Jacob 5, the bad parts of the tree are cleared away, bit by bit, and the good grows, bit by bit, as the servants and the Savior work together. Hopefully we can all work to bear one another’s burdens in love until there are no more burdens to be borne.

  111. Responding to Tubes just above, whose comments I normally find to reflect my own views more closely than anybody else on the blogs. This time, though …

    Tracy’s point — the point of so many women commenting here — is that IF God is not a jerk, IF men and women are absolute equals in the sight of God, and IF God is of necessity a divine feminine and a divine masculine, we don’t see it in our religious and historical story. It’s what men tell us, it’s what we hope, it’s what we believe, but it isn’t what we see. Women are too often missing from critical places. If we matter, why are we omitted?

  112. it's a series of tubes says:

    Tracy’s point — the point of so many women commenting here — is that IF God is not a jerk, IF men and women are absolute equals in the sight of God, and IF God is of necessity a divine feminine and a divine masculine, we don’t see it in our religious and historical story. It’s what men tell us, it’s what we hope, it’s what we believe, but it isn’t what we see. Women are too often missing from critical places. If we matter, why are we omitted?

    Ardis, I apologize if my comments on this thread have given another impression, but in response: “we don’t see it in our religious and historical story”. I COMPLETELY agree. The IF’s you list are not the natural conclusions one would draw, looking at our history or the history of the world writ large. All too often, lived experience would cause the opposite to seem true: God is a jerk, life is capricious, women are objects, God is a distant and harsh tyrant who favors his sons and discards his daughters.

    I don’t know why women are too often missing from critical places. I don’t understand this omission, but I am coming to sense it more and more keenly as my daughters enter their teenage years. I’m sorry if anything I said came off as insensitive or as mainsplaining. It wasn’t intended to be that, rather, just a reflection of my own hope that one day, God will wipe away all tears from our eyes. All I can do is try to minimize the tears God has to wipe from someone else’s eyes :(

  113. Tubes – I appreciate your response, which I say sincerely. I even agree with it from an outside-the-church perspective. From inside-the-church it feels like the importance of these issues are not being heard (not by you specifically, but by the brethern). And while maybe I should be patient and just wait, there is a downside to that. In the mean time my girls grow up with these damaging messages. And then they leave the church.

  114. Clark Goble says:

    Brian, if you look at how the men in those stories are treat those stories are left out. That’s my point. I’m not sure you read what I was saying. There have been hagiography like treatments of Emma for instance that then get heavily criticized often by the same people saying they want more Church role models.

  115. Clark Goble says:

    Joni, we don’t now Heavenly Father’s name either depending upon what you mean by that. Elohim, Ahman, God and so forth are all titles. Likewise the names for the divine feminine in the Old Testament or related areas are either borrowed deity names or personification of attributes like Wisdom. Really there’s very little we know about God at all. The tendency is to extrapolate from our belief he is good into believing things we believe are good. However again that seems somewhat dangerous as effectively we’re remaking God in our image.

    As to agitation its far from clear to me that helped the priesthood ban issue. The brethren were clearly praying about it for decades. It was a particular concern for Pres. Kimball who was spending a lot of time fasting and praying on the issue. I just don’t see the evidence it was people threatening to not play football with BYU for example that decided things. That’s not to deny a practical sense on the part of God. That’s almost certainly why we got the 1894 change and arguably why the original Law brought by Moses was replaced with the Law of Moses.

  116. it's a series of tubes says:

    In the mean time my girls grow up with these damaging messages. And then they leave the church.

    This is the crux, isn’t it? I’ve wrestled with this for years, in the context of a painful exit of some of my immediate family members from the church. In the end, all I am left with is a plea to the Lord for mercy. For me, for them, for all of us.

  117. You’re right, Clark, we don’t know a whole lot about Heavenly Father either.

    But we are allowed – encouraged, even! – to talk to Him.

  118. Clark Goble says:

    Yup.

  119. D Christian Harrison says:

    I love where this thread has landed—especially Ardis’s response.

  120. Maxine H. says:

    Tracy, rest assured that your intuition was right, women’s contributions are missing from the official story. I’ve been working on this specific aspect for the past few years and have presented three papers, starting last fall. I hope to publish the first paper (presented in Kirtland last Oct.) soon. It deals with exactly the topic you raise. Hang in there.

  121. Here’s an article a friend sent me on the same underlying problem for a woman of color in the temple. It’s both lovely and heartbreaking. https://samepewdifferentview.com/2016/08/31/131/

  122. Joseph Stanford says:

    @Michael Austin 30 August
    Amen and Amen

  123. A short passage from Carol Lynn Pearson’s recent book about polygamy is the best explanation I have seen for this very real problem:

    “It is my business to tell the stories. That something had gone terribly wrong is clear from a few of the many events I wrote into the pages of my diary.
    April19,1976
    Yesterday [a co-worker at BYU Motion Picture Studio] came by…[and] told me that recently they showed the first cut of [The First Vision] to some of the Brethren. In the film is a nice shot of the family around the table–it pans from Joseph Smith Senior around the others to Joseph and his mother at the end of the table. She reaches over and gives Joseph a warm squeeze on his arm. Thomas Monson’s reaction to this: “Why did you feature the mother? We’ve got to feature the father. This is a priesthood-oriented church. We’ve got to feature the priesthood, not the mother.””

    This is indeed a male church, about men, by men. From the church standpoint, except as a tool for men, I am irrelevant. My daughter is irrelevant, and my granddaughter is irrelevant. I could stand on a soapbox and proclaim my equality all the day long, but it would not change reality… all it would do is twist the knives in my sisters who are hurting. I would not display such unkindness.

    The temple narrative reinforces a very strict eternal gender hierarchy. There have been many opportunities to modify it as other changes have been made, but that eternal hierarchy remains untouched, in every living temple ordinance that women participate in. No amount of patronizing over pulpits has true significance when temple rhetoric proclaims the opposite.

    And as far as comparing the absence of women and girls to the lack of representation of various races, cultures, and nationalities… surely the logical fallacy is obvious…? That gender is eternal is solid doctrine. There is no doctrine (any more, thank goodness!) that race, culture, and nationality are eternal. It’s a petty argument, and it doesn’t fly.

  124. Did President Monson really say that? Wow, that hurts my feelings.

  125. Me too, Meems. He’s a product of his generation, and I think this is part of why we don’t really receive revelation anymore. What I see is the leadership of the church is confirmation of already-held positions and generational beliefs about the world and about God; it’s why we don’t change, not just not-quickly, but decades behind. Despite the lallygagging- our history shows ability to change, but our obstinance, gerontocracy, and pride gets in the way of being leaders, instead of a century behind.

  126. meems, mine, too! But I also question whether President Monson would say something like that today, as opposed to 40 years ago. I would like to believe that he would not.

  127. JKC, here your faith is stronger than mine. I believe President Monson to be a kind and decent man, but those kinds of beliefs are not passing. Those are foundational, and he was influencing millions of members when he made that comment, and he already knew it.

  128. Tracy, thank you for this post. This is real. This is something that I saw first as a young child and spent the rest of my life trying to un-see and look past. But I no longer think it a sin to see and acknowledge and give voice to the lack of women we see and hear from and learn about.

    It makes me wonder how many women have been, were, and are a part of God’s plan and restoration that we don’t even know about, because no one tells their stories or writes them down or includes them in lesson manuals. (And this isn’t just a Mormon problem, but a world problem. The beauty of history is that there are always new ways to perceive it and tell it. I hope the church continues to seek out and share the stories of the women who have been there all along, passed over because polygamy was uncomfortable or because women have not been valued in the traditional narrative. Posts like yours make this more possible.)

  129. I don’t think my faith is stronger (real faith is in Christ, regardless of whether you think his prophets have missed the mark or not), but you may be right about such beliefs not changing, and I may be overly optimistic that perhaps they may have changed. I don’t know.

    Not to discount your reaction at all, but to explain where I am coming from: he was only in his early forties at the time, unusually young as apostles go, and had been an apostle for like 12 years (he was called in 1963), which is still a pretty long time, but he’s had over 4 decades since then to reflect. Something said in a private meeting with a church employee is certainly less considered than something said over the pulpit. That doesn’t make it less frustrating, and in some ways even makes it more revealing of what a person really thinks at the time than over-the-pulpit teachings, but I think there’s at more of an expectation to not say things that are offensive in public, and less of an expectation in private. The mantle of leadership can have a tempering influence, and I would like to believe that influence has had an effect on President Monson since 1976.

  130. JKC, you cannot be faulted for being kind and compassionate. It’s a very hopeful and optimistic place you are coming from. I have found with sexism that it seldom softens with age. His comments in a semi-private meeting are actually more revealing to me than something he said over the pulpit, where he would naturally be more careful. Again, he was already influencing millions of people, and cannot be said to have not known so. If this statement is true, he felt comfortable saying what he did, certain of his rightness. And that’s painful.

  131. May I offer my experience. Almost 40 years ago, the issues stated here were of extreme importance in my life. I decided to follow the pattern given to Oliver Cowdery. I would study the matter out and then ask the Lord. I did study. I read everything I could find on women and priesthood. I do mean everything. I spent several years searching. Then I seriously fasted and prayed about my concerns. I had come to conclusions, as we are taught to do. Was I correct? As I asked, I quoted Gordon B Hinckley. I quoted other Church leaders to Heavenly Father. Perhaps in a very minor way, I had become like the brother of Jared, and the knowledge could not be withheld. Heavenly Father answered my question. But as the D&C tells us,it is not my place to proclaim doctrine. And what is given privately is to be kept private. But please, avail yourself of the path given. It works. You can know great and important matters, the very mysteries of God, long before they are preached from the pulpit. And it will affect the way you live your life.

  132. I love this post Tracy – in a sad way. This is what makes every testimony, prayer, lesson, scripture at church painful. It’s why every Sunday is utter agony. It’s why, after my daughter’s first week in sunbeams, I decided I would not subject her to it. I had to leave. Not because any member of the church offended me, but because our deepest theology offends me.

  133. Just count me as another life-long, temple endowed, never inactive (gotta establish my cred, right?) female member who sees the situation just as Tracy & EmJen do. For women, the reward for a righteous life is to be erased. The best-case scenario is that our exalted husband-lord allows us to have a hand in things. The speculative doctrines of eternal childbirth, or being part of a celestial collection of plural wives (oh goody, I get to be the head wife!)… These give no comfort. What exactly is there for me when the highest reward offered fills me with sadness? The scope of this question extends far beyond a Restoration tableau and encompasses questions about the nature of reward, grace, hierarchy and more. I’m left questioning the very nature of the eternities as a meritocracy.

    Feel free to mock my pain, ye defenders of truth.

  134. Some of the women in my life have similar feelings, Melissa, even though they haven’t explicitly expressed them to the detail you have. I can see your and their pain. It’s hard when so much knowledge of the eternities has been withheld from us and so it’s natural to speculate and then the speculation brings no comfort. All I can offer in the way of hope is that there are women out there like MK who have found personal answers. I admire them and I hope for the same for the women in my life. I’ve experienced similar things on other, personal issues and consider it miraculous because it’s something that has to be worked for but can never be forced.

  135. Bro. B, it isn’t just a women problem, it’s an everyone problem :)
    Until the men in this Church take the time and effort to really empathize on this issue and are sufficiently troubled themselves, troubled enough to pray and seek and agonize over it, we aren’t likely to get anywhere.

    I’ve always adored my faithful, kind older brother. We once discussed my issues with equality in the Church and he seemed receptive to my feelings, so I sent him a copy of Neylan McBaine’s “Women At Church.” He later texted to thank me and that his wife really enjoyed. I replied he missed the whole point. I’m glad she enjoyed it but the book was meant for him. He seemed surprised. I hope he’s read it, but honestly I doubt it, as wonderful as he is. This scenarios speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

  136. Touche, Maybee.