Leapfrogging the Waves: A Nakedly Unacademic Response to “Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother”

This is the final response to Taylor Petrey’s Harvard Theological Review article. Caroline Kline’s response is here, and Margaret Toscano’s is here.

This is going to be one of those annoying critiques that basically complains about it not being the paper I wanted to read or the one I would have written, rather than pointing out any flaws in the paper’s actual argument.

For me, the crux of the matter is in Taylor’s concise formulation on page 6: “Mormon analysis of Heavenly Mother, then, is not abstract theorizing, but rather it articulates a divine model of human gender relations and female subjectivity.” But the paper fairly rapidly devolves into precisely such abstract theorizing. Of course, that is what the Harvard Theological Review is for, and Taylor can hardly be faulted for working within the constraints of the academic discourse in which he is a participant. But the paper I would like to read is the one that situates this theorizing in lived religion, that decries the marginal place of even completely institutionally loyal apologetic feminism, that notes the thin-ness of the theological resources and calls out the official commitment to maintaining the lacuna.

For instance, it seems critically important to note that Eliza R. Snow, the earliest source of semi-official discourse on Heavenly Mother, was the polygynous* wife of Joseph Smith, and subsequent prophets found it necessry to derive authority for her invocation of the divine feminine from her close relationship with the founding prophet and her subsequent status as the plural wife of Brigham Young. And even this authority was not enough for a woman to speak—it was still necessary for Wilford Woodruff to affirm “that hymn is a revelation, though it was given unto us by a woman.” (Millennial Star, 56:15, April 9, 1894)

In setting up “apologetic” and “oppositional” Mormon feminisms as poles of an extant theological discourse within Mormonism, Taylor brushes past the near impossibility of speaking as a loyal Mormon woman and the enormous costs imposed on feminists for being perceived as disloyal. Taylor elides the couple of decades between the excommunication of Mormon feminists in the 90s and the emergence of any “apologetic” feminism. Those decades matter, because they show how effectively the authoritative discourse of Mormonism silenced women, and how far “oppositional” feminists had to move the Overton window before “apologetic” feminism could exist at all. And those years matter, too, because they are an entire generation—a generation of young women who either left Mormonism or buried their feminism to continue being Mormon. And that means that the generation of Mormon feminists who might have grown up with feminism as their birthright and seen intersectionality as their own work was never born.

None of this is to say that Taylor’s call for an even broader understanding of God is unwelcome. It may well be that cis-heterosexual women’s interests are inextricably tied to those whose gender and sexual preference don’t fit those categories or any categories at all. Maybe leapfrogging waves of feminism is the most efficient way to do this theology, especially in the context of academia. But in the context of making a life as a practicing Mormon woman, it is plenty radical to insist on a God that includes a feminine complement, even if that complementarity is heterosexual and binary and limited. Part of what is radical about Mormonism is the insistence that God is embodied; he is not an abstract being representative of some essential maleness, but a particular male personage. Positing that he has a spouse who is also an embodied, particular being is thus not to exclude other particular, embodied beings from actual or potential divinity, but merely a logical initial site for disruption of Mormon henotheism.

I want a sense of the stakes for Mormon women, what it means that even the feminine persona closest to the Mormon ideal for human women—a heterosexual mother—is risky to talk about. Not as an excuse for Mormon feminists’ failure to break apart gender binaries and perform a potentially liberating queering of the feminine divine, but simply as an acknowledgment of how costly and difficult it is for Mormon women to assert any feminine subjectivity, even in the relatively privileged position of cis-het-married mother. This is not something that most practicing academic theologians can be assumed to know, and I think it is critically important that they should. For the moment, Mormon theologizing about Heavenly Mother ought to come from a place of agony, and failure to fully inhabit that subject position means missing how close it still is to the invisibility and unthinkability of the queer subject. As Cynthia Lee put it, in a comment at Zelophehad’s daughters (site of the best queer and feminist Mormon theology going these days!):

I’ve never felt a particular need to be ministered to by a Heavenly Mother. When I’m experiencing physical pains incident to a female body, or questions and frustrations about parenting, I don’t feel to pray to a Mother rather than a Father. I affirm the experience and needs of others who express such yearnings, but it’s never been part of me. Sure, it would be nice, but I’ve always felt that a sufficiently empathetic Father would be adequate for my nurture and comfort.
Yet I get white hot rage when others (cough*male theology scholars*cough) seem blase about the existence of a Mother, or approach the debate about whether a search of the LDS historical record yields enough evidence to conclusively support Her existence with a casual, semi-detached, intellectualizing air.

I don’t care about Heavenly Mother for Her sake, but for mine. The discussion about HM is important because I need to know if when I die I just go into the void like the atheists believe, or whether women exist in the afterlife. If we believe that earth life is boot camp training for exaltation, which means becoming deity (with a physical body) with your own planet, and there is no evidence in the temple film that women participate in those exalted activities of creation, and only flimsy evidence in the historical record, then we aren’t really sure if women have a path forward post-mortality. Then we aren’t really sure if I am a full human, because full humans (men) are agents for the purpose of that boot camp training. You know who else’s post-mortal existence we have only scattered evidence and authority quotations to support? Our beloved pet dogs and cats.

Men, think about that. Think about what it is like to worship in a religion where there is less clarity on whether you exist post-death than there is about whether Fido exists after his death. I’m glad that we now have the essay as an official weigh-in in support of her existence, but the authorities and evidence it cites struck me as so conspicuously thin as to actually have the opposite of a reassuring effect.

Heavenly Mother matters. She really, really matters.

 

*Indeed, throughout the essay, it seems like the complicating effects of Mormonism’s polygamous past are not fully explored. The well-known folk doctrine that there are multiple heavenly mothers seems like an unexploded mine in the middle of this field—the fact that not all non-binary arrangements are advantageous to a post-structuralist feminist position needs more than a passing mention.

Comments

  1. A huge amen to your call for theology more attentive to the practicalities of lived experience than to the intellectual pleasures of abstraction!

    That comment by Cynthia is marvelous.

  2. Love you, K.

  3. This is great. Thanks, Kristine. And thanks,Taylor.

  4. So good. Thank you, Kristine.

  5. Yes. My only comment is the most obvious one, that the paper you want to read (or write!) can only be done by a Mormon woman steeped in the culture and doctrine and history and pain, including the several women writing and commenting in this series. I really believe that I understand every word, including every word of Cynthia Lee’s embedded comment, and yet, because my Mormon experience, culture, doctrine and history is all seen and experienced as a man, I am certain that I could not write the opening sentence of the paper you want. Attention to the writing?

  6. wreddyornot says:

    I believe I sense divinities in these posts.

  7. Well said!

    “You know who else’s post-mortal existence we have only scattered evidence and authority quotations to support? Our beloved pet dogs and cats.”

    I’ve thought this for years! Women seem to follow the same trajectory as animals in our theology: enjoying whatever post-life happiness is allotted to us and whatever amount of progression we are capable of, if we fulfill the measure of our creation. But not becoming actual gods, because such a thing would be impossible for beings whose spirits are not made of the same stuff as men’s.

  8. Clark Goble says:

    Without delving into the other issue Kristine raised, I confess feeling confused that anyone could come away from our theology with the idea that somehow “women follow the same trajectory as animals in our theology.” Perhaps I’m one of those thinking through the issue with a “casual, semi-detached, intellectualizing air” but the result of such analysis seems to always end with eternal life being divine like. Divinization of both men and women is such a key theological notion historically I’m surprised anyone would come away doubting it is there.

    It’s true, as I’ve argued, that we following 1 John 3:2 will be like God in some sense. (I recognize John uses “sons of God” but it’s clear from later revelation this means everyone) It’s not at all clear what that sense is and that’s where people have been more speculative. Common to them all is that we share God’s glory and fulness. (D&C 93) That seems so uncontroversial I’m surprised some see it as controversial. The basic idea that we will be gods seems undeniable. It’s just that our knowledge of what God is like is so vague that it’s hard to say what this will be like. (Which John

  9. “I recognize John uses “sons of God” but…”

    LOL

  10. Clark: you commented nearly a dozen times on Tracy’s recent post, and you’re still confused? Maybe you should listen more and comment less.

  11. Kristine, thanks for highlighting Cynthia L.’s comment. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever read on the blogs.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Kristine; I especially appreciated your Overton window observation.

  13. So well done.

    Clark – Everything you say about scriptural teaching may be true, but in effect it pales in comparison to the teachings of the temple. The temple is were Pure Truth is supposedly found, and the temple leaves me feeling like a plow horse (necessary side-kick so my husband can get his job done). The measure of my creation becomes his exaltation. If I’m lucky, he’ll even choose to reward me and take me with him (along with his other possible wives).

  14. Everything Clark says about scriptural teaching is true IFF “sons of God” is assumed to mean everyone. The fact that women are pointedly, repeatedly, for centuries, left out of and abused by scriptural teachings, or that scriptures often lump together wives and flocks as possessions of men doesn’t usually register to men, ergo, it shouldn’t bother women.

  15. “…calls out the official commitment to maintaining the lacuna.” I am swooning over this phrase! And oh my goodness, how true it is. Also, I just added henotheism to my vocabulary.

    Anyway, from my humble position outside the circles of erudite theology, I think your critique is eminently valid.

  16. And, I’m feeling very sad and empty all over again that my sense of being an agent in the universe is not at all supported by my religion. Dear God, how is it I keep staying here???

  17. the temple leaves me feeling like a plow horse (necessary side-kick so my husband can get his job done).

    Try listening — from the opening “hearkening” language to the closing “posterity” language — as a single woman, and the “plow horse” image starts looking mighty reassuring.

  18. Ugh–yes, Ardis. And actually, I think that Taylor’s work is breaking new, important ground in this regard; he’s right to fault most theologizing about Heavenly Mother as exclusive in this same way.

  19. Can a mother weep more? I don’t know. I recently attended my daughters first endowment. She went of her own accord and choosing. (I kept hoping she would skip the whole thing) But she didn’t want to be a “plow horse” or even a missionary. She desires to be a full disciple of Christ. Like women in the New Testament. And though today’s post is about Heavenly Mother, I find myself looking back at my daughters day and aching. To whom does she look as she walks ahead. I don’t desire her to have a companion, just to keep her balanced. I desire her to be her own complete Divine Nature. But life gets dark. On the dark passages where can she turn. I don’t want her, my destined to be single, yet very bright and gifted girl, to become eternal chattel. I want her to know she has “A Mother There.” And that the painful empty journey will be worth something.

    If not, can we please let her know now so she can set a plan that fulfills her life in the here and now.

  20. Clark Goble says:

    Kristine, I’ll grant you the sexist language in the NT/OT and even BoM. Although some scriptures like Romans 8:16-17 don’t use male language. D&C 93 can’t in anyway be read limited to men though. And D&C 93 really is a big riff on Johanine scriptures. More importantly in talk after talk modern apostles have emphasized it applies to all children. (Say this one by Elder Oaks)

    “From modern revelation, unique to the restored gospel, we know that the commandment to seek perfection is part of God the Father’s plan for the salvation of His children. Under that plan we are all heirs of our heavenly parents. “We are the children of God,” the Apostle Paul taught, “and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16–17). This means, as we are told in the New Testament, that we are “heirs … of eternal life” (Titus 3:7) and that if we come to the Father, we are to “inherit all things” (Revelation 21:7)—all that He has—a concept our mortal minds can hardly grasp.”

    Again I get those who might read enveloping pronouns or terms like “all men” to not necessarily apply to women. (Although in most cases I’d disagree and think the terms mean all humanity but follow the linguistic conventions of the speakers – but I’ll concede it as a reasonable interpretation) I just don’t understand those who say it of Mormon theology which has been explicitly applied to both men and women. I’m certainly not aware of any major mainstream theology that doesn’t treat all women in the covenant as fully heirs of Christ. The Church manuals explicitly say both men and women are joint heirs getting all the Father has. Again like this recent PH/RS manual:

    ” That the Lord has given unto them, through their faithfulness, the right to become his sons and his daughters, joint heirs with Jesus Christ, possessing, as stated here, all that the Father has”

  21. “The fact that women are pointedly, repeatedly, for centuries, left out of and abused by scriptural teachings, or that scriptures often lump together wives and flocks as possessions of men doesn’t usually register to men, ergo, it shouldn’t bother women.”

    Nail in center of board.

  22. Clark–could you maybe just for a few minutes *assume* that the women who ask these kinds of questions are intelligent and well-informed and probably familiar with the scriptures and arguments you cite? That, being the ones who are troubled by these questions, they might even have spent *more* time studying them than you have? There can’t really be that many women who miss the conclusions that are so perfectly obvious to you, can there? Not Stanford professors and Harvard graduates and women with Ph.d.’s in theology, right? They can’t all be idiots who just fell asleep in Sunday School, can they? Maybe silently consider the possibility that you might be the one who has missed something important?

    Because when you dig in and lecture and prooftext, you just look like the back end of the aforementioned plowhorse.

  23. Clark Goble says:

    Kristine, I’ll shut up and bow out of the discussion. I was hoping for a rejoinder to what seems straightforward here. i.e. how do you create as the standard Mormon theology a theology explicitly at odds with what’s stated all over the place. Create straw people away.

  24. Thanks for making it “straw people,” Clark. We irrational feminists appreciate that sort of thing.

  25. Clark, if you think that this post is about theology, you’ve missed the whole point. Try going back and reading everything here with your heart, not your head. If, after that, you’re still confused, then remember Jason K.’s excellent advice. Listening is very, very good.

  26. Clark Goble says:

    Kristine you’re right. That snipe was inappropriate and I apologize. I think there’s still a huge problem of creating caricatures of theology to attack but I’ll bow out and remain silent. Indeed I’ll add theology to the increasing list of topic I’ll no longer discuss at BCC in order to make the comments better for those interested in a particular point of view. (Meaning that sincerely and not as a snipe)

    Loursat, I think you misunderstood my objections if you think the issue was only theology. But I’ll not detract from the thread by explaining why.

  27. Clark, I don’t want you to not discuss it; I just would like it if you presumed that your interlocutors are as intelligent as you are (or close–we can’t all be physicists!). If something seems obvious to you, but multiple people, especially multiple people with different perspectives and life experiences than yours don’t think your conclusions are self-evident, then maybe there’s something more there.

    It is certainly possible to carefully, painstakingly read oneself into Mormon theology as a woman. But it takes some effort, and some mental gymnastics, and a LOT of being willing to accept half-measures (crumbs from the table, like dogs, to use the scriptural analogy). And sometimes people who have been doing those kinds of gymnastics their whole lives, just out of great hope and faith and trust that it’s worth it, get tired, or get tied in knots, and they ask if maybe just one time they could have a whole loaf. That’s not the time to point to the crumbs and say “you have what you need! It’s right there! Obviously.”

  28. Single Sister says:

    Even at 57 I must be incredibly stupid or incredibly naive. But I refuse, refuse, REFUSE to believe that I am any less than my brothers in the gospel. I don’t care what PH a man holds, how far up the “hierarchy” he can go – I am still his equal in every right and in the sight of my Heavenly Parents. I am single (never married) and sometimes that has been a very difficult scenario for me (both in and out of the Temple), but my faith that somehow all of this language will be corrected and all of the policies will be made right stays with me (some days it is harder than others, grant you). I have faith that Jesus and my Heavenly Parents lead this church and that at some point (like with the blacks and the PH), things will change. Maybe not in my life and maybe not in a thousand years, but somehow, somewhere it will be made right. If I didn’t believe that, I would be gone. But the Gospel in essence is true, and i have a strong testimony of that, and so I stay for the basic truths of it all. Again, stupid or naive maybe – but….

    Back to lurking.

  29. Clark Goble says:

    Kristine, thank you for your kind response. I honestly think there’s a perception of a particular type of discussion that desired. And I’m completely sincere in not wanting to detract from that. I don’t want in the least to dominate the comments nor take them off topic. Regardless of how it may appear at times that’s constantly a concern of mine and I try to remain silent when I feel I’m detracting.

    My main problem was with your “if and only if” in (12:44 pm) which seemed demonstrably false. I gave the argument for why by providing examples like D&C 93. Far from thinking my interlocutors are not intelligent I’m thinking the exact opposite by assuming they’ll either have a good response or will acknowledge misstatements or errors. I try to do that as best I can although I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always do as good a job as I should. The reason I make comments – especially when I disagree – is because of that respect. It’s what I want people to do with my own posts and comments. If I say something wrong (and heaven knows examples are not hard to find) I want someone to call me on it. But I’d be the first to acknowledge that what I want from comments isn’t what many others want from comments.

    Anyway, with that I will bow out. I’m really feeling that the comments desire a particularly narrow range of viewpoints here at BCC of late. Again, sincerely, if that’s what people want I don’t want to be the thorn interrupting them. My apologies again if I detracted from your post.

  30. Single Sister–I suspect that is what we all believe and know to be true; hence, the anxiety to have that truth reflected in what we see and hear at Church and in the temple.

  31. You say “what I want from comments isn’t what many others want from comments.” Can I ask what it is that you want? And maybe what it is you think others want that’s different?

    You can email me at kristine dot haglund at gmail if you want to.

    (Maybe it’s time for another meta-thread about BCC-discourse)

  32. It’s pretty awesome, and totally predictable, that a post whose abstract could be “for women there’s an ache and a sore that never quite heals over on this topic, and in contrast men seem to want dry, pat analysis,” is met with a man offering dry, pat analysis. A++++ performance of the dynamic, Clark.

  33. nothing assumed about your food allergy says:

    Clark wants debate. Many others want agreement.

  34. Clark: since I’m the one who suggested you should listen more and talk less, perhaps I should explain myself more patiently (which will mostly involve restating what Kristine already said). The issue, in a nutshell, is that you tend to focus more on propositions and logical arguments than on the experience of people (especially women), and, in cases of apparent conflict between the two, your “rule of faith” sides with the propositions. You then expect people for whom the propositions don’t fadge with lived experience to rationalize the difference for you. As I read Kristine’s post, she’s inveighing against exactly this tendency. The academic theology of logic and propositions isn’t worth beans if it fails to intersect meaningfully with human lives—and it’s worse than meaningless if its intersection with lives causes active harm by engendering experiences of loss or absence. Chronicles of such loss or absence are all over the bloggernacle, and you’ve managed to comment on many of them without their existence quite registering. My aim isn’t to shut you up, or to discourage you from commenting (although you could stand to comment less volubly), and especially not to promote a narrow range of viewpoints. All I’m saying is that you should slow down and listen.

  35. In other words, what Cynthia said.

  36. Single Sister, your thoughts echo a lot of mine. Thank-you.

    I really liked the OP and Cynthia’s quote. I’ve been enjoying the Heavenly Mother theology postings, but I have been similarly frustrated at the mainly abstract level. While pondering the issue, though, it seems we are limited in basics. We have at least two canonical visions that women exist in a postmortal state (Joseph Smith seeing his mom in the celestial kingdom, and Joseph F. Smith seeing Eve and others in the spirit world). As far as premortal, just depends how you want to read Lady Wisdom in Proverbs (not a strong argument for me) and the council of Gods in Abraham (given that they create “Woman” out of man without ever giving a name for the help meet that Adam “found,” I have a hard time seeing this as a strong support). As much as we hear that gender is eternal, we have precious little to go on. What does a female deity look like? Unknown, but people saw the Father on the throne with Christ sitting on His right hand several times (including Joseph Smith in that aforementioned vision of his family in the celestial kingdom), so clearly She’s not co-presiding. The idea in the original article of Christ internalizing all female experiences terrified me when extending that to Heavenly Parents. It sounds too much like the old polygamist idea that the husband would be deity only as much as he internalized female experiences via wife/wives. The women were considered merely tools towards their husband’s deification, not necessarily full deity themselves (which is why you see male expression of deity as objects of worship). This idea definitely bothers me, but luckily I don’t see it as a reflection of reality (nor a reflection of what modern leaders have said). Without a major separation of our theology of marriage (and eventual godhood) from our doctrine of polygamy, though, it will be very difficult to form a strong argument that men and women will exist as equals in the eternities. In the chapter Clark quoted, for example, we have the touching account of JFS becoming a widower and then finding love again when he is sealed to his second wife. We’re still dealing with a postmortal polygamous union there.

  37. ok, I feel guilty because I started it and the pile on Clark is becoming unseemly. I think I will try to write something in the next little while about how we balance abstraction and experience in discussion–it’s not a simple or straightforward question, and Clark is hardly the only person ever to get it wrong.

  38. I’m sorry for my part in the piling-on.

  39. “The issue, in a nutshell, is that you tend to focus more on propositions and logical arguments than on the experience of people (especially women)”

    I suspect that Clark’s point would actually fare even better if based in a survey of Mormon women who believe existing LDS theology rather than propositions and proof texts — that is, if you were to survey a sample representing all LDS women who believe the theology we have reflects some accurate picture of the afterlife, my guess is a decided majority would likely agree that Mormonism teaches women have a divine nature, persist into the afterlife, and will be resurrected embodied with divine glory, among ofher things that may not be clear about dogs/cats/horses.

    Even if that’s true, it doesn’t mean there’s no reason for questions or need to address pain. Heavenly Mother *does* matter, that larger point seems sound. But it might well mean that Kristine’s point that questions about the ultimate fate of women being comparable to questions about the ultimate fate of animals deserves the challenge it’s getting. It doesn’t seem credible or necessary.

  40. Thank you Single Sister and Mary Ann, you gave me room to hear my daughter. Thank you.

  41. I like the detour this discussion has taken, it’s really got me thinking about why I react so strongly to discussions on posts like this one. On HM and women-centered my comments often focus on my personal angst, pain, etc. It’s truly therapeutic to know that I’m not alone in my feelings. Comments (especially by men) that become analytical without attempting to understand the pain can come off as dismissive. I react negatively toward those comments since for me blogs like BCC are generally a refuge from the Mormon culture of “all is well” with women and equality.

    I like it when discussions challenge my ideas and perceptions. I don’t want BCC to become an echo chamber. But posts re: women’s issues bring up a lot of feelings for some of us. Upthread someone stated that Clark wants debate, many others want agreement. Perhaps a bit uncharitable to all parties. Maybe the answer is dialogue, but with a side of validation/empathy? Especially when the analytical commenter isn’t the gender most deeply affected by what is being discussed :)

  42. This post has given me a lot to ponder, Kristine. You have articulated well the sort of half formed thoughts I had while reading the original article, and given much more to think about besides.

  43. Thanks, Kristine, for putting together a lot of the inchoate thoughts I’ve often felt but couldn’t quite place. I DO believe that the Mormonism that asserts a full role for every human being (including women, including various sexual orientations, including…) is both possible in the modern Mormon theological structure, as well as being the only one that makes sense to me. But the problem is, as you’ve so well pointed out, that other versions which exclude women (and others)

    I worry about some of the same fears that animated Petrey’s article, and because I lack the education and erudition so evident in it, I am so grateful for his work, equally as for the others who have worked to advance the dialog on Heavenly Mother. Nonetheless, the most important observation you made, for me, was that even the complementarian discourse on Heavenly Mother, which disturbs me deeply because I fear what the consequences of it were it institutionalized, comes at a dramatic cost. I grew up right after that lost generation, not really aware of why those voices were missing. Even after I learned the history, I wasn’t able to fully connect the dots, so your pointed observation hit me like a ton of bricks. Suddenly everything makes a lot more sense. Of course we don’t have other voices: they’ve been forced to leave or bury their feminism to stay. My own safe haven (provided by my apparently peculiar parents) notwithstanding, the seas have been rough enough to discourage most to even try to embark on a voyage of discovery about Heavenly Mother at all. Those who have, whether or not I agree with every particular of their work, deserve to be revered as heroic explorers in an often hostile geography.

    Also, I appreciate your closing with Cynthia’s observation. I think it goes to the heart of the issue, which is not only whether a Mormon theology which affirms the equal promise of every human soul is possible — I think it is, but a lot of Mormons probably disagree — but whether it is possible enough to provide faith, hope, and charity through the Spirit of Christ. Here the cultural and institutional atmosphere matters: the seas were made choppy on purpose. I mourn for the self-inflicted wounds and pray for God’s speedy grace in healing them, if he will.

  44. I’m sorry to continue the threadjack, but I owe Clark an apology. The only theology that really matters to me gets summed up pretty well in the Primary song: “Jesus said, ‘Love everyone; / Treat them kindly, too.'” Even though I was trying to argue for a version of that, my comments didn’t rise to the standard. I’m sorry.

  45. I understand where Clark is coming from. He is doing what my loving husband does and trying to make my feminist pain go away. But it frustrates me when my husband easily dismisses my pain in order to maintain his own hope that the good in the church is stronger than the male superiority complex.

    Yes, Clark is right that there are things the church teaches that say women are equal to men. But the problem is that the church then turns around and treats women as less. If women can’t be allowed to even sit in while their babies are blessed, if women can’t pass sacrament, if women can’t be bishops, let alone prophets, how are we supposed to imagine that we can become gods? The church says “equal partners in marriage” then it says “the husband presides”. But it cannot have it both ways because the terms contradict each other. The church teaches the UW they have Devine Worth, then they go to the temple and are told they will be a queen and priestess “unto” their husband as he is a king and priest “unto” God. So, according to the temple, my husband is my God. Not my Heavenly Father, but my earthly husband is to be my God for eternity. We have a Heavenly Mother, but we don’t talk about Her. So, I get very confused. Which is it? The church tells me two different things about who I am as a woman, and they are mutually exclusive.

    But then when we women say we want this issue clarified, our men claim confusion. “But the church clearly teaches that women are exalted. How can you not understand this?” Well, because the church also treats me as “less than” and I don’t know whether to believe the church’s words or its actions. I don’t know whether to believe what I was taught in the temple or what I was taught at general conference.

    So, for me, I solved the problem and decided that I don’t believe the Mormon church has any inspiration from God. Ever.

  46. “You say “what I want from comments isn’t what many others want from comments.” Can I ask what it is that you want? And maybe what it is you think others want that’s different?”

    “I think I will try to write something in the next little while about how we balance abstraction and experience in discussion–it’s not a simple or straightforward question, and Clark is hardly the only person ever to get it wrong.”

    Kristine, at the risk of being told to shut up by a BCC perma, I think the answers to your questions are found in your second statement. If you have all the right answers and those who want to politely and intelligently engage you are just wrong then what else can we conclude about comments at BCC than that they are only there to laud the superior wisdom of the permas?

    You (meaning all BCC homies that regularly show up to shout down anyone who dares have an opinion other than the received wisdom provided in an OP) should feel more than just guilt for your shabby treatment of Clark. I can’t think of another person who comments on LDS blogs that is more intelligently engaged without the least bit of sarcasm or rancor. He is always respectful, always thoughtful, always willing to engage ideas rather than personalities or emotion. He is also willing to admit when he’s wrong. Having Clark Goble show up and take your ideas seriously by analyzing them should be valued not disdained.

  47. I think part of what happened here is that those of us who feel pain over this issue do not see any utility in engaging Clark’s arguments point by point. He is clearly knowledgeable about the subject. He seems to know about the hierarchical language in the temple and the polygamist theology that shaped it historically. He has read D&C 132 about women being given to men in the next life and not getting a say about their husbands’ polygamy. I know our past prophet’s opinion that women themselves can not become gods, but are only necessary for their husbands’ exaltation, has been cited on this blog before. He knows what President Hinckley said about not worshipping or praying to Heavenly Mother. He knows what happened to those who did so in the open. He also knows about the contemporary lived inequalities in spiritual authority in Mormon women’s lives.

    He has come to the conclusion that it is baffling that any woman could feel the way some of us do about the ambiguity of women’s spiritual trajectory in this church. So I don’t see that there’s anything any of us could say other than what we have said–the contradictions between different versions of our theology are painful to us.

    It’s not that the scriptures Clark cites to back up the idea that women are destined for full and equal godhood are invalid. But Anna is right. They are only one side of this crazy coin and for every scriptural, prophetic, or practical argument that points towards full glory, agency, and power for women, there is another one that says the opposite.

    That tension is itself the source of the pain. We have hope, but we also have great fear. And the fact that the church has not done the work necessary to refute once and for all those fears only reinforces them.

  48. There are blogposts and related comments that are group therapy for working through pain that is based on some agreed upon premise. And that’s fine. In these cases, for someone to jump on and start disputing the premise is a distraction from the point of the post.

    I believe Clark realized this and therefore bowed out. When I saw the reaction to Clark I quickly realized the echo nature chamber of the comments and that the the function of this post wasn’t to invite critique (hence the “nakedly unacademic” in the title).

    I’m okay with that. Echo chambers provide an important function in providing a safe space to hash out issues when disputing the premises the issues are based on would just be a distraction. It’s the same rationale for why I believe BYU shouldn’t feel an obligation to hire an anti-Mormon professor, or why it would be in poor taste for an atheist activist to take the podium in F&T meeting and preach her own worldview.

    However, such posts are what they are, and should not presume to be some sort of objective analysis, so that those of us who disagree with the premise should realize that this isn’t the time nor the place.

    Anyway, there’s my meta-take on the issue, for what it’s worth.

  49. I’m not convinced that it’s really possible, or even desirable, to discuss a topic like this one in an objective sense. Pretending to do so can mean that we’re deliberately ignoring immense sources of personal pain, and so we’ve already lost the plot. I don’t think anyone should feel “more than just guilt” about this thread, however (PS what ‘more’ is there?). Clark, you’re a prince and we love you and you drive people crazy sometimes – that is the nature of community and you’re welcome here.

    And Dog Star is right on.

  50. It’s wrong to set up a dichotomy between blog posts that invite hard-headed analysis and others that are just for “group therapy.” That certainly doesn’t describe the original post here. Kristine’s post asks us to think about the pain that academic analysis can cause when it elides personal experience. That’s not group therapy; that’s a critique of academic analysis.

    The reason that many, including me, found Clark’s comments so frustrating is that he seemed to simply ignore the central thrust of the OP. His ignorance became offensive when it enacted the very problem that the OP identified.

    It’s hard to maintain civility in blog comments. Very hard. I appreciate Jason K.’s generosity in backpedaling on his comments about Clark. Yet his assessment of Clark’s tendencies on the blogs is precisely correct. Can we acknowledge that without hating each other? I don’t want to chase people like Clark away either.

  51. I do hope that there’s a productive difference between refusing to allow some women’s painful experiences of LDS theology to be dismissed in the usual ways and reducing BCC to an echo chamber. (I say this recognizing that my earlier comments were not especially productive in this regard.) For instance, W’s reminder that not all LDS women experience the pain evinced in the OP is useful because it points to a basic fact of the situation that raises the key question of practical theology: how can we charitably live in community with people whose experience differs from our own? That project dies the second we start dismissing people’s experience, and it’s why I should have been kinder to Clark than I was.

  52. I remember reading the Chicken Patriarchy post on ZDs a few years ago and it was like a lightbulb went off. Since then internet discussions on women’s issues seem to get deeper into the heart of the issue. It’s blog posts like this one, and comments like Dog Star’s that for me really tease out the issues in a way I can’t always put into words. They also give me hope in a way that keeps me going to church each Sunday. Thank you!!

  53. I think the discourse on this subject reflects a fundamental rub of our “faith”. Each of us have aspects of our actual lives that don’t fully manifest what we believe the gospel teaches us. Some are broad categories (women, minorities, etc), others are situational (single parents, severely ill, etc), some are intimate (a lonely member surrounded by fellowship, a repentant member still aching for a sense of redemption).

    At it’s broadest our doctrine teaches of blessings in this life and the life to come based on a combination of faith, works and overwhelmingly grace. When all of the scriptures, talks, administration, policies or actions don’t fully match up to that broad ideal – that is when our “faith” really gets tested.

    My guess is that some voices are trying to throw light on the scripture, doctrine, policy, etc that helps reaffirm that all gospel promises apply (not trying to ignore those that suggest otherwise). While others are looking for validation of the pain they feel when the gospel promises and personal experiences are not equal.

  54. Ronkonkoma says:

    A lot of feminists will be losing their exaltation in the last days.

  55. Ronk – That is a truly, truly cruel thing to say.

  56. Ronkonkoma: Perhaps, but can the rest of the saints gain it without them? We can’t be saved without each other.

  57. When the post includes statements like “assert any feminine subjectivity, even in the relatively privileged position of cis-het-married mother,” it’s difficult to instinctively read “with the heart and not the head.” Or at least, Kristine’s cris-de-coeur is several orders of magnitude more academic than most, rendering it somewhat unrecognizable as such to some of us.

  58. Ron, if that’s true at least I’ll have my integrity.

  59. Ronkonkoma says:

    Guys/gals
    Evidently this exaltation thing has been going on for eons. Husband is crowned king and priest unto God and woman is crowned queen and priestess and her husband. And yes, the man is in charge and has the ultimate authority. Perhaps this was the only way it could work. Exaltation is reserved for those who support the church, support the temple.. It’s not for those who condemn the church or criticize the temple. If feminists and their supporters continue on this path, they will lose their exaltation.

  60. “See the writing on the wall and react to it.” Wow, that comes off as being hugely superior.

    “With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” ~ Jesus

  61. Ronkonkoma–we don’t make pronouncements about strangers’ or groups of strangers’ righteousness around here. Subsequent comments in this mode will be deleted.

    Everyone else, please don’t feed the trolls.

  62. “While others are looking for validation of the pain they feel when the gospel promises and personal experiences are not equal.”

    I spent a couple hours thinking about this after first seeing Pcon’s words. It’s an interesting statement that is true of me. I do want validation. But while its nice knowing I’m not alone and that there are others that struggle with the same paradoxes, that isn’t the validation that is so vital to me (although there was a stage in my growth when I desperately needed to know I wasn’t crazy for seeing things the way I do).

    What I want now is the brethren to start addressing these issues. I want a special fireside for the women of the church (similar to what has been done with the youth and ysa) where very specific topics (such as the equal vs. preside language, why H.M. isn’t part of the creation, why women only get to covenant to their husbands rather than God) are discussed. I don’t even need answers to the questions. I just need the leadership of the church to acknowledge that the paradoxes exist and state that it is being evaluated and worked on. That to me is the meaning of validation. And since I have no way to get that message to them except for blogs (which I really think are monitored by the church), that’s where I go to make sure my voice gets out there.

  63. Admin, Got it.

    One question though. Is predicting that a commenter’s glory in the hereafter will be as small as his itty bitty manhood a problem? This is totally just out of curiosity and has absolutely nothing to do with recent machista comments. I’m fairly new to commenting on the blog so I just wanted to know.

  64. Yes, hypothetically, I’d have to say that would fall into the category of incivility we try to avoid. Usually. Hypothetically.

  65. Thanks for the clarification. I will absolutely never ever make that comment for reals.

  66. Thanks Kristine! The disconnect between Mormons’ shoestring but assertive theology of HM’s equality and the lived reality in the current structure and practice is heartbreaking. Those that think it can be fixed (or helped) by simply stronger assertions of abstract theological equality make the problem worse, not better. That’s how I read Clark’s comments as well intentioned and polite as they are. Theology should be judged by its power to positively transform communities. That is the fundamental principle of Zion in the Mormonism I love. Our current theology surrounding HM falls so short in this regard. It has been used to promise women a vague equality while failing to create basic equality in our community.

  67. First my thanks to Kristine for putting abstract theorizing in its proper place. I grant you that it’s useful, but not all of us can make use of it. Before commenting, I re-read the two prior posts by women I respect, and I even tried to get through Petrey in the Harvard Theological Review, but my thoughts kept wandering, often to the idea of academic writers who were talented as poets and artists too… Kristine is one of the few academics I read that can cut through the jargon and keep my mind engaged on her premise. I even looked up words* in the dictionary, and found them to be absolutely essential to express her meaning. That’s a worthy goal for any academician.

    I applaud her for the hat tips to a few of the most important elephants in the room when we talk about women at church — each of which could (and has) easily sustain(ed) a blog post of its own— 1) The ways that lived religion is different for women, 2) The marginal place of even completely institutionally loyal apologetic feminism, 3) The thin-ness of theological resources, 4) The official commitment to maintaining the lacuna,* and 5) Eliza R. Snow’s authority “problems.”

    But the one point that broke open my heart was the decades (decades!) of [imposed] silence between the 90’s excommunications and the emergence of any apologetic feminism. For me, that silence began earlier with the failure of the ERA, and I count myself among that lost generation of women. I can’t find words to say how much that hurts, to be learning now about the feminine divine, things that I badly needed as a young woman and a young mother. The things that I buried to remain Mormon. And yet it is a balm to see it beginning to be chronicled and articulated, finally at this late (for me) date. And yet, we still can’t talk about Her in Relief Society without risking being ostracized, or worse.

    I appreciate the shout out to ZD, another place of respite for my homeless generation of Mormon woman, and Cynthia’s quote that (to me) asks the question “Are righteous women destined to be in a giant anonymous harem in the afterlife? Or ministering to such an harem?” (Ew. Sorry.)

    I admire the comments this inspired, a few of which are delightful. Some of which broke open my heart all over again. Some that had me nodding in agreement. (Anna, Dog Star, Rah) I’m glad that Clark was among the commenters, even though I didn’t read every paragraph. He’s probably the best to represent his POV, which is most important because it is so ubiquitous. I know soooo many good men who think along those lines, suspicious of any non-conformist female notions, eager to settle them down with some good, solid scripture or doctrine or — something. I’m related to some of those guys. I love them dearly.
    And they have no idea about my struggle.

  68. John Mansfield says:

    When is it good feminism to say or take into account that women are less analytical than men and give greater priority to emotion, and when is it bad sexism? Is it one of those “who, whom” things?

  69. If it were true that women are less analytical than men, then it wouldn’t be either good or bad feminism to say it. Since it *isn’t* true, it is neither good nor bad feminism to say it. It’s just wrong.

  70. When is it bad? It’s bad when it’s your first or major or only response, or when it prevents you from listening to what’s being said, or when it’s used to explain away something you don’t want to hear, or when it’s used as a put down, or used as a way to marginalize someone, or used to make generalizations about women, or used at all, since it’s not true.

  71. …or what Kristine said.

  72. John Mansfield says:

    Kristine and A#4, did Cynthia L. above mischaracterize the nature of this nakedly unacademic post and Clark Goble’s wrong balance of abstraction and experience? “It’s pretty awesome, and totally predictable, that a post whose abstract could be ‘for women there’s an ache and a sore that never quite heals over on this topic, and in contrast men seem to want dry, pat analysis,’ is met with a man offering dry, pat analysis.” Supposedly she did not, and her comment got something right, unlike my wrong question.

  73. John, if you have two equally analytical an unemotional people standing side by side, and then you punch one of them in the face, and that one begins wailing for help while the other offers a dry, pat analysis of bone structures in the nose and face, it’s not because the latter is more analytical and the former is more emotional.

    Women have emotion on this issue because we are being metaphorically punched in the face in a way men are not.

  74. You’re mistaking “dry, pat” for logically rigorous, and the description of the practical effects of bad or insufficient theology for a lack of analysis. Cynthia did not do that.

  75. Clark Goble says:

    Since I seem to be the focus three quick points. First I’m not offended, hurt or anything else. My entire focus is to allow threads to develop the way the posters want. That said if the focus is lived experience then thinking through how those experiences are formed matters a great deal. To say that is analytic or academic instead of a focus on feelings or experience seems wrong. Finally imagine if one were to consider the lived experience of say the poor white working class in Appalachia and how they feel about Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. To discount the relationship between their experiences and feelings to the facts, the way information is presented and say we must only engage in terms of how they feel just seems to be missing something fundamental in the discussion. And again I’m not saying people here are like those people, just saying that the argument about how the discussion should proceed has parallels.

    To me the question was whether we were discussing lived experiences in their non-academic form or whether we were simply relating or affirming such experiences. In this post as with many similar ones along a diverse range of topic at BCC it’s clear the later is desired. And that’s fine. I think the commenters who want that kind of discussion should realize it’s not at all clear to readers that’s what’s intended. Especially when posts relate upon factual items. Again, to draw a parallel a discussion of say the pain and anger of Brietbart readers could be analyzed in terms of how they interpret the world around them or in terms of affirming their feelings. The latter just isn’t something I’m interested in as a discussion. That says nothing about how good or important such discussions are. Just that it’s a different sort of discussion than in prior years was typical here.

  76. But Clark, you (and John and others–I’m sorry you ended up being the poster child for a widely-held notion) are mistaken. There is not a neat bifurcation between thought and feeling in the way you suggest with some people (women) wanting “affirmation” of their experience and others (men) wanting logical rigor and analysis. Just characterizing the discussion that way is deeply pejorative and frequently sexist. I’m planning a post on this topic next week(ish), so let’s bracket this subthread until then.

  77. Rah – your last comment gave me the following realization regarding what happens in these discussions. I look at your statements about the shortcomings you feel and ponder that if you were to add the clause “for me” to them, how that would change the dialogue.

    Similar for those that would advocate that there is sufficient, adding the clause “for me” might help soften the message.

    But again, “faith” becomes a critical element – are the shortcomings or disconnects so great that our faith can’t sustain us, or is our faith such that we recognize the thin or abstract strands and grasp them as we wait for more. It’s not unique to this issue.

  78. For what it’s worth, it might be interesting to some of the people who have thought the OP was seeking “affirmation” of my feelings to know that I have never suffered a moment’s personal angst about Heavenly Mother. Truly. It’s just not one of the things that keeps me up at night–I find plenty of other issues for that. This is a pretty dry intellectual exercise for me. But I think that failing to acknowledge and account for women’s feelings and experiences in the church, and the way that theology influences that experience, is an _intellectual_ failure–an incomplete analysis.

  79. Clark Goble says:

    Kristine, I’m not saying the discussion has to be bifurcated that way. I’m just saying those who are saying my responses are bifurcating the discussion in that way are actually themselves making the bifurcation. I’m all about not bifurcating it. I don’t want to get into a discussion of this too much, but since you are the OP and you seem wiling to take the discussion in this direction I’ll speak to this as long as you are willing. (Again, my entire focus sincerely has been to be respectful of people’s desires of what they want to discuss – perhaps I’m not always as good at that as I should be but that’s my goal)

    When I raise the “feeling confused that anyone could come away from our theology with the idea that somehow ‘women follow the same trajectory as animals in our theology'” I’m raising a hermeneutic point about our lived experience. That is, given there are such clear pronouncements this isn’t true theology, how do people interpret it this way. This isn’t a question of theology but a question of how theology relates to lived experience (to respond to Loursat’s incorrect portrayal of my aims). You responded with “everything Clark says about scriptural teaching is true IFF ‘sons of God’ is assumed to mean everyone.” I then responded that this is factually false. (Both as theology and exegesis) I then provided texts why this claim is false.

    At this point the discussion changes. And I’m fine with this. Without going through all the examples probably the best exemplar is Dog Star’s. (And again lest I be misinterpreted again I don’t mean that as a criticism) She/he wrote “I think part of what happened here is that those of us who feel pain over this issue do not see any utility in engaging Clark’s arguments point by point.” This combined with Jason’s “you tend to focus more on propositions and logical arguments than on the experience of people (especially women), and, in cases of apparent conflict between the two, your “rule of faith” sides with the propositions. You then expect people for whom the propositions don’t fadge with lived experience to rationalize the difference for you.”

    Fundamentally a significant group don’t want an analysis of lived experience nor why some have this experience while others don’t. The fundamental hermeneutic issues are out of bounds for comments. Again, that’s fine if that’s what people want. (I would dispute those tying this to propositions or academics since Kristine’s original post is full of academic jargon, propositions, and argument – but that’s probably getting too in the weeds) Let’s just be honest that what is wanted isn’t consideration or analysis of lived experience. Just be upfront and say you want an emotional discussion of emotional issues. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s when people portray it as something else that confusion sets in and people then get upset.

  80. Clark Goble says:

    Again just to add, I completely 100% understand and agree with those who say they’ve tried explaining why they feel things over and over and don’t want those discussions anymore. But please realize I’m trying to give you what you want. Just be clear that you don’t want those discussions. Don’t portray it as wanting all discussion and then getting upset when part of the discussion turns out to be about the issues you’re tired of.

    There’s lots of arguments I’ve made over and over and I don’t want to do anymore because they’re exhausting. I fully am fine with people wanting to limit comment discussions along certain lines. As I’ve been at pains from the beginning I’m doing my best to give you what you want. What’s confusing is people sometimes saying they want this and sometimes saying they don’t.

  81. “Fundamentally a significant group don’t want an analysis of lived experience nor why some have this experience while others don’t. ”

    Or maybe it’s boring to them, because they’ve had reason to think it through a million times.

  82. Clark, I really appreciate your civility and patience, even at moments when I or others have lacked both.

  83. “There’s lots of arguments I’ve made over and over and I don’t want to do anymore because they’re exhausting.”

    Now finally Clark is starting to understand us! But only when he experiences it for himself, alas.

  84. Clark Goble says:

    Kristine, and that’s fine. There are tons of topics I don’t discuss anymore because it’s boring to me because I’ve gone through it time and time again. I almost never engage with Evangelicals on most issues anymore for exactly that reason. But again, let’s not complain about bifurcating the discussion when really you want the discussion bifurcated because of that boredom.

  85. Look, it’s not part of “emotional” or “lived experience” that needs “affirmation” that there is no depiction of a female divine in the temple film, no female voice existing in the pre-existence inhabited by several male voices, and no female actor participating in creation. That’s a fact. You think that you’re the logical, academic, objective counterpoint to the emotional women who need affirmation. That’s not why we don’t want to hear it anymore. We don’t want to hear it anymore because you’re not engaging with the points we are making and you’re ignoring a ton of facts. As Kristine said, “dry, pat” is not a synonym for rigorous. It means incomplete, simplistic, and ignoring or glossing over inconvenient and problematic aspects. Women don’t have the luxury of just glossing over those, because they punched us in the face. That doesn’t make us emotional, it makes us focused on something you seem staunchly dedicated to ignoring or glossing over. The “I know it says ‘sons,’ but…” example above is only the most hilarious example, but this problem saturates all the responses.

  86. Clark Goble says:

    Cynthia, I understood that from the beginning. Without repeating the cycle again, people assume that because someone doesn’t react the way they want them to react that somehow they don’t understand. As soon as it became clear people didn’t want that in these comments I bowed out. I even stated why I was bowing out and somehow few believed me. Then they claimed they didn’t want what they clearly showed they wanted. I’m just saying be upfront about what you want.

  87. Clark, it’s not weird or emotional or feminine or inconsistent to want people to engage with the points one is actually making, instead of ignoring them or pedantically giving an irrelevant response–that’s a pretty normal standard for human discussion, not some idiosyncratic requirement of certain (female) bloggers that needs to be specially accommodated to “affirm” their wishes.

  88. Clark Goble says:

    Kristine I respect you greatly, but I was engaging with your points. Perhaps not the way you wanted them engaged with but I was engaging with them.

    I’d add I don’t see emotions as bad nor feminine. Emotions are a fundamental and essential part of human cognition and dare I say it human reasoning. There are plenty of discussions I have where I want primarily emotional responses. Again, once again, I’m fine with what people want in this discussion. I just think people are trying to say they want one thing when they want something else.

  89. Yeah, we’re not getting anywhere. I’ll try to reframe the discussion in a productive way in another post. I think this is actually really relevant to a lot of conversations on BCC, so I’m glad it came up. Now everyone go read Taylor’s response and engage with his points!

  90. Clark Goble says:

    To clarify that first point, what I was focusing in on with my comments was your sixth paragraph. I didn’t engage issues of authority you raised although I had intended to circle back around to them once the issues in the sixth paragraph were clarified.

  91. Thank you, Clark, for your interesting analysis of the discussion in your comment at 8:30. I disagree with your analysis in one respect.

    The turning point in this discussion, as I perceived it, came sooner than you thought it did. The passage about equating women and animals in our doctrine seemed to me obviously a piece of mild hyperbole, not a serious statement about Mormon theology. This type of hyperbole is useful not because it makes a logical argument, but because it points out a painful lived reality—namely, that as a practical matter women sometimes feel no more important than animals in Mormon teaching. That you would seize on that point as a subject for doctrinal analysis struck me as obtuse and insensitive, even provocative. We all know that Mormons do not teach that women are no more important than animals. Cynthia’s point was not about what we teach, but about how we act. When interlocutors fundamentally misunderstand or mischaracterize a point in an argument, as you did, they should not be surprised when they get a sharp response.

  92. Clark Goble says:

    I can but note tone doesn’t always come through text. What is meant as hyperbole, sarcasm or so forth isn’t always clear. I did indeed take that comment as seriously intended.

  93. Thanks everyone for your contributions. I think it’s time to close the comments.