Can Women Matter?

An organizational chart from the New York and Erie Railroad, ca. 1855

Women don’t count in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I say this not as a critique of male Mormons’ attitudes towards women, nor as a doctrinal proposition, nor yet as the cri de coeur of a woman who has been scorned or abused by a church leader. I say it simply as a matter of bureaucratic fact.

A fully functional Mormon ward, able to administer all the requisite ordinances outside of the temple, can be constituted with exactly one woman–the bishop’s wife–because we are still sticklers about that NT “husband of one wife” standard. A branch can be constituted with no women. When deciding whether to create a new unit in any of the stakes of Zion, the only tally that matters is the number of active Melchizedek priesthood holders. [Read more…]

Roundtable on The Power of Godliness, Part II

The next installment of our discussion on Stapley’s book comes from Taylor Petrey. Taylor is Associate Professor in the Religion Department at Kalamazoo College, with research interests in the body, gender, and sexuality in antiquity and the formation of Jewish and Christian identity in the ancient world.
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Stapley’s The Power of Godliness has cracked the code on Mormon discourse about priesthood. This book brings so much clarity to a complex topic that has confounded outsiders and insiders to the Mormon tradition alike. The key that unlocks the mystery is Stapley’s historical analysis revealing two different ways Mormons have used the term “priesthood” and two different conceptual universes behind them. Sometimes overlapping and sometimes diverging, these two different meanings of priesthood are based in notions of church order that date to different periods in Joseph Smith, Jr.’s prophetic ministry. Rather than harmonizing Mormon history or Mormon thought under a single rubric or organizing principle, Stapley points to a foundational tension in Mormonism that holds immense explanatory value. [Read more…]

The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology

BCC’s very own J. Stapley has published a remarkable book. So we are going to remark upon it. At length.

We’ll kick off our roundtable discussion with a post from Hannah Jung, a graduate student in history at Brandeis University and expert in Mormon women’s history.
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Jonathan Stapley takes ritual seriously. His book The Power of Godliness looks at what rituals do for the people that perform them. “By tracing the development of the rituals and attempting to ascertain the work they have accomplished,” Stapley tells us, “the Mormon universe, with its complex priesthoods, authorities, and powers, becomes comprehensible.” (2) Or, more simply, his book asks what Mormons have meant when they have invoked the term “priesthood” and how they imagined themselves in relation to it. This process has changed over time: “instead of viewing priesthood as channeling the power of God, church leaders began to describe the priesthood as the power of God.” (12) Stapley frames his analysis by discussing two different notions of priesthood: ecclesiastical and cosmological. Ecclesiastical priesthood refers to the ordination of Mormon men to different offices in the Church hierarchy. Cosmological priesthood is an idea developed gradually by Joseph Smith and reflected in the temple liturgy in the temple. Although the ritual practices inside the temple have not fundamentally changed, Stapley asserts that the cosmological priesthood that undergirded the temple liturgy is no longer recognizable to contemporary Latter-day Saints. The Power of Godliness is, therefore, a project of historical recovery. He is successful: Stapley has laid a foundation for new conversations and questions about priesthood and religious power for years to come. [Read more…]

An Offender for a Word

Elder Cook’s talk on Sunday afternoon began by matter-of-factly quoting a woman as a spiritual authority (thanks for pointing this out, Ardis!). He focused much of the final portion of the talk on unity and equality among the Saints. He described an ideal of sisters and brothers bound by covenant to love and care for each other and not splintered into -ites  by  -isms, and the temple as the place where we can reach for this ideal. There is a lot to appreciate and learn from this address.

But sometimes rhetoric runs away with good thinking. I suspect that’s partly what happened in the now infamous portion of Elder Cook’s talk. He was making the point that we should be concerned about ALL sex outside of marriage, not just sexual assault outside of marriage. It’s a reasonable point, given the LDS commitment to chastity, and I appreciated his condemnation of “the objectification of women.” But rhetorically, setting up a comparison between “consensual immorality” and “non-consensual immorality” is a disaster. It blurred his praise of the #metoo moment, which we would be applauding, if only he had not gotten hoist with his own euphemism. [Read more…]

More Love

More love, more love!
The heavens are blessing,
the angels are calling,
O Zion, more love.

From the Archive: Epiphany

We celebrated “Little Christmas” in my house growing up (mostly as the day to take down the Christmas tree), but it was only vaguely connected with the arrival of the magi in my understanding until much later. In college, I sang for the morning prayer service, a wonderfully awkward mashup of Harvard pomp and attempts at Christian humility. It was there that I first heard this memorable passage from Evelyn Waugh’s forgettable and forgotten novel Helena. In a passage near the end of the book, the titular Helena, sainted (literally!) mother of the emperor Constantine, has made a pilgrimage to Bethlehem in search of the vera crux. At the Feast of Epiphany, she muses on the Wise Men’s belated arrival to worship the infant Christ. This prayer has become the beloved ending of my personal observance of Christmas. [Read more…]

“Here is the rest we seek…”

“Who knocks tonight so late?”
the weary porter said.
Three kings stood at the gate,
each with a crown on head.

The serving man bowed down,
the Inn was full, he knew.
Said he, “In all this town
is no fit place for you.”

A light in the manger lit;
there lay the Mother meek.
This place is fit.
Here is the rest we seek.

Come, come. They loosed their latchet strings,
so stood they all unshod.
“Come in, come in, ye kings,
and kiss the feet of God.”

–Laurence Housman

I’m not sure if it is just because I’m getting older, or if it has been an especially bad year for my friends. But for whatever reason, or perhaps for no reasons at all, many of my dear ones are bearing hard, heavy burdens this Christmastime. It hasn’t been an easy year for me, either. I am tempted to despair.
[Read more…]

Hallelujah, Amen!

The Church has posted an update to its statement on the white supremacist mob in Charlottesville. It is unequivocal in its condemnation of members who support this movement:

UPDATE: Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Church has released the following statement:

It has been called to our attention that there are some among the various pro-white and white supremacy communities who assert that the Church is neutral toward or in support of their views. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the New Testament, Jesus said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-39). The Book of Mormon teaches “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).

White supremacist attitudes are morally wrong and sinful, and we condemn them. Church members who promote or pursue a “white culture” or white supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church. [Read more…]

Lost Longing, Or, The Book You Didn’t Know You Needed

It’s almost Mother’s Day. I can tell from the little knot of confusion pushing itself towards the front of my consciousness. On Father’s Day, it’s easy to choose the hymns: “O My Father,” and “Our Father, By Whose Name”– Our Father, by whose name all fatherhood is known…Thy children bless in every place, that they may all behold thy face/and knowing thee, may grow in grace.

No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home…

There aren’t hymns for Mother’s Day, not really. Beyond affirming Her existence, we don’t know what to sing or say. So we argue–it’s easy enough to name the doctrinal and historical complications of naming Our Mother, and often, those complications are a comfort. The retreat into theory eases the ache of the simple questions.

Until someone writes a series of small, perfect poems asking simple questions, like the ones in Rachel Hunt Steenblik’s Mother’s Milk, forthcoming from BCC Press. [Read more…]

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. [Read more…]

“In Remembrance of Me”: the Sacrament of Root Beer Floats

I have a wonderful home teacher. He tries to visit every month, despite our frequent too-busyness; he remembers every child’s birthday, and mine; he shows up to baseball and basketball games and high school improv nights to cheer for my kids. Once I posted something on Facebook about how much I love lilacs, and he and his wife were at my door within the hour, arms full of gorgeous blooms–I think they must have cut down an entire lilac bush in their yard. When he asks if there is anything he can do for us, I know the question is sincere and heartfelt and would be followed by the relocation of at least a New England-sized mountain if I asked. He seems disappointed when I can’t think of anything to ask for. [Read more…]

On the Sweetness of Mormon (Studies) Life

We just heard the news that historian Ronald Walker has passed away after a long illness. Later this week, we’ll post a proper tribute to his life’s work and his wonderful contributions to our understanding of our shared faith. But today, I’m crying because his daughter is my friend and lives down the street from me, and his grandson was in my Primary class. And through my tears, I’m glad for all the ways Mormonism makes the world small enough for us to know each other, to have a right sense of the scale of things–we are all small, and we all matter infinitely.

More Love

It has been a hard week. It can’t be wrong to repost this.

 

More love, more love!

The heavens are blessing,
the angels are calling.
O Zion, more love, more love.

If ye love not each other in daily communion,
how can you love God whom you have not seen?

More love, more love,
O Zion, more love.

Afflicted Saint, to Christ Draw Near

from the 1927 LDS Hymnal, by John Fawcett

Afflicted Saint, to Christ draw near,
Thy Saviour’s gracious promise hear;
His faithful word declares to thee
That “as thy day, thy strength shall be.”
[Read more…]

Guest Post: Rough Stone Rolling Book Club

A guest post from J Stuart, of Juvenile Instructor (The BCC Farm Team)

Summer Book Club: Read Rough Stone Rolling with Historians of Mormonism

As a Mormon and historian of American religion, I’ve had a lot of people ask me what book they should read to begin their study of Mormon history. Unequivocally, my answer is Richard Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. Weighing in at 561 pages, it is longer than the Book of Mormon—which is perhaps why so few have read Bushman’s tome from cover to cover. The book itself can be physically and intellectually intimidating to historians and non-historians alike. Many Mormons and non-Mormons have read and digested the book in order to see Joseph Smith’s place in the history of antebellum America, American religious history, or just to learn more about Mormonism’s founder. [Read more…]

The Great Vigil of Easter

Many Christian traditions celebrate an Easter Vigil. The version I have experienced is the Episcopal one, from the Book of Common Prayer. I’m not sure I have a lot to say about it, except that it’s beautiful, and that it seems familiar to me. It reminds me of the temple endowment in many ways–it is a retelling, recreation of salvific history from Creation to Fall to Atonement to Exaltation:

Let us hear the record of God’s saving deeds in history, how
he saved his people in ages past; and let us pray that our God
will bring each of us to the fullness of redemption.

 

One of my favorites of the sermons I’ve been able to publish in Dialogue is an Easter Vigil sermon; I think it gets at both what might seem familiar to Mormons and what might be strangely, newly lovely in it. [Read more…]

Wednesday in Holy Week (Tenebrae)

 

In the Anglican tradition, a service called Tenebrae is often celebrated on Wednesday in Holy Week. According to the Episcopal Book of Occasional Services,


Apart from the chant of the Lamentations (in which each verse is introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet), the most conspicuous feature of the service is the gradual extinguishing of candles and other lights in the church until only a single candle, considered a symbol of our Lord, remains. Toward the end of the service this candle is hidden, typifying the apparent victory of the forces of evil. At the very end, a loud noise is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of the resurrection (Matthew 28:2), the hidden candle is restored to its place, and by its light all depart in silence.

[Read more…]

Epiphany II

We celebrated “Little Christmas” in my house growing up (mostly as the day to take down the Christmas tree), but it was only vaguely connected with the arrival of the magi in my understanding until much later. In college, I sang for the morning prayer service, a wonderfully awkward mashup of Harvard pomp and attempts at Christian humility. It was there that I first heard this memorable passage from Evelyn Waugh’s forgettable and forgotten novel Helena. In a passage near the end of the book, the titular Helena, sainted (literally!) mother of the emperor Constantine, has made a pilgrimage to Bethlehem in search of the vera crux. At the Feast of Epiphany, she muses on the Wise Men’s belated arrival to worship the infant Christ. This prayer has become the beloved ending of my personal observance of Christmas. [Read more…]

…And Bitter Weeping

Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard in [Peshawar], lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.

Music, when Soft Voices Die


Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory;
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heap’d for the belovèd’s bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.
–Percy Bysse Shelley

[Read more…]

A Confession and an Apology

Please forgive a self-indulgent post.

I have been one of the people who has thought and said that it’s unreasonable for members of the Church to feel betrayed when they discover facts about Church history that they hadn’t encountered in the official curriculum. I’ve thought that such ignorance reflected intellectual laziness for not having done a little bit of homework to learn about our history, and/or emotional immaturity for “flying off the handle” in the face of the belated discovery.

I was wrong and I am sorry.

[Read more…]

Yes! Women Count!

Happy news: the people responsible for the llama credits have been sacked, and the General Women’s meeting will henceforth be called “General Women’s Session of general conference.” It’s a gesture that matters, despite its bureaucratic nature and relatively small impact. I hope it will be received graciously, with a recognition that “out of small things proceedeth that which is great.”

Tanner Lecture TOMORROW in SLC

If you’re in the SLC area, don’t miss David Campbell tomorrow night at the SLC Library. David is an engaging, fun speaker (besides being wicked smaht!) Details below: [Read more…]

Temple and Observatory Group Meeting

The Temple and Observatory Group is offering a seminar for those in the midst of a faith transition or crisis in the Minnesota area on
Saturday, Sept. 27 at 6125 Shingle Creek Pkwy, Brooklyn Center, MN 55430. Featured speakers include Terryl and Fiona Givens and Spencer Fluhman.

The event begins at 10:30 and goes until 3:30.

Dear Membership Software People

Please make sure that the membership software prompts a ward clerk to ask recently-married women about their preference for their surname. It’s 2014. [Read more…]

Some Thoughts on the Role of Men in the Church

…wrote no one, ever.

QED

Balm in Gilead

[Read more…]

Music for Sunday

[Read more…]

Things My Father Taught Me (by accident)

My dad taught me a lot of things on purpose–of all the roles fathers play, I think the role of teacher was the one he was most comfortable in. But he also taught me a lot of lessons that I’m pretty sure he didn’t realize he was giving at the time. Here is a partial list: [Read more…]

Sometimes I Feel Like I’m Almost Gone