What I Learned in the Silence

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Natalie Brown is a former By Common Consent blogger. She is currently writing a memoir on the stories we tell about houses. You can follow her on Twitter @BtwnHouseHome.

The prophet invited Mormon women to take a break from social media, and they listened. My networks went silent with friends gone ghost. I know this, because I logged on occasionally to check announcements. What I discovered was a wasteland of quiet. I began logging on deliberately to process the silence, sharing my thoughts about the fast into the void it left behind. Wondering occasionally what other Mormons might think when they saw the dates and timestamps of my posts.

I learned in the silence that it is primarily Mormon women who amplify my voice. With Mormon women mostly absent, fewer people engaged with me. Although my networks include men and women, Mormons and non-Mormons, it is disproportionately Mormon women who comment, retweet or like what I have to say. I can’t fully explain why this is so, but my voice is diminished in their absence.

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Informal Gospel Study Groups

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“Do you have Priesthood approval for that gathering?”

It’s a question I’ve heard numerous times, and it’s always bothered me.

Over the years, across the country and even the world, I’ve participated in many informal gospel study groups.   They’ve often sat at the core of my social circles and been the site of some of my powerful spiritual insights. [Read more…]

A Sister-Nurturer Reacts to General Conference

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Bobbie Smith is a returned missionary, BYU graduate, and mother of a large family in the northeastern United States with a literal and metaphorical oversized heart. Said heart greatly affects the nature of her religious worship, community service, and housework.

Ten men (if I counted right) attended the General Women’s Session this past weekend and three men spoke. As I watched them take up more than half of our meeting, I thought of how few women are invited to speak in General Conference. I thought of the women denied permission to even attend priesthood session. Yet the men invite themselves not only to attend our women’s session, they also dominate the dais and they dominate the speaking roster. Was it even a women’s meeting, really? It was more of a combined “sister and priesthood meeting” this year, really, when you consider the gender breakdown of talks and the gender count of who was on the stand. These were sobering thoughts.

I crave women’s voices.  In my lifetime in the Midwest, we’ve never had a sister church authority visit us, ever. Our only options for  help with callings, family life, and personal growth have been “Time Out For Women,” which is expensive and kind of smacks of priestcraft.  I’ve never understood why the brethren get flown out on the church’s dime, yet I need to buy tickets to an expensive program if I want to hear guidance from female church leaders.  I hoped the Women’s Session would provide a chance for some empathetic instruction, and instead the time was consumed by men.

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Required Training

On Monday, I got an email from HR reminding me that, as part of the school’s Harassment Prevention & Business Skills initiative, I needed to complete an online Sexual Harassment for Employees course.

I did it that same day, largely because if I don’t get to a work email almost immediately, it can slip out of my mind. And I prefer not to forget to do things that are required for my employment.

The training was basically a series of videos essentially aimed at letting us know what constitutes sexual harassment, with the dual purpose of ensuring that (1) if we’re harassed, we understand our rights and what we can and should do about it, and (2) we don’t do things that constitute sexual harassment. After watching the videos, I had to take a short multiple choice quiz to pass the course. All in all, it took something less than half an hour to complete. [Read more…]

A Proverbs Acrostic For My Daughter

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Kaylee McElroy only wears sensible shoes (if she has to wear shoes at all) and is passionate about pants with functional pockets (even her Sunday slacks). She has degrees in physics and electrical engineering, but has spent the last few years as a rather alarmingly domesticated mostly-stay-at-home mom.

Proverbs 31 holds a special place in my heart.  I found it using the “open the scriptures to a random page” method, and marveled at the wonderful and rare picture of a strong, capable woman. You see, I had been praying to know if I should get engaged to the man I now call my husband, and I felt a strong impression that a marriage with him would allow me to become a capable and praiseworthy wife like the woman depicted in the text. (We’re over a decade in, and I’d still call it a good choice.)

The Proverbs 31 woman is empowered and not oppressed. A while ago, I read a book that challenged my thinking of women’s place in ancient societies. Women’s Work – the First 20,000 Years discusses textile manufacture in a variety of ancient cultures.  The Bronze Age in the Near East was a time and place of relatively great freedom for women, and I was delighted to learn that the woman of Proverbs 31, while certainly idealized, was also based on historical norms. [Read more…]

New YW and RS boards include two black women, “Common Ground” LGBT inclusion advocate

Photos of three new RS and YW board members.The Newsroom announced new leadership on the Young Women and Relief Society general boards yesterday. There is plenty to celebrate here! I wish I knew more about all of the women, but I love what I see and what I know behind the scenes about some of these picks. They include two black women, and a leader in BYU’s athletics department who has been part of NCAA’s efforts to improve the experience of LGBT student-athletes at religious schools.  [Read more…]

Women of Valour – and Economic Worth

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For as much as Mormons appropriate from evangelicals, I’m surprised we’ve never stolen the Proverbs 31 woman.

In A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans dedicates a chapter to the evangelical emphasis on Proverbs 31 as a guide to all things righteous feminine. “Visit a Christian bookstore, and you will find entire women’s sections devoted to books that extol her virtues and make them applicable to modern wives. At my Christian college, guys described their ideal date as a ‘P31 girl,” and young women looking to please them held a ‘P31 Bible Study.’”  The Proverbs 31 woman “looms so large over the biblical womanhood ethos” that many Christian view the passage “as a task list” to which they must comply in order to become perfect housewives and win the favor of men. [Read more…]

Mormon Whisper Networks and #MeToo

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In every singles ward I’ve ever attended, there have been predators.

Often they are charming, talented, witty men. Often they are proactive about quoting prophets and volunteering for service projects and asking women on dates. To their fellow Elders Quorumites, the predators are often indistinguishable from ordinary Priesthood holders.

But women suspect trouble. Stories of terrible dates, of over-aggressive advances, of nasty breakups and refusing to respect boundaries, quietly percolate among Relief Societies. When these women see a creepy or known threat approaching a friend, they quietly pull her aside and whisper a word of warning. [Read more…]

PEC is Dead; Long Live the Councils

When President Nelson announced the end of “priesthood executive committee” (PEC) meetings in Priesthood Session on Saturday night, many people wondered – is this a de facto increase in women’s role in leadership?

In recent years, the Church has increased his emphasis on “councils.”   Ward councils, teaching councils, mission councils, various program councils at Church headquarters – these councils have all worked to invite further participation from women. President Oscaron’s wonderful parting talk on Saturday emphasized this point, pointing out the multitude of ways that young women could assist in furthering ward council goals. While I still wish women could lead some of these councils, their increasing participation is cause for celebration.

It’s only been three days, but today I saw the first concrete evidence that the abolishment of PEC, more than merely deleting redundant meetings, may significantly increase the leadership voices of women in practice. [Read more…]

Church Updates Abuse Policies

At the close of business today, the Church updated its advice document, “Preventing and Responding to Abuse.”  As described by the Deseret News, the major changes are the following language:

• “Members should never be encouraged to remain in a home or situation that is abusive or unsafe.”

• “When a member of a stake presidency or bishopric or another assigned leader meets with a child, youth, or woman, he or she should ask a parent or another adult to be in an adjoining room, foyer, or hall. If the person being interviewed desires, another adult may be invited to participate in the interview. Leaders should avoid all circumstances that could be misunderstood.”

• “Church leaders should never disregard a report of abuse or counsel a member not to report criminal activity to law enforcement personnel.”

• “At least two adults must be present on all church-sponsored activities attended by youth or children.”

These are important changes, and I welcome them.  (I wish they had been explicitly stated decades ago, and there’s a lot further to go, but as an initial sign of serious commitment to change, I’ll take it.)   [Read more…]

Sitting in Council: First Sundays

If you’re like me, last Sunday was your first experience with the new third hour curriculum. Rather than a lesson, or even a General Conference talk, the first week of the month is “presidency’s choice” of topic. The second and third weeks are discussions on General Conference talks assigned by the presidency, and the fourth Sunday is on a topic assigned by the church (“Sabbath” for six consecutive months–kill me now). To me, switching from the Teachings manual to selected talks from the last General Conference is an upgrade for a few reasons. First, we spent more time on Howard Hunter than he actually spent in the role of church president. Some of these manuals were a little thin (his was pretty good, though). Second, we have a little more control on what talks we choose. Lastly, while I don’t love every General Conference talk, I figure those talks are more relevant to someone else, and there’s always something there for everyone.

Basically this gives us license to talk about what we want to talk about, which is steering into the skid since that’s what’s going to happen anyway. It feels more open. [Read more…]

Airing My Dirty Laundry

[B]y love serve one another.  For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Galatians 5:12-13

Our Sacrament Meeting theme last week was on service.  The Primary President spoke about how her summer enrichment with her kids has been setting a goal to serve others every day.  She spoke about how opportunities appeared as they sought them, describing with amusement the giggles of her children as they concocted a plan to stealthily pay for the car behind them in a fast food drive-through.

The high counselor then related an old Clay Christensen story, where Clay had discovered one summer day that an elderly woman in his ward had an ancient iron fridge in her basement filled with rotting food.  So Clay, as a good home teacher, took it upon himself to dispose of the fridge – and invited a neighbor to help.  As they’re dying in the heat, halfway up the stairs, the neighbor asks, “Clay, could you tell me a little bit about the Mormon Church?” And Clay said, “Don, frankly, this is the Mormon Church, right here.” [Read more…]

Death by (Correlation) Committee

Image result for primary teacher ldsA topic that often comes up in online discussion groups among Mormons is the teaching manuals. As most of us know, these are written by a committee called the Curriculum Committee (under the oversight of the Correlation Committee). [3] “Correlation” was a byproduct of decades-long efforts to standardize materials, culminating in the 1960s, a huge effort to amass all leadership, budgets, publications, and teaching materials under one hierarchical, priesthood-overseen umbrella rather than separate auxilliary heads as it had been in the past. (See footnote 3 for a much more thorough explanation of the history.) This was to quash rogue teaching that might occur when these things were being done under separate oversight. As with anything where uniformity is the goal, blandness and groupthink is often the result (whereas rogue teaching, inequity, and folklore is often the result of the other approach). Because teachers in the church are average church members using these manuals to the best of their ability, lesson quality varies greatly. Additionally, everyone who has held a teaching calling (and that’s most active members) has an opinion on the materials they are provided and how effective they are.

You can listen to a podcast describing the curriculum process here. Just reading the overview of it on that same page is very interesting. You can read the transcript of an interview with Dan Peterson about his time on the Curriculum Writing committee here.
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The Thermostat Wars

There’s one thing that’s driving a wedge between men and women in the church every single week, that creates discomfort and distrust for both. Is it polygamy? Gender roles in the proclamation? No. It’s the Gospel Doctrine Thermostat Wars. Every week the drama plays out again in my Arizona ward: the men want the AC cranked up, and the women are shivering under pashminas and cardigans. It’s largely because of the ridiculous dress code at church in which women (who are often colder anyway) have bare legs and feet in sandals and short sleeves while the men (who are often warmer anyway) are wearing socks, closed shoes, heavy pants, jackets, long sleeved shirts buttoned to the neck.

I would say this is a heated argument, but not from where I’m sitting. [Read more…]

175 Years of Relief Society

Uchtdorf at the Women’s Session: Something for Everyone #ldsconf

The silver fox is my animal spirit guide at General Conference.

Pres. Uchtdorf, aka the “Silver Fox” as he is known in my ward and probably everywhere else, hit yet another home run in the Women’s Session, batting clean up for the three female speakers.  He opens with:

Today, I too have a story to share. I invite you to listen with the Spirit. The Holy Ghost will help you to find the message for you in this parable.

He shares the story of an 11 year old girl named Eva who did not want to go to live with her Great-Aunt Rose.   [Read more…]

Zina D. H. Young

Along with her close friend (and sister wife twice over) Eliza R. Snow, Zina D. H. Young was part of the power duo of Mormon women in the second half of the nineteenth century. Popular wisdom held that Eliza was the head and Zina the heart, complementing each other as they traveled indefatigably around Utah (and beyond) to do the work of the Relief Society. (Picture two women in their late 50s, traveling alone through the deserts of Utah, camping together under the stars when they didn’t manage to reach a settlement.) [Read more…]

Temple Prep for Daughters: Brace Yourself

This post is an honest and personal admission of my raw feelings about attending the temple as a woman and my budding concerns as the mother of a daughter. [Read more…]

How to “know Brother Joseph again” using the First Vision

linford-first-vision[Another part of my ongoing “Tips for Teachers” series. See the associated links here.]

My friend’s ward has an interesting Elder’s Quorum lesson schedule and I’m not sure how wide-spread it is in other wards. It goes like this:

1st Sunday: EQ Presidency Message
2 & 3rd: PH/RS manual
4th: “Teachings for our Times” (usually a conference address)
5th: Bishopric message

As EQ president, he gets to select lesson topics once a month. For the past few months he’s made use of the Church’s new Gospel Topics essays on issues like “Race and the Priesthood,” “Becoming Like God” and “Book of Mormon Translation.” This month he decided to focus on the new piece about the First Vision so I told him about a lesson I put together back when I taught Elder’s Quorum lessons in my Maryland ward.

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Emmeline B. Wells

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Mormon Lectionary Project

With this post, the MLP inaugurates something we’ve been meaning to do for a while: use the lectionary format to celebrate specific LDS figures. In the spirit of the 1978 First Presidency statement noting the contributions made by non-LDS religious leaders and philosophers to the spread of light and truth, we’ll also be expanding the series to honor a broad spectrum of people who have contributed to the advancement of the human family from a smaller capacity to a greater one. We’re also increasing the amount of LDS scripture in each post, to include selections from the Small Plates, the abridgments of Mormon and Moroni, and the Doctrine and Covenants or Pearl of Great Price.

Emmeline B. Wells

Ruth 1:8-18, 2:4-17 (NRSV); Psalm 119:41-48 (1662 BCP); Luke 18:1-8 (NRSV); 2 Cor. 8:1-9 (NRSV); 2 Ne. 25:21-23; Ether 12:23-28; D&C 88:117-26

The Collect: O God, thou who givest us both daily bread and holy light to feed our minds and spirits, grant that we, like thy servant Emmeline B. Wells, may, through the grace of thy Son, Jesus Christ, write, teach, serve, and lead, that our sisters and brothers might forever be established in the strength of thy Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Many Are Chosen, But Few Are Called

In a well publicized pre-emptive move, the church issued a statement last week that women seeking tickets to the April 5 Priesthood session would be relegated to the “free speech zone,” traditionally the purview of anti-Mormon protesters.  Kate Kelly, founder of the group Ordain Women, was characteristically gracious in her reply.  From the article:

“We are disappointed that we weren’t granted tickets,” says Kate Kelly, one of the founders of Ordain Women. “But it is a positive step that public affairs is responding to us, indicating that one day maybe the higher authorities will be able to hear our concerns.” [Read more…]

Plan of Salvation: Shark Edition

As I was reading chapter 3 the Joseph Fielding Smith manual for tomorrow, I came across the awesomest sentence fragment I have ever read in a Teachings of the Prophet manual. It also happens to be the awesomest example ever used to explain resurrection. As he describes the universality of the resurrection, Pres. Smith writes:

Every fundamental part of every body will be restored to its proper place again in the resurrection, no matter what may become of the body in death. If it be burned by fire, eaten by sharks, no matter what. Every fundamental part of it will be restored to its own proper place. [Emphasis added.] [Read more…]

Mormon Marriage Equality

Are men and women partners or competitors?  What about in marriage?  Do men feel threatened by wives with successful careers?

Are Mormon marriages more equal or less equal than other marriages?  Do Mormon women feel that they are taken seriously and treated as equals by their husbands?  Are they encouraged to follow their dreams?  Do they find their work (whether at home or in the workplace) meaningful and rewarding?  In the give and take of marriage, are men and women giving and taking fairly?

I recently finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In.  In the book, she talks about several things we can do to help women achieve their potential and to help men and women feel more equal and personally satisfied, within their personal lives and in the workplace.  This list includes things like: [Read more…]

A new (but actually old) list of suggestions for increasing opportunity for women and girls in the Church

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Look at that beautiful missionary choir! How about filling in some of the seats below them as well?

Quiz time!

When was the following suggested?

“Within the Church, changes in four key areas would create increased opportunity for women and girls:

1. Improve women’s access to decision-making forums.

—Examine meetings from which women presently are excluded. If women were to contribute, would it help the decision-making process? If so, open such meetings to women’s auxiliary heads or other relevant women leaders at the ward, stake and general levels of the Church.

—Within the corporate offices of the Church, employ more women in a greater variety of positions.

—Develop and emphasis leadership training skills for women so that they can more effectively participate in meetings.

2. Increase access to ward callings and duties. Several ward callings and offices have evolved into priesthood callings. Such callings should be reevaluated to determine if priesthood is a necessary prerequisite. Where it is not, women should serve in those offices equally with men. [Read more…]

Laying on of hands and other new church history website content

imagesI don’t know if you are following all the new releases on the JSP and Church History websites, but much of it is completely fascinating. For instance, did you see this story about “A Bit of Old String: Mary Whitmer’s Unheralded Contributions” by my favorite historian ever? Add it to your files about women in church history.

And then there’s this new entry  within the topic section of the Joseph Smith Papers site: [Read more…]

Review: Joanna Brooks, “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith”

Title: The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith
Author: Joanna Brooks
Publisher: Self published (but not for long…)
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2012
Pages: 204
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 9780615593449
Price: $11.99

Rumor has it Joanna Brooks’s self-published memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl has been picked up by Free Press/Simon & Schuster for national publication this August with an expanded chapter-and-a-half. We’ve seen a lot of chatter about her book online recently, so I thought I’d venture a review. I hope you’ll excuse my decision to kick things off with an observation based on personal experience. (The Book of Mormon Girl is, after all, a personal memoir!) My own undergraduate years were spent writing and editing articles for a variety of small Utah newspapers. I remember how daunting it felt to be assigned an article on a subject I knew next-to-nothing about, like computer animation, mechanical engineering, or say, feminism. Oh, how comforting to a journalist is that friendly, articulate insider willing to endure the inane questions of—and likely later misrepresentation by—the stammering cub reporter! [Read more…]

Some random thoughts about Relief Society

Last month I was visiting my father’s ward and happened to notice a blurb in the ward bulletin about the upcoming Relief Society birthday. It gave a (very) brief history of Relief Society’s origins followed by an invitation for the ladies in the ward to attend a “Hats Off to Relief Society!” tea in honor of the organization’s anniversary. (By coincidence, my own ward was planning a hat-themed tea party for the Relief Society’s birthday. Or maybe it wasn’t a coincidence. Maybe there’s a church-wide conspiracy to get Mormon women to wear more hats. I had intended to do more research on the subject, but the project has since fallen by the wayside, I’m afraid. Anyway.)

The reason I found this blurb noteworthy was that the heading for it read “Separate But Not Equal.” What was the author trying to say? It’s like they had just enough knowledge of history to know that they didn’t want to compare the formation of Relief Society to Plessy v. Ferguson, but couldn’t quite bring themselves to let go of the segregation theme. (That would have made for an interesting tea party, wouldn’t it? Probably better that they went with the hat thing.)

Anyway, it was a head shaker. Part of me was tempted to imagine the bulletin being written by some subversive person wanting to draw attention to the gender inequality in Mormonism, but I know that it was probably just somebody not really thinking about what they were doing. Now I’m using it as a mildly amusing anecdote to introduce a not-particularly-coherent post about Relief Society. [Read more…]

Poll: Home and Visiting Teaching edition

It’s that time of year again, vowing to lose ten pounds, read your scriptures daily, hold FHE, and become the ward’s world’s best home or visiting teacher! (poll below the fold) [Read more…]

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich lecture: “Stirring up LDS History” Live Blog

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Updated to now include video of the lecture.

Sponsored by Sunstone and Friends of the Marriott Library at the University of Utah

Relief Society sisters now have a new resource—a compact history of the Relief Society called Daughters of My Kingdom. The new manual, which is to be used from time to time for lessons given the first Sunday of each month, is not only unusual for its focus on women but for its chronological organization. Most Church manuals are organized thematically, offering little scope for discussing change over time. Despite its uplifting narrative, this manual may require a new set of skills. As teachers of women’s history know, you can’t just “add women and stir.”

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich taught her first Relief Society lesson more than fifty years ago, when she was an undergraduate attending a student ward at the University of Utah. She began teaching women’s history at the college level in 1975 when she was a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire. She is the author of many books and articles on early American history and women’s history and is now completing her first book-length work in Mormon history, “A House Full of Females: Family and Faith in Nineteenth-century Mormon Diaries.” She is 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University.

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Chieko Okazaki (1926 – 2011)

Chieko Okazaki

Chieko Okazaki

What is the appropriate way to mourn the passing of an individual with such limitless optimism and cheer as Chieko Okazaki? How can our hearts not ache and rend at the loss of someone whose life deeply influenced so many? And yet, can a memorial full of anguish appropriately honor the one with the sunny spunk to tell us to Lighten Up?
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