Review: Thunder From The Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics

Matthew L. Harris, ed. Thunder From the Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics.
Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2019.
Hardcover, 260 pages.
Footnotes. Bibliography. Index.
Cloth: $99.00. Paper: $27.95. Kindle: $14.95. [Kindle not paginated.]
ISBN-10: 0252042255
ISBN-13: 978-0252042256

Ezra Taft Benson, whose life spanned most of the twentieth century, was an important figure in US politics and religion. Several times a candidate for president of the United States, he was a prominent anti-communist and John Birch Society supporter. An LDS apostle from 1943 until his death in 1994 (Benson became the 13th president of the church in 1985), he was a powerfully conservative voice on traditional roles of women at home rather than the workplace and was the founder of an influential thread of Mormon political philosophy. These themes and others are explored in a new volume edited by historian Matthew Harris (Colorada State Univ-Pueblo), from the University of Illinois Press. Harris recruited a number of familiar voices from the world of Mormon studies, including Gary Bergera, (noted Mormon author), our own Matthew Bowman (assoc. prof. of history, Henderson State Univ.), Newell Bringhurst (emeritus prof. of history), Brian Q. Cannon, (prof. of history, BYU), Robert Goldberg (prof. of history, Univ. of Utah), J. B. Haws (assistant prof. of history, BYU), Andrea G. Radke-Moss (prof. of history BYU-Idaho).

Each of the eight essays provides penetrating scholarship on various aspects of the career of one of the most important and influential Mormon figures of the last century.
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Study hard, learn lots…and don’t slam the door!

When you grow up here, you need all the advice you can get.

I grew up in a rural area, so far away from the nearest bus stop that my dad would drop me and my brother off on his way to work. He would stop on the side of the highway, we would tumble out, and he would invariably holler after us, “Study hard, learn lots, be good, stay out of trouble, and don’t slam the door!” We would mumble, “Yeah, sure, Dad,” in reply, slam the door, and go find our friends. I guess his advice eventually rubbed off though, as I went on to at least study hard and stay out of trouble, even if I didn’t learn much or become very good.

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Exhausted Heaven

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Mette Ivie Harrison is a well-known mystery and young-adult novelist and frequent BCC guest.  She is the author of The Book of Laman, and the forthcoming The Book of Abish, published by BCC Press.

Sometimes Mormons joke about the reality of what heaven looks like, especially for women.  I suspect this is doctrine that the institutional church may be turning away from (like the doctrine of ruling planets that makes us just look really weird to other Christians), but the idea that heaven will just be a continuation of all the work women do now is, well, exhausting.  In heaven, women will have billions and billions of children, as if gestation happens there as it does here on earth.  Women will continue to do visiting teaching (at least that’s what my last Relief Society President said).  They will continue to make a lovely home for their husbands and their already birthed children, grandchildren, and so on.  There will be no rest or respite in heaven, at least not for women. [Read more…]

From Broken Hearts to Expansive Love

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[BCC Editorial Note: this guest post contains raw and personal details of sexual assault, ecclesiastical abuse, and grace.  The content may not be advised for all readers.]

PAR has degrees from places warm and sunny, cold and cloudy, and hot and sticky. None of those degrees led to work he enjoyed.  He then realized having a job was the problem and now does his own thing for clients he mostly likes.

I’d like to share a little bit of my journey with you, friend.  Because I feel like maybe you don’t see me.  Not just me, but people like me.  I grew up in the Church.  I served a mission.  I went to school.  I worked.  I went to more school.  I worked.  Then I went to more school.  In school round three, I met my now-wife.  Through that point I probably voted like you.  I knew the prescribed answers at church really well.  You probably saw me as a model Mormon.  Sometimes, though, life happens.   [Read more…]

My Valentine to the Church

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It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’ve felt inspired to take a moment and write some reflections on my gratitude and love for the Church.

My last few weeks have sparked a renewed joy in the gospel.  Two years ago I left my cluster of friends in the one and only true ward (thanks California!).  Ever since, I’ve felt a little aloof from the heart of Mormonism.   Yet recently, my Sabbath experience has been refreshed as a delight.

The new two-hour block and Come Follow Me curriculum seems to have galvanized my ward — gospel doctrine discussions have increased in thoughtfulness; Relief Society lessons have increased in vulnerability.  I’ve heard raw and inspiring commentary from the pulpit during Sacrament Meeting; slightly shorter talks have focused the content on Christ.  My family created a listserv to discuss the Book of Mormon; my friend circle Mormon Studies book clubs are going strong.  An intimate discussion on the temple overflowed with wisdom and hope.  I love the emphasis on ministering and the ways I’ve begun connecting with every individual in my ministering circle.  Then last Sunday, I had a conversation with my Bishop that embodied the best of pastoral care.

When the body of Christ is healthy, it is truly divine. [Read more…]

Infertility and Choosing Motherhood

When we first got married, my husband, Jon, and I figured we’d eventually have three children, but agreed to wait and enjoy life with just the two of us for a good long while. During those first couple years, my periods went from problematic to extremely painful, and then debilitating, culminating in an embarrassing incident in the mother’s room at church where an investigator found me writhing on the floor and throwing up from pain. Visitors welcome! This was a turning point for me though, because once I was recovered enough for Jon to walk me to the car, the Primary president (who was the first person the investigator found when she ran for help, whom Jon had to talk down from calling an ambulance) kindly insisted, “This isn’t normal; it doesn’t need to be like this,” and urged me to see the reproductive endocrinologist who had helped her daughter with similar symptoms. I made an appointment the next day.

He believed me. I cried in his office! (I am not a public crier.) I was just so grateful to be validated instead of having my pain be downplayed again. (I had been told by more than one doctor to just take Midol.) [Read more…]

“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” #BCCSundaySchool2019 (Part 1)

Come Follow Me Manual Recommended Readings:  Matthew 3 (quoting Isaiah 40); Mark 1; Luke 3; John 1.

Upfront Note:  In preparing my BCC Sunday School lesson this week, I realized my content was divided into two major chunks — one whimsical about Godspell, and one academic about the history of baptism.  For ease of use and commentary, I’m publishing them as two separate back-to-back posts.  Part 2 is here.

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The God Who Stoops

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In discussing the advance of women’s rights, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has often remarked that when we set women on a pedestal, we actually lock them in a cage.

I’ve been wondering lately whether the same could be said about God.  (And even more so, Heavenly Mother.)  When we consign our Heavenly Parents to a throne of glory in the distant heavens, we’re actually locking them behind human constructs of divinity.  We’re building a wall of checkpoints and purity standards, then barring all we deem unholy or unclean from approaching their mercy.

Our all-to-common vision of God on a celestial pedestal gets it all backwards. To borrow a phrase from Rachel Held Evans’s latest book Inspired: our God stoops. [Read more…]

When the Primary President Doesn’t Love Kids

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Today’s guest post comes from Rebbie Brassfield, a copywriter in Los Angeles.  

I was 29 years old and just discovering our infertility when I got called as the Primary President.

This calling was so far from any natural ability I possess that I had not seen it coming. Not even when the Bishop invited us to his office on a Saturday.  Not even when the words came out of his mouth.

I sat there stunned, unable to hide my dismay.  It made no sense to call a childless woman to be in charge of a bunch of kids – what could I know about them? Not to mention that since growing up I’d always been self-conscious of the fact I wasn’t naturally “good with kids.” I worried over how I would fare as a mother when I seemed to be the only one of the Young Women who disliked babysitting.

I was currently serving as the Primary secretary, and the calling had been both a reminder of the children I yearned for and a potent birth control.  Each week I sat in the back, awed that such small people could wield so much power.  They rarely behaved or folded their arms or listened – some weeks it felt like they intentionally rallied to torch the whole lesson or bleed the teacher of all her candy.  They frankly terrified me, and that terror swirled in my mind as I sat looking up at my expectant Bishop. [Read more…]

Part II – Environmental Supports for Your Classroom #TeachingPrimaryCFM

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L. Williams holds a Masters Degree in Speech-Language Pathology, and is currently completing work towards a PhD. For the last 7 years she has provided speech therapy to children in private clinics, public schools, and research settings. Her background includes training in applied behavioral analysis (ABA), and she specializes in supporting children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) who are minimally verbal. This post is the second of a two-part series.

The previous post outlined how you can begin to thoughtfully consider the challenging behaviors you see in your classroom. Many challenging behaviors can be addressed simply through environmental supports.  In other words, how you physically structure your classroom can make a big difference in how your kids behave. If you spend time in the schools and special education, you won’t be surprised by anything on this list.  For everyone else, I hope you find these suggestions helpful. [Read more…]

Part I: Challenging Classroom Behaviors #TeachingPrimaryCFM

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L. Williams holds a Masters Degree in Speech-Language Pathology, and is currently completing work towards a PhD. For the last 7 years she has provided speech therapy to children in private clinics, public schools, and research settings. Her background includes training in applied behavioral analysis (ABA), and she specializes in supporting children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) who are minimally verbal. She previously guest-posted about using developmentally-appropriate language. This post is the first of a two-part series.

The goal of this post is to provide background information about challenging behaviors you might encounter in your classroom. [Read more…]

Using Language to Support Classroom Learning #TeachingPrimaryCFM

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L. Williams holds a Masters Degree in Speech-Language Pathology, and is currently completing work towards a PhD. For the last 7 years she has provided speech therapy to children in private clinics, public schools, and research settings. Her background includes training in applied behavioral analysis (ABA), and she specializes in supporting children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) who are minimally verbal.

I appreciated the post by Lyndsey Jarman, and highly recommend that all primary teachers refer to it as an excellent resource for their classroom.  My goal with this post is to provide additional ideas for teachers to consider, specifically with respect to their use of developmentally appropriate language.

Expert vs. Novice

As adults, we often take for granted how much we know.  In my very early twenties, I was called to teach the CTR 4 class.  One of the lessons focused on missionary work, and each child had a turn to talk about people in their family who had served missions.  I had a beautiful map on the wall to point out the locations where everyone served.  I thought it was going really well. They’re learning! They’re participating! Finally, one of the boys raised his hand and asked, “Is the blue stuff water?”  It was the first time I really understood that we have to teach children EVERYTHING, including that water is the blue stuff on the map. Having a visual is good. Having a visual that children understand is better. [Read more…]

Luke 1: Women, Wombs, and the Feminine Divine

Karen D. Austin teaches composition courses at University of Evansville and gerontology courses at Southern Indiana University. She’s on staff at Segullah as a writer and social media maven. She also maintains a blog The Generation Above Me about healthy aging and supporting older adults. She sometimes slings food at the other sentient beings in her home, but mainly she keeps house by moving towers of books and papers from one room to another.

Let me preface my post with a little context. Michael spent some time preparing commentary for the BCC Gospel Doctrine Lesson and discovered that, after introducing Matthew, he didn’t have any time or word count for the assigned reading from Luke. I was astonished. I told him, “Well, then I’ll just have to write something because you cannot leave out the women who are most central to the birth of Christ.” [Read more…]

Rethinking Worthiness

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Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. (D&C 18:10)

I learned an important truth this year: the worth of souls bears no relationship to a soul’s “worthiness.”

A year ago I left the corporate world to pursue my civil rights lawyer dream.  One aspect of my new work is fighting for Muslims’ right to follow the pillars of Islam in prison.  My first visit to prison will forever stand as one of the most spiritual days of my life.  I met with humble men who frankly admitted their mistakes, implored God to grant them the mercy to improve, and asked for an opportunity to practice their faith in peace.  They sought to better the religious experience not just for themselves, but for all of their brothers and sisters.  Sitting with them, I glimpsed the depth of God’s abundant love.

I may have been physically sitting with convicted criminals behind seven layers of lockdown security, but spiritually I stood with angels on hallowed ground.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  (Romans 8:38).  Prisons that day became my temples.  For I was in prison, and ye visited me.  (Matthew 25:36). [Read more…]

Jesus, Born of Woman

The book of Matthew sets the scene for Jesus’ life and ministry by delineating a selective genealogy. Among the names listed, Matthew names five socially controversial women, each with a fascinating back story of her own: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Each of these women was failed by a patriarchal system, and each overcame that adversity through cleverness and loyalty. Although each of these women represents a controversial story in a patriarchal society, they each turn that system against itself to their advantage. Each of these women was regarded by early Christians as righteous for it, even if their own contemporary society would have cast them as sinners. The stories told about them reveal them to be more righteous than the clueless men who held them back until they educated them. [1] What better forebears for Jesus could there be? [Read more…]

New Church Videos Explain the Temple to the General Public

joe-cook-780015-unsplashThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just published a glossy series of 90-second explanations of our core temple practices.

I’m amazed at how much demystifying content these videos succeed in outlining in less than seven minutes of total video time.

Here are the highlights.

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LDS Identity’s Effect on Mental Health

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Rebekah Perkins Crawford is a visiting professor in Social and Public Health at Ohio University. She has a PhD in Health Communication.

The recent tragic suicide of a BYU student has prompted conversations about the relationship between religiosity and mental health, about whether Latter-day Saints have a problem with suicide, and, if we do, what our response should be.

Experts (especially at BYU) have consistently claimed that LDS religious practice is positively associated with mental health.  Such claims are based on studies that average difference, homogenize experience, and oversimplify a complex issue.  [Read more…]

Thanksgiving Discussions that Won’t End in Bloodshed

Image result for samantha or jeannieLast weekend, we were in Salem, Massachusetts taking a two hour walking tour with a local guide. The focus was on overall history of Salem, not just the witch trials, but we did talk about those because it’s kind of the elephant in the room. But our guide was not one of the occultist ones, although my SIL had some good reasons to believe he was secretly a Witch. [1]

Toward the end of the tour, we passed a statue to that most famous of Witches: Samantha Stevens. This reminded me of a simpler time, when the most heated discussion around the Thanksgiving table was Samantha or Jeannie. [Read more…]

Reasons Why I’m Not Changing My Name, Ranked

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I’m married! Which means some of my acquaintances have mysteriously stopped calling me “Carolyn Homer” and started calling me variations on “Mrs. Carolyn Jones.”

My name has not changed.  It will not change.  I am “Carolyn Homer” for life.  I anticipate and will be amused by occasional mix-ups — but my name is my name.  Names matter.

Hopefully my decision is no longer viewed as a big deal.  But I’ve gotten a bit of pushback from more conservative/traditional corners, including from within the Church.  So for slightly whimsical explanatory sake, here are the reasons why I’m keeping my name, ranked.

15.  Jones is a boring last name.  It’s a Top 5 most common surname in America, held by millions.  I am not a boring person.

14.  I never want to be the target of a “keeping up with the Joneses” joke.  Ever. [Read more…]

Why I’m Marrying in a Catholic Basilica

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With the Vatican’s approval, I’m marrying my Catholic fiancé in St. Mary’s Basilica in Old Town Alexandria this Saturday.  Yay!  I’m so excited to celebrate true love, surrounded by my family and friends.

Some of those family and friends are a little befuddled.  As a former hyper-devoted Mormon, I can see the confusion in their eyes, the unstated curiosity about why I’m not marrying in the temple.  Only a few have ventured to ask the question directly.

I believe it is important to give an honest answer.  This is my story. [Read more…]

Where Can I Turn for Support? abuse.lds.org

Laura Brignone Bhagwat is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies technology and domestic violence.  Her dissertation tracks a public health intervention in hospital emergency rooms meant to prevent intimate partner homicide.

Abuse is the neglect or mistreatment of others (such as a child or spouse, the elderly, the disabled, or anyone else) in such a way that causes physical, emotional, or sexual harm. It goes against the teachings of the Savior. The Lord condemns abusive behavior in any form. 

‘The Church’s position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form’ (Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops [2010], 17.3.2). Abuse violates the laws of God and may also be a violation of the laws of society. The Lord expects us to do all we can to prevent abuse and to protect and help those who have been victims of abuse. No one is expected to endure abusive behavior.

At 12:05 yesterday, I was driving to lunch when a message from a friend popped up on my phone. It consisted of six exclamation points (“!!!!!!”) and the text “abuse.lds.org.” Within 15 seconds I’d pulled over and clicked on the link. [Read more…]

The Nurturing By My Son’s Many Fathers

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Dave K. has been ‘gathered to the Ohio’ for nearly fifteen years, where he lives with his wife and five children. A data privacy attorney by trade, his goal is to take the children to every MLB ballpark before they leave home; twenty-nine down and Seattle to go. 

My two oldest sons returned home unusually late Saturday evening. They were performing at a regional high-school band competition and rain delayed the start. One is a senior who plays trombone; the other a sophomore who plays trumpet. Meanwhile, my wife and two daughters also returned late from the General Women’s Session (we live in the Midwest and they drove an hour to watch the session with family).  It used to be the first Saturday evening in October was reserved for the General Priesthood Session. I understand the Church’s need to streamline things, but I miss the fellowship and brotherhood tradition of holding that session each conference.

This all resulted in an unusual evening of just me and son-number-three.  My third son is thirteen, so not yet in the high school band. I let him choose the special ‘guy’s night’ activity. No surprise there – he picked the latest Jurassic Park movie. I defended the choice by noting the rental was only $1.50 at Redbox.  Ten minutes into it I realized $1.50 was still grossly overpriced. [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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Thanks, Elder Holland

Holland Yesterday

Dear Elder Holland,

A week ago I expressed concern with your Facebook post that included some marriage advice.  I was most concerned about how victims of abuse would hear rhetoric that “you can make the marriage you want” and “your priesthood leaders will know” when “there is a legitimate exception” justifying divorce.

Yesterday, I was grateful for your talk on peace.  Christ is the Prince of Peace, the source of healing for all pain and for all contention.  We should live together in love, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with our imperfect brothers and sisters.  This is a core gospel truth.

Amidst this message on peace, I appreciated that you acknowledged what healing and forgiveness is, and what it isn’t.  [Read more…]

Worthiness vs. Confession

We’ve all seen Catholic confession in movies and TV shows. It’s a situation that we might liken to our own worthiness interviews, and yet there are some significant differences in purpose, theological implications, and in how the act is understood by believers. [Read more…]

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…]

Omit the Sexual Details

The first time I heard the word “masturbation,”  I was 12 years old and sitting in my bishop’s office.

I believe we were discussing a limited use recommend for an upcoming temple trip.  I remember the bishop walking through the 1990 version of For the Strength of Youth, which used a lot of large, sexual words I did not know — like “petting” and “perversion” and “pornography.”

My bishop defined them for me.  When he realized I had no idea what he was talking about, he apologized.  He explained how due to the evils of the world, children were getting exposed to sex and having their innocence corrupted by Satan younger and younger.  As much as he hated the topic, he felt like it was his pastoral duty to make sure the youth knew what constituted sin.

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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…]

Mormon and/or Gay?

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Rebekah Perkins Crawford has a PhD in Communication Studies from Ohio University. Her research centers on the ways religious communities communicate about mental health, sexuality, and sexual violence. Her favorite calling at church is the primary chorister and she loves reading, gardening, and exercising in her spare time.

My friend who sings with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir recently told me about his experience performing with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus on their recent tour in June. A considerate, thoughtful man, he said, “It was great to share the stage with them, to build bridges between our two communities and to show the world that there doesn’t have to be animosity between the Latter-day Saints and LGTBQ folks.”

It wasn’t until later that evening, after our conversation, that I figured out what it was about his statement that had unsettled me. It bothered me that his words assumed that the Latter-day Saint and LGBTQ communities were two separate entities, that “they” were gay while “we” were Mormon. [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…]