Reflections on Heartbreak and Choice

Dear Brother Givens,

I came across your post on abortion today.  I confess that I did not read it carefully because I am trying to be kinder to myself.  From what I did read, you quote several writers and statistics, and ultimately ground your opinions in your own visceral reactions to abortion and especially the procedures used in the second and third trimester.  I wonder, though, did you try to speak directly to any women who have had abortions?  Did you read any firsthand accounts of abortions by women who do not regret them?  Did you send out a call to your general female acquaintance to share their experiences with you?  I guarantee that you personally know some women who have had abortions, though, given what you wrote, I am not sure they would have trusted you with their experiences.

Here is what I would have told you.  I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from childhood.  I served a mission.  I have held many callings.  I remained chaste until marriage and remain faithful in my marriage.  And I had an abortion a few years ago on the first day of my fifteenth week of pregnancy.  

[Read more…]

Religious Freedom vs. Public Interest (Working Women)

I dissent.

Let me start off by being clear that I am not a lawyer (on a blog with many lawyers). I have multiple decades of experience as a business executive in large corporations, overseeing the employment of thousands of people. As an executive, I understood very well what the applicable anti-discrimination laws were. Now that I’m a small business owner, I also recognize that many of those laws are not required for me, but based on my personal conviction and principles, I still run my business as if they do.

In a 7-2 decision, SCOTUS recently upheld a completely discriminatory ruling to allow employers (that are not directly affiliated with any church) to refuse to cover birth control in their employee healthcare plans. This decision rests firmly on a few shaky foundational assumptions: [Read more…]

Excluding Our Fellow Saints From the Sacrament

In Illinois, we’re now halfway through our sixth week under a stay-at-home order (and my family’s seventh week at home). And the stay-at-home order looks like it’s going to last at least another month here. That means at least 12 Sundays in Illinois without meeting together at church (and, even when the stay-at-home order ends, some people may make the eminently responsible and defensible decision to continue social distancing, and delay their return to church).

Ultimately, I don’t think putting church meetings on hold is optimal. (To be clear, it’s both necessary and good. It’s just not ideal.) We need human contact, and we need the spiritual benefits that come from gathering together. That said, it’s necessary, and on net, saving the lives and the health of our fellow Saints is both beneficial and will bless us and them.

Still, this extended time away from church means that some people—single women and families without priesthood holders in the home, for example—won’t have the ability to take the sacrament for three months or more.

The church has made a tentative stab at recognizing the position these women and families are in. On April 16, the church provided instructions for administering the church during the pandemic. The instructions provide that “In unusual circumstances when the sacrament is not available, members can be comforted by studying the sacrament prayers and recommitting to live the covenants members have made and praying for the day they will receive it in person, properly administered by the priesthood.” [Read more…]

Shelter-In-Place and the Sacrament

Just over a week ago, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve announced that the church was (temporarily) suspending meetings throughout the world as a response to the novel coronavirus. In the announcement, we’re asked to continue to care and watch out for each other. The letter also tells bishops and stake presidents to figure out how to allow members to take the sacrament at least once a month.

I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but the idea of taking the sacrament at least monthly, while nice in theory, could be a significant problem in reality. A couple days ago, a well-meaning member of my mother-in-law’s ward came to visit her. The visitor was, apparently, unaware of the risks of coronavirus, but my mother-in-law is in a high-risk demographic (older than 65 with some underlying health issues). [Read more…]

Traditions of Their [Mothers]: Girls Should Be Passing the Sacrament

A little over two years ago, I wrote a post explaining that our current rule that only priesthood holders can pass the sacrament has no basis in scripture. D&C 20:58 explicitly says that teachers and deacons lack the authority to “administer the sacrament”; ergo, if we allow teachers and deacons to prepare and pass the sacrament, those things must not be part of the administration of the sacrament.

And if they’re not, then the Handbook’s requirement that only “[d]eacons, teachers, priests, and Melchizedek Priesthood holders may pass the sacrament” is based, not on scripture, but on tradition. Now, tradition is certainly not always a bad thing, but the Book of Mormon warns us that tradition can potentially impede our ability to know and understand God. I think that’s doubly true when the tradition actively harms a person or group of people by, for example, not allowing them to participate and serve fully in our religious community. [Read more…]

Hips Don’t Lie

I’m not a football fan. Like, I’m super not into it. I’m so not into it, I don’t even think I fully understood how points were scored until I was nearly graduating from college. I’m still a little unclear on the role of the kicker. I played in the Powderpuff game in high school, and I attended some high school games, but I don’t even think our home team ever won a single game. It was hard to get jazzed about a sport my home town was so bad at. As a result, I’m not a Superbowl watcher. But I have enjoyed watching many of the halftime shows (Prince, obviously, among others).

When I awoke this morning, it was to a Mormon pearl-clutching Twitter controversy about this half-time show. Here’s an example:

[Read more…]

Parenting, faith and vomit

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Rachel Allred lives in California and loves her husband, her two young kids, and ice cream (not necessarily in that order).  She generally tries to make the world a more empathetic place.

I read Carolyn’s post on being terrified about having kids at 4am.  I turned to BCC to help me stay awake just over halfway through my two-year-old’s five-hour vomiting marathon (20+ times). Fortunately he only woke up his baby sister twice.  I’m responding to that post in bits and pieces while I’m home with that two-year-old and missing an important work deadline.* [Read more…]

The Meetinghouse and the Temple

Michael Haycock has a bachelor’s from Yale and a master’s in religion from Claremont Graduate University.  He currently serves as the Ecumenical/Christian Life Coordinator at Georgetown.  Views are, of course, his own.

LDS theology is like the double helix of DNA, unzipped:  it has two parallel strands that circle around each other, but which rarely connect. 

DNA

On one strand rests the Meetinghouse, with much of the Christianity we received through scripture ancient and modern and which we share with much of Christendom. 

On the other is the Temple, the divine anthropology of the eternal family, and eternal progression, which we hold unique among Christian faiths. [1]

I am convinced that much of the theological friction within the LDS Church is born of the gaps between these two theological strands, amplified by official near-silence on how to bind them together. [Read more…]

I’m terrified about having kids.

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I just spent the holidays with family. I’ve been married a year. I’m approaching my mid-30s. And due to an unrelenting year at work, I’ve gained some weight. So perhaps unsurprisingly, the last few weeks have featured a conversational dance of hinted “are-you-pregnant” questions.

I’ve ignored the hints and laughed off the passing comments about future grandchildren. What I haven’t responded with is my honest answer: I’m terrified about having kids. [Read more…]

Women Witnesses for Ordinances

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced this morning that women can now serve as witnesses for baptisms and temple sealings.

I’m thrilled about this change.  As I wrote two years ago, the Church’s longtime refusal to let women serve as witnesses contradicted Jesus Christ’s own example of choosing women to be the first witnesses of his Resurrection.  And as co-blogger Jonathan Stapley  details, women as witnesses has long precedence in the modern Church as well.

This change matters.  It’s not just a technical hand-waving exercise.  Women witnessing our saving ordinances matter. [Read more…]

The Foot Shelf

About ten years ago, we were renovating our master bathroom, making the shower larger with a stone surround, and adding a big sunken garden tub (that literally has been used TWICE since we put it in, grrrr). As we discussed the options with the builder, he quoted a set amount to add a “bench” to the shower.

My husband, looking to save money perhaps, quickly said, “We don’t really need that. When do I ever sit in the shower?”

I interrupted to explain. “That’s not for sitting. I need a place to rest my foot when I shave my legs. It’s a foot shelf!” [Read more…]

Whence the Early Baptismal Challenges

Yes, I was this cool.

A recent talk by Elder Ballard has created a bit of a stir among returned missionaries in the Church. The talk is reported in the Church News here. He decries the practice of early baptismal challenges, claiming that Church leaders don’t know where this practice originated. The gist of his talk from the article:

“These missionaries have felt that inviting people to be baptized the very first time they meet them demonstrated the missionaries’ faith and supports their thinking that inviting people to be baptized early is what is expected,” he said. “Other missionaries have felt that an invitation to be baptized early allowed them to promptly separate the wheat from the tares. In this case, some see the baptismal invitation as a sifting tool.”

Church leaders don’t know where these practices began, but “it was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ,” said President Ballard. “Our retention rates will dramatically increase when people desire to be baptized because of the spiritual experiences they are having rather than feeling pressured into being baptized by our missionaries.” – Church News article quoting E. Ballard

It’s possible someone high up in the Church has read my book (which I doubt), The Legend of Hermana Plunge, but given how common these practices have been–whether attributed to Dyer’s Challenging & Testifying Missionary or not–you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an RM whose mission culture included these practices, whether taken to extremes like baseball baptisms or just taught to increase missionary courage (as in my mission). [Read more…]

LGB Saints at Church: Some Suggestions

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Michael is from a multigenerational Latter-day Saint family but has spent the majority of his life outside of the Mormon corridor. He’s not employed by academia but looks for opportunities to scratch his academic itch.

This is a follow-up post to his description of cultural challenges facing the LGB community within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  As explained in the first post, the “T” is omitted intentionally out of respect for differences in transgender experience.

How can local Latter-day Saints and their leaders help to make our wards and stakes places of refuge, love, and sanctification for LGB Saints?

Based on my observations, I offer a few suggestions.  I acknowledge, with deepest gratitude, my indebtedness to Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic for her unique perspective and thoughts on LGB people in Catholicism.  In addition, please note that I think many of the issues Latter-day Saints have with LGB Saints can be addressed by rethinking the place of single people in the Church, regardless of their sexual orientation.  [Read more…]

LGB Saints at Church: Some Challenges

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Michael is from a multigenerational Latter-day Saint family but has spent the majority of his life outside of the Mormon corridor. He’s not employed by academia but looks for opportunities to scratch his academic itch.

PREFACE

When the Church retracted the November 2015 set of LGB-related Church policies I felt relief, like taking a breath of air after too much time underwater.  As the news sunk in, one common reaction I saw was would-be allies asking what everyday Latter-day Saints could do to make their LGBT brothers and sisters feel more welcome.

Most of the proffered answers to that question focused on changing doctrine, policy, and teachings.  That is not my answer — or at least, not my starting point.  I intend to adapt the question Neylan McBaine poses in Women at Church: “accepting the doctrines and policies we have in place in the Church today, how can we help improve [LGB]-cooperative practices on the local level so as to relieve unnecessary tensions caused by cultural or historically normative practices?” [Read more…]

Clearance vs. Cancellation

From the Women’s Bible Commentary:

Deuteronomy prohibits the husband, who sought to secure for himself a cheap divorce from his spurned bride, from ever divorcing her. To our ears, this provision sounds appalling, binding a young girl for the rest of her life to a man who “hates” her. In patriarchal ancient Judah, where women’s social status and economic survival depended on membership in a male-headed household, the provision was probably intended to guarantee her security.

The Deuteronomic law relies on some assumptions that don’t match our modern interpretation of marriage:

  • Women in marriage are entitled to protection because they are unable to protect themselves.
  • Men in marriage are obligated to protect the women they marry because those women are otherwise unable to protect themselves.

In the iron age society of Deuteronomy, marriage entitles women but obligates men. Restricting men from abandoning their obligation is the objective of restrictions on divorce, not an intention to protect women from harm within the marriage relationship (which isn’t addressed), but to require men to protect women from a patriarchal society in which they have no standing or power and are financially and physically vulnerable. [Read more…]

Book Review—Jana Riess, The Next Mormons

41VNW2NVATLRichelle Wilson is a PhD student in Scandinavian studies and comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is a talk producer at community radio station WORT 89.9 FM and a member of Dialogue’s editorial staff.

When I first heard Jana Riess was undertaking research about Millennial Mormons, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait for this book to be released. Given the heightened sense of generational divide in America right now, thanks in no small part to deepening political polarization and an ongoing series of culture wars run amok, research like this is vital for the health of our communities. 

The Next Mormons doesn’t disappoint. Riess writes in a clear, engaging style that is approachable to non-specialists and folks who don’t know much about Mormonism. In spite of its seemingly niche topic, I hope this book receives a wider audience since Riess’s findings are important and have broader implications for religion in 21st-century America. [Read more…]

The Unborn

The appointment of conservative justice Bret Kavanaugh has emboldened some states to take a run at challenging Roe v. Wade by putting forward legislation to outlaw abortion that is a deliberate overreach to force the issue in front of the Supreme Court.[1] From my own conversations with fellow ward members, one reason many LDS voters chose to elect Trump in 2016 is that they, like many social conservatives, vehemently oppose abortion and would like to see the overturn of Roe v. Wade.[2] However, LDS theology is not nearly as anti-abortion as many other conservative religions. Like many other platforms, this is one where both parties’ views are potentially consistent with the church’s stance. [Read more…]

Reforming the Honor Code Office

BYU Students are hoping to reform the Honor Code Office with a social media campaign, and students have been sharing stories online of their own run-ins with the HCO. The stories have a few recurring themes:

  • Gay students being targeted disproportionately, often for non-violations
  • Vindictive behavior between students that the HCO enables and promotes
  • Hints at breaches of confidentiality in the ecclesiastical confession process, putting repentant students’ educations on the line when they seek counsel
  • Policing of doubts and testimony by other students
  • Local police officers sharing information about BYU students that occurs off campus
  • The emotionally and psychologically unhealthy impacts of the HCO on students: paranoia, anxiety, depression, and the fact that some reported sins/violations are associated with psychological issues
  • That the HCO encourages lying and discourages repentance by inserting academic (and downstream financial) consequences to what should be personal spiritual matters
  • That there is an HCO file on each student, including fishing expeditions in their social media accounts. (FYI, they are legally obligated to show you your file if you request, and I would request the heck out of that thing.)

[Read more…]

Personal Revelation and Sustaining Prophets

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Rachel Allred lives in California and loves her husband, her toddler, and ice cream (not necessarily in that order).  She generally tries to make the world a more empathetic place.

I literally started crying in the cab Thursday. It was a Lyft. The driver asked if I was okay; I told him I was.

I knew The Policy was wrong. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. I felt like death when it was announced. My heart sank. My lungs filled with lead. My mind started screaming. My soul recoiled. I don’t know how else to say it. I was just completely numb.  I walked around in a vaguely ragey, disbelieving fog for days.

That weekend in November 2015, my beloved husband and I (this was back when he went to church; I’ve wondered since if the policy was the beginning of the end) went to a thrift store to buy clothes with rainbow patterns.  We specifically chose a thrift store whose proceeds are donated to LGBTQ support organizations. We wore our rainbows to church that Sunday. We went with subtle patterns. Too subtle, maybe, because we had to tell people that’s what we were doing, but I was playing the organ so at least some people noticed.   [Read more…]

Heresy and Prophesy

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Humans are really bad at accurately identifying heretics and prophets.  Christ preached as much (“no prophet is accepted in his own country”) — and was executed for it (“by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God”).  Christ himself is both the world’s most renowned heretic and its greatest prophet.

It’s easy to confuse the two concepts because the definitions of heresy and prophesy mirror each other.  They both hinge on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Bible teaches that those who testify of Christ have the gift of prophesy.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraces this testifying definition of prophets.

St. Thomas Aquinas defines heresy as professing faith in Christ, while corrupting His Gospel.  William Tyndale similarly explains that heresy springs “out of the blind hearts of hypocrites” who “cannot comprehend the light of scripture.” [Read more…]

Let Love be Love

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Nicole is a mother, feminist, and activist living in the Salt Lake Valley with her partner Kerstin and blended family of seven. She credits the women in her life for shaping her values and her hope for a world filled with compassion, authenticity, and uncompromising love.

It’s so hard to find any words to express my feelings about the news about the changed policy.

I type and delete and type and delete.

I couldn’t find the right words because I couldn’t find words that were true enough to myself, but that I thought would be safe from hurting or offending my family who are still members.  I love my family very much and they have been so great with Kerstin and me.  Since they’ve been so careful not to hurt us, I really, really don’t want to hurt them.

I think I’d just like to describe my dream world. [Read more…]

On Chastity and Closed Doors

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I have a fondness for cheesy Christian romance novels.   Their plots feature all of the emotional turmoil and external drama of harlequin romance novels – but they add faith crises and subtract sex.

One trope in these novels is to set up a wicked foil to the wholesome protagonist.  In-need-of-repentance characters lurk in the subplots, steeped in dark allusions and transgressed boundaries.  Think of Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.  Jane Austen evinces plenty of scandal, yet there are zero explicit mentions of sex.

In order to stay “clean,” Christian novelists have learned to invoke religiously-tinged shame by writing proxies for sex.  All “sin” happens off-screen.  A common scene is the chance encounter after dark.  A woman stands in the shadows, heart pounding, face lit by candlelight.  A man with a half-unbuttoned shirt leans against a doorframe.  After two pages of banter, he steps across the threshold.  The door shuts.  The chapter ends.  At that moment, the reader is cued to assume the characters had sex. [Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]

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…]

Women with Minor Children can now Serve as Temple Ordinance Workers

A year and a half ago, I wrote about changes to the weird restrictions on temple ordinance workers.   Specifically, I explained that longstanding church policy forbade divorcees within five years, single men over 31, and women with minor children from serving as ordinance workers.   (The same individuals were permitted to “volunteer” for temple shifts, just not perform ordinances.)

In August 2017 the Church removed the restrictions on divorcees and single adult men.  Today, the Church removed the restrictions on mothers.  I am thrilled for the thousands upon thousands of women this blesses.

Book review: And It Was Very Good

I seem to recall an episode of All in the Family (or possibly Archie Bunker’s Place) where Archie states his disapproval of sex education in the schools. “Kids should learn about sex the same place I did—the streets!” My own sex education did not happen in school, for the most part. Nor did it happen in the home. When I was about 10, my mother told me about menstruation, but that was pretty much the last conversation we had about reproduction. (At least in the educational sense.) My first school-based sex ed was in 7th grade; my mother wouldn’t sign the paperwork to get me out of it. “You have to learn about it sometime,” she said. And I was like, are you kidding me with this?* (I mean, I didn’t say it aloud. I suspected she might not want to know that I’d cobbled together my own version of sex ed from third-grade gossip and The Thorn Birds.) Despite my initial reluctance, I was kind of hoping—since I was stuck in the class anyway—that school would fill in some gaps in my knowledge. I mean, I was only thirteen; I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but I was hoping that I didn’t know it all. [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…]

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…]

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…]

Thank You, Sisters: an Honor Roll of those who made the temple changes possible

Today, women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints greeted the news of long-awaited changes to the temple with a range of emotions–rejoicing, contemplation, grief at pain past and ongoing. I respect and hold space for all these reactions. I have many thoughts, many things to say, many aspects of the new version of the temple ceremony to analyze, celebrate, and critique. But I will say those things another day.

Today, my thoughts keep returning to women. Returning to all my Sisters whose lives were touched by the temple experience, and especially those whose courage, sacrifices, and vision played a role in shaping that experience. These changes are not a man’s gift to us. We always knew they were ours, a gift of our Heavenly Parents. So tonight in this post I want to offer words of gratitude for the women who knew. The women whose vision, writing, pleading, and work made this day possible.  [Read more…]