Reflections on Empathy and Listening

Regular readers of BCC will have noticed that posts expressing women’s discomfort or anger produce intense comment threads. Almost invariably, a male commenter comes along and attempts to engage with the ideas that he sees operating in the post, only to find himself accused of not listening. Frequently, these male commenters respond by suggesting that women don’t want discussion, but simply want their feelings affirmed. Many threads have led to this impasse—to a “conversation about the conversation” instead of whatever the original post happened to be about.

As a man, I’ve struggled to know how to respond to these threads. Knowing the women of BCC has been the most morally transformative experience of my recent life, and I feel urgently the need to honor their perspectives, for which I am deeply grateful. And yet I’ve had a hard time knowing what to say beyond “thanks.” That’s important, to be sure, but as a form of engagement it’s rather inert. At other times, I’ve tried to engage by calling out mansplaining, by, you know, mansplaining to mansplainers about how mansplaining works, and these efforts have been neither helpful nor productive. I’ve even been modded!

I’ve come to believe that both of these responses—the bare thanks and the aggressive calling out—resulted from a lack of empathy on my part. I’d listened enough to know what mansplaining was, and I valued listening enough to believe that my BCC sisters’ voices were worth hearing, but I hadn’t yet learned how listening and empathy really work. No doubt I still have quite a bit to learn, but in this post I’d like to share some of what I’ve figured out this past while. [Read more…]

Playing God

Hannah J. has guested with us before.

In the interest of strategy sharing, let me start by saying that having our class act out scriptures is the only thing my husband and I can do to harness the crazy energy of our CTR 4 class of eight kids. They love it. We started with the Nativity at Christmas time and have done stories ranging from Daniel and the lions’ den to the council in heaven. Every time we do it, the kids insist that we spend the entire lesson replaying the scene to give everyone a chance to act out different characters. The enjoyment and learning value of donning costumes and acting out scriptures aside, we always face a casting imbalance since our class has six girls and two boys. Roles such as King Herod, the wise men, and the angel Gabriel do not appeal to these young girls. Honestly, I do not blame them. When I was learning to read as a kid I was not interested in books with male protagonists. I loved Ramona Quimby, Little House on the Prairie, and Nancy Drew because, in the act of reading, I could imagine myself as these girls and women. This reality continually challenges my husband and I as we try to find meaningful ways for the girls to act and experience scriptural stories and learn the truths therein. We have to re-negotiate the roles for the talent available; our actresses instead act as Queen Herod, the wise women, and the angel Gabrielle. [Read more…]

Why LDS Women Are (Often) Sexist

Image result for depression eraIn a discussion about the election results, one of my friends asked why so many white women voted for Trump if he is so sexist. My intuitive response was “Because they are married to white men.” It was a guess that had a certain ring of truthiness to it, but I wasn’t entirely sure I could articulate why. What I meant by it is that, sexism aside, many Trump voters felt that the Republican platform will mean a better economic future for them, that they feel the Democrats have reduced their financial prospects, and that white men in particular feel held back and disenfranchised. If their wives are financially dependent on them (whether secondary income or no income), we shouldn’t be too surprised that they agreed with their husbands. [1] But to vote for Trump, even out of self-interest, voters in 2016 also had to overlook the misogyny of their candidate. To me, that was where the more interesting story was.

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M is for the many things she gave me

Before we were married I told my husband that when we had children, I wanted to stay home with them. It never really occurred to me that I would do otherwise. I like to think that I was not particularly brainwashed into this decision by my Mormon upbringing. I don’t know. As a youth, I rebelled pretty strongly against the cultural, sometimes pseudo-doctrinal message that women belonged in the home. From a young age, I assumed that I would have a career. I didn’t want to have kids, probably because my mother had five children for whom she was the full-time caregiver, and I saw firsthand how difficult it was for her. I didn’t assume that I could do it better. I assumed it would probably kill me. [Read more…]

Why Men Need to Read “One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly”

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I gave a version of these remarks last night as part of the panel discussion at Writ & Vision in Provo.

In her foreword to Ashley Mae Hoiland’s new book, One Hundred Birds Taught Me to FlyKristin Matthews aptly identifies its participation in “a markedly female tradition of Christian writing,” noting its affinities with the work of writers like Mary Oliver, Louise Glück, and Annie Dillard, as well as medieval mystics like Hildegard von Bingen and Julian of Norwich (xviii-xx). That’s esteemed company! Add to which that this is the first monograph published by a woman in the history of the Maxwell Institute or FARMS, and it becomes clear that One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly is opening up new avenues for Mormon women’s writing. I’d like to talk for a few minutes tonight about what those avenues might be, exactly, by way of arguing that this book is as important for Mormon men to read as it is for Mormon women. [Read more…]

Hostile Sexism and LDS Trump Supporters

An article in Vox showed the statistical correlation between Trump supporters and hostile sexism. One interesting aspect of this analysis was that this is not an issue of Republicans in general being hostile to women, just a correlation between those who are and those who support Trump. The trend was not the same when Romney ran in 2012. Romney appealed to benevolent sexists rather than hostile sexists. The difference, as they say, is yuge. [Read more…]

Pastoral Approaches to Sexual Violence

Among the recommendations in the recent BYU Title IX Advisory Council Report appears the following:

Share with officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the findings of the advisory council regarding ecclesiastical leaders’ varied responses to sexual-assault reports.

Mormon lay clergy, in other words, come to their pastoral obligations with wildly varying preparation to give the kinds of care that members of the Church might seek from them. Cases of sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence can prove especially difficult to handle well, and the Advisory Council has documented some of the resulting “varied responses.” The pastoral care that survivors receive from their ecclesiastical leaders thus appears to be a noted area of needed improvement.

My research has recently led me to a book that I believe might be a helpful resource for people in caregiving relationships with survivors of sexual assault. I recognize that recommending this book (or indeed any book on the subject) might run into concerns about professionalizing our clergy too much in ways that decrease reliance on the Spirit. In my view this dichotomy is false: professionalization can provide a toolkit, and the Spirit can provide guidance about which tools to use and when (and when not to use any of them). We should approach this subject, like any other, with a combination of study and faith. [Read more…]

Mormon & Gay — the New LDS.org Resource

 

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Again, with feeling

If there’s one thing that Mormons get, it’s that perfection is iterative. Line upon line, and all that. [Read more…]

Reframing the Question:  Moving Beyond Working v. Stay-at-Home Mothers

Natalie Brown is a former BCC blogger. 

It’s common in conversations among Mormons to hear people ask whether a woman works or is a stay-at-home mother (SAHM).  This question may come from a desire to simply understand a person, including their interests and how they spend their time.  But Mormons may also ask this question as a proxy to gauge other values, such as liberal or conservative political beliefs, faithfulness, conformity, educational attainment or economic status.  The problem with this question, aside from the discomfort it may give the women being judged and labeled, is that the distinction between working and stay-at-home mothers is often a false dichotomy, and these terms are a poor proxy for any values we may see behind them. [Read more…]

Male Privilege and Priesthood Bias

One time, I had a close friend tell me that he was planning on moving to a large plot of land in Missouri with his in-laws. He liked and believed in his in-laws, whom he saw as living closely to gospel principles (embracing freedom by refusing to pay taxes to the federal government, for example). They were going to divide up the land in a manner similar to the United Order and have a three-person council to run everything: a president and two counselors. I’d like to believe that my snarky remarks that the place was going to go polygamist within six months or my constantly calling this place “the compound” convinced my friend to back out, but there was probably only one question I asked about the plan that gave him pause. Why was it, as he had explained to me, that the president of the presiding council had to be a man? [Read more…]

Moroni 9:9 and Lucretia

Moroni 9:9, with its claim that women can be deprived “of that which is most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue,” is something of an infamous scripture, and justly so, because it suggests that chastity and virtue can be passively taken from someone instead of actively given away. As EmJen explains:

What’s objectionable is not that they lost their hymen, but that they were forced against their will, they were raped. Their virtue cannot be taken, it can only be given away, and when given at the point of a gun or through other coercive means, it’s rape, it’s not being unchaste. This should be evident to anyone who reads it; it’s kind of an obvious point. Most women will immediately realize that if there is no consent, there is no loss of virtue by the woman, and that a man who forces or coerces a woman, robbing her of consent, is committing a heinous crime against her.  But that doesn’t mean she is at fault.

This critique ably clarifies what the scripture misses about consent and female agency (see also Kristine’s post), but it doesn’t explain the worldview in which it makes sense to say that virtue can be taken away. This post is going to attempt that, because I don’t think that we can do better until we name such assumptions and get them out in the open. After all, the Personal Progress section on virtue still includes Moroni 9:9.

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Justice and Mercy: A Rape Survivor’s Perspective

Today’s guest post is from Rachael.

I was sexually abused as a child and later raped as a teenager and again as an adult. All of these horrific experiences were at the hands of LDS priesthood holders. Of course, those who did these things were sinning and were not true representatives of Christ or His priesthood. It was relatively easy for me to separate out in my mind these evil men from what I knew God wanted.  But it was much harder for me to figure out how to make sense of the good men, bishops and stake presidents, who counseled me to forgive, to bury the past, to not hold my perpetrators legally responsible.  Because I believed that these men were representatives of God, I believed them when they told me that it was God’s will that I let my rapists (and abusers) off the hook.  And so I did.  I earnestly practiced the forgiveness that I was taught to practice, burying any hint of anger the moment it tried to rise up in me, and consequently, I believe, that buried emotion took on a life of its own, to the detriment of my health. [Read more…]

If Jane Austen Wrote the Book of Mormon

Where are our marriage prospects in this godforsaken wilderness?

I was considering a post on the Book of Mormon & the Bechdel test when it occurred to me that Gospel Doctrine class is kind of like a book club.[1]  Which got me thinking how much better, and perhaps with more vocal women in it (as well as a few more humorously identified human foibles), the Book of Mormon would be if Jane Austen had written it. [Read more…]

The Image of the Mothering God

I gave this talk in my ward today.

As a man tasked with speaking on Mother’s Day, I feel that my job is to “look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen,”[1] in the sense that I have to testify of things that I have grown up not knowing how to see, but which I believe are true. So, I begin in gratitude for the women in my life who have taught me to see, although for my part it is still through a glass, darkly.

In the first creation account in Genesis we read: “So God created humankind in his image, / in the image of God he created them; / male and female he created them.”[2] One question that this passage immediately raises is what it means for women to be created in the image of an apparently male God. On Mother’s Day, this question seems worth pondering. Can we think Lorenzo Snow’s couplet—“As man now is, God once was; / As God now is, man may become”—beyond the ostensibly universally-human “man” and toward something specifically feminine? In Mormon terms, if we cannot imagine exalted womanhood, I do not think that we can imagine women fully human. I have friends—faithful churchgoers 51 weeks out of the year—who stay home on Mother’s Day because they see the version of motherhood presented in our discourse as too cramped and narrow for their experience. Perhaps there are women in our own ward who make a similar choice (if you know one, go knock on her door and give her a hug, or a fist bump, or whatever seems right). Our talk of “angel mothers” seems exalted, but is it really “image of God” material? My friends’ experience suggests not.

Why does this matter? When asked about the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus answered: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’”[3] If we collectively do not know what it means for women to be created in the image of God, can any of us—female or male—truly see the image of God in ourselves, enough to love ourselves as we ought? Are we then loving our neighbors in impoverished ways? Is our love of God, however ample it may be, only half of what it could be?

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No Man is “Trash”

Angry? You bet. Tyler Glenn’s latest song and video boil with rage. Glenn, a gay man and former missionary, was embraced by the church for his advocacy in building the inclusivity bridge. That is, until the LDS church’s November 5th policy change regarding homosexuals—a change that codified those in same-gender marriages as apostates, required their excommunication, and forbade the baptism of their children under certain conditions. The policy change hit him hard, like a gut punch, he says. Feeling himself betrayed, denigrated, and literally dismissed over his sexual orientation, Glenn took a hard look at less-visited areas of Mormonism and decided he could no longer believe. The release of “Trash” depicts a stunning reversal of attitude toward his faith heritage. [Read more…]

Rape and The Miracle of Forgiveness

Today’s Guest Post is by Chris Kimball.

Although nobody accuses me, every time the (now out-of-print) The Miracle of Forgiveness comes up, I cringe and feel guilty. It’s really not my work and I know that. But the author is my grandfather Spencer Kimball and somehow I feel responsible in a vague but troubling way.

Rape is a difficult and touchy subject, yet I want to contribute to the discussion. I offer this as my personal opinion (I certainly cannot and would never claim to channel Spencer Kimball.) [Read more…]

Mormon Mysticism and #ldsconf

Given the way that Mormonism often seems to privilege certainty, I was intrigued to notice hints of mysticism in several of Saturday’s talks. The vein of mysticism I’m talking about involves apophatic or negative theology, which means defining things by what they are not rather than what they are. Such theology draws attention to the limits of human understanding and encourages ascetic practices, often centered on prayer, designed to bring worshipers toward experiences of the divine that transcend rational description—or at least the usual categories of certainty. Mystics are people who experience God’s “dazzling darkness” in this way.
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Abide with Me — Thoughts on Staying

Christian Harrison generously agreed to respond to Sam’s post. Christian is a longtime friend of the blog, an urban enthusiast, a professional storyteller, and a man of faith—a practicing member of the Church. He’s also gay.

Whether it’s some progressive acquaintance calling me an Uncle Tom or Elder Bednar insisting that I don’t exist, I must admit that I’ve had no shortage of chances to wonder, lately, why I stay.

Why do I lend material support to an organization dead-set on erasing me and countless other queer members? Why do I stay when my very presence defies the wishes of so many of my coreligionists—members of the flock who want so desperately to run off the sheep with different wool? Can’t I see that I’m unwelcome? Can’t I see that God’s love is a tough love—that His love isn’t universal? Why? Why? Why…
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The Best of All Possible Worlds

I remember once, as a teenager, asking my dad how he stayed in the church back when the church wouldn’t allow black members to hold the priesthood or attend the temple. I was probably 16 or 17, because I’m pretty sure I was driving. I don’t think I was asking an accusatory question, though I was 16 or 17, so who knows. And I don’t remember how my dad responded.

I do remember, though, that his response was complicated, both a bearing of testimony and an acknowledgement that the pre-1978 racial policies of the church were bad. It was messier than the black and white world a teenager craves. [Read more…]

The Book of Mormon and the Bechdel Test

Speak up, but don’t talk too much.

When I was in 5th grade, our class was going to put on a classroom play: an abbreviated version of A Christmas Carol.  When I looked at the script, there was only one female part, that of Fezziwig’s wife, and she only had two brainless lines.  I figured that must mean all the parts were open, so I decided to audition for the part of Scrooge, which had a meaty fifty lines, plenty of scene-chewing grumpiness, and even a crying scene.  I borrowed my grandfather’s hat and shirt, and I explained to the teacher that since none of the girl parts were remotely interesting in this play, casting should be open to all comers for all parts.  She agreed with me, and I got the part! [1]

The Bechdel test [2] is used to identify gender bias in movies and literature, but it applies to any narrative story.   [Read more…]

What’s Missing from the Historic Beehive House Tours? History.

Oh, did someone important live here?

An interesting article in the Salt Lake Tribune last week reminded me of a post I did a few years ago about a non-member review of Kirtland.  Kirtland is an interesting historical site because some of the attractions are run by the LDS church, and some are run by the Community of Christ.  In my experience, both tour guides were very knowledgeable, but the key difference was that the LDS tour guides persisted in inserting “spiritual” experiences into the tour such as invitations for spontaneous hymn singing, testimony bearing or (whew!) moments of silence.  Yet, the senior couple who took us through the site was very knowledgeable about the history of the site.  They had clearly done their homework.

By contrast, the article in the Tribune was about a recent visitor to the Beehive House (Brigham Young’s SLC home) who had questions about her family’s connection to Brigham Young. [Read more…]

Passive-aggressive presiding post

20020For consideration of the Church Magazine Committee:

“Julie, wake up! It’s time for scriptures and morning prayers!”

Julie stared blearily at the clock and sighed. Already 6 a.m.? Her mom’s voice came again from downstairs, “Now!”

Julie shrugged out of her blankets, salvaging one to wrap around her and made her way downstairs. Her siblings sat sloppily eating their cereal and her dad rushed in to grab some toast.

“Honey?” Her mother said to her dad as he slathered the homemade jam across the top. [Read more…]

Meeting Elder and Sister Renlund #ldsconf

Screenshot 2015-10-21 at 3.53.09 PMThe 2015 November Ensign is shooting towards homes across Mormondom and inside there are the normal makings of a conference issue, which is mostly made up of the talks. What deviates, of course, is the inclusion of the leadership changes and with that one finds handy biographies starting on page 135 of the three new apostles as well as six additional biographies (including the presidency of the seventy changes, presiding bishopric changes and the new counselor in the Sunday School).

Why does this matter? It’s interesting to meet these new leaders, see what they’ve been up to in their lives, and for the most part, eight of those biographies follow the formula of most one-page biographies we’ve read in the magazines for years: a short testimony or a testimony-building anecdote about their lives to catch interest, followed by basic biographical information of where they were born and raised and educated, then marriage and sometimes an extra sentence about their wives, and church service throughout the world that prepared them for their calling today.

renludg1fThere is one amazing exception. One that made me say “whoa, I didn’t know I was craving this type of biography.” And that is Elder Dale G. Renlund’s biography. Because you not only get a biographical glimpse into his life, but his wife Ruth is in the very first paragraph and pretty much by his side, metaphorically (and from what I read, in actuality) throughout the biography. It’s a wonderful rhetorical use of bringing these women into spotlight along with their husbands. It matches what needs to happen as these women are just as invested as their husbands into these callings if not as visible. Sister Ruth Renlund is portrayed as a real and active partner by his side. I just love it. [Read more…]

Authenticity: Will the Real Me Please Stand Up?

It’s a common claim among participants of Mormon internet groups that people feel they cannot be themselves at church or can’t say what they think for fear of being ostracized.  They feel they are discouraged from being honest or authentic, that they would be rejected if they disagreed with the party line or articulated a non-conforming viewpoint.  Certainly many examples have been given of individuals who were viewed suspiciously for sharing unpopular opinions openly.  These are complaints that they feel they must be inauthentic to be accepted. [Read more…]

It’s a Process

Naomi Watkins is the cofounder of Aspiring Mormon Women, a non-profit organization that supports and encourages Latter-Day Saint women’s professional and educational pursuits. Currently, she works as an instructional coach in a Title I high school in the Salt Lake City area, charged with improving teachers’ literacy instruction and students’ literacy skills. She earned her B.A. in English Education from Brigham Young University, a M.Ed. in Language and Literacy from Arizona State University, and a Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning with a literacy emphasis from the University of Utah.

Since my teens, I had wanted to serve a mission, and knowing that a mission was a worthy path, I submitted my mission papers a few months before my 21st birthday. I didn’t bother asking the Lord if a mission was for me. Serving a mission was a righteous desire, so why would He say no?

One week after submitting my mission papers, and with some prodding from my parents, I decided to finally ask the Lord if a mission was indeed my next step, and I received a pretty strong “No” as an answer. I felt that this answer had to be wrong, and so I asked Him again, and I received the same no answer. How could the Lord tell me no? I knew that I would be a stellar missionary, and I was more than willing and able to serve. I had sincere intentions; I wanted to serve a mission—and not because I had nothing better to do or wasn’t yet married. I was confused and hurt and angry. How could the Lord not want my service and sacrifice? How could He refuse me? [Read more…]

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…]

Rules & Relationships

It is common for westerners in India to be amazed at the utter chaos and yet the seemingly laissez-faire attitude of the Indian drivers.  One of our Indian drivers remarked about the traffic:  “In India, nothing is impossible because I-M-Possible.”  He chortled over his cleverness, and repeated that saying many times in our nine day trip. [Read more…]

Manufactured Prejudice

Last year, a commenter stated that in his stake at a recent meeting with a Q&A session with a general authority, two of the seven questions asked were how to get youth to accept the church’s stance on homosexuality. [1]  This is a question that I have wondered about myself as a mother of teens who likewise don’t agree that homosexuality is the dire threat the church portrays. They have been consistently taught in school that being gay is innate and acceptable, that gay kids should be treated with respect, and that bullying will not be tolerated and is morally wrong. [2]  As a result of the world in which they live, they do not inherently feel homosexuality is shameful, and they have friends in school who openly self-identify as gay.  This is a pretty big change from the era in which I was raised and an even bigger change from when older generations were raised. [Read more…]

Survey on Marital Quality and Belief Changes

A topic often under discussion in the bloggernacle is how to navigate marriages when one spouse experiences a change in belief.  If this describes your marriage, please follow the link to participate.  Eligibility requirements are below.

https://iu.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6tYdXEwogQ9PKK1

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Mormons in a Post-Obergefell World

A few thoughts I’ve had about living in a post-Obergefell world:

The first thing: the decision, on a practical level, doesn’t change anything for most of us. It certainly doesn’t for me. And I don’t say that because I’m straight. I live in Illinois, where same-sex marriage was instituted legislatively over a year ago. The only substantive difference Obergefell makes in Illinois is that couples who marry here don’t stop being married when they move to Indiana. And, as Cynthia pointed out, the vast majority of Mormons are in a similar boat: most of us (in the U.S., anyway) live in places where same-sex marriage was just as legal on June 25 as it was on June 26[Read more…]