Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rejoicing in the Gospel and in Being a Mormon Woman

Recently, I was accused of being over-cheerful about my perspective on the eternal blessings awaiting us -- women included -- in the eternities.

At some level, I'm still just sort of dumbfounded.

Sometimes in conversations about women's issues, I find myself wanting to ask, "Do you WANT me to be miserable about being a woman in the Church?" I sometimes feel as though there is the feeling among some that if you are *really* smart, you will figure it out that Mormonism really is awful for women. Or that if you are happy, it must be that you haven't really looked closely enough at that verse or this policy or that part of our history. Or that you are being "intellectually dishonest" by being happy.

For the record, I've spent a good portion of my adult life thinking about women's issues relative to Mormonism. Thinking about these issues pretty much fill any extra mental space I may have for pondering life and the gospel. I know that doesn't make me some expert, and I'm certainly not an academic of these issues, but I have given these things lots and lots of thought. I love chewing on the gospel, and I'm not afraid to consider hard questions. But there needs to be space for simple answers, too.

I also actually try hard to understand and try to be sympathetic to the struggles some have in the space where feminism and Mormonism seem to collide. I know such struggles are real. We all have our struggles. I'm sorry for yours, if you have them.

But at some point, I just have to say let me have my space to rejoice in what makes me happy -- in the things prophets of God tell us we CAN and SHOULD be happy about! -- without expecting me to be able to answer to all the things that may bother you, if you do struggle. If you disagree, please leave me the space to have my perspective and to disagree with you or to engage things differently. Please don't expect me to explain away the things that bother you. Please don't expect me to take your approach to processing the gospel.

If you feel pain about these things, I'm so sorry. But I can't solve it, nor should I be expected to see things as you do. Your pain, your questions, your issues are for you and God to work through. He is the source of peace and truth. He can help you sort through these things, in His time and His way. I have my own things to sort through. Believe you me.

I cannot change what is in holy writ, nor do I want to. I cannot change Church structure, nor do I want to. I cannot change prophetic counsel and teachings about gender roles or other topics relative to women, nor do I want to.

Am I without questions? No. Do I wonder sometimes about policies, practices, or topics of preaching? Sometimes, yes. Are there things I don't fully understand? Of course. But I don't expect to understand it all. I think it's plain wrong to expect to understand it all, especially without accepting what we already have been given. And the more I rejoice in and embrace what I DO know, the more things make sense to me.

What I DO know is that God is a loving, perfect God, that "all that He has" awaits us all if we follow His plan and His Son. The Church is true. God's authority is here, the ordinances of salvation are here, the doctrines of salvation are here, prophets live and teach and preach today. Their teachings won't always gel with the isms of the secular world. That should be expected. The texts won't always be neat and easy to process intellectually. That should be expected.

Elder Maxwell used to say something like if God promises all He has, "brothers and sisters, there isn't any more." I believe the prophets and the scriptures and the beauty found in temple ordinances that teach that God has promised us -- women and men -- all He has. What more could we want? We -- women and men -- have all we need to be able to receive all those blessings. ALL of the ordinances necessary for eternal life are here, on the earth, binding us to God for eternity if we will receive them and receive Him and His Son. Those blessings are what my last post was about. At some point, I see absolutely no reason to look for reasons to doubt those blessings or to take issue with things that don't seem to fit nicely and neatly into these core doctrines of the gospel. We are mortal. Things of God won't always make sense. But wow. What does and can make sense is pretty glorious in my experience.

And so, I rejoice in that.

Therefore, lift up your heads, and rejoice, and put your atrust in bGod, in that God who was the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; and also, that God who cbrought the children of dIsrael out of the land of Egypt, and caused that they should walk through the Red eSea on dry ground, and fed them with fmanna that they might not perish in the wilderness; and many more things did he do for them.

[S]hall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. aCourage...and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into bsinging. Let the cdead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the dKing Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to eredeem them out of their fprison ; for the prisoners shall go free.

Let the
amountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid brocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the cmorning stars sing together, and let all the [children] of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever! And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and dimmortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers!


  1. Great post. The kind of trust in God that brings peace and reassurance can't be given or bought - similar to the oil of the 5 wise virgins.

    As I thought about people who are hurting so much because of these issues it reminded me of times in my life that I 'kicked against the pricks'. Comfort was there if I would let it come, instead I threw myself into tumult thinking it would result in answers. It didn't.

    Accepting the limits of humanity and realizing the higher order of God's thinking (that we can't comprehend now) has the ability to bring peace. Anguish for anguish's sake doesn't result in greater knowledge.

    You're a strong and courageous woman that I'm thrilled to know!

  2. m&m--no one would like you to be unhappy. In fact, I join you in being very happy about many things in the church. The problem is that what blogs mostly do well is an exchange of ideas, not an exchange of emotions, and there's very little to like about the theoretical position of women in the church. What infuriates me about the way you write is your insistence that this is all about feeling good--I FEEL fine about being a woman in the church; I THINK there are significant problems in the church's treatment of women in official structure and policy. However, this has nothing to do with whether I'm miserable at church--I'm not. I think it's possible to honestly acknowledge the problems and still go about finding joy in the gospel; you sometimes write as though one has to deny the existence of the problems (or engage in complicated rhetorical gymnastics) to be happy. It's that denial that I called intellectually dishonest.

  3. I don't think that m&m is denying that there are problems. No female in the church, starting in primary, can help but see that there are issues. But where some see mountains, others see molehills.

    And there are plenty who like things just fine the way they are.
    An insistence that there is very little to like about the theoretical position of women in the church might well be infuriating to them. I know plenty of them, and they are not stupid or deluded women.

    Creating a paradigm that sees only the problems seems like choosing the most angst-filled possible way to live life. The way one thinks about ideas leads to the emotions one feels about them.

    It's no more dishonest to to *feel* happy while *thinking* that there is plenty to like about the theoretical position of women in the church, than it is to insist that one *feels* happy, while constantly *thinking* that there is very little to like about the theoretical position of women in the church.

  4. I believe the term is "police officer," not "policewoman."

  5. m&m--that sounds good. How about if you don't try policing the tone at my blog anymore, either?

    And don't worry, whatever you decide, this will be my last comment here. Sorry to have disturbed your happy place.

  6. So, m&m, since your comments weren't directed at Kristine, were they directed generally at the feminists on the bloggernacle? Are you saying that you think that the feminists on the bloggernacle want you to be unhappy (or maybe feminists in general)?

    As much as I respect your desire to have your own space (and I generally try to avoid intruding here), I don't think you're fairly representing people who are trying to honestly engage you (even if we do disagree). I showed up on your last post because I felt like you were mischaracterizing the arguments that I (and other feminists) make about Mormon patriarchy. And I think in this post you're mischaracterizing our critiques of your previous argument. We may take issue with your arguments, but I think it's ungenerous to say that we want you to be miserable.

  7. Hi, m&m. I'm glad you liked my post; it's been helpful for me to try to sort through this issue.

    To expand a bit more on that post (because I'm not sure how clear it was), what I was trying to say is that I see a problem with too quickly drawing conclusions about the reality of people's personal faith based on the way they communicate it--whether it's glibly assuming that because someone recites the standard phrases ("I know the Church is true," etc.), their testimony isn't real; or whether the fact that they raise lots of questions means they aren't personally faithful.

    But I don't think that's the same as disagreeing with the arguments people are making. In the instance of the talk I was mentioning, if someone had wanted to talk about problems they saw with my ideas, of the way I was framing things--I would hope they would do it in a respectful way, sure, but I would think that was legitimate. (Okay, probably a bit odd as a response to a sacrament meeting talk. So more to the point, that's the kind of response I would expect in response to a blog post, or what's the fun of blogging? As I think you were saying.) What I don't like is having my personal faith being called into question; I don't find that helpful in a conversation of any sort.

    So in the spirit of that, I want to see if I can articulate where I would disagree with your earlier post (hopefully without coming across as accusing you of unfaithfulness!). If you'd simply talked about how you had faith in patriarchy as something positive--that might have baffled me, admittedly, but I don't think there would have been a lot to discuss, because testimony isn't a form of discourse that really invites discussion. All I could do would be to acknowledge that that's genuinely your belief and your experience, and leave it at that; there really wouldn't have been much more to say.

    But it sounded to me like you were making an argument, something along the lines of how D&C 132 is evidence that patriarchy is actually positive for women. That's an idea that I don't agree with. And so I would want to ask how you account for evidence that seems (to me) to undermine that argument, to ask how those particular verses fit in to what you're saying--not how they influence your personal faith, because that's not up for dispute--but rather what they mean for the particular argument that you're putting forth. I wasn't reading the discussion as a discussion about your personal faith in patriarchy and why you like it, but rather the question of what D&C 132 tells us about the nature of patriarchy--a discussion of the meaning of a particular text. Am I making sense?

    Okay, this comment is probably long enough, so I'll stop here.

  8. m&m, I echo what Lynnette said. And I would add that starting out posts describing how feminists are misguided and/or mean is generally not the best way to begin a discussion where you want to emphasize your faith.

  9. if someone had wanted to talk about problems they saw with my ideas, of the way I was framing things--I would hope they would do it in a respectful way, sure, but I would think that was legitimate.

    Lynnette, I don't have a problem with people disagreeing with me. Really. But to me what happened here to me was not mere disagreement. There was in my mind a demanding that I answer in a certain way or engage the questions in a certain way or apologize for using D&C 132. Some of the comments had a tone and personal nature to them that I felt were inappropriate.

    To me recognizing differences in languages of faith also includes acknowledging the different assumptions and constructs we have in engaging scriptural text. There seems to be a line of thought that using some verses in D&C 132 is somehow an intellectual crime, that if I can't account for *all* the verses, then I can't use *any* of them, or that if I quote one verse in the context of temple covenants, than I MUST also be able to explain all the other verses in that context. I actually see two separate subsections, one about marriage in general, and the other about polygamy, etc.

    Let's try another illustration. There are troubling verses and concepts in the OT, and yet we use verses in the OT that we do understand and can process well and that are consistent with doctrinal truths and realities and prophetic teachings. We aren't expected to understand or be able to explain it all or account for it all in order to use what we DO understand and what HAS been explained and taught by prophets of God, what IS relevant to our teaching and beliefs and ordinances and such, what we CAN and do apply in our lives today.

    I look to logical patterns in the truths surrounding prophetic words, scriptural patterns and truths and doctrines, temple ordinances, and what I know and believe about God as a key to how and what to engage in scriptural text. In this case, I included a verse from D&C 132 because I think that it fits really powerfully into that big picture -- a logical as well as faith-based picture to me. I think the reactions to what I said were over the top just because I used D&C 132. I think that is not unlike saying I can't quote from the OT because not all the verses are pleasant or clear.

    I also think there is nothing unreasonable in following the patterns that prophets do in their teaching. D&C 132 is ON THE TABLE as a section of scripture and is quoted and used consistently to talk about the doctrine of marriage and eternal covenants and promises. If people have an issue with that reality, which it appears some do, please realize it's not MY role to answer to that.

    I understand the questions about what to do with other verses; I have some questions myself as to what it all means, because I, too, believe God doesn't see women as a commodity. I disagree with those who insist that there is NO other way to read the text, though, because I also read and engage text in light of what I know about God. If a reading doesn't gel with that, it's not the verse I will reject but the reading, until and unless I have any authorized help in what else to do but wait on the Lord for more info. As I have said before, I don't feel I have to have all the answers about those verses to use some of the verses that in the context of current beliefs and practices regarding eternal marriage.

    In sum, I think D&C 132 is a legitimate source to look to (especially the first 33 verses or so) when talking about eternal marriage, temple covenants, eternal blessings and our potential. Again, I will say that I understand why people have issues with that section, but I am not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater because not all the verses are pleasant or clear to me or us at this time.

    Again, I'm fine if people disagree, but I think that should be done without insults or unkindness or manipulative forms of communication (sarcasm, etc.).

  10. Seraphine, I agree. I need to be better about not making feminists the enemy, because that isn't fair nor does it accurately represent how I feel about feminism. I do think there are problems that can arise when feminism is given too much power in engaging the gospel, but when I said I am thinking about how I can communicate better, that is one thing I am thinking about carefully. The defenses were understandably from the get-go.

    By the same token, I ask you all to try not to see me as a hook-line-and-sinker enemy. I feel that sometimes we engage each other with our dukes already up. I think we can all do better at not predeciding what the other is thinking and try to engage more kindly and with an open mind and heart. I include myself in that, and realize that I have goofed too many times in that way and I apologize for that boxed thinking.

  11. m&m, thanks for your apology--I appreciate it. If I said anything that felt like a personal attack, I apologize as well--certainly none of the comments I made were meant that way. I was merely trying to point out the problems I saw with your argumentation strategies and how you were framing the discussion.

    For what it's worth, I don't think of you as the enemy. However, from my perspective, your method of making arguments about the scriptures is immensely problematic. But since it seems to me that critiquing your argumentation and interpretive strategies feels like a personal attack to you, I think it's best if I try not to engage you around these types of questions.

  12. m&m, I agree that conversations go much better when both people attempt to be respectful. If you feel that my tone is a problem, please feel free to call me on it. I will admit that I get frustrated with conversations like these, but I really am trying to write this in a non-attacking way.

    I think we may be going in circles, but I did want to try one more time to see if I can articulate where I have a problem with your approach to D&C 132.

    I'm imagining a hypothetical in which I cited Lehi's discourse on the Fall in 2 Nephi 2, to make an argument that in LDS teachings, it would have been better if there hadn't been a fall. And I quoted verses 17-21, which talk about an angel falling to become a devil, tempting Eve, and that all are now lost because of the
    transgression of their first parents to make this point. And then someone said, okay, but later in the chapter there's stuff about how Adam fell that men might be and have joy, that it's part of God's plan. And I responded, I don't really understand those verses, so I've decided for now to put them on the shelf. I think that would be a misleading interpretation of the text, and would likely undermine my credibility. I think it would be fair to ask me to account for that evidence.

    It's not at all that I begrudge you the happiness you find in the church, or the decision to shelve such things as part of your personal approach to the gospel. I suspect everyone does that, to some extent. But I think it's a problematic move in the context of a discussion of what the scriptures mean (as opposed to which scriptures inform your testimony).

  13. Hi m&m,

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. I appreciate your talking about this in a respectful way, and I hope I can reciprocate. I think you’re right that we take very different approaches to scripture, and that doubtless underlies some of our disagreements.

    My sense, from things you’ve said—and please tell me if I’m misconstruing you—is that you don’t see scripture as an independent source of authority, but only authoritative insofar as it supports what current church authorities are teaching. Scriptures which don’t fit into that, which seem confusing, are kind of in a limbo, because there isn’t much we can do with them right now. Am I hearing you right?

    Where my approach might differ is that I see scripture is an independent source of religious authority. I see value in attempting to understand it on its own terms, without appealing to authorities outside the text for definitive interpretations. I find an interpretation compelling not based on whether various authorities have held that view, but based on the extent to which it accounts for the text.

    It’s not that I don’t think prophetic teachings are irrelevant; in trying to tease out what LDS doctrine is, I absolutely think you have to take into account both the teachings of church leaders and scripture (as well as liturgy). I might well conclude that a certain scriptural notion is not in fact part of LDS teachings, based on what LDS prophets have said about it. But I’m not going to bring that in when I’m still at the level of examining the scriptural text on its own terms.

    (The comment form is complaining that my comment is too long--imagine that!--so I'll put the rest in a second comment.)

  14. Do you feel you have to be able to account for all the problematic stuff in the OT in order to quote it or to look for the threads that can be understood and can build upon other scriptural, prophetic, temple and other gospel truths? As you try to understand things we are taught? (I have studied the patriarchal order because it has been said that it is an eternal order. If that is the case, I want to understand what that means!)

    From what you’re saying here, it sounds to me like you’re starting with a particular teaching and then looking through the scriptures to find things that support it, looking for threads, as you say. Again, let me know if I’m getting that right.

    My concern about that approach is that I think it inevitably ends up misrepresenting the text to pull out bits of it like that, rather than engaging it in a more comprehensive fashion and on its own terms. I also think it’s important to be open to the possibility that scripture might contradict our views (e.g., the conception of God in the OT might differ in significant ways from current LDS teachings on God)—and I have a problem with it when people (not aiming this at you specifically; it’s something I hear all the time at church) simply assume that it must support LDS views, and thus look for a way to interpret it to mean that. (If we know in advance what we’re going to conclude, I’m not sure what the point of reading scripture is.)

    I will freely admit that there is much in the OT I find confusing. That doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s worth engaging. But before I quoted something from it in support of a particular idea, I’d want to make sure that I was doing my best to understand that verse in its context.

    Assuming you don't like polygamy, do you reject the notion of the Abrahamic covenant or that Abraham was a prophet because he practiced it?

    Ahh, that’s helpful, because I can see where we might be talking past each other. When I’m trying to make sense of the scriptures, the question of whether or not I personally like polygamy, or whether I personally see Abraham as a prophet isn’t relevant. What I’m trying to figure out is what the text has to say about polygamy, or about Abraham.

    Perhaps even more specifically, I am interested in knowing what you choose to do with section 132. With the verse that I quoted? With the virgin verses?

    My read, in a nutshell—I think that D&C 132 pretty clearly sets out a vision of heaven in which women are, to put it bluntly, accessories to men. The earlier verses about men and women becoming gods together might raise questions about such an interpretation, but what I’m getting from the revelation is that while women and men are exalted together, they are nonetheless exalted in the context of a relationship which privileges males.

    Whether or not I personally accept that as truth gets me into the realm of testimony. But here I’m simply talking about my best efforts to figure out what the text is saying. It’s not that I don’t see testimony as important—but in the context of a conversation like this, it pretty much shuts things down. If I appeal to personal religious experience as a way of either rejecting or accepting 132, there’s not much that can be said in response. Whereas if I stay at the level of examining the text, there’s a possibility for the exchange of ideas.

    I hope that helps at least a little in explaining where I’m coming from.

  15. Sure, I get what you are saying, m&m. I think part of the problem stems from the way the church at large handles polygamy now. We want to draw lines between us and the fundamentalists, but we still posthumously seal multiple women to men in our temples. In other words, we don't quite know what to make of our recent history, so we have just decided to take a break from it, I guess. That doesn't bother me, particularly, and I have confidence and faith that we will eventually work this out in a coherent fashion.

    But for now, the net effect when it comes to section 132 is that we end up having to ignore the elephant in the room. No matter how much we want to focus on the blessings of marriage and male/female godhood, the elephant is still there.

    With regards to the usage of the term _patriarchal order_, Since 1830 that term has been used in the church to mean 5 or 6 different things. I see no value at all in trying to pin a value on it right now, since it will no doubt change in another 15 years.

  16. No matter how much we want to focus on the blessings of marriage and male/female godhood, the elephant is still there.

    Sure. I guess my point is that if you *only* focus on the elephant, though, you might miss what else is in the room, which might actually have real value.

    With regards to the usage of the term _patriarchal order_, Since 1830 that term has been used in the church to mean 5 or 6 different things. I see no value at all in trying to pin a value on it right now, since it will no doubt change in another 15 years.

    This is a good point, but then I think that we should be more clear that *negative* interpretations should also not be pinned to the concept, either, and I think there IS negativity pinned to it. Again, the elephant often dominates discussion.

    I should have framed my post differently, but see it as an attempt to suggest that that it isn't all negative, that I think there is value in not throwing the water out with the, er, elephant. We may not be able to fully pin it all down, but I think you can't look at the negative alone without ignoring an awful lot that is to me of great importance, even fundamental, to our beliefs.

  17. All I have to say is, regardless of what we struggle with in the gospel, your advice is right. When deep doctrinal/controversial things bother me, I go back to the basics of the gospel, which always brings me peace and reaffirms my testimony of the gospel. Dwelling on things that only Heavenly Father understands and that are not essential to our salvation brings anguish and doubt. I, like you, choose to be happy and ignore the things that can be ignored. In due time, it will all be sorted out by a just and merciful God who wants us to return to Him, regardless of our gender. Thanks for the great post!

  18. Francesca,

    Thanks for your comment! I am so grateful for the power of the simple truths of the gospel.