Of late, I’ve been contemplating the Eden Myth and particularly the Serpent in that story.
My upbringing initially gave me a single understanding of the serpent symbol – that of Satan, the devil and deceiver. However, reading the Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites series in my teens (oh, yes, my Mormon is showing), introduced me to the Serpent-Messiah symbol, which adds complexity to the Garden narrative. In fact, it has left me wondering for many years if the “sin” Satan was punished for wasn’t beguiling Eve but stepping in where Christ should’ve been. This is especially true because God gave to Adam ALL the trees of the garden and Eve was never instructed not to eat of the one (having not been created yet when Adam was warned away).
The choice of a serpent is even more interesting to me when its symbolic meaning is evaluated against Jewish/Israelite and other cultures and beliefs. The snake represents rebirth, wisdom, fertility, intellect, and more.
But I digress. My thoughts of late have shifted specifically to wondering who let the snake in. Of course, this is assuming a literal version of events, but follow me anyway.
If God created Eden under any circumstances (as a haven, a place to allow Eve & Adam to learn and grown and “progress” to maturity once they were separated from Heaven, or a place for them to exist in the in-between as long as they chose not to progress further, of as a place for them to live in perpetuity) then God Themselves set the rules.
They could’ve kept the serpent out. They could’ve kept the serpent from beguiling Eve simply by keeping it out.
Think about that. The entire fall was completely preventable with a simple rule change.
The Serpent didn’t sneak past God. It didn’t get there without the knowledge and allowance of Heaven. God, all powerful and all knowing, could’ve prevented not only a fall, but the beguiling of Eve.
They didn’t. That tells me something.
I don’t believe in a God that sets us up to fail. I don’t believe that we are supposed to intuit the rules or receive them second hand.
Clearly, Eve was always intended to take the fruit. She was always intended to allow for our progression. Our Heavenly Parents have no desire to keep us from more light and knowledge. At some point, They let the Serpent in. They let the Serpent “get to” Eve.
To me, Eve’s fall was a carefully thought-out choice but that choice was available to her because God allowed it. To me, it’s a powerful message that we were always meant to progress (and transgress) beyond the boundaries of Eden.
God is not afraid of our rebirth. They are not afraid of our gaining light and truth, wisdom and knowledge, experience and understanding. They teach us line upon line and, in time, they allow the Serpent to appear in our lives. That’s not necessarily a sign that we should turn away (remember the Brazen Serpent and the Messiah-Serpent archetype).
Instead, it may be a sign that we are ready to grow again.
I spend a lot of time thinking about Eve. Perhaps more than any other figure in scripture, except Christ Himself, Eve draws me in. Much of her story is obscured. Outside of Mormonism, she is often disparaged by Christianity. Even within Mormonism, I have heard people refer to her and her choice to take the fruit of knowledge of good and evil in very negative terms, despite our teachings that the fall was integral to the Plan of Salvation.
But I love Eve. Whether her story is an allegory, as much of the Bible is, or whether she is a real person is immaterial to me. Her story is amazing. Because we know so little it, there’s lots of room for interpretation and I spend a lot of time contemplating the space we don’t know, the “what happened” in between what the Bible and church teachings tell us happened.
One of the things I admire about Eve is how she wasn’t willing to “settle” or give up what she needed. Whether this was a good thing or a bad thing, I don’t know. I’ve contemplated it a lot without an answer yet. However, I admire her for it.
At some point, Eve decided it was time for her to progress. She was ready to move on from the Garden. I imagine that before she got to that point, she’d done a lot of walking with God, asking questions, learning what she could. Maybe she and Adam had had lots of conversations about this. I believe they learned a lot together.
Maybe at some point, Adam had said to her “Why do you want to leave this place? It is easy. It has everything we need. Why would we leave?”
Maybe Eve had initially said to him “I will wait for you to be ready, for you to understand why.”
Perhaps she waited patiently for him for eons, learning and growing as much as she could. Perhaps he was learning too, but more slowly or more cautiously.
I wonder if, in their conversations, Eve wanted to leave more quickly, but caution or fear or a lack of understanding made Adam hesitate. Maybe Adam was waiting to be commanded to leave.
Maybe one day, Eve said to Adam, “Our parents are not going to make us go. This has to be our choice, Adam. We have learned all that we can here. We have grown all that we are able. It is time for us to go.”
I don’t mean to make Adam less. Maybe he was right there with Eve. Maybe he was her partner in every way, learning with her right at the same pace. Maybe they were completely united in the decision. When Eve took the fruit, I wonder if Adam was there with her, standing by her side, waiting for her to hand him the fruit.
Perhaps Eve took the fruit first because that was her stewardship, her mission, and Adam couldn’t do it before she had.
Still I wonder: was Eve the driving force in that decision? Was Adam away somewhere, knowing that Eve had decided to leave and trying to decide if he was going to support her in her growth and go with her out of the garden?
What I do know is that Eve stepped forward and took responsibility for her choices, for her progression, for her happiness. She made an impossibly brave choice to follow her heart, her inner wisdom, her intuition and respect her needs and her wants. In pursuing her mission, in filling her cup, she gave us all life and a legacy as women that we should embrace.
Satan would have us think that sacrifice is always the right choice, that giving up what we want and need for someone or something else is always a good thing. That’s not true. Sometimes we need to say “This is what I need and I will honor that.”
There are many lessons that I have learned by pondering about Eve. This is one of them: It is good and it is right to fill our own cups, to not minimize our own needs and to respect our own progression. Even if caring for ourselves means that that our husbands or our children or our church have to sacrifice too, that is ok. Eve was not a martyr.
Perhaps Eve left the Garden for us, but I think she also left the Garden for her.
In my last post, I talked about asking the question “What is a ‘Mother’?“. I shared some of why I have asked that question. You will want to read that post for background to be able to understand this one.
As I said in that post, I understand “motherhood” is an incredibly sensitive topic. I hope to heal broken hearts, lift others up and shed light on a topic I have come to care deeply about. If you find this topic painful, you may want to come back to the blog another day. The Savior can heal all wounds, but His time is not ours and sometimes the balm of Gilead is slow to heal. This post is not about culturally accepted motherhood, but about a richer, deeper calling that is available to any woman who wants it.
I promised to share some of the traits I felt defined what a Mother is. You might not agree with everything on my list, but don’t dismiss it out of hand. Ponder it and pray about it. Then, consider making your own list. I’d love to hear it.
The traits that make a mother are wide and rich. This list is far from inclusive, but it does cover the critical basics. Here are a few of my thoughts:
1. A Mother is a Life-giver or Life-bringer. This is probably the single-most defining factor of what a Mother is. The most obvious example of this is childbearing. Women who sacrifice their bodies, their health and their sanity to give mortal life to a child are prime examples of the life giving role of a Mother. This is what we typically define motherhood to be. I call it “little-m motherhood”. However, there is so much more to this. Mothers bring life to their homes, to gardens and yards, to communities, to businesses, to ideas, to governments and to the world. Women who write books often compare the process to their experience with childbirth – hard work, sometimes painful, and so, so worth it in the end. To me, there are very few things as wonderful as seeing a seedling pop through the earth and then later to be able to harvest the bounty of a garden. It’s wonderful to know that I am responsible for that life. I’ve seen others give life to businesses. It’s amazing to see their business grow and blossom. I’m doing the same thing right now, watching my own company begin to take life, with the same sort of anticipation as I have had watching others do the same. Giving life extends to every aspect of the world in which we walk and Mothers are the people who bring that life into being.
2. A Mother is a circle maker. Just as Mothers bring life, they also usher in death. Death is simply a necessary step in our growth process and Eve’s choice was key to both. By partaking of the fruit, Eve brought both mortal life and mortal death. Women’s bodies cycle through life and death in a monthly microcosmic way (the book The Healing Power of the Sacred Woman talks about this concept in really powerful ways). We have lost the ability to honor the natural cycle of womanhood the way that many more “primitive” cultures do, but the circular nature of a woman’s life force can be seen in ripples throughout her world.
One example of this cyclical nature of womanhood in the seasons of a woman’s life. First she is a maiden and then the maiden dies as she becomes a mother (little m). For a time the mother lives and then she dies as a woman becomes a crone. Simultaneously, a woman may live through another type of seasons. Many women, especially in Mormonism, have careers or paying jobs prior to and in the early years of their marriage. Then when children are born, they retire from that season of their live to be “stay at home” parents. When their children begin attending school or grow up and leave home, many go back to school to complete degrees (or get new ones) and then enter the workforce again. While men often do all these things at the same time, many women live their lives in stages, closing one circle before drawing the next. Intentional or not, these seasons of life which open with a birth and close with a death of sorts speak testament of the cycle of mortality and the dual role of Eve as life giver and death bringer.
Mothers make circles in other ways. We encircle each other, children, our spouses, our goals and our dreams in the embrace of round arms and warm hearts and we create protective circles around those who have been attacked or injured. Which brings me to my third trait.
3. A Mother is a protector and a warrior. So often we refer to men as the protectors. The protection of a father is wonderful, but no one protects like a Mother. When it comes to childbirth, a woman’s body literally responds to external stimuli in labor to protect her child. In the wild, no one protects like a mama. I was once within a few hundred yards of a mother grizzly bear and her cub. I was too naive to be scared, but I realize today how extremely dangerous the situation was. When faced with danger, a Mother fiercely protects whatever is hers. Mothers will cross oceans, walk through broken glass, take down grown men and governments and ruthlessly remove any obstacle between her and her “child” – be that an actual human child or an adult she loves or a cause she feels called to protect. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will stop a protective Mother.
4. A Mother is a counselor, a wise woman and a healer. I suppose I could’ve broken these three up, but I feel like they are inseparable. Mothers have incredible intuition. I watched my own mother invite people into our home to treat general family illnesses. Her area of expertise – or at least the thing I remember her treating most – was ear infections. So often, she just knew what to do. Some of this was training and some of it was intuition. In nearly all “primitive” cultures, women have a place among the “medicine elders”. These women are not only physical healers, but spiritual healers as well. They conduct rituals for rain, good fortune and protection. They often direct the spiritual affairs of a tribe or community. They provide counseling. They attend births and deaths – the two places where the mortal and spiritual world collide most clearly. It doesn’t matter if there is a male hierarchy or a male chief at the head of the tribe. When the witch doctor says to do something everybody listens.
Even in our “modern” society, we see this. Our culture so often treats women in a derogatory way, referring to men in relationships as “whipped” and their (female) significant others as “the old ball and chain”. Culture tries to diminish the powerful role of a Wise Woman. But any man, woman or child worth their salt will listen to that guiding voice of a Grandmother or a Mother. Any husband with true respect for his wife knows to listen to the Mother inside his wife when she speaks.
Mothers hold space in times of trial, rejoice in times of gladness, find clarity in times of confusion and speak words of praise in times of clarity. They do all of this with the combined wisdom of generations of Mothers and Grandmothers handed down in their genetic and energetic code.
5. Mothers honor their calling and others’. Because they have strong intuition and because they know to follow that intuition, Mothers are often very confident in their callings. Whatever that calling is, a Mother does not get easily pulled down into the weeds or trapped in the false promises of Ego. They also have no problem allowing others to follow their own path. Honoring their calling gives them a place of confidence and self-assurance from which to operate from. They know that God doesn’t give us all the same path and that each child has to find their own way.
6. A Mother brings light. You know those people who just light up a room? Women who make you feel good about yourself? Those women reflect what a Mother is. Light is the single most essential element for growth. Even plants that grow in the dark (think mushrooms) need light as part of their growth chain. Light provides energy. Energy creates the ability to grow. Some women claim they are not the nurturing type, but I’ve yet to meet a Mother who doesn’t bring light in some form. Even if you don’t light up a room, that does not mean you do not bring light. Some of us have gentle, filtered light. Others light is bright and shiny. Still others of us have light that is harsh and cleansing. All of these forms of light nourish growth if we let them.
7. A Mother crosses generations. Mothers are simultaneously Eve and modern woman tied up together. They are daughters and mothers, granddaughters and grandmothers. They reflect the past while gazing into the future. Their stories resonate through generations, inspiring their sons and daughters to move forward by looking backwards. They hold the secrets of the past and the promise of the future all in the cup of their hands.
8. A Mother is a teacher. Mothers are naturally teachers. They lead the way when they are called to. They sit back when they know we need to learn on our own. Whoever their “children” are, they show us the way, teach us correct principles and let us walk in the Light. They teach us to value ourselves by caring for themselves. One of the most selfless things a Mother does is to care for herself, teaching us that we can best help others by keeping our own cups filled. She show us that Living Water is the best way to fill our cups and that a critical part of “self care” building a relationship with Deity.
This is my “short list”. I am sure that as I keep chasing this topic, I will gain more understanding of what Motherhood is. Those who restrict Motherhood to childbearing and rearing have a limited understanding of what it truly is. Motherhood is a calling that every woman is invited to take part in. Not every woman will. The conflation of childbearing with Motherhood, the pain of not being able to have a “traditional family” in mortality, the pull of other callings will all lead some to different paths. Choosing otherwise, wanting otherwise does not mean there is something “wrong” with you. But every woman who wants it is welcome to take part in Motherhood. As women, as daughters of Eve, this is our birthright.
I’ve been pretty vocally critical recently about some of the negative things going on in the church. There’s a lot of pain and a lot of contention, a lot of questions and chaos and processing and trying to sort everything out.
As a lot of us have been sorting through everything that has happened in the last week, we are also trying to buoy each other up, to restore our faith in an organization we love.
Sometimes we get very focused on the problems and lose sight of all the truly good people within the church. Sometimes we need to be reminded of all the good around us. To that end, we have been sharing stories of good experiences with (male) priesthood leaders. Many of these stories are from people who are outside of doctrinal or cultural orthodoxy whose Priesthood leaders (mostly Bishops) addressed their unorthodoxy with love, kindness and respect. I share these stories with you with their permission.
I was [recently] pulled into the bishop’s office regarding comments I had posted [on Feminist Mormon Housewives] which someone had brought to him. We discussed and he said something along the lines of “What it seems to me that you are saying in all these comments is that you have a problem with hypocrisy, and that’s something I think we agree on. Carry on.”
When I was about 20, I realized I was losing my testimony — I was unhappy and uncomfortable at church, felt like I was lying about who I am because I WAS (I kept quiet and didn’t say much at church bc I didn’t want anyone to think I was Weird or Out There — which was a huge problem in my tiny home ward in a small town, so even in Seattle I was sure I’d be ostracized) — and I finally knuckled down and went to speak to the bishop. For a good fifteen minutes, I just expunged all of my negative feelings and fear of alienation/difference/etc. to him.
And my bishop was quiet through the entire mess, laughed quietly once I’d finished and said, “Well, that was a lot,” and then looked at me straight in the eye and asked me how I felt about it. I said I was confused, and hurt, and didn’t know if I belonged at church anymore, and he said, “How do you feel about what you’re doing specifically?”
I was taken aback. I was so used to having judgment passed down on me from authority figures. I had no idea how to respond to an authority figure in the church asking me to analyze my own behaviors and determine my own judgment for them. And that’s what he did. At no point in the conversation did he call me to repentance, or tell me any of what I did or thought was wrong or a sin. He simply asked me if I’d prayed about any of it (I had), and what answers I’d gotten. At no point did he tell me that I had to wait for my opinions to fall in line with Heavenly Father’s (as future bishops have done) — he asked me about the revelation I personally had received for myself, and then he told me he loved me and that he was there for me.
I’m still a member because of the unyielding Christlike love that bishop. I have an intensely strong testimony of the power of personal revelation, and he helped cement for me that my relationship with my Heavenly Father is personal and, though sometimes mediated through the church, that I am in control of my own sphere of personhood and spirituality. I love him.
From that moment on, I opened up. I taught an RS lesson about living with doubt — not overcoming it, as seems to be the only avenue given to us by talks, but actually identifying and acknowledging your doubt and being okay with its being there. I talked a lot more. I got friends. I found out that there were LOADS of other women in my ward who felt the same way I did about many things, but were equally afraid to open up about it for fear of being judged.
To this day, I’m grateful to my YSA bishop. He is such a good, good man.
My temple recommend interview was Sunday, and I’ve barely talked to our bishop before (I moved into the ward recently). In the “do you affiliate…” question I jokingly responded “Well, I am a Mormon feminist, but I don’t consider that to be contrary to the teachings of the Church as defined by that question; historically that question was designed for polygamists.” The Bishop smiled and said “discussion is healthy and your perspective is welcome.” He then pulled out a postcard of a patchwork quilt of the Temple (full version was hanging in his office) that the ward had made a couple of years ago to celebrate diversity. “My goal is to have a ward that celebrates our diversity” he said. “Everyone belongs in this quilt.”
My Bishop is not someone I knew very well before he got called to be Bishop (about 3 months ago) and I gave a talk 2 or 3 weeks ago in which I talked about my doubts. I didn’t talk in specifics, but I did say that finding out about the uglier, not known aspects of church history is what caused me to doubt. I went from idolizing Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (like many LDS people do) to really not liking them much at all and questioning whether they really were prophets. These doubts led me to understand the atonement of Christ a little bit more and to realize just how important it is… if Prophets of God make mistakes and need the atonement that everyone needs it. I have had people tell me before that I need to keep quiet about having doubts so I was very happy when my Bishop thanked me and said (with lots of sincerity in his eyes and voice) that he knew there were people who needed to hear what I shared. Since then I have ‘come out’ to my bishop as a Mormon feminist and he has been nothing but understanding and encouraging. My Bishop even emailed me to see if I was ok after the news broke yesterday about Kate Kelly’s “court of love.” I believe he is a good man who cares about me.
When I was 19, I felt strongly that I needed to get endowed, even though I had been a member for less than a year and there was no mission or marriage on the horizon. I went to talk to my bishop about it, and while he was not in favor of it at first, he felt an impression that he should let me. Then he went down to talk to the stake president, a man whom I’d never met. The stake president was staunchly against it until they knelt together to pray over the matter. When they finished praying, the stake president did a complete 180 and agreed to see me for a recommend interview. It was a strong witness to me about priesthood leaders receiving inspiration for those they preside over, and a wonderful example of righteous men who listened and prayed instead of just going with what they knew to be true.
When my brother came out, my mom … insisted he see the bishop. Thank goodness we had a very kind and gentle man for a bishop. He said ” I am just a regular guy, I have no training to help you with this, the church has some brochures I can give you, but they are inadequate for this. The church has no good help or counseling that I would recommend. I do know that God loves us and we don’t have all the answers.” He was very honest and he did not lecture or condemn. It was more honesty than a lot of gay members get. …This was one man who didn’t judge, and we are grateful for that.
On Sunday, I asked a member of the stake presidency how to deal with the treatment I get for being a home birth midwife, as most think it’s “weird”, when it is a calling that my husband gave me a blessing and set me apart for.
He said “sometimes we have to be Zion in Babylon”
Back when I first started homeschooling, I had two preschoolers, and one school-aged child. We were also building our home, and doing a lot of the work ourselves, so homeschooling was suffering. Very few people in the ward even knew we were homeschooling. And certainly not the bishopric. During this time, I was called to be the ward music chairman. When I got set apart, my sweet Bishop set me apart for my calling, and then proceeded to give me a blessing to ease my mind about teaching my children, and to give me strength as their mother. I still get a little teary thinking about it. I knew that he was listening to the Spirit as he gave me that blessing, and gave me the exact blessing I needed at that time.
Our bishopric [recently] facilitated a combined RS/PH discussion on same-sex attraction. It was an open, beautiful, and loving discussion. Their sincere desire to help both us and those around us feel loved was palpable. They emphasized giving and receiving Christlike love, and they practiced that love as they listened to our varied thoughts, painful experiences, and concerns without judgment. It was amazing. They helped us navigate a very difficult, sensitive subject with compassion, and proactively initiating the discussion took a lot of courage on their part.
I recently had a conversation with my Bishop regarding my thoughts about Ordain Women and the cultural attitudes in Mormonism. I was feeling very battered, frustrated and confused. My bishop really took the time to listen to me. He also encouraged me that when I heard others speak negatively about my sisters that I take courage and speak up, correcting them. He said that he would have a discussion with the ward council about addressing controversial issues withing the church and how important it is that we love each other. I walked out feeling more confident, more loved and safer than I had in a while. His care really helped rejuvenate my spirit.
Every year, our ward combines with a couple of other wards in the area and rents out the local water park for one night. Each year, starting when he was our bishop, our former bishop goes to the water park. He probably weighs about 400 pounds. With no shame, he puts on his swim suit and makes a big production of repeatedly going down the biggest water slide and spraying all of the kids who wait at the bottom. He creates a tidal wave! I served as a Relief Society president under this bishop, and he came to every correlation and welfare meeting with an agenda and a purpose. Once he had discussed what was on his agenda, he went around the room to each individual and asked if we had anything that we would like to discuss. I felt that he made special efforts in my case to make sure that he was getting the Relief Society point of view from me.
My bishop and I were discussing personal prayer. I told him that I included Heavenly Mother in my prayers. I told him I wasn’t leaving Heavenly Father out, just praying to both of them now. He was fine with that (but also asked me to be sure to only do so in private because the current direction for the whole church is to pray only to Heavenly Father). There’s so much light in my Bishop, it’s amazing. I feel safe with him.
— If this was helpful to you, and you would like to see it become a regular feature, let me know. I’d also love to receive more stories of wonderful church leaders. This has been one of my favorite projects. We definitely are navigating a difficult place in Mormonism right now, but it’s so important to remember all the wonderful leaders and good things about our church! —
A couple of days ago, I shared a link on my Facebook page from Feminist Mormon Housewives on becoming heretics and the pain that comes from being outside the box of cultural Mormonism.
As part of the discussion that ensued, a link from The Style of Being was shared. I started to write a response and it turned out that I had a lot to say on the topic.
I am not a member of Ordain Women and I have not appreciated all of their actions. After much study and prayer, I do not know how I feel about women’s ordination. However, I do know that OW isn’t the bogey man that cultural Mormonism makes them out to be.
Here’s my response to Mormon Feminism and Being Snarky
Men and Women are NOT THE SAME…
This is true. But women and women are not the same. Neither are men and men.
If I look at each of my girlfriends, I see a few places where we overlap – we all love each other, for example – and many, many places where we differ. Some of us are driven, headstrong, stubborn and unforgiving of the things that stand in our way. Others are more inclined to “float” through life and are content with what life brings them. All of us have our soft spots and our hard spots. Not one of us is the same as another.
More than that, how are we defining things that are traditionally female? Compassion? Love? Gentility? Easy going? What would you call “female” attributes?
My husband and I often joke that I make a better man and he makes a better woman, based purely on stereotypical roles.
My husband is naturally more compassionate than I am when it comes to someone being injured. He gets a headache or damages his hand or something and I’m like “Well, take some Tylenol and get over it.” On the other hand, when I fell and hurt my wrist and scrapped up my leg, he took care of me for a couple of days before he started to be annoyed with me.
He tends to be more patient, easier going, more inclined to follow, softer than I am. Those are wonderful attributes and I strive to emulate them in many places.
With that kind of background, I have to wonder: how would you define “what makes [you] inherently female”?
Lastly, OW uses a grammatical imperative. That’s their goal. However, they are not telling anyone else what to think. They are telling members of their organization – people who are exercising their right to freedom of association – to gather around a common ideal. They are expressing their opinion that women’s ordination is the only way to fix the gender inequalities in the church. They also claim to be asking the questions: Can women be ordained? And why can’t women be ordained? We can disagree about methods, but it is your interpretation that they are telling women what to think, not necessarily reality.
Priesthood Responsibilities Are Designed to Grow Good Men
Absolutely we need man and woman together. We do complement each other. Of course women cannot do it all. I could never manage two jobs and a child without my husband there with me. We support each other. But what his role is and what my role is are defined by us in concert with God. Right now, my role is to be the primary breadwinner. I currently have more earning potential than he does and it’s helping keep us out of crippling debt. Meanwhile, he is the SAH parent. He’s actually pretty good at it too. And Monkey needs her dad. She needs her mom but she also needs her dad.
Also, while my husband stinks at housework (pretty sure Priesthood is not going to fix that) he is generally, as I stated above, the kinder, softer one and more inclined to follow instead of fight. Soooo… maybe I need the Priesthood responsibilities to teach me skills my husband is already good at.
And, really, I don’t understand how blessing and passing the sacrament or serving in leadership roles is “tailored to [the men’s] needs.” These are positions that are pretty generic across the church and many women could benefit from them as well as men.
Yes, western women do tend to do “everything”. Some of this is because when women work outside of the home, they still find or make time to keep the house and see their children (working moms do more housework and more childcare than their working fathers counterparts). This doesn’t mean that men are slacking or that they are being pushed out by women. Men and women just make different choices. Doing “everything” is a choice women make. Everyone should feel like they can choose how to spend their time. A strong man is not going to be pushed out by a woman. Our goal should be to have strong men to complement strong women, not weak women to pacify weak men. Limiting the priesthood to men only simply because we are afraid men “need” the priesthood to be spiritually equal to women undercuts men and unfairly punishes women.
The Priesthood is Not a Status Symbol, Yo
Yes, I know this. This statement is at best misinformed and faulty. Wanting the priesthood does not mean wanting some kind of status symbol. It means wanting the equal treatment that is incredibly difficult to achieve without ordination to priesthood office.
When Kate Kelly says that equality can be measured, she’s not talking about something theoretical. She’s talking about necessity of having men and women as part of the church.
If one Sunday, no men showed up for church, Sacrament meeting literally could not be held. If no women showed up, meetings could go on as scheduled (there might be some scrambling in the primary, but otherwise everything would function as normal).
Moreover, priesthood ordination does lead to more influence within the church. Factually, there are very few roles that allow women to influence the direction of the church. I’m not talking doctrine here; I’m talking culture and, especially, policy.
On the ward level, there’s an appearance of near equality. Wards have the Bishop and the RS President, the Sunday School President and the Primary President, the Young Men and Young Women Presidents. However, only the bishopric is allowed to actually extend callings, and a bishop can turn down a RSP’s request (and it is a request; she has no real authority to do anything but ask) for a certain teacher, counselor, etc. Additionally, you have the EQP, which is really more the RSP’s equivalent, and the HP Group Leader. Men outnumber women in leadership positions at the ward level almost two to one. Also, while the Primary President is traditionally filled by a woman, it does not have to be, while the Sunday School President is specifically a male-only position.
When you get to the stake level, that equality of administration lessens. There’s the Stake President and the Stake auxiliary presidencies. There is no Stake EQP and the HP President is the Stake President. However, there are 12 high counselors (which is a priesthood function). There are five men for every one woman in stake leadership (unless you are counting auxiliary counselors which evens the numbers to 2.5 men for every one woman; better but auxiliary counselors have significantly less authority than the high counselors and usually only the presidents are part of ward and stake counsels).
There are no female equivalents to Area Authority 70, General 70 or the Quorum of the 12. We do not even know who the women who serve on the auxiliary general boards are.
Even if we assume for a minute that this is how Jesus Christ wants His church to be run, we still need to address the more policy and cultural elements of Mormon inequality. How many women are involved in the curriculum writing committee (CWC)? I don’t know.
However, Chieko Okazaki did shed a little bit of light on this process:
I was the education counselor, so I worked with one of the men on the curriculum committee. We wanted to change the manual so that it brought up modern-day problems that women have to face and focus on how to implement some of the gospel doctrines and principles in dealing with the problem.
I had written a general outline, and the Relief Society presidency approved it. So I talked about it to a man on the Curriculum Committee. He went to his boss, and the boss said, “We don’t
need a new manual for the Relief Society.” “Why don’t we need a new manual?” “We already are writing a manual for them.”
So he came back and told me that a new manual was already being prepared. I asked what it was, and he said, “Well, it’s the manual on Harold B. Lee.” It was the first one in that series of teachings of the Church presidents. I asked, “Why are they writing a manual for us on Harold B. Lee?” He didn’t know.
I told the presidency, so we went and asked the Curriculum Committee, “What is this all about?” They said, “Well, we’re already almost finished with the first book.” We said, “You’re almost finished with the first book, and you didn’t tell us that you were doing this? Why is this is the first time we have heard about it? Chieko has been writing an outline in relation to what women need.” So I asked, “Who is writing this manual?” It turned out to be five men, and the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Society would have the same lessons.
I asked, “Why aren’t the women included in this?”
The RSP was significantly shut out of the process.
There is ONE book that is an official church publication addressing the heritage of the Relief Society. In the first three chapters, Women are mentioned or talked about 1.3 times as frequently as men, but men are quoted twice as often as women. In a book about the Relief Society. If you remove the scriptural references (quotes from the scriptures and scriptural references to women), the ratio of women to men references becomes about equal while the number of men to women quotes stays about the same.
This is not a doctrinal, but a cultural/policy issue which has many ways of being addressed, but ordaining women is certainly one of them. I don’t know that it’s the best solution, but it is probably the quickest.
Lastly, the idea that if women were ordained there would be no need for men in the church is completely ridiculous. Maybe men could spend more time with their families if their wives were administering in the church. We could have YW pass the sacrament as well (that may not be needed everywhere in the Mormon Bubble, but it absolutely has been an issue in some of the wards I’ve lived in). Some branches could become wards and some groups that cannot be branches due to lack of priesthood leadership due to a lack of active men could become branches.
Same Destination – Same Airline – Different Carry-on Luggage
Since we are supposed to become like our Godly parents, it would be really great if we actually knew anything about our Heavenly Mother. Or what “eternal gender roles” look like. Also, my husband can totally have little-m motherhood. He can be pregnant and carry a baby for 9-10 months. Let me tell you what, I am not a fan of pregnancy at all. Once “those little rugrats” are earthside, they need both mother AND father. Studies show that an absentee father is extremely detrimental to child development and healthy adulthood. Fatherhood deserves a lot more respect than we give it.
Priesthood has no other equivalent, as far as we know, and it is not a gender role.
Trust in the Lord with all Thine Heart
Well, yes, of course. I haven’t spoken to one member of OW who has not come to their opinion on female ordination other than through study and prayer. This is not often an easy decision to make. It marks you as an “unbeliever” in the eyes of many. However, many of these women, our sisters, are trusting God who is directing them to be part of this. “We” assume that because they are different, they are not following God. This is silly and judgmental and hurtful. The history of the church shows revelation often comes from the top down in response to a request from the bottom up.
You may not like how the questions are being asked. I agree that tone is important. It is unfortunate that much of the tone of this entire discussion has been set by people who have not taken time to study and pray about the issue (I am not referring to OW). Labeling someone an apostate for not asking a question the “right” way is asinine. It perpetuates a negative tone.
We don’t know why women are not ordained. Full Stop.
It is simply how the Lord put it, maybe period, maybe for now, but any other reason is not true. We have a responsibility to seek after truth. We have a responsibility to ask difficult questions. We have a responsibility to not get stuck in the Mormon Box, to study and pray about this and many other topics. We have a responsibility to not believe what the media says, what the church PR department says, or what OW says without knowing as much as we can about the entire situation, praying about it when we begin our study and then praying about it after our study and listening and following whatever the Holy Ghost tells us. THAT is trusting in the Lord. THAT is not relying on the arm of flesh.
The Restoration continues. We believe that God will yet reveal many great and important truths pertaining to the kingdom of God. We must ready ourselves to accept whatever that is. It may be ordaining women.
I was recently recommended to a facebook group for Feminist Mormon Housewives (fMh) by a friend of mine, following a number of posts about women and authority in the LDS church.
Some days I really appreciate the sisterhood of the fMh page and sometimes I wonder what I’m still doing there.
There are still many of the liberal leaning (or out-and-out political progressive), pro-choice, anti-gender role, angry, my-way-or-the-highway feminists in this world. There are many of them in Mormon Feminism. Many of the topics that come across the fMh feed are very liberal. It also can be very blunt, black-and-white and unforgiving. You think there’s an evil patriarchy or you’re not a feminist. You support a woman’s “right” to chose an abortion or you’re not a feminist. You don’t think Motherhood and Priesthood are equal and if you do you’re not a feminist.
It’s not always a very friendly place to be and sometimes I feel a little like I’m in the lion’s den. I regularly feel out of place, but that’s pretty par for the course everywhere I am (both online and in “real” life).
One of the things that comes up from time to time in our feministy conversations is about how we know people who are actually feminists but won’t claim the title. It frustrates many people while others have expressed a sort of “wink nod” superiority about knowing their friends are feminists even when their friends won’t admit it.
The truth is that even when you (collective) get beyond the stereotype of what a feminist is, there are still legitimate reasons people reject feminism. Instead of describing what these reasons are, some of which can be overcome by feminists and some of which we have no control over, I’m going to provide a few suggestions on how Mormon feminism (and strictly Mormon feminism, although some suggestions do apply across the board) could provide a more inclusive environment for those who are seeking to understand women’s issues in the church today.
1. Drop the phrase “The Patriarchy”
This is a term used differently by Mormons and the rest of the (feminist) world. In Mormonism, there is talk about the Patriarchal Order, about the great patriarchs, about Patriarchal Blessings and all of these things are good things. Patriarchy in the world, however, is a mancentric environment that shows a preference to men while subtly (and not so subtly) oppressing women. It’s a really hard juxtaposition for people to reconcile.
In general, I actually hate the phrase “the patriarchy” anyway because I don’t think the system in place actually benefits men. It just harms everyone. It’s not “patriarchy” when we assume that all men are rapists and pedophiles. It’s not patriarchy when we assume that young women need to dress modestly so that young men can control their thoughts. It’s not patriarchy when we assume a man and a woman can’t serve in a presidency together (with at least one or two other people) because they might develop feelings for each other. None of those are patriarchy, but they are the system the world calls patriarchy. These attitudes aren’t real patriarchy but they are really harmful.
By abandoning the word patriarchy as the descriptor of our concerns about the church, we can remove a significant barrier to recognizing there are concerns we would like addressed in the church.
2. Quit diminishing motherhood.
I’m sure this will ruffle some feathers. However, I see this phrase a lot in feminist discussions: “Mother does not equal Priesthood. Motherhood equals fatherhood. Priesthood equals priesthood.” Although I am certain it is not the intention, this statement’s de facto result is not lifting up fatherhood. It’s lessening motherhood. In a church that claims to put motherhood right at the top of all callings and responsibilities possible, it’s hard for mainstream Mormons to understand that you might want “more” because wanting more makes motherhood less.
Further, Mormon feminists often make statements that come across as critical of not only the motherhood/priesthood comparison but also of the motherhood as a calling attitude that many women in the church hold.
Instead, Mormon feminists should embrace motherhood as the pinnacle of Earthly and eternal callings. We should also lift up fatherhood, explain how difficult it can be on families and on motherhood when fathers spend excessive time outside the home fulfilling Priesthood callings, and address training and policy concerns in the church before seeking for Priesthood ordination as the missing link to equality. Feminists should realize we don’t know everything about Big-M Motherhood. We must know the doctrine on motherhood and understand why leaders hold it up as equal to Priesthood. We should understand that when the church leadership talks about Motherhood they are perhaps talking about something different than childbearing. We should strive to know as much as we possibly can about Heavenly Mother.
When we have done all that and can articulate it, we should be able to tell others that we love and appreciate their calling to bring spirits into the world and that we feel as though there are other things the Lord would like us to take on. Not more, but other. We should point out that there are times and seasons for certain things and that a woman’s childbearing little-m motherhood years will be comparatively short. We should point out that historically women in the church ran their own businesses, studied as midwives and doctors, served in political office, gave blessings by laying on of hands, managed the Relief Society as an independent and full organization (which included hospitals, it’s own budget and magazine) and fulfilled church callings all while still being good and faithful mothers to their children and wives to their husbands.
If Mormon feminists can help others understand that what we want is what our foremothers had and that none of that demeans motherhood or contributes to the worldly attack on women, we have a greater chance of coming to the table with soft and open hearts.
3. Separate feminism from liberalism
This is incredibly hard. Many feminists, even Mormon ones, are very politically liberal (progressive even). Feminism naturally has a soft spot for issues like gay marriage as both women and homosexuals have traditionally experienced inequality and oppression. However, by hitching the feminist wagon to politically progressive issues, feminists effectively exclude anyone who does not agree politically. If, instead, feminism can “stay on track” and address the social and legal reasons for inequality, we can address real issues instead of getting sidelined by other things that divide us.
3.1. Abandon abortion as a feminist issue
Ok, this one might be a dream. Abortion and reproductive rights are almost a holy grail of feminism. It’s also possibly the single most divisive issue in all of the modern sociopolitical sphere. I think most Mormon feminists – and many feminists outside of Mormonism – will say at the very least that abortion is not ideal. Abortion is especially offensive in Catholic and Mormon spheres where life begins at or before conception respectively and being born is incredibly important.
If Mormon feminism could completely abandon abortion as an acceptable solution to an unwanted pregnancy, and to do so vocally, it would make feminism much more palatable for those taking tentative first steps towards feminism. Moreover, Mormon feminists could lead out by focusing on alternatives (all of them) and by focusing on making men equally responsible for the unborn (and then for the birthed) baby, creating potentially legitimate non-abortion solutions for women outside of both Mormonism and feminism.
4. Focus on the (small) stuff we want
A lot of times feminism is seen as a negative, angry movement. Sure, there are things that we get angry over. That’s human nature. However, sometimes I think Mormon feminists come across as complainers. Instead, we should focus on what positive things we would like to see. I would love to see one lesson a month from the manual Daughters In My Kingdom. I would love lessons that focus on Heavenly Mother, Eve and Mary. It would be amazing to have a Teachings of Emma Smith manual or from Eliza R. Snow or from other LDS women leaders. I would love to have a Relief Society magazine or a whole section in the Ensign just for women (more than the page for the Visiting Teaching message). I’d love to have the RS General Board speak in General Conference or at least know who they are and occasionally hear from them in firesides or the Ensign. These are small to moderate changes but they would make a huge difference for many women.
4.1. Celebrate the small victories
Sort of a subpoint to the previous one, there was a lot of skepticism and actual hurt feelings on fMh when the portraits of the women presidencies were put up in the Conference Center. Small victories are often met with scoffing and even offense. I get it. It also seems like adding insult to injury. However, instead of rejecting them, we should celebrate the little step forward. Change is hard but one small change opens the door for another which opens the door for several more. Many small changes make larger changes possible. It takes time but we should celebrate them instead of feel insulted that they are so small and slow coming.
5. Be educators not just agitators
In the context of this post, agitating means primarily public advocacy in a blunt, straight forward or forceful way, especially an attempt as a group to get a question or issue addressed in the public domain. Of course there is a time when agitating for something is absolutely the right course of action. I won’t fault anyone who, after careful study, meditation and prayer, decides that our Heavenly Parents want them to agitate for an issue. I, personally, am no stranger to agitation on many topics.
However, whenever a person or group agitates they also educate. If the agitation-based education creates a negative perception of a group or individual, that group has actually worked against themselves.
Sometimes, we need to take a step back from our agitating and take control of educating. There is SO MUCH about women in the LDS church that we as a church don’t know (thanks, correlation). Daughters In My Kingdom addresses some of that ignorance and there are amazing things taught in the Relief Society Minutes available from the Joseph Smith Papers project. However, if we’ve preconditioned our brothers and sisters in the church that we will “accept nothing less” than what we are agitating for, we have already alienated them from any future conversations. Getting some of what we want is going to take quiet, assured, well-studied education and we have to lay the education foundation before it will even be possible to get some of the big things we want.
There’s something to Proverbs 15:1 when it says “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grevious words stir up anger.” Sometimes, we need to step back from fighting and speak softly. There are times for both agitation and education, but we cannot forget that education is how you win hearts and minds. Agitation is a secondary, but less effective, tool. Sometimes because it feels more productive, we choose agitation first. Education is always more effective.
6. Never, ever demean or diminish someone else’s experience.
Every one of us is going to have a different experience. Some women really do feel completely comfortable with their position in the church. They do not see themselves and unequal. We have to respect that. Some women have a point or two that frustrates them but are generally content with the structure and hierarchy in the church. We have to respect that too. Just as we hope that no one will diminish our experience, we must never use phrases like “gilded cages” or “flaxen chains” when it comes to our sister’s experiences in the church.
Instead, we should completely own our own experiences. We must not ask that our sisters and brothers accept our world views, only our experiences as real and valid.
I am not a typical Mormon feminist. I’m sure there are some who will take issue with my suggestions. I also know that some both within and outside feminist circles I may be criticized for claiming the term feminist at all. However, I am neither ashamed to be a feminist nor to be one who doesn’t fit in the feminist box. My perspective can help bridge the gap between those who struggle with women’s roles in the LDS church and those who are completely comfortable in them. We can’t reach everyone, but we can alienate everyone that doesn’t fit in the box. By considering our approach, ridding our language of buzz words and non essential ideologies that create barriers and sharing our stories and our history, we will create a more inclusive environment that will help us achieve greater equality and unity in the LDS church.