Seeking for Power that Enables

Love is Fruit by Leland Francisco

Love is Fruit
by Leland Francisco

By Jenny

For about a year and a half I met endlessly with men who saw themselves as my authorities trying to beat me into submission.  Their method ranged from stating their authority to questioning my inner authority.  They tried to tack labels on me (apostate, dangerous, fallen), they talked about me behind my back, they grasped for something they could use as leverage against me (my temple recommend, my church calling), and eventually they settled into shunning me and causing others to shun me until I disappeared completely, curing them of their problem.

In this process they actually omitted a few tactics that could have worked toward a more constructive solution.  They didn’t listen and they didn’t try to understand.  Instead of reasoning with me with compassion and love, they sought for dominion over me.  It’s problematic when someone is taught that they have a power and authority by virtue of that power being passed by a simple act of laying on of hands, without having to do the work to really use the power.  D&C 121:41 teaches that the power and authority that we call priesthood actually only works through “long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.  By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—“ D&C 121:41-42, emphasis added.  Pure knowledge is what enlarges our souls so that we act without hypocrisy.

The scripture goes on to say that it is okay to call someone out with a harsh rebuke as long as you show afterward “an increase of love toward him[her] whom thou hast reproved lest he[she] esteem thee to be his[her] enemy.” D&C 121:42, gender-inclusive language added.  I love how this scripture says that priesthood power and influence can only be used with pure knowledge.  To me, that means that if you are not 100% sure of another person’s heart, intentions, and life experience, you can have no power or influence in rebuking them with harshness.  That isn’t to say that you can’t disagree with them as equals or share how that person’s words feel to you.  That is a very different thing than taking the authority on yourself to rebuke someone with harshness.  This kind of rebuke requires pure knowledge and compassion to be effective.

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Just Ask or the Most Important Thing I Learned During My Time as an Exponent II Editor

fmh coverI’ve learned much during the past 6 years working as an editor for Exponent II, but I wanted to share the skill that I felt has been most important for me.

I learned to just ask. Ask for help, ask for essays, ask for people to do permanent difficult positions for free, just ask because when they say, “no,” at least I knew I had done my best, and when they said “yes” wonderful things came about.

I believe that there is a part of Mormon culture, at least in the United States, that teaches women not to ask. Mormon women are taught to wait.

  • We wait for callings.
  • We wait for a man to call for a date…or to ask us to marry them.
  • We wait to see if we’ll need that career since stay-at-home motherhood is the ideal.

What happens if we’re not attracted to men? If we aren’t given the opportunity to serve in callings that help us grow and satisfy us? What if we want careers in addition to or instead of motherhood?

I don’t think that waiting is an explicit message we are being given at church. It’s insidious side effect of patriarchy in our institution, and it is something we need to push away.

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A Testimony: Jesus Loves Gay Marriage

A Testimony: Jesus Loves Gay Marriage

Jesus_w_childrenLike many Mormons, I was raised to believe that sexual attraction was a choice. Anything other than heterosexual desire expressed through a Mormon temple marriage was inferior and possibly deviant. But I lacked fervor when it came to defending marriage. My testimony of California’s Proposition 8 was weak. It seemed like every young single adult in my stake was phone-banking or bearing a testimony of heterosexual marriage in a campaign commercial. But as I studied the issue of marriage equality I could find no legal, social, or moral basis to support limiting marriage to only heterosexual couples. It became a test of faith for me.

I loved President Monson and believed a prophet of God could never lead me astray. I attempted to put my faith in action with a Facebook post and bumper sticker in support of CA Proposition 8. I waited for the warm outpouring of Spirit to confirm my faith that I was standing for God. But, instead I accidentally overheard a conversation between those wounded by LDS support of Proposition 8 that helped me to realize I could not be an activist in support on this issue. I recognized I was contributing to the harm of people I cared about and took no further public action. But I still wanted to sustain President Monson and voted yes on Proposition 8, waiting for a testimony to confirm that my act of faith was the right choice.

Eventually a testimony came. But it was not the testimony I had sought out. Instead, I gained a testimony that marriage equality is essential to the plan of salvation; gay marriage strengthens families and heals and protects children.

This is my conversion story:

As an adoption social worker in Los Angeles, specializing in older teen adoption; my caseload was predominantly older children of color. The one exception was Joshua. A toothy pumpkin grinned boy living in a predominantly black neighborhood with an elderly black couple in their eighties. His foster parents were ready to retire from fostering and anxiously awaited the day Joshua could be placed with a permanent family for adoption. The lone white boy in his neighborhood, Joshua was frequently bullied for his socially awkward behavior.

Joshua was popular at adoption recruitment events with white parents looking to adopt a child that bore some family resemblance to them. At 10-years-old, he was still on the cute side of puberty. Joshua desperately wanted to belong to a family. His birthday wish each year in foster care was to be adopted.

Joshua was matched for adoption with a wealthy couple. Devoutly religious and empty nesters they had an abundance of time, experience, religious motivation, and wealth to pour into parenting Joshua. I was thrilled with the parenting assets they brought to the match.  After an extensive screening, they began to visit with Joshua in a process of increasing contact with initial short visits progressing to longer overnight weekend visits.

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To say what is truth?

27I have not been able to stop thinking about an essay I read a few months ago: “Oh Say What is Truth? Understanding Mormonism Through a Black Feminist Epistemology”  The author argues that in Mormonism truth is acquired through feeling, citing D&C 9:8, as well as through lived experience; these are the ways we “find out for ourselves.”  These methods of determining truth are part of a black feminist epistemology set forth by Patricia Hill Collins, and the essay argues that her ideas are very close to Mormon methods of determining truth.

Taking feelings and lived experience a step further, Collins argues that a collective dialogue is essential to furthering and developing the truth that each person has acquired, and that each person has a moral obligation to share her truth.  Collins wrote, “The fundamental requirement of [a collective dialogue] is the active participation of all individuals. For ideas to be tested and validated, everyone in the group must participate. To refuse to join in, especially if one really disagrees with what has been said, is seen as ‘cheating.’” The essayist concludes, “Because we all have a truth to speak, to fail to speak our truth especially when it is needed most – when it is being contradicted – is to fail the community’s efforts to build collective, experienced-based truth as a whole body.”

I try to live as though participating in collective dialogue is a moral obligation.  For years I’ve felt that speaking my truth regarding gender equality in Mormonism is one of the important purposes of my life.  For example, Mormonism is patriarchal, but I believe patriarchy is a Judeo-Christian heritage not inspired by God, passed down through many years of unchecked sexism, and now entangled so that it touches nearly every aspect of Church culture and much of Church doctrine.  How do I live as part of a religious community with strongly held traditional beliefs and while hoping for radical change?

I do it by talking.  I use inclusive language, I comment often in Sunday School and Relief Society, I get up in fast and testimony meeting a few times every year, I give carefully crafted talks that are both diplomatic and radical, and I write for a Mormon feminist blog and paper.  I speak my truth wherever I can.  This can be scary because it opens me up for criticism and judgement, but it can also create unexpected connections with people who resonate with what I’ve said.  In the context of contemporary American life it may seem tame to speak truth in one’s own small community – others have spoken up at much greater cost than I have, and to greater effect.  But to do this consistently, to remain attached to a community that has expanded my spirit but also makes me weep, this takes courage and staying power.

So, my ideas matter, even if, or especially when, they are contrary to the status quo.  And if a collective dialogue is needed to develop and advance knowledge, then I need to keep showing up for that dialogue.  I also believe that organizations need insiders working for change for that change to become possible.

But here’s the problem.  What if I’m a lone reed?  In my experience there needs to be a critical mass of people in a Sunday School discussion to get an idea afloat.  It’s great when that happens, and the discussion becomes enlightening and enlivening.  But what if comments or questions fall flat and the teacher marches on with the lesson as planned?  What if people hold your truth in contempt, or possibly worse, just ignore it?  A dialogue in which everyone participates sounds great, but in does that ever happen in real life?  What if, as happened to me earlier this month, a First Presidency letter, the bishopric’s selection of the theme for sacrament meeting, and the material in the talks and discussions form a unified block of content that I don’t resonate with?  Are comments against such a backdrop useful, or contentious even if contention is not my intent?

I’m lonely and tired, friends.  So please, give me your stories.  When you speak up, how does it go?  What do you learn?  Does it create a spark for generating sincere discussion?  Or does your spark fall to the ground, extingushed?  If it’s the latter, what does that mean?

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Sacred Music Sunday: Healing with Hildegard Von Bingen

Sacred Music Sunday: Healing with Hildegard Von Bingen

Guest Post by Lisi Youngberg

Lisi Youngberg is a piano teacher and vocal performance coach that loves empowering others to express themselves through music. The only human female in a male household, Lisi is raising her boys to be feminist allies. Her cat, Gigi, is naturally a feminist.


Hildegard von Bingen (b.1098 – d. 1179) was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. She referred to herself as a member of the “weaker sex,” claimed she was unlearned and incapable of biblical exegesis.

Hildegard explained that the inspiration and intelligence behind her writings and music came from visions of the Divine. Presenting herself this way, gave her authority to speak in a time and place where few women were permitted a voice. Early feminists used Hildegard’s reputation as a medicinal writer and healer to argue for a woman’s right to attend medical school.
The intelligence, creativity and spirituality of Hildegard are beautifully captured in her music. As I listen to this recording of O Frondens Virga I feel my own primal soul yearning to transcend my body and connect with the Divine.

O Frondens Virga

O branch coming into leaf,
standing in your nobility
as the dawn breaks forth:
now rejoice and be glad
and deign to set us frail ones
free from evil habits
and stretch forth your hand
to lift us up.

I chose the Chanticleer recording because I enjoy watching a group of robust-looking men expressing themselves with a voice that is so deeply feminine. The masculine and feminine are at one in this ethereal expression of Hildegard’s divine visions.
Hildegard’s music is ideal for meditation. This longer group of recordings could be the setting for your next quiet time.

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On Blessings

In Gilead, a favorite novel of mine, a Congregational minister named John Ames recalls his life in a letter to his young son.  Part autobiography and part meditation on ultimate questions, the book contains some interesting thought on blessings.  As a minister, Ames has bestowed countless blessings, but his first experiencing of blessing was with kittens.

“I still remember how those warm little brows felt under the palm of my hand.  Everyone has petted a cat, but to touch one like that, with the pure intention of blessing it, is a very different thing.  It stays the mind”  He and his lifelong friend Boughton had wetted the kittens brows with water to baptize them.  He wondered what they had done to them, musing, “It still seems to me to be a real question.”[1]

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