Fix This!

Recently the mission president of the Denver North mission came to our ward to inform us that elders would no longer be able to visit single women investigators without a priesthood holder from our congregation going with them. Our ward has many capable sisters, many who have served missions themselves, who would be excellent chaperones for these types of appointments but apparently this is unacceptable. He told us that this was standard church policy, that it is written in the handbook and that there could be no exceptions.

Unsurprisingly, this has proved to be a significant hardship for our inner city ward that struggles with a lack of priesthood holders to fill all the callings reserved for men. These are good men but they are already spread too thin. They simply do not have enough time or energy to take this on. Which means that my husband, as bishop, is the one that has to go out with the elders so that they can share the gospel with women.

Mr. Mraynes already has a demanding career which the church has now put a second, unpaid full time job on top of. The nights and/or weekends he has to go out with the elders is time away from his children–time that is already in too short supply. What does it profit the church if they potentially gain one soul but lose the souls of our four, young children because their father is never home?

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Guest Post: Marriage Equality in Utah

Mary Danzig is a fiddler/violinist and mom. She performs with her husband Peter in the folk/newgrass duo Otter Creek.

Photo: Tom Smart, AP

My first memory of a wedding ceremony is sitting spellbound in front of a TV while Princess Diana walked down the aisle in her glorious dress with the mile long train.  In contrast, my three daughters’ first memory will include a young woman in her Chuck-a-Rama work shirt waiting in a long line with her newborn baby and partner to obtain a marriage license.

On Friday afternoon hundreds of people dropped what they were doing and rushed to the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office when they learned that Amendment Three (which prohibits same sex marriage) had been overturned.  They wanted to get married.  They didn’t know how long the window of opportunity would be open.  Many had waited years, even decades, to marry.  They weren’t going to waste another moment.

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We Are Daughters and Sons of Heavenly Parents

We’ve recently had some discussion here at The-Exponent about the potential benefit of revising the young women’s theme to include reference to Heavenly Mother. If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to visit this blog post and read the beautiful letter written by a currently-serving ward young women’s president. This small change could have far-reaching impact in terms of affirming the value of all women in the church, young and old, simply by including (not even by name) the God who looks like us, a God who is a woman. I fully support this suggested change.

Having said that, if I were in a position to institute church-wide change in the youth programs I would prefer something else entirely.

First of all, I would likely do-away with Boy Scouts of America as the young men’s program. (I can hear the gasps now. But I’m serious about this.) I understand this program applies primarily to youth in North America and is not a global program. I also realize that BSA has a wonderful structure and is beneficial for many young men. But I would prefer that both the Young Women’s and Young Men’s program center on Christian discipleship. Personally, I would prefer that no one stood to recite a theme. But if young women are reciting the YW theme each week, then why aren’t young men reciting the Scout Motto? If there is value in ritual recitation of a list of virtues, then wouldn’t we want our young men to share in that benefit?

I believe that girls and boys are inherently, biologically different. Women and men seem to have interests and ways of responding to the world which are influenced by their biological make-up, specifically via chromosomes and hormones that make us into one sex or the other. I celebrate the differences of the sexes. I also acknowledge the wide range of expression of gender in the world.

yellow doorHowever, when it comes to living a gospel-centered life, there is no difference between us. All are alike unto God. We are all asked to bring the same thing with us when we approach the door of discipleship: a broken heart and contrite spirit. Jesus doesn’t ask for a list of values. He only wants our will, our desire to follow Him. When we surrender our will to Him, we become One in Christ and with each other. After that, His grace is sufficient to transform us into our best, most unique selves–women and men, boys and girls–with or without recitations.

If I had the power to change the weekly practice of reciting a theme, I would encourage Young Women and Young Men (grown men and women too) to share a common theme. It would go something like this:

We are daughters [sons] of heavenly parents who love us – and we love them. We stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places as we strive to live the Doctrine of Christ, which is: Faith in Him, repentance, baptism by immersion for remission of sins, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and serving our neighbors. We will answer the Savior’s call to love one another as He loves us – today and every day.

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Small and Simple Things

If you thought you heard the words “Some feminist thinkers view homemaking with outright contempt, arguing it demeans women, and that the relentless demands of raising children are a form of exploitation,” during general conference, be reassured: you aren’t losing your mind. You did hear them. Elder D. Todd Christofferson said them in the Saturday afternoon session, and USA Today will back you up. But when you go to read the talk in the Ensign, the words “feminist thinkers” won’t be there.

They’ve been edited out of the official transcript.

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What can we see from the mountaintop?

General Conference is around the corner, and one of the things I can always count on during that weekend is at least one talk lamenting the unprecedented wickedness of these last days we’re living in.  Things have never been worse, and the accelerating wickedness will surely hasten the end of the world.  To these speakers change is hardly ever good, it’s the wheel that rolls the world toward it’s inevitable destruction.

I hate these talks.  Not only because they’re depressing, but also because I don’t think the world is getting worse.  I think there is awful suffering and perversity in the world, but that is not new.  Maybe we recognize it better now, with our advanced communications.  But sunlight is the best disinfectant, and by shining more light on the ugly things of the world I think we start to turn them around, bit by bit.

So given that I don’t think the world is on a perpetual decline, I like this talk* by Craig Harline, a historian at BYU.  He talks about change, how early Christians would have been shocked at our acceptance of everyday things like using the word “Sunday” or lending with interest.  He shows how opinions on slavery, interracial marriage, evolution, and women’s suffrage have changed, with examples of things like the fact that in my mother’s lifetime women couldn’t even play full court basketball because it was thought the sport would harm their fragile bodies.  Yes, we are shocked at the narrow mindedness of our ancestors.  But Prof. Harline says some historians theorize that younger generations don’t reject the older generation’s values, but rather extend those values into new territories.

This is where things get really interesting to me.  At the end of the talk Prof. Harline refers to Edward Kimball’s BYU Studies article about his father’s revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy men.  I had heard the story of Spencer W. Kimball making almost daily visits to the temple to seek divine guidance on the topic, but references to that story always implied (at least to me) that he was seeking a “yes” from God.  As in, “I feel that it’s right and good for all worthy men to be ordained.  Can this be?  Do you, God, approve of it?”  But according to Edward Kimball’s article that isn’t the full story.  Apparently President Kimball wasn’t going to the temple to seek revelation in this way, but to get over his assumptions.

President Kimball said this: “I was very humble.  I was searching.  I had a great deal to fight.  Myself, largely, because I had grown up with this thought that negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life until my death and fight for it, and defend it as it was.”

I find this stunning.  Prof. Harline says that President Kimball was a hero not in the traditional way we think if religious leaders – as one who fights for his convictions – but because he was willing to reconsider them.  How much harder is it to search your soul and ask which of your convictions may need reconsideration than is it to cross your arms in front of your chest and insist nothing you believe is wrong?  Much, much harder.  But much, much more enlightening.  I hope to have the courage and humility that President Kimball had in my life.

And I hope that our current prophets will as well.  I think the story of President Kimball’s trips to the temple is paradigm changing.  That might sound hyperbolic, but I really think it is.  I’ve usually thought of prophets going to the mountaintop to see visions of what God has in store for humankind.  And it probably does happen that way sometimes.  But what about the times they go to the mountaintop to ask God for different eyes, so that they see the world differently?



* The whole talk is great and fun to listen to, but if you only have time for the bit about Spencer W. Kimball, fast forward to 47:00 and listen to the end (it’s a 5 minute segment).



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Equal in Faith: Salt Lake City

Collage 2013-08-26 22_24_40

On Monday I fasted. I fasted for the first time in years. It was completely different than I remember. I remember fasting being about food, about missing food, wanting food and taking a long Sunday nap until I could eat food again. Occasionally, we would fast for something: an illness, fire, job or tragedy. During these times I really did want to comfort the people in need. I thought about them while I fasted….for about 3 minutes before I broke my fast. This Monday’s fast was very different. It was a fast on National Equality Day for the purpose of religious gender equality around the world in collaboration with thousands of women and men of all faiths.

All day I thought about this issue. When my stomach growled in the morning I thought about all of those people around the world that go hungry and thought, “Maybe if women were in charge of religions that number would decrease.” Around noon, on my way to teaching my class, I was thirsty. I saw a water fountain and wanted a drink so badly. This made me think about how few people in the world have access to clean water. I reflected on how many millions of lives are lost because of this one simple issue. I realized that if women were in charge of all of the money, human capital and decision making power of religions around the world, would we solve the world’s largest problems: water, sanitation, education, war, poverty and inequality? By the time I broke my fast in the evening this was not just something I had thought about for a few minutes, it was something that overwhelmed my life. To me, religious gender equality is so much more than having female religious leaders or ordination for women. To me, it is a fundamental path to equality, peace and hope throughout the world.

These were the thoughts I had running through my mind as I entered the pews at the BuddhistTemple in Salt Lake City, Monday, August 26th, along with fifty other comrades. The meeting was conducted brilliantly by Margaret Toscano and we began with the song “Freedom’s Daughter,” sung to the tune of “Hope of Israel”—a song written by Lula Greene Richards during the late 18th Century when the LDS church stood for Women’s Suffrage! The first speaker was Debra Jensen, an LDS woman who shared her story of why she stood for religious gender equality. She started with the question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Then she gave us her own answer. When she took fear out of the equation she realized she would absolutely stand for equality. Then she asked, “What are we missing out on because of fear?” Jensen concluded her talk by relating the hunger we all felt after fasting to the hunger women all over the world feel for equality and by urging us to recognize and utilize the privilege we have to stand up for our rights.

The next speaker was Pastor Monica Hall. In a rousing and inspiring display of humor, joy and enthusiasm, Pastor Hall described the journey that her own Presbyterian religion had to go through in order to obtain ordination for women. She, an ordained minister, asked if she was more qualified for her role than her LDS female counterparts? She asked if LDS male members were more qualified than LDS females? She argued that neither was the case. In fact, she argued via beautifully told stories from the scriptures, women were the first to see the resurrected Lord, women were the first appointed apostles, and, finally, women are not neglected by Jesus today either! Pastor Hall then quoted fellow Presbyterian feminist, activist and anthropologist Margaret Mead as saying “Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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