At the April 2013 Midwest Pilgrims Retreat, Linda King Newell gave a presentation on her experiences co-authoring Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith. (Sadly, I wasn’t there, but a friend summarized it for me.) When I read that book 10+ years ago it was eye-opening. I knew polygamy existed, but didn’t know of the extent of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages, or the heartbreaking circumstances around them.
Around the time of Linda’s presentation I happened to see the film “Emma Smith: My Story.” While not produced by the Church, this film uses the same cast and crew as Church-produced films about Joseph Smith, and even a few cuts from a Church-produced film. And I saw it on a Church-run TV station in Utah. It covers Emma’s life from her marriage to her death, but (not surprisingly) ignores that polygamy was part of it. I know it’s drama, not history, but at some point leaving out such a huge part of someone’s biography becomes untruthful. And needless to say, Gospel Doctrine manuals on the Doctrine & Covenants don’t get into Joseph Smith’s polygamous life. You could argue those manuals are about teaching doctrine not history, but I think being really selective about which parts of history are included in those manuals (because they do have some history in them) can start to smell fishy when only the flattering stories are told.
All this has me thinking about the right approach to teaching Church history. One of the commenters on Jana’s post wrote, “I think I have some indebtedness to my slightly unorthodox seminary teacher who believed (as I do) that presenting the truth – even when somewhat unpleasant – is a greater protection against disbelief than a more palatable falsehood which, when discovered later in life can cause serious dissonance and perhaps apostasy.”
That’s what I think, too. Did I get that “protection against disbelief” as a young person in the Church? Sort of, but it could have been a lot better. Did you?
Each General Conference, I sincerely try to think of messages that are uplifting to share in visiting teaching. In most speeches and every session, there are a few that resonate, including in from the April 2013 Conference. Once in a while, one talk really grabs me. Like from this conference. But this time, the talk that struck me seemed to also strike those around me. In the last few weeks following conference, nearly every person I have spoken to about conference, prompted or not, has mentioned Elder Holland’s speech.
This speech resonated with me as well. Following the miracle of the first recorded woman to pray aloud at a general conference, I had hope—more hope that I have in a long time. To be clear, I do not believe that prayer chains or letter writing campaigns can move God or change God’s will. But I do believe that as we seek, individually or in a group, for revelation to be revealed, it can be shown. I als believe that when we ask, then seek and knock for the miracles that God has already in store for us, that we will be blessed in the manner appropriate for this time as determined by God. I confess, I did not hope for a woman to be invited to pray at General Conference, even with the letter-writing campaign. Nonetheless, I sent in a letter with the campaign. I wrote my letter to support the friends who did believe. My letter was in testimony of something I felt was right, yet I did not have faith could happen. I had faith in my friends. And then, it happened. The prayer happened.
This lesson addresses our spiritual goal of joining our own will (agency) willingly to the will of our Father. The questions we address to the class and to ourselves are deeply introspective and complex. For example: how do I maintain individuality and join my will to the Father’s? How do I hear and understand the spirit? How do I know when I’m being guided?
Because of the thoughtful nature of this lesson, the “Teaching Help” at the end of the lesson is particularly applicable: “Do not be afraid of silence. People often need time to think about and reply to questions or to express what they are feeling.”
The use of words/ideas like “success” and “failure” are common in this lesson and that can be tricky because success and failure can have negative connotations (and are highly personal). Suggesting failure to individuals in the room because of your own ideas of failure could be offensive and/or unproductive.
The opening story about Lorenzo Snow’s Birthday celebration at BYU seems an awkward fit for this less, but I do like the quote at the end of the story and think it could be a good lead-in to the lesson: “ It is the lord that you honor when you honor me and my counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve. We have discovered that a long time since everyone of us, that o ourselves we could do nothing. Only as far as we followed that principle which Jesus followed when He was in he world has success followed our efforts; and it will be so with you.”
Section 1: When we seek God’s will, we follow a course in which there will be no failure.
I would recommend talking about some definitions of failure, so you don’t discourage the class. Many sisters may have life experiences that they view as failures – such as miscarriages, broken relationships, failed marriages, lost jobs, etc. It would set a difficult tone if the sisters felt that their set backs and disappoints were related to their inability to connect with God and follow His guidance. It’s important to separate life’s set back from failure. Giving an eternal perspective would be a good approach here.
The scriptures in this section are great – and I feel they help emphasize that God is ever with us, wants to be near us, and help us.
Section 2: As we obey God’s will, He gives us power to succeed in His work.
As this section points out, it is important to believe and realize that God can do great things in our lives. And we can do great things with His help. I think personal stories of guidance and miracles could be valuable here, but take a broad view.
For example: a single sister might share how God has guided her and blessed her career so she can financially sustain herself, even if her desire to be married is not fulfilled. Or a mother could share how she has been guided to know what do for her children even though her children have special needs.
Remind the sisters that God’s love is unconditional. Encourage sisters to find the work God has for them personally. Share testimony that God will strengthen and give power.
Section 3: Act in God’s name and acknowledge His hand.
This is the part of the lesson where we really talk about “being with God”. In a large circle: we submit our will, are guided, act in ways He would want, and acknowledge Him.
The final paragraph in the lesson is a fairly good summary statement – and wrap up.
After much thought and prayer and many discussions with friends and family, I posted my profile on Ordain Women.org. I believe that now is the time to be thoughtful and prayerful about Priesthood and ask God what He desires for His daughters in our modern-day church. I think we should seek understanding about a dual Priesthood: just as men and women are both involved with procreation – they are both involved with priesthood.
When others learn that I have posted this profile, many questions and comments follow. The majority of these comments seem to fall in three areas, which I will address below in my own little “frequently asked questions” blog post and poll today.
1. Women’s ordination leading to LDS men’s inactivity.
My simple response to this concern is “I don’t think we will lose our men” – at least not the good men I know. Some of the best men I know are Mormon men – and I don’t envision my brother-in-laws or my current ward brothers walking away from the church. I think they will attend their children’s baptisms even if their wives are preforming the ordinance. Ordaining women does not mean un-ordaining men. We are adding sisterhood to the strong brotherhood that already exists.
My second, somewhat more complex response is: “Maybe we’ll lose some of our men. And maybe we’ll lose our women too.” We are currently losing both men and women to inactivity. Many of those individuals will continue to struggle if women are ordained, but I’m not convinced the numbers will be higher than what we face currently. Concern over men’s activity rates, while important, is not a reason to withhold ordination to all worthy members of the church. I see dual ordination as a way to work together for the benefit of all. And when we no longer have to use all our “talk about Priesthood time” splitting roles and justifying women’s peripheral involvement, then we can really explore Priesthood and learn more fully about its immense power.
2. Women’s ordination leading to more work for LDS women.
Many LDS women (that I talk to) feel overworked in the church already – and worry that ordination will only add to the load. And for some women – maybe it will, but I think for most – probably not. Ordination brings more hands to the table, not fewer. There is lot of work to be done in the Kingdom of God – some of it is logistical, some of it is administrative, some of it involves spiritual revelation, and some of it is around blessings and ordinations. Work rotates within these areas and among people. Callings rotate. It seems to me that families will spend more time together if the work is spread among more people – including single women. Perhaps in some homes a mother will spend extra time at church meetings for a few years while the father watches over children on Sunday morning. And perhaps in other homes, the dinner hour will be less interrupted because Brother Smith can call me (a single sister) to give a blessing rather than the father of a family.
3. Am I questioning church leadership by supporting women’s ordination?
For me, this answer is a firm “no”. I love the church; I trust and sustain its leaders. I am not questioning either, I am simply giving voice to something I also believe: women’s ordination. My friend, Carri, who is an inspiration to me on the subject of LDS women writes, “for many years I tried to make the status of women in the Church make sense. I tried to find ways to justify it – which is where I believe the vast majority of the Church is now, believing it’s right because it is … but it isn’t necessary right, it just is.”
Nephi also has some interesting thoughts on the matter: 1 Nephi Chapter 25. I quote from Carri again, “One of the things I find most intriguing about Nephi is how often he feels constrained by the smallness of his world. He is so aware of how much power and knowledge there is to be had, but in his day-to-day life, he is pestered constantly by simple-mindedness and weakness. I imagine him feeling tethered to earth when his vision is so much greater.
“And notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. For this end was the law given; wherefore, the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.”
They keep the “dead law” because that is the commandment they have. They speak of the higher law as they live the lesser one. Nephi was ready to be Christian 600 years before Christ came. He knew the law of Moses was not complete and that he and generations of his posterity would be subject to living it. But he spoke of the higher law, which he knew someday would come. And he rejoiced in it.”
I feel like Nephi: I am living the law and commandments we have. I am serving in ways that are given me. And I’m waiting for what I believe is the birthright of all the worthy sons and daughters of God – to act in His name with Priesthood power. I claim that birthright, even as I wait for the actual ordination … in the Lord’s time. “I believe all that God has revealed, all the He does now reveal, and … that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” (Ninth Article of Faith)
There are several schools of thought on the issue of woman’s ordination – or Goalposts as John-Charles Duffy calls them. Where do you fall?
Today is Palm Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem – one week before Easter. On this day, Jesus rode through the city gates on a donkey and has hailed by the Jews as their King. Only four days later, after the Last Super with his apostles, Jesus was betrayed and taken away from the Garden of Gethsemane by soldiers. And five days after His triumphant entry, He was tried and crucified.
It didn’t take long for the Hailed King to move into a downwardly spiral of events – just a few days. While Christ anticipated these events and knew they were part of the plan, I’m sure they were not pleasant. We too know how fast things can fall apart in this earth life.
On the morning of Friday the 13th of July 2012, I sat alone in my small Honda Civic slowly absorbing the words I had just heard from my doctor and trying not to cry. I had a 25 cm cyst in my abdomen that needed to be surgically removed immediately before damage was done to my internal organs. I had no health insurance, no job, and nowhere to live to recover from such a surgery. My heart was very heavy.
The phone rang. It was the HR Department from my previous employer telling me that my Cobra Health Insurance had been reinstated. Then I did start to cry. I wept tears of gratitude and knew that I had been a part of a miracle. It was the first of many miracles – and I had unknowingly taken just one step into a journey that would last many months.
That morning in the dark mood of that small car, my path was illuminated by that miracle and God would continue to guide me throughout this journey. “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angles round about you, to bear you up.” (D&C 84:88)
Four days later I was in Alexandria Hospital hooked to an IV and waiting for an ambulance that would take me to Fairfax where a surgeon was waiting to operate. A friend waited with me, insisting that I have a blessing before I left for surgery. After several calls – and to my surprise – Elder Wilson of the Seventy was on his way to anoint me. The moment he put his hands on my head, my whole body filled with power. It was an overwhelming feeling. I knew then that this man had lived a life dedicated to righteousness and that he had become a powerful tool in the hands of God – and I also knew that God wanted to show me, His daughter, how powerful He was – and assure me that He was in charge and would strengthen me. Another miracle. ”I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand. Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.” (How Firm a Foundation – #85)
And so it went, from the ambulance to the hospital, and into the hands of a very particular surgeon. One miracle after another. I was guided and strengthened and kept safe down a narrow illumined path as my life exploded around me. My friends worked in shifts to be with me until my family could arrive. My sister, Heather, was with me one week later when bad combination of stress and pain killers caused my intestines constrict and cramp – leaving me with the worse abdominal pain of my life. I was curled up in a ball on the Stinson’s couch – crying and desperate. Heather called the doctor and listed the pros/cons of an emergency room visit. She asked if I wanted her to call for a blessing – and that didn’t feel right, so I asked for a prayer of faith. With me on the couch, my sister knelt and offered a prayer on my behalf.
It was then that I felt the great comfort of the Lord. Like a warm blanket, I felt the arms of love encircle me and a soft voice in my mind telling me to relax. I knew if I could just let my body relax that the pain would start to work itself out. And it did. I have felt this same comfort many times since in moments of distress. “His presence shall my wants supply, And guard me with a watchful eye. / To fertile vales, and dewy meads. My weary, wandering steps he leads. / My noon-day walks he shall attend, And all my midnight hours defend.” (The Lord My Pasture will Prepare – #109)
And, through these experiences, I came again to know – even more deeply – what I’d know before: that the Risen Lord Lives! He knows me! He lives to guide me and strengthen me and comfort me. I know more intensely now that He is my Savior.
On this Palm Sunday, we, with all Christendom, hail Him as our King and look with eager eyes to Easter Sunday when HOPE is made fresh again in the world. ”He is Risen! Tell it out with joyful voice. / He has burst the three days’ prison; let the whole wide word rejoice. /Death is conquered. We are free. Christ has won – the victory.” (He is Risen – #199)
I will spend my Palm Sunday worshiping at two different churches. During this Holy Week, I will attend a session at the LDS Temple and a mass at the Basilica of Catholic University. I hope to spend Easter Morning on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial with my scriptures, watching the sun come up above the Cherry Blossoms.
There was a time (way back when I was attending BYU) when I was engaged to married. It didn’t work out. The end came suddenly and I was stunned and heartbroken. When I asked my boyfriend why he was leaving, the response was simply: ”I prayed about it and felt it was not right.” I was too young, too inexperienced, and too sad to explore further. God said no and that was that.
As I look back on the experience I think that perhaps Mike did feel uncomfortable the situation, but I’m not sure his discomfort came from heaven. We had a short and speedy courtship and while that was not uncommon with our peers, it was still short and speedy – and that alone is cause for anxiety. We had some tangled friendships. And, among other things, were far from sorting out a financial situation that would work well for our future. Whether his feels of unease came from heaven or in response to these uncomfortable circumstances, I still think he made the right choice, so does it really matter?
Since that time I’ve heard similar stories about how God led individuals in to or away from marriage. And I wonder. Inspiration? Just a positive set of circumstances and a little bit of courage? Both? Neither?
My brother-in-law, Tim, claims that he did not pray about his choice to marry my sister. He says: “God gave me a brain and I used it.” He says that he dated Lisa (my sister) and was impressed with her, they fell in love, he felt good about the whole process, thought it through and could see no reason not to propose – so he did. He’s still in the family 15 years (and 5 children) later to tell the tale.
We are taught in church to pray about this big decision and be sure of our spiritual confirmations, but Tim’s approach seems very reasonable and plausible. So how does it work? Is it inspiration? Is it a good choice? Both? Can inspiration, so hard to understand, be wrong? Can our brain, full of hormons and infatuation, be wrong?