Guest Post: Sacrament Meeting Talk on Ordaining Women

by Laura

(A couple of weeks ago, Laura spoke openly in Sacrament Meeting about her desire for the ordination of women, for better treatment of gays and lesbians, and for women to have more visibility and leadership within the church. Here is the back story to her talk, which has caused quite a stir. The talk itself will be posted later today or tomorrow on The Exponent.)

I told my bishop way back when I submitted a profile to Ordain Women in a spirit of full disclosure. He was fine with it. He said he didn’t agree with everything I said, but whatever. So he knew I supported women’s ordination. My daughter was asked to give a talk in sacrament meeting after the new year and she said she would if I would give one as well. So we got our assignments at the end of February for Sacrament meeting on March 30. I was given a talk by Elder Eyring called “Come Unto Me.” It is a lengthy talk and I looked it over and took a couple of quotes as my inspiration and ran with it. I knew that I was going to tell the ward that I was in favor or ordaining women and it was only a matter of how to do it within the context of the talk. I ended up talking about strangers among us and how we as members of the church so often failed those who didn’t fit into the little boxes provided for each of us. Of course, as a supporter of ordaining women, it was essential to give some background to illustrate how our roles as women have constricted over the course of the 20th century.

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From the Backlist: Favorite Quotes by Women about Leadership

Nobody-cares-if-you-cant-dance-well.-Just-get-up-and-dance.-Great-dancers-are-not-great-because-of-their-technique-they-are-great-because-of-their-passion-Martha-Graham-quoteApril: My daughter’s PTA just sent an email saying they are decorating her school with quotes about leadership. The email listed 17 quotes and asked if anyone had any other quotes to suggest. All 17 quotes are by men. I think I need to make a lot of suggestions to balance it out. Anyone have any fave quotes by women about leadership? It looks like anything related to vision, hard work or integrity counts.

Deborah:  This is from a rotating list of quotes I used to have in up in my classroom:

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As Saints Building Zion

“We’ll sing this one fast – I like it that way.  And skip the part about the errand of angels being given to women.  That’s false doctrine.”

That’s how our Relief Society chorister introduced “As Sisters in Zion” one Sunday.  I was a little surprised this faithful Mormon woman would so bluntly declare something printed in the hymnal as false doctrine, and I silently cheered her speaking the truth.  I’ve never like the hymn, with its particular view of feminine virtues and its weakly meandering melody.  How can the errand of angels be given just to women when the next stanza says it’s about being human?  Where does that leave men if all the angelic ministering is done by women?  And why are all the angels in the scriptures men?  The hymn text seems to assume that men preside while women nurture because these are God-given roles, but also seems to hope for something more – a vast and even unlimited mission to build Zion by doing God’s work on earth.  This is a work that transcends gender and requires us to partner with our Heavenly Parents, bringing the gifts they’ve given us to all our labors.

This broader vision would be in keeping with the life of the author, Emily Hill Woodmansee (1836-1906).  According to the scholar Karen Lynn Davidson, “Emily H. Woodmansee was one of the many gifted and intellectual women of early Utah who were dedicated to bringing culture, idealism, and education to their community.  These women were committed to carry out a vast number of responsibilities in the name of Relief Society.” (Davidson, 309)  Emily Hill was born in Wiltshire, England and was baptized at age 16.  She emigrated to the United States with her sister at age 20 and pushed a handcart across the Great Plains with the Willie handcart company.  She married at 21, but her first husband deserted her and their child.  At 28 she married Joseph Woodmansee and they became parents to 8 children.  They suffered financial reverses and she went into business and real estate with great success.  Apostle Orson F. Whitney said she was the “possessor of a poetic as well as a practical mind.” (Davidson, 462)

The text for “As Sisters in Zion” was first published in 1874 in the Woman’s Exponent (the forerunner of Exponent II*).  It had 10 verses, the first and last two of which were chosen for the 1985 hymnbook.  The Hymnbook Committee commissioned Janice Kapp Perry to compose the tune for this text, which she did in a matter of hours while stranded due to a broken tour bus (Davidson, 310).  Emily Woodmanssee wrote a great deal of poetry, and while the 1985 hymnal contains just one of her texts, the 1927 hymnal had eight.  I love that “As Sisters in Zion” speaks of the things that are most central to discipleship – to love one another by comforting the weary and strengthening the weak.  In Zion, all work together until there are no more weary and there are no more weak.  But I would love it more if it didn’t make being female a prerequisite for this errand.  I think it’s an artificial and ultimately false dichotomy to say that women excel in some spiritual gifts and men in others.  So with respect to Emily Woodmansee, in a future edition of the LDS hymnal I would like to sing something like this:

As Saints building Zion we’ll all work together;
The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek.
We’ll build up the kingdom with earnest endeavor;
We’ll comfort the weary and strengthen the weak.

The errand of angels is given in wisdom;
And this is a gift, as God’s children, we claim:
To do whatsoever is gentle and human;
To cheer and to bless in humanity’s name.

How vast is our purpose, how broad is our mission,
If we but fulfill it in spirit and deed.
Oh, naught but the spirit’s divinest tuition
Can give us the wisdom to truly succeed.

There is precedent in many Christian hymnals for changing language to make it more gender inclusive, and there is precedent for changing (or more often, omitting) text in the LDS hymnal for doctrinal reasons.**  This revision of “As Sisters in Zion” is my best attempt at keeping the verse intact while making the content of the poem both more gender inclusive and more in keeping with the doctrine that building Zion is everyone’s responsibility.

Davidson, Karen Lynn, Our Latter-day Hymns: The stories and Messages by , Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1988.

*The Woman’s Exponent was discovered by Susan Kohler in the stacks of Harvard’s Widener Library.  It was published from 1872-1914.  You can read the fascinating history of establishing Exponent II here, here, and here.

** In the Winter 2011 of Exponent II I give some examples of hymns texts that have been altered in the current LDS hymnal and in other hymnals.  The article is on page 20.

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Book Review: Mormon Women Have Their Say

Mormon WomenIt took me a long time to read this book, 1) because I actually read it one and a half times, and 2) because I read it almost entirely out loud. The first “half time” came on a long, long road trip across the United States, and was enough for me to know that I wanted every member to read it. The reason was both simple and personal: reading Mormon women’s experiences in their words facilitated the most amiable discussion on Mormon feminism that my traveling companion and I had ever had. He heard the women’s pain and joy, and he could not ignore them. Mormon Women Have Their Say birthed compassion and understanding.

The “whole time” came after my babe was born. I started again, and read a few pages at time, while I fed her. We finished just a few days ago, and it felt like a marvelous accomplishment.

The book begins with a preface from a woman at my graduate school that I do not know well, and then a longer introduction by Claudia Bushman, about the project the book stems from, and its history and impetus. One of the things she talks about is how we have few records on Mormon women, and fewer records on Mormon women that weren’t named Emma Smith, Eliza R. Snow, Emmeline B. Wells, or so forth, and fewer records still on Mormon women in the 21st century. The Claremont Oral History Project begins to correct all three.

It offers hundreds of records on regular Mormon women. In Claudia’s words:

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Paper Cuts

Paper Cuts

Sunday after church, my children occupied themselves by making paper airplanes with scraps of paper while waiting for my meeting to finish. Monday morning, while tidying up, I found one of their airplanes, made from a copy of the First Presidency’s invitation to the General Women’s Meeting later this month.

First Presidency Invitation to the General Women's Meeting

Click to enlarge

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