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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An open letter to a Well-Behaved Woman: What “Frozen” is really teaching your kids

Sorry, Kathryn Skaggs.

My kids finally talked me into seeing “Frozen” (it’s school vacation week here, and we’re catching up on a lot of things that we haven’t found time for in the last few months). I had read your post about the homosexual agenda you saw so clearly in the movie, and I have to say that I looked and looked for that agenda. And I just couldn’t find it.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen the movie three times. I admit that I’ve only seen it once.

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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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Birth/Rebirth: AFTER

After

 

After becoming impatient at the GYN, so I went out and listened at her door

After I overheard her speak of a diagnosis, and thinking, “Wow. Glad that isn’t me!”

After finding out that it was me

After being told words like hermaphrodite and transsexual

After being told I might be male; and wondering if I was male. And gay.

After being told my chromosomes were female, but I could choose

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Birth/Rebirth: Birth and Rebirth through Divorce

Guest Post By Erin

From what I remember, (it has been almost 8 years since I pushed another life out of my body) birth is painful, messy, exhausting, and frightening. I can understand why Nicodemus might have been a little incredulous when he was questioning the need to be reborn, i.e. “You want me to do what???” However, there are times in life when a rebirth is absolutely necessary. Not because we weren’t right when we started, but because we have strayed from the person we were meant to be when we began.

Over the course of our marriage, my husband had taught me that I wasn’t enough. I couldn’t do much to please him, no matter how I tried. I logically knew that all the things wrong with our relationship weren’t my fault in total, but in order to maintain peace, I did the apologizing, I accommodated to his needs and wants, I did my best to change my verErin Guest Posty essence in order to please him through fourteen years of marriage. I was committed to my covenants and would have given up more if I could to protect my children from the spectre of divorce.

In September of 2012, my husband told me he couldn’t “do this” anymore and walked out the door leaving behind a well prepared letter of how visitation and child support and division of property and debts would proceed. I was dumbfounded, to say the least. A week before we had been making detailed lists of all the things we should plan to buy for birthdays and Christmases to prepare for a family goal of section hiking the Appalachian Trail over the next 7 years. His leaving came out of nowhere. Thankfully, the Spirit whispered, “Let him go, he knows what he is leaving and he is still making this choice. You will be okay.”

This wasn’t the rebirth, this was the conception what would be the birth of my new life.

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