The Gospel of the Beloved Companion: A Review

The Gospel of the Beloved Companion by Jehanne de Quillan, published in 2010, is the first English translation of a gospel that was preserved by the author’s spiritual community based in the Languedoc region of France. Originally written in Greek, the text came from Egypt to Languedoc in the first century, and was kept at great cost since that time. de Quillan’s book provides an English translation of the text, followed by commentary that compares it to the Gnostic gospels of Thomas and Mary, and to the canonical gospels. The Gospel of the Beloved Companion (GBC) is most similar to the canonical Gospel of John. I would like to review the book as a whole, then provide my own comparison of GBC to the Gospel of John.

In the introduction to the book de Quillan writes that the original text for the GBC is extant, but protected and not available for public view. Therefore, there is no way to verify whether the text is a translation or an invention; she invites readers to determine whether the text is authentic based on its content, rather than on empirical evidence. In this sense it’s like the Book of Mormon; readers are invited to make up their minds about its veracity based on what they feel. My point of view here will be one of accepting the text as what it claims to be, a gospel written by Mary Magdalene.

The GBC is unique because it tells the story of Jesus’ life from the perspective of a woman. The Beloved Companion is Mary Magdalene, sister of Lazarus and Martha. Overall the message of the GBC is the same as the canonic gospels: Jesus is the way to eternal life.  The stories of the GBC are mostly identical to the stories in John.  So in many ways the message is not significantly different because it came from a female author, which is what I suspect may be true of what would happen if we had female prophets and priests in the church today: the message would still be “Come unto Christ.”  But it matters that the messenger can be female, and it calls into question whether an authoritative account by a woman could have been included in the canonic gospels but was excluded.

de Quillan uses textual analysis to argue that the companion whom Jesus loved, mentioned in the Gospel of John, was Mary Magdalene, not John. She argues that the GBC is actually an older text than the source documents for the canonic gospels, as well as older than the gnostic gospel of Thomas. She uses historical and textual evidence to argue that Mary Magdalene was the beloved companion present at the Last Supper, and points out that after Jesus’ death Joseph of Aramathea begged his body from Pilate, and would have given it to Jesus’ family. Traditional Jewish funerary conventions gave women the duty of preparing bodies for burial, and giving the body to Mary Magdalene’s care should mean she was family, possibly his wife. This idea would have been very unpalatable to the Roman church, which could explain Mary Madgalene’s reduced status in the canonic gospels.

An interesting feature of the GBC is the scarcity of the words “God” and “Father.” Whatever word gave rise to “Father” or “God” in the canonic gospels, de Quillan translates “spirit” and she uses the feminine pronoun for it.  Her reasoning is that in Hebrew the word for spirit (ruach), is feminine, in Aramaic the word (ruah) is feminine, and in Greek the word (pneuma) is neuter. The GBC refers to Jesus as the “son of humanity” not the “son of man” or “son of god.” It doesn’t use the word “father,” but instead “spirit,” for example John 5:19: “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do.”  GBC 13:9: “For whatever things the spirit does, these the son does likewise.”

The GBC is perhaps somewhat lower in christology overall.  It does not include the mystical beginning of John 1 about Christ being the Word.  The GBC uses softer language when it comes to Jesus’ personhood and resurrection, for example GBC 24:1 “I bring light to the world” compared with John 8:12 “I am the light of the world.”  And when Mary Magdalene meets Jesus at the tomb, John 20:17 reads, “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” GBC 40:6 says, “Jesus said to her, Mary, do not hold to me, for I am not of the flesh, yet neither am I one with the spirit; but rather go to my disciples and tell them you have seen me, so that all may know that my words are true and that any who should choose to believe them and keep to my commandments will follow me on their last day.”  But the GBC is clear that Jesus points the way to eternal life.

The GBC follows the gospel of John very closely until about John 20, after which it differs. The GBC concludes with a sermon by Mary Magdalene, after which Peter and Andrew say her words are untrue, and Matthew defends her. de Quillan makes the point that Peter had a different understanding of Jesus’ teaching than Mary and Matthew, and perhaps the very first split of what would become Christianity happened very soon after Jesus’ death, and that this also represented the first attempt to silence the feminine from Christianity. This is an interesting idea to me as a Mormon, who has always been taught that a falling away from Christ’s full gospel happened fairly soon after his death.

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Now here, for what it’s worth, are some comparisons I made between the GBC and the gospel of John.

 

GBC starts with John the Baptist, not with the Nativity, just like the Gospel of John does, and proceeds directly to the calling of the disciples. Next is the miracle at Cana.  In attendance it mentions brothers of Jesus: Jacob and Joseph, and a sister Mary. Mary (the beloved companion) and Martha, sisters of Lazarus.  Also Matthew, and Thomas (a friend to The Companion).  However the GBC adds an interesting detail GBC 6:9: “This beginning of his signs Jesus did at his wedding feast at a place near Cana in the land of Judah, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believe him” (emphasis mine). I’ve heard speculation that this was Jesus’ own wedding feast, and in this text that is explicit.

Next we have the story of the overthrowing the moneychangers at the temple, in John 2. The GBC adds a striking commentary by Jesus.

GBC8:6: “You are like a dog sleeping in the cattle manger.  The dog does not eat, nor does it let the cattle eat. You have stolen the keys to the temple and locked and barred the door.  You have not entered yourselves nor have you permitted others who wish to enter to do so.  Instead you have become as dishonest merchants, selling that which does not belong to you and over which you have no power.”

The stories of Nicodemus, the woman at the well, healing a nobleman’s son, and healing at the pool of Bethesda (John 3-5) are nearly identical. Next is the feeding of 5,000, as in John 6.  He goes out on the sea of Galilee with the disciples, but in GBC he does not walk on water. Jesus said he is the bread of life, and that their father’s ate manna and are dead, like in John 6, but the GBC text is more verbose.  It continues into John 7, where the disciples argue about whether a prophet could possibly come from Galilee.  Instead of concluding just with “every (man) went to his own house,” GBC adds, “But Jesus went back to Bethany to the house of the Beloved Companion near the Mount of Olives.”  There is something dear about the possibility of Jesus returning to beloved friends for comfort. The exchange with Pharisees about being Abraham’s children and the story of healing a blind man follow closely (John 8 and 9). Unique to the GBC is a passage about the Pharisees wanting to stone Jesus for claiming to be the messiah. John 10 has no correlate in the GBC.

John 11 contains the story of raising Lazarus from the dead. The miracle is somewhat downplayed in this Gospel.  Jesus says, “Your brother is not dead but sleeping,” without the clarification in John 11:14 “Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.” The part about Lazarus stinking and being dead four days is not there.

Next comes a passage that has no correlate in John.  It’s reminiscent of passages in Matthew that talk about the kingdom of heaven being like a mustard seed, or treasure in a field, or a pearl of great price, or leaven.  But also unlike anything I can think of in the New Testament.

GBC 30:3-5: “The kingdom is like a man who had a treasure hidden in his field but did not know it.  And when he died, he left it to his son.  The son did not find the treasure, nor did he use the field, but sold it on to a neighbor.  The new owner then, desiring to make best use of the field, set to plowing the soil in preparation for planting a good crop, and struck the treasure.  Have I not told you that the kingdom lies hidden within you?  Then the disciple Salome, the woman who had given Jesus water to drink at the well of Jacob, asked him, ‘Rabbi, who shall I find my treasure?’ And Jesus said to her, ‘If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the kingdom.  Only from the truth I tell you, unless you overcome the ruler of the world, you will never know the spirit and discover that which lies within you.”

GBC 38:8 “If your leaders say to you, look, the kingdom is in the sky, then the birds of the sky will precede you.  If they say to you, it is in the sea, then the fish will precede you.  Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you.”

There’s nothing in the New Testament that says the kingdom of God is within you.  That seems like a pretty modern sentiment to me.

John 12 (Mary Magdalene washing Jesus’ feet) follows closely. But instead of John 12:7: ‘Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this”  the GBC relates,

GBC 32:4 “But hearing this Jesus said to them, “Leave her be.  She has anointed me for what I am come to do, and done what she is appointed to do.  Only from the truth I tell you, whenever they speak of me, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.  You do not know or understand what she has done. I tell you this: when all have abandoned me, only she shall stand beside me like a tower.  A tower built on a high hill and fortified cannot fall, nor can it be hidden.  From this day forth, she shall be known as Migdalah, for she shall be as a tower to by flock, and the time will soon come when her tower shall stand alone by mine.”

Note the difference between the two accounts of the last supper:

John 14:18-21: “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”

GBC 35: 16: “I will not leave you orphans.  When a father goes away, it is the mother who tends the children. Only from the truth I tell you, there is one amongst you who has had my commandments, and keeps them.  That one is the one who loves me, adn that one who loves me isa lso loved by me, and by the spriit.  To that one will I reveal myself so that you will know that what I have said to you is true, that I am in the spirit as the spirit is in me.  And that same one will the spirit complete in all ways, so that by this sign you may know my words are true, and that my testimony is of the spirit, the one who sent me… Those amongst you who understand and keep my commandments will not taste death.”

John 15 is mostly the same, but John 16 and 17, in which Jesus teaches of the Comforter, of his death and resurrection, and offers his intercessory prayer, are not found in the GBC.

John 18 and 19 align – this is where the Roman soldiers come for Jesus and Peter smites off one of their ears.  Mary Magdalene appears again, it says she is the one who let Peter in at the gate where Jesus met with Caiaphas (this is where Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.)

John 19:25-27 is interesting.  It replaces Mary Magdalene for John the Beloved at the cross:
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”

GBC 39:3 – “But there were standing by the cross of Jesus his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary the beloved companion, also called Magdalene.  Therefore when Jesus saw his mother and the companion whom he loved standing there, he said to his other ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the Companion, ‘Woman, behold your mother!’ From that hour, the companion took her onto her own.”

The GBC expands on the “they” in John 19:40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.  GBC says it was Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jacob, Joseph, and Salome.  The Joseph is apparently Joseph of Arimathea.

After the scene at the tomb, the GBC relates a scene not found in the canonic gospels.

GBC 41:5 “Simon Peter said to Magdalene, ‘Sister, we know that he loved you more than any other among women.  Tell us the words of the Rabbi, which you remember, which you know and understand, but we do not, nor have we heard them.’”  42:1 “Magdalene answered and said, ‘What is hidden from you, I will proclaim to you.’ And she began to speak to them the words that Jesus had given her. My master spoke thus to me. He said ‘Mary, blessed are you…There is a great tree within you that does not change, summer or winter, its leaves do not fall.  Whosoever listens to my words and ascends to its crown will not taste death, but know the truth of eternal life.’ Then he showed me a vision in which I saw a great tree that seemed to reach unto the heavens; and as I saw these things he said, ‘the roots of this tree are in the earth, which is your body.  The trunk extends upward through the five regions of humanity to the crown, which is the kingdom of the spirit.  There are eight great boughs upon this tree and each bough bears its own fruit, which you must eat in all its fullness.  As the fruit of the tree in the garden caused Adam and Eve to fall into darkness, so this fruit will give to you the light of the spirit that is eternal life.  Between each bough is a gate and a guardian who challenges the unworthy who try to pass.  The leaves at the bottom of the tree are thick and plentiful, so no light penetrates to illuminate the way.  But fear not, for I am the way and the light and I tell you that, as one ascends the tree, the leaves that block one from the light are fewer, so it is possible to see all more clearly.  Those who seek to ascend must free themselves of the world.  If you do not free yourself from the world, you will die in the darkness that is the root of the tree.  But if you free yourself, you will rise and reach the light that is the eternal life of the spirit.”

It goes on to describe passing through the boughs, gaining wisdom, strength, courage, clarity, and truth, power, healing, and grace.  At the top of the tree, Magdalene says,

“I felt my soul and all that I could see dissolve and vanish in a brilliant light, in a likeness unto the sun.  And in the light, I beheld a woman of extraordinary beauty, clothed in garments of brilliant white.  The figure extended its arms, and I felt my soul drawn into its embrace, and in that moment I was freed from the world, and I realized that the fetter of forgetfulness was temporary.”

The GBC then relates that some of the disciples did not believe that Jesus said these teachings, including Andrew, and Peter. Matthew defended her.  And they were divided, and it says they went to teach what they understood of Jesus in their own ways.  This concludes the Gospel of the Beloved Companion.

 

 

 

 

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Digging Up Our Patriarchal Roots

IMG_7216 By Jenny

In the wave of Kate Kelly’s excommunication, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people criticizing Ordain Women for making the church look bad.  Now the rest of the world thinks our leaders are just a bunch of privileged misogynistic men trying to uphold an archaic patriarchal tradition.  It’s Ordain Women’s fault for trying to ruin the church.  They created an ugly schism in our church.

These comments remind me of some comments I received about my backyard earlier this summer.  I had spent weeks laboring in the corner of my yard to uproot the sod so that I could build a sanctuary.  I wanted a place where I could sit and ponder and pray and write and be close to God.  As I wiped the sweat from my dirt stained face, I often wondered if the work I was doing was worth it.  The roots of the sod were deep and entangled.  It took great effort just to get up one small patch of sod.

I thought about the other options my husband and I had considered.  We thought about just covering up the sod with black fabric and mulch, hoping that all the roots would die.  That’s what we had done under our deck however, and now we had grass sneaking up through the rocks.  I didn’t want to risk the chance of grass infiltrating my sanctuary.  It was hard work to uproot the sod, but I felt like it was going to be worth it in the end.

Of course I could have left the sod as it was.  There was nothing wrong with grass.  It was soft and stable.  It grew easily, was easy to maintain.  But it also left this corner of my yard like everything else in the yard: just a place to look at and to mow.  I had a more beautiful vision for it.  I wanted a place where I could sit and enjoy my yard.  I didn’t want just plain grass, I wanted a variety of plants that change colors in the seasons, flowers that bloom, and a fountain of water.  My vision was beautiful, and it carried me through the work that it took to get there.

I had friends who visited my home during this time who didn’t have my vision.  Whenever anyone came into my backyard, the first question was, “Why are you digging up your grass?”  This was always said with enough incredulity that I couldn’t help but look at the ugly gaping hole of dirt that was left behind by my work.  Patches of sod were strewn around, making the corner of my yard look awful.  It truly looked like I was destroying my backyard.   At those moments I began anxiously describing the vision I had for that area.  It was usually lost on them.  That’s okay.  It was my vision, and it was going to be beautiful.  But first I had to get through stripping away what was already there.  I didn’t enjoy that work, but it was necessary.

Now I sit here in my sanctuary, as I write this.  It’s no longer an ugly gaping hole of dirt and uprooted sod.  It’s a beautiful place with young, growing plants and flowers, a small stone fountain, and a swing that I can sit on to enjoy the beauty around me.  It’s a place where I can get the spiritual nourishment and joy that I need, a function that the grass didn’t afford me before.  As I sit in this beautiful place to write, I am thinking about the church and what a beautiful sanctuary it could be for us as women, and also for men.  Right now it feels like it is deeply entrenched and entangled in patriarchal roots.  The traditions and doctrines are stable and secure like grass.  It’s not bad.  Really, the church is good.  But it could be better.  As it is, it doesn’t provide us with what we need for spiritual growth.  I have a vision for this church as a beautiful sanctuary of diversity, growth, and change, free of patriarchy.

The problem is that we don’t all share that vision in the church.  Those who don’t see it only see the big ugly gaping hole we are creating.  They think we are trying to ruin the church.  They don’t understand why we would try to root out what seems like perfectly good, stable tradition and doctrine.  It’s no wonder the church has tended to cover up the negative aspects of our culture instead of doing the work to uproot them.  It’s easier that way, and it keeps us from fully seeing the ugliness.  So is it the fault of OW and other feminists that the church doesn’t look at its best right now?  My feeling is that this is just a normal, natural process in building Zion.  If we want all the beauty that God has to give us, if we want our church to be all that it can be, we have to be willing to dig up what isn’t working and deal with the ugliness that that process will cause for a time.

I wish we were at a place where we could be planting and beautifying with the doctrines that have blessed and enriched my heart and soul.  The church is good, but oh how it could be better.  Once you’ve seen the vision of Zion as it could be, it’s hard to be satisfied with how it is now.  I wish we were at a the point where we could be planting and beautifying our Zion, but we’re still endlessly digging at those patriarchal roots and tearing out what can’t co-exist with the more beautiful things.

Christ taught us about this in his parable of the sower.  The sower went out and sowed seeds representing the word of God in different places.  Some fell by the wayside and were eaten by birds.  Some fell on rocks and couldn’t dig deep enough roots.  Some fell among thorns and were choked.  The only ones that grew and brought forth fruit were the ones planted in good ground.

I submit to you, that the word of God also can’t grow among patriarchal grass.  The roots of patriarchy will suck the nourishment out of the feminine aspects of God’s word.  In the midst of these patriarchal roots, we as daughters of God cannot speak to Heavenly Mother and She can’t speak to her daughters.  If She does speak to us, we are not allowed to express our experiences openly.  We can’t claim our power and authority from Her.  The feminine spiritual experience simply cannot flourish amidst stifling patriarchal roots.  We need to dig them up in order for the young and beautiful plants of feminine divinity to grow around us and bring greater joy and serenity to our worship.   It may be painful, brutal work, it may leave an open gaping wound in our church for a time.  But patriarchy must be uprooted in order for our church to grow and to become something more beautiful and functional for our spirituality.

After the last week’s events I am sad and frustrated and exhausted.  But I plan to continue the endless work that has already begun, because I want the church to be beautiful again.  So my friends in the church who haven’t seen the beautiful vision of Zion that I have seen, I know it is hard for you to see good in the church’s gaping wound.  You stand there watching my fellow feminists and me labor in dirt and sweat to tear at these roots.  You look at us in confusion, wondering why we are concerned about a little grass and why we would want to change it.  Some of you tell us we are delusional and that we are making the church look bad.  Some of you say that we are apostates who have lost our way and don’t understand what we are doing.  Maybe you can try to understand when we tell you about this beautiful vision of a place we are trying to create.  Maybe you can try to see the negative patriarchal roots that we have found through our labors.  Maybe you can even bend down and see and feel it from our perspective.  If we work together in unity and love, the work will go faster and our church will become a beautiful sanctuary were we can all sit and enjoy the warmth of God’s love and the beautiful and precious parts of God’s word that haven’t been able to grow yet in our church.

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Discipleship

When I was in college at BYU I took a class on the New Testament from Camille Fronk, and I will be forever grateful that I did.  She opened the gospels up for me like no one had before.  When studying Matthew chapters 18-20, she asked us: what are the costs, or requirements, of discipleship?  I find myself returning to that question in light of the pending excommunications of Kate Kelley and John Dehlin.  Because it is hard not to see severing them as an indirect severing of those that share their questions and concerns.  Is a cost of discipleship a willingness to put aside my conscience, and to stay in a church that insists that my personhood never reach beyond the scope of my assigned gender role?  Do I insult myself by staying?  Would the church prefer that I leave?

In verse 1 of Matthew 18, disciples ask Jesus, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  Who did they expect would be?  Abraham?  The one who perfectly keeps commandments?  The one with perfect faith, or perfectly orthodox belief?  The answer was whoever becomes as a little child.  Children are eager to learn, forgiving, they make no distinctions among people, they are compassionate, and faithful.  A cost of discipleship is to become as a little child.

In verses 8 and 9 Jesus says if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.  Rid yourself of whatever separates you from God, so that you can commune with God and your neighbor [Ref 1].  A cost of discipleship is unflinching self-examination.

In verse 21, Peter asks Jesus, how oft shall I forgive?  Jesus answered, don’t keep track.  A cost of discipleship is to always forgive.

In verse 16 of chapter 19, a young ruler asks Jesus, what good thing shall I do to have eternal life?  Jesus answered, be willing to forsake your possessions, and follow me.  A cost of discipleship is giving your will to God.

In chapter 20 Jesus gives the parable of the laborers.  A householder contracted with laborers to work a day for a penny.  And at the sixth, and ninth, and eleventh hours he contracted with more laborers, to work till day’s end, for a penny. The laborers who were hired first felt cheated, and he answered them, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?  Why must you see my doing good to another as taking something away from you?  A cost of discipleship is to serve with your whole heart, and without thought of reward, because the reward is the same for all: everlasting life.

I want to be a disciple of Christ, and according to Paul, this means I must be of the body of Christ.  I may not say because I am not the eye, or the ear, or the hand, that I am not of the body.  I think Paul is saying that it is impossible to be fully Christian in isolation.  For without a community, who will I forgive?  Who will I serve?  Who will nurture me in my child-likeness?  Who will hold a mirror up, kindly, so that I can examine myself?  Who will show me what it looks like to give your will to God?  “There should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.” (1 Corinthians 12:25)  A cost of discipleship is to remain, even, especially, when other members suffer.

I realize there are other communities of Christians, and I think joining one could be a legitimate choice for me.  But for many reasons, all of which are beyond the scope of this blog post, Mormonism is my incarnation of the body of Christ.  It pains me greatly to think of a member being severed against her will.  But just as our bodies will be made perfect in the resurrection, so, I believe, will the body of Christ be restored eventually.  If there’s a God in heaven then whatever wrong is done will be made right.  If Kate and John are severed, and if other members are severed, I believe they will eventually be restored, though there is a lot of pain between now and then.  Until that day, the only choice for me is to stay.

 

 

Reference 1: “The self is in fact called to rid itself of whatever in it leads to sin (vv. 8-9; the references to hand and eye do not, in Pauline fashion, represent members of the church; they are rather hyperbolic illustrations, as in 5:29-30).  The underlying logic seems to be that in order to avoid offending others (v.7) one must also take care of oneself (vv.8-9).” The Oxford Bible Commentary, p. 867.  John Barton and John Muddiman, editors. Oxford University Press.

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“Let Her Enter”

I received my endowment last year on April 27th  (sans marriage or mission at age 21…. I was ready and didn’t take no for an answer) and, I must say, I loved it. Let me rephrase: I loved the spirit that I felt there. As a feminist, obviously certain things bothered me. And as a woman of the world, certain things confused (read: freaked) the hell out of me. Still, one of the first things I said to everyone (after whisper-shouting, “I’m in a cult!”) was, “I’m home.” Despite all the imperfections and oddities of the temple, I feel at home there. Everything feels so natural and heavenly. When I’m in the prayer circle, it’s an otherworldly experience and I feel angels surrounding me. I feel a strong spiritual camaraderie with the other Saints as we pray for ourselves and for others. When I converse with the Lord through the veil and enter into “His” presence, for me, it symbolically represents being worthy to enter the presence of my Heavenly Family. I imagine that’s how it’ll be when I literally pass through the veil–– I’ll converse with my Father and enter into the warm and teary-eyed embrace of my Savior and my dear Mother. She will be absent to me no more.

As June 8th has come and gone, I thought about something: Had I been a member on April 27th, 1978, none of this would have happened. As a Black woman I would, literally, be on the outside looking in. Having gone through the temple, it breaks my heart to think about that. For all my feminist misgivings I have about the temple (the unreciprocated promise of obedience, the wording of the initiatory where my eternal blessings are attached to my non-existent husband, the silence of Eve after a certain point in the ceremony, etc.), I have a testimony of the temple. So it pains my heart to think that just 36 years ago, I would not have been able to receive those blessings.

I think of Jane Manning James, particularly. She was an African-American woman who traveled all the way to where the Saints settled in Illinois and lived with the Prophet Joseph Smith. She then made her way to the Utah Territory where she began to petition to receive her endowment. She petitioned the First Presidency multiple times to no avail. In the end, a special ceremony in the temple was performed in which she was sealed as a servant to Joseph Smith and his family. Sister James wasn’t even allowed in the temple when that “sealing” was performed. My heart aches thinking of Jane James as she faithfully pleaded with the Brethren to receive her endowment, but was denied every single time. Simply because she was black.

Jane_Elizabeth_Manning_James

My heart aches thinking of all the black pioneers before 1978 who joined the Church, but were not able to be sealed to their loved ones forever. My heart aches thinking of the countless number of fathers who couldn’t even bless and heal their own children because of their race. My heart aches reading this account from Darius Gray (a renowned Black Mormon pioneer who joined the LDS Church in 1964):

“I remember being in a Sacrament meeting, pre-1978, and the sacrament was being passed and there was special care taken by this person that not only did I not officiate, but I didn’t touch the sacrament tray. They made sure that I could take the sacrament, but that I did not touch the tray and it was passed around me. That was awfully hard, considering that often times those who were officiating were young men in their early teens, and they had that Priesthood. I valued that Priesthood, but it wasn’t available.”

As a woman, not being able to pass the sacrament because of my gender is hard enough, but to not be able to even touch the tray that represents the body and blood of the Savior? My eyes fill with tears at the thought. I can’t even imagine being a Black member of the Church before 1978. To be denied receiving my temple recommend simply because I was born in the wrong skin color would have given me great sorrow that I can’t even comprehend.

Despite whatever feelings you have about the temple and the priesthood, there is an amount of thankfulness that should be given, as those blessings would have never been denied to you. If you are of African ancestry, be so thankful for modern revelation and that He will send more down to guide us. And especially as women, we must all be thankful for June 8th, because if that day has shown us anything else, it is that there is hope for our future in the Church. Just as the beginning of equality for African-American Latter-day Saints happened on that day, our day of equality for female Latter-day Saints will soon come upon us. It inevitably will.

Until that day, I will celebrate June 8th. I will be thankful for the lifting of the Priesthood Restriction. I will be thankful for the great blessing it is for me to perform temple ordinances. I will continue to feel the strength of my ancestors as I complete their temple work. I know they will bless me and thank me for enabling them to progress in the Spirit World. I am the link that will bind the generations of my family. I know their spirits wept with joy on June 8th, 1978. They knew that eventually somewhere down the line, one of their posterity would embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And they knew that June 8th, 1978 would provide the opportunity for me, one of their posterity, to be the link that binds. Without that miraculous revelation, they would not receive the blessings that they have now received. And neither would I. On that most sacred day, the Priesthood was, once again, restored.

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God Recognizes the Matriarchy

Last Sunday in Sunday School, we discussed the book of Judges. As a Mormon feminist, my normal instinct is to turn to the Deborah chapters and start chattering away on prophetesses and female judges. However, our teacher started with a different story that turned my world upside down. I’ll admit that I haven’t gotten very far in my Old Testament reading this year and I had never heard of the annunciation experience of Samson’s mother. This was an entirely new story to me!

I’ll give a short summary, but you can read it in full in Judges 13.

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What Would Jesus Do

We prioritize the feelings of men over the actual lived experience of women

This is a problem throughout society but since this is a Mormon feminist blog I want to discuss how this problem exhibits in the Mormon church and its culture. I will provide two examples that illustrate the problem and then show how we may, consciously or not, perpetuate the problem:

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