Honoring Scriptural Villains

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By Jenny

Sitting around a campfire with other Mormon feminists until the early hours of the morning this last weekend, I realized how deep the conversation gets late at night when the embers glow crimson.  It reminded me of testimony meetings around the campfire at girl’s camp.  Late at night we would share deeply of our stories and listen to each other, crying with love and understanding.  A powerful bond is created through the telling of stories.  I used to feel that bond with the heroes in the scriptures as I read their stories.  But lately, especially as I have thought more about scriptural villains, I have found a lack of depth to the scriptures.  I write my post today in honor of scriptural villains who did not get the chance to tell their own stories.

First up are two of the most familiar villains known to our Mormon family:  Laman and Lemuel.  We know them as the murmuring older brothers to the ever-faithful, ever-perfect Nephi.  They were riotess, godless men who abused their younger brother, gave their parents grey hair, and created an entire civilization of wicked people who fought against the civilization created by Nephi and his righteous brothers.  That is their story…or at least the story we know, written from the perspective of a younger brother.  I wonder what kind of story my brothers would write about me.  What kind of story would my enemies write about me?  Would it align with my own story about myself?  I can answer that with an emphatic “NO!”

Add to the mix the fact that Nephi was painstakingly engraving this story on plates.  If I was going to that much effort to tell my story, with the intent that it would be around for future generations everywhere to read, I would make every effort possible to make myself look good, even if that meant making my enemies look worse than they really were.  In effect, I as an imperfect human would not have the capacity to tell another person’s story accurately.  It would only be my story from my perspective.  So what we have is not so much Laman and Lemuel’s story, but Nephi’s story about them.  And for over a century, we as members of the church have condemned these complex human beings based on a simple story that is missing millions of pieces of information, as well as multiple perspectives.

I spent my life condemning these characters that I barely know.  But now I honor them for their humanness.  I have compassion for them and I know that I can’t judge them based on the little information I have.  They may not have had the faith (nor the arrogance) of the hero Nephi.  But they had the courage to live their own story instead of living within Nephi’s story of them.  They broke away from family and tribe to live authentically according to the dictates of their own consciences.  They had the courage to be the villains in Nephi’s story of them.  I know how hard that is.  I have also had to become okay with being the villain in other people’s stories and not to let that affect my own story about myself.  I know people talk about me.  I know they are still perpetuating a story about me as an apostate who needs to be avoided because my ideas are dangerous.  That is their story and I can’t do anything about it, but live my own story that doesn’t involve apostasy or dangerous ideas.

The other scriptural villain that I love is the lesser-known Noadiah, the false prophetess.  One of the reasons she is my favorite is because this is all we know about her:  “My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.” Nehemiah 6:14.  After reading that a few years ago, I closed my eyes and wondered, if only one line was written about me and my life, what would it be?  It would depend on who wrote that one line of course.  If it were my current bishop, I imagine that he would write, “Jenny was a strong and faithful member of the Church until she got into things she shouldn’t have online and fell down the slippery slope to apostasy.”  And just like that, in one line, I would go down in history as a villain, an enemy to God.  I crave more information about Noadiah.  Nehemiah wrote his memoir as if he was doing the work of God in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  We don’t know many details about how or why Noadiah tried to thwart him.  We only know that from Nehemiah’s point of view, he was right and she was wrong.  He was with God and she was against God.  And in the span of history, he had the power because he had the pen.  So now people of our generation, taking the Bible to be the word of God, caste Noadiah as a false prophetess.

I wonder if Noadiah was fighting for something that was beyond her lifetime.  Did Nehemiah’s anger come from a power struggle because of his status and authority?  Was Noadiah a threat because she knew she was not inferior to men and she refused to be subjugated by their authority?  Ultimately, I think Nehemiah’s issue with Noadiah could probably be boiled down to the fact that he wasn’t willing to listen to a difference of opinion.  He thought he knew God’s way and that was all he needed.  Anyone who opposed that was an enemy.  Not much has really changed in human nature since then.

I wish I could sit up late, watching the glowing embers of a fire, feeling the night breeze on my face, as Noadiah and I discuss her life and what she fought for.  I want to understand her disagreement with Nehemiah on a deeper level.  I don’t even care if I would disagree with her.  I just want to hear her story of herself.  I want to know what made her a false prophetess.  I want my people to stop seeing the world in black and white.  I want us to stop making flat characters of complex human beings.  I want the Mormon church to be like those late evening testimony meetings at girl’s camp, as we shared our stories and discovered the depths of each other’s souls.  We condemn the villains in our scriptures, we condemn the villains in our present church.  But if we could sit down and talk to all villains past and present, we might discover that the only real villain is our condemnation of people before we truly and deeply know them.

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Filmmaker Tells Little Known Story from the Life of Anne Frank

By Sally Meyer, Writer/Director of Hanneli and Anne

Hanneli_and_Anne_to_editI’m writing to introduce a film project that I am working on. Hanneli and Anne tells a true story between two childhood friends. It is not a widely known story about Anne Frank and her meeting with her friend Hannah (Hanneli) Pick-Goslar. Best friends since kindergarten, they were suddenly separated when Anne went into hiding with her family in 1942.

Hanneli was eventually transported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she found out in 1945 that her friend Anne was on the other side of a barbed wire fence. By a miracle, they were able to find each other amongst the thousands of prisoners, and because they were so desperate to meet, they both made their way to the fence, in hopes of giving and receiving comfort to each other. Because the fence was piled high with straw, they never actually saw each other. But they were able to communicate by voice and through love.

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From the Balcony

Women's Equality Day August 26, 2014 Tweet and post with the hashtag #equalinfaith to support gender justice in religion.June 12, 1840

After crossing the ocean to attend the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and all other women were not permitted to participate. Instead, they were offered seats in the balcony behind a curtain. They could listen to the proceedings from where they sat, silenced and hidden from the men who were welcomed to the meeting, but their exclusion ignited a “burning indignation” in young Stanton.  Later that day, Mott and Stanton “agreed to hold a woman’s rights convention on their return to America. …Thus a missionary work for the emancipation of woman…was then and there inaugurated.” Reference A, Reference B

Today, modern women in many societies enjoy the fruits of the labors of Stanton, Mott and others, who acted on their belief that women should be more than silent, hidden spectators when men convene about subjects of equal concern to men and women.

And yet…

April 5, 2014

“Since these subjects are of equal concern to men and to women,

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It’s Not All About Money

It’s Not All About Money

There are some women (it has become very many in fact) who have to work to provide for the needs of their families. To you I say, do the very best you can. I hope that if you are employed full-time you are doing it to ensure that basic needs are met and not simply to indulge a taste for an elaborate home, fancy cars, and other luxuries. -Gordon B. Hinckley, 1996 Reference A

My daughter knows me well.

My daughter knows me well.

Statements like this one by former LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley belie an assumption that paid employment for women is only about money:

  1. Financially secure women who work outside the home are assumed to be doing so because of a greedy desire for more money.
  2. The only good reason for a woman to work outside the home is a dire need for money.

This dichotomy neglects the many other reasons a woman may be employed.

In 1959, Frederick Herzberg, in the book, The Motivation to Work, introduced Motivation-Hygiene Theory (also known as Two-Factor Theory). His findings showed that money was not a primary motivator in the workplace. Instead, employees were motivated by enjoyment of the work itself and by the advancement, recognition, achievement, and growth opportunities the work brings. Reference B

Personally, I feel motivated to work outside the home because I love the work and the contributions I can make to my community at large. While motherhood is rewarding in its own way, many of my strongest skills are not exercised by motherhood. In my paid employment, I work in fields that I have chosen to study because they interest me and align with my personal talents. In contrast, I spend a great deal of my at-home time cleaning up spills and searching for lost shoes, tasks that never interested me at all.

Housework is so intrinsically unenjoyable to me that it is hard for me to imagine how it could be that in 1963, when The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan was published, the idea that a lifetime of uninterrupted housework wouldn’t fulfill a woman was groundbreaking.

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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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Relief Society Lesson 9: Witnesses of the Book of Mormon

Relief Society Lesson 9: Witnesses of the Book of Mormon

The Law of Witnesses

There is a law definitely stated in the scriptures governing testimony and the appointment of witnesses. This law the Lord has always followed in granting new revelation to the people.
-Joseph Fielding Smith

If we had perfect records of all ages, we would find that whenever the Lord has established a dispensation, there has been more than one witness to testify for him.
-Joseph Fielding Smith

2 Corinthians 13:1
In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “we believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Articles of Faith 1:9). This is to say that while there is much we do not yet know, the truths and doctrine we have received have come and will continue to come by divine revelation…It is a process involving both reason and faith for obtaining the mind and will of the Lord.4 At the same time it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such.”
-D. Todd Christofferson Reference A

Why is the law of witnesses important to the process of revelation?  How can we differentiate between well-considered opinions and doctrines?

Mary Whitmer

A Holy Messenger Shows Mary Whitmer the Gold Plates  Illustration by Michael Priddis, from the book, Dare to be True: A Prophet in Palmyra.

A Holy Messenger Shows Mary Whitmer the Gold Plates Illustration by Michael Priddis, from the book, Dare to be True: A Prophet in Palmyra.

When Joseph Smith first received the gold plates that contained the Book of Mormon, he was not authorized to share them with others. However, the Book of Mormon itself foretold that others would have the opportunity to view the book.

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