Rescuing Jesus From The United States: A New Zealand woman’s missive to America

Guest Post by  Gina Colvin

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It’s no secret that people’s lives have long been expunged in the name of Christianity. Pagans; Saxons; peasants; Turks; the Gaelic Irish; Hungarians; Jews; Muslims; heretics; ‘witches’; protestants; and Catholics, from Palestine to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, to Tenochtitln, women, children and men have died in the name of the church that bears His name. Persecution; ethnocentrism; colonialism; patriarchy; capitalism; slavery; illicit invasions of sovereign states have all been underwritten in one way or another by an appeal to Jesus Christ.

 

Its called ‘bending the narrative’ – this habit of pulling Jesus into national politcs and shaping military and economic discourses around and through Christianity – like a branding strategy. I understand the motivation. If you make Jesus a citizen of your country, or the head of your political campaign He makes it easy to recruit followers. Christians love Jesus and if you can push him out in front, everything you associate him with ends up feeling divine.  Not that Jesus would have been complicit in the above atrocities – far from it. In any event the ‘Jesus’ card has been played continuously in the game of Western empire building, and Jesus’ effigy has been paraded relentlessly to justify all manner of evil. And this Jesus (by American reckoning in general, and Mormon calculations specifically) currently resides in the United States.

 

As a non-American member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I grew up having to crane my neck to watch out for the American Jesus. We New Zealand Mormons are permanently calibrated in that direction, we face a North East direction toward the Pacific ocean and over the rocky mountains to Salt Lake City where the American Jesus is in charge of our eternal salvation. From somewhere on Temple Square, he stands at the head, guiding, directing and fully in charge of Mormon affairs.  This American Jesus has been continuously on the lips of the American Mormons who get to speak, instruct and direct the rest of the Mormon world from large podiums festooned with flowers or from the pages of glossy monthly magazines.  American words have been landing in the ears of the non-American Mormons throughout my entire lifetime – and it’s wearing thin.

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Neylan McBaine Answers Exponent Bloggers’ Questions About Her Book

Neylan McBaine, author of Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact, graciously agreed to answer some of our questions about her book. 

1.) Do you think that there is a place for more radical movements (like, but not limited to, Ordain Women) in effecting change in the church? Do you see a way for radicals and reformers to work together?

If we look at social activism as the model for moving forward, then yes, radial movements have always been part of a successful equation for change. And I think Ordain Women has been effective in drawing mainstream attention to a subject many people previously didn’t want to or didn’t know how to discuss. The essential questions the group raised, the difficult and sometimes uncomfortable wrestling it prompted, brought women’s experiences in the Church to the forefront of mainstream conversation.

My concern is that overlaying social activism playbooks onto Church administration may not have the same effect we expect it to have in our external situations; in fact, we saw this summer that it doesn’t. The fact that the Church functions outside of known worldly structures is both the secret to its longevity, strength and divinity and also the thing that some struggle to understand. It is not a democratic government or a corporation against which workers can strike. I join many, I know, in hoping that in the future there can be more dialogue and compassionate understanding of where “radical” groups are coming from, but I also believe that social activism as we know it in the world will not have the same effect in the Church.

2) If every ward and stake in the church adopted the changes you suggest in your book, things would certainly be better for everyone.  But the administrative authority, financial authority, and ecclesiastical authority would still be almost exclusively in the hands of male priesthood leaders.  Do you see that as a problem?  If so, what are your thoughts on possible ways forward?

If the Church administration were really functioning at fully cooperative capacity — meaning that essential mindset changes were made to include, recognize, lead with and trust women — I think male administered church governance would look very different than it does today.

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International Series: Seeking Out and Relieving the Distressed

We are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from people who are posting for the first time in English. Their voices have been missing from the conversation about gender and Mormonism, and their posts highlight the diverse experiences of LDS women throughout the global church.

Today’s post comes from Dave Dixon. Dave is the co-founder of No Poor Among Them, a podcast/blog devoted to exploring ways in which we as Latter-day Saints can eliminate poverty in the Church and in the world. He is also a board member for the Liahona Children’s Foundation, the happy husband of Jana, and happy father of two sons.

As the sun shines brightly over the city of Lugazi, Uganda, around 21 women are busily making hand-crafted jewelry for Musana Jewelry. All told, these artisans support themselves and 108 children. Melissa Sevy, Rebecca Burgon, and Kristen Wade are pleased with the progress the organization has made. Musana (which means “sunlight” in the local language of Luganda) was formed by these after seeing the difficulties of these women on a humanitarian trip to the area in 2009. The organization has since blossomed, and has helped many local women to flourish. I spoke with two of them: Tina and Harriet. The business is run locally by Tina, a local LDS primary president. Harriet, a hard-working artisan told me that working for Musana has enabled her to better provide for her children and allows her to receive proper medical care for issues resulting from HIV. Many of the local artisans are single mothers who have had a very difficult time in their lives. Musana not only provides employment for these women, but also trains them with classes in literacy, English, finance, business, and health. These women have ambitions to start their own businesses when they feel they are on solid enough footing, thus allowing other women to enter Musana’s business training program. Melissa told me in an interview that focusing on women is the key to economic development. When you pay a woman or a girl, they reinvest 90 percent of their income in their families, compared to 30-40 percent for men. Musana does a great job of connecting women all around the world. My wife Jana hosted a Musana market in her home, in which friends and neighbors bought some of the hand-crafted jewelry, watched a specialized thank-you video from the artisans of Musana, listened to Ugandan music, and ate some awesome Ugandan food (the peanut butter stew was really good).

(Right to left) Melissa Sevy, Harriet Ochieng, and Tina Kyambadde of Musana Jewelry

(Right to left) Melissa Sevy, Harriet Ochieng, and Tina Kyambadde of Musana Jewelry

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Blessed Be the Mentors

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Saturday was a special day. It was the day Claudia Bushman was celebrated via the Mormon Women’s History Initiative Symposium. I was not able to attend, but I was able to sit in a seminar with Claudia and her husband, Richard, almost every day for six weeks, just a tiny bit earlier this summer through BYU’s Maxwell Institute. It was a deeply enriching experience, as I thought it might be.

Claudia added her wisdom and knowledge, her strong and honest voice, and her pleas to tell our own stories, as well as precious bits from her own. Once she shared the price of her gold wedding band ($5!). Another time she pinpointed a doctrine (magnifying your calling) that she perceived to be pernicious, with quite good, and quite funny reasons. My favorite (class) moment of all occurred after we discussed the significance of Eliza’s hymn, “O My Father.” Claudia quipped that we should all write poems about Heavenly Mother, because then they can become theology.

My favorite non-class moments were different. They were about the fact that I was in an intensive class, while caring for a (still nursing) infant in a state far away from where I live, and where my husband would be. 

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Virtual Oases

Catching up on the week’s news, here’s a few posts to add to your weekend reading list!

  • The Sunstone Symposium wrapped up just as the FAIR Mormon conference got going this week. Women’s issues in the church were at the forefront of both events. From Sunstone, a panel about “tone and the patriarchy” was a highlight. Peggy Fletcher Stack recaps a FAIR address by Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities, that includes this great quote: “we need a way to describe the female contribution to priesthood. We are a faith community of priests and priestesses. We need a way to talk about that.”  This seems an astonishing assertion to be made publicly by a Church leader/employee! If a full transcript of her talk becomes available, I’ll link it here later. I’m curious! Edit: Here’s a link to the video of her speech.
  • In a commentary about “tone” and “Primary voice”, Jana Reiss makes some fascinating observations about women speaking in church. Read this one for sure! And then sound off in the comments about how you feel about speaking in church.
  • Harvard Divinity School grad Ashley Isaccson Woolley has laid out several counter-arguments to the Ordain Women movement and actions. Using very assertive language, she writes that OW “takes quotes out of context“, “gets it wrong“, and “isn’t the answer“.  Her piece about taking quotes out of context causes me to ponder the difference between “taking something out of context” versus “personal interpretation”. How do you perceive her points?
  • How well do you recognize sexism? This article lists 10 ways we can make ourselves more aware of sexism when we encounter it and what to do about it. Number 1 on the list? Religious sexism and discrimination.
  • Hilary Clinton discusses encountering sexism in politics. I include this article because of a great quote she gave: [I] think that for many women in the public eye, it just seems that the burden is so heavy. We’re doing a job that is not a celebrity job or an entertainment or fashion job.… In a professional setting, treat us as professionals.… [And] it takes a lot of time. I’ve often laughed with my male colleagues, like, ’What did you do? You took a shower, you combed your hair, you put your clothes on. I couldn’t do that.”   Disappointing, indeed, that our capable female professionals are so often seen as celebrities to be judged by their appearances rather than accomplishments.  By contrast, here is an article about Becky Hammon, the 2nd woman to coach in the NBA, and not a word about her appearance — only her skills, leadership and  work ethic. Way to go, basketball! 
  • A very interesting article about how children are harmed when forced to behave according to their gender role stereotypes. I found her examples of how some athletic girls avoid sports so they don’t seem “unfeminine” and how boys engage in “low-level violence” (slapping, hitting one another, inflicting pain on other boys’ genitals) very eye-opening.
  • And finally, Julie de Azevedo Hanks sings an anthem chock full of every unrealistic expectation and toxic perfectionism Mormon Mommies sometimes place upon themselves….and bids them farewell in this one year anniversary of the Death of Molly Mormon. Watch the video, it has great lines like:   “buried alive under vinyl quotes”, “she felt sick when hubby wasn’t called into the bishopric”,  “her superstar son got his call….stateside” “Someone spiked her punch with a diet coke”

Discuss your observations and thoughts in the comments!

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We have to tell our stories

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Just over a year ago, I sat in a cabin with some of my dearest friends.  They were women that I had gotten to know over the years when we had all lived near each other, but most of us had since moved away to different locations.  We had kept in touch via email – we had actually spent most of a year discussing various issues in Mormonism (particularly women’s issues), and we had enjoyed such a rich conversation that we decided to meet up for a weekend retreat.  We left 47 of our 50 combined children at home, packed our favorite treats and games, and met up in the mountains – away from the routine demands of life.  After a day of playing games, gorging on cupcakes, and catching up, we broke into small groups.

And we started to tell our stories.

As a background, I had heard about the Mormon Women’s Oral History Project through a podcast I had listened to – Caroline Kline and Claudia Bushman spoke with Dan Wotherspoon about their book “Mormon Women Have Their Say” (reviewed here by Rachel), and they talked about the project.  As my friend Melissa Mason and I planned our informal friends’ retreat, we talked about it and thought that we could use the Oral History Project as the central activity of the weekend – we thought it would be neat to hear everybody talk about their lives and hear some more background.  So we got some basic information from Claudia, included some USB recording sticks in our packing gear, and sat down to listen to one another.

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