Filling the Seats – General Women’s Meeting

Last night I listened to the General Women’s Meeting in the company of my sisters from the Mt. Vernon, Virginia Stake. I enjoyed the added international presence, the messages from our leaders, and the inspiring music.

As the camera captured the large stand in the Conference Center I noticed the many, many empty seats. These seats will be full to capacity next weekend during General Conference with quorums of our leadership, but last night the General Boards of our female auxiliaries filled only a couple of rows.

I had a vision – as I looked at those empty seats.  A vision of hope.  One day – I see quorums of women filling those seats! A happy thought.

Do you have this same vision of hope? Do you see women in leadership filling those seats?

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Mormon Exceptionalism…Keeping Us From Being Exceptional

By Jenny

I can’t get through a Sunday at church without hearing it.  In fact, I have made a game for myself, counting how many times I hear it.  Testimony meeting is so pregnant with it that I struggle to know whether to go to church and win my game or to stay home and avoid the pit in my stomach.  It starts with a phrase like, “I am so grateful for the church because…”  Then it ends in a statement about why our church is so much better than the world, why our doctrine beats all other Christian doctrines, why we as God’s chosen people are far more enlightened and superior to all those people in the dark because they don’t have the gospel.

This is hard for me to write because it was hard for me to accept when I first started becoming aware of Mormon exceptionalism.  I don’t like speaking harshly and negatively about my culture.  I’ve lost a lot of friends for speaking boldly and I don’t want to lose more.  But I see a problem that is keeping us from progressing.  Mormon exceptionalism is keeping us from being truly exceptional.  This is especially the case in regards to women and equality in the church.

I find that when I am discussing women and the priesthood with people, the conversation doesn’t make it very far because of the big mountain of exceptionalism that is in our way.  I get it.  I’ve scaled that mountain.  It wasn’t easy.  At the bottom, all I could see was the looming mountain above me.  I thought that we as Mormons were the grandest thing around.  My mountain was my whole view, so I really thought it was everything.  But at the top, once you can see beyond the erroneous belief that Mormonism is better than every other religion, you can see all the other peaks for miles and miles.  Then you realize that your mountain is not everything, that it is only one mountain among many.

In regards to women and the priesthood, the mountain looks a little like these quotes from three women who have spoken out recently on the place for women in this church:

“So the LDS alone among all Christian religions assert that not only did Eve not sin, but she was rewarded for her courage and wisdom, and God was assuring her that, just as she fulfilled her role in the Great Plan of Happiness, Adam would step up to the plate, and he would perform his role in the Great Plan of Happiness, and that would entitle him to rule with her. This is absolutely revolutionary and astounding doctrine among all the Christianities!” [1]

This quote comes from an essay written by Valerie Hudson about why men and women have different roles.  I have to dissagree.  I don’t see anything revolutionary or astounding about our doctrine as opposed to other Christian doctrines.  In the temple narrative, Eve was not rewarded for her courage and wisdom, she was placed under Adam’s rule to hearken to his counsel as he hearkens to God’s.  Just because we tend to applaud Eve culturally despite our doctrinal language doesn’t mean that we have this phenomenal understanding of Eve and women’s roles compared to everyone else.

“…for years I’d searched the world over to find any organization—the largest governments and religions, multinational businesses, worldwide charities, major universities—where as many women had as much bonafide responsibility and authority as they do in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that I hadn’t been able to find even one.”[2]

This is a pretty big mountain that Sheri Dew has created.  So big in fact, that she can’t even see beyond it to see that her statement is ludicrous.  How many businesses in the world have female CEOs?  When is the last time our church had a female CEO?  You don’t have to look very far at all to see that other governments, religions, businesses, charities, and universities are doing better for their women than we are.  But you can’t look very far when this mountain blocks your view.

“I find it a little bit ironic that the world is trying to instruct the “poor LDS women,” who are so oppressed, and in the backwater, and if they could only come out into “enlightenment.”… Because I just don’t see where that enlightenment is.”

“I recently spoke at the United Nations and it was interesting because we are faith-based, I represented a faith-based organization. Because we are conservative morally, a lot of people thought that our doctrine about women and men was conservative. Far from being restrictive and conservative, and we sometimes get labeled that way, my contention is that the Church’s doctrine about the roles of women in the family, and the church, and the community, and the nation, and the temple and how men and women relate to each other and interplay and support each other and work together is the most moderate, and powerful, and enlightening and energizing doctrines that I know about. And if people truly understood it, it would blow their mind.[3]”

This quote comes from a recent talk given by Sharon Eubank at the FAIR Mormon symposium.  While I actually enjoyed the talk, and felt that it was great for raising the level of the conversation about women in the church, this part gave me that same familiar pit in my stomach that I often feel during testimony meeting.  I agree that we have some pretty great doctrines in our church.  I also agree with a major point that she made during this speech, that one of our problems is that our doctrine and our practice don’t always mesh.  But I highly doubt our doctrines would blow the minds of those poor simple fools out in the world, if they only understood them.  She may not see enlightenment out in the world, but that doesn’t mean that it does not exist.  It’s just that we have this big mountain in our way, blocking our view.  I am grateful at least that she is attempting to help us scale the mountain, by admitting that maybe we do need to change our language, maybe we don’t have everything right, maybe our practice does not always match our doctrine, maybe we could be better.   I just think that we will be able to climb this mountain faster without comparing ourselves to others.

I understand that most members don’t even realize how much we do this as a church.  If you haven’t noticed it, I challenge you to a game.  Sit through testimony meeting or read Sherri Dew’s book, and count how many times the claim is made that we are fine because we are better than other religions.  Or we are exceptional because we believe this and this that someone else doesn’t believe.  Just see if you can get through church without hearing about how much better we are than the rest of the world.  Once you notice it, you can’t stop noticing it.

This type of comparison is not a good argument for truthfulness in our church.  Truth can stand on its own.  Truth is only diminished when we have to qualify it by saying that we have more of it than someone else.  Comparison is an ineffective argument for why women in our church are fine and don’t need the priesthood.  I don’t care if we are better than Muslims or Catholics or anyone else.  I want to be better than we are.  I don’t want us to just think we are exceptional, I want to be exceptional.  The question we should be asking is not, who are we better than, but how can we be better that what we are right now?  I do think we have something unique and beautiful to offer the world, but who wants a gift given out of pity or pride?  The world in it’s vast array of faiths, ideologies, cultural constructs, knowledge, and experience also has a beautiful gift to offer us.  It is a magnificent view of eternity and a better understanding of our surroundings that we can only see from the top of our mountain.

And just so you know that I am not trying to be disingenuous toward women like Sheri Dew who are talking about women and the priesthood, and are even doing a lot of good in keeping this discussion alive and healthy, I will end with a quote by Sheri Dew.   “God rarely moves the mountains in front of us, but He always helps us climb them.”—Sheri Dew.  I have faith that our Heavenly Parents are helping us as a church to climb this mountain so that we can see a better view of what the world truly is, and how we fit into that view.

[1] Valerie Hudson http://mormonscholarstestify.org/1718/valerie-hudson-cassler

[2] Sheri Dew “Women and the Priesthood: What One Mormon Woman Believes.”

[3] Sharon Eubank http://blog.fairmormon.org/2014/08/12/best-of-fair-14-sharon-eubank-this-is-a-womans-church/

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International Series: My Story

IsabelleWe are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from women 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 Isabelle. Isabelle lives in Sydney, and is the mother of three grown children and two grandchildren. She is happily divorced,  lives with her cat, and is ‘so happy on my own.’

When I first joined the church, I was a 14 year-old teenager.  I had heard an advert on the radio, and ‘these people’ (Mormons) called him Heavenly Father. I had felt out of place my whole life from having French as a 1st language in an English-speaking country, and also by the fact that I was bought up Catholic. I was dubious about the ‘vengeful and horrible God’ taught to me, because He always showed Himself to me as a heavenly version of my earthly father.

The people didn’t impress me much, and I didn’t impress them either.

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Neckties: Priesthood Attire or Lucifer’s Lust Pointer?

mens-fashion-ties-002 Neckties are arrows that point to the male genitalia. Why are they considered “priesthood attire” in the LDS community? In some congregations otherwise worthy men are not allowed to participate in priesthood ordinances unless wearing a white shirt and necktie. The male missionary uniform is a white shirt and conservative necktie, symbols of orthodoxy in the LDS Church. Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby recently noted,

Neckties are so important to Mormons that it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing them airbrushed onto young men in church publications.

Oh, the horror! Before such a perilous day dawns, I must sound a warning. Neckties are leading women far from the iron rod of righteousness into the shadowy mists of lust. The influence of the necktie is subtle and pernicious and has infiltrated every level of Church leadership. legends-of-the-summer-justin-timberlake-jay-z-1.492.325.c The white shirt and necktie are ubiquitous symbols for male professional conformity and power, but some Christians contend that a man in a suit is too much temptation for the modern Christian sister.

Justin Timberlake and Jay Z acknowledge the power of the well dressed man in the song Suit and Tie. Brother Timberlake croons in the chorus,

And as long as I got my suit and tie, Ima leave it all on the floor tonight.

You are mistaken in hoping Brother Timberlake took off his suit and tie to put on his pajamas,

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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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Online Subscriptions Are Up! Read the Women and the Priesthood Issue Today!

keep-calm-and-click-subscribe-2Forty years ago, the women responsible for Exponent II used Xacto knives and rubber cement to paste up issues of the newspaper.

Technology has changed since then, and so has Exponent II. We’re thrilled (yes, thrilled!) to announce that we now offer online subscriptions. While this means that the magazine won’t be free to read online any more, it also means that subscribers who love their e-readers (sheepishly raising hand) can take Exponent II with them in PDF format anywhere, print out copies of articles for friends, and even read the magazine before print copies arrive in the mail–all while knowing that you’re supporting the publication of Mormon women’s voices.

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