Guest Post: Question?

by Rebecca Missel

Let’s just get one thing straight. I’m not a Mormon woman. I’m Jewish. So why are you reading this on an LDS website? Great question – keep those coming – we Jews love them.

I grew up in the Mormon Mecca that is Mesa, Arizona, and in a place like that it’s hard to avoid some sort of education in the LDS Church. I’ve seen Johnny Lingo. I know about garments. I went to school with entirely too many people with last names like Smith, Brown, Jones, Woods, Brinton, Wright, etc. I even get most of the jokes on “Seriously So Blessed!”

Recently, I was visiting an old friend in my hometown who is Mormon and a regular contributor to this website. We had a lively and inspiring conversation about our religions and our personal quests within our belief systems that I know would not have been possible when we were younger. As I drove home that afternoon, I felt energized by the commonalities I found with my friend and inspired by her journey, but also frustrated by the difficulties she has faced in negotiating her own space within the LDS Church.

It would be very easy to write a post about all the things I love about being Jewish and how dramatically different it is as a religion compared to Mormonism. The standard joke goes, “Ask two Jews, get three opinions,” because we so often have different interpretations and answers to any element of religious life, whereas in the LDS Church – answers come a little less opaquely. But ultimately, I felt that an entire post with these types of observations would amount to some form of imperialism or downright snobbery, so I cast that idea aside.

If the folks at Exponent are kind enough to welcome me back for another post, I’d be happy to write about the Jewish views on marriage, death (quite topical this week, it seems), feminism and more. Yet for this post – a whole new voice on the website – I decided instead to focus on questions. Those questions you might have for me, your friendly neighborhood Jew, and those questions I have for you, Mormon women.

As I mentioned above, questions are big in Judaism. You’d sometimes think Socrates stole his infamous method of answering a question with another question from us. Jews have entire books like the Talmud and Mishnah that are dedicated to asking questions about the Bible (that’s Old Testament to y’all), in order to tease out answers but rarely to offer any absolutes. The evolution of Jewish history, particularly in the last 200 years, stems from question after question being asked without any clear expectation of an answer.

Since about the same time that Joseph Smith founded Mormonism, Judaism has evolved tremendously. Today, Jews may be Orthodox, Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist, they may be Ashkenazi, Sefardi or Mizrachi, and within those denominations and ethnicities exist a plethora of interpretations of text and ritual that vary from Jew to Jew in a way that makes outsiders wonder what holds us all together. One answer? Our love of and dedication to questions. Every Jew must answer for him/herself questions as sublime as the meaning of the Divine and what happens to us after we die, and as mundane as whether or not to eat pork. While this sea of ambiguity and lack of clear definitions may seem overwhelming, many Jews; myself included, find it extremely liberating.

When I visited my friend in Mesa, I shared with her a conversation I once had with my rabbi. I asked my rabbi (who is a woman and ardent feminist) about how I should keep a kosher home. Should I go to the nth degree, banning all outside food without a kosher seal and keeping separate plates, pots and pans, silverware and sinks so that anyone could come to my home and eat? My rabbi very simply replied, “You have to do what works for you. There will always be someone for whom you are too religious and someone else who thinks you are not religious enough. At the end of the day, you have to answer the questions for yourself.”

So, in the spirit of Jewish inquiry and in the spirit of challenging the status quo that is the delightful raison d’être for this website, I’d like to pose a few questions of my own.
How do you see the path of feminism developing within the LDS Church in the next five year? In the next 10 or 20?
If you could change one part of church doctrine related to the status of women what would it be? Why?
What do you love most about being a Mormon woman?

And now I guess I’m turning it back to all of you – what questions can I try to answer? I can’t wait to read your answers, questions and for us all to learn and grow together.

Rebecca generally describes herself as a community organizer when asked to fill out bios such as this. Her job as a grants and marketing manager for a social service nonprofit in New Jersey pays the bills, while her freelance writing for Patch (www.patch.com) pays for occasional pedicures and expensive chocolate. In 2009, Rebecca founded Jersey Tribe (www.jerseytribe.org), an organization dedicated to providing meaningful social, volunteer, educational and philanthropic opportunities for young Jewish adults across New Jersey. She is especially proud of her accomplishments in creating an engaging community and looks forward to the challenges and triumphs ahead. This is her first time writing for The Exponent.

Jessawhy

Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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60 Responses

  1. CatherineWO says:

    Wow. This is just what I needed to read. I was just telling my husband this morning how much I need stimulating conversations with other adults in which I can voice my questions without the other person feeling threatened. Such conversation was had at the Mormon History Association conference last week, and it was great.
    As for the OP questions, I have no idea where the path of feminism is going in the LDS Church. A bigger question for me right now is, can I stick it out? Can I stay with an organization in which I feel like a second-class citizen, hoping for change? I don’t see how the status of women in the Church will really change until women are put in administrative positions, which I think would mean giving women the priesthood.
    My favorite (and currently only positive) thing about being a Mormon is the sense of community that binds people together and helps families stay intact. That’s what keeps me in the Church (albeit with many questions).

  2. Amelia says:

    Rebecca, thank you so much for your post. I’ve always loved how much a role questioning plays in (at least some) Jewish traditions. I am curious how much a role it plays in more orthodox communities. I’m not very familiar with Judaism, but have read the requisite Chaim Potok books. 🙂 It seems like some more orthodox Jewish communities may not tolerate questions to the same extent as a Reform community might; or perhaps it’s the kind of question that is acceptable that changes in different communities. Could you comment on that a bit?

    I personally think that the heart of Mormon doctrines actually encourages and requires questioning. Somehow, though we have turned in a direction of conformity (at least in certain issues) as a manifestation of worthiness to belong and partake of the most sacred of Mormon experiences.

    As to your questions:

    1. I have no idea what the future of Mormon feminism will look like. I don’t think it’s going to go away. I think that with enough time and given the trajectory of Mormon feminism in the last ten years, the church will be compelled to confront these issues more directly and make changes. Part of that will come from the fact that the church is apparently bleeding young people. The figure of 80% has been batted around the bloggernacle recently–that 80% of the young people between 18 and 30 are leaving the church. There are no sources to back this up, so I’m a little skeptical of the stat; plus it’s complicated by how “leaving” gets defined. But still, whatever the number is it’s enough to have church leadership already concerned. They’re trying to make changes (the recent shift to geographic singles stakes/wards in Utah; the renewed [as if it needed to be renewed] emphasis on not putting off marriage), but those changes will fail (anyone with a willingness to take a deeply honest look at the church and its membership would understand that) . So when these initiatives fail, perhaps they’ll be compelled to understand that they have to change attitudes and practices to retain these young members. And attitudes and practices about women are going to be key among things that need to change. The discrepancy between what young women (and men) in the church experience outside its walls in re: sex and gender and equality of the sexes and what they experience inside its walls is so stark that it can’t really be explained away through mentally gymnastic rhetoric; they’ll have to make real change.

    So you can see, I think change will happen. I’m not sure how quickly. I would hope within my lifetime. But I decided a while ago that I’m not going to sit around and wait for the changes to be made. I’ve changed my own approach where I think it’s needed (in terms of how I navigate relationships, who I date, how I pursue education and career, what I speak up about and how I do so). If the church doesn’t like it, that’s fine. I used to be afraid of ecclesiastical punishment; I no longer am. I used to be so concerned about the opinions of my family and fellow believers; I still am, but I no longer allow it to constrain me quite so much.

    As far as what I would change, I personally don’t think there can possibly be gender equality in the church without female ordination to the priesthood. I don’t think equality can exist in an organization that maintains structural inequality, especially when that organization exercises the kind of influence on attitudes and behaviors that the Mormon church exercises. So I’d like to see that change. There are other things. We need to stop valuing women primarily (really almost exclusively) for their roles as mothers. We need to change how we gender men (too often LDS feminists forget that gender inequity goes both ways; things aren’t all peachy keen for men in the church either). We need to start asking for revelation about our Goddess until we receive it and she is worshiped and praised equally to God. Among others.

    I don’t know what I love about being a Mormon woman. Most of what I love as a result of my upbringing in the church are things I could have gotten outside of the church just as well.

    • Jannah says:

      “It seems like some more orthodox Jewish communities may not tolerate questions to the same extent as a Reform community might; or perhaps it’s the kind of question that is acceptable that changes in different communities. Could you comment on that a bit?”

      I am going to pop in here and share a little story that I hope will answer your question. It has been my experience that the opposite or your question is true. In my limited experience, I have found that the more traditional and Orthodox the Jew, the more likely they are to welcome questions. I was lucky enough to travel with Rebecca (I grew up with her as a fellow Jew in Mesa) and two other young Jewish women. Now, my religious background is quite different from Rebecca’s and I was not educated in the beliefs, laws, and traditions to the extent that she was. Therefore, I ask a lot of questions and don’t have much more knowledge than the average person. During my week or so traveling through Costa Rica with these lovely ladies I had the amazing opportunity to ask all my questions and get three (and sometimes 8 or 9) answers per question. I came to see that the more devout a person is (and I have experienced this with my LDS friends too) the more they WANT to answer your questions. They want you to understand their beliefs because they want to help you see what they believe is right. When I have asked the same questions of people with less devout views, I have never gotten the same enthusiasm for answering.

      • Amelia says:

        I see I wasn’t very clear on my question. I’m not wondering about which communities are more eager to answer questions. As you point out, many orthodox Mormon believers are only too happy to answer questions because they believe they have the answers. Less orthodox Mormons, on the other hand, are a little less willing to give a hard and fast answer and will often instead ask their own questions and give answers that probably feel like non-answers.

        That said, orthodox Mormons do not so readily tolerate the asking of questions by people who “should” be believers. In other words, my pretty orthodox family is not so hip on my asking challenging questions that imply that their answers may not be adequate. So what I’m really asking about here is whether orthodox Jewish communities tolerate their own members asking difficult, challenging questions that go against the norms and teachings they subscribe to. And whether they perhaps are more okay with certain kinds of questions, but not others. For instance, in the more orthodox Mormon community, asking questions that accept commonly held beliefs as a given but which seek “further light and knowledge” about those beliefs is okay because it means you do believe and you seek greater understanding that builds on the necessary basic beliefs. Those questions are tolerated and even encouraged. Other kinds of questions, the ones that challenge the basic beliefs–not tolerated so much, really. I was wondering if this same dynamic plays out in orthodox Jewish communities.

  3. Amelia says:

    Here’s another question for you, Rebecca: I’ve long been fascinated by the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. And I’ve encountered comments pretty frequently that this story resonates powerfully in Jewish traditions. Could you gloss what it is about this story that makes it influential? And/or could you point me to places I might find some explication of the story from a Jewish perspective?

    I personally love this story because it underscores the Mormon notion that each of us is individually equal to divine beings by showing not only that Jacob and the angel are apparently equally matched (neither appears capable of easily defeating the other), but also by establishing Jacob’s right to demand a blessing. In other words, in my mind this story justifies my speaking up and identifying what is problematic for me and asking for it to be addressed (something church leaders have recently appeared unwilling to allow; for an example take a look at what Dallin Oaks says in the PBS series on the Mormons about how it’s never right to challenge church leaders).

    • Rebecca says:

      Amelia – you ask fantastic questions and I’m going to do my best to answer them. Just to lead in – I’ve already tried to respond to a few comments, so scroll down if this answer doesn’t cover it all.

      Starting with the Jacob wrestling the angel story… In the middle of the night, Jacob wrestles (we don’t know much much of that is physical and how much verbal) and at the end of the struggle, the angel gives Jacob a new name – Yisrael. This Hebrew translation of “Israel” literally means to wrestle with God. From then on, the Hebrews were called Israelites and much of Jewish thought and belief stems from this idea of wrestling with God. There’s some great books on this topic including this one that was seminal in the creation of a new Jewish denomination, Renewal: http://www.amazon.com/Godwrestling-Round-Ancient-Wisdom-Future/dp/1879045729/ref=pd_sim_b_1.

      The Jacob story sets the stage for that other seminal moment in the theology and Jewish relationship with God – Moses and the Burning Bush. This idea of pushing back on God or the heavenly messengers is found throughout the Torah and it very much defines being Jewish. We don’t accept our religion on blind faith – we struggle with it.

      Now – the Orthodox vs. Other Streams of Judaism and Feminism…
      Yes, you are absolutely right – feminism has not permeated Orthodoxy the way it has Reform and Conservative Judaism. In the Reform rabbinical school now, women outnumber men. There are issues that have come along with it – men often find themselves sidelined and with fewer exclusively male dominions, which is seems they really like to have. Synagogues are working on that, but it will be interesting to see how it shakes out.

      Meanwhile, the Orthodox world is hardly monolithic either. You have some very “modern” Orthodox synagogues where women do play a role, leading some prayers and taking part in certain rituals. There is even a rabbi in New York who has ordained a woman – http://nymag.com/news/features/67145/http://nymag.com/news/features/67145/

      Then there are other sects within Orthodoxy where women can’t drive, get married at 19, cover their hair by wearing a wig or scarf, never wear sandals or a skirt without stockings because it would be immodest, and have upwards of 12 children.

      What it all comes back to is that there are as many ways to be Jewish as there are Jews. While those separations drive us apart – it also means that there is a place for pretty much everyone. Unlike in Mormonism, which is often all or nothing, Judaism gives you a wide berth.

      When I told a friend about this article, we agreed that someone needs to invent Reform Mormonism – a way to accept the traditions but also innovate. I envisioned some steadfast woman nailing her complains on the door of the Church in Salt Lake City a la a modern-day Martin Luther. I hope I live long enough to see a bit of revolution!

      • Amelia says:

        I *love* the idea of Reform Mormonism. Ever since I got to know an amazing man who is part of Reform Judaism, I’ve been so interested in that tradition and have wished that something similar would happen in the Mormon community. If I ever get a bee in my bonnet to nail some theses to the Church Office Building door, I’ll let you know. 🙂

      • Jessawhy says:

        Rebecca said, “I hope I live long enough to see a bit of revolution!”

        So do I, so do I.

        🙂

  4. Tatiana says:

    I don’t have any answers, but I have a question. What if Heavenly Mother were to try to give us revelation today on the female priesthood and the expansion of feminine power in the church. Through what channel would that revelation come? The prophet? The RS President? How would we hear that revelation? That is my burning question for all Mormons.

    I think my answer for what I’d like to see happen in the Mormon church in 5 years for women is that there should come about or be developed somehow, some channel by which that sort of revelation could come.

    • Maureen says:

      I love your questions Tatiana. I myself have wondered if we have not received any revelation on Heavenly Mother and priestesshood only because women haven’t asked. If gender is so essential isn’t it possible that this is the only way revelation like this could come?

      Personally I have also wondered if there isn’t also an unrecognized priestesshood (at least authority to “act in Heavenly Mother’s name”) passed down from mother to daughter. And because mothers have lived unworthy of it (mostly because they weren’t taught how to live worthy of it) the chain is being broken, and more and more daughters are feeling a greater need for it. And is this why some are in favor of a female priesthood/priestesshood and others perfectly comfortable with the way things are? For some where the link has been broken they feel a lack, but for those who are still connected feel no need.

      This is one hope I have for/from Mormon feminism, that it opens up the minds and hearts of women who will some day be in position to change things based on what they could receive in this way.

  5. Macha says:

    “There will always be someone for whom you are too religious and someone else who thinks you are not religious enough.”

    This is just such an awesome point, I love it. Basically, you can’t please everyone, so why not just do what makes you and your family happy and healthy?

    • Amelia says:

      As much as I agree with this sentiment (and I really, really do), it’s still often a too easy answer. For me what that means is that it’s not simple to “just do what makes [me]” happy and healthy because I do not have my own family. I’m single. And when one does not have the unquestioning love and acceptance of a partner and/or children, it becomes more difficult to just dismiss the opinion of those who are the next best thing (parents, siblings, ward members). There is a strength in having a refuge in which you are accepted as you are by someone you love and who loves you. When you are lucky, as a single person, you can build your own family of choice where this is true–where you are allowed to do and think how you want to do and think without it jeopardizing your relationships. I have been fortunate in being able to build just such a family by choice. But that does not eliminate the pain associated with my family by birth finding me a not religious enough faulty Mormon. That pain and my need for my family often drives me to do something other than just do what is right for me and my own happiness.

      And that’s not even to touch on the difficulties experienced by someone who is married to a member of the church who feels threatened or betrayed by their spouse’s new doubts and questions, who thought they understood their spouse’s level of religiosity but now discovers they were wrong. I cannot even imagine how difficult that would be.

      So I do agree with this sentiment. At the end of the day, the best each of us can do individually is what is right for us as individuals and what will help us preserve the relationships necessary to us. There always will be those who find fault with one’s approach to religion (whether they think it is too religious or not religious enough). But the relationships we value the most often make it impossible to simply do our own thing and forget what others think.

      Ultimately these dynamics are one of the biggest reasons I wish the church would stop insisting on what is Certain and Right and True, and instead embrace the process of questioning as a means of moving closer to God.

      • alex w. says:

        These are definitely concerns that follow that sentiment. I’m engaged to an RM who no longer attends church and have been facing the uphill battle of people questioning our decision. There’s a lot of “are you sure?” and “I think you’re making a mistake” that I’m confronting with “Yes, we’ve put a lot of time and effort into this.”

        Something that’s difficult in LDS communities is that if you’re not doing what everyone else thinks you must do to be happy, they don’t *really* believe you when you say you are.

      • amelia says:

        Alex, that’s exactly right. Mormons buy so deeply into the certainty of the church’s message (marry, have babies, be active in the church and you’ll be happy) that they just can’t even conceive of the possibility of someone being happy without their life fitting the pattern. I run into this a lot when I date men who are not Mormon. Drives me batty. And I think it arises directly out of the fact that Mormons generally see religion and the church as a means of finding The Answer for every question, rather than as a means to ask and explore important questions. Too often we’re an answer-first religion (in other words, get the answer and then figure out how every question can be understood in terms of that answer) rather than a question-first religion (ask the question, any question, and let it percolate without feeling compelled to come up with a definitive answer). I much prefer the question approach to religion myself.

  6. Chris says:

    If you could change one part of church doctrine related to the status of women what would it be? Why? Since church doctrine teaches us that we have a Mother in Heaven who is co-equal with our Father in Heaven, I would like to see women in the Church treated in every way as co-equals with men. I would like to see Relief Society presidents have equal power in ward organizations as bishops. Since women carry heavy responsibilities in the Church, they need to have the authority to carry out these responsibilities. My experiences as a ward and stake Relief Society president taught me that women are treated more as slaves who carry out the whims of priesthood leaders. That is wrong and leads to depression and frustration among women.

    What do you love most about being a Mormon woman? I love the promise that all women, married and unmarried, have the opportunity to become like their Mother in Heaven, a goddess filled with pure and perfect love. I love the spirit of sisterhood that is nurtured through the visiting teaching program. I love the opportunities I have had to develop my social work, teaching, leadership, and musical talents (except for those times when I have felt marginalized and minimalized by men).

    • CatherineWO says:

      Well said, Chris.

    • Amy says:

      Chris, I would also like to see women treated more as equals. I am a Relief Society president, and I don’t feel like I’m treated like a slave, but I definitely feel on the “outs” and like I’m not one of the “good ol’ boys” in some of the meetings.(not that I’m trying to be one either). I think some of this is cultural and comes from the fact that we are led by a church of older men and there is more of treating women that way culturally. I have noticed in recent leadership meetings from the GA’s, they are encouraging the men to be more attentive to the womens’ ideas. I think there is still some way to go, but I will give them credit for moving in the right direction.

  7. CatherineWO says:

    I agree with both Macha and Amelia. Each of us has to do what we feel is right for us individually, but we also have to consider the effects our actions have on the people we love. My husband of 38 years is very open-minded and loves me in spite of all my questioning (he does a bit of his own too). But there is a limit past which my questioning becomes threatening, and I want to respect that, because I really do love him and don’t want to hurt him. So I find other outlets for my questioning, because not questioning doesn’t seem to be an option that allows me to maintain my sanity.

  8. Jayme says:

    Lovely! Thank for sharing! And I love the advice from your rabbi (also I love that your rabbi is a woman!)

  9. EmilyCC says:

    Rebecca, thanks for taking the time to write this! I also love what your rabbi said.

    I know I have learnd so much from Jewish feminist midrash. Are there Jewish feminist communities like Exponent for Mormon feminists available online?

    • Rebecca says:

      Absolutely Emily! Feminism really erupted in Judaism in the 1970s and 80s, about the same time a lot of American women were experiencing the same thing. There are MANY Jewish feminist organizations on the web, but I think the one you and many other Mormon feminists will enjoy the most is JOFA – the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (http://www.jofa.org/).

      JOFA works to advance the position of women within the laws of Orthodox Judaism. I think you will relate to their efforts to stay within the confines of their communal norms while advancing the cause of women at the same time.

      Check them out and if you need any help with Hebrew translations, just let me know 🙂

      • EmilyCC says:

        Oh, awesome! I can’t wait to look into this…Thanks, Rebecca!

      • Jessawhy says:

        Rebecca,
        Emily is too humble to admit this, but she studied Hebrew at Harvard Divinity School. She’ll say that it was a long time ago, but I’m really proud of her learning to read Hebrew and becoming a chaplain.

        Thanks for sharing JOFA with us. I’m going to check it out as well. I wish Mormon women had better reception from the LDS church during the ERA movement. You may already know this, but the LDS church mobilized intensely AGAINST the ERA, fearing that it would be detrimental for the family. It is a very sore subject for Mormon feminists . . .
        I’m glad to hear that JOFA appears to have had more success during that era.

  10. jamie says:

    First of all, I love this website. I am currently a teacher and I glean much from this site as I prepare my lessons. One thing I struggle with as I read some of the articles and comments are how often women express their frustration with the women and the priesthood, or lack of…One thing I love most about being a Mormon Woman is that I do not hold the Priesthood. With the priesthood there are responsibilities that I would much rather not have. The big one being the commandment to judge another person. No thank you. I love that as a woman in the Gospel all I am commanded to do is love. I do not have to judge. Although, I admit, I do it way too often. But in the past I thought that it was part of my church duty to “righteously judge” those around me. Nothing too harsh, but I definitely use to think I could solve any person’s problems…if they would only do the Sunday School answers, pray, read their scriptures, go to the temple. It makes me laugh now just thinking about it. Due to personal trials, one being a return missionary husband who, 5 years into our marriage, declared he was an atheist, did a number on my testimony. My black and white world no longer exists. It is ALL grey now. How foolish I was to think that I could judge another person and solve all their problems. Our commandment is clear, “Love one another even as I have loved you.” I was in a Gospel Doctrine class where the teacher offered me an a-ha moment when she taught that we, as women, are not commanded to judge. Ever. We are only commanded to love. It hit me hard. I felt like my understanding of the Gospel was expanding a hundredfold. It was such a beautiful realization. And burden was lifted. I grew to love God and the Gospel so much more at that moment. The mandate to judge is held only for a small percentage of men in the church, not every priesthood holder is mandated to judge. If you have ever spoken to a retired bishop or stake president, they will tell you that the hardest part of their calling is to hold disciplinary counsels and for the bishop to deem who gets what temporally. Sure there is a lot of good the women can do if they were to hold the Priesthood. And I agree, having held many stake callings where I was at the mercy of the men in position, it is extremely aggravating. But the price of the Priesthood is high and personally I would never want to be burdened with the responsibility to judge another person. I’m just too flawed. I’ll leave that to the men.

    Anyways, I kind of a newbie at writing comments, I’m more of a blog stalker, so I hope this comment reads well. I just wanted to share my thoughts on what I love about being a Mormon Woman. 🙂 I adore this website. Many of you have helped me navigate my new world of greyness. You have made me feel comfortable questioning the things I didn’t think were necessary to question before, but are now forced upon me. But my world is a more beautiful place because of the grey that has been added. Thanks.

    • Amelia says:

      Jamie, thanks so much for your comment. I always appreciate getting others’ perspectives. And it sounds like you have found some good ways to deal with what must have been a very difficult new dynamic in your marriage. I really respect you for that.

      Like you, I love the “love one another” aspect of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the core of the gospel that I always come back to. I can understand not wanting the responsibility to pass judgment on others, but to instead embrace a role that is only about loving others (which, I would add, is every bit as difficult as judging others; in fact it might be more difficult in some fashions because it requires that rather than identifying the ways in which someone else is out of line, we have to go far beyond that to know the other person and see their beauty and embrace it).

      That said, I do think that it’s a little reductive to see the priesthood exclusively in terms of the judgment capacity of bishops and SPs. Think of how much opportunity there is to do works of love as well as responsibility to judge. I would especially welcome the opportunity to bless and minister to people in need through the power of the priesthood. My holding the priesthood would also allow me an opportunity to influence the priorities and directions of a congregation in ways that are off limits to women now; and since I very much believe that men and women often see the circumstances of other people differently, I see this as another opportunity to use the priesthood in order to do the work of love, rather than judgment.

      Please understand that I’m not trying to say your perspective is wrong; I’m just showing you some of my own perspective.

      At the end of the day, I personally don’t think there’s much of a need for “judges in Israel” in terms of disciplinary action. I find that a very Old Testament approach to religion, as opposed to Jesus’s approach of embracing the sinner and making a space for the outsider at the table (and Jesus did come, after all, to fulfill and set aside the law of the OT). I would rather the church never or very rarely use disciplinary action; the only time I can see it being truly necessary is in cases of real threat (e.g., child abusers, violent criminals, etc.). I don’t think it’s necessary in most cases of sin. The nice thing about doing away with punitive disciplinary action is that it would allow our priesthood leaders to fill a pastoral role more like the role of the Savior–to sympathetically feel the pain of the members of their flock and to lovingly counsel them as they struggle to do better.

      I also think that priesthood ordination should be voluntary rather than compulsory and universal. Those of us who feel called to pastoral care could be voluntarily ordained, rather than just socially compelling all of us to be ordained. That way people like yourself who would feel doing that work as a burden would not have to do it but could instead participate in other important capacities in the church. I would also note that if you feel this burden of judgment as unnecessary, there are certainly men who do, too. Wouldn’t it be nice if they had a way of opting out of doing something they felt was harmful to them (in the way you seem to think being asked to judge would be harmful to you)?

      • jamie says:

        Hi Amelia,

        Thanks for your response. I definitely don’t want anyone to think that I reduce the power of the priesthood to a judgment role only. But for me, personally, that responsibility (of many) is enough for me to be grateful that I do not have the priesthood. The day I felt that weight being lifted off my shoulders when I realized that the only commandment I am to follow is to love, it was powerful. So the weight of the responsibility to judge scares me enough to not wish for the Priesthood. Now do I feel that it is fair for a responsibility that scares me to be given to someone else, I can’t answer that because those same bishops and SPs that I have talked to say that those moments where they do have to judge are the sweetest moments for them because they get a glimpse at the eternal mercy of our Heavenly Father that they would not have seen otherwise. And the disciplinary actions of the church are actions of protection to the person in violation, now I say that assuming that all of it played out under the guidance and direction of the Spirit. The disciplinary counsel is there out of the tender mercy and love of our Heavenly Father. I only know a couple of people that have been disfellowshipped, but unanimously they say that it ended up being a blessing and their understanding of the atonement now is priceless.

        I do reject the idea of voluntary priesthood ordinations. I think there would be more harm than good with that setup. But my life experiences and studies of women and the priesthood, particularly the sealing ordinances and children have helped me to move away from feelings of inadequacy and second class citizenry in the Church because I don’t have the Priesthood. And trust me I know those feelings well. So I definitely come at the priesthood angle differently and I understand that.

        It would be easy to say this is unfair and that is unfair in the Church, but I can’t do that. There are certain doctrines of the Gospel that I cleave unto and no other way of life, religion, or belief system out there can offer it to me, so I’m a Mormon, even with all its flaws. 🙂

      • jamie says:

        Hey Amelia,

        Can I ask you to scratch that last paragraph from my reply. I finished my statement and went away to tend to a child and came back and pressed ‘post’. But I should have erased that last paragraph and not included it because it reads totally different from what I had in my head and I need much more space than a comment section to explain. I wrote poorly on that last paragraph and would love to be able to delete it. So I’m asking that it be scratched from the conversation. Thanks. 🙂

      • amelia says:

        Did one of the Exponent permas already scratch the paragraph you wanted deleted, Jamie? I’ve been traveling and therefore not watching the conversation closely enough to know if this still needs to be done. Sorry!

    • Deborah says:

      Jamie wrote, “You have made me feel comfortable questioning the things I didn’t think were necessary to question before, but are now forced upon me. But my world is a more beautiful place because of the grey that has been added. Thanks.”

      Grey can be terrifying sometimes. That you can see the beauty in grey, beauty in perspectives that both resonate and conflict with your experience, speaks so highly of your desire to open yourself in love to others.

      You mentioned your husband’s change of faith. You might like this post I wrote last year about interfaith marriage, not for the post itself necessarily but for the links it provides to some other wonderful articles, include three at the end about “when one spouse leaves the church.” So glad you’ve found the lesson helps helpful and the discussions thought-provoking.

      • jamie says:

        Thank you Deborah for the links. It always helps to know that I do not walk this path alone. As you said, “grey can be terrifying” and that is so true. Of the many things that I have learned on this journey is that the Spirit is crucial. Regarding the question of what I would change in the Mormon Doctrine regarding women is that I wouldn’t really change anything, but I would love to see our leaders discuss the importance of following and cultivating our relationship with the Spirit. I really believe that this relationship trumps everything else on this earth. If you have a strong relationship with the Spirit there is so much about the culture of the Church and the doctrine that are unclear that you are able to put aside. Whether you are married, single, divorced, part-member, live with wayward children, and the list goes on and on, you are confident that your path is one with God, even if it doesn’t fit the cultural “norm”. I wish that our leaders would constantly stress that there is no norm. There is absolutely NO NORM! I’m so tired of men and women, in the church, feeling like there is some ideal that we have to live up to in order to be saved. When my husband declared himself atheist I thought my world was over. My future was destroyed and there was no hope for what I had be raised to believe was mine to have, if I was obedient. With the merciful tutelage of God through the Spirit I am learning, although it is hard to let go of old beliefs, that there is no norm in God’s eyes and that my main focus on this earth is to preserve my family. I do not live the “norm” but I know that I am right with God and that is all that I care about. Okay 90% of the time I believe I am right with God. It’s a constant struggle to maintain peace with my current situation, but I’m working on it. 🙂 Thanks for your kind words I really appreciate them.

    • EmilyCC says:

      Jamie, so nice to hear your ideas! I hope you’ll consider writing a guest post for us!

      • jamie says:

        EmilyCC, I’m beyond flattered. Thanks for the kind comment. It you see a spot/need for me in your forum, I’d love to participate. 🙂

  11. Jessawhy says:

    Rebecca,
    Thanks for this fabulous post. I love the dialogue you’ve started here. I’m afraid I don’t have time to respond to many of the comments, but I like the idea of using questions to move forward in our religious journey.

    A friend once told me that Mormonism robbed her of the opportunity to find answers for herself. She said, “I was given the answers before I even had time to ask the questions.”
    Aren’t the questions most important? Aren’t we all supposed to interpret divine text for ourselves? How do we do this when so many of the important questions (Where do we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?) are already answered and highly correlated?

    I guess the risk that we might find a wrong answer is too great for church leadership. Or is there another possible reason that the answers are so much more emphasized than the questions?

  12. Corktree says:

    I’m one of those people that *needs* to question. I wouldn’t be at peace if I wasn’t, and I believe that God knows that. I try very hard not to push my questioning on others that are not ready for it, but I feel it is a fundamental part of our journey – both collective and individual. Our existence is founded on questioning and reasoning out which is best and what is true – or the idea of making a choice to live this life wouldn’t exist. I want others to question along with me so that we can get to the same point of understanding, but in a way, I wonder if there are many that are not meant to question. If that’s not part of their path. It certainly seems like a possibility, but that doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t.

    As for what I would like to see in the Church in the coming years – I think a widespread awakening to the real reasons we do not talk about or have a relationship with the Divine Feminine would be a huge catalyst in getting enough women (and men) to start seeing the current set up as possibly being a product of cultural history, and not the express will of God. It never ceases to shock me when I hear a woman reflect the rhetoric of “we don’t talk about her because she is too sacred” and not have any desire to know Her as they know the Father. I can’t wrap my head around that logic anymore, and it is the one area that I hope for change the most in and one in which I see the most concrete change resulting from.

  13. Deborah says:

    What do you love most about being a Mormon woman?

    My sisters. The women I have met because of my connection to the Church — early YW leaders, Exponent women, ward sisters who I may never have otherwise interacted with but whom fate threw my way — have made my life incalculably richer. Reading the diaries of early LDS women, reading Women’s Exponent from the late 1800s/early 1900s . . . these stories, this heritage is central to my identity. As I frequently tell my not-LDS husband, I love Mormon women.

  14. michelle says:

    “Aren’t the questions most important? Aren’t we all supposed to interpret divine text for ourselves? How do we do this when so many of the important questions (Where do we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?) are already answered and highly correlated?”

    I really loved what Pres. Uchtdorf said about this:

    Inquiry is the birthplace of testimony….Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a precursor of growth…. God commands us to seek answers to our questions and asks only that we seek with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ…. Fear not to ask questions…but doubt not. Doubt not….

    I’d recommend reading more of his thoughts on this — I really liked how he separated out the process of questioning from the process of doubting. To me, the fact that we have revealed truth makes the process of questioning more focused because I don’t have to start from square one…the prophets, imo, give us a head start in the process of seeking and finding through personal revelation.

    • Amelia says:

      In my mind it is impossible to question without doubt. Frankly, it’s impossible to have faith without doubt (if there is no room for doubt in your faith, what you have is knowledge not faith; most religious faithful don’t acknowledge the role doubt plays in their faith but it plays a role nonetheless). Back to questioning and doubting. If we accept the premise that doubting and questioning are two completely distinct things, we can only ever ask certain kinds of questions–questions looking for additional information, questions about topics about which we have no answers already, etc. To question without doubt means that one can never, ever ask the question “what if I’m wrong?” or “what if the church is wrong?” And if those questions are off limits, what’s the point? For questioning to lead to personal growth (which is at least one of the most important functions of questioning), then we have to be willing to doubt ourselves and our certainties or else the only questions we can ask will simply reify our present certainty by building on it.

      The only way I have of making sense of Uchtdorf’s counsel to question without doubting is to take the “doubt not” in a very, very limited fashion as meaning that don’t doubt that the process of questioning will be of value and that ultimately there are answers (though I would personally insist on the idea that there are not always answers; that questioning is valuable in and of itself regardless of whether or not there is an answer).

      • michelle says:

        Did you read his talk? Because he explains more what it means to doubt not, and to me it means to ask based in faith in Jesus Christ, and also build on answers we have already received. But note the whole context. I think it helps clarify what he meant.

        Now the next issue: What about doubts and questions? How do you find out that the gospel is true? Is it all right to have questions about the Church or its doctrine? My dear young friends, we are a question-asking people because we know that inquiry leads to truth. That is the way the Church got its start—from a young man who had questions. In fact, I’m not sure how one can discover truth without asking questions. In the scriptures you will rarely discover a revelation that didn’t come in response to a question. Whenever a question arose and Joseph Smith wasn’t sure of the answer, he approached the Lord, and the results are the wonderful revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. Often the knowledge Joseph received extended far beyond the original question. That is because not only can the Lord answer the questions we ask but, even more importantly, He can give us answers to questions we should have asked. Let us listen to those answers.

        The missionary effort of the Church is founded upon honest investigators asking heartfelt questions. Inquiry is the birthplace of testimony. Some might feel embarrassed or unworthy because they have searching questions regarding the gospel, but they needn’t feel that way. Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a precursor of growth.

        God commands us to seek answers to our questions (see James 1:5–6) and asks only that we seek “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ” (Moroni 10:4). When we do so, the truth of all things can be manifested to us “by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:5).

        Fear not; ask questions. Be curious, but doubt not! Always hold fast to faith and to the light you have already received. Because we see imperfectly in mortality, not everything is going to make sense right now. In fact, I should think that if everything did make sense to us, it would be evidence that it had all been made up by a mortal mind. Remember that God has said:

        “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. …

        “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9).

  15. michelle says:

    p.s. For me, my thoughts above capture what I love most about being a Mormon woman: the doctrine. I feel it grounds me in my journey of faith and helps me stay focused, both in my study and pondering, and also in my life choices. It also keeps me humble, because I realize how far I have to go — it helps me understand how much I need the Savior.

    I also think there is great significance in that women’s roles in the home and the Church focus heavily on caring for children and helping the poor and needy. To me, this captures two key elements of Christ’s doctrine and example. He was often saying “suffer the children to come” and urging care for the poor and downtrodden. As such, my hope for change in the Church would be more toward women embracing these responsibilities rather than wishing for more priesthood-like positions. There are many ways to do God’s work, and I think women’s roles reflect the Savior’s mission in significant ways.

    p.s. Rebecca, several women have shared what they love about being LDS women … thought you might be interested in their thoughts, too: here. (see the comments)

    • Amelia says:

      How is hoping that women will embrace the roles the church prescribes rather than wishing to have the priesthood a change? That’s just more of the current status quo. There is no open movement or commentary in the mainstream Mormon population in which women advocate to hold the priesthood; and there certainly has not been a decreased emphasis on the rhetoric of women’s role being that of wife and mother. I just don’t see how that’s a change.

      There are indeed many ways to do the Savior’s work of suffering the little children to come to him and helping the poor and needy; to limit women’s opportunities to do that work to the role of wife and mother and in-home caretaker is deeply problematic. I’m not saying that those are not wonderful spheres in which to do that work. My mother, who was a stay-home mom for my entire lifetime, is one of the most Christlike people I know and she did that work primarily in her role as a mother and in filling callings in the church. But I am neither a wife nor a mother, I may never be either, and I have every bit as much right to do the work of Christ in my life. I should not be made to feel that unless and until I marry, I won’t really be able to fulfill my potential as a woman do do the work of Jesus. Doing that work is not limited to only a few roles; the church should not circumscribe women’s opportunities by teaching that the only truly appropriate sphere in which they can do the work of Jesus is as wives and mothers.

      I have no problem with women choosing to embrace the role of wife and mother as a way to do the work of Jesus. I do have a problem with using social, religious, and cultural influence to coerce women into making that decision. And I do have a problem with criticizing those women who feel constrained by that role being socially and culturally imposed on them.

      • michelle says:

        “I should not be made to feel that unless and until I marry, I won’t really be able to fulfill my potential as a woman do do the work of Jesus. Doing that work is not limited to only a few roles; the church should not circumscribe women’s opportunities by teaching that the only truly appropriate sphere in which they can do the work of Jesus is as wives and mothers.”

        I obviously didn’t explain my thoughts well enough. I was thinking more broadly than women’s roles at home. But I think you are distorting what we are taught. There is nothing that says that the *only* appropriate sphere is the home. It is the *most important sphere* when one’s life includes marriage and motherhood (which still doesn’t preclude any other roles or options), but it is not the only sphere that ever can or should matter in a woman’s life. There is a difference.

      • kmillecam says:

        But Michelle, if it’s the “most important sphere”, then you have just illustrated what Amelia is talking about. She is a full person, with full potential to do Christ’s work, even if she isn’t a wife and mother. I believe that the most important sphere for women is to be authentic to who they are and where they are. Amelia is who she is, not a shadow of her most important self in the future.

      • spunky says:

        I agree with Amelia and kmillecam. I think the most important role for a daughter of God is to remember that we are first and formost daughters of God; we deserv to be treated and treat each other in that manner, regardless if we marry, have children, or otherwise. I think our purpose is to serve Him. If we berate each other or make certain ranks (wife/mother) more powerful than others, we only destroy each other. I am huge Uchtdorf fan, anyway- his talks don’t reasonate with me like they seem to with others.

  16. Noah says:

    Admittedly, I am a man, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE this blog. I think the status of women and woman’s rights within the Church ought to be of grave interest to men and women equally. To be brief, if men do not understand God’s plan for women (which Mormonism defiantly has little or no clue of), then they do not, in any meaningful degree, understand God’s plan for men. For the long answer, I recently wrote about it on my blog, titled “Gender Equality is ‘The Issue’ in Mormonism”: http://failmo.blogspot.com/2011/05/gender-equality-is-issue-in-mormonism.html

  17. michelle says:

    One more thing…I don’t want to be misunderstood as saying that the ONLY thing women should do is serve children and help the poor. There is much women can and do do within various other roles in the Church, and I think another thing that needs to happen is something our leaders have talked about quite a bit as of late — that the council system needs to be better understood and implemented.

    • Amelia says:

      It’s good that women can do good not only as wives and mothers, but also by working in the church. But there should be recognition and authentication of the fact that women can also do much good in the professional sphere, as volunteers, as public servants. In other words, the range of opportunities for women to do good should be as broad and as varied as the range of opportunities open for men to do so. Because there are as many different individual circumstances for women as for men; to attempt to force women into a more limited range of opportunities will inevitably harm some women. I am a perfect example of that, as are many other Mormon women whose natures and circumstances do not fit neat little stereotypes about who and what women are.

      • michelle says:

        “But there should be recognition and authentication of the fact that women can also do much good in the professional sphere, as volunteers, as public servants.”

        I think this kind of recognition is given, Emily.

        “I am a perfect example of that, as are many other Mormon women whose natures and circumstances do not fit neat little stereotypes about who and what women are.”

        I don’t fit stereotypes, either. We aren’t forced to do anything. We are taught about the plan and encouraged to make priorities and seek revelation based on our lives’ details.

      • Amelia says:

        Amelia, not Emily.

        Give me some evidence. If the church, as you say, authenticates life paths other than wife and mother, show me where a member of the 12 has talked about paths other than wife-and-motherhood and does so without making it always serve the wife/mother path. Show me that the YW’s program spends even half as much time on the importance of education and career as it spends training girls to be the right kind of wife and mother, and does so without again reducing them to something that will help them be good wives and mothers.

        I don’t think you can do it. But if you can, show me.

        And while no one is putting a gun to my head, there are enormous cultural, familial, and religious pressures brought to bear. I have no patience for this idea that the church is innocent of compelling its membership to do what it thinks they should do. There are many ways to force people to do things other than the strict denotation of “force” implies. The spiritual and social and familial harm the church threatens should one choose to live differently than it prescribes is enormously harmful.

  18. I just read The Women’s Auxiliary and it brought up so many questions. Have you read it? What was your reaction? How can Jewish feminism be linked to Mormonism?

    • Rebecca says:

      Hi Michelle – haven’t read that but I’ve heard good reviews. I think the major difference between Jewish and Mormon feminism is that Judaism has many different branches and sects and so it’s easier in the more liberal streams to give women more opportunities – becoming rabbis, reading from the Torah, holding leadership roles in congregations, etc.

      Within Orthodox Judaism, it is more challenging certainly, but women are nonetheless finding ways. Don’t forget – there are very liberal streams even under the Orthodox banner. I think there are lots of Jewish men in positions of power who ARE helping women along the way. You can read here about Avi Weiss and the ordination of Rabbi Sara Hurwitz… http://nymag.com/news/features/67145/.

      At the root of it, Judaism is a much more loosely defined religion that is more about community than it is about an individual’s relationship with God or a savior. It does not require a testament of faith or belief. That’s why it’s much easier to effect change – people are less bound to an absolute or perfect faith. I hope that helps!

  19. michelle says:

    Amelia,

    Sorry…I had seen that Emily responded elsewhere to me and I got confused.

    It’s definitely true that marriage and motherhood take a preeminent place in our doctrine, but they should, given what eternal life is all about (which would be marriage and parenthood). You make it sound as though focusing on family roles is a violation against women, but I disagree with this kind of perspective and think that itself is harmful.

    Interestingly, as to the YW program, etc., I’ve actually heard several YW leaders express concern that there is too much emphasis these days on education and career, so go figure.

    That would suggest to me that we all need to carefully look at the doctrine as a whole and see all of this in context. We hear about both things, and we hear about prioritizing and we hear about seeking personal revelation about how to implement doctrinal teachings in our lives. To make oneself a victim of the Church to me is to abdicate one’s own power of discernment and agency, and that could go for either end of the spectrum.

    Another point I have is this — if you carefully look at our doctrine, education and career always take a back seat to marriage and parenthood, for both women AND men who happen to be married and have children. Those who aren’t in that stage of life right now will obviously have different ways their balance and roles will play out.

    I think these concepts can be fleshed about pretty rationally, even as I realize there is a real tension there. But I simply disagree that somehow the Church is some harmful entity and I think trying to insist that it is only gives more power to the distortions and cultural twists that can cause frustration. This is why I said before that the doctrine is one key reason why I appreciate being Mormon. I don’t have to look at cultural forces or even a lesson manual alone to process truth. We have a big picture and if we process things within that context, I think these kinds of issues become a lot clearer.

    • Amelia says:

      Michelle, we’ve gotten rather far afield from the OP. I’ll make one brief point and then ask that you return to the subject of the OP. It is not okay to take a blame-the-victim approach to anyone who has been hurt. The fact that you do not feel hurt by the church yourself does not give you the right to dismiss others’ experiences of hurt at the hands of the church as something they have chosen to feel as if they’re the party at fault. It is as wrong to blame the victim of spiritual, emotional, and/or psychological abuse as it is to blame the victim of physical and/or sexual abuse. Please refrain from making such arguments in the future out of respect for others whose experiences you have no way of knowing.

      Now, the point of this post was not to debate whether or not the church correctly or incorrectly teaches about women’s roles. I’ll ask you to direct future comments to the topic at hand and I will do the same.

      • spunky says:

        Thank you, Amelia. As someone who has been berated, marginalized and labelled as less worthy because I do not fit the Mormon role no matter how hard I try, I greatly appreciate your Christ-like observations, love and reverence.

  20. spunky says:

    Rebecca,
    Thank you so much for your post. My ex-husband is Jewish (long story there- I feel like I just came out of the closet on that one!). At that time and even before, I gained a great appreciation for Judaism. I look forward to your next post, so hope you won’t take too long to write it. I am going to make life simple and answer you questions directly.

    How do you see the path of feminism developing within the LDS Church in the next five year? In the next 10 or 20? I would like to see feminism gain momentum in the church. It seems fashionable to finally record and acknowledge the history of women in the church, so I would like the history of women, and the power of women to be embraced within the church to a point where women are welcome to hold priesthood keys and perform ordinances, and men become involved in making and delivering meals, philanthropy and other projects traditionally processed by women.

    If you could change one part of church doctrine related to the status of women what would it be? Why? I am not sure; I see many of the forced roles on women as result of culture. I would like culture to be separated from doctrine first. Then it would be fun to throw Lilith into the mix. I really wish there were more information on her in general- and I wish she were included in Old Testament/Pearl of Great Price (Mormon) scriptures and ideology. I also wish the theology of Eve and her leadership were better developed, and that terminology (i.e. “help meet”) were better translated as I think the Englihs/lay term “help meet” sounds very secondary. What are your thoughts on Lilith? Eve?

    What do you love most about being a Mormon woman? Yikes. Um…. nothing? I love being a woman, and I enjoy serving and participating in the church, but I have never found comfort in being labelled as a “Mormon woman”. I feel more comfortable on the periphery of “Mormon women” likely because I don’t have children and have been berated and very hurt in trying to assimilate into that family/mothers only culture, so whilst I may be a Mormon female, I don’t feel like I am one with “Mormon women”. In a strange parallel that you might appreciate (forgive me for broken translation- it has been a while): I do not think I can become shomer mitzvoth within a culturally Mormon sense… because (long story short) I am never niddah, so I am not sure I can keep the laws taharat hamishpacha, (obvious lineage issues with the absence of niddah). So I find comfort in being assigned to the periphery.

    I love that you are here!

  21. Jessawhy says:

    Rebecca,
    I realized that in my excitement to have you posting here, I did not answer the questions from your OP.

    How do you see the path of feminism developing within the LDS Church in the next five years? In the next 10 or 20?
    I see a few different strains of feminism emerging. I see one that calls itself feminism, but doesn’t really hold on to equality in the way society sees it. This strain goes to great lengths to explain how the inequality in LDS doctrine and practice is really equality in God’s eyes. For me, this type of equality is perhaps more damaging than full-on patriarchy because it makes feminists of a stronger variety seem even more marginalized when we want actual equality (such as ordination, and the right not to be discriminated against in the workplace, and family-friendly policies, and women in non-priesthood church leadership positions).

    I hope that there is a way to bring all the stripes of feminism together (including feminist-minded men) to the benefit of all of our children. I would love to see a dialog on this in the future.

    In the next 20 years, I really do think there will be some direct addressing of the place of women in the church. Either it will be revelation for women to have the priesthood, or something that includes women at higher levels of decision making. The church is taking baby steps now, but I hope to see great strides by the time my son is old enough to be a bishop.

    If you could change one part of church doctrine related to the status of women what would it be? Why?
    I’d like more revelation about Heavenly Mother. Because Mormons believe they can become like God, men have a distinct advantage because the godhead is entirely male. Perhaps women might have an easier time imagining themselves of true divine worth if there was a divine female for them to learn from and emulate.

    What do you love most about being a Mormon woman?
    I love the community. Here, in my book/lunch group, with my friends in my ward, everywhere. Being a Mormon woman is a mixed bag, but there is so much cultural understanding that I love having an immediate sisterhood with other LDS women.

    (Again, great post! I love how you’ve brought these important issues to the forefront of our conversation.)

  22. Maureen says:

    I have always loved questions and am very socratically/philosophically minded. In fact it was a question that brought me to the church. (After reading some of Paul’s writings) What am I, a young woman (at the time) in this modern day, supposed to do with these words written by men thousands of years ago? God answered that prayer by sending me the missionaries and in no uncertain terms telling me that what they brought was the answer.

    How do you see the path of feminism developing within the LDS Church in the next five year?
    I don’t know. I’m kind of just stepping into this area, but I hope it does have some impact on a greater number of members of the church. I’ve tried to do what little I can (talk about it on FB) and have met up with resistance and indifference.

    If you could change one part of church doctrine related to the status of women what would it be? Why?
    I would want the priestesshood recognized as such and extended beyond the temple. I would like revelation and greater understanding about Heavenly Mother and her role in this world and the eternities.

    What do you love most about being a Mormon woman?
    What I love has more to do with being Mormon, the doctrine, than being woman. I don’t really know how to define the essentially feminine and do not find myself comfortable in the midst of women generally (with a couple of out of state friends and most of the interaction here being the exceptions). My introversion and social anxiety tend to exclude me from the main benefit from the church that many women have mentioned here, the relationships and community.

    What questions can I try to answer?
    What is the modern Jewish take on gender essentialism? I’ve heard here and there bits about how Ashera might be hidden in the Old Testament and her possibly being a mention of Heavenly Mother, and how anciently Jews worshiped her. Is there any part in any of the modern Jewish sects that recognize a goddess or divine feminine? If so, how?

    • Rebecca says:

      Ohhh Asherah – now you’re taking me back to my grad school days. While I didn’t really learn much about Asherah in my Hebrew school (grades K-7), she came up in many college and graduate school classes on women in Judaism, Biblical-era archaeology and early Jewish theology. To some, she’s a pagan or idolatrous goddess. To others, she’s the symbol of fertility and evidence of early Jews worshiping her is rampant.

      So, once again that there is no monolithic answer to your questions about gender in Jewish text. Among the more liberal streams, and particularly in the Reconstructionist movement, there is a great effort to revitalize the feminine representations and manifestations of God that are present in the Hebrew Bible – “source of life,” “healer of all flesh,” “soul of every being,” etc.

      There is also discussion of the Shekhinah, which I think is sort of like the Mormon notion of Heavenly Mother – from the limited LDS education I’ve gleaned.

      My best advice to learn more is to check out the Feminist Critique section at My Jewish Learning: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/beliefs/Theology/God/Modern_Views/Feminist_Critique.shtml

      You can also check out this piece by Judith Baskin – a pre-eminent Bible scholar. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/beliefs/Issues/Gender_and_Feminism/Traditional_Views/Biblical.shtml

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