A Review of Walking With the Women of the New Testament

51Hil65oDaL._SL500_AA300_Walking With the Women of the New Testament by Heather Farrell contains 60 meditations on women of the New Testament.  All the named women in the New Testament are featured, as well as many who are not, such as Jesus’ sisters and the mother of the man born blind.

At 291 pages the book has heft to it, and this tangible fact relays one of its main messages: that women in the New Testament were numerous and real, with “real lives, real feelings, and real problems.”  Each entry begins with the scriptural passage telling the woman’s story and artwork depicting her story, and is followed by a 2-3 page meditation by Farrell in which she frames the story in terms of its historical context and/or the possible feelings and motivations of the woman in the story, and then a reflection on a spiritual lesson to be gained from the story.

For example on the Widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-15), Farrell writes,

“We don’t know if this young man’s death was the result of a long drawn out illness or an unexpected accident, but no matter how she died, it is likely that his mother’s grief was fresh.  She may have only had hours to process the news of his death and all the implications that came with it.  As a widow, with no male to take care of her, this woman’s plight might have been hard indeed.  The newness of her grief makes Christ’s tender words, “Weep not” (verse 13) all the more powerful.  He was telling her that even though her grief seemed unbearable, she wouldn’t have to mourn much longer.”

Farrell then explains the etymology of compassion (“He had compassion on her.” (verse 13)), and notes that “in the accounts we have of Jesus raising someone from the dead, all of them are done in the presence of, and usually on behalf of, women.”  This is an interesting insight I’d never thought of.  Farrell continues,

“Raising a person from the dead is an incredible miracle for anyone to witness.  Yet I can’t help but feel that it has special meaning for women, whose bodies create mortal life and who spend so much of their time nurturing and shaping lives.  It seems to me that Christ wanted to demonstrate to women that He had power over the grave.”

I think the meditation on the Widow of Nain is reasonably representative of the other entries in the book.  It’s a heartfelt and faithful reading that reflects Farrell’s original impetus in studying the scriptures with a focus on the women’s stories.  She writes, “I wanted to gain a better testimony of God’s love for women and better understand women’s roles.”  So she kept a journal as she read, which gave rise to this book.  She encourages readers to do the same: read while reflecting on suggested questions, read between the lines, and rely on the Holy Ghost.  She acknowledges that the details about these women are scarce, and that “while there is much truth in the Bible, some of it is missing, and if we want those gaps filled in, we don’t have to turn to outside sources.  The Holy Ghost can enlighten our understanding and teach us.”  While I agree that the Holy Ghost is the unparalleled teacher of truth and wisdom, I would also have liked if the book delved deeper into other historical and scholarly work that has been done on the subject.  I generally prefer exegesis (critical explanation or interpretation of a text, or reading “out of” a text), and this book includes quite a bit of eisegesis (an interpretation that expresses the interpreters ideas, or reading “into” a text).

I feel I must point out that while Farrell’s book is a thoughtful and comprehensive meditation on the women of the New Testament, it is not what I would consider a feminist reading of them.  It does not challenge current gender roles in the Church or attempt to stretch the understanding of roles that women in the New Testament may have held.  For example one of the questions she suggests readers reflect on in their scripture reading is, “What type of influence would she [the woman in the story] have had on those around her?”  She writes of current times:

“I think the problem is that in our society we often don’t see women.  Too often we take their influence in our lives and in society for granted.  Similarly in the scriptures, we simply don’t see the women.  The pages of the scriptures are filled with their stories and their influence, but too often we skip right past them, not even realizing they are there.”

Seeing women in the scriptures and in the world is something feminists have long fought for, but when the focus is on their “influence” I think we lose the perspective of their being agents unto themselves, not just an influence on the other actors or agents in a story.  Too often in the Church praising the “influence” of women is done as a way of deflecting attention from the fact that they hold so little actual power.

That said, this book acknowledges the women of the New Testament as being more present, both in numbers and in significance, than some would suppose.  I think it would make a good addition to Church member’s libraries (it is definitely written from an LDS perspective) and would be a great resource in preparing for talks and lessons as a way of finding examples of gospel principles in the lives of women in scripture.

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Plural Marriage: Will We Claim a Limited Prophet or a Limited God?

More Good Foundation

More Good Foundation

By Jenny

The recent essays produced by the Church on plural marriage have turned my thoughts inward to reflect on my own journey and relationship with the concept of plural marriage. I have especially ached for the young girls who married Joseph, as I have thought about the young, naïve girl I was at the age of fourteen. I still remember my first pivotal moment with polygamy. I had been reading The Work and the Glory series over the summer and I was struggling through the one in which plural marriage was being introduced in Nauvoo. I’m sure I had already known about plural marriage before then. Even at that tender age, I was terrified that I would die after I got married and would then have to share my future husband with another woman. Yes, I was fourteen!

But now, sitting in my room, tears streaming down my cheeks, I first came into contact with the pain of women who did have to share their husbands with other women. In a fictional book, written by a man who had never experienced that fear from a female perspective, I began my wrestle with a concept that I was too young to fully understand. Obviously, The Work and the Glory towed the line of the church in its sympathetic portrayal of Joseph. My pain and agony over this concept were reflected in the characters that rejected plural marriage and lost their eternal rewards. I thought my feelings were proof of my unfaithfulness toward God. I did not want to be one of the unfaithful ones. But I also didn’t know how I could ever feel good about polygamy. What a heavy burden for a fourteen-year-old girl to bear alone in her room.

But not all fourteen-year-old girls got to wrestle with hypothetical ideas alone in their rooms. Some had to do so face to face with someone they believed was a prophet of God with authority to make his word God’s word. What was their wrestle like? Did they go through the tortuous battle to work it out in their minds and hearts like I did? Did they cry and scream and rage against God the way I did? Did they spend hours on their knees, pleading with God to understand something that didn’t make sense to them? And in the end, did they humbly give in, thinking that a prophet of God must surely know best, that their own feelings and struggles meant nothing compared to his understanding? Did they give in because their desire to be righteous outweighed their own sense of logic and love?

That’s how it was for me. Worn out from my raging struggle, with red eyes and tears dried to my face, I looked in my mirror. I thought about my grandma who had divorced at an old age and had died without being sealed to anyone. “Okay God,” I said, trying to muster the courage I needed to do this. “I will share my husband (yes, I was fourteen!), but only if it will help my grandma to have someone to be sealed to.” And that was that. I had accepted the principle of plural marriage. It felt good. Just like the early saints, I had passed the test. I had proven faithful. Thinking back on that fourteen-year-old girl that I was, I can’t imagine any scenario in which loving Heavenly Parents would be okay with a thirty-eight-year old asking such a young, innocent girl to marry him. The legality of it makes no difference to me because man’s laws are not God’s laws.  I believe God’s laws are meant to protect us.

A decade later I was no longer an innocent fourteen-year-old girl as I searched for a greater understanding of plural marriage in the early days of the church. I learned about Joseph’s deceitfulness to his wife, the secrecies, denials, lies, coercion of young girls, and the rejection of those who didn’t comply. I was no longer a naïve girl who wanted to be faithful at any cost to myself, but I still wanted the church to come off victorious. I wanted to believe that God had commanded plural marriage and that Joseph Smith had acted in secrecy only because people wouldn’t understand that this came from God.

But one major thing had changed in my life by this point. My understanding of God had expanded. I now believed in a God who loved beyond anything I had ever imagined as a fourteen-year-old girl. I no longer believed in a God who asked His children to commit immoral acts like cheating on a spouse or killing a son in order to test their faithfulness to Him. I believed in Heavenly Parents who love far beyond the love I have even for my own children. If I would not tease my own children in such a horrendous manner just to be sure that they are true and faithful to me, why would loving Heavenly Parents do that to us?

This new understanding of God left me with two choices. I could continue to believe in a God who would ask His prophet to lie and cheat on his wife, coerce young girls more than half his age to marry him, and to set up a system that would cause immense pain for women whom this same God calls His daughters, or I could accept that Joseph was mistaken. This was not the God I believed in anymore, so I had to accept that Joseph was wrong. That doesn’t mean that I can’t be gentle and forgiving toward a man with very human weaknesses. I still love and respect him as a man with a vision to build the kingdom of God! I can even accept that he caused himself to believe that polygamy was part of that. Perception can change much easier than we tend to think, especially if it can ease a sense of guilt or sorrow that we are feeling. My perception had also allowed me at one time to fit polygamy into my understanding of the kingdom of God in order to ease the pain of being one of the unfaithful ones.

Since I have discarded polygamy from my understanding of what the kingdom of God looks like, I have discovered a more loving peaceful kingdom to dwell in. It is a place where young girls are no longer victims of Joseph’s possibly well-intentioned, yet ill-fated marriage construct. It is a place where my daughters will not have to live with the agony of thinking that they might need to share their husbands for eternity, while fearing that their own feelings make them unfaithful. It is a place where God the Mother and God the Father love all their children equally, and They would never command a man to hurt their daughters in any way or for any reason. It is a place where our Heavenly Parents do not see our disdain for the practice of plural marriage as unfaithfulness to them. They are proud of us for speaking up about our feelings

I realize that it is hard to bring Joseph down to the level of a man with natural weaknesses when we have revered and deified him for so long. It is especially hard under scrutiny from the rest of the world. They can’t possibly understand what this means for us as Mormons.  Our church is experiencing growing pains. I know personally how this painful process is going to feel for us because I have gone through it in my own faith over the last few years. But there is so much beauty and goodness on the other side of this.

My hope would be that Joseph himself has already repented of his own sins in regards to plural marriage. Why can’t we also repent of it as a church? Why can’t we stop allowing young girls to be his victims? Why can’t we say Joseph was wrong, we have made progress since then, and now we know better? If we could accept Joseph as a man with sexual appetites and imperfect understandings of God’s ways, then our understanding of a more perfect, loving God can expand. But if we continue to accept that Joseph’s claims of plural marriage came from God, then I’m afraid the God we believe in is limited in His ability to love, to parent wisely, and to give moral directives that will help us to be happy. What will we claim in the next chapter of Mormonism, a limited prophet or a limited God?

 

What was your experience trying to understand and relate plural marriage to your life?  How do you feel about it now?

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Church Ends Discriminatory Employment Practice: How Mormon Feminists Made a Difference

The New York Times invited Mormon women to post their feedback about the status of women in the LDS Church in April 2014.  We are still waiting for Mormon church leaders to show equal interest in the feedback of Mormon women as the Times.

The New York Times invited Mormon women to post their feedback about the status of women in the LDS Church in March 2014. Do Mormon church leaders show as much interest in the feedback of Mormon women as the Times?

The Church announced yesterday that it will no longer refuse to hire women with children under 18 or fire female seminary and institute teachers when they become mothers. “This change makes it possible for families to decide what best meets their needs as it relates to mothers working while raising children,” said the announcement. Reference A

Amen to that.

I am thrilled about this change because it will make a real difference in Mormon lives (unlike renaming Women’s Meeting to Women’s Session, which is a nominal change only, especially considering that men will continue to preside and give the keynote speech at the women’s session). I look forward to a future with more  female scriptorian role models for our youth. Even for women without children, the knowledge  that they would be fired if they ever had children was a big deterrent from seeking a seminary or institute job.  It was also an obstacle preventing local managers from hiring women, even without children; who wants to hire someone they would most likely have to fire later? As a parent, I am relieved that I will not have to make a difficult decision to either enroll my children in a program that blatantly discriminates against female employees or forego the benefits of seminary instruction for my children. And as I mentioned in a recent Exponent post, the discriminatory seminary and institute policy was actually undermining teachings by current apostles who encourage more friendly attitudes toward working mothers. Reference B

In December 2011, I posted here at the Exponent about some life events that had helped me realize that I needed to seek gender equality within the Mormon faith, including how I learned about the church’s policy banning mothers with minor children from employment as seminary teachers.

Insignificant Events That Make A Mormon Feminist | The Exponent, December 2011

In the online conversation surrounding the post, I noticed that people who defended the church’s seminary program did not argue that firing women for having children was okay; they said that the Church has no such policy.  It occurred to me that even more traditional church members would disapprove of this policy if they were made aware that it really exists.

I searched the Internet for documentation of the policy and found nothing.

Finally, I called my local Seminary and Institute Preservice Training Office and asked about the policy. They confirmed it, clarified it (although the clarification did not make it sound any less reprehensible) and admitted that they intentionally avoided disclosing the policy publicly. I suspect that they preferred to hide the policy because its discriminatory nature would bother church members and the general public. I documented the conversation, posted it here at the Exponent, and at last, the policy was available for others to read.  I hoped that shining a light on the policy would lead to change.

LDS Church Educational System Employment Policies For Mothers | The Exponent, January 2012

There was a strong reaction to the posted interview. A healthy debate ensued about how to change the policy. In April 2012, a major media outlet

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Young Women Lesson: How can I help my less-active friends return to church?

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We need not only love each other more but love each other better Bonnie OscarsonIntroduce the doctrine

Sometimes, when members of the church don’t keep all of the commandments, don’t have strong testimonies, or simply disagree with other members or don’t fit in, other church members chastise them with dismissive comments like, “Why don’t you just leave?” Reference A What is the problem with saying something like this?

Learn together

Ask the Young Women to read this excerpt from Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk “Come, Join with Us.”

There Is Room for You

To those who have separated themselves from the Church, I say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here.

Come and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result.

Some might ask, “But what about my doubts?”

It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true.7

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.8 We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some might say, “I just don’t fit in with you people in the Church.”

If you could see into our hearts, you would probably find that you fit in better than you suppose. You might be surprised to find that we have yearnings and struggles and hopes similar to yours. Your background or upbringing might seem different from what you perceive in many Latter-day Saints, but that could be a blessing. Brothers and sisters, dear friends, we need your unique talents and perspectives. The diversity of persons and peoples all around the globe is a strength of this Church.

Some might say, “I don’t think I could live up to your standards.”

All the more reason to come! The Church is designed to nourish the imperfect, the struggling, and the exhausted. It is filled with people who desire with all their heart to keep the commandments, even if they haven’t mastered them yet.

Some might say, “I know a member of your Church who is a hypocrite. I could never join a church that had someone like him as a member.”

If you define hypocrite as someone who fails to live up perfectly to what he or she believes, then we are all hypocrites. None of us is quite as Christlike as we know we should be. But we earnestly desire to overcome our faults and the tendency to sin. With our heart and soul we yearn to become better with the help of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

If these are your desires, then regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!

-Dieter F Uchtdorf Reference B

How does President Uchtdorf’s attitude differ from those who would tell someone to “just leave”? What can we do to make room for everyone in our church?

Watch the video, The Other Prodigal Son.

How can we overcome barriers that prevent us from loving and welcoming others?

Ask the Young Women to read these words by Young Women General President Bonnie L. Oscarson.

If there are barriers, it is because we ourselves have created them. We must stop concentrating on our differences and look for what we have in common; then we can begin to realize our greatest potential and achieve the greatest good in this world. Sister Marjorie P. Hinckley once said, “Oh, how we need each other. Those of us who are old need you who are young. And, hopefully, you who are young need some of us who are old. It is a sociological fact that women need women. We need deep and satisfying and loyal friendships with each other.” Sister Hinckley was right; oh, how we need each other! …As we look beyond our differences in age, culture, and circumstance to nurture and serve one another, we will be filled with the pure love of Christ and the inspiration which leads us to know when and whom to serve.

I extend to you an invitation that was issued once before by a Relief Society general president who said, “I invite you to not only love each other more but love each other better.” May we realize just how much we need each other, and may we all love one another better, is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. -Bonnie L. Oscarson Reference C

Why do we need all members of the church? How can we love each other better?

Live what we are learning

As a class, choose 3-5 class guidelines for making Young Women a safe and welcoming place for everyone. Keep in mind that the behavior of class members outside of the classroom may be just as important as the classroom environment; bullying, cliquishness, judgmental comments and other negative behaviors by church members outside the classroom may create barriers to church attendance for others. Post these guidelines in the classroom and review them periodically to evaluate progress.

Leçon des Jeunes Filles : Comment aider mes amis moins actifs à revenir à l’Eglise ?

Présenter la doctrine

Parfois, quand des membres de l’Eglise ne gardent pas tous les commandements, n’ont pas un témoignage fort, ou ne font pas partie du groupe, d’autres membres les châtient avec des commentaires comme, « Pourquoi tu ne quittes pas l’Eglise ? » Quel est le problème avec ce genre de commentaire ?

Apprendre ensemble

Demander à une Jeune Fille de lire cet extrait d’un discours de Président Uchtdorf.

Il y a de la place pour vous

« À vous qui vous êtes détachés de l’Église, je dis, mes chers amis, qu’il y a encore une place ici pour vous.

Venez ajouter vos talents, vos dons et votre énergie aux nôtres. Ainsi, nous deviendrons tous meilleurs.

Certains pourraient se demander : « Mais en ce qui concerne mes doutes ? »

Il est normal de se poser des questions. Souvent, la graine de la recherche honnête germe et se développe jusqu’à devenir un grand chêne de connaissance. Il y a peu de membres de l’Église qui, à un moment ou à un autre, ne se sont pas débattus avec des questions graves et épineuses. Un des objectifs de l’Église est de nourrir et de cultiver la graine de la foi, même, quelquefois, dans les terrains sablonneux du doute et de l’incertitude. La foi, c’est espérer en des choses qui ne sont pas vues, mais qui sont vraies.

C’est pourquoi, je vous en prie, mes chers frères et sœurs, mes chers amis, doutez de vos doutes avant de douter de votre foi8. Nous ne devons jamais permettre au doute de nous garder prisonniers et de nous tenir éloignés de l’amour, de la paix et des dons de Dieu qui sont accordés par la foi au Seigneur Jésus-Christ.

Certains pourraient dire : « Je ne suis pas à ma place parmi les gens de l’Église. »

Si vous pouviez voir en notre cœur, vous trouveriez probablement que vous avez plus votre place avec nous que nous ne le supposez. Vous pourriez être surpris de trouver que nous avons des aspirations profondes, des problèmes et des espoirs qui ressemblent aux vôtres. Votre passé ou votre éducation peuvent sembler différents de ce que vous percevez chez beaucoup de saints des derniers jours, mais cela pourrait être une bénédiction. Frères et sœurs, chers amis, nous avons besoin de vos talents et de votre point de vue uniques. La diversité des personnes et des gens dans le monde entier est une force pour l’Église.

Certains pourraient dire : « Je ne pense pas pouvoir vivre à la hauteur de vos principes. »

Raison de plus pour venir ! L’Église est conçue pour nourrir les personnes imparfaites, qui ont des difficultés et celles qui sont épuisées. Elle est remplie de gens qui désirent de tout leur cœur respecter les commandements, même s’ils n’ont pas encore maîtrisé leur application.

Certains pourraient dire : « Je connais un membre de votre Église qui est hypocrite. Je ne pourrais jamais adhérer à une Église qui a quelqu’un comme lui en son sein. »

Nous sommes tous des hypocrites si vous définissez l’hypocrite comme quelqu’un qui ne réussit pas à vivre parfaitement ce qu’il croit. Nul parmi nous n’est tout à fait semblable au Christ comme nous savons que nous devrions être. Mais nous aspirons sincèrement à surmonter nos fautes et le désir de pécher qui est en nous. De tout notre cœur et de toute notre âme, nous aspirons à devenir meilleurs avec l’aide de l’expiation de Jésus-Christ.

Si c’est ce que vous désirez, alors, quelles que soient votre situation, votre histoire personnelle ou la force de votre témoignage, il y a de la place pour vous dans l’Église. Venez nous rejoindre ! »    -Dieter F Uchtdorf

Comment cette attitude est-elle différente de celle de ceux qui diraient à quelqu’un de partir ? Que pouvons-nous faire pour faire de la place pour tout le monde dans notre Eglise ?

Regarder la vidéo, The Other Prodigal Son.

Comment pouvons-nous surmonter les barrières qui nous empêchent d’aimer et d’accueillir les autres?

Demander aux Jeunes Filles de lire cette citation de la Président Générale des Jeunes Filles, Bonnie L. Oscarson.

« S’il y a des barrières, c’est parce que nous les y avons mises. Nous devons arrêter de nous concentrer sur nos différences et rechercher ce que nous avons en commun. Alors nous pourrons commencer à prendre conscience de notre immense potentiel et accomplir le plus grand bien dans ce monde. Marjorie P. Hinckley a dit un jour : ‘Comme nous avons besoin les unes des autres !’ … Dépassant nos différences d’âge, de culture et de situation pour prendre soin les unes des autres et nous servir mutuellement, nous sommes remplies de l’amour pur du Christ et de l’inspiration qui nous conduit à savoir quand et qui servir.

Je vous lance l’invitation qui a été lancée auparavant par une présidente générale de la Société de Secours : « Je vous invite non seulement à vous aimer les unes les autres, mais également à le faire mieux. » Puissions-nous mesurer à quel point nous avons besoin les unes des autres et puissions-nous mieux nous aimer. C’est là ma prière, au nom de Jésus-Christ. Amen. » -Bonnie L. Oscarson

Pourquoi avons-nous besoin de tous les membres de l’Eglise ? Comment pouvons-nous mieux nous aimer les uns les autres ?

Vivre ce que nous apprenons

Choisir ensemble 3 à 5 recommandations pour rendre votre classe de Jeunes Filles plus accueillante. Garder en tête que le comportement des Jeunes Filles en dehors de la classe peut être aussi important que celui en classe. Des commentaires méchants, des jugements et des clans peuvent créer des barrières à l’assistance à l’Eglise pour certaines personnes. Accrocher ces recommandations dans la salle de classe et les revoir régulièrement.

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If you’re not part of the solution…

imagesForeign policy analyst and academic Anne-Marie Slaughter made the decision to turn down a high level government position in 2011.  Her decision inspired her to write a widely-read article in The Atlantic called “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”  A year later she gave a TED Talk in which she argues that caring for family members is a human problem, not a women’s problem.  She says when people who work for her take time to attend to urgent family problems the work still gets done, and gets done better than if they were made to stay at work at the expense of their families.  She says breadwinning and caregiving are both necessary for proper nurturing of human life, and notes that while American culture has given women permission to do both, it remains for men to be allowed as much freedom of choice. She also talks about the barriers to gender equality and the costs of that inequality, asking:

“If breadwinning and caregiving are really equal then why shouldn’t a government invest as much in an infrastructure of care as the foundation of a healthy society as it invests in physical infrastructure as the backbone of a successful economy?”

Why, indeed.  It’s because of the deep and pervasive belief that caregiving is the problem of women.  While that belief is very old and people of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds ascribe to it, I’m calling out Mormonism as contributing to the problem of undervaluing caregiving when it should be part of the solution.  But before I go further, what does Slaughter mean by an “infrastructure of care?”  She doesn’t spell that out in her TED talk, but I think things like paid maternity/paternity leave, family tax credits, subsidized preschool, and health care for children are all under that umbrella.

Why is Mormonism part of the problem?  Because it explicitly states that caregiving is the purview women:

“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” [1]

Why should Mormonism be part of the solution?  Because it also explicitly says that both breadwinning and caregiving are very important.  Our leaders take pains to say women and men are equal (but usually with the caveat about different roles).[2]  Fathers and mothers are “equal partners.”[1]  This is a foundation on which to build an argument for a better infrastructure of caregiving.  But it turns out that the majority of American Mormons are economic and political conservatives who tend not to favor policies and programs that support caregiving.  Why is it that American Mormons so consistently privilege the well-being of businesses in their politics?  Why are infrastructures of care dismissed as too costly, or too intrusive to the private lives of families?  Why are people who use social services condemned as leeches?

I think the answer lies in the very real costs that come from siloing women and men into roles determined by gender.  Those costs include the personal happiness of women who may feel trapped by the daily grind of caregiving or men who may feel equally trapped by the thought of being chained to the corporate gallows.  But there are economic and social costs as well.  And if caregiving is forever the personal problem of women, then why would governments, corporations, or other institutions support infrastructures of care?  They wouldn’t.  And in the United States, where the that belief is quite common, they really don’t.  There is no mandatory paid maternity or paternity leave in the U.S. and relatively small tax credits for having children [3].  For example, compare the U.S. where the Child Tax Credit is $1000 per child per year to Australia, where an ordinary family would be eligible for about four times that amount, and paid maternity leave is mandatory [4].  In addition, there is virtually no help for people getting back into the work force after taking time off to care for children and there is no Social Security for the unpaid work of caregiving.  There is very little social support for men who opt into a primary role of caregiver.  It’s still the case that for men who fail in the home, other successes more than compensate, and the reverse is not true.[5]

But Mormonism has the theological foundation to counter that worldly idolization of the bottom line.  Mormons see children as “an heritage of the Lord.”[6]  “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness.”[1]  “Families Can be Together Forever.”[7]  And “The Family is of God.”[8]  Mormons practically make an idol of the nuclear family, but in making nurturing the primary responsibility for women (but not for men) the Church contributes to the social problem of forever privileging breadwinning over the other needs of families.  There is just no way to gather the political will to seriously support infrastructures of care if the problem of caregiving is forever the personal problem of women.

If political expediency, even for a cause as worthy as helping families, were the only reason for doing away with siloed gender roles in Mormonism, then I would not support it.  But, as I’ve argued elsewhere,[9] nothing in Mormon theology adds up to women and men possessing separate but equal spiritual attributes that would necessitate them being in forever separate-but-equal roles.  In fact just the opposite.  Both men and women strive to acquire, through the grace of God, attributes that are godly and indistinguishable between genders.

Mormonism rightly understands caregiving to be at least as important to the human condition as breadwinning.  It could become a small but important part of the solution to intractable gender inequality in the world if the Church made these few revisions:

By divine design, parents are responsible to raise their children in love and righteousness, to nurture them, and to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.  In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

Of course, undervaluing caregiving was a problem before The Proclamation was written, and eradicating separate-but-equal gender roles from the Church wouldn’t suddenly make the U.S. a world leader in support for caregiving.  But shouldn’t the Church show moral leadership wherever it can?  By teaching that women are primarily responsible for nurturing the Church puts the problem of caregiving primarily on women’s shoulders.  If it were seen as a human problem rather than a women’s problem I think we’d start to see more support for caregiving overall, which would be to the benefit of everyone and be more consistent with true principles of gender equality.

 

[1] The Family: A Proclamation to the World
[2] “Men and women are equal in God’s eyes and in the eyes of the Church, but equal does not mean that they are the same. Although responsibilities and divine gifts of men and women differ in their nature, they do not differ in their importance or influence.” Melvin J. Ballard at BYU Education Week, August 20, 2013.
[3] That’s only a meaningful comparison in context of the overall tax rate, so I compared countries that have tax rates that are roughly the same as the US: Australia, Germany, Japan, Canada, China, and South Africa.  In all cases family tax credits are income-tested.
Here are approximate tax credits for those countries:
US - Child Tax Credit of $1000 per child per year
Australia – Family Tax Benefit estimated about $4,000 per child per year.  It’s a complicated calculation.
Japan – Kodomo Teate Law estimated about $2,700 per child per year
Germany – Kindergeld, averaging about $3,000 per child per year
Canada
– Canada Child Tax Benefit estimated about $2,700 per child per year.  It’s a complicated calculation.
South Africa - No family tax credit
China - No family tax credit
[4] Quimby Masters kindly provided me with a detailed explanation of the Australian Family Tax Law.  Taking an example of a school teacher’s family with an income of $66,000 AUD per year, if that family had five children ranging in age from 5 to 15 they would receive $26,832 per year in family tax credits, bringing their actual income to $92,832, of which they would not be taxed on $26,832 of it.  In addition, every employed woman is entitled to 6 months paid maternity leave, paid at minimum wage.  Individual employers may add to this.  All women are also entitled to 12 months off work, with the guarantee that they will get their job or an equivalent back if they return to work at the end of 12 months.
[5] “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”  David O. McKay.
[6] Psalms 127:3 
[7] Families Can Be Together Forever 
[8] The Family is of God
[9] I wrote about this in “The Attributes of God Point to an Egalitarian Priesthood,” Exponent II, Vol. 33 No. 4 (Spring 2014).

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True, Kind, Necessary? Rules for Speaking

true

Growing up, my sister and I drove my mom crazy for lots of reasons. One of her peeves is that while she taught countless YW and RS lessons, the only thing Angela and I seem to remember is her formula for deciding whether to hold one’s tongue. We came home from church and sat in the kitchen arguing for ages about whether the adage, “Before you speak ask yourself, is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?” was a good rule. Mom was adamant that unless words could pass this triple test, they were best kept to oneself. Angela and I made a case for a two out of three and 30 some years later, it stills feels right. Here is our argument.

I. True & Kind: This is an easy category. Someone does something well. Tell them. There’s a man in my ward that I adore. He does what I call the “insta-thank you.” If a sacrament talk moves him, he whips a note card out of his briefcase and immediately expresses in lovely specifics how your words affected him. Before you make it to the foyer he hands it to you. Sometimes he waits a day and mails it. Let’s be clear. This is NOT necessary but true and kind. It was so meaningful to my husband that he has taken up the practice and has sent kind notes to hotel staff and new deacons and members of the activities committee. I am often amazed at how hungry people are for genuine compliments.

II. Kind & Necessary: This one’s tricky. While I value honesty, there are times when I think other things trump the truth. As a parent you learn this lesson early and often. When a budding chef ventures into the kitchen and makes something they are so proud of, honesty is not your friend. My littlest discovered a few years ago that dandelions were edible so she filled a bowl with them and covered it in ranch dressing and served them to us for dinner. It was Hidden Valley lawn clippings soup. I gagged it down. But seeing the potential over the truth is kind and necessary for growth. And not just for novice chefs or violin players. I have been the recipient of words crafted to validate me when I have been fragile and finding my way. I’m not saying we should blow sunshine up each other’s wahoos 24/7. Ultimately that is NOT kind.  The art is in knowing when it is necessary to bless someone with the most positive version of a situation. The truth can be a sword and should be wielded with caution.

III. Necessary & True: This category can be hardest for me. In Meyers-Briggs speak I am an ENFP. The letter in the third position represents your decision making function. Feelers (F) like me are prone to privileging people’s feeling when faced with decisions while Thinkers (T) put more weight on impersonal facts and principles. When I have to tell someone something that is hard to hear, I need to be sure it’s important they hear it or essential I say it (unless I’m mad at them then all bets are off). As a Mormon woman, this is extra tricky because we are by very definition meant to be kind and nurturing and I find I am not well received when I enter into waters that are neither warm nor fuzzy. I’ve ticked off some of my leaders over the years when I’ve decided to share things I find true and necessary. And I’m not going to deny that the repercussions haven’t stung and made me more cautious. Recently I attended a meeting where the counsel given to the women in attendance felt not only out of touch but potentially harmful. And I said nothing. I justified that I stayed silent not out of fear but futility. I felt like it wouldn’t do any good. Any words of dissent would have been ignored by the speaker. I also rationalized that maybe her words were true for some. Yet I’m a little ashamed of that now. Because the other women in that room who were frustrated might have benefited from knowing they were not alone. I have been so relieved to have others speak up and share alternate viewpoints that either validated mine or allowed me to consider new perspectives. I see now that ultimately my silence was neither true, nor necessary, nor kind.

Despite what my mother thinks, I weigh my words carefully, trying to balance the needs of the individual with what is expedient and what is essential. Because I recognize that words are powerful and can harm as well as heal. But I also know that we can just as easily wound others with our silence.

How do you decide when to speak up and when to stay silent? Is honesty always the best policy? Have you sacrificed honesty for politeness? Do feminists have an added obligation to speak their truth?

 

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On Welcoming.

Welcoming

A few years ago, my friend called me up and told me about the beautiful testimony meeting she had just experienced, that left her feeling the spirit more strongly than ever before. The one detail I remember now is that a lesbian sister spoke from her pain and her faith. I was surprised to discover later that the same meeting that meant so much to my friend, caused other members to walk out of the chapel, audibly voicing their distaste. I thought of these things again after a somewhat unfortunate series of events re-demonstrated that words that may be a balm for some may be a source of discomfort, fear, or anger for others. It has made me wonder if this will always be the case, and how a real unity–allowing for real differences–may be developed. It also made me remember something that I wrote here before, about belonging.

In that previous post, I wrote about a friend who was confident of God’s love, but didn’t quite feel like she belonged in her ward, because she was over a certain age, with a PhD, but without a husband or child. I wrote too, about another dear person to me, who had a husband and many children, but similarly felt the not-belonging feelings because she was older than many in her ward. And then I wrote about me, and how I have felt the feeling before, too, including during the period when I biked to church alone, and didn’t know who I would sit by, because my husband was in another state, with a relative who was not well. In my own instance, a dear women literally made room for me by scooting over, and inviting me to sit with her family. I felt the welcome.

So when I was recently asked to speak to the women in my ward about fellowshipping, I wanted to speak to all of these things. There are a myriad of reasons why someone might not feel like they belong. One of them is that they may feel like their truest thoughts and feelings don’t belong. It is why I was so grateful for President Uchtdorf’s remarks in his talk, “Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth” at this last General Conference.

The printed version includes the subject heading “There Is No Litmus Test.”

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