“They just don’t understand”

A few weeks ago as I sat in a lesson in Relief Society, the phrase, “they just don’t understand the Gospel…” was muttered. At first, I really bristled at this trope. It seemed to be a way to suggest that the speaker was somehow superior to others who do not agree with her conclusions. But as time has passed, I’ve reflected much on this statement. For a long time, I fought it. I wished to cry, “no, no, no! I DO understand!” but the reality is that they are correct. I don’t understand.

I do not understand how gender roles are so central to the Gospel when I always thought the Gospel was the good news that Christ died for my sins, that He was resurrected, and that through Him, I may live again.

I do not understand a Gospel that tells me that my greatest calling is to become a wife and mother when I remembered Jesus telling the woman in the crowd that it is not motherhood, but hearing and obeying the word of Christ, that makes me blessed (Luke 11: 27-28).

I do not understand a Gospel that tells me the greatest use for my time and talents is in the home when it was Jesus who taught me the greater part was to hear his word and to sit as his feet in preparation to teach it to others (Luke 10: 42).

I do not understand a Gospel where I’m told that my role is separate but equal from a man’s when the scriptures teach me there is no male or female in the Lord (Galatians 3:28; 2 Nephi 26:33).

I do not understand a Gospel that was first proclaimed by a woman chosen to act as the witness to the resurrection, when 2,000 years later, I am unable to witness the baptism of a mortal in His name.

I do not understand a Gospel that tells me that my uterus defines my role with God when I was always believed God looked upon the heart, the same organ that beats in men and women alike (1 Samuel 16:7)

I do not understand a Gospel that teaches me I cannot approach God in my own right but only through my husband whom I hearken and obey.

I do not understand a Gospel that claims to follow Jesus’s teaching to leave the 99 to go after the one and then excommunicates the one, casting her out of the fold all together, after refusing to even have a conversation.

I do not understand a Gospel that teaches the importance of two-parent families, that we have loving Heavenly Parents, and then denies their daughters and sons access to the Mother.

I do not understand a Gospel that teaches me to come to know truth “by study and also by faith,” but then treats me as a cancer when I study the more troubling and difficult aspects of our faith and history and am, unsurprisingly, troubled by them.

I do not understand a Gospel that teaches that God’s ways are higher than our ways, but then practices tribalism and exclusivism in relation to truth claims and upholding the status quo, which is certainly a practice of the “natural man.”

But more than all of that, I do not understand how it’s difficult to see how in spite of all of this, I could not understand.

Read More

Guest Post: Bald. Bald as a Billiard Ball

What's a Girl Good For_ (2)

by Emily Holsinger Butler

What is a Girl Good For?

Nice question. I wonder who was asking it back in 1968, which was, incidentally, the year I was born. Answer: everyone was asking that question. In that decade, charged as it was with the high drama of sexual revolution, the Church missed few opportunities to address the issue of what part a woman should play. However, this is the freest, frankest, most unvarnished attempt to delineate a girl’s role I’ve ever come across. It’s just so very bald. Bald as a billiard ball. And from the candy cane stripes to the nursery rhyme title, it’s a message tailored to the youthiest youth in Zion. I’ll leave it to you to read the text, but essentially it goes like this:

Girl: “What should I do with my life?

Church: “You’re not a boy!”

Girl: “Sure, I hear what you’re saying. But what’s life all about? Why am I here?”

Church: “You do not have the priesthood!”

Girl: “Right, I get that. But what I’m asking is, what’s my place in the world? How should I act?”


Girl: “Okay. Anything else?”

Church: “Um, mature in the sweet spirit of waiting upon others.”

Girl: “You mean like Cinderella?”

Church: “Yes. Precisely. Like Cinderella. Now go, and do not ask to see me again until you have done your task.”

That last part is a tiny joke–it’s a line from the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. And as we know, Dorothy had some work to do before she realized that the enormous (bald) Head was just an illusion.

Emily Holsinger Butler is a hausfrau living in Utah with delusions of grandeur & survival, a writer of books, a hoper of all things and a believer in several of them.

Read More

On Mental Illness, Revisited.

RobinThe world lost a great man yesterday, to an illness that is great in its scope and power. I am acquainted with that illness and some of the frightening thoughts that come, though I am less acquainted with what makes some persons suffering from those thoughts act on them so completely.

My very first Exponent post was on the differences between mental and physical illness. I feel impressed to share it again, here, with a few additions and thoughts. Near the end of the original piece, I mentioned mostly being better and feeling better, but that there were still moments. There were and are. I am very bravely and very vulnerably going to be honest about them here, because I believe in the power of honesty, and in the power of bringing dark things to light.

Read More

Blessed Be the Mentors


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

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

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

Read More

Poetry Sundays: Who The Meek Are Not



Mary Karr, Sinners Welcome

Who The Meek Are Not

By Mary Karr

          Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent
under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep
          in the rice-paddy muck,
nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles
          make the wheat fall in waves
they don’t get to eat. My friend the Franciscan
          nun says we misread 
that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them. 
          To understand the meek 
(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop
          in a meadow, who—
at his master’s voice—seizes up to a stunned
          but instant halt. 
So with the strain of holding that great power
          in check, the muscles 
along the arched neck keep eddying,
          and only the velvet ears
prick forward, awaiting the next order. 



Among my favorite religious poems, Who the Meek Are Not, has stayed with me since I first read it. It is one a few jewels I pull from a treasure box of inspirational writing when I become confused or wonder if my particular variety of discipleship is worthy of God’s grace.

I understand this version of meekness, the ears pricked forward, the sudden awareness of a call, the subsequent redirection of energy. Meekness can be a quiet yet powerful force running through our veins. Mary Karr and her Franciscan nun gave me permission to be a strong, courageous, vocal woman who is a humble servant of Christ. My agency–the power to choose, and to have an effect on the world–is only as useful as my willingness to surrender that power to God, to seek his will. I pray for strength and meekness every day.

How do you feel about meekness? What does this poem say to you? 

Read More

Young Women Lesson: How can I be in the world but not of the world?

Kathy is a writer living with her family in Phoenix, Arizona.


Photo Credit: MartinaK15 Flikr

Photo Credit: MartinaK15 Flikr

1. “We should be in the world but not of the world.” The lesson suggests asking the young women if they’ve ever heard this phrase and what it means to them.  Because I’ve heard this phrase used so often in non-constructive ways at church, I would take the time to define and discuss specific words in it (below) before asking the young women their perspective on the entire phrase.  By getting their input on individual words, I would try to build a class definition in a concrete, constructive way.

2. The lesson also suggests showing “Dare to Stand Alone,” the video of a story by Thomas S. Monson.  The story itself is nice (President Monson standing alone as a Mormon in the Navy and then realizing he wasn’t alone). But I personally wouldn’t show the video — partly to avoid  starting the lesson with the possible message that Mormons are the only good people in the world, and mostly to avoid the vignette of the teenage girl looking disdainfully at friends who suggest she wear a sleeveless dress, which I feel could derail the deeper possibilities in this lesson.



“We should be in the world, but not of the world.” Throughout my years in the church, I’ve heard this phrase so many times. Discussing it at church is challenging for me because most (but not all) class discussions about it tend toward the antagonistic, the self-righteous, or the vague.

I would take the time needed to clarify what I personally see in the phrase, as well as invite the young women’s input and insight.

Defining In & Of

  • In: reference to a place where you are located
  • Of: indicating origin, source, also denotes ownership or composition; expressing the relationship between the part and the whole.

In is pretty clear.  It’s a location, as in: We are in this world.

But of is a little less obvious at first glance.  How do you not be “of” the world? The word’s main definitions express origin or permanently belonging to in some way: “the daughter of Sister and Brother _____.” “the plays of Shakespeare,” or “the sleeve of her dress. . .”

Read More

Virtual Oases

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

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

Discuss your observations and thoughts in the comments!

Read More