Exponent II Spring Issue: Women and Priesthood

Exponent II Board Meeting December 2003 L-R back row: Heather Sundahl, Evelyn Harvill, Kimberly Burnett, Emily Clyde Curtis, Aimee Hickman, Michelle Martin Front row: Nancy Dredge, Barbara Taylor, Judy Dushku, Cheryl Howard DiVito, Robin Zenger Baker, Karen Call Haglund)

Exponent II Board Meeting December 2003
L-R back row: Heather Sundahl, Evelyn Harvill, Kimberly Burnett, Emily Clyde Curtis, Aimee Hickman, Michelle Martin
Front row: Nancy Dredge, Barbara Taylor, Judy Dushku, Cheryl Howard DiVito, Robin Zenger Baker, Karen Call Haglund)

In the spring of 2000, when my second child was just a couple months old, I got a call from Nancy Dredge who was taking over as editor for the Exponent II, asking if I’d be an assistant editor. I was flattered and terrified. Exponent II mattered deeply to me—and to thousands of Mormon women. I felt like I was being called as the first counselor to a bishop of an all female ward that knew no boundaries. And I loved serving in that calling for almost a decade: choosing themes for issues, guiding first time essayists through the writing process, and the simple joy of reading women’s stories. Exponent was founded on the idea that women’s stories matter and there should be a forum for sharing their insights and experiences. One challenging aspect of the job is being accused by some of pushing a “feminist agenda” while simultaneously being criticized by others who think Exponent does not agitate enough. But I see that as Exponent’s great strength: we weave together voices and ideas that reflect the truth that there is not a singular path for a Mormon woman. We are not a venue for soloists. We are a choir. As long as you will harmonize with others, your voice is welcome.

And for forty years the women of Exponent have worked very hard to present a variety of voices, often when many were too afraid to speak up. Our current editors, Aimee Hickman and Emily Clyde Curtis, decided to focus an issue on women and priesthood last March, right after the launch of Ordain Women. Little did they realize that the issue would go to the printer the very weekend of Kate Kelly’s church court, when many saints fear the outcome is not just about Kate, but about the very right to ask hard questions. And this issue is Exponent at its best because it asks the hard question: should women be ordained? Obviously not everyone has the same answer. Notice that the cover reads: “Talking Ordination at the Dinner Table: Conversations Between Sisters.” In this issue opinions on women and the priesthood run the gamut from women who support a male only priesthood, to women who feel we already have the priesthood, to women, Kate Kelly and others, who feel ordination is the only path. As Aimee wrote in her editorial, “By sharing their stories and laying claim to their unique perspectives, these authors beautifully demonstrate how we can differ in our point of view without employing divisive rhetoric.”

Very selfishly I am deeply grateful to have the magazine’s publication be so timely. While I am not a part of Ordain Women, I firmly believe that women deserve a seat at the table and that all is not well in Zion. I have held back from conversations with certain parties, not knowing how my ideas would be received, not wanting to be judged and desperately trying NOT to judge what I perceive as the complacency of so many. (Now I am shifting into Exponent Missionary Mode) I know that I will use this issue of Exponent to start conversations and share the complexity of my own intellectual and spiritual wrestlings with some of my family, friends, and those with ecclesiastical authority over me.   I have done so in the past with other issues with surprising results. It is my sincere hope that the collection of voices in this issue will be a balm to those in pain, provide insight for those who want to understand, and keep this essential conversation going in the chapels and homes of the saints. Won’t you join us at the table?

To subscribe for online or print issues, visit http://www.exponentii.org/magazine

 

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Total Game Control

Guest Post by Emily Holsinger Butler

the playahs

A Catholic friend of mine once offered the idea that world religions exist for one single purpose: to control women. “A bit reductive, no?” was my response. But this guy was wicked smart—never flippant, never glib. And his assertion has stayed with me like a compass point. I refer to it whenever “things happen” in our Mormon universe. Who is trying to control whom, I ask.

I’ve been controlled, sure. In fact, I’ve often given courtesy control to people out of sheer politeness—like all those times on my mission when I submitted to a young district leader’s efforts to foist a personal priesthood interview on me. That was how the game was played. If there was a priesthood leader present, a sister would hop out of the driver’s seat and let him commandeer the wheel. “Take ‘er for a spin, Elder! Don’t scratch the paint!”* Results varied. It was usually fine, and sometimes funny.

Controlling women—have I been complicit? Heck yeah. I’ve collaborated. I’m not proud of myself. Holy cow, I’ve been Vichy France with a temple recommend.** Like that Saturday in 1994, at some church basketball tournament. As a very lovely break from law school exertions, I played on our ward’s women’s basketball team, coached to great effect by our Stake President. It was super fun. We made it to some sort of regional event, and drove down to a building in southern Virginia on the appointed day. Men were playing in a separate but equal tournament on the full-sized court. We were playing on a smaller one, and I wasn’t about to look that gift horse in the mouth, believe you me. As the female players gathered together, we were addressed by a priesthood leader who may or may not have also been the referee (I don’t recall). He outlined a few basics of the tourney, and then, in all seriousness, admonished us to dress modestly on court.

Incredulous, I looked at my teammates. We were for the most part women of a certain age, some of a more certain age than others. Our power forward was a professional nurse of repute. Our best shooter, the only one who could almost dunk, was the Stake President’s wife (and mother of many). Then there was me—I was a terrible player, but was equipped with two sports bras (worn simultaneously) and shorts that covered my thighs very adequately. I honestly don’t remember the other women’s names, but do remember their tolerant, almost vacant expressions as the brother went on about the necessity of sleeves and such. Nobody batted an eye. We regarded him with distant benevolence. We permitted him to tell us how to dress.

And so it was that we were unprepared for the vision that was unleashed upon us a few moments after the good brother concluded his remarks. It was then that the men’s teams emerged from their changing area. Unlike us, they had actual uniforms with actual numbers. On the other hand, it was clear that said uniforms had been handed down through generations of Mormon men, languishing in a Stake Center closet between basketball tournaments that began sometime in 1972. Sleeves they had none. Manufactured from some sort of skin-tight polyester fabric, the shorts stopped mere centimeters south of the groin area, which (how to put this) was exceptionally pronounced, if not practically articulated—so clingy they might have been codpieces for all intents and purposes. The men’s teams were composed primarily of middle-aged priesthood holders who (like us) were in it for a good time, and who (like us) could stand to lose a good twenty or thirty or forty pounds. It would have been a tender mercy for me to offer my second sports bra to any number of those players. Yeah. Their costumes left very little to the imagination.

Again I looked at my teammates. Bless them, their faces were frozen in alarm, not at what they were seeing, but at what was about to happen. We removed ourselves at once to a secluded area behind the bleachers, and fell to the floor where we rolled around unleashing howls of laughter. Personally, I laughed so hard I pulled a muscle in my abdomen, which didn’t help my game at all. We laughed until the tears ran. Someone almost choked. It wasn’t pretty.

What did I learn that day? Can’t say, really. But it does occur to me that we have a ways to go in our church before we can say that we love each other more than we love controlling each other.

Play on, sisters.

*It was, in fact, literally the case that sisters did not drive cars in my mission. That privilege was reserved for the missionaries who worked in the mission office. Who, incidentally, were all elders.

**I’m paraphrasing the wonderful Caitlin Moran, here. Email me if you want the original quote, which is pretty salty.

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.

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We Are Putting Our Eggs in the Wrong Basket

In the wake of Kate Kelly’s excommunication a lot has been said about the proper way to do things, the proper way to ask questions, the proper way to advocate for change. As someone who is interested in making changes regarding gender in the Mormon church my ears perk up at these suggestions–I would love to know the most effective way to see progress.

The most concrete suggestion has been to seek for changes on a local level. I don’t think this is a bad idea, there are so many little things that can be done in our local congregations that would make women’s experience in church much better.

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Virtual Oases

(We are resurrecting our popular feature “Virtual Oases,” which Deborah did such a great job with for so many years. Now Violadiva has volunteered to collect the best of the web for Mormon feminists over the last week or two. Please feel free to share your own links to outstanding posts or articles in the comment section below.)

 

Given the recent media avalanche about women’s issues in the LDS church, and the Ordain Women movement in particular, we combed through the coverage and brought you some posts and articles worth reading.
  • An impressive summary of what’s transpired between Kate Kelly, her local leaders, and the Church PR department, with some helpful historical context and tons of imbedded links to follow for more details. He doesn’t mention the statement from the First Presidency, so you may want to check out Peggy’s article for that missing chapter.
  • Peggy Fletcher Stack has written extensively about recent events, and gathered many quotes from the women involved. Here is a piece about what more “Moderate Feminists” want to see happening in the church. And another about other feminists facing church discipline.
  • Rather than speaking through the church PR representatives this time, The First Presidency released a letter about priesthood and apostasy.  And here’s a thought-provoking response from Casey, (with attention to point 4).
  • Three statements we (and our daughters!) can use to challenge sexism and “mansplaining.”
  • Mormon modesty rhetoric gone horribly wrong: college age Mormons and sexual violence. 
  •  Rounding out the list with some excellent alternative literary forms: a poignant parable, a prayer, a poem, and ascreenplay.
Violadiva is an oxymoron, a musician, Suzuki violin teacher, baker of sourdough breads, proud Mormon feminist and mother of two. Browse her late-night blogging tidbits at starvingmusicians.blogspot.com

 

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The Church is Pro-Choice

Note: this post mentions rape, incest, abortion, stillbirth, death of infants, etc. If those topics are going to be triggering, please honor your health and pass on reading.

A few months ago, we were discussing the need for modern-day prophets in Sunday School. One woman raised her hand and said that she was grateful for modern-day revelation because of issues like abortion. I fought my urge to exclaim, “Yes! Isn’t it great that the Church is pro-choice?!” because it would really derail the lesson, so I’m going to say it here.

Isn’t it great that the Church is pro-choice?!

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Visiting Teaching Message July 2014: The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ: Advocate

Visiting Teaching Message July 2014: The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ: Advocate

EstherThe term “advocate,” when used in an LDS context, in my experience, usually means a) Christ is advocating for my forgiveness, because I am an unworthy sinner, and b) social and political advocates are outspoken about good things, but in an unruly and distasteful way, which is unbecoming of a “good Mormon girl.”

 

Neither of this things is really all that positive or inspirational. And yet…. This message isn’t about either of these things. As complicated as it is to be a woman in the church, this message, for the first time in my church life, breathed hope in regard to the term “advocate.”

 

Consider the use of the story of Esther in the From The Scriptures section:

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Relief Society Lesson 15: Eternal Marriage

a mother's love

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français

Introduction:

I would begin this lesson by mentioning that the topic is eternal marriage, and that this can be a difficult (or maybe just uninteresting)  topic for some people who are not currently sealed to a beloved partner. So as we discuss, let’s be sensitive to the fact that many of the people in this room don’t have this right now.

Starter question: In your own experience, or from what you have observed in others, what are the key characteristics of a successful marriage? As they are thinking, tell them a couple of your own insights or stories relating to this question. Personally, I might mention the idea of respecting my spouse’s desires and dreams and doing what I can to support them, as he does for me. That phrase from Marjorie Hinckley comes to mind, as she talked about what kind of husband President Hinckley was: “From the very beginning he gave me space and let me fly.” I think this applies to dreams and desires, and I also think it applies to conscience. My husband and I are not exactly on the same page on certain things ideologically, and after several years I think we are getting better at learning to honor the journey of the other person and allow each other space to follow our consciences. Giving each other this kind of space and respect has been key to the success of our marriage.

Other things people might say: love, kindness, consideration, helpfulness, respect, words of affirmation, quality time together, service, etc. As people mention kindness and consideration, mention that the manual points out how kind JFS was as a husband and how helpful he was. Read a few sentences describing that from the intro section.  Encourage a good discussion on this question – people should enjoy sharing their insights. 

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