Are we living up to Christ’s example of justice for women?

Are we living up to Christ’s example of justice for women?

By Danielle Mooney

Danielle has lived in Boston since graduating from Wellesley College. She loves her husband, her dog, and soft serve ice cream cones.


Within the Gospels, we find stories about the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth that the authors compiled and composed for their particular early Christian communities. The Gospels function as communal faith-statements and each scene and saying they recount are part of the author’s broader theological message about who Jesus was and how we follow him.

As has been true throughout world history, during Christ’s life and the development of Christianity after his death, attitudes about and the treatment of women were overwhelmingly negative. This negativity is absent from the Gospels and that absence underscores the religious importance Jesus attached to equality for women and all other subjugated persons—to the constitutive role of justice in the Gospel.

To understand how truly radical, empowering, and inclusive Jesus’ ministry was, we need to have some understanding of the extent to which women were legally disenfranchised and positioned as socially and religiously inferior to men.

Rabbinic tradition of the time, and for many many years later, dictated that women were not allowed to study the Torah. This was so much looked down on that first century rabbi Eliezer is recorded as saying “Rather should the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman.” Women were discouraged from offering prayers, even in private. The daily prayers of Jewish men included the thanksgiving “praised be God that he has not created me a woman.” Women could not be counted toward the number of people required to form a congregation for communal worship (and unfortunately, this is true in our own church today). Men were advised to “speak not much with a woman,” including their wives, and speaking to a woman in public was undignified, even disreputable, for a rabbi. Women could not bear witness in a court of law. Men could choose to divorce a wife simply by giving her a writ, but women could not divorce their husbands. Common rabbinic sayings included “At the birth of a boy all are joyful, but at the birth of a girl all are sad,” and “When a boy comes into the world, peace comes into the world; when a girl comes, nothing comes.” Clearly, the condition of women was bleak.

And then came Jesus.

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Guest Post: Why I’ll Be Fasting on Mother’s Day

by Aimee

In 1870, in the wake of the United States’ bloody Civil War and the start of the Franco-Prussian war, Julia Ward Howe (American abolitionist, suffragist, pacifist, and author of the well-known “Battle Hymn of the Republic”) penned an “appeal to womanhood” which would later come to be known as the “Mother’s Day Proclamation.” She wrote:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of tears!

Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says “Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice.”

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Sacred Music: How Firm a Foundation

It was a few years ago, when I lived an hour’s drive from the nearest church branch (we joked that it was a “twig”), that I started to download and listen to General Conference. It seemed rather pointless to me to drive for an hour to sit on uncomfortable, cheap chairs in a room with maybe 4 other people to watch the conference that the rest of the world has seen 2-3 weeks earlier. So I began the habit of listening to the talks online as I did dishes, folded clothes or worked otherwise on an almost daily basis.

As an audio learner, this turned out to improve the conference experience for me, and probably for the first time in my life, I really heard the layers of meaning in each of the speakers’ talks. But this experience was not limited to the talks.

aloneThis one morning, I was ridiculously stressed. It really was nothing new. I was undergoing IVF for either the 3rd of 4th time in preparation for a surrogate to hopefully carry my child. IVF itself was no easy task with my complicated medical conditions. And we lived rurally, purposefully so, for the job there would pay enough for us to undergo IVF and surrogacy. So I was preparing for a 2-day, 20-hour drive to the city where I actually undergo the IVF surgery. My surrogate lived even further away, and was having family and fertility problems of her own. On top of that, we needed to arrange for post-IVF transfer of the live embryos to the surrogate, which involved a number of additional governmental bureaucratic authorities that required additional medical test results from all of us.

I was ridiculously stressed. I cried daily, several times a day, often bitterly, sometimes for reasons I still can’t understand. Sometimes I cried tears of joy from General Conference e talks. Other times, I cried uncontrollably because of General Conference talks.

And I felt completely alone.

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A New Kind of Mother’s Day

This last Mother’s Day was new to me. In the past few months, we unexpectedly found ourselves in the lucky position of increasing the numbers in our household, with the end goal/hope/prayer to permanently adopt. It has been a wonderful adventure and my husband and I are absolutely thrilled. Still… I faced Mother’s Day with trepidation. The first time I was wished a Happy Mother’s Day outside of the foisted “future mother” carnation at church, I was a young single adult. It was in a simple, yet beautiful card from a gay friend. He was also Mormon, and a close enough to know that I could never carry a pregnancy. As he recognised that we both had impossible mountains to climb if we were to gain the families we desired, he wished me a Happy Mother’s Day in a beautiful card with a hand-written addition, to the “Mother in embryo”.

Since then, other men, usually men I dated or close friends, including my husband, wished me Happy Mother’s Days. Most often, children I know—nieces, nephews, Sunday school children who all know I do not have the worldly status of “mother” have always wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. Dear, beautiful, precious close female friends also have wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. I’ve loved this and always felt that was… well… normal. So, when we first married, my husband and I made the choice to celebrate our pre-eternal selves. With this, we have always given each other gifts and celebrated each other for Father’s and Mother’s Days.

This always seemed quite normal to me, until one May when I went Visiting Teaching.

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Mother’s Day Wars

leith graffiti 7 There is probably not a holiday more volatile for Mormon women than Mother’s Day. While some love the talks and chocolates and pansies, some haven’t been to church on Mother’s Day for years.

There are many reasons why one would like Mother’s Day to be skipped over at church. First, Mother’s Day is a secular holiday and the devotion of a worship service to a cultural holiday is yet another specter of American culture creeping into the “gospel.” Second, the veneration and idolization of mothers hurts a myriad of people: women who want to be mothers but aren’t, women who have no desire to be a mother, women who struggle in their motherhood or feel trapped in it, women who have lost a child, people whose mothers were abusive or absent, people who live in families without a person in the role of “mother.” The talks end up speaking to a minority group in the congregation while the rest shift uncomfortably in their seats, eyeing the obligatory chocolates, ready to bolt at “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

On the other hand, Mother’s Day is the one day that almost every talk is focused on women, or at least mentions women. It is entirely possible that for 51 Sundays in the year, every scripture will reference a man, every quote will come from a man, every life story and testimony will be about a boy or man coming of age and what he’s learned. But on Mother’s Day, there is a spark of hope that a woman’s name would be listed for every talk in the program, that someone will share scriptures and experiences directed at women, that a breath might be given to Heavenly Mother. We are dogs begging crumbs at the Master’s table.

I have been on both sides of this Mother’s Day war. I have spent my Mother’s Days rolling my eyes and sighing as well as hoping for a drop of gold. Is the motherhood rhetoric so drenched in “shoulds” that there’s almost no way to avoid hurting each other with it? Can we resurrect Mother’s Day from of guilt and shame? Or should we take the crumbs and run with them as far as we can? Should we even mention it at all?

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