Why I am a Mormon Feminist, Part II

Posted by on February 19, 2013 in authority, Changes, feminism, priesthood, women, Women in the Scriptures | 17 comments

I’ve been thinking about revelation a lot lately, largely because we recently had two Sunday School lessons in a row on this topic – one of which I actually got my act together and read the assigned scriptures for because I was preparing to participate in  a Gospel Doctrine podcast.  And I’m realizing that in addition to needing feminism (see Part I), I also need the concept of revelation to help me be a Mormon.  (As an aside, you should check out the wonderful work Jared Anderson is doing to create Gospel Doctrine podcasts as resources for teachers and learners!)

Why do I need revelation?  A friend’s Catholic mother once said, “Who is the Pope to tell me what it means to be Catholic?”  Meaning, the church’s body of doctrine and tradition is bigger than one person, and she felt free to claim Catholicism on her own terms.  And I say, “What is patriarchy to tell me what it means to be Mormon?”  In some sense if I leave the Church just because it is patriarchal, I’m allowing sexist tradition to separate me from a religion that I would otherwise choose to affiliate myself with.  Patriarchy already puts enough constraints on the spiritual lives of women; I don’t want to let it determine my religious affiliation, too.  Patriarchy doesn’t own my church.  And ultimately, the concept of personal revelation requires me to embrace truth wherever I find it, so I feel free to claim Mormonism on my own terms.

But revelation is about more than just my personal search for truth.  The concept of continuing prophetic revelation also means current doctrine and practices can and do change.  With continuing revelation we will some day have prophecies given by women, blessings given by women, authoritative scriptural exegesis by women, and miracles worked through women.  No spiritual gift (see D&C 46:17-26) will be withheld.*  These are more than pie-in-the-sky hopes.  They are possible given the limitless nature of continuing revelation.  I see Mormonism’s open canon and belief in prophecy as having both the mechanism and the potential energy needed for change through revelation.

I realize it’s ironic to wait for this kind of revelation to come through channels of male-only priesthood bearers.  But the fact that Mormons expect prophetic revelation gives me hope, particularly when faithful people, following the example of Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, continue to ask questions that provoke a prophetic response.  These women were Zelophehad’s daughters – his only progeny since he had no sons.  It was against Jewish law for them to inherit land after Zelophehad’s death, but they appealed to Moses for new revelation on the matter.  Moses brought their case before the Lord, and not only were the daughters able to inherit, but a detailed revelation on inheritance practices also resulted from the question.  I believe this kind of change through revelation is still possible.

What things do you hope for that continuing revelation could bring to pass?

 

*Section 46 of the Doctrine & Covenants lists prophecy, healing, miracles, wisdom, and other spiritual gifts.  The section does not link any of these gifts with priesthood, but in the modern Church most of them are thought of and practiced as priesthood privileges.  It wasn’t always so.  Our gospel foremothers had many of these gifts.  I think ordaining women would erase the gendered limitations on these gifts, and I hope to see it in my lifetime.

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17 Comments

  1. “What is patriarchy to tell me what it means to be Mormon?”

    I love that. And I love this idea that Mormon doesn’t have to mean being lockstep in line with everything our current leaders say. I’m a Mormon because I embrace personal revelation, eternal progression, eternal families, and Heavenly Mother. And I too await the time when women are invited to use all their gifts to uplift the Church and the world around them.

  2. Beautiful insights. I also take great comfort in the 9th Article of Faith, that there are many (not few) great and important (not small and insignificant) things pertaining to the kingdom of God (the Church) to be yet revealed. I think that sometimes we feel that because there is a fullness of e gospel that we can’t expect or prepare for many great and drastic changes. This is what I hope for, anyway.

    • Me too, Alisa. Me too.

  3. This is great! I love the story of Zelophehad’s daughters. As long as you are motivated by an desire to understand and get to know God better, there is nothing wrong with asking questions, and asking for change. Sometimes the Lord is just waiting for us to ask! It’s ironic that we see this pattern over and over again in the scriptures and in church history, but so many church members seem to forget it so easily. It can be really frustrating. Because of this, I’ve been thinking about leaving Church for a while…thank you (and Caroline – your comment is perfect) for reminding me why I stay!

  4. Beautiful, EmilyU! I agree, it is very ironic that Mormonism deems only males with the privilege of revelation beyond self. I think there is some social assignment of revelation allotted to mothers of young children, but past the age of 8, it seems like even mothers are erased from the credit of revelation of their children, and only allowed “promptings” that are not deemed revelation- whereas male promptings are revelation. I think because of this- this assignment to disregard promptings as revelation- that many women fail to heed promptings, or unable to see things to fruition of a male stands in the way. I’d like to see women allowed active priesthood keys, leadership and authority with associated respect from males and females church members alike. I’d also like to see the ownership of revelation and revelatory powers.

  5. I think we’d be better off further disconnecting Priesthood from spiritual gifts, rather than strengthening the tie by adding Priestesshood. It would open us up more to seeing and seeking these gifts in those outside our faith, where they undoubtedly already exist, but tend to be ignored by us.

    Personally, I think Priestesshood, when it comes, will include necessary rites and offices necessary for exaltation, complimentary to Priesthood.

    • Frank, I think it’s critical that we unhook priesthood from gender and see it as a shared power that can be exercised by both men and women for the benefit of all. There is no shame nor are there accusations of power-hungry ambition attached to a 12-year -old boy in the Church who aspires to exercise the priesthood. Neither should there be for women.

      • “There is no shame nor are there accusations of power-hungry ambition attached to a 12-year -old boy in the Church who aspires to exercise the priesthood. Neither should there be for women.”

        This gave me chills. Literally. Perfectly put. Thank you.

    • That’s an interesting thought, Frank. I wonder what it would look like to have, for instance, blessings of healing or comfort disconnected from Priesthood. In order for women to start doing that in a sanctioned way, there would need to be something coming down from official channels saying women now have the ability/authority to do it. The corollary to that is that men wouldn’t need priesthood to give these kinds of blessings, either. But when those blessings are given, don’t they say “by the power of the holy Melchizedek priesthood…”?

      I think it’s unlikely that the church would say priesthood is no longer needed for giving blessings, and slightly more likely that they’d ordain women.

      • I have been studying female blessings of healing and comfort in preparation for the lesson I will post in March, when we post our upcoming Daughters in My Kingdom series. I am writing the lesson on the priesthood chapter. Back when Mormon women provided blessings, they called on the power of “Jesus Christ” instead of the power of the Melchizedek priesthood. These blessings were ended by an administrative decision by church leadership in the 1940s to only allow Elders to give blessings. You can read about how these blessings by women were performed here: http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=1262

    • Thanks for the link, April. I just finished reading Linda King Newell’s essay. So much to think about. One thing that stood out to me is that women were so anxious to do right and appealed many times to authority to know if the blessings they were giving were really OK. I wonder if they’d just assumed they were doing right and gone forward anyway if that could have slowed or stopped the squelching of practicing these spiritual gifts. I am definitely not blaming the women for their loss, I just think it’s so sad that their faith and diligence were rewarded with being told to stop being so faithful and diligent in ministering to each other. Some of those quotes about reminding women of their “place” were really hard to read.

      The other thing that really stood out to me is the women’s amazing faith in the reality of these gifts. My faith doesn’t hold a candle to theirs. But reading about their experiences really kindles a desire for a better spiritual life where I can imagine calling on God with faith and confidence to really work in my life and the lives of others.

  6. It is the last line, after the asterisk, that caught my attention more than anything else. I am just beginning to dare to dream aloud, although I think it has always been in my heart, that women’s ordination could happen within our faith. This hope keeps me going. I am coming to believe that it will not happen until more of us women open our mouths and stop being complicit with the social norms that demand that Mormon women feign disinterest in the priesthood. The truth will set us free.

    • I think you’re right, April. Women’s ordination will only enter the realm of the possible if the thought of it becomes familiar. The conversation has begun. We need to keep it going.

  7. I really want to believe that radical reformation is possible with revelation. That every conference will be like the last with policy changes.

  8. I know of patriarchal blessings to women giving them the gift of prophecy, revelation, healing, tongues, etc. For this reason I have never thought of these spiritual gifts as inextricably linked to priesthood power. I think a huge part of the problem is that women with these gifts hide them under a bushel/ don’t practice them. And I’m sure part of the reason they do this is because these are seen as priesthood responsibilities. But that is false doctrine.

  9. This is beautiful, Emily. We have few Mormon feminists talk about the more mystical side of why Mormonism appeals to them. The open canon, the idea that the Bible is imperfect, and the aspect of continuing revelation speak so directly to my feminist soul that I can’t imagine walking away from Mormonism either.

  10. Wonderful post! Thanks so much for taking time to write this. I hope for (and routinely pray for) a shift away from current gender imbalances within the church and in the world at large.

    I have outgrown the belief that revelation comes from God to church leadership (the prophet, apostles, etc) then is dispersed to the body of the church. Although I’m certain this happens in certain cirucumstances, it seems to me (as it apparently did to Zelophehads daughters) that more often revelation happens as a broad collaborative effort between leadership and members.

    Many years ago I asked in prayer to be allowed to communicate with Joseph Smith or with his essence. I don’t even remember why I made this request, but what came of it was a distinct impression (via something that indeed felt to me like his essence or soul) that he wished for greater numbers of church members to follow his lead and ernestly seek for answers to their concerns about religion, just as he did . . . . and that this is necessary to the ongoing Restoration of All Things. This was followed by the idea that too many of us think, “Well, it’s all done. Joseph did it. Now we just sit back and wait for the annointed to tell us what comes next.” This is a flawed model in my opinion. And the experience I shared above (where ever it came from) gave me the courage and “permission” to ask unorthodox questions in prayer and meditation that I never could have asked before.

    Conversations like this one- right here- feel like the beginnings of answers to some of the questions I’ve posed. It’s a great time to be a woman in the church.

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