Why I am a Mormon Feminist, Part II
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.