The Errand of Angels

General conference speakers have their own idioms that I’m sure longtime members have, on some level, noticed.  The speakers use the word “even” for emphasis in a way that I’ve never heard in colloquial English – “Our Lord and Savior, even Jesus Christ.”  They provide a brief synopsis of their point at the end of their talks, tagging on “is my prayer” even though ordinarily one might say “I pray that we’ll all find peace” rather than “that we may find peace is my humble prayer…”  General Conference speakers are notorious for shamelessly abusing the passive voice.  “Tears were shed, hearts were touched and lives were changed.”  Most of these peculiarities aren’t particularly bothersome, they just make it easier to do an impression of your favorite General Authority.  However, there is one tic that always makes me utter a loud “tsk!” and roll my eyes.  It is the propensity for men to refer to the women in their lives as “angels” – my angel mother, my angel wife.  Fantastic.  I’m glad she has a halo.  Meanwhile in my living room: Is that barf or poop on my shirt? Oh, it’s both!

Why does this bother me? It’s supposed to be a compliment! I feel irked because it puts women on a pedestal and implies an impossible standard of womanhood.  Angels are heavenly beings.  Angels don’t slam doors or yell or act in passive aggressive ways when they’re frustrated.  Angels “do whatsoever is gentle and human” but the implication is that to be human is to “cheer and to bless” rather than “to swear at the dishwasher and lock oneself in the bathroom with earplugs pretending the children are not home.”  I don’t personally know any women I’d describe as angelic, which is fortunate for them because I’d probably be a sour resentful witch about it if I did.

I have often thought that, in the unlikely event that one of my male relatives ever finds himself in a position of authority in the church, I never ever want him to refer to me as an angel.  It would erase my very real struggles and shortcomings, and how darn hard I have to work at everything.  I think I’m a good mom, but nurturing is a lot of miserable thankless work.  I don’t do it because it’s my angelic nature, I do because it’s needed and right and I care.

I was chatting about this with some friends the other day and we began reframing the narrative that women are angelic.  If the errand of angels is given to women, what does that mean?

Angels minister.  They teach and testify of Christ.  They prepare the way.  They cry repentance.

Angels call people out on their nonsense.  Angels rebuked Laman and Lemuel.  Angels thundered at Alma and the sons of Mosiah.

Angels know things about God and the Plan of Salvation that were hitherto unrevealed.  Gabriel came to Mary to explain about Jesus.  Angels explained to Mary Magdalene that Jesus was gone.  An Angel taught Nephi in visions.  Angels know truth through having a personal relationship with God.

Angels are fierce and formidable.  When Adam and Eve were cast out, an angel with a flaming sword was put in place to guard the way back.

An angelic woman is fierce, and wise, and tells it to you straight.  Angelic women can be brassy or sweet or both.  We can be outspoken or softspoken, so long as we’re speaking the truth without flinching.  Angelic women get orders from God and no one else, because angels are special witnesses of Christ.  So if you find yourself grinding your teeth when you’re asked to sing “As Sisters in Zion,” imagine every woman in your Relief Society wielding a flaming sword. This is the gift that as sisters we claim.


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15 Responses

  1. paws says:

    I love this!

    Sometimes I’ve interpreted “angel mother” to mean “my deceased mother, who is now angel.” Then it’s not so annoying.

  2. M says:

    Oh, I love this too! I have never felt like an angel, and truly doubt that any other woman is either. I’m clearly hanging out with the wrong crowd! I’ve taken to singing (loudly) “As mortals in Zion” whenever we have to venture into the back of the hymnbook. It does get me some funny looks, but it feels much truthful.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Benevolent patriarchy at its finest. I just wish that we didn’t always have to be described as “nurturing” as if that’s what unequivocally defines us or distinguishes us. Men have tons of nurture juice too people!

  4. Evelyn says:

    Oh, I always thought we had swords!

  5. Jolie says:

    I have long felt this way! And my husband is under strict orders to never refer to me in any such way. Not “angel,” not “sweet,” not even really “dearest” or “darling.” I can just be “my wife.”

  6. Steve S says:

    I wouldn’t mind it as much if we got to hear just as much about angel husbands and angel fathers. Aside from the massive cultural shift this would entail, logistically that would probably also mean hearing talks from women in the same frequency as we do from men. One day..

    • Em says:

      That is an interesting point! In the scriptures, heavenly visitors always seem to be male — Raphael, Gabriel etc. Yet I don’t ever remember hearing a man referred to as “my truly angelic husband.”

  7. Ziff says:

    I really like this, Em. This is maybe just a restatement of what you’ve already said, but I get the sense that male speakers refer to their mothers or wives as angels as a way of de-emphasizing their needs, or more broadly, their personhood. It makes them into useful tools, but not really people.

  8. Kathryn says:

    Excellent post! Excellent comments!

  9. ElleK says:

    This is my pet peeve as well. Anytime women are referred to as angels, the rest of the talk is lost on me. Women are people. Regular people, just like men.

    I’ve meant for a long time to write a post about this very thing. So glad I’m not the only one.

  10. Wendy says:

    Em, this post speaks to my experience too. I really like how direct and powerful your writing voice is. Hope I get to meet you IRL someday! ❤️

  11. Jewelfox says:

    “Women perform unpaid emotional labour, and have no boundaries or actual feelings.”

  12. Marianne says:

    Many times angels’ first words are “Fear not!” Angels are terrifying, fearsome creatures. So if that’s the kind of angel I get to be, I’m totally on board.

  13. Violadiva says:

    So great! I love the vision of a fierce, fiery, assertive angel.

    The way it’s used in church talks implies someone so holy and pure and gentle as to be other-Worldly. Good grief, my kids know that I am ALL human. No mistake there.

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