Why Jesus wants Mormon women to play rugby

I’m just a New Zealander.  I’m a South Seas outlier looking on at my big brother, the  US  and the way he figures out the game of life  and tries to take the winners proceedings.  And with my tiny voice at the bottom of the globe  I’d like to say something by way of observation about the way the big boys play.

I managed to catch a couple of sessions of the ‘Mormonism and the Internet’ conference held at UVU this week.   It was a very good conference including some excellent keynotes and panels.  One particular panel was intriguing.  It included John Dehlin who shared his findings from the ‘Why Mormon’s Leave’ survey, Scott Gordon from  Fair who talked about ‘The Role of Apologetics’, and a non-LDS emerging scholar, Rosemary Avance who discussed her research on ‘Mormon conversion and deconversion narratives’.  I love discourse analysis, so Rosemary’s work was fabulous.  However it was the interaction between John and Scott that had me riveted.

Those of us who know John’s work respect him as someone who has gathered people’s stories and has given them a remarkable forum for the voices of those people to be heard.  These include everyday Mormons’ stories of pain, anger and hurt in their relationship with the church, as well as their stories of faith, joy and conversion.  John’s rationale seems to be transparency.  ‘Let the stories be told and lets see what transpires in the telling, and let openness, frankness and honesty frame whatever might follow’.   John represents a growing cohort of Mormon post-structuralist, phenomenological existentialists who are bent on the deconstruction, critique, interrogation and testing of truth claims and the manner in which these truth claims ‘construct’ social identities.

Those of us who are familiar with the work of FairLDS and the  Maxwell Institute know their work in apologetics.   Mormon apologetics seems to have taken either a decidedly scientific evidentialist route, or have made historical and legal claims as to the efficacy of the Mormon theological position.  Mormon apologetics begins at the position of ‘truth’ and circles back around gathering ‘evidence’ on its way to its starting point.  ‘Let us accumulate evidence and use reason to confirm our hypothesis so that there will be no choice but to believe.’  Apologists are largely positivists, empiricists and rationalists who use reason to assert their metaphysical claims.

What we have in Mormonism presently is the classic discursive rupture captured so archetypically in the competing positions held by Scott and John.  These embattled religious subjectivities are reminiscent of the timeless philosophical debates between; The Cartesian man v the Lacanian Man;  The Enlightenment man v the Romantic man; The Modernist v. the Post-Modernist.

Yes, yes – I know this is all very big-headed and probably extraordinarily poor philosophy, but as I watched Lou Midgley characteristically attempt to beat down John Dehlin in the aftermath I was reminded of similar show downs between Stephen Colbert and Bill O’Reilly, or Michael Moore and Sean Hannity at UVU a couple of US elections ago.  I was also reminded of tangled buck antlers during rutting season in the deer park.  As Joanna Brookes and I mused detachedly on the scene as it played out before us, it all became very clear.  This was a boy’s game.  And although I am philosophically attached to John’s critical position I couldn’t help but feel an enormous surge of frustration that he has to play this game in an environment that is thick with insistence that someone has to win, that someone has to be ‘right’, or that a card needs to be trumped.  I’m not an essentialist, by any means; perhaps men have been constructed to be social as well as physical competitors?  Either way, this particular game was, and continues to be unremittingly, unreservedly, frustratingly and brutalizingly masculine.  And in the United States this binary is excessively amplified by the political and social context that draws unhelpful distinctions between villains and heroes, winners and losers, black and white, left and right, rights and wrongs, ins and outs, ups and downs, truths and errors.  Religion and politics in the US is Super Bowl Sunday on spiritual crack.

Speaking of sports, in New Zealand rugby is our national religion.  The first World Cup Rugby Competition was held in 1987 where the All Black’s won.  It would be 2011 before the All Blacks graced the winners podium again.  We have spent two decades in mourning having to watch defeat after defeat at the World Cup semi and grand finals.  Coaches have been fired, players criticized and dumped, and every rugby blooded New Zealander is the All Black’s unofficial team selector and strategist. However, in the background during a long period of this AB losing streak, the Black Ferns, New Zealand’s women’s rugby team, have been undefeated in back to back Women’s World Cup competitions and have, year in and year out, claimed 1st place in the IRB world rankings.

This team is an absolute machine.  They are a full throttle assault on any opposition, and have the capacity to literally decimate their assailants with an intuitive and graceful style of rugby unequaled on any pitch or in any game I have seen.  They don’t try to play like the men, they are part of the same code, honour the same rules, but they play like girls.  They are canny,  clever, resourceful,  confident, quick, insightful and instinctive.  They play as a team, not show ponies trying to impress the selectors and fans.  They aren’t playing for the attention of the boys, they are playing for the love of the game.  They aren’t entrenched in the mentality of the rugby club room or the who’s who in the organizational hierarchy.  They aren’t all over-salaried wanna-be All Black captains and coaches in waiting.  They are winners, who, in the age of corporatized, franchised, fat cat, big boys rugby, have played on, out of the shade of the grand stadium, and they have bested the boys.

Mormonism needs feminine and feminist players in order to keep the game at grass-roots. That I as a woman have found Christ’s message as other than the Anglo-normative,  Ameri-centric, post-Fordist, neo-liberal, chauvinistic, misogynistic, conservative, hyper-patriarchal,  hierarchical, aristocratic, religious market-driven, adversarial, colonial enterprise that seems to characterize this behemoth  as presently constituted, is not my fault and its not a characteristic of someone who is  spiritually truant– I just read the rule book closely as a good Mormon girl is supposed to.  If my sisters would pull their eyes away from the stallions for a moment and join the girls’ game in the back paddock, those blokes might one day look up and see the stadium emptied of fillies.  And they might even wander over to see the game as Jesus (a first five himself) intended it to be played?!

  • lpf43

    While I am not smart enough to understand
    “John represents a growing cohort of Mormon post-structuralist, phenomenological existentialists who are bent on the deconstruction, critique, interrogation and testing of truth claims and the manner in which these truth claims ‘construct’ social identities.”,
    I find his stories interesting and think his input valuable to the dialogue. I do wonder though if his work is somewhat biased by his sample…..those willing to talk or perhaps those with an ax to grind. On the other hand I guess people who are satisfied don’t leave the Church.

    (Of course I had to look up ‘post-Fordist” and neo-liberal’). Can’t you use terms our beloved George W would understand????

    Love this post. When I was living through the Women’s Lib years of the 60′s I was sure that by now most of what I had experienced would be different. We DO now have more women doctors and engineers, some men do now change poopy diapers (nappies), but it seems we still have a long way to go. I expected the changes to come faster. Silly me.

    Now I have ageism to deal with……sigh

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      John owns that. He also owns that most people who answered the survey are usually in online former LDS communities and are probably middle class white Americans.

      I agree – we made gains in labour relations but didn’t change anything. We just become recognised as valuable consumers and producers in the economy!

  • Yellow Fever

    Liked the posting but … remember this Kiwi Mormon: God loves the beautiful game and that game in NZ is football (not that American “soccer” thingy). Moreover, ‘proper’ [lol] football is played by more women than any other code (not those upper-class English sports – rugby & netball). To conclude, a great Kiwi secular prophet once said: “Jesus saves, but Smeltz gets the goals” [LOL!!!]

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Oh my dear! You obviously need to become a Mormon to be truly informed by divine guidance.

  • lpf43

    ‘Religion and politics in the US is Super Bowl Sunday on spiritual crack’.

    Wish I had said that!!

  • http://ethesis.blogspot.com/ Stephen M (Ethesis)

    Ah, another blog that has gone to a system that locks me out because I was once so foolish as to create a wordpress account.

    But, I first saw this, and thinking of my first Rugby poster (with a guy missing an ear) I thought “but God wants people to keep their ears, doesn’t he?”

    I came around full circle after finishing the essay. Well said.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002233755926 Sharon Ruth Doty

    ‘Let the stories be told and lets see what transpires in the telling, and let openness, frankness and honesty frame whatever might follow’.

    Good philosophy! As I considered the LDS faith years ago, with its claim to be the “restored” church, I was surprised to discover a MISSING doctrine when I studied the LDS teachings. It is a teaching that is precious to me, Biblical, and foundational to my peace and relationship to Christ…yet it is not taught in the missionary lessons, the 3 standard works, Gospel Principles, Mormon Doctrine, or anywhere I know of in LDS writings.
    What is it? Would love to explain, but no space… if interested, e-mail me: grandmadoty@cable one.net.

  • Joanna

    rugby. yes. let’s do it. team gina!

  • Jeff

    I’m with Blackie on the jargon – that was laying it on a bit thick! I’m glad John realises his sample of disgruntled former LDS members maybe skewered by how he selected them (or how they made themselves available for selection by being active in telling their story). This is not to denigrate anyone’s story but merely to put the numbers in some perspective. Overwhelmingly those who no longer worship regularly in the LDS community do so for the more traditional reasons (can’t live the standards, got offended, pressure from family, burden of callings etc etc).

    As for the womens rugby – well having reffed a few womans rugby games they were a far cry from your eloquent description of the Black Ferns but I get the point. All I can say is that men are from Mars and women are from Venus …even on the footy field!

    Great seeing you in SLC – loved the Genesis fireside!

  • Meredith

    I happened to move into Scott Gordon’s ward years ago when my husband and I were newly married and just out of college. He and his wonderful wife (Sherry) invited us over for dinner. I had no idea who he was or the work he was involved in when I asked at the dinner table how I could respond better in the Baptist dominated environment that I worked in. I remember the intent look on Scott’s face and how the rest of his family suddenly tuned out and scattered! He was passionate about the BofM and brought it’s story to life whenever he taught from it. I loved him and his family.


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