Emma, My Daughter in Zion: A Preliminary Study of D&C 25, Part 2

In the preceding post (part 1), I work through a set of exegetical preliminaries to any theological engagement with D&C 25, the revelation to Emma Smith. I take as my task now to begin addressing the revelation at that more interpretive level. I’ll give my attention to three isolable themes in particular in the course of this post, each with clear implications for feminist interests. [Read more...]

Emma, My Daughter in Zion: A Preliminary Study of D&C 25, Part 1

This and the post following it (part 2) are pieces I wrote a few years ago as a guest blogger at another Mormon-themed blog. I’ve reworked them a bit, but I’ve largely left them as I originally wrote them. I think they’re worth a revisit now for a host of (largely obvious) reasons I won’t go into. I’ll say that my having written them in the first place and my posting them now shouldn’t be construed as either supportive or critical of any positions being taken on relevant issues. My aim in these posts—when I wrote them and now—is just to understand a text that seems to me crucial for getting anywhere on the kinds of questions being raised.

At any rate, the text I’ll deal with here is section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants, that unique revelation to Emma Smith. I offer nothing more than a preliminary study of the revelation. As is my wont, I take as my first task—in this first post, that is—to say a bit by way of exegesis, addressing the historical setting of the original revelation, changes made to the document between 1830 and 1835 (the text has remained stable since 1835), and, very briefly, the basic structure of the revelation. I’ll take each of these in turn in this post. And then I’ll turn to theological questions in my next post. [Read more...]

No More Strangers

One of my most familiar childhood religious memories is waking up at the end of the General Conference broadcast, sprawled full-length on the floor with the marks of the carpet in my cheek. “This has been the [ordinal number] conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” the familiar voice intoned over the postlude. As the camera panned around the trees at Temple Square, I would pan around the living room to get the lay of the land. My father was asleep. My mother was asleep. My four brothers lay comatose amidst scattered colored pencils and scratch paper.

(To be fair to my parents, especially my mother, they were probably awake for most of the session, but as we all know, even the most faithful and committed Saints may succumb to sleep during Conference. That’s why the talks are printed in the Ensign afterward.)

Perhaps this is why I don’t have a very clear memory of very many General Conference talks that I watched as a kid. And yet I do remember the familiarity of that music, those images, the way that the leaves waved in the wind and the bright sunshine, the people bustling back and forth across Temple Square. I knew that this was the time when members of the church came together to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, to listen to the Prophet speak, to fall asleep, and to watch the beautiful leaves at Temple Square flutter in the breeze. These were my people, and this was my church.

I’ve had the opportunity to spend time in a variety of Mormon communities around the world, each of them with its own distinct character. If I had to sort them in my mind by giving them “Best in Class” awards, I might begin with something like this:

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Ordaining Women Is Not Going Away for LDS

The issue of women’s ordination in the LDS church is at least in its fourth decade.   In the 1970’s, and especially in the 1980’s after the expansion of the priesthood to all worthy males in 1978, LDS women and men have published and organized in favor in women’s ordination.  Such movements have been common in other American churches, which vigorously debated the issues during the 20th century. Movements for women’s ordination exist in nearly every denomination which has not already made the transition. Other Restoration-derived churches, including the Community of Christ, have ordained women for 30 years.

I know of no example of a modern church which ordains women that has reversed or even sought to reverse the decision to ordain women. The issue has cost some denominations members who understood maleness as a necessity for church leadership, as has the decision to not ordain women cost other denominations members, including Latter-day Saints. The issue became a kind of political marker between churches, signaling where a church might stand on other issues that divided conservative and liberal Christians over the past century.

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Justice and Fairness

It’s been interesting to follow discussions about gender and priesthood during the last several months. One theme lately has caught my attention: the idea that women’s ordination is required for the sake of justice. Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by virtue of excluding women from priesthood offices, treating the women members unfairly? Is the ordination of women to priesthood offices the just thing to do?

The simple answer, I think, is no.

Do I think the Church and the members would benefit from having more women present in Church leadership, or from making changes to the way women participate in and relate to the priesthood? Absolutely.

But do I think justice or fairness demands it? No, I don’t. There are many compelling reasons for changes to happen; but I don’t think hanging our hats on Justice or Equality will get us far as long as we—or Church leaders–are working with the canon that we have. [Read more...]

Why Mormon Feminism Should Be About Men Too

Anyone who has spent time in a feminist Mormon housewives discussion forum knows how frequently arguments break out over whether a new member has mansplained. So when I saw that the fMh blog had published an article addressed exclusively to wannabe male feminists, I hoped they would publish advice to help new members avoid these miscommunications. Instead, Reese Dixon managed to produce one of the most sexist and narrow-minded articles I’ve yet to see from a contemporary Mormon feminist.

In the article Dixon offers a list of advice for male feminists, most of which boils down to one repeated phrase: it’s not about you. Whether the issue is domestic violence or sexual violence, Dixon argues, it’s not about men. It’s about women. But is that really the message we want to send to new feminists?

Don’t get me wrong – I understand why Dixon wrote the article, and some of her advice is good for anyone who is new to a discussion, especially for a new member whose privilege can blind them to the issues the group is fighting. And I’ve heard unmerited complaints of feminist sexism too. But most of those complaints come from the kind of miscommunication that happens when a person is new to a discussion and doesn’t understand the group dynamics.

So here’s my advice to any new feminist, particularly feminists who happen to be male:

1. First and Foremost, Listen.

When I first encountered the Womanist movement, which focuses on issues that impact women of color, I felt just as hurt as many men feel when they’re new to feminism. Womanist articles seemed to generalize unfairly about white people, and I felt like nothing I said was interpreted the way I meant it. And yeah, it was tempting to storm off and write off womanism altogether. But here’s what I did instead: I listened. I followed womanist blogs and read womanist articles for two years, without commenting. I just read. By the end of those two years, I understood that complaints about “whiteness” weren’t about me as an individual. And I understood why claiming “but I’m color blind; I don’t see race” was a sign of ignorance, not of superiority. And I understood how to enter the conversation.

I’m not saying you should take two years before speaking up online, but just keep in mind that the internet can make even neutral comments sound like rage, so it’s a really good idea to take at least two months to observe the conversation before you jump in.


2. Discuss Male Victimhood, with Sincerity.

Some of the best and worst advice from Dixon’s piece shows up in the same paragraph. On the topic of male victimhood, she says:

“So in a conversation about sexual harassment, quell the impulse to relate issues of male victimhood. It can happen, but with no where NEAR the frequency of female victimhood. So stop derailing the conversation.”

The problem with this advice is that men have every right to discuss male victimhood within a feminist setting. In fact, I think we need to spend more time talking about male victimhood.  Why?

  • Because sexual assault is sexual assault, and it’s wrong no matter who it happens to.
  • Because studies show that male victims of sexual assault have trauma that is compounded by the fallacious stereotype that sexual assault only happens to women.
  • Because male victims of sexual assault are more likely to be victimized by other men, and feminists know what it’s like to be victimized by powerful men.
  • Because there is no other movement as widespread as the feminist movement that does address how men are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

When female feminists attempt to shut down discussions of male victimhood, we aggravate a very real problem and only feed into the cult of masculinity, which posits that men are strong and aggressive and rarely victims. Most feminists I know are highly aware of this issue and very willing to champion male victims. To any female feminists who are lagging behind on this one: time to catch up


3. Open Conversations, Instead of Closing Them.

One of the most important things to remember if you’re new to a social movement, is that one person’s victimhood does not negate that of another. So before bringing up an example of how men have been victims of women, it’s a good idea to ask yourself, “what am I trying to accomplish?”

Hint: if the answer is, “convince women that their trauma is insignificant,” you should probably just back away from the computer and take a breather. If you’re trying to add to the conversation, however, and open it up further, try to make that clear. Remember, most people in the discussion don’t know you, so they lack context to guess your intentions.


4. Pay Attention to Who’s Talking.

There are two pieces of advice in Dixon’s post that I’m 100% behind. The first is that you should never assume that being a feminist gives you the right to touch women without their consent. The second? That it’s a good idea to watch how much you’re talking, and back off a little if men are starting to dominate the discussion.

Why do I agree with Dixon here? Well, numerous studies have found that even when they are the minority in a group, American men have a tendency to start taking over the conversation. It’s not intentional in most cases, and even women don’t usually notice. In fact, if you ask most people who talks more in a group, many will likely say “women” based on stereotypes about so-called chatty Cathy’s. But this problem is easily resolved when men occasionally take stock of how often they’re talking.


5. Please, do not Mansplain.

What exactly is mansplaining? It is not, as some feminists (male and female) occasionally think, simply speaking up on gender while you happen to be male. It’s coming into a conversation about gender and trying to correct all the silly feminists who have everything wrong and only need to “hear things from a man’s perspective.” I’ve seen all sorts of men do it, and they usually have awesome intentions, but here’s the thing: feminists are generally much more familiar with that generic “man’s perspective” which the mansplainer is offering than he is with theirs. So, please don’t mansplain.


6. Clarify when Criticized.

No matter how well you put the last five tips into action, there will come a time when someone will think you’re derailing a conversation, or mansplaining, or ignorant, etc. etc. The same goes for me when I’m in a conversation about womanism. And on the occasion when that happens, the best thing to do is clarify and perhaps apologize for the misunderstanding. Not necessarily because you’re at fault while the other person is blameless – just because saying, “Sorry for the confusion. What I meant with that last comment…” does a lot more to open the conversation than blowing up ever will.


Bottom line: come to the feminist conversation, listen carefully, and join in thoughtfully.