Dear Anon

February 3, 2006 | 81 comments
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Anon over at one of those other blogs asked an interesting question:

I am curious though about how you explain (to yourself) the fact that there are a good number of women who do have serious “problems” with the church. Since you are able to remain aloof to such issues, even while witnessing a wide array of more ruffled reactions, you must have given some thought as to the reason. Why is it, do you think, that some women become so sad and or angry?

First, let me say that ‘aloof’ is definitely the wrong word to use in my case. When I was in college and grad school, I was anything but aloof. What I was, in fact, was one of those sad and angry women who considered leaving the church. But I’d had enough spiritual experiences by that point that I was able to hang on.

There was a ground zero moment for me, when I wasn’t sure that I wanted to–or could–hang on any longer. I decided that I’d go to the temple and finally ask my big questions. This scared me to death. If I didn’t like the answers, well, I knew I wouldn’t be able to blame it on a misunderstood ancient passage, or a human leader showing his fallibility, or any of the other justifications we sometimes use. Nope–prayer in the celestial room is the Supreme Court of inspiration: if you don’t like the answer, there’s no appeal. It’s the end of the line.

You’ve probably determined by this point that what I heard confirmed my instinct that women are not second-class citizens in God’s country.

Now that I’ve had this experience, and can back it up with evidence that pleases (some) people, like interpretations of difficult texts and more knowledge of church history and doctrine, I consider it a personal mission to try to help people who struggle with the same issues that I once did.

I’ve been accused by people I like of doing hermeneutical dances or interpretive handstands to make things mean what I want them to mean. I don’t think that’s true and here’s why: You know that super-cheesy and overdone object lesson about the rocks and the sand and prioritizing your responsibilities? Well, let’s redeem that image. The knowledge that I have gained through prayer is those rocks. My rocks have the words WOMEN ARE NOT SECOND CLASS IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD engraved on them, and they go into my jar first. Everything else–from what is in the scriptures, to what is in the temple, to what is taught over the pulpit–is sand. I’ve decided to prioritize the rocks, because they came directly from God. If the sand can be made to fit around the rocks (and it almost always can), it is allowed into the jar. But I’m not going to put the sand in first–because my rocks won’t fit. And, if some of the sand won’t fit because it does suggest that women are second class citizens, then I won’t put it in the jar. In fact, I’ll dump it on the feet of anyone who thinks it should be in my jar.

Why, then, might it sometimes seem that coming to conclusions that show that women are equal in God’s eyes requires some fancy footwork? Will you indulge another analogy? A few years back, they restored the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel. It took quite a bit of effort (and technology) to get the gunk off. The result, though, was that the artwork appeared as it was originally intended to look. Perhaps some were shocked at what was underneath if they had convinced themselves that the painting was supposed to be dark and dreary. Perhaps they complained that nothing that required so much effort–artistic handstands, cleaning dances, if you will–could claim to be the uncomplicated truth. Centuries of sexism have left us with a grimy view of what God intends for women. When I peel off the layers of accumulated gunk, don’t accuse me of being unfaithful to the original just because it took a lot of effort to remove the accretions.

None of this means that I’m pleased as punch to see members of the church advocate that women are, in some way or another, secondary. But I’ll stand with President Kimball on this one; he said that “[Women] desire to be respected and revered as our sisters and our equals. I mention all these things, my brethren, not because the doctrines or the teachings of the Church regarding women are in any doubt, but because in some situations our behavior is of doubtful quality.”

I, too, don’t think that the doctrines concerning women’s equality are in any doubt–but often the behavior of individual church members is of doubtful quality. It is my prayer that we will all be able to separate what is true from what is said, and that any person struggling with these issues will receive her own witness of the truth.

81 Responses to Dear Anon

  1. tracy m on February 3, 2006 at 6:39 pm

    As one of those women struggling with some of the “pieces of sand” I thank you for sharing your clear and clean lens with us. I hope I find myself looking from your vantage point someday soon.

  2. Deborah on February 3, 2006 at 7:20 pm

    Julie: Thanks for this. I appreciate your perspective and understand the passion behind this “personal mission.” I’ve never mis-read you as “aloof.”

  3. Paul on February 3, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    Very good post, Julie.

  4. Eowyn on February 3, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    Thanks for your post. I know *exactly* what you mean about having a central phrase that puts all the other bits of information in perspective. Mine happens to be, “I will be happy in heaven.” It is comforting to know I’m not the only woman in the church that relies on a central truth when dealing with all the quirks about women in the church.

  5. annegb on February 3, 2006 at 9:45 pm

    I like your last sentence, Julie. I think it’s personalities that get us into trouble 99% of the time. Not the real issue.

  6. manaen on February 3, 2006 at 10:43 pm

    Thank you, Julie, I returned from my mission in the early ’70s to find the U.S.’s national issue had moved from division of the races to division of the sexes. After a few years of research and pondering, I came to a male’s version of your position that women are not second class in God’s kingdom and as they asserted their co-equal place, I wasn’t either — as I had begun to feel back then for accepting the priesthood and callings that weren’t available to my sisters. I appreciate your articulate posting.

  7. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 3, 2006 at 11:02 pm

    Centuries of sexism have left us with a grimy view of what God intends for women

    I like that metaphor.

  8. Seth R. on February 4, 2006 at 12:01 am

    Well, I like the sand-and-rocks metaphor even if you think it’s cheesy.

  9. Aimee on February 4, 2006 at 1:45 am

    Great post. I love the rock and sand metaphor, thanks for bringing it up.

  10. Eve on February 4, 2006 at 2:10 am

    Julie, I’m moved by the personal experience you describe and by your obvious devotion. I would certainly agree that such personal spiritual experiences are vital to surviving whatever questions and doubts we may face. But I have questions about your hermeneutic. Although in some ways I’m very sympathetic to your undertaking of reconciliation, and although I would agree that personal revelation is certainly an important avenue for understanding the scriptures, I find it problematic, for many reasons, to interpret the scriptures in light of what we’ve already decided they mean. Certainly, all texts are ambiguous, but not all readings are equally possible (not to suggest that’s what you’re saying–just to suggest that the scriptures contain sexism I don’t think we can simply wave away in light of our modern sensibilities). I love the idea of scraping the grime of sexism off of the Sistine Chapel of the restored gospel. But how do we know what’s Chapel and what’s grime?

    (Kishkilili recently took this issue on in more detail at ZDs:

    )

  11. Tatiana on February 4, 2006 at 6:17 am

    When I was investigating the church, I had a lot of doubts that pertained to the cultural practices of sexism in the church. It would have been a deal-breaking issue for me, of course, if the doctrine were sexist. I, too, felt a complete divine assurance that heaven was fair, and that God was fair. Even moreso, I felt an assurance that God wanted women like me in his church as part of his plan for it. Pretty arrogant of me, I know. :-) I whined “but I have to battle that stuff at work all the time! I had hoped at church I could relax and just be home.” He showed me that I would find lots of connection with others of similar mind, and that when one fights his battles, it’s not wearying but invigorating. It’s not a struggle but a gentle loving joy. I’m still learning how to do all that stuff. Actually, I guess I’ve mostly dropped the ball. :-(

    But later on when I discovered Emmaline B. Wells and listened to Brigham Young talking about the Relief Society, I felt totally confirmed in my belief that any sexist practices are completely non-doctrinal and of quite recent origin. The true ideal Latter Day Saint community is completely nonsexist. Now it just remains for all of us to live up to our ideals, which is something we’re all working on every single day.

    I have this image in my heart of the Relief Society transforming the third world. Providing clean water, infrastructure, adequate housing, good nutrition, education, clothing, books, and love to the women and children of the whole planet. It’s our mandate. We take care of our neighbors when they need our help. We take care of our homeworld, so that it is a healthy and good place to raise our families. We teach women how to take care of their children and their homes, educating them in everything that pertains. That job encompasses engineering, agricultural science, animal science, power systems, communications systems, medicine, nutrition science, and every other field of human endeavor. This is what I, as a sister in the RS, feel called to work on. This is my women’s work.

    Perhaps because the men of the world sometimes don’t notice us too much, we can sneak and do this largely beneath their radar. Perhaps because we are mere women, we will be able to have access to places that men could never go. Perhaps we will be able to do things peacefully that would find opposition if done by men. The legacy of the pioneer women Saints for me is one of courage, hard work and iron determination. Faulkner could have written the grandma in “The Unvanquished” using an LDS sister as a model, as far as I am concerned. I don’t see the church in the light of sexism at all, anymore. But I see that we women have a huge job to do.

  12. Julie M. Smith on February 4, 2006 at 10:29 am

    Eve, that’s a good question.

    For this comment, I’ll use the word ‘teaching’ to cover everything from scriptures, to what is said/done in the temple, to statements made by church leaders past and present, to church doctrine and practice, etc.

    My presumption is that almost all teaching is inspired. Hence, I expect that it should conform to the idea that women are not second class. If at first glance, it doesn’t, I’ll make a reasonable effort to rehabilitate it. For example, I think at first pass, the concept of the husband presiding appears to violate the equality of women. But if you consider what Elder Oaks taught in his last GC talk along with Nibley on Eve’s judging role along with Elder Packer on the idea that presiding doesn’t mean ‘having the last word,’ then you can find an understanding of presiding that doesn’t compromise women’s status. I’m all over that.

    Notice the word ‘almost’ in the topic sentence of the preceeding paragraph. When a teaching does not yield to a reasonable effort to find a nonsexist reading, I’m OK with throwing it out on its ear as uninspired. 1 Cor 14:35 and 1 Tim 2:15 would be examples of teachings that I regard as uninspired.

    So, my hermeneutic of reconciliation is limited: I’m not going to reconcile *everything*.

    Maybe what makes the real difference between me and the sad and angry women is my confidence in pitching unreconcilable teachings on the dungheap without guilt or second guessing.

  13. meems on February 4, 2006 at 10:38 am

    This was a beautifully written post. I liked your metaphors. But mostly, thank you for the seemingly obvious reminder that the Celestial Room in the temple is the place to seek personal revelation and to pray. Unbelievably, I’ve never “used” the Celestial Room for actual prayer and listening. I’ve never gone to the temple with this intent. You’ve enlightened me to something so simple that I’ve overlooked it in the past. I look forward to this summer when I’ll be able to make a trip to attend the temple again.

  14. Deborah on February 4, 2006 at 11:43 am

    “Maybe what makes the real difference between me and the sad and angry women is my confidence in pitching unreconcilable teachings on the dungheap without guilt or second guessing.”

    This has been my instinct, too, for a number of years. I’ve taken Christ’s description of the two most important commandments as my “rocks” — including the parable he used to explain them — and judged other teachings accordingly. And I have found much peace in these teachings and my resulting view of the gospel.

    However, I remember your thoughtful essay about your struggles with and ultimate studied obedience to the church’s stance on Proposition 22. I imagine some saints (myself included) ultimately put this in the “pitching pile” when it would not fit in their jar, while others had no such struggles in need of either pitching or reconciliation. If we choose different, yet doctrinal, rocks, how do we guard against accusations of being a “salad bar saints” in favor of the truths we hold most dear?

  15. Julie M. Smith on February 4, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    “If we choose different, yet doctrinal, rocks, how do we guard against accusations of being a “salad bar saintsâ€? in favor of the truths we hold most dear?”

    Good question. My instinct would have been to put opposition to SSM in the pitching pile, too, but it was overruled by personal inspiration that, for me, this issue was to be treated as a test of obedience. I think the only way to avoid being a salad bar Saint is to be pretty dang sure that you are inspired in anything you reject. This places a tremendous burden on the individual to live worthily to receive that inspiration, something that I often fall short of doing/being. But I try.

  16. Téa on February 4, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    Excellent post, Julie.

    When I was taking the missionary discussions, I received (an unasked for) personal witness of the reality of God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the love they have for me. I knew in that moment that God had a plan for me, and that I was in no way less loved or less favored because I would not hold the priesthood. I knew I would come to understand more as time went on but that this information was sufficient for that time.

    I was given a marvelous gift. It was such a personal revelation, so powerful and totally unexpected. I had no way to tell anyone else how to go about finding that peace, engraven on that rock as you put it, because I didn’t know exactly how I’d come about it in the first place.

    How wonderful it was for me to read your words, clearly and concisely expressing what I’ve longed to all these years. A hearty amen to your prayer in closing.

  17. Julie M. Smith on February 4, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    Tea, a lovely comment and thank you for your kind words.

  18. The Wiz on February 4, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    I, too, came to this realization, actually when I was quite young. (approx.16) Obviously, it was not in the temple, but it was still too powerful to ever deny. I know realize how lucky I was to go through college and the rest of my adult life with that knowledge secure in my heart.

    I watched (and still watch) several women struggle with it, and it just breaks my heart that they would even consider the fact that Christ would treat them as inferiors. I always want to say “Don’t you have any idea how much love God has for you? How could you possibly think that He elevates anyone above you?” However, I rarely say this, (unless we are very very close) because I know that my testimony is not sufficient for them, and that they have to come to a realization for themselves.

    What truly boggles my mind and breaks my heart, though, is when people say they’re asking for help but they don’t really expect God to help them. Does that make sense? To use a really bad analogy – it’s almost like God’s love and light is a lamp right next to you, and all you have to do is turn that lamp on to receive all its benefits. But so many people claim to pray to get that light, and yet refuse to reach out to turn it on. They don’t want their heart changed. They just want to be right. Of course, not everyone falls into this category. But some people do, and it makes me crazy.

    Great post, Julie. Thanks.

  19. Beijing on February 4, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    How do you distinguish “pretty dang sure that you are inspired” from pride? Personally I can’t fathom the chutzpah needed to believe anything even approaching “behold, I have peeled off the layers of accumulated gunk from holy writ, and now view the original through a clear lens.” I guess that’s why I don’t have a Translation like that of Joseph Smith or a jar of rocks like that of Julie M. Smith. Which takes more humility: to say that (a translation of) an ancient writing was merely human interpretation of a spiritual experience and could be wrong, or to say that *my* understanding of things through personal revelation is just my human interpretation of a spiritual experience and could be wrong? I think the latter; maybe you disagree.

    I also think the “pretty dang sure you are inspired” requirement leaves high and dry those people who do not have the gift to receive clear, unmistakable answers via inspiration.

  20. Julie M. Smith on February 4, 2006 at 8:39 pm

    Beijing, I don’t think there is anything productive to be accomplished by engaging you. Unless I missed something, you have severed your connection to the Church, which leads me to suspect that you are not genuine in asking these questions, but rather just out to insinuate that my very real spiritual experience is “merely human interpretation of a spiritual experience and could be wrong.”

    If you are looking for answers as part of an effort to rejoin the fellowship of the Saints, let me know and I’d be happy to help you learn, as I have, how to distinguish personal pride from personal revelation, personal revelation from chutzpah, and how to receive answers via inspiration. I don’t make any claim to specialness here; all of these things are promised to every worthy Saint.

  21. Idahospud on February 4, 2006 at 9:58 pm

    Thank you for this inspired and inspiring post, Julie.

    For many years I have dealt with the issues that I saw as sexist by putting them on the shelf to look at later. But the insistence that they be dealt with has assaulted me of late, and I appreciate the assurance from sisters such as yourself that there is truly a good resolution out there (or, perhaps *in me*). I’ll keep working at it.

  22. maria on February 4, 2006 at 10:09 pm

    Thanks, Julie, for this great post. It gives me hope.

  23. Julie M. Smith on February 4, 2006 at 11:19 pm

    Thanks, Idahospud and maria for your comments.

    Idahospud, we often talk about putting issues ‘on the shelf’ but rarely do we talk about taking them off. But if we credit Sister Kimball with originating this image (I think that’s right–someone correct me if it isn’t), she spoke of taking everything down from time to time to consider it. If this is your time to do that, blessings and best wishes.

  24. Dianna H. on February 5, 2006 at 12:25 am

    Thanks Julie, for saying so well what I have long felt. I wondered if there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t get upset about not holding the priesthood. Now I know it is another of those wonderful gifts of the Spirit that have blessed me so that I could put my concentration on other challenges more specific to me. Isn’t it interesting how individual our challenges are? Only continues to impress on me the fact that my Heavenly Father knows and loves me, individually, not just as part of the group. Thanks again for you clear and concise statement.

  25. Lynnette on February 5, 2006 at 1:21 am

    The Wiz (re #19), I was touched by your comments. I think I can appreciate why from that perspective, it would indeed seem mind-boggling for people to not really expect God to help them. I don’t know if it will illuminate things any, but my experience has been that such a situation arises from the enormous pain of feeling that God is actually behind the sexism, which makes it somewhat counterintuitive to then turn to God for help in dealing with it. It can be a real leap of faith to trust that God will take your concerns seriously, will listen to your pain–and perhaps your rage as well–without dismissing it as trivial or unimportant (especially if that’s a reaction you’ve often gotten from other human beings), or even worse, telling you “sorry, women actually are second-class, learn to live with it.” I completely agree with you about the crucial importance of reaching out for that lamp. But it makes sense to me why people are sometimes skittish about doing it, because I still am at times; for me, developing that kind of trust has been a slow (though very worthwhile) process.

    This issue hurts me. A lot. I don’t know why it’s such a struggle for some and not for others, but I personally have yet to put the pieces together in a way that doesn’t leave me crazy. I don’t know whether I agree with your methodology, Julie (I’m still trying to muddle through what I think about the issue of dealing with sexist teachings, so it’s interesting to hear different points of view about that), but I appreciate the depth of your conviction that God does indeed equally value women. Right now, I’m pretty much holding on to the belief that–despite the kinds of fears I’ve had, as mentioned above–God is with me even in the hurt and confusion and craziness I feel.

  26. Julie M. Smith on February 5, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    Dianna H., thanks for your comment.

    Lynette, you are absolutely right that it does require a leap of faith to ask God if you think God might be ‘behind’ it and if humans have given you unsatisfactory answers in the past. And I hope you’ll continue the discussion about methodology with me.

  27. Beijing on February 5, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    That’s fine that you don’t want to engage me; that’s fine that you don’t think it will be productive. There’s no need to respond. But there’s also no need to slander my motives. My questions are genuine, though they are not part of any active effort to rejoin the LDS church. I’m still unsure such an effort would be worthwhile. Your concept of the jar of rocks sounds pretty attractive and I’m glad it works to keep you engaged in something you love. However, if using that concept to rehabilitate my view of the church would require me to be “pretty darn sure” that I’m inspired on a certain topic while almost no one else in the church has received similar revelation, and to believe that I, through revelation, have cleared the muck of the ages off of the pure word of God, then I may as well not bother, because I don’t have the chutzpah. My understanding of humility and teachableness (teachability?) forbids such unshakable confidence in my own interpretations of things. Your understanding is apparently different, but there’s no need to share it with me since you don’t want to.

    And my purpose is not to insinuate that your spiritual experience was anything other than “very real.” Not at all. I’m sure the experience itself was very real, correct, and true. But unless you’ve been changed in a twinkling or promoted to goddess, you’re still human and still viewing all your experiences–including remembered spiritual experiences–through a human lens. We all do, and there shouldn’t be anything shameful about pointing that out or admitting it. My comment was actually aimed equally at myself: it’s awfully easy for me to say that someone writing their revelations in the scriptures put them through a human filter so I don’t have to take them at face value, but am I ever going to have a spiritual experience–even in the Supreme Court of spiritual experiences–that doesn’t go through my own human filter when I try to understand and apply the experience? Not in this life. I am too human, too fallible, too blind to what I don’t want to see, and too inclined to remember only what I want to remember from that glimpse of absolute truth. Again, it is my concept of humility that requires me to admit that I could be mistaken in my perceptions and memories even of things that are really real.

    And let’s not say that I severed my connection; there was less of my own will involved than that. I allowed a bishop to sever my connection, though I neither requested nor deserved it. http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=2866#comment-117082

  28. Kiskilili on February 5, 2006 at 4:38 pm

    I like your point about your own personal revelation (about the status of women, for example) forming the bedrock of your testimony and your commitment to the church. This makes a lot of sense to me, and it makes sense to locate the authority for this belief outside of any sacred text, and then approach our texts in light of this personal knowledge.

    At the same time, as I read them, the face value or most natural reading of our sacred texts often appears undeniably misogynistic. If we consider the texts inspired of God, then the authorial intent is germane to the issue (i.e., what did God intend in saying this?) (that is, we can’t have an interpretive heyday). It’s difficult for me to convince myself that God intended for the texts to be interpreted in convoluted ways. Other people have read them very straightforwardly; women (blacks, Jews, and others) have suffered for this. I start to wonder: why didn’t God just say what he meant?

    Applying my own belief that God is fair to all his children, I often tentatively conclude that many of our sacred texts are simply uninspired. But I’m convinced there are texts that are worth being infuriated over, whether they’re inspired or not. Sometimes being “sad and angry” seems the most appropriate response.

  29. Julie M. Smith on February 5, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    “At the same time, as I read them, the face value or most natural reading of our sacred texts often appears undeniably misogynistic.”

    I think you are overgeneralizing. While your statement is certainly true for some specific texts, there are many other texts for which it is categorically untrue. I gave two examples of texts that I dismiss as unredeemable; there may be a handful of others, but there is also a great treasure trove of amazing stories about women throughout the canon.

    “It’s difficult for me to convince myself that God intended for the texts to be interpreted in convoluted ways.”

    The convolution often represents nothing more than the cultural and linguistic distance between us and the original writers.

    “I start to wonder: why didn’t God just say what he meant?”

    Because it appears that God prefers work through intermediaries doing imperfect work.

  30. Gianpaolo Debiasi on February 5, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    I really liked this issue. As a husband of a super-great woman and a father of 7 children of which 6 will be women soon, I have a deep sympathy for women who affirm their values and potential. I live in Italy as a member of the Church. The problem here is more often that women themselves are the cause of their being “second class”, if you wish. Very often I have heard women in the Church blaming my wife for having pursued a university education (in fact university is where we met!) which in their opinion is absolutely a waste of time since women’s role is to be mothers.

    Today my wife would tell you that she’s fond to be a mother (in spite of her huge sacrifice, it has been and it is very hard sometimes with so many children…). But it makes an enormous difference on the family, on the children, on the husband, on the neighborhood, on the community and even in the local LDS-branch if this mother is a poor ignorant who isn’t aware of her qualities or instead somebody who has a deep approach on anything happening around her.

    So very often my wife and I have spoken out for encouraging young women of the Church to pursue highest level of education, just as you would do for any young man having capabilities worth to invest time and resources on. Believe me, it is not for granted in this country. Certainly many men here – many also in the Church, but not all, thank goodness! – think that women are one step behind and should just stay there. But also many women have the big problem that they are not aware of how this attitude is wrong and so they “allow” men to pursue such an attitude.

    I personally would never have settled for an eternal companion who would walk three steps behind me, with a poor education and a narrow horizon. I wanted a woman that goes side by side with me, someone with whom I can talk about anything and have a feeling to be understood. I wanted someone who would travel the world with me, who would share the same broad views, who would know languages, who was sensible to music and the arts, and who would choose the Gospel as the leading scheme of her life. I was fortunate: someone like this exists, and I found her.

    We encourage our daughters (the oldest is now 17) to apply their potential to high goals, which enclude a high level of education as well as excellence in following the commandments and understanding the Gospel. We hope very much that there are plenty of young men out there ready to be interested in our daughters who are true followers of the Church and at the same time will not just be content with just any young lady who missed her opportunities in life.

    Women are not second class. At one condition: that they be aware of it and apply themselves to reach the highest goals.

  31. Julie M. Smith on February 5, 2006 at 11:50 pm

    Gianpaolo Debiasi,

    Welcome to Times and Seasons and thank you for a wonderful comment. I hope to hear more from you.

  32. Eve on February 5, 2006 at 11:54 pm

    Julie, my concern about the convoluted ways we read often read the scriptures is they seem at pains to contradict original historical and linguistic contexts in order to harmonize them with more contemporary views of, say, gender. Interpretive convolutions that filter or rewrite sexism (or racism, or whatever else sets off contemporary radars) push texts from their originating cultures only to pull them into our own. In other words, our interpretative moves are just as culturally informed as the texts themselves are. We haven’t escaped. Although I’m certainly sympathetic to the desire to perform such reconciliations, I don’t see how

    [Text from Culture A] – [Whatever Culture B finds offensive about Culture A] = [More truthful reading of text from Culture A]

    It doesn’t seem an advance, and it comes at the price, in my view, of violence to the text. I think we’re better off accepting the enormous plurality and outright contradictions that, considered as a whole, scriptures and contemporary doctrinal pronouncements encompass. Certainly I’d like to think some things in scripture and other prophetic records aren’t inspired. But since we’re all culturally situated ourselves, I don’t see any simple hermeneutic that allows us to determine what’s inspired and what isn’t (and likely there are degrees of inspiration and ranges of applicability, which only complicates the matter further). Whatever else the scriptures are, they’re mired in particularity (which in my view is part of their beauty); they’re not a collective assertion of any overarchingly consistent set of abstract metaphysical truth-claims.

    I also think it’s appropriate that the scriptures interrogate us just as we interrogate them. If I’m quick to dismiss everything that offends my sensibilities, how can I learn from them? I don’t want to end up holding an attenuated Thomas Jefferon Bible because my cultural sensibilities and personal ideas preclude me from admitting the possibility of miracles, for instance.

    When it comes to gender, I find the the persistent canonical asymmetry between problematic texts and the conciliatory commentary that tends to be produced around them very telling. For example, the Nibley reading you mention that assigns women the role of judgment in correspondence to men’s presiding is pretty clearly extratextual. Nothing in the text that supports it; it’s a product of contemporary discomfort with gender hierarchy. Perhaps the Nibley reading _is_ closer to the truth of gender relations. But for now anyway the asymmetry remains. Nibley’s reading has no canonical status. The texts he’s trying to reinterpret couldn’t have more.

  33. Julie M. Smith on February 6, 2006 at 12:16 am

    “they seem at pains to contradict original historical and linguistic contexts in order to harmonize them with more contemporary views of, say, gender.”

    This is certainly true in some cases. I hope my reading of 1 Cor 11 stands as a counterexample, tho, of a situation where MORE understanding of Paul’s theological assumptions and historical and linguistic context (i.e., about headship–metaphorical and real) leads to a LESS sexist reading of the text. I think we just have to take each passage on a case-by-base basis and see if it is redeemable or not. If I can find some time, I’ll post on a ‘hidden feminist message’ in the story of the loaves and fishes that relies on an intertextual echo that virtually all modern readers miss but that I think would have been transparent to the earliest audiences. This is, I think, another good example where the traditional reading of the story has no gender awareness but the reading more likely to be original contains a more pro-female-equality message.

    “It doesn’t seem an advance, and it comes at the price, in my view, of violence to the text. I think we’re better off accepting the enormous plurality and outright contradictions that, considered as a whole, scriptures and contemporary doctrinal pronouncements encompass.”

    I don’t believe in forcing a text or teaching into a nonsexist mold. I do think that many texts appear sexist because, as much as we might like to think otherwise, we’re reading them under the grid of centuries of sexist interpretations of them. I believe that in many (not all!) cases, the texts themselves do not support the sexist interpretations that have been foisted on them for centuries. Your attachment to contradictions surprises me: How do you defend the idea that God would prefer us to be confused about core issues to the idea that God would prefer us to have some measure of clarity about them?

    “Certainly I’d like to think some things in scripture and other prophetic records aren’t inspired. But since we’re all culturally situated ourselves, I don’t see any simple hermeneutic that allows us to determine what’s inspired and what isn’t (and likely there are degrees of inspiration and ranges of applicability, which only complicates the matter further).”

    I thought it was clear that I wasn’t suggesting a simple hermeneutical tool to do this: What I was suggesting was that I privilege a personal revelation as I approach texts. I’m a little concerned that, followed to its logical extreme, the direction that you are headed in the above paragraph is a nihilistic one: that is, ultimately we can never determine whether a text is inspired because of our cultural location. That conclusion seems contrary to the Gospel to me.

    “Whatever else the scriptures are, they’re mired in particularity (which in my view is part of their beauty); they’re not a collective assertion of any overarchingly consistent set of abstract metaphysical truth-claims.”

    Which is precisely why I don’t have any qualms about summarily dismissing those passages that contradict the ‘abstract metaphysical truth-claim’ that I gained through personal revelation. If we don’t allow _any_ truth claims from any source, we’ve gotten too far out of the mainstream of Mormonism for me.

    “If I’m quick to dismiss everything that offends my sensibilities, how can I learn from them?”

    I’m not quick to dismiss anything. I’ve spent a lot of time investigating the passages that I’ve mentioned. (I don’t know what you know about me, but I have an MA in Biblical Studies with a focus on women in the NT and have spent the better part of the last decade teaching and writing on these passages in my, er, spare time.) But if, ultimately, I refuse to dismiss anything, then I’m acting in a manner contrary to the revelation that I have received. When God has clarified something for me, why would you ask me to embrace something contrary to it just because it ended up in black ink between fake leather covers?

    “For example, the Nibley reading you mention that assigns women the role of judgment in correspondence to men’s presiding is pretty clearly extratextual.”

    If you mean that there is no verse that states, “And, thou, Eve, shall judge Adam,” well, yeah, OK. But given that prophetic (i..e, President Kimball) interpretation of the text explains and defines what ‘rule’ (i.e., preside) means, then Eve’s judging role is an unavoidable outgrowth of the text. If you want to argue that nothing can be added or taken away from a literal reading of the text, then you put yourself in a position where you need to scrap large chunks of the temple ceremony and many, many statements by prophets in this dispensation. I am not willing to do that. If several recent Church presidents are going to explain what presiding means, and Nibley offers the only framework for making sense of that (do you know any others?), then I think that his eisegesis is defendable.

    “Nothing in the text that supports it;”

    This isn’t entirely true. While admitting that what I am about to say is not rock-solid, I think it is worth note that in the first telling of the creation story, Adam and Eve are created equally, as a unit. For them to then take on grossly disproportionate roles after the creation does some violence to their initial unity.

  34. Eve on February 6, 2006 at 1:33 am

    Julie, Hmmm.

    “If I’m quick to dismiss everything that offends my sensibilities, how can I learn from them?�

    “I’m not quick to dismiss anything. I’ve spent a lot of time investigating the passages that I’ve mentioned. (I don’t know what you know about me, but I have an MA in Biblical Studies with a focus on women in the NT and have spent the better part of the last decade teaching and writing on these passages in my, er, spare time.) But if, ultimately, I refuse to dismiss anything, then I’m acting in a manner contrary to the revelation that I have received. When God has clarified something for me, why would you ask me to embrace something contrary to it just because it ended up in black ink between fake leather covers?”

    I didn’t mean to come off as accusing you of dismissing scripture. That’s why I phrased it “If I’m quick to dismiss…” not “If you’re quick to dismiss…” It’s a danger I see for myself personally, to throw scriptures away that drive me nuts (I have on more than one occasion been tempted to hurl D&C 132 across the room, but I can’t remember if I actually hurled or not.). I wasn’t meaning to imply anything about you or your particular situation. And I certainly don’t believe we should necessarily accept everything between fake leather covers. But I do think that the fact that they are canonized scripture means we owe them something, intepretively, that we don’t owe other books.

    (Things between real leather covers, of course, do demand our absolute allegience.)

    For what it’s worth, no, I don’t want to argue that nothing can be added to or taken away from the literal meaning of the text. I just think we need to _start_ with that literal meaning (and for that matter, we should probably start with the assumption that scripture is inspired. As I think about it more, maybe the question often isn’t one of the inspiration of a particular text but of its applicability and meaning. So, for instance, I might accept that Nephi was inspired to kill Laban, but I’d want to be careful how I apply that particular inspired scripture in my own life to avoid ending up like the Lafferty brothers). It’s a fascinating question, what it means for scripture to be inspired and how inspiration differentiates scripture from other writing. I’ll have to keep thinking about that one.

    OK, maybe the Nibley interpretation is a defensible reading (although it still seems strained to me), and I can see where you’re tracing it to the unity in the first creation story. But it itself isn’t canonical. Although I’m ambivalent about it, I think it would probably be an advance to make it canonical, but it isn’t, and there’s enough in what is canonical to support quite contradictory readings. I think all discussion of gender in scripture and doctrine is made much more complicated by the fact that we’re in a time of tremendous cultural flux, which means that a lot ancient texts are getting reinterpreted (perhaps correctly, perhaps incorrectly) or jettisoned. It’s an area where I would tend to say that our own cultural turmoil makes scriptural interpreation of gender issues charged and difficult (although potentially more creative as well, and I do think your work on scripture brings out some of that creative potential).

    I hope I’m not committed to confusion (or, heaven forbid, nihilism!) for its own sake. To clarify, as I see the scriptures and the gospel, there are a few basic things that seem pretty clear (for example, that we need to be daily engaged with God and make and honor covenants with Him) and a lot of things that don’t, not to mention a lot of very weird interactions between God and people in the past whose applicability today seems, at best, confusing. The very fact that there’s so much discussion and disagreement about things like gender and race in the scriptures, other doctrinal pronouncements, and the Church suggests to me that God’s first priority is not necessarily that we (collectively, as a Church) have a perfect, complete understanding of them. If it were, I think He would have stepped in by now.

    I have to admit that my fundamental question about your approach has to do with applying personal revelation to the scriptures. I’m nervous about treading on your sacred ground here, so let me start by saying I’m _not_ questioning the reality or the validity of that experience for you, nor do I think it’s wrong to do apply personal revelation to scripture. But I’m not sure I accept the implied hierarchy of interpretation that you seem to espouse–for example, that a spiritual experience in the Celestial Room is the Supreme Court of inspiration–or that a single and personal revelation, no matter how powerful, can be used to dump scriptures out as sand. I absolutely accept personal revelation as valid form of religious knowledge, but I guess I would tend to place it in dialogue with other forms of religious knowledge, such as the scriptures and prophetic pronouncements.

    Although I don’t think we agree about this, Julie, I want to let you know that admire you for the excellent questions you raise here and for your work on women and the NT, and I hope you can keep finding scraps of spare time in which to pursue it.

  35. Rosalynde Welch on February 6, 2006 at 2:32 am

    Wow, what Eve said. That’s actually kind of weird: #33 felt like I was reading something I’d written myself, syntax and all!

    Julie, I’m tremendously grateful that your celestial room experience has kept you in the church: you’re a stalwart Saint and I’m proud to call you my sister. Your approach to the scriptures reminds me a lot of my mother’s, and there is no woman for whom I have greater intellectual and spiritual respect. Your gifts for communication and interpretation have, I’m sure, strengthened and heartened many, many women who share your confidence about their status but lack the language to talk about it—and to the extent that such strength and heart have benefited these women and thus the kingdom, I’m also tremendously grateful for your efforts.

    In addition to everything Eve suggests about the viability of your textual practices, however, I’m concerned that your method is ill-suited to your mission. In my view your approach is unlikely to comfort those who do not enjoy the conviction of your personal revelation or to persuade those who, on the contrary, are in fact possessed of the spiritual conviction that women do not or will not hold the same status as men; that is, your method is unlikely to reach those groups who struggle substantively with the issue in the first place. Because the textual conclusions you draw are based on a radically unverifiable premise—that is, a premise warranted by a non-transferrable spiritual experience—those conclusions are bound to be rejected as illegitimate or unpersuasive by those who cannot or do not begin from your premise. The decisions handed down by your own Supreme Court of personal revelation may not, alas, claim jurisdiction over the states of my own mind and soul. For this reason, I think your mission will be more fruitful among Jews (that is, those who already share your convictions) than among Gentiles.

    Furthermore, the radically autonomous epistemology your approach suggests, and the highly idiosyncratic hermeneutic it requires, seems to me a shaky ground on which to build a coherent interpretive community—which, in many ways, is a chief function of scripture in religious bodies—particularly a community that values authority, unity, reason and tradition as much as ours does. It’s one thing—a perfectly fine one, in my view—to use scripture ahistorically and idiosyncratically as a catalyst for personal revelation; it’s quite another, and a more problematic, I think, to use personal revelation as a catalyst to dehistoricize or, indeed, decanonize scripture. The latter disengages scriptural text from the network of shared assumptions and ways of reading that makes discourse a material practice in Zion-building. The kicker, of course, is that you have to disengage the text in that way precisely to free it from the problematic traces of a previous interpretive community.

  36. Rosalynde Welch on February 6, 2006 at 2:38 am

    And I see that as I was composing my comment, Eve anticipated me in most ways in her #35!

    Julie, I’m also fascinated by your view of the Celestial Room as a privileged epistemological sphere. This is something I’m hearing more and more these days from Saints at the pulpit and in the pages, and it’s both interesting and troubling to me because the Celestial Room has simultaneously become such a radically private realm. Could you say more about what your understanding of the Celestial Room as Supreme Court is based on?

  37. Andermom/Starfoxy on February 6, 2006 at 11:29 am

    I’d like to speak up as someone who has had personal revelation similar to Julie’s. I had read and studied the scriptures in regards to gender equity, and read as much prophetic interpretation as I could. I prayed, and eventually recieved confirmation that women are not second class, etc. etc. However, unlike Julie, I didn’t (and still don’t) have the tools to disect the scriptures the way she can. Therefore I felt comfortable ignoring those scriptures that didn’t fit. If they were true, I didn’t have the understanding to see how they didn’t degrade women. Without understanding scriptures are meaningless. If they weren’t true, then they should be ignored anyways. I have found Julie’s disection of the sciptures reassuring. Some of it has brought parts of the scriptures into harmony with what I have recieved confirmation of.
    It seems like some of us are uncomfortable with the idea of personal revelation being (for lack of a better word) a trump card. When Joseph Smith prayed he was told to ignore all the churches around him. Why do we find it so disturbing that when Julie says she has recieved personal revelation and is now going to ignore some quesionable scriptures? You might answer that Joseph was the prophet, and was entitled to recieve authorative revelations. When he first prayed it was only personal revelation he was after, and he wasn’t a prophet when he started.
    Even if she decided to say that Paul’s writings were dictated by a purple talking frog, if the only outcome is men treating women better, and women feeling more loved by their Father in Heaven then I see nothing wrong with it.

  38. Andermom/Starfoxy on February 6, 2006 at 11:38 am

    “Furthermore, the radically autonomous epistemology your approach suggests, and the highly idiosyncratic hermeneutic it requires, seems to me a shaky ground on which to build a coherent interpretive community”

    Can I just say that I plan on memorizing this sentence to say whenever I want people to think I’m really smart? I don’t even know what half of those words mean. Rosalynde is way smarter than be about this kind of stuff.

  39. Eve on February 6, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    Rosalynde, maybe I was channeling you. I’m not sure how that works in LDS metaphysics, though. Are you craving Cheetos?

    Andermom/Starfoxy, You’re making me laugh. Your purple talking frog has opened my eyes to all sorts of, um, repitilian interpretive possibilities. The salamander letter could be just the beginning.

    (end flippancy and lightmindedness, for this post anyway)

  40. Lisa F. on February 6, 2006 at 1:19 pm

    I’m with Andermom/Starfoxy, personal revelation is a trump card for me. I don’t have the training or knowledge to dissect the language, or to place things in historical/cultural context, yet I need to understand the scriptures and let them guide my life. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is all about that dichotomy.

    The analogy of the celestial room as a Supreme Court of revelation was funny and on target. I don’t think its meaning was that those who can’t go there are barred from similar experiences. Trying to stretch the analogy in that direction may cause its breakdown.

  41. Seth R. on February 6, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    I think the scriptures in question are simply too open-ended and vague to claim that the Nibley reading is “strained.” It’s just as strained to arrive at the medeival Catholic interpretations of Adam’s relationship to Eve. You can read it as sexist or not, as you please.

    I like Nibley’s interpretation. So I imagine that I’ll adopt it. Pretty simple.

  42. Julie M. Smith on February 6, 2006 at 2:47 pm

    Eve:

    (1) I understand that you weren’t personally attacking me with the ‘quick’ comment. I just wanted to clarify that I wasn’t a newbie to the scriptures, reading a passage for the first time and marking a red line through anything that offended my feminist sensibilities. I refuse to accept intrepretations that I think are contrary to the original intent of the author. I am just very comfortable in going on record when I think the original intent of the author was uninspired! I think we are in basic agreement on the idea that scriptures require careful consideration, although it appears my experience has left me with a higher comfort level in dismissing sexist writings.

    (2) I do think that you are placing too much weight on canonical status (re the Nibley reading) in a church that occassionally suggests that there is a magazine published every six months with status equal to scripture. (Which I think is slightly overreading, but whatever.) My point is that I am not sure there is anything ‘special enough’ about the canonical process that we’d vest such extreme authority in a statement from, say, Paul (not a prophet! not a first presidency member!) when, say, President Kimball says something differently. (Especially since we can be *sure* if it was Pres. Kimball speaking, and that his words were transmitted correctly to us, something we can’t do with Paul.)

    (3) I hope I haven’t created the impression that I think I can perfectly interpret every single scripture verse and deem it “Inspired” or “Fit for the Dung Heap.” For example, I was thinking this morning about how in the OT, giving birth to a girl requires a longer purification than birthing a boy. Sexist? Possibly. Probably. But based on a friendship with an Orthodox woman who was downright gleeful at getting a (how many days? I forget . . .) break from all of her religious duties (she didn’t even have to go to church! lucky!), she certainly didn’t view the purification time as a ‘punishment,’ but rather as a ‘holiday.’ In that case, the longer time for a girl would be a *positive* things (perhaps designed to counteract cultural forces that would privilege the birth of a boy?). Was _that_ the author’s (or God’s) intention for the purification? I have no idea. I have no idea how to interpret this scripture. But I do know that _if_ it suggests women are somehow inferior, to that extent it is uninspired. See, Eve, I have plenty of room in my worldview for confusion!

    (4) You write, “But I’m not sure I accept the implied hierarchy of interpretation that you seem to espouse–for example, that a spiritual experience in the Celestial Room is the Supreme Court of inspiration–or that a single and personal revelation, no matter how powerful, can be used to dump scriptures out as sand.”

    I feel that God supports *me* in all of these things _as a part_ of the inspiration. I’m not claiming that the two things that you mention are the _necessary_ results of a revelation that women are not second class, but are a part of it, in this case. Does that make sense?

    (5) “I absolutely accept personal revelation as valid form of religious knowledge, but I guess I would tend to place it in dialogue with other forms of religious knowledge, such as the scriptures and prophetic pronouncements.”

    This may be true in general, but in this particular case, I would feel untrue to the content of this experience if I were to entertain the thought “this scripture, which is inspired, teaches that women are secondary in the kingdom.” I need to omit one phrase (which is inspired) or the other (teaches that . . .) in order to be true to what I have received. I would expect to be in big trouble with God if I privileged a 2000 year old textual fragment over personal inspiration.

    Now to Rosalynde:

    (1) First, thank you for your very kind comments. I just wish I could have read them without anticipating the ‘but’ that I could tell was coming. :)

    (2) You write, “I’m concerned that your method is ill-suited to your mission. In my view your approach is unlikely to comfort those who do not enjoy the conviction of your personal revelation or to persuade those who, on the contrary, are in fact possessed of the spiritual conviction that women do not or will not hold the same status as men; that is, your method is unlikely to reach those groups who struggle substantively with the issue in the first place”

    What precisely do you think my method is? I think it has three parts:

    –suggest that women take their concerns directly to God. No point in drinking downstream. I don’t expect (in fact, it would be wrong to) think my personal revelation should hold any weight with anyone else.

    –provide some tools for reading the scriptures (that is, _some_ scriptures) in a manner consistent with the idea that women are equal.

    –provide an example of a woman who is aware of the critical, textual, historical, and doctrinal issues AND has a firm commitment to feminism AND is active in the church AND doesn’t feel like any of these things contradict each other.

    If you don’t think these things are useful, let me know how/why and what _would_ be useful.

    I have a sense that some subsets of LDS feminism are about sitting around kvetching, moaning, and complaining and are not actually interested in seeking solutions to their internal conflicts. I have sensed that some (not you!) are in a sense ‘offended’ by my effort to actually seek solutions to the paradoxes about women.

    (3) I am much less convinced of the importance of the interpretive community than you are. Further, I (and my inspiration) are a part of that community. And in real terms, I would never, ever, ever, get in front of a class and say something like, “I have had a personal revelation that X, Y, and Z, therefore the following scripture must be uninspired.” What I do like to do is sketch out the possibilities and their repurcussions and leave the class to their own conclusions: “If you read X this way, the conclusion that you might draw is . . . and if you read it this way, it would affirm the notion that . . . which does [or does not] agree with what Pres. Whoever said about . . .”

    (4) “Could you say more about what your understanding of the Celestial Room as Supreme Court is based on?”

    I think I explained this in my post: I cannot imagine a valid reason to privilege an ancient text or a modern human or anything else above a direct witness from God. Perhaps the Celestial Room is something of a red herring–I imagine that I could hypothetically have had an identical experience in my kitchen or a grove, but this one just so happened* to have been in the temple.

    * Of course, given that we generally believe that the celestial room is sacred space, ‘just so happened’ seems a little off.

    Andermom, Lisa F., and Seth–thanks for good comments.

  43. Anon on February 6, 2006 at 3:02 pm

    My interpretation of Genesis 38 is that it’s acceptable in the sight of God to have sex with leather-clad strangers. The text is too open-ended and vague to draw a clear conclusion.

    I like this interpretation. So I think I’ll adopt it. It’s that simple.

  44. George on February 6, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    Julie

    Forgive my presumption, but I would like to use some of your comments in my Elder’s Quorum Lesson on the November 2005 Ensign Article “Instruments in the Hands of God.” I have enjoyed reading the comments and your responses to your original statement and feel that they could add greatly to the lesson. Please let me know one way or the other.

  45. George on February 6, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    Julie may I use some of your comments in my Elder’s Quorum Lesson on the November 2005 Ensign article “Instruments in the Hands of God?” I have enjoyed the comments, and in general the spirit they where offered.

  46. Rosalynde Welch on February 6, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    Eve, you’ve read the scripture: “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind and one palate, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no pringle among them.” Zion is fled today, though, because it’s been walnuts and oranges for me.

    Starfox/Andermom: LOL! Thanks for the compliment—but don’t get any great expectations for the line! Radically anything epistemologies—not to mention any kind of hermeneutic—are likely to get you blackballed from most interpretive communities! And that’s probably as it should be.

    To respond to your more substantive point: “if the only outcome is men treating women better, and women feeling more loved by their Father in Heaven then I see nothing wrong with it.” At times I’m tempted to agree with you: if it’s not hurting anything, what’s the problem with morally-correct misreadings? I don’t think that the outcomes you suggest are, in fact, the only ones, though. It seems to me that adopting only those readings that accommodate one’s personal revelation forces faith to square off against reason—and reason must always be the casualty. (To suggest, for example, that “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” is open-ended and vague, for example, makes reason stare.) I much prefer a method, like Jim’s, that allows faith and reason to work interdependently. I fear that many, many more would be driven from the fold by the subordination of reason to faith than are by the subordination of women to men.

  47. Julie M. Smith on February 6, 2006 at 4:30 pm

    “It seems to me that adopting only those readings that accommodate one’s personal revelation forces faith to square off against reason—and reason must always be the casualty. (To suggest, for example, that “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over theeâ€? is open-ended and vague, for example, makes reason stare.)”

    First, no one–at least, not me–thinks there is anything open-ended or vague about ““thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over theeâ€? What I do think about that passage is this:

    (1) the first phrase is virtually impossible to understand and has spawned numerous theories. I don’t worry too much about it, because my sense is that the meaning is not recoverable.

    (2) the second phrase was corrected by a prophet to read “he shall preside over thee” and augmented by a lengthy tradition (most recently, Elder Oaks in general conference this Oct) explaining what precisely preside does and does not mean

    As far as reason goes, I would challenge you to point to an interpretation of scripture that I have made where I have allowed reason to go out the window. I don’t say, “Well, this verse sure looks sexist, but it can’t be, so I’ll just conclude based on faith that it isn’t sexist.” What my experience has done is to encourage to expend the effort to seek out nonsexist interpretations. But this isn’t always possible; when it isn’t, I conclude the verse isn’t inspired (another very ‘reasonable’ interpretation, most often based on the textual history of a passage or theological issues, etc).

    Your comment bothers me on a deeper level, however: the implication is that, because there is an element of faith to personal revelation, I should sometimes, in some ways, compromise the knowledge that I gained from that source in order to accomodate a text. You wouldn’t really want me to do that, would you?

  48. Rosalynde Welch on February 6, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    Oops, sorry, Julie, I should have clarified: I was referencing #42, not anything you’ve said.

    We’ve discussed the Pres. Kimball and Elder Oaks issue before, I think. The problem I (still) see is that Nibley’s gloss on on Pres. Kimball’s emendation does not, in fact, describe the current structure of the church. Family structure, perhaps, with some fancy footwork—but there are simply no ecclesiastical contexts in which women are permitted to judge their (male) presiding authorities.

    I’m reluctant to challenge any of your interpretations precisely because they’re predicated upon your own personal revelation, and I don’t feel justified in personally contesting the conclusions you’ve drawn from it. If there were some other shared basis from which we could begin, I think we could have a productive discussion on specific passages.

    You’re precisely right in sensing my discomfort with a strenuously robust notion of personal revelation—particularly an autonomous personal revelation that provides specific propositional content independent of, or even contrary to, other sources of authority. I just don’t see a very good basis for this particular version of personal revelation in LDS theology. (This, however, is very different from saying that I think you were deluded in the celestial room—I honestly am not suggesting that.)

  49. Confused on February 6, 2006 at 5:20 pm

    I’m genuinely wondering why we have sacred texts at all. I absolutely believe personal revelation is our most direct line of access to God. But if personal revelation gives us all the information we need and the license to offer bizarre readings of sacred texts as authoratative, why have the text? Why not go back to classical prophecy and just say, “Thus saith the LORD,” and compose our own texts based on our revelation?

    Another possibility is for the text to come into dialogue with one’s own revelation, rather than being fundamentally reinterpreted in light of one’s own revelation. One might conclude, for example, that some sacred texts are flat out wrong, rather than that said sacred texts say things they clearly don’t.

  50. Julie M. Smith on February 6, 2006 at 5:29 pm

    “The problem I (still) see is that Nibley’s gloss on on Pres. Kimball’s emendation does not, in fact, describe the current structure of the church. Family structure, perhaps, with some fancy footwork—but there are simply no ecclesiastical contexts in which women are permitted to judge their (male) presiding authorities.”

    Wow–I wonder how many times we’ve talked past each other on this issue. I never assumed that the preside business in the story of the Fall had anything to do with what happens in church contexts (where, clearly, neither women nor men are called to judge their leaders), but always considered it solely in the context of the marriage relationship. While I do not deny that there has been much confusion in the church about the differences between presiding in the home and presiding in the church, I think that Elder Oaks’ recent talk goes a long, long way to clarifying this.

    “You’re precisely right in sensing my discomfort with a strenuously robust notion of personal revelation—particularly an autonomous personal revelation that provides specific propositional content independent of, or even contrary to, other sources of authority. I just don’t see a very good basis for this particular version of personal revelation in LDS theology.”

    Are you kidding me? Let me kid you for a minute: Have you ever read that story about Nephi and Laban?

  51. Kaimi Wenger on February 6, 2006 at 6:13 pm

    George,

    That’s what they’re here for. Enjoy! :)

  52. Julie M. Smith on February 6, 2006 at 6:24 pm

    George–

    I apologize–I didn’t see your comments sooner because of a quirk in our system here that made them show up out of order.

    In any case, they are in the public domain, so you are certainly free to use them. I am a little nervous, however, that you might relate my experience in a way that suggests that it has some authority for someone else, which, of course, is not the case for any personal inspiration. Perhaps if you emailed me (julie at timesandseasons dot org) you could set my mind at ease–and satiate my incredible curiousity about what your lesson is about and how my comments fit in!

  53. Anon on February 6, 2006 at 6:24 pm

    Hmm. Here’s my current understanding.

    Personal revelation, as noted, is the trump card. If God gives me a very specific personal revelation about a particular text, I accept it as authoratative. If God tells me that what Paul actually means is x, or that what the author of Genesis is trying to say is x, then it makes sense for me to accept God’s interpretation of the scriptures.

    But if God provides me with a general principle–such as, for example, men and women are equal–then I’m still accountable to examine the text responsibly as a text. The text may or may not reflect the principle I’m convinced is true. So my revelation doesn’t, a priori, render my particular interpretation of the text as valid.

  54. maria on February 6, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    #49 “While I do not deny that there has been much confusion in the church about the differences between presiding in the home and presiding in the church, I think that Elder Oaks’ recent talk goes a long, long way to clarifying this.”

    Julie, would you be willing to provide us a summary of what you believe Eder Oaks’ presiding talk clarified? I have honestly read it 10+ times, and each time I read it I get more confused.

    #43 “I have a sense that some subsets of LDS feminism are about sitting around kvetching, moaning, and complaining and are not actually interested in seeking solutions to their internal conflicts.”

    I think I far too often fall into the category of over-kvetching. But lately I’ve really been trying to put honest effort into resolving these issues. Some days I just feel so tired of it all…but on days I read posts like this one at least I put some positive energy toward the conflict. Thank you again.

  55. Julie M. Smith on February 6, 2006 at 7:49 pm

    maria,

    It clarified the difference between leadership in the home and in the church. (I’m on pretty safe ground with that claim since that is the title and the first line!) I found this language to really get at the heart of the matter:

    “There are many similarities and some differences in the way priesthood authority functions in the family and in the Church. If we fail to recognize and honor the differences, we encounter difficulties . . .A most important difference in the functioning of priesthood authority in the family and in the Church results from the fact that the government of the family is patriarchal, whereas the government of the Church is hierarchical. The concept of partnership functions differently in the family than in the Church. . . . President Spencer W. Kimball said this: “When we speak of marriage as a partnership, let us speak of marriage as a full partnership. We do not want our LDS women to be silent partners or limited partners in that eternal assignment! Please be a contributing and full partner” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [1982], 315). President Kimball also declared, “We have heard of men who have said to their wives, ‘I hold the priesthood and you’ve got to do what I say.’ ” He decisively rejected that abuse of priesthood authority in a marriage, declaring that such a man “should not be honored in his priesthood” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 316).”

    I also thought this was an interesting thought:

    “The principles I have identified for the exercise of priesthood authority are more understandable and more comfortable for a married woman than for a single woman, especially a single woman who has never been married. She does not now experience priesthood authority in the partnership relationship of marriage. Her experiences with priesthood authority are in the hierarchical relationships of the Church, and some single women feel they have no voice in those relationships. It is, therefore, imperative to have an effective ward council, where male and female ward officers sit down together regularly to counsel under the presiding authority of the bishop.”

    I’d be curious to hear how and why you are confused; I thought this talk was unusual for its candor and clarity.

  56. MDS on February 6, 2006 at 8:06 pm

    “there are simply no ecclesiastical contexts in which women are permitted to judge their (male) presiding authorities.â€?

    What about the ritual of sustaining/opposing our leaders? This seems to me to be a route by which anyone, regardless of gender, can pass judgment on their presiding authorities, and be taken very seriously when the grounds for opposition are legitimate.

  57. Lynnette on February 7, 2006 at 4:46 am

    I find your re-readings to be both fascinating and thought-provoking, and I think my concern is less here with questions of hermeneutics than with the ways in which these passages actually get played out in the life of the church. My guess is that most people encountering these texts don’t have the background to re-examine them and come up with alternate, more egalitarian understandings of them–and even if that’s not their actual intent, I do think that such passages have the effect nonetheless of contributing to a culture of sexism. I realize that raises a complicated issue: to what extent is it fair to critique our texts based on their real-world effects and the way (many) people are hearing them, as opposed to critiquing them on the basis of what the author intended them to mean? I honestly don’t know. But I have to admit that my own wish would be for the message that women aren’t secondary to be so clear and unmistakable in our discourse and liturgy that people wouldn’t be left in any doubt about the matter.

  58. Christian Y. Cardall on February 7, 2006 at 10:05 am

    Rosalynde (#47): I don’t think characterizing Jim’s approach as “reason” against Julie’s as “faith” quite works. I understand how Jim’s deference to text and the primacy given personal revelation by Julie could lead to this description, but…

    I understand Jim’s canonical mode (pun most assuredly intended) to be one in which, for the most part, the exercise of reason is limited to the generation of questions that signal a receptivity or readiness, an invitation to the text to speak for itself. The primary posture is one of listening. Reason is not deployed to wrestle with or make sense of the scriptures (or living authorities). Nor is reason aimed at sifting the wheat from the chaff, or subjecting the authoritative status of individual elements or the whole of scripture to probation by rational comparison with external evidence or secular insights. In this sense it is faith—understood in its more ancient sense as “fidelity”—that governs Jim’s approach, more than reason. In Jim’s interactions with scripture, faith both regulates the aim and limits the range of the potent weapon that is reason.

    Conversely, the acceptance of personal revelation as one’s prime directive of necessity involves ‘belief,’ and therefore has a colloquial association with ‘faith’; but it is not that there is not reason involved, for reason may well be subsequently and extensively deployed to contend with authoritative texts at variance with personal revelation—a development that might not be characterized as ‘fidelity’ or ‘faithfulness.’

  59. Kiskilili on February 7, 2006 at 10:13 am

    With Maria, I find Elder Oaks’s talk confusing. My impression is that he’s attempting to redefine basic terms such as “preside” and “patriarchy” and assign to them a special meaning exclusively applicable to fatherhood. We know the terms ordinarily imply hierarchy of some sort; however, when used to describe a relationship between husband and wife, they mean something else entirely: they mean “equal.”

    I find this solution unsatisfactory. If what we mean when we say that the husband “presides” has nothing to do with a hierarchical relationship, why don’t we just use a different term?

  60. Christian Y. Cardall on February 7, 2006 at 10:24 am

    Julie (#48), [Rosalynde's] comment bothers me on a deeper level, however: the implication is that, because there is an element of faith to personal revelation, I should sometimes, in some ways, compromise the knowledge that I gained from that source in order to accomodate a text. You wouldn’t really want me to do that, would you?

    At least since Hiram Page (cf. D&C 28) and probably earlier, compromising personal revelation to accomodate authoritative texts is exactly what the Church has required.

    As for Nephi and Laban (#51), I am not persuaded he was acting “independent of, or even contrary to, other sources of authority” (to quote the passage of Rosalynde you were questioning).

  61. George on February 7, 2006 at 11:15 am

    Thanks Julie for allowing me to use some of your thoughts in my upcoming lesson. Be assured that I am not using your comments to “suggests that it has some authority for someone else.” My intent is to bring in a woman’s point view that is confident and succinct.

  62. LisaB on February 7, 2006 at 11:36 am

    I’ve been wanting to comment here but didn’t have the time to formulate my response. Been busy over at FMH (where I could really use your input on the biblical & restoration women collection post, Julie, if you’ve the time)…

    The question of personal revelation, individual spiritual experience, and more general spirituality and their interaction with scripture, doctrine, direction, and our individual quest for understanding ourselves, God, and our place in the world and in relation to others has long been an interest of mine.

    Part of this interest stems from having grown up under a fair amount of spiritual abuse–which I define as the misuse of claims of personal spirituality, revelation, or authority for the sake of manipulation, insult/injury/harm, or for personal power or status. Also because I myself have been convinced of revelation in certain areas or situations only to realize later that I’d mistaken a heightened emotional state, or even my own desires, for spirituality or spiritual confirmation. These experiences have made it essential for me to try to distinguish revelation given by influence of the Holy Spirit from my (or someone else’s) own personal desires, prejudices, or feelings.

    Recording impressions and feelings in a journal (separate from my “regular” diary) helps me in the sorting process. It also has provided me with a valuable record of my spiritual journey thus far, and a concrete way of recognizing and remembering God’s hand in my life. I use this record in conjunction with the LDS standard works, conference talks and other messages from prophets and church leaders including women of the church, notes of blessings including my patriarchal blessing, and spiritual stories from my own and my husband’s family histories. I consider all of these scripture, or holy writ.

    Some may consider this broad personal canon to demean the traditional canon, but I think it elevates it. What else is scripture besides collections of individual human beings impressions of their spiritual experiences, recorded, retold, handed down through the generations, sometimes altered, exaggerated, misunderstood? Elevating “ordinary” spiritual experiences or impressions to the level of scripture makes canonized scripture more approachable, more real, more sacred to me. I’m not sure why this is, but somehow the humanity and errors of the scriptures seem to be exactly what make them more sacred to me. Perhaps it is the same with the humanity of Christ. I also think this approach fits in with the scriptural teachings regarding not relying on the arm of flesh, but rather as the Doctrine and Covenants teaches, that everyone should speak in the name of God. As I approach the Standard Works, I now do so with the same respect and caution that I give my own spiritual experiences.

    As for reason vs faith, that’s a whole ‘nother topic. But I like Elder Packer’s approach. It’s not revelation if doesn’t resonate in both heart and mind. Reason and faith are no more contradictory than justice and mercy.

  63. Mark IV on February 7, 2006 at 11:47 am

    But, Christian, isn’t that precisely the question? Exactly what is an authoritative text?

    I would propose that there are three competing spheres of authority. Scripture, statements of modern prophets, and personal revelation all have room to flex their muscles. In Mormonism, we would say that the statements of prophets are the trump card, but even then we have some leeway. An apartment dweller in Tokyo could disregard pres. Kimball’s advice about planting gardens and painting barns with a clear conscience, and the saints in the Amazon basin are under no obligation to “pray for moisture”.

    The Articles of Faith caveat about being translated correctly is a polite acknowledgement that the Bible is the product of a sausage factory. Fragments of dubious origin, bits and pieces of this and that, are all gound up and mixed together with secret spices and then extruded through more translations than you can count. It is a miracle that it makes as much sense as it does. Joseph Smith, Jr. himself said “the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.” So when Julie concludes, as Joseph Smith did, that an answer might come through prayer, she is placing herself squarely in the mainstream of the religious movement he founded.

    The passage in question required some impressive tap dancing on Julie’s part, but I think she did it well.

  64. Andermom/Starfoxy on February 7, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    “At least since Hiram Page (cf. D&C 28) and probably earlier, compromising personal revelation to accomodate authoritative texts is exactly what the Church has required.”

    What Hiram had recieved wasn’t *personal* revelation in the way we’re discussing it here. Hiram was decieved by Satan, and we have been given several tests to know if what we recieve is of God, or if it is of the Devil (whatsoever leadeth to do good etc…). The most important part is that Hiram was claiming his revelations were applicable to the whole church, not just for himself, or for those he had stewardship over. This is the important fact to remember when reading verses 12 &13 of D&C 28.

    Say I read 1 Cor. 11 and it makes me feel like God doesn’t love me. So I pray, and ask “Does God Love me, or is this Scripture and my interpretation of it true?” I recieve confirmation that God does love me, and the scripture, as I read it, is false. Where is the problem? Is it in trying to find a way of reading it that does fit with the confirmation of God’s love? Is it in sharing that interpretation so that other women can judge for themselves? Is it in glossing over those parts that contradict the confirmation?

    Julie isn’t telling us *the* way to interpret scripture, she is telling us *a* way to interpret scripture. More specifically *a* way to interpret it that supports the testimony she has that women aren’t second class in God’s kingdom.

  65. LisaB on February 7, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    You go girl, Andermom!

  66. Kiskilili on February 7, 2006 at 1:31 pm

    Thanks for phrasing it so clearly, Andermom.

    The problem as I see it is in trying to find a way of reading a passage to fit with one’s personal revelation, when the revelation is not specifically about the passage in question. Something seems fundamentally dishonest about reading a text when one is already convinced about what it must mean.

    Let’s say I have the revelation you suggest, about 1 Cor. 11. I advance my interpretation of the text to read other than what it seems to say on face value. But I have no real authority in my religious community.

    But as Lynnette pointed out (#58), the texts have real-world effects. Other people read the same text and reach different conclusions, and behave in a way with which I’m uncomfortable even though they can find justification for their behavior in our sacred texts. Let’s say I think Br. X has an inappropriate understanding of the term “preside” in regards to his family relationships. Let’s say Br. X says he’s read the exact same texts I have and is certain that some level of hierarchy, some level of authority over his wife is granted him, and he’s behaving accordingly. The language on the matter in the church, taken as a whole, and in spite of softening statements, easily lends itself to such an interpretation.

    My reinterpretation of the text hasn’t addressed this problem the way a direct refutation of the text by someone in authority would have.

  67. Mark IV on February 7, 2006 at 1:55 pm

    Kiskilli,

    I’m having a hard time framing a response to you in a way that doesn’t seem dismissive. Can you put up with me while I try?

    Something seems fundamentally dishonest about reading a text when one is already convinced about what it must mean.

    I disagree to the extent that we should read in context. When it comes to the scriptures, our entire life experience with God is the context, so when something doesn’t fit, it doesn’t seem dishonest to me to try to find ways to make it fit. When the Savior says that we need to hate our mothers and fathers, it doesn’t bother me at all to understand something else other that what the text plainly says, based on my previous experience.

  68. Christian Y. Cardall on February 7, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    Mark IV, I’m certainly not arguing the Bible is anything other than what you describe. But there is a difference between acknowledging that errors exist, and presuming to specify, especially publicly and particularly by revelation, where and what those errors are and how they should be corrected. While Joseph is a valuable role model in many things, within the Church we do not have the authority to do all that he did to the extent and the way that he did. (I am not saying this is what Julie has done; I am responding to your general statement of principle.)

    Andermom/Starfoxy, I never said Julie was acting like Hiram Page. She has here publicly declared that she had a revelation, and wrote of a “personal mission” she has undertaken in part because of it, but the described content of the revelation and what she does with it are not specific enough to make a comparison to Hiram Page. I understood Rosalynde and Julie’s discussion to have risen beyond the specifics of the post to the more general question of tension between personal revelation and authoritative texts, and it was at this level of general principle that I made my comment.

  69. Kiskilili on February 7, 2006 at 5:56 pm

    Mark IV,

    Thanks for your comments. I’ve never been able to work out a hermeneutic I’m entirely comfortable with, but I think you have a point I too often neglect: to the degree that scripture is inspired text and our understanding of revelation is inspired text, it makes sense to bring the two into dialogue and allow them to inform each other. A sacred text resides in a living community; authorial intent is not always relevant.

    Now I hope you put up with me while I try not to be dismissive. :)

    My current understanding goes like this. Your description of the Bible (#64) is just beautiful! To choose just one example of a disconnect between passages in scriptural text (there are many), it seems that the Deuteronomistic Historian (I’m thinking particularly of whoever authored Kings) and the Chronicler (the author of Chronicles) profess substantively different theological outlooks. For DH, it seems that God reveals himself in the acts of history, but in a manner that is messy and sometimes verges on inexplicable. But for the Chronicler, everyone receives his/her comeuppance in this life. People suffer because they sin. People prosper because they are righteous. The Chronicler admits to no exceptions. This leads them in some instances to actually claim that different events occurred in Israel’s history.

    My own lived experience teaches me to be wary of both perspectives. But it has little bearing (not none, but little) on the way in which I make sense of the two perspectives as the two (+) authors are laying them out.

  70. Mark IV on February 7, 2006 at 6:54 pm

    Kkll, exactly! If we randomly selected 40 different people to witness an event and then asked them to describe that event the next day, we would get 40 different versions. When we complicate it by adding a few millenia, multiple cultures and languages, and our own unconcious biases, it shouldn’t surprise us at all to find conflicting accounts.

    We can accept the scriptures as inspired and authoritative, and also leave open the door to new understanding. I find this part of Mormonism to be very liberating and appealing.

  71. Jeremiah J. on February 7, 2006 at 7:25 pm

    “(2) the second phrase was corrected by a prophet to read “he shall preside over theeâ€? and augmented by a lengthy tradition (most recently, Elder Oaks in general conference this Oct) explaining what precisely preside does and does not mean”

    I don’t know the Nibley gloss (and maybe I’m missing something in the thread–I just skimmed), but my view has been that the Kimball-Oaks interpretation/ correction of the passage seems headed in the wrong direction (and in addition hastily revisionary, like the LDS view of John 4:24).

    Why must we interpret ‘thy husband shall rule over thee’ as a normative statement? The thrust of the passage seems to be God informing Adam and Eve what life outside the Garden would be like (especially the bad side of it). Pain and death from childhood, as well as domination by men, seems to be a pretty astute sum of the wrongs of woman for most of human history; the same goes for the drudgery of physical labor for men (one might add violent death in war). I feel no need to soften shall “rule over thee”, because the statement doesn’t seem to have any normative force. We shouldn’t blame women who escape from the rule of men any more than we should blame the laboring mother who escapes the pain of childbirth (through painkillers) or farmers who avoid sweat by working in air-conditioned tractors (let alone men whose occupations cannot even metaphorically be said to involve sweat).

  72. Julie M. Smith on February 7, 2006 at 8:31 pm

    Re Confused in #50:

    I assume that you have something specific in mind when you refer to “bizarre readings of sacred texts” and I think it would probably be far more productive to talk about it specifically because, it should go without saying, I don’t think very highly of “bizarre readings of sacred texts.” I think Anon in #54 also answered your question well.

    Lynette, I’m with you on #58. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the problem of ‘people without the tools to do what I do,’ and I don’t know what the solution is to it.

    Christian Y. Cardall in #59–well said.

    Kiskilili in #60: Good questions. I have no answer for you, except that if we tossed out every term that the world uses incorrectly (‘God’, ‘baptism’, ‘sacrament’ ‘grace’ etc.), we’d have no religious vocabulary left! At some point, we have to suck it up and redeem words instead of abandoning them.

    Re Christian in #61: You write, “At least since Hiram Page (cf. D&C 28) and probably earlier, compromising personal revelation to accomodate authoritative texts is exactly what the Church has required. As for Nephi and Laban (#51), I am not persuaded he was acting “independent of, or even contrary to, other sources of authorityâ€? (to quote the passage of Rosalynde you were questioning).”

    Christian, legitimate reasons for compromising personal revelation are: (1) incorrect/misunderstood/misapplied revelation and (2) assuming the revelation applies to those for whom one does not have stewardship. Neither is the case in my case. And Nephi was clearly acting contrary to one of the Big Ten; I don’t buy that apologetic thingie you hear sometimes. [I see that Andermom/needs to shorten her name explained this well in #65.]

    LisaB–I’ll have a look at your FMH post tonight. I also really enjoyed tyour comment.

    “the Bible is the product of a sausage factory”

    Good line, Mark!

    Kiskilili writes, “The problem as I see it is in trying to find a way of reading a passage to fit with one’s personal revelation, when the revelation is not specifically about the passage in question. Something seems fundamentally dishonest about reading a text when one is already convinced about what it must mean.”

    Kiskilili, the overarching nature of the revelation (being a very general statement) means that I think it applies to all teachings having to do with the status of women. As far as “fundamentally dishonest”, well, those are precisely the words that I would use to describe myself if I were to consider that a sexist passage were inspired of God after the confirmation that I have received to the contrary. Now, let me tell you waht I do think would be dishonest: to say “All verses must teach that women are equal. No matter what, I’ll find some squirrly way of reading it to make it mean that.” That would be nasty. But insofar as your comment goes, I see no other way to read it other than you saying, “You should privilege some scripture passages over your personal revelation.” Given the well-known problems with ‘some scripture passages’, this seems like an unwise path to take.

    As for your example about Brother X, this just doesn’t work for me. If I were in a position to talk to Br. X, I could work through a dozen statements from modern prophets, a dozen scriptures (for which I could explain to him, like I did in the other post, legitimate exegetical reasons for interpreting the scripture as I do–never even mentioning my personal experience) , and I could encourage him to pray about the issue and receive his own witness of what his behavior should be. Not a single one of these three things involved me asking Br. X to give any weight at all to my personal revelation (which would be wrong.)

    Jeremiah, take it up with Pres. Kimball, not with me. I think to a certain extent you are right: the statements (particularly pain in childbirth) could be viewed as descriptoive/prophetic instead of normative. But I think the relation of the temple ceremony to these stories complicates the matter a little more than your position allows.

  73. Jeremiah J. on February 7, 2006 at 8:50 pm

    “But I think the relation of the temple ceremony to these stories complicates the matter a little more than your position allows.”

    Fair enough. But if we’re dealing with an elephant of difficult statements, I’d like to eat it one bite at a time!

    Your metaphor of a supreme court is very interesting–the supreme court really is final (at least in most modern jurisprudence); and yet it still can be wrong! Thomas Aquinas once asked whether one could be asked by God to do something plainly against natural law (marrying a harlot as Hosea was asked to do was his example). He was forced to say yes (what else could one say?). Despite his view of natural law it was somewhat easier for him than it is for us because for him the mind of God is the source of all law, natural and divine. Still the point seems to be the same for me: it truly is a terrible thing to have to say–interpretive communities notwithstanding–”Here I stand I can do no other”. And yet I see no other alternative in Mormonism than to say that this is at least conceivable.

  74. Starfoxy/lets see how long I can make this thing on February 7, 2006 at 9:54 pm

    Kiskilili’s Bro. X metaphor brings up a good point. We’re responsible to seek out confirmation for *all* scriptures. We’re quick to do it for the ones we don’t like, but we are still responsible to do it for the ones we do like. For instance Bro. X might very much like the idea of ruling over his wife, but he is responsible to pray to learn whether or not he is treating his wife the way he should. I think this might be part of what is meant when the scriptures say to pray about all things, flocks, fields, families etc.

    Perhaps this is part of what seems distasteful in Julie’s approach. It appears as if she’s taking what she likes and tossing the rest. In reality she (and we) should be taking *everything,* praying about it and tossing what isn’t true whether we like it or not.

    Christian, no insult was meant towards you, and I hope none was taken. It is true that Hiram page was ordered to submit to the authority of written scripture, but the way I read your comment made it seem like you were implying the advice given to Hiram in D&C 28 were applicable to *all* personal revelation.

    And Julie, your hint was almost too subtle. I nearly missed it. ;)

  75. Kristine Haglund Harris on February 7, 2006 at 11:17 pm

    Julie, I’m very late with this, but have to respond to: “I have a sense that some subsets of LDS feminism are about sitting around kvetching, moaning, and complaining and are not actually interested in seeking solutions to their internal conflicts. I have sensed that some (not you!) are in a sense ‘offended’ by my effort to actually seek solutions to the paradoxes about women.”

    I think this is a little unfair. You are lucky enough to have come to a resolution of your internal conflicts that works within the current structure of the church. I think there are lots of women who, despite good faith efforts, even efforts that are identical (in terms of process) to yours, do not receive the same revelation as you do, or who cannot find a resolution that feels satisfying within the structure of the church, or with a canon that includes the distressing scriptures that you so adeptly reinterpret or discard. If you’re *really* not insisting that your experience can be normatively generalized, then it is not fair to accuse such women of being uninterested in the resolution of their conflicts. It may, in fact, be true that they prefer whining to doing the real work of reconciliation, but it may also be that they have been banging their heads against a particular wall for so long that all they can say anymore is “ouch.” In a framework that assigns the sort of primacy to personal revelation that yours does, I don’t see how you can possibly discern their motives.

  76. Julie M. Smith on February 7, 2006 at 11:26 pm

    Kristine,

    When you write, “It may, in fact, be true that they prefer whining to doing the real work of reconciliation, but it may also be that they have been banging their heads against a particular wall for so long that all they can say anymore is “ouch.â€? I conclude that we aren’t really disagreeing about anything. My comment refers to the women who prefer whining to working. I don’t deny that there are also women in the ‘ouch’ category.

    The reason that my comment focused on the former is because of my continual puzzlement over women who _aren’t_ in the ouch category, because they’ve told me that they have never sought God’s will on this matter and for some reason refuse to. I don’t understand that.

  77. Bob Wilde on February 8, 2006 at 12:50 am

    My random thoughts on reading this thread are three.

    First, in Matt 16:18 the Savior tells us revelation is the rock upon which his church will be founded. Revelation impacts us in various ways but the most important revelation is probably not that given to His prophet but that given to us by the Holy Ghost without which other revelation is largely irrelevant be it from the prophet or the scriptures. It is this revelation which defines Julie’s view of the world and the Church more than the others.

    Second, I read nothing in the scriptures or in my life experience which tells me I am here to experience fairness or justice. All I read in the scriptures tells me I am here to see how I will deal with life when it is unjust. I won’t even attempt to argue that the manner in which women are treated in the Church is fair or just. It is what it is. That said, the manner in which my wife responds to how she is treated, just or unjust, is her test. The manner in which I treat her, given the upper hand society, including the Church, has given me is my test.

    Third, the great promise of the gospel is progeny. That is the major promise of the Abrahamic covenant and the major promise of the new and everlasting covenant. It is my observation from having progeny of my own for thirty years or so now that, despite my best efforts, my wife has a lot more to do with our progeny than I do and is, accordingly, far more blessed as a result. I see no reason to believe it will be different in the eternities.

  78. Kiskilili on February 8, 2006 at 10:06 am

    Let’s say Br. X is a model high priest and devout member who is extremely active in his ward and attends the temple weekly. Let’s say Br. X says he had a revelation in the celestial room that his wife is usurping his authority anytime she expresses an opinion. Let’s say Br. X says he had a revelation that this is the “true” meaning of “preside.” Let’s say Br. X has his own readings of sacred text to back up his position.

    I know Br. X. This is not abstract.

  79. Starfoxy/lets see how long I can make this thing on February 8, 2006 at 11:17 am

    “Let’s say Br. X says he had a revelation in the celestial room that his wife is usurping his authority anytime she expresses an opinion.”

    Then I would say that Sister X needs to pray and decide if Heavenly Father really wants her husband to treat her like that. And I don’t care what his rights as her husband are, if he treats her badly he is *not* a model high priest. If this revelation causes his wife to feel bad about herself, and justifies him in treating her poorly (ie worse than he treats strangers) then I don’t think his revelation was from God by the criteria set in Mor 7:16-17.
    Either he is wrong, and women aren’t to be put down and silenced, or we are wrong and Bro X is perfectly justified. We’d all better be darn sure we’re right cause we’ll all be held responsible for what we do to pervert God’s law.

  80. Julie M. Smith on February 8, 2006 at 11:17 am

    Kiskilili writes,

    “Br. X says he had a revelation in the celestial room that his wife is usurping his authority anytime she expresses an opinion”

    The content of his ‘revelation’ is so incredibly far outside of the mainstream of LDS thought (Can you point me to a single scripture verse or statement from a modern church leader which would support it?) that I think we need to dismiss it. (The cynic wonders: What about your so-called revelation, Julie? To which I respond: Mine was a personal confirmation of something well within the mainstream of LDS thought, to which I can point you to a dozen scripture verses and statements from modern church leaders to back up.)

    What should happen in Br. X.’s case, of course, is that his that one of his priesthood leaders should be working with him to better understand the well-established doctrine of the church. (I am, of course, describing the ideal. What would actually happen–or has actually happened– is a separate matter.)

    I think what the Br. X. issue might be truly getting at, however, is your discomfort with me privileging my revelation when any crank like Br. X could do the same with his. Perhaps in a view that doesn’t privilege revelation as much, people like me would be denied some clarity, but people like Sr. X would be spared some insanity, and so that feels like a reasonable trade-off.

    While I would happily give up my clarity to lift Sr. X’s burden, this doesn’t mean that the approach of minimizing personal revelation is right. I do think personal revelation needs to be measured against the established doctrine of the church. If, in my experience, I had felt inspired that I should begin exercising the priesthood, for example, I wouldn’t have simply accepted that and acted accordingly without some serious further prayer and work, and consultation with priesthood leaders, because that inspiration would be, obviously, contrary to the current practice of the church. I do think personal revelation, scriptures, and practice need to be a sort of check-and-balance against each other. But based on the strength of my experience (which, again, I don’t want anyone to think of as normative for themselves), I conclude that in this matter, since it *is* consonant with 98% of scripture and teaching, it in itself becomes reason to dismiss the other 2%. The difference between me and BR. X,* then, is that he wants to dismiss the 98% based on a personal revelation.

    Any other way of thinking about the Br X example tells me: “No one can trust or apply their personal revelation because it is possible that some nut job will do the same with his.” I think that is the risk we take with personal revelation, and there’s no way around it. We can’t tell Joseph Smith to sit down and be quiet just because there are Lafferty brothers in the world.

    * I suppose, hypothetically, there is also the possibility that Br. and Sr. X are the Nephi and Laban of our generation, called by personal revelation to do something contrary to the standard operating procedure. But I doubt it.