Book Review — Where We Must Stand: Ten Years of Feminist Mormon Housewives

One purpose of reviewing a book is to answer the question: should you read this book? As you’ll see, I’ve got a lot more to say on the new collection of posts titled Were We Must Stand: Ten Years of Feminist Mormon Housewives, but I’ll start by simply answering the question. Given the length of this review, I’ve tried to make it bullet-pointy/boldy/italicizy, and divided it into five distinct sections so that the short attention spans of the bloggernacle can quickly skim through it. But reading and reviewing this book was a weighty experience for me, just as participating in FMH has been a weighty experience for its authors and many of its participants; and some of that weight shows up here.

 

I. WHY YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK

In brief, my answer as a reviewer: yes, you should read this book. Here’s a quick list of reasons why I think that:

  1. This is us. It captures a significant portion of our sisters and brothers in the church. One of the most conspicuous features of the book is the use of the authors’ real names—many of the authors used pseudonyms on the blog site “to feel safe from prying eyes.” (Ross 7) The phenomenon of the bloggernacle generally and FMH in particular reveals to us the diversity of thought and experience in our ranks, even if the space of discourse at church is largely dominated by a catechismic choir of orthodoxy. This books offers voice to the sisters and brothers who just brought you a meal after helping you move in all morning and who you’ll hear bear testimony next Fast Sunday, but who may or may not comment in Sunday School on issues that your Sunday School teacher likely won’t ever raise.
  2. This is us: It offers something universal in the experience of belonging and alienation, self and community, seeking for reconciliation. “All of the checklists: earrings, haircuts, underwear, the temperature of our drinks, the mission, and the temple marriage and never expressing (and barely admitting to) doubts about truth. Can I be Mormon without all of these things? Can I be a Mormon with doubt? Can I be a Mormon who skips church? How about a Mormon who loves being Mormon some days, and other days doesn’t want to be Mormon, but can’t help but think and act like a Mormon 90% of the time anyway? Can I be a feminist Mormon who loves my mother church at the same time I am angry and hurt by so much that is broken here? Can I be a Mormon when they don’t seem to want me, the real me, the feminist me?” (Butterworth 4)
  3. This is us: It’s Mormon on every page, manifesting Mormon warts and Mormon glory. The book and what it gives voice to is one of the ways that Mormonism has engendered social bonding and community. Perhaps the most powerful line of the book—and the most powerful expression of what Feminist Mormon Housewives is—comes from Lisa Patterson Butterwoth (founder of the blog) on page 124: “If you want to be comfortable and have people agree with you, you are in the wrong place. You can go to Sunday School for that. You can go to a secular feminist blog for that. They both serve important purposes. But we can’t be that here. If you are full of certainty, you are in the wrong place. But having said that, this is a community. A real community full of people who love each other, and who care, and who want to understand and help each other. Even when we disagree.” That sentiment, experience, and striving strikes me as being as culturally and theologically Mormon as anything in this dispensation.
  4. This is us: It communicates an important voice in perhaps the most significant grass roots element of Mormonism in the last half century. “in every generation of mormon women, women have asked and will continue to ask the questions kate kelly and others have bravely raised. the questions continue to come up because our doctrine and practices around gender are contradictory and incomplete.” (Brooks, 286)
  5. This is us: It’s a love letter to our people. “To Mormon women of all kinds, feminist or not, living or dead or still to be born. You are my people.” (Hanks 3)
  6. This is us: It reveals the fact that we haven’t changed much. Rereading the issues of 2004-2014 isn’t much different than getting a summary of how the issues stand in 2018. “Power Hungry” by Lorie Winder Stromberg in 2005 could’ve been written for posting tomorrow. These posts are relevant today in a general sense (really, can women hold the priesthood? can they govern in the church co-equally with men without the priesthood? why aren’t they already doing so? what exactly is the doctrine or revelation on this point? what is the meaning of our ever changing history with regard to women’s roles in the Kingdom?). They are also relevant with cutting specificity: “I had narratives of repentance for sexual sin. I had no narrative of recovering from sexual violence. . . . Why don’t we make it perfectly clear, for 11-year-olds to 99-year-olds, that our bodies are not the receptacles of other people’s shame? That if someone hurts me, I ought not be embarrassed but ought to feel like I can demand help until I get it? That sex in the wrong context is bad, but sex in a violent, coercive context is infinitely worse?” (Baxter, 280-1)

In the end I’m left with the immensity of these writings. They are immensely profound and articulate. Immensely painful and beautiful. Immensely intimate. This—perhaps more than anything—here is a group of women who made the most personal and intimate aspects of their selves and spirituality public for a decade, and now public in this book. Having slowly read every page, without any reservation, my recommendation is: read the book.

 

II. MY CRITICISMS OF THE BOOK

That said, the book has what I believe are significant weaknesses. I’m quite cognizant of the fact that I’m a white, cisgendered, heterosexual man writing this book review, but: 1. I believe my criticisms are substantive and relevant without caveat; and 2. Even if they’re idiosyncratic to myself or my (very common within Mormonism) intersectional identity category, I think they’ll be valuable and worth considering by the editors and authors who I know are interested in seeing positive movement in the church on the issues they raise.

 

Again, in brief, here are my criticisms:

  1. In terms of overarching narrative the book is incoherent. Since I believe the main point of the book is merely to publish in book format a selection of ten years of FMH posts, this is perhaps not a terribly significant problem, since the blog itself is certainly not aiming for coherence. And Sara Katherine Staheli Hanks acknowledges this fact in her editor’s preface (pages 1-3), that ultimately what drove the selection and editing was not a specific vision or narrative or historical interpretation, but rather the editor’s gut. And despite the incoherence of the book’s structure and narrative, it is a good glimpse of the function of the blog: community gathering, educating, bonding, exploring, ranting, whining, supporting, intellectually developing, lobbying, grieving, group-therapy-ing, opening up a space to be feminist Mormon housewives (or just women). So perhaps my criticism really is:
  2. They might have accomplished this goal (publishing favorite posts) while doing a great deal more. They occasionally gesture at this more (the year synopses/introductions, and the reflections at the end of the book), but it’s both minimal and marginal. A related, or perhaps simply another way of voicing this criticism:
  3. An important part of publishing a book, particularly a retrospective one like this, is to prescind away from the noise and chaos of the play-by-play and offer a narrative, helping the reader to abstract and identify key variables, questions, and insights, as well as an understanding of what has taken place. Instead, this book merely throws the reader back into the chaotic melee. While a few posts attempt to take stock, the book itself does not.
  4. The problem is that a best hits list tends only to attract those that already buy in to these as hits. And perhaps the authors really don’t care about doing more. But if that’s so, it’s significantly at odds with the rhetoric of the posts themselves, which are looking for a way to flourish and overcome with/as our community.
  5. Reading a blog or even two in a day—particularly as they swirl in the fleeting currents of contemporary context—can be exciting. Reading through a whole book of blog posts is tedious. Again, a stronger editorial hand would’ve ameliorated this difficulty.
  6. The brief history of the blog that is given upfront notes its evolution and recent renewal on the axis of social justice and inclusivity. If exploring the intersection of both “feminism” and “Mormonism” is unwieldy, then exploring the intersection of “contemporary, radically self-conscious social identity” and “Mormonism” is much more so. The problem of course is not that attending to an ever expanding and intersecting set of social identitites is awkward or difficult; if we want Zion to work, we’re going to have to figure out how to attend to the needs and tensions that arise out of the proliferating (and real, even if socially constructed) axes of human diversity. As an intellectual project, however, the risk is that the more broad and inclusive our focus, the more watered down our treatment. Rather than standing as an example of how to cope with this dilemma, the history of FMH that arises out of this book is an example of the risks of becoming intellectually impotent as one wades through the morass. (Note: this is a perplexing struggle that impacts everyone who seeks to overcome the endemic ills of exclusivity and identity-based oppression and not a special failing of FMH. I ought to be clear that an even bigger failing is when we ignore these difficult issues altogether.)
  7. Particularly without editorial contextualizing, something that shines throughout the collection is an Enlightenment-style radical individualism. (Can I point out without mansplaining that such individualism is at the heart of androcentricism and patriarchy? I’ll just note that there’s nothing in here that makes me think the authors were attempting to avoid this radical individualism, which frequently clashes with the gushing expressions of praise for the FMH community.) I’m both personally and philosophically uncomfortable with the false dichotomy of either affirming oneself or affirming one’s relationships as constitutive (i.e., I’m anti “Career as Personal Progress” pg 16-17 and the similar chords struck throughout this work), and I wonder if either the lack of self-awareness on this point (or perhaps an awareness but unwillingness to confront it) significantly limits the potential reach of the FMH critique.
  8. Similarly, what a remarkably poor and tone-deaf note to end on (“I Lost My Faith but Found My Voice” 312-314). In addition to being an extremely poor choice for the book’s final word—which on account of its placement skews the rest of the work (goodness, why not stick this one in the middle of the end reflections?), it lends credence to a very real and very live worry concerning radicalism: Martin Luther eventually got everything he asked for, but only after war. And after a war and its inevitable tragedies, the original terms are never enough. I think the only positive reading to this final reflection is as a somber note of warning regarding how one goes about faithful discipleship at the margins (these last two points demand a great deal more, but this review is already bloated).

One note to put my criticism here in context: I can’t imagine reading a bare selection of ten years worth of Times & Seasons posts (or any blog’s) and not having similar criticisms.

 

III. MY SUGGESTIONS FOR A FUTURE BOOK(S)

Again, I think that these issues are significant. And, having volunteered for the pompous and self-indulgent role of reviewing the book, I’ll go further and offer some advice regarding any potential successor book, sharing some of what I was hoping for but didn’t get:

  1. I suspect that one result of publishing a book is a more significant historical impact than merely writing a blog. Blogs are by their nature transitory, much like a news broadcast on the day’s current events. A book enters a more permanent historical record, and I think it was a good move to publish this one. Since the blog with all of it’s archive already exists, something like a shorter, curated book makes sense. The difficulty already noted above with Where We Must Stand is that the curation not terribly helpful. The posts do almost all the work themselves. Even a much more carefully curated and interpreted work, however, would still be limited because the thrust of the content remains as blog posts. And again, there’s already the blog—both its content and its experience (which is critical). On the other hand, there are already books a plenty that are more scholarly and substantive, treating nearly all the intellectual themes of the blog in a more rigorous manner (one of the delights of the book is watching the way that many of the authors discover and incorporate the broader feminist and historical literature). The difficulty with this scholarly material, however, is the limited nature of its reach and the fact that it doesn’t (directly) help to tell the story of the FMH world. I think that a book taking a much more interpretative approach, a meta-reflective analysis of the blog, could synthesize the strength of the blog and its experience in a more permanent and accessible manner. At the end we get a glimpse of what this could look like with the bloggers overall reflections (this was my favorite part of the book)—scholarly in substance but bloggerly in tone, readability, and accessibility. My suggestion is to build on this approach for the next book—which I greatly look forward to.
  2. Here’s one way in which we as a people have failed: institutionally we no longer ask and seek to answer Nibley’s “Terrible Questions;” and consequently, our members have to go outside of Mormonism to take part in serious dialogue on these issues. Sometimes our members feel obliged to leave Mormonism all together in order to seriously pursue these questions (like “The [Retrospectively Ironically Named] Faithful Dissident,” 303-304). Could we have a concentrated focus on the intersection of the Terrible Questions and specifically Mormon Feminism? This would meet a clear need and be a book that I would line up to buy.
  3. There’s a huge opportunity within the archives of FMH to distill practical, ward-level advice. Do this work for us so we don’t have to go searching to find it. Give us both a list and a reasoned discussion justifying do-able, ward-level action and change that could help us create local Zion, even as we wait for the institution to figure out how exactly to pitch the tent. So much of the criticism lobbed in these posts is aimed at Mormon theology and practice and culture and the church’s institution at large. But so much of the pain and heartache experienced in these stories stems from the arena of the bloggers’ own ward. Ultimately, we need significant institutional and cultural (and perhaps even theological, though that’s a much thornier issue) change. Since any such change is dramatically unlikely to be forthcoming quickly, a focus on the local has great potential. I would love to see the collective passion and creativity and brilliance of the FMH bloggers trained on advice to women for how to make positive ward-level and personal-experience level and my-group-of-friends-and-family level changes.

 

IV. A WORD FOR THOSE WHO WOULD PREFER TO IGNORE THE BOOK

Before ending, I would also like to offer some criticism of those who I think will pass on reading this book—not for logistical but for reasons related to the books content: I think you’re avoiding the deep wounds that mar this church and consequently mar the project of the Restoration, and it’s precisely this marring that prevents our healing. Critical to repentance, critical to opening ourselves up to the atonement, critical to our being empowered by the atonement, is our willingness to candidly face up to our mistakes. Along with whatever sins we might be collectively committing in our treatment of women (which we ought to think deeply about) is our sin as individuals in ignoring or dismissing women’s petitions. Commonly, we do so because it ruins an otherwise perfectly good occasion. This is the image of the feminist Killjoy—there we are, enjoying our Sabbath feast, feeling the spirit, and the feminist Killjoy leans over and whispers in our ear: “Do you notice that we’ve had 20 young men taking part in this sacrament service and not a single young woman at all?” Often our response is: “Argh! Why did you have to go and ruin a perfectly good sacrament meeting?” There is something deeply troubling with this response, with the labeling of the feminist as the Killjoy. The fact that what stands out to us in such circumstances is the killjoy-nature of the feminist dialogue and not the problem being pointed out is the clearest sign that something is undeniably rotten in Denmark. Even when we disagree with the analysis or conclusion (which I frequently did as I read through these posts) we simply cannot ignore it and thrive—individually or as an institution. To think we can is simply jejune. Here’s why:

  • To begin with, so much of what gets articulated in this book is common sense! Take completely traditional, highly conservative Mormons, remove them from the polemics of our contemporary discourse, deprive them of the knowledge that there are “sides” or that there are internal “threats” like feminists; then describe the scenarios and variables mentioned in these posts, as well as the proposed solutions, and ask them what they think ought to be done. If placed in such circumstances, the traditional, conservative Mormons I know would almost always choose the “feminist” options (a member of my Stake Presidency recently did just this in his active lending of support to the Young Women serving as ushers during the ordinance of the sacrament; as he put it in a conversation we had on the subject, “I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but…”). By writing a feminist blog in a culturally polarized context, however, it all gets screwed up and that which is good is called evil, that which is evil is called good. This isn’t the fault of Mormon feminists—though at times they exacerbate a bad situation. We have clearly cursed ourselves and followed our cultural context to play the fool in our own house.
  • Coping with these problems—even hearing about all of it—is exhausting. This may be the book’s biggest liability, and it takes a toll on the authors as well as the readers: “It’s not just church, either. I’ve pulled back somewhat from my involvement in online Mormon feminist communities—because, dangit, I’m tired. I find myself scrolling right past most of the blog posts and tuning out of the Facebook conversations. I’m tired of processing the anger and frustration and disillusionment over and over again. I’m tired of trying to scrounge up some optimism about ‘how far we’ve come!’ and so forth.” (Hanks 297-298) Similarly, I had to step back from the book for a while; after plowing through 200 pages and writing a dozen pages of notes, I was emotionally exhausted. But if this is our excuse for not hearing and heeding the common sense messages, then we damn ourselves and fail our dispensation. We leave our sisters to bear all alone the burden of what are collective problems. In fact, our refusing to confront the issues raised in this book creates a much bigger burden for our sisters to bear: “Once you notice the inequality and the injustices, you can’t un-notice them. And sometimes, noticing them over and over while people around you are blissfully unaware can make you feel all sorts of stabby. Noticing them when other people don’t can make you feel alienated from people who used to be your friends, because it’s hard to not be understood. It’s hard to have friends think, ‘Well she went off the deep end.’ I didn’t go off the deep end, I just noticed some stuff that I can’t un-notice. And it’s lousy. It ruins all sorts of formerly good books and movies.” (Roberts, 298) Noticing is hard on the soul. Refusing to notice is just as much a canker and makes life harder for the noticers.

 

V. CONCLUSIONS

Overall, “Where We Must Stand” helps to answer the question “Where must we stand?” ‘We’ in this case = feminists in a conservative church that refuses to discuss much less recognize its significant disenfranchisement of women (note: triumphal rhetoric about how equal or maybe even superior women are does not equal enfranchisement). And this really is the key question and the whole question of the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog and other liminal spaces carved out by those who cry “All is not well in Zion.” What’s more, “Where must we stand?” is inevitably a two-way question. Are the bloggers who take their stand, flouting the dominant culture (if not the articulated policies) of the institutionalized church, actually able to create a space where they can nonetheless stand faithfully with the community of saints? And is the institutional church—with its theological and practical currents striving toward unity—capable of parting round the rock of these women (as opposed to spewing it up onto the banks and out of the current of the church)?

Far from academic, these questions are deeply existential and concern all of us—not just our sisters and their supporters who have so chosen to stand. I deeply mourn the loss of my dear friend Dane who began by “Agitating Faithfully” (pg 138) and ended with neither faith nor agitation. Risa ends the book with her reflections on losing faith but replacing it with something else she finds precious. And what rending, awful loss we experience as a community when these our sisters and brothers choose to leave, what loss we as individuals experience when those bonds meant to last for eternity are no longer able to hold our dearest ones in time. This book is meant as commemoration and celebration, it’s meant to run the gambit of rich emotion and diverse experience shaped in the FMH community over its inaugural decade. My primary experience in reading it was a horrible sadness and loss as I’m reminded in each post of our individual and collective failures to build Zion and make a heaven for ourselves.

But I had one other overwhelming emotion as I read: gratitude. Not an abstract, general sort of gratitude. But a deeply personal gratitude and experience of love for the women so willing to sacrifice their hearts and lives and occasionally their membership in order to help build Zion.

 

48 comments for “Book Review — Where We Must Stand: Ten Years of Feminist Mormon Housewives

  1. ji
    October 16, 2018 at 7:10 am

    Thank you for the review. Still, I think I’ll pass. Please don’t unkindly judge me for passing.

  2. John Mansfield
    October 16, 2018 at 7:59 am

    I liked the Emmylou Harris/Mark Knoepfler All the Roadrunning version of “This is Us” better.

  3. cob
    October 16, 2018 at 8:48 am

    I also thank Laman and Lamuel, contributions toward the building of the Lehite nation. I also think dear Laban deserves a healthy dose of appreciation. His contributions to the book of Mormon history were head and shoulders above the rest.

  4. Hunter
    October 16, 2018 at 9:39 am

    Thanks, James. I appreciate the work you’ve done here: taking the book and the issues seriously; and working to communicate to a diverse audience. Good for you. This is a charitable model worth following.

  5. Nat Whilk
    October 16, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    ““If you want to be comfortable and have people agree with you, you are in the wrong place.”

    What nonsense. Try disagreeing on FMH with the FMH party line, and see where it gets you.

  6. jimbob
    October 16, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    I agree with Hunter. The balanced approach is useful.

    That said, I just can’t muster much in the way of interest in FMH anymore, since I watched them from the beginning become precisely what they said they hated.

    They said early on they really disliked the uniformity and lack for alternate voices in the Church. But then they decided they too didn’t like the dissenting voices at their own site and pointedly asked that no one but those who believed as they did participate.

    They said early on they didn’t like the orthodoxy of the Church and and its take-it-or-leave-it nature. But then they decided that they too had certain core beliefs that no one should be allowed to challenge, and asked people who disliked it to leave.

    They said early on that they wanted it to be a place where faithful feminists could find a safe space, unlike at Church, where they didn’t feel safe to be both. But by the end of my reading a few years ago, no blogger was active, and most no longer identified as anything other than cultural Mormon–it was a badge of courage to have left the Church. In other words, just as it allegedly wasn’t safe to be a feminist at church, it wasn’t really safe at FMH to be active any more.

    To be clear, I don’t have a problem with anyone leaving the Church for intellectual/feminist/political/whatever reasons. Heaven knows I’ve had my own struggles from time to time. But my biggest problem with FMH for years now has been the absolute unintentional irony of the criticism they have for the Church, since the bigger FMH got, the more it operated just like the Church. At least I would have hoped for some acknowledgement over the years that running institutions that both (a) have core beliefs and (b) want to be inclusive, is often very hard. But the self-awareness never seemed to come.

  7. Hunter
    October 16, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    jimbob said: “To be clear, I don’t have a problem with anyone leaving the Church for intellectual/feminist/political/whatever reasons. Heaven knows I’ve had my own struggles from time to time. But my biggest problem with FMH for years now has been the absolute unintentional irony of the criticism they have for the Church, since the bigger FMH got, the more it operated just like the Church.”

    So insightful, jimbob. Wow. I think the existence of that irony is one of the main reasons I admired James’ approach to his review. He could have taken batting practice, but instead, chose to treat the book with serious & charitable consideration. An approach worth the effort to emulate.

  8. Xenophon
    October 16, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    What is a white, cisgendered, heterosexual man? What is mansplaining? Androcentricism? Patriarchy? Not even Shakespeare or Orwell, in all their brilliance, could have conjured up such convoluted concepts.

  9. Xenophon
    October 16, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    Does the book address the ways in which modern feminism is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ and “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”?

  10. Amanda
    October 16, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    @Jimbob: I wholeheartedly agree. On the one hand, the voices of struggle and wavering faith coming from FMH are important. It’s important for members and leaders to see the way gender inequity in the church not only hurts women (and men) emotionally, but can also hurt them spiritually. If the people they see at church every week don’t hear their pleas to listen, but post-Mormon crowds do, it’s no wonder that many feminists end up walking away. I love these women, and they are my sisters, and I am hurt by their hurt.

    On the other hand, whether it’s FMH or Exponent ii, or Aspiring Mormon women, there seems to be almost no space left for women who still believe, not only in spite of, but also because of their feminism–because they feel a call from God to be leaders, because they embrace wholeheartedly the divine feminine, because they see in Jesus a man who radically rejected the gender norms of his day. There seems to be no room in these spaces to rejoice when there are positive changes institutionally or culturally (how amazing was that young women’s choir singing We’ll Bring the World his Truth at the women’s conference session?), as well as mourn and express frustration when the church seems to take steps backwards. I like James’s point about distilling practical, ward-level advice to help women and young women have more of a voice in the church. And there are Mormon feminists who write and talk about these issues (Neylan McBaine actually has a whole book with such advice). The path toward gender equity in the church will not be paved by overly harsh, unbelieving, relentless criticism. Frankly, most believing members and leaders will not listen to those voices. The path for change will come from faithful women who actively serve and participate in their wards, share their testimonies often, and THEN offer suggestions for improvement and lead by example in how they lead in their families, callings, and communities.

    @Xenophon: There is really no such thing as “modern feminism.” Feminism means a million things to millions of different people, so I have a hard time seeing how “feminism” could be antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ or the Family: A Proclamation to the World.

  11. Lily
    October 16, 2018 at 3:13 pm

    Xenophon: Really? My right to vote, earn the same pay for the same work and choose who I marry is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ!! Who knew?

  12. James Olsen
    October 16, 2018 at 4:10 pm

    Jimbob: I think you’re right that it’s very hard to institutionalize core values/approaches and be inclusive as well. In their favor, several of the posts (e.g., a post on the question of ordaining women) explicitly featured very different opinions. My take is that FMH has not been terribly hospitable to a) antagonists/hostiles; and b) those ignorant of and unwilling to get up to speed on the arguments. I’m sympathetic to both (e.g., here with the latter: https://www.timesandseasons.org/harchive/2014/08/women-and-the-church-constructively-engaging-the-arguments/). As I noted in the OP, there is something of a tragic arc from “Mormon with feminist leanings” to “firmly Mormon and firmly feminist” to “firmly feminist, ex-Mormon.” But there’s nothing simple about that arc, and I believe that we (collectively) are as much a part of it as the bloggers at FMH.

    Xenophon: google can help you out. See above, point b.

    Amanda: Thank you for your comments, I think there’s a lot of wisdom there (and I appreciated McBaine’s book—I regularly give it out to my local leadership—though there were parts of it that infuriated me). Again, in their defense, as you note, I think that most of FMH’s bloggers began exactly where it sounds like you’re at. If many of them have hung up their gloves, I’m incredibly thankful for the years worth of fighting the good fight that they did. Their efforts are a blessing to my daughters as well as my sons.

  13. Clark Goble
    October 16, 2018 at 4:25 pm

    There’s a weird balance of trying to be supportive of those who think differently from ourselves and who really do feel pain versus understandable umbrage at what appears to always be tearing down. If the only thing you hear from a person about conference is a pet issue, even if I actually agree with it (not enough women speakers) it’s hard not to get a bit annoyed. We all should do better and be more patient. But I do think James, that there’s a reason why many are turned off.

    The other issue is the ambiguity in the term feminist that Amanda brought up. Often in discussions someone defines feminism and it’s all things I completely agree with. Then later there’s the inevitable “if you really believe that then you have to believe these things” often involving political policies I disagree with (like say unlimited abortion). There’s a feeling of bait and switch, whether fair or not. That’s mainly due to the ambiguity of the term. I suspect that’s why for years many people including women didn’t like the “feminist” label. It’s become much more rehabilitated in these Trumpian times though.

    It’s unfortunate that we can’t all find more common ground and serve each other in our pains. However those aspects of politics do seem to arise and make things more bitter than they should be. (Especially on the part of those, like myself, who are conservative)

  14. James Olsen
    October 16, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    Clark, you raise a number of important issues and I think that pragmatic feminists are tuned in to these kinds of suggestions. Something that I often observe, however, is that a) those who feel pain; b) because of our cultural & institutional practices; c) that are themselves unjust; are d) further expected to constantly take the high road and be super sensitive and positive in order to get things done; because e) the rest of us aren’t willing to do our part in thinking through their petitions or be understanding and Christlike with regard to their pain or the issues raised. This is a double injustice.

  15. Clark Goble
    October 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    First off I may just bow out as there is something somewhat unseemly about two guys arguing about this rather than women who it affects most closely. But I’d say that the component you’re leaving out is authority. Although perhaps you were touching on that when you mentioned radical individualism.

    Put an other way, within the Church right now the brethren are the ones who can enact a lot of the change. I’d argue, even though I know many disagree, that Pres. Nelson and Oaks want to make many changes in these areas. I even mentioned that in my conference rumors posts. So while it’s fair to say, “the rest of us aren’t willing to do our part in thinking through their petitions” I think one can’t ignore that issue. Frankly I have zero power over most of the concerns. That affects how I think about them. Further I take seriously the issue of revelation to the prophet and put a lot of the onus on God here. Were I to truly be put in charge of the Church there’s tons of things I’d do differently. But I’m not in charge. Further, even if I were President, I’d still not feel in charge because lots of things I’d think I’d need explicit revelation to do. The bigger the change the bigger the burden of proof I’d feel would need to be met in discerning God’s will. That issue of authority and epistemology seems lurking in the background in all these discussions. It’s why I think the typical lay member sometimes gets so impatient with those agitating for changes even if we might be very sympathetic. If God wants to make women and not men Bishops, for instance, it doesn’t bother me in the least. I’d be happy that there would be even less chance of me being called.

    So saying this is a double injustice is, I think pretty problematic.

  16. Sara KS Hanks
    October 16, 2018 at 6:11 pm

    Thank you so much for this thorough review, James. It’s immensely valuable to see how the book comes across to someone who’s not necessarily in the Mormon feminist community but has been immersed in these conversations through the years. I think I speak for Nancy as well when I say we appreciate how seriously you took the book’s contents and how sincerely you engaged with it.

    A quick point of correction: in item 6 on your initial list, you reference the author as “Brown” when her last name is in fact “Baxter.”

    Again, thanks very much, and if there’s ever a follow-up book, we’ll definitely take your points into consideration. =) Best wishes.

  17. James Olsen
    October 16, 2018 at 6:11 pm

    Clark, you’re right that I’ve got a lot to learn on this, and I certainly welcome views from other women. More importantly, I always value your thoughts and hope you don’t feel attacked—I’m not even sure we’re arguing here, even if we do have differences.

    I appreciate the implicit demand that I clarify, and in response to your comments I want to re-emphasize that I’m not speaking about changes at the theological level here; and as I hope I made clear above, my biggest concern is at the ward/personal level. Hence, I’m not speaking about whether or to what degree the Brethren are considering and responding to the petitions of Mormon feminists; rather, I’m speaking about “us”—their neighbors, family, and friends. And those on this blog. My point here is that actually, you personally have a great deal of power in an area where it matters, even if you don’t have a great deal of institutional-change power (see point III.3 above). We would have much less harm done—and would be both more intellectually and morally respectable—if those of us who disagree with or are uncomfortable with the tactics of or haven’t ever really considered the issues raised by or are otherwise confronted by our feminist sisters and brothers would react with genuine love, empathy, and curiosity. And we’d be a lot closer to Zion.

  18. Autumn
    October 16, 2018 at 6:27 pm

    James, thank you for taking the time to read the book and write up such a thoughtful review. I am a very active member of the Church who has read the FMH blog regularly for over a decade. It was a glorious revelation to me when I found it — I was not alone! Here were my sisters who also saw the many injustices of being female in a patriarchal church. And here was space for me to learn more and try to figure out ways to push for real change in my sphere of influence. It breaks my heart that so many of these bloggers have left the Church, but it does not surprise me. They put their whole hearts into the work, and the lack of change in the Church has shattered their desire to continue that good fight. I am grateful for what they did, and I hope that when I am very old I can look back at their words and see that they did make a difference. I am trying to do my part where I live, but oh, it is so disheartening. Sometimes it seems like the Church is moving backwards, both in my ward and at the general level.

  19. Clark Goble
    October 16, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks for that James. I think at the ward level there’s often things we can do. That typically doesn’t seem to be where the controversies are – although perhaps I’m wrong in that. (I should hasten to add I don’t feel attack – and hopefully I don’t come off that way to others.)

  20. James Olsen
    October 16, 2018 at 9:11 pm

    Sara, thank you for this opportunity. It’s an immense work—both the book and the work through the years.

    Autumn, as I noted above, I think that the community you all built is perhaps the most compelling (and Mormon!) aspects of FMH.

    I hope you both continue to be engaged, and I look forward to the next opportunity to engage with the wisdom you impart.

  21. Xenophon
    October 16, 2018 at 11:49 pm

    @Amanda: “There is really no such thing as ‘modern feminism.’ Feminism means a million things to millions of different people, so I have a hard time seeing how ‘feminism’ could be antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ or the Family: A Proclamation to the World.”

    Fair enough. Perhaps you can help us out. What is “feminism”? Google isn’t very helpful in this area, so perhaps someone can define “cisgendered,” “mansplaining,” “Androcentricism,” and “Patriarchy” as well. Defining terms might be a good way to begin a conversation. I am open to the possibility that there are very real concerns that need to be addressed. But how can the average person, let alone the average member of the church, come to understand such concerns unless they are expressed in clear language?

    @Lily “Really? My right to vote, earn the same pay for the same work and choose who I marry is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ!! Who knew?”

    I support a woman’s right to vote, to a fair wage, and to choose a spouse. Is that feminism? Maybe Amanda will have an answer, but feel free to chime in with your definition as well. Let’s figure out what “feminism” is. That seems like a good starting point. After that, perhaps we can begin to piece together what it might mean to be a “feminist mormon housewife.”

    As it stands, there seems to be a lot of slippery terminology, and a lot of hesitation to write clearly.

  22. Brian
    October 17, 2018 at 3:35 am

    Thank you, James. For many, it’s so easy to resort to blame or attack (or simply turn away) when asked to consider feminists issues on the church. Probably because of larger political complications, as already acknowledged in the comments. Like you, I have learned much over years of reading FMH, and though I have struggled with aspects at many times, perhaps my biggest practical changed behavior is to use heavenly ‘parents’ more in my discourse. It’s impossible for me to see that constant omission as central to any discussion of feminism in the church. And it’s also both one of the most local changes I implement, and, I think, would be the largest catalyst for change if implemented in the ‘larger stage.’ One of the biggest rhetorical deflects I have observed by those I’ve described above is the idea that we don’t know much about Heavenly Father and so it’s okay we don’t know much about Heavenly Mother—to which I say, hooey. The moment I realized I talk to only my male heavenly parent and never my female one and also had never previously considered her possible feelings, interest, and concern for me, I was shaken to the core and realized the enormous lack in my life because of it. I am better for the realization. And thank FMH for it, even though, by the end, I found myself distanced from the direction of the site. They gave me much more, honestly, than T&S has in terms of valuable wrestling. Yes, they were raw, but it was real, and valuable. Thanks again for the heart-felt write-up and review. And thanks FMH for the contributions to the discourse!

  23. A.N.
    October 17, 2018 at 12:49 pm

    I’ve read some of the prominent Mormon feminist books and articles. I’m in favor of reshaping how women are integrated into the hierarchy. I had my wife give me a blessing once. I’m the kind of Mormon that should, in theory, be in the FMH camp and touting this book.

    While I used to read and comment there in the early days, FMH lost me at least a decade ago through its no-prisoners-taken stridency; anything vaguely resembling orthodoxy was unwelcome and denounced, in my experience, but nearly anything else was welcome on account of its “authenticity” and “rawness.” Assumptions could not be questioned. There was just as much a rigid orthodoxy at FMH as they accuse the Church of having, with much more heat than light.

    Give me Neylan McBaine any day.

  24. at
    October 17, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    A.N., thank you for mourning with those that mourn (me) — as one who nigh gives up the cookies each time I see a sacrifice at the altar of “rawness” and a jubilee offered to the god of “authenticity”

  25. wreddyornot
    October 17, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    Thanks for this posting and discussion.

    I stand with women, and I recognize many men’s devaluing of them and making them less than equal, in the church and elsewhere. I humbly recommend hearing their voices in terms of the church by reading the essays, etc., in *Voices for Equality,* edited by Gordon and Gary Shepherd and Lavina Fielding Anderson (Kofford Books). Such all means, also, that I stand with the FMH conversations, and I try to respect their “safe spaces” and to understand and have empathy for them. I also recommend and have purchased *Where We Must Stand*. This all doesn’t mean that I don’t read and study and consider and/or believe in teachings of the Church and try to the best of my ability to follow the teachings of the Savior. I try to read all sides, if they are presented with respect and love. It also means that I believe in asking to receive, seeking to find, and knocking to have doors answered, both of God and of a hierarchy. However, if that hierarchy violates basic notions of love and equality, I must question it.

  26. Xenophon
    October 18, 2018 at 9:59 am

    @A.N. “There was just as much a rigid orthodoxy at FMH as they accuse the Church of having, with much more heat than light.”

    Good point.

    @at “A.N., thank you for mourning with those that mourn (me) — as one who nigh gives up the cookies each time I see a sacrifice at the altar of “rawness” and a jubilee offered to the god of “authenticity””

    Also a good point.

    If we could somehow move beyond all the barriers to communication that are erected, whether it be slippery terminology or impenetrable orthodoxy protected by raw emotions, we might be able to start thinking clearly about what “feminism” actually means.

  27. rah
    October 19, 2018 at 11:11 am

    Amanda,

    Not that this will matter overly much, but a couple of things.

    First, Aspiring Mormon Women explicitly avoids being a forum that directly deals with the church’s policies or doctrine’s on gender. We refer those that want to discuss those matters unless they directly speak to women’s educational and career opportunities, to other forums. We are proud of the general positive and inclusive tone AMW has achieved with a large heterogeneous Mormon community. I am sorry you don’t believe it feels welcoming to your particular Mormon faith.

    Second, I wanted to comment on this part of your comment:

    “The path toward gender equity in the church will not be paved by overly harsh, unbelieving, relentless criticism. Frankly, most believing members and leaders will not listen to those voices. The path for change will come from faithful women who actively serve and participate in their wards, share their testimonies often, and THEN offer suggestions for improvement and lead by example in how they lead in their families, callings, and communities.”

    First, as other commenters have noted I think you misrepresent the make up of FMH bloggers. Most were very active and believing members, many remained so. As both the OP and some others have recognized the mix changed over time. In a retrospective book like Here We Stand I think there is great error on focusing on where everyone ended up instead of where they were at the various times the blog posts were written. I would suggest that by word or essay count the essays in the book were written by people who at the time were “faithful women who actively serve(d) and participate(d) in their wards, shared their testimonies and THEN offered…”. As someone with an essay in the book and whose wife also has one or more essays in the book and personally knows most the other writers I can say with a high degree of certainty this is true.

    Second, I would suggest that your mental model of how the church changes is incomplete and in a way that dismisses some of the hardest and most costly work of spiritual progress in the body of the church. Changes to organizations like the church require both those that push from the fringe and the “tempered radicals” that push from the center. FMH bloggers and its community were a place where for many years where these different temperaments and strategies met. It simply isn’t true that the tempered radical approach alone leads to change in the church. That wasn’t true for say the racial priesthood and temple ban and definitely wasn’t true for the progress that has been made on gender inclusion. What makes me sad is that those that pay the highest personal cost are completely discounted while those that play the tempered radical role essentially reap all the status and benefits while paying a much smaller personal toll. It hurts to not see that recognized by the very people that are benefitting from others activism. I like Neylan as much as the next person but its completely untrue to think that her book would have even been written or well-received without all the more direct activism. You perspective seems far too…convenient and simple to be reality. Similarly, I would tell the more liminal activists that if they discounted the importance of tempered radical and their roles in how change comes about they would be missing the complete picture.

    To bring this back to the book, one of its strengths is that represents the gamut across these categories and a careful observer can learn much by seeing how these things interact in the pages. I may agree with James that some more narrative sensemaking of these dynamics would have been a welcome addition to the book. Someone should sacrifice their personal time to write a really insightful essay on that for free.

  28. James Olsen
    October 19, 2018 at 6:24 pm

    rah, thank you for this substantive comment. As you note, it’s undeniable that the juxtaposition created with uncompromising vs. “tempered” radicals makes the tempered approach shine brighter and lends them a great deal more positive publicity. I’m not sure that the uncompromising approach is always necessary or the most efficient route, though I recognize there are numerous historical examples where this is precisely how change comes about. It’s certainly complicated. As I expressed above, I feel a deep sadness for those whose sacrifice ultimately ended in an inability for them to stay with us, whose journey as a Mormon feminist resulted in changed values and desires, no longer pursuing that paradoxical and much needed synthesis. I hope that, like Sister Hanks, they one day find their way back to us.

  29. Xenophon
    October 20, 2018 at 5:35 pm

    In light of the slipper terminology that has been introduced in this blog post and the ensuing discussion, I would like to introduce a bit of clear language for the purpose of discussion, and with the intention to generate light, not heat.

    If modern feminism is causing people to forsake the Savior Jesus Christ, desert His Gospel, and abandon His Church, might that not indicate that there is something wrong with the ideology?

    In 1993 Elder Packer, with characteristic prophetic insight, issued the following warning:

    “There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away. I chose these three because they have made major invasions into the membership of the Church. In each, the temptation is for us to turn about and face the wrong way, and it is hard to resist, for doing it seems so reasonable and right.

    The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.”

    The original post, and many of the comments, confirms the prescience of Elder Packer’s warning. I too hope and pray for the return of the sheep who have wandered as a result of these three or any other dangers.

  30. Ryan Mullen
    October 21, 2018 at 10:54 am

    James, thank you for this book review. I was vaguely aware this book was in the works, but it had slipped my radar in light of other concerns. As one who is sympathetic to and inspired by the work done at FMH, but frustrated by my limited ability to effect much change, I look forward to reading this and understanding how I can be a better ally.

  31. Amanda
    October 21, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    @rah I am assuming based on your comment that you are an admin or other leaders at AMW. If so, I owe you an apology. In my haste to type my comment the other day, I said Aspiring Mormon Women when I meant Young Mormon Feminists. It was a silly and embarassing mistake, because AMW isn’t the same sort of group as the others. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking, and if I could edit the comment, I would. I whole-heartedly endorse AMW, and encourage all of my friends to be a part of its community. I am in the middle of midterms this weekend, but I would like to respond to your other critiiques of my response. Hopefully I will get a chance tomorrow.

  32. October 21, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    I began reading and writing somewhat the FMH blog about ten years ago. It was something I did just for myself. I used a made up name and I never talked to anyone about what I read or what I wrote. It was good for a while. I can’t remember how it was I stopped participating but I suspect it was when my daughters decided to try it out. I could not read what the participants wrote because what I read did not sound have anything to say that helped them. The blog was just too angry. There was nothing I could read or comment on that others would not attack. Well I know they have changed and maybe they do a better job. Frankly I have come to the point where if I have questions and problems I can find help without opening my life to women who like nothing more than engaging in one big argument.

  33. rah
    October 21, 2018 at 11:56 pm

    Amanda,

    No problem. I just wanted to clarify for other readers since as you say AMW is very different in tone and scope.

  34. rah
    October 22, 2018 at 12:30 am

    James,

    Thanks for for engaging. A couple of important notes on subtext of your comment because I think they get to some real interest and core differences in perspective that drive these discussions:

    1) I don’t thing “uncompromising” is the right juxtaposition to “tempered radical”. I would refer to my blog post on FMH regarding that summarizes “tempered radical” and *highly* recommend you go read the base article (Org Science, 1992 by Scully and Meyers) as i think you will find it very enjoyable, useful and insightful. I balk at “uncompromising” because in my experience that doesn’t correctly capture the full variation in activism nor even the modal activism within the Mormon Feminist community including at FMH. A casual read of the blog and book demonstrate over and over again the writers struggling with compromises, what compromises might be effective, how to negotiate compromises etc. Mormon feminism is shot through with compromises. I think it would be interesting for you to reflect on why you frame it that way and if you might find a more accurate framing. Or maybe you really want to argue that is the right comparison.

    2) I am curious if you can come up with a single historical example where significant social change came about through *only* or even *primarily* temper radical approaches. Again you have to be careful especially if you look at Mormon examples because of the bias towards forefronting the tempered radicals and frankly institutionally working to erase the impact of more direct pressure from the outside. For example, the institutional narratives of say the priesthood ban change almost completely elide the external pressures the church was facing instead emphasizing the internal pressures put on the church by its expansion in Brazil and faithful black saints in Africa donating to temples they could not enter. Not a single mention is made in the essay or the footnotes of things like the direct action taken against BYU sports teams, threats to the church’s non-profit status etc.

    3) I would also push back a bit on the “stay with us” framing. I think there is more variation there than you and especially commenters like Xenophon are allowing for. Many of the bloggers are still very much involved in the Mormon community and this includes to varying degrees their church communities. Sure some have had say names removed or moved on to other spiritual homes, but not as many as you think. I do think it is fair to say that if your criteria for “with us” is as fully complying, temple recommend holding, priesthood aligning members than maybe many if not most fail those terms. I, for example, have many Mormon friends, am known to my local ward and participate to at least some degree. I have no desire to hold a temple recommend and while I recognize Mormon priesthood leaders general rights to control the institution I have long given up the belief that they hold some sort of special claim to moral authority and definitely not over me. And I think there is the rub. Basically, what you and Xenephon both are pointing out is that yeah many of the core FMHers and much of that community don’t operate with the norms of strong deference to local and general leaders. Guilty.

    Finally, on that last point. I get that for members like Xenephon that act of compliance is so tied up with what they mean by “the gospel of Jesus Christ” as to be indistinguishable. I would hope that for you and others you can draw a broader distinction. However, I worry when you start using language like our changed “values”.

    For me at least, my actual values or “christian values” have changed very little between now and when I wrote for FMH. The gospel is still important to me and from what I know of my fellow bloggers you will find them to be very motivated by Christian values and many are following other strong Christian paths. Some are ordained in other Christian faiths, some remain in the Mormon faith but all are trying to walk moral paths. Not one of them I know is selling drugs or shooting up heroin in the back alley, looking to destroy marriages, trodding upon the poor in a pursuit of wealth. They are strongly family and community oriented. Honestly, if you take out temple attendance, outward deference to the 12 or standing against homosexuality, I think you would be hard pressed to characterize them as a group as having altered or corrupted values. I wouldn’t worry to much about their immortal souls if God cares more about intent and deeds than creed. Do I think the Mormon wards and broader institutional community is poorer for their disengagment from the institutional church? Yes. There we can agree.

    Peace and Love

  35. adano
    October 22, 2018 at 11:02 am

    @”xenophon”: Hi Ralph. Please stop being deliberately obtuse. While “feminist” is indeed a broad label that doesn’t always clearly indicate a specific set of goals, the other terms you claim not to understand have clear meaning. If you’re unwilling to google “cisgender,” then you’re clearly not engaging in good faith when seeking to pin down the scope of “feminist.”

  36. MDearest
    October 22, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    I read through this post and all the comments just now, after returning from a long weekend of wedding festivities in Utah for a dear family member and new spouse who were married in the temple. It was wonderfully successful because all the potential problems of so much diversity among the guests were navigated by vigorously engaging each other with love and kindness. I won’t take the tempting bait from a few comments whose authors are unwilling to see me clearly and (dare I say) authentically. If that word makes someone feel like tossing their cookies, they’re not ready to engage with someone recovering from the pain of a lifetime of unhealthy self-sacrifice. All the definitions of all the terms in the English language won’t clarify that conversation if there is no empathy or desire to understand.

    Rah, the last part of your most recent comment upthread brought me back to the good place created by James Olsen in his thoughtful review of the fMh book. Thank you for recognizing that none of us have left behind the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ which we all learned and cultivated at church. We’re all still anxiously engaged in making a positive contribution, the same as we always have, but in places in the world in which we live that are more safe than the church is right now. My hope is that the space cleared by the radical feminists who are now disengaged will bless my more conservative loved ones still actively struggling to raise the next generation, and to make changes that are so badly needed.

  37. Xenophon
    October 22, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    @rah

    “I think there is more variation there than you and especially commenters like Xenophon are allowing for.”

    It’s difficult to discuss variation of a phenomenon that has yet to be defined or explained in any clear way.

    “Basically, what you and Xenephon both are pointing out is that yeah many of the core FMHers and much of that community don’t operate with the norms of strong deference to local and general leaders. Guilty.”

    The name is Xenophon. And, no. That’s not what I’m pointing out. I’m asking a question that no one seems willing or able to answer: What is feminism?

    “I get that for members like Xenephon that act of compliance is so tied up with what they mean by ‘the gospel of Jesus Christ’ as to be indistinguishable.”

    Again, it’s Xenophon. Actually, that’s close to the opposite of what I mean. If a group of people who call themselves “feminists” are demanding compliance to their authority, I would first like to know what the term “feminism” means, and on what grounds any person, a member of the church or otherwise, should make obeisance to that authority.

    @adano

    I’m not Ralph. There’s nothing obtuse about asking a simple question. I’ll ask it again in case anyone has an answer: What is feminism?

  38. Xenophon
    October 22, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    Also, if there is any disagreement with Elder Packer’s prophetic statement, please help us to understand where the disagreement lies. Thank you.

  39. at
    October 22, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    MDearest:

    I’m guessing you wrote in partial response to my comment. I am not sure why you interpreted by criticism to be of any mere use of the word at issue, “authenticity” or “authentic”, etc. I thought that I was quite a lot more specific in my criticism.

  40. MDearest
    October 23, 2018 at 12:41 am

    After re-reading the context of your comment, I believe my meaning is clear. Also, your take on what you call my interpretation is a distortion of my meaning. You *were* quite specific; I understood you, and I reflected that back in my comment, end of story.
    Beyond that, I have a hard time following your point, but I’m content to accept the breakdown in communication.

  41. at
    October 23, 2018 at 8:41 am

    It would not be good if distortion of another’s meaning were to occur. Let’s make sure we put a stop to it, as far as we are able to control, you and I.

  42. James Olsen
    October 23, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    rah: My apologies; I wasn’t ignoring you, just struggling with some health issues. In brief: I appreciate the ways in which you’re pushing on my argument. I think that your objections misread my last reply. My term “uncompromising” and its use in a binary was an attempt to characterize your own claims—which I might have done badly. As an analytic point, however, it’s probably fine to abstract from the mosaic of feminism (which I discuss explicitly in the OP and again in my comments above) in order to consider whether a more “non-tempered” (reaching for a neutral term since you don’t offer a better one) position is necessary for change. As to historical examples, I think that most change in the church is not in response to pointed and sustained criticism. I don’t think we’ve moved to a 2 hour bloc on account of pointed critics of the 3 hr bloc who empowered moderates calling for a slight change—the silliness of this example (though I’m convinced it is in fact a significant change) makes the point. The church has changed a great deal over its history; the critical role of external pressure and internal activism with polygamy and priesthood easily distort our understanding of change. And in both of these, it was the inability of the church to carry out what it saw as its central mission rather than the pressure as pressure that made the difference (that too is complicated, it was a recipe rather than a mere variable). Consequently, internally articulating for ourselves the inconsistency of certain practices with our current understanding of our central mandate is what I think will be most effective—and doing so is less fraught and more effective when internal rather than external (I suspect that KK/OW’s courting of external media actually backfired, though I’ll wait for the analysis of historians with some distance). As to “find their way back to us,” your criticism is valid. I’m grateful for those who consider themselves to still be working within the Restoration tradition—and though my frined Dane might argue against my claim, I still very much see him as Mormon. Of course, as you note, those who have left the formal ranks of the church have left in a myriad of ways. My hope—as noted throughout the OP and my comments—is that we as a formal institution as well as those who have “left” formally are able to change in ways that we can once again build Zion together as people. Perhaps unlike you, I believe that the institution is critical, even if it’s beneath the overall umbrella of the broader Restoration. Finally, to claim that the values of the bloggers generally at FMH have not changed is utterly implausible. What’s more, this change in values is quite explicit in some of the posts & reflections in the book. One can’t participate actively in any community for ten+ years without changing. The change I was referring to (as the context of my comment makes clear) is not, say, their Christianity or moral values or the like; rather, it’s the valuing of the synthesis of Mormon & feminism within the institutional church. Lisa’s early posts, as well as the overview that the book begins with, make it clear that this synthesis and practical exploration was the raison d’etre for the blog. As I’ve stated several times, it’s a loss for us, whether or not it’s a loss for them, to have them distanced from our people—on that at least we agree. I’m also committed to it having been a loss for them personally—which many of them acknowledge, even if they now see it as a temporary loss or one that ultimately brings greater gains. I do not mean my characterization to be a criticism of their exit; but I do hope we come back together again.

    Once again, thank you for engaging.

  43. rah
    October 23, 2018 at 5:30 pm

    James,

    Thanks for the fruitful back and forth. It is always pleasant to not talk in circles and to have one’s statements constructively challenged to push ones writing and thinking.

    It was probably inappropriate for me to be speaking so broadly about the FMH bloggers, though I was trying to make clear I wasn’t try to speak for them. As you have noted, we have the blog and book for that. For example, you are correct in that it is almost impossible to say that values didn’t shift during such an intense engagement with one’s own moral and spiritual home that characterized FMH.

    Thinking about how the church does and does not change is a really complicated topic, one that is appropriately woven into the story of Mormon feminism as it is one of the most poignant test cases in the last two decades. As authors in the book have noted, things have changed. Women were invited to pray in general conference. There have been moves to raise the profile of women general leaders. Curriculum has been revised. Historical women’s voices have received amplification and investment from the church history department. We could catalogue the list.

    In my heart of hearts, I probably subscribed to a more “Mauss-ain” model of society shifting the church’s “market” for members. As broader society’s tastes, values and beliefs change the church adapts. It is a mix of indirect and direct pressure as well a change in leaderships own underlying assumptions and beliefs as it ages out and turns over. In this regard feminism as a major global social movement effects the church on all three levels and will continue to do so. One way to think of it from a faithful insider perspective is that the church is “filtering” the good from the bad in these pressures, trying to adopt things that are closer to divine truth and resisting those that are not. I think this is how many in leadership would present it, if they were of the type to acknowledge external pressures at all. That may be a productive frame to see it in. How fine or fast the filtering occurs in my mend depends a lot on the structure and processes of the church. I would view that process as being too slow and too clogged to the point of being unnecessarily hurtful. The feedback mechanism if it isn’t completely broke is struggling mightily. That is just my view. I understand, especially those of more conservative bents, those who would evaluate it as working at just the right speed or even too fast.

    I am an organization theorist by training. I actually have strong sympathies for big, complex organizations. They help solve really large problems, as imperfect as they are. While I don’t think we should prostrate ourselves to organizations whether they be corporations, governments or churches, I do take a view where organizations should be evaluated on how they serve people not how people serve them. I believe that we need to be very attuned to the amount of power our modern world of large, complex organization gives the men (and its still mostly men everywhere) that run them. I don’t want to see the church burned to the ground. I don’t expect it to be perfect or to be able to magically take actions that have only winners and no losers. As a Christian, I have less patience for people who take these views than I probably should :) . Organizations such as the church need critique and checks and balances, even when they are uncomfortable, to thrive and to better serve humanity. I love the idea of Zion, especially a Zion that recognizes these complexities and exists in mortal messiness. It is one of the grand ideas of Mormonism. This orientation keeps me tied to my Mormon identity and yes even the institutional church. I love the possibilities of local ward Mormonism. That is a world I am happy to inhabit. My diagnosis of the central church bureaucracy however is pretty dire. This normally wouldn’t be that disqualifying to my participation in a religion. The thing about Mormonism, especially post-Benson when his 14 Fundamentals went from a cause for internal censure to now publicly celebrated conference text, is I can’t go to my local ward without sitting through essentially 3 (soon mercifully 2) hours of curriculum centered around propping up the special moral authority of the church bureaucracy that is just morally wrong, reticent and actively hurting our LBGT brothers and sisters and where I also feel my daughters (and wife) are structurally, culturally and spiritually second class citizens. I won’t give my daughters (or sons) over to a church who is mostly focused not on Christ but on bolstering their own moral authority and who have mistaken the gender roles of the 1950s with Christian theology. And I have the fortune of living in pretty laidback and open wards and not some of the toxic ones where orthodoxy reigns. I support people who stay in the church. I believe that the decision to stay or leave, to participate or not should be made by each individual weighing the good it brings them versus the cost. For me and my family the cost benefit analysis leaves us on the liminal edge of the institution but well-within the spiritual diaspora of Mormons.

    That said, I acknowledge the institutional church isn’t going anywhere. I hope the best for it. I cheer when it takes halting steps and does good things. Through I know among some Mormons, I wouldn’t be considered a part of their Zion any longer, my heart is gladdened to be considered as part of Zion by the likes of you. That is something in our interactions I don’t question. You want to draw me and mine within your tent stakes of Zion. Thanks for that.

  44. rah
    October 23, 2018 at 5:41 pm

    Xenophon,

    First, my apologies for getting your handle incorrect.

    Second, Google is actually a really helpful source for seeing various definitions of feminism. Here you go from the first two lines of wikipedia:

    “Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes.[1][2] This includes seeking to establish educational and professional opportunities for women that are equal to those for men.”

    Its a complex and big movement. There is no official arbiter of what is and isn’t feminism. Feminists don’t agree on everything just like those in the Civil Rights movement disagreed sharply on priorities, tactics and even core vision. That is all you get from me on this. Go read the book and you can educate yourself on at least what one messy part of the Mormon feminist community thinks about these things.

    Finally, I apologize to the fact that I might have knee jerk reacted to your use of that well-worn Packer quote. I categorized you into a certain type of Mormon with a whole bunch of assumptions on top of that based on you calling Packer “prophetic” for his talk that was the hallmark of his bullying of a lot of good people out of the church including orchestrating excommunication and discipline for people, many of whom whose work has now been quietly incorporated into the church’s own curriculum and whose work has helped the church move to a healthier place. He single-handedly destroyed even moderate feminist discourse within the church for over 2 decades. He said awful, demonstrably wrong things about homosexuality and he ruthlessly punished honest historians and led the church down the road of hagiographic history whose problems came home to roost in the last 10 years, launching a thousand faith crises and undermining the institution he was trying to protect.

    So you can keep your Packer and I really don’t have a desire to discuss it further.

  45. JR
    October 23, 2018 at 6:08 pm

    rah, Thanks for your penultimate paragraph – as good and accurate a summary of BKP’s legacy as any, though not covering the whole breadth of his negative influence. I’m told he also sometimes had some positive influence. I never saw it myself.

  46. Xenophon
    October 23, 2018 at 11:06 pm

    @rah

    “Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes.[1][2] This includes seeking to establish educational and professional opportunities for women that are equal to those for men.”

    I was hoping that someone might offer their own definition of “feminism,” but I suppose Wikipedia is as good a place to start as any. Would people in this group agree that this is what “feminism” is? Is it a range of movements, ideologies, and social movements, the purpose of which is to define, establish, and achieve equality of the sexes?

    You go on to describe it as a big, complex movement with no official arbiters of what is or isn’t “feminism.” To further complicate matters, not even “feminists” agree on what “feminism” is. You can see how this might be confusing to the uninitiated, and how confusing it might be to the average person, let alone the average member of the church. And I’m not sure that any comparison between the Civil Rights movement and feminism really holds water, especially since it’s so difficult to come by a working definition of what “feminism” means.

    In any case, thanks for the good faith effort to provide a definition of “feminism” even though it appears that the Wikipedia definition might be limited to the opinions of the author of the Wikipedia article.

    I’m really sorry that you’ve had such a difficult time with Packer and what you call “central church bureaucracy.” Heavenly Father loves and blesses all of His children, and since He is no respecter of persons, I don’t imagine that he separates his children in categories of feminists or non-feminists. He loves us all and invites us all to repent and to come unto Christ.

    I don’t think that unsubstantiated attacks on one of the Lord’s anointed are a good substitute for arguments. Nevertheless, I’m sorry that the dangers he warned about have caused so many people to distance themselves from the Lord’s true church. The sexual revolution has had a devastating effect on the natural complementarity of the sexes as well as the traditional family. It has had an even more devastating effect on those who have, consciously or not, embraced its dogmas.

  47. rah
    October 24, 2018 at 11:30 am

    Xenophon,

    I would suggest you do some reading on both the Civil Rights movement and feminism. There are a number of good solid online class resources with excellent reading lists. While the movements are distinct they share a lot in common and overlapped and interacted in very tangible ways. One of the major splits in first wave American feminism was whether it had common or uncommon cause with abolitionists and the rights of blacks. The world is complex and confusing. I am sorry there aren’t simple answers for you.

    I honestly don’t need your “sorry” for my difficulties with Packer just like you don’t need my “sorry” for the damage your embracing of Packer’s more uneducated and stringent dogmas has caused the church and its children. Some are completely undefensible – ie masturbation doesn’t cause homosexuality, homosexuals shouldn’t be equated with pedophilia, feminism isn’t wrecking the church and the church isn’t better off creating unreliable, unsubstantiated history in an effort to make it “faith promoting”. None of those things are “unsubstantiated”. You can go read his words yourself. Its a matter a basic history. Now that doesn’t mean in other areas he didn’t give some nice talks about Christ or do good. However, that particular CES speech and its contents are a pretty good encapsulation of areas where in retrospect we might acknowledge the leaders aren’t perfect and sometime make mistakes.

  48. Xenophon
    October 24, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    @ rah

    The Civil Rights movement and the “feminist” movement hold little to nothing in common, except that some proponents of the latter confuse the push toward equality of the sexes with the advancement of liberty for blacks.

    Your comments, as well as many of the other comments in this thread, reveal that Packer’s warning about the third danger was every bit as prescient as his warning about the first two dangers.

    I would recommend that you also do a bit of reading, perhaps some old books. It’s a great antidote to the casual assumption that we are smarter and less fallible than the prophets.

Charitable Comments Welcome

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.