Category: Women in the Church

Where are the women artists in the Come, Follow Me manual?

As I started preparing family lessons using the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’s new Come, Follow Me manual, I was struck by the quantity of art. In addition to photos and screenshots from Church-produced videos, the manual includes 78 reproductions of paintings or stained-glass windows. Many lessons – particularly in the first half of the year – include two or three paintings. But as I started going through the art, noting the artists, I saw a pattern: Brent Borup, Del Parson, Walter Rane, Dana Mario Wood, Walter Rane, Tom Holdman, Greg K. Olsen, Robert T. Barrett, Jorge Cocco, Simon Dewey. They’re all men. It’s not until the 20th painting that we get to a woman artist: Liz Lemon Swindle’s Against the Wind, showing the Savior lifting Peter out of the water in Matthew 14. Out of 76 paintings for which I could identify the artist and the artist’s gender, only 9 were by women artists – that’s just under 12 percent.* What’s more, 5 of those 9 were by just one artist, Liz Lemon Swindle. Even though Walter Rane has 12 paintings and Del Parson has 6, those only make up a quarter of all the paintings by men, leaving room for a wide array of lesser known artists to be featured. Why does this matter? We want to be involved in organizations where we can see ourselves (or see what we’d like to be). In India, adolescent…

Reeder and Holbrook’s At the Pulpit: The book I hope becomes a fixture in Latter-day Saint homes

The first account we have of a woman speaking in General Conference is Lucy Mack Smith, speaking in Nauvoo, Illinois, in October 1845. But women were teaching in the Church long before that, and the continued long after that — not just in General Conference. In their collection At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women, Jennifer Reeder and Kate Holbrook have created a wonderful thing. They have brought us the strong, inspired voices of 54 Mormon women (plus 7 more in the e-book), from Lucy Mack Smith speaking a “gathering of emigrating saints at Lake Erie” in 1831 to Gladys Sitati speaking at the BYU Women’s Conference in 2016. The book works elegantly as both a historical document and a devotional reading. From a historical perspective, Reeder and Holbrook provide a biographical sketch of each woman before her talk, and they follow each talk with extensive footnotes providing context. They make it so easy for us: When a speaker alludes to a passage of poetry or a popular quote from the day, Reeder and Holbrook tell us where it came from. Some of the talks highlight a key historical episode in the growth of the Church, such as Judy Brummer’s 2012 fireside talk characterizing her experience translating the Book of Mormon into the Xhosa language.

What’s in a name? A historical note on the title of the Mission President’s Wife

Last year, Cassler and McBaine published results of their survey on “the Naming of Women’s Positions and Organizations in the LDS Church.” Around 400 survey respondents who self-identified as LDS women answered questions about whether or not they would change the names of various women’s roles and groups, including the Young Women’s groups (Beehives, Mia Maids, and Laurels), the term “auxiliaries” (used for Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary), bishops’ wives, and mission presidents’ wives. It’s an interesting survey, with lots of expressed desire for change. (And yes, I’m aware that the people who participate in an online poll are likely not representative of the Church as a whole. Still interesting, I’d propose.) The title on which there was most consensus for change was “Mission President’s Wife,” with 96 percent preferring a change in name. As the authors put it, “The urgency for this to be changed seems to stem from the understanding that the wife is as actively engaged with mission life, if in different ways, as her husband, and is equally required to sacrifice, endure physically and emotionally challenging situations, and become intertwined in the missionaries’ lives as her partner. Furthermore, she is called and set apart, just as her husband is.” I agree in principle and in practice. The wife of my mission president gave me counsel that shaped the course of my post-mission life. So I was interested to see — in a footnote of Jennifer…

Review: Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings

I enjoyed reading Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings (OUP, 2016), a 300-page collection of articles and essays on Mormon feminism spanning the 1970s to the present. That I enjoyed it says a lot, as feminism isn’t really my thing. The editors (Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright) did a great job not only selecting the articles and essays to include in the volume but also paring down the size of the excerpts of longer articles so more pieces could be included in the volume. They also penned very helpful introductions to each piece. Consequently, a reader like myself who has not really lived the LDS feminist drama of the last two generation or two can still appreciate the context and contribution of each of the 60 or so articles. Joanna’s 20-page introduction heading the volume also helps bring every reader up to speed. This is truly a volume that everyone should read — this issue is going to be around for another century (my sense of how long it will take the Church to catch up with the rest of society) and you want to be one of the informed people, not one of the blissfully ignorant.

The Love of God

    The Sun by Edvard Munch It’s been one of those weeks. You know, the kind with too many hurried mornings to get to school before the bell rings and too few slow afternoons to help you remember why you hurried in the first place. The kind of week where the laundry will get done and the bills paid and the children raised and the home kept and the dreams stoked. The kind of week where all those true blessings felt a little like burdens. The kind of week where the questions about faith and fact break across my eyes in the morning and sift like so much sand into the the creases of my dreams at night. The kind of week where I overreacted to the kids fighting and undercooked the pork chops…again. And yet. And yet, in the quiet of the night, with music humming across the room and the windows open, I can’t help but rejoice in the ever present and ever persistent Love of God. When we first find God in Genesis, They are the Hebrew Elohim. Elohim, derived from the Hebrew Eloah, is a plural word for God that, in the context of Genesis 1:27, implies the presence of both genders. This seems fitting, as the love of God is surely the love of our two Heavenly Parents. The Love of God. It’s a phrase we hear often from our primary days on. Ask…

Literary Worship – Miracle

I find the story of the woman with the issue of blood, found in all three Synoptic Gospels, both odd and beautiful. Like most of the recipients of Christ’s miracles, she excites sympathy within me. Twelve years is a long time to be sick, especially with an illness that renders you and anyone who touches you perpetually unclean. She must have been lonely. It makes me wonder how many times she did get touched during those years–how many people braved the social and religious taboo to offer her a bit of human care or comfort. Did she have a family? Was she abandoned because of her affliction? Did her ritual uncleanness make her feel personally and spiritually unworthy? The Scriptures tell us that she had spent “all her living” on whatever passed for medical treatment in her day. Not only did the treatment fail to heal her, but she actually grew worse. The resultant poverty must have added to her sense of social isolation. Her condition, serious enough as it was to warrant her spending everything she had in an attempt to cure it, probably also kept her from many of the normal tasks of everyday life. How did she live? Was she able to care for herself and her needs? Did someone else allow her a place to stay, despite her chronic ritual impurity? Did some spiritual progenitor of Mother Teresa see beyond her untouchable state and reach out…

As Instructed

On Tuesday, Ally Isom, Senior Manager of Public Affairs with the LDS Church, encouraged listeners to have respectful conversations about their concerns with and faith in the Church.

Congratulations, OW: Now It’s A Conversation

A conversation in two senses: First, everyone is talking about Ordain Women (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here; a four-part response here; earlier T&S posts here and here). Second, because, almost without noticing its own success, Ordain Women achieved a significant milestone this week as the LDS Church opened a public conversation with the group by publicly posting an official letter addressed to four of the organization’s “official spokeswomen” (as they are identified on the OW website). The LDS letter responds to earlier private communications from the group and, predictably, elicited a publicly posted response at the OW site. Successfully initiating an official conversation with the Church is no small accomplishment.

Some Thoughts on the Inevitable Failure of the Ordain Women Movement

It’s hard to know the future, but I will hazard a prediction: the Ordain Women project will fail. If I understand its ambitions correctly, Ordain Women would define success as an announcement that the prophet, having followed the invitation of these faithfully agitating sisters, has gone to the Lord and has received a revelation that women are to be ordained to the priesthood. I don’t know if women will ever be ordained to the priesthood, but I would be shocked if this was to happen while any institutional breath breathed in the Ordain Women movement. There are two reasons for this. The first is that for pragmatic reasons Church leaders do not want to change basic doctrines or practices in response to what they see as attempts to publically embarrass the Church over its basic doctrines and practices. Doing so creates an incentive for others to seek to publically embarrass the Church. I suspect that Church leaders also worry that changing basic doctrines and practices in the face of public pressure erodes the moral authority of the Church if it is seen as another institution that can be pushed about by savvy political operators. The second reason, I believe, is far more important. I think that the members of the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency are utterly sincere in carrying out their callings. I think that they do not regard the Church as theirs. They do not…

Partaking of the Fruit of the Tree

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is sitting in the darkened living room, gazing at the lighted tree. There is something magical and transfixing about the warm, gentle light, the fragrance of pine, and the palpable presence of nature that fills my home with its incongruous beauty. I have many memories of reading Scripture by the light of the Christmas tree. Usually we read from Luke, with Matthew’s bit about the Wise Men added in; sometimes we expand into Isaiah, either spoken or set to Handel. This year, though, when I stole a moment of stillness out of the hectic holiday rush to sit beside the tree, the words that came to my mind were Nephi’s: “I looked and beheld a tree . . . and the bbeauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the cwhiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.” It had never struck me before how much meaning the Book of Mormon adds to our celebration of the Christmas tree. Scripture is rife with references to the Tree of Life, and the notion of everlasting life certainly accords well with what I was taught as a child: that the evergreen Christmas tree was a symbol of the eternal life brought to us by Christ. But Nephi’s education about the interpretation of the tree in 1 Nephi 11 is more specific. In answer to his query about the meaning of…

Confessions of a Former Stay-at-Home Mom

After nine years as a stay-at-home mom, I recently got a full-time job. I’ve been working for a month now, which seems long enough to state some preliminary observations about how things are going. The short answer is, I am happier than I’ve been in quite a while. I have way more patience for my children when I come home at six o-clock from an office full of adults than I did when I was at home with them all day. My emotional resources are magically magnified by being away from home during the work-day doing something interesting and creative, and I am much better able to deal with the inevitable complications and setbacks of life. And it is so nice to not be living paycheck to paycheck anymore. Worrying about money all the time and freaking out when we had an unexpected car problem or other non-budgeted expense was not an easy way to live. Life is a little more hectic, and we don’t see quite as much of one another as we did, but for us right now, it is worth the trade-off. If you’re wondering why all of this is a revelation to me, here’s the reason: I grew up in a home where SAHM-hood was the expected and ideal destination for a girl. My mom quit her job when she was pregnant with her oldest child (me), and for my entire childhood, I don’t remember her ever working,…

A Mother Here – New Art and Poetry Contest

A Mother Here

There have been LDS art contests in the past, either sponsored by LDS church institutions or by private organizations, but none have yet focused on Heavenly Mother as their theme. That changed this month with the newly announced A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest. Aiming to stimulate the visual and poetic expression of Heavenly Mother, as well as highlight the nascent divinity that resides in women as well as men, monetary prizes in excess of $2200 will be awarded to the best entries. The contest accepts two-dimensional art submissions to be considered in its visual arts awards, and all forms of poetry for the poetry awards. The contest will accept submissions until March 4, 2014, after which award-winning entries will be chosen by prestigious judges Susan Elizabeth Howe (esteemed poet, playwright, and professor) and Herman Du Toit (former head of the Durban Art School and former head of museum research at BYU’s Museum of Art). Winning entries will be announced on May 11, 2014 (Mother’s Day) and they, with other merit-worthy entries, will be collected in an online gallery and a printed booklet for all to enjoy. With the kick off of the contest’s website, amotherhere.com, an impressive collection of historical Mormon literature and music addressing Heavenly Mother has been hosted online. It contains works from early Mormon history, beginning with the work of William W. Phelps, up until the present. In addition, the site provides some historical analysis of the portrayals of Heavenly Mother…

Damnable Defaults

A great deal of the discussion on women in the priesthood that I see happening right now[1] concerns our efforts to control and propagate various narratives. Personally, I find our current default narratives even more upsetting than our current practices.

Established by Jesus Christ himself

In a recent news article discussing the Ordain Women community and its upcoming inaugural meeting, LDS church spokeswoman Jessica Moody stated that the male-only priesthood “was established by Jesus Christ himself and is not a decision to be made by those on Earth.” Of course, there may be a few questions about whether this statement is descriptively accurate, given those pesky Phoebe and Priscilla and Junia verses and whatnot. But let’s set those issues aside for a moment. Because theologically, it does make sense that we might want to follow Jesus’s example here. And factually, a few quirky anomalies aside, the Priesthood ordination pattern during Jesus Christ’s ministry is very, very clear: Jesus only ever ordained men. Jewish men. It’s very clear, folks. No women. And no Gentiles. Zero. And so if we want to follow the pattern set out during Christ’s ministry — well, I guess we ought to do the same. Of course this might be difficult news for some people to hear. For instance, some people might argue that there are important contributions which white men could make in the church, if they were eligible for ordination. Many white men are excellent organizers, and they might potentially serve as effectively as Jewish men. The same could be said for Black men, Latino men, women, and other people who are not-Jewish-men. In addition, critics might point out that white men, Black men, Latino men, women, and other ineligible…

I’m a Mormon, and I believe that women

. . . should be eligible for Priesthood ordination. So do these other lovely people. Please check out some of the profiles, if it’s a topic that interests you, or visit our facebook page for more discussion. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and I know that reasonable people can disagree here. But I do think that one can very much believe in female ordination within the Mormon framework. It fits well into the narrative of ever-expanding Priesthood eligibility in LDS theology, I think (ever-expanding circles from Levites to Israelites to Gentiles, and finally to all men in 1978). It also fits well into many LDS ideas on gender — if men and women are fundamentally different as church leaders suggest, then men may not be able to adequately represent women’s interests. It meshes well with statements from LDS history, such as Joseph Smith’s prophecy that the Relief Society would be a “kingdom of priests.” It engages President Hinckley’s public suggestion that members interested in ordination should agitate a little. Heck, it even dovetails nicely with a Harvard study or two. But most importantly of all, it matters a lot to many LDS women about whom I care deeply. The relative invisibility of women in so many spheres causes great pain to many of our sisters. And I mourn with those who mourn; and it is for them that I look forward to the long-awaited day when every…

Tracy McKay fMh Scholarship

Our sisters and brothers in the bloggernacle have turned their virtual relationship into doing tangible good for those in need. Yesterday, Lisa at fMH announced the Tracy McKay fMh Scholarship. I remember last year when Tracy’s ward financial assistance was cut and the immediate action by her fellow bloggers to raise enough money to get her through her last semester. fMh is working on an endowment to make the scholarship permanent and contributions tax-deductible. (Last year, we just gave money because it was needed, it was the right thing to do, and that mattered more than a tax deduction.) In the meantime, any single Mormons mothers who are in need of financial assistance may apply for this year’s scholarship. For complete information, check out the post at fMH.  

Finding My Heavenly Mother, Part 4 (Literary Edition)

Also see part 1, part 2 and part 3. In a 1944 essay (“Is Theology Poetry?”), C.S. Lewis remarked, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” As one who embraced Christianity later in life, Lewis had a keen appreciation of how a new discovery of belief can throw a bright reflected glory on the world and everything in it. The mind, which craves new connections of any kind, takes a special delight in those intellectual connections that carry an associated weight of affection. Who has not noted with pleasure the increased sweetness imparted to a beautiful place by the remembrance of a few precious moments shared there with one’s beloved? How much more, then, might we linger over a place, a picture, a happy turn of phrase that brought to mind some past or promised communion with the divine, assaulting our senses with a sudden tingle of the holy. Like Lewis, I have been in the habit of finding God everywhere, illuminating everything. And besides amid the glories of the natural world, nowhere for me does the spirit of God breathe more vibrantly than in literature. The scriptures of various religious traditions are, of course, replete with references to God. But I’ve encountered beautiful spiritual insights in books by authors from Victor Hugo to Friedrich Nietzsche. Since “discovering” my Heavenly Mother, I…

If she wants to…

Women can go on missions, if they want to.  Now that they can go at 19, some will go who may not have wanted it quite enough to wait until they turned 21. But it is still not the same as for men, who have a clear expectation and strong social pressure to serve missions sometime after they turn 18. Girls in the church hit this idea, “they can do it if they want to” quite often. Starting at age 8, when American boys enter the officially sanctioned Church version of Cub Scouts, the segregation begins. The boys meet weekly, with a well-developed program and the mandatory 2-deep leadership to do projects, play games and earn little trinkets of awards. The girls are given the Activity Days program, sometimes called Achievement Days, where they meet twice a month with a generally much lower ratio of adults to children. They are not given a well developed program with a full curriculum of activities and games. There are no set awards to earn. There is no committee analogous to the Cub Scout Committee that meets to review the girls’ progress and advancement (there is no standard of advancement for girls) and to plan large monthly recognition meetings to which families are invited (Pack Meetings). Whenever these inequities are pointed out, the response is that the girls can do the same activities that the boys do, if they want to. This ignores the…