Sunday in Outer Blogness: What women want edition!

You may have heard that the New York Times published an article on female Mormon missionaries and how cool they are! Mormon women like it for its tone and accuracy:

The tone was perfect—respectful without lapsing into the reverence or romanticizing a church publication so often displays for missionary work; curious and interested in what’s unusual and unexpected about missionary life without treating the missionaries themselves as oddities.

It seems the NYT was on a roll — they followed that one up with a piece quoting Mormon women about the changes they’d like to see in the CoJCoL-dS. If only the ladies could get this kind of respect at church, likely many of the problems would be resolved.

As it is… Well, watch the two videos here. If you’re female in the CoJCoL-dS, you are what you wear (and even outside the church you can’t just forget about it). And in response to the Brodie-award winning 19-part-and-counting series demonstrating how equality is not a feeling, Nate Oman explained to the ladies that equality is, in fact, a feeling. Raising girls into their subordinate role is a serious issue — really not a place for adding insult to injury. If you’d like to add your perspective, take this survey.

Interestingly, it turns out that the LDS priesthood is two totally different things depending on the gender of the person who wants to exercise it.

The “do we get planets or what?!” discussion continued from last week. Basically, Mormons are not about to give up their planets no matter what the quorum of the anonymous website authors says, and anyway, the article didn’t precisely contradict the “get to be God of your own planet” doctrine. Holly explained the crux of the problem:

In an interview with ABC, Terryl Givens, professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond, said, “Many of these things can be unsettling to members who have grown up with a typically manicured narrative, but it’s a necessary part of the maturation for the church membership.”

But the pushback on obfuscating revisions of core doctrines isn’t from people used to “a typically manicured narrative,” but from those of us who grew up or otherwise came to terms with large, flowery, somewhat messy doctrines and are now shocked to see them trimmed and pruned and trained into tidy, less challenging shapes without any acknowledgment from the church that that’s what’s being done.

Let’s compare to the scriptures. If anything, the tales of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob deserve an embarrassed whitewashing more than the Mormon planet thing does. Yes, you can do serious literary analysis of the scriptures, but with such a sacred cow, sometimes interesting insights are best illustrated through humor.

On the bright side, the CoJCoL-dS responded graciously to being required to comply with British law. But there are some serious problems with the church’s prophetic claims (maybe clarified in this new volume). Also, Jen’s experience illustrated a problem with Mormon culture, namely that certain random personality traits are simply more righteous:

In fact, for years I pretended that I was a super outgoing, bubbly type of person. I wasn’t just pretending for other people’s benefits. I was fooling myself as well. Because somewhere along the way I got it into my head that part of being “perfect” involved being a “people person.”

You may have heard that the American Atheists will be holding their national convention in Salt Lake City this April — maybe you’ve seen the billboards pointing out that not all Utahns are Mormons. Well, it turns out that Joanne Hanks — author of the polygamy classic “It’s Not About The Sex” My Asswill be speaking! I wish I could attend, but I have only so much vacation, and I can’t be flying in from Switzerland all the time. (Maybe I should at least try to place an ad for Mormon Alumni Association Books) in their program…

In life journeys, Mormon X is taking the plunge, and Monica finally popped in a cute way). Jaded dealt with the consequences of leaving a mission early, and sicheart left because of the hypocrasy. Plus, there was a bit of a theme on how we non-believers need to leave the church alone. The thing is that it’s not a reasonable expectation for people who invested their lives in Mormonism and were shaped by it.

Uomo Nuovo has been posting up a storm, including revisiting topics from his earlier blog (like his thoughts on mixed-orientation marriage) as well as new topics like freedom of religion — it’s definitely worth a visit!

In other random stuff, Kiley hates the idea of being “Christ-like” or “sweet, and Knotty hates mild expletives (my kids’ new thing is to say a loud, high-pitched “beep” to replace naughty words). Those of us on the far side of the planet have some fun holidays coming up! (And click here for a very unusual discussion of Scottish independence.) Heather has a recipe for mouth-on-fire “Buffalo Falafel”.

It has been a fun batch of discussions! I hope you enjoy reading them — see you next week! 😀

Woman Suffrage and Ordaining Women

We acknowledge no inferiority to men. We claim to have no less ability to perform the duties which God has imposed upon us than they have to perform those imposed upon them.

We believe that God has wisely and well adapted each sex to the proper performance of the duties of each.

We believe our trusts to be as important and sacred as any that exists on earth.

We believe woman suffrage would relatively lessen the influence of the intelligent and true, and increase the influence of the ignorant and vicious.

So said declared the 1886 proclamation, “Woman’s Protest Against Woman Suffrage.” Continuing it reads:

We feel that our present duties fill up the whole measure of our time and ability, and are such as none but ourselves can perform. Our appreciation of their importance requires us to protest against all efforts to infringe upon our rights by imposing upon us those obligations which cannot be separated from suffrage, but which, as we think, cannot be performed by us without the sacrifice of the highest interests of our families and of society.

It is our fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons who represent us at the ballot-box. Our fathers and our brothers love us; our husbands are our choice and one with us; our sons are what we make them. We are content that they represent us in the corn-field, on the battle-field, and in the ballot-box, and we teach them in the school-room, at the fireside, and at the cradle, believing our representation even at the ballot-box to be thus more full and impartial than it would be were the views of the few who wish suffrage adopted, contrary to the judgment of many.

We do therefore respectfully protest against any legislation to establish ‘woman suffrage’ in our land, or in any part of it.

It is interesting how women against suffrage sound like Latter-day Saint women who object to the ordain women movement. In both cases the argument is rooted in the premise that God has appointed women their sphere and in the late 1800’s it did not included women voting, and now it doesn’t include women holding the priesthood. A century or so ago some women were saying, “I don’t want the right to vote,” today we have some Mormon women declaring, “I don’t want the priesthood,” as though the assertion alone puts them on solid theological ground. If nothing else, “Want” has never carried any weight in a Church that sings, “I’ll go where you want me to go Dear Lord, or do what you want me to do.”

The irony is that in the process of speaking out against women holding the priesthood, these women have actually joined steps with the ordain women movement. They have decided to add their voice to the record, rather than letting those authorized to speak for the Lord have the say. They have temporarily forgotten that they really should be home baking cookies and teaching their sons to want to hold the priesthood and to honor it for the precious blessings it brings into the home. Rather than asserting they don’t want the priesthood, or declaring how the Lord doesn’t want women to hold the priesthood, they should be teaching their daughters to honor the men who hold the priesthood and to be worthy to be a priesthood holder’s eternal companion. They need to remember that they should speak only when invited by the priesthood, and then under the direction of the priesthood. To do otherwise, even in protest, is to join ranks with those calling for equality.

My Ordain Women Testimony

The Ordain Women event on Saturday was absolutely wonderful from start to finish.  It was the best Mormon-related thing I have done in ages.

It helped that it was a truly beautiful autumn day, clear and calm, though quite chilly in the shade and downright cold once the sun set.  Salt Lake City was beautiful, so it was just one more reason people were in good spirits.

You can find all sorts of accounts of the event, including something I wrote for Religion Dispatches and this really great Storified account on Exponent II (which includes a great tweet about the infamous garbage truck they parked in front of the door–I hope someone got in trouble for that).  So I don’t feel the need to give another rundown of that sort here.

Things could have turned out very differently.  The church had a number of options.  It could have let us attend the meeting in the Conference Center–not that I ever thought that would really happen. (Though I was the very first person, back in February, to point out that we had to be prepared for that very unlikely contingency.  Before that, everyone worked only from the assumption that we would be turned away.)  They could have let us into the Tabernacle and just had us sit there, out of sight, and then not let us into the Conference Center once the meeting started.  I’m sure there are other things they could have done–apparently the OW planning committee had come up with dozens of possible scenarios.

Once we arrived on Temple Square and were met by Ruth Todd and told, “Nope, you can’t come in,” a lot of people figured we had done all we could.  They were ready to go back to the park and sing more hymns.  Kate Kelly is who said, “No. We’re not done asking.”  She was the one who had us line up and told us, “They’re going to have to turn down each one of us.”

And for whatever reason, perhaps because they were caught off guard, the church let us.

It was…. weird. Shocking. Deeply confusing and utterly intelligible at the same time, this bizarre juxtaposition that caught you off-guard because it was new, but somehow readily recongizable because it mirrored so many other contradictions we were trained to accept.

Many women said that they were surprised at just how much it hurt to be turned away from the priesthood session.  It was strange to see the line get shorter and shorter, to watch woman after woman (and the occasional man) in front of me be turned away, while all these guys just marched right into the Tabernacle.

And yeah, I was surprised at how emotional I was when it was finally my turn.  But part of that emotion was because I felt so empowered.  It was a really big deal to stand there and to force this representative of the church to acknowledge and recognize me on terms I had helped shape.

I looked the smiling, jovial man tasked with turning us all away right in the eye and said, “I have been told that I am physically and spiritually unworthy to attend this meeting, and I am giving you an opportunity to override that immoral and unjust decree.”

He smiled. (He smiled a lot, and it was never a smarny, dismissive smile or a smirk.  He really, truly smiled, for well over an hour.) He told me that he couldn’t imagine who would have said that because I seemed like a lovely person, but that the meeting was only for dudes, so he didn’t have the authority to let me in.

I asked him if he thought that was fair; he said it wasn’t his place to decide.

I told him that Heavenly Father was very disappointed. (I really did.) He just smiled.

I am utterly sincere when I say that I was very impressed that he managed to remain so pleasant after saying NO to well over 100 people. I heard someone say that they overheard him tell someone else that it was one of the most emotionally taxing things he had ever been asked to do in his job.  Not everyone was so good-natured, though: just beyond him stood a grim fellow from Church Protective Operations. (That’s what the church calls its security detail.  Supposedly they planned ahead and had 13 guys, eight of them “under cover,” assigned to monitor Ordain Women. It seems excessive, given that we always said we planned to be well-behaved, but maybe they wanted as many people as were at the Last Supper.)

After that, I walked across the lawn to the bathroom in the Visitors Center because I needed to use it, and I washed my very cold hands for a very long time in very hot water, which felt good, and then I realized how badly I was shaking, and not just from the cold.

I had an hour-long interview with Kate Kelly about a week ago.  She said that she envisioned the Ordain Women action as “a way to assert radical self-respect* and to claim the narrative as our own.”

I figured I knew what she meant: standing up for yourself, claiming your own identity, expressing what you want and how to be treated. It sounded good.

But there was a visceral element I didn’t get at all.  I spent some time yesterday and today trying to process why I felt so different.  And I realized that Kate was right and that the action had radically increased my self-respect.  I felt better, stronger, more connected–in all sorts of ways.

Even though I dropped out of the planning in April because I wasn’t as invested as the women who still go to church, I always planned on participating in the action itself, out of a sense of duty and curiosity and solidarity with my sisters, and because I planned to write about it.  I figured it would be historic and I figured I’d be glad after the fact that I was there. I didn’t expect it to be transformative.  But it was.  It absolutely was.

It was also just fun.  I got to chat with local friends I hadn’t seen in months and catch up with friends from out of town I hadn’t seen in years and meet people I’d interacted with online but never met before in real life.  A couple dozen of us went to dinner and talked, then some of us went to someone’s house and watched and read coverage of the event until the wee hours of the morning.

I am much more hopeful about Mormon women and Ordain Women than I was Saturday morning.  I have nothing but the utmost admiration and respect for Kate Kelly.  She has a vision and a clear sense of how to make it real.  She knows what she’s doing, she is profoundly dedicated and unstintingly generous with her time (I can’t imagine how many interviews she has done in the past three or four weeks), and she has a very pragmatic approach to the spotlight she’s in: she doesn’t seem to mind or crave it–it’s just part of what she has to deal with as part of accomplishing this goal.  This really does seem to be about healthy self-respect and not ego.  That’s remarkable and rare.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next.  I still think it will be at least a couple of decades before women get the priesthood.  But things are possible now that were not possible two and a half days ago (I can’t believe it was only 50-odd hours ago!), and the years until women are ordained will be a lot more interesting from here on out.  This is real activism and it will make things happen.  I can’t wait to see what Ordain Women does next–or how the Church responds.

*

*After the RD piece showed up on Facebook, someone wrote to let me know that I had actually written “serf-respect,” which neither I nor the editor caught when we proofread the piece.  I was mortified and wrote instantly to ask the editor to fix it–that’s one nice thing about writing for the web: you can always edit typos!  Anyway, after slapping my forehead a few times, I realized that serf-respect was a better name for what the church gave me.  Serf-respect is about all the church lets women have.  If they want self-respect, they have to find ways to create and claim it.

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Bread and Stones Edition!!

You may recall from last week that some LDS women (including some bloggers) were planning to stand in line to see if they could get into the male-only conference session that they had been denied tickets to. And — surprise, surprise!they didn’t get let in.

OK, I know, that probably doesn’t surprise anyone, and you probably also won’t be surprised that one of the apostles decided to add insult to injury by making some remarks (from the pulpit, at conference) about feminists devaluing homemaking. I naturally assumed this was some sort of intentional provocation designed to anger the supporters of Ordain Women, but then I thought better of it when I remembered the old adage, “never attribute to malice what can be explained by simple incompetence.” (Plus, at least the CoJCoL-dS has a good cop: Elder Uchtdorf.)

fMhLisa, however, reacted more charitably than I did, and wrote a beautiful piece encouraging empathy towards leaders who perhaps don’t realize they’re giving a stone to those asking for bread:

I don’t think Elder Christofferson ever really heard me ask for bread. And I think, I truly do, that when he handed me that pile of rocks, he really for realz not-even-kidding thought he was handing me bread.

I know he hasn’t heard me, because the person he described when he thought he was describing me is nothing like me at all. I don’t devalue motherhood, motherhood is the best most valuable thing I have ever or will ever do. I don’t want to destroy the differences between men and women, I love Relief Society and I love it when my husband gets his beard on and goes all Grizzly Adams and then lifts heavy things. Rawrrrrr. I don’t want to be a man, I look far too good in heels and twirly skirts, thanksanyway, nor do I hate men, see Rawrrr above, nor any of the old feminist tropes.

But beyond continuing to be utterly transparent about who I really am, I can do nothing to convince anyone that my faithful yearnings are not selfish, power-hungry, rebellious and destructive. Until they are ready to look, until they are ready to hear, then the only thing I can do is to try my darndest not to return upon them that lack of seeing and hearing.

The women’s attempt to attend the meeting garnered various reactions: Admonitions to submit to authority, a list of open questions that give a very strong whiff of being rhetorical, sweet stories illustrating how selfish and misguided those women-who-want-the-priesthood must be, sad tales of how the priesthood would be less special for men if women could have it too, floating the idea of a new separate-and-unequal priesthood for LDS women, alternate suggestions for how women could have greater opportunity for leadership, responsibility, and visibility in the church, a request that the leaders listen, tips for giving a “mother’s blessing,” answering those annoying FAQs, and more reasons to give LDS women the priesthood.

Personally — and I’m sure others would back me on this — I think it would have been funnier if the CoJCoL-dS had just let the women attend the session. It would be like: Ha! Joke’s on you! Now you have to sit through another boring meeting that you could have watched on TV from home, only here you can’t slip out and get a snack during the extra boring parts or play “Conference Bingo”!

Well, maybe you could still play Conference Bingo if you’re subtle about it. But not as a drinking game. (Note: Even the faithful don’t rate the content as being the top reason to attend conference.)

As interesting as the Mormon gender-drama has been, it can’t match the whirl-o-crazy that hit the US government this past week. You’ve probably been following the story, so I’ll focus on what Outer Blogness is saying about it: Obamacare has its advantages and now some folks are on unpaid leave. Fortunately, the CoJCoL-dS has stepped in to take over for the government. (Cleary the US government isn’t what it used to be.) Brett Cottrell sums it up:

It might seem like Mike Lee and his Tea Party chums resemble Ahab chasing after their white whale, Obamacare. But this is wrong. Ahab knew how to sail. Mike Lee is flailing at sea, bailing the ocean into his sinking boat. Mike Lee isn’t Ahab. Ahab would take off his peg leg and beat him with it. Either way, they both crash the boat and don’t care who they take down with them.

In other drama — this time totally unrelated to Mormonism and/or this community — there has been an interesting battle over rape apologetics in the online atheist community.

It turns out a lot of people wrote on other topics: Brother Jake explained his YouTube series. Bill posted an unusual picture of a mountain. The CoJCoL-dS doesn’t have a policy on climate change. Mormon Disclosures has a sneak preview of the Brigham Young Lectures. Advice for new sister missionaries from someone who’s been there. And Ren brought us this week’s scripture mastery with a lesson on the problem with holy writ:

I posted the text above on FB. The responses from my TBM friends included one lamenting that some things in scriptures seem weird and she wished she knew more about the culture at the time. Because it would be ok then? My response to that was that I’m sure Leah would not have been happy in any century. I also said that some things seem weird because they are.

In life journeys, Jen described how her approach to planning has changed, and Dad’s Primal Scream explained how he found truth. Plus I found a cool blog I wasn’t aware of (through his wife’s blog), which includes a fascinating deconversion story:

You are expected to not stay too long in the celestial room, but they don’t rush out the new ones too fast. After 20 minutes or so people start to file out. I hang back, and ask my son privately if he has any questions. You aren’t supposed to discuss details of the ceremony outside so like a good dad I want to see if there were any he has. We have a pretty good level of communication, more so than many parents and teens I suppose. He even knew I had some reservations about being here today. (Not the whole long story or the depth of my belief issues, just that I was unsure.) So I ask him, “We have to leave now, do you have any questions?” He looked me square in the eye and said,

“Yeah, did I just join a cult?”

It hits me hard, devastates me. All the same angst I had felt my first time, the ‘freaked out’ feeling I had after making those oaths some 20+ years ago, the eerie feeling of being touched be a stranger, the fear about what I had just done like a bad memory flooded back all at once. I realize in that moment I had not been honest with myself for a very long time and that had led me to this point and to this question.

Wow, it’s been quite a week, hasn’t it? And I’m sure the story of the women who tried to go to priesthood session isn’t over! Happy reading, and here’s hoping you have health insurance and are not on unpaid leave…

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Good Luck, Ladies Edition!!!

A group of LDS women are planning to attend the men-only Priesthood Session of the CoJCoL-dS General Conference, and it has been an adventure!! First off, the CoJCoL-dS refused the give any tickets to women because attending General Conference is an important father-son bonding moment.

(Aside: When I was a young teen, I had bonding moments with my dad doing stuff like playing catch, or hobbies like computers or photo-developing — so I guess getting excluded from this super-boring meeting has its perks…?)

The church also decided to broadcast the meeting (so if the ladies really want to watch it, they can do so without getting in the way), then promptly warned the men that they had better get on their suits and ties and bond with their sons at the conference center — not at home watching it together on their couch — presumably because the leaders would look pretty stupid bouncing the women if the conference center is full of empty seats.

The church also explained that the women have their own “parallel” meeting. And if the meetings really were parallel (eg. women preside over the men’s meeting, give the keynotes, choose the other speakers, etc.) I’m sure this batch of feminists would consider that a perfectly acceptable compromise. As it is, women are planning to stand in line to see if they will be admitted. I’ve got my popcorn ready!!

Reactions are as you’d expect: The women are causing contention (which is of the devil!) or, alternately, they’re pathetic for fighting for such a dubious privilege. And the people fighting for this issue are hurt and annoyed by the criticism. It’s complicated. It’s about power. Some are supportive despite reservations and complexities. This problem naturally gets linked with the criticisms of excluding family from LDS temple weddings. A great riff on a famous Bible story about women’s roles. Women face challenges getting leadership positions in other religions as well. My favorite response was the petition from the Brolief Society:

The group clarifies that they “are not against the Church or its leaders” but instead “want to show all of God’s children we all can receive the same blessings of living the Gospel.” And indeed, these men are true, faithful members of the church—many of them having much knowledge of the Church’s doctrine.

“Our right to true fatherhood has been almost eliminated from our lives,” said Barley B. Bratt, a founding member of the group. “Of all titles given to God, He has chosen Father. I am tired of my children calling me Bishop, since I only see them for Temple recommend interviews.” He points out how fatherhood is more important than everything else, including priesthood responsibilities.

In LDS church watch, Ren discussed some of the consequences of sending out younger people as missionaries, Denver Snuffer described how the current hierarchy of the CoJCoL-dS isn’t very much like where it was at in Joseph Smith’s day, some stories aren’t as uplifting as their tellers seem to think they are, and school is hard enough all by itself, so I’m really glad I’m not sending my kids to this school:

They spent a lot of time on the dress code: “Girls, listen up, because our dress code violators are almost always girls. Nothing sleeveless at all. Even if it’s not a tank top. If it doesn’t have sleeves, you’ll be wearing the scrubs. If your skirt or shorts are more than five inches above your knees, you’ll be wearing the scrubs. Some girls last year used to think that it was okay to walk around looking wearing leggings, looking like Kim Kardashian or Buddy the Elf, but if you wear leggings this year, you’ll be wearing the scrubs. Same with sheer tops, even if you wear a tank top underneath. ” Cheerleaders (in tank tops and tiny skirts) shared the stage with the administrators as they explained the policy.

In scripture study, here’s a new contradiction for the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, and Alma was pretty sneaky.

Remember Bill Hess, the guy who posts amazing photos of his Alaska lifestyle, including shots of his Native American family and stuff related to his Mormon heritage? Well, it turns out that if the Republicans succeed in blocking Obamacare, he will have a serious problem getting needed healthcare due to his “pre-existing conditions” — and I know he’s not the only one in our community in this boat.

In books, Donna Banta has just released the sequel to The Girls from Fourth Ward: False Prophet. I am really looking forward to reading this one — it’s next on my pile! I’m also looking forward to reading Latter-day Virgin (see this new review) not to mention Daymon Smith’s new books. Global Mom looks interesing (more Mormons in Switzerland…? Why haven’t I met them?). Oh, and getting book recommendations from your Bishop can be an interesting experience.

In grab-bag, read a banned book, watch out for Glenn Beck and David Alvord, not all that is pink is actually helping breast cancer patients, Kuri is giving God a chance to prove He exists, and here’s how to celebrate an American-Chinese autumn!!

In funnies, here’s a new ad for Mormonthink, the five stages of LDS apologetics, a factitious overview of the U.S. Constitution, and the Overeducated Housewife posted some funny videos.

Happy Reading!!

What Hannah Arendt can teach us about Women’s Ordination in the Church

Just like the issue of accepting same-sex intimacy, Mormons are beginning to understand a good Mormon can hold the position that women should be ordained. And this means that half (okay, maybe one quarter) of the battle is won, because now Mormons talk amongst themselves about the following equation as opposed to just dismissing whoever disagrees with it:

Church administration + church service + fatherhood = Church service + motherhood

I certainly hope Elder Ballard’s recent talk is a response to feminist grumblings that will soon grow to a point of being uncontainable. But I also think that it would be good idea to have a conversation about what it is that does the “containing,” because it’s not just church leaders.

A couple years ago, a site popped up called agitatingfaithfully.org that took a quote from President Hinckley about the lack of female ordination resulting from no “agitation” for it. To paraphrase, Hinckley said in 1997 that: “Mormon women are happy, so there isn’t really any reason to ask the Lord for input on the matter.” The phrase “agitating faithfully” helps remind folks that what leads to changes in the Church are, by and large, Mormons imagining their own Church differently. Yes, Mormons turn to their leaders and God for guidance, but once most Mormons believe something, that something is the Church’s position — so it’s more accurate to point fingers at the membership for change, and not necessarily the leaders or God. (The leaders are pulled from the Church as a whole, and when God is involved in changing some substantial policy, it’s usually just leaders asking for a stamp of approval.)

Recently, I saw the 2012 German film Hannah Arendt about the philosopher of the same name. She is often associated with the phrase “The Banality of Evil,” her description of ex-Nazi Adolf Eichmann who in 1961 was put on trial in Jerusalem. When we think of Nazism, we think of something quite evil — but Arendt’s point was that what makes evil truly evil is that it can turn good people bad — or at least make honest people think that evil is neutral or normal (evil’s banality). Arendt argued that Eichmann personified this principle, as he was merely a thoughtless man following orders. Basically, Germany as a whole fell prey to modern evil’s banality.

Arendt came under a lot of fire for pointing out that some Jewish leaders were also likely involved in the Holocaust. She was condemned as “blaming the victim” and deemed a self-hating Jew. But I think Arendt is right to acknowledge that for a system like Nazism to work, it’s not just the Schutzstaffel (SS) with guns. Even those who are in many ways against the system often encourage the system with their actions; and it doesn’t help when a propaganda campaign frames people’s thoughts.

I kinda see the issue of women’s ordination and the issue of same-sex intimacy in the Church the same way. I know that there’s the ancient online adage of Godwin’s Law: comparisons with Nazism tend to be inappropriate hyperboles. But this post is not so much about Nazis as it is about Arendt, so I’m in the clear! =p

Having followed in detail the actions of Mormons entering gay Pride parades the last couple years, many times I’ve seen well-meaning Mormons engaging in behaviors that only encourage heterosexism. I even see the LGBT community engaging in behaviors that encourage heterosexism. I also see Mormon women who actively support male leaders who have no intention of opening the conversation concerning female administration of the Church. This is Arendt’s philosophy in action. Following her lead, I’m wondering if the conversation should include the banality of the Church’s heteropatriarchy and what might be good responses toward it. I think ordainwomen.org does a good job, but personally, I find Arendt’s rhetoric sometimes useful: she is willing to point fingers at the victims, recognizing that in today’s world of confused moralities, victims are often the ones who buttress the perpetrators.

Sunday in Outer Blogness: a woman’s worth edition!!!

On the even of the most dreaded holiday for women on the Mormon liturgical calendar, Elizabeth Smart made a statement explaining what’s wrong with object lessons teaching girls that after having sex, they’re used-up and disgusting, like chewed-gum, sparking lots of discussion (including about other unhelpful chastity lessons). But since it would be unimaginable for Mormons to drop object lessons altogether, some folks have come up with some more positive metaphors illustrating that your worth is not diminished by a few scratches, and alternative reasons to wait until you’re ready before having sex. And despite some excuses, it appears that part of the problem is a Mormon scripture which claims that rape deprives women “of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue.”

It’s rather timely, considering that it’s Mothers Day:

A few years back, an enthusiastic Mother’s Day speaker shared with my ward the story of how his mother had always gotten up to cook breakfast from scratch for the family, even when she was sick. With tears in his eyes, he then thanked his wife for being just like his mom.

It is nice to set aside time to celebrate our mothers — the angst seems more a result of treating motherhood as the be-all-end-all of womanhood. So when I read this list of people who have reason not to love Mothers Day:

  • Married women who suffer from infertility
  • Single women
  • Single mothers
  • Women who birthed babies who were then adopted by others
  • Women whose mothers have died
  • Women whose mothers were abusive
  • Mothers who never feel they will ever add up to what has been dubbed as the perfect mother in many a Sacrament Meeting talk
  • Fathers who suffer from infertility and hate to see their wives feel pain
  • Single fathers
  • Men whose mothers have died
  • Men whose mothers were abusive
  • Fathers who see their wives suffering when they feel they will never add up to what has been dubbed as the perfect mother in many a Sacrament Meeting talk.

… I felt like it should even include women who are happy to be mothers but don’t like being treated as though motherhood is the sum total of their value as humans. But I immediately dismissed this idea as a foolish exaggeration. Then I saw this little Facebook turd:

And I agree with Heather’s response:

I am LOVING watching y’all grow up. You are ambitious and hard-working and kind and smart and funny (oh, so funny) and quick-witted and curious. And you are also needy and demanding and sometimes I feel beleaguered by trying to fill all of your needs. And I tell you as much, which I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be doing, but maybe I’m doing you a favor: if you become a parent, you’ll go in eyes wide open–thanks to me!

Quite simply, I am your mom. Imagining my life otherwise is just crazy talk.

However, motherhood is not the essence of who I am. It does not define my identity.

And there were a bunch of interesting related topics: Mothers in the Bible, the next natural step in the current gun-rights discussion, Heavenly Mother as the unique doctrine Mormons won’t stand up for, women are the root of all evil (or is it helicopter parenting), the Mormon murder trial is ever creepy, and if you’re still married to your dead spouse why is it OK to marry again?

In other topics, good work for a worthy cause, here‘s the first time I’ve seen Canada compared to a cult, the US Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation is seriously considering treating religions like any other non-profit, poverty and judgement, the BoM chapter that is so bad it’s funny, and hatin’ on fat people as a marketing strategy. Oh, and I really enjoyed Daniel Midgley’s podcast about the Navajo language.

It is also teacher appreciation week! Time to think twice about the policy of teaching to the test. In other education issues: teaching is hard and some helpful advice for those who stop believing while attending BYUI. And I’d like to wrap up with a hilarious overview of Mormon-style sex-ed:

My mother’s advise when I first got married (she still hadn’t figured out that I was two months pregnant) was, “Well, Sister (she always calls us “Sister” so she doesn’t have to remember which one of us she’s talking to), just think about IT as if you’re canning peaches. By the time you’ve scalded the skins and peeled them it’s over and you can just go clean up the sticky mess and go back to sleep. It’s your duty and a chore, but usually over very quickly. I’m so sorry for you, Sister.” She once admitted that she wasn’t sure if she’d ever had an orgasm. That’s a guarantee you haven’t. If the back of your head doesn’t explode, lightning shoot out the tips of your toes and fingertips, and stars rotate around the ceiling, leaving you spent and trembling, it’s a good sign that you haven’t yet experienced a good orgasm.

Go read the whole thing and see how much you can relate to!! And good luck to you on surviving this joyous holiday!!

The Social Psychology of Mormon Heteropatriarchy

Sometimes my own life corresponds to the current news cycle.  There’s been a spat of conversations regarding how GOP in Congress are slowing coming out in support of gay marriage because they have gay children themselves.  But then Mormon congresspeople are holding out with the idea:  “Of course I love my gay child, but I also don’t support gay marriage.”  And then the media analyzes whether this is possible.

I very much agree with the following stance on the matter (taken from the opinion piece linked above):

The sappy media stories paint the Salmons as a loving family where even “differences” over gay marriage can’t come between them. The congressman is being enabled, allowed to comfortably advocate against equal rights for his child and everyone like him while claiming to love him. Young Matt can’t allow that to stand, for his own well-being. And the rest of us, too, can’t allow it to stand if we’re truly intent on attaining full civil rights for LGBT people.

The only difference I have with this opinion is that it’s not so much about “equal civil rights” as it is about “equality” generally.  This is why, for example, I don’t pat on the back Mormon Building Bridges for doing advocacy work for the LGBT community on civil rights.  They say gay Mormons need to be “loved” and LGBTs could use equal civil rights, but they refuse to recognize equality (namely, that same-sex intimacy is not a sin, and that the Church should move to reflect that).  The message of equality, particularly as the country moves toward secular gay marriage, has to remain clear in order to penetrate into religious communities who are finding ways to maintain heterosexism in a pluralistic society.

The reason I say this corresponds with my own life is because I recently pestered my own LDS mother through texting to see where she’s at after many years of having a gay son and loving him.  I’m not sure why we did this on Easter, but I think she was willing to take the conversation to its limits because (a) it was Easter, and (b) texting rather than speaking allows more thought between each point.  The bounds of our conversation were helpful for me to better understand the social psychology of why it’s hard for the Church to move forward.  Perhaps our conversation will be useful/interesting to others, too.

Mom:  Recommended reading:  Equal partnership…page 19.  April 2013.  Ensign.

Me:  You know, Valerie Hudson (a co-author of that article) has very problematic ideas about gay people.  After an article came out in Dialogue about how to possibly make more room for gay people in the Church (rather than insist on lifelong celibacy), she wrote a response on how same-sex marriage will lead to killing off women because humans will decide women aren’t needed as equals and babies will grow from test tubes.  She seems to forgot that most people aren’t gay and that lesbians exist.  Sorry, but it’s hard for me to read anything about men and women as “equals” when if they truly were, then same-sex marriage would be no problem.  Instead what I see is how the language of equality is used to perpetuate hetero/sexism.

Mom:   Okay, so the two issues (subservient females and homosexuality) are the same issue?  They can’t be viewed separately?  With regards to the hypothesis of not needing females, from my professional standpoint it would be the exact opposite…fetuses need biochemicals for gestation and actually for months after birth, so I see no need for men.  Or a need for very few of them.  I wanted to discuss the one issue independently of the other…hopefully we can.

Me:  Well, they are interlinked.  The reason the Church campaigned against same-sex marriage is not because same-sex marriage goes against the idea of men and women as equals in marriage, but because of how it reveals that men and women ~aren’t~ equals in the Church with the whole “sharing the priesthood” business.

Mom:  You are aware that women do have situations where they are ordained, but that is a side note.  They don’t need to be…the article presents why…neither gender is subservient to the other.  They have different roles.  Men and women are not the same, or you would be fine with being bisexual.

Me:  Men and women are indeed different on average — but not so different that gays must be excluded or women disallowed from administering the faith.  Maybe you’ll understand when you’re older.  :p

Mom:  So, you subscribe to the theory that all women become homosexual after menopause?

Me:  No…I didn’t know there was such a theory.  I was suggesting that maybe after years of us talking about this, you might be more open to thinking about how your Church could be better.  You don’t think it’s perfect, do you?

Mom: Women, at least in the LDS Church, do more administration of faith than men.  I wish I could recall the talk I heard recently which brought to light the strength of women in the Church, which is just as strong if not stronger than men.  After pondering that talk — if one is an active member of the Church — where you can see it in action…women are actually in control.  We just let you men think you are.  … [regarding perfect Church]:  No, members are mortal, but the Gospel itself is.  Any faction of society is imperfect, there was only one perfect man and it is His resurrection we recognize this day.

Me: Well, it sounds to me like you’re okay with me being “outside” the Church.

Mom: Why are you so focused on the LDS when there are so many other faiths, some of which were so anti-gay they would lynch?

Me:  Cuz my mother is LDS, I was raised LDS, I dated an LDS guy, and it’s what I focused on in school.  Though I do want to branch into other things, for now it’s easier to write what I know.  The Church is an interesting case study for things like gender/sexuality, but also American studies generally.  Anyhow, if I do delve into other faiths, it will be more accepting ones.

Mom:  Well, it’s not just a gay thing [being on the “outside”].  The same happens to a variety of people…youth, gay, hetero, and yet the flipside is many join as others leave.  Father gave us free agency, and it will all work out in the end.  As we get older and reflect on life and society, our passions change.  We mellow out and learn to “be.”  I understand the passion for a cause, I have one, but there is a big picture.  Let your passion be part of that.  It almost seems like a stressor that consumes you.  Put more passion into love.

Me:  It’s not a stressor, but are you willing to say my relationship with [my partner] is not a “sin”?  If you can’t say that, then maybe you can understand why I focus on this with you.  Behind all the niceties, my own mother believes I’m “using my agency” to sin.  It’s a sad place for a son to be.

Mom:  This is what I meant about it being a stressor.  I don’t stress about it.  I am not a judge.  I have no right to be such.  You say I think it’s a sin…I never said or thought such a thing.  I don’t stress…and talk openly and freely about it…

Me:  I think you do have a right to judge whether or not it’s a sin, and would appreciate you definitively saying it’s NOT a sin.

Mom: I actually do not have the right, as per church teachings.

Me:  Really?  The Church teaches that it is a sin, so you seem comfortable enough not saying that.  The thing is, you may be comfortable on the fence as a ‘non-judger,’ but the cumulative effect of that is maintaining that it’s a sin.  I suppose that’s better than saying “I have no right to judge your sin as worse than mine,” but still, it’s kinda disappointing.

Mom: Ah, I have an answer.  What you are doing now…shacking up.  That’s a sin, which is why I encourage you to get married.

Me:  Did you hear about that young man who was denied the opportunity to go on a mission because he said he couldn’t teach that gay relationships are sinful?  Thank goodness you aren’t required to state your belief one way or another.   …[Regarding marriage]:  Oh, so if I get married to [my partner], then you would say I’m not living in sin?  Or are you saying that I’m living in sin now, and if we marry you still couldn’t judge as per church policy?  I’m onto you…

Mom:  Alan, this is pissing me off.  I have been supporting and loving all along, yet you constantly attack.  I choose not to stress about this, yet you continually push me to stress about it.  I am the most accepting and supporting advocate you have, yet you do this to me.  Perhaps you value my opinion above all others.  You think I’m allowing myself to be “acted upon,” because when I share something with you that doesn’t validate you, you turn it into an attack on me?  Why?

Me:  Why did you share that article with me when you know it excludes me?

Mom: It had to do with heterosexual couples.  Male/female relationships with equality, which is something you have had interest in.  Not all published work about relationships has a homosexual element.  Particularly those focusing on male/female relationships.

Me:  Well, I’d ask you think about how narratives of women/men complementing each other are inherently exclusionary of lesbians/gays.  I understand you sent it with regard to feminism, but like I said, they’re interlinked.  Also, I get that you’re trying to be an advocate, but until you budge on the “sin” question, you aren’t ~there~ yet.

Mom: Let me ask you this.  Are you and [your partner] not complements and equals in your relationship?  I often have to explain that homosexuality is more than about sex…and that individuals of all orientations have real loving relationships.  My companion is my best friend.  I hope you and [your partner] have that.

And then the conversation just kinda died there… as these issues are emotionally draining…

So, thoughts?  Although I’m thankful for my mother’s love and acceptance, I also see her position as the kind that perpetuates the institutional heteropatriarachy of the Church… but in some ways, also not.

 

“Imagine a Church where your beloved grandmother is your stake president.”

Great interview by Joanna Brooks of Kate Kelly who launched ordainwomen.org.  I REALLY hope momentum builds on this issue.

On Tuesday, I ran into a female missionary on my campus.  Since I just left a course on “feminist international political economy,” I couldn’t help but give her an earful.  She was only 5 days into her mission, and looked rather homesick…age 19, chose to go on a mission before going to college, given that the Church recently lowered the age requirement for missionaries.  I asked her about women and the priesthood, and she told me that when she was a kid, she had huge issues with it — that it seemed unfair that only boys got the priesthood — but she went to her father who explained the whole gender symmetry thing to her, and now she “gets” it.  When I pushed her on this (e.g., men get the priesthood and parenthood, women only get parenthood), she said with a sad smile, “I know, I know…but it’s what we believe!”  I pushed her on the gay issue, letting her know I’m gay, linking it to female ordination (i.e., faiths that okay gay marriage also ordain women), and she could only sadly smile and reiterate, “I know it’s hard, but it’s what we believe.”  I wish I had the sense to point her to ordainwomen.org to let her know that one can be a faithful Mormon woman and still believe in female ordination, AND there’s a movement for it.  But perhaps one cannot be a missionary and assert that, similar to the gay issue (you can believe it’s not a sin, but can’t be a missionary unless you’re willing to teach that it is).

Ah well, I did mention Joanna Brooks’ name, whom did the missionary didn’t recognize.  Perhaps it’s not a good idea to over-associate Brooks since we don’t want another September Six on our hands.

Toxic Perfectionism

Evidently some mormon women suffer from toxic perfectionism. So on top of being the angel in the home, they are trying to be too perfect; keep a spotless home, cook a scrumptious, frugal, healthy meal, raise perfectly coiffed children.

It’s not only mormon women who suffer from unrealistic expectations (of course) – Jerry Hall quipped:

My mother said it was simple to keep a man, you must be a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom. I said I’d hire the other two and take care of the bedroom bit”

Perfectionism is something I’m familiar with. Honestly, when I remember what being a mormon teen was like, I remember feeling like I couldn’t measure up – no matter what I did. Near the end I became discouraged, if I couldn’t measure up – why bother? I wasn’t reading the scriptures enough, I didn’t have perfect early-morning seminary attendance – I fought with my parents and siblings. I was also guilty of sins of omission (does anyone outside mormonism know what those are?) – I wasn’t charitable, I wasn’t kind, I didn’t go out of my way to help poor destitute widows, etc.

So forgive me for being skeptical of this anti-perfectionist movement. Is being a perfectionist an issue for many LDS? Yes. Should that responsibility be fully placed at the individual members’ door? Is it their fault for taking what they hear each Sunday literally?

Heavenly Father is judgmental. This is a major criticism of mormonism from mainstream Christianity. No longer is grace important. Each of us needs to follow certain steps to get to Heaven. You have to physically be baptized, with a prayer said precisely, by a man of a certain age who meets certain worthiness requirements. And that’s just baptism. Everything has to be said just so (I remember the sacrament prayer being repeated four or five times by a stumbling teenager – had to be perfect).

I think of my grandfather who refused to miss church – despite being released from the hospital a few days before. He also fainted doing temple work. I can’t explain why he felt like he had to be at church no matter what. Why he had to serve at the temple despite having health problems – I can’t say. That’s certainly not a message heard from the pulpit. But many quotes can be interpreted that way.

So there’s a measurement stick, and you’re always found wanting (h/t runtu). Even if you follow all the rules; have you been doing your genealogy? journaling? Your home/visiting teaching? Family scripture study? In some other faiths, the idea is that only Christ was perfect. The rest of us have to do the best we can – which includes making mistakes. The journey is what matters, what is in one’s “heart” is what matters; not how accurate certain prayers are said. Not if we had the occasional latte or played with face cards.

I think it’s good that perfectionism and scrupulosity are being acknowledged in mormon culture. But the cultural/doctrinal part of the equation (at least for LDS) cannot be ignored. The need for perfectionism doesn’t occur in a vacuum.