Your guide to the Ask Mormon Girl archive

Howdy, beloved friends and visitors!

Welcome to the world of Ask Mormon Girl, a four-year archive of columns on the ins-and-outs, ups-and-downs of living the “it’s complicated” version of faith. Since January 2010, perfect strangers sent queries to askmormongirl@gmail.com. And I did my best to answer, before turning it over to the AMG community of readers, who always brought wisdom, love, humor, and exceptional insight. Thank you all so much.

For the time being, I’m not taking new queries. But I do encourage you to peruse the vast Ask Mormon Girl archives. You can use the site’s search function in the right column toolbar, click on relevant categories in the wordcloud also at right, or (if you’re really determined!) read the entire archive month by month. There is much here to keep you company whether you’re in faith transition, or you wonder about sticky spots in Mormon history and doctrine, or are a feminist, or a budding LGBT ally, or are one of the many, many Mormons (or Catholics, or Jews) who always feel like the odd duck at the potluck.

I hope you’ll find something in the archives to soothe you. You’ll find me popping in from time to time over at the legendary Feminist Mormon Housewives blog, where I love to cook up trouble–like scholarships and feminist summer camps–with my rowdy Mo fem friends.

As my childhood heroes Donny & Marie Osmond used to sing, “May tomorrow be a perfect day / May you find love and laughter along the way / May God keep you in His tender care / Til He brings us together again. Goodnight, everybody!

Or as my yoga teacher Dave says, namaste.

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OUCH! How do I deal with cruel Mormon Facebook reaction to Ordain Women?

Dear AMG:

I’m slowly coming out of the Mormon feminist closet.  I don’t know where I am yet with the ordain women movement.  I’m still in the process of praying.  So far, all I know (through sweet, personal revelation) is that it is OK to ask God things.  He loves it when we come to Him with questions.  This is as far as I’ve gotten.  I’m still reading, praying, listening.  

But I’m so heartbroken over the general reaction to what these incredibly brave women did last Saturday.  Friends, family, people I know, people I don’t know, people who claim to be disciples of Christ have been downright nasty about these women and their motives and who they are, and what kind of testimonies they have and where they should go shove their ideas.  

For one, thing, I’ve sworn off Facebook until eternity is over.  But here I am, (in the heart of Utah) with my “radical” views and opinions and all around me are people waiting with sticks and a match to burn the witch. How do you get over this?

When things get murky, I really do try to get into that “what would Jesus do” boat.  Which is why my heart is hurting so much.  Where is Jesus in these Facebook exchanges and comments sections?!  These people wear their Mormon membership like a badge, but tell those searching for honest answers to go start your own church, no room for you here is Christ’s church? Or immediately discount my testimony and voice because I have a few questions about policy vs doctrine?  My heart seems paralyzed with fear and sadness.  I absolutely get why people leave the church.  The gospel is true, but the people aren’t.  

Help?

PK

Dear PK:

(The short answer to your question:  read pages 184 – 185 of The Book of Mormon Girl.  A longer answer follows.)

A web design genius friend made two word clouds last week.  One was composed from the profiles of the men and women on Ordain Women.  It was a nimbus of loveliness:  words like “faith,” “prayer,” “revelation,” “hope.”  The other was composed from the comments pasted to the Ordain Women Facebook page, ostensibly by defenders of the Mormon faith, and it was a miasma of mean:  words like “apostasy,” “leave,” and so forth.

We saw similar behavior during “Wear Pants to Church” last December.  Nothing new here, of course—except to newbies like yourself.  And there are so many of you, now, arriving everyday in the precincts of Mormon feminism.  Welcome, sister, welcome, and please don’t feed the trolls or mind the haters.

What you are seeing on those flaming Facebook walls and pages is this:  Mormonism has an autoimmune disorder.  Ridiculed by segments of the American mainstream for 150 years or more, encouraged to see “the world” today as hostile to their faith, lots of Mormons move through life with their defenses up. Way up. Problem is, at times Mormons become so inflamed, so tender, we turn those defenses onto people within our own community.

Women’s issues have the power to provoke particular inflammation within our community.  And part of the reason (aside from general human misogyny) is that 160 years ago in Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph Smith told the women of the early Church that he’d make of them a “kingdom of priests.” He set into place elements of the endowment ceremony:  an initial articulation of a connection between women and priesthood.  And then, he was martyred. Fragments of Joseph’s vision survived through the years in the women of Mormonism’s first and second generations, in practices like washings and anointings before childbirth, in the institutional independence of the Relief Society.  But many of these have disappeared almost entirely from mainstream Mormon memory:  drummed out by correlation.  And 160 years later, we have no idea what Joseph meant.  Ordain Women is placing full faith in the doctrine of continuing revelation and asking Church leaders to try and figure it out. Which is scary. For everyone.  Especially for people who have been raised on a Sunday School curriculum that insists we already have all the answers tied up in neat, correlated columns.

That historical perspective may be of little comfort when one is actually faced with straight up in-box cruelty in the name of Jesus. Jesus himself, of course, has a lot to say about these kind of situations in the New Testament.  Matthew 5 is always a favorite. That’s a chapter I resort to when, sometimes, I have to mosey out of a church meeting when an ill-thought sacrament meeting talk gets off into the anti-gay and anti-feminist weeds, and sit with my kids on the steps out back and read the scriptures. Everyone has limits, after all.  Know yours, and gently honor them.  I applaud your Facebook hiatus.  Spare yourself reading the comments on most blog posts about women’s issues in Mormonism.  And fortify yourself with lots of Matthew 5.  Dig even deeper into the New Testament. Lots of the early Church apostles knew what it was like to put up with pernicious meanness.  And if you’re going to be in it for the long run, as I hope you will, you may have to supplement even further.  Memorize the prayer of St. Francis.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, the truth;

Where there is doubt, the faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled, as to console;

To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Perhaps you’d like to start committing long passages from President Uchtdorf’s talks to memory. I myself must admit I find my mind going time and time again to this opener from Adrienne Rich’s poem “Integrity”:  “a wild patience has taken me this far.”

Patience, yes, indeed. Because it has been 160 years and we still have no idea what Joseph Smith meant when he told the women of early Mormonism he was going to make of them a kingdom of priests.  And I’ve had two very devout women I love and admire tell me that they’ve had personal revelation that someday priesthood ordination will come.  I have not had that experience. “How long until women’s ordination?” non-Mormon friends ask.  “I’m on the five hundred year plan,” I tell them. I do not know that I am joking.

What I do know is that we have a long road to Zion, we Mormons, especially if one reads the comments on Facebook as revealing something about the inner states of Mormonism.  Because yes, those comments absolutely do reveal more about the innards of their authors than they do about the objective merits of the cause they purport to contest.  And imagine, if it hurts you to read them, those comments, can you imagine how it feels to live with a corrosively bilious form of “righteousness” (or abject terror and defensiveness) pumping through your veins every day?

But here’s the most important thing:  God is merciful, God loves surprises, God roots for the underdog.  For every caustic “righteous” commenter on Facebook, there are two more in your own ward who have the same questions you do but are afraid to speak them out loud, and three more who really don’t care what you think about women’s ordination.  They’re just trying to nurse a fussy baby through Sacrament Meeting, or make it through another week of a soulkilling job they hate.  They’re trying to get through the day, by the grace of God, as are we all.  And perhaps if we can love one another, every day that passes will take us all one day closer to figuring out what Joseph meant, or to working our collective fearful defensiveness out of our collective system, or to an even fuller version of the marvel that is Mormon theology.  Even if it takes five hundred years.

You are going to need courage, and patience, and love.   You’re going to have to see the nastiness for what it is:  fear, mostly, but also ignorance.  Along the way you’ll find allies.  You’ll find your heart, your mind, your voice, and your soul.  Courage, sister.  You’ve got MoFems on your side, and believe me when I tell you there are few braver women in the western world.

Now, who has words of courage for PK?

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Is Mormon Faith Crisis for Men Only? Or did the NY Times Miss Half the Story?

Beloved readers and visitors:  Since concluding my series on the theology of LDS gender and priesthood, I’ve taken a summer breather.  But this week, I’m back with something to say about Sunday’s front-page New York Times article on disaffection, historical controversy, and faith crisis among contemporary Mormons.

Please check it out by visiting Feminist Mormon Housewives.  Click here.

 

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Should Mormon women be ordained? Or are they already priesthood holders?

For several weeks now, I have devoted my columns here to my own personal exploration of the question of women and priesthood ordination within the LDS Church.  What set me to this project was the launch of OrdainWomen.org, a set of profiles published by Mormon men and women calling for ordination of LDS women to the priesthood.

Even though I have been a committed feminist for more than twenty years, I never felt the same kind of visceral connection to the priesthood ordination issue that I had so readily felt on other issues of fairness and equality.  Seeing the faces of friends go public on-line in support of ordination at Ordainwomen.org made me wonder why.

Perhaps it was because I had not studied the issue carefully enough?  Perhaps studying the LDS scriptures and doctrines that structured priesthood ordination would help me arrive at a better understanding of the matter, and perhaps at some stronger personal conclusions, I wondered.  So I set out to understand Mormon theology on gender and ordination, on its own terms.  I studied scriptures, historical and contemporary writings by church leaders, church handbooks, and ceremonial liturgies from the LDS temple.  I also studied scholarship by historians of Mormonism who have carefully and extensively tracked changes in LDS doctrine and practice over time pertaining to priesthood and gender.

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Ask Mormon Girl: Are gender-restricted church responsibilities based in doctrine or custom?

If you’ve been following along these past few weeks (excepting my mother’s day vacation), you know I’ve been convening a personal study session on priesthood:  what it means today, what it has meant, and what all of this means in light of a renewed call for the ordination of women by some LDS feminists.

And after weeks of study, this is what I have gathered, in summary:

Elder Boyd K. Packer has stated that the way Mormons now conceive of priesthood authority—restricted to men, identical with administrative authority, and opposite to motherhood–is not necessarily grounded in scripture; it may be just as much an outgrowth of tradition or custom.  Priesthood keys are, in fact, rather haphazardly defined in scriptures, and they do not map neatly onto current LDS Church administrative functions.  LDS Church historians date the implementation of our current concept of priesthood (as identified with men only and with exclusive administrative authority, and in opposition to motherhood) to the middle twentieth century, as introduced by leaders like John Widtsoe.  Before Widtsoe, there is evidence of a more expansive notion of priesthood in Mormonism, dating from the moment in 1843 when Joseph Smith made the daring and I’d argue revelatory decision to interpret Exodus 40: 12 – 15 to apply to both men and women, effectively vesting women with priesthood through the endowment ceremony.  An expansive sense of priesthood authority survives into the early twentieth century in the continuing practice of LDS women giving blessings of healing and even washings and anointings preparatory to childbirth.  This practice contracted during the 1920s and 1930s.  Correlation as an administrative program was introduced in the 1940s and 1950s and was used as a premise to contract the authority of women over their own auxiliaries in the 1960s and 1970s, as historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has remembered.  We have seen a very modest recent correction in renewed emphasis on the use of mixed-gender councils at the level of ward decision making.  But if we track the institutional authority of LDS women from the 1840s to today, could one plausibly characterize the situation of Mormon women as a restoration incomplete?

My goal this week is to follow the distinction Elder Packer has made and to understand the distinction between practices based in tradition or custom and practices that reflect a consistent and coherent LDS doctrine.  Recently, we’ve seen the Church quietly set aside a longstanding custom of not inviting women to pray at General Conference.  This was purely tradition; it was not reflective of a consistent or coherent LDS doctrine.  Are there other customs in the way we assign authority that do not in fact have a foundation in consistent or coherent LDS doctrine?

It appears that there is a subarticulate LDS doctrine that endowed LDS women do enjoy  priesthood power, even if they are not ordained to  priesthood offices.  Many Mormons take this as a deduction from the fact that LDS women conduct some temple ceremonies with authority delegated by the temple president, as well as by the fact that women in LDS temples participate fully in the priesthood-bearing rites described in Exodus 40: 12 – 15.

The distinction between a general priesthood power and specific administrative authority is often framed through the language of priesthood “keys.”  But to study the scriptural definitions of keys is to find that keys outlined in the scriptures don’t neatly or consistently cohere with the shape of administrative responsibilities in the contemporary LDS church.  In our current handbook, some positions are restricted to male priesthood holders that do not in fact have particular scripturally-delineated keys associated with them.  The question that emerges for me, then, is, if the handbook restricts a particular administrative responsibility to a male Melchizedek priesthood holder but there are no keys associated with that position, is this restriction based on custom (as in the case of women praying in sacrament meeting or General Conference)? 

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What exactly do Mormons mean when they say the word “priesthood”?

With the emergence of the Ordain Women movement, I’ve spent the last few weeks undertaking a personal study of what priesthood is and who holds it.  I’ve been most interested in how the term priesthood came to be used as a name under which spiritual and administrative offices are referred to men alone as a complement to the biological function of motherhood.

This understanding of priesthood seems to emerge in the middle decades of the twentieth century during the “Correlation” movement—an administrative and theological project undertaken by LDS Church leaders to standardize, modernize, and codify Mormon doctrine and practice for uniform administration in a growing and newly global church.

We see one document of this correlation movement and its consolidation of priesthood with the authority to administer the LDS Church in John Widtsoe’s Priesthood and Church Government (1939). Widtsoe culls from a range of Mormon source-texts (Journal of Discourses, for example) a number of statements that he organizes into a rationale for the alignment of priesthood powers, patriarchal authority in the family, and church administration.  This is not a logic originating with Joseph Smith, but one that emerges with the modernization and correlation of twentieth-century Mormonism.

The correlation movement also seems to have produced the first formally articulated “correlation” of priesthood with gender roles.  Historian Sonja Farnsworth locates the first mention in LDS history of motherhood as the female correlate to male priesthood in the 1954 revision of Widtsoe’s Priesthood and Church Government. This modern motherhood-priesthood dyad grew into a powerful element of Mormon identity, as the LDS Church established missionary and public relations campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s that mobilized a particular definition of family and especially in the Church’s formal opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.

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Who was the first LDS leader to pair motherhood and priesthood? What else has changed about priesthood over the course of LDS history?

Welcome back, AMG readers, to my ongoing personal study session on the question of priesthood ordination.  Last week, I left you all with two questions. Here’s the first:

  1. 1.    Can anyone find evidence in A) canonized scripture B) canonized revelation C) the words of Jesus Christ or D) the words of Joseph Smith that indicates the value of gender roles in the plan of salvation? (And yes, we all know that temple marriage is required for exaltation–but marriage does not necessarily mean gender roles.)

Commenter Matelda22spy wrote:

Female prophets in the Bible:
Luke 2:36-38.
Acts 21:9
Exodus 15:20
Judges 4:4
2 Kings 22:14
Isaiah 8:3

Female deacons:
Romans 16:1

Female apostle?
Romans 16:7

“Apostle” has its own meaning in the LDS Church. Maybe we best not count on its biblical meaning being exactly the same? In the Bible it appears to have been more synonymous with “missionary” than “leader.”

For example, in Romans 16:7, a woman named Junia is called “prominent among the apostles.” Meaning she was a missionary, i.e. an apostle? Some editors have changed it to the masculine Junias, but the original text contains the feminine.

Maybe other women have been similarly edited out of the scriptures, and restraints upon them edited in. Joseph Smith himself expressed concern that the Bible had translation errors and corruption, did he not?

Yet if men truly do play every role and serve as every voice/writer in the Bible, I see that as a point against religion, not a point against women. I’m not about to take anyone’s or any Church’s word for it that God expects nothing from me except procreation.

James 1:5

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