“I Would Not Risk My Salvation to Any Man”: Eliza R. Snow's Challenge to Salvific Coverture
Brigham Young and other nineteenth-century male church leaders taught that men were responsible for their wives' salvation. This probably goes a long way toward explaining why the endowment ceremony, which was given by Joseph Smith but first written down under President Young's direction 35 years later, perpetuated that idea until 2019. USU graduate student Brooke R. LeFevre coined the term "salvific coverture" for this teaching, drawing a parallel with the British and American common law practice of men absorbing their wives' identities and thus becoming responsible for all their legal and financial dealings. (This, of course, is why we still have the ubiquitous practice of women taking their husbands' last names. Barf.) In a recent article in the Journal of Mormon History, she documents how general Relief Society president Eliza R. Snow went around contradicting the male leaders by teaching women that they were responsible for their own salvation. You can't read the article unless you pay $14 or have access to it through an institution like I do, but you know it's a good article because USU graduate students are very intelligent and articulate writers.
Changes in LDS Hymns: Implications and Opportunities
In this old Dialogue article that fortunately is not behind a paywall because Dialogue is cool like that, Douglas Campbell looks at some of the lyrical adjustments made to LDS hymns between the 1835, 1927, 1948, and 1985 editions of the hymnbooks. I was most surprised to learn that the compilers of the 1985 edition bothered to change many instances of male-centric language - that is, using terms like "man", "men", "brothers", and "sons" to refer to the entire human race - to gender-neutral language. I was surprised because of course male-centric language remains ubiquitous throughout the hymns and our scriptures, and since we like to sound spiritual by quoting or paraphrasing hymns and scriptures, it has a big influence on our speech patterns within the Church even though nobody in the real world talks like that anymore. But if people noticed and addressed this issue in 1985, they certainly will all the more in the upcoming edition, so that's great. This issue wasn't on my radar whatsoever when I gave feedback on the hymnbook in 2019. I'm glad we're not all depending on me.
It also occurs to me that there's actually no reason at all why the male-centric language in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants - which were translated and written, respectively, in the nineteenth century (other than a couple bits of the latter that don't change the point I'm making) - couldn't or shouldn't be updated like it has been in modern Bible translations. Both have already undergone many revisions, but we're a lot more squeamish about fiddling with the text now than Joseph Smith was. If he can remove a bunch of repetitions of "And it came to pass" (yes, there used to be even more) and change "white and delightsome" to "pure and delightsome" then there's no reason why President Nelson or whomever can't change "Men are that they might have joy" to "People are that they might have joy".
A Mentor's Master's Missionary Memoir
In the USU library skimming the shelves for Sonia Johnson's memoir, I stumbled upon the Master's thesis of a Creative Nonfiction Writing teacher I had once, and read it first because it was much shorter. It was on a subject he had raised in class as well: the paucity of good, non-polemical literature about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that doesn't take a heavy-handed stance for or against. He took a step to rectify that with a little memoir of growing up in the Church, serving a mission, and losing his faith. It portrays the Church in a very human, not altogether flattering, but fair enough light. There's no sense that he's trying to expose anything or destroy anyone else's faith. That's the point. Still, I missed whatever theme was probably meant to tie all the anecdotes together. I easily got the sense that he wasn't all in, that he never had a burning testimony to begin with, but when he took a sip of beer with his friends and realized he was done with the Church and then the story just ended, it felt abrupt and unexplained. Of course, it may have been chock-full of foreshadowing that went over my stupid head.
What struck me was the number of spelling and grammatical errors - not a ton, certainly not enough to ruin it for me, but more than I would have expected in a Master's thesis. I was surprised his committee let him get away with it. I can't imagine Charles letting me get away with it. Anyway, that boosted my confidence in my ability to write a Master's thesis of my own. I don't mean this to sound denigrating to him at all - he was a great teacher and a great human being, and his writing is not bad by any means - but I feel like if he could do it, so can I. Sometimes I feel like this graduate school stuff requires me to be some kind of academic super genius that I'm not.
From Housewife to Heretic: One Woman's Spiritual Awakening and Her Excommunication from the Mormon Church
I never had much of an opinion on Sonia Johnson, a USU alumnus and possibly the most famous Latter-day Saint excommunicant of all time, though I questioned the mental health of a straight woman who grew so bored of men that she married a woman. Well, in 406 pages I could count on one hand the things I disagreed with. Of course, this is very much her personal story and as such a lot of it is subjective or unknowable by definition. I'm not qualified to evaluate the validity of her spiritual experiences or the accuracy of the thoughts, feelings, and motivations that she constantly imputes to every male she's ever interacted with. (And some of the women, too. Actually, I think she has more contempt for the Church's anti-ERA spokeswoman Beverly Campbell than anyone else. Not once in the entire book does she mention Sister Campbell's name, which I figured out from the accounts of some of the same events in Leonard J. Arrington's diaries, instead only calling her "the Chairman" over and over again.) And admittedly, toward the end I did stumble over a bit of shockingly obvious hypocrisy that I think undermines her credibility somewhat.
Page 360: "I recognized the same syndrome I had watched, aghast, in Virginia: the [Mormon] men behind the [Mormon] women, the women fronting for them... The men manipulating the women, telling them what to do and say; the women, like 'fembots,' going about saying and doing it, serving as unwitting tools of their own oppression."
Page 364: "Writing me off as a tool of the enemies of the church... is as convenient a way of disposing of me, and as often used against women, as labeling me 'emotionally disturbed.' It is highly unlikely that a man in my situation would be dismissed as merely being used by others without his understanding, without his volition. Patriarchal persons are so bogged down in stereotypes of women that they refuse to believe we can act on our own initiative out of our own integrity, as men do."
Nonetheless, her scathing observations of sexism in and out of the Church remain accurate forty years later to a far greater degree than I would care to admit. At times when her constant feminist rhetoric started to seem excessive, I asked myself, But is she wrong? I don't think she is. I do think she's emotionally disturbed, and that her state, as evidenced by her writings and political activities, has continued to deteriorate since, but she's had a hard life. The effects on her psyche of hearing adults talk about the Holocaust as a young girl during World War II, the constant delegitimization she experienced as a female teenager and young adult in the 1950s, feeling periodically depressed and unfulfilled as a housewife while her husband left for months at a time and never discussed his problems with her like an adult, then being totally blindsided when he tricked her into signing a divorce paper so he could leave her for another woman during the time when she needed his support the most, then being vilified and slandered by the religious community she devoted her life to and continued to love despite her differences - right or wrong, my heart aches for her. So does God's.
I can relate in a way to her feminist awakening because this year I had my own that's probably become quite annoying to readers of my blog. Mine was far less painful, but it's still left me with a fair amount of confusion and anger to work through. I had believed and assumed for most of my life that because God values women and men equally, the Church values women and men equally, and therefore any teaching or practice that looks sexist isn't actually sexist if properly understood. Besides, Utah gave women the right to vote before almost anywhere else, so the Church must have always been progressive on female equality. I learned that neither of these assumptions are true, around the same time I started to comprehend the extent to which sexism is woven into every human institution on Earth. Learning why most women take their husbands' last names felt like finding out I'd been eating human flesh my whole life. Sonia Johnson experienced sexism her whole life, but had no vocabulary or frame of reference to contextualize it or suggest that things should be different. She was in her early forties when it clicked. In the book she wrote a few years later, her anguish is still raw and palpable.
Sonia Johnson is an extremely talented writer, and there are so many quoteworthy passages, but only so much space in my humble little blog post. I will therefore zero in on a beautiful and funny poem she wrote in sacrament meeting one Sunday because, as the ward organist, she couldn't leave the chapel. I kind of want to frame a copy of it and give it to my bishop.
Power Play in Church
Here I am again, pouring out
to avoid being poured into, singing
to drown out the cacophony.
It's the "God's will for women" theme again
as decided and decreed by some man again
(a particularly virulent form
of hypocrisy in human males).
It is difficult to pour out, however,
as fast as he pours in
which hardly seems fair
since he is after all tampering with my life
not me with his.
Believe me, if it were vice versa,
if I were insisting that God intended
all men to be farmers because Adam
was a tiller of the soil
and any who resisted were in league
with you-know-who to destroy the family,
the nation, civilization -
If I were extolling the exquisite joys
of shoveling hog manure in subzero weather
and taking out endless mortgages
in withering heat
and from my spectator's seat
(light-years from such a fate myself)
pontificating that in these tasks
lay the righteous and complete fulfillment
of men's true natures,
hosts of embattled non-farmers would find
a quick way not only to shut me up
but to lock me up
Ah he's almost finished, dazzled by his own
magnanimity and noble condescension, awash
with zeal, unassailably righteous
and immensely comfortable
like a nineteenth-century missionary to darkest Africa.
It might smudge his shining smug to learn
that despite his dishonorable intentions
I won - I wrote louder than he talked,
and for the love I bear myself
I'll live louder than he talks
And I'll win.
Helen Andelin and the Fascinating Womanhood Movement
From the early 1960s to the 2000s, Latter-day Saint housewife Helen B. Andelin followed what she believed was a literal calling from God to share the secret to happy and lasting marriages, namely, that women should act like stupid, helpless, emotionally manipulative children. There's a word for the kind of man who would be attracted to that kind of woman, and it rhymes with "jedophile". But her book Fascinating Womanhood, largely plagiarized from a series of 1920s pamphlets under a similar title, has sold over three million copies, and the classes she ran to teach its principles have continued in multiple countries after her death. The book and classes now play a large role in the extremely creepy "tradwife" movement of middle-class white women who feel liberated by embracing 1950s middle-class white gender roles. (I mention their whiteness because a. nobody of any other race could possibly think the 1950s was a good time to be alive in this country and b. their movement is, unsurprisingly, associated with the alt-right.)
This book gives a fair and balanced overview of the history of the movement, including the factors that shaped Helen Andelin's own life and worldview. It's very obvious that she was several fries short of a Happy Meal, so I don't want to mock her for doing what she really believed was right (even though it wasn't right and made the world a worse place). I was most fascinated to learn that she made several attempts to convince church leaders to endorse her program as a solution to the members' alarming divorce rate, but they just kind of ignored her until she gave up, and that caused her a severe crisis of faith but she decided she didn't need their approval to share God's message with the world. We dodged a bullet there. Also, her philosophy has had a more subtle, mainstream, and often unacknowledged influence on many other marriage help books, including a couple you've undoubtedly heard of - Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and The Propher Care and Feeding of Husbands. The common thread running through such works is that they promote degrading stereotypes about men and tell women that all marital problems are their own fault.
It's a shame Sister Andelin passed away before someone could host a debate between her and Sonia Johnson. I would pay good money to see that.
Why I Stay: The Challenges of Discipleship for Contemporary Mormons
I also saw this one while browsing for Sonia Johnson's memoir, and decided to save it for last so I could end on a positive note after wading through some heavy stuff. This is a compilation of essays by various liberals and intellectuals trying to make it in a culture that's often very hostile to liberals and intellectuals. Since I find myself in a similar boat, I resonate with a lot of their words. I can't really do the book justice by trying to summarize all twenty essays in one go, so I shan't bother.
The Future of Women at Church: A Conversation with Neylan McBaine
I didn't read this, because it's not a thing to read, but I listened to it while doing a puzzle and I figured I'd tack it on to the end of this post rather than devote another one to it next week. Neylan McBaine is one of my heroes and I think everyone should listen to her.
Currently when boys in the United States of America turn 18, we have to register for a thing called Selective Service in order to access some of the rights and privileges of citizenship that girls get by turning 18, and also to not be charged with a felony. This means we get put on a list so we can be drafted into the military and sent off to our deaths if that need ever arises. I don't remember doing it, but I must have because I've gotten federal financial aid. Because women are now allowed to serve in any position in the military, there's a growing movement to replace this blatant sex discrimination with an equal-opportunity human rights violation by making them register for Selective Service too. The thought of abolishing the damn thing altogether doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone in power.
Valerie Hudson, however, argues in a recent editorial that the current status quo should be maintained, with men and women both eligible for military service but only men eligible for the draft. I expressed that same opinion once. My reasoning was that men were more evolved for war-type stuff, so while I would never cite evolution as a reason to forbid women from being in the military or doing whatever else their hearts desired, it seemed like a good enough reason to minimize unfairness by not forcing them to be in the military. I didn't think it was fair to force men either, but it was more reasonable because of evolution. Now I just think Selective Service and the draft should be abolished altogether. What's Dr. Hudson's logic, though?
"And I draw that line," she writes, "not for the reason tradition would give us: That women are weak or delicate creatures that must be protected. After all, most women in the world are not protected in any sense of the word. Would you enjoy living as a woman in Afghanistan, where 87% of women report having been assaulted? Or in Liberia, where the chance of dying incident to pregnancy is 1 in 8? Most women in poor countries do the lion’s share of the work of the household each day, and are given fewer calories to eat despite the fact that their daily work load forces them to expend far more energy than others in the household, including men. They watch their children die of preventable diseases and malnutrition because the powerful men of the country could not care less about such lowly matters. In truth, if women were weak, delicate creatures, the human race would have died out millennia ago.
"No, I do not oppose Selective Service registration for women because of their delicacy. I oppose it because a sex class analysis would reveal that women already sacrifice more for their country than men do, and women should not be asked to bear even more. There should be parity between men and women in the work of protecting our country and giving it a future. Selective Service registration for women would undo that parity, placing an unjustly heavy burden on women, and making their load far heavier than that of men."
She then proceeds to point out that far more women become mothers than men serve in the military, and far more women have died in childbirth than men have died in war. She notes that "The maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is now more than double what it was 30 years ago (it’s now 17.4 per 100,000 and rising)." I didn't know that. I thought I lived in a first world country. I did know that black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, and twice as likely to lose their babies, but since systemic racism is a myth and hospital staff (as I can attest firsthand from my experience with Logan Regional) treat all patients with the respect and dignity they're entitled to, these facts can only be explained as unfortunate but meaningless coincidences.
"And this doesn’t account," she continues, "for the 'mommy tax' on a woman’s lifetime earnings of having a child, which can amount to more than $1 million. The greatest risk factor for being poor in old age in the United States is to be a mother (and not a father). And the COVID-19 pandemic has made especially clear the profound economic cost dealt to working women - when the nation needed an army of mothers to step up, they did so at great cost to themselves." These facts, like the foregoing ones, are ----ed up. They speak to the profound sickness of a capitalist society that punishes people for valuing their families over increasing their employers' profits (which of course disproportionately affects mothers because pregnancy and childrearing responsibilities disproportionately affect mothers). Many things need to be reformed and many employers need to be put in their place. Capitalism is not pro-woman, pro-mother, or pro-family, it's pro-profit, full stop.
"But socialism is -" Did I say anything about socialism? Did I? No, I didn't, so don't change the subject.
I have been accused (by a man) of "denigrating motherhood" because I reject the fallacious analogy between motherhood for women and priesthood ordination for men that some people in my church are so fond of, and I suppose I'll be accused of it again after saying what I have to say next. Ahem: With a few possible exceptions, I actually don't believe that women or men deserve to be venerated just for reproducing. Yeah, the miracle of life is cool and all, and pregnancy is a significant sacrifice, but being fertile says nothing whatsoever about your worthiness or competence as a parent. It's literally the least important part of parenthood. Many people have given birth who really shouldn't have. Some parents abuse, some parents neglect, some parents warp their children for life with their unconscionable stupidity, some parents try to cure their children's autism by making them drink bleach, and so on. Have you ever read about Donald Trump's father? When I did, I realized that Donald Trump never had any chance of growing up to be a decent human being. I actually feel bad for him.
After attending my sister's temple sealing a few months ago, I reflected on the oddity of focusing so much on the commandment "Multiply and replenish the Earth." First of all, it's a bad translation that we keep repeating verbatim because we'd rather sound "scriptural" than make sense. In order to be replenished, the Earth must once already been plenished. This phrasing kind of implies that Adam and Eve were actually the sole survivors of a disaster that killed billions. Well, Lillith was there too, but the nuclear fallout turned her into a demon.
God: Multiply and replenish the Earth.
Eve: Uh, you do realize we need about five hundred breeding individuals to ensure a viable, genetically diverse species, right? You do realize our kids will have to -
God: Don't worry, I'll perform a miracle to make it not incest.
Narrator: But he didn't, and that explains the state of humanity today.
(I was going to say the narrator was voiced by Morgan Freeman, but then I remembered that he also played God in a couple of movies, so that felt weird.)
For sure, my church devotes plenty of time and energy is given in other venues to telling people to be good parents and advising them on how to do so, but taken at face value, this commandment to make babies for babies' sake just seems odd. A couple who has four kids and sells them all for drinking money is following this commandment, while a couple who adopts twelve kids, moves heaven and earth to meet their needs, and teaches them to be productive members of society is not. You could, of course, argue a broader and more figurative definition for "multiply and replenish", but then it would have to also include many things that have nothing to do with parenthood at all. I wouldn't object to that, but it seems like a stretch.
While reproduction is, as Dr. Hudson points out, obviously crucial to the future of the United States and every other nation, it's a group effort that transcends any individual birth. Not every person brought into this world improves it just by existing. I think of Derek Chauvin's mother, who recently told him at his sentencing that the day he was born was the happiest of her life. She isn't wrong to love him even though he's an abuser and a murderer, and she couldn't have possibly known he would turn out to be an abuser and a murderer - though she is wrong to deny that he's an abuser and a murderer when the entire world has seen his handiwork - but the fact remains that this country would have been a better place without him in it. I'm not going to thank his mother for giving birth to him anytime soon. Actually, come to think of it, if your child murders someone, the Earth's population has a net increase of zero and your attempt to multiply and replenish it has been retroactively thwarted. Let's hope they only murder one person and you have backup children who are better behaved.
Anyway, I guess I kind of agree with Dr. Hudson and kind of don't. The facts she points out should anger any reasonable person, but I don't venerate people for reproducing and I think her overall argument is moot because Selective Service and the draft should be abolished altogether.
BONUS: Recently I showed my true misogynistic colors. I am ashamed of myself.
Social media rumor has it that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is running a pilot program to find out if women can count.
This comment should have won the LDS internet as far as I'm concerned.
In other LDS Twitter news, the unofficial smattering of far-right vigilantes known as #DezNat has fractured, with founder J.P. Bellum and many others deleting their profiles after @ExposeDezNat started to publish their identities along with the racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and more violent than usual things they say when they think nobody is looking. I'm immediately reminded of cockroaches fleeing when someone turns the light on. And then of course the joke writes itself: "What's the difference between a cockroach and a DezNatter? One is a repulsive little insect that spreads filth and disease, and the other one is a cockroach." I'm sure not everyone who uses the hashtag is evil. But the movement is evil. If these people really believed they were doing good, they wouldn't need to be anonymous and they would have nothing to fear from being exposed. I think that's self-explanatory.
In Facebook news - I use Facebook a lot more than Twitter, and first learned of the above stories through Facebook - I posted this a week ago and am repeating it here to get twice as much mileage out of the effort spent writing it. Quote:
Of all the provocative, edgy, and just plain rude things I've written that could have landed me in Facebook jail, do you want to know why I finally did go to Facebook jail?
Utah is in its worst drought in at least 1200 years. The governor is considering banning all fireworks (which he should have already done, but this is a state where we trust people to do the right thing of their own volition despite their demonstrated constant refusal to do the right thing of their own volition). The Deseret News reported this, and Deseret News readers responded the way Deseret News readers always respond when someone dares to suggest that they aren't the center of the universe. But I was mature about it. Instead of starting arguments, instead of pointing out how stupid and selfish and contemptible they were, I joined in and mocked them by commenting, "No. I have a constitutional right to burn down my neighbor's house."
Facebook's Community Standards police, who for a decade or so have consistently refused to do anything whenever I reported blatant hate speech, pornography, or fake profiles, decided that this obviously sarcastic comment in a context that anyone old enough to read could grasp in five seconds was an "incitement to violence", and banned me from posting or commenting for 24 hours. I disputed the decision and they upheld it. So now I know the whereabouts of the very few unfortunate people who fail to meet the almost nonexistent standard of intelligence for real law enforcement.
I mean, the stupidity here is astronomical. It's incomprehensible. It's mind-bending. And I say this as one who had no faith in humanity to begin with. Kim "I've been a cop for 26 years and I can't tell the difference between a gun and a taser that look completely different, weigh completely different, have the trigger in different spots, and are holstered on opposite sides of my body" Potter looks almost as smart as a banana slug compared to the evolutionary dead-ends who (don't) enforce Facebook's Community Standards.
In conclusion, please get bent, Facebook.
As I was composing this, it occurred to me that maybe I shouldn't toss around such rude and derogatory language, but on the other hand, you can't tell me this post wasn't a work of art. I'm very pleased with how I organized the words to express myself. That's what I love about writing and being good at it. I was also very satisfied and overjoyed with being able to draw such a natural comparison to police officers and get in a few more well-deserved jabs at them. Three police cars with flashing lights pulled up to my apartment complex this evening moments after I'd left, and I wondered if maybe they were coming after me again for doing nothing wrong whatsoever again, and I knew that if they were I for damn sure wasn't going to respectfully sit there and take their abuse again. But I came back an hour later and they were gone and my roommate hadn't noticed them, so you won't see me in the news this time.
On Friday, the people that Logan Preferred Property Management hired to prune the tree that was dropping things in the yard next door showed up an hour before they were supposed to and woke me up with a chainsaw at 7:19 in the morning. Given how long it took me, through no fault of my own, to get to sleep in the first place, and given that this was not my first time waking up during that sleep cycle, it kind of ruined my day. I contemplated whether I would get in trouble for explaining to Logan Preferred that if this ever happens again somebody is going to get hurt, but I didn't so that has nothing to do with why the police showed up. I contemplated how much better my life would have been that day if they'd been killed in a car crash on the way over. And then I forgave them because they were probably just doing what their boss who lacks the mental capacity to understand concepts like basic human decency or reading a clock told them to do. Their boss is still overqualified to be a police officer.
Saturday was much better. I spent most of it at Summerfest, the annual arts faire that was canceled last year for mysterious unknown reasons. I went alone, but Shalese who was in my ward last semester brought her boyfriend over and sat by me while I was listening to music, and that was nice of her but I was afraid she felt so sorry for me that she would ask me to tag along with them for a while, so I was relieved when that didn't happen. Then I ran into Riley from my ward and then we were rudely interrupted by my ex-coworker Audrey (previously referred to on this blog under the pseudonym "Dory" because of her memory problems) and her husband and her parents and her sister, soon to be joined by two brothers and a sister-in-law, and they were going to get food and I wanted to get food so I went with them for three hours or so. I'd never met Audrey's parents, though I'd seen them in a picture. I once told her they were both very attractive, and she said thank you, and then I asked what went wrong. Her mom said they'd heard a lot about me, and Audrey quickly assured me that it was all bad. No duh.
Food is the only thing I've ever bought there. It's overpriced, of course, but it's part of the experience and good for my mental health to be able to throw money around, and actually the Kettle Corn is the best part and it's not overpriced, it's a real bargain. Not like paying $12 for three ant-sized tacos at all. I never buy any art. Most of the art, from what I can tell, is reasonably priced when you consider the work that goes into it. I just can't afford such luxuries. I hope I can someday. Until then I just go to wander around and look at booths from the corner of my eye or wait until the vendors are distracted, because I don't want to get their hopes up that I might actually buy something. I recognized many of the booths and vendors from years past as if they were old friends. One I didn't recognize was an Asian woman whom I overheard asking an Asian customer if he was Japanese. He said he was Vietnamese. She said, "We all look the same," and they both laughed. He said he could tell Koreans apart from other Asians and she was eager to know how. I felt privileged to have heard that conversation.
Summerfest was located on the fairgrounds this year instead of the Tabernacle grounds. It was a much better location with a lot more space, and the stream running around the edge came in very handy. As I and Audrey's family dipped our appendages in it, three little girls kept drifting through on inner tubes, but then on the third pass one of the tubes was empty and one of the girls was running along the shore, and she jumped onto it but her legs dangled all the way off and I guess they were dragging on the rocks because she kept saying "Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!" well past the point where I assumed she would stop, and in that moment my heart shattered for this poor little girl who just wanted to have some fun with her friends but got pain instead, because that's what life is and God only knows what far worse things it has in store for her as she gets older and discovers how dark and unfriendly the world can be, which, if she's lucky, she can scarcely imagine now in her childish innocence, and I wished I could jump down there and help her but I didn't want to get arrested or shot on sight for touching a little girl, so I just kept an eye out for her later to reassure myself that her legs weren't bleeding and she was having fun again.
Having an excess of empathy really, really sucks. I have to actively suppress it a lot of times or I'd never be happy.
It was very difficult to want to go back to church after you-know-what restrictions eased. I liked having ten-minute sacrament meetings in people's homes. I didn't miss any of the extra stuff that, more often than not, I found less intellectually stimulating than an episode of Blue's Clues. And for a while I felt justified in not going to Sunday school or Elders' Quorum they were more confined and more crowded than sacrament meeting, and I knew everyone else there was regularly attending large social gatherings with no masks. But then I got fully vaccinated and went back to normal life in every way possible and didn't have that excuse anymore, so I went back to Elders' Quorum just in time to be punished with a lesson about marriage.
The teacher wrote "The Perfect Woman" on the board and solicited desirable traits to list under that heading. I take issue with his phrasing, but I'm sure he and everyone else there were aware that the perfect woman doesn't exist because perfect people don't exist and woman are a kind of people. I know what he meant was "The Ideal Woman". So people listed things and I just felt kind of defensive and prideful and thought, I'm not looking for a woman and you can't make me. But if I was, I'm sure I wouldn't want the same things y'all want, because Utah culture is a crap sandwich. You know the kind of women (and men, but that's irrelevant right now) who populate Deseret News comments sections? I'd want the opposite of that. I'm very picky. I never made a list as such, I just got crushes on a case-by-case basis and figured out what I like and what I don't like and got pickier every time my heart broke. The last one, the literal girl next door, set the bar so high that I haven't caught feelings since and doubt I ever will again. I can be as picky as I want because I'd much rather be alone than with someone who can't make me feel the way she did.
The one item I wanted to suggest for the list was talent and career ambition, but I didn't dare speak such heresy out loud. One guy said someone who thinks for herself and makes decisions without asking him about everything, and that was nice to hear and obviously made BYU professor Rodney Turner spin in his grave. The resident old guy said something about we have to remember "gender roles" even though "the world" talks about "equality". He stopped short of saying women shouldn't have careers, but he said there's just "something" they have men don't have that makes them better with children or whatever. He'd have to do better than that to convince me. He could have at least called the mysterious something a "je ne sais quois" and given it the illusion of greater sophistication. One guy agreed that even if his wife was making six or nine figures a year, he'd want her to stay at home at least part-time to raise their kids. If my wife was making six or nine figures a year, I wouldn't care what she did. I wouldn't ask and I wouldn't tell.
The last item on the list was "Beautiful", submitted by one of those brave people who points out that physical attractiveness is important even though we spend so much effort trying to convince ourselves that it isn't even though we all know that it is. That kind of honesty is refreshing, but people so often miss the follow-up: that beauty is a matter of perception, that it can and does change. If you love a woman's inside then her outside will also be beautiful to you. Simple. The first time I saw the literal girl next door, I thought she was plain, homely, awkward, and forgettable, and promptly forgot about her. A couple months later, she was still awkward but I had decided that she was God's greatest work of art and I was an idiot for ever having thought otherwise.
In conclusion, the teacher asked if we're deserving of this hypothetical perfect woman and if not, how to change that? I'm glad the lesson was actually going somewhere, because I had been thinking of a quote in the back of my mind: "As we visit with young adults all over the church often they will ask, 'Well what are the characteristics I should look for in a future spouse?' - As though they have some checklist of 'I need to find someone who has these three or four or five things.' And I rather forcefully say to them, 'You are so arrogant – to think that you are some catch and that you want someone else who has these five things for you. If you found somebody who had these three or four or five characteristics that you’re looking for what makes you think they’d want to marry you?'"
When I walked into the gym a couple weeks later for the combined fifth Sunday lesson and saw the word "FAMILY" written on the board, I knew the next hour would be less fun than a root canal, and almost walked right back out. But I thought, What kind of person will I be if I just avoid hearing anything that makes me uncomfortable? Maybe if I humble myself and suffer through it, God will teach me something.
The bishop started by telling us each to tell someone, preferably of the opposite sex, what the name of our first child will be. And he was, in fairness, being weird and awkward on purpose. But still, what kind of a question is that? How should I know what the name of my first child will be? Do I look like I've got a seer stone in my pocket? I've never given this subject a ton of thought and I've always assumed it's the sort of thing that will have to be discussed and negotiated when the time comes. I'm partial to Jessica, myself, but maybe my wife will be like, "Ew, no, a high school cheerleader named Jessica bullied me until I developed an eating disorder. I'd rather feed our daughter to a crocodile than name her Jessica." Also, my first child might not be a daughter. Also, it might be adopted and already have a name. So I thought that was a silly question.
His lesson had its positives. He acknowledged that "people experiencing same-sex attraction" exist and told people to chill out if they're in their late twenties and not married yet. Hooray. Much of it, though, took on a very us-vs-them tone, as if members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the only .02% of people on the planet who believe in family values. He went through parts of the Family Proclamation, a document that he stressed was DOCTRINE, was SCRIPTURE, was from A LIVING PROPHET. Actually, Gordon B. Hinckley is a dead prophet, although he was a living prophet when he gave it, but then so is every prophet when he gives something so I don't know why that distinction is necessary. He said it was prophetic because when it came out in 1995 its teachings were just common sense and he couldn't see the point of it, but now they've become controversial. It was actually written after five years of a court battle over same-sex marriage in Hawaii. The Church was involved in this court battle and had, in fact, been concerned about the prospect of same-sex marriage since the mid-to-late 1970s when that was one of its reasons for opposing the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution.
Anyway, I braced myself for some thoughtless remarks when he got to the part that says fathers are primarily responsible for providing and mothers are primarily responsible for nurturing, but the thoughtless remarks were worse than I would have ever anticipated. He was very blunt and adamant that God wants all women to be full-time homemakers with unpaid 96-hour work weeks. He straight-up told them to use their college education to be better mothers, not to have professional careers, full stop, no caveats, no nuance. He was also adamant that anyone who feels differently (like me) is following the "natural man" and the world's lies about women's equality. At least twice he referred to the people who feel differently "outside the Church", which came across to me as a conscious attempt to invalidate and put down the many people in the Church that he knows perfectly well also hold that view and constituted a sizable portion of his audience.
It pisses me off to think that my future wife may have been conditioned by lessons like this one to believe that her career ambitions are sinful, and to think that some women present for this lesson were thus conditioned. It's wrong and it's harmful. It will lead to depression, guilt, faith crises, and disaffection from the Church. Anecdotally, the twenty-something LDS women I know - not all of them raging liberals by any means - are far more open-minded on this topic. A majority of them see no reason why they shouldn't pursue careers and those who do want to be stay-at-home moms have no desire to force their preference on everyone else. Many of the latter will end up working anyway because modern economic realities have made it impossible for many families to survive on one income, the bishop's talk of sacrifice and frugality notwithstanding. I know for a fact that I wasn't the only person in the room who vigorously disagreed with what he said, and that his belittling of us did not persuade us to reorient our thinking. And women whose staying home is in the best interest of their particular families can make that decision for themselves without a man incorrectly insisting that it's the only option God will allow.
Since the bishop made it very clear that he wasn't open to discussion, and I wasn't in the mood to be called to repentance for not being sexist enough, I tattled on him instead of reaching out to him directly.
I'm sure the bishop is a wonderful man and that it's unfair to judge him by his most obvious shortcoming. Nonetheless, I am no longer capable of respecting or trusting him when I remember this lesson every time I see his face. (At least he's still better than my last bishop.) Will there be any sort of public retraction, correction, or apology? Of course not. That would shatter the illusion that our leaders are perfect, which we work hard to maintain even though we all claim to know that our leaders aren't perfect. I felt that my suffering through this lesson and being depressed for a few hours was worth it because I was able to speak out, to do something - but it would have been more worth it if I could know that I'd actually been able to help the women who also suffered through it. I wonder how many of them will leave the Church.
The Church posted this a few days later:
In essence, Dr. Erica Glenn explains that you can have a happy and fulfilling life even if you, like her, are not married. This should not be a controversial argument, but because Mormon culture is a crap sandwich, it was. On the one hand, people took issue with her not mentioning the Church's teachings on the importance of marriage that everyone in the Church has heard hundreds of times and that necessitated the existence of videos like this in the first place. On the other hand, people - specifically men - jumped to the conclusion that because Dr. Glenn is beautiful, the only possible reason for her not being married is that that she chose not to for selfish reasons, and therefore she's wrong. "She could get married tomorrow if she wanted to," said one sexist idiot who's never met her and apparently thinks she should settle for the first carbon-based life form that has a penis and thinks she's hot. Maybe, just maybe, the whole mindset of needing to get married for marriage's sake, and not because you've met someone you actually want to be with forever, is kind of toxic. But nobody asked me.
Last year, Taylor Petrey published a book called Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Mormonism and it became popular and got flattering reviews. I saw no critical reviews and no response from the Church's self-appointed apologetics organizations, but I recognized from the book's impact that they couldn't just ignore it like they did Moroni and the Swastika. I reached out to Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship - even before I lost respect for FAIR, Interpreter was the organization I trusted most to do an intellectually honest job - and said they ought to put someone on it. On August 23, Steve Densley responded that "a reviewer has been working on 'Tabernacles of Clay.' Apparently, he has found that there is so much to say about that book that we will likely be publishing a number of reviews that address the book in sections. It sounds like we should have the first part ready for publication within the next few weeks." So I waited a few weeks, then a few more weeks, then a few more weeks, and then I concluded that they had found it too difficult and given up.
On March 5 of this year, they published the first and so far only review from Gregory L. Smith. It's very long and has 504 footnotes. Brother Smith spends most of it documenting Dr. Petrey's misuse of sources in the first two chapters. "So serious are these problems that," he writes, "on one level, it is astonishing that this work would be published by a university press. Granted, the book’s ideological agenda and subject matter is popular in some quarters,4 and such works have their place — if they are honest with themselves and their readers about what they are.5 But what Tabernacles offers is not good history. Tabernacles of Clay is a good argument for the necessity of review by experts in both the theology and history of the Church of Jesus Christ when academic presses do 'Mormon' studies. Experts in queer and gender theory might find it compelling; anyone familiar with the religious sources ought to know better." He isn't wrong. Nonetheless, the sources themselves are so interesting that I still wanted to read the book with this caution in mind. So I did.
For this post I will focus only on part of his conclusion that I wanted to share because it stuck with me:
One can expect further pressures on LDS institutions and culture as they continue to swim within a broader environment that is still moving away from so-called traditional values. Resisting these trends, church leaders have expressed dim prospects for any considered change on teachings regarding same-sex marriage.22 At the same time, these teachings are producing an increasing strain on church members, especially younger members who have grown up in a world that is more open and accepting of nonnormative identities and relationships. When recently surveyed, 60 percent of regularly attending millennial Mormons (eighteen to twenty-six years old) and 53 percent of older millennial Mormons (twenty-seven to thirty-nine years old) believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society. Latter-day Saint support is growing rapidly in all age groups. In 2016, overall Mormon support for this statement was at 48 percent, double what it was just ten years before. Among Mormon millennials who have left the church, they cite “LGBT issues” as the third most important reason they disaffiliated. The generation gap is massive on this issue and has only grown, despite persistent LDS messaging from the top.23
No lies detected. I saw Lynne Thigpen portray a police chief on the game show "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" before I was old enough to know what police were, so it never in my life would have occurred to me that women (or black people) shouldn't be police chiefs. For example.
The ban on female ordination is not, strictly speaking, analogous to the ban on ordination of males of African descent. Black men and women before 1978 were also denied the temple ordinances necessary for eternal families and exaltation, and were said to be under a curse because of things they did before they were born. (On the other hand, black men before 1978 could serve in Sunday school presidencies, which don't require priesthood, but women still can't. Figure that one out.) I actually agree with the logic that people don't have to be the same to be equal, and as long as everyone in the Church is eligible for the same eternal blessings, their role or position in the earthly organization doesn't matter. The President of the Church is no greater than someone who's given a useless made-up calling to make them feel included. So I consider priesthood ordination a far less important issue than whether women are treated as equal partners in marriage and whether they can pursue careers outside the home without men like my bishop calling them to repentance. I'm totally agnostic on whether it should happen at all.
Nonetheless, I have little patience anymore for the reasons people make up to explain why women aren't ordained, reasons that are usually patronizing to women, demeaning to men, or both. And if you go back a few decades, the reasons just become even more blatantly sexist and that should be quite a red flag about how made up they are altogether. Rodney Turner's 1972 book Woman and the Priesthood taught that, notwithstanding "[w]e believe men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression", women are punished for Eve's transgression to this day. Nowadays we've made the different-but-equal paradigm work by changing the definition of "preside" and disregarding the statements well into the 1970s (or in the temple until 2019) that unambiguously assigned men to a position of authority over their wives. Anyway, I'm not an activist for women's ordination but I do enjoy annoying people by pointing out the inadequacy of the reasons they make up to justify the lack thereof. Michael Otterson was honest enough to cite the one and only actual known reason: precedent.
And while I'm on the subject,
God may, in fact, have some legitimate reason for this division of labor. Even that wouldn't necessarily preclude it from changing in the future. I don't believe for a moment that women's anatomical or mental differences make them intrinsically, eternally, and divinely incompatible with priesthood ordination. I find the notion absurd. I don't predict, as such, a change to this policy within my lifetime, and yet I won't be the slightest bit surprised if it happens either. There have already been several adjustments to the scope and visibility of women's role in the Church within the last decade, largely in response to Ordain Women and other internal feminist movements (copied from my Brief History of Women in the Church of Jesus Christ):
October 6, 2012 - President Thomas S. Monson lowers the minimum age of missionary service for women from 21 to 19.
April 3, 2013 - The Church announces, "The role of sister training leader has been created as more female missionaries serve in missions around the world. Sister training leaders will be responsible for the training and welfare of female missionaries assigned to them and will be members of and participate in, the new mission leadership council."
April 6, 2013 - At the close of the Saturday morning session, Primary general presidency first counselor Jean A. Stevens becomes the first woman to pray in General Conference.
October 5, 2013 - For the first time, the priesthood session is broadcast on the Church's website as all other General Conference sessions have been for years. Having been denied tickets by spokeswoman Ruth Todd, members of Ordain Women wait in the standby line and are turned away at the door one by one.
April 5, 2014 - For this and subsequent General Conferences, the female auxiliary presidencies (Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary) are relocated to sit in the middle of the First Quorum of the Seventy in the Conference Center, a far more visible position directly behind the pulpit.
April 2014 - The annually updated General Authorities chart (which previously included only men) is expanded to also include General Officers, including the Relief Society general presidency, the Young Women general presidency, the Primary general presidency, the Sunday School general presidency, and the Young Men general presidency.
November 14, 2014 - A policy change allows divorced women and mothers of young children to have or retain jobs as seminary and institute teachers. A memo notes, "This change makes it possible for families to decide what best meets their needs as it relates to mothers working while raising children. This policy is consistent with other church departments."
August 18, 2015 - A woman is appointed to each of three formerly all-male leadership councils - Relief Society general president Linda K. Burton to the Priesthood and Family Executive Council, Young Women general president Bonnie L. Oscarson to the Missionary Executive Council, and Primary general president Rosemary M. Wixom to the Temple and Family History Executive Council.
December 20, 2018 - Updated missionary dress and grooming guidelines allow sister missionaries to wear slacks during most weekly activities, though they "should continue to wear dresses or skirts when attending the temple and during Sunday worship services, leadership and zone conferences, baptismal services, and missionary training center devotionals".
January 2, 2019 - The initiatory is changed so that women are no longer anointed to be queens and priestesses "unto your husband". The endowment ceremony is changed so that women no longer covenant to "hearken to the counsel of your husband as he hearkens to the counsel of the Father", and no longer veil their faces during the prayer circle. The ceremony now speaks of "Adam and Eve" instead of "Adam" throughout while Adam refers to "we" instead of "I". The husband-wife sealing is changed so that the woman "receives" her husband just as he "receives" her, but the husband now covenants to "preside with gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned".
January 17, 2019 - The Church News begins announcing the call of "new mission presidents and companions [wives]" instead of just the mission presidents, though the wives had already been included in pictures and bios alongside their husbands.
January 24, 2019 - The First Presidency states in a letter, "Veiling an endowed woman's face prior to burial is optional. This may be done if the sister expressed such a desire while she was living. In cases where the wishes of the deceased sister on this matter are not known, her family should be consulted."
March 1, 2019 - One of a few policy changes allows mothers with dependent children to serve as temple ordinance workers. The First Presidency notes, "Members should review their circumstances and avoid placing undue burdens on themselves or their families as they consider these service opportunities."
October 2, 2019 - A policy change allows baptized women and children to serve as witnesses at baptisms, and endowed women to serve as witnesses at temple sealings.
January 2020 - The Church implements its new Children and Youth program for members aged 8-18 and cuts its 109-year-old relationship with the Boy Scouts of America. In the process it also ends the longstanding budget disparity between the Young Men and Young Women programs.
March 11, 2021 - The First Presidency creates the new position of international area organization adviser outside the United States and Canada, to be filled by women representing the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary alongside area authority Seventies.
Would anyone be so naïve as to think that the changes will stop there? Would anyone be so silly as to insist that they know where the changes will stop? Why am I even asking these questions? Of course they would and they will.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.