Zelophehad’s Daughters

Characteristics of a Mormon Feminism, Take Two

Posted by Lynnette

Follow-up to this.

1) Theological anthropology

Essential to this feminism is the belief that we are all the literal children of God, women and men alike, with infinite divine potential. This means that anything which gets in the way of the development of that potential, or undercuts the full humanity of any of God’s children, is something to be resisted.

We are also eternal intelligences in our own right, and agency is an eternal principle. It pre-existed the war in heaven, which was fought to preserve it. This gives agency a particular importance, even sacredness.

Additionally, because of our eternal nature, one could make the case that we have an inherent access to moral law (a knowledge of right and wrong); in any case, we clearly have this in mortality, as the light of Christ is given to everyone (see Moroni 7). This means that we can take our own moral judgments seriously.

Challenges for feminists:

–Obstacles to the development of full female potential (e.g., women not being allowed the blessings that come with ordination)

–Things that take away agency, such as women covenanting to follow men

–Do women actually have eternal divine potential, or are they eternally subordinate?

2) Nature of God

We believe in an embodied God; embodiment is therefore a positive, and not something to escape. We also believe in a God who is made up of male and female, a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother.

Challenges for feminists:

–Problem of Heavenly Mother being silent and invisible

–What if there are multiple Heavenly Mothers?

3) Common humanity

According to the scriptures, there is no male or female in Christ (Galatians 3:28), God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34; D&C 38:16), and all are alike unto God (2 Nephi 26:33). This accords with our belief that all humans are children of God. There is no room in this vision for lesser categories of persons.

Challenges for feminists:

–According to the Proclamation on the Family, “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” How does this fit with these teachings? 

4) Christology

We hold up a male Christ as a role model for both women and men. We believe that he is the Redeemer of both women and men. We emphasize an experiential model of the Atonement (as described in Alma 7), in which Christ is understood to have experienced the complete range of mortal experience, and this without respect to gender. All are invited to come unto Christ and partake of salvation.

Challenges for feminists:

–Again, the Proclamation speaks of gender as eternal, and seems to suggest some form of gender essentialism. How does that fit with a male Christ who is able to comprehend female experience?

–Does the fact that Christ is male inevitably give women a lesser status?

5) Charity

Like all Christians, we are called to live out charity as described in 1 Corinthians 13, with its long-suffering and kindness. Our baptismal covenant also includes the principles outlined in Mosiah 18, to mourn and comfort and stand as witnesses of God.

This is the case no matter how strongly we feel about the rightness of our cause. Yes, we need to point out privilege, to resist injustice, to critique problems. Charity does not mean we have to tolerate unrighteous dominion. But it does mean that we cannot use feminism as a reason to vilify those with whom we disagree. This is more than being ethical; we are asked to emulate the pure love of Christ.

Challenges for feminists:

–Historically, the principle of charity has often been invoked against women, as a way to keep them in their place; it has been equated with self-abnegation and acceptance of oppression. We have to ask, what would a feminist charity look like?

6) Building the Kingdom of God

As is the case with Christianity more generally, this feminism arises from the good news of the gospel, from its proclamation of grace, of God’s love for the world. It seeks both commitment and inclusivity, and is wary of demands for ideological purity. It is not about having the exact right beliefs about x, y, and z; it is an orientation toward justice which takes seriously the sisterhood and brotherhood of humankind.

This orientation to the world sees things through the lens of sin and redemption. Transformation has to ultimately come from the workings of grace; our works can’t save us from our enmeshment in oppression (both as oppressors and as victims). We are working toward the Kingdom of God, not a secular utopia. And because only the justice of God can finally counter oppression, this feminism requires both vertical and horizontal commitments (both love of God and of neighbor).

Challenges for feminists:

–This runs into the traditional challenge of thinking about the relationship between works and grace. On the one hand, we have to remember that ultimately this is God’s work. On the other, we don’t want to let this lull us into complacency.

7) Continuing revelation

As the Ninth Article of Faith says, “we believe that God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” We believe in a dynamic tradition, one which can change. Current church practices and even teachings regarding gender are not immutable.

Challenges for feminists:

–If God cares about these issues, why haven’t we gotten more revelation on the subject? What if the Church doesn’t change?

8) Dissent

Going all the way back to the founding of the Church, we can see the importance of personal revelation. We believe that anyone can go to God and get answers. As was mentioned in point #1, we also have a basis for trusting our own moral judgments. This gives us a potential basis for dissent.

When we do choose to dissent, we do it carefully and thoughtfully, and we ground it in LDS teachings (e.g., that all are alike unto God). We remember the principle of charity, and we disagree in a spirit of connection to the Church—not a spirit of antagonism.

Challenges for feminists:

–How do we respond to those who argue for a more authoritarian model in which all dissent is construed as faithless?

–What happens when the Church explicitly speaks out against feminists?

 

8 Responses to “Characteristics of a Mormon Feminism, Take Two”

  1. 1.

    “–How do we respond to those who argue for a more authoritarian model in which all dissent is construed as faithless?”

    To them I say “you’re welcome for giving you something exciting to talk about in your otherwise boring life by living by the dictates of my own conscience with good intent to the best of my ability. I’m bothflattered and privileged to occupy your thoughts day and night. May my pure awesomeness continue to entertain you and light your way in for the remainder of your mortal journey. And may the remainder of your mortal journey be a long and healthy one. And once again, you’re welcome.”

    So anyway, that’s what I say.

    I would love to prattle on and on but I’m texting this from my phone, which thing I hate. But I do love your ideas very much. Happy Sunday to you. Thank you for sharing.

    (Oh, and you’re welcome ;))

  2. 2.

    Kudos again. Where I see in impasse is, unfortunately on the first entry. Those (the majority) who object do it on the basis that current teachings do result in full female potential Nor do they tolerate that they are ever subordinate. They do not believe females lose agency when told to follow men (“but we get to decide if he is following Christ”). These concepts are so ingrained they become knee jerk responses that end the discussion before it even begins. And that is where I am stymied. I wonder if a foundation has to begin with #3.

  3. 3.

    I really like your thinking, Lynnette, particularly the idea of agency being sacred. The FamProc sure is a sticky document, though. I hope some future (female?) Q12 member lists it as one of “Seven Deadly Heresies 2.0″ just like BRM didn’t hesitate to throw Brigham Young under the bus in his version 1.0.

    Rachel, this made me LOL:

    “I’m bothflattered and privileged to occupy your thoughts day and night. May my pure awesomeness continue to entertain you and light your way in for the remainder of your mortal journey.”

  4. 4.

    Lynette, I love, love, love this. I thought Take 1 was great and Take 2 is even better. Such good questions. I’m particularly interested in how common humanity fits with eternal gender. Theological anthropology and the nature of God are fascinating, too, being unique to Mormonism. The question of whether women are eternally subordinate matters a great deal to me and I would love to read any further thoughts you have on that.
    You pointed out how charity has been used to keep women in their place, and I hear something similar fairly often, about how women are too busy being Christians to need ordination. Or as if charity were a perfectly suitable replacement for ordination. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

  5. 5.

    Some of these questions haunt my dreams

  6. 6.

    Here are a few more scriptures that might speak to a Mormon feminism:

    The scriptures say “open thy mouth” and “plead the cause” of those who have less privilege (Prov. 31:9). Those who seek to gain privilege over others (D&C 121:75) may end up following Cain’s example of treating humans as objects (Moses 5:31).

    Jesus Christ is the Advocate who pleads the cause of another (BD Advocate). Isaiah taught the Redeemer would come “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isa. 61:1). Peter taught the Savior left “us an example” and we “should follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).

    The stripling warriors were “taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them” (Alma 56:47). As these Lamanite warriors sought equal standing with the Nephites, and found their “compassion” reciprocated, they resolved to “fight in all cases to protect the Nephites and themselves from bondage” (Alma 53:10-17).

    The scriptures use the idea of gender roles to illustrate the idea of breaking free from subservience. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal 5:1). Nephi wrote “black and white, bond and free, male and female … all are alike unto God” (2 Ne. 26:33). Peter wrote “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).

    Mormon feminists should pay their respects to the “Queen of Heaven” (Jer. 44:17-25), who provides an example of subversive charity. The Old Testament patriarchs forbid Asherah, the Heavenly Mother who personified wisdom and the Tree of Life, because she likely challenged their hegemony in Israel (BD Grove, Prov. 8). Jesus turned the tables on sexists who thought the law justified their double standard (John 8:1-11). He also held up the Goddess as a example when he told his disciples to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt 10:16).

  7. 7.

    …if a [person] shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, [she] will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a [person] shall come among you and say this, ye will receive [her], and say that [she] is a [feminist].

  8. 8.

    Regarding point 2, in particular the question “Do we have more than one Heavenly Mother?”

    Whenever I hear this question (basically every time She is brought up), I can’t help but think “Of course we do. And we have more than one Heavenly Father, too.”

    My reason for thinking this was is threefold.

    One, Joseph explicitly taught (many times, but esp. in his last sermon) a plurality of gods, starting with the Trinity and then extrapolating from there.

    Two, he further taught that our god was appointed by the head(s) of the Gods to be our God. Now it is not clear whether this God in the sermon is Jesus or the Father, but either way, the Council – made up of many Gods appointed one to be ours. I see this along the lines that Brigham Young implied – that the Presidency represents the whole.

    And third, looking forward to our own future, and taking the scriptures as us literal inheriting all and being gods. Our Earth is to become our Heaven. That future Celestial Kingdom will be inherited by Christ, but also by all of us who join Him. In that future day, Christ will be the Father (as he is our Father via our spiritual rebirth). Yet all of us there will also be heavenly fathers and mothers. We will all be God. So, taking our future as God’s present, I assume our God is all the fathers and mothers of the prior round. We talk about them in the singular because of their unity, and residual monotheistic overreach.

    In short, God is one – and as we all become one in Christ, we all eventually become one with the Father (thanks patriarchy – maybe we should say become one with the Parent) – who consists not simply as Father and Mother, but in reality as Fathers and Mothers.

    All this ties back to Mormon feminism by emphasing the passage on neither male or female, but all are one in Christ. We all participate in being Christ as we take upon ourselves the name of Christ. God and Christ – a plurality of beings made one – are female as well as male.

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