Dear Elder Scott,
I heard the news this week and immediately started grieving. Even though I haven’t stayed in touch over the years, I will miss you. I loved your gentle kindness, your good humor, your deep and sincere interest in me. Though more than 20 years have passed since my last year at BYU, I still vividly recall fighting traffic on I-15 most Thursday afternoons to reach the cavernous parking deck under Temple Square, my Portuguese grammar manual tucked under one arm and O Livro de Mormon tucked under the other, marching to the elevator of the Church Administration Building to meet with you. You were often too busy to have practiced your Portuguese during the week, but during our time together you were nonetheless a most earnest student. In addition to our grammar lessons, I enjoyed reading “as escrituras” together, and I especially loved hearing the personal stories you haltingly and then more confidently told me as your Portuguese fluency improved.
Here are some of my favorite (albeit faulty) memories of our interactions: Continue reading
The following is a slightly longer version of a talk I gave in sacrament meeting on August 30, 2015.
A Broken Heart
Patience, I suggest, is linked to the injunction to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Ether 12:27 reads, “if men [and women] come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto [people] weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all [those] that humble themselves before me.” This is not a comfortable verse. I have to admit that for much of my life, I have been wary of it. I have imagined God with a long computer print-out of all my flaws, ready and waiting to show them to me. But today I want to consider the matter in a somewhat different light.
The caricature of the Mormon feminist is that she gets hurt by a priesthood holder exercising unrighteous dominion, and gives up on the system altogether, without realizing that the system is actually benevolent and there are unfortunately a few bad apples. Or to use Elder Oaks’ analogy, she has a bad experience with a particular electrical appliance and gives up on electricity.
I’ve read a lot of posts on gay marriage in the last few weeks, and seen a lot of arguments. But I have a question about the subject that I haven’t ever really seen directly addressed. So I’m going to jump into the fray, and ask it. My question is: what, exactly, does the church want non-LDS gay people to do? For members, the requirement is currently either celibacy or a mixed-orientation marriage. Though I find this situation problematic, I want to set it aside, and ask what the church might realistically hope for when it comes to the vast majority of gay people who aren’t LDS.
Here are the options I can come up with:
I used to be one of the admins for an internet community that dealt with mental health issues. A lot of people in that community had dealt with abuse, and one of our goals was to keep it a safe environment for them. So we asked people to use trigger warnings when they brought up certain topics. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me. But while we did our best to enforce this policy, inevitably people ended up reading stuff that was triggering. And we emphasized that while we did what we could, ultimately it was their responsibility to learn to take care of themselves when that happened. Continue reading
Early in our blogging years, a memorable incident involved one of my sisters sharing a personal experience. Another blogger came by to inform her that she could not have had the experience she reported. Why not? Because he had in his mind a neat system of how life worked, and her experience didn’t fit his system.
There is a tendency that troubles me in some popular LDS theological discourse to make theology into nothing more than an intellectual game. Don’t get me wrong; I think theological speculation can be quite interesting. But I think we lose something vital when it gets disconnected from the actual experience of living human beings. Continue reading
When I was at the University of Notre Dame, one of my favorite spots on campus was the Grotto, a small replica of the French Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was a small cave built of rock and filled with candles, and you could go there anytime, day or night, for prayer and reflection. I found it invaluable as a respite from some of the turbulence of my life. And I often reflected upon the fact that there was nothing similar at the other religious university I attended, that BYU seemed a model of efficiency but had no place on its campus for religious contemplation. Continue reading
While I disagree with the church’s position on same-sex marriage, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that those who hold that position are simply evil homophobes bent on ruining the lives of gay people. My observation is that this opposition largely comes not from a particular animosity toward gay people—though that certainly may play a role at times—but from the fact that the contemporary church heavily emphasizes obedience and the importance of following the prophet. For Latter-day Saints who equate faithfulness with a willingness to strictly comply with the instructions of General Authorities, the question of same-sex marriage is simply not up for debate. Continue reading
This is a basic overview of feminist theological issues. I have a vague memory that I wrote it for a specific purpose, but I don’t remember what. In any case, I found it hiding in the depths of our queue, so I figured that I’d might as well blog it.
Though it’s not my particular specialty, in the course of my studies I’ve encountered a fair amount of Christian feminist theology. As I’ve thought about the various issues raised by feminist theologians, a recurring question for me has been that of to what extent and in what ways these issues are applicable in an LDS context. In comparison to mainstream Christian teachings, how might LDS beliefs either be supportive of, or pose challenges to, feminist ideals? Here I’d like to look at a few distinctive aspects of LDS teachings in this context. Continue reading
Ardis Parshall, who you probably know as the author of the Mormon history blog Keepapitchinin, is planning to write a history of the Church told through the lives of women. She is asking for support through a Kickstarter campaign. I believe this is important work because I think the book will serve as a great counterweight to the overwhelmingly male-narrated and male-focused histories we currently tell in the Church. I hope it will help both women and men to have a broader vision of what women have done in the Church, and as consequence a broader vision of what women might be doing now and in the future. I have made a pledge, and I’m posting to ask you to also consider pledging. For a pledge of $10 or more, you’ll get a copy of the ebook version of the book, and for a pledge of $25 or more, you’ll get a hard copy.
A few months ago I went to a Unitarian Universalist church for a singalong Messiah performance. As I pulled into the parking lot of the church, I found myself overwhelmed by a feeling I couldn’t identify or articulate; I was suddenly shivering and in tears, feeling buoyant and light. Nothing dramatic happened that evening—I sang along with the Messiah, frequently failing to reach the highest soprano notes—but as I dissect my feelings later, wondering what had happened in the parking lot, it came to me: I was happily anticipating entering a church. I was about to do something religious, and all I felt was pure uncomplicated excitement.
That evening at the UU church made me realize that I brace myself each Sunday, and I have been for years. I rarely, if ever, feel the Spirit at church, but I often drive away crying, grieving dogmatism or sexism or boredom or disconnection or my own simple inability to fight my anger or cynicism, and at this point I’ve trained myself to expect this. Sunday is a day I am vulnerable to grief and fear and pain, with little expected joy in return, so Sunday is a day I put up walls. On Sundays I am not the person I hope to be.
A few weeks ago I was sitting at home while the kids were at school and feeling kind of depressed. Part of the reason was the inability to go anywhere or do much, but it was hitting me particularly hard that day (as opposed to the previous few weeks, although not much had changed), and I thought maybe there was something in particular I was missing. I couldn’t figure out what, though.
Having been raised as a good Mormon girl, I decided to start trying to figure out the answer using some of those standard Sunday School responses. Not because I think they’re a cure-all, but because they were mostly things I could do, I figured it wouldn’t hurt, and I had to start somewhere. So I started with prayer, and then moved on to scripture study. Neither were bad, but neither did anything to get me out of my funk, either. After reading about a chapter in my scriptures I thought that maybe reading some of my favorite GC talks would be more helpful. I started perusing some of President Uchtdorf’s talks (because he’s my favorite), and a couple of talks in something he said (no, I don’t remember what, or which talk) made me realize what I’d been missing. Service. Continue reading
The March 2015 Ensign includes a BYU-I devotional from Elder Dallin H. Oaks titled, “Stand as Witnesses of God,” which divides the world into believers and unbelievers. Oaks pulls no punches in critiquing the latter, using the term “anti-Christ” to describe atheists, and asserting that the Great and Abominable Church is “any philosophy or organization that opposes belief in God.” I find this framework to be troubling, and this characterization of atheists to be unfair.
Oaks isn’t sure that atheists really have moral standards. He is worried that “today many deny or doubt the existence of God and insist that all rules of behavior are man-made and can be accepted or rejected at will.” But this doesn’t necessarily follow. You can believe that rules are (human)-made without seeing them as something to be cavalierly rejected or accepted. You can still take ethics seriously. Oaks acknowledges that atheists are not necessarily moral relativists but raises the concern that “absolute standards not based on belief in God are difficult to explain.” The moral values of atheists are suspect, in other words, because he fails to find any persuasive reason for them. But unbelievers could make a similar move, critiquing believers by making the case that their moral principles are based on something imaginary and are therefore not to be trusted. I think we would all do well to acknowledge the ability of people to make genuine moral commitments regardless of their status as believers or unbelievers.
I play the piano for a small Methodist congregation on Sunday mornings. They meet in one of the oldest Methodist churches in the South, a small, lovely brick building in a sleepy old town. It is not large enough to house a pipe organ. The pastor, who interviewed, auditioned, and ultimately hired me, is a young, 40-something woman, recently ordained. She and her husband – he sits in the pews with their three children every Sunday – are fugitives from a much stricter Baptist tradition.
I took the job for purely practical reasons; I needed a form of income that was not too time consuming but would enable me to help support my family while writing my dissertation. Yet, increasingly as time passes, I find myself surprised at my weekly reactions – emotional, intellectual, and spiritual – to the experience of having a woman preside. Her sermons bring up ideas that refuse to leave my mind, and everywhere in her speech are inclusive metaphors of female experience. Although, of course, some of the basic teachings and traditions of Methodism are distinct from Mormonism – the examples below will make that obvious – the parallels are striking enough that, while listening to her, I feel I am beginning to develop a vision of what real female leadership from ordained women would look like in an LDS setting. Here are two examples from sermons that have remained with me: Continue reading
Does D&C 132 make you a little confused?
And/or a little angry?
In April 1971, President Spencer W. Kimball quoted some of the shocking proposals he had recently encountered. One unnamed church, he discovered, had “approved recommendation that homosexuality between consenting adults should no longer be a criminal offense. …” These are ugly voices, he warned.
In a news conference in January 2015, the LDS church announced that it was “publicly favoring laws and ordinances that protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment.”
It’s been an interesting few decades. Continue reading
As a kid in primary, I was in awe of the bishop. He was the trusted authority figure, the one who knew how things should go. The awe faded somewhat as I became a teenager, but I still remained firmly convinced of his inspiration. If he felt that we needed a talk on morality (the code word for chastity), for example, it was because that was what God wanted. Full stop. To some degree, I saw church leaders as infallible.
The current situation with April Young Bennett, who had to choose between renewing her temple recommend and leaving up her posts on female ordination, brings up a troubling aspect of church governance: the extent to which local leaders can define apostasy. As anyone in the church can tell you, bishops and stake presidents can vary widely on a number of issues, and life in one stake can be quite different from life in another. I’m not saying that this is necessarily in and of itself a bad thing. But I do think it causes problems when it comes to particular issues, such as the way in which cases of apostasy are handled. Continue reading
This is a paper I wrote when I was just beginning my theological studies, titled “A Few Thoughts for Mormons on Approaching the Nicene Creed.” It was for a class on the Mystery of God. I thought it would be a fun follow-up to my most recent post. I’d probably come up at the subject a bit differently now, but it’s interesting to see how I was thinking about it when I was first grappling with the notion of the Trinity.
I do not know how many Mormons are familiar with the Nicene Creed, but those who are, I suspect, are likely to be more than a little wary of it. From an LDS point of view, it is perhaps easy to dismiss it as coming from an apostate Christianity, as reflecting too much theological formulating instead of plain and simple gospel truths. It is clearly outside the bounds of our tradition, reflecting a theology alien to us, and I am certainly not out to dispute that fact. Yet I wonder if we can nonetheless learn to better understand what it means to those who do accept it as basic doctrine, if we can engage the challenge of not merely viewing it as something faintly ridiculous but of attempting to appreciate the meaning it has for traditional Christianity. Continue reading