Monday, October 16, 2006

Counterpoint Conference/Session I

This is for any of the curious who were not able to attend the Counterpoint Conference sponsored by the Mormon Women’s Forum at the U of U on Saturday. I’d like to give some of my perceptions on the talks. But first, I must laud and honor the amazing presenters who gave speeches at this event. Months ago, I volunteered to “help in any way” with this conference, and was promptly assigned a spot on the program. But as I discovered Saturday, I was very, very outclassed, and I think next year I will ask if I can help set up the chairs. The first group of women who spoke were so striking and articulate that I never recovered from a case of severe intimidation. Although I have warned my children many times never to begin a talk with an apology, I had to bite my tongue hard not to start my speech by blabbing how much my knees were shaking, I wasn’t prepared, I had a cold, I’d only received the assignment two hours ago…
Anyway, my notes won’t do them credit, but here’s a taste of what was said in the first session.

On the topic “How well does the LDS Church support real mothers?”

Jennifer Moore, senior attorney with US Securities & Exchange, was married to a gay man. On 9/11/2001 her world came crashing down and her divorce became final. She spoke on the difficulties of having her circumstances define her in the Church. She feels that though the Church does a good job of supporting most mothers, it does not support all mothers. For her, Church became a place where she felt an acute personality crisis. She was equally uncomfortable in a family ward and a singles ward (which she named “the Church’s answer to a bar.” She now laments segregation in the Church according to marital status. Through telling her story, Jennifer called for the Church to “build a structure that supports me instead of who I wish I could have been if things had been different.”

Kristy Finlayson, pharmaceutical representative, grew up hearing beautiful words of the prophets honoring motherhood. She developed the desire to be a mother and have this type of influence on the world. In time she came to discover that a pedestal, like any prison, is a confined space. She spoke of her budding feminism and realization that she had been trained to defer to male authority instead of develop her own spirit. Kristy discussed the lack of importance of women in eternity. She herself would never willing be cut off from the lives of her children, and wonders why this seems to be the case with a Heavenly Mother. In view of statements by Pres. Kimball—pattern and role of mother prescribed before foundation of the world—and Pres. Woodruff—motherhood can only be done by mothers—Kristy firmly believes that a mother will still claim this divine role in the eternities. She does not believe the Heavenly Mother could be as uninvolved in our mortal lives as our theology reflects. Because of this exclusion, women are left without a clear vision of what we may become.

Sarah Ray Allred, a postdoctorate neurobiologist and stay-at-home mother of 2, discussed how Church rhetoric compares with actions. She noted that support of mothers varies with each ward. How does the Church characterize value? Motherhood would seem to have more value than anything else, offering more opportunity to develop Christlike attributes. Sarah offered several suggestions to enhance the Church’s support of mothers:
Stop pairing motherhood/priesthood. The current juxtaposition of motherhood with priesthood is unnatural.
Create callings to support mothers such as mothers group coordinators
More reaching out by individual women.

Marguerite Dreissen, former professor of law at BYU, spoke of the ambiguity she has encountered in the church as a result of her race and compared it with what we face as women. There has never been a time in all of history when people actually lived what was taught. There is much angst over the grand chasm between the promise of what can be and where we are. Jefferson stated that all men are created equal, but at the time the phrase “all men” only included free white property-holding males. Our understanding of those words have expanded with time. So will our understanding of woman’s place in the Church. The seeds are there.

After listening to this session I was left with the impression that the women who spoke basically saw the existing Church structure as being supportive of women. Our organization and underlying doctrine contain potential to strengthen mothers. Several problems which may exist:

1. Difficulty in reaching out to and socializing with those with perceived differences. There is still a void in the socialization of married and single mothers, and employed/nonemployed mothers. Isn’t this something that can be ameliorated by the efforts of individuals? Is there indeed any organizational change the Church could make that could make a difference here?

2. Lack of clear doctrine and teachings on the Heavenly Mother. There still exists an unwillingness to strive for revelation more aligned to the concerns of women and mothers, though the seeds for these teachings are there. Individuals can do little to effect change in this area, since we are strictured in our very relationship with the Divine Feminine. For example, we are asked not to pray to her, write about her, or theologize on her nature.

3. The motherhood/priesthood juxtaposition. Most people I have heard express opinions on this agree that motherhood coincides with fatherhood and priesthood with priestesshood. I believe that as Church leaders put more thought into this, they will gradually discontinue the practice of equating motherhood and priesthood.

More to come…I’ll continue later with my thoughts on the Keynote Speaker and the other two sessions in this Conference.

Friday, October 6, 2006

The Culpability of the Church at Mountain Meadows…and Elsewhere

I got all hot under the collar over some comments I read over at T&S lately. But rather than ruin the spirit of a beautiful post by Margaret, “We Have Nothing to Apologize For…But Should We Do It Anyway?”, I thought I would blog about my thoughts here.

In speaking of incidents for which the Church has need or has no need to apologize, the issue of the Mountain Meadows Massacre is usually our event of choice. But before one renders an opinion upon the culpability of the Church at Mountain Meadows, one should do some thorough research. Those who have not read Juanita Brooks’ seminal work, or any of the more recent publications such as Will Bagley’s Blood of the Prophets, or even this discussion of the subject on the FAIR website might make a statement such as the following by Mark Butler:

“One can only apologize for something that one was morally culpable for. I do not think the Church was morally culpable for what happened… we see that the MMM perpetrators were not true members of the Church at all, but rather the most vile of apostates. The Church cannot go around taking corporate responsibility
for the actions of lunatics, outlaws, and murderers.”

This statement merely showcases how ill-informed Mark Butler is on the subject of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. First, there are compelling reasons for believing that Brigham Young, acting as governor of the territory of Utah, and prophet, seer and revelator of the LDS Church, did by written letters and verbal messages “aid and abet in the said murder as accessory before the fact.” (Bagley) But even those who refuse to believe that Brigham Young was involved have been forced to confront the reality that “some 50 Mormons taking orders from local ecclesiastical leaders actually went out and tricked these 120 people out of their encampment with a white flag and then proceeded to murder them in cold blood with the exception of 17 small children.” (FAIR) This was not simply the independent action of a small group of “lunatics, outlaws, and murderers.” The Mountain Meadows Massacre was committed by an entire community of True Blue Mormons, who under the direction of their priesthood leaders, believed they were performing a religious duty. Like it or not, the Church was deeply involved in this tragedy.

But Mountain Meadows is not the only locale at which mistakes were made by the official arm of the Church. Joseph McGee, neutral Missouri resident who observed many of the tensions between the Mormons and the Missouri mobs at Gallatin tells of several incidents which happened in the county. He relates,

“…the Mormons were overrunning Daviess County. On the morning of 1838 October 18, 150 of them came to Gallatin & finding but 17 men in the place they run them out, & took possession of the town. They removed the goods out of Stallings store House & burned the house. They then took the goods to Diammon. (Adam-ondi-Ahman) They burned my (tailor) shop after taking all there was in it, leaving me only the suit of clothes I had on my back. They took me prisoner & after keeping me about 2 hrs. They turned me loose & told me to git.”

After going to his father’s house, Joseph McGee describes how “we could stand in our door yard & see houses burning every night for over 2 wks. The Mormons completely gutted Daviess county. There was bearely a Missourians house left standing in the county. Nearly every one was burned. Their flight from the county had been so precipitate, that they left all they had behind taking only their families & teams. The Mormons secured all their property & took it to Diammon & there placed in what was termed the Lords storehouse, to be issued out to the Saints, as they might need.” After Governor Boggs ordered troops to be sent in, the “Lord’s storehouse” was thrown open for the Missourians to look for their goods. McGee found three pairs of pants from his tailor shop there, but they were in such poor condition that they had to be thrown away.

Our official LDS retelling of the events in Missouri are quite different than that of Joseph McGee. As emotions were running high in this frontier town, I am sure there were many regrettable actions on both sides.

I am proud and stirred by our Mormon pioneer heritage. I honor the sacrifices that were made. But there is much of Mormon history that makes me ashamed. I believe that even men acting in official priesthood capacities can be mistaken. Fortunately, they can also repent and apologize. As a rank and file member of the LDS Church, I would like to apologize for anything in our history which has caused pain and sorrow to others. I would like to tell the Fancher party how much I regret what happened at Mountain Meadows. I wish I could make amends to the 17 children who had to grow up without their parents. I would like to tell Joseph McGee that I am sorry we took the clothing from his tailor shop. There are many, many others we have wronged.

Some of us would like to apologize.

Monday, October 2, 2006

These are a few of my Favorite Home Teachers

Our family was once assigned a Very Busy Home Teacher. He traveled around the state, and was gone quite frequently, but he was very diligent. He came to our home with his 14-year-old son. They had been assigned to us for about 3 months when he was unable to make his usual visit. It was the last week of the month, and he was out of town. We got a phone call one evening from the young son. Could he come and see our family? Of course we agreed, and he appeared at our doorstep with his friend, another Aaronic Priesthood holder. Both boys were too young to have their driver’s licenses, so the 16-year-old sister had driven them the 15 or so miles to our house. They gave us a well-prepared lesson and a prayer. After their visit, my Mia Maid and Beehive remarked that they didn’t seem like the same rowdy boys they knew from the ward. The mantle of the priesthood had descended upon these boys as they served our family. These boys came on their own to Home Teach us about once every three months while we lived in that place.

It’s not easy to visit a large, rather unorthodox family. It’s been a struggle calling everyone together for a Home Teaching visit, and if we do succeed, it is then too loud to hear any kind of lesson. My favorite Home Teachers have been those who have used their creativity to get to know and influence our family. I remember vividly a visit where my little girls were demonstrating their back handspring skills in the living room. The 17-year-old Home Teacher, to his dad’s surprise, stood and did a back handspring in his clunky army boots. What respect the girls gave him after that demonstration!

The home teacher we have now showed up in his work clothes at our home last May. He had his rototiller, and he spent the evening helping us prepare the soil and plant a garden in our back yard. One Sunday evening recently he arrived and saw that we had picked a large batch of zucchini and yellow squash. He spent the visit in the kitchen, preparing a dish of fried squash for us to savor.

For me, what makes a great Home Teacher is the amount of time he spends getting involved in our personal lives. I don’t care if he comes to the house every month with a lesson, but if he sends a card on a birthday or attends one of the kids’ soccer games, he will have my attention when he has advice to give.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Recycled Conference Talks

I posted this at BCC--go there to see comments.

I’ve listened to all four sessions of Conference, and I feel refreshed. I even have some things I’m going to work on. Honesty, for example. (I’ve got a little pile of pens on the counter that need to go back to the workplace.) When the Ensign comes out next month, I’ll put it in the magazine rack in the bathroom and we’ll all page through it. I’ll read through the blogs and the comments about Conference, and I’m sure M&M will quote liberally from the talks for the next 6 months. But…must we listen to recycled conference talks again and again in Sacrament Meetings?

I’m not sure exactly when this practice began. It sort of snuck up on us. One day we were listening to members’ ruminations on any subject they chose. Some were great and some were pretty bad. Yes, there was false doctrine preached over the pulpit. So we went to Sacrament Meeting Themes. Speakers were assigned to give a talk with a theme that was carried over throughout the meeting in talks and music. This seemed to help the false doctrine a bit. And we still had the personalities of the speakers and their own personal stories to add interest to the meeting. This is where we became acquainted with the new couple in the ward. We were able to compare the amazing growth in our young men as they spoke to us in farewell and homecoming missionary talks. We heard how members applied doctrine to their own lives.

This new trend of being assigned a Conference Talk upon which to base our discourse in Sacrament Meeting is one I dislike intensely. Not because I didn’t enjoy the CT’s. But when the talk was given by the GA or Church leader, it was their personal take on a gospel subject. Perhaps it was the word of the Lord revealed to them. When reprocessed by another person, it loses its immediacy and power. We lose the opportunity to receive direction from the Spirit and teach others. The practice discourages thinking by the average member and encourages passive acceptance.

The best use of recycled Conference Talks I’ve seen happens when the speaker takes the talk as a text—similar to what Protestant ministers do when they preach using a quote or a scripture as a text. The talk focuses on the theme of the scripture, but the preacher will bring in other references, personal stories, and other thoughts to bolster his/her message. The worst scenario happens when an LDS speaker paraphrases the Conference talk and quotes it liberally. Even the most interesting of Conference talks can completely lose their potency. But no matter how well a speaker reuses a Conference talk, this technique is ineffective in Sacrament Meetings.

I wonder how deeply entrenched this convention has become. Are there some Bishops out there who still resist assigning Conference Talks as themes? How would a Bishop react if a member countered the assignment with a suggestion of their own for a talk? Will this deplorable custom continue, or are we doomed to endless years of fusty, faded, watered-down Conference crumbs?