Saturday, June 28, 2008

Writing Pink Notes

Many gems among the pages of the Women's Exponent demonstrate that although the magazine had the approval and encouragement of the General Authorities of the Church, the days of correlation had not yet begun. The first edition stated: "The aim of this journal will be to discuss every subject interesting and valuable to women." [1] It is remarkable how many diverse views and opinions were represented. Recently I came across this little item written by a non-Mormon:


Perhaps you do not know it, but there are women who fall in love with each other. Woe be to the unfortunate she, who does the courting! All the cussedness of ingenuity peculiar to the sex is employed by the "other party" in tormenting her. She will flirt with women by the score who are brighter and handsomer than her victim. She will call on them oftener. She will praise their best bonnets and go into ecstacies over their dresses. She will write them more pink notes, and wear their "tin types," and when despair has culminated, and sore-hearted Araminta takes to her bed in consequence, then only will this conquering "she" step off her pedestal to pick up her dead and wounded. But then, women must keep their hand in. Practice makes perfect.

Affirmation, an organization for Gay and Lesbian Mormons, has suggested that relationships between women within the LDS community in the late nineteenth century were often celebrated or encouraged. They cite the following examples:
  • In 1891 the gay-associated Bohemian Club of Salt Lake was incorporated with both women and men included as members. Katherine Young Schweitzer, granddaughter of Brigham Young, was a chief organizer and benefactor.

  • Mormon suffragist Emmeline Wells reportedly praised the same-sex relationship of Francis Willard, President of the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

  • In 1903, the Young Woman's Journal published a poem by Kate Thomas, a devout Mormon who never married, apparently celebrating her same-sex love. Thomas wrote of her lover, "from her lips I take Joy never-ceasing." (Yeah, I would say this was just a poem written from the point of view of a man. But...)

  • In 1912 the same magazine paid tribute to "Sappho of Lesbos." (So were the editors just completely clueless?)

  • In 1919, the story of Primary general president, Louise B. Felt, and her first counselor, May Anderson appeared in the Children’s Friend. Their loving relationship was described as the "David and Jonathan" of the Primary General Board. [3]

  • From 1920 to 1938 Mildred J. Berryman conducted a study of lesbians living in Salt Lake City. One of the women Berryman interviewed for her study, Cora Kasius, was a staff member of the Relief Society who went on to become a faculty member at Barnard College and a liaison officer for the United Nations. [4]

It was not until decades later, in 1952, that J. Reuben Clark of the First Presidency officially addressed the existence of lesbianism, warning Church members against the practice.

Do you see these instances as understanding and acceptance by the LDS community of same-sex relationships between women? Did the warnings of J. Reuben Clark represent a change in Church policy, or was it the beginning of a greater awareness of the issue? Include in your response your thoughts on how an article such as "Women Lovers" could appear in the pages of the Exponent.


[1] The Woman's Exponent 1872-07-15 vol. 1 no. 1, p. 32.

[2] The Woman's Exponent 1873-04-15 vol. 1 no. 22, p. 175

[3] Also in the Ranks: Lesbian Mormon History, 1998 Affirmation Gay and Lesbian Mormons. Not having access to the original sources, I have no opinion as to whether these references represented female homo-eroticism or whether they were cases of deep non-sexual friendships among women. Affirmation presents them as examples of acceptance of lesbian relationships in the Mormon community.

[4] Also in the Ranks. Berryman’s work has the distinction of being the first community study of lesbians performed in America.

[5] Relief Society General Conference, 2 Oct, 1952. Second Counselor J. Reuben Clark warned the women of the Relief Society against "self-pollution," prostitution, and "homosexuality, which it is tragic to say, is found among both sexes."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

I swear I must have a split personality.

We went to our new ward on Sunday. I felt really happy when we walked in. It's such a comfort to go anywhere in the world and have a ready-made family to go to when you arrive. You know that the three men sitting on the stand are the Bishop and his counselors; that Gospel Doctrine will probably be held in the chapel; that the Relief Society room is the one with the comfortable chairs. You know the Elders Quorum president can help you out if you need some heavy lifting done for your move. You'll be within one SS lesson of where you left off in your old ward. All those things were so nice. After Sacrament Meeting it turned out that the family who sat in front of us lived in the same subdivision we will be moving in to. They have a nine-year-old daughter. To find out if they would be in the same Primary class, my LDS-savvy nine-year-old daughter asked her when her birthday was. The child replied by giving the exact same date my daughter was born!

I felt completely at home in the ward. I answered a question in RS with a standard Mormon reply and I really believed what I was saying. I was invited to a book club group and promised to attend. I was deeply immersed in my Mormon brain, and everything was perfectly OK.

I don't know what to say. I want to get along here. I don't want to be the odd duck. I want to have validity in the ward. I want to be a nice Mormon mommy. I feel happy, I feel the Spirit when I spout the Mormon line. I know I can project a version of myself which will be welcomed and accepted here. So why do these things bother me:

  • The bishop gave a sacrament meeting talk on the importance of "the family."

  • The Gospel Doctrine teacher mentioned 3 times during the lesson that he was the former Bishop. In spite of this, he taught some very disturbing views of Alma 5, including the necessity for members to "forgive themselves," and that we are saved by "all that we can do."

  • The RS lesson was a talk by a GA which was given to a group of priesthood holders. Little was changed, except to note that as women, we could "apply it to ourselves," and a question was inserted in the middle somewhere about how could we encourage the brethren to magnify the priesthood.

  • The sisters meet monthly for a Deseret Book club.

Is it just the natural man which prompts me to dissect and criticize these aspects of my ward experience? I'm truly a kinder and a better person when I live the Mormon gospel. Why can't I excize the strange liberal being who doesn't want to eat red jello, live in a subdivision, vote Republican, or drive a mini-van? Why is there such a huge separation between the two of me? It seems that others on the Bloggernacle have somehow fused their diversity and their Mormon-ness, but not me. It's like I'm either completely Molly-fied or flaming radical. I'm standing on a barbed-wire fence longing to throw myself over to one side or the other. Instead, I painfully perch on the barbs, facing this way one day and that way the next.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Unity and the NAS

If Blogger works properly, this will post while I am in the air on my way back to the States. Last Friday DH and I gave talks on unity in Church. If you were there, you would have found them quite interesting, for, as he said in his remarks, we are not exactly poster children for unity.

I won't reproduce my talk here, for I plan to use several points from it in my presentation at Sunstone in August. But I had an experience with it that was interesting. In one of the scriptural citations I used in my talk, I quoted from the New American Standard Version of the Bible. I almost always use the King James Version in both my study and my teaching. I feel quite comfortable with the Old English, having studied the Bible in this version from my youth. But occasionally I will compare versions, especially when there is a doctrinal sticking point. Friday I used Phillippians 21-5: in the NAS just because I liked the turn of phrase a little better (I don't like the word bowels), and it seemed to make my point about unity a little clearer:

1 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus

(Click here to compare the KJV.) Interestingly, several people came up to me afterward and asked for this particular scripture reference, saying they were very touched by it. I gave them the reference without mentioning that I had used the NAS. I didn't mention it in my talk, either.

It's odd that I've felt pricked by my dishonesty. I'm trying to figure out what's been bothering me. Is it because I used an "unauthorized" version? Or that I wasn't straightforward about its provenance? Perhaps it's more that I didn't do justice to my source. If I'm not ashamed of the gospel of Christ in the NAS, should I necessarily have to proselyte for it?

Do you use other versions of the scriptures? Do you do it secretly, like I do?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thirty Minutes and Counting

In thirty minutes they will come and unhook me from my I.V.--I mean, from my internet access. So wish me luck on my move, bloggy friends. Tomorrow we will attend our meetings in the late afternoon then head off to the airport where we will catch a flight at 1 AM for the States. There are a lot of strange emotions stirring up around here, so I'll keep notes and let you know how things went when I get my blog back!


Monday, June 16, 2008

Call to Prayer

Although I am thrilled to be returning to the States, there are a few things I will certainly miss. This is a picture I took from the roof of our building here in the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh. The building you see in front is a mosque. Every morning about sunrise (and 5 times throughout the day) the call to prayer echoes from the top of the spire and from another mosque nearby. I'm really going to miss the beautiful haunting quality of the muezzin's voice as he chants the Arabic invitation, "Make haste towards prayer." (Listen to the adhan here.) Each one has a distinctive voice, and you can often hear two or three voices blending if you are within the sound of several minarets. This has been the start of my day for 8 months now, and it helps me to remember to turn my thoughts toward the Divine each day as I awaken.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Compartmentalization Woes

I wouldn't describe myself as an integrated person. I like to compartmentalize my life. I go to Church on Sunday and I can be the Seminary Teacher/mom with 8 kids/faithful Mormon and I know how to talk the talk. Then I go on my blog and emote about feminist issues and polygamy and the washing of feet. But now that DH is a blogger he actually TELLS REAL PEOPLE where to find me online. And someone who knows me through blogging has MOVED IN TO MY WARD!! (Hi, Tim!) Recently I joined Facebook and GoodReads, and I made the awful mistake of adding Church friends, my children, Seminary students, and blog friends. It's caused the most awful angst.

For example, there are books I want to review intellectually on Goodreads but because of my audience I'm feeling a strange compulsion to say things like, "you don't want to read this book, there was way too much sex in it--wait, this is a book everyone should read because it deals with issues we should never forget!"

And then my kids were checking out my friends on facebook and wanted to know who "Nick" was. (A gay guy I met blogging. Great example of online behavior, Mom.)

So all this makes me think. When I get to my new ward, who will I be? Will I sit back quietly and let everyone see me as Molly Mormon? Will I compartmentalize the difficult and unorthodox parts of myself?

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Complete Moving Story

OK, I've finished up with classes, planned and executed the end-of-year Seminary scripture chase activity, ditto Seminary Graduation, written and presented my final Sacrament Meeting Talk, been around turning in keys, library materials and supplies, and am down to 2 days of proctoring finals (oh, and I still have to pack). But I'm feeling some relief and have some time to post an update on our moving plans!! They haven't been really finalized until quite recently. But DH has accepted a job back in the States, so we are moving to....

South Carolina!!

I'm very thrilled with this decision, since we will be close[r] to my parents, who I haven't seen in several years. It's a very nice community close to Charleston, and I hear that housing is affordable right now. The one thing I'm not thrilled about is gas prices. Gasoline here is about 21 cents per gallon. Yup, 21 cents. But then again, women aren't allowed to drive here, so I guess that is the trade-off. I'll be going to a place I can legally drive, but won't be able to afford road trips. Bummer.

My plans for myself are to enjoy my summer sitting around the pool and getting a tan, working out at the gym, losing 10 pounds, jetting off to a few conferences, vacationing in the mountains and at the beach, setting up a new household and replacing all the essentials I had to get rid of when we moved to Saudi--in short, living the cushy life of a suburban housewife.

Then I have a few writing projects I'm hoping to finish up. But no pressure. I DO NOT plan on: Getting a job, getting pregnant, any of my children getting pregnant, having my older children move back home, getting called as the early morning Seminary teacher.

The plane takes off June 21, 1:00 AM!!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Conversion: Alma vs. McConkie

In our Sunday School discussion this week the lesson manual asks the following: "Throughout his address to the people in Zarahemla, Alma spoke of experiencing a “mighty change” of heart and being “born of God” (see Alma 5). We often use the word conversion when we speak of this experience. What does it mean to be converted? Is conversion a single event or a process?" Our class was unable to come to a consensus on this question. What do you think? Have you experienced conversion? For you, was it a single event, or a process?

When I read Alma 5, it seems to describe a born again experience much like that extolled by the evangelical Christians. I myself had a "born again" experience at age 18. Though I was raised in a Christian home with a father who was a Protestant minister, this was an experience during which I came alive to the things of the Spirit. For me it was a single event, though there has been a process of sanctification including my decision to join the LDS church and the development of testimony of several aspects of the Gospel.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught:

“Except in … unusual circumstances, as with Alma (Mosiah 27), spiritual rebirth is a process. It does not occur instantaneously. It comes to pass by degrees. Repentant persons become alive to one spiritual reality after another, until they are wholly alive in Christ and are qualified to dwell in his presence forever” (Lesson 22: “Have Ye Received His Image in Your Countenances?”, Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (1999),98)

When this quotation was read during our class, I felt that it referred more to the process of sanctification than what Alma is describing in Alma 5. Somehow I doubt that my spiritual rebirth is "unusual." I've heard many Mormons, converts and lifelong members, describe a mighty change as a single experience which they can pinpoint.

But I wonder if McConkie deserves more credence than I have heretofore supposed. In a recent FHE, we were speaking to our teenaged daughters about their testimonies of the Book of Mormon. They felt uncomfortable with the admonition of Moroni to pray about the book. They insist that as long as they have been aware, they have known the Book of Mormon was a true scriptural record, and that to pray about it would be a lack of faith. They relate better to a process-oriented approach, where they continue to learn more about the scriptures and develop more skill in applying them to their lives. In their case, and in that of many life-long members, is "conversion" unnecessary?

I continue to worry about this, for the Lord told Alma:
Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Women in God's Image

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

What does this scripture reveal about the gender of Deity? Interpretations have been wildly variant. Some feminist exegesis goes as far as to suggest that this scripture shows that God is neither feminine nor masculine and possesses no physical body. For Mormons, it is just the opposite. If we are created in the image of God, Latter-day Saint theology teaches, "God" must have a physical body and manifest as both a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. Paradoxically, scripture focuses exclusively upon the masculine aspect of God, and even the more nurturing qualities mentioned in Holy writ are attributed to God the Father.

The contemporary women's spirituality movement which traces its beginnings to the 1970's has given women the impetus to search for the feminine aspect of the Creative Force. Once again, Mormon women were ahead of their time, with their poems, hymns, and yearnings to understand the Heavenly Mother beginning in the nineteenth century with Eliza R. Snow. But now that modern woman has accepted the possibility that there is a Feminine being in whose image they are created, Latter-day Saints have been curtailed in their approach to the female component of the Godhead. We have been cautioned that it is inappropriate to pray to a Mother in Heaven:

“Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. That doctrine rests well with me. However, in light of the instruction we have received from the Lord Himself, I regard it as inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven...Search as I have, I find nowhere in the standard works an account where Jesus prayed other than to His Father in Heaven or where He instructed the people to pray other than to His Father in Heaven. I have looked in vain for any instance where any President of the Church, from Joseph Smith to Ezra Taft Benson, has offered a prayer to ‘our Mother in Heaven.’ I suppose those...who use this expression and who try to further its use are well-meaning, but they are misguided. The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Daughters of God,” Ensign, Nov 1991, 97.)

Because of this admonition, some Latter-day Saints are hesitant to search for more information about the Divine Feminine. They may feel it is a useless endeavor since we have no revealed knowledge of Her. But this attitude flies in the face of everything we know about God. Since the beginning, when man and woman were cast out of the symbolic Garden of Eden, they have been on a quest to return to the presence of God. Religious teachings in our scriptures and in the Temple urge us to search for Deity and strive for union. Revelation comes through striving and asking. Mankind has developed whatever knowledge we have of God through this search. Whenever prophets or spiritually attuned men and women have gained revelation, they have attempted to share this with their compatriots. Rudger Clawson opined: "It doesn't take from our worship of the Eternal Father, to adore our Eternal mother, any more than it diminishes the love we bear our earthly fathers, to include our earthly mother in our affection." (Rudger Clawson, "Our Mother in Heaven", Latter-day Saints Millenial Star 72 [29 Sept 1910]: 619-20).

Voltaire remarked, "Dieu a cree l'homme a son image, et l'homme le lui a joliement rendu. (God made man in his own image, and man has returned the compliment.)" In many of our human cultures, the search for God has been the province of males. This has returned to us a remarkably well-developed picture of the masculine manifestation of Deity. But what is the effect upon women of the habitual exclusion of the Divine Feminine? Amber Satterwhite has asked:
"Our image of Her dictates the role of women in mortality. If that role is subservient and devoid of respect and power, then that is the attitude we will have toward mortal women as well. If Heavenly Mother is silent, unapproachable, and beyond mystery in heaven, is it any wonder that Her earthly daughters also feel ignored, silenced, and misunderstood, too?" (Amber Satterwhite, "God the Mother in Mormonism")

I think the deliberate distance patriarchal religion has maintained with the female aspect of God has made many women of previous generations hesitant to fully participate in the discovery and revelation process. A marvelous new generation of women has now come of age in the Mormon world. These women have grown up in a society where females are powerful, valued and contributing members of the family and the community. Men of this younger generation have negotiated relationships with powerful women. They work with these women, they are married to them, they may even be their sons. Members of the Church increasingly find it difficult to imagine a Heavenly Mother who is uninvolved and subservient. They are ready for a more fully developed revelation of the Divine Feminine.

What difference could it make in women's spirituality to be able to image God as the one to whom they are alike? What difference could occur in men's lives to perceive God as a nurturing Mother figure? What types of new understandings would flow from these images of God?

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Singing God

God sang to me on an early autumn day in Texas.

Two years ago, I was at the end of my rope. I had planned a day to Galveston with friends, to get away from it all. We were to leave after the children were in school, drive the hour down from Houston, and spend some peaceful time on a lonely stretch of sand, walking, dipping toes in a cool ocean, and searching for shells. We'd be back before the children were home, and our trip would bother no one.

But plans fell through, as they often do, and the day had to be sacrificed on the altar of being a responsible person. I was devastated. The hope of this day was the only thing getting me through, and I didn't know how I could carry on without it. My sandals still on my feet, I climbed into the car and beat my fists against the steering wheel. I cried a bit (not enough to run my mascara), and blew my nose. I sent a thought up in the air to whoever might be listening that this was not fair, that it was more than I could bear. Then I turned the key to the ignition, and flipped the dial to the radio. It turned to a station I never listened to, and I heard a song I hadn't heard or remembered for years. (I'm not that into country, but who wasn't familiar with this song in the Vietnam era?)

"Galveston, Oh Galveston," Glen Campbell crooned. "I still hear your seawinds blowing." Along with the music came a peace I could not have imagined. It was as if a loving Father was telling me in song that he knew I wanted to go to Galveston that day. He reflected the longing and the sorrow I felt back to me in the words and the music. He was sorry that it couldn't be, but he would send me the refreshment I craved from the unrealized day away.

I've pondered this experience many times since then. Are these coincidences simply serendipities which befall us, devoid of the higher meaning we wish they portended? Or are they synchronicities such as Carol Lynn Pearson teaches, evidences of the hand of God in our lives? may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.