The recent policy changes in the LDS church treat polygamy and same-sex marriage as analogous in two ways. First, they are explicitly defined as “apostasy,” resulting in automatic church discipline. Second, the children of such relationships receive the highest level of scrutiny before they are allowed to join the church. Why are these two kinds of relationships, and the children of such relationships, subject to such treatment? We might note that other sexual and relationship sins will result in church discipline, including fornication, adultery, and homosexual acts. However, this does not explain why the children of polygamous and same-sex relationships are also subject to scrutiny. Children of fornicating or adulterous parents are not excluded from church membership or put under ecclesiastical monitoring.
I’m sure all these things have been said before and better, but in order to satisfy my need to respond to some of the assertions presented as self-evident arguments against opening the LDS priesthood to women, I collect my responses here. Here are my top five non-arguments [with a sixth I couldn’t resist]:
1. Men and women are not the same.
2. Women have moral authority.
3. There is no scriptural precedent for ordaining women.
4. There is scriptural precedent for the denial of equal treatment of women.
5. Women have had the priesthood since 1844.
BONUS: Protests and complaints have never resulted in change or revelation.
The online LDS response to the NYT article describing Hans Mattsson’s struggle with doubt about the Mormon faith that he had once believed in has been interesting to watch. Most responses have been generous and sympathetic, realizing that some serious soul-searching within the community is in order, while others have been more reactionary.
One aspect of this discussion I have found particularly interesting has been the conversations that have ensued over Mattsson’s confusion and concern over Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Some immediately queried, “How could Mattsson have not known about polygamy?” Is his case simply a product of his relative ignorance about Church history and doctrine, which would have made him more vulnerable to difficult new information? Others focused more on how they have personally dealt with the uncomfortable historical data, with attitudes ranging from, “I found out about Joseph Smith’s many wives a long time ago, so now these kinds of issues don’t bother me anymore” to “Polygamy is something that I struggle with and don’t have a good explanation for.”
Still others advocate for increased inoculation efforts, with the assumption being that the more transparent the Church is about Joseph Smith’s polygamy and the more we educate people early on in safer settings, the less likely they are to be broadsided with information that could lead to a severe faith crisis.
I myself am not against inoculation. In fact, I think a full-throttled institutionalized effort to be open about such issues is the only way to go. Yet I also believe that we need to go in with both eyes open, recognizing that while transparency and sensitively appropriate discussion at the right times will significantly reduce the numbers of those who feel a strong sense of betrayal by their leaders for not being more forthcoming, in the long term increased knowledge of Joseph Smith’s relationship to polygamy is also surely to have inevitable repercussions on the way we think about his prophethood and may eventually lead to substantial evolution in LDS theology. We may come to think of Joseph Smith less as a prophet with ontologically unique revelatory access to the divine will and more as a radical religious visionary whose “revelations” were a product of his own distinctive interpretive sensibilities as they interacted with the particular cultural context in which he lived.
I still have a “church” itch as the idea is found in the BoM. So below, in no particular order, are some observations and thoughts as they stand now:
Gendered imagery in the Bible illustrating the relationship between God (or Christ) and his people, represented by Israel, Jerusalem or the Church, is pretty common. In Revelation alone, there are multiple striking images such as the Cosmic Woman of Revelation 12, the Whore of Babylon (Revelation 17) or the “Bride, the wife of the Lamb” in Revelation 21.
The BoM is different. The GA Church is female, but of the naughty type and highly disfavored for it. Instead, the church/people of God is/are defined by what they think, that is, they share a set of beliefs with God. It’s a rational rather than an emotional relationship; right now it seems like two guys who’ve decided to hang out together. God is the dominant partner.
In 1971, Elder Boyd K. Packer gave a talk in which he stated:
The gospel might be likened to the keyboard of a piano—a full keyboard with a selection of keys on which one who is trained can play a variety without limits; a ballad to express love, a march to rally, a melody to soothe, and a hymn to inspire; an endless variety to suit every mood and satisfy every need.
How shortsighted it is, then, to choose a single key and endlessly tap out the monotony of a single note, or even two or three notes, when the full keyboard of limitless harmony can be played. (BKP, The Only True and Living Church, Ensign, Dec 1971) Continue reading “100 Years of Seminary. And BTW Gay Marriage”
Title: “Swell Suffering”: A Biography of Maureen Whipple
Author: Veda Tebbs Hale
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Yes, I’m cross-posting this book review from lifeongoldplates.com, my old haunt, my book review depository. I’d like to add one comment in this version of the review. I failed to mention that this book has one pretty serious, in my view glaring, error. Basically it’s this: Whipple deserves a hardcover!!! Look, I understand some of the financial considerations, yes, and I love that Kofford Books is putting this puppy out there in any form. But it’s too good for a floppy paperback! Maybe they could work out a deal with Curt Bench and do another run, this time in hardcover, and package it with Whipple’s novel, The Giant Joshua. Get it done! And with that, my review.
One of the most significant conversations in the life of Mormon author Maurine Whipple took place between herself and a Bishop. It wasn’t a Mormon bishop, though, it was John Peale Bishop, a nationally-recognized poet and talent scout. During the 1937 Rocky Mountain Writers’ Conference the two found themselves talking about life and literature on the steps of a Boulder, Colorado frat house. Maurine poured her heart out. “She had lost at least two jobs, created and lost two more, been married, divorced, suffered rape and an abortion, and plunged into six romantic relationships” (97, I wish Tebbs had explored the legal and medical ramifications of an abortion in this time period). This, in addition to other difficulties including resentment towards her father borne of a difficult childhood in St. George, Utah, led Bishop to exclaim: “My God! What swell suffering! Great literature is born from suffering like that!” (1).
Continue reading “I’m pitching the Whipple biography with all my might”
Mormons often congratulate themselves for having a relatively healthy theological view of sexuality, at least within the boundaries of heterosexual marriage. One problem, however, is that this positive theology of (certain kinds of) sex comes at the expense of a positive evaluation of sexual chastity. Let me explain.
Continue reading “Blessed are the virgins?”
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa 7:14, KJV)
Isaiah 7.14 is one of three prophetic sign-acts in Isaiah chapters 7-8 in which Isaiah of Jerusalem associates or gives an ambiguous or multivalent ominous name to a child as a means of sharing the divine message to his contemporaries. The historical context of these chapters is the Syrio-Ephraimite War. At this time Israel (the northern kingdom), Aram, and others, joined in an alliance to combat the rising Assyrian threat headed by king Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745-727 BCE). The kingdom of Judah (the southern kingdom) would not join the alliance and so Israel and Aram sought to remove the new Judean king, Ahaz (r. ca. 734-715), from power in order to install a more politically favorable king (referred to by Isaiah as the son of Tabeel; Isa. 7.6) who would join the alliance to stop Assyria. Ahaz, however, appealed to Tiglath-pileser III for help against Israel and Aram and submitted to Assyria as vassal to suzerain, stripping the temple in the process in order to pay the necessary tribute (2 Kgs. 16:17-18). Assyria would go on to conquer Aram and reduce Israel to vassal status before Israel’s ﬁnal destruction in 722/721 BCE by Sargon II. Continue reading “Isaiah 7:14 and Scriptural Hermeneutics”
The Bible often privileges men as normative for what it means to be human, frequently considers women as inferior to men, and presents God in overwhelmingly male terms. For the contemporary believer who is committed to the full equality of men and women the problem is not simply one of reconciling isolated patriarchal, sexist, or misogynistic biblical passages with an egalitarian or feminist perspective, but the revelatory nature of the biblical text itself. “How can a text that contains so much that is damaging to women function authoritatively in the Christian community as normative of faith and life?” (36). A theology of Scripture that takes this problem seriously must reject the traditional understanding of Scripture as divinely revealed in verbal form to its ancient authors lest the pervasive androcentrism, patriarchalism, and sexism of the biblical text be understood as divinely revealed. 1) What then does it mean for Scripture to be the “Word of God”? 2) How can the Bible function authoritatively for the Church? 3) And is the Bible materially normative for modern faith and practice? Continue reading “Scriptural Authority, Normativity, and Hermeneutics: Women and the Priesthood”
If you have been around the ‘Nacle for a spell you can’t have missed the oft discussed issue of men, women, and sexual response (one strap messenger bags, walking pornography, and thus and so). Sometimes it seems that this anxiety is peculiar to modern day Mormons, but, as Qoheleth would point out, it is not new under the sun. In the first century BCE Lucretius composed his De Rerum Natura setting forth versified Epicurean doctrine in an attempt to seduce Romans of the elite ruling class to eschew the agonistic life of war, politics, and the forum and embrace the contemplative and quiet existence of the Epicurean sage. In the fourth book Lucretius takes on the question of love and sex and the snares which they pose to a man (this and the following translation are taken from the Loeb addition).
As soon as the seed comes forth, driven from its retreats, it is withdrawn from the whole body through all the limbs and members, gathering in fixed parts in the loins, and arouses at once the body’s genital parts themselves (4.1041-44).
So far the discussion is conventional enough, if a bit quaint to our sex educated ears. Lucretius asserts that semen is generated in the body and coalesces in the genitals. But what he says next is startling.
Those parts thus exited swell with the seed, and there arises a desire to emit it towards that whither the dire craving tends; and the body seeks that which has wounded the mind with love. For all generally fall towards a wound, and the blood jets out in the direction of the blow that has struck us, and if he is close by, the ruddy flood drenches the enemy. So therefore, if one is wounded by the shafts of Venus, whether it be a boy with girlish limbs who launches the shafts at him, or a woman radiating love from her whole body, he tends to the source of the blow, and desires to unite and to cast the fluid from body to body (4.1045-56).
This is a devastating view of a man’s sexual attraction. His mind is wounded by visual missiles launched from the body or body part of the viewed person, his mind and body then lurch forward, ejaculating metaphorical blood/actual semen directly at the person or body part counterattacking the visual assault with a tangible humor. Both parties suffer; the assailant, the woman or boy, wounds the man, but the assailant is stained in return by the man’s emissions. Aggressive, violent, messy. Nobody wins, everybody is hurt.
Does this overblown rhetoric sound at all familiar?
Interestingly Lucretius does not tack in the direction to which which we Mormons are accustomed. The women and attractive boys are not told to cover up. Rather, Lucretius more or less says: ” Men, don’t look at women and attractive boys, think of other things. And if you can’t think of other things, remember that women are petty things, gussied up but not really appealing, not really worth a man’s time or energy, and pretty disgusting once you get to know them–oh, and they fart too, and their farts stink (et miseram taetris se suffit odoribus ipsa).”
So a good way for a man to overcome the desires caused within him by an attractive woman is to belittle her in his mind to the point that she is no longer appealing and to think of her doing gross things.
Or sing a hymn.