Why the New Mormon Feminism Will Fail

I recently read an essay by Tresa Edmunds entitled “The Next Generation of Mormon Feminism” which was published on Patheos.com as part of a collection of essays on the topic of the future of Mormonism.  Sister Edmunds feels that we are at the “brink of a Mormon feminist renaissance,” facilitated by Internet technology which allows like-minded LDS women, and not just academics, to support and protect each other, and to coordinate and evangelize in ways previously unavailable.

She describes young women who are choosing to leave the church rather than “shrink themselves down and become less” to fit into the role prescribed by the Church for women because the “vision we give them of their future is not a future they want.”  To confront this issue, she and others have created “Women Advocating for Voice and Equality” (WAVE).  Their objective is to change the church.

I empathize a lot with these women.  I have watched over the last 6 years, mostly from the sidelines, as these Internet communities of Mormon feminists have grown.  They often have heartbreaking stories of abuse and pain, often caused by men who wickedly point to church doctrines in order to justify their unrighteousness.

But this new wave of Mormon Feminism will fail.

Sister Edmunds explains their method for effecting the changes she would like to see in the church this way:

“If we look for a model of effective change for women in the church, we can look to the issues of birth control and working women. For decades, leaders preached about the evils of birth control, until women flat out rejected the counsel. They preached about the dangers of women working outside of the home, but women continued to do it in greater numbers until leaders have had to accept it. Strict essentialist gender roles often bear so little resemblance to our actual lives, we just have to keep living in the manner best for our family, and things will catch up.”

So, according to sister Edmunds, the way to effect change in the Church is through actively rejecting the counsel of the prophets with which we disagree until they are forced to accept and change; disobey and disregard until the rules are changed.  If I am misunderstanding then I apologize in advance.

Do these women understand what they are advocating? When has a people or an individual ever been blessed because they rejected the words of the prophets?

Even if we withhold judgment about whether the changes they seek are good or not, and even disregarding whether their approach achieves its ends or not, the means by which they intend to accomplish those changes are not of God.

The fact that women rejected the prophet’s counsel regarding working outside the home until the practice became so widespread that many women, regardless of their personal preference, were forced to enter the workforce in order to support their families as two-income homes became the economic baseline for meeting normal family financial needs does not mean that the counsel was not inspired and correct.

Even though the Lord had told him ‘no’ multiple times, Martin Harris persisted in asking the prophet Joseph for permission to take the manuscript of the Book of Mormon home to show his dubious wife, until finally the Lord gave him what he wanted.  The results were disastrous.

Despite prophets’ contrary counsel, the Israelites wanted a king, and finally the Lord gave them one.  The second book of Chronicles relates the long term tragic results.

Be careful what you ask for because if you persist, eventually the Lord may just give it to you even when he knows that you are wrong and has said so previously.

It’s possible, I suppose, that the new Mormon feminists will ignore, disobey, and agitate until they get what they want.  But if they do, in the long run it will be to their condemnation and sorrow.

Many of these women think that the church should change to allow women to be ordained to and serve in offices in the Priesthood.  I have no idea whether that change will ever happen or not.  God can decide to give His priesthood to whomever will best accomplish his purposes, and I cannot say that he wont decide to extend priesthood offices to His daughters one day. But I can say that the method by which the Mormon feminists aim to achieve this and their other aims is completely contrary to the Priesthood itself.

Section 84 of the book of Doctrine and Covenants of the church explains:

“And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord; For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me; And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him. And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood. ”

Trying to receive the priesthood by rejecting the guidance of the Lord’s authorized servants is a contradiction because the oath and covenant of the priesthood itself requires that we receive his authorized servants.

That doesn’t mean that women have no recourse to bring about changes in the church. There is a proper model: Obedience, submission, and supplication, instead of disobedience, defiance, and evangelism.  God actively guides His Church.  If there are changes that need to be made, then they should be addressed with Him directly.  If women and men will humbly submit to the counsel of the Lord’s authorized servants, and raise their voices in continual, faithful supplication to God concerning their sorrows and griefs, He will see their humility, obedience, sacrifice, and righteousness and He will hear their pleas.  And because of their obedience and faith He will bless them, and if necessary intercede according to his superior wisdom and love.

I am not advocating submitting to an abusive husband or to unrighteous dominion by priesthood leaders.  But I am advocating submission to the counsel and teachings of the prophets and apostles, even if you disagree, and keeping your disagreements generally private, trusting that the Lord hears your prayers, and relying on the Lord to correct his servants if they should be corrected, and trusting Him if he does not.

This approach requires that you believe that the Lord is real and guides His church, that the priesthood is real, that the prophets and apostles of the church are in fact His servants, that he hears and answers your prayers, and above all that he loves you.

Isaiah warns us in chapter 50:

“Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God. Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.”

If they seek to illuminate their way with the sparks and fire of feminism, instead of obeying the voice of the Lord’s authorized servants and trusting in God, then the new Mormon feminists will fail. The path of disobedience can only end in apostasy and sorrow.

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14 Responses to Why the New Mormon Feminism Will Fail

  1. mwtowns

    Bravo! Well done. I also read this essay and it left a moral and intellectual bad taste in my mouth. The one thought that came to me when I read it was: How about reforming your self before you set out to reform the Church? That’s always the Achilles’ heel of the “feminists”, their utter inability to look within and admit they are mortal and prone to error.

  2. A very thoughtful post, Jon. I empathize with these sisters as well, but agree with what you have written.

  3. I’d only read your sister’s post last night, and then ran across Tresa Edmunds’ article this morning. I appreciate you & Becca being voices of reason, and both being brave enough to speak up. I think more of us need to. (If I could only gather and organize my thoughts on the subject well enough.)

  4. While I largely agree with what you’re written here, I have to wonder about the role of common consent. If it isn’t acceptable to disagree with our leaders, even to the point of publicly “voting against” their decisions, as it were, then why bother with the vote at all?

  5. Bradley,

    “Common consent” is much misunderstood. It is not a “vote” in the political sense. Far from it. Rather, it’s a raising your arm to the square to support your priesthood leaders by covenant. It’s an acknowledgment of your willingness to consecrate your heart and mind to the kingdom. It’s a covenant, not a mere “vote”.

    Now, you have the right to raise your arm in disfavor. But it in no way negates the authority of the priesthood leader in issuing callings or policies. As with everything in the church, there are spiritual consequences for our choices. If you choose not to support the authorities, you’re accountable for that free will choice.

    Personally I’m grateful for the opportunity to make this public gesture of faith and covenant.

  6. Thanks for all the comments!

    I want to clarify something based on an email response I received from a dear friend.

    I am not saying that women should be silent about unrighteous dominion or about things in the church that cause them grief. To use the examples from the email I received:

    If the design of the temple garments could be improved for a more comfortable fit or better hygiene, then by all means women should let the church know about it. But if women want the church to change the garment to have straps instead of sleeves then that is the type of disagreement they need to take up with the Lord while submitting faithfully to the current specifications.

    If the mother’s room at church was clearly designed and organized by a man, if there are insufficient chairs and the air conditioning is broken and nobody has done anything about it because as men it is not their top priority, and the bishop tells you that he doesn’t want you to nurse your baby in sacrament meeting, then by all means make your voice heard, talk to the relief society president and the stake president and even your area authority about it if necessary until a change is made.

    If the language of young women’s manual is failing to communicate the divinity of motherhood in a way that inspires and motivates the young women in your ward, then by all means bring in more modern statements by the prophets and discussions of the scriptures, and use your own right to personal revelation to help instill in them a vision of divine motherhood. And contact the church curriculum with your suggestions for improvement (contact info is usually included in the manuals and on the church website). But if you disagree with the prophet’s teachings and emphasis on motherhood, then my post applies.

    Hope that is a helpful clarification.

  7. You have worded your argument in a way that effectively leaves no room for discussion, although I suspect that is not your intention. I know a man who became estranged from the LDS Church after years of being critical of the church not giving the priesthood to Blacks. He was wrong in criticizing, but in retrospect he was right in advocating for the equality of Blacks in God’s eyes. All of the people who argued that Blacks shouldn’t have the priesthood were wrong. Our church policy was imperfect, and has become more perfect. That didn’t happen, though, until lots of people were asking the question, why don’t Blacks have the priesthood? Rebellion and disunion in God’s church don’t serve God’s purposes, but how would you have someone live other than according to their own best understanding of what is good and true?

    You also haven’t addressed the issue of institutional bias. However much we may strive as church members and leaders to avoid gender bias, it is impossible. Men occupy a large majority of positions of authority. Even when trying not to, almost everyone abuses authority some of the time. This means women will be more vulnerable than men in the church until something in this equation changes. Asking what am I changing today to help these women seems a more useful and loving approach than saying why they will fail.

  8. Jonathan,

    You have brought up several points that deserve, indeed are screaming out for, rejoinder.

    However, I choose to focus on this: “You also haven’t addressed the issue of institutional bias. However much we may strive as church members and leaders to avoid gender bias, it is impossible.”

    You’re quite correct, as humans we have gender. I am male; I cannot separate my cognitive functions from my brain, which happens to rest inside a male human body. That being said, what’s your real point? You say it’s impossible to avoid gender bias. Ok. If it’s impossible to overcome, then why use it as a point to argue on behalf of feminists? And I would even go so far as to submit: lack of bias is itself a bias.

    Moving on to something that we can actually DO….

    “Asking what am I changing today to help these women seems a more useful and loving approach than saying why they will fail.”

    Your contention seems to be that these women are completely helpless. They probably have a different take on it. Painting them as helpless “vulnerable” victims of a superior male hierarchy does them a real disservice. Most feminists I’ve had the pleasure of meeting aren’t victims or helpless. I don’t agree with their desire to turn women into men and men into castrated wimps, but hey, it’s a free country. Or was.

  9. Hi Michael,

    I don’t know your background, as you don’t know mine, so I’ll try to explain myself a little more clearly, realizing that we’re unlikely to come to a perfect understanding through a few brief lines.

    The primary purpose of my post was to express a different viewpoint so that others reading this would feel more free to determine their own. Jon is an old friend of mine that I value and respect, so I read his thoughts. Sometimes I disagree with him rather strongly, so I hope my comments can help him refine his views as his help me reexamine my own. Since he wrote publicly, I respond publicly.

    In my first paragraph, I attempted to illustrate that I don’t agree with public criticism of Church leaders, or harboring grudges in your heart, and that it can lead to consequences I think are sad. Also that Church policies have proven to be imperfect in the past. The Church is in a process of perfection, and imperfect past states meant people were denied blessings and even hurt before the progress was made. I tried to illustrate it rather than just saying: “The Church has had policies in the past that hurt people, and even though some members thought they were eternal doctrine, they were wrong. This is a historical fact.” I hoped to emphasize the possibility Jon allowed that women may play a more prominent role in Church leadership in the future. Maybe the organization isn’t in its final, completely perfected form. Maybe it is, but Jon realized that we don’t know.

    A simpler way to state my second paragraph is, if more than one woman sat regularly in bishop’s council meetings, or if women headed some wards, there would be a less male biased hierarchy in the Church and women’s needs would be addressed more readily and ignored less often. This would result in less vulnerability–not of feminists alone, but of all women in the Church. That hypothetical state would have those real consequences. That said, I’m not advocating women bishops. I am advocating actively giving women more authority in appropriate ways. I’ve seen women blessed by leaders who respect their contributions. I’ve also seen them hurt by leaders who thought they respected women, but in practice were more inclined to listen to counsel from an inexperienced Elder than a vastly more experienced Relief Society President.

    I don’t think these Mormon Feminists are to be feared. I think they are mostly faithful women who are doing their best to follow God and His prophets. I think most of them agonize over the ways they disagree with Church policy and culture. I think rather than telling them how wrong they are, we can try to see what truths are behind their unhappiness and see if there are real changes that God would have us make on ward, stake, and church-wide levels that will help them and bring us closer to perfection as a Church. If something is wrong with Church policy, they shouldn’t be the only ones going to God to get it fixed. President Kimball wasn’t Black, but he poured out his soul on their behalf to see if God would give them the Priesthood.

  10. Mr. Cannon,

    All I can say is, I just asked my wife if, in her experience, she feels that the church institutionally ignores women’s needs or somehow lacks a mechanism for meeting female needs.

    She said no.

    I imagine that every ward is different, but in all the wards she’s ever been in, she’s never felt slighted in this regard.

    Now, it’s her take on it, and by her own admission she’s not a feminist. Perhaps that disqualifies her from having an opinion on the subject. She does have a masters degree in biomedical engineering so she’s no mental slouch.

    “Church policies have proven to be imperfect in the past”

    Perhaps, but this fact doesn’t mean that we get to cherry-pick our doctrines or interpret them through the lens of the Woman’s Studies Department of Berkeley.

    I actually believe the most pressing need facing the rank and file of the church is not some vague undercurrent of denied feminist aspirations, but finding a way to help the divorced members of the church, male and female.

  11. Thank you for you respectful disagreement.

  12. What a great post. I was so saddened to read that article. As a wife and mother in the church, I’d also have to say that I never felt the Church institutionally ignores women’s needs. Except for camping and canoeing. I think I would have wanted to do that more as a young woman! ;) But, heck, now I’m over it.

    I didn’t always feel that way, though. I came to really gain a much-needed testimony of it after much prayer and fasting, and after following the Brethrens’ counsel to not put off childbearing, not work outside the home, etc.

    The following thoughts are a combination of my thoughts and my husband’s, Nathan. So bear with me. I hope they make sense!

    Jonathan: I know a man who became estranged from the LDS Church after years of being critical of the church not giving the priesthood to Blacks. He was wrong in criticizing, but in retrospect he was right in advocating for the equality of Blacks in God’s eyes. All of the people who argued that Blacks shouldn’t have the priesthood were wrong. Our church policy was imperfect, and has become more perfect. That didn’t happen, though, until lots of people were asking the question, why don’t Blacks have the priesthood? Rebellion and disunion in God’s church don’t serve God’s purposes, but how would you have someone live other than according to their own best understanding of what is good and true?

    If we took the stance that “rebellion” is needed or helpful to bring about change, that seems to get into the belief that sinning against God is better and more productive than obedience to Him. I believe the Lord could have brought about the change even without the criticism and disunion from within the Church.

    It seems to me that this topic really involves three different questions: (1) Was the priesthood restriction begun by inspired revelation? (2) Was the priesthood restriction maintained by inspired revelation? and (3) Were the explanations frequently given for the priesthood restriction inspired by revelation?

    1. Was the priesthood restriction begun by inspired revelation? The answer to the first question seems up in the air. Many revelations weren’t written down, especially in Joseph Smith’s day. But still, President Kimball allowed for the possibility that there was a misunderstanding.

    “The doctrine or policy has not varied in my memory. I know it could. I know the Lord could change his policy and release the ban and forgive the possible error which brought about the deprivation. If the time comes, that he will do, I am sure. These smart members who would force the issue, and there are many of them, cheapen the issue and certainly bring into contempt the sacred principle of revelation and divine authority.”
    (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982])

    2. Was the priesthood restriction maintained by inspired revelation? The answer to the second question is an unequivocal, “Yes.” Whether you believe the restriction originated through revelation or misinterpretation, at some point the Lord did command his prophets to not ordain or endow black saints (see also this article). That’s one reason why it took a revelation to end the restriction.

    “It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.”
    (First Presidency statement, 17 Aug. 1949)

    3. Were the explanations frequently given for the priesthood restriction inspired by revelation? The answer to the third question is no, the explanations were not revealed doctrine. David O. McKay specifically said the Lord had not revealed his reasons, and Dallin H. Oaks emphasized that it’s more important to put our faith in the commandment itself than in the reasons we sometimes come up with for the commandment.

    “Negroes … were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.”
    (First Presidency letter, 15 Dec. 1969)

    “If you read the scriptures with this question in mind, ‘Why did the Lord command this or why did he command that,’ you find that in less than one in a hundred commands was any reason given. It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reason to revelation. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people put reasons to the one we’re talking about here, and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that. The lesson I’ve drawn from that [is that] I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.

    [Follow-up question: "Are you referring to reasons given even by general authorities?"]

    “Sure. I’m referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon that reason by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking. . . . Let’s don’t make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that’s where safety lies.”
    (Dallin H. Oaks, interview, Provo Daily Herald, 5 Jun. 1988, p. 21; cited)

    Some may ask Q: What about the Church’s stance on the role of women? Could it change? I see a direct analogy between the two.

    That parallel has occurred to me, too. But it seems to me like there are some pretty clear differences. For one thing, it was always prophesied that blacks would receive the priesthood some day. It’s never been prophesied that women would/should work outside the home(the Brethren are careful to note that the exceptions should be just that — exceptions to the rule), or that the Lord’s stance on birth control “issues” would some day be changed.

    “The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.”
    (Wilford Woodruff, quoted in the following statement)

    “They are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.”
    (First Presidency statement, 17 Aug. 1949)

    “Sometime in God’s eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the Priesthood.”
    (David O. McKay, as quoted in First Presidency statement, 15 Dec. 1969)

    “The doctrine or policy has not varied in my memory. I know it could. I know the Lord could change his policy.”
    (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982])

    “Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood …”
    (Official Declaration 2)

    I can see how at first it might look like there’s a parallel between the priesthood restriction and the “women’s rights” debate, but given the eternal nature of gender and marriage and the surrounding doctrines, they don’t seem like very similar issues to me. But that’s just me. :)

  13. Under #2, the link to an article in Meridian doesn’t seem to work. In order to view the article, follow this link (http://www.meridianmagazine.com/article/887-hallelujah-the-25th-anniversary-of-the-revelation-on-priesthood) and click on “print screen” to view it. Meridian must be having some issues with their archives.

  14. Thanks everyone for your comments, I wish I had more time to respond to everyone.

    Even though I haven’t, I want you to all know that I do read all of your comments and consider them, even when I don’t have the time for a thorough response.

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