Sunday, May 26, 2013

Feminists Rising

You would have to be practically unconscious not to have become aware of the recent activities of "Mormon Feminists". I guess I first began to take notice when I discovered JoAnna Brooks on Religion Dispatches (not that she was the first Mormon Feminist, of course).  Which naturally led me to her personal blog Ask Mormon Girl. I was immediately drawn in by her honesty, wit and down-to-earth style. Here was a Mormon author I could really relate to. Here was a Mormon author who was not afraid to address the 'thorny issues' of the Church head on - and do it in style, no less. My respect meter was instantly pegged!

And of course, once you start reading one Feminist blog, you have a tendency to get drawn into others. Feminist Mormon Housewives is probably the most widely known.

But aside from the musings and commentary of Mormon Feminists, what has impressed me the most is the actual WORK they have been doing. From Mormons Building Bridges, to Pants on Sunday, to Let Women Pray, and now  - Ordain Women. If you think Mormon Feminists are just a bunch of on-line whiners, think again!

And speaking of whining - those who may think these women don't have a valid argument should take a serious look at what they actually have to say and the way they're saying it. The Let Women Pray initiative was, for me, a perfect example of how to approach Church partiarchy on an issue of policy that had absolutely NO doctrinal foundation. Their approach was respectful, yet pointed and well-reasoned. The fact that no woman had ever prayed in General Conference would seem to some a small thing. But those who have such notions fail to grasp the depth of pain and exclusion many women feel in this Church specifically because of such policies. And that simply should not be.

So what is causing this upwelling of feminist activism? Why are women suddenly speaking out? Perhpas the best explanation I've seen can be found in this FAIR article by Neylan McBaine. Sis. McBaine is an active, faithful Latter-Day Saint who also happens to be a creative director at Bonneville Communications, and has worked on several projects of note, including the I'm A Mormon campaign and The Mormon Women Project. What's even more huge is that her research has been used by the likes of Michael Otterson, which means this stuff is filtering all the way to the top.

Sis. McBaine's excellent article (which I think should be required reading for all male Leadership) underscores the reality that the way women are treated by the Church, both in the way their role is defined and the way in which our Patriarchal culture tends to marginalize them, is leading to a crisis of faith for many women. In her words, "The pain is real." From the way we conduct councils of the Church to the amount of money we spend on the Young Women's program, women are treated inequitably in many ways. To get an idea of what this means, let me present a list from a petition that was posted on the web called All Are Alike Unto God. This group is petitioning the Brethren to prayerfully consider ordination for women. While I think that's a long shot to be sure, the other part of their petition is not. It is simply a request to change inequitable policies - not doctrines. In other words, look at all the gender preferential policies and practices in the Church and make room for women to participate when doctrine does not call for a Priesthood holder. An example would be to allow a woman to be a Financial Clerk. This, I believe, is an entirely reasonable request. Here's the entire list:

  • Create parity in the Young Women and Young Men organizations through equivalent budgets, educational programs (leadership, career, and spiritual training,) and activities (sports, service, and outdoor events).
  • Balance the stories and images of boys and men in church publications, talks, and other media with stories and images of girls and women.
  • Invite women in Church leadership positions to speak and pray during General Conference in numbers equal to the participation of men.
  • Encourage leaders to use gender-inclusive language whenever possible.
  • Recognize that girls and boys, women and men are equally responsible for appropriate sexual behavior, and avoid reducing morality to sexuality, and modesty to a preoccupation with women’s and girls’ clothing.
  • Instruct bishops to refrain from asking Church members probing questions about sexual practices and experiences.
  • Call women to perform pastoral counseling, particularly for women and girls who have been sexually abused.
  • Choose a General Relief Society Presidency and General Board that reflect the diversity of viewpoint and circumstance in the Church, and establish frequent meetings between the First Presidency and the General Relief Society Presidency.
  • Include the Stake Relief Society President in Stake Presidency meetings, and appoint women to meet with the High Council.
  • Delegate more expansive supervisory authority to the Stake and Ward Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary presidencies, including approval of personnel, programs, and activities.
  • Include women among stake and ward leaders who hear evidence and offer judgment in Church disciplinary councils.
  • Include the local Relief Society president in all bishopric meetings, and rotate the planning of Sacrament services among the Relief Society president and members of the bishopric.
  • Examine all Church positions to determine whether they can be filled without regard to gender.
  • Appoint women as presidents of Church universities and heads of administrative departments.
  • Expand hiring practices in the Seminaries and Institutes of Religion and within the religion departments at Church universities to provide women the same placement, advancement, and tenure opportunities as men.
  • Call young women as well as young men to serve missions at the same age and for the same length of time, and afford women the same opportunity as men to function as district leaders, zone leaders, and assistants to the president.
  • Lift the prohibition on women's participation in the blessing of their children.
  • Change temple marriage policies so that men and women have equal opportunity to be sealed to their second spouses after they are widowed or divorced.
  • Consider further wording changes to temple ceremonies and ordinances such that both men and women make the same covenants and enjoy the same promises.
  • Recognize women as witnesses for baptisms and marriage sealings.
  • Restore the former institutionally-accepted practice of women giving blessings of healing and comfort.

  • Obviously there are additional ways to bring women into more equal participation with men. What I find interesting is that Sis. McBaine seemed to be drawing some of the same conclusions in her own research as we see suggested here by feminists. Time to sit up and take notice?

    Let me close with one of Sis.McBaine's observations:

    There was a woman involved in almost every one of the Savior Jesus Christ’s mortal milestones. From his very first miracle facilitated by his mother, to revealing Himself as the “living water,” to being the subject of numerous parables, to being anointed by a woman hours before his death, to being the first witness of the resurrection… women were not just bystanders but engaged contributors to his ministry. They were symbols of the extent to which the Savior was willing to challenge the conventions of his culture and usher in a new social ideal. Compared to the way women were treated in the Savior’s own time and place, His treatment of them was radical. By involving not just his mother and female friends in his ministry, but by embracing the fallen woman, the daughter of a Gentile, the sick woman, the Samaritan woman, Jesus, through his example, challenged us as His followers to engage all women, trust them, lead with them, and lean on their spiritual power. Let us meet that challenge.

     Amen, Sister! AMEN!

    P.S. - Yes, I'm a gay male feminist!

    Link to Neylan McBaine's FAIR article:

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