Mormon Feminism and the Need for Ritual and Practice Creation by Caroline Kline


Kline, CarolineIn the past year, Mormon feminist activism has exploded. Wear Pants to Church Day, Let Women Pray, and Ordain Women are three recent projects which encouraged Mormon feminists to agitate collectively and put pressure on the institutional LDS Church to be more inclusive. I was proud to be involved in each of these, and I see this new activism as enormously important. Not only has it led to actual change (a woman did recently pray in General Conference), but this kind of public agitating also creates more space within the fold for Mormon feminists, so often silent about their questions, to discuss their feminist convictions and hopes with other Mormons.

Over the last few months, however, I have had the growing sense that pressuring the institution for change is only one part of our feminist struggle. We also need to begin developing our own community practices, our own rituals, and our own traditions. We need practices we can pass on to the next generations of Mormon women, so that our granddaughters and great nieces can turn to these traditions and find insight and inspiration in them.

Part of this conviction about developing Mormon feminist practices and rituals was sparked by some of my readings of womanist theology and ethics. I love the fact that a crucial source of authority and inspiration for womanists is the experiences and insights of their foremothers. Womanists turn to diaries, novels, letters, essays, practices, and oral wisdom from African American women of generations past to find insight into how to navigate racism, sexism, and other oppressions. Reading works by womanists has made me think of my own daughter and the women who will come after her. To what will they turn that will illuminate a path forward for them when they feel themselves disappeared and discounted by patriarchy? Can Mormon feminists today create traditions and rituals which will help them navigate their lives, which will inspire them to raise their voices, claim their own spiritual authority, and reject any cultural understanding that posits women as secondary or less-than?

To put this in the context of feminist theology, Rosemary Radford Ruether has discussed feminist theological methodology. She mentions a three-fold process.

  •  Critiquing effects of male bias on the symbols and practices of the tradition
  •  Finding alternative traditions within the historical heritage and religious experiences that provide more inclusive images of women
  • Reenvisioning the basic symbols in way that will undo male bias and create a wholistic theology in which women are no longer marginalized.

So critiquing, lifting up, and reenvisioning are crucial, and several Mormon feminists like Margaret Toscano and Janice Allred have done important work in all these areas. The thought recently came to me, though, that part of that reenvisioning  process must include the creation of meaningful practices and rituals we can pass down and prove to be sources of strength for our descendants. After all, it’s highly unlikely the institutional LDS Church will create innovative and inclusive rituals and traditions for Mormon women anytime soon. It’s up to us Mormon feminists to produce and proliferate them.

At a recent Mormon feminist gathering, I raised this topic for discussion, and we brainstormed practices and products we could create, pass along, and pass down.  We came up with ideas for rituals of banishing and healing, for products like feminist Mormon liturgical calendars, feminist Mormon songs, and Heavenly Mother art, for practices like Quaker-style clearness committees and matriarchal blessings. While the brainstorming session was thrilling and many of the ideas brilliant, I know my feminist sisters from other traditions have great insight and experience regarding feminist ritual and practice creation. Please feel free to contribute your ideas. What feminist practices and traditions have you engaged in which have brought meaning, comfort, and inspiration into your life?

Caroline is completing her coursework for her Ph.D. in religion with a focus on women’s studies in religion.  Her areas of interest revolve around the intersections of Mormon and feminist theology and the study of contemporary Mormon feminist communities. She is the co-founder of the Mormon feminist blog, The Exponent.

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Categories: Mormonism

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18 replies

  1. Didn’t Terry Tempest Williams write about women simply and secretly appropriating the right of laying on of hands blessings which were supposed to have been done by patriarchal figures? What do you think is the next step on this?

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  2. Quaker style clearness committees are a great idea. Quakers also have a form called worship sharing, where people speak from the silence in an intimate circle sometimes on a chosen topic. Anything done in a circle is powerful. It locates the divine in each other’s faces. All the best to you, sister!

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  3. I hope you’ll write on this topic again and describe the rituals you and other Mormon feminists create.

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  4. I suspect that you may need to educate many Mormons, who are not fsmiliar with womanist theory, about the need for ritual in the first place. I’ve heard Mormons distinguish their “saving ordinances” from “mere ritual”.

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    • Yes, I think I’ve heard Mormons say that as well. I do think many Mormons appreciate religious rituals though (I’m using the term ritual loosely). Certainly blessings would be rituals that aren’t saving, but that many Mormons treasure. My hope is that the Mormon feminist community could develop practices like giving blessings, practices that could create community and allow women to claim spiritual authority.

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  5. How do you plan to deal with public/private rituals such as ones done in the Temple, which after personal experience in the classes we have shared together, I know to be deeply private to Mormons? Would these rituals and practices you are talking about be public? Or would the public rituals signal the need for change churchwide?

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    • John,
      I think some of the rituals I’m talking about probably would be rather private, particularly the blessings. I see those happening in private gatherings and homes, though anyone (Mormon or not) could be invited by the organizers, as they feel comfortable. Other practices/products could be public, like the feminist liturgical calendar and the Mormon feminist anthem.

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  6. Within feminist Wicca, we practice a number of rituals that validate women’s power and authority, especially within our natural life cycles (since we’re a religion that views all nature as sacred). “First blood” rituals when a girl reaches puberty can be a powerful validation of the young woman’s entry into adulthood, especially if she is surrounded in the ceremony by older women who validate how strong and vital she can be as a woman (in the face of patriarchy). The one that I’ve found most empowering is a croning ceremony. This is a ritual that declares the woman involved to be a “wise old woman.” Our culture is not only sexist, it’s also ageist. Older women become invisible in many ways. So a ceremony that declares us wise also declares that wisdom to be necessary to society. I flew for months after my own croning, and recommend it any woman “of a certain age.”

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