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. Continue reading “Mormon Feminism and the Need for Ritual and Practice Creation by Caroline Kline”

Women’s Erasure in Patriotic Songs by Caroline Kline

Kline, CarolineA couple of weeks ago, I attended my first grader’s school Patriotic Program. At home he had been singing snatches of “Fifty Nifty United States,” “Proud To Be an American,” and “America the Beautiful” for the last few weeks, so I was not surprised by the selection of songs. What did surprise me, when I actually sat down and listened to several verses of these songs, was the extent of the God language present in them (I thought public schools would avoid that a bit more) and the fact that many of these songs featured verses that were overtly androcentric.

Take “Proud to be an American.” The chorus is: “And I’m proud to be an American,/where at least I know I’m free./And I won’t forget the men who died,/who gave that right to me./And I gladly stand up,/next to you and defend her still today./‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,/God bless the USA.”
Continue reading “Women’s Erasure in Patriotic Songs by Caroline Kline”

Making Mormon Feminist Progress: Writing for Change by Caroline Kline

Kline, CarolineOver the last five months, Mormon feminist activism has been on the rise. Wear Pants to Church Day in December garnered national press coverage, and the Ordain Women movement, launched in March, boldly called for Mormon leaders to change Church policy against ordaining women. Another activist project launched in January, Let Women Pray, gathered 300 letters from Mormons asking Church leaders to invite a woman to pray for the first time in LDS General Conference. This was a strategic request: organizers of the project deliberately targeted breaking down a traditional practice that excluded women, not a formal rule. There is no policy stating that women can’t pray in General Conference – it’s simply been the tradition throughout the Mormonism’s history that men give these prayers.

I was skeptical of the Let Women Pray project, I admit. Grassroots agitation does not often lead to quick changes in the LDS Church. There is also something about writing to ask for change (begging?) that makes me feel uncomfortable and powerless. But raising my voice to agitate, no matter the form, ultimately seemed preferable to remaining silent, so in February I sat down to write my letter. Continue reading “Making Mormon Feminist Progress: Writing for Change by Caroline Kline”

Mormons Who Advocate Women’s Ordination by Caroline Kline

Kline, CarolineA couple of months ago, I came across the “Ordain a Lady” video by the Catholic Women’s Ordination Conference. Even though it was lighthearted, clever, and fun, it made me cry. Why? Because as a Mormon feminist, I had never seen such confident assertions on video for the need for women’s ordination:

“Woman priest is my call
Women preaching for all
Don’t listen to St. Paul
‘Cuz I can lead the way”

I felt chills run up my spine as I watched these women asserting their strength, their vision, and their truth. Amen, I said to myself. Indeed, “Justice doesn’t look like only male priests.” As this video circulated among various Mormon feminist email lists, several other women mentioned that this video brought them to tears too. Continue reading “Mormons Who Advocate Women’s Ordination by Caroline Kline”

Rebekah of the Hebrew Bible: A Mormon Feminist Model by Caroline Kline

Kline, CarolineThis semester I took a class on women in the book of Genesis. I was particularly interested in learning more about the language used to describe Eve, since she is such an important model of inspired action and proactivity for Mormon women. However, I also discovered another woman in the book of Genesis whom I saw as a potentially powerful model for Mormon feminists, a woman caught in a patriarchal context, but one who decisively and creatively figures out how to insert herself, her ideas, her inspiration into the events at hand: Rebekah.

Let me recap the most crucial incident: When Isaac is old, blind, and believes he is approaching death, he determines to give a special blessing to his firstborn son Esau. When Rebekah hears of his plans, she springs into action, ordering her younger son Jacob to impersonate Esau in order to obtain this blessing. Rebekah feels so strongly that Jacob should get this blessing – and no wonder, given her revelation from God forty years before that Jacob should inherit the promise – that when he objects, fearing a curse from his father if he is found out, she says to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son. Only obey my word, and go…..” (Genesis 27:13). Continue reading “Rebekah of the Hebrew Bible: A Mormon Feminist Model by Caroline Kline”

Pantspocalypse: It’s Time for Conversation about Mormon Gender Norms by Caroline Kline

Kline, CarolineA little over a week ago, hundreds if not thousands of Mormon women across the world participated in Wear Pants to Church Day, a movement orchestrated by some feminist Mormon women in an effort to bring attention to issues of gender inequity in the Mormon faith. Pants were the chosen symbol because there are strong cultural norms against women wearing pants to church. This event was conceived as an opportunity to make visible the fact that Mormons are questioning traditional sex-segregated customs in the LDS Church and want to dialogue about these issues. Supportive men were asked to wear purple shirts or ties to signify their solidarity.

What surprised everyone in the Mormon feminist community was the vicious response by some other Mormons to this proposed action. On the event’s Facebook page, other Mormons attacked idea, hurling insults at the women. One man even made what sounded like a death threat, saying that people who participate in activists movements like this “should be shot … in the face … point blank.” The negative reactions centered around two issues: 1) that it’s inappropriate to engage in any form of protest – no matter how subtle — in church and 2) that it’s inappropriate for women to wear pants to church. Continue reading “Pantspocalypse: It’s Time for Conversation about Mormon Gender Norms by Caroline Kline”

Tonight I Mourn for the Woman I Might Have Been by Caroline Kline

A few days ago, as I attended a conference on women in the LDS Church, I realized something about my Mormon feminist community: many of these Mormon women in the audience have felt called to ministry. Many came to this conference because they feel their scope of service and spiritual authority is constricted in the contemporary institutional LDS Church, and they have so much more they want to give to it. Many came to the conference hoping to find strategies to expand the visibility and sphere of action in this church which has enriched their lives in so many ways. Continue reading “Tonight I Mourn for the Woman I Might Have Been by Caroline Kline”

Why Some Mormon Feminists Stay by Caroline Kline

In my almost two decades as a Mormon feminist, I’ve seen my fellow Mormon feminists come and go. Mostly go. Remaining a practicing Mormon while also embracing feminist principles is for many of us a harrowing and angst-inducing endeavor. While some have ultimately found a measure of peace in our decisions to stay practicing or partially practicing, others find they simply cannot live with the dissonance. As I’ve watched myself and other women around me navigate the huge decision about whether to remain in the Church, I’ve come up with a few theories as to why some of us stay.

First, and most obviously, a Mormon feminist is more likely to stay if she fully embraces Mormonism’s basic truth claims about Joseph Smith as prophet and Mormonism’s exclusive restored priesthood. However, many Mormon feminists have nuanced takes on those questions. They might think of Joseph Smith as an inspired man who tapped into some compelling theological ideas about eternal progression and humankind’s divine potential, but might pull back on exclusivity claims. Continue reading “Why Some Mormon Feminists Stay by Caroline Kline”

We Are Responsible for Asking the Questions by Caroline Kline

(a version of this was originally posted at Patheos)

Twelve years ago, a conversation with my then-boyfriend turned to the Mormon ideal of husbands presiding over wives. I couldn’t understand why such language was necessary in a relationship of equals. My boyfriend speculated, among other things, that it might simply mean that the man was ultimately more responsible for the family’s success than the woman.

We explored that idea for a bit, but the more we talked about it the sicker I felt. As this dark feeling came over me, I first articulated to myself a truth I would later often return to: that I am fully human, fully responsible before God, an agent in my own right, and an equal partner in the truest sense of the word. My future husband would need to see me as such for any marriage to survive. And God must see me as such as well.

As a person who insists on the inherent equality of men and women, I continue to have questions about women’s place in Mormon theology and in the structural organization of the Church. Continue reading “We Are Responsible for Asking the Questions by Caroline Kline”

Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother: Why I Stand By Her by Caroline Kline

Unlike the amorphous God of other Judeo-Christian faith traditions, Mormonism’s Heavenly Father is literally, anatomically male. He is the god Mormons pray to, worship, and reference. However, within the Mormon tradition are teachings about Heavenly Mother, an embodied, perfect goddess, the wife of Heavenly Father and mother to all the spirits who are eventually born into bodies here on earth.

Mormon feminists such as myself embrace the existence of Heavenly Mother. We do our best to keep her alive and present in Mormon discourse and memory, despite the fact that our Church leaders and fellow members rarely mention her and despite the fact that some Mormon feminists in the 1990’s and 2000’s were excommunicated at least in part because of their refusal to stop writing and talking about Heavenly Mother. Mormon feminists like me recognize that equality for women within the Mormon tradition can never be achieved until our Mother receives recognition on par with the Father.  Mary Daly once famously said, “If God is male, then male is God.” Amen to that. Raising up Heavenly Mother in the consciousness of Mormons is a significant way to dismantle that association between maleness and godhood. Continue reading “Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother: Why I Stand By Her by Caroline Kline”

Do Women Disappear When Women and Men Integrate? A Mormon Case Study by Caroline Kline

Pulitzer Prize winning historian, Harvard professor, and Mormon feminist, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, recently gave a talk in which she examined the history of the LDS Relief Society, Mormonism’s women’s organization. In her talk she documented the rise and decline of this organization, originally developed in 1842 as a parallel to the men’s priesthood quorums.  In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, this organization opened hospitals, published its own newspapers/magazines, developed its own curriculum, participated in promoting women’s suffrage, managed the Church’s social services program, and engaged in various economic endeavors. However, as the 20th century wore on, the Relief Society lost much of its autonomy, as male priesthood channels took over many of these endeavors. Continue reading “Do Women Disappear When Women and Men Integrate? A Mormon Case Study by Caroline Kline”

Chicken Patriarchy by Caroline Kline

One of the most powerful and frequently cited Mormon feminist blog posts, Kiskilili’s “The Trouble With Chicken Patriarchy” on Zelophehad’s Daughters discusses the strange brand of patriarchy Mormons contend with in the modern LDS Church. On the one hand, Mormons are told that men are to preside over their wives, and on the other hand, husbands and wives are told to act as equal partners with one another. As Kiskilili shows in her post, this embracing of two seemingly contradictory stances towards the issue of male headship leaves many Mormon feminists frustrated.  She writes:

This rather mind-boggling situation, in which the Church simultaneously embraces most of the spectrum on gender roles from traditionalist positions to egalitarianism, is not simply soft patriarchy, although a recent tendency to soften patriarchal language is one important ingredient in the mix. Neither is it traditional patriarchy; nor egalitarianism. Chicken Patriarchy never allows itself to be pinned down to a single perspective; chameleonlike, it alters its attitude from day to day and sometimes even from sentence to sentence, too chicken to stand up for what it believes. By refusing to settle down in any one place on the map, Chicken Patriarchs can embrace egalitarianism and still continue to uphold time-honored traditions of male authority. Continue reading “Chicken Patriarchy by Caroline Kline”

Women Are More Spiritual than Men? The Mormon Conception by Caroline Kline

In the Mormon tradition, women are often held up by Church leaders and members as naturally more spiritual and selfless than men. While it’s nice that Mormonism escapes traditional Christian conceptions of women’s nature being inherently deceptive, seductive, and sinful (these ideas stem from the Eve narrative in Genesis 2), this characterization of women as naturally spiritual and selfless does present problems for some Mormon feminists like myself.

First, it often seems to be used a a palliative, as an excuse to not incorporate women into the priesthood hierarchy of the Church. Because women are naturally so spiritual, the common reasoning goes, women don’t need priesthood like men do — men must learn spirituality and altruism from their priesthood service in order to develop these same qualities. Continue reading “Women Are More Spiritual than Men? The Mormon Conception by Caroline Kline”

Feminist Films by Caroline Kline

My semester is nearly over, my papers will be done in a couple of weeks, and my Netflix account has been sorely underused for the last four months. It’s time for me to find some good feminist movies to watch during the holiday break.

Some of my favorite feminist films deal overtly with gender roles and pushing up against patriarchal norms.

Consumption Rather than Production: The Modern Housewife?

Last year I went to an intriguing talk by organizational psychologist Carrie Miles, who spoke about changing gender norms in Mormon society.

One thing that caught my attention was how she traced the way gender roles functioned in pre-industrial society to the way they work now in modern society. According to Miles, in pre-industrial society, women were essential to the survival of the family because they spent the vast majority of their time engaged in production — gardening, sewing clothes, making butter etc. In these pre-industrial societies, if a kid needed socks, there was one way to get them — the mom knitted them. Purchasing such items was not economically feasible for most families, which generally lived in a subsistence mode. They produced the vast majority of what they consumed. Continue reading “Consumption Rather than Production: The Modern Housewife?”

Christian Sexual Ethics and Just Love for a Mormon Marriage by Caroline Kline

Several months ago, my husband and I had a fascinating dinnertime discussion on whether or not we have a ‘just love’. I had been reading one of the foremost ethicists on the subject of Christian sexual ethics — a Catholic nun by the name of Margaret Farley who taught at the Yale Divinity School for over 30 years.  Her book is called Just Love.

The framework for sexual ethics that Farley comes up with highlights her commitment to the importance of justice in sexual relationships. For Farley, love is not enough. Love alone can be based on fantasy, it can be manipulative, it can look at the other only as a means to an end. Therefore, in her sexual ethical framework, love must coincide with justice.  Just love must contain these seven norms:

1. Do no unjust harm (don’t be physically, emotionally, spiritually destructive to the other) Continue reading “Christian Sexual Ethics and Just Love for a Mormon Marriage by Caroline Kline”

The Postures of Prayer by Caroline Kline

I’m not generally an eye closer during prayers. Nor am I an arm folder. If I’m in a public space like my Mormon church, I tend to slightly bow my head so as to not make any other non-eye closers uncomfortable. I’m not a very consistent personal prayer, but when they do happen, most of them occur as I lie in bed before I sleep. I’m not a kneeler, either.

I’ve not ever thought much about this before, but now that we have a five year old, I’m seeing my child being taught prayer postures by his Sunday School teachers that don’t resonate with me personally. It’s caused me to think a little more deeply about why I don’t conform to typical Mormon prayer posturing.

I found an article* about eye positioning during prayer helpful as I thought about this question. According to the author Thomas Ellis, members of Abrahamic religions tend to view deity as an “intra-tribal rank superior.” In other words, the same way these ancient people approached their social superiors with supplications, they approach their deity with supplication. This usually involves lowering the eyes and head in order to not appear challenging or demanding. Contemporary Mormonism seems to fall into this category.

Prayer Tree by Janet Chui

One exception to this generalization about Abrahamic religions is Marian worship. Catholic or Eastern Orthodox adherents tend to approach Mary with a direct gaze, seeking out visual reciprocity. They often look at icons and pray to her simultaneously. The submissive lowering of head and eyes is not present. Ellis postulates that this is because these adherents are approaching deity not as an “intra-tribal rank superior” but instead as an “attachment figure,” just as babies and young children approach with eyes open the loving mother or father.

Interesting. Does my lack of desire to close my eyes and bow my head mean that I think of deity more like Catholics think of Mary? Do I approach deity as loving parents**, rather than social superiors? Do I want to emphasize our similarities and talk to them as loving friends, rather than focus on the vast difference of our hierarchical positions?

Yes, I think I do.

*Natural Gazes, Non-Natural Agents: The Biology of Religion’s Ocular Behaviors” by Thomas B. Ellis in the book The Biology of Religious Behavior

**Mormons believe in both a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother, though Mormons are instructed to not worship her or pray to her.

Idealistic, Cynical, and Pragmatic Mormon Feminists: Who Stays, Who Goes

One of my Mormon feminist friends once made an observation to me about feminists who were able to stay and even thrive within the Mormon Church, versus the ones who left or were forced to leave. She saw that the more pragmatic and cynical feminists seemed to be able to remain practicing, whereas the idealistic feminists were the ones who didn’t stay.

I thought this was an intriguing framework: the idealistic ones who can’t endure the dissonance between what they know in their heart is right/just and what the Church teaches about gender eventually leave the Church, whereas the pragmatic or cynical ones who see patriarchy as inescapably infusing almost all institutions (universities, corporations, etc.) or who decide to weigh the pros and cons and stay for various reasons including community, family, heritage, and root belief in core Mormon teachings tend to be able to make Mormonism work for them.

This gave me pause. Where do I fall in this framework? Continue reading “Idealistic, Cynical, and Pragmatic Mormon Feminists: Who Stays, Who Goes”

Gilligan’s Framework and its Implications: The Benefits and Dangers in my Mormon Context by Caroline Kline

This post is written in conjunction with the Feminist Ethics Course Dialogue project sponsored by Claremont School of Theology in the Claremont Lincoln University Consortium,  Claremont Graduate University, and directed by Grace Yia-Hei Kao.

Gilligan’s In a Different Voice was a revelation when I discovered it three years ago. At the time I was struggling within my Mormon tradition, wondering if I could continue to remain practicing when doing so, in a sense, perpetuated an institution which I saw as limiting women’s opportunities. Many of my Mormon feminist friends had made the painful decision to leave. They left on principle, as they could no longer lend their support to an institution which promoted teachings which violated their core beliefs in men’s and women’s equality. They were willing to face the pain and disappointment their families would undoubtedly experience, as well as possible ostracism.

I understood and supported my friends’ choices to leave. However, I knew I wasn’t ready to make that choice. Continue reading “Gilligan’s Framework and its Implications: The Benefits and Dangers in my Mormon Context by Caroline Kline”

Presiding: Its History Within My Marriage By Caroline Kline

Mormon feminists struggle with patriarchy on (at least) two levels. First, since women are excluded from priesthood ordination, women have very few opportunities to rise in Mormon leadership. They can participate as leaders (under the male bishop’s jurisdiction) on a congregational level, but beyond that, the opportunities are very slim. Second, Mormon feminists struggle with patriarchy on the home front. Because all Mormon men are ordained as priests, Mormon wives have not just a husband in the home, but also a priesthood leader. They are instructed to support and sustain their husbands in the home, as he presides over them and the family.

In the world of Mormon feminism, the shorthand term we use to designate this issue of patriarchy in the home is ‘presiding.’ The oft discussed debate among Mormons is how this concept of ‘presiding’ can be compatible with other injunctions by our leaders to act as ‘equal partners’ with our spouses.  It was only recently that I realized that this debate is not only alive and well in the Mormon community, but also in the Christian community at large, though the terms they often use are ‘male headship’ vs. ‘equal regard.’ Continue reading “Presiding: Its History Within My Marriage By Caroline Kline”

Immortality: Distinctions and Confluences Between Feminist Theology and Mormonism By Caroline Kline

Kline, CarolineOn the whole, I like the Mormon concept of immortality. I like the idea of being with my family forever. I like the idea of being able to love and live with a child or spouse or parent that might have died too young. I like the idea of being eternally engaged in learning and working with others. I do fully admit, I am put off by the idea that I as woman might be eternally giving birth to spirit babies, and the status of Heavenly Mother – my immortal role model – is angst inducing if I sit down and think about it for very long. But in my positive moments, I have some hope that my husband and I would actually be equals in the next life – that the patriarchy of our Church and of our world is just a natural consequence of the fall and of human fallibility.

So I initially found it a bit jarring to read about Rosemary Radford Ruether’s take on immortality. Continue reading “Immortality: Distinctions and Confluences Between Feminist Theology and Mormonism By Caroline Kline”

The “Marriage Crisis” in the U.S and Around the World By Caroline Kline

The Mormon Church, the tradition in which I was raised, is into protecting marriage. In the United States, that seems to often mean deeply discouraging out of wedlock births and politically lobbying against homosexual unions.

But, according to Stephanie Coontz, who wrote the book Marriage, A History, “the marriage crisis” is a phenomenon taking place all over the world. But fascinatingly, that crisis doesn’t take the same form.

While United States legislators are worried about out of wedlock births, in Germany and Japan, policy makers are far more interested in increasing the birthrate, regardless of whether or not the parents are married. The United Nations recently initiated an enormous campaign to raise the age of marriage for girls in Afghanistan, India, and Africa (where the health of these young women is greatly impaired by early motherhood), whereas in Singapore the government launched a campaign to convince people to marry and have babies at a younger age. Continue reading “The “Marriage Crisis” in the U.S and Around the World By Caroline Kline”

Good Mormon Feminists Vs. Bad Mormon Feminists: The Dividing Line By Caroline Kline

(cross posted at the Mormon feminist blog, The Exponent)

In a couple of different conversations I’ve had with her, Mormon feminist Lorie Winder Stromberg has proposed that many Mormons commonly perceive two types of feminists within the Church.

The first are the good Mormon feminists. These are feminists, often professional women, who may question gender roles and women’s lack of visibility in texts and leadership, but are on the whole seen as faithful and dedicated to the Church.

The second are the bad Mormon feminists.  These are the feminists that are regarded as dangerous, apostate, and disloyal to the Church.

According to Stromberg’s theory, the dividing line between these two groups of feminists — the thing that makes the one group good and the one group bad — is the issue of women’s ordination to the priesthood. Continue reading “Good Mormon Feminists Vs. Bad Mormon Feminists: The Dividing Line By Caroline Kline”

Eroticized Wives and Mormonism By Caroline Kline

(cross posted at the Mormon feminist blog, The Exponent)

“As the clock approaches the hour of her husband’s return, a nervous housewife readies herself for his arrival. She checks herself one last time in the mirror, smoothes her hair, and practices a sultry pout. Hearing her husband’s car in the driveway, she shuffles, penguin-style, to the front door and waits…

The door swings toward her, her husband takes one step into the house, and then he stops, as if frozen, and gawks. “Welcome home, darling,” she says, batting her eyelashes. His wife stands in the front hall of their home wrapped in nothing but yards and yards of plastic wrap, her middle-aged curves visible, but distorted through layers of transparent film…Served up like a TV dinner for her husband’s consumption, this wife has become what author Marabel Morgan calls a Total Woman, a model of Christian marital perfection.”

As I read these first paragraphs of an article by Rebecca Davis entitled, “Eroticized Wives: Evangelical Marriage Guides and God’s Plan for the Christian Family,” I, like the husband above, guffawed. I admire people putting efforts into spicing up their marriage, but this seemed ludicrous to me.

It was also interesting to note that this Total Woman movement, which flamed to life in the mid 70’s, was at least partially inspired by Mormonism’s own Helen Andelin – author of Fascinating Womanhood Continue reading “Eroticized Wives and Mormonism By Caroline Kline”

Woman as Partner or Possession:The Irreconcilable Voices of Mormonism’s D&C 132

(cross posted at the Mormon feminist blog, The Exponent)

Doctrine & Covenants 132 stands as one of Mormonism’s greatest conundrums. In this one section of Mormon scripture, we have the empowering notions of eternal marriage and eternal progression, coupled later with the soul crushing commandment to practice polygamy. Embedded within the text of this section are various ideas and notions that seem simply irreconcilable, many of which surround the issue of gender.

In the first half of 132, equality between the sexes in the next life is emphasized. ““… if a man marry a wife… by the new and everlasting covenant….they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things… Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting,because they continue. Then they shall be above all, because all things are subject unto themThen shall they be gods, because they have all power…” (19-20).

Note how equitable this language is between the sexes. The inclusive pronoun ‘they’ is emphasized time and time again. There is no hierarchy between the man and woman, no patriarchy. A man and a woman journey into eternity side by side, equal partners as they both guide and shape and wield their godly power. Continue reading “Woman as Partner or Possession:The Irreconcilable Voices of Mormonism’s D&C 132”

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