Friday, 21 February 2014

Moderating the Mormon Discourse on Modesty


Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife just had an article in the print version of Exponent II called Moderating the Mormon Discourse on Modesty. I think it is one of the best articles I have seen to date on the issue. It is more thoughtful and balanced than many other pieces I have read on this subject (which too often are either a bit too intent on keeping the status quo, or a bit too incendiary).

Here's a tidbit:
"As a subculture that believes in the sacredness and limited scope of legitimate sexual expression, the cavalier manner in which broader American culture flaunts and trivializes sexuality threatens our values and stirs a deeply held anxiety: we fear our sexuality may undermine our spiritual progression, keep us from God, and cost us our social standing. In the face of these risks, getting women to cover up seems like an efficient solution, if not a righteous response to the perceived threat to our values. 

"However, the cultural meaning of this expectation for 
women is extraordinarily costly to them, because it 
represents women’s disproportionate shouldering of our 
shared sexual anxiety. While many would argue that 
modesty protects women from sexual objectification 
and devaluation, I suggest the rhetoric on modesty does 
precisely the opposite."

Note how she states that the "rhetoric on modesty" does the opposite of what it intends. A very interesting read. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Modesty - It's for Boys Too


I was pleasantly surprised to find this short article about a mom's recent encounter with modesty and her son. She's keen not to offend anyone, but I'm hoping that this will start more conversations about modesty in the church that include discussions for our young men on how modesty applies to them (and not solely to the young women they encounter around them). Thoughts?

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

2 Nephi 11: Learning Forgiveness by Reading Nephi

Nephi commands his brothers to help him build a ship. 
I can learn to forgive Nephi for his human failings, but I'm not sure that I can forgive the artist of this painting.

Jacob finishes preaching (v. 1) and Nephi goes on to bear his testimony, or to share his statement of belief (vv. 2-8). I was surprised that Nephi's testimony got to me. Instead of feeling preachy, Nephi's words seem authentic as he shows concern for his people.

As I've been critiquing Nephi, I've been conscious of the fact that I've not been kind. The correlated (go to BCC and view search results for "correlation") material on Nephi is overwhelmingly positive. In the LDS Church, there is a particular narrative that is attached to Nephi. He is a good guy. His brothers are bad. The brothers rebel against Lehi and Nephi. The brothers become badder. Nephi is forced to flee for his life. The brothers are the baddest. In a Sunday school class, if you want to identify someone as an evil rebel, you compare them to Laman and Lemuel. Nephi is nothing short of saintly and flawless. In this reading, I've seen that the situation with Nephi and his brothers is much more complicated and I've explored some of those complications in previous posts.

But what do I get from deviating from the approved narrative? At first I felt kind of bad. I was not reading the scriptures in the right way, but I was trying to approach the text honestly. I wondered if my plan to blog the Book of Mormon was doomed to spiritual failure. I was concerned that I was on a fruitless path. In the last few days, I have come to understand the value of my approach for me. My mother-in-law often says something like "Catholics are supposed believe that the pope is infallible, but they don't really believe it. Mormons are supposed to believe that the prophet is fallible, but they don't really believe it." It is easy to follow your leaders if you believe that they are perfect, but much harder when confronted with the realities of their humanity. I've come to forgive Nephi for being human, for getting into family arguments, for his sexism, for his racism. I don't have to like those things, they just are. He is a man of his time. He has terrible people skills.

In coming to a place of forgiveness, I find that there are other areas of my life where I expect people to be perfect. I think that I end up placing the ridiculous expectation of perfection on those closest to me. I have expected my husband to be perfect. I have expected my four and five year old daughters to be perfect. I'm not perfect, but every day part of me thinks that if I just try a little harder, I might actually arrive at some minor degree of perfection. And I am trying to drag my family in the same direction like a drill sergeant getting the new recruits over the wall. You can imagine how much they love that.

As I understand and forgive Nephi for his imperfections, I'm coming to terms with my own unreasonable expectations. These ideas have take hold in my mind and I'm able to enjoy my home life more. I can see that my husband and children are really wonderful people who are doing their best. And their best is pretty fabulous. All mistakes, annoyances, forgotten list items, and morning crankiness can be forgotten. Those things do not speak the truth about my family.

And whatever happens as a result of Pants, Pray, and Ordination, I can also be patient with my church leaders.

Cross-posted at

Friday, 22 March 2013

Breaking the Mormon Taboo: Women and Ordination

I was surprised to find this in my search for images related to the ordination of women. It seemed appropriate.

I've hesitated to write too much about this, but my profile is now available on Ordain Women, so here we are. I'm not sure how speaking about or believing in the ordination of women came to be a sign of Mormon feminist extremism, but people are now talking about it (fMhT&SExpoSCSZ's D's9M, and others). Hopefully this will be a long and interesting conversation on an overdue topic.

Before you think I must be an apostate and/or crazy because of my belief in the ordination of women, please hear me out. I am not asking you to agree, I'm just asking you to listen. I tried putting all of my thoughts about women and ordination in a single blog post, but it was going to be far too long. So instead, this is a post introducing the topic.

My profile on Ordain Women had to be edited down, but here is the original...

My husband and I married in the St. George Temple after meeting in graduate school. I teach art history at a state university in Utah. I’ve held a number of callings, including Relief Society pianist and music leader, cub scout leader, Primary and Early Morning Seminary teacher, and activity days leader. I like to read, write, and play music with my two daughters. I'm blogging my way through the Book of Mormon.

The language of the Temple Initiatory, scriptures, LDS history, and my patriarchal blessing hint at the ordination of women. I think of Heavenly Mother’s role as priestess and as part of God, and I think that she must hold the priesthood in her own right. She must have been ordained to be a priestess, she must have the power of God in order to be part of God. I believe that women should be ordained so that we can prepare to be like our Heavenly Parents.

I grew up in a difficult family. My belief in God's love for me has been an important anchor throughout my life. Mormonism continues to shape my belief in God, forms a significant component of my sense of community, and offers me hope for a life of eternal learning and progression. I'm a Mormon, and I believe that women should be ordained.
Cross-posted at 

Friday, 15 March 2013

2 Nephi 9: Arguing Se(wo)mantics

Jacob is still prophesying and teaching. He says that he is reading Isaiah so that the people will know about the covenants that God made with the house of Israel (v. 1). He speaks of the gathering of the Jews and their reconciliation with God (v. 2), Jesus coming to Jerusalem (v. 5),  and the resurrection and atonement (vv.4-8). In verse 9, Jacob references Satan, Adam, and Eve. He references The Fall, which happened when "that being ... beguiled our first parents". I am surprised that Jacob doesn't place all of the blame on Eve. I wonder how the account of The Fall in the brass plates differs from the account in the KJV.

The following verses continue to discuss what happens to the soul after death, referencing paradisespirit prison, and judgment, which are all central to the Plan of Salvation. Jacob then goes on to talk about the wonderfulness of God, but instead of referencing the Heavenly Parents, he is actually referencing Jesus (vv 20 ff).
"And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature*, both men, women and children, who belong to the family of Adam" (v. 21).
Just now when I read this and now as I write about it, I was drawn to the specific reference to women. Hurray! Jesus understands women! But as I reread it, there are problematic elements in the language.

When I was in high school, I chose Latin as my foreign language option. My teacher repeatedly emphasized that if you have a large group of women together and there is one man included in that group, you use the masculine plural to describe that group. One man changes the gender of the group from feminine to masculine. I appreciate that the Bible wasn't originally written in Latin, but I've always assumed that Hebrew and Greek were more or less the same when it came to rules of gender. (Biblical scholars, tell me if I'm wrong.) In the scriptures, you can read the word "men" and know that the author could have meant "men only" but also "men and women".

In the past, I've consciously read the word "men" as "mankind", which I understood to including men and women. I probably got the idea from General Conference, lesson manuals, and church magazines that reference "mankind" far more often than the scriptures.  In this particular reading of the Book of Mormon, I'm not applying my former mankind rule and because of the misogyny that I've discussed in previous posts, I now feel that Book of Mormon authors mostly just mean men when they use that word. In the verse above, Jacob explains his inclusive use of "men" in this instance and I'm glad that he clarifies. And the very fact that he feels he has to clarify his meaning here suggests that he doesn't generally mean "mankind" when he uses the word "men". This definition comes at the end of a longer explanation of what happens to the soul after death, where he used the word "men" repeatedly. So Jacob, what happens to the souls of women when they die? (Sorry for the drama, it feels appropriate.)

Cross-posted at

* I have to say that the use of the word "creature" to describe women and children is more than a little off-putting. I looked the term up on Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, which indicated that "creature" could simply refer to something that has been created, as opposed to the negative connotations that the English word carries. So I'm going to let "creature" go. And yes, I know that I had to look up a Greek word to try and explain a Hebrew-word-written in-"reformed-Egyptian"-and-translated-by-divine-inspiration-into-English. Linguists, please forgive me.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

2 Nephi 8: Heavenly Father and Heavenly She That Bare You

Jacob is still preaching from the brass plates (Isaiah 51 and the beginning of 52). I have to say that the opening of this chapter is comforting to me. God is speaking here: "Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness. Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged" (v. 1). As I read this, I'm not entirely sure of what Jacob and Isaiah are referring to. I'm not sure if God is referred to as rock for quarrying anywhere else. I like the idea that I'm made of the same stuff as my Heavenly Parents, though I'm disappointed that the church doesn't explicitly teach that women are made in the image of Heavenly Mother. (If I am wrong about this, please correct me in the comments and post an appropriate link).

Jacob/Isaiah goes on to say "Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah, she that bare you; for I called him alone, and blessed him" (v. 2). This verse is kind of a double-edged sword, because it mentions the righteous as descending from Abraham and Sarah, though I wonder why the text calls Sarah "she that bare you" instead of "mother".

I'm wondering about the different Hebrew meanings of "father", "mother" and "she that bare you", but Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and new Testament Words is no help. And so I turn to Wikipedia for an explanation of the word father. Now I have to say that this Wikipedia article doesn't specifically discuss fatherhood in Judaism during the time of Isaiah, but it does discuss fatherhood in Ancient Greece. (Yes, I know that scholars of Ancient Greece and/or Ancient Judaism are rolling their eyes and shaking their heads at an art historian trying to explain that info from one culture might explain the other, but just hear me out for a minute. And if Vine's had an explanation of these terms, I wouldn't be employing bad comparisons from Wikipedia.)
"We find an enlightening example of this social development in Aeschylus's tragedy The Eumenides. The Coryphaeus of the Erinyes blames matricidal Orestes for having shed his own blood, but God Apollo replies that this is absolutely untrue because the mother is only a wet-nurse and not a progenitor of the child, whose blood derives from his/her unique parent: the father." (emphasis added) 
I realize that I could be completely wrong here, I'm guessing that the ancient Jewish idea of fatherhood wasn't all that different. Having read the Old Testament a bunch of times, the OT prophets have no great affection or reverence for mothers. Really, the article's explanation of motherhood vs. fatherhood sheds a lot of light on Jacob/Isaiah's words. The father is the true ancestor of a child and the mother is just the vehicle through which the child is given life. This is explained somewhat in the statement "I [God] called him [Abraham] alone, and blessed him" (v. 2). "She that bare you" is not called or blessed in the same way.

While I was initially excited to see Sarah's name mentioned, the balloon of my enthusiasm has been popped. I appreciate that the text is Jacob's version of Isaiah's recording of what God said, and perhaps not word-for-word what God said, but it hurts that God doesn't call Sarah "mother". But I don't believe that God is the misogynist here. We don't often refer to Heavenly Mother in the church, we certainly don't refer to her as Heavenly She That Bare You. That just sounds insulting. Deep breath. Prophets are men of their time. Prophets are men of their time...

If you are a scholar of Hebrew, please tell me that I'm wrong.

Cross-posted at

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Meta Mormon: On Hearing God

I'm no stranger to the Book of Mormon, but this 23rd read is proving to be very difficult. I'm used to reading my scriptures quickly, covering four or more chapters in a day. This kind of reading gives me a great big-picture view of the scriptures. I was really enjoying this big-picture view until it suddenly felt too monotonous last year.

But reading the scriptures daily, spending 20-30 minutes on each reading session, was about a lot more than the scriptures. During those reads, I reflected on my day, my actions, and the direction of my life, but mostly I used that time to hear God. And some of you are going to think "Wow - Nancy thinks she is hearing God. That is just crazy." I have no counter argument for that. Chances are, if you embraced spirituality at some point in your life, sometimes you think that God is trying to tell you something.

Its not that I heard God every day, but there were many instances when I felt that God was trying to teach me, through impressions and feelings, things I could not learn on my own. These moments helped me to feel that God loved me and was aware of the details of my life. God knew what I was struggling with at that moment. There is nothing like a little divine empathy and guidance to make you feel that you can tackle the challenges of life. And reading the scriptures in that fast-paced way created the necessary space in my life for me to hear God.

Blogging the Book of Mormon slowly, as I'm doing now, does not always create this same kind of space. Instead, I find that I am searching for God in the text instead of waiting for God to just show up. Mostly I feel that I am not finding God in the ways that I had expected. I am hearing Nephi, and now Jacob, wrestle with their own spiritual paths. I am watching them try to hear God in their own lives. I previously saw prophets as having a buddy-buddy relationship with God, but it turns out that things aren't that simple. Being a prophet doesn't fix all of your problems and it certainly complicates your relationships with others.

When I created the goal of blogging the Book of Mormon, this was not what I had intended to learn. Learning about being a prophet but still retaining many human flaws is not a fun kind of thing to learn. In fact, it is uncomfortable and a little painful. It is easier to believe that God's prophets are just mini versions of God walking around on earth, with all of God's knowledge and power. As it turns out, prophets are regular people with all of the prejudices of their time. They confuse culture with doctrine on occasion, just like the rest of us. I suppose that this is a timely lesson to learn as I wrestle with Mormonism and Feminism and think about the future of both.

Cross-posted at