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emmeline

“I believe in women, especially thinking women.”

– Emmeline B. Wells,
former General Relief Society President
and leading Mormon suffragette.


These thoughts were originally posted on my Facebook page in June 2016. I feel that they are still pertinent, and so share them here.

A friend of mine who has a large Facebook following, pasted this quote on his page:

“Speaking of mothers, Elder Jeffrey R Holland said: “Yours is the grand tradition of Eve, the mother of all the human family, the one who understood that she and Adam HAD to fall in order that ‘men [and women] might be’ [see: Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:25] and that there would be Joy. Yours is the grand tradition of Sarah and Rebecca and Rachel, without whom there could not have been those magnificent patriarchal promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob which bless us all. Yours is the grand tradition of Lois and Eunice [see: Holy Bible, 2 Timothy 1:5] and the mothers of the ‘2,000 stripling warriors.’ Yours is the grand tradition of Mary, chosen and then for ordained from before this world was, to conceive, carry, and bear the Son of God himself. We thank all of you, including our own mothers, and tell you there is nothing more important in this world than participating so directly in the work and glory of God, in bringing to pass the immortality and earthly life of His daughters and sons, so that immortality and eternal life can come in those Celestial Realms on high.” (General Conference, April 1997, p. 48)

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One of his followers launched into an utter vitriol against Mother Eve and against all women in general. I knew something of this bitter commenter, as we had had discussions before; his wife either left or divorced him. He insists that they are still sealed and refuses to seek another companion, but clings to her still, while simultaneously condemning her and sometimes the prophets. After attempting to minister to this man, in a civil, kind and respectful discussion, I gave it up when his contentiousness launched into personal attacks. But by that time, I was so spun up, I had to keep writing to calm down. So I wrote a status update of my own:

“I was recently reminded of a story about my mother which I had forgotten. I had been thinking of sharing it on Facebook. Then I ran into a rather misogynistic post on Facebook this morning, ranting against Mother Eve. After tidily dispatching that small-hearted and narrow-viewed little man, I am in the mood to write further. So I guess this is the day that I tell you all about my noble mother.

When I was 12, we moved from the tiny rural branch I had always known, into a rather large LDS ward in downriver Detroit; located in the southern suburb of Riverview. I think our whole family experienced a bit of LDS culture shock. It had always been me and my sisters, with a few other families, but only a handful of faithful youth our age. Now I was surrounded by regularly attending teens, of both genders, and a lot of them! Now I saw how the Church could run when fully staffed with many willing hands! But I also saw some of the problems of a large, sometimes impersonal ward which do not exist to such an extent in the intimate branch setting: such as the sense of being an always unknown stranger that nobody is really interested in getting to know, since there are so many others to choose from, or who they are already friends with.

My parents also faced their own challenges. One of them was the arrogant, angry, scornful, patronizingly patriarchal Adult Sunday School teacher. He had little-to-no participation in his class, especially from women, because he would proceed to grill you, peppering anybody who dared to speak with a barrage of questions until, once again, he proved himself superior.

GastonAndMollies

In LDS culture, there is also, unfortunately, the figure of Molly Mormon: the soft-spoken but sweet, slightly naive, self-defacing, self-sacrificing, self-depreciating woman who follows her husband admiringly about like a dog at his heels, practically giving up her selfhood in the service of husband, family and Kingdom. Funny, because our leaders are always teaching men about how THEY should be laying down their lives in Priesthood service to others but instead we often get versions of little swaggering kings granted test-kingdoms of various sizes called families, and/or branches and/or wards, missions, stakes, etc. (See D&C 121:49, Jacob 2-3, Elder Nelson April 2016 General Conf address, Priesthood Session).

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That’s odd, because the prophets and apostles constantly teach about the different roles but shared equality of men and women within marriage. They have even strongly encouraged and called for such outlandish things as FEMALE scripture scholars.

Remember, in the world before we came here, faithful women were given certain assignments while faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood tasks. While we do not now remember the particulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreed to. You are accountable for those things which long ago were expected of you just as are those we sustain as prophets and apostles!

Even though the eternal roles of men and women differ, as we indicated to you a year ago, this leaves much to be done by way of parallel personal development—for both men and women. In this connection, I stress again the deep need each woman has to study the scriptures. We want our homes to be blessed with sister scriptorians—whether you are single or married, young or old, widowed or living in a family.

Regardless of your particular circumstances, as you become more and more familiar with the truths of the scriptures, you will be more and more effective in keeping the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. Become scholars of the scriptures—not to put others down, but to lift them up! After all, who has any greater need to “treasure up” the truths of the gospel (on which they may call in their moments of need) than do women and mothers who do so much nurturing and teaching? 

– President Spencer W. Kimball, The Role of Righteous Women, October 1979.

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LDS prophets and apostles have always extolled women of courage and conviction in scriptural and modern times. Yet, to actually have to interact and work with a non-Molly: a woman “who knows who she [REALLY] is, and what God [REALLY] expects of her”, and who unabashedly goes about in his service, and in defense of his truth – a woman like my mother – is something I have seen LDS men struggle repeatedly to deal with without resorting to unrighteous dominion.

Yet, as Elder Russell M Nelson of the Quorom of the Twelve recently taught, such women are the fulfillment of latter-day prophecy! (See his October 2015 General Conference address). We women who are alive today were saved for this time and this place to be exactly who we are.

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My parents

Well, one Sunday my mother was attending Brother Misogynist’s class alone. My Dad was elsewhere that morning. She decided to answer a question he posed the class, and then the trial was ON. He fired question after question, which my mother answered with her typical assurance and knowledge. Finally, he gave up the attack when she could not be confounded and went on with the lesson.

Later, this man found my father in the hallway, and stopped him to talk with him. He praised my Dad for “training his wife so well.”

My father looked him in the eye and responded, “Everything that Matilda is, she is because she did it herself. I have nothing whatsoever to do with it.”

This morning, I am thankful for parents who valued, treasured and nurtured up the full flower of womanhood in their seven daughters. I am thankful to have been raised by a blessed mother who always knew it (Alma 56:48, Proverbs 31:28, 30-31).”

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