Sunday, October 6, 2019

Notes on the Women's Session

I'll probably be the three hundred thousandth person to point this out, but when general conference has a priesthood session, no women speak.  But here, at the women's session, the three final speakers are men.  Fifty percent of the people selected to address the congregation of women were guys.  And not only does that illustrate an inequity in how women are treated in the church, but it was also ill-advised because the overwhelming majority of awful stuff that came out of this meeting came out of the mouths of those three dudes.

Things started off pretty well:

Together, we realize there is hope and we do not have to suffer alone.
—Reyna I. Aburto
This talk was actually pretty wonderful and that sentence just seemed like the easiest way to encapsulate it. If I were ever to be interested in an organized religion again, I would look for one that sounded just like Sister Aburto.  She discussed pain, suffering, depression, and suicide in ways that were uplifting and not dogmatic.  She spoke of community, easing the burdens of shame, and removing stigmas.  She also talked about things I don't personally believe in, but when she brought God's love and the Savior's healing power into the mix, she conjoined it with individual needs for medication and professional therapy and she underpinned everything with our responsibility as a church community to act as a support network for each other.  To me, this is exactly the kind of thing that religion should provide.

If there is a god, I can almost guarantee that Aburto is far more in tune with him than Eyring, Oaks, or Nelson are.

 We are witnessing an outpouring of revelation that is both soul-stretching and exhilarating.
—Bonnie H. Cordon
This seems like such a weird turn of phrase.  My first thought was that stretching isn't the word she wanted because when you stretch something it keeps the same volume but becomes thinner and more prone to tearing or breaking.  What she means is that this is soul-expanding, right?  

Except maybe not, because since there's no such thing as immaterial matter (thanks, Joseph), our spirits probably have an actual physical size, so they're not going to grow.  So maybe when she says soul-stretching she means like a muscle—by stretching it, we're making it more flexible and less prone to tearing or breaking. But if that's the context she intended, does that mean that if we hadn't received this revelation, we'd have run the risk of snapping our souls like an un-stretched hamstring on the first play of a football game?  That doesn't make any sense either.

It feels like something that's supposed to sound cool but is actually meaningless.

Knowing your identity and purpose will help you align your will with the Savior's.
Bonnie H. Cordon
This is in no way specific to the women of the church, and it's not even that specific to Mormonism, but I really hate this teaching.  We're not allowed to want things for ourselves because we need to bring our will in line with God's will.  That might not be so bad if we could see how God's will is benefiting people, I guess, but when his will at the moment appears to be punishing people who want to stop child molestation, it can be tough to comprehend why we're supposed to stand behind what God's organization insists is his will. Sure seems weird that God would give us moral agency and not want us to use it.

The context of this quote is Cordon's explanation of how the Young Women's organization will change, including a shift in the theme from we to I, which she believes will help girls better internalize the principles.  She also announced that Beehive, Mia Maid, and Laurel classes are going the way of church roadshows and that each bishop should create and organize classes according to the specific needs of his ward.  This is a very small step, but I think it's an encouraging sign—if the church realizes that one-size-fits-all arrangements exclude people because they never actually fit everyone, they could make some substantively positive changes.  If they took this outlook and applied it to sexual identity, maybe we could finally welcome those who are not straight or not cisgender into the church in a way that is honestly inclusive instead of condescendingly inclusive and cosmetically inclusive.  I don't expect that to happen, of course, but the fact that the church is instituting a policy that admits that what works for someone may not be best for someone else does seem like a bit of a paradigm shift.

Now you might reasonably ask—I can just hear you thinking—how a man of any age can know what mothers need.  It's a valid question.  Men can't know everything, but we can learn from lessons by revelation from God and we can also learn much by observation....
Henry B. Eyring
Well...if nothing else, props to Eyring for having a little more self-awareness about things than the two guys who will follow him.

But our zeal to keep this second commandment must not cause us to forget the first—to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.  We show that love by keeping his commandments.
Dallin H. Oaks
Apply that last sentence to any relationship you have with a human being and let me know if it sounds fine.  Even when you were a child and you didn't clean your room like your mother told you to, did that mean that by not keeping her commandment you were expressing a lack of love for her?  Don't be ridiculous!  Teaching that we show God love by keeping his commandments makes God sound like an emotionally abusive parent.  Don't we show love for God in many of the same ways we show love for our families and friends—by corresponding frequently, by defending him when others say disparaging things, by taking an interest in things that matter to him, and by giving of our time?

But regardless, these two commandments he's referring to aren't terribly difficult to follow, except perhaps when it comes to the magnitude of the first one.  Oaks is saying that in our zeal to love our fellow human beings, we shouldn't overlook our obligation to love God.  What he doesn't realize is that he's skewing things in the other direction.  To Oaks I would say:  Our zeal to keep this first commandment must not cause us to forget the second.  Because, as the scripture goes, the second is like unto the first.  These are of equal weight.  You don't get to prioritize the one you like more.

Because of that love [for one another] we cannot let our love supersede the commandments and the plan and work of God, which we know will bring those we love their greatest happiness.
Dallin H. Oaks
Explain to me how loving a gay person supersedes the commandments and the plan and work of God.  

Oh, no!  I'm expressing appreciation for the existence of a person who identifies as a different gender than their biological sex at birth!  Suddenly the commandments don't apply and my expression of love has made the work of God meaningless!  

As if the only things God makes plans or devises work around are sex and gender. You can offer love, emotional support, and friendship to an intersex person and also spend hours every week indexing names for the temple, serving as a stake activities director, and raising children with the expectation that they will serve missions.  Being a good person to a marginalized member of society and an especially marginalized member of the church does not mean you're prioritizing your relationship with that person above the work of God.

And I like how Oaks's reasoning here is based on the idea that we know what will bring people their greatest happiness.  Okay, sure, but that doesn't mean you treat them like crap to get them to see your way of thinking.  That doesn't mean you try to force them to be happy on your terms.  I "know" that abandoning the church will bring those I love their greatest happiness, but you don't see me treating them like who they are is inherently wrong because of my superior knowledge of what they should really want.

This is like if you visit a doctor and he starts talking about the importance of good nutrition.  He insists that you eat almonds.  Almonds are good for you.  Almonds have protein.  Almonds taste good, too.  Before you know it, your doctor has you pinned down on the examination table and he's literally cramming fistfuls of almonds into your mouth.  If he'd just shut up and listen for a second, he'd know that you have a nut allergy and that even though he's right that almonds are healthy, they're not healthy for you.

Modern revelation teaches that God has provided a plan for a mortal experience in which all can choose obedience to seek his highest blessings or make choices that lead to one of the less glorious kingdoms.  Because of God's great love for all of his children, those lesser kingdoms are still more wonderful than mortals can comprehend. 
Dallin H. Oaks
Okay, so chill out, then!

You're not even trying to save these people from destruction and eternal torment, you're trying to save them from being a little less deliriously happy in the afterlife.  That kind of takes a lot of the moral urgency out of your crusade against the "distortion" of marriage and the "confusion" of gender.  It also means that your claim in last October's conference that these are the primary methods Satan uses to destroy the work of God doesn't make any sense.  If he can distort marriage and confuse gender but all the people he's succeeded in convincing still have an eternal glory more wonderful than mortals can comprehend...what is Lucifer's big win here? 

Further, we must never persecute those who do not share our beliefs and commitments.  Regretfully, some persons facing these issues continue to feel marginalized and rejected by some members and leaders in our families, wards, and stakes.
—Dallin H. Oaks
Wow, I wonder how that happened.  It's not like the church teaches that breaking the law of chastity is a sin next to murder and that the Proclamation on the Family clearly states that gender is an eternal characteristic and that those who try to change their gender or try to love someone of the same sex are helping to destroy the work of God.  It's not like the church tried to punish children of gay parents for marriages those children had nothing to do with.  It's not like Elder Packer taught that you might need to slap the gay out of someone or President Kimball taught that homosexuality leads to bestiality.  It's not like gay marriage was treated as apostasy and rape was not.  It's not like the church leaders have repeatedly used abusive, dismissive, trivializing, or denigrating language to talk about people who don't fit their narrow strictures of human sexuality.  
it doesn't follow the meme format exactly, so sue me
Meanwhile, we must try to keep both of the great commandments.  To do so, we walk a fine line between law and love, keeping the commandments and walking the covenant path while loving our neighbors along the way.  This walk requires us to seek divine inspiration on what to support and what to oppose and how to love and listen respectfully and teach in the process.
—Dallin H. Oaks
This entire address seems to be structured around Oaks's premise that the first two great commandments may seem mutually exclusive when it comes to LGBT people.  He's spending ten minutes explaining that you actually can love gay people and God at the same time—it's tricky, but it can be done.  Which is just ridiculous.  Loving God and loving your neighbor regardless of your neighbor's sexual identity should not be difficult.  It doesn't require walking a fine line, it just requires love.

He might as well have started his talk by saying, "I know it looks like a Logitech mouse and an HP laptop aren't compatible, but let me explain a few troubleshooting steps you can take to get them to work."  Meanwhile, any normal person is sitting in the audience thinking, "Well, I just plugged mine into the USB port and it worked right away.  Why are we spending so much time explaining a problem that doesn't exist?" 

I'm not sure Oaks has ever listened respectfully to a LGBT member in his life.  If he had, maybe he'd be less of a dickhead about this stuff.  And I think the fact that he believes teaching should be part of the listening process is a good indication that he's not realllllly going to listen.  When you're listening respectfully, you're open to the possibility that maybe you're the only one who needs to learn something.  If you start listening with the presupposition that you'll also be setting the speaker straight on a few things (a regrettable unintended pun that I'll just leave in there because it's oddly on-the-nose), then you're not actually planning to absorb the information the speaker is going to give you.

Also, "while loving our neighbors along the way" is Oaks changing one of God's commandments.  The second great commandment is to love our neighbor, therefore loving our neighbor is an integral part of the covenant path.  It's not something we merely do along the way.

Our walk opposes recruitment away from the covenant path and it denies support to any who lead people away from the Lord.
—Dallin H. Oaks
An important distinction was not made here.

If you really loved your neighbor as yourself and loved God, what you would have said would have been more along the lines of "and it denies support to the efforts of any who lead people away from the Lord."  You don't stop supporting people because they're trying to influence others to leave your religion.  You stop supporting their philosophies, perhaps, but you don't stop offering emotional, material, and spiritual support.  If you have a lesbian daughter and she tries to talk her girlfriend into stepping away from the church, maybe you'll have some stern conversations with her about how she's jeopardizing someone's eternal salvation, but you're not going to kick your daughter out of the house or withhold love from her.  You can support your daughter as a person even if you aren't supporting  some of the actions she's taking.  

This is exactly the kind of statement that can subtly reinforce members' feeling of justification when they do marginalize and reject people.  Oaks is usually pretty careful about his language.  I have a hard time believing he unintentionally failed to draw that distinction. 

Little did we who heard that prophecy [from President Kimball] 40 years ago realize that among those the women of this church may save will be their own dear friends and family who are currently influenced by worldly priorities and devilish distortions.
Dallin H. Oaks 
He's talking about how women are supposedly going to fix the LGBT crisis in the church, but that's not the part I care about.  I want to zoom in on those last two words:  devilish distortions.

Check your stopwatch, folks, how many minutes have ticked by since Oaks lamented how LGBT members feel marginalized?  Well...when you refer to their identities, their deeply personal struggles, and their choices as devilish distortions, how the fuck do you expect them to feel?  Is your alliteration really worth further alienating a mistreated and demoralized portion of your population with reprehensible rhetoric? (See, I can do it too.)  These people feel marginalized and rejected because your bigotry and your hateful words have convinced too many your followers that marginalizing and rejecting them is not merely acceptable but advisable.  Instead of expressing your regret, instead of talking about how we all need to be kinder and more civil, instead of giving advice about how carefully we need to balance love and law, start expressing your personal apology, start talking about how we all need to be more loving and more aware, and start giving advice on how we can burst the fetters of our Puritan prejudices.  Because right now, you're adding fuel to the fire you're claiming to be dousing.

Also, I like how we're calling it a prophecy even though we don't really have any indication that it's being fulfilled.

Every woman and every man who makes covenants with God and keeps those covenants and who participates worthily in priesthood ordinances has direct access to the power of God. Those who are endowed in the house of the Lord received a gift of God's priesthood power by virtue of their covenant along with a gift of knowledge to know how to draw upon that power.
—Russell M. Nelson
So if women have been given a gift of the priesthood power, then what's the big deal?  If they already have the power, why can't we just start ordaining them?

Since the priesthood is the power and authority of God, if women really had direct access to it, they'd be able to be ordained as priesthood holders.  If the concept of a priesthood "holder" still means anything in Mormonism, then to draw upon this power of God, women still need to go through a man.  Which makes it indirect access.  So either holding the priesthood doesn't mean anything anymore or Nelson is flat-out wrong.

Now, a little word of warning.  There are those who would undermine your ability to call upon the power of God.  There are some who would have you doubt yourself and minimize your stellar spiritual capacity as a righteous woman.  Most certainly, the Adversary does not want you to understand the covenant you made at baptism or the profound endowment of knowledge and power you've received or will receive in the temple, the house of the Lord.  And Satan certainly does not want you to understand that every time you worthily serve and worship in the temple, you leave armed with God's power and with his angels having charge over you.  Satan and his minions will constantly contrive roadblocks to prevent you from understanding the spiritual gifts with which you have been and can be blessed.
Russell M. Nelson
If you still think you haven't been adequately blessed with priesthood power, you just don't get it.  Satan is deceiving you.  If you'd stop listening to Satan, you'd understand and everything would be fine. 

It thrills me when I learn of priesthood leaders that eagerly seek the participation of women in ward and stake councils.
Russell M. Nelson
Which means that he hears about it happening, not that he instructs his subordinate leadership to ensure that it happens.  Isn't it great when there are situations in the church that aren't as sexist as the other situations we haven't lifted a finger to prevent? 

I praise that man who deeply respects his wife's ability to receive revelation and he treasures her as an equal partner in their marriage. 
Russell M. Nelson
I'm not sure "treasures" was the best word to choose here.  It has connotations with the concepts of possession and ownership, and that's really not what we should be going for when we're talking about a woman as an equal partner.
From the dawning of time, women have been blessed with a unique moral compass - the ability to distinguish right from wrong.
—Russell M. Nelson
Now he's just making shit up.  First of all, Russ, you've used the word "unique" in a way that completely contradicts its definition.  If fifty percent of the world's population has this moral compass, this moral compass is not unique.  Look it up.

Secondly, this is doctrinally nonsensical.  Because everyone has the knowledge of good and evil, ever since that fateful snafu way back in the Garden of Eden.  And every member of the church has access to the Holy Ghost, which can tell you all things that ye should do.

So this whole platitude is meaningless.  Not only does he try to make it sound better by calling it unique when it's not unique, but he forgets that men have the same thing anyway, which actually moves it even further away from being unique.

Also, if women have better moral compasses than men, why aren't we putting women in charge?  I'm sure this is absolutely not what Nelson is saying, but if we had some female prophets somewhere down the line, would we have ended the racist ban fifty years sooner?  Would we have completely avoided the November 2015 policy and its concomitant messes?  Would Sam Young have been spared excommunication and would his suggestions have made their way into church handbooks under a female president of the church?  If Nelson is right about women's morality, it sure sounds like God has made some awful decisions by continuously putting men in charge, thereby providing more possibilities for his church to screw things up.

Let me be very clear about this:  if the world loses the moral rectitude of its women, the world will never recover. 
Russell M. Nelson
Again, meaningless.  Women make up about half the population of the planet.  If half the population of the planet loses its moral rectitude, it doesn't matter which half we're talking about—we're toast. 

If these are the best ideas you can come up with to convince women that they're important in Mormonism, that's not great. 

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