Author: Alison Moore Smith

What is Mormon Doctrine?

What is Mormon Doctrine?

For decades I’ve been fascinated at the regular conflation of doctrine, policy, and practice among members. We tend to claim the policy of today as not just practical, meaningful, and inspired, but as doctrine. Until it changes and we forget all about it. One example that comes to mind is the “doctrine” from my childhood of only taking the sacrament (and only passing the sacrament tray) with the right (covenant-making, clean, dextro) hand and never with the left (unlucky, dirty, sinistro) hand. Somewhere between the church of my childhood and my 30s, this teaching disappeared from all teaching manuals, missionary discussions, and the gospel principles class. (My search was not exhaustive and I haven’t renewed that effort, but I could not find this teaching in any current materials at the time.) 

Church Sticks with Boys

Church Sticks with Boys

As Dave Banack wrote yesterday, in spite of some public huffing and puffing, the church has decided to continue the relationship with the Boy Scouts of America. They have also decided to continue to seem unaware that the first word in the organization’s title makes it gender-exclusive. With equal concern for the substantial number of youth who live outside the United States and Canada, the Church will continue to evaluate and refine program options that better meet its global needs. The correct wording should be “with equal concern for the substantial number of male youth who live outside the United States and Canada.” The powers that be, again, haven’t noticed that it’s not “youth who live outside the United States and Canada” who don’t have access to scouting. It’s male youth who live outside the United States and Canada and female youth from every corner of the globe. In other words, there are far more female youth without the resources, infrastructure, incentives, support, and awards than…

Women in General Conference: It’s Not a “Primary Voice”

As I watched the first General Women’s Session of conference (at least the first not retroactively declared as such) last night, I was once again taken aback by the vocal styling of the female speakers. As much as I love hearing women speak, almost every time I hear one in a general church meeting it requires extraordinary effort to focus on the message while ignoring the twinge in the back of my jaw at the awkward, stilted speech patterns. I respect and admire these women, but I much prefer to read their words than listen to them. As soon as the first woman had uttered two sentences, I became apprehensive about all the social media posts that would refer to the “Primary voice.” Women are always accused of assuming a strange, forced lilt , as if all those listening are mentally handicapped and need special accommodation in order to understand the message. While thinking about it again this morning, it occurred to me for…

Incredulous About Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

Incredulous About Joseph Smith's Polygamy

Entrenched in Mormon Culture I am a 7th generation Mormon who grew up in Utah County. I attended church all my life, had regular family scripture study and FHE. My dad was a BYU math professor and my mom a devout scripture scholar. I graduated from seminary and graduated from BYU (with all its required religion courses) and married a 5th generation, returned missionary in the temple. And I didn’t learn that Joseph Smith personally practiced polygamy until I was in my 20s. I had heard the story about Emma pushing Eliza down the stairs, causing a miscarriage in her jealous rage. But it was all fabricated nonsense created by anti-Mormons trying to defame the prophet. Like everything else that looked or sounded unsavory. Everyone knew about the public polygamy in Utah. Every year our elementary class toured the Beehive House, complete with all the wives’ bedrooms and  fairly open discussion about managing the logistics. Polygamous ancestors were a dime a…

Ordain Women – the Joke Is On You

Ordain Women - the Joke Is On You

I just read the “hilarious” post on Andy Kano’s blog titled: Some LDS Women Want The Priesthood? Well LDS Men Have Some Requests Too. If you don’t want to read it, in a nutshell it’s a “comical” slapdown of Ordain Women in which he demands equality by, you know, providing a room where men can nurse their babies (I mean who wants to see all that exposed chest hair!), adding padded priesthood room chairs, and equalizing other disparities that he, apparently, thinks (in that über gut-busting way) are equivalent to not being able to share in the power of God and all that silly stuff that no one really wants to be part of. To be clear, I have a wee tendency to be sarcastic. And I like parody and can enjoy good satire. I guess that’s what Andy was trying to accomplish. But I think he fails because he’s part of the church “power structure” ridiculing those who aren’t…

To LDS Seminary Teachers Everywhere

Seminary Teacher Problem

My husband and I are both graduates of LDS seminary. I, by the skin of my teeth after a lingering bout with mononucleosis and a pile of home study booklets. Sam, after being on seminary council and a master seminary bowler. So far our children have attended 18 total years of seminary instruction in two states, at church buildings and seven different released-time facilities, and with at least 37 different teachers. We have three daughters who are seminary graduates, one daughter who is a current enrollee, and two sons who will be joining the ranks in the next few years. I am a true seminary lover. By and large I have been thrilled with the instruction given. And that is no hyperbole. The teachers are dedicated, knowledgable, interesting, and have an inimitable ability to gain rapport with even the most bullheaded teenagers. (I know. I was one.) Yes, I’ve known non-paid, early morning seminary teachers who managed to go the…

Dumb Reasons for Exclusively Male Priesthood

This post is a follow up to Kaimi’s thoughtful post I’m a Mormon, and I believe that women… For the record, I don’t actually “believe that women should be eligible for Priesthood ordination.” Rather, I think it would be helpful and I see no overriding reason why it shouldn’t happen. Neither do I see scriptural/doctrinal evidence to show that the scriptural “man” means “mankind” most of the time — but only males when it pertains to the priesthood. I do not believe the issue has been addressed completely. Authoritative statements seem to indicate a long-term acceptance of cultural patriarchy rather than any attempt to address how it contrasts with our more inclusive culture or to see if changes can, indeed, be made to include women. My hope is for divine clarification on the matter of gender in the church as well as eternally. Below I will address a number of statements I have heard over the years with regard to…

Single Sisters Unite – and Babysit

The following appeared in a ward bulletin this past week. It was forwarded to me by a friend. Edited only to remove identifying information. [The friend noted: the person who wrote it is new and feels very inadequate and would probably feel horrified to know it was being discussed in the public sphere. But, well, it needs to be.] Thursday, February 14 at 6:30 pm the Relief Society is hosting a Couples Dinner and Fireside. Come enjoy a nice evening with your spouse and gain some insight on how to strengthen your marriage. We will have dinner and babysitting in your home provided. If you want a babysitter please let Jane Doe know so she can arrange it for you. If you live outside of Kolob and would like to stay the night in Kolob…let Jane Doe know and we can arrange that as well (staying with members, not a hotel ;)). Can you tell we really want you to…

Earthly Father, Heavenly Father – Earthly Mother, Blank

This week a number of my Facebook friends shared a video from the Mormon Channel, titled Earthly Father, Heavenly Father. It kept showing up in my timeline, and finally I watched it. I’m generally a fan of the church’s public relations offerings, so I expected to like this short. I mean, who doesn’t love fatherhood? Instead, the film made me sad. Before playing the video, I saw the blurb underneath: Men on Earth have the opportunity to become fathers and experience some of the same joys that our Heavenly Father feels for us. Fatherhood is a divine responsibility to be cherished. What is the female corollary? Women on Earth have the opportunity to become mothers and experience some of the same joys that our Heavenly Mother feels for us. Is this true? Does she watch us? Interact with us? Listen to our prayers? What does she feel for us? How do we know? Within the first few seconds, we see…

Priesthood Power and Seduction

A defining moment in my religious life occurred when I was 11-years-old and sitting in a typical Sacrament Meeting.  A boy who had bullied me — at church, at school, in the neighborhood — for six years was sustained by the ward after getting the Aaronic Priesthood. Sitting the the pew it hit me squarely that his behavior had little do to with his obtaining “eternal power and authority of God.” That being “worthy” meant mostly being male and 12 years old and that I would never be “worthy” to  “act in His name for the salvation of His children” because I was a girl. I had understood that the church has gender distinctions that were inexplicable to me since I was four. As I stood outside the font watching my dad baptizing my sister, I felt sorry for my mom. I leaned over and said, “When I get baptized, I want Dad to baptize me, but I want you…

GAGA: The Insidiousness of Assuaging Guilt with Government

By Samuel M. & Alison Moore Smith On August 11, 2012, a politically charged discussion began on Facebook among some church members. One man posted a link to an article written by his former dissertation advisor, Steve Schneck. While the article did little to claim ownership of “subsidiarity,” it did bring out some strong opinions. [Note: The Facebook post and comments referenced here were not private. They were posted on a wall that (at this writing) is still set to public availability. Originally this post quoted the actual conversation as it occurred. I was asked to remove some of the actual quotes and the names. I have done so, but would have preferred to leave the real quotes so that the reader could judge the veracity of the statements as opposed to a paraphrased version. I will do my best to leave the actual intent intact. If the commenters are willing to have their names and/or actual quotes presented here,…

No Women Allowed: Why Exclusion Makes the Priesthood Awesome

No girls allowed

In the name of full disclosure and in order to clarify my agenda, if any, note I tend to agree with Ralph Hancock a great deal of the time and to disagree with Joanna Brooks about as often. In addition, even before I began blogging in 2003, I wrote for Meridian Magazine. (I was one of the original three in the “Circle of Sisters.”) In his recent, two-part review of Joanna Brooks’ The Book of Mormon Girl, Ralph Hancock responds to Brooks’ negative response toward gender differentiation in the church. While I believe it minimizes this differentiation—with women being excluded from holding the much-touted, much-taught “eternal power and authority of God”—by calling it merely “role differentiation,” Hancock made a particular statement that has continued to run through my mind. Those who are not simply content with accepting the Church’s authority on such matters might thus consider the possibility that Priesthood responsibilities and rites of passage serve purposes particularly appropriate to…

Church and the Value of Girlie Things

Girlie Church

Often in the quest for equality in the church programs for girls and boys, women talk about how much they would have loved to do all the scout activities. As I said in the Boy Scout Redux, I was very envious of many parts of scouting. I love rafting, I pitched in the first girls’ little league in Orem, I ran a marathon to “celebrate” my 40th birthday, and I played intramural flag football and co-ed softball at BYU up until I was past my due date with my second pregnancy. But I don’t love everything “boyish.” I was a ballroom dancer and put myself through college, in part, with pageant winnings. So I’ve got a serious girlie side, too. So what do girls want? They don’t necessarily want a Boy Scout clone with their gender inserted. But they do want something that’s in the ballpark with regard to resources and recognition. When my brother was at the Jamboree, my big…

The Boy Scout Thing Redux

It started when I was about four-years-old. My oldest brother became a Cub Scout — and got a uniform and badges and all sorts of awesome awards and activities. As soon as I could read, I began pouring over Boys’ Life…and coveting. We didn’t even have Achievement Days/Activity Day back then (not that it compares, but still), so I begged my parents to let me be a Brownie in the Girl Scouts organization. Alas, the church leadership had strongly recommended avoiding the heathen group, which left the girls with…nothing. For 43 years I’ve carried this uneasiness about the disparity between the programs provided for boys and girls, between the budgets allotted to the boys and girls, between the recognition given to boys and girls, about the excuses given for the disparity. As the mother of four girls, it bothers me more now than when I was young. Even now, girls have a years-long program that results in a certificate and…

Can God Proscribe Behavior?

First of all, I want to be clear where I’m coming from. I would call myself a faithful member of the church. I pretty much go along with all the “orthodox” Mormon stuff. I’m not cafeteria. I’m not New Order. I’m stereotypical, boring, Happy Valley Mormon — except that I despise scrapbooking. Second of all, I think asking questions, searching for insight, and being uncomfortable with parts of Mormonism don’t make me, ipso facto, unfaithful. Nor do I think doing so is bad, wrong, or problematic. In case you haven’t noticed, I have problems with church gender issues and polygamy. And leaders who micro-manage. And serving in Primary. But not too much else. Third (of all), I would like sincere feedback. Hold back on snark, please. I’ll censor freely. In my last post, “Shunning the Unbelievers“, a subject came up on which I’d like more input. The idea was presented that if we want “things to get better” we have…

Shunning the Unbelievers

I didn’t see anyone suggest “shunning” — or being rude or unkind — as being appropriate. But I do keep seeing repeated claims that it’s wrong. It seems a straw man that keeps being beaten down. First, yes, I have gay friends. Most of them were childhood friends, most of them former LDS. The rest are from my experience in performing arts (stereotypical, but true) or clients. I simply don’t run across a lot of gay folks at church or in homeschool groups or in playgroups, which is where I spend most of my public time. The “dilemma” some have, I believe, has more to it than has been suggested. First, I actually think there is some VALUE to having unacceptable behaviors stigmatized by a culture. Does homosexuality rise to that level? Does out of wedlock pregnancy? I don’t know, but culture certainly can impact how readily someone gets involved in a particular behavior. Do I ever “shun” someone based…

Serving on the Sideline

Commenting on my controversial/popular (also tedious/stultifying) post “Does Gender Matter?” — asking if it’s reasonable to claim both that gender matters enough to make all sorts of exclusions and that it doesn’t matter enough to require more equal representation — led me to describe a long-held frustration: Men create worlds, men direct the work of the gospel, men bring to pass immortality. Whatever we see God doing are things men can anticipate doing should they be exalted. What will women do? Will we still be in the Relief Society room asking the bishop for permission to get someone to teach a lesson? I have no idea and know of no doctrine that gives any clarification on the issue. Given our penchant for avoiding discussion of Mother in Heaven and the historical absence of recorded female role models, I’ve always been unclear about which gospel principles apply to “mankind” and which only to men. Answers to these questions are often on…

“[The Church] Was Wrong”

Yesterday Jake Tapper asked John Huntsman about the church’s “racist rules” of the past. Huntsman said, “I think it was wrong, plain and simple. I think it was wrong.” When the church ban on giving the priesthood to blacks was lifted, when I was 14, every single LDS person I personally knew rejoiced. My mom ran to the stairs shouting to tell us. We jumped up and down. In our mostly Mormon community of Orem, Utah, people literally flooded into the streets to hug and talk as word spread. Over the years I have come to my own conclusions about why it happened. The answer I’m comfortable with is that due to the racism of pretty much everyone at the time, the church might not have survived had blacks been treated equally by the already crazy, weirdo Mormons. (Although I admit, I wish we’d used the same reasoning to ban polygamy from our history instead of blacks.) As I watched…

Does Gender Matter?

Gender LDS

Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. ~ The Family: A Proclamation to the World Gender is part of who we are and who we have always been. It is important. It matters. The church uses gender to delineate authority, callings, and roles: By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. ~ The Family: A Proclamation to the World Last night my third daughter graduated from seminary. On the back of the program, I noticed all those in the seminary “chain of command” for her seminary program. There were 24 people listed from the Timpanogos Region Board of Education, the Utah Valley North Area, the Church Educational System Executive Commitee, and The Church Board of Education. Of those 24 people, two were women. (Those…

Are These Rooms Modest?

Salt Lake LDS Temple Celestial Room

Follow up questions: Is it possible for any room to be immodest? Can (lack of) functionality render something immodest? Can extreme departure from the norm render something immodest? Would rooms designed to draw a lot of attention be immodest? Can cost make rooms (or houses) immodest? (I don’t know how much these rooms cost, but a lot more than my family room!) If so, what is the price cut-off for modest rooms/houses? Just in case it isn’t clear, this post really isn’t about these rooms. It is about the parameters of modesty. Also to be clear, this isn’t about judging the house sitting next to yours that has rooms like this. Or maybe it is because, really, do you have a house next to yours with rooms like this? Tell it! [Note: Hat tip to Julie. OK, complete plagiarization of Julie’s shoe modesty post with minor edits for which I, alone, am responsible.]

What About Portable Temples?

In his Sunday morning session remarks in general conference, President Monson told stories of great sacrifice offered to reach temples for sacred ordinances. He told of those in the Amazon who travel thousands of miles to the temple in Brazil. He told of the dedicated Tahitian man who — with his two sons — spent a total of six years, living away from the family, working in nickel mines to earn the money to get the family to the New Zealand temple. Given the recent local emphasis from the church on keeping families together, I was surprised to hear a story of a father and two sons leaving the mother and eight other children alone for six years being presented as a good thing. I had to wonder if there wasn’t a better way. President Monson said: No sacrifice is too great, no price is too heavy, no struggle too difficult in order to receive those blessings. There are never…

The Purpose of the Prayer Roll

Today I was sent a FaceBook request to join a “prayer chain page” to pray for a woman hospitalized in Texas. I don’t know the sick woman and only distantly know the woman making the request. A similar thing happens on some email lists. People post, requesting others to pray for someone they know but those on the list do not. There are two things about this that strike me as being odd Given all the people I actually know who need help — on all different levels — it would seem a strange use of time (and spiritual favors?) to pray for people I don’t know at all. The implication is that the more people who pray for someone, the more likely it is that God will respond. These thoughts led me to the prayer rolls. For those who don’t know, the prayer rolls are lists of names that are written down and placed on the altar during temple…

United Order Vs. Communism

United Order vs. Communism

Looking back at last year’s MOTY post, I came across a comment I had not seen before. Having been raised hearing about the vast differences between communism and the United Order — and how communism was actually a counterfeit of God’s community — I was surprised that the comparison was being made. This was coupled with a discussion I had two days ago with Belinda, one of my children attending BYU. She just started a church history class and we were talking about the first chapter in her text. It discusses the divine nature of the founding of the United States and how this land was the only place on earth the gospel could again be restored. Given the current political climate, when more and more of America’s founding principles are seen as outdated and flawed, I thought I’d present some quotes from past church leaders on the differences between the two systems, as well as some support for the…

How Much Does a Mormon Wedding Cost?

For a decade we lived in Boca Raton, Florida — a city with a synagogue on every corner where you were much more likely to be invited to a bris or bar/bat mitzvah than any other religious ceremony. Boca had a single ward that varied between fairly thriving (when IBM had a campus there) to barely surviving (when they moved out) and spots in between. But few in the area seemed well-versed in Mormon culture or doctrine. One day I hosted a meeting for the room mothers for oldest daughter’s kindergarten class. When the women walked into the living room, one saw a picture of a temple on the wall. “What is that?” “That’s the Salt Lake Temple. It’s where Sam and I got married.” That’s when the fussing started. They were all amazed and impressed at the grandeur of it all. It took me a minute to realize that it was the imagined cost of renting such a “castle”…

Leadership and Self-Flagellation: Sharing Your Sins with the World

Nate’s thoughtful post inspired a great discussion. Andrew spoke up to say: …even though Church leaders could and should stress their own imperfection before Church members, they don’t…but instead they play into this paragon of virtue imagery that people put on them. Wm Morris responded with: I have no desire to see more self-flagellation on the part of our leaders. And I don’t see the paragon of virtue imagery — when general authorities to talk about themselves as persons, they are very often self-deprecating and even talk about their imperfections. “Self-flagellation” is is kind of a stretch. Exposing our own imperfections and struggles isn’t akin to beating ourselves silly in the town square. I think Andrew makes a good point. While I’m sure there are examples to support the latter position, I can’t think of many off the top of my head. The most vivid personal example from our general leaders I can remember is the recollection of of one…

Institutionalized Lying

Currently I serve as the Primary chorister in my ward. (Call it the curse of anyone who can sing and direct music.) The assigned song for March was “Follow the Prophet.” In case you’re not familiar with the song, it was written so that children around the world can mumble through the 400 verses, followed by yelling out the chorus at the top of their lungs. One verse is about Jonah, as in the guy with the great fish problem. It has this line in it: When we really try the Lord won’t let us fail. I had long forgotten this verse until last month. To be completely honest, I felt terrible teaching this verse to the kids. It’s patently untrue. It’s bogus. It’s a setup for all sorts of future disillusionment. Why do we do this to our children? [Note: As originally posted the song line read, “If we do what’s right the Lord won’t let us fail.” As…

Do Titles Matter?

Wife of President.

There is a long-standing tradition in the church to use honorific titles identifying priesthood positions for men at just about every level beginning when they become missionaries. Elder, Bishop, President. Women — even those who hold similarly named positions — are generally referred to as simply “sister.” In my 45 years in the church, I can recall less than a handful of times when a woman was referred to by title. When I was 19 we moved to England while my dad took a sabbatical from BYU. My mom soon made a dear friend in the mission president’s wife. We spent hours and hours helping her fulfill her various duties. (My mom out of friendship, me out of a desire to hang out with cute missionaries.) This was more than a full time job. Upon returning home, I started paying attention to the Church News announcements of new mission presidents. The notices generally told about the man who’d been called,…