The Only True and Living Opinion

So this week, the Salt Lake Tribune sponsored a live “Trib Talk;” the topic was “what Mormon women want.” You can watch it here. Afterwards, there was criticism that there wasn’t a traditional or a conservative or a happy-with-the-status-quo (or whatever term you’d prefer) position represented. (There was also criticism that, at least initially, it was planned as an all-white panel, but that’s a topic for a different post.) I have heard that more-traditional women were invited, but either refused or later backed out. There is also this dialogue you can watch, featuring Melissa Inouye, who identifies as an egalitarian feminist, and Caroline Allen, who identifies as a maternal feminist. voices

I have a few thoughts about all of this:

1. I think real-time discussions are really important. I know from personal experience that it is easier to be snarky or dismissive or nasty when writing to and about people you have never met than it is when you are sharing a panel or a real-time video with them. There is, I think, a disturbing lack of civility in some Mormon discourse and I suspect that if instead of dueling blog posts there was face-to-face interaction (where possible), or at least a shared video feed, people would do a better job of modeling civility in their discourse.

2. I want to phrase this carefully and make it clear that I’m talking about “us” and not “them” here, so bear with me. I may be moderate-to-liberal on women’s issues in a Mormon context, but I’m pretty conservative on, say, Book of Mormon historicity. On that topic, I’d hesitate to, for example, appear on a panel defending the conservative position because I believe it as a matter of faith and not because I’ve very carefully weighed the rational evidence and been convinced of it in the same way that I have become convinced to, say, keep honey away from a baby. So one of two things would happen on this hypothetical panel: either I’d use the logical arguments for historicity (which aren’t really the reason I believe in historicity in the first place and, eh, aren’t that interesting to me in any case). Or, I’d pretty much be bearing my testimony, which isn’t admissible evidence in an academic setting. It’s probably pretty likely, even, that I’d end up filling my time attacking petty points or even engaging in ad hominem attacks. Either way, I’d do a pretty crummy job representing.

Let me suggest that something similar might happen with other issues and this may be why it is hard to get more traditionally-minded speakers to participate: they can either share logical reasons (that don’t really undergird their own belief) or they can share their testimony (which isn’t appropriate to the venue and might end up sounding like a sanctimonious attack on the others). Additionally, I’m aware of many people who, when it comes to Mormon women’s issues, take this attitude: “I honestly don’t care whether women are ordained, but I do care about following the Brethren, so I don’t think that lobbying or dissenting or really doing anything to try to get them to change the church is appropriate.” The people in this camp, while traditional on this issue, aren’t going to have much to say on a panel.

This was long-winded, but I hope you take my point: a panel might seem like neutral ground, but it isn’t. It doesn’t matter if the host and/or moderator is scrupulously neutral. Traditionalists are still at a disadvantage. This is why, I think, so many times the traditional position is either left unrepresented or is represented very poorly.

3. A church that spends a lot of time talking about the “one true and living” thing can spawn a culture that has a hard time with the idea that more than one option has merit. This is one of the many, many reasons why I constantly harp on the multi-vocality of scripture: it is not a threatening thing to quickly sweep under the rug but rather an important lesson in itself. We have four (five, if you count the temple) accounts of the creation–and they don’t all agree! Two stitched-together accounts of Noah’s ark–that don’t agree! Two historical records–Sam/Kings and Chronicles–with very different perspectives! Four (four!) gospels!

To take one germane example of a different opinion in the gospels, in Mark’s Gospel, respect is shown to women because they are permitted to move into roles normally restricted to men. In Luke’s Gospel, respect is shown to women as honor is placed on the roles they traditionally inhabit. See the difference? Notice that both of these viewpoints are in the canon.

When we see repeated patterns in the scriptures we are supposed to learn from them. Maybe one of those things we are supposed to learn is that even the really good, inspired people who write scripture don’t always agree with each other–and that’s OK. It is the natural result of operating within what Joseph Smith called “a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.” No opinion, option, or stance can be perfect or perfectly articulated in a fallen world.

When we think that only one opinion can win, we are much more likely to go nuclear and nasty. But if we inhabit a worldview where there can be traditionalists and maternal feminists and egalitarian feminists and it isn’t a zero-sum game, then we don’t have to knock anyone else down. There can be a Book of Melissa and a Book of Caroline; they might have different messages, but they’ll get the same fake-gilt edges and the same naugahyde cover and they can both sit there side-by-side forever and ever. We don’t have to kick either viewpoint to the curb. We don’t have to annihilate the other side.

4. One more thing: it is so, so, so refreshing to see all-female discussions on these matters. We are so very used to men telling women what it means to be a woman that we don’t usually recognize how absurd that is.

26 comments for “The Only True and Living Opinion

  1. In other words, re: (2), there’s nothing neutral about a discourse chamber, regardless of who’s invited to participate.

  2. I surprised myself by quickly realizing there were not non-Americans or non-white women on the panel which raised the question of representation and credibility of the discussion. Do the women in South American and Asia have similar opinions?

  3. Thanks, Julie. This is a splendid list of points.

    You know, they didn’t have a token single woman on the panel, either, until Mica was asked to represent women of color and so coincidentally also represented singles. There was no woman with an obvious disability, no overweight woman, no elderly woman, no lesbian (so far as I know), no uneducated woman — many feminine demographics were not present. I think fault-finding on that score is less than serious criticism; as the panelists made clear, no one was attempting to speak for anyone other than her very own self.

    It was an enlightening, interesting, fascinating, well-conducted panel discussion. I hope there are more such occasions.

    And I wanted to say that before this thread inevitably becomes a primarily male discussion about what women should be, should have said, should want.

  4. I found it interesting that the complaint about the panel being “one-sided” came from someone who refused to participate. I get that it may be difficult for those who hold, say, more conservative viewpoints to participate. But if you refuse to participate when invited, you’re not really in a position to credibly complain that no one there represented your position.

    According to the Tribune, several women with more “conservative” stances were invited to participate. It’s a shame they refused to.

  5. Again, Tim, I think you completely missed Julie’s second point (correct me if I’m wrong Julie). The issue isn’t representation or participation. The point is that certain forms of discourse have been deemed valid or invalid before anyone enters the discourse chamber to discuss the issues. Why would a conservative Mormon want to accept the invitation to participate when her expressions and experiences are epistemically invalidated from the get-go? You can’t set the discursive terms in then dismiss those who don’t agree to them.

  6. “When we see repeated patterns in the scriptures we are supposed to learn from them. Maybe one of those things we are supposed to learn is that even the really good, inspired people who write scripture don’t always agree with each other–and that’s OK.”

    Now THIS is what I call “likening” the scriptures unto ourselves. Excellent lesson from the scriptures that is SO necessary and perfect for our day.

  7. It would be like Bill Nye showing up to a creationism/evolution debate hosted by a creationism museum (which he actually did). You may be at a disadvantage because of the nature of the forum, but you really can’t complain “there were no actual scientists there” or “there were no conservatives there” when you were invited but refused to show. Sure, certain forms of discourse are favored or disfavored, but if you show up to the forum, you can at least express your views. If you don’t show up, you’re left to gripe on Twitter. Perhaps, to some, that’s the preferable method of discourse.

  8. A lot of people thought it a huge mistake for Nye to participate in that debate for precisely those reasons.

  9. I think point #3 is huge. A traditionalist participating in the panel in a sense legitimizes the other views. A woman presenting the traditional view as one among many could be labeled a sympathizer by implicitly acknowledging the other views as worthy of consideration. In our church, mere association can be damaging (not saying that was the reason for not participating, just that it could be a concern for a traditionalist).

  10. I can concede point 2 that it may not be the most fair viewpoint for a traditionalist who only relies on “follow the brethren.” At the same time you can’t say no to participation and then trash the event for not representing you. Pfffft. Either way let’s keep on looking for a way where we can have a discussion.

    I’m interested in finding a way for both sides of the discourse to get along and respect each other. To respect that the Book of Caroline and Book of Melissa are valid parts of the Gospel. But like Mary Ann says, by it’s own nature the traditional viewpoint (Let’s say she is Caroline) would feel weakened by acknowledging there are other valid viewpoints, because Caroline is built on “there is only one way and it is the way I believe.” Whereas Melissa is saying, “I’m here participating in this Gospel, and the church is very great at meeting the needs of Caroline. I’m a little different with a different approach. Can we mix things up and find a way to meet both of our needs?” How can we possibly ever get to a “truce”? Should I
    just give up hope for peaceful co-existence?

    p.s. What the hell is a “maternal feminist” and how can I strike the term from existence? Because I’m egalitarian I’m not maternal? I’ll make sure the kid I’m a SAHM for knows that. Just call yourself a gender-role feminist before the flames of anger melt my face off. smh.

  11. p.s. viewpoint = venue

    also thanks for your two cents, Julie. I always meander over here to see what you’ve had to say about current events, I always look forward to read your take on things.

  12. The Tribune is not exactly a trustworthy host. They have no intention of being fair, no more than the Deseret News. You can’t rake people’s deeply held beliefs over the coals, and then stare around in wide-eyed wonder that they aren’t queuing up for a chance at it.

    I wasn’t invited, but had I been, I would have likely refused. I have better things to do than play patsy as the token conservative invited only to create a facade of legitimacy. Plenty of those more sympathetic to the Church have tried, and most of us left have no interest in it.

    I find most of those of a traditional viewpoint acknowledge quite a few other viewpoints as valid, they just don’t see why they should have to apply them.

  13. Much effort has been expended to harmonize the different scriptural accounts and correlate the different instruction manuals for all classes and organizations so that all the different gospels and perspectives are now assumed to say the same thing. Like a fruit salad that has been too long in the fridge, everything now tastes the same, but we are forced to eat it amyway.

  14. “Traditionalists are at a disadvantage..neutral ground…when we think one opinion can win…” I don’t agree with your point number 2 because you are casting that discussion as if it was a debate or somehow set up for for someone to win or lose. Maybe this speaks to just how polarized and politicized our space has become when we have to see every interaction, forum or discussion in this light. I watched the panel and it wasn’t represented as a debate. The women did very little debating of each others opinions. There opinions and perspectives were different from one another – though sure the variation was constrained by the individuals that accepted.

    I think it was sad that more traditional (and I am not sure what that means, there were plenty of women there who are clearly active and card carrying Mormons – two of them teach or study at BYUs) women didn’t participate. Even it it was to bear testimony or to articulate the benefits of the status quo or express greater optimism that the current system is changing at a reasonable pace. Even there were lots of church positive talk and optimism – praising the tradition, praising the sister missionary change etc. After watching that panel I have a hard time believing that anyone on it would have “attacked” a panelist with different views. They might have expressed or articulated a disagreement or different viewpoint. If traditionalists are afraid of that they can’t go around accusing progressive mormons of creating echo chambers. They are chambers of there own making and it makes me wonder in what forums they DO discuss these issues and just how diverse the perspectives brought for true consideration and understanding by the decision makers in the church can possibly be.

  15. It would be my feeling that most LDS sisters would feel that greater female participation in LDS governance is important. The only thing that is really up for discussion is how much and how fast.

  16. Notwithstanding #4, I want to acknowledge that this all is a valuable contribution, to appreciate especially #3 and your efforts to counterbalance in that area, and to observe that (in my opinion) #2 and #3 are probably correlated, meaning that the traditionally minded on a subject are relatively more likely to also think that only one opinion can win.

  17. That was a pretty thoughtful take. I don’t know if it adds up to any solution, but understanding the problem is good.

  18. I have not been able to get the link to work on a variety of browsers and platforms–anyone have an alternative link to view it?

  19. ‘Traditionalists’ reified as a category doesn’t seem to do enough work – may have been kept in the fridge too long. Thanks Julie for the ‘constant harping’.

  20. As to your point #3, I’ve always been weary of the phrase, “One, True Church.” Adam Miller, the brightest mind in Mormon Thinkdom, knows this concept is silly:
    “The gospel is not a proprietary system. It’s open sourced and many of the ideas and practices that are most decisive in living a joyful life are shared broadly across the world’s traditions and cultures.”

  21. “the only true and living church in which I the Lord am well pleased.”
    The Gospel is proprietary, but available to all for free, without money or price.

  22. 1. Some of those D&C sections are to taken with a grain of salt. Joseph himself said he was full of weakness and I don’t think his revelations were exempt from those weaknesses.
    2. Technically you have to pay for temple ordinances, indirectly. No tithing = no temple recommend. So it’s more like a free app that allows you lower levels for free but then makes you pay to advance to higher levels.

  23. Joseph and people who believe he was a prophet disagree for this reason:
    ‘I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught.”

  24. alotlikelaman (21 & 23):

    You are proof texting Adam Miller, and I know he would cringe at your description of him. Your argument about the Joseph’s revelations couldn’t even survive the test of D&C 1. There is a serious cost associated with full participation in the LDS Church, and 10% isn’t even the beginning of it. Try a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” on for size.

  25. Moderator: please delete my previous comment with the four hyperlinks (I believe it is still awaiting approval). It was poorly written and not well thought-out. Thank you.

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