Mormon feminism makes slow progress — but it IS progress

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I’m late to the Bloggernacle party of folks discussing this past weekend’s women’s conference, because the truth is I haven’t even seen or heard the meeting yet.

I know, I know. The spirit was willing, but the schedule had me on a redeye flight from California on Saturday. Then I got a little sick (no one over 40 should be allowed to take redeye flights, like, ever), and then, bam, it was a new work and school week with the added bonus of some lovely friends visiting from England.

From the excellent news coverage in the Salt Lake Tribune it sounds like I have a real treat in store when I do sit down to watch the broadcast, featuring some of the following wunderbar things:

1)   A black woman, Dorah Mkhabela of South Africa, prayed for the first time ever in a session of General Conference. It’s about. Freaking. Time. (See here for the joyous Sistas in Zion reaction – at the 53 minute mark they talk about how amped they were about seeing a woman of African descent sitting “in the red chairs” on the stand — and here for FMH’s admission about how clueless whites can be about why this is important.)

2)   We can call it a session of GC now, because also for the first time, the women’s conference was announced as the opening session to lead off the whole enchilada that continues this weekend. This feels like a major step toward equality, with the Church not just stating but actually acting like the women’s meeting is as important as the priesthood meeting.

3)   The women were addressed not only as “sisters” but as “blessed disciples of Jesus Christ.” I don’t know whether this is the first time that has happened, but I’m glad of it. It’s significant when we refer to women as disciples in their own right instead of always relying on relational language, which suggests women’s core identity is synonymous with the roles they play to other people (sister, wife, daughter).

4)   In my favorite development, Pres. Uchtdorf apparently spoke twice about women being daughters not just of a Heavenly Father but of heavenly parents. I understand he also performed an interpretive liturgical dance to express his reverence for Heavenly Mother.

Well, maybe not that last part. I had to see if you were still paying attention.

These are small changes—as the Trib put it, they are subtle. And for some Mormon feminists, they don’t go nearly far enough. Some women have said that this is merely tokenism, that the Church has made tiny concessions in order to mollify some very dissatisfied (and vocal) women in this tumultuous year. These women are angry, and I get that.

And they’re right, to a point. These are tiny, incremental changes in a hierarchy that is, at the end of the day, still run entirely by men, who planned the session and its presenters, and who chose the language about “heavenly parents” and “blessed disciples.” That is the very definition of tokenism. The pace of real change in Mormonism feels glacial.

But as the Sistas say, sometimes you just have to notice progress and celebrate it.

Even if you’ve only completed the first quarter-mile of your 26-mile marathon.

Even if you know that every tiny victory is complicated, every measure of equality hard-won.

Small victories are never insignificant. Let’s rejoice and be glad.

  • Richard Morgan

    I suspect you did it deliberately, but in any case the image conjured by, “he also performed an interpretive liturgical dance” struck right to the heart of one of the things that is so desperately wrong with “priesthood holders”. They take themselves so seriously, it’s as if maintaining a robotically unchanging, grim, facial expression was essential to the job of representing God. Check out Dallin H. Oaks talking about Desire. (Seriously).
    This is the kind of thing that Sylvester Stallone could do really well. But he’s not a Mormon yet, is he?
    Sadly, you don’t even get liturgical dances, not even a celestial knees-up once you’ve made it through the veil in the Temple. You’d have thought that people would feel the need to let their hair down a bit after having sat through the endless, mind-numbing endowment ceremony. Oh well….
    Anyway, Jana, it’s good to see you back in the saddle. This blog is lots of fun.
    Keep up the good work.

  • Richard Morgan

    Just one thing that made me a little sad about your response. You seem to have have missed a rather insidious message in that condescending, “blessed disciples of Jesus Christ.” Who has the power and authority to reveal to the little ladies what Jesus Christ requires of them? Other women, of course.
    Oops – silly me, I got that wrong. Only men can do that, right?

  • Hopeful

    I appreciate the fact that President Uchtdorf stated that we are daughters of Heavenly Parents, but I wish he would have continued that thought throughout his talk. After introducing the fact that we are the product of a Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father, in his very next breath he dismisses our Mother as though She didn’t exist by saying, “The creator of life loves you. He is mindful of you. He knows everything about you and sees you clearly as you REALLY are. He loves you today and always.” Why couldn’t he have said, “The creators of life love you. They are mindful of you. They know everything about you and see you clearly as you really are. They love you today and always.” Why introduce Her only to dismiss Her with his very next comment.

    The brethren keep telling us that we know next to nothing about our Heavenly Mother, (which is a very, very sad state of affairs), but I can’t imagine our Heavenly Mother loving us any less than our Father. I can’t imagine that She is not mindful of us. And I think we can safely believe that She knows as much about us and sees us as clearly as our Father does. Don’t proclaim that we have a Heavenly Mother and then immediately eliminate Her from the picture, giving all of the loving parental attributes to our Father and our Father alone.

    John Dehlin said, “Where is Heavenly Mother in public Mormon discourse today? I cannot find Her anywhere.”

    Well, She was briefly mentioned, and I am VERY grateful for that, but more could have been legitimately said about Her and Her role as our Mother.

  • Pingback: Dorah Mkhabela, första svarta kvinnan att hålla bön på generalkonferensen. | Mormonlady & Friends()

  • Jeff P

    I don’t mean to distract from Jana’s more important point about recognizing and honoring the equal dignity and holy calling of women, but am curious about point #4:
    I have seen Jana mention a ‘heavenly mother’ before in this blog.
    Question for Jana or any LDS friend: Who is this ‘heavenly mother’? Is that just another word for the ‘Sophia’, the ‘feminine’ natures/qualities of God? Is it a literary metaphor, like ‘dame wisdom’ in Proverbs 8 and the Wisdom of Solomon 6? Or, do some Mormons believe that there is actually a second, female goddess, and that we live in polytheistic universe with more than one supreme being(s)?

    When I read the Book of Mormon recently, I didn’t notice a ‘heavenly mother’ mentioned anywhere, and it struck me very much that the authors of the Book of Mormon clearly saw the world as having only one God. I don’t remember the Book of Mormon using any of the feminine imagery for God that we see occasionally surfacing throughout the Hebrew and Christian bible, but maybe I missed it?

  • TomW

    Jana, not to worry about not having yet seen the Women’s General Meeting, because I already saw it on Saturday and can tell you everything you need to know and what to think about it! (just kidding!) You do have a real treat in store when you get around to it.

    I was in the kitchen with the television tuned to BYU-TV when I heard an African voice emanating from the living room. To be honest, I didn’t stop in my tracks, stunned that an African female was offering the invocation. My reaction was more one of smiling internally at yet one more affirmation of the continuing international growth of the church. In hindsight, having listened to the Sistas’ podcast that you linked, I realize that this was clearly more momentous to some of our members than in was to others, but I tend to look at the moving forward of the work to be a very natural progression, and this was the latest manifestation thereof, and it did gladden my heart. (On the other hand, I wish you hadn’t linked the FMH blog – she made me want to pull my hair out!)

    Regarding whether or not last Saturday’s General Women’s Meeting is the first time it was announced as the opening session of General Conference, the official honor might go to the March 2014 meeting. Looking at my April 2014 GC DVD box, it was the first time I am aware that a women’s meeting of any kind was included with the set. The General Relief Society Meeting of September 2013 was not included with the October 2013 DVD box. And the Young Women meetings were not previously included either, something I once chatted with Sister Elaine Dalton about, and she agreed it would be great to include them. For what it’s worth, I’ve NEVER felt like the respective women’s meetings were any less important for my wife and daughters than the General Priesthood Meeting is for myself. I would be interested to see if, at some point, the newly minted General Women’s Meetings would be extended to 2 full hours, or the General Priesthood Meetings reduced to 90 minutes and perhaps extended to prospective priesthood holders ages 8 and up.

    While the exact phrase “blessed disciples of Jesus Christ” may not have previously been employed, the women of the church have been referred to as Christ’s disciples on several occasions in General Conference.

    “As Relief Society members, we both claim and celebrate our place as his disciples.” – Aileen H. Clyde (9/93)

    “In order to do our part as women under the Lord’s plan, we must stand strong and immovable in faith, strong and immovable in family, and strong and immovable in relief. We must excel in these three important areas which set us apart as the Lord’s disciples. Through Relief Society we practice being disciples of Christ.” – Julie B. Beck (9/07)

    Sister Beck’s September 2011 remarks were completely devoted to the discipleship of women:

    “I love the women of the Church, young and old. I have seen your strength. I have seen your faith. You have something to give and are willing to give it. You do this without fanfare or publicity, drawing attention to the God we worship, not yourselves, and with no thought of what you will receive. That’s what disciples do!” – Linda K. Burton (3/14)

    Sister Burton’s March 2014 talk, much like Sister Beck’s three years previous, was very much focused on the discipleship of women:

    With regard to President Uchtdorf’s mention of “heavenly parents,” I’m surprised you respond as if this is a rarity. To the contrary, many church leaders have invoked this terminology in General Conference over the years. I’d include them here, but they are so numerous you would tell me to break it into smaller posts.

    So I will… ;o)

  • TomW

    “Heavenly Parents” referenced in General Conference talks in the 1970’s:

    In April 1972, Elder Henry D. Taylor said: “As Latter-day Saints, we firmly believe that we are brothers and sisters, spiritual offspring of heavenly parents, members of a royal family who once dwelt and associated together.”

    In April 1973, President Marion G. Romney spoke twice of our heavenly parents, 41 years before President Uchtdorf last Saturday: “The truth I desire to emphasize today is that we mortals are in very deed the literal offspring of God. If men understood, believed, and accepted this truth and lived by it, our sick and dying society would be reformed and redeemed, and men would have peace here and now and eternal joy in the hereafter.
    “Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accept this concept as a basic doctrine of their theology. The lives of those who have given it thought enough to realize its implications are controlled by it; it gives meaning and direction to all their thoughts and deeds. This is so because they know that it is the universal law of nature in the plant, animal, and human worlds for reproducing offspring to reach in final maturity the likeness of their parents.
    “They reason that the same law is in force with respect to the offspring of God. Their objective is, therefore, to someday be like their heavenly parents. …
    “The aspirations, desires, and motivations of one who accepts, believes, and by the power of the Holy Spirit obtains a witness to the truth that he is a begotten son or daughter unto God differs from the aspirations of him who believes otherwise, as the growing vine differs from the severed branch.
    “Knowing that he is a child of God, one does not doubt whether to ‘deem himself a God or Beast.’ He is not of ‘chaos … thought,’ driven by ‘passion’ and ‘all confused.’ He is not ‘fix’d like a plant on his peculiar spot, to draw nutrition, propagate, and rot.’ He thinks of himself, as the scriptures teach, possessed of the innate ability, as are all other reproducing offspring, to reach in final maturity the status of his heavenly parents and have ‘glory added upon [his] head for ever and ever.’ (Abr. 3:26.) This is his goal.”

    In April 1976, President Marion G. Romney twice again made reference to our heavenly parents: “as the offspring of God, we inherit the capability of reaching, in full maturity, the status of our heavenly parents just as we inherit from our mortal parents the capability to attain to their mortal status; and that since God has a body of flesh and bones, it was necessary and perfectly natural for us, his spirit offspring, to obtain such bodies in order that we might be like him; that coming to earth was the means provided for us to obtain these bodies. I further explained to him that this mortal probation provides us the opportunity to, while walking by faith, prove ourselves worthy to go on to perfection and exaltation in the likeness of our heavenly parents.”

    In April 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball was quite direct about it when he taught: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sponsored the advancement of women from its very outset. It was the Prophet Joseph Smith who set forth the ideals for womanhood. He advocated liberally for women in the purest sense of the word, and he gave them liberty to fully express themselves as mothers, as nurses to the sick, as proponents of high community ideals, and as protectors of good morals. …
    “The Prophet Joseph gave us the Relief Society organization to advance these high purposes for Latter-day Saint women. That society today is a worldwide movement holding membership in national and world organizations for the advancement of women.
    “Finally, when we sing that doctrinal hymn and anthem of affection, ‘O My Father,’ we get a sense of the ultimate in maternal modesty, of the restrained, queenly elegance of our Heavenly Mother, and knowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose her influence on us as individuals to be less if we live so as to return there?”

    In October 1978, Elder M. Russell Ballard said: “Within every human body dwells a living spirit born to our loving, eternal heavenly parents. When parents know this, they can better guide their families by focusing upon the eternal relationships and the true purposes of this life.”

  • TomW

    “Heavenly Parents” referenced in General Conference talks in the 1980′s:

    Sometimes the reference to heavenly parents can be in a more tender context, such as in this October 1980 talk by Elder Ballard: “Later that evening in my son’s home, his mother and I knelt with him and prayed for guidance. When we returned to the hospital and I took my tiny little grandchild’s hand and looked at her, I felt the Savior’s touch. Into my mind came the words, as though spoken by her to me, “Don’t worry, grandpa; I’ll be all right.” Peace came into my heart. The Master’s touch fell upon all of us. Soon thereafter she was released to go home again to her heavenly parents.”

    In September 1983, Barbara B. Smith commented: “In the beloved Latter-day Saint hymn ‘O My Father,’ Eliza R. Snow celebrates in words the continuity of family relationships beyond death and reminds us of a glorious reunion with our heavenly parents. Written as solace to a dear friend, Zina Huntington, who had lost her mother and father in tragic deaths, the well-known lines of this hymn give poetic statement to a great truth revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
    “By looking closely, we can find in that single incident in Church history some of the gifts God has given to strengthen Latter-day Saint women: revealed truth, priesthood leadership, individual talents, and opportunities for service. These are available to every woman and can give us the power to triumph over the most difficult circumstances and move forward in strength.
    “In just rendering compassionate service to a friend, Eliza R. Snow used her talents, responded to priesthood leadership, and gave memorable expression to revealed truth.”

    In the October 1983 conference, Elder Robert D. Hales remarked: “Jesus was born of heavenly parents in a premortal world—he was the firstborn of our Heavenly Father.”

    In September 1986, Barbara W. Winder questioned: “Sisters, the anxiety and disquieting influence of this earth life could have been avoided had we stayed nestled in the household of our heavenly parents, but then how could we have progressed?”

    In that same session, Ardeth G. Kapp read a portion of a letter written by a girl who wrote: “I just wish of all things I could go up and give Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother a big hug and tell them that I made it back.”

    In October 1987, Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone was quite overt in his declaration of the existence of heavenly parents, albeit a certain subset of Jana’s readers will suffer an aneurism while reading it [due warning has been extended!]: “Women are endowed with special traits and attributes that come trailing down through eternity from a divine mother. Young women have special God-given feelings about charity, love, and obedience. Coarseness and vulgarity are contrary to their natures. They have a modifying, softening influence on young men. Young women were not foreordained to do what priesthood holders do. Theirs is a sacred, God-given role, and the traits they received from heavenly mother are equally as important as those given to the young men.
    “Sometimes misguided women or men direct our youth away from their divinely appointed role. Worlds without end, men will never be able to bear children. Every young woman may be a procreator with God and carry a little one under her breast either in this life or in the eternal worlds. Motherhood is a wonderful, priceless blessing, no matter what all the world may say. Priesthood ordination is a blessing to men. There are serious consequences when either motherhood or priesthood is abused or laid aside.”

    In September 1989, Elaine L. Jack taught: “Have you ever been told you are just like your mother, or you have your father’s smile, or all of your family have the same color of eyes? The physical characteristics that we inherit from our parents are obvious. The spiritual characteristics we inherit from our heavenly parents have to be developed. You have been born with all the godlike gifts that Christ has. They are within you, but you have to choose to cultivate and develop them. Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen without our best efforts.”

  • TomW

    “Heavenly Parents” referenced in General Conference talks in the 1990′s:

    In October 1993, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said: “The gospel teaches us that we are the spirit children of heavenly parents.”

    In September 1994, Chieko N. Okazaki remarked: “Faith tells us that our bodies were created through an inspired process, that they were made in the image of our Heavenly Parents, that we have a stewardship over them to keep them sacred and healthy during our mortal probation, and that we will reclaim them as perfect after the resurrection.”

    In April 1995, Elder M. Russell Ballard stated: “Through prophets past and present, God has revealed the doctrines of his ‘great plan of happiness.’ It consists of infinite, eternal, absolute, unchanging principles. From Alma we learn that ‘God gave unto them commandments, after having made known … the plan of redemption’ (Alma 12:32). The plan teaches that all who have or will live on earth are the spirit children of heavenly parents. We lived with them before coming to this earth to receive our bodies of flesh and bone.”

    In that same conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught: “The purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to help all of the children of God understand their potential and achieve their highest destiny. This church exists to provide the sons and daughters of God with the means of entrance into and exaltation in the celestial kingdom. This is a family-centered church in doctrine and practices. Our understanding of the nature and purpose of God the Eternal Father explains our destiny and our relationship in his eternal family. Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them. Under the merciful plan of the Father, all of this is possible through the atonement of the Only Begotten of the Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

    In September 1995, Chieko N. Okazaki commented: “the gospel teaches us that each individual is a precious and cherished child of heavenly parents. We are literally all spiritual sisters. Each Relief Society should be a gathering of sisters who cherish each other, not choosing some to keep and throwing some back. All of us are worth keeping.”

    At that same General Relief Society Meeting, President Gordon B. Hinckley unveiled the great landmark document on our divine parentage, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” wherein it is declared: “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”

    In October 1995, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said: “Consider the power of the idea taught in our beloved song ‘I Am a Child of God’ (Hymns, 1985, no. 301), sung so impressively by the choir at the beginning of this session. Here is the answer to one of life’s great questions, ‘Who am I?’ I am a child of God with a spirit lineage to heavenly parents. That parentage defines our eternal potential.”

    At that same conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson remarked: “There is no other individual to compare with Jesus Christ, nor is there any other exhortation equal to his sublime expression of hope: ‘I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.’
    “This divine entreaty is consistent with the fact that, as begotten children of heavenly parents, we are endowed with the potential to become like them, just as mortal children may become like their mortal parents.”

    In April 1996, Elder Nelson taught: “Trees reach up for the light and grow in the process. So do we as sons and daughters of heavenly parents. Facing upward provides a loftier perspective than facing right or facing left. Looking up in search of holiness builds strength and dignity as disciples of Deity.”

    In that same session of conference, Susan L. Warner said: “Remembering our spiritual feelings draws us to our Heavenly Father and to His Son, Jesus Christ. It gives us a sense of our true identity. It reminds us of what the prophets have recently proclaimed to the entire world, that ‘each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.’ Recalling spiritual feelings reminds us of who we really are.”

    In October 1996, Elder Robert D. Hales remarked: “The doctrine of the family begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.”

    In April 1997, Elder L. Edward Brown revisited the Family Proclamation: “Prophets of God proclaim that ‘all human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.'”

  • TomW

    “Heavenly Parents” referenced in General Conference talks in the 2000′s:

    In October 2000, Elder Boyd K. Packer reiterated the paragraph from the Family Proclamation regarding our heavenly parents.

    In October 2002, Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated: “We need to remember the purpose of our service to one another. If it were only to accomplish some part of His work, God could dispatch ‘legions of angels,’ as Jesus taught on another occasion (see Matt. 26:53). But that would not achieve the purpose of the service He has prescribed. We serve God and our fellowmen in order to become the kind of children who can return to live with our heavenly parents.”

    In October 2003, President Boyd K. Packer taught: “Before we came into mortal life, we lived as spirit children of our Father in Heaven. ‘All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each [of you] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, [you have] a divine nature and destiny. Gender [male and female] is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.’ …
    “Some work through political, social, and legal channels to redefine morality and marriage into something unrestrained, unnatural, and forbidden. But they never can change the design which has governed human life and happiness from the beginning. The deceiver preys upon some passion or tendency or weakness. He convinces them that the condition cannot be changed and recruits them for activities for which they never would volunteer.
    “But sooner or later that spark of divinity in each of them will ignite. They can assert their agency as sons and daughters created in the image of God and renounce the destroyer. That which they had been led to believe could not be changed, will be changed, and they will feel the power of the redemption of Christ. Their burden will be lifted and the pain healed up. That is what the Atonement of Christ is all about.
    “They can claim their inheritance as children of heavenly parents and, despite the tortured, agonizing test of mortal life, know that they are not lost.”

    In April 2004, Julie B. Beck declared: “Oh, that every girl and woman would have a testimony of her potential for eternal motherhood as she keeps her earthly covenants. ‘Each is a beloved … daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine … destiny.’ As spirit daughters of God, women ‘received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth’ (D&C 138:56) on the earth. They were among the ‘noble and great ones’ (D&C 138:55) who ‘shouted for joy’ (Job 38:7) at the creation of the earth because they would be given a physical body with the opportunity to be proven in a mortal sphere (see Abr. 3:25). They wished to work side by side with righteous men to accomplish eternal goals that neither can attain independently.”

    In that same conference, Elder L. Tom Perry reiterated the excerpt from the Family Proclamation regarding heavenly parents as well.

    In October 2005, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught: “The theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints centers on the family. Our relationship to God and the purpose of earth life are explained in terms of the family. We are the spirit children of heavenly parents. The gospel plan is implemented through earthly families, and our highest aspiration is to perpetuate those family relationships throughout eternity. The ultimate mission of our Savior’s Church is to help us achieve exaltation in the celestial kingdom, and that can only be accomplished in a family relationship.
    “No wonder our Church is known as a family-centered church. No wonder we are distressed at the current legal and cultural deteriorations in the position of marriage and childbearing. At a time when the world seems to be losing its understanding of the purpose of marriage and the value of childbearing, it is vital that Latter-day Saints have no confusion about these matters.”

    In that same session, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland told the Young Women: “I want you to be proud you are a woman. I want you to feel the reality of what that means, to know who you truly are. You are literally a spirit daughter of heavenly parents with a divine nature and an eternal destiny. That surpassing truth should be fixed deep in your soul and be fundamental to every decision you make as you grow into mature womanhood. There could never be a greater authentication of your dignity, your worth, your privileges, and your promise. Your Father in Heaven knows your name and knows your circumstance. He hears your prayers. He knows your hopes and dreams, including your fears and frustrations. And He knows what you can become through faith in Him. Because of this divine heritage you, along with all of your spiritual sisters and brothers, have full equality in His sight and are empowered through obedience to become a rightful heir in His eternal kingdom, an ‘[heir] of God, and joint-[heir] with Christ.’ Seek to comprehend the significance of these doctrines. Everything Christ taught He taught to women as well as men. Indeed, in the restored light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a woman, including a young woman, occupies a majesty all her own in the divine design of the Creator. You are, as Elder James E. Talmage once phrased it, ‘a sanctified investiture which none shall dare profane.’
    “Be a woman of Christ. Cherish your esteemed place in the sight of God. He needs you. This Church needs you. The world needs you. A woman’s abiding trust in God and unfailing devotion to things of the Spirit have always been an anchor when the wind and the waves of life were fiercest. I say to you what the Prophet Joseph said more than 150 years ago: ‘If you live up to your privileges, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates.’ ”

    In March 2006, Julie B. Beck told the Young Women: “You have light because you are literally spirit daughters of Deity, ‘offspring of exalted parents’ with a divine nature and an eternal destiny. You received your first lessons in the world of spirits from your heavenly parents.”

    In April 2006, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught the Young Men about their own heavenly parentage, which of necessity means that they have a Mother there: “The priesthood you bear is a wonderful force for good. You live in a time of great challenges and opportunities. As spirit sons of heavenly parents, you are free to make the right choices. This requires hard work, self-discipline, and an optimistic outlook, which will bring joy and freedom into your life now and in the future.”

    At the same session, Elder H. Bruce Stucki remarked: “I testify that the family is the unit and the vehicle through which we can be sealed together and return, as a family, into the presence of our heavenly parents, there to experience eternal joy and happiness.”

    In March 2007, Susan W. Tanner proclaimed to the Young Women: “I know unequivocally that you are a daughter of God. He knows you, He loves you, and He has a plan for you. I know this is a message Heavenly Father wants me to share with you.
    “Latter-day prophets and apostles testify of our divine natures. The proclamation to the world on the family says, ‘Each [of us] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.’ And President Gordon B. Hinckley has also said:
    ” ‘You are second to none. You are daughters of God.
    ” ‘There has come to you as your birthright something beautiful and sacred and divine. Never forget that. Your Eternal Father is the great Master of the universe. He rules over all, but He also will listen to your prayers as His daughter and hear you as you speak with Him. He will answer your prayers. He will not leave you alone.’ ”

    In October 2008, Elder Russell M. Nelson declared: “We, as the Lord’s prophets and apostles, again proclaim to the world that ‘the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.’
    “We further proclaim that ‘all human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.’ ”

    In April 2009, President Boyd K. Packer addressed the Young Men: “You are a son of God. You lived in a premortal existence as an individual spirit child of heavenly parents. At the time of your birth, you received a mortal body of flesh and blood and bone in which to experience earth life. You will be tested as you prepare yourself to return to our Heavenly Father.”

    In October 2009, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said: “We are created in the image of our heavenly parents; we are God’s spirit children. Therefore, we have a vast capacity for love—it is part of our spiritual heritage. What and how we love not only defines us as individuals; it also defines us as a church. Love is the defining characteristic of a disciple of Christ.”

  • TomW

    “Heavenly Parents” referenced in General Conference talks in the 2010′s:

    In October 2011, President Boyd K. Packer addressed the Young Men &Young Women: “Today there are ‘wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth [is] in commotion.’ You, our youth, may feel uncertainty and insecurity in your lives. I want to counsel you and teach you and give you a warning about some things to do and some things not to do.
    “The gospel plan is ‘the great plan of happiness.’ The family is the center of that plan. The family depends on the worthy use of those life-giving powers that are in your body.
    “In ‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World,’ an inspired document issued by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, we learn that in the premortal existence ‘all human beings—male and female—[were] created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic [and was established in that premortal existence].’ ”

    At that same conference, Elder W. Christopher Waddell told the Young Men: “Long before leaving our earthly home to serve a full-time mission, we left heavenly parents to fulfill our mortal mission. We have a Father in Heaven, who knows us—our strengths and weaknesses, our abilities and potential.”

    And again in the same conference, Elder Randall K. Bennett said: “Each of you—as we have been taught this conference—is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents. You do have a divine nature and destiny. During your premortal life you learned to love truth. You made correct eternal choices. You knew that here in mortality, there would be afflictions and adversity, sorrow and suffering, tests and trials to help you grow and progress. You also knew that you could continue making correct choices, repent of incorrect choices, and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ inherit eternal life.”

    In April 2012, Elder Ulisses Soares said: ” To sow in the Spirit means that all our thoughts, words, and actions must elevate us to the level of the divinity of our heavenly parents.”

    In April 2013, Elder M. Russell Ballard taught: “The same priesthood power that created worlds, galaxies, and the universe can and should be part of our lives to succor, strengthen, and bless our families, our friends, and our neighbors—in other words, to do the things that the Savior would do if He were ministering among us today.
    “And the primary purpose of this priesthood power is to bless, sanctify, and purify us so we can live together with our families in the presence of our heavenly parents, bound by priesthood sealings, participating in the marvelous work of God and Jesus Christ in forever expanding Their light and glory.”

    At that same conference, Elder David A. Bednar stated: “The eternal importance of chastity can only be understood within the overarching context of our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness for His children. ‘All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and … has a divine nature and destiny.’ All men and women lived with God as His spirit children before coming to the earth as mortal beings. The Father’s plan enables His spirit sons and daughters to obtain physical bodies, to gain mortal experience, and to progress toward exaltation.”

    Further at the same conference, Elder Christoffel Golden Jr. declared: “Seen in its true light, the doctrine of the Father and the Son is the doctrine of the eternal family. Every human being has existed previously as a spirit child with heavenly parents, with Christ being the Firstborn of the Father in this heavenly family.”

    But wait! There’s more! Elder Dallin H. Oaks also weighed in at the April 2013 conference: “From modern revelation, unique to the restored gospel, we know that the commandment to seek perfection is part of God the Father’s plan for the salvation of His children. Under that plan we are all heirs of our heavenly parents.”

    But we’re not done yet. At the same conference, President Boyd K. Packer remarked: “We know that we are spirit children of heavenly parents, here on earth to receive our mortal bodies and to be tested. We who have mortal bodies have the power over the beings who do not. We are free to choose what we will and to pick and choose our acts, but we are not free to choose the consequences. They come as they will come.”

    In October 2013, Carole M. Stephens taught: “As covenant sons and daughters, do we have faith in our Heavenly Father and His eternal plan for us? Do we have faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement? Do we believe that we have a divine nature and destiny? And in our efforts to achieve this destiny and receive all that the Father has, do we understand the importance of receiving priesthood ordinances and making, keeping, and renewing our covenants with the Lord?
    “We are beloved spirit sons and daughters of heavenly parents, with a divine nature and destiny. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, loved us enough to give His life for us. His Atonement provides the way for us to progress on the path to our heavenly home, through sacred priesthood ordinances and covenants.
    “These priesthood ordinances and covenants were restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and today President Thomas S. Monson holds all the keys of the priesthood on the earth.”

    At that same conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson said: “We are eternal beings—spirit children of heavenly parents. The Bible records that ‘God created man in his own image, … male and female created he them.’ Recently I heard a chorus of children sing the beloved song ‘I Am a Child of God.’ I wondered, ‘Why haven’t I heard that song rendered more often by singing mothers or faithful fathers?’ Are we not all children of God? In truth, not one of us can ever stop being a child of God!”

    Further at the same conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks commented: “Knowledge of God’s plan for His children gives Latter-day Saints a unique perspective on marriage and family. We are correctly known as a family-centered church. Our theology begins with heavenly parents, and our highest aspiration is to attain the fulness of eternal exaltation. We know this is possible only in a family relationship. We know that the marriage of a man and a woman is necessary for the accomplishment of God’s plan. Only this marriage will provide the approved setting for mortal birth and to prepare family members for eternal life. We look on marriage and the bearing and nurturing of children as part of God’s plan and a sacred duty of those given the opportunity to do so. We believe that the ultimate treasures on earth and in heaven are our children and our posterity.”

  • TomW

    From Jana’s link to The Sistas, I did find this observation at the 60:37 mark to be noteworthy:

    “It seems like the Mormon feminists do not respect the female leaders of our church, and our organization. It seems like they don’t respect, or reverence, the women’s meeting the same way that they do the men’s meeting. So I feel like, you know, I feel like if you’re always looking at me with a critical eye, you’re going to see the flaws. And instead of being encouraging of the things that – ‘hey, tell me how we’re gettin’ it right’ – and after you’ve told me how we’re getting it right, then let’s have a conversation of things that I can improve. But if you come at me, and you’re just telling me what to improve, and you’re looking at it from a perspective of, you know, ‘you allowed the men to speak longer than the women at the women’s meeting,’ then I’m gonna, I feel a little salty about that. You know, I am, because it’s like you’re looking for all the wrong things, you’re not actually watching this to see how God is tryin’ a reach you. You’re actually looking at this to be critical of it …”

    I pray that Latter-day Saints around the world study the words of this past weekend, and prepare themselves to be receptive to what will be taught this coming weekend, to sincerely ponder “how God is tryin’ a reach you.” I hope we strive to learn what we need to change in our own lives rather than lying in wait to pounce upon the first sign of something which ruffles our feathers.

  • Richard Morgan

    TomW – I hardly think that a long tradition of treating women as second-class citizens is just the “first sign of something which ruffles our feathers.”
    Just like the “Brethren” you speak with an ugly condescension which justifies LDS women’s frustration.
    Interesting that God is trying to reach women through…men! Why can’t he do it directly?

  • TomW

    Richard, I disagree with your assessment that the LDS church has “a long tradition of treating women as second-class citizens.” That there are some who choose to interpret things this way does not mean that the rank and file accepts this assessment.

    I also disagree that either the Brethren or I “speak with an ugly condescension which justifies LDS women’s frustration.”

    Condescending would be to communicate with kid gloves rather than to discuss things as fellow adults. If grown up discourse doesn’t suit some people, that still doesn’t render ones remarks condescending. I save my “Primary voice” for children under 10.

    As for how God chooses to reach His children, He does it through men, He does it through women, He does it through children – frankly, He’ll employ any means necessary to crack our stubborn noggins!

  • Tom – it sounds to me like you need to start a blog of your own. Thank heavens you are not a critical person. Blessings upon you.

  • Fred M

    Whoa. And the point in proving that it’s been said before is what, Tom? That there was nothing special about Pres. Uchtdorf saying it last Saturday? That our leaders merely say the same things that other leaders have already said? Why would anyone want to make either of those points?

  • TomW

    Yes, Fred, that was pretty much the point. My initial intent was to scour for a few representative samples, but there were so many good ones. It was portrayed as if references to “heavenly parents” was a novelty and a breakthrough. Turns out to be fairly common. I’ll trsist the urge to go back even further in time, but wouldn’t expext much of a different result. In LDS theology, the company thought of Single Parents has made reason stare since its origins.

  • Fred M

    I appreciate all the research, and the quotes are great. But it seems that if someone wants to find something encouraging and positive in Pres. Uchtdorf’s talk, it might be nice to let them, as opposed to trying to rain on their parade.

  • TomW

    Fred, I don’t know that it’s particularly “encouraging and positive” if the sentiment is based upon an untruth, that such remarks may be “merely tokenism, that the Church has made tiny concessions in order to mollify some very dissatisfied (and vocal) women in this tumultuous year,” that such remarks are viewed as “tiny, incremental changes in a hierarchy,” when in reality they have been downright commonplace for at least the past four decades (which is as far as’s conference transcripts go; I have access to other resources which could take us back as far as 1897, but it would be overkill).

    I wouldn’t consider President Uchtdorf’s remarks to be “the very definition of tokenism,” and do not see how couching his comments in such terms is remotely “encouraging and positive.” It seems like the same old story of straining at gnats for what amounts to a non-issue.

    If “The pace of real change in Mormonism feels glacial,” then perhaps so does the pace of feminist Mormondom figuring out that things aren’t really as bad as is sometimes portrayed, and the pace of their willingness to receive with gladness the teachings of living prophets and apostles as might be associated with “blessed disciples of Jesus Christ.”

  • Kristine A

    Tom, you need to listen to Allie Isom: tone is everything; and you my friend have an anti-feminism problem. If I don’t agree with what other people say I leave their blogs alone. If I’m interested in learning from them and having a conversation or discussion I will comment. I’m just so embarrassed that nonmembers reading this blog will see you act like this and think it’s representative of mormons. Aint nobody gonna watch Meet the Mormons, they remember meeting you.

  • TomW

    Kristine, I have to agree that tone is very important. But you are mistaken about me having “an anti-feminism problem.” Whether certain feminists have a problem with me, however, is a separate concept.

    I say “certain feminists” because not all feminists are alike. It is quite the broad spectrum. There is a politically far-left subset of feminists with whom I share very little in common. There is a more moderate subset of feminists with whom I share more in common. And there are conservative feminists with whom I not only share a lot in common, but would arguably belong to that category myself.

    It comes back to the question of tone, in some respect, but also in the attitudes and beliefs which often accompany the tone.

    Within the demographic of Latter-day Saints there exists a broad spectrum of feminist thinking as well. And this spectrum likewise includes a certain measure of far-left, moderate, and conservative views. The female leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a rich tradition of feminist energy going all the way back to its origins when its leaders were cohorts of women like Susan B. Anthony. Advocating women’s rights in various facets of life has been standard fare for LDS leaders.

    In the present day, as the church continues to grow domestically and internationally, we see varying manifestations of feminism among the membership of the church, which to a certain degree mirrors the political aspects of feminism that we see in the world around us. Unfortunately this has resulted in a certain politicization of discussions of church administration which may not necessarily be appropriate. There are some Latter-day Saints, generally on the left side of the spectrum, who see the church as being no different than a secular organization, and therefore they seek to superimpose their secular views of feminism onto the framework of the church itself, as if it is a man-made institution subject to manipulation via agitation and shaping public opinion. But a significant aspect of Latter-day Saint belief is that the church isn’t a man-made institution, that it was restored by the Father and the Son, Who stand at the head of the church, directing its affairs through living prophets and apostles who serve as Their mouthpieces to the world.

    And this, again, is where “tone” comes into play.

    There are Mormon feminists who yearn to be ordained to the priesthood and who seek all manner of changes which they see as empowering and fostering equality, but their testimonies of the gospel are such that they stop short of criticizing priesthood leaders and engaging in divisive rhetoric because they believe any such changes, if they are to happen, will be revealed by God to His anointed servants according to His timetable.

    And then there are Mormon feminists who seek the same changes, but who routinely criticize priesthood leaders and engage in divisive rhetoric and demonstrations, believing that the means to their end is to publicly shame or humiliate the Lord’s servants, as if the stumbling block to their aims is purely man-made.

    If we’re going to talk about “tone,” what do you think your average Latter-day Saint is going to take away from the tone of Kate Kelly’s March 13, 2014 Facebook status update, “Come stare down the patriarchy! ‪#‎literallyandfiguratively‬,” as people were invited to join OW’s march on Temple Square prior to the Priesthood Session of General Conference, despite the request of the church to please not do so?

    I’m also curious, Kristine, why you believe that people whose opinions differ in any way from a blog’s author should keep their mouths shut and leave their blogs alone. Jana herself has stated that she welcomes discussion from different perspectives. She isn’t looking for a cheering gallery (though I’m sure positive affirmation is always welcomed!).

    You claim to be “just so embarrassed that nonmembers reading this blog will see [me] act like this and think it’s representative of mormons. Aint nobody gonna watch Meet the Mormons, they remember meeting [me].”

    Personally I believe a fairminded person of any denomination will read my comments and agree that I am representing my position with evidence to support my position, and that I generally avoid personal attacks in the process. I suspect that reaction to my comments will be far more a function of people’s individual predisposition to align with one end or the other of the feminist spectrum, both secularly and religiously, than anything to do with my tone.

  • TomW

    Forgot to mention, I sincerely doubt that anyone will choose to watch or not watch a church documentary based on the comments of a stranger on a blog. I’m not even entirely certain about the commercial viability of the film. I’ve never believed in buying entertainment products made by church members just because they are made by or about church members. I prefer my entertainment to stand on its own, and if it happens to include an LDS aspect, then great. Those who peddle products relying solely upon the charity of Latter-day Saints to prop them up despite woeful production value aren’t generally going to get very far with me. I hope the documentary is a good one, but I don’t have high expectations that it will reach a statistically large non-LDS population.

  • nobody important

    Most of the posts by Tom are responses to false information or rumors being spread by the authors or commenters on this blog. So rather than having an anti-feminism problem, he’s got an anti-dishonesty problem.

  • EG

    The leaders are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    In his 1970s book, “The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri”, Hugh Nibley in an appendix quoted at length from “the Hymn of the pearl”, found in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas. In a parable that runs parallel to some of the elements of the story of the prodigal son, the young prince of a royal household, with a divine father, mother, and elder brother, goes into the corrupt world with the mission to return with a pearl of great price, his soul, and be welcomed home by his parents and clothed (endowed) with royal robes.

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