The vast majority of members – especially females – oppose the priesthood ordination of women. Which means that if the church were a democracy women would not be ordained. But the church is not a democracy such that orders come from the top-down rather than from the bottom-up, and the top says “no” to the priesthood ordination of women as well. In spite of this, the Ordain Women movement presses forward, urging the church to give women the priesthood without any regard for what the rest of the church wants or thinks. This state of affairs cries out for explanation: How can a movement which is so strongly committed to emancipation and social justice (and I see no reason to doubt their sincerity) try to force people to be free? (more…)
The first priesthood blessing I gave terrified me. How does one, exactly, pull inspiration out of the air and give a blessing? No one ever described this to me; they just said it’ll happen. But I had no idea of how the words would come to me.
We can divide priesthood blessings into two components: the procedure, and the mechanics. We’re really good at discussing blessing procedure; that is, the steps to giving a proper blessing. But how does one pick the words they use? That’s the mechanics.
Below are some of my observations on priesthood mechanics, including an explanation of how I seek out inspiration in a blessing.
Do the Words Matter?
Firstly, do the words even matter in a blessing? Elder Oaks pointed out that in healing blessings, the recipients faith and God’s will, not the verbiage used, determine the outcome. So why should we fret about what to say? The words serve at least two functions in a blessing. First, when the priesthood holder echoes God’s will, the words enliven the spiritual environment where the blessing is given. I think that this can give the recipient confidence in God’s power to heal. Second, inspired words can help the recipient receive personal revelation.
I’ve noted before that LDS speakers and writers occasionally point out that modesty is much more attitude than dress code, but whether dress code or attitude, today’s modesty probably doesn’t qualify as a virtue. Based on how they’re constructed, modesty guidelines conflate being modest with appearing modest. And since appearing modest generally satisfies communal standards, modesty falls short of a quality of character and, subsequently, a real virtue.
The emphasis on appearing modest sets modesty apart from other cherished Mormon values. Few youth leaders would teach youth that in order to be faithful they have to appear faithful. Modesty teachers, however, do follow this process. While I’ve spent a considerable time critiquing current modesty rhetoric, the main goal of this series is to establish an alternative meaning for modesty that avoids the negative elements currently attached to it. My intent in this post is to lay out a modesty that is primarily a quality of being but also gives some guidelines on appropriate dress. To do this, let’s return to what modesty meant before the English humanists radically altered its meaning.
Barnabe Rich was a pioneer moralist. In 1613 he wrote a book explaining the roles that men and women should play in the home. Of make-up wearing, provocatively dressed women Rich said that their appearance provoked:
The first, offence to God, the second, It giveth hope to the vicious, and thirdly, It bringeth destruction to the husbande.
Today, Rich’s list looks unremarkably consistent with current modesty discourse. Yet Rich had been born around the time that modesty had been invented. While up until this point I have criticized current modesty rhetoric, in the last four posts I’ll advance ideas that may strengthen modesty and chastity. But to begin with, I will first discuss modesty’s origins.
A few decades before Barnabe Rich wrote moral advice for married couples, Thomas Elyot, a friend of Thomas More and early English humanist, wrote a widely circulated moral manual for youth, The Boke Named the Governour. Among other things, Elyot’s fame comes from introducing several English words taken from Latin writers. In The Governour Elyot introduced modesty. Elyot rendered modesty from the Latin modestus, citing Cicero, which meant something like restraint or moderation (I’ll return to this in greater detail next time). Elyot’s modesty had no connection to sexual purity, which makes sense given the fact that modestus doesn’t connect to purity either. When the Romans discussed sexual purity they used pudicitia, an ambiguous word relating to sexual virtue including modest dress for women.
While the Romans held pudicitia in utmost regard, this virtue disappeared sometime before the Middle Ages, as did any idea linking modest dress to sexual purity. Medieval writers and artists show that the Middle Ages frowned on public nudity, but for reasons unrelated to chastity.
Speaking at a Women’s Conference event, Sister Claudia J. Dansie said:
Part of our responsibility as parents is to guide, direct, and warn if necessary…. Some topics must be covered as directly as their consequences are lethal—subjects such as modesty, drugs, pornography, and immorality.
Lethal? Assumedly, Dansie meant spiritually lethal. A woman’s bare shoulders expose herself to consequences with eternal implications. Does modesty really merit this language?
Elaine S. Dalton expressed a similarly solemn message calling modesty “the foundation stone of chastity,” explaining “it is essential to our very safety to be modest.” Adding to Dansie’s and Dalton’s severe warnings, BYU president Cecil Samuelson explained that dressing immodesty may be as perilous as breaking the Word of Wisdom:
Most of you have no problems concerning the Word of Wisdom….What we may not realize is…that what we put on our bodies may be as equally corrosive and dangerous as what we might ingest into our bodies. (emphasis in original)
It’s hard to imagine that a woman’s uncovered knees could be as dangerous as her drinking alcohol, especially since the latter has temple-worthiness implications. But because feminine modesty so closely connects to chastity, modesty rhetoric has adopted grave themes.
This is the second post in the New Approach to Modesty series. For post one click here.
Getting ready for a Mutual activity, Chelsea Anderson casually put on a pair of short shorts. “It never occurred to me that they were inappropriate.” She sat down in one of the few remaining seats, prepared for a lesson from the missionaries. With the last couple of remaining seats to her side, Chelsea overheard the missionaries’ whispered argument over who would have to sit next to her. Although she didn’t hear why they argued, Chelsea figured her immodest shorts caused the argument. “I realized that I was making virtuous young men feel uncomfortable.” Thereafter Chelsea dressed modestly.
While her story is unique, Chelsea didn’t have to look far for council to mirror.
Young women, respect your body and help others, particularly young men, maintain virtuous thoughts and actions. (Dress and Appearance: Let the Holy Spirit Guide)
Not only does this sort of council make young women responsible for young men’s actions, but it signals an even greater problem with current modesty rhetoric. But before getting there, we first have to establish what modesty means today. To begin with, modesty rhetoric rarely refers to men. When it does, speakers implore men to dress appropriately for sacred ordinances and meetings, leaving references to virtue virtually nonexistent.
Part of why male modesty rarely focuses on male sexuality could be because male leaders don’t find men sexually alluring.
If leaders applied the sexuality standard equally, perhaps the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet would read a little differently:
Why are so many bloggers talking about modesty recently? Prepare to know.
As a young man writing about human nature David Hume analyzed several common virtues. When he got to modesty and chastity he ran into a problem. On the one hand, society needs healthy families, but on the other, men have a lot of reasons to avoid being good husbands and fathers. What happens when a man finds out the child he thinks is his isn’t? That’s a problem. Hume saw that men won’t be good fathers if they don’t feel reasonably confident that their mouths-to-feed have a biological connection to them (leaving adoption aside). Men need a guarantee. So how do we rest their fears? Hume’s solution is modesty.
Well, chastity really solves the issue. If women stay virtuous, there won’t be any problems (since women always know who they gave birth to, unchaste men won’t cause them confusion). But Hume was a practical man. People have sex in private. He knew that society can’t constrain lascivious acts done behind closed doors. Hume advised that society should shame women into modesty so that they’ll be more chaste. As modesty increases men will feel more assured that their wives stay faithful. The men will then believe they sired the children the women produce, and the great wheel of social order will continue. No joke.
Let’s not crucify Hume for such an uneven approach to modesty. While blunt, Hume hardly broke new ground. In fact, some readers might applaud Hume’s insight. They shouldn’t. Using modesty to curtail chastity issues creates other serious problems, which I will come back to later. We can do better with both virtues by unhinging them and reimaging them. In this series I’ll present how.
This discussion couldn’t be timelier. Mormon modesty rhetoric has exploded in the last decade. In the 1990s only three General Conference speakers discussed modesty. In the 2000s that number shot up to twenty-one. The next highest decade after the 2000s was the 60s, with only eight speakers discussing modesty. BYU devotionals show the same trend. Nearly as many speakers discussed modesty in the last decade as the three previous decades combined (ten and eleven respectively). There are also more articles in the church magazines now more than ever before, especially The Friend. Almost every speaker focused on female modesty, and most of them linked it to sexual purity as Hume did.
Church leaders have connected female modesty to they way they dress for decades. Brigham Young may have been the first to link the two. Here is a selection of his that modern leaders sometimes quote: (more…)
Has anyone seen this video before? It is a young entrepreneur pitching her line of modest women’s swimwear. She obviously has a financial incentive here but her arguments are provocative and sound pretty compelling to me. She cites studies that claim that the more skin women show the less the male brain tends to see them as people. Some sort on evolutionary instinct thing I would guess. Check it out:
So what do you think? Do you find her arguments persuasive? (See her business site here: http://www.reyswimwear.com/)
I rarely use this forum to complain about Mormon culture, but today I make an exception. I will keep it short and sweet. It drives me crazy that we have created a culture which assumes that men and women cannot interact on anything more than a superficial level without great risk of fornication or adultery. This attitude is manifest in a hundred ways large and small. If I were to suggest introducing the possibility of mixed gender Primary or Sunday School presidencies, the “it is improper for men and women to work together” objection would come up almost immediately. From people I work with who are not members, I see examples of mixed-gender friendships which seem entirely appropriate. While there are easily discernible limits within US culture to what degree of friendship is acceptable among married adults of different genders, my perception is that the limits within Mormon culture are noticeably more restrictive. (more…)
For the past couple months the Bloggernacle has been ablaze with a spirit of activism. For a variety of reasons, I have kept my participation in these threads to a minimum, but I thought it might be nice to weigh in with a few considerations which seem to have either been taken for granted or side-lined from discussion. But before I get to these considerations, I probably need to address a few caveats in order to anticipate potential reactionaries, trolls and other replies which tend to bog down rather than forward the conversation. (more…)
A little more than a month ago I came across a BBC program on the subject of fasting. You can watch the whole thing here.
If you don’t have a whole hour to watch I recommend picking up around the 36 minute mark where they start discussing intermittent fasting, or alternate day fasting. The basic concept is to alternate between fasting days and “feasting” days. A fast day consists of 400-500 calories for women or 500-600 calories for men. (You are encouraged to drink all the water you want on fast days). On the feed/feast days you eat whatever you want.
What are purported benefits of alternate day fasting? All sorts of things according to the researchers interviewed. Here are some mentioned in the documentary:
- Weight loss. It turns out that people doing this intermittent fasting don’t normally eat double their daily recommended calories on feed days. They are more likely to eat about 110% of recommended caloric intake so there is a net calorie deficit every week and that means steady weight loss.
- Reduced blood sugar levels. Warding off diabetes is always a good thing, right?
- Reduced levels of triglycerides, bad cholesterol, and blood pressure. They say this is a good thing. Reportedly reduces risk of heart disease and whatnot.
- Improved brain function. Mice on intermittent fasting remain mentally sharp far longer than the mice that were fed well daily. The theory is that humans see similar benefits. Fasting reportedly causes brains to grow new brain cells. Researchers interviewed for the piece think that this is an evolutionary survival mechanism; as we fast our brains quickly get stronger to give us better odds of wrangling up some food to stay alive. (I’ve been told that other studies indicate fasting has been shown to improve student test scores as well.)
(Authorial Note: This post looks long, but if you ignore the appendix section, it should be a fairly quick read. )
Women and the priesthood, wearing pants, sexism, the place of Heavenly Mother, and so forth are all major issues on the bloggernacle these days. The common thread in each issue is whether women are equal to men in the Church. Some people take the apparent inequality as a given, while their critics argue that these people have the wrong perspective. Men and women are equal in the church; these folks just need to look at the issue differently. And so the debate rages.
Generally the discussion goes round in circles because the debaters share an actually unshared assumption: the meaning of equality. I suggest that there are three forms of equality that this discussion invokes, and since discussion partners are often using one or two different forms of equality, they end up talking past each other. We need to fix this if we are going to move the discussion forward.
So these are the three forms: equality in terms of responsibility, acknowledgment, and theology.
Responsibility equality: Women give service. Men lead and give service. Or, if we count leading as a type of service, men give more kinds of service. More than that, the priesthood has a special kind of value with no strong female equivalent. Usually we compare priesthood with motherhood, but a more fitting comparison is fatherhood with motherhood, which leaves priesthood something extra for men, a mark of worthiness, and a special dimension for spirituality in male lives (or also in female lives via worthy men).
Recognition equality: Women get acknowledged for their hard work, but priesthood camaraderie offers a kind of appreciation among men that keeps women feeling on the outside. We have a very appreciative culture for young men making the next priesthood office and going on missions. Young women are far less recognized. And sometimes this starts even in the primary, anticipating the kinds of tracks these two sexes will go on once they reach twelve. Furthermore, the recognition adult women get for their service is often demeaning or overlooked. This would probably be much less of a problem if there were more women in leadership roles.
Theology equality: Men and women have equal access to the celestial kingdom. They both receive revelation. They are (supposed to be) equal partners in the home. In this sense, there is a fairly undeniable equality between the sexes. However, there are also a few theological inequalities. Some women take issue with wording in the endowment. Heavenly Mother remains a largely mysterious figure and therefore an ambiguous role model for women. Nevertheless, on a theological level, the sexes are largely equal.
So what? I hope that this discussion shows that if women are equal to men in some ways, in other ways there are stark inequalities. Does that mean that those inequalities are wrong? That’s a topic for another time. But in the meantime, if we accept that these inequalities are real, we can at least know in what ways they are real. (more…)
I just read an article/post by the always interesting and intelligent Kristine Haglund over at a site called ReligionAndPolitics.org. Kristine’s post is titled “Why Mormon Men Love “Church Ball” and Are Scared of Homosexuality“. Sounded interesting. And the article is interesting. But I have some questions and quibbles with it so I figured this would be a good place to bring them up.
1. Is being kind really “coded feminine”? I see this idea passed around as if it were some self evident fact but it just isn’t. Mormonism, like many other religions, teaches men (and women) to have self discipline, bridle our passions, and be generally good and productive members of our families, communities, and overall societies. I don’t really see what is particularly feminine about that.
2. Church ball is not really all that different than pick up ball anywhere else. Most church ball happens on weekdays either before work or after weekday activities. The games are pretty similar to any pickup hoops game you might get into at the local gym or YMCA. The fact is that men at church ball tend to be significantly less likely to get into fights or start dropping F-Bombs than the guys at the local gym. But perhaps the church ball gets its reputation because expectations for Mormons are extremely high, and yet those blowups, while rare, are not completely absent in church ball.
Also, we rarely bro-hug after ball. Who wants to hug some sweaty bro?
3. I’m not sure Mormon men cry more easily than any other men. Most men love their families intensely and given the proper circumstances would get choked up discussing them. I think Mormon culture just gives men a platform and reason to publicly discuss their loved ones more often than most cultures.
4. Why is effeminate being treated as interchangeable with gay in this conversation? Aren’t there a lot of non-effeminate men who are sexually attracted to other men and a lot of effeminate men who are only sexually attracted to women? Seems to me that treating these two as interchangeable further clouds an already cloudy issue.
(Anyone remember Dana Carvey’s “Lyle, the effeminate heterosexual“? (Warning: PG-13))
5. Mostly, the dots in your post just don’t connect for me. What exactly are you saying? It seems to me that you are implying that because there is a strong fraternal aspect to Mormon culture, that makes Mormon men “scared of homosexuality”. But there are lots of groups that have similar strong fraternal aspects — the military, firefighters, police officers, male sports teams, and so on. In my experience there is nothing about Mormonism that makes Mormon men more “scared of homosexuality” than anyone else. In fact in my experience on sports teams, Mormon men tend to be a lot less mean about the subject than others.
I guess the real problem I see is there is nothing in the article that indicates that there is any significant causal relationship between being a Mormon man and being “scared of homosexuality”.
What say you all?
Blair Hodges recommended recently the writings of N.T. Wright, and so I recently picked up his latest book, Simply Jesus, from audible.com. While I have a whole list of topics I could discuss from it, today while on my commute home, I listened to a bit about John the Baptist that got me thinking.
In Matthew 11:4, John the Baptist sends his people to ask Jesus. “Are you he who comes, or should we be looking for another?” Wright suggests some interesting context to this. The cultural expectation, as we all knew, was for the Messiah to be the King of the Jews, sent from heaven to free the oppressed and to save the Jewish people. John had been thrown in jail basically for calling out that Herod did not have the right to claim he was the king of the Jews. He was unfit for the role. Now John was being oppressed and called to Jesus to step up and fill the cultural expectation of liberating savior. In response, Jesus calls for these messengers to tell John what he’s been about, blessing, healing, and raising the dead. He states this as evidence that he is the Messiah, and then asks the John not be offended by who he is in actuality. He was not the Messiah that was culturally expected. He was and is the true Messiah.
While I could talk here about what it means to be the true Messiah, and how awesome that is, that isn’t my point. My point is that John the Baptist was a Prophet of God, and he didn’t understand what the true Messiah was. He was bound by his cultural understanding.
So here are a few thoughts:
1. Evangelicals claim Mormons are not saved because we worship a different Jesus. John the Baptist worshipped a different Jesus, it could be argued. Is John the Baptist not saved?
2. Many Mormons become disaffected when the see that someone like Brigham Young could believe something as odd as Adam being God. Why would we have higher expectations for Brigham knowing who God was than we do for John the Baptist knowing who Jesus was?
3. Many Faithful Mormons cling to statements by prophets and church leaders which now sound racist or sexist or homophobic. Can we call these things out as cultural understandings of the time? How do we gain clarity on what was cultural understanding and what was truth that is just now currently out of popularity?
Truly, we see through a glass darkly.
When I first joined the church, I learned that prayer works. I learned that we could talk to God as one person talks to another and that he can and does communicate with us as well. Almost 2 years later, I went to the MTC and while there, I was taught that good LDS people say thee, thou, thine, and thy in their prayers. (Not in any sort of negative way, merely in that it was innocuously mentioned that I should use thee,thou, thine, and thy in prayer). I personally found that this detracted from my prayers. I spent too much time thinking about what I was saying and whether I was saying the right things. This took away some of my ability to listen to the spirit, and from the ability to feel any sort of closeness to God. It emphasized God’s “Otherness” and made him feel farther away. Also, it emphasized what I was saying, rather than what I was listening for.
Making matters worse, as a new member, if I ignored this prescription, as it wasn’t working for me, it felt more like something was wrong with me, or I felt guilty because I was “breaking rules”. It labeled me “heterodox” to be outside the norm. So I kept at it, even though it made me feel farther from God. Making matters worse, it bothered me enough that I stopped using sentences which required the use of “You” or “Thee” in them, and so for a while, I was limiting my capacity to pray.
Over time, I have both grown more comfortable saying thee, thou, thine, and thy, as well as more comfortable not feeling heterodox if I do not use those words in prayer, as I have come to realize this linguistic effect is meaningless. I find myself saying “We are thankful for”, rather than “we thank thee” or “thank you for” as this is how my mind apparently has resolved the issue.
Which brings me to my point, it is my opinion that using the words thee, thou, thine and thy are merely a cultural affectation, and are spiritually unnecessary. Furthermore, they can cause unnecessary struggles for those who are converts to the church, creating an unnecessary additional barrier to entry into the family of the church, and in communication with God.
I am not asking members to stop saying thee, thou, thine, and thy, as I realize they are “used to it” and so being asked to not say thee, thou, thine and thy would make them feel a lot like I felt, all those years ago, when I was asked to use thee, thou, thine, and thy. That is not what I want at all. I am asking that we leave more room for you and your not being merely some juvenile form of prayer.
That’s my Opinion. Your Mileage may vary.