Thursday, October 05, 2006

Women and Authority:Re-emerging Mormon Feminism

The book "Women and Authority:Re-emerging Mormon Feminism," edited by
Maxine Hanks, is now online (except for one chapter by Michael Quinn).
This is an excellent collection of articles on Mormon feminism.=20
While some readers may not agree with the various authors'
interpretations, it does provide a solid framework of Mormon feminism
from different angles and perspectives,.

Table of Contents and Preface

Re-emerging Mormon Feminism:

The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven
The Historical Relationship of Mormon Women and Priesthood
Empowerment and Mormon Women's Publications
Historical Mormon Feminist Discourse=97Excerpts

Mormon Women and Authority:

An Expanded Definition of Priesthood?: Some Present and Future Consequences
Mormon Women as "Natural" Seers: An Enduring Legacy
Non-Hierarchical Revelation
Let Women No Longer Keep Silent in Our Churches: Women's Voices in Mormonis=
The Grammar of Inequity
Healing the Motherless House
Personal Discourse on God the Mother
Emerging Discourse on the Divine Feminine

Mormon Women and Priesthood:

Mormonism's Odd Couple: The Priesthood-Motherhood Connection
Sister Missionaries and Authority
Why Shouldn't Mormon Women Want This Priesthood?
Mormon Women Have Had the Priesthood Since 1843
Put On Your Strength O Daughters of Zion: Claiming Priesthood and
Knowing the Mother
Women as Healers in the Modern Church


An anthology is a good way to approach a complex and controversial
subject. Answers to questions about Mormon women and authority may not
be found in one perspective or pronouncement but in many simultaneous
views and approaches. More than 150 voices speak in this book, with
many more echoing. My hope is that these voices will urge more to
speak and write, and that more books will further elaborate on the
themes contained in this compilation.

I saw a need for this book as I observed diversity and repetition
among the ideas and work of Mormon feminists. I wanted to bring
feminist voices together to show that they and other Mormon women have
much in common. I also saw a need for a broad approach to theology
that would legitimize feminist voices that reemerge from one decade to
the next. This anthology unites some of the feminist perspectives that
have surfaced in Mormonism from the beginning of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints to the present.

Mormon feminism is ever-evolving; many feminist books, articles,
papers and speeches preceded this anthology and many will follow it. I
selected texts about priesthood authority and female deity that
demonstrate an emerging feminist theology. I added a discussion of
feminism to define terms and provide another context for Mormon
feminist theology. Rather than a focused look at women and priesthood,
this book is many voices discussing relationships among priesthood,
authority, God the Mother, authorship, and feminism. Perhaps this
broader approach is more responsive to women's questions. Still, the
central theme is authority.

A discussion of Mormon women's relationship to authority is an
intimidating task. I want to stress that this discourse is not about a
power struggle; it is about women finding identity. This book is
written for and about women; its purpose is to illustrate women's
religious equality, not to lobby or persuade. This is the kind of book
I wish had been available when I was a young woman or a sister
missionary; it could have made a significant difference in my struggle
for identity within a male-identified religion and society.

This book coincides with contemporary trends among religious women in
America and shows that Mormon feminism parallels larger feminist
waves. Female clergy emerged in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1980s in
Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, and Anglican churches. The
Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints began
ordaining women in 1984. In 1989, when the Society for the Scientific
Study of Religion met in Salt Lake City, a panel of Roman Catholic,
Sikh, Jewish, southern Baptist, and Mormon women found a consensus:
women are no longer waiting for approval from male religious leaders
but are moving ahead with feminist theological investigations. This
consensus was reaffirmed in a current book Megatrends for Women which
predicts that feminists are reaching a critical mass and will make
significant changes within traditionally male-dominated religions.

This book also coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Relief
Society (the women's organization of the LDS church), conceived by
Sarah Kimball and founded in 1842 by Joseph and Emma Smith. The book's
feminist voices remind us that the Relief Society once exercised
authority and that "the Society should move according to the ancient

This feminist theology is not radical speculation, but it works within
the scope of Mormon theology and history. I would call this collection
a conservative Mormon feminist theology. These essays utilize
historical, literary, theological, doctrinal, feminist, rhetorical,
qualitative, and several other methodologies. The authors combine
scholarly work with personal insight and conviction. A consensus here
is that Mormon women should be involved in defining their relationship
to religious authority. I have reprinted older, foundational feminist
essays by Linda King Newell, Linda Wilcox and Meg Wheatley to give
them a wider audience. The essays by Lavina Fielding Anderson, Betina
Lindsey, Todd Compton, and Sonja Farnsworth are reprinted to add
dimension to the discussion. Published for the first time are essays
by Edwin Firmage, Carol Lynn Pearson, Vella Neil Evans, Ian G. Barber,
Dorice Williams Elliott, Martha Pierce, Marian Yeates, Michael Quinn,
Margaret Toscano, and myself. And the two chapters of excerpted
personal voices lend their diversity and immediacy to the discourse.

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