Words are Wind

At first glance, a Mormon feminist would appear to be a kind of contradiction in terms. A feminist is someone who advocates for complete equality between the sexes, an objective to which the rigid gendered social and familial structures proposed by Joseph Smith and his successors are diametrically opposed. But that’s neither here nor there. I don’t particularly give a fig about the contradiction. That feminism is making inroads into the LDS church is a qualified good thing, as is any step taken towards liberalizing the religion.

But if you’re going to keep tabs on this sort of thing, I would discourage you from using The Huffington Post as a metric for gauging progress. Despite his complete inaction on issues that for years have been practically screaming to be resolved, Pope Francis is still the HuffPo’s golden child, his every word a great stride forward to cleaning up the Church of St. Peter. Now, they’re pulling the same crap with Dieter F. Uchtdorf and the LDS church.

Who is Dieter F. Uchtdorf, you ask? I didn’t know until today, and, going out on a limb, I am going to assume no one at the HuffPo did, either. He’s the Second Counselor of the First Presidency, which means, in simple English (of which Joseph Smith was, apparently, not overfond) that he is a high-ranking member of the church selected to assist LDS President Thomas Monson. He’s a big wheel, without a doubt, but far from the biggest the church has to offer.

So what did Herr Uchtdorf do that has the HuffPo in a tizzy? He “surprised” Mormon feminists by referring to women as “Blessed disciples of Jesus.”

Dieter F. Uchtdorf addressed the audience — sitting in the giant Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City or watching via satellite in chapels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints across the globe — not just as “sisters” but also as “blessed disciples of Jesus Christ.”

In a speech about living out one’s faith joyfully, Uchtdorf, second counselor in the church’s governing First Presidency, referred twice to women as “daughters of heavenly parents,” alluding to the Mormon belief in male and female deities.

And, for the first time, the charismatic German leader described the meeting as the opening session of the church’s 184th Semiannual General Conference. Until now, General Conference has referred only to the two-day gatherings held during the first weekends of April and October, with the women’s meeting seen as a separate event.

Saturday night’s meeting also featured the first-ever prayer at a session of General Conference by a black woman, offered by South African Dorah Mkhabela, a member of the LDS Young Women’s General Board.

Maybe if I were a Mormon I would find all of this an encouraging sign, but it all looks like hollow patronizing twaddle to me. Without giving women the priesthood and thereby the ability to directly affect change within the church, giving them their own day at the General Conference is as pointless as a gesture as calling as women “blessed disciples” instead of “sisters”. It makes no difference whatsoever.

If the LDS church were honestly and sincerely trying to embrace feminism, would they have created the Young Women General Presidency as a puppet organization to, apparently, reinforce support for traditional Mormon gender roles?

“We have our own roles on the earth — from daughter, mother, leader and teacher to sister, wage earner, wife and more,” Marriott said. “Each is influential. Each role will have moral power. … Our small acts of faith and service are how most of us can continue in God and eventually bring eternal light and glory to our family, our friends and our associates.”

This is same tired shit we hear from misogynist evangelicals and their female apologists. “Women have power”, they argue, “a different kind of power than men have”. Which is true, in the same sense that black people had their own water fountains in segregation-era Alabama. They have their roles, yes, but their roles are far from equal, and there’s little to no freedom to reject such roles if they find them displeasing.

Who knows. Maybe Uchtdorf has his sights set on the Presidency. Maybe change will come after years of laborious waffling of Vatican-like proportions, trying vainly and hilariously to change perceptions without actually changing church policy.

But I’m still skeptical.




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