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Woman: "The Crowning Creation and Glory of the Human Experience"

With Mother's Day approaching I want to take a moment to reflect on the beauty, wonder, and sacred call, of every woman, as a mother. To be a mother, is gender specific, and no male, however many attributes he may possess, that are similar, can ever replace, in the life of a child, or for that matter the plan of salvation, that of Mother -- called of God. 


In a world that would do away with gender specific roles, both physical and spiritual, the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are clear on the role and divine destiny, eternally, of the daughters of Eve. 




That so many, even among our active members, choose to disregard these truths, here in mortality, it is not redundant to pause briefly, and revisit The Family: A Proclamation to the World


A few months ago I was approached by freelance writer, Frieda Klotz, working on an article for Forbes Woman. She requested an interview with me which, reluctantly, I gave. Her questions were focused on the role of Mormon women in the Church -- a controversial issue, for some, to say the leastAfter providing my direct answers, to her inquiries, a good month passed and I hadn't heard back from her. I decided to contact her to see if she was still planning on using the interview. She informed me that she was no longer working with Forbes. 


My first reaction was one of relief. I struggled, somewhat, with a few of the answers I had given her, and wondered how they would be perceived, especially within the Church, and particularly with my readers here. I'm generally quite guarded about speaking of those things that others would take as criticism toward the Church. However, after careful consideration, and with Frieda's blessing, had decided to post the interview here, as I felt the content important. Needless to say I have not done so -- yet.


But, after listening to a recent Q&A with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, following a beautiful apostolic speech that he gave at Harvard, (Which I highly recommend.) coupled with Mother's Day, which centers on the divine role of women, the timing, now, seems perfect. 



The Role of Women in the Mormon Church
Frieda Klotz' Interview with Kathryn Skaggs

Here are the questions that I'm interested in. I'm trying to get a
handle on the role of women within the Church -- and what it's like to
be a Mormon woman!

Let me begin with a bit of a disclaimer, in that I fully acknowledge my inadequacy to represent all Mormon women in the LDS Church. Like all women from one generation to the next, we change based upon the lessons of the past and the hopes of the future. Mormon women, within our culture, are no different.

1. Would you say that Mormon values hold benefits for women in
general? What are those benefits?

I would definitely say that Mormon values, or beliefs, hold benefits for women in general. First of all, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is the formal name of the church, doctrinally hold women in the highest esteem.  Recognizing that Adam, being the first man, was not complete without the woman Eve.  She is not second to him, but literally together they become whole.  Another important concept in Mormon theology is the belief that no person, singly, can reach the highest degree of glory in heaven.  A temple marriage between a man and a woman is the highest sacrament in the LDS Church and required to inherit the kind of life that God lives.  This understanding has great value to women around the globe.


2. Do you feel that the Mormon church places any restrictions on women
that are problematic?

The answer to that question depends upon individual women in the church and their personal background, perspectives and experience.  For instance, I personally have no problem that Mormon women do not exercise priesthood responsibilities in the church.  On the other hand, a minority of active women in the church do wish otherwise.  Generally Mormon women are comfortable with the patriarchal organization of the LDS Church.  It is a large part of Mormon culture.  Although that’s not to say it’s a perfect earthly system. After all, we are not perfect people, right? 

Personally I’ve found my experiences as a Mormon woman, in the LDS Church, very much affected by the men who hold authoritative positions.  And I suppose that’s because I have often throughout my adult life served in leadership positions available to Mormon women.  When men in the church have a firm grasp on the Mormon doctrine of womanhood, and that although men have been given the responsibility to lead in the church, women are equal in the eyes of God – things go quite well.  And I will say that this has generally been my experience and is the way it should be.  And yet I have seen and experienced what is referred to in the church as “unrighteous dominion” where a priesthood leader will diminish the thoughts, opinions and position of a woman based on his leadership position over her.

There are a handful of leadership positions for Mormon women in the church, locally, who serve in these capacities under the direction of local priesthood leaders.  I have served in a number of these positions over the years and have found great fulfillment doing so as a woman in the church.    

However, in our homes it is different – men and women are encouraged to counsel together in all things pertaining to their families, as equals, and preside accordingly.  I think that younger people in the church are doing this much better than their parents.  I have three married daughters and am much impressed by how they delegate responsibilities with their spouses.  And equally I’m impressed with how these younger Mormon men are responding to greater equality in their marriages.  I’ve always felt that a good motto to live by is “every generation better”.  I see great application to this concept, in the LDS Church, with understanding and implementing proper roles between men and women.

Joseph Smith, founding prophet of the LDS Church, taught that teaching the members correct principles was the way to go, and then allow the people to govern themselves.  This is often a process that requires time and experience to get important things right. I’m happy to report that I see much improvement as church leaders continue to counsel members in these areas.

3. Margaret Toscano has said in a PBS interview that "there are some
things in the culture that are very damaging to women". Do you have
have any thoughts on the conflict she mentions between Mormonism and
feminism? (I should add that she also says, "there are a lot of
empowering things in the culture.").

I’ve already given you some of my personal thoughts on Mormon women and priesthood authority in the church, in my answer to the previous question.  I’m going to address her assessment that the “present structure of the LDS Church does not allow woman to develop her full personhood” -- which to me is the most troubling and revealing. Let me begin by saying that it is not my intention to be critical of Ms. Toscano’s experience. Certainly she is a very educated and articulate woman, however I feel that in the particular interview that you are referring to, she displays a lack of understanding of the relationship between the official LDS Church and its members.

It is my opinion that it is not the responsibility or mission of the LDS Church, as an organization, to be the vehicle, wherein men or women, develop their “full personhood” and ultimately, as she also stated, their “sense of worth”. On the other hand, I do believe that the doctrines that are taught in the LDS Church, whether it be via modern revelation or scripture -- do indeed reveal powerful knowledge about our relationship with God, as our literal Heavenly Father.  It is this knowledge that gives members of the LDS Church a sure foundation upon which to build a very personal and intimate relationship with Him – not conditioned upon our activities and/or assignments in the organizational church.  In fact, it is in the family that Mormons believe they can reach their full potential as sons and daughters of God.

This distinction, I believe, is a very important one. Granted, perhaps more so for Mormon women to understand – which I feel most do. I can’t argue that to many outside of the church, looking in, that equality by today’s standards could be questioned. However, for the majority of Mormon women we are content with our understanding of God’s eternal plan for His daughters and because of this our feelings of worth can be secured.   

I’d also like to briefly mention the women’s Relief Society organization in the LDS Church. It is a great resource for helping Mormon women to both develop and express their gifts and talents among each other – as well a wonderful vehicle for service both within the church and in our local communities. I have a great love for this arm of the church that has a mission to help strengthen families and individual testimonies of Jesus Christ. I served as a president in this organization as a young mother and was greatly inspired by so many good women of great diversity. These examples of strong women of faith and confidence in their life’s choices continue to inspire me.


4. How would you feel if Mitt Romney were elected president?

After observing the current attempts to discredit Mitt Romney based on his Mormon faith, I would be most happy about him being elected as president because of what it would ultimately indicate about the American people in general.  I think that alone should be important to all of us.

5. What do you think are the biggest misunderstandings that
non-Mormons tend to hold about Mormons (if it's possible to
generalize).

Beside the constant assertions that Mormons are not Christian or that we belong to a cult, I think the biggest misunderstanding about Mormons is a concern that we are not open about our religious beliefs which leads to a feeling that we are being secretive in some way. Of course this is highly perpetuated by both anti-Mormons and the media who are hoping to dissuade people from even considering a Mormon for president, so it’s not surprising that it continues to be a problem for members. I think most Mormons are very open and would love the opportunity to help others better understand our practices and beliefs. Really, the theory that Mormons are secretive just doesn’t quite fit when you consider we have over 50,000 missionaries, worldwide, willing to tell anyone willing, to open their door, all about us!  

###

I've taken the liberty to transcribe one particular question, asked of Elder Holland, by a young woman, during the above mentioned Harvard annual Mormon 101 Conference, and his beautiful and profound answer -- of which I hope that every LDS woman is blessed to hear. Since listening to this recording, weeks ago, Elder Holland's words have remained with me, and these truths have seared their way deeply into my soul. I think, after listening to Elder Holland's words, that you will better understand why I chose to finally post my interview with Frieda Klotz, on the role of Mormon women in the Church.

Note: Please do NOT quote Elder Holland from my transcript. Although I have been meticulous in my transcribing, what I believe I heard, in the recording, I have no authority to have done so. If you want to quote him, you need to go through the same painstaking labor of love that I did. In saying this, I recognize that my transcription is most likely less than perfect, and therefore I don't desire to be held responsible for any mistakes going abroad on the Internet. If you quote him, as I have, you are accountable -- as am I.

LDS Newsroom: Listen to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's question and answer session at Harvard Law School (In my imagination, this is exactly what it would be like to sit at the feet of an apostle of the Lord, ask him about the most pertinent questions of the day, and let him just teach me. This is a must-listen. Marvelous!)

(10:05 mark)


Question: I have more of a political question than a doctrinal question. I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about the LDS view on women, specifically in light of the war on women, and Mitt Romney's comment that he would get rid of planned parenthood.


Elder Holland's answer:
I won't speak on Mitt Romney or his campaign. We are apolitical in the Church, in the partisan sense. So I won't comment on any candidate or any political party. 
But I can say that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is more committed than any institution, any religious institution I know of, to the dignity and standing; and worth; and merit; and glory of a woman in anyway that I know it to say it to you. 
My wife --- where are you honey? Stand. Stand. (laughter) My wife was a general officer of this Church before I was and I don't know very many churches that do that. But she was the general officer over a global organization, years, years before anybody thought I had anything to offer. That may or may not be exactly what you have in mind in asking the question, because some of those come down to social issues -- contemporary political issues of the day, and you've referred to one. But we are, in principle, and that's where I'd like to keep this. 
In principle I can simply say that we believe that the creation of a woman was the crowning, and final, and most glorified moment of human creation.That we start with light and dark; and land and sea; and we move through fish and fowl; and beast of the field; and we get to Adam and it's still not good enough... and only when Eve was created --- this is our theology. You say it's political, but for me it's theological. That is our theology -- that the crowning creation and the glory of the human experience came with the creation of Eve.  
Now, we need to do better. Everybody needs to do better. I think society needs to do better. This Church probably needs to do better. Maybe your church does. I don't know. I think we all need to do better to make sure that that dignity comes through -- to make sure that this kind of communication is conveyed.  
With one of you in this audience I sat a couple of hours ago, and we talked about this -- how to do it better. How to be more explicit. How to find a better vocabulary. How to make actions follow our language, in our vocabulary and our sermons. I think that's a task that is probably still ahead of all of us. 
But certainly doctrinally, theologically -- I don't mean this to be overly boastful or to be patronizing in anyway, in any other tradition -- but I would put the position of a woman in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints up against the dignity; and worth; and merit; and wonder of a woman anywhere on this planet. We just need to do better to to be able to convey that. We need to be able to make sure that everybody understands that --  including the women in our Church -- which I don't think we've done well enough yet.
###

I really don't want to even try to commentate on such beautiful teaching, by an Apostle of the Lord, on the doctrine of womanhood -- only to say that Elder Holland's words resonated with me, and because of personal experiences, as a Mormon woman, in the Church, have very deep meaning. I trust that many of you will cherish his words as well.


What I will say, is how grateful I am to be a woman, and a mother -- and to have a deep understanding of the role of women in the Church -- and of motherhood. I count this knowledge as a great blessing. A blessing that has come, not only through experience, but through prayer, and seeking to understand -- with faith.





Happy Mother's Day!





tDMg
Kathryn Skaggs


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2 comments :

  1. What a beautiful piece of writing Katherine. As a long-term member of the church I have seen the changing perspectives of a women's role through the eyes of different members of the church - including those of my own family members. And I love how Elder Holland acknowledges that we can all do it better. Unfortunately, at times, words, and actions, can get in the way of how it really is. I love that he also acknowledges this on a personal level, a church level, and an individual membership level.

    So often we take hold of a set of sentences and make judgements on the words contained in them, without exploring the intent, or meaning behind them. We base our actions on a wordly interpretation of them, without exploring the spiritual meaning.

    I, like you, feel privileged and blessed to be a women and mother in the church. To understand the opportunity I have in this life to explore the complete meaning of that, and the opportunity I have to do it on a personal level. I am also grateful for a husband who probably understands this concept even more clearly than I do.

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  2. I love the post, Kathryn. I also love missionarymums' last sentence "I am also grateful for a husband who probably understands this concept even more clearly than I do." In my experience -- and I'm only speaking for me -- men seem to understand the divine nature of women better than we do ourselves. We tend to be so critical of ourselves and our peers that it gets in the way of remembering who we really are and the divine nature of our eternal role in the Plan of Salvation. As women, we need to "magnify our callings" so to speak as equal partners with the priesthood in helping us all get where we want to go.

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