Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Mormon Enthusiast

(Artist: Zachary Staines)

Something funny happened. Someone mistook me for a Mormon apologist, so I thought I’d clarify myself here. I’m not a Mormon apologist. I’m a Mormon enthusiast. A Mormon enthusiast is one who is highly interested in, motivated by, and invested in Mormonism. You might consider this the testimony of a Mormon enthusiast.

I believe in Christ as exemplified by Jesus. I take Jesus’ invitation to join the diverse Body of Christ seriously. I believe in an immersive interpretation that requires both faith and works.

I believe in atoning, forgiveness, redemption, and healing. I trust that through our participation in the Atonement nothing is beyond reconciliation.

I believe in miracles and understand they aren’t unknowable epiphanies from a supernatural source. I believe in miracles that are a product of extraordinary events which cannot be adequately explained. I believe technology and science are among the means to understanding and discover more sophisticated explanations and implementations of the miraculous.

I love. I agree the greatest commandment given by scripture is: thou shalt love. I believe in radical love—which is the kind of love which enables humanity to create, express, and manifest the tangible realities of divine desires.

I believe in prophets, seers, and revelators. I understand those roles are not simply designated to ordained patriarchs. Prophets are those who speak the words of Divinity, which is why we need discernment. Seers are those who have the capacity to envision the future, predicated on the past. Revelators are those who reveal new insights, information, and knowledge concerning humanity’s divine potential. We should all be prophets, seers, and revelators, and are when we act as such.

I am more orthodox than I appear.

I am more radical than I appear.

I believe in stories. I believe in the power of honest fiction.

I believe in immortality, restoration, and resurrection, not because these events will inevitably come to pass without effort on our part, or because I “know beyond a shadow of a doubt” that these promises are sure. I put trust in and work toward these goals, because I believe humanity is capable of discovering and harnessing powers that I can only describe as godly.

I raise my hand, speak honestly, and let my community know when there is room for improvement.

I understand the LDS Church, though its the largest denomination, doesn’t own Mormonism.

I believe in priesthood power, the power to act in the name of God, and the communities which give it power. There is nothing supernatural about it. We collectively invoke and embody priesthood power when we perform godly acts to bless the lives of each other. I trust priesthood power operates by persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, and pure knowledge.

I know Mormonism is more than patriarchy even when others or policy suggest otherwise. I believe people and their communities are more than their worst moments. In Mormonism, anything is subject to change through restoration and continuing revelation, even though things don’t change as quickly as I would like.

I am peculiar and queer—a descendent of a peculiar people. I won’t pretend to be something I am not to appease the masses or coddle insecurities. I know that despite many attempts by others to reject Mormonism’s queerness, I too am queer and I belong with my peculiar people.

I believe the scriptures to be the word of God so far as they are translated, interpreted, and implemented correctly.

I claim the privilege of worshiping according to the dictates of my conscience and allow others the same privilege.

I worship, though I may not be found in a church pew every Sunday. I often worship in the mountains, and even more often in the library. I worship in service. I worship with my words. I worship with my body. I prefer the safety of private worship, but also understand the value of public and/or communal rituals. I understand worship takes many forms and don’t limit myself or others to only one modality of worship.

I am a Mormon Transhumanist, a radiant Mormon. I seek to elevate and improve the world through the authentic practice of my religion. I am authentic and engage in my religion authentically. I am creative and engage in my religion creatively. I am practical and engage in my religion practically.

I see my body as a temple, gift, and technology. My body is sacred and I’m unashamed.

I subscribe to eternal progression. I believe as we continue to evolve and increase in knowledge, complexity, intelligence, love, and compassion, the more godly we become.

I believe in theosis, because evolution demands it.

I believe in eternal sealings through a network of connections, because love demands it.

I believe in truth, let it come from whence it may. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, I seek after these things.

I know Mormonism is more than any single policy, ritual, or individual. I recognize the diversity of interpretations, and know not to privilege discursive, dogmatic, or harmful interpretations.

I believe in continuing revelation, which is not a task reserved for an elite group of individuals, but an ongoing process implemented by those seeking improvement. Continuing revelation is the percolation of powerful ideas through a robust network of individuals and influences. We embody continuing revelation.

I believe the earth can be renewed and receive paradisiacal glory. I recognize as agents and stewards that we have an integral and necessary part in its preservation and renewal.

I am a theist. I trust in God, even though I don’t know precisely what God is.

I am a Mormon enthusiast.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Passing Out Towels

(Artist: David Cohen)

Yesterday, the LDS Church announced the following changes concerning youth involvement in temple rituals:

“Young women (ages 12-18) with a limited-use temple recommend may assist with baptistry assignments currently performed by sister temple ordinance workers and volunteers.”

“All priests in the Aaronic Priesthood with a limited-use temple recommend may officiate in baptisms for the dead, including serving as the baptizer and as a witness.”

“The Primary’s Priesthood Preview meeting will be modified to include both 11-year-old boys and girls and will be called the Temple and Priesthood Preparation meeting. This will be an opportunity for priesthood, Primary and youth leaders to help girls and boys, and their parents understand the significant blessings of temple service, priesthood service, and making and keeping sacred covenants.”

To be charitable, this is a smart step. Getting youth more involved in temple rituals is a great way to influence retention rates. Plus, there are practical advantages to having the youth participate in work that was previously reserved for adults, especially if there is a situation where adult attendance for baptisms for the dead might be low.

However, this change does not address the underlying issue of proscribing activities according to gender. While the youth are more involved, this highlights how girls and women are specifically excluded from full participation in church rituals and ordinances.

The idea that has seemed to spark the most provocation is that young women (ages 12-18) will have the opportunity of joining the adult women in their responsibilities in the temple. The responsibility receiving the most criticism is "passing out towels." Some have marginalized the responsibility of handing out towels at the baptistry as if it were a consolation prize without significance—that somehow passing out towels were something to dismiss.

When my husband baptized our son, I was standing at the water’s edge waiting for our shivering son with a clean towel after he came out of the water. According to an Ostler family tradition, our son bravely immersed his body in the cool Provo River as part of a baptismal ritual. As a Mormon Feminist, I most certainly advocate for the full ordination of diverse genders (not just women) into any and all priesthood responsibilities and offices, but even when/if that day occurs it will not discount the special experience it was to wrap our shivering child in a warm towel after his father baptized him. Passing out towels can be a meaningful experience, even if there is more to be given and shared.

I was inspired by a comment made by my friend, Alisa Allred Mercer, “For about a year before my mission I helped in the Provo Temple baptistry passing out towels. It was a meaningful experience. I'm sure it would have been even more meaningful to have participated in the ordinances.”

Passing out towels isn’t the problem. The problem is oppressing desires to serve and unnecessarily assigning people roles, according to their assigned gender.

Insisting on the “insignificance” of passing out towels is insensitive and ableist. There are many people with challenges that would make passing out towels the only or most preferred form of service they can contribute during baptisms. Should their contribution be marginalized, just because there are women who seek priesthood ordination? Should my experience with my son be any less meaningful, because women are not ordained? Shouldn’t it be okay for my son to want to pass out towels instead of baptizing bodies? Does this make his service any less genuine because he chose what some would consider to be the “lesser” role?

Let’s direct our efforts toward the real problem, not marginalize the desires and contributions of others.

This is the problem:

A child is born, then based on the esthetics of the child’s genitalia they are assigned a gender. That gender, in LDS practice, has become their assigned identity and eternal destiny. Besides a body being assigned a gender, that gender is assigned a role. That role will come with certain expectations and limitations of what that body is allowed to do and ought to do in LDS practice, policy, and culture. Attempts to change, alter, or adapt that gender role, assignment, or performance are often met with hostility. The best definition of oppression I’ve read is absence of choices. That is exactly what mandated role assignment is in this context—oppression. I do not believe it is God’s will to oppress the righteous desires of people to serve in diverse capacities—whether that is a boy with social anxiety who wants to quietly pass out towels, or a girl who wants to baptize her peers.

The problem is not that some of us would be happier passing out towels than baptizing people. The problem is unnecessarily proscribing activities and participation according to gender without regard to the individual's desires. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Comrades in Solidarity

(Artist: Piron Guillaume)

The feminist movement, according to bell hooks, aims to end sexist oppression by overcoming “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” While the feminist movement has at times taken the shape of a men verses women dichotomy, there are more constructive approaches. In her work, bell hooks suggests that even though women and men face different oppressions, both women and men must find ways of working together to effectively overcome patriarchal oppression. Working in the texts, Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism, Feminist Theory from Margin to Center, Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice, and We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, I argue hooks encourages both men and women to overcome sexist oppression as comrades in solidarity, not enemies.

First, I will discuss ways in which to encourage male participation, the need to better understand masculinity, the importance of rejecting anti-male feminism, followed by the need to recognize male pain. Lastly, I will conclude with embracing diversity. Integrated throughout the paper will be text from hooks supporting concepts of men and women working together as comrades in solidarity.

Encouraging Male Participation

Male participation in the feminist movement has been less than optimal, if not, there likely wouldn’t be a need for a movement anymore. According to hooks, “Women’s liberationists called upon all women to join feminist movement, but they did not continually stress that men should assume responsibility for actively struggling to end sexist oppression.” [i] Sadly, there seems to permeate an unproductive stereotype that feminist work is a woman’s work and men are the enemy, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only is this thinking unproductive, it is also contributing to sexist oppression. Distinguishing who may or may not participate in the feminist movement on account of gender is also using gender as an oppressive, discriminating factor. As hooks noted in Writing Beyond Race, we need to “move away from the us/them dichotomies which promote blame and prevent us all from assuming accountability.” [ii] Male participation in ending sexist oppression starts with accountability and concern for women’s liberation. However, that participation is hindered when feminists, often women, within the movement exclude or marginalize male involvement due to gender, which in turn allows men to relinquish their accountability in the movement. As hooks points out, “Accountability is a more expansive concept because it opens a field of possibility wherein we are all compelled to move beyond blame to see where our responsibility lies.” [iii] Accountability requires that we collectively recognize we are living within dominator culture and collectively take responsibility to overcome senseless oppressions.

The exclusion of men in the feminist movement is not simply a matter of misogyny, or men having no concern for the liberation of women. Feminist tactics that have neglected their own part in male exclusion undermine their own goal to end sexist oppression. According to hooks, “This lack of [male] participation is not solely a consequence of anti-feminism. By making women’s liberation synonymous with women gaining social equality with men, liberal feminists effectively created a situation in which they, not men, designated feminist movement ‘women’s work’.” [iv] While there is work being done by feminists to find constructive ways of bonding women together in a sense of comradery and sisterhood, there has been less attention given to the encouragement of men’s efforts in the feminist movement. Limited male participation cannot be reduced to misogyny alone, but also the tactic of feminists excluding potential participants.

Not only should feminists refrain from excluding male participation, feminist should be encouraging male participation, or better put, encourage participation independent of gender. More recently, the #HeForShe campaign is working to change the aim of feminism as women’s work. Their mission statement echoes hooks’ call for diverse gender participation in the movement to end sexist oppression by stating, “it’s not just a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue.” [v] Though the #HeForShe campaign might suggest binary gender distinctions in the title, I think it’s still worth noting that there is an effort to widen the genderized distribution of feminist work beyond the role of women, and the “women only” mentality, which at its roots perpetuates the oppressions of patriarchy.

Encouraging male participation also means moving past blame. It is easy to misidentify the problem of sexism with a personified male trope, when identifying the abstract idea of sexism requires more thought and work. In Writing Beyond Race, hooks discusses the need for moving past blame:

“We are more energized by the practice of blaming than we are by efforts to create transformation, we not only cannot find relief from suffering, we are creating the conditions that help keep us stuck in the status quo. Our attachment to blaming, to identifying the oppressor, stems from the fear that if we cannot unequivocally and absolutely state who the enemy is then we cannot know who to organize resistance struggle.” (pg. 29)

We have the capacity to transcend our reductionist blaming tactics, but we will be far more effective if we learn from our past and target ideas instead of people. This is not an easy task, because as humans we can easily be defeated with violence, or even apathy, but a hateful idea can live on like a parasite jumping from host to host. Overcoming dominator culture requires we accurately identify the various systems of oppression at work, instead of blaming another. [vi] Encouragement of male participation includes overcoming blaming culture, and embracing a willingness to listen. Men need not blame themselves for inventing sexism, any more than women should, but we should not shirk the responsibility to eradicate it.

Understanding Masculinity

A common criticism of the feminist movement is the condemnation of masculinity. Unfortunately, toxic interpretations of masculinity make it difficult to identify what is masculine and what is patriarchal oppression. In pushing against patriarchal oppression, feminists are often criticized of emasculating men. Hooks points out, “…imposed upon the consciousness of the American public [is] the notion that any career woman, any woman who competed with men, was envious of male power and was likely to be a castrating bitch.” [vii] When domination is considered a masculine quality, any attempts to challenge unjust domination will be perceived as emasculating. When violence is considered a masculine quality, any attempts to challenge unjust violence will be perceived as emasculating.  When power is considered a masculine quality, any attempts to redistribute power to other genders will be perceived as emasculating. In order to end the oppression of unjust domination, violence, and power imbalances we need to decouple the idea that these qualities are inherently masculine. To the extent we ignore issues related to masculinity, we undermine our own goals and objectives to end sexist oppression and usher in gender liberation.

Rejecting Anti-Male Feminism

Another common tactic used by feminists is a reductionist approach that pits men as the enemy of feminism. Anti-male feminist views, though unproductive, still rear their head in contemporary discourse. However, by falsely assuming all men are misogynistic oppressors, the feminist movement has divisively cut the possible number of participants in half. If a movement such as feminism aims to end sexist oppression, but then uses gender exclusionary tactics, labels, and language, anti-male feminists have already begun a journey counterproductive to their primary objective. If misandry is the primary objective, it’s not feminism.

Broad generalizations such as “men hate women” and “men are the enemy” are often contributors to stereotypes against feminist and perpetuate false assumptions of “feminist, man-hating lesbians.” Misogyny cannot justify misandry, especially when misandry perpetuates misogyny. Feminism cannot be a movement built upon “all men are the enemy” and then to be taken seriously as a movement to end sexist oppressions. [viii] This mentality also alienates the participation of women who do not share exclusionary sentiments. One example hooks points out in Feminism: From Margin to Center is within the black community.

“Despite sexism, black women have contributed equally to anti-racist struggle, and frequently, before contemporary black liberation effort, black men have recognized this contribution. There is a special tie binding people together who struggle collectively for liberation. Black women and men have been united by such ties. They have known the experience of political solidarity. It is the experience of shared resistance struggle that led black women to reject the anti-male stance of some feminist activists.” (pg. 70)

There is much we can learn from this example. By binding together in the spirit of solidarity, we can form a comradery that provokes us into action, not as women against men, but men and women against sexist oppression. Moving past anti-male feminism requires us to abandon the “battle of the sexes” mentality that holds us back.

Another area in which anti-male feminist ideals have appeared is within shaming men’s sexuality. Tactics deployed by anti-male feminists not only create useless divisions among those who share a common goal to end sexist oppression, they are also contributing to sexual shaming with harmful psychological effects. It is the inverse of “slut shamming.” Sexual shaming regarding any gender has no place in the feminist movement.

The extreme of anti-male sexuality can be seen is feminist lesbian mandates. To clarify, not all lesbianism is misandist, just as male homosexuality isn’t misogyny. Within the feminist movement there has been a significant effort put into ending heterosexist oppression and liberation of the queer community. However, radical feminist views prevalent in the 1980’s took anti-male stances that require commentary. While these anti-male sexuality positions are slowly dwindling, some dogmas and stereotypes still linger. Women’s sexual liberation is closely linked to lesbian liberation, which is a positive advancement for homosexuals. However, a feminist movement that condemns men’s sexuality and mandates lesbianism is not sexual liberation. That is adopting the role of the oppressor. As hooks, stated, “Just as the struggle to end sexual oppression aims to eliminate heterosexism, it should not endorse any one sexual choice: celibacy, bisexuality, homosexuality, or heterosexuality.” [ix] Just as a person can be committed to the feminist movement to end sexist oppression regardless of gender, a person “…can be politically committed to feminism regardless of sexual preferences.” [x] Though the feminist movement has struggled with abuses of male sexuality, male sexuality cannot be the primary target to end sexist oppression. “As long as feminist women condemn male sexuality, and by extension—women who are involved sexually with men, the feminist movement is undermined.” [xi] We need to abandon and reject anti-male sexuality stances which create unnecessary and harmful divisions.

Recognizing Male Pain

Patriarchy hurts everyone. All lives matter. We are all in pain. Though these statements may be accurate, they are also weaponized by white-supremacist patriarchy to prevent genuine solidarity with those that are different from ourselves. In this example, I’d like to focus on the black man.

The black man is in pain and due to stigma, toxic masculinity perceptions, stereotypes, racism and sexism, the pain of the black male has gone unaddressed, and “there is a crisis in the black male spirit in our nation.” [xii]  Black males, from slavery to prison, from schools to the projects, have endured relentless dehumanization. Black males have often been relegated to another species, outside the category of human, and referred to as the “endangered species” which also implies a subhuman, animalistic undertone. It doesn’t take much to imagine the pain associated with such dogmas and stereotypes.

Sometime the pain of black men is used in the Oppression Olympics against black women as they argue over who is more oppressed than whom. This is just another way patriarchy prohibits the solidarity of souls. It only prevents black men and women from working together to put a stop to collective suffering. “Historically and today, white-supremacist patriarchy has found that the best way to prevent solidarity between black females and males is to make it appear that females are getting power while black male power is diminishing.” [xiii] This is a divide and conquer tactic used to further perpetuate white-supremacist patriarchy. Patriarchy inherently create power imbalances where even those that aren’t at the top of the pyramid will do whatever is necessary to protect what little soft power they have in the pecking order. A person may not be on the top rung, but it at least it’s not the bottom rung. This mentality divides the oppressed groups into categories that pits the pain of one against the other.

For example, starting around the first wave feminist movement, “many white women’s liberationists did not care about the fate of oppressed groups of men.” [xiv] Though white women suffered from sexist oppression many were unable or reluctant to realize that they still had more power and privilege than poor, uneducated, non-white males. Dismissal of male concerns, in this case black mens’ concerns, liberal feminists have failed to offer the olive branch of solidarity with men whom are also oppressed by patriarchy. As hooks accounts, “They were not eager to call attention to the fact that men do not share a common social status, […] that all men do not benefit equally from sexism.” [xv]

While the black man is in pain, this is not a rally cry or an excuse to enable black men to assert patriarchal dominance to appease their pain. Rather this is a realization that when the black man suffers, we all suffer. Ignoring, patronizing, or misrecognizing black male pain is also another tactic of patriarchy. Anti-sexist thinking in black men will not come from the ignorance to their pain, but rather that the acceptance their pain is one of the most human qualities they possess. John Bradshaw, in Bradshaw: On the Family, uses the term “soul-murder” to describe the deprivation of human feeling and shame. [xvi] However, in recognizing the genuine pain of the black man through mutual sensitivity and vulnerability, toxic masculinity perceptions of patriarchal thinking are undermined with love and concern for our black brother’s well-being.

Embracing Diversity

Embracing our differences is essential to forming a sense of comradery and solidarity, whether that’s through better understanding someone’s pain or resistance to anti-male tropes. Hooks suggests, “If females and males are taught to value mutuality, then partnership rather than the ethics of domination will be valued.” [xvii] We must learn to value each other, independent of gender. The feminist movement should stress the need to embrace our uniqueness, and not fear or hate what is different from ourselves. It is diversity that makes all life possible on the planet. Without embracing diversity, we risk the birth of new supremacist attitudes. Embracing diversity in the feminist movement means we heighten our consciousness to be aware of how those differences are not a hinderance, but necessity. Valuing one another as unique and essential individuals is a good start.

According to the text, hooks encourages both men and women to overcome sexist oppression as comrades in solidarity, not enemies. They are many ways in which we can improve, such as encouraging male participation, understanding masculinities, rejecting anti-male feminism, recognizing male pain, and embracing diversity. By working together in love and understanding we will be better positioned to overcome hate and oppression. 


[i] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center,” (South End Press, 2015), 68.

[ii] bell hooks, “Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice,” (Taylor & Francis, 2013), 12.

[iii] bell hooks, “Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice,” (Taylor & Francis, 2013), 30.

[iv] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center” (South End Press, 2015), 68.

[v] HeForShe, s.v. “Our Mission,” accessed October 2, 2017, http://www.heforshe.org/en/our-mission. “The world is at a turning point. People everywhere understand and support the idea of gender equality. They know it’s not just a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue. And when these powerful voices are heard, they will change the world. The time for that change is now. HeForShe is inviting people around the world to stand together to create a bold, visible force for gender equality. And it starts by taking action right now to create a gender equal world.”

[vi] bell hooks, “Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice,” (Taylor & Francis, 2013), 35.

[vii] bell hooks, “Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism,” (South End Press, 2015), 180.

[viii] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center,” (South End Press, 2015), 69. “Assertions like ‘all men are the enemy’ and ‘all men hate women’ lumped groups of men in one category, thereby suggesting that they share equally in all forms of male privilege. […] Anti-male sentiments have alienated many poor and working-class women, particularly non-white women, from feminist movement.”

[ix] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center,” (South End Press, 2015), 153.

[x] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center,” (South End Press, 2015), 154.

[xi] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center,” (South End Press, 2015), 155.

[xii] bell hooks, “We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity,” (Taylor & Francis, 2004), 134.

[xiii] bell hooks, “We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity,” (Taylor & Francis, 2004), 135.

[xiv] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center,” (South End Press, 2015), 69.

[xv] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center,” (South End Press, 2015), 69.

[xvi] John Bradshaw, “Bradshaw: On the Family,” (Health Communications Inc., 1996), 2.

[xvii] bell hooks, “Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice,” (Taylor & Francis, 2013), 35.