My Favorite Religious Art of 2014: Women Debating Two Truths by Caitlin Connolly

In general I’m a fan of Neylan McBaine, I first ran across her a few years ago when I saw her presentation at FAIR making the rounds online and then when her “Moderate Mormon Manifesto” was published on FMH. I’ve tried to follow her work since then, and it wasn’t until listening to the Dialogue podcast last week that I think I nailed down her vision and philosophy of women and the Church.

She would like to see improvements in gender in the Church, but she’s pretty committed to gendered spaces and complimentarianism. I think she sees a lot of work on the ground we need to do to be prepared for further light and revelation regarding women. I believe, in her words, we need to show that we are prepared to walk through that door when the time comes. She envisions it somewhat that men men will continue to have priesthood power and authority and the Relief Society will be newly charged with some worldwide problem to alleviate (like illiteracy or human trafficking). She also knows there are two emotional sides talking past each other. Her book, Women at Church, is basically an action plan of “what we do next on the ground” to move forward together. I have a review of her book over at my blog here.

Professionally Neylan worked for Bonneville Communications (at the time) working on the I’m a Mormon campaign in brand management. She certainly understands crafting a message to it’s audience with a long-term goal in mind. If changes are to be made in our organization, they will need to be made by building on what we already have revealed line upon line. Her work reminds me of a lecture I had last semester in US women’s history on the labor movement. The 8-hour workday started picking up steam when they coined the slogan “8 hours work, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest” and used it to appeal to the conservative leanings of those in charge that everyone should have time at home with their families. This argument was more effective than, “You selfish, money-grubbing, life-sucking slave drivers!! Give us what we deserve!” even if it was true.

While I see Neylan as a centrist, I think she leans a bit more traditional than me. She’s definitely an advocate of bottom up change, using Clayton Christensen and his theories on disruptive innovation as her muse. I’m much more of a centrist who favors top-down change: my top three changes I’d like to see are (1) equalize funding and structure of programs (2) abandon motherhood worship in favor of Christlike discipleship in all its forms and (3) female leaders be equally represented on the church decision-making boards that make decisions effecting women.

Neylan's assertion that God's "divine math" does not always translate in statistics led some to claim
Neylan a Barbie Girl? Yeah, maybe CEO Barbie.

One hallmark of almost anything she does is that she has haters on both sides. In her book Neylan asserts that God’s “divine math” does not always translate into statistics, which led some supporters of Ordain Women to compare Neylan to a Barbie doll. Meanwhile, Mormon Women Stand publishes a book review asserting her book is full of “doctrinal mistakes” and a lack of faith and respect in our leadership. She’s either not critical enough or not faithful enough. I hope both sides are wrong, as last year I met with my stake president to discuss some of my concerns and asked him to read my copy of Women at Church that I left with him. I’m hoping to meet with him Sunday to renew my temple recommend and to follow up and hear his own thoughts about the book.

One last thought: I love love love her book cover artwork: Women Debating Two Truths. My truth and experience does not invalidate your truth and experience and vice versa. Yet we operate in these strange tunnels that just because you haven’t experienced certain things the other person must be an anomaly. Is it possible for us both to be right? Can we validate both experiences and voices? I think that’s what Neylan attempts to do.

Have any of you read the book? If so, what were your thoughts? How have you used it since then?  Have you seen any more of Neylan’s work? I enjoyed hearing her speak last summer about the Mormon Women Project at MWHIT. I’d be interested to hear about others who have heard her speak on other topics and what they thought. What do you think of her “moderate” feminist stance? Do you hope for top-down or bottom-up change or do you think we’re all faithless apostates? Does it give her work more credibility that she has haters on both sides?