A few days ago I saw a familiar phrase on LDS.org, “Is this a woman’s church?” I recognized it as the title of a past FairMormon Conference address by Sharon Eubank, Director of LDS Charities. Clicking the link brought me to the cover article in this month’s Ensign, “Being a Woman: An Eternal Perspective,” and sure enough it was based on that August 8, 2014 FairMormon talk.

Eubank’s original 2014 presentation received a rare standing ovation. It was covered in local media[1] and somewhat in the blogosphere[2]. Reactions were generally favorable.

My familiarity with the original address made reading the Ensign article a little jarring. Several of my favorite bits were changed or missing, kind of like watching a movie adaptation of a book. Very little of the article is verbatim from the original talk. Many changes were simply a matter of summation (chopping 8,600+ words to less than 2,500). Some, though, reflect a definite change in meaning and/or tone.

First off, the Ensign article alters one of the most memorable lines of Eubank’s talk. A woman in Ghana was talking to a member of the Relief Society board and proclaiming, “This is a woman’s church!” The woman explained, “your husband is in the Priesthood room and he is teaching our husbands that the culture of the church does not allow for them to beat their wives and their children” (emphasis added). The Ensign article softens the woman’s powerful expression, “your husband is in the next room teaching our husbands that they must treat their wives and children with kindness and gentleness” (emphasis added). While the meaning is similar, the impact is quite different.[3]

Eubank originally spoke of Heavenly Mother. In our roles as women, she stated we are “a reflection of the Divine Feminine,” and described her thoughts on those associated attributes and responsibilities. All explicit references to female deity were eliminated in the Ensign article. The existence of a Mother in Heaven is only implied through mention of “divine parents.”

In our role as daughters, Eubank originally said, “I have Divine Parents… I have the right, as their daughter, to communicate with them through prayer and revelation and the Holy Ghost” (emphasis added). The Ensign article alters this. “I have divine parents and have the right, as a daughter, to communicate with Heavenly Father through prayer and to receive revelation through the Holy Ghost” (emphasis added). This change is likely a matter of consistency with the church’s position that worship is to be directed only towards Heavenly Father.

Concerning our roles as mothers, Eubank originally emphasized Adam calling Eve “mother of all living” prior to having children. She argued:

Whether you have children in this life or not, when you have your endowment and you are given the name, you are an inheritor of that… [F]or somebody like me in the gospel, fifty years old, single, no children, and all that I’ve gone through emotionally to get to this point in my life, the gospel gives me the inherent title to be a mother.

Eubank’s comments are along the same vein as Sheri Dew’s claim, “As daughters of our Heavenly Father, and as daughters of Eve, we are all mothers and we have always been mothers.” In the Ensign article, there is no mention of the endowment or a right to be called mother by association with Eve. Instead, the “promise of eternal family is made to those whose marriages are sealed in the temple and by the Holy Spirit of Promise.”[4] Quite a shift for someone with experience as a single woman in this church.

At the FairMormon conference, Eubank was blunt about women having negative experiences in the church.

I have to be candid that there are lots of people who would not agree that this is a church for women. And I think that the reason they feel that way is because of a disconnect that comes between our doctrine and sometimes the way that we practice our doctrine. And there has been a lot of discussion and a lot of disagreement and people have had painful experiences. There is just stuff that is plain wrong. And there are consequences, too. It would be absurd for me to stand up here and say that our political and our traditional and our cultural practices always live up to our doctrine. I’m not even sure that we fully grasp our doctrine. And to be honest, in my opinion, we can improve in many, many ways. We should and I think we will.

The Ensign article brings in parts of that argument, but the recognition of painful experiences is eliminated.

I believe that misunderstandings regarding women’s roles arise when there is a disconnect between the doctrine and the practice of the doctrine. However, through continuing revelation from God to His prophets and to us through the Holy Ghost, we can continue to recognize and eliminate most misunderstandings that surface.

There are several other changes I could mention, but for a talk that garnered a standing ovation what does it mean? Bluntness and honesty is what made the original so effective. Eubank must have been involved in rewriting the piece, so the changes were intentional. Is it a matter of correction (as in the communication with deity)? Is it a reflection of changing views? A friend said that changing a talk this much for different audiences feels disingenuous. At the very least, the elimination of Heavenly Mother in an article about eternal perspectives on womanhood is curious.

Ensign coverI have to wonder if some of those changes were willingly sacrificed in order to preserve other aspects of Eubank’s message. Her suggestions to church members essentially remain the same, and they aren’t typical of what you find in church magazines:

  • Keep the big picture in mind – becoming “obsessed with one question or one practice” often distracts us from bigger issues in the world. Consider, “What is the best use of my energies?” Work to make things better, but keep faith in the meantime. Church practices will likely be more fair and equitable in the future, but recognize and value the “large foundational stones” we already possess.
  • Stay faithful in face of opposition – Opposition strengthens us and makes us more flexible. Brigham Young declared the Salt Lake Valley the destined home of the saints prior to understanding the difficulties inherent in settling there. Just because Saints had hardships in that environment doesn’t mean Brigham was wrong in declaring, “This is the place.” We understand very little about what God “is doing with men and women and priesthood,” but “the Lord is content to teach us as we are able, as we grow, as we ask.”
  • Seek the Holy Ghost – when questions arise, approach them “with a commitment to unity and respect.” Gentleness and meekness is required of all church members (including leaders) as “the means of feeling the Holy Ghost and exercising righteous influence.”

Questions

  • What are your thoughts when you compare the FairMormon talk with the Ensign article?
  • What do you think are the reasons for the modifications? Correction? Changing views? Compromise?
  • Do you see the changes as minor? Why or why not?
  • Do you find it significant that this talk appeared as the cover article in the Ensign?

[1] Church News, Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune.

[2] Commentary at Religion News Service, Times and Seasons, Millennial Star, and Mormanity, among others.

[3] The Church News article covering the original FairMormon talk quoted the beating comment, so it doesn’t appear the church believes the phrase was offensive.

[4] “Are we not all mothers?” I guess not.