Despite what my children claim, I am not that old, yet I remember my mother’s exasperated delight when women were once again allowed to offer the opening prayer in LDS sacrament meetings. I may have been five or six years old at the time but her frustration with such an obviously stupid rule did not go unnoticed. Such a rule does indeed seem incredibly backward, but to pile on, it wasn’t until 2013 (!) that a woman offered a prayer in General Conference.
The LDS Church has a long history of institutionally marginalizing women; however, I don’t want to rehash all of that. Instead, I’d like to share a remark from the Nauvoo journal of Joseph Fielding, who was the brother of Mary Fielding, who married Hyrum Smith. The entry is dated June 12, 1844 and says:
June 12 – 44 As to myself I seem to have but little to write I am employed in cultivating my little Farm for the Support of myself and Family, have had nearly half of it to plant twice with Indian Corn owing to the wetness of the Season, much of the first Planting was destroyed I have labored hard to keep the Land dry, Now and then I go and lay my hands on the Sick, in which I take Pleasure and I mostly get a Blessing I often preach to my Wife and endeavor to inspire her with Faith her Mind has been troubled at some things in the Church the subject of Spiritual Wives so much talked about at this time, and other things, an Expression of Elder Lyman Wites that if a Woman complained of being insulted by any Man she ought to be set down as a Strumpet [a “strumpet” is a term for a female prostitute or promiscuous woman] on the ground that no Man would do it unless she gave him some liberty, This she knew to be a false Notion from her own Experience, in this she is correct the Expression of Bro. Wite was spoken publicly in our hearing and she thinks it hard if a Female is to be insulted as she has been and to have no redress I take it as an instance of Mans Weakness to hold forth such a Sentiment, and for the Elders to smile at it, is no proof of their approval of it, but I see nothing in all that is going on that troubles me at all;
Ehat, Andrew, “‘They Might Have Known That He Was Not a Fallen Prophet’ – The Nauvoo Journal of Joseph Fielding”, page 149
Joseph Fielding’s wife, Hannah, must have had some serious misgivings with polygamy because he makes mention of it several times in his journal, but here she expresses concern with the treatment of women, especially the pass sentiments like that expressed by Lyman Wight received from Church leaders. While Joseph Fielding is surely trying to be charitable to Church leaders, I wonder what the result would have been had there been push-back against such disgusting views. When I, with the help of history, am aware of what was to befall most women as a result of polygamy and the views expressed by Lyman Wight, it is clear that those views were not an aberration, but were going to be the root of the marginalization of women in the Church for decades to come.
I know we’ve improved a great deal since Hannah Fielding expressed these concerns to her husband, but imagine if Hannah’s grievances would have been heard and seriously considered at that time. What would have been different?
It is my hope that, unlike Joseph Fielding, we will not allow a notion that marginalizes women to go unchallenged. Sometimes being quiet to keep the peace can be damaging to those being marginalized, and I would hope we would do better.
- What do you think about how Joseph Fielding handled the situation?
- How might you have handled it differently?
- What can we do to help the Hannahs of the Church have the space to safely express their concerns?