In September 1993, six scholars were disciplined by LDS Church leaders over their writings. Dr. Margaret Toscano’s husband Paul was one of these, although Margaret wasn’t excommunicated…yet. I joked with Dr. Margaret Toscano that she was September 6 and a half.
Margaret: So in 1992-93, Elder Boyd Packer was really concerned. He told a group of Institute and Seminary directors that the three big dangers to the Church were feminists, intellectuals and gays. I was already really involved in Mormon Studies and in Sunstone. I remember a lot of my friends joking, “How many of the categories do you fit into?” But then in 1993, during that summer, I was one of the first. I was called in by my Bishop and Stake President. I was living in Salt Lake at the time. Paul and I were there in the Cottonwood area. I was told, I guess that Boyd Packer had gotten in contact indirectly with my stake president. The basic message was, “Can’t you control that woman?”
So, in September, and it seemed like more than a coincidence, you had several people who were called in front of church disciplinary councils. So the six were Lavina Fielding Anderson, Paul Toscano, my husband, Mike Quinn, Maxine Hanks, who was the editor of this Book of Mormon feminism, and I have a chapter in that book. So, Paul, Lavina, Mike, Maxine, Lynn Whitesides, who was the head of the Mormon Women’s Forum, which I guess in controversial terms was the predecessor of Ordain Women, although it was not primarily about ordination, but just a forum for discussing gender issues. We discussed everything, so it was seen as a threat. Then the sixth person was sort of the oddball, Avraham Gileadi, who had written things about the book of Isaiah, and the church going into apostasy. He had quite a following. I haven’t followed him since. I knew all of them. They were all friends. But before any of them, before September, in July, I was called in and told. My stake president was not supposed to tell me that he was contacted by Elder Packer, but he did tell me. He told me that directly. He basically was just saying to me, I mean, he was not a theologian. He’s just saying, “Can’t you sort of tone things down?”
Well, then, two things happened. Well, first of all, of course, they always want your husband there, when they call a woman in. You’ve got to have the man there. Paul has written a lot, too. But it’s interesting that first Brother Packer was more concerned about me, the women’s issues. Paul kind of jumped into my defense. I have to say, he got into this big conflict with Kerry Hines, our Stake President. Kerry immediately said, “You’re more dangerous than Margaret.” I’m not sure if that’s really what he meant, (chuckling) but at any rate, at the same time, I actually received a letter at that time, before any of the other summons, where it said, it was basically an ultimatum. “You are not allowed to speak, discuss, publish anything to do with Church History or Doctrine in any venue or we’ll hold a church disciplinary council. It was that broad. I just said, “I can’t obey that.” I said, “I know you just think I’m being proud, but really, it’s not. I think that’s unrighteous dominion, to ask that of me.” Interestingly, what happened simultaneously, that was like in July, is that my Bishop, who was supposed to hold the court on me refused to do it. So he disobeyed the Stake President. The Stake President wanted him to hold a court on me. I guess you don’t call them courts, that shows I’m old. But he wanted them to hold a council on me and my Bishop wouldn’t do it. Then, at the same time, Paul gave a kind of speech at Sunstone, which was called choose love, not power, where he criticized the leaders for sort of their corporate structure. So suddenly he was the focus. Then you had this explosion. So you had these six people disciplined all in September. That’s why they’re called the September Six. They were all excommunicated, except for Lynn Whitesides, who was disfellowshipped.
GT: It could have been the September Seven.
Margaret was eventually excommunicated in 2000. Despite all this she still believes in Mormonism!
Margaret: I have to say that my relationship to Mormonism is very sad to me on many levels, but I still consider myself, I’m not a true believing Mormon, because I question too much. But at heart, I am a believer. That doesn’t mean I believe everything. I don’t, and I have lots of doubts. I always have. I question everything. But the bottom line is that I’ve tried to deny it. Because you know, as a good intellectual, you want to kind of say, “Oh, yeah, I’m an atheist. I’m agnostic.” By agnostic, I mean, do I absolutely know for sure? No. But I have to say that I have felt the Spirit of God working in my life for a long time. I believe in the soul. I believe in God. I believe in the spiritual realm. I also believe that God is in the restoration. Does that mean that the church is all right? No. I love Joseph Smith, but do I think he had major flaws? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that he was in instrument of God to bring us truth. I know that some of the things I say that some of your audience may think that I’m–oh believe me, I’ve been called everything: that wicked woman or whatever. But that’s not how I view myself. I love Mormonism. I love the history, the theology, the people. I get really upset at the church.
If I do say so myself, I think Dr. Margaret Toscano gives one of the most insightful discussions I have ever had on priesthood power. This is really an amazing conversation, and then she asks why women should be denied priesthood blessings. Whether you support female ordination or not, this is an amazing discussion you don’t want to miss.
Margaret: God was going to do this. He was going to transform the role of women in the church. He [Joseph Smith] says to the Relief Society, and as I read through the speeches carefully, I saw several really important things, the idea that God was going to make the women a kingdom of priests, that was one of them. Another one was that the Relief Society and I hope I can remember the language of this one, that he wanted to organize the Relief Society in the order of the priesthood. Now, you have to realize that when this later, in the History of the Church, and this started to happen, in like the 1840s and 50s after Joseph’s death, where these phenomenal things that he said to the Relief Society in Nauvoo were changed. The wording was changed so that the priesthood implications of this were all switched, so that the language was, “Oh, it’s not to the women”. When you read the teachings of the Joseph Smith by Joseph Fielding Smith, the implication is that Joseph Smith is saying this to the Church, not to the women. The implication–and so when he says that the Relief Society is organized in the order of the priesthood, according to the order of the ancient priesthood, then it’s changed to they’re organized by the priesthood. I mean, that is significant. That is a very significant difference. It’s very interesting that—
GT: Do we have a sense of who changed the wording, because I don’t think it was Joseph Fielding Smith, as old as he was.
Margaret: It was older than that. It probably, some of this started with George A. Smith in 1854. Then B.H. Roberts–another thing that B.H. Roberts did is that Joseph Smith told the Relief Society, he said, “I turn the key to you.” That was then changed to, “I turn the key in your behalf. I’m going to get this picture because I want to show I an article that I did. This is really significant, this change. I’ve written tons about this.
What do you think? Is Relief Society a quorum of priests?
The fullness of priesthood, what does that mean? In our next conversation with Dr. Margaret Toscano, we’ll talk about messianic, ecclesiastical, and charismatic priesthood. These aren’t terms we typically talk about in the LDS Church, but Toscano believes they are outside of our traditional Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood terms.
Margaret: Then, in the same article, I talk about the September 28, 1843 anointing of Joseph Smith and Emma Smith, to the fullness of the priesthood. They’re anointed jointly and I saw that as an important key for women. The idea is, if you look at all the statements of Joseph Smith, that when you have the fullness of the priesthood, you really have the right to everything else. So what I proposed then, and this goes back to your question, is that in a way, it was almost like Joseph was saying that the women could sidestep all the going through all those stages, that as soon as you had the fullness of the Melchizedek, and of course, the temple also gives you the fullness of the Aaronic, that really, you have this fullness. I would see it like an umbrella like your little light things here, that the fullness of Melchizedek priesthood encompasses everything else. Now, this created a problem.
GT: I can tell.
Margaret: Because really what he did was he set up two mechanisms by which you obtain priesthood, and he never worked that out. So you have the church priesthood, actually, I would say that Joseph Smith through the stages had three different kind of stages of priesthood. There’s the charismatic priesthood. There’s ecclesiastical priesthood, the fullness of the priesthood, which he also called the Messianic priesthood. It encompasses everything. I think that he felt like there should be a relationship between the fullness and the ecclesiastical, but that he never developed that. So he left these remnants of two systems that can seem like they don’t correspond or you’re not sure what they do. We can come back to some of this because I want to go back to your other question. After he died, you had Brigham Young and Hebrew, C Kimball, and George A. Smith and all of these others who began to try to sort of bring this under control, both in terms of the Relief Society and in terms of how people view the endowment. It was like, “Oh, well, this thing over here, that’s the fullness of the priesthood that’s through the temple, it has to be under the control of the church, and that the thing that the women got, it was not really the priesthood. They’re just an auxiliary.”
What do you think about these different mechanisms for priesthood? Do endowed women skip Aaronic/Melchizedek to obtain a special, non-ecclesiastical priesthood? And if it is non-ecclesiastical, of what use is it?