LDS Priesthood encompasses both spiritual and ecclesiastical aspects. Dr. Margaret Toscano compares and contrasts her position on female priesthood with that of Dr. Jonathan Stapley. Where are they similar and where do they converge?
Margaret: Both Jonathan and I say, yes, if you look at 19th century views on the priesthood, not just women in priesthood, but even the larger issue of priesthood, I think we agree on two things. The 19th century did view it differently than we do now. They had a different view. I think both Jonathan and I really like to focus on the spiritual dimension of priesthood, the notion of how people use the priesthood in kind of a private way. Jonathan emphasizes that a lot with looking at blessing rituals, and so forth. Those are the two areas where we agree that current views are different. Maybe the way I could say that is that I think that when people think of the priesthood in the Church now, they think of it as the priesthood offices that men hold, and then their callings, how they function within the church ecclesiastical structure. Most people think of the priesthood in those terms. So, even if you think of that definition that’s used in the Church of what is the priesthood? It’s the power of God. Right? I think all of us have heard of that.
Where we disagree, and maybe it comes from a different focus, is that I think that if you look at Jonathan’s book, he uses a lot of documents from the 19th century Utah period, to look at how did people think and use priesthood in the 19th century, again, not so much in the ecclesiastical sense, but kind of on a private level? So, that’s his focus.
Mine, the focus I’ve always had, is looking at Joseph Smith, and looking at everything that Joseph Smith said and did, and asking, “How did Joseph Smith view the priesthood?” My work really does focus on Joseph Smith’s views on priesthood. In that sense, I believe that Joseph Smith, and here we’re going from kind of just general how he saw priesthood in general to how he saw it with women. I feel like Joseph Smith’s statements and actions mean that he felt that women not only were they supposed to have priesthood, which he began to give them, but also that he felt like that there was a Church function with that. Because of the priesthood that they received through the endowment, that they had various functions that they can perform within the Church. I think Joseph Smith felt like that the Relief Society was supposed to be women’s priesthood organization. So, that’s really where Jonathan and I very much disagree. He sees the idea that, “Yeah, they had the spiritual authority and power, but it didn’t give them any justification for functioning within the Church structure.” I think that’s the big difference. I think there are ways in which he and I overlap in the way we look at it, but I think that’s the kind of central difference.
Do you side with Jonathan or Margaret?
Dr. Margaret Toscano gives a summary of her essay in the “Gospel Topics Series” book edited by Dr. Matt Harris & Dr. Newell Bringhurst. Toscano outlines 6 counterpoints to the Women and Priesthood essay.
Margaret: I’ll quickly do my six areas where I think Joseph did confer Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood to women through their endowments. The first body of evidence I talked about are the contemporary statements he makes, where he gives a context for what he meant by those Relief Society speeches. That would include, also, women’s reactions to what he said. That’s where I bring in these statements by Bathsheba Smith, Eliza Snow and Sarah Kimball, where they say, “Joseph gave us all everything. He gave us every order of priesthood through the temple.” So, that’s the first body [of evidence] and so I have a lot of quotes from that. The second is if you look at the complete discourses to the Relief Society, the most startling thing where he says, “You’re going to have been the order of the priesthood, just like in Enoch’s day, in Paul’s day,” referring to these other dispensations. But, if you look at the whole speeches, I think there’s, not just picking something out, proof-texting, either for or against, I think you can see that he really meant priesthood.
And again, he felt that he was giving them keys, and that the Relief Society should be this priesthood organization. So, the first one are contemporary statements by him and other women. The second thing is the complete text of the whole speeches to the to the Nauvoo Relief Society. The third one, and here is again, maybe where Jonathan and I really disagree. I think that Joseph Smith felt that when Elijah came to restore priesthood, it was not just about sealings, in the sense of sealings of families and couples and so forth to each other, but that he meant the sealing powers that were part of the fullness of the Melchizedek priesthood. I think it’s really interesting that Joseph Smith made a statement where he said that the Church and the priesthood were not organized correctly until Elijah came. I think he saw, and I guess I have a quote here that I could read in a minute, if we want to come back to it, that the keys of Elijah, were really about the fullness of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood, not just about sealing. So, that’s the third body [of evidence.]
Check out our conversation to hear her other points…. Do you agree with Margaret?
Fiona Givens recently resigned her position at BYU’s Maxwell Institute under pressure from Church leaders over her speculation that the Holy Ghost might be Heavenly Mother. Dr. Margaret Toscano says this is an ancient Christian belief and wonders why Church leaders were bothered by Givens bringing it up. Are Church leaders scared of Heavenly Mother?
Margaret: My view on the Heavenly Mother and the Holy Ghost is complex, if you want me to get into that, I could. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with speculating about that.
GT: The brethren do [think it’s wrong to speculate about that.]
Margaret: I know the brethren do, but why? Why are they afraid? I think that people have a hunger to know more about the Heavenly Mother, and that the more we talk about it, that maybe true ideas will come forth. I want to throw in here a little bit of an irony, though, that I feel about Fiona, that makes me smile, as somebody who got in trouble and got excommunicated for my writings about priesthood and the Heavenly Mother. So, there’s another book, and I have it in my home office, not here in my school office, called the Routledge Handbook of Mormonism and Gender. Actually, I have a chapter in there on men and priesthood, which I liked that article. We can talk about that another time, Rick. But Fiona has a chapter, it’s called Feminism and the Heavenly Mother.
GT: In the same book?
GT: Oh, wow.
Margaret: I have to say, and I don’t care if she sees this, that I’m a little mad at her about her chapter. I think her chapter is not–I don’t want to use too negative of a word. But, since the chapter is called Feminism and the Heavenly Mother, she doesn’t quote any Mormon feminists, including myself, in that chapter. She only quotes two men from BYU, Dan Peterson, and suddenly, I’ll forget, he just passed away, the dear man. He’s a wonderful man. I’ll think of in just a second.
GT: Not Michael Quinn?
Margaret: No, If I look it up here, I’ll find it, and I’ll think of his name in a minute. But it’s really important, because David Paulsen, and Martin Pulido, did a really good article called Heavenly Mother in BYU Studies. They counted all of the official references to the Heavenly Mother. There are like 600 of them, they found, official references to Heavenly Mother.
Margaret: They include heavenly parents, not just Heavenly Mother. Well, I actually did a response to their article where I say I’m really glad they did this article. It’s wonderful. But you know what? That’s not a lot. Because I counted in one General Conference, I counted that there were 900 references, in just one conference to, God the Father and Jesus. So, to say that over 150 years, we had 600 references to Heavenly Mother, 600 in 150 years compared to 900 in two days, is not a lot. So, I said, we need more about her, not less.
GT: Well, they don’t want to get in trouble.
Margaret: No, they don’t want to get in trouble. I think it’s a little ironic, why didn’t Fiona in her article…? I don’t want to use the word–dishonest doesn’t sound right. But I think that it’s unfair, maybe that’s better. If she’s writing an article about the Heavenly Mother and feminism, and she doesn’t quote anybody other than Linda Wilcox, who has written about the Heavenly Mother, and there are a lot of us who have written about the Heavenly Mother. She doesn’t quote any Mormon feminists. She only quotes Daniel Peterson and David Paulsen and Martin Pulido–men about the Heavenly Mother. Was she afraid to quote us because she didn’t want to get in trouble? Well, I think it’s kind of ironic now that she’s getting in trouble for talking about the Holy Ghost as Heavenly Mother, and yet she wasn’t willing or brave enough in her article in this Routledge Handbook, to quote Mormon feminists, like my sister, Janice Allred, who’s speculated about…
GT: I need to get her on.
Margaret: Yeah, about the Heavenly Mother and being the Holy Ghost. She didn’t quote Janice. She didn’t quote me. I have a whole article about all the different references and images of Heavenly Mother. I’ve written a lot about the Heavenly Mother. She doesn’t quote me. She doesn’t quote Janice. She doesn’t quote [other feminists.] There’s a whole Sunstone issue on the Heavenly Mother. She doesn’t quote Rachel Hunt Steenblik, only men. So, she was very cautious, but now she’s in trouble. I’m not gloating. I’m not gloating. I don’t want her to be in trouble, because I don’t believe that she should be reprimanded. But do you know what? We need to have more courage and support people.
What are your thoughts about Fiona Givens’ resignation under pressure?
The church will continue to lose young people who see no legitimate reason for treating men and women different when it comes to the priesthood. They can see know reason why a loving God would impose such different treatment.
I bet that deep down inside, the Brethren have elevated feelings about Heavenly Mother. But I think they are afraid to unleash femininity in the Church. They know that the Church could benefit from women in leadership positions that are not currently allowed. They know women of the Church could accelerate “the work”. But once women are allowed to do those things, who knows where it would stop? They definitely aren’t ready to see 50% of the Q15 or 70 be women. And they know something we all know: the conservative base (the older white men) of the Church would melt down if we gave women too significant of a role. That’s what they are afraid of.
So what I’m saying is that I suspect that they don’t necessarily disagree with Fiona Givens. They just don’t want her saying what she says publicly and they don’t want one thing leading to another that would threaten the status quo. Too risky.
@josh h, if that’s true, what a bunch of cowards.
But I don’t think it is. The recent temple changes-but-not-changes make clear how the Q15 feel about women. We are appendages to our husbands who preside over us. That they had the opportunity to remove that sexism from the temple and instead just masked it (changing “queens and priestesses to their husbands” to “queens and priestesses in the new and everlasting covenant” which is the same thing, and taking the “hearken” covenant out of the endowment but adding “preside” into the sealing) – oh, and not to mention Nelson’s lip service to needing women to speak up but then only have 2 women speak in GC – tells me all I need to know about how they feel about women and, by extension, HM: She’s an appendage to HF so there’s nothing interesting to learn or say about her that we don’t already know or say about him.
As for Fiona, that’s disappointing. Even playing it safe and snubbing her foremothers in the Church and she still got a slap on the wrist.
Elisa: honestly I am only guessing. You make a strong case. We probably both agree that we won’t see real change until the corporation believes it is in the best interest of the corporation.
I definitely agree with Dr. Toscano on the matter of Joseph Smith’s vision of women and the priesthood rather than Dr. Stapley’s; however, the material change was after JS’s martyrdom. BY’s vision for women was completely different than JS’s, and this is Brigham’s Church more than it is Joseph’s. When you look at “polygamy,” they practiced it completely differently as well. Brigham Young seemed to be in it for his own aggrandizement, and Joseph seemed to be in it for his pleasure. It’s gross either way, but for different reasons. Each had his own view of empowerment for women, neither of which comports with full equality as we see it today, but Joseph came closer. He was sexually manipulative, but not building a harem.
I also agree fully with Dr. Toscano that there’s a real courage problem in the church, and that problem stems from outlawing intellectual curiosity which is now seen as heretical.
@Josh H, I’m sure there are some that hold the views you described and the Q15 is certainly not uniform. But I have a hard time giving them a lot of credit when whatever they may be doing behind the scenes sure isn’t moving the needle and/or they are more afraid of conservative members of the Church than continuing to harm women. If we are at a point where we celebrate inviting some women in Europe to meetings like that’s some huge deal … geez. Let’s also not forgot that #1 and #2 both have plural wives.
I’m sure I should be more generous to them but today I’m not feeling it.
I hope the University of Utah recruits Fiona Givens, and offers her an entire department devoted to Mother God studies.
If what is reported is true, the Pharisees who did this to Fiona need to be uprooted; those responsible pollute the “good name of the church.”
If what is reported is true, it is evidence that the CES is not capable nor responsible enough to uphold doctrine: instead, the CES proffers unsubstantiated belief systems and enforces dogma upon the congregation.
Name names. If this is not mere rumor, if what is reported is true, then hold those responsible, accountable. Can it be confirmed that somebody pressured Fiona to resignation?
Who is capable of doing such a thing?
May I humbly suggest that Mormon feminist not fight with each other. But save their energies for the bigger cause. A cause I strongly support.
WHY WOMEN CAN’T DRIVE CARS. Before the covid my wife and I were in Ejypt, we noticed no women were driving cars. Our guide explained that there was not a law but women were so sensitive and emotional that they wouldn’t be able to drive a car.
We are concerned that as the taliban take control of afganistan, women will be prevented from driving cars, or even going to school, and much more.
Our church leaders prevent women from holding the priesthood equally with men.
These are all the same. Men abusing their power to control what women can do.
Whether if JS had lived longer, or BY had not been president of the church we would have a different attitude to women and the priesthood are interesting discussions, but the question is why are the leadership still discriminating against women?
There is another element. Conservative parties tend to have about 25% women elected, progressive parties aim for 50%. So even when women can they are not enabled.
We live in a culture where women can drive, where they can do what they are capable of. We have just seen in the olympics they are incredibly capable.
Fwiw, Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote:
“BYU did not fire Fiona Givens. After our story ran, Givens wrote on Facebook that ‘I voluntarily made the decision to leave the Maxwell Institute to focus on my own study, writing, and other personal endeavors’ “
Some people say it was gracious of her and still assume she was pressured, but who knows.
josh h – “And they know something we all know: the conservative base (the older white men) of the Church would melt down if we gave women too significant a role.”
Melt down implies anger, and I’m not sure that’s what we’d have. But I do think the base would melt away. Just dwindle. I’m assuming the Church is afraid, rightly or wrongly, that it would end up like so many Protestant congregations with hardly a man in the congregation or on the stand.
Roger Hansen: Which Mormon feminists are fighting each other here? Do you mean Dr. Toscano (who was excommunicated decades ago)? I’m not sure we can call her a “Mormon feminist.” Or do you mean Fiona Givens who backed down from a similar fight to the one Dr. Toscano engaged in, rather than face discipline? I have never heard her described by anyone as a Mormon feminist.
Whether Fiona Givens was pressured by any one person or not, the message has been crystal clear for decades. If you push too far for Heavenly Mother to be acknowledged, and you are a woman, you will be silenced. If you shut up on your own, you may retain your membership.
@Roger, I hear you, but I don’t see this as cat-fighting between Mormon women. One scholar is calling out a questionable choice by another scholar. I think Fiona is capable of holding her own and defending her work if she wants to, and I think it’s a fair and important question to wonder why Fiona would not cite earlier relevant work by excommunicated Mormons and frankly what that says about her (potentially precarious) position with Church leadership.
Those who criticize others for being unwilling to others must not try to silence others themselves.
Meandering, off topic, trolling comments will not be tolerated on my posts. If you want to call that silencing, fine. Stay on topic and you won’t have a problem.