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?