Tuesday, March 22, 2005

all are alike unto god: toscano and derr

here is the first of my write-ups on the mormon studies conference, all are alike unto god: mormonism and social justice. this was written for my feminism class, so the writing may sound a little less personal.


the presentations of margaret toscano and jill mulvay derr at the mormon studies conference nicely complemented each other in many ways. the former spoke as a mormon excommunicated from the lds church for her feminist views, the latter spoke as a mormon directing the lds church’s joseph fielding smith institute for latter-day saint history who specializes in mormon women and feminist histories.

the first to speak was margaret toscano. in her talk, toscano discussed the loss of identity she felt as a mormon female. this loss came primarily from a distributive inequality. according to her, in lds terms, ‘equality’ referred to an equal access of goodness. however, this was a contradiction because there are certain aspects of goodness in mormonism that cannot be attained by women because of the mormon distribution of power by gender.

toscano then gave a couple examples that shows while lds leaders are trying to push an equality of goodness, there still remain a strong inequality of power. the first example came from an address given by lds church president, gordon hinckley. in this talk, hinckley stressed the equal values and goodness of men and women as they serve different roles in their religious lives. according to toscano, this was in equality of power because the roles of men and women are determined by men. in other words, the men in the church tell the women out to live. not vice versa. the other examples came from pages from the official church magazine, the ensign. while women are given more presence and value in the pages of the magazine, their still remains a male priesthood looming over them. they are still subordinate to the male leadership.

toscano closed with her thoughts on what could greatly break the inequality and loss of identity. the two main thoughts were the opening of discussion and worship of the divine feminine which is largely an essential aspect of mormonism and the re-separation of the church’s women’s organization, the relief society from the leadership of the male priesthood.

following toscano, jill mulvay derr gave a presentation of the early mormon women’s leader, eliza r snow. a polygamous wife of both church founder, joseph smith and pioneer leader, brigham young, snow spoke greatly on her discovery of identity within the mormon religion. the sources of this identity were the very things that toscano sought in their absence.

in her poem and hymn “invocation to the father and mother” (later re-named “oh my father”), snow first penned which she would later talk frequently about: her mother in heaven. snow found much identity with the mormon belief. not only was she a daughter of god, she was a daughter of a heavenly mother. she had a divine parent that she could emulate in the fullest. in her poetry and her talks to other women (and men), snow stressed the importance of the relationship women should have with their divine mother.

furthermore, snow led the women as the president of the relief society. unlike today, the relief society was not under the direction of the male priesthood, but was considered a completely separate and self-governed organization. snow was seen and revered as a priestess and ‘presidentess’ among the women (and men) of the church. through this calling, snow had a pulpit in which she could empower the women around her.


i would love to see the empowerment of women in eliza snow’s day a realization today. however, i am not sure how possible it is anymore. because of the correlation of pretty much everything under the priesthood, i wonder what would happen if discussion and worship of my mother in heaven were to become more open in the church and if the relief society was once again separated from the male priesthood. has the power structure in the church evolved to a point where it is no longer possible to facilitate these things?


  1. Thanks so much for posting this, narrator. I wish I had been able to attend the conference. I really wish I had come to these two particular sessions.
    You pose some good questions at the end. I don't know. I just don't know. I've typed up several different responses but I'm going to leave it at that for now.

  2. I'm not convinced that correlation of everything under the priesthood is a bad thing...after all, the authority to act in God's name is a pretty good way to keep the church organized. I do think, though, that sometimes we men take the priesthood way too seriously -- we think it gives us power and authority over those that we have stewardship for, when in reality it does nothing like that. My interpretation of what we learn in the temple is that, yeah, we men have the priesthood, but the end result is going to be the same for both men and women. It's a team effort, one gender has no more authority than the other. As far as the stuff about Eliza Snow, that is very interesting. One thing that could be done is to have the General Relief Society President and other female leaders give some real doctrinal talks in general conference, instead of the "fluff" that is usually given. They have just as much right to inspiration as the male general authorities, so let them use it!


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