Episode 18: Historical and Current Women’s Role in the Church

In the episode hosted by George, he and Tom interview Melanny Cowley about the History of Women and the Church and issues of Feminism and Women’s role today.

Melanny’s short story: http://www.thepaperbagwriter.org/articles/fiction/broken-shoulders/

Episode 18

49 comments on “Episode 18: Historical and Current Women’s Role in the Church”

  1. zytines Reply

    Haven’t had time to listen to the podcast yet, but I loved the short story. Really powerful stuff.

  2. Tom Reply

    Melanny, you were absolutely great. You were professional and intelligent and had some very informative information.

    I simply can’t say enough how much I enjoyed this discussion. I really hope we can have Mel on again in the future.

  3. Tom Reply

    Melanny, you were absolutely great. You were professional and intelligent and had some very informative information.

    I simply can’t say enough how much I enjoyed this discussion. I really hope we can have Mel on again in the future.

  4. George Reply

    From meeting Melanny this summer at Sunstone, to reading her material on NOM, to discussing the role of women in the church, the best has been becoming a friend of hers.

    Keep up the studies. It was an honor spending some time with you.

  5. George Reply

    From meeting Melanny this summer at Sunstone, to reading her material on NOM, to discussing the role of women in the church, the best has been becoming a friend of hers.

    Keep up the studies. It was an honor spending some time with you.

  6. Swearing Elder Reply

    Great episode. If my wife didn’t regard “everything” I give her about the church as “anti” I would love to have her listend to this. I thought her experience and story was very moving — and was surprised to hear she’s still active.

  7. Swearing Elder Reply

    Great episode. If my wife didn’t regard “everything” I give her about the church as “anti” I would love to have her listend to this. I thought her experience and story was very moving — and was surprised to hear she’s still active.

  8. Bridget Jack Meyers Reply

    I enjoyed this Podcast a lot. Melanny’s story of how Maxine Hanks’ book changed her worldview really tugged at my heartstrings. I ordered Women and Authority and read it when I was 17 and still considering the claims of the LDS church. It did not completely resonate with me—as an evangelical Christian, I wasn’t as drawn to the pro-abortion arguments or the complaints about Christ being male—but if the LDS church ever had any hopes of selling me on its gender system, they evaporated after I read that book.

    I even wrote to Sheri Dew about my struggles (this was in 1999, when she was the second counselor in the RS Presidency). To my surprise, she actually wrote me back. Even more surprising was her answer: she basically ignored all the points I brought up and told me that she did not know why God would not let women hold the priesthood, but *bear testimony.* No logical arguments, no attempts to reconcile the conflicting data such as female prophets in the Bible. It was amazing to me that even women at the highest levels of leadership in the church were apparently not wrestling with the problem.

    I’m not as optimistic as Melanny is about the possible evolution of the LDS church on this issue. The church does evolve, but usually only in response to external or internal pressure and only after a long time. The LDS church’s treatment of women largely parallels that of the Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and complementarian evangelicals. So long as the church is well-flanked by these groups in its subordination of women, they’ll reinforce each other and society will see such treatment as acceptable.

    In any case, thanks again for a great podcast.

  9. Bridget Jack Meyers Reply

    I enjoyed this Podcast a lot. Melanny’s story of how Maxine Hanks’ book changed her worldview really tugged at my heartstrings. I ordered Women and Authority and read it when I was 17 and still considering the claims of the LDS church. It did not completely resonate with me—as an evangelical Christian, I wasn’t as drawn to the pro-abortion arguments or the complaints about Christ being male—but if the LDS church ever had any hopes of selling me on its gender system, they evaporated after I read that book.

    I even wrote to Sheri Dew about my struggles (this was in 1999, when she was the second counselor in the RS Presidency). To my surprise, she actually wrote me back. Even more surprising was her answer: she basically ignored all the points I brought up and told me that she did not know why God would not let women hold the priesthood, but *bear testimony.* No logical arguments, no attempts to reconcile the conflicting data such as female prophets in the Bible. It was amazing to me that even women at the highest levels of leadership in the church were apparently not wrestling with the problem.

    I’m not as optimistic as Melanny is about the possible evolution of the LDS church on this issue. The church does evolve, but usually only in response to external or internal pressure and only after a long time. The LDS church’s treatment of women largely parallels that of the Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and complementarian evangelicals. So long as the church is well-flanked by these groups in its subordination of women, they’ll reinforce each other and society will see such treatment as acceptable.

    In any case, thanks again for a great podcast.

  10. Oz Reply

    Great Podcast and very informative information regarding the timeline of authority women had at some point. It was nice to learn that George is a FEMINIST 🙂 Like Tom, of all the reading and study, I also had no idea of the role women had within the priesthood, or with the priesthood.

    Last March, out of curiosity, I attended a conference at the Claremont Graduate School, Mormonism Through the Eyes of Women. Margaret Toscano, Claudia Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich all spoke. Not knowing what to expect, it was a bit overwhelming. The story I remember most was Margaret Toscano sharing documented experiences of 20+ women either having visions or deep spiritual experiences with Heavenly Mother. Majority of the topics or information was so foreign to me, it was hard to keep up with note taking…it was literally a whole new world of thought.

    Why didn’t I know about Feminism within the church? Honestly, I never thought about it, it was never an issue within my home, never heard of an issue at church, just never came up. I was glad that Melanny referenced Maxine Hanks book, I have three daughters and I’m sure questions of their roles within the church will come up in the future. I look forward to reading Melanny’s work in the future.

    Thanks guys!!!

  11. Oz Reply

    Great Podcast and very informative information regarding the timeline of authority women had at some point. It was nice to learn that George is a FEMINIST 🙂 Like Tom, of all the reading and study, I also had no idea of the role women had within the priesthood, or with the priesthood.

    Last March, out of curiosity, I attended a conference at the Claremont Graduate School, Mormonism Through the Eyes of Women. Margaret Toscano, Claudia Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich all spoke. Not knowing what to expect, it was a bit overwhelming. The story I remember most was Margaret Toscano sharing documented experiences of 20+ women either having visions or deep spiritual experiences with Heavenly Mother. Majority of the topics or information was so foreign to me, it was hard to keep up with note taking…it was literally a whole new world of thought.

    Why didn’t I know about Feminism within the church? Honestly, I never thought about it, it was never an issue within my home, never heard of an issue at church, just never came up. I was glad that Melanny referenced Maxine Hanks book, I have three daughters and I’m sure questions of their roles within the church will come up in the future. I look forward to reading Melanny’s work in the future.

    Thanks guys!!!

  12. Mike Reply

    I dont understand how Melanny can be so blind to the beauty and elegance the LDS church places upon women. What other faith promotes the idea that a woman will be exalted to the status of a Goddess?
    She freely admits that women and men have inherent differences, but rejects the idea that they have different roles, different responsibilities. If there is a patriarchal role in the priesthood after a couple enter into the Abrahamic covenant, there is an inherent role of matriarch as well. As the man uses the priesthood to seal and bind and expand the gospel, the woman nurtures and supports and upholds those covenants that the Holy Ghost might be able to place his seal to make the covenant whole. The relationship is a companionship of growth and order. it is the essence of creation and establishment in a household of order.
    A voice of suspicion and doubt as to the order of the house of God is a destroyer of faith. Repent and come home.

  13. Mike Reply

    I dont understand how Melanny can be so blind to the beauty and elegance the LDS church places upon women. What other faith promotes the idea that a woman will be exalted to the status of a Goddess?
    She freely admits that women and men have inherent differences, but rejects the idea that they have different roles, different responsibilities. If there is a patriarchal role in the priesthood after a couple enter into the Abrahamic covenant, there is an inherent role of matriarch as well. As the man uses the priesthood to seal and bind and expand the gospel, the woman nurtures and supports and upholds those covenants that the Holy Ghost might be able to place his seal to make the covenant whole. The relationship is a companionship of growth and order. it is the essence of creation and establishment in a household of order.
    A voice of suspicion and doubt as to the order of the house of God is a destroyer of faith. Repent and come home.

  14. Melanny Reply

    My response:

    “I dont understand how Melanny can be so blind to the beauty and elegance the LDS church places upon women.”

    I’m not blind to it. I believed it and listened to it for fifteen years until I almost had a nervous breakdown. I am well aware of the exaltation offered to me through the church.

    “What other faith promotes the idea that a woman will be exalted to the status of a Goddess?”

    I don’t know what good a promise of being a Goddess does me when I have no female goddess remodel to even look up to. When was the last time you sat in a church meeting and heard that your wife was going to be a goddess? I agree it’s a great promise. My criticism is that it needs to be brought to the forefront.

    “She freely admits that women and men have inherent differences, but rejects the idea that they have different roles, different responsibilities.”

    Actually, I don’t. It’s a man’s role to place the sperm inside the woman if they want to have a child. It’s the woman’s role to provide a womb and give birth if they want to have a child. Rather than rejecting specific roles, I would say that I simply fail to understand why two people cannot negotiate and share roles as a team.

    “If there is a patriarchal role in the priesthood after a couple enter into the Abrahamic covenant, there is an inherent role of matriarch as well.”

    So? Where are the matriarchs? I agree with you on this point. I want my matriarchal status returned to me.

    “As the man uses the priesthood to seal and bind and expand the gospel, the woman nurtures and supports and upholds those covenants that the Holy Ghost might be able to place his seal to make the covenant whole.”

    ??? What are you talking about? Please walk me through the logistics of this.

    “The relationship is a companionship of growth and order. it is the essence of creation and establishment in a household of order.”

    Except when it’s not. I found this system to be very counterproductive to my personal happiness, including suppressing my husband’s anxiety disorder which left him undiagnosed and untreated. It’s a long story, but I essentially tried to be the good Mormon wife, and therefore his “dominion” however provoked by irrational anxiety, ruled our home.

    “A voice of suspicion and doubt as to the order of the house of God is a destroyer of faith.”

    My faith is still intact. Thanks for expressing your concern, though.

    “Repent and come home.”

    Judge not, that ye be judged, sir.

  15. Melanny Reply

    My response:

    “I dont understand how Melanny can be so blind to the beauty and elegance the LDS church places upon women.”

    I’m not blind to it. I believed it and listened to it for fifteen years until I almost had a nervous breakdown. I am well aware of the exaltation offered to me through the church.

    “What other faith promotes the idea that a woman will be exalted to the status of a Goddess?”

    I don’t know what good a promise of being a Goddess does me when I have no female goddess remodel to even look up to. When was the last time you sat in a church meeting and heard that your wife was going to be a goddess? I agree it’s a great promise. My criticism is that it needs to be brought to the forefront.

    “She freely admits that women and men have inherent differences, but rejects the idea that they have different roles, different responsibilities.”

    Actually, I don’t. It’s a man’s role to place the sperm inside the woman if they want to have a child. It’s the woman’s role to provide a womb and give birth if they want to have a child. Rather than rejecting specific roles, I would say that I simply fail to understand why two people cannot negotiate and share roles as a team.

    “If there is a patriarchal role in the priesthood after a couple enter into the Abrahamic covenant, there is an inherent role of matriarch as well.”

    So? Where are the matriarchs? I agree with you on this point. I want my matriarchal status returned to me.

    “As the man uses the priesthood to seal and bind and expand the gospel, the woman nurtures and supports and upholds those covenants that the Holy Ghost might be able to place his seal to make the covenant whole.”

    ??? What are you talking about? Please walk me through the logistics of this.

    “The relationship is a companionship of growth and order. it is the essence of creation and establishment in a household of order.”

    Except when it’s not. I found this system to be very counterproductive to my personal happiness, including suppressing my husband’s anxiety disorder which left him undiagnosed and untreated. It’s a long story, but I essentially tried to be the good Mormon wife, and therefore his “dominion” however provoked by irrational anxiety, ruled our home.

    “A voice of suspicion and doubt as to the order of the house of God is a destroyer of faith.”

    My faith is still intact. Thanks for expressing your concern, though.

    “Repent and come home.”

    Judge not, that ye be judged, sir.

  16. Walt Reply

    Mike, what exactly does she need to repent of? You best take a long look in the mirror on that statement, and the rest of your post.

    Melanny, great podcast I really enjoyed hearing your story, you sound like an amazing person and I look forward to someday reading your book. Thanks for taking the time to participate.

  17. Walt Reply

    Mike, what exactly does she need to repent of? You best take a long look in the mirror on that statement, and the rest of your post.

    Melanny, great podcast I really enjoyed hearing your story, you sound like an amazing person and I look forward to someday reading your book. Thanks for taking the time to participate.

  18. Betsy Reply

    Great interview, Mel. I appreciated you perspective and related to much of it. There were points you hit that I hadn’t considered, as well.

  19. Betsy Reply

    Great interview, Mel. I appreciated you perspective and related to much of it. There were points you hit that I hadn’t considered, as well.

  20. Gail F. Bartholomew Reply

    Being a man in the church I have always been taught that the Priesthood is “the power to act in God’s name.” When I was 11 and went to my Priesthood preview I was given a small peace of wood with this written on it. Yes, at this time in the church only men hold callings with names like Elder, Priest, or Bishop, but can anyone make the argument that women do not have the power to act in God’s name and do not do so every day. I believe women exercise the priesthood all the time, whether or not we choose to say they hold the priesthood or not.

    I have long struggled with two lines in the Proclamation on the Family.

    “fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness” and then a few lines down “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners” When I look up the word Preside in the dictionary every definition has the word control in it. I struggle to understand how these lines do anything but contradict.

    I have been taught that Preside in love and righteousness means to be loving and listen to your wife’s council, but the husband gets the final say because he holds the priesthood. My question is if no power or influence can or out to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood than why by virtue that the husband holds the priesthood he is in charge? And just because he has a calling like Elder does he really act in God’s name more or with more authority than his wife?

    I believe that only men having callings in the priesthood is not only merely an earthly thing, but a cultural thing.

    Pagans before Abraham had male and female gods. Abraham’s God or the way he taught about God was a male God that needed know female to create, for he create with only his word. Joseph Smith described a God once again that was Male and Female. My Mom taught me that God had so much respect for his wife that she was never talked about in the scriptures and we out of reverence speak very little about her. I now question why pretending someone is not there is giving reverence to them.

  21. Gail F. Bartholomew Reply

    Being a man in the church I have always been taught that the Priesthood is “the power to act in God’s name.” When I was 11 and went to my Priesthood preview I was given a small peace of wood with this written on it. Yes, at this time in the church only men hold callings with names like Elder, Priest, or Bishop, but can anyone make the argument that women do not have the power to act in God’s name and do not do so every day. I believe women exercise the priesthood all the time, whether or not we choose to say they hold the priesthood or not.

    I have long struggled with two lines in the Proclamation on the Family.

    “fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness” and then a few lines down “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners” When I look up the word Preside in the dictionary every definition has the word control in it. I struggle to understand how these lines do anything but contradict.

    I have been taught that Preside in love and righteousness means to be loving and listen to your wife’s council, but the husband gets the final say because he holds the priesthood. My question is if no power or influence can or out to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood than why by virtue that the husband holds the priesthood he is in charge? And just because he has a calling like Elder does he really act in God’s name more or with more authority than his wife?

    I believe that only men having callings in the priesthood is not only merely an earthly thing, but a cultural thing.

    Pagans before Abraham had male and female gods. Abraham’s God or the way he taught about God was a male God that needed know female to create, for he create with only his word. Joseph Smith described a God once again that was Male and Female. My Mom taught me that God had so much respect for his wife that she was never talked about in the scriptures and we out of reverence speak very little about her. I now question why pretending someone is not there is giving reverence to them.

  22. Megan von Ackermann Reply

    Commenting partway through (podcast sin?)

    Sean – I lived in Germany right around the time you were there, around Wildflecken, so Fulda was our  branch and Frankfurt was (probably? We never went to stake conference I’m afraid) our stake.  We had several African converts sent to our branch and it was very difficult to watch. The branch (entirely military and family) struggled to cope with people with VERY strong cultural traditions and mores and taboos that – naturally – they wanted to keep. Probably the Americans got more out of it all since the African members were usually baffled most of the time. Also, since they were trying to get recognition for their immigrant status, they were required to stay in gasthoffs and didn’t have access to transportation so the members were used as a taxi service or to run errands. Naturally this built up frustration and resentment. I don’t think, other than a woman whose husband died within two weeks of their baptism, any of the converts stayed active for more than two or three meetings.

    It’s fascinating to hear about it from the other side!

    Okay… I repent my sins and I’ll finish listening now…

  23. Gail_F_Bartholomew Reply

    How do I find a local calm group?  I looked on line and I found a blog, but have not found were communities are listed.

    • Sean Leavitt Reply

      Gail, you can check out the local chapter listings at Postmormon.org, under the “Our Community”, under “Post-Mormon Chapters”. Or here at Mormon Expression at this link, for local contacts: http://mormonexpression.com/local-contacts/

  24. JTurn Reply

    Thank you Stacey and Sean
    for sharing your experiences. 

     

    Of the many thoughts I could
    connect with, I appreciated most Sean’s description of his emotional disconnect,
    which I too felt and described once as my LDS “underwhelment.”  In those days I battled through the
    three hours with doodling on the program or coloring with crayons.

     

    I also remember procrastinating
    my Sunday morning rising – fantasizing about slipping through a crack in time
    to the other side of Church services.  While my wife would usually called me out when I didn’t do my fair share
    – she left me alone Sunday mornings.  She
    knew what my butt-dragging meant.  She patiently got the kids ready and waited
    for my conscience to rise to the task of at least dressing myself.  

     

    On one level it seems awfully
    immature to revert to the same behavior I
    pulled as a kid when my parents “forced” me to go to Church.  But perhaps there was some wisdom in my
    childish brain.  It was a kid that saw the emperor wasn’t wearing clothes.  Maybe
    it is worth reflecting on the meaning of the “99%” who distract themselves with
    doodling and smart-phones.  Perhaps
    it reveals how painful it is to look up to see that one’s Church has no clothes.

    Thanks again,

    JT

    Greg, I loved your line about wanting to kiss the elephant in the room.

  25. Nathan R Kennard Reply

    Sean and Stacey, you guys are fun to hear. I loved hearing your story.

    ‘Shards of my life’, figuring out if ‘I believe this because I’ve been taught to believe this or because it works for me’ This metaphor is apt and the choice of words wonderful. ‘Whether this works for me or was something I have been taught’ does not pigeon-hole useful ideas into a black and white false dichotomy. Evaluating beliefs on if they ‘work for me’ gives expression to value things which have subjective importance. Some of what may have been taught may be good and some either false or not salient, but these shards need to be evaluated.

    I am glad to know you two began a new stage of growth together. When partners do not make this transition together, it is understandable and loving them helps both partners. Thanks.

  26. Kyle Elser Reply

    Sean, We should go Bowling sometime!!  After finishing all 500 crossword puzzles on the little handheld game my mom gave me a few years ago, I started reading in SM.  I did the whole sneaking around with apostacy porn thing.  Except, my wife still believes.

  27. jackrodwell Reply

    listening to this made me kind of sick. in africa asia and latin america, they dont give a flying f about a white guy in 1830s new york . they just want the help that missionaries provide .  great podcast by sean

  28. jackrodwell Reply

    a beautiful women is beautiful if she is in a bikini or a warren jeffs style. boys  can always tell a women with a pretty face and hair no matter what she is wearing .  

  29. Kneephi Reply

    I can’t believe English is their second language. They speak it perfectly.  Very interesting interview.  I’ve often wondered what it would be like to grow up in a predominantly secular culture as part of the Mormon Church and it was very interesting to hear your perspective.  Thanks!

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