ABOUT THIS BOOK
Mormon women today might be surprised to learn about their foremothers' views on feminist theology and women's issues, according to Maxine Hanks.
In 1842, founder Joseph Smith foresaw the LDS Women's Relief Society as "a kingdom of Priests," that he "would ordain them to preside over the society...just the Presidency preside over the church." Originally, the LDS Women's Relief Society paralleled the LDS men's priesthood quorums. Women were "ordained" to various positions, as well as set apart to be healers "with power to rebuke diseases."
In the 19th-century, Mormon theology also spoke of a Mother God, having "all power and glory" with the Father in Heaven. Mormon doctrine also hinted at the divine status of Eve, Mary, and Mary Magdalene.
The 19th-century Woman's Exponent, published by the LDS Women's Relief Society, editorialized in favor of "equal rights before the law, equal pay for equal work, equal political rights." The magazine's masthead read, "The Rights of the Women of Zion and the Rights of Women of All Nations."
One Relief Society founder, Sarah Kimball, referred to herself as "a woman's rights woman," while another leader, Bathsheba Smith, was called on a Relief Society mission in 1870 to preach "woman's rights" throughout southern Utah. According to the Woman's Exponent, a woman's place was not just "in the nursery" but "in the library, the laboratory, the observatory."
Women were encouraged to pursue formal education and career opportunities, study medicine and involve themselves in politics. Mormon women were assured that "when men see that women can exist without them, it will perhaps take a little of the conceit out of some of them."
Women who served inside LDS temples were termed "priestesses," while LDS Women's Relief Society president Eliza R. Snow was known as a "prophetess." Snow discouraged women from confiding their personal issues to male bishops, saying that such matters "should be referred to the Relief Society president and her counselors."
In 1875, LDS Women's Relief Society president, Emmeline B. Wells, could say with confidence: "Let woman speak for herself; she has the right of freedom of speech. Women are too slow in moving forward, afraid of criticism, of being called unwomanly, of being thought masculine. What of it? If men are so much superior to women, the nearer we come up to the manly standard the higher we elevate ourselves."
Maxine Hanks is a feminist theologian, writer and lecturer on women's studies in religion. She was a visiting fellow at Harvard Divinity School and a research fellow with Utah Humanities Council. She has lectured in women's studies at the University of Utah, and guest lectured at BYU, Utah Valley State U., Weber State U., Salt Lake Community College, and Harvard Divinity School. She has presented at the National Women's Studies Association, Mormon History Association, Sunstone Theological Symposia, and Claremont Graduate University.
Her other books include Mormon Faith in America, Getting Together with Yesterday, and A History of Sanpete County. She has authored many articles on women's topics in Mormonism and in religion, including an essay in Secrets of Mary Magdalene.
In 1993 she was one of the "September Six," hereticated for her work on Mormon feminist theology. Since 1999, she has served as Gnostic clergy in Salt Lake, while chairing Utah Women in Ministry and Interfaith Week in Utah. She serves on the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable, the Utah Attorney General's Safety Net Committee, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch's Women's Council.
"Feminist theology is simply woman's philosophy of God and her relationship to God. It is revisionist theology; it reveals the feminine in our view of God and priesthood." (Pg. xxv)
"The idea of a mother in heaven is shadowy and elusive, floating around the edges of Mormon consciousness. Mormons who grow up singing 'O My Father' are familiar with the concept of a heavenly mother, but few hear much else about her. She exists, apparently, but has not been very evident in Mormon meetings or writings. And little if any theology has been developed to elucidate her nature and characterize our relationship to her." (Pg. 3)
"A question to which there is no definitive answer---but much speculation---is whether there is more than one Mother in Heaven." (Pg. 11)
"Mormon women suffered a considerable loss of power when the autonomous Relief Society was absorbed into the general church structure... They traded their autonomous organization for a percentage of the main church's power structure. The change in [our] Relief Society was a retreat in every way. In retrospect, I have often wondered if Mormon women gave in too easily..." (Pg. 103)
"Because no women are present in the decision-making or policy-setting councils of the church, they have no official voice in the management of the church or in the pronouncements that seek to define their role and determine the quality of their church experience." (Pg. 205)
"I believe that the most urgent change needed in LDS women's church experience is simply that men should stop preempting women's voices---that they stop speaking FOR and TO women, and let women speak for themselves." (Pg. 209)
"Yet by resisting naming God the Mother, we risk having someone else name her and describe her for us." (Pg. 252)
"Rather than a fine-tuning of the present, male (priesthood) system, I think we need a major overhaul. I see women's ordination to Melchizedek priesthood as a kind of 'tune-up,' when I believe what is needed is an overhaul of the vehicle or church system." (Pg. 358)
"Moreover, since God is the head of the male priesthood order, it is understandable that some Mormon women conclude that a female goddess is or should be the head of the female priesthood order. The doctrine of a female deity is the foundation for female priesthood." (Pg. 426)