Monday, April 14, 2014

The Old Testament

I decided that I'm going to spend this year studying the Old Testament. I'll be honest and admit that my Old Testament study really hasn't extended beyond early morning seminary in high school. There are a few reasons why I'm interested in giving it an in-depth reading as well as why I haven't attempted this in the past.

Nathan is teaching Sunday School this year (Old Testament year), so it will be fun to read and study along with him. He's a repository of information and knows all sorts of interesting things about our holy texts. And while I know the basic stories told in it, I'm unfamiliar with the depth of poetry and storytelling in the Old Testament.

However, the Old Testament has always felt foreign to me. I can wrap myself in the Book of Mormon like a quilt, and I can drink the Four Gospels like water. But the Old Testament feels like a black-and-white rule book written by an unfamiliar God. A God who rules with violence and war and slavery and oppression. A God who is more concerned with how many steps you take on the Sabbath instead of the God I have a personal relationship with. But I want to understand the Old Testament in its own context, and I want to reconcile it with my understanding of the Good News.

I'll be switching between my trusty (Mormon-approved) KJV and the more readable and graceful Holman Christian Standard. I'll also be using A Latter-day Saint Commentary on the Old Testament, which just happens to be written by Nathan's grandpa (and is refreshingly evidence-based).

My goals in this course of study are to reconcile the Old Testament Jehovah with the Jesus I understand, to learn more about the women whose stories are told, and to learn more about the use of metaphor and poetry (specifically in Isaiah). I also hope to extend my reading past the pin-hole lens I've been taught to use for Scripture study in order to appreciate how other religious traditions celebrate and use the Old Testament.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Be Faithful and Fearless"

Do what is right; the day-dawn is breaking, 
Hailing a future of freedom and light. 
Angels above us are silent notes taking Of ev'ry action; 
then do what is right! 

Do what is right; the shackles are falling. 
Chains of the bondsmen no longer are bright; 
Lightened by hope, soon they'll cease to be galling. 
Truth goeth onward; then do what is right! 

Do what is right; be faithful and fearless.
Onward, press onward, the goal is in sight. 
Eyes that are wet now, ere long will be tearless. 
Blessings await you in doing what's right! 

Do what is right; let the consequence follow. 
Battle for freedom in spirit and might; 
And with stout hearts look ye forth till tomorrow. 
God will protect you; then do what is right!

I was putting off writing this. In part because I have papers to write and work to finish, but also in part because this issue comes from a raw heart and a vulnerable spirit. I have been told to leave the Church because of this from both Mormons and non-Mormons. I have been told that I am blasphemous, irreverent, and apostate. I have been told that God isn't happy with what I'm doing. But if there is one thing that being a Mormon has taught me, it's how to be courageous.

While I may not have identified as a feminist for my entire life, I remember recognizing gendered power dynamics in my Church as a little girl. I remember silently wondering why only men were in charge at Church, why only my brothers could pass the Sacrament, and why we call male leaders "President" but female leaders "Sister." I learned quickly, however, that thinking about these things constituted a moral failing and a lack of willingness to understand God's plan. And while I grew up and started calling myself a feminist, I didn't dare ask out loud why women aren't ordained to the Priesthood.

My first moment of pure outrage about this was during a Relief Society meeting in my BYU Freshman ward. Our Stake President informed us--a group of 17 and 18 year-old girls--that we would need to share our husbands with other women in order to go to heaven. I was angry and heartbroken, but I didn't have the language or the courage to be angry and heartbroken out loud. Looking back on it now, I realized that my anger was rooted not in the fact that he was simply wrong, but in the fact that this person had more authority to speak on doctrine than I ever would because he is a man and I am a woman. That questioning him meant questioning my Priesthood leaders. I want to go back and sit next to 17 year-old Shelley in that meeting and whisper to her that it's okay to demand citations and encourage her to speak up. But I can't. Instead, I sat in silence.

I sat in silence because my experience of being a woman in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints means learning how to sit in silence. And I can't do that anymore.

Last weekend, I flew to Salt Lake City to participate with more than 500 women and men to demonstrate our support for revelation regarding women's Priesthood ordination. Controversial is an understatement. Many others have already written about what this event was and what it wasn't, so I won't write about that. Instead, I want to write about why I personally chose to participate.

Revelation necessarily follows inquiry. The Scriptures and the history of my Church are full of examples of this. With few exceptions, God doesn't tell us things unless we ask. He didn't free Nephi until Nephi asked to be freed. He didn't forgive Enos's sins until Enos asked for forgiveness. And he didn't tell Joseph Smith about his prophetic mantle until he knelt down and asked. Often, this inquiry is hard and unexpected. Sometimes, it's unpopular. While I am incomparable to Jesus or even Brother Joseph, when it comes to asking questions and talking about things that aren't popular among my immediate religious community, I'm in pretty good company.

Some have responded by saying that the Church PR office had released a statement asking participants to reconsider having this event, so going forward with it would be disobedient. However, I believe there is a marked difference between the Church as a vehicle for Restored Truth and the Church as a temporal institution. There are 15 specific people that I have sustained as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators, and not a single one of them works for the PR office. I do not believe that Church-wide revelation comes through any public relations officer, no matter how nice of a person they may be. 

Others have responded that God has already given us an answer about this. If He has, I would like to know what Prophet He said this to and on what date it was canonized as revelation. Because I belong to a Church that is governed by an open cannon of revelation, not speculation even by Church leaders. I belong to  Church that is believes in asking questions because "He will yet reveal many great and important things related to the Kingdom of God." I do not belong to a Church that is governed by the unwritten order of things (sorry President Packer). I do not belong to a Church that is governed by precedent or tradition. Because what compels me most to Mormonism is the incredibly radical idea that God isn't done talking to us. So the idea that my asking about women's ordination is somehow blasphemous or inappropriate or putting me on the road to apostasy is no different than thinking that God has said everything He wants to say about it and asking for more revealed truth is heretical.

And the most faithful thing I can do is ask and live my life believing He will answer.

So on Saturday evening, I asked. And I believe He will answer through a Prophet in His own time.

Photo via Katrina Baker Anderson