Is Feminism in the Future of Mormonism?
Father Tom Roberts, PhD
“Feminism” is really a loaded term. It extends from conservative religious practices under studies such as A Women’s Strategic Place in the Church. Even evangelical feminists like to show just how powerful women were throughout church history into modern times.
In modern Christian practice, the Assembly of God Pentecostal tradition had more female participation in their pulpits than any other Christian denomination. There were many female preachers such as Katherine Colman and a host of others who preached on gospel radio on The Voice of Healing program.
By 1968, feminism took on a more Christian dimension with Mary Daily’s work The Church and the Second Sex. This publication caused a stir in mainline and Catholic traditions. So by the 1980’s, debates over the work of Phyllis Tribble’s Text of Terror was under much scrutiny by evangelical scholars. Then Rosemary Ruther stepped on the scene with her new interpretations about the parallelisms of the Genesis Creation which listed man first in the order of creation. In her view, it should have been reversed with a woman giving birth to the man. Later, this was countered by Jewish scholars who reported that Ruther has misunderstood the parallelism and the woman was really the crowning of all creation because she is mentioned second as the final climax of the parallelism. This controversy placed a whole new paradigm in feminist thinking.
Brown University published in their Judaic Studies 36, Women Leaders in the Ancient Synagogue by Bernadette J. Brooten. This bombshell laid to rest forever the notion that women had no strategic place in the Hellenic or the Judaic synagogue.
Many theologians such a Merlin Stone believed there was a golden age when God was a woman. Phyllis Tribble responded by saying the archaeology in the Middle East does not bear out a time when the goddess reigned supreme because there was always a male deity who was in charge and the female carried the role of agency.
Then feminism began to take a biblical theological role from the text with writers such Carol Meyers of Seattle University who edited The Woman’s Bible along with Carol Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe with The Woman’s Bible Commentary. Even Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza published her two volume commentary in 1994 so feminists scholar could have biblical basis from which to advance their hermeneutic. A
All across the Christian spectrum, conservative and liberal denominations were being effected. Gains from women began to be felt in the Seventh Day Adventist denomination where more than 26 ordinations of women were generally well accepted. The mainline churches such as The Disciples of Christ, Episcopal and Methodist traditions were also greatly affected by these changes. The general public began to hear from the LDS tradition comments about the term “cultural Mormons”. These are members who were generally well educated but, for some reason, did not accept the LDS tenets of faith but wished to be in fellowship with the church. Certainly a right and left paradigm had been emerging for some time as was the case in other North American denominations of a similar age.
Today, it is quite common in private LDS publications as well as on blogs and other private media, for Latter Day Saint feminists to express their views. Recently, female members of Sunstone held a symposium with their Roman Catholic counterparts to share their frustrations and common theological concerns.
In this era of post-modern thought, so many previously held concepts are up for grabs on many fronts as modern expositors advance these new ideas. The only question is how long can male dominated hierarchies in any religious system remain in power without a great deal of upheaval until we learn what Professor Mullenkott stated about the Christian way of relating when she said man and woman, each is the other, showing we are truly part of each other? Maybe when true equality is found then the entire western world can move forward to a new spiritual plateau. So the LDS Church has as much at stake as any other Christian denomination in this foundational issue.