“ We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”
Doctrine & Covenants 121:39
Few things in life distort the relationship of communities and society more than power and politics. The American revolution and the revolution in France introduced democracy to both America and Europe in roughly the same time period. The French revolution ended up much more violent and tumultuous than the former, described by Charles Dickens as “the best of times” and “the worst of times” simultaneously. The French revolution was an extremely violent and intolerant uprising. It led to mass beheading and guillotining of the aristocracy. It led to the rise of the first of the modern despots in Napoleon, who enthralled the recently empowered majority, was voted into power which he refused to release and unleashed war upon the rest of Europe, as the revolution ran off its rails.
America on the other hand, was more peaceful. They maintained their democracy and developed a burgeoning middle class. They became the rising power of the 19th century. Alexis de Toqueville carefully examined the difference between the two in his book Democracy in America. He reached the conclusion that in France, the revolution in its anger and retribution created a new “tyranny of the majority.” Their rule was every bit as despotic and oppressive as any tyrant to those in the minority who did not stand with them. Terror and the guillotine reigned. These new democrats so opposed the old order that they violently opposed every auspice of what they stood for. Among other things, this led to a violent disdain for religion, as the Catholic church had been key to power in France. Indeed, disdain for religion distinguishes France to this day.
America, on the other hand, maintained a robust religious life without sacrificing religious liberty through a separation of church and state, removing formal church hierarchy from political power, but allowing, even encouraging religious practice freely among all citizens. At the same time, which religion and practice became a matter of conscience. It seems America found a way to protect the minority from majority rule through its respect for the individual. This inspired many Frenchmen. Like minded thinker Edouard Rene de Laboulaye actually comissioned the Statue of Liberty as a gift to the Nation he saw as the one that would bring democracy to the world.
Certainly it was not perfect. Tyranny remained the rule for African slaves and Native Americans. However, this culture is what eventually enabled the overthrow of slavery, and further down the line, the civil rights movement. In essence, a dedication to individual rights and freedoms and the lack of an entrenched aristocracy allowing movement up the socioeconomic ladder to an unprecedented degree allowed a republic representative democracy to flourish in America. De Toqueville did warn of the ever present threat of a “soft despotism” as democracy could be subtly subverted by an elite group with amassed wealth and power. The story is not all roses and rainbows for the USA.
There is a natural tension in any democracy between the minority and majority. The USA is no different. This is in part why in this land of religious freedom, we Mormons were expelled from their home and driven from this country to the Rocky Mountains. This is why the civil rights movement was necessary. This is in large part responsible for movements such as political correctness and feminism. Those who sit in the position of power, have the tendency to abuse that power. As the prophet Joseph said it was the nature and disposition of almost all men.
It is an unpleasant realization to sit in the seat of privilege and realize that things aren’t quite the same for others living in the same country where equality is an ideal. Feminism, Civil Rights, the Anti-defamation league, and all similar movements draw power from this shared ideal. The fact that we have not achieved equality causes guilt. This guilt is the key to the power of the disenfranchised. Their power and political influence rise from it.
I wonder sometimes if this power is not just as prone to abuse. When your power comes from the inequities, how do you accept victory. To do so is to lay down your power. I wonder if it is possible to wield guilt like a club until you create a soft tyranny of the minority. I think these feelings are responsible for the backlash political correctness has received. I think these revolutions and movements, just as the French, are always in danger of running off the rails. These wise words were shared by Maya Angelou in her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, “The sadness of the women’s movement is that they don’t allow the necessity of love. See, I don’t personally trust any revolution where love is not allowed.”
Here’s hoping that the women’s movement in Mormonism can find that love.
I think the point stands for all political movements. I am with Ms. Angelou. I don’t trust any revolution where love is not allowed. My problem with power and politics in general is that it always seems to lead to manipulation or oppression of the opposition. In its most simplistic and vulgar form it is bullying, violence and war. I think the more subtle forms remain damaging and corrosive to the soul as well.
The story of the end of Apartheid in South Africa is very instructive here. This is one of, if not THE most remarkable story of current events in my lifetime. More than black history, this was human history. As part of Apartheid, the State sanctioned terror against nonwhites within its borders. Mass human displacement, murder, and torture accompanied a systematic denial of civil rights are all now well documented and catalogued. In that culture of hatred, other groups, most notably the African National Congress (ANC) fought against them with violence of their own. One of the ANCs members was one Nelson Mandela, after originally trying nonviolent protest, engaged in a campaign of sabotage and developed a military wing for future use. As a result, he was thrown in prison for life and served the sentence for 27 years before he was freed in the face of international outcry. He writes of receiving his freedom-
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
In a stunning moment in 1990s, Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa. The ANC wanted Nuremberg style public criminal trials to punish the regime, while the outgoing party wanted amnesty. At this time the threat of descent into violence and chaos was very real. Many African nations before them threw off the colonial powers only to fall into violence until warlords grabbed power. This too, could have been South Africa’s fate. The possibility of blood revenge and civil war was very real. In this environment, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed as a compromise. The basic idea of the commission was this: Any individual, whatever he or she had done, was eligible for amnesty if they would fully disclose and confess their crimes. Victims were invited to tell their stories and witness confessions.
Nelson Mandela wrote of the philosophy behind all this-
“I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”
The stories that emerged from these confrontations are startlingly powerful and beyond my ability to accurately describe. I invite everyone to take a listen to this podcast, which really brought the story alive to me in a way that moved me to tears. I am still in awe of the hearts of those who found to forgive the very worst atrocities imaginable. This is why Nelson Mandela when he passed away last year was revered around the world as the towering giant of a figure. This is revolution done right. This is what politics can be, even in the worst of situations, when girded about with love.
I think this applies within the church as well. There are many who experience pain when they learn of mistakes, sometimes big ones, made by church leaders of the past and present. It is so easy to write these fellow saints off when they express their frustrations. It is so easy to declare them as deceived by the devil so any complaint they have can safely be ignored and they removed from righteous society. It is so easy as one suffering from the sense of betrayal this brings to become consumed by anger and frustration themselves. It is so easy in this situation to angrily demand change from whatever it is that seems not right. I am sorry but in my experience this is not how it works. I am backed up by D & C 121, which I consider one of the most profound scriptures of the entire restoration- It is only by persuasion, by long suffering, by gentleness and meekness and by love unfeigned. By kindness, by pure knowledge which shall enlarge the soul without hypocrisy and without guile– that any power or influence can be maintained. This is as true for those who seek to influence the Church for the better as it is of those who seek to lead it, or to those who desire to bring back those who are suffering in the trial of faith.
We need to better understand one another. To survive as a society we need empathy, for the majority, the minority, for whichever group we are not. We need better communication and less rhetoric. We need a committment to listen to one another and work out differences peaceably. We need to forgive our opponents of the wrongs that have hurt us. More than anything what we need is love.
There is no love in the women’s movement? I disagree. It is love for other women and self respect, or “self love” that motivates many women to fight. Your historical examples are interesting, but lets not forget the many times the class of people _in power already_ oppresses those under them. The historical examples seem extreme also. There is little indication of women activists gaining the power or desire in Mormonism to send the patriarchy to the guillotine. Are you a woman in the church? If not, you can comfortably intellectualize all day about how angry and loveless women pushing for equality are. Being oppressed causes legitimate anger. Don’t blame the victim if hey don’t “know their place” and stay sweet and reserved.
“It is so easy in this situation to angrily demand change from whatever it is that seems not right. I am sorry but in my experience this is not how it works.”
Uh, what?? Who’s “angrily demanding”? That’s an assumption on your part, and apparently it’s also “so easy” to make. Have you been in the room when these women have called to the Lord in their pain? Have you received their personal revelation?
Calling out privilege and critiquing power structures does not equal oppression, or anger, or anything of the like.
“We need to better understand one another. To survive as a society we need empathy, for the majority, the minority, for whichever group we are not. We need better communication and less rhetoric. We need a committment [sic] to listen to one another and work out differences peaceably. We need to forgive our opponents of the wrongs that have hurt us. More than anything what we need is love.”
You might try looking at those 3 fingers pointed back at yourself before accusing the women asking for equality of lacking empathy and telling them to use less rhetoric. Most of your post was a long list of historical events that have nothing to do with the subject at hand, and, I might add, I don’t know that POC and Native Americans would consider their experience of tyranny at the hands of the US military and slaveowners to be simply “not perfect.” 😛
Thank you for you comment. To your point at the end I agree. True horrors endured by the POC, native americans and also South Africans under apartheid. You are right, yet please, take a look at Nelson Mandela and the truth and reconciliation commission. Look at his outlook toward his oppressors. I find his message all the more powerful for the horror he and others endured. He did it while still critiquing privelege and power structures (to which I do not take offense, BTW) and speaking truth to power, but what he did was rare and magnificent. What he did can really change hearts.
Finally, my comment posted, and for some reason my sticking-tongue-out emoticon turned into a happy face. I am not happy about that, or about the treatment of Native Americans and POC. >.<
Those throwing tea in the Boston Harbor have much in common with Mormon Feminists. Both did not want taxation without representation. Though Mormonism doesn’t technically tax, women give of their tithes, time, and talents, and yet their voices are rarely part of administration of the church.
Thanks so much for the comment. I have to say, while they had legitimate gripes, I find the Boston Tea Party entirely lacking in love. I don’t think it did much productive for the cause. Anger is easy but not as powerful as people think it is. It is simply far, far too easy for the oppressed to become oppressors once they succeed in reform.
(cross posted from FB)
Interesting post. I could get all philosophical and argue how I don’t think that the American and French revolutions are alike enough in some significant ways to be compared successfully here, but that’s not really the point. I don’t think that the women’s movement (and others) * isn’t* motivated by love, I’d rather argue it’s motivated by different kinds of love and the expressions of it than tend to be socially sanctioned for women – love of self, to pick an example, not at random. But I definitely need to digest this a bit more to comment wisely. To the question, I think there’s lots of causes within mormonism itself that have gone wrong culturally – looking at you, modesty rhetoric! The idea of being a “chosen” people can backfire into pretty insular behavior and arrogance, and I’d even argue that the religiously politically motivated attempts at not a few issues within Utah also could qualify as good intentions manifesting absolutely terribly.
(also cross posted, sorry! I just find this post very interesting and keep having thoughts on it)
More thoughts, still digesting. I don’t, in fact want a revolution as part of a woman’s movement. I want to be let in to the power structure that is already in place, not tear it down and replace it. In that respect I do see an 18th century comparison – though I still find the US/French comparison deeply flawed – an argument could be made that neither revolution might have happened if the powers that be initially gave the structurally disenfranchised involved what they were asking for. To sum up: a seat at the table.
It’s also not lost on me that this writer, while acknowledging that he is speaking from a place of privilege…is speaking from a place of privilege. And the truth is I always take pleas from the establishment not to try to hard to change things, or who caution movements in actions to change privilege structures that they benefit from, with a grain of salt.
C, thanks for the comment. Please, keep trying hard to change things. I have no problem with change. You have a valid point about the Women’s movement not necessarily wanting a complete revolution. My question is can you love a person coming from a position of privilege when you discount any thing they might have to say because of that privilege. I undertand it colors perspective in ways that are not obvious to the hearer. For that reason, respectful engagement born of love is that much more important. We need to awaken people to their flaws in a way that does not automatically raise their hackles. I have seen some excellent arguments against modesty rhetoric that do just that and others, not so much. I find the former much more effective than the latter.
Thanks for the response, I’m really finding this post thought provoking. A couple more long winded thoughts and then I’ll stop taking up too much room in the comment section.
I don’t discount your POV, I hope I expressed that I take it seriously and don’t feel my hackles raised at all. I found your post very thought provoking and appreciate it. But I do state, unequivocally that in discussing the lack of something (priesthood for example), the voices of people experiencing that lack have a different weight to them than those who enjoy it. My grain of salt comment was not to state that your opinion doesn’t matter as well, but rather to express that (acknowledged or not) a lack of change to a system continues to benefit the privileged person. Therefore, whether or not you intend this, you or any other privileged person benefits from things not changing – and therefore calls to caution against change, or insisting that it be done certain ways, or fulfill certain criteria that satisfy you personally, are frankly automatically suspect. I don’t mean that in any way to sound like a personal slight so much as a social, political, economic, and historical matter of fact.
As a Christian I have an obligation to love you. I take that seriously. I don’t discount what you say – I read to it and weighed it respectfully (and have spent a couple hours now thinking about it while engaging earnestly and without knee jerk reactions)…I just end up disagreeing with several of your conclusions. And ultimately, what bothers me most is an underlying aspect to this entire post. Even if what you insist on is a greater measure of love (which I’m theoretically 100% behind, by the way), you – a man – are still telling women how they should/should not be involved with attempting to change the world that disenfranchises them in favor of you…which is part of the problem.
Actually more hoping than telling. Please understand this essay is about minority movements in general, not so much any specific one. I am not insisting anyone take my view, merely hoping to persuade. If true that any piece of advice or insight I might share ultimately hurtful, simply because of a situation of privilege I was born into, then I am left to wonder if ultimate reconciliation of the oppressed with the oppressors is impossible. If so, I find that truly tragic. The truth and reconciliation commission gives me a hope that perhaps this is not the case.
Basically, that’s a tone argument. http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Tone_argument
There was a time when the Women’s movement was much angrier than it is today (and rightfully so in my opinion). That is when the master poet penned her words, and that was one of the first raindrops that eventually became the third wave.
For your comparison to be true, you must expect Mormon women to take up arms against their oppressors, slay the tyrants and take their place.
There was never a time when the Mormon feminist movement was as angry as your essay suggests. Unlike your comparisons, Mormon feminists do not rage, destroy, kill, or maim.
The love is there. Most Mormon feminists choose to serve. Choose to believe. Choose to care despite what their religion has asked of them. They teach our children, they are our chaplains, our confidants, our leaders in spirit if not in title, they are more often silent, but they are everywhere, and they love you. All they are asking is that you love them too.
Thank you for the comment. You have a good point about the difference between say the French Revolution and the women’s movement. What I am wondering is if even in a more peaceful revolution, can the power of the minority derived from the (perfectly legitimate) guilt of the privileged be abused. Can it corrupt? I am asking the question. I don’t know if I have the answer. (Legitimate is the wrong word, I think I mean deserved guilt.)
I’d say any power can potentially corrupt. But hard power has more force, opportunity, strength, and ability to corrupt than soft power. While the mormon feminist movements might have the potential to become corrupted and do harm the truth if successful in the future (and that’s a pretty wide scope there, since it’s not defined by a single creed or set of ideals), meanwhile the mormon patriarchy IS harming. Currently, in the present and explicitly in the past.
Being disenfranchised is, by it’s nature a state of powerlessness, so I balk a bit at the “power of the minority” statement, though I do think I understand what you’re driving at. Ultimately, though, I think that debating the *potential harms* that the minority *might* inflict pales a bit compared to confronting the actual harms that the actual majority are inflicting presently.
Really. Shutting up now.:)
Don’t apologize for standing up for yourself and your beliefs. We women (particularly Mormon women) need to get over that, especially the perception that we talk too much.
How is that a power??? That doesn’t even make sense.
It was Maya Angelou that made the claim about love and the Women’s movement so you will need to take it up with her. I was simply expressing a wish that the women’s movement might find the love Miss Angelou thought was missing. Hopefully they already have.
There is no one representative for the women’s movement and I known many of them have shown great love and compassion and engage in rigorous debate thoughtfully and respectfully while advocating for a worthy cause. Others are do not tolerate any kind of percieved criticism or slight. For example, Sheri Dew, a remarkable Mormon woman and personality in her own right, gets slammed all the time for expressing an opinion in her book without anyone actually engaging her ideas. Sorry, that’s not love.
For the record, I think everyone should be a feminist in the broadest sense of the word, namely wanting women to be treated equally and with dignity and respect. The line on love is incidental to a much broader point about fighting those who lack love themselves and oppress. I think what Nelson Mandela said was profoundly important when it comes to fighting for a just cause (and I am not saying the cause is unjust in any way.)
But Ms. Angelou did not intend her line to be applied specifically to Mormon women, you did that, so you do not get to punt that easily. The foundation for your argument is a perceived lack of love which you are now ready to abandon…
The basis for your entire essay is that Mormon feminists lack the love necessary for a successful revolution. You just painted an entire group of Mormon women with one broad critical brush, and now you want to say you only meant it to apply to a select group of Mormon women that you do not know and have not specifically identified.
Your example of Sister Dew is important. Here is a woman that embodies every aspect of Mormon feminism, but refuses to claim her feminism. She is no more a duck than the orphaned baby swan we tell our children about. Mormon feminists are frustrated by Sister Dew and thousands of other closet Mormon feminists who refuse to claim their heritage for various reasons. Mormon women who vote, drive, work, own businesses, hold political offices, run PTOs, write, advocate, volunteer, and lead. These are all feminists whether they want to be or not. The moment they step up and do anything beyond the cultural limitations placed on them 25, 50, or 100 years ago, they are involuntarily adopted into the feminist family. I would argue that with rare exception, almost all Mormon women are feminists due to the benefits and rights they enjoy because of their feminists heritage.
Mormon feminists don’t want to destroy healthy families or rewrite history. We do not seek to damage the church. We just want the church to embrace the vision that Joseph Smith had at that first Relief Society meeting when he said, “If any Officers of the Relief Society are wanted to carry out the designs of the Institution, let them be appointed and set apart as Deacons and Teachers.”
Why is that such a big deal for Mormons? There is no doctrinal basis for women not having the priesthood. However, there is strong historical evidence that women who want it, should be allowed to receive the priesthood and exercise it accordingly. There is no need to mandate that women receive the priesthood like men do. There is no reason to expect that giving the priesthood to women will alter the family vision.
Other than the rather shaky claim that the priesthood has always been for men only, why not acknowledge the female priesthood authority that already exists both in our ancient history (Deborah and Anna), in our current history (Eliza Snow and Zina Young), and in our temples?
With all due respect you completely missed the basis of my entire essay. I threw in the line on the Mormon women’s movement almost as an aside, maybe a hope that whatever faults there are in the larger movement not be repeated by the Mormon version. I say that as someone who wants change.
Oh, by the way, I do acknowledge that female priesthood exists in all the examples given.
If the line on the Mormon women’s movement is an aside, it might have been better to leave it out entirely. Because it looks like a key point in your essay. . . And it’s the point I responded to below.
When I read Jeremy’s last two paragraphs, I don’t read Mormon Feminism in them at all. I see him expressing a concern for all of us who want some type of change in our Mormon experience. Many of us who have faith crisis, unrelated to Women and the Priesthood, (please separate the issues for a moment) –
We who have experienced faith crisis wanted a more transparent church. We wanted our history owned, seers stones and all. Now we are getting our desire, but with that desire is coming at a price, people who hadn’t run across the issues are now having essays presented to them, that are putting them into a faith crisis. Out of the blue, from the very organization they felt safe in, their hearts are spinning out of control.
We who wanted transparency probably weren’t prepared for the other outcome, I know I didn’t consider it as much as I should. I’m a hobby historian and getting all the facts out seemed very rational to me, I didn’t think about others whose simple structure would be upended.
Jeremy’s question to me, as I read his piece, is can I keep love in my heart for both sides. Can I be patient, long suffering with a church, who doesn’t have a plan to inoculate our generation. Can I be patient enough when I sit through a Gospel Doctrine class, that trots out the Curse of Cain as a valid reason for black members not holding the priesthood. Especially if the teacher has no idea those theories have been “disavowed”. Do I, because I love Mormonism’s potential, bring up the new essay, or do I let the class commentary stay the same. Love – how do I do this, share this, hold back my pain until another time, etc.
On that version of this essay I thank Jeremy. I do need to remember my Heavenly Siblings on both sides. I need to remember we all hurt, bleed, wound, and ache. When interacting with both I need to keep the admonition of charity first. “To suffer long, and be kind. To not be puffed up. To seek not my own. To not be easily provoked.” For me it’s hard when I’m in the middle of church and someone spouts rhetoric that’s not true, whether that is Women and the Priesthood or The Curse of Cain. That is the message I read in Jeremy’ piece.
Jeremy, what do you mean that Mormon Feminism does not allow love?
You are kind and patient Jeremy, we need more like you. In the words of a popular radical revolutionary: ” Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…”
I agree with the Christian ideals of love and kindness.I agree witg civility. But opposition to oppression does not equal not having love.
Ghandi, Martin Luther King, jr and Nelson Mandela all agree with you. I agree with you. If I gave any other impression I can assure you it is not how I feel and I don’t believe it’s how Maya Angelou feels either. What is amazing to me about the nonviolent civil disobedience of Ghandi it is how it refuses to be silenced yet loves the other at the same time.
Sorry for my typos, writing comments while driving not advised.
Jeremy -I think you are a gentle soul. The world needs more people like you. Thank you for this thoughtful, beautiful post.
I think including Mormon feminism with any of the political revolutions your reference is really a stretch. Including ANY feminism with those revolutions is a stretch. But I am with you in believing that love is the most powerful force in the universe. You and I may see the expression of that power differently due to our respective roles and sexes. But I’m with you brother: Love cures all ills. And Jesus saves.
Love is the power that made our planet. Love is the power by which our Savior spoke the many sermons about inequality while he was in the world, the power by which He gave his life, then took it up again.
Love is the power that allowed me to raise my children in a corrupt and power-imbalanced world. And Love is the power that makes me a feminist – Love of God, of my brothers and sisters on the planet, and most importantly, of Truth. We are all under condemnation when it comes to love. And power. Men and women alike. Men tend to abuse power because they can. Women surrender power because they must. The earth groans under the weight of male-centric models of organization and leadership, including the LDS church.
My love is what causes me to cry and shout and roar inside about the horrific inequity between men and women. My love might be called enmity – a God-given gift – power to crush the head of the beast who bites at my heals every damn day.
Love looks differently to each of us, I suppose. To me, it looks a lot like a Mormon feminist standing outside the tabernacle at the priesthood session or nursing her baby in the chapel, or caring for her four young children during long hours while her husband serves in the bishopric, or comes home after a long day at work at takes time to leave a ridiculously long comment on a blog she loves. My experience of Mormon feminism is pregnant with love. It overflows with love. I hope you see it too.
There must be something I’m not seeing; maybe because I’m a dude. I enjoyed the post. It reminded me of a recent interview of Rabbi David Hartman by Krista Tippett. I’m going to butcher the quote. Paraphrasing, he said, “Only those that have power can truly negotiate. The powerless can only manipulate.” His point was that only when we are all on the same playing field, can true change happen.
Here’s the link to the episode. I think I really hacked up the quote:
I admire, and agree with the sentiment by Nelson Mandela that you posted, “I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”
What I don’t understand is how this relates to the critique of Mormon feminism. Nelson Mandela was able to forgive, but it came after peaceful, and non peaceful activism that cost him his freedom. Was love central to his activism that contributed to the end of apartheid? Probably for his oppressed countrymen, but his concern at that time was not if there was “love in the movement.” The point was to end suffering, and activism that was not always daisies and smiles was part of that. His story seems pro activism, even if it makes those in privilege uncomfortable, and pro forgiveness.
I am no Nelson Mandela expert, so correct me if I am misunderstanding.
Yes he was pro-activism and it won the day. What happened next was the truly amazing part, the truth and reconciliation commission. You all need to listen to that podcast to understand what I am talking about. What I feel makes Nelson Mandela truly amazing is what he did when he had the power and privilege.
Yet for all that, France now enjoys peace while South Africa overflows with oppression, violence, fear and disease. Talk to a South African some time, things over their are pretty horrific.