Guest Post by Kajsa Berlin-Kaufusi. Kajsa is a bibliophile who previously worked for five years as faculty with BYU’s Ancient Scripture department, as well as three years with the University of Utah’s Global Learning office. Her research interests are Biblical Studies, Feminist and Liberation Theology, alternate historical narrative and the conflict between orthodoxy/orthopraxy and lived experience. She will be starting a PhD this fall. She and her husband have three children and two stinky dogs.
Recently I saw a post on Facebook from the LDS church’s social media platform that shared a talk given by President Nelson that encouraged women to “have the courage and vision of Mother Eve. ” I remember when that talk was given—I loved the idea but felt it was a bit patronizing in nature. However, this time round, upon encountering that message, my whole body radiated with feelings reflective of a lifetime of similar platitudes that were grandiose in their verbatim but lacking in their follow through, due to systems set in place that denied real action from happening.
As one interested in feminist theology, specifically from a Mormon perspective, I have long since felt that the LDS tradition is ripe with potential for a budding feminist contribution. If, as we are called to do by President Nelson, women were to really have the courage of Mother Eve—what would that look like?
In a somewhat emotional response to the church’s Facebook post, I responded, “The implications of this statement imply a 180 in current church culture and structure. I’m watching.” This of course triggered a fascinating follow-up conversation that, while perhaps somewhat of an echo-chamber, reflected that I am not alone in this sentiment.
So what exactly do I mean by saying that IF the women of the church had the courage and vision of Mother Eve, there would be a 180 in church culture and structure?
If you’ve followed my writings, you know that I am not shy in my critique of many aspects of LDS theology and tradition. At the same time, I am also rooted in so many aspects of LDS theology and tradition that I find beautiful, meaningful, faith promoting and life-transforming. My more recent family history is full of stories entangled in the struggle of the Mormon people to establish their identity and proselyte their teachings. I too am part of that, having been born into this faith and adding my name to those who have served proselyting missions.
Two aspects of Mormonism that DO resonate with me are that of the “sacred grove” experience of Joseph Smith and LDS theology surrounding Mother Eve. While I am well aware that the various narratives of the First Vision present a historical hiccup for many, one thing that is present within all the versions and the major takeaway that resonates with me is that young Joseph Smith went into that grove of trees in search of answers to the questions that persisted in his mind. His response to James 1:5 is one we can all resonate with—that of inspiration followed by action. Additionally, all versions of the First Vision confirm that Deity was aware of Joseph as an individual and that he was “forgiven” (one could substitute the words “worthy” or “accepted”) before God. In that state of worthiness, Joseph communed with the divine—establishing the tradition of what Mormons call “personal revelation”—a phenomena seen manifested in various ways throughout the world’s religions, mystic narratives, and histories.
Sadly, the LDS tradition has become so heavily patriarchal in its structure that both men and women ultimately are taught to silence their own personal revelation with the elevating of the counsel given by the church’s living prophets. Thus, the sacred experience that occurred with the First Vision was and is ultimately designated to a structure of Priesthood authority, and in consequence teaches members to outsource their own spirituality for that of another’s.
With this in mind, let us return to the current admonition for women to act with the courage and wisdom of Mother Eve. What exactly was it that Eve did that was so courageous and wise? To put it bluntly—Eve had the courage to reject patriarchal instruction to not partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and she had the wisdom to trust her instincts and not silence them in exchange for the counsel or mandate of another—even that supposedly given to her of God. Now, I know that seems to put us in a terribly uncomfortable place, theologically (in addition to being at odds with traditional Christian theology), but that is exactly the narrative that LDS scripture gives us. According to LDS teachings, Eve is the “mother of all living” because without her partaking of that which is forbidden, mankind would not exist. Thus, in a very literal sense, Eve fulfils the role of her creation, as “helpmeet” (in Hebrew, Ezer-Kenegdo)—“one who saves upon the battlefield.”
In light of the above, why do I say that LDS church culture and structure would do a 180 if women indeed stepped into those shoes left to us by our first mortal mother, Eve? While the potential implications of this course- change could fill pages, the major and primary example I want to focus on is that of women holding their intuition and connection to God as her ultimate authority. Current LDS theology places those with Priesthood keys (Bishops, Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents, Apostles, etc.) as authoritative voices within church congregations. Thus, if one’s personal communion with God leads them to a conclusion contrary to one voiced by one in authority, (specifically on doctrinal issues), Mormons are taught to silence that inner voice and submit to the voice of one in authority.
Had Eve done that—where would we be? Would “we” be?
It seems that in these two particular sacred stories (both the First Vision account and the LDS account of Eve in the garden), the catalyst of phenomena was rooted in both Joseph and Eve’s ability to go against the grain of “what was” in hope and vision for “what could be.” This is the beauty of the First Vision. This is the courage and wisdom of Mother Eve.
Now, what does 4th Wave Feminism have to do with any of this? The very origin of the various feminist movements is rooted in critical theory—discussion of what is vs what could be, the deconstruction of systems of power and the examination of potential alternates. 4th Wave Feminism, specifically, is reflective of women’s empowerment, the use if the internet to communicate, collaborate, and disseminate, as well as addressing the realities intersectionality within our communities. Whether it is acknowledged or not, Mormonism is being greatly influenced by 4th Wave Feminism as women continue to expand their voices to articulate the problems within their church communities and advocate for change. What the printing press was to Luther’s movement could be likened to what the internet is for Mormon feminist theologies.
It is important to note that a particular element of this 4th wave is the intent to eradicate the “battle of the sexes” in return for greater cooperation and unified vision. One major critique of Patriarchy is that Patriarchy doesn’t just hurt women, it hurts men as well, and in consequence, families and communities. 4th Wave Feminism seeks to allow men connection to their emotions as well as public display of said emotions, ones which traditional Western culture seeks to silence and shame away in exchange for the power structure that Patriarchy provides . Additionally, it allows for a crossover of “traditional roles” assigned to men or women, exclusively, and provides safe spaces for men to explore roles that were once traditionally female, as well as continued advocating for women to explore roles and spaces once traditionally assigned to men.
In conclusion, if LDS women were to take upon them the courage and wisdom of Mother Eve, we would claim our own space and our own authority. We would hold onto our families amidst fear and confusion of LGBTQ doctrines and policies, refusing to let go of the hands of our spouses, children, and friends who are navigating those precarious waters. We would refuse to outsource our spirituality to a Bishop, giving him the power to determine our “worthiness” to participate in ordinances or sign off on a piece of paper that allows us entrance into Temples that bind our families for eternity. We would refuse to allow our children to have one on one interviews with Bishops who, no matter how well-intentioned, navigate waters of “chastity and sexuality” with our children which in turn leaves them with discomfort at best, and at worst, shame. We would refuse to allow our sons, our brothers, our husbands to feel shame about frustrated sexuality and potential pornography and masturbation issues, refusing to allow fear to take over our logic and ability to communicate between spouses and parents that which is sacred, natural, and powerful. We would refuse to pretend that pornography and masturbation are issues that “only men and boys” navigate, and we would open the narrative that increases education and eradicates shame. We would stop waiting to be invited to the table, and start showing up to these tables with our perspectives and insights, and we will keep coming back when, no doubt, time after time we will be turned away in light of “assuming a role that is not ours.” We would make space for our brothers and sisters of color who have as of yet have not seen adequate representation in places of leadership and decision making.
The above, to me, is what LDS women taking on the courage and wisdom of Mother Eve looks like. Fourth wave feminism continues to be a tool utilized by a growing number of women who are doing just that—claiming Eve’s legacy for their own and authorizing their connection to the divine and right to personal revelation. I have said it before and I will say it again—this is an exciting time to be a Mormon! Buckle your seatbelts folks, the 4th wave is upon us!