Recently I revisited the last talk I was ever asked to give in Sacrament meeting, which happened to be on Mother’s Day 2019. The original talk has been published in the Exponent magazine, but I wanted to return to my thoughts on that day. In a lot of ways, I’m not the same person I was then. The gender mold I was assigned to at birth never was very comfortable, and now that I’ve explored the non-conforming parts of my soul, I’ve found them delightful and strong. I feel I belong more completely to myself, more messy but whole and holy. I wondered how the talk would change if I wrote for myself as opposed to writing for a yearly sabbath ritual that usually involves cheap chocolate or lackluster flowers handed over by teenagers who would rather be sleeping. Below, I’ve reproduced the original talk with editing marks. Strikethroughs are the parts I would delete and I’ve italicized the additions. In the original talk, I included a lot of cookies for the cisgender men in the audience. I’m less inclined to pet their egos or cater to their fragility now. While I’m still not satisfied with how gendered the talk is, I think it’s much more honest than the original. Here we go:
Mother’s Day talks are the black hole of church speaking. You’re not supposed to lead with a disclaimer, but there’s no way I can give a talk that is exactly what each
woman person needs to feel loved and appreciated. I can’t. But I pray that as I speak today, the Father of us all will help you feel your divinity and power. At this moment in your life, regardless of what categories you fall into, I hope you will know and feel that you are valued. You are needed. Even if church policies and leadership exclude you, there is a place for you, right here, right now outside the walls, and you are enough.
Like Zipporah, Moses’ wife, who was exactly what the Israelites needed even though they didn’t know it. When Moses fled Pharaoh after killing an Egyptian, he found refuge with a Midianite priest, Jethro. He found so much refuge, in fact, that he married one of the Priest’s daughters, Zipporah. Now, remember that Midian was the fourth son of Abraham’s third wife, Keturah, so this is not the Isaac bloodline. But,
they did have the gospel God values each of us equally regardless of our ancestry or religious beliefs. After receiving his commission to free the Israelites, Moses began the journey back to Egypt with Zipporah and their sons. Along the way, God became very angry at Moses. In fact, the scripture says that God sought to kill Moses. I think that may be an exaggeration I hope it’s the addition of vain and foolish men who inserted their own theology into bible stories. Pretty sure God does what God means to do, but I take the writer’s point that Moses had messed up and God wasn’t happy about it. Why? Because he hadn’t circumcised his son. He was a prophet of God, on his way to free the people of God, and he hadn’t fulfilled the ritualistic portion of the Abrahamic covenant. Seeing the situation, and knowing that one does not anger God, Zipporah took a sharp rock and thwap thwap! completed the ritual on her own. I, personally, don’t believe God ever required circumcision, but I do believe Zipporah was acting on the best knowledge she had. By doing so, she helped set Moses right, made him acceptable before God, and showed us some things about what it means to be a covenant keeping woman child of God live according to the light we currently have while being open to more. First, she knew the covenants as she had been taught. She understood that rituals can be one way to show our commitment to divinity show our commitment to Heavenly Father as long as our hearts are focused on love. Second, she acted. She saw a problem, saw that it wasn’t being addressed, and did the work that she believed needed to be done. Now, I don’t imagine that she found it easy to act. I have a hard time getting vaccinations for my children because I don’t like to see them in pain seeing my children in pain. I can only imagine what Zipporah’s feelings were at the time—which makes me admire her even more. Afterward, she also chastised Moses for his hesitation to respond to what they both believed to be the will of the Lord. So, she preached to him, a prophet, and called him out for not doing what he was supposed to do in his calling as prophet.
I like Zipporah. I like the bravery of her action, her refusal to sit back and watch when clearly someone needed to do something. I like that she didn’t say, “I really wish things were different. But it isn’t my job to circumcise my son. It isn’t my place.” By acting in accordance with the inspiration she received, she showed her commitment to God, to her son, to her community and to her husband. In fact, if the scripture isn’t an overstatement, if God really had sought to kill Moses, she quite literally saved her husband’s life and, by extension, helped free
the Israelites some of God’s children from bondage. Let’s talk about Emma Smith for a minute. If you haven’t started reading the collection of discourses the church has compiled called At The Pulpit, which you can find in your gospel library app, or you can get a free digital copy through churchhistorianspress.com, then I encourage you to incorporate it into your scripture study. The work the church history department has been doing lately regarding women in the church has uncovered so many treasures—we’ll talk about another one in just a minute. So, get At The Pulpit, and while you’re doing that, get The First 50 Years, which talks about the history of RS, but is so much more than that. For now, let’s think about Emma. You know section 25? Where the Lord reveals to Emma that she’s to be a comfort and aid to her husband? That’s fine, that’s what we hear all the time as women. But then Heavenly Father tells her some other stuff that a woman raised in the Methodist religion in the 1800’s wouldn’t have found as easy to hear. She was called “to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit.” Now, in the Methodist tradition at the time, women were often called as exhorters, which meant to share one’s own life experiences and testimony to strengthen other people. But God tacked on the “expound” part. This was strictly a male role in Methodism. It means to explain and interpret the meaning of scripture. In fact, in D&C 20, God tells the elders that they are to “teach, expound and exhort” and here he’s telling Emma the same thing. She is supposed to do what the men are supposed to do. In the Restoration, exhorting and expounding became the responsibility of both women and men.
I would like to talk about Emma Smith. I would like to, but my feelings are complicated and, often, full of anger. I don’t believe Joseph Smith was an honest person, and I think Emma’s story is so wrapped up in his dishonesty that I don’t know how to separate God’s voice in her life from Joseph’s manipulation.
At the end of the revelation, God says, “Verily, verily (which is God-speak for ‘pay attention because I’m laying down the law right now’)… Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my voice unto all.” All of us. Every sister, every brother. This Revelation is not a girl thing or a boy gendered thing. This is a Child of God thing, which means everyone teaches everyone else. As covenant keeping Children of the Most High, we study, we learn, we teach the scriptures and we testify. Elder Neal A. Maxwell was fond of saying that “for too long in the church, the men have been the theologians while the women have been the Christians.” Women haven’t been theologians? This was not true at the time Elder Maxwell wrote it, and it isn’t true now. What is true, however, is that the male leadership of the church have systematically denied and repressed the power women, transmasc, and non-binary people have. But God has made it clear that women are to be theologians, too, and men also need to be Christian everyone is to learn and apply Truth in ways that liberate and uplift. I think the problem here is the definition of “Christian.” The LDS Church has a lot of men (and women) who call themselves “Christian” but forget to put on the “Nationalist” part that seems to fit so readily with aspects of LDS political and social engagement. Pres. Russell M. Nelson declared, “The kingdom of God is not and cannot be complete without women who make sacred covenants and then keep them, women who can speak with the power and authority of God! … We need you to speak up and speak out.” Sisters, transmasc, and nonbinary folx, raise your (virtual) hand if you’ve ever been chastised, ridiculed, or silenced for speaking up and speaking out. Pres. Nelson’s words are lip-service and it’s gaslighting to insist leadership wants us to speak with power and authority while leadership simultaneously denies us autonomy or space.
I wonder what would have happened if the scriptures had been written from Zipporah’s point of view. I wonder what would have happened if women or gender nonconforming people had been the ones writing and transcribing the Bible.
Moses and Zipporah had been working together, as one. Because I imagine there must have been a conversation or two, right? Before we get to the sharp rock and roadside circumcision. Being married myself, I can imagine how the conversation might have gone. Zipporah may have been like, “Hey, Moses, there’s this whole ritual thing that you haven’t done and it’s your job because you’re the prophet.” And maybe Moses was like, “I know how to do my job. Don’t tell me how to do my job.” Or maybe he was like, “There’s this whole list of stuff I have to do— talk to Pharoah, free an entire population, march them to the promised land. I don’t even know where that is! I’m feeling so overwhelmed—don’t nag me.” What would have happened if he had, instead, counseled with Zipporah, listened to what she said, had her help him prioritize? Probably would have been better for his relationship with God. Probably would have been better for their son, right? Because, ugh.
I feel for Moses. That’s a lot of weight to carry alone. He must have felt insecure in his abilities. Actually, we know he did because that’s what he told God. So, God gave him Aaron to be a spokesman. But before Aaron,
God gave him Zipporah Zipporah stood in a desert place and acted according to her conscience. A wise, covenant keeping daughter child of God who wasn’t afraid to travel through the wilderness to a land where her husband was a fugitive and his people were slaves. She wasn’t timid. She wasn’t scared of following him. leading with him. She could may have been such a strength to him. She could may have been a helpmeet. We don’t know for sure because we only have the translations of translations of men’s words, written by and for men. The thing about lifting the burden with our brothers is that we have to expound and exhort and you, dear brothers, have to hear what we say. None of y’all cisgender men are ever going to know what it’s like to grow up as a woman. There are things that women know because we’ve lived as women and those things are unique and valuable and need to be said. Women, we have to say those things when it’s safe for us to do so. We have to speak truth, as God commanded us, even when it’s difficult. and we have to work to change the system that consistently silences us instead of being complicit in the destruction of our siblings. We have to act, like Zipporah, even if we’re scared. And men, you have got to listen to women and nonbinary folx. When a sister, transmasc, or nonbinary person speaks with the authority and inspiration God has given her them in the callings to which she’s they’ve been ordained, or in their position as gendered and silenced beings, you need to honor what she says, they say without discount it because it comes from a woman doesn’t come from a cisgender man or because it’s different than how you view things. That’s how we lift together. Or when a woman a person says, “This is my experience. This is the big, scary, horrible thing that happened…” You need to recognize the trauma you will feel, hearing that another man, perhaps even someone you know well, has done evil things. And then you have to set aside your desire to make the problem go away and choose, instead, to believe the woman. speaker. The handbook says, “When abuse occurs, the first and immediate responsibility of Church leaders is to help those who have been abused and to protect vulnerable persons from future abuse.” You cannot adequately protect women people if you’re busy demonizing and discrediting them. You simply can’t do it. You have to make the choice to believe them instead.
We’ve got to be open to correction. So much is being brought to light that we can’t rely on what we’ve always heard or always done, and we don’t need to feel shame that we didn’t know before unless our not knowing is due to our own refusal to listen and learn. We just need to do the work to get it right now. Here’s an example, and it’s one that I love because it involves
our own Pres. Oaks changing because of one tiny little word quoted by one woman.
Eliza R. Snow had worked as secretary for her father, a Justice of the Peace, since she was 15, so she knew a lot about meticulous record keeping, documentation, etc. And she worked up a draft of what the Relief Society organization would look like. The women took it to Pres. Smith, because he was the prophet, and he told them that it was good, but that God had something better in mind. What was that thing? Power. Specifically, the power of Priesthood authority sanctioning the Relief Society, which power he then gave them to use. For years, President Smith has been misquoted. You see, somewhere between Nauvoo and Utah, George Smith, who may not have even been in the meeting, misremembered the quote, which he wrote as “I turn the key in your behalf…” It was picked up and spread around, sort of like the cold virus, even being used in General Conference talks. But, thanks to the work commissioned by the First Presidency, the church history department uncovered the original quote as written by President Snow in the meeting notes she took at the time of the meeting. We’ve been instructed that it’s the quote we’re now to use, because it is, in fact, what Pres. Joseph Smith said. Pres. Oaks himself used the correct phrase and you can find it in Daughters Of My Kingdom, another book we should all be using in our lessons and teachings. The quote reads, “I turn the key to you…” What a difference that makes! If Bro. Joseph had said that he turned the key on behalf of the sisters, it would mean that the action, the work part, even the inspiration, was left to the male leadership, that they are to do all the heavy lifting of gospel work and decision making and that we, as women, are to wait for instruction. That sounds horrible. It would take away a woman’s ability to communicate directly with God in her callings. It would take away our power to receive inspiration, to speak our truth and to use the minds and bodies we’ve been given in the service of a God whom we love, while leaving all of the responsibility and pressure for our brothers to carry. That’s not unity but it is how the church works today.
In 2014, Pres. Oaks corrected his own past statements and said, “We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their church callings, but what other authority can it be? …Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood key exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.” There is an example of a man who listened to a woman when, from the grave, she corrected a mistake that had taken root in the mythology of the church. That’s beautiful. I love the image of President Snow, shaking her finger at the misquote, and of Pres. Oaks saying, “I hear you. I believe you. Let’s make it right.” It’s also an example of why we need to constantly be learning. We can’t rely on what we think we know—we have to go back to the scriptures and get it right, because some of the stuff we’ve been taught, no matter how well meaning, is simply wrong.
Brothers, you’ve been too long in leadership. You’ve sent children to die because you prioritized the reputation of a multi-billion dollar corporation. You hid ecclesiastical abuse and your colonial machinations. That has taken its toll on the soul of the church so that whatever good things we could have done together are now shrouded in the sins of our collective actions.
you don’t have to do all the heavy lifting on your own. You don’t have to find all the solutions and make all the problems go away. Let us counsel with you. Let us lift with you. Sisters, transmasc and nonbinary siblings, our shoulders might be narrower than our brothers’, but we know that God made us strong enough to bear the burdens on them when we join our voices in support of each other. He They endowed us with power and authority. We are brave, and we can and must act with all the light and inspiration God gives us. Because They love us, and They need us, every one of us, exactly where we stand now. You are what the kingdom needs even though the kingdom may not recognize or deserve you. You came to the earth for exactly such a time as this even if that purpose is to testify of the harm done, even if that purpose means brushing the dust off your feet as you walk away from church participation.
It is so lovely when we can see growth in ourselves.
Church history is capital ‘c’ Complicated. I’m reading At the Pulpit right now with a few friends. We just read the chapter and maybe do a bit of Wikipedia-level reading to go along with it. It’s felt so good (so good!!) to be able to talk about that stuff out loud with people. I wish that book was way more widely read among members.
Wow. I am in awe. This is beautiful. It is sobering to think of what a difference even the tiny word changes make, not to mention entire sections of changes. Thank you for sharing the power of your words. They are something I will be thinking about for a while.