Women and Spirituality: Debunking Myths About Mormonism

mesa-mormon-temple1Feminist Conversations is a regular series here at Feminists For Choice. We spotlight feminists to find out what feminism means to them. The last few weeks have focused on the connection between feminism and different forms of spirituality.

This week we’re talking to Margaret Turley, a Mormon and a retired nurse. Margaret is the author of Save the Child, a novel about about a young child who is diagnosed with cancer. She is also the co-founder of Writers Unite to Fight Cancer, a nonprofit that raises money for cancer research.

1. What does spirituality mean to you?
Spirituality means having a close, inspirational connection with our creator. For me that means I believe in God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost – the Godhead. My own spirituality waxes and wanes in different periods of my life. The more I pray, study scripture and gospel principles, the closer I feel to my Heavenly Father. Attending church helps to develop spirituality but I’ve met people whom I consider to be spiritual who proclaim no specific religion. When I am in nature I feel close to God and thank Him for the many beautiful things that lift my spirit. I have noticed that when I am healthy, I feel more spiritual. I suppose that is because my thoughts are not so fixed inward on my own problems and I have the energy to look out and up.

2. What does Mormonism mean to you?
I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS for short. That means I am a Christian. Our church acknowledges Jesus Christ as the head of our Church. After the original apostles died, many of the plain and precious truths were lost. Many refer to us as Mormons because The Book of Mormon is one of our books of scripture.

I grew up in an LDS family. We went to church every Sunday and also attended meetings during the week. We had family home evening; family prayer; and family scripture reading. I continued these practices with my children and tried to teach them so that they would have the structure I felt was helpful to me.

I remember as a young child debating with myself whether or not the church was true. I came to the conclusion that it either was, or it was a mighty convincing lie that had duped millions. I attended other churches, visited with people of other faiths. None of the other religions offered me the same answers or feelings of peace and comfort that the LDS Church does.

Some of the ways I enjoy spiritual experiences are:
• Listening to good music.
• Walking and pondering on the beauty of the world.
• Reading good books, including scriptures.
• Attending the Temple.
• Serving other people.

3. Are there stereotypes that exist about Mormon women? If so, what are those stereotypes?
One stereotype is “Molly Mormon.” I think this is one we may have put on to ourselves. Molly Mormon is the perfect homemaker and stay-at-home mom. She wears modest, homemade clothing, and little to no make-up. She bakes bread; does all home-cooked meals; cans; quilts; sews; and serves others without breaking a sweat. She always looks camera ready, and is never heard yelling at her children.

Another stereotype that has been attached to Mormon women is that we are mealy-mouthed, subservient women who would gladly be sister wives in polygamist marriages. That is far from true. We each have our individual likes, dislikes and styles. We are a world-wide organization encompassing cultures from all around the globe. We are a force to be reckoned with both, individually and collectively.

4. Do you feel like you fit the mold? Why, or why not?
I have never fit the mold from the time of birth. I tried to come into this world presenting my shoulder instead of the crown of my head. In reality, everyone is an individual, and the mold is broken the minute they take their first breath.

Being a divorcee in a family-oriented church feels awkward and has its own set of circumstances to face. I was extremely grateful for my parents who took us into their home and loved my children as their own. My father filled in whenever possible to meet the needs of my children.

I have not had the luxury to be a stay-at-home mom. Over the years I have developed my own opinions about what is correct in different areas of life. I feel it is important for each person to resolve what is right for them between God (or whoever they worship) and themselves.

5. Who are some of the women in Mormon history that you admire? Why?
I greatly admire a number of women in church history.

Eliza R. Snow – was a gifted writer and public speaker and was fondly known as “Zion’s Poetess,” and also as “President-ess,” because of her leadership of Relief Society (the LDS Church’s women’s group) and her role in forming and directing organizations for young women and children. She encouraged others to speak, when they were reluctant to do so and is quoted to say “Do not let your president have to say all . . Has not God endowed you with the gift of speech? If you are endowed with the Spirit of God, no matter how simple your thoughts may be, they will be edifying to those who here you.”

Emma Smith – wife of Joseph Smith, the first president of our church. She supported him and endured all the trials that were connected to being married to the leader of a persecuted people. She also served as scribe for Joseph Smith as he translated part of the Book of Mormon.

Smith lost children because of some of the mob activities that exposed them to bad weather, yet she remained true and faithful. Smith was not demure. She shared her thoughts and gave her input freely.

Dr. Ellis Reynolds Shipp was one of the first female doctors in Utah. She was the first of several women Brigham Young called and set apart to go East to learn medicine. She founded The School of Nursing and Obstetrics in 1879. Shipp was on the board of the Deseret Hospital Association. Shipp successfully combined motherhood and a medical practice, saying, “It is to me the crowning joy of a woman’s life to be a mother.” In her 50-year medical career, she delivered more than 5,000 babies and led the School of Nursing and Obstetrics in training five hundred women who became licensed midwives.

Currently there are many women whom I admire. One in particular is Beverly Campbell, author of Eve and the Choice Made in Eden. She writes of three levels from which the story of Eden must be viewed: as historical fact, as a series of symbols and metaphors, and as a place for a beginning our own search for spiritual understanding and relevance in life. Beverly Campbell served for twelve years as a Director of International Affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She played a major role in the creation and development of the Special Olympics programs. She has served on numerous civic and government boards, and has been a spokesperson for the LDS Church on the Equal Rights Amendment and other women’s issues.

6.  Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? Why or why not?
I do consider myself to be a feminist. The definition of feminism has evolved over the years and like many terms, it has many different interpretations. My views are probably considered liberal by many conservative church members. I feel that I am a “conservative” feminist. I don’t do a lot of radical activities. Women should receive equal pay for equal work. Women are as intelligent as men and have the ability to make great decisions.

As a nurse and a woman I’ve been treated as inferior and not good enough. When I sought work as an EMT in a firehouse while attending nursing school, I was told I wasn’t strong enough to do the tasks required and was denied an application. Over the intervening years society has changed somewhat and now there are female EMT’s and paramedics. But a struggle still remains. We should support one another and lift one another up as we strive to move forward in life.

To read more about Margaret’s book, check out her website. To learn more about Writers Unite to Fight Cancer, visit their website.

About Serena:
Serena is a freelance writer who enjoys baking, protesting, and playing with little dogs.

Comments

  1. There’s nothing more pathetic than a willing slave. Especially a willing slave to a fake religion dreamed up by a con man, a false prophet who dreamed of black people being ever inferior to whites and women being herded like cattle with one man as their bull/”husband”. Polygamy and racism, two ideas written into the very foundation of Mormonism.

    • Lyr, this is precisely the kind of stereotyping that I am hoping to debunk with my series on Women & Spirituality. Many people feel like the LDS Church is patriarchal/male dominated. While I agree that there are fewer mentions of women int the Book of Mormon than there are in the Bible, Mormons do believe in a Heavenly Mother. They also believe that Heavenly Mother is the source of all life. How is that inconsistent with feminism?

      When I talk about the Episcopal Church, will you believe that they are feminist because they ordain women? The irony of that is that the Episcopal Church exists because Henry VIII left the Catholic Church so that he could divorce his wives. Women are strong leaders in the Episcopal Church these days.

      There are many stereotypes that exist about feminists, Lyr. People assume we all look the same: hairy army pits; raised fists; T-shirts with slogans. Those are what some of us look like. But everyone who claims the feminist label has a different definition of what feminism means to them, and we all dress differently.

      Just out of curiosity, do you consider yourself a feminist? If so, what does feminism mean to you? Second question: do you belong to a faith community? If so, what does it mean to you? I’d love to hear your point of view.

      • That “Heavenly Mother” is the wife (or head wife) of the god of a specific planet. When a male Mormon dies, they get to be the god of a whole planet! Woot! And their wife/head wife (if they have multiple ones!) gets to be the so-called Heavenly Mother. And no, I don’t think the Episcopal church is in any way feminist, just as the Mormon religion is not in any way Christian. The Book of Mormon is fan fiction of the Christian Bible. You might be able to pick something decent out of it — just like you can pick intact corn kernels out of cow dung. And that is exactly what you’re doing. But tell me, are any bishops or other leaders of Mormonism women? Heck, it was only a few decades ago when that religion decided that human beings with dark skin aren’t cursed! So keep your pathetic, racist, sexist faith. There’s nothing more pathetic than a willing slave.

    • I appreciate the chance to comment on these topics. More importantly to encourage Lyr and others to research Jane Manning James, Elijah Abel and Green Flake, all strong members in the early days of the Church who also happened to be African American. Elijah having left slavery, joined the Church and received the priesthood from Joseph Smith, might help you understand better Joseph’s true views on person’s of color.
      I would also suggest that bigotry in any form, usually stems from a lack of education or from fear.
      Here’s hoping for your greater enlightenment. Heather

  2. Beautifully written. I love being a Mormon and do not feel oppressed in any way. I have an incredible husband who has supported me in everything I’ve done. The gospel of Jesus Christ has been the best blessing in my life and never have I desired for something else.

  3. What a cool woman! Great interview, Serena.

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