Thursday, November 29, 2007

LDS Post: Sister Beck's Talk

Okay, so there's been much ado about Sister Julie Beck, Relief Society General President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints recent RS General Conference talk. I'll offer my opinion.

This is a complex issue. There is no small amount of online protest, petitions, rebuttals, blog posts, and trashing of Sister Beck's talk, and sister Beck herself.

First here is the "offending" talk.

The basic parts of the talk are (with supporting citations):

#1 There is eternal influence and power in motherhood.

When mothers know who they are and who God is and have made covenants with Him, they will have great power and influence for good on their children."

#2 Mothers Who Know Bear Children

Faithful daughters of God desire children"

#3 Mothers Who Know Honor Sacred Ordinances and Covenants

I have visited sacrament meetings in some of the poorest places on the earth where mothers have dressed with great care in their Sunday best despite walking for miles on dusty streets and using worn-out public transportation. They bring daughters in clean and ironed dresses with hair brushed to perfection; their sons wear white shirts and ties and have missionary haircuts. These mothers know they are going to sacrament meeting, where covenants are renewed. These mothers have made and honor temple covenants. They know that if they are not pointing their children to the temple, they are not pointing them toward desired eternal goals.

#4 Mothers Who Know Are Nurturers

Mothers who know are nurturers. This is their special assignment and role under the plan of happiness. To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. Therefore, mothers who know create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes. Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping an orderly home. Home is where women have the most power and influence; therefore, Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world. Working beside children in homemaking tasks creates opportunities to teach and model qualities children should emulate. Nurturing mothers are knowledgeable, but all the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make a home that creates a climate for spiritual growth. Growth happens best in a "house of order," and women should pattern their homes after the Lord's house (see D&C 109). Nurturing requires organization, patience, love, and work. Helping growth occur through nurturing is truly a powerful and influential role bestowed on women.

#5 Mothers Who Know Are Leaders

Mothers who know build children into future leaders and are the primary examples of what leaders look like. They do not abandon their plan by succumbing to social pressure and worldly models of parenting. These wise mothers who know are selective about their own activities and involvement to conserve their limited strength in order to maximize their influence where it matters most.

#6 Mothers Who Know Are Teachers

Mothers who know are always teachers. Since they are not babysitters, they are never off duty.

#7 Mothers Who Know Do Less

Mothers who know are willing to live on less and consume less of the world's goods in order to spend more time with their children—more time eating together, more time working together, more time reading together, more time talking, laughing, singing, and exemplifying. These mothers choose carefully and do not try to choose it all.

#8 Mothers Who Know Stand Strong and Immovable

Latter-day Saint women should be the very best in the world at upholding, nurturing, and protecting families. I have every confidence that our women will do this and will come to be known as mothers who "knew" (Alma 56:48).

Sections 3 & 4 are the ones that seem to be causing the worst rub. Indeed, it is a tad culturally insensitive, but are we going to be politically correct in a universal church? Certainly there are people who are forced to work by their circumstances, but one trip through Utah and it's obvious that many people, in their massive keeping-up-with-the-Jensens attitudes live beyond their means, and need to two incomes to live a upper-middle-class lifestyle that one income will not provide. Utah is one of the most prideful and materialistic places I have ever seen. The bulk of Sister Beck's talk, just like most General Conference talks, is geared towards the Utah-Idaho-Arizona corridor of Mormondom. That's where the bulk of the members live, and the mass culture there is one of accumulation of wealth. The housing prices there, the two car garages filled with luxury SUVs, and the designer clothing take their toll. Both people working means more income, which means people can afford bigger and more luxurious things. This drives up real estate prices, causing more pressure on the lower end, until suddenly, some families feel that the wife "has" to work to make ends meet in a lifestyle that they could avoid if they lived more humbly. These were the evils that Sister Beck was addressing--the rampant materialism that ultimately doesn't matter.

Reasons why I don't see a problem with Sister Beck's talk.

1. While she certainly could've couched her argument with a little more tact, there is nothing that goes against the Gospel. She was speaking to Moms, and to women who put off motherhood. She's not saying get married and have babies at 18, but if you wait until your 30's to have your first kid, 1) you are an idiot, and 2) it's not part of our Heavenly Father's Plan. She wasn't talking to people who haven't found the right person to marry. She was speaking to people who put career ambitions before family. There is a fine line between gaining and education and work experience, so that you're not dependent on someone else for your livelihood, and delaying children so that you don't ever have to "worry about money." That's between you and the Lord, but the Lord's servants are right to call those to repentance who haven't been heeding the commandments.

2. The Proclamation on the Family (1995) that most of these people undoubtedly have hanging in their homes, essentially says the same things that Sister Beck did. So, do you not agree with it? Does she really say much different than the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve declared to the world? No.

3. It's okay to disagree with Church Leaders. I do all the time; there a minor policy that we were told about on Sunday in Bishopric that absolutely breaks my heart (Because all things in bishopric meetings are said in confidence, I cannot reveal what it is). However, I remember things like this.

People do, however, leave this Church, but they leave it because they get into darkness, and the very day they conclude that there should be a democratic vote, or in other words, that we should have two candidates for the presiding Priesthood in the midst of the Latter-day Saints, they conclude to be apostates. There is no such thing as confusion, division, strife, animosity, hatred, malice, or two sides to the question in the house of God; there is but one side to the question there (Discourses of Brigham Young, 85).

and President Benson said,

"Time has a way of taking care of all things, of elevating the good and bringing down the bad. If we see things going on within the kingdom that disturb us, we should first find out if the matter falls within our stewardship. We then might go to the person or people involved. If it is of such a nature that we think it should be called to the attention of higher authority, then we can, in a kindly and quiet manner, take the necessary steps at the proper level.

"to publish differences we may think we have with the leaders of the Church, to create strife and division, is a sure road to apostasy. Our task is to stick with the kingdom." (Ensign, July 1975: 62)

and President Faust wrote:

"Free discussion and expression are encouraged in the Church. Certainly the open expressions in most fast and testimony meetings, or Sunday School, Relief Society, and priesthood meetings attest to that principle. However, the privilege of free expression should operate within limits. In 1869, George Q. Cannon explained the limits of individual expression:" ' A friend ... wished to know whether we ... considered an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the Authorities of the Church was apostasy.... We replied that ... we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the Authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing these differences of opinion and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife and to place the acts and counsels of the Authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term.' " (Ensign, Nov 1993: 36)

4. Remember that her remarks were offered during General Conference. President Hinckley was presiding during that meeting. It is his responsibility, if incorrect doctrine is taught to the church, to correct it, during that meeting. As he didn't rebut anything she said, I'll assume that it has his, and since he is the prophet, the Lord's approval.

5. So to all the people who were offended by Sister Beck's talk enough to grouse about it in print, I throw down the challenge to you. Don't go around publishing your angst on the internet; don't write open letters. When we have our next General Conference, and you are asked to sustain the General Authorities, when they ask if anyone is opposed to Sister Beck's calling, stand your ground, raise your hand, and do it through official channels.

6. I must clarify, that I do not believe that dissention equals sedition or insubordination or apostasy, as long as it's done through proper channels. A conversation among friends about how Sister Beck's remarks could be a touch insensitive or Anglo-Utah-centric is innocuous; posting a public petition is inappropriate, in my opinion.

7. LDS members, have always used the word "apostasy" incorrectly. Heresy, blasphemy, and apostasy, though similar in meaning, represent different ways of opposing the orthodox view.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines heresy as:
Theological or religious opinion or doctrine maintained in opposition, or held to be contrary, to the ‘catholic’ or orthodox doctrine of the Christian Church, or, by extension, to that of any church, creed, or religious system, considered as orthodox.

Apostasy implies that someone formerly held the orthodox belief(s) but has since abandoned it/them. Blasphemy implies a disrespect and inflammatory attitude towards religion. Heretics differ with orthodoxy over a few points of doctrine; apostates abandon all doctrine. Sister Beck's critics are more heretics than apostates...unless this makes them leave the church.


brent said...

If I had to pick one thing that bothers me most about the petition--and there are several things--I'd have to say it's the the Army of Helaman argument they put forward. Sis. Beck points to mothers raising sons in righteousness and sons who return the favor by defending their mothers from unwarranted agression as a good thing. The response to this story in the petition is this: "We claim the life-affirming powers of spirit and wisdom, and reject the glorification of violence in all its forms. We are filled with unutterable sadness by the Book of Mormon story of more than 2,000 young soldiers whose mothers teach them that faith in God will preserve them in battles in which they kill other mothers' children. This is not a success story. It is a story of the failure of human relationships and the horrors of war."

Notice the petition seems to indicate that Sis. Beck is calling for war; that the point of using the example of the Army of Helaman was for her to convince the church that war is a good thing. But any reasonable reading of Sis. Beck's talk reveals that all she was saying is that raising fine upstanding young men should, like these Lamanite mothers, be the goal of every mother. Period. Thus, the rebuttal is not a rebuttal at all: Sis. Beck makes no qualitative statement on whether war is good or not, or whether the Army of Helaman was justified in war or not. But more important than that, the petition seems to be impugning the BoM at large, at least obliquely, as it the BoM, in this case at least, suggests that war is sometimes justified. This from active and believing members?

And my reading of both the talk and the petition reveals that at the end of the day, there's probably very little in the petition with which Sis. Beck would disagree--that most of the putative disagreement in the petition is really aimed at what Sis. Beck didn't say in her 15 minutes. For example, I'll bet Sis. Beck probably is against war when it can be avoided. I'll bet she hopes husbands help with housework and child-rearing. She never even intimates that she's against those things. So, at a very fundamental level, I think the petition does little more than knock down straw men, which is really very sad. Why risk your membership to refute points in a talk that were never made? It makes no sense to me.

Sorry, Mac. I didn't know I had that all built up inside. I should have posted it on my blog so you wouldn't have to be associated with it. Feel free to delete me if this was too vitriolic.

chattypatra said...

I think most women who are members of the Church go about their daily lives doing the best they can. We live in a world that is full of distractions. The world equates wealth, beauty, and power with success; we all know this. Still, it is easy to fall into the trap. Who doesn't like beautiful things? It's even stated in the Articles of Faith! However, there are so many expectations surrounding our lives today, that it takes a solid commitment to spirituality in order to make a marriage succeed. This is true in every religion, of course, since we do not hold the monopoly on goodness; but that is another post.

As a single, never-married woman in the Church, some people have said to me that I do not have a right to express an opinion on this. However, since families are eternal, and I believe that one day I will have my own if I am found worthy by the Lord, I think I have every right.

Truths are hard to hear. In Spanish we say, "El que se pica es porque ají come". In other words, if you react violently against a talk given by a General Authority during General Conference, then you need to take a good look at yourself and your spirituality.

Years ago, there was a talk given in General Conference to women like me. The Relief Society President, wanting to motivate us to not feel sorry for ourselves for being single, said something that came out quite insensitive. After reading a letter from a single sister who was suffering from the shame of being alone in Church (And believe me, there is shame - Isaiah wrote about it), our dear sister said, "Get a life".

I literally gasped, I was so stunned by those words. They seemed to dismiss our feelings as stupid and unnecessary and, frankly, coming from someone who has no idea what it is like to have no husband or children, it was insensitively worded.

Yes, I was hurt. I wasn't angry, but I cried - a lot. I felt like nobody could understand the subtle humiliations single sisters go through at Church sometimes. However, since I am well aware of how the adversary works, I prayed and fasted, and played hyms for a couple of days, and the feeling of resentment went away.

Of course, then I was able to see what she meant. It was great advice, horribly worded.

Everything that Sister Beck said is true. However, since we all come from different backgrounds, many lack all or some the necessary skills to be great housekeepers/mothers, etc.

After all, if you didn't grow up in a nicely kept home, with a loving family, chances are you do not know how to turn your home into one. Duh!

Therefore, instead of complaining, we should ask for help at Relief Society and, those who are super moms and housekeepers extraordinaires should teach instead of judge. Isn't that one of the Lord's commandments, that we should teach and help one another at Chuch? I think so.

Sorry, Mac. This is hard for me, especially since I don't have a voice about this in my family ward.
I just think there is a lot of unnecessary pain going around.

swampbaby said...

I think you laid out your points well. I wasn't aware there was a big hoodo about her talk until I read this and your links, although I remember distinctly thinking at the time it was being given that I wouldn't be surprised if there was. In our world of political correctness, it was bound to cause some type of uprising.

I don't think she said anything any different than what we have been taught all along. She just said it without equivocation and without sugar-coating it. It makes me think of a quote, I believe by Joseph Smith: "Hit pidgeons flutter."