Beware Authors of Our Own Lives

The Salt Lake Tribune carried an article today about a rebuttal to a speech given by LDS General Relief Society President Julie B. Beck in the most recent LDS General Conference.

The whole sorry incident just makes me sad.

A recap for those of you who missed it:

In October, Sister Beck gave a speech to the general church membership that began as follows:

There is eternal influence and power in motherhood. In the Book of Mormon we read about 2,000 exemplary young men who were exceedingly valiant, courageous, and strong. “Yea, they were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him” (Alma 53:21). These faithful young men paid tribute to their mothers. They said, “Our mothers knew it.” (Alma 56:48)

With reference to that final scriptural passage, Beck titled her remarks “Mothers Who Know.” Most of the speech was fairly innocuous, yet it contained the following incendiary passages:

Beck on having children:

Mothers who know desire to bear children. Whereas in many cultures in the world children are “becoming less valued,” in the culture of the gospel we still believe in having children. Prophets, seers, and revelators who were sustained at this conference have declared that “God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.”

Beck on dress and grooming:

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.

On homemaking:

Mothers who know are nurturers… 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.

Many people were upset by these remarks. To some, this speech places inordinate emphasis on what the unenlightened might call “women’s work,” which feeds a stereotype of Mormon women as second-class citizens, housebound servants to their authoritarian husbands and plentiful children.

I must confess that I heard the talk when it was being given, and I found it unremarkable, although that may be because it came in the middle of several mid-Conference naps. Still, I ‘d like to address the three offending passages in turn.

There was nothing in the “having children” portion that bothered me at all. Implicit in her encouragement to multiply and replenish is the biological and spiritual necessity of a righteous father, too. Although she was speaking primarily to mothers, I fail to see how this statement is demeaning to women. If it is in any way damning, it damns both genders equally.

As for the dress and grooming section, I think Beck’s critics are assigning significance to her words that the context fails to sustain. The people she praises are individual examples of sacrifice and commitment, and that’s all that they are. She’s not insisting that everyone in the church brush their hair to perfection, any more than she’s demanding that each of us walk “for miles on dusty streets” or use “worn-out public transportation.” If you want to extrapolate a universal application for this – i.e. Moms better be sure that all children are in clean, ironed, white clothing and have their hair expertly coiffed at all times – then feel free. Just don’t pretend that’s what Julie Beck said, because she didn’t.

It’s the final passage that is probably the most provocative. Women have to be homemakers? They have to wash clothes and dishes and keep the house clean? Well, yes. Except nowhere do Beck’s remarks preclude men from getting in on the homemaking action, too. I’ll concede that Sister Beck’s language is pretty clumsy here. By addressing the talk solely to mothers, Beck seems to be downplaying the significance of fathers and the necessity of fathers to share the burdens of homemaking. I don’t think that was her intent. I doubt she would be upset if Dad was doing the dishes while Mom was folding clothes, which is usually the way it works in my house.

All this is prelude, however, to my real point.

The “rebuttal” to Beck’s talk is a deeply stupid idea, and not only because the content of the rebuttal itself is deeply stupid.

Of course, the rebuttal’s inherent asininity doesn’t help. It’s insufferably self-righteous, insisting that:

Several ideas within the body of President Beck’s talk conflict with our inspiration and experience. We are authors of our own lives, and this is the story we know to be true. [Emphasis added by me.]

The authors of their own lives then list the several areas of “conflict,” beginning with this one:

Fathers as well as mothers, men as well as women, are called to nurture. Nurturing is not confined to mothering or housekeeping, but is a universal attribute that communicates patience, peacefulness, and care.

Swell, Authors of Our Own Lives (AOOOL). Please show me how this conflicts with anything in Sister Beck’s talk? Show me where she insists that men cannot nurture, or that nurturing is solely defined by housekeeping skill? Where, exactly, does she come out in full force against patience, peacefulness, and care?

This is the problem with the entirety of the Authors of Our Own Lives brief. For the most part, their manifesto attributes to Beck things she didn’t say or even imply in order to whine about how awful the world is for women today. It even ludicrously “reject[s] the glorification of violence in all its forms,” because Beck had the audacity to refer to the 2,000 stripling warriors as “exceedingly valiant, courageous, and strong.” The war story fills the AOOOL with “unutterable sadness” because these warriors were sent to “kill other mothers’ children.” This is a gross misreading of both Julie Beck and the Book of Mormon. It makes me wonder why the AOOOL bother with the church in the first place.

However, the AOOOL cross the line between foolishness and irresponsibility when they demand that, “We reverence the responsibility to choose how, when, and whether we become parents.”

As Julie M. Smith, a blogger at wrote:

“I’m all over the “when.”

“How” makes me a little nervous.

But unless the signers understand something different than I do by “whether,” then I think that their statement is not in harmony with the established teachings of the Church. In the context of a temple-married LDS couple, children are not optional.

She’s right. And that’s a hard thing to say. It’s an even harder thing to hear. Surely it makes the AOOOL uncomfortable. But the reality of living as a church member is submitting to the church’s authority. The AOOOL may seem compassionate and enlightened, but in refusing to accept doctrines they don’t like, they’re really no different from the FLDSers who refused to accept the Manifesto or the bigots who ran away after President Kimball’s priesthood revelation in 1978.

If you think a church doesn’t have the right to tell you to have children, then that’s your prerogative. But if your church can be stripped of its authority whenever you don’t like what it says, then what authority does it really have left? And in what respect, then, can you still be termed a member of said church?

Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of room in the LDS Church for people who struggle, who question, and who disagree occasionally. I know, because I’m one of them. But once you go public and adopt an adversarial position with the Church, your allegiances have shifted. You’re no longer trying to improve your own community from the inside; you’re on the outside looking in, doing battle. Spiritually speaking, that’s a very dangerous place to be.

I don’t think much will come of this, and I’m not calling for the excommunication of the AOOOL or for anyone to be burned at the stake. I just wish everyone would have taken Sister Beck at face value and tried to find the positives instead of putting their names to antagonistic and politically correct nonsense.

If I have to take sides between my Church and the AOOOLies, I’ll take the Church every time.

Election '08: Less is Morris

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