Friday, October 10, 2003

MORMONS AND PURITANS: I have been doing a bit of reading of late on Puritan theories of natural law. Obviously, there are lots and lots of parellels between Puritanism and Mormonism, but I ran into one that I thought was particularlly striking. In 1659, a Puritan by the name of John Eliot wrote a book entitled The Christian Commonwelath; or, The Civil Policy of the Rising Kingdom of Jesus Christ. He argued, inter alia, that Christian people should "chuse unto themselves Rulers of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens, who shall govern according to the pure, holy, righteous, perfect and good Law of God . . . ." He goes on to explain how the "chusing" should work. Groups of ten would chose a leader. The leaders of the groups of ten would then choose leaders of groups of 50, and so on up to the top. (He is vague about who assigns people to the initial groups.) Interestingly, Brigham Young received a revelation on January 14, 1847 setting out an almost identical governing structure for the Camp of Israel. (See D&C 136) The basic model for both systems was, of course, Moses and the children of Israel during the Exodus. (See Exodus 18:21) What is striking, however, is the different way in which authority was distributed within the Mormon and Puritan systems. In the Puritan system it filters up from the bottom, while in the Mormon system everything is "under the direction of the Twelve Apostles." (D&C 135:3)

A niave analysis of the difference would be to see the Puritans as democratic and the Mormons as authoritarian. However, I don't think this is what is going on. For starters, the Puritans saw "democratie" as a purely pajoritive terms, and were self-consciously yearning for a "true theocratie." Eliot's system clearly presupposes that it is only members of the church who are doing the "chusing." Membership in the church, in turn, was based on a showing that one had discovered signs of election to salvation in the strict Calvinist sense. Furthermore, there was none of the emotional moment of grace stuff that one would find in the later, evangelical versions of Calvinism. For Puritans election was a serious matter of discovering the evidences of predestined salvation not of verifying a a moment of being saved. The result was earnest pyschological analysis by the elders of the church rather than ephusive salvific experience. Thus, the "chusing" by the people was a form of God working his will, since it was only those predestined to election by Him who did the "chused." The Mormons also saw their structure as a way of God working in the world. The difference was that God works through historically located revelation to prophets. In constrast to the predestination of the Puritans -- which has already occured and since God is eternal and atemporal, strictly speaking has both always been occuring and never been occuring -- the Mormon revelation occurs at a particular time to a particular people. God's dealings with the world takes on a much more active and interactive aspect. (Incidentally, the Mormons followed more closely the pattern of Exodus than did the Puritans on precisely this point.) The old Puritan psychology still lingers within Mormonism, but it takes on a different form. Where the Puritans plumbed their souls looking for signs of predestined grace, Mormons plumbed (and still plumb) their souls looking for the spirit of revelation and the "flowing of pure intelligence." Interestingly, the religious pyschology of both faiths gave rise to a rich diarist tradition. Puritans wrote voluminous diaries chronicling their search within their souls for grace, while Mormons wrote voluminous diaries chronicling the revelations of God to them and their obedience to those revelations.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

MORMON FEMINISM- Peggy Fletcher Stack just published an article in the SL Trib titled "Where have all the Mormon Feminists Gone?" located here. You all should read it all the way through...I think you'll be surprised at how close we are to the heartbeat of Mormon feminism! The article describes the changing face of Mormon feminism throughout the church's history. Most significant is that it describes a softening of both feminists and the church. It also notes the difficulties with the term 'feminism' in today's academy. The central issue of women serving in priesthood leadership has yet to be resolved to the satisfaction of many feminist thinkers, but it does seem that on almost every other question the church has made great strides.

I think that the article does a great job of describing the status questiones, but does little to describe what the future of Mormon feminism is. A few years ago, when Claudia Bushman spoke at Harvard, she predicted a retrenchment from much of the progress the church has made recently, expecting an increased focus on "family values" in order to increase family sizes to compensate for diminishing converts. This may be true, but I suspect that many of the values held by today's LDS women on social issues, such as career, education, and family roles, as well as ecclesiastical issues, such as making women present in general conference, and expectations of providing input in local church matters, will be increasingly hard to reverse.