If I do say so myself, I think Dr. Margaret Toscano gives one of the most insightful discussions I have ever had on priesthood power. This is really an amazing conversation, and then she asks why women should be denied priesthood blessings. Whether you support female ordination or not, this is an amazing discussion you don’t want to miss.
Margaret: God was going to do this. He was going to transform the role of women in the church. He [Joseph Smith] says to the Relief Society, and as I read through the speeches carefully, I saw several really important things, the idea that God was going to make the women a kingdom of priests, that was one of them. Another one was that the Relief Society and I hope I can remember the language of this one, that he wanted to organize the Relief Society in the order of the priesthood. Now, you have to realize that when this later, in the History of the Church, and this started to happen, in like the 1840s and 50s after Joseph’s death, where these phenomenal things that he said to the Relief Society in Nauvoo were changed. The wording was changed so that the priesthood implications of this were all switched, so that the language was, “Oh, it’s not to the women”. When you read the teachings of the Joseph Smith by Joseph Fielding Smith, the implication is that Joseph Smith is saying this to the Church, not to the women. The implication–and so when he says that the Relief Society is organized in the order of the priesthood, according to the order of the ancient priesthood, then it’s changed to they’re organized by the priesthood. I mean, that is significant. That is a very significant difference. It’s very interesting that—
GT: Do we have a sense of who changed the wording, because I don’t think it was Joseph Fielding Smith, as old as he was.
Margaret: It was older than that. It probably, some of this started with George A. Smith in 1854. Then B.H. Roberts–another thing that B.H. Roberts did is that Joseph Smith told the Relief Society, he said, “I turn the key to you.” That was then changed to, “I turn the key in your behalf. I’m going to get this picture because I want to show I an article that I did. This is really significant, this change. I’ve written tons about this.
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In September 1993, six scholars were disciplined by LDS Church leaders over their writings. Dr. Margaret Toscano’s husband Paul was one of these, although Margaret wasn’t excommunicated…yet.I joked with Dr. Margaret Toscano that she was September 6 and a half.
Margaret: So in 1992-93, Elder Boyd Packer was really concerned. He told a group of Institute and Seminary directors that the three big dangers to the Church were feminists, intellectuals and gays. I was already really involved in Mormon Studies and in Sunstone. I remember a lot of my friends joking, “How many of the categories do you fit into?” But then in 1993, during that summer, I was one of the first. I was called in by my Bishop and Stake President. I was living in Salt Lake at the time. Paul and I were there in the Cottonwood area. I was told, I guess that Boyd Packer had gotten in contact indirectly with my stake president. The basic message was, “Can’t you control that woman?”
So, in September, and it seemed like more than a coincidence, you had several people who were called in front of church disciplinary councils. So the six were Lavina Fielding Anderson, Paul Toscano, my husband, Mike Quinn, Maxine Hanks, who was the editor of this Book of Mormon feminism, and I have a chapter in that book. So, Paul, Lavina, Mike, Maxine, Lynn Whitesides, who was the head of the Mormon Women’s Forum, which I guess in controversial terms was the predecessor of Ordain Women, although it was not primarily about ordination, but just a forum for discussing gender issues. We discussed everything, so it was seen as a threat. Then the sixth person was sort of the oddball, Avraham Gileadi, who had written things about the book of Isaiah, and the church going into apostasy. He had quite a following. I haven’t followed him since. I knew all of them. They were all friends. But before any of them, before September, in July, I was called in and told. My stake president was not supposed to tell me that he was contacted by Elder Packer, but he did tell me. He told me that directly. He basically was just saying to me, I mean, he was not a theologian. He’s just saying, “Can’t you sort of tone things down?”
Well, then, two things happened. Well, first of all, of course, they always want your husband there, when they call a woman in. You’ve got to have the man there. Paul has written a lot, too. But it’s interesting that first Brother Packer was more concerned about me, the women’s issues. Paul kind of jumped into my defense. I have to say, he got into this big conflict with Kerry Hines, our Stake President. Kerry immediately said, “You’re more dangerous than Margaret.” I’m not sure if that’s really what he meant, (chuckling) but at any rate, at the same time, I actually received a letter at that time, before any of the other summons, where it said, it was basically an ultimatum. “You are not allowed to speak, discuss, publish anything to do with Church History or Doctrine in any venue or we’ll hold a church disciplinary council. It was that broad. I just said, “I can’t obey that.” I said, “I know you just think I’m being proud, but really, it’s not. I think that’s unrighteous dominion, to ask that of me.” Interestingly, what happened simultaneously, that was like in July, is that my Bishop, who was supposed to hold the court on me refused to do it. So he disobeyed the Stake President. The Stake President wanted him to hold a court on me. I guess you don’t call them courts, that shows I’m old. But he wanted them to hold a council on me and my Bishop wouldn’t do it. Then, at the same time, Paul gave a kind of speech at Sunstone, which was called choose love, not power, where he criticized the leaders for sort of their corporate structure. So suddenly he was the focus. Then you had this explosion. So you had these six people disciplined all in September. That’s why they’re called the September Six. They were all excommunicated, except for Lynn Whitesides, who was disfellowshipped.
GT: It could have been the September Seven.
Margaret was eventually excommunicated in 2000. Despite all this she still believes in Mormonism!
Margaret: I have to say that my relationship to Mormonism is very sad to me on many levels, but I still consider myself, I’m not a true believing Mormon, because I question too much. But at heart, I am a believer. That doesn’t mean I believe everything. I don’t, and I have lots of doubts. I always have. I question everything. But the bottom line is that I’ve tried to deny it. Because you know, as a good intellectual, you want to kind of say, “Oh, yeah, I’m an atheist. I’m agnostic.” By agnostic, I mean, do I absolutely know for sure? No. But I have to say that I have felt the Spirit of God working in my life for a long time. I believe in the soul. I believe in God. I believe in the spiritual realm. I also believe that God is in the restoration. Does that mean that the church is all right? No. I love Joseph Smith, but do I think he had major flaws? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that he was in instrument of God to bring us truth. I know that some of the things I say that some of your audience may think that I’m–oh believe me, I’ve been called everything: that wicked woman or whatever. But that’s not how I view myself. I love Mormonism. I love the history, the theology, the people. I get really upset at the church.
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Following her time as a student and teacher at BYU, Dr. Margaret Toscano had a bit of a feminist awakening. What was it about BYU that led her to seek more about female spirituality?
Margaret: I’m working like crazy to finish this master’s thesis. Then right about the same time that I finished the master’s thesis is when I found the Ehat book with the Joseph Smith material and I’ll come back to that. I want to finish the professional trajectory, which really connects to this tension I felt between, what is it to be a good Mormon woman, and do my desires and ambitions conflict with that? What does God want of me? How does God view women in this bigger scheme of things? So really, that question is just kind of building up in me over the years, starting in the 70s, and feeling marginalized and ignored and invisible at BYU no matter what I did, and then getting married, and I’m having my kids, and then I’m starting to get interested in Mormon History and also in biblical studies and thinking about women within the biblical narratives. Then I do my thesis, and then I start really looking at these documents about the church. [The year] 1984 was when I did my first public speech on women and priesthood. I’ll come back to that. So that’s happening, but to go to my professional life, I’m really involved in Mormon studies and Mormon things from the 70s, the 80s, the 90s. I started my PhD in 1988, after I’d already published some things in Mormon Studies, because I realize and here it goes back to these tensions, that I really love teaching on the university level. I had been an adjunct teacher, already. So in 1988 I’d already been an adjunct teacher for like 10 years, with my master’s degree and I’m thinking I can never move beyond the adjunct position, if I don’t have a PhD.
I wanted to do that Ph.D., but it took me a lot of years, it actually took me 12 years to finish my Ph.D., for two reasons, well, three reasons. I was raising my family at the same time. Here again, I’ll sound really defensive. I actually never worked full time until my youngest was 12. Why do I feel like I have to say that? I’m a dedicated mother, right? But again, that’s what you’re put into–this kind of defensiveness. I’m taking my kids to school, going to a class, going home and pick them up, make them dinner, 11 to 2, work on my papers for my classes, trying to do this Ph.D. So it took me 12 years [because I was] raising my family. I was also still involved in Mormon Studies and my Ph.D. here at the University of Utah.
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Don’t miss our previous conversation with Margaret!