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An Excommunicated Believer (Part 3 of 8)

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.

What are your thoughts?  Check out our conversation…. 

Despite her excommunication, Dr. Margarate Toscano still believes in many aspects of Mormonism, including Joseph Smith’s role as prophet.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Margaret!

367: Feminist Awakening at BYU

366: Toscano: From BYU to Utah

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Toscano: From BYU to Utah (Part 1 of 8)

Dr. Margaret Toscano is the Dept Chair at the University of Utah, but she got 2 degrees from BYU and taught there as well.  In our next conversation, we’ll learn more about her time at BYU, and see her perspective on male privilege for scholars at the university.

Margaret:  I started out from BYU, but I’ve always loved literature. That was sort of my first love, being an English major. Then when I was at BYU, I got interested in language, studying Latin and Greek, because I became very interested in Biblical studies and I wanted to be able to read the Bible in the original languages. So I first took Latin and I like to tell my Latin students, this little story. I was an English major and a History minor. I had a boyfriend who I met in a history class, and he persuaded me to take Latin, and I did. Well, that boyfriend is long since gone, but Latin lasts forever. I still teach Latin. I love teaching. I teach both Latin and Ancient Greek and all kinds of courses dealing with religious topics and literary and cultural topics. I teach a big Introductory to Classical Mythology. Sometimes I’ll have 250 students.

I did my masters at BYU in Classical Languages. I started out with literature and then I got really interested in the ancient world in doing Biblical Studies. I did some work with Hebrew, too. I finished my master’s there. Then I got married. In that time period, I became really interested in Mormon theology and history. So it was while I was at BYU in the early 70s, that I began to meet people who were really digging up documents.

I have to say that, for me, the two things that really made me feel like I was a feminist during that period was I began to see these gaps between men’s–what would I say? Not just, in large, about the sort of gender gaps between how men were privileged over womenut , bwithin the context of the church. I began to ask questions about gender equality. For me, it really came very much, at that time, from a place of believing, where I felt like, “Here I am, a Mormon woman. I believe in God, I believe in the idea of the restoration. But I feel like that there are these inequities that strike me, not just wrong, but somehow go against my own feelings of God’s love and what I want as somebody who is committed to spirituality, and to the sort of basic ideals of the gospel.” So, maybe I could just give a couple of examples. So, for me, it didn’t start out with the idea of kind of focusing on priesthood or even the Heavenly Mother, which are two things I’ve written about. I think for me, it started out from the idea of–and maybe this was in a sense connected with priesthood, but I think it was at BYU, that I saw so much male privilege, that as a woman, I felt like I wasn’t taken as seriously as my male counterparts. I was working on my Masters in Classical Languages. I was obviously smart and did a good job. But, it was the idea that my professors were encouraging all of my male colleagues to go off and get PhDs, so they can come back and be these great scholars. But I was seen as somebody where, “Oh, yeah, you’re going to get married, you’re going to have children. We’re not going to take you seriously as a scholar.” So I think that was the first area where I felt it, was the difference in expectations or the way in which I was valued. I began to see that I didn’t feel like I was valued as much as men at BYU, that I was not encouraged to write or to be a scholar or to do anything… “Oh, yeah, we are happy to have you as a teacher, you’re a great teacher, but you’re going to fill this little spot in teaching until one of our male stars comes back from a big PhD program, and then, oh, yeah, then they’ll take your role, and, of course, you’ll be having kids, so you won’t care.”

Find out more about Margaret’s experiences at BYU.  Check out our conversation…

Dr. Margaret Toscano is professor of Classics and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies here, and also the department chair of this World Languages and Cultures.

Check out our other conversations on Mormon feminism!

Bryndis Roberts of Ordain Women

Bryndis Roberts - Chair of Executive Board, Ordain Women
Bryndis Roberts – Chair of Executive Board, Ordain Women

274: Purge & Actions Since 2014 (Roberts)

273: Ordain Women Leadership (Roberts)

272: Getting Involved in Ordain Women (Roberts)

271: Addressing Gender Inequities (Roberts)

270: From Baptist to Mormon (Roberts)

Dr. Nancy Ross/Sara Hanks – Where Must We Stand?

Dr. Nancy Ross - Dixie State Univ, and Sara Hanks, co-authors "Where We Must Stand."
Dr. Nancy Ross – Dixie State Univ, and Sara Hanks, co-authors “Where We Must Stand.”

211:  Feminist Favorites (Ross-Hanks)

210:  Must Women Be Ordained? (Ross-Hanks)

209: The F-word: Feminism (Ross-Hanks)

208: Nancy & Sara’s Spiritual Journey (Ross-Hanks)

207: Mormon Feminist Successes & Setbacks (Ross-Hanks)