Dr. Margaret Toscano describes an answer to prayer, in which she found historical records describing Joseph Smith starting the Relief Society and organizing the women as a quorum of priestesses. She describes how Joseph Smith’s theology of priesthood are larger than we have today. We also discuss the Community of Christ revelation in 1984 in which women were ordained, just like the men. Is that what Joseph Smith had in mind?
GT: Do you think that Joseph would have advocated for women to be ordained as a Priest, Teacher, Deacon, Elder, Apostle, Bishop? Is that what his plan was?
Margaret: I mean, who knows? I think that his theology justifies that. I want to go back to the Relief Society. So in those speeches in Nauvoo, he told the women that he wanted the Relief Society organized according to the order of the ancient priesthood, and that their organization was a priesthood organization, they were essential for the church being in the right order. The church could not be in the right order without the Relief Society as a priesthood organization. I think he says that clearly. I mean, you can always argue whether it’s clear or not. But that’s my interpretation.
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…
Check out our other conversations on Mormon feminism!
In April 2014, Elder Oaks gave a sermon on women and priesthood. Dr. Jonathan Stapley said this was no ordinary talk. He called it theologically groundbreaking! I was a bit surprised how revolutionary Stapley felt the sermon was. It seemed to me to be a response to the Ordain Women movement which was asking for women to be allowed to attend the priesthood session of General Conference. I saw the address under a different light than Jonathan.
GT: I remember just thinking, “Oh, this is just to placate the Kate Kelly people and to say, ‘Women, you’ve already got priesthood. You just didn’t know it yet.’” But you’re saying this is a theological change.
Jonathan: When Elder Oaks delivered that sermon, I was looking around like, does anyone else [recognize this?] This is mind-blowing. I couldn’t believe it. And everyone else was just like, “Oh yeah, this is just Elder Oaks.” Revolutions happen sometimes a very subtly apparently.
Jonathan: It’s certainly a linguistic shift and language frames our reality. So, it is certainly, for example, an interesting piece from Elder Oaks’ sermon was he was quoting in many parts from a sermon that Joseph Fielding Smith gave to the Relief Society in a general Relief Society meeting. And in this meeting Joseph Fielding was as I remember, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve at the time, discussed women’s authority in the church and how they were heirs to a great heritage, but also heirs to authority and their capacity of the work in the Relief society and the temple. But he was quick to say, you have authority to do this work. You have authority in the temple, but authority is not the same thing as priesthood.
Jonathan: And Elder Oaks takes this sermon he talks about, he quotes Joseph Fielding Smith, how women have this great authority in the church and this great heritage. And then he stops and says, what else can this authority be except priesthood? Right? So, it’s this really wonderful kind of re-imagining of what these terms mean. At the same time, reaching to our past to grab hold of our past and make sure we’re still connected, but also in very interesting and creative ways, refashioning it in a way that makes more sense for the present.
Do you think Oaks talk was groundbreaking? Let me know! Check out our other conversations on women healers, Ordain Women, and click the video below to learn more about this conversation….