So what is a Mormon? What is a Feminist?

Stephen Marsh Mormon 7 Comments

To answer the question “what is a Mormon?” I found myself asking the question “what is a Feminist?”

I was at a lunch.  I was talking with someone who was putting a program together to support female attorneys and make them feel included.  She was talking to several of us about how important it was to have good role models, to make certain that girls knew that any education they wanted, any choices they wanted or needed would be supported and were good and encouraged and how important it was to be inclusive.  She was looking for groups to reach out to in support of this, and thinking of some LDS attorneys who were also part of Feminist Mormon Housewives in the area, I suggested that she might want to make contact with them.  She gave me a look as if I had lost my mind.  “I’ve a sister who is a feminist, what does what I’m doing have to do with anything a feminist would have anything in common with?”

That struck me.  The same question sometimes comes up when people consider what is a Mormon.

For some it is easy.  The LDS who went West took with them the “Mormon” label, those who stayed East, whether Strangites, Reorganized or others did not. For some the dividing line was Brigham Young.  That may have been the denotation, but the connotation was polygamy.  In the popular mind that is still the case (consider Mitt Romney and the fact he had to address the issue).  Within the LDS Church the denotation is “real” LDS are Mormons, others (i.e. polygamist off-shoots) are something else.  For the FLDS, they asked for LDS families to take in their children (instead of foster homes where the rate of underage pregnancy is much higher than the rate the FLDS were accused of, none-the-less the real rate) because they felt that their children were better off with “Mormons” than with others. (And yes, the first I heard about it was when one of the ad litems contacted me, looking for a way to contact the LDS Church at the request of her FLDS court appointed clients).

But it has made me think.  Is a “mormon” what Joseph Smith defined it as (mor = more and mon = good; anyone who sought more good); is it anyone who accepts the Book of Mormon; is it the Church that went West; does it require (or does it require rejecting) polygamy — just what is a Mormon?  Is it as easy to answer as “What is a Feminist?

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Comments 7

  1. Hmm. We might add to the list of questions — What is a Christian? My “Christian” friends and I do not agree on that one, either.

  2. Yes, ’tis a hard question. Personally this is exactly why I prefer avoiding all labels if at all possible. In fact, the only labels I personally give myself are “Mormon” (where I define it as LDS), and “engineer.” Just about everything else is off limits due to the ambiguity in understanding what is in a label.

    Something I’ve found interesting in the past (and related to Paul’s comment) is what was a Christian in the time period from 33 A.D. to 400 A.D.? Seems to me it is possibly even more ambiguous than it is now, but we happily refer to such as “Saints” having no idea what they even believed.

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  4. Stephen, I agree with your comment #3. I raise the point because what seems like a simple answer vis-a-vis labels for us often isn’t for someone else, either out of a desire to be more or less inclusive.

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    Paul, I agree with your point. I was just tweaked to comment on it as well.

    BTW, from another thread “Mormonism is about truth and anyone who tells you otherwise is not loyal to Mormonism”

  6. Both “Mormon” and “Christian” were originally labels applied by others.

    “Feminist” was originally self-applied.

    Presently, however, there are innumerable hosts who either proudly accept or utterly reject, for themselves or for others, the titles “Mormon”, “Christian”, and “Feminist”.

    I think of myself as a Feminist Mormon Christian. Others might disagree.

  7. The term christian was originally given to anyone who followed the teachings of Christ. I wonder if Christ were walking on earth today if he would recognize any of the existing churches as his followers.

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