On Saturday, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf addressed the women of the Church. Apparently, how he did so was unprecedented: he referred to them as disciples. Here’s the headline at the Huffington Post: “Mormon Feminists Surprised By New Wording Referring To Women As ‘Blessed Disciples Of Jesus.'” Here’s a quote from the article:
Mormon feminists may have been surprised by some subtle changes in vocabulary and approach Saturday (Sept. 27) at the church’s general women’s meeting.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf addressed the audience — sitting in the giant Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City or watching via satellite in chapels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints across the globe — not just as “sisters” but also as “blessed disciples of Jesus Christ.”
In a speech about living out one’s faith joyfully, Uchtdorf, second counselor in the church’s governing First Presidency, referred twice to women as “daughters of heavenly parents,” alluding to the Mormon belief in male and female deities.
Apparently, it is unprecedented to mention “Heavenly Parents,” and unprecedented to refer to women as disciples of Christ. Except for the fact that the term “Heavenly Parents” is used in the Proclamation on the Family, and leaders of the Church have been including women as “disciples” for ages (the linked post lists just a few examples of what I’m sure is many).
But that’s how you craft a narrative: anytime the leaders of the Church talk about the divine role of women, act as if its something that’s never been done before. That’s how you spin the tale so that people — both within and outside of the Church — come to believe that, until now, the Church has been demeaning towards women. But now, due to the vocal efforts of Mormon feminists, things are changing, and women can be disciples too!
I’m with Kathryn Skaggs on this one: sometimes it feels like some people belong to a different Church. Not that I want them to. I want them to be a part of the Church I’ve been a member of all along: The Church I grew up in always treated women as fellow disciples of Christ, and there was never a doubt in my mind of that. I see that the leaders of the Church tried for decades to communicate to women how much God values them, how important and central they are to the Creator’s plan for His children. And now Mormon feminists are taking the credit, by pretending it’s only now happening (presumably due to their vocal efforts).
I don’t think the Church is perfect. There may be practices and traditions that need to change. But I’m going to make a bold claim: If a sister in the Church just now realizes that she’s valued as a disciple of Christ, it’s not because the Church hasn’t taught it, frequently and often. What President Uchtdorf said this past weekend is nothing new. It’s not a change of rhetoric. Rather, perhaps our ears are opening enough to hear for the first time what they’ve been saying all along?
I think it’s dishonest to claim that this is some unprecedented shift in rhetoric on the part of the Church, and I think this twisting of the facts is designed to ultimately make the Church look bad and feminist agitators look like the protagonists of the story. It’s also designed set up a false crisis later on: If the Church has always been true, why is it only now treating women as disciples of Christ?