Discourses in Mormon Theology: Margaret Toscano article review

Previously, I reviewed a couple of interesting discourses/articles by Dennis Potter and James McLachlan in the book, “Discourses in Mormon Theology”, which contains the discourses for the first Seminar of the Society of Mormon Philosophy and Theology (SMPT).

In this post, I’ll discuss an article written by former LDS member, Margaret Toscano, titled: “Is There a Place for Heavenly Mother in Mormon Theology? An Investigation into Discourses of Power”.

I was hoping for some interesting information regarding the belief in a Heavenly Mother through the ages, however Toscano chose to use her time as a protest speech against Mormon male hierarchy.

She is correct that there is little known about Heavenly Mother. I am sure most of us wished there were more doctrine and teaching in regards to her.  That said, we can gain interesting information regarding her from a Biblical point of view, such as God’s consort as Wisdom (as seen in Proverbs and elsewhere).  Toscano does not share any such information with us.

Instead, she rants at how little power the Church gives to women, which she says is reflected in the silence on Heavenly Mother.

For example, she mentions President Hinckley’s “Four Cornerstones of Faith”: 1. testimony of Jesus Christ as Son of God, 2. the First Vision of Joseph Smith, 3. the Book of Mormon, and 4. the restoration of priesthood power and authority.

Toscano writes, “While these four propositions may appear fairly neutral, they all have implications for how women and ethnic minorities are positioned in the Church organization, since all four cornerstones center on male figures that are represented as white.”

That God chose to send his Son to Israel (non-white) and bring about the Restoration through male figures becomes a modern travesty for her. It seems clear from her statements that history should be changed to suit her misandry.

President Hinckley becomes a target again for Toscano, as she notes him reading a letter from a girl asking if men are more important than women. Pres Hinckley responds by discussing Heavenly Mother as an important doctrine, even though we should not pray to Her.

Toscano writes, “President Hinckley says this prohibition in no way “belittles or denigrates her”, but it surely makes her subordinate in some way to Heavenly Father and less important to the Church since her children have no access to her….He then remarks that those who have done so “are well-meaning, but they are misguided.””

She then notes that this “can easily be read to mean that any who pursue the topic of the Heavenly Mother are also “misguided””.

She attacks temples as places we spend many resources on, but there is no mention of Heavenly Mother. She also attacks Blake Ostler’s book, “Exploring Mormon Thought, The Attributes of God” for not mentioning Heavenly Mother – when Blake’s focus was discussing the theology of what God is in regards to other religious philosophies (which do not have any theology on a Heavenly Mother whatsoever).

Then she shares with us her dislike of the Proclamation on the Family. While it states we are born of Heavenly parents, ‘it is the male God alone, the Eternal Father, who is worshipped and whose plan governs and guides his children along the path toward immortality. What then of Heavenly Mother? Is she involved at all in the salvation of her children? Is she an “equal partner” with her divine spouse…? How can she be an equal partner if she is absent or invisible in the work of the Godhead?”

While denigrating LDS prophets and proclamations, she praises feminists that push for a radicalization of women’s theology. “Sadly, my efforts have failed and I must admit defeat for now because no amount of theorizing can change the dominant pattern in a church that accepts the present status quo as God’s will and those who question it as heretics. Further, if the majority of LDS women do not feel that they are in a subordinate position and are content with their present role in Mormon culture and discourse, then it would be unethical for me to try to define them otherwise. Nevertheless, my own ethical sense also compels me to explain what I see as the ways in which the present structure is at odds with the demands of Christ’s gospel (concerning a “balancing authority”).”

She then attacks SMPT on being an open forum “when most of its members owe allegiance to the LDS Church….I do not mean this observation in a caustic or polemical way….”  She notes that of the speakers at the conference, she is the only female.

She then directly attacks priesthood hierarchy.

“I have hoped to show the danger of letting authority hold sway over truth or beauty or love, not just for women, but for all….In a hierarchical structure such as the Church’s, every man is a “girl” to the men above him in the priesthood pipeline.”  She notes that if we dump women and minorities on the “trash bin” of Church hierarchy, then we are doing the same to Christ.

The discourse was “caustic [and] polemical” in every way.  I agree that we need to expand priesthood power to women and minorities, and we are. Perhaps there will someday be “a” priesthood office given to women. However, Toscano is connected to the Ordain Women movement, and so will not be happy with the old white men running the Church, until the priesthood is given to women and there are at least 6 female apostles.

As with Dennis Potter’s Liberation Theology article, which I recently reviewed, here we have another social attack on the foundations of the Church. When members (or former members) think that doctrines can be changed by a vote of the loudest minority, then they show they do not believe in a Church that is lead by revelation. Changes occur, but only in accord to God’s will and the readiness of the people for that change.

A comparison can be made with the Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS). In the last half century, the CoC has ordained women and accepted gay marriage. In doing so, they have replaced revelation with social expediency. This is noted in the CoC’s stance in regards to Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Joseph is no longer considered the prophet of the Restoration, but as a charismatic leader. The Book of Mormon is no longer required scripture, but more of an interesting artifact or inspired fiction.

For the LDS Church to make big changes without God’s revelatory approval would mean we are embracing the world’s stance, seeking its approval. We would have to give up the First Vision, priesthood authority and hierarchy, temples, the Book of Mormon and many of the revelations in D&C.  We would have to gut the gospel God has given us.

I do not know why God set up priesthood hierarchy as He did. I do not know why there was a priesthood ban.  I do not know why the Lord has not revealed more on Heavenly Mother. I wish I did have some of these answers.  I am glad that the Church is expanding authority for women on the local and general levels, and look forward to more. I hope we see two new apostles called this October conference that are from Latin America, Asia, or Africa.  That said, I am not going to take what I see as one flawed issue of the Church and declare war on the Church.

Toscano was excommunicated in the early 1990s as one of the famed September Six. Her stance then is clear in this speech given in 2004, and recent statements show she still holds rancor against men in the Church. While we must fight misogyny (hatred of women) in the world, we also need to fight misandry (hatred of men). I hope someday that Toscano can learn to love as she claims Mormons must do, and seek God’s will rather than her own social agenda.  There is a lot of opportunity for women in the Church, and hopefully more will come their way in the future. The Church’s focus is saving people through Christ, not establishing a social agenda of equality or liberation.  In replacing the gospel with such concepts, it is easy for members to get lost in the politics, rather than getting lost in service to the Lord.



18 thoughts on “Discourses in Mormon Theology: Margaret Toscano article review

  1. As I have said so many times before in so many words, Mormonism is a patriarchy just as it has been since Adam and through to Paul. The role of women is important and they are equal in the possibility of Salvation and Exaltation, but not as the world defines them (especially feminism). Why none of them don’t go and join the Community of Christ who has taken to heart *every single criticism* of “New Order Liberal Mormonism” is beyond me, other that the suspicion they just want to burn down the Utah Church.

    The scriptures are very clear to me; Mother in Heaven is a theological concept whose introduction as a spiritual devotion is counter to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Time and again in ancient and modern Scripture proper worship is based on Heavenly Father, mediated by Jesus Christ, as Witnessed by the Holy Ghost. There is no room for Heavenly Mother beyond an abstract consideration. I consider any formal recognition of her in worship as blaspheme.

  2. Of course Margaret Toscano said those things. Of course her little minions at OW say those things. After all, someone has to be the victim, right? *rolls eyes* moving on….

  3. Well did Elder Maxwell, clear back in the 1970s, allude to the current feminism of some in which passion is not spent in the quiet work of discipleship but in the number of inches of press one receives in the newspaper.

    We do know some things about Heavenly Mother in our day, which comes through the same inspiration that gave rise to the restoration: not much, but enough to whet our appetite for what will one day come as we now and ever worship the Father in the name of the Son, as we have been prophetically taught from the beginning. I am amazed at the incongruity of some who bite the same prophetic hand that gives us at least a knowledge that we have a Heavenly Mother, and then discounts everything else that the Prophets have said which establish the path we need to follow. One day, following that path, we will know all things and will be able to exult in the full participation of all celestial things

    The other staggering incongruity of secular feminism is that once it progresses to a point, one loses all hope of realizing the blessings of the Temple. There, within the confines of time and place and sacredness well stated on every edifice, “Holiness to the Lord,” women participate in the work of exaltation that we have at least some indication that Heavenly Mother likewise participates. In the Temple, we don’t hear lectures on Heavenly Mother, but if women don’t bear Priesthood power there, then I don’t know what Priesthood power is. It is possible to attend the Temple for a lifetime and miss it. No one is there to lecture: “pay attention to the women here”…what they wear, what they administer, what their administrations mean to the exaltation of all the women there who heed what is being taught and given, what promises are being made to the women as well as the men and to the posterity of ALL the righteous. It cannot be properly explained outside the Temple by commandment. Those who might undertake to do so will be unable to express it properly and with knowledge. Why? Because it is one of those laws once irrevocably decreed: and is found in the Book of Mormon:

    (Alma 12:9–11)
    9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
    10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
    11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries…

    Those that have sold their right to Temple worship and Temple blessings for a mess of secular pottage and the right to publish in scholarly journals have lost something unimaginable. The loss is staggering: what women do for the living and the dead in our Temples now both equals and surpasses what the Prophet Joseph ever alluded to in Nauvoo to the Relief Society. Perhaps even he was only beginning to glimpse, at that early time, the full weight of the work of salvation that women would not perform in full for decades.

    Outside of our Temples, are women left without honor, without power? I have the perspective of attending, over a period of about thirty years, the pregnancies, labors, and births of spirit children sent by Heavenly Parents to by born by the souls of almost 5000 women, privileged to enjoy that amazing power and the power of nurture that comes after. There is NO greater power in the universe than that. There is perhaps an equal power, that I sometimes get to exercise by virtue of Priesthood conferral, through a process of “second birth” that comes about in part through ordinances, that is in a way equal to the power of women. But none surpasses the other in importance and the work we do, though different, has some amazing parallels.

    Is it possible to not appreciate that which we have been given, whether it be the power to nurture the souls of children within our bodies or the conferred authority to perform some of the ordinances of salvation for them? Is it possible to miss the miracle of each of us, men and women, to participate to a degree with the powers of the other whether it be in procreation or Temple work? The answer is yes. Probably most will miss it until the Gospel is preached to them and it is fully understood. No matter how many inches of a newspaper column or pages of a scholarly journal are devoted to it, that is not where understanding comes.

  4. Margaret Toscano was not among the “September Six”, though her husband Paul Toscano was. She was excommunicated in 2000, making it a total family affair. Now she disseminates misinformation at University of Utah, where she seems to specialize in Narcisistic anti-Mormon Neo Feminism. Illustrating once again, they leave the Church, but they cannot leave the Church alone

  5. “.In a hierarchical structure such as the Church’s, every man is a “girl” to the men above him in the priesthood pipeline’

    I actually think that this is more or less right. The problem, however, is that I am perfectly happy not having that higher priesthood calling since it allows somebody else to worry about all sorts of issues and responsibilities that I would rather not have. Let somebody else go through all the bureaucratic and political motions while I happily focus on my much more intimate and personal stewardship.

    In other words, her point only follows if one assumes that a “higher” calling is, in some obvious and uncontroversial sense, a “better” calling. I simply do not agree with that.

  6. Jeff G. neither did Jesus agree with that, such as Mark 9:33-35 with a dispute who was the best of the group :

    ” 33 ¶And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?

    34 But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.

    35 And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.”

  7. Thank you, Stephen, for pointing out the great truth about women and the priesthood from a temple perspective. I do think that it’s frustrating that feminism has hijacked the issue. As a mother who has had opportunity to be moved by the Spirit in a couple of extreme situations to lay hands on the heads of a child to give a blessing, I am clear that women can exercise Priesthood when needed. During the Winter Quarters period, women blessed one another via laying on of hands as well as exemplifying Priesthood power in many other ways. I agree with Stephen that anyone who attends the temple and fails to see the genuine purposes of Priesthood and women’s very equal access to that real power could benefit from a change of perspective.

  8. Yawn.

    Let’s re-write history so that George Washington was Georgette Washington.

    Let’s say that Jeshua (Jesus) was Maria.

    Let’s say Joseph say Goddess the Mother and her handmaid in the grove.

    Let’s say that Mormons actively promoted the rights and privileges of women, enthusiastically granting them the vote fifty years before the US ever deigned to do so.

    Oh, wait, that last one actually is history. Oh, and little though Margaret Toscano might wish to acknowledge it, Mormonism has actively embraced the idea of a female goddess as part of our concept of heaven since before the flight from Nauvoo.

    I was raised by my strong and powerful mother to know that a woman’s place is at the side of God. Not at His feet, not at His head, but as his fully-empowered partner in the work of eternal life.

    Too bad Margaret Toscano was apparently not as blessed as I was. In some future day, I believe she will have a chance to interact with that God she disparages and know of His love and what He (and She) thought of how she advocated against the Church that was working to save Their children.

  9. Ram, why bring this and the Potter piece up now, 11 years later? I’m unclear on your purpose, and what the take-away is, or if there is a call to action.

    Yes, Toscano and Potter were wrong, we disagree with them….. and therefore what?

  10. Bookslinger,

    Greg Kofford books recently had a push on this book at a discount. So, it opened the door for me to take a look at it. As it is, these are still important memes even 11 years later, as Ordain Women and Liberation Theology have stepped up in the last few years.

    However, I also have reviewed a one or two other articles, also – such as McLachlan’s discourse on Chamberlin’s Personalism Theory.

    It isn’t uncommon to review older texts. Recently, I’ve seen LDS groups discussing Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling and Blake Ostler’s books on Exploring Mormon Thought, both over 10 years old.

  11. Either women officiate in the priesthood or a significant percentage of the ordinances performed in the temple are not valid.

    We are taught one can not enter the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom unless one is married in the temple and sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. Sounds like a partnership to me.

    Evolutionary forces tend to make males in the human species dominate in terms of social privilege and power in relationships. While the Gospel teaches that model doesn’t work in the eternities it is the “lens” through which truth has been interpreted by mankind through the centuries – hence a lot of human institutions end up being very sexist by default.

    Within the Gospel however we are taught that It is only through a partnership between a woman and a man that either can enter into God’s presence and become like God. Since both must be there for either of them to be there it seems logically consistent that they become like God as a unit. That has obvious implications for the existence of our Heavenly Mother.

  12. John Sweeney Harvey,

    Your statements are logical. However, there is an importance to bringing more priesthood power to women, as we see the Church beginning to do. As for Heavenly Mother, it would be nice if she were more than just an implication…

  13. Hi rame,

    Our knowledge of Mother in Heaven is perhaps not sufficient for some. It is like the light of the rising sun, which has insufficient lumens to support growing crops. Yet it is a light by which we can see and make our way.

    The light of sunrise not only lights our way, it holds promise of a glorious noon, when the brightness is almost too intense to be borne.

    In the mean time, I believe in a God who wants to save His children. The Church is both a mechanism to save all those who desire to participate in His work of saving all mankind and a stumbling block to prevent those unwilling to commit from hoarding resources that need to be focused on God’s primary mission. At least, I’m extrapolating that as a good from the delightful NPS thesis, Growing an Ideology: How the Mormons Do It.

  14. I think we tend to forget that that our Heavenly Parents are completely united in every aspect of their children’s salvation. Their unity supersedes even that of the Father and the Son. The Son not only obeys the Father, but also His Mother. The two Parents are, and should be, inseparable–an example of perfect matrimony. Why she is silent, we don’t know, but it’s not like the Father brushes her aside in any effort to contact us mortals and says, “Not today, Dear… Maybe next time.” The Plan and their roles are exactly how they BOTH want it. I can imagine, though, as any righteous husband can relate, Her behind the scenes issuing commands while He carries them out with exactness.

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