Eliminating Mormon Church Oppression

Changing role of LDS feminists explored

By Nicole Warburton
Deseret Morning News

Some 30 women and a few men discussed the ideas of service, activism and the changing role of Mormon feminists during the annual Mormon Women's Forum at the University of Utah on Saturday.

"Artemis," a contributor to the blog: feministmormonhousewives.org, told attendees Saturday she believed the Internet has created a new forum for women who are current or former members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to debate concerns with some teachings of that faith.

"Most people who stick around usually find some measure of peace," Artemis said of the blog, which hosts discussions about issues such as modesty, homemaking, the idea of a Heavenly Mother and equality between men and women.

After the recent general conference of the LDS Church in October, bloggers on feministmormonhousewives.org debated a talk by Sister Julie B. Beck, general president of the Relief Society. Sister Beck discussed the role of women as homemakers, wives and mothers, but some bloggers took offense, according to Artemis.

Others defended the talk.

"The overall fault was her focus was too limiting, both for women and men and LDS and non-LDS," Artemis said of those who appeared offended by the talk.

Margaret Toscano, with the Mormon Women's Forum, said the role of the group was to promote such discussions about gender and equality, particularly within the context of the LDS culture. The Mormon Women's Forum is not affiliated with the LDS Church.

"I'm so pleased that feminism is not dying but has a whole new life on the Internet," she said.

Earlier in the conference, speakers related experiences with service ranging from time spent volunteering at the prison, to creating personal "callings" within an LDS ward. Later discussions were held about environmentalism, poverty, racism and "circling the wagons" around gay loved ones.

Vickie Stewart Eastman, a recruiter and writer, said she took it upon herself to decorate her ward's chapel with flowers and a Christmas wreath each Sunday. "It gives me pleasure," she said of the unofficial calling.

For more information about the Mormon Women's Forum, log on to: www.mormonwomensforum.org. The group was founded in 1988 and holds a yearly conference in Salt Lake City.


Latter Day nod to anarchy

New publication echoes 'radical elements' in effort to promote justice

By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune


    William Van Wagenen is too modest to compare himself to the famed activist and journalist Dorothy Day, who launched the Catholic worker movement in the 1930s. But his ambitions are no less audacious.

    Just as Day did for Catholics, Van Wagenen would like to awaken Mormons to the "virtually forgotten radical elements" of their doctrine and history - namely, the mandate to "have no poor among you."

    To that end, the 29-year-old Salt Lake City stockbroker and several friends have just published the first edition of The Mormon Worker, a bimonthly newspaper devoted to "promoting Mormonism, anarchism and pacifism."

    The editors, all active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will not criticize the LDS hierarchy or institution but plan to provide "radical religious commentary on current political and economic events."

    Those behind The Mormon Worker are among a small, but growing number of Latter-day Saints bucking the stereotype of church members as Republican, hawkish on the war and devoted to capitalism.

    Mormons for Equality and Social Justice (MESJ), for example, is made up of Latter-day Saints who are "anxiously engaged" in "furthering the cause of Zion by working for the gospel values of peace, equality, justice and wise stewardship of the Earth in a spirit of Christlike charity and concern."

    These and other members have protested the Iraq war, promoted the alleviation of poverty and sponsored speakers on progressive themes.

    The Mormon Worker hopes to give voice to all these efforts in a single publication.

    Its first printing of 2,000 copies was distributed free at several Salt Lake City bookstores, including Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore and Ken Sanders Rare Books. The issue features a history of the Catholic workers, a look at "revolutionary charity" and an exploration of Mormon approaches to the environment. In a separate piece, Van Wagenen critiques presidential candidate Mitt Romney's support for the Iraq War and the buildup of the U.S. military.

    Though Mormons believe in obeying the law and respecting elected officials, they should see capitalism as a necessary evil rather than a system God endorses, he writes. If they were really following LDS principles, Mormons would all be anarchists.

    "Every Mormon should look forward to the abolition of government," Van Wagenen writes, "and the building of a socialist society based on free association and mutual cooperation."

    What's in a word?

    Kate Holbrook shares Van Wagenen's enthusiasm for worker justice.

    "Dorothy Day is one of my heroes and the topic is close to my heart," says Holbrook, who helped compile a list of LDS scriptures, leaders' statements and historical precedence for a pamphlet called "Latter-day Saints and Justice for Workers," published by the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice in Chicago.

    While serving an LDS mission to Russia in 1993, Holbrook saw firsthand the effects of severe poverty. After graduating from Brigham Young University, she went to Harvard to study the connection among faith, politics and justice. During the summer of 2001, she worked in Boston at a union for health-care aides in nursing homes. She found herself drawing on Mormonism to develop her politics.

    "I want my faith community to be better at addressing justice issues," Holbrook says. "I don't think all businesspeople are bad, but I imagine some of their choices make God and Christ weep."

    She celebrates the launch of Mormon Worker, but worries some of its language might turn off potential readers.

    "The red flag for me is calling themselves 'anarchists' because so few people know what anarchism means. They think it means no government, no rules and free love," says Holbrook, who now lives in Salt Lake City. "He's right on, but how is he going to get Mormons to read his paper?"

    Perhaps his passion for the work will be enough. It is, after all, more than words to Van Wagenen.

    In 2005, Van Wagenen traveled to Iraq with a Christian Peacemaker Team, where he roomed with Quaker activist Tom Fox. After Van Wagenen returned home in November, Fox was kidnapped and murdered.

    The young Mormon returned to Iraq in January 2007, where he, too, was kidnapped with two others and held for nine days. After his release, Van Wagenen promised himself he would continue to work for peace. He published one of Fox's essays on peace in the Mormon Worker. But, for the sake of his parents, Van Wagenen won't go back to Iraq.
    Birth of an idea?

   Van Wagenen grew up in Utah in a close-knit Mormon family, tutored on scriptures that linked economics with spirituality. In the Doctrine and Covenants, believed by Mormons to be divine revelations, LDS founder Joseph Smith outlined notions of "consecration and stewardship" as essential to an ideal society.

    The plan was simple: Mormons would "consecrate" their excess goods to the church, which would then distribute that to other members in need. The church tried to implement the system in a few Midwest communities, but the system really took off under Smith's successor, Brigham Young, who first created a network of 150 cooperative mercantile enterprises, including Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI).

    Between 1874 and 1891, Young next initiated some 200 "United Orders," or fully cooperative societies, in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona and Nevada. Some functioned successfully for a decade or more, but eventually became too tough to maintain in an increasingly diverse Mormon population.

    The communitarian ideal is still enthroned in Mormon scriptures, which Van Wagenen took to heart while on his LDS mission to Frankfurt, Germany, from 1997 to 1999. It was there he met a man who later introduced him to anarchist literature. As the Mormon student furiously pored over the words of Emma Goldman, Mikhail Bakunin and Noam Chomsky, he found himself repeatedly drawing parallels to his religious beliefs.

    After earning a degree in German from BYU in 2003, Van Wagenen still felt a hunger to connect Mormon beliefs to the larger world of Christian theology, so he entered Harvard Divinity School to do just that. He also became immersed in peace activism.

    After stints with the Christian Peacemakers to Colombia and Iraq, learning Arabic in Palestine and continuing his theological studies, he was more convinced than ever that Mormon teachings could be an important critique of some American politics. He began thinking about publishing a newspaper such as the Catholic Worker, distributed to thousands during the Great Depression at a penny apiece.

    The Catholic movement was grounded in a firm belief of the dignity of every human being, as taught in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Catholics asked the question: Why are so many poor and abandoned? What is honest work? What is due workers and the unemployed? What is the relationship between these and the common good? What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ today?

    "We hope to address some of these same questions in the context of Mormonism," writes Cory Bushman in the Mormon Worker. "We do not wish to change the doctrines of the church, only to create dialogue and discussion on how those sacred doctrines are being incorporated into our lives."

    They want to create a sense of community among like-minded Latter-day Saints.

    "I kept meeting Mormons who didn't find anyone else talking about these issues and they were leaving the church," Van Wagenen says. "I wanted them to know they were not alone."


Lawmaker wants to uncork bottles on Election Day

By Brock Vergakis
The Associated Press


    Wine with lunch? Not on Election Day in Utah.

    But if Sen. Scott McCoy can persuade his colleagues, this will be Utah's last election where wine and liquor can't be served in commercial establishments while polls are open.

    "This whole notion of not being able to drink on the day you're voting is just archaic," said McCoy, D-Salt Lake City. "You can get completely liquored up at home and go vote if you want to, or you can have a glass of wine at home while you fill out at an absentee ballot, yet on Election Day you can't walk into a restaurant at noon and have a glass of wine. It seems there's a bizarre inconsistency."

    The ban on the sale of liquor, wine and full-strength beer in restaurants and bars while polls are open on Election Day is one of several liquor laws McCoy says have no rational basis. Polls in many counties don't close until 8 p.m.

    Utah has some of the most restrictive liquor laws in the nation. Many people consider the laws to be a tourist deterrent, particularly the law requiring a paid membership to enter any bar that serves liquor.

    Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman has said he'd like to see the state's liquor laws loosened, as have members of the state board of tourism. But Huntsman said earlier this year he wouldn't seek any changes during his first term in his office, which ends next year.      Liquor law changes are challenging in Utah.

    Most of the state's residents and members of the Legislature are Mormons. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prohibits its members from drinking alcohol, consequently trying to make any liquor law changes without its blessing dooms most legislation.

    The Mormon church opposed any loosening of Utah's alcohol laws for the 2002 Winter Olympics and many lawmakers agreed, although some temporary changes were made to city ordinances for the Games.

    Bobbie Coray, a recent appointee to the state liquor commission and who does not drink for religious reasons, proposed hiding liquor bottles from view in restaurants so those who don't drink aren't offended by the sight of them.

    McCoy acknowledges revising any liquor law will be difficult.

    "It's the one issue where ... the stars have to align, basically," he said. "This state and our culture has always been very, very concerned with any kind of idea or perception that the state promotes liquor."

    McCoy said his proposal may have to be part of a package of liquor law revisions to have a shot at passing and that might not occur this year.

    "I think there are some who are just reluctant to open that can of worms unless there is a kind of broader effort," he said.

    Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said changes to any liquor laws would have to be vetted by multiple interest groups - including the Mormon church.

    "They all have their own views as to what needs to happen in alcoholic beverage control, and they differ," he said "I think there's going to be a couple places where liquor laws are revisited and (McCoy) could probably make a case that this particular one would be part of a package of changes."

    The Utah Restaurant Association says ending the Election Day liquor prohibition hasn't been a hot issue among its members, but the group would favor repeal.

    "Of course restaurants would prefer to be able to sell their products every day at appropriate times. And I don't know how or why elections are affected by alcohol," said association President Melva Sine.

    State liquor stores, the only place to buy liquor, wine and full-strength beer in Utah, are closed on Election Day. The same is true in many other states.

    McCoy said the law was originally put in place when taverns were used as polling locations. He said that in the modern era with locations set aside for polling, early voting and absentee voting, the law does more harm than good.

    "Chances are on a Tuesday you're not heading out to a private club to have a drink before the polls close anyway," McCoy said. "The restaurant is open for business all day. It's not completely unheard of that someone might have a glass of wine for lunch, it's certainly not unthinkable to do that at dinner. And most are likely in Utah to have dinner before 8."