Critics such as Fawn Brodie and Ed Decker have used a limited, 20th-century perspective to assume that any reasonable person experiencing what Joseph Smith claimed “would have run home and grabbed his diary to carefully describe in great detail what he experienced before running from neighbor to neighbor shouting, ‘Guess what happened to me,’” said Barney, a former staff member of the LDS Church History Department and a current executive director of the Mormon History Association.
In contrast, Barney documented what he said was Joseph Smith’s prophetic style, a tendency to regard his spiritual experiences as sacred and personal and not to share them unless divinely instructed to do so.
The topic “Charity Never Faileth: Seeking Sisterhood amid Different Perspectives on Mormon Feminism,” was explored by a panel of five women: Neylan McBaine, Valerie Hudson Cassler, Wendy Ulrich, Kris Fredrickson and Maxine Hanks.
“Feminism speaks to the equality of men and women, but that term equality is an important one to pin down,” Cassler said. “It does not mean the same; it does not mean identical. There’s equal regard, there’s equal respect, there’s equal power, in a sense. All of these things comprise my definition of equality, which I sometimes call parity, which is equality in the context of difference.”
Hanks, who recently rejoined the church after leaving it in 1993 as one of the prominent “September Six,” said there are two main camps: equality feminism and difference feminism.
“Mormonism is amazing because it’s one of the few religions, maybe the only one, that incorporates and institutes both equality feminism and difference feminism within one organization,” she said.
Ralph Hancock, professor of political science at Brigham Young University, spoke about “Mormonism and the New Liberalism: the Inescapability of Political Apologetics.”
“Mormon apologetics aims not to replace faith, prayer and obedience as essential to the pursuit of ultimate life-giving truth, but to preserve or create a cultural or intellectual climate in which belief may flourish,” Hancock said. One of the greatest obstacles to such a climate, he said, is the cultural prestige of the new liberalism, which he said denies the supremacy of morality over human self-expression.
“Indeed,” he added, “I would suggest that a rising young scholar or intellectual today is more likely to be excluded from the circles of cultural prestige for moral/political reasons” than for holding beliefs in ancient scripture or miraculous and divine events.
The conference continues on Friday with presentations about Joseph Smith’s first-vision narrative in context, “disenchanted Mormonism,” a panel discussion about the loss and rekindling of faith, and working “toward a more effective apologetics.”
Most conference presentations are eventually published verbatim on the organization’s website at www.fairlds.org.
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