Prophets in Disguise and Angry Testimonies (Mosiah 11-17)

Monday, May 4, 2020

Join us as we discuss prophets in disguise, what to do when your privilege is called out, and the connection between anger and love.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Scriptures mentioned in this episode:
  • Mosiah 11:2
  • Mosiah 11:2-5
  • Mosiah 15:14-17
  • Mosiah 12:14
  • Mosiah 12:28-29

Transcribed by Maddie Daetwyler of @lightenprint

C: Hi, I’m Channing

E: And I’m Elise.

C: And this is the Faithful Feminists podcast.

E: But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all the really good ways that faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience.

C: We’ve saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Mosiah chapters 11 through 17, for the dates May 4th through May 10th. We're so glad you're here.

E: Welcome back, everyone. So before we get started, we just wanted to help orient ourselves in the texts. So where are we in the scriptures? Well, Zeniff, the King from the story in last week's episode, has passed away, and now his son, Noah, has taken the throne. And this is a much loved story in the Book of Mormon. And what happens is, there's a guy named Abinadi, and he's been kicked out of the city. But he returns in disguise and he comes before the wicked King Noah, and he calls out King Noah and the entire people for their sins and their wrongdoings. And he faces a lot of pushback. And if you don't know what happens to him, you need to read the story, but just know it's a tragedy. We really had to wrestle with this story to free it from its traditional interpretation in order to be able to find blessings within the texts. New blessings within the text. And so that makes us extra excited to talk about the prophets in disguise, what to do when your privilege is called out, and the connection between anger and love.

C: So the text really wastes no time getting right into this tragedy of the story that is being told. Pretty much immediately as soon as we get into chapter 11, we come to find out what kind of people and King and situation we're dealing with. But something that stuck out to me I was rereading and rereading the text was that I had to kind of challenge my assumptions about the people of this story. And I looked at them differently than I had before. So just to demonstrate this, I wanted to read a verse from Mosiah chapter 11. This is verse 2. It says, For behold, Noah did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart. He had many wives and concubines, and he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness.” And so, at least for me personally, but I also think pretty generally, when we hear the words “the people,” we tend to assume that that means every single person in this community, but I'm not totally sure that this assumption is true. So for example, if I met someone from another country and they said, “Hey, all Americans love the current president of the United States.” I would probably LOL, but I would also explain why this wasn't true. Sure, we live in a country led by an elected person, but that doesn't mean that everyone agrees with them.

Another good example is that I grew up in the church, but lived outside of Utah for most of my life. I had spent that time hearing stories about “Utah Mormons” and how snobby and judgmental and elitist and exclusive they were. So imagine my surprise upon meeting and becoming a “Utah Mormon.” In my Syracuse ward, I'm surrounded by people who are welcoming, kind, accepting, and strive to live into Christlike love and service. An author and researcher that I really love, her name is Brene Brown, she says it pretty simply. She says, “People are hard to hate close up. Move in.” So that's exactly what we're going to practice.

E: Additionally, what we know historically matters, too. Women, children, and other marginalized populations have considerably less influence and decision-making power within different intersecting systems of oppression. And really, the Book of Mormon cultures are no exception here. So given this understanding, we can safely infer that there is a decent number of people who are living under this rule, whether in government or household, that is neither considerate of their wellbeing, nor safe for them to dissent. As evidence, consider chapter 11 verses 2 through 5. This is where Noah and his judges have many wives and concubines, but they also tax one fifth of all that the people owned, not just some of their food or some of their belongings, or some of their take home, but one fifth of everything. And then verse 5, Noah was the one who actually took down the former priests that were with King Zeniff, and then consecrated new ones instead, sending a clear message of absolute rule.  So that's a little bit about the background of King Noah, and the people who live under King Noah’s rule, but now we want to turn to Abinadi, and talk about what a prophet in disguise looks like and sounds like. So Abinadi preaches repentance to the people not just once, but twice. The first time he does so really openly, but then he gets kicked out of the city. And so the second time he comes back to the city wearing a disguise so that he's not immediately recognizable. And we want to play around with this part of the story a little bit. Here, we see a prophet who is unrecognizable, but the message is clearly God's. 

C: And what we see in the text is that the unmistakable message of God's is this: Repent. To those that oppress others, the words of repentance really seem harsh and unyielding, but to those who are oppressed, words of repentance are bomb. This is the theme that we see replayed over and over again in scripture, especially in the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, in Jacob's sermon earlier in the Book of Mormon, and now here, right in the words of a disguise prophet. And so I think a question that's worth kind of exploring and mulling over is this idea of a prophet in disguise. As a members of the LDS church, I think we're pretty conditioned to a certain understanding of what a prophet is, does, and looks like. And you know, for me, when I think of prophet, I think of a modern-day prophet. I think of someone in a black suit with a white shirt and a conservative tie, and it's usually a white old guy with a long beard. Right? And so this idea of a prophet in disguise is really fascinating to me. And so a question that I think is worth exploring is, when we come across someone who is speaking a message that is unmistakably God's, what matters more to us -- is it the actual words? Is it the message of God? Or is it the mouth that speaks to them? And to follow along with that, another question, are we hardened in whose messages we open our hearts and ears to? Or can we recognize prophets in disguise? There's a really beautiful essay in Exponent magazine written by Nancy Ross. And we loved this quote that kind of reinforces the idea of a prophet in disguise and what that might look like. Nancy Ross says, “I imagine that this is not the first Abinadi to have come into this building accusing Noah of oppressing his people. I imagine that many of them had bodies that were different from Abinadi’s white and masculine one. I imagine that there were Abinadis with brown and black bodies confronting Noah, and women, too. I imagine that Noah burned them all.” So with this quote from Nancy Ross, I think it's helpful in giving us some ideas of what it would look like to imagine what these different Abinadis might look like. And in doing so, how does this increase our love and understanding of the message that he's sharing? And again, that message that's being shared is repentance. And what repentance really is, is a return or a turning back toward our relationship with the Savior, and our relationship with the Savior can only bring us peace. So along with that, then a message of repentance is a message of peace. 

E: But this is something that King Noah and the priests don't understand, and they try and trip Abinadi up by asking him about actually a beautiful verse from Isaiah, and Abinadi responds with more Isaiah words. And he quotes, “They who have published peace, who have brought good tidings, who have published salvation and said unto Zion, ‘Thy God reigneth.’ Oh, how beautiful upon the mountains were their feet. And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who are still publishing peace.” And that's from chapter 15, verses 14 through 17. 

C: We really love these verses because I think that they demonstrate a really important point that sometimes gets glossed over. The truth about these verses is that there's only one qualification for beautiful feet. It's the act of publishing peace. It doesn't say that they have to be white feet clad in a man's black leather Oxford shoe. These feet are bear. They're black. They're wearing moccasins and ballet flats, and they are busy feet. They're walking the high places of wisdom, proclaiming peace. Blessed be the beautiful feet of the prophets.

E: And really, I think Channing's words highlight that one of the main jobs and purposes of the prophets is calling and inviting people to repentance. And we think that ties really well into understanding this story as a framework for being called out when you make mistakes. And when people call you out for your own privilege, because if we take a step back, Abinadi is calling out Noah and the priests. First of all, yes, he's inviting them to repent, but then he just really rips into them and says, “Here's all the ways you're oppressing these people. Here's all the ways you're going against God's commandments.” And no one likes that, no one likes being called out. We don't want to sit with our mistakes because that can be a really uncomfortable experience. And what happens is that when the priests and Noah get called out, they respond in a really defensive manner, and they actually try and shift the blame back to Abinadi. If we read in chapter 12, verse 14, it says, these are the priesst talking, “And now, oh king, behold, we are guiltless and thou, oh king, has not sinned. Therefore, this man has lied concerning you and has prophesied in vain.” And it continues until verse 17 with the priests. They're shifting the blame back to Abinadi in order to try and rid themselves of responsibility, so that they can feel guiltless and not have to change. 

C: But we shouldn't think of getting called out as a bad thing. An article that we really liked title Nine Phrases Allies Can Say When Getting Called Out Instead of Getting Defensive, by Sam Dylan Finch, says this: “Being called out calls us to rise up and do better, to tap into our empathy and do the serious and critical work of interrogating our own beliefs and biases.

This is how we align our values with our actions.”

E:  I love that last line here, because I think often times we can say that we value something, like, I value feminism. I value anti-racism. And we can hold those things as values, but what do we do when we mess up and our actions don't align with our own values. So an example of this might be, if we value intersectional feminism, but then we turn around and make a joke about a woman's place being in the kitchen, we can and should be called out for that, because what we say that we value is not truly aligning with our actions. This is really about translating the idea of our value, what we hold in our hearts and our minds and putting it to work. So from the text in chapter 12, verses 28 and 29, this is where Abinadi is actually calling out the priests because their values, what they say that they value, is not aligning with their actions. So the priests say that they value and teach the Law of Moses, but their actions say otherwise, and Abinadi responds pretty bitingly. If you teach the Law of Moses, why do you not keep it? And again, this is Abinadi calling out their mistakes, calling out their oppression, calling out the ways that they're exploiting their people, and holding them accountable. 

C: But instead of actually listening to Abinadi, and maybe taking some cues from a huge, long sermon that he gives, which is super powerful, they end up just doing further damage. So, in order to do the opposite of what the priests in this story did, a good question to ask ourselves is, how do we respond when we get called out? What can we do? 

E: And in response to that question, there are tons of resources and we'll link to them in the show notes about how we can respond when we get called out, instead of jumping to defensiveness and shifting the blame. I think the first thing that you need to do, like Channing said, is listen. And then take a moment of reflection and admit that you're wrong, right? Something like, “Wow, you're right. I do need to work on this.” After you listen and reflect and admit that you've done something wrong, you should follow it up with an apology, but an apology that says that you're going to change, that you're going to try and do better. In this apology, not only are you sorry that you caused harm, but you're going to learn from this experience and change your behavior. Apologies are really useless if we don't intend to change in the first place. And the thing about apologies, too, it doesn't really matter what you meant. It matters about the impact. So when you apologize, try and avoid things like, but, or if. So, “I'm sorry, but I didn't mean to.” That downplays the apology. And again, shifts the blame. Apologies are all about admitting that you're wrong, and committing to do better. And then doing better,

E: A big part of getting called out -- we know that we might experience some anger, and actually everyone in this story is angry. 

C: Yeah, Elise, you definitely picked up on a pretty overwhelming thread of this story. Literally every single person, every character that we see pop up in the text, is mad about something. God, He's angry because Noah is a rotten apple. Abinadi is mad because people don't listen to a dang thing he says, and the priests are dragging his hero Isaiah's name all through the mud. Noah's mad, mostly because he's a jerk and probably gets mad about a lot of things. But especially when people tell him that he's being a naughty, naughty boy. And the priests are angry because Abinadi is making their job really, really hard, because their job is mostly just brown-nosing for Noah. So everyone in this story is mad. And because the emotion of anger is a common thread between each of the major characters, we think that understanding anger is a crucial part of understanding the story. So here at The Faithful Feminists, we're not really in the business of ranking or dividing emotions into categories of good or bad. We've spent time in other episodes, like the temple episode in our Holy Week series, and the episode about Jacob 1 through 4 titled “Laying Down the Law,” where we discuss emotions, both human and divine, to make it hopefully clear that we believe that all emotions are necessary, normal, and neutral. The truth is that emotions act as indicators of the health of relationships. Our personal relationships, our interpersonal relationships, and with the divine. And it's instead our actions and choices that we make based on the information provided by emotion that can be deemed righteous or unrighteous, but not the emotions themselves. Emotions, anger included, are not bad, not good, but a powerful indicator of the health of relationships.

E: Following this theme of anger can actually help us reinterpret the story as a social justice story. And it shows us that anger is a necessary aspect of liberation and social justice. The God, and consequently Abinadi, who shows up in this text, they're angry because the people are oppressed and suffering. They're suffering beneath taxes. They're in super polygamous and maybe nonconsensual relationships, and they live in fear. 

C: So while the temptation is there, especially for me, to write off the imagery of an angry God in favor of a God who's more loving and more peaceful, the truth is that I probably need an angry God, too. And we found a really beautiful article titled The Power of Anger in the Work of Love. It's written by Beverly Wildung Harrison. 

E: She writes, “Anger is not the opposite of love. Anger is a mode of connectedness to others, and is always a vivid form of caring. Hatred is closer to love than the absence of feeling. The person who confronts us in anger is demanding acknowledgement from us, asking for the recognition of their presence and value. We have two options in such a situation. We can ignore, avoid, condemn, or blame, just like King Noah did. Or we can act to alter relationship toward reciprocity.”

C: In the texts, we can really see that God is attempting to initiate healing between Noah, his priests, and the unrighteous people. Instead of ignoring God's anchor, God expresses it through the words of Abinadi. And the words, even though they seem harsh when we're reading them in the text, I think that they're direct and pointed because they need to break through the apathy that plagues the hearts in this story that are numb, and “beyond feeling.” And so, as we're talking about social justice and the work of liberation, feminism definitely 100% falls in those categories. But ironically, men and women alike take serious issue with angry feminists, and people within the church are really no exception. And I think that there are a couple of reasons for this. And one of those is that there's this assumption that anger and activism are kind of seen as transgressions against what is generally assumed to be acceptable womanhood. And I think a quote that kind of embodies this assumption and understanding is a quote from a talk titled The Joy of Womanhood given by Sister Nadauld in October 2000 general conference. And this quote you're probably pretty familiar with. She says, “Women of God can never be like women of the world. The world has enough women who are tough. We need women who are tender. There are enough women who are course. We need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude. We need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune. We need more women of faith. We have enough greed. We need more goodness. We have enough vanity, we need more virtue. And we have enough popularity. We need more purity.” And I think that the danger of this quote, and especially the way that it gets used now, is it's kind of weaponized against women. It says that women of the church or faithful women are supposed to look this one way. They're supposed to look tender and kind and refined. And quite frankly, I really bristle against that because it's such a narrow definition of what a good Christ-like faithful woman looks like. It's really not fair, because in the end it limits women. It limits the way that they speak, it limits what ideas they can share, and it limits their voice.

E: And it keeps them passive. And if we can keep people, a whole group of people, passive and at bay and reigning in their own emotions that feel anything different than joy and happiness, then it means that there won't be voices that dissent. There won't be voices that push up against barriers and structures, not just to push up against them, but to break them.

C: Going along with that, the truth is we have no issue accepting the anger of God and of a male prophet right here in the text. Why? Because this is a story that's told again and again in scripture, but the anger of women is far less easily accepted. Personally, I've been written off in perfectly valid observations all because I happen to present them with emotion. And in my experience, people are quicker to de-value and tune out the words of women, no matter what their tone is. I had an experience in my freshman year of college where I was having a discussion with someone, just in a group where we were talking about how our families watched General Conference. And this person proceeded to tell me that whenever a woman got up to speak in General Conference, their family would call it snack time. And they would all get up, go to the bathroom, grab a snack or whatever so that they could come back for whenever it was that the next male speaker was going to come up. And when I first heard this story, I didn't know what to think. I was so hurt, but I also didn't want to show how hurt I was. So I just kind of laughed along with it and made it my own joke because I didn't know what to do with this story. But over the years, as I've thought more and more about this, I really am angry. And I feel like this story really demonstrates the fact that it really doesn't matter how she says it, if it's a woman speaking, it's going to get tuned out. And there's a lot of evidence to back this up. This isn't just like a radical, biased feminist claim. This is something that's shown again and again in studies. 

E: Recently, there was an article that was published in a BYU magazine that's titled When Women Don't Speak. And just to summarize briefly, some BYU professors did studies about how women work in groups and what that group work looks like. And what they found was that when the majority of people in the group are women, not only do the women have an easier time speaking up, but their ideas are heard and valued. And the solutions that the group comes to are a lot more fair and equitable. And the group feels positively about the decisions that were made. Whereas on the flip side, groups that don't have high numbers of women, or even the majority of women, their voices, when they do try and speak up, aren't heard, which then pushes them to the background and strips away at their confidence so that they don't feel like they can say anything. And the few chances that they do get to say anything, people aren't listening to them, and they kind of shrug them off. 

C: And at the end of the article, the conclusion that the professors come to is that moving forward, they want to find a way to change the way that women and their voices are perceived. And I loved this quote at the very end. They say, “The goal is not to change women, but to change the environment in the room.” And I think that that just demonstrates really perfectly a really foundational tenant of feminism, changing the environment instead of changing women. But change needs a catalyst. And the text, Mosiah 11 through 17, really shows us that anger is not only a valid response to injustice, but a necessary tool in dismantling systems of oppression. 

E: So our question here is how can we respond to emotions of anger, specifically as it relates to social justice and speaking out against oppression? Well, I think that's just it. I think we can speak it, and we allow others to speak it. I think this is a really great example of how we should steer clear from what's called “tone policing.” And this is when we try and downplay other people's emotions and minimize their experience of oppression, which upholds our own privilege because we say, “Hey, um, I understand, but let's talk about this in a more civil way.” Right? And so it doesn't let people who are oppressed or who are experiencing oppression get to share their full experience in their full anger. And this is a good point to remember, that anger is not the opposite of love. It's an invitation to deepen and repair relationship. To this point, there's an article titled Stop Shaming My Anger About Racism and Start Condemning the System, written by Dominique Matti. And I wanted to read a passage. They write, “My anger is functional. My bitterness is rational. If I'm not outraged at the injustices faced by myself, my community, and my children, who will be? If no one is outraged at my suffering, who will demand change? If you don't know what it feels like to personally experience racial trauma, stop policing our responses to it. Listen, don't lecture. Practice compassion, practice reflection without commentary. If my anger, bitterness, or sorrow makes you uncomfortable, focus on what you can do to help heal the social issues, which contribute, and I’ll focus on healing myself.” I love this passage because you can feel the passion here. You can feel the anger, and just like the author says, if no one is outraged by this suffering, who's going to demand the change? So listen, stop policing me and telling me that I need to calm down, or that I'm getting too angry or upset. Listen, and start working alongside me to break down these systems of oppression.

C: And I think this rallying cry can translate to all experiences of social justice. Just this want for someone to listen, to validate, and then work alongside with. And along this thread in the text, Abinadi is angry. And what he does is, he doesn't shy away from this anger and instead shares his angry testimony. And you can hear him bear his angry testimony in chapters 12 through 16, but reading it for me really struck a chord and made me wonder, do I have an angry testimony? And for me, the answer is totally yes. I do have an angry testimony because sometimes I look around at the injustices in my life that I face as a woman, that I face as a woman in the church, and I feel angry. It would be a lie to say that I feel otherwise. And so there are times that I speak passionately and at great length about what my experience has been in the church, and what I really feel needs to change. And I've had experiences where people say like, “Whoa, you're being too angry. Maybe you should try again, try again with less emotion.” I always feel so invalidated after that happens, but that's something that I really love about this text, is that by his example, Abinadi is saying, “Hey, you have an angry testimony? Me too!”

E: So we want you to think, do you have an angry testimony? And we're here to say, if you do welcome!

C: Seriously, welcome to the club.

C: So we're going to kind of spoil the ending for you here a little bit with this story, but it's a point that we really wanted to cover and spend some time talking about. Ultimately at the end of the story, Abinadi dies because of his angry testimony. Abinadi has done exactly what God has asked him to do. He's followed the example of Christ and he's followed the example of all the prophets that came before him. And in the end, he gives his life in the name of liberation. He names the oppression and tries to free others from it. But it doesn't mean that he escapes it himself. And we know that this example of martyrdom is extreme. The truth is few of us will ever be called into circumstances which require it. We never want to idealize death, but we would be remiss not to honor the message of the lives of Abinadi and those like him. I think of Joan of Arc and Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesus, but it's not their sacrifice that wants the weight of our attention. It's what they sacrificed for that deserves our respect and emulation.

E: To continue, there's a passage again from Beverly Wildung Harrison, and she writes, “Christianity has ripped the crucifixion of Jesus out of its context and turned sacrifice into an abstract norm for the Christian life. To be sure, Jesus was faithful unto death. He stayed with his cause and he died for it. He accepted sacrifice, but this sacrifice was for the cause of radical love, which is a dangerous and serious business. The aim of love is not to perpetuate crucifixions, but to bring an end to them. We do this through actions of mutuality and solidarity, not by aiming at an ethic of sacrifice. Mark the point well. We are not called to practice the virtue of sacrifice. We are called to express, embody, share, celebrate the gift of life, and pass it on.”

C: And this point that Harrison presents to us, that it's not Jesus's sacrifice that was the message, but rather the life that He lived, a life that was in service of radical love and liberation and freedom and all of the wonderful things that we are just so excited about around here. And so I think the question that we're tempted to ask when we come to the lesson in Abinadi is, what are you willing to die for? I've had a lot of lessons where this exact question has been asked. But I wonder if there's something that we should be asking instead. What if the question we should be pondering is, what are you willing to live for?

E: Friends, thank you so much for joining us today. As we got to reinterpret and re-understand this classic story of Abinadi. We got to talk about prophets in disguise, what to do when you and your privilege is called out, and the connection between anger and love and social justice. 

C: We're honored to have this conversation with you today, and we're excited to see you next week. Until then, bye!

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