No Doubt, Mom (Alma 53-63)

Monday, August 10, 2020


Channing: Hi I’m Channing

Elise: 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’re here to show you all the really good ways 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 Alma 53-63 for the dates August 10-16. We’re so super glad you’re here.

E: Welcome back everyone! In today's episode we cover another huge section of chapters--10 chapters, and they hold nothing back from us. It's more war and lots of battles and strategy and run-ins with the government. This is also where we see the iconic mothers of the Stripling Warriors. We're really excited to spend a good amount of this episode turning to them and trying to learn from them.

C: Yeah I would say that last week's chapters and this week's chapters are probably the most fun that I've had reading the scriptures in a long time. The storytelling in these chapters is pretty good. At first when I sat down through these oh, this is a lot of chapters but they actually read pretty quickly. They read like a story, which is pretty unusual, at least for me. It was pretty awesome.

One of the side conversations that Elise and I have been having is about the way that the manual is formatted, its focus, and where we find women stories within the text. We alluded to this a little bit in last week's episode when we talked about, like, why the heck does the manual do this whole three-chapters-for-one-week and then like 10 chapters the next week? It seems really crazy. One of the trends that we have noticed as we’ve followed the manual for 8 months now is that women’s stories... anytime you come across women stories in the text, it's usually-- I don't want to say all the time, but most of the time-- it's usually tucked away in a small section of a giant portion of text. it always seems like we come across these stories when we're reading 6 or 8 or 10 or sometimes even 11 chapters at once. I think we want to spend some time talking about why that might be, because it's happened often enough now that I think it kind of warrants a conversation about why that is and how our study as women of women in the text is influenced by the way that manuals are created. What do you think Elise?

E: I think it goes to show where the emphasis is placed and whose stories we have to rush to get through so that we can get back to the main event. I feel like not even just in the Come Follow Me manual but also just the way the scriptures are written. Women are not center-stage here. On the podcast I feel like we try and ask the women to take center stage and try and devote time to them, not just so we can highlight them but so that we’re also pushing back actively against the patriarchal ways that the scriptures and the manual is formatted.

C: Yeah I feel like sometimes I struggle with that a little bit because the scriptures offer so much goodness and I wish that we could devote more time in our study to women and social justice issues and anti-racism work. I feel the same as you do that we’re always trying to rush through all of those things, especially in these large chapter portions, to cover everything that's offered to us. This makes me wonder what would a feminist study of the Book of Mormon actually look like? Say, if the creators of the manual said, “We're really going to try and focus on women's issues in the text.” How different would that manual look? Honestly I hope that it kind of would look like what we're doing on the podcast. (laughing)

E: I hope so too! I’m also thinking, what would a social justice manual or interpretation of the scriptures look like? One of the best texts that I've come across is the book that goes chapter by chapter--it's called Book of Mormon or the Least of These by Dr. Fatima Salleh and Margaret Olson Hemming. They come to the text looking for social justice issues, but they go chapter by chapter. It is so lovely. I feel like where we can take a page out of their book doing this podcast trying is to bring a feminist lens to the scriptures.

C. Yeah, absolutely! They don’t even go chapter by chapter, they go verse by verse. It's very in-depth. Check that resource out if you haven’t already. You definitely need to. We’re highly anticipating the second portion. They only authored through… what book was it? Mormon?

E: Yeah, Words of Mormon.

C: Okay yes. So we’re both waiting excitedly for them to release the next portion! (laughing) So the way that our manuals are formatted really does matter because the manual, at least in the way that we're currently studying in the church, dictates how much time is allotted to study each portion of the scriptures. The manual kind of places its own emphasis on what it feels like is most important. That can be a good thing, but there also can be downsides to that too. I think one of the biggest ones is that when there's only one interpretation of a story it upholds and reinforces what we already know. A lot of the times when we come to the manual it's just reiterating a lot of the same things the church has already been saying for years and years and years. I feel like the church does a good job of encouraging each member in their individual study to go deeper, but I crave a lot more. I wish that in our classes we would go a lot deeper and I wish that as a community we would go a lot deeper and I think the manual could encourage that, or at least make that environment a little more accessible for people by mentioning some of these issues more explicitly. Maybe that's a feminist pipe dream, I don't know. But we can hope!

E: I don't think it's a pipe dream! Even if it is a pipe dream, we're going to live it out, so we'll let you all know how it goes. Well you're living it out too so let us know how it goes. (laughing)

C: Totally!

E: All that to say, I still do really appreciate the chapters that were given to us this week because I feel like we were kind of easily able to pull out a really great social justice and a feminist lens from what was given to us. There are some weeks when I feel like this is a little bit more difficult to do but this week Channing and I just kind of fell into the topics that we're going to share with you today.

One of the first things I wanted to just briefly touch on is there's a real care and tenderness and tending to the community that's happening in these chapters. I love the letters that are written between a lot of the captains in the Nephite community. There’s Pahoran writing to Moroni and he's calling Moroni his “dearly beloved brother.” Also Helaman with the Stripling Warriors, so tenderly calling them his “sons” and his “little band of men.” I just found those things very loving and it really emphasizes that community can care for each other even when they are separated by far distances.

A few other things that I found that kind of highlighted this idea of tending for community was when the Anti-Nephi-Lehies see how much death and violence is coming to their people, they almost want to break their covenant of non-violence. They say, look I we can't go on anymore just watching and letting you all fight for us to protect us. We're ready to break our covenant. But Helaman and the other Nephite people step in for them and they say no way, we want to help you honor your God the way that you know how, and we will honor our God the way that we know. Neither one of those are better. Both are right and both are necessary. I think this is a really great example of loving others enough to let them honor their own covenants with God, even if those covenants look different from our own.

C: I think to take that one step further, its even helping someone else honor their covenants to God. As a community there's a lot that we can do to help them and sometimes, just like in this story, it can come at a great sacrifice to us. The Nephites die for these people. A lot of them do. I think that really demonstrates a really deep love and care and concern for all of the people in their community. It's really notable and its really noble. I'm excited about that right now.

E: You bring up a great point too, that not only are covenants individual like, between ourselves and our God. but they're also communal. Like, you can't just have a stand-alone covenant, especially not during this war time because everyone's actions influence all of the other members in the community. It matters what the Anti-Nephi-Lehies choose to do, and it matters what their sons choose to do for the entire good of the community.

C: Another thing we haven't mentioned yet about that care and concern for Community is that Moroni is aware of all of the prisoners of war that the Lamanites have taken. He also makes sure to note that a lot of those prisoners are women and children, or men and their entire families. Moroni works tirelessly to make sure that those people are freed. Its his number one priority. I feel like it would be remiss of us as a feminist podcast not to mention and give those women who are prisoners of war for the lamanites, not to give them the attention they deserve and also to note that the text and Moroni himself felt that it was so important.. his number one priority to make sure that they were able to reach freedom and not be in bondage and enslaved to the Lamanites. There's a lot of that same theme carried over from last week's chapters of liberty of liberation and freedom, so I'm excited to see that that's a continuing theme in these chapters.

E: Me too, and I think because you brought up the prisoners of war that the that the Lamanites are holding, I think that also means that we have to say something about the way that Moroni treats their own prisoners of war. This is where it gets really messy because I would say, I want to look up to Moroni as like, an all perfect figure, but there is lots of moments in both this week and last week's episode where, because he is human and because he doesn't make great decisions at every turn, he treats their prisoners really poorly and lots of them end up dying. We're having to come face-to-face with Moroni in his humanity. I feel like there are moments in the text when he feels so close to godliness, and other moments in the text where he feels really really human. Sometimes I really really like him, and other times I’m like, “What are you doing? Why? You don't want your prisoners to be treated this way, why are you treating the people that you have captured this way?” It's just kind of... I don't know... it's messy, its perplexing, and it just gives a little bit more depth, in a really violent and sad and disheartening way, to Moroni.

C: I think yeah, I agree. We didn't mention this in last week's episode, but I kind of told Elise that I had a little bit of a crush on Moroni, just because I was so in love with his values and all the things that he stood for, but then we came to this week’s chapters, I was like, I don't know anymore if my scripture crush is the same... after seeing how his story plays out. It just reminds me just of the influence and power of the way the story is told and how that can change our perspective on different scripture characters. It's just really interesting to see all of the different ways that we kind of see Moroni’s humanity fleshed out.

One of the other things too that I also found actually kind of funny and the text is in chapter 54. Moroni and Ammoron kind of have this pen pal moment, but it's more of like a frenemy moment, because Moroni basically writes Ammoron a letter and says, “Look. Everything you guys are doing is the worst. You are basically a child of hell--is what he says in the text-- like, here's all the reasons why I hate everything you're doing. You're the worst and because you're the worst I am going to come to battle you and kill you if you don't give me what I want.”

Now granted, what he's asking for is the release of all of his prisoners, so it's not that he's asking for anything wrong. But its just so funny to see Ammoron’s response. He writes back and says, “Well, here's all the things that you did wrong and if you believe in God and your God believes in hell, well you murdered my brother, so won't you go to hell and be with my brother too?” It was just really petty back-and-forth of like oh yeah? I don't even know what else to say about it. I was like, “Wow, this is like a very, like, unhealthy masculine show of bravado kind of moment. This is really funny to read.” Its such a well ‘So am I, but what are you?’ It's just one of those moments where we just get to see all of the different ways that these people are interacting with each other. Its interesting and funny and heartbreaking and the whole gamut of emotions. That's why these chapters I feel like were so entertaining.

E: Yeah I think that these chapters, they read like a story. And not like any story, but like a quest, like a journey. It's not just someone's great-great-grandfather writing down their preachings, which of course we appreciate and I love those chapters too, but this has the plot twists and the betrayal and all of these kind of like cinematic show-stopping situations that happen.

For all of everyone's humanity that shows up in this in this set of scriptures, I cannot get enough of chapter 60. This is Moroni. I feel like he is participating in a letter-writing campaign. He's writing to Pahoran and the government saying, “What the heck? What are you guys doing? Our people are suffering and dying and no one is helping us.”

In chapter 60 verse, he says... I think he's like way too generous... but Moroni's like, I'm just writing this letter to complain about a few things... but that notion of complaining or murmuring, that's not for nothing. Murmuring has a way of letting voices come together, kind of like a vocal sigh of the oppressed that says no more. We've waited and we can't wait any longer. I feel like it's from this moment on that the letter really picks up speed and Moroni holds nothing back.

One of the overarching themes for his letter is that people don't work for the government, the government should work for the people. Moroni is holding Pahoran-- who's the chief judge of the Nephites-- he's holding him accountable to the people. The role of the government should first and foremost lie with caring for the people. Moroni's like what the heck? Where are our resources? and I feel like he's demanding this type of ground-up approach that tends to the needs of the people on the ground, in the everyday. And this everyday looks like war. It looks like tending to the least of these. It looks like tending to the prisoners and those that are suffering and not getting the support that they need.

C: Yeah, and this campaign it doesn't just come out of nowhere. He writes this really heartfelt letter to Pahoran after receiving a letter from Helaman that basically says we're fighting for our lives out here. We might not make it, and I've asked the government to send reinforcements and resources, and they haven't sent any. I know they have them, so I'm just assuming that maybe you guys need more help than we do. I feel like the moment--it is literally the next chapter after we read that letter from Helaman that Moroni is like, sitting down at his desk with his feather pen out saying Pahoran is going to get a piece of my mind. If help is not going to my armies on the other side of the country, then like they're obviously being held up somewhere. What's going on, right?

E: Right! There is this general feeling that the government is not concerned about their people, not concerned about their well-being or the freedom of all of the people. Moroni makes some accusations that would imply that the government and Pahoran are only concerned about their own welfare and freedom. There's a lot of applications here, like government bailouts for large corporations… and so you have to ask questions like: Whose lives are more valued? Are we valuing profit and property over people? I feel like that's one of the critiques that Moroni is casting toward the government, that power corrupts people. He calls the government thoughtless and slothful and idle and vain and negligent.

In chapter 16 verse 19 he says, are you neglecting us because you're surrounded in your big cities and they're all protected with your nice security systems and you're all safe? It's that same type of like I've got mine so I'm not really going to worry about anyone else. That's the mentality that Moroni's seeing or anticipating in the governmental structure. In verse 12 there's this classic like you just got what you deserved mentality that shows up. He says, “Do you suppose that so many of us have been killed because of our wickedness?” Like, is this what you guys are telling yourselves? You're not seeing it for what it is. We're not dying because we're wicked, we're dying because we have no support. I feel like that line of rhetoric comes up like, Oh, well, you're poor because you're not working hard enough or You're in prison because you did something bad. That same line of thinking that you got what was coming to you. Moroni night calls that out. He can see that at play here.

Later in verse 22 he writes, “Will you continue to be idle when there are so many about in the borders of the land who are falling by the sword? Yea, wounded and bleeding?” I can't read this verse without thinking about my literal lived experience and the literal context and social location that I occupy right now. I live in Phoenix, so there are tons of conversations about what's going on at the border with Zero Tolerance policies, separating children from parents, and men women and children being detained in Border Patrol holding cells and cages. This verse hits differently because I know this we're living it. As much as I can say, oh I know this. I'm living it, this also means that we have to stop and ask ourselves, what side of the critique do we really fall on? Are we Moroni, the oppressed, the allies that are coming for the government because the government is being negligent? Or are we those people who have power, who value profit and property over people, who only value some lives over other lives? Are we the people whose first thought is well they got what they deserved.

C: Exactly. Like, if they didn't want this to happen then they shouldn't cross the border.

E: Exactly, exactly. So these verses, every single verse, caused me to pause.I want to center marginalized voices, and yet I'm also the oppressor in many of these situations. So as much as I want to align myself with Moroni, I have to also stop and see the ways that I show up as Pahoran and the government here.

C: Elise, I think what you're encouraging us to do is come to the text open and really honest with ourselves, to be open to the idea that not only that we might not be perfect, but that we might actually be causing harm when we refuse to recognize the ways that we hold power and then do not use it for the benefit of others.

E: Yes absolutely, because whatever side we fall on, the message is still the same. “The sword of Justice hangs over you, and it shall fall upon you and visit you even to utter destruction.” Moroni is saying, we're coming for you. We’re holding you accountable. It's easy for me to say these things and think that I'm on Moroni’s side, but what if Moroni is coming for me? What if the Sword of Justice is hanging over me? I know that it always is, but I still... I love chapter 60. So so much. I think I think it's inspiring for its harsh critique and it's with move to action. He's not just writing off a passive letter and saying, I'll see what happens. He is saying this is what is going to happen. I think he's holding the government accountable because Moroni can imagine things otherwise. He has a strong sense of how the government should be serving the people and he holds the government to its fullest potential. I find that really beautiful.

C: What I also love about what you brought up Elise is that Moroni follows through. He doesn't just write this letter and then hopes for the best. I personally am feeling a little convicted at this point because 2 months ago, I wrote a letter asking for justice for Breonna Taylor, and then guess what? After I sent my letter, I closed my computer. Sure, I encouraged other people to do the same, but did I keep sending letters? Did I keep asking for justice? Did I keep doing something? No. I said “I've done my part, now everyone else needs to do theirs.” I didn't work tirelessly.

I think it's important, just like you said, to recognize both what Moroni did and the intensity that he did it at. After he writes this letter, Pahoran responds and says actually I fled the city because the Kingman from the last chapters-- who are evil-- ended up taking over the city and are now currently running the government so, help. Literally Moroni was there... like, I don't know how fast they can travel on foot, maybe a couple days, maybe like a week later, but he shows up and he literally takes those people down. He kills them-- not saying that’s what we should be doing-- but in the text he he does exactly what he promised to do. He follows through. I think that follow-through aspect is important for people who are reading the text through a social justice lens. Like it's not enough to write a letter… Channing....

E: Well, everyone! Everyone!

C: True.

E: And Moroni showcases that really well. Amidst all of these chapters of strategy in war and prisoners and taking down the government and providing mutual aid, there's a really beautiful story here of women and mothers and personal revelation.

C: We are really excited to talk about this iconic story of the mothers of the Stripling Warriors, mostly because when I think of women in the Book of Mormon, these definitely are getting the top 5 hits in my mind. We find the story in Alma 56: 47-48. This is talking about the Stripling Warriors. The text says, “Now they [the Stripling Warriors] never had fought, yet they did not fear death, and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their own lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying, We did not doubt our mothers knew it.”

One of the resources that Elise and I continually come back to as we're attempting to read the Book of Mormon through a feminist lens is an essay titled Nephite feminism Revisited, written by the Christensens. One of the things that I found really powerful in their commentary on the story of the mothers of the Stripling Warriors is that they argue that this is an example in the Book of Mormon of women receiving direct revelation from God. The support they give for this is that these women have primary lived experience of the fact that just because youre righteous or making right choices doesn't necessarily guarantee that you're going to be safe in battle. They know this because they had probably fathers and husbands and brothers die in the battle where the Anti-Nephi-Lehies went out and met the Lamanites and 1000 of them died. So their understanding of the connection between righteousness and death is one of personal experience, and that's really hard to argue with. The Christensens point out that these women promise that their sons that they will be safe if they believe in God almost holds the weight of revelation. These women know that that is not always true. I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to regard these women as prophetesses.

I feel like this really kind of pushes back on the understanding that we currently have about the story and about these women. I think currently we understand these women having great faith and by their perfection in motherhood that they somehow passed this great faith down onto their sons. I think it's worth pushing back on this. I really believe that these women knew what they knew and they relied on their personal revelation. This ties back to another conversation that we had in a different episode about personal revelation-- that episode is titled Smashing the Patriarchy Through Personal Revelation. Its one of Elise and I’s personal favorites, so if you haven't listened to it, you definitely have to check it out. It's required listening basically. (laughing) But this idea of personal revelation I feel like hold so much weight in the story that it's almost unignorable.

E: I find this so fascinating because what I hear you saying is that these mothers... what they get quoted as saying in the text, like, we didn't doubt our mothers knew it... the mothers didn't know it because they were perfect moms who did everything for their children perfectly and who had a perfect understanding of God. What I hear you saying is that these mothers know the work of death. They lost a lot of people, but they have had some encounter or experience with God that looks like personal revelation that allowed them to make a promise to their sons that said, look, we know for ourselves-- because of our own personal revelation-- that if you go off and fight you'll be protected.

C: Yes, exactly. At least for me personally, coming to this story as a mom I often feel like this is the ideal. This is what I should be shooting for. This one tiny little sentence is supposed to define my righteous motherhood in the LDS church. That's a lot of pressure to put on these women in the text and that's a lot of pressure to put on women in the church.

I wondered where this idea, or this understanding of perfect motherhood based on this story comes from. I did a little digging and found on the church website a conference talk given by Julie B. Beck in October 2007 titled “Mothers Who Know.” I had kind of forgotten about this talk but as soon as I started reading it, I realized the connection. There’s this connection that was made between these mother's example in the text and “perfect motherhood.”

Julie B. Beck says “The responsibility mothers have today has never required more vigilance. More than any time in the history of the world, we need mothers who know. When mothers know who they are and who God is, and have made covenants with him, they will have greater power and influence for good on their children.” In her talk she outlines a couple of things that she believes mothers who know should be doing. Those include: bearing children. honoring sacred ordinances and covenants, being nurturers, being leaders--but only in a limited capacity. I found this section really interesting because she very explicitly says that women should be leaders only in a cooperative capacity with their husbands, and only in the sphere of planning their children's futures. So I thought it was frustrating, honestly, to see that defined so narrowly. Other things she believes mothers should be doing are: being teachers, and “doing less in order to spend more time with children,” and standing “strong and immovable.” Reading Beck’s commentary on these women, I felt a little off, like, wait, really? You pulled all of that from one sentence in the scriptures? Either that's extraordinary exegesis or not accurate. So I went back to the text.

I kind of want to do a compare and contrast exercise between what Sister Beck is saying mothers who know look like, and what I see in the text showing up. The truth is, just like Sister Beck can make some guesses on what those women might have been like based on one sentence, we can do the same. Even though the text doesn't give us a ton of clues about what these women were like, based on what we do know about their history and their circumstances, I think we can make a few conjectures.

I think that these mothers knew the reality of the world and, just like you said Elise, ‘the work of death,’ but they are still not afraid. I don't think this is some kind of like, fake or performative fearlessness. At least, not the kind that we have today as members of the church where I think we approach the world very fearfully, where we kind of believe if we just shut ourselves away from the world then all of the badness will go away and be everyone else's problem but not ours... I don't think that that's the kind of fearlessness these women have. I think that their fearlessness is based in a really stubborn and deeply held belief in the goodness of God, come what may, even in death.I think that they really strongly believe that it's all going to work out and that no matter what the consequences are, they can really trust in God's love.

Also, going back to what Elise was saying earlier about community and helping others honor their covenants made with God, I think these women really validate the choices that their sons make to protect others. They see this as their sons duty and their son's own way of honoring their own relationship with God. I think that these mothers seek to arm their sons with knowledge and with a decidedly hopeful view of the world, rather than going to super great lengths to protect them from the world, to protect them from the work of death. Additionally, just like we talked about so far, these women really rely on their own revelation from God instead of relying on diluted and passed down revelation from others.

Finally, these young men received their own testimony of their mother's promise. I think that, more than anything, speaks to the wisdom of these women. I think we can imagine them as resilient, as thoughtful as compassionate, as knowledgeable and realistic and empathetic and prophetic women who parented their sons into men who know.

I think a lot of what Sister Beck imagines these women to be is extra. I think a lot of the things that she outlined in her talk are placed on these women from outside of the text and given to modern day women in the church as kind of “shoulds” or expectations on them... you know, bear children, do less, lead in limited capacities, nurture.... I think as feminists we should kind of be wary of this talk.

Coming to the text with an accurate understanding of the circumstances and actually looking at what is presented in the text, I think we can easily twist these women free of the role of “perfect mother” that has been placed on their shoulders. I would argue that these Anti-Nephi-Lehite women are worthy of being feminist icons in the Book of Mormon, based on their resilience, their willingness to recognize and act on personal revelation, and their undeniable influence and their communities.

E: I think you said so much of this so wonderfully already. My only other thought to add is that these women and these mothers also found themselves in community with one another. These are probably hard decisions to make, even if they did receive strong personal revelation. Revelation is what it sounds like, but they had other women around them who were able to succor and support them, to encourage them, to listen to that voice of God, to encourage them to trust in their personal revelation. Because they had great women alongside them who would walk with them and support them and care for them.

C: I agree Elise. That is such a powerful way to imagine these women together in sisterhood and supporting one another. I'm not sure that I ever want to see this story any differently now. Thank you so much for sharing that because I'm kind of in love with it.

E: Together. Its always together. These interpretations come by having other people work through the text in different ways, and you were able to twist these women free of their singular role as perfect mothers who didn't doubt anything ever. I don't think that's what this is and I think you did a really good job showing us that.

C: That's what friends are for! (laughing)

E: Thank you so much for joining us for this week's episode. Thanks for sticking with us through 10 full chapters worth of content. I found this episode really enriching. There's community here, there’s social justice here, there's holding your government accountable, and there's women-- powerful women. And again, every time we do these episodes and we spend time with the women, I'm always so glad that we do. It just unravels more of the story that I didn't see at first glance.

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C: Friends, if you've enjoyed this episode, we really encourage you to head over to iTunes and leave us a review with your thoughts, your feedback, and your rave reviews so that others who are interested in reading the scriptures through a feminist and social justice lens can find the support and community that we all find together. Help them find us! Leave us a review, and until then, we'll see you next week! Bye.
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