There's Dirt in Zion (Doctrine & Covenants 94-97)

Monday, August 30, 2021



A huge thank you to Sarah for editing this transcript!

Elise: [00:01:00] Welcome back, everyone. I certainly have missed you so much. And if you haven't already listened to Channing’s solo episode from last week, oh my. You have to go back and listen, because it is so tender and gentle and brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. So I'm just really glad that you did that fantastic episode, but I'm glad to be back.

Channing: [00:01:19] Yeah, I really missed you. And I know for sure that our listeners missed you too. So it feels really good to be back in our normal flow and have each other together like this. This is the way TFF is supposed to be. 

Elise: [00:01:32] I totally agree. Before we get into this week's sections, we want to remind you all about our upcoming soft chairs workshop that we're hosting in October. We're super excited to see you on Saturday, October 9th in South Jordan, Utah, for a day full of feminism, scriptures and loving community. Everyone is invited.

Channing: [00:01:50] Definitely. We have planned such powerful content, and we hope that by attending, you will be able to leave with a foundational understanding of feminist interpretation, skills for examining sacred texts through a feminist lens, and greater confidence in reading and working with the scriptures. We're going to have yummy food and a whole bunch of incredible people there, including like-minded women and allies. For more information, find us at the link in our bio on Instagram or on our website at

Elise: [00:02:26] Amazing. We hope that we get to see you all there. For this week, these sections that we're reading is kind of like a big conglomeration of revelations concerning the temple, but also very specific like temple building instructions.

[00:02:40] And also around this time, the saints were experiencing increased tensions and persecution. In today's episode, we're going to spend our time talking about chastisement, Zion, and clean/dirty dichotomy

Channing: [00:02:54] Really quick, before we get into the episode, we just wanted to offer a content warning for domestic violence later on. So just be aware of that as we continue in the episode.

Elise: [00:03:03] I’d like to go ahead and start in section 95 with the first two verses that show up here. The verses read, “Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation, and I have loved you. Wherefore, ye must needs be chastened and stand rebuked before my face.” I think that this is a notion that we hear a lot in the church; ‘I chasten the people that I love.’ It's even one of the sections in the Come Follow Me manual. And with this verse, part of me wants to offer an internal reading of it, which is to say that if we were to follow what this verse outlines, we should first and foremost be looking at ourselves to chasten.

[00:03:48] We must be working out our own individual stuff with God, and then being open and humble and willing to receive feedback, criticism and correction from God before we ever even think to chastise others. And with this word chastised, there is a notion of inflicting pain for the purpose of correcting, reclaiming, advising, or instructing. And an internal reading of this verse, I hope, would also remind us that being called out, held accountable or chastised, especially in anti-racism work or feminist work or anti-abelist or anti-homophobic work is a necessary- even though it might be painful at times- part of abiding by our values of love, justice and compassion. This verse also reminds me that, like, hello, I'm going to make mistakes in trying to do this work and if I don't have people around me calling me out or chastising me, then perhaps I haven't done my own internal work to show that I am: one, willing and open to being called out and corrected, or maybe I haven't done my own work to show that I'm willing to listen to other's voices and experiences when they say, “Hey, this is wrong,” or “This hurt my feelings.” Maybe I haven't done my own work to show that I'm willing to take accountability, apologize, and then change my behavior. Or maybe I'm not mature enough to respond, to being called out with humility and understanding instead of defensiveness and rage.

[00:05:11] And in this way, I think that being called out or chastised starts to look less like a personal attack and more like a loving hope and belief that people can and should be doing things differently or doing things better than they're doing them now. But on the flip side, there's another part of me that wants to offer an external reading of this verse, which is to say that we have a responsibility to warn, advise, instruct, chastise, or call people out when they're not acting from a place of love and justice.

[00:05:41] Maybe some questions we could ask ourselves here might be: How can I communicate that because I love you, I'm calling you out? How can correction, criticism and feedback be seen as an act of love? Other questions that have come up for Channing and I even outside of the podcast are: What type of emotional labor might it require if the people that are doing the calling out are also the same ones who are experiencing intimate and often violent and harmful oppression?

[00:06:06] How is it even an okay thing to ask that, hey, when you call someone out, do it from a place of love? That almost seems like an impossible, and maybe even a way that perpetuates harm to, ask that of those who are oppressed. What do you think about that?

Channing: [00:06:24] Yeah, I think that that's an accurate assessment because I definitely feel like for me, when I'm calling someone out, it's usually coming from a place of pain, like my own personal feelings of frustration or anger or hurt and it's difficult for me to simultaneously feel love for the other person when I'm calling them out. And I recognize that that could definitely be, like, my own issues that I need to work through. I'm thinking in terms of when women are speaking out about their oppression and the pain that they experienced in that, that a lot of times, unless they talk about it nicely or explain it in like a really cushioned and kind and non-threatening way that they will be written off if they don't do that.

[00:07:17] Like if they're angry or they're emotional about their oppression, that somehow their emotion invalidates their experience. And so for me, I'm kind of like, ah, where's that balance of, like, calling out with love because we love, but also having, you know, our own very human and very normal emotional responses that can include anger and frustration and pain that, you know, sometimes are not totally conducive to feeling love.

Elise: [00:07:48] Yeah, absolutely. Well, you bring up something that I hadn't thought of before, is that like, can we call out from a place of love or be called out from a place of love and it's still not being nice. And I think my answer would be, yeah. I don't think that we have to do that kind of tone policing or that like cover up of niceness in order to communicate that like, hey, we are all connected and the only way we're going to achieve this type of liberation is to care for one another.

[00:08:18] And I think that sometimes that means that, like, I'm going to speak really directly and really honestly, and really straight-forward to you about how angry I am and how much you have hurt me. And so I just wonder if the delivery of the message doesn't have to be nice simply because we love the person. So that to me, is that too mean? I don't know. I don't think so.

Channing: [00:08:42] Well, I also think too, something that, you know, you and I have talked about and something that I specifically am working on is that like a value based advocacy, or said backwards, advocacy that is based in specific values. Like for you and I, some of our values include community, authenticity, vulnerability, integrity, inclusion.

[00:09:07] If sometimes our advocacy can be based in a value of love. But that doesn't necessarily mean that we have to feel that loving all of the time. Like for me, I'm a person who's like, if I don't feel it, it's not real to me. And so I think maybe I can also reframe this as, like, if one of my values is love, then I can trust or at least double check my advocacy to make sure that it is still rooted in love, even if I'm not feeling particularly loving.

Elise: [00:09:45] Yeah, absolutely. And for me, if I do more of an internal reading about it, and not even think about the ways that I would be calling people out from a place of love, but I could think about the times when I get called out.

[00:09:57] I think one of the things that would help me not be defensive or make it feel like a personal attack is if I could remind myself, like, hey, this is part of what it means to love each other. And that means to correct and give feedback. And I want people and friends around me who are willing to do that. And I hope that I would be open enough to say, thank you. You're right. I'm so sorry.

Channing: [00:10:19] Right, yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Elise: [00:10:22] Another thing that's on my mind with this verse is the difference between chastisement and persecution. I think where chastisement is led with feedback and love, even if it's painful, it seems to suggest that it's for a change of heart.

[00:10:35] However, with persecution, we see a definition that reads much more like damage, affliction, suffering, or to hunt down. And there's a general sense of malevolent oppression, harassing or oppressive treatment. And to me, these two terms are significantly different, both in terms of the pain that's inflicted and the purpose for the pain.

[00:10:56] For example, all of you might notice how we posted about this on our Instagram account, but when Elder Holland gave his homophobic and violent talk at BYU this week, I'm sure that he thought he was chastising. He even talked about how many tears he had shed, as if to remind us that this ‘chastisement’ (air quotes) comes from a place of love. Right? 

[00:11:15] However, what I think was really happening was that he was persecuting LGBTQ+ folks, which is to say that his words caused damage and suffering. His words hunted down and tried to prosecute. His words, which he supported with fundamentalist doctrine about heterosexuality being God's one and only true way, were a continued act of oppression and harassment against LGBTQ folks.

[00:11:41] So who was truly being persecuted and why is it so easy for us to mask our persecution or to misunderstand our persecution as chastisement? Perhaps if Elder Holland sees his words as chastisement and not persecution, then he probably feels justified in his homophobia. And it's mind blowing because even in this week's chapters, we see historically that the saints were being “subjected to severe persecution” and on July 23rd, 1833 had been forced to sign an agreement to leave Jackson County. And like Derek and James say on the Beyond The Block podcast, members of the church should be the first to support and stand with the marginalized because it's built into our faith’s ancestory. This persecution that the saints were experiencing was not only about their religious beliefs, but it was also tied up with racism, as the mob was afraid that free Black church members would soon be gathered to Zion and “thus disrupt the racial dynamics in their slave holding state.” And so I know that I'm not part of the LGBTQ+ community, so I don't want to speak for them or in their stead, but for me, this verse about chastisement paired with this week's experience is a very good reminder for me to watch the ways that my chastisement is really persecution.

[00:13:00] I'm reminded that when I feel defensive and on guard, because I think I'm the one being persecuted, that I should slow down and check my privilege. I should ask, even though I think I'm being persecuted, is that what's really happening or am I being chastised and invited to take different, better action next time? Even more, this verse reminds me to listen to the voices and experiences of those who have been persecuted, marginalized, and oppressed. It reminds me to remain open to chastisement as a loving call from God and my neighbors to do and be better.

Channing: [00:13:31] I love this so much. And I think that it can be a really handy question as we examine all of the different ways that we might hold privilege and that we might also experience oppression. And it is a good way to do an internalized reading of chastisement.

[00:13:49] Is there a way for people who are not of the LGBTQ+ community to look at the rainbow flags and say, “I am being persecuted”, but then also look at that internally a little bit more and ask questions like, why does that make me uncomfortable? Am I really experiencing persecution or am I experiencing frustration or fear or confusion around this?

[00:14:19] Yeah. To just take that moment to sit back and ask, like, “Wait a second; what is actually happening here?” Can be a really powerful approach. And, like, even just that pause, like in yoga we talk about this often, like just taking that pause to kind of step back and to not identify with our feelings, but instead be a watcher of our feelings. That pause or that moment of objectivity can provide us with a wider sense of what's actually really happening and give us a more accurate picture of where we stand in relationship to other people.

[00:14:55] So I love, love, love this. As we drive forward to section 97, we come across Zion personified as a woman. And I wanted to talk about this, especially in context of domestic violence. So this is your content warning, if you need to just hop off the episode for another time. The verses in section 97, 18 through 19 and verses 25 read: ““If Zion [keep the commandments] she shall prosper… and the nations of the earth shall honor her.”” In verse 25, “Zion shall escape if she observe to do all things whatsoever I have commanded her; but if she observe not to do whatsoever I have commanded her, I will visit her according to all her works, with sore affliction, with pestilence, with plague, with sword, with vengeance, with devouring fire.”

[00:15:51] And so if you've been listening to the podcast for a while, you'll know that usually we're pretty excited by personification in the text because it brings it to life. But in this case, the personification is alarming, especially because in the church, we have an understanding that the church as an institution, or the church as the body of Christ or the church as Zion is partnered or kind of married to God, especially when we consider the parable of the bridegroom, where like Jesus or God is the groom and the church is the bride. So it's really not too much of a stretch to overlay this marriage relationship onto this text, which uses personification and metaphor as literary devices when speaking about God and Zion. And this makes this particular section all the more alarming, because when read in this context, especially verse 25, instead of a loving partnership, we come across something way different.

[00:16:58] As a feminist reader, this verse speaks of a violent, controlling and unequal partnership. In last week's episode, I talked about the way that language creates our reality. So today, I'd like to examine some of the ways that this language in verse 25 might influence women's experience in partnerships and in the church. And to kind of frame this conversation or frame some of the things that I want to talk about today, I want to offer you the metaphor of pointillism. And if you're into art or know anything about art, pointillism is an artistic technique in which tiny dots of color are grouped together in patterns to form a larger picture. And I wanted to use this metaphor because I think that it can help us understand the relationship between individual partnership and the larger patterns of relationship modeled by the church. These two things are not entirely separate, but together they form a picture. And in this case, that picture is one of violence and oppression. The first sticking point that we encounter in this verse is the concept of control. Remember, the verse reads: 

[00:18:15] “Nevertheless, Zion shall escape if she observe to do all things whatsoever I have commanded her, but if she observe not to do whatsoever I have commanded her,” all of these really horrible things will happen. In preparation for this episode, I did some research. Not just some, I did a lot of research on domestic violence. And one of the things that I came across was an article from the New York Office of Domestic Violence Prevention.

[00:18:42] They write: “Domestic violence comprises a range of behaviors beyond physical and emotional abuse. Abusers often use violence, intimidation, degradation and isolation to deprive victims of their rights to physical security, dignity and respect. [A term coined] ‘coercive control’ describes a course of oppressive behavior grounded in gender-based privilege.”

Elise: [00:19:09] The same article included a Q&A section that was conducted with Evan Stark, who is a PhD and a Master's of Social Work, a forensic social worker and professor emeritus at Rutgers University. The first question was “What is coercive control?” to which Stark responds “Coercive control is a strategic course of oppression behavior designed to secure and expand gender-based privilege by depriving women of their rights and liberties and establishing a regime of domination in personal life. This definition reminds us that women are often targets of violence and examines the oppressive tactics some males use to dominate women. Coercive control refers to abuse as a “strategic course of oppression behavior,” meaning that battering is rational, instrumental behavior and not a loss of control.

[00:19:57] It's ongoing rather than episodic. It's based on multiple tactics like violence, intimidation, degradation, isolation, and control. Men possess “gender-based privilege” because they are male. While all forms of abuse are about power and control, women are vulnerable to coercive control because of unequal status and because men can take advantage of pervasive sexual inequalities in ways that women cannot. Coercive control is a violation of “rights and liberties” protected by the US constitution and international human rights conventions, including right to physical security (violence); to live without fear (intimidation); to dignity and respect (degradation); and to autonomy, liberty and personhood (control).” Stark asserts that control is not just a gateway to more violent forms of abuse, but that control is its own abuse.

Channing: [00:20:51] I wanted to share this research because I feel like it shows that control or coercion is its own form of abuse. And to relate that to the former part of verse 25, which really showcases the sense that God is giving a commandment and Zion who is in a relationship with God must follow all of the things that this dominant deity is asking them to do or else suffer all of these consequences. And so in this way, I just really did get a sense of that coercion or that really controlling aspect of something we might see in a domestic violence relationship.

[00:21:33] I also think that the language in verse 25, when overlaid onto a committed partnership, strongly suggests physical domestic violence. A couple of statistics that I found during my research: the first comes from The Domestic Violence Against Utah Women, an article written in February, 2017 from a UVU statistics report.

[00:21:57] It says that Utah women are 10 times more likely to die from domestic violence-related homicide than men and 72% of all murder/suicides involved an intimate partner. 94% of these victims were female. The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition also reports that since the year 2000, at least 42% of adult homicides in Utah were domestic violence-related.

[00:22:27] And between 2010 and 2013, 88% of domestic violence homicide perpetrators were male. The most alarming statistic that I came across was from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. And they write that numbers provided by the CDC reveal that one in three women in Utah will experience domestic violence compared to one in four nationwide.

[00:22:54] So essentially they're basically saying that women are more likely to experience domestic violence in the state of Utah than they are compared to numbers nationwide. And so my question is, “Why might the rate for domestic violence be higher in Utah? And before I share what my thoughts are on this, I do want to say that I don't have the formal education, I don't have the credentials and I don't have the resources to provide more than a suspicion or a theory, but I also am certain that I am not the first nor the last to question whether the gender inequality present in the theology of the LDS church, which is the dominant religion in the state of Utah, has a marked influence on the statistically significant increase in domestic violence cases in the state compared to the rest of the nation.

[00:23:50] So I wanted to spend a little bit of time looking out or thinking about how Latter-day Saint theology might aid domestic violence perpetrators. And this definitely is an uncomfortable topic because it requires a super in-depth and honest look at the real life consequences of what our theology might enact. So I just encourage you to listen and consider as we share some of our thoughts on this.

Elise: [00:24:20] Yeah, I think that first the church and a lot of the doctrine kind of doubles down on gender inequality and by maintaining these really strict or restrictive gender roles, like men provide and preside while women support and stay at home.

[00:24:36] And I think that while women are generally encouraged to get an education, and women working outside of the home is generally acceptable. I think there's this more pervasive attitude that’s supported by The Family Proclamation that women's highest and noblest calling is to be a stay at home wife and mom.

[00:24:53] And we've talked about that, I feel like, extensively this year, when we've looked at the Doctrine and Covenants. And if we even move beyond like an intellectual feminist critique, this part of LDS theology strongly informs many young women's approaches to her decisions, which will affect her life in really big ways.

[00:25:10] So it's really no surprise that LDS women marry young and have children really young instead of pursuing maybe secondary education or a career.

Channing: [00:25:19] Yeah, I agree completely. And I wanted to showcase why this might be a bigger problem than what we think it to be at first glance. Other statistics that I came across in my research from the most recent Utah Behavioral Risk Surveillance System Report conducted by the Utah Department of Health and the US Centers for Disease Control Prevention indicate that while domestic violence can happen to anyone, a number of factors have an impact on the increased risk of domestic violence in a woman's life. These include relationship status, education level, income, and age. The first, marital status indicates that divorced and separated women in Utah report a higher rate of domestic violence than married women or unmarried women.

[00:26:07] However, experts acknowledged that domestic violence is heavily under reported. So it may be wise to assume these numbers are much higher. In fact, a 2017 article titled Utah's Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse Problem, author Emily Havens writes: “for years, crime reports and health indicator data has shown that the rape rate in Utah is significantly higher than the United States average, according to the Utah Department of Health.

[00:26:37] Since 88% of rapes are never reported to law enforcement, officials say sexual violence in Utah is grossly underestimated. However, from what we do know about sexual violence in Utah, the majority of rapes aren't committed by strangers. In fact, 20% of sexual assaults reported in Utah are committed by a spouse or significant other.”

[00:27:02] Other risk factors for domestic violence for women include education, with nearly 23% of women with less than a high school education report experiencing domestic violence compared to only 10% of women with a college degree. And finally the last significant risk factor that they quote is income with women whose annual income is less than $20,000 report higher rates of domestic violence than women with an annual income of $50,000 or more.

[00:27:34] So to summarize, what we see here is that women who receive less than a college degree education, women with an annual income of less than 20,000 a year and have been married at some point, experienced the highest rates of domestic violence in the state of Utah. Is it surprising in a state whose dominant spirituality teaches that women should forgo an education and a career in favor of marrying and having children and becoming dependent to their partner, experiences a higher rate of domestic violence?

[00:28:08] The second thought that I had in answer to this question, how might an LDS theology aid or support domestic violence perpetrators? I also think that part of it is because there is a supportive framework within the church that provides an example for gender inequality, because in the church we see that dominance and submission based on gender differences is seen as normal and acceptable.

[00:28:37] Some examples of this might be that women are only allowed to participate in very limited, visible and accepted leadership and decision-making capacities within the church. Especially as we move higher up in the institution, we see less and less women in leadership circles, especially when we get to the Quorum of the 12 and the presidencies of the church, those allow no women at all. How can women be seen as equal partners when they are rarely seen at all, outside of women and children's specific meetings and callings? Again, we have this language that we get from the Proclamation of the Family that indicates presiding over. How can there be equality when one partner presides? We see this at church too.

[00:29:25] In fact, we don't have a single position where women preside or even co-preside over a congregation of exclusively men. And to further illustrate this, temple ceremony language until 2017 required a covenant for women to submit to their husbands. In fact, for all of our love for Eve and her story, the temple ceremony asserts that her submission to Adam is right and lawful and implies it is so because she's the one who partook of the forbidden fruit, because she is the one who transgressed and she is the one who sinned and did not follow the commandments of God. So, these are just a couple of examples of the ways that we see gender inequality operating within the framework of the church and might inform gender inequality in intimate relationships.

[00:30:21] And I also think that it intersects in harmful ways with other aspects of our religion in practice, like forgiveness, which can actually perpetuate domestic violence in partnerships where it's already present. We saw this in the case of Rob Porter from a couple of years ago, he was a White House staffer who resigned from his position in the Trump organization amid allegations of domestic abuse from both of his ex-wives. In response to these allegations, Porter insisted that his scholarships and degrees to Ivy League universities and his membership and service in the LDS church provided a sort of character witness to imply his innocence.

[00:31:04] However, in an opinion article in the Huffington Post from February 2018, titled The Mormon Church Has a Domestic Violence Problem, its author Neil Young argues “that Porter's affiliations with the LDS church may not so much provide the character alibi his defenders intended, as much as it helps us understand the deeper patterns of abuse in his two marriages.”

Elise: [00:31:31] He goes even further to say that, “it's important to note that the LDS church declared it had zero tolerance for abuse immediately following the news of Porter's resignation. Church teachings also clearly and repeatedly instruct that abuse of any kind is not permitted. Mormon policy prevents those who abuse others from being able to enter the temple or serve the church. But official policy may not be enough to thwart the larger cultural, institutional and theological forces at work in Mormonism that can aid abusers and discourage victims from getting out of abusive marriages.” He also argues that the theologically patriarchal structure of the church leadership acts as a barrier for women reporting abuse and having their stories believed.

[00:32:15] Young cites Dr. Julie Hanks, whom we love, who states that “because bishops attend church classes with other men and often serve church callings together it is more likely that the Bishop will sympathize with the male.” Young continues by saying, “a deep commitment to male authority repeatedly emphasized in the theology and culture of Mormonism can also reinforce behaviors and patterns that foster abuse and prevent women from coming forward. ‘Priesthood authority functions in both the family and the Church,’ church leaders frequently remind, meaning husbands have authority over their wives in the home and male bishops over Mormon women in the church. It also means some Mormon women feel wifely submission requires them to endure domestic abuse and that religious faithfulness calls them to defer to their bishops’ counsel.”

Channing: [00:33:06] Young also states “it's worth recognizing that no existing research indicates higher rates of domestic abuse in Mormon marriages than for other religious groups. Still, the unique religious culture and beliefs of Mormonism may make LDS women particularly vulnerable to abuse and especially unable to find necessary relief.”

[00:33:31] Young finishes his article with words that feel especially poignant for this topic and in light of Elder Holland's talk this week. He writes, “the LDS church ought to seriously consider how male abusers have been protected and hidden within Mormonism. For a church that has repeatedly justified its political activism against feminism and gay rights on behalf of ‘defending the family’, they should recognize that the greatest defense it can provide of the family is by protecting Mormon women from any abuse they might encounter.”

[00:34:07] I'm really appreciative of Neil Young's article, because I feel like he illustrates a really compelling picture of domestic violence and LDS theology and the ways that they intersect and inform each other. And this is a good reminder too, that as we continue reading in the Doctrine and Covenants, and even next year, as we move into the Old Testament, that we will continue to see Zion personified as a woman, and that it's important for us, especially as feminist readers, to examine not only the way that the personification of women is treated in the text, but also what the actual lived experience of women is, based on what we find in scripture.

Elise: [00:34:53] I'm really, really appreciative that you put so much time and effort into navigating this conversation in a really gentle, tender, but also, like, critical way. I think that was an important reading. And I also think that it connects to something that I wanted to share, specifically about bodies. In section 97, verses 15 through 17; this is the Lord talking about the temple and who is and isn't allowed in the temple. And it says, “And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it. 16 Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God. 17 But if it be defiled I will not come into it, and my glory shall not be there; for I will not come into unholy temples.” And I think that this verse, paired with the Zion verses that you offered an interpretation for, are really important, because I know, like, we both know, very traditional understandings of both of those verses. We understand that, especially with these verses that I read, the traditional interpretation is that the temple is a holy place and we need to be clean in mind, body and spirit. And I think that sometimes when we think about Zion being personified as a woman, people will just say like, well, it's just a metaphor. Don't read into it. Like, don't push, don't look any further.” But for me, both of those traditional interpretations fall short. It's the Sunday School answer that lets us check off a box of understanding. And in these verses that talk about not letting something that's unclean or defiled or filthy or dirty come into the temple, I think that it has the potential to keep a lot of messy people excluded. And it has the potential to reinforce our concerns with purity. And I want to push past just the traditional interpretation of this verse to see what else is offered. And here's the other thing: I don't think God is offended by our dirt, by our filth or our messiness.

[00:36:55] I don't think that God is a sanitized, pure, clean God. I think about Jesus being born of a woman who had to give birth in a stable; Jesus born of blood, mucus, dirt, hay, and full body deep cries. I think of Jesus dwelling in and among the dirt. What about Jesus hanging out with bleeding women and prostitutes?

[00:37:19] What about Jesus sweating, bleeding from every pore, kicking up dust and dirt as he walked for miles? What about Jesus catching and cleaning fish and spitting on people's eyes? What about Jesus who was killed and then rose from a nasty tomb? About the resurrection, Nadia Bolz-Weber writes: “Really it's a story of flesh and dirt and bodies and confusion. It's about the way God never seems to adhere to our expectations. See, when Mary Magdalene stood at the tomb, she didn't encounter some perfected, radiant, glowing Jesus that morning… I like to think that Mary Magdalene mistook the resurrected Christ for a gardener because Jesus still had the actual dirt from his own tomb under his nails.”

[00:38:03] And even in these few examples, I really, really relish in the dirty grittiness of God here. And so if we were to ask the question, what makes a body dirty? I think we can see how dirt and cleanliness actually link up with some really harmful and limiting understandings of gender, sexuality, and femininity.

[00:38:23] The passenges I'm going to share and a lot of the ideas I'm going to talk about come from a book that's titled “Bad Girls, Dirty Bodies: Sex, Performance, and Safe Femininity” by Gemma Commane. The author writes that basically dirt has a history that deals a lot with gender and sexuality in the 19th century, because this obsession with cleanliness leads to the overemphasizing of the importance of purity.

[00:38:49] So people like working-class women, homeless women and prostitutes were often slapped with the label of dirty, which also meant bad, as if they were like socially polluting the world around them and others. So when this label of dirty is, like, applied to various women or various sanitized or clean types of femininity, it showcases an ideal version of what clean, pure women or clean, pure people expressing their femininity should do or how they should look like and behave. But being labeled as dirty or filthy could also mean being seen as unhealthy or being seen as, like, a throw away or unruly troublemaker.

[00:39:32] And I think that we can also see how these ideas of dirty, clean, bad, good also intersect with race and religion. Whose bodies, gender expressions, gender identities, and sexualities are seen as inherently bad? Whorish, slutty, provocative? I mean, for goodness sakes, whose bodies, according to the Book of Mormon, are darkened and cursed because of their unrighteousness or AKA their dirtiness?

Channing: [00:39:56] A quote that I really appreciated that also comes from Commane says ““Responses to violations include social shunning, media stigmatization, rejection from peers or loved ones and work colleagues and – in the past – incarceration and punitive violence (e.g. think back to pregnant unmarried young women being admitted into asylums, ‘witches’ being hung/burnt/drowned due to suspicions about their femininity, etc...Demarcating the pure from the dirty is not just a physical or social thing: it’s a psychological, personal and emotional attack that is all about nulling and taking away that Bad/Dirty/Other person’s existence.”

Elise: [00:40:44] Yeah, thanks for reading that. So you can see these labels come with consequences and they have come with consequences. Commane continues to write that “Dirt sticks to certain bodies and femininities making them appear to either be something alluring (think of the seductive girl next door or the bad girl) or someone you must be afraid of because they are strange, abject, and able to [basically] pollute or corrupt you.”

[00:41:10] And I hope just with this brief, I don't know, overview about dirty bodies, we can see that it has history and it has implications for gender and sexuality. But if we were to offer a reframing or maybe a reclamation, like a way that we could reclaim this dirt and filth and messiness for ourselves, maybe we could remind ourselves that holiness and worthiness are different, I think, than cleanliness and purity.

[00:41:38] I think that holiness and worthiness, I think that they're inherent and they're God-given, whereas I think the labels of cleanliness or dirtiness are given to us by others when we either abide or reject, conform or resist the social norms of what's considered good, right, healthy, safe, pure, in an attempt to either welcome and praise people or an attempt to punish, ridicule and exclude them based on ever changing notions of gender and sexuality.

[00:42:06] So what if, instead of God saying, “Ew! I'm not dwelling with you if you're dirty or unclean.” God said: bring me your dirt. Bring me your filth. I'd love to be there with you. Or what if God doesn't even really care about cleanliness at all? What if God didn't even want to make it clean? What if God revels in the mud and the dust?

[00:42:27] What if God invites us to embrace our bodies, our gender, our sexuality, and kisses our fingertips with dirt under the nails. Please know that I'm also like I'm not trying to make light of what it means to make loving, ethical, just choices. But I do think that the clean, dirty, good, bad dichotomies dismiss the full complexity and beauty of bodies that shed skin, that tear, that scrape, bruise, bleed, crack, sweat, pee, poop, spit, slobber, heave, and yearn to lay down in the dirt.

Channing: [00:43:00] I'm also reminded too, even in Genesis: our bodies are literally made from dust.

Elise: [00:43:06] Thank you. That's such a great passage here.

Channing: [00:43:11] Like, there's no transcending the fact that our bodies are literally made from dirtiness, like they're literally made from the elements that are all around us, that we are like, so desperately trying to transcend and escape.

[00:43:26] There's no getting past it. And so I love this image of God kissing our fingertips with dirt underneath our nails. Like, God is not afraid of us. Like, God is not afraid of contamination or afraid of being here in the present. Like if God was really worried about that, Jesus would come today, where things like hand sanitizer and frequent everyday bathing and washing occur, rather than back then, where you have one hand that's specifically dedicated to wiping yourself after you go to the bathroom. And the other hand specifically dedicated to, like, shaking hands with other people that you greet so that you don't get cross-contaminated. I appreciate this framing of dirtiness and cleanliness being more socially understood rather than this eternal principle of godliness.

Elise: [00:44:28] Yeah, absolutely. And I think I'd just like to end the episode with a poem that I found that talks about really celebrating and leaning into our bodies.

[00:44:36] It's a poem by Rebecca Lauren titled To The Trans Woman Visiting Holy Cross Monastery For A Week. It begins with an epigraph from 2nd Corinthians chapter 5, verse 2 that says “We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long for the day when we will put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing..” 

The poem begins: Levity of skirt in a roomful of men, large-knuckled grip

of the altar to steady a swish of hips, you teach me

to listen when our bodies persist in the midst

of Great Silence. Who is it, exactly, that calls you


to this place? Is it God or a group of monks

draped in robes, psalms sung in gentle high cries

at Compline? Or like me do you seek peace

a soundless space where you don’t have to be


what everyone thinks you should be.

You can just pray. At Vespers today

we heard the monks chanting As it was

in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be


and I wondered if I would always remain

beneath the blinds of someone else’s body—

jeans that don’t quite fit my hips, tender cramp

in the lower back as we lean forward to receive


the blessing of water. I want to be holy, to silence

flawed flesh into submission the way I tried to pry

away pleasure when it came knocking between my legs

world without end. Amen. Amen. But when


I look at you across the pew you remind

me instead to praise God for knees. Praise

for the caress of hemmed edge of dress

on calf. Praise on high for earwax and sty


the very thing of wigs, wisping forth the wearer’s hair.

Praise for one-armed grandmothers, arthritis

in the thumb. Praise days with too many skirts.

Praise even when there are none.


Praise the body not lain across the altar of some

well-meaning patriarch. Praise allergies and wheelchairs.

Praise the time I walked the woods in penitence

and found you already there, hair in the wind.


Praise silk bras and breasts that don’t fit them.

Praise bedrest and acne. Praise blisters, stents

the scars that remain. Praise wooden kneelers

that recall the pain of injury. Praise the healing


of cataracted eyes, the wide-eyed surprise

of palms smoothed against oversized thighs till we rise

in resurrection glory and our amorous sighs become

lullabies we mime to this world of the worn:

This is my body, and it is not broken.

Channing: [00:47:14] Thank you so much for joining us today for this episode where we discussed chastisement and persecution, where we discussed the relationship between gender inequality in LDS theology and its relationship to domestic violence and where we also discussed dirtiness, cleanliness, and godliness. We love you so, so much, and can't wait to spend more time with you again next week. Bye.

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