Patience and Priesthood (Doctrine and Covenants 106-108)

Monday, September 20, 2021


A HUGE thanks to Heather B. for transcribing this episode!

Elise: Welcome back everyone! We’re so excited to be on the podcast with you this week. We just love you so much and we especially love you when there are some challenging chapters because we get to share in this work together.

We only have three sections. Section 106, which is about Warren A Cowdrey who was called, appointed, and ordained a Presiding High Priest over the church. Then we have a super long section which is section 107 that is all about the Priesthood; so, revelation on the priesthood regarding, like, the organization of the quorum of the twelve apostles and a history of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood. And then we have section 108 which is revelation to Lyman Sherman about his duties and responsibilities as a member of the quorum of the seventy. So, very, very priesthood heavy sections. We’re pleased to be able to unpack some of our thoughts and feelings with you on the podcast today.

Channing: Yes. So, as we know, many men are presented in the Doctrine and Covenants and usually they appear there without any mention of their relationship, but this week we were absolutely certain that the women had to be somewhere. So we looked for the wives of Warren Cowdrey in section 106 and Lyman Sherman in section 108.

So starting in section 106 we encounter Warren Cowdery, and Warren was the brother of Oliver Cowdrey. There’s an article titled "Finding Saints, Mormon conversions in Freedom, New York,” by author Mark Steele, and he has a really wonderful biography about Warren. He says that Warren was born in Poultney, Vermont in 1788 and he married Patience Simonds in 1814. They both moved to the Freedom area in 1815 and then Warren became Postmaster in 1824. They received Book of Mormon proof sheets and other communications from Warren’s brother Oliver. Warren’s baptism occurred before November 1831. He hosted many missionary meetings in Freedom in 1834 and eventually was called to be the presiding High Priest in the Freedom area in November 1834. The Cowdreys moved to Kirtland in early 1836 where Warren became the secretary for Joseph Smith. In 1837, he served briefly as the editor of the Latter-day Saint Messenger and Advocate, before leaving the church in 1838. Warren was a Justice of the Peace in Kirtland and eventually died there on February 23, 1851. Patience died in 1856, in New York. That’s just a really brief biography of Warren and just a little bit of a mention of Patience in there. And unfortunately we don’t actually have many records of what Warren and Patience’s life was like while they were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but we do know just a little bit of historical background to kind of set up their later lives.

After the departure of Zion’s camp, which we talked about in last week’s episode, eventually Kirtland no longer was the major gathering place of the saints. While this week’s chapters are still in the year 1835, in the next six chapters the saints begin to move to Far West, Missouri. There were a couple of things that happened in Kirtland that made it so that the saints eventually wanted to move away. The Kirtland Bank failed. There were many, many lawsuits against Joseph Smith, and he experienced a loss of friends.. He eventually fled Kirtland in 1838 and did not return. But, there were a few Saints who ended up staying and they did their best to not let the church die out in Kirtland. A handful of Saints who didn’t want to move did their best to continue their worship with little guidance or support from leaders and the larger body of the Saints in Missouri. Warren and Patience were some of these people. Eventually, because of the abandonment by the leaders, many members in Kirtland left the Church. Warren and Patience were some of them.

Elise: Most of the information that we have about Patience comes from a great article titled “The Waning of Mormon Kirtland” by Davis Bitton. We receive some insight from their lives after Mormonism thanks to diary entries from Patience herself. Davis writes, “One of the best glimpses into life at Kirtland is the diary of Patience Cowdrey. Wife of Warren Cowdrey, she had been closely involved in Mormonism at Kirtland during the 1830s. Her husband, a prominent doctor who had practiced medicine in Freedom, New York, became editor of the Latter Day Saints’ “Messenger and Advocate” published in Kirtland. They became disaffected in 1837 and 1838 but continued to live in Kirtland. Life was busy in the Cowdrey household. They operated something of a weaving establishment. Yarn was twisted for stockings and carpeting. Patience and her two daughters did a good deal of sewing and at candle-dipping time the house was transformed into a workshop; twenty-five dozen candles were dipped in one day. Other chores included preparing husks for beds and picking apples and blueberries. Besides the long hours of work suggested by such activities, the Cowdreys found time for reading the scriptures, various periodicals, and books. A certain zeal for self improvement is noticed in such entries as the following from Patience's diary. She writes, "We have had quite a schooling evening among ourselves in reading and spelling. We have commenced a school in our large room in hopes to continue it through the winter for the benefit of our own family. It has gone on very pleasant thus far. We have attended to spelling and defining this evening.”

Channing: In the article, Bitton continues to write, “It was not all hard work. Probably, spelling bees were common and such games as Checkers occupied some of the evening hours. The Cowdrey family seemed very involved in community affairs. Patience herself was sufficiently part of the Reform enthusiasm of the day, to belong to a “moral reform society”, attending its meetings and subscribing to its periodicals. In case, like me, you didn’t know what the Moral Reform Society is, the Moral Reform Society was a movement at the time that focussed its efforts on eliminating prostituion and eliminating the standards for chastity for women and it's ok for men to cheat on their wives  and sleep with many women; they just wanted everyone to be abstinent. So that is the Moral Reform Society. 

We also learned that in 1850, Patience heard an antislavery sermon on a Sunday and attended at least one meeting of an antislavery female sewing society. Bitton continues to write, “Even though the Cowdreys left Mormonism, they were not without religion. Patience often attended church and made notes on the sermons, but as the years went by she more often stayed home on Sundays while the children attended church.” She read the bible regularly. 

But, interestingly enough, Mormonism could not leave the Cowdreys alone. Patience wrote in her diary that in 1849, Martin Harris, who, if you remember, this is high-horse Martin Harris, who showed up to the Shaker communities and did the whole coattail thing, “Martin Harris called here this morning, and warned us of the dangers if we did not embrace the gospel and he says he has now cleared his skirts whether we give heed or not.” A few days later, Harris came again “to see about selling us some land and stayed some little time and conversed upon some things he said he knew.” Additionally, in 1850, the family was visited again by a Mr. Menlenithen, a member of the church who “considered it to be his duty to warn the people to flee the wrath to come. He considered the judgements to be at hand.” 

Another diary entry Bitton includes in his article is a beautiful description of nature by Patience. For this entry to have found its place in an academic article, it must have deeply spoken to the author and we want to honor Patience by including it here as well.  Of a beautiful June day in 1850, Patience writes:

“The weather is calm and serene. The air seems pure and wholesome. All nature seems to have put on a lively green since the reviving raing. I do take sweet comfort in viewing the beauties of nature. The lively green woods that look so beautiful and happy while all is calm and peaceful at night. Ought we not to possess gratitude that we have been thus highly favoured with kind children that are ever ready to soothe and wait on us in sickness? They are kind and good. Truly this may sound pleasant and seems to give everything around us a pleasing aspect.” 

Britton finally concludes the article by saying, “There was much goodness in the life of this family.” 

Channing: I loved learning about Patience and I especially loved this final diary entry because it seems to just really showcase that peacefulness about contentedness that she felt toward the end of her life. Honestly, hearing all of these stories about her family and all of the activities that they did together, I really get the sense that they were close and they enjoyed one another's company and loved each other. I think that that is something that gives me a lot of hope, especially knowing that they left the church and all of these diary entries happened after they left the church. So I feel like a lot of times we hear and people say like “Oh, if you leave the church like your family is ruined forever”, or at least that's the message that I’ve received over my life, and I think that hearing Patience talk about her own life and seeing her experiences unfold really peacefully and contentedly offer us a different vision of what it was like for the family after they left.

Another interesting thing that I discovered about Patience and Warren is that in the “Revelations in Context”, their story is mentioned up until the point they leave the church, and “Revelations in Context” kind of just leaves us assuming that they remained faithful members their entire lives because it's never mentioned that they ended up leaving. That's what history has helped us form a larger picture what that looks like because we have these diary accounts from Patience and this reminds me that even though women aren’t immediately apparent in the scriptures, they make valuable contributions to their families and to societies. We would have no idea that this is what their life was like, had Patience not kept this diary and given an honest accounting of what her life experiences were like. This is definitely a case of a woman telling the truth about her life and we are all the more blessed and grateful for it. This experience again opens my eyes to just because we don't see a woman named doesn't mean that she wasn't there, and I’m really grateful for that.

Another woman who isn't mentioned but we know is present in this story is Lyman Sherman’s wife, Dulcena Didamia Johnson. We find the entry point to her in section 108 with the revelation to Lyman Sherman. Dulcena and Lyman had six children together during their marriage. A lot of the stories and biographies that I could find about their relationship wasn't even really about their relationship, it was just about Lyman Sherman. He was a very active member of the church and was very close friends with Joseph Smith. He was eventually called to be an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but unfortunately he passed away in Far West before he received this announcement and calling.

A lot of the information that we have about Dulcena was wonderfully given to us from Lindsay Hansen Park’s podcast titled “Year of Polygamy.” and we owe a debt of gratitude to Lindsay for compiling her biography. If you want to head over to the “Year of Polygamy” podcast and find that episode about Dulcena, it's only 6 minutes long but it's really wonderful done and we encourage you to listen to her biography there. We’ll share just a piece of it here.

Dulcena, after her husband Lyman passed away, was widowed and she and her six children were cared for by her brother Benjamin. He helped them to relocate to Nauvoo, and eventually he was called on a mission to Canada. When he returned from his mission he found that his sister Dulcena had married Joseph Smith. Of the marriage, Benjamin wrote, “The marriage of my eldest sister to the prophet was before my return to Nauvoo and it being tacitly admitted, I asked no questions.” 

Dulcena lived with Louisa Beaman, who was another one of Joseph's wives in Nauvoo. Louisa, Dulcena, and Benjamin introduced Almira, who was Dulcena’s younger sister, to polygamy and eventually persuaded her to marry Joseph Smith as well. After Joseph Smith’s death, Dulcena married a man named Alman Babbit in 1846 who also took other plural wives. Eventually, Dulcena’s death is recorded in Utah in 1854 and she left behind all of her surviving children.

Once again, if you want to hear more about Dulcena’s story, if you want to head over to the “Year of Polygamy” podcast, her story is told in episode 14. Huge thanks to Lindsay Park Hanson for compiling all of the biographies of these women. 

Elise: One of the things that I’ve actually found really rewarding this year, for as challenging and not fantastically fun that the Doctrine and Covenants has been, is that we are able to, when the situation arises, we are able to explore other women stories even if you're not mentioned in the scriptures. I think that we’re able to do that because of all of the people who have studied and have done historical background research before us. The “Year of Polygamy” podcast is a huge huge piece of understanding polygamy. Some of the things that you and I had even talked about, it's like when we have The Polygamy Episode (I'm doing air quotes), there’s no way that we’re going to be able to cover every single piece of every single woman’s story to the depth and justice that it deserves, but there are so many other people who have resources out there and who educate on these topics and who have studied them. I'm both constantly surprised at how many women we get to see in the Doctrine and Covenants and I’m always in gratitude for all of the people that have written articles, made their own podcasts, done their own study, because we get to share in that work with them. It would be so impossible for us to do this podcast without being able to rely on the people that have come before us and others that are doing work right now.

Channing: Absolutely. So now that we have explored the biographies of these incredible women, we wanted to move on to section 107, We've had a handful of episodes either directly addressing the priesthood or including elements of the priesthood as some of the main points. However, one of the things that we, and we’re sure you, are noticing is that the history, rule, power, purpose, and organisation of the priesthood in the early church is a big topic in the Doctrine and Covenants. This week, section 107 is primarily about organising priesthood officers into a leadership structure for the church. It breaks down the roles and responsibilities of The First Presidency, The Quorum of the Twelve, The Seventy, Bishops, and Quorum Presidencies all of which do not include women.

Elise: Yup. And like I was saying before, there is already so much research and so many essays and blog posts and writings about women and the priesthood that I think for this episode we want to share other perspectives from other women about this topic. And maybe, like us, you’ve had conversations with other people in your life, from your friend group, and when you try to talk about womens’ exclusion from the Priesthood, there might be some people that say, “well, you know what, we actually prefer to remain excluded from the Priesthood.” They might even talk about how they're able to receive all the blessings but they don't really mind not having the authority or direct access. They might even talk about how motherhood is equal but different to Priesthood, we’ve heard that before or even how they don't want to be burdened with the responsibilities of holding a priesthood office, but to this point Nadine McCombs Hansen writes in her 1981 essay titled “Women and Priesthood”, she talks about how being removed from these duties doesn’t just mean we slip out of responsibilities, it also means we are denied new growth, learning and influencing opportunities. She writes, “In addition, they’re denied the opportunity to be a part of the ongoing decision-making process in our wards, our stakes, and our church. In everything from deciding who will fill church callings to deciding where and when to purchase property, women are regularly asked to sustain decisions which have been made by men and they are given little opportunity to influence decisions before they are made. Often, these decisions have a very great impact on women as is the case when undertakings involving large time or financial commitments are openly discussed in Priesthood meetings, yet women are generally not consulted.” I appreciate Hanson's words here because, especially when I think about section 107, there are big organisational moves being made with the Priesthood holders which means that men will be the primary decision makers for the church and the saints at large. 

Channing: Some of the critiques we’ve received about talking about women’s ordination is that we’re talking about making a bigger deal out of it than it really is. Some say that having an all-male Priesthood doesn’t mean that there is an inequality; it's just the way God wanted things done. Sometimes it goes even one step further saying, “I believe men and women are equal but they have different roles and responsibilities and that just doesn’t include women being ordained to the priesthood.” In response to this, Hansen asks, “but would we still feel the same if instead of an all-male priesthood, we had an all-female priesthood? How would we feel if every leadership position, except those relating to men and children were filled by a woman? If every significant problem had to be resolved by women, if every woman and every man who needed counseling from a spiritual leader had to be counselled by a woman? How would we feel we could ordain our twelve-year-old daughters but not our sons? If each week, our daughters blessed and passed the sacrament? How would we feel if only mothers could bless and baptize and confirm their children or if men did most of the teaching of children and women filled nearly all board executive positions? If women addressed the annual men's general meeting of the church to instruct them in how to best fill their roles as men? Would men in this situation still be so sure that in the church men and women are equal even though the men have a different role?

And when I heard this I just want to go “Hansen! Preach it” I love when the script is flipped like this because it makes what has seemed so normal and natural (which is an all-male priesthood), it starts to make it sound absurd. It’s ridiculous when it's flipped with an all-female priesthood. I know I'm talking about women's ordination but my hope is that the removal of an all-male priesthood wouldn’t just make space for women only, it should allow ease and access to any and all who wanted to be ordained, whether they are queer, gender non-conforming, trans, etc, and I really believe that this is what the body of Christ looks like.

To conclude the essay, Hansen writes, “If the day comes, and I believe it will, when women and men and all people alike will be bearers of blessings and burdens of the priesthood, the artificial barriers of dominance and submission, power and manipulation, which sometimes strain our relationships lessen and we will all be freer to choose our own paths and roles. In Christian unity, we will go forward together with power to bless both our own lives and the lives of others and with opportunity for a fuller, richer, spiritual life and participation for all the children of God.” As I read this, I just kept thinking to myself, “Do I hear all of those blessings and promises: “power to bless...lives” and full access to participating in God’s power and love?” That is a really beautiful future.

Elise: I think one thing that we haven’t adequately acknowledged is the way that white feminism shows up in many spaces, conversations, and actions regarding women’s ordination. This is to say, many white women, us included, can start to whitewash the experience of women and disregard, or blatantly miss, the ways that race, ability, and class, not just gender, shape what it means to be a woman in a church. White feminism focuses on and prioritizes the needs and experiences of white women over women of color and places the white woman’s experience on a pedestal as the only and only true way to be a woman and experience womanhood. To this point, Janan Graham-Russell, of whom we are big fans, wrote an essay titled “On Black Bodies in White Spaces: Conversations of Women’s Ordination and Women of African Descent in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” In this essay, she writes, “While I do respect and support the extensive work of both those involved with Ordain Women and the pursuit of equality both within and outside of the Church… the truth is this: white women have had access to the priesthood and temple in its entirety for much longer than women of color, particularly women of African descent.“ Here’s where I'm like, welp, yep. This element is missing from my own conversations about women and the Priesthood because I have assumed that all women have had the same or similar experiences of grief about their exclusion from the Priesthood as I have. I have missed the ways that that experience is only one slice of experiences and doesn’t adequately create space for my Black sisters who have been excluded for much longer, and much more painful ways than I have ever thought of.

Continuing on in this essay, Graham-Russell talks about how even if women were ordained to the Priesthood, how would that affect or solve some of the racist experiences of BIPOC women in the church on an everyday level? She writes, “Though women’s ordination would allow for women to have greater access to leadership opportunities throughout the Church as an institution, it does not solve the ever-looming issues that many women of African descent, and presumably women of color, face. Many of these issues concern the benevolent and overtly racist dialogue that many people of color have come to know so well in our interactions with some Church members. I’m not against asking Church leaders to consider praying about the question of women’s ordination, but it is hard to align myself with any group or individual, whether for or against, who does not address the privileges that come with discussing women’s ordination or the priesthood as it has existed in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints… In this, if debates over whether or not women should receive the priesthood include talking about people of African descent, my hope is that all the facts about the ban are presented and there is some recognition of the privileges that come with discussing black bodies in white spaces.”

What I appreciate so much about this passage, and this essay as a whole, is that Graham-Russell models what it means to celebrate and critique. I think that she shows how we can push for ordination but not without first and continually addressing our own privileges as white women and the racist history of the church as a whole. It also reminds me of the ways I can focus in so narrowly on what I perceive to be my own grief and exclusion, that I do not simultaneously recognize all of the other ways that I hold significant privilege in this experience too. It reminds me that sometimes I can focus too much on the parts of me that feel like a victim, that feel excluded, that feel oppressed and not hold that in turn with all of the other ways I hold big big privilege because I, as a white woman, have had access to the temple far longer than black women have. I’m grateful to Graham-Russell for calling me out and calling me in as I continue to change my own narrative around both my exclusion from and privilege in the priesthood.

Channing: Beautiful! And I think along similar lines, Gina Colvin wrote an essay titled “Ordain Women, But…: A Womanist Perspective”, where she talks about incorporating an intersectional lens to our approach to women and the Priesthood. She writes, “Our faith experiences are kaleidoscopic and depend on more than our gender. They depend on our class, our race, our culture, and a myriad of other social and human conditions. Asking for power to be expanded sideways doesn't necessarily mean that our spiritual lives would be automatically and collectively expanded to incline us toward unravelling oppressive power structures.” Essentially, this is to say that just because we want power to be spread horizontally from men to women, this doesn't automatically mean that will be enough to actively and effectively resist and tear down oppressive systems in our church culture. In other words, even though it may feel and be a “win” for women to be ordained to the priesthood it doesn't mean that women's ordination defeats all of the dominating oppressive structures that are existent in the church. 

Colvin continues writing, “Women's ordination doesn't necessarily mean that poor brown and Black women will be represented in the galleries of LDS leadership. It doesn't necessarily mean that poor white, Black or brown children will be fed, It doesn't necessarily mean that our diverse cultures, conditions, and practices will be included as we seek to create a global Mormon religious identity that eclipses an American religious imperial culture. It doesn't necessarily mean that we will better clothe the naked, feed the hungry, give shelter to the weary, take in the unwanted, relieve the plight of the oppressed, care for the elderly, or hear the voices of the unpopular. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that bursts of color and light will fill the night air as we join together in a symphony of high spiritual feeling.”

And, I don’t know about you but for me, I’m sensing a bit of her suspicion too, some distrust in the system and maybe even some ambivalence to women’s ordination. I think this is well placed because, like I said earlier, ordaining women doesn't magically (like I’ve waving my hands in the air) solve all of the other issues in the church. However, Colvin concludes by writing, “Ordaining women could mean very little in the grand scheme of things or it could be the great symbol of hope for women and for men across the world: Hope that a corporate behemoth can change, that core values can be questioned, that institutional power can be contested, and ultimately all will find The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a magnanimous and empowering home wherein we can sing of Zion with glorious belief. Notwithstanding, I will be there at the Ordain Women action event with hope.” 

Elise: Ugh! I'm a sucker for hope, honestly, an absolute sucker. I'm really grateful. All of these three essays came from this fantastic compilation of essays titled “Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings” that was edited by Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright. If you don't have this resource yet and you're looking for that kind of reader with multiple essays about Mormon Feminism, this is the book to get. We’re hopeful that by sharing these other perspectives on the Priesthood that you're able to not only listen to new people’s words that aren’t just my own and Channing’s but that you’re also able to start piecing together or critiquing or celebrating your own approach or understanding about woman and the Priesthood.

Channing: And we also hope that you find community and know that hearing other women's voices even Nadine McCombs Hansen who wrote her essay all the way in 1981, which for a lot of people, probably a lot of our listeners, it's not that long ago but that was before I was born so, to me it feels significant, but to know that you are in a community of well-educated well spoken and passionate women. You're not alone and there are lots of people who are advocating in so many different ways. Equality for everyone in the church. Like we always say, that's a beautiful thing to work toward and is a beautiful community to be a part of and we're so grateful that we are part of it and that you're here with us sitting right next to us on the soft chairs. We love you so much and will see you next week, friends. Bye.

Powered by Blogger.