Suspicions & Widows (Doctrine & Covenants 98-101)

Monday, September 6, 2021


 Full transcript thanks to the wonderful Heather B!

Channing: Hi, I'm Channing, and this is The Faithful Feminists podcast.

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

Channing: We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Doctrine and Covenants sections 98 through 101 for the dates September 5th through the 12th. We're so glad you're here.

Elise: [00:01:03] Welcome back everyone. Of course, before we get into this week's sections, we want to remind you about our upcoming soft chairs workshop that we're hosting in October. We hope that we can see all of you or as many of you as possible on Saturday, October 9th in South Jordan, Utah for a day that is full of feminism, scriptures and a really loving community. Everyone is invited.

Channing: [00:01:23] Yes. And we'd love to see you there. We've planned powerful content. We hope will equip everyone with a foundational understanding of feminist interpretation skills for examining sacred texts through a feminist. And a greater confidence in reading and working with the scriptures. We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Doctrine and Covenants sections 98 through 101 for the dates September through the 12th. We're so glad you're here.

Elise: [00:01:03] Welcome back everyone. Of course, before we get into this week's sections, we want to remind you about our upcoming Soft chairs workshop that we're hosting in October. We hope that we can see all of you or as many of you as possible on Saturday, October 9th in South Jordan, Utah for a day that is full of feminism scriptures in a really loving environment. Everyone is invited.

Channing: [00:01:25] Yes. And we'd love to see you there. We've planned powerful content we hope will equip everyone with a foundational understanding of feminist interpretation, skills for examining sacred texts through a feminist lens, and a greater confidence in reading and working with the scriptures. Join us for delicious food and an incredible community of like-minded women and allies. Find more information at the link in our bio on Instagram or on our website at

Elise: [00:02:00] Amazing. So a little bit of background before we jump into the episode for these sections, there's a lot going on for the saints who are in Missouri because they thought Missouri was Zion, but what happens is that they faced a lot of persecution. The printing press or printing office was destroyed. And in future revelations, we'll see that the Saints end up having to leave and flee Missouri. And while this is all going on, Joseph Smith is over 800 miles away and it took him a really long time to find out what was going on. When he did receive the news, we see these revelations that are built, like, addressing the persecution and also trying to provide a bit of comfort to the saints. So this week we're going to be talking and thinking about persecution, patience, and persistence.

Channing: [00:02:47] I'm excited to dive into these chapters. I found them a little bit challenging and a little bit frustrating. How did you feel about them, Elise? 

Elise: [00:02:57] Well, they're super long, and so that's always one barrier, not barrier, I think that's just one thing that I have to really be in the right mindset for is how to engage with longer sections of scripture. But also I kind of felt like the bookends, like, section 98 and section 101 were kind of contradicting each other. I think that there were conflicting messages about, “oh, just turn the other cheek. And all of this persecution is for your own good.” And then at the end of section 101, we see a parable that talks about being persistent and using your voice and asking for what you need. And so that dynamic was quite interesting to me.

Channing: [00:03:37] Yeah. I'm so excited to hear your thoughts on that because I agree. And I also feel like 98 and 101 also contrasted each other in a lot of ways, too. I felt like in 98, we started off with these really loving and, like, enveloping verses where God is kind of saying like, “I'm here. Be still.” It's very comforting. It's very peaceful. And then in 101, we get a God who's saying, “well, persecution is happening because, like, in response to transgressions of the saints. And so I'm chastizing you through these persecutions, through the mobs.” And so that's kind of where I wanted to focus, but I'm so excited to hear about the parable because you know, you and I, we just love those stories.

Elise: [00:04:27] Absolutely. 

Channing: I think sometimes for me, when I approach the text, I feel that I get the sense that God really expects something that is unreasonable and impossible. And that has been the case, especially in this section too, where I feel like I come across things that go so against my own experience and my own beliefs, that my first reaction to the text is to be like, “eh, this might not actually be from God.” Like, it's way easier for me to just say, “Nope, like, God would never say that so I just get to ignore it.” And this actually happens a lot for me when I read scriptures, especially when I approach them through a feminist lens, because I've heard it said before that a feminist reading of the scriptures requires a “hermeneutic of suspicion.”

[00:05:17] Now, if you remember way back to, like, our very first episodes ever, we talk about the word hermaneutic- and hermaneutic is really just kind of a fancy word for saying a lens or a way of looking at a text. And a lens of suspicion requires us to ask a lot of questions. Questions like: who wrote this? What biases are they working from? Who is missing from the text? How is this story being told? What sides or perspectives or even pieces are missing or obscured? And because Doctrine and Covenants is such a historical document it's really difficult to separate it from its well-documented past. And if I'm completely honest, I usually approach the Doctrine and Covenants as a personal and communal autobiography with a little bit of sprinkling of God, rather than a regulatory text by God sprinkled with history.

[00:06:17] I recognize that not everyone will read it the same way and not even every feminist reader will approach the text in the same way. But this is all to say that I know I am a biased reader of the text. We all are. And my bias is that of suspicion. If you happen to be a fly on the wall for any of our preparation conversations, any of our Marco Polos, any of our texts, you would probably hear me say something along the lines of, “Is this really something God would say, or is this just something the author thought or wanted God to say?”

[00:06:54] And that's exactly how I approached this portion of the text. I also arrive to the texts from a lens of personal experience. And a large part of that is education through experience of trauma and abuse. Because of this, I am sensitive to undertones of control, domination, manipulation, and coercion in any context. I simply can't help it; My instincts hone in on these things as a protective measure. And so I particularly struggled with these chapters because of the theme of enduring the violence insection 98 and the justification of persecution in section 101 being caused by the seats themselves. And because of this, I find myself wanting to kind of just throw these portions of the text away.

[00:07:45] I want to put them in the “not from God” recycle bin, but in the same breath, just like I said earlier, section 98 opened with such beautiful promise. We hear the voice of the Lord saying, “verily I say unto you, my friends, Fear not. Let your hearts be comforted. Wait patiently on the Lord for your prayers have entered their ears. All things shall work together for your good.” That last line, “all things shall work together for your good” particularly brings me comfort when I'm weary, hurting, or even suffocating underneath the weight of my own healing. So to then see it paired with lines which encourage endurance of abuse, it's something that I am wary to wrestle with.

[00:08:33] There are so many times where I approach the text when I'm tired and when I need a God that is soft, like my old baby blanket, a God that is worn, threadbare, with the lace on the corners tattered and the pale yellow and pink colors faint with countless washing cycles. I need a God who can wrap me up and hold me, promise me it's all going to work out. It's going to be okay. We'll figure this out together. And so it's difficult to encounter this God in section 98 and then have it ripped away from me in section 101 with God's saying in verse two, “I, the Lord have suffered the affliction to come upon them in consequence of their transgressions.”

[00:09:20] And I can't help but feel like the blanket is ripped from my chest. I fully recognize and accept limitations of this reading. I recognize that they come from a limited point of view and may not be an accurate or relevant reading for everyone all of the time. But to me, today, this week, in light of Elder Holland's talk, especially from last week, I sense myself pulling away from a God who asks me to give up, give in, to trust, because... trust in what? Do I trust in a God who at one moment offers me the soft blanket and at the next takes it away? How can I trust in a God who loves me one day and on the next allows a mob to burn down my house and cover me in hot tar and feathers.

[00:10:10] How do I trust in a God who promises me the world if only I will give everything I have, even my life and soul? This is the impossible ask for me. And I'm wading waist-high through these verses looking for God. But if I work up enough bravery, enough wherewithal, to engage with the text in an attitude of re-interpretation, maybe I can give myself permission to find a workaround. I wonder if there's a possibility to explore this relationship of trust with God. And if there might be a soft place to land in these chapters. And what if I can find that by taking a black marker to verses like, “Therefore they must need be chastened and tried for all those who will not endure chastening cannot be sanctified.” And, “my indignation is soon to be poured out without measure.” What if I cross those out and left only verses like, “notwithstanding their sins, my bowels are filled with compassion towards them,” or “all flesh is in mine hands. Be still and know that I am God.”

[00:11:20] What if I put aside all of the things that make me afraid of God and focus or zoom in on what entices, enchants, excites me about being closer to God. What if this is just one meaning of moving forward with faith, where rather than attributing pain to God as justification and sanctification, but instead putting it aside and saying, “God, I'm still here, I'm cracking the door of my heart open just a sliver. Can you see the light of the inside of my soul clamoring into the dark hallway of my brokeness. I have already worked so hard to be here, already worked so hard to stay alive. Can you meet me here? Can you sit just on the other side of the nearly closed door and we can touch fingers in the opening underneath?

[00:12:15] Can this be good enough for now? You promise to meet me at the “as far as I can go” point, at the “all that I can do” point and here I am. Can you meet me here? And can you bring my blanket?”

These are the types of questions that I find myself asking so much this year, as we read the Doctrine and Covenants. This experience of reading Doctrine and Covenants has challenged me and stretched me in so many ways.

[00:12:42] And I know that God is in that even when the stretching is frustrating and exhausting, but this week I really need a rest. And so I'm choosing to ask God for what I did, rather than someone else's revelations telling me what I should want or should need. And isn't that the whole point of Doctrine and Covenants: ask and receive?

[00:13:04] And so with all of this perspective of asking questions, engaging with it where I am at this point in time, and kind of recognizing my own bias and my own lens of what I'm reading the text through. I kind of just wanted to ask a couple of questions and maybe get your thoughts on this Elise. Do you think that this is an okay way to read the text?

Elise: [00:13:24] Wow. Yeah, that's a good question. First of all, I think that any interpretation that brings us towards a loving, liberating God is (air quotes) “Okay.” And, like, it's also, if this is the interpretation that brings you closer to your God, then it doesn't really matter if I think that this is an “okay” or “not okay” Way to interpret the text.

[00:13:47] So, and I think that that's one thing that we should try and showcase on the podcast that we have both the responsibility and the allowance to wrestle with these words and make meaning out of them, make them make sense to us, make them, uh, not twist them in a kind of manipulative or exploitive way, but twist them to help us twist free of harmful interpretations.

Channing: [00:14:13]  I really, really, really like that.

Elise: [00:14:15] But also in that same line of thinking, one of the things that you talked about is kind of scrapping these or scratching these verses out and putting them in the garbage can. And I would just want to know, in what ways do you think that putting aside harmful verses altogether or scrapping them all together, how do you think that that might be a helpful practice for feminist readers?

Channing: [00:14:37] I think one, it can be a really empowering practice to just say, like, “Nope, this doesn't resonate with my experience with God. And so I don't have to manipulate myself or force myself to accept something that is painful or harmful to my psyche or harmful to my spirit, if I can just cross those out and I can remain in this, like, loving presence with God, whatever that means to me.” And I think that that can be one way that a feminist reader can create safety within the text, right? Especially in a text that might contain violence or might contain something that's triggering or upsetting in any way.

[00:15:25] But I also think that there's a danger to that too. Right? Like, it's kind of this, like, coin with two sides, like, on one side it does create safety and that safety is necessary to establish, especially for feminists. Because the text isn't written in consideration of them, it's not written for feminist readers.

[00:15:47] But also on the flip side, if we just throw away everything that we don't agree with or that we don't like, or we throw away things that challenge us, we might miss out on growth opportunities. And we might miss out on having a chance to learn more about our relationship with God or learn more about the nature of God, because sometimes it's in rising to those challenges and wrestling with those difficult verses or these difficult contexts and scriptures that we can come to an even deeper understanding of the divine.

[00:16:22] And so I say, yes, this is a good practice in moderation with consciousness.

Elise: [00:16:28] Yeah and all of those things can be true at the same time. One thing that was coming to mind as you were kind of working through some of your ideas, for me, and this is a different interpretation of these same verses, is that for me instead of scrapping these verses altogether, I think that there's a lot that I can learn about my own relationship with my God, through the use of these negative portrayals of God, because then I learn what God is not to me when I read these verses. And I see God as this, like, “oh, I'm punishing you in history in real physical, tangible ways through persecution and tarring and feathering and oppression because you've made bad choices.”

[00:17:10] I can think to myself, I could have a negative definition of God, basically something that says, “this is what I don't think about God.” And if that's the case and it opens up a space for me to ask other questions like, okay, well, if I think that God is not this, then what might God be?

Channing: [00:17:29]  Mm that's really beautiful.

[00:17:31] I think this conversation really showcases the wide variety of ways that engaging with the Doctrine and Covenants and engaging with the text can really shape our, or influence our, understanding and our relationship with God, because sometimes it will challenge, sometimes it will comfort us, but ultimately it's up to us to decide which side of the coin we want to embrace and how we want to move forward.

Elise: [00:17:57] Along those same lines, thinking about afflictions being God-given for our good recently, I find myself thinking that this line of thinking shouldn't ever really be playing. On people, by people who are not the ones experiencing those afflictions. I think that this type of meaning of, like, “oh God punished you. Or, like, God made you get in that. Or, like, God made that plane crash, or God made that earthquake, or God made you lose your job because it's going to be good for you.” I think that that type of meaning should only be made from those who have been individually afflicted by those things. So for example, if I've suffered sexism and the interpretation that I come to for my own personal self is that, “oh, it's actually been good for me to suffer within this sexist society, because it's made me a better person or it's opened my eyes or it's helped me grow, et cetera.” That is a meaning that I create for myself and not something that should be forced upon me by others who have not experienced the same struggles as I have. And another thing to note too, is that there's a part of me that rubs up against the line that shows up in come follow me that says some of our afflictions in life are caused by our own choices.

[00:19:18] And sometimes no one is to blame. Bad things just happen. And I rub up with this line because I think that this misses an entire lens of systems and systemic oppression. It misses all of the points where there are systems in place that make things more or less afflicting for different groups of people.

[00:19:36] So when this line only talks about individuals causing affliction or just random happenchance those being the only two factors of affliction, I think we miss the ways that systems like white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, ableism, all reinforce one another and make it really easy for people to be rewarded or punished within those systems, which is why we need an active anti- lens through which you must view and walk through the world.

Channing: [00:20:04] Yeah. I really appreciate that. And that's so important too, because you're right, because you're right. This idea that, like, it's either someone's fault or no one's fault, it's kind of a false binary, right? Because overarching or even outside of that is all of these systems that is holding that thinking in place.

[00:20:25] So I love the encouragement to zoom out and look at all of the participating factors, all of the contributing factors and really examine the cause of suffering so that we can figure out a way to end it. And I think that that transitions us really well into section 101, where we come across the parable of the persistent woman.

Elise: [00:20:50] Yes. The persistent woman and the unjust judge. And a lot of the things that we're going to talk about come from a really fantastic article titled “Beyond Petty Pursuits and Wearisome Widows: Three Lukan Parables” by Barbara E. Reed. So just to set the context for where this parable is, this actually comes towards the end of section 101 in verses 81 through 84.

[00:21:16] The verses say, “Now, unto what shall I liken the children of Zion? I will liken them unto the parable of the woman and the unjust judge, for men ought always to pray and not to faint, which saith— There was in a city a judge which feared not God, neither regarded man. And there was a widow in that city, and she came unto him, saying: Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while, but afterward he said within himself: Though I fear not God, nor regard man, yet because this widow troubleth me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.”

So on one hand, maybe this parable could offer some comfort to the early saints as they are being persecuted and, like, driven out of town.

[00:22:00] About one of the people who was leading, like, a really aggressive campaign against Joseph Smith and the church Joseph actually wrote, “They saw the destruction of the saints in this place and more particularly myself and my family.” And that's from the Revelations in Context book. So perhaps this parable reminds them that God does in fact, hear their prayer. But if God does hear the prayers of the persecuted, the oppressed, and the afflicted this parable may also lead us to believe that God's response is a delayed response because the unjust judge takes a really long time to actually avenge this woman and listen to her and do the things that she's asking.

[00:22:41] And it's only after this continual pestering, perhaps that God will change their heart.

Channing: [00:22:47] But the author of this article goes on to say something along the lines of: thank goodness that there are so many examples where this is not the case. If we think of the parable of the friend who comes at midnight and asks for three loaves of bread, this reminds us that God does want to give good things to those who ask. Or the line in Luke chapter 35, verse 14, where we learned that God “is not deaf to the wail of the orphan nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint”, or even Luke chapter 18 verse eight, which reminds us that “God will vindicate those who cry out to [Them].”

Elise: [00:23:28] And with these other examples that are also situated to teach us something about God, I think that this teaches us that God is not automatically read into this specific parable as the judge, because if the judge were supposed to be representing God, then the judge's actions run contrary to what we just heard about God, the God who listens the God who hears, responds, and moves swiftly and justly without.

[00:23:55] So, if not the judge, let's maybe look at the widowed woman. What do we know about her? Well, we know that widows are usually cast as poor and defenseless and lumped into the same groups as orphans, AKA the least of these and some of the most vulnerable in society. The author reminds us too, that widows are often in a difficult financial position and they don't have a really high social status. They often have to rely on the mercy of their nearest male relative who's responsible to take care of them.

But the widow in this parable doesn't fit this picture. She doesn't fit this portrait, Reed writes, “She boldly faces an impervious judge voicing her demands until she achieves justice on her own behalf. She marches into the arena of adjudication, which by the mores of her culture is the domain of men. The irony is that her complaint may be against the very man who should have been her proven. Based on a text from the Babylonian Talmud, Jeremias argues that since the widow brings her case to a single judge rather than a tribunal it is probably a money matter; a debt, a pledge, or a portion of an inheritance that is being withheld from her.” And so, in other words, it's only because the widow has caused the judge so much trouble, that things change. And here I'm reminded of John Lewis's words. John Lewis was a civil rights leader and a politician who said, “Get into good trouble, necessary trouble.”

[00:25:27] So what if God is not the judge, but the woman in this parable? I think that we can learn that when we actively, continually, loudly, boldly, and persistently resist in justice, until justice is achieved, then we know that we're acting as God does. We also learned that godly power can show up in weakness, in the least of these; in those who society considers traditionally powerless and hopeless, and that they- we- have power to make change. Later on in section 101 God continues to say, “Let them importune at the feet of the judge. And if the judge doesn't listen, let them importune at the feet of the governor. And if the governor doesn't listen, let them ask at the feet of the president.”

And I'm reminded of something that Derek said on the Beyond the Block podcast last week when referencing Elder Holland's talk. He said that, “if Holland is coming out of the woods to condemn gay people and flags and parades and lit up rainbow colored Ys on BYU campus, then he's also telling us what is working He's telling us what good trouble looks like. He's telling us what good trouble we're getting into and that the leaders can no longer ignore it because we are persisting and pestering.” Just like this woman in the parable. It's a reminder that we make us free and that sometimes we lose until we win. And so this theme of pestering and persistence, I love seeing this parable and this woman shown in this way.

[00:26:53] And clearly I'm hyped about this story, but Channing, how were you feeling slash what were your thoughts when you were reading through this parable?

Channing: [00:27:00] My thoughts when I was reading it through this parable were, “oh, this is an interesting story.” This was the first time that I had actually heard you talk about it.

[00:27:11] And so I'm listening to your exegesis and my jaw is literally on the floor. And I'm, like, “This, my friends, is how you turn the text on its head.”

Elise: It’s my favorite!

Channing: This is how, like, this is the incredible side of feminist interpretation, of turning the text inside, out, turning out the pockets, seeing what quarters and change and gemstones and crystals from your bra are falling out.

[00:27:40] Like, this is amazing. And I'm really excited about this because this whole idea of persistence and good trouble and continuing to ask like, that for me, that is enchanting. That is exciting to me. That does align with what I know my experience of God to be. “Ask and it shall be opened unto you.” Like, keep on asking. Show up at midnight. I get really excited about one, the reframing of the persistent woman who has classically been someone that even I have seen as, like, “she's just a nag, like, oh, she's a squeaky wheel.  The squeaky wheel always gets the oil.” You know what I mean? It's lovely, enlivening, to see her reframed into something that's powerful, impactful, and is making, like, real and physical change.

[00:28:38] And then on top of that, as if that wasn't already good enough, the cherry on top is getting to reframe this entire chapter to see God playing a very active and participating role in our lives and encouraging us to do the same, like, oh, that just, like, gets me fired up. That gets me all kinds of just like, yes, this is what I love about the scriptures.

[00:29:04] So I'm really, really grateful, for all of the work that you have done and the insight that you brought to the parable, because I think that it's… one, really revolutionary and two, like, so important and so necessary especially in light of Elder Holland's talk from two weeks ago. Like, obviously we get to see what we're doing right. And so let's keep doing it. I love that.

Elise: [00:29:30]  Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. Well, I mean, some of these are my own thoughts, but I stood on the shoulders of the author very, very much. It's a fantastic article. And I would not have been able to ,like, do this type of interpretation without Reed's work. So tipping my hat to Barbara Reed. Thank you. Yeah.

Channing: [00:29:48] Well, we can say a lot. We can say that about a lot of people who have strongly influenced the work that we do on the podcast, and the way that we read texts. So like always, always, always we owe a debt of gratitude to all of the women who came before us, all of the women who came before, who did all of the work, who have spent their lives in study of this. And yeah, I think that that's just really beautiful.

Elise: [00:30:20] Friends, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast. I think that if you're feeling anything like us, these sections offered a lot of contradiction and juxtaposition with each other. And with this whole lens of persecution and “does God cause the persecution for our own good?”, there's a lot of trickiness to work through here.

[00:30:41] And certainly, like, we try and say almost every week, we offer one way, not the way to interpret the text. These are the things that spoke to us that stood out to us. Channing reminded us that sometimes we need to be suspicious of our own suspicion, but how can we approach a text where we can reinterpret and still keep ourselves safe?

[00:31:04] And then the thing that struck me the most was the parable of the persistent woman. And so how do we find God in all of it? I think that's one of my biggest takeaways. How was God also in the juxtaposition?

Channing: [00:31:19] Friends, thank you so much for joining us for the same credible episode. We're so excited to share it with you and we can't wait to spend more time with you next week. Until then, bye!

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