Fire and Brimstone: Women's Suffering in Toxic Masculinity (Alma 13-16)

Monday, June 15, 2020

Resources mentioned in this episode:
  • "Varieties of Patriarchy and Violence Against Women" by Gwen Hunnicutt
  • "Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center" by bell hooks
  • Rules of Masculinity from the research of Michael Kimmel
  • "Overcompensation Nation: Its Time to Admit Toxic Masculinity Drives Gun Violence" by Amanda Marcotte. Read it here.
  • Amanda Lindamood from the DC Rape Crisis Center
  • "The Violence Behind the Words: Be a Man" by Katharine Marrone
  • PBS interview with Michael Kimmel
  • How Disciples of Christ Live in Times of Violence by David Marsh
  • Have I Received an Answer from the Spirit? by Jay Jensen
  • Proverbs of Ashes: Violence and the Myth of Redemptive Suffering by Rebecca Ann Parker & Rita Brock
  • "Inspired" by Rachel Held Evans
Scriptures mentioned in this episode:
  • Alma 12:17
  • Alma 14:14
  • Alma 14:8
  • Alma 15:2
  • Alma 15:3-5
  • Alma 15:10
  • Alma 14:11
  • Alma 16:8
  • Alma 14:8-11
  • Alma 14:12-13

Transcribed by Maddie Daetwyler of @lightenprint

C: Hi, I’m Channing.

E: And I’m Elise.

C: And this is The Faithful Feminists podcast.

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

C: We saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Alma chapters 13 through 16 for the dates June 15th through the 21st. We're so glad you’re here.

E: Welcome back, everyone. In today's episode, we're going to be talking about patriarchy and masculinity, and what happens when theology glorifies suffering. Just to give you a little bit of context of where we find ourselves within the scriptures, Alma and Amulek are finishing their preachings about priesthood and repentance to the people of Ammonihah, but many of these people are so angry with Alma and Amulek’s message that they decide to punish anyone who believed their words by killing the wives and children in a fire. This is the absolutely horrific story that we are going to be focusing on today. Before we move on into our discussion, we think it's important to talk about what also happens after. After the women and children are burned, Alma and Amulek are imprisoned. They eventually escape by the power of God, move with the believers to a new city, and Zeezrom, a cunning lawyer, is converted and forgiven. Eventually the Lamanites kidnapped people from the evil city of Ammonihah and they are soon rescued, but not long after the Lamanites destroy the city of Ammonihah, and according to Alma in chapter 16, verse 10, in one day, the city was left desolate. 

C: We've known this story of the burning of the women and children has been coming since we began the podcast. This is an iconic story in the Book of Mormon for all of the wrong reasons. But the story is important to us, not only because it includes women, but also because it influences our LDS theology of suffering. We'll be discussing this story in two parts. First, how patriarchy and masculinity show up in the story and the correlation between how they are violent to women, both in the text and in the present. And secondly, we'll explore how this story influences our LDS theology of suffering, and therefore our understanding of God. We know the details of this story can be traumatic for some readers, so we just want to remind you that it's okay to take a break or skip this episode entirely if you need to. Unfortunately, before we can even get to the women and children, we have to slog through and critique the hierarchy of patriarchy and the influence of masculinity that ultimately, we're going to argue, heavily contribute to, if not cause, the act of violence against women. 

E: So as a reminder, patriarchy can be defined as social arrangements that privilege men, where men as a group dominate women as a group, both structurally and ideologically. This type of hierarchical arrangement manifests in a variety of ways across history and social space. And this is a definition from Gwen Hunnicut, in a piece of work in 2009, titled Varieties of Patriarchy and Violence Against Women. Author, feminist, and sociologist bell hooks also adds that the patriarchy does not negate the existence of class and race privilege or exploitation. So with this broad definition, we encounter a system that gives power, whether it's political, economic, institutional power, and privilege to men, and takes away power in privilege or oppresses women. Patriarchy plays by a strict set of rules. And some of those rules revolve around teaching and reinforcing gender roles or gender appropriate behavior. So for those who identify as men, this means masculinity. And masculinity is the set of attributes, behaviors, and roles given or attributed to boys and to men. Many agree that masculinity, or how guys are supposed to perform manhood, is socially constructed, not necessarily determined by biology. 

C: All people learn how to perform their masculinity or their femininity depending on their gender identification from the time that they were born, from time they were little, little babies. And from that point on, they learn what's appropriate within that gender definition. And for boys, they get a lot of messaging growing up. I have a son, so I see some of these things show up for him for sure. But some of those messages are that boys don’t cry, or man up. Just yesterday, my son was playing outside in the garden and he fell down and got a little owie on his finger. And I was just sitting at a barbecue with a friend. And I just remember being like, go rub some dirt in it, trying to be funny, but also didn't really think about how I would tell my son that, but probably not my daughter, and other things that happen, too, and this is totally normal. Boys watch other boys in their families as they grow up. Like at dinner time, my son watches my husband and is always trying to eat as much as dad because he wants to have big muscles just like dad. And he wants to grow his hair out. My husband's growing his hair out into a man bun, which is my favorite thing ever. And my son is totally on board. He just wants to be just like his dad. He wants to be just like his uncles. He totally watches all of the other men in our family, because that's just what you do when you're a kid. Some other messaging that boys get when they're growing up is they receive different kinds of praise and different kinds of punishment than their female counterparts. They have different toys. Boy toys are usually blue, they're superheroes, they're dinosaurs, they're Nerf guns, and who knows what other kinds of weapons. So many, so many you guys, and stores are pretty equal. You can go down a boy aisle or you can go down a girl aisle for toys. Really the only overlap that you ever see for gender neutral toys is in the outdoor aisle. And even then the bikes are either pink or blue, and the scooters are pink or blue, or all of the other toys that are supposed to be gender neutral are the primary colors. And so there are a lot of subliminal messaging. For example, I had a daughter first and then I had a son. I had this moment when I was getting ready for my son to be born, we had to buy all new clothes. And I was a little upset because I thought, man, if only I had flipped it, if I had had a son first and a daughter second, then my daughter probably could have gotten away with wearing little boy clothes. But you definitely can't put a boy in little girl clothes. For some reason it just felt wrong to me to do that, but it would have been okay for me to put my daughter in boy clothes, even though they're little babies. Literally no one in the grocery store knows if your baby's a boy or a girl unless they're in a pink dress. And even then it's questionable. There's a lot of unconscious messaging that we, as a culture, feel like defines gender. It's everything from the toy aisle to clothes, sports to everything. 

E: Yeah. And those are good examples of the messages that get communicated to boys about how they are supposed to and how they're not supposed to be a real man. To better understand these strict rules that patriarchy forces masculinity to play by, there's an American sociologist named Dr. Michael Kimmel and he studies masculinity, and he offers us what he calls the quote “Rules of Manhood,” and there are four of them. These are the set of rules that boys have to follow and learn to subscribe to. The first rule of manhood is no sissy stuff allowed, which means you can never do anything that even remotely hints at femininity, because if you do, you're not a real man. And this is another way that patriarchy sets up that hierarchy between what groups are better and what groups are less than. And so if there's any hint at femininity in the way that a man or a boy expresses their gender identity, they're deemed less than, and they get attacked with words like that are anti-women or anti-homosexuality, because those things are deemed as less than. So that's the first rule. No sissy stuff to be a real man. Second rule is be a big wheel, which means that your masculinity is determined by your paycheck, your wealth, your power, your status, and how large those things are, how much money you make, how much rule or control or power you have over other people. The third rule is be a sturdy oak. Which means show that you're a man by never showing any type of emotion, especially not emotions of vulnerability or care or tenderness, which leads us really nicely into the fourth rule, which is give them hell. This means always go forward and exude an aura of daring and aggression and violence in everything that you do. Those are the emotions that are okay. And to drive this point home Dr. Kimmel challenges people to think first about what qualities or attributes would you think of if you write an obituary in the newspaper that said he was a really good man. You might think of qualities. Like he was trustworthy. He was kind, he was honorable. But then what qualities or attributes come to mind when you think about he was a real man? Some of those things might sound like he makes a lot of money. He's a good leader. He had a lot of girlfriends. He, what else makes a real man? He's strong. He's competent. He's self-assured. 

C: When I think of the word real man, I don't know, when I think of an obituary, I always think of like old guys, like grandpas, right? But if I read an obituary of an old man who had passed away and it said he was a real man in my mind, I would conjure up a countryman, who owned a ton of guns and was weather-hardened and leather-faced. And only his only friends were horses.

E: Well, one of the big characteristics or characters that has shaped the idea of American masculinity is the cowboy, as if that’s the real man. I think that’s what you’re describing. And we can see that that's the way that masculinity is shaped and boys learn how to perform their masculinity by these unspoken and spoken rules.

C: I didn't even know that the cowboy had influenced that, but it makes total sense. 

E: Yeah. Especially in the fifties, so kind of a little while ago, but all of those shows about cowboys -- they can go wherever they want. They have no ties to home. They are on power trips for justice. They can take land, they can take women, they have no emotion except for that aggression or that confidence. Yeah. It's pretty wild. 

C: Oh, that's so wild. So not only does patriarchy habits cause deep into masculinity, but such masculinity often turns toxic. Author Amanda Marcotte writes “Toxic masculinity is a specific model of manhood geared towards dominance and control. It's a manhood that views women and LGBTQ people as inferior, sees sex as an act, not of affection, but domination and which valorizes violence as the way to prove oneself to the world.” She adds that, “Toxic masculinity aspires to toughness, but is in fact, an ideology of living in fear. The fear of ever seeming soft, tender, weak, or somehow less than manly. This insecurity is perhaps the most stalwart defining feature of toxic masculinity.” 

E: And this is really, this is where it gets even more frightening because masculinity, because it is socially constructed, which means that we learn how to perform masculinity through our interactions and the communicated messages in our society, masculinity feels always insecure as if it always has to prove, which means that it's always trying to top itself. It's always trying to be more violent, more aggressive, more manly. So that people believe it. And that's this kind of fear because it is so fearful of being tender and compassionate and in touch with one's emotions and in touch with the relationships that are around them. It lives in fear. And in that fear, it resorts to incredible amounts of violence. As you can see, the negative effects of the patriarchy on men aren't just restricted to how they're allowed to perform their manhood. Rather, toxic masculinity can result in violence, both physical and sexual, against women, and can often be fatal. Amanda Lindamood, director of training and community engagement at the DC rape crisis center, said, “In toxic masculinity, we have rationalized and justified the use of control, violence, and force to get your needs met. And we defend that rationality on a societal level. We see it in our narratives about protection, about heroism, about nationality, about family values. We have tangled violence into our value systems. And then identified those value systems as inherently masculine.”

C: We see real life examples of the fatal results of toxic masculinity all the time, from mass shootings to domestic violence and even suicide. And in addition to gender, race also plays a role in violent masculinity. In an article titled “The Violence Behind the Words ‘Be a Man’” by Katherine Marrone, she speaks with Dr. Kimmel and they talk about how as new movements and policies for social reform and change gain traction in our country, policies and reforms such as legalizing same-sex marriage, pushing for equal pay, combating unfair and racist police brutality with the Black Lives Matter movement, that we're faced with the rise of something they call “the angry white man.” And this is to say that white privilege plays a role in white men feeling threatened by a world that just doesn't cater to them. And so essentially what this quote is trying to say is just like we've talked about on the podcast before, their intersections of privilege and their intersections of oppression, and at the top, not at the top, but included in all of these intersections, are hierarchies. We've talked before about there being a hierarchy in race where white is valued over all other colors of skin, where men are valued over women. And there's a whole other bunch of overlapping privileges. We've talked about this before, but always a person who identifies as white male cis-gender and able-bodied are going to be at the top of every hierarchy of every intersecting place of privilege. 

E: And when you have both of those systems behind you, supporting you, comforting you and urging you on, when you have the system of white supremacy behind you, and you also have the system of patriarchy, that's a lot of power behind how you think you can move in the world and how you think the world owes you a certain type of experience 

C: And for all the men and for all of the women listening who love their men, we want to be really clear about what we're talking about. We're talking about a system of patriarchy. And we're talking about a type of masculinity. We're not saying that all men are toxically masculine. We're not saying that masculinity itself is toxic, but we're saying that there are aspects of each that are reinforced in our society in really subtle ways that kind of contribute to the belief that men have to be a certain way for them to receive love and value within the system. And so we're not saying that men are inherently violent. We're not saying that men are inherently toxic. We're saying that the system has been set up in such a way that the path of least resistance in patriarchy is to follow the rules of patriarchy. And the patriarchy says that masculinity is violent, is unfeeling, is all of the things that we've talked about before. And so we're not saying this is the right way. In fact, we hate patriarchy, but we're saying that this is one way, and it's a big way, because it's what's reinforced by the cultural system that we all live in. So what we're saying is, we love men. We just don't love toxic masculinity 

E: Or patriarchy. Or white supremacy. 

C: Yes. 

E: As you can see, white privilege and toxic masculinity are certainly tied up in aggression and claiming power. But Dr. Kimmel also suggests that men tend to be violent against women when they feel that their power is eroding or when their power is slipping. And I feel like this is the point where we can finally start looking at the horrendous murder of the women and children, because we can see now the puppet strings of the system of patriarchy and toxic masculinity at play. Leading up to the murder of the women and children, we can see how the male leaders, lawyers, and citizens of Ammonihah felt like their power was slipping. Alma and Amulek will not stop preaching. And not just preaching, but making explicit statements about how wicked and hardhearted the people of Ammonihah are. How God would come for them in wrath, fury, fire, and brimstone if they did not change. Not only is this a clear challenge to the current authority, but it can also be seen as an attack on what makes a powerful, honorable man. Which I would guess is founded on the ability to make arguments and persuade others, to have a following and the ability to hold power and lead a people.

C: So then in an attempt to regain some of this power and control that they feel like they've lost and prove their manhood, that's certainly for them linked up with a sense of self-worth for sure. The Ammonihahites, specifically the chief judge, make a total power move into toxic masculinity in order to get back at Alma and Amulek and all of the believers. They use women and children in a violent demonstration of power and mockery. These men are extremists to prove a point. Alma said that if the people did not repent, quote, “their torment shall be as a lake of fire and brimstone.” And this was in last week's chapters, that's in chapter 12, verse 17. So literally to get back at Alma and Amulek, to really stick it to them, the leaders of Ammonihah have thrown women and children into a literal fire, so they can say to Alma and Amulek, quote, “after what you have seen, will you preach again unto this people that they shall be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone?” And that's in chapter 14, verse 14. And this act in and of itself is such a mockery, and it shows how these men just completely lose their minds and turn to violence against the least of these, the least of them in that community, the women and the children. And this is another sign of patriarchy, to say whose lives are valued and whose are not. And they do this as they feel their power is slipping away. And we can also see how they try to continue proving their power and their manhood by physically stripping Alma and Amulek of their clothes. And they bind them. They beat them and they mock them.

E: To make matters even worse, the explicit mention of women and children takes up only two verses, chapter 14, verse 8 and chapter 15, verse 2. And none of them are saved. Though it seems that almost every other main male character in this block of text is saved. Alma and Amulek escaped from prison in a heroic tumbling down of prison walls. Zeezrom realizes he is accountable for his sins of leading the people away from God, and he gets super sick. Chapter 15 verses 3 and 5 say that he began to be scorched with a burning heat. He was sick, being very low with a burning fever. And this feeling of burning and the imagery of fire here should harken us back to those who were murdered, because guess what happens to Zeezrom? Alma comes to him in his state of burning and in chapter 15, verse 10, it says, “Alma cried unto the Lord saying, Oh Lord, our God have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith, which is in Christ.” If only such word and action had been given to those women and children that Alma also watched, but for some reason, “felt that the spirit constraineth with me that I must not stretch forth mine hand.” We know how the story ends. And we know what justifications were given the city of Ammonihah, and all its people, are eventually destroyed, and the women and children were supposed to die so that their innocent blood could stand as a witness against the wicked Ammonihahites. But we have to resist falling into this trap. This is another way that patriarchy and violence become normalized into the everyday understanding of what it means to be righteous. Such justifications say, “Hey, look, here's a silver lining though. They died for a purpose and in the end, the bad guys died too.” And they try to make the violence against women, agreeable understandable and fair. Such justifications miss the dangerously aggressive and violently reactive roles that patriarchy and toxic masculinity play in this story as they consume women whole. Don't look away from the story. We cannot miss the story.

C: I'm really glad that we were able to break down and explore more in depth how this situation even happened, how toxic masculinity and patriarchy really played a significant role in this story. And it gives us a greater understanding of what life was like then, and also gives us a greater understanding for even our present day. How can we examine the cultural structures in place right now so that we can prevent stuff like this from ever happening again? And that's one thing that I think we can learn from this story is to not look away, and to say, I never want this to happen. How do we prevent it from doing so? And I think there's also other modern-day implications that this story has for us as well. And we've talked about some of those, but one that we want to focus on today is how this story has influenced some of our theology in the church. And some of our understandings about God. And so in our discussions, we're going to be offering some pretty heavy critiques because the theology that we're deconstructing today is a theology that glorifies suffering, which doesn't sound pretty. And this is a theology that's not specific just to the LDS church, but to Christianity as a whole. So even though we'll be talking today about how it shows up specifically in our church and in our culture, just know that the theology of redemptive suffering is something that's really embraced by the broader Christian culture, and by the broader Christian denomination. So one question that we wanted to ask is this: How does the theology that glorifies suffering try to help? How does it try to help us kind of make sense of suffering? Because the truth is, if we look all around us, even today, there is a lot of suffering, even in our own lives there's a lot of suffering. And so it's totally normal for there to be a theology about suffering. And I think at best a theology that tries to glorify or say that suffering has a higher purpose is that it's trying to make meaning from a painful experience and offer some kind of lesson or a gift back from the pain and the suffering. And I think even though this effort is really well-intentioned, it's maybe not helpful because from what I've learned personally, meaning making, when you've had a painful or difficult experience, can be really healing. But the person who experiences the pain needs to be the one that makes the meaning out of it because anyone else doing it for them just 1) doesn't work and 2) doesn't help. If you think when you're at a funeral and someone you love just passed away and someone came to you and was like, “Oh, God just needed them somewhere else. And so that's why they had to leave, but don't worry. They're with God now.” Would that make you feel any better? It wouldn't make me feel any better. I would feel like, “Um, no, I wanted them here with me.” So I think that while we do have a theology about suffering and we can possibly make an argument that it's just trying to help and we shouldn't critique it, I think in the end it does deserve a critique and it does deserve a better look because the question is, are its good intentions even helpful in the long run?

E: And we come to this idea of a theology that glorifies suffering, because that's what's happening in the text with these women and children. They are held up as martyrs. In the Come Follow Me manual it says that sometimes God allows people to suffer because there's a bigger, greater plan. Even in our understanding of Joseph Smith, who died as a martyr for a righteous cause, you can see how in their suffering these victims are held up as examples, that if we suffer for a righteous cause it's the suffering that is redemptive. It's the suffering that actually allows us to be taken to God even sooner. But what that dismisses is the lived experience of injustice and suffering, especially in this story of the women and children who were burned.

C: I think theology of suffering is really also heavily built in because of our pioneer heritage. People love horrific pioneer stories. I don't know what the obsession is, but if someone died on the pioneer trail, they went straight to heaven. You know what I mean? And so I think that that plays a huge part because that heritage is so strong, people are proud of their pioneer ancestry. We're proud of our heritage, of people who were brave and crossed the trails. But right along with that, bravery and heroism is a lot of pain, and a lot of death, and a lot of suffering. And so when we talk about a theology of suffering, we're not talking like it's an intellectual exercise, but there are real people behind it. And real people are suffering behind it. And a theology of suffering tries to make meaning and offer them a gift for the pain and sacrifice that they're given. But the question that we're trying to ask is, what if there's not a gift? What if suffering is just suffering? What if it's just pain? What if there's nothing for it? And that's a really uncomfortable thing to sit with. 

E: I think what makes a theology of suffering difficult like Channing has said is that we try to make meaning by finding God in this suffering. As if to say that God let us suffer because our innocent blood needed to stand as a witness against all of the wicked people, or God actually planned the suffering because it's all part of this greater plan, but that shapes a twisted vision of what we call God. And I don't know about you, but a God that either plans my suffering or allows my suffering, especially in this story, seems incredibly violent. 

C: The next question we wanted to ask is, what are the failures of a theology that glorifies suffering? And before we get into this, I want to read the verses that the story is contained in. So we're in Alma chapter 14, verses 8 through 10. “And they brought their wives and children together, whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God. They caused that they should be cast into the fire and they brought forth their records, which contain the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also that they might be burned and destroyed by the fire. And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom that they might witness the destruction of those who are consumed by fire. And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained and he said unto Alma, How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore, let us stretch forth our hands and exercise the power of God, which is in us and save them from the flames. Then Alma said unto him, the spirit constraineth with me that I must not stretch forth mine hand for behold, the Lord received them up unto himself in glory. And he does suffer that they may do this thing or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts. That the judgments, which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just, and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them. Yay and cry mightily against them at the last day.” So now that we've read the verses, we can kind of really go into depth and talk about what these verses are doing and how it influences our understanding of suffering and of God. So the first critique that we have of this theology is that it places too much emphasis on the role of the perpetrator or the people who are murdering these women and children. The story is presented in the text as one event, among many others, that are meant to emphasize the evilness of these people who murdered the women and children. The murderer story continues on in the text where the women and children's story ends right here. So after the women and children are burned, the people go on to imprison Alma and Amulek and then they get kidnapped, and then they get rescued, and then they get murdered by the Lamanites.

So, what I'm trying to say is this story is really just one stop in the text. One chalk mark, one tally on the side of “look at all of the bad things that these people did,” that later on goes to justify why the entire city of Ammonihah how was destroyed. There's really no accountability in the text to single out this event as the chief among all evils, it's just, they did this, they did this, they did this, they did this and now they have to die. And so there's really no direct correlation between them dying later on in the story, and the reason why they die is because they killed all of these people. And it just gives them too much credit. It allows them to basically chalk up murder into a group of many other lesser sins,like imprisoning people then allow them to like later be killed, right? And then secondly, and definitely a little more horrifying, is that these women's deaths are not to their own benefit, they're to serve as eternal condemners for the people who murdered them. These women are essentially immortalized as eternal victims. There is no healing offered to them in the text. And even in death, they are not offered their own autonomy because literally in verse 11, it says the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them and cry mightily against them at the last day. And so they don't even get to rest in peace. When judgment day comes, they have to come and face their murderers again so that they can stand as witnesses. Is their death not enough? Are all of the things that have happened up until this point not enough? Their deaths were used by the people of Ammonihah to punish Alma and Amulek and the believers, and then their deaths are used after they die to help God justify His condemnation of the murderers. They don't ever get anything for themselves. These women and children, even in their death are still serving men. The second failure in the theology of suffering that shows up in this text is that no one is held responsible for any action against or any action to save these women. No one's held responsible for that except for God. And we see this in a couple of ways. One, that the murderers are never held accountable, ever. There's no trial, there's no justice under law. There's no process of repentance for these people. They just die. They just died two chapters later and that's not justice like an eye for an eye, that’s not justice, definitely not in the way that we understand it. And then secondly, Alma, even as much as we loved him from all of the other chapters that we've read before, I'm a little angry with him here because essentially what he does in verse 11 is he sidesteps his responsibility to intervene and he passes that responsibility onto God. And then he has the nerve to call it obedience. And this is where the theology ends up getting really twisted, especially in modern times. As I looked up this story on, a few hits for articles and talks that had been given about this story and all of them carried the same theme. That constraint is one way that the spirit speaks to us. And that obedience to constraint is righteous. A couple examples of this are an article in the Ensign from 2002 titled How Disciples of Christ Live in Times of War and Violence. And this was written by David Marsh, from the priesthood department. There's a bunch of different sections in the article talking about how disciples should be living right now. And one of the sections is titled, Some are Called to Stand as a Witness against Wickedness, and this is a section where the story falls in. 

E: Another talk that is relevant on this idea about God constraining us is a talk by Jay Jensen. It was given in 1989 called Have I Received an Answer from the Spirit, and this talk outlines, how the spirit speaks to us. And it lists constraint as one aspect. The example the speaker uses is that he reads Alma chapter 14, verse 11, and then says, “the Lord held Alma back from doing something contrary to the divine plan,” and first of all, if this divine plan that we are all following says that it's okay for human sacrifice and specifically the murdering of women and children, we’re not on board with that. Second, in both talks, constraint is emphasized to the point of lauding the role of a witness against wickedness as a valiant and honorable choice, with the explanation that God must honor the agency of the wicked, but if God must honor the agency of the wicked, then God must also honor the agency of the righteous. To help us explore this idea even more author Rebecca Ann Parker writes “Theology defines virtue as obedience to God, suppresses the virtue of revolt. Some will say that absolute obedience to God doesn't carry any danger because God is good and does not ask us to be violent. But this defense requires us to be certain that we are always right in understanding what God asks of us. But we are fallible. There is no simple revelation of God's will. We have to accept responsibility for our interpretations. Obedience is not a virtue, it is an evasion of our responsibility. Religion must engage us in the exercise of our responsibilities, not teach us to deny the power that is ours. A God, or a religion’s God who punishes disobedience will teach us to obey and endure when it would be holy to protest and righteous to refuse to cooperate.” I love this quote, the idea that blind obedience is actually not what God wants from us. That is revolutionary. And as Rebecca Ann Parker points out, protest and refusing to cooperate and moving towards revolution and revolt, sometimes that's the responsibility that we need to hold ourselves to. 

C: And the responsibility we need to hold others to. Especially, and even going further, hold an entire system to, especially when that system, and I'm talking specifically about the system of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially a system that claims to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and help the poor. If that's not actually happening, then we can't be complicit by being obedient and pretend like God is happy with that decision. I think this interpretation of this scripture story as a lesson on constraint and restraint is lazy exegesis and has dangerous consequences. We as a culture and as an LDS community err too often on the side of the humanity of prophetic men and not often enough on the humanity of women. We are living in times of war and violence, and we are disciples of Christ, and as such, I don't feel that we can emulate the virtue of constraint if it means that there will be no action taken to save. And like Elise pointed out earlier, the men in the story are saved again and again, and are given second chances all over the place. We must question a text that offers life to certain types of people, like men, and not to others, like the women. And Elise touched on a couple of examples. She shared about Alma and Amulek saved in this particular situation and chapter 14, verses 12 and 13, Alma and Amulek are having this back and forth conversation. And chapter verse 12 says, “Now Amulek says unto Alma, Behold, perhaps they will burn us also. And Alma said, be it according to the will of the Lord, but behold, our work is not finished. Therefore they burn us not.” So they're saved in this situation. Later on, they go to prison and they're saved by the power of God, which allows them to break down the prison walls. And then Zeezrom is also saved later in these chapters. We have to be really careful when we claim that some deaths are meant to happen and others are not, especially when those deaths happened by murder. The text glorifies a God of vengeance and not a God of healing by allowing these women to die and then naming the higher or mysterious purpose to be the condemnation of their murders and not their own salvation. The text also idolizes silence and inaction of both God and mortal in the face of suffering. Interpretations understand the silence to be mysterious, kind of in a God's ways are higher than our ways, way of thinking. But the implications are that obedience and submission to the agency of the unrighteous to the detriment of all is the righteous and higher way. Silence and inaction are deadly. They cause more pain and suffering. They do not relieve it. And finally, the text writes God into the story as the author of death, instead of the author of life, by allowing these women and children to die. In this case, God does not spare the innocent because God apparently needs these women to witness against these men, so God can be just in granting more eternal death at the final judgment. The story makes no sense to me, and it makes no sense outside of the structure of patriarchy. A God of silence? A God of revenge? Author of death? Those don't sound like the God I know. And it's certainly not a God that I want to worship. And it's because this is God that was made in the image of patriarchy and a God made in the image of patriarchy can never truly liberate women.

E: Honestly, we don't have a safe and clean way to offer you a path out of this story. We don't have any ribbon to tie around the ending. And we certainly don't have a way to change what happened in the text. But we do think that having these conversations, that looking at systems that are in play like patriarchy, masculinity, and a theology that glorifies suffering, these are ways that we can push back against traditional interpretations of this story. These are ways that we can honor and remember and sit in the suffering with these women and children. And one of the ideas of honoring and sitting in the suffering with these women comes from Rachel Held Evans book titled Inspired. She writes, “Often during the season of Lent Christians remember and repent of all the evil done in God's name. Once when I was speaking as a guest at a church in the Midwest, someone had arranged and lit five candles on the altar. Four in honor of the biblical women we had commemorated in our ceremony, and one in honor of all the women past and present who share in the sad solidarity of their suffering. This gesture moved me to tears.” This idea of doing some kind of ceremony or intentional remembering and honoring of these women really speaks to me and really offers a way to move through this traumatic story and move through this experience that these women had without taking anything from them and offering them companionship, offering them our friendship and a hand to hold by saying, we see you, we hear your story. And we vow to not let this happen again. It can be a powerful way for us to honor their story, for us to sit with their story. And so, we invite you this week to be thinking about what you want to do in your own life to honor these women, to honor the story, to honor the women in your life who share similarities with the women in this text, and see what you can do to hold their hand and sit in friendship with them.

E: Thank you so much for sticking with us for this episode. I know these chapters are challenging and especially this story, we were glad that we were able to offer a critique of patriarchy and masculinity and how they show up in the text and also take a deeper look at what happens when theology glorifies suffering.

We hope this episode invites new thoughts, new feelings, and pushes you not only toward a ceremonial remembering of these women, but pushes you to take action so that women never have to suffer again. In the meantime, have a good week and we'll see you next time. Bye.

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