In Zion, Without Toxicity (3 Nephi 27-4 Nephi)

Monday, October 19, 2020


Channing: Hi! I'm Channing

Elise: and I'm Elise, 

C: and this is The Faithful Feminists podcast. 

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

C: We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Third Nephi chapter 27 through Fourth Nephi chapter one, and the only chapter one, for the date, October 19th through the 25th.We're so glad you're here today.

E: Hooray. Welcome back, everyone. Thanks for joining us on another episode of The Faithful Feminists. Channing and I are really excited to talk about these scriptures, especially because I don't know about you or anyone else listening, but I forgot, or actually had no idea that Fourth Nephi only had one chapter. Like this is Fourth Nephi. This is the kind of climax that people have been anticipating. 

C: I was kind of relieved. I was like, wow, we've read a whole book. We started and finished. It was so great.

E: Yes. We're feeling very accomplished. And in today's episode, we're going to spend some time talking about how Jesus has example helps us critique toxic masculinity, and also the beautiful Zion society that shows up in Fourth Nephi.

C: And honestly, this idea of Christ helping us critique toxic masculinity has kind of been on my mind for, I don't know, maybe the last six episodes, like it's been kind of a while. So I'm excited that the opportunity presented itself in the text to talk about it. So we're just going to start right there because it shows up in the very first chapter, chapter 27.

So the verse that inspired me to do this was verse 27 and it says, "And know ye that you shall be judges of this people, according to the judgment, which I shall give unto you, which shall be just, therefore, what manner of men are you to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am." And to give some context for the scripture, this is Christ, and he's talking to the 12 disciples that he called in the last few chapters of Third Nephi.

So the first thing I wanted to bring attention to in this verse is the word men. And traditionally, when we read the scriptures, we often come across things like this, like mankind or the sons of men, or like the sons of God. And this shows up again and again and again in scripture, everywhere, because... I know it's not going to be a shock to any of us, but the scriptures are a patriarchal text.
So even though it shows up as men, often, especially in the LDS tradition, we generally interpret this to include men and women. So for example, have you ever been in a Sunday school class where they read a verse like this one, and they kind of do that whole awkward, like they'll read the verse and they'll be like, "What manner of men... and women ought ye to be?"

Like, it's always that super awkward, pause of... Oh yes. And women. I've sat in a class like that and its just.. I just want you to think for a minute. How does that make you feel? When it's this whole  and women after thought, that it's not written in the text? So we have to read it into the text for me personally.  I kind of feel like it's an afterthought. Have you ever felt that way Elise?

E: Yeah. And I'm also thinking about all of our siblings who maybe don't identify as neither man, nor a woman. Like there also not included in this, in any of this language at all. They're just erased.

C: And I'm sure some listeners might be hearing this and some of them might be thinking like, "Oh, well what's the big deal? Men and mankind has always included women!" But Elise and I strongly believe that language is a powerful tool of creation and welcoming. There's a quote I want to share with you. I've shared it before in one of our past episodes, but it absolutely has a place here again, because it's so relevant.

This is written by Sue Monk Kidd from her book, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. In her book, she describes an experience where, in the midst of her feminist awakening, she attends a church meeting and they are singing hymns and reading Bible passages. She begins to notice that every hymn and Bible passage refers to men and brotherhood, and she shares some of her thoughts and how she works through that. And I just love what she says. 

She says, "As the service began, I became acutely aware that every biblical passage used only masculine pronouns, as if that was all there was. Until then, I had accepted that when it said men and brotherhood, that somehow that meant me too. I realized that lacking the feminine, the language had communicated to me in subtle ways that women were non-entities. That women counted mostly as they related to men. Until that moment I'd had no idea just how important language is in forming our lives. What happens to a female when all her life she hears sacred language indirectly, filtered through male terms? What goes on deep inside her, when decade after decade, she must translate from male experience into female experience and then apply the message to herself?"

And I think that that quote is just really striking because it really demonstrates just how removed women are from the text and how hard they have to work to see themselves in the story, because the text so often doesn't do it for them.

I was thinking about this as I was preparing the outline today. I think that this is why women resonate so strongly with other female characters in the text. They don't have to do double the work to apply the story to themselves. So what I'm arguing for here is not that Christ's message and example isn't meant for all genders, because it absolutely is.

But what I'm pointing out is the language used to convey the message and as women, how it influences our understanding of our place in the world, in the gospel, and our purpose. So today, instead of trying to force women into the text, and instead of doing the mental gymnastics, that sometimes I have energy for, I'd like to do a different exercise.

Today, I'd like to use the text literally instead of metaphorically. Women are not included in this particular message from Christ. So today I'm going to share some thoughts about how Christ's example helps us push back against toxic masculinity. We've talked about toxic masculinity on the podcast before. If you haven't listened to the episode titled "Fire and Brimstone: Women's Suffering In Toxic Masculinity," that's the one that we would recommend listening to, to gain a greater understanding of what we mean when we say toxic masculinity. 

I'm so, so glad that you're bringing up this topic. And I think it's important for us to note that when we talk about toxic masculinity, we're not talking about individual isolated behaviors or characteristics of individual personal men.

We are talking about a social and cultural result of the system of patriarchy. And what patriarchy does is that it enforces really strict gender roles and gendered expectations of what it means to be "a real man." And even one step further, toxic masculinity, refutes and pushes away things that are feminine.
It also contributes to homophobia and bi-phobia and the invisibility of trans people. So again, it's not about individual isolated events by particular men. It's about a larger system that's at play that outlines the rules and expectations of what it means to be masculine, a "masculine" man. So just keep this in mind.

As we move through this portion of the podcast that, just like Elise said, we're not talking about men, but we're talking about something a little bit bigger than that. Something else in the texts that kind of tips me off or encourages me more towards this critique is that the text itself I feel inherently supports this lens of interpretation.

In this chapter, the 12 disciples, who are exclusively men, are praying. And as they're praying, Christ appears to them and he asks what they need help with. So they say, Oh, the people are arguing about what we should call the church. So Jesus says in verse four, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, why is it that the people should murmur and dispute because of this thing?"

Like I just pictured, I just picture me as a mom, like being like, "Seriously, we're fighting over this? What a dumb thing to fight over." That's the voice that I read it in. So then Jesus says lots of things about who he is and why he did what he did and a whole bunch of stuff about repentance and forgiveness, and then close towards the end of the chapter he wraps it up again by saying, "What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily, I say unto you, even as I am." So in this chapter, Jesus is talking directly and exclusively to men. So I'm excited to read it that way, literally, just for fun. 

So to refresh our memory and kind of begin to make this correlation between toxic masculinity and Christ's critiques of it, I want to review: who was Jesus? To me, Jesus was a man who turned away wealth. We see this time and time again, during his temptations in the wilderness when he fasted for 40 days. We also see this in his teachings about wealth. He said it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Additionally, Jesus had no career. He was supported by the people in his community, especially the women. How does Jesus's turning away wealth pushed back on toxic masculinity? Well, in our society, a man's value is based on the model year of his car, the size of his house, and how much money he makes. This is very superficial and outwardly focused. Christ shows a new way, a way that requires humility, trust in a higher power, and service to others to replace the counterfeit "worthiness" markers of society. 

Jesus was a man who respected and deeply valued women. Not just because they fed him, clothed him, birthed him, buried him, wept for him, loved him; but because he recognized their innate worth and loved them because he had himself was love embodied.

His first announcement of his ministry was to the woman at the well, and he included women in his ministry every remaining minute of it. He used his position of power and privilege to help the woman caught in adultery. He was willing to be called out and taught by the Syrophoenician woman that we talked about with Beyond the Block, instead of making fun of how often the relief society sisters cry over everything, Jesus wept with Mary and Martha at Lazarus's tomb. Jesus recognized when and as an integral part of the gospel and treated them as such. 

Jesus encouraged friendship and brotherhood between men, and this friendship again, was not based on how much money they each made. They weren't work bros. They weren't friends because their wives happened to drag them to the same couples game night. These men were united by purpose, by service, and most notably by love. 

Finally Jesus who had every reason not to be was humbled to the point of death. Sure. Occasionally he had some sassy comebacks, but to violence, he taught all to "turn the other cheek." He taught the disciples to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. In place of a man's honor he put man's integrity. In place of anger he put love. In place of a man's very life, he put the lives of others. 

Now this is by no means a comprehensive list of all of the wonderful qualities of Jesus, but just a few examples to showcase that when Jesus says "be like me," he's asking a lot. He's asking men to turn their backs on what they've been taught to value and live in a more excellent way.

Even more specifically, this chapter speaks to the men who are in leadership positions of the church. If you are a man, if you hold the priesthood, if you have a calling., and especially if you have a calling in a presidency, you have privilege and power in the church. Further, you have more privileges and more power than women do in the church.

You have more speaking time, more authority, more seniority, and more opportunity for leadership. Your opinions hold more weight and you are afforded more respect and attention. Notice that I didn't say different. I said more. Because of these privileges and this power, the commandment to "be like Jesus" should feel pointed and pricking.

Until women have the same leadership opportunities and positions as men, Jesus is talking to men and only men in this chapter. I find this critique so significant and something that I'm really excited about because it wouldn't have become apparent to me had I not been coming to the text with a feminist lens.

E: I think you made so many fantastic points pushing back against toxic masculinity. I think what you're doing and what Jesus is also doing here is pushing back against the system of patriarchy. Jesus pushes back on the expectations and  the standards that say masculinity is about toughness and masculinity is about protectiveness and about anger and control and dominance and power; and that masculinity and maleness have a higher, more valuable position in society and in this hierarchy. 

But I think what you're pointing out here is the ways that Jesus both flips that on its head and embodies masculinity and femininity. And I think this offering to "be like me" to be like Jesus means to, to reconcile and wrestle with the different ways that masculinity and femininity can show up in one person. And I like what you said in the middle of your point about the relationships being grounded in love. And I think that love is really one of the things that erodes these expectations that are placed on men by patriarchy.

C: Beautifully said, thank you so much. Before we move on to the next couple of chapters. We want to remind you that this reading of Christ, talking to men and men only is just one way to read the text. We grew up in the church and we know tongue in cheek that when the text says men, it means everyone. But this was Channing's playful/ kind of serious attempt to demonstrate why that's not always the only way to read the text.

And so in that same spirit, we offer this reading to you. And just like everything on the podcast, we welcome you to hear what we have to say, take what you love and leave what you don't. If this reading doesn't resonate with that's okay. And now you know that it's out there and you know that it exists and you get to decide whether or not it fits into your value system, into your faith framework, and into your relationship with God.

So ultimately the choice is yours. We're just so excited to be able to share it with you.

E: And then that brings us right to the singular chapter in the book of Forth Nephi. And I love this chapter, but it covers so much time. It covers 400 years in just over 40 verses. So 400 years of time that have been condensed into 40 verses. I think that would be hard to choose what to share and where to summarize. So the first 23 verses of this chapter cover the first 200 years in which the people have achieved this Zion-like society, or this heavenly city, or the kingdom of heaven; that's what Zion means. 

And then you have verses 24 and 25, which is this turning point where Zion slowly starts to slip and and kind of fall. And then you have the last 23 verses that show how Zion is lost over the next 200 years. 

And we often turn to fourth Nephi as an example of what a Zion type society might look like, or in other words, what a utopia might look like. And I think it's important for us to be able to have these sketches of what a perfectly just and merciful and resourceful community might look like. Because it gives us hope that things can be otherwise. Even if we don't know how to get there, it's important that we try to envision and dream up what a perfect society would look like, where everyone's needs are cared for, where there is peace, where there is sharing, where there is love, where there's a sense of faith and godliness and holiness amongst the people. 

And it's because we can dream and imagine that we are able to conceive that things could be better, that things could change, that things could be more just, and we get a glimpse of that in fourth Nephi. I'd like to break it down and take a look at what Zion looked like for these people. What are some of the main characteristics of the people who work to bring about the dream of a society that is truly free? And the characteristics that I'm going to outline here are from one of my favorite texts. It's called "Introducing Liberation Theology" by Leonardo Boff and Clovis Boff. 

In a truly utopian Zion like society, Boff & Boff say that the people would be comradely like the Good Samaritan. They would make the most of the struggle for liberation and they would make it their own struggle. And in forth Nephi we see examples of this because the people say that there are no contentions and no disputations, everyone is dealing justly one with another. So we have the sense of deep friendship, deep comradery.

We also see that there are no manner of -ites. They're not split into like Nephites and Lamanites and Zoramites. They're all one in this body of Christ. People in the society are also committed to the liberation of the oppressed. They see it as a road that can be traveled together and they're prepared to lay down their lives for the liberation of all people. In the chapter we see marvelous works and miracles that are happening. They're healing, the sick raising the dead. Causing the blind to see they're building cities together, and you can sense this real dedication or commitment to working out freedom and liberation together. Also, the people are free. They seek freedom from the systems that are imposed these dominant systems in order to be free so that they can create with others a more adequate form of life.

In fourth Nephi it says that all things are shared in common. There's no rich and no poor, no bond and no free. Everyone was free and allowed to partake of the heavenly gift. Everyone's allowed to participate fully because everyone's free in this society. The people are also joyful, even though the work of liberation and the work of creating a Zion society or a utopia can raise conflict and produce tension, we still get a sense that there is deep, deep joy here because the people understand that there are small sacrifices and small moments of disagreement and conflict that have to be moved through in order to build this type of society. 

In the chapter, it says that there are no contentions because the love of God is among the people. There's no envyings, no strifes, no whoredoms, no lyings, murders... and it says "surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God." Again, a rich sense of joy among the people. 

The people are also contemplative in the midst of their struggle. They don't lose their sense of value. They still seek for those values of love and celebration and fellowship and communion. They're trying, and they're able to be like Jesus, to pray with a clear heart and to search out Jesus in their neighbors. In the chapter, it says that they have repented, they've been baptized, they've received the Holy ghost. They don't walk after the performances and the ordinances of the law of Moses, but they walk after the commandments of God. They continue to fast and pray and they meet together often to hear God's word of truth.

I hope that what we hear here is this under current of continued work, that it takes continued effort. That even if we don't know exactly where we want to end up in our Zion, we know that we have to work towards it and we have to work towards it together, not just with one another, but with others and with God. And I think that's the work that we're called to do, this continued work.  I don't think we ever arrive at Zion, but I think that we create it along the way. We struggle for utopia and freedom and liberation all along the way. 

C: What I find so striking about this example in fourth Nephi is that the people were able to create a Zion society after Jesus was gone. There's no record in the book of Mormon, in 3rd Nephi at all of Jesus saying, this is it. This is exactly what your government is supposed to look like. This is exactly how you're supposed to deal with conflict. This is what your economic system looks like. This is what you know, like he doesn't give a prescription, at least not in the text of what this utopian society is supposed to look like. And so my initial thought coming to this story is that this text might actually also push back against apocalyptic in saying that we have to wait for Jesus to come before we can make the world good and loving and kind and safe for everyone. These people figured it out without Jesus having to be right there, holding their hand through the whole process. What I appreciate about the way that this process shows up in the text is that Jesus offered the foundational teachings and the people ran with it and created something really beautiful from it.

And so I think for our day reading this text, that that can be a hopeful reading of fourth  Nephi, to say, "We already have the foundational teachings of Christ. And it's up to us to put those into practice instead of waiting around for Jesus to come again, to hold our hand through the process." I think we are more than fully capable of doing this. We have all the skills we need, we just need to be willing. So I personally think that this chapter is super hopeful, even though we know it's coming at the end of it, right? Yeah. I almost wonder if we can read it backwards if it's hopeful in that way, too.

E: You are just spot on though. That was really well said and very fantastic. And it reminds me that we can be both incredibly upset and frustrated and discontent with our current situation, with our current political climate, with the current lack of justice and we can still be hopeful that things can be otherwise, even if I can't make out what we exactly want. even if we don't have the prescription. And I think that's what that was. One of the things I thought you highlighted really well here. 
I also wanted to highlight a utopian dream or sketch of what this might look like elsewhere, particularly from a feminist lens. And there's a book chapter called "A Fear and a Hope" by Iris Marion Young, where she tries to do this very thing. She writes,

"In this society we design only useful things for their beauty and durability and in such a way that neither their production nor their consumption poisons us. All who can work do, hence none of us has to work so much. 

Children are not segregated from us in pens of 40 a piece. They learn to read, write and reason, and they to work at useful tasks.The children are present everywhere, lending their imaginations to our plans and our games. And we, women do not have the sole responsibility of seeing to their welfare. There is no rape. We eat well, but cooking is no longer the unpaid work of women. In our society, all work is recognized and rewarded, including the labor of birthing itself. We have comfortable rooms to live in and common spaces where we talk plan festivals and make movies together in our society.

The streets are not stuffed with cars spewing smelly, sulfuric soot. We have clean-running speedy buses and trains going everywhere that one cannot go with a bicycle. In place of many black asphalt slabs, we have grassy lanes where women stroll with arms around each other. We may be dreamers, but the best things are done by dreamers." 

Can you even imagine anything more beautiful than that?

C: No, I cannot. That is worth dreaming about. 

E: It is. It's worth dreaming about and working toward. And I think that's what Fourth Nephi shows us, which makes the downfall of Zion all the more upsetting, to me at least. 

And I just want to spend a bit of time thinking about how does all of this Zion slip away. A lot of the ideas I'm going to be working through, come from a blog post titled "Losing Zion, Economic Inequality, and the Tragedy of Fourth Nephi" by Michael Austin. But once we move through the 200 years of utopia, we then enter the next 200 years of the downfall. In verses 24 through 26, it says, 
"and now in this two hundred and first year, there began to be among them those who are lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel and all manner of fine pearls and of the fine things of the world. And from that time forth, they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them. And they began to be divided into classes and they began to build churches up unto themselves to get gain. And they began to deny the true church of Christ."

And so the very first thing that breaks down this Zion society is that they have done away with the sharing of all things in common. People have now begun to think that they deserve more for this reason or that reason, or even that people have more and argue that others don't deserve an equal share in what they have.

And then they're divided into economic classes. They're split-- the wealthy and the poor. Or the wealthy, and the less wealthy, and the poor. And then we start to see that churches are built up that further split these economic classes so that the people can get gain. And then they throw God into the mix and they use God to justify their costly apparel and their pearls as if God has granted them this kind of divine right to have and to hold onto all of this stuff so tightly. As if they are more worthy than others. 

And remember in Zion, when we talked about there were no -ites, they were all one body of Christ. Well, in verses 36 through 38, the people start becoming divided and they have new names. We have the Lamanites, the Jacobites, the Josephites, the Zoramites, the true believers in Christ, the true worshipers of Christ. And then those that rejected the gospel, the Lamanites, the Lemuelites, and the Ishmaelites. And so we have this division of people based on family lines on ethnicity, nationality, race, and they didn't have this before in Zion. They were all one in the body of Christ with no -ites.

And I also imagine around this same time that we also start to see a division and discrimination based on gender and sexuality as well. And both the division of people based on family lines or ethnicity and race, and division based on gender and sexuality. These are both examples of social divisions. And so you have the economic division of people and the social division of people that contribute and facilitate the downfall and the breakdown of Zion. But remember it's economics first, and Michael Austin writes in that blog post, 

"Economic equality is non-negotiable in Zion and economic inequality is a deal breaker. So as much as we don't want it to be true, the question 'What have you done today to decrease economic inequality among your fellow human beings?' is completely inseparable from the question, 'What have you done today to bring about the kingdom of God?'"

So look, it's a big chapter with huge, huge swings in both directions of incredibly high heavenly highs and incredibly low downfalls. But I hope that we get a sense that there is a nearness, an ever-present nearness of Utopia. We can dream it and we can imagine things otherwise. We want things to be better. We want liberation and freedom. And if we want those things, then I think the second half of this chapter should act as a caution or a blueprint for the things that we need to steer away from and check ourselves on. 

Those questions that he asks at the end are powerful. And if we think we can answer, "Well, I've tried my best to love my neighbor. That's what I'm doing to bring about the kingdom of God." Well, how is that love helping to decrease the economic inequality that we have here today? 

C: I think you're absolutely right. It takes the question "What have you done today to bring about the kingdom of God?" from the subjective realm it lives in to something a little bit more objective and measurable. It's a lot easier to answer the question, "What have you done today to bring about the kingdom of God?" Just like you said, like, 'Oh, I love my neighbor. I'm doing it,' but to be very specific about what love is and what love looks like. That's the whole crux of liberation theology. To get really specific and take a really hard look at: "Is what I'm doing love or is it privilege and power wearing the facade of love?" Those are really uncomfortable questions.  I'm even sitting here right now sweating. But there will never be a utopia without an answer to those. Michael Austin is totally right. So I'm really grateful that you brought that up because I'm going to be thinking about that a lot. 

E: And our role is not just to be the dreamers and the hopers that things can be better. Our role is also to be the doers and the welcomers and the justice bringers. Our role is both imaginative and actionable.

C: Thanks so much for joining us for this episode today. We loved talking with you about toxic masculinity, how Jesus' example helps us identify and push back against it; and talking about Zion society, how it rises in fourth Nephi and then how it falls. We hope that you've walked away from this episode with new ideas is to think about, and hopefully some ideas for how to move forward in your own life by not just dreaming about what the world could look like, but some actionable ideas for what you will do to bring that world about. We love you so much and we can't wait to talk with you again next week. 
Powered by Blogger.