Missionaries on the Missouri (Doctrine and Covenants 60-62)

Monday, May 31, 2021


This is The Faithful Feminists podcast. 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 faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience. 

Channing: [00:00:36] We’ve saved you see on the soft chairs? So join us today for a conversation about Doctrine and Covenants section 60 through 62 for the dates May 31st through June 6th. We're so glad you're here with us today.

Elise: [00:01:02] Welcome back! In these sections, just a little bit of context. The year is 1831 in the summer, and these sections take place around a conference that happened with Joseph Smith and some of the elders of the church in Kirkland, Ohio. In these revelations, the Lord actually calls some of the elders into missionary companionships and, and tells them to go back to Missouri and preach all along the way.

During this time, some of the elders did a really great job while some of them struggled. Also as they were on this missionary journey, some of the elders actually got in canoes and tried to navigate the Missouri river, which is notoriously difficult. And the come follow me manual says, quote, “the elders would later tell Elizabeth Marsh that the river's rolling current ‘looked mad as if it had been cursed.’” So today we're going to focus on the main theme of these sections, which is about missionary work. And then we'll also spend time talking about how we make meaning retroactively.

The first thing that I noticed in this week actually comes from the come follow me manual. One of the section header says “the Lord is pleased when I opened my mouth to share the gospel.” And if we start in section 60, verse two, this verse says, “but with some, I am not well-pleased,” this is the Lord speaking to some of these missionary companionships saying that the Lord is not pleased with everyone.

“For, they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent, which I have given unto them because of the fear of man woe onto such for mine anger is kindled against them.” Verse three says, “and it shall come to pass if they are not more faithful unto me, it shall be taken away even that which they have.”

So thinking about the context of missionary work here, I wonder if, instead of only ever thinking that proclaiming or sharing the message of the gospel is like declaring that we have all of the truth, we are God's one and only true church, and being really kind of preachy and thinking that we have everything we need and that no one else or no other cultures or people can really offer anything to our understanding of God and spirituality, instead of approaching missionary work like that, could we also think of sharing a gospel message as sharing messages of repentance for our intolerance, repentance for our prejudice, repentance for abuses of power or forgetfulness and exclusion of the poor and afflicted.

Channing: [00:03:30] And like, what would that look like? Especially when we think about that phrase, every member, a missionary, what would it look like if missionary work wasn't just what you described before about this being like the one true and only church with like a corner market on like the truth of God. Right.

And instead looked like crying, repentance, calling out and bringing, um, and centering marginalized voices. What would that mean for not only missionaries out in the field, but missionaries, every member a missionary. 

Elise: [00:04:04] Yeah, absolutely everyday missionary. And I think when we think about missionary work in this light, something that looks a little bit more, just equitable focused on centering marginalized voices, and even using our own privilege to make sure that we speak up and open our mouths and be brave and courageous when we see injustices taking place, when we hear inappropriate or racist jokes, right. That is also a form, I would like to believe, of missionary work. If we open our mouth, using our privilege and try and build a better world or share the message of the gospel, which can often look like repentance and love, repentance and love.

We also see that in this same verse verses two and three, we hear that God has given us a talent of opening our mouths. And this is interesting to me if we're trying to really understand missionary work. So, what is the talent of opening our mouth and sharing the message of the gospel? Maybe this means that God has given us opportunities and blessings to learn from other people and understand things in a more loving and just manner.

I also think that as a talent, maybe it, you know, maybe over the last few years of we, as many of us have been coming to like a feminist consciousness or trying to embody anti-racism work or trying to, trying to be actively anti-homophobic, I think that once we start to move into these different understandings, once we see or know or feel or understand things differently, it's really hard for us to un-see those things or to forget them or to ignore them and act as if we had never learned those things at all. And maybe in this way, we can't hide this talent because we have a responsibility to know what we know. We have a responsibility to remember, especially having just passed the one-year mark of the murder of George Floyd, we have a responsibility for remembering, knowing, and acting on all of the things that we have spent these last few years, trying to cultivate and learn and change about our lives and about the world. 

Channing: [00:06:15] One thought that, um, I'm having, as I'm considering this verse and thinking about, um, The framing of opening our mouth as a responsibility and a talent, part of me also wonders how this verse might cause harm as well, especially because it seems that, um, the opening of the mouth and sharing and talking is being rewarded in these verses and the like quieter, um, more submissive act of maybe not, or like the more passive active listening is less valued or less rewarded. I also wonder what that means when we're talking about speaking in our like shared community spaces, especially at church and I wonder here, like when we're talking about centering marginalized voices, ensuring that BIPOC members, that women, um, that LGBTQ members have adequate time and space and, um, opportunity to share their thoughts.

Part of me also wonders if those of us with more privileged identities might interpret this verse to mean that we too, we all have an equal responsibility to speak. And so we may not be paying attention to the ways where we don't all have equal opportunity to speak. And so I just wonder if potentially this verse might cause us to dig in deeper to our privileged identities rather than challenge them and offer like more of a responsible reading of, I wonder, in what cases could we look at this verse and say, when is it also my responsibility to listen and, um, to not open my mouth to speak? What if one of our talents is listening? Cause I know people like that, you’re one of those people.

Elise: [00:08:14] Thank you. I think that, that you bring up a really good point. And I think to me, it calls to mind the idea of discernment and I think it moves the emphasis away from our individual selves and it really pushes us to truly practice what we preach. And if that means centering marginalized voices, then at every moment we need to turn to the marginalized first and foremost, in a form of listening, instead of like, you're saying, thinking, oh, well, if everyone has a, if everyone's called to share this gospel message, then I should talk over or speak for, and that's not what we're going for here. Or at least in this reading I wouldn't, I wouldn't say that that's what we're going for here. So for me, it comes with discernment and centering the most marginalized groups before we take it upon ourselves to, to practice and preach. Because, for example, if we're trying to advocate for the needs of our disabled members or friends in the church community, that shouldn't come from a place of us just assuming that we know this quote gospel message best, but it should come from a place of listening, taking notes and acting in more of a supportive role instead of a speaking for, or speaking over.

But I'm reminded of the conversation we had actually in last week's episode about sacrifice. Am I willing to sacrifice what I have now for a promise of a more abundant life? The saints I think were all about sacrificing, leaving, letting go, moving on in hopes that they could be part of building a world they wanted to see come to pass.

And so the question for at least for myself right now as a straight cis able-bodied white woman is: Am I more in love with the idea of justice and anti-racism and queer pride and  and feminism than I am with actually living it? Am I'm more drawn to the idea or in love with the idea of these things, but when it comes down to it, can I show up, share this quote “gospel message?”

Can I do those things in sacrifice, and this is a constant struggle because I need to ask myself, am I willing and ready to do this? Knowing that I'm not just required to passively sacrifice, but to aggressively take action here and now. And I think this is where we can bump up against what's called performative allyship, which means that again, we like the idea or we like the words or the story that we get to tell about allyship or doing anti-racism work or, you know, fighting for social justice. We like the image, the outer facing image of that more. And in performative allyship, I have this outward facing external idea or image or show that I put on to show from the outside on a really shallow surface level that I, I do fight for these things. I do love everyone. I am making space. I am like listening and learning. All of these things, but then the challenging part, I think, especially for a lot of, I think, especially for a lot of straight cis able-bodied white women, is that when that call actually requires us to make changes, to make sacrifices, to include people and start living differently. We can kind of feel like our feet are to the flames and then we kind of back off and say, well, well, well, and then we kind of grasp really tightly back onto the privilege that has kept us safe for so long and kept, it kept us secure for so long. And so these are some of the challenges that I'm trying to work through with these verses. 

Channing: [00:11:59] That is a real experience. And it's not an excuse. Like, just like you said, like it, the performative aspect there really challenges us to say, am I following through with what I'm saying? Like, for example, our church has started meeting in person and I was in a Sunday school meeting a couple of weeks ago um, about this, the chapter about the Shakers. Um, which is always going to be a messy Sunday school discussion anyway because that, that, um, discussion centered largely around marriage in my Sunday school class, there were a handful of thinly veiled, homophobic comments being made.

And the whole time I'm sitting up there in the front, like fuming and being mad and being upset, but you know, I ended up speaking out, but I didn't address the homophobia by name. I didn't say, or call it out or like, say what I probably should have said because I was afraid. And does that excuse my actions?

No, I am called to be every member a missionary, stand as a witness and all times, and in all things and in all places. And that includes at church. And so I think that you ask a compelling question here in saying, is my allyship performative or is it effective? And in order to make the jump from one to the other, what sacrifices do I need to make and how can I improve so that my actions really are actions and not just words? So I'm really grateful that you, um, brought this perspective to the texts this week, because I think it's valid, especially when we're moving like post pandemic from what has largely been like a very virtual interaction into now having the opportunity as, um, society starts to fingers crossed like cautiously reopened how do we now translate what we've been learning and, um, integrating over the last year and a half. How do we move that now into our communities for like effective and lasting change? 

Elise: [00:14:21] That's such a good point because I think it's one thing to repost stories on your Instagram about how you are an ally or how you align with all of these different causes. But it's another thing to now start returning to church and returning to social events or gatherings and yeah, I keep saying practice what you preach, but really show up and do and take action. And back, back your words up, because it might feel riskier when you have to like, see people face to face.

But I'm hopeful that in these sections, we can take courage and feel resilient and rejuvenated in this work because we have to do it. And with so much privilege, like the privilege that I hold it is my responsibility not just to be performative, but to enact the things that I value. Are my values matching up with the way I'm showing up in the world?

Channing: [00:15:16] Right? Yeah. Am I living with integrity? Absolutely. 

Elise: [00:15:19] Yeah. Within this same thread of missionary work, if we move to section 61, this is the section where the missionaries have actually decided to get in canoes. And instead of walking all the way to this town in Missouri, they are going to try and canoe their way on the Missouri river. And the river is super like dangerous and choppy. And it's very, very scary traveling on this river. And so this is the context for section 61. And we also read that the meaning that the missionaries make after this experience really looks like the devil or Satan cursing the waters or God cursing the waters and almost like the waters were out to get them.  

Channing: [00:16:04] I found this really fascinating because we see this really interesting play, um, between like what is happening in the members lived experience and then we get to see their, um, interpretation of it. What I especially find fascinating because I am like currently on a personal study about like ancient/pre-Christian spiritualities, I find it really interesting because these spiritualities tended to attribute the wild and unpredictable violent forces of nature to the emotions and actions of their deities. And I think that this is how they made sense of the world around them. And they attempted to explain the unexplainable.

And of course, nowadays we have the benefit of knowing and understanding why many of these natural phenomena and disasters occur, because we have like the science and the technology to like, measure and understand them. But like in ancient times that wasn't always the case and this is relevant because we typically think, especially like in our post-colonial, post-enlightenment, like post-Christian world. We tend to think that because we know so much about the world, or at least more than we did before that now, we are somehow better than, or more enlightened in our spiritualities than those that came before us.

For example, the idea that a river flooding or being angry or choppy is caused by an angry God is somewhat laughable to us when such a belief originates from a religion that is unfamiliar. But on the other hand, is it? I mean, our enlightened Christian stories contain multiple examples of exactly this.

Floods that cover the entire earth, plagues, and pests, and earthquakes. And even in section 61 in verse five, it says “for I the Lord have decreed in mine anger many destructions upon the waters.” And I think that this is quite human of us to try to make sense of things bigger than us by attributing them to beings bigger than us.

But I'm not necessarily critiquing the early saints perspective on this. Instead, I'm sharing it to showcase that our religious beliefs are not as unique and refined as we sometimes believe them to be. One of the paradoxes I find frequently in not just in the Doctrine and Covenants, but most of our sacred texts in general is this idea that we are set apart.

Like we, as members of the LDS church are a peculiar people and we are supposed to be in the world, but not of it. And yet we also find a contradicting commandment, or a contradicting idea that the gospel is intended to cover all the earth. And everyone is supposed to be one unto God. These are two contrasting ways of being in the world.

And part of me wonders, which one of these am I supposed to want? Is one better than the other? And if so, which one am I tied to? And I love that we talked about missionary work before we focused on what's happening in section 61, because part of me wonders if our orientation to these contrasting commandments, the being a peculiar people and being set apart, or being one and to God, if these contrasting commandments change our approach to missionary work. On the one hand, when we hold so tightly to peculiarity, to our ascetic abstinence from the world, I think this orients us in a position which asks those we come into contact with to conform to our outlined expectations or else be excluded one way or the other.

And on the other hand, if instead we move out into the world from a central understanding that all are alike and beloved, and one unto God, I think this could potentially shift our orientation from fundamentalism and conformity to instead, finding the similarities that we share. Rather than demonizing or ridiculing those whose beliefs seem less than or different from ours, we can turn towards them and say, your God floods the earth when they get mad? Mine too. Your spirituality is polytheistic? Mine too. You believe some people have spiritual gifts that allow them to glimpse the future and be in touch with guides from beyond? Me too, we call ours prophets.

And so in truth, I share this to point out that we share so much with the world. I strongly believe that we are more alike unto God than we are peculiar. And I don't necessarily think that this detracts from our love of God or God's love of us. I think the security of God's love and God's concern for us allows us the freedom to define our individuality as part of the Venn diagram, rather than its own independent sphere.

And I think that this is relevant to this week sections, especially because we come across versus like in section 60 verse 13 that says “behold, they have been sent to preach my gospel among the congregations of the wicked” and this wording or this theme of “congregations of the wicked” is something that we see repeated over and over again, especially in section 31.

And so when I come across this word, congregations of the wicked, my first reaction is what would that even look like? And it honestly, like my first knee-jerk initial reaction to this is, um, this word “congregation of the wicked” actually reminds me of a meme I saw one time and it was a picture of this guy holding a protest sign that said something like, “Atheists, gays, lesbians, sex workers, feminists, and scientists are going to hell.” And like the text in the meme overlaid it said “that sounds like one hell of a party I'd like to go.”

That's what I think of when I think of congregations of the wicked. I think wickedness and righteousness are both incredibly subjective because they are culturally defined. For example, 120 years ago, it was immoral for a woman to show her bare ankles in public. Even earlier than that, the astronomer Galileo was accused of heresy in the year 1633 for his findings that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around.

And so the question I'd like to ask about congregations of the wicked is this what are we so sure about? If being set apart from the congregations of the wicked is our first priority, rather than keeping the commandments of loving God and neighbor, what is the foundation our spirituality is sitting on?

I want to ask the question, what would you bet your life on? God's love or God's hate? But I'm scared to ask that because I know some people are betting on God's hate. I think sometimes I'm betting on God's hate too, especially when I'm frustrated or angry. And especially when I'm afraid. But even though that question sounds ridiculous to bet our life on the love or hate of God, we are doing exactly that. Our lives are shaped and moved by our understanding of the world.

Elise: [00:23:47] I have a lot of thoughts here, but one of the things that's coming to the forefront is why do we have this desire to feel peculiar, or different, or separate from these congregations of the wicked? Or why do we feel this desire to be the one and only like chosen people? And I wonder if this shows up for people in this kind of being unique versus being the same.

And I think that sometimes we think that being the same means losing our individuality, losing our personalities, losing our quirks and our funny or silly or interesting characteristics and we just become this kind of giant blob of a monolith. And maybe we fear that our particular needs won't be cared for if I am more similar than different from the people around me.

This is also really interesting from my perspective, knowing what I know about you, I think that you like to be seen as authentic and original and unique. And like, you like to be this one among not one among many, but like one apart from many. And so it's interesting to hear you kind of sketch out these ideas of no, aren't we more the same? But perhaps your argument comes from, if we're more the same than we could be more willing to understand, willing, to celebrate, willing to love. Whereas if we think that we are more different, it might be easier for us to segregate, push aside, exclude and think that God's love is reserved for us, instead of where God's love is given out to the congregations of the wicked.

Channing: [00:25:29] Yeah. Well and I think that you actually are picking up on something really good there, because like, if I can share something personal, I asked a couple of friends, not that long ago like, why are people so afraid of me? Like, why are people suspicious or like, why do I feel not included?

Why do I feel like not a lot of people talk to me and my friends were like, well, Channing it's because you're intimidating. And I've sat with that for a couple of weeks. And I've been like, that is not the first word that I would use to describe myself. Like, I don't really feel like I'm intimidating. I don't try to be.

Um, but then I had an experience like later on where, you know, I spoke out and I was brave and I was authentically myself. And it did go against the grain of the general consensus of the group that I was with and I was like, oh, now I get it. Like now I understand why they would use that word intimidating. But it's interesting to notice these two themes within myself too, because even though on the outside, I might seem intimidating, on the inside I do view myself as friendly and I do desire to be a part of a community. And I do desire to um, find the similarities and the likeness in the other people around me.

And I want them to do the same for me. But at the same time, I also want them to honor what makes me different and unique and to consider that valid and have that be welcomed anyway. And so I like that image of a Venn diagram because you are both your own individual person, but you also overlap with the community. And so does everyone else. And there might be things that are different about both of those, but there is so much in the middle that we share and that sharing is what allows for authentic connection and authentic belonging, while we still can honor both the individual and the community. And so, yeah. I think you're spot on, especially, I can totally see how, like this theme of like finding our similarities it seems strange coming from me. But I do think that that's a, a big part of the gospel is holding those two, like seemingly contrasting things of being in a community and also being an individual. I think that that's part of it.

I think that that's well, I hope that that's what God can do for us, right. To hold our individuality, to hold our individuality sacred. But also have expectations for how we operate in community and love of community as a whole too. So, yeah. Yeah. I think you're onto something there. And I think this idea is really illustrated well by a quote that I came across by, by father Richard Rohr, he says “the people who know God well, mystics, hermits, prayerful people, those who risk everything to find God always meet a lover, not a dictator.”

And I think that this is such a good way. I think I'm in love with this idea of God as a lover, because it does allow for so much freedom of expression and also that acceptance and belonging that I think I desire really deeply, but I also think is like a very common human need. And so whenever I think about missionary work, I always come back to our conversation that we had in early April with our friend Duvy.

And in that episode, we asked about what is our primary motivation when we come to missionary work, and what does it mean that every member is a missionary? And I think it does come back again to those contracting paradoxical understandings of the gospel. Is the gospel about asserting our peculiar claim to the privilege of God's love and asking for conformity from those we are compelled to convert?

Or is the gospel about community and likeness and oneness shouting from our proverbial high places that a feast is prepared, that the table is long with plenty of seats. Come eat, and drink and hunger and thirst no more. And I think that the come follow me manual wraps this up really nicely. It issues a challenge in classic missionary style that asks us to quote “in the days ahead, look for opportunities to open your mouth and share what God has entrusted to you.”

And my question for myself and for all of our listeners is this: “What message will you be sharing?”

Elise: [00:30:03] I really like that. And, and I think for me, maybe one of the messages that I will be sharing is a message I saw show up in each of these sections. And it's God saying it mattereth not. In section 60 verse five, God basically says whether you get here by building your own craft or by buying something, just do whatever you think is good, because it doesn't matter to me. In section 61, verse 22, God says whether you're going to do your missionary work by land or by water, just do, do what you want it mattereth not unto me. And then finally in section 62, verse five whether you are sharing your message as a group or in pairs of two, just do what seems good to you because it mattereth not unto me.

And I really like this idea because we see God being maybe like a big-picture God. And, and I think that can give us a lot of room to talk about differing paths and accessibility along those paths. One of the things that I kind of rub up against is this idea of there being like one true and only covenant path.

But I think these verses are reassuring because God is basically saying, however you get here, I don't need to be involved in the details. I trust that you can make these decisions, but what I'm more concerned with is the end goal. And this isn't to say, though, that God is like apathetic or disconnected or un-involved in our everyday lives.

I think for me personally, if it matters to me, it does matter to God, but this might be a practice where God is saying, trust yourself, trust your own personal revelation, trust your intuition, trust that you know the needs of you and your community better than anyone else. And if you think you need to take X, Y, and Z path, or if you need these accommodations or if the journey would be better or more enjoyable for you if you did these things, do it. Do whatever seems good to you. It doesn't matter to me as long as we're making it to this type of end goal. And for me, I think the end goal looks like love, justice, mercy, inclusion, accountability, responsibility, all of those things, but those are the big picture things.

That's a big picture God. So for me, I really appreciate the different facets that we see of God show up in all different types of texts. One of my favorite ways God shows up is in Jacob chapter five as the Lord of the vineyard. And that Lord of the vineyard is very involved in the details. That Lord of the vineyard is like working alongside me. And I need that God too, but there's also a bit of a breath of relief that I can take knowing that God trusts me to do what I need and it doesn't matter to God how I get there.

Channing: [00:33:03] I love that. And I think you're right. It is hopeful. And it ties back really well to what we were mentioning earlier about the fact that God trusts us and God is saying, look, you have all of the skills I've given you.

You know, like we talked about last week, I've given you all of the supplies that you need to make an incredible and amazing life. It doesn't matter to me whether you use this paper to build a diorama or a kite, like, what do you want to do as long as you make something beautiful and creative. And I like this idea of freedom and also the way that you can trust it with the fact that God can show up for us in many ways, whether that's in the details or in the big picture, we can find God wherever we're looking, but that God is always encouraging us to trust ourselves and trust our experience and trust the skillset like they say in this chapter, like I've given you a talent, if you don't use it, use it or lose it. So I think it ties in really well when we're talking about allyship, when we're talking about, um, living with integrity, living with authenticity, that we are entrusted with what we've been given and it is a measure of our responsibility.

I mean, again, that's the theme that we've seen repeated over the last couple of weeks. In the sections as well, is that we have the responsibility to make choices and use our agency. Um, and that we don't need God to like hold our hand and walk us through every step of the way. So yeah, I love that we can trust ourselves more than we think. And that were more capable than me. Think, I think it's, it's helpful.

Elise: [00:34:58] Friends, thanks so much for being here. I hope that you enjoyed this conversation and I hope that our ideas sparked some new ideas and reflection in your own study this week. 

Channing: [00:35:08] We've loved spending time with you this week, and we're so excited to share this episode with you. If any of the content from this week's episode spoke to you, or if you just love the podcasts in general, will you help us tell the world about it?

Leave us an iTunes review so that others can find us and find this amazing community that we've created with you. It's an honor to share with you to talk with you on Instagram and to get all of your emails. They love you so much, and we'll see you soon. Bye!

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