Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought turns 50 this year. To honor this legendary Mormon publication, I’ve collected from various Exponent bloggers some thoughts about Dialogue‘s role in their lives and about Dialoguearticles that have particularly impacted them. MayDialogue continue on for another 50 years… and many, many more after that.
April Young Bennett:
While researching background information for a Relief Society lesson, I read Jessie L. Embry’s 1982 Dialogue article, “Grain Storage: The Balance of Power Between Priesthood Authority and Relief Society Autonomy“. It was such an eye-opener for me! The article presents compelling evidence that Emmeline Wells and her counselors did not choose to sell several decades of grain storage to the United States government, but rather had their grain storage program sold out from under them by priesthood leaders without their knowledge, something I had not read before in either church published or independent histories. Daughters in my Kingdom, for example, says “the Relief Society sold 200,000 bushels to the United States government.”
The facts of the case affected me differently than the author. Embry was quite forgiving of the overreaching priesthood leaders, but this article led me to question the assumption that is often made by feminists that the Relief Society ever was or ever could be an autonomous female organization with parallel power to male priesthood. It led me to research further and find more evidence that even during the time of the Relief Society’s greatest autonomy, financial resources were only precariously under the control of women, and cemented my belief that separate but equal was never equal.
The Dialogue article that sticks with me the most is Greg Prince’s interview with Chieko Okazaki. It is the only unvarnished public account of what it is like to be a woman in a position of leadership in the LDS Church. It is important that we know that women were not consulted about the Proclamation on the Family, that even at the top, women’s voices have been discounted, overlooked, and erased. We can’t change a system until we are clear about its faults.
It is difficult for me to chose a “favourite” Dialogue article. The richness, depth, personal insight and top-notch academia that go into every article simply makes the choice of one, or even a few favourite articles virtually impossible. So rather, I focus on an article that reflects my thoughts as someone who doesn’t live in America, yet survives the church in its Americanization of converts and members not living in the US. Marjorie Newton’s “‘Almost Like Us’: The American Socialization of Australian Converts” still strikes a chord with me even though the piece was published almost 20 years ago. This article acknowledged and addressed the overt American feeling in the church, one that I am well familiar with: The Friend has Father’s Day themed articles in June– when North America celebrates Father’s Day, rather than in Australia’s September date. Plus, Father’s Day in Australia is all but obliterated because it falls on the first Sunday of the month, and no one seems willing to address the idea that we could skip fast and testimony meeting in order to remind men that they are fathers first and church bosses second. An easy second example of American focus within the church is the church-wide Christmas Devotional which usually includes stories of dramatically cold weather, yet so far as I know, has never addressed or included a story about a southern-hemisphere Christmas celebrated in its dramatically hot summer.
Newton’s article brings to light this issue, and yet– it nearly stands alone. Dialogue, like many other academic Mormon publications, is heavily American-focused. Mormonism is the American Religion, after all. And yet, because Dialogue is open to articles like Newton’s, there is yet a welcome mat for non-American research. Thus, Dialogue stands firmly on its welcome mat, but I’d like to see a firmer handshake extended to non-American contributions so Dialogue can continue to be the powerhouse of Mormon thought as it has since it’s beginning.
I discovered Dialogue about fifteen years ago. Those were halcyon days. My husband and I had moved to Irvine, California because he had been hired as a new professor. I was teaching high school Latin but craving an intellectual community with whom to discuss Mormon issues. Luckily, I soon found in Irvine a community of Mormon grad students getting their doctorates in various fields in the humanities. We also discovered that renowned retired sociologist Armand Mauss lived locally. We soon began to meet weekly to discuss all varieties of interesting and difficult issues.
Throughout those years, Dialogue articles were often fixtures in our discussions. I was inspired and moved by Lester Bush’s article on the priesthood and temple ban, and the knowledge that this kind of research helped pave the way for church authorities to lift the ban in 1978. I particularly loved women-focused articles. I read Carol Lynn Pearson’s 2003 personal essay, “‘Dear Brethren’ — Claiming a Voice in the Church,” many times. (Clickhere for a pdf of the entire excellent issue which was devoted to the topic of women and Mormonism.) Over the last few years, as I’ve entered the world of Mormon studies as a graduate student, Dialogue has continued to challenge me, expand my thinking, and serve as an irreplaceable resource for me.
Linda Hoffman Kimball:
I joined the church when I was nearly 19 after waiting for two years for my parents’ to get comfortable with the idea. That was in 1971. My early church years were in Cambridge, MA, where a posse of remarkable women were exploring the history of 19th century women in an Institute class. In just a few years (1974) they would found Exponent II. These committed, accomplished, confident women were what I thought all Mormon women were like. Their efforts to balance on the twin platforms of “feminism and Mormonism” resonated with me.
In 1973 I read a copy of Dialogue (summer 1973) and was caught by a remarkable essay by a professor in Minnesota, Frank L. Odd. “Mary’s Response and Mine” remains an anchor to and a pattern for my approach to spiritual life.
In the essay Brother Odd writes about Mary, the Mother of Christ, in the Gospel of Luke who “introduces the strivings and yearnings of her heart as a recurring, poignantly human, and humanizing refrain amid the solemn sweep and cadences of divine events.” Brother Odd describes her submission to Gabriel’s charge to her “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” and notes that it reflects “not so much comprehension as a courageous openness.”
Throughout his elegant essay, Brother Odd observes Mary’s mortal struggle to make sense of her role and that of her Son. Despite her visitation by angels, he wrote, “this process of living, loving and serving was a more essential and a better teacher by far than had been the angels themselves.” Then he writes words that have been etched into my brain since the day I first read them – a kind of spiritual internal tattoo: “Angels can announce the gospel to us, but only we can get it into our bones.”
From his own perspective, Brother Odd adds, “I confess that I often do not know what is meant by “know” when it is used with respect to God and the eternal scheme of things. I confess that there are many things I do not understand about the Gospel and one or two things I find it hard to feel harmonious about in the Church.” This doesn’t stop him from bearing a shimmering witness: “If I cannot state emphatically and categorically that I “know” [the Church, its requirements and activities] to be the truth, I nevertheless hold them to be the finest, truest things I know in life and seek to give my life over to compliance with them.”
Reading these words now after decades of trying to model my life honoring Jesus with Mary’s brand of “courageous openness,” I am struck at the fortuitous timing of my discovering it – thanks to Dialogue – at such a pivotal time in my new life as a Mormon. In this essay I see an articulate man using a female role model as a potent example of what living the Gospel really looks like. I hear him candidly admit to philosophical conundrums about the meanings of “truth” that I dealt with in the early 1970’s (and which still confuse me). I witness him finding the lack of tidy answers both consistent with his life experience and with Mary’s own passage through life. That complexity nourishes rather than threatens the potency of their convictions.
This was evidence to me that Mormons – including LDS men – DO (or at least CAN) speak about women as role models and quote them in meetings and essays. This was an affirmation that certainty is not always the most fruitful goal. His insights about Mary’s approach provided a gritty, real- world, living, breathing example of what “working the Gospel into my bones” was going to look like. Still practically wet from the font, I found this essay in Dialogue. I’m going to assume God had a hand in the timing of it. Since my earliest Mormon days this essay provided a pivotal pattern for a challenging but satisfying path for my life in this new journey of faith, now a decades long work in progress.
As a graduate student in theology at a program with no Mormon faculty in 2000, I relied heavily on Dialogue to do my research and could always depend on its high standards of scholarship to pass muster at Harvard Divinity School. Whether I was writing a paper on racism seen through Mormon hymnody or a history of the Mormon doctrine of Heavenly Mother, I could rely on Dialogue to give me the material I needed.