This week, we are sharing a conversation with Dr. Valerie Hudson. Valerie is a distinguished professor of International Affairs at Texas A&M. She formerly taught at BYU, and has been an influential thinker and writer on Latter-day Saint issues.
Valerie was in Provo not long ago and sat down for a very intriguing conversation Aubrey Chaves, Cami Frost and Lindsay Broadbent of Faith Matters.
We should note that since this conversation was recorded before the October 2019 General Conference, some of the issues on which Dr. Hudson was suggesting change have now been addressed. For those who prefer listening in podcast form, you can listen on the Apple Podcast app here.
You can also read Valerie’s FairMormon presentation titled, The Two Trees, for more of her work.
Aubrey: Okay, so my name is Aubrey Chaves. I’m with the Faith Matters Foundation and we’re here with Valerie Hudson who is a university distinguished professor at Texas A&M. And inside the church, probably known for her book, Women in Eternity, Women in Zion. And then I also have Lindsay Broadbent and Cami Frost. And we’re here to just have a discussion about women and all things women in the church. And I think that’s it.
Aubrey: So, maybe Valerie, we can start with, I’ve heard you mentioned a quote by Confucius that I really love and I think maybe this is a really good place to begin. It’s about language and he says that our language must be correct because if what we said is not what we meant, then what we meant was not said and what should be done is left undone.
Aubrey: So can we start with that and insert priesthood and how do you think the priesthood and the words that we use, the language that we use around priesthood in the church, may be inadequate and specifically in ways that affect women?
Valerie: Well, I think priesthood is one of those P words that have caused mischief in the church. Priesthood, polygamy, patriarchy, patriarchal ordered. I think all of those have some issues. They’re too easily infected with the traditions of the fathers that considered women to be lesser than men.
Valerie: And so, when I was a new convert to the church it seemed pretty clear that men had this power. In fact, priesthood was defined as acting the power and authority of God. And women had nothing. So I think for a long time, the notion that women have power, that women preside over certain ordinances in the plan of happiness, and that men do not hold the power and authority of God, but they may act in the power and authority of Heavenly Father. And their sisters in the gospel are acting with the power and authority of Heavenly Mother, I think has been in need of as, Maxine Hanks calls it, excavation.
Aubrey: Yeah. That’s so interesting. You’re distinguishing between God, which implies this unity between Heavenly Father and mother. And Heavenly Father, that men are acting for Heavenly Father and women are acting for Heavenly Mother.
Valerie: How could it be otherwise?
Valerie: Certainly the men are not acting for Heavenly Mother, are they?
Aubrey: Right. So in what ways do you see in the church or just in life that women are acting for Heavenly Mother?
Valerie: Well, you’re all mothers. How do you see it?
Aubrey: I certainly see it in motherhood. Bringing a spirit into this world feels like, as you say, an apprenticeship to Heavenly Mother. But I think that gets a little messy for me. I’d like to feel like there’s something after that. Or if that is an opportunity that wasn’t available to me, how else can I experience that apprenticeship outside of birth?
Valerie: Biological motherhood is simply one exquisite manifestation of motherhood. And I think there’ve been a number of general authorities and other people such as Sheri Dew, who have articulated the broader power of motherhood. But certainly if you have the chance to legally and lawfully be a mother I would imagine that our heavenly parents would want you to take that chance.
Cami: It’s neat because she’s always been there. It’s just that I haven’t had the language or the freedom I felt to talk about her or discover her or feel her. And yet I have beautiful mothers all around me that have taught me how to be a mother and so I feel grateful. I feel really grateful and yet I feel like I want to start creating a language where it’s safe to talk about Heavenly Mother. That she is sacred and yet we need to speak about her. I feel like we all depend on it, not just me.
Lindsay: I think that’s why listening to or watching your video about the Two Trees. And I keep thinking about this, you said, “Until her daughters become the producers of knowledge, she may remain hidden.” And you also said, “We need to know her. We need to understand her power and her authority.”
Lindsay: And I had a similar experience where I received a blessing. And in the blessing it said if you want to connect to your divinity, you have to see yourself as Heavenly Mother sees you. And in that moment I was washed over with just this feeling of acceptance and the feeling of unworthiness dissipated. And it was just this amazing experience.
Lindsay: I could see myself the way she saw me, and then I had the same experience afterwards. I was just frustrated with myself that I was waiting. It was like I was waiting for permission to talk to her and to pray to her. And I was also waiting for the church, men, right, to tell me who she was and what her characteristics were.
Valerie: And that’s not how it’s going to happen, is it?
Lindsay: And I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
Valerie: No, it would be wrong, wouldn’t it?
Cami: It would.
Lindsay: But then I also would love perspective on this because my daughter can watch me figure this out, right? She can watch me develop this relationship with Heavenly Mother and I can teach her this. But she’s also growing up in this wonderful church, but it’s run by men. Right? And they’re the ones asking the questions and giving us the answers.
Lindsay: And you hear all the time, well did the brethren say that. It’s always like we are deferring to the brethren. And it’s not that I don’t trust them for knowledge, but they wouldn’t ask the same questions that we would ask. And they don’t view things in the same lens as women view things.
Lindsay: And so maybe I’m getting off topic, but I was just wondering what we could do as a church to change that to get more of a woman’s perspective in the church. Because even in the video I watched that you did, you cited three people to back up that we were worth the same as men and it was from men. Right?
Lindsay: And that’s due to that women aren’t creating our own knowledge. But can we? I guess that’s the question, can we in the church? [crosstalk 00:08:29] And how? How do we?
Cami: How do we go about doing that in the spirit? Right?
Lindsay: What do you think about that?
Valerie: Oh, well for years I’ve suggested that women need to create their own language. There are things that women feel that no man has ever felt. All right. How you feel when you bring that baby close in your breasts filled with milk. No man has experienced that. We need a word for that.
Valerie: There are plenty of other experiences I think that women have that are related to their bodies especially. But also related to their unique position in the family that I think are absolutely worthy of having names. And yet we women have been mute. We have waited for men to name our experiences. And of course since they don’t know our experiences-
Cami: They’re never going to name them.
Valerie: They’re never going to name them.
Aubrey: I love the idea that at the very core of our doctrine that we really believe inequality. So do you think that our misunderstanding or our loss of Heavenly Mother, I feel like it’s a loss in the sense that we just don’t talk about it. We have this understanding that it’s too special, like you said.
Aubrey: And she’s not in lessons and occasionally in, Oh my father, the song. And that just feels like nothing to me usually. So do you think that that is just cultural, that the restoration was born out of this very patriarchal in the most worldly sense of the word society and we’ve just let that continue? Or what do you-
Aubrey: Yeah. Is it just tradition or how did we lose Heavenly Mother?
Valerie: Well, I think there’s a number of things to be said about that. And one is you’ve got to remember that the church came forth in the Americas of the early 1800s and Oh my gosh. I mean there were some respects in which America is actually a little bit ahead of the curve.
Valerie: For example, women in New Jersey could hold property in their own name before the constitution deprived them of that right. So I mean, I guess you could argue if Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother were looking over the entire world in 1830, yeah, maybe you’d pick America as the place where their daughters were treated or had the potential to be treated, or have the most rights. But it was a deeply patriarchal culture nonetheless. Yeah. So I think it’s mixed, but I think we’re coming to an age where the loss, or at least the hiddeness of our Heavenly Mother, hurts us very, very badly.
Valerie: For example, we talk about, or at least my colleague Ralph Hancock talks about the natural family. A man and a woman and children, right? Well, to the extent that we hide Heavenly Mother, we don’t have a natural family. And how do you defend the natural family unless you have a natural family to pattern your family after? Which is the divine family.
Valerie: How do you have good marriages if Heavenly Mother is off in the shadows somewhere and you have no idea what her relationship with Heavenly Father or even her own son is, right? Because Jesus is as much Heavenly Mother’s son, right, as he is Mary’s son. Right. So in all of these things, I hope the church is probably beginning to realize that without her it doesn’t make any sense. Right.
Valerie: The plan of salvation doesn’t make any sense and our divine destiny remains obscure. And how can we reach Zion? How can we become a Zion society without understanding how women are to be treated? And what their power is? And how they are not simply biological instruments to build up someone’s priesthood kingdom? Which is a quote that somebody actually gave me once. That’s who women were in the plan of salvation.
Aubrey: So what does that actually look like? I mean, I love the idea of language. We need a real word to describe these things that a man has never experienced, but what else within the church can we do to make Heavenly Mother more visible without seeming to be too radical? I hate that radical is the word that comes to mind, but I feel like I’m breaking rules by talking about her at church.
Valerie: Well I think you should ask yourself why you feel that way. And once you have an answer, I think you should take it all and throw it right in the trash can. Because the only way this is going to happen is not when a man comes to you and says, Lindsay, it’s okay by me. If you talk about having a mother.
Valerie: It’s got to be we women as the rushing waters of the Mississippi talking about Heavenly Mother and refusing to shut up. It’s teaching our daughters who their mother in heaven is. It’s patterning our marriage over how we believe the marriage between Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father are. It’s teaching how incredible Eve is. That she really was the bravest and most faithful of all women. In fact, one of my daughters is named Eve for that very reason.
Valerie: So it’s time to create new traditions. Right. It’s time to question the silence about Heavenly Mother. Right. And I’ve simply said to people, look, there’s absolutely nothing that says that we can’t talk about her. There is no doctrine that says we can’t talk about her.
Aubrey: Or to her.
Valerie: And to her. And President Hinckley said we shouldn’t pray to her. So I say, dear Heavenly Father, and I know Heavenly Mother is right by you. So I’d like to talk to both of you. All right. So I think it’s important to suggest that… It’s critical for women to have a relationship with her mother. Who are they patterning their lives after? Who are they trying to be like one day? And they’ve got to have something otherwise you feel lost, right? You feel lost as if women really aren’t a major part of the plan, of the great plan of happiness that goes on forever and ever and ever.
Aubrey: Right. And just acknowledging that it’s there, that it’s in our theology. I think that’s a gem of our Mormonism, that we believe in this union.
Valerie: We have the most revolutionary and feminist doctrine. Any religion on the face of the earth and what we’ve done with it is simply pathetic. In terms of bringing Heavenly Mother to light, bringing the power of her daughters to light, making sure that the voice of women is heard.
Valerie: I mean, think about who are considered to be the public intellectuals, right? Who write deep books about Mormon doctrine. Aren’t they mostly men? So what prevents us from writing deep, thoughtful books about Mormon theology? Why isn’t one of us writing a book on the theology of the body?
Lindsay: So what other things can change do you feel like in the church to help voice women?
Valerie: Well, we’ve talked about some of the things that we need to do, like changing the names of women’s positions and young women’s theme and things like that. But the one thing that would break it all open is when you allow a living woman to be sealed to more than one man. Right. So much heartache, so much sorrow, so many tears, so many feelings of how is it that women even live in the celestial kingdom? All right. I mean, we currently allow dead women to be sealed to more than one man. But we don’t allow live women to be sealed to more than one man.
Aubrey: And it’s implied that they’ll choose. Right? I mean my understanding is that they’ll choose [crosstalk 00:16:53].
Valerie: It’s implied that they’ll choose. Yes. [crosstalk 00:16:54]
Aubrey: There’s this imperative. [crosstalk 00:16:57]
Lindsay: It’ll all work itself out.
Valerie: Stop talking. It’s a teaching.
Aubrey: But right? I mean, if we’re so comfortable saying that it will work out, why not let women have that here for peace right now?
Valerie: Right. I think that that opens it all up in a way-
Cami: It does.
Valerie: That will be so healing for women.
Cami: Plus I love the energy of, we don’t know everything, but it’s going to be okay. We know there’s a loving, trusting father and mother in heaven and they’re in charge. It’s going to be okay.
Aubrey: That’s true.
Cami: So I do love that.
Valerie: Yeah. That would be huge. I’m waiting for that. I’m hoping that will happen in my lifetime.
Aubrey: Yeah. So those are your big ones. Any other changes like that that you think that we can do on a Sunday.
Valerie: Oh yeah, I came up with an entire list?
Aubrey: Oh, really?
Valerie: So you’ll have to-
Aubrey: Is this something we can link to? Do you have this on-
Valerie: That’s right. Yeah. I will give you the link. There’s a whole, I think square two on our website, square two. We have an entire list of what we think has got to happen for us to move towards a Zion society, to realize the co-presidency of men and women.
Valerie: I think it’s also critical that these changes be made so that we empower our women. I really think the forces of darkness have aimed their arrows directly at women. And that unless women know who they are and know their power and gain their voice, take their voice, right, then I think that women are going to by and large be the great casualties of some of the ideological battles of the 21st century.
Aubrey: Oh yeah. Maybe to sum up, I mean, I think hopefully we’ve touched on most of these, but will you give us your reasons why you should be Mormon, if you’re a woman? What are the gems in our religion that should keep you here and that should really feed your soul and help you feel valued as a women?
Valerie: Well, it’s clearly our doctrine. All right? We believe revolutionary things that no other faith, especially no other Judeo Christian faith believes. We believe that we have a mother in heaven who is a co-equal with Heavenly Father, who is as powerful, as divine, as wise as he is.
Valerie: We believe that Eve did not sin in the garden of Eden, but rather she should be praised for what she did and that she was fore-ordained to open the door to this world. Right. From the foundation of this world, no man could open the door to this world, only a woman could, and that she was incredibly courageous. Knowing what surely she knew even in a vague way, how badly women would be treated in the fallen world. I think also we teach that the fall was fortunate.
Valerie: We teach also that women, I think it’s part of our doctrine that women play an incredible role in the plan of happiness. You can’t even have the plan of happiness without women. All right. And resuscitating all of that, excavating it, seeing it for what it is, right, is our task as women in this faith. Right. That’s our task. No man can do that.
Valerie: Now, it is true that there are some men who will only listen to men. And so I think sometimes that is why the Lord has a male spokesperson because the women will listen to the man and the men who are not prepared to listen to a woman, will listen to the man. But I think it’s clear that as all of us, right, start the Mississippi river running.
Valerie: And we speak about our doctrine and we speak about it openly. As we do that and as we’re raising sons and daughters for whom this is totally natural, the co-presidency is totally natural. Makes perfect sense. Then I think Zion will come again.
Aubrey: Yeah. I love that image of just the waters, rushing waters. How do you explain patriarchy to your daughters?
Valerie: Oh, I say, look honey, let’s explain it like President Ezra Taft Benson is. He said, “You know why it’s called the patriarchal order, the priesthood? Is because in the old days, the priesthood was passed down from father to son to grandson. So the priesthood line, right, was in the past, right, always a line of patrilineality. Right. Your father ordained you and his father ordained him and so forth. Right. And that’s the reason it’s called that. It is not because men rule over women in here or in the eternities. Right? That’s just false.
Valerie: It’s completely false.
Aubrey: So I feel like my understanding of patriarchy up til now, I’ve always looked at patriarchy as the reason for any what I perceive as the inequality in the church, with leadership or just decision making power. It feels like patriarchy is the answer. So do you think that that’s something that can be changed in the church? If patriarchal order is what matters this passing the priesthood from father to son. Then what about the leadership in the church? How is that intertwined with what we understand about patriarchy? And what does that mean for us?
Valerie: Well I’d like to set patriarchy aside, because to be honest with you, I just don’t believe that heaven is run as a patriarchy. I just don’t. I just don’t.
Aubrey: Me neither.
Valerie: I mean, our homes, or at least my home is not run as a patriarchy. I hope your homes are not run as a patriarchy. And in fact has a conservative leader is President James E. Faust said that patriarchy and matriarchy, right, rule together in the home. Right. In a sense, there’s a patriarchal representative and there’s a matriarchal representative in the home.
Valerie: So I hope your marriages are based on that. That kind of equality, right? Equal respect, equal love, equal deference, equal power, equal responsibility, all of these things. So I want to set that aside and say, what I’d like to understand is how we can more fully instantiate that co-presidency that we know is divine.
Valerie: We can do it in our homes. Is there some reason that we cannot bring that divine co-presidency more into the church? So Nylon McBain and I, a few years ago on square two, we did a survey about the naming of women’s positions in the church. And of course, I think, as you know, probably the worst example is mission president and mission president’s wife. And you’re like, no.
Lindsay: It’s the worst. I was actually just in, I don’t even know if I should name it, but I was somewhere and I met the mission presidents. And I said, Oh, you must be the mission president’s wife. And I gave her a hug and I said, “I hate that called you that.” And she said, “Oh, I’m just the mission president. I just say we’re the mission presidents.” That sounds amazing. That’s so great that she…
Valerie: That’s right. There you go. That helps. For example, in the young women’s theme, the first line is what?
Lindsay: We are daughters of our Heavenly Father.
Valerie: Who loves us as we love him. Shouldn’t it be we’re daughters of our heavenly parents who love us as we love them. What a tiny little tweak and yet look at what it would open up for our young women.
Aubrey: It seems cosmetic, but it would such a huge shift.
Valerie: Right. Huge shift. So I think a deeper understanding, we know that, I’m assuming that the marriages of our apostles and our first presidency are all good marriages. In that case, we need to bring more of that unity that co-presidency into the church. And I’m not saying that there is no room for a distinctive male only role.
Cami: I think it’s okay. It’s okay to have that.
Valerie: But we’ve got to see that whole picture. Two trees, two people, two stewardships, two gifts given. Two gifts received. Two hearkenings, right? When you see that then the sting goes away. Right. And that co-presidency comes back into view and that’s what we need to heal. We have to have it for us to appreciate [crosstalk 00:25:59].
Cami: I appreciate seeing the spiritual evolution that’s come about from when we were talking about 1880. The difference of now, I mean what a gift we get to be raising our daughters in 2019.
Valerie: Oh my gosh, when I was here at BYU, or even at Texas A&M, I had this side cottage industry. I wasn’t paid or anything, but I would get these phone calls from people I didn’t even know and they’d be like, my daughter’s taking out her endowments next week. Can you talk to her before then? Right.
Valerie: Or I’d get the worst phone call. My daughter went to the temple last week for the first time. Can you talk to her? She wants to leave the church? Right. So I’m given all of these talks about, no, you can’t see it this way. Two trees, the whole nine yards. I don’t have to give that talk ever again.
Valerie: Ever again. I am so thrilled.
Cami: What a gift.
Valerie: What a huge step forward. But what’s important is it was true all along. All right. The changes to the temple ceremony that you see right now. They’re not just true in 2019. They were true in 2000. They were true in 1950. Right. So we’re just getting closer to the truth and throwing away error.
Lindsay: Maybe it would have happened a little bit faster if women were more engaged. If we were the ones asking the questions that they aren’t asking.
Aubrey: Agitating. Yeah. Do you think that that is our role to be agitating and-
Valerie: I don’t want to use the word agitating.
Aubrey: Okay. What’s a little bit less than agitating? But how do you wait for further knowledge? I don’t like that phrase because it to me implies just be quiet and just sit and wait and they’ll tell you when it’s allowed. Or I feel like that leaves me very powerless.
Lindsay: Well that’s like you can’t pray to Heavenly Mother. You’re doing it in a roundabout way, but why can’t we talk with her?
Valerie: Well I think that’s a good question. And I’ve resolved it to myself that there is a Godhead. That fallen world godheads are probably all male.hAnd that you have to go through them to get to Heavenly Mother. But that’s simply my feeling. But I have absolutely felt her touch. I have felt her directly communicate with me.
Valerie: There may be certain things about which women have greater knowledge. I think certainly a theology of the body would be one of those. Since women preside over the ordinances of embodiment, the priestesshood ordinances of embodiment. There may be certain things that men may be better able to do in the kingdom of God than we are.
Valerie: So I’m certainly not a person who believes that equality is identity. I’ve never been one of those people who believes that. But I do believe that men and women stand before each other and before God, our heavenly parents as equals. And that the power of women is not one whit less than the power of men, even though their power may be displayed and used differently.
Aubrey: And what are you referring to specifically with women presiding over the embodiment. Embodiment, what did you say exactly? Are you talking about giving birth? [crosstalk 00:29:22]
Valerie: Well, we know that the word ordinance means a physical act with deep spiritual meaning. So certainly pregnancy, childbirth, lactation are all ordinances of the gospel. They cannot be otherwise. They are clearly the priestesshood ordinances presided over by women.
Valerie: So I think at some point, I hope that we recognize this. We often think that our priestesshood is for some future time period. That’s ridiculous. We do the work of our Heavenly Mother, the high priestess right here on this earth. With my own daughters, I’ve actually tried to make it tangible because you know how much children love things that are tangible.
Valerie: But actually I’ve made my daughters necklaces that take them on the complete journey of womanhood, all the way from unorganized spirit to goddess and every last stage in between. So we go over those once a year on their birthday and they have cards that show what every single bead is and what it means in their life.
Valerie: And in fact, when I said I want to take one of your necklaces down, my daughter said, okay, let me remember where I am. I’m right there, right mom.
Aubrey: And what’s that? What’s this [crosstalk 00:30:50] bead right there?
Valerie: And that is after they have had the door of their body opened by Heavenly Mother, this is the key that opens the door to heaven through their body. So that is their, let me see though, I think that’s their disciple bead. Yes. Their apprentice bead. Their apprentice bead.
Aubrey: Oh my gosh. What a neat idea.
Cami: Where did you discover this?
Valerie: Oh, I made it up.
Cami: This just came to you? [crosstalk 00:31:19] I love you.
Valerie: Our own language, right.
Cami: That’s so awesome.
Valerie: This is creating a language whereby we can talk about, I said now, where am I? And they’re like, you’re right here. Your key has been returned to Heavenly Mother. You don’t menstruate anymore. And now your lap is less moot. We can talk about the whole thing.
Lindsay: I love that. Then menstruation isn’t something to be ashamed of.
Cami: Or scary.
Lindsay: Or scary.
Valerie: We have to invest it with huge, deep meaning because it is deeply meaningful.
Cami: Yes, it is. And I think we feel that as women we feel that it’s deeply meaningful. And yet the language isn’t there to express it. So we fill that, right. And so I love that you’ve created this language.
Valerie: Oh, we had a menstruation party for all of my daughters. Whenever they got their period we had a period party and I did not invite their friends. I invited all the women in the ward whom they admired and loved.
Valerie: And I said, I don’t want you to bring a gift that you have bought with any money whatsoever. You bring a gift that is symbolic to you of why it is wonderful to be a woman and have a woman’s body.
Aubrey: Totally. Oh my gosh, that’s amazing.
Cami: You’re so great.
Valerie: Of course we had read Velvet Cake. We sang great songs by the folk group, [Obana 00:32:44] about ancient mother. We just had a wonderful time.
Valerie: But we have to do something different than we’ve done in the past or our daughters are going to end up just like us, aren’t they?
Aubrey: Okay. So why is the theology of embodiment such a feminist issue?
Valerie: I want you to see embodiment for what it is. It is a joining of things that belong together in a happy state. So we know spirit and body belong together and have a fullness of joy. And notice how integral women’s power is to that joining.
Valerie: But also think about other joinings that are so important. Man to woman. All right, woman to child. Love and sex, right? Think of all the things that women would seek to join together. Okay. Now I want you to consider that a lot of what women have suffered from in the attacks that Satan makes, I think is to alienate. All right. Break apart, love and sex, break apart men and women. And now break apart spirit and body.
Aubrey: So what does that look like for us? How do we show joining and show that that’s something we value in our church and individually. How do we honor that?
Valerie: Oh, you honor it in every single way. All right. Think about a woman’s heart. All right? Does she really want to have sex with somebody that’s not committed to her? All right. We hold the line on that. All right. How about even giving birth, right? If your body is capable of giving birth, should you give birth yourself and not hire a poor surrogate? All right. Who is literally poorer than you and needs the money. All right.
Valerie: And secondarily is going to bond with that child. Would you exploit a woman in that way? No. All right. There are things that even we do as women that can alienate women from their own bodies.
Aubrey: Yeah. Thank you so much, Valerie Hudson. And we’ll link to your Two Trees talk from there and anything else that we may have referenced without explaining here.