question of freedom of conscience.
"What other judgment
can I judge by but my own?"
Margaret Merrill Toscano, a Utah
Mormon feminist, was honored by the Utah NOW in 1993 for her courage in
lecturing on the goddess tradition, and the role of God the Mother in the
Latter Day Saints (Mormon) theological framework, despite threats of church
disciplinary action. She was excommunicated.
"I want to begin by thanking the women of
NOW for this honor and for giving me the opportunity to speak to you tonight,
which for me is an award in itself. I must confess that I have always loved
"As a child I would volunteer to give
talks in Sunday School as often as possible; I loved thinking about a topic
and presenting my ideas to a group. At that time my church leaders were
pleased with my eagerness to spike; but, needless to say, they have grown
less pleased over the years as my woman's voice began questioning the status
quo and challenging the patriarchal hierarchy.
"Ironically, I received the phone call...
informing me of the NOW award just the morning after a meeting with my
LDS bishop in which he advised me to avoid all public speeches or media
attention. This July meeting was part of an ongoing dialogue with my church
leaders which had begun a week and a half earlier when my stake president
gave me an ultimatum: I must stop writing and speaking or I would be considered
"He said I could not expect to be a member
in good standing when I had spoken out on issues which he said were embarrassing
to the Church, on issues such as women's right to the priesthood and the
importance of female deity. I told him that I could not be silent, and
not simply because I feel strongly that women will always be second-class
citizens in the Church so long as they are denied priesthood and God is
spoken of only in male terms. More important for me was the issue of silence
itself. More fundamental was the question of freedom of conscience and
speech. I could not and would not be silent because to do so would reinforce
what I see as the major problem in the LDS Church today: an oppressive
and legalistic authoritarianism which is not only contrary to the basic
tenets of Mormonism but which also destroys the climate of freedom and
grace that is necessary for individual growth and the flourishing of an
open-minded and loving religious community.
There was a time in my life when I
would have submitted
"There was a time in my life when I
would have submitted, or at least compromised in some way, with my words
at least if not with my heart.
"But it was too late; it was twenty years
too late. And not just for me, but for others too, who by the middle of
September had been given similar threats, in the form of summons to appear
in Church courts.
"We were all obedient once when we were
young, but now we are middle-aged, middle-aged dissidents. We missed the
countercultural revolution of the sixties and seventies; we were at BYU.
And now here we are twenty years later with a revolution of our own. (Everything
seems to come to Utah twenty years late.) Now some of us find ourselves
committing acts of civil disobedience in the Mormon community; we can't
follow rules we feel are invalid, or obey simply because we've been told,
or agree to be silent when we see injustices.
I expected to join the group referred
to as the'September Six.'
"You've been reading about it in the newspaper,
you've seen it on TV. Lynne Whitesides was disfellowshipped on September
14 for apostasy: she talked about God the Mother and disagreed with Church
leaders in public.
"Avraham Gileadi was excommunicated on
September 15 for apostasy: his books interpreting Mormon scripture challenged
the exclusive right of leaders to define doctrine. My husband Paul Toscano
was excommunicated on September 19 for apostasy: he criticized the authoritarianism
of church leaders, advocated feminist theology, and refused to follow the
stake president's request not to speak at the Sunstone Symposium.
"Maxine Hanks was also excommunicated
on September 19; her feminism was too radical for the Church, and she dared
to speak it publicly. Lavina Fielding Anderson was excommunicated on September
23. also for apostasy: her crime was simply collecting stories, the stories
of people, a majority of them women, who have been abused by the ecclesiastical
system; and she refused to stop speaking out for the disenfranchised.
"Today we learned that Michael Quinn also
has been excommunicated in his third church court, simply because he has
written factual church history which he refuses to whitewash to please
leaders. I expected to join the group which is now referred to as the 'September
Six.' When my stake president first gave me the ultimatum, I went through
the agony of examining what my church membership means to me. I'm a sixth
generation Mormon. My excommunication would be painful not only to me but
even more so to my extended family. I love the religion and its people,
even if I dislike its claims to exclusive truth and even though I have
major disagreements with present church policies, especially those dealing
with the status of women. I've stayed in the Church in spite of personal
pain because I have deep spiritual and emotional ties to the religion and
because I believe I have a right as a member to help define what that religion
is and will be.
Someone needs to oppose this stuplifying
climate of fear
"Mormonism is an American religion; its theology
is rooted in fundamental principles of freedom: freedom is seen as a constituent
element of personhood and personhood is both primal and indefeasible in
"If all thinking Mormons leave the Church,
all of the expansive, liberating aspects of Mormon theology are likely
to be lost and the atmosphere in the Church will only become more oppressive.
Someone needs to speak out for change.
"Someone needs to oppose this stultifying
climate of fear. The members at large deserve something better.
"These are the kinds of arguments I used
to boster myself. I remembered Joan of Arc's speech from Maxwell Anderson's
play: 'every man gives his life for what he
believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people
believe in little or nothing, nevertheless they give up their lives to
that little or nothing. One life is all we have, and we live it as we believe
in living it, and then it's gone. But to surrender what you are, and live
without belief - that's more terrible than dying-more terrible than dying
the inevitability of my collision course with church leaders, and it felt
right to be sacrificing my membership for principles I believed in. Then
something happened to change the direction of events: my bishop and my
husband intervened to save me from a disciplinary council.
"My bishop took the responsibility for
dealing with my so called problem by setting up a process for ongoing negotiations,
and my husband Paul diverted the stake president's attention to his own
disagreements with church leaders and policies, which eventually led to
I had to face all of my inner demons
"And then I had to deal with the mixture
of emotions I felt about my escape from church disciplinary action. I had
to look deep at my doubts and desires, at my ambivalence about what had
happened. I had to face all of my inner demons - my fear and pride, my
anger at men for having the power to decide whether I was in or out of
"And while I knew that my husband had
acted from a moral commitment and that my bishop wanted to reconcile differences,
I still resented the fact that men were trying to define what my relationship
to the Church would be; and I was depressed that I felt guilty about my
"It's such a familiar pattern. Throughout
history women have been defined by patriarchal standards. They are the
Other, the one without the phallus, the gap, that which lacks or is invisible.
There is an old African tale about a man who was given a beautiful and
magical wife on the condition that he not open her most prized possession,
a little basket, without her permission. His curiosity finally got the
best of him one day and he secretly opened it, only to discover nothing
inside. While he was laughing at what he thought was a woman's silly game,
the magical wife disappeared, not because he had disobeyed but because
he saw nothing in the basket. In fact, it was full of treasures from the
sky to be used to enrich the earth.
What women have must first be valued
by women themselves
"What women have must first be valued by
women themselves. The must assert the reality of their gifts against a
tradition that makes them doubt their knowledge about their own lives.
"Gerda Lerner puts it this way: '...Since
(women's experience) has usually been trivialized or ignored, it means
overcoming the deep-seated resistance within ourselves toward accepting
ourselves and our knowledge as valid..[It means] being critical toward
our own thought, which is, after all, thought trained in the patriarchal
tradition. Finally, it means developing intellectual courage, the courage
to stand alone, the courage to reach farther than our grasp, the courage
to risk failure.' (The Creation of Patriarchy,
"I believe that the most courageous thing
a woman can do is to trust her own ability to define what her life is and
should be, even with the risk of failure.
"Facing my Church's censure is nothing
in comparison with facing the dark abyss of my own self-doubts. When excommunication
loomed over me, the thought of sacrificing for the sake of my personal
beliefs gave meaning to my life.
"Without such an external force I have
to work harder to construct meaning for myself. Ironically, for good or
ill, the outward strictures of society act as a foil which puts in relief
the patterns of our own self-definition. Opening ourselves up for growth
by keeping the relationship between public categories nd private interpretation
in a fluid state is perhaps the most difficult of human tasks. It can only
happen when we continually challenge the validity of society's structures
and the way in which we relate to them. Living with the tensions this creates
takes courageous thought as well as courageous action.
"Bernard Shaw's Joan Arc is less sure
of her heroism than Maxwell Anderson's Maid. When threatened with being
burnt at the stake, she is ready to sign a recantation until she learns
the alterative is life imprisonment.
"In spite of her doubts, Shaw's Saint
Joan ultimately trusts in the validity of her inner voices. During her
trial, one of her accusers asks, 'Then your voices command you not to submit
yourself to the Church Militant?'
"Joan replies, 'My voices do not tell
me to disobey the Church; but God must be served first.'
"Another inquisitor queries, 'And you,
and not the Church, are to be the judge?'
"Joan answers with a rhetorical question:
'What other judgment can I judge by but my own?'
What other judgment can I judge by
but my own?
"That is the question for every woman, and
man, who is concerned with authenticity and integrity. Today I salute those
women of courageous thought and action who, at personal cost and risk,
have worked to create a society with the freedom and equality necessary
to offer every woman the opportunity to shape her own life and judge the
validity of it for herself.
"I salute Sally Smith and Jeanetta Williams.
I salute Lavina Fielding Anderson, Lynne Kanavel Whitesides, and Maxine
"And I also salute those women whose names
are unknown to most of us who have had the courage in the face of censure,
opposition, and pain to assert their personal beliefs with little or no
support from their communities-women like Gay Blanchard, Charlene Ecklund,
and Lanette Graves.
"And finally, I salute the women of NOW
for their support of the women of Utah and the ways in which they encourage
courageous action from us all.