Interview with Dr. Todd Compton—Part 11
AMS: Welcome back to the Apostate Mormon Show with Annie and Dr. Todd Compton today. We’re talking about the things you wish the Church would kind of change… either evolve or revert back. Let’s talk some more about women in the Church. Obviously, you have a strong affinity to that subject. Your book deals with 33 women. Your new book coming up is again about one of these women. How do you account for that?
TC: How do I account for…?
AMS: For your affinity with Mormon women.
TC: Well, in history, what happened was I began reading their writings and they were just… wonderful writings. They were not sophisticated writers, often. Though, Eliza R. Snow was quite sophisticated, but… They were extremely moving, their journals and their letters. And, it’s almost like, they were better because they were not polished.
TC: And so, for Mormon history, I think that’s what really connected to me with them, is their writing. Also, at the time when I started, not a lot of work… Some work had been done on the Mormon women, but not a lot. So, it was kind of exciting to see Mormon history from a different perspective.
TC: You know, not from the perspective of the male leader, but from the perspective of the woman. It gives a very fresh, interesting point of view. In current Mormon women… in the situation of Mormon women, I consider myself a feminist, as a liberal Mormon. So, I… want women to have more equality in the Church. And that’s just, you know, one of the principles I live by.
AMS: Well, in your book, you mention Eliza R. Snow’s “O, My Father,” the hymn that talks about Heavenly Mother. We know that in the last several years, there’s been at least a few excommunications of women who wanted to bring up Heavenly Mother. Although, the hymn is still in the official hymnal of the Church, as far as I know.
TC: Um, hum.
AMS: Isn’t that… strange, that… I mean, they talk about it, but they don’t want to talk about it. Is it just a matter of not wanting to give women any power, or, what is it, in your opinion?
TC: Well, it’s a very difficult, I think, situation for conservative Mormons, because I think women have been becoming more and more conscious of the need for equality in the Church, which has a tendency to be quite conservative and non-changing, you know, is... It is… not changing. So it’s become more and more difficult, I think, for conservative Mormons.
TC: And more difficult for liberal women in the Church. And I think one of the things that’s happening is a lot of liberal, intelligent women are leaving the Church, which is hurting the Church a great deal.
AMS: Huh. Because they can’t seem to… That’s how I saw it, I didn’t see how they would make any progress.
AMS: And, I wasn’t particularly interested in receiving the Priesthood or anything like that.
TC: Uh, huh.
AMS: But, at least, equal treatment, you know? I thought… It was getting difficult to have always a man between me and God.
AMS: Because, Mormon theology – there’s always a guy standing there between me and God. And I didn’t like that, I didn’t think it was fair, or appropriate, or whatever.
TC: Yea. Of course, in early polygamy, women were kind of given the idea that they could not attain salvation unless they were married, sometimes to a polygamist.
AMS: Um, hum.
TC: And, instead of… You know, I’m much more for a totally ethical view of salvation, like salvation happens entirely on an ethical plane, on an individual ethical plane.
AMS: Hum. Do you think Priesthood is a power exclusive to Mormons? I mean, is the Mormon Church…
TC: Um, I have a really complex view of Priesthood. And, so, again, I really emphasize the ethical component of Priesthood. I think that a lot of non-Mormons have that ethical component. And, at the same time, sometimes a Mormon can have the form of the Priesthood and be a jerk, and not have that central element of Priesthood. And that D&C 121 quote that you read earlier says that, unless you have that ethical component, Amen to the authority.
TC: So, what does that imply about people who have all of that ethical component, but, you know, are not necessarily ordained?
TC: I think… Myself, I think that God’s point of view is overwhelmingly ethical rather than being concerned about formality. You know, and I think formality is important. There’s a structure there. But, I think His perspective is overwhelmingly ethical.
AMS: Um, hum.
TC: And so I think, to a greater extent than Mormons realize, the non-Mormons who do have that ethical component do have authority. And…
AMS: Another heretical statement. (Laughs) I might add.
TC: (Laughs) Yes, but it all comes from scripture, you know. I’ve been really influenced by the New Testament, myself, in Jesus’ teachings. I really think that they haven’t been taken seriously by Mormons, you know… read carefully and studied seriously.
TC: And, I’ve written a couple of articles about His parables that I was supposed to give you the data on, and I never got around to it. (Laughs)
AMS: Well, why don’t you tell us now?
TC: Well, I wrote one article on the parable of the Prodigal Son, which is a magnificent parable. [The article] appeared in Dialogue in 1996.
AMS: Huh. I probably have that, actually.
TC: And, I wrote another article on Jesus’ dealings with women. And, it’s called “Was Jesus a Feminist?” And, of course, the answer is “yes.”
TC: But, it’s really interesting how enlightened His view of women was, compared to the culture around Him.
TC: And, um… And I have my background in Classics, which is… helps in dealing with the New Testament.
AMS: Do you think people in the Church today are more oppressive towards women than they were in the days of Joseph Smith, or even in the time of Jesus?
TC: That’s an… interesting question. And, I don’t know how you would answer it with evidence. I could kind of like, give a rough opinion.
TC: It’s interesting, a lot of the things that would connect women to the Priesthood are more… were found more in the 19th Century, like women giving blessings to each other, and anointing, and performing ordinances with each other. You know, and in that sense, they were respected more. On the other hand, now, women don’t have to deal with polygamy. So, I think they are on more of an equal plane because of that.
TC: It’s interesting, I think there’s a real neo-conservative element in some Church leaders today. I think there are other leaders who are more… who have a more liberal point of view. You know the Church leadership shifts, so I think at some point the real strong, authoritarian neo-conservatism, I think it will give way to more moderation. Hopefully.
AMS: But, it’s going to take at least 20 years, won’t it?
TC: Who knows? You know, I would never have predicted that the blacks would have been given the Priesthood, that that would have changed. And, it changed, and that surprised me. It came a lot sooner than I would have expected, so…
AMS: And, they managed to do it without facing up to a lot of the ugly things that have been said in the past.
TC: Uh, I’m sorry. Say that again?
AMS: They managed to give the priesthood to “all worthy males,” including blacks, without facing up to some of the ugly things that had been said about black people in the past.
TC: Yea. You’re absolutely right. And, I think that now, at some point the Church needs to say, “yes, these leaders made statements that were racist, and they were wrong.” You know, it would just help so much just to say, “yes, they did this, and they were wrong.”
TC: You see, but it’s so difficult for them to see that… to deal with the fact that some Church leaders were wrong. I think it’s healthier for them to, and will make it easier for them when they say, “oh, yes, they made mistakes, and we can deal with that.”
TC: But, they can’t do that. It’s like they have this idealized view of Church leaders as never doing anything wrong, and it’s very unhealthy.
AMS: Yea. One last thing I want to ask you about, is… Do you think the LDS Church today is still polygamist in a theological sense? By that I mean, they never removed Section 121, or is it 131, that talks about polygamy.
TC: Right. Section 132.
AMS: 132. There it is, that’s right. Are they polygamists in that sense, or not? We’re coming up against a break. So, I’m going to let the commercials go on for a second and when we come back, we’ll pick it up from there, okay?
AMS: This is the Apostate Mormon Show. I’m Annie, and we’ll be right back.