Women and Authority
Edited by Maxine Hanks
The Grammar of Inequity
Lavina Fielding Anderson
 The thoughtful and subtle French philosopher Montaigne once remarked, “Most of the grounds of the world’s troubles are matters of grammar.”1 He was expressing a principle that I, as an editor, have come to see as a fact of our universe. The way we arrange words is determined by and in turn determines the way we arrange our reality. The labels we apply to people determine, in large measure, our relationships with them; but our relationships then reshape those categories and labels.
This essay explores some of the strengths of deliberately choosing to use gender-inclusive language in four areas crucial to our religious life—our meetings, our scriptures, our hymns, and our prayers. I recognize that not everyone is comfortable analyzing the way we speak or altering traditional or religious forms of speech; however, I am urging this program of grammatical reform because inclusive speech is not only ethically right but has profound spiritual consequences. How we read the scriptures and how we pray shape our relationship with our divine parents.
It is a given that we speak in ways that are familiar to us, but it is painful to realize that the familiar speech of our religious experience excludes women. The mother tongue belongs to the fathers. For Latter-day Saints, familiar religious speech is the language of the King James and Joseph Smith translations of the Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price. The scriptures are profoundly exclusionary. It is an agonizing  paradox; but to the degree we love and use the language of the scriptures, we also love and use the language of exclusion.
Yet this language does not represent my view of God. I feel to the very depths of my soul that the Savior’s mission was to women as well as to men, that our theology embraces a divine couple, that the place of our Mother in Heaven is as secure as that of our Father in Heaven, and that a full understanding of godhood will eventually include an understanding of her powers, principles, and responsibilities.
I feel that women must be fully included in the gospel of Jesus Christ, not because the scriptural texts or our theology fully includes them but because exclusion does violence to the fabric of the universe, distorting and misshaping the image of God that I strive, however imperfectly, to see and reach toward. When language becomes a veil, masking and disguising God, then it is imperative, as a matter of spiritual health, that language change. I think that the process, though arduous, will be accompanied by joy.
Inclusive Language in the Church
I had the instructive experience some time ago of reading through an entire conference issue of the Ensign2 looking specifically for messages of inclusion and exclusion. I enjoyed spending this time with the conference texts, discovering points of agreement, feeling called to repentance, feeling comforted, and sometimes being astonished.
I looked for references to women and made lists. I excluded scriptural quotations because women are comparatively rare in the scriptures. I also excluded references to Jesus and Joseph Smith. I excluded expressions of welcome to the Quorum of the Twelve and references to President Ezra Taft Benson that were expressions of support, appreciation for his presence, and so forth.
Here are the results of what I found:
1. Except in the priesthood session, all talks were addressed equally to men and women.
2. When speakers quoted named individuals who were not scriptural personages, they quoted thirty-one men and five women.
3. In examples and stories, thirty involved men only, nine  involved women only, and seventeen involved men and women.
4. Twenty men and two women were named.
Yes, the results were fairly lopsided. So what else is new? Far more interesting are some additional observations:
One is that Michaelene P. Grassli, the Primary general president, spoke in the Sunday afternoon session with general authorities. This new custom is a positive trend, as is the continued presence of the women organizational leaders on the stand.
Another cheering item was that about half of the general authorities who referred to their wives called them by their names—a hopeful trend since a name is an individual expression of personhood, whereas “wife” (like “husband”) is a role automatically created by marriage.
Even more significant were the evident, serious efforts of a few men to use inclusive language in their remarks. Here are a few examples:
1. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said: “Why do some crush and break the tender hearts of spouses and children through insensitivity and even infidelity?” and called such individuals “pathetic men or women.”3 This inclusiveness was particularly significant since “breaking the tender hearts” was an allusion to Jacob’s (2:35) strong denunciation of adulterous husbands in the Book of Mormon.
2. Similarly Elder David Haight rephrased a quotation from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich that had originally applied only to women, so that it also included men: “’I suppose every Mormon [man and] woman [have] measured [themselves] at one time or another against [their] pioneer ancestors’” (brackets his). Elder Haight also added a masculine example to parallel Laurel’s feminine one.4
3. President Thomas Monson, in speaking at the priesthood session, referred to athletic teams of “young men and young women.”5
4. President Howard W. Hunter reminded his listeners that “God knows and loves us all. We are, every one of us, his daughters and his sons.” Unlike the more usual phrase “children of God,” this language specifies daughters and sons and even puts daughters first.6
5. Elder Richard G. Scott in referring to the dedication of the Mexico City temple mentions the presence of “many of the men and women leaders of Mexico and Central America,” a deliberate and  inclusive specification instead of the more usual reference to just “leaders.”7
In short I observed a sensitivity and courtesy on the part of general authorities which manifested itself in real efforts to use more gender-inclusive language and to include women more visibly in the public rituals of general conference. Why then did I end up feeling those all-too-familiar feelings of grief as I read these thoughtful and kindly messages?
The answer has very little to do either with them or with me. The church neither invented the mechanisms of patriarchy nor shaped the grammar of inequity. The mechanisms of patriarchy are embedded deep in our culture and our language. I have long been dismayed at what the church “does” to women, but the sources of oppression seep through the bedrock of our culture itself. That insight has brought me feelings of understanding and even forgiveness which are very healing.
However, it has not brought me acceptance. Inequity is wrong—ethically and morally wrong. If the wrong runs to bedrock, then correcting it cannot be done quickly and easily—but it must be done. I am not qualified to discuss political and economic strata in that bedrock, but I can explore the layer we call its grammar.
I am going to use President Ezra Taft Benson’s powerful closing address as an example. I do so with some hesitation, since I am aware of the real danger of making a person “an offender for a word,” Isaiah’s rebuke of those whom he calls “the scorners” (29:20-21). Not in a critical spirit, then, but to demonstrate the terrible irony that “feasting” on the words of the scriptures is a diet deficient in inclusiveness, let us look at that address. President Benson speaks to “my beloved brethren and sisters” and refers to “offspring of a loving God,” children of God, members, parents, leaders, teachers, and families, all in gender-neutral language. But he also refers to “the agency of man” and “all mankind” and says “God reveals His will to all men, … I testify that it is time for every man to set in order his own house … It is time for the unbeliever to learn for himself that this work is true, … In due time all men will gain a resurrection.”8 There is no contextual reason for exclusionary language in the quotations I have just cited.
Certainly I am not accusing President Benson of insensitivity or  discourtesy to women. I am simply using his address to point out how deeply and strongly traditions of usage grip our language. Yet I believe that we cannot correctly understand either the God we worship or our own ultimate potential as gods when using relationships of male-female inequity.
If I am correct we must change those traditions and foster a new language of inclusion. But how? We will find no complete answer to this dilemma in the scriptures or in our history or in our theology, although we can find support for an inclusionary position in all three. I believe that we must find the answer first in our own hearts and then turn outward with questions—not questions like “Why are things the way they are?” or “How can we make them or it change?” but “How can I behave so that my actions mirror the truth of what I feel in my heart?”
How do we approach our scriptures, our hymns, and our prayers with language which reflects our deepest convictions about the relationships that should exist between men and women and about our even more important relationship with God?
Reading the Scriptures to Include Women
An obvious beginning is to read the scriptures with inclusionary language. This is quite a bit easier than we might think. Our son Christian was, as I recall, about four and a half when I realized how adept he had become. Our bedtime story involved a rabbit in red overalls, and I said something like, “See the bunny? He’s looking for something to eat.” Christian, absorbed in the picture, commented absentmindedly, “Or she.” At age eight Christian had no trouble editing John 3:3 at normal reading speed to emerge as: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man [or woman] be born again, he [or she] cannot see the kingdom of God.” Inclusionary language has already become to a large extent the familiar speech of our son.
I might add that Christian really got into the spirit of the thing by age nine and lobbied hard to include children. Now if a nine-year-old can successfully negotiate the grammar of this passage—”Except a man or a woman or a child be born of the water and of the Spirit, he or she cannot enter into the kingdom of God”—I think the  rest of us just might be able to stumble along in his or her footsteps.
In addition to the very real psychological impact for women of consciously including themselves and for men of consciously including women, there are some theological advantages. Think, if you will, of Christ as the “Son of Man—and Woman.”
Let us become editors—all of us. Let us shape our daily experience so that inclusionary language becomes our common speech.
Singing Our Hymns in a New Voice
My husband Paul, four of whose texts appear in the new hymnal, has wryly observed that Mormons may get more theology from the hymnal than from the scriptures. (I would also observe that many Mormons also get their poetry there as well.) It is unfortunate, then, that our current hymnal, the first in two decades, made no visible effort to modify or reduce exclusionary language in its texts.9
It is often more difficult to change words in the hymns than in the scriptures, however, since there are requirements of rhythm and rhyme to consider. Frankly our family editings have not been overly concerned with creating smooth alternative readings of the hymns; but our growing ability to spot and correct exclusive language as we sing along has enlivened many a song practice session. For example, we sang, “Know This, That Every Soul Is Free,”10 which includes those truly shattering lines: “Freedom and reason make us men;/ Take these away, what are we then?/ Mere animals …” As I recall I sang “make us persons,” Paul sang “make us human,” and Christian sang “make us homo sapiens.” Christian then continued with gusto, “Take these away, what are we then?/ Meer Schweinchen …” (He had just learned the German word for “guinea pig” and was delighted to find such a good place to use it.) Another Sunday we all giggled over a line that talked about how “faith buoys us up,” which Paul triumphantly sang, “boys and girls us up.”
Many uses of “man” or “men” in a hymn yield gracefully to such monosyllables as “we,” “us,” “all,” or “souls,” as: “Gently raise the sacred strain,/ For the Sabbath’s come again,/ That we may rest …”11 Or the line from “It Came upon the Midnight Clear”: “Peace on the earth, good will to all …”12; “And praises sing to God the King, and peace to us on earth.”13 I confess that  I haven’t found a graceful solution to the last line of “I Believe in Christ,” which concludes. “When on this earth he comes again/ To rule among the sons of men.”14 Usually we just go for broke and recklessly cram in, “To rule among the sons and daughters of men and women.”
I would suggest experimenting with your own singing to find gender-inclusive language that you feel comfortable with. I loved reading Kelli Frame’s report of her glorious experience in singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” with feminine pronouns (“She overcometh all/ She saveth from the Fall …”).15 At our last scripture study group, I tried singing it with inclusive pronouns:
They overcome it all,
They save us from the Fall,
Their might and power are great.
They all things did create,
And they shall reign forevermore.
It truly felt glorious!
Encountering Our Heavenly Parents in Prayer
A third area in which our language truly benefits from thoughtful inclusive reshaping is in our prayers. Here I urge not only using inclusive language but also replacing the formal language of prayer with everyday speech. I make this double plea because I feel that one shift in understanding—including Mother in Heaven—cannot occur without the other—praying in the most familiar and direct ways we can. I think grammar offers a single solution to two problems.
I am not at this point urging that we pray publicly to Mother in Heaven. I hope the time will come when we can address both of our divine parents in our public petitions.16 For the moment I propose only a first step toward that solution. I think that the real obstacle to including our Mother in Heaven in public prayers is not theological as much as it is grammatical. We have all worked hard to master the intimate pronouns and verb forms of seventeenth-century England. We have a real intellectual and emotional investment in the grammar of such prayer phrases as: “We thank thee that thou hast  preserved us in health and dost maintain us before thee and pray that thou mightest continue so to do.” After years of usage we hear such language as familiar speech. There is a shock in hearing, “We thank you for preserving us and pray that you will continue to do so.”
I am firmly convinced, however, that we have confused reverence with grammatical familiarity and, as with inclusive language in the scriptures, it is simply a matter of saying the new words over and over until we get used to them. I suggest that we start praying privately in our own normal speech using you and your. It will make these prayers more intimate, more natural, and more loving. It is a pleasant coincidence in our language that you is both a singular and a plural pronoun. I think that once we make the grammatical adjustment of hearing the ambiguous you, we can then tackle the theological problem of whom it refers to.
However, there is a political problem. (There usually is with grammatical points.) The church has a policy on the language of public prayer. Those seventeenth-century pronouns and verb forms have become shibboleths of ecclesiastical respectability. When I worked on the Ensign staff, we prepared a special issue on prayer in January 1976. A message by Elder Bruce R. McConkie titled, “Why the Lord Ordained Prayer,” included ten points he thought essential in understanding prayer. In addition to such points as “ask for temporal and spiritual blessings” and “use both agency and prayer,” he also insisted, “Follow the formalities of prayer.”
Our Father is glorified and exalted; he is an omnipotent being. We are as the dust of the earth in comparison…
We approach Deity in the spirit of awe, reverence, and worship. We speak in hushed and solemn tones. We listen for his answer…
Almost by instinct, therefore, we do such things as bow our heads and close our eyes; fold our arms, or kneel, or fall on our faces. We use the sacred language of prayer (that of the King James Version of the Bible—thee, thou, thine, not you and your).17
This argument deserves some serious consideration. I do not question that this description represents Elder McConkie’s experience. However, I honestly cannot say that my best prayers have always been uttered in “hushed and solemn tones.” Many of my best prayers have been uttered when I have been all but speechless with  fury or sobbing with pain or near bursting with delight. I know, because these are the prayers when I feel instantaneous and profound contact—not always answers but unquestionably a fully understanding listener.
Nor do I believe that we “instinctively” assume a posture of prayer. I may hold the world’s record for length of term as a Sunbeam teacher (nine years), and I can state authoritatively that there is nothing instinctive about folding one’s arms. Likewise I don’t think we instinctively use the “sacred language” of prayer. I think we instinctively try to use the most meaningful language we have, but people who are floundering around trying to decide between “wilt” and “wouldst” are not having a worshipful experience at all but a confusing one and, if the prayer is offered in public, probably an embarrassing one as well.18
I no longer feel we need a special, formal language to relate to God. As a missionary in France in 1965-67, I had learned appropriate Mormon prayers which, as a matter of linguistic convention, use the intimate pronouns, tu-toi. These are, like their English counterparts of thee and thine, the only pronouns in French for singular you. French, again like English, uses the plural “you” (vous) on “formal” occasions whether one individual or several are being addressed. Missionaries were forbidden to tu-toi anybody except little children “as a matter of propriety”; but normal French-speakers tu-toi lovers, relatives, youngsters, chums, pets—and God.
Clearly if the church were being consistent about addressing God in the most exalted and formal speech available to them, French members and missionaries would have been counseled to use vous. They were not, I believe, because the issue was not one of formality at all. The issue was one of having a special language—and in English, a now difficult, abstruse, and abnormal one—reserved for God. (I am pleased that this is one cultural manifestation of Mormonism we have failed to export.)
As I gained more familiarity and fluency in French, I began using French for my private prayers. I still remember how tender, how affectionate, how close it made me feel to God. Naturally I asked myself why my own language did not have quite this effect. As the daughter of two conscientious and thoroughly orthodox Latter-day Saints, I literally cannot recall ever having heard God addressed as  you up to that point. I maintained the habit of praying in French for a full fifteen years after my mission because I cherished its intimacy.
The church’s current attachment to the King James Version of the Bible is firm. However, Philip Barlow’s careful and convincing essay, “Why the King James Version?: From the Common to the Official Bible of Mormonism,” establishes that this attachment is largely a historic accident—a combination of tradition and the personal preference bolstered by the persuasive but illogical arguments of J. Reuben Clark, Jr.19
Similarly the attachment of any special reverence or respect to thee and thou is based on historical ignorance of the evolution of you to the place it now occupies in English. Middle English has three forms of the second-person pronoun for both singular (thou, thy/thine, thee) and plural (ye, your/yours, you). Modern English has replaced the six with two (you, your) that cover nominative, possessive, and objective cases, both singular and plural.20
There is nothing inherently “sacred” about obsolete though charming language. The eloquence and beauty of the King James Version deserve our study and love for those qualities—but not because they help us communicate better with God. God does not listen more approvingly to “Wilt thou bless us?” than to “Will you bless us?” In fact our Heavenly Parents probably do not even have to listen more attentively, given the merciful promise to listen to the prayers of our hearts rather than those of our lips. That being so, requiring children, young people, and converts to make their petitions to God in a fragmentary and foreign formal language reminds me uncomfortably of the situation the Savior condemned during his mortal ministry: “Woe to you … You shut the kingdom of heaven in [people’s] faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Matt. 23:13, New International Version).
At home we use the King James Version but more often the Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, the Phillips translation, and Good News for Modern Man (or Persons). These editions do not use inclusionary language but, as I have mentioned, we are handling that quite nicely on our own. Our intention is simple: we want Christian to understand the scriptures, to seek information from them, and to think about them. We want the scriptures to speak directly to him, to convey the spiritual  experiences of others, and to be models of and catalysts for his personal spiritual experiences. We do not want the scriptures to exist in a category completely apart from all of his other learning experiences.21
We think other people might enjoy the same experience. When Paul gave a Christmas Sunday school lesson a few years ago, he read the Luke nativity from the J. B. Phillips version and had several people come up and say, “That was so beautiful! Did you write it?” I suggest that reading the scriptures in an accessible translation will bring a freshness and immediacy to their message that we quite desperately need. From there it is an equally logical and rewarding step to make them gender inclusive.
An important, related grammatical point is the argument that man is a generic which includes women as part of “all mankind.” I concede that the term has in fact been so used and still is. But I do not buy the argument. Rather I see man as a categorical noun, the existence of which implies a correspondent: man/woman. Other examples are husband/wife, parent/child, teacher/student, master/slave. Correspondence is not the same as inclusion. The category of husband predicts but does not include the category of wife any more than the category of child includes the category of parent.
It is an unfortunate historical and social fact that most of these categories connote hierarchy—subservience and superiority. Precisely for that reason then, I think we should be both scrupulous and courteous in acknowledging the real existence of each category. If one category cannot exist without the other, then both deserve to be named. A grammarian writing more than thirty years ago reflects both the cultural understanding of that time and the problems which have been fully realized in the succeeding three decades: “The word man is ambiguous in that it may be masculine (a male human being) or common gender (any human being). In ‘Man was put into this world to suffer,’ man probably means both man and woman. In ‘Be a man,’ it means man, not woman. This ambiguity of man has encouraged the substantive use of human.”22
I think that it is much more graceful and practical to simply acknowledge that English contains both parallel terms and inclusive terms: brotherhood/sisterhood/siblinghood, mankind/womankind/ humankind, husband/wife/spouse, son/daughter/child. If we  want to communicate gender, then let us use the marvelously specific tools our language gives us. If we want to communicate inclusion, then let us not use confusing gender-laden nouns which we must afterwards explain.
For example, a well-meaning attempt at being inclusive can paint the unwary speaker into this type of corner:
“This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
The word man as used above is generic. It includes man and woman, for as Paul said, “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:11).23
I fully respect the speaker’s intentions, but how could it possibly have escaped his notice that man could hardly have been so unquestionably inclusive if he had to use both man (definitely male in Paul’s example) as well as woman to define it? I anticipate the inevitable, though probably delayed, day when we will be able to read that scripture as “to bring about the immortality and eternal life of all” (or “souls”).
Reading the scriptures inclusively, singing hymns inclusively, and praying with inclusive language are quiet grammatical revolutions that will reshape our reality to make it more truly a partnering—an equal honoring—of maleness and femaleness. But it will be inadequate without an underlying commitment, which must be renewed often, to inclusiveness. We must accept the realities of the world we live in and forgive where we can understand. But we must never, never acquiesce in justifying inequities.
As I read through those often inspiring conference messages, wondering why I felt so sad, I received my answer when I came to the greeting of an apostle to Elder Richard G. Scott, the newest apostle. It reads:
Elder Scott, I would just like to add my welcome to the others that have been given to you as you assume this great position. You are joining a unique quorum. It is made up of very common men with a most uncommon calling. There is a spirit, a unity, a devotion in this body like none other you will ever experience. We are excited to have you and your great talent and abilities with us in our quorum. Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!24
Then I knew the source of my sorrow. I will grieve before the  Lord and I will not be comforted until those words can be spoken to a sister as well as to a brother before the Holy Parents of us all, until we can fulfill in our society the promise of Paul: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
Lavina Fielding Anderson is president of Editing, Inc., and editor of the Journal of Mormon History. She is former associate editor at the Ensign and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, and co-editor of Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987). She resides in Salt Lake City with her husband, Paul L. Anderson, and their son, Christian. “The Grammar of Inequity” previously appeared in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 23 (Winter 1990): 81-95, and was first presented as a paper for the Mormon Women’s Forum, 30 November 1988, Salt Lake City.
16. A recent policy specifically forbade public prayers to Mother in Heaven. President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Cornerstones of Responsibility,” Speech to the LDS Regional Representatives, Salt Lake City, 5 Apr. 1991, 3-4, photocopy of typescript in my possession. He reminded his listeners of their responsibility “to raise a flag of warning and to make correction where necessary” when they encounter “small beginnings of apostasy.” He cited as an example, “prayers offered to our Mother in Heaven.” He explained: “Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. That doctrine rests well with me. However, … I consider it inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven.” He cites as reasons the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer, Christ’s teaching about prayer and the lack of prayers addressed to Mother in Heaven by “any President of the Church, from Joseph Smith to Ezra Taft Benson.” He repeated that section of the address at the Women’s General Fireside in September. “Daughters of God,” Ensign 22 (Nov. 1992): 97.
17. Bruce R. McConkie, “Why the Lord Ordained Prayer,” Ensign 6 (Jan. 1976): 7-12. This policy has not changed since 1976. The home teachers’ message for February 1990 concluded its remarks on prayer with: “We can show greater respect to Deity by using Thee instead of you, Thou instead of your, and Thine instead of yours.” Home teacher’s message for February 1990. Typescript in my possession.
18. For that same issue of the Ensign in January 1976, the staff commissioned an article by a Brigham Young University professor of English called “The Language of Formal Prayer.” It begins by quoting Joseph Fielding Smith’s guilt-producing statement that the rise of modern translations of the scriptures that use “the popular language of the day, has, in the opinion of the writer and his brethren, been a great loss in the building of faith and spirituality in the minds and hearts of the people” (as quoted in Don E. Norton, Jr., “The Language of Formal Prayer,” Ensign 6 (Jan. 1976): 44-47). The article is well written and explains the rules for using thou, thee, thy, thine and their accompanying verb forms and even provides several quizzes. I remember liking the article in 1976; but since then, my feelings about how I should relate to God have changed.
19. Philip L. Barlow, “Why the King James Version?: From the Common to the Official Bible of Mormonism,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 22 (Summer 1989): 19-43. Barlow’s article is an analysis of Clark’s influence on the elevation of the KJV.