majority rule

A few days ago, my long-suffering mother sent me a link to a newspaper article about Maxine Hanks, and her decision to be re-baptized into the LDS church after being excommunicated in in 1993. I'd seen links to the article elsewhere, but had avoided reading it. Her story still hurts, even though it isn't mine, but because of people like Maxine Hanks, it never will be. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Maxine Hanks, she was one of the "September Six" excommunicated in 1992-1993 for speaking and writing critically of the LDS church. She edited the book, Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism," which contains several essays and papers analyzing the role of feminism in church history.

It is important for me to note that I am reading the book, and especially by today's standards, it contains nothing particularly inflammatory. It is a scholarly work. Some might even find it dry at times (I don't, but I'm a history major, a Mormon, and a feminist.) But Hanks was speaking and writing in a time where church leaders, like Elder Packer, believed that "There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away...The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals." (1993.) 

It was a dangerous time to be a Mormon and a free-thinker. It was a dangerous time to be a critical thinker, and to question church practices. Growing up, I heard rumors about the September Six. Many people were quick to say that they weren't excommunicated for being feminists, or for their writing, but for far worse "secret" things. According to some, the September Six (and the entire feminist movement,) were bent on destroying the church, (and probably bringing about the end of times, because let's be honest, that is how we Mormons roll sometimes.) Many also suggested, and still suggest, that if someone disagrees with the church, they should just leave. For some, critical thinkers have no place in the church. 

I don't  believe that. I do believe the September Six were excommunicated for having ideas that differed from Church leadership, at a time when the church was working hard to "correlate" (critics sometimes see "correlation" as synonymous with "white-washing," others may see it as simply "standardizing,") Mormon doctrine. If the September Six were a "danger" or "threat" to the church, they simply threatened the idea that all Mormons should think, act, and believe the same way. 

So when I read of her re-baptism, I admit I harbored feelings of cynicism. How convenient. For a church currently battling criticism ranging from their spending habits to their treatment of the LGBT community, a happy story for the news cycle seems calculated and insincere. Hey world! We are feminist-friendly now! We didn't even make her recant her writings! PS: Elect Romney!

Likewise, I wondered why Maxine Hanks would seek re-baptism. How could a woman who ten years ago believed "Mormonism was limiting to me, so I needed to test the limits — to see who I and the church really might be. … Excommunication opened the door to a larger cosmos, inside and outside myself," now believe her "searching was complete. I had my answers." 

After the Mormon Stories conference, I spoke to a friend about my feelings of confusion regarding my role in the Mormon community. I speculated that many read what I write and project their own feelings onto my faith journey. Some want to see me as their "Ex Mormon Hero," a sharp-tongued critic who reveals all that is wrong with the LDS church. Others want me to be their "Liberal Mormon Friend," who speaks up for them in Sunday School, and courageously battles against the group-think. 

I am neither of those people. 

 Like Hanks, and like anyone who simultaneously loves and questions their religious up-bringing, I seek out my own path.   But it is because of people like Maxine Hanks that I am free to carve out my soul from the rock of Mormonism. I am neither forced to leave or required to stay. It is a freedom that is terrifying, and bought at a price.

Twenty years ago,  the church excommunicated Maxine Hanks for thinking critically. Now, like Lazarus emerging from the tomb, her name appears on the rolls again. My inner cynic still questions the motives of the Church in allowing her to be baptized again. But I cannot deny the feeling of hope I feel knowing that someone like Maxine Hanks exists in the church. I hope, and the part of me that still seeks out God prays, that this means something good. The presence of  Hanks in the church tells me that maybe the church no longer sees feminism, intellectuals, and Gays as the greatest danger to the church. Maybe the biggest dangers are ignorance, prejudice, and fear, and maybe Mormons can begin to fight these new threats from within.

In the meantime, I remind myself to grant others their own paths, including a path back to Mormonism. To do so, I remember a line in To Kill a Mockingbird. Like Maxine Hanks, Atticus Finch is often asked to choose between his profession and his community. Both sides claim the advantage of having majority rule over his behavior. But he reminds his daughter that "The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience." He does the right thing for himself, for his daughter, and for those who do not yet have the freedom to choose. I believe Maxine Hanks is doing the same thing. 

If Hanks can trust her conscience enough to rejoin the LDS church, it should be enough (for her.) As I seek out my own path, wherever it leads, I thankful to be able to trust in my conscience. I may be a cynic, but as Atticus also teaches Scout: "You rarely win. But sometimes you do."


Additional Materials:

(Are you listening to the FMH podcast yet? You should.)

Maxine Hanks will be at Sunstone this year! 


Tristin said...

The decision to stay, made over and over again by countless members of the church, is what will lead us all forward to an era of acceptance, love, truth, and freedom. I don't feel an ounce of blame toward anyone that chooses to leave, whatever their reason, but I feel immense respect and adoration for anyone that faces the hard choice and chooses to stay. I am bolstered by the feelings of fellowship I get when I hear the stories of others that struggle with the same issues that haunt me and still find in themselves a reason to keep wrestling. Thanks to people like you, Stephanie--whether you like it or not--I feel like I have a place in the church. Bless your brutally-honest heart.

MamaBear said...

to me? this story reaffirms that i will never rejoin the church. to each his own, and i don't want to make anyone's decision for you. but a church that will excommunicate this woman is not one i want to be affiliated with, even 20 years later when they decide it would be prudent politically (maybe) to let her come back.

i'm investigating unitarian universalist churches. which you would love!

mommy dearest said...

I don't think Maxine would allow herself to be a political pawn of anyone. I am impressed that she says the only questions she was asked about prior to her rebaptism was about her relationship with Jesus Christ. The fearful and hurtful actions of a few men in 1993 do not define the gospel. Christ defines His gospel. Always falliable members will make mistakes. Christ's own disciples argued about who was the greatest. But through it all Christ offer peace and wants to bear our burdens. I trust Him to keep His promises to dry all our tears and carry our heavy hearts. I can't wait to hear Sister Hanks. Her rebaptism tells me she trusts in His covenant to always be with us. We are all part of the body of Christ, hopefully Maxine's example will help all memebers, TBM and those who struggle with faith, history, and broken hearts to find Him. Now after that somewhat preachy message I will go yell at your brother to end his 45 minute shower. Then he will style his hair to look just like Princess Diana.

MJ said...

"The fearful and hurtful actions of a few men in 1993 do not define the gospel."

Well said, and not specific to 1993.

I will continue to be LDS and hope and work towards change until that time that I am either asked to leave, or that my conscience will not allow me to continue on in the LDS faith. I'm not there, but I can see it on the horizon.

I agree with Tristin. It is because of people like you that I feel I have a place in this church. Brutal honesty is what we need.

I wish I was more like you.

mere said...

I love you Stephanie

Miranda said...

Sometimes all a majority means is that all the idiots are on the same side.

Emilie said...

Thanks for telling it how you see it. I'm cautiously hopeful after hearing this news. But I guess we shall see how things go.

The September Six have been on my mind for a few weeks, so I've finally been doing the research I was so scared to start. Growing up, people always said, "Well, they must have done something horrible to be ex'd." Well, they didn't. I'm startled by how NOT horrible it is. All of the basic feminist ideas that were apparently so abhorrent to church leaders in 1993 are ... well, ideas that have floated through my brain more than a time or two. So, if that makes me horrible, so be it. I'd rather be on that side of the table than any other. said...

I can't help but feel frustrated by the quote by Elder Packer. Like you, I am on my own path created by me FOR me and not influenced by or made for anyone else. This journey has taken me through the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) and left me at peace with my decision with no residual bitterness... until now.

Years later, I feel so gypped of historical accuracy and real perspective that I feel angry for being taught bigotry. How could I have believed the quote by Packer? How could I have taken to heart Monson's childhood stories? How did I invest my entire life in a church that so openly despises those who are different and tells you that God want you to pay 10%? I don't have any of those answers.

I was never able to be in the place that you are now... the grey area in between then and now. I admire you for choosing what works best for you, I really do. I am also lucky for my place in life, but sometimes I long for the bubble I lived in. Rexburg, specifically. I remember a few years ago quitting my job, packing my stuff, and planning on going back to my university town. Because of circumstances, I didn't but now I realize that even if I went it wouldn't be the place I so fondly remember. The box I grew up in has changed. The edges have shifted, the size has changed and I know too much. This makes me so sad.

Such are the conflictions in my life. I share these with you because I know you understand. I don't share the specifics on my blog because I know most people don't. I really long for the past, and look forward to the future... but I am also trying to enjoy the complicated present.

What are your thoughts?


Maggie said...

I've always shied away from fmh because I am neither a wife, a mother nor a homemaker. I'm a feminist and a mormon but that housewife label is a huge hurdle for me. I know I should get over it because there's some seriously good stuff over there. Going to go listen to their podcast right now.

Stephanie said...


A friend suggested to me that there out to be a survey sent out to see the body count from crap Elder Packer has said. Honestly, if they just ran the numbers they might see that the biggest threat to the church is one seriously bigoted old man.

I totally feel you on that longing for the past. I had to walk through a Deseret Book the other day (don't judge, Mormon Handicraft has good fabric,) and I was just overwhelmed by how badly I missed my old believing self who read the sappy Mormon Literature. That self existed over a decade ago, but I still miss her.

The only thing I can do is give myself the freedom to change daily on my journey. This is my life. I'm always going to wonder and question, and that is okay. I used to wait for the "end" of this experience, when everything would be resolved in a neat little bow. Now that I accept it as part of my journey to somewhere, I can be more Zen. It is complicated, but really really beautiful to let go and let yourself experience every place your heart leads you.

This made more sense in my head.

Stephanie said...

*ought to be a survey.

@Maggie. I'm not a housewife either, but I love me some FMH.

Maggie said...

Okay, I listened to the fmh podcast and it's pretty fantastic (both in content and production value). I'll definitely be frequenting that podcast in the future. Thanks for recommending it!

Sandy said...

I don't speak as publicly as you about my faith, so I don't have the trouble with people projecting personalities onto me. Instead, I project personalities I find on the internet (and, increasingly, in real life) onto myself. Last month, I was a Liberal Mormon, with my hand up in Sunday school, living proof that one can be feminist and faithful. Last week, I was closer to Ex than Mormon, with nothing but acrimony for the church, not believing any of it, and torn between leaving quietly and leaving it all out in the open. Some days, I almost feel like a TBM (as TBM as I ever was anyway), praying for forgiveness and talking about Jesus like a madwoman. But mostly, I am none of these things. I am stuck in the gray (it suddenly strikes me that Uchtdorf's recent Ensign message "Always in the Middle" may be relevant, hum). I'm not sure why I just told you this, except to get it off my chest. I still feel very little peace. I do take comfort in your comment to Jes, about giving yourself permission to change daily. I suppose this is termed a faith journey for a reason. said...

@Stephanie: It's funny because this inspired me to write a post today about my past experiences while poking fun at myself and the judgmental things I've done. It's called "I'm a recovering bigot" and I wrote this line...the end is reminiscent of your comment:

"I want the right to chose who I love, who I want to be in office, what medicine I want to take, what happens to my body, what school I go to, what street I walk down without fear, what wage I earn, and the option to change my mind at any given second. And I want everyone else to have those rights as well."

Though confusing, it is liberating to simply decide that this IS your life and you can be flexible and kind and oppositional to yourself.

Thanks for taking the time to reply. Still loving you from far away Tucson...


Melody said...

"The presence of Hanks in the church tells me that maybe the church no longer sees feminism, intellectuals, and Gays as the greatest danger to the church."

Is that it? Or has she just "repented"? (I don't know, I really am asking. Also, I am skeptical.)

Stephanie said...

@ Melody: Oh, I hear you. I'm skeptical myself. However, she made a point about saying she didn't have to recant to join. Sooo...cautious optimism.

That said, I'm going to her Sunstone panel to see whats the what.

Melody said...

"@ Melody: Oh, I hear you. I'm skeptical myself. However, she made a point about saying she didn't have to recant to join. Sooo...cautious optimism."

....and that makes me feel worse. How can one be exed in one decade to be reinstated the next w/o having to "repent"?? It kind of turns the whole, "God is the same yesterday, today, and forever" on its head, doesn't it?

Life would be so much easier if I didn't actually think about things. Then all would be well in zion and I could happily rejoice at her being back in the fold.... along with the zillion other things that make me say, "Hmmm...".

On a separate but related note, have you ever watched Joss Whedon's "Firefly"? Sometimes I'm with River.... the Bible has contradictions and needs to be fixed. Oh to be like Shepherd Book and say, "It's not about making sense. It's about believing in something, and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It's about faith. You don't fix faith, River. It fixes you."

You can watch it here:

Shepherd Book's answer isn't on the video clip, though, which is sad.

Anyway, I'm not sure what to think of it all.... I guess I'll be praying hard to understand.

Stephanie said...

@ Melody

I totally hear you, and I'm with you. But, I think this is one of the situations where the church was wrong, and recognizes it. Maybe the church had to repent, not Hanks? They might never publicly state it, but I think that might be part of the motivation.

I also think they can't afford another bad news story during our "Mormon moment." So I think they have dual motives.

PS Firefly is awesome. Let's just put Joss in charge and be done. :)

Stephanie said...


Also, it feels weird to be rationalizing the church, so I will say that I think there are two types of church leaders: those who are sincere, and those who are more concerned about image. I don't know who was in charge of letting Maxine back in.

I also don't think God ever changed his/their mind on anything. Any God I'd believe in wouldn't want her exed in the first place. God and the church aren't the same person, but you know that. :)

At the end of the day, if Maxine wants to be Mormon, that is her business, I just hope it means good/better things for the institution.

Katie said...

I love reading you. Not because I want you to be my liberal Mormon friend. I suspect we are equally liberal. (Side note: I do think we'd make awesome friends.) And not because you're my ex-Mormon hero. But I read you because I genuinely appreciate how honest you are about the path you are on . (Plus you write things like ANYMOTHEREFFINGDAMNWAY. So bonus.)

I feel like one of the stories that isn't told in our Church (or one that is only whispered about in hushed tones) is what happens when large questions of faith arise. It seems there is one story told about how to address those moments. But that story doesn't work well for everyone. And I think it's time we stop telling it as the only way. Sometimes you have to forge your own path and walk alone. (Or walk with us reading along behind you.)

But I'm preaching to the choir with that last paragraph. So, I'll end my love-in comment.

Matt said...

I read Packer's talk. I just HAD to. Like looking at the wreckage of a ten car pileup on the freeway.

That dude is so gnarly it is frightening. Seriously, the whole thing reeks of cultish authoritarianism.

Just to sum up, when the seminary organization and the mutual organization were each supporting "speech/debate" activities, the LORD revealed to the Brethren that seminary needed to stop and let mutual take over all those activities. Which makes perfect sense, you know, that God cares a TON about whether Seminary vs. Mutual handles social activities.

But I guess it does make sense, since God is seriously concerned about boys in the USA getting their kayaking and basket-weaving skills under control.

Anyway, the conclusion for BKP was that since God wanted Mutual to handle debate activities, DON'T BE GAY/FEMINIST/INTELLIGENT

Melody said...

I keep coming back to read more comments :)

Matt's: "I read Packer's talk. I just HAD to. Like looking at the wreckage of a ten car pileup on the freeway." Made me laugh. So true!

I hope that good things happen for Maxine.

P.S. I wish you were my fb friend. (do you *do* fb?) So tired of hearing about the chick-fil-a bigot's celebration yesterday...maybe you should have a no delete chick-fil-a rant.... I would love it :D