Pink for Boys and Blue for Girls: The Trouble with Gender Roles

I grew up in Provo, Utah—the traditional-values capital of the world—during the 1970s, an era characterized by radical social changes. Provo was more Leave It to Beaver than One Day at a Time, Three’s Company or Maude. Certainly it was not Modern Family. None of my friends’ mothers worked outside the home, none of their parents were divorced, and none of their siblings were doing drugs, listening to acid rock, or marching in peace protests. It was a Captain and Tennille kind of town in the middle of a Jefferson Airplane decade. Continue reading

In My Father’s House

I was just about to leave the care center when Dad took my hand and said with a sigh, words hardly audible, “I don’t want to live any longer.” Dad had fought prostate cancer for many years but this last month of his life—March of 2007—was the hardest. In order for him to receive daily radiation treatments, his doctor placed him across the street from the hospital in a care center. The center’s beige, cinder-block walls, dim lighting, and old-people sick smells were depressing. Dad was miserable but stoic. My mother, my sister, and I spent hours visiting him every day, watching television, and talking about mundane affairs. But Dad seemed distant, like he didn’t want to talk about the real issue: that he was dying. Continue reading

Fourteen Years Later: A Response to “The Priesthood: Men’s Last, Best Hope”

“Did you hear that!” asked Brother Smith, his face flushed with indignation. “I cannot believe that woman would talk that way about the Brethren.” We were gathered at a Washington, DC Sunstone symposium in the early 1990s and had just listened to Carol Lynn Pearson present “A Walk in Pink Moccasins” where she speaks to an imaginary audience of young men as if she is “one of the Presiding Sisters.” The talk attempts to simulate for men the type of discourse young women (and presumably all women) hear regularly from priesthood leaders. Neither my wife nor I were really surprised by Brother Smith’s outrage at Sister Pearson’s talk. After all, he was an institute teacher and one of the main bastions of Wasatch-front LDS orthodoxy in our Maryland area. Attending a Sunstone presentation was a major stretch for him.

It wasn’t five minutes after Brother Smith had moved on to mingle with other Sunstone attendees that his wife approached us. Continue reading

A Walk in Blue-State Moccasins: Imagining Life as a Utah Mormon Democrat

A Sandy, Utah stake president’s recent speech ignited a frenzy on Facebook and Twitter after it was posted on the internet by one of his stake members. President Matthew DeVisser’s words of warning about a general decline in values and admonition to prepare for turbulent times ahead was nothing revolutionary, but it soon morphed into a political rant that emphasized right-wing Republican talking points, lamenting, for example, that Americans had chosen “socialism over capitalism, entitlements over free enterprise, redistribution and regulation over self-reliance.” DeVisser said that he didn’t intend “to be controversial, political, or even dire” but simply to “state the facts” after “having been moved upon by the Holy Ghost”; however, left-leaning Mormons, including me, found the speech highly offensive, factually misleading, and theologically problematic. Continue reading

Entertaining Angels

The following is a talk I gave at a missionary farewell in church today:

I had only been a missionary in France for a few weeks and I was desperately homesick. My companion was an ex-marine who knew how to follow the rules with precision and one of those rules was to speak in French at all times during the day. My French was about as good as it had been in junior high school, which is to say, not very good at all, so I mostly remained silent as we rode our bicycles out to the low-income housing in the Parisian suburbs of our quartier where we tracted—they call it porte-a-porte or “door to door” in French which is exactly what we did—going door to door for sixty hours a week with little success. The weather was bleak that summer. I joked in a letter home to my parents that it had only rained once during those first few months, but it started in June when I arrived and ended sometime in mid-August. I felt desperately lonely and miserable riding my bike in the rain and meeting rejection at almost every door.

On one of my first Sundays at the little ward meeting house, I was feeling particularly homesick when Brother Tran, the second councilor in our ward, approached me, smiled, put his arm around me, and asked “how are you doing, Elder Petersen?” It was a small gesture on his part—I doubt he even thought about it, and almost certainly wouldn’t remember it—but it changed my world and my life. In that brief moment, I felt my heart expand, my spirits rise, and my soul becalm. I not only felt Brother Tran’s warmth and friendship, but somehow in that brief embrace Brother Tran conveyed to me something more: I felt my Heavenly Father’s love for me and a peaceful assurance that I was not alone. Continue reading


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