My goal in teaching primary this year is to fulfill the purposes of the curriculum while including apropos discussions of women. This will be an interesting challenge as the book of scripture is modern, and so the lives of contemporary women should be much more accessible than the sometimes oblique mentions here and there in the Bible and Book of Mormon. But my first week to teach is the second lesson, The Apostasy and the Need for the Restoration of Jesus Christ’s Church, which is not exactly modern.
The lesson is at once simple and complex. It would probably be the most controversial to any other Christian group, as it lays the foundation for our only true church claim. Three reformers who paved the way for Joseph Smith’s questioning, visions and ultimate restoration are discussed at length, with a suggestion that three children read over the provided biographies and come prepared to tell their stories next week. The three reformers are John Wycliffe (b. 1320), Martin Luther (b. 1483) and Roger Williams (b. 1620). The lesson is careful to point out that these men did not have “authority from Jesus Christ to correct the problems they saw in their churches. However, by calling attention to these problems, they helped prepare the world for the time when Jesus’ church would be restored.”
I want to add one woman to this group: Joan of Arc, who was born in 1412 and whose life and mission on earth in some ways parallels Joseph Smith’s even more closely than the three reformers mentioned. Here is the short bio* I wrote and handed out along with the other three:
Joan of Arc was born in France in 1412. She was a peasant girl who never learned to read or write. When she was about twelve years old she started hearing voices and seeing angels, including the Saints Michael, Catherine and Margaret. Her mission was revealed to her gradually, and when she was about seventeen she left her home to help the heir to the French throne fight against the English and receive his coronation. After she succeeded she was taken by the English and tried for heresy. Joan’s voices had advised her to wear men’s clothing and armor for safety as she traveled and fought. She would not deny that her revelations were from God, and she was burned at the stake for committing the heresy of dressing like a man when she was nineteen years old. Joan was determined to obey God, even at the cost of angering the institutional church. Joan’s mother and others got her a retrial and she was later made a saint in the Catholic church.
Several things stand out to me about Joan (not all of which I plan to discuss). She was poor (but not destitute), she had a loving family that she desired to be with. When it was revealed to her father that she would be with the army of France, he feared that that meant she would be a camp follower (prostitute), and he said that it would be better if she died. The Catholic Encyclopedia is careful to say that Joan was not a feminist — she lived in a system in which any person, regardless of class or gender, could obtain a calling from God. Joan was rehabilitated and canonized pretty quickly after her death. And it’s interesting to compare her to the three reformers. They were ministers, professors, powerful men who deliberately and consciously criticized the Church. Joan was humble and reluctant to believe that she had any great mission, and yet her central conviction, that God had spoken to her through His messengers was blasphemous in the extreme (if untrue).
Speaking of reformers, I can’t help thinking of how some people I know think of nondenominational churches, as if they are the very devil, like, the worst thing imaginable. And yet, taken to the extreme, I think the rational end for the reformation is exactly in those nondenominational congregations. And the Mormon church has more in common today, in many ways, with the Catholic church than most Protestant sects (and those milquetoast nondenoms!).
But whatever. I love Joan of Arc. I am nigh onto obsessed with her. I saw and wept through a play about her life the night before Pants Sunday that suggested the idea that she might be called after death to inspire and guide Martin Luther. The timing is right anyway.
Joan’s similarities to Joseph Smith strike me. She was quite revolutionary, doing something completely unexpected by those around her and even by herself. She was young, unlearned, headstrong and fiery and passionate. She answered her judges much more wisely than they expected. She was wrongly imprisoned, even to being held in a secular male prison instead of a female church guard as she was entitled. And when she relapsed into her heresy of wearing male attire, for safety from rape or because her dress had been stolen, or to emphasize that her visions, with their endorsement of her clothing, were always from God, she was martyred at the stake.
On Sunday we sang happy 601st birthday to Joan and ate King cake for Epiphany in her honor. (Utter and blatant papistry!) The girls helped me gather up little trinkets as per Pioneer Woman. Tom got the dime in his slice (wealth). I got the button (increased spiritual knowledge). Avery got the thimble (increased industry). Callie the shoe (will walk in the ways of the Lord). Lucy the ring (blessings of the church). And Molly, appropriately enough, got the bean and was crowned king (queen) of the feast and has to make the cake next year.
*In writing about Joan of Arc, I reference a talk by S. Michael Wilcox that I heard at Education Week last August, Melissa Larsen’s play Martyr’s Crossing, wikipedia.org (I know) and the Catholic Encyclopedia. Any mistakes are my own, of course.