Neylan McBaine: Women, Church, Gospel, and Jesus
Neylan McBaine was raised in New York City by a single mother who also happened to be a singer in the Metropolitan Opera. She watched as her mother was applauded and recognized within her faith community for her accomplishments. But as a young student at Yale, Neylan began to realize that many women perceived a woman’s role in the Church as something different—something prescriptive. Neylan has since dedicated her time and talents to helping women see there is no one way to be a Latter-day Saint woman.
Looking at His example and constantly being reminded of how the Savior favored the underdog and went against the conventions of His time gives me the confidence that I need, is really the only thing that I need, to feel like there’s room for exploration and for a little bit more disruption in our lives today.
Pioneering the Vote: The Untold Story of Suffragists in Utah and the West
Wikipedia Article: Ariel Bybee (Neylan's Mom)
Book: The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
3:04- Growing Up as a Latter-day Saint Young Woman in NYC
6:33- Role of Women in the Gospel
14:49- Telling the Stories of Latter-day Saint Women
20:41- I’m a Mormon
30:24- Empathetic Activism
35:54- Keeping People Tethered to Their Covenants
37:52- The Savior’s Treatment of Women
41:10- What Does It Mean To Be “All In” the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
This episode of All In is brought to you by Time Out for Women. Do you remember those old Choose Your Own Adventure books – the ones where depending on what you choose, you turn to a certain page in the book and that determines your ending? Well, like most things in our world, Timeout for Women looks a little bit different this year, but the folks behind TOFW have been working so hard to bring you incredible offerings that you can access from your home, and they have come up with the Choose Your Own Adventure of sorts. For starters, be sure to check out TOFW Tuesdays for live presenter chats on Instagram. But then, for very affordable prices, you can hear from some of your favorite Time Out for Women presenters. You can even find all you need to host a special Girls' Night In. Check out TOFW.com for all the information you need on how to create your own Timeout for Women.
Morgan Jones 0:00
Neylan McBaine once wrote, "How many choices do we each make in a given day? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? With each of these choices, we exercise our most precious God-given right: our agency. Modern Latter-day Saint women choose to prioritize the Gospel in their lives, but for each woman that priority takes a different form. For some, it takes the form of committed motherhood, bringing souls into righteous homes. For others, it takes the form of humanitarian service. Others serve the broader world in paid industry positions or as creators of artistic works. Women prioritize the Gospel in times of crisis when they rely on the Savior or when they change their whole way of life to convert to His church.” Today, we talk with the Neylan about her work to tell the stories of Latter-Day Saint women, and why those unique experiences are powerful in today's world. Neylan McBaine is co-founder and CEO of Better Days 2020 which celebrates the 150th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the state of Utah, the first women to vote in the modern nation, and the centennial of the 19th Amendment, through education events and the arts. Neylan's previous marketing experience includes in-house positions at Silicon Valley companies as well as advertising agencies, including a role in the "I'm a Mormon" campaign, and she brings her understanding of audience and brand to her current work. Since co-founding Better Days 2020, Neylan has become a leader in speaking and writing about women's leadership and the US suffrage movement with a specific focus on Utah and the West's early role in that movement. Her third book, Pioneering the Vote: The Untold Story of Suffragists in Utah and the West came out in August 2020. Neylan is a graduate of Yale University, the mother of three daughters, and she currently resides in Salt Lake City. This is All In an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones and I am so excited to have Neylan McBaine with me today. Neylan, Welcome.
Neylan McBaine 2:29
Hi, Morgan. Great to be here.
Morgan Jones 2:31
Well, I have been looking forward to this interview. I have to tell you Neylan, so we spoke on the phone last week, for those listening, Neylan knows this – but after we spoke, I listened to your fair Mormon talk from five years ago. Is it 2016?
Neylan Mcbaine 2:49
Eight – eight years ago, it was 2012.
Morgan Jones 2:52
Yeah, even, even further back and I was just like, mind blown. I read like a good portion of it to my mom on my walk the next morning, so I'm just so excited to talk about it today. So first of all, though, let's get a little bit of background on you. You were raised in New York City by your mother, who was an opera singer in the Metropolitan Opera. You've talked about how her church experience kind of shaped yours. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Neylan Mcbaine 3:21
Yes. So New York in 1980's and 90’s was a remarkable place to grow up. I – especially in the Church, because it was such a small community then. And members of the Church who came to New York really came for deliberate reasons, and they were definitely people who came, not following a common or traditional trajectory, but who came for specific education purposes or specific work purposes, or to follow their dreams, you know, and it was, it was – I think, probably a much more deliberate and radical choice back then, for a member of the Church to make then perhaps it is now. We have a lot of people in the Church going through New York for internships and early jobs in their careers, which is wonderful, and the Church has a much stronger and larger presence in the city specifically than it did when I was growing up. But because it was so small when I was growing up, we had a real collegial kind of feeling. And the – my mom was a, was a sort of linchpin and much of that, that family that we had in the church at that time. She was a strong personality. She was excelling in a performing art, which, especially for women in the church, we have always kind of held up as a, an honorable profession for an LDS woman to have, and she was able to convey the Spirit very powerfully through her art, which really endeared a lot of people to her both within the Church and outside of the Church. So I grew up in what was definitely a bubble. It was a very sort of controlled environment for church culture and gospel practices and gospel learning. And, I loved it. And it balanced really well with some of the other influences that I was getting in my life. As a child in New York. My, my father was technically a member, but really not active. And I had a whole other sort of influence from him and his side of the family. I also went to an all-girls school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where I was getting, you know, very sort of second wave feminism messages about my future and the kind of leadership positions that I was expected to tackle in my future. And so for me, those messages really worked to kind of balance each other out and create a holistic vision of who I wanted to be. For instance, I didn't mind the, you know, emphasis on family and marriage at Church because I saw that my mom as a divorced single mother wanted that in her life. I saw that as something to stretch for and an ideal that I wanted for myself, but at the same time, surrounded by professional women, I also saw that the messages I was getting at school were very good and valuable and helpful to me. And I had enough examples of women that were balancing those varying factors that I felt like I could do it myself. So it was – for me, it worked. I know for some of the people that I grew up with, there were too conflicting, too many different kinds of messages. And one had to be chosen over the other at some point, but, but for me, it worked. And I will always credit my mom with that powerful example. First and foremost.
Morgan Jones 6:32
Yeah. So then Neylan as you kind of grew up as a member of the Church and you lived other places, you talk about how you lived – you were a student at Yale, and then you went to San Francisco. As your experience, church experience progressed, did you feel like you had a really positive experience as a woman in the Church?
Neylan Mcbaine 6:56
Well, I – when I went to college, I had the first inklings that there were some women in the Church who didn't have that same really positive feeling that I did. And I did start to experience the imbalance in opportunities that I had – I was hearing about as well. And specifically, for instance, as I was in college, and I, you know, I went to college in Connecticut and, and so we would have – we had a very small ward of members. And as a member of my, my student ward's Relief Society, I was tasked with engaging the undergraduate women in our ward and ward community and getting them involved. And I saw this, just on a very, very simple basic level, this ability for the men – for the Elders Quorum to call up the boys and say, "Hey, we need you to come and pass the sacrament." The ward will not function without the student – the male students, right? "We need you to pass the sacrament, we need you to be there to present the primary ordinance. We need you – " There was an undergraduate member in the bishopric, right? He needed to attend, in order to conduct the meetings, and we didn't have those same levers for the girls, right? We didn't have anything that we could say to them, "If you do not show up, our worship will not be the same." Right? "Something will be missing, we will not as a community be able to worship Holy, properly, in the same way if you do not show up." And I also had several wonderful leaders in my Yale ward, that really helped me open up to the idea of sort of the divine feminine and tapping into that power that we have as women both in a matriarchal sense and also sort of on a, on a sense of more parity with men, in a sense of being – of having equal responsibilities to men. So I got this very interesting, sort of dual intellectual vision into my role as a woman in the Gospel, both as a potential mother and also just as a potential community member who has equal access and rights to priesthood power.
Morgan Jones 9:05
Yeah, as I listened to your – I listened to a few different podcasts with you, and one of the ones that I listened to you were kind of talking about this, about the need to feel like you're making a contribution that matters, and that people will care if you don't show up to church on Sunday. And I grew up in a very small ward, if you could be demoted back down to a branch we would have been. And I always felt like if I didn't show up at church, like somebody would know, and it would matter and there would be things that wouldn't get done if I didn't go. And then living out in Utah now for a good number of years, it's a very different experience. And it's like, if I don't go to church, no one will probably – like my friends will notice – but in terms of responsibility, many times you don't feel like it would be that big of a deal. And I do think it's important to feel that sense of contribution. And, and the sense that you matter. So another thing that you said Neylan is that you served with a woman in a Relief Society presidency who had her name removed immediately following getting released from the Relief Society presidency, is that right?
Neylan Mcbaine 10:21
Morgan Jones 10:22
And she cited the inability to reconcile her role as a woman in the Church. So for you, when you have served with somebody, I can only imagine – I have had the chance to serve in Relief Society presidencies with these – with incredible women and you become really close. And so when you've had that experience, how does that affect you and your testimony?
Neylan Mcbaine 10:46
So one thing to recognize about Church administration that I've learned over the last decade of doing this is that you know, we – as much as we like to standardize the structure and the procedures – the cases really do vary by ward, and by stake and by individual. Right? There’s so many times where personality really comes into play and even the best intended structures and the best intended policies – personality and individual dynamics really do guide the interactions. So the first caveat is that, you know, this was a, this was a situation in which big personalities clashed, first of all, and I want to acknowledge that, but on the other hand, you know, this was also a situation where a professional woman in an urban environment who, you know, essentially ran her own business and her personal life, right? her professional life – was up against somebody who she felt like was a "No." A "No" voice in her life, right? And she didn't feel that sort of camaraderie and that counseling that we talk about a lot in the Church, in her efforts to guide the – not just the women of the church, but to share stewardship over the whole membership of her ward. And so I think since then that was, you know, 15 plus years ago, I think we've done a better job talking about the counseling aspect of ward councils, for instance, and the need for leaders within the ward to really share stewardship and share guidance with each other over the entire ward, not just over, you know, the 12 year old girls who they may have stewardship over, but really consider themselves to be stewards over the whole ward. And I think we've done a better job with that. But at the same time, we still come up against that, that sort of disconnect of, you know, well, we are all servant leaders, but some of us have more important titles than others do, right? So you have the Relief Society president, but by the nature of the structure of the organization always deferring to the bishop, no matter how kind, no matter how conciliatory, no matter how listening that Bishop is, right? The structure demands this particular hierarchy. And so we're all – that's always intention I think, we always feel like yes, we're supposed to be counseling together. But, you know, is the father really the head of the home? Isn't the bishop really the person that has the final say, right? And, and so I think, you know, if, when you have a structure in which no woman is – you know, women always have a man above them, whether it's on the local ward level, or it's on the general level, you're always going to come up against that. I'll just share a quick example from history. You know, I've spent the last several years delving into Utah history, which has necessitated of course getting into deep – into LDS women's history, and specifically the women who really led Utah's efforts in the suffrage movement and the movement to get the women the right to vote, both here in Utah and nationally. And the leader of Utah's suffrage movement was a woman named Emmeline B. Wells. And Emmeline is my personal hero. She was a rabble rouser. She met four US presidents in her work for women. She edited the longest running suffrage newspaper in the country, was a good friend of Susan B. Anthony's and really spent her whole career sort of demanding this expanded role and expanded vision of women's capabilities. And one of the things that I love is when I tell people about Emmeline and they asked me, you know, “Well, what did the Church do about her?” You know, “How, how did the brethren handle a woman like this?” In other words, right? And I love being able to say, “Well, they made her General Relief Society President.” Because they did. They elevated her in our hierarchy to the steward over all of the women of the Church in her later life after she'd done all of this advocacy work.
Morgan Jones 14:45
So really quickly, before we get a little bit deeper into these things, I want to kind of touch on a couple of the things that you've worked on, that have given insight into women's experiences within the church. You have worked – what year did you start the Mormon Women Project?
Neylan Mcbaine 15:02
Yeah. It was – I started it in 2008. I think we launched in January of 2009, with 18 interviews,
Morgan Jones 15:10
And you have interviewed how many people now?
Neylan Mcbaine 15:13
So probably on the site, there's close to 500 interviews, and I, myself, probably did over 100 of those.
Morgan Jones 15:22
Amazing. And so the idea with this is to interview women from all over the world going through all different things. I think the most recent article that I saw on there yesterday was about a lady who was addicted to prescription medication, does that sound right? And I loved reading that. I think that there are so many – so many different things that women are going through in the Church. And so I just wondered from your experience and having been a part of such a massive project, what have been your biggest takeaways? And I'm sure that you came into this with expectations of what you hoped to accomplish, but how has it exceeded your expectations?
Neylan Mcbaine 16:04
Yeah, those are great questions. I mean, I look back on those experiences, and I'm sure you can sympathize with this, since you – you interview so many people. It was a very, very sacred time and a sacred experience to be able to get into people's spiritual journeys and, and really, really plumb the depths of those with them in that, in that format. My goal going into it, I was coming out of sort of early, you know, young adulthood. I'd been out of college for 10 years, and I had seen those – some of those trends that we talked about earlier from my college and young adult days continue to play out. And I had friends who – you know were distancing themselves from the church because of gender issues. And I just thought about this well of women that I had had in that bubble in New York and beyond – in San Francisco and Boston by that time –who really had been examples to me, and I just wanted to share their experiences to show that there were many ways to choose the right. That was kind of the – I've always had in my mind this image of balancing personal revelation with obedience, right? I think for women we have in past generations maybe overemphasized obedience and a particular vocational pursuit of motherhood as the way to, to be obedient to our divine identities. And I think, you know, from my – from my mom's experience, she overemphasized personal revelation, right? So I've always kind of balanced those two. I have this wonderful story just as an aside, of my mom in 1965. She actually sang one of her first solo recitals at BYU – she actually graduated from BYU and then was singing professionally in Salt Lake at the new Utah Opera just started, and she went back to BYU and did a solo concert. And after the concert, Hugh Nibley came up to her, you know, who is a giant at BYU and in our intellectual community as a scholar, and he came up to her and said, "Well, you know, Sister Bybee, that was, that was very lovely. But what are you going to do once you get married and start having children? I mean how can you keep this up? You're not going to be able to keep doing this." And I remember the first time my mom told me that story, and I looked at her and I just said, "Mom what did you do? It was Hugh Nibley, weren't you terri – " I mean, she was 23 years old, wasn't she terribly intimidated? Right? And she just looked at me like I was crazy. And she said, "Well, I ignored him course!" You know, and I just – I love that story. Because it does kind of say, well, you know, on one hand, you could have – you could react to that so many different ways, right? And she chose to, to really emphasize that personal revelation, knowing herself so well and knowing what's right for her. And I think going into the Mormon Women Project, that was what I was seeking. I was seeking a silver bullet that told me, this is why some women are able to thrive within Church culture that may overemphasize obedience over their, that they may feel like, you know, their personal choices about their vocations and their professions and what they pursue in terms of their identity. What is it that allows them to work within a culture and thrive and, and really emphasize that personal revelation element like my mom did? And the answer is: I didn't find a silver bullet. Every woman's life is so nuanced and so complex that there is of course, no, you know, cookie cutter, obedient, purely obedient woman who's following the stereotype. And if we, if we think we found her, we just need to dig deeper. But I did find that – that the women that I interviewed had a sort of well of confidence and self-assurance, self-knowledge, that was very inspiring to me, and that I really found very moving and very sacred. And so I love doing those interviews. I also loved really exploring the range of, of church membership. I remember I interviewed the first female member of the church in Russia, in Moscow, and she joined the church, I think, in 1990, in Moscow, and we were able to interview women from about – by the time I finished as the editor, I think I'd done about 22 different countries. And I think they've expanded to over 30 countries now, within the project. So it's been – it was an incredibly rewarding project for me personally.
Morgan Jones 20:24
Yeah. There's something about talking with somebody about something as personal as their faith that is just unmatched, and so I'm jealous. I'm actually jealous that you got to interview that many incredible people.
Neylan McBaine 20:38
You're on your way.
Morgan Jones 20:41
I think it's also so cool, because on the flip side, you also had the chance to work through Bonneville Communications on "I’m a Mormon." And you've kind of talked about how you had an interesting balance between those two things because on one hand, you had these women from all over the world, and then you had "I'm a Mormon," that was a little bit different, but also kind of the same thing – kind of showing that there were all different paths to being a member of the Church. And I think – I love something that you said in one of the podcasts that I listened to where you said, "Latter-Day Saint women write their own script." And so as you were involved with "I’m a Mormon," how did your unique background both with your mom and New York, and then the Mormon Women Project – how did all of that kind of influence that experience at Bon Com? (Bonneville Communications).
Neylan Mcbaine 21:36
Yeah, I, I was really grateful to have that experience at Bon Com and it came – it kind of fell into my lap. I got a call – I think the day Mormon.org launched, from one of their brand strategists and he said, "You know, we're here brainstorming a new campaign for the Church and we're a bunch of dudes sitting around a table and we're trying to figure out how to talk to everybody, not just other dudes." So, he was familiar with the Mormon Women Project and reached out to me because of that. Ironically, he wasn't familiar with the fact that I had just spent seven years in Silicon Valley doing digital marketing and brand strategy. So I went in with, with, you know, I think more thorough qualifications than they might have expected initially, which was great because that allowed me to work on many other things as well at Bon Com, aside from "I'm a Mormon." But initially it was interesting with "I'm a Mormon" – you know, I think the Mormon Women Project was, was seen as a sort of source material for some of the videos that that they were doing for the campaign. But the work that I was doing on the end of MWP (Mormon Women Project) was much different. It was, you know, as we sort of explained, it was a very sort of intimate sacred exploration of a woman's personal journey in you know, a 4,000 word transcribed interview, like really, really meaty, lengthy stuff, right? And "I'm a Mormon" was, you know, something I was also familiar with for my advertising and marketing experience, but it was short, punchy, visual, two to three minute videos. And so, so it's a very different way of telling women’s stories, and both are extremely valuable. And both, both were needed. But it really was an interesting education for me in all the different ways to be able to tell a story and all the different ways to be able to – to share the diversity of our experiences.
Morgan Jones 23:31
Yeah. Why do you think Neylan that it was important that that campaign show us different kinds of Latter-Day Saint women? And then also with that, I can't help but think – like for me, one person that made a deep impact on the way that I wanted to live as a Latter-Day Saint woman was Jane Clayson Johnson. And so I think that there were different women that were a part of that campaign, that kind of, it was, – they didn't totally fit the mold, right? That we think of as the "traditional" woman in the church, but it gave us kind of – it kind of shook up that stereotype. So why do you think that that was important? And do you think that that was successful?
Neylan Mcbaine 24:17
Yes. So – good questions. I think, you know, the process of globalizing the church and, and creating an institution that really works outside of Utah and outside of the United States, started, you know, earlier in the 20th century, definitely. But I think the profile of the membership was really something that had to be tackled, in order for the Church to continue its growth trajectory at that point in history. So at the beginning of the 21st century, we enjoyed global growth. At one point we tipped to more members outside of the United States than inside of the United States, you know, and yet – I, you know, we still have so many of the trappings of a sort of – in mid-century American institution, right? And that was very painful and painfully clear to me growing up in New York where we would have, you know, the missionaries work so hard to, to baptize members, you know, immigrants or people from other denominations, especially if they were coming from, you know, Black churches in Harlem, for instance, and they would come to our Church and they would just be like, "No way am I going to keep, you know, singing, singing these boring hymns in a dirge like manner.” You know?
Morgan Jones 25:36
Yeah. And feeling like, "I'm the only person that is of a different race." Yeah.
Neylan Mcbaine 25:41
Exactly. So it's – so I mean, it was, it was absolutely essential for growth that we shed some of that. Some of those, those cultural trappings. And it was, it was a painful, painful transition and the transition is still happening. I remember one of my first stays at Bon Com after we had launched some of the early video portraits, our managing director sat us down and read us a letter that had been written by a man to, you know, to us generally, that said, "My wife has been on the couch in the depression for the last couple of days because the Church's fancy PR agency is showing a woman who has pursued a career, whereas my wife, you know, gave up her education and her pursuit so that she could raise a family the way the Prophet told her to. And now, you know, you're telling her that she didn't have to do that, she didn't have to make that sacrifice." And real anger and real confusion. And, you know, I got that, I got that. You know, I, one of the things that prompted me to start the MWP was this tension that I felt growing up between my mom being, you know, a woman who did not have a temple marriage, a single mother who was professional, international career being held up in all the Church videos and singing for President Hinckley's birthday parties, and I was on the fireside circuit, right? And got to meet several of the apostles, which was wonderful for my personal testimony – and again, back to the, you know, sort of my sense of myself as a woman in the church. But I did recognize the hypocrisy of that, especially in the 1980's and 90's, when we were not very far from President Benson's call to women to stay home. And so I think, you know, women in the Church have always kind of suffered from that, that tension and the "I'm a Mormon" campaign and things like the Mormon Women Project have been efforts to alleviate that tension, and to say, you know, again, that balance between you know, what is, what is a cultural practice or what is obedience to a particular cultural expectation or a narrowly prescribed role versus all the rest of life, right? And all these other things that we can do as women, and all the other ways to write our scripts. And I think, you know, it's been a really important pendulum swing for all of us who are trying to live in the modern world and still recognize our eternal identities.
Morgan Jones 28:15
Yeah, I think it's so important to note that marriage and family sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it's not happening for you. Or you have a choice, you know, “Do I settle just to get this thing that I supposedly am longing for? Or do I wait and get what I feel like I deserve?” And I think that has been an interesting thing in my experience as I have – it's taken a long time to get to this point. But I think I finally got to a point a couple of years ago where I was like, "No, I don't think that, that God's plan for me has gone wrong. I think that this is exactly what he wanted for me. And if he wanted me to be married, I would be married. And I'm not." And so, I think that it goes back to that idea of personal revelation. But I do think it's so important to recognize that, that marriage and family is not something to be achieved. It's something that, that happens sometimes, and sometimes it doesn't. And it's kind of – in my opinion, a healthy, happy marriage and family, in many ways, is something that is out of our control, when it happens. If that makes any sense.
Neylan McBaine 29:33
Oh, I love to hear you say that Morgan. That's wonderful. You know, I have three daughters and statistically one of them will not get married.
Morgan Jones 29:39
Neylan McBaine 29:40
And, and I think, you know, retaining membership, you know, not to mention, shepherding people on the covenant path and helping them maximize their spiritual potential. You know, the, the sheer membership retention statistic alone requires us to craft a space for people like that, you know, that are in that particular demographic, and embrace it fully, and make sure that all the opportunities to live, you know, fully explored and adventurous and big lives are celebrated at every turn.
Morgan Jones 30:23
I completely agree. Neylan you mentioned that you have been working on this Better Days 2020 nonprofit for the last – how many years? Has it been more than five?
Neylan McBaine 30:36
No, it's about four years. Yeah – we started in 2016.
Morgan Jones 30:40
And the whole goal of this was to shine a light on the history of women in Utah and their, their role and gaining the right to vote. You and I talked last week on the phone and you mentioned what you call empathetic activism. And to me, what I think of when I hear that is when we haven't necessarily had the same experience as someone else, but we're able to have empathy for that person, and then be an advocate for someone, even if maybe their experience has not been our experience. But can you explain to me for you, what empathetic activism means and what that would look like within a church context right now?
Neylan Mcbaine 31:25
Yeah, I think my background has kind of caused me to fall into this position of empathetic activism. I feel like I've developed some principles around it along the way, both with the Mormon Women Project and with my work at Bon Com and Better Days 2020 and sort of my marketing work in general. I think my marketing work in general has allowed me to always start with the audience in mind. Who am I speaking to? And what has – what experiences have brought them to this point? What motivates them? I mean, when I was working in retail, retail ecommerce marketing back in San Francisco I was always fascinated by the in-store experience, right? How do you lay out a store to get people to make a purchase decision? I think that kind of psychology is really fascinating. And so I think I've applied that to my activism work as well. And also, I think, because I grew up with a foot in a couple of different worlds, it's allowed me to sort of pivot and bridge my perspective when needed. And so, so I think empathetic activism is about being very clear about the values that you want to espouse. And it's a very deliberate practice of moving someone towards your values, but with a sense of doing it – not just because of a sense of power, like I talked about earlier, it's not a power grab – it's because of a sense of – that you think the world is going to be a better place and that you have experiences and, and personal data points to support that, that persuasive action and the good of those values that you're persuading people to follow. Quite honestly, all of our missionary work is empathetic activism. If members of the Church don't think they're activists – they are. It's what we do. Missionary work is empathetic activism because it is an effort to deliberately persuade others to espouse our values because we think that they lead to a particularly fulfilling way of life. Right? And, and so similar to missionary work, I think some of the first principles are that you try to put yourself in the other person's shoes, you try to – try to have a wide embrace, and you decide what you're going for and not just what you're against. I think, right now in a time of hyper activism and protesting – one of the things that I really admire about, about certain activists is how they have a positive stance, they know exactly what they're for, not just what they're, what they're against. They also understand that history was not that long ago, that you know, when we're talking about areas of activism such as Black Lives Matter, or the Me Too movement, like these things may not be a part of our lives today, as you and me, as you know, white women living in Utah, but the history is very present in – and we need, and it's not as far away as we think it is. It's not something that happens so long ago in the past that the repercussions aren't still alive today. They are. Another principle that I really think is a key cornerstone of empathetic activism is the idea, or the mantra, shall we say – the convincing of oneself that there are no villains. While that may or may not be true, I think it's been really important for me to always take – to always assume that nobody's out to get me. Nobody's trying to be malicious, no matter what kind of dumb things they say or what mean, you know, degrading things they might say, or patronizing things. No one's trying to be malicious right? I always, you always try to get the benefit of the doubt and try to, to again, sort of understand why they're saying what they're saying. And you know, I think, for me over the past 10 years, that approach has been called both, you know, apostate and naive. And I take pride in both of those. Because I feel like, you know, if you're not aggregating the edges, then you're not speaking for the middle. And I like speaking for the middle. There are a lot of people in the middle that often feel like they need to get pulled to the edges. And I feel like if I can be very clear on my principles and my values, and express love and admiration, while still seeking for improvements and a better way, then that is showing the ultimate love for things that I care deeply about.
Morgan Jones 35:48
Yeah. Neylan, I just had a question come to me and I want to ask you. So, you mentioned you've gotten criticism from both sides, and I think that you've walked a very fine line. And so for you, why is the Gospel of Jesus Christ worth all that effort to you? Why is it worth walking that fine line?
Neylan Mcbaine 36:13
Oh, I mean, because – what else is there worth working on? I mean, if, if the Gospel of Jesus Christ doesn't succeed, I mean, what's the point of anything, right? I feel like this is the lens through which I see existence, and it informs everything that I do and my whole sense of self. And that doesn't mean it has to dictate the way I see everything and my – the way I see myself, it means that it informs it, which means that I – it's a lens through which I see the world, but I can take that lens off, and I can see what my life would be like without it. I can see where it might hinder me, in some areas. I can see where it might be limiting in some areas. And I can see where also it is empowering and strengthening in some areas. And I just feel like it's the ultimate thing we're working towards and fighting for. If our people are not happy within the church institution, then that is at the core of salvation, right? And it's my way of doing that missionary work. I didn't go on a mission, I'm not a very good missionary, and I feel like this is, you know, people tethered to their covenants is what it's all about. And keeping people tethered to their covenants can be different than having people tethered to church culture. And I feel like that, that message is the way that I can contribute to the kingdom. For sure.
Morgan Jones 37:52
I love that the end of that Fair Mormon talk that you gave you said, "There was a woman involved in almost every one of the Savior Jesus Christ's mortal milestones, from the very first miracle facilitated by his mother, to revealing himself as the living water, to being the subject of numerous parables, to being anointed by a woman hours before his death, to being the first witness of the resurrection. Women were not just bystanders but engaged contributors to His ministry. They were symbols of the extent to which the Savior was willing to challenge the conventions of his culture, and usher in a new social ideal. Compared to the way women were treated in the Savior’s own time and place – His treatment of them was radical." How, Neylan, have you felt the Savior encouraging you along in this endeavor?
Neylan Mcbaine 38:45
Well, I do want to speak for a moment to that comment. I, you know, it's been a long time since I've read that talk and hearing you read it back to me reminds me of this book that I, that I just read by Sue Monk Kidd called The Book of Longings. Have you heard of it?
Morgan Jones 38:58
Yes, I've heard of it.
Neylan Mcbaine 38:59
You've got to go read it. It's one of a part of a wonderful genre of literature that I love, which is sort of exposing and excavating women in the scriptures and, and Sue Monk Kidd, who's a very talented spiritual writer, creates a fictional wife of Jesus, and it's not Mary Magdalene, or any of the usual suspects, but she's, she's a fictional character. But in writing the book Sue Monk Kidd did extensive research into the way women were treated in the Savior's time. And hearing you read that quote back to me, I've just been learning even more recently about how degraded women were at that time. And reading that novel and all the research that went into that really, really kind of helped me understand just how, how radical the Savior was, we would call it – we call him a disrupter these days, right? And, and I think that I gained a lot of confidence from that. I gain a lot of – I feel like you know, if we're going to the Savior for our example, in all things, I don't need to worry about what anybody else is telling me or what anybody else has done. I need to continue going back to the source. And I think writers like Sue Monk Kidd, and some of the evangelical writers that I've read in my life actually have really helped me go back to the source because I think one of the things we're blessed with in the gospel is having additional books of scripture and modern day Prophets and General Conference magazines every six months, and a whole body of literature, right? And there's so much we have to digest. And I think sometimes when we go to other worship practices, we're reminded that, you know, while that all is a tremendous blessing, it gives us much more depth to the gospel and our understanding of our purpose here on earth, all you really need is Jesus. Right? And, and I think that looking at His example and constantly being reminded of how the Savior favored the underdog and went against the conventions of His time gives me the confidence that I need – is really the only thing that I need, to feel like there's room for exploration and for a little bit more disruption in our lives today.
Morgan Jones 41:09
Yeah, thank you so much. Neylan, my last question for you is, what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Neylan Mcbaine 41:17
Yeah, I think I kind of touched on, on some of the principles that would guide my answer to that already, which – and I think the best metaphor for me, for, for how I would define being “all in” is this idea of a lens or, or glasses. I talk a lot about glasses when I'm talking about gender issues in the Church because I think we look through so many different kinds of lenses. When we process our experiences in this world. We can look through the lenses of our vocations, we can look through the lenses of our families and our childhood experiences and our mental health situations. And I think for me, being all in in the Gospel of Christ means that first and foremost the lens that I put on top of everything else, that I choose first when I'm trying to process something, or experience something or understand something is always, how would Jesus see this? What would Jesus do? What does Jesus want of me? And that's always the very first lens that I try to put on. Not you know, will this – what would my mother think of this? Or will this make me more popular with other people? Or will this help me get ahead at work? Or, you know, what do I – you know, what do I think this politician, it's really, you know. From what I understand from the scriptures, and then both the Savior's intimate life and also the themes that are presented in the scriptures, that is the first filter through which I try to put things. And I think that's important to me, that, that metaphor has become important to me because as I talk about gender issues with people in the church, oftentimes, and for my own children, I'll challenge them to take off the gender lens. You know, oftentimes, the gender lens comes first. And sometimes it needs to come first. And it's important for there to be a gender lens on there, right? If I – and I'm trying to evoke this, like if you're sitting in the doctor's chair, right? He's getting different lenses in and you're like, is that an "E" or a house or whatever? Right? If you put in that gender lens, you will see the Church differently. And it can, it can be challenging. And that lens is important. And we all need to have that lens on at times, because that's how we're going to become better. But I think for me, being all in means that I always prioritize, and I always leave in that lens of trying to be in the Savior's heart and mind and see things from a loyalty to Him first and foremost.
Morgan Jones 43:48
Thank you so much Neylan. You are so smart, and I am just over here trying to keep up, but thank you so much for sharing so many wonderful thoughts with us.
Neylan McBaine 43:58
Oh, thank you Morgan. You do such a wonderful job. Thanks for preparing so well.
Morgan Jones 44:05
A huge thank you to Neylan McBaine for joining us on today's episode. You can find Neylan's new book Pioneering the Vote: The Untold Story of Suffragists in Utah and the West at Deseret Book now. Thank you to Derek Campbell of Mix at 6 Studios for his help with this, and every, episode of this podcast. And thank you so much for listening. We'll be back with you again next week.