Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bloggernacle: LDS Women, Culture & Doctrine

The Bloggernacle's really been blowing up lately, and I think that's a good thing. Let me address a few interesting posts that I've seen.

"How the Mormons Conquered America"

(We did?) Non-member Michael Fitzgerald takes a look at the culture of the LDS church and how that has allowed it to grow, adapt and thrive. One interesting stat he points out: By 2080, it's estimated there'll be 265 million members around the world. (Currently it's 15 million.) On the Church's reaction to social pressure.
Social pressure will not change the church. Outsiders and dissenting Mormons can feel anger about the church’s practices, but there’s little point to organizing protests. The President of the Church, in accord with the two other members of the office of the First Presidency and the 12-man Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, changes doctrine. Flake says this creates incredible stability and immunity from outside influences or charismatic mavericks. The Mormons “pay a price for it but they also get a benefit for it,” says Flake. “The price and the benefit look remarkably alike. You constrain or stabilize the system. It also makes them a very structurally conservative institution. They have to move by agreement.”
Next comes a Washington Post editorial from OrdainWomen's Lorie Stromberg, provocatively titled "Why Are Mormons Leaders So Afraid of Dissent?" She addresses recent talks of openness and questioning and how that contrasts with the recent excommunication threats of Kate Kelly and John Dehlin.
If its doctrine appears so hospitable to change, why does the church often seem hostile to it? Part of it is the problem of maintaining the integrity of the prophetic voice. If what a past LDS Church leader said can be overturned by subsequent leaders, as has happened numerous  times, Mormonism must grapple with the tension between continuity and its relevance for  today’s members.  Between responding to attitudes that could mean greater inclusiveness—particularly for women and LGBT members—and the appearance of bending to social pressure.
I don't know much about John Dehlin, but I feel like I can't go two days without hearing about Kelly, and I think that's part of her problem.  The Church likes to handle things privately, discreetly, and she's appearing in the media at every opportunity to plead her case to the public. Public shaming and public demanding isn't going to change leaderships' minds. On the other hand, when I hear her side about why she's come up for a church court, it sounds like she's fallen victim to leadership roulette. What might have been okay with your old bishop doesn't fly with your new bishop.

Next, I will link to V.H. Cassler's "Ruby Slippers on Her Feet: Reflections on the OrdainWomen Website." It's the lengthiest one I'm linking to but it's worth the full read (all of these are). Nevetheless, it's the internet, so here's some highlights.
There is much to admire about this effort.  One only has to read the profiles to feel there is much good-heartedness there, and much reflection.  Clearly evident is a sincere desire to improve gender relations in the Church to more closely match a more heavenly ideal, and to offer balm to souls wounded by the current state of those relations within our faith community and within the broader society.
            However, I must also confess to a strong reaction, which has no label in our language, but feels like the urge to laugh and to cry at the same time.  As a feminist, the idea that men would ever have the right or ability to give women divine power strikes me as deeply anti-feminist.  Are we saying that only with the permission of men and by the hand of men can women partake of divine power?  And that since male permission has not been forthcoming to this point, women in fact possess no divine power at present?  That we women are reduced to pleading with men to give us our power?  A laugh wells up in me at the sheer irony of this “feminist” position, but at the very same moment, I also feel to weep bitter tears in the realization that only a profoundly toxic culture for women could produce a situation where good-hearted women and men advocate an anti-feminist position as a step forward for women.
On women's Divine power:
One of the enduring anxieties we face as human beings is the meaning of sexual differentiation.  Why are there “two,” when “one” seems so much more simple, united, whole, and coherent?  What good can there be in “two-ness”?  After many years of reflection on this topic, my opinion is that “two” opens the possibility of love, whereas “one” closes in on only one possibility, self-love.  Though God calls us to be of one heart and one mind, we can only call satanic the will to have all beings be the same as we are--a state rightly called misery.  Somehow love, difference, and equality in the context of that difference are all integrally bound together.  And only love can bring forth new life; self-love is always sterile...
 But rather than allow our culture to remake our doctrine, might we rather allow our doctrine to remake our culture?  Our faith community has an absolutely revolutionary conception of male-female relations.  The LDS Church preaches that there is a Mother in Heaven, co-equal with our Father in Heaven, and that godhood cannot exist without an equal partnership between men and women.  It preaches that Eve did not sin in the Garden of Eden, but was foreordained to partake first of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and rewarded for so doing.  The LDS Church preaches that women are to have equal counsel (“voice”) and equal consent (“vote”) with men in councils from the family to the nation and beyond, for men and women were meant to rule “with” each other according to our doctrine.  The LDS Church preaches that the government of heaven is family governance, ruled by a Mother and a Father in equal partnership, and that we should emulate that pattern in our own families here on earth.  The LDS Church preaches that in addition to all the overlapping roles that men and women share, that they also play distinctive, sequenced roles in the Great Plan of Happiness, with the mutual dependence thereby created undergirding the possibilities of love and life in this world and in the world to come.  The Two Trees in the Garden of Eden symbolize two doorways, one whose ordinances are presided over by the daughters of God and one whose ordinances are presided over by the sons of God, and that men and women are to hearken to each other as we pass through the doorways in sequence.  The divine power of women is no less than the divine power of men.  This is the most radical vision of equality and peace between men and women preached by any religion in the world, in my opinion.  This doctrine, restored in these latter days, has the power to neutralize the toxicity of our culture—if we let it.  Our doctrine calls us to nothing less than a completely new way of life as men and women. 
On forward movement by the Church:
Some have suggested that men’s presiding in the Church means that men preside over women in general, and women are subordinate to men not only in the Church, but in families and communities as well.  In that view, the only way to rectify that circumstance would be to obtain for women the power that men hold in their apprenticeship to the Father—that is, women would have to be ordained to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods.  This appears to be the conclusion reached by
            In my opinion, this is a distorted view for two reasons.  First, the Church as an organization in the Kingdom of God is but an auxiliary to a far more important organization—the family.  The Church is not above the family—rather, the family is above the Church in importance to God.  And second, in this highest organization of the family, we have been told repeatedly that men and women are to be absolutely equal and sincerely loving partners.  The man does not preside over the marriage.   Both the husband and the wife are in charge of the marriage; they are co-presidents of the family, moving forward only by unanimous consent...  
            In the family, the divine powers of the apprentices to the Father and the apprentices to the Mother have their fullest flowering because they ideally work in perfect tandem, literally hand in hand.  It is when we speak of the situation outside of the family that confusion sets in. More specifically, confusion sets in when we ask what is the role of women in the Church, which is the gift of the sons of God to the family?  What is the role of women in their communities and their nations, which are still predominantly run by men?
            The operative principle that can be applied to these situations is that women and men should have equal voice in all the councils of humanity.   Men should not hold a privileged position in shaping the world in which women and their children and loved ones must live.  This principle of equal voice must extend beyond the family: women should be equally represented in the leadership of towns, cities, nations, and the world.  The world will never find sustainable solutions to its problems without the input of women, who weave the threads of life.  Entire books have been written on this subject, and UN Security Council resolutions passed, such as UNSC 1325.
            In the Church, priesthood holders must also ensure that women are given equal voice.  The Church will never reach its full potential without the perspective and participation of women.  New programs and policies should not be undertaken without input from women, who will see consequences unforeseen by men.  Indeed, many things benefit from women's insights--for example, buildings should not be designed without input from women who have somewhat differing perspectives on physical accommodation.  Women should have a standing invitation to make recommendations to ecclesiastical leadership at both local and general levels for new programs and initiatives and adjustments to those already in place.  The Church cannot serve its members as well as it should without understanding those members through the eyes of the Specific Authorities as well as through the eyes of the General Authorities; the eyes of the Mothers as well as the eyes of the Fathers.  From recent news articles, it appears this is in fact happening at the highest levels of Church leadership; we hope it is also happening at the local level, as well.  
 And then she says it's not up to men; it's up to women
           In the end, if our paradigm is that we women are so powerless that we feel we can only gain divine power through the permission of men, we’re not ready for power.  It’s as simple as that.  The Brethren can take many important steps to pull the weeds of false and misogynist tradition and institute positive change for women.  But it’s not enough.  As Glinda, a Heavenly Mother archetype, put it, we women only have the power if we truly believe we do.  No man, not even the Prophet himself, can give us that belief.  The real Rubicon for women to cross lies within our own hearts.
            And there’s the rub.  Not only LDS cultural traditions, but also worldly cultures scream at us that women are not powerful at all.  That good women are to fade into the wallpaper, and to be neither seen nor heard.  That women will never really be the equals of men.  That women should defer judgment to men, scholarship to men, leadership to men, initiative to men, dreams to men.  That we women are but guests in our own world, and we must obey the true owners of the world, and tiptoe around them, and first and foremost please them on whom our lives depend.  No wonder that the best (!) we can currently imagine is that men will deign to share some of what they have with us . . . we are almost literally marinating in a globalized cultural misogyny and can see no other way.  This cultural misogyny has also affected LDS culture, especially in the Mountain West.  The stories some of my female students at BYU would tell me nearly broke my heart.  I have wept to see them struggle heroically against invisible cords that are certainly not of the Lord’s making.
            It is high time for a change of heart among women. We must start believing that women possess a divine power and authority that does not originate with men, though it is foundational to our partnership with men.  We must not only say we are equals, we must walk and talk as if we truly are.
Lastly comes this blog post from Ginger: "Mormonism, Feminism and Being Snarky" You can tell by the title she's taking a more, shall we say, playful approach to the matter.
There is a movement that has raised itself in direct opposition to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that accuses God of being oppressive to women. Yep, I mean LDS women trying to leverage the church into ordaining them. Some of you may cringe over the way I've phrased this, but can we be real for a few minutes? Can a group of people who admittedly oppose the doctrine, to the point of launching a media campaign, really consider themselves as being 'within' the church? And as mormons, we truly believe that the church is operated by Christ himself, in a person-to-person link with latter day prophets. So yes, opposition to doctrine is opposition to God, according to our own beliefs. There is no vote.
But equality is an important issue just in general these days, so why shouldn't it come up at church as well as everywhere else? And yes, we need to discuss it. Especially when so many women are torn between what their faith tells them and what they hear on the 6:00 news or read on sister so and so's blog.
On male and female differences:
I love being a woman. I love what makes me inheritantly female. And I refuse to believe that I am the same as a man. I know we have many similarities, being of the same species and all, but men and woman have many differences; beautiful differences; equalizing differences. And I find incredible value in that. I have never in my life been so offended, in the true sense of the word, than when I had other women trying to sell me the idea that my value as a person lies in how closely I resemble a man. What the hell is that?
It's 2014 ladies, and men are not telling us that the roles of wife, mom, teacher, and caregiver are submissive and demeaning. They are not telling us that they are better or more powerful or more righteous because they hold God's priesthood. It's other women telling us so. It's other women telling us what to think. It's other women belittling the roles that make us different from men - and even belittling our men. And it's other women who are scrutinizing and patronizing. How dare they?..
 The most perfect and yet challenging relationship in all creation is man + woman, whether as family, friends, or companions - how they compliment each other and teach each other and drive each other bananas. I believe it's God's design that we do so. But in the western world, women do everything - and by that I mean we take on a man's roles as well as our own and men are more than happy to let us. There is no true partnership when a woman thinks she can do it all and do it better. Golly ladies, there's a purpose to this life and we need to let the men have their mortal schooling too!
On the Priesthood not being a status symbol:
Activist, Kate Kelly said that equality in the church can be measured.
Does she mean measured in righteousness, commitment, value, importance? Are we supposed to measure what we give and how much we receive? Personal intent and spiritual progression aren't really things we can weigh against the next person. Although, if you compare a lifetime of service in the church, in time and resources and sacrifices, men are not even on the same plane as women. So it can't be more opportunity to serve that these women want. Is it just power at the heart of this issue? Is it really just 'middle management' that these few women are after? Is it about titles? There are no little brass nameplates in the Kingdom of God.
Or is it the power to perform ordinances and miracles that they want? Because I'm pretty sure the priesthood is powered by faith and humility...and trust...accepting God's will...stuff like that...
Anyway, can you even imagine if we did hold the priesthood? Ladies, we'd be doing everything!!! Every. Thing. Just imagine Sunday morning, sisters and how your list of things to do would double...even triple. Because we'd take over. You know we would. And the ward would be run smoothly. Not equally, but smoothly. And God's plan for our progression would be thwarted, because if this was something we needed to be doing right now, we'd already be doing it. Perhaps it's in our future, perhaps not, but it's not in our present and thank...well, thank God for that!
Lastly, I leave you with this 1995 talk by Elder Richard G. Scott - "Trust in the Lord." It's particularly poignant because it's the first general Conference talk he gave after his beloved wife Jeanine had passed away.
When you face adversity, you can be led to ask many questions. Some serve a useful purpose; others do not. To ask, Why does this have to happen to me? Why do I have to suffer this, now? What have I done to cause this? will lead you into blind alleys. It really does no good to ask questions that reflect opposition to the will of God. Rather ask, What am I to do? What am I to learn from this experience? What am I to change? Whom am I to help? How can I remember my many blessings in times of trial? Willing sacrifice of deeply held personal desires in favor of the will of God is very hard to do. Yet, when you pray with real conviction, “Please let me know Thy will” and “May Thy will be done,” you are in the strongest position to receive the maximum help from your loving Father.


  1. The lengthy one is highly problematic--women don't have power because we're not ready for power?! Uh, no.

  2. (Also: while I respect the family, etc., we really need to stop *worshiping* the family as a culture. Some of us *don't have families*. Some of us might never get married. And I really wish we'd make room for that in our doctrine, as Christ himself did.)

    1. Stacy,

      There is room for it in our doctrine. We believe that you can get married in the next life in order to obtain the highest glory. One of many reasons that we hold family so sacred, is that family teaches you selflessness. It is more difficult to learn selflessness, less opportunities to be selfless when you only really need to worry about yourself.

    2. That's one of our biggest cultural problems in the present Church though. It's really difficult to be single in it. Thank you for your comments.