OT SS Lesson #21

When we lived in Saudi Arabia a few years ago, I obtained a faculty position in the fairly newly-formed department of Health and P.E. at a university which was strictly segregated by gender.  The women’s side of the university operated independently, with our own female custodians, technical staff, professors and administration,  and very little oversight from the male president.  Our department consisted of five women, and we made all decisions collectively, with no titular head.  After the first semester I was there, one of our staff meetings was dedicated to the question of whether we should have a department head.  Being the newest addition to the faculty, I had little say in this decision, but I did bring up the point that we had successfully administrated the department jointly, and I questioned the necessity of one department head.  It would completely change the group dynamics that we had experienced as a body of women removed from a patriarchal hierarchy and which I very much enjoyed.  The reply from all of the rest of the women, though there had been no problems thus far, was that “you HAVE to have a leader,” that one person MUST be in charge of any organization.

At the time I was struck by how much this assertion resembled the one I have heard from many Mormons justifying the hierarchical, patriarchal system in place in the Church, both within the institution and within our individual families.  The argument seems to be that harmonious resolution of difficulties is impossible without one leader to make final decisions.  I am not entirely sure I agree that no other model beside the “one-leader rule,” or what I will here call the “kingship” model is viable in administrating a successful community.

The kingship model of administration appears to have been particularly desirable throughout history.  It seems obvious that strong personality types would desire to set up a system of governance where they were in charge of making all the decisions.  But the scriptural record and our OT SS Lesson #21 show that groups of people also wish to configure their communities under the supervision of a king.  1 Samuel 8 recounts the story of the Israelite people, dissatisfied with judges and prophets, clamoring for Samuel to get them a king.  Their reasoning is found in verse 20: they want to be like the other nations, they want one strong leader to judge them, and they desire to be under the protection of a military commander who will lead them in battle.

Passages in the Book of Mormon also describe this desire of the general population to set up a monarchy.  In Mosiah 23 the people want Alma to be their king because of their great admiration for him.  In 3 Ne 7 a league of tribes attempt to establish a kingship in order to overthrow the tribal system of government then operating.  In Alma 51 there is also an attempt to overthrow the current leadership and inculcate a kingship, inspired in part by pride and aspirations to nobility.  In each case in the scriptures where there is a desire to crown a king, it is denounced as contrary to the ideals of freedom.  Several reasons are given in these passages as to why kingship is considered malapropos:

  • It is a rejection of divine rule in favor of human rule (1 Sam 8:7)
  • A king would allocate human and natural resources to his own advantage (1 Sam 8:11-17)
  • One man should not think of himself as being above another; kingship gives those of high birth unfair power and authority (Mosiah 23:7; Alma 51:8)
  • Not all kings can be trusted to be just (Mosiah 23:8,13,14)
  • A king can oppress people and lead them into iniquity (Mosiah 23:12)
  • A monarchy is not a free government (Alma 51:6)

Now, apparently hierarchical priesthood leadership in the Church and in LDS homes is considered to be very different than kingship as presented in the scriptures.  I can see how this would be so if there were a clear line of communication from a Heavenly Being to each designated leader.  However, the nature of inspiration and communication from on High is nuanced enough to make this an insufficient rationale.  Observe how each of the reasons given above can be applied to hierarchical priesthood leadership as practiced in the Church:

  • It is a rejection of divine rule in favor of human rule.  When it is not always possible to tell if the leader is receiving revelation, the leader imposes his will upon the others in the system.  The others then obey human directives rather than attempting to gain their own revelation of the divine will.
  • A human being is naturally inclined to direct resources to his own advantage.  With one hierarchical leader this is always a danger.  When a group of people act together, or when there are checks and balances in the system, this temptation is not as prevalent.
  • Priesthood leadership gives those who have been born male unfair power and authority.  This is true regardless of the fact that many good men who hold the priesthood will not take advantage of their position.
  • Not all priesthood holders can be trusted to be just.  To paraphrase: “if it were possible that ye could always have just men to be your priesthood leaders, it would be well for you to have priesthood leaders.”
  • A priesthood leader can oppress people and lead them into iniquity.  I will not be so presumptuous as to cite examples of this.  But again, this tendency is ameliorated when more accountability is built into the administrative system.
  • An organization of hierarchical priesthood leadership is not a free government. Under this type of leadership, the choices of the individual can be severely limited if there is disagreement.  Often a member loses legitimacy and power in the system simply for having a differing opinion than the priesthood leader.

I’m sure that there are flaws in my observations on patriarchal hierarchy and kingship, so please dive in and point them out!  I think this should be an interesting discussion.  How do you think kingship (as denounced in the scriptures) and patriarchy (which we all know is encouraged in Church organization) differ and compare?