When my Mormon feminist sisters decided to make their point by wearing pants to church, I was curious. The method seemed amusing even, although I really didn’t understand what the expected outcome was. If they felt comfortable worshiping in pants, it seemed fine to me. I couldn’t see how it would be a strike for equality, and I thought the fear and courage they expressed to be way over the top. Come on, you’re just wearing pants! I’ve seen brethren who should have been more self-conscious of their ridiculous bow ties (that would be all bowties, btw). When I read about the blowback, I admit I was stunned. Wearing pants certainly seemed to help the feminists identify their enemies, and it also won them much sympathy. Obviously, some of my fellow saints had their priorities screwed up. Today’s guest post is by Brian.
Encouraged, feminists next campaigned to have women pray in General Conference. Again, they were full of trepidation, courage, and solidarity. Again I thought it was over the top. In my ward, we’d had regular, run-of-the-mill sacrament meetings in which both prayers, all talks, and the music were all given by women, and I doubt most of the members even noticed. Of course women should pray in General Conference, and I saw nothing wrong with drawing attention to the obvious.
Now they want to be admitted to the Priesthood Session of General Conference as prospective elders, and I have to admit to very conflicted feelings. The purpose of the meeting is to train men and particularly young men to become valiant priesthood holders. There’s no reason women couldn’t be admitted, unless they’re taking seats from men who are the specific target audience. I would think the same would hold true for the General Relief Society meeting — men could be admitted, so long as they didn’t take seats from women. Somehow, though, the Priesthood Session has up to now been presented to the public as a secretive, men-only meeting to which women (and the public at large) have been denied access; the fact that it was the only session not broadcast added credence to this view. In response to the women’s anticipated action, the church announced that the session will be broadcast.
That’s where I got my first twinge.
Near as I can tell, the priesthood has two practical roles within the church: the authority to perform ordinances, and the goad to prod men into full activity in the church. The second role is dominant, if less often stated. We can teach our Deacons and Teachers that they’ve been blessed with more authority than the pope, but the reality of it is, they can’t perform a single ordinance, and their priesthood responsibilities consist of ceremonial chores (e.g., preparing/passing the sacrament) and menial labor (e.g., taking down chairs in the cultural hall after church). Practically speaking, they can’t do anything the Beehives and Mia Maids couldn’t do, but they’ve been given duties. In fact, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been taught about my “priesthood duty”: my duty to collect fast offerings, to take the sacrament to the sick, to serve a mission, to lead my family in prayer, to bless my children, etc. Of all my priesthood duties, very few required any particular authority. In terms of training men, it’s almost as though authority is just thrown in to add more duties. And to add exclusivity and cohesion within families and wards – after all, my children, my wife, my ward are dependent on me to perform these priesthood duties. Overall, I’d say the church’s training program for men has been remarkably effective, leading to male involvement and spirituality within the congregation that other Christian churches would envy. I know many good, humble men in the church who became that way in big part because they try so hard to do their priesthood duty. I love those men and want to be like them. I want my sons to be like them.
Previously, the priesthood session wasn’t broadcast because it forced men and boys throughout the church to put on their suits and ties and make their way to chapels and stake centers on a Saturday night. Why did we go? Because it was our priesthood duty, and because we made the effort to be there, we were often blessed with more light and knowledge than we would have while watching at home, eating snacks and playing electronic games. All those Young Men to whom it is my priesthood duty to offer a ride to the stake center are now going to tell me no thanks, they’ll watch it at home. Something has been lost. Not something significant, maybe, but something.
I don’t expect sympathy from feminists. The hurt, frustration, and even anger they express far exceeds my little twinge, and to the extent I can, I try to understand those feelings. I too feel there’s much more to be revealed for women than has been so far. I look forward to that revelation for my wife and daughters and for what it will mean to the church at large.
But I can’t help wondering what will be lost next. I’ve never been bothered by the women who attend Fathers and Sons, but it’s a different event if it’s a family campout. I’ve never minded the women who attended stake priesthood mtg, and maybe it should be just another adult leadership meeting. I’m personally not bothered by the specter of female bishops. But I do believe the church would be hurt more by men losing their sense of priesthood duty than it would be helped by women gaining it. Anybody who’s had an opportunity to observe our young men and young women know that taken collectively, they’re very different animals. I’ve shared many of Nate Oman’s thoughts.
Worse, as faithful and believing as our feminists may be, I’m afraid their tactics may not lead to progress, but to conflict and backlash. Having a group of pitiable women standing outside the conference center, shaming the church by their visible exclusion, isn’t good public image for the body of the church. I suspect the church will change course and allow anyone with a ticket to enter, but ask that the tickets be left to men. The media will trumpet a feminist victory, but entering against the request of our leaders will shame them in the eyes of their fellow saints.
I worry that my comments will be perceived as an attack on feminism or that I will be misunderstood and labelled as an opponent. Just to clarify my position:
- I’m not opposed to priesthood ordination of women, if that’s what God intends. However, what I want from the church is light and knowledge from God, not the combined wisdom of the masses. When I look back at all the changes within the church on topics big and small (polygamy, birth control, blacks, playing cards, prohibition, women and careers, divorce, ERA, Prop 8, cremation), I see church leadership following as often as leading, and I wonder how we know when we’ve overcome the biases of our gerontocracy, and when we’ve been given and lost the 116 pages.
- I am opposed to publicly attempting to shame the church.
- I believe men and women are complementary and that neither is complete without the other. In fact, if they weren’t complementary, if they were essentially interchangeable, I believe that would mean they weren’t necessary to complete each other.
- Because I believe the sexes are different and complementary, I struggle to see the best course for “equality.” My concern is whether individual needs are being met and happiness can be achieved for both.
- I believe there is much there is much that God has yet to reveal with regard to women, and that women, especially Young Women need to have equal opportunities to be bound to the church community through duty, more opportunities to lead, and more direct ceremonial participation within the church.
- I believe that fatherhood and motherhood are fundamental, eternal parts of our identity, and that men are currently given greater opportunity to develop their identities within the church than are women, and that this needs to change.
- I treat women as people and in no way consider myself superior to women by virtue of my sex. Nor do I believe I’ve had to overcome anything taught to me in church to feel this way.
- What changes, aside from ordination, would help give our Young Women and sisters what is lacking (more involvement, more voice, more ceremonial participation)?
- Will you be attending Priesthood Session at the church or at home? Will the women out there be tuning in or attending at ward buildings?
- What do we lose when we eliminate gender-segregation? Do we lose anything worth saving?