Dear readers of Wheat & Tares, I regret to inform you that today’s post begins with a quiz. I will present three statements, and then ask questions regarding the state of affairs described in those statements. May the curve be ever in your favor.
Statement 1: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a religion where all worthy humans, as long as they are male, aged 12 and up, not of black African descent, and members in good standing of the religion, may be conferred the priesthood.
Statement 2: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a religion where all worthy humans, as long as they are male, aged 12 and up, and members in good standing of the religion, may be conferred the priesthood.
Statement 3: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a religion, where all worthy humans, as long as they are aged 12 and up, and members in good standing of the religion, may be confirmed the priesthood.
Quiz: which of these three statements (whether you agree with them or not) is the most inclusive to the LDS priesthood? Which of these three statements (whether you agree with them or not) is the most exclusive to the LDS priesthood?
Given your answer to the previous questions, would you say that there a difference between the meaningfulness of the LDS Priesthood given your answer on which statement described a more inclusive priesthood or a more exclusive priesthood? Is more exclusivity more meaningful or valuable to you?
. . .
OK, everyone, no need to worry. This quiz will not be graded. However, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the various statements.
To me, it seems clear that statement 1, describing the LDS church from sometime around the late 1800s (surprisingly, the age thing probably is a more recent component than the race restriction) to 1978, is most exclusive. It seems clear to me that statement 2, describe the status quo to this day, is more inclusive than statement 1, but that statement 3, describing the desired policy by a non-negligible amount of Mormons, would be most inclusive of the three states of affairs. This is true even though statement 3 still includes limitations (on age, membership, and worthiness.)
These factors seem objective. Even if one believes there should be limitations on the priesthood by gender, it still seems that a priesthood without such limitations would be more inclusive. A priesthood that limits by gender and race is more exclusive regardless of one’s feelings about whether that is divinely inspired or not.
The tricky part is moving into meaning. Here, it seems there is more room for subjectivity. While it would seem that the church is more distinctive to have both gender and racial limitations, it doesn’t seem like this state of affairs would make the priesthood more meaningful, or rather, it doesn’t seem like any additional meaning from this state of affairs would be desirable or valuable. Statement 2 and 3 are obviously more fraught: people in 2015 still very much disagree on whether the exclusion by gender is desirable, but it does not necessarily follow that removing a gender exclusion would reduce meaning, or that even if it did, the reduced meaning would be undesirable.
This thought experiment has been inspired by two recent posts. The first was Kristine A’s post from last week about the fourth annual Pants to Church Day. Therein, she included a couple of letters to the editor that were written in response to the coverage of Pants Day in 2013 and her 2015 response to those letters. In her response, she shared sentiments that I’ve certainly seen several places on the Mormon internet: the LDS church should be more inclusive and welcoming (especially to marginalized groups such as people of color, LGBTQ+, feminists, and those who doubt) to maintain and grow the membership. Failure to do so will risk losing not only individuals from these classes, but individuals who are sympathetic to those classes (e.g., millennials, regardless of whether they consider themselves allies to the particular groups.)
The second post was Alison Moore Smith’s response over at Mormon Momma, taking exception with the advocacy for inclusiveness within the church. There is still ongoing debate in the comments over whether I even correctly understand Alison’s post, so please read the article over there (I’ll wait). However, I think a representative snippet of her post is this:
…The very word member is the key here. A member is a part, element, component of something. Thus there is a defined something these members belong to. And the very definition of that something will always be exclusionary—or it will be meaningless.
The more inclusive you are, the less membership means…
In the comments at Mormon Momma, I noted that, to me, her comments regarding the priesthood undermined her argument regarding the meaninglessness of “inclusiveness” as a concept or value. There’s two things: 1) even though she writes that she is not advocating for an inclusive priesthood (because her advocacy still includes exclusions in terms of worthiness), it seems obvious to me that she is still advocating for a more inclusive priesthood than we currently have, and 2) her position is not rendered meaningless when we describe it as “more inclusive”.
Does inclusiveness imply universality?
As Alison writes, it seems that she is addressing a certain segment of people who use terms like “inclusiveness” and “diversity” without any limitations at all. This is the only real way I can make sense of her paragraph here:
In order to be inclusive in the way most people mean, the church would be required to welcome people—as members in good standing with full rights and privileges and acceptance and respect and status—no matter what they believe and no matter what they do—and no matter how/if they conform to the church’s standards. Which makes the church nothing at all.
To me, however, I don’t think people use these terms in that way, so I don’t think she is actually addressing inclusiveness “in the way most people mean.” To the contrary, terms like “inclusiveness” and “diversity” are baked into particular contexts and particular social, theological, historical, or psychological awarenesses. The argument for inclusiveness is made from a re-evaluation of the particular criteria we use to exclude, but aren’t necessarily a complete abandonment of criteria in general.
In general, these terms are often signals for certain types of socially progressive sentiments, and from having an awareness of that context, we can extrapolate where the implied limits are: we are talking about supposed “suspect classes” who have been marginalized historically…classes such as race, gender, and yes, sexual orientation and gender identity. These suspect classes, which have been the grounds for exclusion in the past and in our status quo, are deemed to be unsuitable grounds for exclusion moving forward. And so, we seek (whether rightly, or wrongly), to remove the limitations and exclusions on those specific grounds.
When someone says, “We should be more welcoming and inclusive to all,” do you take this as an absolute, universal statement, or do you believe this is comparative and contextual — and based with respect to certain criteria? If you take it to be the former, would it be hypocritical for another person to interpret it to be the latter?