Thursday, March 20, 2014

OW and Gender, Part 3: Not Equality; Accountability


Here I think it's important to talk about what priesthood is.  I liked Sheri Dew's definition of it being the keys, authority, and power to act in God's name.  But there are two distinct and separate areas this power is exercised: ritually and administratively.  Most of my feelings on this matter are very well encapsulated by a post found here (On Being Needed Vs. Being Necessary), it has thoughts that I believe that most of the conversation going forward shouldn't be based on "equality" but on a fuller understanding and expression of "accountability and responsibility."   I'll quote and try to summarize below.

"In the Church, possession of priesthood is not solely about the proper legitimate performance of spiritual rites and ordinances, but also about the right to speak and be heard, the power to make decisions, to be endowed with full accountability and responsibility, not just at an individual level, but also at an institutional one. Lacking these things can and often does lead to the alienation and brokenness these women have experienced solely on account of their gender."

"New practices and policies.. could be instituted in order to improve women’s and girls’ experience in the Church.  But no matter how much women are included in general processes and individually listened to by priesthood leaders, the fact that they must be included and listened to in the first place demonstrates that, de jure and de facto, women stand outside all formal decision-making, at both the general and local levels."

"Our sisters, wives, daughters, and friends deserve to be represented at every level where they have a stake in ecclesiastical decisions and events that affect them..... Merely asking for the opinions of some women would not inform our response like having women with the power to shape and mold it alongside the men they work and serve with."

"Though we believe the Church was instituted by God and its leaders can and do receive divine guidance on its behalf, it is nevertheless a human institution run by and peopled by human beings. I think this is the underlying theological defense of the status quo, that if God wants something to change, God will simply see to it; therefore, the gender of the decision-makers is insignificant because, as stewards of God’s power, they will simply receive divine instruction and all will be well, all wounds will be eventually be healed, all problems resolved, in the Lord’s own time."

"However, priesthood does not make of its holders passive receptacles of constant streams of divine revelation, but makes them responsible to make decisions of their own will and wisdom, in hope of divine ratification. How can we not include women in this process? How can we not empower women as vessels of such responsibility? Women cannot be regarded as fully human until the full measure of responsibility and accountability is theirs. This is where the charged rhetorics of modesty, pedestalization, and singularity and specialness of gender are mutually embedded–in the wonderful-terrible blessing and burden of cultural, institutional, and religious responsibility and accountability, or lack thereof. This is also why the rhetoric of “equality” should be replaced with one of responsibility and accountability. Responsibility is what is really at stake with this kind of empowerment, and it is really what we mean by “equality.” Responsibility is the decisive and irrevocable difference between becoming angels or becoming gods."

"Cultural identity that Priesthood has produced is what really is at stake for both the men who balk at extending priesthood authority to women and the women who insist that they would never want priesthood–not really because they can’t imagine passing the sacrament or doing Tithing Settlement but because they don’t want to be men, full stop."  (PS this will all be addressed in Part 3!)

"But the institutional Church is nevertheless of vital importance to its members. It could never cause so much pain, joy, sense of community, and alienation if it were not. If there is another way to irrevocably and formally fold women into the decision-making process at the local and general levels, I’m all ears"

"Regardless of being able to show that women were once ordained at various levels (as can be more or less demonstrated in both Mormon and Christian history), that there is here and now a need that has gone unmet demands that we start doing things differently. If that means giving women the priesthood, I am in favor. If alternatively it means restructuring the priesthood so as to decouple it from administrative authority and limit its functions to more spiritual matters, thereby freeing women to participate administratively and have a voice of institutional power, I am in favor. If it means giving women a female priestesshood that is distinct from male priesthood but with equal and responsibilized authoritative stewardship, I am in favor. If it means not necessarily giving women priesthood but placing them on councils where they have a more equal say and vote, where they become systemically necessary and not merely appealed to if arbitrarily fortunate enough to have priesthood leaders who truly care about what they say, that is at least a leap forward. Even gradual changes in a direction that looks something like this are better than nothing. What matters is that women be empowered to speak and serve and bless in the religious community no less than their brothers. What matters is that when a woman speaks women and men should sit up and listen, not just because she might have priesthood or legitimate authority of some kind, but because there are no institutional barriers providing a convenient excuse not to listen to her. What matters is that building the kingdom of God is an effort that requires all of us in our full capacity, liberating us to use whatever talents we have at our disposal. There are so many women who are outstanding leaders in the workplace, but whose leadership isn’t nearly as vital in our ecclesiastical context. There are so many other women who could learn to be these outstanding leaders in a pastoral context if given the opportunity. What about women counseling with others about suffering, faithfulness, the temple, sexuality, etc? What about women feeling more capacitated to participate and contribute in a multitude of different ways? What about men and women together trying to figure out how to strengthen families while discussing what it could mean for men to be men and women to be women? How much closer to Zion could we leap then?"

"Most important here, though, is the increasing alienation so many women in the Church are feeling within the structure as it currently stands. A Mormon “priesthood of all believers” may not ultimately be the answer, but it is acutely appealing in fully responding to this growing alienation, because it makes precisely that structural change that would plug women fully into the heart of the life of the Church. Could Church leaders prayerfully enact something like this, something of which there would be divine approval? I think the answer is yes. Priesthood is a sacred God-given trust, not alone to passively listen for God’s will and carry it out but to freely use that power, the privilege God has given holders of the priesthood to righteously engage in service according to the stewardship they have been given."

"In the end this is an argument for formally and radically weaving women into the heart of the ebb and flow of Church life, giving them voices that are systemically necessary, a part of the conventional function of the Church, the equals of men in speech, institutional power, and responsibility. The current priesthood-driven structure seems to insist that ordaining women might be the only present way of really doing that,  though what seems paramount is ultimately seeing the realization of these fundamentally necessary goals, regardless if priesthood is the vehicle to make that happen."

I very much apologize for block quoting - but . . . he speaks what my heart feels. Please note that I don't place any timelines or stipulations on changes or improvements. . . But I agree with my cousin yesterday who commented 1) we discount how long God waits until the population is open to receive further revelation before giving it and 2) the doctrine of our Gospel and teachings in the temple whisper very much of a shared power dynamic.  Much of this belief comes from the commandment that we have to become ONE upon marriage.  The we have God the Father and God the Mother***** who are one  . . . I don't know when changes or revelation or anything will come.

But I do believe now is a good time to have respectful discussions about these issues - AND all voices should be included in these discussions.  This is not currently happening.  The scriptures are replete with examples of prophets questioning things they thought were always true (Nephi having to kill Laban) or prophets who wrestle with issues before God (Enos).  The scriptures teach me that questions and wrestling with them is okay.  That my faith has been strengthened and deepened through my questions and wrestling.  And everyone's path in faith back to God is different.  And we should respect each others' journeys.

*************The Reference for "God the Mother" is found in the comments below


  1. “A Mother There”
    A Survey of Historical Teachings
    about Mother in Heaven
    David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido
    BYU Studies 50, no. 1 (2011)

    Several Church leaders have affirmed that Heavenly Mother is a fully divine person and have used reverential titles such as “Mother God,” “God Mother,” “God the Mother,” “God their Eternal Mother,” and “Eternal Mother” in referring to her.33 Elder John A. Widtsoe (Quorum of the Twelve, March 17, 1921–November 29, 1952) wrote: “The glorious vision of life hereafter . . . is given radiant warmth by the thought that . . . [we have] a mother who possesses the attributes of Godhood.”34 This is echoed by Elder James E. Talmage (Quorum of the Twelve, December 8, 1911–July 27, 1933): “We . . . [are] literally the sons and daughters of divine parents, the spiritual progeny of God our Eternal Father, and of our God Mother.”35 Furthermore, President Brigham Young (President of the Church, December 27, 1947–August 29, 1877) taught that “we were created . . . in the image of our father and our mother, the image of our God,” indicating that calling Heavenly Mother “God” is consistent with the biblical account of the creation of both “male and female” being in “the image of God” (Gen. 1:26–27).36 Sister Susa Young Gates urged that “the divine Mother, side by side with the divine Father, [has] the equal sharing of equal rights, privileges and responsibilities.”37

    32. Orson F. Whitney, “What Is Education?” Contributor 6, no. 9 (1885): 347; Orson Pratt, “Sunday Services,” Logan Leader 1 (November 13, 1879): 3.
    33. For instance, see Melvin J. Ballard, “The Pre-existence of Man,” Liahona: The Elders’ Journal 24 (June 29, 1926): 5–10; Sarah M. Kimball, “Demonstration in Honor of Bishop Hunter,” Woman’s Exponent 8, no. 3 (1879): 22; Hunter, Pearl of Great Price Commentary, 104; James E. Talmage, “The Philosophical Basis of ‘Mormonism,’” Liahona: The Elders’ Journal 13 (November 9, 1915): 307; Wilford Woodruff, in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855–86), 18:32; James E. Talmage, “The Eternity of Sex,” Young Woman’s Journal 25 (October 1914): 603; James E. Talmage, “Relationship of Jesus Christ to the Eternal Father,” Liahona: The Elders’ Journal 13 (August 24, 1915): 133; Milton R. Hunter, Will a Man Rob God? The Laws and Doctrine of Tithing, Fast Offerings, and Observance of Fast Day (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1952), 183.
    34. John A. Widtsoe, “Everlasting Motherhood,” Millennial Star 90 (May 10, 1928): 298. Similarly, Widtsoe would write later that “since we have a Father, who is our God, we must also have a mother, who possesses the attributes of Godhood.” John A. Widtsoe, A Rational Theology: As Taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1937), 69.
    35. James E. Talmage, “The Philosophical Basis of ‘Mormonism,’” Improvement Era 18 (September 1915): 950.
    36. Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1954), 51.
    37. Susa Young Gates, “The Vision Beautiful,” Improvement Era 23 (April 1920): 542. Sister Gates was the corresponding secretary of the Relief Society Presidency when this article was written.

  2. I liked almost all of this. Please help me understand why this "Women cannot be regarded as fully human until the full measure of responsibility and accountability is theirs" resonates with you?