Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Priesthood, Cooperative Culture, and Why Mormon Women Don't Need Liberals to Save Them from Me

Sally Denton's NYT critique of Mormonism is only 335 words long. But it will probably still be helpful to sum up the core argument so we don't get bogged down in the snide remarks, scare quotes, and disorienting description of church president Thomas S. Monson, who can't finish a talk without getting the audience to laugh at least three times, as "stern."

Denton's thesis seems to be this:
"Mormonism is a valid issue of concern not as a religious test for office, but for its most distinctive characteristic — male authoritarianism."
Translation: It's wrong to vote against someone because of their religion--unless their religion has a male priesthood.

And her "so-what" clause is this:
"Given that Mitt Romney is a high church official and not just a member, voters are right to be circumspect."
Translation: the piece's thesis doesn't apply to JFK and the six sitting Supreme Court Justices who are Catholic, because they just go to their church, whereas Romney actively participates in his.

This argument is not entirely crazy. She's probably correct that Americans should be concerned IF the following two implicit assumptions are true:
1) Mormon male Priesthood leads to the marginalization and oppression of women.
2) Romney's government leadership style will be the same as a Priesthood leadership style.

Fortunately, as I will now attempt to show, Americans can rest easy because both of those assumptions are wrong.

My thesis will be this: Because Mormon church culture is a cooperative culture rather than a competitive culture, male priesthood is actually a good thing for women. And because American government is based on a competitive culture, Romney's religious leadership style is unlikely to successfully transfer in any case.

Sally Denton's Fishbowl

What do I mean by "competitive culture"? I mean a culture that highly values individuality and success and structures itself around those values.

Think of your experience in school. You were probably taught, starting at age five, to stay in your own seat, do your own work, and not to even touch people around you without getting express permission from them and the teacher. Within a few years, you were earning grades which were designed to measure your individual quality (of intelligence or hard work or competence or something--it may never have been clear exactly what, but there was certainly success, mediocrity, or failure expressed in a grade that was yours and yours alone). By high school, you were probably even getting a class rank that told you exactly where in the pecking order of personal achievement you stood--you got to find out exactly how many people were ahead of and behind you. You were supposed to feel good when you saw how many people were behind you and ambitious when you saw how many people were ahead.

I think it's safe to assume that Sally Denton's educational experience was like this. It's probably also safe to assume her work experience is like this: the rewards change from grades and certificates to promotions and bonuses, but the principle is the same. Compete. If you can outperform the people around you, you will be given status, attention, and power. That's how America works, and for goals like increasing productivity, it works really well.

It does not work well, though, for showing you how Mormons think about their church lives. You see, since Ms. Denton lives in a fishbowl of competitive culture, she assumes that's how everyone lives all the time. To her, the church is a "multibillion-dollar business empire." A corporate empire which keeps women from getting on even the first rung of the corporate ladder. (No wonder she thinks our leaders are a bunch of power-hungry old male #^%$%s!)

What Ms. Denton doesn't know is that you cannot build a corporate ladder to heaven. Competitive culture and Mormon religious organization have almost nothing in common.

A Crash Course in Cooperative Culture

Remember Ms. Denton's stirring final line: "Given that Mitt Romney is a high church official and not just a member, voters are right to be circumspect"?

To anyone who really knows Mormon organization, it's almost laughably absurd. For us, one of the distinctive traits of Mormonism isn't "male authoritarianism" it's the absence of a permanent distinct between clergy and regular members. "Not just a member" means almost nothing to Mormons, because every member--male and female--is supposed to have some sort of formal church position/assignment--which we refer to as a "calling"--at any given time. It's not shepherds and sheep: we, like sheep, all go astray, and so we all chip in to the work of shepherding: in different ways at different times throughout our lives.

Calling Romney a "high church official" is equally laughable, because his current callings are probably just "home teacher," meaning he's supposed to visit three or four families once a month to share an inspirational message and see if they're OK, and possibly something low-pressure like "assistant family history consultant," which would primarily involve helping kids work with their grandparents to do genealogy on a computer.

Behold the menace of Romney's crushing male authority.

Yes, Mitt Romney's calling was "stake president" in the late 1980s and early '90s, before he was even a registered Republican. That means he "presided over" several individual "wards." Now, usually the press refers to "wards" as "congregations," but since most Protestants only have "congregations," the press likes to use the Catholic term "diocese" (as opposed to "parish") to explain what a stake is. Which makes them compare Romney to a Catholic bishop or cardinal--you know, the kind of person who gets to wear a fancy ceremonial hat. And they often mistakenly assume that if you're the kind of guy who's at hat-level, you don't just become fourth Sunday organ player the next day. Because in a competitive culture, where promotions are a reward for an individual job well done, moving someone from the "top" to the "bottom" would be a terrible insult.

But, my dear brothers and sisters of the press, Jesus was famously tricky on the subject of "top" and "bottom." He said you're really only a big deal if you know how to be as small as a little kid. He said that in the kingdom of God, first is last and last comes first. He said that in the temple, a widow's $290 weekly paycheck is worth more than $20 million. And Mormonism has fully embraced that particular aspect of Jesus' strangeness. My grandfather was a stake president for several years--and then one day, he was thanked for his service and asked to accept a new assignment working with a handful of 11-year-old scouts. But it didn't bother him, and similar changes don't bother most Mormons, because we genuinely believe that all the work matters to God. How "high" or "low" a church assignment is doesn't matter--what matters is putting your heart, mind, and soul into it.

We have, you could say, a "cooperative culture"--one that values community and relationships over individual excellence. We are motivated more by the altruistic high of service and the intangible wealth of our deepening bonds with each other than by the egoistic satisfaction of getting to call the shots. You can criticize a cooperative culture--or let Nietzsche do so for you--but you should criticize it for being cooperative, not for slights it would have committed were it structured according to a totally different value system. You can say that Mormons are still living with an almost tribal mindset at the dawn of the 21st century, but you can't complain about a glass ceiling in a system that doesn't involve any "up" and "down" when it comes to job shifts.

Power and the Priesthood

As I've mentioned, millions of women have callings in the church. They preach, they teach, they sit on administrative councils, they entirely make up the presidencies of at least three church organizations. But women cannot be ordained to the earthly priesthood. On the most basic level, this means that women do not baptize, do not bless the bread and water that remind us of Jesus' sacrifice, do not serve as bishops (leaders of wards) or stake presidents. Women cannot be called as apostles or as the presiding prophet of the church. Not having the priesthood also means that women can pray for the sick, but don't anoint them with consecrated oil and bless them. And it means that for one of the three hours of our Sunday church meetings, men meet in one place as members of priesthood organizations, while women meet in another place as members of the worldwide, all-female Relief Society.

From the lens of a competitive culture, where independence, personal competence, and prestigious positions are highly valued, a list of things you can't do or positions you can't hold based on gender seems horribly restrictive. But according to the Pew Research Center poll the NYT debate is ostensibly responding to, only 8% of U.S. Mormon women say they think women should have the priesthood, a number significantly lower than the 13% of U.S. Mormon men who say women should be ordained to the priesthood.

Maybe Sally Denton did read those numbers and just assumed that Mormon women are either stupid or masochistic and need someone outside the culture to fight their battles for them. Which is actually what makes me (stern male dominator that I supposedly am) a far better Mormon feminist than Ms. Denton--you see, I actually respect and listen to Mormon women. I try to figure out what matters to them.

The impression I get from my listening is this: Mormon women already feel like they have a lot to do. And because Mormonism is a collective culture, they take no particular pride in doing everything on their own. Many of them may have wondered what it would be like to bless the sacrament bread or give a priesthood blessing to a sick child, but they would far rather have good men around them to help do those things than the power and obligation to do them on their own.

I saw this recently while reading through fiction submissions for the Mormon Lit Blitz Contest. In one story, a husband gets up at a testimony meeting to tell the whole ward how perfect his wife is. And she sits in her seat, seething, because she feels like he consistently puts her on a pedestal as a way of transferring responsibility for the spiritual life of their home entirely to her. If she's so good and righteous, he doesn't have to do anything. In the story, she tries and fails to express this to him in various ways until she finally resorts to buying a coffee maker and brewing coffee in the home as a way to shock him out of thinking she should manage everything on her own and into sharing a little more of the responsibility for their religious life.

Though the story is fiction, I think it captures a common attitude about real life. Mormon women love the male priesthood partly because it commits men to take an active role in family and church. Most Mormon women are capable of being extremely independent when necessary, but they would rather be harmoniously interdependent whenever possible. And they don't see priesthood power as a threat to their own power, because in cooperative cultures, power is not a zero-sum game.

I've heard Mormons make the argument that men's and women's roles are different, but equally important, and I've heard non-Mormons respond that it sounds like the old segregationist "separate but equal" talk. The truth about Mormon men and women is that we're not separate at all: the differences between Priesthood and Relief Society help draw us together when we might otherwise drift apart.

And since the possibility of men and women drifting apart from each other has hardly disappeared with the dawning of the twenty-first century, we still aim for gender relations that are close and complementary.

So how would this affect Romney as hypothetical U.S. President?

To review: if you understand that Mitt Romney comes from a cooperative church culture, you shouldn't view the maleness of our Priesthood or his time as a stake president as ominous warning signs of deep-rooted sexism. In fact, you should know that he's probably disproportionately likely to have a good marriage even against the temptations and pressures that come with packed schedules and prestigious positions--because even as U.S. President, he'd have a priesthood obligation to be an emotional presence in the home and support to his wife.

But a cooperative church and home culture doesn't mean he'll suddenly be changing the administrative culture of the executive branch.

Look: I'm Mormon, and I even work at a church-owned university. But it's still a modern university, so all the cooperative culture of my religious life gets pushed behind the competitive procedures of the school. I would never dream of giving grades at church, and would be scandalized if I heard of a teacher in priesthood meeting trying to motivate class members that way. But that doesn't stop me from giving grades at school, which is something I get paid to do-- and also use a stick and carrot to defend my assignments from Facebook and other teachers' homework. I also get "grades" in the form of student ratings. At church, I'd be most concerned with what the average performance is as a measure of how we can do better collectively, but at work I barely pay attention to where the average is--I'm just happy whenever I'm above it. I'm happy to be an independent individual and pursue individual excellence and compete with other people in my profession.

So I very much doubt a hypothetical Mormon President would even bother to try reorganizing his or her administration around cooperative values. Any attempt to do so would be doomed by the inertia of competitive values: they shape far too many goals and procedures.

Which means that you should neither vote against Romney because you dislike his church's organizational culture nor vote for Romney because you like his church's organizational culture.

In the end, politics has its own gravity. And in the black hole of the White House, the values of politics will almost certainly trump the Jesus-strange mindsets and traditions of our religion.


  1. James, usually we agree so much, but as a Mormon woman I have to disagree with you here. I like Mit, but, I am concerned over his actions to suppress women's voices during the time he was Stake President.

    Do I want “the good men around” to bless my sick child. Absolutely not. I want the right to bless my own children, just as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young told me I should do. Brigham only wanted wives who would step up and bless their child, rather than waiting around for the Elders. Emmaline B Wells plead for this gift not to be taken from women.

    As far as the RS being all female. We are under the priesthood, which means that on every level we have male leadership over us. This is demonstrated best in General Women's meetings where a man is always the key note speaker. Last I checked there are no women invited to, much less asked to speak during priesthood meetings. There is also never a time when a woman comes to Priesthood and sits in front and "presides" over the meeting.

    Then again, I am a Mormon woman, but a feminist, which, you make it clear, makes my view invalid.

    1. There are also plenty of things the Lord asks of women, that men CANNOT do. The difference is, you don't see men complaining about it; perhaps because the things women are asked to do are so much harder (giving birth, for example). Indeed, from a competitive, not cooperative perspective, many of the things women are asked to do come with no worldly accolades.

      If the men presiding ever expressed that they thought their work was more important than the work we were doing as women, then I would be worried.

      As it stands, however, a Priesthood holder who thought or taught that way would be in the wrong, and: "amen to the Priesthood of that man".

      I think James' point was a valid one: we cannot compare competitive and cooperative systems...they work on two very different planes.

    2. I guess mythology is more comforting to some than truth.

      I never understand why people who feel as you do don't just go and start your own "flavor" of the church. Nothing prevents it. Wouldn't you be much more content throwing off the rude shackles of male authoritarianism, and "restoring" this pretended "female priesthood?"

      The way you are now, you're miserable and folks around you, uncomfortable.

      Unless that's really what you want.

    3. Bill,

      Remember how doctrine and covenants teaches you to show people love "lest they esteem thee to be an enemy"?

      The confrontational tone of your comment is not in harmony with that teaching.

      Be nice. I know Anne: she's a really good person who does a lot of good in the church and in her community. If she struggles with the way we handle priesthood, what she needs is positive examples of how the system can work well, not people throwing down a gauntlet and telling her she should shape up or ship out.

      I don't know you, but I'd imagine that you are a good person. Please, go learn what it means to follow the counsel to gently persuade. It doesn't help God if you respond to people's struggles with anger.

      What's the use of the priesthood if we're not speaking with the gentle power of the Holy Ghost?

  2. I am a Mormon woman, and I think James put it very well. If you don't want good men to bless your children, you obviously don't get it. It is not about exclusion, but working together. If you want to do it all by yourself, then you are missing out on the fundamental understanding of service to others and wanting all people, male and female, rich and poor, to be equally important as bothers and sisters of God. Of course you should bless your child through all the wonderful things you do as a mother. Asking and expecting men to be morally clean and serve your children in specific ways (like giving them a blessing) gives them the opportunity to put aside their own busy lives to serve someone. This isn't about Mitt, it is about the general public not understanding that the LDS church is not a competitive organization. If it was, there is absolutely no way they would choose me to be a gospel doctrine teacher. I preach to the adults on Sunday. I am inexperienced, not as knowledgeable as most in our ward, and I am a busy young mom dealing with 3 of my own boys and one foster boy. I also work outside the home and have a college education. I am involved in the competitive world. What most of the world doesn't get is that the LDS Church is a "cooperative culture." You can't aspire to a specific calling and work your way to the top. It just doesn't work that way. I am confident that several of the older men in the ward would love to preach and be in the calling I have. But they can't. It is about putting aside your own selfish desires, including desires for power, and instead serving others where the service is needed. For instance, my college-professor husband will be cleaning toilets at the chapel this evening as part of his priesthood service (and he pays a house cleaner at home!). I'm sure Mitt has cleaned toilets too.

  3. Anne,

    I did not mean in any way to suggest your view is invalid. What I meant to say is that I, as a Mormon man who cares about how Mormon women feel, am a least as good of a Mormon feminist as Sally Denton, who doesn't get Mormonism.

    As a Mormon woman, clearly you are entitled to your own perspective. And, as you point out, there have been times in history when some things we associate only with priesthood now were done by women. There will also be future times when things change.

    I just think it's also important for people commenting on the church to understand that your perspective is a minority one and that 90% of women in the church are happy with the status quo not because they are mindless sheep or pushovers, but because it fits into their cooperative cultural mindset.

  4. I especially loved this part, James: "Mormon women love the male priesthood partly because it commits men to take an active role in family and church." Let me just say "Amen!" to that.

    I can't think of anything I would want to do LESS than to have to be a bishop--every poor man who gets that assignment, I feel a little bit sorry for. It is not about power, it is about service, stress and worry!

  5. I'm with you on this one, James, and it's not because I haven't thought about it. I remember one time when I was chaplaining at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake and someone needed a blessing. I feel so inadequate when my prayer was accepted politely, but my fellow LDS male chaplain's blessing was accepted enthusiastically. For the first time in my life, I felt bad that I didn't have the priesthood.

    But after that experience, I had several thoughts. I thought about how one of the themes of chaplain training had been, "It isn't about you." That the point of service is to make sure someone's needs are met--not that you personally fulfill someone else's needs. I like your point about cooperative culture. Service fields--even outside the Church--have to be cooperative to effectively meet the needs of those we serve.

    My second thought was that if I were coupled (i.e. married) to a man who had the priesthood, I wouldn't have felt inadequate. Because if I was one with my husband, then him giving someone a blessing would be the same as me giving that person a blessing.

    My third thought was that I didn't just feel inadequate that my LDS male chaplain friend was able to administer to someone--and be appreciated for it--in a way I wasn't. I also felt inadequate because he's less shy than I am and has a gift of connecting with people quickly. Whereas it's something that takes me more time. Why, when I desperately want to serve so much, would I not be given that spiritual gift of a quick and easy emotional connection with people? Few people would complain about this being unfair, though, because it's not a spiritual gift that's split along gender lines.

    For some reason, we're deeply uncomfortable with spiritual gifts and callings that are split along gender lines. (Though we don't tend to shake our fists at the heavens for the physical differences between men and women.) I think you nailed it when you said that God has designed things(or perhaps not--God may be in fact subject to eternal principles on this one) so men and women will draw together, and he's given them complementary gifts that do that.

    I'm a pretty independent person, and I'm not sure I would feel compelled to get married if I didn't feel that lack. If I didn't NEED to be coupled with a man to be whole. Just as I need to get married to have children, I need to get married so that I will have direct access to the priesthood.

    For some reason, God doesn't allow us to attain salvation on our own. We have to be bound to someone else. But what a better way of helping us learn profound humility, unselfishness--and cooperation--than that?

    Lastly, my mom always says that if women had the priesthood, then the men would all go hunting. :-) That's a hyperbolic (and probably sexist--sorry!) way of saying what you already did--that the responsibility combined with the tenderness with which men are required to minister to others in the priesthood is vital. I've had a number of very tender experiences with men in the Church that I would not have otherwise had if it weren't structured so.

    I do think that a lot of our feelings of inadequacy and envy come from that misunderstanding between competition and cooperation. Unfortunately, even in the Church, some people conflate the priesthood with prestige. In these cases, it's that perception that is the problem, not the design of the system itself. We could certainly stand to better practice what we preach. For example, maybe not giving a list of callings that someone's held when they get up to give a talk. Current callings give someone a stewardship that we should pay attention to (we need to know whether or it's in someone's stewardship to advise us), but past callings don't.

    Thanks for this post.

    1. "For some reason, God doesn't allow us to attain salvation on our own. We have to be bound to someone else. But what a better way of helping us learn profound humility, unselfishness--and cooperation--than that?"

      I think this is one of my favorite things that I've read during this conversation. Physically and religiously speaking, we can't attain the best things by ourselves. We have to work together- learn to give certain things up to gain things of more worth. Thanks for sharing!

    2. Yes, thanks so much for your comment! I loved James' article and I love this comment of yours - they exactly sum up my feelings! (And I have often laughed at that list of past callings thing too. No one ever includes "nursery worker" on that list.)

  6. Where can I find the story about the woman buying coffee to figuratively wake her husband up to his spiritual responsibilities? I looked for it for a while on the link you gave but couldn't pin it down.

    Great post! More please.

  7. That story is not currently published--and actually won't be as part of the current contest because we limited ourselves to the top thirteen pieces.

    I plan to get in touch with the author, give revision notes, and prep it for a publication later this year, though. So keep your eyes open.

  8. So, so true! Thank you for this. I am an educated Mormon woman who enjoys my independence and I have worked outside the home. I do not want the Priesthood any more than I want facial hair or an Adam's apple. I know that my prayers for my children and loved ones are important and effective, and I know that there are worthy Priesthood holders (including my husband, father, and brothers) available if any of them are in special need of a blessing. The Priesthood is not a coveted position of power and authority, but rather a privilege that can only be gained through righteousness. It's the most powerful force in the universe, and it can NEVER be misused, since the privilege to utilize it is dependent upon current (not only past) righteousness and humility of spirit. Thus, the Priesthood is a great responsibility, and never EVER a threat to women or those who do not hold it.

    1. The most powerful force in the universe is gendered male? Did I hear that right?

    2. She might also have said "prayer is the most powerful force in the universe" or "faith is the most powerful force in the universe." I don't think she meant men who hold the priesthood, she meant the divine power that comes to us through various channels in various circumstances.
      We do believe that all human beings are not just God's creations, but his spiritual children who have the core of godliness within them. We are divine children of divine parents.

    3. And yes, I said parents. We believe in a Father and a Mother in heaven.

      That belief upsets evangelicals, but somehow doesn't come most of the time when secular liberals talk about our supposedly male theology.

    4. NO, you heard wrong. She said the power of the Priesthood was the most powerful force in the universe, not the bearers.

    5. Bingo. There is nothing that prevents you blessing your loved ones through prayer and supplication. But Mormon "feminists" - a contradiction in terms - arent really interested in BLESSINGS but rather the perception of POWER they're being denied.

      Priesthood is primarily service. I cannot place my hands on my own head and give myself a blessing, not without making mock. It's for us to bless others.

    6. Well...

      I took issue with Sally Denton's article because it projected an outside frame of reference drawn from a competitive culture onto an institution that operates within the cooperative culture of the church.

      But please don't say "Mormon feminist" is a contradiction in terms.

      I think Mormon women should--and typically do--have their own brand of feminism. In many cases, their experience with the gospel helps them see things the cultures of their communities and workplaces could work on.

      In many cases, there's a real need for men and women who can see ways in which we can improve the situation of women within our own religious community. We are not perfect, and I think the scriptures say pretty clearly it's a big mistake to think we are.

      I'm all for Mormons paying attention to women's issues. I just think we need our own way to talk about them--not Sally Denton's way of talking down to us about them.

  9. I was baptized as a member of the Church at the age of 22. When my parents were approached by missionaries when I was younger (1998/99ish), they held up many of the same arguments that you mentioned as reasons why they would not join the church.

    My mother is a dyed in the wool feminist, and raised me to believe that I was just as worthy as any man to do anything my heart desired to do. From the time I was a child, I desired to be a stay-at-home mother, and I know my Mom was in parts distressed and confused by the inclination. She seemed to believe that I was going to waste my talents and abilities bearing children and cleaning up after a household. I choose to believe that I am struggling to raise children who will love and respect others from all walks of life (my husband is also LDS, but my best friend of many years practices Islam), and who will contribute to society through service to others and by using their inborn and/or cultivated talents. It might not seem important to some people, but I can tell you that it is important to my husband and my daughter.

    Thank you for expressing in words a concept I have struggled for five years to express to my mother.

  10. I totally agree with what you said about judging Mitt's leadership style on his Mormon status.

    I think your take on the helpmate role of women in the church might be a bit too optimistic.

    Couldn't/ wouldn't men 'take an active role in family and church" even without excluding women from those responsibilities?

    I think women "love it" because they have no other choice.

    I think most women would 'love it' if they were given more opportunity for leadership and were better integrated in the formal church hierarchy.

    I love your writing style! Thanks for posting this.

    1. Correction:
      It's not "helpmate"-- that DOES have a very negative/subordinate feel. The words used in the scriptures are "help meet". Translation of the original Hebrew words indicate that an accurate elaboration is "a power equal to or worthy of"-- a much different feeling :) (Eve as a “Help Meet” — What Does That Mean? By Diana Webb, Meridian Magazine, Sept. 2011)

    2. I think the point you bring up that "women 'love it' because they have no other choice" is a very interesting topic.

      I am an active LDS married women and while I grew up I seriously explored many other religions and realized that in some cultures women have more of a public presence in religious meetings and that in others women had less of a presence. From studying older accounts of women in the beginnings of the LDS church, I have also come to realize that women used to use/hold the Priesthood in some instances.

      I'd be lying if I said I hadn't wondered at times why the LDS church is currently set up the way that it is, but ultimately I would say that I love it. And I suppose, in a way you're right. I love it because if I believe that the LDS church is the true church, that it has the ordinances I need for salvation, and that it is led by God who speaks through His prophets (who would not led us astray), then yes, I realize that there is no other choice. In essence, I am giving up something I may want in order to follow what I believe is correct and do what I see as right.

      But I think it's worth exploring that just because there may be "no other choice" that doesn't mean that I only love the circumstance because it IS the only choice. I love it because although it may be hard, I believe it is the right choice for now and I want to follow what I perceive as right. And I believe that this choice is right because I believe that God speaks through prophets and leads the LDS church. Although I may not understand my Heavenly Father, I trust and love Him as I know He loves me. But literally, His thoughts are not my thoughts, because I don't have the perspective He does.

      There is a quote from Boyd K. Packer. He said, "We are not obedient because we are blind; we are obedient because we can see."

      I may not have the perspective my Heavenly Father does, but I can see that He wants what is best for me. Sure I don't understand fully why this is best for me at the time, but I'm willing to trust Him because I see that He wants what is best for me.

      Not too many years ago when my parents would give me advice on topics, I thought they were crazy and I did what I wanted to do instead. With the passing of a few years though I look back on those events and realize that the perspective my parents had really did give them an advantage. I made bad choices in some instances because I didn't trust in their perspective. I certainly didn't understand my parents at the time, but I understand them now. I think that it will be the same at some point in eternity: some day in eternity I will understand the seemingly odd actions of my Heavenly Father a lot better but for now I believe I need to gain more experience with the opportunities I am given.

      I also believe that limitations help us create beauty. Art definitely testifies to that. Cultures have developed their own ways of expression because of the limitations they have- they have certain materials/confines and become experts at working with those materials/confines. I have limitations, so do men who hold the Priesthood, but that allows us to form different and beautiful ways of expressing ourselves.

      Thanks for sparking my thoughts!

  11. Saw you the other day obviously doing some home teaching of your own. I appreciate you addressing these topics and found them insightful and well thought out. Thanks.

  12. Hey James!

    I totally am with you on the cooperation vs. competition aspect of the church. I think it even effects how others view God. As opposed to the "big man" who just tells everyone what to do and looks for opportunities to strike you with lightening (because that's what someone with that much power does), He's actually wanting to have a conversation and act as...well...a perfect Father.
    Also, one of my favorite quotes on that topic is from Pres. Hinkley who said basically that "your work in your sphere is just as important as my work is in mine." It really hit me that to God there is no difference in the importance. Just different jobs he requires each of us to do at various times for purposes we can't always see.

    I do have issue with your take on women and leadership, however. As someone pointed out, there is actually no organization where women are not under the jurisdiction of a priesthood leader. The Relief Society actually used to be independent until correlation...and again before it was banned by Brigham Young. In that mode, it really would be closer to a marriage, you know? Two equal partners coming together instead of one of one of them constantly having the final say on anything that the other does. It also creates a "top-down" kind of mentality in something that is supposed to be more cooperative. You can have a functioning (though meager) branch without a single woman because all the essential duties would be met, but you could never have a functioning branch made of just women. You couldn't even have a relief society because technically that's under the priesthood too.

    I do believe that women and men are complimentary and meant to help one another, but I feel like the church still adheres to an understanding/structure of men and women that is more cultural than doctrinal. Are there any leadership positions in the church where a woman is actually in charge of a group of both men and women? I think women actually lose out on a lot of growth by not being able to have that experience. Outside the church I was in a leadership position over a mixed group, and it caused me to grow so much more and understand others-especially men-in ways I never would have otherwise. I feel sad that women don't have that opportunity in the church. It was actually because of that experience that I became a lot more understanding of my own church leaders and the difficulties they go through trying to do their best for others even with their own weaknesses. It also gave me a great dose of both humility and confidence. It saddened me when I realized I would likely never have an opportunity like that within my own organized religion.

    OK I hope this makes sense, it was written kind of late and it's not that I think you don't have good points in your article, just that there's more to it from a woman's perspective.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I think you're really right about the historical issues that James fails to tackle regarding Mormon women and authority. James got it right on a lot of the competitive vs. cooperative culture, but sort of glosses over on this part.

      One problem is that the fact that 90% of Mormon women are okay with the status quo isn't really a sufficient argument to justify excluding women from leadership roles. Many of the arguments used by men and women both sound a little too much like arguments used against women's suffrage (it gives the men something to do, women don't want to do it, men don't like it, but it's their duty, women are too spiritual and good, etc.). Plus, if you fundamentally disagree with the practice it may be difficult to stay in the church and have your opinion represented in such a poll.

      Also I assume the argument that women have "enough to do" is referring to raising children. This doesn't really make sense because the father has an equal responsibility to his family at this time and what are we doing with those ladies who are no longer raising children? Overall this practice seems really unfair to both genders. Callings to leadership roles should be less about gender and more about an what an individual has to give.

    2. To reply briefly:

      I think it's healthy to remember that there are different ways within our framework to organize things. There have been times in church history when women would speak blessings on each other and men--not in a priesthood setting, but who ever said priesthood was the only way to bless? It might be really nice if we were more comfortable again just having someone walk up and say "I bless you."

      And yes, we've tried different ways of organizing the relationships between intra-church organizations during our history--and will try still more ways in the future. Nothing wrong with wondering whether there's a better way. (Although if you think correlation is fundamentally anti-feminist, you might want to spend some time comparing curricular materials from before and after correlation...)

      I guess what I'm saying is that the way we organize genders will probably change in various ways, and I think it's cool to wonder what those changes might look like and whether they'd be better. But I draw a line when people cast the current system as sinister and oppressive. That's not fair. And it's often as much a project of projecting an outside discourse about gender relationships onto the fundamentally different culture of the church without critical reflection as to how those critiques really translate in everyday terms.

    3. wonderful, and would you run for pres?

    4. I am neither old enough nor crazy enough to do so. Plus, I really like being a teacher.

    5. James-
      I agree that the church is constantly trying to figure out what's best and has changed a lot over the last century in terms of organization. It continues to do so, and I do love that about it, and trust that the leadership is of course trying to do what's best with what we know. The problem I have, however, is in constantly being told that if I have a problem with it, even if it's small, that there's clearly something wrong with ME. As if my own experiences are somehow invalid because they don't fit the 90% of other respondents in a survey quoted at general conference...therefore I must be close to apostasy instead of just being someone who has concerns and has actually gone through great pains trying to understand my position as a woman instead of letting it be glossed over and told TO me. I believe it's important to understand things myself and when I see or experience discrepancies, I want to be able to discuss them without feeling judged. Otherwise, it puts me in a position of feeling like I'm not really a "good" Mormon and adds to some of the already painful feelings I'm trying to sometimes work out. It can be especially painful when it's men telling me how happy I am/must be with a position they will never experience. I would not presume to assume that for them (but nor would I assume they are miserable.)
      I've just noticed that it's difficult to bring up gender issues within the church without people thinking you're pushing either an oppressive-conservative agenda or a progressive-takeover agenda. I was terribly nervous to talk to my bishopric to tell them that I was uncomfortable with the fact that the only female speakers in sacrament meeting for the last 4 months were an occasional youth speaker, and that mother's and father's day and "priesthood day" had not a single female talk. They didn't do it intentionally of course, but the fact that it didn't even register as a problem until I brought it up does say that there is a need to vocalize when there are spiritual needs not being met (and since I was in the nursery at the time, I had a great need to hear spiritual experiences from other women and not only men talking about women.)

      So really all I want is a chance to feel like I can have this discussion about potential or actual problems with gender roles without being dismissed, having my feelings ignored, or assumed that I must not be a "good" Mormon for not being completely happy. I am often happy, but I grew up in this religion that made me always question and seek greater truth, so I just have this habit of wanting to always do that even if it makes things uncomfortable. :)

    6. Lobbie,

      Yes. I definitely agree that there needs to be room to talk about things and share ideas. In order for that to happen, I think it's important to be starting at a shared set of cultural values. One problem I see with editorials like the Sally Denton's is that denouncing Mormon culture based on an outside set of assumptions as oppressive toward women actually makes it harder for us to talk to each other about how to make things work a little better.

      I guess part of my message to Sally Denton would be to let Mormon women do a little more of the negotiation on their own. Your bishopric probably appreciates people like you who can help them see what they can do better without making them feel misunderstood and attacked in the process.

      So keep seeking that greater truth and sharing your insights in love, humility, and patience. And I hope most members are able to distinguish between your voice and those of people who just want to talk down to the church.

  13. Thanks for your insight. I agree. I am happy for my husband to have the priesthood because it a way for him to share and serve our family. I have enough to do. By the way, I also appreciate that he does help with the dishes, the homework, putting laundry away, carpooling, and gathering our family together for the fun things too!

  14. It occurred to me while reading this article that one of the reasons I don't want to hold the priesthood is because I am already exhausted. Raising kids, holding church callings, working both inside and outside the home, trying to create and nurture a happy family... that is a LOT of work. Last thing I need is ANOTHER responsibility.

    I teach 4th Sunday lessons in RS, and a few months back my assigned talk was Pres Uchdorf's 'Your Potential, Your Privelige' from the 4/11 priesthood session. Not gonna lie, I was miffed at first that I had to teach a priesthood talk in RS. But it's a REALLY good talk. I came to realize while preparing my lesson that we as women in the church enjoy ALL of the blessings of the Priesthood - ALL of them - without the responsibility of holding it. And at the same time, we have DIFFERENT responsibilities regarding the priesthood. We raise sons who will hold the priesthood; we often (even those who are childless) reach Primary or Sunday School or seminary lessons to potential priesthood holders; we teach our daughters what the priesthood is - and isn't (a woman in the class shared a heart-wrenching story of her father using unrighteous dominion and her mother going along with it because she didn't know any better); we kick our husbands out the door for priesthood meetings or those dreaded Saturday morning moves; we set an example of not only respecting the priesthood but also expecting it to be exercised righteously. In fact, the epiphany I had while preparing and delivering my RS lesson was that by being embarrassed to ask my husband for a priesthood blessing (which isn't even really asking my husband, it's asking the Lord) when the children are sick or I am in need, *I* am not really doing a great job of respecting it.

    And President Monson, 'stern'? Ha!

  15. AMEN, James! I am an active LDS member, as well as a mother, grandmother, and (horrors) a full-time Bookkeeper/Office Manager. :) I also take Karate with my youngest son. I am very happy with my roll over the years in the church. In my opinion, Anne (above), and Sally Denton have it all wrong. My husband wouldn't dream of suppressing me in any way. In fact, he completely paid for my college education when I decided I wanted to go back to school after 15 years of marriage. I don't want the priesthood. I feel one reason men are given the priesthood is to push them into serving one another. Women usually do this quite naturally, and so don't need the added responsibilities that go with the priesthood. I have enough to do without having the priesthood! My husband, and the priesthood leaders in my ward and stake would never dream of silencing my views or opinions. And yes, I know them all well...they're all in my neighborhood.

    Anne has also never attended a Special Needs Mutual meeting, usually on Thursday evenings. In these meetings, the "Young Women's" Presidency presides over the meetings as often as the the "Young Men's" Presidency, even if the men are in attendance. I was in one of those Presidencies, and we held every bit as much authority as the men did. The priesthood that was appointed to the program was not there to control us, but to coordinate our program with the 11 stakes we served, and the other Special Needs Units. When my time serving there was up, I was very happy to accept a position teaching Nursery - children 18 months to 3 years old.

    I have also served as a Primary President in one of our wards, and I know for a fact that my bishop never squashed my opinions, nor controlled what I did in Primary. He respected my opinion when I attended Ward Leadership meetings, and at the most, just poked his head in on occasion to see if I needed anything. I'm pretty sure that's how it is for every other organization headed by women in our church.

    As for a woman being asked to speak in front of a Priesthood meeting...I have known of several times when the Bishop has asked the Relief Society President in our ward to address the men. Or a Young Women's President speak to the Young Men. And every time any of the men wish to speak to a woman's organization, they either get permission from the women's leadership, or are invited by them. They never assume that they can just come into any meeting presided over by a woman and take over. The Priesthood leadership simply has too much respect for the women leaders to do so.

    When we were married, we were told that Eve was not taken from Adam's head to rule over him, nor his feet, to be downtrodden by him, but from his side to be close to his heart, and his equal in every way. From what I have seen in the way Mitt treats his wife, this is how he treats her. I don't think women have anything to fear from having a Mormon in the Oval Office.


  16. Oh dear! I AM the fourth-Sunday organist in my ward...

    1. What? You have enough people in your wars to have more than one organist???? What do you mean your ward is in your neighborhood? TOTALLY crazy! I hold 2 callings and they's give me another one if they could get away with it. Hahaha. Our ward covers 3 states and is over 50 miles from one end to the other. I wouldn't live anywhere else, though.

      As far as RS being "under" the men, I think that there has to be someone coordinating everything. Seriously. It used to bother me too. However, after seeing how many things have to mesh together to get things to run smoothly, it helps to have the Bishop know what's going on. It also helps prevent typo much separation... From having two different worlds (men & women) rather than just 2 different auxilluaries (sp?) Of the same organizations.

      As far as giving blessings, etc., there have been times when the veil had been very thin and miracles occur through the prayer of faith when no priesthood was available. As women, we have access to every bit of heavenly power that priesthood holders do, and every right to call upon it. That being said, we have an obligation to allow others to seve and grow. I would not take that opportunity from any man.

      To all things there is a season. Right now is the season for men to rise to the calling of the priesthood and grow from that. This means it's also the season for me to support them in that quest.

  17. P.s. Please pardon all the typos. I'm swyping on the droid and it's almost 1am and I'm sometimes a goober...

  18. Um... Forget that last post.. At least according to what I can see right now, my big long post didn't end up getting published. Bummer. It's such a pain swyping. Hopefully it'll show up...

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Your comment did come in to my email, but didn't show up on the blog--so I posted it for you, as a reply to Ann so it would show up in the right place.

  19. As a male who was raised in the Mormon church, I don't quite understand this blog post. First, there is a VERY large distinction between regular members and the "clergy" (bishop, stake president, quorum of... anything). If you don't believe that, you really haven't been paying attention in church.

    The prophet of the LDS church is probably the most powerful person in the state of Utah. Utah's government is a de facto theocracy because of how much influence the church has over the local politics (you only have to look at the insane liquor laws of the state to realize this is the case).

    Second, if you don't believe the Mormon church (and really, 99% of religions out there but I digress) diminish women... I don't know what to tell you. When women are told that they are not supposed to work outside the home and that their education is secondary to getting married and having children, that is most definitely a form of repression. Women can't hold any important positions in the church (and Relief Society isn't really considered that important in the grand scheme of things for the church) and all decisions are made by men. Wives must be obedient to their husbands and husbands are allowed to have revelation for their wives but not vice versa.

    I have a friend who is a cop and Mormon bishops routinely tell battered and abused women to not press charges against or leave their husbands, even if their lives are in danger. This makes his job of prosecuting this scum much harder. This is hardly isolated and is absolutely sickening.

    If all that isn't repression of women, I must not know what is.

    THAT SAID: I do NOT believe anyone should judge Romney by his religion. He's got enough faults to find with his ignorance to how the economy actually works, his flip-flopping on issues, and other issues.

    No one should be judged based on religion, but don't try to pretend that the LDS church doesn't frown on feminism.

    1. Well, this whole comment is just full of false doctrines. Where to begin?
      I actually don't even have the time or energy to take up every single false doctrine in this statement. All I have to say is people who know the doctrine know that almost every single thing you said was false. If you don't know the doctrine, do some real praying and study.
      Women and men are equal in the sight of God and in the LDS church, no doubt about it. That's why I am a feminist and LDS!

  20. Anonymous Feb. 9, I have often received revelation for my husband. Who says that's not allowed? And as for being obedient to my husband, that's pretty hilarious. Everyone knows that Mormon women are the real bosses of the family.

    I always viewed the Priesthood as kind of a consolation prize for having to be a man. Not everyone is lucky enough to be female.

    I also take offense as a mother to people insinuating that being a mother and shaping one or two generations of humans is somehow inferior to sitting in a cubicle or going to pointless business meetings. I am very smart and well-educated. Being a mother uses my skills and talents much more than some corporate drone job would. I am changing the world every single day. What are you doing?

    1. Jennie,

      I particularly appreciate your last point. One of the disadvantages of competitive culture is that it tends to value positions gained through competition over positions taken out of love.

      When we leave this life, I think we'll find that God had a very different idea of what was prestigious than America often does.


  21. As a Mother, LDS church member, a wife and a feminist I approve this article!

    I think many people would be surprised by how many LDS women are Feminists. We believe strongly in the power of women, and in women making the right choices for themselves. While I know many "Feminists" who are horrified by my CHOICE to stay home with my children. They tell me that I am wrong to do so, that I am being repressed... If I was forced to work outside of my home for money, I would fing that repressive! Anyone telling a woman what is best for her instead of letting her choose for herself her path is repressing her.

    I know repression, I have experienced it first hand by both LDS people (rarely), and more commonly by people who think they know better then me what would make me happy. I find the American culture of "Work for money or you don't count" repressive to women, and to all caregivers!

    I know too many men who would not serve on their own accord, who it would just not cross their minds to do so. The priesthood reminds them to serve, to care, to be involved in more then work for profit. I was always taught that the priesthood was a refiners fire for men. That it was a training tool to help them become what they need to be. That without it they will fail to meet the potential that they have. I was also taught that women didn't need that tool, that in many ways we were born with the ability and aptitude to serve. I also know that no man serves as Bishop, Stake President, or other General Authority without a wife. That those men MUST be married. Only a fool would believe that these men don't turn to their help meet often for counsel. One only need to look to the Temple to understand the LDS view of women. When women go to the temple for the first time or to be sealed... they go to the "Brides Room". They are treated specially and one could say royally. Men.... there is no such room for them, just the normal changing area no matter what they are there for. No man speaks as well of the women in his life as the leaders of the LDS church do. If you ever want to know how we are treated... look to their words on women. You will leave inspired!

  22. LOVE this... someone posted you on FB and this is my second article. You express yourself very well and I LOVE it! I wish I could gather my thoughts so well!

  23. While I think you make some good points, I think this piece misses the big picture of church government just as much as Ms. Denton's. True, the LDS church is a largely grassroots and deeply democratic organization--but it's also one of the most top-down, authoritarian institutions there is. A man may be stake president one day and primary teacher the next, but an apostle won't be (and a woman won't be either a stake president or an apostle). And in a truly cooperative culture, men and women would come together and decide how to share their responsibilities together rather than having those responsibilities largely pre-determined by gender. And, while only 8% of women (vs. 13% of men) say they want the priesthood, you can't use that statistic to conclude that women aren't being oppressed. In fact, you could just as easily use the statistic to suggest the opposite--women are so pummeled into submission by patriarchy and even sometimes threat of excommunication that they are less vocal about sexism in the church than men are. Again, I think you make some good points, but in failing to acknowledge the equally valid points of the opposition, you're making the same mistakes as the piece to which you're responding, you're preaching to the choir, and ultimately I feel like this sort of arguing just perpetuates the us vs. them rhetoric rather than actually helping others better understand Mormonism and working to find common ground.

    1. The calling to be an apostle is for life (barring apostasy or other wrong-doings), so, naturally, there would be no opportunity to become a primary teacher after that.

    2. Anonymous,

      My big problem with your view is that it requires me to believe that 90% of Mormon women are either stupid or have allowed themselves to be "pummeled into submission." I know a lot of Mormon women. I owe a lot to many Mormon women for making me who I am today. And I cannot believe that they're stupid or weak. So I have to accept their words at face value when so many of them say the system is working for them and that they feel both valued and empowered within it.

      The way I'm trying to give Sally Denton some credit is by saying: if being a Mormon leader were a career path, then of course there'd be reason to worry women aren't allowed. But there's no "LDS clergy" career path--even apostles had to have some other career before they ever knew they'd be called to full-time church work. Many of them gave up prestigious careers, in fact, to accept the call to dedicate their time to church work.
      Also: if only male responsibilities were valued and admired, then of course it would be smart to call for greater value being placed on women. But women are valued. So Denton's complaints are well-intentioned, but based in fundamental misunderstandings of how the church works.

      And yes, my tone in the piece is a bit exasperated. But I'm saddened that Sally Denton has published books on Mormonism without ever bothering to figure out what an average Mormon woman is thinking.

  24. Just had to say that I found you through a post on Facebook, and I'm so glad I did. I'd never heard the ideas of competitive vs. cooperative culture. I am so excited about this because, as an early morning Seminary teacher (until further notice), this gives me an excellent way of explaining to my teenaged students the difference between the world's culture and our religious one in a way that doesn't denigrate either.

    Thank you. I'll be following you more often.

  25. The Roman philosopher (Xeno?) said that the instant women become elevated to the status of men they're one up on them. When Church guys get too far behind or otherwise can't find their way (i.e., ineffectual prayer) they should call on reinforcements, the Relief Soc. or their wives' perspectives, not try to figure it out by themselves-! Heaven forbid we put women in charge of the Militia- the world would get straightened out big time, in so many words and so little time!

  26. "Many of them may have wondered what it would be like to bless the sacrament bread or give a priesthood blessing to a sick child, but they would far rather have good men around them to help do those things than the power and obligation to do them on their own."

    I hardly even know where to start with this. The assumptions of universal experience, the utter dismissal of every differing experience, the smugness that oozes from the page, the assumption that abuse that could happen won't happen, the idea that it is acceptable that women's authority is benevolently bestowed by men rather than freely assumed by women.

    They are the same tired arguments that were trotted out to prevent women from voting, and they are as false now as they were then. History repeats itself, and it seems we have learned nothing and need to fight the same battles over and over again.

    Honestly, I am not meaning to be a drive-by commenter, but this post just drove me nuts. I loved the two after it, but this one, not so much.

    1. When I was in East Germany, church attendance in Lutheran congregations was almost entirely female (and largely over sixty); attendance in Catholic congregations was heavily female, and attendance in LDS congregations was majority female, but closer to balanced. And I don't think women felt liberated by that absence.

      If you look at say, PTA participation or volunteerism in numerous community organizations, my guess is that women do the overwhelming majority of the work. I know that in the United States, married women also tend to have larger and deeper circles of friends than married men--I can't speak to singles b/c I haven't read that research.

      You can be angry that I (unintentionally) come across as dismissive of serious questions. Abuse of authority does happen. Even in the church. As the scriptures attest. And I'm sorry if you thought I meant to deny that.

      But no one will be served if your well-intentioned zeal for equality keeps you blind to the crisis of disappearing men postindustrial cultures seem to be facing. I remember Sherman Alexie--who is hardly a reactionary conservative--writing that there are two main kinds of story Americans tell now: brown writers, he said, write about fathers who leave physically, while white writers tell stories about fathers who leave emotionally.

      Should men stay actively involved in family, church, and community organizations even if there are no gender roles to guide them and commit them to do so? Of course! Will they? I don't know.

      And I don't think it's productive to say that someone who is aware of the statistically demonstrable crisis of self-isolating men is just failing to learn the historical lessons of the women's suffrage movement.

    2. It isn't about abuse of authority in particular - that is a real problem everywhere. It is more about the automatic assignment of "gender roles" based on 2 chromosomes and totally disregarding personality, aptitude, and interest.

      I also don't see the exclusion of men being a good thing either - in fact I see the whole division mentality as being the exact antithesis of Zion. Just like splitting people up in groups based on wealth, politics, skin color, sexual identity, or any other way we have of delineating the Other. We are commanded to be one - one heart and one mind, one like Christ and God are one. Dividing ourselves up defeats this commandment.

      I believe that demanding that all women stay home because some women have babies is just as wrong as demanding that all women work because some women don't want babies. There is no universal experience, therefore any universal expectation like that is of necessity unjust.

      In my ideal world, there would be divisions of labor mutually agreed upon by those involved that had nothing whatever to do with gender stereotypes. SAHDs would be just as valued as SAHMs (yes, the irony, I know).

      As far as retaining men, I think that a deeper conversion to the gospel is a far better way of approaching it than reinforcing gender roles, and locking men into unwanted roles, as much as women are.

      I really should sit down and write a proper thesis on my position - apologies for the disconnected nature of my argument. To sum up, I support the right to choose roles that fit, and the right to be chosen for roles that fit, regardless of superficial constraints.

      Anyway, also apologies if I came across as being overly strident in my comment - I feel strongly about this topic, and sometimes that doesn't translate well into print.

    3. "...totally disregarding personality, aptitude, and interest."

      I am a teacher by profession. I love the talking and sharing insights part, and I'm terrible at the organization part.

      I'm the Elders' Quorum secretary at church. It's against my personality, aptitude, and interest. But according to the Bishop and Elders' Quorum President, it's what the Lord wants from me and I'll grow.

      So by all means: write up the thesis. But if you want us to get callings according to personality, aptitude, and interest, there's a lot more than gender roles standing in the way. ;)

      P.S. I'm definitely for dads getting to spend more time with kids, by the way. I get two full weekdays at home right now and it's awesome.

  27. "But if you want us to get callings according to personality, aptitude, and interest, there's a lot more than gender roles standing in the way."

    Well, the way I see it, it isn't about *getting* the callings as much as it is about *not* getting them.

    Anyway, we can probably agree to disagree on this. :D

    1. Agreeing to disagree is great--though actually, I'd kind of like to read your extended argument on this if you do get around to writing it up. Let me know if you do. My main issue with Sally Denton's piece was the vast stereotyping: I'm genuinely curious about different ways we could potentially improve gender relationships, and would enjoy your thinking on that.

      I hope your thinking deals not only with opening opportunities, though, but also with providing new motivators for both gender to engage more fully in thankless work that is nonetheless essential.

      I mean, I think America needs national discussions on housework as well as about glass ceilings. And while my ward and quorum are pretty good at reminding men to be involved in things like housework, I think even in the church we could do more to help men and women work together better in little everyday things and not just big, headline-material things.

  28. What happens if there are no men around, the women can't bless? Sorry you are in my eyes still an business organization that holds women below men? If you need to py to get into your heaven then it is an exclusive place. You are a cult and not a religion. It is easy to read thru this for what it is...manipulation and preying on the weak. No black men until 1978? no same sex marriage? You are on the wrong side of history.

    1. Well, we're on the wrong side of history for as long as a Sally Denton view of history is dominant.

      I have a feeling that someday, people will get their ideal society where gender is just a myth and the only thing not tolerated is intolerance and all that--and the society will crash hard, because it turns out it wasn't stable.

      If the world economy crashed tomorrow, I think history would quickly be on our side again. Latter-day Saints can build communities and care for each other (and as many of our neighbors as we can) under harsher conditions than our liberal critics could possibly weather.

      So you take your right side of history. But I'm ready to keep humanity alive when your noble historical progress falls apart.

  29. I was sent this link by someone participating in a discussion about (once again) women and the priesthood. Well-written and well-reasoned, as usual. I have been arguing for a cooperative view for a long time without having a vocabulary or a worldview comparison to flesh it out. Nice. Thanks.

    1. I am glad to hear the piece is serving as a worthwhile conversation reference point. Honestly, that's about the highest praise I can ask for--people are having conversations and feel my work contributes.

      Thanks for letting me know.

  30. Great article, James! If I can add my own two cents, I think you and Mahonri are two of the best feminists I've ever met - at least according to my definition of feminism. :)

    And that's the trick - defining feminism. I think of modern feminism as male-oriented in that its goal is to make women have all the things men do. I consider myself a female-oriented feminist in that I want to celebrate, protect, and empower that which is uniquely feminine.

    That uniquely feminine thing is the bearing and nursing/nurturing of children. Society at large does not highly value that feminine ability/power (arguably because of its chauvinistic roots - which means there is a place for some male-oriented feminism). In fact, we women have had to fight against a male-oriented society for the right to exercise that power to nurse our children in public.

    Before people break out the pitchforks, I'd also like to point out that, since the uniquely feminine power is NOT washing dishes or folding laundry or changing diapers, the chores historically thought of as "women's work" are actually as gender-neutral as getting an education or earning money or giving sermons in church.

    Society at large is uncomfortable with women being feminine - witness how the profound, life-altering, and powerful act of giving birth is consistently made fun of in pop culture. I think Mormon women are generally more comfortable with their uniquely-feminine power and that's probably part of why that 90% is so high. Many of us don't see ourselves as needing the priesthood - the gospel teaches us that we have a divine power that is undeniably our own.

    In fact, women can exercise their power to bring forth life without the priesthood, but the priesthood would be useless without families to serve, since families are the basic unit of the church and society. I'd even go so far as to say that the Priesthood and the procreative powers are both two halves of the whole power of God. In other words, the men who hold the Priesthood can exercise their power ONLY if women exercise theirs.

    Ironically enough, the inverse is not true. During periods of apostasy when the priesthood was taken from the Earth, the great plan of happiness continued to move forward because women still exercised their divine power to bring forth life.

    So if you're approaching the cooperative and complementary divine half-powers from a competitive point of view (which, as you so clearly and eloquently pointed out, DOESN'T WORK), the feminine power is arguably the greater. But chavinistic society doesn't see it that way, which leaves the male-oriented feminists scratching their heads at us 90%.

    1. Wow. Very thoughtful and articulate comment.

    2. Just a question on this thread as I've been revisiting this post and thinking through it while watching my first baby play on the floor.

      Why are women not required to pass any kind of worthiness test or even have worthiness as a deciding factor in giving birth? And if motherhood=priesthood does that mean fatherhood is not important without the priesthood and won't bless lives the same way motherhood does?

      It's just interesting because while I absolutely agree that society at large is uncomfortable with feminine power, femininity, and procreation,(I actually think this is evidenced by the way extreme conservatives try to regulate/control it and extreme liberals try to ignore or downplay it), why does that power have nothing to do with a person's worthiness but the priesthood has everything to do with it? In the church structure, even as a single man the priesthood gives a man status-and I don't mean that in a worldly way. I mean that they are recognized as needed and have an important place ordained by God to serve in the group. Single women? Childless women? What's their place if their divine equivalent is motherhood? The church is actually losing a lot of membership among younger single women, and I think this may be a big part of it. There's not a place for them the way there is for a man with the priesthood-even if he's single.

      At the same time I am so grateful for the spiritual insights about birth and motherhood that the Gospel provides. I think as a church even we've lost some of it. Did you know that a midwife used to be called for life and set apart...much like a patriarch? She didn't even have to be married or have kids herself. I wish there were more of these kinds of callings celebrating the female divine. I treasured learning about the heritage of my foremothers in the church while I was pregnant, and loved the sacredness and divinity I found about pregnancy and birth in the scriptures.

      I think it also should be noted that I had a wanted pregnancy. If someone was raped, it seems more than a little insensitive to tell them how divine their experience is and how great it is to be a mother when they weren't ready or wanting it. In fact, too often throughout history many women have NOT had a choice if they wanted to bring life into the world or not. It was forced upon them or it was the only reason their husbands would keep them around which makes it difficult for me to align motherhood with the priesthood which can never be forced upon anyone. I mean you'll never find a man crying in a corner saying he said "no" to being an Elder and serving a mission, but he was tied down and couldn't remove himself from those hands on his head and then they tied him up and threw him on a plane. I'm honestly not trying to be argumentative, but I think it is so important to understand the implications of equating motherhood to priesthood and how painful that can be for those who didn't have wanted pregnancies or who DO want to be pregnant and can't be and wonder at their worthiness. I am so blessed that I am in a situation where I wanted my child and had support from my husband. Because of this I was able to appreciate the sanctity of what was happening.

    3. I've never equated priesthood with motherhood. Motherhood and Fatherhood are the equals; Priesthood and Relief Society are the other equals, that is, service organizations that include both married and single persons. The Family: A Proclamation to the World teaches truths about fatherhood and motherhood with accompanying responsibilities. The recent book Daughters in my Kingdom covers the relationship between priesthood and Relief Society quite well. And finally, any woman who has been endowed in the temple would do well to remember the final lines in the ceremony at the veil when trying to understand women and the priesthood. I really appreciated this post and all the interesting comments.

    4. Well, except that the RS can actually be dissolved or ignored at any time by the priesthood like Brigham Young did for many years.

    5. Brigham Young was working on limited experience with some intense challenges. He did the best he could, but I think it's pretty low of us today to judge him by our current standards or judge the modern church by his individual policies.

      Can we cut the guy some slack for having managed a mass migration in the wake of events that must have been extremely hard on him and his community?

    6. I wasn't meaning that as a harsh criticism of BY, but simply to illustrate that the Relief Society can, at any time, be dissolved by the priesthood for any reason without input from the RS. While I think it's highly unlikely, it still remains possible.

  31. Well said. Thanks for giving me words for some of the thoughts I've been chasing around in my head.



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