Guest Post: Polygamy or Priesthood for Women?
Course Correction introduces herself in this way. “I’m a happily retired mother and teacher who lives in Bountiful, UT with my husband and a big, yellow dog. I read, write, garden and carry petitions for initiatives to improve state government.”
Which would have a more devastating effect on LDS Church membership—restoring polygamy or admitting women to the priesthood? The Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, lost nearly 50% of their members when they extended the priesthood to women. Would half of devout Mormons find it impossible to obey the prophet if he had a revelation that the priesthood was for all worthy members regardless of gender? Extending the priesthood to males of African descent produced little fallout from the church, but it affected relatively few members. Most US wards at the time had no African/Americans.
Extending priesthood to women would affect every ward. Every family. My elderly father’s reaction to the notion of giving women the priesthood was a horrified, “But then you’d have women telling men what to do!” I’m not at all sure that a majority of younger men don’t feel the same way. Not all women would favor the change, either. Women comfortable with the status quo might be unwilling to give up their place on the pedestal.
To return to the comparison of extending the priesthood to African/Americans, we were always told that their ban from the priesthood would be rescinded at some point. Although early church records show women participating in blessings and anointing and healing other sisters, no tradition of someday receiving priesthood power themselves exists. Indeed, women have always been told they share the priesthood with their husbands.
Restoring polygamy would be an entirely different matter. It would return to a principle officially taught in earlier days and abandoned due to outside pressure. Eternal polygamy is commonly acknowledged today as second wives are sealed to widowers for time and eternity. And some Mormon men include polygamy on their wish list for the restoration of all things in this dispensation. Yale professor Harold Bloom predicted in his 1992 The American Religion that by the early 21st century Mormons would have enough political and financial clout to resurrect the early pillar of their faith. Mitt Romney’s 2008 bid for the presidential nomination has revealed widespread American distrust, even dislike, of Mormons which makes that scenario unlikely in the near future.
But how many Mormons would leave the church if President Monson announced a revelation of the return to plural marriage—assuming it was legal in the US? Would polygamy be sold to women as a means of learning to be more selfless and Christ-like—similar to the rhetoric spouted by the wives on Big Love? Would mostly forgotten pronouncements of pre-Manifesto prophets be quoted and President Hinckley’s statement of never returning to polygamy quietly expunged from church sources?
Although neither scenario is likely, I kind of think more Mormons would go along with the return of polygamy. In my opinion, it’s easier to convince women to accept changes that disadvantage them than to get men to relinquish power and privilege.