Separate but Equal

Posted by on February 8, 2013 in Family, feminism, Gender roles, women | 47 comments

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m currently involved in the Let Women Pray event. As I’ve watched the comments from the opposition, I’ve seen numerous people make the claim that there is no need to push for gender equality in the church, because men and women have separate roles, but are still equal because each role is important. After seeing this argument all over Mormon feminist pages, I looked it up on the gender equality section of mormon.org. Here are some of the statements I found.

“The LDS Church believes that women and men are equally important, but we have different roles to play in our lives. Women are more nurturing my nature, so it is our great privilege as women to be mothers and wives. That doesn’t mean that we lose ourselves in our kids or husband. They are an extension of us, as we are of them. Men and women are equal, but not the same. Just as men have their strength, so do women.”–April

 

“Mormons believe in the equality of men and women, but not in the sense that most people view equality as today. Both men and women are equally important to Heavenly Father’s plan, but the roles and responsibilities of men and women are distinctly separate. These roles cannot be used interchangeably because they are not unisex. Rather, each role is suited to each gender: men have the responsibility and power of the priesthood, while women have the responsibility and power of motherhood. The significance and weight of both of these roles are considered equal.”–Malori

 

“Though there are several people who believe Mormon women are oppressed, it is only because we believe that though men and women are equal, they are different. We acknowledge the fact that men and women have different qualities, strengths, and weaknesses; we do not impose this assumption on every man and every woman, but we understand that men and women are naturally inclined to various roles.”–Rachel

 

“We believe very strongly in the equality of men and women. Men and women have different roles in life, both with equal importance. Men support and protect their families, women nurture and care for their families. Husband and wife work as equal partners.”–Katie

 

“We teach that men and women are equal partners with different roles. Women are primarily responsible for raising their children. What a blessing! Men are to provide, preside and protect their families.”–Krista

It seems that this “separate but equal” mentality is taught and fairly widely believed among church members. The notion appears to be that men have certain roles (Priesthood, presiding, leadership) and women have different roles (motherhood, nurturing,  support.) But because these roles are, in theory, complementary and important to the function of the church and family, most seem to believe that these differences in role and authority are not examples of inequality.

Now I have an issue with this argument on several levels. It assumes all men have and lack certain personality traits and all women have and lack certain personality traits. That does not stand up in my life or the lives of many people I know. It suggests that there are only certain roles that men and women should fill, which I think limits human potential to do good and improve themselves and their communities. These arguments also tend to focus on marriage and family, as though that is the only place women matter. But what I really want to discuss here is the notion of “separate but equal” or “different but equal” being equality.

Why does this argument fly when it has been determined (at least in the US: I’d love to hear international perspectives) that “separate but equal” is in fact not equal. During the civil rights movement, many claimed that providing separate facilities to black and white people was equality. They rallied behind “separate but equal” as a way to keep the races separate while claiming they were not being racist. But eventually it was determined by the courts that separate was not in fact equal. Currently, most US citizens accept that separate but equal is not a legitimate argument to prove two groups are equal. If I were to suggest to most people, even members of the church, that men and women should use separate drinking fountains, or should attend different church buildings based on gender, they would likely say that such a suggestion was wrong, that it was unequal. Yet then they turn around and say that men and women have separate roles, roles that deny both parties access to things and call it equality. Men are often told they are less spiritual, so they need the Priesthood to compensate. They are told they are less nurturing which can lead to weak father/child relationships and fewer callings to work with children. Women are told they are more nurturing and therefore they should stay in the home, even if they can’t or don’t want to. They are told they don’t need the priesthood and therefore can’t serve in most leadership positions. This situation is described as equality.

So why is it that an argument that would not be accepted in any other circumstance is used and accepted when describing the position of men and women in the church? I, clearly, don’t think it’s a legitimate way to say that men and women are equal in the church. Do you think it is legit? Why?

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47 Comments

  1. “Separate but Equal” jargon makes me crazy. I live in an area with educated women who know history. (They blew me away once when I quizzed them on the history of epidemiology during a Relief Society lesson. They’re sharp.) I bet almost all of them have studied Brown vs Board of Education. They must be aware that the “separate but equal” philosophy was discredited in the 1950s. Yet, they will actually use that exact phrase, “separate but equal” to defend religious patriarchy.

  2. You do not have to agree with the separate but equal idea.

    But, I want to point out that there is a whole strain of feminist thought that is based on the notion. It is called cultural feminism or difference theory and was advocated by such noted feminists as Carol Gilligan. It has as its starting point that women are not being treated equal unless their differences from men are being taken into account, celebrated and recognized. This vein of feminism has been in the news recently in many of the stories about the large number of recently elected congresswomen and how their gifts as women will help them be more successful then their male counterparts have been.

    I point this out not to change your mind, but to note that the separate (or different) but equal framework is not merely a by product of church culture, but that it is also imbedded deeply in feminist theory as well. Obviously, there are differences in where the average church member and difference feminist are coming from. One can be a “card carrying” feminist and subscribe to this notion, however.

    • That is very true. In fact, in the early days of the suffrage movement, many women stated that it was their differences as women and mothers that qualified them for the right to vote. It is not a new phenomena.

      Although I am not a cultural feminist, I understand it. What I struggle with here is that the differences are being used to deny women things instead of the opposite.

  3. I think Unknown brings up an important concept. I remember reading Carol Gilligan at the beginning of my feminist awakening, and resonating so deeply with some of her conclusions, which I later heard soundly criticized in feminist circles. But I agree that “difference” feminism is deeply embedded within feminist theory.

    However, “different but equal” is not the same as “separate but equal.” “Different but equal” should mean that, given the same circumstances, the same opportunities, the same problems to solve, the same tools with which to solve them, women, by and large, may very well come up with different outcomes than would men. And that these differences ought to be valued. “Separate but equal” seems to place judgments on the sorts of circumstances and opportunities that should be available to each gender, and the kinds of problems each should be allowed to solve.

    I actually think taking difference feminism to its conclusion within the LDS church would mean ordaining women and ensuring that women’s voices are heard equally with mens’ at every level of church hierarchy. I think there’s good science (most recently this reinterpretation of previous studies ) to debunk the idea that male and female brains are fundamentally distinct in the way Carol Gilligan (and how many other generations of gender researchers) seems to think. But difference feminism gets us on the road to equality.

    • I agree that difference feminism could lead to women holding the priesthood. Carried to it’s conclusions, I don’t have a huge issue with it, even though I don’t subscribe to it.

      But here, differences are being used to keep women from advancing, so I don’t think it is an example of difference feminism.

  4. Those are good points Serah. I did not mean to suggest that all feminist ascribed to the difference theory.

    As you have noted, there are a variety of feminist theories that all seek to answer the question: “What does it mean to be truly equal.” As I read her, Gilligan suggested that equality means to have women’s separate gifts acknowledged and appreciated. I think this view is compatible with LDS teachings on women in general, though I recognize the application may not always be what it should.

    It seems that radical or dominance feminist theory has replaced difference theory as the most popular conception of equality and is much more in vogue now. I’m sure is true among Mormon feminists too.

  5. We had a good discussion about gender difference here that I believe relates well to this discussion: http://www.the-exponent.com/gender-feminism-and-the-sciences/

    Looking at the comment I made then, I think I am among those feminists Unknown is mentioning who do believe gender differences exist and that they should be valued. However, I absolutely do not believe that “separate but [allegedly] equal” spheres/roles/opportunities is the way to accomplish this. I believe in the “different but equal” philosophy Sherah describes, wherein diversity is highly valued and encouraged at all levels of leadership and service.

    Since I am too efficient/lazy to reword the comment I made there, I’ll copy/paste it here:

    I believe that there are certain traits that biologically are more likely to be found in women than men, but as others pointed out, this has no usefulness in judging individuals, who may be anywhere on the spectrum. For example, it is true that, on average, men are taller than women, but you will meet many specific women who are taller than many specific men..

    However, averages are useful in looking at large groups as a whole. And if, on average, differences between men and women exist, I believe that gender diversity in leadership is even more important. If leadership in a large, worldwide organization is all male, this organization is going to fall short in certain capacities that, on average, tend to be found more often in females. Likewise, the female populace of this organization will be less likely to have leadership that relates to their perspectives and needs than the male populace.

    • April, this is so, so good!

    • Nicely said!

  6. God has given men different roles then women from Adam and Eve through the Eternal Marriage Covenant. The conclusion is that men and women are separate and equal yet incomplete. Only in uniting as a couple can they form one whole creature. What is so difficult about that to understand? When you fight to give men and women the same roles (fight to gain respect is another matter) then you are fighting against God.

    • Jettboy,

      How do you propose that women fight to gain respect when we are systematically denied a voice within the institution?

      • Depends on what voice you want and why? You want respect for what? If you want power, what do you want some kind of power for. What I am reading here sounds like girls wishing they were boys.

      • Then clearly you aren’t paying attention. No one here says they want to be male. What I want is to have my voice and opinion carry as much weight as a man’s does. I deserve that. And in the church, women’s voices do not carry as much weight. They must get permission from men to do things. They are excluded from many situations where decisions are made. Their opinions can be and are ignored by male leaders. And then when we ask that we be given the same respect and voice men have, we are told that we want to be men. Why does asking for respect and asking to be heard mean we want to be men? It means we are human beings with as much right to be heard and listened to, with as much right to make decisions as a man.

        Instead of being granted respect and instead of being able to make decisions, I am told that my place is to be supportive, to follow, to submit to those who preside. That is not respect.

      • Jettboy, you refer to the Proclamation on the Family as a document that will “back you up.” I caution you that by the Church’s own definition, the PoF is not scripture.

        Now, were you to use actual scripture to back up your argument, you would run into messy and confusing things: women being judges in Israel, prophetesses, God speaking directly to women in ways that directly pertain to ecclesiastical leadership.

        I am continually grateful for a gospel so expansive that it cannot be summed up as “God always uses men as prophets” or “a woman’s place is in the home.”

        (Also, I think we should start an Exponent “Know Your Religion” series.)

    • You’re making some pretty major assumptions here without backing any of them up. You are also only talking about one aspect; family. Adam and Eve weren’t starting or running a church. Church administration is not a marriage.

      Your description may work in a family situation. Maybe. But how does that apply to the church at large? Where are the “couples” in church administration. It is men who fun most of the church and make the decisions. There is more to the world than married heterosexual couples and more to the church than families.

      My marriage doesn’t work they way you describe. In fact, at this point I’m the one providing for us financially. If I refused to because it wasn’t my “role” we’d be homeless. I doubt that’s what God wants us to do. My husband is a much more nurturing person than I am. That’s how God made him, so why would that be wrong.

      The notion of roles in a family doesn’t hold up in my experience. Nor does it acknowledge the existence of anything but heterosexual couples. There are many families that don’t fit that description. And it makes no sense when applied to the administration of the church, to church or government policy, etc.

      • It makes absolute sense for those who have read the scriptures and know the Spirit of God. Yes I just went there. By the way, your husband is dodging his required responsibilities and is hardly a man if he isn’t looking to work the sweat of his brow.

      • Of course you went there. Instead of backing yourself up you attack those who don’t agree with you. That doesn’t actually prove you are right, just that you are refusing to back yourself up.

        Attacking my husband also doesn’t prove you are right. It means you feel comfortable ignoring your leaders’ instructions to not judge, as well as their words about the importance of education (my husband is a student) and that each family needs to figure out what works for them. President Hinckley was well known for telling people to do their best with their situation. President Uchtdorf told people to stop judging others. I believe the words he used were “Stop it.” You are also assuming that my husband is not looking for work. How did you react that assumption from what I said? Finally, when church leaders talk about men supporting their families, they are generally talking about fathers working so mothers can stay home. We don’t have kids, so according to the church, he isn’t doing anything wrong since we have no kids for me to stay home with. What would I be doing if I didn’t work? (See, you know nothing about my family; you just judge us based on one statement I made. Where do your church leaders tell you to do that?)

        Finally, please read our comment policy. You are in violation of several rules.

      • In that case your husband, I would assume (as you aren’t fully explaining your sitution in hopes that you will catch me in a trap), is preparing himself to take his full responsibility to family once he is finished with school. Circumstances are different for individuals I fully accept, but too many are making excuses and will be judged by God accordingly. As for women not having voices, I again ask what kinds of issues are they not getting heard about? And are those issues important to the spiritual salvation of the Children of God or just requests for the Church to become like any other Earthly modernist liberal institution? As for explaining myself, I guess I can quote The Proclamation on the Family to back me up if you wish, but I am sure you are familiar with it and would just be redundant. To say that “The church does this under the guise of patriarchy,” is false, as the Church is and always has been a Patriarchy since the Patriarchs and through the New Testament and Book of Mormon times up to the founding of the modern Church. There is no reason it would not be that same way today and therefore no “guise” needed.

      • I don’t owe you an explanation of my family’s situation. I used it to make a point and you then chose to attack my family without any kind of information. A decent human being would apologize for being nasty when they had absolutely no information. You choose to cling to the notion that there is only one right way to live as a family and that anyone else who chooses to or has to do it differently is a sinner. That is in direct conflict with the teachings of President Hinckley.

        The family proc applies to family situations. How does it apply to the running of the church? Several people have asked how your explanation expands beyond family units to church administration. You have yet to explain that.

        In church administration women answer to men. A Relief Society president must get permission to act from a bishop. That is true at the ward, stake and general levels. She cannot make decisions for those in her stewardship without male permission. Some bishops/stake presidents, etc., choose to include women in councils. They are not required to. The final decision in any circumstance is left to men. When ward policy is created, it is done by men and if women disagree with ti, they often have no recourse. in General Conference we hear about meetings of the first presidency and apostles. It is unclear whether they consult with the female leaders when the create policy. But the general Relief Society president generally makes it incredibly clear that all her decisions are approved by the First Presidency. She however, is not extended the same courtesy.

        I and others have talked about this many times on this blog. If you really want to understand, you’ll read what we have to say with a mind to understand instead of a goal to judge, condemn and correct. You are not in a position of authority over anyone here, and have no right to judge our choices, our beliefs or our righteousness.

    • Jettboy,
      As a matter of sociology, I disagree with your presumption that *God* gives different “roles” to males and females.

      I sort of agree with you that men and women must unite to be complete, after all… man (and therefore woman) are created in the image of God. To say we are incomplete individually is to say that God is incomplete. I don’t necessarily dispute this, I embrace it and agree with your suggestion that Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father (Elohim, the PLURAL term for God) are the Godhead of Mormon theology. But this has nothing to do with roles, and everything to do with the refusal of modern leadership to seek out revelation in regard to Heavenly Mother, whom I do not believe is any less than the Father.

      • I don’t go by “sociology” to decide the doctrine of separate roles for males and females, but by the Scriptures and modern Prophets who have taught this since Genesis.

      • Is there a particular reason why you don’t subscribe to the sociological policies of LDS Family Services? Seems contradictory to me.

      • Jettboy, only a person with a weak argument attacks someone personally instead of attacking ideas. You clearly know little on this topic and feeling threatened, turned to attacking defyinggravity’s family instead.

        Is that what it means to be a true disciple of Christ?

        Kuddos to the author for this well-thought article, and for being so level-headed and cool while under attack.

  7. Well done, DefyGravity,

    I agree, the “Separate but Equal” rhetoric is nonsense, as are the gender limitations for assigned leadership church roles. History has proven time and again that whenever there is a dominant society, there is a separation and oppression within the unit. The church does this under the guise of patriarchy. This presumption is as “worldly” as any one philosophy can get.

  8. What is also worrisome about the ‘separate but equal’ argument is how it affects young LDS people outside of church contexts, too. Women and girls carry that idea – that it is ok for their voices to be ignored – into their school, work, and dating lives…I did for a long time. Men and boys go into the wider world with a slanted view of how men and women should interact. What happens when they have a female boss?

  9. I don’t want to get too deeply involved in this conversation, but as a law student I wanted to comment on the central argument of this post that seperate but equal is rejected.

    While this is certainly true in the context of African Americans in the school context, it should not be wholesale extended when there exist actual biological differences that require rec

    • Daniel, Sweatt v. Painter. Biology is a red herring.

    • My concern is when biological differences are used to impede the opportunities granted to people. Some women can biological have children. That should be taken into consideration. But the split into “women do this men do that” in mind is what leads to things like no paternity leave for fathers since they aren’t the ones who actually had the baby. I heard a man griping about how one of his employees didn’t come to work the day after his wife had a baby, “since his wife an baby are both sleeping anyway,” as though he had no role in his child’s life.

      Women in the church are told they are primarily mothers. That mentality is often used to keep them from certain opportunities. The fact that biological I might be able to have a child does not disqualify me from other kinds of responsibility. It does not make me less suited to employment, to making decisions.

      Biology can be acknowledged without being used as a tool to keep people in a specific place if they don’t wish or can’t stay in it.

  10. Defygravity, I am so proud of you! You are among the most fruitful minds I had the privilege of teaching at the Lord’s University…… Keep shining your light. Keep posting your thoughts. Keep bringing awareness to those convinced and convicted–and, therefore, asleep. They can only see what they can see. I once would have taken you on about all this from my privileged position within the patriarcy, but now I cheer you on—and thank God that I see more…..

    Love you! And you hubby is a rock! He will his duty to God in the ways he does…..

    By the way, have you considered reading the book, Falling Upward: A spirituality for the two halves of life, by Richard Rohr?

    Me thinks you will get the idea of cross-over points and transitioning from first life thinking about God, truth, life, and faith to second life faith and awareness,which I believe you are illuminating here.

    Rohr argues that all religion is first life faith, and must needs be so, given that it is concerned with rules, identities, salvation, institutions, etc.. Second life transcends to much deeper and more open awareness of life, and of a greater commitment to justice and fairness, which Jesus exemplified in his confronting the religious Pharisees of his day…..and which you are attempting to shed light on in your work.

    You are one of the young second lifers…..

    WoooooHoooooo!

    • Love you Dr. B. :) I’ll look that book up.

  11. Thank you for stating this concept so clearly, both in the OP and in the comments. This proved to be the final breaking point for me with the Church and why I have detached myself emotionally (well, as much as is possible), physically, and spiritually from Mormonism. Kudos to you and your generation for standing up and speaking up.

  12. I think framing the gender roles argument by using the “separate but equal” argument is a brilliant way to expose the fallacies in this line of thinking. Great post, DG!

  13. I’m not a lawyer, and not really up on the various cases involved, but wasn’t one of the problems with “seperate but equal” in the civil rights movement that even though they were seperate, the facilities involved were no where near equal?

    In families, I can kind of see this, cause the roles of parents are seperate (since they are both individuals), but that whatever the division of labor, both should be valued equally and have decision making power balanced with the amount of work they put into it. In church heirarchy, however, this doesn’t really apply. Both genders may be valued, but if decision making power is balanced based on the amount of work put into it, there isnt any opportunity for women to have the work that seems to be much more valued, that of Priesthood.

    Couples callings is an interesting idea, but it does leave singles out. Course, right now, singles cant have callings even as high as Bishop. I just feel like we’re missing something, having only a male Priesthood, kind of like the Creation was missing something, with Adam being alone.

  14. This is an interesting topic. I would love to discuss this topic in some exponent retreat.

    I don’t like it when I hear people say “equal but different”. But I also see why they say that. Because the church is big on family, they get threatened by women who want to lead “men-like lifestyles” – focus on career, not get married, not have children etc etc. This is the idea they have in their minds when they think of feminism. But this is not what most of feminists want for themselves or others. So, I feel that there is a lack of understanding and miscommunication.

    The thing is that people in the church do not know women who have had it all – love, education, career, family. And even when they do, their presence is downplayed. How many of them teach the youth? Have important callings that draw visibility to such a group? We do get women who are single and have a career but never a loving mother and professionally driven woman. The church operates under some very strictly defined roles. I am positive the church mentality will change. Look at its leadership…how many had/have working mothers? working wives? working daughters? These men are not enemies of women; they simply do not know women. They do not know their reality at work, at schools. They have no clue how hard a woman has to fight in the world to feed the family, get recognition and come as a respectful woman out of this fight.

    It is a sad fact that we do not know more about the role of the Heavenly Mother. But who cares that the authority has not revealed it or got revelation about it? If you want to know, find out for your self. If enough people do that and share those thoughts publicly, it will shift the silence mode to a voice one. I love hearing people share stories about the Heavenly Mother. But no one shares those publicly in person, only through blogging. Now this is disappointing to me. Isn’t America the country of great freedoms? Why do so many of you cry on July 4th when you don’t take advantage of the civil freedoms you have? They might not be perfect, but you do have them and you have a judiciary system who functions super well and you can win your court battles here.

    You want an international perspective? Here is mine. The feminists here at church are fighting really hard to be visible as a voice and as leaders and even followers in the public sphere of the church. Women in America have husbands or/and boyfriends that work with them in the home, in raising children and such. When I was growing up, in my country and continent, things were different and remain different. Women had all in the public sphere – education, career, promotions. In public, you could not see a difference. But the difference was at home – not much voice in decision making, in family planning, domestic abuse was something not discussed etc. And let me tell you something. You do not got that far in the public sphere no matter of the opportunities if you are beaten at home daily and there is no law to protect you.

    What I want from feminists here in America? To speak up more your mind and share your thoughts. If you speak up and I speak up and we exchange ideas on the Heavenly Mother in our discussion in RS class and such, we are building a new culture….a culture who is inquiring about the heavenly mother. Who is there to silence us from this discussion? Who is there to DARE to silence us in this discussion?

    Sorry for the long post. I have a lot to say on the subject and just do not know what to say first.

    • Wow. Great response. I’m thoroughly fired up! Thank you for taking the time to write it.

    • Thank you for your perspective. I share your frustration with no taking advantage of the chance to speak our minds in public, as I’m often the only one running my mouth in church, with my family, basically in any given situation where anything remotely connected to feminism comes up. It is hard to hear others say “Oh, I’m glad you said that” in private and wonder why you were the only one saying it in public, although there so many reasons people choose to keep silent. I think looking at why people choose not to voice their opinions would be another interesting topic. But I do know of many instances where women have given talks, lessons or comments about Heavenly Mother or other issues that are important to them. It is happening. It might be slow (and I’m not a patient person so everything feels slow to me) but it is happening.

      I agree that there must be respect and equality in all aspects of life, and it is hard to fight for it in one area when you don’t have it in another. I know many Mormon feminists who are trying to keep their marriages together because of what their husbands or wives believe about feminism and gender roles. That makes it very difficult to speak out in public if there will be repercussions at home. If those repercussions are violent, that would be even more difficult.

  15. I don’t think men and women have equal roles in the church as far as their specific duties being exactly the same, but they are equally responsible for the fulfillment of those responsibilities. And they are supposed to assist and help one another. I believe that God sees them as having equal value. It sounds to me like men and women are naturally and spiritually different and at the same time equal in their purpose and role in God’s plan. It was, after all, by His divine design. The Family, A Proclamation to the World, talks exactly about that. It even says in regard to families that individual adaptation may be needed.

    Another thought- the church doesn’t apply specific personality traits to the responsibilities listed in that proclamation. You could be a kind, loving, nurturing and gentle man (or not) and still carry the responsibility to provide the necessities of life. In fact, it would be a good thing if all fathers sought to develop those traits as they fulfill their responsibility. A similar argument could be made for women and mothers. It sounds reasonable to me.

    • Okay, but how does that apply to church administration? Why does motherhood disqualify a women from leadership positions? The family proc is about family roles. But what do providing vs. nurturing have to do with who leads and makes decisions in the church?

    • There may not be much of a connection between the family roles and church leadership roles- I don’t really know. But motherhood doesn’t disqualify women from having leadership roles- only specific priesthood related callings.

      Adam received the Priesthood in the very beginning of the world (the Priesthood is still older than that even). He passed it on to his sons beginning the patriarchal order of the priesthood. In Alma 6:1 it shows that Alma knew something about priesthood, ordination and and the order of God. Then Christ lives on the earth and ordains 12 apostles- all men. He then dies, is resurrected and appears to people on the American continent and ordains 12 more apostles- all men. Even in our time Joseph Smith received revelation like D&C 107:8 which states that the Melchizedek Priesthood holds the right to presidency, with power and authority, to administer in spiritual things. The decisions of these priesthood leaders are to be made in righteousness (D&C 107:30).

      Like I said earlier, just because the responsibilities of men and women are different doesn’t mean that they as individuals are not equal before God- Especially if He was the one to design it that way. I wish I had better answers for you and me. You may argue that such a limited amount of knowledge or understanding is not enough and that we need more now, but it has been enough for thousands of years.

      • So what roles require priesthood? Do you need priesthood to pray in Conference? Do you need it to be a clerk? To be the Sunday school president? Why do some roles require Priesthood and others do not?

        The explanation of gender roles has been enough for some. I don’t know that our definitions today are the same as they were a thousand years ago. In fact, our gender roles are a fairly modern construction. And they aren’t enough for me. They don’t work for me. They don’t make me feel loved or valued. So just because they work for some, that doesn’t make them true for everyone.

      • Like I said, I wish I had better answers. I even wish you had better comments to my examples and scriptures above so that I could understand your position better as well.

        I honestly don’t find your questions to be without value. Especially regarding women praying in conference or needing the priesthood to be a clerk. Maybe those will change in the future. On the other hand, some of these issues seem to be very clear from scripture and modern prophets and yet they are so openly opposed. I often come to the conclusion that they are directed by God and are meant to be a certain way for a reason, even if we don’t understand it all the time.

        To use your own words, just because these structures don’t work for you doesn’t make them untrue.

      • I guess the difference is I have prayed about the scriptures and modern teachings you bring up, and don’t believe they are the end goal. And I choose to believe what God has told me about priesthood and my position as a woman. I choose my personal revelation over what others think I should do and believe. I believe God can answer any question. So instead of just assuming that I can’t understand, I assume I can and ask God. I don’t adhere to the notion that we must just trust our leaders even if something feels wrong or confusing. God knows, and can answer us.

        In the early days of the church, women gave blessings. It is difficult to know what women’s position was in scriptural times because the Bible has been so thoroughly edited, translated, taken apart and put back together. So, it is possible that God gave women much more authority, but it was edited out along the way, just as priesthood was edited out of the lives of women in our own church history. Historically, there is precedence for women holding the priesthood. Historically there is also precedence for gender discrimination. History is incredibly complex, and has long-reaching effects. So it seems simplistic to say “it’s always been this way so God must want it that way.” The world has seen some horrific institutions. Did God want slaver to exist as long as it did? It is entirely possible to assume that things have not changed because we are stuck in the social and historical constructs created by those before us. It is entirely possible that things haven’t changed because the right question hasn’t been asked. If that is the case, we are doing a disservice to ourselves by just assuming that because things are a certain way that that is how God wants them to be. Generally revelation comes when a question is asked. So refusing to ask or believing it is wrong to ask is closing the door on getting revelation.

      • I think those are some good points about the veracity of documented historical events. However,there are plenty of things that are possible but not proven. In order to come to those opinions you have to be able to set aside many words of modern prophets and latter-day scripture as you bank on your own personal belief. I think that God does communicate and reveal truth to individuals but I also think there is more structure than you believe when it comes to church wide policy and doctrine.

        I’m actually more comfortable with women giving blessings than I am with the idea that women have had the priesthood. When you say priesthood was edited out of the lives of women in church history you’re saying there has been a documented occurrence where a woman was rightfully given the Melchizedek Priesthood (or even Aaronic) in the Church and that someone decided to “edit” that out of church history? Can you prove that?

      • Any documented proof that women have held the priesthood?

  16. Given the concerns outlined here and in other posts on this blog, I’m not sure that the Let Women Pray movement will achieve anything more than a symbolic victory. Women pray all the time in local congregations and yet the problems identified regularly in this blog continue to exist at the local level. Praying in local meetings has not resulted in a profound change in attitudes, so I am at a loss to see how a prayer in General Conference would make a bigger impact.

    That said, the separate but equal idea is hogwash and always has been. It is a lame argument to appease members of the church who like easy answers to complex questions (and there are lots of both). The fact remains, however, that access to the priesthood, both in the church and many other denominations, is limited. For the ancient Hebrews it was primarily limited to the Levites (albeit non-orthodox Jews have taken a more liberal view in recent years). Since the time of Christ those churches that claim an unbroken link to the original apostles (i.e. Roman, Greek, Turkish, us) have consistently limited the priesthood to men.

    An expansion of the priesthood to women does not appear to be on the horizon in the LDS church. So if equality means holding the priesthood so women can “serve in most leadership positions” then this type of equality is unlikely to be realized.

    However, does that necessarily mean that women cannot be “equal” in the church? At the general/area level, where there are nine women and about 500 men in leadership positions, we are unlikely to see a balancing of the scales. At the local level the dynamic can be, and often is, much different.

    In many wards I suspect that members can more readily identify the Relief Society President than the men who serve as priesthood or auxiliary leaders. The way many members talk about the RS President, and former RS Presidents, leaves the impression that the RS President is a very important/powerful person in a ward.

    While ranking the importance of ward leaders probably defeats the teaching of the Savior that the greatest among us should be the servant of all, it is hard to argue that women are not assigned to important leadership roles in a ward. They have jurisdiction over all the children, half the youth, and all the women in the ward. In most cases that is probably 70%-80% of the active ward membership. Whether they have any real power or influence in their assignments depends on a number of factors, including their own make-up and the attitude of the bishop and his counselors.

    Standing back and looking at the wards I have been involved with, there are several women who come to mind who were much more influential for a much longer period of time than most if not all of the men in the ward. For example, a man who served as bishop in a ward, once released, is typically put in a position where he has little to no influence on the operation of the ward; probably to avoid a situation where he is seen to be in competition with the current bishop. However, the strong women tend to rotate between leadership positions in the ward and stake for many years.

    So in terms of power or influence in the ward I’m not so sure there is necessarily a big divide between men and women. For example, the only president in a ward who has no say about who his counselors are is the young men’s president; his counselors are chosen for him by the bishop.

    The point being that men, with the exception of the bishop, really don’t have any power either. Neither the Sunday school president nor the primary president can call a teacher. The young men leaders cannot plan activities without the bishop’s approval. The elders’ quorum president must submit his home teaching assignments to the bishop for approval. This requirement for the bishop’s review is not unique to women in leadership roles in the ward.

    In the end equality is probably more about how we fit into the larger picture. Although taken from a passage of Paul’s teachings that would probably cause open rebellion today on this blog, he did write that “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” Clearly some men in the church (and maybe some women) forget this principle when administering the affairs of the church, but this equal partnership is at the foundation of salvation. While some may say that this applies to marriage, there is no reason that it cannot be applied to the church at large. In short, we need each other. Neither men nor women can do it alone. Does not that make us equal in the end?

    • My question to you is; why is it necessary for those in certain leadership positions to hold the priesthood?

      Also, you are right that authority in the church lies in the hands of a few. Everyone has to answer to the bishop, and so on up. The difference is; men have access to leadership opportunities that women will never have. And no matter what women do, they will always be answer to a man, never the other way around. Women always must get permission from men, but men must never get permission from women to function in their callings.

      Men are told that they “preside” in the home. When a bishop presides, he makes decisions for the ward. He is in charge. Many men believe that presiding in the home gives them the power to have final say in their families. That may not be true, but since the same word is used, you can see where they might draw that conclusion. And the fact that they shouldn’t be exercising unrighteous dominion doesn’t stop them from doing so, nor does it protect those they are dominating. So men do have power at least suggested to them that women do not. So while it may all work out in the end, I’d rather a system was set up that kept unrighteous dominion from happening in the first place. Getting rid of the “preside” notion would go a long way to doing that, in my mind.

      • I’ll take a stab at answering your question and explaining my thoughts on your concerns.

        I tend to be a serenity prayer kind of person (although there are times when I am like Frank Costanza and want “serenity now”). So, as for your first question, I simply do not know the answer. However, I have observed that in some callings the converse is also true. I’ve never seen a priesthood holder in a primary, young woman, or relief society presidency. Why is it necessary to be a woman to hold those callings, particularly in the Primary? Again, I do not know the answer.

        My oldest son had a young woman on his high school football team (she was recently named the best female high school kicker in history). At first the older guys on the team had a problem with it (she joined the team as a sophomore) but her own classmates always accepted her as part of the team. Yet I recall reading a story a few years ago of a young man who wanted to play on the high school field hockey team (there was no men’s team). Eventually he was prohibited from doing so. This is essentially the same question you are asking. Why can a young woman play on a “boys” team but a young man cannot play on a “girls” team? I simply do not know.

        I realize that is not a very satisfactory answer to your question but it is the best I have – hence the serenity thing.

        I agree that some men will have leadership opportunities that women will never have, but is it not also also true that some women will have leadership opportunities that men will never have. For example, Sister Reeves and her husband presided over the mission in our area a couple years ago. She is now in the RS general presidency. Almost every man and woman in the church will never have an opportunity to serve in a general presidency. But everyone will have an opportunity to serve in some capacity throughout their life. In the end, isn’t it the quality of our service that is our true measure, not the positions we hold? There are many callings that I will never hold but I hope that will not prevent my salvation.

        Again, you are right; typically a man is at the top of the authority chain (although I’m not sure about how it works once you arrive at the very top because the name Elohim is plural). However, it is sometimes the other way around. The most common example is in the Primary. The male teachers, music leaders, cub and scout leaders, all are subject to supervision by the Primary presidency. So to say “never” is a bit of a stretch, but most of the time is certainly accurate.

        It is true that many men seem to have trouble figuring out what it means to preside properly, either at church or in their homes. That is why D&C 121:39 records the sad history of men exercising unrighteous dominion once they obtain a “little authority”. However, the teaching remains that, “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood”. Once the men in the church figure that principle out our homes and the church should be a different kind of place.

        Ironically, given the topic of our discussion, in my ward right now the person perhaps the guiltiest of unrighteous dominion is the RS president. She regularly tells the bishop how he is administering the ward improperly or takes it upon herself to provide detailed, written instructions to other ward leaders about how to improve their performance in their callings.

        I’m not sure we could function as an organization without someone presiding (i.e. in charge). Women might do a better job than men. Maybe it is only the “nature and disposition” of men to exercise unrighteous dominion and women are exempt from that tendency. Again, I do not know if that is true. Perhaps if we reversed roles we might see the same behavior from the female leaders, or maybe some other type of leadership characteristic that is the “nature and disposition” of women.

        In the end we are all imperfect beings. There are many things that I would like to see change but at the same time I realize my ability to effect change is limited. The only place I can make any real change is in my own heart and hopefully within the walls of my home.

        And so my response is probably unsatisfactory, but as I said at the outset, I tend to be a serenity prayer type of person.

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