Which one are you?

I tried to think of something else – anything else – to write about for my first official post.  But it kept coming back to this.
I went to the gym last night for the first time since having my last baby two months ago.  One of the motivating factors that actually got me there was the need to clear my head.   We’re blessing my son this coming Sunday,  so it seemed appropriate to put some thought into how I feel about that and what it means to me.  And I’m surprised by my thoughts.

I don’t feel angry or excluded because of the fact that my husband gets to bless my children.  In fact, I have beautiful, tender feelings toward him when I remember the blessings of my other children.  Perhaps part of it is that as a convert, my husband is still relatively new to these rituals of religion, and that because he gets so much out of them spiritually that I don’t want to take away from him and his role.  Or maybe it’s something else.

You see, I’m an analyzer.  Some might say an over-analyzer, but it gets me by.  So when I think of the argument for women holding the priesthood, this is where my brain goes.  If both men and women had always held the priesthood, or if it became the norm tomorrow, what would our church culture look like?  I can think of dozens of examples of inequality that would cease to exist – not the least of which would be more women speaking in general conference!  It would be lovely to know that the Relief Society Presidents had more autonomy, or that the best person for a calling would be chosen regardless of their chromosomes.  But more specifically, what would life look like in our homes?  Aside from “presiding” being an obsolete term, if either the father OR the mother could bless their babies and baptize their children, how would we decide who does what?  What would the significance of that choice be? Would it make sense for our daughters as well as our sons to be passing the sacrament?

When I think about it from this angle, I begin to question the reasons God may have for choosing one group to serve a function for the whole.  I’m not sure I’m right.  I don’t know if I’m even close.  But I do know that I don’t feel powerless or “less than” because I don’t hold the priesthood.  I know that if the need were to arise, and it were expedient, that I would be able to heal my children by calling upon the power of God.  To me, the power of God is our potential for divinity, and it is within each of us.  But it doesn’t make me feel more heard here on earth.

So; Am I a Mormon Feminist, or a Feminist who happens to be LDS?  We can be so many different variations of the same things.  If I believe in social and economical equality for all women everywhere and I do my part to make that a reality, I am a Feminist.  But what of my Mormon Feminism?  This question has been asked and debated so many times, and maybe it’s not worth pinning down because I suspect many of us are evolving our beliefs daily.   We can believe that the church owes us complete and equal voice, representation, treatment and access without wanting the Priesthood, and yet the rest of Feminism laughs in our faces.

For me, I want so much in the church to change and I don’t want my daughters to ever be subject to the unrighteous authority of someone else, or an incorrect interpretation of the Gospel, but I also don’t want to be guilty of crying “It’s not fair!” to God, when fair and equal in the eternities end up being entirely different.

So my questions are these; Is it Feminist to stop short of total equality?  How many of us out there really believe that the Priesthood is meant to be exercised in equal capacity by both genders? Are you a Mormon Feminist, or a Feminist Mormon?

Corktree

Corktree is exploring life and spirituality in new ways and new environments while studying midwifery, reiki, yoga, homeopathy, herbology and evolutionary nutrition. She has 3 daughters and one son, which add up to what now feels like an enormous family of 6.

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28 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Corktree,
    I think you subscribe to a type of Mormon feminism that advocates for more voice and representation, but stops short at wanting the priesthood. You would be what I define as a ‘good Mormon feminist’ – one who wants to celebrate women, would like more freedom from strict gender constructions, but who isn’t ready to call for systematic change (i.e. giving women the priesthood). See my post on this topic here: http://www.the-exponent.com/2009/06/18/good-mormon-feminists-vs-bad-mormon-feminists-the-dividing-line/

    I think your position is a time honored one in the world of Mormon feminism. I think Mormon feminism is a pretty big tent that can and should incorporate those who want structural change and those who don’t.

    Personally, I fall on the side that desires structural change. I feel that priesthood for women is necessary (but not sufficient) for women to obtain true equality in the Church. I’ve obviously been influenced by liberal feminism, which tends to promote women’s inclusion into existing power structures. There are other types of feminisms, sometimes related to radical feminism, that are suspicious of existing power structures and call more for women creating and existing within these new, women-centered structures.

    In terms of both women and men having priesthood, you ask: “what would life look like in our homes? Aside from “presiding” being an obsolete term, if either the father OR the mother could bless their babies and baptize their children, how would we decide who does what?”

    I think it would just depend on the couple. Maybe some would bless their children together, both laying hands on, both voicing the prayers. Maybe dad would baptize and mom confirm. I think of it like I think of stuff around the house: my husband does laundry because he doesn’t mind it, and I cook because I kind of like it. And we switch and help each other when we want to.

    Thanks for voicing your ideas about this, Corktree.

    • Corktree says:

      I’m reviewing your post, Caroline. Lots of great stuff, especially in the comments. It seems that people really have a need to flesh this issue out for themselves. I guess that’s what I’m doing, and what I suppose every LDS Feminist has to do for themselves at some point.

      So far, the only thing that strikes me is the inherent problem with having “good” and “bad” as labels – even though they seem fitting. What do the women who want to cross over in their convictions at some point, but are afraid to be labeled as “bad”.

      It certainly highlights the issue most members have with the word “feminism” itself, and by having sub categories where one can safely enter the realm of labeling as such, it helps more women to self identify as Feminist and keep themselves separate from the issues they aren’t ready to take on (Priesthood).

    • Jenny says:

      Caroline, if that’s the way you feel, why doesn’t LDS WAVE advocate that women have the priesthood?

      http://www.ldswave.org/?p=332

      I hope you don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not trying to cause a conflict, but I would genuinely like to know.

      • mraynes says:

        That’s a good question, Jenny. I hope you don’t mind me giving my perspective on this. Some members of WAVE do feel like women should be extended the priesthood, some don’t and some of us aren’t sure how we feel. What we all agree on is that there are many things in the culture, organization and doctrine of the church that need to be changed in order for it to be more inclusive of women. WAVE has decided to take an incremental approach by first focusing on the less divisive issues that would still have a huge impact on the female experience in the LDS church while still leaving the door open for discussion about more controversial issues like women and priesthood.

        Maybe Caroline can give her perspective on how she reconciles her desire for the priesthood with WAVE’s lack of position on this issue.

      • Caroline says:

        Hi Jenny,
        That’s a good question. 🙂 I’m not at all offended.

        I think there are a number of reasons WAVE does not advocate for priesthood. (And I don’t mean to speak for the organization — I’m just giving you my thoughts.)

        I think that 1) not all board members are interested in women having priesthood 2) those that are interested probably realize that this is a hot button issue that can turn people off to the whole organization, even if they could get behind some of our other goals. 3) most of us board members think that we can accomplish more good and be more productive if we don’t have ordination for women as one of our goals. I personally think like that. As happy as I would be for women to be ordained, I don’t think it would do any good for WAVE to advocate for that. We’re better off without that platform, IMO.

        What do you think? Should WAVE advocate for it?

  2. Corktree says:

    Thanks for your feedback, Caroline. Admittedly, I’m still in transition with this topic. I’m actually not opposed to women receiving ordination, but I still question whether it’s necessary for us to attain full “equality” in the practical terms. If it is absolutely clear that the men of the Priesthood cannot give us full endowment of power (as far as influence goes) alongside them without ordaining us, then I am willing and ready to add my voice and action to those who want to advocate for structural change. And I suppose we are closer to that point than ever and it really does seem like it might be necessary. But what of the chance that it isn’t? I think it’s good to step back every now and then and question what we’re doing and why as a group. Especially for those new to the cause.

    And like I said, I’m still evolving in this area. Not sure where I’ll end up, but I’m glad that there is a place in LDS Feminism for a spectrum of beliefs on this subject.

  3. Jesse says:

    While I have no desire for the priesthood myself* , I’m floored by how to explain it all to my daughter. She is 5 and she loves watching the “sacrament boys” at church. She has told me that when she is big she wants to be a “sacrament boy” herself–and I feel like I don’t have a satisfactory response to her inevitable “why not?”

    *I’m not conversant with all of the facets of feminism–but I think I fall more on what Caroline called the radical end of things. I don’t want what the boys have (within or without the church), I want my own independent brand of power and community that is neither subordinate nor ancillary to them.

    • Corktree says:

      I think this is an interesting aspect of the issue, Jesse. The idea of having our own Priest(ess)hood that functions on it’s own as far as an organization. I think this is how the problems of “who does what?” would probably be solved if women were ordained across the board. I envision the work being split and each group having separate roles that are currently filled by the priesthood. The church likes being organized too much to just leave it all up to individuals to share the load. I could see women giving blessings, men baptizing, etc. But then, it wouldn’t really solve the issues of equality, now would it? 😉 There would still be some that want it to be different, and don’t want to be excluded from any aspect of the church. I’m not sure how they would be able to logistically make it work to have any and or every member ordained, and I suspect there would still be issues.

      But yes, to have an autonomous organization would be ideal.

    • Symona says:

      Thanks guys, I just about lost it loonikg for this.

  4. Stella says:

    Welcome Corktree! I’m so excited to have you here!

    I’ve been where you are, and now, well, I’m a bit more–shall we say–radical? I was at Sunstone this past summer and attended a session on the priesthood. A sweet natured young woman got up and asked what bad things would REALLY happen if women received the priesthood. There was an Apostle from the reorganized church who said that when her church gave women the priesthood, they lost almost half of their membership. I wonder where those people went and why it was so hard for them?

    I will not be attending church again unless gays and women finally have equal rights to everyone else.

    That might mean I have a lot of Sunday free time 🙂

    • Corktree says:

      I haven’t been to church in 3 months, and I’m starting to forget why I used to go. In some ways, I’ve felt better spiritually in my absence, but I’m sure I’ll be going back for my family eventually (how long can I drag out my current excuse to avoid judgment? 🙂 )

  5. Deborah says:

    Corktree:

    First, I am SO glad you are on-board with us PERMENANTLY 🙂

    My vision for the eternities is grand — unlimited opportunties to grow in love and wisdom and goodness. My vision of God is grand — male and female, pure love, and greater access to love, healing, and revelation than we currently access. My vision for the church is . . . small and steady wins the race. I know the wheels turn slowly. I would be thrilled to see women praying in general conference and delivering more sermons. I would love to see women quoted more in our manuals. I would love a renewed focus on the AMAZING history of the Relief Society (and I may be getting my wish on this one, per President Beck’s talk). I would love to see more equal involvment and inclusion of women’s voices at the local level, most equal distribution of funds, more flexibility and autonomy in our organizations. None of this is doctrinal. It’s policy and tradition and culture. And I will actively seek to move us forward in that direction. Because it’s doable. But I will privately continue to find ways to develop a relationship with God that fits me, even if it’s unconventional. Religiously, I guess I have a public vs. private feminism . . .

    • Corktree says:

      Thank you for sharing your vision Deborah. I’ve always been impressed with some of the ways that you seek out God, and I have begun to expand the ways that I develop my relationship as well (sadly, we don’t have any monasteries around here…)

  6. Rebecca says:

    Corktree – If feminism is a dichotomy, I stand on the more conservative side since having women be ordained is not a big issue for me. I have come to look more at how things are done within the church. As Deborah mentioned, a lot of things we do are cultural. This is the way they’ve always been done. I think people assume that some of this cultural or policy stuff is doctrine. It’s intellectually challenging to try to break that down but it helps draw me closer to Christ. The real stuff. Getting back to the basics of what’s really vital and true and important. I find that exciting.

    Also, I love to get my two cents in on some practical matters. Just last week the topic of a missionary prep class came up in our stake. Info was being sent out to all the young men age 16 and older. I asked if we might also have some young women who would like to plan on serving a mission? The class was quickly opened up to the women and I think everyone was happy to see that. This kind of thing gives me a natural high and makes me feel that my voice is needed. Joy!

    • Corktree says:

      That’s awesome Rebecca. I think the only part of being involved in church that I look forward to right now is the potential for having small and meaningful impacts like that.

      Also, I’m beginning to see what you describe in getting back to the basics (or discovering them altogether for some people). In abandoning the cultural norms that I was uncomfortable with anyway, I’m having to find alternate ways to connect spiritually and to center myself. I’m in a process of finding what works for me, and I wouldn’t say I’m the most spiritual or Christ centered person, in fact I’m far from it. But I am moving in that direction and trying to find a way to have faith in Christ while harboring doubts in His church. It ain’t easy, but I look forward to the peace that I see in others that have a more personal relationship with Him.

  7. O says:

    “I know that if the need were to arise, and it were expedient, that I would be able to heal my children by calling upon the power of God.”

    But do you really think so? If that’s the case, why is the priesthood important at all? Why can’t any man, member or not, bless his own child or give a healing blessing? Why can’t women give healing blessings, etc? If we can all access God’s power with, or without, the priesthood, male or female, then what makes it so essential in the first place? Isn’t prayer and faith enough to create a miracle? So is the priesthood only a way to divide and give authority in presiding?

    I like to think that God wouldn’t ignore me simply because I’m not a man and I don’t hold the priesthood. But

    • Corktree says:

      Yes, I really think so. I don’t think God would withhold the healing power of the priesthood from my children (if they were meant to be healed) just because a man was not around. But then, there are differences in how we perceive the gift of healing and the authority to preside that is granted through ordination.

      It all depends on whether we believe that “holding” the priesthood as endowed members is the same as being ordained to officiate and lead with that same power. Obviously as far as the church organization is concerned they are vastly different, but until we understand the fundamental nature of the priesthood itself, I think it’s hard to pinpoint the actual difference. Maybe it’s the case that we do in fact have the power necessary as far as God is concerned, and that it is up to the church to grant us the ability to use it in an official capacity. And maybe that is where petitioning the church would make a difference.

      Of course, for those who won’t accept women “using” the priesthood unless it is directly expressed from God, where does that leave most members in this potential outcome? In any case, I don’t think the church is ready.

  8. mb says:

    Stella,

    I have a number of friends who are members of congregations that broke off from the Community of Christ in the 1990s when it underwent a number of changes including the extension of priesthood to women. For them it was not the extension of priesthood that caused their exodus, it was a gradual theological shift that had begun unfolding in the mid 1960s and which had eventually led to a change in the church’s view of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s first vision. The church gradually softened it’s position on both of these and my friends were inclined to believe more in the essential nature of those two things in their theology than the church was inclined to give them. My friends loved their church and could allow for administrative changes and changes in practice and who does what, but this last change about the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the reality of Joseph Smith’s vision was one they could not live with and feel that they had maintained their integrity.

    The divide continues today. At the 2007 Community of Christ World Conference, President Stephen M. Veazey ruled on a resolution to “reaffirm the Book of Mormon as a divinely inspired record” out of order.

    So yes, the exodus picked up around the time that the priesthood was extended to women in that church (about 10% of Community of Christ members currently hold priesthood) but it was simmering and starting before that as members responded to the beginnings of more basic theological shifts than just who holds priesthood.

    If you’d like to read an interesting treatise on the whole 30 year shift and the resulting schisms, Historian Roger D. Launius wrote an excellent one which was published in Dialogue (Volume 1, 1998). It can be found online.

  9. O says:

    (whoops, clicked too son)

    …but we would all agree that a baptism without the priesthood would be invalid. So where does the line get drawn?

  10. mraynes says:

    Great post, Corktree! I, like you, have never resented not being a part of my babies’ blessings mostly because I view birth as a sacred rite and it makes sense to me that my husband get to perform one as well. I think this is emblematic of my worldview, women and men should have equal opportunity to participate in the work of God. Whether this means women should get the priesthood, I don’t know? A priestesshood that is unique for women but looks and functions similar to the priesthood makes more sense to me. I’m still trying to flesh these ideas out, one day I’m sure I’ll arrive at something more coherent but for now, thanks for making me think!

    • Corktree says:

      Thank you! I hope I can come up with another topic for my next post – because this, and some new thoughts I’ve been having on the divine feminine, are all I can think about lately.

    • Sandra says:

      I really love and connect your comment that”women and men should have equal opportunity to participate in the work of God. Whether this means women should get the priesthood, I don’t know? A priestesshood that is unique for women but looks and functions similar to the priesthood makes more sense to me.” I feel similarly that women and men are of equal importance to God, but by no means identical in their thoughts, actions and understanding. I like the idea of priestesshood and I would love to see you flesh out that idea.

  11. Deborah says:

    To add on the Mraynes’ comment, I wonder how the church would have evolved had there not been an official statement in the early 20th century asking women to stop giving healing blessings. This was a change in policy, not an official declaration. I wonder the extent to which Relief Society would have become an organization that performed blessings of comfort and healing, of spiritually administering to sisters. Would the Relief Society president evolved into more of a co-bishop role, with the admonition to provide hands-on blessings of comfort to sisters where appropriate? I do like the concept of women ministering to women… And of course, we still do, minus one avenue that was available to our foremothers. I

    • Corktree says:

      Agreed. I wonder if that is something that WAVE could eventually advocate for? A return to women blessing women by removing any official taboos would be so wonderful.

  12. Matt says:

    Hello, Corktree! Just had to come visit your home since you’ve been visiting mine and leaving it a better place. 🙂

    I obviously know nothing about being a Feminist of any type so I don’t think I can answer. But I would like to say that if women had been in charge of the church I can easily imagine never wanting to leave it. I think men tend to ruin religion when they are allowed to lord over it.

    May our children know a faith that is different — better — than our own.

    • Corktree says:

      Thanks Matt! You have certainly carved out a fun and uniquely intriguing spot over at Doves and Serpents.

      And it is precisely a better faith than mine that I hope for my children.

  13. Matt says:

    PS, Hi Rebecca! That “making my place a better place” goes for you too.

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