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He doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.
- 2 Nephi 26:33
In my Master of Public Administration program at BYU, I took a course in Decision Analysis taught by my friend and mentor, Dr. Don Adolphson. If there was one thing I remembered from that course, it was his constant emphasis on "defining the problem." He stressed that, most of the time, decision makers are madly hacking through the wrong section of the rainforest because they didn't take the time at the beginning to "define the problem." So, what is the problem in the LDS community on the feminism score? Isn't all well in Zion?
Sexism in Zion
Here is a sample of current practices and precepts: "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose… By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children." Premortally our spirits were unembodied. We are taught that our very spirits were gendered before we obtained bodies. Elder Bednar underscored this necessary deduction that each human spirit is either male or female: "[Gender] in large measure defines who we are, why we are here upon the earth, and what we are to do and become. For divine purposes, male and female spirits are different, distinctive, and complementary. … The unique combination of spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional capacities of both males and females were needed to implement the plan of happiness” (“Marriage Is Essential to His Eternal Plan,” Liahona, June 2006, 51; Ensign, June 2006, 83). In the temple ceremony Latter-day Saints learn that women lack the direct access to God that men have. They must subordinate themselves by covenant through their husbands and be validated by a male before they can enter God's presence. Women lose their individuality and the power of facial expression by veiling their faces. The male in charge addresses men, not women, and directs them to “take” the female at their side in an explicitly male grip. No female ever enters the celestial room without a male literally penetrating the veil to receive her. The scriptures are replete with almost exclusively masculine language. The divine feminine is suppressed in LDS dialogue. We read of fathers writing to and blessing their sons, of the great patriarchs securing privileges for their male progeny, and, on the grand stage, of a male Heavenly Father and His (male) Son. Given that women constitute at least half of humanity, it is fair to say they are underrepresented in LDS canon. The total number of women in all the general governance boards of the church such as the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, Quorums of Seventy, Stake Presidencies, High Councils, and Bishoprics, is zero. Women receive callings at the hands of men, ordinances at the hands of men, and are always supervised at some level 1
by the oversight of men. Men never receive callings, ordinances, or oversight at the hands of women. Women are taught that this male dominance will never end either in this life or the next. But, isn't this all as it should be? Aren't our practices and teachings accurate reflections of the true order of heaven? I think the answer is a resounding "we don't know." The fact that each of us has a spiritual sex may indeed be a salvific and vital doctrine. Heck, it may even be true. However, the doctrine never makes it through the starting gate into real life, because we simply have no way to discern spiritual sex. I'll say it again- we have no way to discern spiritual sex. We do not have a theology of gender in our faith- we have an assumption of gender. Please permit an illustration.
The Closed Door Problem
You are brought to a closed door. Behind that door is a church member who recently turned 12. You are responsible for discerning the spiritual sex of that person so that they will be properly directed for the rest of their LDS life, either down the Deacon-Teacher-Priest-etc. track, or the Beehive-Mia Maid-Laurel-etc. track. Which do you send the member toBeehives or Deacons' Quorum?
I'm waiting. Yep, waiting. Are you still there? "All things whatsoever God in his infinite wisdom has seen fit and proper to reveal to us, while we are dwelling in mortality, in regard to our mortal bodies, are revealed to us in the abstract, and independent of affinity of this mortal tabernacle, but are revealed to our spirits precisely as though we had no bodies at all.” – Joseph Fielding Smith (editor), Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 355 Has God revealed spiritual sex to us? If so, why are we not willing to solve the Closed Door Problem, and declare one’s spiritual sex without using bodies? I think if we are candid we will confess that we will want to know a little bit more about the person before we make that judgment. We might want to look at them, for instance. If we wanted to be doubly sure, we might ask their parents 2
what kind of equipment they have in the genital region, am I right? In short, we would base our judgment entirely on the most temporal and superficial aspect of the person: our visual first impression of their "outward appearance." "But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." – 2 Corinthians 2:13 You can buy anything in this world with assumptions We all know you can’t row up the creek without a paddle. Similarly, Latter-day Saints CANNOT apply our recentlyarticulated Spiritual Sex Doctrine without first making a determination of spiritual sex. However, we don’t even have hands to grab the paddle with, not to mention the paddle itself! Instead, all we have is an assumption; namely, that our appearance-based discernment of physical sex matches a subject’s spiritual sex. It’s like trusting a blind man to sort your crayons by color. Plus, even if we had reason to correlate the two, our appearance-based test fails fabulously.
Boy or Girl?
Why does our paddle fail to row us up the creek? We simply have no test which places each individual neatly into EITHER box A OR box B, which is precisely what the Family Proclamation's (rather new) Spiritual Sex Doctrine requires1! Don't believe my claim that we don’t have an adequate litmus test? Try your hand at these. Priesthood or Relief Society?
A: has a penis and a vagina B: has a penis, testicles, and breasts
if sex is an aspect of our premortal identity, then it must be our spirit’s sex that is dispositive, as we were unembodied premortally. 3
C: looks like a woman; genetically male (e.g. Santhi Soundarajan) D: looks like a man; genetically female E: XXY genetically; physically appears male F: XXY genetically; physically appears female G: X_; appears male H: X_; appears female I: XX + translocated SRY; appears male J: appears female, has testicles where ovaries should be and doesn't menstruate K: appears female; K claims to be male psychologically and spiritually L: penis and a vagina; L claims to be male psychologically and spiritually M: penis and a vagina; M claims to be female psychologically and spiritually N: appears male; N claims to be both male and female psychologically and spiritually O: appears female; O claims to be neither male nor female psychologically/spiritually P: has a penis and a uterus; menstruates through the penis
The effort to dice people up into two neat boxes falls flat on its face. It's like trying to discretize race when deciding which men can get the priesthood- exactly what percentage of melanin concentration in the skin is low enough to qualify you? What if you have darker skin than a member of African descent, but are, say, a very dark Polynesian? What if you have a trace level of African ancestry2, or perhaps you don't know the first thing about your ancestry? Where are these vital boundaries? The important result here is that we are forced at some point to throw up our hands. At that juncture, rather than rolling up our sleeves and going back to the drawing board to find ways to more thoroughly bifurcate humanity into two classes, it's better to just abandon the entire criterion. American law provides an excellent and familiar precedent, in that it has almost entirely abandoned race as being relevant to any kind of allocation. And even if we did have a way to completely bifurcate humanity, we still don't have a good reason to map particular roles onto the result. People made that argument against women's suffrage 120 years ago: "Men and women are different, you can't just ignore reality. Therefore, only men should vote." The missing logic here, of course, is why a particular difference should result in a particular unequal treatment. What is it about having a stubby genital tubercle that justifies the practice of excluding women from voting? Is there some civic responsibility in that extra inch of external tissue? We decide a person’s spiritual sex based on appearance Race and sex dichotomies are both based on visual first impressions. These anatomy-based snap judgments feel very
ALL of us trace back to Africa anyway, turns out
natural to us, as evolution equipped most human brains with potent, lightning-quick visual heuristic software (e.g. our subconscious discernments of male/female, or facial recognition). However, we have some very good historical examples demonstrating why we should NOT trust our native software on this matter. Specifically, we've seen the kind of trouble that comes when we map roles based on anatomy. Thanks go to a couple of LDS presidents, including my alma mater's namesake, Brigham Young, for illustrating the pitfalls of anatomy-based theology: "Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin… We knew that the children of Ham were to be the "servant of servants," and no power under heaven could hinder it."3 Anatomy: Black skin and flat nose Mapped role: "servant of servants" Good/bad idea: BAD IDEA And Joseph Fielding Smith: "There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less."4 Anatomy: Black skin Mapped role: Lack of faithfulness in the premortal existence Good/bad idea: VERY BAD IDEA How about the current status quo, which treats vagina-endowed individuals differently based on their presumed lack of maleness in the premortal existence? Anatomy: Long external genital tubercle (i.e. penis) Mapped role: Fit for the LDS governance table Anatomy: Short external genital tubercle (i.e. a clitoris) Mapped role: Unfit for the LDS governance table Good/bad idea: ? Anatomy Black skin + flat nose Black skin Long external genital tubercle Mapped Role Servant of servants Lack of premortal faithfulness Fit for the LDS governance table Good/Bad Idea BAD VERY BAD ? ?
Short external genital Unfit for the LDS tubercle governance table
October 9, 1859: Brigham Young, during a conference talk in the Tabernacle, as recorded in the Journal of Discourses 7:282. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:61, 65-66.
Is one superficial aspect of appearance (shape) more dispositive of a spiritual trait than another (skin color? The church’s “official statement” on race is entitled Race and the Church: All Are Alike Unto God5. This title refers to 2 Nephi 26:33, which in turn explicitly names four dyads that God does not discriminate between. One of those four is black/white; a second of those four is male/female. The pamphlet dedicates over half of its four-paragraph content to the subject of priesthood availability. We cite 2 Nephi 26:33 on race, and IN THE PAMPHLET tout our egalitarian priesthood allocation practice. However, glaringly, another category explicitly listed in the same verse is categorically denied Melchizedek priesthood office. Am I the only one who hops up and down at this bizarre inconsistency?
Race discrimination no, sex discrimination yes? You cannot be serious!
Brothers and sisters, when will we learn our lesson and stop allocating Melchizedek priesthood office based on superficial physical traits? Body shape is no more worthy a discriminator than body color. It's time to eliminate sexbased discrimination in our governance, just as we eliminated race-based discrimination in our governance in 1978. Harm to the dignity interest of women Gender is a construct- and that includes spiritual gender. Construct means it's fabricated. It's made up! It doesn't exist inherently in any way we're comfortable basing consequential discernments on (remember the Closed Door Problem). And right now, mapping the role of high-level governance onto only those who have long external genital tubercles evidences a deep inequality. The main "bitter fruit" of this governance inequality is the harm it inflicts on the dignity interest of women. I evidence this dignitary harm in three ways. Women are people too First, and it is painful but necessary to point this out: women are people. "Yea, he sent a proclamation among all the people, that they should gather together their women, and their children, their flocks and their herds, and all their substance, save it were their land, unto one place." 3 Nephi 3: 13 Are your feminist lenses on? Can you see the sexism here? The only people in the verse are men. Women are considered property attachments of men, and are grouped right alongside flocks and herds (and children, who presumably can do little to oppose or comply with the proclamation). A gender equal verse would likely read something like, "Yea, he sent
a proclamation among all the people, that they should gather together their children, their flocks and their herds, and all their substance, save it were their land, unto one place." Others far more lettered than I could speak to the abundance of sexism in scripture6- for me the vital question is whether we, as Latter-day Saints in 2012, are content to perpetuate this idea that only men are people, and that women have meaning and standing only in relation to them? This idea of women as property or non-persons, well evidenced in legal history, is unfortunately still present in our modern LDS culture. I was listening to a podcast on Mormon Matters entitled “Moving beyond the ‘Negro Doctrine’” recently. Amazingly, during the podcast where the all-African American panel talked, the one female contributor described the 1978 revelation as extending the priesthood to “all people” without respect to race. 7 All people! What are women, chopped liver? The irony hit me like a wrecking ball. Turns out, black people are still denied the priesthood in this church8. Women are innocent Second, women are no more or less innocent than men. To some it was justified to punish black people for the acts of a distant ancestor, and as a BYU professor explained to me recently (and it’s hard to refute him, given the abundant canonical evidence in multiple standard works), God routinely punishes to the third and fourth generation. The crucial point here is that priesthood deprivation was a curse, it was punitive- and women haven’t done anything wrong, relative to men. Even if the dubious “culpable by heritage” line holds, Eve’s male descendants are just as related to her as her female descendants. If women are tainted by Eve, so are men, in equal measure. I’m not making it up, check the family history chart! Women are mature Third, women are mature adults. It makes sense to exclude children from the high-level decision making table because they lack the maturity that established adults in the LDS community possess. However, it does NOT make sense to exclude women while simultaneously including men, because the established, competent adults in a community should form the candidate pool for governance positions in that community. Treating women the same as children infantilizes them; women are not the governance equivalents of children. In LDS governance choices we should prefer the phrase "men, women, and children" to the archaic "men, women and children" paradigm of our sexist past. Take-home These dignity harms are reflected in the stories of many Mormon women (and men, I would point out) expressed in forums such as Feminist Mormon Housewives, Daughters of Mormonism, Exponent II, and the Feminist Mormon Housewives Facebook group. I have read their comments and listened to their stories, and am sobered by the magnitude of their merited indignation and, in my view, unnecessary suffering. I have lost count of the number of Mormon feminists that have left or abandoned the feminist cause (and often the church) because of the uphill nature of this particular battle against an unflinching institutional opponent who can inflict death by a thousand cuts. I will leave it to the reader to listen as I have- to tell their stories here would take more than volumes. I include merely one article as a tip of the iceberg: Mormon women must be heard
As well as some counterexamples, e.g. women ecclesiastical leaders in the Old and New Testaments Marguerite Driessen, http://mormonmatters.org/2011/06/07/35%E2%80%9336-moving-beyond-the-negro-doctrine/ 8 There are more female than male black members- which makes the statement, at the least, more true than its opposite.
Boston Globe, October 7, 20009 By Courtney Black and Maxine Hanks10 When recently asked, ''Will there ever be women priests in the Mormon church?'' Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the church, said in The Boston Globe: ''Insofar as I can see, no. The women have their place.... they have a voice in determining policy and doing many things in the church. I haven't found any complaint among our women. I'm sure there are a few, a handful somewhere who may be disaffected for one reason or another, but I've never seen any evidence of it.'' With all due respect to our remarkable 90-year-old church leader, we find his words unfathomable in the face of reality. Many Mormon women have voiced deep dissatisfaction for generations, loudly and clearly, in print and in person, alone and in numbers. Thus we want to correct a misconception repeatedly set forth by leaders of the Church of Latter-Day Saints in the media: We are not content; we do have complaints. In fact, so many women have expressed dissatisfaction that every LDS leader is likely aware of these difficulties. For example, in 1988, hundreds of women contacted church headquarters asking why they couldn't participate in the priesthood blessing of their own babies. During the following years, women who tested this or other priesthood issues were censured or disciplined. From 1993 through 1995, some of these women were excommunicated. Mormon women are in a bind. If we disagree, we reap trouble; if we relent, we lose our voice. These are our choices: to conform, to risk church discipline, or to leave. When our leaders say they ''hear no complaint,'' it is because they have intimidated women into compliance. Few women will risk excommunication. Still, if we say nothing, we support the false impression that we are content. And leaving is not a solution. Mormonism is more than a religion; it is a cultural heritage. To leave Mormonism is to leave our culture, our ethnicity, our life, our family, our inheritance. We and our grandmothers have built this church - creating the community, bearing the children, cooking, cleaning, caring for everyone, doing the daily labor necessary to make Mormonism work. We carry the Mormon vision while denied the right to conceive it; we bear great responsibility for the success of our community without power to define our responsibility or ensure its success. This is disheartening at best, exhausting at worse. Meanwhile, Hinckley speaks of a hundred Mormon temples ''looking heavenward.'' Mormons have built temples for 160 years. Like fine china crushed into the stucco of the first Mormon temple to make it sparkle, women have poured their lives and hearts into this church for seven generations. For a hundred years our grandmothers exercised religious voice and authority - giving blessings, creating policy, leading women's programs and publishing women's views. Yet in our church today, all women's programs, leaders, and texts - even the leading women's speeches - are designed or governed by men. All church doctrine, theology, and policy are created by men. While women may be included in ''discussion'' about issues and policy, the ''decisions'' are still made by men. Thus, when women disagree with male leaders, we are often ignored or dismissed, marginalized or ostracized - until our religion feels less like home and more like another brick-and-mortar building. This puts women in a position of having to choose between our conscience and our church, between our fulfillment and our heritage.
(I’ve had some lovely debates on Mormon feminism with the respected author, Maxine Hanks, another of the September Six) 8
We live in contradiction and dissonance, our hearts breaking. Personal spirituality is the core of Mormonism. Yet men tread upon our religious freedom, intrude on our voices, and inhibit our relationship with god. Only we ourselves can determine if God is working through us. Men may deny the existence of female theology, but it remains for us to define. We are not content to be denied our voice nor our decisionmaking power in Mormonism. Our intent is simple: to speak for ourselves and have our rightful place in church governance. Meanwhile, church leaders continue insisting that women are happy in ''their place.'' We are joined by 50 Mormon women from around the world. More women are signing on every day, knowing that each will be questioned by church leaders warning her to retreat. Men do not speak for Mormon women. We speak for ourselves. Courtney Black is a Mormon who lives in Seattle. Maxine Hanks, a writer, was excommunicated for her book ''Women and Authority: Reemerging Mormon Feminism.''
Conclusion Let me finish this section on "the problem" thus: In the early twentieth century, feminists waged a long and difficult struggle to win two objectives for women: the privilege of voting, and the privilege of running for office. Ultimately, after many protests, much sacrifice, and ample agitation, (dare I suggest this same price will be required for LDS governance equality) the women's suffrage movement celebrated a major victory. The Nineteenth Amendment was ratified on August 18, 192011.
Hold on to that date- I will bring it up again when discussing activism campaigns
Mormon feminists face a very similar struggle within the LDS community. The functional governance analog in the LDS community is a voice and a vote at the governance table. If I were back in Dr. Adolphson's class, I would define the problem thus: "LDS women do not presently enjoy sufficient access to the governance table."
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