Models of Women and Priesthood

December 17, 2003 | 54 comments
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A favorite topic of speculation (and angst) among many Mormons and Mormon-watchers is whether or not women will get the priesthood. It is an interesting topic, but I think that most of the discussions of it are pretty uninteresting. The reason for this, I think, is that they are in the thrall of a single, rather simple model of what it means to “get” the priesthood.

The simple model is based on the experience of women getting the priesthood in the Episcopalian or RLDS (now Community of Christ) church, or of blacks getting the priesthood in 1978. The imagined event gets conceptualized as a single dramatic moment in which previously all male institutions (presumably the Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthoods) become degendered and open to both men and women. Those who worry about such things stand poised for the big announcement in general conference and as often as not are perpetually disappointed when it never comes.

I wonder, however, if there might be another way of thinking about this. One very expansive definition of priesthood sees it as simply the power of God delegated to humanity. Under this definition, the Melchizedek Priesthood is but one of the priesthoods that God has delegated. However, other sorts of divine power can also be thought of as priesthoods. For example, motherhood could be defined as a sort of priesthood. Indeed, I think that Jeffrey R. Holland more or less explicitly argued that sex was a form of priesthood in his sermon “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments,” where he refers to sexual intercourse as a “rare and special moment with God himself and all the powers by which he gives life in this wide universe of ours.”

The Doctrine and Covenants also suggests that charity is a kind of priesthood (divine power):

    Let thy bowels also be full of charity toward all men, and to the household of faith . . . then shall thy confidence was strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. (D&C 121:45-46)

It doesn’t seem to me that there is any reason that one needs to think of the scepter and dominion promised in these verses solely in terms of the Melchizedek Priesthood or even in necessarily gendered terms.

Now none of these sorts of moves are likely to make a critic of the current priesthood structure happy. First, the examples of alternative forms of priesthood are likely to raise more hackles than they calm. Motherhood, sex, and charity are all charged issues in the construction-of-gender debates. Furthermore, most of the criticisms of the Church are largely about institutional power. The idea is that there are levers, gears, knobs, and buttons of control within the institution and female hands are never on them. This is a problem either because as good children of philosophical liberalism, we believe in free and equal citizens and that power should be open to all. Alternatively, some darker theological message is imputed to the distribution of administrative control. Control is good, it is denied to women but given to men, therefore women are not as good as men. This message is bad and can only be eliminated, so the argument goes, through institutional change.

Now there is force to these criticisms, but what is interesting to me is that they don’t think very deeply about what priesthood is. The Melchizedek Priesthood is simply seen as undifferentiated power and the possibility that it could be justly distributed in ways that violate norms of liberal equality is simply out of the question. However, it is not clear to me that we want to think of the Melchizedek Priesthood in this way. Rather, it seems more productive to think of it as being a single example of larger category. It is that category that I think we should focus on.

Why does it seem more productive to me? Because, I think it is a good thing that part of the time men and women meet in different meetings. I think that there is a kind of solidarity, a brotherhood and sisterhood, available in such gatherings that is powerful and important. Now, any kind words for gender solidarity will no doubt open me up to charges of repressed sexual insecurity, support for implicit gendered hierarchies and the rest. Perhaps some real erudite soul will quote Foucault at me. Fine. Have fun with the ad hominems.

However, it seems to me that “the problem” is not simply about institutional control. Indeed, the discussion I would like to see is ultimately non-responsive to that issue. Rather, I am interested in finding a theology that acknowledges that gatherings of women in the Church are not forums for jello recipes and doilies. They are meetings of Saints infused with the power of God. They are full of priesthood. It seems to me that simply ordaining the Relief Society as elders would miss that point, and implicitly deny the power that is there. Thus, the theology I am talking about is more than simply a change in the gender make-up of the org chart. It requires a whole mythology that acknowledges, celebrates, and extends the power of God exercised by women.

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54 Responses to Models of Women and Priesthood

  1. Ben on December 17, 2003 at 1:12 pm

    I agree that what is usually meant by “granting women the priesthood” is really “putting women into the ‘power’ structure.” It’s a misunderstanding. Among other things, priesthood offices are not priesthood itself. They are “appendages” to the priesthood. DC 107:5
    Second, what about the temple? Men must hold the priesthood to attend and officiate. It seems logical to me, then, that women who perform those ordinances (the workers) either a)don’t need it (a strange conondrum) or in some sense already possess it. Michael Quinn’s paper on this is actually pretty good, “Have Women Held the Priesthood since 1843?” It was recommended to me by some people associated with FARMS who in all other respects criticized his work, but with that, they think he might have something.
    For Protestants, granting women priesthood means the authority to preach and teach, which our women already do- speaking in sacrament meeting, teaching Institute and Seminary, etc.

  2. Taylor on December 17, 2003 at 1:38 pm

    Nate, though your post acknowleges it, I think that the point is about the equivocal meaning of “priesthood.” It refers to many different things, including spiritual power, a body of church goers, and institutional authority. It seems that those who argue for women in the priesthood are more interested in the tangible aspects of the priesthood, like institutional authority, rather than the spiritual aspects (which, IMO, most people would admit that they already have). Also, at the risk of being “non-responsive” it doesn’t seem to me to be necessary that giving women instutitional control would preclude the possibility of seperate meetings for “gender solidarity.”

  3. Kristine on December 17, 2003 at 2:00 pm

    One of the problems is that we haven’t thought carefully enough about the differences between priesthood offices (which Ben rightly points out are “appendages” to the priesthood, not priesthood itself–Laurel Ulrich wrote a terrific little essay many years ago, pointing out that the words “appendage” and “auxilliary” are largely similar in meaning and function), priesthood duties (e.g. the performance of ordinances), and other duties in the church which we currently assign to men (notice I did not say “priesthood”). There is no reason, for instance, why a Sunday School president can’t be female, and no reason why a Primary president can’t be male. I don’t think there are significant scriptural impediments to women serving as, for instance, counsellors in the bishopric. There are scriptural precedents for women doing all kinds of things they don’t currently do in our church–Huldah, Deborah, Junia, Priscilla, etc..

    I think critics of current church structure and practice are pretty evenly split between people who think women ought to be allowed to perform ordinances, and those who think women need more access to decision-making bodies in the church. The first criticism cannot be answered without revelation and significant upheaval. The second criticism, it seems to me, would be relatively easy to answer, with potential benefits both for the Church as an institution and for the spiritual growth of individual members.

  4. Nate on December 17, 2003 at 2:06 pm

    Taylor, I agree with what you are saying. My reference to meetings was meant as a kind of short hand for a much larger phenomena of gender identity in the Church.

    Here is my point: Male identity in the church is tied to the Melchzekek and Aaronic priesthoods and there is a rich set of texts and theology that surrounds this identity. (Hebrews, Section 84, etc.) We have a well developed mythology of the male priesthoods, if you will, that provides a dignity, meaning, and theological context for maleness in the Church. My point is that simply putting women in positions of institutional power or control is non-responsive to the question of what does the female priesthood mythology look like. To simply say, “well they get the Melchzekek Priesthood so they get that mythology, ” or “The real issue is power you dummy” is to miss the deeper point.

  5. Grasshopper on December 17, 2003 at 2:15 pm

    Nate quoted D&C 121:45-46 and commented: “It doesn’t seem to me that there is any reason that one needs to think of the scepter and dominion promised in these verses solely in terms of the Melchizedek Priesthood or even in necessarily gendered terms.”

    President Hinckley apparently agrees with you. In April 2001 General Conference, in the General Young Women’s session (http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,49-1-183-38,00.html), he applied this scripture to the young women.

    I agree with Taylor that the issues people typically raise regarding women and the priesthood are more related to institutional authority than to other aspects of priesthood. IMO, this indicates a very “worldly” perspective on what priesthood is. I think the temple gives us a much better perspective on priesthood generally and on women and the priesthood specifically.

    Not only do women officiate in temple ordinances, but they are also included in the explicit statements that those being “endowed with power from on high” are prepared to officiate in priesthood ordinances. This is made most explicit in the last thing the patron (male or female) says at the veil.

    However, the priesthood conferred in the temple is not one of institutional authority. It is one of authority in the family and of service to others. The officiators in the temple do not have any institutional authority, but they have all the authority needed to seal the greatest blessings on the patrons of the temple, living and dead. Women share this authority, and the fulness of the priesthood can only be jointly held by husband and wife (once again without any implication of institutional authority).

    I think Quinn’s paper (actual title is “Mormon Women Have Had the Priesthood Since 1843″) is good, but must be understood in terms of spiritual authority rather than institutional authority.

  6. Nate on December 17, 2003 at 2:16 pm

    Kristine: Do you have a reference for the Urlich essay? I would love to take a look at it.

    I suppose that we might break the issues out this way: mythology (the issue I was trying to talk about), institutional control, performing ordinances, and priesthood offices.

  7. Grasshopper on December 17, 2003 at 2:19 pm

    Nate, the Mormon model of female priesthood is clearly Mother in Heaven. However, just as clearly, our theology of Mother in Heaven is merely a hint and not developed in any significant sense. I suspect we may have to look to other sources (perhaps some ancient and modern goddess religions?) for more meaningful models of female priesthood.

  8. Grasshopper on December 17, 2003 at 2:34 pm

    Nate, the Ulrich piece is called “On Appendages” and was published in Exponent II, Vol. 12, number 1, and also in Maxine Hanks, “Women and Authority”, pp. 94-96.

  9. Brent on December 17, 2003 at 2:39 pm

    Kristine, a Bishopric is a priesthood presidency. D&C 42:31, 71 provides that two elders or high priests are to be called to assist the Bishop. Thus, there is a scriptural impediment to a woman serving as a counselor. As to the other callings (Sunday School President, Primary President) you are probably correct that there may be no scripturally required reason to assign members of only one gender to such positions.

  10. brayden on December 17, 2003 at 2:46 pm

    Perhaps what is most frustrating for many women in the church is that many General Authorities have called on ward leaders to be more inclusive of women in decision-making, and yet this rarely happens in practice. Part of the reason, I suspect, is that most of the meetings where major decisions for the ward are made is in priesthood-only meetings (like PEC or bishopric meetings). Bishoprics do try to involve women more in welfare meetings and ward council, but many of the decisions, by that time, have already been made. These are institutional or structural impediments that are pretty much independent of any male chauvinism, which probably exists to some degree in most wards too. In fact, I suspect that these structural conditions of wards reinforce some male chauvinist tendencies among priesthood holders.

  11. Ben on December 17, 2003 at 2:49 pm

    A few more thoughts on the ambiguity of priesthood. When does one become a priest? Is it when you receive the priesthood ( an abstract noun meaining “having the quality of being a priest) and is ordained a deacon? Is it when you turn 16 and are ordained a priest? Or is it when you go through the temple and are anointed a priest (following the Old Testament precedent. BTW, the picture on front of the OT manual, wiht Moses laying his hands on Aaron, doesn’t actually appear in the scriptures as far as I can find.)

    Another thing- Several things “the priesthood” does, aren’t technically priesthood things- Laying on of hands for healing, JS said (TPJS 224) ” Respecting females administering for the healing of the sick he further remarked, there could be no evil in it, if God gave His sanction by healing; that there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on and praying for the sick, than in wetting the face with water; it is no sin for anybody to administer that has faith, or if the sick have faith to be healed by their administration.” What about passing the sacrament? That’s not an ordinance either, yet I doubt any bishop (or young women for that matter) would be comfortable having the Beehives pass the sacrament. It’s too priesthood-y.

  12. clark on December 17, 2003 at 2:58 pm

    While the potential for healing by women is there, that was largely removed during the transitional period of Mormonism. (i.e. 1900 – 1930) At this time I think the policy is only if there is no potential for MP holders to arrive.

    Regarding the structure, I think that there is a lot of evidence that Joseph saw the Relief Society as an adjunct masonic-like body based on what is call the “Adoption Rites” of masonry. The degree in which his ideas differed isn’t clear. But I think that some of the writings of recent feminists sometimes read more into the Navuoo Relief Society than can be justified. While Brigham certainly did his best to limit their power (probably due to the history actions by Emma in Nauvoo) I think that the basic idea of it as an adjunct to the main body is Joseph’s view.

    Regarding practical power – while I understand the issue of important decisions in the ward, I think far too many Mormons over-emphasize the practical import such matters in the church have on their lives.

  13. Taylor on December 17, 2003 at 3:21 pm

    Nate- I think your addition of the word “mythology” to the discussion is incredibly useful, and I take your point about constructing male and female identity as a useful one. I think that Grasshoper is right that Mother in Heaven is the best mythological model in Mormonism for female leadership, but this idea would have to go under significant reworking to be viable. Presently, the silence about her constructs her as silent, which is not the liberating mythology needed for a viable female priesthood (speaking hypothetically, of course).

  14. Kristine on December 17, 2003 at 6:45 pm

    Brent,

    I agree that women in bishopric is more complicated than other presidencies. However, I think the fact that D&C 42 allows either elders or high priests to fill this function suggests that there’s flexibility there–counselor is not an office of the priesthood, as bishop is. If one grants (and I’m aware of the largeness of that “if”) that (endowed) women participate in some measure in priesthood power, one might not necessarily have to ordain them elders or high priests to let them carry out the functions of counselors. In practice, everyone knows that the wives of bishopric members fill some important, though unofficial, conciliar role. Making this official might not be impossible, even without revelatory changes. But you’re right that it’s probably a mistake to list that as a simple change like female Sunday School presidents or male Primary officers.

    Brayden, I think you’re spot on in noting that the current structure can tend to reinforce male chauvinism where it exists in men in positions of authority. A corresponding problem is that the current structure also reinforces a weakness among women–the fear of speaking one’s mind and dealing with the ensuing confrontation. (While dislike of conflict is a nearly universal human weakness, a quick visit to an elders’ quorum lesson and a Relief Society lesson will quickly point up the group that has the most trouble with this). I suspect that the current structure is a useful instrument for helping us to notice these weaknesses. However, following Ether 12, I suspect that, once we’ve been shown the weakness, the way to make those weaknesses into strengths may well involve changing the structure.

    Alas, no one has asked my opinion on the subject ;)

  15. Dave on December 18, 2003 at 5:07 am

    Nate,

    There was a time when America was racist and segregated–we overcame that, the signposts along the way being the post-war amendments and the Civil Rights acts. The Church was initially quite opposed to the civil rights movement, but (largely for institutional reasons) finally came around (add 1978 revelation wherever it fits for you). Better late than never.

    There was a time when American women had a rather sparse set of legal rights, lacking the right to vote and the right to enter a variety of professional schools or vocations. Women also faced a whole array of informal corporate and cultural restrictions they were, for the most part, powerless to change. Most of that heritage, cultural as well as legal, has now changed. The Church was initially opposed to the women’s movement, and still is. It has made some accomodations. Personally, I’m not sure the Church will ever take the big step. But it will pay an increasingly higher price for thinking and acting like a patriarchal institution in an ever more gender-blind culture.

    I think it takes time for Church leaders to disentangle culture from “divine tradition” or whatever you want to call received tradition that is treated like revelation. The process seems to accelerate when outdated positions start to become a PR embarrassment or start to interfere with the efficient operation of the Church. Nothing wrong with that; managers are paid to solve problems. But they have to perceive a condition as a “problem” before they consider changes.

  16. Nate on December 18, 2003 at 12:41 pm

    Dave: I agree with some of what you say, but the problem is that by placing the issue purely in an institutional and political context, you simply submerge the theological (or more properly mythological) issue. It becomes invisible. Indeed, you can’t even come up with a language for talking about it — hence the reference to “‘divine tradition’ or whatever you want to call received tradition.”

    My point is that there is a developed mythology around the Melchzedek and Aaronic priesthoods. For example, section 84 tells an elaborate story of how the authority of various archetypal priests — Moses, Melchzedek, Aaron, etc. — is traced back to God. The story is very male, and it provides meaning for male priesthood holders. To view the issue simply in terms of “the Church needs to shed its patriachal and misogynist ways and get with the times” misses this. If it is simply about institutional change, then it seems to me that one of two things would happen. Women will simply be grafted into the male mythology. They might become institutionally empowered but they would remain theologically invisible. Alternatively, the mythos of the priesthood as set forth in texts like section 84 or the Epistle to the Hebrews will be more or less jettisoned. In its place we will have the liberal mythos of the onward march of liberty and equality and the gradual abandonment of ignorance, bigotry, and superstition. Neither of those seem like satsifying alternatives. The first one simply ignores a major issue (perhaps the major issue). The second one seems to simply abandon the idea of a powerful counter myth to the liberal one. However, if the church becomes nothing more than yet another instantiation (and a rather second rate one at that) of the liberal mythos, why bother?

    What is interesting to me is to look at the emergence of the mythos of the Melchzedek Priesthood. I think that you find this in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Paul (or whoever wrote Hebrews) had the problem of working out the relationship of Christ to the priestly mythos of the Torah. In some sense the telos of the Exodus story is as much the Tabrancle as the Promised Land. Certainly, if you look at the text of the Torah a huge portion of it is taken up with the service of the Tabranacle and place of the priesthood in Israel. Rather that simply abandoning this myth, or saying that Jesus was actually a Levite after all, Paul calls on the story of Melchzedek (who is a rather minor character in the Book of Genesis) and creates a whole new priesthood mythology, which incorporates the Levitacle myth but provides an independent and powerful mythos for Christianity. Christianity historically tended to ignore this myth, in large part out of a certain embarrassment over its Judaic roots. In a sense, anti-Semitism provided a solution to Paul’s conudrum that made the ingenious myth-making of Hebrew’s irrelevent. The revelations of Joseph Smith then pick up this Melchzedek myth and expand on it, creating a whole mythology of the priesthood in the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times.

    Now think of what happens with the 1978 lift of the ban on blacks. There was of course a whole racial priesthood mythology that had been constructed around the story of Cain and Ham. The Official Decleration seems to make some reference to this myth — “the long promised day has come” — but mainly the Church has simply abandoned the myth. However, there is no real problem in integrating blacks in to the main priesthood myth of Melchzedek, etc. That myth does not have any overt racial content and doesn’t revolve around racial symbols or overtly-raced characters.

    However, it seems to me that the myth is gendered. It revolves around male characters, traces the decent of the priesthood through male lines, and even flirts with the idea of male dynastic succession, i.e. father to son.

    Thus, if women are to get a real priesthood, rather than simply a liberal right, you are going to need a female priesthood myth. The liberal mythology can’t provide this for you. Perhaps, Mother in Heaven provides the seeds of such a myth. I like the images of Deborah (or perhaps Jael?). What is interesting to me, is that the Melchzedek myth rose out of what is in many ways a much thinner original text (the Genesis story). My initial point about the boringness of most discussions of women and the priesthood goes to this larger mythological point. They are simply attempts to lever Mormonism into the traditional liberal mythology. What they miss, is the fact that Mormonism has its own mythology and that our religion’s power has largly come from the fact that it offers a powerful, counter mythology to the simple liberal one that dominates our culture. Simply abandoning that myth-making power as the vestiges of a less enlighted, patriarchal era is…well…dumb.

  17. Grasshopper on December 18, 2003 at 1:48 pm

    Nate,

    You might want to check out Dan Peterson’s (of FARMS) essay titled “Nephi and his Asherah”. A short version of this essay was published in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Volume 9, #2. The full version is in “Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World”. Peterson explores some of the traces of goddess mythology in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon. Perhaps the seeds of some feminine priesthood mythology are to be found…

  18. Dave on December 18, 2003 at 2:36 pm

    Nate,

    It’s clear Mormonism has borrowed both religious and secular myths, then reshaped and expanded them. They are our myths now. They can either be confirmed (the Proclamation on homosexuality and gender identity), reformed (allowing women a more visible role in LDS meetings if not in governance), or jettisoned (the whole Ham and Cain baloney). In a particularly mythical moment, you might even describe continuing revelation as God telling his earthly agents what to do with their inherited myths.

    I’m not minimizing the difficulty of the “traditionalist versus assimilationist” debate. It afflicted Judaism for a thousand years and it troubles Mormonism today. Judaism retained its identity as a religion and culture when other nations did not because of the strong conservative, traditionalist element. On the other hand, that same mindset propelled the Jewish state into rebellion against the Romans (twice!) which resulted in the destruction of the Jewish state.

    Mormonism went through its own “zealot conservative” phase under the later Brigham and John Taylor, but in the end compromised with Rome on polygamy rather than electing to go down with the ship. Score one for successful, even inspired, accomodation.

    I would not advocate swallowing the liberal myth whole–that’s one polar postion. Besides, it’s a diverse myth, and the whole Mormon epic and edifice is already one increasingly recognized voice in the American chorus. But the other polar position advocates rejecting all aspects of the culture in which the Church is embedded, which I think is equally wrong. Being in the world but not of the world suggests the barrier between Church and surrounding culture should not be impermeable. If we recognize the hand of God in history (the inspired Constitution, for example) then we recognize the hand of God in at least some aspects of the resulting culture too. We’re not Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    The whole debate is simply over what to adopt and how or when to adopt it. Phrased in this way, I suspect even those who appear to approach the question from opposite poles share a good deal of common ground.

  19. Kristine on December 18, 2003 at 2:49 pm

    It seems to me that this mythological problem is exactly why we need more knowledge about Heavenly Mother. Late 20th century Mormon feminism (such as it was) completely missed the point and spent way too much energy worrying about whether it was OK to pray to Heavenly Mother because women can “relate” better to a female divinity. That’s all nice and warm and fuzzy, but there are core theological issues bound up in our understanding of Heavenly Mother and nobody paid (or is paying, near as I can tell) any attention to them. Do we believe that Mother in Heaven and her female offspring operate separately from Father in Heaven and the male godhead? The endowment suggests such separateness, but since it doesn’t include Heavenly Mother, we can’t really draw any conclusions. If we posit “separate but equal” spheres for male and female priesthood power, then it would make sense to develop a “lineage” from HM through Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel to Deborah, Huldah, etc. However, I find this ultimately unsatisfying. After all, the creationin this world requires the combined efforts of male and female–it seems unlikely that endless priesthood and Relief Society meetings in the hereafter would be likely to generate the sort of creative force necessary to create worlds without end (and the possibility of crafts without end is frankly horrifying!!)

    It seems to me that we should instead get serious about working out the implications of our ideas about the centrality of families, and try to articulate/receive revelation about the way that HF and HM work together. This, of course, necessitates some clarification of trinitarian relics in Mormon thought, which is tricky and bad for PR (although one can argue that evangelicals can’t really hate us any more, so it doesn’t matter). It would also require us to commit to some position about polygamy in the hereafter, and that’s at least a year’s supply of canned worms that nobody seems interested in opening!

  20. Nate on December 18, 2003 at 2:57 pm

    Kristine: It seems to me that to a certain extent the “Proclamation on the Family” is move towards setting forth a more substantive theology of gender and the family. I agree with your assessment of the praying-to-heavenly-mother discussion. (There was one interesting Sunstone article that picked up on this. It was entitled something like “Why Heavenly Mother Won’t Save You” or something like that). At this point, I don’t think we really know what this is going to look like. Hence the fun of spouting off on the internet!!

  21. Russell Arben Fox on December 18, 2003 at 3:19 pm

    Kristine,

    “It seems to me that we should…try to articulate/receive revelation about the way that HF and HM work together. This, of course, necessitates some clarification of trinitarian relics in Mormon thought…”

    I wouldn’t call Trinitarianism a “relic,” but that’s a different discussion. In any case, it wouldn’t necessarily require us to rework that essential framework: for example, one could always posit the Holy Ghost as feminine, an old and venerable gnostic idea.

  22. Nate on December 18, 2003 at 3:41 pm

    Russell: There is, as you probably know, also a venerable tradition of speculating about the identity of the Holy Ghost in Mormonism. One officially condemned idea that circulated quite a bit in the 19th century was the Joseph Smith was the Holy Ghost. I am actually surprised you haven’t brought this up in your argument over Joseph’s Birthday with Taylor…

  23. Russell Arben Fox on December 18, 2003 at 3:53 pm

    Nate: I’ve actually heard quite a few people suggest that the Holy Ghost is Mother in Heaven, and I know that that idea isn’t new, though I can’t think off the top of my head which 19th-century Mormons might have made such claims. The Smith-HG idea is a completely new one to me though.

  24. Kristine on December 18, 2003 at 4:13 pm

    Alas, Janice Allred was recently excommunicated after publishing a Dialogue article speculating that the Holy Ghost is Mother in Heaven, or at least feminine. Speculation on the feminine aspects of divinity remains a pretty dangerous occupation for Mormons who want to retain their membership and good standing.

    Yes, “trinitarian relic” was a dumb choice of words. I spend most of my time talking to barely rational preschoolers–y’all should be frankly amazed that I remember any big words at all :)

    The Proclamation on the Family is maybe a start, but it was intended more as a PR gambit than a doctrinal exploration (really, when have doctrinal pronouncements been made in the Relief Society session of conference?! There’s a not entirely implausible bit of conspiracy theory speculating that the timing of the Proclamation’s release had a great deal to do with the calendar for the Hawaii gay marriage case.) I note, however (and with no little bit of dismay), that next year’s Primary curriculum uses lines from the Proclamation as though they were scripture. Canonization by popular usage makes me nervous.

  25. Nate on December 18, 2003 at 4:27 pm

    Kristine: I think that you are too glib in your dismissal of the Proclamation. First, such official proclamations have had a huge effect on our theology in the past, even when they are not canonized. For example, “The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition” has basically defined our concept of God and trinity for the last century. A huge amount of theological commentary, elaboration, and speculation has been more or less implicitly warranted by this proclamation. Second, I think that the Proclamation staked out two real theological positions:

    1. Affirmed existence of “heavenly parents.”
    2. Affirmed that “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”

    Third, I think that the Relief Society meeting issue is a red herring. I don’t think that you can plausibly read this as an attempt to signal that the Proclamation wasn’t really meant to be all that serious. Consider Elder Eyerings 1998 Ensign article that more or less treated the Proclamation as an authoritative text and then provided exegesis on it. This seems to me a more powerful signal that the forum in whcih it was announced. Elder Eyering’s article can be found here:

    http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll/Magazines/Ensign/1998.htm/ensign%20february%201998.htm/the%20family.htm?fn=document-frame.htm&f=templates&2.0

  26. Kristine on December 18, 2003 at 6:01 pm

    Fair enough–I didn’t mean to be glib. I do wonder, though, about how seriously the Proclamation was meant to be taken. Or rather, I wonder how many of the uses to which it has now been put (gack–how’s that for awkward syntax?!) were thought through before its release. It has been deployed in interesting legal ways–for instance, to justify asking female job candidates at BYU certain questions which would otherwise be illegal, to buttress the church’s (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to be named a co-defendant with the state in the Hawaii gay marriage case, and probably other instances of which I’m unaware. Meanwhile, as you point out, Elder Eyring and many others have taken it as the basis for serious exegesis, Relief Societies across the nation have cross-stitched the text, framed it with dried flower borders, etc., and it has clearly become a favorite focus of popular doctrinal and quasi-doctrinal explication. (We lived in a Stake in California in which the Proclamation was more than once the ONLY “scripture” quoted in an entire Stake Conference session.) My concern, puzzlement, occasional consternation, whatever, stems from the fact that it reads like PR material more than as clear doctrinal explanation, and that much of the official commentary followed the release of the document by many months, even years. I think the doctrinal point you have as #2 needs clarification at the least–I think it’s meant in part to suggest that “gender confusion” is not possible in the LDS scheme of things and that some version of the Victorian ideal of gendered division of labor is part of God’s plan. Both of those notions need some more clear thinking and clear talking before they are convincing doctrinal positions, and it bothers me to see them swept under a blandly-worded, not-exactly-scriptural text instead of being rigorously dealt with.

    But that’s just me, and I suspect I’m in a very tiny minority, especially among active church members.

  27. Nate on December 18, 2003 at 6:09 pm

    I agree with you about #2. My point is not that the Proclamation offers a theology of gender, but that it gestures toward the need and the possibility of one.

  28. Kristine on December 18, 2003 at 7:12 pm

    Yeah, well, nothing like beating a dead strawman…

  29. Brent on December 18, 2003 at 9:00 pm

    Kristine,

    “I do wonder, though, about how seriously the Proclamation was meant to be taken.”

    The closing three sentences of the Proclamation read as follows: “We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

    We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”

    I’d say they intended that it be taken rather seriously. To suggest that it is/was a PR gambit seems to discount what we view President Hinckley, the First Presidency, and the Apostles as–living prophets, seers, and revelators. Does something have to be written in the canon to be scripture, to be doctrine? I don’t think so. That said, the Hawaii case and other cases in the foreseeable future did prompt the brethren to act. However, rather than be a PR move, it was designed to state clearly and emphatically the Lord’s view of marriage and family.

    Elsewhere you state “Speculation on the feminine aspects of divinity remains a pretty dangerous occupation for Mormons who want to retain their membership and good standing.” I agree that that is one effect of “speculation on the feminine aspects of divinity” but there are others. It seems that there are plenty of other doctrinal points to focus on rather than engage in wild speculation about unrevealed, and relatively unimportant other matters. I do not mean to be trite or argumentative, but it seems to me that when we engage in such speculation and make it a matter of deep concern, we lose a portion of the spirit. We focus on the philosophies of men and try to square the gospel with them, rather than the other way around. Given the statement in the Proclamation about gender, we merely need look at other statements from prophets about gender to get some of the clarification on that principle. Unfortunately (for many), such pronouncements are profoundly un-pc and do not square with much of the world’s views on gender. I think the statement could have been stated differently, something to the effect “Contrary to the views of the world, gender is not constructed, men and women have physical, mental, spiritual and social differences, and such differences are eternal.” Again, I have to disagree with your characterization of this as “not-exactly scriptural.”

    Anyway, I sincerely hope no offense is taken from this comment as none is intended. I just wanted to address a couple of issues you raised.

  30. Brent on December 18, 2003 at 9:32 pm

    Also, I hadn’t read you response to my prior post above, but I wanted to ask how, if the Lord has said a Bishop’s counselor is to be either (1) an elder, or (2) a high priest, there is any room for a woman to be designated a counselor without said woman being ordained either elder or high priest? I don’t know how you could make such a thing official without revelation.

  31. Kristine on December 18, 2003 at 10:19 pm

    Brent said: I don’t know how you could make such a thing official without revelation.

    You couldn’t. Nor would I expect that we’d start calling men as Primary presidents without revelation. I wouldn’t presume that any changes in the structure of the church would happen without revelation. I guess my feeling is that this whole discussion is pretty speculative, so I feel free to let my opinions fly. I certainly trust that nobody in authority would give a hoot about anything I’ve said.

    And, btw, I’m well acquainted with the text of the Proclamation, including the sentences you quote above. However, the warnings about the disintegrating family and the consequences for society are pretty much conservative boilerplate. I take them far more seriously coming from the Brethren than I do coming from Bill Bennett, but it is nonetheless difficult to read those words as offering new or unique insight. I should have said “I wonder how the Brethren intended the Proclamation to be used within the Church, and whether they were deliberately promulgating new doctrine or clarifying established doctrine.”

    By “not-exactly-scriptural” I meant only to refer in a quick way to the above discussion of the fact that the Proclamation has not been canonized, but is still accorded quasi-canonical status in popular usage. I didn’t mean that there is necessarily anything contra-scriptural about the Proclamation’s assertions about gender.

    No offense taken–it’s hard to get tone right without face-to-face talking.

  32. Taylor on December 18, 2003 at 11:33 pm

    Brent,

    You say: “I think the statement could have been stated differently, something to the effect “Contrary to the views of the world, gender is not constructed, men and women have physical, mental, spiritual and social differences, and such differences are eternal.”"
    I wonder where you are getting this interpretation. I don’t see anything like it in the Proclamation.
    Also, how could social differences be anything but constructed?
    How do you square your emphasis on difference with the emphasis on equality in the previous sentence of the proclamation?
    Finally, when the proclamation uses the term ‘gender,’ is it using it in the legal/philosophical sense as something distinct from biological sex, or simply as a synonym? For me, it seems that it is probably a non-technical usage which means “biological sex is eternal” and doesn’t carry all of the baggage you seem to be reading into it.

  33. Matt Evans on December 19, 2003 at 12:45 am

    Hi Taylor,

    You wrote as though ‘different’ and ‘equal’ are conflicting terms, but they’re not. To use a banal example, which weighs more, a pound of rocks or a pound of water?

    (Incidentally, neither ‘equality’ nor ‘equal’ appears in the sentence you said emphasizes equality. The sentence says that male and female humans are children of God. Reading equality into the sentence begs the question. This isn’t a big deal, however, as I agree that all of us are equal in God’s eyes.)

    As for your question about gender being socially constructed, the proclamation’s passage that endorses traditional gender roles (fathers should preside, provide and protect; mothers should nurture) specifically states that these gender roles were established “[b]y divine design.” A dozen OED editors couldn’t construct a better antonym of ‘social construct’ than ‘divine design’. This passage also suggests that Brent was right to interpret the proclamation’s use of the term ‘gender’ broadly.

    It appears as though you and Kristine regret the prophets’ involvement in the culture war, but it would seem that Mormons would be anxious to have them show us where the truth is. Have I misunderstood your comments?

  34. Kristine on December 19, 2003 at 9:18 am

    Matt, that sure is a nice juicy hunk of bait. I’m not biting today, thanks.

  35. Brent on December 19, 2003 at 9:43 am

    Taylor, I think Matt provided a pretty good answer to some of your questions, but I wanted to add that I really don’t see “gender” carrying any “baggage” in addition to biological sex differences. That term seems to place a negative connotation to the fact that men and women are different. These differences are to be celebrated and enjoyed rather than viewed as some kind of mortal burden. What a dull world it would be if men and women were exactly the same with no alternative views, perceptions, emotions, etc. I think these differences are also part of the Plan of Salvation. It helps explain the importance of marriage, as only a man and a woman joined in matrimony create a whole person. Benjamin Franklin espoused this viewpoint when he wrote to an acquaintance stating the following:

    “The married state is, after all our jokes, the happiest, being comformable to our natures. Man and woman have each of them qualities and tempers, in which the other is deficient, and which in union contribute to the common felicity. Single and separate, they are not the complete human being; they are like the odd halves of scissors; they cannot answer the end of their formation.”

    Again, I don’t think that gender comes with “baggage” but rather opportunities for growth and cooperation. I agree with you and Matt that men and women are equal before God. However, equality does not require sameness.

  36. clark on December 19, 2003 at 1:51 pm

    One thing that I think gets lost in these discussions is that there is some truth about the matter regarding how our Mother in Heaven actually behaves. I think that it is very easy to look at similar beliefs among other groups (such as the Gnostics or in Kabbalism) and *assume* that is the truth to the degree it fits our personal political or social presuppositions.

    I truly think that this happened among some feminist groups in the church. (Like Allread)

    I worry that we start speculating to such a degree that we confuse speculation with what is the case. After all it may well be that the speculations we like a lot are completely wrong.

    Now I’m all for speculation, as many know. However I think speculation must be used to see the possibilities of a notion. But that must include the possibilities we *don’t* like as much as those we *do* like. Further we must be far *more* wary of ideas we like because of our personal biases. A “truth” that is convenient can often be the most dangerous of mistakes. (There was a Kafka quote along those lines which I unfortunately couldn’t find)

    I don’t really want to speak too much to the particulars. I just thought I ought to bring out that warning. After all, what did the speculations of 1832 by lay members look like relative to the revelations in Nauvoo?

    I think we also tend to always think of our time as enlightened. After all we’ve made considerable progress towards eliminating a lot of sexism and racism. We look back to the past of a 100 years ago and unenlightened and socially primitive. Yet we ought to keep in mind that they thought themselves the height of civilization and development. It may well be that those from 100 years from now will look to us the way we look to those of past centuries.

  37. Melissa on February 6, 2004 at 1:04 am

    Looks like I’ve missed some interesting threads. Glad to read that Kris has so ably represented one feminist perspective. I’ll respond to a number of issues raised in various posts.

    Last week I met with a professor for whom I was going to TA a Women and Religion course. Knowing that I had recently written on LDS women (and also happen to be one) she asked me to give two lectures on Mormon women and choose half a dozen articles to include in the course packet. This brings me to my vote for 5 important Mormon Studies texts which I promptly marked and lent to this inquiring mind:

    Women and Authority
    Sisters in Spirit
    Women of Covenant
    Mormon Sisters
    Mormon Enigma

    Before reading this material, the professor was concerned about having me as a TA in this particular course. She explicitly warned me “not to undermine her objective,” which was “to show students that feminism is incompatible with membership in a religious tradition.” I was pleased with her assumption that I would disagree with such a claim.

    In the ensuing three hour conversation about Mormonism, I mentioned The Proclamation and recited the “gender is an essential characteristic of ….eternal identity,” phrase in answer to one of her questions. She responded with horrified gasps that the statement could actually refer to gender as an “essential” part of one’s permanent identity. When she asked me to explain this “doctrine,” I must admit I faltered. I wasn’t sure I wanted her to ask me if I believed that pre-mortal spirits have wombs and genitalia when I had just explained spirits as unembodied entities so I changed the subject.

    This brings me to the thread on how we establish church doctrine. Is the Proclamation doctrine? Are the Temple recommend questions about doctrine? We haven’t really defined doctrine yet so we can’t ask these questions until we do. I like Nate’s comments on “law” but to the extent that doctrines can change (perhaps some disagree with this) then doctrine can’t be “law” in the natural law sense. I think it is difficult to come up with a method for determining what church doctrine is when we can’t even articulate a coherent method for reading Scripture.

    Last week in my Sunday School class I tried to explore various methods for approaching texts. I suggested that what one gets out of a text has a lot to do with the kinds of questions one asks. I walked through 1 Nephi 16-22 and asked various kind of questions, which were representative of different methodologies. We walked through the historical, linguistic, thematic, comparative, apologetic, narrative, and symbolic approaches to texts.

    Within ten minutes there were signs of discomfort from the crowd. The troubled comments from those in attendance strongly suggested that we take a “faith-approach” to reading. When I asked for clarification, elaboration, explanation, or definition of what such a method would look like my sincere female interlocuter answered with a shrug.

    This brings me to why I think LDS women are mostly non-participants in philosophy (either professionally or personally). The first and foremost is socialization. A philosopher has to be able and willing to make arguments. To make an argument you must be willing to argue for something. You must be willing to strongly disagree with others. You must be willing to have others strongly disagree with you. You must be willing to take criticism and hear objections. Notice that I have focused on the need to be willing to do these things. Of course ability is important here too, but willingness is key. LDS women are not willing (on some level) to argue because of various things they have been carefully taught.

    My short answer to Jim’s question is that LDS women are socialized not to be philosophers. Even a quick look at the Young Women’s manuals or the recent talks by Young Women’s General Presidencies will give you some idea of what women are told they should be. Three years ago Margaret Nadauld told the women of the Church that they were to be gentle, feminine, and delicate to nurture the next generation. Women are not told to be analytical, sophisticated, logical reasoners. They are explicitly taught to support the “priesthood” not to argue with the “priesthood.” Put that kind of counsel together with the demonization of the “philosophies of men” and the still common idea that an LDS woman’s education is to help her in her mothering or to provide for her family should some tragedy occur to her spouse and what possible motive could a Mormon woman have for studying philosophy? Much to my chagrin and regret I never took a phil class at BYU. It didn’t cross my mind that there was anything “uplifting or useful” (the two things that mattered) there for me. It wasn’t until my serendipitous exposure to philosophy at Yale that the light began to dawn.

    There is of course the other glaring reason that I don’t think anyone else mentioned. Rigorous, careful Philosophy takes time. I don’t mean twenty minutes here and there when you have an extra minute. I mean hours of uninterrupted time to read, write, contemplate. It has taken me many hours of concentrated work this week to try to read and digest some C.S. Peirce, for example. LDS women are busy with large families, church callings, and many work part-time or full time outside of the home as well. I don’t know very many adult LDS women who have hours of uninterrupted time a week to pursue the contemplative life. If an LDS woman hasn’t chosen philosophy as her profession it is unlikely that she will choose it as her hobby. It is not going to be something that will likely bring her closer to the other women in her ward,(in fact it may marginalize her), or to the members of her family or benefit her community. It is seen to have little practical value and might even be detrimental to her faith, so she’s been told. Since these are the things that matter most to LDS women, I can understand their absence in philosophical circles even while I work hard to make room for their presence.

  38. Kaimi on February 6, 2004 at 10:50 am

    Melissa,

    Very thoughtful comments. That sounds like a great Sunday School lesson. I can only imagine what might happen if I tried anything like that in the Bronx. (I should also admit that I routinely feel a little jealous of all of the fun that you Bostonians (Cambridgians?) (Taylor, Kris, et al) seem to be having.)

  39. Beth on May 21, 2004 at 12:37 am

    This has been a very interesting subject to read through.

    It is true that women are not encouraged to think. A few months ago one relief society instructor in my ward actually got up and said that when the prophet or apostles speak, there is nothing to discuss. That is why she had been unable to get discussions going during her lessons.

    When I have sat in RS, I have only heard positive, uplifting comments and stories. No one dares bring up stories that indicate all is not perfect, yet I know we all have them. I often wonder if priesthood meeting would be more interesting.

    I read quite a bit about the Proclamation on the Family. I have disliked that proclamation ever since I first heard it. It claims that gender is essential both in our mortal and immortal existence. However, if you were to do a little research, you would learn that there are children born with both sexual characteristics. One condition I am familiar with is called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Most of these babies are thought to be girls. They are raised as girls, yet are genetically male.

    Other chromosonal abnormalities also exist. In the truest sense it takes an X and a Y chromosome to make a male and two X chromosomes to make females. People are born with XXY chromosomes. What are they? My own cousin has Turner’s Syndrome. She is treated as a girl and has been raised as a girl, but she only has one X chromosome. All males have one X chromosome. Why is she assigned to be a female? It seems just as logical to assume that the missing chromosome was a Y.

    The Church goes on and on about women having the ability to bear children. Yet, my cousin, who has Turner’s syndrome is sterile. This means, not only is she denied the priesthood, but she has also been denied the compensation as defined by the church.

    Why aren’t all women who find that they are unable to bear children automatically given the priesthood? If motherhood is the reason it is denied women, then logically they should get it if they cannot have children. (I know this makes no sense, but neither does comparing the ability to biologically reproduce with the power to act in God’s name here on Earth.)

    Finally, as a woman in the church, what I have found most frustrating and discouraging about “Priesthood” is the way it denies women participation. Women are unable to participate in the blessing of their own children. They cannot even witness the baptism or sealing of their own children. These official positions require priesthood. Through letters I have asked all the current general authorities why women are denied any role in the earthly ordinances of their children. Rather than getting any useful or meaningful answers, I was put in my place, by my bishop, for questioning.

    One day the general authorities and the church will have to answer for their treatment of women. Whether it is in this life or the next, I do not know. But I am absolutely certain that the way the church currently marginalizes women is not in line with the desires of a loving father in heaven.

  40. Rosalynde Welch on April 19, 2005 at 2:36 pm

    Nate, thanks for directing me to this stimulating post on your active thread–so much good material at T&S from before I arrived! As always, you make the points I wish I’d thought to make, and probably do so more incisively than I would, so in order make you think I’m smart I must quibble a bit… forgive me. (And don’t worry, I’ll soon give up on trying to make you think I’m smart; I’m not a very persistent person, and I am occasionally susceptible to reality.) ;)

    As you know, I am fully in agreement on the importance of the discursive and cultural cognates to social structure (what you call “mythos”– a good word). Precisely as you argue, proposed changes in one realm must take into account the consequent changes in the other, if the initiative is to be successful and sustained. And organic drift in one realm drags along the other, as well. Like you, I’m inclined to think that the debates on the matter of female priesthood to this point have been flawed in the ways you suggest. Furthermore, I’m consistently inspired by your calls to look first to our own historical, cultural and theological heritage for the resources we need to think about the problems that face us: keep saying it, I love hearing it every time.

    You’re also right, of course, that sexual intercourse and motherhood are deeply unsatisfying–or at least unavoidably partial–ways to theorize women’s access to the power of God, particularly if you’re trying to work from a “separate but equal” model, as you seem to be doing. But that’s not the point here.

    Where I think you’re a little bit wrong is in the malleability of mythos. Any student of English dynastic history can tell you how history, myth, genealogy and narrative can be reformulated to accommodate even violent and abrupt structural change—and those accommodations can be made very successfully. Your discussion of the ideological work of priesthood lineage in constructing Mormon masculinity is spot on—or it was. But under the increasing political pressures on gender in the last decades, masculinity has become a much weaker and more poorly-defined category, since women’s roles have taken so much of the heat. (This is unfortunate, and feminism—and anti-feminism—must take some of the blame for this.) And under the same pressures, our understanding of the meaning and transmission of priesthood offices been greatly diminished: virtually any discussion of priesthood and gender, no matter its perspective, must downplay the functions and benefits of priesthood office in order to accommodate a gender segregation (as you do very gracefully in this post).

    The result is that we are already beginning to loosen the connection between maleness and priesthood office and its attendant benefits: in a GD class several weeks ago, we discussed the D&C 50 passages on preaching and receiving by the Spirit in a completely gender-blind way—with no acknowledgement that the section was addressed to ordained elders, and that the “preaching” referred to was a specific benefit of ordination.

    Finally, we may need to consider the possibility that occasionally our own theology does not provide the mythic resources necessary for forward movement. While Mormon history produces inspiring instances and examples that can be exploited (in a good way) for mobilizing women’s capacities in productive ways, our theology frankly does not—or at least I haven’t seen it: Mother in Heaven is problematic for a number reasons, and highly unlikely to become any better defined theologically; restoration scripture is manifestly unhelpful on the point, as is the temple endowment. Don’t get me wrong: I reverence and sustain these doctrines and practices, but I just don’t see how they provide the kinds of mythic resources Nate is calling for us to develop. Sometimes it might be necessary for revelation to start from scratch.

  41. Julie in Austin on April 19, 2005 at 2:47 pm

    “You’re also right, of course, that sexual intercourse and motherhood are deeply unsatisfying”

    Ros, my sentiments exactly.

  42. Jack on April 19, 2005 at 2:54 pm

    Julie,

    Do you really mean that? What about the rest of the sentence: “…ways to theorize women’s access to the power of God…”?

  43. Kaimi on April 19, 2005 at 2:58 pm

    Julie,

    No need to threadjack; we’ve already got a thread or two dedicated to that topic.

    ;)

  44. Rosalynde Welch on April 19, 2005 at 2:59 pm

    LOL, Kaimi! But not unconnected to my point, incidentally.

  45. Nate Oman on April 19, 2005 at 3:01 pm

    Rosalynde: I am not sure that revelation always starts from scratch. Tracing out the idea of the Melchezidek priesthood in the scriptures (D&C –> Hebrews –> Genesis) is really interesting on this point. Perhaps you are right about the decline of male priesthood narratives, but I do think that you will need some sort of female priesthood myth. Without it, priesthood will be transformed entirely into either (1) some generic notion of Christian service; or (2) mere access to administrative control, in other words another liberal right in a liberal society. If either of those things happen, then we will have almost entirely lost mythos revealed by Joseph Smith in “The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood.” I would be happy to see a revelation announcing priesthood for women, but I hope that it would not leave us with a mythless equality.

  46. Jed on April 19, 2005 at 3:05 pm

    Nate: “Rather, it seems more productive to think of it as being a single example of larger category. It is that category that I think we should focus on.”

    For me that category is the “order of the priesthood,” a category that includes both men and women, and is deeply implicated in our temple ceremonies. Men and women both have place in the order of the priesthood. They occupy a different space within the order. The order organizes horizontally rather than the vertical space in feminism critiques of male power.

    Rosalynde: “Finally, we may need to consider the possibility that occasionally our own theology does not provide the mythic resources necessary for forward movement.”

    Do you find any cosmic signficicance in the correlation of priesthood and Relief Society manuals beginning with the Brigham Young manual? I think the change may show there are mythic resources available for “mobilizing women’s capacities in productive ways,” as you say. The manual change may be read as a knock against women–as another instance where women’s own voice is removed or marginalized. In another sense, though, the change empowers women, allowing them access to priesthood, drawing them further into the priesthood order, putting them squarely in position to teach their priesthood-bearing husbands as they study the lessons together—in short, to influence priesthood. I don’t want to read too far into this, but I think the mythos is more flexible than we might imagine, starting with the temple as the seedbed of possibility.

  47. Rosalynde Welch on April 19, 2005 at 3:09 pm

    Nate, perhaps I wasn’t clear: I agree completely that revelation generally *doesn’t* start from scratch. What I’m arguing is that occasionally it may have to.

    I agree on the need for what you call a “female priesthood myth,” if there is ever to be a female priesthood: my point is that we don’t have such a thing within the Restoration tradition. I also share your distaste for option (2)–which, apart from its blandness, would be very, very costly in social terms. (Incidentally, I’ve always imagined that if there were a female priesthood, it would operate in separate quorums, thus allowing for a continued gender-identification which I think is important and desirable. Not that I’m advocating this (my standard disclaimer.))

  48. Rosalynde Welch on April 19, 2005 at 3:15 pm

    Jed, I’ve never been as upset with the new manuals as some others have (though I still dislike them for other reasons)–in part because I’m not one who responds emotionally to identification with “women’s voices,” though I understand that for many others this is important. It’s interesting to think of it as a move toward a female idea of priesthood.

    As for the temple: I love the temple, I am richly fed the liminal experience it offers, I’m thrilled by its ancient roots, I attend whenever I can (still not often enough). But I simply must strongly disagree that the priesthood order described therein “organizes horizontally rather than the vertical space in feminism critiques of male power.” It’s wonderful that women and men are both there, and the ways in which the genders interact is highly significant. But it is not horizontal.

  49. Nate Oman on April 19, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    Rosalynde: Would the quorum’s be identified with seperate priesthood offices? Now we have quorums of deacons, teachers, priests, elders, high priests, seventies, and apostles. Would holders of a the priesthood of ___________ (Eve, Deborah, Sariah, Eliz R. Snow, ?) have their own priesthood offices (what would they be?) or simply female versions of male offices, ie deaconesses, teachers, priestesses, crones, high priestesses, apostles? Thinking about the issue purely in terms of gender equality misses the point, not because gender equality is unimportant or illegitimate, but because it is two mythically thin to get the job done.

  50. Rosalynde Welch on April 19, 2005 at 3:32 pm

    Well, Nate, I must prudently disclaim having given this a lot of thought! Like you, I see nothing particularly compelling in the vision of boy and girl deacons sitting beside each other on the front row of the chapel. There are a number of priesthood offices that we don’t currently utilize (pastors, evangelists)–perhaps these could be organized into female quorums, with discrete responsibilities. Perhaps the male priesthood would retain responsibility for ordinances, and the female for leadership–or vice versa. Or there could be two deacons quorums, etc, with rotating responsibilities. Or we could “start from scratch,” and the prophet would reveal new offices for the female priesthood. I think there are a number of ways it *could* play out–though I’m not anticipating that it will, or suggesting that it should.

  51. annegb on April 19, 2005 at 11:50 pm

    Well…not always completely deeply unsatisfying. Just sometimes. Sometimes pretty satisfying…even when you’re, as my daughter puts it, in your golden years. :)

    But I’ve never bought the idea that motherhood equals equality. While I don’t long for, or even want the priesthood, or even other women to have it, I’m equal, even superior, arrogantly so, because I just am. But I don’t know why. And I don’t know why that bothers men more than women.

  52. Jed on April 20, 2005 at 12:31 am

    Rosalynde: To say a relationship is horizontal is not to say its constituant parts are not accountable to one another. You can have accountability and not have verticality. Thinking in terms of duties and spheres does does not imply verticality either.

    We may have to consign further discussion to a future life or some celestial room somewhere.

  53. Rosalynde Welch on April 20, 2005 at 7:15 am

    Jed, by the same token you can have accountability and mutual duty and still not have horizontality: for example, would-be absolutist kingship in England theorized the relationship between sovereign and subject in this way.

    I understand what you’re saying, though, and I agree with you–but I still don’t think that’s an adequate description of what emerges. From the Proclamation, perhaps, but not from the temple. (And again, this is not to reject the temple or its teachings–in fact, the possibility that there is indeed a hierarchy of the genders must be a live possibility for the believer.) (Also, I appreciate and fully understand–and share!–the impulse to interpret the endowment as you do.) I’ll take your raincheck on that celestial discussion! (Although I’m hoping that then it won’t be necessary.)

    It’s sort of too bad that we can’t discuss these things more openly; there’s nobody in my ward who would ever want to talk about this with me.

  54. Christian Y. Cardall (TSM) on April 20, 2005 at 10:07 am

    Nate, help me with my simpleton understanding here. I’m getting the impression (undoubtedly from careless reading) that here you’re saying there’s not enough mythos and that on your post about Toscano you were discounting the importance of mythos. Continuity is a theme in both posts, but…

    My speculations on how it would come about were here and here on the Toscano thread. In a nutshell: It seems to me a revelation in some fashion by, of, or from Heavenly Mother would supply the needed mythos or narrative or whatever, in the same way the First Vision narratives helped Joseph in the wake of the Kirtland apostasy and (I gather by osmosis) to consolidate notions of authority around the turn of the century. But since big revelation only comes when sought, and is not likely on anyone’s radar screens, such an event could only result from considerable internal or external pressure putting it on the radar screen of a prophet who’s sufficiently open.

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