Julie: This dialogue is the outgrowth of a few comments at one of those other blogs that Rosalynde suggested might make an interesting discussion.
When I made a comment on J.Stapley’s thread on women and the priesthood suggesting that motherhood and priesthood were parallel, Rosalynde expressed (feigned) shock that I had changed my position. Well, I have changed my mind about this. I think that what used to bother me most about the motherhood/priesthood parallel (hereafter MPP) was that it suggested that fatherhood doesn’t matter. And I’ll note that for the MPP to work for me, we need an expansive definition of ‘priesthood’ that includes fatherhood, providing for a family, etc. But let’s note that despite their nice lexical similiarities, the LDS concepts of ‘motherhood’ and ‘fatherhood’ are not, in fact, parallel. An LDS mother who is able to live the ideal is one who is devoting her full-time effort to mothering. But an ideal LDS father is not devoting full-time–he’s lucky for a few hours with the kids in the evenings and weekends. Hence, to suggest that LDS motherhood and LDS fatherhood are parallel is to suggest a gross disparity is equitable.
Rosalynde: Julie, I don’t disagree that a mother who is the full-time caregiver has a different kind of relationship to her children as does a father who works fifty hours a week. But this observation doesn’t, on the face of it, falsify the notion that the sociological (that is, relating to the social structure of the church and family) or spiritual parallel to motherhood is fatherhood—nor, it seems to me, does it provide evidence for the notion that motherhood and priesthood are such equivalents.
It seems to me that the claim that motherhood is parallel to priesthood can mean one of two things: either that motherhood and priesthood are two species of the same kind of sociological authority, although exercised in different spheres; or that, though they are different species of authority, motherhood and priesthood have the same spiritual effects in the lives of women and men. The first possibility, that motherhood and priesthood are two branches of the same kind of authority, like the executive and legislative branches of the government, seems to me transparently false. (I’ll elaborate on this in the comments, if anyone wishes.)
I think, however, that you take the second position, that the moral *effects* of motherhood and priesthood in the lives of women and men are nearly equivalent—even more correlated, in fact, than the moral effects of motherhood and fatherhood. That is, you suggest that the two kinds of authority, motherhood and priesthood, give women and men equal opportunities for spiritual growth (at least for those women who are the primary caregivers for their children). Is this a fair characterization?
This seems wrong to me for at least two reasons. If we take moral growth to be the result of making correct choices, then I agree that both motherhood and priesthood afford opportunities to grow morally. But a mother’s lifelong relationship to her children seems to me to offer far more opportunity of this sort—I’m talking orders of magnitude here—than does a man’s lifelong priesthood service.
Furthermore, a father’s lifelong relationship to his children seems to me to offer substantially the same set of moral choices that a mother’s relationship to her children does. Yes, women gestate and bear the children, and many become the full-time caregivers, but these processes involve very little *moral* choice—that is, choices in which one option is correct and othes incorrect—that doesn’t also accrue to a father. The moral choices that mothers face (and both working and at-home mothers face these choices)—will I carry out my obligations to my children? will I teach my children values and live as an example of those values? will I build relationships of love and trust with them? and so on—seem to me to face fathers as well, even fathers who don’t hold the priesthood, in nearly every particular. Thus, I’m arguing, motherhood and priesthood do not offer equivalent opportunities for moral growth, while motherhood and fatherhood do.
Julie: (1) As far as sociology, I think it depends on whom you ask. Many church members find the MPP persuasive; others don’t. I think it does work. As far as a spiritual parallel, I think I’m on safe ground suggesting that the modern church understands the role of motherhood to be the main (but not sole) domain for a woman’s most important life’s work. If we use my expanded definition of priesthood (including fatherhood and providing), then that, too, is the main (but not sole) domain of man’s most important life’s work. Hence the parallel.
(2) I agree with this.
(3) I think it is a fair characterization. The reason this is worth discussing to me–the reason that I want to defend the MPP–is because frequently in the bloggernacle we get a statement like this one:
“It goes against the understanding of God to think that He would favor His male children over His female children by locking the women out of the Holy Priesthood.” (Laurie, commenting at BCC)
to which I respond:
“It goes against the understanding of God to think that He would favor His female children over His male children by locking the men out of motherhood.”
In other words, the presumption of male privilege based on priesthood is most easily debunked when we turn the tables and examine the female privilege of motherhood. You don’t have to look too far for statements like this, which is from a First Presidency statement:
“Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind.”
If one really believes this, then the desire for priesthood falls away. (Which is not to say that women could not or should not be given a greater role in church operations at any or all levels, per Elder Ballard’s suggestions–reiterated by Elder Holland this past conference–about the inclusion of women’s views in ward councils and elsewhere.)
(4) I wonder if you would make this same statement based on my expanded definition of priesthood (formal priesthood plus fatherhood plus providing materially, that is, a job)? Because if you did, I would conclude that you thought that men could never grow morally to the extent that women can–how will they do it if not through the avenues I have mentioned above?
(5) I think you are focusing on moral growth too much. In making the MPP, I think moral growth of the woman or man certainly is an element, but I’d add the following to the list of comparisons:
–opportunities to serve the family and society
–opportunities to build the kingdom
–opportunities to provide leadership
–opportunities to teach, train, and mold disciples
I want to go back to this idea of motherhood being next to divinity. My impression is that too many people toss it off as ‘pedestal language’ or as the usual boilerplate. But what does God do all day? God does not labor in the sugar fields, God does not write code, God does not perform surgery. God raises children. God does what earthly mothers do. It never ceases to amaze me that Mormon men aren’t up in arms over the fact that they are not allowed to be at home with their children all day, doing God’s work. I think that if we understood the Gospel better, charges of sexism would be, as it were, on the other foot.
Rosalynde: Julie, your expansion of the meaning of priesthood to include the obligations of fatherhood reminds me of Sheri Dew’s move, in a talk a few years back, to expand the meaning of motherhood to include all kinds of nurturing. I think I understand the impetus behind both efforts, and I applaud the spirit of inclusiveness and the elevation of parenthood that both represent. But while these expansions might work rhetorically, they’re analytically unhelpful. When you abstract the meanings of motherhood and priesthood from the actual relationships they denote—to a child, and to God, respectively—what you end up with, I think, is “motherhood” as “a woman’s gospel-centered life” and “priesthood” as “a man’s gospel-centered life.” The only conclusion one can reach, then, is that gospel-centered lives of both men and women build the kingdom and bring them to Christ: indisputable, yes, but not very useful in understanding how and why, because the diffuseness of the categories “motherhood” and “priesthood” doesn’t allow one to consider the variables independently.