Rosalynde here expresses some of the concerns that I have about the methodology of the Wear Pants and GC Prayer efforts. I want to add a few more thoughts:
(1) When President Hinckley was interviewed by Larry King, a caller asked this question: ”Since we’re getting into the 21st century, President Hinckley, what is the chance that women may hold a priesthood in the Mormon church?” Here is his response:
Well, they don’t hold the priesthood at the present time. It would take another revelation to bring that about. I don’t anticipate it. The women of the church are not complaining about it. They have their own organization, a very strong organization, 4 million plus members. I don’t know of another women’s organization in the world which does so much for women as does that, as this church has. They’re happy. They sit on boards and governance in the church. I don’t hear any complaints about it.
This leads to the following questions for me:
(a) On the idea that LDS women aren’t complaining: Was this a throw-away line? An off-the-cuff remark? Or should it be read as a more serious, intentional statement? (Note that he does repeat the idea.)
(b) Was Pres. Hinckley saying that women should complain about not holding the priesthood if they don’t like the status quo? Was the reason that he didn’t anticipate a revelation on the topic the fact that everyone seems pretty content with the situation, but if they were not content, then there might be a revelation? (Note here that virtually every major revelation in LDS Church history has come about because someone had a question or a problem.)
(c) What kinds of “complaints” do you think Pres. Hinckley was talking about here? Assuming that there is such a thing as appropriate complaining, what would it look like?
(d) The book American Grace (which you should definitely read, if you haven’t already) reports that about 90% of Mormon women were opposed to the idea of Mormon women priesthood holders, but only 52% of Mormon men were. How does this data relate to President Hinckley’s statement? What to make of the 10% of Mormon women he either doesn’t know about or recognize here? And, perhaps more interestingly, what to make of the nearly half of Mormon men who, while perhaps not “complaining,” would prefer the end of the gender ban?
Those of you who know that I am a feminist may think that these are fake questions designed to generate a pre-determined answer. I promise you they are not. I am genuinely not sure what the best answers are here. I had been under the impression that this was the best way to protest, but President Hinckley’s words have made me wonder if I have been too limiting.
(2) Despite the cross-sniping on the pants and prayer issues, I am extremely thrilled that the Church is moving in a direction that I, as a feminist, applaud. The introduction of the new YW curriculum combined with the lowered age for female missionaries will, I am quite certain, spark a change in the rising generation that will dwarf the wildest dreams of the pants-and-prayers protesters. I don’t think any of us can fully anticipate how different the church will look in a generation or two when the church is peopled and led by a cohort where men and women were equally likely to have served missions and where the more feminist-oriented girls were not chased out of the church by Sunday lessons about the (hideous AND unscriptural) concept of being a “helpmate.” (Compare a similar lesson from the new curriculum here. It is much, much different.)
(3) Nuance is difficult in the best of circumstances; in the quick-comment world of blogging and the deeply divisive issue of women in the church, it may be a lost cause. But, for what it is worth, here is my take: I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of wearing pants to sacrament meeting or writing letters asking for a woman to pray in GC. While I’m happy to see both of those things happen, I don’t support the “public protest” approach. But I was drawn, like a dog to its vomit, to the lengthy comments both of these protests drew–comments on the usual Mormon blogs, as well as the Facebook groups, and other places. And the comments just stunned me. Just completely knocked me flat. (Some samples here.) And while I can think of plenty of reasons to disagree with the pants and the praying, the violent comments and the “you are on Satan’s side” comments and the “you should leave the church” comments were stunning to me. I realize that the Internet brings out the worst in people, but Facebook is not anonymous and I just can’t wrap my head around the idea of any one encouraging anyone else to leave the church, especially over these relatively minor disagreements. Not to mention the threats of violence. All of this is a long way of saying that (1) there aren’t two sides to this issue–there are multiple sides and (2) we are being given an opportunity to practice Christian charity here, and many of us are failing.
(4) But back to the protest angle. I don’t like All Enlisted’s approach. I think it will ultimately do more harm than good, as it divides the church unnecessarily and causes leaders to dig in their heels so an not to be seen responding to public pressure instead of revelation. I concede that I may be wrong about this, however. The church has shown an incredible sensitivity to public perceptions recently, and they may be willing to respond to embarrassing articles in the mainstream press in a way that they aren’t to reasoned academic writing or slap-dash blog posts making the very same arguments. And maybe it would be wrong for our leaders to ignore the protests just because they are protests. I have no idea.
(5) I keep coming back to the story of Zelophehad’s daughters. These girls were not content with part of the law of Moses. (They were clearly against the clearly written law of the Lord. There was no wiggle room here. The Lord had spoken, and they disagreed.) They went to Moses and stated their case. (They did not round up others to join their complaint. They did not publicize their reasons for disagreeing with the law. They did not speak against Moses, but to Moses.) He said he’d pray about it. (He did not worry about seeming to bow to public pressure. He did not say that the Lord had already spoken and that was that. He did not criticize them for not believing the prophet. He did not say that they were steadying the ark. He did not accuse them of taking Satan’s side or lacking faith or not understanding their divine roles or seeking to pursue their so-called rights.) Moses received a new revelation and the girls got what they wanted. (Revelation is real. And it changes. And sometimes, groups of women outside of the governing structure instigate the change.)