Damnable Defaults

May 26, 2013 | 71 comments
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A great deal of the discussion on women in the priesthood that I see happening right now[1] concerns our efforts to control and propagate various narratives. Personally, I find our current default narratives even more upsetting than our current practices.

Based on my experience in the church and discussion with others about this issue, here are four familiar ways[2] in which we try to reconcile (and console) ourselves concerning our current practice of denying ordination to all of our members:

  1. We blame God. God wants it this way and is the ultimate cause for why it is this way.
  2. We blame reality. This option is often used to prop up #1 (sometimes as a means to exculpate God). We offer various vague metaphysical speculations concerning the nature of women and men and the priesthood: like the fact of uncreated intelligence, it simply is and must be this way.
  3. We blame ourselves. We’re not yet ready for it. Or we (i.e., women) don’t want it. We haven’t yet sufficiently sought after this blessing. We haven’t matured or become sanctified to the point that we can receive this blessing. We look forward to the day that it can come.
  4. We blame our predecessors. Joseph Smith tried to institute an egalitarian priesthood, but chained in the shackles of a deeply sexist 19th century culture our predecessors couldn’t accept it. Declaring to God that we had enough, God responded by gradually allowing even those priesthood privileges that women in the church enjoyed in former times to wither.

Whichever of these is right (or even if they are all wrong together), the narrative that we choose reveals a great deal about us.

More than anything I want to simply point out that what we choose IS a choice. We can’t avoid the personal moral wounds our current practices inflict on us. We have no official explanation. And so we’re left to self-medicate by choosing our narrative.

I think that some combination of choices 1 and 2 are our default position. That is, I believe these are the choices that it is easiest to get away with in our present culture and the ones that we most often hear in our public discourse.[3] If this is right, then the choice that we have collectively made and support strikes me as more problematic than our policies banning women from both priesthood and the ruling councils of the church. It manifests not only a fantastic lack of creativity, but also a deeply ugly vision of God and the universe. They are also an abnegation our own agency and responsibility in a way that #3 & 4 are not.

Choice on this matter doesn’t have to be merely self-medication. We fought a war in heaven over choice. Choice can and should be exalting. Choice can facilitate or serve as an impediment to faith. Why on earth would we want our default to be one that cosmologically constrains men and women, forcing them to simply cope with injustice? We need to use our agency to inspire rather than undermine faith.

One more default that I want to draw attention to. Particularly in the current climate where conversations about women and the priesthood are common, we struggle over the narrative for why women might want the priesthood. I think that once again we have a revealing default: that women are “aspiring” in the pejorative sense of that term. They are un-virtuously ambitious and disciples of Uzzah, trying to steady the ark.

But we have another powerful and ennobling narrative that ought to have at least as much purchase in our culture for explaining this situation. We can champion the narrative of Abraham. Namely, that “there [is] greater happiness and peace and rest for [us],” that we all can seek for our Sisters to obtain “the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto [they] should be ordained to administer the same,” for our Sisters to “bec[o]me . . . rightful heir[s] . . . High Priest[esses], holding the right belonging to the fathers.” Women who seek after the priesthood are as Abraham, they are “follower[s] of righteousness, desiring also to be [those] who possess great knowledge, and to be . . . greater follower[s] of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be . . . [mothers] of many nations.” This narrative exalts women and places their righteous desires after greater blessings in the context of inheriting their divine birthright. It is the more, not the less righteous option available to them, an inspired desire to seek after greater privileges, greater opportunities to serve, greater opportunities to unite the human family in the exalting covenants of God.

As far as we know, the priesthood is such that one day, our daughters will be able to nobly rise up and seek after the privilege of their Mothers.

The reality is, our current denial of priesthood to women is a form of violence. While this claim obviously says something about my personal feelings on the matter, it is meant here simply as a description. I think everyone in my Elders Quorum two weeks ago poignantly felt the uncomfortable weight of this burden when one of our newer members naively asked about whether we can be sealed to a second spouse when the first has died. The way in which we squirmed together highlights the fact that the violence being done here is not simply violence against women.[4]

I find the most (though certainly not the only) problematic aspect of the way in which the priesthood currently operates is its intertwining with church governance. That’s where the most conspicuous violence comes in. Rather than functioning merely as a means to conduct authorized and transcendently efficacious rituals, we talk about priesthood as being the means by which God and God’s elect govern God’s Kingdom. What’s more, we place tremendous stock in Mormonism as a way of life, as the animating cultural force of a contemporary, globalized people. We then deny almost two thirds of our population even potential full enfranchisement in the church hierarchy—at the local, regional, and general levels. Not only do we deny them full participation in our community and it’s trajectory, we also deny ourselves the ability to give full credence and consideration to those issues for which women are more acute observers. We continue to do this long after the social context in which the church is inevitably imbedded has recognized the pernicious nature of gendered apartheid.[5] Additionally, it flies in the face of many of our cherished doctrines and personal practices. Our exclusions of women are something that deeply and inescapably affects us all in a morally violent way.[6]

Just as significantly, we all flounder on the doldrums created by our bedrock belief in contemporary revelation and the vertiginous disorientation that comes in the complete absence of any official statement, scripture, or doctrine that can shed the light of understanding on our current practices. Consequently, we’re all left to struggle on our own to try and reconcile or meaningfully grasp why things are as they are.

Whichever way things ultimately go in official church practice, I hope that as a people we change and elect the noble rather than the damnable defaults.


[1] And I see it everywhere – not just the bloggernacle, but General Conference, my EQ meetings, discussions with family and friends, news media. Someone from church specifically solicited my opinion on the matter just this morning. This post is lifted from that conversation.

[2] Obviously there are more possibilities than these. In particular, this moral violence is irreconcilable for many who leave our ranks.

[3] That said, I’m far less convinced that #1 & 2 are actually believed by a majority of us.

[4] I don’t mean to imply that the burden is symmetrically shared.

[5] Obviously societies the world over – including our egalitarian democracies – continue to struggle with serious women’s issues. The ascendant value systems, however, have long since condemned blatant, gendered discrimination.

[6] This is true even (perhaps especially) for those who use the church to justify and revel in their sexist attitudes; facilitating self-destructive attitudes is still a form of violence.

71 Responses to Damnable Defaults

  1. Sarah Familia on May 26, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    I love that you brought in the narrative from Abraham 1. I had not thought of that in conjunction with female ordination, but it works perfectly, and it’s such a beautiful passage. Brilliant.

  2. Lorian on May 26, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks for calling out the excuses so often offered as “reasons.”

  3. Alison Moore Smith on May 26, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    James, I have no words. (!) The third to last paragraph was particularly wondrous. Thank you.

  4. ji on May 26, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    People have chosen to be offended since the beginning of man — and people turned away even when the Savior himself taught hard doctrine (see John ch. 6). But there is a higher principle, highlighted in John 6:66-69. I hope anyone who is offended by anything relating to the Gospel of Jesus Christ will read John 6:66-69. For me, it helps me keep things in balance and perspective.

    You’re right that the narratives used as reasons can be harmful — maybe we would be better off without the explanatory narratives, and just accept the facts.

  5. GMR on May 26, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    James, here’s what an apostle said barely a month ago:

    “In our Heavenly Father’s great priesthood-endowed plan, men have the unique responsibility to administer the priesthood, but they are not the priesthood. Men and women have different but equally valued roles.”

    You insist that there is NO doctrine and NO official statement, but here’s a recent statement, made over the pulpit in General Conference, with the presiding High Priest of the Church sitting ten feet away, by someone Mormons sustain as a prophet, seer, and revelator.

    So what narrative are you trying to tell yourself about the prophets and apostles?

    1. You know the will of God, but they don’t.
    2. The apostles don’t lead the church by revelation, at least when it comes to the restored priesthood.
    3. The apostles are deceived by their culture and can’t hear God’s voice.
    4. 35 years after Sonia Johnson, and in the same conference that a woman offered a prayer in response to feminist protests, the apostles just never bothered asking God about ordaining women.

    Maybe like others at this site have done, you’ll just call M. Russell Ballard dumb for saying men and are different.

    Instead of hiding behind a collective “we all,” you should take responsibility for the narrative YOU are creating about the Church leaders. Which one of the four options do YOU pick? Your repeated claim that there are no official teachings in this area doesn’t pass the laugh test. Read the Ensign. It’s free online.

  6. Cameron N on May 26, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    I appreciate the overall tone and framing of this editorial. However, I find use of the word ‘violence’ particularly ridiculous.

  7. Riley on May 26, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    Cameron, I noticed that too.

    I am interested to see what the responses to GMR’s question. Though I found his/her tone more aggressive and distasteful than James’ (capitalizing and isolating James from his imposed nosistic collective), to me GMR just dropped the pretense in his/her authoritative response. Hopefully the same charity will be applied to his indignation as people give to James’ nosism. Both think they are right and provide very important questions.

  8. Unknown on May 26, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    The idea the we “blame God” suggests that we think that we or God did something wrong and needs to be “blamed.”. Many of us believe, however, that if it is – and has been – God’s will then it is not wrong, and thus there is no need to blame him. You may not believe in this position, but please try not to disparage almost 200 years worth of members with such negative tripe as this.

  9. Mtnmarty on May 26, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    I’m a bit confused between our choice of narrative and our choice of behavior.

    Is James saying that people who believe it is an injustice to not ordain women should just go ahead and ordain women? If so, then, of course, the narrative for those that can perform ordinations is that they are to blame. If he is not saying that, then there seems to be 2 choices: the leaders or God. However, if he believes in a just God and that not ordaining women is an injustice, then it can’t be God, it must be the leaders. If its the leaders then one must make take a moral stance in respect to the leadership.

    To make the analogy with civil rights in the USA, it would seem odd in pre-emancipation USA to write that one is concerned with the narrative about why slavery is wrong but make no recommendation about what to do about that wrong.

    Who is the “we” he is referring to? Everyone? Church members? Current priesthood holders? Church leaders?

    So, here is a more direct question. Is it wrong to sustain leaders in the church who do not think that not ordaining women to the priesthood is bad thing?

    I’m asking because I have never thought of myself as having any moral stake in the matter and I want to know what choice he is recommending I make to avoid committing an injustice with respect to women and the priesthood.

    Otherwise, it seems he is crying wolf or fire in a theater or some other less than useful speech act.

  10. Brian on May 26, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    Blame and violence are loaded words, and I believe they serve only to distract from the rest of the OP. That’s just bad arguing, not necessarily a bad argument. The author should make clear why s/he believes the narrative an individual believes is a choice. I do not think beliefs are necessarily the result of choices, and though some probably are it is not at all clear to me why this would be one.

  11. Naismith on May 26, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    My non-LDS friends are confused at discussion of LDS women’s ordination. They thought that we were ordained, since we pray and speak in meetings, serve missions, etc. Not to mention perform temple ordinances. This ability of LDS women to do things that would require ordination in other religious traditions makes the issue surrounding women rather less black-and-white than it might be.

    Yes, I agree with the basic point of the post that our assumptions and language reveal a lot. And this essay is full of language that sets a certain agenda. “Denial of priesthood” is absolutely loaded in one direction. It isn’t the only way to look at a given set of facts.

    And “….greater privileges, greater opportunities to serve, greater opportunities”? Well, it’s clear that the author views male stuff as superior to what women do. Whereas I wonder if a women might be giving up even greater opportunities if she settles for mere priesthood. (Just because men have done something does not make it greater.) If the only way that men will respect women is if those women do the same things that men do, then it seems like not much of a victory. I want to see a breastfeeding mom accorded the same respect as an investment banker, not merely laud female investment bankers.

    I have little tolerance for sexism. But I don’t think women’s ordination is a panacea, either. I don’t think that my viewpoint quite rises to the level of “moral violence.”

    If I am skeptical, it is because I live in a predominately non-LDS area and navigate every day through waters in which male things are normative, traditionally female contributions viewed as less. I joined the church in the 1970s because of the emphasis on equal partnership in marriage and respect for women’s contributions. I would be sad if the church gave up that uniqueness for the same-old same-old that I have to wade through every day. I do not believe my life would be better–and I have tried it the other way.

    I totally agree that women need to be involved in church administration, but that has been my experience. I used to get a bit upset when my bishop would ask my opinion in ward council. I was there as newsletter editor, and coming from a journalism background, I wanted to be a neutral observer. But he did not waste talent, and if I was in the council, he was going to use my opinion on this or that. I am not saying that it never happens that men are dictatorial in church leadership, but not everyone with a penis is in the bishopric, so it is a challenge for those not currently serving in leadership of any gender.

    And mostly, I do not need a man to tell me what to think.

  12. Adam G. on May 26, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Saying that each narrative is a question of ‘blame’ is question-begging, and untrue to where most faithful members are coming from.

  13. Mtnmarty on May 26, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    The OP contains this sentence. “We continue to do this long after the social context in which the church is inevitably imbedded has recognized the pernicious nature of gendered apartheid.”

    This description of social change calls to my mind Willie Stark’s words on morals and the modification of morals over time from All the King’s Men:

    “When your great-great-grandpappy climbed down out of the tree, he didn’t have any more notion of good or bad, or right or wrong, than the hoot owl that stayed up in the tree. Well, he climbed down and he began to make Good up as he went along. He made up what he needed to do business, Doc. And what he made up and got everybody to mirate on as good and right was always just a couple of jumps behind what he needed to do business on. That’s why things change, Doc. Because what folks claim is right is always just a couple of jumps short of what they need to do business. Now an individual, one fellow, he will stop doing business because he’s got a notion of what is right, and he is a hero. But folks in general, which is society, Doc, is never going to stop doing business. Society is just going to cook up a new notion of what is right. Society is sure not ever going to commit suicide. At least, not that way and of a purpose.”

    Now what I don’t know is whether gendered apartheid is what needs to be gotten rid of so we can do business, or whether gendered apartheid is what we need to have in order to do business but it does seem either equality gets a reversal in the long pendulum swing of human rights or else gender relations is in for some modification.

    My money is on gender relations doing some changing because equality is on a pretty big win streak. However, history does show that equality is an option but reproductive gender relations are essential in human life.

  14. Mtnmarty on May 26, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Adam G.,

    If you replace blame with “reference non-human agents” in 1 and 2 and “reference human agents” in 3 and 4, does is preserve his meaning and is it still question begging and/or untrue to where most faithful members are coming from?

    His numbers 1 to 4 seem to me to fall roughly in order of decreasing importance of authoritarian orthodoxy to a person’s outlook.

    Am I wrong to interpret your response as “we faithful members are firmly in the 1 and 2 camp” and asking us to change is asking us to be unfaithful?

  15. wreddyornot on May 26, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    In the restoration narrative Joseph went to God with an assumption that proved wrong. So James Olsen analyzes some assumptions among us too. I see nothing wrong with going to God or to men we recognize as His agents on earth with suppositions, right or wrong, seeking understanding. When one’s conscience feels pricked by disfavors one sees as done to such a large number among us there’s no reason not to ask questions which seek answers, is there? What do we fear?

    Re

    “In our Heavenly Father’s great priesthood-endowed plan, men have the unique responsibility to administer the priesthood, but they are not the priesthood. Men and women have different but equally valued roles.”

    I don’t think many believers see such pronouncements as doctrinal, do they? We give it weight because of its context and seek to understand it and have it confirmed, right? But even if some do accept blindly, skipping the requirements placed upon the individual, there is nothing wrong with anyone asking questions along the way or even at the end of the process about the why, the wherefore, the how, the what, etc., is there?

  16. Cameron N on May 26, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    Not sure about Adam, Marty, but I think I have a similar perspective.

    James says, “Personally, I find our current default narratives even more upsetting than our current practices.” I think most members are more concerned about practices and their fruits than narratives. The gospel, in practice in a ward, according to the Spirit, is a deeply rewarding, enriching, and inspiring practice, so much so, that such narratives, however flawed they may be, are a convenient way to dismiss things that seem irrelevant based on (better) fruits of Zion communities within the status quo. Age, gender, and whether or not a responsibility is administrative or more personal and intimate are all irrelevant as people edify each other, bear each others burdens, and rejoice. I know that I really find it difficult to overcome my contentment and gratitude, and delve too deeply into speculative causes whose worth I am not sure of. Too busy trying to live the gospel and raise a family

  17. James Olsen on May 26, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    Thank you for your responses and I apologize for the delay in getting back to you. Time zones on the opposite side of the world will do that.

    Jl: John 6:66-69 is a great passage, one that has meant a great deal to me personally. Thank you for sharing it.

    GMR: I’m not sure how the passage you quote can be construed as an explanation rather than a statement of what is the case. To try and make this clear, it’s very easy to imagine Elder Nelson saying, “In our Heavenly Father’s great priesthood-endowed plan, Levites had the unique responsibility to administer the priesthood, but they were not the priesthood. Levites and men from other tribes had different but equally valued roles.” This statement appears to me to be perfectly accurate. It also says absolutely nothing about why the situation was that way. Other scriptures, however, reveal that the creation and operation of the Aaronic Priesthood during that dispensation was not God’s ideal or first choice. Consequently if I had been living as a Levite at that time and sputtered in bafflement whenever a non-Levite asked about other tribes getting the priesthood, claiming that obviously God or the universe had ordained that things only operate in this way, I would be wrong. I would be electing a false narrative to explain the situation.

    My post, however, was not about false versus true narratives – rather it was to point out that our narratives reveal something important about our vision of things, and my attempt to persuade others that there are better and worse narratives without the actual facts on the ground changing.

    This post was emphatically not about my narrative concerning how and when and to what extent the General Authorities receive revelation. I have no desire to get into that. But I’ll at least pick up your “orthodox” white gauntlet and say that I certainly hope I would not have run away from prophets, seers and revelators like Isaiah and Jeremiah simply because the Priesthood in their day operated in an obviously less-than-ideal, apartheid manner.

    And if anyone on this site called Elder Nelson dumb for his comments, they’re in direct violation of our comment policy, and I humbly call upon them to repent (or simply delete their comment).

    Cameron N (& Brian): I’m sorry it struck you as ridiculous. I used the term simply because I do not think there is another term to describe the deeply rooted moral wounds we all experience (and which I tried above to explain). As a culture we do not reserve the word violence merely for physical wounds – it’s apt for much more than this, and I find it not simply a loaded, shocking word to use, but in fact accurate. But perhaps you can convince me that there’s a better term. Your declaration that the word is ridiculous, however, makes it sound like you’ve been living in a monastery for the past few decades.

    Unknown (#8 & Brian): I assure you I was not trying to disparage 200+ years of faithful people. They are MY people after all and I feel rather, well, eternally sealed to them. Yes blame is loaded, but it’s also accurate and helps to get at a very important feature of the situation that I think we need to take note of. This is how we attribute (and sometimes run away from) responsibility in this situation. I assume that one important reason why #1 is consoling to people is precisely what you bring out: no one thinks of God as doing things “wrong.” Consequently, if we can blame God for a given state of affairs, then it must be alright, even if our current experience and perspective tells us it’s incredibly wrong. People do the same thing when it comes to the horrific evil and violence (in all senses of the word) that take place throughout the world – it’s all by the grace of God.

    Mtnmarty: The only actions my post considers is the action related to choosing our narratives. This isn’t to deny that there are subsidiary choices that naturally follow (e.g., if I decide to go with #3 instead of #1, depending on how I understand things, it might be natural to also pray for women to receive the priesthood).

    My claim is not that there are some people who experience the denial of priesthood to women as an injustice, but rather that we all do (see fn 8). I certainly do not advocate maverick ordinations. Since doing so would (as I see it) automatically remove one from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I can’t see how that could be a solution to a problem in the Church.

    I think your vision of two options – take a stand against God or against our church leaders – is sadly, exactly the way that many people experience this problem. As already noted, it is not the way I see it; there are certainly other alternatives for how to both understand and act on the situation.

    Ok, sorting through your negatives, I think you’re asking: Do I believe we can sustain our leaders even if those leaders believe that women ought to be denied the priesthood? Yes. See above (response to GMR).

    I use “we” because none of us can escape either the situation or the narratives that are currently being battled over. As is clear, I don’t like the damnable defaults. But I also can’t escape them. My identity and religious experience is completely intertwined with the Mormon people – which is something that I joyfully reaffirm on a regular basis. Consequently, I can’t escape the negative defaults. They affect me just as the situation of not allowing women in our highest councils affects me – even though I’m also not in those councils.

    Brian: I tried to make it clear in the post why I think it’s a choice. Since this is the key claim I’m trying to highlight here, however, I’m happy to try and re-articulate my argument.
    1. Denying women both priesthood and full enfranchisement is completely conspicuous today. While one might conceivably still have their head buried in the sand, we’re getting to the point that such is a reaction rather than incidental to the situation.
    2. There are no official explanations as to why.
    3. There are at least the four (or five) alternative narratives currently being battled over in public space.
    4. Even if one is unaware of the alternatives, one is still capable of imagining various alternatives. Not doing so, particularly in the face of a highly conflicted situation (like that described in the penultimate paragraph), is either a sign of a genuine handicap or else an action for which we are responsible.
    5. Therefore, which alternative we elect is a choice.

    Naismith: “denying women the priesthood” is no more loaded in the absence of an official explanation than “women can’t hold the priesthood” is. Both are technically accurate. Continuing on with the theme of the post, I’ll agree with you that how we talk about it makes a huge difference and reveals a lot – especially (again) in the absence of official explanations.

    No, I do not feel that “male stuff” is more important than “female stuff.” Rather, I find Abraham’s example exalting and have no reason to think that it would only be exalting for men.

    I’m very much on board with this: “ I want to see a breastfeeding mom accorded the same respect as an investment banker, not merely laud female investment bankers.”

    “I don’t think women’s ordination is a panacea.” Again, I agree. For example, I’m making far more out of women’s being denied full enfranchisement here than I am their not being ordained.

    “I do not need a man to tell me what to think.” Another point on which we agree. I do hope, however, that you’re willing to partner with men. Including on feminist issues.

    Adam G.: Obviously we disagree. On both accounts.

  18. Cameron N on May 26, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    In short, most members likely don’t even go down the blaming path. It is likely quite rare that they would when talks from last month (Elder Ballard – ‘This is My Work and Glory’ and President Dalton ‘We Are Daughters of Our Heavenly Father’) very kindly and gently reiterate existing practice.

  19. ON "VIOLENCE" AND NOT KNOWING on May 26, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    The use of the word “violence” in the context of the OP confuses me, especially as the presentation of the paragraph, even upon a second reading, seems to use the word in a literal sense rather than metaphorically. Perhaps I speak from a place of ignorance, but I have found my own wrestling and searching for answers to various gospel questions more a faith-promoting endeavor – even when left without answers or feeling uncomfortable – than an exercise in which the absence of answers or unofficial narratives assault me.

    In relation to those many questions, the topic of women and the Priesthood is certainly one that I study, pray, and ponder about. However, when asked to comment or to teach, I have never felt a temptation to fall into one of the narrative or “reconciliation” categories the author presents. Rather, my response to the question – at least from my limited, and perhaps ignorant standing – is that we don’t know for sure.

    That answer doesn’t provide the comfort and knowledge and truth, etc., that many of us are looking for in relation to this topic. However, it also does not paint me or the gospel into a corner, and I certainly would be saddened if by acknowledging facts and separating knowledge from speculative narratives in saying “We don’t know for sure right now,” I were to be thought of as doing violence to women, or to new members, or to my ward family, etc.

    Could you expound some on how you contextualize “violence” and also on how answering questions without answers by acknowledging a lack of answers fits into your theme of “damnable defaults?”

  20. Cameron N on May 26, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    James,I defer to you and the other, more literate and educated contributers on the bloggernacle for usage of violence, although I might submit that it’s common use is exclusively tangible phsyical harm.

  21. Cameron N on May 27, 2013 at 12:00 am

    I can definitely agree with you that extrapolations are bad, unhealthy, and spiritually damaging, and that the church as a whole is likely a bit too complacent and lazy in terms of seeking greater light and knowledge and having a lifestyle worthing of obtaining such.

  22. James Olsen on May 27, 2013 at 12:19 am

    Cameron N: I suppose I should take your comment #16 as a compliment. My post was so incredibly attractive that it was able to seduce you away from your family and gospel living in order to wallow in the mire of pure speculation for a few brief moments. Given your frequency at T&S, however, I’m guessing that you only speak in jest.

    That said, I don’t particularly disagree too much with the substantive side of your comment (other than your use of the word ‘irrelevant’ – I whole-ly disagree with that part). I’m a card-carrying pragmatist and many of my posts here have referenced and lauded Mormonism’s orthopraxic emphasis. Our narratives, however, are very much a pragmatic thing. One need only glance at the vitriol that the pants campaign brought out to recognize that our narratives on such things as why women seek greater equality matter. Hugely.

    In fact, the reason why I’m more bothered by the narratives than the current practices is because I (like you) find the church, even without any change in its practices, tremendously rewarding (I wouldn’t be here if I felt otherwise). I think one of the foundational (pragmatic) messages of the restoration, however, is that we continually seek after greater light and truth, and I’m obviously not content with where we’re at on women’s issues. That’s obviously not to deny the spiritually rewarding aspects of the church. Nevertheless, we seriously muddy those waters with our damnable narratives.

  23. James Olsen on May 27, 2013 at 12:26 am

    ji & #19: You’re certainly right that another alternative is to simply say, “We don’t know.” Not choosing 1-4 is certainly a viable and legitimate option #5 and one that some of us currently elect. I also think it possible (though far from guaranteed) for one to choose this option without abnegating their agency and responsibility.

  24. ON "VIOLENCE" AND NOT KNOWING on May 27, 2013 at 12:54 am

    #23,
    To clarify your last sentence:

    If someone does as I propose in #19, namely addressing the facts through significant study, pondering, and prayer, and then saying we still don’t currently know the answers to this – or any other gospel question – how could one follow this path by exercising their agency as directed by revelation for receiving revelation, while also adhering to counsel to not teach for doctrine that which has not been revealed – and even be in the ballpark of abnegating agency or responsibility?

    If saying we don’t know is someone’s excuse for not asking questions, not studying, not praying, etc., I would still be perplexed as agency would be exercised to excuse yourself from working towards answers, and our responsibility for presenting/creating/discussing a narrative for a question where there has been no or insufficient revelation is questionable as a universal assumption.

    Whether someone responsibly exercises agency and fulfills responsibilities as I provided as an example in #19, or whether someone irresponsibly exercises agency to not study, ponder, and pray – regardless of whether it would actually be a responsibility depending on the question – your response seems to indicate you feel that in regards to this particular issue, if one learns by study and faith but does not choose one of these categories and instead acknowledges the lack of a revealed answer, there is actually potential for a moral injustice stemming from seeking revelation using revealed principles.

    Am I understanding you right or far off-base?

    And if I do understand you correctly, how is one to determine which issues without revealed answers we must try and create answers for?

  25. Cameron N on May 27, 2013 at 12:54 am

    I appreciate your insights and suggestions James. Sorry for all the double posts. Usually I post in OSX, and Windows handles paragraph spacing differently…I definitely think it is healthy for us to question many assumptions we make, even ones we likely would not question. Incorrect assumptions are at the root of nearly all lost or dormant testimonies. I don’t think there is anything for us to lose in seeking greater light and knowledge on women’s respect and inclusion in official church organisation, although I do think an appropriate allocation of energy and time to that end should be carefully balanced vis-a-vis our actual lives. As you correctly pointed out, I do spend a nice chunk of time here, and even that might be too much for me, given my more pressing opportunities for self-improvement. I’ll stop spamming your thread now!

  26. Mtnmarty on May 27, 2013 at 12:57 am

    James O.,

    I don’t want to violate the letter or spirit of the comment policy, so consider this hypothetical.

    Isn’t sustaining an organization that systematically perpetrates unjust violence a moral evil of the highest order?

    i don’t agree at all that ordaining a woman would automatically be to leave the church. How can you believe that without resorting to a narrative that God is to blame. Wouldn’t it require an excommunication and wouldn’t people have to take action to perform that excommunication and isn’t it possible that they would receive revelation not to?

    I just can’t believe a person can take this as violence and be only concerned with narratives. it’s horrific.

  27. Dave on May 27, 2013 at 2:04 am

    The OP helps us reflect a bit on what sort of justifications we offer for our doctrines, in this case limiting priesthood to men. Alas, our track record on such justifications is not so good. But they still circulate, even after their utility (which is strangely uncorrelated to their validity) has passed, as with the variety of justifications offered for the earlier priesthood ban. Are any of us capable of eschewing such attempts? Can we really embrace a Know Nothing approach to our doctrines? If not, we need to upgrade our theology to produce better official justifications. There is plenty of money in the pot. They just need to redeploy some of it away from buildings and bureaucrats toward building theological infrastructure within the Church. It is a void that desperately needs to be filled.

  28. James Olsen on May 27, 2013 at 2:15 am

    #24: Thank you for pressing me on this. I think that sincerely seeking after greater light & knowledge on a perplexing and pragmatically relevant issue of the gospel (or any issues I suppose) is a specific act of agency, and one way to try and take responsibility. As you point out, being dismissive of the issue is also an act of agency, but one that tries to avoid responsibility. Without going back up to re-read, I suspect I spoke loosely and probably confusingly on this – using the two (agency and moral responsibility) as synonyms when they’re not. I think we’re under an obligation as moral agents and as children of God to come to greater understanding – especially on those issues where clear and identifiable harm is involved.

    Likewise, to seek diligently for but not get an answer can become morally irresponsible, if we then become dismissive (e.g., “Well, I guess it’s not important since God didn’t answer me”), especially if we couple that with criticism of others (“O that my poor Sisters could be as enlightened as I and realize that we don’t have an answer and so should be content in our places – me in my place of privilege and they in their lack of privilege”).

    Cameron N: Being candid, I likewise appreciate your participation here and the insights you share. I was quite serious when I claimed that it looks to me like we’re mostly in agreement about the benefits of the church and gospel living. And I’m always happy to have you press me to clarify or reexamine my thinking. You’re always welcome on my threads.

    I will also point out that in my opinion, especially since you’re married, this issue is actually at the forefront for you – whether or not you care about it.

    Mtnmarty: Again, thanks for pressing me on this. First, from the inside: I believe in the Restoration, including a belief in the LDS Church, and also believe in the reality and efficacy of the priesthood. This means for me that I also believe in our doctrine concerning priesthood keys. While I have the priesthood ability to do so, I do not have the keys to authorize ordinations, baptisms, etc. (as opposed to blessings of healing or comfort, which I do have the authority to elect to perform). Consequently if I were to simply up and ordain a women (or a perfectly worthy 18 yr old male in good standing in the church or anyone else), I would be violating the way I think things are meant to work. I think it’s an instance of “Amen to the priesthood of that man,” even if the Church never realized I did it.

    On your second issue: No. With a Joseph Smith-style preface (“no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins”), I’ll confess that I do violence to my children and other loved ones when I yell at them or pridefully bull-dog my way through my various interactions. Not recognizing it as violence is simply not recognizing it as what it is. Despite my doing these sorts of things regularly enough, I don’t think that by remaining a member of our family and even continuing to love and support and cherish their interactions with me my family members are thereby supporting evil of the highest order. If they were to submissively bow their heads and think, “Well, he’s the head of the household and I have no rights to be upset at how he’s treated me,” I think they would in fact be complicit (though not guilty in the same way I am).

    I work for an organization that has unjustly laid people off. Last year there was an entire family that was forced to move from their nice home into a significantly less nice home simply because someone in a position of power within my organization coveted their home. Yes, I think those are examples of moral violence. If I pretended like they were not, then I’d be complicit in a way that I am not when I protest. But I don’t think that the only (or often even the most effective) form of protest is to leave the organization (although obviously, sometimes that is the case). And I also don’t think the Church is just any ol’ organization.

    Two important differences in how we seem to be viewing this: First, as already noted, I think the narratives are not “just narratives.” They have significant, real-world, concrete impacts in our lives and our religious and social experiences. They also manifest a great deal about how we see the world, the ways in which we are or are not undertaking our responsibilities, and the kind of people that we are. Second, it’s not all or nothing. I don’t know if you’re a purist, but your comments in #26 make it sound like you are – either the Church is free of error, or if it systematically causes harm, then it is an evil of the highest order. Yes, I think the Church as organized is causing systematic harm, and that we collectively experience that harm as a form of moral violence. No, I do not think that means the church is an institution of highest evil any more than my family is.

  29. Brian on May 27, 2013 at 6:44 am

    James, thanks for the response. However, it appears to me that you simply hide the issue in your jump from 3 to 4 (I’m referring to the summary you provided). Having options is necessary for a choice to exist, but hardly sufficient. I have tried many types of ice cream, and yet it does not strike me as a choice that vanilla is my favorite and therefore my default. It’s simply the one I find the most compelling. Can you clarify your logic? Or maybe provide a working definition of choice?

  30. Mtnmarty on May 27, 2013 at 9:09 am

    JO,

    I’m starting to understand your position better.

    If you are putting not fully enfranchising women on the level of yelling at one’s kids, I’m not such a purist as to say you need more action.

    However, I am enough of a purist to have you clarify what level of violence we are talking about. yelling at the neighbors kids? Humiliating your kids? An occasional belting? A punch in the face? Systematic torture? is this moral wound like athlete’s foot or gangrenous ?

    Here are a few more probing questions. It would seem to me that a belief in lines of authority and priesthood keys necessarily entails a narrative that places blame upstream. If ones says I need to follow the rules because I’m bound by them then the blame for the behavior passes to those that make the rules.

    Further, I think you considerably underestimate the intentionality behind the church’s rules on gendered roles and differential opportunities. The church preaches , intentionally, that gender differentiation is an inherent part of pre-mortal and mortal existence and a positive good. The proclamation on the family is clear in this regard to me and the most significant declaration of belief in my lifetime about gender.

    Is it being a purist to say that you are a member of a church that believes in strong gender differentiation wholeheartedly and unashamedly? I’m not saying you are wrong about it being a moral evil, that is an open question, but to say its not an intentional is to not face facts.

    One last clarification, I didn’t say the church was evil if it was violent, I said that a person that sustains systematic violence in an organization is committing an evil. The story of history seems to me that these things only change after morally courageous people take a stand.

    I will grant you that changing the narrative is part of that process and I commend you for expressing your belief. it just seems a bit like passing a certain Samaritan on the road and saying “you know if we could just change the narrative about getting robbed someone might help that guy.”

  31. Lorian on May 27, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I find it…not odd, really, but more ironic, perhaps, that so many people seem to be stuck on the use of the word “violence” in the OP. It *is* a form of spiritual and emotional violence when women are systematically excluded from most positions of authority, respect and governance in an organization exclusively based solely upon their sex. It is pathetic to me that so many (men) expend so much time, so many words, so much energy trying to come up with justifications for why this should be so that completely leave out the fact that the people with the most power in this organization (men) prefer to maintain the status quo. I guess it’s much easier to blame it all on God than to take responsibility for one’s own bias.

    But, yeah, guys, it is an action which deeply and truly harms the women whom, I assume, most of you claim to care for deeply — your wives, your daughters, your mothers. Often in ways that they don’t, themselves, fully comprehend.

  32. dannie rueben on May 27, 2013 at 11:26 am

    I was somehow under the impress that in the church the idea was that members with leadership positions are servants of all. I am completely aware that some of those in leadership positions misuse that position and try to be powerful and controlling. however, I have seen that same attitude with both male and female church leaders. But if they are using the council model as outlined the person with the title is not the controlling force just the person with the mike. Authority and respect is not embodied in some title.

  33. Lorian on May 27, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Authority and respect is not embodied in some title.

    Well, let’s say, “not *limited* to some title.” But when access to *all* of the top “title” spots (which there is no denying that *most* authority in the church is held by persons who hold these titles) is completely blocked to *all* of the people of one sex, there’s something wrong.

  34. Leonard R on May 27, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Nothing to add at the moment other than a thanks for the OP and for the great conversation that has followed (James – I’ve rarely seen a better follow-up to a post).

    I guess I will add that I really appreciated the framework that you’ve outlined. Whether one teaches one of the four narratives, I find it hard to believe that one does not work under one of them mentally. While I know many may not think about it deeply (we all have our proverbial day jobs), I find it hard to believe that anyone does not have some degree of a narrative in regards to the male-exclusivity of the priesthood.

    Whether we use the word “denial” or the word “blame”, we are all aware of the gendered nature of our priesthood structure. And we’ve all wondered why. And since this “why?” is something that occurs by human action (unlike say, why is the sky blue or why do things fall down), I think we all form some degree of mental explanation for the status quo. While your post reflects your own biases explicitly, I think it does reflect the implicit biases that we all create as thinking beings.

  35. dannie rueben on May 27, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    A very interesting post or essay could be developed on the subject of authority within the church units. exploring the thought of who really has the authority and addressing the question if it is actually held by the individuals called to titled positions. A clear definite of authority would be necessary before that subject could be developed. My personal experience within the administration of the church indicates that the movers and shakers come without an particular title or calling. However these outstanding strong influential saints may not meet the definition of authority.

  36. Naismith on May 27, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    JO: “denying women the priesthood” is no more loaded in the absence of an official explanation than “women can’t hold the priesthood” is. Both are technically accurate.

    But those aren’t the only possible ways to describe the current situation. How about, “Providing a way for men to serve”? Or “Allowing a unique contribution for men”? I could go on and on with various other descriptions.

    I am sure that I would learn a lot if I had the priesthood and served in that way. I am actually totally neutral on the issue.

    But one reason I am not particularly excited about the prospect is that I wonder, is this what I actually need to learn? I want to be like my Heavenly Mother, not my Heavenly Father. And apparently She is willing to let Him be the more public voice of things.

    Also, when talking about how damaging it is to women, can we please have some consideration for the constant downgrading of women’s current contributions? If we are asking for “greater privileges, greater opportunities to serve, greater opportunities..” then clearly what we have now is LESS. I don’t believe that for a minute, and please stop insulting women!

    What women have is different, not less. It is damnable to be putting women down, and declaring that they will only be “equal” when they have the same roles as men.

  37. Nate Oman on May 27, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    James: Your argument here, it seems to me suffers from three problems:

    First, we are never just making a choice when we tell these sorts of stories. That isn’t how hermeneutics work. People who disagree with you are damnable mora lepers. They are, by and large,people trying to make a good faith effort to understand a difficult question.

    Second, framing the issue this way shows, it seems to me, a distinct lack of charity and imagination in trying to understand others.

    Third, talking about violence in this case is the kind of ideological hyperbole that fires up those that agree with you and suggests to those that don’t a lack of perspective. Battery, mayhem, and rape are examples of violence. A group of male deacons passing the sacrament is not.

  38. Lorian on May 27, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    But those aren’t the only possible ways to describe the current situation. How about, “Providing a way for men to serve”? Or “Allowing a unique contribution for men”? I could go on and on with various other descriptions.

    Naismith, kind of like how Fortune500 companies provide a unique way for men to serve the corporate world here in USA, where men make up 96% of Fortune500 CEO’s? I’m so glad someone has thought of a good way for men to get to serve the greater good. They really need the opportunity!

    If we are asking for “greater privileges, greater opportunities to serve, greater opportunities..” then clearly what we have now is LESS. I don’t believe that for a minute, and please stop insulting women!…What women have is different, not less. It is damnable to be putting women down, and declaring that they will only be “equal” when they have the same roles as men.

    Yeah, I know, the secretaries and gofers in the Fortune500 companies aren’t “less than” their male bosses. I mean, they are *every bit* as necessary to the process. We couldn’t get along without them, right? It’s a good thing so many of these jobs are held by women, because women are so capable, and can recognize their importance as cogs in the big wheel, even if their salaries and bennies are only a minute fraction of those received by their male bosses! But don’t tell them that. We wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings or insult them. Their jobs aren’t “less than,” just “different.” Shhhh…Don’t tell them. We wouldn’t want to destroy their self-esteem. Women don’t make such good decisions, anyway, better to let the men handle the decision-making roles.

  39. Naismith on May 27, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    “Naismith, kind of like how Fortune500 companies provide a unique way for men to serve the corporate world here in USA, where men make up 96% of Fortune500 CEO’s?”

    No, I don’t actually see how that applies. Leadership in the church is servant leadership. A few corporations have applied some principles of servant leadership, but by and large the Forune500 companies are more heirarchical and motivated by profit, including huge bonuses to CEOs.

    But as Christ was the servant to those he led, so too is the model for our leaders. Christ never used his power for his own benefit, only to help others. I remember one ward picnic, at a lake about 45 minutes from our town. When we got there, the women’s restroom was a smelly, gross disaster area. A counselor in the stake presidency and the bishop went to a nearby convenience store, bought supplies at their own expense, and came back and scrubbed the women’s restroom so that it could be used by their sisters and daughters. To me, that incident was emblematic of church leadership.

    “Yeah, I know, the secretaries and gofers in the Fortune500 companies aren’t “less than” their male bosses.”

    Describing women in the church as secretaries and gofers does not seem accurate to me. The church has a great deal of respect for the contributions of mothers and wives–much more than I see in my life outside the church.

    “Women don’t make such good decisions, anyway, better to let the men handle the decision-making roles.”

    I would never say that. Of course women are every bit as capable as men and make decisions all the time. And I’ve been in positions in church when men turned to me to make a decision as I was the one with the stewardship to do so (primary, public affairs…)

  40. James Olsen on May 27, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    Nate Oman:

    First, we are never just making a choice when we tell these sorts of stories. . . . Second, framing the issue this way shows, it seems to me, a distinct lack of charity and imagination in trying to understand others.

    Since these two are related, I’ll treat them together. It’s a smokescreen and mirrors objection, and one that’s at least as guilty of a lack of the principle of charity in reading the OP as you claim the OP is in reading our current culture. Sure, hermeneutics is a complicated and often a partially unreflective and perhaps a mostly collective exercise. As Brian notes, he’s simply got a preference for Vanilla (and flavor preferences are to a significant degree culturally grounded). When he learns that the vanilla trade behind normal vanilla ice cream facilitates child slavery, however, he can’t simply keep buying conventional vanilla ice cream and claim it as mere preference. When child slavery becomes a hot topic on nightly news punctuated with frequent advertisements of fair trade companies, responding with talk of preference or unreflective, inarticulate background hermeneutics is merely an excuse.

    Calling certain of our default interpretations damnable and insisting that we collectively work to change our defaults does not misunderstand hermeneutics. Nor does it exile normal, faithful Mormons who (perhaps thoughtlessly) support these defaults as lepers. (Note: my discussion above was not about trying to understand or characterize the people who elect unsavory interpretations, but rather about what those interpretations reveal, and more importantly, what our defaults reveal about us collectively.) On the other hand, pretending like their agency and choice is not directly involved – that they have no moral obligation to reflectively engage with the alternatives and how we articulate our understanding when large numbers of our members are being harmed – is to infantilize the normal, faithful members you’re trying to defend, and it helps to perpetuate the harms we all suffer.

    Third, talking about violence in this case is the kind of ideological hyperbole that fires up those that agree with you and suggests to those that don’t a lack of perspective.

    On a retrospective, pragmatic basis, I agree that I shouldn’t have used the word violence – not because it isn’t perfectly appropriate to the situation (it is). However, it’s clear that this word has been a significant hang-up for some readers and has distracted from the original post. Since my intention was not to ideologically rally the troops, I would use a different term if I were to rewrite it.

    That said, I doubt your sincerity on this last critique (or at least that you’re given a full account of what you think). You’re perfectly aware of the reality and significance of psychological and moral violence, of the dehabilitating wounds inflicted on individuals. You’re also well informed enough to be aware of the fact that our current means of organizing ourselves and the stories we tell to make sense of this organization collude to cause this sort of suffering.

  41. Mtnmarty on May 28, 2013 at 12:28 am

    James,

    We’ll let’s hear the narrative from your perspective.

    If my narrative is that the church using its resources and political voice to help defeat the Equal Rights Amendment was its finest hour, then you say…

    If I say the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis is wonderful, especially the part about the curses, then you say…

    If I say patriarchy and an exclusively male Priesthood authority are great blessings then you say…

    If I say you use the language of morals in way that challenges traditional religious practices and is highly correlated with a culture of infidelity, rampant sexuality and an increase in atheism, then you say…

    I’m not arguing these points, I just want to hear the new and improved narrative in contrast to the old. All I’m hearing is warmed-over secular feminism with a dash of religious guilt for spice.

    As best I can tell, the narrative is that women don’t have the priesthood because men aren’t thoughtful and articulate enough to create a narrative that gets them the priesthood. Ok, I believe you and will begin talking that narrative. Now, what does that change?

  42. Alison Moore Smith on May 28, 2013 at 12:50 am

    Leadership in the church is servant leadership.

    While I agree with this, Naismith, I think it’s often used to make a point that it really doesn’t.

    Politicians are called “public servants” because their job description is, at it’s core, to take care of public needs.

    As a parent, my job is to take care of and provide for my kids. In fact, I believe that the main reason parents love their kids so much is because they serve them so constantly. (Which, I also think is a model for other parts of our lives — why missionaries tend to love the people they serve, why Relief Society presidents love the women of the ward, etc.)

    To be honest, even as an employer it’s not much different. My job is to keep the company fiscally sound in order to continue to provide jobs and opportunities for our employees.

    Still, whether or not they involved service (used ethically, don’t they all?), positions of leadership are positions of leadership and they carry with them a great deal of privilege. I understand that privilege is balanced by responsibility, but it’s privilege nonetheless.

  43. Naismith on May 28, 2013 at 7:08 am

    “I understand that privilege is balanced by responsibility, but it’s privilege nonetheless.”

    I guess I don’t understand the privilege part. I was a Relief Society president, my husband was a bishop for more than 5 years. We served and sacrificed a lot. I am not sure of the privilege involved? It’s not like he had the power to do whatever he wanted: His decisions were dictated by the stake, found on his knees, or arrived at through a council discussion.

    The sacrifices were huge. It was a major blow to his career and he nearly got downgraded in salary because of his failure to produce on certain parameters. We promised the stake president that we wouldn’t travel too much, so even our international trips had to be done in 12 days, arriving back on Saturday in order to get ready for Sunday.

    In my workplace, anyway, it is very different. I don’t particularly love the people at my workplace; I use them, sometimes treating them as tools to accomplish a project’s goals. I get paid different amounts for different kinds of work: technical writing is a flat hourly fee, while project management involving decisions that commit 10,000s of dollars is charged at a higher rate. Whereas in the gospel, we all get eternal life whether we served as a home teacher or stake president. I get paid much more than most of our employees. I offload jobs that are below my skill level, because it is a waste of my organization’s money to spend my time that way.

    There is actually a body of research on servant leadership, it is not merely two nice words put together. It was hot when I was in grad school in the 80s anyway.

  44. Steve Smith on May 28, 2013 at 8:46 am

    “…our current denial of priesthood to women is a form of violence.”

    Seriously? This statement appears to be based on the assumption that some sort of natural rights of equality vis-a-vis leadership responsibilities apply to women in the LDS church. No. The church is a voluntary organization, and if women feel that doctrinal and policy traditions unfairly discriminate against them (which I certainly believe they do) then they are free to discontinue their activity or lessen their degree of participation.

    Now as for women receiving the priesthood, you certainly have my vote (unfortunately this is not an issue decided on by ballot among active members), but currently it seems that the active members who support women receiving the priesthood are far outnumbered by those who are against it, or at least believe it be a form of treason to agitate for change. And this rhetoric that denying the women priesthood is a form of violence is not helping gain converts to the cause. If you desire to do so, then quit preaching to the choir. You need to develop a more palatable plea that could convert fence-sitters. Good luck with that, though.

  45. Lorian on May 28, 2013 at 9:12 am

    I guess I don’t understand the privilege part.

    One symptom of privilege is often a lack of understanding of how privileged one actually is. While you may be denied levels of privilege in the church due to your sex, and choose to maintain that the avenues which are denied to you are ones of actual privilege, you also seem unaware of the areas in your own life which would appear to the less-advantaged as “privilege.” It makes me question your assessment of what constitutes “privilege” for others when you seem so unaware of your own.

  46. Naismith on May 28, 2013 at 9:51 am

    “One symptom of privilege is often a lack of understanding of how privileged one actually is.”

    Whenever you want to talk about the issues rather than attacking my ignorance, I’d be happy to discuss those issues. This post is about underlying narratives. My underlying narrative is that women are endowed with great power and contribute in significant ways to the building of the gospel on the earth. Yours is?

    “It makes me question your assessment of what constitutes “privilege” for others when you seem so unaware of your own..”

    No, I am not making you do anything. You seem to be looking for one more reason to discount my ignorance.

    FWIW, having been an unwed mother for some years when I first joined the church, I believe that I have some basis for comparison of the “unprivileged” vs. “privileged” lifestyle. Which leads to my skepticism. In both my time as an unwed mother and a relief society president, I had the hope of eternal life and filling my divinely appointed path in life, which gave me great comfort and joy. In both my time as an unwed mother and Relief Society president, I was criticized by other members, sometimes to the point of tears. I had far less free time as a RS prez than as an unwed mother in college fulltime.

  47. Lorian on May 28, 2013 at 11:57 am

    I never suggested that church callings are not time-consuming. Free time and privilege do not necessarily go hand in hand. That doesn’t mean that a privileged position is not privileged. The President of the United States doesn’t typically have a lot of free time on his hands. But I suspect he’d be the first to acknowledge that his position is one of supreme privilege, power, *and* authority over others. Does power come with responsibility? Sure. Does everyone in power exercise that power responsibly? No, of course not. Does the responsible exercise of power mean that the position is not one of power? No, it doesn’t. Is the confinement of that power exclusively to the hands of members of one sex, based solely upon their sex, no matter how righteously and faithfully and responsibly they exercise that power, still an exclusion of the other sex from the authority structure and the ability to exercise that authority for themselves? Yeah, it is, and there really isn’t anything you can say in the attempt to obfuscate that fact which is likely to be convincing, no matter how personally powerful and authoritative you may feel, and no matter how well, how righteously, how self-sacrificingly you believe those in authority exercise their dominion.

  48. Alison Moore Smith on May 28, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    I guess I don’t understand the privilege part. I was a Relief Society president, my husband was a bishop for more than 5 years. We served and sacrificed a lot. I am not sure of the privilege involved?

    When I was the Relief Society president I, likewise, had little free time. Or none at all. It was a 24/7 job. But I was the final authority within the Relief Society itself (with the bishop’s approval “above” Relief Society, of course, sigh). That didn’t mean I was predatory or hateful or manipulative nor that I didn’t at least try to follow the spirit but it still meant I had rights/privilege that other women in the ward did not and that they had to get approval from me for most of what went on. So if something seemed off to ME or something didn’t make sense to ME or something didn’t seem right to ME, I had the ability to ask questions or modify or rework until it seemed appropriate/workable/acceptable/better.

    When my husband was in bishoprics or high councils or quorum presidencies, he had little free time, too. In fact, I can assure you that it took him at least a full year longer to get his PhD because he was serving his second round in a bishopric. Still, he had rights and authority that most people didn’t. He also had the ability to solve problems that most people didn’t and his opinions and ideas were given more weight by most due to his capacity.

    At one time I was the Primary chorister in a particular ward (it is the obligatory callings you must serve in every ward if you are a singer). I spent the entire year teaching the songs that were assigned by the General Primary Board for the Primary Sacrament Meeting program. A member of the Primary presidency who was assigned, wrote the entire program and assigned the parts.

    Two weeks before the program, out of the blue, the bishop of that ward decided to rewrite the program (mostly removing huge chunks of it) and to remove three of the assigned songs. He gave no reasons or explanation.

    I did point out to him that the songs were dictated by general, not chosen by me. I also suggested that if he wanted to micromanage contribute to the program in the future, it would be helpful if he did it in January instead of early October.

    But ultimately he got to decide how it was done, no matter what we thought. And he did. And, for the record, he’s not a pig. He’s a very decent, honorable man. He was simply exercising the prerogative the church structure gives to him. Note that I’m not saying the privilege is wrong, I’m noting that it is real and consequential.

    Currently I’m the RS meeting coordinator (which I call “The Calling Formerly Known as Homemaking Leader”). The committee planned an event for early June in which we would honor the outgoing high school senior girls heading to RS. Last week the second counselor (who works with me) was told that the bishop wanted it changed to a different day. A day by which the senior girls would largely be gone to either college or single’s wards. Also a day when I will be out of town.

    So Sunday the second counselor and I scrambled to gather whatever committee members were in town so we could completely rework the event into something totally different and I scrambled to manage it since I’ll be out of town all next week and again during the event itself.

    Yes, I would have rather those administering and attending the event be given the authority to make such decisions. But we’re not. Yes, autonomy is a responsibility. But making the decisions is also a privilege. Would any of us want to go back to being children in our parents’ homes, just so someone else has to pay the electrical bill? (Yes, I know some who would, also.)

    Naismith, to be honest, if you don’t see the privilege, then I’m not sure any discussion will make any difference. It seems that you’ve reworked the term sufficiently in your understanding that it no longer exists — or that if the rights given under a particular system are balanced by responsibilities or sacrifices, the rights simply don’t matter.

    I fundamentally disagree, but I’m sure I won’t convince you of anything.

    Bishops don’t have any privilege, they have to go do all those meetings! Congregants aren’t denied privilege, they have the right NOT to go to meetings!

    Slaveholders don’t have privilege, because they have to buy the land and keep the books and manage all those slaves! Slaves aren’t disadvantaged because they have all that time to sing spirituals!

    Although our exact lines may be different, there comes a point somewhere on the continuum where the privilege and rights associated with authority have to make a difference to everyone.

  49. Naismith on May 28, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    “Naismith, to be honest, if you don’t see the privilege, then I’m not sure any discussion will make any difference. It seems that you’ve reworked the term sufficiently in your understanding that it no longer exists…”

    Actually, no. I understand the notion of privilege as defined in most dictionaries, which is along the lines of “…a benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most.” I am just not seeing the benefit enjoyed by the bishop. Yes, he got to change the songs or the date. But how did that benefit him? That’s what I am not seeing.

    Since we don’t know why he made those changes, we don’t know if it was through inspiration, dictates of the stake, or what. We don’t know if it cost him angst to have to tell you to change the songs or date or whatever.

    How about “chicken privilege” to describe authority that has no personal benefit?

  50. Alison Moore Smith on May 28, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Like I said, if you define it narrowly as “benefit,” ignore the idea that most people see autonomy and decision making as a benefit, ignore the fact that making decisions to conform with the way you see things or are “inspired” to have them — the feelings and inspiration of others notwithstanding — is a benefit, and then further narrow that to personal benefit that means, I don’t know, some kind of personal goodie one “enjoys,” then there’s not going to be any common ground.

    And, like I said, I see almost nothing that can’t be explained away as having *no real privilege* on that basis.

    Privilege: “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people”

    Certainly church leaders have rights that non church leaders do not. They choose who is called and who is not, they choose how programs are implemented, they choose how policy is implemented, they select those who speak in church, the dictate lesson schedules, they approve or disapprove songs that are sung, they choose activities and dates, they approve or disapprove baptisms, they determine whether or not someone can enter the temple for baptism or endowment or marriage, can take the sacrament, can serve a mission, can perform ordinances, can give prayers in meetings, the choose who has input and who does not, they choose who is heard and who is not, they choose who is disciplined and who is not, they recommend (or do not) people for “higher” positions, they have more direct contact with general leaders, they allocate resources, the offer and approve opportunities, they are given trust and admiration, they are given expert status, they are allowed to have authoritative, binding input into the most personal aspects of people’s lives, they can remove someone from membership in the church.

    The list could go on and on. Suffice it so say that I reject the idea that the only real privilege is one that results in, say, a new persona Jaguar to drive. Which, of course, might have been inspired anyway…so that’s not a big deal either.

    Perhaps the most important aspect of this is that unless the very real privilege of church positions is acknowledged, it will never be managed appropriately.

  51. Dave K on May 28, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    James,

    I am a little late the discussion, but wanted to thank you for a thoughtful post. I have just a few comments.

    1) As for the term “violence”, I can understand how others would view the word as too strong. But it is accurate to describe my experience. In gospel contexts I tend to use the word “damning” because that’s what denial of women’s ordination means for me and my family; it hinders our progress. Excluding my wife and daughters from participating in priesthood ordinances lessens the spirit of those ordinances and inhibits unity. I yearn for the day when my family will be one in those experiences.

    2) For me, excluding women does not make priesthood experiences unique or uplifting. I agree there is value from having some activities gender-specific, but those exceptions should never apply wholesale to prevent a person from pursuing something good. It is one thing to say “this campout is father-son only”; quite another to say “girls never get to camp”.

    3) As for the “privilege” issue, my experience is that any priesthood privelege is vastly outweighed by priesthood burden. That is why many members – particularly sisters – joke about “never wanting to be the bishop”. The better approach is to ask whether female participation in all leadership circles would be a net benefit to the church. In my ward, having women actively participate in ward council makes that council work much better. I therefore believe that other councils that currently exclude one gender (usually women) would work better if all genders were included. This goes for bishoprics, high counsels, disciplinary councils, primary presidencies, sunday school presidencies, the Q12, the first presidency, etc. The possible exception to this rule would be presidencies that oversee only one gender – YW, YM, RS, EQ, etc.

  52. Alison Moore Smith on May 28, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Dave K, I tend to agree with your comment with the exception of #3.

    It the burdens truly do outweigh the “privilege,” then it’s a bad choice. If, as you suggest, female participation in all leadership circles is a net benefit, isn’t it because the privilege/right outweighs the the burden when all is said and done?

    As I said above, I don’t think benefit is only weighed in trophies, medals, or cool material gadgets. In the church it’s weighed in lots of ways, including the knowledge that you are contributing to the community, accepting calls, serving others, making things better, etc. All of these impact the community, but also feed our personal valued and principles.

    Privilege is rarely devoid of responsibility or demands, but if there is no net benefit, there would be no reason to accept it. In fact, we’d be doing harm to the community we claim to serve.

  53. Mtnmarty on May 28, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Are you saying that there aren’t people who make great Bishops who would turn down the calling if it wasn’t a duty because it doesn’t benefit them as much as alternative activities?

    Its a privilege yes, but its also a duty if called. If one had to put one’s name in the hat to be bishop with no obligation to do so, rather than just accept it when called, then it would be a very different set of bishops.

  54. Dave K on May 28, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    Alison, that is a fair response. Perhaps I was misreading the word “privilege”. I understood it to mean, essentially, “getting to make decisions”. If the real meaning was “blessings” or “benefit”, then I agree those *should* exceed the benefit. As you point out, otherwise why do it?

    Going with the latter definition, I would still make the point that the church (local and global) benefits from having both genders in leadership roles regardless of the blessing/burden analysis. I would also argue that the church would greatly benefit in its ability to place appropriate burdens on members if we removed arbitrary gender restrictions from certain callings. And I believe removing these restrictions would open up blessings currently unavailable. Older sisters who are burnt out from primary could enjoy a few years in the clerks office. Young fathers who don’t get to see their kids during the week could escape the clerks office and serve in primary. Win-win.

  55. GMR on May 28, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    James Olsen, here again is what the apostle M. Russell Ballard said in conference in April: “In our Heavenly Father’s great priesthood-endowed plan, men have the unique responsibility to administer the priesthood, but they are not the priesthood. Men and women have different but equally valued roles.”

    And here is what another blogger at this site, Alison Moore Smith, said in March were dumb statements: “If God wants women to have the priesthood, he will say so. Women have motherhood. Priesthood has been and always will be Patriarchal.” Are you going to call Alison Moore Smith to repentance?

    You’re very insistent that everyone constructs a narrative about why women don’t have the priesthood. Why won’t you be clear with yourself about the kind of narrative about the prophets you’re creating by calling the male priesthood damnable?

    It’s true that M. Russell Ballard doesn’t give an ultimate explanation of why things are the way they are. Why does not having an explanation make a difference? If the male priesthood is what the prophet teaches, and has repeatedly taught, what do you need an explanation for? In your answer above, you used the example of the Levites. It’s a good example. Someone in 600 BC who demanded that a member of the tribe of Benjamin be ordained, and who kept carping against God’s ordained priesthood because the revealed order of things was not perfect, would have been a self-righteous heretic. Telling the Israelites that the current order was imperfect wouldn’t have changed the order, and it wouldn’t have sped up the Savior’s mission by a second.

    Will the current revealed order change some day? Sure, why not? That’s what revelation is for. But to imagine that it will change in YOUR way, because YOUR way is obviously better than what the prophet currently teaches, is the height of presumption.

    It’s not the male-only priesthood that is harming your worship or, as Dave K puts it, damning your family. It’s the assumptions that are popular today but are unsupported by revelation. You should learn from the Church, rather than insisting that the Church learn from you.

  56. Brian on May 28, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    James – Again, thanks for the response. However, you misuse my vanilla metaphor. Learning of horrors in the vanilla trade may change my purchasing of vanilla, but it does not alter the fact that it simply tastes better than other flavors (which is, I contend, not a choice). My fundamental complaint with your argument is that it’s premised on people making a choice of what to believe, and I believe that premise to be, at least sometimes and at least in part, faulty. We often have limited and only indirect control over what we find compelling, so condemning people for their beliefs is best left to God. If you think option B is better than option A, then the best pedagogical move is to explain the virtues of option B, which you have not done here.

  57. Mtnmarty on May 28, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Interesting. I’ve always thought our beliefs are one of the few things we do have control over. I think I’ll choose to believe you though.

  58. Brian on May 28, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Mtnmarty, could you choose to sincerely believe the flat-earth hypothesis?

  59. Alison Moore Smith on May 28, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    Mtnmarty #53:

    Are you saying that there aren’t people who make great Bishops who would turn down the calling if it wasn’t a duty because it doesn’t benefit them as much as alternative activities?

    Were you asking me this question, Mtnmarty? I’ll try to respond. If the question wasn’t to me, just ignore!

    I’m trying to work around the negatives in your question to figure out what you’re asking. Are NOT people who WOULD turn down if was NOT duty because does NOT benefit as much? OK, so I’m not sure what you’re asking (or which way you’re asking) so I’ll do my best.

    I’m saying that IF the there is NO NET BENEFIT to serving (all things considered), then one should NOT be serving. (Why would you?)

    You brought up duty as part of it. If you have been asked to serve as a bishop and you do NOT value duty — and see nothing else of value in the calling — you will NOT accept a call. On the other hand, even if there are lots of negatives (loss of personal time, difficult responsibilities, uncomfortable situations, etc.), you might be compelled to accept because of duty. But you will only be compelled by duty if you VALUE duty more than you value the things you will sacrifice for the sake of duty.

    Other possibilities:
    (1) you do not value duty but your wife will thing you’re a crumb if you don’t accept and you value HER opinion more than the negatives.

    (2) you do not value duty, but you feel you will look bad to the leaders who extended the call and you value THEIR opinions more than the negatives.

    (3) you don’t value duty, but you think you’ll be struck by lightening and rot in hell if you don’t accept, and that doesn’t sound so awesome.

    In the end, the choice is still about what YOU value and what YOU perceive as a benefit.

  60. Mtnmarty on May 29, 2013 at 12:33 am

    Thank you for the subtle answer that was, indeed, directed at you.

    The context of my question was to address whether being a Bishop was valuable enough to count as a privilege. I think in your third case that you can’t count the lesser of two evils as a privilege.

    So, if I ask someone a series of questions and the first question is would you like the choice of a pony or a balloon, and they say yes, and then I ask which one they want and they say a pony, I can conclude they value ponies.

    If instead, I say would you like a choice between a hole in the head or a kick in the shin and they say no. And then I say tough luck and they know I will do one or the other but will abide by their choice and they say “the kick in the shin” then I don’t think it is fair to conclude that they value the kick in the shin and that it is a privilege to be kicked in the shin.

    Such I believe to be the case for duty and being called to be Bishop for at least some good bishops. They feel they would have equal or greater blessings doing other good deeds and would never “voluntarily volunteer” to be bishop, but feel the consequences of turning down a calling to be the equivalent of a punishment, so that you can’t count the acceptance of the calling as a privilege merely on account of its being accepted. ( Other reasons may make it a privilege)

    That is the my main point.

    You do raise (or beg) the question of to what extent we can rely on what people do as an indicator of what they value. In other words, do people typically make sane choices without feeling they are under or actually being under external compulsion or do people often make self-destructive choices or often make choices under compulsion. Acting under unconscious motivation could count either way – as revealing one’s real values despite what one consciously professes and believes or instead as an example of acting inconsistent with one’s values.

    I’m ambivalent on the matter, people often do what they value but they also often act in irrational, self-destructive ways or they are unaware of their motivation.

  61. Mtnmarty on May 29, 2013 at 1:03 am

    Brian,

    This is actually a tough question.

    At a minimum I think I have to choose how to answer that because I’m not sure which is correct. On the other hand, I think it would be even harder for me to believe that there is good evidence for the flat earth hypothesis than to actually just believe in it.

    You are absolutely right that people usually do not choose their “frames of reference” and functional paradigms. But I think that is just because it is difficult and time consuming, not because we don’t have the choice.

    It is actually a constraint on scientific progress that people find it difficult to question what they know for sure. Two of my favorite quotes about science in the last 100 years are that no scientific theory thought to be true 100 years ago is thought to be true today. This is one of the magnificent things about science – it is always changing.

    The other quote is that we now know that whether a scientific theory is reasonable and sensible by conventional wisdom is not at all predictive of whether that scientific theory is actually true. The world is fundamentally weird and our minds are not particularly good at it, often for reasons of scale in size or time that are not similar to our everyday existence and senses.

    I do believe that I could sincerely believe the flat-earth hypothesis given sufficient motivation – say to protect a loved one. It would be tough however to be sure one wouldn’t be hit with self-doubt at a critical moment.

    I don’t believe that I am typical in this regard, in that I am both more self-skeptical and more habituated to rationalization than most people.

    My strategy would be to tap in to Descartes’ evil genius thought experiment and convince myself that I was being deceived about the Earth being round and tap into paranoia and conspiratorial thinking to convince myself that the earth is flat.

    Nevertheless, in ordinary circumstances you are right, people often don’t exercise choice about beliefs that are habitually ingrained or that seem obvious.

  62. Brian on May 29, 2013 at 5:49 am

    Mtnmarty, thanks for the reply. I would go further and say that people can’t choose many (most? all?) of their beliefs. This is not to say people don’t have agency, just that I think beliefs often or usually fall outside the set of things on which we can exercise that agency. Aside from “There are four lights!” situations, such as you describe (the psychology and philosophy of which I do not wish to engage in), I think my original point stands. James, in the OP, condemns people not for what they do, but for what they believe. I think that is not only philosophically unsound, but pedagogically poor.

  63. Mtnmarty on May 29, 2013 at 6:54 am

    Brian,

    I take the OP as wanting to change how people talk, the stories they tell.

    This is how people like Richard Rorty and George Lakoff believe values change. People tell new stories and talk in different ways and things get better. They believe direct argument is poor pedagogy. James might be more effective by writing a short story about a woman who received the Priesthood and how amazingly wonderful it was.

    I see you as arguing more that beliefs are more a matter do taste, something there is no point in arguing over.

    People’s beliefs do change over time, however. What is your model of how beliefs change, your version of effective pedagogy?

  64. Mtnmarty on May 29, 2013 at 7:05 am

    Brian,

    Oh, and one last thing, do you think you choose to not wish to engage in the psychology and philosophy of there are four lights or do you just not like it’s taste in a way you have no control over?

  65. Brian on May 29, 2013 at 8:42 am

    Mtnmarty – Again, thanks for the reply. I am essentially a Piagetian when it comes to describing my understanding of belief systems. Good pedagogy involves 3 things: 1) Recognizing that learners are self-organizing entities. 2) Recognizing that a self-organiing entity is constrained by its sensory reception to “merely” creating models of reality, never *actually* interacting with reality. 3) Recognizing that changes to models occur when the interpretation of sensory input (which can include abstract thought) conflicts in a significant enough way with the current model as to make it untenable *and* an alternative model can be constructed (if not, a period of disequilibrium results until a suitable model can be constructed).

    Therefore, a good pedagogical strategy is to arrange conditions to induce cognitive dissonance in the learner and provides scaffolding for new model construction. (Essentially, we can’t teach directly, the best we can do is work to create a situation that will induce someone to learn, operating on the assumption that their mind is both capable of model revision and driven to it when cognitive dissonance occurs.) It doesn’t do any good to simply tell someone their model is “wrong,” one must construct an argument that allows the other to infer that their model is untenable. Then, *if* you have a sufficiently compatible model of the student’s model to do so, you can scaffold construction of a new model that accounts for the previous maladaption.

    In the current context, I suggest that the OP (in addition to using fiery rhetoric that likely dissuades readers with models sufficiently incompatible with the author’s from analyzing it carefully, and therefore preventing the possibility of cognitive dissonance) is based primarily on a claim about belief systems that seems to me to be inaccurate. Given the Piagetian mental structures I’ve attempted to outline above, suggesting that one can intrinsically induce disequilibrium at will for the creation of revised models, in the absence of compelling sensory input indicating a maladapted current model, and furthermore implying that one is morally accountable for not doing so, strikes me as naive. This conversation is not really suited to a discussion thread. If you’d like to talk further, I can be reached at biggleas at gmail dot com

    James, I apologize if I have engaged in a thread-jack with this lengthy comment. Despite the flaws I believe to be in your argument (not necessarily its spirit, but certainly its form and letter), I recognize that as the author, this is your forum to moderate and direct as you see fit and the blog administration allow. What I have said here is no more nor less than a higher-browed version of what I said before and probably need not be repeated again. If I have something different to say, I’ll say it, otherwise I’ll concede the floor.

  66. Stephen R Marsh on May 29, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Naismith–I liked your comments.

    Otherwise, it is tempting to answer every question with:

    So what narrative are you trying to tell yourself about the prophets and apostles?

    1. You know the will of God, but they don’t.
    2. The apostles don’t lead the church by revelation, at least when it comes to xyz.

    Of course, that by-passes the instructions that there is much good and change and truth we are to seek out and bring back if we are to restore Zion.

    That presupposes that we have great change and growth to come.

  67. Alison Moore Smith on May 30, 2013 at 12:58 am

    Mtnmarty #60:

    The context of my question was to address whether being a Bishop was valuable enough to count as a privilege.

    Be definition, privilege doesn’t depend on perceptions, tastes, or preferences. “A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people” exists for those in leadership no matter what they think about it.

    If you’re given a membership to a sexist/racist golf club because you’re a white guy, it’s a special right granted to you even if you hate golf. If you are an ambassador who can’t be given a traffic ticket, it’s a special immunity afforded you and not given to regular Joe’s, even if you never speed.

    You do raise (or beg) the question of to what extent we can rely on what people do as an indicator of what they value…I’m ambivalent on the matter, people often do what they value but they also often act in irrational, self-destructive ways or they are unaware of their motivation.

    I think people always do what they want to do, given the circumstances, unless they are, for example, physically overwhelmed or psychologically brainwashed. In other words, In other words, I think our behavior is virtually never inconsistent with our real values. We may think we ought to have other values, but we do what means the most.

    Whether it’s self destructive or not makes no difference. If someone sits on the couch eating chips while watching P90-X infomercials — dreaming about being fit — they would still rather sit on the couch eating chips than be fit.

    I don’t think we really want or value things that we wish would magically drop into our laps without effort. I think we just think it would be cool to have them without effort.

  68. Tim on May 30, 2013 at 3:40 am

    It’s a bit like being drafted to serve in Vietnam. You might have said “It’s a privilege to be able to serve my country in this way” but you might also really wish you weren’t there.

    Of course an exempt-from-the-draft woman at home might have said, “It is a privilege not to be expected to serve in Vietnam, and to be free to choose other ways to serve.”

    Both privileges are very real, but that fact alone does not imply that they are good or bad for the draftee (or that they should or shouldn’t depend on gender).

    Also, to match James in language use, we might add that “Allowing some people to stay away from Vietnam and not fight is a form of violence”…

  69. Naismith on May 30, 2013 at 10:33 am

    “Like I said, if you define it narrowly as “benefit,”….”

    I didn’t define it that way. A dictionary did. Do we really want to play the dueling dictionaries game? Why is your definition more valid than mine?

    But in keeping with the theme of the original post about personal narratives, I do have a personal narrative that equates privilege with benefit. I served in the Army during Vietnam (stationed in Europe), and saw the notion that “rank has its privileges” in action. Officers got the best parking spaces, excellent and low-cost housing, an exclusive restaurant, and all kinds of perks. Lower-ranking enlisted people weren’t authorized to bring their families to their posting, so they had to pay for their family’s transportation and housing.

    “…ignore the idea that most people see autonomy and decision making as a benefit,”

    I am not ignoring that (not even your jab that I must be a minority weirdo if I don’t agree with you). Rather I am questioning how much autonomy many church leaders actually have. So much of the decision-making is by the Spirit, under direction of the next level of church leadership, through consensus. When my husband was bishop, a family member died and some of our relatives wanted to contribute to the funeral with a musical number. They asked my husband as bishop if they could play it with certain instruments that are not usually used in the chapel, and after some anguished prayers, he concluded that they should not. We don’t know why (maybe it would cause an issue later as a precedent?) but to his surprise and dismay, that was the answer. I would hasten to add that since it wasn’t a worship service per se, they probably could have just said what song it was, show up and do it. But since they asked, he had to prayerfully consider it, and it was not an answer that anyone wanted. It didn’t feel like autonomy.

    “….then there’s not going to be any common ground.”

    Why do we want common ground? The great thing about the church is that we each bring our talents and perspectives to the table and are stronger because of it. And this shows that not all women think alike, so having a woman in this calling or that may not make things better for all women.

    “Perhaps the most important aspect of this is that unless the very real privilege of church positions is acknowledged, it will never be managed appropriately.”

    If that’s the important thing, then it could be discussed without bringing the loaded p-word. Of course people who are responsible for a stewardship that affects more people are going to have a larger sphere of influence. I am not denying that in the least. But the church rhetoric, at least since I have been a member, has been to downplay the notion of privilege associated with church leadership. Elder Uchtdorf’s talk in general priesthood a few years back about the Moyle family and honorableness of all callings is but a recent example.

    The way we do things in the church is just so very different from leadership in other organizations. I have spent hours poring over resumes of dozens of applicants for a position in my paid work, seeking to find the best-qualified person. At church, a calling often goes to the person who needs to learn. Productivity….oh gosh, we are totally unproductive according to most standards that profit-driven organizations use.

    “I’m saying that IF the there is NO NET BENEFIT to serving (all things considered), then one should NOT be serving. (Why would you?)”

    I think others have answered this. Out of duty and obedience.

  70. Mtnmarty on May 30, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Alison,

    I do think being a leader in the church has its privileges. I think I could have made my point better by asking what the market value of that privilege would be. What would be the going rate to waive one’s eligibility for church leadership. In other words, if we were going to compensate someone for the loss they have for not being in a class eligible to be bishop there is no market for it to judge the price, but its a nice thought experiment as to what it would sell for. My point is just that many fine bishops would have sold their right to be bishop for pennies.

    You said ” In other words, I think our behavior is virtually never inconsistent with our real values.”

    I’m not quite sure what to make of this but I am comforted that by your lights I can never be a hypocrite to my real values. I can never sin against my values either. I can only sin or be a hypocrite to my professed values not my real ones. Or am I confusing terms and what I “value” are not my “values”?

    My understanding of neuroscience is such that I don’t there is even a univocal “I” to have values. We are made up of a variety of stuctures that act independently and with varying degrees of correlation with consciousness.

    I’m interested in what you make of statements we make about others. That is when we say “She ought not to have done…” or “Its not right that he…”

    These type of moral statements seem to be a lot more like what it would be cool to have without effort than what we expend effort to accomplish.

    What connects our public moral standards with our own efforts?

    I guess in a way, I have been using this same line of thought on James. I have been arguing that if he “really” believed it was an injustice, he would do a lot more than just talk about it differently and ask others to also talk about it differently. James rightly pointed out that moral matters are messy and involve considerable tradeoffs. He said I appeared something of a purist.

    What I can’t figure out if you are more of a purist by believing that everyone does what they “really” believe in and want or less of one in that the whole collection of conscience, guilt, shame, remorse, confusion, temptation is just so much hot air compared to “everyone pretty much does what they value.”

    If people do what they value yet often feel ashamed of what they did, isn’t shame an odd feeling? Why do people feel shame about what they really value? Isn’t that something of a paradox they really value feeling bad (because shame is a bodily behavior) about what they really valued?

    What is the difference between shameless people and others? Are they somehow more rational and acting with more integrity?

    You seem both very thoughtful and quite convinced of it, so I’m quite interested in what you think.

  71. Alison Moore Smith on May 30, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Naismith:

    I served in the Army during Vietnam (stationed in Europe), and saw the notion that “rank has its privileges” in action. Officers got the best parking spaces, excellent and low-cost housing, an exclusive restaurant, and all kinds of perks. Lower-ranking enlisted people weren’t authorized to bring their families to their posting, so they had to pay for their family’s transportation and housing.

    And so if they didn’t “enjoy” those benefits — because it made them uncomfortable, because they liked the local dives better, they preferred to walk for health reasons — then they weren’t privileges at all. Right?

    Like I said, I don’t think an exclusive right granted to particular groups (privilege) is about preferences or taste. In the military, rank has privilege. Priesthood holders and priesthood leaders simply DO have rights/privileges/benefits that are WITHHELD from those who do not have the priesthood.

    What is most interesting to me in all these discussions about gender, is that it always seems (see Tim’s last comment above) to come back to something akin to “the priesthood isn’t a privilege, it’s an enormous burden” arguments. But I haven’t yet seen the GAs stand up in conference and characterize the “power of God” as being an awful thing to have to deal with. Quite the opposite.

    FTR, I don’t recall implying that you’re a “weirdo minority.” Rather, that you’re very narrowly defining “privilege” to the point that it can be argued out of practically any situation. If someone says, “It’s wrong to force blacks to the back of the bus,” we can just answer that this way:

    ***Well, it’s clear that you view white stuff as superior to what blacks do. Whereas I wonder if a blacks might be giving up even greater opportunities if they settle for merely sitting in the front of the bus. (Just because whites have done something does not make it greater.) If the only way that whites will respect blacks is if those blacks do the same things that whites do, then it seems like not much of a victory. I want to see a black slaves accorded the same respect as an white plantation owners, not merely laud black plantation owners.****

    We seem to be double minded on the subject of whether the priesthood is a privilege or a burden. And the answer depends on the audience. That’s a tough ideology to defend.

    Note that I’m not saying it’s indefensible. I’m just saying I think we do a crappy job of being priesthood apologists when we simply equivocate on what the priesthood is.

    Why do we want common ground?

    Perhaps you don’t. But, as I said, there is probably little to discuss if we can’t even agree on what “privilege” means or whether the priesthood is awesome sauce or just another burdensome thing on the to do list.

    Me:

    I’m saying that IF the there is NO NET BENEFIT to serving (all things considered), then one should NOT be serving. (Why would you?)

    Naismith:

    I think others have answered this. Out of duty and obedience.

    Fulfilling one’s duty and obeying ARE benefits, if you value either fulfilling your duty and/or obeying. If you don’t value them they aren’t — and, of course, if you don’t value them, they won’t impact your decisions.

    We are getting ready for a vacation, so I’ll have to bow out of the discussion. James, thanks for the post. Very much.