I enjoyed Alison’s post from a couple of weeks ago, Does Gender Matter?, but I’m a little confused how the pieces fit together. The post appears to accept the nonscriptural, uncanonized Proclamation at face value, stating: “Gender is part of who we are and who we have always been. It is important. It matters.” That makes it difficult to argue for reform of what is identified as a problem: “The church uses gender to delineate authority, callings, and roles.” However, there is a different way to see the issue.
Another way to look at the issue is to first recognize that, in the LDS Church, doctrine follows practice, not the other way around. The 1978 revelation makes this very clear. The 1978 revelation did not make doctrinal pronouncements, it just changed church practice: “all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color.” Over time, previously accepted folk doctrines (about those not-so-valiant spirits in the Preexistence, etc.) were quietly dropped from official discourse. Doctrinal change followed changes in practice, not the other way around.
If this is the model for change within the Church, what should we expect to happen on the gender issue? I think changes in practice will precede changes in doctrine. We should expect to see women in the Church continuing to assume more leadership roles at both the local and general levels. Then, over time, the LDS view of divine design will expand and, eventually, the “men preside, women defer, as it was in the Preexistence” line of thinking will be quietly dropped. So the Proclamation should not be construed as a barrier to continued progress within the Church. [As discussed in a prior post, it is hard to know exactly how we are supposed to construe the Proclamation.]
Supporting this view of how things work in the Church is the recent demotion of the Priesthood Executive Committee or PEC (with no women) in favor of the Ward Council (with at least three women included) at the local level. An alternative way to bring women into local leadership would have been to just give them the priesthood, then bring them into the PEC, but that would have ruffled a few feathers. Instead, it has been decreed that the Ward Council has now displaced the PEC as the primary body for running the ward. But the effect is essentially the same: women preside. Women now sit in the local council that helps run the ward. It is a practical rather than a doctrinal approach to change, but change it is.
What other emerging practices show that, despite official folk doctrine, the Church is moving forward on this issue?