“A woman is a woman no matter what, but manhood can be lost.”

Painting of Le Suicidé by Édouard Manet

Le Suicidé by Édouard Manet (Public Domain)

The title of today’s post (“A woman is a woman no matter what, but manhood can be lost,”) is a quote comes from a long and interesting article from the Pacific Standard: Why Men Kill Themselves. There’s a lot that is interesting in the article, especially about some of the gender differences that lead to a much higher suicide rate for men as compared to women. Although there are certainly wide variations between cultures in the overall rate of suicide, it turns out that “In every country in the world, male suicides outnumber female.”

The article reminded me of Valerie Hudson Cassler’s article for Square Two: Plato’s Son, Augustine’s Heir: “A Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology.” The article, a response to Taylor Petrey’s attempt to show how Mormon theology could be retrofitted to be compatible with eternal homosexual relationships, had a tremendous impact on how I view gender and religion. In the article, Cassler allows that “No doubt Petrey would argue that what he is advocating is the construction of or, alternatively, the realization of, a plethora of genders, not one gender,” but she points out that:

When I read Petrey’s essay, I see a different bottom line: Women are no longer necessary for the Plan of Happiness to obtain. Women are no longer necessary for temple sealings to take place. Women are no longer necessary for the work of the gods in the eternities, or for there to be brought forth spirit children: indeed, there need not be a Heavenly Mother, or, for that matter, earthly mothers. Women are dispensable in Petrey’s rethinking of LDS doctrine.

From there, Cassler embarks on a stirring defense of the absolute indispensability of women as women to Mormon theology and to the human experience. For example, in order to render homosexual and heterosexual relationships equivalent, Petrey understands that he must do away with the centrality of biological reproduction and blood relationship. So he writes: “kinship is a way of making the biological results of sexual reproduction meaningful.” Cassler replies:

Only a man—a being that reproduces outside of his own body–could have written that statement. From this female’s perspective, kinship is men’s way of “making the biological results of sexual reproduction meaningful.” We women call those “biological results” our children. We women carry within us for the rest of our lives the cells of each human being we have borne in our wombs. We do not need men’s ordinances to be kin to our children: such ordinances are for the sake of men, whose blood is not mingled with that of their children, whose heart did not beat with their child’s within the same body, whose cries did not join with their child’s at birth. We have our own women’s ordinances, or pregnancy, birth, and lactation, which establish our kinship with our children. Mothers who must adopt out their children know they will always be kin to them, no matter where their children are. Their bodies carry those children within them forever. The mother cannot be erased, despite all efforts to do so. The navel mark is etched into the very flesh of each human being as a symbol that kinship to one’s mother is real and permanent and un-erasable and holy.

This is the single most influential paragraph on my understanding of gender that I have ever read, and in particular the central passages, which I will restate for emphasis:

We do not need men’s ordinances to be kin to our children: such ordinances are for the sake of men, whose blood is not mingled with that of their children, whose heart did not beat with their child’s within the same body, whose cries did not join with their child’s at birth. We have our own women’s ordinances, or pregnancy, birth, and lactation, which establish our kinship with our children.

One of the troubling aspects of Mormon theology–and for many Mormons today it is quite troubling–is the exclusively male nature of formal priesthood hierarchies. That’s a big topic, more than I can address in this post and certainly more than can be explained completely with these two sentences from Cassler, but for me the kernel of a possible explanation is present. I’d like–by way of speculation–to see where it leads.

Any attempt to draw an equivalence between motherhood and priesthood is considered suspect, and with good reason: they are not equivalent. But it is possible that some degree of the antipathy with which this parallel is viewed may stem from a fundamental misapprehension of the relationship between Church or the family. As far as I’m concerned, the Church as a formal institution exists solely as a means to an end. It is, to pare things down to their absolute minimum, an organization to ensure that temples have custodians. And these temples, of course, exist for the purpose of sealing families together. The Church, in other words, is an auxiliary to the family.

This is much more a statement of how things should be as opposed to how they actually are. The twentieth century saw the apogee of formal institutions within society, and we are still living in a world that is culturally conditioned to view formal institutions–corporations, governments, universities—as the source of prestige, power and authority. We are therefore culturally conditioned to view the formal institution of the Church as the most important part, but in doing this we are blinded by cultural prejudice. We have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. That is eternal. The current institutional layout of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not. It is conditional and uncertain, in the sense that if we played back the history again from the Restoration with Joseph Smith, it’s easy to imagine any number of factors turning out differently, just as it’s easy to imagine the institution will continue to change and evolve in years to come.

In that case, we have a common theme developing. Men’s access to the priesthood is conditional and uncertain. You have to be lucky enough to be born in a time and at a place where the restored Gospel is available to you, and then you have to live your life in accordance with rules in order to be able to be worthy–spiritually and bureaucratically–to exercise the priesthood. Even those priesthood holders who are worthy to exercise the priesthood can do so only, in the case of most ordinances, within a hierarchy of top-down control. Meanwhile, the existence of the formal Church institution itself is also conditional and uncertain. It has not always been on the Earth and in fact in most times and at most places it has not  been present. It is an anomaly and–like men’s access to the priesthood–it is purely instrumental. It serves as a means to an end. This idea of maleness and instrumentality is reflected in society’s view that manhood itself can be lost.

 

None of this is true for women, or at least it is not true to an equal degree. Their access to, as Cassler puts it, “women’s ordinances” is totally independent of male authority or of any formal institution whatsoever. Obviously not all women are able to bear children–for a variety of reasons–but the contrast with a man’s ability to hold the priesthood is stark. For women, not being able to be a mother is the exception to the rule. For men, being able to exercise the priesthood is the exception to the rule.

This is a dangerous line of reasoning because it can easily veer towards pedestal-building. Pedestals are not useful things between partners. Luckily, that’s not where I’m heading, I am not arguing for the superiority of women. I am not saying that they are so special and spiritual that they don’t need the priesthood while us men–slow, dimwitted, spiritually backwards creatures that we are–need some kind of compensation.

No, I just believe that men and women are different. It is my experience that men don’t do very well unless they are given a standard, a goal, or a duty and told that they must live up to it. Not because we are weaker or more venal, but purely because that’s how we work. That’s what we need, not as a matter of better than or worse than, but simply as a matter of different natures. We react, and in reaction we find ourselves. Women, according to this view, are not superior angels, but simply the yin to our yang.

Of course I may seem to be turning into a virtue what the article I cite–“Why Men Kill Themselves”–clearly views as a tragedy. If men did not view their worth as conditional, then perhaps their suicide rate would not be so high. There’s validity to that. That is why it is important to remember that we are all human beings first, before we are male or female, and that as children of God we have infinite worth in His sight. This is the bedrock truth which shows where I part way with the idea of entirely instrumental maleness. But it is my view that men as men do experience a need to be tasked with a quest, a restlessness that says what they are is not enough, and that this inclination has a light side as well as a dark one, and that it may be an aspect of our eternal natures.

This is not a final analysis by any means, just some thoughts to ponder on. After all, if gender essentialism is true on an eternal scale–as the teachings of the Church hold–then it must have significance that is deep, profound, and universal. Significance that is evident not at the surface and not sporadically, but down deep and everywhere and all the time. That is why it makes sense to try and tease it out from those aspects of gender which are universal. I don’t think I’m anywhere near the bottom of the riddle yet, but I do think we have to be willing to ignore the political orthodoxy of the day in this investigation.

I will leave here the caveats which, in happier times, would be taken for granted but in the interests of clarity must be stated plainly. The concept of gender is not invariant across time and space. Much that constitutes gender roles is socially constructed. But there are, beneath the layers of cultural variation and innovation, constants. As a consequence, not everything that every culture (including our own) holds to be true about gender will turn out to be true. Or moral. Or healthy. Additionally, individual variation always outstrips population variation. Women are shorter in general than men, but the difference in heights between the tallest and shortest woman is far greater than the difference in heights between the average man and the average woman. As a result, tall women can be taller than short men. Finally: observations of what is cannot be taken to obviously lead to what ought to be. It is also very different to talk about moral or healthy attitudes to gender, versus entertaining notions of informal or formal constrain to try and force people–men or women–to conform to those standards. It should not be assumed at all that someone who thinks, “This is what a man or a woman should strive for,” is in danger of adding the unrelated statement: “And people ought to be punished if they deviate from this standard.”

My friend G. (who blogs at Junior Ganymede) once mentioned an interesting read of 2 Nephi 2:14:

14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.

The conventional reading, I think, holds that human beings as free agents are “things to act” wherease the world around us–energy and inanimate matter–are “thing to be acted upon.” But perhaps there is a different dichotomy instead of or in addition to that one. One in which women are things to act, and men are things to be acted upon. Maybe, maybe not. But if complementarity is true–if men and women are essentially and eternally different and each necessary–then in principle we ought to be able to find out how the two puzzle pieces fit together to make a complete whole, an equality where neither can exist without the other, and where neither can replace the other. Where men and women are beyond equal because they are indispensable.

143 comments for ““A woman is a woman no matter what, but manhood can be lost.”

  1. September 21, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Nathaniel, thank you for this. Once again you have put words to something I felt only instinctually. I appreciate your posts because it makes me feel like maybe the understanding of the world that I am slowly piecing together is not altogether self-delusion, but might have actual truth in it.

    I’m guessing you’ll get some pretty strong pushback. But what you write rings true to me. As you say, not the ultimate truth. But I think you’re definitely on to something.

  2. Maggie
    2
    September 21, 2015 at 9:26 am

    Caveat before I begin – I was raised in the church, but eventually left for a variety of reasons, including very real concerns about the continual preaching of ‘eternal gender differences’. I confess, your vision of the church as a means to staff the temple makes me shudder – after finding talks on the importance of doing temple work for the dead so unsettling, I have come to the conclusion that families are bound not by ordinances, or (as Cassler represents) by physical relationship as ordinance, but by the continual effort to support, to love, to grow, to create, and to become together. This soul-struggle is what binds my spirit to my husband and my children. (And, having had a C-section without labor, I can attest that though the mingled cries of child and mother at birth are poetic they are not necessary for bonding).

    I also end up shaking my head over your observation that “men don’t do very well unless they are given a standard, a goal, or a duty and told that they must live up to it.” It is my experience that NO ONE does very well unless they are given a standard, a goal, or a duty and told they must live up to it. (Some, of course, may do better at self-motivation than others, but I have not observed this to be a gender-specific trait). The Mormon church seems to agree with me on this point, as it does not hesitate to give women standards, however different they may be from men’s. The implication that women need no goals, no call to action, suggests either that they are so superior that they need no urging (which you claim not to believe), or so sedentary that no urging should be attempted. I’m assuming you have another take on that – please share.

    As to eternal gender differences in general – I think the overlap of personality and physical traits, and the continual chafing which some feel when told their behavior is either too masculine or too feminine, suggest a model in which gender is not quite so eternally rigid. In fact, the only traits which strictly separate the genders are reproductive roles. I sincerely hope that in the eternities, I am not defined by my ability to produce billions of spirit babies.

  3. Maggie
    3
    September 21, 2015 at 9:27 am

    And, just because I always love to throw in a Jane Eyre quote :)

    Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.

  4. September 21, 2015 at 9:35 am

    Thanks, Silver Rain. I feel like there’s something here, but I myself am not sure what it is yet.

  5. your food allergy is fake
    5
    September 21, 2015 at 9:39 am

    I have been taught that women attempt suicide at least as much as men; men simply succeed more frequently. Not that it really matters to your ideas.

  6. September 21, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Maggie-

    First, check out my comment to Silver Rain above: this is a speculative post for me. I’m noodling with some ideas, not laying out what I think is definitive or normative.

    Couple of specific responses:

    I have come to the conclusion that families are bound not by ordinances, or (as Cassler represents) by physical relationship as ordinance, but by the continual effort to support, to love, to grow, to create, and to become together.

    I certainly see where you’re coming from. The idea that you need to get some kind of official stamp ina celestial book to keep your family together is repugnant. But that’s a view of ordinances as some kind of metaphysical bureaucracy that is separate from what really matters: love and choice.

    On the other hand, I think it’s possible that temple ordinances are not some kind of random bureaucracy, but the conduit through which we enact love and choice. Kind of like how, when you give someone a birthday gift, the importance is not the physical object but the ritual of gift-giving as a physical enactment of consideration and affection.

    It is my experience that NO ONE does very well unless they are given a standard, a goal, or a duty and told they must live up to it.

    I agree that we all need things to strive towards, but I do think that male motivation tends to be different than female motivation. I’m still thinking through what this means and–of course–I’ve only got one half of the perspective from which to think about. That’s one reason to post something like this: see what other folks think. (So thanks for commenting!)

    In fact, the only traits which strictly separate the genders are reproductive roles. I sincerely hope that in the eternities, I am not defined by my ability to produce billions of spirit babies.

    Gender is a social construction, but it is not created out of thin air. We construct gender–just as we construct death and birth–from the objective facts of biological reality. That is why, although there is a great deal of variation between cultures, there are also certain universal constants.

    Gender is, in this case, best thought of as a tool. And tools tend to look quite similar no matter what culture invents them because their shape is dictated by their purpose and the laws of physics. An axe is going to have certain common attributes no matter what society it comes from, a stone-age, cave-dwelling tribe in Europe or an axe you pick up off the shelf at your local Home Depot.

    And so the different genetic incentives of males and females with respect to reproduction have strong consequences that limit the flexibility of our social construction of gender. I think it’s quite probable that this setup is not accidental, but rather intentional. Here’s one quick example, by the way. Romantic / companionate love can only exist in the human organism because we are a sexually dimorphic species in which the male and female reproductive strategies differ. This creates the potential for conflict and it is this potential for conflict–the fragility of the bond between mates–that makes love possible. After all: we are evolved to appreciate only those beneficial things which are rare. We have finely attuned senses of taste and a great ability to relish food because calories and nutrients were rare. We have a much, much less developed capacity to enjoy oxygen because it’s always there. As a result, sharing a meal becomes an enormously important social activity while simply breathing the same air as someone else is something we hardly ever think about at all.

    So, what you write off as just reproductive roles are, in fact, absolutely core to our human nature. If these biological facts in any way echo some eternal truths, then it is quite likely we will continue to experience eternal nature that is richer, deeper, and more profound because of eternal gender differences.

    But I hope you see that this has nothing to do with defining someone’s worth in terms of their “ability to produce billions of spirit babies.” I’m interested in how gender differences enrich our experience as individuals, families, and communities by creating interdependencies among us, and that doesn’t take me any where near the kind of awful, reductive vision that you’re talking about.

  7. September 21, 2015 at 10:03 am

    I have been taught that women attempt suicide at least as much as men; men simply succeed more frequently. Not that it really matters to your ideas.

    I wrote this several weeks ago, and so I don’t remember the article that clearly, but I do think it is addressed as a possibility. I don’t think it’s known for a fact that men and women attempt suicide at equal rates, but it is certainly closer to parity than the actual rate of suicide commission.

    That itself raises interesting questions about gender differences, however.

  8. EBK
    8
    September 21, 2015 at 10:09 am

    Two things in regards to this quote:

    “When I read Petrey’s essay, I see a different bottom line: Women are no longer necessary for the Plan of Happiness to obtain. Women are no longer necessary for temple sealings to take place. Women are no longer necessary for the work of the gods in the eternities, or for there to be brought forth spirit children: indeed, there need not be a Heavenly Mother, or, for that matter, earthly mothers. Women are dispensable in Petrey’s rethinking of LDS doctrine.”

    First of all, this thinking implies to me that Cassler believes that women are only around to reproduce. That is the only point of women’s existence. If you remove the idea in our doctrine that women are going to spend eternity birthing a billion babies, then women are useless because they have no other purpose. Men on the other hand are essential. If you remove their part in creating children (I’m assuming that Petrey’s reframing of doctrine could allow for lesbian couples as well), they are still necessary in heaven. They still have eternal purpose outside of mere biology. Do we really believe that? Do we really think that if women don’t have children in the eternities then they might as well not exist? How horrifying.

    Second, from what I’ve observed watching the temple films, there were no women involved in the creation. Two men created Adam and Eve. There is no mention of any women in the creation (besides the one being created). There is no mention of Heavenly Mother. I’m assuming Cassler believes that is because she has already birthed all the spirit children (before the war in Heaven) and so is no longer necessary for any other part in our salvation. Now she can sit back and knit some spirit scarves for the rest of eternity.

  9. September 21, 2015 at 10:17 am

    EBK-

    If you remove the idea in our doctrine that women are going to spend eternity birthing a billion babies, then women are useless because they have no other purpose. Men on the other hand are essential.

    I strongly, strongly contest that statement.

    God’s title is Heavenly Father. He is defined as a parent. Everything that God the Father does is in relation to His children.

    So in what sense are men “still necessary in heaven” without women? Without procreation, there is no heaven. Let me answer my own question: nothing. There are no necessary, important duties for men to fulfill in a hypothetical universe with no women and therefore no children.

    I realize we don’t know much or talk about Heavenly Mother, but I firmly believe that without Heavenly Mother there is no Heavenly Father.

    Women are necessary for procreation. Men are necessary for procreation. And procreation: creating and raising children, is necessary for God and Heaven. Without it, without either men or women, there is nothing. Neither gender has a future without the other.

    Second, from what I’ve observed watching the temple films, there were no women involved in the creation.

    Think about this: in the Bible we only know that God created the Earth. But we later learn that Jesus did the work under His Father’s direction. And then we learn that Adam played a hand.

    And you think we’re done? You think, after learning that the first two versions were incomplete, that the third is the final cut? The whole story?

    What gives you that impression?

  10. September 21, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Nathaniel,

    You might enjoy Thomas Joiner’s book ‘Lonely at the Top: The High Cost of Men’s Success’: http://www.amazon.com/Lonely-Top-High-Cost-Success/dp/0230104436/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1442848423&sr=8-1&keywords=lonely+at+the+top

    Joiner is a psychologist at Florida State University and an expert on suicide, having published multiple books and articles on the subject. This book, however, talks about why men specifically die by suicide: loneliness. While women suffer more from depression, men suffer more from loneliness due to different pursuits and goals. Women are more likely to create social bonds, while men will seek after status and money (career), even at the expense of their marital and parental relationships. When this instrumentality as you put it begins to run out, they are left feeling very alone.

    There might be something in this book that might help you tease out some thoughts.

  11. Mary Ann
    11
    September 21, 2015 at 10:32 am

    The suicide issue is important. Women attempt suicide just as much (or even more, in some studies) than men. Men just succeed more often.

    Manhood in our church is currently defined by priesthood roles, but, as you have clearly stated, priesthood roles are not the norm for men universally. Even in the history of God’s interactions with his people, men holding the priesthood is not the norm (Mosaic dispensation restricted it to Levites, and then even more restrictions to descendants of Aaron. Patriarchal dispensation restricted it to those who received the birthright.). If men holding the priesthood is not the norm historically, and it’s certainly not the norm in the world today, then it really shouldn’t be considered the only way a man can “be” a man.

    Fatherhood is just as universal as motherhood. If the human body is put together correctly, a man can be a father just as easily as a woman can be a mother. Although the cells of a child may not remain in a male body quite the same way that they do in a woman’s body, the child’s genetic structure bears the markings of his (or her) father just as much as his (or her) mother. That child can claim that father just as much as it can claim the mother. Those who claim that the mothering/nurturing bond is unique are making a general assumption about women – that ALL women are born with a nurturing sensibility, that ALL women have an innate mother’s intuition. This assumption is false. There are many women who do not easily bond with their children the same way that the stereotype suggests. There are many men who are natural nurturers, who are “baby-hungry” just as much as the stereotypical woman. This is not about being politically correct – this is about facing things as they actually are.

    We do not know the reason for God extending the right to the priesthood in this dispensation to all his male children. Because we don’t know the reason, it is unwise to speculate that men have an innate right to that priesthood, or that priesthood somehow helps a man better fulfill his purpose in this life as a son of God. If a man cannot be a man without the priesthood, then we are condemning many of God’s covenant sons in the past as incapable of becoming “men” (millions if you consider both Biblical and Book of Mormon peoples).

    Even with the church’s recent emphasis on families, they are not specifying that a nuclear family is made up of a priesthood holder, mother, and children. The family they are defending is made up of a father, mother, and children. A father may preside over his family and lead his family without ever holding the priesthood. The priesthood merely labels him as a representative of the church, and therefore having the ability to perform priesthood functions (administering ordinances, blessing the sick, etc.).

  12. Rosalynde
    12
    September 21, 2015 at 10:36 am

    Nathaniel, as you know I share your intuition that biological sex exercises a profound effect on one’s experience of the world, and in particular that the experiences of sex and reproduction (including childrearing) are essentially different for men and women. (I think these experiences are marginally, not entirely, susceptible to cultural shaping, so we can and should make men’s and women’s experiences/incentives more convergent. We can do this either by making men more like women by culturally limiting men’s reproductive possibilities to one woman at a time, as in strongly monogamous sexual cultures. Or we can make women more like men through widespread contraceptive use. Neither strategy will come close to erasing sex differences, and both strategies have significant downsides.)

    Like you, I find the model of “fragile fatherhood” persuasive — the notion that it takes more cultural investment and social incentive to connect men socially/emotionally/spiritually to their biological children than it does to connect women to theirs. LDS priesthood combines a motley host of institutional and ideological functions, but it makes sense to me that one of those purposes is, just as you and Cassler suggest, to create kinship bonds between men and their children. (Unlike Cassler, though, I don’t necessarily see women as the most vulnerable sex if notions of heterosexual complementarity are jettisoned. I think it’s very plausible that in a context of abundant resources, women’s cooperative social skills will allow them to get along okay in largely female families and institutions. I think it’s boys and men who would end up in trouble.)

    I think your analysis is challenged by Mormon teachings on the centrality of choice and agency, though. The biological experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and lactation are not chosen — and thus on a traditional Mormon model of agency and moral growth, they can’t be the vehicles of moral improvement. (Yes, of course women face a host of choices about mothering but the essential relationship with the child is not constituted by those choices, as it is with fatherhood.) This makes Cassler’s “women’s ordinances” profoundly different IN KIND from male priesthood ordinances, which are predicated on choice, worthiness and moral merit.

    My solution, of course, would be to de-throne freedom and choice from the center of morality. :)

  13. Nate Oman
    13
    September 21, 2015 at 10:41 am

    Nathaniel: I think that you are right about the relationship between gender, procreation, and godhood, which is why I think that Taylor’s article is fundamentally wrong. That said, I am not sure that this maps so easily on to the idea of priesthood, in part because the idea of priesthood is actually complex. Priesthood does a whole bunch of different things in Mormon theology, ecclesiology, and society. Some of those things are related to gender and some are not.

    Mary Ann: It’s worth noting that priesthood ordination is a vicarious temple ordinance, so as a theological matter we assume that all men in the eternities will have access to the priesthood. Not sure what to make of this, but it does suggest that appeals to what-about-all-the-men-who-never-have-a-chance-for-the-priesthood have roughly the same status as appeals to what-about-all-the-people-who-have-never-been-baptized. It also suggests that contra Nathaniel’s post, priesthood is not in a cosmic or eternal sense exceptional for me. I am not sure what to make of this, but it seems that it’s worth noting.

  14. September 21, 2015 at 10:42 am

    Rosalynde-

    Thanks, very much, for your thoughts.

    On the issue of choice and agency, it seems to me that most of the important experiences that we (male and female) experience in life are not chosen, so I’m not sure that pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation are any more or less vulnerable to that critique than any other important, formative experiences that we undergo, from birth to death and everything in between.

    I’m not sure if that addresses your concern or not, however. I’m a big fan of libertarian freedom, but emphatically not in the way that most people think of it. Free-will issues are inseparable from identity issues. We now have a much, much better grasp of human nature, but our attitudes about freedom (and thus choice and agency) have not caught up either in the Church or more broadly.

  15. Nate Oman
    15
    September 21, 2015 at 10:47 am

    “exceptional for men”

    Although I suppose that it’s “exceptional for me” as well…

  16. Owen
    16
    September 21, 2015 at 10:55 am

    Mary Ann, I think Nathaniel made it clear throughout the OP that he was not relying on anything being true of ALL of either gender. A range of variation does not negate consistent differences.

  17. Owen
    17
    September 21, 2015 at 10:58 am

    Holy crap, Nathaniel. This is amazing. This is wonderful icing on the cake of a weekend spent discovering the symbols of female power and unmediated access to the divine enacted in the temple–a thing I had never before considered and now see with great relief. –a SAHD of daughters.

  18. EBK
    18
    September 21, 2015 at 11:06 am

    Nathaniel,
    In my original comment I am criticizing the idea that Cassler seems to espouse that if men can create children without women, then they are “no longer necessary for the Plan of Happiness to obtain.” She doesn’t state that if women can create children without men, that men are no longer necessary. To me, her statement seems to imply that in the Plan of Happiness both men and women are necessary for creation, but men are also necessary outside of creation. I vehemently disagree with this idea but without further context from her article I have to assume it is what she thinks. That is what your quote from her article implies – gay couples in eternity make women unnecessary but not men.

    Nathaniel says:
    “And you think we’re done? You think, after learning that the first two versions were incomplete, that the third is the final cut? The whole story?”

    No, I don’t think the current story that we have is the whole story, but it is the only story that I have. I can hope that more will be revealed. I can hope that if/when more is revealed it can give me hope that as a woman I have eternal significance beyond what my body does biologically without any input from me. I hope all these things and I believe them, but I have to concede that I could be wrong; that based on the information available to me from the current temple and church narrative I am likely wrong. The current information we have regarding women in the eternities and how I am supposed to interact with my Heavenly Mother (i.e. the purpose of women in the eternities is to me mothers, but currently I am not to have interaction with my Heavenly Mother) seems contradictory to me.

  19. EmJen
    19
    September 21, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    We’re witnessing the enlargement of the priesthood rhetoric to include women. My favorite example of this right now is the article coming in the October New Era on youth leadershipwherein President Oscarson takes a talk given to the boys about priesthood and almost casually, extends it to the girls. She also extends Elder Oaks talk about priesthood authority to the girls: “This has never been truer than today. Beginning at age 12, you can be called into class and quorum presidencies by your bishop, who holds priesthood keys and acts through the inspiration of his calling. With that calling—which comes from God—you are called to preside over a group of young men or young women your own age and to lead, teach, minister, encourage, and be an example to them. You function under and with priesthood authority. It is a sacred duty and great opportunity to develop leadership skills that will enable you to be ever more useful as an instrument in the Lord’s hands as you continue along the covenant path.”

    Now this is going to open up a girl’s mind to wondering why and how she’s acting with priesthood authority. Since she can’t hold it herself, does she get it by proximity? Does it rest within her as a class presidency member from the bishop just for the time she is in the class presidency? Is it available to her on an as-needed basis similar to the Holy Ghost for those who are not members of our faith?

    I think our thinking on this is just beginning.

  20. EmJen
    20
    September 21, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Another wondering question: would it be ok for a bishopric member to say in a setting apart blessing for a YW presidency member something similar to “I now confer upon you all the priesthood authority you will need as you go forward in your calling”?

  21. Owen
    21
    September 21, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    EmJen, yes. The usual phrase is “rights, privileges, and authority”. I don’t understand your first series of questions though. She gets the priesthood authority through the laying on of hands when she is set apart and it lasts for the duration of her calling. That’s the same for all callings.

  22. Dave K
    22
    September 21, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    Nathaniel,

    I am surprised by your adoption of Cassler’s central point that “[women] do not need men’s ordinances to be kin to our children.” This statement is highly heretical to LDS doctrine, which claims that priesthood ordinances are absolutely necessary for eternal kinship. No matter how much love or sacrifice a mother may give to her offspring, under LDS doctrine she can have no familial relationship with them in the eternitites without priesthood ordinances. To accept Cassler’s premise is to reject the restored gospel. Period.

    I am likewise surprised at your view that priesthood ordinances are “for the sake of men.” Do the LDS women in your life not take great value from these ordinances? Do they not sacrifice time and resources to be witnesses? If the point is that men derive some added benefit from *performing* the ordinances (a point that I agree with and a reason why I support women’s ordination) then you must concede that in most instances fathers are not allowed to personally perform the highest ordinances. Father’s generally do not perform their children’s washings, annointings, endownment or sealings. At most, they stand as formal witnesses for the sealing, although in any real sense mothers are just as much witnesses. So if priesthood-holding fathers are largely excluded from performing the higher ordinances, how exactly are such ordinances uniquely for them?

    I am not surprised by your adoption of Cassler’s view that “pregnancy, birth, and lactation” are ordinances. You’ve expressed that before. But I would still like to know your definition of “ordinance.” Why stop with these three events? Is giving a dirty child a bath an ordinance? How about extracting a loose tooth? Or – and I really would love an answer to this – do you consider male ejaculation to be an ordinance? It makes as much sense as lactation.

    Finally, what do you make of the church’s practice of sealing children to their adoptive mothers (and fathers)? Can an adoptive mother have a full and complete “kinship” with her adopted child, even though she never performed the pregnancy, birth, and lactation? If not, you’ve got a problem with Sherri Dew (see “Are We Not All Mothers?”) If so, then doesn’t that admission fatally undercut your central premise that these experiences showhow make motherhood different from fatherhood? If a mother can fully be a mother without pregancy, birth, and lactation, then can’t a father also be a mother?

  23. September 21, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    EBK-

    In my original comment I am criticizing the idea that Cassler seems to espouse that if men can create children without women, then they are “no longer necessary for the Plan of Happiness to obtain.”

    I’m pretty sure you’re misreading Cassler.

  24. EmJen
    24
    September 21, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    Owen, interesting. It may be YMMV, but I’ve never heard that phrase in connection with a setting apart for a woman’s calling. Now usually some form of “rights and privileges” but never authority. Now, Elder Oaks mentioned that we’re not used to this phraseology, so it may be that it’s still going to need to trickle down.

    Also, I’d believe your second part “She gets the priesthood authority through the laying on of hands when she is set apart and it lasts for the duration of her calling. That’s the same for all callings” if we had lessons to back that up. But as it stands, all the lessons about supporting those with priesthood is geared towards those who hold the priesthood, and especially for women who get these lessons, it means to support male leaders and male family priesthood holders. If that changes, and I believe it should soon, these lessons will be enlarged to include supporting those with priesthood authority over a class, including those girls who are charged with the responsibility as presidency members.

  25. September 21, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    Dave K-

    I am surprised by your adoption of Cassler’s central point that “[women] do not need men’s ordinances to be kin to our children.” This statement is highly heretical to LDS doctrine, which claims that priesthood ordinances are absolutely necessary for eternal kinship.

    You’re inserting a very important word into Cassler’s statement that is simply not there: “eternal.” That’s not what she wrote, and I don’t think it’s what she meant, either. Ergo, her statement is not in contradiction with LDS doctrine since she’s talking about earthly relationships.

    I am likewise surprised at your view that priesthood ordinances are “for the sake of men.” Do the LDS women in your life not take great value from these ordinances?

    This is also a misunderstanding. The exercise of priesthood authority through ordinances is for the sake of men in the sense of providing an external, formal, hierarchical goal structure to strive towards. The results of those ordinances are, of course, for everyone. That’s two separate concepts: the act / call to serve vs. the effects / fruits of that service.

    I am not surprised by your adoption of Cassler’s view that “pregnancy, birth, and lactation” are ordinances. You’ve expressed that before. But I would still like to know your definition of “ordinance.”

    I do not have a formal definition. I’m noodling around here. I do think the notion of ejaculation as ordinance to be absurd, however, and not at all on parallel with lactation. Nursing is, by definition, an intimate and life-sustaining act. Ejaculation is not. Now, the possibility that sex is an ordinance, maybe. There’s real potential there. But ejaculation in and of itself is sterile, isolated, and pointless. There’s nothing that suggests to me the remotest possibility that it could be viewed as an ordinance.

    Finally, what do you make of the church’s practice of sealing children to their adoptive mothers (and fathers)? Can an adoptive mother have a full and complete “kinship” with her adopted child, even though she never performed the pregnancy, birth, and lactation?

    Yes, she can. And no it does not undercut the central premise. In the first place, the biological mother is still the template adoptive mothers follow. The whole idea of adoption–of giving a child to a mother and a father to raise–only makes sense in the context in which the model is biological procreation. Otherwise, why not give the child to a married couple? Why not just a couple of friends? Why give it over to any private individuals at all? Why not just let the state handle all orphans, period?

    Real life is not ideal. We all make do the best we can, and I believe there is no shame nor failure in making the best we can with what we have, period. I believe that there are blessings for those who struggle towards the ideal but who cannot reach it for various reasons. But none of that obviates the ideal.

    Similarly, a father is not the kind of entity that can be pregnant, give birth, or lactate, therefore a man cannot become a surrogate mother in the same way that woman can, even if that woman was not pregnant with that specific child.

  26. Maggie
    26
    September 21, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    So many interesting comments here, but I’ll leave the task of responding to each of them to you :)

    So, focusing on your response to me:

    1) Noodling. So important. Glad you’re doing it, and that you’re laying out what you believe without feeling it must be right just because you believe it. I should state that when I say things like “I have come to the conclusion that…” I similarly mean “My working model is…”

    2) Rituals. So important. I believe in their significance and weightiness – in their ability to make intangible tangible, and to infuse mundane activities with higher spiritual import. Though the temple is not now a place of sacredness for me, I am grateful that I was married in a place I had been taught to view as sacred, surrounded by family, by symbols of spirituality and sanctity, and that I believed then as I believe now that the commitments I make are eternal. Let’s differentiate, then, between important and necessary. In my view, ritual is important. It helps us to understand and commit. It is NOT necessary, in that it is not what actually carries through the commitment, what builds the bonds, what grows the family. It is simply a way to signify the importance of those things, just as a gift signifies the importance of a friendship, even if it is not itself the commitment of friendship. After conversations with my still-Mormon husband, I think that Mormons take the necessity of temple rituals and ordinances as a given, and then work to explain why that is. Once I stop trying to figure out why that is a given, that doesn’t bother me – it seems good and human, if not convincing.

    3) Gender. Moderately important. First, let me be clear that I recognize gender is a great way to make some quick assumptions about a person’s relative height, aggressiveness, tendency towards community, and ability to contribute an egg or sperm to a baby, and thus I agree with you that gender constructs (or let us call them stereotypes) don’t appear out of thin air. Gender does not, however, strictly separate individuals along any of those lines (as you at least suggested in the OP), except in their (sometimes potential or theoretical) reproductive roles. In your model of tools – I think you are thinking of humans as too one-dimensional. An axe is made for cutting things, just as a man is made to contribute a sperm and a woman to contribute both an egg and a physical space to grow a baby. While true, this view suggests that men and women are as homogeneous (respectively) as axes and saws. It seems a terribly flat view of world filled with dynamic, lonely, eager, anxious, lazy and striving spirits.

    I’m assuming from your statement that “Romantic / companionate love can only exist in the human organism because we are a sexually dimorphic species in which the male and female reproductive strategies differ” that you do not believe homosexuals’ protestations that they are in fact in love and do in fact want to build families (complete with children). I disagree with this view, but without needing to convince you on that front, I want to challenge your view that it is the differing reproductive strategies that make the rare and beautiful fact of love possible. Love is rare and difficult not because you (as a man) gain an evolutionary advantage by inseminating as many women as possible while I (as a woman) gain an evolutionary advantage by inveigling a mate into investing resources into the upkeep of any offspring I produce, but because love itself is hard! The commitment to improve yourself to be able to meet the needs of others, the commitment to stay when staying is hard, the commitment to support and build when you feel disenchanted and tired – THIS is what is difficult (and if you didn’t know it already, this is difficult for both genders), THIS is what is rare, and THIS is the foundation of all relationships, not just marital.

  27. Maggie
    27
    September 21, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    And, while I’m commenting – can I point out how much I hate the title of this post? Though I recognize that within the context of the quote, it’s suggesting this is a negative for men, It feels so degrading to believe that I am all I ever could be without any expenditure of will or triumph of action on my part – that my identity is merely physical. This feeds into my frustration over your assumption that men alone must have ‘a standard, a goal, or a duty’ to strive for.

  28. ahjeez
    28
    September 21, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    Here’s the thing, all of this motherhood talk is totally a symptom of modern medicine and technology. Guarantee we wouldn’t be saying stuff about motherhood and parturition being all super rad and godlike if women were dying in childbirth like they were in all of humanity’s years up until the last little sliver of time. Same with child mortality rates. Pregnancy and partition can be bragged up as commensurate to priesthood because it has been made sterile and relatively safe (thank heavens). Now, dying to bring life might make for an interesting theological direction when it comes to lionizing women, but that isn’t what is happening.

  29. Maggie
    29
    September 21, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    I mentally shake hands with so many of you (ahjeez, Dave K, EBK, Mary Ann), on your comments.

  30. Josh Smith
    30
    September 21, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Maggie,

    In reading your comments, you sound like someone who has worked through some issues with organized religion and family relationships … and it sounds like you landed on your feet. I realize it has nothing to do with this post, but I’d really like to hear your story. How’d you work through things? How did you get to where you’re at? (Again, not my intention to derail the OP, but that’s my sincere thought after reading your comments.)

    Gender roles and organized religion. … my only thought is that we should expect to see our biology play out in the social organizations we create. We should also expect our social organizations to affect how we develop and the roles we fill. For the last year, I’ve been absolutely possessed by honey bees. In a hive, the bees have many different “roles.” The bees seem pre-programmed to fill some of the roles. Just yesterday I watched a honey bee emerge from a cell and go directly to work cleaning out the cell. She was born knowing her role. Outside influences also affect the bees’ roles–smells, vibrations, temperature, nectar flow, the sun’s position in the sky, and on and on. The nice thing about bees is that one can assume that biology is running the entire show.

    To my mind, the best way to tease out what parts of our social organizations are driven by biology is to experiment a wee bit. My wife and I have experimented with gender roles with mixed results.

    Wow. That was a bit of a rambling comment.

  31. Quickmere Graham
    31
    September 21, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    I firmly disagree with gendering righteous inclinations as you do in this post. I’ve known far too many women and men to be able to believe such things can be broken into simplified categories. Moreover, what about a person who is born with ambiguous genitalia, or transgender folks? Where do they rank on the inclination-to-righteousness scale?

    Another problem: Instead of suggesting the extension of the Latter-day Saint priesthood in real ways to women, you seem to have selected a few things you think are cool about women’s biology and just placed the label “ordinance” on them, despite the fact that women all over the place, LDS and non, can perform said ordinances with no prior authorization and therefore, in one of the most important ways they aren’t a suitable corollary to male LDS priesthood after all.

  32. Hedgehog
    32
    September 21, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    Maggie #29, seconded.

    We’ve crossed swords on similar issues before I think, Nathaniel, and I’m feeling far too weary to run through it all again. Just to say that Cassler’s views make my skin crawl…

  33. EBK
    33
    September 21, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    Nathaniel,
    You were right, I was misreading her. I was only basing my conclusions only on the quotes in your OP. I went back and read her entire article and now I disagree with her for a myriad of other reasons. I won’t go into them here.

    I do want to respond to your thought that lactation is an ordinance but that ejaculation as an ordinance is absurd. It seems absurd when the tables are turned and someone is telling you that a biological function that can be life sustaining (or life creating in the case of ejaculation) but can just as equally be “sterile, isolated, and pointless” is an ordinance. There are many times I’ve had to pump my milk and throw it away due to medication in my system that cannot be fed to newborns. That was not an ordinance. When milk leaks all over your clothes and does nothing but get you wet . . . it seems absurd to me that anyone would think that is an ordinance.

    Also you finish out your post by pondering on the meaning of 2 Nephi 2:14 and if it could apply to women acting and men being acted upon, but it is clear that all the ordinances that men perform are actions while all the “ordinances” that women perform (pregnancy, childbirth, lactation) just happen whether we want them to or not. It’s not like at 9 months pregnant I choose to go into labor and have a child. I just sit there and wait and let my body do what it does. That’s not to say these things aren’t work, but I think the female “ordinances” you mention scream of being acted upon in comparison to male ordinances.

    Maggie #29 – shake, shake :)

  34. Dave K
    34
    September 21, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Nathaniel,

    1) Re “[women] do not need men’s ordinances to be kin to our children.” Your argument is that Cassler was only talking about mortal kinship. Really? So in the eternal scheme, women’s “ordinances” have the same efficacy as those done by any non-LDS demonination; namely, none. This makes your notion of “ordinances” even more ridicilous. What value is there in an ordinance that can’t survive death?

    2) Re “sake of men.” Your argument is that fathers get the same “effects / fruits of [priesthood] service” even if they do not actually perform an ordinance. Respectfully, I think you are the one missing the point. Per your quote, Cassler was speaking to the creation of “kinship” between parent and child. She said that mothers get the kinship through women’s ordinances, the implication being that fathers must get a comparable kinship through priesthood ordinances. But if fathers aren’t performing the ordinances (as I pointed out), if they simply get to watch like anyone else (including mothers), then I fail to see how such ordinances provide fathers with kinship towards their children in a way that doesn’t also apply to mothers.

    3) Re “pregnancy, birth, and lactation” as ordinances. EBK (#33) does an excellent job of refuting you on this point. I can do no better.

    4) Re adoptive motherhood. I appreciate your recognition that adoptive mothers are full expressions of motherhood. But you’re avoiding the logical conclusion. It doesn’t matter whether biological motherhood remains a “template” or an “ideal” for adoptive mothers. If pregnancy, birth, and lactation are not necessary for motherhood, then those actions cannot serve as a basis to exclue men from the role of “mothers.” You (and Cassler) must keep looking elsewhere for something to divide the genders.

    Finally, I need to add one more critique about your concluding argument that “women are things to act, and men are things to be acted upon.” When was the last time you went to the temple? Surely you must be aware that, in the LDS paradigm, men make convenants with and receive instruction from God, whereas women make convenants with and receive instructions from their husbands. While this paradigm is flawed, flipping it doesn’t make things any better. But it is ironic that in a post which begins by decrying the higher suicide rate for men, you would conclude the post by lauding the idea that women are actually pulling all the strings.

  35. Pete
    35
    September 21, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Nathaniel, how does worthiness to perform an ordinance factor into your view of pregnancy, childbirth and lactation as ordinances? Is it still considered an ordinance if a drug addicted or unwed woman gets pregnant, gives birth or lactates? For male priesthood holders, the CHI dictates “20.1.1 Participation in Ordinances and Blessings – Only brethren who hold the necessary priesthood and are worthy may perform an ordinance or blessing or stand in the circle.”

  36. RMM
    36
    September 21, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    Comment 28: “Pregnancy and partition [sic] can be bragged up as commensurate to priesthood because it has been made sterile and relatively safe”

    Ridiculous! I’m guessing ahjeez is male. There’s nothing sterile or safe about pregnancy or childbirth. They are messy and complicated, even when they progress without significant complication to mother or baby. And when things go wrong, they can go wrong fast.

    Pregnancy and childbirth are the very core of human existence, the very essence of our shared experience, the way we become human, but I think it’s awfully limiting to try to make any part of the process into a religious ordinance. The ordinances mimic and shadow these life processes, but are not equivalent.

  37. Patrick
    37
    September 21, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    My heavens – does Cassler not understand how sealing works? It is that power—and not any biological relationship—whereby all “covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations” attain “efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead.”

  38. Hunter
    38
    September 21, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    I see Nathaniel’s post as just another post-facto attempt to justify the unjustified; an attempt to flesh out some pretty dry bones. As support for this view, I give you Elder Neil Andersen, who acknowledges we don’t actually know why the priesthood is gendered. Nathaniel’s speculations, then, serve only to bolster the status quo. Let’s be real: this type of post is yesteryear’s fence-sitter doctrine.

  39. Brad L
    39
    September 22, 2015 at 12:56 am

    But there are, beneath the layers of cultural variation and innovation, constants

    Yes, that’s true. But the male ability to lead religious congregations and female inability to do so is most certainly not a constant, but a Mormon social construction. Females have led religious congregations throughout history and continue to do so today. So I don’t your point, Nathaniel. I think that a more parsimonious explanation to why females can’t hold the priesthood is not because that is somehow incompatible with God’s ways and designs, but because early LDS leaders had a biased view of gender roles that privileged the male in leadership positions. Leaders since have felt that a safer management strategy is to stick with tradition as best as they can and have feared that hasty motions towards reform might upset their most important members.

  40. September 22, 2015 at 6:32 am

    The fact of eating toast for breakfast or taking a bath in the morning does not invalidate the sacrament nor baptism as an ordinance.

    I would say that pregnancy, birth, and lactation can be ordinances, though not structured nor official in the way priesthood ordinances are. This resonates with my experience of childbirth.

    Sex is most certainly an ordinance when performed within the bounds the Lord has set. Just as eating bread is not an ordinance, but eating bread in certain circumstances IS. Ejaculation is not one, but ejaculation in certain circumstances IS.

    Taking a woman as wife is a covenant to care for her and her children, among other things. So many break this covenant, we forget that it is a covenant at all.

    The idea of physicality wrapped up in ordinances is abhorrent to our modern sensibilities, to the point that we’ve minimized it as much as possible in the temple. That doesn’t have to be the attitude.

    In many ways, since women bear the brunt of physicality (especially now, with machines to ease the burden of obtaining our daily bread,) rejection of that physicality is also a rejection of women.

    Childbirth is even more of an ordinance when a woman’s life is at risk. The greatest ordinance of all was the death of a God for our sake.

    Ordinances are made by partnering with God according to His commandments, and by consecration.

    It would be too long to share it here, but my experiences with motherhood make it clear that Nathaniel’s points have merit.

  41. RMM
    41
    September 22, 2015 at 7:01 am

    “Sex is most certainly an ordinance”

    Ridiculous. Life is sacred, I get that. But why is there such a crying need to pound it all into neat little theological boxes? Why have to put neat little Mormon labels on everything?

    And what Hunter said.

  42. Dave K
    42
    September 22, 2015 at 7:46 am

    Silver Rain,

    No one is arguing that eating toast invalidates the sacrament. What we’re saying is that, by expanding the term “ordinance” to include pregnancy, birth, and lactation, the term is now so broad that it risks becoming meaningless. That doesn’t mean that these actions have no value, even great value. But applying the term “ordinance” is inappropriate.

    To have meaning, a term must have boundaries. In LDS doctrine, there are certain boundaries for “ordinance.” These include at least the following (i) being done with proper authority (priesthood office), (ii) being done through approved channels (priesthood keys), and (iii) following the pattern prescribed by the Savior or by the Savior’s appointed servants.

    Pregnancy, birth, and lactation fail each of these tests. No authority is required. No approval from priesthood leaders is required. And there is no prescribed pattern – pregnancy can result from natural or artificial means, birth can be natural or cesarean, and breast feeding is entirely optional.

    If “ordinance” is redefined to mean “partnering with God according to His commandments, and by consecration” (your definition) then virtually any sacrifice for a divinely-approved end would qualify. Feeding your children toast is an ordinance (really no different from lactation). So is giving your children baths. Or doing laundry. Or working the night shift at the Kwik-E-Mart.

    P.S., on a different note, the modern development of machinery has hastened the decline of traditionally-male roles much more than traditionally-female ones. “Rejection of physicality” affects men more than women.

  43. September 22, 2015 at 8:12 am

    I can’t keep up with all comments at this point, but wanted to respond to something that’s been a common theme:

    Pete

    Nathaniel, how does worthiness to perform an ordinance factor into your view of pregnancy, childbirth and lactation as ordinances? Is it still considered an ordinance if a drug addicted or unwed woman gets pregnant, gives birth or lactates? For male priesthood holders, the CHI dictates “20.1.1 Participation in Ordinances and Blessings – Only brethren who hold the necessary priesthood and are worthy may perform an ordinance or blessing or stand in the circle.”

    Patrick

    My heavens – does Cassler not understand how sealing works? It is that power—and not any biological relationship—whereby all “covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations” attain “efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead.”

    Dave K

    No one is arguing that eating toast invalidates the sacrament. What we’re saying is that, by expanding the term “ordinance” to include pregnancy, birth, and lactation, the term is now so broad that it risks becoming meaningless.

    These comments all make fundamentally the same mistake: they assume that the “ordinances” of birth, etc are ordinances in the same sense as ordinances performed under the Melchizedek priesthood. That doesn’t make any sense. If that were the case, then I would be “expanding the term” and quoting the Church Handbook of Instructions would be relevant. But it’s not the case.

    What I’m suggesting is that there is another kind of ordinance, one that is different from the ordinances with which we are already familiar. These would be separate ordinances with their own rules, so they would not have any impact on the ordinances that have already been revealed. Additionally, they do not constitute an expansion of one iota from the current ordinances.

    Obviously this is speculation on my part (and before me, Cassler Hudson’s). The point here is not to reform the Church from the bottom. The point is to try and understand the Gospel that we have received thus far and hope that–through revelation according to the lines of authority–we might one day understand more.

    There is a very bright line in my mind between ordinances that have been revealed and individual speculation. i don’t get the two confused. Y’all shouldn’t either.

    Finally, to Hunter’s point:

    I see Nathaniel’s post as just another post-facto attempt to justify the unjustified; an attempt to flesh out some pretty dry bones. As support for this view, I give you Elder Neil Andersen, who acknowledges we don’t actually know why the priesthood is gendered. Nathaniel’s speculations, then, serve only to bolster the status quo. Let’s be real: this type of post is yesteryear’s fence-sitter doctrine.

    That is the danger, yes, It is absolutely important to ground our faith in the central doctrines of the Church: atonement, the principles and ordinances of faith, baptism, and so forth. If this is not where we live, then we are building on sand.

    But there is another danger, which is to say that because the Church was in error once (on the issue of race and the priesthood) that means that we should give the Church’s current position (on issues of gender) very little heed. If the issues of race and gender are not equivalent–if the Church’s position on gender is founded on eternal principles as it was not in the practice of racial discrimination–then it is worthwhile to try and investigate what those principles might be.

    Not to go over on a wild goose chase down some blind alley of deep doctrine, but to understand core teachings and practices of the Church as it exists today. The attempt is not to go beyond the Church’s teachings and fabricate new folk doctrines, but to understand why the Church consistently chooses the path it does.

    In simple terms: standing steadfast on issues of gender and equality is costly. Either the Church is repeating the mistakes of the last century with regard to race or the Church is actually demonstrating a willingness to take hits for the sake of fulfilling it’s prophetic mission to the world. If it is the latter, then it behooves us to ask serious questions about why the Church’s stance on marriage and sexuality is so important. That is the spirit with which I write pieces like this one.

    To put it another way: I don’t think the problem with the folk doctrine of fence-sitters in the war in the pre-existence was merely the fact that folks were trying to understand the contemporary practices of the Church. I think the problem is that, in trying to understand, they adopted repugnant beliefs. The lesson, therefore, is not “never think beyond what is official doctrine” but rather “be careful.”

  44. Dave K
    44
    September 22, 2015 at 8:37 am

    Nathaniel,

    You are getting hit from all angles right now. I’ll try to be more charitable. I do appreciate your efforts to speculate and push boundaries, even (especially!) when we disagree.

    I am open to the idea of an “ordinance” having a meaning outside of LDS doctrine. But if that’s what you (or Cassler) is proposing, then you have to begin with your definition. Absent some new definition, any discussion will naturally default to the meaning ascribed by our common LDS experience. For me, it would be most helpful to know what does not qualify as an ordinance in your mind. And most importantly (since I’m male) whether there is any ordinance that men alone perform that parallels women’s exclusive domain of pregnancy, child birth, and lactation (you’ve already reject ejaculation, at least outside of sex). If there is nothing unique to men, then this exercise strikes me as nothing more than an attempt to justify the church’s current gender-based priesthood ban – in essence, the creation of new folk doctrine that you decry.

    On your second point, may I propose that there is a way to judge whether a church doctrine is a mistake: look at the fruit. The reason that we changed doctrine on the racial ban is that we realized it produced bad fruit. Contra Professor Bott, black families were not better off being excluded from the authority and the temple rites. And the church was poorer for the practice too. It took a while for humility to win the day, but we eventually embraced the light.

    If gender essentialism is correct, then we should experience some good fruit from its application. For me, I just don’t see it. Every time we include men in roles they were previously excluded from, things get better on net (diapers, dishes, cooking, reading stories, etc – i.e., all manner of nurturing). Every time that we include women in roles they were previously excluded from, things get better on net (employment opportunities, educational opportunities, gospel instructors roles, missionary service, prayers in conference, PEC meeting, etc. – i.e., all manner of presiding, providing, and protecting).

    Based on our nearly 200 year history, on my personal family experience, I cannot come to any other conclusion than that, on net, things will be better when we removed the barriers that keep my wife from the font, my daughters from the sacrament table, and women from the priesthood quorums and leadership. Removing these boundaries will not eliminate “men” or “women” any more than they’ve already been eliminated by removed so many other boundaries. Rather, it will be one more step (a critical one) towards becoming one in Christ.

  45. September 22, 2015 at 9:18 am

    Dave K, I wasn’t saying anyone was. I was drawing an analogy between what IS being argued and that to illustrate my point.

    “In LDS doctrine, there are certain boundaries for “ordinance.” These include at least the following (i) being done with proper authority (priesthood office), (ii) being done through approved channels (priesthood keys), and (iii) following the pattern prescribed by the Savior or by the Savior’s appointed servants.”

    i) Sealed by the Holy Priesthood in the temple
    ii) Ditto
    iii) D&C 131 (unless you’re arguing that marriage is sexless?)

    According to your definition, sex within the bounds the Lord has set IS an ordinance. Again, unless you’re arguing that eternal marriage is sexless? And pregnancy, birth, and lactation within a covenant marriage IS the role of a woman and the natural result (even the point) of that sex. To argue that childbirth, etc. has no place within the covenant of marriage is an incredibly male-centric view.

    Not all women agree with me, but that is my experience of marriage as a woman. Again, I could go into more detail about that, but there isn’t room in a comment. Suffice it to say that as a divorced woman who will likely never be married again, I suspect I’ve spent much more time on my knees before God, struggling with understanding my role as a woman in the eternities and within marriage than you have.

    And yes, my role as a mother, illuminated by the warped circumstances within which I had to bear my children and raise them, is part of the ordinance of sealing. I covenanted with God to be a mother to my children through the authority of the Priesthood, sealed in the temple, consummated in a physical representation when I birthed my children, and every single act I perform as a mother is part of THAT ordinance, even though it is not necessarily an ordinance in and of itself.

    I, as a mother, with my unique set of experiences, see the value in Nathaniel’s perspective. You don’t have to. I don’t care to convince you if you choose not to explore a perspective different than your own. I’m comfortable speaking from the lived experience of actually having given birth, and of having my choices to be a mother under attack by the very man who covenanted to be my husband in that ordinance almost from the moment I realized I was pregnant.

    RMM. Ridiculous why? Can you explain what an ordinance is in your mind and why sex within the Lord’s commandments would not qualify?

    I’m not arguing, as Nathaniel said in his last comment, that these are ordinances in the same sense as baptism, sacrament, etc. Rather, I am arguing that pregnancy, etc. are enfolded in the sealing ordinance. In fact, that from one woman’s perspective (which I can understand makes you uncomfortable, since none of us are used to hearing about spirituality from a woman’s point of view,) they are part and parcel of the priesthood sealing ordinance, and even part and parcel of the female endowment, when performed within the bounds the Lord has set. Just because SOME pregnancies aren’t ordinances, doesn’t mean that pregnancy cannot be one. Just as SOME eating bread isn’t an ordinance, but when that bread is consecrated under special circumstances, it is.

    I see great value in perceiving motherhood through the lens of ordinances in this way. I never thought of it quite like that until reading Nathaniel’s comments, but now that I have, it rings very true to my experiences.

  46. Maggie
    46
    September 22, 2015 at 9:26 am

    Hear hear, Dave K.

  47. September 22, 2015 at 9:29 am

    Nathaniel, a few questions came to mind: In exploring this thought, do you think it significant that Eve was named the Mother of All Living before she actually gave birth? Also, what significance does that title have within the structure of the Adamic/Abrahamic Covenant?

  48. September 22, 2015 at 9:45 am

    Dave k-

    You are getting hit from all angles right now. I’ll try to be more charitable. I do appreciate your efforts to speculate and push boundaries, even (especially!) when we disagree.

    Thanks. I knew it was coming. I had second and third and fourth thoughts about actually posting the piece (and had several people read it before I did), but the pushback hasn’t been so bad, actually.

    I am open to the idea of an “ordinance” having a meaning outside of LDS doctrine. But if that’s what you (or Cassler) is proposing, then you have to begin with your definition.

    Sometimes intuition comes before clear definition. Which is not to disagree with your point: a definition would be great. I don’t presently have one. Just an intuition that the purpose of the gospel is atonement, and that this at-one-ment involves family, and that there is therefore a deep, important connection between temple sealings on the one hand and biological procreation on the other hand, and that it therefore makes sense to have ordinance-type things over which women have primary roles (birth, lactation, etc.) to complement that leading male role in formal priesthood ordinances.

    After following this intuition a while (and getting feedback from other folks), I may have a definition for you. I don’t yet. (Which, to my mind, is part of what blogging is for.)

    On your second point, may I propose that there is a way to judge whether a church doctrine is a mistake: look at the fruit.

    I agree with you there, but disagree with your analysis afterwards. First, I think the primary bad fruit of the practice of racial discrimination in priesthood is philosophical. Folk doctrines that said, for example, that blacks must have been fence-sitters are morally repugnant in my mind because they violate the principle of fairness and equality in this life. Obviously we have vastly different individual circumstances, but to say that a class of people is less worthy just because of how they are born? That is big red flag.

    Although cultural attitudes towards the LGBT community mirror the racial prejudice of the Church in assuming that members of the LGBT community are less-worthy, intrinsically suspect, etc the Church’s doctrine does not entail that culture of hostility and suspicion. So I don’t think the Church’s stances on sexuality and marriage run into the same fundamental philosophical trap that the Church’s stances on race did.

    I also disagree with you pretty emphatically on the practical considerations, too.

    I do think that quite a lot the changes in our society with regard to gender roles has been positive, and I am not trying to turn us back to the 1950s. I understand that the bright-line distinction between bread-winner and home-maker is an artifact of a particular point in time with a particular set of economic factors and not a universal attribute of human culture.

    But that does not mean that I think all the changes so far are positive. For example, one corollary to typical political views of gender is to downplay the very different incentives men and women have when it comes to sex. Viewing sex as a form of recreation and divorcing it from procreation goes hand in hand with certain views about men and women being interchangeable. This actually has quite bad effects for men (see: much lower rates of college success, endless articles about perpetual adolescence) for women (see: articles about where have all the good man gone, the mommy wars) and especially for children (see: rates of out-of-wedlock childbirth).

    The most important single factor for social justice in the world–by far–is having children born and raised in stable homes by their biological parents. Period. This model is under siege. First by divorce and now that the divorce rate has ebbed by the simple failure to marry at all. For me, all of this is inextricably linked with changing attitudes about gender roles. Men no longer feel a strong obligation to provide personally for their children because, for example, that is increasingly seen as government’s job and also because abortion has made child-birth optional and therefore put the onus on women. Furthermore, because sex is now seen as primarily recreational and as presenting men and women with equal risk/reward payoffs (which is evolutionarily ludicrous and completely contrary to common sense), there is no social expectation to link sex to marriage and in turn marriage to men who are prepared to serve a role as a husband and father. Without this expectation, men have increasingly abdicated their responsibilities and descended into perpetual adolescence. (A main component of this post, I might ad.) The abdication of manliness is clearly a detriment to women as well, because (again, using the old view of sexual complementarity) women and men need eachother. If men give up, then this is bad for men and also bad for women. Women are facing the extreme opposite challenged, as a rule. While virtually nothing is now expected of men, women are expected to do everything: be mothers and have successful careers.

    None of this is good for society. None of this is healthy. None of this looks like “good fruit” to me.

    Again: the answer is not a return to the 1950s. That’s a red herring. There is a way forward that accommodates the reality that women are talented and can contribute to society in or outside the home (and should not be discouraged from doing so) without denying the general usefulness of gender roles and minimizing gender differences to minor, technical variations of little to no significance.

    I can’t tell you exactly what this society looks like because I don’t know. No one has ever seen it. But I do think we need to reject the idea that our options are (1) regression or maintenance of the status quo vs. (2) moving along in the particular direction heralded by social liberalism. There is a third path, and I want to explore it and find out more about it. Ergo, posts like this one.

  49. Dave K
    49
    September 22, 2015 at 9:47 am

    SilverRain,

    I have read many of your comments here (and on your blog). I am quite confident that you are a good mother. And I am sure that you have a better understanding of womanhood than I do. Naturally.

    However, I disagree with calling sex an ordinance. Clearly it does not meet any of the requirements of LDS doctrine. If you or Nathaniel have a different definition, I am happy to reconsider. But simply being a part of marriage – or even a marriage covenant – does not turn a particular action itself into an ordinance. Otherwise, we’d include date night, snuggling on the couch, caring for your spouse in sickness, caring for your spouse in old age, etc. as “ordinances.” Again, all very good things. But the label doesn’t apply.

    Finally, to be clear, I am one your side (and Nathaniel’s) regarding the great importance of pregnancy, child birth, and yes, even lactation. If the purpose of this discussion is to laud and support women who perform these actions, count me in. But the fact that these actions are valuable does not turn them into ordinances. It is a disservice to women (and men) to label them as such as part of an attempt to justify excluding women from the greater good that will come when women can be ordained.

  50. Maggie
    50
    September 22, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Silver Rain – you’ve clearly come to rely heavily on the Lord, and it sounds like you’ve come to a meaningful understanding of your role within the structure prescribed by the Church. That meaning is beautiful and important and uplifting, and I do not forget or deny that.

    I think perhaps the argument here is whether you have to understand your role only within the structure prescribed by the Church. Can’t love and marriage and sex and childbirth and child rearing be meaningful and beautiful even if the Mormon church really doesn’t GET them? I believe that even non-Mormons have struggles and triumphs – births and deaths and lives – that are filled with spirit and joy and Godliness even if the formalized Mormon priesthood structure has never (and will never) touch them.

    Again, I’m not Mormon, so feel free to take my perspective with a grain of salt, but lds.org says: “In the Church, an ordinance is a sacred, formal act performed by the authority of the priesthood.” I do not give birth by the authority of the priesthood. I do not lactate by the authority of the priesthood. Honestly, my husband does not wake up in the middle of the night and comfort our crying baby by the authority of the priesthood. I think we are confusing the word ‘ordinance’ with ‘something vital, something which sustains bodies and builds souls’. I think that you (and Nathaniel) are extending the ‘power of the priesthood’ to all Godly acts, because you are in the difficult situation (as Hunter suggested) of trying to make the fullness of human experience fit in the formalized, compartmentalized structure of Mormonism.

  51. Dave K
    51
    September 22, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Nathaniel,

    I lack time to respond to everything you’ve just raised. My main response is to note that I couched my conclusions “on net.” Obviously, removing barriers gives new freedom which many will misuse. But that doesn’t mean that erecting a barrier is good. That’s too close to Professor Bott’s logic that blacks were better off without the priesthood because, then, they couldn’t sin against a higher light. I prefer a plan of agency, where all are allowed access to all good. The roles the church teaches are good (presiding, nurturing, etc.) But teaching those roles to only one group, or erecting barriers to prevent a group from embracing the role, can only lead to damnation.

    Re LGBT, I agree the church is not at the same point as it is with racial issues, but the church is following the same trajectory. First, we treat them as other and offer folk lore for why they cannot be included. Then, we slowly lose the folklore and start to treat them as family. Finally, once we see them for who they really are, and we know by experience that they are good, we change the doctrine to fully include them in the plan of salvation. We’re at stage 3 with racial issues; in the middle of stage 2 with LGBT.

    On a related note, I agree that children raised in a home with their parents is ideal. But I would expand the home to include not only biological parents, but all parents who chose to bring the child into this life. This allows for parents who cannot conceive naturally and rely on a surrogate – both heterosexual and homosexual parents. LGBT families are our allies.

    There is an important third option to sex beyond recreation and procreation. There is unity. In my experience, for most LDS couples that is the primary purpose. Thus, contraception is a godsend.

    Finally, I do not view the modern situation for young males are resulting primarily from the removal of gender barriers. The main culprit is that people tend to marry in their own social class, and wealth is being funneled to the rich at much greater clip than in prior generations. While we have not seen it personally, there is one society in which egalitarianism worked correctly. It’s described in 4 Nephi. The key elements are (i) no poor and (ii) no “ites.”

  52. Josh Smith
    52
    September 22, 2015 at 10:30 am

    “The most important single factor for social justice in the world–by far–is having children born and raised in stable homes by their biological parents. Period.”

    Agreed, Nathaniel. Mostly. One quibble … in my line of work I see a lot of biological parents who need to get out of the parenting business. I think the role of “parent” can often be filled wonderfully without a biological relation. But I agree with your main point.

    I disagree with your diagnosis of the cause.

    Over the last 10 years, my children’s elementary school has taken on a very serious role of social services for the children attending the school–serving more meals, parent education opportunities, hiring professional counselors, hiring a principal with a social work background, classes on emotional intelligence, a DARE program that takes up enormous amounts of time and resources, etc. I think most of the services are well-intentioned and well-received.

    I don’t see the problem as ambiguously defined gender roles.

    At this elementary school, I see a lot of fathers getting involved. They come to the school’s activities. They meet with teachers. For the most part, they’re present and they care. They’re not particularly well dressed and they lack nearly all social graces, and they have very creative tattoos, but they really do care about their kids.

    I suspect if you sat down with these men and asked them, “What do you think would have the biggest impact on your family’s wellness?” they would without a doubt answer, “a higher wage.” It’s economics Nathaniel. Most men care about their children just fine without having their gender role defined. They struggle with meeting the “needs” of a family in 2015.

    The second cause of difficulty for families in my area of the world is people struggling with English and maneuvering about in a system without a firm grasp of the language.

    My hunch is that people are wonderfully malleable when it comes to sexuality and gender roles. I suspect our time is better focused on better design of the system in which they make their decisions.

  53. Josh Smith
    53
    September 22, 2015 at 10:35 am

    I was typing while Dave K. was typing. If I’d seen his post, I could have just written, “I agree with that guy.”

  54. ahjeez
    54
    September 22, 2015 at 11:04 am

    I guess I’m pretty excited that our fellow simian primates are also performing ordinances through gestation, birth, and lactation. I’m all for expanding priesthood ordinances to all worthy beings with hair and nipples and such. Exclusivity FTW. But I feel a little bad about how these ordinances are being withheld from other highly nurturing animals like penguins. But cloacal sexual reproduction is pretty gross, so…

  55. ahjeez
    55
    September 22, 2015 at 11:06 am

    **Inclusiveness FTW

    Or exclusivity. Whatever.

  56. September 22, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Dave K: yes, you are right. Valuable does not equal ordinance.

    But maybe I could clarify my meaning better by backing out a bit and approaching it from another angle. I’m trying to understand, not trap you when I ask this question: what is an ordinance to you? (Leaving the sex/childbirth question off the table for now.)

    Maggie: I think you read me wrong. I am not trying to make childbirth, etc. fit into the definition of ordinance. Nathaniel’s OP, rather, gave me a new perspective on what an ordinance is. I’m not trying to give childbirth meaning, either. But I did realize that the reason I am a mother, and many of the other choices I have made, are because I have come to a point where the sealing ordinance and the covenants I have made encapsulate my daily decisions as a mother….Yes, even to become one in the first place.

    I’d have to go deeply into my history to better illustrate what I mean. But I won’t, here. I have no desire to infuse meaning into motherhood, because for me it already has meaning. The same applies in reverse. Rather, the meaning I have found as I have consecrated every mundane act to God I now see (because of this turn of perspective,) is enriched by being part of the covenants I have made to Him.

    I am a mother as part of a formal act authorized by the priesthood. When I made the sealing covenant, my motherhood became more than a physical act, it became part of that ordinance. That is what the sealing is. I have absolutely no way to explain that to you, I’m afraid, beyond what I have already attempted. But I can say that my view of the sealing ordinance in the wake of the breaking of mine is not typical among Mormons, though I believe it is quite scripturally sound. It is built entirely on scriptural study, and by study of Mormon policy, no extrapolation necessary. As the Church doctrine educates us all better in the priesthood, it meshes nearly perfectly with what I have learned by experience.

    As a single mother, and having made and kept (to the best of my ability) the covenants of the priesthood, I have been placed as the priesthood authority in my home. I do not hold an office, but I am still the authority. As the half of the covenant left behind as my ex-husband moved on, I have been able to witness firsthand what blessings of the covenant remained and which did not. That gives me a strange perspective, but it is one I’m coming to terms with.

  57. Dave K
    57
    September 22, 2015 at 11:49 am

    SilverRain,

    An ordinance is a religious symbolic outward act in which covenants are exchanged. Generally, it’s a one-time deal (sacrament is the big exception, but it’s styled as a renewal of prior one-time made covenants)

  58. Dave K
    58
    September 22, 2015 at 11:55 am

    SilverRain,

    See also the definitions for “ordinance” on dictionary.com and lds.org, both of which apply the term to sacred “rites and ceremonies.”

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ordinance?s=t
    https://www.lds.org/scriptures/gs/ordinances?lang=eng

  59. Maggie
    59
    September 22, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    Hat tip to Josh for your insights on the importance of being raised in a stable home by…parent(s). Biology helps in having common interests, sure, but even from my limited experience of child services and the foster care system, I feel confident in saying that what you really want is stable, loving, parent(s) who are committed to caring for kids.

    Josh, you asked about how one lands on one’s feet post-Mormonism, and I think the key for me at least has been ‘un-bundling’. So often growing up I was told that cafeteria Mormonism was wrong and ‘even one bad part’ means the movie shouldn’t be watched etc. I really think that’s just false. The process of, (as Dave K pointed out) looking at the fruits of various ideas, doctrines, and practices has been extremely important, and even more important has been the process of realizing that just because I’ve been taught ‘if A then B’, doesn’t really mean ‘if A then B’. Pulling on the strings of my faith to figure out which have been knotted to heavy baggage by someone else and which are firm and unbreakable, has allowed me (I feel) to release the unnecessary and retain the glorious. To tie it back to this conversation, I feel like Nathaniel and Silver Rain are struggling to ‘solve’ the Gordian knot (by justifying culture / practice / doctrine with ingenious argument), while others are pointing out that we can just cut through it.

  60. Josh Smith
    60
    September 22, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Thank you, Maggie.

  61. EBK
    61
    September 22, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Silver Rain,
    I am also a woman who has spent considerable time in prayer regarding my role as a woman and I think Dave K’s comments are spot on. I’m not saying you have to agree with them, but please don’t argue that his points are invalid because he doesn’t know what it is like to be a woman. I haven’t lived all the same experiences you have so I don’t know what it is like to be you and I may not understand all that you believe, but that doesn’t mean I am not allowed to have an opinion on important gospel topics that may affect you. I think Dave K has valid points and he doesn’t have to have given birth to argue them. But if it requires someone who has given birth for you to take them seriously then I will copy and paste his post with 100% agreement as a woman who has been pregnant, been through child birth, and lactated.

    Nathaniel,
    I think my problem with the idea of pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation as ordinances is that you are trying to create a parallel between those and baptism, confirmation, sacrament, etc. They are just so different in kind that this makes no sense to me. A few points along those lines:

    I was thinking about this while reading Hawgrrrl’s post at Wheat and Tares about Adam and Eve. Pregnancy and childbirth were given as a curse to Eve after the fall. The curse that was given to Adam at the same time was to obtain bread by the sweat of his brow. So if we are claiming that Eve’s curse is actually an ordinance, then the male corollary is not baptism etc. it is farming and hunting (although in this day and age maybe doing whatever it is a man does to get a paycheck.) So really “providing” makes sense to me as the “ordinance” that is a corollary to childbirth.

    My number one issue with this argument is when it is used as a reason to keep women out of church governance. When people make the argument, what I hear is, “You don’t need to be able to make decisions that affect you and other women. Even though men and women are so essentially different, men will be able to make all of those decisions. You don’t need to participate in any saving ordinances for your children. You don’t need to even speak in church. You don’t need any of these things because you have something greater than that: you get to be sick for 9 months, have all the nutrients sucked out of you until your teeth start falling out, have your genitals torn to shreds, and your nipples chewed off. Why would you ever want anything more that that noble calling?”

    I’m not saying that this is the argument you’re making. I think these ideas could possibly help a lot of women be happy with their place in the church, but for me (and I would imagine some other women) it makes me much less happy with my place in the church. It implies that women’s role and purpose are biological functions over which they have little control, while men’s role and purpose is to act and do things over which they have a lot of control. It definitely makes me feel as though I am a thing to be acted upon in God’s plan.

  62. September 22, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Josh Smith, Dave k, and Maggie (and probably others)

    Josh “corrected” my quote as follows:

    “The most important single factor for social justice in the world–by far–is having children born and raised in stable homes by their biological parents. Period.”

    For me, however, the biological nature of family is not incidental or disposable.

    The immediate reaction everyone has to this is: what about adoption (etc)? Are you denigrating those families just because they are different? That response misses the points, of which there are three (that I can think of at this moment).

    First is a practical point; as much as we like to romanticize the malleability of the family structure, the reality is that non-biological parents don’t lead to outcomes that are as positive for children. This is one of those uncomfortable truths people don’t like to hear.

    Folks like to bring up adoption here, but the more relevant example is step-families. Step families do not have outcomes as positive as biological families. This is not a condemnation any more than it is a condemnation to observe that poor families have worse outcomes for children than wealthy families. The problem is not that step-parents are bad any more than poor parents are bad. It is simply a fact that raising non-biological children presents additional hardships.

    This doesn’t mean we should condemn adoptive parents or step parents. It means we should praise and support them for the harder task they have ahead of them. But praise and support should not somehow morph into denialism.

    The second point is philosophical: I believe that children have a moral right to be raised by their biological parents. This means I am actually opposed to fertility treatments that use donor eggs or donor sperm because–especially the way this is practices in the United States–this is a direct infringement of the rights of the child to know his or her parents. Some aspects of this are obviously harmful: some popular sperm donors have hundreds of children who have no way of identifying each other and therefore there is a risk of incest. Others are not as obvious, but are even more important: many donor children feel that their experiences as donor children is degrading and has left them commoditized.

    Once again: the optimal situation (especially from the standpoint of the children who are the most vulnerable in this discussion) is to be raised by their biological parents. Obviously there are exceptions. In some cases a biological parent is abusive, and it is better for the child to be removed and placed with a non-biological family. But that doesn’t mean that the child doesn’t have a right to be raised by his or her parents, it means that the abusive parent has trampled this right.

    The third point is also philosophical: you have to decide if you think that the biological facts accompanying our mortal probation are mere incidental byproducts or if they are meaningful. As Christians, I think we have to believe that there is some meaning to our evolutionary history because we believe that we–including our physical bodies–were created. Set aside for a moment the question of God’s image, the mere fact that our physical bodies are the product of God’s willful design strongly implies that the facts of our biological reality are not extraneous.

    This is doubly true for Mormons, who view mortal embodiment as a step closer towards God and not as a fall away from Him.

    Of course it is not self-evident which aspects of our biological ancestry are normative and which are trials to rise against. We should not turn our backs on modern medicine in a deranged attempt to recover a lost, “natural” state. We should not act out every single biological imperative we feel because, quite obviously, a lot of these are bad.

    So I’m not claiming that all one has to do is glance in an evolutionary textbook and see written the Plan of Salvation. But I do think that, especially when it comes to the things that separate human society from animal populations, that we should consider our biological reality as important and relevant and worth consideration.

    In short: biology matters. Blood matters. Kin matters. I do not think that these scriptural metaphors were picked just because they happen to have had meaning to primitive cultures. I think, by contrast, that the very nature of our affinity to blood and kin and the structure of our biological heritage is designed to instruct us.

    In this imperfect world, we all fall short of the ideal. There is no ideal person. Similarly, there is no ideal family. Even a family with a mom and a dad who are faithful to each other and who have children together, this is not ideal. Parents will fail in their obligations to be providers and caretakers. They will pass on bad habits, bad principles, and will fail again and again. So I’m not saying that if you have a biologically intact family you’re perfect and everything else is second-class.

    I am saying that there is a perfect model of the family that we should aspire towards, and that this model does include a generative relationship between a male and a female head. (Otherwise we have no evidence of a second Heavenly Parent, folks. If heads of eternal household can be homosexual there is actually no reason to suspect they are plural at all. There is no Heavenly Mother without heternormativity, because it is the belief that you need both genders that leads to the belief that there must be a Mother in Heaven.)

    This means that alternative family arrangements matter. Step families matter. Single parent families matter. Same sex families matter. But they all derive their template of family from the heteronormative model. And that model, replete with its biological necessity, remains uniquely important as a North Star to us mere mortals trying to arrange ourselves as best we can given the realities of our broken homes, broken selves, and broken world.

  63. September 22, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    EBK-

    I think my problem with the idea of pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation as ordinances is that you are trying to create a parallel between those and baptism, confirmation, sacrament, etc. They are just so different in kind that this makes no sense to me.

    If the purpose of all ordinances is ultimately joining the human species into one giant family, then they are not nearly as separate as you think.

    The conventional view of Christian ordinances (baptism, etc.) is very individualistic: we are saved as individuals. The Mormon view should be grander. Baptism is just a stepping stone on the way to the temple, and in the temple we are saved as families.

    That’s where everything points. Baptism and the sacrament and pregnancy and childbirth: all reaching a pinnacle in sealing ordinances.

    Pregnancy and childbirth were given as a curse to Eve after the fall.

    That’s absolutely not true. Here’s the text:

    To the woman he said,

    “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
    Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

    (Genesis 3:16, NIV)

    God didn’t give prenancy to Eve as a punishment! The curse was making pregnancy painful. There’s no indication whatsoever that pregnancy itself was a punishment.

    So if we are claiming that Eve’s curse is actually an ordinance, then the male corollary is not baptism etc. it is farming and hunting (although in this day and age maybe doing whatever it is a man does to get a paycheck.)

    That’s actually not so far off. The male corollary is baptism, but only because baptism is an aspect of building an eternal family. The man and woman have different tasks but the same goal.

    My number one issue with this argument is when it is used as a reason to keep women out of church governance.

    That’s not my intention, and I don’t think that anything I’ve said necessarily prevents women from having a greater role in the church administration. (FWIW, I think they should have a larger role.)

    On the other hand, if you are assuming that women should have access to the same preisthood offices and ordinances as men, then this view does threaten that logic and you probably won’t like it.

  64. Pete
    64
    September 22, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    Nathaniel, what are your thoughts concerning the loss of female administered blessings and anointings given prior to/during childbirth?

  65. Dave K
    65
    September 22, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    “In short: biology matters. Blood matters. Kin matters.”

    I think we will just have to disagree. I can concede that blood and kinship can create initial bonds; in my life they have been valuable. But blood and kinship alone can never create eternal bonds. Those come through the spirit. I know families which have both blood and adopted children. Despite the differing beginnings, their eternal bonds are of the same strength.

    There’s also the gospel preached by Christ, which flatly rejects the primacy of blood, kinship, or biology, and places instead the primacy of the spirit:

    “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” (Matt 3:9)

    “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.” (Luke 12:51-52)

    “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matt 10:34-37)

  66. September 22, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    Dave K-

    I can concede that blood and kinship can create initial bonds; in my life they have been valuable. But blood and kinship alone can never create eternal bonds

    I don’t think that either. My view is that blood and kinship are necessary. Not that they are sufficient.

    I know families which have both blood and adopted children. Despite the differing beginnings, their eternal bonds are of the same strength.

    I also don’t think that each individual relationship must be a blood / kin relationship. That is obviously not the case, since the project is bind all of humanity into one family. There is no practical sense in which that will mean everyone is blood-bonded or kin-bonded. (Maybe if you believe in a literal Adam and Eve, but even in the case of everyone descending from two parents, it’s really not very meaningful once you’re a few hundred generations out.)

    The role of blood and kinship is two-fold:

    First, practically, blood bonds are a better basis for family when available because then you’re working with rather than against evolution.

    Second, theoretically, blood bonds are important as a model for even relationships that are not actually blood-bonded. Again: adoption is clearly modeled after the template of a biologicaly family. The template matters as a unifying aspiration guide not because it must literally be recapitulated in every instance. (That kind of perfectionism is totally ruled out by our understanding that basically everything about this life is broken beyond our ability to repair it.)

    The biological family is not a benchmark or a quota that we must achieve. It is an integral part of an asymptote towards which we strive.

    There’s also the gospel preached by Christ, which flatly rejects the primacy of blood, kinship, or biology, and places instead the primacy of the spirit:

    This goes back to necessity and sufficiency again. Blood and kin are very important. They are not the most important things. If we think they are everything, we are condemned. That doesn’t mean we should think they are nothing, or that they are trivial, or that they are optional, etc.

  67. September 22, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Pete-

    Nathaniel, what are your thoughts concerning the loss of female administered blessings and anointings given prior to/during childbirth?

    I don’t have strong or crystallized feelings on that one way or the other. It’s possible that the historical clarity is overstated and/or that it was a result of confusion and that now we have clarified (correctly) that men should be doing those. It’s also possible that we have over-emphasized gender roles and taken away useful and appropriate tools from women and that we should give them back. Neither one would surprise or alarm me.

    I’m not saying this isn’t an important issue. It’s just not one that I know a whole lot about.

  68. Josh Smith
    68
    September 22, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    Nathaniel,

    I find your “North Star” analogy persuasive. Then again, my biological parents raised me and I’m raising my biological children.

    As for evolution …

    I think these types of arguments are wonderfully interesting, but they often pull in different directions. When you start talking about what strategies are optimal over hundreds of thousands of years (Did I mention that I love this type of thinking?) we’ll find different motives for males and females. For example, in a species where the child develops within the mother’s body over a lengthy period of 9 months, a female’s optimal strategy may involve strong female bonds with other members of the group. Biology could play a part in those female bonds, but I don’t think it would be necessary.

    A male’s optimal strategy … a male is interested in the success of his biological offspring, but he can’t be sure that all offspring in the group are his. So again, there’s an evolutionary basis for a family made up of non-biological relationships.

    I think there’s also a strong argument that people evolved together, as groups. When we introduce this concept, we introduce the idea that some of our evolved behaviors benefit the group as a whole, but not necessarily our own offspring. I think a strong argument can be made that homosexuality could have benefits for the group as a whole, even though homosexual sex does not result in offspring. Again, a non-biolgical familial relationship that could be based in evolution.

    I raised the example of honeybees above. One thing that baffles my mind with bees is that the queen and the male bees are the only ones in the hive that actually pass on any genetic material. All of the other bees develop marvelously intricate behaviors, yet will never have offspring. That’s astounding to me! 99.9% of the hive does what it does for the benefit of the queen. And it certainly doesn’t have to be their own queen. Every spring I end up introducing new queens into hives.

    I don’t know, Nathaniel. I think evolution gives quite a rich way to think about what constitutes a “family” and what is “optimal.” It’s much more complex than biological relationships. But maybe it’s useful to think about it as a “North Star” we can aim for. Certainly worth thinking about. Thanks.

  69. September 22, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    I’m not seeing your point, Dave K. You do not argue that the sealing ordinance is not an ordinance, right?

    EBK, I never did argue that. In fact, if you read what I wrote, I already covered the point you’re trying to make.

  70. September 22, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    Josh Smith-

    If you like this sort of thing, then you absolutely must read my post at my own blog: Opposition in All Things and the Evolution of Love

    Short version? The divergent genetic interests of men and women that you refer to are the reason that we evolved the capacity to love. Read the post for the details.

    You’re right in general, however, that the relationship between science and theology can be fraught. I’m definitely not suggesting that we erode scripture and authority and replace them with some kind of techno-religion based on deriving spiritual models from evolution. In fact, I really don’t think that you can drive anything moral from evolution or biology alone If you did, the lessons would probalby be terrible because, as Steven Pinker has says: “evolution has no conscience.”

    But I also think that as Mormons we’ve got a job to do and it includes finding truth wherever we can and trying to synthesize it. That’s part of what I’m doing here. Hey: here are all these things we’ve learned from biology and evolution. What do we get when we look at these from the lens of Mormonism? Maybe we learn something. Maybe we even help to resolve some of the conflicts that currently exist between Mormonism and the dominant secular culture of the West.

    Anyway, glad I gave you something to consider. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  71. Dave K
    71
    September 22, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    SilverRain, I believe that sealing is an ordinance. Of course.

  72. Josh Smith
    72
    September 22, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    Thank you, Nathaniel. I’ll read the post on your blog.

  73. Maggie
    73
    September 22, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    Nathaniel, I’m still completely unconvinced by your argument that sexual diversity is the reason we evolved love. I’m pretty sure there are billions upon billions of sister, brother, mother-daughter, father-son, aunt-niece, uncle-nephew, friend-to-friend relationships of love, support, and family that will back me up on that. I would argue that we evolved love to spark commitment, which is strategically a great way to make sure your tribe wins (and doesn’t require that you have sex afterwards).

    I’m also pretty shocked that, given that I understand you have a background in economics, your understanding of all the adoption studies is that adoption is bad. Everything I’ve read on the subject suggests that nature plays a larger role than nurture in children’s outcomes, once basic needs have been met. This doesn’t mean that children need to be raised only in their biological families, but rather that we can all chill a bit about ‘super-enriching’ our kids, and it DOES mean that we need to focus on meeting children’s basic needs. It’s seems naive to read that children of alcoholics may turn out to be alcoholics when they’re adopted into teetotaling families, and to decide from this that adoption turned the kids into alocholics. Do the articles you’re reading control for the fact that there is a REASON the kids were adopted, and it’s typically not because their biological families were just too great? My reading of the literature suggests that your ‘uncomfortable truth’ is actually not true.

    I was just having lunch with a friend who quoted this Cheiko Okazaki talk suggesting that only 20% of LDS families have the ‘ideal’ situation you’re talking about. So, I’ll be honest, I think at that point this isn’t an ideal, it’s an elite, and you have to be able to recognize God wherever He is found, not only where you’re willing to look for him.

  74. September 22, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Dave K: I’m not trying to trick or debate, just trying to establish where our views diverge so I can try to understand and explain.

    What do you think the purpose of the sealing ordinance is? Or…what does it entail?

  75. Dave K
    75
    September 22, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    SilverRain,

    I’m struggling to understand what you’re asking. My best guess is that you want a fuller explanation of how sealing is an ordinance, but sex is not. I won’t post the sealing ordinance here (you can find it through google if you want), but it is a symbolic ceremonial religious rite, in which a man is authorized by the LDS church to preside, the man recites specific language, the couple wears ceremonial clothing and makes specific promises, and the man gives certain promises to the couple by virtue of his authority from the church (and by extension Christ). The sealing happens once. Lots of people attend to witness. It provides the couple with direction and hope for their relationship. In contrast, sex is anything but ceremonial, requires no authority from the LDS church, does not include any rote language, promises, or dress. And there are no witnesses. I know this all sounds obvious, but I really don’t know what else you’re asking for.

    If you need a rule of thumb I would recommend this: An ordinance has formal witnesses. In LDS tradition, we expect that these witnesses may “testify” as some future judgment that ordinances were performed. You can see that witnesses exist for baptism, confirmation, sealings, etc. And you can see how they are absent for Cassler’s proposed “ordinances.”

  76. Mary Ann
    76
    September 22, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    I really get that many women find pregnancy, labor, and lactation spiritual and miraculous experiences. Many women see those experiences as the epitomy of their mission in life, the point where they feel their life has purpose. This is the expectation that is taught in YW and RS, that this is what ALL women innately crave and desire. This is a fallacy – many, many Mormon women do not experience the heavens opening, that marvelous feeling of being at one with God in the creation of life. For many women, pregnancy, labor and lactation are horrific and traumatizing experiences. Many women find after childbirth that motherhood does NOT fulfill them in the way that the church told them it would. Yet, according to these theories, this is the purpose for which they were created, the shadow of what they should expect in the hereafter. For many of us, these teachings feel wrong. They do not match our lived experience. They do not correspond with our core identities. In this church there is no alternative. Either these women (including me) are fundamentally defective spiritually and/or physically, or something is off in our cultural understanding of gender roles.

  77. September 22, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Dave K: Not exactly. I know what the sealing IS, I’m asking you what it entails. (It’s in scripture, so I feel perfectly comfortable discussing it online.)

    In other words, from what I can extract, you see the sealing as an ordinance which provides direction and hope for the relationship.

    I do not see it as that at all. That is where we differ greatly. I see the sealing (among other things) as a way of ratifying through priesthood power the injunction to “multiply and replenish the earth.” It is creating a unit between man and woman in the image and pattern of God. Therefore, it is very much about sex and sexual relationships. That is why we make certain other covenants beforehand which directly relate to chastity, fidelity, and marital relationships. It goes beyond that, of course, but that is the part of my understanding which relates here.

    I never did say that sex was an ordinance, rather that sex within the bounds the Lord has set is part of one. In that framework, I see motherhood as part of the female half of that covenant. In fact, I see motherhood and its counterpart in fatherhood as the POINT of the ordinance. Even if a child is never born, the pattern is for a purpose. Therefore, when Nathaniel (and Cassler) stretch the meaning of the word “ordinance” to include the physical acts of childbirth, etc. I can see why they would say that without having to belabor the weaknesses of the analogy. Especially since I have grown spiritually by upholding the covenants I made with my husband regarding my children, even as he destroys his part of them.

    I hold a great many beliefs and outlooks I’m sure you (and many, many women) would find utterly repugnant. Even more than the thought that mortal motherhood and physical childbirth, etc. can be a holy ordinance. I’m at peace with that. In order to understand the women’s covenants in the temple, I have gone through many difficult nights. But, rather than rejecting those covenants as most who have experienced them as I have, I have been lucky enough to find a way through them to acceptance and joy.

    Mary Ann: Pregnancy, etc. was not easy for me. Especially since both times I was operating under different levels of an environment of domestic violence. But it is through the horror of those experiences that I came to understand a deeper purpose of sealing, marriage, sex, and childbirth. For both men AND for women.

    My lived experience and the ways I’ve chosen to interpret it have—eventually—given me a great deal of strength and peace. It has helped me understand God and His dealings with man. I do not see that strength and peace in other interpretations, like the ones you allude to. So I’m sure you can understand why I don’t have much motivation to change.

  78. Terry H
    78
    September 22, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    Dave K & Silver Rain. As I’ve commented in other places, there is an argument that sex is part of the marriage covenant. (As differing from the sealing ordinance). Short version: Biblical covenants almost all had various indicia of either oaths or gestures or actions as part of them. “Chapter 7: Verbal Solemnia and Sexual Union: The Requisite Covenant-Ratifying Oath and Oath-Sign for Marriage” argues (convincingly to me, at least) that the consummation of the marriage is the “oath-sign” or action that sealed the oath. In the OT, these actions would be handshakes, oaths of bad things that would happen if the covenant was not kept (self-maledictory curses), body gestures, meals, erecting pillars, etc.) Scholars such as Jacob Milgrom and Moshe Greenberg argued that the OT didn’t treat marriage as a covenant because of the lack of something like this. In the chapter (pp.216-279) Gordon P. Hugenberger demonstrates their error. “Marriage As A Covenant: Biblical Law and Ethics as Developed From Malachi” (Baker Books, 1994). I think there’s a more current version reprinted from Wipf & Stock. I can’t recommend this book highly enough and there’s plenty here that would add to the discussion above.

    Other examples (modern) for such signs, Baptism–going down in the water. Sacrament–eating and drinking. Temple–several.

  79. September 22, 2015 at 11:06 pm

    Silver Rain, I really like the conclusion you seem to be pushing for: that saving ordinances are not just symbolic rituals, but are the actual life you live to express the promises you made, and that living is the sign of the ordinance which gives meaning to its name. Sealing, then, includes pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and even conception all as part of it, just as baptism includes mourning with those that mourn, repentance, and keeping Christ’s commandments. I think that’s a very beautiful concept, and one I had never considered before, at least not to this extent. It gives meaning back to something I was starting to lose belief in.

  80. Hedgehog
    80
    September 23, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Mary Ann #76, amen!

  81. September 23, 2015 at 8:06 am

    I’ve been waiting to comment on this 1. Because I am continually gathering my thoughts on this subject 2. I am speaking at am LDS retreat on Thursday and have been trying to focus on that (and the times and seasons article it will produce, holla!) 3. I just slept two hours after a red eye….but I just can’t wait to comment until I have clarity or time. So…if you’ll forgive the slap dash nature of this comment if I PROMISE to be more articulate on this thread after Thursday, I will just say:

    I always like what you write, Nathaniel. It always makes me think and generally makes me feel understood in the type of Mormonism I embrace. This time isn’t really any different. I like that this is a pondering paper, rather than a position paper. There needs to be more room for that kind of writing on the internet. I have found myself torn to pieces over the way the church approaches women vs how the gospel approaches women. It is a heart hurt subject for me. Of course, I feel without a home because while I believe I have the authority to bless my sick children, I do not actually want most of the administrative aspects of what I perceive to be the male version of the priesthood. I have the priesthood, I just think mine looks different than yours. What exactly I think it looks like – my feminine power of God is another long subject, for another long day. Of course, in conservative LDS circles my thoughts as pertain to priesthood are considered heretical and in progressive LDS circles my thoughts as pertain to the priesthood are considered anti-woman. So. I am sister without a sisterhood. Which stings. But, you know. Oh well. As we barrel towards equality mostly for better, sometimes for worse – I have felt the value of my womanhood – this thing I feel as a literal power source – become lost amidst the shuffle. As I am presented with Door One and Door Two, I long for a Door Three. Someplace with variations of grey rather than stark blacks and whites. I feel the cracked opening of Door Three in many things you write. I find hints of it here in this essay and that is a wonderful, wonderful thing. I also wonder at the feminists that worry about a constantly child-birthing eternity, a barefoot and pregnant heavenly mother. Surely, our doctrine gives no hint at this in our past or our future. We are co-eternal with God, intelligences that have been organized. To be frank, I see no biological pregnancy in that depiction. Rather, I think our biological functions here, are in some ways, symbolic depictions of our eternal functions later. There is so much literal beauty in the functions of the body of a woman (the fact that her child’s cells stay within her body after she gives birth for the duration of her natural life! gorgeous) and I feel each function imprinted with the fingerprints of a Mother that would have us ask, “Yes. But what does this mean?” I think this essay is asking that question – if we pare it all down, if we take the time to see the things that remain, then we must – We MUST – ask, Yes, so then what does it mean? That’s a question that takes some courage and some amount of a willingness to be mostly uncertain. And that makes us uncomfortable…but I think this conversation is worth the pain. (Like I said, slapdash thoughts after a red-eye flight. More later. But for now, thanks.)

  82. Maggie
    82
    September 23, 2015 at 8:38 am

    Mirrorrorrim – I think that is a beautiful conclusion as well, and it’s the one I have come to, but it is distinctly un-Mormon. Mormonism views the sealing as ‘done’ once the Mormon priesthood has said its piece, and while abuse, infidelity, and abandonment may (in some circumstances) be allowed as cause for the administrative termination of the sealing, Mormonism views the sealing as still in effect until the Mormon priesthood has, again, had its say, I would argue (as you seem to), that living ‘sealed together’ is what makes the sealing.

    Meg – you seem lovely, and I’m sorry you don’t feel you have a sisterhood. It sounds like you at least have a sister in Cassler! I have to nitpick just a little bit. Why is “I just don’t want to the responsibility / administrative aspects / etc. of the priesthood” used as an explanation for women not having the priesthood? You have a brother in my husband, who similarly is completely uninterested in administration, and just uses his priesthood to offer blessings. His views on the subject have never been used as a justification for removing the priesthood from ‘all worthy males’ and investing it in a Levitical-style priesthood. Women are different from other women! We are not (as you know), a homogeneous and interchangeable entity, and I don’t understand the ‘I don’t want / I don’t feel / I don’t care / I get my kicks in other ways’ approach, which suggests that your feelings are universal.

    I think the doctrine doesn’t give any hint at a barefoot and pregnant eternal life for women, not least because Mormon doctrine gives so few hints about what womens’ eternal roles are. Articles like this, suggesting that womens’ glory is in their ability to make children, are not doctrinal, but certainly suggestive. Thus, the ‘barefoot and pregnant’ fear arises not from doctrine, but from this glorification of biological process.

    And I think there are answers to ‘What does this mean’ that neither require strict separation of genders, nor assume that our physical bodies strictly define our spirits.

  83. September 23, 2015 at 9:53 am

    Terry H: in a way, yes. That concept of physical and spiritual being deeply interconnected is a brand of mysticism we don’t really accept any more.

    Mirrorrorrim: I didn’t realize it until you wrote it, since that isn’t the point I was trying to make, it was actually an assumption. Covenants are gateways to life. Just as baptism, temple covenants are meaningless without being infused with meaning by a changed life. If you are baptized and fail to “mourn with those who mourn…” or “stand as a witness…” you have not truly been baptized. The scriptures talk about this as being baptized with water and fire. The same is true with sealing and with every other covenant made. The temple itself says that. All of the blessings of the covenants are meant as catalysts for a covenant life.

    Truthfully, were it not for the covenants I have made (both general and personal) I would not be anything like the person I am today. I would certainly not belong to the LDS Church.

  84. EBK
    84
    September 23, 2015 at 10:02 am

    Maggie #82-
    I just wanted to agree with your response to Meg. While I understand that there are many women who have no desire to take part in the priesthood, are those of us who do automatically in the wrong? I understand that Meg’s only interest in the priesthood is to give healing blessings to her children. I think that’s wonderful, but I personally have less interest in this than in women participating in the administration. I long for women, who can better represent my interests in general than men, to be able to make decisions without having to check with a man first. I want to be able to use my talents to build the kingdom, but the things that I am best at (numbers and finance) are entirely under the realm of “priesthood.” While I am not opposed to being able to perform ordinances, this is not what inspires me to want women to have the priesthood. Other women don’t care about the administration but long to be able to perform ordinances for their children. Other women are perfectly happy doing neither. I am ok with all of these opinions. What I have a hard time with, is getting behind the argument that because I don’t want something, then no woman should and because I do want something, all women should. Can’t we be different and be happy with other women striving for what they consider to be righteous desires? (Meg, you didn’t mention a lot of the things I am arguing against, your comment just vaguely reminded me of defenses I have heard that women shouldn’t have the priesthood because they don’t personally want it.)

  85. September 23, 2015 at 10:08 am

    EBK-

    I want to be able to use my talents to build the kingdom, but the things that I am best at (numbers and finance) are entirely under the realm of “priesthood.”

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with that desire at all, but it does sadden me that people conflate “the kingdom” with “the church.” They aren’t the same. The kingdom is much bigger and much more important.

  86. September 23, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Meg-

    I like that this is a pondering paper, rather than a position paper.

    Yup, that’s a really good description of what I wanted out of this piece.

    As I am presented with Door One and Door Two, I long for a Door Three.

    Me too, very much. I think that’s one reason I like your writing so much, there’s a yearning to get beyond the polarized confrontation that really kind of narrows our options.

    That’s one major reason I don’t like this idea that if you’ve got conservative sensibilities (which I do have) that it must mean your highest aim is to support the status quo (which is nonsense). That kind of conservatism can’t really coexist with genuine Mormonism. We’re always waiting for more light and more knowledge. It’s right there in our Articles of Faith: there’s more to come.

    I’m not saying that there are not Mormons who love the status quo (there are) nor am I saying that every aspect of the status quo needs to change (of course that’s not true), just that the usual connection between political conservatism and stasis doesn’t really apply to Mormonism.

  87. Maggie
    87
    September 23, 2015 at 10:30 am

    So, briefly, Nathaniel, your reply to EBK suggests that you have no problem including women in areas where they aren’t currently allowed by the church. Why can you not agree that women should be allowed to lead (not just other women, but men too), and do the finances (not just for women, but for men too), and generally contribute wherever their individual talents may best fit them for service (not just to other women, but to men too)? You seem to be treading the path of a ‘women’s priesthood’, to which I shrug my shoulders, so long as men and women are allowed the opportunity to serve as equals rather than subordinates, in the roles best fitted to their capabilities rather than their genders.

  88. ABM
    88
    September 23, 2015 at 11:27 am

    EBK,

    Not to get hung up on one of your minor points, but I was recently a Financial Clerk. There is not a lot of numbers and finance involved. More like data entry and printing forms.

  89. Maggie
    89
    September 23, 2015 at 11:38 am

    #88 – “You wouldn’t want this position of responsibility. It is just so boring / draining / time-consuming”
    I feel like this is familiar from…ah yes, nearly every conversation I have ever had with a church leader about any responsibility for which women are not eligible. As it turns out, most responsibilities are boring, draining, and time-consuming (like…you know…parenting) at least some of the time.

  90. September 23, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Maggie-

    so long as men and women are allowed the opportunity to serve as equals rather than subordinates, in the roles best fitted to their capabilities rather than their genders.

    It is important to me to maintain substantive gender roles for two reasons.

    First, this seems to be the teaching of the Church. Teachings sometimes change and sometimes are wrong, but to me the gender-related teachings are much more deeply enmeshed in our doctrines than race-related teachings ever were. The fact is that giving the priesthood to all worthy men changed basically nothing about our core doctrine and theology. Making the priesthood unisex, by contrast, would be seismic shift in Mormon doctrine (not just culture and tradition.)

    Second, I’m deeply suspicious of the kind of flattening of the human experience that results when gender differences are minimized. Racial differences have never had real biological validity. They are skin-deep*. But gender differences are not skin deep. They are quite profound. Any philosophy that attempts to ignore or deny that fact is (1) probably destined to make a lot of people very unhappy by giving impractical recommendations and (2) suspicious to me because I am always suspicious of ideologies that deny common sense / plain reality.

    Now, some caveats / clarifications.

    I said that racial differences are skin-deep. What I mean is that, biologically, there really is no substance to the idea of separate human races. If you take pretty much any attribute and look at the bell-curve for whites vs. blacks vs. Asians (whatever) you’re going to get basically a total overlap.

    This doesn’t mean that race isn’t important culturally or historically or personally. Obviously that is not the case. Race–precisely because it exists at the level of our skin–is an incredibly powerful catalyst for human tendencies to create in- and out-groups, and therefore racial differences have been used as a catalyst to dramatically exacerbate oppressive dynamics that stem from tribalism, classism, etc. So, the effects of racialism (the idea that races have substantive objective reality) are almost all bad and the justification for racialism is basically threadbare.

    On the other hand, there are quite a lot of attributes where, if you look at the bell curves of men and women, you get get two pretty obviously distinct curves. There is almost always some overlap, but the underlying reality is that we’re clearly sampling from a bimodal distribution. This underscores the fact that sex/gender (intentionally conflating the two) have real biological validity. This means the effects of gender essentialism (the idea hat gender has substantive objective reality) does not necessarily lead to oppression (although it certainly can and has) and that the justification for gender essentialism is quite robust.

    The fact that the two genders are substantially different (in aggregate) but that they also overlap creates a difficult balancing problem. Gender roles in aggregate can do a lot of good for society. If women usually have tendency X and men usually have tendency Y, then reflecting this fact in our institutions and expectations is good for most men and for most women.

    On the other hand, gender roles cause harm at an individual level. This is because those women who don’t have tendency X are now forced to confront the a set of institutions and expectations that is not a good fit. (Same goes for men who do not have tendency Y.)

    There are two possible approaches to take. The first is to ditch gender roles entirely and make society as gender-neutral as possible. This would minimize the acute harm felt by atypical men and atypical women (which is good) but at the potential cost of widespread harm to typical men and typical women (which is bad.)

    The second approach is to simply develop a more nuanced understanding of gender roles as being based on generalizations and work to carve out more space for atypical men and atypical women. In other words: you keep the gender role,but you demote it from iron-clad law to guideline. Along with that, you develop a greater sense of empathy for folks who don’t fit into conventional expectations.

    It’s not necessary or reasonable to pick one of these strategies and apply it in all cases, but in general I favor the second approach. I think it is a best of both worlds solution, or closer to one anyway. Practically, you keep the benefits of gender roles (which, when they can steer people towards decisions that will fit their general characteristics, makes for more fulfilled and stable and healthy society) but you mitigate a lot of their costs (by treating exceptional cases as deserving of respect). I also find it a morally superior view in the sense that–no matter how much we try to refine our social conventions, institutions, etc.–there will always be outsiders. It’s kind of like the “you will always have poor among you.” Outsiders of one description or another will always be present, and so to me it is better to change how we deal with outsiders (for their good and for our own) rather than to try and continuously break down social institutions, expectations, and traditions in an ultimately futile endeavor to stop having outsiders at all.

    The tough case, however, are binary gender roles that do not allow for exceptional cases. For example: women in combat positions in the military. I think this is an absolutely terrible idea. Combat–even modern combat–requires a great deal of strength and particularly upper-body strength. There may be some women who can pass these standards, but hey will be very, very, very rare. So you have a small number of outsiders in this case (extremely strong women who want to serve in combat positions). On the other hand there are costs involved in shifting from male-only to mixed-gender combat units. On balance, given the objectives of the military, the costs do not seem worth it. This means that I’m essentially saying that outsiders in this particular case have no recourse. That’s not something I’m comfortable or happy about, but the willingness to accept that sometimes there are no good answers and you have to choose from available, imperfect options is a defining attribute of conservatism.

    I think the case is a lot less clear from the standpoint of administration in the Church. There is no sch criteria as “very strong upper body strength” that creates a clear-cut gender division. Women’s ability to, for example, do finance work is (as far as I know) perfectly equal to men’s. And even if it was not (purely for the sake of argument), our Church does not require 99th percentile financial skills, or anything close to it.

    In the case of priesthood, I think that there is a benefit to having a gendered organizational structure. That is why I favor some kind of priestesshood as opposed to a unisex priesthood. But I am no really comfortable with the fact that, as things stand now, the actual leadership of the Church is 100% male. That bugs me. Different roles make sense to me and resonate with our doctrine of gender complementarity. But we don’t just have different roles, we have more roles and more prominent roles for men, and that does not follow from our doctrine and–indeed–seems counter to the egalitarianism talked about in the Book of Mormon.

    Partially, I’d like to see some of this imbalance rectified by, for example, restoring some of the independence and prominence of the Relief Society. I like the idea of having 15 men and 15 women on the stand at General Conference.

    Partially, I also think that it may be that our expectations are warped by a warped view of the Church vs. the Kingdom, and that we spend far too much time worrying about what is in fact a relatively small and comparatively unimportant aspect of the Kingdom. It is possible that the Kingdom does have gender parity as a whole, but that the Church is a subset that does not. It is possible that the solution is not to try to bring gender parity to the Church, but to instead broaden our vision from the Church to the Kingdom.

    This comment is already WAY long enough, so I’m not going to elaborate further.

    I’ll just end by saying that I do not think concerns about women’s roles in the Church are at all groundless. They bother me too. Our differences are probably not quite so black-and-white as political labels would imply.

  91. ABM
    91
    September 23, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Maggie, I think you are reading too much into my comment… all I am saying is that there isn’t much of an application of “finance or numbers” that she expressed interest in. I also have a finance background and was disappointed at how little finance work I actually got to do.

  92. EBK
    92
    September 23, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Nathaniel,
    Agreed that the Kingdom and the Church are two different things. I’d like to be able to contribute to both, if possible.

    ABM,
    Fair point. Maybe I should just accept the fact that my particular talents aren’t really applicable to any church callings.

  93. EBK
    93
    September 23, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Nathaniel,
    From an earthly, practical standpoint I can see why separate spheres and some separate expectations are necessary for men and women. Although I am in favor of women getting the priesthood, I am not necessarily opposed to them having their own quorums or still maintaining some sort of gendered space (ala priesthood/relief society) where they can address needs that are generally gender based. In general I think that men and women have way more in common than not. I think Mormon culture perpetuates this idea that men and from Mars and women are from Venus and we can’t really understand each other. I think there are a few essential differences, but not as many as I was taught growing up in the church (not that long ago).

    Theologically it makes complete and utter sense to me, coming from a Mormon standpoint, to have a priesthood and a priestesshood as long as they truly are equal in power. Currently it seems to me like our doctrine implies that any priestesshood power that women have is entirely granted to them by men with priesthood. This is not equal in power and thus does not jive with my understanding of eternity.

    My hang up is in what will happen in reality if women are given “the priestesshood.” I worry that in the Church (not the gospel) this will become a way to further separate men and women. I worry that all the current expectations and problems will still be there only now the word motherhood will be replaced with priestesshood and those opposed to women having any real power or say in the church will say, “We gave you what you wanted now stay silent like a good priestesshood holder.” I think a lot of your ideas sound great, but what I’d really like to change in the church is they idea that men preside over everyone and women preside over women and children. I think men have many important things to teach women and we hear them all the time. I also think women have many important things to teach men and men have very little chance to learn from women. I worry that a priestesshood would perpetuate this problem while pretending like it was solving it. I’m not saying that a priestesshood couldn’t do all the good that I hope for, but I think it is more likely that it will just entrench us where we are and redefine a few words to make it look like there was a change.

  94. Maggie
    94
    September 23, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Nathaniel – I THINK we agree, but I confess it is hard for me to say that when you start by saying “it is important to maintain substantive gender roles”, which implies that the ‘substantive gender roles’ you would support require maintenance. Why could we not simply acknowledge gender differences? The rather reductive focus on gender essentialism (look! men and women!) seems to me a much more significant flattening of the world than one which sees humanity in all its shades and colors, with strong hues of male and female enlivened by tints of leadership and washes of nurturing and shades of common sense. This seems to be what you’re getting at with your ‘second approach’, but this approach (as I read it) doesn’t require enforcing gender roles any more than maintaining liberals and conservatives requires forcing people to listen to Fox news or NPR. It happens naturally because more women then men are going to show up on craft night.

    Ok – I started writing a lot more, but it’s all just in support of the primary thought that whatever is essential to our genders will not need to be enforced, though it may be supported or demonstrated or upheld.

  95. Maggie
    95
    September 23, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    Also, #93 (EBK)

  96. September 23, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    When I first read this post (back when there were only single digit comments) my first thought was of Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s talk “Brethren, We Have Work to Do”. His approach was more around earning manhood vs. losing it. But still, I’m surprised this thread is at 95+ comments without anyone mentioning it.
    One annoyance that I’m having with some of the comments is that someone will say ‘This group of people is essential because they do (or at least generally do) X’. And then someone will respond with ‘Is that all you think that group of people do? Just X!’ In no way, does saying that a certain group of people excel at something (or are the only source of something), mean that the original person was saying that that was all they do.

  97. Dave K
    97
    September 23, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    SilverRain (and maybe others),

    I can see where you’re going. I don’t mind tying physical acts in with the ordinance. In essence, putting flesh on the bones. But if we’re going to do this, I can’t see why we should stop with pregnancy, birth and lactation. Thousands of other acts – giving baths, helping with homework, teaching to drive a car, etc. – are also part of the physical creation of bonds that make a sealing eternal.

    In my mindset, an ordinance is a one time symbolic event that points someone in the right direction. It’s a trail marker, not the trail itself. But maybe that’s just semantics; what really matters is that we’re all walking the trail.

  98. brian
    98
    September 23, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    RE NathanielI #90. I think there’s a lot to say the ‘priesthood’ is already unisex. I don’t see any seismic shift in ‘doctrine’ is necessary, but perhaps practice, polilcy, and culture–though I’m sure you disagree. I mean, apparently, women who have gone through the temple already have it, though we’re still figuring out what that means. The GAs aren’t calling it ‘priestesshood.’ We could pull the temple wording or ‘priestess’ in here, but that opens another can of worms viz. a viz. temple parlance and contemporary usage in the church.

    Granted, I understand you aren’t against women having the priesthood, just a different version with different functions (and name apparently) than what you have.

  99. Pete
    99
    September 23, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    How does the qualifier of ‘to your husband’ affect the designation of women as queens and priestesses? Is the priestesshood something else entirely? Would husbands be designated as kings and priests to their wives if a priestesshood was revealed/established?

  100. September 23, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Nathaniel, thanks for the interesting post.

    The Church, in other words, is an auxiliary to the family.

    Be careful. Isn’t that pretty much what got Poelman censored? ;)

    Last year I was asked to respond to Cassler’s Ruby Slippers on Her Feet, which contains some of the same elements. I admit that her particular brand of Mormon feminism mostly escapes me. To promote a notion of equality based on men baptizing and women breastfeeding is nonsensical. Men urinate standing up. Is that an ordinance, too, just because women don’t (usually) do it?

    Perhaps more to the point, I wonder why it’s not OK to ask if women can have the priesthood, but it is OK to claim ordinance status of biological functions. Why isn’t the latter seen as heretical? (Not to mention that we don’t need ordinances. As an adoptee…that’s kind of important.)

    I agree with your rebuttal to EBK’s statement to a great extent. If you talk about earth life and roles, I can’t see anything more important than raising children. Not filling out insurance contracts, not teaching biology classes, not piloting planes, not making strategic military plans, not recording rap lyrics, not constructing bridges. I just don’t see anything as important as caring for humans, since I see nothing remotely as valuable anywhere on earth.

    But that does feed back into EBK’s point about Heavenly Mother’s absence in the creation story. If she’s not there at creation and she’s not there later to nurture (no praying to Heavenly Mother!), what’s going on with that “role” thing?

  101. September 23, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    Alison-

    To promote a notion of equality based on men baptizing and women breastfeeding is nonsensical. Men urinate standing up. Is that an ordinance, too, just because women don’t (usually) do it?

    Well it would certainly be nonsensical to assert that anything women can do that men cannot do is an ordinance just for that reason alone. If that was really the argument I had put forward, it would be quite a silly one.

  102. September 23, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Also, Alison, I had never heard of the Poeman censorship thing before, so that was interesting.

    I just finished reading the two version of the talk side-by-side: http://www.lds-mormon.com/poelman.shtml

    Not sure about that site, but comparing the two versions was interesting. I like the conference version better than the cleaned up version, but I don’t think any of his essential points were changed. And, to be honest, I think that the censored version makes a lot more sense for an official pronouncement. I’ll have to consider it some more, but my initial reaction is not to make much of the “censorship.”

    It’s probably not a great idea to denigrate–even by implication–the Church in General Conference, but the new version didn’t actually contest any of his points. It’s mostly a question of emphasis, and that’s not enough to get me excited (usually).

  103. September 23, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    Nathaniel, what is Cassler’s basis for claiming breastfeeding as an ordinance? It’s certainly not one we’d call authoritative. My impression from those writings of hers I have perused (not remotely exhaustive, I admit) is that she wanted to find something men can’t do to balance things women can’t do.

    EmJen, are you as confused as I am? When I hear Oaks and Oscarson with all the you-already-sort-of-have-the-priesthood-or-the-blessings-of-the-priesthood-plus-you-have-priesthood-authority-with-callings-and-do-not-forget-the-temple-priestess-thing-we-cannot-explain-and-other-stuff I start to wonder, sheesh, why not just ordain women already?

    (Nathaniel, you’ve gotta admit, ejaculation is a life-giving act. So there’s that.)

    Meg Conley, as a radical libertarian-ish conservative feminist :) I understand your The Price Is Right analogy (are you old enough to have mad that analogy? ask your mom… ;) ) but also know there are plenty of us non-conformers, even in Happy Valley (again…your mom).

    Meg:

    I just don’t want to the responsibility / administrative aspects / etc. of the priesthood.

    As others have said, I don’t see the relevance to not wanting to do stuff. (That falls under a number of my not-so-great reasons.) I don’t want any calling at all. Should I have refused baptism to get out of it?

  104. EBK
    104
    September 23, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    Pete #99 – These questions are exactly what I mean when I say I worry about giving women a separate priestesshood. My current understanding of it based on the temple phrasing of “to your husband” makes me uncomfortable.

    Alison Moore Smith #100- I don’t disagree with your comment that there isn’t anything more important that raising children (is that sentence a triple negative?). I might add the caveat that there isn’t anything more important than raising children for those who have children. I have children and nothing in my life trumps that. But it is not the ONLY important thing. Also, I think that statement should be equally true for men.

    “If she’s not there at creation and she’s not there later to nurture (no praying to Heavenly Mother!), what’s going on with that “role” thing?” THIS! This is the absolute, most important issue I have. It is essential to my identity, purpose and eternity and it has no official answer. If a woman’s most important eternal role is that of a mother, then why is Heavenly Mother absent from pretty much our entire doctrine other than a small one line mention of her mere existence. I have heard many explanations for this inconsistency. The only one that makes any sense to me is “I don’t know – pending further revelation.” But at some point I have to wonder if the hope that maybe-someday-there-might-be-a-revelation-if-someone-decides-to-ask-for-it is enough to hold me here. Especially as I’m deciding what will be the best way to help my daughter reach her full potential.

  105. September 23, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Silver Rain, in many ways you are probably further along in your spiritual development than I am, so I am not at all surprised that something that is an assumption for you would be a great new insight for me. :)

    Maggie, if Silver Rain and I believe it, and we’re both Latter-day Saints, then I hope it’s not totally not LDS. Maybe we could call it slightly Mormon? :P

    But Silver Rain and I often seem to have very pronounced differences in the part of the spectrum we each choose on a lot of issues, so if this is something that resonates with both of us, I would guess it does with a lot of other Latter-day Saints, too.

    I don’t want to misrepresent anyone, so someone please correct me if I am doing so, but Brother Richard Scott, who passed away yesterday, seems to me to have held a position in regard to his sealing to his wife Jeanene, that mirrors the one Silver Rain expressed. So if that’s true, that’s three!

  106. September 23, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    Alison-

    Nathaniel, what is Cassler’s basis for claiming breastfeeding as an ordinance? It’s certainly not one we’d call authoritative.

    Obviously it’s not authoritative, and there is absolutely no pretension of authority in her piece or anything I’ve written either.

    The logic–I think–goes something like this: the point of earthly existence is family. Period. That’s the highest goal: to repair, extend, and create family relationships. We have ordinances to that effect: baptism, sealings, etc. but–says Cassler–aren’t the roles a woman plays also vital in this effort? I think they are.

    So that’s the framework. It’s not authoritative or conclusive. But it is very suggestive, and it would possibly explain a lot.

    My impression from those writings of hers I have perused (not remotely exhaustive, I admit) is that she wanted to find something men can’t do to balance things women can’t do.

    Well, that seems to be about her motivations and is therefore totally irrelevant to her actual argument. I don’t think it’s accurate of her motivations either, btw. So it’s very odd that folks (not just you) bring it up so frequently. It’s really neither here nor there.

    The relevant point is the centrality of the family, which leads to statements such as “the Church is an auxilliary to the family” and also to the possibility that there are female ordinances along with male ordinances that work in conjunction to do the work of creating / repairing / extending family bonds.

    (Nathaniel, you’ve gotta admit, ejaculation is a life-giving act. So there’s that.)</blockquote.

    No, I don't have to admit that at all. It's utterly absurd. Ejaculation is a life-giving act only within the context of (heterosexual) sex. And I’m already amenable to the idea that sex–within marriage–is a kind of ordinance or something very special. (The word “ordinance” is getting way over-used here, and that’s partially my fault. It’s sloppy, I know.)

    But ejaculation isn’t the same as sex. It’s not even the same as the male contribution to sex, since ejaculation can and does happen in a wide variety of situations that have absolutely nothing to do with procreative sex. So no: ejaculation per se is not a plausible candidate. Not even a little bit.

  107. ji
    107
    September 23, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    [T]he point of earthly existence is family. Period.

    I disagree. I think the point of earthly existence is enduring to the end in faith, hope, and charity, all centered in Jesus Christ. Families are a great blessing. We are the Church of Jesus Christ, not the Church of Eternal Families.

  108. EBK
    108
    September 23, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    Ji- YES!!

  109. September 23, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    I wouldn’t argue with your statement at all, ji, but I would question whether you’ve actually said anything different than I have.

  110. September 24, 2015 at 12:46 am

    I came across something today, and think it fits pretty well into the conversation.

    Nathaniel, in post 90, you said, “Teachings sometimes change and sometimes are wrong, but to me the gender-related teachings are much more deeply enmeshed in our doctrines than race-related teachings ever were. The fact is that giving the priesthood to all worthy men changed basically nothing about our core doctrine and theology. Making the priesthood unisex, by contrast, would be seismic shift in Mormon doctrine (not just culture and tradition.)”

    Here’s what I came across: a letter by Delbert Stapley during the time he was an apostle, sent to Mitt Romney’s father, who at the time was governor of Michigan. I had heard before just how shocking Official Declaration 2 was when it was first read, but until today, I hadn’t realized just how deeply-ingrained racism was in the church, including in what was believed to be doctrine. Based on this letter, when the ban on racial discrimination with regard to the priesthood was seen as stemming from the core teachings and revelations of Joseph Smith himself. It was very much considered doctrine, and Brother Delbert’s statement near the end of the letter, “The position of the Church cannot change until the Lord changes it Himself,” is exactly the same thing that is said about women and the priesthood today.

    So to me, racism was just as deeply enmeshed in our doctrines as sexism is today. If anything, it was even more so. Looking back, we structurally de-emphasize that, just as we do with polygamy, and probably for the same reasons: there are a lot of branches of the Latter-day Saint movement that promote both polygamy and racial priesthood exclusion, and our leadership does not want to give members cause to be attracted to those organizations. Plus, understandably Latter-day Saint leaders do not want members to have crises of faith over ideas we don’t even believe anymore: there are more than enough faith struggles over things many Latter-day Saints do still support, gender-based priesthood exclusion among them.

    I hope you’re not offended; until I found this letter today, I agreed with your assessment that racial exclusion was much less entrenched back then than gender exclusion is now.

  111. September 24, 2015 at 12:57 am

    Interestingly, Brother Delbert died in August 1978, a month after Official Declaration 2 was released, and two months before it was sustained by members in General Conference, becoming canonized doctrine. One might even say the timing was ironic, given Brother Delbert’s insinuations in the letter about the reasons for the death of a friend of his who had been a vigorous civil rights advocate.

  112. Yourfoodallergyisfake
    112
    September 24, 2015 at 6:01 am

    Nathaniel, I agree that gender is more doctrinally fundamental than race. As an aside, though, I would argue that race can have biological, not just social, meaning deeper than skin color. Genetic allele frequencies can be distinct between races. For example there are several genetic diseases that have huge racial disparities, such as sickle cell anemia and focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. And if single allele frequencies can have resolve-able bell curves, then certainly all those genes that co-segregate with those alleles can also have district bell curves be5ween races. The problem is with the arbitrariness of definitions of race, not that race has no biological meaning.m

  113. your food allergy is fake
    113
    September 24, 2015 at 6:54 am

    *distinct bell curves between races.

  114. Jenn
    114
    September 24, 2015 at 7:05 am

    Nathaniel, this is an argument that has been raging in my mind for the last few months. I appreciate your bravery in “noodling” your way around this topic.

    My initial response to this article (the first I have read from Times and Seasons), was cold indifference. The old verbiage that gender roles are eternal has, over the past few months, run cold for me. Our ward has been bombarded with a barrage of fear and hate justified by the Proclamation for the Family and other talks given by our leaders. I have seen each topic Atonement, sacrifice, family, love, scripture, history take a lethal turn to focus on gender roles and our superiority because we have the “truth.” Each week I sit trying to find truth, struggling to find peace and love. My soul has been screaming that there has to be more. Their small box view of gender roles, family and love fail me. The more we tighten our grip on gender roles, the more precious souls I see slipping through the cracks. (No idea how Star Wars worked its way into my view, but there it is.)

    Then, I read through the comments. I was drawn in by the dialogue and I had to give the article another chance. I do believe our church needs to rebuild/redefine its idea of gender roles. Do we have to cut at the root, or was the base of the tree good? This fundamental argument intrigues me. God’s kingdom has to have room for equality and love. I appreciate your introduction of the idea that door number three may include the base of the tree I am already familiar with…. something I had not considered until now. If nothing else, it leaves me with hope that there is room for my need for equality, my husband’s need to be an essential part of God’s plan, and my sister who is a lesbian.

    I am still working through your ideas, and I have found some peace here.

  115. Meg Stout
    115
    September 24, 2015 at 9:40 am

    Hi Nathaniel,

    FWIW, I haven’t read the comment string.

    Regarding the suicide rate in males, it has been found that the suicide rate among female veterans is significantly higher than the suicide rate of females in the general population, approaching or exceeding the suicide rate of males in the general population. You leap to a conclusion/hypothesis for the cause of male suicide that I don’t think is sufficient.

    That said, I do think you articulate well the anti-woman implications of eliminating the tie between heterosexual reproduction and marriage.

    I don’t doubt the good intentions of those who wish to rearrange society and move the idiological furniture of Church doctrine. But as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux wrote (c. 1150), “L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs” – Hell is full of good wishes and desires. I wonder if he was in any way thinking about how Saint Margaret had convinced the witangemot to redefine marriage…

    Having good intentions is not the same as having good suggestions, at least when it comes to reorganizing the fundamental workings of society. And yet Christ is mighty to save all who are willing to be gathered, who are willing to submit to God’s governance.

  116. September 24, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Mirrorrorrim: I would certainly not say that! I’ve just had to learn some things whether I wanted to or not. But thank you.

  117. Maggie
    117
    September 24, 2015 at 10:18 am

    As long as we’re bringing up letters, there is of course the Lowry Nelson Letters, which include writings by George A. Smith with similar claims that racism is fundamental to Mormon doctrine. I verily believe that when faced with invaders from the outside, Mormons held racial doctrines every bit as dear as they are currently hold gender doctrines.

    And on the topic of genetics – yes, men and women are genetically distinct, but the famous “Men and women are different species!” paper (from 2005) also suggests that the genetic variability among women is huge, and that “Females can differ from each other almost as much as they do from males in the behavior of many genes at the heart of sexual identity”. (The press release for the paper, with additional details is here.) This was news to me given that I’ve generally understood we see fatter tails on phenotypic distributions of males than females. Perhaps this suggests that genetics isn’t everything and we can move away from gender enforcement (*big, hopeful smile*)

    Also – in #109 – the beauty of not defining your terms is that you can always say ‘Of course that’s what I mean by X’, but the beauty of choosing to define your terms is that you can actually think through and discuss what you mean by X, and decide whether you want to modify terms.

    I would argue that the point of life is to Love God with your whole soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Though I am perfectly willing to accept your definition of family and my definition of neighbor as interchangeable (I can see that fitting with your stated goal of repairing, extending, and creating family relationships), such a correlation would require that your definition of family not be specific to male-headed, female-birthed families, much as my definition is not specific to the people who live near me. What is your definition of family such that it is the point of earthly existence?

  118. brian
    118
    September 24, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Given the history of shifting statements, practices, and ‘doctrines’ about both marriage (polygamy) and gender issues (including LGBT issues) by church leaders/press, I basically think every thing the church puts out about such above should be taken with a huge grain of salt–really, I think they should have a disclaimer about it, but that’s not the way we generally operate. Regardless, blog posts should also, in my opinion, have a similar disclaimer. I mean, this isn’t new to say, but honestly, our track record doesn’t offer much credibility on these topics.

  119. Josh Smith
    119
    September 24, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Jenn (#114). Thank you for your comment. I’ve felt similarly. This has been a worthwhile discussion for me as well.

    Maggie (#117). I’m probably in the camp that says, “genetics is everything … and we can move away from gender enforcement.”

    I’m of the view that who we are (that which makes us human) has developed over hundreds of thousands of years–in order to survive in a world that is fundamentally different than the world we live in today. We are still made of exactly the same genetics as our ancient ancestors, but our environment is completely different. In my opinion, the differences between races and the differences between genders once made the difference between life and death, but today they are insignificant to success in the world we’ve built.

    Let me see if I can say it another way … Once we solve some of the major problems (acquiring food, shelter, safety from other tribes, and managing microbes) people are amazingly malleable in the social organizations we create.

    I guess my conclusion is “Yes, men and women are different. Yes, those differences are genetic. But, those differences likely have no impact on success in a 2015 world.”

    (Caveat. Ambiguously defined gender roles may disrupt a social construct created solely by men.)

  120. September 24, 2015 at 11:55 am

    mirrorrorrim, Maggie. and brian-

    Y’all have made a pretty similar point, which is that people at the time said that the racial priesthood bad was a core doctrine / deeply enmeshed in our theology, etc. That doesn’t persuade me that the priesthood ban actually was a core doctrine, however. I think that it never was.

    This shouldn’t be all that surprising, really. I believe the practice was a mistake (and I think most people think that is probable / possible) and that the folk doctrine rationales were also a mistake (and that is official). So it’s no big deal that the same people who were wrong about what the practice should be and why it should be that way were also wrong about its significance?

    Yes, the fact that Church leaders were mistaken about the importance of this practice means that it is possible that they could be mistaken about gender, but that doesn’t mean it’s probable.

    In fact you could argue–and I believe–that rather than making us super-suspicious, the history of the racial priesthood ban might make the Church’s current positions on gender/sexuality more credible because the leaders (just as much as other members) are keenly aware of the possibility of error.

    The central point is this, however. I think that members then (leaders or not) were wrong in their assessment of the importance of the racial ban. No matter what letters they wrote, talks they gave, or thoughts they had to the contrary, I think they were wrong.

    I think that when the leaders say that gender/sexuality is important to today, they have it right this time.

    Leaders are imperfect, but if we stop giving them andy credence because of that then what’s the point of having leaders?

  121. September 24, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    EBK:

    It is essential to my identity, purpose and eternity and it has no official answer. If a woman’s most important eternal role is that of a mother, then why is Heavenly Mother absent from pretty much our entire doctrine other than a small one line mention of her mere existence.

    I completely agree and have to wonder why there was so much seeming satisfaction with this lack of knowledge in the past?

    Perhaps women were just so accustomed to being un- or under-represented in things spiritual that it seemed normal. It’s funny to me now that I was SO BOTHERED about black men not having the priesthood as a child, but—although vocally struggling with it since age four—not nearly as bothered by women’s exclusion. I suppose—per Nathaniel’s comments—I found gender to be a much more obvious (and possibly meaningful) distinction than the color of one’s skin.

    mirrorrorrim: as an oldster (51 ancient years), I well remember not only the enmeshment of race in the church, but also the various and sundry justifications given. (Randy Bott simply repeated a very common one and was thrown under the bus for doing it.)

    Yes, it absolutely was considered a doctrinal position. Yes, there were many reasons given in order to support and defend the church position. The history rewrite that is going on is wrong. (The same thing is happening with the church essays on Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Most of the same people who used to call me apostate for saying it was so (from the early 90s until recently) are the same ones saying it is obvious old news. Phhhttt.) Agreed also that the sexism today looks and sounds very much like the racism of the past.

  122. Maggie
    122
    September 24, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    I’m not convinced that the dichotomy is “I’m going to trust that you’re right and come up with interesting ways to defend you”, vs. “whatever, you were wrong last time, I don’t care.” I think the middle ground lies very clearly in Dave K’s suggestion that we look at the fruits of various teachings. Leaders provide a framework of belief – an example, a set of directions – within which we can begin to experiment on their words. Rather than juggling all our beliefs at once, we can test the individual components of an inherited structure to find what strengthens and weakens ourselves and our society. Leaders are great, but leaders are for the people, not the people for the leaders. Their job is to demonstrate success rather than demand obedience.

    And, of course having been wrong doesn’t mean Mormon leaders will always be wrong, but it does make it very hard for me not to question the claim that enforcing gender roles is a ‘core doctrine’ – because (as has been discussed often), defining ‘core doctrine’ is a pretty tricky business. (If you’d like to offer up a definition of that term at least, I’d be happy to hear it).

  123. September 24, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    I’ve been following the conversations on here with great interest, as the definitions of gender is something very near and dear to me in my life right now. I fully believe in the doctrine of eternal gender, even if I believe in the possibility of someone being mis-gendered in this life, but I’ve yet to find anything that is concrete where we could say “here is where female ends and male begins”. It’s become one of those uber-questions for which I can only form temporary lines that work for me, all of which are ephemeral enough to change and flow as my own experience does.

    My personal belief for the balancing of the gendered Priesthood is the missing Priestesshood, being the result of a Patriarchal world, of which we have only been able to create shadows of in our attempts to find what is missing. I am absolutely against the rationale of motherhood being the balance, and disagree with SilverRain (it had to happen some time) about pregnancy/breastfeeding/etc. being an ordinance. It’s probably just a personal definition thing, but when something can be prevented or not available despite the desire to participate, it can’t be an ordinance. It may be a holy experience to be able to participate in these things (I hold it sacred to have been allowed to help feed my children when breastfeeding wasn’t possible by my wife’s current body), but just not in the same category as an ordinance. YMMV.

    Good luck with the ponderings, and I hope we all get at least some glimmer of the personal revelation on this we desire.

  124. Maggie
    124
    September 24, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Ah – I cut out this part, but I also think it’s important that leaders are multidimensional. Finding a weak support does not necessarily mean throwing out the whole structure, and one can follow leaders eagerly in some directions while balking at others.

  125. September 24, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Nathaniel Givens:

    We have ordinances to that effect: baptism, sealings, etc. but–says Cassler–aren’t the roles a woman plays also vital in this effort? I think they are.

    Of course feeding a baby is a “vital role” in keeping it alive. But she’s claiming lactation is an ordinance. Why is that (and her entire “first tree” narrative) not heresy? (And do horses, cows, dogs, cats, etc., all participate in the lactation ordinance?)

    Well, that seems to be about her motivations and is therefore totally irrelevant to her actual argument.

    It’s not relevant to whether her argument is sound, but I can’t see anything else to her argument. “Yes, men get to do stuff women can’t do. Women get to do stuff men can’t do. ORDINANCE!”

    She’s taken church-sanctioned male-only ordinances and tried to show parity by listing uniquely female bodily functions. She also promotes things like women placing their hands on shoulders and saying a prayer. Because it’s not quite mimicking a priesthood blessing, but it shows “knowledge of the power and authority held by Mother’s in Zion.” This is good because it will “take nothing away from our brethren.” (But giving a blessing along with them would?)

    I can fabricate ordinances, too, but that doesn’t make them real.

    You say it’s “absurd” to suggest ejaculation is a “life-giving act” because it can only help procreate in a heterosexual marriage and can occur otherwise?

    But ejaculation isn’t the same as sex.

    And lactation isn’t the same as nourishing a baby. Women can breastfeed people/animals who aren’t their children. In fact (no innuendo intended), they can pump into a cup and dump it down the sink, too. So, not a plausible candidate for ordinance status?

    I’d also like to emphasize that I’m an adoptee. I’m more like my mother than my sister, her biological daughter—and all the other kids claim I’m the favorite although I explicitly deny it. ;)

    Leaders are imperfect, but if we stop giving them andy credence because of that then what’s the point of having leaders?

    I’m going to end with a point we agree on. :)

  126. September 24, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    Yahweh had a wife. There was a Jewish temple dedicated to the Queen of Heaven in Egypt. There are female prophetesses in the Old Testament. The only people specifically named at the death and resurrection of Christ are women (and of course, the role of the mother goddess in history was over the realms of death and birth).

    There was a divine female presence throughout most of Israelite history, and within early Christian history as well. The cult of the Virgin Mary in Catholicism was not an apostate invention; it was an inherent adaptation already well established. (Read Mother of the Lord by Margaret Barker for some interesting discussions on this material. She goes as far as to say that in early Christianity the Holy Spirit was actually Heavenly Mother).

    I loved your post Nathan, and the fact that it has inspired so many responses shows that it is a subject people are exploring, whether they agree or disagree, I think this is great.

    For my own part, I could only say that the biological functions of motherhood (birthing, lactating, etc.) can be called ordinances only metaphorically. Of course, this might be a double entendre, as in fact the ordinances are themselves metaphors. Priesthood ordinances, in my view, reveal cosmological functions. They also always have a sign, name, and token. They are a language; the heavenly language, and in my view, along with mathematics embedded in material physics, the only universal language in the cosmos.

    Cosmological functions also have biological resonances. The ordinance of baptism, for example, shows the initiate being born from waters. Next, they are blessed with the Spirit, as when the dove descended upon Jesus. This imagery is creation imagery of the waters of creation upon which the spirit of the lord brooded and out of which the first dry land (the initiate in this case) appeared. Of course, creation resonates with all creative acts, and the fact that a human embryo grows within a body of water, and then at birth the waters breaks and the infant breaths for the first time shows, in essence, a repetition of the cosmogony.

    Women are the beings who give birth. They create. In this sense they resonate with cosmological functions and therefore may be metaphorically linked to priesthood ordinances. I would not call them identical, however. Of course, I maybe wrong, and in fact I believe that we at present have only partial ordinances and a very small understanding of this heavenly language. In the eternities, I have no doubt that the divisions we see on earth do in fact belong to the earth as a type and shadow of what is actually going on in the heavens. For all we know, it is not Peter standing at the Pearly Gates, but Mary.

    I will let people speculate, but the truth of the matter is if we think the way the Church is run and organized now is how it is in the eternities, well, hold on to your tidy little testimonies, but I think we will discover quite the opposite. And this brings me to your favorite line Nathan, the Church is an auxiliary to the family, and not the other way around. Yes! If that were only true in practice. But indeed, the Kingdom of God on earth is not the Church, but the child. And the child was not made for the Church, but the Church for the child.

    Thanks Again.

  127. Pete
    127
    September 24, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    Alison,

    Agreed!

    When have we ever had a general conference address, or talks in Sacrament meeting, or Sunday School/Relief Society/Priesthood lessons specifically and exclusively about Her? How ironic that the YW theme excludes Her, especially considering the focus on divine nature. Are there any Primary songs with even a hint of a divine Mother? And no mention at all in the Relief Society motto where, if anywhere, one would expect to find something. I think the silence, unfortunately, speaks volumes.

    In a general conference talk given by Elder Holland in 2003, he says… “Little wonder then that the Prophet Joseph Smith taught: ‘It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God.’ ‘I want you all to know Him,’ he said, ‘and to be familiar with Him.’ We must have ‘a correct idea of his … perfections, and attributes,’ an admiration for ‘the excellency of [His] character.'”

    Why isn’t it essential to know about our Heavenly Mother? Isn’t She God as well?

    In the Gospel Topics essay about Becoming Like God, there is one short paragraph referencing O My Father, then a footnote referring to an article claiming there are lots of references to Her. Too bad none of that material made it into the essay. It’s not like there wasn’t enough space. Many LDS women are afraid that they, too, will be relegated to footnote status in the stories of the eternities.

  128. Maggie
    128
    September 24, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Perhaps the solution to the problem of our missing Heavenly Mother is that their are not separate ‘male virtues’ and ‘female virtues’, and we will one day discover the shocking truth that being a good woman requires the same heroism, sacrifice, devotion, love, and tenderness we see on display from both of our Heavenly Parents. (Or…I decided that the Trinity is the holy family, and the nurturing, comforting, teaching Spirit is our Heavenly Mother. Otherwise the Holy Spirit is some kind of weird uncle, which makes our mother’s absence even more awkward).

  129. brian
    129
    September 24, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    Nathaniel (#120), I don’t think the racial ban was a core doctrine either, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t presented as such. I truly cannot understand your logic here at all: it was presented as a doctrine, and just because they said it was doesn’t make it so–but what they currently say about the doctrine of marriage and gender on the other hand is doctrine because . . . ? I get that you agree with them, but that doesn’t make either of you correct or give either of you more credibility on the topic. And though you say “the fact that Church leaders were mistaken about the importance of this practice means that it is possible that they could be mistaken about gender, but that doesn’t mean it’s probable,” this might, in fact, make it more probable than you think if ones believes the rational stems from similar cultural bias–which seems the case if you look at the history of their comments about gay people evolving as the culture has.

    In a similar vein, that you have basically stated elsewhere that you gave up your hopes and dreams of being a writer because of the church’s stance on gender roles also raises questions about your own impartial ability to access the situation.

    None of the GAs are calling the racial ban a mistake, or even the possibility of one. So, no, that doesn’t give them more credibility. My whole point was that it would give them more if they had a disclaimer about race and marriage and gender in relation to past claims, but they don’t.

    Just because you (and I) want a narrative of church discourse that says they acknowledge the possibility of an error in no way makes it true. Just because you seem to want a unified, unchanging discourse to exist in relation to marriage and gender to have existed in the church in no way makes it so.

  130. Wesley Dean
    130
    September 24, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    Nathaniel, have you seen this? Here is a pretty thorough treatment of this topic. http://thegoateskids.blogspot.com/2009/10/power-and-covenants-men-women-and.html

  131. September 24, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Wow, Maggie, I had never read the Lowry letters before. I hadn’t realized the First Presidency was explicitly teaching racism well into the 1940s. I really liked part of Brother Lowry’s reply: “Another principle which stands out as one studies the development of cultures is the tendency of institutions to resist change.”

    I feel that is very true.

    Thanks for sharing.

  132. Dave K
    132
    September 24, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    mirrorrorrim,

    Following the Lowry letters, the First Presidency sent out a letter to local leaders to clarify the doctrine of the priesthood ban (Lowry had questioned whether the ban was doctrine or just policy). The First Presidency stated in that signed letter that the ban was doctrine revealed by God, and supported this doctrine with the same justifications (curse of cain; premortal valiancy) that have now been renounced by the church through the Race and Priesthood essay.

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2004/04/21/a-statement-from-the-first-presidency/

  133. Brad L
    133
    September 24, 2015 at 6:34 pm

    Yes, the Lowry Nelson letters are great to read. The funny thing is, is that pretty much most of Mormondom in the US and Canada today agrees with Lowry Nelson’s views on race and rejects the position of the First Presidency under George Albert Smith at that time (at least I believe that it is reasonable to expect that most LDS people would say that they supported racial equality (blacks holding the priesthood, interracial marriage, the whole gamut), but it could very well be fewer if you pitted the question in a Nelson vs. FP context). The letters also clearly reveal that the FP in the 1940s believed the priesthood ban to be doctrinal, and even used the standard works to back up their position. They show that the question of what is doctrinal and what is not is not cut and dry, and in fact can in many cases be like trying to nail green jello to the wall.

  134. Brad L
    134
    September 24, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    I don’t think the racial ban was a core doctrine either, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t presented as such

    brain (129), yes the racial ban was presented as doctrine, there is no question about that. Now of course, if you want to say that it wasn’t actually doctrinal, I suppose you could, but then that would beg the question of how we are to inform ourselves about what is true doctrine. Through personal revelation, intuition, personal reasoning, etc. or based on what the LDS leaders say it is? Because if it is the former, then Kate Kelly was completely within her rights to question the LDS leaders’ position on women and the priesthood. Why? Because she didn’t feel like that was a doctrinal position.

  135. September 24, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    Now of course, if you want to say that it wasn’t actually doctrinal, I suppose you could, but then that would beg the question of how we are to inform ourselves about what is true doctrine.

    Exactly, Brad L. (Although that’s not begging the question. Personal pet peeve. :) ) I run across this conundrum at least daily in interactions, particularly now with all the social upheaval. Thus my last post. I think we have no idea what doctrine is.

  136. your food allergy is fake
    136
    September 24, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    Brad L #134, Yes Kate Kelly was within her rights to question the LDS leaders’ position on women and the priesthood, and her bishop’s excommunication letter stated as much when it said that she was welcome to her personal beliefs. The letter, if I remember correctly, said the excommunication was a result of her efforts to gain a following, not for her personal beliefs. To the extent that is actually true, we are thus free to explore what true doctrine is.

  137. Brad L
    137
    September 24, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    OK, 136, allow me to rephrase it: if it is the former, then Kate Kelly was fully within her rights to publicly question the LDS leaders’ position on women and the priesthood. Of course all active LDS members in good standing are free to explore privately what true doctrine is, but they have to be careful about airing beliefs that do not correspond with what the leaders believe to be doctrinal. So no, active LDS people really aren’t all that free to try to figure out what doctrine is through discussion and open interaction. They are routinely censured by the leadership if they publicly arrive at a position about doctrine that does not correspond with what the leaders believe to be doctrinal.

  138. September 25, 2015 at 12:22 am

    Thanks, everyone, for the primer on authorized race discrimination in the church. I definitely have some thinking to do.

    Nathaniel, this leads me to a question, echoing Alison’s: if we all accept that something called doctrine, even by the First Presidency, might not be doctrine at all, then is it doctrine to give instinctual deference to church leaders until they are proven wrong? What is the point of having church leaders? This is honestly something I have never thought of before. For me, the question has always been how much extra weight to give to church leaders, and which ones to give it to, instead of questioning whether there was a point in giving them preferential treatment at all.

    I don’t have any sort of opinion formed yet, so my words, like your initial post, are just musings. My mind alights on Doctrine and Covenants 121:41, where the first attribute for priesthood power and influence is “persuasion.” Instead of trust, maybe incredulity is meant to be a person’s default position when her leader tells her something. Maybe thus saith the Lord being the end of discussion was never God’s intended plan, but just men’s convenience. Jesus, our great Exemplar, never seems to have taken it for granted that anyone, even his apostles, would accept his words unconditionally. To the contrary, they disagreed with him at every turn about the significance of his Messianic mission. Instead of looking at that as a sign of their sinfulness and weakness, as I have always been taught to, maybe that was the right way to go about things.

    So I guess my question is, has any good ever come out of not questioning something before accepting it, and if so, does that outbalance all the bad that has come from the practice?

  139. September 25, 2015 at 12:48 am

    Sorry for the double post.

    I also thought of the actual working of Moroni at the end of The Book of Mormon. He says we should ask God if his words are not true. So he, too, seems to suggest that natural incredulity is the proper way to come to even God with questions. Although I could very well be reading too much into a single word.

    Interestingly, the Introduction to The Book of Mormon reverses the wording, removing the “not.” So the committee that put together the latest version of the scriptures apparently thought the “not” had enough significance to remove it. I’m not sure what, if anything, that says, other than that exact use of scriptural wording didn’t seem to be a priority when it was written.

    God does tell people not to demand signs, some of the time. But other times, like with Hezekiah in Isaiah, he tells us we should ask for a sign. And asking to be convinced isn’t really the same as asking for a sign, anyway. There are a lot of ways to convince people without striking them dumb. Abraham wasn’t penalized when he initially criticized God for deciding to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, nor was He upset when Abraham made his series of alternate proposals. It seemed God was confident of His rightness, and had no problems with His decisions being held up to scrutiny, knowing the justness of His decision would eventually convince Abraham.

  140. ji
    140
    September 25, 2015 at 4:08 am

    mirrorrorrim,

    …is it doctrine to give instinctual deference to church leaders until they are proven wrong?

    Your question caused me to remember D&C 84:36 and 112:20, and also Matthew 10:40-ff and so forth. And I thought of our God’s expectations that we will honor our parents. We honor, sustain, and forgive our parents, not requiring perfection from them. Why can’t we honor, sustain, and forgive church leaders, also not requiring perfection from them?

  141. your food allergy is fake
    141
    September 25, 2015 at 6:07 am

    #137, “routinely censored. . . if they publically arrive at a position about doctrine that does not correspond to what the leaders believe to be doctrinal..”

    Really? I guess it depends on what you mean by “publically.” If you are stating your personal views that are at odds with current church doctrine from the pulpit as a ward or stake leader, OK you would have a problem. Short of that, I have never heard of anyone being censored for trying to figure out doctrine through discussion and interaction. That is precisely what is happening on this site. Has anyone on this site been censored for all the speculative stuff that is thrown around? Have people like Cassler been censored when they publish on speculative ordinances and so on?

  142. Brad L
    142
    September 25, 2015 at 11:15 am

    141, note the difference between “censored” and “censured.” I wrote the latter.

  143. your food allergy is fake
    143
    September 25, 2015 at 11:46 am

    Either way, I don’t see much censoring or censuring going on for discussing speculative doctrine in public spaces.

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