In a recent post at the “On Faith” blog at the Washington Post, titled “What Equality Looks Like,” Michael Otterson attempts to make a case for the equality of women and men in the LDS church. He puts the question to several women, who make three points, all of which I find problematic.
Women in the Mormon faith regularly preach from the pulpit to the congregation and lead prayers during Sunday services. As a result, today’s Latter-day Saint women tend to be well educated and confident. Most have experience in speaking in public, directing or presiding over organizations, teaching and leading by example. Brigham Young University turns out more female than male graduates.
It is true that women give talks and prayers in sacrament meeting (though the latter has not always been the case, and some stakes still hold that women should not give opening prayers). But this comment neglects to mention that even at the local level, the final authority is always male. And once we move up from the local level, we do not see many women preaching or praying. And while it is admirable that many LDS women are well-educated and have experience gained from working in the church, this does not have any bearing on questions of equality.
Men and women are equal in the eyes of God, equal halves of a divine pair and equal partners in his work, which includes the raising of families. Inside the family, men and women are obligated to help one another. Women are honored as possessors of the ultimate divine gift: the potential to create and nurture new life. And Mormons have unique beliefs that men and women need one another to return to live with God.
While this comment clearly draws on ideas found in the Proclamation on the Family, it notably fails to mention the term “preside.” The idea that women are “honored” for being possessors of the best divine gift sounds suspiciously like the tired notion that women are in some way spiritually superior to men, which would surely undermine equality. And the fact that women and men need each other to achieve exaltation does not imply equality between the two–you can be necessary to someone without being equal to the one who needs you.
Everyone, male and female, adult and child, has equal and direct access to God through prayer for inspiration, personal guidance and forgiveness of sins.
This emphasis on personal revelation is something I particularly appreciate about the church. However, this comment fails to note that in certain contexts, men are placed as mediators between women and God. In addition, an equal ability to participate in personal devotion does not necessarily mean equal standing in the ecclesiastical organization, or even in the eternities–both of which are questionable in Mormon practice and teachings.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would not be nearly the organization it is today without the women who comprise more than half of its adult membership.
Again, this isn’t actually a statement about equality. The church clearly needs and values women, but this does not mean they are on equal footing with men. It is striking to me that this post fails to mention the fairly basic facts that only men are ordained to the priesthood in the LDS faith, that the highest authorities of the church are all male, and that fathers “preside.” In that, I find it somewhat disingenuous. In any case, this is a very weak argument for equality.
- 15 April 2011