Zelophehad’s Daughters

Actually, sameness and equality have a lot in common.

Posted by Melyngoch

Men and women in the church are equal; they’re just not the same. They have different roles, but their different roles are equal. And when you let women do the same things as men do, you’re not making them equal; you’re just trying to make them the same.

This is among the most frequent means I hear of defending gender inequal—err, let’s call it structural imbalance, just so I can get the basic premise down—in the church. But it (I) appeals to a straw man argument, that feminists concerned by patriarchy are really just consumed by the heretical, gender-line-smudging agenda of making men and women the same, and (II) assumes that equality and sameness are neatly separable, and that it’s even possible to have one without having a certain amount of the other.

(I) deserves its own post, which would say in sum that I don’t think most Mormon feminists want – or maybe I should just say that I, as a Mormon feminist, do not want – to erase the differences between men and women. I just don’t see why, if there are all these natural, inborn differences, we really need prescriptive roles in order to maintain them; and I think we overestimate them wildly. The variation across each individual sex seems much greater than the absolute differences between the sexes.

As for (II), the notion that real equality doesn’t need sameness seems a bit apophatic to me: like we have this mystical, transcendent Equality that has no comprehensible qualities or features and can’t really be described because you just have to experience it. If this is what you mean when you say “equality,” that’s great, but you need to remember that you’re using fundamentally different terms that just happen to be spelled the same when you’re talking to everyone who just means regular old empirically discoverable equality.

2+3=5 and 1+4=5 and 2×2.5=5. None of these equations is exactly the same, but they’re all equal (2+3=4+1=2.5×2), and yet you’ll notice: they all have the same solution. No two equations can ever be equal without that fundamental quality of sameness; not a sameness which overwhelms all the differences in the forms of the equations, but nonetheless a fundamental, even ontological sameness.

Of course, people aren’t equations, unless you’re a super Marxist or a hardcore behaviorist, and I’m neither. So let’s think about race for a moment (just because comparing race and gender is traditional, clichéd, and at least a little useful.) Central High might have told its prospective black students, “It’s not that you’re not equal to us! It’s just that you’re different. And letting you come to our high school wouldn’t make you equal anyway – it would just be treating you the same.” And it’s absolutely true, that just allowing black teenagers in Little Rock to go to the same high school as the white teenagers would not grant them equality in the culture of 1950s Arkansas. But can you imagine Little Rock achieving racial equality without that sameness? In working for civil rights of all types (in terms of race, gender, or sexual orientation), the structural move towards sameness tends to correspond with the move towards equality. A great deal of sameness in the way the law treats its citizen is necessary to have equality among those citizens.

And in order for women to be structurally equal to men in the Church, yes, I’m afraid we’re going to have to expect some increased sameness. Equality of opportunity and equality of treatment require that one party isn’t denied opportunities that the other is given, that one party isn’t regularly treated differently from the other: both are  treated the same unless there’s a compelling reason rooted in real differences between the two parties to justify a difference.

I think we mostly imagine up differences between men and women and then use them to justify the inequalities we’ve inherited; then, because we’ve convinced ourselves that men and women are just inherently different in these ways we haven’t bothered to actually study or investigate, it becomes very suspicious when someone talks about men and women as if they are, in so many ways, the same. But we can’t expect to really find ourselves treating them equally, giving them an equal voice in the church, addressing them with equal respect, and not find we are, in many ways, treating them the same. And if we’re so confident in the inherent differences between men and women, we don’t need to worry that treating them the same will elide those differences.

62 Responses to “Actually, sameness and equality have a lot in common.”

  1. 1.

    Reading this post has me dancing a little intellectual glee jig. This kind of post is *exactly* why I love ZD. Thank you for saying this so beautifully and with so much logic. I do love me some intelligence and logic.

  2. 2.

    brilliant. golden. i wish i’d written this.

  3. 3.

    Bottom line is that old Utah families ought to be able to squeeze everyone else out, and if they don’t have enough sons to do it, their daughters should be able to fill in the gaps.

    That is the message I get.

  4. 4.

    I think what’s happening in the On Faith post is that people are struggling with the disconnect between the descriptive and the normative. We believe as a normative matter that men and women are equal. Descriptively, men and women are not equal in the church.

    There are two (or maybe more, but two will suffice for now) potential responses. 1 – Demand (or ask or pray for, etc.) change so that the lived experience of the members matches the ideal of equality. 2 – Explain how the lived experience of the members is actually in line with the ideal of equality.

    Much of the Bloggernacle goes for response number 1. The On Faith post (and much discussion that happens at church) goes for response number 2.

    I think another problem we have is that priesthood is so generally available. When it was limited to Levites, of all things I think that made people more equal.

    But I think that the comment in the prior thread fits into this one as well, given the caveat that most movements for “equality” are actually movements by those who already have power to pull more into their group at the expense of those who have less power.

  5. 5.

    if there are all these natural, inborn differences, we really need prescriptive roles in order to maintain them; and I think we overestimate them wildly. The variation across each individual sex seems much greater than the absolute differences between the sexes.

    Ok, had to make one more comment.

    That is a much more telling point, one that deserves its own essay.

    The biggest problem with most discrimination is that the persons discriminated against really are not different enough from those who are discriminating. The only reasons there are race problems is that the racial groups are too much alike. As a result, there is no fairness (or economic sense) in discrimination.

    I’ve had questions about the way spiritual power flows, the mechanics of it all. I’ve also assumed that it is currently Heavenly Father’s turn to watch the kids (us). Look at the situation from that perspective …

    But none of these get to the core issue, which is wrapped up in the part of the essay I’ve quoted.

  6. 6.

    I need some explanation of this idea, Stephen:

    most movements for “equality” are actually movements by those who already have power to pull more into their group at the expense of those who have less power.

    That doesn’t make sense to me. When you apply this argument to Mormon feminists who want equality, how is it we already have power? and who exactly is the group at whose expense the movement is happening?

  7. 7.

    I’m reading your #5 in light of your #3. Are you actually suggesting that the Mormon women’s movement is an effort to keep power in the church centralized in the hands of white middle class Americans, specifically those in the intermountain west?

    If so, I’m very sorry but I not only think you’re wrong but I think that’s grossly offensive.

  8. 8.

    Straining at gnats and kicking at pricks. Get over it.

  9. 9.

    Well put, Melyngoch. This point really made me think:

    A great deal of sameness in the way the law treats its citizen is necessary to have equality among those citizens.

    Looking at equality as a problem to be solved, it seems like treating people the same is a really easy shortcut to getting more equality of treatment. (Which is probably just restating what you already said.) Or another way of thinking about it is that trying to achieve equality without sameness is really, really difficult. What metric are you going to use the not-same opportunities offered to two groups to make sure the results come out equal, for example? What if people can’t even agree on a metric (or measurement scale)?

    Given this, and given our lack of same treatment of women and men in the Church, it seems really unlikely that this equality of opportunity has somehow been successfully balanced. And that’s without even considering the ways such treatment isn’t the same. Actually looking at those differences suggests to me that when people say the opportunities are equal, they’re stating it as an article of faith, not as something that’s going to be subject to empirical testing.

  10. 10.

    Lara, please don’t try to dictate what issues should and should not be put on shelves by other people.

  11. 11.

    I recognize that there are potential counter-arguments to Melyngoch’s statements. “Get over it” is pretty weak sauce.

  12. 12.

    Also, the long-awaited (re?)activation of Melyngoch makes this blog ridiculously well-stocked.

    My first thought when I saw a new Melyngoch post was, “there is another.” It’s like when Jordan’s Bulls added Rodman. (Come to think of it, Melyngoch does kind of resemble an orange-haired, heavily pierced and tattooed basketball player of questionable sanity.)

    I think you need a new tagline: “ZDs, now with ~22% more awesome.”

    (Though I do miss Seraphine’s posts, but I understand that she’s busy.)

  13. 13.

    Are you actually suggesting that the Mormon women’s movement is an effort to keep power in the church centralized in the hands of white middle class Americans, specifically those in the intermountain west?

    No, I seriously doubt anyone in the movement intends that. It is, of course, of note that the opposition comes from the intermountain west.

    On the other hand, that is part of the impact I would anticipate from such changes, which I am beginning to see as possible, barring issues that are beyond my knowledge.

    Given this, and given our lack of same treatment of women and men in the Church, it seems really unlikely that this equality of opportunity has somehow been successfully balanced. And that’s without even considering the ways such treatment isn’t the same. Actually looking at those differences suggests to me that when people say the opportunities are equal, they’re stating it as an article of faith, not as something that’s going to be subject to empirical testing.

    I would note that quotas (or soft quotas at least) have been required in some areas for certain changes to occur. That in order to balance equality of opportunity, sometimes you have to have a temporarily enforced imbalance via a quota.

    The big problem with those, historically in the United States, is that as a result you will get groups, such as Greek-Americans, who end up with fewer college graduates (per capita) than Blacks or Hispanics — the loss of status/opportunity comes not from those who have traditionally held it, but from other groups.

    But, does that justify not making the changes? Or does it merely call for an expansion of balancing metrics?

  14. 14.

    Ziff, I think lara was offended at my comments, not the post.

    Looked at in the almost bright light of early morning, I can see that point.

  15. 15.

    Love this post. Love Z’s Daughters. I am always grateful when someone articulate takes the time to diligently write thoughts and feelings I’ve had for awhile–but wasn’t able to voice as such. Thank you!

  16. 16.

    Great post! Well thought out as usual.

  17. 17.

    Straining at gnats and kicking at pricks. Get over it.

    Maybe you should take your own advice.

  18. 18.

    Bottom line is that old Utah families ought to be able to squeeze everyone else out, and if they don’t have enough sons to do it, their daughters should be able to fill in the gaps.

    I’m confused about this. I thought Boston was the epicenter of Mormon feminism.

  19. 19.

    It’s much easier than kicking at gnats. Have you ever tried to kick a gnat? The damn things just won’t hold still. I tried it once and threw out my back. Lesson learned. Stick to the old chestnuts.

  20. 20.

    Kiskilili, when I look at who populates the general boards (and, make no mistake, when a stake president shows any disrespect to a female board member the nearest apostle will take his head off for him, in the Church they outrank stake presidents), and who would be the most likely to be ordained and moved sideways into similar organizations, I see the group as Utah centric.

    How many Boston (or San Francisco) feminists to you see serving on general boards of the Church, in the Relief Society presidency or other organizations?

    Anyway, read the rest of my comments.

    I would note that quotas (or soft quotas at least) have been required in some areas for certain changes to occur. That in order to balance equality of opportunity, sometimes you have to have a temporarily enforced imbalance via a quota.

    ….

    But, does that justify not making the changes? Or does it merely call for an expansion of balancing metrics?

  21. 21.

    unless there’s a compelling reason rooted in real differences between the two parties to justify a difference.

    You’re entire post assumes there isn’t. Can you support that assumption with evidence?

  22. 22.

    Melyngoch does kind of resemble an orange-haired, heavily pierced and tattooed basketball player of questionable sanity.

    Minus the basketball player part, I think you’ve got me pegged. Maybe if I were more athletic I’d also be good at gnat-kicking. (It’d make me more useful on camping trips.)

  23. 23.

    Mike said:

    unless there’s a compelling reason rooted in real differences between the two parties to justify a difference.

    You’re entire post assumes there isn’t. Can you support that assumption with evidence?

    You’re right that I do pretty much assume this (although it’s not a necessary assumption for the logical point to still hold), but I also address it in the last paragraph, briefly. I think the significance of these differences is a big part of what gets taken as what Ziff puts so succinctly as “an article of faith, not . . . subject to empirical testing” (comment 9).

    This is how I see it. There are obvious reasons that a five-year-old doesn’t need to be treated the same, legally, as a twenty-five-year-old. Say in terms of driving: the five-year-old doesn’t have the hand-eye coordination to manage a car or the cognitive multi-tasking skills to process all the traffic signs and other cars and pedestrians and everything else you have to think about while you’re driving. Besides, her feet won’t reach the pedals, and she probably can’t see over the steering wheel. The twenty-five-year old is tall enough, and cognitively and motorically developed enough, to be allowed to drive. The law is not treating them the same, but I also wouldn’t cry “inequality!” and start agitating for the driving rights of five-year-olds. That’s what I mean by “real differences between the two parties.”

    The question is not just “do women and men differ” (obviously they do) but “do their differences justify their different treatment in the church?” — and I think the answer is obviously no (although I recognize there may be those for whom the answer is obviously yes.) As I mentioned, I think we overestimate these differences wildly. Do I have a uterus, two x-chromosomes, and not much upper body strength? Clearly. Does my uterus justify my ritual subordination in the church? Does it make me more naturally spiritual? Am I sweet and gentle and submissive in a way men aren’t? I don’t see the connection.

    Frankly, the burden of proof isn’t on me; it’s on the church. When you choose to treat groups differently, you need to justify it — it’s not the responsibility of those groups (though it usually falls to them!) to justify that they’re not different.

  24. 24.

    do their differences justify their different treatment in the church?

    I agree the answer is no if we exclude the question of male only priesthood but God’s ways are not our ways and He may have reasons other than a uterus, two x-chromosomes, and not much upper body strength for doing it right now such as differences in spirit, roles or who knows what else it might be?

  25. 25.

    Melyngoch,

    I see your point, although I think that the assumption is necessary for your argument to be sound. However, I disagree that the burden of proof is on the Church – because the Church is not a governmental entity or private business (although some have called it that). So, the burden of adhering to the state’s definiton of “equality” – which is sameness, as you pointed out in you examples – does not apply. Instead, I think the burden is on you to prove that no valid reasons for differentiation between the sexes exists.

  26. 26.

    You note that the three mathematical expressions you discuss, all considered equal, have the same solution. That’s true, of course, but it’s also a tautology: they have the same solution because that’s how we define arithmetic equality. I did my undergraduate work (and some graduate work) in math, and I would say that arithmetic equality and the property of having the same solution are actually pretty superficial–I wouldn’t consider it “fundamental” or “ontological.”

    There’s a much deeper idea of equality in mathematics, known as isomorphism. In essence, isomorphism means that two mathematical objects are for all logically equivalent, even though superficially they may be very different indeed. In this deeper sense, two of your mathematical expressions are “equal” to each other, but different from the third [because addition and multiplication have different properties: notice for example that 2*(1+5) = (2*1) + (2*5), but 2+(1*5) != (2+1) * (2+5)]. One of the most famous unsolved problems in mathematics (P ?= NP) revolves around this idea of isomorphism: thousands of problems which seem to be completely unrelated have been shown to be, in a sense, logically equivalent, and are known as NP-complete (if you find an algorithm to solve one of them, you can also solve all of the others); the unsolved part of the problem is whether this class of NP problems belongs to the class of P problems (most mathematicians suspect it does not).

    I’m not here to lecture you on math, but I think there’s a fair point to make here. As in mathematics, there are different ideas of equality in life and in the church. For example, there was a post recently (I don’t recall where exactly, but I suspect many of you might have read it) about women having to wear a veil during the Temple ceremony, while men do not. The author argued that this breach of sameness indicates a fundamental inequality, that women are seen as unworthy to face God with their face uncovered. I’ve never seen a post, though, discussing why men have to be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood before they are allowed to receive temple ordinances, another breach of sameness which can be equally-well argued to indicate another fundamental inequality–but one going the other direction. Why are we men, unlike women, not worthy to receive the greatest blessings our God offers without first taking upon ourselves this responsibility?

    These things don’t bother me very much (a lot of things don’t bother me, for better or for worse). My fear is that our understanding of gender equality in the church is, like arithmetic equality, pretty superficial. We have no understanding whatsoever of what roles men and women may have played before we came to Earth, and very limited understanding, by any measure, of what roles we each will play in eternity. We should certainly be careful of concluding that adopted cultural biases are doctrinal, but it seems to me that we need to be equally careful of trying to impose a superficial sameness to achieve a superficial equality, uninformed as we are of an eternity of past and future.

  27. 27.

    These things don’t bother me very much (a lot of things don’t bother me, for better or for worse). My fear is that our understanding of gender equality in the church is, like arithmetic equality, pretty superficial. We have no understanding whatsoever of what roles men and women may have played before we came to Earth, and very limited understanding, by any measure, of what roles we each will play in eternity. We should certainly be careful of concluding that adopted cultural biases are doctrinal, but it seems to me that we need to be equally careful of trying to impose a superficial sameness to achieve a superficial equality, uninformed as we are of an eternity of past and future.

    It is my concern of that point that prevents me fro Or, as I said it:

    I’ve had questions about the way spiritual power flows, the mechanics of it all.

    I don’t know how things run or what the real sub-requirements are and/or if they are situational (such as the priesthood being limited to Levites only at one time).

  28. 28.

    Further, it doesn’t bother me that if I’m in a meeting with a general board member who is female, and an apostle, and a stake president doesn’t treat the board member with deference as an ecclesiastical superior, the apostle will be direct and clear in straightening the stake president out.

    That in the organized Church, at the top level, there are women treated as general authorities with precedence over men in the hierarchy, regardless of the formal organization as some understand it, does not bother me.

    I’m aware of it, I’ve known of it in action, and I accept it.

  29. 29.

    I think that the assumption is necessary for your argument to be sound.

    Well, I think it’s necessary for the argument to be relevant (to gender in the church) — my point is really just that it’s fallacious to talk about equality and sameness as if they’re totally unrelated concepts, whether in terms of gender or anything else.

    However, I disagree that the burden of proof is on the Church – because the Church is not a governmental entity or private business (although some have called it that) . . . Instead, I think the burden is on you to prove that no valid reasons for differentiation between the sexes exists.

    The burden of proof usually lies (logically) with the person who wishes to prove that something does exist, not that it doesn’t. But if what you mean is that the burden of proof tends to end up (practically) with those who resist the status quo, then yep, that’s pretty much true.

  30. 30.

    My point was that because the Church is established with a male-only priesthood, and because the Prophet has put his stamp of approval on it (by not changing it) I think you have the burden of proving that a male-only priesthood cannot possibly be what God wants because there are no possible reasons that would justify women not holding the priesthood. In other words, you’d have to prove either 1) the LDS Church is false or 2) absolutely no possible reasons can exist which would justify a male-only priesthood. Essentially, I think it is an impossible task since, as Jonathan and others have pointed out, humans have a very limited understanding.

  31. 31.

    Jonathan, your thoughts on “deeper mathematical equality” are interesting (although I can’t pretend to understand them entirely!) I suppose my mathematical metaphor, as with most metaphors, doesn’t hold up if pushed too far.

    It is true that men have to rise to a certain priesthood standard before they can go through the temple, but this seems to pretty clearly be a consequence of a more systemic inequality in the way in which men’s and women’s progression into adulthood is measured. Men have very specific rites of passage expected of (virtually) all of them — get the Priesthood, go on a mission. For women, all we’ve got is to get married, and unlike getting the Priesthood, this isn’t going to be immediately available to us at a given age (assuming we’re worthy). And for a long time, women couldn’t go through the temple either, without a Melchizedek Priesthood-holding husband. Now that that rule has been relaxed, women just don’t have a passage into adulthood (and thus to the temple) which will be available to all of them, and so it’s often up to the whim of their priesthood leaders to decide when they should go.

    All that’s a bit tangential; in any case, I’m not saying that there are no inequalities/un-samenesses (I should find a better word for that) in the church that disadvantage men. I actually think there’s a lot that’s unfairly difficult and damaging in the expectations we have for masculinity, in and out of the church. But the two examples you raise are located so differently — one within the liturgy, one within the policy — that I don’t think it’s possible to argue that one balances the other out.

    My fear is that our understanding of gender equality in the church is, like arithmetic equality, pretty superficial. We have no understanding whatsoever of what roles men and women may have played before we came to Earth, and very limited understanding, by any measure, of what roles we each will play in eternity. We should certainly be careful of concluding that adopted cultural biases are doctrinal, but it seems to me that we need to be equally careful of trying to impose a superficial sameness to achieve a superficial equality, uninformed as we are of an eternity of past and future.

    I actually agree with most of this, though (naturally :) )with some addenda. I’m not calling for some type of “superficial sameness” to be imposed, and I recognize that in the eternal perspective, we really don’t have all the information. However, it’s because we don’t have all the information that I think we need to be especially thoughtful about the information we do have; we need to be careful of proposing theories that justify the structures we have, and then mistaking those theories for information.

    I’m open to the possibility (maybe even the inevitability) that there are essential qualities to both sexes which will in some form persist in the eternities — but given changing and often contradictory rhetoric about gender from the prophets and apostles through the years, I don’t think that we know what those differences are or what their consequences should be. We just don’t seem to have any specific revelation on this, which leaves us only with what we actually know about gender and sex. And what we know does not seem sufficient to me to justify the not-sameness of men and women’s

    But while the presence of sameness is not necessarily an indicator of the presence equality, neither is the presence of sameness and indicator of the absence of equality. That’s the fallacy I’d like to point out and rethink.

  32. 32.

    because the Church is established with a male-only priesthood, and because the Prophet has put his stamp of approval on it (by not changing it) I think you have the burden of proving

    So, yes, as I said, the burden of proof for changing the status quo ends up with the one who wants to change it.

    that a male-only priesthood cannot possibly be what God wants because there are no possible reasons that would justify women not holding the priesthood. In other words

    OK, now you’re talking to a straw feminist, rather than to me. The point of the OP isn’t about women getting the Priesthood — or even about making changes in the church. It’s about addressing a stupid line that I’m constantly running into when the issue of gender equality comes up.

    Personally, I think there are loads of things the Church could change, liturgically and rhetorically, in the way it handles gender, before it addresses whether to give women the Priesthood. But even that’s not the topic of the post.

    you’d have to prove either 1) the LDS Church is false or 2) absolutely no possible reasons can exist which would justify a male-only priesthood.

    Good old excluded middle. How about I just make the case that some of the Church’s policies might be the result of cultural inertia, rather than the express will of God?

  33. 33.

    If you’re saying that the “structural inequality” you want to remedy could be fixed without women holding the priesthood, I’d have to admit I don’t know what type of inequality you’d be referring to. And I’d have to ask if you think that structural inequality you want to fix could be fixed without women holding the priesthood.

  34. 34.

    I’d like to start with the Temple.

  35. 35.

    humans have a very limited understanding

    This is true, but people only point it out when they don’t like the conclusions that are being reached. In the church we constantly reframe uncomfortable information as a lack of information.

  36. 36.

    For example, there was a post recently . . . about women having to wear a veil during the Temple ceremony, while men do not. The author argued that this breach of sameness indicates a fundamental inequality, that women are seen as unworthy to face God with their face uncovered. I’ve never seen a post, though, discussing why men have to be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood before they are allowed to receive temple ordinances, another breach of sameness which can be equally-well argued to indicate another fundamental inequality.

    Maybe all these injustices together betoken a deep-structure equality. Maybe we can identify injustices on every side and balance the equation that way. But before we reach that conclusion, let’s look a little at our method.

    Would it be possible for us, using this method, to identify inequality? Because if it’s not, I think it has to be admitted our method is bunk.

    Let’s imagine a master with a dozen slaves. The slaves are denied basic freedoms. But the master has the burden of feeding and caring for a dozen extra human beings in addition to himself, besides ensuring they don’t rise up against him. It’s deep equality rather than superficial equality. Maybe when the slaves complained, the master could even point out that he had it bad too but that didn’t lead him to whine about the situation.

    How about a system in which only some people have access to health care? Some people have to suffer in silence, but other people have to pay medical bills. It’s equality once you look under the surface.

    Hmm. Count me suspicious.

  37. 37.

    Jonathan:

    I’ve never seen a post, though, discussing why men have to be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood before they are allowed to receive temple ordinances, another breach of sameness which can be equally-well argued to indicate another fundamental inequality–but one going the other direction.

    I actually think that would be a great post. (Calling Mark Brown?) I do think that sexism cuts both ways, and this particular practice seems tied to the notion (I think a problematic one) that women have some kind of natural spirituality that men lack. I think men get hurt by our ideas about gender, too.

    Mike:

    In other words, you’d have to prove either 1) the LDS Church is false or 2) absolutely no possible reasons can exist which would justify a male-only priesthood. Essentially, I think it is an impossible task since, as Jonathan and others have pointed out, humans have a very limited understanding.

    I agree that it’s an impossible task–how do you prove a negative (“no reasons exist?”) But I see a problem with framing things this way. Basically, if you take this view, there is no reason, ever, to challenge the status quo–because you’d first be posed with this impossible challenge. It’s a convenient sleight-of-hand, but it ignores the reality of people who are being hurt by the status quo–and I don’t think that’s ethical. If you want to defend a male-only priesthood, I think you need something better than, you’re not allowed to question it because there might be a good reason for it and we can’t understand anything anyway.

    Your argument seems to rest on the premise that everything that happens in the church is exactly what God wants. I don’t share that premise–like Melyngoch, I see a vast area between “the church is false” and “everything the church does is God’s express will.”

  38. 38.

    Kiskilili,

    This is true, but people only point it out when they don’t like the conclusions that are being reached.

    I get what you’re saying, but I think it is a reality that has to be accepted. I wasn’t coming up against any uncomfortable conclusions, though, at least for myself.

    Lynette,

    If you want to defend a male-only priesthood,

    I’m not sure I’m willing to “defend” it, because frankly I’m not sure why it is set up that way other than that I believe the Prophet represents God’s will and he has set it up (or allowed it to continue) that way. So, I think I can only defend something to the extent that I understand the reason for it, and in this case, I’m not sure that goes very far.

    I think you need something better than, you’re not allowed to question it because there might be a good reason for it and we can’t understand anything anyway.

    I think anyone can question anything, and I also think there are many things we can understand. But, you’re right, I do think that you are basically stuck with the burden of proving the negative – that no valid reason exists for the status quo.

    Lastly,

    It’s a convenient sleight-of-hand, but it ignores the reality of people who are being hurt by the status quo–and I don’t think that’s ethical.

    Here’s where what you’re saying does create a bit of discomfort, for me at least. Do you really think God is hurting people? If so, what I hear you saying is that God screwed up (by setting things up the way they are) or the Prophet screwed up (by allowing them to remain as they are), which is just another way of saying God screwed up because He chose the wrong guy or isn’t powerful enough to replace him, etc.

  39. 39.

    Mike,

    just another way of saying God screwed up because He chose the wrong guy or isn’t powerful enough to replace him

    Again, I think there is a third possibility which is much, much more likely. Mormons believe that God gave us all agency, even people who become leaders in the church. The use of agency necessarily entails the ability to be mistaken. God let’s us all, including prophets, learn by doing. We actually have a precedent for this in the priesthood ban. Regardless of whether we think the ban was God’s will, we know that many of the justifications for it were blatant, ugly, ethnocentric racism, and those justifications were taught from the pulpit in general conference for decades. Those teachings very definitely hurt people. Imagine how it would feel to hear the president of the church tell you that you were less valiant in the pre-mortal life so you weren’t allowed to enter the temple now.

  40. 40.

    Mark,

    We actually have a precedent for this in the priesthood ban.

    I, respectfully, could not disagree more.

  41. 41.

    I’ll sum up my comments with this quote from Elder Oaks:

    “It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that…. The lesson I’ve drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it… I’m referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking… Let’s [not] make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that’s where safety lies.”

    I think there’s a difference between asking the Lord to confirm that a particular commandment or teaching is His will, and asking Him to explain His reasons for issuing the commandment or teaching. I think what it comes down to is that Melyngoch’s position, as I see it, almost demands an explanation for the way the Lord does things, rather than seeking an affirmation that the status quo is the Lord’s will. I think Elder Oaks is right: the Lord isn’t in the habit of explaining Himself to us. So, I’d say good luck in finding reasons for the status quo because in the end, I think they’re only your reasons. You’ll counter that it sounds like blind obedience. But I think we can know that something is the Lord’s will without knowing why it’s the Lord’s will.

  42. 42.

    I actually think that would be a great post. (Calling Mark Brown?)

    Lynette, yikes! Talk about making me cringe with embarrassment! I think you make a good point though. Sexism is harmful to both sexes, just in different ways and to different degrees.

  43. 43.

    Mike, OK, that’s fine.

    Are you claiming that the priesthood ban was a revelation? If so, you are on shaky ground, given that David O. McKay, among others, said it was just a policy, not a doctrine. And we have no written text to justify the ban, absolutely none. The only things we know about the origins of the ban are the incredibly racist statements from Brigham Young, which Elder Oaks and others have now denounced.

    But you do see my point about agency, don’t you? That seems relatively uncontroversial, despite my example that you reject. As long as we believe in fallible prophets, we are stuck with the reality that prophets can do things which damage people. I don’t see away around it.

  44. 44.

    Mark,

    Are you claiming that the priesthood ban was a revelation?

    I’m not taking a position on this in my comment.

    As long as we believe in fallible prophets, we are stuck with the reality that prophets can do things which damage people.

    I do see your point, and I don’t believe prophets can’t ever make mistakes. However, I am one of those who believes the Prophet won’t ever lead the Church astray. My comment to Lynette was that I have a hard time believing God is up there trying to hurt us, or allowing His Prophet to hurt us. And, back to the original post (from which we’ve all strayed), I think that my answer to Melyngoch is that I believe the status quo to be in accordance with God’s will so I disagree that equality in the Church requires more “sameness.”

    By the way, what is up with the horrific pictures at the top of this blog?

  45. 45.

    Ok, now it’s some leaves. But before it was crazy.

  46. 46.

    Was the picture one of goblins? All will be explained (or not) if you have a look at this post (note the phrase “Walmart-clearance goblin masks”):

    http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2011/04/16/a-testimony/

  47. 47.

    Oh. my.

  48. 48.

    My favorite worst movie ever made is “North.” It doesn’t have any popcorn scenes, though.

  49. 49.

    My comment to Lynette was that I have a hard time believing God is up there trying to hurt us, or allowing His Prophet to hurt us.

    I would certainly hope that God isn’t trying to hurt us. But for whatever reason, he doesn’t seem to stop us much from hurting each other. That seems to be one of the things that goes along with mortality, and as Mark mentioned, with agency. And I think it’s as true in the church as it is out of it. God frequently seems to let us muddle along.

    And the thing is, there exist a number of people who have been hurt, sometimes badly, by church teachings and/or practices. (And just to be clear, I’m not talking about obnoxious people in the church–I’m talking about aspects of the church itself.) What do I do with this data? I suppose one road to go is to say that this can’t have happened, these people aren’t real, or at the very least their experiences aren’t real–because it clashes with my ideas about how things work. (It’s that kind of thinking that leads, for example, to the conclusion that you can’t be born gay.) But if someone’s experience contradicts my ideology, I don’t think ideology should automatically trump.

    And on the issue of accepting the status quo–our church was founded by someone who didn’t do that. We have numerous revelations that come from people raising questions. I would in fact say that questioning is as much a part of my Mormon heritage as polygamy. (How’s that for a loaded statement?)

    Lynette, yikes! Talk about making me cringe with embarrassment!

    Lol, Mark. I’m just trying to foist the work of writing interesting blog posts on to other people. ;) Actually, I think you might have been one of the first people on the bloggernacle, oh so many years ago, to point out to me some of the reverse sexism involved in temple worship. And it was a very good point.

  50. 50.

    Mike, by your own formulation God is either directly hurting people or God is allowing his prophets to hurt people (which, according to you, is the same as him hurting his people himself) by teaching false explanations for the status quo. You say:

    Do you really think God is hurting people? If so, what I hear you saying is that God screwed up (by setting things up the way they are) or the Prophet screwed up (by allowing them to remain as they are), which is just another way of saying God screwed up because He chose the wrong guy or isn’t powerful enough to replace him, etc.

    In other words, anything the prophet says/does is approved by God because if it weren’t then God would just not choose that person in the first place or kill him off/replace him.

    Under that formulation, the only possible conclusion is that God does indeed hurt people. Whether or not the explanations for the priesthood ban were correct is beside the point. The fact is that God’s prophets said incredibly damaging, hurtful things over the pulpit about the issue. And if you truly believe what you say you believe about the relationship between God and his prophets, then the only possible conclusion is that God does indeed sit up in heaven and hurt his people. And I will tell you as a woman in the church that things God’s prophets say hurt me all the time. And the question of God letting the prophets lead the church astray is a quite different question from God allowing his prophets to do incredible damage to the church members by propagating inadequate explanations for how things are.

    Furthermore, if the church leadership is in the business of explaining God’s will (and it very clearly is; most of what they do is explain God’s will in some fashion or another; or explain why we should be okay with God’s will), then I don’t think it’s unreasonable for us as members to ask for explanations that are more adequate and much less harmful.

    And I’m curious: what happens when I have confirmation that the way things are is *not* God’s will? What are my options if I can’t use asking for an explanation as a means of prompting discussion and inquiry?

  51. 51.

    Amelia,

    I don’t think we’re going to get very far, but here goes:

    I’ve heard a lot of people say that the Church’s teachings on a number of subjects “hurt” them. I guess I would first ask if someone claiming such an injury is taking offense where none is intended?

    Second, I was careful to say the Prophet (capital “P”) won’t lead the Church astray. Many are given the title “prophet” who have made incorrect statements.

    Finally,

    And I’m curious: what happens when I have confirmation that the way things are is *not* God’s will? What are my options if I can’t use asking for an explanation as a means of prompting discussion and inquiry?

    Throughout the history of the Church there have been many people who have received “confirmation” that the Prophet (capital P) was doing things wrong. I think the main question in those situations is, from whom did the confirmation come? God wouldn’t give you one answer and the Prophet another, would He? And He wouldn’t lie to the Prophet, since He can’t lie. So, what options do you see?

  52. 52.

    I’ve heard a lot of people say that the Church’s teachings on a number of subjects “hurt” them. I guess I would first ask if someone claiming such an injury is taking offense where none is intended?

    But people can get hurt even when no malice is intended. Imagine watching Troll 2 with Melyngoch. She might genuinely be trying to share a wonderful experience with you, and you might genuinely want to poke your eyeballs out.

    Church authorities don’t get to be the ultimate arbiters of whether or not people are hurt by church teachings. Even God doesn’t get to be the arbiter of that.

  53. 53.

    Kiskilili,

    But people can get hurt even when no malice is intended. Imagine watching Troll 2 with Melyngoch. She might genuinely be trying to share a wonderful experience with you, and you might genuinely want to poke your eyeballs out.

    Based on what I’ve seen, I don’t believe it’s possible for malice not to be intended.

  54. 54.

    It is entirely possible for someone to mean no offense but to say something deeply offensive. And I categorically reject anything Bednar says to the contrary. There are some things that are simply offensive. For instance, it’s offensive for someone to say that I’m a mother by virtue of being *female*. No matter how well intentioned that is, it’s offensive. I can choose what I do with it after the offense is committed, but I can’t will away the fact that the statement is offensive. What constitutes “offensive” is neither the intention of the person speaking, nor the wider cultural context, nor the listener, nor some third party–it’s a mix of all of those things. As such it’s not possible to say that something is objectively not offensive simply by virtue of the fact that the person who said that thing didn’t intend it to be offensive.

    I see you rely on the usual “blame the person with doubts” line of defense. I’m sorry, but that’s far too simplistic. The church may have been established as a result of divine revelation, and the leaders may be inspired, but it’s still a deeply flawed institution run by deeply flawed human beings. The line of argument that if someone sees problems in the church, it must be that the problem actually lies within them just doesn’t fly with me. I’m also not much of a fan of telling someone that they’re getting confirmation from the devil, which is, of course, what you implied. I think lots of people are mistaken in their beliefs, but I generally acknowledge that they genuinely believe that they’re doing their best to act on the inspiration they’ve received from God. Why is it okay for you not to grant those who find fault with the church the same charitable understanding?

    And I simply neither understand nor accept as even possible your displacement theory of the relationship between God and the prophet. While God may call the prophet and inspire the prophet, the prophet doesn’t magically turn into a more perfect human being who can now represent exactly God’s will. He has to interpret the inspirations he’s receiving and put them into language and figure out ways to apply them just like the rest of us do. Unless you believe God is a micromanager who has turned the prophet into an automaton that he controls absolutely, I don’t think the argument that either God is giving the prophet and I different answers or God is lying to the prophet holds water. It’s entirely possible that 1. the prophet and I got the same answer but we interpreted or applied that answer differently; or 2. the prophet isn’t asking God the same questions I’m asking; or 3. the prophet lacks some perspective that I have and therefore doesn’t see things the same way; or etc. There’s a million different reasons why the prophet may be saying something that I consider and ponder and pray about and get a different answer about. That neither means God is lying to the prophet, nor that I am sinful and following Satan. It just means that there’s all kinds of complexity in this life and world and boiling things down to the prophet is always right doesn’t begin to account for that complexity.

  55. 55.

    I’ve heard a lot of people say that the Church’s teachings on a number of subjects “hurt” them. I guess I would first ask if someone claiming such an injury is taking offense where none is intended?

    Compulsive disorder injuries are interesting. Some things don’t bother some people at all. They help others. Yet on the same things, some take deep, personal, emotional hurt. I had to deal for years with someone (who I no longer have to deal with) who constantly was hurt by things and could not let them go.

    Interestingly enough, they did the same things they were hurt by.

    Was there a kernel of reason and justification in the hurt they took? Yes. But it made me reflect on Christ’s teaching about when someone hurts you and you take offense, how the greater sin is in you.

    Seems unfair. But on a deeper level, since resentment is basically drinking poison and hoping the other guy dies, it makes a lot of sense.

    But then I’ve been spending a lot of time with 12 step literature. It did not do much for grief recovery for me, so as that it was a failed endeavor, but it has been thought provoking in other areas.

    http://www.wheatandtares.org/2011/03/31/self-deception-and-resentment/ is an example of the thoughts I’ve had.

    It’s entirely possible that 1. the prophet and I got the same answer but we interpreted or applied that answer differently.

    From what Brigham Young wrote, it seems impossible for anything else to happen. He and Joseph Smith taught a great deal on the topic that we are limited dramatically by our language and experience, by our context, on what God can communicate to us.

    I’d also note that it is possible that perhaps, unlike the blind men and the elephant, who each “saw” different parts of something, that many eternal things are more like light — which is both a wave and a particle, depending …

    That is, rather than part of some truth being like the elephant’s nose, and another part being like the elephant’s ear, and the entire truth something we can see from a distance as having parts, it is more like sometimes the entire truth is the elephant’s nose (and nothing else) and sometimes just the elephant’s ear (and nothing else) and from a distance you see the same thing as up close.

    That creates profound differences in what may be reality.

  56. 56.

    Though I was amused by this essay, which quotes an old newspaper advertisement about how women’s suffrage was wanted by … every feminist … every mormon …

    http://blogs.forbes.com/kevinunderhill/2011/01/17/womens-suffrage-a-costly-and-dangerous-experiment/

  57. 57.

    Women’s suffrage was, as you can see, a nefarious plot supported by diabolical Feminists, Socialists, Organized Labor, and worst of all, the Mormons; it was bravely opposed, however, by the Men of New Jersey.

  58. 58.

    On the question of God hurting people:

    I would say yes, God most definitely hurts people, and does so knowingly. I’m not suggesting God is malevolently sadistic, but at times it seems God has to work within limited constraints to bring about his will. Nephi is a perfect example… “It is better that one man perish than a nation dwindle in unbelief.” There are many instances in scripture where God has either killed himself, or caused others to be killed, and that seems to me to definitively suggest that God does willingly hurt people.

    It seems to me that God often will hurt certain people in order to benefit the largest number, or that by trying to benefit the largest number of people there are some who are inevitably hurt as a byproduct (yes, one could say that I’m arguing God is falling into an ad populum fallacy, but one could also say that he is simply working with a framework which resembles a Benthamian Utilitarianism espoused by J.S. Mill). Sure this approach may cause pain for some, but trying to reason out why God allows this situation is a question for theodicy and not exactly what I’m wresting with in this particular comment.

    So is it possibly that God’s current policy in the church hurts gay people and is still the divinely inspired policy? Yes. Is it possibly that God’s current policy hurts women and is still divinely inspired? Yes. Does that mean that these policies are eternal and should never change? No. And God is probably aware of the problem and is inspiring people like Melyngoch to slowly affect a cultural shift so that He can eventually reveal a more egalitarian policy without causing even greater hurt than the current policy does. God’s will for our moment may be for the church to function within sexist or homophobic policy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t “agitate faithfully” for a better world. It is possible to believe the current policy is both God’s will for the moment and that current policy is deficient.

  59. 59.

    There are many instances in scripture where God has either killed himself

    Umm… that was a rather syntactically awkward sentence at second glance. I don’t want that to be read as God killing himself, as in suicide, but as in God killing by his own hand. A better phrasing would having been “where God himself did the killing, or…”

    Sheesh.

  60. 60.

    It is possible to believe the current policy is both God’s will for the moment and that current policy is deficient.

    Nicely said.

  61. 61.

    [...] suggest that I’m confusing equality with sameness. I would refer you to Melyngoch’s excellent post, “Actually, sameness and equality have a lot in common,” particularly this point: And in order [...]

  62. 62.

    […] if equality doesn’t mean sameness, it has to mean something. Melyngoch points out in this post that equality and sameness are actually conceptually pretty similar. Heather’s […]

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