Zelophehad’s Daughters

Huh?!

Posted by Kiskilili

The principles I have identified for the exercise of priesthood authority are more understandable and more comfortable for a married woman than for a single woman, especially a single woman who has never been married. She does not now experience priesthood authority in the partnership relationship of marriage. Her experiences with priesthood authority are in the hierarchical relationships of the Church, and some single women feel they have no voice in those relationships.

(Elder Oaks, October Conference, 2005)

I can’t read this paragraph without scratching my head.

Although it’s phrased as if it’s an empirical statement, I suspect Elder Oaks came to this conclusion through deductive reasoning of sorts. A couple of assumptions seem to be at play here: One is perhaps that since marriage is unequivocally a partnership, feminist objections must be to the ecclesial privilege that the priesthood confers on men in the church community, and not to “patriarchy” in the home. (Elder Oaks comes close to acknowledging that women are being excluded from something important but then backpedals by locating this observation in their “feelings” and suggesting, ideally, they should be included anyway, even if they’re excluded.)  Another seems to be that married women are content to participate in church governance through their husbands, or are perhaps satisfied with their opportunities to participate in domestic governance instead of church governance; I’m not sure how else to make sense of the fact that he singles out singles for discontentment. 

I’m not convinced by either of these premises, assuming I’ve accurately uncovered them. The church gives indications that wives are subordinate to husbands, which, if anything, should be of more concern to married women than to single women. And I fail to see how marriage ameliorates women’s exclusion from church government, especially if the two are as distinctly separate as he claims.

But let’s come at the question from another angle. What is your experience? To those who formerly fit the profile of the concerned single woman: Did your concerns with male ordination and domestic patriarchy diminish when you got married? 

13 Responses to “Huh?!”

  1. 1.

    Now, technically, he isn’t saying that married women are totally okay with the whole priesthood thing. He’s just saying that, compared to single women, they are MORE okay with it. And yes, he is working under the assumption (doctrine?) that husband and wife are equal partners and have equal authority in the home. Obviously such an assumption ignores other church doctrines about husbands presiding and wives sustaining and hearkening. In the context of egalitarian marriage, if a woman interprets her egalitarian marriage as being a “priesthood thing,” then she might come to understand the priesthood in general as having some basis in equality.

    If you DON’T ignore the doctrines about hearkening and presiding, then yes, you would have to conclude that married women would be LESS okay with the priesthood thing, as they are disenfranchised in not just one but TWO spheres. Also, in the situation I described above, if a woman does *not* experience her marriage as being egalitarian (because seriously, how often is true equality really achieved?), then she would NOT gain this “understanding” that Elder Oaks is talking about.

    And by the way, I love it when men tell women what they’re comfortable with and how they feel.

  2. 2.

    I can’t read this paragraph without scratching my head.

    Maybe it’s lice.

  3. 3.

    Ha ha, Matt W.

    Perhaps Elder Oaks is referring to ideal marriages. Ideally, wives with husbands who hold the priesthood should experience an increase of love from their husbands, not an increase of unrighteous dominion (I’m assuming that’s what “having no voice” is referring to?).

    In answer to the questions – when I was single, the priesthood wasn’t really a part of my life. If I needed a blessing, a temple recommend, or to confess, then I sought out the priesthood. Otherwise, I just lived my life. Now I’m married to a worthy priesthood holder. The priesthood is a part of our relationship in the sense that my husband can give blessings, and he wants to fulfill the duties of the priesthood (callings, home teaching, etc.). Otherwise, we just live our normal life, trying to figure out how to build a life together as a man and a woman!

  4. 4.

    I didn’t actually answer the question in my first comment. My answer: My concerns only diminished inasmuch as I made sure to marry a guy who agrees with me that the “hearken” covenant is bogus insofar as it’s not reciprocal. So I’m not worried about domestic patriarchy. But I’m still very concerned with male ordinations and patriarchy in the church.

  5. 5.

    Thanks for pointing that out, Whitney (that single women are only more uncomfortable, implying married women may also be uncomfortable). So maybe it’s a matter of simple math, and Elder Oaks is tacitly acknowledging all women may have problems with male-only priesthood, but single women are subordinate to all priesthood holders they interact with, where married women are equal to one (their husband). Single women, if you accept the rhetoric of domestic equality, are denied participation in priesthood governance in two spheres, where married women are only denied that participation in one, so, mathematically, single dissatisfaction should probably be greater.

    My objection would be that it’s a mistake to conflate priesthood with power. We may not have priesthood, but those of us who are single women for sure have autonomy over our own lives. So I wonder whether the simple math doesn’t apply in reverse: Married women may have a restricted voice in two spheres (domestic and ecclesiastical), given all our confusion about what domestic patriarchy looks like. But single women for sure have authority and voice in at least one: their private lives.

  6. 6.

    This quote also makes me go, “Huh?!” But then again, that entire talk makes me feel the same way. (It’s the same talk where he argued that the priesthood in the home is different than the priesthood in the church because the first is patriarchal while the second is hierarchical, which is ridiculous on both counts, since patriarchy is by definition a hierarchy, and the hierarchy in the church is patriarchal. But that’s a discussion we’ve already had, so I’ll get back to the point of the post.)

    As a married woman I’ve felt less comfortable with priesthood authority since I’ve been married than I ever did before I was married. A lot of this (pretty much all of it, really), however, is because I only got my endowments a few months before I was married. I really think that that’s the dividing line — I’m much less comfortable with priesthood authority as an endowed woman than I was as an unendowed woman. Before I was endowed I could look at the patriarchy of the church as something that was only temporal, since we would all be Gods and Goddesses and Priests and Priestesses (and thus on an equal footing) in the Hereafter. I didn’t love the temporal inequality, but I could accept it. After receiving my endowments, hearing the hearken covenant, and that while men were Priests to God, women were Priestesses to their husbands, I became so much less comfortable with priesthood authority and inequality, because it was a constant reminder that the inequality might last forever.

    And on another note, while my marriage is egalitarian and I’m very happy with it, I don’t feel like this gives me any sort of understanding of or comfort with priesthood authority. I think that’s because I feel like my marriage is egalitarian in spite of the priesthood, rather than because of it.

  7. 7.

    Thanks for your comment. Vada. It’s hard for me to think of a talk more confusing than this one.

    And on another note, while my marriage is egalitarian and I’m very happy with it, I don’t feel like this gives me any sort of understanding of or comfort with priesthood authority. I think that’s because I feel like my marriage is egalitarian in spite of the priesthood, rather than because of it.

    This is why an egalitarian-minded man isn’t going to solve my issues. My issues aren’t with individual men.

  8. 8.

    I agree — I actually have rarely had any problems with individual men in these contexts (and what I’ve had have been extremely minor). I have a problem with the structure, the rhetoric, and the doctrine, not individual practices.

  9. 9.

    Like Vada, getting married made me more uncomfortable with priesthood authority, not less, and since I was endowed several years before I got married, it’s not just the temple ceremony. When I was a concerned single woman, most of my interactions with priesthood holders were in situations where they held some legitimate authority over me other than the priesthood–my father and my bishop, for example, had power and authority over me due to age, experience, and position, not just maleness. Now that I’m married, I have to deal with the the idea that my husband has “priesthood authority” over me just because he is male, though I know that we are in all other respects equal.

    Or let me put it this way: I dread the idea that I might some day have to ask my husband for a priesthood blessing, because the fact that he can do that for me and not vice versa feels like a slap in the face to the equal partnership I think we have.

    As for the “having a voice” issue, getting married has made me feel like I have less voice in church government, not more, since my husband is assumed to speak for me as well. I wonder how much of this stems from other Church leaders assuming, as Elder Oaks seems to, that a voice in the home can replace or compensate for silence in the Church sphere.

  10. 10.

    This talk is one I find somewhat baffling, but on this read, this statement in particular hit me:

    She does not now experience priesthood authority in the partnership relationship of marriage.

    This pretty much says flat out that the “partnership” of marriage is one which involves one partner having authority. I would be hard pressed to see this as a partnership of equals. (Though I note that he didn’t use that term, at least right here.)

  11. 11.

    Not to keep beating the same drum rhythm (what? I just made that one up there), but my experience was very similar to other commenters. I felt waaaay more uncomfortable with the Priesthood after I became engaged and married than I did when I was single.

    I think it was a combo of Petra’s very astute observations about voice/equality/legitimate authority and Vada’s experience with the temple and the possibility that subservience could stretch into the eternities.

    I remember feeling very betrayed and feeling as if I had been brazenly lied to when I went through the temple. I had grown up with parents and many church leaders telling me that the temple would reveal how powerful I could be in eternity vs. the silliness that was our mortal church hierarchy. I was bowled over and beat up to learn that the hierarchy wasn’t negated in the temple but was instead enforced in such an inescapable way.

  12. 12.

    I can understand why a single woman wouldn’t understand “priesthood authority in the partnership relationship of marriage.” It is simple really, as the mother of the family I am the ultimate authority in the home and I preside, as long as my husband is not at home. Since I am a stay-at-home mother and he works, and is in a bishopric, I am the only one home at lot, so really if there is any inequality it really lies in the fact that I am the ultimate authority in our home far more often than he is.

    On a serious note (the above was not) I didn’t have any problem with priesthood authority in the church when I was single; the church had such little impact on my day to day life. I worked and went to school and had many different spheres of influence, not being allowed power in one just didn’t bother me. Then the night before I got married I got my endowments out (that was a huge mistake I had never heard anyone say anything that would make me think that going to the temple was anything less than the most sublime of all experiences so why not just go through the night before you get married then your mom can be there with you) and that was the beginning of my personal problems with priesthood authority, because now there were two spheres where I lacked power. My problems only increased when I graduated from school and later quit my job when I had our first child, because now the only spheres that I moved in were church and domestic and I had no authority in either. I would love to say that my husband has always been completely egalitarian, but he was very traditional when it came to priesthood in the home, so in many aspects of our relationship we were equal partners and then in any areas involving church and spiritual leadership he was the authority. It was odd because it seemed so out of place with his personality and our relationship in general. So to answer your question my concerns with male ordination and domestic patriarchy increased when I got married. I think you articulated very well why that is, for me at least, when you stated:

    My objection would be that it’s a mistake to conflate priesthood with power. We may not have priesthood, but those of us who are single women for sure have autonomy over our own lives. So I wonder whether the simple math doesn’t apply in reverse: Married women may have a restricted voice in two spheres (domestic and ecclesiastical), given all our confusion about what domestic patriarchy looks like. But single women for sure have authority and voice in at least one: their private lives.

    Priesthood authority is no longer a problem and I can say that we do have an egalitarian marriage, but like Vada I feel like it is egalitarian in spite of the priesthood and not because of it. My husband and I had to figure out how his priesthood authority was supposed to work in the context of our partnership because the church is not exactly clear on this point.

  13. 13.

    Before marriage I had no problem with the priesthood, and I was a convert from a liberal upbringing. I developed a keen sense of spiritual discernment and phenomenologically experienced the priesthood. I gained a strong testimony of its power and worth, and its independent existence from the men who wielded it.

    After I was married things got a little … fuzzier. I don’t know if this happened because I suddenly was in the thick of things and bound differently to the priesthood than before. But I highly suspect that it was mostly due to abuse and betrayal by the priesthood authority of my bishop, wherein he denied my personal revelation that I sought in behalf of my nonmember family in order to help them understand the sacrifices I was making and to help them feel included in my wedding. Those circumstances caused some damage to my ability to clearly discern things, but I simply attributed that injury to the sins of one man.

    I took the “hearken” covenant to heart, though more appropriately the “in so far as he is hearkening unto God” part. I held onto the vestiges of my clear discernment and knowing where God abided, at least for myself. But still in agony at being directed away from God by my bishop, I bucked and rebelled (sometimes savagely) where ever my husband directed where I didn’t feel the Spirit. I consider that if the Spirit isn’t there then neither is the priesthood. So I never thought I took issue with his priesthood, just some of his directions. He was raised in a very traditional Mormon family, so I imagine it wasn’t easy at first. But he is a humble and loving man, so we have both grown together.

    What really brought the sufficiency of the priesthood to question in my mind, and perhaps increased any discomfort with it, is my becoming a mother. I suffered severe anxiety about becoming a mother when I was pregnant because only then did I realize I was raised by a subversively abusive mother, and I didn’t have a good earthly example to follow. I tried to follow Christ’s example. I tried to abide by the Spirit of God. I even tried just being a good person like my dad counseled. But at some point I realized that neither Christ, Heavenly Father, nor my dad were mothers. And I needed, I desperately wanted, to fulfill the honorable role of “mother”.

    For this I have had no guide, no power or authority to assume my way is right, no way to know if I am doing just as Heavenly Mother would do in my place on the behalf of others. For though previous to motherhood I often felt that what I was doing was exactly what Heavenly Father would have done in my place, it was in androgynous roles or purely on my own behalf (even regarding my callings in the church, others just happened to benefit indirectly). But now that I have direct, immediate, and superior (equal only to my husband’s) stewardship over the lives of two innocent children of God that would be best served by my fulfilling the role of motherhood, I find myself seriously lacking where no lack should be. I cannot rely on my husband’s priesthood at every turn (as he is not at my beck and call for every decision I have to make), and have found that personal revelation does not suffice. So while I wouldn’t say I’m uncomfortable with the priesthood in and of itself, I am not at ease with the current set up of stewardship vs. authority.

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