How has the Church’s view on homosexuality changed over time? In a post at T&S last year, Kaimi gave an overview of some of the major changes, and summarized them as follows:
Over the course of the past three decades, the church’s stance has evolved from virulently anti-gay and homophobic, to its current soft-heterosexist approach of “love the gays, hate the gayness.” It is a limited sort of shift, as the changes have largely involved rhetoric and attitude, while many of the underlying church doctrines have remained relatively constant.
I haven’t systematically examined Church statements about women, but I think there may be a similar change going on in this area. My impression is that it used to be that women had their own roles and their own sphere and that’s just how it was, but now there are General Authorities reassuring women at every turn that they’re incredible and important. But like the change in views on homosexuality, like Kaimi said, it’s been mostly in rhetoric and not much in practice. Borrowing Kiskilili and Eve’s term, it could be called “chicken change.”
I may be straying a bit from the framers’ intent (and I hope they’ll weigh in if I am), but as I understand it, chicken patriarchy is an attempt to soften people’s perception of patriarchy by changing the rhetoric about it. It’s not a change in practice: men continue to preside. It’s not a change in the old rhetoric: it’s still said that men are divinely designed to preside. Instead, it’s an addition to the old rhetoric: egalitarian statements are mixed in with the old hierarchical statements. The most-discussed example is likely the part in the Proclamation on the Family that says husbands and wives are equal partners and that husbands preside.
I think the changing rhetoric on homosexuality is also a type of chicken change. As with changing views on women, our practice hasn’t changed (or it has changed very little). The only ways to be in good standing in the Church if you’re gay are still to remain celibate or marry an opposite-sex partner. And although some of the more recent Church statements about homosexuality have softened, the older, harsher, statements are still circulated. They certainly haven’t been disavowed. This makes for a potentially confusing mix of official statements that take different stances on homosexuality.
Here’s what I’ve been wondering about chicken change, though: Is it a sign of progress, however small? Or is it just a way of avoiding the issue? This question came up briefly on the recent fMh podcast on benevolent patriarchy/sexism, where one panelist said she thought benevolent sexism was an improvement on old-style hostile sexism but another panelist thought it didn’t represent progress. (Sorry–I lost track of who was saying what. I think the conversation is about 48 minutes in.) I can see there are good arguments for both possibilities.
Chicken change might simply be a way to sidestep the need for change in practice. For example, there’s some pressure on the Church for women to be ordained. Excluding them from the priesthood based on their sex violates widely-held egalitarian ideals. Rather than make this change, though, the Church simply dials up the “women get to lead a lot too” and “women’s roles are just as respected as men’s” rhetoric, in effect trying to redefine the current state of affairs as already being in line with egalitarian ideals.
On the other hand, chicken change might represent a step forward because the very fact that rhetoric changes and the current state of affairs gets redefined implicitly acknowledges the pressure for change. Continuing with the example of ordaining women, Church rhetoric that emphasizes how much women get to lead in the Church implicitly accepts the ideal that women should be leading in the Church (thanks for pointing this out, Kiskilili). Another reason that chicken change might represent progress is that it lays rhetorical groundwork for later change in practice. When change in practice (finally) happens, there are plenty of official statements that preceded it that can be pointed to as justification. This might make it easier for the change in practice to be accepted. For example, as I understand it, the 1978 revelation overturning the priesthood/temple ban was preceded by softening rhetoric, and it was widely and eagerly accepted. By contrast, the 1890 Manifesto was not preceded by any kind of change in rhetoric (nobody was saying “Oh, monogamy is as good as polygamy after all,” before it.), it was to some degree ignored, and it ultimately led to several schisms splitting off from the Church.
I have always leaned more toward the view that chicken change is a net negative. It artificially reduces pressure for real change in practice without addressing the underlying problem. But now that I’ve considered the question more, I wonder if chicken change–frustrating as it is–might actually be a useful step in implicitly acknowledging the existence of pressure and in easing the path of later change in practice.
What do you think? Is chicken change a step forward, or a sidestep?
Please note: I aware that I am assuming lots of things here, like that the Church has changed in the past, that it will change in the future, and that change can be good. Please save arguments on these points for another day.
- 28 August 2012