Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On Ordain Women, Priesthood, and "either the Church is all true or false"

I've been commenting quite a bit on Jana Riess' excellent blog posts lately (especially here, here, and here). I figured when my comments begin turning into book length form, it may be time to simply drop them here on my own blog:

[Responding to Jason, who said that having Ordain Women in the standby line distracted from the spirit on temple square and the inspiration he was wanting to feel at Priesthood meeting, I wrote:]

I can tell you’re very sincere. I hope I can share a different perspective without taking anything away from your own. What I don’t understand is why it’s such a big deal to the Church NOT to allow them inside. To me, the way to make sure you don’t detract from the Spirit is to just say “the more the merrier” and let them in. Having sisters inside next to us doesn’t distract from the Spirit in our other meetings. If we must have gender segregated meetings (and I’m all for that) then let’s call it the “Men’s Meeting” along with the General Women’s Meeting they just held the week before the Priesthood Session. Our leaders have made it very clear that men ARE NOT the priesthood.

Also, please consider how saying that it is all about YOU and YOUR feelings without considering those “selfish” women’s perspective comes across, ironically, as very selfish.

Finally, please take the time to read this excellent post by a friend and former colleague of mine (who recently completed five years of service as a bishop) and who went to witness Ordain Women in person at the very same meeting as you:

Pride of Lionesses: My experience standing in line with Ordain Women

[He thanked me for responding and said he would read it when he got home.  Then he said that Ordain Women's "tactics would be inappropriate at any venue. It’s ok if you and I 'agree to disagree' on certain issues, but please tell me deep down in your gut you agree their approach should be reconsidered". I responded with the following:]

To be perfectly frank...I’m somewhat ambivalent about it.

On the one hand it’s clear that they were asked not to come and they came anyway (although by most accounts were well behaved and peaceful), but because of this there are some who obviously see this as rude and disrespectful and therefore not “well behaved”.

However, there are others who view the request for them NOT to come or to stay in the “free speech zone” as rude and equally disrespectful.

Some on both sides view the other as irrational and unChristlike. (I personally think it would have been completely rational to simply honor their request in the first place since women are allowed to watch the proceedings anywhere else. And had the Church done so there would have been no harm, no foul.)

If you put yourself in the shoes of the supporters of Ordain Women, it’s kind of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation, don’t you think?

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich coined the phrase: “well behaved women seldom make history”. (I actually bought my wife a key chain with this quote at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.)

Speaking historically, I have no problem with civil disobedience of the past, whether the Montgomery Bus Boycott or the Lunch Counter Sit-ins. I’m sure those white restaurant owners and patrons thought that those blacks who peacefully sat in at the lunch counters and politely asked to be served were also being “rude and disrespectful”.

If you pin me down and force me to tell you what I think I agree with, here’s what I think I’d say I agree with:

“I won’t cower to, privilege, or be afraid of authority. I give respect only where respect is deserved.”

“The very notion of Jesus being the author of women’s subjugation and spiritual disempowerment is a contemptible sacrilege. Mormonism’s contemporary sexual politics has more to do with outdated American 20th century cultural and social practices than it has to do with God.”

“If this religion is the international movement that it purports to be it might be time to shuck the barnacles of its host nation so that it can finally become both universally relevant and locally appealing – and that, as a minimum, means healing the institutional breaches in religious practice and leadership between men and women.”

(These comes from Gina Colvin's "Reflections after Temple Square: Furious musings from the periphery")

[A different person ("GR") responded to those statements I quoted from Gina's blog, and wrote that "the comment that Mormonism’s contemporary sexual politics has more to do with outdated American 20th century cultural and social practices than it has to do with God is not the comment of someone who has a firm testimony of the gospel and the Saviours position at the head of it. Either this is the TRUE church or it isn’t." I responded with the following:]

Thank you, GR, for sharing your thoughts. I sincerely appreciate the conversation. I hope I can disagree with some of what you share without coming across as disagreeable.

This binary thinking is extremely problematic, not the least of which would mean that the Lord doesn't honor the agency of the prophet at all, and that the prophet is therefore nothing more than a puppet. Also of consequence is that you then directly put the blame on God for the status quo where one half of the membership is barred from certain offices based solely on their biological sex, rather than chalk it up to the fact that we are all products of our time, and that we and all the prophets "see through a glass darkly" as we walk by faith rather than have direct knowledge as though we (or the prophet) has a clear Heavenly Fax/Phone number. The church has continually evolved and adapted throughout time as humans bring their concerns before God and God honors the desires of our hearts. The one true constant in this church is the fact that it continually changes and improves and progresses past the "status quo"--and thank God for that or blacks would still be barred from our most sacred temple rituals, and black men from holding priesthood.

Please don't assume that things are the way they are because God wants them that way. God doesn't micromanage us. Acknowledging the human element in the Church, as well as the fact that there have been errors in the Church in the past (such as that priesthood ban and also the rationales once used to defend it and that are now completely disavowed) and logically the fact that errors can occur today doesn't mean there is no divinity in the Church. It's not all or nothing, black or white.

I wish that more members would be less prone to dig in their heals and defend the status quo as though their testimonies depended on it, and allow for change and revelation of many great and important things, as their faith should require of them. Hugh B. Brown, who served with David O. McKay in the First Presidency, once said: "while I believe all that God has revealed, I am not quite sure I understand what he has revealed, and the fact that God has promised further revelation is to me a challenge to keep an open mind and be prepared to follow wherever my search for truth may lead."

The Church is not an essentially divine organization marred only by the human weaknesses and foibles of its leaders/members. We--the church--are entirely a human organization responding to the divine with which we have in faith been touched. (Hat tip to Phil Barlow for this insight.)

Please allow me one final correction to your comment. It wasn't the presiding bishop but rather Elder Oaks who said that women in this church already exercise priesthood power and authority, but that they do not hold priesthood keys or offices. (And by the way, neither he nor President Monson have ever said that women shouldn't be ordained. Elder Oaks simply said that they (the "Brethren") don't have the authority to make that change by themselves--meaning that only God can make that change through a revelation.

I openly admit to being perplexed, however, and not because my faith may be less sufficient than yours. I'm perplexed at how Elder Oaks definitively claims that this is the way things are by "divine decree".

I don't think it was ever divinely decreed that 12-year-old prepubescent boys could or couldn't hold offices in the priesthood, and yet they now do.

It is encouraging, however, that Oaks concedes that women exercise priesthood authority and power. But I still wonder how long before he realizes it's not that much of a stretch to assume that if women can currently exercise priesthood authority, that it really shouldn't be a big deal for them to also hold priesthood offices and keys. As far as I know, God hasn't ever said that his daughters cannot hold priesthood offices or keys simply because they were born female.


Ziff said...

Great points, Clean Cut. I particularly like your argument that if Church leaders can never go wrong, then they are nothing more than God's puppets.

SanAntonioRob said...

Clean Cut, I decided maybe I would respond to you here so we weren't taking up Jana's comment section. I know Mat and Larke very well. Just ask Mat to get you in touch with Rob from his ward and he'll get you my number. I look forward to it.

Lon Young said...

"I’m sure those white restaurant owners and patrons thought that those blacks who peacefully sat in at the lunch counters and politely asked to be served were also being “rude and disrespectful”."

Clean Cut, your insights here are nuanced, generous, and well-reasoned. Thank you for adding another thoughtful voice to the discussion!

Hunter said...

Wonderful comments, Spence. And an excellent example to me of how to disagree with a Christian heart. Powerful. Thank you. Keep on keepin' on, man!