In 1896 the all-white-male Supreme Court of the United States (Plessy v Ferguson) decided that as long as facilities and opportunities were equal, racial segregation was acceptable. Despite this early insistence, history shows that both equal facilities, and especially opportunities, were not a reality for an entire group of citizens born with a different skin color. Too often there is a disconnect between our ideals and our reality.
In 1954 the Supreme Court overturned the doctrine of separate but equal (Brown v Board of Education). Thurgood Marshall successfully argued that racial separation deprived black children "of equal status in the school community...destroying their self-respect." The burden of being separated did actual damage and shouted "inferior" to black children. Any system that separated children according to race was by its nature unequal.
After long delays (including rearguing the case after the previous Chief Justice had died), new Chief Justice Earl Warren (who was from California and had not been forced to confront segregation as it existed in the South), took some time to do some sightseeing, touring Civil War battlefields in Virginia. After spending the night in a country hotel, he awoke in the morning and was shocked to find that his black chauffeur had spent the night in the car. Chief Justice Warren was forced to confront the uncomfortable reality of segregation face to face. Hotels in Virginia traditionally did not cater to black visitors. "I was embarrassed, I was ashamed," Warren wrote years later. He became an activist, of sorts, dedicated to making sure that the ruling that came in the spring of 1954 was unanimous: "We conclude that in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."
Now all comparisons have their flaws. Nevertheless, I myself have done a little sightseeing. I've been confronted with the uncomfortable and embarrassing reality that many in our church (perhaps because they "sleep" in luxury and privilege while others are living a marginalized reality) refuse to recognize what an increasing number of LDS feminists see: the doctrine of separate but equal in terms of gender equality in the LDS Church is problematic. To deny this is to cast aside the concerns and the pain that so many of our best women have felt. These faithful feminists have been marginalized--their feelings minimized--in favor of maintaining great public feelings of the Church and its brand. My heart aches that so many members no longer feel they belong to our collective body of Christ.
I believe there is a place for all of us here, including those who feel perfectly content with the status quo. But while many believe in the divinity of the Church, not all believe that an all-male-priesthood-leadership-patriarchy is the ideal. Some, recognizing the Church is a human organization, suggest that it's run much more like a corporation than many care to admit. Others get defensive at just the suggestion that our current reality doesn't necessarily reflect God's ideal. I've heard some say: "If God is in charge, surly he would have fixed it if there was truly a problem. God wouldn't allow sexism to exist within his church". (Brother Jake explains that Mormons are not sexist.)
Because of my understanding of history and the way God has dealt with humankind in the past, including within our own faith, I no longer believe in a God who micromanages us. God doesn't rob us of the opportunity to gain nitty-gritty experience and to learn sometimes-painful lessons for ourselves. He lets us struggle--sometimes a long, LONG time--to ultimately learn his will and correct our own wrongs.
Sometimes it seems that the ultimate truth hides in plain sight: "He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God." (2 Nephi 26:33).
If we truly believe this--that all are alike unto God--then we all ought to be more committed to promoting equality (including gender equality) better than we have traditionally done. (See here for a great example of teaching Mormon women, patriarchy, and equality in a higher education setting by a BYU-Idaho professor.) We should especially stop insisting that things are the way they are because God wants them to be that way.
The actions of Ordain Women within the past year certainly brought this back into the collective conversation, for better or for worse. I've already written about some of the parallels I personally see in history, so I'm not going to belabor the point here. But there's an interesting scene in a film about the Civil Rights movement entitled "Freedom Song" that I can't seem to get out of my mind. After some disturbances in the community involving race relations, one particular white women asks her black housemaid if she had heard about the disturbances (which she categorized as "race riots".) She went on to say: "Made me so upset I couldn't sleep...God made us to be separate. He must have a reason. Finally I realized it must be because he wants us to know our place and to stay in it. Otherwise there would be disorder, and God doesn't want disorder."
I personally believe there is more in store for a woman's place in this church than is reflected by the current order, or the status quo. I still believe, stronger than ever, that women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It doesn't seem right to me that half of our "fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God" are not inherently part of the decision making bodies of our church unless invited there by benevolent men--and this based solely on the fact that they happened to have been born female.
No, I believe, with many others, that "all are alike unto God" (2 Ne. 26:33).
Jesuit priest Tom Reese joins Religion News Service
46 minutes ago