Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Doctrine of Separate But Equal

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). 


Chris Dutkiewicz said...

Is it intentional that you don't complete this thought with a painting of what an equal church would look like? For example, are you suggesting ordaining women with the priesthood, but not setting apart in an office of the priesthood? Or are you going for the fences and envision a church with female bishops, stake presidents, and even a female prophet(ess) one day?

Clean Cut said...

Welcome, Chris! To answer your question, yes, it was somewhat intentional. I don't have the hubris to suggest that I could paint a full picture of the ideal. Others have already shared their visions and perspectives, many of which I personally find compelling.

In a sense this post is true to the form of Mormonism which seems to focus on the possibilities and potentialities at the expense of rigor. Eventually I think we'll reach a point where we can stop focusing on what is possible and focus on what is more likely or what is more plausible. But right now we're still at a point where people think you're crazy for even suggesting a belief that women should be ordained.

Clean Cut said...

(But if you really must know, I personally find the idea of female apostles compelling. I've had a tinge of "holy envy" for the Community of Christ when I found out that they have a female counselor in their First Presidency).

Chris Dutkiewicz said...

I'm not going to pretend that I've done the scriptural research on this, but ask in sincerity: "How come Jesus himself called twelve men as Apostles the first go around?" In this thought process of painting a picture of unequal status in the church, don't we first answer that question? Because couldn't an argument be made that our church has simply followed the Savior's example? Or am I missing something?

Anonymous said...

If we're following Jesus' example so well why do we have 15 apostles today?

Chris Dutkiewicz said...

It's certainly your prerogative to be concerned with the number. If you think number equals gender in significance, that's certainly your right. I just thought I'd throw out the question.

Clean Cut said...

I think it's a fair question, Chris. I don't know that I have a great answer for it. All I do know is that there are many things in the scriptures we no longer follow, and because the restoration continues, there are many things about the Church today that no longer resemble anything close to the Church in Joseph's day, let alone the Church in New Testament days.

I mean, Jesus didn't call 12 year old deacons either. But that didn't stop us from going that direction. I'm pretty sure Jesus didn't call any white men to the priesthood either. Who knows what race they were. But race isn't that big a deal in regards to priesthood now a days either. Times change. We change to adapt to the times.

There's a whole host of ways the Church has improved and progressed, so we're certainly not bound by anything in the (very incomplete) scriptural accounts. The one constant about this Church is change, and the 9th article of faith assures us that there are yet many great and important things yet to be revealed.

What's amazing to me is how many accounts we actually DO have of women in the scriptures. In fact, just this week I read the lyrics someone had made about Deborah to go along with the song "Follow the Prophet":

"Deborah was a prophet—
she judged Israel.
Led them into battle,
triumphed with Jael.
God will guide our leaders,
women can lead too.
They will show the way to
God for me and you."

If we had a verse like that, maybe I could actually get to liking this song again. As it is I already had to write new lyrics for the chorus:

Follow the Savior, follow the Savior, follow the Savior
Don’t go astray
Follow the Savior, follow the savior, follow the Savior,
He is the Way!


I wonder if even Jesus was somewhat confined by the culture of the time in terms of comfort with powerful women in calling apostles. (I don't have any idea--just thinking out loud). As it was, he was radically inclusive of women, far more than most men of the time were comfortable with. Women were some of his most important and cherished witnesses. If an apostle's main role is to be a "special witness", we can still follow THAT example with either gender as well.

Chris Dutkiewicz said...

I think those are good thoughts. I don't have the pull toward advocating for change, but I also won't feel the world is ending if the Prophet announced a revelation one day granting the priesthood to all worthy members regardless of gender. If I could ask the Relief Society to help with the two moves I have this weekend, our campout weekend, I would be so happy!

ji said...

I suppose I'm satisfied with the status quo. Some will think very negatively of me for saying so, and accuse me of all sorts of things and talk about "privilege." But I wonder about my right to insist that God is wrong and to demand that He change the church in order to better fit our modern sensibilities. To me, it is far more important for me to learn, to wait, to sanctify my soul, and to sustain others in their callings. I'm happy to wait upon the Lord. I'm happy to say that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Gospel it carries, is wonderful and beautiful. To me, it is whole and complete already. But it loses its power to save souls when its own members criticize it as benighted and backward (at the nice end of the spectrum) or purposefully malevolent (at the other end) for its attitude towards women. I want to be grateful for the church I have claimed and the gospel which has claimed me.

Clean Cut said...

ji, I sincerely appreciate you sharing your perspective. There is room for all of us! That's the beautiful thing about big tent Mormonism. As President Uchtdorf said: "Regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church." ("Come Join With Us")

The only thing you said that I struggle to accept is that "it is whole and complete already", because I believe one of the messages President Uchtdorf was trying to get across to us in the last conference is that the restoration continues, and that we shouldn't sleep through it! ("Are You Sleeping through the Restoration?")

The picture to me is fuller and more complete now than it was a year ago before women were invited to pray in General Conference. And the pictures published of all the general authorities are literally more beautiful now that the female general officers have been added (just a few weeks ago)--same goes with the addition of the portraits of the female general officers to the Conference Center in time for this past General Conference.

So for me it's a continual unfolding as we collectively gain more light and understanding.

Clean Cut said...

I guess I'll just echo Henry Eyring in his letter to Joseph Fielding Smith:

"It will be a sad day for the Church and its members when the degree of disagreement you brethren expressed is not allowed...I am convinced that if the Lord required that His children understand His works before they could be saved that no one would be saved...I think it is fine to discuss these questions and for each individual to try to convert the other to what he thinks is right, but in matters where apparently equally reliable authorities disagree, I prefer to make haste slowly. Since we agree on so many things, I trust we can amicably disagree on a few."


While I may not be passive about change, I'm patient. And I suppose I should only "make haste" to advocate for the changes I can control in my own life--namely making sure my marriage is equal and beautiful, and more about "we" than "me". Since marriage is the Lord's true university, I'm still in for a good education.

Clean Cut said...

One final thought, ji. I forgot to respond to your last two sentences here:

"But it loses its power to save souls when its own members criticize it as benighted and backward (at the nice end of the spectrum) or purposefully malevolent (at the other end) for its attitude towards women. I want to be grateful for the church I have claimed and the gospel which has claimed me."

I prefer to make a distinction between the restored gospel of Jesus Christ on the one hand, and the institutional Church on the other. There's no question that I prefer Elder Ronald Poleman's 1984 talk in it's original state, before he was asked to amend it and re-tape it (and a cough track added to it). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcM7koDc-jg

More on that "best conference talk you've never read" here:


And here:

Clean Cut said...

Kind of a "must read" on the topic of gender equality in the Church:

"Equal Means Something"


ji said...

Well, maybe I am sleeping. But even so, I'm still happy to wait on the Lord and not insist that things change to fit our modern sensibilities. I'll take change as it comes, or not, and be happy all the while. In the meantime, I regret that so many seem to want to think of me as part of a "problem" that needs to be solved.

Clean Cut said...

"I'm still happy to wait on the Lord and not insist that things change to fit our modern sensibilities."

ji, that's fine, and I know we can't force or compel the Brethren, but history shows us that revelations come as they are sought for, desired, and asked for, and desired. Think of Emma Smith cleaning the chewing tobacco, asking the Prophet, and then the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89) comes. Think of the Priesthood Ban ending only after those apostles who were opposed to the change had died.

Spencer W. Kimball once wrote his son, Ed:

"Revelations will probably never come unless they are desired. I think few people receive revelations while lounging on a couch. . . . I believe most revelations would come when a man is on his tip toes, reaching as high as he can for something which he knows he needs, and then there bursts upon him the answer to his problems"