3 Ways Mormons Against Women’s Ordination can be more empathetic and sympathetic.
Frequently, people opposed to ideals of women’s equality will argue that the proponents of women’s equality incorrectly assume that equality means sameness. For a recent Mormon take on this trope, see this Deseret News post from Linda and Richard Eyre on Women and the Priesthood in Mormon theology. As they write:
But there is one problem that pervades the feminism culture and that is actually working against the ultimate and worthy goal of total equality. It is the notion that equality means sameness. In actuality, striving for sameness will never produce equality, because there will always be small variants and no two people will ever be the same.
True equality comes only when we realize that two very different things can be precisely equal in importance, in beauty and in ultimate potential.
Julie M. Smith had a great post at Times & Seasons (not written directly in response to this article, but it reads as if it could have been…that is how common the equality=/=sameness trope goes) on this issue. Stepping aside Julie’s comments on the problem with the “separate but equal” conceit (which I agree with Julie on this point, but for now, I’m just stepping over this), here’s something Julie pointed out through a comparison of young women’s roles vs. young men’s roles in sacrament meetings:
So we are assuming that the Young Women don’t need to be treated the same (that is, ordained to the Aaronic priesthood and given a chance to prepare, bless, and pass the sacrament) to be equal. But they do need something. What recognition are they receiving in sacrament meeting? (The pathology of publicly praising our sons as a community every single week in the context of worship while never doing that for our daughters as a group is a very deep one. Imagine a family where the son was praised weekly and the daughter never mentioned: no one would think that this is acceptable parenting.) What sense of purpose are they developing? What is motivating them to attend sacrament meeting? What spiritual opportunities are they given? How will they grow?
Feel free to ignore me as a heretic apostate (but hopefully you’ll pay more attention to Julie who is not a heretic apostate), but I would like to give three suggestions for how Mormons who happen to be against women’s ordination can still be empathetic to women’s equality, and thus be seen as more sympathetic.
What Can Mormons Do to Talk the Talk about Equality Without Advocating Sameness?
I highly recommend that Mormons visit Heather’s “Equality is not a feeling” series at Doves and Serpents, because this post is going to rely heavily on several entries therein.
1) Equalize representation in non-priesthood administrative roles, like Church Educational System.
Let’s look at the most recent edition: the gender division of all of the Commissioners of Education for the Church Educational System since 1888.
Equality doesn’t have to mean sameness. If one doesn’t agree that women should be ordained just as men are, one can still recognize that the status quo of how the Church Educational System is run is still far off from anything resembling equality.
Peggy Fletcher-Stack wrote an article recently about the “rare honor” of a female BYU professor being named to run an Institute of Religion in Cambridge, Ma. How is it that women so rarely oversee Institute at a local or regional level, in addition to having no representation as the top commissioner?
This is not an issue that requires priesthood ordination to solve, so the least a Mormon can do is be in favor of shifting this administrative matter in favor of equality.
2) Evaluate roles for young women in the “congregation at large”
For the second item, let’s look at Heather’s “Equality is not a feeling” entry for the roles of young women and young men relating to the congregation at large. This relates to the post I linked earlier from Julie, but speaks about more than just sacrament.
Recall the paragraph I quoted from Julie. What sense of purpose are the young women developing? What is motivating them to attend sacrament meeting? What spiritual opportunities are they given? How will they grow?
Understandably, if you are against women’s ordination, you might think that many of these items are priesthood only, and thus not on the table for negotiation. However, are all of these items things that require priesthood to perform?
3) Close the gap in recognition for women leaders in the church organization
I hear many people say that women already have plenty on their plate in the church, so they shouldn’t be burdened with additional meetings. And indeed, the church does have the Relief Society and Young Women’s program, and women are additionally represented on the primary presidency. How many people have heard the saying that the Relief Society and Young Women’s are far more organized than equivalent priesthood counterparts, especially when it comes to organizing and serving?
If women and men are equal, but not the same, then why is it that the church has such a gap in the top leadership roles with women vs those for men?
These are just a few things to think about that don’t require any thinking about priesthood ordination. Even though I have posted just three articles from Heather’s excellent series, the series currently has 22 articles and counting, and several point out gaps and discrepancies by gender that really can’t be fixed simply administratively. However, for these few, why not at least support changes in these areas?