Equality without Unity?

[ 8 ] Comments

by Becca

WWII Rosie“I am a feminist.”

What does that mean?

Apparently no one really knows.

At the heart of it, it’s “a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women … A feminist is ‘an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women.’”

In the article I linked to above, Gayle Laakmann McDowell asks, “Don’t you support equal rights for women? Then you, too, are a feminist. Almost every single person I know is a feminist. At least, I sure hope they are!”

So, according to McDowell, I am a feminist.

Many of the women of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are bitterly divided over feminism. Even within the Mormon Feminist movement, there seems no clear or united goal. That lack of unity causes a problem for Mormon women who would like to be part of a movement to empower women, especially because of something the Savior said to us:

“if ye are not one ye are not mine”

That is a nine word summary for why I have never felt comfortable declaring myself a feminist.

But some aspects of the feminist movement appeal to me.

First of all, feminists are generally (but not always) less judgmental than those who reject the feminist movement. This appeals to me because it breaks my heart to watch people use anything, but especially religion, as an excuse to judge others. I think there is no religion whose members are more inclined to use religion as an excuse for judgment than members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The way Mormons do it is quite intriguing, too. Mormons are probably less likely than other religious people to judge people not of their faith (that is, as Mormons we are less likely to say a non-member was going to @#!*%). However, we are probably much more likely to judge people who are of our faith (that is, as Mormons we are very likely to call another member an apostate for starting a movement where all the women wear pants to Church one day). The same Mormon who would judge a woman for working outside the home to make ends meet would turn around and serve dinner at a soup kitchen. So I really respect feminists, because (for the most part) one of their goals is acceptance and a non-judgmental attitude.

Second, feminists are against the oppression of women – by anyone, including Priesthood leaders. I can get behind this 100% because God himself told us,

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion … No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile – Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

An interesting reading of this scripture is that power or influence is not maintained by virtue of the priesthood, but rather by the virtues of persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness and meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, and pure knowledge. I think this is where some who are clamoring for change in the Church misunderstand the priesthood. The power and influence of men in the Church cannot be maintained simply by virtue of ordination to the priesthood. This would suggest to me that there is no power or influence for a woman to have that can’t be had without the priesthood, and that men who are oppressive of women, especially under the guise of priesthood authority, actually have no power.

The problem with feminism for many members of the Church, including myself, comes when we start talking about equality. When we talk about racial and ethnic equality, we can usually come to an agreement. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, what your ethnicity is, or what your country of origin is – a person is a person is a person. We should all be treated the same as human beings. It’s easy because there really is no difference between a white person and a black person, a Jew or a Christian, an Asian or an African. We are all the same.

But when we start talking about equality of gender, things get a little stickier. Women are, quite obviously, not the same as men. Women and men have, inherently, different needs. I’m not talking about “Women need lots of girl friends,” or “Men need to go hunting.” I am talking about things such as, “A man will never bear a child.” There are other biological differences, but the ability to bear children is definitely the most notable. I would say it is also the most important difference between men and women. And I find that Mormon feminism frequently dismisses childbearing as a relatively unimportant and particularly distasteful part of gender identity for a woman.

The simple question, “Do you want equality for women?” is not the question dividing Mormon women.

The questions that divide Mormon women (and men) on the issue of feminism are much more complex.

What does gender equality look like, and how do we come to an agreement? Neylan McBaine, Joanna Brooks, and various Mormon feminist bloggers out there all seem to have their idea of what it looks like, but there are also many people who think there is gender equality already within the Church. So how do we form a consensus and become united?

It might help to look at two areas of doctrine – unity, and equality.

Unity

Christ stresses unity in the Church, and we have had the discussion that unity does not mean homogeneity. Christ does not want us all to be identical people with identical views and perspectives and experiences. He wants us to be different, but He wants us to learn to understand and appreciate each other for our differences.

Godhood has been on my mind lately, especially when I think about equality and unity. While there is not a plethora of revealed doctrine on the characteristics of God, I believe that God is Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, together. With the little we do know about celestial glory and exaltation and marriage, it seems that unity of man and woman plays a big role in exaltation. If we are going to be exalted with our spouses, wouldn’t it be logical that Heavenly Father is exalted with His spouse (Heavenly Mother)? I think so. And I think this image of God being neither male nor female, but the perfect unification of male and female, makes more sense to me than God being male.

I can’t answer questions about why we worship Heavenly Father only and not Heavenly Mother, but I have a suspicion is has to do with the same reasons why men are ordained to priesthood offices and administer the ordinances of the gospel. I don’t really know what those reasons are at this moment – but that’s why I post things here, because I believe that faithful discussion can lead us all to better understanding of gospel doctrines and principles.

Equality

The Book of Mormon contains perhaps the most oft-quoted scripture about equality:

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, both Jew and Gentile.

I also think this is one of the most misused scriptures about equality. Nowhere in this scripture does it say that men and women are identical in purpose or that both men and women will be ordained to priesthood offices. This scripture is a simple statement that God is no respecter of persons with regard to the saving ordinances of the gospel – everyone who is eligible may receive them – black and white, bond and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile.

I’m not sure there is a doctrine of equality that goes outside of this guarantee of salvation for all. Just as unity does not mean homogeneity, neither, I believe, does equality mean that men and women are interchangeable in their identities. I have a strong sense that there is a reason I was born female, and there is a purpose to that identity that is separate and different from (but not less important than) the purpose of a male identity. I do not think it was chance that I am a female.

Perhaps the key to the equality that we are seeking is found in the doctrine of unity. That is, “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” Perhaps neither man nor woman can have equality as separate beings, but must become one and if they are one, they are equal, but in a way we cannot comprehend if we are not one with our spouse.

  • What do you think about the connection between unity of man and woman and equality?
  • Might we be thinking about equality in the wrong light?
  • Would a change in thinking about gender equality help us become more unified as feminists?

Image Credit: Tim Green (CC)

About Becca

Becca is just a woman, mother, daughter of God, trying to figure things out. She blogs at My Soul Delighteth and Real Intent.

8 Responses to Equality without Unity?

  1. I think you place to much emphasis on being “nonjudgmental” in your analysis. We are expressly told to judge those within the church and to eschew those who call themselves “brother” (member) but do not follow the gospel. That’s why excommunication exists.

    Related to this, we are to let “God” judge those who are not in the church, which is where being without judgement is essential. We judge ourselves and our family (church) but don’t judge those who are not members.

    In the end, your final conclusion is valid – a man is not what he can be without his spouse, and a woman can not be what she can be without her spouse. They are unified in purpose – to be kind, truthful, loving, merciful, benevolent, patient, sober, etc – seeking the divine, seeking perfection together. They are unified by their need and equal.

    And personally, my view is that the most powerful person in the United States is the American mother.

    • Becca says:

      “We are expressly told to judge those within the church and to eschew those who call themselves “brother” (member) but do not follow the gospel. That’s why excommunication exists.”

      I believe that is a bishop’s job as a judge in Israel, and not your average member’s job. I wouldn’t dream of judging someone as apostate or not just based on my limited perspective of them and my lack of mantel/responsibility.

      I do agree that there is a certain judgement we must judge – for example, I make a judgement when I decide who my 5 year old son can play with, or whose house he can visit without me there with him. But I try to think about how the Savior would act, and teach my children to act accordingly. The Savior dined with sinners, told adulterers to “go and sin no more”, and allowed women who had committed serious moral transgressions to wipe his feet with their hair.

      We don’t know all the circumstances a person may be in, we do not know their perspective, we do not know how their brains tick, and I would like to be very sure of those things, or at least have some idea before I pass any kind of judgement on a person.

      As an example, there is a wonderful couple in my ward. At first glance, or in a brief meeting, or even after years of casual acquaintence with them, you might judge them to be one of those who call themselves “brother” but do not live the gospel. But I would judge differently. I believe them to be very good and very sincere people, despite their seeming “unorthodox” ways. And I would always rather err on the side of judging a person’s lack of living the gospel to be due either to 1) their ignorance (they just don’t know that they aren’t living the gospel fully) or 2.) my ignorance (I just don’t fully understand that principle of the gospel, and maybe they are living it fully). “for with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged.” That’s the part that always sticks out to me.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Bonnie says:

    There is such a groundswell of interest in the topic of equality lately (well, that’s relative, since I think it’s been topical for decades). I’ve been thinking about it this morning and I think it’s because the Church is in it’s adolescence.

    In our infancy we were blessed with revelations rolling constantly, creating a structure for our growth. We moved to the mountains where we could experience a sheltered, home-based childhood. We grew throughout North America and into the world, innocent and childlike in our missionary work. Then we entered our teens: physically just about grown, but straining against authority, reaching for justice, impatient with our Parents, aware that the universe invites with great truth, sure we have it and know it all.

    What beckons is our opportunity to exercise that in an environment of spiritual adulthood. The Millennium offers a great opportunity to really experience what God has been teaching us about caring for one another in a Church by extending our work to the entire creation. Aaron, at Grace for Grace, asked the question about Mormon women and the priesthood yesterday. I read it this morning and my thoughts went to what purpose is served by continuing to grow as teens in God’s kingdom, as a church.

    Teens are physically capable of sexual activity, with all the drive and passion to experience the unity of marriage. They are not ready, however, and the teen years are a time of discipline and learning in other areas, socially and emotionally and understanding their place in the larger world, before they consummate their intended passions. As a church, we know the unity we want, but I don’t think we’re prepared to exercise it.

    As I commented at Aaron’s post, we aren’t fully appreciating the purposes of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, and until we do, though we have been ordained of sorts toward the Patriarchal Priesthood, we are not called to exercise it … yet. It’s a time of patience and further learning. Asking for full equality in an environment where it cannot be exercised yet is like asking for the license to have sex outside of a marriage covenant. Until the Millennium is here and all those who are worthy have an opportunity to be united in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, there will not be equality, nor exercise of the priesthood that is the power of God (Mother and Father).

    And I would have to say (in response to the idea that feminists are the least judgmental), that hasn’t been my experience. Merely stating any support for the Melchizedek Priesthood structure we now experience has invited all kinds of judgment, whether condescending or angry, from those who profess great openness. We all need to be patient with one another in our growing through these teen years, and recognize that we’ll all eventually get it, however obnoxious we may have been in the past.

  3. Inari says:

    I really enjoyed this post.
    Sometimes I’ve found myself using the word “humanist” instead of “feminist” to describe myself, because of that odd clang that the word feminist has (plus most feminists these days are also interested in/disgusted by racism and all other forms of discrimination too, so the word feminist seems a little narrow).

    You touched on the ideas of homogeneity and unity being two different things, but where is the line between them? Where are we “allowed to/supposed to” be different and where united? I reckon the basics of the gospel are where the true (and only) unity lies – faith, repentance, ordinances, God’s plan and the brotherhood of man, the restoration of the Gospel, etc… aka the things that missionaries teach. I don’t think the call for unity reaches much beyond the first three lessons: faithful people live the commandments to the best of their ability, and sometimes practices differ because people are imperfect and at different parts of the process at different times. In like manner, everyone figures out for themselves what their strand of feminism is at any given time. So I doubt that more unity “as feminists” is possible – or even desirable. Since there seems to be no proper official stance of what gender equality is in a practical gospel-context, thinking about it differently is of course a really good idea, but it might not achieve much unity since it still will be “your guess is as good as mine” at the bottom line. So perhaps more thoughts and voices in the conversation about it is what we need, and a lot less judging a character of the speaker based on what those voices say. You can’t tell is someone is unfaithful based on what they think about gender equality. It is only God’s ordained “judges in Israel” who can make the call of whether someone is a worthy member or not (from his comment I can only assume that Jeffrey w. Spencer is a bishop).

    • Becca says:

      “So perhaps more thoughts and voices in the conversation about it is what we need, and a lot less judging a character of the speaker based on what those voices say. You can’t tell is someone is unfaithful based on what they think about gender equality.”

      Mmmm I agree. More voices – and less judging the character of the person behind that voice.

      Perhaps that is what I am looking for – the unity of a symphony (harmonies and counterpoint and all that) – not so much the unity of everyone playing in unison. But how do we feel the unity that creates harmony? Charity? Compassion? Attempting to truly understand, rather than judge, one another?

      Thank you for your comments.

  4. britt says:

    “men who are oppressive of women, especially under the guise of priesthood authority, actually have no power.”

    This is my favorite line. I completely agree. It changes our understanding of how we move forward and how we look at the priesthood.

    I do think unity is what we need to work for…and that means increased understanding and patience and love. It is difficult to demand understanding and love and have that work well.

  5. Ja says:

    I believe that there is Unity. We are told man with the woman, and woman with the man to be exalted. I know there is a Heavenly mother. We were created in the image of God. If gender is an eternal and essential characteristic, and by divine design genders have a related role (fathers preside in righteousness, provide necessities, and protect and mothers primarily for nurture, but obligated to help one another as equal partners), why would there not be an Eternal Mother? I think about the role of the Holy ghost and the traits it is most commonly associated with, comforter, witness of truth, teacher, still small voice, feeling of peace…etc. I personally think it has a very nurturing role. I have thought much about the third member of the Godhead and the comforter and the still small voice. The family is the base unit of society in heaven- father, son…? Who is still needed. I think about my children leaving my home (and garden), just because they sinned does not mean I leave them on their own. Adam and Eve chose knowledge and accountability and chose to have the opportunity to become like God (parents). In the garden of Gethsemane, there was “an angel” to strengthen Jesus. In a time of such suffering, who would you most want with you and whom do you think would want to be there? I prayed about it and I listen to the ordinances in the temple. Woman do not have the Aaronic priesthood, but perform ordinances in his house. The authority of God is through the Holy Ghost and Melchizedek priesthood. There is unity in heaven, but not exactly equality. Women are under a veil-Why? As such, we are not glorified, and our presence is known. What is the unpardonable sin-to deny the Holy Ghost. I think there are so many connections. we need to reconcile with the role of priesthood and the role of womanhood. Both are important different but equal and united. That is God.

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