I want to thank my friend Todd for inspiring this post.
After excommunicating the group of LDS historians and feminist theologians known as the September Six, LDS Apostle Boyd Packer explained why in his opinion women do not need the priesthood during the 1993 October General Conference.
Once a man received as his inheritance two keys. The first key, he was told, would open a vault which he must protect at all cost. The second key was to a safe within the vault which contained a priceless treasure. He was to open this safe and freely use the precious things which were stored therein. He was warned that many would seek to rob him of his inheritance. He was promised that if he used the treasure worthily, it would be replenished and never be diminished, not in all eternity. He would be tested. If he used it to benefit others, his own blessings and joy would increase.
The man went alone to the vault. His first key opened the door. He tried to unlock the treasure with the other key, but he could not, for there were two locks on the safe. His key alone would not open it. No matter how he tried, he could not open it. He was puzzled. He had been given the keys. He knew the treasure was rightfully his. He had obeyed instructions, but he could not open the safe.
In due time, there came a woman into the vault. She, too, held a key. It was noticeably different from the key he held. Her key fit the other lock. It humbled him to learn that he could not obtain his rightful inheritance without her.
They made a covenant that together they would open the treasure and, as instructed, he would watch over the vault and protect it; she would watch over the treasure. She was not concerned that, as guardian of the vault, he held two keys, for his full purpose was to see that she was safe as she watched over that which was most precious to them both. Together they opened the safe and partook of their inheritance. They rejoiced for, as promised, it replenished itself.
According to Packer, women don’t need to worry about the priesthood because procreation requires their cooperation.
If we were to restate Packer’s argument in the language of analytical political science then he says that men have two veto points and women have one veto point. Insofar as each veto needs to be yielded to accomplish anything, women should not have anything to worry about.
The fact that sex may provide leverage is an old and powerful theme. In 411 before Christ, the Greek poet Aristophanes staged the comedy Lysistrata where the women of Sparta and Corinth swear an oath to withhold sex until their husbands lay down their arms.
That is an intriguing idea, which apparently has contributed to a truce in American gang wars. On the other hand, women have always been essential for sex and yet have had to tolerate male domination in various forms throughout most of the last four thousand years.
I doubt that sex can actually be a veto point. First of all, sex is a drive, not a choice. Insofar as humans do have choices about sex, they are at the margins, which is why celibacy does not work.
In other words, a sex boycott hurts women as well as men, which undermines their ability to sustain the boycott over time.
Second, men will use their power to get sex. When women are in a subservient position that means by definition that men have a lot of levers to impose their will, most importantly, the ability to satisfy their sexual needs elsewhere. In the old days there was polygamy. Today, there is a vast surplus of marriageable LDS women.
I don’t believe that sex provides much leverage. Whatever our experience of male lust suggests, the historical record rules out.
Males, on the other hand, can provide or withhold priesthood services at will without any pain to themselves but feelings of guilt.
Of course, any woman whose husband withholds priesthold blessings can simply go to her home teacher or bishop. That’s true of the laying on of hands as well as the sacramental blessings. Even for eternal marriage, there is always a substitute husband available. Rather than assuring eternal devotion to each other, eternal marriage turns out to be a Damocles sword threatening postmortal separation.
If the priesthood is a veto point then husbands do not control it.
Rather the priesthood is a veto point that the leaders of the LDS Church control. They decide who gets to partake of the sacrament and who does not. Of course, they delegate these tasks to local officers. But these always answer to the fifteen.
It turns out that men don’t get much of a key either. Their key is a construct in their mind, which allows them to lock themselves into the room rather than remaining a free creature in God’s creation. We are locking ourselves into a cage, which is not even gold.
Promising the Saints power, Packer is pulling a bait and switch on men and women. He and his colleagues are the only ones who enjoy sufficient autonomy to properly describe their condition as powerful and humane.