What Hannah Arendt can teach us about Women’s Ordination in the Church
Just like the issue of accepting same-sex intimacy, Mormons are beginning to understand a good Mormon can hold the position that women should be ordained. And this means that half (okay, maybe one quarter) of the battle is won, because now Mormons talk amongst themselves about the following equation as opposed to just dismissing whoever disagrees with it:
Church administration + church service + fatherhood = Church service + motherhood
I certainly hope Elder Ballard’s recent talk is a response to feminist grumblings that will soon grow to a point of being uncontainable. But I also think that it would be good idea to have a conversation about what it is that does the “containing,” because it’s not just church leaders.
A couple years ago, a site popped up called agitatingfaithfully.org that took a quote from President Hinckley about the lack of female ordination resulting from no “agitation” for it. To paraphrase, Hinckley said in 1997 that: “Mormon women are happy, so there isn’t really any reason to ask the Lord for input on the matter.” The phrase “agitating faithfully” helps remind folks that what leads to changes in the Church are, by and large, Mormons imagining their own Church differently. Yes, Mormons turn to their leaders and God for guidance, but once most Mormons believe something, that something is the Church’s position — so it’s more accurate to point fingers at the membership for change, and not necessarily the leaders or God. (The leaders are pulled from the Church as a whole, and when God is involved in changing some substantial policy, it’s usually just leaders asking for a stamp of approval.)
Recently, I saw the 2012 German film Hannah Arendt about the philosopher of the same name. She is often associated with the phrase “The Banality of Evil,” her description of ex-Nazi Adolf Eichmann who in 1961 was put on trial in Jerusalem. When we think of Nazism, we think of something quite evil — but Arendt’s point was that what makes evil truly evil is that it can turn good people bad — or at least make honest people think that evil is neutral or normal (evil’s banality). Arendt argued that Eichmann personified this principle, as he was merely a thoughtless man following orders. Basically, Germany as a whole fell prey to modern evil’s banality.
Arendt came under a lot of fire for pointing out that some Jewish leaders were also likely involved in the Holocaust. She was condemned as “blaming the victim” and deemed a self-hating Jew. But I think Arendt is right to acknowledge that for a system like Nazism to work, it’s not just the Schutzstaffel (SS) with guns. Even those who are in many ways against the system often encourage the system with their actions; and it doesn’t help when a propaganda campaign frames people’s thoughts.
I kinda see the issue of women’s ordination and the issue of same-sex intimacy in the Church the same way. I know that there’s the ancient online adage of Godwin’s Law: comparisons with Nazism tend to be inappropriate hyperboles. But this post is not so much about Nazis as it is about Arendt, so I’m in the clear! =p
Having followed in detail the actions of Mormons entering gay Pride parades the last couple years, many times I’ve seen well-meaning Mormons engaging in behaviors that only encourage heterosexism. I even see the LGBT community engaging in behaviors that encourage heterosexism. I also see Mormon women who actively support male leaders who have no intention of opening the conversation concerning female administration of the Church. This is Arendt’s philosophy in action. Following her lead, I’m wondering if the conversation should include the banality of the Church’s heteropatriarchy and what might be good responses toward it. I think ordainwomen.org does a good job, but personally, I find Arendt’s rhetoric sometimes useful: she is willing to point fingers at the victims, recognizing that in today’s world of confused moralities, victims are often the ones who buttress the perpetrators.