Women’s Ordination and Gay Equality – How They’re Connected

I’ve made this case before, in most detail in my 2011 Dialogue article “Mormon and Queer at the Crossroads,” that women’s roles in the Church and gay equality in the Church are intimately connected. This is not just a conceptual connection…historically, the Church has treated the two issues as though they are connected. In 1993, Boyd Packer linked “gays, feminists and intellectuals” as evils the Church needed to be wary of.

The Church prepared its campaign against gay marriage at the time of the Equal Rights Amendment because it understood the developing logic of civil rights. The Church’s position against the ratification of the ERA included concern that the amendment would encourage a “blurring” of gender roles as well as forcing “states…to legally recognize and protect [same-sex] marriages” because “if the law must be as undiscriminating concerning sex as it is toward race, [then]…laws outlawing wedlock between members of the same sex would be as invalid as laws forbidding miscegenation.” This is a direct quote from the 1980 Church pamphlet “The Church and the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment: A Moral Issue.”

Thus, LDS women who voted against the ERA could do so knowing they were voting against the “evil” of homosexuality that “blurred” gender roles. This idea of keeping “men” and “women” distinct (and not blurred) and that this distinction is what makes Mormonism beautiful, unique and true is what the Church has used to pit gay rights against women’s rights for the last few decades. It has done a good job of it, in my opinion, because here we are almost 40 years later and the discussions among activists and their opponents seem similar to the 1990s…as if precious knowledges are constantly being quashed by the system, and activists have to expend most of their energy just keeping the knowledges alive, much less altering the system.

Sometimes Mormon feminist discussions keep the gay/feminist connection at the forefront (this Exponent II issue is a good example), but I notice that a lot of the times, discussions become dominated by two competing views: (1) “Eve is already equal to Adam as she walks alongside him, so the Church is fine” versus (2) “Eve is not equal to Adam as she walks alongside him, so the Church needs to change.” This is a debate between heterosexist feminisms that assume an Eve wants to walk alongside an Adam, and strangely, that in some fundamental way, all Eves are similar and all Adams are similar. The Church would have you believe that if an Eve dares to walk alongside another woman, that the woman would also be named “Eve,” as opposed to having a entirely different name, personality, individuality. The argument against “blurring the genders” also requires the genders to be static. I find it ridiculous how people argue that Ordain Women wants to “blur the genders” when the Church is the biggest perpetrator of muddying gender to make everything the same. (Btw, the Eve walking next to another woman, or by herself, or however is certainly not on equal footing as the Eve walking next to Adam.)

Ordination in the Church is a unique issue because [nearly] every boy is ordained, and no girl is, so if girls were also ordained, then everyone would be ordained, which wouldn’t work. But given the current set-up, it’s hard for me to not see the priesthood as entirely about a maintenance of heteropatriarchy, funneling people down certain life paths. I find curious this Apr 5th tweet from Joanna Brooks:

ordination isnt my issue but i believe women should be involved in decision making on all issues at all levels of the church.

The Quorum of 12 is a “level”– how can a woman be an apostle without being ordained? I scratch my head at Brooks. Perhaps the problem is that women’s ordination would give the Church a heart attack from an organizational standpoint, so a piecemeal strategy is not exactly preferred, but is the only option. (This is what the Church says when it calls Ordain Women “unhelpful.”) At the same time, given the way the priesthood works, one wonders about the Eve who doesn’t want to marry an Adam. Without a change to the gendering of the priesthood, gay equality is also rendered a distant dream.

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6 Responses

  1. Al says:

    My computer’s dictionary defines Lilith as the first wife of Adam, dispossessed by Eve. Perhaps Lilith & Eve walked in the Garden of Eden together.

  2. Alan says:

    Dispossessed by Eve? I read that Lilith rebelled and left because she refused to be subservient to Adam, and so Eve was created to fill the role. Meanwhile, Lilith became depicted through the centuries as a demon seductress who causes miscarriages, SIDS, and wet dreams.

    Eve is depicted as largely naive, and whose interest in sex is basically to create male progeny. Lilith represents “unchecked” female sexuality.

    It’d be cool to think of the things Lilith might teach Eve, but the two seem largely representations of male anxiety, and I can see why subservient Eve was the preferred model, adopted by men. Too bad characters like Lilith are largely absent from Christian and LDS mythology. I always liked the Jewish and Greco-Roman stories, as one couldn’t help but notice how central and varied the female cast was. In LDS lore, Eve and Heavenly Mother seem to pretty much fulfill the same function.

  3. chanson says:

    if girls were also ordained, then everyone would be ordained, which wouldn’t work.

    Why not?

  4. Alan says:

    @3, haha, that’s a good question.

    The first line of “ordination” in Wikipedia:

    Ordination is the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart as clergy to perform various religious rites and ceremonies.

    In my mind, the concept of ordination requires some difference from the whole. But I suppose this doesn’t have to be the case. It’s the problem in Mormonism — males set apart from females on the basis of gender alone. I suppose everyone could be baptized at 8, and then ordained at 12…

  5. chanson says:

    @4 Yeah, I read your statement, and thought about it for a while, and I started thinking that perhaps Catholics would have thought that ordaining a representative from almost every family just wouldn’t work — until the Mormons demonstrated a workable model.

    So why not just ordain everyone? Unless, of course, a critical component of the specialness of the priesthood is being able to lord it over people who aren’t allowed to have it. 😉

  6. Alan says:

    a critical component of the specialness of the priesthood is being able to lord it over people who aren’t allowed to have it.

    Yes, I think this is the case. One of the problems Friedrich Nietzsche had with Western religion generally is how it has a “master-slave morality” built into it…. some people are deemed closer to the “light” than others, and use this “light” to subjugate. At first it was the fact that only priests knew Latin, and so people had to listen to them to know what was in the Bible. Then, when the Bible was translated and mass produced, Protestantism was born (obviously, the story is more complex, but basically, it had to do with the elitism.)

    A big part of Mormonism has do with the higher you climb up the ladder, the closer you get to the “light,” to justify the sway you have over policy… until you get to the prophet who is God’s mouthpiece. My understanding of feminist Christian interventions, though, is that this dynamic gets broken down through the ordination of women….things become more individualized and democratic. I don’t know if Mormonism could survive a dismantling of the prophet system….aka the patriarchy system.

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