Friday, April 16, 2010

In Praise of the Vulnerable Man

I have long held that the biggest barrier to sanctioning gay relationships in the Mormon Church is the exclusion of women in its priesthood. The biggest source of homophobia, in my opinion, is gender inequality. If there is nothing inferior about femininity, then a man who displays feminine behavior isn’t to be feared or ridiculed, but in the Mormon Church there is something inferior (or at least so vastly different) about women that a man who displays female traits is committing a gross crime. Furthermore, the Church is based on the family unit, which ideally is lead by the priesthood. A lesbian home would be absent the priesthood eternally, and a gay man’s home would have it twice over. That just doesn’t work. The Church could not sanction gay marriage without first giving the priesthood to women.

And I believe it is completely possible for the Church to extend the priesthood to women without throwing everything out the window. Women perform priesthood tasks in the temple, and they are appointed “priestesses” there for the hereafter. Many Mormons believe that women will receive the priesthood in heaven, or will have their own priesthood that is closely tied to motherhood. Church leaders could play up all of these things for a few years, and start an anticipation for a future day when God will open the priesthood further, similar to what happened in the Church before the 1978 revelation lifting the ban on blacks in the priesthood.

Even though the Church can extend the priesthood to women, it doesn’t have to, and I’m not sure it will. The Catholic Church sets a huge precedent—for centuries they have not lifted their ban on women joining the priesthood, and they have survived just fine as an organization. I don’t think the LDS Church will become obsolete if they don’t embrace gender equality any more or less than the Catholic Church.

Both Catholics and Mormons have had their fair share of break off sects, however, who have embraced gender equality. While most Protestant sects coming away from Catholicism have found success in ordaining women, the Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS, a break off of Mormonism) lost twenty percent of its membership when they extended the priesthood to women some 25 years ago. I’m not sure that a Church as obsessed with growth as the LDS church would take the risk given what happened to its sister organization. Like I said, I believe the Church should embrace gender equality, but that doesn’t mean it has to or that it will.

But interestingly enough, the Community of Christ, which still uses the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants and which is organized in basically the same structure as the LDS, has embraced gay relationships during their spring general conference this month. So I am right in stating that opening up the priesthood to women does pave the way for sanctioning gay relationships. The question is, will the LDS Church follow?


MoHoHawaii said...

I've thought for a long time that the root of LDS policies against gay people was defense of patriarchy. It's much more about defending gender roles (i.e., male power) than it is about sexual orientation per se.

I don't know if being collateral damage from a larger issues makes me feel better or worse about the situation. :- )

Craig said...

I think both gender equality re: the priesthood and acceptance of gays will happen - on the same basis that acceptance of blacks did. As our society progresses and the church's exclusionary doctrines become more and more socially unacceptable, the church will have to choose between doctrinal purity and a larger membership.

In 30-40 years, I suspect that homosexuality will be so much more normalised in our society that the church will by then have a very convenient "revelation". It is already the case that a significant percentage of Mormons support gay equality, even some among those who actually believe it to be a "sin" still don't think the church has any business supporting anti-gay legislation. It's a minority for certain, but the demographic change has already begun.

Most Mormons like to pretend that the church was never fundamentally racist, and are very ashamed of that past. As social pressures mounted and the racist doctrines became untenable, the church leadership realised they had to either change the doctrines or risk losing a great deal of the membership and be made total social pariahs within the religious community. I think something very similar will happen with gays and women.

I also think that a great deal of the impetus behind the church's defense of its rigid gender roles, sexism and homophobia is the fear of polygamy. It is conceivable that polygamy could be legalised (as, like gay relationships, it is a behaviour between consenting adults). If that were to happen, the church would be screwed. If it didn't reinstate polygamy it would lose a large core of its most conservative and fundamental membership, and if it did, it would probably lose even more. I think that this is a main reason the church is so politically involved to keep heterosexual marriage the only socially and governmentally recognised form of marriage, because of how it fears its polygamous past, and is unable to come to terms with it.