I noticed that others didn’t see what I saw in Jeff G.’s “The Mormon Intellectuals’ Trojan Horses.” And, in some cases, they saw things in his essay that I didn’t and don’t see.
I still think that the essay provides an important way of thinking about the recent stories of Kate Kelly and John Dehlin.
Acceptance of the authority of the priesthood — as such, because of the office of the person, rather than because of his superior education, eloquence, or reasoning ability — is one of the hallmarks of a commitment to Mormonism. Latter-day Saint scripture warns bearers of priesthood authority not to abuse it, but to employ it gently and with love (see, for example, Doctrine and Covenants 121:34-46) — but faithful Saints recognize that authority and, in the end, except in almost unbelievably extreme cases (of a kind that I’ve never personally encountered nor heard of), defer to it.
And the temptation should be resisted to turn this into a simple morality tale of all women submitting in servile fashion to the authority of all men.
The fact is that most men, at any given time, won’t be leaders. And some may never be. They will always be under the authority of a bishop or a stake president or a mission president or a temple president or an area president or the general leadership of the Church. And, even within that general leadership, there is hierarchy and deference. I have personally witnessed, up close, examples of the deference of senior members of the Twelve to the president of the Church. And Latter-day Saints believe that the president of the Church is himself subservient, and acutely aware of his subservience, to God. (Perhaps I’ll have a bit more to say about that point tomorrow.)
Jeff G.’s essay is relevant to comments that I recently saw from a disaffected and non-believing nominal member of the Church. He complains that the Church is following what he derides as “the Smith-Young model” of Church governance, which he sees as slavish. (He vocally dislikes Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.) I enthusiastically plead guilty. While I reject the implicit charge of servility, I’m happy, with my fellow believers, to follow “the Smith-Young model.” I accept Joseph Smith and Brigham Young as the Lord’s chosen prophets for the years 1820-1877.
A column by an Evangelical who graduated from Brigham Young University and who is now a candidate for a master’s degree at a Midwestern Evangelical theological school appeared two or three days ago in the Salt Lake Tribune. She is an outspoken feminist, and it is sharply critical of the Church and its leadership.
Using as her illustration the practice of blessing babies — which, in Mormonism, is a priesthood ordinance and, thus, performed solely by men – she remarks that “when a father comes under church discipline, he will be barred from participation in ceremonies such as the blessing and naming of his children as part of his punishment. This outsider finds it curious that the church punishes unrighteous fathers by treating them like faithful mothers.”
There is much in the article with which I disagree, and much about it that I dislike. But I found the statement above quite disingenuous, or, at a minimum, poorly thought-through.
Suggesting that the Church treats “faithful women” like “unrighteous fathers,” that Mormonism values devout women so little that it equates them with men under Church discipline, is rhetorically effective. It was a clever touch to suggest to readers that disgraced Mormon men are punished, in the Church, by being lowered to the presumably debased level of committed, believing Mormon women.
But the insinuation grossly distorts the reality. Mormonism distinguishes between faithful women and unfaithful men in many ways.
For instance, unordained but faithful women can hold leadership positions and teach in their local congregations, at the stake level, and at the general level of the entire Church. Men under discipline cannot. Unordained women can pray publicly in Church meetings. Men under discipline cannot. Unordained women can serve as missionaries. Men under discipline cannot. Unordained women can speak (i.e., deliver sermons) in church. Men under discipline cannot. Unordained women can partake of the sacrament, worship and serve in the temples of the Church, and wear the garment emblematic of covenants made in the temple. Men under discipline cannot. The covenants and sealings of unordained but faithful women are wholly valid in the eyes of the Church. Those of men who have been excommunicated are not.
The differences are enormous. And they are far more central to Mormon life as it is actually lived, week in and week out, than is the relatively rare blessing of a baby.
I was also unfavorably impressed by the article’s sarcastic closing line: “The prophets have spoken and the thinking has been done.”
This represents one of the most hackneyed and tired of all tired anti-Mormon arguments, and it was very disappointing to see the article’s author, whom I knew and liked when she was a student at BYU, resort to it. I expected more from her.
For some background information and context for her jab, see
Posted from Orlando, Florida