I once belonged to a ward where the personality of said ward was defined by a long standing rift between two women, then in their 80’s, who had, decades before, determined that they couldn’t stand the sight of each other. I shall henceforth refer to one of the women as Sister Stick (who was my particular friend) and Sister Zimmer (who was not).
“Look at her, just look at her, Lady high and mighty!’ came the barely hushed objection of Sister Stick as we piled into the Relief Society room one morning. To any comment offered by Sister Stick I noticed Sister Zimmer roll her eyes in derision and intolerance. It was this situation that disabused me of any notion that all women grow more tolerant and gracious with age. If I hadn’t found the situation so amusing, I would have been appalled.
This row was so long and convoluted that no number of (albeit biased) explanations from Sister Stick clarified the reason for this state of affairs. I hadn’t yet found Sister Zimmer to be all that objectionable. She was aloof and a bit grim, but she seemed tolerable.
And then one grey winter’s morning in Sunday School we began talking about the priesthood. The Gospel Doctrine teacher was Filipino, and the majority of the class were either Pacific Islanders or Māori. I can’t recall the exact context giving rise to her outburst but I was suddenly blindsided by Sister Zimmer’s Youngian discourse on divine apartheid. Stabbing her arthritic fingers at the POGP she declared emphatically a doctrine so laden with racism it left me breathless. I looked about me as my brown brothers and sisters drank in this diatribe with heads bending further forward, eyes staring down and bodies still with shock. I was outraged, and before my mouth could be stopped, my husband and I tag teamed a full and comprehensive deconstruction of her argument. I didn’t care about keeping the peace, and inviting the spirit with my silent consent of her horrifying lack of human ethics. We salvaged what parts we could from the scriptures to counter her increasingly dogged insistence on God’s racial partiality. In the end she dramatically packed up her Sunday school equipment and shuffled out of the class in a display of huff and displeasure while I watched thinking to myself, ‘Look at her, just look at her, Lady High and Mighty!!’
The point is that we were both spiritually diminished by a doctrine/custom/tradition that has over decades now privileged church governance above divine sovereignty. A record of authoritative utterances and policies that have exhibited a tenacious loyalty toward flawed human beings /church leaders before complete devotion to a perfectly loving, perfectly omnipotent divine parent.
So excuse me if I don’t leap up and down with absolute delight at the OD2 introduction. I think it’s a wonderful step in the right direction and had I had this introduction before me during my debate with Sister Zimmer I would have been grateful. But one thing bothers me still.
“Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.”
Come on now! Seriously? I love that the church has condemned racism but I can’t abide any organisation that hides behind its racist/sexist/colonial past with declarations of “Gee whizz, now how the heck did that happen?” bewilderment.
It’s doesn’t take a calculation of nuclear physics to see that the origins of this practice circle around one common denominator. It simply comes down to the explicit, overt and blatant racism of the church’s historical leadership and their tendency to conflate their social common sense with some kind of ‘divine knowing’. While today we aren’t encumbered by our historical policy of racism there is another Mormon cultural habit which is just as menacing. There seems to be an incomprehensible preference for preserving the mythology of an inerrant leadership.
To be honest I think it’s a bloke thing; A male flaw; A primal, tribal allegiance to the leader of the pack. I asked my husband how it was that he so willingly gave up his power to the church patriarchy over God’s sovereign will as expressed in the scriptures. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good man, but he’s a product of the institution. His most sensible response was his admission that it came down to a very male need to belong, to be a member of the team. I appreciate that as a mother of 6 boys. I can see this preference for a hierarchy working among my own sons, and I value the sense of order it constructs. But as a mother I am duty bound to change this order, to move things around, to demand ultimate allegiance to me as the alpha female, lest their social arrangements morph into a tyranny (which I have observed happening on several occasions, one of the most dramatic involving an enforced silence as to the perpetrator of an arson attempt in one of the boys’ bedrooms).
So thanks to LDS Inc. for the new edition of the scriptures – it’s a wonderful step in a positive direction (for me at least, but probably not for Sister Zimmer) and it bodes well. But as an instructive for our future ecclesiastical and doctrinal arrangements, I have but one warning, “The Vatican”.