This past weekend a document formatted to appear like The Family: A Proclamation to the World was distributed in chapels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in and around Herriman, Utah.
The document is titled “Male and Female” and claims that the Church’s teachings on gender equality are incorrect. It addresses recent changes that make temple language more egalitarian and appears to largely be a response to that. It has clearly been formatted in such a way to evoke confusion, and clumsily attempts to duplicate the type of language used in The Family Proclamation.
The document is anonymous, and no authors have identified themselves.
The document asserts “at the heart of righteousness lies the humble submission,” and claims this doctrine should apply to women submitting to their husbands. It labels any efforts to teach gender equality, as the Church long has, as giving in to “politically ‘correct’ falsehoods.”
The document makes the odd claim out of line with the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ that God has multiple wives.
Finally, the document claims that the Church promotes gender equality to “placat[e]” those who pay tithing to the Church. And concludes that they will withhold tithing funds and only follow the prophet if he stops teaching gender equality.
Why this Crosses the Line
As Latter-day Saints we allow all people to worship God “according to the dictates of [their] own conscience.”
So as repulsive as we may find these regressive ideas, and as diligently as we may work to persuade those who hold them to the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, ultimately in a religiously pluralistic society, people have the right to hold them.
And naturally, those who believe women must submit to men are no theological friends of Latter-day Saints, so we would expect disagreements between us and those who wrote the document.
So then what’s the matter?
Well, a few things.
- It is never appropriate to enter someone’s home or church for the purpose of ridiculing their faith. While I am happy to discuss whether men and women are equal in the public square, people should not need to fight off attacks in their own spaces. There’s a reason missionaries knock on the door first.
- It mimics the look of official Church proclamations. This can serve to both confuse people, who might pick it up initially because of its appearance. It also lessens the effect of actual church proclamations by confusing them with undoctrinal rants like this.
- It claims the cooperation of general authorities. Either this is inaccurate, which would be wildly inappropriate to pose as religious leaders. Or it is accurate, in which case these leaders need to identify themselves so they can be removed from positions of influence and possibly excommunicated for apostasy.
- It is anonymous. This puts the document in a precarious place where it could by an imposter simply trying to embarrass the Church by attempting to tie it closely to the actual church. Critics have been all too anxious to accept it as genuine.
- The document misrepresents the doctrine of the Church in significant ways and passes it off as shared ground. Those outside the church who might report on the document could be misled by these claims.
What Can Be Done
Local church leadership in Herriman and other wards in the greater Salt Lake City, Utah area should be on the lookout for the documents to remove them from chapels.
But otherwise not much. Until the authors identify themselves and their motivations there is little else we can do except move on as quickly as possible
What is ultimately so frustrating about these claims is they attempt to put a sexist doctrine that has been unaccepted in the Church in my lifetime up for debate again. People reading this will conclude that “conservative” or “orthodox” members of the church hold these beliefs. But they don’t, they follow the prophet.
It also suggests that the temple previously taught these doctrines, which it never has.
As Latter-day Saints, we have a rich heritage of advocacy for women’s rights and equality. I’m not trying to suggest there’s no space for continued discussion on the nature of that legacy today and how to continue to grow. But, we should speak up and not allow apostates to hijack our message.