— The Week (@TheWeek) March 24, 2014
Damon Linker, a Catholic writer at The Week, is a former visiting assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University who interacts with many LDS thinkers and writers. In his most recent column, Linkers asks whether gender inequality will lead both faithful Catholics and faithful Mormons to eventually leave their respective Churches.
…what if the next institutions to be leveled by the Christian ideal of equality are the churches themselves?
I’m not talking about all of the churches. I mean those that have resisted reforming themselves in light of women’s equality — and specifically those that resist this reform from the top down, with ecclesiastical authorities enforcing male-centered dogma and doctrine. That’s mainly the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons).
A contrast with Protestantism and Judaism is instructive. There are, of course, many gender traditionalists in both faiths — evangelical Protestants and Orthodox Jews. But there is no overarching authority in either religion stipulating that traditionalism is the only valid form of belief. That means there are other options besides apostasy for dissenters. Don’t like the traditionalism of your congregation? If you’re a Protestant, you can find a more liberal, mainline alternative. If you’re a Jew, look for a Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist synagogue.
But in both Catholicism and Mormonism, there’s often nowhere else to go. It’s either love it or leave it.
While Linker focuses much of the column on the Catholic Church, he also makes some insightful comments about Ordain Women.
Last year, several Mormons formed a group called Ordain Women and tried to gain admission to the all-male priesthood session of the church’s semiannual General Conference at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. They were turned away. In an effort to avoid a repeat demonstration, the church has now banned the group from Temple Square during the upcoming General Conference on April 5. While a 2011 poll found that only 8 percent of Mormon women (and, oddly, 13 percent of Mormon men) support extending priestly ordination to women, this defensive move by the church is bound to raise the profile of the group and its cause. Combined with broader cultural trends in favor of equality, those numbers are bound to rise in the coming years.
If they do, the LDS church will face a crisis, since Mormon theology and folk beliefs are far more profoundly gendered than mainstream historic Christianity. The patriarchal nuclear family mirrors a divine familial arrangement led by an authoritative male God (Father in Heaven) who has his own obedient and deferential wife (Mother in Heaven). Opening the Mormon priesthood to women would challenge these doctrines in a way that could strike at the foundations of the church — far more so than the decision to permit the ordination of blacks in 1978. On the other hand, refusing to reform could eventually drive large numbers of younger, egalitarian-minded Mormons away from the church.
Will younger egalitarian-minded Mormons leave the LDS Church over his issue? How about related issues about gender and social equality?
Yes, they already are.
I see it amongst my former students from my three years teaching at Brigham Young University-Idaho and my one year teaching at Brigham Young University.
And it is not just among liberals, Democrats, or leftists. It is also my Republican and conservative friends and former students. They might advocate a neoconservative foreign policy or oppose Obamacare, but even they tend to be rather ambivalent about gay marriage and generally more in favor of gender equality than older generations.
It is easy within Mormonism to dismiss such people as never actually being faithful. But such assertions are false and this tendency or impulse to characterize them as apostates is hateful and cruel. It is also counter the idea of Zion or a community of disciples.
These friends are my brothers and sisters. Not because I view everyone as brothers and sisters in a Christian sense, but because I have come to view them as my younger and older brothers and sisters because of the meaningful interactions I have had with them. I wept when I discovered that they left Mormonism. Not because I view them as lost or because I think they are now going to hell, but because I view their departure as a great loss to my faith community. They are graduates of LDS universities. They are returned full-time missionaries. These are some of the best, the brightest, and the kindest people I know.
It breaks my heart that they have left. I breaks my heart that they felt the need to leave. But I cannot blame them. I understand where they are coming from.
The desire for gender equality, and the overall appeal of egalitarianism, it not merely a “worldly” desire. It is rooted, as Linker points out, in the very Christian idea of equality. Even secular arguments for gender and social equality are deeply rooted in moral commitments. These are just concerns which should not be scoffed at or dismissed.
If you are one that says that the egalitarians or liberals who do not like the status quo should just leave, please stop it. This is not a game. This is about the very future of our faith community and faith tradition. They are leaving. If you are glad to see them leave, you do not see them as Christ sees them.
I especially find it odd that many who are attacking Ordain Women do so while also claiming that the Church is headed by Jesus Christ. He is in charge, not the members of the Church or the General Authorities, the argument goes. True…but would he approve of vitriol? It seems that he would be more interested in loving one another and acting with compassion. Rallying around the institution, whatever the institution, never seemed to be his first impulse.
I find hope in the Mormon faith tradition. I find hope in the local LDS ward (or congregation) that I attend. I find hope in my calling with the youth group in our ward. But this does not mean that I can dismiss those who are instead finding despair. Instead, it should be of great concern.
I do not think that the answer is to change those who are feeling alienated. The answer is definitely not to demonize those people. Sure, we could all be more humble, but that applies to all of us and if you are demonizing others it likely applies more to you than to those that you are demonizing.
Alienation is often rooted in the structure of institutions. If we could change that is ways that would bring hope and fellowship…why not? This is not about winning an ideological game. It is about the worth of each soul.