Recently I was pointed to an article by V. H. Cassler (who I presume is Valerie Hudson Cassler) titled “Ruby Slippers on Her Feet: Reflections on the OrdainWomen Website.” Soon thereafter a few people asked me to comment. Well, it’s one thing to respond to a typical blog post or speech and quite another to respond to 20 pages of single spaced type. But, hey, I aim to please!
Sincerely, though, dredging through all this is going to be painful. I can feel it. And I just want you to pity me right from the start. Sometimes when I’m asked to analyze something, it’s worse than expected, but other times it turns out not to be as problematic as the rumbling seems to indicate. But this time, it’s just starting out wrong, so I hope I’m pleasantly surprised.
Here goes nothing.
The Ruby Slippers Analogy
Cassler starts out with this bit of lovely:
Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?
You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power…
Then why didn’t you tell her before?
Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.
For the love of Peter, Paul, and Mary. Can we at least ease into the patronizing?
Whether they are right or wrong, the members of Ordain Women are asking for female ordination into the Aaronic and/or Melchizedek Priesthoods. Women do not have this ordination. Period. It’s not a matter of having it but being unaware of having it. If they did have it, I guess there wouldn’t be a problem with them attending the priesthood session for the priesthood they already have.
The problem here is equivocation. Cassler knows that those in OW want something specific and she knows they don’t have it. But she’s pretending that this analogy works by pretending the thing they want is something different. Something they have, but don’t know they have. But it’s not.
They want the priesthood.
The members of Ordain Women want to be able to use the “power of God on earth” to serve. They want to baptize and confirm and bless. They want women to be as involved in the decision making processes in the church as men. I’m pretty sure Cassler knows this because Ordain Women could not be clearer in their purpose. They are not pussy-footing around and beating about the bush. They’ve put it up in big, bold letters at the top of their website and in pretty much every presentation and statement they’ve made.
I don’t mind if Cassler disagrees, but to start out immediately by dismissing what these women are asking for by presenting it as if they already have it is intellectually dishonest. (Maybe I’ll change that statement when I read further. If you see it here, you know I stand by it.)
It’s like going to a restaurant, ordering spaghetti, and being served pancakes. When you point out you didn’t get the meal you ordered the waitress says, “What are you talking about? Look right there on your plate. Are you blind? You already have pancakes right there in front of you. Silly girl!”
Now if you want to claim you don’t serve spaghetti — or you don’t serve spaghetti to girls — go ahead and make your case. But let’s not pretend that pancakes are spaghetti just because you don’t want to address the real issue.
[When I quote Cassler, I’m removing all the double spaces. Because they are wrong and they make me crazy! Other than that, the quotes are intact and you can see the entire context at the link provided above.]
Laughing, Crying, and Equivocating
As a feminist, the idea that men would ever have the right or ability to give women divine power strikes me as deeply anti-feminist. Are we saying that only with the permission of men and by the hand of men can women partake of divine power? And that since male permission has not been forthcoming to this point, women in fact possess no divine power at present? That we women are reduced to pleading with men to give us our power?
This point is an interesting and surprisingly fresh perspective. But it’s not doctrinal.
Cassler engages in further equivocation and we’re only in paragraph three. She carries this equivocation through the majority of the post. While the concepts are noteworthy on their own, this renders much of her essay irrelevant to the actual discussion about Ordain Women and their desire to receive the priesthood.
She changes the subject from “priesthood power” to “divine power” in order to try to prove a point. “Divine power” (whatever that is) isn’t what OW is asking for. So maybe she can quell the laughter she says is welling up inside for just a second and have a logical conversation.
Let’s change this quote back to the actual topic and discuss the real issue, “priesthood power.” Here is what the corrected paragraph would look like:
As a feminist, the idea that men would ever have the right or ability to give women priesthood power strikes me as deeply anti-feminist. Are we saying that only with the permission of men and by the hand of men can women partake of priesthood power? And that since male permission has not been forthcoming to this point, women in fact possess no priesthood power at present? That we women are reduced to pleading with men to give us priesthood power?
Our church (and I know I’m not providing groundbreaking insight to Cassler here) believes in lines of authority that come straight from Christ. That is our very profound claim. It means that we have to show a direct path from someone who had the authority to ordain, through other people, all of whom had the authority to ordain. It almost means we can’t ordain ourselves.
In other words, I am saying that “only with the permission” of someone in authority can both men and women exercise priesthood power. And given that the only people on earth who have priesthood power are men, that’s the only avenue for OW women to pursue.
As George Q. Cannon (Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of George Q. Cannon, 224) said:
I believe the time will come when it will be necessary for every man to trace the line in which he has received the Priesthood that he exercises. It is therefore of great importance in our Church that records should be kept and that every man should know whence he derives his authority—from what source, through what channel he has received the Holy Priesthood and by what right he exercises that authority and administers the ordinances thereof. I believe this is of extreme importance and that where there are doubts as to a man’s legitimately exercising that authority, that doubt should be removed.
Women can’t just declare that they have the priesthood any more than men can. In fact, I think it’s rather a testament to their testimonies that the members of OW understand and recognize this. They want the priesthood because they see it as the actual, authorized power of God, not just a title. But they know it comes from God through lines of authority so the only opportunity for access is through those approved lines. Otherwise they could just confer themselves with, say, the Deborahic Priestesshood and be done with it.
I am suggesting they already possess divine power and authority, and not by the hand of men and not by the “permission” of men
Cassler reduces the requests of OW to some kind of subservient begging exercise. To an extent this is true, but she seems not to realize that the ultimate “begging” is with God (through our declared male line of authority) who, as far as 99.9% of our church discussions is concerned, is a man.
Since women can’t ordain themselves, is Cassler suggesting that OW begin “begging,” say, Heavenly Mother? Wouldn’t that constitute praying to Heavenly Mother? (That’s rather verboten in this neck of Christianity, if you haven’t noticed.)
She also fails to acknowledge that men are no less at God’s mercy than women in this regard. They must also depend on him to allow them to use his power. It’s simple a delegation issue. (Do we think it beneath men to defer to priesthood authority in determining when and where they are ordained?) And OW is asking — through the male line of authority — to be allowed this privilege to be delegated to them.
Cassler then gives a really great quote by A. Don Sorensen…
Why should women feel they are truly equal in God’s eyes and his plan, when current practice and language can be interpreted by some as suggesting that they are not?
…only to beg the question by assuming the answer.
I. “Women’s Divine Power” Isn’t the Topic
Cassler’s entire section 1 goes down the rabbit hole of replacing “priesthood power” (something all Mormons know women don’t have) with “divine power” (something most would agree all humans share, depending on her unstated definition). In the context of the discussion about Ordain Women, this is completely nonsensical.
Apart from that, the ideas on their own — outside of the context of OW — are interesting. So I’ll address her thoughts in that context.
Cassler speaks of the trouble of “sexual differentiation.” While I’ve never seen it as something of an “enduring anxiety” outside the context of the church and other biases, I come to the same conclusions she did, that God put us in “two-ness” for the sake of love and companionship.
But then she takes this idea to an unnecessary extreme.
Though God calls us to be of one heart and one mind, we can only call satanic the will to have all beings be the same as we are–a state rightly called misery.
In the context of her arguments against Ordain Women, I’m hard pressed to see the point. All LDS men can have the priesthood, but that doesn’t force all LDS men to be the same. So why would giving women the priesthood cause this so-called satanic sameness? And if it does force them all to be the same, aren’t LDS men currently satanically similar?
I sincerely don’t understand the implication that if women have the priesthood, marriage will become exploitative and hierarchical while abounding in ugliness. It just makes no sense to me. I’ve been married to my dear husband for nearly 29 years and our relationship has always been very egalitarian. Frankly, we have one of the best marriages I’ve ever seen. On the contrary, I’ve seen lots of marriages where the men asserted their “priesthood authority” that ended disastrously. Your milage may vary.
Cassler goes on to make vague statements about doctrine and culture, never specifying exactly what constitutes those parts. It’s a rather convenient omission because it avoids scrutiny. She can claim culture where she pleases, without having to deal with the ramifications of actual authoritative statements to the contrary. (Much as has happened in discussion about blacks and the priesthood by those who never heard or “forgot” the generations of statements enforcing the black priesthood ban.)
If one were to try and restore the Gospel in such a culture, it would not be surprising to see cultural misconceptions color interpretations of the Gospel in such a way that men are highlighted and women overlooked, that men are viewed as powerful and women as powerless, that men are seen as important and women as auxiliary, and that this is all considered part of “God’s good plan.”
If I’m not misreading, Cassler seems to acknowledge here that the church was restored in a sexist society and that, of course, that sexism (even by good men and women) carried over into the church structure and policy. If so, I agree with her. It seems patently obvious from history that this is the way things work.
The only rational path for woman in such a context would be to aspire and strive to become like man. All progress for her would be defined and measured in terms of whether she “looks” more like men “look” over time, and in terms of what men will “allow” her to have. The appeal to men to ordain women seems to me an example of this perspective. This is all very sad, but all very understandable as well.
Cassler doesn’t specify exactly why she thinks this is sad. Sad to want to share in God’s power (something we promote as awesome sauce and motivation to the boys)? Sad to want more autonomy? Sad to have more input? Sad that we want to think and struggle and work?
I agree that it’s sad if we can only see men as the standard for godhood, but I’d hardly say that’s because women are spiritually out of touch or rebellious. Rather, I’d say it’s because that is the model the church has set for us.
- Men are official “authorities.” Women are not.
- The vast majority of scriptures are about men and few women are even mentioned by name.
- Men are quoted far more than women in manuals, conferences, magazines, etc.
- Men “outspeak” women in General Conference at a rate of about 27:2 (per October 2013).
- Men speak at general women’s meetings (always “keynoting”); women never speak at priesthood meetings.
- Women defer to men in every position. [It’s true that in the ultimate sense, men defer to other men as well. But wards are very autonomous in many respects. Relief Society, Young Women, Primary (headed by women) all must have everything approved through the bishop and for all intents and purposes, he is the final decision maker in every event and in every calling extended in those auxiliaries.]
- Mother in Heaven is only rarely mentioned — even to the point that the fable about her being “too sacred to talk about” was invented.
- Priestesses are referenced with almost nothing informative to address.
- We have doctrinal references to godhood and even attaining godhood, but nothing I know of about goddesshood; the assumption that there is a female counterpart is (as far as I can tell) just assumption.
- Temple ordinances for men and women are very different with regard to their relationship to God.
- Christ was not a woman. When we are told our ultimate goal is to become like Christ, the model is a man!
Doctrine to Remake Culture
Cassler makes a valid statement:
But rather than allow our culture to remake our doctrine, might we rather allow our doctrine to remake our culture?
But then she stretches the boundaries of what might be considered doctrine.
The LDS Church preaches that there is a Mother in Heaven, co-equal with our Father in Heaven, and that godhood cannot exist without an equal partnership between men and women. It preaches that Eve did not sin in the Garden of Eden, but was foreordained to partake first of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and rewarded for so doing.
This is true in a general sense and one of the most remarkable things about the LDS church. But she pushes the limits of credulity when she says the Church “preaches” about Mother in Heaven being co-equal — or even “being” at all. Yes, there’s that one hymn (written by Eliza R. Snow) that mentions it. And occassionally we have an offhand remark or two about her. But for the most part, there isn’t any preaching about her, about her role, about her presence at all. It’s kind of a big blank mystery. And many who have tried to further tayt dialogue have been officially sanctioned and disciplined.
In all sincerity, if these doctrines were to be fleshed out a bit, it would help a great deal. But when women bring that up, we are told we are out of place and that “the brethren” are inspired and don’t need us getting up in their business.
The LDS Church preaches that women are to have equal counsel (“voice”) and equal consent (“vote”) with men in councils from the family to the nation and beyond, for men and women were meant to rule “with” each other according to our doctrine.
Cassler gives no source for this, so I’m not sure what she’s referencing. Does she mean that when we sustain someone, women…well…get to sustain someone? Women simply aren’t in most counsels (particularly not “to the nation and beyond”) and they simply don’t “rule,” so I’m hard pressed to figure out what this means.
The LDS Church preaches that the government of heaven is family governance, ruled by a Mother and a Father in equal partnership, and that we should emulate that pattern in our own families here on earth.
Kind of. Sort of.
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.
Preside: be in the position of authority in a meeting or gathering.
The equality rhetoric aside, presiding isn’t equal partnership in any sense of the word. She gives no reference for her idea that heavenly governance is co-equal with women ruling. I’d like to see that from an authoritative source.
The LDS Church preaches that in addition to all the overlapping roles that men and women share, that they also play distinctive, sequenced roles in the Great Plan of Happiness, with the mutual dependence thereby created undergirding the possibilities of love and life in this world and in the world to come.
This is true, but I’m not sure which roles are doctrinal and which are cultural — and Cassler, again, provides no clues. For example, in my childhood home, my father always called on people to say the prayer — because he had the priesthood. Because of that, I insisted that my husband do the same when he was there — even though it made him a bit uncomfortable to be required to do so. I only did it if he wasn’t there and, in fact, would sit awkwardly waiting until he remembered it was “his priesthood duty.”
At some point (fairly recently, I admit…like last year), I realized that I have never heard an authoritative source claiming that mothers can’t assign prayers. So, I started doing it. Not all the time and not as some sort of edict. I just stopped feeling like I couldn’t do it anymore. I’d say I probably make the assignments/requests now about as often as he does. And you know what? Our family hasn’t collapsed out of a lack of “interdependence.”
In other words, I’m not sure how allowing women to participate in ordinances, would be an “overlap” that would be destructive in some way. Maybe it would, but let’s be clear that these distinctions and overlaps have morphed a lot over time. I’m unsure that we have a definitive doctrinal understanding of what these roles should/must entail.
The Two Trees in the Garden of Eden symbolize two doorways, one whose ordinances are presided over by the daughters of God and one whose ordinances are presided over by the sons of God, and that men and women are to hearken to each other as we pass through the doorways in sequence. The divine power of women is no less than the divine power of men. This is the most radical vision of equality and peace between men and women preached by any religion in the world, in my opinion. This doctrine, restored in these latter days, has the power to neutralize the toxicity of our culture—if we let it.
This is nice, but let’s be clear about a couple of things:
- This “doctrine” isn’t preached. It’s not in manuals or talks or videos the church produces. I didn’t do an exhaustive search, but the only place I can find it referenced is by the author herself. So if women, indeed, preside over ordinances at some doorway and men, indeed, “hearken” to women as they pass through (whatever that would entail), that isn’t something we spend much time talking about — and it doesn’t address what OW is talking about in any real sense.
- How this “doctrine” is a radical vision of something that neutralizes some unspecified toxicity is unclear.
Cassler then makes an interesting parallel:
One important thing we are taught by our doctrine is that the sons of God are apprentices to Heavenly Father, and that the final destiny of a son of God–the pinnacle of all he can hope to attain–is the Fatherhood. (Mosiah 14:10) What we call the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods are simply the path of apprenticeship to become a Heavenly Father. After all, God the Father does not call himself after one of the offices of the apprenticeship—of all the titles he could possibly claim, God the Father takes unto himself the title of Father. We need to understand this more fully than we have to date. Biological fatherhood here on earth is not the template for Fatherhood; rather, Fatherhood is the template for biological fatherhood here on earth. What we call priesthood, then, is Fatherhood-training, qualifying a son of God more fully to become a Heavenly Father than biological fatherhood alone, expanding and deepening our concept of what it means to be a father in mortality. Indeed, one can aspire to Fatherhood and progress in one’s apprenticeship to become a Father without ever having sired a child in this mortal life and, in turn, biological fatherhood can be profoundly magnified when a man has apprenticed himself to the Father in the glorious work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of mankind in the Great Plan of Happiness.
And so it is for the daughters of God. The daughters of God are apprentices to Heavenly Mother, and the final destiny of a daughter of God–the pinnacle of all she can hope to attain–is the Motherhood. Biological motherhood here on earth is not the template for Motherhood; rather, Motherhood is the template for biological motherhood here on earth. The apprenticeship to be a Mother has, at various times in the Church, been called priestesshood; at other times it has been referred to as being a Mother in Israel or a Mother in Zion. This apprenticeship is Motherhood-training, qualifying one more fully to become a Heavenly Mother than biological motherhood alone, expanding and deepening our concept of what it means to be a mother in mortality. Indeed, one can aspire to Motherhood and progress in one’s apprenticeship without ever having given birth to a child in this mortal life and, in turn, biological motherhood can be profoundly magnified when a woman has apprenticed herself to the Mother in the magnificent work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of mankind in the Great Plan of Happiness.
I like this parallel very much and think it carries a lot of substance. Intuitively it works for the most part.
Her comparison breaks down when she seems to equate our current earthly role as being the same thing as a “priestess,” only with a different name. As if “priestesshood” is really just another name for “being a female church member.” I know of nothing that confirms that notion and, at the very least, it seems odd to have priesthood and priestesshood be such markedly different things.
Given these interlocking stewardships in the Plan, it is evident that at some point men were asked to hearken unto the daughters of God in their apprenticeship to Heavenly Mother. It is my opinion that this covenant was undertaken by the sons of God before approaching the doorway of the First Tree, over which the daughters of God preside. Later, once past the First Tree, women are asked to hearken unto the sons of God in their apprenticeship to Heavenly Father. We know this covenant is undertaken by the daughters of God before approaching the doorway of the Second Tree over which the sons of God preside.
I don’t understand her first sentence at all. It is “evident” that men were asked to “hearken” to women because of “interlocking stewardship”? And from there she acknowledges it’s all conjecture. Our feelings notwithstanding, there is nothing in church doctrine to indicate any “hearkening” by men to women or reciprocal covenants. The temple covenants certainly don’t introduce that idea. (Although they have changed for the better in my temple-going lifetime, they are still remarkably unequal.)
When we step back, what we see is a beautiful Plan in which men and women hold equal power and hearken unto each other in order to bring to pass the eternal life of mankind. From this vantage point stepping back, what would it mean for women to ask men to ordain them to divine power in the apprenticeship that prepares one to become a Father? That’s a head-scratcher for sure.
I’m sincerely baffled at this statement. Again Cassler rather dismisses her sisters in Ordain Women and casts them as rather dopey and thoughtless. At the same time, she is demanding that we take a “step back” into her fantasyland where her opinion is authoritative. To be clear, on the surface, I like the ideas, but there isn’t authoritative backup for them that I know of. And she does not — indeed, cannot — provide it.
II Onward Down the Yellow Brick Road
In this section Cassler presents us with an unusual definition:
The Church = the organized means by which the sons of God offer the fruit of the Second Tree by the ordinances thereof to those among the children of God worthy to receive it.
This is an interesting idea, but has one gaping hole. If the church is the organized means bey which the sons of God offer the fruit of the Second Tree, what is the organized means by which the daughters of God offer the fruit of the First Tree?
If you’re dealing with equality or parity, it’s too convenient to say:
- Everything you see is the man’s part
- Everything you imagine is the woman’s part
So what is the First Tree? Cassler goes on (emphasis added):
…in this highest organization of the family, we have been told repeatedly that men and women are to be absolutely equal and sincerely loving partners. The man does not preside over the marriage. Both the husband and the wife are in charge of the marriage; they are co-presidents of the family, moving forward only by unanimous consent.
Again, this idea isn’t notated and seems to contradict actual policy. See:
Joseph F. Smith (quoted by Boyd K. Packer in the April 2010 conference) emphasis added:
In the home the presiding authority is always vested in the father, and in all home affairs and family matters there is no other authority paramount…It is not proper under these circumstances for the father to stand back and expect the elders to direct the administration of this important ordinance. The father is there. It is his right and it is his duty to preside. He should select the one who is to administer the oil, and the one who is to be mouth in prayer, and he should not feel that because there are present presiding authorities in the Church that he is therefore divested of his rights to direct the administration of that blessing of the gospel in his home. (If the father be absent, the mother should request the presiding authority present to take charge.) The father presides at the table, at prayer, and gives general directions relating to his family life whoever may be present.
[OK, so I have usurped my husband’s authority by calling on kids to pray. And let it be known, if the father is absent and there is someone else there with the priesthood, he trumps her, even though he’s not a member of the family.]
There are myriad such references on the church website that confirm this position. If Cassler is correct and men do not preside over women both in church and at home, that’s a drastic change from repeatedly, authoritative statements. And someone better notify the authorities!
Cassler then (finally) moves to somewhat specific — if speculative — ideas about women. She claims that
Women have their own gift that they give to the family, and their own set of ordinances over which they preside, and they may ask for, or call apart, particular sons of God to help them in this work.
I suppose she carefully coined the phrase “call apart” as something of the non-priesthood version of “set apart,” but it just starts getting weird when you have to make up words in order to prove that women have there own, undocumented, celestial parallel. Here is her list of priestesshood gifts given to women who are “special authorities” (as opposed to, you know, general authorities (and opposed to, you know, the authorities who we think are worth quoting, emulated, and listening to…)):
- understand most fully the hearts of particular beloved individuals
- weave together temporal and spiritual life in all its infinite variety of personalized detail for individuals
- touch and guide the spirit of the beloved through a powerful resonance
In English please? How about this:
- Understand her children
- Help children understand the gospel
- I have no idea what “touch and guide the spirit of the beloved through a powerful resonance” means (is this some new age, metaphysical idea that has reached its glowing tentacles into Mormonism?)
- Plus applies to others you love, particularly when you don’t have children
Is this (the family or family function) what Cassler thinks the First Tree is? How is the family the First Tree if the man presides over it?
Cassler makes some statements with which I entirely agree. Such as this:
…women and men should have equal voice in all the councils of humanity. Men should not hold a privileged position in shaping the world in which women and their children and loved ones must live. This principle of equal voice must extend beyond the family: women should be equally represented in the leadership of towns, cities, nations, and the world. The world will never find sustainable solutions to its problems without the input of women, who weave the threads of life.
But the fact is, in the church, men do have a “privileged position” and the “equal voice” of women only extends as far as the men (in that privileged position) allow. And, as you see with OW, when some women speak up boldly and clearly, they are absolutely vilified for it.
Another statement I agree with:
In the Church, priesthood holders must also ensure that women are given equal voice. The Church will never reach its full potential without the perspective and participation of women. New programs and policies should not be undertaken without input from women, who will see consequences unforeseen by men. Indeed, many things benefit from women’s insights–for example, buildings should not be designed without input from women who have somewhat differing perspectives on physical accommodation. Women should have a standing invitation to make recommendations to ecclesiastical leadership at both local and general levels for new programs and initiatives and adjustments to those already in place. The Church cannot serve its members as well as it should without understanding those members through the eyes of the Specific Authorities as well as through the eyes of the General Authorities; the eyes of the Mothers as well as the eyes of the Fathers. From recent news articles, it appears this is in fact happening at the highest levels of Church leadership; we hope it is also happening at the local level, as well.
I agree with this wholeheartedly (although the elevation of women to “Specific Authorities” isn’t a real church policy). I do think we are making tiny, incremental progress. But unless/until this is actually the church’s position, it’s going to be a long time coming, if ever. And, to be frank, it’s not ever going to happen unless the leaders know it matters to women.
As Chieko N. Okazaki noted, The Family: A Proclamation to the World was drafted without any input from women at any level. The general Relief Society presidency didn’t even know it was being drafted. From an interview:
You didn’t even know it was in the works?
No. They just asked us which meeting to present it in, and we said, “Whatever President Hinckley decides is fine with us.” He decided to do it at the Relief Society meeting. The apostle who was our liaison said, “Isn’t it wonderful that he made the choice to present it at the Relief Society meeting?” Well, that was fine, but as I read it I thought that we could have made a few changes in it. Sometimes I think they get so busy that they forget that we are there.
Again, I agree with Cassler when she says, “when unanimity is the rule , the entire notion of authority changes.” But I’m hard pressed to see unanimity become the rule when such lopsided authority exists. And, again, she makes unsubstantiated parallels to keys that men hold (that we know about) to keys women hold (that we don’t know about).
If she means that I (and all females on earth) have been “ordained” (in the not-actually-ordained kind of way) to understand my children, then we’re kind of back to square one. My husband alone can bless our children. Both of us can understand our children. The point being that — in spite of her claims about exclusive keys on both sides — if there is not actual ordination, their is likely no exclusivity. So the exclusivity is largely one sided.
To be clear, I don’t particularly value exclusivity, but it’s a claim Cassler is making in her gendered parallel universe.
Cassler quotes President Eyring. It’s a quote I love and wish would be applied to the Ordain Women discussion:
This is the true Church of Jesus Christ…We can be open. We can be direct. We can talk about differences in a way that you can’t anywhere else, because we are all just looking for the truth.
Cassler then lists some cultural “weeds” that have been removed from the church “garden.” I feel a sister bonding moment coming on. She addresses the following:
- [Kindred spirit moment on hold for a minute.] Cassler points out the change in the youth manual to define priesthood as “the eternal power and authority of our Heavenly Father” instead of “…of God.” I agree, this is good, but she jumps the shark with “…that means the daughters of God can understand that they wield that power and authority.” In truth, it merely leaves open the possibility that they might wield it the “power and authority of our Heavenly Mother.” We have no indication that such power and authority exists or that it comes without ordination.
- Mission Leadership Counsels – yes a step in the right direction. Certainly not parity but a voice.
- Women praying in General Conference – amazing, after spending years just hoping we could pray in Sacrament Meeting without prejudice, we are really making strides.
- Women represented at Worldwide Leadership session – yes, a good move, although I think it misrepresents the typical, everyday workings of the church, it is progress.
- [Bonding moment breakdown.] Scads of “unequivocal talks by General Authorities about the equal partnership of men and women” while the same General Conference talks are overwhelmingly given by men. And sincerely, when Cassler’s desire to quell the cognitive dissonance compels her to make completely unsubstantiated statements like, “The co-presidency of men and women in the human family, reflecting the co-presidency of our Heavenly Parents, is becoming better recognized, and there is strong encouragement and even exhortation to apply that recognition in our own lives at every level,” I’m left wondering what General Conference she was attending. I sure don’t remember any talk about co-presidencies or co-heavenly parents. Did I sleep through that session? Someone tell me!
Hoped for Changes in the Church
Beginning with section II, under the header “Temple Ceremony,” Cassler heads off into complete conjecture about what the church can look like. I like almost all of it. In fact, I love it. But it’s still just wishful thinking. Hopefully someday it will be reality. Here are some of her ideas:
- Endowment ceremony where Eve doesn’t become a “potted plant.” Amen, sister. (I’ve always thought of Stepford Wives, but same idea.) And, to be fair, the 1980s movies were a billion times better than the previous set and the newest movies are a billion times better than the 1980s. Let’s keep that progress going.
- Greater indication that Eve didn’t sin in partaking of the fruit (this is the first time I see a direct statement about what the First Tree is supposed to be, but I still don’t understand what she means). I’m actually already pretty good with the Eve thing. I think this idea has been established solidly in the church for some time.
- Greater indication that Adam followed Even in the garden by covenant. Here she finally clarifies that her opinion about the “hearkening” and she hopes the GAs will pick up here meme. I’ve never heard it anywhere else, so I’m not so sure she’ll get her way on that. If she does, it will be interesting.
- Resolution of the (absolutely nutty, nonsensical) sealing gender disparity thing. I cannot say yes enough times to this. I’ve seen how this painful practice impacts real people — and it makes no sense at all.
- General Conference talk about Heavenly Mother. This is probably my all time #1 hope. More than anything on earth (or heaven). I don’t know about her addendum that wives of GAs should start speaking. I’d rather hear from women who are actually called to positions than spouses of those who are, but it’s interesting.
- Women strongly encouraged to pursue education and finish degrees and men encouraged to facilitate that. I like this, but also think it’s something that can easily be done by individuals and families. I had multiple guys let me know they expected to marry me, which would be followed by me dropping out of school to support him in his education. I simply stated, “That’s stupid. You don’t have a woman supporting you right now. Whey would have need one to support you if we got married?” This was typically followed by my unavailability the next time he called.
- Retired working mother of grown children called to general Relief Society presidency to support working mothers as being just as righteous. I think it will probably happen. But, honestly, I’m in no hurry to prove the point that kids don’t need there moms at home. What I’d prefer is that the church take the position that children are the priority, and they can be cared for by either parent as long as they are cared for. (And, no, I don’t think nannies are the same thing.) If that were the case, then whether or not the woman worked wouldn’t be an issue of righteousness. Rather, caring for the children would be. (But I’m hard pressed to see how this is congruent with the idea that women’s keys are all about those most “beloved.”)
- Church and BYU leading as “family friendly” employers. Hmmm. Not so much. I think women should absolutely be able to teach full time seminary, whether they are married or have children or not. (Another totally nonsensical policy.) But usually “family friendly” means things like in house daycare and, bluntly, I don’t think daycare does justice to our precious children. Mostly I think the logistics should be up to families, but would support things like: job sharing, flexible schedules, and the like.
- Men called to “high positions” only if they haven’t “abandoned families” to pursue career success. I’m kind of on board with this idea, but let’s note that the church itself often demands that men “abandon families” to serve in the church. This happens to bishops, high counselors, and absolutely to general authorities. Just read some of those biographies. It doesn’t look attractive (from a family standpoint) at all.
- Personal Progress modified to include real-world skills. This had me laughing right out loud. Perhaps Cassler doesn’t know it, but that’s how Personal Progress started out! Back in my day (you know, when they “refined” the program every year and a half) we had all sorts of interesting things. For example, our goals were in the following areas:
- spiritual awareness
- service and compassion
- recreation and the world of nature
- cultural arts and education
- personal and social refinement
For some reason that I don’t understand, between the time I completed my award (1982) and when I first served as a Young Women leader (1991), the Young Women program had taken on an almost completely spiritual goal focus. Given that this is a church program, I don’t think that’s bad. But, once again, given that the boys have a much more well-rounded program, the disparity is hard to understand. If you know me, you know that my true hope is that the church officially ditches scouts, focuses on Duty to God Award. Boys could still participate in scouts if it meets their needs.
- Lessons that teach Young Women to seek guidance in their chosen paths, rather than the singular stay-at-home-mom path. Personally, I think one parent should stay at home with the kids. I don’t care if it’s the mom or the dad or some combination, but I don’t think surrogates are sufficient substitutes. I would like the church to ease up on the gender specific roles, but not on the importance of parents being “at the crossroads.”
- Small changes that “cascade outward” mostly in regard to working women. I’ve already stated my piece on that. If a woman is ever appointed president of one of the church universities (I agree, that would be cool), the seminary thing would probably come far sooner. So I’ll watch that barometer.
- Modesty no longer taught as the means for powerless men to control themselves. Sister, we are united! I cannot possibly agree more!
- Women will be assumed to be part of counsels. Yes. Yes. Yes.
- Questions about authority will fade as we incorporate unanimity and recognize the power and authority of women. As said above, I think this will only occur if the church makes clear what that power and authority is. I don’t think either the church or Cassler has accomplished that.
- Adult male quorums will start sharing responsibility for “caring labor.” Cassler doesn’t clarify what she means. Meals for the sick? Care for the children of those in need? I’m all for it, but this sounds like it removes the “special authority” ideas she presented with regard to caring for others (particularly for those without children).
- Sensitivity training for bishops in counseling with young women. I get back to my old song. If men and women are so incredibly different that they are required to be in different spheres, why not just have women counsel other women?
I think it’s important to note that Cassler’s hopes for the future are every bit as much a departure from current church practice as those or Ordain Women. She could be just as wrong as they are. She’s not wrong for thinking and even hoping (or praying) for these changes that would make the church more like the ideal one she envisions. But then maybe other LDS women can be allowed the same privilege of hope.
III Women Must Rule the World
No, Cassler didn’t use the same title. She said: “It’s Not Up to the Men; It’s Up to Us.” And it’s one of the catch 22s that bugs the heck out of me. I must defer to authority while I solve the problem of having no authority.
That puts Cassler squarely back in framing the women of Ordain Women as fictional simpletons.
In the end, if our paradigm is that we women are so powerless that we feel we can only gain divine power through the permission of men, we’re not ready for power.
I call Cassler out for begging the question or worse! Women don’t deserve authority because if they did they wouldn’t have to get permission for authority from the authorities!
As Glinda, a Heavenly Mother archetype, put it, we women only have the power if we truly believe we do.
Holy freaking cow. When I read this I literally flailed my arms around my body and screeched. (Yes, I’m mature like that. Probably more proof that I’m not ready for power.)
Glinda — as in the doofy airheaded twinkle toes in The Wizard of Oz — is the archetype for Heavenly Mother?!!!!! So that is what we have to look forward to? (Do I also have to do the quaky voice thing? Or can I at least be like Kristin Chenoweth in Wicked?) And while men need to be ordained by someone in authority, we women can just wish really, really hard (and, presumably, click our heels together three times) to get us there?
Well, why didn’t someone just tell me this?!!!
Not only LDS cultural traditions, but also worldly cultures scream at us that women are not powerful at all.
Now that my eternal kinship with Cassler had been irreparably scarred with the Dorothy references, I will try to be circumspect.
I agree that this statement is true, but I think Cassler misses another truth. It’s not just LDS culture. Sometimes it’s LDS doctrine that screams at us. And Cassler isn’t the one with the authority to make the distinctions. She seems to feel that if she doesn’t like something, she can simply relegate it to the “culture” pile, while keeping the things she likes (or has resolved — sometimes with extreme stretches of the imagination) in the “doctrine” pile. But she can’t.
I need to add that I saw just as much “misogyny” outside of Utah or the mountain west as I have inside.
What would you as a woman do if you truly and deeply felt you wielded the divine power and authority of your Mother as her apprentice? Would you not first reach inside and seek to learn what this power and authority is and how to wield it? Would you not then begin to reach out, even if tentatively at first, to use that power for the good of those you love?
This is a nice idea, but one for which we have no model. Cassler seems to imply that we don’t need a model, we just need to wing it on our own. But, frankly, that flies in the face of what the church teaches. Not only do we generally believe that God gives general guidance in these areas, but many of us have seen when women who were trying to explore this “power and authority” who were singled out, vilified, and sometimes disciplined by the church. The members or Ordain Women are no exception.
The next example kind of comes out of the blue (at least to me). Cassler gives an example of finding female “power and authority.” She suggests having what I’ll call a Period Party. When a girl starts menstruating, invite a bunch of older women friends and have red velvet cake. So, yea, the author was more mystical in her description (although I did not make up the red velvet cake part!), but she seems to think it’s a big step toward equality by having a party without asking your husband’s (or any man’s!) permission.
Honestly, I just don’t get it.
First, if I was either planning to go somewhere or have a party at my house, I’d clear it with Sam just as he would with me. Just out of courtesy. I don’t see that as point of liberation.
Second, I really have no interest in celebrating periods. I’m not that much of a spiritual trailblazer. But really, I mostly see menstruation as a necessary evil. They hurt (for some of us, they hurt a lot). They are annoying. They are messy. They are part of life if you ever want to try to have children, but they aren’t timed very appropriately for that end.
Third, I can think of a lot more interesting things to party about.
Fourth, I honestly think it makes about as much sense to have a party when a girl has physiological signs that she can bear children as it does to have a party when a boy has physiological signs that he can sire children. Wow, can you imagine that party?
Could we also teach our young women that God might want their voice heard in government? Or in academia? Or in business?
I agree this would be good. Hopefully worldwide culture can get to that point without slogging through more insults about women’s hair and weight. And without seeing people like Hillary Clinton and Sandra Fluke as viable options.
Cassler hopes Young Women will memorize Gordon B. Hinckley:
The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it. I am grateful that women today are afforded the same opportunity to study for science, for the professions, and for every other facet of human knowledge. You are as entitled as are men to the Spirit of Christ, which enlightens every man and woman who comes into the world…You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part.
There is not anything that you cannot do…except hold the priesthood, bless your children, baptize converts, preside in the home or in the ward. You know, anything but that. And that is the one thing OW is asking for.
Feminist Scriptural Interpretations
I am having a love/hate relationship with how Cassler wants us to reinterpret scripture from a feminine point of view. She clearly points out that having male scholars interpret colors the outcome. But she seems to ignore the very plausible idea that the practices themselves may simply have been misogynistic in nature. (Not to mention that the translations were prone to being misogynistic, given the misogynistic cultures in which they arose.)
For example, she addresses Levitical law that declare women “unclean” for seven days after giving birth to a boy and 14 days after giving birth to a girl. The typical reasoning being that double the females means double the yuckiness. Cassler wants to reinterpret that to mean seven days of being unclean and seven more for “a period of consecration for a newly arrived apprentice of our Mother.”
I suppose this is a possible interpretation, but is it likely? Is it supported? Is it plausible? I’m not Biblical scholar, so perhaps someone who is can chime in. Ultimately, I don’t see the point of stretching reason to make scripture seem pro-woman. Particularly when the cultures in which they were written and translated was decidedly not pro-woman. It seems far more likely to me that, yea, men just thought all the girly stuff was icky and wanted nothing to do with it.
She follows that with this statement:
That’s another interpretation worth considering, given its better harmonization with the principles and doctrines of the Restored Gospel.
Cassler is, again, begging the question. She always works from the assumption that her unsubstantiated and nonauthoritative ideas are doctrinal. And they aren’t. Her viewpoint may make a good mental exercise — thinking outside the box often does — but I don’t see how that view is more in harmony with the restored gospel, given that the restored gospel has rejected Levitical law outright and her positions are speculative.
She does point out something almost startling to me. And disconcerting. She believe that lactation is one of “the ordinances of the First Tree.” Lactation is an ordinance? And ovulating, too, maybe? The more she reveals about the female side, the weirder it gets, and the more new age mystical it sounds.
The point being that if you take particular, ordained, church-sanctioned privilege given to men with the priesthood and try to show balance or parity by making a long list of uniquely female bodily functions, it just seems like gobbledegook. (I actually spelled that right on the first try!). I mean, why can’t excessive growth of facial hair and ejaculation be male ordinances? (Now that’s equality!)
This is the kind of thing that just makes me bonkers. Bonkers, I say. When Cassler’s son went into the MTC, her husband gave the new missionary a father’s blessing. Cool, but then she did this:
I felt it right and proper to place my hands on my son’s shoulders and offer a heartfelt prayer to God in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ asking for blessings upon my son and to offer that prayer in the knowledge of the power and authority held by the Mothers in Zion. Such a prayer is experienced as a vastly different thing when contrasted with a prayer we would speak as a power-less, authority-less non-male, as our culture–not our doctrine–might tell us to think of ourselves.
She doesn’t have the priesthood, so she couldn’t put her hands on his head to bless him — presumably because that would be too priesthoody and a mockery. Instead, she placed her hands on him somewhere else and gave — not a “blessing” — but a prayer.
The idea that making up your own girly version of the male blessing and tweaking it just enough that you feel it’s “legal” doesn’t make it a God-sanctioned blessing and doesn’t give it divine power.
The entire point of the priesthood blessing — and the reason the women in OW want it — is that God has prescribed and sanctioned it. Of course we can all make up rituals and chant phrases. But that’s never been the point. (Now where are my incense and eagle feathers so I can do a smudging before Family Home Evening?)
We take nothing away from our brethren to exercise our own divinely bestowed power and authority alongside theirs in partnership; indeed, we only increase the store of blessings available to the children of God as we women begin to consider ourselves as beings with divine power.
So someone explain to me how putting our hands on shoulders and saying a prayer does not take anything away from our “brethren,” but putting our hands on the heads along with our “brethren” and pronouncing a blessing would. Please.
We Don’t Know Because We Don’t Know
Cassler speaks about what she perceives about the volume of knowledge on Heavenly Mother:
Some have asked why we know so little about our Mother. I think there are many reasons, but one of them must surely be that we as women know so little about ourselves and think so little of ourselves—in large part because we have been actively discouraged by the global culture of misogyny from knowing anything about ourselves or our power and authority. As we allow our doctrine to help us shake off this fog of misogyny, we will see more, much more, than we now know.
What? We don’t know much about her because haven’t done enough navel gazing and we’ve been discouraged by misogyny? But our doctrines (I assume she means her fabricated “doctrines” again?) will free us from misogyny?
That’s weird, because last I checked, there were a bunch of women who were excommunicated for getting too sassy about getting to know Mother in Heaven (by the brothers she says “will be our most heartfelt cheerleaders” in this endeavor). We have been told explicitly not to pray to Mother in Heaven (by those same authoritative “cheerleaders”). We have received almost zero information from those (males, again) who hold the only authoritative positions to disseminate it.
If it’s really all about misogyny, in the case of LDS doctrine on Mother in Heaven, where is it coming from? I know she tries to place the blame deftly on “the global culture of misogyny.” But if LDS women are discouraged from learning about Mother in Heaven, it’s because LDS men have absorbed some of that misogyny. To be clear, I don’t think that is the (main) reason, but logic requires those ideas to go hand in hand and Cassler seems to be trying to play the “faithful little LDS women” and the “strong LDS feminist” even when the two clearly collide.
That said, we know more about Mother in Heaven than most Mormons think. BYU Studies has published a 28-page essay detailing the historical teachings about Mother in Heaven titled A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven. It’s free in PDF form and only $1.99 for the ebook.
I appreciate this publication so much and I’m grateful for the work the authors did. Sadly I suspect it would have been much more difficult for women to have been listed on the byline. Based on historical precedence, it would likely have been deemed a recalcitrant feminist statement, but coming from men it was more palatable to the powers that be. Still, it’s published and I hope you read it. (I know, it’s only 28-pages, but I bet you didn’t know we had even 28 pages of information about the stuff that’s “too sacred to talk about,” right?)
Christ as “Cheerleader”
In the last paragraph of section III, Cassler discusses Chris’t support of and suffering for women. Certainly all this is true and undeniable, but it doesn’t address Ordain Women’s petition nor does it seem to relate to this topic section. As is generally historical precedence, Christ isn’t poofing modern women’s liberation on the general authorities, he’s not forcing the church to update it’s policies, and he’s not propelling women forward.
Rather, as is generally historical precedence, he has taught us righteous principles and lets us govern ourselves. And right now, the governors are all men, who have chosen to keep the status quo mostly intact, and tend to only see needs of women when the women themselves step out of line and wave their hands around.
Breathe. I signed up for far more slogging than I anticipated. Sincerely, this is not fun. I keep thinking I’m done and then I’m not even close. Are you still with me? I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t!
Cassler calls herself a feminist. At times she conjectures to the point of ridiculous nuttiness. But she’s entrenched in the idea that only her particular brand of kook is worthy of consideration. The attitude is so thick it’s hard to breathe. Ordain Women is sounding unquestioningly mainstream amid all this.
V. Doubt Your Doubts Before You Doubt Your Faith
[Note: The author skips from section III to section V. I don’t know if this was just a mistake or a section was omitted.]
This section is mostly confusing to me. She start out with a great quote by A. Don Sorensen, describing an egalitarian view of Zion.
Because women typically are subordinate to men and treated as inferior to them in the carnal world, women have much to gain from the coming forth of Zion as measured by the standard of equality alone, not to mention that degree of fullness of life which comes from being filled with God’s love and being alive to good. Whereas in the carnal world women generally are unequal to men in wealth, in Zion they have all things common with men. Whereas in the world women typically are unequal to men in power, they share with them all power as equals in Zion. And inasmuch as women enjoy less value or less respect and esteem than men do in the carnal world, women and men esteem and respect each other as equals in Zion.
But in the context of the actual OW discussion, she begs the question yet again. Here’s how it goes:
Cassler: We have much to look forward to, because women in Zion are equal to men!
OW: But women don’t have the priesthood.
Cassler: Women don’t need the priesthood to be equal.
OW: Why not?
Cassler: Because women in Zion are equal.
We can look forward in confidence that Zion ensures the equality of men and women
What authoritative evidence do we have that the church will ever evolve into Cassler’s ideal where women have power and authority equal to men? I don’t see it in practice and I only see it in appeasement rhetoric that rarely seems to take on practical application. Even in the instances when the rhetoric is applied in a meaningful way (finally lowering female missionary age to 19) there is often a countermove to perpetuate inequality (lowering male missionary age to 18).
Like Cassler, I like this idea. But unless/until we see something that substantively shows this will happen, it’s wishful thinking. Until our leaders — the only authoritative voices in the church — themselves realize and share the goal of equality, it will not come to pass.
I share with Cassler, the plea: “Sister, stay with us!” I do have a testimony of the gospel. But I also believe the historical pattern holds true. Leaders are human. Unless/until they hear the voices of women — like many in Ordain Women — who are willing to step outside the still enforced, expected, “faithful” subordinate female role and express their desires and pain, then male leaders of the church will believe the status quo (of inequality) is working perfectly well.
Addendum: Lynnette of Zelophehad’s Daughters wrote an excellent critique of Valerie Hudson’s The Two Trees in 2011. She had many moments similar to mine where Hudson’s conclusions were held aloft by unsubstantiated assumptions and non-existent doctrine. As Lynnette notes:
Again, this is highly speculative, and not at all supported by the texts we have. This isn’t to say that I think there is no place for speculative theology, but the fact that she comes up with these sorts of interpretations without support makes her arguments much less persuasive.
Given all the trouble Ordain Women has had for making assertions contrary to current policy, it’s interesting to me that Hudson seems to have been given no flack for hers. Perhaps it’s because her fabricated doctrinal ideas move toward support of the status quo, but they seem far further off course than anything I’ve heard from OW or other feminist groups.