On my LDSFAQ page on LDS practices, I mention a newly published essay from an LDS woman I know and respect, Karen Trifiletti, who tackles some of the major assumptions in the Ordain Women movement.
Karen is a Philadelphia-born, second generation Italian, and an LDS convert since 1980 who describes herself as a “perfectly imperfect but graced follower of Christ.” She is a mother of two, a writer, and a business professional. In “Open Letter to Kate Kelly, Ordain Women, and Questioning Onlookers” at LDS.net (2014), Karen discusses some of the critical assumptions behind the Ordain Women movement and in so doing, helps us better appreciate the current role of women in the Church and their future role in the Church and in the Kingdom of God. What follows is just a small portion of her response, this one dealing with what she labels as Assumption #3 in the Ordain Women movement.
Oppressive Patriarchy vs. Liberating Patriarchal Order
How about ASSUMPTION 3?:
Assumption: We have a patriarchy in which men make all the decisions and one sex is therefore oppressed.
This assumption comes up in various ways in Ordain Women venues.
First of all, it speaks directly to a point Hannah Wheelright made as she shared her very reasons for becoming part of Ordain Women. She was concerned when she read in Genesis that men “ruled over” women, and thought that being ordained to the priesthood would be the only way to level the playing field, as I understood her remarks. (I listened to them 3 times, but correct me if I misunderstood. There were related reasons shared as well, which are addressed here, and some which are not because they fall into the cultural discussion, which I think is a separate and important one.)
This is an unfortunate, blatant misunderstanding of doctrine, and was a significant factor in a leader of OW turning to ordination as the solution for the perceived inequity.
As Bruce C. Hafen, formerly of the Seventy, and his wife, Marie, explained:
Genesis 3:16 states that Adam is to ‘rule over’ Eve; ‘rule over’ uses the Hebrew bet, which means ruling ‘with,’ not ruling ‘over.’ … The concept of interdependent, equal partners is well-grounded in the doctrine of the restored gospel. Eve was Adam’s ‘help meet’ (Genesis 2:18). The original Hebrew for meet means that Eve was adequate for, or equal to, Adam. She wasn’t his servant or his subordinate.
This is also reflected on the OW website FAQ, as follows:
The Church’s Proclamation on the Family declares that men preside over their wives and families, thus preserving an antiquated and unequal model in both the domestic and ecclesiastical realms.
The word, “presiding” here is misunderstood and implies “ruling over.” This misconception allows women to think they need to set things right. Any woman who simply defers to her husband’s every whim because he is male is not exercising the priesthood power she has, nor does she understand the doctrine as a point of order rather than of dominion. She has the ability to think, consult with, disagree with, and share her every consideration, and to have that be considered fully before a united decision is made.
As Glenn Pace stated, “Unfortunately, however, some look upon the patriarchal order as a monarchal order. The patriarchal order is not an authority of command, but a point of order” (Spiritual Plateaus, 75).
That’s important doctrine and an important distinction. Patriarchal order isn’t the eclipsing of women, nor is it a carryover from other cultures whose system is hierarchical or oppressive. Our view of the patriarchal order, and of marriage and relationships, is not hierarchical or gender-disequal. As Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
In some cultures, tradition places a man in a role to dominate, control, and regulate all family affairs. That is not the way of the Lord. In some places the wife is almost owned by her husband, as if she were another of his personal possessions. That is a cruel, mistaken vision of marriage encouraged by Lucifer that every priesthood holder must reject. It is founded on the false premise that a man is somehow superior to a woman. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
As Elder Earl C. Tingey, formerly of the Presidency of the Seventy, has said:
You must not misunderstand what the Lord meant when Adam was told he was to have a helpmeet. A helpmeet is a companion suited to or equal to [the other]. [They] walk side by side … not one before or behind the other. A helpmeet results in an absolute equal partnership between a husband and a wife. Eve was to be equal to Adam as a husband and wife are to be equal to each other.
If we turn to scripture, we see that the root for helpmeet in Hebrew is ezer. We read that word in Psalm 30:10, “O Lord be thou my helper.” Sixteen times in the Old Testament it’s used to reference God or Yahweh as the helper of His people. As Victor Hamilton notes, “Any suggestion that this particular word denotes one who has only an associate or subordinate status to a senior member is refuted by the fact that most frequently this same word describes Yahweh’s relationship to Israel. He is Israel’s help(er)” (The Book of Genesis: The International Commentary on the Old Testament, R.K. Harrison, ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990, 175).
“The patriarchal order is not an authority of command, but a point of order.”
Do we have an equal voice and should we? Absolutely. Should our contributions be equally valued? Absolutely. And where they may not be, we have to address those voids culturally, as we are not yet perfect, any of us. But I’ll address that, again, in a sequel. I’m speaking to the doctrine so we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and hide behind the need for ordination when in instances following our foreordination as women is all that’s needed. As Elder Perry affirmed: “There is not a president and vice president in a family. We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family” (EnsignMay 2004). So the matriarch is equal to the patriarch, the woman equal to the man in value and capacity. And similarly, President Kimball noted, “We don’t want our women to be silent partners or limited partners” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, 1982, 315).
Holding an office in the Church organization isn’t tantamount to having greater power and it isn’t the solution to being ruled over, since being ruled over isn’t the doctrine to begin with. Similarly, the person presiding as a point of order has no more power than the one presided with. A male presiding in a meeting has no more power than a woman speaking or a man speaking in that meeting. Power comes from doing our job with the Spirit of the Lord under the umbrella of the priesthood power of God which covers us all.
These OW statements and conclusions are based on misperceptions and are non-sequiturs, unless you hold a paradigm of functionally same equality, which if you look at answers to these assumptions, becomes a non-issue.
Again, there are instances where these principles are violated, and those clearly need to be addressed. But we change the culture by living the doctrine; we don’t change the doctrine to undo misunderstandings of the Savior’s teachings.
Karen makes many more important points in her article. Thanks, Karen!
I have to admit that I have a hard enough time understand the needs and concerns of men in the Church in spite of being one, so I’m certain that I’m tone deaf on many of the specific challenges sisters face. I’ve had some help from the very diverse perspectives that some of the women I’m close to have shared with me, and appreciate their input and their faith and patience. It’s clear that men need to do a better job in listening to women and respecting their contributions, their input, their leadership, and their inspiration. We need more conversations and discussion to better appreciate what others face and feel. We also need to recognize that those who are effective in gaining publicity may not speak for a majority, and that there are women of high intelligence and faith who offer different perspectives also worth considering.