I found a paper I wrote in Fall 2007 (age 19) for a philosophy class I took on feminism. It was pretty interesting to reread something I wrote 5 years ago about the oppressive patriarchal hierarchy found within the LDS church. After reading this it should not be surprising to anyone that I would later have my name formally removed from the records of the LDS church and announce I’m atheist. I’ve had doctrinal issues with the LDS church, the concept of God, and religion in general since I was 10 (if you don’t believe me, those reading this who know my father can ask him for confirmation of this statement. To my father’s disappointment, I was never able to swallow the bullshit and turn a blind eye to the bigotry of religion). To this day, thinking about the oppression in religion, particularly the in LDS community, absolutely enrages me.
Proclaiming an Oppressive Patriarchal Hierarchy
Judo-Christian ideology is often times accompanied by patriarchal hierarchy which can be dated as far back as biblical Eve and Adam. Patriarchal hierarchy is a source of incapacitating oppression for those who identify their gender as female. Those endowed with patriarchal authority are by principle guilty of oppressing others. The very framework of nearly all hierarchical order is founded on authoritative positions which by its very nature call for some sort of oppression of the lower individuals. According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints any abuse of patriarchal power, commonly referred to as a the priesthood, is a serious transgression and those guilty of such a sin will ultimately be held accountable before God. The contradictory standards of patriarchal hierarchy found within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints allows for the appearance of equality between men and women while in actuality its framework allows for dominate male authority and oppression of women and children.
Patriarchal hierarchy is the common source of authoritative power found in various Christian religions which can be seen in Christian biblical passages. It has not been until recent times that such a hierarchy has been questioned as a source for inequality between females and males. Some feminists believe that the reason it has not been questioned before is due to the fact that some women are oppressed to such a point that they do not have the knowledge or awareness to recognize inequality. Any sort of hierarchy that is founded in male domination is in some degree responsible for women being seen as lesser entities. It is important to note however that “women, like men, do and will abuse power” (Women in the Hierarchy, 420). Often times feminism ignores the fact that women can and do abuse power because they feel that this associates them with the “enemy”, namely men. However, in avoiding this fact they are avoiding the very thing they are trying to overthrow. Hierarchy is to some degree unavoidable. Hierarchy is the structure on which society bases order. Although some hierarchies are more beneficial than others they are still hierarchies nonetheless.
Religions, economies, households, and so on are founded upon some sort of hierarchical order. No matter how basic the structure might be hierarchy can be seen as the stitching that keeps order within a given structure. For example, in many families you have the hierarchy of parents and children. According to the fifth commandment that is found within Judo-Christian religions, children are hastened to honor their parents including both the father and the mother. This commandment generally positions the parents as the ruling class in the household. Furthermore the age of the children determines the continuation of this hierarchical structure with the oldest at the top following chronologically down. Granted this is not always the case, in some instances one’s health, stature, intelligence, and other characteristics can determine the order of power. In short, generally family hierarchy consists of the parents at the head ruling over all and then the children with the older “ruling” over the younger. One critique of this example is that one’s biological sex is also a determining factor in this type of hierarchy but such a critique is irrelevant to the purpose of this example. This example has a sole purpose of showing that hierarchy exists in virtually all aspects of our existence. However, the structure of the family in regard to the LDS beliefs will later be addressed in depth. In all types of hierarchy ruling over another classes is viewed as a privilege as with the parent having the right and the responsibility to rule over their child. What many individuals do not realize is that freedoms are attained through oppressing others and consequently the power to oppress becomes a freedom.
In the LDS religion the power of the priesthood is taken very seriously and sacredly. Although the priesthood keys are held by worthy male members that have been ordained of God and are viewed as holding the same priesthood that existed in the primitive church. Women, on the other hand, are told they are the recipients of blessings and spiritual gifts through this priesthood. Due to the importance placed on priesthood power, any “misuse” of such power is taken extremely seriously and those who are responsible of any priesthood abuse can have eternal consequence, according the the LDS church, depending on the severity of the abuse. Although the LDS faith also believes in repentance and that given the appropriate steps one can be forgiven in the eyes of God, the process of repentance in theory does not give one the right to misuse the priesthood and then afterwards repent of that transgression. As Margaret Merrill Toscano states in Put On Your Strength O Daughters of Zion: Claiming Priesthood and knowing the Mother “certain checks and balances against the abuse of authority are inherent in the priesthood system” (Women in the Hierarchy, 419). Those who are given the keys of the priesthood simultaneously receive great responsibility in respecting God’s will. Through the priesthood one is putting on the holy name of the Jesus Christ and thus there are certain regulations placed on how the priesthood is used by the leaders of the LDS church.
Although the priesthood is an essential component to the LDS religion a number of feminist members of the LDS faith reject the priesthood because they deem it a component of maleness and accepting it would go against the nature of femininity (Male Privilege, 420). According to LDS doctrine, although the keys of the priesthood are passed on through the hands of ordained men of God, these men are not the source of priesthood power, they are merely holders of this power (Priesthood Through Men, 416). Many women feel that in order to be equal to men they need to be completely independent of men and any entity or thing that is at all associated with maleness. To be completely independent, however, goes against the very structure of cultural. Our lives are set up in such a way that allows us to lighten our loads through the interdependency within a given society.
Toscano states “women and men need structures that will allow them to work separately and together, to be independent and interdependent, to maintain their individual identities, while simultaneously being interlinked” (Transformation of Priesthood Structure and Holy Order, 424). The LDS church tries to satisfy this balance between interdependency and independence through the male priesthood and the female relief society. These two structures are supposed to allow for women and men to work separately and together and for each to preserve individual identities while still being interlinked to the other. In the relief society LDS women have opportunities of leadership. Women in the relief society are nevertheless still subordinate to the priesthood , are “set apart” in their leadership positions by male priesthood leaders, and report to priesthood leaders regarding the affairs of the relief society.
In The Family: A Proclamation to the World the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS faith give a proclamation on the family which can also be viewed as documentation of inequality between males and females centered around the “fundamental unit” of society, namely the family. This proclamation recognizes that there is a biological difference between men and women but goes on to say there are also innate difference between gender roles of male and female which existed in our premortal lives. “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son and daughter of heavenly parents and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, ¶ 2). If a father or mother fails to fulfill their divine gender role or other church responsibilities he or she will be held accountable before God (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, ¶ 8).
Not only does this proclamation encourage men to be the sole authority of a household, it also encourages women to willingly submit themselves to this authority. According to this proclamation, “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” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, ¶ 7). As both males and females are thought of as spirit sons and daughters of heavenly parents each is characterized as having a divine nature and that these natures are essential characteristics for individuals (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, ¶ 2). It is in these divine natures that fathers are given the responsibility to be the provider for the family and to direct the family through the priesthood.
The mother on the other hand is primarily accountable for the nurture of their children accord to the LDS faith (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, ¶ 7). On a basic view this is biologically the case because the mother is generally the source of nutrition of newborns and as such is seen as the nurture of their offspring. One needs to realize that there are many ways to interpret the term “nurture.” It seems as feminism has spread that society has given a negative value to being a nurture, that is to say the responsibility of nurturing one’s children is seen as a source of oppression for women. What feminism is actually trying to convey is that oppression does not come with raising children, oppression comes when women are socially and religiously expected to stifle their ambitions and focus exclusively on raising children and maintaining a household through cleaning and crafts.
The proclamation goes on to state, “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, ¶ 7). While the proclamations uses the term “equal partners” the responsibilities assigned to each gender do not promote equality. The father and/or husband is given the task to seek guidance through prayer, to council with his spouse, to see that the necessities of life are provided, and to protect the family from harm. The mother on the other hand is simply responsible for being the nurturer and helping her husband in fulfilling his calling within the priesthood. The type of patriarchal structure and gender roles found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encourages oppression.