Monday, May 2, 2011

A Mormon Woman's Thoughts On Faith, Feminism, Gender Equality: Thoughts on Equality, part 1

A Mormon Woman's Thoughts On Faith, Feminism, Gender Equality: Thoughts on Equality, part 1: The Gestalt Gospel 
(See introduction to this series here.)

In a Church press release (it’s now been a couple of years ago), it was stated that “certain words in the Mormon vocabulary have slightly different meanings and connotations than those same words have in other religions.” I think this is also true about some words that have different meanings and connotations than in other contexts, such as the social sciences and even the culture at large. 

Take the word “equality,” for example. When we talk about equality, particularly of the sexes, all sorts of thoughts and emotions and definitions and biases and baggage are already present before a discussion even begins. Accusations of sexism in Mormonism automatically cast the Church or its supporters into a negative light -- because how on earth could anything that isn't "equal" for both genders be a good thing? This is an understandable question if measures such as those used in "equal rights" movements are used. However, I believe such measures are inadequate for understanding why people like me are not upset about the different gender roles and responsibilities (e.g., women don't have the priesthood, different primary roles outlined for men and women in family life).

For my purposes here, I begin with a couple of quotes that will help frame my thoughts on this topic. And I need to begin the post with the disclaimer that, of course, I cannot and do not speak for the Church. This reflects some of my personal study and pondering on this subject.

Elder M. Russell Ballard said:
Free and open doctrinal discussion is important in gospel scholarship, but remember that most things have been put into place by God and simply are not subject to change. The doctrines and principles of the Church are established only through revelation, not legislation. This is God’s plan; we do not have the prerogative to alter or tamper with it.

Our task is to integrate the principles of the gospel into our lives so that our lives will be in balance. When our lives are in balance, before you realize it your life will be full of spiritual understanding that will confirm that your Heavenly Father loves you and that His plan is fair and true and we should strive to understand it and enjoy living it.

I like to call this idea of the gospel being an integration of many different principles "the Gestalt Gospel." (You'll see in this post that I like alliteration!) This reflects some of my background in studying Psychology back in the day. I believe it's simply impossible to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ by analyzing it or critiquing it through one kind of lens or measuring stick or philosophy. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, more than any -ism can possibly capture in its tenets. Even Mormonism as a culture can fall short of true understanding. This is why I believe it's important to look for patterns in teachings we have, and, above all, seek for the Spirit's help to see the bigger picture. 

Of course, there is no way for me to capture the big picture in words (in part because I am, of course, like anyone else with limited vision as a fallen mortal), but I can share what kinds of concepts help me to see and feel glimpses of that picture, and peace with the ways things are and are taught.

Neal A. Maxwell (then assistant to the Council of the Twelve) shared some thoughts that reinforce this idea of a Gestalt Gospel, and he even addresses how focusing only on equality can leave us falling short of the wonder of the whole: 

[There is a danger and approach that] seizes upon a single, true principle and elevates it above its peer principles. This act of isolation does not make the principle seized any less true, but it strips that principle of its supporting principles. One can be incarcerated within the prison of one principle.
For instance, “peacemakers” are precious commodities, but peace-making must be tied to other principles or it can easily become peace-making at any price. Candor is an important attribute, but it must not be separated from genuine concern for those who will feel the consequences of candor. Paul’s counsel is to be sure that we are “speaking the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15.) Love and truth need each other.

Charles Frankel observed of those who would … subordinate everything else to "equality.”:
 “The fallacies of … egalitarianism come largely from having ripped the notion of equality loose from its context. The result is to turn it into a principle vagrant and homeless, and identifiable in fact only if a quasi-theological context is unconsciously imported. ("The New Egalitarianism and the Old," Commentary, Sept. 1973, p. 61.)
Elevating any correct principle to the plane of religion is poor policy. Just as one person makes a poor church, one principle makes a poor religion!

The doctrines of Christ need each other, just as the disciples of Christ need each other. It is the orthodox orchestration in applying the gospel of Jesus Christ that keeps us happy and helps us to avoid falling off the straight and narrow path, for on the one side there is harsh legalism and on the other syrupy sensualism. Little wonder that man needs careful and precise help, the guidance of the Spirit, in order to navigate under such stressful circumstances.

Little wonder we so need those eternal perspectives which come from looking at life through the lens of the gospel!
My purpose in the next few posts is to try to explore the concept of equality through the lens of the gospel, in light of a greater whole. I like to call this concept Eternal Equality.While I understand that I certainly don’t have a corner on truth, I have seen clear patterns in what we are taught, and these teachings cross generations and also come from both male and female leaders. I believe that one way we can know if prophets and other leaders are teaching truth is when we see consistency and repetition in and across what is taught.

I will attempt to define more what I mean by Eternal Equality in my next post.

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