Defending Male Hegemony

Fiona Givens was part of an interesting interview on Mormon Matters with John Dehlin.  She spoke about a conference talk on priesthood power vs priesthood authority, and said that women already have priesthood power. (These comments appear in the interview about 8:15 in.)


Fiona with her husband Terryl Givens

Fiona, “Elder Packer gave an intriguing talk in about 2011, I think it was about 2011 [it was actually 2010], in which he talked about, summarizing quickly, the church’s ability to disseminate priesthood authority and how they’ve been successful in that around the world, but have not been so successful in disseminating priesthood power.  I found that really intriguing that he would bifurcate priesthood authority and priesthood power.  To me that suggested that one could have priesthood authority without priesthood power, and that one can have priesthood power without priesthood authority.

I think section 121 is not at all ambiguous on this that you can have priesthood authority, but have absolutely no priesthood power.  For me, of the two, the most potent of course is priesthood power.  I felt, as a convert, the first time I went to the temple, that I was being ordained with priesthood power, and I have felt that ever since.

As a European, as someone who was born and raised in Africa, I am particularly sensitive to the global church, and our call to build Zion.  I come from a history of very strong female leaders, from Queen Boudica who burned a bunch of Romans in their temple to this current monarch who simply will not die, but my historical past  has very strong female figures.  I’m hearing a lot of political rhetoric in the OW conversations, which has concerned me just a little bit.  I’m not sure if this is not a throwback to the ERA, new wave feminism days.  I mean in the conversation you had, I think I heard the verb being used ‘marching to the Tabernacle’, and it was quickly changed to ‘walking’ but the first word came out was ‘marching’, so that concerns me just a little bit.

Most importantly, it’s this global perspective.  Many of the countries in which we hope to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ have a very fixed social and political male hegemony, and I’m not sure how successful our ability to aid women in those countries  priesthood power which I found in the temple, whcih is accessible to all.  If sister missionaries are coming into those countries, most of them are primarily Muslim, waving the banner of priesthood authority, and right now I understand there are a lot of African men joining the church because of this hierarchical power, and I think if we were to come in and destabilize that then we would prevent out sisters around the glove from accessing the ordinances and the power, the priesthood power that is only to be found int he temple.  I would hesitate now.  For me the most important thing for our women around the world is to be able to access priesthood power, and that may be through the paradigm, ironically enough, or male hegemony.  If their husbands join the church, it is likely that they will also receive the ordinance of baptism and then be able to go further and receive the priesthood power in the temple.  So that’s where I am, this is where I am on the issue.”

I think Fiona has an interesting point of view, and it is an interesting paradox, but I have some problems with her reasoning.  For one, it privileges “male hegemony” as God-sanctioned, and while I think that God does work in mysterious ways, I think there are some ethical problems with this.

If we look at a parallel example of blacks and the priesthood, Church leaders had a similar problem.  Missionary work was going well in apartheid South Africa.  The reasoning went that if we allowed blacks to hold the priesthood, then missionary work in South Africa would suffer.  While I have no doubt that such reasoning is correct, this type of reasoning seems to ignore the fact that missionary work in the rest of Africa would accelerate.  In the 1960s, blacks in Nigeria asked President McKay for missionaries.  There were black congregations introduced to the Book of Mormon and wanted to join.  Pres McKay didn’t want to offend the South Africans, and it turns out that a civil war in Nigeria would have caused problems in Nigeria anyway, so the misguided restrictions remained in place.  Now that the ban has been rescinded, baptisms in Africa have ballooned, and we now have temples there.  Not only that, but apartheid has been abolished in South Africa.  So, catering to the racists in South Africa actually weakened the spread of the gospel.  It is for this reason that I find Fiona’s reasoning about catering to “male hegemony” questionable.

On the one hand, I do agree with Fiona that perhaps there is an unintended consequence of getting Mormonism into Muslim countries that could be less open to the Mormon message.  But such catering to sexist Muslim societies seems to ignore that many feminists of Europe, the United States, and elsewhere would be more open to the Church.  In essence, we’re privileging sexist societies over non-sexist societies.  It could very well be the case that the current crop of millennials are abandoning Mormonism (and religion in general) for atheism precisely because they find male hegemony a problem.

So, I find huge ethical problems with what Fiona Givens is saying here.  Yes, there are always opportunity costs, but perhaps if Mormons had embraced female priesthood as the CoC did 30 years ago, then perhaps we wouldn’t be having the exodus to atheism today.

7 comments on “Defending Male Hegemony

  1. MH,
    I disagree with your conclusions about what is causing an “exodus to atheism today”. If you look at the CoC, or other mainline protestant churches in the US that have allowed female ordination they are all experiencing drastic exodus from the pews. I am looking at the Methodists and Episcopalians, etc. which are rapidly losing membership and seem to have little missionary zeal.
    If you look back 40 years, the UMC was almost even with the southern baptists in second place for number of US adherents. They are not half the size of the southern baptists now. I think that the church leaders are defending “male hegemony” more because of defensive reasons than concern about spreading the gospel in Muslim nations. There is some belief among LDS leaders that the muslims must be shaken drastically before the gospel can go into many countries.

  2. el oso, thanks for your comment. Certainly the exodus to atheism is multi-faceted. What do you think are the biggest draws to atheism?

  3. I like the idea of this post, but I ultimately cringed at your last few lines, and have to agree with el oso (not necessarily on specifics, but on the general point).

    Giving the priesthood to women didn’t solve all of CofChrist’s problems…rather, there were lots of people who left over that (Wikipedia’s section says 25,000 left to other restoration splinter groups, and that there were steep declines in new members in the next several decades.

    As for atheism itself, as far as I’m aware, the CofChrist is far more OK with atheists than the LDS church is. So, even if there might not be a mass exodus from religion to atheism, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t atheists. It’s more a matter of whether those atheists feel comfortable in church or not.

  4. In early Christianity, women did function as deacons and apostles. Eventually, sects that had female clergy died out while Catholic and other orthodox sects with male clergies flourished. The Christian male clergy is a product of religious evolution. Why?

    Anybody who served a mission can attest that women are more likely than men to join this or any church, despite the fact that the church has a male clergy. They are also more likely to remain active and encourage church activity among their children. Of course there are exceptions, but this general trend has existed since before the second century, as attested in “Contra Celsum.” I have ideas as to why women more than men are attracted to Mormonism and organized Christianity, but I won’t mention them here.

    The reason that denominations with male clergy became dominant within Christianity is that this makes men necessary to the religion. This contributes to parity between the numbers of males and females within the church. If women and men were interchangeable within the religion, the religion would become female dominated within a few decades, and this would inhibit overall growth as men cease to join or remain active.

    There are many reasons that members of the church exit to atheism, and while MH may be right that inequality between the sexes is one of them, making men and women interchangeable in terms of clerical function within the church would only hasten the church’s decline.

  5. John, I’d love to hear your “ideas as to why women more than men are attracted to Mormonism and organized Christianity.”

  6. […] we have people like Fiona Givens telling us that men have the authority of the priesthood (and she defends male hegemony) but women have priesthood power.  She references a Conference talk of Elder Packer in 2010 in […]

  7. […] we have people like Fiona Givens telling us that men have the authority of the priesthood (and she defends male hegemony) but women have priesthood power.  She references a Conference talk of Elder Packer in 2010 in […]

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