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THE LDS RESTORATIONIST MOVEMENT,
INCLUDING THE MORMON CHURCHES

THE LDS CHURCH & THE EQUALITY OF WOMEN

An essay donated by John Nash

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I have read through some of...[the] articles [in this website] on the LDS Church,  (I refer specifically to your nomenclature that the LDS Church is the largest and predominate sect of the LDS Restorationist family of religions). In the course of my readings, I have seen references to the concept that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds women in a subservient or unequal role to the men in the Church. While I cannot speak for other sects who have been identified as part of the “Mormon” family of religions, I can speak to my understanding of the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The idea that women are less than equal to the men is not accurate.

I could speak to the idea that the LDS Church maintains one of the oldest women’s organizations in the nation in the Relief Society Organization (our women’s auxiliary). I could speak to the leadership roles held and overseen by women from the local congregations up to the general leadership of the Church. And I could speak to the impracticality of suggesting to God’s final (and in my personal opinion grandest) creation), that woman is secondary and subservient to man. Rather, I would prefer to address the misperception that unfortunately occurs all too often, both inside and outside of the LDS Church.

In Genesis, we are taught that man should leave his father and mother and “cleave” to his wife, that they might be “one flesh.” Similarly, in LDS marriage ceremonies, we are taught to “cleave unto” our spouse “…and none else.” This would suggest that there is no primacy of personage within the relationship between husbands and wives.

We do teach that a husband presides over the family. Too often, misguided individuals stop there, assuming that means the men rule. If they were to investigate further, they would find that a man can only preside over his family, as long as he is completely and totally righteous. Moreover, in order to live up to that level of righteousness, he must cooperate and work with his companion and helpmeet—his wife. If a man seeks to rule over his wife (and children for that matter) “in any degree of unrighteousness, amen to the priesthood or authority of that man.” In other words, the husband/wife relationship is one in which both husband and wife must be in agreement. They must sustain and support one another. We are taught in the Doctrine and Covenants (part of the LDS cannon of scripture) Section 121 verse 41 – 42, how we (both husbands and wives) should go about “presiding’ over our families:

“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—”

This would seem to be a far cry from the chauvinistic image that is presented by most who portray the relationship of LDS husbands and wives as that of master and servant. In all honesty, if husbands were to take this approach to their wives, there would be a lot less divorce in this world. That is not to say that LDS men and women are the perfect examples of how to live these values—far from it. The people of the LDS Church have never claimed to be perfect, just that we are working on it. Living these principles does not happen over night, nor will it completely happen in our life time (remember, the Savior was and is the only perfect person to stand on the earth). It is a life long process that, like any endeavor, is full of both high and low points.

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I have sometimes used the somewhat crude but useful analogy of a car. Cars have an engine and a transmission. Both are necessary to make a vehicle perform its designed function. Both have different roles in the process. In terms of the desired outcome, both have an equal impact. Neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man. In the marriage relationship, men and women have different roles but equal impacts. Without both holding up their respective responsibilities—working together in harmony—the family will not operate at its optimum level.

If what I have presented is the truth (and I am personally comfortable that it is), then what is the deal with the Mormons and our supposed repression towards women? Why shouldn’t women hold the same roles as men, and visa versa? I believe the answer lies in some basic assumptions. Up until 30 or 40 years ago, there was a very real belief that family was the most important thing. Perhaps it was tied to the fact that until then, we were still a fairly agronomous society. Living on farms, the family worked together—the father presided with his wife, but the entire family contributed to the whole. As we have moved away from that rural “Green Acres” lifestyle, we no longer felt connected to serving a greater good than our own personal interests. Society has changed and in doing so, our morals have changed as well. It is no longer what is best for our family, but what is best for me. In that climate, why shouldn’t a woman be just as important in the workplace as a man?

But what if, the assumption that personal and individual fulfillment is the prime motivation for all activity were turned back 50 years. Is it possible in today’s world to assume that the ultimate welfare of the individual is directly tied to the well-being of the family, as it has been for millennia?

This is the assumption that leads to the LDS Church’s positions on the roles of men and women. The husband is the provider—this does not mean that he abandons his family to receive the accolades of the workplace, he is to provide for and support his family. The wife is the nurturer—one cannot look at a mother and her small child to know that there is a special bond between them, who better to teach the principles of the family to ensure that they are instilled in our youth. Both work together, and neither should forget their priorities with the family. This assumes that the family—husband, wife, and children—are the most important thing. Not the next promotion, not the SUV and large house, not any other activity. The family. Those other things are not a problem, as long as they to do not become higher priorities.

Again, as I mentioned above, these are assumptions. Everyone has them. Mine are that the family is more important than the individual. And that true fulfillment for the individual comes in context of the relationship within the family. If one changes their assumptions to reposition the individual as the prime entity, as our modern society has done, then you end up with a completely different set of conclusions—the biggest of which is that Mormons place women in a subservient role. It all depends on one’s assumptions (again, those pesky assumptions).

Let me close by saying this. It has been my experience, corroborated by at least one ardent feminist of whom I am personally acquainted, that if one truly understands the LDS faith, one would know that LDS women are the freest and most emancipated women on the face of the earth. As in any society, there are those who would abuse their supposed “supremacy” over women to get their way, but I believe that those men are in for a very rude awakening when the day of judgment arrives. What is more likely is that as a husband and wife learn to work together, they will learn to compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses. In my experience, most LDS men who have been so foolish as to command their wives to “obey, or else…” have learned rather quickly the cold comforts of sleeping on the sofa. As I stated earlier, we do not claim to be perfect, but we are working on it.

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Originally posted: 2006-FEB-23
Latest update: 2009-NOV-13
Author: John U. Nash

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