Widtsoe on Gender Differences.

May 17, 2007    By: Matt W. @ 12:45 pm   Category: Widtsoe Reading

For the sake of expediency, I am going to take down my previous two posts in this series. While initially, I had intended to allow Widtsoe to speak for himself, the way I was parsing his quotes by topic was creating some confusion where it otherwise would not be, and was causing me to respond too often “wait and see” to issues which came up. More important, I was frankly just being lazy in my blogging. I hope no one is offended as my removing the two prior posts will delete comments.

Widtsoe held to the concept very strongly that the Church teaches that women are not inferior to men, and that the church holds to a concept of equality of rights within the sexes. To give a little context to this, this was the early 20th century, and the church was typically viewed from the outside world as a misogynist institution which many considered salacious for it’s newly jettisoned polygamy. So much of Widtsoe’s writings in this regard were of an apologetic nature and in response to criticisms he was aware of. Widtsoe, however, never resorts to ad hominem attacks that I am aware of and generally keeps the discussion on a higher level.

Widtsoe states that men and women are equal before God in that they are equally free to choose for themselves and thus equally responsible for their own actions. He also notes that women and men are equally loved by God and equally entitled to the same salvation and exaltation. In this realm of religious equality, he sites as evidence of this equality that a man can not receive his salvation without the woman, and vice versa. He notes that the privilege of receiving ordinances is the same throughout the church, the freedom to be involved in sustaining church leadership is available to both genders, and that excluding priesthood, men and women are equal and almost the same within the church. He also cites as evidence of equality and as a point of pride, that the church encourages education and equal employment of both men and women to the fullest of their talents. He notes that the church has always felt that “spiritually, morally, religiously, and in faith” , the genders were equal, and points out with a touch of pride that Utah was the first state to have women voters, and that “Brigham Young saw no objection to a woman’s holding public office” So in short, Widtsoe claims that men and women are to be equally treated and respected.

But what about the differences? The Inequity in Priesthood? Isn’t that what the apologia is really trying to get at? Of course it is. Otherwise, one could merely say that Widtsoe is denying the issue at hand with a fleeting and failing call of “all is well in Zion”. Widtsoe isn’t merely denying the issues and does, comment on the “why” of the differences.


Differences

First of all, we should remember that to Widtsoe, at least some elements and laws of the natural universe are co-eternal with God. This definitely comes into play as he discusses gender differences. For example, Widtsoe notes that “The Church teaches that men and women differ only in their natural physiological functions. Woman therefore stands by the side of man within the Church…The Church recognizes the different functions of man and woman within the family. By natural law woman is the childbearer, and in general practice, the rearer of the family.” This idea is very important to the concept of equality as put forth by Widtsoe. This foundation really says that many of the differences between men and women are more matters of practical application and expediency, rather than doctrinal mandate. Thus it follows that “Woman of necessity, during many years of her life, is kept at home; man is [active] outside of the home” and that this calls for a “type of teamwork [to be] developed between a man and his wife, for the development of their family and themselves” So nature and our natural differences require that we form families and failure to do so problematic, as “the frustrated functions lead to defeat in life” This means that men and women need one another equally to have a better life and greater opportunity for happiness as “in conforming to natural law, greater freedom and power are won by both.”

In short, Widtsoe’s answer to why we are different is to simply say it is a function of the way we naturally are, as mandated by eternal natural laws. For Widtsoe, this even extends to the priesthood. He notes: “…Recognition of natural function appears in the organization of the Church. By divine fiat, the Priesthood is conferred on the men.” (If anyone is ignorant like me, a fiat is a command or decree, not a crappy car…)

So man Primarily holds the priesthood and has the primary responsibility for the administrative functions of the church because of the fact that natural law requires women to have the primary responsibility for the “bearing and rearing” of children. For Widtsoe, not holding the priesthood is “It is a protection to the woman who, because of her motherhood is under a large physical and spiritual obligation.” However, he notes “Motherhood is an eternal part of Priesthood.”

Widtsoe feels that the concept of presiding priesthood is really just the “responsibility of speaking and acting for the family in official matters…” as “spokesman” for the family. As an apologia to the concept of equality, he adds: “This does not limit equality among men and women. Citizens in a free land are not unequal because some hold office and others do not.” Building upon this idea, elected officials have a responsibility to represent the decisions of the family, and not just to make the decisions for the family. While some may use this concept of presiding to attempt a sort of kingship, Widtsoe calls this out as error, saying “The man who arrogantly feels that he is better than his wife because he holds the Priesthood, has failed utterly to comprehend the meaning and purpose of Priesthood. He needs to remember that the Lord loves His daughters quite as well as His sons. It is but a small and puny-souled man who could wish to humiliate women as a class and keep them as an inferior sex; for men can never rise superior to the women who bear and nurture them.” And “it should always be remembered that the husband can speak for his family only if he is living righteously and the members of his family are in accord with his views.”

While there may be women and men more qualified for “priesthood” or “bearing and rearing” than the other sex, which is acknowledged, Widtsoe phrases the question thus:

“Why should God give His sons a power that is denied His daughters? Should they not be equal in His sight as to status and opportunity to perform the labors of life? Since women are just as necessary in life as are men (indeed life were impossible without them), justice demands their recognition before their Father in Heaven. Surely, a just God can have no favorites!”

While this is not the direct answer he gives, it is perhaps the concise form of his answer:

“In the Church no adjustment can be made. The Priesthood always presides and must, for the sake of order. The women of a congregation of auxiliary—many of them—may be wiser, far greater in mental powers, even greater in actual power of leadership than the men who preside over them. That signifies nothing. The Priesthood is not bestowed on the basis of mental power but is given to good men and they exercise it by right of divine [mandate], called upon by the leaders of the Church. Woman has her [responsibility] of equal magnitude, and that is bestowed on the simple and weak as well as upon those who are great and strong. Sex enters here and is indisputable. It is eternal, so why quarrel with it? A wiser power than any on earth understands why a spirit [is] male or female.”

Widtsoe does note that motherhood does not require the actually birthing of one’s own children, but this call to “bear and rear” does go beyond the barriers of natural family. This raises a question in my mind of what the ultimate differences really are between the Priesthood and Motherhood. Are they merely administrative differences (performing ordinances, doing church paper work)? Any opinions on this would be greatly appreciated.

Anyway, The most interesting concepts to me in all of this are tied back to the idea that man and woman are required to become one single family unit in order to gain their exaltation, and that “Motherhood is an eternal part of Priesthood.” This calls to mind a concept Geoff recently discussed , albeit my own somewhat diluted version of the concept.

Sources:
So as to avoid the over use of footnotes, I will merely list the publications I reference, rather than cite each quote.

[1]- (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations [Salt Lake City: Improvement Era], 305.)
[2]- (John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith–Seeker after Truth, Prophet of God [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1951], 189.)
[3]- (John A. Widtsoe, Priesthood and Church Government [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939], 83.)
[4]- (John A. Widtsoe, Program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1937], 79.)
[5]- (John A. Widtsoe, An Understandable Religion [Independence, Mo.: Zion's Printing and Publishing Co., 1944], 145.)

69 Comments »

  1. I have three criticisms or comments.

    First, we should not trivialize the “apparent” inequality. On the one hand the church can’t stop talking about how important the priesthood is since it sets us apart from other church. In the next breath we are trying to downplay its significance since it is denied to women. We simply can’t have it both ways. We can put it this way:

    Our church is uniquely special because of something only the men can do.

    We can either deny what the men do is all that special thereby making the church not so special or we can maintain this special aspect of the church at the price of gender inequality.

    Second, in response to this statement:

    “The Church teaches that men and women differ only in their natural physiological functions. Woman therefore stands by the side of man within the Church.”

    There is A LOT more which needs to be said here. Why can’t women bear children AND have the priesthood. How does having the priesthood have anything at all to do with having the ability to bear children?

    Third, and closely related, the comment seem to be drenched in a failure to appreciate the is/ought distinction. So women are able to bear children… what “ought” can this possibly justify?

    Of course the natural appeal is to say that God designed women for a reason and that the “is” followed from the “ought”. In this case we have provided no justification whatsoever for the “ought”, only the “is.” Why did God design only women that way?

    Comment by Jeff G — May 17, 2007 @ 3:32 pm

  2. Widtsoe does note that motherhood does not require the actually birthing of one’s own children

    One thing I wonder is: why do stay-at-home dads get to hold the priesthood?

    Comment by Jacob J — May 17, 2007 @ 6:01 pm

  3. Hehe. Nice snark Jacob.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 17, 2007 @ 7:17 pm

  4. Jeff G:
    I’ll respond to your criticisms in reverse order:

    Is/Ought criticism: This is a weak criticism, and seems a bit non-sequiter to me. Widtsoe clearly sets up neither what is or what ought to be, but merely what Widtsoe taught. Gender is eternal, per Widtsoe, and per the church. If we did want to go into ought and is, we could, since Widtsoe says eternal natural law mandates a “best way”, which would be our “ought”, and the closest our “is” is to our “ought” the better off we are. By Faith, Reason, etc. we believe that the “is” taught by the church is closest to the “ought” of natural law.

    Second There is A LOT more which needs to be said here. Why can’t women bear children AND have the priesthood. How does having the priesthood have anything at all to do with having the ability to bear children?

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear here. The only reason that Widtsoe gives why this is the way it is is “Divine Fiat”, which is sourced to the fact that women “bear and rear” children, due to her natural physiological functions. The Priesthood to men only is thus an organizational requirement or policy given by God, and not mandated by natural law, except that it puts for a greater oportunity for being closer to the “ought” we already discussed.

    Lastly, I don’t know that we trvialize the difference or downplay the significance. I think we hold to the concept of “different but equal” which is a valid concept. We claim equal blessings, equal love, equal freedom, equal partnership but at the same time not different resposibilities derived from different physiologies. Further I think it is an error to emphasize the man in the priesthood, instead of the priesthood in the man as the important componant which sets the church apart. In other words:

    Our church is uniquely special because of something only God can do.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 17, 2007 @ 8:12 pm

  5. Jacob, at first I thought you were serious, until Geoff posted. I must be having a dim day…

    Comment by Matt W. — May 17, 2007 @ 8:14 pm

  6. Matt – what do you think of President Brigham Young’s words 60 years earlier (quote below)? Do you think Brigham Young’s words are consistent with Widtsoe’s statements of presiding and equality?

    If I am controled by the Spirit of the Most High I am King, I am supreme so far as the control of self is concerned; and it also enables me to control my wives and children.

    Journal of Discourses, 13:272-74 (Brigham Young, 24 July 1870).

    Comment by ECS — May 18, 2007 @ 8:53 am

  7. ECS: I was mainly looking at Widtsoe’s take on things, which I would hope would be further along than Youngs. Anyway, to give Young some context:

    Every intelligent being on the earth is tempered for glory, beauty, excellency and knowledge here, and for immortality and eternal lives in the worlds to come. But every being who attains to this must be sanctified before God and be completely under the control of His Spirit. If I am thus controled by the Spirit of the Most High I am a king, I am supreme so far as the control of self is concerned; and it also enables me to control my wives and children. And when they thus see that I am under the government and control of the Good Spirit, they will be perfectly submissive to my dictates. They feel and say, “Yes, father, or husband, certainly, you never require anything that is wrong; I have learned that long ago. Your judgment and discretion and the power of thought and reflection in you are sufficient; you know what is right. And if I could extend this power I could reign supreme, not only over my family and friends, but also over my neighbors and the people all around me. Could the spirit of error, hatred and wickedness perform this? No, it can be accomplished only by means of the meek and humble spirit of the Lord Jesus. If an individual is filled with that, it makes him a perfect monarch over himself, and it will give him influence over all who will hearken to his counsel.

    To me it seems like the control he is talking about is the influence he has over those others, and this based on whether he himself has submitted to God. Sounds like it falls in line with the way many interpret the Temple covenant of obedience.

    Personally, I think Widtsoe’s view of presiding is more related to acting as spokesman and representative for the family outside of the family, which is the man’s role by “divine fiat”.
    Young, However, is speaking about the influence one has within the family. His statements above would be no less applicable if the genders were reversed, in my opinion.

    Do you agree?

    Comment by Matt W. — May 18, 2007 @ 9:29 am

  8. His statements above would be no less applicable if the genders were reversed, in my opinion. Do you agree?

    Are you asking me whether I agree that this passage stands for the proposition that BY is saying that women would be able to “control” their husbands and children if women were filled by the Spirit of the Lord?

    If so, then no, I don’t agree. BY is describing how men preside over their wives (literally, in this case) and children. Even if women are filled with the Spirit, they are not given stewardship to preside over, much less “control”, their (perfectly submissive) husbands.

    Comment by ECS — May 18, 2007 @ 9:37 am

  9. I am going to try and be a little funny here, so I hope no one will take offense.

    I have been married for over thirty two years now. I only wish I knew back then what I know now, the earlier part of my marriage would have been a lot happier. I have learned that if I really want to get along with my wife, all I need to do is let her have her way. That seems to fix everything.

    So I have been wondering, just who is really in charge in heaven? If God really has a wife, and they have been living together for what must be a very long time, I have no doubt that God the Father has learned to just let his wife tell him what to do, and figure out someway to make it work.

    Basically, I think men are given the priesthood so they can learn how to be better men. I think men in general, had a predisposition to be not very nice. To get what they want, they can resort to intimidation. Might work good in time of war or a fist fight, but not a good way to run the universe.

    So God gave us women and the priesthood to help keep us men in line. I am not sure I can see how a woman having the priesthood would help her in being a better woman. Although those little blue pills my wife takes every morning ( Heaven help me if she forgets) sure does help to keep her from looking for the gun should I say or do anything she does not like. :

    Comment by CEF — May 18, 2007 @ 10:08 am

  10. I’ve tried to use the spirit to control my three year old. I’ll let you all guess how well that worked. Given that spectacular failure I don’t dare try it on my wife.

    Comment by a random John — May 18, 2007 @ 10:14 am

  11. ECS,

    It seems to me that you are asserting that BY said something he didn’t. Your implication is that Brigham thought he personally would be in control of his wife and children based on his own fiat. But that is not what he is implying at all. He is rather suggesting that he along with his family would willingly submit entirely to God and thus they would all be “controlled” by God. The truth is that “control” is the wrong word for him to use based on his meaning here though because what he is really talking about (as the context of the quote reveals) is willing submission to God by all parties involved — including himself. So he is implying that exalted husbands and wives would all be “perfectly submissive” to God.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 18, 2007 @ 10:20 am

  12. Matt,

    Jacob’s snark was a good one because it showed the weakness of the argument that men get the priesthood because women are biological mothers/nurturers. If that were the primary reason or the only reason for the practice then it would make sense deny the priesthood to stay-at-home dads. But that is just silly so there must be other reasons for the practice beyond that nurturing issue. (The question many wonder about is if God commanded women should not preside and hold the priesthood in the church or if God just is fine with it based on the collective desires of his people… Either way it is pretty clear to me that God is certainly not opposed to the current state of things in the church regarding this practice.)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 18, 2007 @ 10:30 am

  13. arj: For some reason your post made me laugh and think about jedi mind tricks. Of course, the spirit is not the force, no matter how much I wish it was. (Wouldn’t be sweat if the endowment meant we were all endowed with light sabres?)

    CEF: Women can resort to intimidation too, ya know.

    ECS:
    I was asking if you agreed with any of the following:

    1. BY was talking about the fact that his influence over others increases the more he submits himself to God.

    2. BY’s statement falls in line with the concept that Eve only need be obedient to the Adam IF he is obedient to God.

    3. Widtsoe mainly refers to the priesthood and presiding as being a function of representation or spokesmanship to other units beyond the immediate family.

    4. Young is speaking about the influence one can have on others, even within the family, and what he says is true.

    5. The truth in Young’s statement is equally applicable, regardless of Gender. ie- could not a husband have enough trust in the righteousness of his wife to say “Yes, Wife or Mother, certainly, you never require anything that is wrong; I have learned that long ago. Your judgment and discretion and the power of thought and reflection in you are sufficient; you know what is right.”

    Now I do not pretend to be an expert on BY, but I dont see in this text, he doesn’t even use the word preside or stewardship here, and uses the word control in two ways, self-control and control (influence) over others.

    Anyway, to quote Brigham Young in the very same speech:

    I say God speed everybody that is for freedom and equal rights!

    Comment by Matt W. — May 18, 2007 @ 10:38 am

  14. Geoff J: That is why I picked the answer I did as the final quote from Widtsoe. Just because a man is a stay at home dad, or a woman can’t have children, this doesn’t create room in Widtsoe’s mind for “adjustment” to be made. This is actually something I was trying to get at with the questions I had at the end. If Motherhood, per Widtsoe, is “The training of the human soul for advancement and joy here and hereafter calls for the greater possible powers of mind and heart” and “Motherhood may be exercised as universally and vicariously as Priesthood.” and “Motherhood is an eternal part of Priesthood” then what is the difference between priesthood and motherhood, outside of administrative functions?

    Comment by Matt W. — May 18, 2007 @ 10:47 am

  15. Matt W.,

    You didn’t get a lightsaber?! Wow. They really ripped you off.

    Comment by a random John — May 18, 2007 @ 11:31 am

  16. It seems to me that you are asserting that BY said something he didn’t.

    LOL, Geoff. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time you accused me of misinterpretation :) But then you declare in your comment that BY doesn’t really say what he says he’s saying (i.e., he’s using the word “control” inappropriately), so who is to say whose (mis)interpretation (or trump card) is correct?

    Still, your comment doesn’t address the response I gave to Matt. That is, women are not given stewardship over their families (husbands and children) the way men are, so even if a woman is in tune with the Spirit, she cannot “control” her husband and children.

    Comment by ECS — May 18, 2007 @ 11:57 am

  17. then what is the difference between priesthood and motherhood, outside of administrative functions?

    A related question: What is the difference between our church and other churches which nurture their flock, baptize, and partake of the sacrament, outside of the fact that they don’t have authority to perform administrative functions?

    Comment by Jacob J (in snark-only mode) — May 18, 2007 @ 12:01 pm

  18. Matt – Are you saying that it’s clear in this text that BY believed his wives were “equal” to him? Meaning, BY believed his wives could be in tune with the Spirit and “control” him.

    Comment by ECS — May 18, 2007 @ 12:12 pm

  19. Hehe. Good point ECS. I guess BY said what he said and it does look pretty ugly. But my point is that in the context of the overall sermon, what BY meant is not nearly as scary as the one sentence you quoted sounds.

    Now as to your question: even if a woman is in tune with the Spirit, she cannot “control” her husband and children.

    Well I think the answer is she can righteously “control” her husband and children to the very same degree that the husband can “control” his wife and children based on the definitions BY was using. That is — they are all volunteering to obey God together so their really is no controlling of one another going on there at all. BY apparently misspoke when he used the word control in that paragraph because all of the context makes it clear he didn’t mean “control” of each other but rather perfect obedience to God together.

    If you think he did mean control, my question is by what means could a husband righteously enforce such control?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 18, 2007 @ 12:21 pm

  20. Jacob J: 2 hours :) Seriously though, I think the recognition of the importance of the administrative functions and the authority to perform them is there in both women and men…

    ECS: No, I am saying 1-5. I am not saying this is clear in the text. I am saying it can reasonably be derived from the text. Do you agree with my 1-5? I can totally agree with you point that BY was probably not quite the 21st century model of gender equality as we understand it, but I would say, from what I’ve read, he was pretty dang good for his time.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 18, 2007 @ 12:23 pm

  21. Geoff, I think if you read more of BY, it’s apparent he does not believe that his wives can “control” him – with or without the Spirit.

    Is it right that my wife should dictate to me? It is just as reasonable, and as right, as it is for your children to rise up and dictate to their mother. It is not their business to dictate to you, their duty is to obey, and not to dictate.

    BY, Journal of Discourses 1:66

    It’s also a very lopsided kind of control. For example, BY could tell his first wife that he has to marry another wife, and the first wife would not have any “control” over his decision to do so -even if the first wife received confirmation from the Spirit telling her that BY was wrong to take another wife.

    In any event, it’s not that constructive to dredge up old BY quotes. I think it is constructive, as you asked, to wonder whether any degree of “control” over a wife could ever exercised righteously. I don’t know the answer to that. Would righteous “control” then be limited to emotional, verbal appeals? What about financial control?

    We see in the context of polygamy, for instance, that the wife had no control over whether her husband took another wife. How much “control” can a husband exert over his wife before he strays into the territory of unrighteous dominion?

    Comment by ECS — May 18, 2007 @ 12:44 pm

  22. Hi, Matt- no, I don’t think BY thought his wives had any power to control him, with or without the Spirit. But I do think that BY believed that he could exercise “control” over his wives. As for your points 1-5, I don’t dispute that you yourself could read these things into BY’s speech.

    I guess I was more interested in Widtsoe’s point how men could preside over (control?) women in the context of women being “equal” to men (whatever that means). That said, we’ve already gone around and around on the topic of presiding/equal partners – so it’s probably best to move on to a more fruitful point of discussion.

    Comment by ECS — May 18, 2007 @ 12:52 pm

  23. ECS: How much “control” can a husband exert over his wife before he strays into the territory of unrighteous dominion?

    That is the question indeed. But I think we have answers to that right in our canon:

    41 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;
    42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile

    So if we take this to be an eternal principle then any person who violated this principle (including Brother Brigham) would have been guilty of unrighteous dominion. I personally believe that even God can’t violate these principles in righteousness.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 18, 2007 @ 1:04 pm

  24. Geoff – indeed those scriptures speak the truth. What concerns me is that the patriarchal structure of the Church places women (and children) at the mercy of men who are appointed to exercise dominion over them. Some women are righteously dominated, while others less so. In any event, I have a difficult time understanding what it means to be righteously dominated (outside of a sexual context, of course).

    Comment by ECS — May 18, 2007 @ 1:10 pm

  25. I think that much of the culture gets confused with the doctrines on this one. I don’t know that any of us really understand enough about what the priesthood actually is to use it as a measuring stick for equality/inequality in the church. i don;t think of the priesthood as a “power” so much as a responsibility to provide godlike leaderhip (i.e. kind, charitable, worthy).

    I think it is relatively safe to say that historically and culturally men hold a great degree of power in public arenas while women hold a great degree of power in private arenas. Anything that can be looked at as a construction to maintain that power is open to be challenged (whether its the way a husband maintains power over his wife in public or the way a wife maintains power over her husband in private)– and the priesthood can easily fit that definition, whether it really is a “construction” or not.

    I don’t have any great answers for this other than just trying to be kind and loving and understanding of the inequality or disenfranchisement that people around us can feel — and there are many different groups who fit into that mold. I don’t do the best job acting on this, but I do believe it is te right way to look at it.

    Comment by Glenn — May 18, 2007 @ 1:25 pm

  26. Some women are righteously dominated

    What would righteous domination consist of on your view? My guess is that the term “righteous domination” is an oxymoron. In other words — there’s no such thing.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 18, 2007 @ 1:25 pm

  27. Amen brother Geoff.

    ECS: Ok, Widtsoe does pretty well define what he means by being equal, and I did to try to sum it up in my post in the first few paragraphs- ie- we are equally loved, we are equally free, we are equally blessed in obedience, we equally have the potential for salvation, we are equally dependent on God and each other for salvation, etc. So I’m not sure why you don’t know what Widtsoe means by equal. What’s the hang up?

    Further, I tried to be clear that Widtsoe did NOT hold presiding as controlling, but compared it more with being a public official, in that the father is the spokes person and representative for the family. This does give him different responsibilities, but not different rights or extra direct control. Widtsoe is very clear that this “presiding” capacity does not entail “controlling”. As Widtsoe said “…Men can never rise superior to the women who bear and nurture them.” and “It should always be remembered that the husband can speak for his family only if he is living righteously and the members of his family are in accord with his views.”

    Finally, I did not Widtsoe’s apologia on the presiding/equal partners point: This does not limit equality among men and women. Citizens in a free land are not unequal because some hold office and others do not.” T which I added: Building upon this idea, elected officials have a responsibility to represent the decisions of the family, and not just to make the decisions for the family.

    Now I am repeating major portions of my post….
    :(

    Comment by Matt W. — May 18, 2007 @ 1:26 pm

  28. I want to add: the reasons that Widtsoe’s vie of this seems so interesting to me is
    1.) When I first joined the church, I thought equality of the sexes was a Howard W. Hunter correction to past error in the church, so it is nice to see that there are positive foundations for it previously.
    2.) I really liked Widtsoe’s view on epistemology, and so it has given me a respect and trust in everything else he is saying, you may think I am telling Widtsoe “Yes, John A. Widtsoe, certainly, you never require anything that is wrong; I have learned that long ago. Your judgment and discretion and the power of thought and reflection in you are sufficient; you know what is right.”
    3.) Widtsoe’s own wife was a prominent woman and their relationship seemed very equal and admirable from what I’ve read. Incidentally his wife was a nutritionist, which some folklore notes as the source of no caffeinated sodas on church property. (I’ve lost the source on this though)

    Comment by Matt W. — May 18, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

  29. Matt – the hang up is that Widtsoe’s “men and women are equal” is a nice sentiment, but clearly men and women are not equal in practice. Women are not “equal” to men in the Mormon Church (or in their families given the temple covenants, the Family Proc., etc.). Men are granted authority over women, no matter how you define “authority” or “presiding”.

    Geoff – I think the real oxymoron is that men preside over women in an equal partnership with them.

    Comment by ECS — May 18, 2007 @ 1:57 pm

  30. Matt,

    I think the recognition of the importance of the administrative functions and the authority to perform them is there in both women and men…

    I don’t know what that means.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 18, 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  31. ECS: I think the real oxymoron is that men preside over women in an equal partnership with them.

    Yes, that also seems to be an oxymoron.

    I am still curious about what you mean when you say “some women are righteously dominated”. Do you really think that?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 18, 2007 @ 2:52 pm

  32. WHy is it an oxymoron? What is the equality that does not allow for this? Are you talking about a secific moment? Sometimes one person is more dominant than the other, but you can still have equality, right — mutual respect — mutual support — partnership. This idea of equality is really tricky to me.

    Comment by Glenn — May 18, 2007 @ 4:21 pm

  33. Geoff – “dominate” and “control” are along the same spectrum as “power” and “influence”. As long as the man acts “righteously” rather than “unrighteously”, he’s allowed exercise his “control” or “influence” as he presides over women.

    Comment by ECS — May 18, 2007 @ 4:24 pm

  34. ECS,

    I am a bit confused by your answer. Here is my question reworded (and I am sincerely curious to know what you think about this): A. Do you think it is even possible for any person to be “righteously dominated” by another person? B. If so does the gender of the people involved make a difference?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 18, 2007 @ 5:17 pm

  35. From the American Heritage Dictionary

    Preside:
    1. To hold the position of authority; act as chairperson or president.
    2. To possess or exercise authority or control.

    Dominate:
    1. To control, govern, or rule by superior authority or power.
    2. To exert a supreme, guiding influence on or over.

    I’m sure we can think of examples where one person can be “righteously dominated” by another person. You would be righteously dominant over your children if you required them to live by the moral principles of not stealing or lying, for instance.

    On the other hand, “righteous domination” doesn’t make sense in the case of two competent adults of equal status. If the adults were truly equal, then one person would by definition have no authority over the other person, and thus would be unable to assert dominance or preside over the other person.

    Gender makes a difference insofar as men categorically preside over women according to Church doctrine, but not vice versa.

    Comment by ECS — May 18, 2007 @ 6:36 pm

  36. ECS: You would be righteously dominant over your children if you required them to live by the moral principles of not stealing or lying, for instance. I don’t know if this is fully correct. Since your children have agency, you would be righteously dominant over your children IF your children chose to do what you required of them and what you required of them was righteous. I think this dovetails nicely into what Widtsoe was saying, ie- “the husband can speak for his family only if he is living righteously and the members of his family are in accord with his views.”

    Anyway, It’s pretty obvious that there is a choice involved in whether you submit to domination or resist.

    “righteous domination” doesn’t make sense in the case of two competent adults of equal status. If the adults were truly equal, then one person would by definition have no authority over the other person, and thus would be unable to assert dominance or preside over the other person. Keeping in mind that agency is not negated by dominion, I think this is false. I’ve even written about this in the past regarding our relationship with God. What we are talking about is two people choosing to allow other persons to have presidence in their lives. Some call it interdependence. We could call it love, but I threw that word out the window some time ago.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 18, 2007 @ 9:13 pm

  37. ECS: “righteous domination” doesn’t make sense in the case of two competent adults of equal status

    I very much agree.

    and thus would be unable to assert dominance or preside over the other person

    I agree that one could not “assert authority” over another in righteousness — assuming that both parties are not in total agreement that is. A person could willingly submit to the authority of another person I suppose though. For instance a sister could willingly adhere to the counsel of her RS president or something. But a RS president could not righteously compel a sister she presides over to adhere to her authority. That is the point of section 121 right?. But of course that RS president could “preside” in righteousness over those who willingly accepted her as a leader as long as she followed the instructions on how to maintain power and influence as outlined in that section 121. Conflating “asserting authority” and “presiding” muddies the waters.

    You would be righteously dominant over your children if you required them to live by the moral principles of not stealing or lying, for instance.

    Whether it is righteous or not depends entirely on how one enforces those “requirements” don’t you think?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 18, 2007 @ 9:50 pm

  38. BTW — I think the primary definitions of preside and dominate you gave are what apply best in this conversation. In the church I do think we mean “To hold the position of authority; act as chairperson or president” when we say preside. That definition could comply with the requirement of section 121 pretty easily. When the word dominate is used I think it is usually intended to mean “To control, govern, or rule by superior authority or power” which implies compulsion which implies unrighteousness.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 18, 2007 @ 10:04 pm

  39. Moving back to the “equal but different” idea, if we look at Social Power we can see that in the power types available in relationships, the only one that is different for a man and the women is legitimate power, which is dependent on whether the agent is perceived to be a legitimate occupant of the leadership position. Legitimate power thus relies on the referent power of the entity which gave the formal authority initially, but can transition to referent power in the agent themselves once it is seen that they are a legitmate occupant.

    I hope this makes sense.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 18, 2007 @ 10:59 pm

  40. Jacob: it means the difference between our church and others is not just the authority to perform administrative functions, but also recognizing that authority. Thus it is different than the gender issue, in that men and women recognize where the authority is to perform the ordinances. Some may not like where the authority is, but the see that is where it is.

    Make sense now?

    Comment by Matt W. — May 18, 2007 @ 11:02 pm

  41. ECS: Gender makes a difference insofar as men categorically preside over women according to Church doctrine, but not vice versa.

    Can you help me understand the underlying message you are getting at here?

    Are you saying that because in the church we use language about husbands presiding in families that the church gives license to husbands to ignore the principles in section 121? Is there more to it? I gather that you are unhappy about the way we use the word “preside” with regard to families but I am not clear on what exact problems you see arising from that.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 19, 2007 @ 12:39 am

  42. Matt,

    Oh, so in #20, your point was that both men and women in the church believe the priesthood to be important, and both know that only men hold the priesthood. Did I get that right?

    If so, it seems to miss the point of my #17. In #14, you put forth an argument that I would summarize as: (1) motherhood is essentially defined by nurturing and training children, (2) priesthood is about nurturing and training people, therefore (3) motherhood and priesthood are basically the same thing, except for administrative functions.

    That argument strikes me as fundamentally flawed in a number of ways. The most glaring is that when we talk about the essential importance of priesthood in the church, we don’t talk about it in terms of nurturing and training. Lots of churches nurture and train. They don’t thereby have the priesthood. If not, then by the same argument, women do not have the priesthood by virtue of the fact that they nurture and train their children. I think this is what JeffG was getting at before. It seems that we want to both downplay the exclusive nature and importance of priesthood (when talking about women and the priesthood) while simultaneously playing up the essential importance of holding the priesthood (e.g. when talking about our church vs. others).

    This is why the structure of your question is problematic.

    what is the difference between priesthood and motherhood, outside of administrative functions?

    Since we view the administrative functions of the priesthood as the most important part of priesthood, by far, what good is it to ask a question where this aspect of the priesthood is ignored (as the “outside of” suggests)? Saying that priesthood and motherhood have something in common doesn’t go very far to answer the concerns and criticisms that Widtsoe is trying to address with his apologia here. Sure, they have something in common. Priesthood has things in common with lots of other things as well. This never took away from the importance of having the priesthood before, so why should it in this case?

    The line of reasoning you are putting forward seems to suggest (inevitably) that it is “no big deal” that women don’t have the priesthood. While that may be the case, someone needs to explain why it is no big deal if they are going to satisfy those with concerns over this. Saying something like “you nurture your children, that’s pretty much what priesthood is about anyway” is not going to get us very far.

    Widtsoe’s argument, as put forward in the post, is that (1) women bear the children (2) men hold the priesthood because God said so (divine fiat) (3) not holding the priesthood protects women since they already have so much to do.

    Do these seem like good explanations to you?

    Comment by Jacob J — May 19, 2007 @ 12:44 am

  43. Geoff- so you’re saying that when Person A voluntarily submits to Person B’s authority, the Person B in authority is “righteously presiding” over Person A? Who decides the limits on Person B’s authority, and who enforces these? The contours of what constitutes an acceptable exercise of authority have changed fairly dramatically in the history of the Church.

    Again, principles are nice, but who decides what the limits to “righteous” presiding are, and who enforces these principles against the person in authority?

    You say that each individual is entitled to receive his or her own revelation. As we know, individuals may receive different revelations regarding the same issue. In the context of the family, presiding seems to mean that the husband’s revelation should be preferred over the wife’s revelation, because the husband presides over his wife and children. In other words, given two competing revelations – the husband’s and the wife’s – the wife should submit to the husband’s revelation or else he will not be righteously presiding over her. Therefore, it’s the woman’s choice to submit. The husband’s revelation, however, seems to be privileged over the wife’s because the husband is entitled to “preside”.

    Comment by ECS — May 19, 2007 @ 5:18 am

  44. ECS: Isn’t the obvious answer person A?

    Jacob J: Now I understnad where my reasoning was flawed. Excellent points!

    Put another way, priesthood is “only” the legitimate power to perform administrative fuinctions in the church, but this administrative power is vitally important.

    I am not sure you are capturing Widtsoe’s argument exactly: (1) women bear the children and this “most important” work takes away from their capacity to do other work. (giving birth, being pregnant, nursing) (2) men hold the priesthood because God said so (divine fiat). (Which begs the question “why did he says so?”) (3) God said so because not holding the priesthood “protects” women in that it allows them to focus their time on “bearing children”

    Now I will grant you that birth-control and baby formula do alter the playing field rather drastically of Widtsoe’s argument. Would you agree?

    Comment by Matt W. — May 19, 2007 @ 7:09 am

  45. ECS: I should add that a key point I feel Widtos adds to presiding is that the man only “presides” when “he is living righteously and the members of his family are in accord with his views.”

    Straight out of textbook on legitimate power. “Instances of outright refusal to carry out a legitmate order or request undermine the leader’s authority and increase the likelihood of future disobedience. Orders that are unlikely to be carried out should not be given.” (Leadership in organizations, 6th Edition, Gary Yukl pg 152)

    I guess the question is what the scope of authority the legitimate power of the priesthood gives us. Does it give us anymore ability to reward or punish than those who do not have the priesthood? This is not a rhetorical question.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 19, 2007 @ 7:19 am

  46. Matt,

    Yes, good point. Formula has certainly leveled the playing field at my house. This I can assure you.

    As to point (3), I don’t know how not holding the priesthood actually has anything to do with bearing children. For example, my wife continues to hold a calling despite being pregnant. Whether or not she holds the priesthood, she serves in the church and devotes as much time to callings as I do.

    Furthermore, if women did have the priesthood, we would probably talk about how important it is for women to hold the priesthood since they are the ones who are home with the kids and they need to be able to give priesthood blessings when the father is absent. I can imagine other similar arguments. They would strike me as ad hoc in the same way that the arguments Widtsoe is putting forth strike me as ad hoc.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 19, 2007 @ 9:56 am

  47. ECS: Who decides the limits on Person B’s authority, and who enforces these?

    Person A. (We’re still talking about righteous presiding here right?)

    The contours of what constitutes an acceptable exercise of authority have changed fairly dramatically in the history of the Church.

    Can you expand on why you mentioned this here? I’m not sure I understand how this comment even fits into this conversation.

    who decides what the limits to “righteous” presiding are, and who enforces these principles against the person in authority?

    Again, Person A don’t you think? (And of course quietly by God)

    In the context of the family, presiding seems to mean that the husband’s revelation should be preferred over the wife’s revelation

    Preferred by who? I don’t know what you mean by this. Certainly the husband might prefer his own ideas but wouldn’t the wife prefer her own as well? D&C 121 makes it clear that if either are going to convince each other it much be by various forms of righteous and gentle persuasion.

    given two competing revelations – the husband’s and the wife’s – the wife should submit to the husband’s revelation or else he will not be righteously presiding over her

    Wait, are you saying that it is her responsibility to make him a righteous presider? Isn’t presiding in righteousness entirely his responsibility? How can that requirement be justly placed on her?

    The husband’s revelation, however, seems to be privileged

    Again, privileged by who?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 19, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

  48. LOL, Geoff. Far be it from me to argue against the model of benevolent (non) patriarchy you (and others) have proposed here. Carry on, carry on.

    Comment by ECS — May 19, 2007 @ 2:32 pm

  49. Hehe. Ok. I was wondering what you were arguing against since I think the version we find in the scriptures (particularly section 121) is about as equitable and inoffensive as one could imagine.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 19, 2007 @ 2:40 pm

  50. Jacob, as far as blessings go, Widtsoe was from a time when women gave blessings, or at least was ok with such. He mentions it twice, quoting JS both times.

    What happened with our baby just being born is my wife was released as YW president and I was called as ward clerk. Thus she became more available to the children, and I less so… You’ll have to let me know how it goes with your wife. (and congratulations!) Of course, my wife is being given 2 less time demanding callings…

    One thing I am still trying to understand from widtsoe is while the priest is for men by divine fiat, “Motherhood is an eternal part of priesthood.” Widtsoe uses this line at leeast twice, so I am very curious of what he is hinting at.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 19, 2007 @ 5:04 pm

  51. c’mon ECS, if you don’t keep throwing out ringers it’s going to be boring just agreeing with Geoff all the time…

    Comment by Matt W. — May 19, 2007 @ 8:11 pm

  52. What happened with our baby just being born is my wife was released as YW president and I was called as ward clerk.

    Right, and my point is that this has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not your wife has the priesthood. If your work suddenly required you to travel extensively for one year such that you would not be around, they would likely release you as ward clerk. Thus, Widtsoe’s reasoning about not having the priesthood in order to protect women from the time consuming responsibilities just seems like a red herring.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 20, 2007 @ 10:33 am

  53. Jacob, if it’s a red herring, then why did you bring it up in #46?

    Comment by Matt W. — May 21, 2007 @ 7:50 am

  54. I’ll say it.

    Men are better suited to leadership than women. Simply put, men are usually better at setting aside their emotions.

    A woman’s greatest strength and weakness is her emotions. I love women. But women become emotional about matters that effect them personally. Many women cry daily or more frequently, and they are often more hurt by a husband or child’s suffering than even the husband or child. This is a gift, but it is also a weakness.

    Men should value and take counsel from women. But ultimately, we’re all more secure under male leadership.

    Sorry.

    Comment by Random Guy — May 22, 2007 @ 7:49 pm

  55. Matt,

    In #46 I was making the exact same point as in #52. Widtsoe is the one that brought it up. I have consistently been trying to show that it is not a good argument.

    Random Guy,

    For what it’s worth, C.S. Lewis makes the same argument.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 22, 2007 @ 11:40 pm

  56. Jacob J: I am not sure we can equate all callings with priesthood callings. Of course, there is the whole can of worms of what is really a priesthood calling, but if we narrow it down to Bishopric meeting and PEC attenders, I think there is a dichotomy in required time committment. The same could be said about rules as they apply to HT and VT…

    Comment by Matt W. — May 23, 2007 @ 7:13 am

  57. Matt,

    if we narrow it down to Bishopric meeting and PEC attenders

    If we narrow it down thusly, then the vast majority of males are protected from the heavy responsibilities of priesthood as well as females.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 23, 2007 @ 9:15 am

  58. I don’t see anything false in the above statement. That’s like saying the vast majority of females don’t have 10 kids…

    Comment by Matt W. — May 23, 2007 @ 9:28 am

  59. Come on Matt. Now you’re just being belligerent. Why not just acknowledge that Jacob’s point is a good one and that Widtsoe’s point is not without problems? It is pretty obvious to me that such the case here.

    The whole men get to hold the priesthood because women bear children really does sound like an ad hoc explanation to defend something that is probably not an eternal principle at all.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2007 @ 9:56 am

  60. GeoffJ: I already did that, didn’t I? #44..

    Did I say I thought it was eternal? I hope not. I know no such things.

    Let me try to get this back on track with what I am trying to think about in #58. It did come out half-baked.

    My thought is that, like I said earlier, women are “mothers” whether they “bear” children or not (So the practical “protect” answer is lacking anyway, as not all women will be pregnant, give birth, nurse, etc.) Widtsoe defines the general role of a mother as the trainer in “The training of the human soul for advancement and joy here and hereafter”. Now, a man, once ordained to the priesthood is a priesthood holder whether he is performing ordinances or not, and whether he is a Bishop or not.Ultimately, I think we could say that the role of the priesthood is the same as the role of motherhood above. Also, I guess the other point I was trying to make was that priesthood, in the areas where it is different with motherhood (which are there and are obviously glaringly huge), is like motherhood in that it is about the general potential rather than the individual situation. Hence the limiting priesthood to the higher functioning, higher demand offices.

    If we are ok there, (which I think we are) The question comes up as to whether the dichotomy of priesthood and motherhood is real or if motherhood was an invented booby prize to make up to women that men get the priesthood, and if it was invented ad hoc to do this. Sometimes I wonder the opposite, if priesthood was invented as a booby prize to give men something equal to motherhood.

    Think about it this way.
    Motherhood at it’s most fundamental has:
    1. Pregnancy and Birth
    2. Nursing
    3. Temple Work

    Priesthood gives man a like opportunity in:
    1. being born again through baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost
    2. administering the sacrament
    3. Temple Work

    Also, any supposition as to why only men hold the priesthood is going to seem ad hoc, I think, because it is speculation, and not doctrine…

    Comment by Matt W. — May 23, 2007 @ 10:29 am

  61. And I was being belligerent with the 10 kids thing. Sorry, I was trying to make the point that policy regaridng priesthood and motherhood are based on general potential, and not on actuality. It came out in a kluge though…

    Comment by Matt W. — May 23, 2007 @ 10:32 am

  62. I hope some poor, misguided feminist doesn’t mistakenly stumble upon this thread and believe it’s representative of LDS male attitudes towards women. (or is it?)

    I laughed at this one, though:

    if motherhood was an invented booby prize

    Nice!

    Comment by ECS — May 25, 2007 @ 10:14 am

  63. ECS: I hope some poor, misguided feminist doesn’t mistakenly stumble upon this thread and believe it’s representative of LDS male attitudes towards women. (or is it?)

    Why is that? Not sure what you are getting at. Could you give a specific example?

    Comment by Matt W. — May 25, 2007 @ 11:07 am

  64. ECS,

    I thought I had your back here, what gives? Don’t paint the whole thread with a single broad brush stroke. I knew the “booby prize” comment was going to draw ire though…

    Comment by Jacob J — May 25, 2007 @ 11:29 am

  65. I know you guys don’t mean any harm, but these are some humdingers:

    women are “mothers” whether they “bear” children or not

    Men are better suited to leadership than women.

    Many women cry daily or more frequently, and they are often more hurt by a husband or child’s suffering than even the husband or child. This is a gift, but it is also a weakness.

    (If you know someone who is crying daily or “frequently”, chances are it’s not solely because of her gender)

    Jacob, yes, I do appreciate your (and Geoff’s) attempt to clarify the “motherhood v. priesthood” conundrum.

    Comment by ECS — May 25, 2007 @ 11:52 am

  66. Oh, and comparing the physical trauma of pregnancy and birth to

    being born again through baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost

    is absurd. Not to mention “nursing” (which consumes the better part of every day for mothers with infants and small children) and “administering the sacrament”.

    Comment by ECS — May 25, 2007 @ 11:54 am

  67. ECS,
    re:

    women are “mothers” whether they “bear” children or not

    This is directly from Widtsoe’s text. I didn’t invent this. I’d say it has support from the teachings of Julie Beck and Sheri Dew. What’s off here?

    The other ones I agree with you on. THat’s why I ignored them.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 25, 2007 @ 12:14 pm

  68. ECS (66)

    I was just speculating there. But why is it absurd to compare birth to baptism? Didn’t Jesus make such a comparison?

    And as for nursing, are you agreeing with Widtsoe then, based on time consumption factors?

    Comment by Matt W. — May 25, 2007 @ 12:19 pm

  69. ECS,

    It probably does in some ways represent the range of LDS male attitudes towards women. The key word there being range since there are widely differing opinions on the subject from the males commenting here. Obviously the anonymous comment in #54 represents a real, even if extreme, position on that continuum of opinions. As Jacob said, I think he and I have been closer to the opposite pole of that continuum in our comments though.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 25, 2007 @ 1:17 pm

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