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 â€œwait and seeâ€ 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 itâ€™s newly jettisoned polygamy. So much of Widtsoeâ€™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 â€œBrigham Young saw no objection to a woman’s holding public officeâ€ 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? Isnâ€™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 â€œall is well in Zionâ€. Widtsoe isnâ€™t merely denying the issues and does, comment on the “why” of the 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 â€œThe Church teaches that men and women differ only in their natural physiological functions. Woman therefore stands by the side of man within the Churchâ€¦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.â€ 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 â€œWoman of necessity, during many years of her life, is kept at home; man is [active] outside of the homeâ€ and that this calls for a â€œtype of teamwork [to be] developed between a man and his wife, for the development of their family and themselvesâ€ So nature and our natural differences require that we form families and failure to do so problematic, as â€œthe frustrated functions lead to defeat in lifeâ€ This means that men and women need one another equally to have a better life and greater opportunity for happiness as â€œin conforming to natural law, greater freedom and power are won by both.â€
In short, Widtsoeâ€™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: â€œâ€¦Recognition of natural function appears in the organization of the Church. By divine fiat, the Priesthood is conferred on the men.â€ (If anyone is ignorant like me, a fiat is a command or decree, not a crappy carâ€¦)
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 â€œbearing and rearingâ€ of children. For Widtsoe, not holding the priesthood is â€œIt is a protection to the woman who, because of her motherhood is under a large physical and spiritual obligation.â€ However, he notes â€œMotherhood is an eternal part of Priesthood.â€
Widtsoe feels that the concept of presiding priesthood is really just the â€œresponsibility of speaking and acting for the family in official mattersâ€¦â€ as â€œspokesmanâ€ for the family. As an apologia to the concept of equality, he adds: â€œThis does not limit equality among men and women. Citizens in a free land are not unequal because some hold office and others do not.â€ 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 â€œThe 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.â€ And â€œit 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.â€
While there may be women and men more qualified for â€œpriesthoodâ€ or â€œbearing and rearingâ€ than the other sex, which is acknowledged, Widtsoe phrases the question thus:
â€œWhy 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!â€
While this is not the direct answer he gives, it is perhaps the concise form of his answer:
â€œIn the Church no adjustment can be made. The Priesthood always presides and must, for the sake of order. The women of a congregation of auxiliaryâ€”many of themâ€”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.â€
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 â€œMotherhood is an eternal part of Priesthood.â€ This calls to mind a concept Geoff recently discussed , albeit my own somewhat diluted version of the concept.
So as to avoid the over use of footnotes, I will merely list the publications I reference, rather than cite each quote.
- (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations [Salt Lake City: Improvement Era], 305.)
- (John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith–Seeker after Truth, Prophet of God [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1951], 189.)
- (John A. Widtsoe, Priesthood and Church Government [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939], 83.)
- (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.)
- (John A. Widtsoe, An Understandable Religion [Independence, Mo.: Zion's Printing and Publishing Co., 1944], 145.)