Putting the “Un” Back in Equal”By: Jeff Spector
In the United States, beginning with a Louisiana state law passed in 1890, the concept of “separate but equal” was born to justify segregation. This permitted states to allow separate facilities, like restrooms, drinking fountains, buses, train cars and schools for those of different races, mainly Black people and mostly in the South. The legitimacy of such laws under the 14th Amendment was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537. The Plessy doctrine was extended to the public schools in Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education, 175 U.S. 528 (1899). ) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separate_but_equal)
The “Separate but Equal” doctrine was eventually thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The reason for that was that while separate, the facilities were far from equal with minorities usually on the receiving end of substandard facilities. The overturning of the law certainly did not automatically grant equal rights to all people and it was many years before real gains were made. Some would say, not wrongly, that we as a people still have a ways to go.
The Women’s Movement came hot on the heels of the progress made in the civil rights movement, trying to replicate for Women that which was practically achieve by Blacks and other minorities. Among these were equal pay for equal work, credit and financial law changes, voter law changes and more recognition as women, apart from spouses and, equal opportunity in the workplace and in schools.
Most people would say that much progress has been made. Recent studies have shown that women are increasingly the breadwinners of their families, in some cases, making much more income than their male partners. There are more women graduating from higher education institutions than men and the glass ceiling is being smashed more and more. There are more women in government and someday, perhaps as early as 4 years from now, we could have a woman as a US President.
In addition, in the LDS Church, there is more involvement for women in leadership positions. The Church has held many training sessions, which taught that the women of the Church should be listened to, and involved in much of the decision-making processes. However, there is also the cry for the ordination of Women to the Priesthood, held by men. In the name of equality.
But, are we ever really equal? I say that while much progress has been made, true equality is a myth.
Let’s start with the most obvious. Men and women are different, physiologically, for sure as well as psychologically. Studies have shown that men and women’s brains function differently. In an effort to give equal time (does that even exist?), here is an article that disputes that notion. Among the differences are:
- Men are better at orientating objects
- Women are better at communicating
- Men and women process information at different rates
- Men speak logic
- Women speak emotion
There are also differences when it comes to expressing sexual desire, and reaction to stress. (http://www.shavemagazine.com/women/10-Psychological-Differences-Between-Men-and-Women#ixzz2VTmOqEWd)
Some of what we attribute to gender characteristics is related to cultural conditioning like favoring the color blue for boys and pink for girls. In addition, not every characteristic related to gender applies to every single person, but generally, it does.
Going back to physiological differences, women bear the children. There is no getting around that. That has large ramifications associated with a myriad of issues including health, workplace and other areas. When a man and a woman decide to have a child, there is a clear inequality to that arrangement with the woman bearing a much, much larger share of the responsibility.
In the workplace, great strides have been made in women’s roles. There are many more managers and leaders who are women, more effort to equalize pay and many more women with advanced educational degrees. However, something like a pregnancy does have a consequence in spite of the best efforts to minimize it and it is fundamentally different from an illness. Time off, child care and child-related issues all come into play. It has been difficult to give a man the same equal treatment with regard to a child birth because the man is not “recovering from anything, albeit maybe some loss of sleep. Though, in some societies, men have equal time off as the women who actually have the child.
With regard to pay, there is no such thing as equal pay in most organizations, between men and women, men and men or women and women. For many companies, a large number of factors including job scope, longevity on the job, performance, area where the employee lives, etc. determines compensation. Not to mention, favoritism, historical contribution and other less tangible factors. In theory, two people doing exactly the same job, with the same experience, performing at the same level, should be paid the same, but seldom are they because most people do not line up exactly. The best one can hope for is that those doing the same job are on the same job scope and pay range and that there is attempt to make it equal, all things being considered equal, which they almost never can be.
Which then brings us to the Church and the Priesthood. As near as we can tell, the Priesthood, or right to act in God’s place here on earth has always been the male role. There is no evidence, in the ancient or modern texts, of Priesthood, as such, being conferred on a woman.
There is evidence of strong women roles throughout history and contained in Scripture, such as Miriam the Prophetess, Deborah the Judge, Esther the queen and the Marys of the New Testament. However, in spite of these strong women, there is no evidence of them having the Priesthood. .
And while the women of the modern LDS church deserve a voice in the operation of the Church especially in matters affecting them, this does not mean that not having Priesthood affects their equality before God or the Church. In addition, women and men are all entitled to the same blessings of exaltation and the higher ordinances of the Temple. All are equal in the sight of God, even if He has given them different roles and responsibilities.
And while those advocating the ordaining of women like to pick and choose at various events in modern Church history where women performed priesthood-like functions, or that they perform certain priesthood ordinances in the Temple, under the direction of the Priesthood, or that they point to the semi-autonomous nature of the Church auxiliary organizations in the past, one thing is abundantly clear and undisputable. God did not appoint any women to run the Church, in the past or present.
There is no female Moses, or Lehi or Joseph Smith. Jesus never appointed any females Apostles; no female Apostles replaced the male Apostles who died. Joseph Smith did not choose any women to be Counselors in his Frist presidency, nor did he call any females as Apostles, Bishops, High Council members or in any other leadership capacity except Relief Society.
There is also a romantic notion that the Church auxiliaries were these completely autonomous groups within the Church that completely ran their own affairs including curriculum, budgets, leadership, etc. without little to no supervision by the Priesthood or higher bodies of the Church. And, yes, some of that is indeed the case, however, the leaders were still accountable to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve and they did not operate in total independence.
“You stake leaders fully support the Relief Society General Board and the full program it offers. Its Presidency [the Relief Society General Presidency] work directly under General Authority Advisors and The First Presidency. The Relief Society program is approved by them…” (Elder Delbert L. Stapley, Address delivered at the Stake Board Session of the Relief Society annual General Conference, September 30, 1965.) From the Relief Society Magazine, Vol 53, Number 2, February 1966.
In my view, there is no such thing as complete equality. That does not mean we should tolerate injustice or unfair treatment, or that there should be a lack of participation for hierarchy or perceived hierarchy reasons. Or that leadership should exercise unrighteous dominion because they have been given an opportunity to serve at a high level. We should be following the example of the Savior in our behavior toward one another regardless.
President Dieter F Uchtdorf gave a talk entitled “Lift Where You Stand” to the Priesthood session of General Conference October 2008 and while it is addressed to the Priesthood, it is applicable to all members. Here is a quote:
“Those who seek to lead may feel they are capable of doing more than what they are currently asked to do. Some might think, “If only I were a bishop, I could make a difference.” They believe that their abilities far surpass their calling. Perhaps if they were in an important position of leadership, they would work hard at making a difference. But they wonder, “What possible influence can I have as merely a home teacher [or visiting] or a counselor in the quorum [or relief society} presidency?”