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, “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.