Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The troubling Mormon question...

Yes, the big elephant in the room in temple garments. Mitt Romney belongs to a church that believes in the suppression of women's rights. He's trying to convince undecided female voters that he is on their side, claiming now that he supports contraception and gender equality (only in Afghanistan though), and refusing to own up to his opinion on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (he did not support it at the time, and now refuses to state a straightforward opinion).

However, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) does not believe that women are as spiritually worthy as men. All LDS men are automatically members of the priesthood, just by their gender, and given authority to speak for God. Women are categorically denied that right; in fact, a teenage boy has greater authority over any woman.

Mormons claim that women are essential to their religion (two LDS missionaries told Mike, in Japan, that women were critical because they made "wonderful casseroles"!), because they alone can bear children. This is the sole purpose for an LDS woman--to be the keeper of the hearth and raise a family. Even after death, while their husbands are ruling over the planets, the women continue to bear their husbands' "spirit children." But the church insists that they are "choice daughters of our Heavenly Father...and a greater power for good" (unless they get uppity, of course!)...and "in the marriage relationship, women and men are equally important."

As we know, when Mormonism was founded by Joseph Smith, women had even fewer rights than they do now, with the practice of polygamy. Even though polygamy has been abolished in the modern-day LDS church, women still cannot enter heaven unless they marry a man who goes on a mission. Although the LDS church shares many restrictions on women with the Catholic church, this heaven-admittance thing goes one step further.

LDS boys and girls are taught about gender roles and expectations...the men clearly lead their families. "Feminists are described as 'the Pied Pipers of sin who have led women away from the divine role of womanhood down the pathway of error'" (Laake 176). 
President Spencer W. Kimball said, “I sincerely hope that our Latter-day Saint girls and women, and men and boys, will drink deeply of the water of life and conform their lives to the beautiful and comprehensive roles the Lord assigned to them” (“The Lord’s Plan for Men and Women,” Ensign, Oct. 1975, p. 5). 
So where does that leave Mitt Romney? Even though he claims he considered BINDERS FULL OF WOMEN for his cabinet in Massachusetts, in reality only 2 out of the 19 judges he appointed were women. His wife has never worked for a paycheck and is proud of that fact. And she had five sons--Eureka!

The LDS church has strict policies forbidding:
  • Abortion
  • Artificial insemination
  • Birth control (even though they are not supposed to "judge each other," they are also reminded that sexual relations within marriage are for procreation, in addition to love)
  • Caffeine, alcohol, and smoking
  • Chastity
  • Homosexuality
  • In vitro fertilization and surrogacy
  • Sex education (should be taught in the home)
  • Sperm donation
  • Surgical sterilization
Mormon men are schooled in the way of business, and the LDS church is a highly successful business itself. By running businesses under the church's mantel, they avoid paying taxes. Mormons tend to patronize each other's businesses and hire each other when given the chance.

This is not to say that no Mormon women work outside the home and live independent lives, but the stay-at-home mom is held up as the highest standard. One has only to google "Mormon women work outside the home" to find scads of LDS web sites, such as this one, holding up the principle of family coming first for women. I too believe it is ideal when one parent is able to stay home and be the primary caretaker--in our family, it is my husband who stays at home. But I have a very difficult time imagining that Mitt Romney would support fair pay for women, hire women on his cabinet, and appoint female Supreme court judges, when he has been trained to believe that women belong in the home.

Before the first debate, the Daily Beast had an article encouraging Jim Lehrer to ask Mitt Romney if he stands by the LDS church's view of women. As we know, this subject didn't come up, unfortunately. The article talks about Mike Wallace quizzing then-president Gordon B. Hinckley, "whom believers considered to be a living prophet,God’s representative on Earth, on the subject of women’s rights--not that long ago, in 1996: 
“Now that blacks can be priests, the current issue is whether Mormon women will ever be priests?”
“Men hold the priesthood in this church,” Hinckley said.
“Why?”
“Because God stated that it should be so. That was the revelation of the church. That was what was set forth.”

At the end of his interview with Hinckley, Wallace said:  “There are those who say: ‘This is a gerontocracy. This is a church run by old men.’”
Hinckley smiled: “Isn’t it wonderful?”
The LDS church is instituting new rules for missions to reduce the number of unmarried Mormons, and girls in Utah were recently barred from their homecoming dance because their dresses are too short. If LDS women do speak out against the sexism in the church, they risk being excommunicated, such as these women:
  • Maxine Hanks, excommunicated, editor of Women and Authority: Reemerging Mormon Feminism.
  • Deborah Laake, excommunicated, author of Secret Ceremonies.
  • Margaret Merrill Toscano, excommunicated, questioning the status quo and challenging the patriarchal hierarchy.
  • Lavina Fielding Anderson, excommunicated, collected stories of people (mainly women) who have been abused by the Mormon ecclesiastical system. Edited the book Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective.
  • Lynne Kanavel Whitesides, disfellowshipped for talking about God the Mother and disagreeing with Mormon Church leaders in public.
  • Sonia Johnson, excommunicated, for publicly supporting the Equal Rights Amendment and denouncing the LDS church's political activities against the amendment.
Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on so many issues...from Afghanistan and Detroit to abortion and birth control...I expect that if he were to be elected he'll let down his "moderate" guard and follow his religious instinct on all matters. 

I'm not suggesting that he would be disrespectful to women. In my experience, Mormons have a huge love of family and the LDS men I have known love and respect their wives, even if they are not considered equal members of the church. 

But how can a man who has been a bishop in the LDS church promote women in leadership positions, ensure access to birth control and infertility treatment, work to ensure rights for gays and lesbians, and work for pay equity...when all of these things go against his church tenets? 

And then there's the whole question of African-Americans...black men were not allowed to be ordained as part of its lay priesthood until 1978...they were no better than women!

In this blog I've been critical of the Catholic church in the past, even though I'm married to a Catholic and worship as part of a Lutheran-Catholic community. Women cannot be priests, and the Vatican has some similar stances on social issues as the LDS church. But here's where the similarities end. The vast majority of Catholics use birth control. Many have had abortions. You'll even find organizations in some progressive Catholic churches supporting gays and lesbians. There's a womanpriest movement, even though it's shunned by Rome. A large number of Catholics feel that they can be Catholics without agreeing with everything the Vatican or their local priest says. They quietly live their own lives and their own beliefs. This is much less common in Mormonism (where family, community, and conformance are all highly important), and Mormons are much more likely to be shunned or excommunicated if they do not follow along.

So what does this mean for us if Mitt Romney wins? I am guessing that people who vote for Romney-Ryan long for the 1950s. That's what a Romney administration will look like. George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, who at least did name a few female leaders (Sandra Day O'Connor, Condoleeza Rice), will look like raging feminists in comparison.

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