Reading time: 5 minutes, 1000 words
I have strong opinions concerning religion, but I typically keep them to myself, as debating religion rarely seems fruitful. But I’m not sure this is always the best course of action. Religion is an institution that arguably affects humanity more than any other. Because of this, it should be debated, questioned, and challenged. And in my home state of Utah, this is exactly what is happening outside the walls of Mormonism.
Mormonism has an established way of doing business. Internally, priesthood holders, which are males only, often refer to this as "the Lord's way." It's their way of saying "this is absolute."
But Mormons are also in the business of promoting compassion, good will, and fair and equal treatment of all humans, or at least they claim to be.
The difficulty, though, for any religion that claims absolutes while also aiming to promote ideals like justice and equality is that history has shown our notions of justice and equality are hardly absolute. We change. We progress. We adapt and modify our beliefs. This, I think, is why Mormonism has a convenient disclaimer—what they call "continued revelation." It's how absolute truths get modified.
Continued revelation is the idea that the leaders of the Church—considered prophets—can change Church policy when moved upon by God. In practical terms, Church hierarchy has the leeway to change policy when they have good reason to. And history has shown they typically have good reason when experiencing extreme social or political pressure, or when a policy just obviously isn’t working. In short, when the perpetuation of the Church is threatened, prophets receive revelation.
So here we are today. Mormonism is under intense scrutiny by the most dangerous of forces—its own membership. There has been much debate over its stance on LGBT church members, women and the priesthood, and its public opposition to marriage equality. Many Church members are speaking out about inequalities and untruths. Others, uninterested in trying to converse with dogmatists, are simply walking away.
So far the Church has responded to this opposition and abandonment by unleashing marketing campaigns. They’ve edited educational materials used in primary and Sunday school, issued PR statements, and lowered the age of qualification for missionary work to 18 and 19 for men and women, respectively.
This latter point is a prime example of continued revelation. The Church announced in revelatory prose that the required age for missionary work had been lowered, as though the Lord had decreed it, but it reeks of an effort to win new converts in the face of a fading membership. Overnight, the Church’s missionary force grew from 58,500 to 83,000.
Such strategies resemble more the work of marketers than so-called prophets. But marketing and sales tactics have little savor when the truth is what people thirst for—the one thing that the Church claims to be sole arbiter of. And so the Church is scrambling. The truth, it turns out, is a shifty little bugger. Laying claim to it can lead one into sticky predicaments.
Most recently, in an effort to quell dissenters, the Church excommunicated Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women, an organization pushing for women’s rights to hold the Mormon priesthood. For a believer, which Kate Kelly claims to be, excommunication is equivalent to damnation.
The Church purports to treat men and women equally, but none of their doctrines support this, and only one needs to be cited: women aren't allowed to hold the priesthood.
By belief, the Mormon priesthood is the power of God on earth. Can you blame Kate Kelly for wanting that? Would God really limit this to males only? Oh wait, God is a bearded white man.
Functionally, the priesthood is nothing more than political power within a religious organization. It is the means for enacting change. Without it, a person is essentially voiceless.
Kelly and her defenders have likened excluding women from the priesthood to disallowing them to vote. People who aren't assholes agree that women's suffrage was a good thing. There was nothing fair or just about denying women the right to vote or stand for electoral office. It is through access to political processes that people count. This seems obvious today. We recognize the right to have a voice in the public sphere as fundamentally tied to being human. And though we struggle with implementing this ideal as a nation, it’s something we believe and fight for. The Mormon Church, however, despite their encouragement of members to be politically engaged, has little interest in allowing democracy within its walls.
It’s puzzling that the Church hierarchy cannot see the validity of Kelly's arguments. Or they can, but they keep their mouths shut for fear of social judgment and disciplinary action. That’s just one challenge a person faces when they opt in to an organized system of beliefs—there is little room to think for oneself. But, with enough pressure, there is the chance that the prophets will be inspired to receive revelation, and "the Lord's way" will be amended.
If the Church really possessed absolute truth and wanted to preserve it, the Kate Kellys could be ignored. Who or what can possibly threaten absolute truth? But if their goal is to expand—and Mormonism has a lust for expansion, desiring to baptize every soul that has ever lived—then the Kate Kellys of the Church can’t be ignored. Instead, they must be silenced, shamed, or excommunicated.
All the Church’s superfluities about the divinity of women or the awesomeness of individual agency are weightless, like hot air. In truth, women are to be subservient to men; free-thinkers are to quiet their thoughts; homosexuals are to find someone of the opposite sex and do it missionary style after they are married; and everyone must donate 10% of all they earn or be locked out of the best heaven.
But if you are obedient, white, male, and wealthy, you can rise through the ranks and someday have hordes grovel over your words as though they were scripture. And after you're dead, you can even have multiple wives, have infinite sex with them, and populate the worlds you've created with little spirit offspring. Because that is the Lord's way—subject to amendment, of course.
- E.g., foregoing the practice of polygamy when statehoood was threatened, or allowing black men to hold the priesthood due to mounting social pressures.