Just after I found out that women would be praying in General Conference, I have seen very heated debates at Times and Seasons and Feminist Mormon Housewives about the ordination of women, along with a new website and Facebook group advocating for it.
My opinion? I don’t have one. My personality type is pretty liberal on issues like this, but I also have a lot of skepticism about personalities and opinions. Or, to put it another way, I think that when people say “I think women should be ordained” or “I am a conservative” or “I think the Government should cut spending,” etc., they are really saying more about the way their brain wiring is configured rather than what is actually right or wrong.
It seems to me there are two strong philosophical points of view that surface in such debates. Let’s be completely and unfairly reductive for the sake of just a thought experiment. Let’s assume these two facts are true:
1. There are essential psychological differences in men and women. Like it or not, the sociology and social psychology of religion seem to universally find that women are more spiritual, more religiously active, and more engaged with private religious devotions than men. Having a male-exclusive priesthood is a mechanism whereby men feel more important and connected with the church, which results in greater male participation. There are also complex social motivators at play, linked to childbirth and larger nuclear families, that are affected by having strong gender roles in the church. The conclusion from all this is that having a male-exclusive priesthood with strong gender roles in the church leads to a larger, growing, more engaged church in a world where religious participation is dwindling.
2. A male-exclusive priesthood is inherently illogical and discriminatory. There is no essential reason why having female sex organs should disqualify a person from a calling they would otherwise be very qualified for.
The difference in these two perspectives could be even further reduced to saying it’s a debate between a sort of social consequentialism and a lofty idealism. On the one hand, the first point seems to look toward the consequences of having a male-only priesthood, while the second point seems to look toward the inherent virtue of or logic behind the male-only priesthood itself.
Now do I think those two points are unequivocally true? No. I am not sure the church would collapse into gender anarchy if women were ordained, and though I’m more sympathetic to the second point, I am willing to hear arguments to the contrary. What I’m trying to get at is whether we should be interested in the consequences of ordaining women. I don’t think this is a simple issue.
For instance, lots of anarcho-capitalists claim that having a government that has the power to inflict violence on citizens is fundamentally unjust, that taxation is theft because the person can’t opt out of it, etc. While I actually agree with a lot of those claims, I just look at the world we live in and it just seems like having a fundamentally unjust institution like government is just something we have to put up with to stay alive and in peace most of the time. Taking government away and replacing it with a bunch of little competing government-like entities just seems like a chaos I couldn’t live in. So the consequences do seem to matter on this point.
Likewise, if there is something essential about humans that requires a fundamentally unjust system that discriminates against some people on some level in order for the greatest amount of people to flourish, then consequences would seem to matter at least a little bit. And for all my own liberalism and idealism, I also know enough social psychology to know that sometimes our lofty academic ideals just simply don’t work with regular old Homo sapiens. Is the best course of action a compromise position where we leave the unjust institutions in place but try to ease the individual impact of those institutions as best as possible on the lowest levels?
Like most compromises, the thought of that seems to cause both sides to see red. I’m glad this decision really isn’t up to me, but I am enjoying listening to both sides. Maybe I’ll come to a stronger conclusion sometime in the future.