cross posted at The Exponent
As a feminist, I have been encouraged by the Church's rhetoric on the equality of women and men, especially as it relates to marriage. I think that we can all agree that an increase in egalitarian language is a good thing and benefits both men and women. But language can only take us so far and I am truly afraid that the church's language on equal partnership is just empty rhetoric.
Since the 1970's, the Church has steadily become more progressive in its treatment of women...allowing women to speak in most meetings and giving them an increased presence in leadership councils. Church leaders also started promoting the idea of equal partnership in the home and then subsequently backed off draconian birth control restrictions and limits on women leaving the domestic sphere. But I have to wonder how much of this has been done out of political necessity; American women saw greater equality in mainstream society and so the church had to follow suit.
Before I go on, I want to say that I sincerely hope the church believes its own rhetoric and that it isn't a ploy to mollify us Western women. I want to believe that our leaders have been inspired by God to reach for equality because that is the kind of God I believe in. Perhaps I am, as my brother-in-law lovingly suggests, a "fringe" Mormon but even so, I love my religion just as much as any true-blue Mormon there ever was. I have stayed a Mormon because I believe that progress is slowly being made and I want to be among the snowflakes that finally break the branch of inequality in our religion. Mostly, I want to live the religion of my heart.
But recently I have felt my heart break because I am not sure that I can continue to believe in the slow progress. Yes, we have seen an increase in the language of egalitarianism but the Church's actions do not back it up. Until recently, most of us believed that the Church remained neutral in political matters, however Mormon activism to protect the traditional family around the world has been going on for at least a decade. Mormons have played a leading role in a global alliance of conservative Muslims and Christians who have joined together to defeat threats to their patriarchal tradition. Perhaps you have heard the now folkloric story of the BYU professor who attended a United Nations conference and gave a speech based on the Proclamation on the Family and changed the anti-traditional family course of the conference. Spurred on by this success, BYU created the World Family Policy Center, holding annual conferences for "pro-family" entities around the world. The Church also became involved with organizations such as United Families International (UTI) and the World Congress of Families (WCF). In fact, the Church is a major funder of the World Congress of Families and sent Bruce C. Hafen to speak at their conference in 2007. (As an aside, the WCF's screed on feminism and the family is the funniest thing you'll read all day).
It is the mission of these organizations to influence international policy in pro- traditional family and anti- gay marriage and abortion ways. I am not against protecting, supporting and promoting the family; generally I am pretty pro-family, as evidenced by my two children in three years, but families that do not guarantee an equally beneficial experience for all those involved should not be supported. These organizations have, unfortunately, targeted International treaties like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which call on signatory countries to foster equality and make progress towards eliminating sexism in both national laws and cultural practices. CEDAW is basically the international bill of rights for women. As somebody who practically ate, drank and breathed CEDAW in college, I know the immense good this particular convention did for women around the world but also how ineffectual it could be because of the conservative factions of signatory countries that refused to follow all of the guidelines.
The executive director at BYU's World Family Policy Center told a reportert hat the United Nations conventions are an issue because they "appeared to be a pretty concerted effort to shape customary international law into, essentially, the Equal Rights Amendment." But is anyone else wondering if an Equal Rights Amendment for countries like Saudi Arabia and India would be such a bad thing? Would it be such a bad thing for female fetuses to be guaranteed the right to life or for little girls to go to school without acid being flung in their eyes? Is being able to escape an abusive marriage really a threat to the traditional family? The answer is, of course, yes; any gains made in the rights of women are a threat to patriarchal tradition. The question is now, does our church really want to follow this tradition?
It would seem that the lack of answers is really the answer. Of course our church leaders could change things if they wanted to. The preside language is incomprehensible and could be gotten rid of tomorrow without changing the majority of Mormon marriages. Likewise, the "hearken" covenant could be done away with without fundamentally changing the endowment. And yet neither is likely to happen; they are not likely to happen because their is no desire or impetus to change. Instead we have gotten into bed with facets of religion and culture that hold equal partnership between men and women in complete disregard. I am afraid that here, actions speak louder than words.
As for those of us on the fringe, all we can do is keep hanging out on that tree branch and hope that God sends an avalanche some day soon.