“Male and Female: A Proclamation.” Three Points From the History and Sociology of Religion

By January 14, 2019

It appears that a person or persons unknown have been circulating a document in at least one ward building in Utah. Entitled “Male and Female: A Proclamation,” the document repudiates recent alterations to the language of the various temple ceremonies, particularly the endowment and the sealing rituals. The document particularly targets those alterations made to language about gender. It’s been widely reported that these alterations move the ceremony toward greater gender egalitarianism.

https://scontent.ftul1-1.fna.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/49855664_10157138108761520_408622518526541824_n.jpg?_nc_cat=104&_nc_ht=scontent.ftul1-1.fna&oh=1ed6a74c9520c6418565ff6bcd41dfc7&oe=5CC73501
This document was left in the lobby of an LDS chapel in South Jordan, Utah.



There are a number of points which could be made about 1) the alterations themselves, and 2) this document, but I want to restrict myself to three.

First: perhaps the primary word the document uses to describe gender relations is “submission.”  It argues that “worldly understandings of equality are completely contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ . . . this pattern of humble submission applies to and reflects the eternal nature, relationship, and order between male and female, and between God, husband, wife and children.” It also uses New Testament language about “heads,” arguing that mean are placed in authority over women.

This is interesting language insofar as it is far more common in recent American evangelical discourse than it is in LDS discourse.[1] As is sometimes said of Mormons, there are perhaps as many versions of evangelical theology as there are evangelicals. Some evangelicals, however, advocate “complementarian” theology, which maintains that men and women are irreducibly different and hence interprets marriage as creation of a wholeness greater than the two parts separately. This is not language unfamiliar to Mormons, though the word “complementarian” is far more common among evangelicals than it is in the LDS church.

Some complementarians, further, emphasize the concept of “headship,” as derived from the pastoral letters of the New Testament (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, and sometimes Ephesians). As they interpret it, “headship” means that women are equal before God, but that men are to hold “headship” over women. Where exactly this “headship” applies is a matter for debate: some evangelicals would say only in the home; others would say it applies everywhere.

Further, some headship complementarians draw on the New Testament language of submission. If a man’s role is “head,” they argue, than a woman’s role is to “submit.” What exactly “submission” means is up for debate. Some evangelicals have argued that it means that women should not seek to alter their husbands and should submit to his will, arguing, as does “Male and Female,” that Christ’s submission to his Father’s will is the necessary model. They argue that the natural differences between men and women make such a relationship the most successful. Others argue that there is no natural hierarchy between men and women, but that God intends for women to voluntarily submit. Other complementarians who define headship more narrowly argue for “mutual submission” between husband and wife.  

That this document draws on this language, which, as I’ve said, is not common in LDS discourse, indicates its authors have some familiarity with contemporary evangelical discourse about gender. As J. Stapley notes, Colleen McDannell’s recent Sister Saints (Oxford, 2018) points out that the LDS church has been pulling away from the sort of detailed and explicit language about patriarchy as complementarian and headship rhetoric embrace.

Second: This document advocates a primitivist vision of Mormonism.  Primitivism is hardly an uncommon rhetoric at work in the broad sweep of Mormon history; nor it is uncommon in Christian history more generally. Primitivists believe that truth was once present on the earth (in many possible forms; some primitivists cite an ideal church, some a perfect scripture, some perfect authority) but has been corrupted and hence requires renewal and revitalization. They tend to view change as destructive. This document makes that argument with reference to the temple endowment ceremonies, arguing that the words of the endowment “were correctly revealed in sacred temple ordinances to the prophet Joseph Smith Jr,” and that the endowment ceremony contained the “words spoken by the mouths of The Father, The Son, Adam and Eve” before these changes. This is an unprovable claim, in part because no written record of the endowment ceremony as Joseph Smith originally instituted it exists (the ceremony was transmitted orally for decades). But it is a theological claim which draws upon the primitivist impulse.

What scholars call the “church-sect” typology is common in the sociology of religion. It argues to radically oversimplify that a “church” is a religious group comfortable in the society in which it finds itself; a “sect,” conversely, is a group at odds with its surrounding world. Sociologist Armand Mauss has famously argued that the LDS church has cycled back and forth along the church-sect spectrum throughout its history.[2] Many Mormon fundamentalist groups which separated from the modern LDS church can thus easily be read as sects discontented with the LDS church’s decisions that have propelled it toward church-dom. Most famously, of course, many such groups abandoned the LDS church in reaction to the end of polygamy.

Less famously, but equally compelling in this case, was fundamentalist Joseph Jensen’s famous Salt Lake Tribune advertisement denouncing Spencer W. Kimball’s decision to end the racially based restrictions on priesthood ordination and temple worship in 1978. As does “Male and Female,” this document invokes primitivist arguments that the LDS church was abandoning its scripture, the intent of its founders, and so on. As does “Male and Female,” Jensen’s argument maintained that contemporary LDS leaders were seeking the approval of “the world,” classic sect language lambasting churches, sociologically speaking.

Third: The material culture of “Male and Female” is fascinating. It apes popular versions of the church’s famous 1990s proclamations “The Family” and “The Living Christ” sold in church outlets like Deseret Book in font, in layout, and in design. This indicates, I think, something I’ve argued elsewhere: the extent to which contemporary Mormon piety is deeply marked by the aesthetics of the white American middle class—so much so that the author(s) of “Male and Female” see such design and layout as a signal of spiritual authority.

In total, “Male and Female” may (and likely, will) have very little impact on the course of the LDS church generally. Indeed, its authors may already be part of a fundamentalist group. Regardless, the document reflects significant trends in American religious history generally and Mormon history in particular.

[1] Some recent examples I found useful include R. Marie Griffith, God’s Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of Submission (UNC, 1997) Alan Padgett, As Christ Submits to the Church: A Biblical Understanding of Leadership and Mutual Submission (Baker, 2011); Mark and Grace Driscoll, Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship and Life Together (Thomas Nelson, 2012), and Stanley Grenz and Denise Muir Kjesbo, Women in the Church (Intervarsity, 2010).

[2] Armand Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive: the Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (Illinois, 1994).

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Which ward building? I feel like this is an important detail.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — January 14, 2019 @ 9:59 am

  2. Some interesting takes on Mormon doctrine. First, it’s reference to the calamities that will come due to the disintegration of the family as borrowed from the Proclamation on the Family. Second, that the “all things in common” 4th Nephi wasn’t equality but was a contentment to be happy with less (where does it say that?). Finally, all the references to God’s “wives.” Interesting.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — January 14, 2019 @ 10:16 am

  3. Thanks Matt. My first thought was Colleen’s analysis of the Family Proclamation in *Sister Saints.* At a time when many Evangelicals were doubling down in headship, the Proc avoids it completely and is very sparse on concrete roles.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 14, 2019 @ 10:22 am

  4. It was also on the doors of our Avenues chapel. The litterbug really got around.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 14, 2019 @ 10:57 am

  5. Thanks, all.

    Stape: that is a very good point. Added.

    Steve: yes. It’s a very distinct take on LDS doctrine.

    Ardis: I hope you snagged a copy or two, at least for history’s sake. Robin is looking for one to add to the CHL’s holdings.

    Chris: Couldn’t tell you. Apologies.

    Comment by matt b. — January 14, 2019 @ 11:28 am

  6. One other notable oddity is the fact that the document is addressed to the “Council of the Twelve”, a term that has not been used in the LDS church since the 1970s.

    Comment by Quentin — January 14, 2019 @ 11:31 am

  7. But of course! Do you know me at all?! 😉

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 14, 2019 @ 12:26 pm

  8. Steve, I thought that too. Cristina Rosetti is very skeptical it’s fundamentalist based upon her experience with those groups. I’d raised a break off from the Snuffer groups since they’ve splintered into very diverse theological groups. She was skeptical of that too. See the thread on Twitter:

    https://twitter.com/CristinaMartaR/status/1084672257421598720

    To me part of the problem is that “fundamentalist” is a pretty ambiguous term. To me it reads more like a right wing critique arising out of privileging various mid-20th century texts ranging from McConkie, JFS and others. If anything it reminds me of the various right wing conspiracy theories in the early 90’s when Benson was starting to be enfeebled (somewhat like Monson the end of his life) There people would say he was being kept from pushing his theology (a John Birch like theology I’d presume) by Hinkley and others. It’s been a long time, but I recall them being upset at the changes in the temple around 1990 that removed various masonic elements. Even the bit about “wives” sounds more like the theology of polygamy in the hereafter while accepting the Woodruff proclamation. That is it sure doesn’t sound like a group skeptical of Grant onwards reformations in the Church. More just Nelson’s changes.

    Comment by Clark — January 14, 2019 @ 12:34 pm

  9. Thanks. Mormons are good at peculiar.

    Typo: “…arguing that MEAN are placed in authority over women…” Or Freudian slip?

    Comment by ErinAnn — January 14, 2019 @ 1:08 pm

  10. On the primitivist point, they’re actually making two distinct primitivist-like claims, or perhaps one primitivist claim and one primitivist/literalist claim.

    The first is that the endowment was revealed to JS as a verbatim unchangeable unit. (It makes you wonder if they are aware of earlier changes.)

    The second is that not only was it revealed in an unchangeable unit to JS, but that the thing revealed to him was actually meant to be a literal, historical record, not a sacred drama. That, of course is complicated by certain details of that drama that can’t really be squared with taking it as a literal, historical record without radically revising certain LDS ideas about physical bodies and resurrection.

    Comment by JKC — January 14, 2019 @ 1:39 pm

  11. Maybe #DEZNAT? Regardless, I consider it strong evidence that the recent changes were badly needed.

    Comment by CBJ — January 14, 2019 @ 3:36 pm

  12. It’s important to have a testimony that President Russell M Nelson today (and his successors in the future) are every bit as much a true Prophet of God as Joseph Smith was in the 1830s-40s. As soon as someone is promoting something contrary to that, we already have a problem.

    Comment by Steven — January 14, 2019 @ 10:52 pm

  13. “ This indicates, I think, something I’ve argued elsewhere: the extent to which contemporary Mormon piety is deeply marked by the aesthetics of the white American middle class—so much so that the author(s) of “Male and Female” see such design and layout as a signal of spiritual authority.”

    Maybe… or maybe the author of the document was trying to make it look like an offficial church document to lead members astray. Deception is one of Satan’s most effective tactics. There are countless examples of people who hate the church (“anti-mormons”) and also people in the church who resist new revelation that doesn’t jive with their personal habits who attempt to distort doctrines or current practices by mimicking them enough so that they seem familiar but twisting them enough for them to be false. These same people often point back to Joseph Smith or other long dead prophets and fail to acknowledge that the current prophet has just as much authority from God to receive revelation and direct the church.

    Comment by Kira — January 15, 2019 @ 6:45 am

  14. It was more than likely written by a bloke named Stacy Norton. He is a wannabe Brigham young, that spends his time trying to convince everyone he is a “Seer” and knows where the current church got it wrong. He has used language like this in the past, and given similar written discourses in various fringe mormon groups online. He is seriously mentally ill, but honestly thinks “HE” is to restore what Brigham was doing, and that is trying to perfect the submission of women into his twisted view of god and gender. He lives in West Jordan I believe. He gave prophecies that were very vague, then very specific ones, that Donald Trump would give permission to Russia to launch nuclear strikes and hit specific spots on Jan 16th 2016, and all kinds of crap like that. This document has him all over it. He left FB some time back I believe because no one was following his rewriting of the Book of Mormon.

    Comment by Jacques — January 15, 2019 @ 8:10 am

  15. Yeah, this sounds like far-right LDS concerns similar to those in the 90s, Clark. There are lots of such people in the church.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — January 15, 2019 @ 8:57 am

  16. There is, however, a group that it is believed to practice the Nauvoo era endowment. The Church of Jesus Christ (Cutler) which originated with Alpheus Cuter at the time of the death of Joseph Smith, is believed to continue to employ the Nauvoo endowment. This branch of the church family tree is, however nearly extinct having only a handful of members today. They are the only other restorationsit faith originating at the time of the martyrdom to employ the endowment.

    Comment by Greg Kearney — January 15, 2019 @ 10:29 am

  17. “the author(s) of “Male and Female” see such design and layout as a signal of spiritual authority.”

    This was the first thing that caught my eye. Thanks for pointing it out–I think it is significant!

    Comment by Saskia — January 16, 2019 @ 10:08 am


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