Sunday, November 18, 2007

More on the Greater Spirituality of Women

Thanks to DH, I've discovered that there is indeed authoritative support for the notion that women are more spiritual than men. From some preliminary searches, it seems that this idea is a relatively recent innovation in the Church.

From the Church's earliest days, its leaders championed the equality of women in spiritual matters. Although the Prophet Joseph and many who followed him noted the propensity of women for "feelings of charity and benevolence," I have found no indication that these early leaders felt that women had a greater natural spiritual endowment than men. John A. Widtsoe clarified that the priesthood was not given on the basis of capability, competency or excellence, but as a gift. He said,

"Women of a congregation … may be wiser, far greater in mental powers, even greater in actual power of leadership than the men who preside over them. That signifies nothing. The Priesthood is not bestowed on the basis of mental power but is given to good men and they exercise it by right of divine gift, called upon by the leaders of the Church. Woman has her gift of equal magnitude.” (John A. Widtsoe, Priesthood and Church Government, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, p. 90).

This equality between the sexes in spirituality was preached until the end of the 1970's. Elder Bruce R. McConkie declared in Nauvoo at the dedication of the Monument to Women:
“Where spiritual things are concerned, as pertaining to all of the gifts of the Spirit, with reference to the receipt of revelation, the gaining of testimonies, and the seeing of visions, in all matters that pertain to godliness and holiness and which are brought to pass as a result of personal righteousness in all these things men and women stand in a position of absolute equality before the Lord. He is no respecter of persons nor of sexes, and he blesses those men and those women who seek him and serve him and keep his commandments.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Ensign, Jan. 1979, p. 61.)

One of the first comments about a special spiritual sensitivity on the part of women that I have been able to find came from Neal A. Maxwell. In explaining women's roles in the Church and in they eyes of God he cited some of the notable women of the Bible:
"When we would measure loving loyalty in a human relationship, do we not speak of Ruth and Naomi even more than David and Jonathan?... A widow with her mite taught us how to tithe. An impoverished and starving widow with her hungry son taught us how to share, as she gave her meal and oil to Elijah. The divine maternal instincts of an Egyptian woman retrieved Moses from the bullrushes, thereby shaping history and demonstrating how a baby is a blessing—not a burden... Does it not tell us much about the intrinsic intelligence of women to read of the crucifixion scene at Calvary, "And many women were there beholding afar off." (Matt. 27:55.) Their presence was a prayer; their lingering was like a litany. And who came first to the empty tomb of the risen Christ? Two women. Who was the first mortal to see the resurrected Savior? Mary of Magdala. Special spiritual sensitivity keeps the women of God hoping long after many others have ceased" (Neal A. Maxwell, "The Women of God," Ensign, May 1978, 10).

Also about this time, Spencer W. Kimball also began to extol the virtues of womanhood. He made the following comment, which can be construed to mean that women have more of a natural inclination toward spirituality than men, and thus are more likely to join the Church:
"...much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world." (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Nov. 1979, pp. 103–104).

Perhaps the greatest champion of women's greater spiritual capacity was James E. Faust. He gave many talks for and about women beginning in the 1980's. Some of these included
Womanhood: The Highest Place of Honor,
What it Means to be a Daughter of God, and
You Are All Heaven-Sent.

President Faust repeatedly told women that they had an inner spiritual strength that surpassed that of men. See DH's blog post for several quotes by President Faust along these lines.

President Faust's ideas were reiterated by several of the other Apostles. Boyd K. Packer said that men and women are by nature different, and while they share many basic human traits, the “virtues and attributes upon which perfection and exaltation depend come [more] naturally to a woman.” (Boyd K. Packer, For Time and All Eternity,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 22).

M. Russell Ballard told women,
"Now, finally, I turn again to you dear sisters, you who have such a profound, innate spiritual ability to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. You need never wonder again if you have worth in the sight of the Lord and to the Brethren in the presiding councils of the Church. We love you. We cherish you. We respect you. Never doubt that your influence is absolutely vital to preserving the family and to assisting with the growth and spiritual vitality of the Church. This Church will not reach its foreordained destiny without you. We men simply cannot nurture as you nurture. Most of us don’t have the sensitivity—spiritual and otherwise—that by your eternal nature you inherently have. Your influence on families and with children, with youth, and with men is singular. You are natural-born nurturers. Because of these unusual gifts and talents, you are vital to taking the gospel to all the world, to demonstrating that there is joy in living the way the prophets have counseled us to live." (M. Russell Ballard, “Women of Righteousness,” Ensign, Apr 2002, 73).

These teachings by the General Authorities have been repeated by local leaders and members and sometimes used to promote the idea that the priesthood is given to men to compensate for his lesser spiritual ability. It is also said that the priesthood can help men develop spirituality, a gift that women do not need since their spirituality is innate. This idea has been repeated despite the lack of prophetic approbation. Apparently this year (2007) marks the first time a General Authority has espoused linking the Priesthood and a woman's spirituality. An article by Bruce C. Hafen, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy in a recent Ensign reads:
"Spouses need not perform the same functions to be equal. The woman’s innate spiritual instincts are like a moral magnet, pointing toward spiritual north—except when that magnet’s particles are scrambled out of order. The man’s presiding gift is the priesthood—except when he is not living the principles of righteousness. If the husband and the wife are wise, their counseling will be reciprocal: he will listen to the promptings of her inner spiritual compass just as she will listen to his righteous counsel." (Bruce C. Hafen and Marie K. Hafen, “Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners,” Ensign, Aug 2007, 24–29).

The study of the words of these recent General Authorities shows a  mainstream doctrinal expression that women are endowed with an innate spiritual gift. It is certainly a beautiful thought as worded by Maxwell and Hafen. However, I wonder at the wisdom of proclaiming that the bestowal of the Priesthood upon the male sex is compensatory. I object to the idea that Priesthood is given to the less spiritually inclined to help them "catch up." Look at the way Priesthood works among men: it is not given to the less spiritual among males to help them become stronger. Rather, men who have already proved worthy are ordained to Priesthood offices so that they may lead, serve, bless, and speak in the name of God.

I would like to explore these ideas further. I am especially interested to know if there are any statements about women's greater spirituality coming from authoritative sources before 1978. Was this idea expounded at all before the time of the Women's Movement in the '70's? If not, what was the reason for the doctrinal shift?


J G-W said...

This same basic argument -- that men need priesthood while women apparently do not -- was made in an essay by Tracie Lamb in the latest issue of Sunstone.

littlemissattitude said...

It still sounds to me like a huge rationalization to keep the priesthood...which equals the hands of men only. At the risk of sounding offensive, I noticed many times while I was in the church that the men, especially those who were in positions of leadership, didn't have any problem with women doing all the work. They just didn't want them making any of the decisions. Further, the men who were willing to pitch in and actually do something were usually men who were marginalized within the wards I other words, who were never put in positions of leadership.

I'm especially worried by the Ballard quote that "men simply cannot nurture as you [women, apparently] nurture."

That hurts men as well as women.

First, it sends the message that all women must be unending founts of nurturing, whether they feel themselves to be naturally nurturing or not (and it doesn't come naturally to all of us, to be perfectly honest).

Second, it sends the message that nurturing is not acceptable from men, that it is not "manly". This all too often results in men feeling that they must suppress any instincts to nurture, which many men do have.

Just my 2 cents' worth again, of course, but based on long experience both in and out of the church.

Caroline said...

This is fascinating, BIV. Thanks so much for compiling all this.

I for one am not drawn to the idea that women are more naturally spiritual, probably because I see people using that as reasoning to not give women the priesthood. Like you, I find that problematic.

I am wary of excessive praise of women by men. It gives them a justification for putting us on a pedestal up and away from the day to day workings of the church.

Geoffrey Dennis said...

I agree. The "innate spirituality" argument also appears in traditional Jewish circles as an apologetic for exlusive male control of public institutions of piety - men need such institutions while women don't. The whole argument collapses when you consider any other field, like sports or academics - imagine people (men) saying "We're only going to allow the talenmt-impaired participate because they need it more, while we will marginalize the truly gifted"

Bored in Vernal said...

Geoffrey, Thanks for visiting my blog. I didn't realize the "female is more spiritual" rhetoric was common in Judaism. For Mormons, it seems to be a recent development. I wonder if this idea is coming over from more ancient traditions. Has this description of innate spirituality in women been around for a while?

Bored in Vernal said...

Ima, you make some very good points. Thank you for your comments. And lol! I think all of us have noticed that the men who are doing all the heavy work, cleaning of bathrooms, and priesthood "service" do not come from the leadership ranks. Maybe they are the ones that don't "need" the callings! :)

All, I agree with the concern about the rationalization that men have the priesthood as a compensation for not being as "naturally" spiritual as men. So far I have not seen this coming from the General Authorities, but rather from members and local leaders.

I'll be interested in reading the article in Sunstone...

m&m said...

BiV, this has been interesting. I had started compiling such quotes a while back, but never finished. I will look and see if I found any from pre-1978 and/or if there were any authoritative quotes that tie this all to priesthood.

I also am finding it fun and interesting to see you and hubby toss ideas (and memes :) ) back and forth. I imagine your dinner conversation is interesting at times, no? :)

Bored in Vernal said...

Thanks, M&M, I would welcome your help. If anyone can find something, you can!

And I don't know if you would want to be at our dinner table conversation--no one can get a word in edgewise.

woundedhart said...

I loved reading this. I used to say those things myself as a teenager. How times have changed.

I think I'm going to make sure my husband is always volunteering to do the janitorial work in our new ward.

Anonymous said...

From Frontiero v. Richardson:

"There can be no doubt that our Nation has had a long and unfortunate history of sex discrimination.[Footnote 13] Traditionally, such discrimination was rationalized by an attitude of "romantic paternalism" which, in practical effect, put women, not on a pedestal, but in a cage. Indeed, this paternalistic attitude became so firmly rooted in our national consciousness that, 100 years ago, a distinguished Member of this Court was able to proclaim:

"Man is, or should be, woman's protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. The constitution of the family organization, which is founded in the divine ordinance, as well as in the nature of things, indicates the domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood. The harmony, not to say identity, of interests and views which belong, or should belong, to the family institution is repugnant to the idea of a woman adopting a distinct and

Page 411 U.S. 677, 685

independent career from that of her husband. . . .

". . . The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfil the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator." Bradwell v. State, 16 Wall. 130, 141 (1873) (Bradley, J., concurring)."

Dr. B said...

I have to say that this was one of the best posts and comments I have read in some time on the blogernacle. It included thoughtful analysis and multiple perspectives. It didn't have high brow pseudo intellectual rantings hijacking the author's blog but stayed on the thread. BiV this was one of your best thought out post. You took my research and made it meaningful and thought provoking. I wish more people would comment since in my opinion you have one of the better all-around sites even if you are too liberal for my taste. I don't agree with a lot of what you say but most of the time you have creative material. Anyone that knows me well knows I don't give out praise very off being as I am a hard line conservative Republican Mormon. My idols are Boyd K. Packer, M. Russell Ballard and Ezra Taft Benson so BiV to me borders on liberal bleeding heart apostasy even if she is my wife. Nicely done.

Mama Nirvana said...

Seems like in the lesson I taught in RS a couple of weeks ago -- Women In the Church -- from SWK there was quite a bit of discussion in the text about the greater spirituality of women, or that women are more in tune with things of the spirit than men.