Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Patriarchal Order as a Good Thing

In the many years of being involved in discussions about women's issues (particularly in the context of the Mormon Church), I've found that there are a few terms that make feminists' hairs stand up on end. Patriarchy is one of them.

It's understandable, of course. There are brands of patriarchy that are oppressive and potentially very awful. There are cultures where men see women more as possessions than people and lord over them in various ways.

But that isn't the model of patriarchy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And yet, too me, it feels like sometimes the emotional and mental reactions to the word prevent open and meaningful discussion about what we mean when we talk about patriarchy (or, better said, imo, the patriarchal order) in LDS doctrine.

Now, of course, I can only share my perspective on this, as I have no authority whatsoever to declare doctrine, but I want to suggest that we consider carefully what our doctrine teaches about the purpose of life, about the nature of God, about the purpose of the temple, and about the value of women (and men, of course) in the whole of God's work.

When women's issues are discussed, a lot of focus is often given to Church structure and function. "Well," some assert, "Since women don't hold priesthood office and thus don't hold many of the leadership callings" (even though they do have many opportunities to lead and teach...a topic for another day) "it therefore follows that women are less valued to God and to the Church."

But God's plan involves so much more than just who does what in the Church. I think it's ever-important to realize that the Church exists as a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. What is the end?

In Doctrine and Covenants 131, we read:

“In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;

“And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];

“And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.

“He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase” (D&C 131:1–4).

Elder Cree L. Kofford said this about the scripture:

Many people reading this section of the Doctrine and Covenants do not grasp its full import. ... The gospel, which is called “the new and everlasting covenant,” includes many specific covenants, one being called “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.” This title, or name, is simply another way of saying “patriarchal order.” Thus, that portion of section 131 could read: “And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into the patriarchal order of the priesthood.”
In short, to me the patriarchal order is a good thing (understatement), because it's about an eternal marriage partnership -- about the greatest blessings God has for His children that are sealed on a married couple. The patriarchal order is about a man and woman joined together and, through the sealing of the Holy Spirit of Promise to be enabled to "...inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths...and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever" (D&C 132:19, emphasis added).