The title is deliberately provocative, but I believe it is a fair and accurate restatement of Elder Packer’s words in October, 1993 general conference, when he said:
“A man who holds the priesthood does not have an advantage over a woman in qualifying for exaltation. The woman, by her very nature, is also co-creator with God and the primary nurturer of the children. Virtues and attributes upon which perfection and exaltation depend come naturally to a woman…”
Elder Packer debunks the notion that men are spiritually superior to women, and instead asserts the opposite, that women are spiritually superior, simply by virtue of being female.
The position elder Packer outlines is generally accepted in the church, and it seems to make perfect sense to many people who are smarter and more spiritual than I. And since I consider the apostles to be inspired, it is with great trepidation that I put forward the reasons that make the idea of superior female righteousness unacceptable, at least to me.
This idea conflicts with our foundational doctrines of agency and accountability. One of the great things about Mormonism is our belief that we will be held accountable only for those actions within our control. Elder Packer appears to be saying that men lack virtues and attributes necessary for exaltation. How, then, can males be held accountable? And if women naturally possess those attributes, shouldn’t they be held to a higher standard?
I also think we need to expand the way we understand spirituality. Consider the case of the parents of our founding prophet. Most of us would, without hesitation, claim that Lucy Mack Smith was more spiritual than Joseph Smith, Sr., since she was a church-joiner and he was something of a skeptic. But the Restoration would never have gotten off the ground if Joseph, Jr. had listened only to his mother. Righteousness is much more robust that simple piety. Our selective association of stereotypical female behavior with righteousness is troublesome, and so is our willingness to discount stereotypical male behavior. The willingness to sacrifice for others is unquestionably a celestial attribute, but our church rhetoric now celebrates the traditional ways women have exercised this virtue while simultaneously overlooking the traditional contributions of men.
I am skeptical of the way we project observed mortal behaviors onto eternity. It is disconcerting to realize how much of what we do is determined by our brain chemistry, and I’m very hesitant to make our eternal rewards dependent upon a lack or imbalance of some hormone or other. Much of the atrocious behavior of males – aggression, anger, sexual promiscuity – is influenced by the presence of the steroid testosterone, which effects the development of the male brain, beginning in the womb. Post-menopausal women who are experiencing loss of muscle mass and bone density are sometimes prescribed testosterone therapy. These women often report side effects which include a heightened libido and feelings of aggression. Also, much of what we call a maternal nurturing instinct is the result of an ounce or two of the hormone oxytocin. Females usually produce this chemical in greater amounts, particularly during during pregnancy and childbirth, and it is also closely associated with the ability to trust and form bonds with others. Since I reject Orson Pratt’s speculations about “spirit fluid”, I don’t see how we can carry our mortal brain chemistry with us after death, assuming we even wanted to.
So there you have it, gentle readers. I know from my own experience that the natural man is an enemy to God. Does the church require me to believe that the natural woman is God’s best friend? Will the first step of the final judgment occur when I am asked to check the box next to M or F?
And by the way – Happy Pioneer Day!