It’s a well-worn trope that Mormons don’t do theology. To the extent that this is true (it probably is), it is to be regretted. I believe that “doing theology” is essential and its absence leads us into all kinds of religious dead ends.
Absent theology — i.e. reasoned argument about the truth of God — we are left with little more than noise and counter-noise. To apply this to a current controversy, here are some rather ad hoc thoughts on the usefulness of a theology of women:
- Over at FPR, gwesley argues that “apostle” does not imply priesthood in the New Testament. The implication seems to be that the New Testament does not present a view of priesthood that is really congruous with current practice. This may or may not be true, but that is a decision that needs to be made by looking carefully at the text. It was the layering of tradition over scripture that characterises the Great Apostasy in Mormon eyes.
- Before we claim that theology undermines revelation, let us remember the Roman Catholic tradition. Take Aquinas’s theology of natural law and add it to the papal encyclical Evangelium Vitae and you have a revealed, authorised, and logically coherent doctrine of sexual and reproductive ethics. I may disagree with the Catholic stance on abortion but I can at least examine it on its merits. It is consistent and defensible if one accepts natural law and papal infallibility, and therein lies the argument, not in some tedious claim the Vatican is “out of touch” or that we should “obey the Pope or else.” So, we need theology but also revelation; we need revelation but also theology.
- I think a case can be made for a separation of male and female roles in the church. For example, one could argue — and it would be reasonable to do so, I think — that at the very least the Levitical priesthood is for males. In a Mormon context, that then retains baptism, the eucharist, etc. as rites that must be performed by men, who act in the male persona Christi. That is an argument that serves the Catholic church well.
- Those of you who read my last post will notice that the argument above is at odds with my own interpretation of Gregory of Nazianzus, but that’s the inherent inexactitude of theology, which is fine. It is in such debate that bad ideas should ultimately be rejected, bringing us closer to the truth. Does the presence of female deacons in the Early Church mean that an argument for a male Levitical tradition is flawed? Perhaps, but that is all a part of “studying it out in your mind” first. (Again, for the record, I do not think Christ’s maleness is essential beyond biological necessity to his salvific incarnation.)
- A small, somewhat random proposal: Could we read the New Testament to validate the presence of women as witnesses to sacred ordinances? Given Mary Magdalene’s presence at the empty tomb and role as the first witness to the resurrection, are not women mandated to be witnesses (perhaps above men) at baptisms and temple sealings? Including women in such rites — indeed making them pre-eminent — would be theologically sound and might combat the unthinking “priesthood creep” that excludes women where such exclusion is unnecessary. Etc. Etc.
These examples of what could be but what isn’t serve in my own mind to highlight the large vacuum into which we are currently pouring in our angst, to not much avail. I honestly do not fully know what I think about women’s ordination. I was moved by the images of women being turned away from the Tabernacle on Saturday night, but my empathy does not constitute an argument. I am sometimes persuaded by the separate-but-equal paradigm that someone like Nate Oman seems to promote; I was interested in Rosalynde Welch’s thought experiment on a female priesthood; I find the Roman Catholic catechism on priesthood to be coherent; but I am also persuaded by the aforementioned post at FPR that suggests that we have been fundamentally wrong in our premises about Christian priesthood.
Mostly, I am tired of General Conference being used as a weapon. Those pro-OW can show us a picture of a garbage truck and make us angry; those against OW will hit us over the head with this talk or that. Such bludgeoning is not healthy for the Body of Christ but I think it exists in some part because we simply do not know how to talk about these things. Might I suggest we try a little theology? When the theology comes to an impasse we offer our prayers and submit to God, in that order. It’s right there in D&C 9. I don’t think we have yet done it.