Features and Occasionals

When Mormon Patriarchs Tremble

By Troy Williams

Patriarchal Panic (pey-tree-ahr-kuhl pan-ik): noun; the phenomenon of male religious leaders loosing their shit every time a woman gently advocates for ecclesiastical equality. To my knowledge, the term was first coined by Mormon heretic, Sonja Johnson. She was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in December of 1979. Her crime? Organizing Mormons for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

As it is said in Battlestar Galactica, “All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again….”

Last month the LDS Church went back into full panic mode. Kate Kelly, one of the organizers of Ordain Women and John Dehlin, the liberal founder of the popular Mormon Stories podcast, publicly revealed that they were both facing Church disciplinary hearings. News quickly broke that other members were also losing their temple recommends and placed on Church probation for their advocacy of both liberal and conservative positions. On June 23, Kelly was excommunicated.

Patriarchal panic seems to strike Church leaders in cycles.

In 1993 the Church orchestrated the purge of the so-called Septem­ber Six, which included D. Michael Quinn, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Lynn Whiteside, Maxine Hanks and Avraham Gileadi.

The late ’90s saw other feminists like Margaret Toscano and Janice Allred excommunicated. BYU also fired popular professors Cecelia Konchar Farr and David Knowlton.

Church leaders are very insecure about the faith of their members. Is Mormonism so fragile a religion that it can bear no scrutiny?

The recent news that LDS Church leaders are once again losing their shit over women should alarm all Utahns. In our quasi-theocracy, the actions of the LDS Church, whether we are Mormons or not, impact all of us. We all suffer when young girls are taught that they can’t have access to the special gifts that only men can hold. We all suffer when women are taught that they cannot preside over men, oversee Church finances, bless their children or speak with any kind of substantial authority.

The Church’s teaching about the role of women also negatively overflows into Utah’s corporate life. Women in Utah are paid 70 cents for every dollar men earn; in some counties the disparity is worse. These teachings also adversely impact Utah’s government. Women make up only 17% of the Utah Legislature.

This level of gender disparity is unacceptable. But too often we silently acquiesce to the status quo. We must agitate for change both inside and outside of the Church. There is too much at stake for us to be silent spectators when women and men are oppressed by ecclesiastical leaders.

We must create a culture where we don’t just give lip service to equality. We are all tired of platitudes regarding the “sacred role of women” when there is no substantive policy to support the rhetoric. It’s time that we demand gender equality in all spheres; domestic, civic, corporate and yes, ecclesiastic.

Yes, I still care about Mormonism. I want the religion of my birth to finally grow up and join the 21st century. These disciplinary actions reveal more about the patriarchs than it does these so-called dissidents. They clearly fear the uncertain future.

We are rapidly approaching a future where old patriarchs will no longer have the final word. We are entering a future where white men must share power with women, gays and ethnic minorities. For them this is undoubtedly the End of Days. Hence the panic.

And what about the future of Mormon women? Young girls are now growing up singing Frozen’s “Let It Go”.

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
I’m free!

These girls will never tolerate being part of a Church that sees them only as a subservient auxiliary to an all-male priesthood. Young girls are now growing up with powerful, positive role models in pop culture. They also see women becoming lawyers, doctors, CEOs and yoga teachers. They will probably also come of age with a female president. And when they go to church they will discover, to their dismay that they still have no authority and no real power. The disparity will never hold. Women will continue to leave the Church in droves; They will turn away and slam the door.

As these Church leaders cling doggedly to the 1950s, the rest of us are still longing for a future of inclusion, hope and possibility for all people. Many of us ExMos still carry in our hearts the beautiful ideal of the Mormon Zion; a promised land where black and white, male and female (and dare I add gay and straight?), are all alike unto God.

The time is now for LDS patriarchs to Ordain Women.

Troy Williams is currently public affairs director of KRCL 90.9 FM in Salt Lake City and the executive producer of RadioActive. He also co-wrote the one-woman show, The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon

This article was originally published on July 10, 2014.