Why has Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith mostly been a non-question in his political life? John Kennedy was asked if he would obey the Pope or make his own decisions, Jimmy Carter was asked how his Baptist faith would affect his Presidency, and Barack Obama was asked if he agreed with the sermons of his preacher. Why is the press afraid to ask Mitt Romney if he agrees with the patriarchal teachings of his church and if so, if this affects his views on the rights of women?
Like other patriarchal institutions, the Mormon Church believes that women’s place is in the home. Every Mormon man is a priest and a patriarch in his own home. Mormon belief teaches that men are to make the final decisions in the family, that only they can be leaders in the church, and that they are the members of the Mormon community who should speak and act in the public (non-home) dimensions of life. Traditional Mormons believe that “ [The] LDS [woman is] always [to] accept counsel from her husband, and not as just his opinion, but as God-inspired revelation.”
The Mormon Church differs from other religions in the degree to which it “deifies” the patriarchal family. Marriages are sealed in the Temple for all eternity and families are to be reunited in immortal life. Mormons are taught that the family is the most important part of life. Current teachings on the family celebrate the self-giving love of mothers, instruct both partners in a marriage to put the other first, and discourage physical disciplining of children. This “sugar-coating,” which I referred to as “love patriarchalism” in a previous blog, leaves patriarchal dominance intact. Women are encouraged to have many children and are discouraged from working outside the home. Mormons are encouraged to marry in their teens or early twenties and to begin having families immediately. A woman’s education is viewed as secondary to her primary role as a mother. Mormon women are ill-equipped for independence.
As Caroline Kline has discussed on Feminism and Religion, Mormon women have different ways of negotiating their lives within this system of beliefs. If their parents agree, they can pursue higher education. If their husbands agree, they may have relatively or even fully egalitarian marriages. If their husbands agree, Mormon women can work outside the home. There are Mormon feminists working within Mormonism to transform it. However, public excommunications of prominent Mormon feminists such as Sonia Johnson and Margaret Toscano by male authorities discouraged many Mormon feminists from speaking up and drove others out the door.
As I said in an earlier blog, “when patriarchy trumps love, when push comes, shove often follows.” While wife-beating is not approved in Mormon family teachings, male dominance is. This means that where husband and wife do not agree, both partners will be counseled to listen to the other, but if they still do not agree, the wife will be counseled to follow the leadership of her husband. Where women and the church don’t agree, the male leaders of the church have power on their side.
As a Mormon male, Mitt Romney is ordained as a patriarch and a priest, and he has served as a bishop (presiding over a church) and a stake leader (presiding over a group of churches). In other words, he is not just a member of a congregation who follows the lead of the priests, he is himself a priest and he has taken on roles within his church that make him a leader among priests.
Wouldn’t it make sense to ask him a few questions? Here are some suggestions. Do you agree with traditional Mormon teaching that men should be the breadwinners and women should stay in the home whenever possible? If so, how does this affect your commitment to upholding the principle of “equal pay for equal work”? Do you support tax deductions for child care, maternity and paternity leave policies, and government funding of child care? Do you “listen to women” in your public life? Aside from your wife, what women advise you? Are your views on abortion and homosexuality dictated by your church? If so, why do you believe that you have the right to impose those views on others? And finally, the big one: do you agree with traditional teachings of your church that patriarchy is divinely decreed, and that every effort to transform patriarchy in family and society is equivalent to going against the will of God?
If religion and politics really were separate these questions would be irrelevant. One way to ensure that religion and politics are separate is to ask the questions. All Mitt has to say is that he belives in the full equality of women and does not agree with traditional teachings of his church that men are divinely ordained to lead in family and society. However, I doubt that this is how he would answer.
Warning: This Man May Not Believe in Women’s Equality!
Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the fields of women and religion and feminist theology. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute.