Columns Institutions Leaders & Institutions Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion

Patriarchy is alive and well in the LDS Church

President Russell M. Nelson, center, speaks as his counselors Dallin H. Oaks, left, and Henry B. Eyring, right, look on during a news conference announcing his new leadership in the wake of the death of President Thomas S. Monson on Jan. 16, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(RNS) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rolled out its new president, prophet and revelator on Tuesday (Jan 16), and I’m happy to report that Russell M. Nelson seems about as compos mentis as any 93-year-old I’ve run into.

On the other hand, he and the dozen Apostles, including his counselors Dallin H. Oaks, 85, and Henry B. Eyring, 84, conveyed the image of their increasingly diverse and far-flung communion about as well as a convention of retired Midwestern pharmacists, c. 1955.

The revelation for me occurred during the livestreamed news conference, when Nelson called on Peggy Fletcher Stack, the Salt Lake Tribune’s award-winning religion reporter, who has been covering the LDS Church since 1991.

Stack: “So under President Monson we saw some real advances towards gender equity — the lowering of the missionary age, especially for sisters, and also adding women to some of the executive committees, but the Church leadership is still white, male, American. What will you do in your presidency to bring women, people of color, and international members into decision-making for the Church?”

Russell M. Nelson before the start of the two-day Mormon church conference in Salt Lake City on Sept. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Nelson: “That’s a good question, Peggy. I hope I can be forgiven if I say I have a special place in my heart for you. I know your mother. I know your father. I know all four of your grandparents. And I know your family — your missionary children who’ve distinguished themselves with wonderful service — so Peggy is special to me. Um, now what was your question?”

Question for the class: Nelson’s response was (a) unprofessional; (b) patronizing; (c) sexist; (d) creepy; (e) all of the above.

Whatever. He then proceeded to point out that while the Church’s top leadership is white and American, “wherever we go, the leadership of the Church is from the local communities” even if the apex of the hierarchy is unrepresentative. “How,” he asked, “would you govern a Church with representatives from all of the 188 countries?”

That the Roman Catholic Church has done a reasonably good job of answering that one seems not to have occurred to him.

Oaks then offered a little lecture about how he tells youth that “it’s dangerous to label themselves as of a particular nationality, geographic origin, ethnic circumstance or whatever it may be, because the most important thing about us is that we are all children of God. If we keep that in mind, we’re better suited to relate to one another and to avoid a kind of quota system, as if God applied His blessings and extended His goodness and His love on the basis of quotas that I think He does not recognize. So we shouldn’t.”

Whereupon Stack asked, “What about women?”

Nelson: “I love ’em. I have a special place in my heart about the women.”

“We need their influence,” chimed in Eyring.

American religious historians contend that 19th-century Mormonism succeeded precisely because of its emphasis on patriarchy, which appealed to people put off by the growing feminization of American Protestantism. If that’s the road to success the new LDS leadership team is banking on, it’s off to a good start.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

26 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • AND THE INFAMOUS ANGELIC/SATANIC CONS CONTINUE
    TO WREAK STUPIDITY UPON THE WORLD

    Joe Smith had his Moroni and Satan/Perdition/Lucifer. (As does M. Romney and Nelson et. al.)

    “Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the
    first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah.”

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being
    created by God and of course Satan and his demons.

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this “tin-kerbell” got around) and of course the
    jinn.

    Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern
    day demon of the demented. (As do Obama and his family)(As do Biden and Ryan)

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other “no-namers” to
    do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these “pretty
    wingie/ugly/horn-blowing thingies” to the myth pile. We should do the same
    to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals.
    Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders
    and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

  • What Mormons teach about the birth of a handicapped Child and minorities especially in third world countries

    “This privilege of obtaining a mortal body on this earth is seemingly so priceless that those in the spirit world, even though unfaithful or not valient, were undoubtedly permitted to take mortal bodies although under penalty of racial or physical or nationalistic limitations….” (Decisions for Successful Living pp 164-165) TLDP: 497- Harold B. Lee

    “There is no truth more plainly taught in the Gospel than that our condition in the next world will depend upon the kind of lives we live here. …Is it not just as reasonable to suppose that the conditions in which we now live have been determined by the kind of lives we lived in the pre-existent world of spirits? That the apostles understood this principle is indicated by their question to the Master when the man who was blind from his birth was healed of his blindness, ‘Master, who did sin, this man or his parents that he was born blind?’ (John 9:2.) Now perhaps you will have a partial answer to some of your questions as to why, if God is a just Father, that some of his children are born of an enlightened race and in a time when the Gospel is upon the earth, while others are born of a heathen parentage in a benighted, backward country; and still others are born to parents who have the mark of a black skin with which the seed of Cain were cursed and whose descendants were to be denied the rights of the priesthood of God”
    (Harold B. Lee, Decisions for Successful Living, pp. 164-165).

    ) “Let us consider the great mercy of God for a moment. a Chinese, born in China with a dark skin, and with all the handicaps of that race seems to have little opportunity. but think of the mercy of god to Chinese people who are willing to accept the gospel. In spite of whatever they might have done in the pre-existence to justify being born over there as Chinamen, if they now, in this life, accept the gospel and live it the rest of their lives they can have the Priesthood, go to the temple and receive endowments and sealings, and that means they can have exaltation. Isn’t the mercy of God marvelous?

    Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood… This Negro, who in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the Lord in sending him to the earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin, and possibly being born in darkest Africa–if that Negro is willing when he hears the gospel to accept it, he may have many of the blessings of the gospel. In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincerer faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessing of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory. (Race Problems–As They Affect The Church, An address by Mark E. Petersen at the Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College level; Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, August 27, 1954.)

    Even before the migration to Mexico had begun, Apostle Brigham Young, Jr. had warned members of the Church living in Arizona ‘that the blood of Cain was more predominant in these Mexicans than that of Israel.’ For this reason he ‘condemned the mixing’ of Mormons with ‘outsiders.’”

    – B. Carmon Hardy, “Cultural ‘Encystment’ as a Cause of the Exodus from Mexico in 1912,” Pacific Historical Review, v. 34, 1965, p. 447

  • God invented “Buggin’s turn”, white men and senility – what gives you the right to question his munificence and/or doubt his ineffable, encoded wishes as revealed to those who benefit most from them?

  • And it’s a road that the majority of active Mormons are comfortable following. Mormons are a peculiar people after all.

    Let me add that President Nelson’s congeniality towards Peggy served to put her down, though I doubt that was his primary intent. Something about knowing all four of someone’s grandparents creates a power position that would be hard for most people to overcome.

  • It’s worth noting that when Pres. Nelson told Peggy that he knew her and her parents, he also did likewise to a few other (male) reporters. He mentioned how he knew the reporters and how he knew members of their family. In other words, this wasn’t an isolated incident directed at someone due to their gender. He’s a personal man and he is personal with those he speaks with.

  • Here are a few things that this piece misses that might be of interest: President Nelson, in addition to many decades of Church service, is a M.D., Ph.D., father of ten children, noted heart surgeon, who among his many accomplishments, built an early heart-lung bypass machine and was the former president of the Society of Vascular Surgery. He is a military veteran, has perfect pitch, plays the organ, has visited 133 countries, snow skis, learned Chinese, and was made an honorary professor at Shandong Medical College in China.

    President Oaks, in addition to his many decades of Church service, was a distinguished attorney (J.D., University of Chicago), jurist (clerked for Chief Justice Earl Warren, was a justice of the Utah Supreme Court), Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, and President of BYU. He is also a military veteran and the father of six children.

    President Eyring, in addition to his many decades of Church service, had a distinguished career in education and business, with an MBA and DBA from Harvard and nine years on the faculty of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. He is also a military veteran and the father of six children.

    Time was when being considered a Renaissance man was a compliment and patriarchs were honored. In Eastern Orthodoxy, the highest-ranking bishops are called patriarchs and are, like the all popes and cardinals, all the Church Fathers, the reformers Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, the original Twelve Apostles, and the patriarchs of Israel, men.

  • President Nelson married Dantzel White in 1945. She is the mother of their ten children. She passed away in 2005. Over a year later President Nelson married Wendy L. Watson. It was her first marriage. Interestingly enough, she also holds a Ph.D. and was university professor.

  • As a observant member of the Mormon church, I thought that Dr. Silk had a bit more snark in his article than necessary. Stating I agree that the First Presidency and Twelve are about as diverse as a, “convention of retired Midwestern pharmacists, c. 1955” but I am left to guess as to the reason for the criticism. Does he not like the institutional arrangements that assure that the men in the room will be old and be demographically representative of the church 50 years previous, that the optics were bad, or something else?

    Silk seems to be missing what Valerie M. Hudson, a feminist with an international reputation, calls “Power-Walking Towards Diarchy in the LDS Faith.”

  • The LDS church is a patriarchal organization? Well, stop the presses, that’s a newsworthy item.

  • And…The “Negro” will be granted the privilege of having white skin!! Wow! Can wait for THAT, LOL! 😁😁😁

  • Hey Mark Silk, you got a bone to pick or something? Sheesh. You’re the only unprofessional one in the room here. And BTW, you haven’t done 1/100th for the human race that Pres. Nelson has done. You’re like the man who stands there on his weedy lot throwing stones at his neighbors who are busy mowing their lawns. Chill out, dude.

  • White male privilege is too often used simply as a PC buzzword useful in disparaging people based on their race and gender, rather than considering the content of their character.

  • The press missed an opportunity to explore and understand the differences between patriarchy, feminism, and complementarianism. See this commentary by Dr. Bruce Charlton:

    http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2014/08/patriarchy-feminism-and.html

    Excerpts:

    “Complementarianism: Men and women have distinct roles and responsibilities. In some situations it is right and proper that men lead and are privileged, in some situations that women lead and are privileged.”

    “Until Mormonism, Complementarianism lacked an explicit metaphysics, theology and philosophy.”

  • It is hard to be thrust onto the public stage and then have people immediately weigh your character through a few statements, particularly when you were raised 8-9 decades ago. I have met with President Nelson twice in my life. The first time, I discovered that he made a special effort to remember everyone’s name and something unique about them. The second time, I ate lunch with him and he was very open to personal questions. Even explained his medical opinions about how to travel without getting local sicknesses. He’s a physician and decorated surgeon, who has spent a great deal of time in China. Very interesting man, now having to embrace attention that he has mastered deflecting to remain a consistent humble leader. Who would you prefer, someone who looked the acceptable part, or someone who lived the part?

  • It is fascinating to me that the very victims who claim disadvantage immediately segregate the world, judging all by the factor they claim victimized them… It is true there was less opportunity 9 decades ago for families of African decent, or Hispanic origins, That is less so today meaning more are taking advantages of the opportunities in life and will soon be brought into important positions like the presidency of the Mormon church. Just look at the quorums of the 70 and how they truly reflect the world. The world is changing for the better.

  • This is one of the most biased, smearing articles I have ever read on this site. Starting off with that kind of title, conveniently leaving out or misquoting their words out of context. Typical unprofessional journalism to only present one side of the coin rather than a fair assessment of one’s character, despite their flaws, which is you will notice is the only thing focused on in this article (a clear sign of bad writing and weak thought). Didn’t Christ and almost every other religious leader teach us otherwise? If someone wrote an article about you, how would you want them to assess your character?

  • @ Laurence Charles Ringo – “White male privilege”? How about “hard work and persistence made these men successful”? Noooooo, couldn’t be that.

    I mean, seriously, please use the brain that God gave you.

  • Yeah, or Pres. Nelson could have just been being friendly. If this female reporter is not confident enough to talk as an adult to a fellow adult only because they were told “I knew your grandparents” then this reporter lacks an ounce of confidence.

  • “Complementariansim”?….what the frick is that? Sigh…..another person “ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

  • God is the source of all truth, not the internet or snarky comments on it. For those who already believe in Christ, go read James 1:5-6. The promise of guidance works.

    To those who mockingly criticize the LDS church, “fools mock, but they shall mourn.”

    Choose wisely.

  • So…Does that mean that the presumably high-ranking members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who are non-white are obviously NOT hard-working and persistent enough to sit among the rarefied air of the all-white heirarchy, Twister51? Tell me who is THE highest ranking Mormon leader who ISN’T White? Re-read the article and use the brains God gave YOU and take it up with the Mormon church,my friend. 🤓🤓🤓

ADVERTISEMENTs