I wrote the following as a comment to a Mormon Stories podcast interview with Brigham Young University professor Ralph Hancock. But it quickly became too long for a comment on John Dehlin’s blog, so I’m posting it here. This post will make more sense if you listen to the interview first.
Although I found it enlightening at times and frustrating at times, I also enjoyed listening to the full interview (and look forward to the ice cream).
Although I agree with Dr. Hancock on a few points and disagree with him on more, I do think he effectively pointed out the reason why constructive dialogue can be so difficult. And that is because where we end up depends so much on our starting point, our framework, our assumptions. If one starts out with the assumption/belief/premise, for example, that there are inherent, important and essential differences between men and women that go beyond the different chromosome, then of course you’re going to react differently to many things than would someone who starts out believing that men and women and women are essentially the same in everything except for that chromosome. To take one current example, for someone in that former group (such as Hancock) there’s nothing unjust about the fact that women are never invited to pray in General Conference; for someone in that other group, that apparent policy is nonsensical at best and perhaps even oppressive. Both sides may mean well and be basically good, honorable people, but even on a relatively insignificant matter such as this one they don’t really see where the other side is coming from.
I thought John Dehlin did a good job of getting Hancock to explain where’s he’s coming from, what his starting point is. I don’t agree with many of his conclusions, but I can see how they’re logical within his framework. I also can see that, based on his starting point, that he very well could be a compassionate person (in fact, I assume that he is) and not come across that way.
Hancock’s comments also suggest to me that if Mormon feminists (I’d put myself in that category, although many wouldn’t) are to be effective in gaining sympathy for the changes they’d like to see, they would probably be more effective if they could discuss these issues within a Mormon paradigm. What we have now is that — at least at the popular level — many of them are addressing the issues from an “equal rights” or “civil rights” paradigm, one that is never going to resonate with Hancock or people like him, because they’re not starting out with the basic belief that equality in human value demands equality in opportunity. I think there’s plenty of room within established Mormon doctrine — after all, we are the only major branch of Christianity with a female deity — to make the case that we aren’t fully recognizing the spiritual gifts that women have been given. And even within the Proclamation on the Family, which speaks of equal partnerships, there’s enough to suggest that family life doesn’t have to be based on the model of 1950s TV America.
I think that Dehlin set the example when he made the argument within a Christian (although not specifically Mormon) context for gay marriage. Although I didn’t find Dehlin fully persuasive (because I don’t start out with the same view of homosexuality as he does), I do think he made a strong case in arguing his point on the basis of the scriptural record rather than relying on the type of 1960s-style civil-rights rhetoric that doesn’t speak to traditionalists.
Hancock also is correct in saying that when we make changes, even ones that have a positive element, there are costs involved. And it would be constructive if those who are advocating for various changes, such as gay marriage, would acknowledge that yes, there are tradeoffs. Change, even good change, always comes at a cost, and discussion becomes more likely when both sides recognize that.
But I’m not sure that Hancock recognizes the tradeoffs made in maintaining his position. One problem mentioned in the podcast is that our society, or at least parts of it, isn’t doing a very good job of encouraging fathers to get involved in the lives of their children. Perhaps, just perhaps, that’s one of the tradeoffs society has made in emphasizing the breadwinning aspect of fatherhood over the nurturing aspect. Perhaps a more “feminist” approach of the kind disfavored by Hancock would encourage responsible parenting by mother and father. I don’t really know what the answer is, but certainly the present paradigm isn’t working for a growing number of children who are growing up with weak or even nonexistent paternal role models. And that isn’t the fault of those who are pushing for gay marriage.
In any case, the interview was great food for thought. It made one week of my commute to and from work a lot more interesting.