I have been deeply troubled by reports that BYU used a stolen police report from a rape case as the basis for an honor code investigation against the victim. After an enormous amount of public pressure, BYU announced that they will “study” the situation. BYU’s deplorable actions are a symptom of the systemic inequality found in the church. Until we end the inequality, we cannot hope to end the abuse we see in LDS homes, wards, and educational institutions like BYU. The inequality of an all male priesthood inherently creates abuse against women.
In 1954, the United States Supreme Court tapped into an eternal truth. In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), the Court rejected arguments that reform of the current segregation system could be sufficient. The Court found that “separate” was inherently unequal, and explained that segregation causes minority children to see themselves as inferior.
The Court stated: “To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”
The all male priesthood is a form of segregation. From the age of twelve, girls are separated from boys in the church. The message of female inferiority is unmistakable. Boys are given power and responsibility. They are trained to be leaders, while girls are taught to be submissive.
At home, a girl is told that her father is the head of her household, or if there is no father in the home, that her home is inferior because it lacks priesthood. On any given Sunday, a girl looks up at the stand and sees only men in positions of power and leadership. This same lesson is delivered even more dramatically every April and October, as she sees only men as leaders, and is told that it is only men who speak with God, at least in any meaningful way within the church.
Boys in the church also receive these same lessons. Even if benevolent, they are taught to see women are inferior. Boys are taught that their feeling matter. When they grow up and have families, boys learn that their thoughts and desires carry weight, while women’s thought and desires should yield.
My experience as a male ally has been an education. I have heard endless stories of abuse within the context of my religion. I have heard countless stories of men feeling that it is their right to impose their will in their homes. I have heard the pain and anguish that this creates. I have seen women called into countless meetings with local leaders, who demand that they submit and accept their “roles as women.” I have also seen members of the church write endless messages to the women of OW demanding conformity to the system. At times the pressure on the women of OW is relentless. In contrast, as a man, I rarely receive pushback at all for my active involvement in Ordain Women.
The inequality in the church fosters the myth of male superiority. No matter how much lip service is given to the “righteous exercise of authority,” this inequality is inherently damaging and abusive. As a result, I was not surprised to hear that officials at BYU willingly received a police report, which was improperly (if not illegally) delivered to them, and used it as the basis to investigate the female victim of a sexual assault for honor code violations. After all, they have been immersed in the myth of male supremacy, and believe in the idea that men have a right to enforce female conformity, even in the context of sexual assault.
Ready for Revelation
Mark Barnes, the author of this post, is on Ordain Women’s Executive Board as Finance Chair.