“The Latter-day Saint Perspective,” Ensign, Mar. 1980, 19–23
The Church and the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment:
A Moral Issue
The Latter-day Saint Perspective
Scripture places sacred responsibilities upon the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As members of the Church, we accept the following:
“We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc.” (A of F 1:6).
“The duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses, … yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet” (D&C 107:91–92).
The First Presidency, the presiding council of the Church, is composed of “three presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church” (D&C 107:22).
The First Presidency “shall have power to decide upon testimony according to the laws of the church. … For this is the highest council of the church of God, and a final decision upon controversies in spiritual matters. There is not any person belonging to the church who is exempt from this council of the church” (D&C 107:79–81).
It is with this understanding that members of the Church receive the counsel of the First Presidency. But even so, members are free to choose for themselves in order that they may have “moral agency, … that every man may be accountable” (D&C 101:78).
The relationship between the prophets and the members is not one of blind acceptance, contrary to some misunderstandings and misstatements, but rather places on members the full responsibility to study and pray, so that each also may receive confirmation from the Lord of the First Presidency’s position on the matter at hand.
With their own understanding and confirmation from the Lord, after study and prayer, members are more able to be an influence for good among their fellowmen on that matter, and are able to assist their leaders on that and related topics. The responsibility to be of good influence and to receive individual confirmation is a right and is a serious requirement of members of the Church.
But what if an individual feels his “confirmation” does not support the First Presidency statement? When the Apostle Paul was approached by members espousing their own interpretations, he resolved their dilemma by asking: “You saith I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:12–13).
President George Q. Cannon commented upon the extent to which counsel may be ignored or resisted:
“A friend … wished to know whether we … considered an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the authorities of the Church was apostasy. … We replied that we had not stated that an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the authorities constituted apostasy; … but we could not conceive of a man publishing those differences of opinion, and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce upon the people to produce division and strife, and to place the acts and counsels of the authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term. We further said that while a man might honestly differ in opinion from the authorities through a want of understanding, he had to be exceedingly careful how he acted in relation to such differences, or the adversary would take advantage of him, and he would soon become imbued with the spirit of apostasy, and be found fighting against God and the authority which He had placed here to govern His Church” (Deseret News, 3 Nov. 1869, p. 457).
It is clear, therefore, that members who choose not to follow the counsel of the First Presidency are completely free to do so. There is no civil or criminal penalty for religious disagreement, but there is surely a spiritual loss for the individual.
Recognizing the significance of its counsel to Church members, the First Presidency is extremely careful in taking stands on any matter affecting the lives of members. Historically, the Church has not taken positions on strictly political questions, but it has spoken out on moral issues.
The First Presidency in September 1962 said:
“Strictly political matters should be left in the field of politics where they belong. However, on moral issues, the Church and its members take a positive stand. Latter-day Saints must ever be alert and united in fighting any influence which tends to break down the moral and spiritual strength of the people” (David O. McKay, Henry D. Moyle, Hugh B. Brown).
To further clarify their role, the First Presidency has said: “The many and varied circumstances in which our Church members live … make it inadvisable for the Church to involve itself institutionally in every local community issue. These challenges are best responded to by members as they meet their obligations as citizens—preferably in concert with other like-minded individuals. Only the First Presidency and the Twelve can declare a particular issue to be a moral issue worthy of full institutional involvement. Absent such a declaration, Church members should exercise great care and caution to distinguish between what they may do as citizens in exercising their full constitutional rights and what the Church might do as an institution” (29 June 1979; italics added). That is, members involved in issues that have not been the subject of specific First Presidency counsel should not imply that their position represents the position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But when the highest council in the Church does speak, members may represent appropriately those statements as the position of the Church.
Following are three major statements of the First Presidency relating to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.
First Presidency Statements on the ERA
22 October 1976
“From its beginnings, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has affirmed the exalted role of woman in our society.
“In 1842, when women’s organizations were little known, the Prophet Joseph Smith established the women’s organization of the Church, the Relief Society, as a companion body of the Priesthood. The Relief Society continues to function today as a vibrant, worldwide organization aimed at strengthening motherhood and broadening women’s learning and involvement in religious, compassionate, cultural, educational, and community pursuits.
“In Utah, where our Church is headquartered, women received the right to vote in 1870, fifty years before the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution granted the right nationally.
“There have been injustices to women before the law and in society generally. These we deplore.
“There are additional rights to which women are entitled.
“However, we firmly believe that the Equal Rights Amendment is not the answer.
“While the motives of its supporters may be praiseworthy, ERA as a blanket attempt to help women could indeed bring them far more restraints and repressions. We fear it will even stifle many God-given feminine instincts.
“It would strike at the family, humankind’s basic institution. ERA would bring ambiguity and possibly invite extensive litigation.
“Passage of ERA, some legal authorities contend, could nullify many accumulated benefits to women in present statutes.
“We recognize men and women as equally important before the Lord, but with differences biologically, emotionally, and in other ways.
“ERA, we believe, does not recognize these differences. There are better means for giving women, and men, the rights they deserve.”
Spencer W. Kimball
N. Eldon Tanner
Marion G. Romney
26 August 1978
“A number of questions continue to be asked concerning the Church’s attitude toward the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Following are the most commonly asked questions and the First Presidency’s responses to them:
“1. Some people suggest the Equal Rights Amendment is a purely political issue and the Church should not take a stand either for or against it. Do you agree?
“No. We believe ERA is a moral issue with many disturbing ramifications for women and for the family as individual members and as a whole.
“2. Specifically, why are you opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment?
“Preliminary to answering that question, it should be pointed out that we recognize men and women as equally important before the Lord and the law. We are opposed to the so-called ‘Equal Rights’ Amendment, but we are not opposed to such things as equal pay for equal work.
“From its beginnings, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has championed the rights of women in our society. We recognize that there have been injustices to women before the law and in society in general.
“There are additional rights to which women are entitled. We would prefer to see specific injustices resolved individually under appropriate, specific laws. We firmly believe that the Equal Rights Amendment is not the proper means for achieving those rights because:
“a. Its deceptively simple language deals with practically every aspect of American life, without considering the possible train of unnatural consequences which could result because of its very vagueness—encouragement of those who seek a unisex society, an increase in the practice of homosexual and lesbian activities, and other concepts which could alter the natural, God-given relationship of men and women.
“b. It would strike at the family, the basic institution of society. ERA would bring ambiguity to the family structure which could encourage legal conflict in the relationship of husbands and wives.
“c. ERA would invite legal action on every conceivable point of conflict between men and women. Its sweeping generalizations could challenge almost every legally accepted social custom, as well as every morally accepted behavior pattern in America.
“d. Men and women have differences biologically, emotionally, and in other ways. The proposed Equal Rights Amendment does not recognize these differences. For example, present laws protecting the rights of pregnant women in the working force could be challenged if ERA becomes law.
“e. Passage of ERA, with its simplistic approach to complex and vitally important problems, could nullify many accumulated benefits to women in present statutes, such as those protecting mothers and children from fathers who do not accept their legal responsibilities to their families.”
“3. Does your Church encourage women to develop other abilities in addition to being good wives and mothers?
“Yes. In 1842, when women’s organizations were little known, the Prophet Joseph Smith established the women’s organization of the Church, the Relief Society, as a companion body of the Priesthood. At the third meeting of the Society he said, “… I now turn the key in your behalf in the name of the Lord, and this Society shall rejoice, and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time henceforth. …”
“Latter-day Saint women, from the beginning of the Church and continuing today, know how deeply the Church encourages them to exercise their free agency. They also know that in the Church, or in any organization or activity for that matter, free agency must be coupled with responsibility. Individual freedom without such responsibility leads to chaos.
“Latter-day Saint women are strongly encouraged to develop their individual talents, to broaden their learning and to expand their contributions to activities such as religious, governmental, cultural, educational and community pursuits …” (Church News, 26 Aug. 1978, p. 2).
12 October 1978
“To General Authorities, Regional Representatives, Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents, Bishops, and Branch Presidents in the United States
“With the nation facing the prospect of continuing debate on the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, we take this opportunity again to bring to your attention our position on this important question.
“The history of the Church clearly demonstrates the long-standing concern of its leaders that women, as daughters of God, should have without discrimination every political, economic, and educational opportunity. Where there now exist deficiencies concerning these matters, they can and should be corrected by specific legislation. Additionally, because of their unique capacities and responsibilities as wives and mothers, women should be the beneficiaries of such special laws as will safeguard their welfare and the interests of children and families.
“While the enactment or rejection of the Equal Rights Amendment must be accomplished by recognized political processes, we are convinced that because of its predictable results the matter is basically a moral rather than a political issue; and because of our serious concern over these moral implications, we have spoken against ratification, and without equivocation do so again. We are convinced, after careful study, after consultation with various Constitutional authorities, and after much prayerful consideration, that if the proposed amendment were to be ratified, there would follow over the years a train of interpretations and implementations that would demean women rather than ennoble them, and that also would threaten the stability of the family which is a creation of God.
“Because of our serious concern, we urge our people to join actively with other citizens who share our concerns and who are engaged in working to reject this measure on the basis of its threat to the moral climate of the future.”
Spencer W. Kimball
N. Eldon Tanner
Marion G. Romney
Current Status of ERA Ratification
Thirty-eight states must ratify the ERA for it to become a part of the United States Constitution. To date, thirty-five states have ratified. The fifteen states that have not ratified the amendment are: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.
The first thirty states to ratify the amendment did so within the first twelve months following 22 March 1972. Since that time, only five additional states have ratified. During this same period, five states have voted to rescind their ratification. This suggests that as the amendment and its possible results are examined closely, many people are raising serious questions.