Guest Post: Will Women Be Ordained to the Priesthood?

by Tom P

Will women be ordained to the priesthood? Although historically the Church has resisted change for a considerable period of time when pressured from the outside or even the inside (e.g. polygamy, ordination of individuals of African descent to the priesthood), I believe that women will eventually be ordained. The form this ordination will take, however, is unclear.

Why will women be ordained? Because part of our doctrine is that men and women can become priests and priestesses hereafter, although initially they are only anointed to become such. This suggests that the priesthood we now are familiar with will give way to a different form of priesthood (i.e. the men who currently hold the priesthood are anointed to become priests at some later point in time indicating that the priesthood they hold is not the final form they will hold in the eternities). This eternal priesthood includes both men (priests) and women (priestesses) and is consistent with our theology that neither is the man without the woman nor the woman without the man in the Lord.

As Pres. Uchtdorf mentioned in his talk during the priesthood session, the restoration is an ongoing process.

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I know you are, but what am I?

I have two young kids, and they’re of an age when potty language and name calling happen all the time.  ”Poop” is both the funniest word in their vocabulary and the worst insult.  My daughter laughs about making piles of pretend poop at home, but complains of being called a poo-poo-head at preschool.  It feels awful to be called something you’re not, and the immediate impulse when that happens is to correct it in the strongest possible terms.  The typical playground response when I was a kid was, “I know you are, but what am I?”

The reason name calling hurts is because it touches on the most core belief we have – who we are.  My daughter does not believe she is a poo-poo-head and is indignant at being called that, but when someone uses that term I wonder if there’s a flicker of a question about who she is, if not that.  The question is troubling, and terribly insistent.  For her, a soothing word from mom, dad, or a teacher is all that’s needed to answer it until the next insult comes along.

Gradually, I hope all those soothing assurances will accumulate to form a solid self esteem for her.  She’ll know she is an inherently and irrevocably worthy human soul with great potential, loved by Heavenly and earthly parents.  Of course, a healthy self image won’t protect her from ever being hurt by a word, and she’ll be exposed to views, ideas, and experiences that may challenge her beliefs about her identity.

For me, the greatest assurances and the greatest challenges to my identity have come from the Church.  From singing “I am a Child of God” as a toddler, repeating the Young Women theme about being a daughter of God, and my own study of the scriptures and sacred music, I’ve acquired a solid self image of a person who is inherently and irrevocably worthy, with great potential, and loved by Heavenly Parents.  But sometimes things I’m taught at Church also challenge that self image.  And sometimes it’s the things I don’t hear at Church that challenge me most.

For example, I heard about the roles, responsibilities, and power of the priesthood in the last General Conference, and I also heard I’m an appendage to it.  Arms and legs are important and valuable, but they’re not what give people their identity.  In the temple men covenant to God, but the covenant I made was to a man, to hearken to him.  I pray daily and sing weekly praises to Father in Heaven, but I’m at a loss as to how to worship my Mother in Heaven.  I see how men are heirs to Father in Heaven.  I know who they are, but who am I?

I believe I’m a child of God and that Jesus suffered and died for me as much as for anyone.  But the lack of acknowledgement of Mother in Heaven, the asymmetrical temple covenants, the possibility of eternal polygamy, and the withholding of ordination could lead a woman to believe she’s a lesser creation than men.  I know that’s not true.  But I still get that flicker of a terrible, insistent question: Who am I, if not that?  I have no answer, and I can’t be consoled by a soothing word.  So instead of letting the question trouble me, I snuff it out quickly.

Tell me, why should I have to, over and over?

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Walking with Ordain Women … and the Church

Suzette Smith 2013I read the letter from the Church’s PR Department early this morning. It asks me to “reconsider”, so that is what I’ve done all day – reconsidered. I’ve thought and prayed and pondered.

I’ll be walking with the sisters of Ordain Women on April 5th; not because I want to pit myself against the church, but because I am part of the church – with divine nature and individual worth. The letter called me “extreme” and that made me feel that “I don’t belong”. But I do belong. I go to church every Sunday and the temple every month. I love the gospel. I teach it in my ward. I love worshiping with the Saints. I love the Lord. I am a believer.

I take my faith seriously and I take the question of women and ordination seriously. The church’s letter seemed to say that because I’m in the minority they don’t take me seriously. My concerns felt dismissed by the letter – and yet they are of eternal importance. I’m talking about WOMEN – half of God’s Children. I’m asking hard questions about Daughters and those questions matter. I believe the church is true – and that makes it a living, growing, changing church. (See Article of Faith 9) I am a truth seeker and I love the LDS faith because it is a truth seeking religion.

I’m walking with Ordain Women because I want to attend the meeting of the General Conference of my church (of Latter-day Saints – that’s me) – I want to be seen as a seeker. In the early days of the church, the Saints went to the Red Brick Store to discuss with the Prophet Joseph, who counseled with the Lord. This is the closest thing to a Red Brick Store I know of in 2014 – the door where I know the prophet is.

I do not wish to make enemies by disregarding the request to stay away from temple square but I do not think my walk will be disruptive to the spirit of light and knowledge. I can not stand in the free speech zone and align myself with anti-Mormons because I am not one of them. I am a Mormon.

(I’m also going the General Woman’s Meeting – with just as much passion – and I’ll be wearing my purple dress.)

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Sisters Speak: Female Ordination and Envisioning the Future

Dear Exponent readers, The next issue of the Exponent II magazine will focus on the topic of Mormon women’s ordination. The magazine will include terrific articles on both sides of the debate, but I would love to feature your opinions on the subject in the Sisters Speak column as well. I am looking for brief (one or two paragraph) responses to the following question, and I will email some of you commenters to ask if I can quote you in the magazine. For those that would like to respond privately, please email me at carolinekline1 at gmail dot com. 

Giving women the priesthood is a complicated issue for many of us. Some long for a day when our daughters will see themselves as full partners and leaders in the church alongside men, hoping ordination will lead to shifts in theology and rhetoric that will recognize women as fully human. Others desire expanded opportunities for women, but fear losing women-centered spaces if women were ordained. Many of us simultaneously experience all these hopes and fears, along with many others. What are your thoughts on ordaining women? If women were to be ordained, what is the change you most look forward to and why? What is your greatest fear about ordaining women?

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How would ordaining women change the structure of the Church?

Around the last General Conference weekend I had some meaningful conversations with family members about the idea of ordaining women in the LDS church.  One recurring question was what the Church would look like, structurally, if women were ordained to the priesthood.  It’s a serious question and the people asking it apprehend something important about the LDS Church: that our leadership structure is inextricably connected to gender and that ordaining women could shake the whole thing up beyond recognition.

Mormons face a unique challenge when they are asked to envision a Church in which women are ordained, because our leadership is organized so differently from most other Christian churches.  When a mainline Protestant sits in church and thinks about female priesthood, she imagines her pastor as a woman instead of a man, but not much else changes.  The reason being that most organizations in her church (the Christian education teachers, the committee that visits the sick and elderly, the rummage sale organizers, the coffee hour organizers, etc.) are not segregated by gender (with the exception of things like a women’s or men’s Bible study group).  I am less familiar with Catholicism, but my understanding is that outside the parish priest, the lay members (both women and men) do a lot of that volunteer committee work as well.

However in Mormonism there are relatively few ways to serve that are not dictated by gender.  Music callings, Primary teachers (but not leaders) and Sunday School teachers (but not leaders), family history, and Cub Scouts are pretty much it.  If we need someone to serve in a bishopric, any Relief Society calling, Young Men or Young Women’s organizations, Sunday School presidency, Ward Mission Leader, Primary Presidency, any priesthood quorum calling, or as Ward Clerk the first question asked is whether the candidate is male or female.  Our Church is deeply organized around gender.

For this reason I wonder if it’s harder for Mormons to envision the ordination of women than it is for other Christians.  We are not just imagining the one or few spiritual leaders of our congregation as possibly being women.  We are faced with the question of what to do with all the rest of the structure as well, which would presumably look quite different.  We also have a multiplicity of offices of the priesthood, a complication that is less present for other Christians.  I wonder if for many LDS church members re-imagining all of these things is so unsettling and overwhelming that they quickly reject the notion that ordaining women could be right and good.  After all, though imperfect, there is a lot to enjoy and appreciate about the Church as it currently stands.

I wonder if they also fear that sacred spaces just for women and just for men would have to disappear, and that every corner of the Church would become co-ed.  They would feel this as a loss.  I would as well.  So I would just like to acknowledge that there would be a lot to figure out if the prophet received a revelation that women can be ordained.  A lot to figure out, a lot to examine, but I don’t think it would necessitate a change to everything that is familiar and beloved about the Church.  For example, the multiplicity of priesthood offices in the Church could be a feature to build on.  When Joseph Smith said at the founding of the Relief Society, “I now turn the key to you in the name of God and this Society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time” (Derr, Cannon, and Beecher pg. 1) he must have meant priesthood keys (what other keys are there?), and he was giving priesthood authority of some kind to women.  Not priesthood office as we know it now, but modern revelation could build on that foundation and create an order of priesthood for women.  I am fond of Relief Society and wouldn’t want to see it disappear, replaced by mixed priesthood quorums.  But I’d also like to see it truly presided over by women.  On the other hand, creating a priesthood order for women while preserving the majority of leadership roles for male priesthood holders would leave unanswered need as well.  Perhaps both single-gender quorums and mixed quorums are the answer, I (of course) don’t know what the answer will be.

I think Ordain Women is wise to refrain from articulating a precise vision of what women’s ordination would look like.  They are calling attention to needs that exist and asking that the prophet will seek revelation.  I have some ideas about what the Church might look like, what would change, and what could stay the same.  But these are just my ideas and they are not relevant to the question of women’s ordination.  What’s relevant is what is right and true and revealed.  I believe ordaining women is in harmony with gospel truth, and that it will eventually happen.  I have confidence in the men called to lead the Church, that they seek revelation with open hearts.  I believe the Church would be expanded and blessed by giving priesthood authority to women, even if I don’t know what the Church would look like after that happened.

Finally, Harold B. Lee once said to Boyd K. Packer (both apostles at the time), “You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you.”  He meant it as personal counsel, but I think it can apply to the whole community of Saints.  Let’s not close our hearts to further light because we don’t know what lies ahead.  Elder Lee followed his comment by quoting from Moroni: “Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.”  I’d just like to say that the position of women in the LDS Church tries my faith every single day.  But I’m staying.  I am patient.  I expect women’s place in the Church to evolve, but I know it will happen slowly.  Perhaps the trial before us all is to learn to be one before we can receive more.

I think God is like the truth-teller in Emily Dickinson’s poem:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise;

As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.

The 9th Article of Faith says God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”  It can be difficult to know those great and important (or superb and dazzling) truths are there but remain untold, even if for good reason.  I don’t know what they are, but I do know that there has to be more to come for women in this Church.  I think we hamper our sensibilities if we declare that unchanging doctrine means there is no more doctrine.  Or none of that kind of doctrine.  I hope that the difficulty of envisioning how the Church would look with women ordained won’t prevent us from being sensible to more light.

 

 

 

 

Derr, Jill Mulvay, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher.  Women of Covenant: The Story of the Relief Society.  Deseret Book, 1992.

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One Week Ago – I Said a Prayer

One week  ago, I stood in a park in downtown Salt Lake City with 200 Ordain Women supporters – and said a prayer for the group.

Our Father in Heaven - We gather today as thy daughters – and thy sons -
We are deeply grateful for the blessings thou continually gives to us – love, mercy, goodness, care and grace.  We know that thou are ever with us.  We are grateful for the atonement of our Savior, Christ – and give thanks for this grace.  It is always in our lives to lift us and carry us forward.  We praise thee.
We are grateful for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  For many of us it is the church of our childhood.  It is the church that taught us to pray, that built our faith, and allows us to know thee.  It is this same faith that has brought us on the path here today.
We ask that we be guided as we move forward.  Give us the courage of Eve and the strength of Mary.  May we be inspired today by the many women who have gone before us – Emma, Eliza, Emmeline, Martha, Zina, Lucy.  We carry their spirit with us today.
We are thankful for the leaders of this church and ask thy blessing to sustain them.  We have loved the messages of faith and hope heard in General Conference today and look forward to hearing more.  Bless our leaders as they pray with us and for us.  Guide them, particularly at this time, to know what thou would have for thy daughters – the women of the church.  Guide us as well.  Inspire us – and the other members of the church – as we go forward.  Let us know thy will – and give us the faith to do it.
In the Name of Jesus Christ – Amen
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