In conversations about gender inequality in the LDS church, the biggest point I’ve seen made from those who are comfortable with the status quo and against the LDS feminist movement is that the status quo is the way God wants things. I’ve seen and heard this point claimed both in online forums and in person, concerning everything from the figurative burqa surrounding Heavenly Mother to male-only Priesthood.
My question is this: Why do you assume that a male-only priesthood (insert other gender unequal policy here) is a principle that comes from God and not from mankind’s limited understanding?
Priesthood was first given to men in a time period when women were basically seen as the possessions of men. Considering the cultural norms of Bible times, it’s not surprising that throughout the Bible women are almost invisible as spiritual leaders, and all our scriptural texts are written by men (as far as I know).
Sexual separation is often a characteristic of dominant societies. The military, administrative and travelling imperatives of imperialism dictated it and, no less than Sparta or among the Zulu, the training and socialization of the young became increasingly directed towards this end. Public schools, youth organisations, juvenile literature, the club and the army mess were all expressions of it, as were strictly segregated working men’s clubs and school staff rooms. In the extending and building of country houses and public buildings of this period, the provision of the male sanctum became an architectural necessity.
-John M. Mackenzie, Manliness and Morality, Middle-class Masculinity in Britain and America 1800-1940, Manchester University Press, 1987, p 180-181.
Men and women are segregated in the church organizations, and are so from a young age. The Young Men and Young Women’s programs are evidence of this, but historically, even 10 and 11 year olds were segregated until the advent of the (sometimes) co-mingled Valiant class (I was a Merrie Miss.) Youth organizations, literature, church meetings and MIA activities all segregate young females from males as the males developed authority levels within priesthood ranks. As such, the above statement, whilst written in regard to the social Darwinist aspects of Victorian and Edwardian exclusion of women from big game (authoritative and elite-class) hunting , I think can easily be applied to the segregation still present within Mormon Society.
After much thought and prayer and many discussions with friends and family, I posted my profile on Ordain Women.org. I believe that now is the time to be thoughtful and prayerful about Priesthood and ask God what He desires for His daughters in our modern-day church. I think we should seek understanding about a dual Priesthood: just as men and women are both involved with procreation – they are both involved with priesthood.
When others learn that I have posted this profile, many questions and comments follow. The majority of these comments seem to fall in three areas, which I will address below in my own little “frequently asked questions” blog post and poll today.
1. Women’s ordination leading to LDS men’s inactivity.
My simple response to this concern is “I don’t think we will lose our men” – at least not the good men I know. Some of the best men I know are Mormon men – and I don’t envision my brother-in-laws or my current ward brothers walking away from the church. I think they will attend their children’s baptisms even if their wives are preforming the ordinance. Ordaining women does not mean un-ordaining men. We are adding sisterhood to the strong brotherhood that already exists.
My second, somewhat more complex response is: “Maybe we’ll lose some of our men. And maybe we’ll lose our women too.” We are currently losing both men and women to inactivity. Many of those individuals will continue to struggle if women are ordained, but I’m not convinced the numbers will be higher than what we face currently. Concern over men’s activity rates, while important, is not a reason to withhold ordination to all worthy members of the church. I see dual ordination as a way to work together for the benefit of all. And when we no longer have to use all our “talk about Priesthood time” splitting roles and justifying women’s peripheral involvement, then we can really explore Priesthood and learn more fully about its immense power.
2. Women’s ordination leading to more work for LDS women.
Many LDS women (that I talk to) feel overworked in the church already – and worry that ordination will only add to the load. And for some women – maybe it will, but I think for most – probably not. Ordination brings more hands to the table, not fewer. There is lot of work to be done in the Kingdom of God – some of it is logistical, some of it is administrative, some of it involves spiritual revelation, and some of it is around blessings and ordinations. Work rotates within these areas and among people. Callings rotate. It seems to me that families will spend more time together if the work is spread among more people – including single women. Perhaps in some homes a mother will spend extra time at church meetings for a few years while the father watches over children on Sunday morning. And perhaps in other homes, the dinner hour will be less interrupted because Brother Smith can call me (a single sister) to give a blessing rather than the father of a family.
3. Am I questioning church leadership by supporting women’s ordination?
For me, this answer is a firm “no”. I love the church; I trust and sustain its leaders. I am not questioning either, I am simply giving voice to something I also believe: women’s ordination. My friend, Carri, who is an inspiration to me on the subject of LDS women writes, “for many years I tried to make the status of women in the Church make sense. I tried to find ways to justify it – which is where I believe the vast majority of the Church is now, believing it’s right because it is … but it isn’t necessary right, it just is.”
Nephi also has some interesting thoughts on the matter: 1 Nephi Chapter 25. I quote from Carri again, “One of the things I find most intriguing about Nephi is how often he feels constrained by the smallness of his world. He is so aware of how much power and knowledge there is to be had, but in his day-to-day life, he is pestered constantly by simple-mindedness and weakness. I imagine him feeling tethered to earth when his vision is so much greater.
“And notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. For this end was the law given; wherefore, the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.”
They keep the “dead law” because that is the commandment they have. They speak of the higher law as they live the lesser one. Nephi was ready to be Christian 600 years before Christ came. He knew the law of Moses was not complete and that he and generations of his posterity would be subject to living it. But he spoke of the higher law, which he knew someday would come. And he rejoiced in it.”
I feel like Nephi: I am living the law and commandments we have. I am serving in ways that are given me. And I’m waiting for what I believe is the birthright of all the worthy sons and daughters of God – to act in His name with Priesthood power. I claim that birthright, even as I wait for the actual ordination … in the Lord’s time. “I believe all that God has revealed, all the He does now reveal, and … that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” (Ninth Article of Faith)
There are several schools of thought on the issue of woman’s ordination – or Goalposts as John-Charles Duffy calls them. Where do you fall?
[authors' note: I do not agree with the current "Women's Ordination" movement. We have quite a number of smaller steps to go before we even think of any kind of ordination, not the least of which is in changing hearts to show that feminist (equality, egalitarian, what have you) ideals are not aiming to demand direction of the Church away from those called to lead, but that they can also be more passive, removing stumbling blocks and offering ideas and inspirations in the attitude of hope and love, consistent with Articles of Faith 9 and 13.
That aside, I found it an interesting thought experiment to imagine how the future "Priestesshood" could work, in both the logistical and spiritual aspects.]
There are a number of different ideas on the form a Priestesshood (or female Priesthood) would take, including many good thoughts on how women already have some form of Priesthood, possibly through motherhood or ordinances of the Temple. For me, the Priestesshood is a complement to the Priesthood that we have been missing in this world since Eve decided to follow her own understanding (which is an entire discussion in itself). There have been many attempts throughout the millennia to prepare the people for it, and we’ve seen glimpses of it in the scriptures and in the restoration period. Yes, the original organization of the Relief Society was an attempt to build what would be a Priestesshood, and if we all, both as leaders and regular members had not moved away from that original beginning we would not have lost it and had to begin again with the current Relief Society. This is looking to a possible future, building on both the past and what we currently have.
Jess is an unconventional leaf on a family tree that includes an unbelievably strong mother and two fantastic brothers. She is a PhD student in psychology. When she’s not doing school-ish things she likes to hike, knit, and bake…and then eat what she bakes.
I normally love my calling teaching Gospel Doctrine in my singles ward. It is a great opportunity to really dig in and study, and to learn from my fellow ward members. But this year has been a struggle. Church history brings up a lot of feelings for me, and most of them are not positive. Things came to a head as I was preparing my latest lesson: The Restoration of the Priesthood. The more I read, the more upset I became.
First of all, the relationship between women and the priesthood is something I have been struggling with lately, and I still have not figured out where I stand. Teaching about something that one is unsure about and uncomfortable with is really hard. Second, the only time women were mentioned was in a section titled “Blessings of the priesthood for all people,” where the question was asked, “how can women and children benefit from the priesthood?” (Infantilize women much?) There was not a single feminine pronoun in the whole lesson. The restoration of the priesthood was a big deal for everyone, not just men. Lucky for me, when I asked The Exponent’s own Spunky for help, she sent a ton of great resources, articles, and ideas of ways to balance things out. I went in to class on Sunday feeling well prepared and ready to teach.
Happily, my bishop does not insist that we stick to the lesson in the manual. In fact, he encourages us to follow the spirit in our lessons. So, I decided to focus on the importance of priesthood authority in terms of ordinances like baptism and the temple endowment. Those are things that are important to all God’s children right?
I’ve been thinking about revelation a lot lately, largely because we recently had two Sunday School lessons in a row on this topic – one of which I actually got my act together and read the assigned scriptures for because I was preparing to participate in a Gospel Doctrine podcast. And I’m realizing that in addition to needing feminism (see Part I), I also need the concept of revelation to help me be a Mormon. (As an aside, you should check out the wonderful work Jared Anderson is doing to create Gospel Doctrine podcasts as resources for teachers and learners!)
Why do I need revelation? A friend’s Catholic mother once said, “Who is the Pope to tell me what it means to be Catholic?” Meaning, the church’s body of doctrine and tradition is bigger than one person, and she felt free to claim Catholicism on her own terms. And I say, “What is patriarchy to tell me what it means to be Mormon?” In some sense if I leave the Church just because it is patriarchal, I’m allowing sexist tradition to separate me from a religion that I would otherwise choose to affiliate myself with. Patriarchy already puts enough constraints on the spiritual lives of women; I don’t want to let it determine my religious affiliation, too. Patriarchy doesn’t own my church. And ultimately, the concept of personal revelation requires me to embrace truth wherever I find it, so I feel free to claim Mormonism on my own terms.
But revelation is about more than just my personal search for truth. The concept of continuing prophetic revelation also means current doctrine and practices can and do change. With continuing revelation we will some day have prophecies given by women, blessings given by women, authoritative scriptural exegesis by women, and miracles worked through women. No spiritual gift (see D&C 46:17-26) will be withheld.* These are more than pie-in-the-sky hopes. They are possible given the limitless nature of continuing revelation. I see Mormonism’s open canon and belief in prophecy as having both the mechanism and the potential energy needed for change through revelation.
I realize it’s ironic to wait for this kind of revelation to come through channels of male-only priesthood bearers. But the fact that Mormons expect prophetic revelation gives me hope, particularly when faithful people, following the example of Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, continue to ask questions that provoke a prophetic response. These women were Zelophehad’s daughters – his only progeny since he had no sons. It was against Jewish law for them to inherit land after Zelophehad’s death, but they appealed to Moses for new revelation on the matter. Moses brought their case before the Lord, and not only were the daughters able to inherit, but a detailed revelation on inheritance practices also resulted from the question. I believe this kind of change through revelation is still possible.
What things do you hope for that continuing revelation could bring to pass?
*Section 46 of the Doctrine & Covenants lists prophecy, healing, miracles, wisdom, and other spiritual gifts. The section does not link any of these gifts with priesthood, but in the modern Church most of them are thought of and practiced as priesthood privileges. It wasn’t always so. Our gospel foremothers had many of these gifts. I think ordaining women would erase the gendered limitations on these gifts, and I hope to see it in my lifetime.