by Donna Kelly
In New Testament times it was shameful for women to speak in church (I Cor 14:34-35).
Today women speak in all church general meetings, from sacrament meetings to General Conference at the invitation of the Prophet.
In a few weeks women will say prayers in General Conference for the very first time in history. Some think this is a very minor change, but I do not agree with that assessment. A woman will be voicing a prayer on behalf of the Church and its members, both male and female alike. This is a huge step forward.
I am moved by this change, especially because of an event in my personal history in Oregon in the early 1980s. As I was walking in to a sacrament meeting, a counselor in the bishopric approached me and asked me to say the prayer. I stood in stunned silence. “Yes, it’s a change. The first of many more to come, I hope. We wanted you to be the first!” he hugged me as he spoke. I wept as I prayed that day and felt the privilege of being the first woman to say a prayer in my ward sacrament meeting. Since that day I have often wondered what precipitated that change. Was it a change made after the request of a righteous woman who asked to pray in her ward? I like to think so. But regardless of its precipitation, it was a step toward a brighter day.
I feel blessed to be living at a time when positive changes such as these confirming the intrinsic equality of women and men are being made in deed and not just in theory, not just in word, and not just with a “separate but equal” kind of equality.
Let me first declare that I believe that God’s house is a house of order and that things will be done in God’s time and according to His will. I have a firm testimony of the gospel and I honor and respect the leaders of the Church.
So why do I support the Ordain Women movement?
I need to go back a few years to fully answer that question.
I watched in horror in the early 1980’s when some women protested against the Church and did things like marching in public wearing nothing but temple garments and chaining themselves to the fence outside the Seattle temple. To me this was deeply disrespectful and made a mockery of women and women’s equality. I felt an overwhelming sadness for them, for my beloved church and for the message this gave to the world.
Yet, I have always known that women would someday have the priesthood. It is certain that they will have it in the next life (D & C 76: 95: “And He makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion”). But I doubted that it would happen in my lifetime on the earth. Churches are organizations steeped in tradition as well as in doctrine, after all.
Then in 1997 when President Hinckley was asked why women do not hold the priesthood in the Church, he said there was no “agitation” for women to have the priesthood yet. When I heard that, I felt a glimmer of hope that the Church would ordain women in my lifetime.
I firmly believe that President Hinckley’s statement about “agitation” at the very least includes the “agitation” of dedicated, faithful members of the Church speaking out and declaring that they are ready for and support this change. Sadly too many of us have been like the people of Nazareth once were. Christ did not perform any miracles in Nazareth because of the “unbelief” of the people (Matthew 13:58). They were not in a state to receive blessings that the Lord was clearly ready and able to provide.
I do not profess to know all the many ways in which revelation can be received by church leaders, but I know for certain that one way is by request of the members. At least one event in church history confirms this fact.
Our first Relief Society President Emma Smith was the catalyst for the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89) being received. Emma was weary of scrubbing tobacco spit from the floors of Joseph’s Red Brick Store after the brethren held their School of the Prophets meetings. She asked the Prophet if a revelation could be received prohibiting the use of tobacco. She neither paraded nor publicly protested, but the important and lasting message is that she asked for the revelation nonetheless. The Prophet then approached the Lord and that very revelation was received – and then some! It is in fact a defining revelation for Latter-day Saints.
The pattern for revelation for humankind has always been very clear: it is men and women who take the first steps. “ASK and it shall be given you. SEEK and ye shall find. KNOCK and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). How joyful it is to know that the heavens are open to us!
Let us never forget the significance of this chronology: Joseph went in to the grove of trees to pray before the Church was restored to the earth.
And so we ask. And we seek. And we stand at the door and knock.
I add my voice to other voices supporting the Ordain Women movement because I believe it is a respectful declaration that we have shed our “unbelief” on this topic and that we are ready. We are not like the people of Nazareth. We are ready for this miracle. Women in the Church are ready. And the world is ready and waiting. The influence of righteous women of the Church will be greatly magnified with ordination and we stand ready to increase our ability to be a powerful influence for good in the world.
(Donna Kelly is an active member of the Church and has served as a Relief Society President, Young Women’s President, Primary President and as an early morning seminary teacher for 12 years. She has been an attorney for 31 years, and has spent most of her career as a prosecutor specializing in the prosecution of violent crimes against women and children. She and her husband of 36 years raised four children as active members of the church. In her spare time she is a cookbook author, food blogger, quilter, mother of three daughters, and grandmother of three beautiful granddaughters.)