Guest Post: I'm Not One of Those Women. I'm Just Thinking, Don't Worry

by mValient

mValiant is a reformed-Exponent-lurker who lives with her husband in one of the bluest states in the union.  She knows all the words to Saturday’s Warrior, served a mission, and loves visiting teaching.

When I was growing up, I often heard a cautionary tale from my mother about what happens to women who want the priesthood. According to the story, a group in her old stake in the northeast had sat around and talked so much about how much they wanted the priesthood that they all became lesbians and left their husbands and their six children (each).  This was back when I had no idea what a lesbian was, but it sounded scary.  Ye olde LDS slippery slope was alive and well:  IF you want the priesthood THEN you are going to become a lesbian and abandon your children.

Nowadays, having met plenty of perfectly wonderful lesbians (with children, mind you), the “THEN” part of that warning doesn’t sound so bad at all, but I am still very frightened by the IF part.  IF you want the priesthood, and – BAM-  I immediately start to disclaim, “Of course I don’t want the priesthood, I’m just thinking about gender roles in the church, but I don’t actually want anything to change, I’m not one of those women, I’m not trying to upheave everything that makes your life feel safe and secure and comfortable.  I’m just thinking, don’t worry.”

However my “just thinking” on the matter has recently been galvanized by an article in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof that calls for an end to discriminatory practices against women in religion including the exclusion of women from the religious hierarchy.  He reports on a group called The Elders (which includes women… and very hopefully lesbians, right?) led by Nelson Mandela that issued a call to all world religions that says (among other things, I suggest you read the whole piece here) that “the justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a higher authority is unacceptable” and further “we believe that women and girls share equal rights with men and boys in all aspects of life.”

LIGHTENING BOLTS!  THUNDER!  MY HEART LEAPS INTO MY THROAT!  That is what I believe! I have been saying that for years (to people I trust not to throw me to the priesthood-lesbian conversion squad for saying so).  It was the most exciting thing I had read in years.

So I started talking to my LDS friends of all political persuasions.  What do you think this means for us?  What are the implications of such a statement for LDS women?  And I have been surprised to find that very few seem to think that this applies to the exclusion of women from the LDS religious hierarchy.

There are lots of reasons given for why it doesn’t apply to LDS women, and as I listened to them, it occurred to me:  you could have said any of these things about black men pre-1978.  They can still “fully” participate in their own way, they can make their own meaning, they have informal power in the church, maybe they are in it for the community rather than for the power, etc.  But even with all of those reasons to make it OK for excluding black men, we are still horrified that it ever happened.  Our church was racist, gasp, we discriminated against black men by excluding them from the religious hierarchy: a dark era in our church’s history.

And yet, it seems perfectly acceptable to us to choose another characteristic and say, “Ah, but this one is different.  This isn’t just skin color, these are genitals!” as a reason for excluding another group from the religious hierarchy.  I don’t get it.  Like Kristof said, I think there are negative consequences to a fully male hierarchy that is supposed to be ordered and ordained by God.  I want to be in a church where women interview men to determine their worthiness to enter the temple (and vice versa), women receive inspiration from God about men’s callings (and vice versa), women approve men’s expenditures using the church’s assets (and vice versa), women count the tithing, women can be bishops.  I don’t care how we get there, but that’s what I want.

Do you think that The Elder’s call applies to the exclusion of LDS women from the religious hierarchy?  Why or why not?  Do you think there are substantive differences between excluding a group from the religious hierarchy because of their race versus because of theirgender?  Why or why not?  And do you want my six children?  I seem to have started down the slippery slope by saying all of this out loud…

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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50 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    mValient, I feel much as you do. One thing that I don’t understand is why people who feel that women should be incorporated into Mormon religious hierarchy are seen as such threats, such apostates, such unfaithful members. Were LDS in the early 70’s who thought that black men should receive the priesthood likewise considered heretics? What is it about the idea of incorporating women into the hierarchy that is so offensive to so many Mormons?

    I think some LDS say that by thinking such things we are not putting our faith in our church leaders. But I think most of us, even the really devout LDS, have some things they’d like to see improve. Better music in Sac Meeting, better lessons, more attention to humanitarian efforts, more sensitivity to global cultural issues, etc. So I question what the difference is between these things, which seem to be acceptable to question, and women’s ordination, which seems to be unacceptable to question.

    Anyway, I applaud Nelson Mandela and the Elders for thinking about this issue. Seems to me that anytime hierarchies are made more inclusive it’s a good thing.

  2. anonymous says:

    I want to be in a church where women interview men to determine their worthiness to enter the temple (and vice versa), women receive inspiration from God about men’s callings (and vice versa), women approve men’s expenditures using the church’s assets (and vice versa), women count the tithing, women can be bishops.

    I want to be in a church where neither men nor women ask each other questions about their sex lives in order to determine “worthiness” for the highest and most sacred ordinances–where, instead, sex is discussed openly and respectfully, adults are trusted to make choices about their own sexual boundaries and activities with other consenting adults, and children have enough knowledge about sex that they at least don’t grow up afraid of it. I am convinced that the continuing discrimination against women is both the cause and result of the prurient emphasis on sexual activity as one of the highest index of person’s righteousness and standing before God. If we want sexual difference to be less important in determining worthiness to lead, then that also needs to extend to things like sexual orientation and marital relationship (or lack thereof) to one’s adult sex partner.

  3. G says:

    excellent post mValient! thank you so very much. I LOVED your final paragraph, an image of could be (maybe? hopefully? eventually?) if women were viewed as being on equal standing with men in the church.

  4. CatherineWO says:

    Thank you for this post. I agree with you. And, like Caroline, I question why those of us who think this way are seen as such a threat? Well, I guess I can understand why men feel threatened, but it’s the reaction of other women that mystifies me.

  5. velska says:

    There’s always the “as soon as I can give birth to a baby, you can have the priesthood” answer. Which, IMO, does not sound so bad. I’ve found that for a lot of men, the priesthood is the one thing that would cause them to reflect on their duty to God rather than the V8.

    And, women really are inside the hierarchy; responsible for well more than half of the Church. Most importantly, the entire future of it. What pres. Monson and the rest of them do is perhaps less important than what the women do, even.

    Not that all women need to be SAHMs or such, don’t be mislead. Daddies can be SAHD’s, but mommies will still be more in tune with the little babies, for whatever reason.

  6. JJ says:

    This isn’t an equality/discrimination topic. A re-examination of the basics of the priesthood seems helpful. Turn to the Bible, the D&C, etc., the temple. Nothing has changed. The priesthood is sacred, ordained of God. It is not a slight to women to not have the priesthood. God doesn’t work that way. If it’s in God’s plan for worthy women to receive the priesthood, it will be. Till then, there is something huge to be said for faithfully holding your peace. Questoning the doctrine of priesthood, (not priesthood authorities) is vastly different than questioning humanitarian efforts and hymns in church. The priesthood should be a cornerstone of one’s testimony. Speaking not of priesthood authorities, but the actual priesthood itself. Questioning this doctrine is like questioning other basic doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It is the doctrine in question when it is asked who can hold the priesthood.

  7. Stella says:

    JJ–I don’t think the women on this site need to re-examine the doctrine of the priesthood. I have a feeling that many of them know more about it than the average male in the church. When you’re denied something, you tend to spend a lot of time defining it, understanding it, researching it and grasping it.

    “faithfully holding my peace” doesn’t sit well with me.

    For me, honestly, when I look inside, I keep thinking one thing. Control. Perhaps not allowing women to do the things of men is a form of control…and when you control the ovaries, you control everything else connected to them. Women not having the same amount of control as the men in regards to the big decisions and the money and the leadership positions, in my mind, shows that men are still leading this show. I don’t want to “faithfully hold my peace” about that.

  8. Christian says:

    Though I will admit to a serious case of womb-envy, I still think the “you can have the priesthood as soon as I can have babies” argument falls short. Because priesthood is hierarchical power (power over others, decision-making power) which motherhood isn’t (because with the man being the “head of the household” he still theoretically gets child-decision veto, even though children are considered to be more womens’ charge/area of authority/responsibility), and if one group has veto power and the other doesn’t, the group that doesn’t will always be seen as lesser or subordinate to the group that does, no matter how much they theoretically value the contribution of the other half it is still always somehow lesser, because it is placed lower on a hierarchical scale.
    I’m getting to the point where I don’t think we understand the difference between men and women well enough to try and generalize what they can/can’t/should/shouldn’t do or what power they need/don’t need. Maybe if God or somebody gave us an idea what being a man or woman means more than just being a human being (the family proclamation gives a few duties of men and women, but no distinction and it lists nothing the other side couldn’t/doesn’t do, for example in single parent households) we could distinguish duties better, but I think denying anyone anything on the understanding we have of gender seems like the people who denied rights to blacks because they thought they were a different species.

  9. Caroline–
    In my ward in Seattle in the ’70s, LDS who thought blacks should get the priesthood were considered heretics–until the Revelation, of course. The doctrine of not criticizing church authorities is not a terribly recent development.

  10. Caroline says:

    JJ says, “Questioning this doctrine is like questioning other basic doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”

    This is where we would disagree, JJ. I consider women not having the priesthood a policy, not a doctrine. I don’t see anything in the scriptures that definitively precludes women from priesthood. In fact, in the New Testament, there’s ample evidence that women were priests. (Check out Karen Torjesen’s book When Women Were Priests, if you’re interested.)

    Before the policy change in 1978, many members likewise felt that that priesthood exclusion was doctrinal. I wonder if, as time passes, more and more members will come to think of all priesthood exclusions as policy. We shall see.

  11. edb says:

    Interesting post on many levels. I have never really understood why women are usually the first to criticize other women who ask these questions… My best guess is that it has to be with the fact that most men are simply oblivious to the issue. Women, on other hand, have to reconcile the idea that the Church is “true” with the idea that God seems to want them to be second-class citizens for whatever reason. I am just speculating here, but I think that for a lot of women, it is less scary to think that God wants them not to hold the priesthood than it is to think that some part of the Church may not be “true,” because once you embrace the latter option, it is no longer clear what one should believe. If the Church is wrong when it denies the priesthood to women, then is it wrong when it teaches about eternal families or the existence of God? My guess is that it is easier to simply accept an all-male priesthood without questioning it (and strongly discourage others from asking these uncomfortable questions).

    I saw Kristof’s article as well, and I did a little research on it. It’s a difficult question to study because there are a million confounding variables, but I did find some evidence that religions which advocate “traditional” gender roles cause a certain amount of harm in women’s lives. Women who are members of “conservative” religious denominations have higher rates of depression than women in more liberal denominations. No such difference was observed for men. (In fairness, it should be noted that the differences were pretty small.) Also, I found evidence that Mormon women are as likely as non-Mormon women to work outside the home, but they were far more likely to believe that women shouldn’t work outside the home… And as a result, Mormon women ended up doing significantly more cooking/cleaning/child care/other domestic labor than non-Mormon women. And I don’t know; I just have a hard time understanding why God would want women in His “true Church” to be more depressed than women in other churches or to spend more time scrubbing toilets.

    What do you do about it? That is an excellent question, particularly given that the Church hierarchy isn’t very tolerant of dissent on this issue. Personally, I just try to do my callings and my home teaching, pay tithing, go to the temple, and all the other stuff that “good Mormons” are supposed to do. But when I can, I tell people off the record that I don’t agree with the idea of an all-male priesthood. My hope is that some people will think, “Wow. ebd is not one of those feminist radicals who wants to destroy the Church; he seems to want to be a good member. Maybe it doesn’t automatically make you a bad Mormon to think that there is something wrong with this.” Hopefully real change will happen once enough people start to think this way. It will probably take a lot longer than I would like, but that is almost always the case when gender inequality is involved. It’s a bit frustrating, but what do you do? My only other option is to leave the Church… And let future generations of Mormon women use me as a cautionary tale about what happens when you question the party line…

    (BTW, I’ll gladly take your six children, but we might need to find a bigger house first… 😉 )

  12. stacer says:

    I’m not sure whether saying it “applies” or not is the right term. Sure, it’d be great if what they called for were to happen, but what it comes down to for me is that they’re not prophets and have no authority to speak for the church.

    Women holding the priesthood is one of those “shelved” issues for me—I simply don’t have the answers, and it’s just better for me to put it on a shelf and hope that the Lord will figure it out.

    I honestly think that the Celestial Kingdom will look a lot different than what we imagine, because there are so many things we simply don’t know and probably aren’t ready for as a people. Kind of like the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon.

    I don’t have a clue what that picture will look like, but I know that despite all my frustration with church in some areas, that authority to act in God’s name (which of course, is the whole point of the priesthood) resides in the hands of the prophet.

    It was really interesting to read accounts of Harold B. Lee praying to lift the ban on black men in the priesthood, and how he was told no, that it wasn’t the right time. President Lee agonized over it. He knew that it was the right thing to do. Yet, for whatever reason the Lord had (many have, of course, speculated about it, but I’m skipping that part), it wasn’t the right time. And it was a painful time for a lot of people, especially black people who wanted the further blessings of the gospel, like being able to attend the temple.

    I don’t think the situations are all that different. I have no idea whether President Hinckley or President Monson ever pondered/ponder the idea nowadays, and who knows? Perhaps a statement like this might bring President Monson to be in the same position that President Lee was, or even President Kimball.

    But I’m not going to hold my breath. There are so many other things for me to worry about, and it seems one that’s least likely to change in my lifetime, so I might as well move forward in the areas I can control, you know?

  13. mValiant says:

    Caroline, G, Catherine, Stella – I appreciated reading your thoughts about this! Thanks.

    JJ, thanks for posting – it sounded like a Jedi-mind trick, was that on purpose? “This isn’t about equality” waving your hand as your listeners unquestioningly believe you. 🙂 Like Caroline, I’m not really sure what you mean by doctrine of the priesthood — in my experience, there is also the doctrine of continuing revelation which is meaningful to me because times change and the church changes and there is a lot of evidence that members can be inspired to think and question in a way that trickles up the hierarchy. (Actually, one of our local GAs encourages it. He thinks it keeps the church innovative.)

    Christian – I really like the way you described your ideas around hierarchy. Interesting point about not knowing what it means to be a man or a woman, I hadn’t thought about it that way.

    edb – Thanks for your thoughts and the research! Got me wondering if it is the negative consequences that make discriminatory practices unacceptable, or simply that the practices are discriminatory. If someone could have proved [though as a social scientist, I know that happiness is hardly provable!] that blacks were happy pre-civil rights…? Just wondering outloud, what do you think? I appreciated your thoughtful points.

    stacer – I hear you loud and clear about this feeling better to you as a ‘shelved’ issue. I know lots of people who have made peace by thinking that current structures may not be reflective of the eternities. I think your point that The Elders/Kristof are not the prophet is really important in thinking through the implications of this for the church — it made me curious to know if the church leaders are aware of it, how they will respond, etc. Surely won’t be an immediate response. I hadn’t ever come across anything that stated these ideas so strongly and in a way that (to me) seemed hard to not apply to LDS hierarchy, so I’m curious if it makes an impression on the higher ups. 🙂

    velska – I’m wondering if you think that including women in the hierarchy would lessen men’s sense of duty or opportunity to reflect on God? That’s a real question for me, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  14. SilverRain says:

    As someone who feels discomfort with these sorts of discussions, but succeeds in quashing it, more or less, I can tell you why I dislike them. Perhaps others feel similarly.

    These conversations make the assumption that a male-only Priesthood makes a woman second-class. For whatever reasons many feel that way (most of them admittedly good) it is the premise for discussions like this. When that is taken as incontrovertible truth, those who disagree are automatically excluded and put on the defensive. Therefore, there is no way for someone who feels as I do: that there is no inequality in the priesthood, to participate gracefully in such a discussion.

    I do not desire the priesthood, though I would accept it, should the Lord call me to it. I do not feel that men wielding the priesthood lessens me in any way. I support the practice of a male-only priesthood because I have a testimony of obedience, sacrifice, and the divine guidance of the Church. I feel that if it is not important to the Lord to change things now, then it is not important to me. I can fully understand that my testimony and feelings on the subject are insufficient for those who do not agree with me. (And just for a note, how I feel about these things is not up for debate.)

    It is extremely insulting to be told that I am less than men because I don’t hold the priesthood, and that I’m (essentially) an idiot for not feeling the same way, or blind for not seeing it.

    You cannot expect a woman to engage civilly in a conversation which is begun by demeaning her in that way. That is why I usually just ignore such posts as this.

  15. mValiant says:

    SilverRain, I do not think you are an idiot for having a different point of view, and I apologize if my post made you feel like I was suggesting that.

    Something that I notice and appreciate about LDS women is that so very many feel strong and empowered by their faith and by their involvement in the church. I think that is to be celebrated, and I think it sounds marvelous that you find so much meaning in your experience.

    My experience has been a little different, I was hoping to explore that but not diminish any one else’s point of view.

  16. mraynes says:

    SilverRain: Why don’t you send us a guest post on your feelings about the priesthood?

  17. Eleanor J. says:

    Interesting comments. However, for me, I’m too busy to add priesthood responsibilities to my list of things to do. I’m old school. My faith in gospel principles and doctrines are simple. I grew up in a family where my father was always off fulfilling his priesthood responsibilities and therefore not home very much. No wonder my mother was an angry and frustrated Mom. So, personally I don’t need nor want to have the priesthood. Having said that, it’s true of the saying that goes, “if you want anything done in the church, give to the women”, which in my 60+ years in the church is so true. Men generally speaking and from experience, don’t care, they’re just in a different zone all together.

  18. Question- Are the hierarchy and the priesthood inseparable? What would happen if women were allowed to hold any office or administrative post, but not perform ordinances (baptism, temple)? Is the priesthood truly essential to carrying out administrative callings in the church (considering women are supposed to be equally capable of receiving revelation through the spirit)? If men carried out ordinances, and women could do anything else, would this change the way women are viewed in LDS culture?

  19. edb says:

    Well, I recognize that I am taking a somewhat controversial stance, and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. However, if you don’t believe that an all-male priesthood is oppressive toward women, I would be interested to know why you think that. I’m not trying to attack the beliefs of anyone who feels differently, but, well, from my point of view, the main reason that so many people are reluctant to raise these questions is because there is strong social pressure not to (as mValient noted). But to me, at the point where you do begin to ask the questions, it seems very obvious that the emperor has no clothes. How are women supposed to feel when they see a group of three men in the position of honor at the front of the chapel every Sunday? When almost all the speakers in general conference are men? When even the leaders of Relief Society/Young Women have to defer to an all-male bishopric? When women make temple covenants to be obedient to their husbands? I mean, if over half of the active Church members were black but all bishoprics and general authorities were exclusively white, would we even be having this discussion? To me, it seems like we would clearly view that setup as racist… But somehow when it is based on gender norms we think it is okay. I don’t know… I am inclined to blame this on patriarchy in society as a whole… In a world where sexist/misogynist humor is still considered socially acceptable and “you throw like a girl” is a pejorative and “that guy has serious balls” is a compliment, women are socialized very early to see themselves as second-class citizens. So they tend to accept the idea of an all-male priesthood without questioning it too much. Like I say, if you think I’m wrong, I would be very interested to hear the reasons that you think I’m wrong…

    Also, I will readily acknowledge that there are numerous problems that arise when you try to use these social science surveys to determine what effect an all-male priesthood has on women. For example, Mormon women have higher rates of depression that women in more liberal denominations. Does that mean that Mormonism causes women to be depressed? Or does it mean that women who are already depressed are more likely to adhere to a “strict” religion like Mormonism? Or does it mean that women who adhere to conservative religions are more likely to live in conservative communities where there may be other forms of discrimination against women? There are a million possibilities, and I definitely would not be comfortable saying that the results of the studies I cited early can necessarily be blamed on women not having the priesthood. (Conversely, if similar studies showed that blacks did not show higher signs of depression or whatever before they were given the priesthood, I wouldn’t take that as proof that the policy had no negative effects, either.)

    The main reason I posted these studies was because the usual counterargument to the idea that women should hold the priesthood is something like, “The LDS Church sponsors the largest women’s organization in the world, LDS women are happy, yada, yada, yada.” I’m just trying to say that it isn’t necessarily obvious that these sorts of statements are true and that patriarchal norms within the Church may have a very real negative effect on women.

  20. Stella says:

    Silver Rain I think a guest post on this would be amazing! I hope you will do one. I’d love a more in depth response to the feelings you’ve expressed.

  21. z says:

    Sigh, somehow the shelf seems to be the answer to everything.

    Next time I get mistakenly tracted, I may just play the shelf card myself: “Why yes, Elders, I do in fact have a strong testimony of Joseph Smith. However, it interferes with my participation in the Methodist church, so I’ve just put it on the shelf, and refuse to engage in any critical thinking about it. Bye now!”

  22. Alisa says:

    Thanks for this post, mValient. I can relate and have felt similarly for a number of years. However, only recently I’ve been exploring some different ideas about this question, none of which have helped me arrive at any conclusions, but here they are anyway.

    Some of the Zelophehad’s Daughters bloggers have mentioned that they wonder if giving women the Priesthood would be enough to change women’s status in the church. I would love to hear more about their discussions that they’ve had, but I wonder if part of it is that Priesthood wouldn’t necessarily give women access in the heirarchy. That maybe Priesthood and heirarchy are two different things that currently are combined under a similar demographic? I wonder, though, about single adult men in the Church who have significantly reduced use of their Priesthood – they don’t head a family, they can’t be bishops, stake presidents, etc. They can still do a great service, but I’m just pointing out that having the Priesthood doesn’t give them access to administrative or presiding callings, even in their own homes. If I fell into that group and really felt like I was called to lead a congregation or serve in a role where I got to counsel members more 1-on-1, I might be frustrated by those types of non-Preisthood limitations on my potential in the Church.

    Another thing that strikes me as funny is that my very true-believing Mormon, domesticated, feminist-fearing mom sometimes speculated about fringe doctrine in my conversations with her. She would NEVER be one of the women advocating for women’s ordination, but she told me she wonders if women already hold the Priesthood and we don’t need to be ordained to it. This is an interesting concept, and there is evidence from the early days of the Church that this can or could have been the case for some women, particularly those who have been endowed in the temple. But, nothing’s been officially said about it, particularly in recent years, and therefore I classify it as a fringe concept that I sometimes think about.

    I recently had a non-denominational female rite of passage, a blessingway, to celebrate the upcoming birth of my baby. It was a profoundly spiritual experience for me, and while I felt so edified, I wondered why we didn’t do things like that in Relief Society or Young Women’s. I felt like women in the Church were missing out. But then I got to think about how great it was that my rite didn’t have to be correlated, or presided over, or follow a manual. It was women using their power to provide positive vibes, prayers, and blessings, yet it came from within them, not from some outside authority. It has made me pause and question if I want to have to have my authority come from within the Church, or if instead I feel glad and free that I can participate in a wider variety of blessings and spiritual experiences that don’t need the approval of my Priesthood leader or RS President, particularly b/c the experiences I’m having come more diretly from God, and less from the organization.

    I know most women don’t explore the freedom given to them to conduct their own non-Priesthood rituals, but having just begun to think of them myself, I see some advantage to keeping these separate from the mainstream, not b/c there’s anything contrary to the Spirit in these rites or ceremonies, but b/c I think it allows me to explore my divinity as I seek to directly commune with God without a lot of unnecessary red tape or confining instruction. Perhpas this is a blessing in disguise?

  23. mValiant says:

    edb – I think maybe it gets complicated for people to say “I am being oppressed” without feeling like they just gave power to someone else to make them feel oppressed. If you experience yourself as a powerful, free, enlivened actor then you’ll likely experience a lot of cognitive dissonance trying to also understand yourself as oppressed. If you don’t FEEL oppressed, are you actually being oppressed? That is something I wondered a lot about after talking to lots of my LDS friends about this article. Most of them don’t feel oppressed at all, so don’t really welcome the “liberating call” of The Elders.

    I find myself sensitive to the dynamics you described though — heavily male general conferences, always having to get a man to tell me that I am worthy to go to God’s house. How differently would I feel about myself if my temple recommend interviews were conducted by women! That isn’t true for everyone. I’m not sure why different people experience it differently. I don’t attribute it to anything like intelligence (and I hope that no one is attributing this to my or someone else’s lack of faithfulness on the other hand because I know my path has been sincere and truth-seeking). Is it family difference? Different parts of the world? Different professional experiences? I don’t know.

    Anyway I’m glad for a forum like Exponent where people are encouraged to talk about what their individual experiences are.

  24. JJ says:

    I am not on the nets as often as some. I rambled yesterday and apologize for my poor wording. Many have comments for my voice of dissent. I found this site while looking for object lessons for my RS lesson. It saddens me to hear women misunderstanding their worth. It is not a knock against being a woman to not hold the priesthood.

    Thank you Stacer for your comments on the eternities. A reminder of the eternal nature of the gospel gives perspective.

    Silver Rain – you are a beautiful writer. I enjoyed the way you expressed many of the same thoughts I share. You probably need no warning on the heated debate that would follow should you write a post for this site.

    To others – I am curious. Why do you want the priesthood? Do you want to be a Bishop of a ward? Most Bishops don’t aspire to this calling. Yes, Anna was a priest in the NT. I dare not venture into temple ceremonies regarding queens and priestesses. Go back to the OT, the tribes of Israel, etc. Are they all racist/prejudiced? Or could it be the Lord’s way?

    Would having the priesthood really clear up this prejudice you feel? Would it really eliminate the ill feelings you bear? Really?

    Could it be that the Lord has a plan for the entire church and that in HIS time things will be unfolded?

    Proverbs 3:3-5 There is great wealth in the simplicity of faith.

  25. mraynes says:

    JJ: I would hope that if SilverRain chooses to write a guest post for us that the conversation would be just as respectful and productive as it has been for this post. We have a very clear comment policy that prohibits being disrespectful of people’s personal religious beliefs. There is nothing wrong with having differing opinions as long as it’s done in a respectful manner.

    Exponent is a forum for a variety of voices and opinions. Though many of us struggle with aspects of the doctrine or culture, we love the gospel and our Mormon heritage. We respect and appreciate those who do not share these concerns because we know that they love the church just as much as we do. That is why we would be honored to have those voices join ours.

  26. Alisa says:

    JJ – you ask some valid questions to understand some people’s point of view here. I can only speak for myself, but in answer to your question, “Do you want to be a Bishop of a ward? Most Bishops don’t aspire to this calling.” I can surely state NO. 🙂 I don’t want to be a bishop, not at all.

    However, I do think it would be great to have a woman as my bishop, or to have some sort of couple calling to the position of bishop/ward matron like a Temple President and Matron or even Mission President and his wife. Meaning, I would feel more comfortable being interviewed about special and sacred things by another woman. I choose female doctors and health care workers b/c I feel more comfortable with them, and I personally would rather have a woman as a leader ask me about how I wear my underwear and other, even more personal details, than I currently feel with a man asking me these questions in recommend interviews. I would feel more comfortable sharing my concerns with a female religious leader than a man if it ever came down to it. I’ve had a female friend who had to go through awkward Church court with men only judging her, which would have been alleviated in part by having some other woman there for her or to hear her story.

    So it’s not about me aspiring to a calling, but more that I see the benefit female ordination has played in other churches in providing options and good role models (which I can also see in our church in the example of temple matrons, etc.), and wouldn’t mind seeing more of it in the LDS Church.

    There are other benefits too: b/c there needs to be a certain # of Priesthood holders to make a ward, there could be more wards if women counted towards those numbers, the work of the Church could move forward much faster if women – the largest % – could take on some of these responsibilities in the mission field, etc. It seems odd that the Lord would say, “No, I’ve got enough Priesthood holders, I don’t need any more people serving and acting in my name.” I think we can always use more of that strength and power available in the service of the Lord.

    I don’t know what it was like for some people of African descent before 1978. Maybe some wanted the Priesthood for their own aspirations (which I can understand, they were denied temple ordinances and eternal marriage too). But I suspect a lot of them humbly just wanted to serve the Lord, to be allowed to do the work for their ancestors, to be allowed to bless their children, their neighbors. To heal. And many women can relate to the yearning that comes with the humble desire to serve. Sure, we can do some of that now, but it’s limited. And so sometimes we ask why that is.

  27. SilverRain says:

    mValiant—Thank you. I didn’t feel insulted by your post, which is why I did end up commenting. I was only trying to share why some women might overreact to these sorts of discussions.

    Moniker—I think your proposal would only move the line, not eliminate it.

    As far as a guest post goes, I have a couple of concerns.
    First, that there wouldn’t be much point. All of my reasons boil down to just one: because of various testimonies and promptings from the Spirit. If hearing about my experiences in reaching my current feelings is of interest, I’d be willing to write on them. If it is only an attempt to prove the validity of that conclusion which would be interesting, I really don’t want to go there.

    Second, time. As a newly-single mother of a five-month-old and a three-year-old with no at-home internet, my time is very limited. So long as I can take my time writing, I’d be willing.

    Third, the possibility of insult. I am a rather odd cookie in the sense that I feel very strongly about certain things, but always with the full understanding that my conclusions are not more valid than others’ . . . except for me, sort of an “as for me and my house” kind of thing. I am aware of the prevailing opinions on this site, and don’t want to step on toes.

    I think I have thick enough skin to deal with emotional discussion, but as I’ve said before, the validity of what I feel is not up for debate. I don’t have any interest in “proving” my perspective as valid. I currently have enough trouble with that without anyone helping me doubt myself.

  28. Deborah says:

    SilverRain: I have followed your blog for a while now and keep meaning to leave a comment (I don’t have as much time for blogging as I used to); I have been impressed by your grace and courage during what must be painful times. Sending you virtual hugs and blessings.

    mValien/Stacer: Have you read Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s essay “Lusterware?” It was printed in Dialogue and in “All Gods Critters Got a Place in the Choir.” I thought of it because of the “shelf” metaphor that’s been brought up a couple of times. Sometimes, that shelf can get heavy! Anyway, Ulrich’s essay provides a rational and spiritual balm every time I read it. I’d love to get permission to reprint a portion of it on this blog . . . .

  29. married to mValient says:

    I have the privilege of being married to mValient. She is a remarkable woman who has taught me much. Before we were married, I considered the issue of why women don’t have the priesthood a difficult one because none of the standard answers people would give for *why* seemed satisfying. But I was able to file it under “God’s will: reason unknown” because I felt like it didn’t matter: I was committed to treating women equally. I would be pefectly happy if women were given the preisthood. I would have no problem with a female Bishop, etc. I figured that as long as there was no prejudice in my own heart, I could just focus on other aspects of the gospel that were important and meaningful to me.

    This has worked for me, but for my wife and many other faithful Mormon women I have met, it’s not that easy to find peace around this issue.

    One thing I have learned is that no matter much I try to promote equality in our family, no matter how we divide responsibilities, decision-making, etc., and no matter how much we avoid “traditional” gender roles, there is something fundamentally unequal about the fact that I can bless, baptize, or become a Bishop and my wife cannot.

    There is a lot of inequality in the world, some of it harmless and some of it extremely harmful. My feeling about harmful stuff is that God allows it, but I’m uncomfortable with it coming from him. If I imagine him doling out trials, I get stuck quickly when I know so many people experience horrific things.

    So in the end, I have to admit I’m uncomfortable with the idea that God has carefully and willfully directed and led the Church into a power structure that is so gender-biased, because I believe this really is harmful to some (even if not all) girls and women.

    At the same time, it has always been very hard for me to say or believe that the Church is plain wrong about something. That feels threatening to my sense of loyalty to the real truths I have found in the Church.

    Lately, I’ve found some comfort and reconciliation by seeing the Church as an organization built on and around real and meaningful truths that have power in peoples’ lives. I believe God’s hand is in the Church, but I am increasingly uncomfortable with the simplistic view that the way the Church is right now is exactly right and exactly the way God wants it to be. I think it’s more complicated than that, even though I fear that idea is threatening to a lot of people.

    In the early Church, revelation came steadily, but not always in a clear and orderly way. Was that all part of God’s master plan to promote faith or does it have more to do with the complicated and sometimes confused individuals leading the Church?

    I have great respect and admiration for the leaders today, especially because they have been the keepers of many truths that I have found to be meaningful in my life. Yet I also hope that the Church has not become so large and institutionalized that it can no longer change dramatically.

    And so I do hope for a day when we can embrace a true Priesthood of *all* believers in this Church, but in the meantime I still treasure the spiritual truths I find here.

  30. mValiant says:

    Thanks, married to mValiant (who is currently out of town and just called to tell me he posted something 🙂

    Your post is making me reflect on our journey. This issue has been so difficult for me, but hearing The Elder’s call made me feel like someone was finally hearing and recognizing my pain. It was a very important moment in my life to hear a group of world leaders echo something I’ve felt so strongly in my heart. But I also appreciate what Married to mValiant said about his deep feelings of loyalty to the church, because I think it kept me honest about positive and meaningful experiences I have had in the church. And I never wanted to take that from him or anyone, so I felt like I was in a difficult place for a long time. I think he described the OK landing place he’s at on the far side of many long and difficult conversations really well though.

    And for me, the Elder’s statement has been a booster shot for me that made me feel a lot more peace about everything. I don’t know if that makes sense.

    This isn’t the end if others are wanting to comment, but I just wanted to say thanks for Exponent for giving me a voice for an important moment in my spiritual journey. And thanks for all of the other voices that joined the discussion.

  31. edb says:

    I just wanted to thank married to mValient for the comment… And to say that you are a person that I have greatly admired for many years… And that it is very comforting to know that you have struggled with some of these same questions (and reached some of the same answers that I have reached).

    (BTW, if you have no idea who I am, ask your wife. 😉 I have the privilege of knowing both mValient and her husband in real life, and I can assure you that they are not bitter apostates who have an axe to grind with the church. They have both had substantial leadership callings in the Church and are two of the “best Mormons” that I know.)

  32. jessawhy says:

    I was talking to my husband about this post yesterday and realized that yes, the priesthood and the heirarchy are different. If women can’t have access to the priesthood, maybe access to the heirarchy would be enough. It’s not an all or nothing decision.
    If women could do anything in the church except Priesthood blessings or ordinances (and then, perhaps women could stand with their husbands in blessing their children, although this would disenfranchise single people even more) that would do a lot to help the inequaality in the church.

    I have no problem with people who see the inequality in the way women are treated and say, “It doesn’t bother me” for whatever reason.
    I do struggle with people who just can’t see it. Although, that said, I didn’t see it for 26 years. So, I guess I should have more sympathy for that perspective.

    I’d love to see all leadership callings as husband/wife combos. Or women as Sunday School presidents, etc.

  33. Caroline says:

    married to mvalient,
    Thanks so much for articulating your viewpoint on this. I think your thoughts mirror a lot of what my own husband feels on the subject.

    mvalient, you’ve sparked a great discussion here. Thank you for your thoughts and for moderating it so thoughtfully.

    silverrain, I would love it if you submitted a guest post.

    Jessawhy,
    As for whether or not giving women priesthood would mean equality (equal access to decision making power and hierarchy) for Mormon women, I read someone once say that it was necessary, but not sufficient. That resonated with me. I would view it as a first step. I imagine it would then take several generations before women were truly integrated into decision making bodies.

  34. Naismith says:

    The thing is, just because someone has a vagina does not mean that they are going to agree with or support your point of view. There may be a great deal of disappointment when it turns out that some female bishops can be just as big of jerks as some male bishops.

    I found this out the hard way, just a few weeks ago. I was annoyed that two ward activities were being held too close together IMO. I was sure that the men making the decisions had no clue about how much work it was to bring potluck dishes, etc. and had made this decision in the vacuum of a PEC meeting with no women present.

    Well, somewhat to my embarrassment, it turned out that I was wrong. The bishop acknowledged that the decision was made on a week when women wouldn’t normally be at PEC, so he invited the female chair of the activities committee and I think the RS president. The activities chair was a strong proponent for doing both the activities, and her advocacy was the deciding factor. So yeah, I’d been screwed by another woman.

    Also, this points out the strength of dealing head-on with local church leaders when you have a problem about how things are going. Invariably, I find them to be humble and calm with my complaints, and I walk away thinking they must be inspired. If I had kept the concern to myself without discussing it with them, I could still be offended and complain about the sexist men. And I would have been wrong.

    I agree with SIlverRain. I also had a spiritual experience early in my marriage that made me appreciate the value of an all-male priesthood. Women serve as temple workers and missionaries, etc. without having the priesthood, which strikes me as meaningful and valuable.

    I’d totally support female bishops if they are called, but I am not advocating for them and don’t see them as necessary or a way of making a change.

  35. ESO says:

    I am one of those women who don’t care about having the Priesthood. I honestly don’t need any opportunity for more work at Church.

    I wonder how much of this is an issue of perception. I do not feel inferior to any Priesthood holder or man at Church. It doesn’t really matter to me if they perceive themselves to be superior because I know they are wrong. Often when I hear people complaining about gender dynamics at Church, I wonder why they feel lesser (and I have often witnessed women ACTING lesser–why?). Sincerely: we are children of God. Let’s get on with it–I have a lot of work to do.

    I also take exception to the notion that I feel women who have Priesthood issues have that women who don’t have Priesthood issues have not been sufficiently reflective. Just because it is not a stumbling block for me doesn’t mean I have given it less thought or am capable of doing so.

    Interesting post, though. Regarding The Elders: just as I would not accept them as authorities on how I do my job, what I feed my kids for dinner, where I put my money, and what kind of car I drive, I don’t see any particular reason to overthrow my spiritual/religious life for their idea of how things should be done. FWIW, I would not overthrow my spiritual/religious life for the prophet, if I disagreed with him.

    I do love The Elders, though–good reading, but no reason to jump off a cliff IMO.

    I’ll take your kids, though.

  36. Janna says:

    Women who degrade the issue because “I don’t care if I have the priesthood” are missing the boat on the fact that this is an equal rights issue – not whether you want to take advantage of that right or not.

    Similarly, I want everyone to marry legally in this country regardless of their sexual orientation. Just because I do not want to marry a woman should not make me any less invested in providing that right to others.

    Moreover, requiring that men have the priesthood is equally discriminatory. I know several men who have gone inactive because of the pressure to “exercise” their priesthood – they want to be active, but just not with the priesthood role.

  37. G says:

    Naismith’s comment reminded me of sentiments expressed during the Suffragists fight to gain women the right to vote: Some proponents of woman’s equality put forth the argument that we NEED women as voters and participating citizens because they had higher moral values (or some similar argument).

    But that argument entirely misses the point. Women didn’t deserve the right to vote because they would elevate everything by their participation.
    Women deserved to vote because they are equal with men.

    So yes, (thinking of your example, Niasmith) having a women in charge of an activity, or a ward, or a budget, etc, isn’t some magic bullet to make every thing better. That’s not what this is about.

    It’s about changing a structure that excludes woman’s voices in decision making and leadership. Not because they will make better decisions than the men but because they deserve to be viewed as equals with men.

  38. Naismith says:

    “Not because they will make better decisions than the men but because they deserve to be viewed as equals with men.”

    Is being exactly the same as men the only way to be equal to men? I don’t think so. And I think it demeans the uniquely female things that women do, like having children.

  39. G says:

    Niasmith, do you really think that giving women equal voice/opportunity for leadership etc, is making them exactly the same as men?

    “it demeans the uniquely female things that women do, like having children.”

    Wow.

    Do you make any concessions for women who can’t do the ‘uniquely woman’ thing of having children? Perhaps it would be okay for those women to have more decision making power? Or, perhaps, once a women has passed that time in her life? (At menopause she can then have more decision making power)

    But questions such as those are rhetorical (unless you do have an answer for them, I’d be curious to hear it).

    My bottom line is that I do not buy into the argument that “equality” equals “same as”. That a women does not have to “get manly” to be in charge of a ward budget, or interview members for temple recommends, or make leadership decisions for a stake, or bless a baby.

    (Nor, btw, must a man “get womanly” to lead a nursery, be a stay-at-home dad, or be in charge of the household shopping, cooking, cleaning)

  40. D'Arcy says:

    We like to think of the church as the conscience of society–but because religion early on embraced the prevailing prejudices and institutions of society and embedded them in the scriptures, it has often been woefully absent when it comes to the fight for equality and human dignity.

    To me that’s so obvious. And it seems ridiculous sometimes to have to fight certain fights. It’s demeaning to have to explain, “No really I am just as human as you,” but there is something about we humans that loves to believe otherwise.

    I’m a little tired of going around and around trying to say to my church leaders…really…I’m just as human as you.

    I don’t want children Naismith. Many men don’t want children either. Both men and women are needed to make a baby. That’s just not even an argument or a comfort to me.

    I don’t have to be manly to be seen as a leader. I can embrace my feminism AND be seen as equally human as my male counterparts. Right now, I just don’t feel that it is equal and I refuse to “put things on the shelf” anymore.

  41. Ignorant Sage says:

    I read an article recently that talked about priesthood in the Old Testament, its connection to the temple, and the Restoration. It’s primary point was the outline the deep connection between the priesthood and the temple, so much so that anciently there was the Court of the Gentiles (where non-Israelites could approach the Temple, the Court of the Women, were women could come, the Court of Israel, where men could come, then the actual temple, the Holy Place, where priests – those with the priesthood – could come.

    Joseph Smith restored both the priesthood and temple. But women are now inside the temple, receiving their washings and anointings (as Aaron and his sons did in Exodus), dressing in priesthood robes, and participating in all the ordinances of the temple that men do.

    It was an interesting read.

  42. Caroline says:

    Naismith,
    I love what you said here.

    “this points out the strength of dealing head-on with local church leaders when you have a problem about how things are going.”

    I think it is so important to talk to a leader when you have a problem with something. I myself don’t do this as much as I should, but I am inspired by women who do. In my view, the squeaky wheel often gets the oil. So the more people are open about problems, the more time leaders will spend talking and thinking about ways to fix them.

    Naismith, I fall on the side of favoring equal access to leadership for men and women in the church, but I do want to thank you for stating your views here. I think there are many thoughtful women who do question whether or not we women should try to incorporate ourselves into the current power structure in the church.

    I think this kind of goes back to some of what was written about recently in the post on feminist baby blessings. Liberal feminists tend to favor incorporation into existing power structures. Radical feminists are often more likely to withdraw from it and form their own unique structures and rituals.

  43. stacer says:

    Deborah, I haven’t read that. Would be an interesting read. And yes, the shelf does get heavy sometimes (hey, I’m a 35-year-old single woman–it gets *HEAVY*) but sometimes that’s all I can do and retain the testimony that I *know* happened. Sometimes our faith is tried beyond reason. That whole “won’t give you more than you can bear” bit? Sometimes, I wonder.

  44. Naismith says:

    “Niasmith, do you really think that giving women equal voice/opportunity for leadership etc, is making them exactly the same as men?”

    Rather, I would turn it around and say that giving women priesthood would deprive men of their unique contribution to the family and church. I really love that dads get to give baby blessings, because except for that, there isn’t much they can do other than support mom in birth and breastfeeding, etc.

    The notion of “equal” when it comes to leadership is pretty ludicrous anyway, since MOST men never serve as bishop etc. Also, when my husband was called as bishop, the stake president was clear that my husband served at my pleasure. The SP checked with me regularly about whether my husband’s leadership was having a negative impact on our family. So who really had the power there? It seems to me that I did.

    “We like to think of the church as the conscience of society–but because religion early on embraced the prevailing prejudices and institutions of society and embedded them in the scriptures…”

    I am not buying. I don’t think our faith did that. I converted in the 1970s because I saw the egalitarian relationships that Mormon women lived, and was attracted by Pres. Kimball’s teachings on equality in marriage.

    I don’t think most LDS women are “traditional” in the least. My non-LDS mother’s life is so different (not in a good way) from my LDS mother-in-law. To paint all religion with the same brush does not seem accurate or fair.

    And for the record, I didn’t want to get married or have children, either.

  45. ESO says:

    But having the Priesthood IS NOT equality. You HAVE equality. You are as loved by your Heavenly Father as any other person.

    But, you say, without P/H I can’t ever be Bishop or Sunday School President! True. Many P/H holders never serve in those positions either. Guess what? I may never be RS President or Cub Scout leader, either. Does it make me less equal? No. God doesn’t care if I was Stake President or completed my Personal Progress–he loves me the same as the atheists next door.

    I just don’t think having the P/H makes someone “equal.”

  46. Merri says:

    Thank You ESO, JJ, and Silverrain. I share your feelings, although I always struggle to put them into words so that others will understand. Thank you for speaking up.

  47. D'Arcy says:

    ESO–it’s so much deeper than the priesthood and leadership. That’s just the example we are using here.

    I am listening to all of the comments, realizing we all feel differently, but then I think…how can ANY woman look at the stand each Sunday and each General Conference and not have a least a little WTF moment.

    But I understand that MOST women in the church don’t feel the way that I do, or things might have changed a long time ago.

    And the church DEFINITELY is influenced by the Protestant society that it formed from, no matter how much revelation it gets from God.

  48. Janna says:

    I find it fascinating that we even have to have this conversation at Exponent II. I don’t ever remember having it at any Exponent II retreat or in the newspaper simply because it is a given that we all think we are oppressed under a patriarchy. No need to discuss or debate; it is the premise from which we work to make a voice for women.

    I may be putting words in the mouths of the Founding Mothers of Exp II and all those who have come after them, but I don’t think so.

  49. ESO says:

    Janna–thanks for the utterly dismissive comment–don’t trouble your pretty little head about those of us so un-evolved. I encourage you NOT to participate in any conversation you don’t feel we really “need to have.”

    The only reason women like naismith or silverrain or myself present our feelings in this forum (which I find increasingly hostile to women who still go to Church and are generally satisfied with it) is not to CONVERT you to our side. We acknowledge that everyone has their own issues and for us, this just isn’t one of them. We are trying to articulate our feelings to demonstrate that we are not mindless lemmings; so often humans dismiss what people who don’t think like they do as not having contemplated their particular issue. All we are saying is that we HAVE thought about it and we have reached peaceful conclusions.

    If reading about our peaceful conclusions can help someone else who is feeling pain over this issue, so much the better. But we are not trying to change your mind because we trust that you have a working mind and spirit of your own.

    D-Arcy–what, pray tell, is the “deeper than Priesthood” issue? Because (to me) deeper than Priesthood is our divine origin, which is equal. I AM a leader in my ward and stake and you better believe I am more influential in that sphere than MANY Priesthood holders because I work and serve and care and make myself heard. So far as I know, no one hates me for that (except maybe one person).

    To me, oppression itself is something of perception. While clearly some of you perceive me to be oppressed, I don’t, and whose opinion on this matter matters most?

    Personally, I have had several personal experiences that have made me more understanding of a male priesthood. For one thing, if you read the duties of the Priesthood, the ones that matter (ie, not the collecting money ones) are things that women, by and large, already do. We serve, bless, love, and lead already, without having to be specifically instructed to do so, in many instances.

    Also, you probably noticed, women do a number of things already that men must have the Priesthood to do. When adult women, for example, receive their endowment, and men cannot do so until they are ordained Elders, it seems that women likely wither already have the Priesthood or don’t need it.

    Should there, in the future, be some revelation based change to include women in the Priesthood that I had received personal spiritual confirmation on, I would not reject it. I think the history of the Priesthood on earth is one of ever enlarging circles, so it makes some sense to me that that might continue. But it is something I do not seek. I am pretty much still working on being a good person, which is hard enough for me that I don’t really feel like I need to add the burden of being in the bishopric, too.

    FWIW, I think that the influence the Church has from Protestant society (that you allude to) is not something to be particularly proud of. I know many feel, for example, that the 1978 revelation was so influenced–I submit that the practice that was corrected there was an evil one that had actually been instituted as a result of similar influence in the 1800s.

  1. March 23, 2010

    […] by reading blog entries about how a feminist feels about baby blessings, questioning authority, mormon feminist activism, and blessings administered by women, I have had several odd […]