Mormon Women Express #FaithInWomen with Art…and Keys
About 10,000 people from 80 nations who are members of 50 different faiths will descend upon my hometown of Salt Lake City for the Parliament of the World Religions on October 15-19. The Parliament began in 1893. It has taken place in a variety of cities across the world, most recently in Melbourne, Australia in 2009.
This year is exciting to me not only because of location of the Parliament, near my home and the headquarters of my own faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, Mormons), but also because for the first time, the Parliament will include a Women’s Assembly, providing an opportunity for women to address the responsibility of the world’s religions to affirm women’s dignity and human rights and empower women. (Follow the Women’s Assembly on social media with the hashtag: #FaithInWomen)
Several months ago, when I was a member of the board of Ordain Women, organizers of the Inaugural Women’s Assembly of the Parliament of World Religions reached out to us and invited us to participate in the event. For some time, we had already been discussing the possibility of developing a community art project, using house keys to represent priesthood keys, as a way to express our desire for full equality within our church. Now we had the opportunity to expand that vision to include women of many faiths.
Since Ordain Women launched in 2013, Mormon leaders have sought to clarify the roles of women within the priesthood of our church. Mormon women are banned from ordination to the priesthood, but we do participate in the priesthood in certain capacities. In 2013, Elder Ballard stated that “when men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which by definition is priesthood power.” Reference A In 2014, Elder Oaks added that women have “the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings.” Reference B Through this authority, Mormon women may complete responsibilities that are limited to ordained priesthood holders in some other faiths, such as proselytizing, preaching, and officiating in certain ordinances (but only within the walls of the temple, not in public).
Decisions about how Mormon women may participate in the work of the priesthood and which women will have the opportunity to participate are made by ordained priesthood holders with priesthood keys. These people who govern the women of the church are always male, because both priesthood ordination and priesthood keys are currently limited to male members of the LDS Church. Women do not make such decisions because they are not granted priesthood keys.
Priesthood keys are also given to the Presidency of the Seventy; presidents of temples, missions, stakes, and districts; bishops; branch presidents; and quorum presidents—including Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidents. –Come Follow Me youth curriculum Reference C
In the controlling of the exercise of priesthood authority, the function of priesthood keys both enlarges and limits. It enlarges by making it possible for priesthood authority and blessings to be available for all of God’s children. It limits by directing who will be given the authority of the priesthood, who will hold its offices, and how its rights and powers will be conferred. -Dallin H. Oaks Reference B
Over time, the breadth of opportunity for Mormon women has fluctuated as male priesthood leaders have made decisions either restricting or expanding women’s roles in the LDS Church. For example, in the past, women were not permitted to serve as missionaries, but later, male priesthood leaders with keys authorized the female missionary work that continues today. Just last month, male priesthood holders with keys admitted women to priesthood councils from which they had previously been barred. However, other opportunities were granted to women in the past but are not presently authorized, such as the opportunity to give healing blessings. Mormon women do not make these important decisions about female opportunity because women are not priesthood holders with keys.
This Saturday, Ordain Women supporters, both male and female, will create “living art” depicting the changing opportunities for women in the church, including examples both of opportunities that have been expanded and opportunities that have been withdrawn. Then they will attach keys to a gated structure designed by artist Ginny Huo, as a symbol of the need for women to access priesthood keys. Two weeks later, people of all faiths will have the opportunity to add their keys to the structure during the Parliament of World Religions as a way to express support for religious gender equality among all faiths. Finally, the structure will be permanently displayed in Utah so that the public may continue to add keys; the permanent monument will continue to evolve.
There are opportunities to participate in this project in-person and remotely. Learn more at the Ordain Women website.