While my husband was off at Priesthood Session this evening, I attended the Ordain Women Launch Event, which another attendee charmingly dubbed “Priestesshood Session.” The crowd was sparse when I arrived yet entering was difficult because of the large number of TV cameras to dodge. I am excited to think that someday there will be archived footage of the back of my sweater blocking a camera or two as I zigzagged through the room to attend this historic event. By the end of the speech, however, the room had filled up–with a surprisingly close ratio of male and female attendees.
The first speaker was Exponent II veteran Lorie Winder. She explained many basic principles about the need for women’s ordination. Some of these principles are covered in the Q and A section of the All Are Alike Unto God website. She encouraged the group to envision the eternal potential of women. Will women be co-actors with God in the eternities? Do we really believe Heavenly Mother has been perfected as a silent wife who plumps pillows while Heavenly Father governs the universe? She responded to accusations that women who want the priesthood are power-hungry by pointing out that Jesus taught us how to use power not to coerce but to empower others.
Margaret Toscano discussed the evidence of priesthood authority among women of the New Testament such as Mary Magdalene, Junia and Phoebe. Joseph Smith’s declaration that he would make the Relief Society “a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day— as in Paul’s day” suggests that he shared the view that the ancient women of these times held the priesthood. She closed by testifying that she feels the spirit of God the Mother in the Ordain Women movement.
Mary Ellen Robertson described the church at the time of the restoration. Men and women exercised spiritual gifts equally then, unlike now, when only men with priesthood office are encouraged to perform healings and blessings. In this earlier time period, women also enjoyed greater autonomy than modern women. You can read more about this time period in the Nauvoo and Priesthood chapters of the Exponent’s recent Daughters in My Kingdom series.
When Hannah Wheelright was introduced as a “a current BYU student” audible gasps of surprise and comments about her bravery came from throughout the audience. She described her feminist awakening, pointed out that women lack the opportunities to prepare for their destinies as queens and priestesses in the eternities, and concluded by telling the group that she knew she was equal to men and that she hopes to persuade church leaders to treat her as such.
Debra Jensen does “not envy or begrudge” men, but does not want her daughters excluded from priesthood opportunities. She has held on to the memory of the Hinckley interview in which he suggested that women could be ordained someday, but that they aren’t agitating for it, “like a life jacket.” When she saw the Ordain Women website, she said to herself, “Those are my people.”
Kate Kelly described how her mission experience had helped her realize the need for women’s ordination. She told the group that she had decided that the issue of ordination “really mattered” enough to justify “risking everything” to advocate. She told us that a priesthood blessing has helped her find comfort during this stressful week. “This is not just a social cause for me,” she told the group. “I believe in the priesthood.” She described herself as an active member of the church who would use the priesthood to serve others if she had the opportunity to be ordained. Kelly explained how she had envisioned the Ordain Women website and then contacted anyone she knew of who had ever written anything in support of ordination to see if they would be willing to provide profiles (we Exponent ladies were among these and several of us submitted profiles). She said she has been surprised to find support for the movement where she did not expect it, including within her own family. Once the site was up, she has been thrilled that the project has resonated with other people in the public who have also volunteered profiles.
Following these speeches, the floor was opened for anyone who wished to express their feelings about ordination. Many audience members embraced the opportunity to stand and express why they were supporting the movement. There were no awkward silences (like the kind we have all experienced during some fast and testimony meetings.) Nor were there any hecklers; the event seemed to draw a very friendly crowd.
The end of the meeting was devoted to questions for the panel. Wheelright beautifully addressed a question about whether it would be demeaning to ask men to give women authority. She said that she saw gender as a spectrum, not a dividing line, and since she thought of men as other people, and not as a competing sex, this would not be a problem. (By the way, how old is that girl? She is impressive. I predict that she will be president someday.) Someone asked what it would take for the group to feel they had achieved success. Would women need to be eligible for all priesthood callings? All panelists adamantly agreed that they would. All twelve-year-old boys have the potential to be an apostle someday; so should women and girls. What would they do if the first presidency and quorum of the twelve said no? Toscano pointed out that they did say no to the ordination of Blacks–but eventually said yes. This would be a long-term process.