The Woman of Caanan: The Saviour’s Model for Dialogue

woman of caanan

Yesterday, Michael Otterson, managing director of the Public Affiars arm of the Church, sent an open letter to some of the prominent LDS blogs regarding conversations about women in the Church. While there are many points of conversation addressed in the letter, there is one I would like to specifically speak to.

Mr. Otterson writes:

“Yet there are a few people with whom Public Affairs and General Authorities do not engage, such as individuals or groups who make non-negotiable demands for doctrinal changes that the Church can’t possibly accept. No matter what the intent, such demands come across as divisive and suggestive of apostasy rather than encouraging conversation through love and inclusion. Ultimately, those kinds of actions can only result in disappointment and heartache for those involved.

We might wonder what the Savior’s reaction would have been had the many prominent women in his life taken such a course. If Mary Magdalene, or Mary, his mother, or Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, had demanded ordination to the Twelve, had spoken publicly about their insistence and made demands such as we hear today, how would Jesus have felt, who loved them every bit as much as he loved the Twelve? Some of these women were closest to him in life and in death. One was the first mortal to witness a resurrected Being. There was nothing “lesser” about these women in his eyes.”

It’s interesting that we do have account of the Savior’s reaction when a woman entreated him for that which was seen to be improper and outside of the realm of previous practice.

Matthew 15

22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.

23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.

24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.

26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fal from their masters’ table.

28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

It seems even God himself changed his mind from time to time when the person asking petitioned with great faith…and kept asking.


Mother, writer, dreamer, hopeless romantic, opera singer, reader, researcher, lover of Jesus, Mormon and a feminist. I spend my days taming toddler tantrums and kissing boo boos. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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8 Responses

  1. I’m really hesitant in bringing a response to this, as I greatly respect (and am grateful for) ExpII as a strong voice for feminists with varying ideas to come together and share. I’ve tried writing it a couple of times, and it just comes off as antagonistic. I’ll keep working on it. Maybe I’ve just been reading too many blogs where differing opinions are treated like declarations of war via nuclear warhead.

    There are several problems with using this story as an example. First, Jesus won’t speak to her then compares her to a begging dog, neither of which is an example of love and acceptance. Second, this isn’t the start of a change in who Jesus is willing to teach, but an exception for a single person. It’s an example of how faith cannot be constrained, just as with others who were not Jews obtained miracles because of their faith. Lastly, this fits very well with the examples in the letter of those who wanted something of Jesus can act. This woman would have known she was not one of the people He was interacting with. Rather than gather a group of like minded people to each tearfully ask if they could have the miracle, she petitioned by herself, knowing she has the possibility of not being answered at all. We’ve no record of how many others did the same, yet received nothing, not even a word, just as this story began.

    • April says:

      Christ did change the policy in question, he did not just make an exception for this woman:

      Matt 28:18-20 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

      And the apostles didn’t pay attention and implement the change, so He had to announce the change again, later. (See Acts 10).

      Finally, in Otterson’s letter, where does he mention that it is fine to advocate alone but not in groups? It looks like Otterson’s examples show that he is willing to meet with both groups and individuals, but only those he personally chooses to invite. Waiting for an invitation appears to be the most important concern to him, not being alone versus in a group:

      An example: some years ago Public Affairs invited three groups of women, all active Latter-day Saints and including feminists, to come for several hours each to discuss concerns.

  2. Sue says:

    Otterson’s account ignores what happened at the tomb when Jesus arose. Mary was there. He told her to go tell the others that He had risen. Our definition of an Apostle is one who testifies of the resurrected Lord. Mary was the 1st one commissioned by Jesus himself to perform that function.

    Given this Otterson’s analogies fail.

  3. Ziff says:

    Great response, Amy!

    • EFH says:

      What is interesting to me in this story is that I get the feeling that the way Jesus treated this woman was not necessarily a reflection of his thoughts on her or her situation or the way she petitioned. He turned it into e lesson for his judgmental followers, his chosen 12. They looked down on her for who she was and for her crying after them. So he challenges her and then turns it into a lesson of faith for all the chosen men to notice and follow. His words at the end “O woman, great is thy faith” are magnificent.

      From the stories of Jesus in NT and the way he interacted with the people, I think that he did not care whether people approached to him in silence, or crying, or pushing or in crowds. He took notice. He answered and he healed according to their faith. I think that the silence treatment was not part of his his manners.

      Regarding OW, the supporters of this group are part of the church membership and tithing payers. They deserve a better response even if they are completely wrong.

  4. EFH says:

    Sorry Ziff. I did not mean it as a response to your comment. Not sure why my comment got posted where it did.

  1. June 2, 2014

    […] her marginalized status and his disciples’ disapproval (John 4:30). This is the man who changed his mind and healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter, even after his disciples told her to go away, […]

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