The Spirit of Fear

“Wow, that scares me to death but please connect me,” I replied when I was invited to connect with a new group that would “unapologetically advocate for women’s ordination in the Mormon church.” That group became Ordain Women.

Openly advocating for women’s ordination breaks a taboo that has been prevalent even among Mormon feminists.  My first, reflexive feeling about it was fear of censure and discipline. Almost immediately thereafter, a scripture came to my mind:

“God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Why do I fear the people I love?  Why do I fear the church I love? Why do I feel powerless to speak my truth? God didn’t give me the spirit of fear.  God didn’t make me powerless. God gave me power and love and a sound mind.

When I look at this issue with a sound mind instead of fear, it makes perfect sense to address the root of gender inequality in the church.  As long as women are only auxiliary to the priesthood, inequitable policies, practices and norms will persist. I can continue addressing each of these small and great inequities one by one, but why shouldn’t I say what I mean and ask directly for what I believe is right? I believe women and men should be treated as equals and given equal opportunities, not that the church should discriminate slightly less against women. By actually saying what I mean and asking for what I believe to be right, I am using the spirit of power, love and sound mind that God has given me.

At a recent business conference, I saw a playful video replicating the Solomon Asch Experiment.  Students in a classroom were asked a simple question.  All but one of the students were actors who gave the same, incorrect answer.  The only remaining student repeated the wrong answer although it was apparent that she didn’t believe it was right.  This pattern repeated itself again and again.  A few brave souls did reply correctly, but their faces blushed with shame when they said the obvious truth.

Then the researchers changed the experiment. One actor in the room—just one—said “I see this differently” and gave the correct answer. All of the other actors continued to say the same wrong answer as before. Yet, when her turn came, that final student confidently said what she knew to be right. She spoke the truth.

At this point I started to cry. At work.  With all my colleagues surrounding me, laughing at this silly video.

I was imagining myself surrounded by people reciting the most beloved Mormon platitudes about women and the priesthood:

  • “Men and women are equal in the church.”
  • “Men and women have separate but equal roles.”
  • “All of the blessings of the priesthood are available to women.”
  • “Women don’t need the priesthood because they have influence/motherhood/spiritual superiority/husbands.”
  • “Women lead their own organization.”
  • “Women have as much say as men in the councils of the church.”
  • “It doesn’t matter who holds the umbrella.”
  • “Women don’t want priesthood authority.”

These platitudes would be reassuring if they weren’t so obviously untrue.

It is time for me to honor the sound mind God has given me.  It is time to think straight about women and the priesthood instead of reciting soothing falsehoods. I am ready to speak the truth as I see it. priesthood session marchOn October 5, I will be among women attending Priesthood Session of General Conference, presenting ourselves to church leadership as prospective Elders.

My presence at Priesthood Session will be my way of saying, “I see this differently.  I see that women are not equal to men in the church.  I see that we lack the blessings of priesthood service.  I see that our contributions are limited by our auxiliary status. I see that when only men hold the umbrella, women are overlooked and misunderstood. I know that many women want priesthood authority.  I am one of them.”

Making such a bold statement in person, instead of within the safe, semi-anonymous void of the Internet, is scary for me. But God didn’t give me the spirit of fear.

Women will come to Priesthood Session in the spirit of power and love that God has given us.  We will not protest.  If admitted, we will reverently enjoy the session. If barred, we will peacefully leave. I hope great masses of women join me there, but even if I am one of only a few, I pray that I can make as much impact as that solitary person who paved the way for others to speak the truth by saying, “I see this differently.”

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at

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29 Responses

  1. EmilyCC says:

    I love this so much. Thank you for being brave and saying the right answer.

  2. Rachel says:

    So very beautiful, April. Thank you for bravely sharing your power, and love, and sound mind. Thank you for speaking the truth that you see.

  3. Alison Udall says:

    I support you totally and will be thinking of all you brave/awesome/faithful women who are asking for the opportunity to serve alongside men in all areas of the church. It takes women like you who are willing to stand up to create change.

  4. Kate Kelly says:

    Thank you April! It is fascinating to learn about the original experiment! I think that’s EXACTLY what we’re doing!

  5. Melody says:

    April, you express yourself clearly and honestly. Your words are a gift. You’re a gift. Thank you for this. God bless you. God bless us, every one.

  6. Emily U says:

    You have my support and admiration, too. I’ll be thinking of and praying for all of you from the Midwest.

  7. Suzette says:

    Yes! Yes!
    I see it differently with you.

  8. Monica says:

    Amen and Amen, sister! Having studied a fair amount of social psychology, the Asch experiment is exactly what came to mind for me as well during some recent interactions with people on this topic. All it take is one person to stand up and more will inevitably feel as if they don’t have to pretend to accept these platitudes any longer.

  9. Lezlie Garity-Gammell says:

    BRAVO, dear Sisters in Christ! I am writing a Book on this very subject called, “MORMON WAR of THE SEXES”! There are no accidents as Awake Sisters know, and as I write I am packing to go to Paris tomorrow to complete the final edited manuscript of this decade labor of Love/Hate. I can’t wait to hear your results on the 5th of October in iconic Salt Lake City. My two youngest daughters, and their boyfriends, are attending for the first time since very young girls…again no accident!

    There is a posted comment by Alison Udall that was the “No Accidents” prompt to my post this day, (one of maybe four or five in my whole internet journey thus far). The Udall name comes close to the source of my story’s foundation. My Bishop at the time, Roger Wells, was married to a Udall Family member. As a very active member Family, holding high callings, I was told to accept polygamy in Heaven or turn in my Temple recommend. I was told this by Roger Wells. I was told by my spouse in the same meeting, “Are you going to argue with God”? I have been researching, writing, and saying loudly…Yes, I am arguing that God intended his Sons to go to “Spiritual College”… AND his Daughters!!
    I am arguing a few other things as well. I whole-heartedly support your argument!!

  10. CD says:

    Lack of understanding abounds

  11. Juliathepoet says:

    I haven’t joined Ordain Women because I think women are natural heirs to a priestesshood, but I a stand in solidarity with these kinds of actions. I live in Oregon, and traveling to Utah is an expense I can’t afford. I have been attending priesthood session in a stake center, or online, for over 10 years, since I have felt that our Heavenly Parents want me to be there.

    • Laura says:

      I love this thought — “natural heirs to a priestesshood!” In an inspired RS lesson a few weeks ago, the teacher asked what the “divine role” or “divine nature” of women meant (if not limited to childbearing). It turned out none of us had any clear idea beyond our divine identities as individuals…. I wish I could have contributed this to the discussion!

  12. So refreshing to speak and read such plain and brave words. I’ll see you in line for the priesthood session. It’s so good to have a group like Ordain Women where we can stand together.

  13. Mike says:

    Has it ever occurred to you that the Priesthood is something men need and you do not? By seeking and receiving the Priesthood you may very well destroy the thing you love. But hey, you’ll be equal!

    As far as I’m concerned you can have it. Welcome to the world of getting called to move a family in or out of the ward/branch every week. Like going home right after church or showing up right before services start? Kiss that goodbye. Like going to “less active” members homes who are obviously riding the church welfare system in order to help them clean up their hovels, only to come back in a week to see it just as nasty, if not nastier? Want to figure out how to get another Priesthood holder to do his job at church without offending him therefore causing him to take his entire family inactive? This is just a small sampling of what having the Priesthood entails. As for the spiritual aspect of it, if you think angels are going to start singing in your ear, you’ll be disappointed. You can read in the Church History, the Bible and D&C that women already have the power to bless and heal, you want the rest of it too, on top of the incredibly hard job of being mothers and wives? Have at it. I think you’ll find the grass isn’t even a tiny bit greener and you’ll have destroyed something that wasn’t broken by “fixing it”. But don’t let that stop you! You know better than the every Prophet since the Church’s restoration on Earth.

    • TopHat says:

      Is this how you would speak to an 11 year old boy who is getting ready to become a deacon? That the desire to serve as a priesthood holder is appropriate and good for a young boy, but sinful and power-hungry in a girl or woman is the issue at hand. We want to serve. We want to connect with our fellow saints and God in the tangible ways that the priesthood offers.

      After reading your post, I’m not sure why you still bother going to EQ or HP (whichever you’re in) if it’s so burdensome!

    • April says:

      I’m sorry having the priesthood has been such a bad experience for you, Mike. Like TopHat, I am curious if you say things like this to men and boys who want to be ordained to the priesthood.

      In spite of your vitriolic manner of expressing yourself, some of what you say rings true to me. I would expect there to be lots of difficult or tedious responsibilities associated with priesthood service, just as there are unpleasantries associated with any worthy effort.

      Also this: “As for the spiritual aspect of it, if you think angels are going to start singing in your ear, you’ll be disappointed.” I do not assume that priesthood works magically like this. It has been my impression that priesthood is an authority. Because priesthood holders have this authority, they are authorized to participate in many sacred experiences such as performing ordinances, holding callings that are only open to priesthood holders, and being called upon to perform priesthood blessings. These sacred experiences lead to personal growth and help the priesthood holder become closer to God over time. These are the kinds of experiences that I think would benefit me and other women like me.

    • Spunky says:

      I have heard the argument from all the “additional” hours that men “put into” church service, but it seems to me that having women with the same priesthood keys would make the work immediately half of what it is. Plus, the lightened load of not having to “oversee” the Relief Society, Young Women and primary would also reduce the time spent by men in administrative tasks that can easily help one reserve more time for family and the spiritual enlightenment necessary to not offend those you serve. (On the flip side, I have also often shown up early and stayed late for meetings, that is not a male-only thing in the least).

  14. Sheri says:

    I believe that seeking additional truth and standing up for what one believes in are noble causes. When it comes to seeking answers or requesting a policy change for something in the Church, we have the personal responsibility to seek out the doctrine for the truth and the reasoning behind the policy.

    The priesthood power and keys are a point of doctrine in the gospel, not a policy. They are based on truth, revelations from God. I believe it is dangerous and prideful to dictate to the Lord how to run His Church.

    I would guess that the women who show up to Priesthood Session for this October’s General Conference will not be turned away, as the Priesthood Session is not a secret society and nothing is said there that cannot be shared with anyone on this Earth.

    As one previous comment stated, one is already able to access the session online live or by attending in person at the state center, and also, one can watch on TV or listen on the radio. They publish the session with all the other talks and sessions, including the all Women’s session, in the Ensign and Liahona. The men are able to read, listen or watch the talks given to the Relief Society and Young Women, just like we can do the same for the Priesthood session.

    I do not view there to be any inequality at all in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I love this Church. I love the gospel. I am appreciative and grateful for how the priesthood is arranged and managed by those who are in authority. I believe that women are given every and many opportunities to serve in this beautiful Church. It is a great gift to all.

    • April says:

      Sheri, no one is “dictating to the Lord how to run His church.” This is a way for women who want the priesthood to demonstrate their desire for priesthood authority and ask church leadership to seek revelation from God on this matter. We fully expect revelation to come from God through the prophet.

      And I am interested in the “revelations from God” you cite that clarify that women should not receive the priesthood. I know of none in our canon, and in fact, Joseph Smith said otherwise.

    • Spunky says:

      I agree with April. In addition, I believe women do have limited priesthood that can only be used in the temple. I see no reason why it is limited to that space, and believe it was only limited to that space because of the Victorian (worldly) influence which dictated women could not have “power” in public. This is not an example of equality.

      I agree with you and what others have said that it is probably unlikely for women to be turned away at the Priesthood, if only for PR reasons. That being said, Sister Monson was refused entry at one time, so there is a reason to question physical accessibility.

      Like others have mentioned, I also listen to the Priesthood Session every conference, but I listen to it in preparation for the day when I might be able to exercise priesthood service as well as being prayerful in ways to apply all of conference messages to my family, my life and the women I visit teach. I dare say very few men would listen to the annual-only Relief Society session to seek ways in which they can better their service to Christ.

  15. Jessawhy says:

    Great post, April. I love the way you’ve explained your fear and how you are overcoming it!

    I think some of the concerns that commenters have are also addressed at this fMh post.

    I hope that people can read through that before bringing the same arguments over here. (sigh)

    I’m proud of you.

  16. honey says:

    I wonder what the feminists have to offer to the women of the church who do not want or perceive the need for ordination to the priesthood.
    First wave feminism offered much and delivered little, especially to those of us who desired and chose a traditional life style. If fact it failed many of us, and its slippery slope has led us to the point in society where I believe men are undervalued in their roles and now even in the church.
    By the way I was actually present when first wave feminism was at its peak.

  17. Ziff says:

    Wonderful post, April! I really like the comparison you draw to the Asch study. Even just one person saying what many may be thinking can empower many. Thanks for being the one.

  1. September 10, 2013

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