On Ordain Women Being Confined to Free Speech Zones

Twice a  year the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds a General Conference, which consists of 4, 2-hour meetings for the general membership of the Church to attend at the giant conference center in Salt Lake, at church buildings around the world, or even from home via Internet and other sources. In addition to the general membership meetings, there is a Priesthood meeting for men and boys 12 or older and a combined meeting for women and girls as young as 8. Last year, at the Fall General Conference, the feminist Mormon group Ordain Women staged a protest at the male-only meeting. OW seeks to have women ordained to the Mormon priesthoods (there are two orders), but their request was denied and they were barred entrance. The incident made headlines, which seems to have been the purpose.1

Mormon Conference

OW plans to repeat their action again at the upcoming April General Conference, and this has provoked a preemptive response from the Church. An official statement that was released to the public makes two important statements. First, it states that male-only ordination to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods is “a matter of doctrine.” This draws a deliberate contrast with the racial priesthood ban which the Church rescinded in 1978 and further repudiated in a statement earlier this year. That practice was never based on any canonized revelation, and is now2 viewed as a matter of policy (transient) as opposed to doctrine (permanent). The new statement even went farther and specifically disavowed the folk theology that had grown up around this policy: “None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.”

This new statement on race and the priesthood is part of a major, but quiet, new initiative in how the Church talks about its own history and other sensitive issues. It is, in that sense, a sign of progressiveness in the Church. I, and many others, applauded the document when it came out. So it is very telling that the Church chose to refer to this document (however obliquely) in their response to OW. Referring to a new, progressive document conveys the message, “This far, and no farther” more powerfully than a reliance on an older or more traditional source would.

Which brings us to the second, and more controversial, statement:

If you feel you must come and demonstrate, we ask that you do so in free speech zones adjacent to Temple Square, which have long been established for those wishing to voice differing viewpoints.

The formal statement has drawn headlines of its own weeks ahead of the OW demonstration. Kate Kelly, the founder of OW, is quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune as stating flatly:

We have nothing in common with those people [referring to other demonstrators in the free speech zone]. They are seeking to destroy the church. We are not against the church — we ARE the church.

The idea that the Church has chosen to ostracize OW members is widely seen by supporters of OW as victory for their movement. A raft of blog posts from prominent Mormon women, like Jana Riess, have come out stating that the Church is behaving like a bully. Riess writes:

There is something deeply symbolic about yesterday’s statement, for it reveals what the Church apparently thinks of the feminists within its fold. We, as faithful and active members of the Church, are being lumped together with the same anti-Mormon protestors who routinely crash General Conference and shout that the Mormon religion is of the devil. These protestors have started fistfights with conference-goers and even stomped on or burned temple garments.

In line with characterizations like these (although not necessarily as an endorsement of them)3, Kristine Haglund, another prominent Mormon feminist, called the decision a “PR disaster for the church.” She went on o say that “Goliath is never going to get better press than David — the optics are terrible.” That’s all I intended folks to glean from her quote, that it was a bad PR move, but I [/ref] On Facebook I’ve seen friends express similar twin feelings of deep hurt at being excluded along with a sense that soon the tide will turn in their favor and the members of the Church will come to see OW as the good guys. I think both of those reactions are mistaken.

2014-03-19 Unjust JudgeFirst, while my heart goes out to those who feel stunned and betrayed by this announcement, I’m afraid they may have set themselves up for tragedy. The movement for female ordination often models their approach on scriptural precedents like the parable of the importunate widow, but this is a very high-risk approach to activism. But this parable is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, it is about a widow and therefore someone who self-evidently has a valid claim.4 Is it “self-evident” that we ought to ordain women? Obviously most Mormons don’t think that it is. Second, it seems like a serious mistake to apply the parable to conventional PR pressure tactics targeting the leaders of the Church instead of prayer to God. I’m not suggesting that OW should only pray about this and nothing more, but I am suggesting that enlisting this parable as a justification of conventional protests is a mistake. Unfortunately both these elements, the believe that female ordination is self-evident and also the belief in scriptural justification for their tactics mean that OW may have not really prepared themselves for the possibility that the Church simply isn’t going to go their way. I’ve often seen Mormon feminists pronounce total confidence in both the rightness and the inevitability of their cause. In light of such great expectations, there is simply no way that the Church could offer a definitive “no” that would not feel crushing.5

Meanwhile, however, Mormon feminists often do not seem cognizant of the fact that their requests would cause just as much pain to fellow members as they themselves feel today. If they feel excluded by this statement, imagine how categorically and totally traditional Mormons (who vastly outnumber Mormon feminists) would feel were the Church to repudiate their faith and their convictions by instituting female ordination. There genuinely are two sides to this issue, and those who oppose female ordination frequently do so because of their own equally sincere convictions about what it means to be a Mormon woman. I understand that being asked to stand next to anti-Mormons may feel like symbolic ostracism. Does OW understand the extent to which, if their requests were granted, huge numbers of Mormons would feel just as betrayed? It may be asking too much while the sting is still fresh, but feelings of hurt and betrayal should eventually be examined in this context. This story ends with broken hearts, no matter how it ends.

Second, and for a great many reasons, I do not think that the Church’s statement will result in a significant shift in Mormon perception of OW. It’s important to step back and realize that OW does not even speak for all Mormons who feel dissatisfied with the status quo as it relates to the priesthood and gender issues broadly defined. As I’ve written before, the word “conservative” takes on strange connotations in a religion that is dedicated to ongoing revelation. Mormons believe in a Heavenly Mother, but we know very little about Her. Mormons believe that there are other scriptures beyond the Book of Mormon, but we don’t have them yet. We believe that God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”6 In a broad vista of possible futures, the movement to ordain women to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood orders is one tiny possibility that does not have broad support even among Mormons who look for forward to further light and knowledge.7 In fact, one of my chief disagreements with OW is precisely that it seems completely deaf to the possibility of a genuinely new and uniquely Mormon resolution to the questions it raises, seeing instead only the conventional secular redress.

What’s more, however, the Church’s statement isn’t in any way a proactive attack on OW itself or its members. This is not some kind of sequel to the September Six. As quick as folks are to draw comparisons with the civil rights struggle and other forms of oppression and persecution, the Church has actually done nothing as it relates to OW generally. It has only specified that if you want to come to Temple Square for the purpose of protesting the Church General Conference you have to do so in the area that has been designated for that purpose. In other words, the statement does intimate that the aim of OW runs counter to the doctrine of the Church, but the only action the Church is taking is a specific, limited, response to a single, contained tactic of OW that causes even generally supportive Mormons consternation. This is not the stuff of which martyrs are made.

Mormonism is an incredibly open-minded faith because of its atheological nature, and I do not believe that the statement from the Church presages an offensive against Mormon feminists in general or even specifically against OW. Lots of Mormons believe lots of things, and lots of Mormons think that other Mormons are crazy for the things they believe.8 When it comes to behavior, we’re a pretty rigid Church, but when it comes to philosophy it’s pretty much every man or woman for himself. And I like it that way. I like the big tent approach to philsophy coupled with firm stances on ethical actions. But there is a difference between “all people are welcome” and “all ideas are accepted.” No matter how much we as individual members may love our Church, it is ultimately not up to us to define what the Church believes. It isn’t really our Church at all. Every religious tradition must decide for itself which beliefs are essential, which beliefs are somewhat optional, and which beliefs are banned.9

I certainly don’t want to get out ahead of the prophets and declare this answer conclusively resolved based on one sentence from one public relations statement. So I am not going to try and argue that the Church’s position on female ordination is as central as, for example, the divinity of Christ or the Atonement. It isn’t, and it never can be. But I do think that proponents sometimes fail to appreciate the extent to which a commitment to gender essentialism and traditional gender roles is a deep part of our culture, history, and doctrine. Unique teachings that define Mormonism, like the centrality of the family to exaltation, are inextricable from teachings like gender complementarity. These beliefs have been reaffirmed recently with the proclamation on the family. And they seem to be at odds with OW’s particularly severe and uncompromising vision of gender egalitarianism.

There will always be some members of faith traditions who find their treasured convictions on the wrong side of the boundaries of their faith. That is an awful predicament to find oneself in. Historically, some in that position have ultimately been in error, but sometimes it is their particular faith tradition that has made mistakes. (Sometimes both, of course.) That is why, even if the Church gets increasingly explicit about male-only ordination as a matter of essential doctrine, I will sympathize with those who cling to their beliefs and their conscience. I think they are wrong, but (in this possible future) I hope that all those who find themselves in that position realize that they are loved and wanted and welcomed even if one or more of their beliefs have been categorized as out of bounds. I hope they find a way to live with the tension between their competing beliefs (a tension we all feel to some extent at different points in our lives) and remain within our community.

60 thoughts on “On Ordain Women Being Confined to Free Speech Zones”

  1. The question of who has the right to leadgoes back to the council before we came to earth. Satan wanted God’s glory, reminiscent of the OW movement’s desire to have the Relief Society president sit on the stand in sacrament meeting, as though she is one who also presides. Laman and Lemuel, Sidney Rigdon, even the ten older brothers of Joseph of old all believed they had the right to lead. Captain Moroni tied defending the right to lead not only with defending religion and freedom but also with the defense of wives and children. He also invoked Joseph of old, who ultimately saved his family. The OW moment must pull off their blinders and see that they fit into the same category as current and historical protesters. The rest of us need to see that as we defend the prophet, we are defending not only our religion, but families, too.

  2. blah blah blah. When will you people understand. God’s ways are not your ways. Do you think the members of the Church applauded Polygamy when it was revealed and then later required of many of the saints? They hated it. More than one of my wives struggled with the idea. But we did it because God commanded it. What makes you think God could not command that women be ordained to HIS priesthood. It is possible. Prepare yourselves. Thus saith the Lord.

  3. “Meanwhile, however, Mormon feminists often do not seem cognizant of the fact that their requests would cause just as much pain to fellow members as they themselves feel today. If they feel excluded by this statement, imagine how categorically and totally traditional Mormons (who vastly outnumber Mormon feminists) would feel were the Church to repudiate their faith and their convictions by instituting female ordination.”

    Traditional Mormon women would be thrilled to follow the prophet. Seriously.

    “I certainly don’t want to get out ahead of the prophets and declare this answer conclusively resolved based on one sentence from one public relations statement.”

    I think that’s wise. I don’t recall having sustained “Church PR” or Ms. Moody as a prophet, seer, and revelator authorized to formulate and then declare doctrine.

    “These beliefs have been reaffirmed recently with the proclamation on the family. And they seem to be at odds with OW’s particularly severe and uncompromising vision of gender egalitarianism.”

    I am just one voice but from my perspective, looking at OW from the outside but the Church very much from the inside as a lifelong, active, faithful member, it doesn’t appear to me that anything that OW desires is in any way at odds with the 1995 Proclamation on the Family or the 2000 Proclamation “The Living Christ” — the two most recent united expressions of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (or anything else in our history, doctrines, or teachings).

    “That is why, even if the Church gets increasingly explicit about male-only ordination as a matter of essential doctrine, I will sympathize with those who cling to their beliefs and their conscience.”

    This post is a weak example of such sympathy, if by “those who cling to their beliefs and their conscience” you are referring to Mormons who think that women have a greater role to play in Church leadership and administration, whether with or without priesthood ordination.

  4. John F.

    I don’t think that you understand either my position or OW’s position. When it comes to OW’s position on the Proclamation, they write onthe FAQ on their own website:

    The Church’s Proclamation on the Family declares that men preside over their wives and families, thus preserving an antiquated and unequal model in both the domestic and ecclesiastical realms.

    So the conflict between the Proclamation and OW is not an invention or inference of mine. It’s part of what OW stands for.

    As for my post being “a weak example of such sympathy,” I think you’d understand the sympathy better if you first realized that OW is not a good proxy group for all the folks who have questions and concerns about women in the Church. They are a very, very narrowly targeted group in both strategy and tactics. There are lots of good people who think women should have a bigger role, or a different role, or who have questions and concerns, who are not represented well by OW. I am one of those people. I thought this was pretty clear from my statements about Heavenly Mother in the original piece.

    There’s a tendency to see the world in stark polar opposites, but I’m trying hard to move beyond that in what I write. (Not saying I always succeed, but that’s the goal.)

  5. Are you really suggesting that either a) OW is unique or radical in mormonism for considering the language about male headship in families to be antiquated, or b) that OW’s stated concerns over this language has anything to do with the planned priesthood meeting action?

  6. Brad-

    A major premise of my post is the idea that this is an inherently tragic situation. For the Church to not answer definitively leaves folks in suspense and conflict. For the Church to definitively rule out female ordination (as much as it can) would be heartbreaking to those who support female ordination. I think that’s intuitively understood.

    What doesn’t seem as well understood, or as frequently discussed, however, is the fact that going the other way and implementing female ordination would also be heartbreaking for many Mormons because it would overthrow cherished ideas about gender essentialism that are doctrinally significant. One such example is the Proclamation. The fact that OW calls out that document for criticism in their FAQ illustrates the extent to which their objectives cut at the heart of what Mormon faith means to many (probably “most”) Mormons.

    Incidentally, this is just another example of how unlike male-only ordination is from the racial priesthood ban. There were many faithful black Mormons who persevered, but I don’t think you could find a great many who celebrated the ban. On the contrary, there are quite a great deal of Mormon women for whom a male-only priesthood (or at least the Aaronic and Melchizedek as male-only) is an essential aspect to their positive view of their own femininity. (I quoted one such view in my original post, but of course there are many others.)

    I do not present this as evidence that OW should stand down, but simply as context for the discussion.

  7. For some reason can’t do a nested reply to your last.

    “The fact that OW calls out that document for criticism in their FAQ illustrates the extent to which their objectives cut at the heart of what Mormon faith means to many (probably “most”) Mormons.”

    Except the specific example of criticizing the document is actually far from radical, certainly not an example of a “severe and uncompromising” vision of gender egalitarianism. You called them out for exactly that, and when it was pointed out that seeking ordination does not directly or explicitly contravene the Proclamation, you trotted out the bit about the language of male headship in families being antiquated, as if that were evidence for how you characterized the radicalism of their position and criticism of the Proc. You are the one insisting that gender egalitarianism and female ordination are radically incompatible with gender complementarity. Mormon feminists are not, and OW is not. Exaggerating the severe and uncompromising nature of your opponents and dealing axiomatically in these abstract oppositions does very little to demonstrate either emotional sympathy or understanding of your opponent.

  8. If you show up to protest, you are in the same category as other protesters and should be put in the same location.

    This demand for special treatment in the name of equality would be ironic if it weren’t so common.

  9. Brad-

    It only lets you do nested comments 5-deep. I’ll look into changing that.

    Honestly, I just don’t think there’s any way I could frame my viewpoint and have you not object to it, and I’m OK with that.

    From my perspective the “severe and uncompromising” aspect is their stated goal: ordain women to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood. This is, from my POV, a repudiation of gender complementarity in any genuine, meaningful sense. And not just from my POV, but from the POV of those Mormons who oppose female ordination.

    The primary point I’m trying to illustrate, after all, is not “OW is wrong” but rather “folks are going to be heartbroken either way.” So even if you disagree with my portrayal of OW, you should at least be able to recognize that it’s a valid way that many Mormons feel about this issue.

    Just as I, despite obviously disagreeing with OW, have a great deal of sympathy for the pain and heartache that folks will go through when/if/as female-ordination gets shot down.

    That’s the heart of my message in this post, and so I don’t want to get totally bogged down in a discussion over whether or not OW is, in objective reality, committed to a radical agenda. (I think they are, you think they aren’t, difference noted, I’m sure we’ll argue about it again some other time.)

  10. They’re showing up to attend.

    This aggrieved claim that the demand for equality is a demand for special treatment (by someone who benefits from the existing non-equality) is equal parts predictable and ironic.

  11. I actually do think OW is radical, both in its demands and tactics. But I don’t think its radicalism departs from the many radicalisms of Mormonism to the degree that you do. I think if the prophet announced female ordination, the overwhelming majority of Church members, including and especially traditional and orthodox members, would happily and unwaveringly embrace it. I don’t expect it to happen any time soon, but if it did, I think the change would be more compatible with our current rhetoric about gender (which emphatically embraces the value of equality abstractly and, Proc notwithstanding, eschews the notion of male headship in families) than with our circa 1980 rhetoric on gender.

  12. Brad-

    I think if the prophet announced female ordination, the overwhelming majority of Church members, including and especially traditional and orthodox members, would happily and unwaveringly embrace it

    That sounds exactly like the kind of rhetoric now used to dismiss the concerns of OW. After all, the overwhelming majority of Church members are content as-is.

    If that doesn’t invalidate the pain felt by the OW folks, it shouldn’t invalidate the hypothetical pain felt by those opposed to female ordination in a world where the prophet made such a pronouncement.

    Or, much more importantly and much less hypothetically, the arguments that OW makes now should rightly be seen as potentially hurtful to folks who see them as an attack on cherished values and beliefs.

  13. I think the OW group can congratulate themselves that someone, somewhere, hears and is responding to their campaign.
    My only concern with the Church PR statement is that it gives an impression that fruitful discussions are on-going on such issues…, but where & by whom? We are left in the dark.

  14. No, it was directed at your claim that ordaining women would hurt traditional members as much as not ordaining them hurts current advocates of ordaining women. I simply think that the claim that many, many people would experience pain comparable to the pain you claim to sympathize with OW members if TSM announced female ordination is ludicrous.

  15. Brad-

    I simply think that the claim that many, many people would experience pain comparable to the pain you claim to sympathize with OW members if TSM announced female ordination is ludicrous.

    This is an ironic and unfortunate lapse of empathy.

  16. “This is an ironic and unfortunate lapse of empathy.”

    No, a lack of empathy would be if I believed your characterization of the pain the faithful would suffer were accurate and I was indifferent to that pain. I just think the claim is utterly outlandish.

    If I told you that millions of people were suffering real pain because Mormon leaders refuse to diaper their horses, and you thought my claim was ridiculous, you would not be guilty of a lack of empathy.

  17. Brad-

    Is it honestly that outlandish, as outlandish as a horse-diapering–to imagine that a male-only priesthood might be an important component to cherished set of beliefs among conservative Mormon men and women?

    Given that there are people who take this view (I am one, I quoted another, and I can certainly find you many more) I think that the term “lapse of empathy” applies. People are saying “this matters to us, this is precious to us” and your response is a cavalier dismissal of the notion that it would be genuinely meaningful to them as “ludicrous” and “outlandish”.

    I find your sweeping dismissal of these first-hand accounts chilling and disturbing. (If you think I have not provided enough accounts, give me a number and I’ll see if I can supply it. How many testimonies would it take to consider that this is a legitimate position that people who do not think as you might hold? 2? 4? 12? 24? 200?)

  18. “Is it honestly that outlandish, as outlandish as a horse-diapering–to imagine that a male-only priesthood might be an important component to cherished set of beliefs among conservative Mormon men and women?”

    No, and that’s not at all what I’m saying. I’m not arguing that it’s not important to anyone. I’m arguing that for most people who consider this an important principle, the principle of continuing revelation is far, far more important. I’m arguing that notwithstanding that they consider it important, would be surprised and maybe even flummoxed by the change, their “pain” at accommodating the change would not be equivalent in kind or in scope to the pain the status quo causes female advocates of ordaining women.

  19. Brad,
    whilst i am most sympathetic to the OW campaign, my wife, on the other hand falls among those that are likely to leave the church should women be ordained.
    I think Nathaniel’s point is valid.

  20. And I think people who would actually leave the Church if the Prophet presented a revelation with the backing of the Q12 calling for the ordination of all worthy children of God are statistical outliers. Like, less than 1%.

  21. Brad,

    How is your logic to dismiss the validity of the pain of those who embrace the idea of a male-only priesthood any different from those who dismiss the validity of the pain of those who embrace female ordination?

    1. If the prophet says it, they’ll be happy to follow

    How did that work out during polygamy? When the prophet reveals hard new doctrine, do you honestly think that conservative folks are just totally unbothered by it because of how conformist they are, or something?

    I mean, isn’t the whole point that the OW folks are just as devout? Want to follow the prophet just as much? Then why is it that doctrines which contradict our beliefs should only bother one of these segments?

    2. There aren’t enough of them to matter, anyway.

    At least when in the PR statement, there was a survey to validate this. You’re just making a number up out of thin air. Only 1% of people would be really upset about his, so… who cares.

  22. Sigh/headdesk
    I’m not dismissing the validity of the difficulty conservative members will have if the Church introduces a radical change. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter at all, and I’m not saying that the fact very, very few of them would actually leave is an argument for introducing change. I am saying that your assertion that women seeking ordination are in effect calling on a much wider percentage of the Church to accept a pain that is equivalent to their own in kind and scope—that the pain experienced by FO advocates at their own exclusion is the same as the pain that traditional Mormons will experience by their inclusion—is balderdash.

  23. I say only 1% would be upset enough to leave the Church. You attribute “Only 1% of people would be really upset about his, so… who cares” to me.

    Am I supposed to believe you’re not just trolling at this point?

  24. Just for the record, Nathaniel, please note that I said nothing about the merits of either side’s case; I was asked to opine on the way the media would respond, and I did.

  25. Kristine-

    The purpose of my cite of you was to that effect: that it would be beneficial in terms of PR, not as a statement on the merits. I’ll flag the quote in my piece with your response, however, just to be sure folks get your take on it.

  26. Let me know if you’re happy with the edit, Kristine. I didn’t take anything from your quote other than what you just affirmed here, but I want to be sure you feel you’re being quoted fairly.

  27. This is my concern as well. The letter’s claim that OW was distracting from the real conversation struck me as odd. What conversation? As far as I can tell, there isn’t one, and if there is, I am barred from participating in it because I’m a woman. I have no access to any decision-making in the institutional or ecclesiastical governance of my own church, except through soft power or the benevolence of sympathetic male leaders. The fact that they may be talking about women’s issues is wonderful, but there aren’t any women in the room!

  28. I agree. The idea that people wouldn’t be thrilled with additional revelation from the Prophet on ending the female priesthood ban is laughable. We Mormons are thrilled with every new speck of revelatory change! Even something as mundane as changing the ages of missionaries was incredibly exciting to most of us. Most members oppose it now because it is the status quo. After a new revelation, I’m certain the vast majority would support the new status quo. The matter isn’t gender or priesthood or doctrine. The matter is following the Prophet, which we Mormons love to do.

    Most people were adamantly opposed to extending the priesthood to blacks right up until the second the revelation was announced. Then only a tiny fraction left the church. We now characterize those former members as racists, who left because of pride.

  29. Well, calling the issue “female priesthood ban” seems to equate it with issues of Black & the Priesthood Ban; and consequently the supposed 1% that will object any future revelation will then be seen as “sexist”, right?
    But, female functions in the temple tells its more about power than priesthood.

  30. Calling the issue “female priesthood ban” doesn’t fly in the face of women performing ordinances in the temple, it also equates the issue with that of Blacks & the priesthood; consequently setting some people up to be called “sexist” in future. To me, that’s just wrong.

  31. Just to be clear, i’m more of a fence-sitter. I believe women have the “priesthood”, and perhaps, what OW is fighting for is recognition/power/authority, i can’t say.
    But, saying should a revelation come in future, members would just move on is really just missing the point of this blog post (imho)

  32. Point taken. In my opinion, calling the withholding of priesthood and temple ordinances to people of African Descent a “priesthood ban” is misleading. It was much more than that. It was denying Blacks the chance at entering the Celestial Kingdom. Black women included.

    Barring women from the full exercise of priesthood is a priesthood ban, even if that’s not a nice sounding term. The temple is the one place where women might have access to some of the ordinance authority, but that is only one sliver of the responsibilities and rights associated with the priesthood, and even there, we are acting as priestesses “unto” our spouses.

    My main point isn’t semantics, of course. My point is that if the Prophet were to declare in April that the priesthood was going to be offered to all members, male and female, I think very very few Mormons would object at all. I’m pretty sure they’d be thrilled.

  33. As just an observation about relatively recent events that touch on this issue; namely, ordaining men of all colors and nationalities (aka giving blacks the priesthood) and the Proclamation on the Family:

    Why are the presidents of the church so unwilling to make a definitive statement about the priesthood? The lifting of the ban on giving black men the priesthood was announced to the press as just that — a PR announcement. The Church was never given a direct statement from the so-called prophet. There was simply a PR statement about a change in policy. The Proclamation on the Family was written *by committee*. Since when does the Church receive revelation by committee?? Isn’t that what a prophet is for? If we canonize “doctrine,” doesn’t that need to be the voice of the Lord given through our anointed prophet, seer, and revelator?

    Why is the Proclamation part of this discussion? It was presented as an anti-homosexuality document, and there is nothing in it regarding priesthood. The OW is not seeking to absolve women of the roles of nurturing parent; they are seeking the ability to augment those roles with the priesthood ability to bless. That is not a protest against the Church nor a repudiation of the Church’s role as arbiter of priesthood authority — in fact, OW’s request is a testimony of the truthfulness and the women’s faith in the Church.

    OW belongs in the Church and belongs on Temple Square. To throw them out is unconscionable.

  34. Thank you for the well-constructed argument and civil discussion here. Thank you also to all of the commenters for your insights.

    Being married to an feminist idealist, I have to take Brad’s side on this, kind of. There is very real pain caused for many people by the exclusion of women from the publicly visible ordinance-performing and leadership roles in the church. Even though there is no doctrine indicating women as having a lesser role or value because of this exclusion, the culture we are in tends to devalue women for this reason. That is extremely hurtful.

    To say that there would be a daily nagging of pain caused for some people by a revealed change in doctrine or practice to allow women to perform these duties is an overreach. Many would welcome the new revelation, many others would get used to it after a time. Those who left the church would not be doing so because of this revelation. Few would remain who were constantly injured by seeing women performing duties that used to be done only by men.

    However, I don’t believe that the doctrine is as malleable as Brad or the OW movement would like to believe. The world we live in is Terrestrial. The temple is Celestial. The organization that is the church is only required because of our sojourn in this Terrestrial existence. It does not conform to Celestial ideals – it prepares us for Celestial existence. The Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods are designed specifically for the administration of this Terrestrial organization. Those priesthood orders will not be the same in the Celestial world. The priesthood will remain, but it will be completely different.

    I’m going to link to this post from my blog. I hope you don’t mind!

  35. The Nathaniel/Brad debate above reminded me of something that happened recently in the Church. Remember when the Boy Scouts of America changed their membership policy and lifted the ban on gay participants last May? (cf http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/23/boy-scouts-gay-ban-ruling_n_3328541.html) The First Presidency released a statement in response to this affirming to the members that the Church’s long-standing relationship with the BSA would continue even after the new membership policy was instated (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-responds-to-boy-scouts-of-america-policy-vote).

    I was among the first to see that link posted by the Church’s official Facebook page. I immediately “liked” the post, but I was disappointed to see comments from Mormons accusing the Church of “abandoning true principles” for the sake of creating good PR with the “liberal media.” Some even went so far as to say that they would stop paying their tithing or that they would no longer be able to sustain Thomas S. Monson as the prophet because of his “cowering to public pressure” in making this decision. (I put these statements in scare quotes to differentiate these opinions from my own, not because they are direct quotations.)

    I honestly couldn’t believe it! Why would so many otherwise faithful members allow their socially “conservative” values get in the way of sustaining the prophet when they are normally the very ones touting the importance of trusting our leaders? Even stranger was that my comment affirming my support of the Brethren in their official decision ended up being deleted by an administrator. It was almost as if the person moderating the Church’s Facebook page didn’t even know how to feel about the official statement that “[s]exual orientation has not previously been—and is not now—a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops.” I won’t say more on that, though, because I don’t actually know why my faith-promoting comment was deleted; it very well may have been a mistake. However, other comments from LDS parents considering withdrawing their sons from their local Church troop and possibly even distancing themselves from the Church multiplied in abundance and remained on the thread.

    Surely it’s not much of a stretch to say that if a number of members were willing to vocally withdraw their support of the prophet because of a statement that more or less reaffirmed the Church’s existing position in a way that vaguely seemed like a concession to progressive values, many members opposed to female ordination would not readily accept it even if it came from the mouth of the prophet. I personally know of someone who would roll her eyes and call it a “PR move” if the prophet revealed that the ordination of women was the Lord’s will. So yes, even though everyone celebrated the missionary age change (as Liffey Banks pointed out), I don’t think we celebrated it IN SPITE of its being a minor revelation. I think we may have celebrated it in part BECAUSE it was a minor revelation that didn’t force us to do much serious reevaluating of personal beliefs or convictions.

    All that said, I think Nathaniel has a point that many faithful members would actually take umbrage to a revelation in favor of female ordination. But I’m inclined to believe my personal opinions about this are more similar to Brad’s, especially when he said that these members’ “‘pain’ at accommodating the change would not be equivalent in kind or in scope to the pain the status quo causes female advocates of ordaining women.”

  36. Glad you like the discussion, Tyler, and thanks for linking. I felt like I was going around in circles with Brad, so I gave up on that one (not assigning blame in that statement, it just happens). I’ll see if I can explain to you why I think you’re rejection is problematic.

    First, the problem is not ordaining women per se, but the message that would send about other principles. Speaking generally, socially conservative Mormons cherish the idea of gender roles and gender essentialism. This is the idea that men and women have fundamentally different jobs to do, and that those differences are innate and eternal, not socially constructed or just a feature of this world. Speaking generally, socially liberal Mormons reject the idea of gender roles and gender essentialism or at least downplay it substantially. To a socially liberal Mormon, gender is primarily a social construct and/or just doesn’t have that much significance to our daily lives or our jobs in the Church.

    These attitudes about gender are not the same as attitudes about ordination, but they are closely related to the female ordination argument and also to debates about gay marriage. The doctrine is most clearly established in the Proclamation, which is why I keep bringing it into the discussion even though it’s not directly related to female ordination. The reality is that socially liberal Mormons take issue with the aspects of the Proclamation that emphasize gender roles and gender essentialism (including OW, as I’ve quoted) and socially conservative Mormons embrace those aspects.

    So, when I’m saying that female ordination would be hurtful to socially conservative Mormons, the reason is that it would be seen (reasonably and logically) as a major repudiation and/or abandonment of socially conservative views on gender. Focusing on who gets to pass the sacrament or administer blessings misses the point, because that’s not all that is at stake. What’s at stake is the fundamental model of human nature.

    That’s the reason that female ordination would be so problematic for so many Mormons. If you’re just looking at the superficial level: sure, they could get over it. But it has really deep and profound implications for conceptions of gender. It is precisely this connection that makes the issue so sensitive for socially liberal Mormons, and it matters just as much to socially conservative Mormons.

    The second thing that bugs me just a bit is that it seems like a double standard to take it for granted that socially liberal Mormons are hurt by current practices. No one asks for them to prove the validity of their pain. Or, at least, I am not asking for that. I freely concede that their feelings have validity because that’s what it means to respect another human being, even when you disagree with them. I happen to have a pretty good logical understanding of why they are hurting, but even if I didn’t I would try to demonstrate empathy simply because if someone says they are in pain the humane thing to do is to believe them. It is not to ask them to justify the validity of their experience.

    But it seems that is the tact that folks like you and Brad are taking to conservatives. Rather than simply say, “Oh, this issue could be hurtful to y’all, too?” You push back and deny the validity of the socially conservative stake in this conflict. Consider:

    Those who left the church would not be doing so because of this revelation.

    How is this really different from conservatives who callously say that if liberals leave the Church it’s not really because of their conscience, but rather because they have sinned or because they have weak faith, etc.? I think it’s very, very poor form to assume that if someone leaves the Church because of issues over the current position on homosexuality or gender that really their reason isn’t doctrinal concerns, but rather something else. This seems like a double-standard. I think conservatives and liberals should be given the benefit of the doubt that their viewpoints are sincere and legitimate. Debating about whether or not conservatives have a reasonable reason to feel they have as much at stake as liberals seems fundamentally inhumane and unfair.

    Make sense?

  37. Richelle-

    All that said, I think Nathaniel has a point that many faithful members would actually take umbrage to a revelation in favor of female ordination. But I’m inclined to believe my personal opinions about this are more similar to Brad’s, especially when he said that these members’ “‘pain’ at accommodating the change would not be equivalent in kind or in scope to the pain the status quo causes female advocates of ordaining women.”

    I think I talked about this issue in my response to Tyler already, but for me the basic rule of thumb is that telling someone else their pain is categorically less than your pain is a step that I’d be very reluctant to take. I just think it’s too easy for our own biases to blind us on this one, and I think it is more humane and generous to give the benefit of the doubt when people say that they find a particular doctrine or policy deeply and sincerely troubling rather than take the attitude that until they convince us of the validity of their viewpoint we are going to de-legitimize it by stating that it’s less than our own (or those of people with whom we agree).

    I didn’t keep arguing with Brad on it, however, and I won’t drag it out with you or Tyler either. I just think a call for mutual empathy and respect would be more beneficial than a stance that one side or the other is the one that has the most at stake.

    (FWIW, I’m not saying that conservative pain now is equivalent. Right now there isn’t any real pain because the conservative view more or less matches LDS doctrine and policy. Obviously only the liberals are hurting at the moment, so I’m not asking for any sympathy for the conservative position today. Just for an understanding that what they have at stake is just as meaningful and sincere as what liberals have at stake and that, therefore, this is an issue that must inevitably break hearts no matter how it is resolved.)

  38. I did a quick, obviously unofficial poll on my Facebook page, and none of the “traditional” majority of LDS women said they thought hurt, betrayal, or heartbreak would be their responses to women’s ordination. I think it’s presumptive and dangerous to state how anyone else would feel in a situation, especially a group which does not include you, and then use it to bolster an argument.

  39. Agreed. I think it weakens Nathaniel’s more reasoned thoughts. It makes a great straw man though. I’m sure we could think of other contentious ideas and presuppose what the general Church body believes about the matter. “How merciful is our God unto us, for he remembereth the house of Israel, both roots and branches; and he stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long; and they are a stiffnecked and a gainsaying people.” Joseph Smith often remarked how quickly he would move the Church in the right direction, but the people were not ready. For that matter, so lamented Christ. “How oft I would have gathered you…but ye would not.” A part of me feels angry over this post, but my confidence in God and his dealings and patience with us persuades me to be gentle, patient, long suffering, and to pray for understanding and love. To be clear, I am actually sympathetic to some (many?) of OW’s causes. Many of these women (and men!) are close, personal friends. From all appearances, it seems clear that Nathaniel does not actually understand OW’s purposes, and has thusly misjudged them as a whole, which suggests a less sympathetic disposition. A judgement call that would serve better if I actually knew him—I intend a benefit of doubt. Still—this is critical—the number one thing I hear among my friends is an expression of patience, tolerance, and charity. In that light, many of the comments from people who assume a traditional stance are actually hurtful because the assumption is one of deference—“those women”—condescension, misjudgment, and flat out accusal. This post attempts more balance, but slips a place or two, probably unintentionally. Part of me feels like I might actually be too forgiving. Perhaps that is the right approach just the same. I do believe the all powers in earth and heaven are inseparably connected with the laws and ordinances of the priesthood, and ordination will come, in time, in God’s way. There are already prophetesses among us. Who has ears to hear?

  40. Today I read a really nice counterpoint to this:

    Meanwhile, however, Mormon feminists often do not seem cognizant of the fact that their requests would cause just as much pain to fellow members as they themselves feel today. If they feel excluded by this statement, imagine how categorically and totally traditional Mormons (who vastly outnumber Mormon feminists) would feel were the Church to repudiate their faith and their convictions by instituting female ordination.

    It’s here: http://yankeegirlrebelyell.blogspot.com/2014/03/why-i-changed-my-mind-about-mormon.html?m=1

    Nathaniel, can you articulate any way that anyone would be hurt by increasing equality in the church? Are “totally traditional Mormons” feeling like their faith was “repudiated” when women started praying in General Conference? The exclusion of women from praying was a source of pain to some, are there men and women in “just as much pain” now that women do pray?

  41. “it would overthrow cherished ideas about gender essentialism”

    How would it overthrow gender essentialism? Would women hypothetically ordained to the priesthood not be allowed to wear cute retro dresses while doing so? Would they be banned from posting to Pinterest once ordained? Would they be forced into the workplace? Forced sterilization?

    Are you not aware that there are many deeply gender-conservative women who are part of Ordain Women? Your characterization (or caricature) of the movement does not account for them.

    If anything, gender essentialism strengthens the case for female ordination. Gender essentialism says men can never really stand in for women in decision-making, because women and men are not interchangeable or only different in immaterial, socially-constructed ways. It says that female presence is required for balance. Radical genderless feminism (which is a feminism I have never really seen “in the wild”) would say that women’s absence from councils and from this chart entirely (https://www.lds.org/church/leaders?lang=eng) doesn’t matter because women and men are interchangeable.

    I encourage you to read that blog post I liked above, and then follow her lead and do some close research on OW yourself. Get to know some “totally traditional” Mormon women who support OW. Grow up and grow past your preconceived notions about those who have different opinions from you.

  42. In a hypothetical universe where genderless ordination becomes policy, the largest effect I predict is not male apostasy but rather a sharp dropoff in marriage rates. Men need to feel that they are bringing something to the relationship. (“If she’s already getting what she needs elsewhere, why should I get involved, and why would she want me to anyway?”) There are doctrinally significant repercussions as well relating to women’s long-term future, i.e. I believe you’d have to change the temple endowment in that universe.

    That’s just one (single) guy’s opinion, after pondering that projected universe for a few minutes. Take it with a grain of salt.

  43. “Thrilled” is not a good word here. I could wake up tomorrow morning and discover a new and hitherto-unexpected fact–that you grow a new set of wisdom teeth in your mid-40s, and everyone knows it and I just happen never to have caught on. I would adapt to the new fact, but “thrilled” is not a word I would choose for me in that case. I thought I was in one universe and suddenly I discover that I’m in a completely different universe, with greatly-degraded trust in my ability to accurately perceive any universe. Not “thrilled.”

  44. Those who choose not to see the significant doctrinal changes involved with ordaining women are only looking at a tiny part of this puzzle, with doctrine being the table the puzzle pieces are sitting on. Adam is a type of Christ, not Eve, for starters.

  45. Nathaniel, can you articulate any way that anyone would be hurt by increasing equality in the church?

    Careful where you point that question, Cynthia. It’s loaded.

    There’s a difference, for me and lots of other folks, between sameness and equality. I believe that the Church does struggle with gender equality, and I would like to see positive changes. Just as a quick example (and I think I’ve already stated this), I would like to see the Relief Society restored to its original status with something more like parity between the Relief Society Presidency and the First Presidency and the Relief Society Board and the 12 Apostles. That’s actually quite radical, relative to our present situation, but it’s in no way down the path of OW.

    The anger and dismissiveness of this comment (and your other comment) are really damaging to this discussion, I think. You accuse me of having “preconceived notions” and tell me to “grow up”, but I think you are demonstrating yourself a sad tendency to pre-judge folks who don’t agree with your position. I applaud having women pray in General Conference, and I can think of several other small steps that I would love to see take place Why do women always have to speak first (and, it is assumed, give the shorter and lighter talk) when a couple gives their traditional move-in talk to a new ward? That bothers me. Why not let the couple decide what order they’d like to speak in? I think you’d probably find that a lot of the changes that I’d like to see would mirror changes that you would like to see and even that OW has advocated for.

    But if you’ve convinced yourself that what I really care about is maintaining inequality, then I don’t think you’ll ever be able to recognize the common ground we may share.

    Look, my fundamental assumption here is that there are smart, decent folks who feel differently about these issues. I disagree with female ordination, but it doesn’t mean that your attempts to pigeon hole me as a supporter of the status quo are legitimate. There’s a lot more open ground to discuss the role of women in the Church than just “no change” and “ordain women to the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods.” I disagree with the primary goal of OW, but I don’t think everyone who sympathizes with their complaints is just a clueless nincompoop who needs to grow up.

  46. How would it overthrow gender essentialism?

    The term “gender essentialism” means different things to different people, and the point of my post was that it would overthrow the conservative conception of gender essentialism. I recognize your view of gender essentialism, and I see the logic of it. But to me and my fellow conservatives, gender essentialism isn’t really there if it isn’t reflected in our institutions and behaviors. So perhaps I could have phrased this more clearly by saying it would overthrow the conservative view of gender essentialism in favor of the narrowed, more streamlined liberal view. (I hear lots of folks using the terms “thick” and “thin” to describe conservative and liberal views of gender and gender essentialism, but I’m not 100% sure I understand those terms myself.)

    (I addressed your last paragraph in a previous comment. I think the discussion would be better served with fewer insults.)

  47. Funny you should say that, since I am on record as not supporting the ordination of women. I simply find your rationales for opposing ordination to be unsupportable. Again, there is no reason that ordaining women should be a “repudiation” of anyone’s faith (unless their faith was in man-made post-hoc rationales for the status quo and not the gospel itself–but then it is not faith because faith is in things that are not seen *but are true*), there is no reason it should hurt anyone, and there is no reason that ordaining women would overthrow gender essentialism or institute “sameness.” The last especially is a cliche strawman of feminism. Many women who desire ordination do so specifically because they want to give more powerful expression to their uniquely feminine or motherly traits via the priesthood (bless their kids when sick, bless other women who are in active labor as part of midwife-like care, etc).

    Did you read the link? Seriously worth your time.

  48. This issue is as close to a no-brainer as real life ever gets .

    That priests are men is so deeply built into Mormon theology and doctrine and tradition and life – that to change this would *obviously* inflict severe and almost certainly fatal damage to the church. Indeed, it would not longer be the same church – just a new business operating under the same name.

    If this were not sufficient, which it is, there is the experience of other churches which have ordained women to the priesthood – the spiritual results have been even-more-rapid apostasy (continuing previous trends – since if apostasy had not already been advanced the change would not have happened); institutional results have ranged from continued steady decline to near-catastrophic collapse (The Episcopal Church).

    In the modern world, so far as I know, there are NO long term (several generations) successful religions of *any* type which are not Patriarchal. Certainly all the fast growing monotheistic religions, and Christian denominations around the world are Patriarchal.

    Set against this truly *vast* (indeed ‘crushing’) argument of reason and experience – we have… that the supporters of OW *feelings are hurt*; that they are reported to be very *upset*, that they feel crushed and (what else?) bullied, marginalized and the rest of it.

    All of which is not an argument *at all*, not even slightly – it is simply a psychological claim, or at best, an observation. It is just… nothing.

    No discussion is possible with people who *use* their own hurt feelings as if this was an argument. We all know this don’t we? We have all tried and failed to get anywhere in such discussions? And we know what happens if you try… it only encourages them!

  49. I wonder if we’ll see any men demanding entrance to the Women’s meeting this week? I do not agree with OW on any grounds. If they were honest with themselves they would realize that they are protesting against the church just like the non member protesters and they are not “faithful” members of the church. Faithful members recognize the authority of the Prophet as God’s representative and they don’t make demands that God change his doctrine. Women don’t need to hold the priesthood to fulfill their roles. Men can’t go into the temple without the priesthood, but women can. We take part in the same ordinances and make the same priesthood covenants, but we don’t have to have the priesthood to do that and the men do. I have enough responsibilities and enough work to do, I don’t need to take on priesthood responsibilities too. I hope these women see the error of their ways before they are responsible for the disaffection and loss of testimony of their children, family members and friends.

  50. Lest you feel like a voice crying in the wilderness, Nathaniel, I’m one of those women who would be inclined to leave the Church if offered the office of deacon or elder (though not if offered the office of priestess). I think you have very accurately outlined my concerns in both your post and in the comments, and I very much appreciate your analysis of this no-win situation the OW movement has created by its militancy. Is there a place for discussion regarding gender equality? Absolutely! I’m a feminist myself but OW doesn’t represent my brand of feminism, the tactics that I think will engender productive discussion, or the goals I would like to see achieved for gender equality. Is there a place for empathy? Unequivocally yes! Besides being the right thing to do, it’s a commandment to love and pray for even those we esteem our enemies. (I can’t help but wonder how differently this wide conversation would go if both sides more frequently followed that admonition to humbly and earnestly pray for those with whom we disagree.)

    Great, thought-provoking post. Thanks for sharing!

  51. I really don’t think it’s a positive thing that you’ve apparently found a vein of people who are committed to leaving the Church should it receive further light and knowledge.

  52. In my somewhat. Brash attitude at the whole thing i believe that women are very important and prominant to the gospel but ok must say i as a member am very disapointment of the selfish attitude of these sisters… we w ere given a set of rules and regulations revealed by god himself and throght the prophet to us (the members) women are not supposed to take this role a t least not yet men do not hover their wives with the priesthood at least good men dont…. i beg you guys as my brothers and sisters to not split the church into bickering because this is exactly what satan wants is the members to fall into selfish fighting we know the rules we know who holds the keys and gods divine power is and always will be absolute or he would cease to be god….. you people talk as if the prophet sits down with his 12 apostles thinking about how to do things… you would be wrong each apostle goes in to solitude communicating with their heavenly father on how to best lead the people back to him i support the church and i am not afraid to say it to any feminist here i urge you to stop the selfish acts and foolishness in protesting this isnt a country its not a democracy its not a ban its a regulation put in place by god god…. and there for the prophets defend it

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