What Does Ordain Women Really Want?

Disclaimer: If you do not like sarcasm, you may find it difficult to get through this. I understand your point of view. But please note that I sass with love.

I recently stumbled upon the idea, from an OW supporter, that the OW movement simply wants the prophet to pray about Mormon women in the priesthood. They just want some updated revelation. This was of course surrounded by others saying that women “need” the priesthood for eternal progression (I won’t quibble about that today) and women have the “right” to the priesthood (ditto). However, let’s take for a moment the idea that all that OW wants is for the prophet to hear their concerns and pray on their worries. Let’s say that all the people who say women need, want, and have the right to the priesthood are just miscommunicating their desire to get the prophet to pray for revelation. There is a scriptural tradition for such requests in ancient and modern texts.

In this case, I hate to tell you, but OW you are going about it in all the wrong ways. Nate Oman discussed to this in his poorly received (at least by OW) article on why the movement is currently set up for failure. But I can tell you one reason why you are doing it wrong: I had no idea you just wanted more revelation. In fact, I thought you only wanted one particular revelation, if that, otherwise you just wanted ordinations to begin yesterday.

Oo, somethings not right here.
Oo, somethings not right here.

Now, I may just start rehashing some of the things Nate and my husband have already said, but I hope I can bring a little more to the discussion. First of all, I am a woman, so my anatomy does not disqualify me from disagreeing with other women (truth). Secondly, I have children, so I speak for all mothers (sarcasm). Third, I am getting my PhD in a science, so I am liberated, intellectual, academic, and logical, and I speak for all the people who are or prefer those things (again, sarcasm). I also grew up in a household that was technically without the priesthood: yes my mom was a working single mother, I was the product of, whisper it with me now, divorce, and there were no boys to hold up the mantle. (But I could go on and go on about the many incredible, humbling, and teaching ways the priesthood blessed my family, headed by a divorced single mother with cancer, but I will save that for next time.)

Let me explain how the OW movement looks through the eyes of this tired, stressed-out mother and PhD student, who grew up in a completely imperfect Mormon home located in the South. I realize that many people are invested in this movement, and any negative thing I say will sting. I understand. When I received the first draft of my Honors thesis back from my undergraduate advisor, which looked like he had gleefully bled all over every. single. page. I was devastated; like someone had handed me back my baby and said, “Actually, she’s hideous.” So with that in mind, I say, the OW movement appears to be a media-hungry enterprise that cares more about acceptance from the world than working together with the everyday Mormon woman and is solely seeking for everyone, including the prophet, to confirm that its opinions are right. Phew, I know, that came out strong. Commence picking it apart!

Really though, I’m not saying this is what the movement is, or that any particular member feels that way. But, overall, this is how it appears to me. When you have the media discussing what is a very personal and spiritual part of doctrine, when there are more spotlights on Kate Kelly than I can count, when you don’t go through the grass root efforts of talking with sisters who disagree (or at least don’t talk to them kindly or with respect), when you reciprocate the church’s “I’m a Mormon” campaign for a cause, when you have members who very much appear to be making demands (beyond asking for a prayer) from the prophet, it makes me very uncomfortable.

I think part of the problem is that a grass roots effort, something akin to a letter writing campaign, would appear to have much less effect than if we can get the NYT talking about it (although I truly believe the prophet would respond to a heartfelt call from the sisters). As statistics have shown, Mormon women, in general, don’t want the priesthood. Most women see it more as a responsibility and less as an opportunity, and we’ve already got a lot on our plates. There may even be some women who take a don’t-tempt-fate attitude towards asking for the priesthood. I know sometimes I avoid praying for service when I’m really busy, sometimes I do it anyway because I don’t know how I’ll survive without the blessings providing services brings. And I know recently when our family had some financial struggles, we were blessed not with our dollar stretching further, but with the opportunity to stretch our work hours even longer.

So, OW, if you really want to be the messengers for women who just want the prophet to request revelation, I have a few suggestions for you.

First, unify your message. Don’t get caught up in what the world wants to say about the oppression of women in our completely backwards (to them) religion. Don’t demand, plead. The Lord cares about your pains and your desires, but it’s hard for some of us other Mormons to understand what you’re really asking for, if simple revelation is really what you want. In fact, I could maybe get behind a simple desire for a current prophetic response, if I’m in an OK-to-tempt-fate mood. And there is common ground between us for more sensible participation by women throughout the church, regardless of our desire for the priesthood.

Second, ban the hate-filled comments towards those who disagree. It may be true that some of us don’t understand what you are really asking for, but that doesn’t mean we just don’t know what’s best for us. That doesn’t mean we don’t understand our place in the world, the church, and our home. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about you or are distracted by some nebulous patriarchy. We are strong, loyal, and faithful women trying to make it right for our families through this crazy world. We are all in this together, even if we don’t always agree on the same means.

Finally, turn your purpose to service. If women are hurting and they feel having the priesthood will solve that hurt, help us help them. Help us alleviate their pain and suffering. We can’t give them the priesthood, but we can serve them. Please, teach us how to serve these women, and let us serve you. It has to go beyond a catchy “How Not to Speak to Mormon Feminists” and into actual deep caring for one another. The Relief Society has all the potential to allow us to constantly uplift each other, let’s harness that across the divide of OW.

Let me share my light and love with you.
Let me share my light and love with you.

19 thoughts on “What Does Ordain Women Really Want?”

  1. I think what is missing in all of the discussions is the OW movements true motivation which is one of equality in the church which includes equality in the leadership and managing the affairs of the church at all levels. The only way those in the OW movement see this happening is by obtaining the priesthood. I do not agree that ordination of women is the only way, but I do believe that there is a strong need for equality in the leadership function of the church. At a local level all bishopric meetings and PEC meetings are men only (with the caveat that the RS president can be invited to PEC by the Bishop at his discretion). Stake leadership meetings are the stake president and the high counselors again all men. It is these meetings and others like them that all major decisions are made.

    Women are taught from a very young age that they are presided over. At girls camp there must always be a priesthood holder present, but a woman never attends to supervise and oversees scout camp. All women’s general meetings are presided over by a priesthood leader who always speaks. Never is a woman invited to speak at a priesthood meeting. The running of the relief society is done under the direction and control of the male leadership which is an early 20th century change to way things were done. The list goes on.

    So we should stop talking about ordination of women and how one feels about the priesthood and start talking about equality and what we and the church leadership can do to bring about equality.

  2. I think what is missing in all of the discussions is the OW movements true motivation which is one of equality in the church which includes equality in the leadership and managing the affairs of the church at all levels.

    I think the question of equality is completely valid and very important. But I disagree that OW ought to get a pass because of their good motivations. OW is not only defined by a commitment to equality. They are also defined by an exclusive interpretation of what that means. OW thinks that equality means ordaining women to the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods. This rules out, for example, elevating the Relief Society its original status. It rules out, in fact, any number of possible future interpretations of what equality could mean or could look like in a Mormon context.

    So, even though I respect their motivations, I do not think that good intentions alone are enough to earn my support. As Milton Friedman said: “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”

  3. Ever wonder what Joseph Smith said on the issue? Well, wonder no more!

    “I gave a lecture on the pries[t]hood shewing how the Sisters would come in possession of the privileges & blessings & gifts of the priesthood & that the signs should follow them. such as healing the sick casting out devils &c. & that they might attain unto these blessings. by a virtuous life & conversation & diligence in keeping all the commandments.” Joseph Smith journal, April 28, 1842

    Maybe you should listen to the founder of your religion ;)

  4. Nathaniel, I agree that their approach rules out other options of gaining equality, but from their point of view, if the priesthood is the only power and authority to lead the church, than anything short of women obtaining the priesthood is not real equality. They would always be one step from equality without it.

  5. Has anyone given thought to or noticed that there are righteous women today, like in the early days of the church, quietly performing miracles of healing, etc. without asking for ordination of the priesthood but because of the charity that fills them and living to hear the voice of the spirit? All these things DO follow them that believe and they are going on without fanfare or publicity and are held close to the hearts of the healer and the healed because of their sacred nature. We live far below our privileges. We don’t need to seek for ordination but to make ourselves pure vessels ready to hear the spirit give direction on how to bless those around us. We cannot force revelation. Our Father in Heaven is real and has already heard our concerns. We need to ask Him for personal revelation on the matter and be still and Know that he is God, that he is just and holy and will answer our prayers personally and through His prophets. Patience takes faith and faith takes patience. HIs church is true and His Prophets are still led by revelation. A few faithful women quietly praying about a concern and sharing those concerns privately with Prophets and Apostles then waiting patiently would be all that is needed, if we think otherwise then we do not have faith in or believe that The Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints is His true church and is led by revelation.

  6. Josh-

    There’s a difference between the priesthood generally and specific Aaronic and Melchizedek orders of that priesthood. OW wants ordination to those specific orders. I disagree with that. I do not disagree with women having the priesthood in a more general sense.

    In short: I’m quite familiar with that quote, but it is nowhere near as clear as you think it is.

  7. Bruce-

    I think your perspective on this is interesting, and I’m going to think about it, but I don’t think it contradicts my statement. Even if your view is right (for the sake of argument), that doesn’t preclude the question of equality. It just answers it.

  8. Can I just say I find it a bit odd that most of the comments are addressed to me and my comments, when the original post is my wife’s? Maybe her plainspokenness brooks less room for post-game analysis, as it were.

    In any case, I initially replied to try and generate responses to the original piece, but it seems I’ve managed to lead the convo astray. So I’m putting myself in time out on this thread for a while.

  9. “Maybe her plainspokenness brooks less room for post-game analysis, as it were.”

    That was it for me – great stuff!

    @ Ro I think that your general ‘tone’ is highly appropriate to this kind of question.

    The suggestion to ordain women is, or ought to be, regarded as *outrageous* from an LDS perspective, because the consequences are so clearly predictable and so damaging.


    When somebody (like OW) makes an outrageous and almost-certainly-destructive suggestion, then it is possible that a calm and conversation response will embolden them. What they need is teaching, not debating – they need to have clarified the doctrinal destructiveness and near certain organizationally destructive consequences of what they advocate. If they still persist after this education and clarificiation – then their intentions can be recognized as malign.

    So why do people advocate Leftist political ideas such as Equality (ie Sameness) even when the results are incoherent and destructive, when we *know*, as far as we know anything in complex human society – what will be the outcome?

    One reason is that the abstract idea of Equality has been made morally foundational, to the extent that it seems evil to advocate inequality – even though inequality is the near universal structure of the world and of much that is Good; and even though we *know* that when ‘equality’ is implemented, it is in practice simply a reverse of past inequality (Workers being *systematically* (by law, by regulation, by ‘new ruling elite’ propaganda) favoured instead of the Middle Class, Women instead of Men, non-Native non-Whites instead of Native-born Whites etc).

    It is to the great (almost unique) credit of the LDS that the church has managed to hold-out for an extra half century against destructive Left/ Liberal ideas (with the multifaceted sexual revolution as the wedge issue) – but now (as was made clear at the last General Conference) the LDS faces an increasingly stark choice of truth and goodness OR persecution.

    The OW phenomenon is a coded way of pressuring the LDS church by the Mass Media/ Federal Government warning that “this is just a *taste* of what is coming to you, unless you get with the agenda of the sexual revolution, and subordinate Mormonism to the prevailing secular Liberal social (read ‘sexual’) ethics”.

    Radicals will use the wriggle-room created by the inherent unpredictability of complex human affairs, to argue that ordaining women ‘might-not’ have the destructive effects on the coherence of doctrine and organization of the church which are so obvious and so probable. Maybe ‘this time’ things will be different. This sounds superficially reasonable in today’s climate (esepcially when backed-up by the credible threat of persecution).

    But what is *really* being said is that the priesthood is (just) a job, and all jobs must be ‘open’ to women, and when jobs are open to women then women must be ‘helped’ to make their way in the jobs (by positive discrimination), that this this imperative is foundationally moral and trumps all probable adverse outcomes – and ALL the rest of it.

    What is *really* being said is that *even-if* the ordination of women demolished the fundamental doctrinal basis of the Mormon church, and then progressively weakens and destroys it – even if all this happens as a matter of fact, even if we predict with a very high degree of certainty that this *will* happen – then women should anyway still be ordained, because Equality is more important than anything else.

  10. Fantastic! I believe that most of the women in the OW group are just confused about the way the priesthood works. (Understandable since many of them are not even members of the LDS religion.) But even the leaders of their group who are LDS do not understand. Thanks for your post.

  11. I’d like to respond to Nathaniel’s wife (I think?) but I can’t see her name anywhere on here — unless I’m missing it. I’d really rather not address my response to Mrs. Nathaniel Givens, unless I have to.

    Could you help me out here? I am having that middle age blind thing, so maybe that’s it!

  12. Alison,

    My wife’s name is Ro (short for Robin). It’s a short name, so I can see it might be easy to miss, but it’s actually right up there by the title of the post. Here’s a screengrab:

    Ro's Name

    Her name also links to her bio, and the other posts she’s written.

    EDIT: FTR, I responded (rather than Ro herself) because she told me to. :-)

  13. Ro, I’ve been beating this is drum for a little while. Right after I realized that almost all the Mormon women in my life (who happen to mostly be progressive in their world views) disagreed with me that they needed the Priesthood. I think you framed the fuzzy messaging of OW quite well.

    It seems that my agreement with a lot of what I hear OW say is overshadowed by what looks like a disregard for Mormon women who disagree with them. Or at the very least, a complete lack of interest in a grass roots conversation with Mormon women who are not on board (who are in the majority anyway)

    [EDIT: Link removed by DR admins.]

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