Continuing revelation is a fundamental part of Mormon theology and could very well account for much of its success. The Ninth Article of Faith asserts that God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” Mormons believe that the heavens and their canon are yet open.
The recent Gospel Topics essay “Are Mormons Christian?” asserts that Mormonism is a “restored” rather than a “reformed” Christianity. Unlike other restorationist traditions that claim restoration of a pure Christianity through a strict reading of the Biblical text, Mormons are what I term revelatory restorationists—we acknowledge the text but claim a recovery of early Christianity through the revelatory process as well as an openness to continuing revelations of the spirit, both personal and institutional. As we obtain more light and knowledge, our institutions and policies should reflect that increased wisdom. Part of the present tension in Mormonism is over how revelation occurs.
Organizationally, all recognize that only the top Mormon leadership has the authority to receive revelation for the Church and make significant institution-wide changes. Many are content to leave these aspects of the decision-making process solely in the hands of the all-male hierarchy. However, others of us believe members have and continue to play an essential part in the revelatory process by asking questions and articulating a need or concern. A member of the First Presidency, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, said as much in a 2012 world-wide LDS leadership training: “If we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph [Smith] asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. … How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know, but couldn’t get past the massive, iron gate of what we thought we already knew?” A good question for all believers.
No doubt inadvertently, the challenge to raise the question of women’s ordination was articulated by former Church President Gordon B. Hinckley in a 1997 interview with reporter David Ransom. When Ransom asked if the policy of denying the priesthood to women could be changed, President Hinckley responded, “Yes. But there’s no agitation for that.”
Ordain Women joins a new generation of faith-affirming Mormons who are responding to this challenge. A number of us over the years had met with our local Church leaders to discuss issues of gender equity and inclusiveness. However, they had no power to address or remedy Church-wide structural inequality. Stuck in a sort of Catch 22, most personal letters sent to the hierarchy were routinely sent back to stake or ward leaders. Other than a few letters from the Church’s public relations department, Ordain Women’s numerous requests for dialogue have been met with silence. Because Mormons without the Priesthood lack institutional authority and access to those leaders who have the responsibility to receive revelation on behalf of the Church, public advocacy is one of the few options open to those of us who actively seek greater inclusiveness in the LDS Church, including the ordination of women.
Why does a religion, whose theology appears so hospitable to change, often seem hostile to it? Part of the problem is maintaining the integrity of the prophetic voice. If what a past LDS Church leader said can be overturned by subsequent leaders, as has happened numerous times, Mormonism must grapple with the tension between continuity and relevance for each generation, between responsiveness to changing attitudes that could mean greater inclusiveness—particularly for women and other marginalized members—and the appearance of bending to social pressure. As I see it, such a tension easily—and quite charitably– could be deflected by a simple institutional response, “We invite and listen to the questions, concerns, and needs of our members, and take them to God in prayer.”
Ordain Women’s upcoming action in October is an effort to be heard. On Saturday, October 1, 2016, from 11:30 AM to 2:00 PM, we invite all who share our hope for a more inclusive church to stand with us—in person, if possible, by proxy, if not—in front of the Church Administration Building, 47 East South Temple, Salt Lake City, UT, where, lined along the sidewalk, we will each hold purple Ordain Women umbrellas, while church officials meet inside between conference sessions, and, one by one, we will request a meeting with a general authority or general officer of the Church. “This action,” explains OW Board Chair Bryndis Roberts, “will be an opportunity to gather in person … [to demonstrate] our commitment to the cause of equality.”
Author’s note: Substantial sections of this blog post were taken from material I authored for the OW website as well as an article I wrote for the Washington Post.
One of the most cherished tenets of the LDS faith is the doctrine of continuing revelation.
Our history is replete with instances where revelation was received because Church leaders, in response to the cries and pleas of our LDS siblings, took questions to God.
In the spirit and tradition of that history, we invite you to join us on Sunday, May 29th as we fast and pray that our present-day Church leaders will hear our cries and that they will seek revelation about ordaining women to the priesthood in the LDS Church.
As a new missionary in Japan, I first heard the saying: “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” I naively thought that this saying uniquely applied to Japanese culture, but standing there in my white shirt and dark suit, I failed to see the hammers that smash away at nonconformity in my own Mormon culture. Among these hammers are claims of authority, threats, shame, shunning and isolation. Defying these hammers takes a tremendous amount of courage and strength. From April 1st to April 4th, I was privileged to stand with four women who serve on the Ordain Women Executive Board. I stood in front of the Church Administration Building with Joanna Smith, Bryndis Roberts, Debra Jensen, and Lorie Winder. We also had other strong supporters stop by and spent time with us. I was able to see first-hand strength and courage that is all too rare in our conformist culture.
The Church Administration Building is the center of power in the LDS Church. It contains the offices of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. As you can see in the pictures accompanying this post, we spent four days dead center in front of this building, with the Ordain Women banner draped over our table. Church leaders refused to take the hundreds of postcards, which our group, lead by Debra Jensen, attempted to deliver the first day we stood.
The postcards contained messages from supporters, who believe that women are “Ready to Witness.” They asked that women be able to witness baptisms, baby blessings, sealings, and highly personal interviews by male leaders of women and girls. Prior to our delivery attempt Friday morning, Debra Jensen sent a letter informing church leaders that a refusal to accept the postcards would result in our standing in front of their building until Monday morning when we would again try. Despite claims that the building was empty, we frequently saw drapes and blinds part, and eyes briefly stare out at us. We even received a friendly wave from a woman parting the drapes at the west end of the first floor. Monday morning, Bryndis Roberts lead our group up the stairs again, to try to deliver the postcards. Once again we were refused.
We also attempted delivery at the Relief Society building. Initially, we were asked if we would like to meet with Relief Society leaders. But, once the staff discovered we were with Ordain Women, we were told that everyone was out of town. The contrast was striking between the brave women standing in front to the seat of Mormon power and leaders, who hide behind layers of security, peek through the blinds in their offices, or who direct their staff to claim that they are suddenly out of town.
The price I have paid for my involvement in Ordain Women has been relatively small. I have a supportive family, and church leaders who leave me alone. Male privilege seems to repel most personal attacks. But, this is not the experience of many Ordain Women leaders and supporters. Many have felt the full force of the conformity hammers in their lives. This is my tribute to all in Ordain Women who have paid the price for doing what is right. They stand strong for female ordination and equality in the Church. I admire the strength and bravery I see every day in Ordain Women. I am proud to be a part of this organization.
We were spiritually prepared:
In addition to our individual prayers and meditations, we came together for a devotional in which we sang inspirational songs and invoked the presence of the Spirit.
We were physically prepared:
We had water to stay hydrated. We scheduled times for lunch breaks. We had chairs for those who needed to rest for a few minutes. We had umbrellas to shield us from the sun and coats to keep us warm.
We were respectful:
We approached the building politely and in a very orderly fashion. We remained in the area where our permit from Salt Lake City allowed us to be. We did not obstruct traffic on the sidewalk. We did not create a disturbance. We did not leave any litter or damage any flowers or greenery.
YET, WE WERE STILL REJECTED!
On Friday, April 1, we began the in-person portion of the #ReadytoWitness campaign with a devotional at City Creek Park. After the devotional, we walked the short distance from City Creek Park to the Church Administration Building.
We then made our first attempt to deliver the cards and letters (Click HERE to see the video). We mounted the steps of the Church Administration Building with feelings of trepidation, hope, and even a little fear. We were not allowed beyond the foyer and Debra Jenson, our Board Chair, who was our spokesperson, was told, over the white telephone that is used to speak to the security desk, that the Church does not accept hand delivery of packages. When she replied that we did not have a package but we had cards and letters, she was told that we would have to mail them. She told them we would be outside (right in front of the building) until 5:00 p.m. in case a Church leader or an authorized assistant was willing to accept our cards and letters.
We stayed outside the building until after 5:00 p.m. on April 1. Despite the fact that all of the windows were covered by blinds and/or curtains, we could tell that there were people inside. At several points, people actually looked through the blinds or around the curtains at us, but no one came out to speak to us or to accept our cards and letters. We watched, in amazement, as several General and Area Authorities mounted the steps to the Church Administration Building, entered the foyer, used the security phone, and were not allowed to enter. Apparently, our leaders decided that since they did not intend to allow us to enter the building, it would look better if they did not allow anyone to enter the building (at least not through the front door).
We were back in front of the building by 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 2, and stayed there until after 5:00 p.m. We did the same thing on Sunday, April 3. Again, there were people in the building. Again, some of them looked through the blinds or around the curtains at us. However, no one came out to speak to us or to accept our cards and letters and, again, Church officials who clearly expected to be able to enter the building were routed to other entrances.
We then returned on Monday, April 4, and made another attempt to enter the Church Administration Building and deliver the cards and letters (Click HERE to see the video). On that attempt I, in my role as Board Chair-elect, was the spokesperson, only to be told the same thing that had been told to us on Friday. We then tried to deliver the cards and letters to the Relief Society Building, where it seemed as though we would be allowed to meet with one of the assistants to a member of the Relief Society General Presidency, at least up until the moment we told her we were with Ordain Women.
BUT, THAT REJECTION WAS NOT THE END OF THE STORY!
As we stood outside the Church Administration Building over a three day period, we had the opportunity to interact with hundreds of our fellow Mormons who were attending General Conference and a large number of non-Mormons who either visiting Salt Lake City or going about their daily routines. We collected more cards and letters to add to our notebook. We talked with people who were supportive of our efforts and we talked with people who were not so supportive of our efforts. We handed out water bottles and we passed out treats.
While there were people who viewed us with disdain and dislike, we could see in the faces of other people that we were dispelling some of the misconceptions that they had about who we were and our feelings towards the LDS Church and Church leaders. Over and over again, we were asked if we were Mormons and when we replied in the affirmative, we saw looks of surprise on the faces of those who had asked the question.
We were blessed with tender mercies in the form of people who returned our greetings with the same love and kindness with which we extended them. Moreover, at every point when we were feeling discouraged there was always someone who stopped or turned around and came back to give us encouraging words and (more often than not) to take some of our buttons, pins, and bracelets, etc.
Because our Church leaders would not accept the cards and letters from us, we had the originals delivered to the First Presidency via Federal Express. We had copies delivered to the Relief Society General Presidency, the Presiding Bishopric, and the registered agent for service for the Corporation of The President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also via Federal Express. We have received confirmation that those deliveries were made Thursday, April 7th.
To all of the women, men, girls, and boys who shared your stories with us, we say thank you for sharing and for entrusting us with your personal and precious testimonies. As we wrote in our letter in the Salt Lake Tribune:
It is our fervent hope and prayer that [the] messages [in the cards and letters] will be in the minds of our church leaders as they pray and seek revelation about ordaining women to the priesthood in the LDS Church.
Why are you engaging in the April Ordain Women “Ready to Witness” Action?
While we hope for both the blessings and the authority of priesthood ordination, we stand with many Mormon women in calling for a number of policy changes that will foster a more inclusive church. We applaud recent Church initiatives, including an emphasis on collaborative, gender-inclusive councils, greater encouragement for women to serve missions, and the opportunity for women to both pray and speak in general conference. This April’s “Ready to Witness” action encourages a change in the present policy that denies women the ability to be official witnesses at LDS baby blessings, baptisms and temple marriages and excludes women from participating in baby blessings and being present during young women’s worthiness interviews. In joining together, we are punctuating our commitment to Mormonism and our fervent desire that Church policies and practices better reflect the inclusiveness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What exactly is going to happen?
The Ordain Women “Ready to Witness” initiative invites women and male supporters to download or purchase a postcard or fill out our online form and share their personal stories and hope for a change in these policies with a general Church leader of their choice. Such stories can:
- Explain what it feels like to sit outside the circle when your baby is blessed and be excluded as an official witness to this significant moment in your child’s life.
- Share the moment you were told that you could not act as an official witness to your best friend’s baptism, because present Church policy states that witnessing is a role reserved for men who hold the priesthood.
- Describe the concern you feel about young women, alone in a room with an adult man during a “worthiness interview,” being asked personal–at times probing–questions without a woman present to witness.
- Tell of the moment you realized that your Young Women’s president could not serve as the witness at your temple sealing because presently only men are considered acceptable official witnesses.
- Ask why, when women were chosen to serve as the first witnesses of the resurrected Christ, such policies keep women from serving as official witnesses to these moments in a church that bears His name.
Ordain Women will be tracking how many submissions our leaders receive, so please share your story online with us HERE.
On Friday, April 1, supporters of the “Ready to Witness” initiative will gather at 10:00 AM for a brief devotional at City Creek Park and then walk to the Church Administration Building to deliver the stories we collect. We will be in front of the Church Administration Building on Friday, April 1, Saturday, April 2, and Sunday, April 3, during daylight hours, to collect additional postcards and personal stories and then deliver them to Church leaders on Monday, April 4. We invite all who support this effort to join us in front of the Administration Building during one or all of these days.
You can purchase postcards HERE or you can use the images and information HERE to print them yourself. You can also use any other postcard you choose. Mail your postcards to any General Authority or Church Officer with whom you wish to share your story. The address is:
Church Administration Building
47 E South Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84150
Ordain Women asserts that it engages in faith-affirming, religious action. How is this compatible with the LDS doctrine of continuing revelation?
Our understanding of the gospel is that the heavens are yet open. As we obtain more light and knowledge, we expect Church policies and practices to reflect that increased wisdom. The 9th Article of Faith states: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” That Church members play a role in this process is demonstrated throughout the Doctrine and Covenants. We ask questions and articulate the need for revelation. According to President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “… if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. … How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know, but couldn’t get past the massive, iron gate of what we thought we already knew?” It is our faith in this process that compels us to action.
Is this a protest?
No. It is a petition for inclusion, and, as such, we see it as both faith-affirming and consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Why are you advocating in public?
Mormon women are not ordained to the priesthood, which means they lack positional authority and the institutional power to influence church-wide policy. Public advocacy is one of the few options open to those of us who actively seek the ordination of women and other equitable changes in Church practices and policies. Increasingly, women are finding the courage to express their desire to participate more fully with men in all aspects of church governance, service and sacred ordinances.
If I can’t join you at the Church Administration Building, but want to be supportive, what can I do?
First and foremost, you can join hundreds of others in sending personalized postcards–as detailed above–to general Church leaders of your choice, and then share your story with us. You can also continue the conversation by discussing your thoughts about women’s greater inclusion in the Church with friends, family and members of your local congregations; spread the word on your personal Facebook pages, blogs and Twitter accounts; and, add your profile to ours at ordainwomen.org.
I’m afraid to participate with you. Do you anticipate disciplinary action?
We cannot predict the response of individual church leaders. Many of our local leaders have been loving and supportive. Others have not. We believe our actions are consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and the doctrines of the LDS Church. We have worked with the government of Salt Lake City to obtain the appropriate permits. Though our action is not a protest, we have applied for a “free speech” permit. The City of Salt Lake requires it of any large group gathering in public spaces, such as City Creek Park and the sidewalks near the Church Office Building. We recognize that there might be social or personal costs to participants. Only you can weigh your circumstances and concerns and decide if this is the right thing for you to do.
11 ¶But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,
12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, …
16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni …
17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her. John 20:11-18
As we approach the Easter season, this passage from John is extraordinary, not only in its testament of the resurrected Christ but also because of whom Christ chose as the first witness of His resurrection—a woman, Mary Magdelene. Women in many ancient cultures were not considered competent witnesses. In other words, they were either not legally allowed to be witnesses, or there were severe restrictions on their ability to act as legitimate witnesses. Because of such restrictions, it is remarkable that Jesus appeared first to Mary. That Early Christian writers referred to her as the “apostle to the apostles” further punctuated the importance of her role as a witness to, arguably, the pivotal event of Christianity.
If Christ considered Mary an appropriate witness to this significant moment–indeed, instructed her to testify of it to His disciples—why then are women presently unable to serve as official witnesses to blessings, baptisms, and marriages in His church?
Are these policies mere cultural artifacts, like other practices now long-abandoned in the modern, Western world, such as prohibitions on women speaking publicly, or inheriting land, or voting, or serving on juries? More crucially, are such policies worthy of a church that bears Christ’s name?
We, like Mary before us, are ready to witness.
Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure and pain of hearing the stories of women whose hearts are broken with a desire to witness quintessential Mormon moments. These women want to witness baby blessings, baptisms, temple sealings, and worthiness interviews. People are telling me their stories when I meet them; people are handing me postcards with detailed memories; and people are sharing their stories on Facebook and Twitter. Women are ready to witness.
Today, I am excited to invite you all to witness something in person: the delivery of our postcards and stories to the Church Administration Building. Come with us on Friday, April 1st as we ask our leaders to accept these stories so that they can read them. Stand with us on April 2nd and 3rd as we hold space outside the Church Administration Building. You can RSVP here to let us know you will be there.
I look forward to standing there demonstrating with my body the sincere prayer of my heart to be counted as a capable witness. It would mean so much more to stand next to many of you who share that prayer.
We are standing and proclaiming that we are “Ready to Witness” as we did at the cross and the tomb. One area in the LDS Church where we are barred from witnessing is in baby blessings. Although my children were born long before I joined the LDS Church, I have mourned with my sisters as they have not been able to act as witnesses to these special moments in their children’s lives. This piece almost wrote itself as I watched the anguish of one of our sisters as she was excluded from the blessing circle.
I watched her as she proudly carried her baby son into the sanctuary, oblivious to the stares of those who may have been critical of her attire, her hairstyle, or of the fact that the father of her child was nowhere to be seen. She was excited to be a part of the LDS Church, having been baptized in the middle of her pregnancy, and was eager to share her newly minted testimony with her baby son.
I watched her as she stood holding her baby son, with a look of expectancy, clearly waiting to have the circle form around her and her son. Instead, the circle was formed without her, and her baby son was taken from her arms by one of the men from the circle while another one of the men stepped away from the circle long enough to escort her to a seat.
I watched the look on her face change from absolute joy to confusion to anguish. I watched her expressive face as her emotions and feelings battled for supremacy. I could see that one part of her wanted to insist on being included in the circle while another part of her wanted to be happy that her baby son was being blessed, even if she was excluded from the circle. I watched as the latter part seemed to win the battle.
I sat and listened to the baby blessing, and I thought about how this beautiful baby boy was in a circle that included no one who was related to him. I thought about how, if his biological male parent (even though he was acting more like a sperm donor than a father) walked into the sanctuary at that moment and announced who he was, he would have been able to join in the circle. I thought about how his biological female parent who had carried him for nine months and who had given birth to him was denied that privilege.
I thought about the disconnect between celebrating families while at the same time denying her and her baby son the ability to participate in his blessing as a family. I could come up with no reason that made sense to me for denying either of them that privilege and I wept for her, for her baby son, and for all of my sisters who had been denied the opportunity to participate in their children’s blessings.
I left the sanctuary that day with the look of anguish that was on her face etched in my memory. I serve a God of love, and I do not believe that blessing a child without including the mother is an act of love or that it is divinely inspired. Instead, the memory of her face serves to strengthen my conviction that the fight for the ordination of LDS women and for the inclusion of women in all aspects of our faith is divinely inspired
An original version of this post was published on September 21, 2015, on FEMWOC.
Read more about the Ready to Witness campaign and how you can participate HERE.
I am one of a handful of Mormons in my family, so on the day I married in the Salt Lake Temple only three of my relatives could come with me to the temple: my grandmother who was my escort and I love her forever for it, and an aunt and uncle. When I was asked who would be the witness to my wedding, I chose a woman with whom I had been close for years. She had helped me find my testimony in the gospel; I had known and trusted her for seven years. But I was gently informed that she could not witness my wedding because she was a woman. I would have to select a man.
This wasn’t the first time I had bumped up against the patriarchal structure of our church. It happens often, even when we don’t notice it. But it was a moment I will never forget because it meant so much to me. The people who really mattered to me—who knew me and had helped make me the woman I was—were women, and they were not allowed to do anything for me that day except hold my veil. It was especially surprising to me, considering the words of Mosiah that are quoted in the Young Women’s theme, declaring that “we will stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.” It is a disservice and disappointment that has reappeared at baby blessings and baptisms, and these policies have broken the hearts of countless women in our church.
The policies are wrong and I am ready for that to change.
- Explain what it feels like to have your infant taken from your arms and blessed while you weep because you are not allowed to witness the moment, because policy says a woman cannot hold her baby.
- Share the moment you were told that you could not act as witness to your best friend’s baptism, because policy says that witnessing is a role reserved for men.
- Describe the fear you feel when you imagine young women, alone in rooms with adult men asking them personal questions, and no one to sit next to them to witness and protect them, because policies dictate worthiness interviews with male leaders.
- Tell of the moment you realized that your Young Women’s president could not serve as the witness at your temple sealing because the Church Handbook of Instruction says that only men are acceptable witnesses.
- Ask why, when women were chosen to serve as the first witnesses of the resurrected Christ, these policies are in place to keep women from serving as witnesses to these moments in our church.
Ordain Women will be tracking how many submissions our leaders receive, so once you’ve submitted your postcard, please share your story online with us HERE and on Friday, April 1, representatives and supporters of Ordain Women will walk to the Church Administration Building to deliver the stories we collect. We will stand at the Church Administration Building on Friday April 1, Saturday April 2, and Sunday April 3, during daylight hours, collecting more postcards and stories and waiting to deliver them on Monday April 4. We invite supporters to join us on these three days.
This is the moment to demonstrate with your words that
you are Ready to Witness
and to demonstrate with your body that
you are Ready for Revelation
that expands the roles of women to include witnessing,
as we did with our Savior.