Women are missing from some of our most sacred practices.
If you had known me four years ago, you would have known a largely traditional Mormon woman. I was married in the temple, had three kids, and we had attended the same LDS ward every week for 15 years. My husband and I had served in every kind of church calling, from Young Women President to activities chair. It is not an exaggeration to say that the ward house was our second home.
As I think about the way I have changed in the last few years, I realize that, though I am no longer at home in that ward house, and though I have lost the family that I thought I had there, I know that this is the first time my ward family is really seeing me. They knew me; we served together, we socialized after meetings, and even some of us got together as friends. They were lovely but it took something drastic—my absence—for them to see me.
That should come as no surprise to me.
We don’t really see women at all in our church. We are a community run on the labor of women—in the nursery, in the Primary, in the compassionate service program, and more—and depending on the ability of women to blend into the background of our environment. We count on the organist and chorister to be able to silently become part of the periphery of the chapel podium. We assume that women will prepare their babies and children for religious rites and ordinances only to be physically excluded from all of these precious moments. And we expect that women will plan activities and programs and conferences but will sit reverently while men preside and give the keynote address.
Recently, the Church issued a statement recognizing International Women’s Day, saying, “Limiting religious expression disempowers women from a broad range of faiths.” The statement continues: “A world where women are empowered to follow their conscience is a world of greater peace and possibility.” For too long, women in our faith have been expected to work quietly, directed and presided over by men; our experiences have been defined by the presence and approval of men; and women leaders are nearly indistinguishable in a sea of men. Our participation is mandatory, but our potential is limited.
In April, Ordain Women will have a social media action dedicated to highlighting the invisibility of women in our church. Inspired by the Elle #MoreWomen campaign we will be sharing photos from the LDS newsroom and stock photo collection. The photos will be paired with an altered version that removes the men.
One look at these photos and you will be struck by the overwhelming presence of men in our community. At baby blessings, at sacrament meeting, in leadership, women are outnumbered and, even more often, completely excluded. We hope you take the time to ponder these photos and ask yourself if they really look like a faith that empowers women and allows them to help bring about a world of greater peace and possibility. Then share the photos and ask your friends the same thing.
 I acknowledge men can serve in these callings, but they have been traditionally held by women in my experience and are the only callings that place a woman on the podium.
Six months ago I approached the Church Administration Building with every hope that my leaders would accept my request to deliver heartfelt messages from women across the world. I was surprised to encounter a locked gate. Taken aback and a little flustered, I informed the guard on the other end of the phone that I would be waiting outside in case anyone changed their mind and was willing to speak to me.
For three days – 17 hours – no one came. They watched me from the windows. Peeked through the blinds. Some even waved. But, while it seems many looked at me, no one actually saw me. No one saw me as a sister in the gospel. No one saw me as a child of Heavenly Parents worthy of a moment of recognition.
And so, this week, I’ll return. I’ll ask again. I’ll stand again. And I know that people will look at me. I pray that those people will see me. And I hope that someone there will be ready to hear me. This action is about saying our name and asking to be heard. It is about giving our leaders a chance to see us as children of Heavenly Parents and hearing us. But this time, I will bring many more people with me. I hope you will be one of them.
For the details about this action, follow this link.
I see gender inequality all around me.
- In the homes of friends and neighbors, women work far more hours than men, carrying most of the responsibility for children and domestic work, while simultaneously sacrificing career success.
- In social gatherings and meetings, I watch men pontificate about the issues of the day, while women are ignored and forced to the edges of the discussion circle.
- In the workplace, women are paid much less than men for the same or comparable work.
- Men occupy most of the executive positions, while women fill the ranks in business support functions.
- In government, men are seen as bold leaders, while women are called pushy, angry, and shrill.
In my home state of Utah, women earn only 67 cents for every dollar earned by a man. But, this is not a pattern that begins in adulthood. In the United States, the pay gap manifests itself in the form of lower allowance payments to girls, and the requirement that girls perform more work at home.
So why will I be at the action? For thousands of years, religions have been the central institutions for enforcing gender inequality. Religion has been used to justify patriarchy and keep women subject to male rule. Here in Utah, the LDS Church is the dominant patriarchal institution, and its central justification for denying power and authority to women is its teaching that only men can hold the priesthood (the power to act in God’s name).
As long as my fellow citizens believe that gender discrimination comes from God, we will live in an unequal society. As long as most of my fellow Utahans believe that God picks only men to lead, women in my state will continue to face discrimination in every part of their lives.
Because I believe in equality, I will be at the October 1st Action. I hope that you will join me there.
I did not learn about Ordain Women until a few weeks before the second action. I was excited to learn that there were other members who were questioning the notion of a gendered priesthood in the LDS Church. As excited as I was, neither my finances nor my life circumstances allowed me to participate in that action in person. However, I proudly participated by proxy as my name was carried by my dear friend, Joanna J. Smith.
Since April 2014, my support for and participation in Ordain Women has grown steadily. I have moved from questioning the notion of a gendered priesthood in the LDS Church to rejecting that notion. My convictions lead me to submitted a profile in September 2014 and to participate (in person) in the local priesthood action in October 2014. Being turned away at the door of the Roswell Stake Center did not dampen my conviction or my resolve; instead, I drew strength from the searing pain of being turned away at the door of my chosen house of worship.
I have participated in and supported every Ordain Women action since April 2014. With each action, I have been awed and humbled by the hard work, devotion, and sacrifice of my siblings as we work together to achieve equality in faith in the LDS Church. With each action, I have become more and more convinced that those of us who have joined together in this struggle have been led to do so and that we will not waver in our conviction and our resolve.
Although Church leaders have ignored us and failed to respond to us, I remain convinced that our cause is just and that we will prevail. I am also convinced that, despite the discomfort and even dislike that many of our LDS siblings have for public action and agitation, we have reached the point where faithful, public agitation is the only option available to us. As we learned at the “Ready to Witness” action in April, faithful, public agitation during General Conference affords us an opportunity to take our case not only to our leaders but to other LDS members who are attending General Conference.
So on October 1st, in the same faithful spirit that we, as a group, attempted to deliver cards and letters to our leaders in April, we will, individually, climb the steps to the Church Administration Building at 47 East South Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150. Each one of us will request a meeting with a general authority or general officer of the Church to raise the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood in the LDS Church.
We will be spiritually prepared: We will begin our action with a devotional in which we will invoke the presence of the spirit.
We will be physically prepared: We will have plans and supplies to attend to the physical needs of all the participants in the action.
We will be respectful: We will approach the building politely and in a very orderly fashion. We will not obstruct traffic on the sidewalk. We will not create a disturbance.
We will not yield. We will not stop. We will continue to seek equality in faith. We will continue to ask our leaders to hear us, to see us, and to take our concerns to our Heavenly Parents. We will do so because we believe that denying priesthood power and authority to us simply because we are not men is not in keeping with divine will and because we believe that the answer to the poignant question posed by Blaire Ostler in her powerful piece, “Priesthood Power” as to whether we, too, are “heir[s] of God” is a resounding: Yes!
Come. Join Us. “Let [Your] Voice Be Heard.”
When Ordain Women first launched, I was overjoyed for my Mormon sisters. I had heard their pain and confusion about being excluded from exercising offices and rituals of the priesthood (and holding most of the administrative offices of the church) for years. In their most quiet moments of prayer, they felt that their Heavenly Parents didn’t have any prohibition on women holding these offices or special dispensations to serve. They sincerely wanted their leaders to ask for divine guidance and answers – and there are no official channels to have their request heard.
But I hung back from joining the movement. I was no longer a believer or member of the church. I thought that my official support would only hurt their cause because this is a movement for and by believers.
Two years later, I learned I was wrong. My sisters told me my voice was needed. My official support was more than welcome – it was vital. And now, one year later, I will be standing with them in Salt Lake City; asking for 15 men (or their representatives) to hear my sisters’ request to have a conversation about the ordination of women. To hear their request to pray about one of the deepest desires of their hearts.
Here’s the thing. This will be scary for me. I will walk up to the Church Administration office to request a meeting when it’s my turn. All alone. I will most likely be turned away, or not allowed to walk up the steps at all. But I have to try.
I will try for my nieces being raised in this church. For my hundreds of friends and family members who will always remain active, believing Mormons, no matter the questions and pains that reside in their heart over this issue. For my Mormon female polygamous ancestors who blessed the sick and blessed women before they delivered babies. For women everywhere who are shut out of positions of equal opportunities to serve and equal access to administrative decision-making power in one of their most important communities: their religions.
If you have any sympathy for women having an equal voice in religion, I ask you to stand with me in Salt Lake City on October 1st. I know that for many of you, you won’t be able to stand with me physically. But you CAN stand with me through the beautiful Mormon tradition of proxy work. I can have your name in my pocket.
We Mormons love recording and cherishing names. The names of our ancestors, the prophets and leaders, the local members of each ward and stake. Each list is meticulously maintained and, by many, lovingly honored through special rituals and ceremonies that claim each person as part of the Mormon tradition by proxy. (Apologies to those whose names were used inappropriately at times, like Holocaust victims and members of other faiths. That should never happen.)
Send me your name, and I will print it out and put it in my pocket before I stand with my Mormon sisters and other allies on October 1st. It will give me more courage and support than you know. You don’t have to be a Mormon, you don’t have to be a believer, you don’t have to be a woman, you don’t even have to know me personally. I will hold your name and be so grateful for your support.
I want my pockets full to bursting. I want to know that when I walk up those steps, I have hundreds and thousands of people with me, lending their voice to mine. I will feel your hearts and your kindness. I will be asking for a meeting in your name, as well as mine. And your voice will be counted as fully participating in the Ordain Women action. If you wish to remain anonymous, you can submit just your first name or initials. But you will be counted as one of the souls petitioning the leaders of the LDS church to discuss the issue of the ordination of women.
And if that doesn’t interest you in and of itself, will you submit your name for my sake? I need you. My sisters need you. Follow this link to submit your name or initials.
“There is something incredibly powerful about gathering.”
-Debra Jenson, Ordain Women and Faithful Agitation
We are often asked why Ordain Women engages in public actions. Mormon women are not ordained to the priesthood, so they lack institutional authority and access to those leaders who have the responsibility to receive revelation on behalf of the Church. A number of us over the years sent personal letters to Church headquarters in order to raise the issue of gender equity and the need for greater inclusiveness. Our letters were routinely sent back to our stake or ward leaders, who, even when they were sympathetic, had no power to address or remedy Church-wide structural inequality. It became clear that public advocacy was one of the few options open to those of us who actively sought greater inclusiveness and other equitable changes in the LDS Church, including the ordination of women.
On a more personal level, “There is something incredibly powerful about gathering,” Ordain Women Executive Board member Debra Jenson recently explained to Debrief Society interviewer Stefeni. Several of those who participated in past Ordain Women actions echoed Debra’s comment. “It was empowering to witness women claiming their relationship with Deity and standing at the gates to worship in full fellowship,” wrote one participant. “I feel like I was part of something important,” asserted another. Yet another said, “It was a very spiritual experience to sing together, walk together, and wait together in line. … I feel like I did the right thing standing up for what I believe—[for] what I want for me, my sisters in the gospel, my daughters, [and] my granddaughters …”
An Ordain Women supporter, who participated in a past action by proxy, similarly wrote, “I submitted my name … followed the event via Twitter and Facebook and was humbled and proud of the women and men there. I got an email last night from the sister who [carried] my name, and that had me in tears, knowing that I was there in some small way. Thousands of miles away across the ocean, my voice was being shared thanks to sisters I will probably never meet. … I felt linked in a small but precious way to my American sisters in the gospel.”
Anticipating Ordain Women’s upcoming October action, OW Executive Board Chair Bryndis Roberts asserted, “This action will be an opportunity to gather in person … [to demonstrate] our commitment to the cause of equality.” In joining together, we are punctuating our fervent belief that Church policies and practices will better reflect the inclusiveness of the gospel of Jesus Christ when women participate more fully with men in all aspects of church governance, service, and sacred ordinances. If you share this hope, consider gathering with us—either in person, if you can, or by proxy—in Salt Lake City on Saturday, October 1.
I hope that you will be able to join and support our efforts as we continue to ask General Authorities to consider women’s ordination to the Priesthood. Unfortunately, it looks like I will not be able to attend this action in person.
My husband and I recently moved across the Pacific Ocean and most of the United States so that I could start law school. Scheduling issues and financial restrictions have meant that I, most likely, will not be able to attend. I’m very disappointed. When we announced the action at Sunstone this summer, I felt fortified by the strength in being with others who are inspired to stand for what they believe. There were only a handful of us there, but I felt unified underneath our purple umbrellas. I want to be there, but I can’t. There are many others like me who just can’t be there for a number of reasons. I just ask that when you carry my proxy umbrella, that you know that you carry my heart. You carry my hopes and fears, my questions and doubts, my love and gratitude. Thank you for doing what I can’t. I hope you find comfort and protection underneath my umbrella. Remember, I’m there with you in spirit and solidarity. Thank you.
If you do not know about the upcoming action on Saturday, October 1, 2016, here are the details from our action FAQ.
[Ordain Women supporters] will gather at 11:30 AM in City Creek Park to distribute Ordain Women umbrellas and hold a brief devotional. We will then walk to the Church Administration Building at 47 East South Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84150. Lined along the sidewalk between Noon and 2:00 PM and holding our purple Ordain Women umbrellas, we will stand, walk, watch, and wait while church officials meet inside between conference sessions. One by one, we will climb the steps to the Church Administration Building to request a meeting with a general authority or general officer of the Church to raise the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood in the LDS Church.
Female White House staffers gradually gained access to what Hamilton fans might call the room where it happens, but “when they got there, their voices were sometimes ignored,” wrote Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post’s White House bureau chief for domestic and foreign policy. “So female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called ‘amplification’: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.”
“’We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. It was an everyday thing,’” said one former [White House aide].” The strategy worked. Increasingly, women were invited to meetings, and their input was not only solicited but integral to the discussion.
I love the idea of amplification as a cooperative feminist strategy, both before and after Mormon women have access to the rooms—locally and Churchwide—where the crucial decisions that affect all us happen. The work of Ordain Women—its profiles and its actions in particular—amplifies the individual voices of all who hope for a more inclusive Church just as the contributions of many in the Mormon feminist community amplify our collective message.
One example that dovetails nicely with Ordain Women’s upcoming October action is Emily Gilkey Palmer’s Exponent blog post “Holding the Umbrella.” Emily responds to a metaphor often employed in the LDS Church to explain why the present males-only priesthood policy shouldn’t bother women and children who “might be baffled by [women’s] exclusion” from priesthood ordination.
Relief Society general president Linda K. Burton used the umbrella metaphor in 2013: “I don’t think women are after the authority; I think they’re … happy that they can access the blessings and power of the priesthood … it doesn’t matter who holds [the] umbrella. They’re happy to let someone else hold the umbrella because we have different complementary roles and are happy with that.”
In the Primary version of the object lesson, a child is asked to stand and hold an umbrella. The other children are then invited to stand under the umbrella. The teacher then asks, “As long as everyone is under the umbrella, i.e., enjoys the blessings of the priesthood, does it matter who holds it?”
An Oregon native, Emily is more than familiar with umbrellas. She writes:
“If you take that experiment out into the rain it immediately falls apart.
“My years of experience tromping through endless rainstorms have taught me a bit about sharing umbrellas and I can confidently say that with a shared umbrella, the protection is always unequal.
“Point 1: The holder of the umbrella will hold it at a height that is comfortable for him or her. As for the co-shelterer, the tall become hunchbacked, the short tend to get wet.
“Point 2: Consciously or unconsciously, the holder tends to pull it over him or herself, so the other person gets wet. Even good efforts to protect the other person fall apart through inattention. No amount of cozy arm linking completely resolves this.
“Point 3: It is possible, with a large enough umbrella, to both huddle under it and remain reasonably dry if you stay in one spot. If you try to move forward, however, the above two rules come into play quickly and are exacerbated by the different gaits of the people in question.
“In other words, the umbrella analogy illustrates precisely the opposite of the intended message.”
“The only way for everyone to receive equal protection,” Palmer concludes, “is for everyone to hold their own umbrella. Indeed, if everyone in a crowd had an umbrella, there would be a roof and all would be protected. … We need a phalanx of able umbrella-teers.”
Yes, Emily, yes we do—especially in Salt Lake City on October 1st.
After some scheduling snafus, I connected with Gina Colvin, a former member of the Ordain Women Executive Board and a stalwart support of Ordain Women, to do a podcast for A Thoughtful Faith. We wanted to talk about the Ordain Women October Action — “Let My Voice Be Heard.” But we also wanted to be open to being led by the Spirit in our discussion. The result took us both by surprise as we shared some of our innermost thoughts and feelings on not only the role of women in the LDS Church but also in the representation of God in the LDS Church and how that representation affects the role of women.
I ask that you listen to this podcast. It is longer than we planned, but I think you will find it to be thought-provoking, entertaining, a little sad (at times), and very hopeful. The issues and feelings we discuss are ones with which many of us who support Ordain Women grapple. They are the issues and feelings that formed the basis for our actions earlier this year. For our upcoming action, we continue to ask that the leaders of the LDS Church leaders to thoughtfully consider and earnestly pray about abolishing a gendered priesthood and allowing all members of the LDS Church who have a divinely inspired call or desire to serve in positions and minister in ways that require priesthood authority or power to be ordained.
To listen to the podcast, follow this link.