Like many of you, I have followed the recent election with great interest. As a political junkie, I tend to watch debates for sport. But the most recent debate between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton left me physically uncomfortable, enough so that I had to leave the room for a moment just to catch my breath. I have thought about it for a few days and decided that it was because what I saw felt eerily familiar.
I’m not someone who has terrible stories about abusive priesthood leaders in my past. I have been blessed to have, almost universally, incredibly wonderful men as bishops and stake presidents. However, watching Donald Trump pace around while Hillary spoke, and at one point approach her from behind and stand very close to her while she spoke, I was reminded of the many times I have felt the physical presence of men and its ability to demean and diminish women.
I was reminded of the moment a bishop, during an emotional exchange, attempted to physically move me from a doorway. The time another member of the ward council kept coming closer and closer to me while we had a discussion about how young women weren’t allowed on high adventure trips. And the time I approached a podium to welcome friends and family to my daughter’s baptism, only to have a bishop meet me there and elbow me away from the microphone because the priesthood presides at the meeting.
These sound extreme, and they probably are, but I was also reminded of the many times I had spoken at the podium during sacrament meeting: I was very aware, and uncomfortable, that the men of the bishopric were seated right behind me. I was taken back to the countless interviews I had, behind closed doors, with trusted priesthood leaders asking me questions about chastity and how I wore my underwear. And I distinctly remembered the time my stake president spent a full hour trying to convince me I should wear a dress to church instead of my formal slacks.
Are my priesthood leaders Donald J. Trump? Heavens no! They have been truly loving men who wanted the best for me, my family, my ward, and my stake. But my priesthood leaders are men who live in a world, and a religious community, that does not value women in its spaces. A community that sees the presence of women as “by invitation only” and therefore, not equally and rightfully there. While I have never felt physically threatened by this cultural behavior, I have felt emotionally and spiritually diminished by it. And that is a feeling we should not want for any child of Heavenly Parents.
I invite anyone who has encountered these same feelings, or something similar to share your story! Imagine the way our faith community could grow and flourish were we all considered equally vital in all spaces. And then write a profile and add your name to the growing list of people who support Ordain Women and our efforts to bring religious gender equality to our faith.
[This is part 2 of a two-part series. Please follow this link to read part 1.]
Before Elder Oaks’ April 2014 priesthood session talk, some Church leaders seemed to be ditching the “men have priesthood; women have motherhood” parallel, which is good news. The bad news is that some are substituting equally absurd parallels, such as “men have priesthood; women have influence”—whatever that means. Elder Oaks didn’t mention motherhood with a capital “M,” but he spoke about women’s ability to create new life as a counterpoint to men having priesthood. This, of course, is problematic. It ignores men’s contribution to the creation of life and the fact that there’s very little creativity in incubating. Most mammals are capable of it. Creativity comes in parenting, which both men and women optimally share. Even Sherri Dew suggests there are problems with the priesthood/motherhood equation. Though there are a few holdouts, I’m hoping using motherhood to justify an all-male priesthood is on the wane.
Unfortunately, separate but equal, complementarian rhetoric still holds sway. As President Burton noted in a video that was released on April 5, 2013, soon after Ordain Women launched its website, men and women “have different complementary roles and are happy with that. Equality is an interesting term. It doesn’t always mean sameness, but we are of equal value …” While it’s true that equality isn’t about sameness, it is about equal access and opportunity.
Finally, priesthood blessings, power, authority, office, and keys are being parsed and distinctions drawn in ways still shy of ordination but that attempt to be more inclusive of women. Late 20th century Church discourse responded to the women’s movement primarily by asserting that both men and women enjoyed the blessings of the priesthood. Such attempts spawned rhetoric that occasionally bordered on the absurd. For example, Elder Bruce C. Hafen, speaking at the BYU Women’s Conference in 1985, attempted to diffuse cries of gender inequity with the following: “The one [and, we are to assume, only] category of blessing in which the role of women is not the same as that of men holding the priesthood is that of administering the gospel and governing all things.” A mere trifle.
More recently, leaders have asserted that women can access both the blessings and the power of the priesthood. In the April 2013 video interview with the general women auxiliary presidents released a few weeks after the launch of the Ordain Women website, President Burton said: “I don’t think women are after the authority; I think they’re after the blessings and are happy that they can access the blessings and power of the priesthood. There are a few that would like both. But most of the women, I think, in the Church are happy to have all the blessings.”
In her review of Dew’s book, Valerie Hudson wrote: “Dew’s greatest contribution in this book … is her assertion that endowed women possess Godly power, or priesthood power. (103) She [Dew] begins with a statement by … Ballard that in the temple, both men and women are ‘endowed with the same power, which by definition is priesthood power.’ (105) [This was reiterated in Elder Dallin Oak’s April 2014 priesthood session talk.] Dew goes on to state that once endowed, a woman has ‘direct access to priesthood power for her own life and responsibilities.’ (114) … Priesthood power . . . is the power of God Himself available to men and women alike . . . who have been endowed in the house of the Lord (122) . . . men and women who are endowed in the house of the Lord have been given a gift of power, and they have been given a gift of knowledge to know how to access and use that power.’”(125)
“This,” says Hudson, “is really a very remarkable assertion. The formula has always been that women are the beneficiaries of priesthood power, and so only ‘share’ it vicariously by being married to a man. … But Dew is plainly saying that endowed women have been given priesthood power in the temple, which power they can use to benefit others. In other words, for the first time it is being articulated that women are not simply passive recipients of divine power that has been coded male, but are able to hold and use divine power as agents without a male intermediary. As Dew puts it, ‘Both men and women would have full access to this [heavenly] power, though in different ways.’” (74)
“Dew continues: ‘[W]omen, unlike men, are not required to be ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood in order to enter the house of the Lord, though the ordinances performed there are all priesthood ordinances. Neither are women required to be ordained to the priesthood to serve as leaders in the Lord’s Church. Why is that the case?’ (109)
“Now, that’s an interesting question to pose, isn’t it?” asks Hudson. “It’s a question that … is apparently a bridge too far for Dew and she does not answer it in her book.”
Increasingly, a distinction is being made between the authority and the power of the priesthood. Authority and power traditionally have been associated with office and, thus, available only to men. Power now seems to be available to all and is conditioned on righteousness. This is being said over and over again, although it’s not well developed.
In his April 2014 priesthood session talk, Elder Oaks went further and asserted that women not only enjoy the blessings and the power of the priesthood, they also exercise its authority in their callings. In the institutional Church, “priesthood authority is governed by priesthood holders who hold priesthood keys, and … all that is done under the direction of those priesthood keys is done with priesthood authority.”
While women do not currently hold priesthood keys and office, Elder Oaks asserted that both women and men are recognized as having “the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings.” He continued: “We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be?” asked Elder Oaks. “When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.”
Again, as with the power of the priesthood, we are still left scratching our heads and wondering what it means for women to exercise the authority of the priesthood in their callings. Can a Relief Society president, for example, bless the women over whom she presides by the authority of the holy priesthood, which she exercises by virtue of her calling?
Obviously, we still have work to do, but it’s clear that the question of women’s ordination isn’t going away.
Note: This post is taken from my 2014 Sunstone Symposium presentation. It can be accessed with complete references in the Afterword of my essay “The Birth of Ordain Women: The Personal Becomes Political,” in Voices for Equality: Ordain Women and Resurgent Mormon Feminism, (Draper, UT: Greg Kofford Books), 3-26.
I’ve often quipped that I’m Ordain Women’s answer to the question, “Isn’t a public call for women’s ordination precipitous?” After over 30 years of speaking and writing about this issue with a handful of others, I am thrilled that the discussion has finally gone viral. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Ordain Women’s initiatives—its ever-expanding list of profiles and, like last week’s Let My Voice Be Heard, its public actions—have been a major catalyst for the recent explosion of interest in the question of women and priesthood ordination and amplified the work of all in the Mormon feminist community who hope for a more inclusive Church.
But is there any evidence that OW’s initiatives are making a difference in the institutional Church? I think so. Since OW’s launch, I’ve noted a number of hopeful shifts in Church discourse on women and priesthood—particularly in the writings of President Linda K. Burton, Sherri Dew, and Elders Dallin Oaks, Russell Ballard and Neil Anderson.
The question of women’s ordination had to enter the realm of the thinkable before it could ever enter the realm of the possible. What we conceptualized and called for had to be clear, specific and actionable. While recognizing and supporting the many lists constructed over the years by Mormon feminists of institutional changes that could make Mormonism more inclusive, a number of us believed that the structural inequity in the Church was such that anything less than ordination seemed insufficient.
By January of 2013, when several of us came together to form Ordain Women, the seeds for a widespread discussion on the topic of women’s ordination already had been planted: The “All Are Alike unto God” document, calling on general church leaders to thoughtfully consider and earnestly pray about the question of women’s ordination and the integration of women into the decision-making structure of the Church, had been mailed to church leaders and several hundred women and men had already signed in support of it; Mormon blogs, such as Exponent, Times and Seasons, Patheos and Zehepholod’s Daughters, had begun to address the issue more frequently. Ordain Women’s actions amplified these and other Mormon feminist initiatives, igniting the following significant institutional responses that should help facilitate the ordination of women.
First and foremost, crucial questions about women and priesthood are being asked. President Burton, speaking at the BYU Women’s Conference on May 2, 2013, said, “We rejoice that we are privileged to live in this season of the history of the Church when questions are being asked about the priesthood. There is great interest and desire to know and understand more about the authority, power, and blessings associated with the priesthood of God.”
Second, Church leaders are openly admitting that people are struggling with—or at least, perplexed by—the question of why only men hold the priesthood. Many, like Elder Andersen and Elder Ballard as well as Sherri Dew, admit they ultimately don’t know why men have the priesthood and women don’t. In the October 2013 general conference, Elder Neil L. Andersen answered the question, “Why are the ordinances of the priesthood administered by men?” by citing 1 Nephi 11: 17: “I do not know the meaning of all things.” Elder M. Russell Ballard, speaking at BYU’s 2013 Campus Education Week Devotional, asked, “Why are men ordained to priesthood offices and not women?” His answer: “When all is said and done, the Lord has not revealed why…” Similarly, Sherri Dew, in her book Women and the Priesthood, writes: “Why aren’t women eligible for priesthood ordination …? . . . [W]e don’t know.” (106)
Third, priesthood and men are not synonymous. Heretofore, priesthood was so associated with maleness, that asking a Mormon woman if she wanted to be ordained was like asking her if she wanted to be a man. Church leaders, including Elders Andersen, Ballard and Oaks, now have clearly stated that men are not the priesthood. Uncoupling priesthood from maleness and recognizing that it is a power that is not gendered is an essential step in extending full priesthood authority to all worthy adult members of the Church.
[This is part 1 of a two-part series. Please see tomorrow’s post for more!]
“Only the best for our God.”
That was the explanation I was given when I questioned why the church needed such opulent temples. That was how we showed our devotion and commitment to a deity who was in turn so committed to us that he called us, “my work and my glory.” We paid our building funds the way earlier Latter Day Saints gave up time, effort, and monetary resources that were desperately needed elsewhere. We even heard the stories of how early members had given up their china – the only luxury item in their household – to build a beautiful building on the edge of the frontier. These sacrifices would be remembered and honored by a loving God.
“Only the best for you.”
That was what a leader told me when she served me. I was a very gawky and unattractive teen and sometimes that felt like that awkwardness was a sin and a direct reflection of my unworthy soul. I didn’t think I deserved any kindness or consideration. I was afraid that someone good might stain themselves by serving me. But she taught me that what was required for God, was required for the least of these. Every child of God was worth the effort that you would put into a temple so they could build themselves into a masterpiece, a work, and a glory.
Some people asked me why I even bothered to attend the October 2016 General Conference Ordain Women action. They asked why anyone would still bother after years of silence. They asked why I should even care when I have a happy family, a fulfilling career, and can already do so much good. Why would I push for ordination when I don’t “need” it?
But nevertheless, on October 1st, I walked down the street in a parade of purple umbrellas that made a striking contrast against the autumn gold in the mountains and on the trees. We dressed up in our Sunday best and made ourselves visible for a group of men that will never look at us. We called out friendly greetings to people who didn’t want to talk to us. We held a banner that passers-by tried not to read. We waited at a door that was not only locked, it was secured and gated as though we were undesirables, lepers, or some other segment of society that is not fit for the company of prophets. There was no answer.
But it doesn’t matter if I am ignored. It doesn’t matter if I am ordained. I have never forgotten the lessons of my youth. Only the best for our God. That is why we want to build God a church with the full participation of all leadership. To me, equality is a beautiful, enriching, and celestial construct that outshines any architectural masterpiece. Only the best for each individual member. I could walk away from the church and claim my own life choices, but I choose the best and that is the option of ordination for every member regardless of gender. For all the leadership, loved ones, and friends that have sacrificed for me, I will always stand for the best possible church. Only the best. Only the best.
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.