The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (“the Church”) recently released a statement announcing that women have been appointed to three of the Church’s general councils for the first time in its history. The importance of this announcement should not go unacknowledged. This is as or more important than when Sister Jean A. Stevens prayed at General Conference in April 2013- the first time that a woman prayed at the Church’s semi-annual General Conference. About the recent announcement, the First Presidency stated, “We are confident that the wisdom and judgment of these general auxiliary presidents will provide a valuable dimension to the important work accomplished by these councils.” The word that has stuck with me from that statement is “dimension.” Here, we have the highest body of the Church acknowledging that the perspective of women will enrich the general discussion occurring in these councils. Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson called the move “another significant moment” in the development of the Church. It is a sign that the First Presidency believes that women should be involved at the highest levels of Church governance.
As I considered the implications of this idea, I realized that Church leadership and Ordain Women are like-minded on this issue. There is admittedly a place where Ordain Women’s views diverge from current Church policy and that has led to an assumption that disagreeing with the Church’s current policy is apostasy. What if I told you that a modern Prophet and President of the Church has made a statement to the contrary? That man was the beloved Gordon B. Hinckley. In an interview with the television show Compass which aired on November 9, 1997, President Hinckley was asked if the rules prohibiting female ordination to the Priesthood could change. He stated that such a change would take a revelation and further clarifying, “But there’s no agitation for that. We don’t find it.” In line with that statement, Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated, at the April 2014 General Conference, “But even though (the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve) hold and exercise all of the keys delegated to men in this dispensation, they are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the Priesthood.” Such a change, as President Hinckley pointed out, would have to come from God. Ordain Women is a group that is agitating for a revelation on this matter, consistent with President Hinckley’s statement. Such requests for revelation were common in Joseph Smith’s day. In fact, a large portion of the Doctrine and Covenants comes directly from requests for revelation taken to the Prophet. In our day, we cannot simply walk-up to the Prophet on the street and ask our questions; a lot has changed since the 1800s. Ordain Women was organized by a group of faithful LDS women, to take this request to the Prophet. It is important that this question comes from the women seeking ordination.
But what does that mean for the men who support this endeavor? BEING AN ALLY For many men, especially in the Church, being a feminist ally can be an intimidating undertaking. The terms used can be confusing, you can feel unwelcome and some of the core feminist concepts can even seem accusatory toward you. There may be voices around you (including female voices) who say that feminism is unnecessary. Some people can even make allegations that supporting feminist causes is tantamount to apostasy. For me, it helped to clear the white noise and ask a few basic questions. They are:
1. Do you believe that men and women are fundamentally equal and have the ability to make equally valid contributions to society?
2. Do you believe that the Church is better when both men and women contribute their perspectives and talents in an effort to make the Church a better place?
3. Do you believe that women who desire an opportunity to do more to help the Church should be allowed that opportunity?
If you answered “Yes.” To those questions, you are a feminist ally! There is no pressure to agree with every idea in the vast realm of feminism. If you believe in the inherent equality of men and women, you are a feminist ally. Though that title sometimes carries some negative subtext, you don’t have to accept that. The First Presidency just took steps that show that they hold those same values to some degree by including women in the general councils of the Church. You’re in good company. Being a feminist ally can take on a number of forms. Some feminist allies choose to speak-up to support equality in conversations with friends. Some feminist allies will take steps to publicly declare their beliefs, like submitting a profile or donating to Ordain Women. Some feminist allies simply choose to remain silent. Others choose to involve themselves in causes that advance ideas that they believe in. What is important to remember as a feminist ally is that it is not an all or nothing proposition. Supporting equality doesn’t mean you have to believe every feminist concept. You don’t have to put messages on your Facebook wall for the world to see, if you are not comfortable with that. You don’t have to choose between Ordain Women and the Church. The picture has been painted that these are two distinct and competing entities. That is simply not true. Though many members of the Church disagree with the ideas presented by Ordain Women, I have found that those who disagree still have a strong desire to make the Church a better place. This bears repeating because I believe that this concept is critical to establish charity from both sides of the discussion: the average member of the Church and the average member of Ordain Women each have the best interest of the Church at heart. One of the most important aspects of feminism, in my view, is that it supports the rights of individuals to make choices consistent with their own beliefs. It empowers people to follow their own conscience. If your conscience tells you that supporting equality is important, know that your contributions as an ally would be welcomed at Ordain Women. As an ally, your support of the women asking for change is an important part of the process of faithfully agitating.
Honoring the past,
Envisioning the future.
Cory Hurle, the author of this post, is on Ordain Women’s Male Allies Committee.