I am Ordain Women’s answer to the question, “Isn’t a call for women’s ordination precipitous?” For nearly 40 years, a number of us have written and spoken about this issue and thought seriously about what constitutes appropriate religious, as opposed to political, action. A quick glance at the Resource page at OrdainWomen.org, the archived publications on the Mormon Women’s Forum website, or some of the chapter’s in Women and Authority, punctuates the fact that Ordain Women is not an idiosyncratic blip in Mormon feminist history, but the logical next step in a long-established movement.
Privately, I began considering the possibility of women’s ordination in the late 1970s and talking about it more openly in the 1980s. Pivotal to the public discussion at this time were essays like Nadine Hansen’s “Women and Priesthood,” which appeared in Dialogue in 1981, and Margaret Toscano’s “The Missing Rib: The Forgotten Place of Queens and Priestesses in the Establishment of Zion,” which was given at the Sunstone Symposium in 1984 and later published in the magazine. My first public presentation referencing women and priesthood was part of a Sunstone panel in 1985 titled, “Since Sonia: New Directions for Women and the Church.” I suggested that if the church didn’t grapple with feminist issues, including the ordination of women, a future Symposium panel might be titled, “Since Sonia: Divergent Directions for Women and the Church.” Pivotal to my thinking at the time were not only discussions with and by Mormon women but books like Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Sexism and Godtalk and Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy. The latter in particular helped me see that our assumptions about the fundamental ordering of our lives and institutions are not always, well, fundamental. If historically they can be shown to have had a creation in time and context, by implication they can be altered or replaced if they are found to be inadequately equitable. By the time I wrote “Power Hungry” in 2004, I’d been committed to advancing women’s ordination for over two decades.
Last year, understandably frustrated by the lack of movement on this issue despite the groundwork laid by so many, I decided that the idea of women’s ordination had to enter the realm of the thinkable and the familiar before it could enter the realm of the possible. Among those reading this blog post, no doubt, are many who rolled their eyes—perhaps still do—at my regular and insistent references to women’s ordination. I also worked with the women who did the online response to Julie Beck’s “Mothers Who Know” to prepare All Are Alike unto God, a document calling on 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.
When Kate Kelly and I were introduced at the beginning of the year, we were logical allies despite the nearly 30-year difference in our ages. Though relatively new to organized, online Mormon feminism, Kate was anxious for action. We both had seen too many of our friends leave the Church over gender inequity—as one told Kate, “I became irrelevant to the Church, and so the Church became irrelevant to me.”
Like the women at WAVE, we at Ordain Women believe that what we conceptualize and call for as Mormon feminists has to be clear and specific and actionable. How can we expect church leaders to respond to a nebulous desire for a more equitable church? Interim steps, like those detailed in the All Are Alike unto God document and Neylan McBaine’s ultimately unsatisfying “To Do the Business of the Church: A Cooperative Paradigm for Examining Gendered Participation within Church Organizational Structure” are not unimportant, but the structural gender inequity in the Church is such that anything less than ordination is insufficient.
We believe the extension of priesthood to women is not only supported by Mormonism’s most compelling beliefs, but the logical next step in the history of extending priesthood to all worthy adult members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Continuing revelation is fundamental to Mormonism. Throughout our history, members have played a vital role in this process by articulating the need for further light and knowledge. It is time—past time, really—for the Church to seriously consider and earnestly pray about the ordination of women.