A couple of months ago, I came across the “Ordain a Lady” video by the Catholic Women’s Ordination Conference. Even though it was lighthearted, clever, and fun, it made me cry. Why? Because as a Mormon feminist, I had never seen such confident assertions on video for the need for women’s ordination:
“Woman priest is my call
Women preaching for all
Don’t listen to St. Paul
‘Cuz I can lead the way”
I felt chills run up my spine as I watched these women asserting their strength, their vision, and their truth. Amen, I said to myself. Indeed, “Justice doesn’t look like only male priests.” As this video circulated among various Mormon feminist email lists, several other women mentioned that this video brought them to tears too.
I think this video was so striking to us because few Mormon feminists, let alone Mormon women, publicly articulate their desire for priesthood. There are many reasons for this, but I’ll mention a few: 1) Since the Mormon priesthood is conferred on all males age 12 and older, priesthood is nearly synonymous with maleness. In a Mormon context, to say one wants priesthood is seen by many Mormons as saying one wants to be a man. 2) In the 1990s, LDS Church leaders cracked down on a handful of Mormon feminists, who were either disfellowshipped, excommunicated or threatened with such discipline. While Church leaders today would be unlikely to discipline people for expressing a desire for women’s ordination, fear of ostracism and rejection by fellow Mormons runs deep. 3) Questioning the all-male priesthood is considered by many Mormons to attack the notion of an inspired prophet, an idea which lies at the heart of Mormonism. Thus advocating for women’s ordination is seen as a step toward apostasy and is linked with a loss of credibility in Mormon circles. 4) Arguing for women’s ordination is considered divisive, and Mormons deeply treasure ideals of community and unity. 5) It’s one thing to criticize the gender roles of male as provider/presider and female as nurturer –lots of Mormon feminists do that. But it’s an entirely different scale of critique to advocate for large-scale structural change.
All this adds up to very little agitation from practicing Mormons for women’s ordination.* Until ten days ago.
On March 17, 2013, a new website emerged: Ordain Women. It showcases 28 Mormons, most practicing, discussing their belief in the need for women’s ordination. Self-consciously mirroring the LDS Church sponsored “I’m a Mormon” campaign, these Mormons attached pictures of themselves to their statements, a brave move away from anonymity. One woman, an international human rights attorney, even provided a video of herself speaking about why she supports the ordination of women and why she became involved with this project. She states, “This is about self-respect. I want to be able to say what I believe … and to stand up for what I think is right.”
This website is meant to desensitize Mormons to the idea of women’s ordination. It is meant to show that scores of practicing Mormons support it. In addition to asserting their support for an inclusive priesthood, the Mormons featured in these profiles are asserting that there should be space in this tradition for them to articulate their support for women’s ordination. They are beginning the conversation. They are planting the seeds of possibility in people’s minds. As the website states, “In many ways, our greatest obstacle to women’s ordination is a failure of imagination. As Mormon women, we can’t imagine moving beyond the space we’ve been assigned–and when that space is a much-touted pedestal, it is limiting. Women’s ordination will only enter the realm of the possible if the idea of it becomes familiar.”
A few weeks ago I gathered my courage and submitted my own profile to the website. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done as a Mormon feminist. It felt like crossing an invisible boundary, like stepping over a point of no return. I did it in faith that one day I would look back on this day and feel glad that I took the risk to publicly stand behind what I believe. After all, that’s one thing my Mormon upbringing has taught me. As a famous Mormon hymn states, “Do what is right; let the consequence follow.”
Caroline is completing coursework for a Ph.D. in religion with a focus on women’s studies in religion. Her areas of interest revolve around the intersections of Mormon and feminist theology and the study of contemporary Mormon feminist communities. She is the co-founder of the Mormon feminist blog, The Exponent.