Mormons Who Advocate Women’s Ordination by Caroline Kline

Kline, CarolineA 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.”

*One notable exception to this is the recent Catholic/Mormon Dialogues on Women’s Ordination and the work done by Lorie Winder.

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.

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45 replies

  1. Bless your bravery and the bravery of your Mormon sisters. I wonder if the internet sisterhood will be more difficult to silence.

  2. If Mormonism continues to refuse equality of purpose and opportunity to women, it is doomed. As are Christianity, Islam and Judaism unless they too reform. Denying women their god-given humanity is similar to the mind-set of the slave-owner: the slave owner says, I decide who you are, what you can do and say.
    It is now unimaginable to us that a religion could support and encourage the possession of slaves. Yet there was a time when slave owners found it impossible to imagine a society without slavery. The denial of full humanity to women is fast becoming as absurd and evil as slavery.
    Any faith which hopes to survive into the future simply has to accommodate the facts of the world we live in: one of these facts is that women will no longer collude in their own enslavement.
    It is just possible that certain radical movements in Christianity and Judaism may be able to meet the necessary reforms. Judging from what I hear Mormon and Muslim women say, I see no hope at all for Mormonism and Islam.

  3. That the priesthood is conferred on children in a religious community when reaching maturity seems to me a very liberated and enlightened idea, because it sidesteps the false hierarchical structure of priest and parishioner. I would like to know the philosophy that Mormons hold as to why the maturing child grows so effortlessly into priesthood — whatever the arguments, intuitively I would think the same understanding would extend the priesthood to women. Either you are creating a religious community vs. a hierarchy or you are not.

    • I too like the idea of a universal priesthood, one even available to young people. It does break down the divide between clergy and laity. Laity is clergy in this setup.

  4. I have always understood since becoming a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that Mormons believed that revelation flowed from Christ to the Prophet… not from the members to the Prophet.

    I heard the uproar from the “feminists” when the Prophet spoke to the sisters about something so simple as the amount of earrings they should wear.

    Either revelation flows from Christ to the Prophet.. or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t.. then picketing the General Authorities to give the priesthood to all seems the typical worldly way to go. That is the way that every other church out there has to do it because they do not receive revelation from God.

    I wonder what it was like leading up to the point in time when 1/3 of the hosts of heaven were asked to leave. The difference between the 1/3 and the 2/3’s.. 2/3’s kept their first estate.

    You are either doing the will of our Father in Heaven.. or you are not. If the Lord Jesus Christ wanted women in the priesthood.. do you not think he would have made it so?

    The time is coming when a scourge will go through this country to make it clean in preparation for the 2nd coming. The Lord as stated clearly that it will begin in HIS HOUSE.

    Read D&C 112 :24-27 which states:

    24 Behold, vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, a day of burning, a day of desolation, of weeping, of mourning, and of lamentation; and as a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth, saith the Lord.

    25 And upon MY HOUSE shall it BEGIN, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord;

    26 First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord.

    27 Therefore, see to it that ye trouble not yourselves concerning the affairs of my church in this place, saith the Lord.

    • I have always understood from growing up a Latter-day Saint, that revelation comes after questions are asked. And, those questions do not always come from the prophet himself. Sometimes, they even come from women(!) as is the case with Emma inspiring the whole of D&C 89 and the Word of Wisdom.

      When Gordon B. Hinckley was President, he explicitly stated that it was possible for women to be ordained to the priesthood one day, but that “they weren’t agitating for it.” As far as I can understand, this brave and faithful movement is to say, “Yes, they are agitating for it.” And only then may the questions be asked, and the true answers given.

    • You ask, “If the Lord Jesus Christ wanted women in the priesthood do you not think he would have made it so.” Do you also ask yourself, “If God wanted world peace would he not make it so?” Clearly God would have the world better and different than it currently is, but for whatever reasons, doesn’t immediately intervene to make it so.

      Rachel’s answer was spot-on. The very existence of Mormonism answers the question of what comes first – the revelation, or the question?

      • Exactly, Rachel and Emily. It’s perfectly possible as a practicing Mormon to recognize that of course our leaders respond to feedback. Black men did not receive the priesthood in 1978 out of the blue. That was the product of years of feedback from church leaders and mission presidents in Brazil that saw that the priesthood ban was disastrous for the church in that community. Not to mention all the other feedback the church got from members in the U.S and other parts of the world who were terribly distressed by the situation. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t inspiration on that day in the temple in 1978, but often inspiration only comes after feedback and questions.

        Mr. Nirom, if you are interested in learning more about how change occurs in the church on these issues like priesthood access, please check out Armand Mauss’s book All Abraham’s Children. He is a practicing LDS who is an expert on the subject.

        Also, if you are interested in the issue of women’s priesthood in the early Christian church, check out When Women Were Priests by Torjesen.

    • Oui, il faut savoir que Jésus était entouré de femmes intelligentes, courageuses et douées de beaucoup de sens pratique. Avec ces femmes il parlait MIEUX (avec liberté, égalité et fraternité) qu’avec Pierre qui, il faut bien le dire, était borné.
      C’est le successeur de Pierre qui est à la tête du catholicisme romain.
      On aurait aimé voir Marie conduire le petit troupeau catholique chrétien.
      Ici, dans le Sud de la France, c’est en vérité admirable de voir le petit peuple se souvenir des Saintes Marie de la Mer.
      Et puis, il faudrait que nous lisions tous l’Evangile de Thomas dont la spiritualité est supérieure à la spiritualité de Pierre.

    • MrNirom, I found your interpretation of D&C 112 as God’s attitude toward these women absolutely unfounded. You have no interpretive authority on this text and do not speak for the Church, or, if you do and can, we look forward to hearing you address the world this weekend. Moving on, can you point out any scripture that clearly states that God’s plan entirely excludes women from ordination in this life? Is there a verse in any of the standard works that unequivocally says women should not have the priesthood? I would also like to know what do you make of prophetesses, priestesses, and deaconesses in scripture? Don’t the women describes with those titles create an important precedent? And finally, what about women officiating washings and anointing in the temple? How do those ordinances mean anything at all if the women officiating them have no priesthood authority?

      • Still Aaron.. revelation from God flows from him… to man. When and if it happens.. I am glad to accept the revelation. But just thinking that one can complain about not having the priesthood is going to change the minds of the men at the head of this church and they will implement a change without direction from above.. is just wishful thinking.

  5. Either revelations come through human instruments or they do not. I don’t see that it makes any sense to say that they do not. Ergo…any man who says his words are God’s words end of the matter–is wrong.

  6. And a couple of hundred years ago, Mr Nirom, there were ‘Christian” ministers who justified slavery on Biblical grounds. More recently, certain ‘Christian’ sects in South Africa believed that the Apartheid system of racial segregation and white supremacy could be similarly upheld. Well, we all know what happened to both slavery and Apartheid.

    • June, I agree. And man made institutions run just that way. They can be changed as the minds of men bend in a different direction.

      But where and when God is in charge, do we follow his will only when it agrees with our will? God, our Father, must be considered male. Do declare he is misogynistic because he has given his priesthood to men? Must God’s laws and rules fit our understanding of what they should be.. rather than what they are? Just where does this idea of voting for something to be come into play when it concerns God? Did we vote for the 10 commandments?.. or were they given to us? Did we vote that women would be the one to give birth or was that also bestowed upon us?

      If you believe that your religious institution is man made, then bend the minds of the controlling men to favor your will. But if the institution is God made.. and God run.. and you don’t like what you see.. why then are you a member of it? Go and join a religion that matches your desires. I am sure there are plenty of them out there.

      • Yes, I think that all religious institutions including churches are man-made, and for the most part made in the image of man, not god.
        However, there is a particular problem for Christians when they deny women the priesthood, as this goes expressly against Jesus’ own teaching.
        1) In the house of Mary and Martha, when Martha complained that she was being left to do all the work in the kitchen while Mary listened to the teaching, Jesus commended Mary and told Martha that she should leave the kitchen and also listen.
        2) The first people to whom Jesus appears t after the resurrection (the central belief of Christian teaching) are women. ie Jesus gives this special witness to his female, not his male disciples.
        3) It is women, not men, who are instructed to ‘go spread the Good News’ that he has risen from the dead, in other words to preach the gospel.
        4) At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on men and women alike.
        For all these reasons, it seems self evident that Jesus wished women to be priests, and anyone who denies them this ministry is going explicitly against the word of Christ himself.

      • June,

        The Church was created in Heaven.. before it came to earth so it is not man made. What has happened is that man has perceived himself more knowledgeable than God and has changed what was originally taught.

        You said: “there is a particular problem for Christians when they deny women the priesthood, as this goes expressly against Jesus’ own teaching.”

        I have to say: Who was it that chose the Twelve Apostles? Had Christ wanted women to have the Priesthood.. he would have chosen at least one and probably six if that is what he wanted.

        And you are right in your examples of Christ’s dealings with women. Appearing to Mary prior to his ascension into heaven clearly shows how important womankind is to him. Some say.. she was his wife. All men and women are children of God. He is our Father in Heaven. Does logic not follow that there would most likely be a Mother in Heaven?

        Because this topic has also to do with Mormonism.. the priesthood for Latter Day Saints is a very different priesthood than what some of the other Christian faiths profess. All we know is that at this time, it is God who has ordained this priesthood upon men. It was handed down by God to man… and at no time has God ordained this priesthood upon women. Not saying that he can’t at some point in time, it is just that he has not done so to date.

      • We have no idea how many apostles Jesus created. All we know is that the men who wrote the New Testament only told us about the twelve. The essence of Christ’s teaching is contained in the Sermon on the Mount. I see absolutely nothing in that which excludes women from the priesthood. I should like to ask you a question: why are some men (especially conservative Muslims and Christians) so frightened and disgusted by the idea of women’s ministry ?

      • Who is it exactly who is telling us what God wants or what God has written or what God has “commanded” us to do? Men have created God in Man’s image. And therein lies the problem. Have you read the Bible? Check out Leviticus for starters, and then tell us how you will follow this God’s will. I, for one, am more interested in the religion of the Goddess, which is more inclusive and loving than the Bible’s God of hell and damnation.

      • Katharine,

        Yes I have read the Bible. The laws you speak of in Leviticus were to a people who decided not to accept a higher law and therefore was given a lesser law than one that was originally proposed by God. The Law of Moses was that lesser law. It was a law that the Israelites wanted. And God gave them want they wanted.

        When Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth, part of his mission (besides the offering mankind a way to salvation) was to fulfill this lesser law and once again teach the higher law.

        God is not created in man’s image.. but man is created in God’s. But God also knows the limitations of man and often works within what man can comprehend and be willing to accept.

        Hell and damnation is used as a metaphor of what will happen to us when we are not willing to follow and obey the commandments of God. Hell is the difference between what we could have received vs what we will receive based on the righteous judgments of God. We are held accountable for our works here upon this earth. Damnation is the stopping of forward progression… as does a damn stops the flow of water. So Hell and Damnation is a reality, but not necessarily the way most perceive it to be.

      • MrNirom, If Jesus came to teach a higher law, why do you not follow his teaching (see my response above) and wholeheartedly support the ordination of women ?

  7. As a gentile, infidel, heathen, pagan, agnostic, damned-to-burn-in-hell outsider I can not understand how millions, perhaps billions, of women can remain so steadfastly, faithfully, loyal to a system that denies, no, disdains their humanity before a God that these men in drag assure me is a just and loving God. What happened, how did it come about?
    When, where, how and why did this perfidious system take root in the dim and ancient recesses of human history?
    I ask: “Is God a man, does he have genitals and is the human female, therefore, a sort of sub specie that is not really made in the image of God? They look at me with towering, scandalized outrage, accuse me of the ultimate blasphemy and threaten to despatch me to hell there and then and not wait for God to do it.
    The system becomes even more incomprehensible when it occurs to me that religion appears to be the ideal domain for women. Religion in its “romanticized”, “idealized” form is presented as gentle, kind, forgiving, loving, tolerant, artistic, creatve, uplifting, endearing, yin as opposed to yang. Is this not a description of women?
    Are not most pedophiles male? Are not the poor sexually frustrated priests ideal candidates for pedophilia? What if all priest were female? My intuition suggests to me that they would be far less likely to abuse children and even if they did it would be of a far less ominous variety. A world where religion was the exclusive domain of woman would be far less inclined to war and economic abuse than the one we are living in now. Religion does not suit the macho male especially if you pull a garotte on his genitals
    A female Pope would not have made that much difference in the midst of all those sexually turgid cardinals, but it would have held out a promise of enlightened reason overcoming subhuman ritual.
    The religions of the “enlightened West” are they any better than the religions of the “unenlightened East”?

    • Well, Noek, that makes at least two of us ……. plus my daughters and their children and my friends and my friends children and their children’s children ……

      We will bring to dust their heartless walls.

  8. Yay for change! This is a bold step and I hope that those who choose to stay in Mormonism and change it from the inside are able to have this. I could no longer support such a sexist and racist, etc institution myself but am glad that others find a way to try and change it from within. Good luck!

  9. I left a reply to Noek’s question as to why so many women remain in religions which have no respect for them. I suggested (as I have done before on these pages) that women stay in many abusive relationships simply because the relationship itself undermines any belief the woman might have had in her ability to survive outside the abuse.. My comment appears to have been taken down.
    If it has been taken down (and not simply drifted off into cyber space) I’d like to know why. I appreciate that some people might find my remark offensive, but I believe the comparison to be valid, non-personal, and a legitimate criticism of misogynistic religion.
    I find MrNirom’s remarks extremely offensive, but I wouldn’t for a minute have you censor them. I would rather people could see for themselves the moral cruelty and spiritual paucity of what he has to say. Give him the freedom to say wants he wants. And give me the same..

    • June,

      My remarks have offended you? In what way? Was it that I said Christ may be married or that there might be a Mother in Heaven? This offends you?

      I was not my intention to “offend” anyone.. only to explain my belief on the way I think things really are. One can choose to agree or disagree but to be offended I think is rather extreme. I made no personal attacks on you nor anyone here.

      • MrNimron, your remarks are grossly offensive to me and every woman who reads them because you refuse to consider any woman as worthy of priesthood (regardless of her intelligence, ability or calling) on the grounds of biology – ie not having a penis. Further, you maintain a system whereby this belief is effected by men like yourself without women having any recourse to change the system of their own right. You decide that I am less than you, and I am unable to effectively defend myself or my daughters against the cruelty of
        your decision because I am not the priest you forbid me to become.

        Now, will you please explain, as I asked you, why, if you believe Jesus came with a higher law, you don’t follow his example when he told the women to ‘tell the good news’ ie preach the Christian message ? You can quote the entire Old testament at me, but it won’t change a whit the simple, lucid teaching of Christ
        himself, or the fact recorded in the gospel: the first words which the newly risen Christ uttered were to women, and his instruction to them was to preach his law. Any body who denies women the ministry denies the word of the Risen Christ. Anybody who denies the word of the Risen Christ and calls themselves a Christian is a hypocrite. I find hypocrisy as offensive as being told I am a lesser creature than my brother.

      • Seeing how you do not intend to offend, you are hereby allowed to say whatever you want without consideration of your words or the thought processes that produced them. Congratulations.

    • Hi June Courage – sorry to hear one of your comments is missing. There are no pending comments on our queue, so it must have been a glitch of some kind. I am glad you restated your point. Thank you!

  10. Caroline, this is a beautiful post. And I can’t say, “Way to go!” loudly or emphatically enough to demonstrate my support of your courage and faith. I especially love your use of the hymn’s lyric, “Do what is right, let the consequence follow.”

  11. Mr Nirom, your definition of God (based on selective readings of scriptures) as a great and judgmental bully and thug is offensive to many feminists for at least 3 reasons: 1) many of us do not agree that divine power should be modeled on power over as dominance achieved through violence; 2) many of us do not agree that the existence of such images in scriptures makes them true; 3) many of us are offended that you use such images of God to try to silence women who are seeking equality.

    I think you know that what you say would be found offensive in the context of a discussion of feminism and religion, or does that come as a surprise? If so, are you interested in listening to the “others” whose voices you have not heard? Or simply in silencing them?

    PS Your statement that the law of Moses was a lesser law is also offensive. There are good and bad things in every scripture and tradition. To make negative comparisons between Christianity or Mormonism and Judaism is something feminists try to avoid–because of the harm such comparisons have done in fueling anti-Judaism and anti-semitism.

  12. What an extraordinary suggestion! That poor, slender, fragile, gentle, harmless, litlle Jew boy , who got him self strung up on a pole, by the Knesset of the day, for suggesting that there are perhaps more worthwile things in life than satisfying our physical cravings, is now being co-opted to defend the positions of the endocrinologically “enhanced” high priests of Patriarchy who address their God as “Our Father”, “He”, “Him” and especially “His” and then frantically exegeses reams of text to try and persuade you that he is actually physically inscrutable. Whatever the old codger is, he positively can’t be female. Hiding in drag, like his high priests, hay?

  13. Noek, There are still preachers out there demanding that women ‘submit’ to their husbands, and they quote Scripture to make the case. What they utterly fail to understand, is that the more they co-opt Scripture to defend the wholly indefensible, the more they actually discredit the teaching to which they appeal.
    They are their own worse enemies. They have the opportunity (as Christ did, and took) to explore wholly new ways of understanding ourselves, divinity, and the relationship between the two. But like the Scribes and Pharisees they retreat into the letter of an outworn law.
    I am not myself a Christian, but if the Gospel of Christ is going to be used to belittle and demean me, I shall quote the Gospel of Christ: ‘by their acts shall ye know them’. And Jesus’ acts showed – in his first appearance to women after the Resurrection, in his defence of the woman taken in adultery, in his obedience to his mother at Cana, in his healing of the woman with an issue of blood, in his invitation to Martha to leave the washing up and come an listen alongside the man – that again and again he resisted by example the traditional roles imposed on women.
    If you are a Christian, your first call is to follow Christ. Not the Old Testament, not the Scribes and Pharisees, not the letters from the disciples (among whom where those who – unlike the women – actually doubted the reality of the Risen Christ) – but Jesus himself, who of his own breath told the women to go out and teach the new reality.

  14. Your struggle is the same that women in the Lutheran Church of Australia are engaged in. We are at the point of Church division after decades of debate and one decade of the debate being repressed. Without genuine engagement and discussion the only avenue is for congregations and individuals to walk away from the federal structure.

  15. i read there was schism in mormon movement and the group formed the reorganized church of jesus christ of latter day saints in 1860, with its headquarters and temple at Independence, Missouri, in 2001 it was renamed the Community of Christ. anyway they ordinate women from 1985. so if they could to do so, surely you can do too. wish you success!

  16. It was not that long ago that Blacks were not permitted to hold the Priesthood. Imagine a world where a “Hitler” could hold the Priesthood and a “Mandela” could not? How absurd and racist that doctrine was. Ditto for women and the Priesthood–just swap in Sexist. This really is about power, who holds and wields it, and on whose behalf (uh, lesser half). Not that Women don’t hold Power, they do but only through grand acts of Condescension by male leaders. Rock it Caroline!

  17. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_as_imams
    I found this as I thought it might be if interest

    • I kind of like the idea of churches or other religious places of gathering that are women-only. Or maybe make the men sit in the back. Or maybe make them cover their faces. How about it, ladies? The pagans have their Dianic women-only circles. Why not women-only Christian/Jewish/Islam gatherings? Do they already exist?

  18. ‘of interest’ whoops!

  19. Our Mother, Who art not in heaven
    Where will we find You?
    When will Your Kingdom come to Heaven?
    So that we can forgive those who sin against us
    And lead them away from evil
    Amen

Trackbacks

  1. Mormons Who Advocate Women’s Ordination | Ordain Women
  2. Women’s Ordination and the Mormon Church by Margaret Toscano | Feminism and Religion
  3. Women's ordination movement takes interfaith approach | CyberBuzzer

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