Dear 100 Hour Board,
Do you think women should be ordained to the priesthood?
Are women really not equal to men in the LDS church? Is it possible that men and women could be equal without women being ordained?
Dear Madame Kovarian,
Just so you understand, this is kind of a defining answer for me. Not necessarily for your sake, but for my sake. It's a really big issue in the church right now, and something that I've been thinking a lot about myself lately. I wanted to make sure that I did this right.
A little bit of background here. I've never really had a problem with the idea of priesthood authority. Perhaps it was the home I grew up in. My parents were very much equal partners. From what I personally have seen in the church, I don't feel unequal. I don't think that I am any less of a person because I can't hold the priesthood. I've never felt at a disadvantage hearing men speak vs. having women speak in conference. On the contrary, it's like I'm getting to hear my dad speak a dozen times over. And when the women speak, especially after this past Relief Society Meeting and General Conference, it reminds of my mother.
I've tried to make this as unbiased a study as possible with that background in mind. I've read "Women and the Priesthood: What One Woman Believes" by Sheri Dew. I've read Feminist Mormon Housewives' articles on the ordination of women. I've browsed the Ordain Women page. I've read the New York Times articles. I've participated in a Boardboard discussion. Hopefully, I manage to sort out and word all of my thoughts the way I want to.
No, I don't believe that women should be ordained to the priesthood. And here's why.
I can understand as to why people take the position that women should be ordained. I understand that they feel like second-class citizens; I understand that they feel they could do a lot to benefit the kingdom of God. However, I don't believe that the ordination of women will be the great equalizer.
There's a quote from Sheri Dew's book that says:
Men and women have the same potential, and as free agents who can act for themselves they will either attain or lose that potential based upon the choices they make. The responsibilities, roles, and divinely endowed gifts of men and women differ in nature but not in quality, significance, or degree of importance, impact, or influence. Latter-day Saint doctrine places women equal to, and yet distinct and different from, men.
The way I like to look at this is by comparing it to a math equation. 4 + 4 = 5 + 3. Both equations add up to 8. But they're different equations. They both have different ways of getting to the answer.
To be honest, we don't know a lot about the priesthood. We really don't. Elder Bruce R. McConkie once said:
This doctrine of the priesthood—unknown in the world and but little known even in the Church—cannot be learned out of the scriptures alone. It is not set forth in the sermons and teachings of the prophets and Apostles, except in small measure. The doctrine of the priesthood is known only by personal revelation. It comes, line upon line and precept upon precept, by the power of the Holy Ghost to those who love and serve God with all their heart, might, mind, and strength…Priesthood is power like none other on earth or in heaven.
To this, Sister Dew adds:
There are two reasons I am not troubled about the fact that we don’t have clear answers for some issues involving women. First, because God is perfect, and His love for us is perfect, I have faith that His distribution of divine errands is perfectly constructed for the benefit of both His daughters and His sons as well as for the benefit and well-being of the Church. Second, as Elder Jeffery R. Holland declared “in this church, what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember, in this world, everyone is to walk by faith.” When all is said and done, we don’t know the definitive reason the Lord divided assignments, divine gifts, privileges, and responsibilities between men and women the way He did. He has not seen fit to reveal or explain everything to us. But men and women of faith are required to have faith.
Now, at risk of becoming overly biased, I want to discuss an article from Feminist Mormon Housewives that lists the 10 Common Arguments Against Women's Ordination in the LDS Church.
The first point people bring up is the issue of responsibility in the church: that women already have too much to do, so why would they want more? However, I would like to change this a bit. I think it's important to recognize that we have different responsibilities. When I was having a particularly rough week, I needed to reach out to more people than just my roommates. I needed to give my home teachers, my good friend, and my roommate's home teachers the opportunity to serve. I needed to know that people beyond my small circle of friends cared and were willing to help me. When men righteously hold and use the priesthood, it isn't exercised in unrighteous dominion. Instead, it provides a way of service that is unique to their gender. Men and women have different responsibilities and roles. I'm going to talk more about this in point number three.
The second point states, "It is wrong to ask the prophet to change something. We need to wait until it is given to us." I actually disagree with this. Most often, the Lord's pattern of revelation requires us to come to Him with what we think the answer is, and then have Him help us to know whether or not that is the right decision. However, I will not be among those asking for change because I don't believe that that change is necessary.
The third point states "The Priesthood has always been for men. Motherhood has always been for women." Implicit in this statement is that Priesthood = Motherhood. I disagree with this equation. Many proponents of ordination of women say, "Fatherhood = Motherhood and so Priesthood = ???" I think a better analogy is that both fatherhood and motherhood are part of the priesthood. Not that they are necessarily separate nor equatable. I personally believe that women have many unique talents and gifts (admittedly primarily focused on motherhood), and the priesthood is one of the unique ways that men have to serve. Men often struggle with being needed, and I believe, that in a sense, holding the priesthood is a way that they could be needed. If both men and women hold the priesthood, there is a lack of codependence. President Harold B. Lee explained: "Pure womanhood plus priesthood means exaltation. But womanhood without priesthood, or priesthood without womanhood, doesn't spell exaltation." Women need men, and men need women. Additionally, President Gordon B. Hinckley explained that it was the Lord, not man, “who designated that men in His Church should hold the priesthood."
The fourth point assumes that those asking for ordination don't understand the gospel. On the contrary, I believe that those in the Ordain Women movement do understand the gospel, albeit very differently than the average Mormon. However, in my personal opinion, there are some areas of doctrine that aren't completely understood by everyone, and so it's easy to see where those differences crop up.
The fifth point assumes that those women who want the priesthood are power hungry and just want attention. I don't believe this is the case with everyone in the movement (nor am I saying that there aren't some women that do fit in this category).
The sixth point argues that women already have the priesthood in the temple. And despite my lack of personal experience in this area, I'm going to agree with this statement. In Sister Dew's book, she points out that, "Eliza R. Snow said that Latter-day Saint women 'have greater and higher privileges than any other females upon the face of the earth.' This is because the temple gives LDS women spiritual privileges no other women on earth can claim." She adds, "With the exception of women who serve as ordinance workers in the temple, however, only men have the authority to officiate in the ordinances of the priesthood." There really isn't a lot that I can add here of my own words, but I'm going to take it on faith that what's been said on this topic is true.
I don't agree with the seventh point that women asking for the priesthood are apostates. Like I've said before, asking is one of the first steps to receiving revelation. I just don't believe the question needs to be asked.
I also don't agree with the eighth point that Mormon feminists just wish they were men. That's an overgeneralization that is most likely false for a majority of those participating in this movement.
"The priesthood as it is currently used, benefits both men and women," states the ninth point. Yes. Yes it does. There's another quote from "Women and the Priesthood" that I enjoy:
What does it mean to have access to priesthood power for our own lives? It means that we can receive revelation, be blessed and aided by the ministering of angels, learn to part the veil that separates us from our Heavenly Father, be strengthened to resist temptation, be protected, and be enlightened and made smarter than we are—all without any mortal intermediary.
In the FMH argument, they mention:
Yes, both men and women benefit from the Priesthood right now. But we could benefit so much more from expanding the gifts and powers of the Priesthood! Prior to the work of Peter and Paul, both Jews and Gentiles benefited from the Priesthood. But once eligibility was expanded, both groups benefited even more. Similarly, the Priesthood could bless the lives of African-American saints, prior to 1978, and often did. But after 1978, a fuller and broader set of blessings was available. It was a win-win for everyone and Mormon Feminists have no reason to believe it wouldn’t be the same if women were ordained.
I think this goes back to the first and third points and the arguments I made within them. I believe that through the ordinances of the temple, women have the opportunities to receive the same blessings that men do. Sister Dew describes a thought process she had about the meaning of the word "receive," and how it's often used in the Doctrine and Covenants to mean "accept." In section 84, the oath and covenant of the priesthood is discussed, and verses 35-40 read:
And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord; For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; and he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father's kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him. And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood. Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father.
She comes to the conclusion, that "In other words, could it be that the blessings of the oath and covenant of the priesthood are just as efficacious in the lives of endowed, covenant-keeping, believing women as they are for ordained men?"
The final point states that "It is wrong and a sin to ask for the priesthood." Like I've said before, I don't think it's wrong to ask. I just don't believe it's necessary.
One last quote from Sister Dew: "I needed to understand the doctrine of the priesthood so that I could better understand the connection between priesthood and women."
Now, I do see points where, in LDS culture, there is inequality. I do see that there are men that don't believe that women are equal to the tasks that could be given them. I do understand that sometimes, women are taught to believe that they are responsible for the quality of men's thoughts, which thrusts them into an unnecessary position and removes responsibility on the males (this is a different argument though, for a different time). I do see that sometimes Young Women's programs play second fiddle to the Young Men's (and especially Scouting) program. But this isn't doctrine. This is disparity within Mormon culture. This is changeable, and I believe that the church is making a slow, but steady effort to help do so (which, in my opinion, is an effective technique; abrupt changes can sometimes do more harm than good).
There are changes that can happen in our church. Changes have happened. But I do not personally believe that the ordination of women to the priesthood will be one of them.
I realize that a lot of what I've said in the answer is going to be a sore spot for some of you. If you feel that I've inadequately explained myself, you're welcome to e-mail me at tally_m(@)theboard(.)byu(.)edu
I'm not sure. It sounds really nice at first glance; I would love the opportunity to use the power of God, and to perform ordinances for my family. I'm hesitant to say that it would be definitely be a great idea, but it seems plausible. There is no Church doctrine explicitly stating that women will never have the priesthood, and priesthood availability has changed in the past.
Regardless of whether it comes through ordination or not, I think that Church policy changes do need to be made to grant women the equality that is promised them in Church doctrine. I believe that women in the Church need greater representation in decision-making on every level, that the Relief Society should have greater structural autonomy, and that women should be able to request at least the presence of another woman during bishop's interviews and Church discipline. Ordaining women to the priesthood could certainly solve many of these issues, but it isn't the only solution, and it might create more problems than it solved.
I also think that the members of the Ordain Women movement have every right to request that our leaders seek for more revelation regarding this matter. Almost every major revelation in the Church's history has come about as an answer to a specific question, and many of these questions were prompted by individual members of the Church. Whether or not women should be ordained to the Priesthood is completely in God's hands, but it's something that we as a Church should absolutely be asking about.