Women and the LDS Church: A note to three parties

If you're anywhere near LDS Church members, you've heard there's a heightening conversation about the role of women in the church.

Even if you're not in those circles, it's around. Last year, progressive Mormon Joanna Brooks was on the Daily Show; last month, the NYTimes covered the subject. In short, a group of women are making a stand for female ordination and greater participation in the Church at large. The church isn't really recognizing the movement. Members are split.

I feel all sorts of complicated about the movement because on one hand I'm happy to see these conversations happening, people noticing, and talking about the fact that men and women are not equally represented in church leadership (they're just not), that young women are not taught leadership skills to the same degree that young men are (it's not just me and the activists that thinks so), that the way we talk about 'different but equal' may be true (I believe in differences and their value, so so much) can inculcate a sense of being put in your place, a sentiment women have been fighting for centuries, in and outside the word 'feminism'. Women believing they can be leaders. People in general believing something and standing for it. It's a good thing for the soul, standing for something you believe in. And it's inspiring seeing others do so. So I love that Ordain Women is making waves.


I'm also annoyed at how the Ordain Women folks are framing it all. That priesthood gets more attention than leadership and representation in ward decisions. That it's all or nothing. That it's set up in what feels like, or can be perceived as a protest. I don't think it is the most effective way to elicit change in this scenario. I think there are other, more effective ways to talk about it.

I'm annoyed at the Church's response, or lack of it, as is often the case. That in a religion that celebrates the importance of asking, of questioning, and above all a church that believes in continuing revelation, that the concept that the role and rights of women in the church could change would be unheard of or not welcome is beyond me.

And, I am SO Annoyed at the response of members of the church. For the same reasons as above, but in a more personal, condescending Facebook post kind of way. Comments like "anyone supports this doesn't have a testimony/understand the temple/deserve to be heard." I want to punch them all in the face, then yell at them that they don't have a testimony/understand their temple covenants/deserve to be heard because they are the exact kind of judgmental, self-righteous hypocrites that Christ discourages more than people who ask questions. Then I want to cry because why can't people just get along and feel good and have faith, all around, eh?

SO, to calm my annoyed self, sort out my conflicted thoughts, and to add my meager voice to the growing pile of disagreement, here's how I would to address involved parties, if I ruled the world:

1. To the Ordain Women movement.

You're alienating people by making it all about priesthood. Even though it's NOT all about priesthood - from everything I've read it's all about equality and concerns being acknowledged as much as anything else - but it's called ORDAIN Women. And we know that people only read headlines (as NPR so smugly showed on April Fools). They take soundbytes and from them decide to be for or against.

Civil Rights made headway not angling for the vote, but for rights in cafes and on buses. This is not the civil rights movement, but I know women who want more leadership, broader callings, and some change. But priesthood is a BIG CHANGE. And women who would support the cause of change are going to shun this movement, or worse, deride it, because it feels like too much. It doesn't mean there's not room for the priesthood conversation, but inclusivity and toning it down a bite will bring more power and church member support than high demands and drama. I want more from my church organization and I wholeheartedly believe that it will happen, but I don't necessarily think priesthood has to be part of that. So you're alienating me, for one, and I wish I could join you, but I can't. It just feels too dramatic. As does the Priesthood Session entry ticket stand-off. I think it's weird women can't go in too, but they've obviously dug their heels in on this one, and it this is not the cross to die on, nor is it the way to get positive attention for the long-term. It just makes people feel disrespected and protested. Mormons are sensitive to anything anti, even if it's within the church.

#EmpowerLDSWomen or something like it. I can get on board with that. I'll fight that fight (with love and faith, of course).

2. To Church Leadership (I mean the big guys: Prophets, Apostles, Seers, and Revelators, and the local guys: Bishops, Stake Presidents, Relief Society Presidents)

Let's take a long, hard look at what leadership roles in the church are really priesthood-only. Is it really necessary that the Sunday School President be a man? Is it really necessary that witnesses at baptisms and sealings be men only? Are there ways to involve women more? Get them in presidencies, have the RS President sit on the stand an Sacrament Meeting, involve them in more than women's organizations, primary, and activities. Some wards are better at this than others. But to make it consistent, it needs to come from above. That's how hierarchy works.

We're not a ground-up organization, we take the lead from above. So in areas where the Stake President feels fine about women holding their babies when they are blessed, it happens. In areas where they don't, it doesn't. That level of arbitrariness doesn't feel great, especially to women who care very deeply. The more we can make it clear through the words of the Church Handbook that we want to get women involved, more than in a support role, the more that will happen. Yes, there are women who don't want priesthood, don't want more responsibility, don't want any changes. But there are enough that do want some of those on some level, that the opportunity to grow and become perfected through an expanded spectrum of service in Christ's church, that we should be talking about it, not in Temple Square protests, but in Ward Council all the way up to Quorom of the Twelve Apostle meetings and everywhere in between.

I don't think men and church leaders who are men are trying to oppress women. AT ALL. No need to be defensive about that, at least from my end. But I think that, with the help of thousands of years of precedence, women are sometimes just left out sometimes. Forgotten about. And in order to not be forgotten about, we need to be intentional about reaching out and extending opportunity.

3. To women (and men) in the church:

Stop being such condescending, self-righteous hypocrites. Stop posting criticism and judgment under the guise of bearing your testimony. Just stop. Asking questions doesn't mean you lack faith. Wanting more than we have now does not mean wanting to be a man. The issue is a lot more complicated and more personal to A LOT of people. Just because you don't want the priesthood because you're busy enough already, or you don't think women (and the men who support them) should be raising a stink because of propriety or order, or whatever beef you have with the imploring hearts of God's children (no matter how vocally they are imploring), it doesn't give you any right to get up on a high horse and demean the hearts of others.

I've seen posts and heard comments and had conversations where people express their opposing beliefs in a positive, constructive, 'stand for what you believe in' kind of way that I know it's possible. You don't have to agree, support, or condone anything you don't agree with. The Christlike thing would be to try to understand where these women are coming from. The most basically decent thing to do is to keep your derision to yourself.  Check yourself: You're not being Christlike if you're talking/posting with any level of scorn. To those who say 'Christ cast out the money-changers and Ordain Women are like money-changers', first of all, get a grip on what the stakes are. This is not Satan throwing firebombs. The ladies of Ordain Women say themselves (with certain exceptions, I'll grant you) things like: "We really want to have the priesthood so that we can spiritually grow and so that we can fully participate," This is not a hostile takeover. This is, like ALL individuals who commit their lives to Christ a personal process. You can disagree with how they go through it (I have my concerns, see above), but please understand that this, at its core, is about coming closer to Christ. So calm down, and be understanding. Please.

Bonus to the haters: Please also stop saying that doctrine doesn't change. That's what our faith was founded on. What we have proof of over 150 years of leadership. I believe in modern revelation, which, by definition, means doctrine can change, and has changed.

Word is the women of Ordain Women were refused at the door of Priesthood session again tonight. I kind of don't care. Because it's not about sitting in the auditorium of a conference broadcast on the internet. But the conversation isn't going away. And I'm glad about it, even though I anticipate feeling even more complicated about it. I do any time when people considered on the fringe of the faith raise their voices, and those nestled deep in tradition bristle. But that's what we Mormons do. We ask questions, and people bristle. And we figure it out.


Raelle Cunningham said...

I don't agree with you. I think the majority of women in the church do not agree with the movement. I think we should be kind to them and their opinion but at the same time once the Prophet speaks on the issue it should but to rest. I feel like they are just trying to make waves. When the church asked then not to march on Temple Square but they did it anyway. That is blatant disobedience.

Jon said...

First of all, wow! Nine years of blogging. Good for you.

A member from Joseph Smith's time would barely recognize the modern LDS church. I would hope the same will be true for my great grandchildren. It is so much better to be in a living and growing religion.

That being said, it is hard to predict what changes are coming or when. Until then, any Priesthood leader who doesn't listen to his wife is a fool. Any Priesthood leader who believes they have some superior place to their wife or daughters is a heretic.

See you at church!

Bushland said...

Amen Sister! I love the idea of a parallel priesthood, going back to the privileges women had before correlation. In the early days of the church until correlation, RS was it's own, independent organization. Run for and by the women. It was common practice for women preparing for childbirth to be visited by the RS president, midwife or often the woman who was called specifically to come into her home to help with preparations, to lay her hands on the mother's head and bless her. To also provide a "washing and anointing" in preparation. She blessed the home and children as well. So much has been lost since the RS was first established. Here is some further info you may be interested in reading.
Historical role of women and the priesthood

JS Ordained Women to their RS Callings -

What RS has lost over one woman's lifetime - http://www.exponentii.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Exponent-II-Magazine_Winter-2014-Edition-4-website.pdf

Interview with Chieko Okasaki (former 1st couns. in RS general presidency) about needing women in the conversation - http://rationalfaiths.com/why-arent-the-women-included/