Mormon Group Pushing for Women in the Priesthood

2013-03-25T13:28:00Z Mormon Group Pushing for Women in the PriesthoodThe Associated Press The Associated Press
March 25, 2013 1:28 pm  • 

SALT LAKE CITY — A campaign is under way by Mormons who want to see women allowed into the priesthood.

A website and Facebook page has been dedicated to the cause, "Ordainwomen.org,'' and a Salt Lake City-based foundation is holding panel discussions on the topic.

"Women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness'' of Mormon teachings, the website's mission statement says. The website features profiles of men and women backing the cause.

The Sunstone Education Foundation, Inc., recently held a discussion in Berkeley, Calif., with Catholic women about how both religions can advocate for the ordination of women. The foundation is an independent Mormon studies organization that publishes a magazine and holds an annual symposium on Mormon culture, theology and history. The executive director, Mary Ellen Robertson, is among the women who would like to serve in a priesthood role in the church.

"I feel that pull toward ministry, toward being able to serve in a large capacity,'' Robertson said. "It's frustrating. It's not even a glass ceiling, it's a cinderblock wall.''

Women can hold many leadership positions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but aren't allowed to be bishops of congregations or presidents of stakes. Stakes are made up of up to a dozen congregations, known as wards. The church's highest leaders, called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, are also all men.

Mormon church spokesman Michael Purdy issued a statement saying that "It is the doctrine of the Church that men and women are equal.''

In regard to why only men serve in the church's lay clergy, he said, "The Church follows the pattern set by the Savior when it comes to priesthood ordination.''

The campaign is the latest effort by Mormon feminists to draw attention to what they perceive as "gender inequality" within the Mormon church, which has 14 million members worldwide.

In January, a feminist group launched a letter-writing campaign asking church leaders to let women lead the opening and closing prayer at the church's general conference as a symbol of gender equality. It's unknown if that will happen at the April 6-7 conference in Salt Lake City.

In December, a feminist group urged women to wear pants to church in a show of solidarity for women's equality. Hundreds of women heeded the call.

"It's kind of an exciting time to be a Mormon feminist,'' Robertson said. "I think there may be changes in the wind. More people are seeing the requests and activism as reasonable.''

But Scott Gordon, president of the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research, or FAIR, a volunteer Mormon anti-defamation group, said granting women priesthood would constitute a change in doctrine. That would have to come through a revelation to the leaders of the church, he said.

"Such changes are virtually never the result of public pressure,'' Gordon said.

Gordon said he respects the opinions of those pushing for female ordination, but that his group stands behind Mormon church leaders' decision about the designated roles for men and women. He points out that women serve on ward councils where they have equal say as men.

Mormon women aren't the only ones advocating for greater roles within religious faiths. People of a wide variety of religions from all over the world are engaged in this ongoing struggle. In recent years, some religions such as Lutherans, Presbyterians and some Baptists have begun allowing women into leadership roles. But other religions, such as Mormons and Catholics, stick to their traditional doctrine.

It's unclear how many Mormons support the idea of having women in the priesthood. The'' Ordain Women'' Facebook page had 261 likes as of Friday night. Robertson said the time is right to have a real discussion about the issue — even if some Mormons don't want to.

"Asking the question can be seen as threatening to people if it's something they've never considered before,'' Robertson said. "But I think it's an important step to having those conversations.''

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  1. Phillip C Smith
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    Phillip C Smith - April 03, 2013 6:27 pm
    Phillip C. Smith, Ph.D. 4.3.2013

    WOMEN AND THE PRIESTHOOD

    Why can’t women receive the priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? We can understand how some women (and men) may, by the way they conceptualize this issue and/or their interactions with some men, feel that this policy is wrong, that women should also be given the priesthood. Here are some non-official thoughts about this issue.

    God or Human-Based: Whatever actions takes place relative to this issue should depend in large measure, perhaps even totally, on the source of the priesthood in the Church, whether it is of God or simply man made. If the priesthood is a human organization, set up by men to manage life and religion, then what has been done up to now may well be fallible and posssibly in need of correction. Thus it is indeed open to efforts to change by any who feel that it does not give women (and perhaps some men as well) an equal access to its use.

    If, though, the priesthood in the Church is truly the power of God given to man for his use, then decisions about and changes in who holds and exercises it must include at least the approval of God. God can, if he desires, prompt his prophet to think about this issue as he seeks to know what God would like, as he did President Kimball and the black-priesthood issue. However God decides, each of us should get close enough to Him through righteous living and service in his kingdom that we can know for ourselves his will on this matter.

    Pre-Mortality: God’s priesthood is not given to men in mortality for personal power, honor or worth validation. Lucifer, during pre-mortality, apparently saw it as a status-power avenue and sought to act accordingly. Jehovah saw it, on the other hand, as a vehicle of service to others, and accorded to God any glory or assumed honor that might possibly appear related.

    Major Purpose of Life: The most important purpose of mortality is to bring to the earth all of us, the spirit children of God, to obtain physical bodies and, hopefully, be raised by good parents in righteousness, so that we can work out more effectively our own salvation with God’s help. The most important role in mortality thus is to be a parent, men and women as equal partners with the mother generally the major nurturer of the children. Many women do not marry and, many who do are unable to have children. So much good comes, though, when they help raise other people’s children in Church and other settings. Thus, in an eternal, most important sense in this mortal life, women are at least the equal to and may play an even more significant role in this most important calling.

    God and His Prophets Over the Centuries: God usually calls men to priesthood positions. Some women like Deborah (Judges 4) were called when men were apparently not doing their duty. There were generally few males who held the priesthood in Old Testament times. We do not read of men who did not hold the priesthood, or any women, raising question about this practice. Christ, during his mortal ministry, conferred the priesthood upon men only, but said, to help them acquire the proper perspective, that “whoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all” (Mark 10:44) and later washed their feet (John 13:4-9) to teach them humility. For those who see mainly honor and deference as accruing to the priesthood need to note that the day the atoning sacrifice began Christ told his apostles, those holding the highest priesthood offices in the Church, what would befall them in mortality after his death (John 14-16). It was not a delightful scenario. He showed them by his own example in mortality that the heart and soul of the priesthood is not honor, power or worth validation but service. I believe, thus, that Christ would be unhappy with anyone, man or women, who envisions the priesthood as an equality issue.

    Christ saw and treated women as if they had the same competence, value and importance as men. Why, then, did he not give them the priesthood during his mortal ministry or since? I don’t know the real answer to this. What do thoughtful, concerned women say about it?

    Present Day Situation: There are too many men in the Church today who, because they hold the priesthood, see and treat women as something less. If this is the case they need to repent and ask the women in question for forgiveness. This “honor-worth-status” view is not the way the Lord Jesus Christ sees the priesthood (see D. & C. 121:34-46). The most important priesthood-related counsel reminds us that “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained” except by love and its correlates. We sorrow when we hear of women who have been subject to any degree of unrighteous dominion by priesthood holders. More needs to be done to teach men how best to interact with and treat women as the great people they are. Unrighteous dominion is never justifiable, by prophets or anyone else. Joseph learned in Liberty Jail the importance of exercising power or influence only in the Lord’s way.

    Does it make sense to have, in each ward, a sister designated and called by the bishop to counsel with women in the ward who are in difficult or abusive situations and want a woman’s counsel? Can and does the ward Relief Society president often play this role? At the appropriate time it might be well for the bishop, this sister and the aggrieved parties to sit down together to try and resolve the problem. How the bishop and Relief society president then deals with the abusive husband should follow, but specifically how is not clear to me.
    Nearly all LDS Church service is voluntary. In this the Church is different from other religions where the ecclesiastical positions are generally full-time career jobs. The relatively few men serving full time in our Church ecclesiastical positions are called to these positions, often at considerable personal and financial sacrifice. They generally have difficult responsibilities. We know a number of General Authorities and not a few are frequently worn out by their calling and would, as one apostle inferred to me once, be only too happy to give it up if he could. Because of his love for others and sense of responsibility he kept on. Another apostle who serves faithfully today said of his calling that it is “a life sentence.” No sensible person aspires to “high” Church office. Such leaders deserve our love and support.
    The heart and soul of the priesthood, then, is voluntary service. Such service on the local level, where most of us serve, means being moved around, often from presumed high status positions to lower ones. Less than 10% at a time of those holding the priesthood are serving in so-called “high” positions. These will all be released someday and often be asked to teach primary, be a greeter, etc., not usually seen by the world as very important positions (but seen by God as such). Most men, though, who have served in Church leadership positions have or should come to recognize that any presumed “status” part of the calling is far less significant, if significant at all, than the “responsibility” part. Those men in the Church who are power, fame or overall status-minded oriented must suffer when they realize that they may have been considered at some time for “higher” priesthood offices and then passed over. Women don’t have such worries about priesthood positions, though I presume some do when not called to ward, stake or general-level Relief Society, Young Women or Primary positions.
    Some men can and do feel slighted because, even though they have the priesthood, they are not called to “high” priesthood offices. The feelings they have of having being given the priesthood but not “honored” by “significant” church service opportunities may well be seen as analogous to those feelings some women have because they have not received the priesthood. There are not that many positions at the top, so what I believe our Heavenly Father wants both women and men to develop is one of the greatest attributes one can acquire, and that is the ability to, in a religious sense, “rejoice in the opportunities given to others.” Just as women need to rejoice that men have priesthood opportunities (and we are thus put in a position to learn to serve others with love), men who are not called to “high” positions need to rejoice and support those who are.
    There are times when some of us who hold the priesthood and act in related Church callings may feel that the load is too much, that it would be a relief to let someone else take over. I have thought to myself what it would mean if the women in our Church would receive the priesthood, and thus be susceptible to being called, in addition to their own present types of assignments, to all the different positions that men now hold. Such a change would probably bring a great sigh of relief to some men in the Church. At last, they would say, we can turn these often difficult, stressful responsibilities over to the women. They certainly seem to me, on average, to do at least as good a job in their assignments as men do in theirs, and thus might likely also, on average, do the same in present priesthood callings. My wife, an intelligent, educated woman, says please don’t do this to us. We have enough to do as it is.
    Those who have matured spiritually and emotionally enough to see the priesthood in its true light, namely in terms of service, recognize and accept the fact that it is not where one serves but how that is important. Good women and men do not aspire to higher office but learn to serve where they are called with only the love of Christ in their hearts. My personal view is that men are given the priesthood to gently pressure them to rise up and serve others. Honor is the last thing on my mind when trying to do my present calling as a ward mission leader. My need is to develop love for those I serve. God himself will honor me if I do this right.
    I have come to develop more appreciation and compassion for our general, area, stake & ward priesthood leaders because I recognize how challenging and demanding such callings often are, and how difficult it is to undergo the occasional negative treatment from some others that comes with these callings. I remember that both Joseph Smith & Brigham Young were constantly mistreated by critics and other persecutors. When Joseph complained about this once, the Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest of all, indicated that he had had it worse. None was as mistreated as was the God and Savior of this world during his mortal ministry.
    For those still worried or bothered about the priesthood-women issue please consult Beverly Campbell’s excellent book Eve and the Choice made in Eden (2003), an articulate, thoughtful exposition indicating all so clearly that women are at least the equals of men. Sheri Dew gave a talk recently showing the power of women in the Church. It is impressive. Neylan McBaine, in a talk given at the 2012 FAIR Conference, has indicated something that is found to some degree already, and that is how women like herself could make even more significant contributions to the Church, without needing to have the priesthood to do so. Women who are faithful will have all of the happiness, blessings and opportunities in eternity that they would wish. They can, here and now, go anytime to their Heavenly Father, feel of his love, and have confirmed to them that they are as important as any man in the Kingdom.
    One issue that would make priesthood changes that some might still desire very difficult in the Church is that of sexual dynamics in human relationships. What should be done to minimize the possibility that there will be physical attractions and/or accompanying behaviors growing up between the men and women, not married to each other, who might be working together in Church councils and assignments? Attraction and resulting behavior problems have developed in a number of Church-related situations already, but these would likely be more frequent and intense if the association situations were as intimate as those existing, for example, in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in stake presidencies or in ward bishoprics. We might say that men and women should control themselves in this matter, but I believe that this could prove to be challenging, even almost too much for some otherwise good and faithful members to handle successfully. I believe that this issue would need to be resolved satisfactorily before the Church can consider putting men and women together in church councils, more than as needed at present, where close personal association on a regular basis is part of the situation.
    In sum, the true view of priesthood is not at all that of honor and personal worth but of service. All of us, female or male, are children of God and of equal worth, and God honors us all equally if we are faithful in our service regardless of whether or not we hold the priesthood. This said, I do not know the will of God in these matters. Would he like to or has he planned to have women hold the priesthood sometime in mortality? If this were the case I believe that he would work upon the mind of the prophet as he did Spencer W. Kimball relative to the black-priesthood issue. So far we have not seen any indication of this direction though I would support it fully if it were God’s will.

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