Response to Ordain Women

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently published a letter they sent to the leaders of a  group calling themselves Ordain Women.

I’ll reprint the text of the letter here since it has been released to the public. Copyright belongs to the LDS Church. Here is the link to the press release: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-asks-activist-group-to-reconsider-general-conference-protest-plans

Dear Sisters,
Thank you for your letter and email.

Some wonderful conversations have been held over recent years, and are continuing to be held, relative to women in the Church and the invaluable contributions we make. The recent changes you have seen, most notably the lowering of the missionary age for sisters, serve as examples and were facilitated by the input of many extraordinary LDS women around the world.

Women in the Church, by a very large majority, do not share your advocacy for priesthood ordination for women and consider that position to be extreme. Declaring such an objective to be non-negotiable, as you have done, actually detracts from the helpful discussions that Church leaders have held as they seek to listen to the thoughts, concerns, and hopes of women inside and outside of Church leadership. Ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of doctrine that is contrary to the Lord’s revealed organization for His Church.

The priesthood session of General Conference is designed to strengthen men and boys as they receive specific instruction about their roles and responsibilities; therefore we are unable to fulfill your request for tickets. You are certainly welcome to view the live broadcast of the priesthood session on lds.org, the Mormon Channel or BYUtv. We invite you, as our sisters, to participate with women everywhere in the parallel meeting for women and girls on March 29, and hope you will join us in a spirit of love and harmony. The women’s meeting is a remarkable gathering of worldwide sisterhood, and was proposed and planned by the presidencies and boards of the Primary, Young Women and Relief Society as a time to focus on ennobling and eternal doctrines relating to women.

Your organization has again publicized its intention to demonstrate on Temple Square during the April 5 priesthood session. Activist events like this detract from the sacred environment of Temple Square and the spirit of harmony sought at General Conference. Please reconsider.

If you feel you must come and demonstrate, we ask that you do so in free speech zones adjacent to Temple Square, which have long been established for those wishing to voice differing viewpoints. They can be found on the attached map.

As fellow Latter-day Saints and friends of the Church, we invite you to help us maintain the peaceful environment of Temple Square and ask that you please follow these details in your continued planning. In addition, consistent with long-standing policy, news media cameras will not be allowed on Temple Square during General Conference.

Again, we hope you will join us for the General Women’s Meeting on March 29 and contribute to the strength of sisterhood in our communities.

Kindest regards,

Jessica Moody
Public Affairs,
On behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

There does not seem like there is more to say after that kind letter from Jessica Moody (a woman releasing an official statement from the Church) but as there is still some discussion concerning the matter I will add a few of my opinions. My discussion is by no means complete but I hope it is respectful. I will likely update this post over time but will make any changes clear.

Ordain Women

Ordain Women is making clear their motives regarding the issue of women and the Priesthood. I do not like to make assumptions about people’s motives. Most of the time we do not know why people do what they do (I’m saying this as a psychologist by training) unless they explicitly tell us. Even then, what is told as a motive is not necessarily true because people do not always understand their own motives for doing things. Looking at actions, even repeated actions, does not always elucidate motives because motivation is psychologically complex and changeable. So let’s look at what the group Ordain Women says about their motives:

The fundamental tenets of Mormonism support gender equality: God is male and female, father and mother, and all of us can progress to be like them someday. Priesthood, we are taught, is essential to this process.  Ordain Women believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.

Last year the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed its commitment to equality: “The Book of Mormon states, ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God’ (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.” Ordain Women embraces this statement. We are committed to work for equality and the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood.

Based on the principle of thoughtful, faith-affirming strategic action, Ordain Women aspires to create a space for Mormon women to articulate issues of gender inequality they may be hesitant to raise alone. As a group we intend to put ourselves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood. We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.

Equality

Two thirds of this statement are about “gender equality.” One of the major problems in pressing for equality is that equality is an opinion – it’s relative. What some people view as equal will be shocking to others as grossly unequal. This is clear in politics and in much of life. One of the few places where equality is clear is in mathematics (even then, there might be room for discussion on the matter). The word equal comes from words meaning anything from uniform, identical, level, even, to just. Is Ordain Women wanting identical equality, level equality, or equality that is just?

Equality outside mathematics is complex and relative. As one example, let’s turn to statistics. There is an area within statistics called equivalence testing. Part of the use of equivalence testing is determine if groups/drugs/treatments/etc. showing no statistical difference are equivalent. In other words, just because there are no differences does not mean the things being compared are equivalent. There is considerable discussion on this matter by researchers and statisticians. So in statistics the concept of equivalence is neither clear nor straightforward. In life it is a much more nebulous concept. Does this make discussions of equality pointless? No, but without complete, ‘equal’ agreement to the definition and expression/implementation of equality there will never be satisfactory answers for the parties in discussion.

Now, add in the layers of hierarchy and authority (not just priesthood) and equality becomes even more complex. Hierarchy itself can be viewed as inherently unequal, so do we need to abolish all hierarchy (that’s essentially anarchy)? If not, then it stands to reason that someone at the top of a hierarchy gets to make a final decision. Turning back to the issue of women and the priesthood – who gets to decide what is equal? Who has the final word? Ordain Women? Is the matter closed only when they say it is? These are all difficulties with basing a platform on equality. We can’t decide what equal is so how are we going to decide what constitutes gender equality? I’m all for civil discussion but dialogue is different from policy and doctrine.

Motivation

The final paragraph of the Ordain Women statement starts to get at the motives of the group: “As a group we intend to put ourselves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood. We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.”

The motivation is to “put [themselves] in the public eye [to] call attention”. That means that unless the LDS Church tells Ordain Women that the full authority of the priesthood (meaning ordination to priesthood offices) will be extended to women just as it is to men, the group will continue to seek public attention. Hence, even though Church leaders have answered their questions respectfully and definitively, Ordain Women continues their call for protests (they might be respectful and peaceful protests but that’s what they are) at the priesthood session of General Conference because they are not satisfied with the answers given. Now I’m not saying that individuals who are part of Ordain Women protest and petition as a means of receiving personal attention, they say it is about the issue of women and the priesthood and until evidence points otherwise we should take Ordain Women at their word, but they at least do it for public attention; thus, public attention is a motivation nonetheless. Public attention is not inherently good or bad but what can be good or bad is the motivation behind the seeking of public attention and the reasons for the advocacy.

Priesthood

From the LDS Church Handbook:

“The priesthood is the power and authority of God. It has always existed and will continue to exist without end (see Alma 13:7–8D&C 84:17–18). Through the priesthood, God created and governs the heavens and the earth. Through this power, He exalts His obedient children, bringing to pass “the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39; see also D&C 84:35–38).

In mortality, the priesthood is the power and authority that God gives to man to act in all things necessary for the salvation of God’s children. The blessings of the priesthood are available to all who receive the gospel.”

As is clear from this quote, there are two components of the priesthood – 1) power and authority of God and 2) power and authority of God given to man here on earth to act in His name.

I’ll address the second part first.

There is priesthood power and priesthood authority. On earth boys and men are given priesthood offices and act under direction of someone holding priesthood keys (ultimately the President of the Church, who is the presiding authority). Priesthood power [and authority] comes from faithfulness to covenants and righteous living. Priesthood power is available to all who are worthy. What does that mean? Does that mean that women can have the power of the priesthood? Yes, it means exactly that. Priesthood is not men (that’s why it’s not accurate to say something like, “I’d like to thank the Priesthood for their service…”); priesthood is God’s power and authority. On earth God has given men the authority of the priesthood through priesthood offices and both men and women access to the power of the priesthood [and the authority to act in priesthood callings and appendages]. Both men and women partake in the blessings of the priesthood. Men who are given the priesthood can never bless themselves. Priesthood authority is a call to service, a call with responsibility. Women on this earth have been given alternate but complementary responsibilities, responsibilities that might just be weightier than what men have been given. A man needs a wife in order to have access to the full blessings of the priesthood. A woman needs a husband for the same reason. That blessing of a spouse might not occur in this life but it will occur in order for full priesthood blessings to be granted. What this tells us is that full blessings of the priesthood are not realized in this life, they are only realized in the life to come as we remain worthy of what we have received from the Lord.

There is much that we do not know about the organization of authority in the life to come (other than it’s largely around families) but priesthood authority here on earth is given to worthy males as they are ordained to priesthood offices. Women and girls have complementary and certainly no less important roles. To argue that such an arrangement represents inequality is opinion and frankly, short-sighted. If people search for inequalities they will find them or create them.

Now for the first part – priesthood as the power and authority of God. God’s power comes in part from His priesthood and His faith. He uses the Priesthood to create and administer. His Priesthood is power and authority much greater than priesthood delegated to those in this life. [There are keys to priesthood ordinances not yet given to men here on earth.] This complete power and authority only comes to those who are like God and then only as He grants this power unto them. Little has been revealed about this so any further discussion would be speculation. What we do know is that this full power and authority is not given [and I’d argue cannot be given] to individuals on earth for it requires someone to have overcome the world through the efficacy of the Savior’s Atonement.

What has been revealed about the priesthood is not complete but seeking to change doctrine by protest is not the method God endorses.

Questions

There is a parable told by Christ of an unjust judge (and a very persistent widow).

“And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8).

We should weary the Lord in prayer. But that does not mean we will be granted what we ask. It also does not mean that what we ask for is right. Wisdom is knowing what we should not ask for. However, sometimes persistence pays off, although not always in a positive manner.

Martin Harris was spending a lot of time and money supporting Joseph Smith through the translation of the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris’s wife complained and Martin felt that he should be able to show her the fruits of his labors and money. He asked Joseph if he could take the manuscript and show his wife – after all, wasn’t that the purpose of the Book of Mormon – to share it with the world? Joseph said he would ask God. The answer was “No.” Again Martin begged and again the answer was “No.” Finally, after much wearying of Joseph, Joseph agreed to ask the Lord again. This time the answer was “Yes, but if anything happens to the manuscript, both of you will be under condemnation until you repent.” On those conditions, the manuscript pages left the possession of Joseph Smith and traveled home with Martin Harris. He showed his wife. Then, unscrupulous hands acquired the manuscript, stealing it away from Joseph Smith. Work on the Book of Mormon halted until Joseph had repented sufficiently. The lost pages of the Book of Mormon were not re-translated and are lost to us for now.

In this case, persistence paid off for Martin but the consequence was not what expected. Things might have turned out well with no pages lost but because of the wickedness of men, precious pages of the Book of Mormon were lost to us. The take home message is that yes, we can be persistent in asking the Lord, but we should be ready to accept the consequences should things not turn out as we desire. The Lord allowed Martin to take the manuscript pages but it would have been better for him, Joseph Smith, and for us had the first and second “No” answers been heeded.

Ordain Women asks “We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.” Our leaders have done so and will continue to do so. There is no significant or insignificant issue facing the Church that our leaders do not pray about.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a liberal religion. I do not mean liberal in the modern political usage in the United States. There is room for and encouragement of differing viewpoints and beliefs. The tent of our church is blessed to have members from all over the world with different backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses. What keeps the Church strong though is not our diversity but the centrality of the Savior. He guides and directs us through His chosen prophets and apostles, who encourage us to remain rooted when we extend ourselves by thinking our knowledge is greater than that of the Lord.

Questions are encouraged. After all, it is through the questions of a 14 year old boy that we received this great restoration of the gospel. Keep questioning but hold on to the truth you know. Questions are great but if they diminish our faith or if they diminish the faith of others, the questions need to be set aside until the firm foundation is restored. This does not mean do not question, it just means that our questioning should be in the context of faith. [It also means that questioning should be kept within the bounds of the sustaining of church leaders].

That comes down to my final point. What is the result of Ordain Women’s protesting? Does it strengthen the faith of others? I don’t believe it does so if not, maybe the actions need to be reconsidered. We are not responsible for the actions of others but whatever we do should be edifying and helping us remain firmly clasped to the Iron Rod and in the arms of Jesus.

4 thoughts on “Response to Ordain Women

  1. I know a lot of talented LDS women who feel strongly that women should be ordained to the Priesthood. They serve in wonderful ways. I know equally talented LDS women who believe that women should not be ordained as this is a matter of Doctrine. Moreover, they feel valued and recognize the contributions women make. Someone close to me who is a very valiant sister was once in a movement for women to receive the Priesthood. She felt that this was akin the the Black men receiving the Priesthood. She notice a bitterness growing inside and left the movement. This is not to say that all women who hold such views feel that hostility or bitterness. She later served an honorable mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

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