Zelophehad’s Daughters

Ordaining Women

Posted by Kiskilili

In his book of this title, sociologist Mark Chaves brings both quantitative and qualitative evidence to bear on his examination of women’s ordination as a general social phenomenon impacting the entire spectrum of Christian denominations. Mormonism receives no mention, perhaps because the issue takes on a different cast when applied to a lay ministry, but several of the issues he raises provide what strikes me as a useful framework for understanding our own church’s policy.

Although the situation is often conveniently dichotomized between denominations that ordain women and those that do not, the complexity of ways in which women and religious authority can be paired is worth keeping in mind. Ordination does not represent any one single set of practices. Congregations which bar women from the ministry sometimes create loopholes whereby women are nevertheless allowed to participate in activities supposedly restricted to the ordained, whereas churches which do ordain women sometimes exhibit tendencies to truncate their actual authority. So in spite of the ideological divide, the situation for women “on the ground,” Chaves suggests, may not be so different for women in churches that ordain them as for their sisters in churches that do not.

Chaves’s interest in the topic was sparked by his observation that major denominations such as Presbyterians and Methodists began ordaining women in the 1950s at a time when virtually no women were agitating for ordination. As he argues quite plausibly, the coupling of the liberal concept of equality with female ordination was one of the triumphs of first-wave feminism; earlier calls for women’s ordination were typically made without reference to equal rights, arguing instead that certain exceptional women should be allowed ordination since inspiration could subsidize their alleged natural incompetence in leadership roles, but without directly challenging women’s status in society. That is, they advocated women’s ordination in spite of a belief in women’s inferiority.

But as female ordination became representative of a commitment to gender equality, several denominations which accepted equality on ideological grounds felt they could not continue to deny women the priesthood, for symbolic rather than strictly pragmatic reasons (hence the situation for Presbyterians and Methodists alluded to above). The converse, Chaves argues at length, is that resistance to female ordination after such a policy has come to be construed as a commitment to gender equality betokens something far more significant than resistance to women serving in priestly functions. It is emblematic of resistance to modernity.

Rules about women’s ordination . . . often have less to do with women clergy than with symbolizing cooperation with or resistance to a much broader social project. . . . Women’s ordination symbolizes liberal modernity, and that is why it is so deeply resisted by religious organizations defined most centrally by their antiliberal spirit (128).

Chaves amply illustrates how opposition to women’s ordination in no way follows logically from these churches’ doctrine, which is why he considers a sociological explanation necessary. As participants in a variegated religious landscape, our own church inevitably takes cues from other Christian faiths; it seems not implausible that the church similarly signals its allegiance to broader cultural forces through a resistance to female ordination (among other issues).

But structural reasons undoubtedly play a role as well. Chaves finds a negative correlation between the following two factors and likelihood to ordain women: centralization, and lack of an autonomous women’s organization (both of which the church currently exhibits). In addition, it seems to me the church’s self-concept as a transcendent entity likewise hinders examination of policy (and fosters a spirit of authoritarianism preserving the status quo).

Eventually, however, as insistence on gender equality took root in the surrounding culture, even denominations opposing female ordination began to proclaim a belief in equality, as declarations of women’s inferiority became increasingly unacceptable to the broader public. Like other institutions stradding this divide, the church has adopted the ideology of equality in its rhetoric while failing to realize its implications for either policy or theology, a disconnect resulting in unmistakeable anxiety. Sister Beck’s talk in the last General Conference I find indicative of our underlying awareness of this disconnect and our anxiety surrounding it. (Why emphasize the equality of priesthood specifically, and not the equal access everyone has to prayer, for example, unless there’s something about the situation that bespeaks inequality?) Not surprisingly, an emphasis on motherhood in the church has sprung up only in the last few decades, seemingly in an effort to bridge this gap between our stated commitment to equality and our policies.

This unease, however, leads us to explain the situation to ourselves almost exclusively through the lens of equality and deters us from examining the underlying theological implications. By its very nature, no explanation in terms of equality can ever adequately address the issue, because it can never amount to more than a justification. It seeks to answer the question–Why is there an apparent imbalance?–and leaves unanswered the more central question–Why aren’t women ordained?

Opponents to women’s ordination frequently point out that priesthood power is not a right individuals are entitled to, but a gift granted by God as he pleases. I agree wholeheartedly. But I wonder what specifically it indicates that it pleases God to grant priesthood power only to men.

Within Catholic doctrine, the claim is sometimes advanced that a woman is unsuitable to serve as a priest for the reason a priest must physically resemble Christ. It strikes me that a parallel justification is begging to be articulated in Mormonism: the priesthood is the power to act in God’s name; one of God’s most salient attributes is maleness; therefore only males are fit to exercise that power. Given our doctrine that God himself is physically embodied, as well as abundant indications that gender is the only distinction recognized and codified by God, it would not be so farfetched to suggest that the efficacy of our ordinances rests in part on the resemblance to God of the person performing the ordinance, among other things in terms of biological sex. Such a doctrinal claim could easily be reinforced by gender policies surrounding proxy ordinances–only a woman can stand in for a woman, and only a man for a man. Similarly, can only a male stand in for a male God?

Conversely, one would expect that women by their very nature would be granted access to Heavenly Mother’s divine power. Unfortunately, Heavenly Mother has no known divine power. Heavenly Mother’s absence from positions of authority is replicated quite strikingly by the situation prescribed for women on earth.

It is difficult to avoid observing constellations of associations in which doctrine and policy mutually reinforce one another: power, public visibility, and maleness on the one hand, and subordination, limitations on public visibility, passivity, and femaleness on the other.

In spite of the implications of both doctrine and policy, I remain skeptically hopeful that the eternal situation is not as bleak as our vision of it. I do not presume to know the will of God. But too often I believe we accept God’s silence as a definitive answer to questions that were never asked. To take a trivial example, I suspect the reason organs are standard in our church rests not on any fundamental eternal principle, but rather the simple fact that organs were the norm in Christian congregations at the time our church was founded. No cultural forces have impelled us to suggest an eternal significance to organs, or to use organs’ symbolic value as a way of aligning ourselves with larger ideological forces demarcating church and world. Restricting full priesthood rights to men was equally the norm in Christian churches at the time the church was founded; for whatever complex of reasons, this practice has since been enshrined in our rhetoric as an everlastingly legitimate arrangement.

As Chaves points out, “denominational policies about women’s ordination carry a symbolic meaning well beyond their pragmatic consequences for religious organizations” (83). Quite frequently when the issue is raised, the focus centers on those pragmatic consequences to the exclusion of their theological implications. But more is at stake for women than their ability to administer a blessing or serve in a bishopric: the issue, for me, is less about personal rights and opportunities as it is about identity in the eternal sense.

49 Responses to “Ordaining Women”

  1. 1.

    Kiskilili,

    This is a really excellent, rigorous post. Thanks.

    As is implied in your essay, a popular response to this is, “But women do have access to Heavenly Mother’s divine power; we can become pregnant and give birth. You give our procreative powers short shrift, but they’re equal in worth and importance to priesthood power.”

    However, the comparison between the priesthood’s access to God’s power on the one hand, and physical motherhood on the other, doesn’t hold up. Any worthy ordained male can access God’s power whenever he wishes to do so. Women cannot become pregnant at will. They can set the conditions which allow pregnancy; nothing more. God decides when and whether to make us pregnant. For that matter, God occasionally decides to bypass contraceptives. So unless Heavenly Mother’s ability to concieve is totally dependent on God’s ultimate, independent, unpredictable decision, the comparison is false. And if it is a true comparison, well then, Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother aren’t equal partners.

    My apologies if I went too far off topic.

  2. 2.

    Beautifully stated!

    It’s also interesting to me that motherhood exists within and without the church, a fact we don’t often comment on. (Actually, it extends right into the animal kingdom!) Do non-Mormon fathers, I wonder, need something equivalent to the priesthood to make up for this alleged “natural” imbalance? ;)

    My impression is that motherhood and equality both began to be emphasized in the church, in conjunction with each other, as a result of second-wave feminism. On the one hand, I think it just became less and less acceptable for the church to make overtly misogynistic statements, so the rhetoric of equality was adopted. On the other hand, as Armand Mauss argues wonderfully in _The Angel and the Beehive_, the church was entering a period of retrenchment in which maintaining boundaries became of paramount importance. Our recent emphasis on motherhood serves both (in its clumsy way) to fill out our claims about gender equality at the same time it demarcates “church” from “world” and lets us feel we’re a bastion of traditional values in opposition to cultural changes in the “world” against which we’re now defining ourselves.

  3. 3.

    Kiskilili,

    I quite agree with your (well, Mauss’s) interpretation here. The question we’re left with, then, and one that seems fairly important, is this: what else could we emphasize to maintain our group boundaries? What cultural ideal would be more consistent with our current thought on gender equality, but still functional in Mauss’s terms?

    It doesn’t have to relate to gender, but it would need to stem out of our tradition.

  4. 4.

    That’s a good question. It’s interesting that aspects of our tradition that are unique within Christianity, such as temples, WoW, and BoM, have all received emphasis in the last several decades, which means I think we could maintain our boundaries without any appeal to “traditional” gender roles.

    I wonder whether part of the problem isn’t that the religious right claims the moral high ground, and we let them do that–we let them define for us what is moral and what is not, rather than really examining issues ourselves. As long as they profess to be clinging to God’s eternal values, we seem to think, bizarrely enough, that we can’t do otherwise or we’ll be caving in to the wicked world. But what makes us think they understand what’s wicked and what’s not?

    Or at least that’s my current impression, although I haven’t thoroughly investigated it. :)

  5. 5.

    This is very well-done. I’ve been watching it all day and surprised at the few comments it has attracted.

    For my part, this sort of thing is beyond me and my little world so I have nothing to add except for mention of this slim volume:

    Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History

    Kevin Madison and Carolyn Osiek
    Baltimore: Hopkins, 2005 220 pp.

    The authors have translated the references to ordained women from before 600 A.D. Their thesis is that women were ordained as long as the higher (male) leadership found it needful. “Needful” took two basic tracks:

    1. Women who had money or other patronage assets to give to men and

    2. Women who could serve other women in the baptismal and annointing rites, which were conducted in the totally barefoot.

    I think the cynicism displayed is a bit over the top. There were also documents that indicated there were women in both categories whose spiritual leadership was everything you could wish for.

    I myself don’t see why we can’t develop the idea of “womanhood” into something. “Motherhood” is one facet of womanhood, or whatever. In any case, my preference is for something that unites us all regardless of age or marital status, but I readily admit that I am mostly clueless about these things.

  6. 6.

    Thanks for the recommendation, Mogget. I haven’t read the book, but I attended a lecture the authors gave last fall. The most interesting part was the way the question-and-answer session sort of degenerated into a discussion of whether it was possible to do history in a vacuum. That is, the authors maintained that they wrote the book simply as a descriptive device illustrating instances in which women clearly had religious authority in the early church. But obviously, even their motivation to investigate the topic arose in a culture in which the issue is somewhat charged, and in which the past matters, and precedents have implications, and people would like to make use of the past for religious purposes in the present. It made me think a lot about what our past means to us, and what it should mean to us, and the circumstances in which history matters and whether it should matter.

    I’m probably guilty of cynicism in the way I sometimes discuss motherhood. :) I wonder whether there’s a way we can genuinely value and encourage both righteous motherhood and fatherhood, but that doesn’t make motherhood sound like a consolation prize for being denied personhood. It may be, as I’m often told, that I’m a future wife and mother. But I’m also a current and future person.

  7. 7.

    Very, very nice work, K. I know I often challenge the loose feminist coalition in the bloggernacle, but really, truly, it’s only because I want us to think better—and I think this is a fine instance of better thinking and a triumph of temperate tone. (Besides, any coalition that includes you, Eve and Lynnette, Serenity Valley, Kristine, and Elisabeth is one that I urgently want to join!)

    Sooooo, that said, help me understand your argument more fully. You observe what has always seemed to me the clear and, frankly, quite reasonable theological undergirding for the gendered ecclesiastical and temple priesthoods: the kingdom of God (the temporal church) and the kingdom of heaven (the eternal order) are linked epistemically by a principle of resemblance; men resemble God, the source and administrator of eternal priesthood, more than women do, and thus men administer the temporal priesthood.

    In the same post, though, you suggest that the gendered priesthood is a cultural relic that persists because it currently serves a crucial socio-political function for the church as an institution—a relic that could be jettisoned if some other structural feature could take its place as a political weight-bearer.

    Both plausible accounts but, it seems to me, mutually exclusive: how could the gendered priesthood be jettisoned if it in fact is the structural outrgrowth of some pretty bedrock theology—barring some major theological revisioning?

    If you’ll allow me to go all Clifford Geertz-ian here, the trouble with adopting a liberal regime of identity into a religious regime of community, it seems to me, is that liberalism is symbolically flat, whereas religion is symbolically deep; that is, they are fundamentally opposed in their deepest cores. Liberalism has no mythic power beyond the played-out “be true to who you are”—and even a religion as low church needs symbol and myth to narrate its ritual.

  8. 8.

    Rosalynde,

    A religion doesn’t need to retain every idea it’s ever had in some incoherent, self-contradictory archive of symbol and myth. Our gendered priesthood is not, to my mind, a particularly resonant symbol, and it’s not really backed up by much myth. There are other more legitimate narratives (i.e., they have much more support).

    In fact, our foundational scripture provides us with that most overwhelming image of Christ’s death, resurrection, and return; it is meant as both symbol and literal truth. The book provides us with a detailed picture of the ideal society, which is described in economic rather than gendered terms. Finally, it provides us with compelling narrative patterns of exodus, of a cycle of unrighteousness and redemption… Gendered priesthood as a symbol is only necessary if we’ve abandoned the Book of Mormon, really.

    … How could the gendered priesthood be jettisoned if it in fact is the structural outrgrowth of some pretty bedrock theology—barring some major theological revisioning?

    I guess the argument would be that our ideas about gender, and certainly the idea that God’s power is conferred through physical resemblance, are not bedrock theology. Really, our bedrock theology is Christ on the cross. And personal revelation.

  9. 9.

    Rosalynde,

    I liked your comment, by the way, even though it’s made me think about Geertz. :) (It’s horrible, but my strongest association with his name is the image of a frantically winking bedouin; I’m not sure I absorbed much of his work).

  10. 10.

    Your post is excellent in both depth and tone.

    “the issue, for me, is less about personal rights and opportunities as it is about identity in the eternal sense.”

    Well put. My wife has often expressed this precise seniment to me. The question to me is then: Wither women and the priesthood? For example, I believe we should actively work to increase female participation in church authority. Do we do so by seeking equality for the sake of equality? Or, do we seek to redifine or at least reinterpret our theology to accomodate the changes? You seem to highlight the need for the theological undergirdings.

    My opinion is that the theological path will be the most difficult. However, I suppose it is the only true way to create a church where both genders are treated with equal dignity and respect.

    Our bishop once tried to call a female executive secretary because it was the highest level authority he thought he could justify to the stake. It got shot down. He then invented a calling with equivalent responsibilities, but it kept getting wittled down as tricky situations arose. I suppose it will never fully work until the theological framework supports the equality.

  11. 11.

    I liked this post very much. In fact, I will be re-reading it a few times to remember the logic so that I will be able to use it when needed. Thank you for writing it. :)

  12. 12.

    Thanks for all the responses.

    Rosalynde, you’re more than welcome to join our loose coalition, and to continue to challenge our thinking! (That of course applies to Starfoxy and anyone else interested in these issues as well.)

    You’re quite right to suggest that my observations don’t all point in the same direction; I tried several times to draw a more coherent conclusion, but to be honest I’m unsure what exactly to conclude–I’m interested in feedback.

    On the one hand I can see plausible sociological explanations for the church’s resistance to female ordination (including a centralized structure and a general inability to process change among others, neither of which pertains to this issue specifically). On the other hand, I can see a fairly consistent theological justification for the practice. But what fascinates me is that this is not the justification we’re advancing, at least not in my hearing, and I suspect that has largely to do with our introduction of the old monkeywrench into the equation: motherhood and insistence on equality.

    But the very fact that it appears to be the “structural outgrowth of some pretty bedrock theology” is what disturbs me so profoundly. It’s been said that certain religious institutions are the only organizations in our country that are more sexist in theory than they are in practice, and I’m convinced the church falls into this category. We frequently advance claims I find appealing but attached to reasoning that appears specious to me; conversely, the reasoning that makes sense to me leads to conclusions I consider abhorrent.

    So I think our theology is not only more sexist than our practice, but its implications are more sexist than we generally acknowledge. If nothing else, I wish we would deal with the issue in a more straightforward manner; the church’s right hand seems not to know what its left hand is doing.

    In any case, the fact that we’re not drawing connections between policy and doctrine where they so clearly parallel each other is perhaps illustrative of the ways in which the two are (more often than not?) fairly tenuously associated. This brings us to ASW’s question about how religious change occurs, and I’m not sure.

    Is theology the bedrock? Right now I’m leaning toward saying that changes in praxis often lead developments in theology, which are contrived after the fact, if at all, to accommodate them. But I also think theological developments are often left unexploited for their pragmatic possibilies.

    I’m not sure which is more susceptible to change, or even whether change in doctrine or policy is likely to result eventually in change in the other. But I do know that I, for one, am more invested in manipulating the symbolic realm than the pragmatic realm. Theory matters to me.

  13. 13.

    Another question (besides how such change could occur) is whether or not it’s appropriate. I admit, the sociological reasons I outlined above (and others) lead me to doubt the current arrangement is necessarily the eternal one. But I have no solid basis from which to claim any other arrangement is appropriate either, since, as I noted, our stated belief in equality can similarly be traced to societally conditioned factors. It’s part of what discourages me.

  14. 14.

    I guess what I’ve come out of it with is something of a conviction that the motherhood-priesthood analogue is inappropriate. It also looks like it does more harm than good because use of it can engender bad feelings among folks who think it through.

  15. 15.

    The scriptures do not explain why men hold the priesthood and women don’t. The reason for the lack is simple – no one questioned it before. There was no need to justify the gender imbalance because no one thought the genders ought to be in balance.

    Now the Church, and religion in general, is grappling with the idea that women are as good as men, and they haven’t come up with a really good reason to ordain one and not the other besides centuries of tradition (which isn’t a bad reason, actually).

    The priesthood/motherhood parallel is about all the Church has offered as a justification at this point. As many have noted, that isn’t very satisfactory.

    It’s interesting to be around to observe the creation of new doctrine in response to questions that haven’t been raised before in history.

    Thanks for this post. I’d always thought of the question of female ordination in terms of equality. Your thoughts add another dimension.

  16. 16.

    Thanks again for the comments; I’m reading them with interest.

    Just some other thoughts that have occurred to me:

    I’m not sure we have to choose between a sociological and a theological explanation for our resistance to female ordination, for the reason that the two are inextricably interconnected.

    In terms of the specific theology which parallels gender discrimination in ordination (that is, the general powerlessness ascribed to Heavenly Mother), I wonder how “bedrock” it really is–it’s essentially built on lack of information rather than actual information (whether true or false), which hardly seems like a solid foundation. I also think both the theology and the policy are likely symptoms of other general negative assumptions about women which have manifested themselves in different ways. (“The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.”)

    However, the fact that a pattern can be observed does not in itself constitute a reason, exactly, that women cannot be ordained. What we need is a clearer understanding about this thing we’re calling “gender” and claiming is eternal, as well as what “priesthood” means; neither has ever been satisfactorily explained to me.

    The significance of the priesthood to ordinances is interesting. Our stated doctrine entails pronounced sacramentalist tendencies, but as I’ve argued elsewhere (http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2006/03/is-god-constrained-by-magic/#more-1765), I think there are a number of reasons to doubt that ordinances actually effect metaphysical change. And if priesthood is a way God symbolically invests individuals with the right to perform symbolic ritual acts, I see no clear reason women should be barred.

    Those with the priesthood also sometimes bless, or anoint, or “act in God’s name,” but precedent exists for women fulfilling all of these functions.

    The other general sphere in which priesthood operates I’ll call administrative and authoratative. But even in the church we recognize that women are capable of assuming such responsibilities. The reason cannot be that women are not able; our own cultural observations about women’s competence should lay such assumptions to rest. None of our doctrine exactly explains what it is about a Sunday School president that is different from a Relief Society president that makes a woman unsuitable; what is this “priesthood” that is being invoked to distinguish the two roles? It has an impressive appearance but it rings hollow.

    Bringing it back again to AWS’s comment, I personally would like to address all the problems in the church simultaneously. :) But speaking pragmatically, since religious change is more likely to be bottom-up and gradual, I wonder whether it’s more feasible to quietly introduce a theological revolution, and whether or not that would result eventually in women’s ordination? Or is it possible for women to “creep” into priesthood roles until they attain virtual ordination as a way of spurring policy change and concomitant theological development? I don’t feel I have enough information to assess any of that.

    Whatever the solution is, the current situation is a muddled fog of conflicting statements and unrelated claims being pressed into service for each other. I can only hope that means it will have to change somehow.

  17. 17.

    As I have commented elsewhere, family government, aka the “patriarchal” order, is the natural solution to this problem. I do not see any reason to think that our heavenly mothers do not have as much input into the administration of the kingdom as our heavenly fathers do. I do not see the role of heavenly motherhood as superfluous at all. No member of a well balanced LDS househould could believe that.

    I should say that I do not think the account of priesthood as a literal power that women do not have makes much sense. The priesthood is all about *authority* – and God can change who has authority according to pragmatic considerations. Priesthood is a mantle not a “stuff”.

    That is why its power or effectiveness is contigent on its proper use. Coercion is the end of priesthood – because while *authority* comes from above, most of priesthood *power* comes from below – that is why sustaining the authority of the priesthood, and the example set by priesthood holders is important. Priesthood power flows unto a person, not outward from him (cf D&C 121:36).

    So I see no metaphysical reason why women should be denied the priesthood, just a conventional reason – it has pretty much always been done that way, and the pragmatics of change *in this life* are extremely difficult.

    We cannot go back to family government, the proper solution, because people do not live long enough. Mixing the Relief Society and the Priesthood Quorums together sounds like a prescription for confusion. Mixed gender presidencies are similarly problematic for a variety of reasons.

    So what I would like to see is some actual hypothetical models as to how Church organization would work under such a scheme.

    The only thing I can see that might work is to call members of presidencies as couples, so we have (horror of horrors) six members of the bishopric for example. That is obviously problematic in several ways, but the ultimate question is: Is it better than the scheme we have now, and why and why not?

    I cannot see having a female Bishop and one or two male counselors, or a male Bishop and one or two female counselors working in our tradition anytime in the next century, barring an arm-twisting revelation of some sort.

  18. 18.

    Same reason why we have monasteries and convents, fraternities and sororities, by the way. The priesthood quorums are effectively fraternities and the relief society sororities. A brother can never be as close to a sister he is not married to as he can be to another brother, and vice versa. Mixed gender presidencies would end up with everyone on guard all the time.

    That is why I see family government as the ultimate answer, and husband/wife shared callings as a possible temporal expedient.

  19. 19.

    Mark Butler said…
    As I have commented elsewhere, family government, aka the “patriarchal” order, is the natural solution to this problem… I do not see the role of heavenly motherhood as superfluous at all. No member of a well balanced LDS househould could believe that.

    So patriarchal order is the solution to the fact that our theory of priesthood is either based in sympathetic magic or in nonsense? How?

    Beyond that, the argument above isn’t that Heavenly Mother is superfluous; it’s that our current theory of priesthood implies as much. That’s a flaw with our theory of priesthood, not our beliefs about Heavenly Mother.

    I should say that I do not think the account of priesthood as a literal power that women do not have makes much sense. The priesthood is all about *authority* – and God can change who has authority according to pragmatic considerations. Priesthood is a mantle not a “stuff”.

    Authority is power, unfortunately. The priesthood baptize us, seal us, ordain us, counsel us, judge us… without the cooperation of some member of the priesthood, we can’t really be Mormon, can we? And conveniently, in our system God never does change His designation of authority–not even when it would be pragmatic to do so.

    That is why its power or effectiveness is contigent on its proper use. Coercion is the end of priesthood – because while *authority* comes from above, most of priesthood *power* comes from below – that is why sustaining the authority of the priesthood, and the example set by priesthood holders is important. Priesthood power flows unto a person, not outward from him (cf D&C 121:36).

    And what happens when someone misuses his priestly authority? Well, either someone above him in the chain of command disciplines him, or he gets away with it. Those outside the priesthood can complain, risking punishment, or they can stay quiet. Yes, God may cease to be with the offender, but we as a church don’t always notice that, do we? Anyway, we’re not talking about the proper use of priesthood here; we’re talking about who has it, and why it’s restricted by gender.

    So I see no metaphysical reason why women should be denied the priesthood, just a conventional reason – it has pretty much always been done that way, and the pragmatics of change *in this life* are extremely difficult. We cannot go back to family government, the proper solution, because people do not live long enough. Mixing the Relief Society and the Priesthood Quorums together sounds like a prescription for confusion. Mixed gender presidencies are similarly problematic for a variety of reasons.

    Wow. So we should only be fair when it’s easy? We’d get confused if we had to deal with people of the opposite sex? Why? I deal with men every day at work, and it’s really no problem. We just, you know, work together cooperatively for the achievement of our common goals.

    Beyond your idea that mixing in church meetings would be confusing, I don’t see any reasoning in what you’re saying beyond, “It would be hard to change things, so we shouldn’t bother.”

    The only thing I can see that might work is to call members of presidencies as couples, so we have (horror of horrors) six members of the bishopric for example. That is obviously problematic in several ways, but the ultimate question is: Is it better than the scheme we have now, and why and why not?

    We could all of us, female and male, just stop acting afraid of members of the opposite sex, and call members of presidencies without regard to gender. It would be better than the scheme we have now, because we’d get used to acting like adults rather than third-graders who think gender can cause cooties. The vast social gulf we’ve fostered between men and women, something which has no place in Zion, might shrink. We could make use of all our members’ administrative strengths and skills, rather than only those we think of as gender-appropriate. And we could get rid of our policy of institutionalized discrimination against women, as you’ve already conceded that it’s simply a matter of convention.

    I cannot see having a female Bishop and one or two male counselors, or a male Bishop and one or two female counselors working in our tradition anytime in the next century, barring an arm-twisting revelation of some sort.

    Whyever not? It functions perfectly well in business and academia. Are we all just too sexist to handle it?

    A brother can never be as close to a sister he is not married to as he can be to another brother, and vice versa. Mixed gender presidencies would end up with everyone on guard all the time.

    Or we could follow Christ’s example, as He commands, and learn to treat each other as beloved equals. It’s not really very hard once we give up our fear of each other.

    For the record, I’ve always been much closer to men than to other women–except in LDS circles, where everyone seems afraid of mixed-gender socializing.

    That is why I see family government as the ultimate answer…

    So family government–what you previously called the patriarchal order, and which therefore implies patriarchy–is the ultimate answer to the problem that our gendered priesthood theory doesn’t make sense?

    Mark, looking back over my response to you, I feel that I should clarify: This isn’t my thread; I’m just a commenter. But I’m glad that you joined the discussion–this is the kind of thing women and men need to talk about together, not in gendered isolation. Please take my comments with a grain of sugar to sweeten them up :).

  20. 20.

    I’m equally pessimistic about such changes taking place in the near future.

    But I’m interested in this idea that confusion would be the inevitable result of women’s ordination. I personally would not advocate mixing RS and EQ, for example, even if women were ordained, and I don’t think it would necessarily follow. Maybe you’re suggesting the way priesthood functions in the current church is as a formal way of separating men from women, and we would take that barrier away, for good and bad? This is a valid point to consider. But I imagine there are other possibilities for formally structuring the situation so that men and women could still have separate organizations. And there would not have to be mixed-gender presidencies either.

    However, I’m not as pessimistic as you are about presidencies with both men and women. In some limited situations, we already have them. I served as SS secretary for several years to several different (all-male) presidencies, and I never noticed that my presence was a hindrance to smooth functioning.

    I actually think the idea of co-bishops (couples) would solve a number of current problems, such as that certain people are more comfortable talking about certain things with a woman, and others with a man; it would give us a little more flexibility.

  21. 21.

    And I’ll just echo Serenity Valley that I think if our structure allowed more mixed-gender situations, we would actually be less on guard around each other as a result.

  22. 22.

    Mark,

    Let me quickly echo Serenity’s comments about the fact that mixed-gender leadership groups work very well in the secular world (and also in some other religious communities). In general, sociologists have found that mixed-gender groups only work poorly in societies that are highly sexist. It’s possible, perhaps likely, that Mormons as a religious community are more sexist than those same Mormons when placed in secular circumstances. However, if that is the case, it seems to me to be something that we ought to strive to change–not an argument in favor of the status quo.

    But this is all normative. As a descriptive matter, you’re probably right; sexism and discomfort about mixed-sex socializing at church will probably prevent any change in the near future…

  23. 23.

    I have a lot of experience leading men in circumstances far more trying than church. To be blunt, if/when folks decide to do it, those who don’t like it will leave and then things will smooth out.

    I think I will try to put up post on priesthood in the NT over at FPR in the next week or so. If anyone cares to check, I’d be interested in whether or not it matches what you expected.

  24. 24.

    One more thing–I wanted to say that I really, really like the point Kiskilili made about this being a question of identity. When the issue gets raised, frequently accusations are hurled about women seeking after power or status, and I don’t think that’s usually fair. I’m really not after some “high status” calling (in fact, as a serious introvert I find the idea more than a bit unpleasant!) What I want is to feel that the Church values me as a whole person, and isn’t only interested in what I can contribute in a narrowly circumscribed realm.

  25. 25.

    So much interesting stuff that I hardly know where to begin!

    I’m acquainted with a number of ordained women (or women on the track to ordination) in Protestant traditions, and it’s been fascinating to get a peek into their worlds. I’ve been told that even in many churches that ordain women, in practice a female pastor will still struggle to get a job in more conservative areas of the country. I’m quite intrigued by the point you mention that “the situation on the ground” isn’t always all that different between those churches which ordain women and those which don’t.

    A bit tangentially, exposure to ordained women of other faiths has been a real positive for me personally. I have to admit that when as a teenager I first stumbled across LDS feminism, the idea of ordaining women left me a little uncertain; it was unsettling to think of women in positions which I took for granted were held by men. Seeing strong, competent, spiritual female ministers has given me a different perspective on that. I wonder if some of the resistance to the idea stems from the simple fact that especially for a lifelong Mormon, it’s unfamiliar.

    I hadn’t ever really thought before how the Heavenly Mother issue might be linked to women’s ordination (though now it seems like an obvious point!) Does Heavenly Mother have the priesthood, or would we be willing to assert that a 12-year-old boy has more power and authority in his small finger (as they used to say with reference to the Pope) than does she? Would more knowledge of her expand the sphere of women’s activity? I agree with the Mauss interpretation you mention about the reasons why motherhood has become so central in the last few decades. But I also can see it being a neat fit in that the only thing we know for sure about HM is that she’s a mother.

    Which brings me to Rosalynde’s question,

    how could the gendered priesthood be jettisoned if it in fact is the structural outrgrowth of some pretty bedrock theology—barring some major theological revisioning?

    Still working within the framework of Kiskilili’s hypothesis that the exclusion could result from the premise that men better represent a male God, I don’t think it would actually take major theological revisioning to extend the priesthood to all believers– because we already believe in a female God. (This discussion is really making me think about the implications of our lack of knowledge regarding HM.)

    Of course, as K has pointed out, this isn’t actually the justification we’re using for the practice, which is interesting in and of itself.

    aws commented,

    My opinion is that the theological path will be the most difficult. However, I suppose it is the only true way to create a church where both genders are treated with equal dignity and respect.

    Like Kiskilili, I see the church as in the rather odd position of being more sexist in theory than it is in practice. That’s one reason I’m particularly interested in addressing theological issues (aside from the fact that I’m a bit biased in that direction to begin with . . .)

    Kiskilili said,

    our stated belief in equality can similarly be traced to societally conditioned factors. It’s part of what discourages me.

    I maybe have a bit more hope about this. I won’t deny that my personal belief in equality is doubtless heavily tied to cultural factors, but I also think that Christianity contains a radical egalitarian impulse. Likewise, while I think the church has shifted in the direction of greater equality at least partially because the larger society in which it exists has gone that direction, I think it’s worth noting that this is in harmony with what I would argue is a bedrock Christian teaching: God values all human beings without respect to race, sex, class, etc.

    Mark Butler, I was going to ask what more specifically what your concern about mixed presidencies was, but I see that Serenity Valley beat me to it.

    I have a friend who along with his wife is a co-pastor at a Lutheran church, and that seems like a pretty cool arrangement. I’ve sometimes wondered whether the office of bishop might be better filled by a couple– they could share the load, one person wouldn’t be left as a “church widow,” and members of the church who had an easier time talking to someone of their own gender would have that option.

  26. 26.

    Serenity Valley, I think you misunderstand my argument and my semantics in so many ways. I do not equate authority and power – that is a sloppy use of language, and it is rather useful to distinguish the two.

    Authority is (most particularly) the formal legimitization of ones right to act for and in behalf of some other, generally organizational entity. The word most closely associated with authority in LDS discourse is “keys”, or the right of direction. “Jurisdiction”, “stewardship”, even “dominion” are closely related terms.

    Of course authority generally leads to power, but examples of empty authority abound. Ultimately authority in a consent-based organization (which I believe the Kingdom of Heaven ultimately is, to great extent) is contingent on credibility, respect, and reputation.

    Otherwise “authorities” issue dogmatic pronouncements and everyone politely ignores them. The Supreme Court for example, knows that its manifest authority relies as much on its reputation as on the Constitution.

    The Priesthood is the same way – as D&C 121 abundantly testifies. The analysis of the power and authority of the Priesthood I made is right from the last part of that section. As the key exposition on the doctrine of the Priesthood, that is where all discussion should start.

    The D&C 121 Priesthood is a contingent, not a necessary power. Formal authority (ultimately speaking is not enough), because all authority derives from legitimacy.

    Unrighteous behavior destroys legitimacy, which destroys influence / power, which ultimately enervates formal authority itself.

    As far as I can tell, the Priesthood is largely a formalization of this process on a grand scale – i.e. crossing the boundaries between this world and the concert of heaven, such that a prophet (say Moses) still has influence in heaven even when he lacks it on earth – call down angels or whatever to part the Red Sea, etc.

    Now any reasonable account will demonstrate that the influence that women, particularly mothers exert is founded on very comparable principles, just not with the formalization of office and ordination and so on. The closest thing we currently have to female ordination is the endowment and marriage sealing ordinances.

    The latter in particular, for all practical purpose ordains / sets apart / anoints a women to be a Mother / Queen / Priestess – to preside with her husband in righteousness over their lineal and adopted posterity, like Abraham and Sarah.

    Now I say “Patriarchal order” to refer to the order of sealings in a chain back to Adam and Eve, but apparently no one can see beyond the word “patriarchal”. A proper word should be more gender neutral, “family order” or “filial order” perhaps.

    The only particularly “patriarchal” as opposed to “matriarchal” aspect I see as likely is organization along patrilineal rather than matrilineal lines. Both doesn’t work well, for a variety of reasons – two lines of authority (when push comes to shove) are a practical disaster.

    We could have matrilineal order instead, the only difference is whether a sub-family properly belongs under the rubric of the husband’s family or the wife’s family. For one or two generations this ambiguity is fine, after a while people tend to identify with the name they inherit whether it be the patrilineal name or the matrilineal name.

    Now I fully recognize secular organizations work rather well with mixed gender associations – I think religious organizations are different.

    Topics of a much more sensitive nature are discussed, relationships are much closer, leading to bonds of familiarity that are risky outside of a husband wife relationship. Would you want your husband / wife to be home teaching companions with another woman / man?

    A serious business indeed, I think some reasonable consideration is worthwhile before we drop all aspects of Jane Austen-type mores on the matter.

  27. 27.

    I should also say that temporal, this world arguments are extremely unlikely to be taken seriously unless it can be demonstrated how they plausibly map to eternal principles and realities. That is what I have tried to do here – it is the best theological argument I know – shared presidency over ones posterity, where the wife adopts the name of the husband or vice versa. Not perfect perhaps, but surely more consequential than the present temporal regime.

  28. 28.

    Thanks for your explanation of authority, Mark.

    Now any reasonable account will demonstrate that the influence that women, particularly mothers exert is founded on very comparable principles, just not with the formalization of office and ordination and so on.

    Could you elaborate on this? I’m genuinely not understanding. Are you saying that mothers have/should have more authority than fathers, and that it’s divinely conferred in a way that fathers’ authority is not?

    And if so, in what way specifically would this preclude womens’ exercising other types of authority as well?

    If husbands and wives are genuinely expected to “preside together,” what would be the problem with entrusting the same authority to both of them? If we insist on entrusting authority to only one, it seems like we’re convinced subordination is literally the only way to achieve unity.

    Would you want your husband / wife to be home teaching companions with another woman / man?

    I’m still not understanding how ordaining women would necessarily result in such a situation.

  29. 29.

    Mark,

    You say, “Serenity Valley, I think you misunderstand my argument and my semantics in so many ways. I do not equate authority and power – that is a sloppy use of language, and it is rather useful to distinguish the two.”

    Mark, I understand you quite well; I simply disagree with you. I never claimed that you equated authority and power. I said that in fact, authority stems from power. I do agree with you that power should stem from the supportive consent of those governed by it. But many things are not as they should be in this, our mortal world.

    You say, “…The closest thing we currently have to female ordination is the endowment and marriage sealing ordinances… The latter in particular, for all practical purpose ordains / sets apart / anoints a women to be a Mother / Queen / Priestess – to preside with her husband in righteousness over their lineal and adopted posterity, like Abraham and Sarah.”

    It sounds as though you’re saying that the endowment is itself a kind of priesthood ordination. I didn’t realize you were such a radical. I hadn’t thought of it overly much, but consideration of the literal meaning of the endowment language certainly can lead to such a conclusion, now that you mention it.

    On patriarchy: the reason no one can see past the “patriarchal” part of “patriarchal order” is that, as you point out yourself, such a system conceptualizes authority as something belonging to, well, patriarchs. I guess we could pretend that our patriarchs are neuter, but that wouldn’t make any sense. They’d still be male.

    I’m really not sure what you’re trying to say with your discussion of family governance, anyway. I mean, I understand your model of family government, yes. But how does this address the basic theological quandry posed by our practice of male-only ordination, the topic of this conversation? Are you saying that we only ordain men as priests because otherwise we’d have to change our surname customs? Because otherwise, we’d be confused about the source of parental authority? I should not that I’m not confused about the semantics of what you’re saying. I just don’t understand how it relates to this conversation, and you’ve not explained the connection.

    In reference to home teaching, you say, “…Topics of a much more sensitive nature are discussed, relationships are much closer, leading to bonds of familiarity that are risky outside of a husband wife relationship. Would you want your husband / wife to be home teaching companions with another woman / man?”

    That would be fine with me. RT is a responsible steward of his love for me, and I trust him.

    You know, for the first several years we were married, RT and I couldn’t discuss religion at all. Our beliefs were very different, and we had some nasty fights about it. I know that he did talk to some of his close female friends about religion. But he’s always been careful to ensure that he’s closer to me, that he shares more with me, that he concerns himself more with me, than with anyone else, female or male. I have always assumed that the primacy of our relationship in his life stemmed from his religious beliefs–Mormons value marriage, after all. Perhaps I’ve been wrong; perhaps his comittment to me stems solely from his personality. If that’s true, well, I’m not sure what to say here, other than that I’m very lucky, and I’m saddened by the idea that we enforce gender separation because we as Mormons don’t trust our spouses. If our membership is in such a state as to make this fear reasonable, then we should certainly weep for Zion’s wickedness.

  30. 30.

    I think this is an important discussion. All I want to add is my view that mixed gender presidencies do not worry me. Having both men and women present in meetings seems to keep things balanced in tone and direction. As an example, I believe missionary districts with sisters are infinitely better than those without.

    BTW, I’m really into revolutionary thinking about this. If you have any specific ideas, I’ll help quietly introduce them.

    “But speaking pragmatically, since religious change is more likely to be bottom-up and gradual, I wonder whether it’s more feasible to quietly introduce a theological revolution, and whether or not that would result eventually in women’s ordination?”

  31. 31.

    I’m saddened by the idea that we enforce gender separation because we as Mormons don’t trust our spouses.

    Just a depressing comment on the above idea. Mormons don’t trust men and women together. I have a woman friend at the Church Office Building who was traveling to a training seminar with men from her dept. There was nearly a conniption fit thrown when they found out that my female friend was on the same flight as her male co-workers (they were not sitting together). And they had to get special permission from their dept head to have the entire group in the same hotel, since the training was being held in the hotel. They double-checked that my friend was in a wing of the hotel as far away as possible from the part of the hotel housing her male co-workers. I guess the typical travel rules are that men and women are on separate flights and stay in separate hotels, even if they’re going to the same place.

    In my own experience, I know it is against COB policy for an even number of men and women to have lunch together. When a man from the COB wanted to talk about something over lunch with me, he had to bring another man along to make sure the numbers were unequal. If we had a group of four – two men and two women – he’d find another person to make it a quintet. It was the rule. I didn’t work for the COB, but I did occasionally work with COB employees; hence my familiarity with the policy.

    Yes, it would take an act of God to get the Church used to the idea that men and women can associate with each other without having affairs. Whenever I hear someone talk about mixed-gender presidencies, I suspect they have no idea how strongly the Church feels about NOT providing places where men and women can mingle without their spouses.

  32. 32.

    aws,

    I wonder whether it’s occurred to anyone that such constant messages may in themselves lead us to sexualize our interactions with men or women to whom we are not married?

  33. 33.

    Sorry, I meant to address that last comment to Melinda. My apologies.

  34. 34.

    Thanks for this excellent post, Kiskilili, and for facilitating such a stimulating, respectful discussion.

  35. 35.

    Topics of a much more sensitive nature are discussed, relationships are much closer, leading to bonds of familiarity that are risky outside of a husband wife relationship.

    I’m guessing that you’re thinking of something like a bishopric? I don’t imagine that many Sunday School presidencies deal with much of a sensitive nature–and I don’t think that ordaining women would necessarily end gender-segregated organizations like the Relief Society (though perhaps the RS could be promoted from being an “auxiliary” to being an integral part of the Church.) It occurs to me that a bishopric made up of three people would have the “odd number” that Melinda mentioned–though I don’t know enough about the actual workings of bishoprics to know how much of a difference that would make. (?)

    In any case, I don’t see this as necessarily a deal-breaker even if people are skittish about mixed-sex presidencies. One option might be to stipulate that female presidents select only female counselors, and vice versa.

  36. 36.

    I haven’t had time this week to make a substantive response, but I wanted to let you know that I really liked this post. I liked how you framed it, and it gave me a lot to think about.

  37. 37.

    It is hard for me to address so many issues, but in particular I think the endowment is *more* significant than any conventional Priesthood ordination. It is a first anointing to be sure, but it presages royalty, priesthood, heavenly parenthood, and indeed godhood for both males and females, whether married in this life or not.

    The Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthood are temporary expedients by comparison. Now I suppose some could quibble, but I do not see Endowment any other way – if not an ordination, it is a *foreordination* to the greatest authority any man or woman can ever have.

    As far as I understand that is a pretty mainline understanding of what is going on, perhaps with some semantic quibbling. Listen also to the child/parent sealing ordinance and the implicit blessings for even being born in the covenant.

  38. 38.

    Mark, I agree that the Endowment is a more profound priesthood ordination, for both men and women, than anything that happens outside the temple. In the 19th century, when we Mormons were much less skittish about female power and authority, church leaders routinely discussed the Melchizedek priesthood that women obtain via the temple Endowment. For a period of time when this was being taught, being endowed was a prerequisite for women to carry out blessings of health–because they needed Melchizedek priesthood to do so.

    However, these definitions changed in the church during the 20th century. In fact, D. Michael Quinn’s excommunication was driven in substantial part by saying just about what you said in your last comment. So I’d suggest that your perspective, while certainly defensible, is perhaps less mainstream than you may suppose.

  39. 39.

    RT, The difference between the radical perspective and the mainstream is a question of temporality and authority. If I said women had a right to exercise authority over others than their own children – right here right now – without being delegated keys, that would indeed be heretical.

    What is *conferred* in an endowment and in an initial ordination to the Priesthood is comparable in certain critical respects. In particular neither conferral comes with keys.

    Authority in the church is a matter of organizational legitimization of the right to direct. Priesthood and endowment do not come with that kind of authority – more like a combination of a supernal gift and a membership in a group.

    The *fore-ordination* aspect of the endowment is described clearly enough, but it is clear no *authority* is being conferred there either, except perhaps in a marriage sealing, over ones one children. The authority part is all reserved to the “second anointing” which though we cannot speak more particularly of it, is essentially a coronation of sorts – a coronation of Kingly/Queenly presidency over ones own posterity, Adam/Eve, Abraham/Sarah style. I don’t know or need to know the details – D&C 132 is rather explicit on the matter.

    So the Priesthood as we know it today is a temporal expedient, as Joseph Smith clearly taught. The “Patriarchal” Father/Mother priesthood will largely supplant it – not the Smith descended primogeniture patriarch, but the *actual* fathers and mothers.

    So if anyone is wondering we do not have a church level Patriarchs any more, the obvious answer is that the Brethren do not consider primogeniture a valid concept of authority. It, even more than the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, is a temporal expedient, where the first born sons are proxies for their long dead father.

    It is worth noting that this idea that Jesus Christ is a *natural* heir to the house of David is questionable because of that. Following the traditional system Jesus is the natural heir to the house of his Father. Jesus’ half-brother James is a much more likely *natural* heir to the House of David. Following normal rules of inheritance, Jesus technically isn’t even a member of the tribe of Judah. He is a member of the tribe of Heavenly Father.

    Basic the issue at hand, I think the difference between my views and the views of some, is that I am just pointing out doctrinal principles, not agitating for something to be done about it. I am just curious about the question that if something could be done in this life, what would it be?

    I think M. Quinn had rather more extensive issues leading to his loss of membership than just this, by the way. Of course it is hard to say, and I am not sure I would trust his account of the matter anyway. Some of his books read like a formalized version of the National Enquirer. Dig up dirt for any reason – no point (except mudslinging) necessary.

  40. 40.

    I apologize for the typos…

  41. 41.

    Kiskilili, you’ve given me a lot to think about, too. I’m going to need to keep reading your post several more times to absorb it entirely, I think. Thanks for such a thoughtful, nuanced post on such a potentially explosive issue.

    Mark Butler, I’m not sure I completely understand what you’re saying. As I follow you, you’re downplaying the significance of priesthood ordination outside of the temple. But isn’t the work we do in this life–in our families, in the church–the path by which we become the people for whom temple promises can be fulfilled? D&C 84 suggests that obtaining the Aaronic and Melchezedic priesthoods is a requirement for salvation. So I don’t think it really works to set those priesthoods against temple ordinances as a way to diminsh their significance.

  42. 42.

    Mark, again, I’m really not sure I understand you, but I do have to raise some questions about this:

    If I said women had a right to exercise authority over others than their own children – right here right now – without being delegated keys, that would indeed be heretical.

    What about Primary, Relief Society, and Young Women’s presidencies? What about women who teach in these organizations, and in the Sunday school to adults and youth? In these cases women _are_ actually granted authority over others, including men–I serve in the nursery with several men, and all of us are under the direction of the Primary presidency–without being granted any keys.

  43. 43.

    Regarding mixed-gender presidencies: I agree with those who have said that strict gender segregation tends to lead us to sexualize interaction with the opposite gender. (What little I’ve read has indicated to me that this is all too true–and unfortunate–in communities even stricter than we are, such as Hasidic Jews.) I’m all in favor of fostering a spirit in which we can all interact comfortably with each other.

    But those for whom this is a serious concern are surely aware that in the situation as currently constituted, women share very personal information and sometimes become quite close to ecclesiastical leaders, invariably male. Imagine a married woman and a married man–each married to someone else–having an intimate private conversation! It seems like women’s ordination would be the obvious solution to this, if you consider this problematic.

  44. 44.

    Eve, first of all I do not have an agenda here – I am not trying to downplay anything. I am stating what I believe to be the objective truth about scriptural doctrines, not trying to “spin” anything.

    As to your second question, you are right, I should clarify – what I regard as heresy is a for any person – male or female to appoint themselves to a position of authority.

    In cases where women have authority now, they have “keys” for all practical purposes, we just don’t call them that. Some think that “keys” are metaphysical objects – I think the are just delegated authority, particularly of the presidential variety.

    Now as to one of my earlier statements it is worth noting that the endowment is a *conferral*, and a conditional *fore-ordination*, but not and *ordination* itself. e.g. endowed members do not occupy an *office* by virtue of the *conferral* – an analogy might be made to having the priesthood conferred on someone, without being ordained to a priesthood office.

    Now of course a husband-wife sealing is different – it is a quasi-ordination to the offices of father and mother, respectively.

    Also, I might mention that the word father is used in a non-procreative way by Jesus in many places in the Gospels, talking about those who chose the devil to be their father, Christ implicitly denying their divine parentage, so it is hardly unprecedented. Non pro-creative motherhood is a rarer concept, but the analogy is pretty clear to me. If fatherhood can be spiritual leadership by example, so can motherhood.

  45. 45.

    Mark said,

    “In cases where women have authority now, they have “keys” for all practical purposes, we just don’t call them that. Some think that “keys” are metaphysical objects – I think the are just delegated authority, particularly of the presidential variety.”

    This is one of the reasons discussions of gender and priesthood and autority so quickly and inevitably get confusing. Women clearly exercise authority in the church, in the temple, and the in family–in some cases over male Aaronic and Melchezedik priesthood holders, such as their own sons in the family or male teachers in Primary–but we don’t generally call that authority “the priesthood,” although the standard definition of the priesthood–at least the one I grew up hearing–is “the power to act in God’s name.” If women serving in the temple aren’t acting in God’s name, then what, exactly, are they doing?

    These are just some of the reasons that I think what Chaves and K. call “the situation on the ground” for LDS women is somewhat contradictory.

  46. 46.

    Hmm, this is so interesting. I’m sitting here wondering, what is the difference between what I do as RS President and what my husband did when he was EQ president? He arranged teachers for his quorum, conducted meetings, helped with welfare needs, arranged service projects, directed Home Teaching.

    What is the real difference between giving someone a blessing and praying for them in faith? Are we saying that if my child was run over by a car, and I prayed over her, she’d die but if my husband gave her a blessing she’d live? That Heavenly Father really helps kids have a better school year if they get a priesthood blessing, but not if their single mother holds a special family prayer asking the same? This is seeming very problematic to me. Not because I don’t believe either to be true- I WANT to believe that both my prayer of faith and my husband’s blessing would both help my child. But saying one is important seems to imply that the other is of no value.

  47. 47.

    BTW, I’m really into revolutionary thinking about this. If you have any specific ideas, I’ll help quietly introduce them.

    Kudos, AWS!!! I really wish I knew. I like to think that at least pointing out the contradictions in our discourse is helpful.

    I’m sitting here wondering, what is the difference between what I do as RS President and what my husband did when he was EQ president? What is the real difference between giving someone a blessing and praying for them in faith?

    Ah, the $64,000 questions! We don’t seem able to fit our murky concept of “priesthood” into any clear theological framework. Like you, I’d like to think it’s something special, but that in itself introduces further problems. If a non-priesthood holder can invoke the powers of heaven the same way a priesthood-holder can, then why even have a priesthood? In some situations it seems like nothing more than a vague principle alluded to in order to bar certain people from certain activities. But I really don’t know.

  48. 48.

    I just discovered that blogs and discussion threads like this exist, and I am so gratified … these things which you all are discussing echo thoughts which I have had, and I am so glad to know I am not alone.

    I believe that the doctrines of our restored gospel are uniquely positioned to usher in a new era of full gender inclusion and a stripping away of human/tradition-based discrimination. Specifically, we believe in a mother in heaven; in the unity and joint mission of the male-female marriage unit; and in king/queen – priest/priestess status of men and women equally in the highest and most sacred understanding of the gospel. We also believe in continuing revelation, and we have come to understand that this can mean great change and development as the fullness of the gospel is given to us (e.g. discrimination against blacks giving way to full racial inclusion in the priesthood).

    On the other hand, I know that the aged hierarchy of the church may be must less sensitive to gender equality and we may have to work and be patient for a future change (it may take a while, just like it did with racial equality).

    I also believe that human failings may be largely behind not only the past history of gender inequality but also part of why we are unable to embrace it fully now as a people — not just in terms of decisions at the top; specifically, say for example we made the office of bishop one which was shared by a married man and woman… could we accept this, could we actually pull this off, both within the couple serving as bishop and as members of the ward they presided over. We may not have the unity/understanding/maturity/magnanimity/communication skills/time and energy/etc. to really pull this off.

    I am glad at least that we are discussing this; just like with blacks and the priesthood, it takes a loyal and faithful yearning from within the church to produce the change we all await.

  49. 49.

    […] events, and was written by Kiskilili. You can read the original post and associated comments here. […]

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