Zelophehad’s Daughters

Ordination Envy

Posted by Lynnette

Last weekend, I went to the United Church of Christ to attend an ecclesiastical council, at which a good friend of mine was a candidate for ordination—the culmination of many years of discernment and work. It was fascinating to see the process. She’d had to submit a paper in advance outlining her spiritual journey, which people had had a chance to read before the council, and she talked to the group and took questions both with everyone together and in smaller groups. Then they sent her out of the room, had a bit more discussion, and the delegates (who represented churches throughout the region) voted on the question. Happily, she was unanimously approved. I was enthralled by her story of how she got there, of how she had experienced God’s influence  in her life. Even as an outsider, I can see how much she has to offer her community, and I was surprised at the sheer delight I felt to see this happen.

I mentioned on Facebook that I’d gone to this event, and Kevin Barney asked, are you suffering from ordination envy? My reply was that it was a complicated question, and attempting to explain it would be more along the lines of a blog post than a Facebook comment. So here goes.

As a grad student in theology, I know a lot of people, both women and men, who are ordained or who are preparing to be ordained. In watching that, I have of course found myself wondering—what if I weren’t LDS? Would this be something I would  seriously consider? In a way, being LDS has been convenient, in that I haven’t ever had to really grapple with the issue. From what I’ve  seen it can be a difficult decision, one that’s made after a lot of thought and prayer. I can definitely relate to the challenge of trying to figure out what God is saying to you. But I’ve never had to ask that particular question, because that path has never been an option for me.

That said, I don’t actually feel like it’s my particular vocation; though of course I can’t say for sure, I don’t imagine myself pursuing such a thing even if I were in a denomination where it would be a possibility. I’m working toward being an academic theologian, and I have a basic sense of rightness about that—something that has kept me going through the crazier aspects of grad school. So in that sense, no, I don’t have ordination envy. I don’t know what my life will look like, and that’s a real source of stress right now as I finish this program and deal with a nearly non-existent job market—but I don’t have regrets. I’m doing what I want to do.

But “ordination envy” might have more than one meaning. One version might be something along the lines of, not envy in the sense that I wish that were an option for me, but envy of other traditions in which women are ordained. As I was mentioning in a comment on a recent thread, I am so thoroughly Mormon that I go to church and usually don’t even notice that men are the authorities, the ones performing the ordinances. It’s so familiar. And I have to say, being in a divinity school environment and seeing women in other denominations play those kinds of roles was a bit jarring at first. I sometimes wonder to what extent LDS resistance to female ordination stems from the fact that seeing women perform priesthood kinds of functions is so unfamiliar, so unsettling. Despite years of feminism, it was a strange thing for me to get used to.

But I’ve come to really appreciate it. I think it makes a difference on a very visceral and powerful level. No matter what we might say about gender equality, our church services convey a clear unspoken message about which sex is the important one.  And I love seeing other denominations in which women who have those kinds of gifts, who have a lot to contribute to their community in that role, are encouraged to develop that. They’re not accused of being power hungry. They’re expected to listen to where God might be calling them. That perhaps, is where I find the disjunct most difficult. Again, I don’t personally feel a call to that kind of ministry. But as a single woman, I am in an ecclesiastical sense, not only just superfluous, but actually in some sense a problem for an organization that doesn’t know what to do with people like me. (Just to clarify, I’m not talking about the actions of individuals on a local level, but rather the dilemma of where, and even if, singles fit into the church.)

And on that note, one of the other things that was utterly foreign to me is that the marital status of this friend didn’t even seem to be relevant to this process, or her place in the community. As far as I can tell, the fact that she’s married it isn’t seen as an accomplishment on the path to eternal progression; it’s simply where she happens to be. I cannot even imagine.

But getting back to ordination envy. The other meaning that question might have is, do you wish you could be ordained in your own tradition? Do you wish LDS women had the priesthood? Which is of course a different kind of question, since ordination in our tradition isn’t a vocation. We have a priesthood of all believers—except, of course, that it’s actually a priesthood of half the believers.

Well yes, I can probably say that I wish they did. I wish it because I think it would be really cool to be in a church in which women had that. What would it be like, really like, if we thought that women too could be authorized to use the power by which we say the universe was created? I realize that the day-to-day aspects are generally far more mundane. But it’s nonetheless a powerful narrative in which to situate oneself; you can hear it in the way church leaders talk to young men about just what it means that they are ordained to this.  At this council, I was attempting to explain LDS priesthood to a friend, and the way it was gendered. He was flabbergasted. He said, you mean that 12-year-old boys get this but you don’t? I didn’t know what to say. I roll my eyes when people say that it’s not really a big deal because women can do just as much with prayer and faith. I think Mormon priesthood is actually a pretty neat thing. I don’t want to sell that short.

And on the administrative side that is also a component of LDS priesthood, oh yeah. For me, that’s a no-brainer. Honestly, I find it nonsensical to have an ecclesiastical governing system which largely excludes women and in which  final decisions are always made by men. I’ve seen so many women who have reservations about anything, from practical details to broader issues, wrestle with the grim realization that while we may have influence, sometimes a lot of influence, we have no actual power. Our only hope is for the men to listen. In practice, many do; Mormonism, on the whole, is a strikingly benevolent patriarchy. But a patriarchy nonetheless, which means that if the men choose not to listen, there is no recourse. Any autonomy we have—and again, I’m not denying the existence of that—is granted by men. We only have a women’s organization because the  men let us; they oversee it, and they could decide to disband it. The possibility of women’s voices making any difference is entirely contingent on the willingness of men to take them seriously. I can hear people objecting already—men get stuck in that situation, too. They have no guarantee of being heard. It’s undoubtedly true. But I don’t think it’s quite the same. Because it’s not simply that individual women might not get heard; it’s that in the ecclesial realm, a female perspective is inherently marginal. Women are not the core members of the church; we are an auxiliary.

And now I’m getting all worked up. I look at all that and think, all right, bring on female ordination! But this is where on a personal level it gets hard. I’ve gone back and forth on this question, but I have to admit that I’m not sure I myself want the priesthood. I don’t know what to make of that. You might interpret it in terms of a reluctance to step outside the comfort zone of my appointed gender role. Or even to some kind of belief in the way things are currently set up. To be fair, I can’t rule that out. I can actually understand the sentiment expressed by some women that it’s a relief that they don’t have it. The truth is that I probably feel that to some degree myself.

But then I have to ask myself, is it actually a good thing that I feel that way? Because I sometimes wonder whether the fact that I don’t seriously have to think about the question, seeing as how women in the LDS church aren’t going to be ordained anytime soon, allows for a certain complacency. I often hear that men need the priesthood so they’ll get their act together; otherwise they would presumably sit on the couch and watch movies all day. (The fact that this is incredibly condescending to men often seems to be overlooked.) But if that’s actually a sign of a need for ordination, I am in desperate need; I’m not one of those angel-like women who serves others so naturally that she has no need of any other motivation. I’m a religious mess. I’m slipping into inactivity (again) as I write this. If I don’t want the priesthood, in other words, I think that my lack of desire might be for the wrong reasons.

And after writing this whole post, I’m still not sure about the answer to the original question. I don’t know if I would say that I have ordination envy. There is much that I admire and am drawn to in other traditions, but in the end, they aren’t mine. I really do believe in the power of the LDS priesthood—I’ve experienced it—and that complicates the question. On the one hand, it makes me more tied to the church, no matter what I might see elsewhere. On the other, it means that I don’t think women are simply being excluded from some mumbo jumbo superstition which maybe isn’t that big of a deal; what they don’t have is something I very much believe is real.

Perhaps the best way to describe my feelings about the subject is not so much envy, but rather a kind of wistfulness.

112 Responses to “Ordination Envy”

  1. 1.

    Wonderful post! I don’t think I want the priesthood, but I want the female priesthood, the power that I think Heavenly Mother will someday bestow upon her daughters. I don’t think it’s going to come through the male hierarchy of the church at all, but separately through females in some way. I think when the two structures (for I doubt the female one will be a heirarchy, though I’m not sure what it will be) are seen as co-equal parts of the church, then we will have healed the breach we currently all suffer due to the sexism of our dominant culture.

    I can’t see how this will come about. It seems really impossible from the point of view of this time and place, doesn’t it? The RS President isn’t really the ecclesiastical leader of LDS women in any sense. She’s really just a helper for the guys’ church. But I remember when I was a child when the civil rights era was just cranking up, and MLK’s dream seemed equally impossible then.

    What I think women will do when they actually become full fledged members of the church, I think they will civilize the whole world in the sense of remaking it into a place where all children are safe, have love, good nutrition, medical care, clothing, shelter, etc. Where families can grow up with clean water, and a healthy environment. And where the innocent and the weak are protected from violence.

    Essentially, the power of the female priesthood is the power to civilize. It’s part engineering of infrastructure, part political science, part agriculture, part medicine, ecology, and so on. It’s species preservation and tending to the health of the whole planet. Once we get that started then every young woman who’s able to do so will be urged to serve this type of mission, and before they go, they each will receive their ordination to the female priesthood. That’s what I see.

  2. 2.

    Great post, Lynnette. I appreciate getting to hear your perspective on this.

    I’ve told my story elsewhere, but I’ll sum it up here: I attended a hard complementarian evangelical church for 15 months (June 2008 – August 2009). Women there never did anything but assist with worship and see to the children’s ministry. They almost never even gave announcements in the meetings or prayers, so I would say their treatment of women was worse than that of the LDS church.

    I now attend an Evangelical Covenant Church where the senior pastor is a woman, and it makes a world of difference. Women direct the Sunday meetings, perform baptisms, serve the Eucharist, and preach regularly. Three members of the church’s 7-member leadership team (basically a board of elders) are women. None of the warnings I keep hearing from male headship advocates / Defenders of the Status Quo™ have come to pass. The men haven’t stopped attending or being involved in leadership (the church basically has two male associate / assistant pastors and a male worship pastor), the women haven’t stopped having babies (the pastor herself had a baby during her time as senior pastor), and no one has taken to cross-dressing yet. I can’t see a downside to this.

    I don’t personally have any aspirations of being a normal pastor, but I’m completely open to ordination as an elder or deacon when the time comes; possibly even a lay pastor. We’ll have to see where God takes me. As far as the LDS church goes, even if some women don’t want the priesthood for themselves, I can’t understand why anyone would be okay with taking away those options for the LDS women who do want it.

    There was an absolutely delightful book that I read last year called Jesus Girls: True Stories of Growing Up Female and Evangelical; I reviewed it here. There was an essay in it called “The Journey Toward Ordination” by Heather Baker Utley. I expected it to be a story about a woman who wanted to be ordained but had evangelicals telling her that women can’t be pastors; I was surprised by the direction it took. The author does describe her encounters with complementarian evangelicals, but it’s an honest exploration of the reasons why she was unsure about ordination even before that. It’s great reading on this topic if anyone is interested.

  3. 3.

    I really enjoyed this post, Lynnette. Something struck me as I read this that I had to comment on. You mentioned that there is no recourse when men in the church refuse to listen to women’s council. I disagree. The recourse is they have to live with the consequences of those poor, problem creating decisions that could have been averted or improved by listening to council from women.

    I’ve had both types of leaders. Those who value the contribution of women in the ward, usually are heads of vibrant, spirit-filled wards. Those who don’t, usually have wards where there seem to be lots of problems, etc.. Vast generalization, I know, but something I’ve observed, having served in leadership in numerous wards.

    There are natural consequences to actions. I think both men AND women have things we need to learn about being humble and turning to the Lord. Maybe, just maybe, the structure of our priesthood helps us all along that path.

  4. 4.

    Wonderful, thoughtful post, Lynnette. This is exactly the kind of rumination I was hoping for. (You can be my bishop anytime.)

  5. 5.

    Lynnette, fascinating thoughts. When you talk about the non-administrative aspect of the priesthood, I’d love to hear more. I’m never sure I know what that is. I mean, if it’s the power that created the universe, then it has something to do with quantum mechanics and perhaps string theory? And in what sense do any mortals have this power? Conditionally, obviously — they exercise it by basically asking God to do something, and God may or may not. But doesn’t that really mean God has the power? Obviously the administrative aspects are different. Women should certainly have the administrative privileges and duties. Regarding the more, I guess, transcendental aspects of priesthood, it always seems most plausible to me that either men and women both already have them or neither really do.

  6. 6.

    Lynnette,

    I wonder if wistfulness is a Christlike attribute. Jesus told his translated disciples that he would preserve within them the power to feel sorrow for the sins of the world. And D&C 121:39 leaves little doubt that we should feel sadness for how most men use the priesthood for selfish purposes.

    The word wistful can mean sad thinking about something that is impossible or in the past. Do you think there was greater gender egalitarianism in the premortal existence? And do you hope that this will come back, as part of the restoration of all things?

  7. 7.

    What is it that ordination in the Church of Christ purports to give? Isn’t it just the ability to preach and teach and serve? It seems that such traditions don’t really purport to grant some additional power like the cosmic power by which the cosmos was created like JNS talks about. Is that what women aren ‘t given in the LDS tradition — or is it just the ability to be in leadership positions and extend callings?

    I don’t feel bad that I am not ordained to teach and preach and serve because I do all of those things and I don’t believe it requires the priesthood to do them. I’m rather glad not to have to attend all of the extra meetings.

    JNS: Are you saying that you believe the church leadership is just out of touch with God on this one because women should be ordained?

  8. 8.

    #7 Christine ~ Can you conduct Sacrament meeting or perform weddings? Can you perform baptisms?

    (I’m actually genuinely curious about weddings. Is there any calling that a woman can hold in the LDS church which would allow her to perform a civil wedding?)

    Ordained clergy are generally responsible for directing Sunday meetings in addition to preaching at them. In theory baptisms can be done by anybody in Protestant churches, but ceremonially they’re usually performed by ordained pastors. Elders or deacons may do them or assist with them depending on the denomination.

  9. 9.

    Jack: I conduct meetings at both the stake and ward levels on a regular basis. I cannot perform the actual ceremony but I can and have preached and arranged for the baptism. I cannot perform a temple wedding, but any one can be elected as mayor or appointed as a judge to perform civil weddings. I don’t suggest that I have the same latitude as in another tradition that ordains women. That wasn’t my point. My point was that other traditions don’t seem to claim that their priesthood confers more than a civil type of authorization to lead meetings and performing some ceremonies (for those denominations that actually perform such ceremonies). Since the priesthood means something quite different in these denominations, I wonder whether they are claiming anything more than authorization to represent the community as opposed to some power to bind in eternity or to command the elements that seems to be part and parcel of Mormon priesthood.

  10. 10.

    Great post, Lynnette! I particularly liked this point:

    No matter what we might say about gender equality, our church services convey a clear unspoken message about which sex is the important one.

    Yes, exactly! Like you said, we’re so used to having things this way that it hardly strikes us as odd (or at least it hardly strikes me as odd). It’s so familiar that it just feels right, proper, and correct. But the message in having men run everything, while unspoken, is so loud as to be deafening when we open our ears to it.

    Christine, I don’t know if this is what you were getting at, but certainly depending on the denomination (I know little about the UCC) there might be fewer ordinances to perform and they might be seen as not strictly necessary. But I think Jack makes a great point. As a woman can you run a sacrament meeting? A baptism? Do you get to interview members to go to the temple? Do you decide who gets what callings? Do you interview them to determine if they’re worthy? Do you meet with people and ask if they’re full tithe-payers?

    I’m sure you’ll consider all these things a burden and be thankful you don’t have to do them. That’s fine that you may feel that way, but these are examples of activities in which men get to make decisions and women don’t.

  11. 11.

    I conduct meetings at both the stake and ward levels on a regular basis.

    But not Sacrament meeting, which is the main Sunday meeting where the entire congregation comes together. Or at least, I in my twelve years of studying Mormonism have yet to see a woman conducting Sacrament meeting. Have I missed something?

    In any case, no, ordination in Protestant Christianity does not confer a special power on the subject like it does in Mormonism, but that’s because all believers in Protestant Christianity already have that power. As Lynnette said in her post, in Mormonism it’s a priesthood of believers—except only half of the believers get it. In Protestant Christianity, it’s a priesthood of all believers.

    Ordination is more of an authorization to perform authoritative leadership and ceremonial functions for both men and women as a representative of the denomination. Those are the things that an ordained Protestant woman gets that a Mormon woman can’t have. It’s closer to an ordination to specific offices in the priesthood in Mormonism than anything else (bishop, priest, deacon, etc.)

    So if it doesn’t bother you to be left out of officiating at congregational meetings and ceremonial functions for both genders or performing rituals, then I imagine lack of ordination would not bother you.

    I don’t suggest that I have the same latitude as in another tradition that ordains women. That wasn’t my point.

    I misunderstood you then, Christine. I have heard other Latter-day Saints try to argue that Mormon women already have the same latitude as ordained women in other traditions, which just isn’t the case. I jumped to conclusions and assumed that was the direction you were going. Please forgive me.

  12. 12.

    So, is it better or worse if you’re excluded from representing the community or exercising eternally binding power? Both of those seem like significant things to be disallowed from by virtue of gender–I’m not sure I see your point. (Also, you’re substantially mistaken about other denominations’ understanding of priesthood–you might want to check those generalizations)

  13. 13.

    Christine: I’m fully aware that Catholics purport to bind eternally. I don’t believe that many Protestants do — not all of them at any rate — and my question was about the Church of Christ. So when you say I’m substantially mistaken, I probably just wasn’t clear enough. However, I think that your response was way less than charitable to me.

    I don’t believe that I’m disallowed to do anything. I do ordinances of the priesthood in the temple. Do I have to be set apart to do all ordinances to feel that I participate in the power of performing ordinances? Not in my experience. Nor do I feel excluded from representing the community. I act as a leader in meetings all of the time. Further, I’m not disallowed by virtue of gender but by virtue of not being called to the priesthood. My husband doesn’t preside in meetings at all — less than I do in fact.

    Jack: I don’t think that Mormonism is a priesthood of all believers: Priesthood isn’t possessed in virtue of belief and not all are call to the same kinds of authorization to act. It is a priesthood of being called and being ordained. The Catholic model of priesthood seems much more instructive regarding LDS practices than anything in Protestantism that I am aware of. There are just different kinds of authorization to perform different functions as I see it. Further, like I said, I officiate or lead in meetings all of the time. Admittedly I don’t officiate in sacrament meetings; but I don’t think I have to officiate in sacrament to officiate in other meetings. It isn’t that there is a total lack of ability to lead and officiate as I think you’re suggesting.

  14. 14.

    Whoops. That should have been Kristine and not Christine. I’m just too used to the alternative spelling. Sorry about that.

  15. 15.

    When you talk about the non-administrative aspect of the priesthood, I’d love to hear more. I’m never sure I know what that is. I mean, if it’s the power that created the universe, then it has something to do with quantum mechanics and perhaps string theory? And in what sense do any mortals have this power? Conditionally, obviously — they exercise it by basically asking God to do something, and God may or may not. But doesn’t that really mean God has the power? Obviously the administrative aspects are different. Women should certainly have the administrative privileges and duties. Regarding the more, I guess, transcendental aspects of priesthood, it always seems most plausible to me that either men and women both already have them or neither really do.

    JNS, drawing on what Jack and Kristine and some others have said, I would say there’s an aspect of the “transcendental aspects” of the priesthood that men currently have access to and that women do not, primarily when it comes to ordinance work. Take sealers in the temple–these men can “seal” things so that “they’re bound on earth and in heaven.” I think our claims about priesthood power, especially when it comes to LDS ritual are pretty strong (and more than administrative), but women only have a very small access to that (through the limited ways they administer ordinances in the temple). Even if God is the one that ultimately moves the atoms, matter, etc., of the universe, men have more ability to directly access this.

  16. 16.

    One more thing that I forgot to mention in the post. I think it would be such a good thing if we could also ask women for blessings. I’m remembering a particular moment, many years ago, in which I was talking to my RS president about some things I was really struggling with. She said, you should ask for a blessing. And then we tried to think of whether there were any local priesthood holders we would feel comfortable asking for that kind of thing. And then she commented, it’s times like this I wish that women had the priesthood. (I wished it, too; I would have asked her in a heartbeat.)

    I’ve heard men express the wish that they could ask their wives for blessings. I think of women whose husbands aren’t LDS, who wish a child could get a blessing when she wakes up sick in the middle of the night, but who are unlikely to call anyone. And I have to wonder whether the need to maintain sharply delineated gender boundaries is trumping people’s real-life spiritual needs.

  17. 17.

    I see two common narratives about LDS priesthood. On the one hand, the fact that we understand ourselves as having the real priesthood is a huge deal. The most fundamental aspect of the LDS view of the Restoration, I would argue, is the restoration of the priesthood. That’s why we’re the only true church. That’s what sets us apart from everyone else–they may be well-meaning and inspired in their own way, but they lack genuine authority in the eyes of God. And we talk about the priesthood, as I mentioned in the OP, as the power that runs the universe. LDS priesthood is no small thing.

    Until we’re talking about it in the context of gender. And then suddenly, priesthood isn’t that important anymore. Women can pretty much do whatever they need to without it. The fact that men get it allows them to do some minor things, maybe, but really it’s not all that important. Women aren’t actually missing out on anything, so they shouldn’t be too bothered by the situation.

    I’m not sure we can believe both of those at once.

  18. 18.

    Sorry, Christine–didn’t mean to be uncharitable. None of this is cut and dried, for sure. And it’s great that you feel empowered within the church. I think the difference people are pointing to is that women’s leading is ALWAYS secondary in the LDS church, a woman’s authority is always delegated to her by a man. That has significant symbolic import, whether or not it has a practical effect on her comfortable functioning in the institution.

  19. 19.

    I totally agree, Lynnette– except that weirdly, it is a big deal in the gender context as well when people argue that men, unlike women, need the priesthood for personal development or that it’s a way of flattering/bribing them into behaving constructively. Yet, as you say, women are supposed to believe that they’re not missing out on any personal growth opportunities.

    Chicken patriarchy!

  20. 20.

    Tatiana, I love your vision, though I’m probably somewhat less idealistic. I think if women had the priesthood, just like the men, we’d do some really cool stuff and also sometimes mess things up. It’s not that I think women would necessarily use the priesthood to do more good than men do; it’s that I want them to be part of the process.

    But that question of whether female priesthood could come from a male hierarchy (and even what it would mean if it did)–yeah, that’s a complicated one. I’m not sure what I think.

    Jack, it’s always so interesting to hear your experience. I particularly appreciate your comments about how having lots of women in authority hasn’t actually led to the downfall of your congregation.

    DeeAnn, if I’m understanding you right, you’re making the point that if men choose not to listen to female voices, they’ll likely pay the price for it? That’s a good observation, and I hadn’t thought of the question from quite that angle. What I meant by saying “no recourse” is that if men don’t listen to women’s concerns, there’s really not much that women can do.

    When I see feminist LDS men debating their church membership, I want to beg them to stay. Which probably isn’t fair to them. But there’s the chance that they might someday be in a position where they can make a difference. It’s crazy-making to know that as a woman, all I can do is hope for men to be in positions of authority who take these issues seriously.

  21. 21.

    Kevin, I fear the thought of me as a bishop might in and of itself be a reason to oppose female ordination. ;)

    JNS, I’m not entirely sure myself. I would definitely say, though, that when we ordain men to the priesthood, it’s more than giving them the authorization to act in certain administrative capacities. After listening to many Sunday School discussions on the subject, I’m not sure we actually have a coherent sense of what exactly we think the priesthood is. But like Seraphine, I do think that in an LDS framework, men have some sort of privileged access to the transcendent. Though maybe I shouldn’t phrase it quite like that, because it’s not like women don’t have access. Maybe it’s more that we see men as participating in that kind of power in a way that women don’t?

  22. 22.

    Sterling, that’s an intriguing question about wistfulness; I like your thoughts on it. I do think it connotes some sense of sadness that things are not as they could be, whether it’s something lost or something yet to be realized.

    Your comment also reminded me that I wanted to mention the injunction in 1 Cor 12:31 to “covet earnestly the best gifts.” That seems go go well with the idea of ordination envy.

    Ziff, exactly. And I’m both fascinated and disturbed to think back to how that’s shaped my sense of the world. When I was a kid, seeing women in positions of authority in the secular world just “felt” a little wrong to me. I’m sure nobody ever said anything like that explicitly–women shouldn’t be the ones running things. (Then again, we lived in Utah County, so it’s possible that someone did! But I at least don’t remember it happening.) It’s something I just absorbed.

  23. 23.

    Christine, I don’t have a nuanced sense of what exactly this entails in the UCC (“United Church of Christ,” by the way, not “Church of Christ,” which is a very conservative denomination dating back to the Restoration movement–I mention that not to be nitpickingly annoying, but because I know that those in them aren’t crazy about having the two confused). But at any rate, I do think it includes more than a call to preach and teach and serve, because all members have that call. Maybe one way to put it would be that it’s a call to preach and teach and serve in a particular way–one that could include being the pastor of a congregation, and one that authorizes you to perform sacraments.

    I’m not sure what to make of your comment that you don’t believe that you’re “disallowed to do anything.” The question I have is–if lack of priesthood doesn’t actually prevent someone from engaging in any particular activities,why then would it be important for anyone to have it? (This goes back my question earlier about the extent to which we downplay the significance of the priesthood, because if it matters too much, it makes it harder to deal with female exclusion.) But I do think it must involve more than extra meetings.

    I’m not disallowed by virtue of gender but by virtue of not being called to the priesthood.

    But the reason that you’re not called to the priesthood is precisely because of your gender. I don’t think we can take gender out of the equation.

    I would agree that Mormonism that doesn’t have a priesthood of all believers in the same sense that Protestants do, in that it involves formal ordination. The fact that the latter is universally bestowed on males, though, I think gives a unique twist to the question in an LDS context, because it’s not just that women are prohibited from a particular vocation; it’s that they’re excluded from something which is bestowed on all men. I would guess, though I haven’t really thought this through, that priesthood is deeply intertwined with gender in an LDS context in a way that it might not be even in other churches which only ordain males. Because it’s not just a role played by some male individuals; it’s a basic part of being male in the church.

    Like Kristine, though, I really don’t mean to downplay the reality that women do a heck of a lot in LDS wards, have lots of opportunities, even act in positions of authority. I might contrast this, for example, to the “Church of Christ” I mentioned earlier, in which women aren’t allowed to teach boys over the age of eleven. But I don’t think that negates the reality that men ultimately run the church, and that women’s participation in whatever function is always ultimately contingent on male authorization.

  24. 24.

    I’ve heard men express the wish that they could ask their wives for blessings. I think of women whose husbands aren’t LDS, who wish a child could get a blessing when she wakes up sick in the middle of the night, but who are unlikely to call anyone. And I have to wonder whether the need to maintain sharply delineated gender boundaries is trumping people’s real-life spiritual needs.

    Amen.

    Just because I’ve been following the latest Fascinating Womanhood discussion over at FMH, I have to wonder if the all-male priesthood isn’t a relic of an earlier arrangement of gender roles, in which the man was in charge, and the woman gracefully followed his inspired leadership. I’m sure the older GAs grew up in an era when that was the norm. But it simply no longer is. So many of us end up caught between eras–in our home and work lives, we operate in far more egalitarian ways, but we go to church and essentially play Fascinating Womanhood with the power of God on earth. If you need anything important done, you have to get a man to do it–or, at the very least, you are overseen by a man if you’re allowed to do it yourself.

  25. 25.

    No matter what we might say about gender equality, our church services convey a clear unspoken message about which sex is the important one.

    The thing is, not everyone agrees with this. And since it is one of your underlying assumptions, it’s hard to have a conversation.

    Just because someone may sit on the stand does not make them more important!

    And this is not a twisty rationalization, which I am sure someone will accuse me.

    In my professional life, I do community-based participatory research, and we spend a lot of time concerned with formal and informal leadership. In many Latino cultures, the men are the formal leaders, but the real power lies with the grandmother/senior matriarch. You don’t marry anyone or take a job unless abuela approves!

    In many communities, the elected city commissioners are less powerful than the secretary in the utility office who knows everyone, or the silver-haired lady who runs the day care center.

    So it is not true that LDS treat men as more “important.”

  26. 26.

    Good point, z. On the one hand, priesthood is described a really important thing for men to have–it helps them overcome their natural man tendencies and develop spirituality and leadership skills and all kinds of good things. Dare I say, it could even be considered a blessing for them. But at the same time, it’s asserted that women aren’t being excluded from anything meaningful, missing out on any opportunities or blessings because they don’t have it. It gets a bit hard to follow.

  27. 27.

    Naismith–it may be that those informal positions of power are “important.” But they nonetheless require the kind of manipulation and passive-aggression described in Fascinating Womanhood, and I think that exercising power in those ways is frequently antithetical to the kinds of service and collaboration that the creation of Zion-like communities requires. Indeed, I’d say the competition between formal and informal power structures you describe is a recipe for unrighteous dominion, on both sides.

  28. 28.

    Naismith, I don’t think the message of inequality is an assumption — it’s an empirical reality. Some people may regard that inequality as justified or trivial — I don’t, in either case — but to say that it doesn’t exist is just hard to argue. Women can’t pass the sacrament, organize a sacrament meeting speaker schedule, or seal for eternity in the temple. That’s just prima facia inequality. This doesn’t mean men are more “important,” just that they can have power women can’t have, and that’s the inequality of note.

    Seraphine and Lynnette, the examples you point to in the concrete involve ordinances, and I agree that Mormonism creates gender inequality through unequal access to the administration of these central rituals. Yet when talking about the transcendental aspect of priesthood, I don’t know if the ritual aspect is quite on target; maybe, I’m just not sure. Perhaps the transcendental aspect is connected more with “power” than “authority”? If so, then the rituals may not really be instances of it — they seem much more to be instances in which God is asked to do something, no? Sealing for example — except for the second anointing, the other sealing ordinances are really more invocations that God later exercise real sealing than instances of actual power in themselves.

    And the whole power aspect is exactly what seems hard to work through. We don’t really seem to think that priesthood holders have power in themselves; if somebody is healed after a blessing, we seem to attribute the healing to God more than to the guy who did the ritual with the oil and whatnot. Yet people in general do seem to think that there’s something about power involved; sort of a special access to the front of the queue for God’s attention or something? It’s just unclear to me.

    None of this should be taken to mean that I don’t think there are strong social consequences to our current state of inequality — absolutely there are. Just that when we start talking about spiritual or transcendental aspects of inequality, I feel that we may be drifting past the domain where we can be sure we understand what each other is talking about…

  29. 29.

    But they nonetheless require the kind of manipulation and passive-aggression described in Fascinating Womanhood,

    They do NOT. I reject that kind of manipulation just as much as you do.

    Having the priesthood and being FW are NOT the only choices.

    and I think that exercising power in those ways is frequently antithetical to the kinds of service and collaboration that the creation of Zion-like communities

    I don’t agree. It’s all about collaboration. It’s about being active members of the ward council. It’s about listening and sustaining and serving together, and knowing that everybody is serving the Lord and doing his work, not gaining power for one’s self.

    I’d say the competition between formal and informal power structures you describe is a recipe for unrighteous dominion, on both sides.

    I’d say it is about complementing and strengthening each other. It isn’t competitive, it’s respecting each others roles and working together. Being equal although different. It’s made for a great marriage, and has worked well when I’ve served in church leadership. And is very functional in communities that I have observed professionally.

  30. 30.

    Naismith, I don’t think the message of inequality is an assumption — it’s an empirical reality.

    And if I don’t see it that way, I must be stoooopid. Or blind. Or can’t think for myself because I’m a little prairie muffin who just mindlessly follows her man no matter what. Oh surely you could be a little more condescending if you tried?

    Some people may regard that inequality as justified or trivial

    It’s not inherently inequality. It’s differentness, absolutely. I just don’t see that differentness as inequality.

    I can accept that YOU see it that way, but just because you say it is so does not make it so. I don’t share your social construction of reality.

    but to say that it doesn’t exist is just hard to argue. Women can’t pass the sacrament, organize a sacrament meeting speaker schedule, or seal for eternity in the temple. That’s just prima facia inequality.

    It’s differentness. Whether it is inequality is a judgment that is not so clearly obvious.

    Men can’t feel the first fluttering of a new life within them, nor getting to know their baby’s prebirth habits of moving and hiccuping, etc. They don’t get to experience the surreal experience of the last stage of labor, nor the feeling of power at pushing a new life into the world. They can’t experience the pleasure of suckling a baby. Most men can’t even have multiple orgasms! How unequal their lives are!

    This doesn’t mean men are more “important,” just that they can have power women can’t have, and that’s the inequality of note.

    Oh, yeah, all that power. Having been the wife of a bishop, I am not impressed. All it means is being the biggest servant, the one who cleans out the women’s restroom at the park for a ward activity, being woken up in the middle of the night because somebody died. I am trying to think if he ever used his “power” for something he wanted.

  31. 31.

    The thing is, those of us who have sweet feelings about men having the priesthood often do not want to share those thoughts because they will just be pissed all over. But I will try, just for some balance.

    I have lived most of my time as LDS outside of Utah, surrounded by non-members. I’ve seen how other churches operate, and in many traditions, the men are not involved in church or the family. They basically pay the preacher to be the spiritual leader, and the church is predominantly female.

    I love the LDS system not just because it is divinely inspired but because I see it as a better way to that model. It gives something for the guys to do, that brings them in and helps them grow.

    Recently I was at a baptism that was so sweet. The father started to do the ordinance and had to stop for a minute because he was struggling through tears to talk. Then after, he hugged his son and held him for a long minute. It was lovely.

    Nobody in the room doubted that his wife was every bit as righteous and could have performed that ordinance just fine. But after all, she’d been able to carry the pregnancy, birth the baby, nurse the child. I think it was great that dad had a moment to do something that only he could do.

    I have seen how my husband has grown through his priesthood service. And that is why I am pretty much totally supportive of the way things are done.

    This does not make me a Fascinating Woman by any stretch of the imagination. We are equals in our marriage. If a church leader does something stupidly sexist, I bring it to their attention directly. A few weeks ago in sacrament meeting, I spoke about avoiding mindless sexism in the church and the conflict that some young women see between their roles at school/work and church.

    Go ahead, start pissing.

  32. 32.

    Naismith, it’s hard to understand why you phrase your opinions so belligerently. As far as I can tell, no one here objects to men performing ordinances or being involved with their families. If it were a thread about everything that men do right in their callings, I’m sure we could all come up with lots of things. In fact, here’s a post I wrote about precisely that.

    Nobody pissed on me for that, even (gasp!) at fMh. You might try giving your interlocutors the benefit of the doubt.

  33. 33.

    Naismith, wow, you can read negativity into a lot!

    Look, because we disagree doesn’t mean that I think you’re a prairie muffin (what is a prairie muffin?) or some kind of joke. I think you’re wrong on the facts in this instance (and also kind of rude), but nothing more need be read into it than that.

    Regarding inequality and “differentness,” this is probably just a word usage issue. To me, there is no difference between the words. The first definition for “inequality” in the OED is “disparity,” which is in turn defined as “The quality of being unlike or different.” So in standard English usage, there is no distinction between inequality and difference. That you see priesthood differences as difference along gender lines and I see it as inequality along gender lines is the same thing.

    There is, of course, a second way of talking about inequality, involving disparities in power and privilege. This, too, is an objective fact in Mormon priesthood. Some men have powers and privileges that women are categorically denied. Bishops are an okay example if you want; general authorities, temple sealers, etc., are probably better examples.

    On a third level of discourse, inequality may be good or bad. This is where we legitimately differ. On the first two dimensions, we have no disagreement, other than you not liking my word choice for describing a situation that your comment agrees exists but prefers to characterize using a different synonym.

  34. 34.

    Naismith, it’s hard to understand why you phrase your opinions so belligerently

    Because, if you haven’t figured this out, I do NOT like being accused of buying into a Fascinating Womanhood mentality, and yet you declared that my way of doing things “requires the kind of manipulation and passive-aggression described in Fascinating Womanhood.”

    Requires?? Meaning that must be the kind of woman I am.

    I find that a pretty grave insult, and I feel that I’m being pissed on when I am aligned with that sort of behavior, which I neither advocate nor practice.

  35. 35.

    I understand Naismith’s reluctance to post her #31, and although I understand others’ interpretation of her tone as “belligerent,” I doubt it was intended that way. I get the same reaction from the same commenters too often: I know my opinion is unpopular in a given thread, and I know particular commenters are going to express vehement disagreement in terms that feel sound very much like a personal attack, and so I beat them to the punch by being in-your-face first. It doesn’t mean I want to be belligerent; it’s self-protection against what I know is coming.

    Not to put words in your mouth, Naismith; I may be wrong in explaining your thought patterns. But had I written your #31, those would have been my thoughts.

    And I agree, too, with Naismith that different doesn’t necessarily mean unequal. JNS’s definitions imply that there is a superior and an inferior position in every disparity. There isn’t, or doesn’t necessarily have to be. Players on a team have different roles but those differences don’t mean that one position is better than another, or that one player is superior in any way to his teammates by virtue of his team position. Same thing for players in an orchestra (other than the ranking of first and second chairs that occurs within sections — but the bass player isn’t automatically superior to the oboist despite the differences in their parts). When I think of the church, the differences I see between men and women and our roles are not superior and inferior, but different in a way similar to a sports team or orchestra.

    Now I’ll stand in the corner with Naismith and expect to be pissed on.

  36. 36.

    in the OED is “disparity,” which is in turn defined as “The quality of being unlike or different.” So in standard English usage,

    I think you’ve been in grad school too long if you think the OED is an arbiter of “standard English usage.” The OED is used by academics, not everyday folks. How many USAmerican homes even have access to one?

    there is no distinction between inequality and difference.

    Um, I guess I am thinking of like basic math, where if something isn’t equal, then one is greater and one lesser.

    But I appreciate the clarification.

  37. 37.

    And I do apologize if I was being overly negative/belligerent.

  38. 38.

    Naismith — the OED records standard English usage in the US and Britain, not because most folks ever look at it (or any other dictionary) but rather because the people who compile the OED base their definitions on a giant collection of examples of usage of the word in printed sources — i.e., normal English usage.

    Ardis, I have no more interest in pissing on you than on Naismith. I think your team analogy is a useful expression of the arguments for why the differences (which I’m going to keep calling inequalities — meaning not the same) between the sexes in Mormonism might be seen from some points of view as justifiable or even desirable. I don’t agree with those arguments, of course, but that’s a different long conversation. My point is this — one needn’t claim that women should have the priesthood in order to agree with the statement that men and women have unequal access to priesthood in Mormonism.

  39. 39.

    Because, if you haven’t figured this out, I do NOT like being accused of buying into a Fascinating Womanhood mentality, and yet you declared that my way of doing things “requires the kind of manipulation and passive-aggression described in Fascinating Womanhood.”

    Requires?? Meaning that must be the kind of woman I am.

    I find that a pretty grave insult, and I feel that I’m being pissed on when I am aligned with that sort of behavior, which I neither advocate nor practice.

    Naismith, can I try reframing what Kristine said? Hopefully, I’ll capture her meaning (Kristine, feel free to jump in and correct me). She was not saying that that *you* must be someone who is a “Fascinating Woman.” She said that in a power structure women who hold informal power but not formal power often need manipulation to get what they want.

    Of course, this is not necessarily the case–if the men in formal positions of power listen to the women and respect their opinions (which is typically the case), the women don’t have to resort to these tactics. But if you’re in situations where the men do not listen, women must make a choice–do they just go along with the flow? Do they directly oppose the formal power structure? (This typically gets them labeled as a malcontent, though it sounds like you’re able to express your opinion without this happening.) Or do they use the easiest strategy at hand: something that is indirect but at least mildly manipulative since they are unable to be more direct? I’m afraid that I’ve seen quite a lot of the latter in situations where women aren’t able to get what they want through more formal channels.

  40. 40.

    Naismith, Seraphine is right that I didn’t mean to suggest that *you* (or any other particular person I had in mind) resorts to manipulation or underhandedness. My comment was meant to be a more general indictment of a system where certain classes of people must always exercise informal power and sometimes find it necessary to go around those who hold formal power. I can see why you read it the way you did, and I’m sorry that I was unclear initially, and that I didn’t recognize my contribution to your irritation and compounded the error in my next comment. Really, I am sorry.

  41. 41.

    Naismith, do you ever ponder what life might be like if your husband weren’t so accommodating, or if you didn’t have such a forthright and assertive personality? Some women happen to be married to jerks, or aren’t comfortable asserting themselves, and it’s a very different experience.

  42. 42.

    I wish someone could explain why LDS men “need” special opportunities, roles, privileges, powers, whatever you want to call them, in order to be good fathers and engaged in their religious community. Men in many other religious groups manage to participate and behave well without all these extra perks, so I have to wonder why that is.

  43. 43.

    As I have been thinking about some of these discussions as of late, I get the sense that there are some who think it’s just harmless analysis to talk about things like disparity, inequality, marginalization, and sexism (or Fascinating Womanhood? ) when talking about church structure (or those who don’t think something is wrong with it).

    Each of those terms (or approaches) stacks the deck toward a negative view of (and negative conclusions from) these things — and this before a discussion even happens.

    It also feels like there is an academic distancing from spiritual elements to our doctrine that I think are essential to consider when “analyzing” these things — or at least in understanding why some disagree with the negativity. At some point, the dictionary or only a list of who-does-what is, imo, insufficient to really make conclusions about the place of women in the Church or in God’s plan.

    I can understand the desire to analyze the structure; after all, that’s a pretty important measure of an organization in the academic world (I know — organizational structure and behavior and processes were things I studied in grad school). I can understand how it might even be a barrier for some wondering how women fit into God’s plan when they look at the Church as an organization. But I guess that is part of my point. It’s to me almost a given that someone will be puzzled, even frustrated, if looking *only* at the structure. But in my mind, there is much, much more to consider — a whole, Gestalt-like — when trying to assess the place of women in God’s plan, and that bigger picture, imo, can help inform an analysis of “women in the Church.”

    I realize that people will disagree with me and that what matters to me in these discussions will not matter in the same way to others. But it’d be nice if there wasn’t such an insistence that there is no other way to look at things except in a negative light — to leave a little more space for different conclusions rather than “women are less important” and “the church and those who like the way it functions are all stuck in the Fascinating Womanhood era.” It’s possible to be educated, passionate about women’s issues (even feminist?) — and to LIKE the Church’s structure and function and teachings.

  44. 44.

    She said that in a power structure women who hold informal power but not formal power often need manipulation to get what they want.

    I strongly disagree with this. Manipulation is just as much unrighteous dominion as violation of leadership position is. Neither has a place in the gospel.

    Just because wrongs happen doesn’t mean the structure is wrong.

  45. 45.

    “Just because wrongs happen doesn’t mean the structure is wrong.”

    Even if the structure encourages them?

  46. 46.

    I thought that’s what Segullah was supposed to be for.

  47. 47.

    Friendly request: the tactic of framing comments along the lines of, “I’m going to say this even though I know everyone is going to be mean to me as a result” is something we’d like to avoid here, as it loads the situation such that anyone who then does disagree can be immediately dismissed as “mean.” Those who continue to use it run the risk of having those parts of their comments replaced by random Star Wars quotes. You have been warned.

  48. 48.

    ““the church and those who like the way it functions are all stuck in the Fascinating Womanhood era.” ”

    No one said anything like that–not remotely. What I said, and what I meant, is that structures where certain people are relegated to positions of informal power invite those people to get their way by informal means–which frequently include manipulation and passive aggression. Since Fascinating Womanhood had been referenced earlier, I mentioned it. I heartily regret having assumed that we were just having an informal conversation and I could toss off a reference like that without extensive caveats and footnotes.

  49. 49.

    m&m, I’m not saying the manipulation is a *good* thing–I also find things like manipulation and passive-aggressive behavior highly problematic. But I think women often end up with bad choices when those in the formal power structure won’t listen to them. If not saying anything or being direct doesn’t get you want you want, I think it’s understandable that you (i.e. a woman in the church) might resort to manipulation (even though this is not the ideal). And our structure doesn’t allow women more direct methods of recourse (unless, of course, the men are willing to listen to them, which is often what happens, but not always).

  50. 50.

    I think the bottom line for me, m&m, is that the arguments of those who hold views similar to yours just aren’t as persuasive. So what you would characterize as ‘negative’ views, I would simply characterize as ‘accurate’ or ‘supported by facts and reasoned argument.’ The authors’ views are their views, and it seems like you’re asking them to water them down, or express them with less conviction or certainty than they really feel. I understand that your views are heavily influenced by personal religious experiences, intuition, faith, hope, belief, gut feeling, whatever you want to call it, and those things don’t lend themselves to explication in the ZD style of discourse, but I don’t see why that’s a reason for an entire group blog to shift its tone.

    Besides, you have your own blog, right? You don’t lack a platform to express your views and persuade people. Is that not “space”?

  51. 51.

    m&m, also, I think that academic discussion of the church has its role in certain places, one of those places being this blog. I can understand why you might get turned off by the amount of academic (and feminist) analysis at this blog, but for many of us, this is our outlet. We go to church and work on our testimonies and try to understand our place in the universe as daughters of God, and then we come here and try to work out the cognitive and emotional dissonance caused by being believing members of the church with feminist convictions. For us, these conversations aren’t “negative”–they are us trying to work through issues important to our faith–though I understand how they might feel “negative” to you.

  52. 52.

    .

    Man alive. The talk on ZD is moving too fast lately. How can a late-arriver even have a chance at grasping all these threads?

  53. 53.

    Naismith, do you ever ponder what life might be like if your husband weren’t so accommodating, or if you didn’t have such a forthright and assertive personality?

    z, as a Relief Society president, and through my paid and volunteer work in local communities, I certainly do see a wide variety of marriages. I have great feeling and sympathy for the various situations. But I don’t see that any of them would be worse off if they were functioning under an LDS system of priesthood responsibility.

    My husband happens to be a scientist, and the vast majority of his colleagues have been divorced at least once. I feel a a big reason that we are the exception, still happily married after 30+ years, is because of my husband having the priesthood and learning and growing therefrom. The reason he is “accomodating” if you want to use that word is because of his priesthood experiences, not some random lucky thing that happens to have fallen our way.

    Some women happen to be married to jerks,

    And a big function of General Priesthood meetings is to encourage our LDS men not to be jerks. The gospel is an antidote to jerkhood.

    or aren’t comfortable asserting themselves,

    Again, assertiveness is something they might learn from being actively involved in this church. That’s where I learned it. I joined the church in the 70s when Pres. Kimball talked about how we should be equal partners in marriage. I went to women’s conferences where women like Sandra Covey and Ann Madsen spoke with such assurance. I had the opportunity to serve with women who were actively involved on the councils where they served, spoke up when they saw a problem.

    A while back, I heard general RS president Julie Beck speak about how she serves on various boards (church education system, for example) and how she started out just voting along with the male GAs, and they called her to repentance and insisted that she analyze the issues and give her honest opinion.

    So I think assertiveness is an expected attribute of Mormon women, that I’ve learned through my years in the church. It’s not how I was born or raised.

    One of my best friends is a male of another faith, and he has nothing but respect for how we LDS do the lay priesthood thing. He envies the clear role that my husband has in the family, and his opportunities for service.

  54. 54.

    I wanted to say something about the academic distance as well. m&m, your comment suggests (I think) that considering the Gestalt–the big picture–will necessarily yield different conclusions than an analysis of the structure. It is possible, actually, that there are some people who _do_ consider the larger picture and nonetheless come to different conclusions than you do about the beneficence (as opposed to the benevolence) of the church’s structure and the place of women in that structure. But if I bear my testimony that God loves women and that I’ve had a spiritual witness that that love is not fully manifest in the LDS church’s treatment of women*, and you bear witness that it is, we’re done talking–there is nothing else I can say that won’t be a personal attack on your testimony, nothing you can say that I won’t feel is trying to invalidate something precious to me. Achieving some “distance” is actually a victory in that situation–it rescues us from the potential solipsism of personal revelation and creates space for discussion which could not exist if we were each insisting on our inward experience of truth.

    *NB–this is a hypothetical!

  55. 55.

    those things don’t lend themselves to explication in the ZD style of discourse, but I don’t see why that’s a reason for an entire group blog to shift its tone.

    but for many of us, this is our outlet.

    Besides, you have your own blog, right? You don’t lack a platform to express your views and persuade people. Is that not “space”?

    This is all a bit of an interesting response to me, seeing as the ‘nacle has always been a place where different viewpoints gather on blogs like this. As part of that community, and part of the church, and as a Mormon woman, I have wanted to be able to say “Hey, other Mormon women see things differently” so that as people come by and read they can see a variety of perspectives. And sometimes y’all have been ok with that kind of dialogue, no? (And it’s not like I’m the only person who brings in that kind of perspective.)

    I completely understand wanting to define your space in your way, though. So I’ll bow out.

  56. 56.

    m&m, I’m not sure I want to re-hash the kind of meta-question of whether it’s even legitimate to think about the church in this kind of way; I think we’ve done the rounds on that one more than once. Not to say that I’m opposed to further discussion of the subject; I think there are a lot of fascinating questions involved–the question of how faith relates to an academic approach to religion is, for obvious reasons, one that I find of particular interest. But in this thread, I was kind of hoping to discuss female ordination.

    A few other points of clarification. Like Naismith in #31, I’ve had a lot of really positive experiences with LDS men exercising their priesthood; I actually have a deep appreciation for the ways in which I think it calls men to challenge some of the problematic cultural ideals of masculinity. As I said in the post, I think Mormon priesthood is a pretty neat thing.

    Also, fwiw, I honestly don’t assume that people who don’t share my point of view must be prairie muffins (JNS, if you aren’t familiar with the term, you totally need to go read this) or that they are following the ideals of Fascinating Womanhood. Could we maybe keep the discussion focused on people’s own views and experiences, rather than speculating about how others in the discussion are seeing them?

  57. 57.

    JNS, I meant to respond to your comments back in #28, but then I got distracted. I guess the point that I was trying to make is that even if God is the one who is doing the “sealing” ultimately, men are the ones who have access to make that request of God (and prayers by women won’t have the same effect–maybe women can heal with their prayers, but I don’t think anyone in the church would claim that they have access to the sealing power through their prayers). And not all ordinance “power” takes place in the future–we literally believe that a baptism makes a person clean, and even if it’s God doing the cleansing, men are the ones who are able to make sure that cleansing by God actually happens.

    I realize it all gets very murky because we don’t know the exact way the priesthood works (i.e. what *actually* physically happens when people are baptized or sealed?), but I think Lynnette is totally right that if we’re going to make claims that our priesthood is something that makes us different from other churches (our rituals and ordinances actually have the “power” to save and cleanse and seal, etc., in the eternities), it is disingenuous to weaken that when talking about gender and priesthood.

  58. 58.

    Kristine, our comments crossed. I will say (in response to you and to Seraphine, and to z for that matter) that I am not opposed to academic discussion and my point is not to absolutely pit academia against testimony. I think there are critical *objective* elements of our doctrine missing in discussions like these, even before faith and personal revelation come into the equation.

  59. 59.

    m&m, I don’t think it’s a question of different perspectives per se. Without those, it would be a pretty boring conversation. But I didn’t see a different perspective on female ordination in your comment, but rather a kind of broad statement questioning the legitimacy of the basic way I think about the church. Not that I think that should be immune to questioning, certainly, but your comment–at least to me–came across not as a, “I see things differently,” but rather, “it’s a problem to even write posts like this.” The former I can engage; I’m not sure how to respond to the latter.

  60. 60.

    Lynette — one of the statements that was in my head when I made my comment was this one from your OP, which I can boil down to an “I see things differently” issue:

    No matter what we might say about gender equality, our church services convey a clear unspoken message about which sex is the important one.

    I think the only “clear” message is that there is definitely gender-based difference in church functioning, in who does more ordinance work, in the vein in your OP. But to then make a conclusion about which gender is more “important” I think is taking too much of a logical leap.

    Is that better? :)

  61. 61.

    Naismith, going back to your #25 and the question of importance–I wasn’t intending to make an assertion about whether men or women are actually more important. I was thinking more about what unspoken messages are being conveyed by the fact that (for example) almost all the speakers at General Conference are male, or that the person who presides over a ward is male.

    I’m thinking about this in the way that if you regularly watch a television show in which left-handed people are always the villains, that’s going to influence how you see lefties. I guess I’m making the rather mundane point that the things we see shape our view of the world and how things ought to work. And the fact that men are much more visible at church, I would say, is inevitably going to affect the ways we think about men and women.

    I’m not proposing that it’s a good idea to judge the value of service by its visibility; clearly that isn’t the case. But one of the things that appeals to me about female ordination is that having a woman preside over a congregation in and of itself sends a powerful message about female capability. It’s not that she’s in some kind of fortunate position in which her service gets recognized; I would say rather that her willingness to be visible is an aspect of that service. This might seem like a minor thing, and maybe it is–but on the other hand, a religious context is one in which symbolism really does matter and is taken quite seriously.

  62. 62.

    Lynnette,
    Thanks for expressing your thoughts so beautifully in another great post. I’m sorry I missed you at the mini snacker today.

  63. 63.

    Thanks for being so clear, m&m. I’ll barge in and pretend to speak for Lynnette and then she can come along later and strike out everything I’ve said that she doesn’t like. :)

    I don’t think the difference is only in ordinance work. It’s just as obvious, or perhaps more obvious, in administrative work. Who runs the general meetings? Who makes the budget decisions, collects the tithing, decides who gets fast offerings, makes the callings?

    Also, I’m sure this will come as no surprise, but I disagree with you that the step from “there’s a difference where men do everything and women nothing” to “the message is that men are more important” is a leap. I think it’s quite straightforward. You were on Stephanie’s thread over at fMh. When kids see this kind of thing, they jump right to that conclusion. Not that what kids think is always the best basis for deciding how things are, but kids are typically pretty good at cutting through adults’ wishy-washy explanations to decide what’s going on based on what they see.

  64. 64.

    Ziff,

    I understand that logic. But I still think it’s incomplete.

    Kids will also see that life is grossly unfair at face value. But any conclusions about God being unfair simply because of what we see would be incorrect. At some point, we have to help them learn to see beyond what they can see, especially in terms of issues of faith.

    That said, I still think there are things that can be seen about the core of our doctrines and practices — most notably that both women and men can receive all the ordinances necessary to come to Christ and enjoy the blessings of the atonement, and that the highest blessings of the gospel are only pronounced on a couple, a partnership — to me are tangible evidences that to me indicate that the conclusion that “men are more important” is not reflective of divine truth. I can understand why some might go there, though, or why the questions are there. What I was saying before is that at some level I think it comes down to a different set of assumptions and measurements for what indicates ‘importance.’ There’s no question that there would be symbolic power to women being ordained or presiding over a congregation. But is that the only way to really be ‘equal’ before God? I obviously believe that it’s not, particularly because of the aforementioned reasons, which to me are tangible evidences.

    Lynnette, I know that your #61 was directed at Naismith, but I appreciated it. Although it’s obvious where I stand on this, I can appreciate the struggle of sorting through the structure to figure out what it all means. It’s not like I haven’t wondered about these things. Not that this makes my comments any less annoying, perhaps, but when I share my perspective, it’s not in denial of what is ‘seen’ and how that might be processed, or without a recognition that being willing to accept that women are not less important than men still leaves some question marks as to why things are the way they are.

    I think it was Elder Maxwell who once said we know so little about why these gender differences exist. I appreciate that comment, because I think it’s true. … and perhaps that not knowing why can be one of the more difficult elements of it all?

  65. 65.

    m&m, I do appreciate your addressing the original post. ;) And I think we are at least agreed that “there is definitely gender-based difference in church functioning, in who does more ordinance work,” so that’s a start! That particular statement that you quoted wasn’t actually meant to be a statement about who is in fact more important, though I can see that I didn’t convey that very well. (My earlier comment was an attempt to clarify what I was trying to say, though I don’t know if that helps.)

    I’m thinking of some of the consequences of male-only ordination that I mentioned in this post–it means that women have less power in the organization; that many decisions are made by councils of men which don’t include female perspectives; that women don’t have the opportunity for spiritual development that comes with priesthood ordination; that men, whether or not they’re more “important,” are necessary to the church in a way that women aren’t (you can have a ward of all men, but not vice versa); that women don’t ultimately have autonomy, because all female activities have to be approved by men. Does all of this mean that women are less important? Truth to tell, I’m actually much less interested in that question, than in the question of how these things affect women’s (and men’s) religious lives.

  66. 66.

    Th.,

    Man alive. The talk on ZD is moving too fast lately. How can a late-arriver even have a chance at grasping all these threads?

    Just do what the rest of us do. Skim the post, skim the comments, and with only a vague sense of what the conversation is about, jump in to tell everyone how wrong they are. ;)

    mmiles, I’m sorry to have not gotten to mini-snack with you. Hopefully I’ll see you at the next such event later this spring.

  67. 67.

    I think it comes down to a different set of assumptions and measurements for what indicates ‘importance.’

    Yeah, I think that’s why I was finding myself not all that interested in the question of importance, once I started thinking about it. Because it always seems to turn into a discussion not about any actual practice or teaching, but rather about what it means to be “important”–and as you say, people have very different ideas about that–and it’s like a black hole. And because sometimes I think it gets thrown out as a kind of consolation prize–no, you don’t get all these opportunities, but it’s okay because you’re important. I think I’d rather look at questions like whether women have equal opportunities for growth or have an equal voice, maybe because those seem like clearer issues than this nebulous notion of importance (though admittedly I was the one who used the term in the first place!).

  68. 68.

    Seraphine #57 (tracing out this narrow thread in the melee): I don’t think we disagree on the sex-and-priesthood issues here. I agree completely that the kinds of ritual inequality related to the ordinances are hugely important, and symbolic in ways that just can’t be gotten around. Baptism, they say, is the gateway to the straight and narrow path; I guess a Y chromosome is the knocker on the door? I certainly wouldn’t in any way want to minimize the importance of the inequalities connected with these ritual differences, nor the social messages these send to children, new converts, and probably all of us.

    My point about the confusing, ill-defined, and potentially incoherent nature of priesthood power as opposed to administrative and ritual authority is one that I would also make in a thread about how priesthood makes the LDS church different from all others. It’s a construction of difference between priesthood and the prayer/blessings of faith that I can’t get my mind around — nor, obviously, have Mormons in all times and places been able to make good sense of such a definition, given the now well-documented fact that Mormon women throughout the 19th century routinely gave healing prayers and blessings that were regarded as just as efficacious and powerful as anything done by priesthood-holding men.

    I should note that I absolutely agree that Mormons in general feel that there is a transcendental power of priesthood as opposed to faith or God in general, and that this belief clearly reinforces gender inequality. My intervention here is simply along the lines of asking whether we can offer a definition of priesthood that clarifies all this…

    On the broader debate regarding whether inequality exists at all in the Mormon church, I’m not sure this is a helpful conversation. People outside of Mormonism who know anything about the issues generally agree that there is inequality between men and women in Mormonism, so this isn’t about framing for potential converts. The ZD people aren’t going to be persuaded that there isn’t inequality — because given broadly accepted definitions of the term in society and especially in social science, there just empirically is. Furthermore, people who believe there is no inequality don’t seem to have substantive arguments to offer, other than that women have a place in Mormonism. Certainly they do — just that the place involves more institutional constraints than the place of men. Are there further substantive arguments? Note that testimonies will not do — you have yours, I have mine, she has hers, etc. We need reason as well as faith on this…

  69. 69.

    m&m,

    I have wanted to be able to say “Hey, other Mormon women see things differently” so that as people come by and read they can see a variety of perspectives. And sometimes y’all have been ok with that kind of dialogue, no?

    As I understand it, it is ok to say things like that. Not that it’s exactly news to anyone that some women are fine with the way they are being treated– isn’t that obvious in most wards?

    But I don’t understand what you want when you say “space”. You’ve been allowed say, over and over, for years and years, that you know everything’s fine based on reasons you can’t really explain. And nobody’s really trying to stop you, aside from asking you to provide substantive arguments rather than your usual fallback pleading.

    If by asking for “space” you mean that you want the bloggers and other posters to act like haven’t already concluded that your views are erroneous, I think that’s unreasonable. People are entitled to express their views even if it makes others uncomfortable.

  70. 70.

    My question for those who insist that “different” is not necessarily “unequal” is: how do we know? How can we distinguish “different but still equal” from “different AND unequal”? It seems like that’s where the arguments on that side are falling apart.

  71. 71.

    m&m, I do appreciate your efforts to look at why these things might be seen as problems, even if that’s not a view you personally hold.

    most notably that both women and men can receive all the ordinances necessary to come to Christ and enjoy the blessings of the atonement, and that the highest blessings of the gospel are only pronounced on a couple, a partnership

    I very much agree that there are clearly egalitarian aspects to the church. The strong emphasis on personal revelation, for example, which is available to both women and men. The core ideal of bringing all people to Christ, and the universalist impulse that seeks to give everyone an opportunity to do so. The emphasis on social justice in both the Book of Mormon and the Hebrew Bible. The teaching that all human beings are literally children of God and have the potential to become like him (them?—that of course has the Heavenly Mother question mark, but I do like the way the children of God doctrine shapes our view of what it means to be human, and how we should treat other human beings). I do want to acknowledge those things.

    (Quick sidenote: I actually wouldn’t include the bit about only couples getting the highest blessings on this list, because I think that’s actually a blow against gender equality rather than for, given the way in which it intertwines exaltation with being in a patriarchal relationship. But that’s probably a discussion for another time.)

    I imagine that in these kinds of conversations it might seem that I overlook all this, or don’t take it seriously as part of the church. And I don’t deny that I can focus so much on what I see as problems that I don’t give enough airtime to the many things I appreciate in LDS teachings. But it’s actually precisely because I take those teachings seriously that I find myself wondering about something like female ordination. My belief in the spiritual potential of both women and men, which is of course quite relevant to this question—for me, that’s very much grounded in my Mormon worldview. When I critique particular gendered aspects of the church, it’s not necessarily because I’m overlooking these teachings; rather, it’s because I take them seriously. In a sense, they’re the backdrop to the questions I’m raising here.

    I think where we hit an impasse is that you cite those aspects of the church which reflect greater gender equality–which we both agree are there—and use them as a reason to question whether other church teachings and practices actually reflect some kind of lesser status for women. (You can tell me if I’m summarizing your argument correctly.) Whereas I see those teachings as all the more reason to call into question things that might undermine these ideals.

  72. 72.

    Ziff, in reference to your earlier comment, do you remember the studies they did in the 1950s, in the context of the question of ending school segregation, in which they gave children racially mixed dolls and found that both white and black children attributed positive characteristics to the white dolls, and negative ones to the black ones? On the one hand, I’m thinking m&m has a valid point that children get faulty ideas about the world and it’s important to challenge those ideas. But I also think, as it sounds like you’re getting at, that it’s legitimate–and even necessary–to ask hard questions about why children are getting these ideas in the first place, and what that tells us about the messages we’re sending and the values we actually hold.

  73. 73.

    To quote someone smarter than me:

    How can we distinguish “different but still equal” from “different AND unequal”?

    It’s the one that holds the purse-strings. Give the women budgetary authority. Voila. I don’t think this even requires any sort of doctrinal change. Just hand over the bucks, guys.

    This is where I feel (other than personal testimonies, which are unassailable) the “we women really are equal, really really, you just have to squint in the right light and hold the world slightly sideways” argument falls flat.

  74. 74.

    #70 z ~ How can we distinguish “different but still equal” from “different AND unequal”?

    Z, I realize you’re not asking me, but here is my answer to that question:

    Having options is always superior to not having options. Men have far more options within the LDS church organization, therefore their position is superior. It is not “different but equal,” it is simply “different and unequal.”

    Every single person who has tried to convince me otherwise has relied on gilded cage arguments, “but women can have babies” arguments, or merely referred to their testimonies and asserted that they know everything is equal even though they can’t logically argue it.

    Without fail. Happens every time.

  75. 75.

    I’d just like to mention, totally apropos of nothing, how much I always enjoy m&m’s comments.

  76. 76.

    [...] Ordination Envy [...]

  77. 77.

    Lynnette,
    Great post. It took me a long time to wade through the comments (I missed the posting, I guess), but it was worth it.

    The conversation was exactly as I expected.

    I do feel bad that it mostly wasn’t about women’s ordination.

    As I type, I am listening to Veggie Tales, “Lord of the Beans” a very clever take on the movie Lord of the Rings. At the end, Toto discovers that the gift he’s been given (the magic bean with power to do many things, among them, create small kitchen appliances) is supposed to be used to help people, and even though the “Elders were lying, they couldn’t keep him from discovering the truth about his gift.”

    This silly movie just reminds me that I don’t want to rely on a patriarchy of the church to determine my own religious experience. I don’t think that our church leaders are lying, but I do think the current church structure can prevent women from realizing their potential as spiritual beings. So, I can use the church to supplement my religious life, but if I make it the center I will feel hurt and empty.

    I’ve been thinking this ever since I wrote my Articles of Faith, but I am still having trouble putting them into practice. There is something about the tradition and ritual of Mormon life that makes it comforting in some ways.

    But, I will say that I am envious of other women being ordained. I don’t know that I would choose to do it (I’d have to come to an understanding with God for that), but I would love to have it be an option.

  78. 78.

    Great discussion…

    In order for equality to exist, women need the priesthood. End of story, IMO

    But sometimes equality isn’t what people look at or want.

  79. 79.

    Great post, Lynnette! I’m usually more of a lurker rather than a commenter. I don’t really have anything new or exciting to add than what’s already been said.

    When it comes to female ordination I feel a lot like you…I don’t know if I’d actually want it, but I really would like the opportunity to do so.

    It is frustrating and confusing to me to be in a religion that places so much emphasis on gender. I think of the Family Proclamation and tells me what my role should be. I should be a mother, the main nurturer. I’m not that great of a nurturer. I don’t have this big desire to nurture every child I come in contact with, I’ve never ever been baby hungry and I have one one year old boy and I don’t want to have anymore…for me I really have no desire to birth/raise “spirit” children in the next life. So if I don’t feel that way is there something inherently wrong with me and maybe I’ll be changed in the next life to think differently? I have a hard time finding a comfortable place in the next life. Either I want to keep having kids in the next life or if I don’t want that then I don’t get to be with my husband? Or what if I were single does that mean I just get glommed on to some other guy with a few extra wives? I know this goes off topic, but for me it all comes down to gender and the church. what does this life say about life in the next for me as a woman? Where’s HM? Will I just be a silent partner in the next?

    In my stake it’s a policy that women can’t be alone in the church ever without at least two Melchizedek priesthood holders…we just wanted as a group of RS sisters to get together to exercise in the cultural hall in the mornings…pretty soon we just gave up asking HP to help out and did it on our own. THe SP took the hint and gave in, but told us to make sure we locked all the doors!!!!! So we’re so much safer with 70ish year old men who also have the priesthood?

    Maybe if we as women got those opportunities to be ordained, have the priesthood we wouldn’t get the we’re so defenseless treatment as well.

  80. 80.

    Are there any girls in the UCC who grow up wondering if God loves boys more than God loves girls?

    We know there are girls asking that question in Mormon wards, if not on a regular basis, at least often enough to get Pres. Hinckley’s attention.

    It seems to me that LDS ordination practices, and the resulting visibility of service (not to mention some of the day-to-day invisible services necessary for a functioning local unit – membership clerks, finance clerks, mission leaders, Sacrament cup cleaner-uppers and preparers, etc.) may be contributing to the need for the question.

    If my daughter came up to me and asked if I loved her more than her brother, my first response would be to want to assure her that was not the case and then ask why she would think that. And if the reason was something so trivial as, “Well, he gets all the apples and I don’t any,” well, I think I’d start letting her have some apples, not just tell her that she gets all the oranges and he doesn’t, so she should be happy with what she got.

    If a woman were to be ordained and carry a Sacrament tray or immerse a new convert or act as an official witness at a sealing or a baptism or ensure correct doctrine is preached during Sacrament Meeting or take the tithing deposit to the bank – would that diminish her femininity? Would it rob a man of his masculinity? Would expanding priesthood power and responsibilities make others’ ordinations less meaningful?

    Why is it bad for women to be ordained to the LDS priesthood? Why is it good for every boy who turns 12 to be ordained a deacon or for every adult convert to be ordained a priest, whether or not he wants to serve in the priesthood for the rest of his life?

  81. 81.

    LRC,
    I don’t know if you saw Kiskilili’s post last month that talks about how Priesthood is the non-feminine way of having virtue. I think it’s applicable to what you were talking about. You might check it out if you haven’t already.

    Here’s a quote from the second to last paragraph.

    To a large extent, Christian virtues are coded as feminine. Where does that leave men in a Church also insisting gender is an essential aspect of eternal identity? They’re commanded to cultivate these virtues under the implicit understanding that they’re perhaps not able, or maybe even suitable, for such virtues. What’s needed in this framework is a conception of masculinity that makes virtue accessible to men through an avenue specifically coded as non-feminine, and priesthood provides exactly that.

    It’s an interesting spin that makes sense to me in a world where a man is generally looked down upon if he is feminine.

  82. 82.

    So, the reason men are ordained and women are not is that it’s bad for boys to act like girls, a la the lovely playground epithet, “You run like a girl!” and men cannot/will not nurture their spiritual sides unless there’s a way for them to do it and not be accused of being “girly-men”? Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Not.

    What does that have to do with keeping women from ordination? Or from serving as ward clerks? If women start officiating in priesthood ordinances and working in priesthood functions, does that make priesthood abhorrent to men? When women become doctors and lawyers and professors and firefighters, do men stop wanting to do those things?

  83. 83.

    My mother served as a ward clerk in the 1930′s in Nevada. Many callings in the Church could be opened up to women, who would be outstanding in the callings.

    Because I have seen so many women overlooked and mistreated in the Church, I would like to see the Relief Society presidency as co-equals with the bishopric. I believe they should have the right to suggest and veto Church calling ideas, ward calendaring, and the training of female leaders in wards.

    Too many male leaders micromanage women, overlook and mistreat widows and single sisters, and do not consider the full impact callings will have on busy parents. I believe women’s input would be invaluable in strengthening families and the church.

  84. 84.

    From your thoughtful essay I think you might call it “ordination appreciation.”

    I think you appreciate it for what it is. And you also have some good understanding of what it isn’t.

    Which is a good thing on both accounts.

  85. 85.

    Anon, (#79)

    One of my friends was assaulted and badly beaten in our chapel by a man who wandered in off the street while she was there.

    I can understand why good-hearted men, priesthood or no, would like to make sure that one of them was around to try to prevent that from happening as the last couple of women are leaving a building after an activity, even if the man was 70 years old. I know my father would.

    After my friend’s experience, I don’t see it as a vote of no-confidence. I see it as an expression of brotherly care.

  86. 86.

    Anon12, I think it’s just degrading to have to put up with that kind of gender micromanagement of your exercise time. Sure, you went ahead and violated the rules and as it happened you didn’t get slapped down, but they didn’t have to let you, and to be in that situation at all is inherently humiliating.

  87. 87.

    When I was a youth in the early 1970s, the ordination of blacks to the priesthood was a hot topic, with many nonmormons accusing us of being racist. There were those who disagreed with the Church’s position and were quite vocal and public about it. There were all kinds of rationalizations, explanations, and justifications about why this was so. Most of these have not stood up well since the 1978 revelation.
    A wise seminary teacher recommended that I avoid all these and simply observed “It’s God’s Priesthood. It is for Him to say who should have it, and who should not.”.
    The present discussion has shifted from racism to sexism, but the urge to rationalize and justify either a change or the status quo is similar, and to me, this recommendation still stands up well.
    If the Priesthood really does come from God, then to put it bluntly, what you or I think about why or whether women should or should not be ordained to the Priesthood is irrelevant.
    On the other hand, it it could be conferred solely by human decision, it would be just as empty and powerless as any other manmade priesthood.

  88. 88.

    There is authority and there is power and influence. My experience in leadership positions in the church has been that the RS President has more power and influence over the Bishop than any other member in the ward. That is my opinion from a practical standpoint.

    From another standpoint I have become pretty skeptical of most things surrounding religion in recent years.

  89. 89.

    Someone talked about ordaining the RLDS women back in the 80′s, giving women the priesthood.
    How can you give what you do not have?

  90. 90.

    LRC–just to clarify, in the post Jessawhy linked I was attempting to describe the situation as it is and get a handle on what priesthood means in the context of the construction of masculinity in Mormonism–not prescribe the situation as I think it should be. Personally I’m entirely opposed to coding virtue as feminine to begin with, although I think that’s part of the structure that sustains the connection between masculinity and priesthood.

    You ask:

    “When women become doctors and lawyers and professors and firefighters, do men stop wanting to do those things?”

    Again, speaking from the perspective of what is and not what I wish were, I would answer–yes. There’s abundant evidence that when something becomes associated with women it becomes off-limits to men (clothing trends is one site where this is fairly clear; we don’t see a lot of straight men in make-up, lace, or high heels anymore).

  91. 91.

    Kiskilili,

    Thanks for clearing that up. I shouldn’t just post your thread and then make you come back and explain it :)

    You’re right about the masculinity thing. Mark and I were watching the pairs figure skating in the Olympics yesterday and he wondered why there aren’t American couples in the run for the gold medal. My guess was that figure skating is that most American men see figure skating as feminine and so there’s not a huge competition for the best athletes. (I could be way off here). The movie Blades of Glory from a few years ago reinforced the femininity of figure skating.

  92. 92.

    I’m sure you’re right about figure skating, Jessawhy!

    No worries–I figured a little context is always helpful. I can’t expect people to read my mind and intuit that I’m an outrageous feminist! ;)

  93. 93.

    Just a quick thought on the seminary teacher’s saying of: “It’s God’s Priesthood. It is for Him to say who should have it, and who should not.” I found it ironic in the context of the discussion, that the male aspect of God is the one who gets to decide about the priesthood, rather than the joint male and female aspect of God. In other words, the inherent bias in our church language struck me more strongly when I read this than it usually does.

    Anyway, not trying to derail the conversation, just making an observation.

  94. 94.

    Kiskilili, you answer the question, “When women become doctors and lawyers and professors and firefighters, do men stop wanting to do those things?” with an affirmative. But I don’t think that’s really right, is it? Certainly there are many more women in law school now than 30 years ago, yet men don’t seem to have dropped out of the profession to any noticeable extent…

  95. 95.

    JNS, actually I think law as a profession has adapted to women’s increased presence by coding certain aspects of law (family law, especially) as feminine and having other areas of practice (corporate litigation, for instance) become even more masculinized. ECS would no doubt have better data than my half-remembered stray readings.

  96. 96.

    Kristine, interesting! I suppose that working in one of perhaps the few pretty fully gender-integrated professions may affect my perceptions on all this…

  97. 97.

    Kristine and JNS-

    Yes, women lawyers have a very secure place in the legal profession. It’s called the “Mommy Track” instead of the partnership track.

    See this NY Times article for interesting analysis.

    Although the nation’s law schools for years have been graduating classes that are almost evenly split between men and women, and although firms are absorbing new associates in numbers that largely reflect that balance, something unusual happens to most women after they begin to climb into the upper tiers of law firms. They disappear.

    According to the National Association for Law Placement, a trade group that provides career counseling to lawyers and law students, only about 17 percent of the partners at major law firms nationwide were women in 2005, a figure that has risen only slightly since 1995, when about 13 percent of partners were women.

  98. 98.

    mb #85,

    Yes, in my area it’s so scary here in Utah County where there’s even a remote chance of all that violence from random people coming into the church and beating all of us 10 women. We’re never alone. We always have each other. It’s just insulting that it had to be TWO Melchizedek priesthood holders that are usually high priests and are retired since they could come sometimes during the day. But they couldn’t come always and I think it was pretty ridiculous to make us women suffer because we couldn’t find enough men to help us out everyday and the fact that we even needed to have men there is utter nonsense. We don’t live in an unsafe area and we’re a pack of women and big and strong and we could take anybody coming in to “beat” us. So your brotherly love to me is just treating us like children and patronizing us.

    Anybody alone in the building could’ve been taken by surprise and beaten by that man. If it’s going to be a policy it should be one for both genders.

  99. 99.

    JNS (#68), I’m still struggling to pin down what priesthood means too, in addition to its administrative and ritual aspects. And I’m thinking about Kiskilili’s recent post making the point that that women can at least in some settings do almost everything a priesthood holders can do, making the whole thing even murkier.

    When we talk about priesthood as a power, I’m thinking of two possibilities: 1) those with the priesthood actually are given a bit of God’s power, that allows them to influence the world in a way they wouldn’t be able to otherwise—though that might not fit with the general idea that it’s all contingent on God’s will/action; 2) when something is done with the priesthood, vs. a prayer of faith, that adds some kind of bonus, so that God is more likely to go along with the request. Though that would reduce priesthood to some kind of extra credit with God–plus we end up with the unsettling possibility that males have a certain privileged access to God, or at least are more likely to get their case heard and get an answer. But if we’re saying that priesthood actually means something, has some kind of efficacy that can’t be found elsewhere, that’s one way that could be understood.

  100. 100.

    Jack (#74),

    Having options is always superior to not having options. Men have far more options within the LDS church organization, therefore their position is superior. It is not “different but equal,” it is simply “different and unequal.”

    I like the way you put this; I think talking about options is more helpful than a lot of the other language we use around this. And I’m thinking that in an LDS context, with the notion of eternal progression—one element of which is expanding one’s options, one’s possibilities—this definitely has resonance.

    Jess (#77)

    The conversation was exactly as I expected.

    I do feel bad that it mostly wasn’t about women’s ordination.

    That made me laugh! The classic blogging dynamic.

    Anon12 (#79)

    So if I don’t feel that way is there something inherently wrong with me and maybe I’ll be changed in the next life to think differently?

    That’s a disturbing question, and one I’ve wondered about too. If I’m happy in the next life with the gender set-up, will it be because I’ve been convinced that women are better in a subordinate position? Will I get turned into a person who is enthusiastic about polygamy? That’s one reason why I think an answer along the lines of, it will all make sense in the next life, isn’t always that reassuring.

  101. 101.

    LRC (#80),

    I agree; the fact that women are constantly being reassured that God loves them just as much, that they’re just as important, says a lot about the other nonverbal messages that are being sent and therefore have to be countered.

    mb (#84), I like “ordination appreciation.”

    Confutus (#87),

    If the Priesthood really does come from God, then to put it bluntly, what you or I think about why or whether women should or should not be ordained to the Priesthood is irrelevant.

    True, if your understanding of God is someone whose actions/intervention are completely independent of human action. I can see much in LDS doctrine pointing toward a somewhat different model of God though; one who doesn’t usually initiate revelation except in response to human requests, who is genuinely in a two-way relationship with humans (meaning that both can influence the other), and who does seem to care what humans think.

    In any case, regardless of whether it’s God will that women not be ordained at this time (a possibility I’m willing to entertain), I still think it’s legitimate to look at the costs of that, the way it shapes the experience of women in the church.

    Anonymous (#93)

    I found it ironic in the context of the discussion, that the male aspect of God is the one who gets to decide about the priesthood, rather than the joint male and female aspect of God.

    Ha—in a way, there’s the problem right there! I also think that referring to other (not legitimate) priesthood as “manmade” is kind of interesting in this context.

  102. 102.

    Lynnette, interestingly, I’d say that phenomenologically Mormons don’t really appear to accept either of your two accounts of priesthood as power. The first account, in which the priesthood holder has a share of divine power in himself, would make the priesthood holder the personal source of blessings, the efficacy of ordinances, and so forth. This appears not to be what most Mormons think — for at least two reasons. First, when a blessing goes along with healing, comfort, etc., standard Mormon practice is to give the credit, and most of the thanks, to God, not the priesthood holder. Second, when ordinances are performed by unworthy priesthood holders, we nonetheless regard the ordinances as valid, suggesting that the operative force isn’t in the priesthood holder.

    Regarding the extra bonus idea, I don’t think in practice that Mormons believe this, either, except possibly in the limited context of healing blessings. When it comes to other priesthood functions, such as personal revelation, ministering of angels, etc., Mormon folklore suggests that women are at least as good at these as men, and pre-priesthood-age male children often have such powers in folktales as well. So it seems that Mormons don’t regard priesthood as enhancing the probability of success in these domains.

    It seems plausible to me, though, that in the special context of healing blessings, priesthood is understood in popular Mormonism as working this way.

    I’d accept Kiskilili’s account of priesthood as basically a Laclauian empty signifier; this seems to better fit the overall structure of Mormon attitudes than any account of it that assigns real transcendental — as opposed to social and ecclesiastical — power.

  103. 103.

    Okay, here’s another thought. What if the meaning of priesthood isn’t that of an independent power or a kind of extra bonus–since I think you’ve pointed out problems with both of those models–but rather that holding the priesthood means that you have the opportunity to participate in divine action in a particular way? Not that the priesthood-holders are the source of the power, but they’re involved in channeling it, so to speak. And while non-priesthood holders can petition God and potentially get the same results, they can’t be involved in the process in the same way.

    (I’m thinking that this question is possibly just a specific instance of the more general problem of how grace interacts with freedom; what does it mean for humans to meaningfully participate in a process that is divinely initiated and carried out?)

    One interesting implication of this model would be that it suggests that one of the major blessings of the priesthood lies in that very opportunity to participate–calling into question the commonly expressed sentiment that it doesn’t matter who actually holds the priesthood, since everyone gets the blessings equally.

  104. 104.

    So what would be the different “way”s of participating?

  105. 105.

    I’m thinking along the lines of the difference between praying for God to grant a blessing, and giving a blessing–in the former, your role is solely that of the petitioner, while in the latter, you actually play some role in mediating the blessing (even though it still ultimately comes from God).

  106. 106.

    Ok… so the idea is that the same blessing or whatever would be in some way different depending on the man through whom it passed? In what way(s) would it be different? Anything substantive? Anything within the conscious control of the mediator? I think that’s a very interesting idea, but potentially a huge can of worms.

    It’s so disappointing to me that these things aren’t better fleshed out by the actual Church itself. I can’t figure out why that is, chicken patriarchy I guess.

  107. 107.

    This appears not to be what most Mormons think — for at least two reasons. First, when a blessing goes along with healing, comfort, etc., standard Mormon practice is to give the credit, and most of the thanks, to God, not the priesthood holder. Second, when ordinances are performed by unworthy priesthood holders, we nonetheless regard the ordinances as valid, suggesting that the operative force isn’t in the priesthood holder.

    Very interesting point, JNS. I generally agree, with exception of course for blessings performed by General Authorities or other prominent men renown for their piety/effectiveness. If someone is given a blessing by a GA – or even a bishop – the receiver of the blessing typically name drops the giver of the blessing during the conversation.

  108. 108.

    Lynnette, the channeling proposal is a nice one. I worry about how it holds up relative to the point about how ordinances performed by secretly unworthy priesthood holders are regarded as fully valid in Mormonism, though. It may be that this tradition is fully compatible with the view of priesthood holders as channels for divine power, but there are at least some issues to be worked through. In particular, Mormon scripture is clear to the point that people with hidden sins repulse the power associated with priesthood, and thus couldn’t very well serve as conduits; yet, the ordinations, baptisms, confirmations, baby blessings, and so forth that they do evidently stick, even so. Possibly the story should be that priesthood holders are an optional conduit? I.e., the power connected with the blessing or ordinance will go through exactly the same, whether directly from God to the recipient or via the priesthood holder, such that the experience of being a conduit is only relevant to the priesthood holder and not the recipient of ordinance or blessing? I agree that any such account reveals the fundamental lunacy of the claim that it doesn’t matter who holds the priesthood if the blessings and ordinances are available to all.

    ECS, good point — I wonder how much of this is Mormon celebrity-worship, and how much belief that these exceptional people (unlike most others) do somehow enhance or deserve credit for the blessing? It’s plausible to me that it’s both. But, anyway, for most rank-and-file priesthood holders, the glory goes to God, etc…

  109. 109.

    I would go for a lightning strike proposal. The lightning can strike the PH holder and move through them to the person they are administering to, or the lightning can strike the person directly (thereby bypassing the secretly unworthy). The thing that attracts the lightning would be the faith of either participant. Finally it is ultimately up to God whether the lightning strikes at all.

  110. 110.

    I only got to comment 29… I’m going to read the rest, and please forgive me if I repeat.

    Something that put’s a big exclamation point on the fact that inequality does exist in the LDS church to me is the fact that if there were 40 men that showed up for church on a Sunday and no women, church would still be able to run. However, if the roles were reversed and there were 40 women that showed up for church on a Sunday and no men, they would be in a bind… because church wouldn’t be able to happen… it would have to be canceled…

  111. 111.

    April,
    I know of two very sweet ladies who live in a small city 12 hours away from the nearest branch of the church. Church happens for them every Sunday with just the two of them. The sacrament happens rarely for them, but church happens each week.

    So, no, church wouldn’t have to be canceled if 40 women gathered, though the form would be different, and, like in stake and general conferences, the sacrament would not be passed to the congregation.

    “Where two or three are gathered together in my name…” is a gender neutral verity in our faith.

    Think outside the box.

  112. 112.

    [...] and a variety of personal experiences. (For some of my earlier thoughts on these subjects, see here, here, and [...]

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