Arguments Against Female Ordination

Rumor has it that there’s going to be a new gospel topics essay on the ever-so-delightful subject of women and the priesthood. I came up with a list of arguments that might be made. Tell me, what am I missing? And which ones do you think are most likely to get used?

1) Women are important/valued/necessary

a) Women are essential to the plan of salvation, “a keystone in the priesthood arch of creation.” (Russell M. Nelson)

b) Woman are God’s supreme creation: “And so Eve became God’s final creation, the grand summation of all of the marvelous work that had gone before.” (Gordon B. Hinckley)

2) Women already exercise power in the church

a) Unlike some other churches, women teach, pray, give talks, run organizations.

b) Women have a voice in church administration; they are consulted and listened to.

c) Women have the authority of the priesthood in their church callings (see Dallin H. Oaks).

3) Men and women are different/have different roles

a) Men and women have different attributes. “You [women] were not created to be the same as men. Your natural attributes, affections, and personalities are entirely different from a man’s.” (Ezra Taft Benson)

b) Women have a particular intuition that is in some ways comparable to priesthood direction. “The woman’s innate spiritual instincts are like a moral magnet, pointing toward spiritual north . . . the man’s presiding gift is the priesthood.” (Bruce C. Hafen)

c) Men have priesthood, and women have motherhood. “Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality, righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege of motherhood.” (Sheri L. Dew)

d) Valerie Hudson argues that women have their own female ordinances, “of body and of agency—pregnancy, childbirth, lactation.”

e) Women have divine gifts of femininity which would be lessened if they became like men. “The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind.” (Margaret Nadauld)

f) Women are naturally spiritual. “Virtues and attributes upon which perfection and exaltation depend come naturally to a woman and are refined through marriage and motherhood.” (Body K. Packer)

g) Women don’t need the priesthood in the way that men do; men wouldn’t live up to their responsibilities and develop necessary spirituality without it

5) Men and women are equal partners. “In this Church the man neither walks ahead of his wife nor behind his wife but at her side. They are co-equals in this life in a great enterprise.” (Gordon B. Hinckley)

6) Most LDS women don’t want the priesthood. “Fully nine-in-ten Mormon women (90%) say women should not be ordained.” (Pew Forum)

7) Male-only priesthood is God’s will

a) Jesus only called male apostles.

b) God has called modern-day prophets, who tell us that the current system is inspired.

8) God will condemn those who abuse the priesthood. “I also acknowledge that some men oppress women and in some rare circumstances are guilty of abusing women. This is abhorrent in the eyes of God. I feel certain that men who demean women in any way will answer to God for their actions.” (M. Russell Ballard)

a) Just because some have bad experiences doesn’t mean the system itself is wrong. “A person who has had a bad experience with a particular electrical appliance should not forego using the power of electricity. (Dallin H. Oaks)

9) The priesthood is about service, not power. We shouldn’t use worldly standards in measuring who’s important.

10) Women are given priesthood in the temple. “When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which by definition is priesthood power.” (M. Russell Ballard)

11) While the priesthood may be administered by men only, its blessings are available to women and men alike.

12) LDS women are actually among the most empowered. One can find examples of strong women in the church both historically and today.


  1. The other argument I often hear is that men need the responsibilities and power of the priesthood to stay active. If we give women the priesthood then women will do all the work, men will be lazy and we will lose them in droves. Then the women will have no men to marry. I don’t know if the Church would use this argument but I hear it all the time.

    Also, I love this site even though I never comment. You are all great!

  2. Great list! I guess this is unlikely to be used in the Church’s essay, but it sure seems to come up a lot in online discussion: Women are already too busy. If they have the priesthood, they’ll be overwhelmed with busyness. Another one not likely to be used in these days of chicken patriarchy: Women are too stupid or wicked to get the priesthood. I have to wonder if a lot of 19th century (and more recent!) Church leaders might not have endorsed this one if they were asked about ordaining women.

  3. Or they could always go with “we don’t know why, but this is God’s church, and He has structured his church this way, so we don’t question it.” There was a talk by Elder Ballard mentioning something about it being a futile exercise to think of a different way the church could be structured. Also, Elder Christofferson gave a talk recently about women and their “moral authority.” I suppose that is similar to the whole women are more inherently righteous than men rhetoric.

    By the way, where did this rumor originate from? If it is true, I seriously hope they have some female authors write or contribute to the article, especially after Elder Nelson’s talk.

  4. I don’t mean to derail the topic but:

    ” righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege of motherhood.” What about the unrighteous women that are mothers and the righteous women that aren’t?

    “women have their own female ordinances, ”of body and of agency—pregnancy, childbirth, lactation.”
    Again, doesn’t explain how non-mothers fit into the scheme of things.

  5. Don’t worry Lily2. All women have been endowed with the inherent ability to be amazing with children and the desire to nurture every living creature they come in contact with. So we are all mothers. And women who didn’t get a chance to go through excruciating child labor or breastfeed will get to do those things for eternity after they die 🙂 but only if they are righteous.

  6. You are missing the discussion of women’s prior participation in healing blessings. The church has really never talked about it, but it’s possible.

  7. If they do bring up any history of female blessings, it will likely be a la Sheri Dew: I heard they used to do that but it was all wrong! Only doing it in the temple is higher light and knowledge. – type stuff.

  8. That outline could literally have been taken off a desk of the church office building. Wow. Wow. Wow.

    One thing not mentioned is the actual anatomical difference between men and women, nor will it be in whatever church essay that comes out. For some reason I still don’t think transgender men will receive the priesthood.

  9. I’ll hazard a guess at the composition that will unite these disparate strands.

    First, the essay will gush for a solid-gold paragraph about women’s indispensable preciousness unto men and the entire (otherwise male) order of creation, and assure women that God loves and values men and women equally, that divine equality being the most obvious explanation of why God’s church loves and values them unequally. The body of the essay will embark upon the following gargantuan thesis: that women cannot have the priesthood because God made women are extremely, extremely different; women have/are soft special things, motherhood, divine love and sweet moral authority and feminine intuition very indistinguishable from God, closer to God than a mere cloddish oaf-man could ever fathom and therefore self-evidently unable to be authorized to act in the name of God because they are already authorized act in the name of God and thus have the priesthood (lite), which they may or may not even want because only a tiny minority of barely alluded-to Bad Women Who Don’t Understand that they have/are soft things unto men want the priesthood (non-lite), Bad Women Agitating for Power also not understanding/not being properly grateful that in our very equal church women do many things with power [pray preach teach lead counsel], AND because women are thus dramatically and publicly empowered in some extraordinary way that is NOT in tension with their having/being soft things that it is unseemly to think about the priesthood power that is the entire basis of the restoration and especially about institutional inequalities pertaining thereunto because service is all you need and all good special soft women think of [breath]: exhibit! Early Mormon women doing brave countercultural things like seeking power (the vote), contemporary Mormon women being visibly not oppressed, visibly not dressed like the FLDS. QED.

  10. (Frankly, my dear, I don’t want to ordained so much as I want my church to quit talking damned condescending nonsense to me.)

  11. Kristine A, however bad it is (or however good it is), I am here, and many, many others are here, and we’ll be kind to each other, and it’ll be okay.

    I’m holding out for a “we don’t know, and when we don’t know we stick with the status quo”, and possibly hoping for a “ways of calling on priesthood power changed a lot over the early years of the church until it was correlated into how we currently observe the structure of church administration”. If it’s not that, it probably won’t be anything new, so it probably won’t be anything I can’t handle.

  12. I would love to be ordained and for my church to quit talking damned condescending nonsense to me.

    I’ll drink to that!

  13. Thanks Mary (#5)! I had forgotten that spending a few hours each week with my primary class should make up for all my unmet desires to have a family of my own 🙂

  14. I’m so glad you understand Lily2 🙂 In seriousness though, I understand how the idea that we’re all mothers does satisfy some women who cannot have children of their own. However, it is also quite unsatisfying, as you mention. Nurturing other people’s children is not the same as having your own. A female relative of mine who could never have children has come to more peace about the issue using the womanhood=motherhood logic. However, I still think there are times where she is angry and sad that her whole life she dreamed of having her own children and has never been able to. It even talks about her children in her patriarchal blessing. How is she supposed to feel? I imagine I would feel quite disappointed and perhaps bitter if I were in her shoes as well. And this is a woman who has devoted decades of her life to being a school teacher (so plenty of nurturing and interacting with children). Relying on the hazards of a fallen world and something as finicky as biology to define a woman’s eternal potential seems incredibly short-sighted. Even men who are not completely healthy or able-bodied can still hold the priesthood, but women who can’t be mothers are left with what?

  15. That is my life. I have always wanted children, and have a blessing that says I will, but am now too old and still unmarried. I have come to terms with my life – and I like my life. But the “we are all mothers” concept is very hollow to me.

  16. My predictions:

    1) Much like the Blacks and the Priesthood essay, they will officially claim that they just don’t know why women can’t have the priesthood right now. They might even draw a comparison to Blacks receiving the PH. Unless they go in for the arguments that don’t hold water and will feed doubt, that’s the only answer they can give.

    We. just. don’t. know. why. but. this. is. the.way. it. is. But, we. have. faith. it. will. all. work. out. in. the. end. amen.

    It doesn’t answer the question of whether the FP or Q12 has ever sincerely asked about it. It doesn’t teach us who we are as (female) humans and who our Mother in Heaven is.

    2) We can play the drinking game with sprite or coke shots. Take a swing when you hear the following names mentioned: Martha Hughes Cannon, Ellis Reynolds Shipp, Emma Smith, Eliza R. Snow, and someone current like Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, an opera singer, a female LDS olympian, or Gladys Knight.

    You are absolutely right, they will point to successful women and cite them as evidence that the current model is working just fine and to leave it alone.

    3) They will shoot down the Mary Fielding Smith-blessing-the-oxen story with historical evidence, and cite to the fact that early church members got a lot of things wrong about using the PH in the beginning, including doing baptisms for the dead without recorders in the Mississippi River with men as proxies for women and vice versa. God allowed the early pioneers some slack in learning how to do things the ‘right’ way. We’ve evolved, they will say. They will be able to cite examples of early female PH blessings of comfort and healing as relics of this misunderstood, but grandfathered practice allowed at a time when the saints built the kingdom with their physical bodies and medical help was lacking. Camilla Kimball’s participation in a healing blessing for her husband may be glossed over as something the pros do- don’t try this at home kids.

    4) It seems like they HAVE to do something with female Prophetesses in the bible like Deborah, Miriam, Huldah, Mary Magdalene, Mary Mother of Jesus, Junia, etc. I bet that they draw out the old “lower case p, upper case P” Prophet explanation we all heard in seminary. FAIR is on this one . . . there are elves right this minute shooting down any female claim to PH roles in the bible.

    5) They will cite copious quotes from GAs telling us a mother’s place is in the home caring for children, a father’s place is in the world. One parent looks inward, one looks outward. Men have the PH to work in the world, women have intrinsic gifts to fix the home. (In the past, the motto of the RS was outward focused- ‘Charity never faileth’, but today, our focus is on PERSONAL, family and home enrichment. We’re not a RS out to fix the world, we’re here to fix ourselves. Men fix the world.

  17. I’ll exercise my prognosticatory muscles, too:

    Because there are two essays (a detail I have heard confirmed by an ultra-reliable source), they couldn’t both be about women and the priesthood.

    Because all the related essays have been historical, not current, I presume these will be historically focused, too. Maybe there will be a subtext about women’s role in the modern church, but I don’t think there will be any arguments like those Lynnette sets out, at least not explicitly.

    Why two essays? Maybe they will be divided chronologically, like the polygamy essays were — women in the formation of the Church, women in the Church as it developed. Or maybe one will be literally on women, and one really on so-called “family” issues with some pretext about women’s role in the home. Hard to guess.

    As for history, I’ll wager there will be paragraphs on the formation of the Relief Society, maybe the Anointed Quorum and women’s other participation in the temple, something about the formation and executive functions of women in the YLMIA/YWMIA/YW and Primary, and something about Church service in general, and especially missionary service. Maybe they’ll include stories from the lives of women (Mary Whitmer, to show that women have been favored with revelation? Eliza R. Snow, to show that women’s talents are honored?). I’ll bet the farm that there *will* be a section on women’s blessings. Maybe something about participation in civic affairs, like suffrage, and about participation in humanitarian affairs, like the hospital and social service movements.

    Hard to guess how far through time they’ll carry it, though, because after a while they’d fall into the trap of the timeline in _Daughters in My Kingdom_: a report of ceasing one activity after another, without cover for the fact that nothing new was ever started to compensate for those earlier losses.

    I will be surprised, though, if there is anything explicitly about women and the priesthood, except a demonstration of women’s receiving ordinances through the priesthood, and perhaps something about the temple. Nothing contemporary, though.

  18. I give the status quo about 20 years. ALL of the arguments against ordaining women are flawed and do not hold up to careful scrutiny. Sooner or later, as with blacks and the priesthood, this policy too will change.

  19. I just read through the women/priesthood essay (link posted below). Interestingly enough, the essay gives NO explanation for why women are not ordained. The essay does cite to Elder Oaks’ address that says the practice is divinely instituted (without citing any source). And the essay gives historical context that no christian group ordained women at the time the priesthood was restored (this struck me as similar to the historical context given for the essay on race and the priesthood, but I could be reading too much into it). But thankfully, NONE of the standard quips about women being more spiritual, men too lazy, different roles, etc.


  20. Another thought. It’s rather odd that the essay is entitled “Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women.” This makes the essay a little hard to find. Who would think to look under the “J’s”? And it seems to imply that there may be more said. This is just Joseph’s practice and modern practice, with a very little cookie filling in between – basically acknowledging female ritual healing but not giving any detail.

  21. Final comment (for now). The essay does not draw any correlation between priesthood and motherhood. In fact, “motherhood” is never mentioned. If anything, the essay suggests the corollary to priesthood is relief society (or maybe unity in the temple). Very interesting.

  22. So Ardis called it, as far as it being historically focused, and that they mentioned healing blessings. Though I think my point 2, about women having power and position in the church, shows up throughout it. It also has quite a bit to say about point 10 (the temple), and touches on point 11, that the blessings of the priesthood are available to all.

    It could have been much worse; I’m glad it doesn’t have any schmaltzy gender stuff, or parallels to motherhood. It simply doesn’t address the basic question of why women aren’t ordained–maybe because there isn’t actually a clear reason?

    Anyway, thanks for all the comments! And EBK, welcome–I’m glad you unlurked.

  23. WI_Member, the line in the HM essay that’s most troubling to me–though it’s simply a reiteration of the current church position–is this: “Latter-day Saints direct their worship to Heavenly Father, in the name of Christ, and do not pray to Heavenly Mother.” Saying that she exists but is not to be worshiped is in some ways more troubling (I think) that not having her in the first place.

    I have wondered whether HM might make a comeback to shore up the church’s teachings about heteronormative families.


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