The Pope Gives Ordain Women a Shot in the Arm

Pope Francis said a few days ago that he will organize a commission to look into having women serve as deacons in the Catholic Church. Now of course he wasn’t guaranteeing that he would end up taking any action, and deacons aren’t priests, and Catholics aren’t Mormons. But I still wonder if even this signal of people considering a possible change in another church might not bode well for the cause of Ordain Women.

My sister Lynnette pointed out to me once that as long as the Catholics aren’t ordaining women, it’s easy for us to not ordain women either. The Catholics are huge, and whatever they’re doing contributes a lot to what’s perceived as the norm. When the Catholics have an all-male clergy, it’s normal to have an all-male clergy.

General Authorities often make a big deal about how we Mormons are “a peculiar people,” and how we’re different from “the world.” We’re definitely different, but it’s clear that we also make it a point to not be too different. As Elder Maxwell might have put it, we seek a perfect proportion of peculiarity rather than peak peculiarity. Sure, our sexual norms are different from typical norms in a lot of places, and the Word of Wisdom makes us different, and our dress is frequently different, and so forth. But we’re also clearly not going for maximum peculiarity. There are a lot of ways that we’re pretty normal. We’re pretty nationalistic, for example. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are way better than we are at being peculiar in not engaging with secular governments. Our clothing styles are unusual, but not extremely so. We aren’t like the Christian groups that require that women wear dresses. We may not smoke or drink alcohol, coffee, and tea, but the Islamic dietary law of hal?l, for example, is far more restrictive, barring (among other things) the eating of pig meat, as well as the meat of any animal not slaughtered in a prescribed way.

I know Church leaders would have us think that they make decisions with no consideration whatsoever for what’s going on out in the wicked world, but it seems clear to me that they do consider it. That’s why I have high hopes for the outcome of the Pope’s statement. I hope that the Pope’s move might signal a move in the Catholic Church to ordain women, and that such a change there might cascade out to other churches that do not currently ordain women, and that such a broader change might eventually make it untenable for us Mormons to not ordain women without becoming more peculiar than even the most hardline of GAs wants us to be. And then we’ll finally extend the priesthood to women.


  1. I’m not even a blogger anymore but had to tell you how much I like this blog. I just found it. Now I have a lot of reading back to do. 🙂

  2. I am right behind your thoughts. I have often wondered, though, why aren’t we leading the way, rather than trying to “fit in.” I think your Elder Maxwellism is spot on.
    Eventually, I think we will unless on other issues as well, as the leadership changes.

  3. There is substantial historic evidence that there were women deacons in the early Church. If Pope Francis wishes to do so it can be done, although study groups are where ideas go to die. However the Catholic Church often thinks in terms of decades if not centuries. Mormon change is often 20 or 30 years behind the dominant culture. And it has appeared to me that it is less a result of doctrinal change than the norms of the larger society.

  4. I want you to be right on this one, but a part of me thinks it will go the other way. If Catholics ordain women (even as deacons), the LDS church might dig in even further, holding itself out as some last bastion of “the one true Godly way of doing things” in opposition to “all those other churches falling prey to the whims of society”.

  5. I’m just impressed the Pope met with them. I suppose he could gave just put their pictures up in the Vatican, though. That’s kind of the same as being heard.

  6. I totally share your tentative optimism. My heart did a tiny little leap when I read the news, and then I sent the story to my Catholic feminist friend who got pretty excited (she loves Pope Francis, and it’s easy to see why; I kind of love him too).

    Mormons aren’t Catholics, but we have a lot of similarities, especially when it comes to gender roles and concepts of the family. If all the Pope’s move does is make our leaders question, just a little, their assumptions about an all male priesthood, that would be an amazing thing.

  7. I’m really interested in the idea of how top-down change in the Church is more likely to occur from external rather than internal pressure. An article from awhile ago by Kristine Haglund in Slate basically said the “Mormon Moment” didn’t do much for improving the Church’s public image, but “media attention driven by the Romney campaign was more effective in making these [feminist] concerns known to leaders than Mormon women’s efforts alone.”

    It reminds me of an idea from “You Just Don’t Understand,” Deborah Tannen’s book on male/female communication styles:

    “That women have been labeled ‘nags’ may result from the interplay of men’s and women’s styles, whereby many women are inclined to do what is asked of them and many men are inclined to resist even the slightest hint that anyone, especially a woman, is telling them what to do. A woman will be inclined to repeat a request that doesn’t get a response because she is convinced that her husband would do what she asks, if he only understood that she really wants him to do it. But a man who wants to avoid feeling that he is following orders may instinctively wait before doing what she asked, in order to imagine that he is doing it of his own free will. Nagging is the result, because each time she repeats the request, he again puts off fulfilling it.”

    Then we also have statements like that of Elder Roberts a few years ago: “The Seventy represent the prophet to the people, not the people to the prophet.”

    The orthodox part of me wants to dismiss this as “our leaders are trying their best but are imperfect” but it’s really hard not to see this stubborn-male dynamic at play. It seems it would be much better if we didn’t have exclusively male leaders, and what is functionally a male-only deity.


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