not in Primary anymore

ordination primer

Like most Mormon feminists, I’ve spent the past few days watching (and occasionally commenting, when I couldn’t resist) in horror as Facebook debates on the new Ordain Women website unfolded. One monster-length comment after another explained in the most convoluted fashion possible that 1) a male-only priesthood is God’s plan, 2) petitioning / lobbying church leaders shouldn’t happen in Mormonism and won’t change anything anyway because God, 3) men and women have something to bring to marriage as men and women (priesthood and motherhood, respectively), & 4) extending the priesthood to women would ruin men’s sense of institutional- and self-worth (the not-always-stated assumption being that the oh-so-spiritual women will stick around no matter how little visibility / authority they have).

Whilst skimming, I noticed two things: first, a lot of people were willing to spend a lot of time discussing this topic; second, I found myself constantly thinking, “If only they had read this or that, they wouldn’t think that or this”. The instant I connected these two things I was swept up in a utopian vision, to a world where people redirect the copious amounts of time they spend pounding points of ahistorical dogma on Facebook into reading feminist-designed anthologies that would instantaneously convince them of the error of their ways. So I decided to “be the change I want to see” etc. (Gandhi) and marshal an index of variously historical, statistical, theoretical, theological, etc. evidences against any understanding of Church doctrine which would permanently bar women from exercising the priesthood in the same way men do. But let me be clear: I’m not attempting (here, at least) to recruit anyone to the proverbial cause; the links below were selected to address the objections above. Only once we’ve established both the doctrinal possibility of women’s ordination and the legitimacy of publicly advocating for such can we begin to discuss the merits of the proposed policy change itself.

  • Ordain Women’s FAQ. Personally I think’s it a sorry indication of the present state of things in Mormondom that so many people have reflexively thrown out stock arguments on apostasy, lobbying, etc., et al.–i.e., without assuming that the project’s participators had already given this these questions careful consideration themselves. Yeah so–basically, they have, and you should check out their answers.

  • Pretty much all of Women and Authority (which is available for free online here), but especially chapters 2 and 17, both of which outline the historical relationship between women and the priesthood. The importance of this history to the contemporary debate can be expressed via a perverted Judith Butler quote: “As a genealogy of [the sexed priesthood], this inquiry seeks to understand the discursive production of the plausibility of that binary [division] and to suggest that certain cultural configurations of gender take the place of ‘the [doctrinal]’ and consolidate and augment their hegemony through that felicitous self-naturalization” (Gender Trouble, 37). In other words, the patriarchal traditions of our forbears has made male religious authority seem natural and inevitable, even biological and certainly desirable, where history can reveal that in fact this configuration has no firm foundation.

  • This BYU prof’s blogpost. Especially the part where he says, “The recent BYU Religious Studies Center publication, Shield of Faith[,] reports that among LDS youth, young women have lower feelings of self-esteem than young men (170–71), are more sexually active than young men (8-9), are more likely to confuse sexuality with ‘affection, acceptance, and belonging’ than young men (212), and are more likely to have lower church attendance than young men (33).” So much for “women are more spiritual and [therefore] don’t need the priesthood”.

  • Eugene England’s 1973 classic “The Mormon Cross”, on blacks and the priesthood (the ban wasn’t lifted until 1978). I definitely do not agree with everything in this essay, including England’s theory of proper dissent, but his “…the policy of denying blacks the priesthood is rationally untenable from a number of perspectives—historical, theological, ethical, social, psychological, in fact from all perspectives but one—ecclesiastical authority” statement remains germane. Opponents of female ordination must be made to abandon their pop psychology and proc principles, to realize that they have no grounds other than faith in the Church’s leaders on which to deny women institutional authority.

  • MormonThink’s entry on blacks and the priesthood. File this under “critical historical genealogy”, etc.–i.e., how and for what reasons does major policy change of this sort actually occur?

  • 1997 President Hinckley interview. When asked whether he’d “need a revelation” to extend the priesthood, Hinckley starts rambling on how happy LDS women are being traditional, how there’s “no agitation for that [change]”. Certainly doesn’t sound like he expects his revelations to drop out of the sky irrespective of social context, or as if he wants members to keep their mouths shut when they have contrarian concerns or desires.

If you can think / know of another helpful source, by all means, drop it in a comment! Based on my arbitrary evaluation of its importance, I might even edit the post to incorporate it.

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7 Responses to “ordination primer”

  1. J

    I have been following this movement for a few months now, and I still am confused on one point. Are women pushing for equality within the established priesthood offices (teacher elder etc) or are women pushing for the ability to exercise the priesthood? I have seen a few references that show that women have had and still do have the priesthood and act within that priesthood, which is why I am so confused. However, I haven’t seen anything to suggest that women have ever been ordained/set apart in any specific office (again teacher, high priest etc). If there is some literature that does show this, I would very much like to study it.

    Reply
    • Onli A. Pawne

      Though I (obviously) support the OrdainWomen project, I’m not directly involved in it, so I can’t speak for them. That said, my understanding is that they are definitely pushing for ordination to priesthood offices (“deaconesses”, etc., if you will). However, as the articles Ryan and I shared clarify, women have, as far as the historical record shows, never before been ordained to such an office.

      Reply
  2. Young Mormon Feminists

    […] as it were (because clearly demanding a place in it didn’t work)? In the spirit of my “[Female] Ordination Primer”, I’ve ever-so-arrogantly anthologized many of my own Facebook comments, semi-blowing my […]

    Reply
  3. michael

    Ladies do you truly understand the gift and power God has given you and another thing this whole argument come from satin him self trying to break up the family order that God has established. Each gender have different responsibly and according to a proclamation and given by prophets who speak in behalf of God that gender was selected before you came to earth also as spirit children before earth we were taught and raised by both a heavenly farther and mother. It by both a mother and farther acting under there God given responsiblities by doing this to gather you can folly nature you children here on earth and your spirit children in the eternities.

    Reply

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