not in Primary anymore

in response to arguments against female ordination

Guest post by Andria Bobo. She blogs at Through Feminist Eyes. For information about the Ordain Women launch event from last night, see this. 

With the recent launch of Ordain Women, the Bloggernacle has lit up with debate about whether or not women should be ordained to the priesthood. I’ve observed that these debates are typically formed around several recurring arguments. I’d like to address these arguments, and discuss why they aren’t particularly good arguments against ordaining women to the priesthood.

If God wanted women to have the priesthood, they would already have it. I think I understand the reasoning behind the argument. It’s probably something like, God is in control. He knows what He is doing. Who am I to question His ways? I respect the faith behind that. My problem, though, is that faith is a principle of action, not just belief. Our entire religion exists because a young man had a question, and he was willing to do something about it. Our Church has had many revelations and programs come about because people noticed a need and decided to ask God for more information (for example, the Word of Wisdom, and the revelation on blacks and the priesthood). Perhaps God already wants to give the priesthood to women; He might just be waiting for us to have the faith to ask Him, and show that we’re ready.

Men and women are different but equal. This statement does two main things. First, it attempts to reinforce the strict traditional gender roles taught by the Church. Man=priesthood holder, father, husband, leader, provider, patriarch. Woman=mother, wife, nurturer. Second, it tries to justify a men-only priesthood by stating that everyone is “equal.”

In my eyes, the “men and women are different” idea strengthens the argument as so why women ought to have the priesthood. Although I don’t agree with the strict gender roles, I do think that the Church would benefit from a more diverse leadership, and women have different experiences and perspectives that would be very valuable. On a more local scale, I think the Visiting Teaching program would benefit from women holding the priesthood. They could give blessings to their sisters instead of calling the Home Teachers, and this may help Relief Society sisters to form closer relationships with one another. And within families, it would be absolutely wonderful for mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, and other women to be involved in the ordinances of their relatives, rather than just spectators. Not every family matches the priesthood-holding-father/mother/children ideal promoted by the Church. Including women in priesthood ordination would be a blessing for all families.

Motherhood is the equivalent of the priesthood. This is similar to the argument above, but has a little more doctrinally- and intellectually-questionable content. First of all, the parallelism of the language doesn’t match: mother and priest are not opposites. Mother and father are, and priest and priestess are. Trying to match “motherhood” to “priesthood” doesn’t make sense, and it sets up a false analogy from the start. Second, this argument doesn’t address the fact that one of these roles is based more on physical ability, and the other is based more on spiritual discipline. Any woman with good health or the means to adopt can have a child and thereby become a mother; men have to be members of the Church and following a strict moral code to be a priesthood-holder. Third, there’s an inherent inequality expressed in the idea. In the Church, “motherhood” means one thing, more or less: you are a woman and you have children, whom you take care of and are responsible for. “Priesthood,” however, is an ambiguous term, and is open to many possibilities. It may mean “father” at some point, it often means “man,” it can mean “Church leader,” it sometimes means “the power of God,” etc. One term, motherhood, has a very specific definition, and many people use that to imply that all women are supposed to be mothers. The other term, priesthood, is very open, and the implication is that priesthood-holders can do as they please. So by saying that the two are equivalents of each other, we’re being told that the path for women is defined and limited, and the path for men is ambiguous and wide open.

Men: “It’s not a big deal. It’s just a bunch of busywork!” This argument really bothers me. The fact that the arguer refers to the priesthood as “busywork” tells me that he doesn’t understand what the priesthood is, and it’s disrespectful. The bureaucratic duties associated with a calling is not “the priesthood,” and the power to act in God’s name is a big deal. And the attitude of the argument itself feels very condescending to me. It’s like saying, “Oh, don’t worry your pretty little head about it, little girl. You wouldn’t understand, anyway!”

Women: “But I’m too busy for the priesthood!” I find this a weak excuse. First of all, everyone’s busy. So what? Secondly, here’s a link to the priesthood duties for an elder in the Church; the basic time commitment is not that bad. And thirdly, there is a difference between the priesthood and the callings associated with it. Holding the priesthood doesn’t mean someone will be immediately called to the bishopric. In fact, increasing the number of priesthood holders in a ward or branch would make that less likely to happen. (Heathen opinion: no one is obligated to accept a calling, especially if they are feeling overwhelmed with everything else in their life. Family and well-being are more important than Church callings.)

What arguments against female ordination have you seen around the internet that aren’t particularly convincing?

18 Responses to “in response to arguments against female ordination”

  1. Ryan

    One argument that I think will need to be continually addressed is the idea that the Church does not change as a result of social movements.

    Of course, it’s a naïve argument, but it’s a prevalent one. If women’s ordination is going to catch on among the general membership, more members might need to realize that they can advocate faithfully.

    Ordain Women, of course, has opened a broad discussion on the subject, which I think is working away at the taboo of discussing the subject.

  2. erichansen137

    I’d argue the vast majority of arguments against female ordination aren’t particularly convincing. I was talking about this with my wife and comparing it to giving blacks the priesthood again. Without going in too deep, I would say this is a matter of timing and preparedness of the people as a whole. I feel people generally underestimate the importance of unity, patience, and timing. There are sacred contexts and situations in the Church today where this topic is not an issue, and so it may only be a matter of time.

  3. Morgan VanYperen

    I appreciate your levelheaded tone and lack of attacks on church leadership when expressing your views. I think a huge amount of the controversy is caused by people putting down church leaders, male and female, for things they’ve said or even just seem to have implied about gender roles. I also often hear statements to the tone of “the church/prophet/apostles have it wrong right now, but they will come around eventually and understand the issue and fix it.” That sounds so arrogant to me. Like they have a perfect understanding of justice and righteousness and the Lord’s timing and thoughts on the issue, and one day the leaders of the church will finally arrive at their level of enlightenment. It’s frustrating to hear things like that, especially alongside direct criticism of the Lord’s anointed servants and their inspired direction. If our first reaction to a general conference talk is anger, it’s likely not the speaker’s fault – I’d even venture to say it was a talk we especially needed to hear.

    I don’t know if women will ever be ordained to the priesthood as we know it, or if they should. There are a lot of things in the gospel that I don’t know yet. I actively try to understand the words of the prophets and scriptures that have been given, and apply them the best I can. I’m also open to whatever they tell us in the future. I take solace in the fact that the atonement makes all things equal.

  4. Nancy Ross

    You’re right, these are flimsy arguments against the ordination of women. There are many good arguments for the ordination of women, in my opinion. For starters: there is some evidence that women were ordained in the Old Testament (think Deborah, Huldah, Miriam); there is some evidence that women were ordained in the early Church and there is some suggestion of this in the New Testament; there is evidence that Joseph Smith intended Relief Society to be a “society of priests” and we know that women were able to wield more spiritual power in the early years of the Restoration; Heavenly Mother almost certainly holds the priesthood – I think that she really can’t be part of God and not hold any of the power of God; the language of the temple says that women will become “priestesses”, which strongly suggests an active roll in the priesthood and its related ordinances.

    • Quentin

      A good and timely rmdnieer, Doug. Thank you.At a time when political discourse here in the USA continues to drop from cynical to snarky to vile, maybe it’s just too much to hope that within a group that dares to call itself “Community of Christ” there can still be ongoing conversation with a foundation of love. Now, I’m generally not the first to come to the defense of CofC leadership (a whole other story), but I recognize and respect the challenging spot they’re in on the topic of LGBT rights, responsibilities, and roles within the church. As has already been pointed out, no matter what’s decided and done (assuming something will be), somebody’s going to be really upset—and probably threaten to march out the door taking their potential tithing contributions with them. Certainly it wouldn’t be the first time.And if the choice comes down to keeping the institution patched together a little longer (a priestly role) or doing what we believe is right in God’s eyes (a prophetic role), then I’m apt to go with the latter. But, of course, choices are almost never that clear-cut. The church must have both priestly and prophetic functions. It’s people and organization/institution. We human beings have a nasty habit of creating straw-men (straw-persons?) to either sway the crowd to our side or bolster our own conceits. In any event, I really like the sign Jon Stewart suggests: “I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.”

  5. Kari

    One argument (just published recently in the Salt Lake Tribune letters to the editor: summed up: a) anyone wanting the priesthood can’t exercise it–it’s supposed to be for selflessly serving others; b) women already selflessly serve others–men don’t do it naturally and need the external incentive.

    Here’s my take:

    a) (admittedly not original to me, I’ve heard this in other places, especially lately): nobody accuses 11 year-olds who are anxiously preparing to receive the priesthood of being unrighteous in their desires

    b) totally not fair to men–I think they do a lot, and there are many men (LDS or not) who serve selflessly with many causes. I do think, though, that they are just as confined by their rigid gender roles as women are. If they are “living right” as per church prescription, they work full time at a job that pays well enough to allow their wives to stay home with 5 kids. Then they have to lovingly engage with those kids when they come home, but before dashing off to church meetings (which in some cases last hours over multiple days). Heaven forbid they want to pursue their own hobbies. My husband was called to the bishopric when we’d been married 18 months–he was 26. I cannot tell you how stressful this was on us, for a whole host of reasons. I’d submit that many of the men who aren’t volunteering at every turn are doing it so they don’t register on the Stake President’s radar–passive aggressive at its finest. If women were able to help them out, they wouldn’t be so overwhelmed.

    c) nobody thinks that President Monson is called to be the prophet because he’s super-lazy and needs the extra incentive to serve otherwise

    • auto insurabce quotes

      Dear Fr.Ray,What a truly momentous event and I am sure one that will have dispelled any lingering doubts you might have had on your ability to offer the TLM publically. No coincidence I am sure that your glasses broke just before Mass since there was someone at work there who did not want that Mass to go ahead any more than he wanted you to be ordained. Under the protection of Our Blessed Lady, St.Michael and St.Mary Magdalen you had the courage to set him behind you and to continue (perhaps a final Gethsemane moment just before Mass began?). On what must be a very emotional day for you what greater consolation that to have been afforded the privilege to ascend the steps to the Holy Mountain of Calvary, to have stretched out your arms over the Holy and Unblemished Victim, to have united yourself so completely with Him as to have made His actions yours and to have entered the tomb with Him and returned triumphant.Many many congratulations and I hope to attend one of your Masses soon. How long before it is Missa Cantata every Sunday morning at your Church? Fr.Finigan has done it and remember he was in your position once not that long ago.

  6. francinepetersen

    I am disillusioned by the fact that women and men of the gospel of Jesus Christ feel that women “need the authority of the priesthood to be equal”. I believe that when we as Latter Day Saints truly engage in understanding truth in doctrine through words of living prophets, local leaders, and temple ordinances we will realize there is no debate. Truth in its fullness is on the earth through modern day Apostles of the Lord, Jesus Christ. We don’t need to ask for new revelation related to “modern”LDS women. We don’t need more females with decision-making, executive responsibilities. We need to embrace the beauty and truth of the gospel as it is and appreciate our divine roles as males and females as outlined by living prophets. I know there is a living prophet who doesn’t need any help in, “coming up to speed” with the culture of the 21st century. I would hope we would take time to feast in the scriptures, the temples, and the words of the living prophets. “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, save he revealeth his secret unto his servants, the prophets.” (Amos 3:7)

  7. Jchalk

    Nowhere does this article mention D&C 121, one of the critical chapters of scripture regarding the Priesthood.

  8. A.B.

    To ordain or not, it’s a valid question though I cannot help but wonder whether it’s a righteous desire. And so some of the challenges that need to be overcome is the skepticism on whether we’re really asking the right questions with the right desires. Are we?

    We believe in a Mother in Heaven. We believe She is a co-equal with Her husband Father in Heaven. If She is co-equal then is it unreasonable to believe that the power to create worlds and govern the universes is Hers as well?

    If that is the case then why is She silent in all of this? Why was it Jesus son of Mary who accomplished the atonement and not Mary daughter of Jesus? Why was Adam created first and Woman in part from his rib? Is there something in this pattern that relates back to why the priesthood is bestowed upon men in this world? It is easy to conclude that “natural” historical cultures of misogyny or simply indifference toward what women want is the driving reason for why our faith persists in upholding a patriarchal order. But perhaps that conclusion is too facile. Is it really a lack of imagination on the part of the faithful adherents to God’s Kingdom on earth? How will we know if the answer isn’t really that the Church is organized properly we’re simply not doing it right just yet? That many (maybe all) of us still need to develop a greater sensitivity and openness to seeing how to best serve our brothers and sisters around us and to truly hear and act on their needs?

    I do not believe in a Mother in Heaven who sits back quietly simply because Her husband has told Her to do so or because He is concerned about protecting Her from Their bedlamite children. If my own mother is any example then She is a Mother of wisdom and action.

    The only conclusion that makes sense to me is that She together with our Father has decided that the current circumstances are for our own benefit or else are necessary for a reason we do not, perhaps cannot entirely fathom. Does She withhold Herself as God the Father did from the Savior in His time of greatest challenge because it was necessary? Assuredly, just like our Father, She wept to see such pain inflicted on Her Son and today She looks upon us with equal caring and concern.

    So perhaps She leaves us to our own devices to allow us to hang ourselves or save ourselves because that is how it must be done? Or is She there plain as the sunlight and we simply fail to see Her in what we have been taught? Has culture blinded us to what was originally promised and is it really a question of power and authority or are those symptoms of our desires to see God’s kingdom through the same prism that the world sees all power? Because we yet see through a glass darkly?

    Are changes happening now in the Church – albeit small changes – because we are so much more enlightened than any other time in the world? I cannot conceive that this is true either because in at least one previous dispensation, a whole city reached a level of enlightenment that caused the entire population to be translated. What could be learned if we might have access to how lives were led and the Church (however it was organized) functioned in the City of Enoch.

    I struggle to believe that enlightenment has been withheld for so many decades in this dispensation simply because we’ve been unwilling to ask the question. But I’m willing to ask the question if that will help further and strengthen the kingdom. In all things, ultimately we have to be willing to say, thy will, oh Lord, be done, and not mine.

  9. Shelby Hornback

    The main problem I have with the female ordination movement is that, as the above comment mentioned, it doesn’t seem to come from righteous desire. All these women seem to want the priesthood purely for the sake of equality. It’s like the men have this cool toy and now the women want to play with it too. But the priesthood isn’t something that we can demand from God because it isn’t fair. If we are meant to have the priesthood or some equivalent power, then God will reveal that to us in His own time.

  10. BreeAnn Moore

    Isn’t it possible that womanhood–which encompasses motherhood–is, in fact, contain responsibility for the power of God? Are we not stewards of that first veil, birth? We partner with God to bring about the birth of our children. Whether we have children or not, women still have the responsibility to protect that sacred part of herself inasmuch as she is able. I don’t think it’s too far off to say that THAT power, that responsibility, is equal to the priesthood. Also, what about women in the temple? We have the ability to officiate in temple ordinances, which are far more important than a temporal calling or role in the offices of the church. Seeking the blessings of the priesthood shouldn’t be about seeking authority in the church.

  11. A Lifelong LDS Woman

    Interesting and thought-provoking. Thanks. 🙂

    One thought: it wasn’t until the early- 20th century that women were actively discouraged from giving blessings in the LDS church, from Mother’s Blessings to healing, and everything in between. Blessing and healing are not restricted to the LDS Priesthood–they are spiritual gifts detailed in scripture, and available to all. (I’m too young to remember, but I read it here:

    Culturally, the priesthood has monopolized those spiritual gifts, and I would love to see a resurgence of women blessing one another, their families, and even (gasp) their priesthood-holding husbands.

    In my experience, a local pentecostal church’s members and clergy have FAR more power to bless and heal than pretty much any LDS priesthood holder I’ve ever known. And I’ve known a. lot. of. them. I’ve seen them bless and heal each other–and have joined them in prayer. It’s profound. And that’s a wild understatement. lol

  12. Mahmut

    Mark: Homosexual members/investigators are not asked to mdofiy their behavior in any way at the risk of offending them. I believe that is a correct statement, but there are two other major groups who are also to be appeased. Conservatives in America must also be appeased, or they will leave the church (as you did) because you found more conservative principles to be truer. The non-American church also finds conservative sexual principles to be truer, and so must be isolated from publicity about the discussion (per Section 164). I have no reason to believe that any of the three groups are insincere in their beliefs about what is the morally right choice.So, as long as the leadership is primarily concerned with maintaining the institution, at least one of those groups is going to be increasingly disappointed.Eventually appeasement breaks down unless, IMO you change the decision criteria.By the way, we don’t enforce any law of chastity against heterosexuals either. Its only when behavior impacts the reputation of the church do we take notice. We prefer to deal with personal behavior we do not support as quietly as possible. Whether that’s good or bad is a matter for another discussion.


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