not in Primary anymore

against female ordination: a historical comparison

I recently came across an intriguing argument against female ordination, excerpted below:

This whole movement for female ordination is, at least in its motive and beginning, a rebellion against the divinely ordained position and duties of woman, and an ambition for independence and the honors of a more public life; as if any greater and diviner honor could be given to woman than those which God has assigned her; as if the sanctities of home and the sacred duties of wife and mother, with all their sacrifices, were not a higher sphere and a truer glory—a glory she shares with the world’s Redeemer—than the vast time commitment, the crushing weight of responsibility, and the endless schedule of meetings for those ordained to the priesthood.

The practical tendency of women’s ordination, as all must see, is to impair the unity of the family as a social organism, being itself a denial of it, and to create discord and rivalries between husband and wife, who by the divine ordinance are “no more twain but one flesh,” but by this act are legally declared to be not one but two. Besides, such ordination is a tacit declaration that the husband and father cannot be trusted to protect the interests of wife and daughter in religious as in domestic affairs, which is a sure method of relaxing his sense of responsibility and loosening the ties of family affection. Where there is true affection, the wife, if she practice priesthood at all, will practice according to her husband’s commands, even against her own interest; and where there is not, the multiplying of causes of discord will not remedy but only aggravate the evil.

Not the least disastrous result would be the intolerable burden thrust upon women’s shoulders by imposing religious questions and duties in addition to those already borne. Domestic and social duties, never so onerous and distracting as now, the care and nurture of children, with the high and sacred responsibilities involved in these, are enough, and more than enough for most women in this age. To add to these the cares of church life and the turbulent excitements of religious affairs, would be indeed to break the bruised reed.

 

Oh wait. Sorry, I misspoke a little there- that is actually adapted text from an 1884 article arguing against women’s suffrage, not women’s ordination. The original text and citation are at the end of this article.

The LDS Church is a church, not a political institution. That should never be forgotten. But there are many things I can’t help but compare.

Being denied representation in an organization that acts in your behalf is fundamentally wrong. This does not mean that everyone must be in the leadership- simply that being denied the opportunity to serve in the leadership on a basis other than worthiness, divine calling, or temporal constraints is unjust.

Of course a direct parallel between the LDS Church and the United States government is overreaching, and tithing is NOT the same thing as taxes- “no taxation without representation” is not an exact parallel to argue “no tithing without representation.” But women are still offering their 10% tithing and countless hours of service to the church while only being represented as auxiliary, other, secondary- see: the General Relief Society, Young Womens, and Primary Presidencies being General Auxiliaries instead of General Authorities. A key example of women’s input and perspective either being considered auxiliary or not even being considered at all includes Sister Chieko Okazaki’s statement that while she served in the General Relief Society Presidency, neither she nor her fellow sisters were consulted or included in the writing of The Family: A Proclamation to the World (see page 136 of this interview, where Sister Okazaki explained that they were not even informed the document was in the works).

The same arguments frequently repeated for why it is fine for only men to represent mixed genders are the same that were repeated for why women should not be allowed to vote, as you can see very plainly in the quote I minimally modified above. The idea that men can take care of the women under their care, that since all women are obviously attached to a man that he can just vote in their behalf, should be obviously refutable to all who encounter it. This is a similar argument to why women exercise the priesthood jointly through their husbands- despite the fact that not all women marry, much less marry men, and the outdated benevolent paradigm of a man acting on behalf of the women he automatically has stewardship over is old and tired.

I do not think that all women must receive the priesthood; I simply believe that no one should be denied ordination to the priesthood categorically on the basis of gender.

There are many, many other theological, spiritual, historical, and logical reasons to support women’s ordination. This posts represents merely one small aspect of my own cause for support. But mostly I’m just tired of these same  arguments being repeated about where my place is, what my role is, and what my calling is, because I am a woman.

I know what my calling is. I know because I have, for myself, studied, prayed, received blessings, studied more, attended church, listened to firesides and broadcasts and Education Week talks, prayed more, fasted, studied more, and prayed more- and I know FOR MYSELF what my calling is. I do not need to be told what my calling is based on my genitalia. Stop telling me what I am capable of: let me show you.

 

Original text, from H. M. Goodwin, “Women’s Suffrage,” New Englander and Yale Review 43, no. 179 (Mar. 1884): 193–213 (reproduced here).

This whole movement for female suffrage is, at least in its motive and beginning, a rebellion against the divinely ordained position and duties of woman, and an ambition for independence and the honors of a more public life; as if any greater and diviner honor could be given to woman than those which God has assigned her; as if the sanctities of home and the sacred duties of wife and mother, with all their sacrifices, were not a higher sphere and a truer glory—a glory she shares with the world’s Redeemer—than the vulgar publicity of the polls and hustings, or even the Senate and the bar.

The practical tendency of women’s suffrage, as all must see, is to impair the unity of the family as a social organism, being itself a denial of it, and to create discord and rivalries between husband and wife, who by the divine ordinance are “no more twain but one flesh,” but by this act are legally declared to be not one but two. Besides, such suffrage is a tacit declaration that the husband and father cannot be trusted to protect the interests of wife and daughter in political as in domestic affairs, which is a sure method of relaxing his sense of responsibility and loosening the ties of family affection. Where there is true affection, the wife, if she vote at all, will vote with her husband, even against her own interest; and where there is not, the multiplying of causes of discord will not remedy but only aggravate the evil.

Not the least disastrous result would be the intolerable burden thrust upon women’s shoulders by imposing political questions and duties in addition to those already borne. Domestic and social duties, never so onerous and distracting as now, the care and nurture of children, with the high and sacred responsibilities involved in these, are enough, and more than enough for most women in this age. To add to these the cares of public life and the turbulent excitements of politics, would be indeed to break the bruised reed.

 

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18 Responses to “against female ordination: a historical comparison”

  1. Kate Kelly

    Bravo Hannah! If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times: It’s pretty telling when you realize the arguments being lobbed against you were popular not in the 1950s, but in the 1850s!

    Reply
    • C.

      Amen! Seriously, nothing’s new, is it? Part of me gets annoyed that people trot out the same old arguments against progress for women as in the last century…but then I’m oddly comforted by the notion that they haven’t been able to come up with any new arguments since then either. They’ve come to the end of them.

      Reply
  2. Jacob H.

    Fantastic! I would also add that I believe that no one should be ordained to the priesthood categorically on the basis of gender, either.

    Reply
  3. S. M.

    From what I understand, The U.S. government certified the state of Utah as a state in the union even with their own state constitution allowing women to vote partly because the U.S. Government thought women’s suffrage in Utah would put an end to polygamy. It did not. That came later. While polygamy is an argument itself, I’d say this is one piece of evidence in a weird way to argue that suffrage did not ‘impair the unity of the family’ as Mormons saw it then, and in the vein of your argument, priesthood power today given to women would not impair the unity of the family.

    Nice discovery!

    Reply
  4. Wallace

    19th century sexism cannot be compared to God’s law, as spoken by his prophets. Well, it can be done, but it shouldn’t.

    Reply
    • Jacob H.

      Why shouldn’t it be compared? Is it because it is too embarrassing? Too glaringly similar?

      Reply
    • Thomas

      Well put, if this church isn’t based on continued divine revelation from a prophet, then what is it based on?

      Reply
  5. FranklinBluth

    We definitely need more input from the membership in the guidance of the church. Church policy and doctrine should be determined by the number of votes in an online petition, not by revelation. Who would want to have a church led by God when you can have one that it led by democracy?

    Reply
    • curtispenfold

      Franklin, who’s to say that God can’t lead His Church through a democracy? Who’s to say that He can’t reveal His Will through His members?

      Reply
      • FranklinBluth

        That hasn’t been how things have been done and everything I read in the D&C indicates to me that the church is not intended to function as a democracy. (I’m sure someone’s going to say, “but common consent!” However, I don’t think common consent is the same thing as democracy.)

    • Jacob H.

      So… back in the day when many more callings were lifelong, ballots were actually cast to help determine leaders. Get out your copy of “Mormonism in Transition”, chapter 6, “Administrative Modernization, 1900-1918”. See the examples of the stake high councils and ward priesthood quorums being asked to cast ballots? The results of the ballots were often accepted as is, sometimes modified upon further inquiry.

      Franklin, don’t be naive and pretend it’s an either-or question. From the beginning the church was set up as a quasi-democracy that honors the input of its members. I would venture to say we can’t run according to God’s will without it.

      Reply
      • FranklinBluth

        It’s been a while since I’ve read Mormonism in transition, so I’m quite impressed with the quick reference. However, callings were not originally by ballot and have not been for quite some time, so that system would appear to be more of an exception than the rule. Besides, I view the appointment of quorum leaders to be a bit different from a major church policy change (as ordaining women surely would be).

        I have trouble viewing the church as originally being a quasi-democracy. Perhaps you can expand more on the idea. Your comment that “we can’t run according to God’s will without” input from the members is difficult for me to reconcile with the scriptures (I mean, Moses didn’t seem particularly concerned with input), and with the vast majority of church history. It’s true that there’s been the rejection of William Smith and the continued acceptance of Sidney Rigdon by the membership, but I’m not willing to concede that either time the membership did a better job of implementing God’s will or that this constitutes “input” that is at all comparable to the kind of “input” proposed by activists looking to push female ordination.

      • curtispenfold

        Moses did look for input. Just look at the story of the Daughters of Zelophehad.

        Lots of programs wouldn’t even exist today without input from the members. Think of the Relief Society, the Word of Wisdom, the Primary Program, the Youth Program, the Seminary Program–so many programs started as common members giving their input.

        In most recent times, we have a letter writing campaign to have a woman pray in General Conference. And then two women did.

        Other decisions by Church leaders seem to have been heavily influenced by outside pressure. Think polygamy and the priesthood ban on blacks.

        I think most major changes in the Church are probably a combination of outside and inside pressures. The mormonsandgays.org for example formed because 1) public backlash after Prop 8, and 2) inside groups like Affirmation and Mormons Building Bridges meeting with Church leaders who were trying to figure out what to do with their public relations fiasco.

        When sexism no longer is acceptable in our society, and the Church receives public criticism for its essentially prejudice policies, they’ll hopefully make the same decision they did with Genesis and Affirmation and turn towards the groups working within the Church, like WAVE and Ordain Women.

      • Jacob H.

        Franklin, thanks for the polite response! You are right that my comment was not directly related to policy / doctrinal decisions. It was more pitted against what your sarcastic comment implied, that input from members somehow contradicts the notion of receiving revelation.

        As for the idea of quasi-democracy, I mean it quite literally as an “apparent but not really”-democracy. To expand a little bit on it, consider how church government mimicked civil processes (and sometimes disrupted or replaced them, especially in the early Utah period). Church issues could be discussed and voted on in conferences of the church. If they weren’t settled in conference, then high councils could meet and decide more difficult issues (D&C 102:23 “In case of difficulty respecting doctrine or principle…”). Often once a revelation was given, even prominent members differed strongly in their interpretation of them. The variation of response to policies and experiments in the church provides fruitful ground for better policy creation and implementation.

        Lastly, consider Joseph Smith’s vision of a theodemocracy, and his implementation of its beginnings with the council of fifty. Sure, not a democracy as we would think of it, but it sought to include the representation of all groups, the expressions of their opinions, and the votes of their representatives for all major policy decisions. Still only quasi-democratic, consonant with the structure of the church itself. Both organizations theoretically allowing the people to raise issues, and have them discussed and deliberated upon. Also, (expanding the immediate meaning of the verse, but not without reason for believing the expansion is valid), I believe that “if… any additional light is shown upon the case, [earlier] decision[s] shall be altered accordingly” (D&C 102:21) can certainly be applied here.

        None of this is meant to relate directly to the ordain women movement. I’m just making a small case for revelation often being the messy result of both top-down and bottom-up effort. And if I had the room, I would even argue for, fuzzy and sometimes subject to change.

    • Lee Ann Renfro

      Thank you…well said.

      I love being a woman in the church! I’m a seminary teacher, wife, mom, high school employee, and I am ever so grateful not to have to take on priesthood duties as well. I grew up in the burn your bra era and I find that it only diminished women. Frankly I liked it when men opened doors, tipped their hats, and treated me with the respect women used to enjoy! Real men still behave this way and real women still revel in being treated like, well, women!

      Reply
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