not in Primary anymore

ordain women: a journey of faith

Another website, another book. More tears, more agony. Faith transitions are tough. Not just tough, sometimes they’re outright debilitating. I spent nearly a month sitting at the computer, crying and searching for anything that could restore my faith—in God, in Jesus as the Christ, in the Church. Anything. As I searched in absolute agony for anything that could rekindle my faith, the words that I had thought and spoken in the past echoed in my ears: “they just don’t understand”, “they just don’t want to work hard enough to make the Gospel work in their lives”, “obviously it’s because they’re unworthy” or “they just need to choose to believe. It’s not that hard.” No words are quite as haunting as the ones that we have uttered, especially when we realize just how wrong we were.

You see, none of these applied to me. I had sacrificed just about everything upon the altar of my faith. I had given up my music and all opportunities to work outside the home in order to be a stay at home mother. I had entered into a marriage that had odds stacked against it from the beginning, because I had been assured that this was God’s plan for us. I had left family and friends to move to a foreign country with my family, all because of one word: Faith. And in spite of all of that, I had become what I so greatly feared in others—a doubter. The puzzle did not fit together the way it had before. The people I had loved and respected so greatly, that I had looked to as the infallible way before me, were clearly imperfect. Atrocities had been committed within my own faith tradition in the name of God or, worse yet, because someone had considered what one man or another had said to be God’s words. Devastated cannot even begin to describe it.

I was terrified of this new information and therefore, started to create an exit plan. What would life outside of the Church look like? Would my marriage survive? How would we raise our children? My identity was so fundamentally entwined with Mormonism that I couldn’t even imagine what life might look like without it. Even more, I didn’t want to know. I wanted to stay, but I didn’t have any idea as to how I could do so in good conscience.

At this time, our second baby was a few months old and, traditionally, this was the time for a baby naming and blessing. My husband had recently felt compelled to take a break from the Church because of life-long wounds that were continually reopened. He needed some time to heal. I was still active and participating.

Despite the fact that a baby blessing and naming is not a saving ordinance, and despite the fact that I was assured that my prayers were as efficacious as any man’s, I could not bless my baby. If we chose to adhere to this tradition, neither of her parents—those who know her best and are responsible for her care and nurturing— could speak the words of God unto her. This troubled me. I could not imagine a God that would cut parents out of such an important event—both because of who they were born to be. There had to be another way.

Simultaneously, Ordain Women was receiving a lot of buzz in Mormon feminist circles. Before, what I had seen from the outside as a group of “angry apostates,” I now realized were women who loved their church greatly but many had experienced the same agony and transition as me. Many of them had also questioned, “If my prayers and devotion are seen equally in God’s eyes, then why is it that the act of pronouncing blessings is restricted from women? Why is it that women are given no true ecclesiastical authority? Why is it that women could participate in the pronouncement of blessings inside of the temple but not without?” These are answers to which there are many folk-doctrinal reasons, “women are too busy. Women hold a parallel priesthood through motherhood (despite the fact that men do not need fatherhood to hold the priesthood). Women are too sacred. Women are already so virtuous. Etc., etc., etc.” but there were no official, doctrinal, or scriptural reasons to uphold it.

And so, one late night after cuddling that sweet little baby I could not name or bless, I sat down to write the words of my heart to support my sisters of Ordain Women. My testimony was so simple at this time of many questions: I am grateful for faith in Heavenly Parents. I want my children to know that all are alike unto God—both male and female.

With trepidation, I hit “submit.”

If I had known then about the transformation of my faith that would come from that one tiny click of the mouse, that trepidation would have been replaced with celebration.

I knew that my choice to publicly support the request for women’s ordination would not be acceptable to my family or many of my close friends. So, I began to study everything I could about women in the early Mormon and Christian traditions. While I could know what felt right in my heart—that persons should not be defined by their body parts but by their hearts, talents, and desires—I knew that wouldn’t be convincing for the nay-sayers in my life.

What I discovered was astounding. I found women of the early Relief Society who laid their hands upon their sisters and daughters to heal and to give mother’s blessings to the women in labour. I was inspired by the way they led their own autonomous women’s organization outside of male jurisdiction, one over which women, rather than men, presided. I read of female prophetesses and great female leaders. I read of feisty feminists who fought for women’s rights at the encouragement of the men in the Church. This was in stark contrast to the woman I was told to be today—the one who called upon her husband and male home teachers for blessings, despite the fact that they could never know what it was to walk around in a woman’s body; the woman who yielded to male authority in the Relief Society; the woman who recognized only males as prophets, seers, and revelators; the woman who was told that feminism was the devil’s work.

As I was learning more about the earliest women of the Church, women who were performing acts that looked a whole lot like what we prescribe today as “priesthood responsibilities,” I also began to read of women in the early Christian tradition. I found deaconesses, prophetesses, and female apostles. I read of the early Hebrews worship of Asherah, a Mother God. Though their stories are scattered and few, they are there—almost hidden for only the most inquisitive to find.

Suddenly a light went on: Joseph Smith didn’t have access to all of this information. He didn’t know that the Hebrews had worshiped a Goddess and yet he taught of our Heavenly Mother. The Nag Hammadi Gnostic Gospels had not yet been uncovered, and yet Joseph taught of the divine within each of us. He encouraged the women of the Church to lay their hands upon the heads of their sisters and brothers to perform gifts of healing despite the deeply patriarchal society that existed at the time. He told the Relief Society that they were a kingdom of priests.

Perhaps this was no accident. Perhaps Joseph was inspired after all.

My prayers had been answered. I had prayed that God would open up a way for me to believe again. Despite the concerns from others that making my questions about women’s ordination vocal and public would lead me out of the Church, they had, in fact, brought me back to faith. All because of one little “submit” button.

I will likely never be able to say that I “know” anything the way that some people suggest they do. My faith is no longer the small seed that was insulated and protected. It has burst its seams, cracked its shell, and all but destroyed itself. What is left is something much more real. While plants are much more vulnerable to the elements than the seed they were in the beginning, they have become what they were meant to become. Shedding the protection and the certainty of our shell is painful and terrifying. With so many people wanting you to enter back into the place of simple, safe faith, it’s tempting to acquiesce. But you soon discover that it is not possible.

Once you have burst the shell, you must grow.

“Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” Alma 32: 28

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19 Responses to “ordain women: a journey of faith”

  1. Nadine

    Thank you for sharing this. It is a really sincere and touching story.

    Reply
  2. Melody

    I am so confused by your article. I can appreciate your struggle with having doubts but the answer seems clear to me, if you believe Thomas Monson is a prophet. If so then why are you still questioning him? I am offended that you believe lds women without the priesthood are somehow oppressed. In this critical time in the world why would you choose to fight against god?

    Reply
    • Katherine

      The thing is that Thomas S Monson has not said anything about this. Obviously church PR statements are getting some kind of approval from somebody, but we really don’t know where they are coming from. I can’t speak for Amy, but I know that for myself I am waiting for the prophet to announce that he has seriously prayed and considered the issue before assuming his stance on anything. So, I think that asking for women to be ordained is not questioning the prophet.

      Reply
      • Pagan

        Katherine, do you really not know where the church’s PR statements are coming from? Do you really suspect this one here doesn’t reflect the view of TSM or the dominant view of the 12? Do you instead perhaps suspect that the recent statement, signed by Jessica Moody, reflects a PR-lackey gone rogue? Or perhaps it was entirely plagiarized and made to merely *look* like it came from official LDS sources?

        I don’t mean to sound harsh or uncaring. I really don’t. But this stance (ummm, the prophet didn’t personally sign the letter, I didn’t watch him sign the letter, the other two first presidency members didn’t sign it with Monson, only a spokesperson signed the letter, it wasn’t uttered in general conference, it wasn’t in an official proclamation… therefore it didn’t happen) sounds a lot like psychological denial . This is all understandable given the circumstances. Those supporting the OW movement are strongly committed to their cause. The recent letter, therefore, evokes a lot of resistance. But to move forward, one has to move past this denial stage and into a more constructive response.

      • Katherine

        Unfortunately, if you reread my reply you’ll note that I said “bviously church PR statements are getting some kind of approval from somebody.” Therefore, acknowledging that this comes from someone. The reason that I hesitate to herald this as the world of God is because it seems that the 15 are cowering behind PR reps. If we are to assume that the answer (which assumes they have asked at all– I’m not convinced they have asked) is “No” then we can only assume that the reason the GAs aren’t openly speaking out is because they know this will cause individuals to leave and throw a wedge between members. I’m going to openly question why they refuse to openly speak about the answer. I’m going to maintain that until a GA says something that it is merely the opinion of “the church” and not an actual opinion of any general authority, or God.

      • amycartwright

        I do not raise my hand in General Conference to sustain Jessica Moody or the PR department.

  3. amycartwright

    I, too, am waiting for further understanding from our leaders. I sustain President Monson as the President of the Church. I am not fighting against God, I am speaking the words of my heart. God is truth. When we speak our truth, we feel God. I bear testimony of this truth in my life.

    Reply
  4. JL

    Didn’t Gordon B. Hinckley already answer this? “Women do not hold the priesthood because the Lord has put it that way. It is part of His program.” – GBH

    Reply
    • amycartwright

      JL, President Gordon B. Hinckley also suggested in an interview with David Ransom that things could change, but that there was no agitation for it at the time.

      RB: At present women are not allowed to be priests in your Church. Why is that?
      GBH: That’s right, because the Lord has put it that way. Now women have a very prominent place in this Church. They have there own organisation. Probably the largest women’s organisation in the world of 3.7 million members. And the women of that organisation sit on Boards. Our Board of Education things of that kind. They counsel with us. We counsel together. They bring in insight that we very much appreciate and they have this tremendous organisation of the world where they grow and if you ask them they’ll say we’re happy and we’re satisfied.
      RB: They all say that?
      GBH: Yes. All except a oh you’ll find a little handful one or two here and there, but in 10 million members you expect that.
      RB: You say the Lord has put it that way. What do you mean by that?
      GBH: I mean that’s a part of His programme. Of course it is, yes.
      RB: Is it possible that the rules could change in the future as the rules are on Blacks ?
      GBH: He could change them, yes. If He were to change them that’s the only way it would happen.
      RB: So you’d have to get a revelation?
      GBH: Yes. But there’s no agitation for that. We don’t find it. Our women are happy. They’re satisfied. These bright, able, wonderful women who administer their own organisation are very happy. Ask them. Ask my wife.
      GBH: Are you happy? (to his wife…)
      Mrs. H: Very happy! (laughs)

      Reply
  5. JL

    Yes, if God wants to change how we act and send a new revelation he can. However, I think President Hinckley’s answer responds to Katherine’s concern that there is no revelation or that the general authorities and God have not spoken about this yet. President Hinckley said “Women do not hold the Women do not hold the priesthood because the Lord has put it that way,” the Church’s official statement to the Ordain Women organization said, “Ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of doctrine that is contrary to the Lord’s revealed organization for His Church,” and the church website, Mormon.org, quote’s President Hinckley in explaining that it is by revelation that women do not hold the Priesthood. If it’s only an answer to the question that some members are seeking, then the answer has been given. Asking God to change his answer on the topic seems as futile as asking Him to change his answer as to the Word of Wisdom or Law of Chastity. Shouldn’t we be focusing more on obeying God’s answers rather than changing them?

    Reply
    • amycartwright

      JL, I completely agree that a new revelation must come from God. But you’ll notice in that interview that President Hinckley also provided some information as to one of the ingredients of revelation and that is agitation. At the time, there was little to no agitation for female ordination, but now there is some. I believe President Hinckley was teaching us how revelation must come when it is desired and worked for. President Kimball echoed these remarks regarding the receipt of the revelation regarding black men and the priesthood.

      “Revelations will probably never come unless they are desired. I think
      few people receive revelations while lounging on the couch or while
      playing cards or while relaxing. I believe most revelations would come
      when a man is on his tip toes, reaching as high as he can for something
      which he knows he needs, and then there bursts upon him the answer
      to his problems.”

      Reply
  6. JL

    I agree, agitation and desire are absolutely necessary when we are seeking revelation. However, I think the issue of women & the Priesthood differs from the issue of blacks & the Priesthood. Blacks did not have the Priesthood as a matter of Church policy, whereas women do not have the Priesthood as a matter of revealed doctrine from God. God changing church policy is common (missionary ages, Sunday block schedule, programs like the PEF, etc.), whereas there is no precedence of God changing revealed doctrine (faith, repentance, baptism, the Godhead, Priesthood keys, etc.). The closest that comes to mind is the Law of Moses (but of course that was preceded by hundreds of years of prophesy). As President Hinckley said, God “could” change the doctrine. But it seems unlikely.

    But if the general authorities did ask God and he once again reaffirmed His doctrine, do you think most people who support the ordained women movement would then be satisfied with His answer and choose to follow it?

    Reply
    • amycartwright

      JL, it seems that how we talk about doctrine and policy in the Church is a little, well, fuzzy. The ban on black men holding the priesthood was certainly taught in its day to be doctrine. I don’t believe this is as damning as some would lead us to believe. Doctrine means teaching, not necessarily truth (though, obviously, doctrine can, and hopefully is, truth). This letter from the First Presidency under George Albert Smith displays that while it was the teaching at the time, and considered to be doctrine, doctrine changes. And I think that’s okay. It’s only the fact that we *believe* doctrine cannot or should not change that is problematic.

      Dear Brother Nelson:
      As you have been advised, your letter of June 16 was received in due course . . . We have carefully considered [its] content; and are glad to advise you as follows:
      We make this initial remark: the social side of the Restored Gospel is only an incident of it; it is not the end thereof.

      The basic element of your ideas and concepts seems to be that all God’s children stand in equal positions before Him in all things. Your knowledge of the Gospel will indicate to you that this is contrary to the very fundamentals of God’s dealings with Israel dating from the time of His promise to Abraham regarding Abraham’s seed and their position vis-a-vis God Himself. Indeed, some of God’s children were assinged to superior positions before the world was formed.

      We are aware that some Higher Critics do not accept this, but the Church does. Your position seems to lose sight of the revelations of the Lord touching the pre-existence of our spirits, the rebellion in heaven, and the doctrines that our birth into this life and the advantages under which we may be born, have a religionship in the life heretofore.

      From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith even until now, it is has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel.

      Furthermore, your ideas, as we understand them, appear to contemplate the intermarriage of the Negro and White races, a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient partiarchs till now. God’s rule for Israel, His Chosen People, has been endogamous. Modern Israel has been similarly directed.

      We are not unmindful of the fact that there is a growing tendency, particularly among some educators, as it manifests itself in this are, toward the breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between whites and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine.

      Faithfully yours,
      [signed]
      George Albert Smith
      J. Reuben Clark, Jr.
      David O. McKay
      The First Presidency

      Reply
  7. JL

    I agree. Doctrine defined as “teachings” or manner to explain truth does change. However, doctrine defined as “truth” or universal laws does not. Unfortunately, church leaders have not always been clear as to which definition they are referring when they use words like doctrine, teaching, truth, law, or policy. It seems that they’ve gotten much better, perhaps a lesson learned from previous era. Although humans are not always clear on what side of the line an issue falls, a line certainly exists. I suppose only time will tell whether the women & the Priesthood issue is doctrine defined as truth or doctrine defined as teaching/policy.

    But I am still curious as to your thoughts on my prior question. If church leadership came out and clarified that God revealed this issue to be doctrine and immutable truth, do you think those you know who support the ordained women movement would accept, follow, and support this answer?

    Reply
  8. amycartwright

    JL, for me, personally, I would continue faithful. I have faith in the Church, not in the Church should women be ordained. The hope and desire of my heart is that women are ordained, but it is not the foundation upon which my testimony rests.

    Reply
  9. JL

    I’m glad to hear that. I sometimes wonder if the reason church leadership has not been even more clear on the issue is because they fear it would shatter the faith of some in the Church–both those who strongly support and strongly oppose the ordination of women. It seems that either way, before we can receive a clear answer we must be willing to follow whatever answer is given. If we are not ready, it is best that no answer be given so that more people continue in their faith.

    Reply

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