Women and the Priesthood – A Deeper Look

My heart aches, and the tears that I thought were long since finished have been flowing freely again. Again I’m feeling rejected, dismissed, and shunned by strangers, acquaintances, friends, and even some of my own family members for my sincere and heart-felt questions, desires, and pain. I and many like me have been painted again as dangerous, threatening, poisonous, and, in some cases, apostate.

Too many I know are being summoned by their local leadership (some at the behest of the general leadership of the LDS church, despite claims to the contrary) to disciplinary councils because of their honest questions and sincere desire to follow Christ and God. A handful of (online) prominent LDS members were recently issued letters indicating they would be put on trial before church courts for apostasy because of their beliefs. Among them was Kate Kelly, the founder of the Ordain Women movement.

The mission statement of Ordain Women contains the following (you can read the full mission statement here):

Based on the principle of thoughtful, faith-affirming strategic action, Ordain Women aspires to create a space for Mormon women to articulate issues of gender inequality they may be hesitant to raise alone. As a group we intend to put ourselves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood. We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.

Ordain Women is a peaceful activist movement, organized by and filled with women (many with whom I am well acquainted) who are sincerely seeking an answer from The Lord via the LDS general leadership about the gender inequality that remains in the church organization, despite the wording in The Book of Mormon stating that “black and white, bond and free, male and female . . . all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). Ordain Women’s proposed solution to this inequality is to ordain women to the currently all-male LDS priesthood. This would, in effect, offer women the opportunity to be involved in decision-making, leadership, and many other avenues of service and responsibility which are currently only available to male members of the church.

However, the church leadership has taken the stance that female ordination to the all-male priesthood is entirely out of the picture. Interestingly, President Hinckley, quoted in the above FAQ link, stated in the same television interview that at “present” (1997), there is “no agitation” for revelation concerning whether or not women should be allowed to hold the Priesthood, but that revelation from The Lord to change that policy is not out of the realm of possibility. Now there is agitation. Now women are asking the leaders to ask The Lord. They are trying to be faithful. But they are being turned away, without any answer except “it’s always been this way” and “stop asking.”

While I am not personally a member of the Ordain Women group, I fully support their desires and attempts to get doctrinal clarification from God on this important issue. I will be attending a vigil in a few hours to show my support for Kate and others like her.

The scriptures (that the LDS church claims to believe as the words of God) say “mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort“, not “tell them to keep their questions private and stop telling other people when they hurt”. Christ spent his time with sinners and those who were in pain. He loved them and taught them and persuaded them. Never did he tell them to stop asking because they might hurt someone else’s opinions, feelings, or perceptions. Sincerity should never be met with the command of silence.

We are asking for change, and the asking makes people uncomfortable, but the fact of the matter is that much change in the past history of the LDS church has come about by the questioning of the lay membership. For a simple example, take the creation of the primary, which was an idea started in a local area (by women, incidentally) and later adopted through the entire church. Or take, for example, some of the changes made to the endowment ceremony, which were done after surveying focus groups.

Change is seldom easy.

But wasn’t it Christ who questioned the inequitable actions of those around him, urging them to turn their hearts to God? The simple fact of the matter is that the inequality will never be addressed by the general leadership unless they hear from the local and lay membership. But there is NO process for feedback to make it directly to the general leadership. So we are left to agitate until notice is taken.

If you read the Nauvoo Relief Society minutes it is clear that the way women are regarded in the church now is not the way Joseph Smith intended. Joseph stated that it was acceptable for women to give blessings, and he in fact intended for the relief society to be autonomous. It wasn’t until correlation happened that this autonomy was taken away.

Along similar lines, the history of race and the priesthood is something Mormons are well acquainted with. From the LDS website:

During the first two decades of the Church’s existence, a few black men were ordained to the priesthood. One of these men, Elijah Abel, also participated in temple ceremonies in Kirtland, Ohio, and was later baptized as proxy for deceased relatives in Nauvoo, Illinois. There is no evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.

The article goes on to explain that this policy was changed by Brigham Young, who denied black men the ability to be ordained to the priesthood. This tradition was held until 1978 when the current church president, Spencer W. Kimball, received revelation from The Lord and the restriction was removed. Petitioning The Lord was what brought about this revelation. There is no reason to doubt that a similar petition on behalf of the daughters of God would bring about revelation and clarification, especially for a church that claims belief in continuing revelation (Articles of Faith 9).

If the LDS church is teaching truth, then what do they have to fear from people asking that the doctrines be examined to find reason for the cultural norms? Truth will win. There is nothing to fear where there is nothing to hide.

While I may not agree completely with the stated purpose of Ordain Women, I nevertheless feel strongly that all should be welcomed, loved, and accepted, regardless of their struggles and whether they choose to share those or keep them private.

Just because you don’t feel or understand the pain of the Mormon feminists – my pain – or their questions – my questions – or their sincere desires for the general leadership to ask God for direction in something that matters to them, does not nullify that pain, those questions, and that sincerity. We are daughters (and sons – yes there are Mormon men among our ranks) of our Heavenly Parents too, just like you. And we, like you, want to feel valued and accepted by the church organization, just as we are valued and accepted by God.

We may not agree. Your definition of “value” and “acceptance” may be different from mine. But that doesn’t justify meanness or snark or a blanket dismissal of our – my – concerns.

Have you had a real, sincere, open conversation with a Mormon feminist? Because I am one. And I am more than willing to talk with you. And I’m nowhere near as dangerous as mainstream Mormonism makes me out to be. Yes, I’m fringey. Yes, I may be more liberal than makes you comfortable. But you don’t have to agree with me to love me and have empathy for my very real, very sincere, and very deep pain.

Please remember when you share those condemning articles that are floating around the Mormon internet right now that you are talking about me, and that it brings me great pain to know that my views, concerns, and opinions won’t be considered or respected by you. I am a real person with real feelings. So is every other person out there. Just like you, we deserve to have our feelings and opinions respected, whether you agree with us or not.

Believe what you want – that is your right. I simply ask that you allow me to do the same without condemning me, especially since you can’t understand my position until you’ve tried. I believe God intends more for Their daughters and that They hear my pain and my tears and the pain and tears of so many others.

Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. Show kindness, empathy, and love whether you agree with them or not. This is the way to be Christlike, which, if I’m not mistaken, is the whole point.

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7 Responses to Women and the Priesthood – A Deeper Look

  1. Jim Harmer says:

    Hey Christine,

    I’m sorry you’re in pain.

    Just want to put in my two cents. First of all, after careful study of the scriptures, I do not see anything that shows that Heavenly Father permanently forbids women from ever receiving the priesthood. There are some scriptures that could be interpreted this way, and if that is the way the Lord wants it then who am I to think otherwise?

    That does not mean that women will or should receive the Priesthood. All I am saying is that I don’t see a permanent block from within the text of the standard works.

    However, I believe that the way that the ordain women movement is approaching revelation is inappropriate. Suggesting ways for the church to improve through proper channels is always welcome; however, in most of the comments I’ve read from those who identify with this group, I do not see a “Thy will be done” attitude.

    I’m not saying this is true of you, but I don’t see the level of deference to the prophet’s ability to guide the Church in its proper course that I believe we should give.

    I have learned for myself that the prophet is leading the church through revelation. I believe that those who question and seek out knowledge for themselves are those who have the greatest opportunity to grow closer to Christ.

    But when I first went to law school and began the study of logic, I had a very long period in my life when I found it difficult to believe anything because of my constant doubting and critiquing.

    Questions bring revelation. But without the “thy will be done” attitude, it only brings doubt and pain.

    So I think it’s great that you have this question. I think it’s great that many are asking this question.

    But I also have faith that Christ is leading His church through the prophet. It is our duty to suggest improvement to the church through proper channels, but it is also our duty after making that suggestion in the right way and in the right spirit to defer to the prophet to proceed at that point in the proper way.

    I believe the prophet has heard the question–even though it has often been raised through incorrect channels and I believe with an incorrect attitude recently. So now, if we really do have the “they will be done” attitude, we can just believe that Christ will guide us through His prophet in the appropriate way.

    • Christine says:

      Jim, thanks so much for your comments. Know that I understand that you aren’t trying to condemn me personally or judge my feelings or beliefs. For that I am very grateful.

      I agree with you – some of the things that have come about due to the Ordain Women movement have been less than positive (on both the side of the movement and on the side of the church). But there have been small steps taken toward love and equality as well.

      As in all organizations, you can’t judge the motive of the leader by the actions of the members. Please remember that while some of the supporters of the Ordain Women movement have not been as Christlike as we might have hoped, that doesn’t speak a word of Kate and her actions and intentions, nor of me or mine.

      It is terribly unfortunate that the events of yesterday have brought to light the fact that questions are not welcome in the LDS church. All Kate was asking was for the leadership (President Monson and the apostles) to ask God for revelation concerning an issue about which many (a significant minority, yes, but we are nonetheless individuals who deserve respect and consideration) desire to know God’s will. Asking the leadership to ask for and receive revelation and clarification for the church as a body is the prescribed way we’ve been given. If this is not welcome, then I fear the church has deviated significantly from Joseph Smith and Christ, both whom entertained and discussed difficult questions without condemnation or fear.

      If, indeed, the leadership has heard our questions and concerns, and if, indeed, they have taken these questions to The Lord, I would love to hear that. But statements from the PR department hardly constitute “revelation.” Where is “thus sayeth The Lord?” Where is President Monson to teach us what God has spoken to him? Sending the PR department is not an adequate substitute for revelation, and I will not sit by and let it pass as “revelation.” It isn’t. That’s the simple fact of the matter.

      Should God weigh in on this issue and say that women are not entitled to “priesthood” in this church, then the discussion changes. Then I begin to question the wording in the temple that tells me I will be a “priestess.” Because this wording is very plain.

      Should God weigh in on this issue and say that the time is not now, again – the discussion changes. Then it becomes an issue of me (and others like me) developing sufficient humility to accept the will of The Lord.

      But until God’s will is stated, how can anyone take ANY position with ANY assumption of its correctness and unilateral application?

      I have my beliefs, and you have yours. But I long for a day when discussion of my beliefs and desires does not classify me as “apostate” and subject me to the shunning of those who claim to follow Christ. Christ showed love and empathy to all, even His enemies – even those who ultimately facilitated His death. Love and empathy do not imply agreement – simply an attempt to value and accept the diversity of the human family.

  2. Jim Harmer says:

    I’m terrible at expressing myself on this kind of topic in a blog comment, so please don’t understand my message as saying anything of YOUR attitude toward the question. You know better than I what attitude you have. I’m speaking of the movement in general and what I’ve seen over the last few months from many of my friends who have commented on the topic.

  3. Annette says:

    Very well put. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It’s been distressing to me to see comments from friends of mine that have the basic attitude of, “why don’t they just leave? No one is making them stay.” It saddens me that this topic makes people uncomfortable, and that in response to that discomfort, they are eager for the topic—and the people bringing it up—to just go away. Christ was always welcoming, always compassionate. All he requires of us is faith in him. Hopefully we can all learn to be like the woman with the issues of blood. We should all be reaching for his garment, with the faith that he will share his virtue with each one of us who believes.

    • Christine says:

      Annette, thank you for your kind words.

      It is so unfortunate that so many would prefer that I (and others like me) simply leave the church when disagreements arise. I have heard these sentiments by many, and have personally been told numerous times to “just leave” if I don’t like the way things are. Yet never did Christ turn away those with sincere questions. Rather, He taught by love, patience, and persuasion. That example speaks volumes to me of the love Christ and God have for each individual. Every human being matters to Them, even those who don’t understand or can’t believe. Do I love my children any less because they yell that they hate me when they don’t get their way? Yes, I hurt when they say those things, but no – that doesn’t diminish my love for them. I understand their pain, because I have felt injustice myself. I understand that something small, insignificant, and trivial to me is a mountain to them. Certainly God, our Heavenly Parents, are infinitely more capable of understanding the same in Their children. And certainly Christ, who has suffered “all things,” perfectly understands the pain this issue has caused to women (and men) who are sincerely seeking guidance about this issue.

      I believe God and Christ wept yesterday when Kate was excommunicated for asking a sincere question. I continue to weep today. My heart is broken for her and for myself. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I pray to God for the courage to continue to love and forgive.

  4. Adrian Larsen says:


    Thank you for so poignantly bringing this issue not only to my attention, but to my compassion as well. In this blog, as well as in other conversations, you’ve opened my eyes and heart to many truths I would not otherwise easily accept.

    I may not agree with all the tactics or purposes of the Ordain Women movement, but I certainly agree they are asking important questions that deserve respectful and thorough answers. And the importance of the answers goes well beyond the marginalization of LDS women and the feelings on both sides of the issue. The questions being asked go right to the heart of godliness itself. What is priesthood? How does it operate? Through whom can and should it operate? How does one obtain it? Is it right to seek it? What part does it play in God’s work and glory?

    Since most of our current understanding is completely unscriptural, the pat answers in the Sunday School manual are utterly unable to address these important questions that go right to the heart of salvation. If the church leadership is unable or unwilling to provide the answers requested, then what are we to do? Furthermore, if the church leadership is not honest and forthright enough to admit they don’t have the answers either, but instead resorts to persecuting and seeking to silence the askers of the questions, where does that leave anyone who has a question?

    If we cannot ask our leaders, who can we ask?

    In the final analysis, if there is any good to come of this unfortunate situation, perhaps it is the realization that it must end where it began–in prayer, alone, perhaps in a grove, where a desperate child of God, lacking wisdom and finding herself in the lone and dreary world, offers prayer to the only one who can provide answers.

    The more we come to rely on this method of seeking truth, and the less we cling to the arm of flesh, the better off we will be as individuals and as a church.

    • christine says:


      As always, I appreciate and value your input. I think you bring out a good point – that the issue at hand is actually delving into something much deeper than ordination and equality. Rather, this issue is touching on a topic about which some of us are seeking more information than is currently available to us through the institution: the nature of priesthood and its relationship to God, humans, and ultimately its role in our eternal welfare.

      It is profoundly difficult to feel that the members of the LDS church have been placed in a position where the only answers we are allowed to accept are those that come from the leadership, when at the very same time the leadership is not engaging in discussion with us about our questions and concerns. I understand that those asking are a vast minority, but still – it’s difficult to feel that we’re being ignored.

      But you are absolutely right – ultimately, it comes down to each individual searching out the answers to these questions on their own. For me, those answers have not been leading me toward the institution of the LDS church – in fact, the more I delve into the Book of Mormon, the teachings of Joseph Smith, and my own personal relationship with God, the more I begin to see how far the LDS church has strayed from The Lord and the gospel. I don’t believe this is or was intentional on the part of either the leaders or the members; rather, I suspect much of it is a side effect of the enormous size of the organization and the uncomfortable place the leaders find themselves in when they make inaccurate statements and members follow blindly. Too many of us have given the leaders too much responsibility for our individual spirituality, and it is time to take that back. It’s time to allow them the opportunity to be human and make mistakes just as we all do, and trust that they are doing the best they can with the information they have at present.

      But in the meantime, I do hope that the the two sides of this issue can come together and have a discussion. And that those who don’t have a personal interest in the topic can be more compassionate towards those of us who do. We’ve all made mistakes – I’ll be the first to admit that I’m about as imperfect as a person can possibly be. I hope for empathy and love on both sides of this issue.

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