Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?
You don't need to be helped any longer.
You've always had the power . . .
Then why didn't you tell her before?
Because she wouldn't have believed me. She
had to learn it for herself.
Recently, one of my former students apprised me of a new website, ordainwomen.org, which advocates for the ordination of women to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods in the LDS Church. The website aims to collect “I support ordination” profiles that are posted to the website, and in so doing break down social barriers to public discussion of the idea that women should be ordained to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods.
There is much to admire about this effort. One only has to read the profiles to feel there is much good-heartedness there, and much reflection. Clearly evident is a sincere desire to improve gender relations in the Church to more closely match a more heavenly ideal, and to offer balm to souls wounded by the current state of those relations within our faith community and within the broader society.
However, I must also confess to a strong reaction, which has no label in our language, but feels like the urge to laugh and to cry at the same time. As a feminist, the idea that men would ever have the right or ability to give women divine power strikes me as deeply anti-feminist. Are we saying that only with the permission of men and by the hand of men can women partake of divine power? And that since male permission has not been forthcoming to this point, women in fact possess no divine power at present? That we women are reduced to pleading with men to give us our power? A laugh wells up in me at the sheer irony of this “feminist” position, but at the very same moment, I also feel to weep bitter tears in the realization that only a profoundly toxic culture for women could produce a situation where good-hearted women and men advocate an anti-feminist position as a step forward for women.
Please do not misunderstand. I am not opposing the ordination of women to divine power. Not at all—I am suggesting they already possess divine power and authority, and not by the hand of men and not by the “permission” of men. Dorothy already has those ruby slippers on; she just hasn’t realized it yet. And it is plain no man can tell her this truth; she has to learn it for herself. When she does learn, she will then seek to fully hold her birthright, and no longer mistakenly plead for a man to bequeath it to her. As women more fully wield their birthright of divine power, our community will finally be able to approach Zion. All heaven waits for the rising of the daughters of Zion, for the last shall be first and the first last in the fullness of time.
It is quite possible that something like ordainwomen.org is part of that learning process, and thus to be welcomed for the discussion it brings. But the approach taken by ordainwomen.org is also a symptom and a sign that our culture has profoundly distorted our vision on these matters. The essay by A. Don Sorensen in this issue of SquareTwo touches upon this very point:
The Saints have learned through the revelation giving the priesthood to worthy Black members that the church is not a whites-are-first church, and we have learned through the exhilarating internationalization of the Church and its leadership that it is not an Americans-are-first church. These steps of loving change, guided by our leaders, have only increased our prospects of successfully building a Zion community, as many who thought themselves first begin to see that those whom they saw as last are not so in the eyes of God (see Luke 13:29-30). The next transformation preceding Zion may be to learn with our whole beings and to an extent we currently cannot conceive that the church is not a males-are-first church.
If we are near that transformation, a period of great introspection and some pain and some change is before us. We should not shrink from it, but should rather embrace it as a refiner’s fire. If we have faith in God and really want to be like him, we must listen to the voices of the women. As with male voices, not all that is said or recommended by female voices will be right, but without hearing those voices, without speaking and listening in righteousness, there will be inadequate emotional impetus for the Saints to become Zion.
Why should women be hopeful or joyful? Why should women feel they are truly equal in God’s eyes and his plan, when current practice and language can be interpreted by some as suggesting that they are not? Why should women look forward to heavenly life with great expectation? Why should women have faith that the things they now suffer as women will finally be overcome? Why should women be as happy to bring daughters into the world as sons? In a time when women appear to be coming into their own, unless questions such as these are answered in a gospel context many of our women may turn to the “world and the wisdom thereof” to learn what to think and to feel about who and what they are, can be, and should be.
I. Women’s Divine Power
One of the enduring anxieties we face as human beings is the meaning of sexual differentiation. Why are there “two,” when “one” seems so much more simple, united, whole, and coherent? What good can there be in “two-ness”? After many years of reflection on this topic, my opinion is that “two” opens the possibility of love, whereas “one” closes in on only one possibility, self-love. Though God calls us to be of one heart and one mind, we can only call satanic the will to have all beings be the same as we are--a state rightly called misery. Somehow love, difference, and equality in the context of that difference are all integrally bound together. And only love can bring forth new life; self-love is always sterile.
Without this perspective, however, sexual differentiation becomes a problem to be solved, not a joy to be experienced. Societies in our fallen world have “solved” the “problem” of sexual differentiation by making the “one” the standard, lifted high above the “second sex.” Exploitative and hierarchical visions of marriage—an institution originally meant to be the sacrament of peace between the “two”—abound, their ugliness paving the way for a rejection of marriage altogether.
Unfortunately for our faith community, our doctrine may wind up filtered through these cultural misconceptions, which prevailed more intensely in earlier days, but still may be said to be prevalent in new forms today. If it is so filtered, we may find ourselves interpreting our doctrine in light of our cultural assumptions that men are “the standard,” and women are deformed, lesser derivatives of men good only to serve those with different genitalia and loftier position. In this view, all power belongs to the superior sex, and anything good flows from him (and not her). If one were to try and restore the Gospel in such a culture, it would not be surprising to see cultural misconceptions color interpretations of the Gospel in such a way that men are highlighted and women overlooked, that men are viewed as powerful and women as powerless, that men are seen as important and women as auxiliary, and that this is all considered part of “God’s good plan.” The only rational path for woman in such a context would be to aspire and strive to become like man. All progress for her would be defined and measured in terms of whether she “looks” more like men “look” over time, and in terms of what men will “allow” her to have. The appeal to men to ordain women seems to me an example of this perspective. This is all very sad, but all very understandable as well.
But rather than allow our culture to remake our doctrine, might we rather allow our doctrine to remake our culture? Our faith community has an absolutely revolutionary conception of male-female relations. The LDS Church preaches that there is a Mother in Heaven, co-equal with our Father in Heaven, and that godhood cannot exist without an equal partnership between men and women. It preaches that Eve did not sin in the Garden of Eden, but was foreordained to partake first of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and rewarded for so doing. The LDS Church preaches that women are to have equal counsel (“voice”) and equal consent (“vote”) with men in councils from the family to the nation and beyond, for men and women were meant to rule “with” each other according to our doctrine. The LDS Church preaches that the government of heaven is family governance, ruled by a Mother and a Father in equal partnership, and that we should emulate that pattern in our own families here on earth. The LDS Church preaches that in addition to all the overlapping roles that men and women share, that they also play distinctive, sequenced roles in the Great Plan of Happiness, with the mutual dependence thereby created undergirding the possibilities of love and life in this world and in the world to come. The Two Trees in the Garden of Eden symbolize two doorways, one whose ordinances are presided over by the daughters of God and one whose ordinances are presided over by the sons of God, and that men and women are to hearken to each other as we pass through the doorways in sequence. The divine power of women is no less than the divine power of men. This is the most radical vision of equality and peace between men and women preached by any religion in the world, in my opinion. This doctrine, restored in these latter days, has the power to neutralize the toxicity of our culture—if we let it. Our doctrine calls us to nothing less than a completely new way of life as men and women.
One important thing we are taught by our doctrine is that the sons of God are apprentices to Heavenly Father, and that the final destiny of a son of God--the pinnacle of all he can hope to attain--is the Fatherhood. (Mosiah 14:10) What we call the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods are simply the path of apprenticeship to become a Heavenly Father. After all, God the Father does not call himself after one of the offices of the apprenticeship—of all the titles he could possibly claim, God the Father takes unto himself the title of Father. We need to understand this more fully than we have to date. Biological fatherhood here on earth is not the template for Fatherhood; rather, Fatherhood is the template for biological fatherhood here on earth. What we call priesthood, then, is Fatherhood-training, qualifying a son of God more fully to become a Heavenly Father than biological fatherhood alone, expanding and deepening our concept of what it means to be a father in mortality. Indeed, one can aspire to Fatherhood and progress in one’s apprenticeship to become a Father without ever having sired a child in this mortal life and, in turn, biological fatherhood can be profoundly magnified when a man has apprenticed himself to the Father in the glorious work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of mankind in the Great Plan of Happiness.
And so it is for the daughters of God. The daughters of God are apprentices to Heavenly Mother, and the final destiny of a daughter of God--the pinnacle of all she can hope to attain--is the Motherhood. Biological motherhood here on earth is not the template for Motherhood; rather, Motherhood is the template for biological motherhood here on earth. The apprenticeship to be a Mother has, at various times in the Church, been called priestesshood; at other times it has been referred to as being a Mother in Israel or a Mother in Zion. This apprenticeship is Motherhood-training, qualifying one more fully to become a Heavenly Mother than biological motherhood alone, expanding and deepening our concept of what it means to be a mother in mortality. Indeed, one can aspire to Motherhood and progress in one’s apprenticeship without ever having given birth to a child in this mortal life and, in turn, biological motherhood can be profoundly magnified when a woman has apprenticed herself to the Mother in the magnificent work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of mankind in the Great Plan of Happiness.
Given these interlocking stewardships in the Plan, it is evident that at some point men were asked to hearken unto the daughters of God in their apprenticeship to Heavenly Mother. It is my opinion that this covenant was undertaken by the sons of God before approaching the doorway of the First Tree, over which the daughters of God preside. Later, once past the First Tree, women are asked to hearken unto the sons of God in their apprenticeship to Heavenly Father. We know this covenant is undertaken by the daughters of God before approaching the doorway of the Second Tree over which the sons of God preside.
When we step back, what we see is a beautiful Plan in which men and women hold equal power and hearken unto each other in order to bring to pass the eternal life of mankind. From this vantage point stepping back, what would it mean for women to ask men to ordain them to divine power in the apprenticeship that prepares one to become a Father? That’s a head-scratcher for sure.
No, from this perspective, one’s eyes should be more focused on issues of the implementation of equal partnership, with equal voice, equal vote, equal hearkening, equal opportunity to express talents, equal opportunity to bless the children of mankind, and the norm of unanimity in decision-making all being topics of deep reflection and discussion. One would also be interested in the adumbration of doctrine to clarify any points of dispute or tradition that might hinder the realization of the equal and loving partnership God intended there to be between men and women.
II. Forward Movement by the Church, and Things to Watch For
What, then, is the Church? It is the organized means by which the sons of God offer the fruit of the Second Tree by the ordinances thereof to those among the children of God worthy to receive it. It operates variously as a school in which to hear and learn the Word of God, a hospital in which to find healing for wounded souls, an outfitting company to prepare souls to successfully cross the veil headed towards Home. In the earliest days of humanity, these functions all took place within the family itself, for then all biological fathers were also apprentices to the Father. (And in the next life, it is possible there will again be no Church, but only families.) However, as there arose families in which these activities no longer took place because of sin and apostasy, an auxiliary organization designed to support families in these specific ways became necessary. That auxiliary serving the family’s needs with regard to the fruit of the Second Tree is the Church. The Church, then, is the great gift the sons of God give to the family, and they preside over its organization and the administration of the ordinances of the Second Tree in support of the highest unit, the family. They may ask for, or call and set apart, particular daughters of God to help them in their work, such as sister missionaries or female temple workers.
Some have suggested that men’s presiding in the Church means that men preside over women in general, and women are subordinate to men not only in the Church, but in families and communities as well. In that view, the only way to rectify that circumstance would be to obtain for women the power that men hold in their apprenticeship to the Father—that is, women would have to be ordained to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. This appears to be the conclusion reached by ordainwomen.org.
In my opinion, this is a distorted view for two reasons. First, the Church as an organization in the Kingdom of God is but an auxiliary to a far more important organization—the family. The Church is not above the family—rather, the family is above the Church in importance to God. And second, in this highest organization of the family, we have been told repeatedly that men and women are to be absolutely equal and sincerely loving partners. The man does not preside over the marriage. Both the husband and the wife are in charge of the marriage; they are co-presidents of the family, moving forward only by unanimous consent.
Women have their own gift that they give to the family, and their own set of ordinances over which they preside, and they may ask for, or call apart, particular sons of God to help them in this work. More than biological motherhood--though biological motherhood is an exquisite expression of it--apprenticeship to the Mother qualifies one to wield the power inherent in the apprentices’ position as what we might call Specific Authorities—those whose hearts understand most fully the hearts of particular beloved individuals, those who hands weave together temporal and spiritual life in all its infinite variety of personalized detail for individuals, those whose spirit can most closely touch and guide the spirit of the beloved through a powerful resonance. In Motherhood, we see the power by which hearts can be moved to beat together as one and how new life can be brought forth, symbolized in the events of biological motherhood but operative even in its absence. To use an analogy, this apprenticeship is both as focused as counting the number of hairs on the head of a baby and as broad and as wide as remaking the world in which that baby will grow up.
In the family, the divine powers of the apprentices to the Father and the apprentices to the Mother have their fullest flowering because they ideally work in perfect tandem, literally hand in hand. It is when we speak of the situation outside of the family that confusion sets in. More specifically, confusion sets in when we ask what is the role of women in the Church, which is the gift of the sons of God to the family? What is the role of women in their communities and their nations, which are still predominantly run by men?
The operative principle that can be applied to these situations is that women and men should have equal voice in all the councils of humanity. Men should not hold a privileged position in shaping the world in which women and their children and loved ones must live. This principle of equal voice must extend beyond the family: women should be equally represented in the leadership of towns, cities, nations, and the world. The world will never find sustainable solutions to its problems without the input of women, who weave the threads of life. Entire books have been written on this subject, and UN Security Council resolutions passed, such as UNSC 1325.
In the Church, priesthood holders must also ensure that women are given equal voice. The Church will never reach its full potential without the perspective and participation of women. New programs and policies should not be undertaken without input from women, who will see consequences unforeseen by men. Indeed, many things benefit from women's insights--for example, buildings should not be designed without input from women who have somewhat differing perspectives on physical accommodation. Women should have a standing invitation to make recommendations to ecclesiastical leadership at both local and general levels for new programs and initiatives and adjustments to those already in place. The Church cannot serve its members as well as it should without understanding those members through the eyes of the Specific Authorities as well as through the eyes of the General Authorities; the eyes of the Mothers as well as the eyes of the Fathers. From recent news articles, it appears this is in fact happening at the highest levels of Church leadership; we hope it is also happening at the local level, as well.
And this brings us to the question of authority. I have heard some say, sure, let women have equal voice, but authority is the right of men alone. Men do hold the keys of their apprenticeship, just as women hold the keys of their apprenticeship, and the keys symbolize authority. But think further: do not questions of who has or does not have authority fade as we truly incorporate the principle of unanimity in our councils? Do we not already see this at work in our marriages? I would submit that when unanimity is the rule (D&C 107:27) , the entire notion of authority changes. Yes, men will continue to hold certain keys of divine power that women do not, and women will continue to hold certain keys of divine power that men do not, but when we do things unanimously and with equal voice in all our councils, the whole matter becomes a horse of a different color.
Consider what President Henry B. Eyring recounted about his first exposure to a meeting of the Brethren when Harold B. Lee was prophet:
This is the strangest conversation I have ever heard. Here are the prophets of God and they are disagreeing with an openness that I had never seen in business. [Then] I saw the most incredible thing. Here are these gifted people with different opinions and suddenly the opinions just began to line up . . . I had seen unity some out of a wonderful, open exchange that I had never seen in all my studies of government of business or anywhere else . . . Then [I] was surprised again. President Lee said, “I think we will bring this matter up again some other time. I sense there is someone in the room who is not yet settled. And he went on to the next item. [At] the end of the meeting, [I] witnessed a member of the Twelve walk past President Lee and say, “Thank you.” “This is the true Church of Jesus Christ . . . We can be open. We can be direct. We can talk about differences in a way that you can’t anywhere else, because we are all just looking for the truth.” (Church News, Oct 20, 2007, p. 6)
To its everlasting credit, the Church has begun plucking the noxious weeds of old cultural understandings about these things from our garden. I gratefully count five weeds recently consigned to the trash heap; how many do you count?
1) The new Youth manuals define priesthood as “the eternal power and authority of our Heavenly Father.” Hallelujah! Before, the formulation was that priesthood was the eternal power and authority of “God” on earth, which immediately led the listener to conclude that women must be excluded from all divine power and authority. But now, with the new formulation, we see that there may be a second source of divine power and authority—our Heavenly Mother . . . and that means the daughters of God can understand that they wield that power and authority.
2) The new Mission Leadership Councils. Each mission will now have this council to direct its affairs, which will include both the mission president and the mission matriarch (we really need a better appellation than “the mission president’s wife'), elders and sister missionaries. Again, Hallelujah! When I heard this, I remembered many years ago President Elaine Jack saying that she hoped women’s input on the missionary program of the Church would be sought, since the mothers of these young missionaries know them best. I bet she is smiling today that her hope was far exceeded by this new reality. 
3) Women praying in General Conference for the first time in April 2013. Hallelujah! And notice the Brethren made sure a woman said a closing prayer and another woman said an opening prayer, lest some near-sighted local leadership decide that women could only do one and not the other! The Brethren apparently are well aware how things can get very weird at the local level if they are not scrupulously careful in their messaging.
4) Men and women sitting together at a table and talking as equals in the last several Worldwide Leadership sessions. Just seeing women leaders converse in a non-subordinate way with apostles is enough for some members to finally open their eyes to see that the Church means what it says about equal partnership. This kind of explicit role modeling is absolutely invaluable, and I hope the sight becomes so normal that we would think it not just odd, but bizarre, if it were any other way.
5) A binder full of blunt, unequivocal talks by General Authorities about the equal partnership of men and women, with boatloads of advice about what is considered the proper way for the sons of God to interact with the daughters of God, and clear demarcations of what behavior by his sons will be condemned by the Lord. I’ve been collecting this material for years, and now my file is literally bursting with talks and quotes. They are coming so fast and furious I can hardly keep up with them. The wind has changed, brothers and sisters, and there is no going back. The co-presidency of men and women in the human family, reflecting the co-presidency of our Heavenly Parents, is becoming better recognized, and there is strong encouragement and even exhortation to apply that recognition in our own lives at every level. We are now striding towards Zion, not merely ambling. What an amazing time for women in the Church!
As we move towards Zion, I think we will see several important new steps forward for women, and more noxious weeds pulled as well. These are just a personal vision of what might be in the near term . . . and for the long term, though we do not now understand all the changes it will bring, we know we will realize Zion in full.
--I anticipate that in the future we will see portrayed in the endowment ceremony that Eve actually had something to say after the Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden. Right now, she turns into a potted plant after that departure. Women (and men) have read into her complete silence things that are not true.
--I anticipate we will see a greater indication of our doctrinal belief that Eve did not sin in partaking of the fruit of the First Tree.
--I anticipate we will see a greater indication that in partaking of the fruit that Eve gave him, Adam is hearkening unto Eve in righteousness, as he no doubt covenanted to do in the pre-existence. In that way, women (and men) will see that there were two hearkenings in the Garden of Eden story: men are to hearken to women, and women are to hearken to men.
--Currently, a dead woman may be sealed to more than one man, but a living woman may not. (See discussion in the book Women in Eternity, Women of Zion.) A widow with children who remarries faces a very hurtful situation along with her new husband. She cannot be sealed to her second husband, even if she has children with him. The husband cannot be sealed to his own children. The children cannot be sealed to their father. I believe that one day, women—whether living or dead—will be able to be sealed to more than one man, just as men are.
--As we move closer towards Zion, I anticipate that one day we will hear a powerful talk in General Conference focused on Heavenly Mother, striking down in one fell swoop all the cultural inhibitions that have wrongly led us to believe this subject is somehow taboo. And I hope this talk will be given jointly by a man and a woman, so we are not faced with the appearance of men giving women permission to talk about their own Mother. On a related note, I believe one day we will hear, on a routine basis, from the companions of General Authorities.
--I also anticipate that one day—probably soon--we will hear a powerful talk in General Conference that plainly states that education is not Plan B for girls, but it is Plan A, and young women will be strongly encouraged to finish their degrees, and young men will be asked to facilitate their wives’ graduation from college even after marriage. Again, this will serve to strike down any remaining cultural weeds on this topic.
Relief Society General Presidency—
--I anticipate that one day we will see a retired working mother of grown children appointed to the Relief Society General Presidency, thus indicating to the membership in no uncertain terms that working mothers can be as righteous in the eyes of Church leadership as mothers who have not worked.
Walking the Walk on the Importance of Family—
--I believe we will see the LDS Church and its units, including BYU, lead out in developing the most innovative family-friendly workplace policies ever seen, in accordance with Elder Cook’s injunction that, “I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents.”
--I anticipate we will see over time that men are only considered for high positions in the Church if they have not lived their lives in such a way that they have, in a de facto sense, abandoned their wives and children while they pursued success in their careers.
Teaching Our Youth—
--I anticipate that we will see the Personal Progress Program for Young Women be modified to include preparation in real-world life skills that young women need. Just as the Young Men (in Scouts) are taught merit badges such as communication, citizenship, and so forth, so we will begin to see that our Young Women need such important skills as well. They need to know how city councils are run, for example, just as much as our young men do. Furthermore, I anticipate the Church will back up this commitment by expending resources for the Young Women’s Program that are on a par with the resources we expend on our Young Men’s/Scouting Programs.
--Already underway, I anticipate we will see our Young Men’s and Young Women’s lessons will be based more fully on the most modern revelations, and not, for example, suggest that a righteous woman’s only possible path is that of stay-at-home mom unless she never marries. We will teach our Young Women instead that they should counsel with the Lord about the path God has planned for their individual lives, and that God will provide divine assistance for any woman He calls to play a role in the world as well as the role of a mother. We will teach our Young Men that the women they love may be called upon by the Lord to play a role in reshaping and healing the world, and that they should support the women they love in these divine callings.
--I anticipate we will see the Church make some small, but incredibly important choices that will cascade outward in unexpected ways. For example, the choice to feature some working mothers on Mormon.org was much more revolutionary for LDS persons than it could ever be for non-members. It spoke volumes in a way nothing else could. I believe as we move closer to Zion that we will see the Church do small things for women that create powerful ripples, especially in terms of role models for our young women. For example, I would not be surprised if the Church one day appointed a woman to be president of one of the three Church-owned universities, BYU, BYU-I, or BYU-H for this very reason.
--I anticipate we will see that our Young Women will no longer be taught that modesty and chastity are all about protecting men who cannot control their urges, but is rather about equal standards for temple worthiness for both Young Men and Young Women. In this regard, I also anticipate that we will speak more plainly to our youth about the myths of rape, such as the dress of a woman can justify a rape, or that men are less to blame for their actions than women.
--I anticipate we will see in the future that because of the more consistent inclusion of women in all councils, people will think it completely natural that women must be present for the councils to work properly, and they will openly express concern when women are not present.
--As mentioned previously, I believe questions of who has or does not have authority will fade as we truly incorporate the principle of unanimity in our councils, and as we recognize that women have and hold their own power and authority of divine origin. When unanimity is the rule and equal voice the principle, the entire notion of authority changes. Yes, men will hold certain keys of divine power that women do not, and women will hold certain keys of divine power that men do not, but when we do things unanimously and with equal voice in all our councils, the whole matter fades as a wedge issue between men and women.
--I anticipate that there will come a time when the Elder’s Quorum and the High Priests Group will begin to share in the large responsibility for caring labor that currently rests at the feet of the Relief Society alone.
Counselling with Young Women—
--As we move forward, I anticipate bishops will receive special gender sensitivity training in order to more appropriately guide our young women as they talk to their bishops, especially about sexual matters. (I think we are all aware of horror stories of young women who counseled with untrained bishops and were permanently scarred as a result.)
But beyond all these possible good steps (and we all would be able to list many more than these, and many beyond these), we have not yet mentioned the most important step of all—a step that can only take place within the hearts of women. It is to that subject that we now turn.
III. It’s Not Up to the Men; It’s Up to Us
In the end, if our paradigm is that we women are so powerless that we feel we can only gain divine power through the permission of men, we’re not ready for power. It’s as simple as that. The Brethren can take many important steps to pull the weeds of false and misogynist tradition and institute positive change for women. But it’s not enough. As Glinda, a Heavenly Mother archetype, put it, we women only have the power if we truly believe we do. No man, not even the Prophet himself, can give us that belief. The real Rubicon for women to cross lies within our own hearts.
And there’s the rub. Not only LDS cultural traditions, but also worldly cultures scream at us that women are not powerful at all. That good women are to fade into the wallpaper, and to be neither seen nor heard. That women will never really be the equals of men. That women should defer judgment to men, scholarship to men, leadership to men, initiative to men, dreams to men. That we women are but guests in our own world, and we must obey the true owners of the world, and tiptoe around them, and first and foremost please them on whom our lives depend. No wonder that the best (!) we can currently imagine is that men will deign to share some of what they have with us . . . we are almost literally marinating in a globalized cultural misogyny and can see no other way. This cultural misogyny has also affected LDS culture, especially in the Mountain West. The stories some of my female students at BYU would tell me nearly broke my heart. I have wept to see them struggle heroically against invisible cords that are certainly not of the Lord’s making.
It is high time for a change of heart among women. We must start believing that women possess a divine power and authority that does not originate with men, though it is foundational to our partnership with men. We must not only say we are equals, we must walk and talk as if we truly are.
This change of heart starts in our marriages and our homes; indeed, it must, for that is where we live the life of the heart most fully. What would you as a woman do if you truly and deeply felt you wielded the divine power and authority of your Mother as her apprentice? Would you not first reach inside and seek to learn what this power and authority is and how to wield it? Would you not then begin to reach out, even if tentatively at first, to use that power for the good of those you love? And then extend that circle beyond your family to become a Mother to the whole world? Would you not seek to ensure an equal voice for women in all spheres of human decision-making, even at the national and international level? And would you not then strive to ensure young women learn these truths at their mother’s knee?
Again, the great key is this: instead of allowing our culture to remake our doctrine, we must allow our doctrine to remake our culture.
For example, can you imagine allowing our doctrine to reshape our culture concerning how we teach young women about themselves in their experiences as a woman, such as the onset of menarche? We women might use our divine power and authority to explain to our daughters the spiritual meaning of that experience, and to celebrate it in an open and respectful rite of our own creation within our families. I did this for my own beloved daughter Ariel, gone too soon from this earth. Upon menarche, she graciously acceded to my request to have a party for her. Invited were not her friends, but the grown women she most admired; visiting teachers, Sunday School teachers, relatives, even my colleagues from work that she knew. Each guest was instructed to bring a present without price that symbolized some aspect of womanhood, the giving of which gifts sparked a remarkable discussion that was a gift in itself. We sang songs about being a woman, we had red velvet cake (of course!), and she wore a necklace I had made for her of semi-precious stones, each symbolizing a particular stage of a woman’s life in her apprenticeship to become a Mother, and we fingered and spoke of each one in turn. There was great power assembled in that room that day, all in behalf of a young apprentice just starting her path. We did not ask permission of any man to do this, though my husband was fully informed of what would transpire.
This is but one way our doctrine could change how young women see themselves, if we let it. Could we also teach our young women that God might want their voice heard in government? Or in academia? Or in business? Could we teach them to memorize what President Gordon B. Hinckley said several years ago: "The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it. I am grateful that women today are afforded the same opportunity to study for science, for the professions, and for every other facet of human knowledge. You are as entitled as are men to the Spirit of Christ, which enlightens every man and woman who comes into the world . . . You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part.”
Similarly, can we imagine allowing our doctrine to reshape scriptures that seem misogynist? Instead of allowing conventional, often male-created, understandings to guide our interpretations of scripture, can we allow the Restored Gospel’s vision of equality between men and women to guide us? For example, take Levitical law (please). Our common understandings—colored by dominant masculinism—may lead us to one interpretation of what God intended in this schoolmaster of a law, but those are not the only possible interpretations or layers of interpretation possible. A whole new layer opens up as women offer their interpretations of scripture. For example, take the injunction against seething a kid in his mother’s milk, which has led Orthodox Jews to strictly separate meat dishes and milk dishes in their homes. But it’s not about meat and milk and dishes: a deeper interpretation is at hand if a woman’s perspective is included. This injunction is about mother love, an interpretation virtually invisible to our view because we women have deferred scriptural interpretation to male scholars. I view this Mosaic law injunction differently because of my apprenticeship to become a Mother. To kill a mother’s child, even if the mother is a goat or a lamb or a cow, is an awful thing. But to draw out from her body what she has produced in her breasts in love for the sustenance of her baby’s body, and to use that as the means to boil her beloved child’s body, is just beyond the pale. It is obscene. There is no doubt in my mind that this injunction came from our Mother who understands completely the spiritual power of the ordinances of the First Tree, of which lactation is one. We women can reach inside ourselves to find new lenses with which to see her hand where it has not been noticed before, such as in scripture, and speak about what we see.
Or how about that part of the Levitical law which stipulates that after the birth of a baby boy, a woman is unclean 7 days, but after the birth of a girl, a woman is unclean twice that, 7 x 2, or 14 days? (Lev. 12:2, 5) Most interpretations focus on how the birth of a girl is a doubly unclean event, because both the girl and her mother are both women, which fact implies lack of cleanliness. This viewpoint has clearly been colored by global, historical misogyny. But as we reach inside ourselves, we find the nerve to say, “That can’t be right. That’s not in harmony with the spirit of the Restored Gospel. That’s an interpretation based on the false traditions of men.” And so with confidence that as our Mother’s daughters we will be able to see her hand, we might reach for alternative interpretations. For example, if a woman comes to earth already bearing her divine power and authority, it is noteworthy that the time period specified in Leviticus to consecrate Aaron and his sons as priests was seven days (Lev. 8:33). Instead of seeing the second 7 days as being necessary because there is an extra unclean person after the birth of a girl, perhaps that additional seven days was meant as a period of consecration for a newly arrived apprentice of our Mother. That’s another interpretation worth considering, given its better harmonization with the principles and doctrines of the Restored Gospel. There are many other possible examples: for instance, when we consider the issue of women’s veiling at a certain place and time, we would do well to remember why Moses was veiled (Ex. 34: 29-35); it certainly wasn’t to show his subordination to those he was with. And of the issue of who knows whose name at a certain place and time: isn’t it possible that men might be asked to produce something that shows that they fulfilled all the covenants they made premortally to be supportive of women in their apprenticeship, a token it would make no sense to require of women? As we change our hearts, we realize it is good to see the scriptures through the eyes of women as well as men.
Additionally, can we imagine allowing our doctrine to reshape what we feel we can do spiritually as women? For example, only three days before writing this essay, my husband and I sent our very beloved son Joseph off to the MTC. His father gave him a father’s blessing through the Melchizedek priesthood, which priesthood we understand to be part of the apprenticeship to become a Father. I do not hold that power and authority, but I know I am a Mother in Zion, which I understand to be a position of divine power and authority, also. And I also knew this was a momentous occasion for my son and for our whole family, since he is the eldest sibling and the first missionary from our family. I felt it right and proper to place my hands on my son’s shoulders and offer a heartfelt prayer to God in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ asking for blessings upon my son and to offer that prayer in the knowledge of the power and authority held by the Mothers in Zion. Such a prayer is experienced as a vastly different thing when contrasted with a prayer we would speak as a power-less, authority-less non-male, as our culture--not our doctrine--might tell us to think of ourselves. I have done the same thing when a child of mine has been very sick when moved upon to do so, even if their father has already blessed that child. We take nothing away from our brethren to exercise our own divinely bestowed power and authority alongside theirs in partnership; indeed, we only increase the store of blessings available to the children of God as we women begin to consider ourselves as beings with divine power.
May we also use our spiritual powers as apprentices to our Mother to begin to reach out and feel the presence of other female spirits? When in childbirth, I felt the presence of spirits assisting me with the birth from the other side of the veil, and they were not male spirits. They were female spirits, and I could recognize them as such. Can we also recognize the touch of our Mother and her counsel to our hearts as we act as her apprentices, and cultivate that relationship? Behind the light-heartedness of the ditty, “Mirror, mirror on the wall . . . I am my mother after all,” lies a profound insight we would do well to consider more deeply.
Some have asked why we know so little about our Mother. I think there are many reasons, but one of them must surely be that we as women know so little about ourselves and think so little of ourselves—in large part because we have been actively discouraged by the global culture of misogyny from knowing anything about ourselves or our power and authority. As we allow our doctrine to help us shake off this fog of misogyny, we will see more, much more, than we now know. The hymn says, “Let Zion in her beauty rise, Her light begins to shine,” and I am convinced that day is beginning to dawn for the Latter-day Saints. It is time for women to rise and shine, sure in the knowledge that it is our divine destiny to do so, and also confident that our brothers will be our most heartfelt cheerleaders.
Indeed, I would like to submit that our Brother was the best and most valiant cheerleader of all. Christ is a man. But he is a man who has done something no other man has ever done for women: Christ willingly took upon himself every possible atrocity and horror that this fallen world metes out to women. Christ suffered the pain of billions of childbirths; Christ suffered agonizing death in childbirth; Christ suffered the pain and horror of brutal rape; Christ suffered as a sex slave; Christ suffered acid attacks and honor killings; Christ suffered the pain of feet that were bound so that they were no longer than 4 inches long; Christ suffered the deaths of mothers’ hearts as they witness the deaths of their children or as they undergo forced abortion. Christ our Savior is the great Mediator not only between men and God, effecting an at-onement in that relationship; Christ is also the great Mediator between men and women, effecting an at-onement in that relationship as well, for only Christ has borne in his very own male body what was done to his sisters. Woe be it unto the man who approaches the bar of Christ having purposefully harmed women, for Christ is not just another man--he is also one with the sisters.
V. Holding Fast to Our Faith
Is the doctrinal remaking of our culture on gender issues going to happen as swiftly as we would want? Probably not. But the endpoint is sure: we are marching towards Zion, and in Zion, men and women are full equals and full heirs with Christ. As Sorensen explains:
Because women typically are subordinate to men and treated as inferior to them in the carnal world, women have much to gain from the coming forth of Zion as measured by the standard of equality alone, not to mention that degree of fullness of life which comes from being filled with God’s love and being alive to good. Whereas in the carnal world women generally are unequal to men in wealth, in Zion they have all things common with men. Whereas in the world women typically are unequal to men in power, they share with them all power as equals in Zion. And inasmuch as women enjoy less value or less respect and esteem than men do in the carnal world, women and men esteem and respect each other as equals in Zion. Consequently, in Zion women will have greater opportunity to develop and exercise their gifts and talents than they typically do in the carnal world. Their opportunities as agents of the light and the word to make and execute decisions involved in carrying out common stewardships with men and performing their individual stewardships as women will also be greater than in the carnal world. Unlike in much of the world, in Zion women will not be under the economic domination of men, women and their children will not constitute so much of the poor, for there will be no rich and poor, and one woman’s child will not have less opportunity than the child of another woman because of inequality of power and wealth.We can look forward in confidence that Zion ensures the equality of men and women. In the meantime, will you and I continue to have questions about these matters? Sure we will, and some of them may be vexing. But I am also sure you listened to Elder Holland in General Conference this April, and you heard these words, which I feel to quote extensively because they are so eloquent and so relevant to all that we have discussed:
Because women typically are subordinate and treated as inferior to men in much of the carnal world, men also have much to gain from the establishment of Zion, perhaps more than women do. For so long as men exercise dominion over women in an order of unequal power, so long as men receive greater esteem and respect than women, and so long as men enjoy greater wealth than women, men will suffer darkness in their lives and their lives will be impoverished. Indeed, it seems that often those who dominate suffer more spiritually than those dominated, those who esteem themselves better than those esteemed less, the oppressors more than the oppressed.
In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited. In the growth we all have to experience in mortality . . . [affliction and] desperation [are] going to come to all of us. When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. . . . I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! So let us all remember the clear message of this scriptural account: Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle. . . from time to time issues arise that need to be examined, understood, and resolved. They do and they will . . . imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work . . . Hope on. Journey on. Honestly acknowledge your questions and your concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe.”
This is invaluable and inspired advice. I think we might also add that faith is an important means of personally discarding the erroneous traditions of the fathers, even while we wait in patience and faith for our culture or society to more broadly and widely effect that discarding. To see this point, perform a thought experiment—could you and your spouse have lived the doctrine of equal partnership in marriage as members of the Church in the 1950s when that doctrine was not fully absorbed or implemented by our faith community? Sure you could have, and there were some who did! They did so by getting on their knees in prayer to God as husbands and wives united in faith and purpose, and asking God how he wanted them to treat each other. God stands ready to help you and your family move closer to Zion, even as you patiently wait in faith for parallel movements to take place on a larger scale.
In conclusion, these thoughts end with with one last exhortation to my readers who are women: sister, stay with us! In terms of gender relations, Zion’s light is truly and finally beginning to shine; the last is indeed becoming first. We as a people are beginning to put our revolutionary doctrine concerning gender equality into fuller, more meaningful practice, with all the joy that comes of doing so. My sister, you are not going to want to miss the “further light and knowledge” we have been promised--it’s coming, can you feel it? Zion in her beauty rises . . . be there to see it.
 And I hope the leadership will also bring back the practice of having the mothers of missionaries say a few words during the sacrament meeting in which their young missionary gives their final talk before entering the mission field. Uh, brethren, we’ve earned the right to say a few words as Mothers in Zion who successfully raised a missionary for the Church. [Back to manuscript].
Full Citation for this Article: Cassler, V. H. (2013) "Ruby Slippers on Her Feet: Reflections on the OrdainWomen Website," SquareTwo, Vol. 6 No. 1, (Spring), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerRubySlippers.html, [give access date]
Would you like to comment on this article? Thoughtful, faithful comments of at least 200 words are welcome. Please submit to SquareTwo.
I. Courtney Peck
Thank you for your good work over the years. Your book, Women in Eternity, was one of the first books I read that gave me some much needed comfort and empowerment to view some my concerns with women's roles in the church differently and not with as much pain. It has been about 15 years since that time, and while I tend now to think of some of the temple language as more culturally constrained than doctrinal (Eve's hearkening to Adam) I appreciate the exploration of a theology that empowers women. I welcome it and am grateful for it. Your April Ensign article is a wonderful summary of where the rhetoric surrounding women and men in relationships has evolved toward.
I've had a hard time with something from your essay. Why do you assume those involved with Ordain Women do not feel or recognize the divine power and priesthood of women? I do not have a profile up on OW but I support these members sharing their hopes and desires with all of us. I don't understand the logic that asking male leaders to pray about ordination is anti-feminist or assumes women have no access to God's power. The feelings expressed in the profiles are diverse but generally it seems to me that these are faithful members who do recognize their divinity and that of men, and respect the leaders enough to believe they would be interested in considering their point of view. All of the projections you include in your essay would require ultimately the approval of men. How is suggesting them as the future of our church different from directly asking them to be considered? Why does your method privilege your feminism? I think too often women believe if they are just good enough, kind enough, recognize their divinity enough, and powerful enough, then the men will know what their desires are without having to ask. To me, real, direct communication reflects an equally legitimate recognition of our worth as women.
We are members of an organization here on the earth today, and whether or not your theology about an ordinance at the first tree before the veil limited our memory is true, we are actors in the world we find ourselves in. For me, it's easier to believe in loving Heavenly Parents who let us live in the world as it unfolds and are sad we have let Heavenly Mother be forgotten and have let women be second class citizens for so much of the world's history, and that they are behind all efforts to improve the lives of their children. We have to live in the society and culture we are a part of, within the policies that are currently in place. For example, I recently participated in a meeting about reintroducing a child sex offender back into our ward. The bishop was, for good reason, very excited about the redemption of this man, invited us all to forgive and be the Christians we say we are, and believed their would be no concern. I am the leader of the 14-15 year old girls in my ward, one of which does not feel comfortable coming to our ward if this man is here. I voiced my opinions strongly, I was listened to, some things are changing because of what I said, but ultimately it is the bishop and the stake president (because we believe in priesthood keys through ordination I was told, which is true) who will make the final decision. I recognize my divinity, I know my Heavenly parents love me, I know that I have priesthood power in my life…but we worship in an organization that has room for improvement, and a woman or man expressing their belief that women being ordained is a powerful symbol that would help all of us together, to me is a very powerful and faithful act.
That we present our ideas differently is part of what President Uchtdorf seemed to be supporting this last conference with his quote: "The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples." Anti-feminist to be a part of Ordain Women? I just do not believe that is a strong argument. I believe we all want the best for women and men. Thank you for all the good you do in our church and in the world.
II. V. H. Cassler, responding to Courtney Peck
Hi, Courtney, it is very nice to hear from you again. And thank you for your thoughtful comment.
I think you and I are using different definitions of the term "anti-." "Anti-" can mean opposed to, but that is only one of its meanings. I do not believe those who are on the ordainwomen.org website are opposed to feminism. However, the other mean of "anti-" is opposite of, and that is the meaning I am using for the term "anti-feminist" as I used it in this essay. The position that women must be ordained by men to divine power is to state that women are sub-ordinate to men--that women can only access divine power by being ordained under the hand of men. I see that as a position opposed to everything that feminism stands for. Women are not sub-ordinates of men. Men do not and cannot ordain women to the divine power of Heavenly Mother. Men are not omnipotent.
You and I are in complete agreement in calling upon the Brethren to seek for further light and knowledge on this issue. It is high time they did so, and my list of desiderata in the "Ruby Slippers" essay makes that quite plain. I would sign up in a heartbeat for a website calling on the Brethren to seek further light and knowledge about Heavenly Mother and the divine power of women. However, that does not describe the ordainwomen.org website. The name of the website is "Ordain Women"--an imperative command. Each badge produced on the website is an "I support ordination for women" badge, not an "I support calling on the Brethren to seek further light and knowledge on these issues" badge. From what I can see, ordainwomen.org has staked out what its adherents believe to be the one right course for the Church to take: women must be ordained to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. If they are not, the Church is not on the right path. Those on the ordainwomen.org website are not asking questions about the divine power of women at all; they already have the answer. They are telling all of us what form the divine power of women must take for them to feel the Church is on the right path.
Courtney, that is an entirely different kettle of fish from what I think (from reading your email) that you want. And it sets every person on ordainwomen.org on a knife's edge. What if the form of divine power women hold is not expressed or even expressable by ordination to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods? What if it takes a different form? Ordainwomen.org does not allow for that. And that means, Courtney, that if the Church does not ordain women to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, will those who have posted on ordainwomen.org leave the Church? It would be a failure of the imagination to suggest that there is only one possible expression of divine power--the male expression. Leaving the Church over a failure of imagination would truly be a tragedy. Don't paint yourself into that corner--because the "corner" is an illusion.
"We have to live in the society and culture we are a part of, within the policies that are currently in place." No, you don't. Certainly in your home you can live as they live in Zion--now. In the Church, you can continue to push on those issues where you believe women's voices are not being heard. Concerning the sex offender, it is time to write to your Area Authority Seventy. If you receive no hearing there, write to the First Presidency. The sex offender is not more precious in the eyes of God than the Young Women in your ward. These are precisely the types of decisions which must be reached in unanimity between the Mothers in Zion and those who hold offices in the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. In a similar situation in a ward in Arizona, the Primary president insisted that the sex offender have a home teacher "escort" throughout all the Sunday meetings, even when going to the bathroom--and her request was honored. Resist these local failures of the imagination; walk, talk, and act like an equal, even if it makes people discomfited.
Do "we worship in an organization that has room for improvement"? You bet we do. Be the catalyst for improvement; be the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi said. Our daughters and our sons are counting on us to stay and "build the old waste places" that we may "be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in" (Isaiah 58:12) . . .
III. A conversation between Matt, Jessica, Evis, and Caitlin
The following is an exchange of several conversations combined into a single coherent, hopefully, thread regarding the concept of ordaining women and Sister Cassler’s recent article in SquareTwo. Ultimately this is part of a continuing conversation that we suspect will go on for quite some time. Our hope here is not to come to a final resolution, rather, we hope to attempt and open honest dialogue from our various perspectives and concerns. The beauty of this process is that while we are all coming at this question from different perspectives we have perfect trust that each one of us desires a stronger more vibrant role of women in the LDS church as co-equals with their spouses and other members and leaders in the church. Based on that trust this exchange has brought us closer to the Lord and to each other.
Our conversation actually began when the Ordain Women website was launched, and before Sis. Cassler’s article came out. This conversation touches on both.
Matt: The ordain women website states that their purpose is: “Priesthood, we are taught, is essential to this process. Ordain Woman believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.” Caitlin, as I see the purpose of the website, it is not really about the priesthood per se, but equality. How do we get to equality? It seems that there are two routes, there is ordination route direct to the priesthood, but there is also the possibility that the Relief Society and temple roles could be elevated and this change could have the same effect on equality.
Caitlin: As for the purpose, yes, I think the issue isn't as much the priesthood as what it represents. If there was a mechanism for women to exert the same public spiritual leadership as men do, in institutional and established (redundant) ways, over BOTH men and women, then ordination to the priesthood would be unnecessary, but with the priesthood being defined as it is now in practice, as the right to institutional leadership within the church, I find it hard to believe that we could find rhetorical or practical space for women to exert the same influence.
Matt: So, the issue is about institutional access and voice, and how the structural constraints keep us from achieving true equality?
Caitlin: The spoken message we get might be that women and men possess separate avenues of spiritual influence, but when men are supposed to take the lead on all matters spiritual that include at least one man, even in the home (which is supposedly the spiritual domain of women), the message that comes through is that men are better at spiritual leadership than women.
This message is only reinforced by almost every scriptural example of spirituality being male. And so it seems that pretty quick female spirituality is reduced to limited leadership of women and children under strict guidance from men.
As long as women can only lead other women, while men lead everybody, there will never be equality of power.
Matt: I think that I understand where you are coming from. My question centers more on a value rational vs. an instrumental rational line of thinking. In essence, The quickest, most efficient way to get to an equal status between men and women could be an ordination route (instrumental rational), but are there potential consequences to pursuing this route that we’ve not considered at this point, and might these implications need to be considered in the route to equality that we choose (value rational reasoning).
Caitlin: Yeah, I think it comes down to trying to parse out what the priesthood essentially is and if that essential definition requires too much spiritual authority to allow space for women to also have a path towards full spiritual development (which, in my view at least, requires significant opportunities for spiritual and institutional leadership), But then you also run the concurrent risk of minimizing the priesthood into meaninglessness. Some kind of balance is required. If men and women are not ordained to equal authority then it is too easy for one of the roles to be ignored or diminished.
Matt: Now, Jessica, you brought up an interesting comment that what we see throughout the world is that most of the world intractable problems can be solved by the empowerment of women, and that the most direct route to that goal of equality runs through religion. Religion is nearly universal (through one faith or another). Currently, fallen interpretations of religion are often at the heart of inequality, and the suffering and stifling of billions of women and children in the world. From this context religion must generate the empowerment of women.
Jessica: Some have suggested that we can just walk away from religion if we are so unhappy with it, but I don't think walking away is always the answer. Living in complexity is valuable. Clearly there needs to be some significant changes to the structures, organizations, and cultural attitudes within religions, but I think we also forget that so much change has happened in our church because someone asked. All the auxiliaries. The restoration and the list goes on. Maybe women asking to be ordained is that next step in the restoration and through which we can begin to heal the world.
I also think that too often we think in the church that the definition of Priesthood has always been what we see today. As archeology, anthropology, and church history we become aware of the nuance and the evolution of the priesthood not only in this dispensation but in the Old and New Testaments we see that the Priesthood has never been stagnant, the but that it has been an issue of continually asking and adjusting based on revelation, but too often I see in the scriptures where God is waiting for us to ask, and to seek. One of my favorite parts about Mormonism is that it is founded upon the idea of asking and seeking. But too often we limit God and hold back blessings because we do not go forward in faith.
Matt: That’s a great point Jessica. Things do change. That’s something that I think both Sis Cassler’s article and the Ordain Women movement have in common. Both are asking for a significant shift in the role of women. The question centers on the best pattern to follow.
When I think about the Proclamation to the World I see a huge blessing. I don't think that we have even come close to understanding the implication of the "equal partners" clause. When I think on the all of the revelations that have been given by the leaders regarding this topic since the proclamation came out I am filled with joy. There is of course much more that I would like to see and hear, and every conference I anxiously wait for the day that I will hear Mother in Heaven's name mentioned, or the restitution of women's blessings, or the arrangement of certain positions in the church to include women directly etc. But waiting for that day need not weigh me down, nor stop me from talking about these things. Why can’t we begin to reach for this now?
Jessica: We need to realize that the status quo is hurting women, both with the church and throughout the world. Speaking of religion in general, it has a responsibility to help fix the problem, but in so many ways religion is hurting women. The LDS church should be leading out on this. Again and again we see that the best way to protect women is through equal participation. All too often the stratified gender roles get emphasized as a qualifier to the equal partner clause, rather than the other way around. This is how we at least see it culturally, even it is not doctrinally correct. People just repeat the parts that feel most comfortable to them.
Matt: I think that you are right Jessica, these errors in interpretation of what the division actually is are cultural. Personally, I cannot see how I can take Elder Perry's teachings that there is not president and vice-president in the home, or elder Haffen's instructions and correction of the OT idea of "rule over" to "rule with", or the last June Ensign speaking about how husbands and wives are to make decisions in unanimity or any number of other statements like these - and square them with the idea that I am to preside over my wife.
I think we need some good old fashioned revelation to really open those floodgates and shake us loose from the cultural interpretations, and get us closer to our divine heritage. Perhaps we are already there? We have numerous talks given in just the last decade that give us the position to start from. Maybe we just need to reach for Zion.
Caitlin: But Matt, how do you reconcile the (few) quotes about family equality with the word "preside"? It's still there, no matter how much we are being taught that marriage=equality. In my opinion, as long as the concept of preside rest with men, and as long as men preside over men and women, and women only in a husband’s absence, or only over other women and children, we will still have a deficit of gender equality.
Matt: Caitlin, you bring up a good point. Reconciliation on this issue is an important question, and I think that the answer is found between culture and continuing revelation.
At the heart of the question is the nature of language. Does it have its own meaning, or does it only have qualities that we give to it? I've not gone fully postmodern, as I do think that some things can be objectively assessed, but in the vast majority of cases I have to agree with the postmodern perspective that language has symbolic meanings, and in these instances objects only have the meaning we give them.
If this is true, then we may rightly say that the current interpretation of scripture has much more to do with our own cultural baggage than what is actually said. Based on that I would challenge the "few" conceptualization. It is true that there are few direct references, but when the scriptures and statements are read from the perspective of equality, I think that their true nature is more clearly revealed as equal. This does not preclude the need for change, but suggests that even if changes were to be made our perception of them might keep us from seeing the truth. I think this is part of what we are seeing how. There has been a decided shift in the language of equality, but culturally we are not keeping up.
I think that this is the heart of the Ordain Women website then. We are not making these changes that our doctrine allows, and women’s voices, particular at the local level and all too often in the family, are not being heard, in part because of the cultural baggage that elevates men over women. Thus, even when equality statements are made, they never really change anything because the structures are in place to perpetuate a hierarchical culture. Something has to change here, so I can understand where the Ordain Women movement is coming from.
I think this is where Sister Cassler’s article really comes into play.
Evis, you and I have seen a few different reactions to Sister Cassler’s piece. The reaction seem to be in two different veins
“Such a good article. But it refuses to define equality as meaning access to the same opportunities. It is satisfied with women not being ordained. And this means that equality is defined as being second class citizens in the Church. The article goes right up to the edge, calling for women to be included in all counsels (for instance), then looks over the true equality edge and pulls back. Sigh. “
“I can't even begin to express how vindicated I feel after reading this article. She is on track! I know that of which she speaks. When I finally had the faith to learn how to use that Divine Power that was given to me before my mortal birth, I grew and drew upon courage and more faith, to go forth and perform my mortal mission. As I have learned and done (used my spiritual gifts and power) my confidence in the Atonement has significantly soared, as did my trust in Jesus Christ. Thank you so much for sharing this!!!”
Why do you think that is?
Evis: Ordaining women is about access to more admin and leadership roles. I’m not talking about the movement but about being recognized as someone with that active divine power rather than a passive one. At the personal level, everyone is equal but at the church level as an institution things can be better because there is no reason to support the current status quo.
Matt: Let me preface this by saying that I am sympathetic to the argument that if women do not have access to authority over men, as men have authority in the church over women and children, then it will be difficult to truly reach equality. This is a structural constraint that affects how we see the proper order of the world. We know that the fallen notion of hierarchy and power need to be taken down, but what is the best way to accomplish that what are the implications of pursuing one path or another, or, as Sis Cassler suggests, waiting for a change in the ordinations to take place. There is already divine power to work with.
For me then, the question keeps going back to my first one what is the best path to achieving the twin goals of equality and unity as our Heavenly Parents would define them.
Ordination to the priesthood is one potential route, but Sis Cassler makes a very strong case that this ordination cannot/should not come from men. It defies logic. At the same time if we only emphasize that women are to access their authority through the template of Mother in Heaven (of whom we need to hear much much more for this to be viable), but do not accompany this authority into the structural aspect of the church organization to match its equal authority can we really get to equality? So, while logical that this authority cannot come from men, there is still the issue of organization and its effect on equality that is still an issue.
Specifically from the article
"And this brings us to the question of authority. I have heard some say, sure, let women have equal voice, but authority is the right of men alone. Men do hold the keys of their apprenticeship, just as women hold the keys of their apprenticeship, and the keys symbolize authority. But think further: do not questions of who has or does not have authority fade as we truly incorporate the principle of unanimity in our councils? Do we not already see this at work in our marriages? I would submit that when unanimity is the rule (D&C 107:27), the entire notion of authority changes. Yes, men will continue to hold certain keys of divine power that women do not, and women will continue to hold certain keys of divine power that men do not, but when we do things unanimously and with equal voice in all our councils, the whole matter becomes a horse of a different color."
I really am interested in your thoughts if you care to comment. Some have critiqued Cassler’s article of not being radical enough, but what I see here is no less radical than the ordination to the priesthood. If we take this comment to it’s logical extension, then women must be included as an equal voice and part of the unanimous consent of these councils. Can you imagine the change that would entail? And as Cassler points out, some of this appears to already be happening. Or perhaps it has been this way for a while and we are just not being to see it modeled more openly.
I think that regardless of the path we must walk down, either the ordination of women to the priesthood, or the elevation of women within the councils, there will need to be enormous effort to change culturally ingrained misogyny. I don't think that we can claim one would be easier.
Evis: There are interesting doctrinal discussions to be had on the subject. But as long as we don't allow women any authority over money it's all theoretical. When women sign checks and make budgets to spend tithing dollars then I think we will begin to see that women have an equal voice.
Matt: I don’t claim to be a theologian, but I do not recall any divine prohibition on women handling money. I think the same can be said for Sunday School President. I see no reason why these offices must always be men, or, for that matter, why the primary presidency must always be a woman.
There are no keys involved in these aspects of the administration, so there is no need for further revelation or changes in doctrine. I think that it is primarily an administrative function rooted in culture that keeps these changes from happening.
To go back to my original question though, if we make these types of changes, and push for unity and truly equal voices, do you see any reason we cannot get to true equality? Is it only possible through the ordination of women to the priesthood, or is it possible to get there through other structural changes? What might the implications be to either of these routes?
Evis: Matt, I agree with you completely. But it is not a philosophical problem as it is a logistical problem. Since only the brethren have the control over policy-making process and the keys to the priesthood power, how can other people (women in this case) get more responsibilities from the religious institution? My feeling is that women don't care much of priesthood because we all have divine power. Women simply want a more equal role sharing in the policies of the church, in running their activities and curriculums and building life skills among young women such as good communication, leadership, citizenship etc. Therefore, it is not about power but about equal roles among women and men.
I have heard many who say that “women have motherhood, men have priesthood” but this is a false logical statement because the correct equation would be “Women have motherhood, men have fatherhood”. We have to be careful as a church not to devalue fathers (because they do play a very important role in the family life and children’s well-being not as providers but as fathers) simply so we can elevate women as mothers. It is time for us as a community to let go the myopic theories we have come up with to explain what we do not understand and to examine issues analytically. And when we arrive at a point where it is not easy to find an answer, then we have to use prayer and faith in that process of examination. This is how Joseph Smith established the church - revelation upon revelation, principle upon principle. He wanted to know more on some issue and/or members would go to him with concerns and ask him to pray. And that is what he did.
I think the Ordain Women movement can make women look hungry for power but if you read the profiles, they simply want validation. This movement is trying to raise awareness of the unequal roles of women in the church and the pain that it causes on many and encourage the brethren to ask for revelation on this issue for the entire church. At least this is how I understand the movement. It seems to me that the people organizing and participating in this movement have received some kind of revelation on this issue but it is personal. Hence, they want the brethren, who can receive revelation for the entire church, to pray about it. And from my experience, I see women in every ward I have been that truly do so much but their work is not recognized publicly. And when one’s work is not recognized in one’s community, becomes invisible just like the person who performs it. This is such a complicated discussion that it is difficult to have it via online.
Matt: I agree with you that this isn't about a power grab. While there are a few who might desire the fall of the church I think the vast vast majority simply wants an equal voice and priesthood is the symbol of that access.
For all that I am sympathetic to their side of the argument.
I think Sis. Cassler does a good job trying to bring up a trajectory of change, a call to the elevation of women's access and power, and structural changes that need to be in place for that to work. She brings up a few but there are many others that could happen as well that elevate women as women.
The other path provides equal access, but does so with its own shortcomings. The most important being a subordination of women's own divine power - as if their power is not equal enough on its own to demand equal access.
Evis: I agree with you that structural and policy changes are needed to make the role of women equal to that of man. If that happens and it is a true genuine change, priesthood sharing is not needed at all. I do not understand one point you make - the subordination of women's own divine power....How can that happen if currently it is only the brethren that have the power and therefore, the only one to give it to the women? When you got your highest priesthood, did you get subordinated to the person that gave it to you? I am not being facetious, I am trying to understand the point. Because every time I have witnessed a young men receiving priesthood ordination, I have interpret it as that person joining a circle of priests, a circle of priesthood where there is not hierarchy of power but there is hierarchy in authority/calling.
For me personally, being ordained to priesthood is not important. What is important to me is that if I am entitled to the gift of healing for example, it saddens me that no one in the RS organization and/or Quorum of the Priests do not teach me how to use this gift. If I am meant to use it in order to grow as a spiritual person and bless others, I feel that people and policies are hindering my spiritual development by putting limitations in the journey that God wants me to have.
I do want the young women to grow in a church that puts their education first, doesn't devalue them as mothers just because they work, allows the RS to be an independent organization that can run their own budget and programs, encourages people to ask for themselves revelation on the Heavenly Mother and includes women in most of the committees where the priesthood is not needed to run a particular policy.
The impression I get from the way church conducts daily business is that priesthood equates for some reason with a higher righteousness and more knowledge and therefore, men are used more often than women in fulfilling many roles in the hierarchy of the institution. My feeling is that just because men have the priesthood, their efforts and opinions have been considered as the 'authentic ones'. Where the priesthood has nothing to do with intellect or leadership skills but only to serve others. The church as an institution and as a community of people needs to get this right if they truly want to build Zion. For me, this is a discrepancy between the gospel and the church administration of policies and it needs to be fixed in a way or another. The “Ordain Women” movement is suggesting one way on how to fix it.
Matt: I know you are not being facetious Evis. That's the nice thing about conversations between people who trust each other. Even over the internet there is the possibility for understanding. I love that we can at least discuss the topic. This has been very hard for so many to talk about for so long that I really do welcome the discussion that the Ordain Women site has encouraged. I think it is good thing - it has been for me at least.
The answer to your question is what I take as the heart of Sis Cassler’s paper - that the very act of asking men to grant them authority minimizes the power/authority they already have (though unequally treated). I'll try to explain why.
I'll start with one of your phrases. Perhaps this is where our current positions are diverging: "How can that happen if currently it is only the brethren that have the power and therefore, the only one to give it to the women?".
If priesthood power is the only valid power to act with authority in the church, then the call to equally share that power makes sense. Conversely, if it is not the only power, but we insist on only recognizing priesthood power as valid in the church organization, then ordination to the priesthood for women makes sense - but this seems to comes at the cost of the minimization of women's already possessed divine power. Does that make sense? Part of what I'd like you to help me understand, is how needing another's power to have access/equality does not minimize women's power? From the Ordain Women side, the rational goes that they do not see men and women as competition to begin with, so asking to share in power is not a minimization, but a co-sharing of a power that was not meant to be divided. I’m not sure I can agree with that. I think that Sis Cassler is correct that women do have access to a divine power, and it is equal in every way to man’s access to divine power, which we call the priesthood. If this is true, and we both of us have that access to divine power, then I do not see how women seeking authority through the priesthood does not diminish their own power. We may get equality - but it will be at the expense of unity in our differences.
Which then brings us to the other route to equality, if we say women have divine power, but currently do not equally include that power in councils, in finances, in organization etc. then the male authority is pushed above women's authority. This is our current situation that Valerie speaks against, but from a different perspective than the Ordain Women route as I understand it.
As she outlines in her paper the only way to bridge the gap so that equal access can be had from both sides, and equal recognition of power can be had on both sides, is for the elevation of women's divine authority and the continued breaking down of structural and cultural barriers that prevent this equality. I think this route is fraught with many structural and cultural challenges, but I think that it helps us get to that equality that we want, while recognizing the power of unity from the position of unique divine authority.
There is substantial evidence that women were ordained to their own power within the RS in the early days of the church. Joseph Smith already indicated that the key had been turned for them. I think that it would be an incredibly powerful experience for women to be ordained into the RS again, and to act on that authority. Women healed, called down blessings from heaven, and received revelation, and worked in tandem with the brethren. What an amazing pattern. There are those who follow this pattern today. I think that it would be strengthened by this type of language and ordination.
This line of reasoning is vulnerable to the separate but unequal argument and there is some justification of that. Going down the path of elevating women's power and taking down institutional/cultural barriers is fraught with that possibility of separate but unequal. However, given that the other path of ordaining women directly to the priesthood is also challenged with the minimization of women authority/power, either way we go much care will be necessary in order to reach equality.
Caitlin: In the temple, we see women performing priesthood ordinances for other women. If women do not “have the priesthood” then what is the power by which they perform these ordinances? I do not believe there has to be a binary -- priesthood, no priesthood -- but rather a different type of ordination -- priesthood, priestesshood. I wholeheartedly agree with Sis Cassler that women have a potential they do not realize. On the other hand, I do not see the movement Ordain Women as anti-feminist, I see it as completely feminist. I do not think the participants want women to be like men, I think they want to acknowledge that women desire greater responsibility and greater access to the power of Jesus Christ. I can see even an ordination of young women to a “priestesshood” of sorts, when they turn 12. And maybe they do not have the same responsibilities, but they have the same access to the power of Jesus Christ which I believe right now is not the case.
I wonder how differently my teenage years would have gone had I had some kind of responsibility within the Church, or an opportunity to see tangible progression or the fruits of my spiritual labor. I wonder how differently I would have felt had I been allowed to be a subject rather than simply object. Instead I spent my hours cutting out collages from beauty magazines about my wedding and future husband and participating in modesty fashion shows where my body and self was wholly objectified for the male subject. I sat in sacrament meeting being acted upon by the young men instead of being the actor of my own spiritual process.
Matt: The way that you’ve stated it here, and I think this is part of Sis Cassler’s point, is that there should not be a need to women to progress through the priesthood, but rather that we should focus on the priestesshood, and woman’s apprenticeship to the divine feminine. For me, this is where I part with what I think the ordain women group wants. As they seem to state they desire ordination the priesthood. Not the building up of priestesshood. I see this as separate routes, but I may have misunderstood their intent. The sources on their websites suggest both possibilities really.
I’ll acknowledge upfront that there is a legitimate critique of this method (building up of the priestesshood). Some will complain of the fallacy of separate but equal. While I acknowledge the difficulty of this route I think this model follows the divine pattern best by recognizing the distinct power and authority both Father and Mother have, joined in perfect unity.
Jessica: Can you imagine if priestesshood actually happened?! As Caitlin points out we already see this in the temple, but this paradigm could mean so much outside the temple. I think that religion has relied on women in the past, but and it has ebbed and flowed with how much power it has given to these women, sometimes more than society but often less. I think that religion at its best is when it is above society, but I think that western religion has been stagnant for a too long. If the church solves this problem sooner rather than later it will be incredibly attractive to converts of our generation and younger.
Also, to clarify an earlier point, I think what Evis is really saying is that there needs to be a redoing of the power structure and she has a hard time thinking of the power outside of the priesthood structure, but you are saying the power structure can be more equal and as a result of that equality the possibility of female ordination and the realization of the divine feminine can be realized. I think it is just what one has to come first.
This is just a hard issue. I think Valerie has great points, and that is the ideal. My main issue is that women are not given an equal place at the table, or in voice. I think Ordain Women is opening up conversation, yet, I think that there is so much danger in hasty social change as well as in prolonged lack of change. This needs to be address quickly. Women are leaving the church much earlier now and in numbers greater than the men! I think for me the issue is very similar to yours women have to have an equal voice and effect policy at a real level before I think the idea of women getting the PH is even possible.
The power structure has to change to include women in non-priesthood (ordinance related positions) like SS President, and Finance Clerks, and so forth. Emphasizing that priesthood is about ordinances and not about non-ordinance callings.
Evis: Thanks Jessica. Matt, your argument is very valid and I find myself agreeing with your reasoning. I do want the RS to be restored to the functions that it had in the early church. This is the goal of every feminist person in the church. The way I understand divine power is that both men and women have the same power. The priesthood is the officiating of the divine power in men. The early RS officiated with a similar power among women in the early days of the church. However, both genders share in the same power. For me, I am not part of the Ordain women movement but it seems to me that they are not asking the men to give them power but to officiate the divine power in women. Does it make sense? At least, this is how I understand it in the context of my understanding of priesthood and divine power. So, in response to your good question, I do not think women need the power of men but rather the opportunity to have their share in that power officially recognized. (under the assumption that there is only one divine power). If we look at the argument from the context that there are two separate powers, then the argument of Sis. Cassler definitely makes more sense. I guess, as members we need to understand better what divine power is?, what priesthood is?, how they are different or similar? etc. Thank you for the discussion and helping me think out loud on this matter. We are definitely living in very interesting times.
Jessica: So I think this is just a hard issue. I think Valerie has great points, and that is the ideal. My main issue is that women are not given an equal place at the table, or in voice. I think the Ordain Women movement is opening up a conversation, yet, I think that there is so much danger in hasty social change as well as in prolonged lack of change. Ugh women are leaving the church in YW and as YSA and in numbers greater than the men! I think for me the issue is very similar to yours women have to have an equal voice and effect policy at a real level before I think the idea of women getting the PH is even possible.
The power structure has to change to include women in non-priesthood positions like Sunday School President, and Finance Clerks, and so forth. Emphasize that the priesthood is about ordinances and not about non-ordinance callings. These get confused and this confusion leads to negative cultural practices that damage women and prevent them from making full contributions to the church and the world.
Matt: I think that really is Sis Cassler’s point, that women already have this power, what they need is for the women and men to recognize it, and begin to act on that knowledge. I like that we are talking about this. I think the ordain women website has compiled some fantastic resources to help talk about these issues (though some will find the source/authors questionable), and I welcome this kind of exchange.
More than anything I love that we are talking about equality and how we can better reach that ideal of truly equal partners.
In the meantime, for my part, I will hold on to my faith, and trust, and I will include women as my equal partner in every calling that I have the opportunity to serve in. I will seek their voice and make sure that I follow the council and pattern given by our leaders that decisions be made in unity. I can, do and will unite with the women of the church and world for that matter (I am a feminist after all). I don’t need any more revelation to know that I already need to do all of this if I am to please God, the Father and Mother.
IV. Benjamin R. Fewkes
This is such a wonderful article. I have grown weary and said over the last couple of years as I have become acquainted with the Ordain Women movement. My entire life I had been taught that men and women were equal and I saw this practiced in my home. Even though my father "presided" over the home, he differed all decisions to my mother. He may have had the last say, but only after my mother said so. I even remember asking as a young man about to receive the priesthood why women were not given it if we were truly equal? My father explained it thus "women do not need it, whereas men do." Over time he continued to teach this to me as though women somehow already had a divine power to serve that men yet lacked and therefore needed the priesthood or better needed to remain worthy of the priesthood in order to weld.
You have given me much to think about. Such as was it woman's role to take the family past the first tree, and therefore men's to take the family past the second? Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life would suggest you are right. Do women hold a divine power equal to the priesthood that they must find another route as you have suggested? Stories of pioneer women blessing and commanding their oxen to move and carry on past exhaustion would support your theory as well as your own actions as described in the essay.
I will be sure to share this with others, including my wonderful wife.
Also of note, I am not sure if you are aware as it is not mentioned, but to hold higher offices in the church such as bishop a man must be married or widowed (and even then it is felt he ought to remarry). It would seem that not even then all men can lead the the church. What are your thoughts?
V. V. H. Cassler, in reply to Benjamin Fewkes
Thanks for your comment, Benjamin! Yes, I do believe that, with their equal partner's help, men preside over the ordinances of the Second Tree. And yes, I do see those parallels with Lehi's vision, also.
A friend reminded me of something that Eugene England once said in 1987, something that is an important insight:
"Just as the lower Aaronic (or Levitical) priesthood is superseded by the Melchizedek when historical conditions or individual maturity warrant, so I believe the Melchizedek priesthood is a preparatory order to some extent superseded by the fully equal order that men and women receive when sealed in the temple."