My Wife’s Exercise of the Priesthood in Our Home

September 29, 2011 | 81 comments
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My Wife’s Exercise of the Priesthood in Our Home

(or Response to Alison part III)

Holy Family icon

Here a people of godly race are born for heaven;

the Spirit gives them life in the fertile waters.

The Church-Mother, in these waves, bears her children

like virginal fruit she has conceived by the Holy Spirit.[1]

I love this inscription. For me, it makes of baptism the center of a multi-axes union of male and female, convert and community, earth and heaven – reminiscent of our earlier discussions, and a perfect preamble to this one.

(Actually, the preamble’s going to on for a while – impatient folk are welcome to skip down to the numbered list below.)

The reality is, there’s so much to discuss in the original issues raised in Alison’s “Serving on the Sidelines” post that I’ll never get around to saying all I’d like to (here’s part I and part II). But I need to at least get through part III – the practical stuff. Alas, I don’t think I’ll ever get to part IV. In part II I discussed ways in which my wife and I united together (granted, asymmetrically) in both the conception and the birth of our children. Part III is meant to compliment that discussion – ways in which we have or plan to unite together in carrying out priesthood ordinances.

First preface: much of the discussion we’ve been having is a subset of the question concerning the intertangled issues of women, priesthood, and authority in the Church. We generally do a very poor job articulating the reasons for the structural distinctions we make. Everyone seems to have their own thoughts, but there’s almost nothing we can point to on an authoritative level. In part this is surely because if anything “makes reason stare,” it’s the current, unjustified distinctions between the way men and women operate in both the institutional and theological system of Mormonism (unjustified in the literal sense – we don’t have a rational set of justifications). This fact is becoming more and more conspicuous in our contemporary cultural context. It really bothers some of us, while others of us find our overall experience in the church so compelling and exalting that the in-egalitarian aspects of the Church don’t bother us, perhaps because of an implicit faith that however things appear, they’re as they should be (and then there’s all the rest of us in the middle somewhere). Often, this leads to a polarized debate between the women-ought-to-be-ordained camp vs. the those-calling-for-female-ordination-lack-faith-or-are-apostate camp. The dichotomy’s an unfortunate one and the discussions manifest a serious lack of theological creativity – which is, perhaps one of the reasons why as a people, we need prophetic revelation on the matter. All of this is the concise version of part IV – the part I’m fairly well convinced I’ll never get to. So for now it’s just a preface.

Second preface: I have a fundamental faith in the Church – above and beyond my faith in the gospel. Part of this is a nuanced optimism in the Church’s ability to transcend itself and progress, all the while fulfilling the basic measure of its creation. I’m not opposed to discussion about how we think the Church as an institution can improve. But in all of my conversation I want, at the end of the day, to have had a faithful response to the challenges faced in life, and this includes challenges I’ve faced in the church. This colors my approach in the present post: I want it to be a faithful one, a discussion of concrete things we can do now to improve the situation without allowing that discussion to be tainted by bitterness, cynicism, or demands that outstrip our lay positions. I’ll do my best here in the OP and hope you’ll all do your best in the comments to follow.

Third preface: Kristine said earlier,

One thing [that] makes these discussions [frustrating] is that we fail to make the distinction between the practical and the ethical discussions that are bound up in this. At the practical level, many (most) Mormon women offer meaningful service and feel good about it. Most Mormon leaders respect women and treat them well in day-to-day practice. But there’s still an ethical problem–the fact that women (and men) find ways to work around and through an institution and set of rules that are fundamentally sexist and unjust does not ameliorate the injustice at the level of institutional ethics.

I think this comment is insightful. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that there’s also a significant level of practical dissatisfaction. Likewise, I’m convinced that one of the most effective and faithful things we can do to positively address and influence the institutional structure (and hence the ethical level of the problem) is to recognize and make the most of the practical freedom and room for creativity that exists within the church – and specifically within our own families. So far in these posts we’ve had a number of helpful suggestions, mostly concerning how men (and women!) can change their demeanor and attitudes concerning women, women’s roles, women’s service, and particularly how we can pay better attention to the meaning and implication of our rhetoric. This is something we can all gain from, and there’s more to be said on the matter.

Nonetheless, often times we either fail to realize the creativity that is not only allowed in the church, but is an essential merging of our agency with the Lord’s in order to work out our own salvation and build the kingdom of God. The Relief Society was not a program begun by “the church,” or carried out originally under its direction. Rather, it was started by women seeking to be anxiously engaged in a good cause – one that inspired the prophet Joseph concerning how the women could be organized in order to assist the church in bringing about the fullness of the priesthood.[2] So, once again, I’m going to focus my discussion here on practical suggestions that I think all of us can do within our present context that will more fully incorporate our Mormon cosmic ideal: men and women, united together in how they administer the gospel (including priesthood ordinances) within their homes in order to raise up our children in righteousness.[3] The following list contains practices that have already been a blessing in our family, or thoughts we’ve had on how we might do things differently in the future. I suspect that at least some of these practices are shared by many of you, and I’m very interested in additional practices that have united your families together in sacred Mormon ritual.

1. Dedicating the home: This Mormon ritual, around since the early days of the church, is one that has continued to be performed by both men and women. Like the dedication of a grave, the dedication of a home can be performed by either sex – albeit women do so without invoking the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood. In addition to various traditions for preparing the home, our family gathers together to discuss what kind of home we want to have and what kind of blessing we want from the heavens. We then have the children offer prayers, culminating in Erin’s dedication of the home. Following her dedication, I invoke the Melchizedek Priesthood upon the dedication that has been offered.

Many feel that blessings in general are and ought to be spontaneous forms of communicated revelation – something that in its pure form occurs ex nihilo.  I’m not opposed to this. But I’ve also been inspired by Joseph Smith on the matter. The dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple was an extended, collaborative process. If this kind of pre-meditated, revelatory process sufficed for the dedication of the world’s first (known) temple in 1766 years, we decided it was a process that would work for our own home as well.

2. Baby blessings: I know that this has been a sore spot for many women in the church. Having carried an infant for nine months, and often during the most intimate part of post-partum, babies are taken before the congregation and given a name and a blessing – entirely without the mother, who is not even allowed to stand in the all-male circle (I even know of bishops who have refused a specific request to allow the mother to hold the baby or even the microphone during the blessing – though I don’t know that there is anything official there). I think that there are ways to envision this ritual as a significant, social complimentarity – birth into the family and blessing within the community. Nonetheless, it is easy to see why many women feel their exclusion from this communal, founding ordinance an injustice.

Naming’s a big deal for Erin & I. Long before we (or at least, before she) considered marriage, we started having conversations about what to name our children. I’ve very much enjoyed the way we go through and try out names, and also been perfectly content to give my wife the final say (though we’ve operated on the basis of something close to mutual veto privileges). I think this is fairly common. But we don’t stop there in our joint preparations for the ordinance of naming and blessing.

Once again, Erin and I sit down together, discussing our new infant, our hopes, our intuitions, past blessings, and why we’ve chosen that specific name. We seek after the spirit of the Lord and together compose a blessing – or the outline of one. I then get up before the congregation and with the other men in my family name and bless our infant. It’s a little like Joseph telling Emma from Carthage to write out the blessing she wanted, and that he would sign it, making it so. Only our process is more collaborative.

Another fairly common practice is for women to knit or otherwise sew the blessing gown or blanket. For some, this wouldn’t be a meaningful form of service, but for others I know it can be deeply meaningful and an act of love. It reminds me of women baking sacrament bread – another Mormon tradition wherein men and women unite in the carrying out of holy ritual, and one with a significant history.[4]

3. Blessings of healing and comfort: Women have a long and ennobling tradition of laying on hands in order to wash, anoint, bless, heal, and comfort the afflicted. For any who have not yet had the opportunity, I recommend reading Jonathan Stapley and Kris Wright’s article in the Winter 2011 Journal of Mormon History entitled “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism.” Perhaps the most recent example of divinely sanctioned female participation that I know of is found in Ed Kimball’s diary and concerns a blessing given to his father, President Spencer W. Kimball:

Dad had just been given some codeine for headache; he had not said much according to the nurse, but he had asked for a blessing. . . . Pres. Benson was taking a treatment at the Deseret Gym and could not come right away, so the security man had called Elders McConkie and Hanks; Mother was glad. Elder Hanks anointed Dad and Elder Mc- Conkie sealed the anointing as I joined them. At Elder McConkie’s sug- gestion Mother also placed her hands on Dad’s head. That was unusual; it seemed right to me, but I would not have felt free to suggest it on my own because of an ingrained sense that the ordinance is a priesthood ordinance (though I recalled Joseph Smith’s talking of mothers bless- ing their children). After the administration Mother wept almost un- controllably for some minutes, gradually calming down.[5]

Whatever the current guidance (or lack thereof) concerning women offering or taking part in blessings of healing and comfort, women’s direct participation in this manner undeniably contradicts our current cultural norms and is apt to make many feel very uncomfortable. This obviously defeats the purpose of giving such blessings.

I have often had the privilege of giving blessings to our children – usually at the request of either my children or my wife. During such times our children always sit in their mother’s lap, enfolded in her arms. Consequently, it is from within a familial embrace that my children hear whatever communication from the heavens I am able to give voice to. This asymmetric union has felt for me most closely akin to our likewise asymmetric partnering when we welcome our children into the world.

Not long ago, during an extremely stressful point in my life, I went to the home of some dear friends in order to seek a priesthood blessing. Prior to my receiving that blessing, the wife said a prayer, both invoking the spirit to be with us during that holy ritual and beseeching the heavens on my behalf. I was deeply moved, and the spirit in the room was undeniably altered. The blessing that followed was electric. I know that her prayer was as important to the efficacious nature of the blessing that I received as anything else that took place that night. The blessing I received was not separable from what she did, but in fact began with the prayer she uttered. Perhaps most importantly, it was an example of how a husband and wife can work in unison when giving blessings, and it has become another enriching tradition in our own family.

4. Baptism & Gift of Holy Ghost: My first ward mission leader and his wife, Pat & Gay Hayes, asked my companion and I to give the discussions to their soon-to-be eight year old son over the course of several months leading up to his baptism. This was holy time for me, where I basked in the wonderful spirit of their home and caught glimpses of how a celestial household operated, of how I wanted my own home to be. Leading up to our own son’s baptism my wife and I partnered in teaching Gaebriel about the covenants he was entering into and the Gift he was about to receive. This too was holy time – mini family home evenings with our son. This was his didache – imparted by both his parents.

One aspect of our own family’s didache was to talk to Gaebriel about activities surrounding his baptism that were important to him. Food and sometimes a gathering at the baptized’s home are common Mormon traditions and something that Gaebriel was excited for. A holy meal with the covenant community was an important part of early Christian baptisms as well – it was the first Eucharist for the initiated, often incorporating the symbolic elements of milk and honey.[6] The origin of the agape feast is actually the first Eucharist of the newly baptized. Inspired by these traditions, my wife and our son worked together to create a highly symbolic meal for those who attended the baptism. The event that occurred with my son and I in the water gathered the community, and my wife and son worked to unite that community and meaningfully commemorate his baptism.

I’m not sure that those in attendance grasped the significance of the meal, even though our son was excited to tell them all about it. I think most of us are already well aware of the service that is both culturally expected and which women perform willingly in preparing food for our various gatherings and ritual practices. Unfortunately, I think we too often recognize its significance in an analogous manner to how we recognize those who set up the chairs or provide rides. Within your families and when you attend or participate in food preparation, you might also recognize the way that this act unites us to our Judeo-Christian roots, and elevate what is already a common practice to the greater significance it once had in ancestors’ ritual lives. The meal can indeed be a sacred corollary to the ordinance.

Also, while we do not have mothers stand as the official witnesses to a baptism, I think it crucial that we all recognize the mother as centrally playing this role – that she who gave her child a first birth and then helped to raise her child to be prepared to undergo a second birth is already an integral participant. It would be nice if we developed a tradition of placing a seat of honor from which the mother can witness her child’s rebirth.

Again, sewing baptismal clothing is another way for a mother to participate with her children in the water.

Finally, we’re all familiar with the language of the bestowal of the Gift of the Holy Ghost – the injunction to receive the Holy Ghost. The ordinance is sacred, a holy ritual that once again embeds the individual within the community. But as to lifelong efficacy, I’m reminded of Joseph’s well known quote that we “might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost.”[7] We might as well bestow this Gift of the Holy Ghost on a bag of sand as our children if we do not then further help them to develop that Gift. Here is an area where both parents can work together, complimenting one another’s efforts to raise their children up in the spirit. “By learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.”[8] Like raising a child generally, raising them up to learn the Spirit of God is ideally performed as a lifelong task of both parents.

We’ve not yet had a son ordained to the priesthood or a child go through the temple (where others and not just our own family will be involved). I’m not yet sure how we’ll approach these events, but I know we’ll work together as husband and wife to once again envelop our children in our joint efforts to impart these holy ordinances. If I had time I might speculate here. This list, however, is certainly sufficient to get the conversation started. Let me end by repeating: I don’t see these practices as a way for liberal Mormons to push the envelope or performatively lobby for women’s ordination to the priesthood – all of which is an entirely different discussion. Rather, I see it as husbands and wives actively sharing in the rituals and establishment of covenants, a way of working out together our ultimate goals in complimentary fashion. Among our greatest and most cherished beliefs is our own particular Mormon understanding of what it means that “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” Creatively and faithfully working out how to make our ritual practices reflect that belief has been among the most beautiful and meaningful aspects of our worship – quite explicitly our attempt to live up to every covenant we’ve made in the House of the Lord

I very much look forward to hearing the ways that the men and women in your family have united in ritual practice or your additional suggestions for how we might concretely do so.

[Note: I really am interested in your suggestions; I really am not interested in your criticism of my family’s pearls that I’ve placed here – so I will charitably thank you up front for any such concerns you may have for my eternal salvation, but ask that you leave it out of the comments].


[1] On the baptistery of the Lateran Basilica, inscription of Sixtus III, 432-440.

[2] Think Emma’s efforts leading to the revelation on the Word of Wisdom – but writ large. Joseph’s first two addresses to the Relief Society are very revealing on this note.

[3] I’ve already crammed too many prefaces and caveats up front, so I’m relegating this one to a footnote: Obviously I believe in the importance of families working together and seeking revelation in order to do things in a way that will be of greatest blessing to their families. What follows are suggestions – food for thought and discussion. It’s not a personal agenda that I’m trying to convince others to adopt. Rather, I’m hopeful that these concrete suggestions can facilitate generalizations that will be useful for your own thinking, discussing, praying, and working out a more perfect union in your own families.

[4] Kris Wright wrote a moving sermon on this that you can read in the Fall 2011 issue of Dialogue.

[5] Edward L. Kimball diary, September 7, 1979; quoted in “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism.” Another Kimball – Stanley, Ed’s cousin, who I met on my mission – told about giving a blessing to his long ill wife together with an RLDS Priestess (I don’t recall her actual office) who was a dear family friend. He anointed and she sealed. I can’t help but wonder if he and his wife were influenced by the experience of Pres. Kimball, who was a father figure in Stanley’s life.

[6] See Maxwell E. Johnson, Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation.

[7] Joseph Smith, 9 July 1843.

[8] Joseph Smith, instructions to the Twelve, 27 June 1839.

81 Responses to My Wife’s Exercise of the Priesthood in Our Home

  1. Aaron R. on September 29, 2011 at 5:38 am

    Thank you for sharing these details of your family life with us; they have certainly provided some food for thought for me regarding how my family might want to bring these blessings into our home.

  2. Sam Brunson on September 29, 2011 at 8:50 am

    Thanks, James. I don’t have time to think deeply about them right now, but you’ve laid out some interesting ideas here and, at least prior to any reflection, I like them.

  3. Alison Moore Smith on September 29, 2011 at 8:58 am

    James, thank you, again, for such a thoughtful response.

  4. Sharee Hughes on September 29, 2011 at 9:25 am

    During a camping trip in July, I fell ill. The previous day we had met some fellow campers who were also members of the church, so I asked for a blessing and they, fortunately, had some consecrated oil with them. Later, one of the friends I was camping with suggested that we take consecrated oil with us on future trips, as you never know if there will be priesthood nearby and she said we could bless each other if there was no priesthood. We intend to do that. Heavenly Father hears all prayers, not just those given by the priesthood. I also remember one time when I had asked my father for a blessing and he asked my mother to lay her hands on my head as well. It was a great feeling to have that blessing come from both parents, even though my father was the voice.

  5. James Olsen on September 29, 2011 at 10:10 am
  6. slowstop on September 29, 2011 at 10:21 am

    I do appreciate ideas on how to work within the current system, but that these are “revolutionary” suggestions that many Mormons would balk at adopting, is kind of sad.

    That and I’m wondering how you would feel James, if the roles were reversed and your wife was setting out ways in which you could participate (you may see it as directly, but some of these seem more indirect and marginal). It smacks a bit of “hey come in and be a part of this, but make sure you sit over there.”

    In my personal life, I had the hardest time with the not being able to even participate as a witness to my child’s baptism. I ended up making my own ritual for her in the bathroom while she got ready, talking about what she just went through, giving her a memento, etc. But I felt regulated away.

    Again, these are beautiful experiences and I’m glad your family has found a more unified approach to the rituals. I’m just discouraged that this doesn’t seem to be encouraged by leadership and has to be more “under the table.”

  7. Rachel on September 29, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Like slowstop, I was able to help my daughter prepare for her baptism in the bathroom. Helping her get dressed in the white dress (the same one my mother had made for my baptism), and then wrapping her in a towel and gathering her up out of the font, drying and tying back her hair was one of the most unexpected spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. It reminded me distinctly of being in the temple, and it was wonderful to support and serve my daughter in that way.

  8. ThomG on September 29, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Regarding baby blessings, due to the timing of her adoption, our youngest daughter, H, was blessed when she was 18 months old (and full of energy). My wife walked with me to the front of the chapel, sat on a chair, and held H on her lap while the brethren gathered around, placed their hands on H’s head, and blessed her. It was a very special moment, and at the time it never even ocurred to me that the bishop would object (and he didn’t). In retrospect, it does make me wish that Church culture were open to the mother holding an infant while she is blessed.

  9. James Olsen on September 29, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Rachel & slowstop: Thank you for sharing these experiences. Embracing your child coming out of the water, reminiscent of being embraced at the veil, is a beautiful thought. I suppose you could also do this with your sons, witnessing the baptism from behind the font.

    slowstop: I’m sympathetic to what you say, and I’ve candidly acknowledged throughout this series that I agree that we currently have a system that “makes reason stare.” I’m not convinced that there’s only one solution – which is part of what I’m trying to get across here – but we do need change, or at least an understanding for how it is that our present system actually allows men and women to celestially unite despite the fact that in our lived experience of it sometimes does the opposite. I’ve also acknowledged the frustration experienced as leadership hasn’t directed or supported change or creativity, and sometimes even seems to exacerbate the situation (see Alison’s original post). But as I said above [see the third preface, and most of the preamble], I’m convinced that waiting around for leadership is itself a form of damnation, while the reality is that even within our strongly hierarchical church, and even if someone wants to remain wholly “orthodox,” there are things we can do – things, in fact, that I think it is imperative to do if we want to be both consistent and faithful. It’s not a total solution; but it’s been a highly rewarding process for my family.

    And so far, no one’s balked at my suggestions – here or in my non-virtual life. We’ll see if it stays that way ;)

  10. James Olsen on September 29, 2011 at 11:24 am

    ThomG: What a wonderful and fortuitous opportunity! Agreed, it would be wonderful if we could all do it like this.

  11. chris on September 29, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    slowstop, I don’t there is much controversy in this post, and I’m someone who has been accused of being a caricature of one of “those” negatively typical Mormons.

    Upon reading this post, I felt some thoughts which have been stewing around come a bit more clear. It seems as if the desire is for some women to be able to do the same as the men, and this be liberated and equal. It’s certainly more complex than that, so I apologize for inadquately distilling it down… but hopefull you can see the point is that the disparity in action represents inequality at best and iniquity at worst.

    I actually don’t think its ennobling or elightening for a woman to do the same thing as a man, even though in many cases it may be appropriate. A woman doesn’t need to define herself by now being capable or permitted to do what a man can do.

    This is the post modern age after all, where we don’t need to be defind by our structures, we can recognize the contructs for what they are (frameworks created by human, inspired as they may be). And then go and create our own constructs. This post does that. So while it may be condescending for the OP to pat his wife on the head and say, “I’ll do the baptizing, you sew her clothes and dry her off”, I don’t think that’s how the author is portraying it. Rather, it’s carving out a new space, creating a new sacred construct, which is every bit inspired as it draws the family nearer to God and then together as it seeks to faithfully build upon what it has already received.

    We’ve often heard it said in one manner or another, we are not living up to the level of blessings we have received. I think there are nearly an infinite number of ways a woman can create additional sacred experiences, some through the opportunities available, other ways through seeking revelation to create new opportunities.

    My somewhat conservative side would hasten to add that doesn’t mean seeking to overturn what we have or to take on the roles of men, but I think there has to be a way for women to define themselves as daughters of God who are contributing in ways they feel happy with, without a man having to suggest, “this is what you should do” or without being so uncreative as to say, “the men bless the baby, I want to do exactly the same thing.” I hope that last line is not offensive… I’m not saying that’s a terrible desire, but I just don’t think it strikes me as seeking to expand our horizons by seeking to re-arrange the roles that are already being fulfilled.

  12. Raymond Takashi Swenson on September 29, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    How about the most important ordinance in the temple, when a man and woman kneel across from each other at the altar and join hands in a special handclasp? While the ordinance is pronounced by an ordained temple sealer, it is only complete when it is jointly and equally received by wife and husband.

    This fact, that it is the couple at the altar who are indispensable to this supreme ordinance, and are the whole point of it, is emphasized when we perform it on behalf of the dead. The participation of the woman is just as essential as that of the man, in offering the grace of the blessing of eternal life to dead ancestors waiting behind the veil.

    Similarly, every vicarious ordinance a woman or teenage girl performs in the temple, including baptism and confirmation on behalf of the dead, and the endowment for the dead, is very essentially playing the core role in being the conduit for conferring a blessing on others. The power of the ordinance flows through you.

    When we are in the temple, we take on the role of our parents Adam and Eve, who both stood in the presence of Elohim and Jehovah, who together performed sacrifice, who celebrated the essential step of the Falling in order to prepare for the Rising enabled by Christ. The covenants we make in the endowment are performed by and through both men and women. And both men and women are admitted into the symbolic celestial room, to share and share alike its blessings.

  13. James Olsen on September 29, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    chris & Raymond: thank you for your thoughts; I appreciate chris’ articulation of what we’re doing – yes the goal is indeed to work out a “new space” – one that does justice to both the gifts God has already given us (including the institution of the church and the bounds it has set) and our own agency and desires.

    The real difficulties involved in the inequality in the church as I see them don’t arise from the fact of difference (I’m getting into part IV stuff now). I think most of us – men and women – are comfortable with the notion of separate roles/abilities/callings/etc. We’re ok with this because we marry it to the idea (and ideal) of a mutual interdependence or to the idea that it takes both halves equally to make the divine whole – which is, I think, a good gloss on how we understand I Cor. 11:11 – and also what Raymond has felt and experienced in the temple. Nevertheless there are at least four very conspicuous ways in which women are confronted at church with clear counterexamples to this ideal:

    1. Liturgy – there are explicit disparities in our temple liturgy, which sometimes make their way into our everyday church meetings (like the infamous old norm of women never giving the opening prayer or closing talk – thank heavens that one’s gone by the wayside, eh?). It’s rather a difficult thing that at the same time that women undergo their most sacred ordinances in the temple, they’re necessarily confronted with explicit liturgical differences that are – any way you look at it (and trust me, I’ve spent lots of time looking at it and finding insights into it) – placing women in an inferior position.
    2. Authority – we have married the authority to perform ordinances with governing authority in the church – made them synonymous. It’s a little easier to both see and feel equality in a system that divides up roles (men do X, women do Y), when they both share equally in the governing, and it’s a huge obstacle when they don’t. We’ve never articulated why men lead and women don’t, nor how it is that authority to perform ordinances grants or is related to authority to lead – it’s just a fact. This poses a real challenge.
    3. Rhetoric – this has been a big part of the conversation in the last two parts, and in Alison’s OP, so I won’t say much. I’ll just note that even when one has – through prayer and study and inspiration and creativity – reconciled oneself to the difficulties posed in 1 & 2, it is often still a huge challenge to confront the folk at church (including occasionally the leadership) who continually say and imply flatly sexist things.
    4. Other women’s attitudes – here’s another one that can be a big challenge even if you’ve taken care of 1-3. I’ve heard from many women (and have had analogous experiences in other areas), that one of the hardest obstacles to enjoying their themselves at church is either the obsequious nature of the other women there vis-a-vis the priesthood or their attitude toward any woman whom they sense as unorthodox in some manner or other. Here the challenge is not just confronting persons with very different views – that’s something we all experience. Instead, it’s feeling like your sisters at church have been brainwashed or otherwise embraced a morally inferior position.

    Hearkening back up to the third preface above: sometimes we feel that we can all work on 3 & 4, while there’s not much we can do about 1 & 2, and to a point this is true. But I’m convinced that they all feed into each other. Here, I’ve tried to offer suggestions on family practices that I think can (albeit it modestly) help us reconcile our ideal with each of the challenges 1-4, and make our experience vis-a-vis ordinances more edifying. I firmly believe that structural change is just as likely to occur in response to faith and creativity as it is from unbidden divine intervention – and maybe much more so.

  14. Naismith on September 30, 2011 at 7:53 am

    “The real difficulties involved in the inequality in the church as I see them don’t arise from the fact of difference (I’m getting into part IV stuff now).”

    This has very much the taste of a labeling prolife folks as “anti-choice.” A lot of us don’t think that the differences=inequality. Sorry to get into your part IV stuff, and I won’t push the point to detract from that, but this is hard to discuss when I can’t accept your basic assumptions. Back off from your position of inequality and discuss differences, and I’m happy to engage.

    I don’t think that treating women like men is the answer. I won’t be repetitive by going into how damaging this is at my university.

    But it does strike me as disrespect for women’s contributions to focus on why they don’t have the priesthood, etc. And modern feminism provides a model for how this can be taken to an extreme, with recent books advising women not to have children, or certainly not more than one, because of the distraction from and cost to their paid career (as if the latter is obviously more important).

    “any way you look at it (and trust me, I’ve spent lots of time looking at it and finding insights into it) – placing women in an inferior position.”

    Any way you look at it? So *your* looking at it gives you the right to tell others what they see? I am not comfortable discussing the temple on a blog, because I am not so sure what can be discussed publicly. But I do question the logic and arrogance of the statement that nobody can see an insight if you didn’t.

    “we have married the authority to perform ordinances with governing authority in the church”

    I am not so sure about this. Certainly some folks do, but whether it is predominant, I dunno. For one thing, we consider the family to be the basic unit of the church, and in that unit, husbands and wives are to be equal partners. Also, women use the power of the priesthood to do all that they do in the church, whether teaching a lesson, baking bread for a family who is ill, or performing ordinances in the temple.

    “it is often still a huge challenge to confront the folk at church (including occasionally the leadership) who continually say and imply flatly sexist things.”

    I’m with you on that, and I speak up and correct it whenever possible. It is much less of a problem outside of the intermountain west, however. And as you noted, my experience is that it is much LESS among the leadership than wacko members.

    I came across the concept of “servant leadership” in grad school, which is what I think our church practices. So I don’t equate governing with dicatorship or “final say.”

    “Instead, it’s feeling like your sisters at church have been brainwashed or otherwise embraced a morally inferior position.”

    Which is YOUR problem, not the sister’s problem.

    I resent being told that I am brainwashed and settling for less. I was a member of NOW, took women’s history class, served in the Army, and have a graduate degree–so in many ways I qualify as a feminist role model. But I pretty much support the way the church does things as far as women’s roles. I see it has produced great good in my life and those around me. My choice was not a matter of brainwashing or being ignorant.

    I have no problem with other women agitating faithfully, if that’s what they want. I won’t sign their petition because I personally don’t believe in it, but they have the right to do what they believe is best for them and their families. I would never question their faithfulness.

    And if women are given the priesthood at some point in time, I will do whatever is asked of me.

  15. SixnaHalfFeet on October 3, 2011 at 2:49 am

    James, I don’t have any problem with you and your wife’s decision on how to share priesthood ordinances. I do dislike the way you have suggested the church is unfair or unethical in it’s treatment of women. My wife and I raised 2 daughters and are still raising 2 sons. It has become extremely clear to me that men need the priesthood just so they can be equals with women. In fact I taught my daughters that if they want to marry an equal they need to marry a good priesthood holder, I am teaching my sons that they need to be priesthood holders to even measure up to women. Society is telling men and women everywhere that men aren’t important, that they aren’t needed. Women don’t need men to have families, women don’t need men to have livelihoods, etc. etc. And now you are implying that women shouldn’t need men for the priesthood. How are men to ever be needed or have importance? If women can do anything men can, what does that leave for men to be special, unique, important, and needed? Women are automatically needed and important. Women were God’s crowning achievement of the creation! I personally believe that God gave men the priesthood so that men can be equals to women. If women had the priesthood men would be second rate and second class. As it is in God’s plan they are equals with women (with separate functions, but equals in importance).

  16. SixnaHalfFeet on October 3, 2011 at 2:49 am

    James, I don’t have any problem with you and your wife’s decision on how to share priesthood ordinances. I do dislike the way you have suggested the church is unfair or unethical in it’s treatment of women. My wife and I raised 2 daughters and are still raising 2 sons. It has become extremely clear to me that men need the priesthood just so they can be equals with women. In fact I taught my daughters that if they want to marry an equal they need to marry a good priesthood holder, I am teaching my sons that they need to be priesthood holders to even measure up to women. Society is telling men and women everywhere that men aren’t important, that they aren’t needed. Women don’t need men to have families, women don’t need men to have livelihoods, etc. etc. And now you are implying that women shouldn’t need men for the priesthood. How are men to ever be needed or have importance? If women can do anything men can, what does that leave for men to be special, unique, important, and needed? Women are automatically needed and important. Women were God’s crowning achievement of the creation! I personally believe that God gave men the priesthood so that men can be equals to women. If women had the priesthood men would be second rate and second class. As it is in God’s plan they are equals with women (with separate functions, but equals in importance).

  17. SixnaHalfFeet on October 3, 2011 at 2:56 am

    @Naismith
    I loved your comments.

  18. Sam Brunson on October 3, 2011 at 9:20 am

    SixnaHalfFeet,

    How are men to ever be needed or have importance?

    Ignoring the history of men’s subjugation of women, I think concerns of the irrelevancy of men are grossly overblown. (I’m also not a huge fan of a gender essentialism that says that men are inherently worse at spiritual stuff than women: it’s offensive both to men, by saying that somehow they are less, and to women, by suggesting that their spirituality is a result of their gender, and not of their work in developing spirituality.)

    That said, why should women be kept back just so that men feel good? If men want to be needed or to have importance, doesn’t it make sense for us to do those things that provide value to the world/Church/other organization you’re talking about? If the full purpose of Priesthood is for men to feel included, it’s nothing more than a crutch to replace true spiritual development. I can’t believe, though, that this is its full purpose or importance.

  19. SixnaHalfFeet on October 3, 2011 at 10:06 am

    @ Sam,

    I am talking not of intulectual ideals but of realities. Also I do not want to offend or be harsh, but When I am offended I remember Christs teachings from the scriptures and understand him to say “Forgive”.

    The realities are that even with men taking a more prominent role in the church, more women attend church than men. Fact. In the LDS church the attendance of men, while less than women, is greater than all other mainline churches. Fact. Read from the disscussion over on the “LDS men aren’t Incredible” thread. In there I see evidence for what I am saying. And like Niasmith said above, the priesthood is “servant leadership”. Fact. As one who has served in supposed “higher” callings, I attest to the fact that those people are servants who give so much more than they supposedly receive in status. I would say that any status that say a Bishop gets is a construct of worldly people, not a construct of God. In my opinion – Fact.

  20. SixnaHalfFeet on October 3, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Let me be clear, I make my living as a scientist. In my profession we study population dynamics of benthic communities in the ocean and how it is effected by pollution. We find that there is huge variation in any one individual compared to another, but what is overall important isn’t how each individual responds, but how the whole population responds.

    Yes, there are men that are more spiritual than most women. There is individuality, and individuality is good, but in my opinion God is not only concerned with the salvation of the individual , He is also concerned with the salvation of the whole human family or population. And population dynamics among humans shows that in spiritual matters population dynamics support the separate, but equal mode that the churches use. Let me use an example from the Catholic church I read about. The Catholic church has their priests collect anonomys information about the sins that are confessed to their priests. While not purely scientific data, it is very good anectdotal evidence. The priests found that the category of sins that men most struggle with are sins of lust. No surprise there. The category of sins that women most struggle with is pride. There were women who struggled with lust and there were men who struggled with pride, but those cases were much less common. I believe that the church is set up to bring salvation to individuals, but more importantly to families, and even the whole human family, and therefore it is an equalizer in spirituality for men to hold the priesthood. Individually it might be nicer if it was different, but on the whole it is better this way.

  21. Kaimi Wenger on October 3, 2011 at 11:49 am

    6.5′,

    You’re making a variety of assumptions about an ultimately empirical matter, aren’t you?

    There are a lot of variables here. At the very least, we have

    (A) Men who would not otherwise come to church, but are motivated to do so by callings.
    (B) Women who would become prideful and perform poorly if given leadership.

    but we also have

    (C) Men who become prideful and perform poorly when given leadership. (What percent of men are in this category. D&C 121 says that it’s “almost all”)
    (D) Women who are hurt by the exclusion
    (E) Wards that don’t run as efficiently because half of their potential leaders are ineligible

    You’re making the assumption that A+B > C+D+E, but in fact we don’t have the empirical evidence on it.

  22. Sam Brunson on October 3, 2011 at 11:51 am

    The realities are that even with men taking a more prominent role in the church, more women attend church than men.

    But imagine a world where women get the priesthood. Even assuming that more women attend church than men (which is consistent with my anecdotal experience, but I haven’t seen any empirical evidence one way or the other), would women’s receipt of the priesthood diminish men’s attendance? While it is certainly possible, I don’t see any reason to assume that it would. And if a man were to stop attending because his wife/sister/daughter/whomever had a leadership position that he was then not fulfilling, well. that would say more about him than about institutional norms.

    therefore it is an equalizer in spirituality for men to hold the priesthood

    I strongly disagree with this sentiment, again because I don’t accept an inherent difference between men and women even collectively in terms of spirituality. If spirituality is distributed like a bell curve, the vast majority of individuals would be in about the same boat; for math aptitude, boys score at the top and the bottom—if that’s the proper analogy for women, they should be, at the margins, both the most spiritual and the least.

    But there’s nothing in scripture or my experience that suggests that spirituality is distributed in a bell curve, or is particularly gendered.

  23. Naismith on October 3, 2011 at 11:52 am

    “That said, why should women be kept back just so that men feel good?”

    “Kept back”? This language bothers me a bit, because of the implication that what men do is somehow normal or superior.

    Another way to phrase it might be, “Why should women allow men to experience the feeling that they contribute to the family?” Because in reality, a lot of guys love being able to perform ordinances and give blessings at times when they feel unable to contribute in other ways (e.g., inability to gestate and lactate, but they CAN give the baby a name and blessing).

    I appreciate the concerns about gender essentialism, and I am not that far over on the spectrum. But I don’t think it is a bad thing when men want to serve their family.

    Also, I note that James put the OP in first person plural, and I don’t want any of this to seem like a criticism of their family’s modus operandii.

  24. Sam Brunson on October 3, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Kept back

    That may not be the most artful way of putting what I mean (although, in my defense, I had to rush off to get my daughter from preschool). That said, it’s not too far off of what I mean.

    But maybe describing what I mean would help: I don’t mean to normalize the male experience of Church, or somehow suggest that a female experience is inferior. I mean, simply, that, in Mormon discourse, we often suggest that hold the priesthood provides some spiritual benefit to the holder (whether or not that’s its principal purpose). If that is the case, and women can’t hold the priesthood, they aren’t able to get the growth that derives from the priesthood. There may be other avenues of spiritual growth available to women and to men, but that particular avenue is foreclosed.

    I don’t think that’s terribly controversial, and it doesn’t make any normative statements about how the Church should be. But I find it dangerous when we claim that women don’t need priesthood because (a) they’re more spiritual inherently, or (b) it will hurt men. Mostly because I don’t think (a) or (b) is accurate or, frankly, fair to either gender. If there is inequality, I think we should acknowledge the inequality and work to fix it (either by opening the path [which, frankly, would require prophetic revelation to do, whether or not male priesthood is doctrine or policy] or discovering other paths of growth [which is kind of what James provides examples of in the OP]). I don’t see the benefit of, or value in, merely trying to provide a justification, especially when the justification, as Kaimi notes, makes assumptions about empirical matters or, generally, pretends to know more than it knows.

  25. SixnaHalfFeet on October 3, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    I have feeling that there is no postition that could help you see what myself and Naismith are saying. I am not presuming to speak for Naismith, but I think I understand her postition.

    I also understand Sam and Kami’s position. The deal is I think it is being taken personally, when who holds the priesthood is not meant as a personal affront.

    In addition, Sam says that the priesthood is supposed to give the holder some spiritual advantage, or right, or prestige, etc. My understanding of the priesthood is that it is a call to serve, not a call to position or advantage. Women are automatically called to serve when they become pregnant. There is not getting out of it. The priesthood that a man holds is not for him. He cannot place his hands on his own head and give himself a blessing, just as a woman cannot birth herself.

    The research on men and boys show that they learn best when doing. The research on women shows that they learn best when in a classroom type environment, where discussion and sharing are encouraged. The priesthood is for doing. It is up to the man to learn from it, but it doesn’t convey any special spiritual advantage that women don’t have. It only gives men an equal opportunity to serve and grow as women already have.

  26. Kaimi on October 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    6.5′

    I’m pretty sure that that Sam and I understand what you and Naismith are saying. We’ve had this conversation on blog before, and Naismith is a long-time participant in discussions of gender and the church. You’ve explained your position, and I understand it. However, I don’t agree with your analysis.

  27. Sam Brunson on October 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Ditto to Kaimi.

  28. SixnaHalfFeet on October 3, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Ipray you find the peace you seek. Godspeed to you. I hope you ask God to answer your question. Peace, love, and hope.

  29. Naismith on October 3, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    “I mean, simply, that, in Mormon discourse, we often suggest that hold the priesthood provides some spiritual benefit to the holder…”

    I am not so sure. The only spiritual benefit of which I was aware was when a priesthood holder actually *uses* that power to bless the lives of others. Just holding it has no benefit per se.

    “If that is the case, and women can’t hold the priesthood, they aren’t able to get the growth that derives from the priesthood.”

    The catch is, though, that LDS women can do all kinds of things that would require ordination in other religious traditions. Like serve a mission, perform ordinances in the temple, teach seminary, etc. And we still do get the growth from serving in those ways. Without having the priesthood.

    “But imagine a world where women get the priesthood. Even assuming that more women attend church than men (which is consistent with my anecdotal experience, but I haven’t seen any empirical evidence one way or the other), would women’s receipt of the priesthood diminish men’s attendance? While it is certainly possible, I don’t see any reason to assume that it would.”

    Other churches who have opened ministry to women struggle with men’s participation a lot. You may be correct, that may not happen with LDS, since our priesthood functions differently, being in every home and all. But I think there is arrogance in declaring that LDS men have nothing in common with those who are baptist, quaker, seventh-day adventist, methodist, etc.

    I can easily imagine a LDS woman writing something similar to what this female unitarian universalist minister wrote,

    http://uumensnet.org/sermonwinner01.pdf

    including one man’s explanation that, “If men are, in fact, vanishing from church life or other voluntary
    associations, it’s because we feel that what we have to offer is not considered important or valid.”

    So I don’t know.

  30. Sam Brunson on October 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Just holding it has no benefit per se.

    There is a thread of Mormon discourse that holds that priesthood brings no specific blessings to the holder, only enabling him to bless others. But at least as common is an explanation of blessing that come to the holder by virtue of holding (and exercising) the priesthood. For example, Elder Uchdorf:

    The blessings of the priesthood transcend our ability to comprehend. Faithful Melchizedek Priesthood holders can “become … the elect of God.” They are “sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies” and can ultimately receive “all that [the] Father hath.” This may be hard to comprehend, but it is beautiful, and I testify that it is true.

    The catch is, though, that LDS women can do all kinds of things that would require ordination in other religious traditions.

    True. And these things provide avenues of growth for Mormon women. But there is one avenue that’s blocked off to Mormon women. (I’m not even trying to suggest, BTW, that priesthood provides social benefits, aggrandizement, etc. It probably does sometimes, and it can also require remarkable selfless sacrifice.)

    “If men are, in fact, vanishing from church life or other voluntary associations, it’s because we feel that what we have to offer is not considered important or valid.”

    You may be right, but I can’t get my head around the idea that, if women can do what I do, my offerings aren’t important or valid. I don’t see that as diminishing anybody. Moreover, notwithstanding her observations, they’re pretty anecdotal. I’d be interested in seeing if there is a causal relationship between the ordination of women in other faith traditions and men’s lower participation rates. My intuition would be that the two aren’t closely connected, but I don’t have any data either way.

    Again, I’m not making normative recommendations; that’s neither my place, nor is it particularly effective in the Church.

  31. SixnaHalfFeet on October 3, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    As to Elder Uchdorf’s quote, it could mean sevaral things, and it could be equally valid to replace priesthood holder with “mother” in his remark and have equal validaty. I do not understand why there is so much jumping to conclusions on the words of the prophets.

    There is a great scripture that says “seek first to obtain my word”.

    My father stopped going to church when I was twelve. The last thing he did with the priesthood was baptize my brother and set me apart as a Deacon. From that moment on he drilled into me to accept nothing on faith. Only the things you can imperacly prove or that sound logical. I think this is why I became a scientist. However, when my wife to be inspired me to decide if the church was true or not, I had some amazing experiences that can only be understood through faith. In preperation for those experiences I was a true seeker trying to understand what God’s laws and rules were for a happy life. I read, I studied, I prayed. I found out that I cannot counsel God. He is way smarter than me. Before that experience I wanted to counsel him and tell him it was wrong that black men couldn’t hold the priesthood, and that polygamy seemed like an excuse for lust. I learned that he was right and I was wrong. I didn’t have the full picture. I was seeing those issues from a limited viewpoint. The same goes for women’s rights. I felt all people male and female should be treated the same. Since I found out I was wrong, I have sought to understand God’s mind so that I could be of one mind with him. My earlier comments are my human attempt to understand the mind of God. Isn’t it interesting how we know we have a Heavenly Mother, but that is just about all we know? I believe it is God’s will for men to bear the priesthood and women to bear children, and both to share the blessings of the Lord’s priesthood, as ultimately it is only his. And I believe we each have equal, but different roles.

  32. Ms. Jack on October 4, 2011 at 8:24 am

    #19 SixnaHalfFeet ~ In the LDS church the attendance of men, while less than women, is greater than all other mainline churches. Fact.

    False.

    According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has one of the most imbalanced gender ratios in the country among Christian denominations. These are the averages (Men | Women):

    National Total: 48 | 52
    Evangelical Churches: 47 | 53
    Mainline Churches: 46 | 54
    Orthodox: 46 | 54
    Catholics: 46 | 54
    Mormons: 44 | 56
    Jehovah’s Witnesses: 40 | 60
    Historically Black Churches: 40 | 60

    http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/comparison-Gender%20Composition%20of%20Religious%20Traditions.pdf

    Granted, I believe this was a survey on religious self-identification, not actual Sunday attendance. Perhaps other denominations simply have more inactive men than the LDS church. But, though I’ve heard the claim often from defenders of LDS patriarchy, I’ve never seen any data to back up the idea that the LDS church is seeing more male bodies in its pews on Sunday mornings than other denominations. In fact, I’ve never seen any data correlating bans on women clergy with greater Sunday attendance of males. The denominations that ordain women seem to have just as many men in their pews as the denominations that don’t.

    Good to know that I’m superior to all of the non-LDS men in my life by virtue of my dual-X chromosomes and their lack of priesthood. I’ll be sure to let my (all-male) divinity school professors and advisors know that.

  33. SixnaHalfFeet on October 4, 2011 at 9:26 am

    @ Ms. Jack
    Harvard University proffessor Robert Putnam conducted research that doesn’t agree with your Pew research numbers. Check out his book American Grace. He states that the weekly average attendance ratio for men / women is 34 / 45. I’ve seen news reports that in Europe the disparity is even worse. In South America, not so bad.

    If you are going into acedamia a word of caution, research statitics don’t lie, but the original data collection or question is often flawed or can create skewed data. Always check the methodology if possible.

    Also anecdotally I have performed the duties of the statistical clerk in my ward. And I witnessed greater attendance by the female membership than the male. It was approximately 45 / 55 for my ward. While that is not scientific or can be extrapolated to the church at large, I have heard similar references at conference and Stake meetings. So anecdotally, It is fair to say that more women attend church than men, and in the LDS faith the attendance is a little greater than in other mainline faiths.

    As for your having the upper hand on xy chromosome holders, please don’t go flaunting it as then you will be having issues with sins of pride (like the Catholic priests found was the most common class of sins for women). You know this discussion has been on spirituality, but scientifically it has been found that women do have biological advantages over men, I posit it is the same spiritually.

  34. James Olsen on October 4, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Wow, what one can miss in a day!

    I noted right up front in the post concerning our organizational & theological distinctions: “Everyone seems to have their own thoughts, but there’s almost nothing we can point to on an authoritative level.” If nothing else, this thread backs that assertion up – not only do we have our opinions, but we’re convinced of them and often encourage others to simply pray about it. Hmmm…

    At any rate, regardless of the empirical facts – that is, even if 6’6″ is right and there’s an inherent, trackable spiritual gap – our Mormon ideal simply won’t let us accept it, shrug our shoulders, just live with it. Our ideal is that man and woman exalt one another, and that the primary forum for this exaltation to take place is within our own families. Given that we simply do not have revelation on the matter of why men and not women hold the priesthood, I’m convinced that the most efficacious thing we can do is to figure out as couples how it is that we can best work in concert toward our mutual exaltation and that of our families. One key area where this will take place is in the various ordinances and rituals that we perform. For many, these rituals become times of trial and significant distress rather than exaltation. This is tragic, no matter what one’s opinion on the matter. And this trend is likely to increase given the fact that whatever we want, we can’t avoid the society we live in and the socialization that takes place. Consequently, telling half of our population (or whatever percentage of men and women who struggle with the current state of affairs is) to merely get over it or else accept another’s idiosyncratic opinions (however reason-stare-inducing they might be) a) lacks charity; b) ignores the source of the suffering; c) ignores an opportunity for us to creatively work out new possibilities that will improve the lot of both men and women; and d) is an abnegation of one’s agency together with an encouragement for others to abnegate their agency.

    I’m hopeful in all of this that rather than championing a status quo that (I’m convinced) will become more and more strained and ineffective in achieving its goals, and rather than taking what is often a self-indulgent, lazy, and ego-stroking route of condemnation, we can as families find more and more ways of forming edifying partnerships as we work to exalt our families.

  35. James Olsen on October 4, 2011 at 9:34 am

    6’6″: You’ve taken a mighty enough position for yourself above; for your own safety I would encourage you not to go higher by cautioning others on their potential sins and need for repentance. Aside from the fact that it violates our explicit comment policy, your case will be much stronger if you don’t need to resort to skeptical comments about your interlocutors’ levels of righteousness.

  36. James Olsen on October 4, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Ms. Jack: I can’t help but feel some sense of accomplishment whenever I’ve attracted your attention (and while it’s actually my commenters who’ve elicited your response, I’ll take credit for getting you over here to read them in the first place).

    And thank you for the pertinent statistics.

    One quick note though: if anyone at your divinity school lifts their eyebrows on account of the claim of a given religion that some sort of benefit accrues to membership in that religion that is not in fact available to those outside of it…well, it may be they are in the wrong field.

  37. SixnaHalfFeet on October 4, 2011 at 9:43 am

    Sorry I created a statistical error myself. Putnam’s data was about the percent of membership that was attending weekly. My anectdotal evidence from my ward was comparing male/female ratios on any given Sunday. It is easy to misunderstand statistics, caution!

  38. SixnaHalfFeet on October 4, 2011 at 9:47 am

    @ James
    Thank you for the note.

    @ Ms. Jack
    I am sorry I made the comment about sins, and it’s inference to you. My appologies.

  39. SixnaHalfFeet on October 4, 2011 at 10:00 am

    @ James
    On a re-read of your comments was there an implication that I or someone with my opinions lacks Charity, Simpathy, am Self-Indulgent, Lazy, and Ego stroking?

    Am I getting the same treatment I am reprimanded for? Just checking.

    I am not excusing my wrong behavior. Just asking if I am reading this right.

  40. brian larsen on October 4, 2011 at 10:34 am

    I remember one of the first discussions that my wife and had about women and the priesthood. It was very short and went like this:

    Me: What do you think about women having the priesthood?
    Her: Well, would it help make me be able to serve more people?

    I got it right then – of course it would. Since then I have been interested in exploring what to do about the situation, and am most grateful for these posts, James. Thanks for carving out some places that I can also come to inhabit. I’m glad people are working on this in a way an intelligent, humble, and generous manner. For all those so working – thanks you. The conversations my wife and I have on the matter have since become much more meaningful and unifying.

  41. SixnaHalfFeet on October 4, 2011 at 11:15 am

    @ Naismith, why has thou forsaken me

    (sorry irreverent joke but I couldn’t resist)

    @ Everyone
    I postulate to everyone reading these comments to consider human discourse and how little it has changed. Those in power (in this case the author / moderator and those who agree with his position) gang up on someone who disents with the ideology of the group. One or two may say now wait a minute, I have a differing opinion also, so the “in-group” lay in wait for the outsider to mess up, then pounce, crucify him! The previous dissenters fade away in the shame of the public humiliation. (or else they just lost interest and went to a new forum).

    How little we humans have evolved/exalted ourselves. There is another way. As James says “we lack empirical evidence”, thus I say we must look to a sure source. It is the only way. 

    I admire James desire to exalt one another. It is a good desire you are a good man to want good things for your wife.

    I admire Ms. Jack’s desire to study and learn as much as she can. You are a good woman to do so.

    I admire Naismith for being so kind and gentle in stating her opposition to various ideals. You are a good woman and example to me.

    There are others who have posted great points. You are good people also. Yet probably none of us (I’m including myself), even being good people don’t know the real true answer. Thus it is imperative that we look to a higher source. That is the beauty of Christ’s gospel as found in the LDS faith. All may seek God, all God will answer. In the meantime, we do our best.

    (just do me a favor and back off on the crucifixions, thanks ;) )

  42. James Olsen on October 4, 2011 at 11:22 am

    6’6″ (#39): Thanks for asking for clarification. I was not specifically trying to target you, no. I was characterizing the unhelpful positions that are commonly taken up in these debates and state why I think that they’re unhelpful. By way of restatement (brought this up several times in the OP and in my various comments since), I see two common positions taken:

    1. The “Buck up and get over it” camp, or the “those claiming women are somehow getting the raw end of the deal lack faith/understanding” camp, or the “Well, whatever sympathy I may or may not feel, this is just how it is” camp. In my comment #34 I stated that this position is problematic for reasons a-d (lacks charity, etc.)

    2. The righteous indignation, holy crusade, condemnatory camp, the “if women aren’t ordained then we’re sunk” camp. In my comment #34 I claimed that this position is problematic because it is often lazy, self-indulgent, and ego-stroking.

    Both camps are alike in lacking creativity and wasting a good opportunity.

    I’ll admit, it’s a bit of a caricature – but rhetorically very helpful, particularly as I’m striving to do something different.

    Unless you’re actually in both camps at the same time, and consider yourself not just “in” the camps but actually an incarnation of them, I could not have lobbed all those adjectives at you personally.

    Brian Larsen: Thank you for the kind comment. I’ve no doubt that you and your wife will continue to have meaningful and unifying conversations and practices.

  43. SixnaHalfFeet on October 4, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    I was just telling my wife that I was spending too much time on a blog and needed to back off and get about the normal things of life, when she asked what the blog was about. I told her that it was about women sharing in priesthood ordinances, even the desire for women to hold the priesthood someday.

    Her response was, “I hope those people aren’t attending the Temple, I hope those people aren’t teaching in primary. Don’t they know the church’s position on this?”

    I share this as a counter-point to Brian and his experience with his wife. Plus I thank the forum for the discussion that it created between my wife and I. I see now that I am more liberal on the idea of sharing in the ordinances than my wife is. We are both in agreement as far as women holding the priesthood.

    I also want to clarify my statement where I said, “in the meantime, we do our best”. It would have been more correct for me to say: “In the meantime, we follow the prophet (he won’t lead us astray), and we do our best.”

    Please don’t put me in any “camps” as I believe one of the hallmarks of Mormons is our open discussion and varied application of the principles that we learn. I think this is good, we need to “experiment upon the word of God”. I also think that caution is warranted.

  44. Naismith on October 4, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    “@ Naismith, why has thou forsaken me”

    I don’t know what this is about, but I have to say that I do not endorse your views, and find much of it (including your wife’s comment!) to be somewhat judgmental.

    Each of us is entitled to revelation to run our family the way it should be run. Another family’s way may not be the way someone else does things. We do not get to declare our way as the only church-approved way.

  45. Naismith on October 4, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    “Our ideal is that man and woman exalt one another, and that the primary forum for this exaltation to take place is within our own families. Given that we simply do not have revelation on the matter of why men and not women hold the priesthood, I’m convinced that the most efficacious thing we can do is to figure out as couples how it is that we can best work in concert toward our mutual exaltation and that of our families.”

    I totally agree with this.

    “One key area where this will take place is in the various ordinances and rituals that we perform. For many, these rituals become times of trial and significant distress rather than exaltation. This is tragic, no matter what one’s opinion on the matter.”

    Absolutely.

    “And this trend is likely to increase…”

    I am not sure that this “increase of pain” is inevitable. Some people are not offended by it, or they have personal revelation that makes them more comfortable with it, or they see benefits from doing it that way, or a variety of other reasons.

    “given the fact that whatever we want, we can’t avoid the society we live in and the socialization that takes place.”

    I think it is a huge loss when we accept society’s view on things, rather than the church’s vision. So you are advocating that we worry about popularity rather than prophecy? Or what? I am not quite understanding this.

    “Consequently, telling half of our population (or whatever percentage of men and women who struggle with the current state of affairs is) to merely get over it or else accept another’s idiosyncratic opinions”

    I agree with this, but I don’t think that is the only answer or what I hear from people. I would never say that to another woman. I think that lots of us–most of us–work towards finding our own answers to our questions.

    But I think how we phrase our questions can limit the answers that we are willing to accept. Viewing gender issues as “inequality” rather than “difference” is biased in one direction only.

  46. SixnaHalfFeet on October 4, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    @Naismith

    I love how your mind works, very thoughtful, very inspiring! You probably wish to distance yourself from me, but I really like your reply to James comments, they capture many of my feelings and those of people I know.

    The word inequality puts a spin on a topic, that the word different does not.

    Speaking of word spin, I would ask you to consider if it is judgmental to consider someone judgmental?

  47. James Olsen on October 4, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Naismith: I’ve not (til now) responded to your comments – mostly because of the odd dissonance that occurs when I read you railing against me by agreeing with me. But I can’t take it any longer. To be clear:

    You seem to agree with much of what I say, shrug your shoulders with a “Yeah, you and your wife are absolutely allowed to work things out as you’d like” at other parts, and finally, have one significant and repeated disagreement with me. Please, tell me if I don’t articulate this right. But your main point of disagreement is this: For you, difference does NOT mean inequality. Is that right? And you feel that I’m preaching the opposite message.

    First, isn’t it rather conspicuous that I begin and end the post by clarifying that I’m not calling for women’s ordination? That I specifically state that I don’t think that this is necessarily what is needed in order for us to have equality? If one were to take me seriously, then one would have to come to the conclusion that I do NOT think we need to level all difference in order to have equality.

    Allow me to quote liberally from myself:

    The real difficulties involved in the inequality in the church as I see them don’t arise from the fact of difference

    I understand myself here to mean at least two things: 1) That yes, there are problems of inequality in the church; but 2) these problems of inequality DO NOT stem merely from differences between how men and women operate in the church. That seems fairly straightforward.

    I think most of us – men and women – are comfortable with the notion of separate roles/abilities/callings/etc. We’re ok with this because we marry it to the idea (and ideal) of a mutual interdependence or to the idea that it takes both halves equally to make the divine whole

    I understand myself here as stating that I, like many people in the church I know, am actually ok with differences between men and women in the church. What’s more, we have a theological notion of complementarity between the sexes which seems to imply that we contribute different things. I often hear people cashing this out in rather abysmal fashion – but as a principle, I’m quite comfortable with it.

    When we talk about inequality we can mean one of two things, and perhaps I’ve not always been as clear as I ought to be. One, we can simply be technical; technically, it’s simply the case that men and women are not equal in procreation – they’re doing different things, contributing different things. In a technical sense, they are unequal. Usually, however, and particularly in conversations like these when we get all upset about inequality, we mean by it that there is a difference in moral consideration. Here the inequality is pernicious because it means that one group’s interests are being placed above another’s, or perhaps that one group is unfairly having to submit to the authority of another’s, or that we don’t in fact consider equally necessary contributions from two different groups as equally important. Above in comment #13 I listed four ways in which I think that this pernicious form of inequality is, in fact, a reality in the church today. In presenting my case, however, I explicitly stated that 1) this inequality does not simply stem from our having different roles in the church; and 2) that I actually think this inequality contradicts various ideals and doctrines that are prominent in the church.

    We could argue about the 4 ways I listed as to why I find the church’s specific form of inequality problematic – in need of being addressed. But I really don’t want to. At least not here. I’d rather hear about the ways in which you and your spouse (I think you said you had one, if not, how you imagine) compliment one another in performing Mormon rituals. If you have something to share along these lines, please do.

  48. James Olsen on October 4, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    6’6″: While it seems clear that you and I have different perspectives, I want you to know that you’re every bit as welcome as anyone else, and I’m sorry that you felt earlier I was criticizing you personally.

    That said, I obviously didn’t hesitate to correct you when I felt you were a bit out of line. You responded as well as anyone could, and I greatly respect that. In part because of how you responded, I want to also point out that you have here been prone to a kind of orthodoxy policing, of which your earlier comment was a part. This isn’t a constructive way to engage those with whom you disagree or those whom you genuinely feel are off base. Doing so is a way of explicitly declaring yourself to be on a higher moral plain than your interlocutor and is bound to undermine the sort of trust and respect needed to constructively engage others. If your sole purpose in commenting is to exploit other participants in order to feel smug and superior, then this is a good – though entirely unwelcome – tactic. But I don’t think this is what you’re aiming at.

    Assuming I’m right, I want to say this: it’s very important that you come to recognize that those who disagree with you do not do so because they are spiritually unenlightened or corrupt. It is completely possible for someone to be a straight-laced, active, praying, scripture studying, temple attending, calling holding, prophet sustaining, kingdom building member and yet to have serious difficulties with certain aspects of church culture, organization, etc. You’ll meet a lot of them around here. And they’re not wolves in sheep’s clothing, so you can tell your wife not to worry about whether or not I teach primary. It’s not terribly different than the fact that you’ve no doubt ran into plenty of faithful members who disagree on various points of doctrine.

    I’m really not interested in carrying on this discussion. Nevertheless, if you have further comments relevant to the OP, by all means, submit them.

  49. James Olsen on October 4, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    I want to thank Sharee, slowstop, Rachel, and ThomG for giving specific examples of ways they’ve been able or plan to have edifying interactions between men and women in extending or participating in Mormon rituals with their families. (And likewise, thank you to all of you who have said nice things about my post :)) At this point, if you’re interested in commenting, please contribute by following their example and sharing examples and thoughts from your own experience.

  50. SixnaHalfFeet on October 4, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    @ James

    Excellent! We finally get down to the nitty gritty were I was attempting to get the discussion.

    In your post to Naismith you said:
    “Usually, however, and particularly in conversations like these when we get all upset about inequality, we mean by it that there is a difference in moral consideration.”

    Yes it is a moral consideration, you are correct.. Your comments all diplay your goodness of heart, but when it comes to morals, my point is that we do not get to write the rules. We are not the authors of morality. All we can do is find out what the author has already written, and then to find out why those rules are truth.

    Once we know, live, and understand the rules (and the reasons for the rules) we truly will be exalted and become like God. None of us will get that far in this life, but I believe it is the true course.

  51. SixnaHalfFeet on October 4, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    I get the clue James, I’m done. We got to the place I hoped we would. Peace.

  52. Kaimi Wenger on October 4, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    The discussion has been fascinating so far. Thanks for very thought-provoking commentary.

    One thing which strikes me — a variety of high-profile Mormons, in public spaces today, regularly talk about how much they hated the race policy prior to 1978. In fact, it’s a regular part of a certain type of Mormon discourse these days. Romney, Huntsman, a dozen active and high-profile LDS scholars including lots of folks at MormonScholarsTestify — they all say, “I really hated our race policy for a long time. It didn’t make sense to me. I loved it when the revelation came in 1978.”

    And that public stance — which today seems perfectly in line with orthodox Mormonism — strongly indicates that _it’s okay to disagree with Priesthood exclusion policies_. In fact, it’s okay to even really hate those policies.

    Or was Mitt Romney sinning in his 1977-and-earlier deep personal disagreement with the church’s race policy?

  53. Angela Miller on October 4, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    I love your beautiful pearls.

  54. Naismith on October 5, 2011 at 8:02 am

    “And that public stance — which today seems perfectly in line with orthodox Mormonism — strongly indicates that _it’s okay to disagree with Priesthood exclusion policies_. In fact, it’s okay to even really hate those policies.”

    I totally agree with this–we aren’t required to check our brains at the chapel door. But at the same time, I think we have to be open to the idea that however strongly we feel about something, we need to hold open the possibility that we may be wrong, because we aren’t entitled to revelation for the entire church.

    In the 1980s, I was opposed to the church’s insistence on building the BYU Jerusalem center, against opposition from local residents. I thought they should have been more respectful of local concerns, and stop for a while. It’s an ancient city, what’s the hurry, if stopping to talk would make things better in the long run? I was embarrassed by the church’s actions, which seemed rude. I only came to realize that I was wrong much later when I heard Elder Holland talk about the revelation that he received–he was clearly told that if they ever stopped, it would never be built. And it has come to be accepted by most locals.

    On a more positive note, there seem to be many examples from church history* of rank-and-file people coming up with an idea that later becomes adopted churchwide. The church’s welfare program is based on a stake program that was adopted wholesale. The church’s addiction program is based on one woman’s atonement-based approach to her issues (she was part of the team that developed the current manual). And Lorenzo Snow received the famous “God once was” couplet in 1840, long before he was the prophet; Brigham Young told him, “…if true, it has been revealed to you for your own private information, and will be taught in due time by the Prophet to the Church.”

    And in this regard, the first time I saw a baby blessing was in a local Provo ward. For baby blessings, the bishop always had the entire family to come up and sit in the first row. Mom handed the baby off to dad at the last minute, and instead of him holding up the baby after, the entire family stood up and faced the congregation, with the baby now part of them. The tradition continued when a new bishop was called. Because it was the only ward I had been in, I thought that was the ritual. But it apparently did not catch on church-wide.

    *At least that is what is in the sunday school manuals. I am not a historian like so many folks here.

  55. Ms. Jack on October 5, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    #33 SixnaHalfFeet ~ I have not read American Grace (to my shame, I know). I’m not sure I understand what a “34/45″ ratio is though; there are 34 men attending for every 45 women who attend? That would be roughly 43% men and 57% women. Is that an overall statistic, or is that the LDS church in particular? And if the latter, how do other religious groups compare?

    in the LDS faith the attendance is a little greater than in other mainline faiths.

    You haven’t provided any statistics to back this up. I agree that, in virtually all Christian denominations, more women attend than men. That’s not what I’m looking for. And I don’t think anecdotal evidence is particularly compelling. My own church has a female senior pastor, and I’m pretty sure at least 45% of our congregation is male. The youth pastor is male, the worship pastor is male, and four or five members of the seven-person leadership team (that’s our board of elders) are male. I think having a woman in a prominent leadership position has not led to a decline in male participation—but I don’t expect anyone to take my anecdotal evidence of my one isolated congregation too seriously.

    I was being sarcastic about flaunting my feminine superiority to my non-LDS male friends. I don’t believe that women are superior to men. Not in spirituality, not in biology. Yes, there’s plenty of hard data to show that women tend to believe in God more and attend church more. However, this is balanced out by the fact that most of the world’s theology, study of ancient scriptures, and innovative religious thought has come from men. Yes, women are able to bear children, which is an incredible thing. But the window in which they can do this is limited. Men have their own biological advantages. They’re physically stronger, they enjoy a larger stature, and they can reproduce from adolescence to the grave. And while this may not be a concern for a culture that promotes monogamy, men also have fewer STDs that effect them and are less likely to contract an STD.

    I do believe that men and women are different. But I certainly don’t believe that one is inherently so far superior to the other that the other must have special ritual responsibilities to make up for it. Personally, visiting churches that force women to watch from the sidelines while men do most of the ritual and leadership stuff just makes me feel like these are churches that value men more than women.

    James, your posts are always a pleasure. Please say hello to Reevkah, and give my godson a hug for me. I wish I could have been at his baptism. Your description here brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it.

  56. Alison Moore Smith on October 5, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    James, again thank you for taking the time to address this issue. :)

    I have thought about this since you posted. Admittedly the thing that keeps coming to mind is, “I like the things you wrote about. Great ideas…but they aren’t ‘exercising the priesthood.” Indeed, if they really were, she couldn’t do them.”

    Thoughts?

    SixnaHalfFeet #16

    My wife and I raised 2 daughters and are still raising 2 sons. It has become extremely clear to me that men need the priesthood just so they can be equals with women. In fact I taught my daughters that if they want to marry an equal they need to marry a good priesthood holder, I am teaching my sons that they need to be priesthood holders to even measure up to women.

    So it’s OK to teach boys that they cannot measure up to women unless they have the priesthood, but it’s heresy to suggest that the same might apply to women who are excluded?

    Naismith #29:

    Other churches who have opened ministry to women struggle with men’s participation a lot.

    I think Jack’s stats show otherwise. Still, I’m of the opinion that the main reason for withholding priesthood from blacks was because too many people couldn’t handle it and the church couldn’t grow. Sincerely, if men really can’t handle women being on equal footing, I hope they’ll grow out of it. Some day. (Who marries these men?)

    Kaimi #52:

    Or was Mitt Romney sinning in his 1977-and-earlier deep personal disagreement with the church’s race policy?

    And not just Romney and Huntsman. Many GAs have described how elated they were at the change and Holland, in particular, said that he prayed for years (before he was a GA!) that the policy would change — even though some GAs had already said it never would/could.

    I’ve been asking for a couple of years for someone to stand up and say that the not-yet-a-GA-Holland was sinful for hoping the leadership was wrong.

  57. SixnaHalfFeet on October 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    @ Ms. Jones

    James asked me to quit posting as I have been deemed off topic, although others seem to have license to interject derogatory comments on political candidates, however I would like to respond to your questions and offer an explaination. To bad this form of discussion necessitates brevity, I would love to discuss much more, I find that I learn my beliefs better when I have to defend them, and frequently I even revise my beliefs as a result. Not to mention the benefit of understanding others viewpoints which I enjoy greatly. I value others views much more than my comments tend to show.

    As for the stats I mentioned, Dr. Putnam found that on average in the US 34% of each churches male membership attended church each week and 45% of each churches female membership attends church each week. My evidence for comparison to LDS attendance is anecdotal so I don’t blame you if you don’t accept it. The PEW researches numbers that you sighted are only showing the percentage of church membership who are men or women, and therefore do not show weekly participation which was my point. In fact the PEW number bring up a good point, if the LDS faith is so unfair to women, why is the percentage of women identifying themselves as LDS is higher than the percentage of women identifying themselves as members of other faiths? It seems from the PEW numbers that more women are attracted to the LDS faith than other faiths by percentage.

    My explanation that I want to offer you is that I am new to this site. As most of you probably know. The church sent me a survey which asked if I got my LDS news from several different sites, times and seasons was listed as one of the sites. I had heard of the site but never visited so I gave it a try. I saw this OP and it kinda rankled me so I started posting. I made the initial assumption that everyone here is a member of the LDS church. Most church members kinda consider each other as part of one big happy family. I know I do this also, irregardless if it is true or not. 

    I am going to confess to you one of my character flaws. A common thing for me is to be very respectful of people who are outside of my family as they don’t live by the same rules or philosophies as I do (or in shorthand – they don’t know any better), but I tend to be a bit more hard on my family as they should know better. I have been noticing at the last few general conferences of the church that the GA’s have been saying that we should treat those we love as well or better than others. Perhaps many of us take the counsel from Christ a little one sided when he says to love you enemies and do good to those who use you. I do all I can to live up to that command, but I am beginning to realize that even our own family members can fall into these same categories that Christ was commanding our goodness towards. I am working to treat my family better, this experience has helped me realize that I also need to treat my church family better.

    Anyway, I assumed that the people posting were part of my church family. When I read I felt, they know better than to be saying these things. It is your latest post that made me realize that I had made a mistake when assumed I knew something about who was posting. I do not blame you for not understanding why the LDS church has it’s policy of only men holding the priesthood. From the outside looking in it seems very discriminatory. However, you have not had a witness that the Book of Mormon is true scripture, you have not had a witness that there are prophets on the earth today, just as the Bible says there were prophets on the earth anciently. I figured that my church family had had this witness. Because if they had how could they explain talking against the men only policy? It was revealed by a prophet of God that God told him that this would be the correct order of things. If my church family members complain against the policy it is like saying that the prophet is false or not inspired by God. And if you open that can of worms, why are you a member of this church family? As Joseph Smith himself said, (paraphrased) either this work is a hoax or it is exactly what it purports to be. There is a story about Brigham Young that says in one conference he asked the Saints, how did they know he wasn’t leading them astray. The point is that each member of this church is to get a personal witness and personal relationship with God so that they can know if the leaders are leading them astray. But also if the prophet is leading us astray then the whole church is false, every jot and tittle. I am not afraid of this statement, I have had a holy witness. Although I can understand if someone is afraid as there was a time when I didn’t have a witness.

    In the derogatory comments about political candidates it was inferred that the blacks holding the priesthood question was similar to the idea of women holding the priesthood. It is not, because there is a story of a black man that Joseph Smith ordained to the priesthood in Navoo. He was afterwards told by God that it was not yet time for black men to hold the priesthood, but they would one day. There has never been a statement saying that one day women will hold the priesthood alone (women have always held the priesthood, through their husband, after a Temple sealing ceremony).

    So thus my attempts to help my church family members see how it is God who you rail against. And so, please take it up with him. He will answer you, he answered me. If you are not a member of my church family I apologize for treating you so. Also if you are a member of my church family I especially apologize if any feelings were hurt or I was insensitive.

  58. Alison Moore Smith on October 5, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Who is Ms. Jones?

  59. SixnaHalfFeet on October 5, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Sorry again. In my previous post I typed Ms. Jones when I meant Ms. Jack.

  60. Bryan Stiles on October 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Who is Ms. Jones?

    The subject of a naughty Michael Buble song.

  61. Bryan Stiles on October 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    I take that back. The song is about Mrs. Jones, not Ms. Jones.

  62. Ms. Jack on October 5, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    #57 SixnaHalfFeet ~ Since you don’t know me, let me tell you a little bit about myself: Evangelical Covenant Church, never-Mormon, did my undergraduate degree at BYU, married to an active and believing Mormon, attending divinity school. If you look at the guest blogger history, you’ll see that I’m one of a small handful of non-members to have ever blogged here. The author of this blog post and I go way back (we had a Hebrew 101 class together in January of 2001 where he met his future wife). I haven’t been commenting on Bloggernacle blogs much lately.

    What all that means is that I know a heck of a lot about the history of the ordination of women in other Christian denominations—which is why I tend to be on hand to stamp out the myth that barring women from clergy improves male participation. It doesn’t. Yes, many, many churches are worried about the declining numbers of men, and I think they’re right to be concerned, but there’s no evidence that those who don’t ordain women are doing better with it than those who do.

    It’s true that I don’t have a testimony of Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon or any of that. But I’ve met plenty of Latter-day Saints who do have a testimony of those things and still reject or question what the church teaches about male and female roles. So I don’t think my non-belief is really a huge factor here.

    In any case, please know that I have prayed quite passionately about this topic. My answer from God was that the idea of holding Christian women down and limiting their gifts was from Satan. Getting the church to willingly dull some 52% of the tools God gave them . . . well, if I were Satan, that’s exactly what I would do. I don’t expect you to believe me, but that is my own testimony of the matter.

    if the LDS faith is so unfair to women, why is the percentage of women identifying themselves as LDS is higher than the percentage of women identifying themselves as members of other faiths?

    I’m afraid that there is no correlation between poor treatment of women and less female participation. Women seem to hold on and continue to attend regardless; they don’t vote with their feet. So I don’t think the higher numbers of women attending really tells us anything about how well the LDS church treats women.

    You seem like a nice gentleman. I know that we’ve disagreed a lot here, but I’ve enjoyed talking with you just the same.

  63. Kaimi on October 5, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Jack is one of our favorite Gentiles. :)

  64. Naismith on October 5, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    “I think Jack’s stats show otherwise.”

    By her own admission, the stats cited were about affiliation, not participation. So none of it “shows” otherwise.

    I can’t tell you what those numbers are, because I got as far as downloading the Pew dataset, but haven’t gotten around to running a comparison by gender.

  65. SixnaHalfFeet on October 5, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    Ms. Jack – thank you for sharing your thoughts, I respect and do not question your spiritual experience and hope that you can respect my spiritual experience with God.

    I like Naismith am uncomfortable with language that suggests women are “kept back” or “”miss out” or “are dulled” or “treated as second class” when they do not get to do everything that men do. 
    Why don’t we say that men miss out, are cheated, are lacking, are developmentally challenged because they don’t bear children and have a more feminin experience of life? Because society has decided that the male experience is superior?

    I say nay, women are awesome! Their experience is awesome and I frequently , feel like I miss out as a man. This points out how our assumptions effect our conclusions. For example I appreciate your analogy of Satan. But let’s make a thought experiment. If we assume that God rules Heaven as a patriarchy, then could you see Satan fight against God by discrediting His church where the priesthood is only given to males and make the church appear to be chauvinistic and bad in thier treatment of women? Would that prevent good people from joining God’s church?

    Your senario on Satan required an assumption about what equality is and that it is the ideal to strive for. My senario required the assumption that God rules via a patriarchy. If we accept your assumption then your senario is true, if we accept my assumption then my senario is true. We both agree that Satan is working against God. The real question is are we assuming that we can decide the will of God?

    Our assumptions effect our answers. Let me say that again, “our assumptions effect our answers.” This true of science, it is also true of spiritual matters.

  66. SixnaHalfFeet on October 5, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Please excuse my poor grammar and spelling, I blame Washington schools and fat typing fingers, when I lived in Wyoming I won the 6th grade spelling bee. Then I moved to Washington. :)

    Anyway the last idea of my last post should have said:

    “Our assumptions affect our answers.”

  67. Ms. Jack on October 6, 2011 at 8:31 am

    #65 SixnaHalf ~ I don’t think that society accuses men of “missing out” on childbearing because men have their own biological abilities that women lack, which I touched on in my #55. If a man said to me, “I’m totally bummed that I can’t get pregnant or give birth to children,” I would reply, “Well, I don’t like that I have to worry about having all of my children by my 40s and the longer I wait, the higher my chances of having children with significant birth defects, whereas you can sire perfectly healthy children at age 90.” Or I might reply, “I think it would be marvelous to have 48% more upper body strength and 34% more lower body strength.” To be clear, I don’t think that the biological set for either sex is “better.” Just different.

    And that’s why I say that women in patriarchal religions are being held back and denied the full exercise of their gifts. Our physiology has its own complementarity; it doesn’t need religion to place a bunch of restrictions on women to make up for a perceived imbalance. The fact that you even have to reach for female physiology to find something that men allegedly lack shows just how imbalanced ecclesiastical roles for men and women in the LDS church are.

    I didn’t approach my prayer on this matter over assumptions; I approached the question through prayer, study of the Bible, study of sociology, study of history, and logic and reason. I’m certainly under the influence of my own 20th/21st century biases, but I did my best to lay that aside and look at the best arguments from those who believe in God-ordained patriarchy. What I found was those arguments were little better than the arguments of 19th and 20th century anti-suffragists—indeed, this whole “women don’t need XYZ because they can have children” mirrors anti-suffragist rhetoric to a T—yet most advocates of patriarchy today seem to be in favor of women having the vote. Well, which is it? Why were the anti-suffragists wrong? Why should we have equality in government and inequality in the church?

    I also found that patriarchy has devastating consequences on marriage. Marriages where couples believe in prescribed roles and the husband thinks he has some kind of authority over the wife are far more likely to be unhappy, end in divorce, or suffer from spousal abuse. Egalitarian marriages are happier, more stable, and see less spousal abuse. And I’m supposed to believe that it’s the former system that’s from God and the latter from Satan? I’d say that makes “reason stare.”

    Go easy on us Washingtonians. It’s hard to run a state properly with Democrats stealing our gubernatorial elections and whatnot.

  68. James Olsen on October 6, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Alison: A good friend of mine had a very similar reaction. I didn’t mean for the title to be misleading, though I suppose it is. I meant for the title to draw readers’ attention, but also make them think about the issue. I have lots of thoughts based on history, scripture, and doctrine concerning both the potential for divine complimentarity and concerning our current practices and self-limitations. But then, these are merely my own thoughts, and we blow enough hot air around here. I don’t think we speak enough about practical concrete matters. So I wanted a post more on specific practices, but one that would be accessible to and relevant for persons lying anywhere on the spectrum of opinion concerning how the church does and ought to treat women, from people like 6’6″ to people like Ms. Jack. So here’s what I was trying to do:

    1. Compliment my “Part II” by showing asymmetric ways in which wives can participate and midwife priesthood rituals in a similar manner to my participation in and midwifing the birth of our children.

    2. Model ways in which we can be creative within the confines of orthodoxy – that is, how we in the “lower circles” can utilize our agency to act in more exalting ways. And I claim that doing so faithfully is one of the best ways to influence the conversation in “higher circles.”

    3. Help couples recognize that they don’t have to accept rigid interpretations of “This is your sphere” vs. “This is my sphere;” particularly when these dichotomies are hurtful to many.

    4. Claim that the ordain vs. don’t ordain women debate is often tired and uncreative.

    5. Argue that we achieve our Mormon ideal best when we find ways for husbands and wives to be more intimately commingled in leading and blessing our families.

    6. Continue my response to you. Honestly. I’ve learned and been inspired by you, Alison. Grateful to be blogging with you.

  69. SixnaHalfFeet on October 6, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Howdy Ms. Jack – It is awesome to find out you are a fellow Washingtonian! I was being cheeky as I love Washington. I picked up Howdy, to the annoyance of my children, in Wyoming, and I spent my primary years (or as my friends joke, my brainwashing years) in Utah.

    I can see that you feel very passionate about the issue of women being ordained into the church. When I said that we all started with assumptions, it was not meant offensively, it was meant objectively as used in science. If you don’t like the word assumptions, we can say that we all start with basic concepts. For example you mentioned that you used prayer, Bible study, study of sociology, study of history, logic and reason. In my previous post, I was hoping to direct us to a point where we could come to a basic agreement on acceptable concepts(assumptions), then build from there.

    I agree with prayer, I agree with the Bible, I agree with study, with the caution that a great historian, Richard Bushman once gave. Paraphrased – All we can know of history is little snippets of fact, the historian decides which snippets are important, which often gives a look into the historian more than a look into history.

    When I presented data from my experience, it was not accepted, so let’s agree to not accept your experience with couples in patrilinial relationships. Let’s start with the Bible and prayer.

    What do the following passages found in the Bible mean? What is Paul saying on behalf of God?

    Colossians 3:12-22
    1 Corinthians 11:4-12

  70. SixnaHalfFeet on October 6, 2011 at 11:21 am

    James – nice post, nice words, You and I are in greater agreement philosophically than you realize. But I am very personally concerned with actual practice and getting enamored with the philosophies of men, including my own.

  71. SixnaHalfFeet on October 6, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Ms. Jack – After thinking about James post on his intentions a little more I would like to withdraw my question about scripture. I am thinking it will not be productive.

    I am offended when people acuse my God and His church of being unfair or bad or wrong or doing something wrong that seems to me to only be a lack of understanding. I belong to a church that is patrilinial, but that teaches men to be loving, kind, nice, non-forceful, encourages women to get education, encourages women to participate in church, encourages women to vote and has done so for the churches entire history, on an on I could go on the goodness of the church and it’s treatment of women, and it’s teaching of men to be good to women. In early church history the church settlements were the most women friendly settlements on the fronteir all of these facts do not add up to the evil organization that it seems the church is acussed of in society and in it’s own membership. Perhaps I just need to drop it.

  72. James Olsen on October 6, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    General discussion on all things religion and life is certainly one of the great goods in life. But as the Preacher said, “There is a time for everything…”

    Again, I invite any who have comments related specifically to the OP and the explicitly stated theme for this thread to contribute. Otherwise, please exercise some self restraint.

  73. SixnaHalfFeet on October 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    A very good write-up on the church’s treatment of women is found at:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_and_Mormonism

    Some very interesting society statistics (including the stat that Utah produces more educated women and professional women than most others) are found at:

    http://www.adherents.com/largecom/lds_dem.htm

    These are not the actions of a repressive group, therefore, in my opinion if one starts thinking that the church is oppressive, but the fruits do not show this, then perhaps ones assumptions or understandings need to be revisited.

  74. Alison Moore Smith on October 6, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Naismith #64:

    By her own admission, the stats cited were about affiliation, not participation. So none of it “shows” otherwise.

    Ah, I misunderstood what she meant by that. I thought she meant the poll itself was about that, not that particular stat. Still, my comment stands. If men can’t handle women in leadership, I hope they’ll grow up about the whole thing and deal with us as people instead of skirts.

    James (#68), thanks for the very kind words and the explanation. That clarifies a great deal.

    It’s funny, for 26 years I insisted that my husband call on the person to give the family blessings/prayers. He never wanted that, but I thought it was “correct.” It honestly wasn’t until reading this post that it finally occurred to me (all my ranting about women and prayers notwithstanding) that I couldn’t think of a single reason why that should be so. I stopped insisting. :)

  75. James Olsen on October 7, 2011 at 6:14 am

    There you have it. Proof that I’m subversive.

  76. SixnaHalfFeet on October 7, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    I was talking to my daughter and she reminded me of an interesting tidbit pertinent to this forum.

    Men in the church cannot be Bishops, Stake Prsidents, Mission Presidents, Temple Presidents, or General Authorities, unless they are married and sealed in the Temple to a woman. They also cannot serve senior missions unless they are married.

    Women in the church may hold any of the positions that women can hold irregardless of their marital status. Including the GA equivalent positions, plus women may serve senior missions if they are single, men cannot.

  77. SixnaHalfFeet on October 7, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    Oh, and I was told by a Stake President that men can’t hold the positions I mentioned if they have ever been divorced.

  78. Kaimi on October 8, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Hmm. Is that in the handbook, or is it just the Stake President’s understanding of community norms?

    I know that modern norms are different now than in the past. In prior years, divorce wasn’t a barrier to church leadership, and in fact multiple church leaders were divorced. I believe that the last LDS prophet who was divorced was Joseph F. Smith, who served about a hundred years ago.

  79. SixnaHalfFeet on October 8, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Point taken, so I read up on Joseph F. Smith and I think I understand the circumstances, but I won’t quibble.

  80. Alison Moore Smith on October 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    SixnaHalfFeet, that stake president is wrong even today. The bishop in the Eagle Mountain 1st ward when I moved away (in 2008) was divorced (with children from his prior) and his wife was divorced (with children from her prior).

    Also, a bishop in our stake in Florida (in the 90s) was a widower, though he had been sealed to his wife.

  81. SixnaHalfFeet on October 8, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    Alison, yes I admitted being led astray to Kaimi.