Women and the Priesthood: What’s the Conservative Position?

January 12, 2014 | 75 comments
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2014-01-13 No Girls AllowedAlthough general terms like “liberal” and “conservative” should always be handled with care, there’s a basic understanding that the movement to ordain women is predominantly a liberal movement and that the skeptics are predominantly conservative. Broadly speaking, this is correct. But some go farther and argue that the default conservative position is to defend the status quo. This is a grave error.

The error arises from a misunderstanding of how conservatism operates in a Mormon context. That basic idea of conservatism is “retaining traditional social institutions.” This is always more complex than merely a reflex to defend the status quo. Conservatives exercise judgment in which principles and institutions from the past deserve to be preserved. They translate those principles and institutions into new forms to fit a modern context. And, when the present moment has moved sufficiently far from past principle and institutions, the status quo must be attacked in order to recover past traditions. In short: conservatism cannot be relegated to just a brutish and arbitrary defense of the status quo.

2014-01-13 Ariel and Will Durant

Conservatism is generally very respectful of tradition, but this determines the method of change rather than obviating change altogether.

In the context of Mormonism, however, the underlying nature of conservatism is even more radical. This is because the tradition that Mormon conservatives seek to preserve is a tradition of constant change. Let’s start with the 9th Article of Faith:

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. [Emphasis added]

Now, if the things which God has yet to reveal are “many” and “great” and “important,” then there is no reasonable basis for a conservative to engage in knee-jerk defense of the status quo. The LDS Canon, which Mormon conservatives emphasize at least as much as Mormon liberals, rules out the possibility of safe accommodation to the status quo. Importantly, this tenet is merely an explicit distillation of a recurrent theme in the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. Political reform, theological innovation, and organizational restructuring are endemic in every single one of the standard works. The only constant, to indulge in a cliché, is change.

This is not less true when it comes to questions of the institutional nature of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its present incarnation. It is more true. If a conservative is preserving the traditions of the past, then the traditions of Joseph Smith will include institutional changes and theological innovations. A conservative Mormon view entails progressiveness of a sort, but progressiveness that arises from and is confirmed by ongoing and authoritative revelation. And of course Joseph Smith was only operating in the pattern established by Jesus Christ, the Savior who came to criticize the upper classes, confound expectations, and condemn prevailing wisdom.

Mormonism is a dispensational religion, which means that we understand that truth has been iteratively restored, corrupted, lost, and then restored again throughout history in an endless process of fluid change. One could try to argue that there are certain constants that must remain unchanged, but for the purpose of this discussion that is a mere technicality because our doctrine explicitly states that the work of restoration isn’t done yet. Yes, the Atonement of Christ is and will always remain central. This, along with a very few core doctrines will not change, but it is not entailed by conservatism that any other particular aspect of our religious institution will continue on into the future as it does today. There are already subtle but fundamental changes taking place as the Church begins to de-prioritize Correlation and make way for more local independence. (I discussed that here.)

This means that conservatives are naturally open to the possibility of female ordination if it is revealed from God. It doesn’t mean that conservatives think it is plausible, of course, but look at the pattern of defections that followed many of Joseph Smith’s earlier pronouncements. No conservative can look at that history and feel secure in the beliefs that are comforting to them today.  This is the price of preserving a tradition of change.

What’s more, if conservatives are so concerned with preserving the past (and they are), then they would clearly care passionately about the curious and distressing absence of further understanding of our Heavenly Mother. Groundbreaking work by Margaret Barker and others strongly indicate that some of what we are missing—some of the unfinished work of the Restoration—has to do specifically these truths which existed in the past, but which were not preserved. In a dispensational religion, progress is conservative because it is the reclaiming of truths that were once known, but have been lost. What a conservative cannot preserve, a conservative must attempt to restore.

If conservatives are so eager for change and so bothered by the lack of further understanding of Heavenly Mother, an understanding which would almost certainly have bearing on the role of men and women in the Church today, what explains the skepticism of the present feminists efforts to ordain women (or, along those lines, to wear pants to church, etc.)?

Here are some reasons:

First, there is a concern with the source. The pattern with theological advancements in Mormon history has been one of following the breadcrumb trail of tantalizing revelations. The restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, for example, followed questions planted in the minds of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. There are tantalizing clues for us to follow when it comes to the role of women and men in the Church (again: Heavenly Mother is the obvious starting point), but the rhetoric and arguments of those supporting the ordination of women do not appear to take exclusively religious concerns as their starting point. By contrast, the language and rationales most commonly heard sound like a Mormon-themed version of contemporary American gender politics. Even if we ignore the fact that the political voice is decidedly left-leaning, the intrusion of any secular political ideology into the Church’s doctrines and practices is guaranteed to alarm conservatives who, while committed to change, are also committed to a very particular methodology for that change to occur. We’re supposed to be in the world but not of the world, not the other way around!

This is particularly frustrating for conservatives because we are so thirsty. Waiting for further light and knowledge is a trial in and of itself, and when you’ve committed not to take a drink until the living water is available, someone proffering you an imitation is going to simply exacerbate your thirst. It’s salt in the wound. Where is Heavenly Mother? I don’t know, but I’m not going to replace Her with a misguided transliteration of gender studies while I’m waiting, no matter how lonely it gets.

And this raises the second reason: the rationales currently being advocated by many who support female ordination conflicts directly with what little modern revelation we do seem to have. Although I’m aware that the Proclamation to the World is derided in some circles as a position paper instead of revelation, it’s exciting for conservatives to see some forward momentum from the First Presidency. This document is viewed with especial consideration for that reason, and it is squarely in the cross hairs of, for example, Ordain Women, which blames the Proclamation for “preserving an antiquated and unequal model in both the domestic and ecclesiastical realms.” In this case, it’s possible that the what of female ordination is less important than the why. Even if female ordination is the right path forward, the current arguments seem to originate in political ideology and assault Mormon doctrine. Something has gone wrong.

The third reason is tactical. If the debate is framed in such a way that conservatism is identified with the status quo, then the debate is over before it starts. This is because Mormonism maintains that the status quo is always incorrect (or at least incomplete). So, the assumption that conservatives must default to the status quo is equivalent to the assumption that conservatives must default to being wrong. And, since the alternative is left open-ended (with formal aims of Ordain Women are just a prominent possibility among many), we are being asked to choose between “something that is definitely wrong” and “everything else.” Arguing from that starting point is not bad work, if you can get it.

I do not claim to speak for all conservatives everywhere. I couldn’t if I tried, and I’m not going to try. I also do not deny that some conservatives are content to defend whatever is comfortable to them at the moment. But I will tell you—as a self-identified conservative in pretty much every sense of the word—that the arguments here honestly reflect both my conservatism and my skepticism of the movement for female ordination. I do not like the status quo and I have no interest in defending it except as it represents a step on a path that leads onward. A path I am anxious for us to continue along. I am thirsty for new information and for changes. I consider the work of Valerie Hudson Cassler (e.g. Plato’s Son, Augustine’s Heir) to be some of the most exciting work I’ve ever read in Mormonism precisely because it offers a way forward while building on the past. I’m not convinced that the argument is right in all its particulars, but to me it represents an organic growth of Mormonism rather than turning our theology over to the dictates of your average humanities department at any given university.

2014-01-13 W F Buckley Jr

Might female ordination win out? Might it prove to be ordained of God? I do not think so, but it might. And I will then be humbled and challenged as many Saints have been humbled before. That too is just part of the template, like when Peter told everyone God had decided to start letting just any old Gentile into His Church.

In the meantime, let me finish up by acknowledging ahead of time that the view of Mormon conservatism outlined here may strike some as peculiarly progressive. This is a good sign. When conventional political labels are overlaid on our faith and examined, they sort of short circuit. This is as it should be. Maybe no matter where you start, if you follow the Gospel long and hard enough we all end up in the same place together. That is certainly my hope. I’m not in this to win. I just want everyone to get home again, together.

75 Responses to Women and the Priesthood: What’s the Conservative Position?

  1. Rachel Whipple on January 13, 2014 at 1:15 am

    “Mormonism maintains that the status quo is always incorrect (or at least incomplete).” In theory, maybe. But for how we actually talk to ourselves in church? We are the one true church on the face of the earth. We tend to drop out the 3rd part of the 9th article of faith. We no longer have leaders speaking in terms of “revelations” as Joseph did about nigh on everything. Our scriptural canon has not continued to grow. We do believe our leaders are inspired in their general conference talks, but those are almost ephemeral, most relevant and authoritative only until the next semi-annual conference. So while we have lip service to continuing revelation, we don’t really seem to expect anything earth-shattering. We like the status quo, and will do sacrifice whatever we can to preserve it. Your conservative Mormonism is a very uncomfortable ideal.

  2. James Olsen on January 13, 2014 at 6:41 am

    There are a lot of things I really like about this approach and its general attitude. There are few things I’d warn you to be prepared for, however. From both sides, you’re going to get a lot accusations of “that’s not conservatism” (despite the picture of Buckley and its irrelevant quote). From the right, I think you’ll get lots of accusations concerning wolves in sheep’s clothing. You certainly sound subversive. I hope I’m proved wrong.

    From the left, you’re going to get lots of justified indignation at your caricature. We’re all vulnerable to letting our rhetoric overstep our point – I do so in almost every post.

    There’s a more nefarious problem here, however. Your post – especially since you’re a man – comes across as the stereotypical denouncement of uppity women. You utterly fail to consider any possible motive or background drive (i.e., a “why”) that OW and other feminists taking various forms of action might have other then to be sadly, misguidedly mistaking the world and all of its allures as worthwhile, and so subverting real authority and the way things ought to work in the church. Particularly given the ample evidence to the contrary, I think you’ll have a hard time defending your take on feminists here.

    Consider: Why does it have to be inescapably gentile ideologies that are inspiring the movement? Why not Abraham 1:2? Why not Zelophehad’s daughters? Why not Esther? Why not Ruth? Why not Hannah? We’ve got plenty of scriptural examples of faithful women in an unacceptable status quo or otherwise challenged (including what we might call mere cultural challenges – couldn’t Hannah simply realize that there’s more to life than her culture-bound notions of needing a man-child?!), who faithfully petition the various men in authority until they receive their blessing? The only reason I can see why we wouldn’t accord the women seeking ordination this courtesy is that we would then have to call them – by your definition – conservative.

    Regardless, I think that a more Christlike reaction – one that recognizes a genuine value in the poor, faithful dog’s begging – is far more fitting than your rough grained, high-altitude denouncing.

  3. Nathaniel Givens on January 13, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Rachel-

    We like the status quo, and will do sacrifice whatever we can to preserve it. Your conservative Mormonism is a very uncomfortable ideal.

    I think true religion is always uncomfortable by design.

  4. Nathaniel Givens on January 13, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    James-

    There’s a more nefarious problem here, however. Your post – especially since you’re a man – comes across as the stereotypical denouncement of uppity women.

    I don’t understand what it is about this piece which triggers your response. I neither address my remarks to a female audience nor do I ever actually argue against female ordination per se. If this post is nefarious, you seem to be stating categorically that anyone who doesn’t get on the female ordination bandwagon for any reason is a horrible, mansplainin’ chauvinist.

    Is that your position?

    Consider: Why does it have to be inescapably gentile ideologies that are inspiring the movement?

    I never said it had to be. I am stating that, in my judgment, it currently is. This doesn’t apply to every pro-ordination individual everywhere. But if you look at the high-profile arguments (the FAQ section of OW, for example) you cannot help but be struck by (1) the overt recruitment of partisan terminology (2) the total independence of the argument presented for ordination from any distinctly Mormon beliefs and (3) the willingness to side with the secular political reasoning against the Church.

    Two stark examples of the last would include the explicit rejection of The Proclamation and the characterization of the Church as “subjugating” women. (I would not be surprised to see that wording changed in the near future to camouflage the extent to which this particular argument for female ordination conflicts with Mormonism.)

    I know and love proponents of female ordination who come from an authentically faithful Mormon perspective, and I know that that describes some of the folks at OW as well. I have no interest in denouncing anybody. But when teachings of the Church given second-tier status next to secular politics and the Church is characterized as engaging in evil on the basis of worldly wisdom, I feel that strong, respectful push back is appropriate.

  5. Nathaniel Givens on January 13, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Oh, and one more thing. The Buckley quote isn’t irrelevant! It’s a riff on the sentence that appears just prior to it:

    I’m not convinced that the argument is right in all its particulars, but to me it represents an organic growth of Mormonism rather than turning our theology over to the dictates of your average humanities department at any given university.

    Buckley didn’t want to turn the US gov’t over to academics, and I don’t want to turn our Church over, either! :-D

  6. Michael P. on January 13, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    As another “conservative”, I will agree with many of Nathaniel’s points. I also want to add that from where I sit, I am a both amused and concerned by those that call for new and more revelation and doctrine while they, often in the same breath, dismiss the Proclamation on the Family and roll their eyes at recent General Conf. talks that focus on the fundamentals of gospel living, reading scriptures, praying, repenting, etc. Maybe all of us need to live better first.

    The Book of Mormon essentially skips hundreds of years in time between Jacob and King Benjamin. There were prophets during that time but they didn’t seem to add much to the record. Were they any less inspired?

  7. chris on January 13, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    I think this is a rather bold, and welcome post to be put at the forefront in its own article, rather than just an extended comment appended yet another “feminist” leaning article criticizing some aspect of the church.

    But then you notice this article is immediately pushed down the page by your own piece of insightful quotes! :)

  8. Rachel Whipple on January 13, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    “I think true religion is always uncomfortable by design.” I completely agree, but that doesn’t stop most congregants from trying to make it small and familiar and comfortable. The period of our restoration was radical, but we as a people tamed those charismatic fires, and we now work to maintain that calmer, domesticated religion. We are conservative because we want to preserve the religious culture of our parents and grandparents, not because we want to return to the turbulent progressive days that opened this dispensation.

  9. Alison Moore Smith on January 13, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Nathaniel, my, I love this post. As a conservative/libertarian (not just politically, but philosophically in most areas), I was so glad to see this:

    This is always more complex than merely a reflex to defend the status quo. Conservatives exercise judgment in which principles and institutions from the past deserve to be preserved.

    In the Bloggernacle, I’m usually a fairly conservative voice, but in my sincerely amazing Utah County “white shirt” ward, I’m often thought of as liberal. My frustration with that (inaccurate) label is that it’s generally based on the fact that I embrace (and even promote) change when I think it would be good and helpful.

    This means that conservatives are naturally open to the possibility of female ordination if it is revealed from God. It doesn’t mean that conservatives think it is plausible, of course, but look at the pattern of defections that followed many of Joseph Smith’s earlier pronouncements. No conservative can look at that history and feel secure in the beliefs that are comforting to them today. This is the price of preserving a tradition of change.

    As a conservative, I find many current policies DIScomforting. I think this is true for many “conservatives” so I think the implication here is at least partially wrong.

    In spite of growing up in ultra-conservative “Happy Valley,” when the priesthood ban was lifted for blacks in 1978, my mom came running down the stairs screaming for joy. People in my neighborhood very literally flooded into the streets, hugging and dancing and crying with happiness.

    In spite of being very traditionalist — and in spite of the fact that I never heard anyone denounce the ban when it stood — apparently they didn’t, collectively, find the status quo comforting at all and rejoiced at the change.

    I tend to think the female priesthood ban has similar elements. Those who consider themselves “highly committed” and “highly faithful” Mormons often feel they can’t, by definition, question the status quo. Or at least (as I’ve been told hundreds of times after one of my questioning posts), they can’t PUBLICLY question anything. I can PRAY about stuff, but if I WRITE or SPEAK about it, I’m automatically labeled apostate.

    If/when the priesthood ban on women is lifted, I expect to find a few curmudgeons who just can’t believe the heresy of it all while everyone else is rejoicing in the street and “suddenly” embracing the the new policy.

  10. Naismith on January 13, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    I am not sure that first-generation members, who make up a majority of the church, have a vested interest in the culture of your parents and grandparents (not ours).

    A lot of converts made huge sacrifices in order to come to the place that some dismiss as a patriarchal status quo.

  11. Proud Daughter of Eve on January 13, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    “Where is Heavenly Mother? I don’t know, but I’m not going to replace Her with a misguided transliteration of gender studies while I’m waiting, no matter how lonely it gets.”

    You have summed up a number of things in this post that resonate with me but this… wow. All I can say is “AMEN!”

  12. Craig H. on January 13, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Nathaniel, The Buckley quote is almost certainly a potshot at Harvard, not at faculty members per se. Oh wait, he wrote the thing against Yale too. Okay, so maybe two schools.

  13. Nathaniel Givens on January 13, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    Alison-

    If/when the priesthood ban on women is lifted, I expect to find a few curmudgeons who just can’t believe the heresy of it all while everyone else is rejoicing in the street and “suddenly” embracing the the new policy.

    I think you’re right that Mormon beliefs about supporting our leaders will definitely put a damper on willingness to speak openly and publicly in contravention of current policy and doctrine, but I am not convinced that the parallel with the priesthood ban based on race truly works.

    In that case, the category of race was never wrapped up in eternal identity. Even if we take the most racist and wrong-headed pseudo-doctrines (e.g. less valient in the pre-existence), race was a concept with a relatively recent beginning (War in Heaven at earliest) and quite like a definite end as well.

    On the other hand, the church’s commitment to gender essentialism seems much more categorical and much more explicit. And gender essentialism leaves open the door that there is no “ban” on women being ordained because a “ban” is an external imposition on the otherwise natural flow of things.

    My discontent with the status quo is not “that women don’t have the priesthood,”but rather “that we don’t understand why”. As a corollary to that, and as I mentioned in the post, I wonder why we know so little about Heavenly Mother and, by extension, a priestesshood. But for me, ordaining women would certainly not resolve these concerns, which is why I think it’s a bad idea and the comparison with the priesthood ban doesn’t make sense.

    Female ordination seems like a policy fix to a theological problem, at best.

  14. Rachel Whipple on January 13, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Naismith, it is a huge sacrifice to join the church, to adopt a new faith and worldview. And when people convert, we also expect them, for the most part, to act like good members of the church. People are drawn to the truth of the gospel, but quickly learn that there is an entire lifestyle that goes along with it. We are proud of the fact that the church is the same worldwide. It is one of the great strengths of the church. Of course, with our expansion outside of the US, and especially the Mormon corridor, there is some different flavor to the church. But even when I’ve lived far from Utah, I’ve noticed that there is a desire to align with a certain Mormon culture, and the church encourages this with things like BYU education week, women’s conference, and EFY type of activities. All of those things, along with the correlated lessons and church magazines, help define what is looks like to be a Mormon, to conform to that identity, and preserve it even as new people from different backgrounds join the church.

  15. Old Man on January 13, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    Very enjoyable post and comments.

  16. mtnmarty on January 13, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Nathaniel,

    Very well done.

    I do think that ordain women would be much more interesting with angels and ancient scripture, in other words, with many of the things that have been missing for a while. The paradox for them is that by operating within the church’s framework for priesthood revelation,male leaders, rather than claiming angelic visitation they seem to be more secular than religious.

    I believe it is even more problematic than you say to determine what a “conservative” is and how it is inconsistent with an LDS outlook on revelation and eternal progression. How does one conserve a culture of change?

    Conservatives do as much picking and choosing as they accuse liberals of doing. Many want to be conservative but not recognize that women’s suffrage and corporations are not traditional.

    Jacques Barzun book on the end of the modern period said it well when he said that we are the end of modernism because we are for and against the same things. We are for and against nature, we are for and against the individual and society, we are for and against equality and although he didn’t say it, we are for and against conservatism.

  17. Orange on January 13, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    What about 2 Nephi 26:33? All are alike unto God? We’ve finally come around to the whole black and white and bond and free when it comes to the Priesthood, but not with male and female. And how about the prophetesses in the Old Testament? Deborah? Or the apostle Junia in the New Testament?

  18. ji on January 13, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    I tend towards the conservative side of things, and I appreciate the original posting. There are multiple sides to any matter, and respecting authority and sustaining those we already vote to sustain is a valid and honorable perspective. I wouldn’t want to be part of a church where there was no respect of authority or sustaining of persons in their callings. For me, I believe God requires this from me. For me, change has to happen within this context.

    For matters where God has chosen to be silent, or where he has spoken already, I’m content to be patient. Regarding the matter of looking beyond Jesus to Heavenly Father or others, I’m happy with Jesus’s counsel in John ch. 14. For me, anything else is looking beyond the mark — so I don’t look any further but rejoice in what I have. For me, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the most important parts of the Gospel message are faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, and charity in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    That’s my perspective.

  19. Wilfried on January 13, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Naismith (10) correctly drew the attention to the millions of first-generation Mormons, for whom conversion was mostly a revolutionary experience. Rachel (14) remarked that for these people

    “there is a desire to align with a certain Mormon culture, and the church encourages this with things like BYU education week, women’s conference, and EFY type of activities. All of those things, along with the correlated lessons and church magazines, help define what is looks like to be a Mormon, to conform to that identity, and preserve it even as new people from different backgrounds join the church.”

    Yes, true, but in the process we lose half of our converts the first year after baptism and we end with about 80% inactivity in the international church. There are various reasons for that hemorrhage, but an important one is that this new Mormon (American) identity, of which much has nothing to do with the Gospel, compels them to leave behind, unnecessarily, core elements of their culture. We have not yet learned to manage that aspect of their own, original conservatism.

  20. WalkerW on January 13, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    A quick comment on Junia. I used to point to Rom. 16:7 as possible evidence for female apostleship (and it still may be) until I read Burer and Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Rom 16.7,” New Testament Studies 47 (2001). A better translation would be that Junia and Andronicus were “well known” or “famous” among the apostles. The NET commentary sums it up nicely:

    “The term ???????? (epishmo”) is used either in an implied comparative sense (“prominent, outstanding”) or in an elative sense (“famous, well known”). The key to determining the meaning of the term in any given passage is both the general context and the specific collocation of this word with its adjuncts. When a comparative notion is seen, that to which ???????? is compared is frequently, if not usually, put in the genitive case (cf., e.g., 3 Macc 6:1 [????????? ?? ??? ???? ???????? ??? ??? ??? ????? ?????? “Eleazar, a man prominent among the priests of the country”]; cf. also Pss. Sol. 17:30). When, however, an elative notion is found, ?? (en) plus a personal plural dative is not uncommon (cf. Pss. Sol. 2:6). Although ?? plus a personal dative does not indicate agency, in collocation with words of perception, (?? plus) dative personal nouns are often used to show the recipients. In this instance, the idea would then be “well known to the apostles.”

    It also has an excellent summary of Rom. 16:1 for Phoebe:

    “It is debated whether ???????? (diakonos) here refers to a specific office within the church. One contextual argument used to support this view is that Phoebe is associated with a particular church, Cenchrea, and as such would therefore be a deacon of that church. In the NT some who are called ???????? are related to a particular church, yet the scholarly consensus is that such individuals are not deacons, but “servants” or “ministers” (other viable translations for ????????). For example, Epaphras is associated with the church in Colossians and is called a ???????? in Col 1:7, but no contemporary translation regards him as a deacon. In 1 Tim 4:6 Paul calls Timothy a ????????; Timothy was associated with the church in Ephesus, but he obviously was not a deacon. In addition, the lexical evidence leans away from this view: Within the NT, the ??????- word group rarely functions with a technical nuance. In any case, the evidence is not compelling either way. The view accepted in the translation above is that Phoebe was a servant of the church, not a deaconess, although this conclusion should be regarded as tentative.”

    Phoebe was obviously a minister of some sort for a local church and I’m inclined to see it as an office, largely due to the use of “prostatis” in 16:2 (the KJV renders this “succourer”). As April DeConick points out in her book ‘Holy Misogyny’, the word “has a long history in Greek literature, meaning literally, “one who stands before.” Its most general use is to indicate the president, ruler, chief, leader or patron of a group” (pg. 65). It is also used in other NT epistles to describe church leaders.

    Interesting enough, the fact that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection has actually been used as evidence for the empty tomb of Jesus. It is highly improbable that the writers would want to use fake female testimonies in a 1st-century Jewish context.

    And I strongly recommend April D. DeConick (Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University), ‘Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter’ (Continuum, 2011).

  21. WalkerW on January 13, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Hmmm. Apparently, the Greek letters are being replaced with “???” for whatever reason. Sorry for the confusion. Whenever you see “???” just think “Greek text.”

  22. YvonneS on January 13, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    It seems to me that section 25 of the D.&C. sets up a road that can be followed to female ordination. I read this a long time ago and it completely changed the picture I had in my mind. What it says to one, namely Emma, it says unto all Mormon women. It set my mind at rest.

    I believe I understand what Nathan said. I also believe that it is possible to be a political liberal and a religious conservative, and we should leave our political beliefs at home when we are present at religious functions or writing on the blogernacle. Each person knows where they stand with the Lord. That is what matters.

  23. Orange on January 13, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    Thanks for the reference WalkerW. I will find that article.

  24. Orange on January 13, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Or book rather.

  25. James Olsen on January 13, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    But for me, ordaining women would certainly not resolve these concerns, which is why I think it’s a bad idea and the comparison with the priesthood ban doesn’t make sense.

    Female ordination seems like a policy fix to a theological problem, at best.

    It’s obviously a complex matter with many facets. You leave out the institutional side of it entirely, however. Most of those I speak with who support OW came around to it not as (or not simply as) what you call a “theological” fix but an institutional one. The idea is that given our institutional history and rhetoric tying priesthood to leadership (presiding), we’ll not have women’s concerns equally represented, nor will we thrive institutionally, until women gain ecclesiastical equality. Likewise there are many in the Church uncomfortable with OW but who are anxious to see greater institutional parity. As I’ve written before, these things come apart in important ways, even though often (as here), they’re squished together.

  26. Algernon on January 13, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    The problem with being patient until God deems fit to speak, as I see it, is that I can only think of a very few historical instances in which He spoke unprovoked. In every other case, He answered, but only after provoked by prayer, fasting, wondering, etc. Agitation, if you will.

    Indeed, one can rightly interpret history as to suggest that without agitation, there is no revelation. If that’s the case, then, quite literally, thank God for liberals.

  27. Howard on January 13, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    I like the tact of this article but LDS conservatives are defiantly NOT committed to change! I’m sorry but physiologically and emotionally this idea just doesn’t fly. Political psychology (see Jonathan Haidt) tells us via studies that conservatives are far more change adverse than liberals. LDS conservatives’ personal emotional defaults are largely pro status quo! BUT following their church leaders (right or wrong) generally overrides this personal emotional response in most cases so that even those who were opposed Blacks holding the priesthood largely came around to eventually accept it and so it shall be with women and gays given enough time. Why? Because given the beattitudes what’s the point of OT enforcement? And because women will be “punished” for their own sins and not Eve’s transgressions!

    Waiting for further light and knowledge is a trial in and of itself… So why wait? Engage the Spirit!!!

    You must admit the Family Proc. be it revelation or a position paper is less than crystal clear with it’s preside over and equal partners language. What interpretation makes sense here? One of change in progress. It shows movement from preside which was softened earlier from a meaning of rule over moving toward equality. Further it’s language accommodates both monogamy and polygamy while ruling out gay marriage which given the timing was the reason for it’s creation.

    Even if female ordination is the right path forward, the current arguments seem to originate in political ideology and assault Mormon doctrine. Something has gone wrong. Indeed! Something has gone wrong! LDS revelation has become watered down to the point that reactive unanimous group inspiration replaces Joseph’s proactive “thus saith the Lord” revelation leaving the church to be led more by the well intentioned philosophies of men than the well articulated mind of God! The result is the brethren are left behind defending doctrine of the past (see prophetic reason’s given for the ban on Blacks) while secular enlightenment again passes them by! Secular enlightenment is the result of God’s spirit being poured out on ALL of humankind (not just through the brethren via GC) resulting in increased charity, love and acceptance for one another. And again I command you to love one another.

  28. Rachel Whipple on January 13, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    WalkerW, whenever I read Greek text, I think ??? I’m told that doesn’t go away until after 7 years of study, more apparently, if you use wordpress.

  29. chris on January 13, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Wilfried,
    It’s my experience that every single one of the converts I’ve known internationally, would still be around if the international ward members took them into their families, took them into their homes, imparted of their love and substance with them and tried to help those converts on their feet, but in their respective nations and in the gospel.

    The blame falls squarely on the members shoulders, maybe to a certain degree on the institutional church for not “pushing” this aspect among the members more. It’s not the fault of the church being “too American”, but of the members unwilling to rescue a drowning soul lost out at see who put on the life preserver that was given by the missionaries.

  30. Jeff G on January 13, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    Very wll put, Nathaniel! Like Jonathan Haidt says, conservatives tend to have a decent understanding of liberalism and then proceed to reject it while liberals tend not to even have that decent understanding of conservatism in order to properly reject it.

  31. Algernon on January 13, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    A word about “concern for the source.” The bread-crumb trail attendant to priesthood restoration is a nice example illustrating your point. It’s much tidier, however, than many of the trails that led to other revelations. Two examples of our most distinguishing features:
    The source for the Word of Wisdom? Emma’s exasperation and Joseph’s subsequent solicitude. Hardly an “exclusively religious concern as a starting point.”
    The source for the new and everlasting covenant of marriage? Well, truly, I wish this one were simple. Try as I might, though, I can’t see the starting point here as anything other than Joseph’s, ahem, desires. I am not suggesting now that this dubious impetus renders invalid the revelation; rather, history indicates this, too, does not resemble an “exclusively religious concern as a starting point.”
    In other words, God’s word comes in answer to active searching, and sometimes that searching has little to do with the neat religion to which the resultant revelation is appended.

  32. Hedgehog on January 14, 2014 at 3:21 am

    Wilfried (19), thanks for that link, it looks very interesting.
    I also wanted to respond to Rachel’s (14) assertion that:
    “there is a desire to align with a certain Mormon culture, and the church encourages this with things like BYU education week, women’s conference, and EFY type of activities. All of those things, along with the correlated lessons and church magazines, help define what is looks like to be a Mormon, to conform to that identity, and preserve it even as new people from different backgrounds join the church.”
    I’d dispute the desire to align with a certain Mormon culture, or at the very least ask for a more precise description of that desirable culture. This was something I addressed in my last post, in relation to the current push to ‘hasten the work’ (http://www.wheatandtares.org/13395/bringing-the-good/). BYU education week passes unnoticed here in Britain, and I for one don’t like EFY so…
    Wilfried, I agree with your “..much has nothing to do with the Gospel, compels them to leave behind, unnecessarily, core elements of their culture.”, but am not sure about your final sentence:”We have not yet learned to manage that aspect of their own, original conservatism.” But I may just be reading ‘manage’ as perjorative when it isn’t, and I will read your paper.
    Naismith (10), speaking as one raised in the church, but whose parents were converts, there is an ongoing sacrifice of separation from our national culture, in my experience anyway.

  33. Hedgehog on January 14, 2014 at 3:50 am

    Nathaniel,
    Firstly I’m not at all sure that acceptance of the Family Proclamation as a position paper, as opposed to revelation (which claim was redacted as I’m sure you know), automatically means that it is derided as such (as per your “I’m aware that the Proclamation to the World is derided in some circles as a position paper instead of revelation”), as opposed to simply accepted as such, which would be my position. I’d perhaps reserve the derision for those who try to insist on the term revelation, and even then I think it would be too strong a term to use, personally. Okay, you say some circles, but I don’t think derision is the attitude of the majority.

    I’d also disagree that “the current arguments seem to originate in political ideology and assault Mormon doctrine”, given the frequent references I have seen to practice in the early LDS church, and statements made by Joseph Smith etc. in the arguments. It isn’t clear why you give Cassler’s views a pass as organic growth whilst dismissing those other points entirely: in following your own favoured trail of breadcrumbs, you have dismissed other trails. And is Cassler not also a member of a university department, but presumably not one you’d define as average, for the purposes of your argument?

    Your #13 “Female ordination seems like a policy fix to a theological problem, at best.”
    Yet ‘policy’ fixes do seem to be what we are best at. Things seem to morph from ‘doctrine’ to ‘policy’ to ‘change’ all the time. This isn’t the kind of change conservatives approve?

  34. Nathaniel Givens on January 14, 2014 at 8:58 am

    Algernon-

    I think you make a good point, but as long as we’re going to expand beyond my favorite example (with the priesthood) we should be really comprehensive and think not only about the ways in which things can go right, but also the ways in which things go wrong.

    It’s very popular to see male-only ordination as a “ban” and thus link it to the race-based priesthood ban. But there’s actually another way in which you can draw that comparison. The racist practice of denying the Priesthood to Africans and the subsequent racist pseudo-doctrines that grew up around were both examples of incorporating contemporary worldly theories into Mormonism.

    Joseph Smith may have been reacting to Emma’s complaints, but he went and got a revelation. Where was the revelation that blacks were less valiant in the pre-existence? There wasn’t one. It was just importing racist notions from the surrounding culture into a Mormon context.

    So if the female movement was all about “please pray, we don’t like this” I would have much less of an issue with it. And I fully realize that does describe some on that side of the issue. My goal isn’t to denounce everyone who sees things differently from me. However, there is a powerful strain that isn’t interested in waiting for revelation because it already knows, based on importing popular political theories from the world around us, what the answer should be.

    And it’s that–the incorporation of worldly values, paradigms, and assumptions–that troubles me most about the push for female ordination.

    Being a conservative doesn’t mean I’m opposed to change. It does mean I’m very, very cautious about the method by which change happens.

  35. Nathaniel Givens on January 14, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Hedgehog-

    I’d also disagree that “the current arguments seem to originate in political ideology and assault Mormon doctrine”, given the frequent references I have seen to practice in the early LDS church, and statements made by Joseph Smith etc. in the arguments.

    The bulk of my argument on this score comes from a very careful reading of the FAQ section of OW, which is convenient because (1) the text is available for everyone to see and (2) OW is the leading formal institution on this issue.

    Does OW incorporate some Mormon terminology and cite a couple of Mormon beliefs? Yes, they do. Are any of these beliefs integral to their main argument? No, they are all totally irrelevant.

    The OW case is simply that all institutions need to have equal female leadership in order to be fair. That’s not a religious perspective. It’s a political one. In fact, OW is quite explicit about the fact that they are applying the same standard to the Church and to families as they would to any other secular institution: “We refuse to tolerate inequity in our secular institutions. Ordain Women asserts that we must also reject it in our homes and religious communities.”

    You might agree very passionately and find that this statement is compatible with Mormonism, but OW also clearly illustrates that when Mormonism and their secular politics conflict, secular politics get preference (as with the rejection of not just the Proclamation, but the entire tradition of distinct gender roles in our faith).

    I’m not saying you can never question the prevailing religious perspective in Mormonism. But I am saying that when you do so, I expect you to use the beliefs of Mormonism to do it. There is one and only one scripture that appears to give explicit credence to female ordination (2 Ne 26:33). I don’t think it actually works, but at least it’s a plausible, scripture-based interpretation. If that was front and center for OW (as opposed to window dressing), it would make an impression on me. There are also folks like Mahonri Stewart who–at my blog–made his case for female ordination based on history, scripture, and theology. The criticisms I have for OW do not apply to Mahonri because his argument is organically Mormon, just like Cassler’s. I disagree with his conclusions, but I appreciate his method. (That’s why you can find it published on my blog, among other places.)

    So when I say that it’s not the what as much as the why I’m being earnest. I can point out an example of a pro-ordination piece that is authentically Mormon from start to finish. Now just contrast Mahonri’s piece, which is in the best tradition of Mormon though as it draws on the scriptures and Mormon principles to make its case, with the OW arguments couched in the language of gender politics.

    The contrast is stark.

  36. Wilfried on January 14, 2014 at 9:58 am

    Hedgehog (32), thanks for that comment. I also read your excellent post on “bringing the good” in which you refer to pres. Hinckley’s invitation “bring with you all that you have of good and truth which you have received from whatever source, and come and let us see if we may add to it”. I discuss this topic in that recent article of mine, to show how much ambiguity remains in that well-meant invitation. And it ties in with Nathaniel’s post: conservatism, yes, but which conservatism in a church that wants to be a world church?

    With “manage” convervatism, I mean the latitude the church can give to aspects of local culture in Mormon life in other countries, as you also pointed out.

  37. Howard on January 14, 2014 at 10:37 am

    The OW case is simply that all institutions need to have equal female leadership in order to be fair. That’s not a religious perspective.

    Have you considered why? Left to their own methods Mormon male leaders “forgot” to invite women to pray at GC for a mere 182 years! The problem is male LDS leadership generally can’t see their own privilege or bias and due to an unrealistic church sponsored fear of mingling married opposite genders LDS male leadership typically do not know many women other than their wives and relatives who largely tend to echo their own limited orthodox beliefs about women. Do a child per leader count and check the CV’s of the General Relief Society and Young Women’s presidencies! Read the life of sister Monson in her obituary. These are the female roles offered as example but they leave out so many other choices and as a result so many other women! The 1950′s are over! This thinking results in a pecking order. It is a married man with children’s church with is wife enjoying the highest privilege granted to women so chances are she’s pretty happy with the status quo especially with all the wonderful placating lip service offered from the podium! But she’s one down if she’s a working mother or doesn’t have children. And she’s down from that if she’s divorced and hasn’t remarried or a single never married (sweet spirit)!

  38. mtnmarty on January 14, 2014 at 10:58 am

    But Howard, the theology is that the Celestial Kingdom is like an idealized 1950′s. Recapping the reasons that doesn’t work for many people doesn’t mean that its not secular rather than religious forces bringing about the change.

    If you consider communism, feminism and secularism as the 3 great evils of the second half of the 20th century. Communism lost, secularism is a wash but feminism won. Just because feminism won doesn’t make it any more mormon. To me we are going through a polygamy phase with feminism, that is in order to fit in with the rest of society we are jettisoning anti-feminism.

  39. Howard on January 14, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Celestial Kingdom is like an idealized 1950?s. Yes, the 1950′s is God’s organizational sweet-spot isn’t it?

  40. mtnmarty on January 14, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    When the fam’ly gets together, after evening work is done,
    Then we learn to know each other, popping corn and having fun.
    Then our father tells a story, mother leads us in a song,
    And it seems that nothing in this world could possibly go wrong.

  41. Alan on January 14, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    How about the Holy Ghost? In the ancient Syriac language as well as, I believe, Hebrew, the Holy Ghost was clearly feminine and the trinity was often thought of as a family?

  42. mtnmarty on January 14, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    What about the Venus of Willendorf figurines from before 25000 BC? There’s no shortage of precedents for female deities.

    I just hope if we get some divine revelation about heavenly mother, it goes beyond “Same stuff, but me too.”

  43. Rachel Whipple on January 14, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Hedgehog #32 wrote: “I’d dispute the desire to align with a certain Mormon culture, or at the very least ask for a more precise description of that desirable culture. ”
    I think that for some there is desire to align to cultural norms, and for almost everyone, there is peer pressure to conform to a certain way of Mormon-ness that includes how we dress and comport ourselves, both in and out of church settings. I’m sorry I don’t have time to be more precise right now, but part of the way that pressure works is to be both slippery in definition and yet easily recognizable.

  44. Algernon on January 14, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Nathaniel, 34. Thank you for the response. I have some considering to do, but I think I can say I agree with your reasoning here. Likely, I even agree with your conclusions.

  45. Nathaniel Givens on January 14, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    Alan-

    How about the Holy Ghost? In the ancient Syriac language as well as, I believe, Hebrew, the Holy Ghost was clearly feminine and the trinity was often thought of as a family?

    This comes up a lot, but I don’t think it works because 1 Nephi 11:11

    And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof—for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.

    There’s an angel that comes along later and does most of the communication, and so people often forget that the initial speaker in 1 Nephi 11 is identified as the Spirit of the Lord (Holy Ghost) and is specifically identified as male.

    The Holy Ghost = Heavenly Mother idea seems pretty cool, and I’m not ready to totally jettison it yet, but it doesn’t seem to work. An additional problem, for me, is that the idea that She’s been there all along and no one bothered to mention it seems weird. Going back to 1 Nephi 11 again, if that’s Nephi meeting Heavenly Mother it’s certainly not the kind of description I’d expect.

  46. Nathaniel Givens on January 14, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    No problem, Algernon. Let me know where your musings take you.

  47. SilverRain on January 14, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Not only that, but if HM is the Holy Ghost, she doesn’t have a body, and is therefore NOT an equal partner with Heavenly Father. Theologically, a personage without a body could not help create spirit bodies.

  48. JNR on January 14, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Given the preponderance of conservative Mormons, I have to wonder if conservative bashing is merely a safe substitute for church bashing. It is not very skillfully hidden when a poster creates a folk devil out of conservatives and then complains that most church members are conservatives. The problem is that Mormons don’t neatly fall into politically based categories. I would be seen as a “liberal” Mormon for many reasons, yet I support some conservative political positions. I have followed feminist blogs for years and it seems that political issues are morphing into a required narrative for belonging which involves vilification of “conservatives”, those who do not support causes that are stereotypically assigned to “liberals”, and most disturbing, the rejection of moderate feminists who prefer other methods for more inclusion of women while agreeing with most of the current problems. OW has been particularly guilty of the latter. As a result, the more orthodox women I know who are troubled with the church’s treatment of women want nothing to do with these groups. They feel attacked and marginalized even as they support much of what they say. I see no chance of success unless they tone down the attacks on “conservatives” or TBMs or whatever euphemism is employed to demean the so-called average Mormon who is statistically likely to be the hated conservative. I have been scratching my head over the rigidity of some feminist groups when their success depends on convincing the members they alienate on a daily basis. Liberals have every right to be outraged at the treatment they have received but it is merely a “he hit me first!” that is irrelevant to the task of convincing others. They, of all people, should understand the consequences of such unChristlike behavior yet they inexplicably turn to what was so hurtful and ineffective for conservatives who trash liberals. OW seems to be operating on the assumption that public exposure and embarrassment is all that is required for change. I think it much more likely that changing the hearts and minds of members would be far more successful but it takes time. They are dividing rather than unifying the very women they need.

  49. Adam G. on January 14, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    I disagree somewhat with your definition of conservatism, even in the Mormon context. I don’t think that conserving the act or process of revolution is desirable or possible.

    But my biggest concern with your admittedly excellent essay is how parochial it is, which is a function of how parochial the impulse it is responding to is. If the hidden truths of the ages that God has kept waiting are recycled mid-century petty grievance liberalism, one’s entire religious outlook lacks the cosmic perspective of even one midlist SF short story. I was expecting something more like the sky scrolling back to reveal the face of God.

  50. JNR on January 14, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    #45 “An additional problem, for me, is that the idea that She’s been there all along and no one bothered to mention it seems weird.”

    But she has been mentioned, http://www.templestudy.com/2013/11/27/videos-free-viewing-lady-temple-conference/

  51. mtnmarty on January 14, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    JNR,

    Long run strategy and short-run strategy for OW may be different. In the short run the goal may be to coalesce a strident opposition, even at the risk of offending in order to put something at risk for the church, rather than to seek marginal change in policy on a compromise basis.

    I think they are also playing with stereotypes a bit in that I think a make group with the same tactics would face even more opposition from the conservative side.

    Provoking a response from a patriarchy enhances your status as a player.

  52. Mtnmarty on January 14, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    Adam G,

    So are you saying that ordaining women is no big deal? I mean it can’t be both a petty grievance and a big deal, right?

    And if the heavens roll back and the face of God is revealed and it looks like Oprah, it won’t be Hosanna but “we’re screwed” that the conservatives will shout.

  53. JNR on January 14, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Good point, mtnmarty. It would be so fun to see some game theory analysis of the struggle between OW and the church.

  54. Lorin on January 14, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Thank you so much for the original posting of this. It took me a few days to find it, but I cannot tell you how much I appreciate something conservative “finally” (perhaps the wrong word) being written on this.

  55. WI_Member on January 14, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    #50 – “but she has been mentioned…”

    Mentioned…yes, but at conferences for very specialized audiences, not in general church settings. Instead we get counsel on how many earrings to wear, or sappy video vignettes about choosing a particular style of swimwear. Not much meat (if any) about our eternal, divine female creator. Have you ever tried reciting the YW theme week after week, particularly the part about divine nature, and wondering why there is no acknowledgement of a female component?

  56. Jan on January 14, 2014 at 9:02 pm

    Nathanial, I really like your thoughts. Thanks for being brave enough to post them. The whole “Joseph Smith asked questions and that is how the church moved forward” argument for the OW movement seems to forget that Joseph also begged the Lord to let Martin Harris take the 116 pages and things sort of fell apart. I fear that our membership trying to reorganize the church that Christ organized is going to have a similar fate.
    But like you, I’m not closed to the idea of it happening, as long as it goes through the right channels.

  57. James Olsen on January 14, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    If the hidden truths of the ages that God has kept waiting are recycled mid-century petty grievance liberalism, one’s entire religious outlook lacks the cosmic perspective of even one midlist SF short story. I was expecting something more like the sky scrolling back to reveal the face of God.

    Loved this comment Adam. Really worth keeping in mind.

    That said, I want to point out that our cosmic God considers the lilies, the sparrow, the grass. Pain is not parochial, and regardless of how central it is to the Restoration write large, it’s central to our experience and spirituality. Our scriptures are a laundry list of God hearing and responding to our grievances.

  58. JNR on January 14, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    #55, Specialized conferences are an excellent beginning when it involves scripture that we need to begin building a narrative that provides a foundation that can be acceptable to most Mormons and especially leadership. I am reminded of Pres. Kimball seeking out scripture and scholars for information before the ban was lifted. I think a good part of the reason there is little talk about HM is because we have absolutely no language in which to frame a discussion. This conference was a huge step towards providing a cohesive spiritually based narrative and that is the essential element that OW lacks. I was stunned when I saw little to no mention whatsoever of this foundational conference on feminist blogs. It was the moderate feminists who embraced it. I have no objections to women being given the priesthood but that alone will not provide much more knowledge of the divine woman than the YW theme does. (And yes, I have recited that until I had to lip sync to stop myself from screaming.)

  59. Xenophon on January 15, 2014 at 5:00 am

    “This is because the tradition that Mormon conservatives seek to preserve is a tradition of constant change.” Please clarify. Are you suggesting that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a tradition of constant change because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraces continuing revelation? On a very basic level there is much scriptural evidence to support the truth that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, or in other words, that He is an unchangeable being. Why is the ninth article of faith so often invoked as if it suddenly supersedes all other revelations? What about the first article of faith? The second? The third? The fourth? As for the ninth article, how can God yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God to a people that hardly believes all that He has already revealed? How can he yet reveal anything new to a people that wriggles and squirms at what He now reveals in the most recent general conference. Since the time of the Wentworth letter, God has revealed many great and important things, such as The Family: A Proclamation to the World, that have yet to gain any real traction. Maybe the great and important things that will first be revealed are the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets. I sure hope not.

  60. Hedgehog on January 15, 2014 at 7:27 am

    Nathaniel (35),
    Not sure why you think the use of the scripture is window dressing in the OW FAQ.
    I have read Mahonri Stewart’s post over on fMh, and thought it very well done.
    I personally do not have a profile on OW. I think they are asking important questions. I don’t know what the answers will be, but I do know I don’t like a lot of the more moderate proposals or suggestions, for various reasons.

    Jan (56),
    I’ve seen that argument before, but in the case of the 116 pages, JS had already asked and received clear revelation on the subject. That doesn’t seem to be the case here.

  61. Hedgehog on January 15, 2014 at 7:31 am

    Thank you Wilfired (36). A very good article. I will link to it in the comments on my post, as it’s highly relevant.

  62. Howard on January 15, 2014 at 9:00 am

    God may have arrived at a place where he is an “unchangeable being” but we have not! The gospel must be dumbed down to allow us to understand it at some more basic level so from our perspective the gospel changes as we grow, as we as individuals and as a church.

    How can he yet reveal anything new to a people that wriggles and squirms at what He now reveals in the most recent general conference.. This is an apologetic argument to cover the fact that almost nothing new is revealed at GC. If you read SWK’s story about how OD2 came about you will learn that agitation has a very real place in the process of receiving new revelation and that God typically doesn’t offer revelation that isn’t sought after. SWK spent months on his knees and admits he had to struggle with his own bias to receive the answer. The notion that God micromanages the church via daily direct revelation to it’s president is simply folklore!

  63. Nathaniel Givens on January 15, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Xenophon-

    Are you suggesting that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a tradition of constant change because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraces continuing revelation?

    That’s pretty much it, yes.

  64. Nathaniel Givens on January 15, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    Hedgehog-

    Not sure why you think the use of the scripture is window dressing in the OW FAQ

    The reasoning is very simple: If you take away the scriptures, does the argument stand? Yes, the OW case for ordination stands without any scriptural reference. If you take away the scriptures, does the argument get weaker at all? No, not really. The argument for female ordination would be essentially unchanged without any scriptural references.

    Therefore: it’s window-dressing.

    Contrast that with Mahonri’s piece. He relies explicitly on history (whether or not there was a female apostle of Christ, for example) and doctrine (Joseph Smith’s intentions with the founding of the Relief Society). Take away Mormonism from Mahonri’s argument, and there is no argument. Then it’s not window dressing.

  65. mtnmarty on January 15, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    I think there is some tension between holding a conservative position and being a missionary church looking for converts.

    In some sense missionary work is seeking to change the world and convert people from the tradition they held previously.

    Now that can come from getting people to move from one conservative position to another or to go from a non-conservative background to a conservative one, but in general, since conservatives and less likely to be accepting of change, conversion is more difficult for strongly traditional people.

    So I would say in addition to revelation, being a church that is trying to change its membership and have it grow, makes it also not completely conservative.

    Basically its impossible to conserve tradition completely, so its just a matter of how fast and in what ways a culture or organization changes.

  66. Claudia on January 15, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    I have been reading all of the comments on this post since it was put up. I admit I have next to no knowledge about the group call OW. I do happen to be a woman and I lived on a roller coaster over the issues involved for a long time. I know that OW wanted women to wear pants to church so now on bitter cold Sundays at least two of the women in my ward wear slacks. No one says anything. A couple of Sunday’s ago, two women prayed for our sacrament meeting. OW wanted to be admitted to the priesthood session of general conference in October. The two hundred or so women that marched from pioneer park to temple square were turned away. Now we will have a women’ session broadcast before every general conference. They will not call it Relief Society or Young Women’s meeting anymore. They might not be getting everything they want, but they can say that for the most part they have been successful.

    Personally, I do not want to be equal with men if it means I cannot have meetings run by women for women. I like being able to talk about the things women talk about the way women talk about them. It is pleasant for me to sit and listen to other women talk about the gospel. It is really difficult for me to imagine that the young women would like to have all their meetings with the young men present. So I get it. I doubt men want to have to sit with women in all of their meetings. It would change how people would act. It would be uncomfortable.

    What I don’t get in reading all of these comments is that most of the commenters are men. They are men who are discussing what it means to be conservative and how much change is going on. How in the world can anyone show that the scriptures are irrelevant to women’s equality? Nathaniel said it, but he didn’t offer any evidence of it. When the day comes, if it comes that women are not just set apart, but ordained to their callings (although my dictionary says set apart and ordained are synonymous) what would it actually mean? What would really be different? Would we all turn into conservative men? Would we all become liberal women? And is a contingent of two hundred persons in a church of over 15, 000, 000 enough to get the kind of attention needed to change the church?

  67. mtnmarty on January 15, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Claudia,

    I don’t know why men comment about this so much. For me its just because someone made a post that I found interesting.

    You asked What would really be different? Would we all turn into conservative men? Would we all become liberal women?

    I think the example in the workplace and other contexts is that absolutely things would be different. Having a woman in authority over a man would very likely make some men in the church less conservative. Very likely being in a position of authority over men would make some women more liberal.

    Whether more liberal people would stay in the church or more conservatives leave is anyone’s guess.

    A small, vocal minority with a valid point change change just about anything. That’s why whether the point is valid is so important.

  68. Nathaniel Givens on January 15, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Claudia-

    How in the world can anyone show that the scriptures are irrelevant to women’s equality? Nathaniel said it, but he didn’t offer any evidence of it.

    Nathaniel absolutely didn’t say that. What Nathaniel said was that the scriptures are irrelevant to the particular arguments being made by OW. That’s a world of difference.

    And now Nathaniel will stop talking about himself in the third person.

    What I don’t get in reading all of these comments is that most of the commenters are men.

    I’d hesitate to say that there is something particular to this topic that brings out an imbalance of men when it appears to be a perennial problem on the Internet. Just look at the breakdown of male/female editors at Wikipedia.

    So the imbalance deserves attention, but I wouldn’t assume it has anything directly to do with this topic.

  69. Claudia on January 16, 2014 at 9:21 am

    Nathaniel: I stand corrected. I did not realize that the nature of a Heavenly Mother might not be scriptural or that the duties female godessess had in ancient times might not be relevant. It seems to me it is. It seems to me that the ancient mother goddesses were concerned with nurturing the earth and all the people in it as well as producing children. Not being familiar with OW, but understanding the thrust of modern feminism into the workplace and out of the home I must have overlaid that onto OW.

    The imbalance between male and female commenters could tell us something about the interests of most women as opposed to the interest of the men who want to talk about things that women do not show a particular interest in.

  70. Nathaniel Givens on January 16, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Claudia-

    My simple point is that while the scriptures have much to tell us about equality and gender and while you can argue for female ordination on that basis (as my friend Mahonri has done on my blog and elsewhere), that the particular arguments use by OW don’t do that. They don’t use or depend very much on scripture, instead using a couple of passing references as window dressing.

    Now here’s what confuses me: you’re simultaneously arguing adamantly that I’m wrong and also telling me you are not familiar with OW. Which is it? You would have to be familiar with OW to be able to tell me I’m wrong about their arguments.

    The imbalance between male and female commenters could tell us something about the interests of most women…

    That’s possible except that–as I already pointed out–90% of Wikipedia editors are male. Wikipedia covers pretty much every subject. So, based on your logic, women are just not interested in anything at all?

    That doesn’t seem likely, and that’s why I suspect there’s another explanation for the gender gap in online discussion. Just google “online harassment women” or similar and you’ll get articles like this one from the HuffPo that offer a much more plausible hypothesis.

  71. Naismith on January 16, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    In retrospect, this article is not really about women and the priesthood, but rather about the definition of “conservative.” And the point is well taken that words like liberal and conservative can have various meanings, and may not mean what one person assumes.

    “I think the example in the workplace and other contexts is that absolutely things would be different. Having a woman in authority over a man would very likely make some men in the church less conservative. Very likely being in a position of authority over men would make some women more liberal.”

    I don’t know about this. I have served in church positions where women already may have authority over men–Public Affairs, Primary, family history. It was a non-issue, and men never seemed to resent having to report to a woman.

    It is because of my experience in “the workplace and other contexts” that I don’t particular see female ordination as a panacea. I’ve worked for some women who did NOT reflect my views and actually made my life pretty miserable and ridiculed me. So I have no confidence that things would automatically be better if women were in leadership.

    As for the notion of first-gen members having to fit into a worldwide cultural norm, that varies of course. in my experience, there is often frustration when folks from the intermountain west move out to the “hinterlands,” look around and declare “U R’nt doing it right!” and move back as soon as they can. Which suggests that perhaps there are some differences in culture, still within the gospel umbrella.

    And those merely cultural differences can be a stick that more established members use to beat us with.

    Years ago I was in a stake calling where a team of us visited a branch whose president had been a member less than a year. They invited us to sign their guestbook, which they had out in the foyer on a stand, just like Baptist churches do. I held my breath to see if the stake president would lecture that we don’t do that, or what. The stake president thanked him and signed.

  72. Claudia on January 16, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Nathaniel: I do not know if you are wrong about their arguments. I do not know what the are arguments are. No I do not intend to begin following them. Still I do feel some empathy and probably some agreement with what I assume they might want. So, I guess I am trying to walk on the fence.

    I think it should be obvious that men are more prone to writing on the internet, at least on Wikipedia. I found the HuffPo article to be interesting and somewhat disturbing. I would expect that LDS men would not make the kind threats covered in the article. I expect Mormon women write blogs about things for women. When I talk about women on a Mormon blog I am referring to Mormon women. Generally it is safe, but not always.

    Naismith: You said it very well. I agree with you. The conservative, liberal thing is something that I find offensive. It is loaded with meanings that are hurtful.

  73. Nathaniel Givens on January 16, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    As for the notion of first-gen members having to fit into a worldwide cultural norm, that varies of course. in my experience, there is often frustration when folks from the intermountain west move out to the “hinterlands,” look around and declare “U R’nt doing it right!” and move back as soon as they can. Which suggests that perhaps there are some differences in culture, still within the gospel umbrella.

    In one of those hinterland wards of the Virginia and Michigan (where I’ve lived all my life) we had a very young family move from Utah. During her customary “new to the ward” talk, the wife mentioned “We just moved from Provo. That’s where BYU is.”

    I thought that was hilarious.

  74. Alison Moore Smith on January 16, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Nathaniel #13:

    think you’re right that Mormon beliefs about supporting our leaders will definitely put a damper on willingness to speak openly and publicly in contravention of current policy and doctrine, but I am not convinced that the parallel with the priesthood ban based on race truly works.

    Few are.

    As you said, at this point in time not only has the race issue been reversed but officially repudiated. Unless/until the same thing happens with gender. there WILL be a “damper on willingness to speak openly and publicly in contravention of current policy and doctrine.” So you and most other “highly committed” Mormons won’t be convinced there is a parallel — because doing so creates the very problem addressed. (And, again, you’ll note that I’m not part of OW and have NOT called for female ordination.)

    You seem to think that there are many more authoritative statements on gender than on race, but I’m not sure that’s true if we look back to pre-1978. How many “pseudo-doctrines” were spouted from VERY authoritative sources (prophets included) to SUPPORT the race ban? (And, yes, race WAS “wrapped up in eternal destiny.”) Are there vastly more statements of an entirely different quality on the gender ban today?

    As I’ve asked for decades, where is the authoritative statement to let us in on the secret code so we can detect when “man” is “mankind” and when “man” is “males”? You know, so we can figure out what parts of that eternal identity actually ARE eternal identity, rather then just defenses of centuries long cultural sexism.

    On the other hand, the church’s commitment to gender essentialism seems much more categorical and much more explicit.

    Kind of. Yes, the church forces enormous gender distinctions — and then summarily disregards the differences in church structure. Gender matters but, oh, not so much. Move along.

    My discontent with the status quo is not “that women don’t have the priesthood,”but rather “that we don’t understand why”.

    That is the same discontent I’ve expressed for decades, here, on other blogs, and elsewhere. Where does that put me on the continuum?

    As a corollary to that, and as I mentioned in the post, I wonder why we know so little about Heavenly Mother and, by extension, a priestesshood. But for me, ordaining women would certainly not resolve these concerns, which is why I think it’s a bad idea and the comparison with the priesthood ban doesn’t make sense.

    Why not? If we found out that women COULD, in fact, have the priesthood (like blacks), then why would that NOT solve the problem of why for your? If we found out that Heavenly Mother did many of the same things Heavenly Father does, why would that NOT solve the problem of knowing little about her?

    I understand that giving women the priesthood would have consequences (like ANY action or change) and I’d guess I’d like some and not like others. But THAT is not the problem being addressed in your post.

  75. Cameron on January 16, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    This is my favorite T&S article on this topic so far, because I think it asks the right questions and has the right attitude.