Another (Partial) Response to Brother Otterson

May 31, 2014 | 80 comments
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As I indicated in my last post, I am very, very happy with this response from Brother Otterson, for two reasons:

  1. By sending it to the major Mormon blogs, he signaled that readers of those blogs are a target audience for the church to communicate with and not part of the “extreme” and “suggestive of apostasy” with which the church will not converse. (Ideally, the church would not be describing Ordain Women that way either, but if they are going to, at least they are indicating that the inhabitants of the BCC, T & S, and FMH ecosystems are not on that side of the line.)
  2. By responding to the criticisms that have been made, Brother Otterson suggests that the criticisms and the responses are part of the dialogue that the church is willing to have. He points out that “feminists” have been invited to converse with the PA department and church leaders. This redemption of the term “feminist” in LDS discourse is significant.

My previous post pointed out one doctrinal issue I had with his post; this post addresses the larger issue of framing. That is: Brother Otterson’s post conveys the idea that the problem today is poorly-trained local leaders and the solution is for women to be listened to with more care at all levels of the church. Certainly this is a real issue and a good solution, and LDS feminists with any historical memory should be gushing out prayers of gratitude that this is the officially-conveyed position of the church. (Seriously: picture yourself in 1973 or even 1993 and think about hearing that the church was meeting with feminists to listen to their ideas. Now pull your jaw back into position.)

But I want to suggest that even for the most moderate of LDS feminists, this framing of the problem is painfully incomplete. And therefore frustrating, because it suggests that the church is not really listening to what many women are saying, despite the fact that a large portion of Brother Otterson’s post is focused on making the argument that they are listening. I obviously can’t speak for all moderate LDS feminists, but I think we might convey our/their main concern under the umbrella of “priesthood creep.” What do I mean by that term? Stipulate for the purposes of this post that extending the priesthood to women is not God’s plan for the church, but then look at ways that women are limited in the church that have nothing to do with any revealed doctrine regarding the priesthood:

  1. Mothers of minor children cannot serve as temple workers.
  2. Women can be on the General Sunday School Board, but cannot serve in the Sunday School Presidency in their own wards.
  3. Women cannot serve as clerks or executive secretaries.
  4. Sister Okazaki reported that when the General Relief Society Presidency asked the First Presidency if women might serve on the Temple Cmte and Building Cmte, that request was turned down.
  5. She also reported that she, as education counselor, was working on a new manual for the Relief Society and only found out somewhat accidentally that the church had ended the Relief Society’s production of their own manual and taken over that role—not only without discussion but without informing them.
  6. The auxiliaries—locally and church-wide—no longer control their own callings, budgets, curriculum, etc.
  7. The Primary and YM/YW program devote a higher level of resources (time, attention, staffing, money, recognition, etc.) to the boys.
  8. As is now well-known, women used to perform healing blessings but now are not allowed to.

Other items could certainly be mentioned, but I think this list is enough to convey the main idea: there are many restrictions on women’s activities that cannot be explained by the restriction of priesthood ordination to men. Instead, these policies lead many women to the conclusion that their value is less in the eyes of God and that their contributions to building the kingdom are simply not wanted by the church. These policies cause pain not because women are power hungry or want to control things, but because the ugly underbelly of these policies is the implication that women are not worth as much as men (especially #7) and that their contributions are not welcome (especially #4 and #5). I don’t think that our church leaders actually believe these things, but I think a few of our policies do (unintentionally) reflect this belief. There may also be room for men to think about women in different terms; as General Relief Society President Burton recently said, the church will benefit as men’s vision of women’s capacity becomes more complete.

Not fitting neatly into this list (because they do involve actual priesthood duties), but nonetheless being serious cause for concern for many moderate feminists, are these two items:

  1. The practice of having teen girls discuss their sex lives with middle-aged men alone behind closed doors. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see the potential for various problems here. (And my concern is not only for the girls, but for the bishops: imagine that a girl accused a bishop of impropriety and the case ended up in court in front of a jury: once the bishop has admitted that he was alone with the girl and asking her how often she masturbated—a setting and discussion that is clearly beyond appropriate bounds in modern culture—do you think that jury will believe the bishop’s next statement when he claims that he did nothing inappropriate?)
  2. The practice of disciplinary councils having no women present except the accused. Given that, I assume, a large number of these councils involve law of chastity violations, it is easy to imagine numerous scenarios where problems can arise. (I’m tempted to link to a few very troubling personal reports, but I am aware that they might not represent a fair/complete account, so I won’t. I’ll just ask the men reading to imagine that you are alone in a room with a group of women—women who will decide your church membership, social standing, and possibly future employment opportunities—and who ask you to discuss in detail your sexual history. What you may not be able to imagine is how power/abuse/trauma dynamics come in to play in women’s sexual histories and their willingness/ability to talk about them.)

With minor exceptions, these items cannot be addressed on the local level. So to suggest, as Brother Otterson does, that the problem is poorly-trained local leaders and that women should talk to them about their concerns ignores the reality of these concerns. (And, again, creates frustration in the face of his numerous statements that the church is listening to women.) These issues can only be addressed on a church-wide level. Some great progress has been made recently: had I been writing this post a decade ago, the top items on my list would have been that women are not permitted to pray in General Conference, that sister missionaries have no formal leadership opportunities, and that women are rarely quoted in church materials. I recognize and am immensely grateful for progress in these areas. As President Uchtdorf taught, the Restoration is, truly, ongoing.

Not only does pushing the issue to the local level not address the problem, but it may exacerbate it. I can’t imagine that the church will be a better place if every woman with issues spends a few hours talking to her bishop about it. Given that the bishop is powerless to implement change, it is only natural that he would perceive the woman’s concerns as a worthiness/testimony issue or a pointless complaint. But even if he is completely sympathetic, what succor does that give the woman when it can’t change the policy? I suppose one might argue that the goal here is that women will open their bishops’ eyes to these concerns and that the bishops will pass these concerns along and then change will happen. Could this be the unstated hope? I’ll take progress any way I can get it.

 

 

 

80 Responses to Another (Partial) Response to Brother Otterson

  1. Rachel on May 31, 2014 at 11:15 am

    Love this! Insightful, helpful analysis.

  2. Dave on May 31, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Julie, this post really shows how the Otterson Letter is the beginning of a dialogue with moderate feminists, not the last word. It is fairly obvious that the male Church is not at the point of thinking about solutions to problems. Instead, it is still trying to understand what is going on in the Church and why so many women think there are problems of the type you have alluded to.

    Here is a tough question. Are local leaders likely to distinguish between what Public Affairs classifies as extreme feminists (the kind that demand the priesthood, the kind that stand in line to ask for tickets, the kind PA and GAs won’t talk to) and moderate feminists (the kind PA and GAs will talk to, the kind who are invited to talk to their local leaders, the kind who are trying to get the male Church to recognize problems and address them)? My sense is that Otterson and PA are willing to make that distinction, but I don’t know whether senior LDS leaders are making that distinction (we need to hear from them directly on this) and I seriously doubt whether most local leaders are able to make that distinction, given years of rhetoric that portrays LDS feminists as the enemy and includes any woman who tries to articulate their concerns as a feminist (no distinction between moderate and extreme).

    If they are serious, they need to send letters to local leaders, not LDS blogs. If they are serious, they need to give women who encounter difficulties with local leaders (say a bishop who pulls a woman’s temple recommend for doing what Otterson asks and sharing her concerns with her bishop) an avenue of recourse within the Church system rather than publishing her story on a blog or on Facebook.

  3. Kristine A on May 31, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Julie, I could have written this word for word. I feel bad for my bishop and the appointment I set up with him for this week. I’ve been told to approach him prayerfully, but 99.9% of my questions have nothing to do with anything that he can do. As a former EQP widow, I’m really sensitive to demands on my bishop’s time that take him away from his family. I’ve been won’t to spend hours with a man to discuss things he can’t do anything about, other than pass it along. In that case wouldn’t it be more efficient to just submit a letter for him to pass on?

  4. whizzbang on May 31, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    My Bro is the stake clerk and he says that when he calls the clerk help line sometimes a woman answers and helps him out

  5. Jax on May 31, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Julie,

    1.The practice of having teen girls discuss their sex lives with middle-aged men alone behind closed doors…

    This isn’t a doctrinal issue is it? The handbook doesn’t say that ” a confessor MUST be alone with the Bishop”, does it? If the teen (girl or boy) wants it private they can make that choice. But they could also choose to do it with a parent present, with their sexual partner present, with a YW/YM leader present, or any other person who helps them feel comfortable. Being alone is a choice, not a requirement.

    I’ve never been part of a disciplinary meeting at a stake level, but if desired, any other person can be their so the accused isn’t alone. I can see how having a male-only group making that decision could be upsetting, and I have no suggestions to fix that. But again, being alone is a fixable discomfort.

  6. Amira on May 31, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    Julie, thank you. This perfectly describes one of my major concerns with the letter.

    It’s also disappointing to me to hear that I’m supposed to talk to my bishop because I’ve often either had no bishop at all or have been unable to communicate with him because I don’t speak the right language. I have absolutely no one I can talk to about my concerns except my husband and people I know online.

    Of course, not many women are geographically or linguistically isolated from their priesthood leaders, but that doesn’t mean we’re all willing or able to communicate openly with our bishops. But when I do again have a bishop that I can communicate with, I’m planning on talking to him about my concerns even though there is nothing he will be able to do about them.

  7. Joel on May 31, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    In regards to #8. “As is now well-known, women used to perform healing blessings but now are not allowed to.”

    The only statement I have seen suggesting that women do not now administer to the sick is the following 1946 statement from Joseph Fielding Smith:

    “While the authorities of the Church have ruled that it is permissible, under certain conditions and with the approval of the priesthood, for sisters to wash and anoint other sisters, yet they feel that it is far better for us to follow the plan the Lord has given us and send for the Elders of the Church to come and administer to the sick and afflicted.”

    He only says here that it is better to call for elders to come and perform the ordinance using the priesthood, but does not say women are not allowed to do it. I believe this is still the policy today.
    I understand that ordinances and blessings involving priesthood authority can not be performed by women as explained in the Church Handbook (except of course in the temple), but I have not seen any other statements forbidding women using their faith to pronouncing a blessing on the sick without using the priesthood.

    Joseph Fielding Smith also said:
    “The Lord has given us directions in matters of this kind; we are to call in the elders, and they are to anoint with oil on the head and bless by the laying on of hands. The Church teaches that a woman may lay on hands upon the head of a sick child and ask the Lord to bless it, in the case when those holding the priesthood cannot be present.
    A man might under such conditions invite his wife to lay on hands with him in blessing their sick child. This would be merely to exercise her faith and not be, cause of any inherent right to lay on hands. A woman would have no authority to anoint or seal a blessing, and where elders can be called in, that would be the proper way to have an administration performed. (Doctrines of Salvation)

    And:

    “Does a wife hold the priesthood with her husband, and may she lay hands on the sick with him, with authority? A wife does not hold the priesthood with her husband, but she enjoys the benefits thereof with him; and if she is requested to lay hands on the sick with him, she may do so with perfect propriety.”
    When this is done the wife is adding her faith to the administration of her husband. The wife would lay on hands just as would a member of the Aaronic Priesthood, or a faithful brother without the Priesthood, she in this manner giving support by faith to the ordinance performed by her husband. (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-56], 3:177.)

    My own wife has given her children a healing blessing when I or another priesthood holder was not around to do it. Do you have other sources that state that women are not allowed to give healing blessings?

  8. Alison Moore Smith on May 31, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Another wonderful response. Without time to respond much, I’d like to add to your list the utter oddity of seminary staffing. If I understand it:

    (1) Women CAN teach early morning seminary
    (2) Women CANNOT serve as full-time (paid) seminary teachers, if they are married and/or have children and/or something like that (and thus we lead to incredible imbalances such as this
    (3) BUT married women with children CAN server full-time as seminary SECRETARIES.

    In any case, I really appreciate your cogent responses to this letter.

  9. Jared on May 31, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    This is an amazing post Julie (as was your other one).

    Your first point is so important: The “extremes” (though it seems laughable to call OW that) widen the tent of inclusion by making more “moderate” feminists safer by comparison (“at least they aren’t asking for the priesthood”).

    And that’s how progress is made, folks.

    And I thought you meant something different by “priesthood creep” :D

  10. CRW on May 31, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    I have forty years of interest in Mormon feminism as a continually active Mormon woman, with feelings about it ranging from apathy and despair to excitement and hope. At this moment what I feel is bemused. Even in the heart of the Mormon empire, Provo Utah, anywhere outside of the church doors (professionally, as a consumer, whatever) I am treated with respect and attention for the truly equal status I hold. Step inside the church and it is like whiplash. I am treated with love – which I don’t doubt – but also condescension and the expectation of deference. And because I am a good Mormon woman, I shut down and defer.

    It is so hard to speak up about any of this in that loving, orthodoxy-expecting atmosphere. When I try to speak – as a 50-something, educated, articulate (in other venues) woman – my heart pounds, my hands shake, and I almost invariably give up and stay silent. I tell myself that it’s just typical boundary-enforcing group dynamics that keep me quiet, for fear of losing my comfortable place in the ward family. But church still hurts – like trying to squeeze into a too-tight box.

  11. Julie M. Smith on May 31, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    Joel, I probably should have said that the practice has been “lost.” That said, I suspect that if we sent one woman to each bishop in the church to ask if it was OK for her to perform a healing blessing, even on her own child, +/- 90% of bishops would tell them that it was not OK. We certainly never talk about it in church. So lost and, de facto if not de jure, not allowed.

  12. Clean Cut on May 31, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Again, thank you Julie Smith. If our church leaders are as wise as we hope they are they will listen to you.

  13. hkobeal on May 31, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    So much good here, Julie. Thank you for putting this all together. My only frustration with your conclusion is that it puts the responsibility on women to raise these issues. But the patriarchal system itself precludes many women from feeling comfortable doing so.

    I don’t know what the solution is, but I hate to see the blame placed on women for not communicating these really really really big structural problems to their bishops. Disempowered women are unlikely to do so.

    I know women who do. Both my sisters do. But they are part of a tiny, tiny minority of women, I think.

  14. love your ideas on May 31, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Great post, imo! I think this video of Joanna Brooks speaks very pointedly to these issues and to the experiences of girls and women in this church.

  15. Mark Brown on May 31, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Excellent work, Julie.

    Here’s another example of priesthood creep. Women used to be able to serve as clerks and executive secretaries. Customarily, there are 5 people in bishopric meeting. Think how the dynamics of those meetings, and the decisions which come from them, might change if 2 of the 5 people were female. This is a relatively simple policy change, no revelation or ordination required.

  16. Kristine on May 31, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    He lost me at “I can say with certainty that not one of the senior leaders of the Church would ever want any Latter-day Saint to feel demeaned or marginalized.” The blog comment he quoted was about actually *being* marginalized and demeaned, not *feeling* that way. Local leaders can, perhaps, be trained to be more careful of women’s feelings, but unfortunately, the problem is that women are structurally and systematically marginalized. Training local leaders to address the ways that they “feel” marginalized is like reminding ER docs to call for a psychiatric consult to deal with the shooting victim’s unhappiness about his gunshot wound.

  17. ji on May 31, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    The practice of having teen girls discuss their sex lives with middle-aged men alone behind closed doors.
    No, this isn’t doctrine and it isn’t aimed at females. Bishops shouldn’t be asking males, either. If a parent thinks a bishop might do something like this, the parent should tell the bishop not to. And a parent should teach his or her son or daughter how to respond to inappropriate questions. I tend to think a bishop going down this path might be well-intentioned, but a simple reminder as I recommend here will avoid any problems and remind everyone of correct principles.

  18. Jax on May 31, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    ” these really really really big structural problems ”

    I don’t think Christ designed His church with structural problems. I think the problems are either with poor leadership from the mortals involved, or poor humility issues from those not in leadership, and almost definitely a combination of both depending on individuals involved. No blanket statement will cover so many individuals of course.

    I know that the “poor humility” statement might seem rude/heartless, but it is a possibility for everyone, and a near guarantee for some; just as poor leadership is a guarantee in places. There are some percentage that just chafe under supervision and hate having to get permission for anything they do – both men and women – in workplaces, homes, churches, everywhere! That is definitely an issue here just as surely as women who HAVE been disregarded and disrespected simply because of their gender is an issue.

    I won’t say their aren’t problems, only that they aren’t structural.

  19. Cynthia L. on May 31, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    There was a dispiriting amount of, “We’re listening,” followed by a strawman fundamental misunderstanding or mischaracterization of our concerns. So it just didn’t really feel like they’re actually listening. Julie and some of the commenters have done an excellent job explaining some of the issues.

    My main message would echo Kristine’s: the problem isn’t that we’re upset, the problem is that the system is broken and unjust. I’m glad the brethren seem to be trying to rush around putting out the fire of us being upset. I see them doing that, I feel it. That’s certainly an improvement. But the problem isn’t that we’re upset. The problem is that we are excluded and demeaned. The problem isn’t that the leadership isn’t doing a good enough job of listening to women, the problem is that the structure of our organization necessitates leadership listen to women because those categories are mutually exclusive. I don’t want people in charge of decisions to periodically have an item on their to-do list called “listen to women,” that they check off and then go back to their papal conclave and talk amongst themselves and make decisions. I want women to be among the group of people we call “people in charge.”

  20. Kristine on May 31, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    “I don’t think Christ designed His church with structural problems.”

    Jax, it’s possible that if Christ had designed a church it wouldn’t have structural problems. But it’s pretty clear from the scriptures and the history of the church that he has delegated most of the design work to humans. It is not inconsistent with belief that Christ is the Head of the church to say that there are structural problems in it; it’s a divinely inspired, but human organization.

  21. hkobeal on May 31, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Re: #18. I *humbly* submit that as sure as the sun shines, they are most definitely structural issues. The modern church bears little, if any, resemblance to the “church” Christ set up when he was alive. Of course the problems are structural and are influenced by our modern sensibilities . . .

  22. Cynthia L. on May 31, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    > I won’t say their aren’t problems, only that they aren’t structural.

    So there is nothing structural about the lack of women on this chart?
    https://www.lds.org/church/leaders?lang=eng

    You do realize that if we assume women and men are 50/50 active in the church (this actually undercounts women), the odds of all these people just happen to be men, absent a “structural” problem that excludes women can be modeled as X ~ B(106,0.5), and the probability that the number of women is zero, as is the case in that chart, is Pr(X=0) = 1.23 x 10^-32, which is approximately 1 out of the number of kilograms in the sun’s weight.

    Just sayin.

  23. Pretzel on May 31, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Excellent analysis, Julie. You bring up the points that were positive about the letter that I really was happy to see, as well as some of the problems to keep the dialogue moving forward. I really appreciate the constructive tone, too. I was a little shocked at how quickly things went downhill in the commentary on a few other blogs (not necessary typically, too–group dynamics–who can predict ‘em?). The letter is by no means perfect, and some of it made me feel misunderstood, but I think you’ve taken the right approach–discussing the parts that were off the mark (even if Bro. Otterson thinks it counts as straining at gnats) while maintaining a civil and appreciative tone. Well done!

  24. Seth R. on May 31, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    Sorry, you simply cannot have women as ward clerks.

    Part of the job description involves being alone in the office with a member of the bishopric with the door locked to keep member finances secure.

    That simply is not going to fly.

  25. Cynthia L. on May 31, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Seth, women are alone in the office with the bishop for interviews.

  26. gnm on May 31, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    I wish that I had been articulate enough to write this.:

    “(outside of church) I am treated with respect and attention for the truly equal status I hold. Step inside the church and it is like whiplash. I am treated with love – which I don’t doubt – but also condescension and the expectation of deference. And because I am a good Mormon woman, I shut down and defer. . church still hurts – like trying to squeeze into a too-tight box.”

    This is so my experience. And it isn’t because of local leadership (our local bishop is fabulous)–it is because people harshly criticize/judge/mischaracterize whatever women who want a different role.

    I also appreciate Julie’s post. Exactly. I’m very grateful that things have changed in such a positive way in the last 10 years, but I am still very frustrated by the current continuing inequality.

  27. gnm on May 31, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Also, this ” the problem is that the structure of our organization necessitates leadership listen to women because those categories are mutually exclusive.” Exactly. I don’t want to have women listened to and then dismissed. I want women to have a seat at the table. I really don’t care about priesthood, but I am deeply upset by the exclusion of women from true leadership roles.

  28. Mark Brown on May 31, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    “…you cannot have women as clerks…”

    That would certainly come as news to Spencer W. Kimball, who called female clerks when he was a stake president in Arizona.

  29. Clean Cut on May 31, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. They should have a place at the table in any human organization including and especially the Church which claims divine inspiration – anything else is not defensible if we are to believe that “he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female…and all are alike unto God.” (2 Nephi 26:33). All the other excuses simply wreak of the “folk doctrine” excuses of the past.

  30. Steve Smith on May 31, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    Very informative post. Thanks, Julie.

  31. WVS on May 31, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Strong work, Julie.

  32. Jax on May 31, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    Cynthai L,

    There was no structural problem with that chart. None. WHY? Because if you changed some of those people to women then the structure/framework would still be the same, and it would still function just as well. A structural problem with that chart would mean we think some or all of those positions shouldn’t exist. The issue of who is eligible to hold those positions, or positions of Bishop/clerk/SS Pres/etc is more a procedural issue to me – you have issue with the process of selection for those positions, not with the fact that somebody is selected. Right?

  33. Kristine A on May 31, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    The problem with using “extreme” and “suggestive of apostasy” is that the rank and file and mainstream use this as a reason to use those same labels on me. There is nothing I can do but be silent to not be labeled with those terms by my family, friends, and ward members.

  34. Ardis on May 31, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    Of course you can have women as clerks — witness my aunt, Evelyn M. Taylor (1924-2010), who was membership clerk of her Poplar Grove ward, who single-handedly cleaned up that ward’s typically chaotic records at the time the Church moved to electronic membership records, when every record had to be created and doublechecked with each member, with all the phantom members removed and all those who lived in ward boundaries but who didn’t have memberships identified.

    She was their clerk for years, until the handbook of whatever year it was in the early ’90s mysteriously asserted a priesthood requirement for that duty, and she was abruptly released.

    I identify her so that anybody who doubts the claim can do the research into ward records and verify that not so very long ago, women in fact could and did hold clerkship positions.

  35. Angela C on May 31, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    I agree with Kristine A about the double bind. It’s open season on feminists who don’t fit Bro. Otterson’s “good feminist” mold; local leaders (rogues that he notes they are) can use this as justification to retaliate against any uppity women they don’t like. In one breath, he tells women to be long-suffering, and in another he gives any sexist leaders out there a rationale to abuse them.

    Jax, You’re trying so hard to make a distinction that’s an irrelevant diversion. But I’ll bite. I don’t think the structure is necessarily ideal, regardless of it being exclusively male. It’s one reason I’m not pushing for female ordination. I think the offices that exist reflect a male preference for authoritative, hierarchical structure rather than a more egalitarian female structure. The church also uses councils and committees. Those are structures I find more appealing, but we never publish charts of those.

    Seth R: That argument against men and women working together is an old one, and a sexist one, frequently used to keep women out of men’s spaces by claiming they make situations sexual by their mere existence.

  36. Angela C on May 31, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    Julie: “By responding to the criticisms that have been made, Brother Otterson suggests that the criticisms and the responses are part of the dialogue that the church is willing to have. He points out that “feminists” have been invited to converse with the PA department and church leaders. This redemption of the term “feminist” in LDS discourse is significant.” This is such a great point. Well said.

  37. Abu Casey on May 31, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    Joel, it seems to me that the relevant portion of the Handbook would (sorry, no time to post a link, but I’ll post it later), in almost all cases, rule out the practice of women giving blessings. I think there’s still a logical place for this practice to exist (is a woman’s healing blessing the same as a healing blessing given by a Priesthood holder? That is, a Priesthood healing blessing can only be given by a Priesthood holder, but perhaps a non-Priesthood healing bless can be given by a non-Priesthood holder).

  38. jennywebb on May 31, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Julie, I just wanted to let you know I appreciate the clarity of your thoughtful response.

  39. JAHS on May 31, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Abu
    The Church Handbook does say “Only Melchizedek Priesthood holders may administer to the sick or afflicted.” But where the Church Handbooks speak of any kind of “administering” of an ordinance or blessing, because it is an “official” church publication, it seems to assume the subject refers to priesthood ordinances.
    I don’t think a desperate mother who is alone is going to be struck by lightening for giving her own child a blessing. Such a thing might fall under the category of a special prayer of the faithful.
    I found an interesting story about President Spencer W. Kimball, who in 1979, was recovering from brain surgery and asked for a blessing. Bruce R. McConkie, an apostle, and Marion D. Hanks, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, arrived to give it to him. Hanks anointed the ailing prophet’s head, while McConkie invited Kimball’s son, Edward, to join in. The apostle also invited the prophet’s wife, Camilla, to place her hands on her husband’s head. “That was unusual,” Edward Kimball later wrote. “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.” (Journal of Mormon History by Jonathan Stapley and Kristine Wright.)
    So it appears that there are times when the spirit can direct us to do some things a little out of order.

  40. Clean Cut on May 31, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Maybe the handbooks need to be revised to roll back the years of “priesthood creep” that has kept hidden all mention of Joseph Smith organizing the sisters into “a kingdom of priests”, let alone the following:

    “If the sisters should have faith to heal, let all hold their tongues.” –Joseph Smith
    http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/nauvoo-relief-society-minute-book?p=33#!/paperSummary/nauvoo-relief-society-minute-book&p=33

    Respecting females administering for the healing of the sick, there could be no evil in it, if God gave his sanction by healing; that there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on and praying for the sick, than in wetting the face with water; it is no sin for anybody to administer that has faith, or if the sick have faith to be healed by their administration. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 224)

    President Smith then gave instruction respecting the propriety of females administering to the sick by the prayer of faith, the laying on hands, or the anointing with oil; and said it was according to revelation that the sick should be nursed with herbs and mild food, and not by the hand of an enemy. Who are better qualified to administer than our faithful and zealous sisters, whose hearts are full of faith, tenderness, sympathy and compassion. No one. Said he was never placed in similar circumstances before, and never had given the same instruction; and closed his instructions by expressing his heart-felt satisfaction in improving this opportunity.The Spirit of the Lord was poured out in a very powerful manner, never to be forgotten by those present on this interesting occasion. (History of the Church 4:607)

  41. Dan Ellsworth on May 31, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    Both Michael Otterson and Julie Smith have a gift for elevating the level of discourse, and that gift is invaluable right now. This is a very constructive post.

  42. Ray on May 31, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Thanks for this, Julie. It is very well written and insightful.

    As others have said, I especially appreciate the acknowledgment that the letter isn’t vile and the way you have not misrepresented anything Bro. Otterson said. For me, seeing those things said and done in other places has been the most disheartening aspect of the entire situation.

  43. Steve Smith on May 31, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    The structure was working quite well, until now. Now an increasing number of female faithfuls are expressing desire to play bigger roles in the local administration. OW has no doubt caught the attention of the COB and Mormon corridor, and one can only expect that with increasing numbers of women graduating from college and pursuing careers that OW will grow in popularity. If the church could have a guarantee that they could give women the priesthood without any backlash from the core membership, it would immediately double the number of potential leaders in the church, thus increasing growth potential overnight. But alas, it is the reaction of the rank and file that they fear. So we shouldn’t expect any immediate changes, although it is very reasonable to expect a number of small and subtle liberalizing steps.

  44. Jared on May 31, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    I’m for whatever the Lord reveals. And so far, thousands of years of revelation have been given and today’s church organization is a result of revelation. If the Lord reveals something different then I will effortlessly realign my thinking.

    I’ve been active in the church for over 50 years. I’ve never served in a Bishopric, Stake Presidency, or High Council. I’ve served two missions: as a young man for two years, and another with my wife for three years. I’ve taught in EQ, Gospel Doctrine, and HP for most of my life.

    Many years ago, I thought it would be important to serve in a presiding office in the church because that is where the best of the best church members served. I thought it was like getting a high-five from Heavenly Father for arriving at a position in His church that proved to myself and others that I was on the fast track to the celestial kingdom.

    I never asked Heavenly Father for the opportunity to serve in a presiding position in His church, but I did plead with Him for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. I fasted and prayed, and studied the scriptures and the words of the prophets. I went to BYU special collections and read the journals of early church members and leaders, including Wilford Woodruff’s journal.

    As life went on, I found myself in a crisis and because of the faith I had developed from diligently seeking the Lord I turned to Him with full purpose of heart and the Lord answered me in a dramatic and life changing way. I received the same blessing that Enos and the people of king Benjamin received.

    Since that day in the early 1970’s, I learned that serving in presiding position is important, its a privilege, but it pales in comparison to acquiring the gift of the Holy Ghost that comes when we receive a remission of our sins, thus fulfilling our baptism covenant–full conversion.

    A person can serve all their life in the church and never receive the gift of the Holy Ghost as Enos did. Why? Because the gift of the Holy Ghost is acquired by seeking diligently for this gift in the privacy of our homes in mighty prayer.

    The greatest need in the church is to have church members live in such a way that they are experiencing the manifestations of the Holy Ghost. The scriptures make no distinction about receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost–men, women, and children all have equal access once they are baptized.

    I’ve been writing and surfing in the bloggernacle for many years. I’ve learned something about the hearts and minds of those who frequent the ‘nacle. I’m sorry to say that for the most part they are not fully engaged in a meaningful effort to acquire the gift of the Holy Ghost. I not being mean by saying this, it is the truth, and those who are honest with themselves will admit that they may be active in the church but not so active in the gospel.

    Church leaders are saying it. Elder Uchtdorf in last conference asked the brethren in priesthood meeting if they are “sleeping through the restoration”? In April 2011 he asked, “Are we as priesthood holders living below our privileges when it comes to the sacred power, gifts, and blessings that are our opportunity and right as bearers of God’s priesthood?”

    He knows we’re not and he is doing what he can to wake the sleeping giants.

    I hope the sisters in the church who are caught up in seeking something other than the gift of the Holy Ghost will repent and focus their efforts in the direction the Lord has revealed that we need to go. The direction we need to move in is revealed in the Book of Mormon and taught by the apostles and prophets.

  45. Ziff on May 31, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    Thanks for another excellent response, Julie.

    “With minor exceptions, these items cannot be addressed on the local level. So to suggest, as Brother Otterson does, that the problem is poorly-trained local leaders and that women should talk to them about their concerns ignores the reality of these concerns.”

    Yes! This is a crucial weakness in Otterson’s response. He ignores the possibility that there might be structural problems affecting the entire Church, and instead focuses on the fact that not all local leaders will always behave perfectly.

    Really, though, I think this problem just shows the limitations of discussing concerns with PR people. This isn’t a problem with Otterson specifically, but his job isn’t to consider how the Church might change things at the general level; it is to present whatever the Church is already doing in a positive light. Thinking about Church-level change isn’t part of his job description. That’s the General Authorities’ job, and as nice as it might be to have feminist concerns notices by PR people, no change at the general level is likely to come about by communicating with or through them. It’s the General Authorities whose attention is needed.

  46. Ziff on May 31, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    Cynthia L.:

    “The problem isn’t that the leadership isn’t doing a good enough job of listening to women, the problem is that the structure of our organization necessitates leadership listen to women because those categories are mutually exclusive.”

    Yes! Yes! Yes! This is such an excellent point. And so perfectly expressed. It seems like it should be cross-stitched or tattooed somewhere… :)

  47. Cynthia L. on May 31, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    Hi Jared, imagine you were a bishop and a young man in your ward came to you and said, “Hi Bishop, I turned 14 a few months ago and I haven’t been ordained a teacher yet. I talked to your clerk and he said my paperwork just got lost. My parents aren’t active, as you know, and though they support me they weren’t on the ball about making sure it happened. I’m wondering if we can go ahead with my ordination now? I’d really like that.”

    Would you respond to him with what you’ve written above? With a big story about your hunger for prestige in the church, and how he should just seek the Holy Ghost, and not worry about whether he ever gets his ordination or not? Would you tell him that the church’s greatest need is for members to experience the Holy Ghost, so he should “repent and [re]focus” his effort on things other than humbly requesting his ordination? I’m not arguing that seeking the Holy Ghost as you advise isn’t good advice, generally. But my question is, is what you wrote above the right thing for a bishop to say to that young man? Of course not! There isn’t a bishop in the church who would interpret that young man’s request as self-serving or would use the word “repent” towards him.

    So, is that what you would say to the young man? Because if you wouldn’t do that to him, then you shouldn’t do that here, either. There is nothing more personal-gain-seeking about women asking for representation of women in church leadership than that hypothetical 14-year-old’s request. There is nothing more power-hungry about women asking for the priesthood than that hypothetical 14-year-old’s request.

  48. Steve Smith on May 31, 2014 at 11:32 pm

    “I’ve learned something about the hearts and minds of those who frequent the ‘nacle. I’m sorry to say that for the most part they are not fully engaged in a meaningful effort to acquire the gift of the Holy Ghost”

    “I hope the sisters in the church who are caught up in seeking something other than the gift of the Holy Ghost will repent and focus their efforts in the direction the Lord has revealed”

    I think what you mean by seeking to “acquire the gift of the Holy Ghost” is accepting whatever the church leaders say without question and to regard them as infallible in word. How do you know that those who question the leaders about their position on women and the priesthood aren’t seeking to “acquire the gift of the Holy Ghost?”

  49. Tony on May 31, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    I love it, Julie. It’s not just women who are upset and leave the Church over issues like this. As a father, I really wonder sometimes if I am doing the right thing by raising my daughter (and son) in the Church where there are often toxic and disparaging views towards women. Thanks for posting this.

  50. Ray on June 1, 2014 at 12:25 am

    I had one of those paradigm altering experiences tonight in a discussion at BCC about this issue.

    I was trying hard to see if OW would accept a “No” or a “Not yet” answer to prayer from the leadership, and a commenter told me that even asking that was calling them faithless. I simply didn’t get it – not at all. It was a really frustrating conversation for me – and, I’m sure, even more frustrating for them. I was trying, sincerely, to understand, but I just couldn’t get it.

    Finally, Tracy M entered the conversation and said something that finally made it click in my mind. She said:

    “Those who believe would accept an actual answer- regardless of what that answer is. It floors me that people can’t see that OW is functioning within the very framework their founder and most members sustain and support.

    A “not now” would be the answer to prayers. It would be an answer.”

    I am much more sympathetic to OW right now than I have been in the past, and I need to state that in this thread, since I’ve expressed my previous concerns about OW here in this forum. I think I finally understand both the PA Department’s dilemma and the issue that OW and others have with that dilemma – and I now can say I respect the difficulty each faces with regard to the situation.

    Any prayerful answer from those who are authorized to receive an answer would be an answer. That also is what I want.

  51. Trevor Price on June 1, 2014 at 12:57 am

    Nice work, Julie. I am hopeful that we can get a meaningful (read: not token) and perpetual conversation rolling forward on this front.

  52. H.B. on June 1, 2014 at 2:01 am

    This is a wonderful post and far more eloquent than anything I would write. As I am new to the “bloggernacle” and organized mormon feminism, and have yet to determine where I stand on the Ordain Women movement. I have been a feminist since age12 by ways always asking why the YM/YW programs were so unequal of the bishopric and my YW leaders. The question of unequal opportunities resulted in the following type of dialogue:

    Leader:”the YM are in training to become the leaders of the church”
    Me: well I see women leaders of the church…missionaries, YW leaders and RS leaders don’t they get equal training
    Leader: it’s just the way it is

    Or in a question of funding/adventure activities

    Leader: they have scouting
    Me: why can’t we have Girl Scout?
    Leader: the church doesn’t offer it.
    Me: well, can’t we just go out and DO said activity?
    Leader: you have girls camp as your high adventure.
    Me: the boys get to pick theirs, so can we pick said activity?
    Leader: YW doesn’t have adequate insurance to cover that.
    Me: where did the boys get theirs?
    Leader: scouting provides insurance.
    Me: well, can’t the church go buy an insurance policy to cover the YW if they don’t offer Girl Scouts?
    Leader: you get girls camp

    I understood pretty soon that since I didn’t make the rules, curriculum or was in charge of budgeting, my solutions weren’t valid. I think I’m not resentful over this, because I understood I was a child and had no authority to make the rules, that life isn’t fair, and moved on to learn about who I am through different (positive) avenues. I don’t necessarily want to be in charge of budgeting or rule making. I do expect as an adult for my concerns and solutions to be taken seriously and answered in a direct manner. It doesn’t mean the policy has to change, but I do want valid and sound reasoning for said policy. What still troubles me is, that if a child can see the inequality, how is it the brethren don’t directly address it? And if a child can come up with some working policy solutions, why is it so hard to implement policy changes to validate then minimize the concern raised for so many decades? I recognize as an adult that a working compromise in policy changes would be step by step, with policies that neither party is overly excited about is the sign good compromise. I see such compromises being made such as lowering the missionary age and creating leadership opportunities in the mission for women. I guess I’m just face palming because I don’t see what is so dang difficult about implementing policy changes. There so many glaring concerns, I love and second your list. I would love to rally around some of these issues first (like women praying in conference successfully did) and think it would be more successful course of action than going straight to real or perceived, depending on point of view, doctrine changes to see what kind of dialogue that would result in. If that is happening in a unified way please point me in the right direction.

  53. rah on June 1, 2014 at 3:47 am

    Cynthia,

    The whole concept of structural inequality is one of the big “contexts” that is missing in COB when it comes to understanding and discussing these issues in the church. They just don’t see structural inequality in decision rights or offices as important inequality or at least inequality whose problems can’t be fixed by “careful listening” or “counseling with counselors”. In general this seems to be one area that feminists (who think a lot about structural as well as cultural inequality) and the leadership just completely talk past each other. I don’t know if it is because the leadership is just trying to deflect the issue of structure because as Otterson makes clear they all see this as “off the table” or because they really just don’t see structural inequality or see it as legitimate. Different roles and all that.

    A good discussion of this problem is Neylan’s description in the FAIR article of her critique of Otterson’s NYT’s post and her efforts to try somehow to reconcile our gendreed structural inequality with some hope that it could be equality in some way. As hard as she tries it just makes my sociological skin crawl and reminds me why ultimately structural inequality matters. This, of course, is OW more generalized point. Now can we get a long way towards more structural equality without forcing the leadership to revisit ordination? That is a question, but a question no one in the COB seems interested or prepared to have.

  54. Anon on June 1, 2014 at 7:49 am

    One thing that contributes to structural inequality is the way we refer to the organizations led by women. Look up the definition of auxiliary. I am so sick of hearing how the role of women is superior to that of men, but yet the organizations women belong to and lead are, by definition, secondary to the priesthood. So women receive and exercise priesthood power and authority (but not keys), and don’t forget our moral authority. We were just told last conference that we perform priesthood functions. So why is the Relief Society considered auxiliary? Why not called, as Joseph suggested, a kingdom of priests?

  55. Julie M. Smith on June 1, 2014 at 8:08 am

    Jared, I have five responses to your comment:

    1. As I explained in the original post, women aren’t seeking change because they deep down really really really want to be a ward clerk. They are seeking change because the (newish) policy that women can’t be ward clerks carries along the message that women’s contributions to building the kingdom aren’t wanted by the church (which in turn raises questions about the fundamental value/nature of half of God’s children), even in areas where we have not historically thought that a position required the priesthood.

    2. Further, given that the current Relief Society General President has said that the church will benefit when men’s views of women change, I think you are on thin ice to suggest that she isn’t sufficiently focused on seeking the Holy Ghost in her life.

    3. I’d also suggest that all of the recent changes (women praying in GC, age change for sister missionaries, leadership for sister missionaries, seating at GC, portaits in CC, etc., etc.,) indicate that asking questions about women’s roles and possibilities cannot be incompatible with seeking the Holy Ghost–else the people who are responsible for these changes haven’t been adequately focused on the Holy Ghost.

    4. I’m not sure why you think “thinking about change for women” and “seeking the Holy Ghost” are incompatible. Perhaps in your personal experience “seeking high office” and “seeking the Holy Ghost” were incompatible, but, as I’ve already said, women don’t want these roles for purposes of self-aggrandizement (which is what your comment makes it sound like you wanted), but because of the underlying messages exclusion implies about women.

    5. Your post takes your personal experience as something that should apply to all women who are concerned about women’s roles in the church. Maybe you should listen closely–as Brother Otterson has advocated–to women’s voices as they describe their own personal experiences in the church and see what you might learn from them and whether their personal experiences should apply to all people as well.

    And a general note for everyone: two thoughtful posts on Brother Otterson’s letter:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/2014/05/what-otterson-got-right-we-dont-know-all-the-reasons/

    http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2014/06/01/pr-niceness-and-exclusivity/

  56. Anon on June 1, 2014 at 8:21 am

    I am preparing a Sunday School lesson this morning on participating in councils, and came across this gem in the Handbook regarding ward council.

    “The viewpoint of women is sometimes different from that of men, and it adds essential perspective to understanding and responding to members’ needs.”

    It’s language like this that sets women up as ‘other’, as if men’s opinions are the default. Again, women are auxiliary.

  57. Julie M. Smith on June 1, 2014 at 8:23 am

    Anon, the other problem with that quote is what it implies about all of the councils in the church that don’t include women–from the quorum of the Twelve to the temple cmte to stake high council.

  58. Banned from the church children on June 1, 2014 at 11:45 am

    The letter is simply p.r. and I wouldn’t get too excited if I were part of the ordain women movement. This is because the tone of the letter is still parent to child and not from equals. The only way is to strike or leave and start a new movement. Stop paying tithing and if enough join in then and only then will there be change. These people are businessmen and lawyers and only understand pocketbook pressure. Stanford stopped playing BYU and other universities protested the priesthood ban of the blacks in the late 60’s and early 70’s an then low an behold a “revelation” that wasn’t really needed as we found out in Dec 2013 came in ’78 to allow the overdue change.

  59. Kristine A on June 1, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    “Anon, the other problem with that quote is what it implies about all of the councils in the church that don’t include women–from the quorum of the Twelve to the temple cmte to stake high council.”

    I’ve been encouraged to see reports online of bishoprics abandoning PEC and conducting their business in WC instead.

  60. Frank Pellett on June 1, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Cynthia L – “There is nothing more power-hungry about women asking for the priesthood than that hypothetical 14-year-old’s request.”

    This is a false equivalency, and I wish we could retire it from use. Someone asking for the structure to change is not the same as someone asking for something within that structure. It’d be like a nonmember who has no desire to be baptized requesting to be made an Apostle.

    The better equivalency would be that women are not “power hungry” in their desire for equal representation (or ordination) any more than those who wanted Africans to have the Priesthood were “power hungry” (and the comparison goes very little beyond that).

  61. Naismith on June 1, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Julie, very well done and I don’t think I commented on your other post as well. While I don’t disagree with your conclusions and observations per se, there are a few points in the middle numbered section that I think may be misleading.

    On #6, a YW president actually has more control over her callings than a YM president does. If you look at the handbook, at the callings table, it is clear that while the bishop indeed must approves calling, the YW gets to recommend her counselors and staff, while the YM president does not. The bishop chooses the YM counselors and advisors. This ability to recommend should not be discounted. I have had bishops tell me that they take that seriously and while they must approve the calling and have the veto power and to ask for a different recommendation, if the bishop isn’t listed as the recommending authority, they cannot choose someone for that calling.

    As for women with young children not serving as temple workers, when that change was made it was presented as creating a unique space for single sisters to step up and serve, rather than always feeling second-class and that a mother could do it better. Women who were not yet endowed sought out their endowments, new friendships were formed around around carpooling, and it was seen as positive for many. So it is not as nonsensical as it appears from one point of view.

    I have no hesitation to give a blessing of healing. No, I don’t use oil, consider it an ordinance, or cite the priesthood. But a VT sister, who would be dead in a matter of weeks, asked me to give her a blessing ad said she was tired of the men coming in, it wasn’t the same. So I put my hand on her shoulder and prayed. I did it again when my husband was there, and he was very touched and did not see anything wrong with it.

    I am not sure about the higher resources for YM/YW. The achievement day leaders do not have the established program of the cub scouts, and so it may be a challenge coming up with Stuff To Do every week. But I live in a place where my girls have gone on high adventure trips and do have great recognition so I don’t see the big differences that I am sure exist elsewhere (yikes, HB, thanks for trying).

    Also, my stake did recently sustain a woman as assistant stake clerk, as the webmaster.

  62. Ray on June 1, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Frank, changing who staffs the structure is very different than changing the structure.

    Conflating those two very different things happens all the time, but they are not equivalent.

    No matter how one feels about female ordination, it would be a change within the structure – not a structural change.

  63. Ray on June 1, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Having written that last comment, I should point out that we have made structural changes in the Church – and we certainly differ structurally from the ancient Christian Church. Arguing against either structural or staffing changes based on those sorts of changes being wrong is a radical distortion of our history.

    Solid reasons might or might not exist for any particular change, but structure isn’t one of them.

  64. Xander Harris on June 1, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Gotta say, T&S has been off the chain for me lately. This post and it’s predecessor are especially so.

  65. Frank Pellett on June 1, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Ray – you’re right, structure was the wrong word. Still doesn’t make them equivalent, as one is within normal practices and one outside it.

  66. Jared on June 1, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    #55 Julie-I read your response to my comment. Like I said in my first comment, whatever the Lord reveals to his authorized servants: the apostles and prophets; is fine with me.

    I have no doubt that all the men in the church, at whatever level of authority, can do better. That goes without saying. The point of my comments is to bring into the conversation a reminder of importance of acquiring the gift of the Holy Ghost–for all members.

    I am of the opinion that as a church we are struggling. Not with money and buildings, but with things of the Spirit.

    I’ll leave something Spencer Kimball said on this subject:

    “[There] are Church members who are steeped in lethargy. They neither drink nor commit the sexual sins. They do not gamble nor rob nor kill. They are good citizens and splendid neighbors, but spiritually speaking they seem to be in a long, deep sleep. They are doing nothing seriously wrong except in their failures to do the right things to earn their exaltation. To such people as this, the words of Lehi might well apply: ‘O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe’ (2 Nephi 1:13).” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p149)

  67. Julie M. Smith on June 1, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Jared, I love that quote from President Kimball. I think one of the many ways in which we might sleep is when we ignore cultural traditions that oppress women that have snuck their way into the church. We should all be awake and work to cast these false traditions out.

  68. Kristine A on June 1, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Are there things my bishop can do to improve the experience of girls and women in his ward? Yes, for example he can hold a pinewood derby for girls. My ward could more closely mirror Naismith’s ward. But if these inequities remain in the general structure, policy, and practice of the larger Church organization, I will still have these issues that send messages to me about my value, voice, and place in the organization.

  69. Twila Warner on June 1, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    I often love your perspective, Julie, but I don’t believe “The cultural traditions that oppress women” snuck into the church they are imbedded and inherent in a patriarchal structure that, most often, doctrinally, defines a woman’s role as a supportive to the man’s. I tend to agree with Gina Colvin’s perspective that these are not simple cultural practices but indicative of deep structural biases.

  70. Corrina on June 2, 2014 at 2:42 am

    Julie, thank you for this well-articulated post. While I see much good in Bro. Otterson’s letter (minus calling our OW sisters apostates), I am likewise frustrated by the call that we continue to advocate for change at the local level. Been there, done that, am continuing… but still. so. frustrated. (And I speak as a recently released RS Pres…I felt my hands were tied in so many ways….)

    Another point I would add to your list is that 18-year-old young men leaving to serve missions go through the temple, whereas many faithful, single young women cannot until they are much, much older or until they marry.

  71. Naismith on June 2, 2014 at 8:23 am

    Regarding Ray’s #50, my concern about your change of heart is that it seems to be based on your interactions with friends rather than the OW website and documentation, while the Otterson response is based on the official OW documentation, because that is what he has access to.

    This reminds me of when I was Relief Society president. I was criticized a lot for my failures, and the #1 criticism was that I did not force help on people when they turned down offers of assistance. It was explained to me, in a tone of how could I possibly be so stupid not to know this, that “we” are not supposed to accept the help the first time it is offered, that it is a social ritual where we turn it down the first time, then say yes-thank-you about the third time.

    I wasn’t raised in the church and didn’t understand the rules of the game. I figure people are adults and will say what they mean.

    So what I am hearing from you is that you now understand, through conversations with friends, that OW is all about asking and accepting any answer, even though their name and taglines and discourse is all about declaring ordination to be right and necessary. While the rest of us who aren’t listening to the translation of friends are missing the point by merely looking at what OW officially says.

    This weekend I finally had the chance to discuss this issue with a friend. The first reaction: “Well, the name is in imperative case. I’m all for asking questions, but it looks like they have made up their minds….” So I guess I am not the only one to make that mistake.

    If there WAS an organization that was demanding ordination for women, how would it look differently from OW? How is Otterson and the PR team to tell the difference between OW’s faithful asking and such a group?

  72. jupiterschild on June 2, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Excellent posts, Julie, and amen!

  73. Adam on June 2, 2014 at 10:29 am

    I know it is not a priesthood entity, but my local multi-stake public affairs council is headed by a woman, and my wife was just called as her executive secretary.

  74. Julie M. Smith on June 2, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Twila, I guess I don’t see any difference between the two positions: it is possible for something to sneak into the church (in the sense that good people trying to build God’s kingdom accidentally incorporate false worldly traditions) _and_ for those traditions to end up embedded in the structure of the church. Am I missing something from what you are trying to say?

  75. Christian J on June 2, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    From Cynthia: “The problem isn’t that the leadership isn’t doing a good enough job of listening to women, the problem is that the structure of our organization necessitates leadership listen to women because those categories are mutually exclusive.”

    Julie, I really like this post. And honestly, it seems like the path of least resistance anyway. Rather than bear down on bishops who are already exhausted (and most likely genuine men who care anyway, but are not equipped), simply limit the priesthood only callings. Women start serving on general boards, SS presidencies, Bishoprics (via the WC, ES). Girls start preparing the Sacrament (gasp) and doing mission prep. There is whole lot you can do without ordaining women.

  76. Christian J on June 2, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    “I have no doubt that all the men in the church, at whatever level of authority, can do better.”

    Jared, this solution is also troubling to me. The vast majority of men I know in the Church are already striving pretty hard to “do better”. Placing the problem at the feet of local leaders is not just sidestepping the structural problem for women, its throwing more weight on an already hamstrung male membership.

    Why not just give YW leaders the stewardship to interview their young women,(as an example). Problem solved. Place women in callings where they will not just be in a position to be heard, but act as the hearer also – eliminating the need for anything and everything to end with a priesthood sign off.

  77. Ray on June 2, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    No, Naismith, that is not correct.

    I intentionally didn’t go into a lot of detail, but I was very careful in what I wrote – which, in the end, was:

    “I respect the difficulty each faces with regard to the situation.”

    I said I am much more sympathetic than I used to be. Don’t read more or less into it than that.

  78. Naismith on June 2, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Thanks for the clarification. Apologies if I misrepresented what you said.

  79. Rachel on June 3, 2014 at 4:53 am

    Here is a recent experience that illustrates some of Julie’s excellent points:

    At a recent training for the RS, YW, and Primary Auxiliary presidencies we were excited to hear from members of the general presidencies of the church who had come in person. The training was scheduled for 2.5 hours on a weeknight. The first thing that happens is that a member of the 70 stands up and gives a very good 1/2 hour talk that does not seem to have any relation to what we are supposed to be discussing. At the end of the talk he asks the members of the GA presidencies to stand and give each other a hug, and tells us that these are spiritually strong women. I guess he was supposed to introduce them but he never mentioned their names or offices. Maybe he forgot them.

    I just kept thinking, would a member of the 70 ask the first presidency to stand and give each other a hug? Wouldn’t that seem patronizing and disrespectful? And although that was a very good talk, it didn’t have anything to do with training auxiliaries. And if they needed someone to open the training, why couldn’t we have heard from one of the women who had come to teach (especially when we do not hear from them very often)? I wonder how the women felt as they were talked over and talked down to, and if that happened everywhere they went to teach.

    At the end of his ‘introduction’ our RS presidency just looked at each other and laughed.

  80. New Iconoclast on June 5, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Mark (#28) “…you cannot have women as clerks…”

    That would certainly come as news to Spencer W. Kimball, who called female clerks when he was a stake president in Arizona.

    Unfortunately, he’s dead. So is the practice of calling women as clerks. (Although I would have favored burying all extant copies of The Miracle of Forgiveness with him.)

    BTW, I spent about 7 years as a ward clerk. I was rarely alone with any member of the bishopric; rarely needed to be. That job could easily have been done by a woman or a man. No PH necessary.

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