On Tuesday, Ally Isom, Senior Manager of Public Affairs with the LDS Church, encouraged listeners to have respectful conversations about their concerns with and faith in the Church.
The Ordain Women movement is one of the hot issues of the day, one I’ve been avoiding in all conversation, both here online and in the real world, for months. I am conflicted, unsettled within myself.
For decades, I have been uncomfortably aware of the hierarchy within the Church that requires another level of submission for women than it does for men. We all must submit our will to the Father, with our Savior acting as our mediator, but as a women, I am taught I must hearken to my husband and defer to his presiding authority, but yet, we are somehow equal partners. I know this is not a point of difficulty for many members, but I struggle to understand God’s will in this instruction and how to best apply it in my life. I take it too seriously to dismiss it.
I have been fortunate in the past to seek help and counseling from my Relief Society President when I desperately needed it and was uncomfortable discussing my problems with any man, even my very nice bishop. It was distressing when I had exhausted her authority and had to speak to him. It is good to have women in positions of ministering within the Church, but most of those positions are linked to priesthood office and thus exclude women’s service and access to each other.
I believe our male leaders serve faithfully and seek to be open to inspiration. But the questions they ask and the decisions they make are determined in part by their experience, which will always be fundamentally different from women’s experience. Based on The Family: A Proclamation to the World, we believe that we are essentially different. If we respect those differences, then shouldn’t we want to have representative of both genders making the decisions that affect us all?
Despite these concerns, I have not thrown my support behind Ordain Women. I would love for our First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to let us know if they have asked the Lord if women are to be ordained now or at some future time. What I have heard instead is a repetition that the doctrine cannot change. That strikes me as refusing to have the conversation. It is unsatisfactory because the question is not “What are our current beliefs about the policy and doctrine?” Rather it is “Will you ask the Lord if this current policy and doctrine reflect the eternal nature of things?”
Although the concerns I have could be resolved through the ordination of women, such a move would come with a host of other difficulties. Were this to be the Lord’s will, those difficulties would be surmountable, but in this area, I am too conservative to press for such radical change.
And as someone raised seeped in Mormon culture, the very public, insistent tone and tactics adopted by Ordain Women strikes me as impatient, presumptuous, and unproductive. I have also been dismayed at the tone of the response from the Church. I understand why OW chose the loud route of publicity: as lay members of the Church, we have little to no direct access to the highest leaders of our church. We are told to take our concerns to our local leaders; they may or may not pass those concerns up the ladder. The process by which decisions are made is opaque to us. But this path they have chosen has alienated OW and their cause from many who support the idea of seeking the further light and knowledge which we have been promised.
So, Ally Isom, this is the respectful conversation I would like to have: Have our leaders sought new revelation on this matter, or are they relying on old understanding? Is now an inopportune time to ask? What other ways are being considered to address the dearth of women in leadership and decision making roles in the Church? Simply telling us that we are valuable and spiritual is nice, but it often feels like a dismissal. Encouraging us to talk about our feelings is fine, but inasmuch as the hurt felt is caused by the structure in place, the solution is to change the structure, not validate our feelings.
I believe there is great truth in this Church, both in its teachings and in the living of the gospel together in our imperfect congregations. I know that my ways are not God’s ways, and that I must submit my will to His. And I know that I have an obligation to love and serve my neighbor, to ease her burdens and bind up the broken heart. Both you, Ms. Isom, and Mr. Otterson have given permission to moderate feminists to have this conversation, but I don’t know that that is enough to solve the problem.