Last week I had dinner with an old friend from graduate school who has since been ordained as an Episcopal priest. I joke with him that he’s my personal chaplain—half-joking, really: over the last eighteen years, I believe he’s seen enough of me and my family to know me pretty well, and I’ve seen enough of him and his family to value his moral seriousness and his wisdom. We talked for a few minutes about Mormon feminism. “You’ve made a new beachhead,” he observed. “Now it’s time to deepen the work.”
My friend Jim put into words something I’ve certainly been feeling. When I started this blog, all but a few women were still afraid to say “Mormon feminist” in public and those who did could face tremendous pushback. That’s the legacy of the Mormon feminist firings and excommunications that started in 1993 and went on for almost a decade. But just in the last twelve months there has been an incredible burst of energy and organizing: Pants-to-Church, Let Women Pray, the gorgeous new “I’m a Mormon Feminist” website with real live profiles (add yours?), and most recently, Ordain Women. (There are more, but I can’t even keep up with them. Really.)
The LDS Church offered a response to the growing concern with ordination last week. But for me, both Ordain Women and the Church’s response highlighted that there is tremendous inspecificity in our day-to-day use of the word “priesthood.” It has become customary to use the idea of “priesthood” to simply name everything men do and women do not do in the contemporary LDS Church. Which is wrong. There is a far more complicated story—theologically, historically—to know and tell about priesthood in Mormonism. It’s time to deepen the work and teach ourselves that story.
I am a scholar by training. Study is very important to me. Mormon culture can be anti-intellectual, and it has been customary to characterize scholars as people afflicted with or susceptible to pride. Certainly some of us are, as are people in every profession. But any scholar worth his or her Ph.D. understands that scholarship is in fact a practice that requires humility and discipline. It takes humility to unlearn the collection of half-baked ideas and comforting slogans that stand in for truth; it takes discipline to search out and assess data, reflect carefully on the methods one uses to process the data, and to follow the data where it leads. Arrogance is asserting a claim that belies a much more complicated reality; humility for me is acknowledging how complicated reality is and trying to understand it.
That’s what I want to do with priesthood. I want to study. I want to understand.
So people, I’m gonna get my study on. I’m convening a study hall. Right here at AMG. What is priesthood? And do Mormon women already hold it? Let’s study on it. I’ll bring data. You bring data. We reflect, think, discuss, and learn together.