Should Mormon women be ordained? Or are they already priesthood holders?

For several weeks now, I have devoted my columns here to my own personal exploration of the question of women and priesthood ordination within the LDS Church.  What set me to this project was the launch of, a set of profiles published by Mormon men and women calling for ordination of LDS women to the priesthood.

Even though I have been a committed feminist for more than twenty years, I never felt the same kind of visceral connection to the priesthood ordination issue that I had so readily felt on other issues of fairness and equality.  Seeing the faces of friends go public on-line in support of ordination at made me wonder why.

Perhaps it was because I had not studied the issue carefully enough?  Perhaps studying the LDS scriptures and doctrines that structured priesthood ordination would help me arrive at a better understanding of the matter, and perhaps at some stronger personal conclusions, I wondered.  So I set out to understand Mormon theology on gender and ordination, on its own terms.  I studied scriptures, historical and contemporary writings by church leaders, church handbooks, and ceremonial liturgies from the LDS temple.  I also studied scholarship by historians of Mormonism who have carefully and extensively tracked changes in LDS doctrine and practice over time pertaining to priesthood and gender.

Among people who study Mormon theology, it is commonplace to observe that Mormonism has no systematic theology.  Other faiths maintain a class of full-time theologians, whether they be professional or vocational; councils and conferences have been convened to debate, articulate, and refine points of theology.  This is not the case within Mormonism.  We have a lay clergy.  Disciplined theological scholarship does not hold a place of honor in our young tradition.  Pragmatic considerations dominate.  Every so often, an effort to systematize Mormon theology will appear. The best known of these is Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, which took the apparently orderly form of an encyclopedia, with alphabetized entries keyed to signal ideas in Mormon thought.  But McConkie’s effort was not systematic theology, lacking wholly in historical nuance and scholarly precision and sometimes (as in his controversial remarks on race and Catholicism) presenting as doctrine prejudicial speculation.

This lack of systematic theology in Mormonism is often presented as one of the tradition’s distinctive and even positive features.  Lack of systematization, some say, reflects the breathtaking populism of Mormon thought—the theology is vested not in the scholarly class but in rank-and-file Mormon people, like data in a cloud—as well as Mormonism’s own signature emphasis on continuing revelation and an open canon. For these reasons, in academic terms, Mormon theology cannot be understood paradigmatically, but only syntagmatically, over time, and in discourse.

But after studying scriptures, historical and contemporary writings by church leaders, church handbooks, and ceremonial liturgies, I find that the state of Mormon theology on gender is more complex.  It is not just that the theology of gender in Mormonism is too dynamic and popular to be pinned down. It is that Mormon theology on gender is incoherent.  By this, I mean that it is internally inconsistent, at odds with itself, and that the way we currently explain gender and authority to ourselves is without foundation in revelation or scripture.  There is a basic incoherence between competing elements of the Mormon lexicon—chiefly, between the ceremonial and symbolic language of the temple, the scriptural value assigned to that symbolic language, the liturgy of the temple, and the quotidian administrative practice of the church.  Time has aggravated that incoherence rather than evolved or resolved it.  And that incoherence has a real impact on the lives of Mormon men and women and on the functioning of the Church itself.

The idea of “restoration”—that knowledge and blessings intended for humankind by God but lost over time—is central to the identity of the Mormon faith.  But when it comes to questions of gender, I believe the tension between the temple ritual, temple liturgy, and the day-to-day administrative practices of the church is evidence of an arrested restoration within Mormonism on questions of gender and authority.

What do I mean by “arrested restoration”?  Joseph Smith had a revolutionary vision of women and priestly authority.  We can see its outlines in the minutes of the Nauvoo Relief Society, accessible on-line here and in print (in limited form) in The Beginning of Better Days. (A scholarly edition of the minutes in full should be published as soon as possible.  It’s curious if not disappointing that the LDS Church owns an entire university system with fully tenured religion faculties and that this basic work of scholarship has still not been done.) He ordained his wife Emma Smith (D&C 25:7); he told women in the Relief Society that he intended to make of them “a kingdom of priests”; and he welcomed women to receive temple endowments, including the wearing of a garment that symbolized priesthood authority.  He also lectured to women of the Nauvoo Relief Society and promised further instruction on priesthood and temples.

The trajectory of this vision was arrested by at least four major historical forces in LDS history.  The first of these was Smith’s own death, the divisions it provoked within the Mormon movement, the exodus westward, and the isolation of Emma Smith from the movement.  Whatever Joseph Smith envisioned for women, that vision was not fully conveyed to or shared by those who followed him.  Elements of that vision remained in the temple ceremony as well as in living memory among women leaders who had known Smith and witnessed Relief Society organization, and we see its presence in the unabashed leadership of Mormon women in their own church organizations, in grassroots practices of women’s healing, and on the national stage through the early twentieth century.  But as historian Ethan Yorgason has observed, the fight over polygamy and Utah’s admission into the union served as a “recolonization” of the Mormon people, and with that reassimiliation or recolonization came a gravitation towards more conservative takes on gender that matched mainstream American norms and values.  Recolonization is the second major historical force that arrested Smith’s vision for women.  The third was the corporatization and bureaucratic correlation undertaken by the Church in the 1930s and following.  As I’ve discussed in earlier posts in this series, we see at this moment in history the consolidation of administrative authority under the structure of the priesthood, a move that undermined and eventually eliminated the independent authority (including budgets) of the Relief Society.  Correlation was a third force, and the fourth was the LDS Church’s official political and public relations commitment from the 1960s onward to conservative and customary Euro-American gender roles (what counts as “traditional” gender roles actually varies across global cultures) as a means of differentiating the Church in the religious marketplace.  We see this commitment not only in the Church’s fight against the Equal Rights Amendment but in its public affairs programming, including print and television advertisements.

From Smith’s radical vision of women as a kingdom of priests, the officially sanctioned view of Mormon women’s role morphed over centuries into that of women as caretakers of the domestic sphere, a logic that does not have solid footing in the specifics of Mormon theology but draws more from traditional Protestant and secular gender ideologies of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Speculative nineteenth century Mormon theology and the broader implementation of polygamy contributed to the rise of a body of folk doctrine on gender that emphasized literal procreation of both physical and spirit children as a means to increasing the eternal estate, glory, and power of men.  Orson Pratt’s writings in The Seer, for example, are notable for projecting human biology onto deity.  While elements of this concept of God are present in Joseph Smith’s early theology, Pratt’s biological essentialism and literalism and the body of folk doctrine that mirrors it evidences a narrowing of the role of women from Joseph Smith’s “kingdom of priests” into the accomplices of eternal procreation.  We find this narrowing, this drift or shift from a broader vision of women’s roles, take on special force in the twentieth century with bureaucratic corporatization of the LDS Church and its administrative structuring around the offices of the priesthood.  1954 marks the first formal articulation of the rationale that motherhood is a parallel to priesthood, as historian Sonja Farnsworth has found.  It is an idea which has no foundation in scripture. LDS scripture, in fact, scarcely mentions motherhood, except for associating labor pain with transgression and the fall into mortality, and it assigns motherhood no spiritual value at all.

There is a great gap between the originary restoration vision of Joseph Smith on gender and the LDS Church’s contemporary discourse on gender and priesthood.  There is, truth be told, a deep incoherence.  Elements of that original Joseph Smith vision vision remain alive in temple ceremonies, but they have been eliminated from the day-to-day operations of the institutional Church outside the temple.  Does the endowment represent a form of priesthood authority, or not?  If not, why are endowed women vested with symbols of priesthood power?  And if the Church’s own sacred rites within the temple do in fact admit women to the priesthood, why should they not be admitted to full leadership participation in the day-to-day operations of the Church outside the temple?

This basic incoherence, this arrested restoration, has never been fully addressed.   Official Church lesson manuals do not go into the relevant details of the early history of the Relief Society, and discussion of temple ritual and liturgy is considered too sensitive to be discussed in open settings.  But Mormon feminist historians who first had access to early Relief Society minutes have been writing detailed, footnote-rich, Church archive-sourced scholarship on LDS women and priesthood since 1981.  Classic essays on this subject (all of them available via a simple google search) include:

  • Linda King Newell, “A Gift Given, A Gift Taken:  Washing, Anointing, and Blessing the Sick among Mormon Women,” Sunstone 6 (September – October 1981): 16 – 25. (Rpt. Sisters in Spirit and Silver Anniversary edition of Sunstone.)
  • Carol Cornwall Madsen, “Mormon Women and the Struggle for Definition: The Nineteenth-Century Church,” Sunstone 6 (November – December 1981): 7  – 11.  Rpt. Dialogue 14.4 (Winter 1981): 40 – 47.
  • Nadine Hansen, “Women and Priesthood,” Dialogue 14.4 (1981): 48.
  • Margaret Toscano, “The Missing Rib:  The Forgotten Place of Queens and Priestessses in the Establishment of Zion,” Sunstone 10 (July 1985): 16 – 22.
  • Linda King Newell, “The Historical Relationship of Mormon Women and Priesthood,” Dialogue 18.3 (Fall 1985): 21 – 32.
  • Sonja Farnsworth, “Mormonism’s Odd Couple,” MWF Quarterly 2.1 (March 1991): 1, 6 – 11.; Rpt. Women and Authority:  Re-Emerging Mormon Feminism, ed. Maxine Hanks (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993).

For most Mormons, though, the incoherence of Mormon theology on gender has been stepped around and managed with a set of rhetorical patches, like the mid twentieth-century pairing of priesthood and motherhood.  Recently, in response to the Ordain movement, Church spokespeople have answered that contemporary gendered LDS priesthood ordination practices enact patterns established by Jesus Christ for the early Christian church.  Historical scholarship on early Christianity, unfortunately, does not substantiate that claim.  (Women apostles like Junia are identified in the New Testament, to cite one well-known example.) One also hears, for example, that men hold priesthood office, but women have “access” to the priesthood or the “fullness” of the priesthood.  What exactly does that mean?  Does “access” mean, as it might have in Joseph Smith’s time, that women who have been endowed can act with authority to do God’s work, without ordination to a Melchizedek priesthood office?  Or does “access” mean, as it would have in the conservative secular gender ideologies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, that women can “access” priesthood power indirectly by influencing their male relatives to use priesthood in a certain way?  Does “fullness” mean that there is a general priesthood authority conveyed through the endowment that empowers endowed women without ordination to a specific priesthood office?  To me, these are vital questions.  A great faith like Mormonism is certainly capable of providing coherent answers.

So my own study of priesthood and gender leads me to conclude that for women, the radical vision of Joseph Smith, his restoration, has been arrested, and that some serious questions about gender and authority remain to be resolved.  LDS belief in continuing revelation gives me hope that answers will come.  But they will only come, we know from the historical example of Blacks and the priesthood, if circumstances make the questions inevitable for LDS Church leaders to ask of God.  And again history suggests that pragmatic considerations—for example, mass conversions in Brazil and the consequent difficulty of determining which Brazillians were “black” enough to qualify or disqualify for ordination—do as much to set the agenda as do theological questions on their own merits, even when those questions profoundly impact the lives of millions of Mormon men and women.  Perhaps there will come a day when in one of Mormonism’s global contexts faithful women so outnumber faithful men as to make the desegregation of some religious offices and responsibilities a pragmatic necessity.  Perhaps rising rates of disaffiliation among Mormon women in the 18 – 29 year old age bracket will lead to greater concern about the status of women in the church; I doubt that will be the case, even though my own experience talking to younger women who have disaffiliated suggests that unanswered theological questions centering on fairness and equality and the eternal purpose of women’s lives play a significant early role in disaffection.  It would be wonderful if questions that now have no answer could be answered in full.  In time, perhaps, they will be.  I hope that time is soon.

Still, even without contemporary Church leaders addressing the outstanding and long-delayed question of women, priesthood, and authority, there are many steps that can be taken forward—with no theological change at all—to promote greater gender equality within the LDS Church.  (For a terrific list of such changes, check out this website.)

With no change at all to LDS Handbook policy or Mormon doctrine, the Church could, for example:

–Institute councils at all levels of church government, including highest-level decision making on church policy, budgets, and theology, inviting women auxiliary leaders to counsel as equals with members of the Quorum of the 12 at all meetings of the Quorum of the 12.

— Restore financial and institutional independence of Relief Society and women’s auxiliaries, including power to set own curriculum and budget.

–Ensure equal budgets and opportunities for young men and women’s programming.

–Review hiring policies in all Church administrative offices and arms to gender-desegregate leadership, institute equal pay for equal work, and equitable coverage of men’s and women’s health needs including contraception.

–Institute equal representation of men and women on the boards and in the leadership of Church-owned subsidiaries including universities (BYU, LDS Business College, etc.), corporations (Deseret Management Corporation, including Bonneville Communications, Deseret Book, etc.), Church Educational System, Humanitarian Services, LDS Family Services.

–From the pulpit, encourage women to study LDS history on women’s spiritual gifts—including the historical practice of giving blessings.

–Publish the Nauvoo Relief Society minutes and assign them as Relief Society and Priesthood curriculum.

–Pray about the question of women’s priesthood authority and ordination.

Without making any changes to Mormon doctrine–only to handbook policy–the Church could (in addition to the foregoing):

–Gender desegregate all callings and responsibilities that do not explicitly require priesthood ordination, including Sunday School presidencies (and, conversely, Primary presidencies) and church historians.

If the Church were to seek to clarify the question of endowed women’s role in the Melchizedek Priesthood, and if this clarification were to find that endowment conveyed a fullness of the Melchezidek priesthood if not its offices, the Church could (in addition to the foregoing):

–Desegregate all callings and responsibilities that do not explicitly require priesthood keys.  Currently gender-segregated callings that require priesthood ordination but have no priesthood keys assigned to them by scripture include witnesses to baptisms and sealings, stake and ward clerks and executive secretaries, stake high councils, ward and stake mission leaders, counselors in bishoprics, and counselors in temple, mission, stake, branch, district, and ward and stake auxiliary presidencies.

–Permit women who wish to do so to witness baptisms, stand in the circle for naming and blessing of children, and participate in the consecration of oil, and dedication of homes.

–Delegate authority to women auxiliary leaders to conduct worthiness interviews for women, young women, and girls and church courts for women.

(If any of these ideas make sense to you, you might add your name as a signer to this document.) Will we in our lifetimes see any of the above changes instituted? Since starting this series, I have received messages from many men and women sharing instances when their local leaders extended customarily gender segregated callings across gender lines, or made other egalitarian changes, to meet local needs or answer local concerns.  Again, LDS Church history suggests that it is local pragmatic concerns that have driven some of the most far-reaching and revolutionary changes in our theology this century.

I love the pragmatism of Mormonism.  But I also love its beautiful and distinctive theology, and I am deeply struck by the fact that there is a basic incoherence in that theology—an arrested restoration on question of gender, priesthood, and authority. I appreciate the women who are organizing to ask Church leaders to seriously consider this question. I am struck by the power of Joseph Smith’s vision and would like to see it realized with the recognition of endowed women as priesthood holders and an end to discourse which positions priesthood against motherhood.

Perhaps there was a time when the dominant patterns of economic and family life and the infrastructural demands of growing a worldwide church made it very pragmatic to map the entire administration of the church onto a gendered division of labor. But surely that time is past.  Gendered divisions of labor make less and less sense in the context of emerging twenty-first century patterns of economic and family life.  All around me I see working Mormon women—wage stagnation (and increased corporate profit-taking) since the 1970s makes the two income family basic reality for all but more affluent LDS people.  And all around me I see Mormon men profoundly involved in the parenting and nurture of their children.  Some men are outstanding nurturers, in fact, and some women are not; some women are incredible analysts and administrators and some men are not.  Why should these capacities not all be honored as sacred and useful, regardless of gender? Put-your-shoulder-to-the-wheel egalitarianism in Church administration and leadership seems more in keeping with the pragmatic spirit of Mormonism than a biological essentialism-driven folk doctrine that would prioritize the performance of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Euro-American gender roles over the work of salvation.

For me, the questions about priesthood, gender, and authority outnumber the answers.  I have faith the day will come when the questions will have answers.  I do hope that day will come sooner than later.  But without waiting, with no theological change at all, there is so much that can be done to manifest a greater commitment to gender equality in a faith that teaches that all are alike unto God.



Filed under priesthood

123 responses to “Should Mormon women be ordained? Or are they already priesthood holders?

  1. Thank you, Joanna. Wonderful questions and suggestions.

    • Angela

      Where is scripture does it say that labor pain is due to transgression? And where does scripture ever say that Eve transgressed? It was part of the plan so man may be. I am trying to find a place where it indicates if this individual is LDS because only a LDS should be writing about what we believe.

      • Angela

        I do believe the ‘transgression’ relating to labor pains is part of another faith. The same one that baptizes babies because they are full of sin.
        Which is another aspect of scripture interpretation that LDS do not share. Babies come from the place where Heavenly Father is…. babies are born purely and completely good– infants have no sin .

      • Ashley

        Here’s the scripture reference for the labor pains thing: It’s Moses 4:22.

      • MormonMama

        Joanna’s LDS and I am too. The labor pain and Eve transgressed is in the temple.

      • Pam

        Genesis 3:16
        Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

        This is the verse that talks about women’s increased labor pains due to the eating of forbidden fruit in the garden.

      • if men are not accountable for adam’s transgression, are women for eve’s?

      • This “labor pain due to transgression” statement was made, or at least inferred as being connected to each other, by Elohim to Eve in the LDS endowment ceremony prior to the 1990 changes and transgression can be defined as breaking the commandments of God. As Eve was commanded not to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and she did, the act was considered a sin AKA… transgression.

        Now, in response to the entire article, if modern day revelation exists and God speaks to the prophets, then why would Brigham Young not have been able to carry on “Joseph’s” vision for women and the priesthood? Was it Joseph’s vision, or the Lord’s vision? If the Lord’s vision, then why wouldn’t He reveal His plans to His servant, Brigham Young if indeed Brigham was a prophet? Why not to any subsequent prophets? Joseph also supposedly gave the priesthood to some early black members of the church and then the church stopped doing this too until social pressure and need made them confront the issue. I am a disaffected LDS woman. Currently, I am having my name removed from the church records because I feel the church does not receive revelation any differently from any other church and, like other Bible-based religions, is sexist in nature and I feel it is hypocritical for me to remain a member. The church responds to social and societal pressures as it changes, instead of boldly declaring what is truth and leading the way with it. I see LDS “revelation” as reactionary on social issues instead of “pro-active.” If we are led by God, why not pioneer the way to social liberties and extending equality to all, why are we following the wave of social reform years and years after the fact? I pose that it is in part because the old leaders that we have are not open to change and it takes them being replaced by people from younger generations who are more open or having society and their own people shove the churches bigotry in its own face instead of God showing them the error of their ways and rebuking them. Was Joseph not rebuked by God?

        As a side note, I have also had a discussion with a Bishop about this subject of women having the priesthood in a personal interview and he affirmed to me that women do have it and can use it when male priesthood holders are absent and inaccessible to offer blessings to heal the sick and so forth. Maybe he would be disfellowshiped for this, but he didn’t teach it to the congregation, we spoke of it only in private discussion and I brought up the question.

        Lastly, Joseph Smith cannot be esteemed as a pioneer for women in my book. Maybe to some degree he was compared to the close-minded society he lived in, but any man that comes up with polygamy and tells a woman that if she learns about the law she must follow it or she will be destroyed and that further, if she knows about it and won’t go along with it that her husband can follow the principle without her consent, is not a feminist and does not respect women. It has always made me sick to my stomach to read DC 132. As a woman, I find it spiritually abusive and will not follow any man, any church organization that espouses the doctrine, nor any God that makes commandments like that. If it is true, then I want no part in that God. If it is not true and God really is at the helm, then how could He let something like that continue to be perpetuated for so long. Women have been second-class citizens in Christianity and especially in Mormonism, promising to follow men or be destroyed and to go along with practices which frankly make me sick, or be destroyed. If that is who God is and what His nature is, then I want no part of it and will no longer allow my name to be on the records of a church that still holds those things to be scripture and makes women promise such things in their temple.

    • jay fuller

      The idea that labor pain is due to transgression comes from Genesis 3:16. 16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

  2. Lindsey Hicks

    I was just seconds ago asking a friend if they knew where you were or why you hadn’t posted in so long! Thanks for posting.

  3. NDM

    I’m male, believing, temple-married, pioneer-descended, lifelong active LDS, hold (and use) a temple recommend, returned missionary, mostly Utah-raised, have served in many priesthood leadership positions including bishop. I strongly believe that women should be ordained. Several reasons.

    1. I raised my family outside of Utah, and mostly outside the United States. We never had LDS neighbors; during one period, the nearest Melchizedek priesthood holder was an hour’s drive away. It bothered me that when I was travelling, my wife had no way to administer to our children if they were sick. Much of the current feeling that male-only ordination works fine comes from a Wasatch Front mentality, where a home teacher plus any number of backups live in your own neighborhood.

    2. We men are not doing a good job of leading an inclusive church. Priesthood councils are too prone to be echo chambers where the true needs of women (as opposed to the perceived needs of women) are, with the best of intentions, overlooked.

    3. Let’s back up to that Wasatch Front mentality. In what I call “Fifteen Percent Land” (85% of the Church population does not live in a majority LDS area), the bishop’s challenge is finding meaningful callings for all the active members. In the Real LDS Church, the opposite is true: priesthood leaders must scramble to fill even vital positions while the most faithful members are worked, sometimes beyond exhaustion to the point of leaving the Church. Mandatory priesthood callings such as clerk, executive secretary, Sunday school presidencies, and quorum and group counselors often go to people whose activity, commitment and/or competence are below what is required for the office to function at even a minimum level. Meanwhile, competent sisters – for reasons that can be discussed another time, they have always outnumbered competent brethren and probably always will – may be doing nothing more than conducting the music in Relief Society or collecting visiting teaching reports. For the Church to grow, it needs to function. And in many areas, for a ward or branch to function, we need those sisters in the clerk’s office, directing the quality of instruction, counseling and, yes, presiding over priesthood quorums.

    • The three changes you propose do not require ordination. Women do not need to be ordained to administer to the sick. They don’t actually even need to be members. Healing is a gift of the spirit. Women do not need to be ordained to sit on councils. They only need to be invited. Likewise, ordination is not required to serve as clerk or secretary. That would simply require a policy change.

    • Gail Nicolaysen-Shurtleff

      This is exactly my thinking.

    • NDM, I encourage you to submit a profile to !!!

    • vicki

      “For the Church to grow, it needs to function.”

    • The most important callings are Home teaching and Visiting Teaching, which already have equal representation. Until members can fulfill these two simple callings, there will be a shortage of willing and qualifying members to fulfill leadership positions both male and female. With most callings there already is representation of both male and female, or there is a male and female equivalent. We have Young men’s president, then we have Young women’s president. There is a shortage of women as well as men. Maybe not as much, but there still is a shortage in many new wards. But if it was the other way around you wouldn’t expect a man to be called as young women’s president.

      The only positions that do not have representation from both genders is within the bishopric or stake presidency. These positions are unique because they deal with sensitive and confidential matters such as helping members with financial issues or worthiness issues. These are matters that should be dealt with by the utmost sacredness and respect. and there will always be a shortage of qualifying members to fulfill these positions.

      Personally, I think there is plenty of work for both men and women even within the simple callings of home and visit teaching, and member missionary work, in showing compassion to others and teaching the Gospel of salvation and eternal life. and the importance of families and the temple.

  4. Ellen

    Magnificent! Amen and amen! Thank you so much for sharing your exhaustive research!

  5. KK

    I think you’re right that this issue needs to be addressed more deeply. When people talk about women and the priesthood, it’s usually some sort of talk about gender roles or how the priesthood isn’t used to serve oneself but to bless others. While I’m happy these answers work for many people, I still haven’t heard much attempt to address the deeper historical and theological precedents these answers ignore. Thanks for raising these questions. I hope many others will do the same.

  6. Mary

    Thanks for a thoughtful article. I want to come forward as someone who has an atypical calling for my gender… Our ward (Boston first) has initiated a calling: sacrament mtg coordinator. So far this has been held exclusively by women… I currently have this assignment and am in charge of choosing the topics and assigning speakers for our sacrament meeting. It’s been interesting and fulfilling and I’m curious to know if any other wards do this now or if it’ll spread in the future.

    • JP

      In the Santa Monica YSA ward, our bishop called a brother to be the RS pianist because, oddly, we didn’t have a sister who could do it. Also, the bishop created an “appt secretary” who was always a woman. He found that it was important for there to be someone you could call to schedule an interview if you didnt feel comfortable talking o the exec sec. She also attended and fully participated in Bishopric meeting (not just PEC). He said having her there was really valuable in their meetings. The point is that local leaders have a lot of latitude to adapt things to meet local needs. This bishop was a very politically conservative, but he was pragmatic and cared about his flock.

      • mofembot

        Though as several adaptable bishops and other leaders have found out, less-flexible higher-ups take an extremely dim view of such enlightened practices.

      • Mel

        I’m a woman and held a similar calling (personal secretary to the bishop) in a YSA ward 24 years ago. Nobody blinked an eye.

  7. Mungagungadin

    Phenomenal summary of the whole issue. I hope we change soon enough to retain this next generation of young women.

  8. I appreciate your thoughtful review of this topic. I, too, have been thinking much about this and I find myself torn by it.

    I am compassionate towards women who feel disenfranchised by their perceived lack of Priesthood power and who do not feel coequal in the church.

    I also recognize the interesting history of women in the church and understand how it could further lead to feelings that the women have been put in an improper place.

    For myself, I do not feel these things. I do not believe that I need an ordination (outside the temple) to become a member of a kingdom of priestesses. I do not believe I need to be ordained to call down the blessings of heaven or righteously command the powers of God. I do not need the Priesthood offices to make me equal to my husband, to refine me, to hold me accountable to my responsibilities or to give me any more work to do.

    Perhaps it is because I view the Priesthood, in it’s current context, differently. I do not see it as a position but as a responsibility and one that, frankly, I do not want. I am busy enough in my work in the Kingdom. I do not need the added responsibility that comes with the Priesthood ordination that is found with the men.

    Also, I find myself saddened and frustrated by the continued degradation of the divinity of Woman in the world. Our divine and heavenly role is continually lessened until all the things that make Woman sacred are shunned and rejected.

    Neither being subordinate to her husband nor placing her in a position ruling over him is the correct place for Eve. She stands by Adam’s side, being a part of the grand adventure with him. I feel like the contradiction is not in men and women having their unique rolls, nor in men being the presiding leaders in their homes but being equal with their wives. I think it comes from the world and a misunderstanding of what equal means. When we equate “equal” to “same”, things get misunderstood.

    I am fulfilled enough by the work I do in the church and have more than enough responsibility. I do not want the added responsibility of presiding in the Priesthood. Being free from that does not mean I do not have access to the Priesthood (of myself, not merely through my husband), it just means I don’t have to fit that into my life as well.

    • Lawyergirl

      It’s fine you feel this way but, as you acknowledge, many women feel differently. Personally I am not interested in ordination to priesthood office either (which seems to me to be the way you are thinking about the priesthood), but think the way we talk about priesthood power, and privileges we associate with it, is unnecessarily limited and harmful to many women.

    • Lesley

      I’m glad that you feel compassionate towards the women who feel disenfranchised. I really am. But then you seem to kind of brush it aside, which confuses me. It’s all well and good that you don’t want this responsibility, but what about women who do? Not all women are fulfilled by the work they already do in the church. Not all women have an Adam in order to be the Eve at his side. Not all women believe the priesthood to be an unwelcome burden in their busy lives. I don’t believe anyone is trying to deny women their divinity (in fact, most women who support ordination would love nothing more than to learn more about their unique divinity via more lessons and conversation regarding our Heavenly Mother). The problem with saying that women have their own equal roles is that in a church structure where only those with the priesthood can hold the highest leadership positions, the women’s role is inherently unequal (not just different. Unequal). And if, as you say, you already have access to the priesthood of yourself, and not just through your husband, but that you don’t “have to fit” it into your life, how much respect is that showing the priesthood? Are you saying that the power to act in God’s name is a nuisance? I’m not trying to be rude, I’m sincerely wondering how you view the priesthood if you believe that you have access to it, but you don’t wish to use it.

      Joanna, this was an amazing piece.

    • Nahomie

      I am sorry, I studied Latin for over 7 years and did not know “equal” meant something else than “same” . So I decided to double check in a dictionary and I share the definition with you. Because it turns out “equal” does mean “same”.

    • Andrea

      Lacey- your comment was exactly my thoughts put to words!

  9. Stephen Rapp

    Who the hell knows? I think of Iris Dement and “Let the mystery be.” Do we have to go down every friggin’ path that comes up? There are the hungry and the poor with the rolls about to explode. I’ll be happy to hear all about it in the eternities, I’ll be first in line, but for now. Be kind to everyone, let the high psyche stuff work itself out and lets get down and in the trenches, learn how to sing and dance, get up and keep on. I know so many of you believe like evangelicals that this is really important stuff, I’m just not impressed. We are spirits in the material world.

    • Lesley

      I think that most people would want nothing more than for the Church to truly become focused on its true Christian mission of feeding the hungry and assisting the poor! Obviously we must do our own part to fulfill and promote this mission. But if you look at the sheer number of talks and lessons coming from the Church regarding the Priesthood and gender roles compared to those about feeding the poor, it becomes clear that this is obviously an important issue to them. In turn it becomes important to us, as they have millions of members who listen to their every word. If the Church came out tomorrow and said “You know what? we’ve been focusing on the wrong thing. Let’s talk about how to really help the unfortunate and get down in the trenches,” my heart would swell. But if they’re going to continue to be so focused on gender roles and the priesthood, then I think it’s fair that we can continue to ask why. And the rest of the time, we can serve others (after all, you took the time to read and comment on this blog also). Now let’s get to work 🙂

    • Allison

      I understand your perspective, but if we had that attitude from the beginning, women would not currently have the right to vote. My mother was telling me how difficult it was growing up living in a man’s world, where women were whistled at on the streets and literally treated like a man’s accessory, and how happy she is that her daughters don’t live in that hostile environment. This attitude lacks gratitude for women who were “impressed” and did have the courage to say something long ago. God needs his children on earth to take a stand. As it says in the bible, there is a season for everything. We need to enjoy life to the fullest, but in order to make progress, we also need brave men and women to claim their power and stand up. Joseph Smith was not able to restore the church without opposition and difficulty. Joshua was not able to take back God’s land without raging war; and women will not be able to take back THEIR POWER without raising their voices and taking a stand. We have been subjugated, and one could argue that it will take a balancing of masculine and feminine to truly bring about the Garden of Eden on this earth. I feel called on by God to take part in this. I do not participate in anything unless I do. I know this subject matters not just to him, but to Heavenly Mother, who has also been forgotten and hidden by the world. We have so many different people on this earth so that we can use our talents to take on different tasks. Some men and women will be called on to take on feeding the poor and caring for the sick. Others will be called on for this task, and discouraging them is not furthering God’s work, but hindering it. It certainly isn’t being “kind” to them either. Please think about this. No great endeavor was ever wrought without courage and strength. If African Americans never had the courage to reclaim their power, they would still be in enslaved. We have a right and a duty to our higher selves to claim our power and inheritance as children of God (mother and father) and to free our spirits from the shackles of the material world. In doing so, we empower other women and men to do the same without fear or hesitation.
      Great article and very poignant questions that will do the organization a lot of good to consider.

  10. Katherine

    You definitely have done your homework Joanna, and it’s clear that you care a lot about equality and love for women (and all people) in the LDS church. Might I suggest, though, that you (and all of us really) take a break from these issues and go do something, like hike or run or cook or paint our toenails? We beat these issues to death. And not to be rude, but I am glad that this is your last post on this issue. Carry on…

    • Kathy Knecht

      Katherine, it is this very attitude that lds women should be “anxiously engaged” in working off our belly fat, preparing meals for our men, and painting our toenails which prompts me to wholeheartedly applaud Joanna’s insistence that the subordination of women within the church is an important topic. (Oh, and let’s not forget that enlightening the Mormon masses regarding female subordination might be slightly higher on the priority list than creating crafts to beautify our homes.) Let’s not take a break until the issues are resolved. In order to beat a dead horse, the horse must be dead.

  11. Catherine

    Thank you for this. I’ve had a building frustration over several of the issues you discuss here, and it is comforting to see explanations that make sense to me (and that feel true) posted in such a well-reasoned way.

  12. chelseaw

    This is so brilliant. Standing ovation!

  13. Bill

    I am a Mormon man, returned missionary, temple-endowed and wed, have been a high counsellor and bishopric member. I’m married to a woman who reflects one common reaction to the question raised in this post — her perspective is that she doesn’t wish to hold the priesthood or have any leadership callings.

    While this attitude may equate to humility or wisdom to some, I don’t really understand it. I’m not advocating necessarily that women should “demand” equal representation in leadership, etc. (although that might be a valid attitude). However, I do think that if we care about the quality of the organization, the ability to connect with all of our members, and the ability to insure that the best talents of our people are most effectively utilized, we should care about providing women the opportunity and experience to develop and apply their talents and abilities to leadership in all of its manifestations in the church organization.

    Even among men it is common to hear “I do not aspire to leadership”. A humble attitude indeed, and also a very pragmatic one, for leadership is not for everyone. It is hard, and often not immediately (or ever) rewarding. However, in a lay organization, we actually need some people — the right people — to aspire to leadership. Of course, if one aspires to this for egotistical reasons, then it defeats the purpose. But if one aspires for good reasons — a sense of duty, a sense of calling, a desire to improve the lives of others, etc. — then I consider that a good thing.

    Should not women who posses certain talents also aspire to leadership in the way I have described? Humility and popular theology aside, shouldn’t we want the best possible leader in place for our teenage boys and girls? Shouldn’t we want the most caring and thoughtful person to counsel us, to give us hope, to encourage our faith?

    In my view we have disqualified fully 1/2 of our talent pool based solely on the basis of gender. And we have failed to inspire at least 1/2 of our potential talent pool as well. I predict that if (hopefully ‘when’) we solve this problem, we will experience a true blossoming of the church — more engagement, more activity, more dynamism, more charity. Despite the headlines of growth and missionary work, our youth are leaving in droves as they enter adulthood, some of my brood included. And I can’t say that I don’t understand them.

    It makes me sad for what could have been, and it makes me cling to the hope of what could be.

  14. John S. Harvey

    Thank you! That was an impressive work of faith, logic, organization, and hope.

  15. Lawyergirl

    Thanks for your work on this. I’ve read most of the sources you’ve cited but not seen them thread together like this and it is a helpful and excellent analysis. I truly do not see how a thinking person could read this, look at the evidence, and not see the need for some serious rethinking of the way the LDS church treats this issue. I can only hope that people in leadership and positions of influence do.

    On a personal note, I’m tired of feeling guilty for working outside the home (despite that (a) I have to and (b) the Lord has clearly told me, personally, that I’m doing the right thing), and this further reinforces for me that much of that guilt is cultural pressure related to the developments you describe above, not based in doctrine, and I need to let it go. So thanks!

  16. Diane Tueller Pritchett

    I’m glad you point out that pragmatic concerns driven by the international church may well be a strong course towards change. Observing the discussion on women and the priesthood from abroad, it is clear that it is too focused on ” American norms and values.” And there is no one perspective from the international church either. Having spent years in Latin America where male converts were scarce — and thus it would make sense to ordain women– I was surprised when I then moved to India and observed that female converts are scarce (for complex social reasons having to do with gender issues within Indian society.) Thank you so much for doing the research that demonstrates that a careful and thoughtful reflection on our theology in regard to gender and authority needs to look beyond the concerns of American society.

    • Diane, I agree that we desperately need to hear the voices of women worldwide on this issue. Thankfully we have the world wide web! My hope is that we can expand & hear from our sisters in many countries.

  17. Chris M

    Setting aside the merits of Ms. Brooks, proposals (some of which are worthy of consideration) her treatment on the history of the subject matter is a little intellectually dishonest. Her statement that the Church’s statement about the gendered role of the priesthood is not substantiated by the academic literature is not entirely as true as Ms. Brooks leads her readers to believe. The role of women in the early church is a highly debated subject in the scholarship, with strong arguments on both sides of the issue. Even her example of Junia as a female apostle is not as definitive as Ms. Brooks suggests. The Greek phrase episemoi en can be rendered as prominent among (meaning that she was included among the number of the 12, the translation Ms Brook’s favors) or that Junia was well known to (meaning she was known to the 12, just as the phrase is used in Euripides’ Hippolytus, the translation favored by the KJV and ESV). Ms. Brooks would have perhaps been better to have chosen a more definitive example in the female deaconesses mentioned in the Pauline Epistles (Romans 16:1; 1 Tim 3:8-13).

    Ms Brooks’s analysis also skirts the issue actually presented by the Church’s statement on the priesthood. In her article Ms Brooks stated that “Church spokespeople have answered that contemporary gendered LDS priesthood ordination practices enact patterns established by Jesus Christ for the early Christian church.” On this point the Church is technically correct. There is technically no evidence in the Gospels that the Savior called anyone to the ministry other than men, a point which Ms Brooks does not acknowledge even to discuss.

    Joseph Smith’s intent about the role of women in the church is equally subject to interpretation and conjecture. His statement about making the Relief Society into a “kingdom of priest” was also made at the same time he supposedly indicated that the Relief Society would be organized “under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood” (Sarah M. Kimball, “Auto-biography,” Woman’s Exponent, 1 Sept. 1883, 51). Likewise, there is debate as to exactly what the prophet meant when he stated that he ordained Emma Smith, whether it was to an office of the priesthood or to an office in the church as the distinction between ordination and setting apart.

    As Ms Brooks will surely agree, the place of women in the church, especially vis a vi some of her proposals, is a complex issue that requires careful attention to linguistic, historical, and doctrinal nuances in both the Ancient and Modern Church. Any discussion on the issue requires an examination of these details, an achievement which Ms Brooks does not further with her oversimplification of historic points in favor of her position. Even a footnote of acknowledgement of the merits of the other side’s position would have done well to achieve this objective goal.

    • It is my understanding from the original RS minutes that Emma Smith specifically was ONLY “set apart” at that meeting because she did not need to be ordained (as she had been ordained previously) and the other RS leaders were ordained.

      This is strong evidence for the logical conclusion that setting apart for these women in the early church was separate and distinct from ordination.

    • rah


      This is a blog post not an academic treatise. As you admit yourself there is ample scholarly evidence that women in the early church helpsprominant roles. While it may be contested in academia, it is completely honest and coherent to present the current scholarship as being supporting of the general claim the Church’s statement which indicated that was settled historical fact that the Savior didn’t ordain or set apart women in ministry is not accurate. The whole point of the post is that we as a church need to open ourselves up to all this information and reexamine our folk doctrinces and theology around gender and the priesthood. The fact that there is established work which begs this question to be reopened is the important fact here.

      As mentioned in the post the RS minutes have just begun to reappear in authoritative format, opening up the possibility of scholarship to figure out what JS was really doing. You seem to have jumped to a big conclusion about what they do or don’t mean without even giving reference to scholarly and well-researched work which would support your claim. At very least your response is all but the kettle calling frying pan black. I find Joanna’s blog post much more honest than your reply.

      There is one thing that I think we can all definitively take away from what we do know authoritatively regarding women and authority in the church. That is simply that women used to have far more authority and autonomy in spiritual practice. They use to use the laying on of hands to heal. They gave blessings. They had an autonomous organization with the right to name their own officers, have their own budgets and control their own agenda. That is all GONE! We have to at very least explain how and why such priviledges were lost or supressed. We are at the point now that most bishops won’t let a woman hold her own baby in a baby blessing circle and where every woman with a position in the church is presided over directly by a man.

  18. Warren

    An eloquent and impressive summary of Mormonism’s arrested development Joanna. Amen!

  19. MollyMormon

    Thank you Joanna! “Should Mormon women be ordained? Or are they already priesthood holders?” These have been the word-for-word questions I have been thinking about for months. I am grateful you took the time to write yet another post about the priesthood.

    I have also been closely following the Ordain Women movement. I attended the first meeting of Ordain Women on April 6, 2013. I loved the meeting. I have thought seriously about posting a profile on their website; however, one of the things holding me back is that I wonder if by advocating for ordination I am conceding that I lacked authority as a female temple ordinance worker.

    I also loved that the article spoke about pragmatism. I think that ordaining women or even just giving women a broader role in the Church would be a practical way of hastening the work. As you discussed in an earlier post, there are several roles in the temple, such as witnesses, that currently must be fulfilled by men. If there are not enough male workers, ordinances are delayed or do not occur. Others have mentioned the international perspective… one of my friends living outside the US attends a tiny group of the Church, and if no male members are able to attend, she forfeits the ordinance of partaking the sacrament. I want everyone to have access to ordinances.

  20. Shawn

    If you are a devout and faithful member of the church, then you have faith the institution, albeit imperfect, has a structure that currently benefits us now, organized and given by our Heavenly Father. In context of history, and modern revelation, it is almost irrelevant what the past saints did with regards to the specific nuances of church organization.

    We see patterns with the primitive church and the current Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is understandable as Jesus is the portal through which we return to God. However, the current organization of the church is such as to benefit the saints in our modern times. It may yet be revealed that women will receive the priesthood, or some form of it, to serve and bless the members. Yet, I do not see it as something we should be actively advocating for. Faith is required to know this is how it needs to be, right now. We have a hierarchy and order of authority, from which revelations come to the body of the church. This structure cannot be compared to any earthly organization, as we believe God is at the head. When we try and mix these truths with the conventions of secular modern society and feminism, it is incompatible and unsustainable, as it is ultimately about individual freedom and control. We all know (or should know) that this is an illusion.

    Let’s do this with the right intent. Bringing worldly comparisons into this equation is a recipe for toxicity. Secular relativism flies in the face of faith, and I feel a growing discontent when we apply worldly conventions to spiritual ones. Sometimes one must accept the current structure and work within the framework. I think women as leaders would bless many, but to be called and ordained is not the same as to be entitled to, as secular feminism would teach. I wish we could distinguish the two more clearly in this debate.

    • rah

      So should members who were concerned about the pragmatic and theological problems of the priesthood ban on black members not have raised those concerns or advocated for our community to reassess our knowledge and practice? Should every bishop and SP have not pointed at the problems to the 12 or communicated the concerns of the the members? Should members only say positive things to all leaders with the hope that issues and problems will be revealed? That seems like a strange way to show care and devotion to an institution to me. Those who care deeply about Zion should want to help build it. Part of helping build it is to identify our weaknesses and seek to make them better.I would respectfully suggest that your approach is exactly how great institutions and organizations die and go into crisis, when no know will acknowledge or deal with the problems it is facing. Should these discussions be respectful? Should they be with an intent to build and not destroy? Sure. But to keep completely quiet and look the other way? That is just foolish and dangerous in the long run.

      • Gail Nicolaysen-Shurtleff


        You hit the nail on the head. We are not meant to remain silent. Not even the prophet has a crystal ball. It doesn’t work that way at all. To think that silence should be the rule is wrong. If the members of the church fail to act then there will be a crisis and there will be damage. That would be sad.

      • Jack

        Rah, I believe you misunderstood Shawn’s comment and the bigger issue he raises. The way we approach this issue is not dichotomous: either advocate for female ordination or remain silent. The third alternative is to request respectfully that the brethren seek revelation on this issue. The real question is, what is God’s will, not what is my will? There is a fundamental difference between raising the question and asking the prophet to seek revelation, on the one hand, and advocating for female ordination, on the other hand.

  21. Mormon Theologian

    If it were up to me there would be women in the priesthood, as well as gay, lesbian and transgender folk in the lds priesthood. I have spent enought time with clergy of other churches that I have no doubt we would be greatly blessed if we allowed that entry into the priesthood is a matter of the spiritual gifts and calling of the individual, and not a matter of what is between our legs.

    So while I agree with a lot of what is expressed in your article and would go far beyond it, I do take issue with how you gloss over the historical content of your argument and your intentional misuse of the concept of theology. As I am sure you well know there is a very real distinction between theology and doctrine, and this distinction is alive and well in the contemporary church. The institutional church hates theology as theology is based on interpretation of sacred texts and religious traditions, theology is democratic and can be done as an individual activity of exploring the potential directions of religious and spiritual expression. The institutional church insists that there is no such thing as Mormon theology, rather they insist upon doctrine as the basis for institutional and individual practice because doctrine comes from revelation and is not a matter of interpretation which can lead to missinderstandings (or so they claim.). Of course there is Mormon theology but its not the same thing as church teachings, or policy or doctrine and we need to keep that in mind when discussing such issues. There are very real reasons that BRM called his book Mormon Doctrine and not Mormon Theology. Further, we find ourselves in the strange situation of having even respected voices in the Mormon intellectual community claim that theology is “dangerous.” We should be deeply skeptical of such claims but we should also be deeply skeptical of using theology as essentially a synonym for doctrine, history, or teachings. In the Mormon context these relations are unstable and reflect radical differences in point of view, priorities, and where one stands in relation to institutional practice. Its important to acknowledge these dynamics as they are at work in an issue such as the priesthood. In short, the excluding of women from the priesthood is not a matter of theology, but the eventual inclusion of women in the priesthood may very well be, and I hope it is.

  22. I don’t think women should be ordained. I don’t want what I see other churches have in which the pastor is a man OR a woman. I would prefer to see a church lead by men AND women. This is how I interpret I Corinthians 11:11: “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” Neither of us can go it alone. We need each other. We are not interchangeable.

    I believe that principle could be reflected in Church government if we implemented the first suggestion in the list above : “Institute councils at all levels of church government, including highest-level decision making on church policy, budgets, and theology, inviting women auxiliary leaders to counsel as equals with members of the Quorum of the 12 at all meetings of the Quorum of the 12.”

    I do not see great hope for such change under President Monson or President Packer or even Oaks, but President Holland seems very sympathetic to the cause, so I do see some hope. In the mean time, I do my volunteer work outside of the Church with the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts where no one ever tells me I can’t so something just because Im a girl.

  23. Gail Nicolaysen-Shurtleff

    I reside out of the U.S.A. I am an American (U.S.Citizen) and attend a tiny dying on the should be shut down sized branch. Joanna AMEN toall of this. I feel as I am forced underground by what I feel.

    I feel strongly that WOMEN should be doing temple worthiness interviews for women. I also feel that over time women have lost ground. Being of pioneer ancestry I am very aware taht I am decended from women who did far more than women do now.

    I truly feel that part of the problem is indeed Utah “happy valley” based. It is cultural. I also believe that this issue won’t be settled in a scholarly manner. We need both scholarly work and the practical work to resolve the priesthood and women issues.

    Quite frankly if women had more input I think we, as a church would acquire a more global focus. We could get on with feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. To do that we need to be able to run the programs and get the work done. As things stand now we are burdened with bound hands.

    • vicki

      I so relate to: “I feel as [if] I am forced underground by what I feel.”
      There is no active Mormon in my family–even though they are world travelers, well read, etc etc etc–that I can have a civil, thoughtful, exploring conversation with on this topic. They are all so frightened/threatened by the mere thought. Knee jerk, defensive/argumentative responses are all they are capable of…at this point in time. It simply amazes me that they believe He does not want us to ponder and pray over these inconsistencies–and crying needs (i can only imagine the mighty power for good that would be unleashed upon the world if women were encourage to “be ALL that you can be”)–within our community and the world.

  24. Judy

    Exceptionally fine summary and it is also accessible. I believe you do all readers a favor by being so blunt about the internal inconsistencies in the “doctrine” and the “theology.” It offers any thoughtful reader a choice of which doctrines work for her/him. Bluntly putting the options forward throws out the challenge, in fact, for each person to read what is collected here and say, either, “That is ridiculous; it makes no sense,” and realize they are putting themselves into one acceptable category of believers that is well within the church membership; or the person can find a doctrine that is not as often remembered, and say, “Now there is something I believe; I knew that all along, and that is what I believe.” Either way offers a soft landing for those who want to stay affiliated and have been thinking the alternative, feeling there is no doctrinal space to find a place.

    This article you have so carefully written makes it clear that there is lots of space, if someone wants to sit with us and ponder! Avoiding nothing, you remain kind and welcoming. Another memorable article. Thanks.

  25. mayalynn

    “Arrested restoration” is the perfect description of the diminution of a once-radical vision.

    This is a succinct yet sweeping analysis of gender and Mormon priesthood that cuts through generations of cant. [Or, perhaps I should say, “generation’s of can’t,” as in “Women can’t do _____. Women shouldn’t be _____.”]

    A once dynamic religious community has hardened into hierarchies. “Leadership” is nearly synonymous with “male.” What will it take before the organization realizes that Mormon women are finding greater scope for their leadership talents elsewhere?

  26. Patte

    What a well crafted and thought provoking piece. Thank you Joanna Brooks, you have kicked off a new phase of critical investigation for me. I would like to add to these comments that although there is validity in intellectual debate and reviewing writings and scriptures, we are blessed in that our faith rest on personal revelation. This could (I would like to say should) be a spiritual movement based on individuals’ certainties received after prayer and meditation on recorded items that have been brought into focus in this debate. I hope the debate continues. I will be seeking that firm knowledge.

  27. Jenner

    Thanks for taking the time to research, write, and post. One of my friends posted a link to this article on her FB page, and I was so happy to see that a dialogue has started….and to know which of my friends are interested in the idea. It is such a charged topic that you are afraid to even talk about it.

    I am curious since people have talked about their liberal Bishops – has any bishop moved forward and ordained women to the priesthood?

  28. Great overview of your thoughts Joanna! IMHO whether or not Mormon women are they already priesthood holders in the temple is not relevant to the question about whether or not we should be ordained. Having a secondary ability to perform an ordinance in secret is insufficient when compared to the ability to publicly administer the ordinances of the church, fill all positions of governance and leadership and “preside” over the home as per the Fam Proc.

    The All Are Alike Unto God document you link to starts off by stating “we call upon the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Relief Society General Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to thoughtfully consider and earnestly pray about the full integration of women into the decision-making structure of the Church and the question of women’s ordination.” This document clearly identifies the other interim measures as only a stop-gap until the question of ordination is settled, and women are ordained.

    I find this article to be a confusing conclusion to all of your research, study and searching. I am confused as to how, after all you have found, you can still be ambiguous about joining your friends and sisters in the unequivocal call for ordination. I could be completely misreading this, but it seems that you are grasping for some ambiguity where none remains. Women must be ordained to achieve any level of equality (spiritual or temporal) in the church. I see ordination as a starting point, rather than the conclusion of 1,000 different possible baby steps.

  29. Well said, Joanna. I signed the All Are Alike petition a while back. It was good to review it again today.

    I came to the conclusion quite some time ago that the current model of male-only priesthood representation doesn’t fit with what I understand true priesthood power to be. I reached this point not through extensive formal research, as you apparently have, but through a lifetime of experience and, quite frankly, my gut, emotional and spiritual feelings about the matter. And I am convinced that the current conversation (including Ordain Women), albeit limited in scope and reach in context of the entirety of LDS membership, is part of moving toward a truer model which fully incorporates women. I’m still working through this for myself – what my part is in the “restoration of all things” but I suspect that in thirty-or-so years my great-grand daughters will be passing the sacrament in church. Weather or not they will be doing so after being ordained to the priesthood, I can’t say. But movement in that direction is inevitable.

    And I feel the temple is a place of empowerment for women and of understanding a truer priesthood model – when we can get past the inherent sexism of the current script. We’ve seen that script change over the years. It will change again in years to come, no doubt.

    Thank you again for providing a space for this conversation. God bless us. Every one.

  30. Asking for this change from the men leading your organization merely reinforces their position in the hierarchy.

  31. MJ

    I am saddened to see that this has become such a big issue for some. To the point that the true focus of our life on Earth is lost. As missionaries, we teach that this is Christ’s church, not a man’s church. In our meetings we reinforce that teaching and instruct our children that Christ is at the head of this church. This is not a church run by men. We have men who appear to be at the head, but we have faith (or should have faith) that EVERY decision they make is one that Christ has instructed them to make.
    Our main purpose in this life is to return to live with our Father in Heaven. Period. All other things come second to that. If gender equality, be in in the priesthood or anything else, was necessary for the sons and daughters on this Earth to return to live with Heavenly Father, he would make it so. But for now, He has not. And therefore, it should be of ZERO importance. I’m going to follow the things that He has taught through scripture and through modern day revelation and live my life accordingly so that I can return to live with Him. If HE changes things, then great. I will make the changes in my life as well. But calling for change, and saying that we think it should be a certain way is to question God’s purpose for us. We know so little about this life, and yet we think we know so much. To the point where sometimes it seems that people think they know better than Him. Which is blasphemy.
    The priesthood is essential in our lives, and for now (at least), this is the way He wants it. We need to trust in Him that he knows what is best. When (or if) he makes that change, we will accept. But until then, I really wish people would stop trying to bring politics into religion. Equality should not be is priority…it should be obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel how HE has instructed at this time in our lives.

    • Mungagungadin

      MJ– we have the task of figuring out how to handle priesthood while also absolutely rejecting patriarchy. Patriarchy was an old, bad idea in which men owned and controlled children and women. It was never of God but certainly of the ancient world. I think a lot of the difficulties that we face today derive from the chemical bond we’ve too often made between priesthood and patriarchy.

      • Julia

        I don’t think that is what MJ is saying. We follow Christ – a man – right? He had 12 apostles – all men, right? But, women are not just flies on the wall on the church either. We each have our distinct, but separate roles – for a reason. It’s called balance – or as you feminists want it to be called, “equality.” We are equal in the eyes of God, and in our purpose, but we are not all equal, the same, right?

        We each have roles that help make up the family and the plan of salvation. That is how God wanted it to be for thousands of years, and how he still wants it to be. If he changes, then it will be when He’s ready – or better yet – when He thinks we are ready. Remember, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little. If we cannot even follow the principals of the Gospel and keep his commandments now, how are we going to be ready for the most sacred and eternal gifts – that of being Gods and Goddess’ ourselves?

      • Bill

        So, two issues I’d like to articulate:

        1. While it is obvious that we are not all equal (i.e. we don’t have exactly the same capabilities, talents, etc.), the notion of equality (i.e. that we have equal access to opportunities, God’s love, salvation, etc.) has to be evaluated from one’s particular perspective. While LDS doctrine clearly articulates equality of access to eternal blessings, I would argue it is silent on access to influence, organizational oversight, etc. Some may assume that priesthood = male = organizational control. But some of us argue that this unnecessarily (and dis-equally) withholds the full experiences and opportunities of leadership from one group based solely on gender. In other words, it is an inequality that people (females) who otherwise might have the talent, capability, desire, etc. are not tapped to serve in all levels of leadership. You could argue that utilizing one gender in all levels of leadership and entrusting the other gender with childbearing and most homemaking/childrearing responsibilities establishes “equality”. That is one philosophical point of view. Point being, it is in my mind legitimate to articulate feelings of inequality when you are talking about access to leadership opportunities solely on the basis of gender, especially when there is no explicit scriptural basis for the practice.

        2. The notion that one ought to “express faith and wait for God’s will to be done” is another philosophical notion that I would argue has been over-socialized within Mormonism. The idea that faith = obedience = not raising issues or expressing concerns is actually foreign to some people, including me. On some issues we all expect that the process is very grassroots — the three hour block of meetings, policy and other details of how YM/YW programs work, access to priesthood/temple for those of African descent, etc. — in all of these issues the central leadership has been responsive to concerns raised “in the field”. I would argue it is not counter to faith or organizational loyalty to raise concerns and attempt to understand and clarify them. I would actually argue that it is a lack of faith in leadership and church organization to believe that a well-articulated concern expressed by loyal, faithful people wouldn’t be thoughtfully considered. In my experience revelation is a very nuanced and complex thing — the most inspired leaders I have witnessed have been those who have sought out and listened to a wide variety of perspectives.

        Bottom line: please, let’s do our best to avoid assuming faithfulness or faithlessness of each other, even (especially) if views expressed are different than our own.

      • Gail Nicolaysen-Shurtleff

        I agree. It would be nice to have this conversation without the figure pointing that is, in some cases, arising here. You’ve hit the nail on the head about revelation.

    • Shawn

      This is exactly why it’s difficult to take cultural mormons seriously. They are conflating the structural patterns and hierarchies of the world with the church. They use worldly logic to try to and legitimize their claims, and it’s difficult for them to accept that this is currently the Lord’s pattern. We don’t understand all the ways of the Lord, and he’s organized a structure of authority through his prophets.

      • Mormon Theologian

        Shawn your statement applies perfectly to those who consider themselves othorodox Mormons. “Conflating the structural patterns and hierarchies of the world with the church.” Is a fantastic description of what allows authoritarian patriarchy to be claimed as divine in origin rather than human.

    • Mormon Theologian

      MJ, Your idea about faith, how we are supposed to have faith in the institution is Deeply flawed. Faith is not a relationship in which we are subject to an authoritarian monologue that we have no response to, other than to obey; in which it is mandated that we believe a priori that everything the institution does is commanded a by an ultimate authority. In fact the origins of such thinking are not divine or even religious at all. Such ideas are the hallmark of authoritarianism.

      In the Hebrew tradition it was taken as the very basis of their community that God was in dialogue with his prophets and his people; and we are in dialogue with him. is it part of our nature. The scriptures reveal this dialogue in great detail. The question “why?” has never been a threat to God. indeed, prophets have asked it often. Its only human beings that are afraid of questions. Contemporary Mormon institutional practice has far more to do with human political ideology than it does with the dimensions of a dynamic relationship between the human and the divine.

      In short we need to grow in faith and understanding. One way to do this is to encourage religious institutions to embrace the fullness of God’s love and to sculpt our communities so that they reflect the divine imperatives towards inclusion that stretch from the Pentateuch, to the New Testament and even to the Book of Mormon.

      • MJ

        First off, “Theologian”, to tell me that something I believe is ‘deeply flawed’, or in essence wrong, is to put yourself above above another. Let God be the judge of that. Second, you misunderstood the point of my entire post. The faith to which I refer is not in an institution, it is in Christ. Faith that He is guiding this church THROUGH the prophet. If that is what you mean by ‘Authoritarianism’, then yes, I believe that despite what you say. He is all powerful, and demands that we worship Him and are obedient to His words.
        I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask ‘Why’. (Although I believe that to be a very dangerous question, as there are many things we wish to understand, which we are not meant to). We have every right to ask God for further light and understanding. And He is willing to give it to us, as long as it is part of His plan. However,I believe to start petitions and implore Him to change a certain point of doctrine is to question His authority. If you (or anyone else) feel that women should be ordained to the priesthood, then ask God for it, or ask Him why. We should not be starting some petty petitions and think that if we get enough support, then the GA’s will have to make the change. I trust that God is in control. I trust the He knows what He’s doing and why He’s doing it.

      • Gail Nicolaysen-Shurtleff

        Isn’t asking “WHY” what it is all about? Isn’t that how this all started? What would have happened if people would have come together when the issue of blacks and the priesthood was an issue? Having people ready to accept change would have sped the process up. Well it would have also required that the prophet be receptive to that prompting and be seeking for it as President Kimball was doing. I know of several people who like me were deeply disturbed by the issue.

        I also served a mission in the south, and from my experience there even after “all worthy men…” there were still problems in the U.S. of A.

        Have people become so conditioned towards what they view as “authority” that questioning is not to be done. I hope not.

  32. Thanks for the eye-opening historical review and thought-provoking suggestions, Joanna.

    For those who want a SPECIFIC change to occur to retain the disaffected young women, I have a question: What if the leadership does all that you say, prays, etc., and says that it isn’t time yet or that the change that you want isn’t part of God’s plan?

    I guess what I’m suggesting is that we can’t bank on having the Church be what we want it to be in order to want to keep going. There has to be some trust (aka faith). We have to be willing to move our desires to the side and trust God rather than trusting God because he fulfills our desires (i.e. we have to desire to follow God more strongly than we desire the things that God denies us). I greatly favor asking the questions that are being asked about women’s role in the church, ordination, etc. My concern is that we not presume to know the answer before it’s given.

    If young women leave the church over this issue, it stands to reason that they didn’t have faith in the church’s teachings and/or practices. I think we can all agree that a change in policy to keep them coming to church is the wrong approach. The church isn’t the sort of organization in which, if enough people are dissatisfied, it’s obligated to change for them. If, on the other hand, the church changes teachings and/or practices on the basis of prayerful consideration and revelation, then I would welcome the change. I would hope, though, that the young women who would have been disaffected had the change not been made would find some reason other than that the church has a satisfactory social structure to remain in it.

    • pieface

      Why would a change in policy (not doctrine) be a wrong approach in order to keep people in the church? If a policy is causing people to leave because it’s HURTING their faith, then maybe we should look at ourselves and how we’ve structured things, because I don’t think God is informing every last minute detail of the organized church. I think we’re supposed to take some responsibility and not just wait for Him to do it all for us, which means we’re going to make some well-intentioned errors. Even the prophet and apostles do. It doesn’t change their divine calling, just as some bad policy doesn’t change the fact that this is Christ’s church. It does mean though, that we need to be more willing to examine our own short-sightedness and be honest that we’re not “perfect” yet, and own up to our mistakes without thinking that means the whole thing is false. I have found that blaming others who have left for a lack of faith is usually a superficial way to avoid examining what’s happening with ourselves. Sadly I’ve totally done this too, and the most damaging thing about thinking like this either individually or as a collective is that we start to see people or organizations as “right” and “wrong” instead of fallen mortals who just want to do what’s right with what they have and desperately need the atonement to help us do that because we’re not omniscient or perfect. Admitting our mistakes individually and collectively invites Christ Himself in to heal and lead us, but it’s a much more difficult and messy road so I think we run to the comfort of blaming others instead of recognizing that even institutions with the authority of God have need to repent from time to time, and they can still be divinely chosen of Him.

  33. Just to clarify, it is not necessary to be a Melchizedek priesthood holder in order to dedicate your home. A family can do this in the form of a prayer.

  34. Karlie

    I am an active LDS woman. I am a wife and mother of 3 children. I have served in various church positions including a mission and an auxiliary president. I am educated with a Master’s degree. I know with all my heart that President Monson is a prophet of God. Jesus Christ is at the head of this church and speaks His and the Father’s will for the church through President Monson. If it is the Lord’s will for women to be ordained to the priesthood, then it will happen through Christ’s prophet.

    I am reminded of several scriptural stories, where people reacted without knowing why the Lord commanded it, but simply obeyed out of faith and they were blessed for their faith. Then there’s the story of Joseph Smith and Martin Harris. Martin Harris kept pushing Joseph Smith to ask Heavenly Father to allow Martin Harris to show his wife the translation of the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris was advocating for something reasonable. He simply wanted to show his wife the pages that had been translated so that his wife would continue to support him in helping Joseph Smith with funding. To me, that is very reasonable. Joseph Smith must have thought so too, because he did ask the Lord three times, and the Lord said, “No” the first two times. We all know what happened when Martin Harris got the answer that he thought was right. He lost 116 pages of transcript. Precious scripture was lost because Joseph and Martin went against the Lord’s will and Joseph lost his ability to translate for a while. My question to all those seeking priesthood ordination for women: What if the Lord says, “No”? What then? Will you continue to seek the priesthood? Will you decide the prophet is wrong? Will you question your testimony? I believe it’s good to ask questions and seek answers, that’s how we learn and gain a testimony. But, I also believe you need to beware of God’s will versus the world’s will. Seek guidance and direction for your own personal life and your families, but leave the direction and guidance of the church to the prophet.

    I personally believe that the priesthood is an equalizer. God is fair. He just gave women and men different gifts. If “equal” means “same” as one poster commented, then let’s get this right. Men and Women will NEVER be equal, because men and women will never be the same. Women are women and men are men. I personally believe that women have something more special than the priesthood, the gift of conceiving a child. Is it fair, that God gave women this solemn responsibility? Some men, may say they wouldn’t want that responsibility, but what about those that do? Men can enjoy the blessings of procreation ONLY with a woman. Just as women can enjoy the blessings of the priesthood through men. Neither can have the full blessing without the other.

    • Katie H

      I believe that we are all God’s children, and that is what makes us equal (read same).

      “He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” 2 Nephi 26:33
      All are alike unto God.

      (Also, men can enjoy the blessings of the priesthood completely separate from women. Women cannot procreate without men. But this is just a side comment – it is not nearly as important as the fact that all are alike unto God.)

  35. Kali

    It is virtually impossible to extract Mormon theology and Mormon practices from the greater Christian culture that comes out of the Middle East. Christianity is a middle-eastern religion and can no more be separated from the cultures of that area than a dog can be separated from its spots…should it have any…that is.

    Mormonism and all other Christian denominations have very complex beliefs and practices built up from multiple cultural overlays but rooted in general middle-eastern cultures. These cultures are all patriarchal and based on blood sacrifice. Likewise, the principal theologies that have originated there (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are based on the patriarchal order and blood sacrifice. In fact, one of the main sacerdotal functions in all three religions is that of blood-sacrifice performed by the patriarchy. To the true believer, of course, this is simply the result of the one, true, middle-eastern god setting forth his laws to his children. But to those who look at all cultural expressions as essentially human in their origins and rooted in their cultures of genesis, much more prosaic explanations seem obvious. And, as with all things human, there can be equally prosaic solutions to many theological questions once they are seen as simply cultural expressions…rather than absolute pronouncements from some invisible god from whom all things flow.

  36. Jason


    Thank you for this excellent post and the whole series of which it is a part.

    You mention the way in which, historically, pragmatic concerns have generated substantial changes in doctrine and practice. I wonder if you feel (as I do) that the recent change in missionary ages and subsequent growth in the number and proportion of female missionaries will contribute to the conditions for a change in the Church’s teachings and practices on gender.

    It seems to me that as more women experience the spiritual training and leadership of a mission (including the new council organization), they will serve as both practical examples and powerful advocates for more equal treatment in their congregations upon returning home. It may be that the Church has just taken a monumental step in generating practical conditions for a doctrinal change. That gives me a great deal of hope in this regard.

  37. Matt

    I’m a 41 year old mormon Elder, active, recommend holding, genealogy completed to the Stone Age, pioneer decended, BIC, temple married, father of four, husband to one of the most able women in the church. I whole heartedly support her ordination and that of any other woman who would like to seek that opportunity. If it were up to me, and I didn’t fear consequences from church leaders, I’d confer the priesthood to my wife and daughters today. (Maybe I already have 😉 ) Joanna, your research and presentation is first class. Thank you. Lets get this done.

  38. Andres

    Except that prophets are men tasked with interpreting what they understand to be God’s will, men whose judgement is undoubtedly colored by their experiences in “the world”. For me, that means that much of what we see in the Church is an imperfect rendering of what it could be. This is why I support a more egalitarian church structure. I see myself as an idealist who thinks the Church could be better tomorrow than it is today. My measuring stick for such improvement is equality.

  39. Fascinating. I read the whole thing on my phone, scrolling side-to-side. That’s how good it was. I’m going to re-blog this, if you don’t mind. 🙂

  40. Reblogged this on The Logical Mormon and commented:
    According to Joanna Brooks, “Mormon theology on gender is incoherent.” It’s a well written and reasoned argument and a fascinating read.

  41. jr

    I believe it was Ed Firmage who stated that there are more so-called ‘scriptures’ that state Black men cannot hold the PH, than scriptures claiming women can’t hold the PH. In fact there are no scriptures prohibiting women from holding the PH.
    That said, I don’t understand why anyone still believes the PH has some magical healing power. Whenever an injury or illness puts someone down, medical attention is what improves that person’s condition, not some blessing.
    If a faithful member really had 100% faith in the healing power of the PH then they would get by with only a PH blessing and not seek medical attention.

  42. Kim Christensen

    It is my assertion that women are already ordained to the priesthood. It doesn’t come at age 12 or 18. It comes in the Sealing Ceremony. From the moment a couple are Sealed together, the Priesthood becomes co-jointly held. Equal Power, Equal Authority.

    What women really want, in my view, is a more public display of Priesthood authority. They want to do baptisms, ordinations, give Priesthood Blessings, be Bishops and Stake Presidents, maybe even pull a Miriam (Micah 6:4), or an Anna (Luke 2:36) and be Prophet.

    I personally know a Sister who preformed an Anointing, Sealing and Blessing for the sick, using language every Elder uses when preforming the ordinance. When she reported the circumstances and incident to her Bishop, he told her that in the circumstances she outlined she was well within her purview to preform the ordinance, and that the ordinance was done with the proper authority and was binding.

    Sisters should be aware that while there are a few Priesthood ordinances that Elders can preform on their own, the majority of ordinances have to be done with permission and consent of the Bishop.

    I think that more open uses of Priesthood authority will come to women. It will come, but I predict that as with all things in the Church, it will come in baby steps. I do not however foresee, at least in the foreseeable future, women having the Priesthood conferred upon them outside of the Temple Sealing. For those who have been Sealed however, I think and I predict that women will be seen more and more, publicly in the eye of the congregations of the Church, preforming Priesthood ordinances and magnifying the Priesthood they already hold.

    • Randy

      Bishop’s keys are delegated from the prophet and do not give him the authority to declare something valid that is contradictory to church policy and prophetic teachings –

  43. Mari

    You have done a lot of work on this piece, but I have to say that I missed scriptural references. I missed reference to seeking learning, understanding and knowledge not just academically but by the Spirit through prayer and temple worship.

    As I read your piece and pondered it, several scriptures came to my mind. One was Hebrews 5:4 – “no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God as was Aaron”. Another one was D&C 28 about the order of the church.particularly v 6 “Thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church”. The Church is not a grassroot movement. This is the Church of Jesus Christ, and is organised and administered in a way that is dictated by him. Changes happen as dictated by Him. The question of ordination and if/when women receive different roles in the church is not a matter for petition and public campaigns. Having said that He is no respecter of persons and He loves us all equally, and we can all live eternally with Him if we have faith in Him and keep our covenants and the commandments. Having faith in the Lord includes having faith in His timing (although I forget which apostle said that…)

    I find the idea of “arrested restoration” peculiar. It implies that the Lord is somehow not in charge of the restoration, that He has somehow made a mistake in the work, that He has allowed the work of the restoration to stop, or that the prophet is not His mouthpiece – acting instead according to his own understanding and interest. Scriptures and revelation tells us that the gospel of Jesus Christ and His church would be restored in the latter days to build up his kingdom. Once it started it would not stop. I have a testimony of the restored gospel. I do not understand the why’s and how’s of everything, but thankfully I don’t have to have all the answers all at once in order to do my best in whatever the capacity the Lord needs me.

    • Debra

      Mari~ Please click the links to Joanna’s previous articles as this is a series and she has performed a great deal of research and study, exactly what you express wishing to see.

      • Damon

        Research and study is not revelation. In all of Joanna’s “research and study” has she consulted with the Prophet? Has she consulted with God? “When the Lord reveals His will to the Church, He speaks through His prophet. Prophets are the only people who can receive revelation for the Church.” No matter how much goodwill Miss Joana believes she is operating from, it seems to me she is not in accordance with the will of our Heavenly Father, and that is a precarious situation, not just for her, but the many people she is influencing.

        Gordon B. Hinckley, prior President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said:

        “Women do not hold the priesthood because the Lord has put it that way. It is part of His program. Women have a very prominent place in this Church. Men hold the priesthood offices of the Church. But women have a tremendous place in this Church. They have their own organization. It was started in 1842 by the Prophet Joseph Smith, called the Relief Society, because its initial purpose was to administer help to those in need. It has grown to be, I think, the largest women’s organization in the world… They have their own offices, their own presidency, their own board. That reaches down to the smallest unit of the Church everywhere in the world…

        “The men hold the priesthood, yes. But my wife is my companion. In this Church the man neither walks ahead of his wife nor behind his wife but at her side. They are co-equals in this life in a great enterprise.”

    • Mari, you get to the heart of the matter. “This is the Church of Jesus Christ, and is organised and administered in a way that is dictated by him.” Yep, if the church is true, Jesus is anti-women. Mormonism’s origination and long history are inherently incompatible with equal rights for women. If you “fix” Mormonism, as AMG outlines here, then you have to invalidate so much of scripture and ongoing revelation. Polygamy and racism are already the patched over rot at the core of LDS, and a feminist perspective blows so many more holes in the concept that the only way to hang on to faith in the origins of LDS is to re-imagine it as a revelation from a flawed or trickster god.

  44. Cristie

    30 years ago I had a very sick little boy whose daddy was on a business trip. In the middle of the night I put my hands on his head and gave him a healing blessing. It felt right to do then. It feels right to share now. And yes, the power of our faith made him well. ccc

  45. vicki

    Thank you for this!!
    i know i’ve said this before but i must say it again: one of the primary reasons i’m grateful for the ‘net is that i can read your essays & posts!
    Carry on, Dear Joanna, with your wonderful heart, spirit and mind!!

  46. James

    I think this is excellent. A nuanced, faithful view with some well-thought out steps that can and should be taken immediately. As a recently-released bishop in particular, I do believe — very strongly! — that the voice and ‘say’ of women must be increased in church councils, and in the ‘outward church below’. But as a believer fundamentally in the great supernatural power of the Lord’s gospel, I believe that it is even more important that we as a people see and believe clearly in the temple priesthood for women *and* men which is all but ignored in the Church. I’m uncomfortable and disappointed with those who seem to care only for administrative power and not for the spiritual power that is the reason we’re all in the Church anyway, and not just members of a giant Kiwanis club. I believe the author *does* see and desire that first and applaud her for it. The steps she enumerates can and should be taken. At the same time, members of the Church need to listen in the temple as well as study their history and realize the fulness of what Joseph restored in the temple ordinances. Endowed women have already been ordained; just pay attention.

  47. Bethany

    Super interesting. In the context of your key point that Joseph Smith had a much broader vision for women and the priesthood than the reality that has played out since his death, I’m curious about your thoughts on the JST of 1 Corinthians 14:34….that women are not to rule in the church.

  48. warrin

    for me, it is simple. if I truly believe that this church is the true church of Jesus Christ, with His authority and led by Him through His chosen prophets and apostles and all other leaders, then that is all I need to know. whatever I may view as an inequality or an injustice does not matter really. although there certainly will be various hearts broken and souls lost because of hurt feelings that stem from different points of view on gospel topics I just would like to remind everyone that the head of the church is in fact the only being who has lived a perfect life and who has PERFECT undetstanding. I am greatful to Him for affording me every breath of my life (mosiah2:21) I will leave it to Him and his appointed to make all the decisions concerning His plan for me.

  49. Dave

    Two of the curious aspects of our faith are: that we believe in revelation – that is that what we did yesterday can change; and that we are extraordinarily resistant to change. So changes in the church tend to be in baby steps, and adopted much slower than our leaders would hope. For example when we had training a few years ago about how ward and stake councils should work, it was abundantly clear that every voice was valuable, and that a YW leader didn’t only need to speak of YW issues, but could voice her thoughts on any issue under discussion. I expect that while most wards do a better job of that now, there can be no question that we are not where our leaders would have us be. For a second example, the change in ages to serve full time missions will dramatically increase the number of women serving missions. They will be invaluable in the years to come as they come home with every bit of the experience and authority returned missionary men have had (actually, probably more because women still tend to be more mature at that age then their male counterparts.

  50. Nita

    Here’s one other way of looking at it: I’m old, been a mom for 45 years, raised a large family in the gospel, fully-active. My attitude on this topic reminds me of the verse that says “he that doeth the will of my father” shall know of the doctrine. I feel like I have lived the lifestyle that the Church sanctioned (right word???) all those years I was having babies and being a stay at home mom. I feel it in my heart and bones that I am not and have never been left out, left back, set aside, put down or disqualified from anything that I needed or wanted. (Not that I haven’t had my feelings hurt by priesthood holders once in a while, etc., but) I feel solidly that I have worn out my life and my energies and my personal power in doing the most eternal and meaningful work in the world. I know it in my bones. (Not that I did it perfectly, either.) I can think about the questions, but in my soul, I really do not question. I know.

  51. RCallister

    I have been offline for much of the last week, but want to say thank you, thank you for this carefully researched and written synthesis of what you found in your studies. This is what I sensed was happening, but I had not tried to synthesize the many pieces.

  52. Joanna: I have loved this series, and found it to be one of the most cogent, thought-provoking and clear discussions of these issues, inconsistencies and chaos that I have read. They closely mirror the conclusions and insights the Lord gave me directly a few years ago, when I was deeply studying these issues myself.

    The only difference, is that I believe the restoration regarding women, priesthood and authority as Joseph Smith was teaching at the end of his life, has not only been arrested, but regressed, or been reversed, beginning with Brigham Young and devolving from there.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  53. I have to say, I greatly enjoyed your article. I’ve read a lot of ordainwomen articles before, but they often seem very emotional or spiteful to me. You put a lot of research, time, and thought into this article.

    One thing I’ve definitely noticed in the church is a prevalence of myth and tradition that seems to inhibit wisdom and progress. And yet, the church progresses anyways. Little by little, we gain more and more knowledge and understanding. It just happens slower than we like, at times. On that note, I do believe it probably happens just as fast as it needs to.

    One thing I remember hearing before was that a woman’s priesthood was innate. This wasn’t in regards to childrearing, and I wish I could remember my source. It could have been anyone from a bishop or patriarch to a 70.

    I also recall being taught several times that priesthood isn’t a power, it’s an authority, or rather, a responsibility. This coupled with the fact that we already know of different divisions of priesthood (Aaronic, Levitic, Melchizedek) leads me to suppose that the priesthood is often misrepresented in what it is for, and what it does.

    As far as historically, there certainly had to be some changes in order to integrate Utah into the United States. We can see though, that the church emerges from its cocoons as it needs to.

    I don’t suppose we’ll ever see a day when women receive the same priesthood ordinations as men do, not identically at least. I wouldn’t be surprised if more light on the specifics of the priesthood of women began to unfurl in the near future, however, as it is needed in order to cope with the changing world, and as our Sisters in Zion continue to prepare themselves for it. (the lowering of the sister missionary ages was a big first step.)

  54. Christi

    I enjoyed reading this research, and also yearn for more on the topic. There is one missing component of the research however that I was hoping to find; that being, what your heart says. HF instructs us to research and put great effort in to learning such as you have; very impressively so. However we are also instructed to formulate what we believe the answer is, and then take that in prayer to Heavenly Father. Research and rationalization can be effective to a point; but it is the burning within us that will bring us truth. I have proven to myself many times that my own conclusions are often lacking in critical evidence, and that the Lord will guide me towards an answer if I truly and humbly seek it. Too many times I find I “think” myself not towards the truth, but away from it. I’ve learned to ask HF if I am even close to the answer yet and quite often, after all of my research, the answer that I feel is; no, keep looking.

    So I’d really like to know what your prayers over this have revealed. What do you “feel” the real answer is? Have you asked HF if there are inaccuracies in this information? Have you humbled yourself in fasting and prayer on this topic? Pondered it in the Temple?

    @ Debra Brown Gordy, you mentioned “…and insights the Lord gave me directly a few years ago…” I’d love to hear more about those insights.

  55. Sasha

    I appreciate the apparent thought and effort in this post. LDS would all do well to dedicate more time to pondering their faith. I tend to disagree with most of the suggestions provided, though. Men in the LDS faith are less likely to be active and less likely to join; they are faltering. Women, by comparison at least, tend to dominate Mormon life, with greater numbers and often greater dedication across geographies and age groups. Men need a special call to serve, and duty to serve; otherwise many of them seem to not serve at all. Among other reasons, I think this is why God gives priesthood assignments to men while trusting that women will do as much or more to build the church by their own choice and structure, without formal duty or coercion.

    I think it’s extremely disingenuous and also rather blasphemous to talk about theology changes as if they are something church leaders or popular movements just spin up, but if God were to ever extend earthly formalities to women’s priesthood, I would guess it would be only when men would be OK without a special call. I don’t see that time being my own lifetime.

    • pieface

      How would women having part in the priesthood or earthly formalities of it suddenly make it un-special for men? I thought the priesthood was special because it came from God and was a sacred trust, not because you got something someone else didn’t.

  56. Susiebjoe

    Catching up on your posts. Love this! More research and reading for me to do. Thank you!

  57. suziepetunia

    I hope more members of the church take the time to study this topic of church doctrine. I believe there are unanswered questions pertaining to doctrine and that we are commanded to seek knowledge by study and by faith. So many people consider the topic of women and the priesthood to be “taboo”, but burying our heads in the sand about it or any doctrine we don’t completely understand is not an appropriate response. I have read The Beginning of Better Days and I look forward to reading the other resources you sited. Thank you for this honest and straightforward article about an important topic!

  58. Michelle

    I feel like if we don’t tone down this discussion,its going to lead people to apostasy and some nasty excommunications. I think the discussion and Ordain Women has gone a bit extreme.

  59. OnTheWasatchFront

    Great article. I appreciate that for once I didn’t hear my 2 unfavorite arguments against women in the priesthood:
    1) The very often heard LDS woman’s refrain of “I don’t want the priesthood because I’m already too busy and I don’t want to be Bishop” (or some such variant). I don’t know of very many people (men included) who are out there lobbying to be Bishop. The point is, it should be the best person for the job. Period. And it is hard for me to believe that it would never ever be a woman that is the best person for a lot of these ‘priesthood’ roles.
    2) Women have ‘separate but equal’ roles. Um. That has always sounded vaguely familiar. OH RIGHT. SLAVERY. Yeah, separate but equal has never been a great argument.

    So, thanks for highlighting the incoherence and the obvious easy steps that could be taken to get part way ‘there’ without actually doing anything too crazy. I firmly believe someday (not any day soon) the ‘restoration’ as you say may yet be complete.

  60. Randy

    Good sister – I admire your energy! I’m sure you and your mind could run circles around me piece of cake any day of the week! However, I fear that you are making this topic much more complicated than it is. My simple response is that the most basic and important unit of the church is the family and men and women stand as equals in that order of the priesthood. As per your comments on doctrine and custom – such issues cannot be adequately addressed without considering policy. For me, I would love to have say a female secretary in the organization in which I serve because for the most part women can get a lot more done! Policy issue. Doctrinal foundation? Nothing more than we have living prophets involved in policy and we need to be organized based on policy. I don’t mind moving past cultural norms if it furthers the work and is in line with the brethren. Also, often you challenge your readers to substantiate doctrinal teachings by living prophets with canonized scripture and revelation – if everything was expanded upon and taught clearly and timely enough in such texts then why do we need living prophets to prioritize, clarify, expound, and protect doctrine. Your points would carry much more weight if church doctrine were in direct contradiction to the standard works, but they are not! Would you believe church teachings on gender roles if the brethren decided to canonize the proclamation on the family? I realize you are a voice for many with concerns and it is your right to voice those concern and it is wonderful if you have helped contribute to custom changes. However, I find it a bit troubling that you spend most of your time questioning the living prophets, whose testimony Joseph declared are the fundamental principles of our religion! Our very foundation. Take them away and we have no religion!

  61. Hannah

    I appreciate this article very much.
    Women without choices for careers and in life, were often encouraged or ultimately decided (for lack of “any better option”) to become a secretary. funny-stereotypical. Feminism desired to move women beyond that role and here we are now talking about allowing women to serve as secretaries again, in the name of feminism.
    The more things change, the more they stay the same… 😉

  62. My suggestion is for everyone to go to the temple. The priesthood is there for men and women. Also, the Relief Society is an axillary to the priesthood, so Joseph Smith’s promise in DC 25:7 has been granted. I love this gospel! I know that it is true because I feel it when I read the scriptures and when I go to church. Because it is true, I don’t need to worry about needing to become a bishop or to hold the priesthood keys. I have all of the blessings that come from those offices and keys. That’s what the priesthood is all about.

  63. Julie

    I really enjoyed this a lot. I am a Mormon Feminist finishing my Masters degree. I am also a wife and a mother. The main question I have (which may or may not have been addressed) is the issue of “arrested restoration.” In LDS doctrine, we believe the living Prophet supersedes the dead ones. Although Joseph Smith had some wonderful, visionary ideas about women, his voice of the past has no authority or bearing in current Church revelation and affairs. How do we use his vision to equate to today’s living Church?

  64. Real woman

    This article is simply anti Mormon propaganda.

  65. trieste

    I just taught in RS a lesson on Priesthood. It made me take a long hard look at this issue. Your article summarizes all my thoughts and studies perfectly. Thank you for your work!

  66. jancisco

    What a scholarly article! Thank you for putting all of this time into it. I just have one concern: Your writing conveys the impression that Joseph Smith’s words were hard doctrine, and everything that has happened since then is “tradition”. What about continuing revelation? What about prophets guiding and teaching the members through their own times? Why couldn’t the first instance of Motherhood and Priesthood in 1954 be an inspired response to the fact that in the post-WWII world, so many women were leaving their homes to go to work and the General Authorities felt the need to speak up about it and bring even more light to the confused roles of men and women? Why isn’t that an inspired teaching–received “line upon line”? Because it didn’t come from Joseph Smith?

    And the comment “LDS scripture, in fact, scarcely mentions motherhood, except for associating labor pain with transgression and the fall into mortality, and it assigns motherhood no spiritual value at all.” baffles me. You are a mom, I know because I read your book (which I loved). You KNOW the spiritual value of motherhood. Not every precious thing in our souls needs to be codified in the canon too. Not to mention the ultimate blessing to Abraham of having innumberable children. Parenthood is THE blessing in this life. It has significant spiritual value. It’s the whole game.

    I think the less we fight and approach the church as being broken and in need of repair, the easier it is for the Spirit to teach us the truth we are seeking. I’ve been through a “Women Are Oppressed” period in my life and the answers came quietly and surely from the Spirit. One at a time. But He can’t teach in the midst of contention and envy.

  67. Carmen Conley

    I think that if Women want to be “ordained”, they need to join a church that supports it. There are plenty available.. . I enjoy the separation of duties. I also do not want another meeting to attend. This action threatens my rights and peace.

  68. Good job, Joanna. Good job, everyone else. Love ya’llz! 🙂

  69. Melissa

    Do you think it would be an issue to have mixed genders in presidencies or bishoprics? The church warns of men and women who are not married to each other spending time together. It could be awkward to have two men and a woman (or vice versa) together in a presidency and may be something the church will oppose. Thoughts?

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