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Women pressing for priesthood ordination in the LDS Church are lining up again at the Conference Center, just as they did at last October General Conference to request admittance to the General Priesthood session. They say, “we intend to put ourselves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood.”

So there’s an admission. They want to put themselves in the public eye. They say “they are creating a space to articulate issues of gender inequality.” The space they are hoping to create, of course, is a public space-an open mike and media spotlight that will undoubtedly be critical of the Church-even if they say they that isn’t their intention.

They want airtime. They are hoping that in addition to The New York Times who recently did a story on their efforts, that other major media outlets will line up to highlight their concerns and their protests.

Wait a minute. They say this isn’t a protest, but that is how everyone else will read it. They are playing semantics. They have a complaint. They want to pressure the Church in their self-styled direction and they hope to use the media as their tool.

They, who have had the opportunity to make covenants with the Lord that offers unimaginably powerful promises, are plighted. They think things are not done as well in the kingdom of God on the earth as they envision, and they hope The New York Times can rectify that.

I understand that for many of them this is a tender and sensitive subject that brings them to tears. This is about questions of eternal identity, which are critical to how we see ourselves, but while they are our sisters in the gospel, there is a wrongheadedness about this effort.

What They Want

Kate Kelly, who heads the movement, articulated what they want. She contends that only opening the priesthood to women can address the gender imbalance in the church. She said, “Not only do Mormons believe the priesthood is the power of God, and can perform and officiate in miracles, but it’s also completely intertwined with the governance structure of the church. There is no amount of incremental change, and no amount of additional concessions that the church can make to extend an olive branch to women without changing that fundamental inequality.”

So make no mistake here. This is not about a few cultural changes in the Church. It’s not about asking more women to speak in General Conference or carry more responsibility. It is about a transformation in the foundational theology and understanding of the gospel. They are hoping that the profoundly secular media will help them coerce the kingdom of God into a fundamental change.

You have to say The New York Times really did line up to help them. Though in a church of 15 million people, they are the merest handful of people, the paper titled the article about their efforts, “From Mormon Women, a Flood of Requests and Questions on their Role in the Church.”

A flood. I wonder how many billions of gallons are in a flood? The newspaper noted that in response to an earlier article in which church leaders said they were interested in expanding opportunities for women, “Mormon women poured out requests.” That word “poured” carries along the hyperbolic flood metaphor. The article said the governing authorities are facing a “geyser” of questions. (Whoops. They mixed their metaphors, but were consistent with their hyperbole.)

They were consistent, too, with whom they gave voice to in their article. This was an article to let those who are troubled by this issue vent. The great majority of the rest of us were ignored. It is as if they represent us, or at least the most articulate and thoughtful ones, worthy of a voice-and they don’t.

The journalists, Jodi Kantor and Laurie Goodstein, apparently had a 90-minute interview with Linda K. Burton, General President of the Relief Society, which is the largest women’s organization on earth, but only gave her half a sentence. It appears they also interviewed Sheri Dew, president and CEO of the Church’s publishing company, who, in The New York Times estimation also had nothing worthwhile to say.

The Ordain Women group may think that the media will merely forward their specific claims, but it does much more. They are painting a public picture for the world that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a place of fundamental inequality, rather than the place of hope, dignity and eternal possibility for women and men that is central to the gospel. They paint a view that most of us find profoundly false.

In this they fuel the misperceptions and bias that are common in the culture about the gospel and the Church. They add to the heap of material that creates misunderstanding and distortions. So often as Church members, we read what has been written of us and our faith and we feel like we are looking into a funhouse mirror-a picture that is twisted and illusory. Most often I cannot recognize the Church or the gospel I love when the media reports about us.         

I wonder what women, who know nothing of our faith, will think Mormon women’s lives to be when they read the New York Times article and other media about the imagined oppression and untapped potential of these women who are marching? I am certain that the publicity they hope to generate and the plighted picture it will paint of Mormon women will turn some away from ever considering the saving truths the gospel offers.

Are they certain they want that responsibility? Were they concerned about those unintended consequences when they began their public relations drive? Please tell me where else is laid out a vision of possibility for men and women in time or eternity as there is in this church?

A Secular Media

By their nature and the world they operate in, the media can not and choose not to understand a viewpoint that is motivated by spiritual understanding.

It is like those times during an election when someone says, “I don’t know a single person voting for the other candidate.” Their world is obviously insular and too small.

The assumptions that underlie today’s secular media are also insular. When they attempt to report on matters that are spiritual or theological, they will always miss. Their assumptions about the way the world is render them automatically suspicious of religion and they are blind to their own bias. The assumptions include these:

          An individual creates her own set of values. The most important thing is to be authentic. You can be “spiritual” but not religious.

          If there is a God, we are free to imagine or create him in our own image, rather than the reverse.

          This is a materialist world with no external or moral truth that obligates us. Science and the latest study is the final source of answers.

          Men and women are equal, meaning the same. Any differences between them have been constructed by a society that did not have the best interests of women at heart.

Of course, a secular media, founded on these assumptions, will jump on their story-and you can be certain the result will always be critical of the Church. Media stories will always assume there is no revelation from God, that there is no obligation to anything beyond ourselves; that they are brave and bold because you are being authentic to their own idea. If they are dedicated to this spotlight they seek, they will add to the scorn some love to thrust upon us.

The Ordain Women group say they love the Church. Is this really what they want?

An incident from Joseph Smith’s life illustrates this. His persecutors in Broome County, New York brought him to court, but their witnesses were so clearly lying and contradictory, that they finally brought Newell Knight to the stand because he had recently had a priesthood blessing casting Satan out. Here appeared a ripe chance to make Joseph Smith appear silly and fraudulent. The prosecutor was very determined “that the people should not be deluded by any one professing the power of godliness.”

When the prosecutor, Mr. Seymour, asked him if he had seen Satan, Newell Knight responded, “I believe I need not answer your last question, but I will do it, provided I be allowed to ask you one question first, and you answer me, viz., Do you, Mr. Seymour, understand the things of the spirit?

“No,” answered Mr. Seymour, “I do not pretend to such big things.”

“Well, then,” replied Knight, “it would be of no use to tell you what the devil looked like, for it was a spiritual sight, and spiritually discerned; and of course you would not understand it were I to tell you of it” (History of the Church, Vol. 1, 91-93).

Things of the Spirit will not be understood by those who think it silly. Never.

When the secular press takes as its subject the critical analysis of a gospel view, you can be certain that religion will come off the loser. Look what Broadway does with the Book of Mormon, which wins awards but cannot do any better than mock the Church.

Putting Pressure on the Prophet

Apart from their complaints which they intend to make a matter of noisy public record, something more fundamental distresses me about their aims. What they hope is to put pressure on the prophet to see things their way. I find that very troubling.

The Church does not move forward by secular pressure, no matter how intense. It moves by continuous revelation received by living prophets. If they think that we can just get together and vote on how you want things to be, that doesn’t work for the kingdom of God on the earth.

Thank goodness the Church doctrine is not based on ideas that the majority voted on. I am so grateful that we don’t look for salvation based on focus groups. They are a tiny number, a fraction of a percentage, but even if eventually their numbers swelled and they represented 95% of us-all their collective wisdom would still be puny before the Lord. It was the majority, after all, who wanted to molten a golden calf.

It is my faith that the Lord knows what He is doing with us and why things are designed as they are. Saving us, transforming us, sanctifying us, making us so that we can be with Him and like Him is His self-declared “my work and my glory” (Moses 1:39).

Humanity’s best efforts are paltry and puny in the face of this task. We are limited and myopic, unclear and unschooled. Our experience here is brief and narrow and we have not the knowledge of how to build a utopian, happy society let alone tap our own potential to become as God envisions us. Look what we do on our own!

The wisdom of any individual person cannot take them into God’s presence. It’s a journey we haven’t made and cannot take without his revelation and support. I do not know how to sanctify myself. I do not know how to make that journey. Like all of us, I am completely dependent on His support, revelation and knowledge-which so often differ from mine.

As Paul said, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1Cor. 1:25).

So that brings us to a question. Does the prophet speak for the Lord and receive continuous revelation to guide the Church or does he need the input of those who would pressure him?

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<hr class=’system-pagebreak’ /><hr class=’system-pagebreak’ /><hr class=’system-pagebreak’ />5pt; text-align: left;”>I have no doubt that cultural changes sometimes happen with input. Years ago our meetings were scattered through the week, today we meet in a three-hour Sunday block. Guided by the Spirit, we teach lessons, make decisions in our stewardships, seek confirmation about what we are taught. God has offered us all a very participative gospel where we are involved with stewardship, responsibility and many calls upon the power of our individual spirits.

Yet, when we are talking about the ordination of women, something so truly foundational, do they really suppose that this can be accomplished with pressure politics? Did they find themselves called to advise the prophet?

We learn this about how core doctrine is received in the Doctrine & Covenants. The Lord tells Joseph Smith: “This generation shall have my word through you” (D&C 5:10). Revelation for the Church comes through his prophet.

What if each of us formed a pressure group behind an issue that we either didn’t understand or didn’t like? We could be divided and fragmented-the farthest thing from being of one heart and ready to build Zion.

When I was growing up, an LDS church was for sale nearby, and my father used to joke that he was going to buy it and form a congregation that only had to pay 5% tithing. I am not trying to minimalize your sincerity or your pain with this example, but what if we all formed groups designed to pressure the prophet? Would we like the division? Would we like the result?

Our security, testimony and hope in life are that this Church and priesthood is not of men or women, but of God. The scriptures put it this way– that it comes “not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God” (JST Genesis 14:28).

If the kingdom of God were shaped and recast according to our own desires instead of the leadership of the Lord Himself, wouldn’t we have lost the greatest treasure on earth and eternity?

Martin Harris used pressure on Joseph Smith in order to forward his view. His pressure was not public, but it was potent just the same. He had helped the prophet financially. He was a prominent citizen of his town. He was many years Joseph’s senior. All he wanted was one “little” thing-to show the 116 pages to his wife Lucy who was troubling him about his involvement with the manuscript and wanted reassurance.

We know the outcome. Twice Joseph asked God if he could let Martin take the manuscript and twice the Lord said, “No.” Finally, when a reluctant Joseph asked a third time, the Lord agreed with several stipulations for Martin-including that he show it to only five of his family members, and this bound by a solemn vow. Instead, Martin, who was prone to succumb to pressure, showed the manuscript to any who wanted to see-and the 116 translated pages of the sacred manuscript were lost.

I have asked this of the Ordain Women group before and I do again. If you had a private meeting with the prophet, asking that women be ordained to the priesthood, and he answered that the Lord had said “no” would you be finished with your quest? If you asked him if he had prayed about this and he said “yes”, would that be enough? Would you close down your website, pack up your bags and go home?

They state on their website : “We are demonstrating our desire for both the blessings and the authority of the priesthood and asking LDS Church leaders to prayerfully consider the ordination of women.” The question becomes, how do they know that this hasn’t already happened?

Even more important, how would they know when to stop their demonstration? What does the end game really look like for them? How, in fact, could LDS Church leaders demonstrate to them that they had prayerfully considered this matter? Would they stop only if there were an announcement that women were going to be ordained? Would they stop only if they had private assurance that this matter had been prayerfully considered?

My sense is that they have left this open-ended because their cause has become their purpose-and no other endgame except ordination will suffice for them.

They come, from what I believe is a faulty assumption about the Kingdom of God. Yes, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”

We undoubtedly have much more to learn about men and women. We are much more than we suppose, and our identities remain still largely unrevealed to us. I do not know why women do not hold the priesthood. I find the explanations given by some to be inadequate. They are attempting to explain what the Lord hasn’t explained.

Still, I cannot assume that the prophets are too spiritually dull or backward to see the important questions or to ask them. I think it is intellectually dishonest to ask for priesthood power, but to refuse to acknowledge that same power to act, discern and reveal in the Lord’s anointed prophets. As I’ve said before, the implication of their agitation is that they don’t believe that the prophets act with real authority-the very priesthood authority they are seeking for themselves.

I think they falter when they attempt either to instruct the prophets or the Lord.


Maurine Proctor is the co-founder and Editor-in-chief of Meridian Magazine. She is an author of many books and received a graduate degree from Harvard University.