(To see Cal Grondahl’s cartoon that goes with this post, click here.) At church on Sunday, during a lesson, the group Ordain Women was mentioned as a sign that things are wrong in the world. I wasn’t surprised that the member slamming Ordain Women — an organization that advocates for female members to participate in the LDS priesthood, which is reserved for males — was a woman member. Active LDS women seem to be the strongest opponents, and critics, of Ordain Women. According to a Pew poll, 95 percent of Mormon women with a high religious commitment oppose women in priesthood. I have discussed this issue with several active Mormon women and not one has supported it. In fact, most I’ve talked to have been — like the woman member in church yesterday — very critical of the group.
Ordain Women, while advocating what would be a radical switch in the LDS Church, has tried very hard to show respect for the LDS Church, its leadership, and its practices. For example, Ordain Women is not demanding a change in priesthood policy. Rather, its adherents are asking the male LDS priesthood leadership to pray about the matter, and ask God for revelation. That fits within the LDS doctrine that change comes through the prophet receiving revelation.
There has been public activism, in which women members and supporters of Ordain Women stood in line waiting for tickets to the all-male LDS Conference Priesthood session. They were not allowed in, which they knew would occur long beforehand. In what was clearly a nod to the group, LDS church leaders allowed the priesthood session to be broadcast on television. A few discourses during the conference dealt with the issue; two, delivered by LDS apostles, more or less rejected the idea of women having the priesthood, but left open the possibility that God may provide further reasoning on the priesthood.
So, why do active Mormon women oppose Ordain Women with such vigor? My colleague and friend, Cal Grondahl, believes that such a change would cause discomfort for too many members, and these members want to remain comfortable.
Some of the stereotypes I have heard regarding Ordain Women (they are all politically liberal) or (mostly academics and activists) or (they are really trying to hurt the church) are cast aside if one spends only a half-hour perusing the website and reading the many profiles of members who support ordination for women. Nevertheless, these stereotypes exist. Fair or not, the responsibility, patience and perseverance will fall to Ordain Women to diminish the stereotypes.
There is an objection to Ordain Women’s goal, theologically based, which I think has more roots. Grondahl touches on it when he mentions the “comfort” aspect of many members. The LDS faith is testimony-based. Members treasure a testimony of a church they believe is perfect in its structure. Major changes in the church, including an end to polygamy or an end to the ban on blacks having temple privileges or the priesthood, are seen by many as God making a change at His appropriate time. That’s far more comforting than interpreting these changes as the church leadership correcting a previous institutional mistake.
Ordain Women’s mission statement claims that current church procedures do not reflect, or support “the fundamental tenets of Mormonism …,” which proclaims “gender equality.” The statement includes this: “Ordain Women believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.”
Most LDS women I know, and the poll numbers reflect that, don’t believe that their church is discriminating against them. They don’t believe the LDS prophet or general authorities care more about males’ progression in the church than females’ progression. Ordain Women is asking LDS members to accept that there are imperfections in their leadership. Convincing active members of the church that the First Presidency, The Quorum of the 12 Apostles, the Young Women’s Presidency, The Relief Society Presidency, either enforce or perpetuate gender inequality is a tall order. The implied assumption that there are imperfections in LDS leadership is the key reason Ordain Women has such little support among active members.
But, in Mormonism, revelation from God trumps everything else. If the male prophet declares that God had revealed that women should receive the priesthood, there would be universal approval from active members. In other words, the Pew numbers that reveal opposition would collapse. I have no idea if such a revelation will ever occur, but it’s certainly not impossible.
When I was a toddler, in the late 1960s, my mother, an active Mormon who today is critical of Ordain Women, wrote personal blessings to me and my six siblings. She had cancer at the time and wasn’t sure at the time she would survive. I have read the family blessing she gave me many times, and I believe she was inspired by God, as is my father when he gives priesthood blessings.