Why do active Mormon women oppose Ordain Women?

(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.

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31 Responses to Why do active Mormon women oppose Ordain Women?

  1. Jim W says:

    I recall when the (then) RLDS church announced the extension of priesthood to women. My mom, curious, went to the first available RLDS meeting. She was one of few women there; the bishop announced that most of them were at home, still in shock.

  2. Josh J says:

    This is one of the most fair assessments of the group that I’ve read. After hearing of the group, I too went to the website and read all of the profiles. I became so convinced that their hearts were in the right place that I drove down to temple square from my home in North Ogden to volunteer as a photographer for the event.

    These women aren’t power hungry, hostile, or any of the labels they’ve been given. Most are active, temple-attending sisters and allies; others, as President Uchtdorf noted in his address, have good reason for not being active.

    I parked myself near the door with 2 cameras and photographed each of them as they were rejected at the door. I didn’t see any contempt, malice, or anger; only optimism, and sometimes sadness. It will forever shape my perspective about the experience my own daughters will have in the church.

  3. D. Michael Martindale says:

    “Comfortable” is surely one aspect of why so many LDS women oppose this, but I think it runs deeper than that.

    I think this is a testament of how deeply ingrained and insidious the Mormon process of indoctrination runs. I think a second aspect is fear.

    The taboo against criticizing church leaders is a powerful one. It permeates every aspect of the culture. You literally risk your membership by daring to criticize.

    Coming out in support of women receiving the priesthood is seen as apostasy, and that’s something the active LDS person–man or women–does not want to be perceived as doing.

    And the reason is fear.

    Taking a poll among active LDS women about receiving the priesthood is like taking a poll among black slaves to go on record saying they want their master to free them. How many of them would say yes?

    • Doug Gibson says:

      D. Michael, but I don’t think the vast majority of active LDS women who oppose priesthood for women are motivated by fear. If you believe that there is a deliberate form of indoctrination, another word might be the doctrine any church teaches. I still think the main reason for the opposition is these women’s testimonies of their church, their current satisfaction with their religious state and their discomfort with the implied idea that their church leaders are promulgating gender-inequality. … 125-plus years ago there were passionate women defenders of polygamy. I don’t think Eliza Snow or Emmeline Wells were motivated by fear. They were wrong, in my opinion, though.

      • D. Michael Martindale says:

        I’ve been in the culture for half a century. I’ve seen the fear–the fear that’s deep inside that no one will acknowledge, that fear of saying something that might seem critical. The fear that causes people to call your perfectly legitimate blogs of interesting church history anti-Mormon. The fear that caused my elder’s quorum president to come up to me in the foyer like a secret agent making contact and surreptitiously–almost in a whisper–tell me that he’s learned some things that bother him.

        The fear I felt for half a century, that one doesn’t really feel consciously, but affects how one approaches one’s relationship with the church. The one that makes you feel funny when somebody does say something critical about the church.

        And the indoctrination I’m talking about is not doctrine itself, but that fear of being outspoken abot what one thinks of the doctrine or policies of the church.

        • Doug Gibson says:

          D. Michael, I think you have a point that fear of leaving an organization that is a part of your life can lead to conformity. I respect your experiences and opinions.

        • trytoseeitmyway says:

          I love the phrase, “The fear I felt for half a century, that one doesn’t really feel consciously . . . .”

          I get it. You felt it and didn’t feel it, all at the same time. Because you were unaware (unconscious) of the feeling, but you felt it anyway. And it was fear – real, tangible, boogyman-under-the-bed, heart-pounding, palm-sweating fear – that you felt when you weren’t actually feeling it. And you know that you felt that fear, even though you didn’t feel it, because it was felt unconsciously.

          Or maybe you’ve had regression therapy or something.

          Am I just picking on a verbal infelicity? No, I’m not. There is a point to this: Your decision to label a normal impulse toward conformity and adoption of shared values, which is inherent in every membership organization that ever was and which is therefore not at all unique to the culture of the Church, as “fear” is an exaggeration. You seem to need to exaggerate real, quotidian experience and conditions, precisely so you cry about how abused you were by every day life without seeming to be a spoiled little boy. That presumably derives from your desire to criticize the culture and doctrines of the Church at every turn, as you demonstrate regularly. This is not to say that those things are never subject to criticism or ought to be immune from them. It IS to say that if you can’t discuss them fairly, realistically and even-handedly – that is, if you find that you have to exaggerate conditions and circumstances (“fear”) to make your point – you shouldn’t do it at all.

          • In following emergent Mormonism for the last few months it occured to me that the Mormon church would have to deal with the fallout coming from emerging from its secrecy. In noticing how you are appearing in several of the comment sections of these Mormon articles with responses that attack commenters in a way that is patronizing, ridiculing, and in attacking the character of others, I have to wonder if you are one of those who have been commissioned or set apart to deal with the fallout.

            For those interested in the “ism’s” in the world today, read my blog.

          • trytoseeitmyway says:

            Yeah, Dave, that’s the blog that condemns Catholicism as one of the -isms. Mormons, Catholics, all manner of people of faith are in the “-isms” unless they adopt the very same wrongheaded understanding of Christianity that you have.

            But really I ought to be responding to your criticism of me, which was in response to my criticism of Brother Martindale. (You almost need a piece of scratch paper to draw the diagram.) Your criticism of me was that I was critical of him, which seems a somewhat odd view to take. Of course you probably don’t like me saying that, on account of you think that you should not be criticized.

            My complaint against Martindale is that I see him as a very frequent commenter on Doug Gibson’s page here, essentially always expressing his (Martndale’s) own criticisms of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its leadership and culture. While I don’t think that any of those things ought to be immune from criticism, it strikes me that the critic ought to shoulder a burden of accuracy, fairness and even-handedness.

            Every so often – I certainly don’t have the time to do this on every single occasion; it would become a full time job – I take issue with critical comments that aren’t accurate, and that aren’t even-handed, and that aren’t fair. Martindale posts his share here. You post more than your share … everywhere. Whether posting as downtown dave or David Tiffany, you are all over the place. There was an article recently simply about the construction of temples. It had no particular religious component to it at all; it was simply about the building of temples. And yet, there you were, saying in essence, it doesn’t matter how many temples are built, you need to worship Jesus, precisely as though Mormons somehow don’t.

            You have every right to do that, of course, but I have every right to find it obnoxious and every right to say so if I feel so inclined. You can tell everyone at the drop of a hat – as you do – that you’re a fifth generation Mormon, but that means exactly nothing to anyone. It’s just your way of giving yourself the appearance of credibility. But I used to be an evangelical Christian like you. When I left that faith, I DIDN’T spend my days looking for evangelicals to harass or to lie about. I continued to love my parents, my family and the church and teachings of my youth, even as I sought something better, more complete, more meaningful and more aligned with spiritual truth. The business of leaving the Church while refusing to leave it alone is something I don’t understand and that I find morally blameworthy. Blameworthy because it lacks love toward others and respect toward the faith of others.

            So my standards are simple. Criticism is OK. Discussions of doctrine are OK. Falsity and distortion are not OK. Harassment (here defined as finding as many articles on Mormons and Mormonism as one can possibly find, in order to post negative comments and to push traffic toward your really lame blog) is not OK. And I’ll say so if I want to. OK?

    • Miley says:

      Perhaps the reason we oppose it so strongly is because we understand, as it it has been mentioned before, that equality and sameness are two different things. We have our responsibilities, given to us by God himself. We embrace it and we do a great job at it. Others have their responsibilities and they do all they can to fulfill that.

  4. Crystal says:

    Just about as perfect as it can be. I wish I could send it to my Mormon family, but I can’t. I’m afraid.

  5. EssEm says:

    I am an interested outsider to the LDS Church. I simply ask you to look around at what has happened to almost every church which ordains women. How many of them are able to maintain fidelity to their tradition? And what happens to the men in these churches: where do they go? Secular liberal ideas of “equality” eventually overtake and overrun every other consideration, de-naturing centuries-old communities.

  6. Dorthey says:

    Some ideas as to why I would oppose ordaining women in the Priesthood….
    1.) There must be an opposition in all things. When I think of Heavenly Father and Mother I am reminded of this truth. It echo’s throughout eternity…opposition isn’t bad, it is a must! One has the Priesthood and one does not…opposites. And a word is needed.
    2.) The Priesthood is there to serve others. When I think of Heavenly Father and Mother I see that the Priesthood being held by one and used in server to another teaches the fundamental purpose of the Priesthood. And not one word is spoken.
    3.) There can be no power or authority used in the Priesthood over others except with the very gentle and mild exceptions placed in Section 121 of the D&C. If we extend the Priesthood to women to make them “equal” and to end discrimination then we are saying that the Priesthood is used to lift the person holding it into a higher position than the one not holding it. That is in contradiction to the purpose of the Priesthood. Men take this upon themselves to serve God and to serve others. What would we be saying to all the men and women who came before us? “Listen you chumps…did you really believe that the Priesthood was meant to serve others? Ha! It’s really meant to lift!”
    I can understand the need this group feels to be perceived as humbling seeking equality and breaking down gender barriers. That however is not God’s purpose in having the Priesthood here.
    And if we are to use our prayers to pressure God into giving a revelation to the Prophet why not ask for something we all need….like asking God to give the Prophet a revelation on how to end world hunger, stop child and spousal abuse, end wars, cure cancer, ect..ect..ect?
    To tell me that I am just “comfortable” and have no other reasons for rejecting this idea is disrespectful.

  7. Shaun Maher, Mesa AZ says:

    The problem is that those who advocate ordaining woman to the priesthood are driven by equality, not equality of of opportunity but equality of results. I have no doubt, that if the church announced woman could hold the priesthood these same activities would be advocating the “same” number of woman bishops as men bishops, the same number of woman stake presidents as men stake presidents. I know these people, their liberal values trump their religious values. President Packer was killed back in the 1993 for saying that Feminism is one of three major threats to members of the church. Feminist ideology seeks to make woman masculine and demean men. In all honestly, I have no idea how any member who knows the doctrine could be supportive of ordaining woman to the priesthood.

    • Seripanther says:

      I don’t believe we’ve met. Hi. I’m “one of these people.” I’m a woman, and thrilled to be so. I have no desire to trade my genitals with anyone else’s. I am a political conservative. And I’ve never demeaned a man in my life.

      What else have you got?

  8. Dee says:

    I don’t think doctrinal differences or loyalty to Church leaders or “fear” explain the strong distaste many LDS women have for OW and other activist groups. And I don’t see how anyone can stereotype LDS women as “comfortable.” Most of the LDS women I know are converts who have had many bitter experiences, including rape and abusive marriages, before they joined the Church. (Surveys indicate that about 90% of all women in my region of the US have experienced abuse at some point.) For these sisters, LDS teachings about gender and family life are a haven of safety, dignity, and respect.

    I personally object to OW presuming to speak for me as an LDS woman without my consent. I have my own strong feelings about the Church, and I’m tired of OW’s implication that my voice is somehow less valid and important than their activities and publicity stunts.

  9. Shaun Maher, Mesa AZ says:

    Dee, The church needs more woman like yourself to speak out! Glad your there!

  10. laverl09 says:

    Just like the people of Moses inherited a lower law, we as a people are also responsible for not being able to handle some of the higher principles. In this dispensation charged with the “restitution of all things…since the world began” (Acts 3:19-23), we have had many false starts.
    All those who are LDS history informed, know that as LDS we unwillingly gave up polygamy after the government rescinded our non-profit status, took ownership of all Church assets and refused to give them back and re-institute us as a Church until we discontinued our sanctioning of polygamy.
    We also know that the D&C revelations concerning the Law of Consecration were rescinded by revelation because “we” as members couldn’t live it. And we can’t blame the Missourians either, because Brigham Young tried to get it going again in Utah and we still weren’t capable.
    We also struggled with President Young’s teachings of Adam-God for more than fifty years until the LA times kept badgering the missionaries about it enough that the Church had to back off—thus the writing of the 1916 Exposition on the Godhead by the First Presidency and the Twelve.
    And because of outside mockery, we are currently being very soft on teaching about Mother in Heaven and God as a former human, as well as Jesus being eternally married (a requirement to being exalted).
    Just two weeks after he organized the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph Smith announced his intention to confer priesthood on women. He told them on 30 March 1842 that “the Society should move according to the ancient Priesthood” and that he was “going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day—as in Paul’s day.”
    We are familiar with the current concept that the “fulness of the Priesthood” can’t be held by male or female alone—it is a joint ordination in fulfillment of the temple marriage. But we also have the obvious teaching that there will be both Priests and Priestesses in the Celestial Kingdom. What does that look like? How does it work? We don’t know, because each time it has been initiated (except with Enoch) it has been squashed due to apostasy. The Old Testament world saw the High Priestess system decline into fertility rites. Idolatry came to be synonymous with adultery and therefore forbidden. Henceforth, the Old Testament became a scripture edited and canonized by men to eliminate the role of women in the priesthood.
    What is not being talked about is that in the time of Joseph Smith, he himself disbanded the Relief Society and halted any promised training in Priestesshood just two years after it was organized because Emma led such a strong campaign against polygamy. The Society was reorganized 42 years later by Brigham Young in 1866 along the lines of its current functions today, but without the Priestesshood training mentioned by Joseph Smith.
    I have a firm testimony that “Priesthood is not only the power to act in the name of God, it is also the power to become like God”.
    It is my prayer that we as members might live in such a way as to have ALL these lost “restitutions” re-instituted. The Lord can only reveal to us what we are prepared to receive. Therefore, if we want to live the higher principles, it is up to us as members to raise our own levels of spirituality, which is the necessary prerequisite.

    • Dee says:

      I think this is a good explanation of why an active LDS person might believe that women will be ordained at some point. I’m skeptical about it myself, but I have absolutely no problem with members considering or believing this interpretation of Church history. The Church accepts great doctrinal diversity among the members. (My friends’ ideas about the Creation of the world range from a literal reading of Genesis to accepting evolution.)

      The problem with OW is that a small group of people are trying to impose their beliefs on the whole Church. The members of OW are free to believe whatever they want–but they have no right to insist that millions of other people change our beliefs and practices to accommodate them.

  11. Dlar91 says:

    Interesting article and comments. I am a mormon and am married. I have been interested in my wife’s reaction to OW. We have spoken at length about it and she is not one that would seek out ordination to the Priesthood. Why? She does not appear to be secretly wishing for ordination but is too scared to admit it – she’s really not afraid of anything. She is mildly amused by the tactics used by the group to draw attention to their cause. At the end of the day, here is her position: There is so much work to do in our families and in our local wards and stakes. The work of the church is not about equality, but I can tell you that at the ward level there is plenty of important work for everyone, regardless of gender. The Gospel is about rolling up your sleeves and getting to work, becoming better people, repenting, serving and loving our families, our church and community. OW is a distraction from what the gospel is really about. It is ultimately a misdirection of energy and focus away from things that are critical to things that are not.

    I believe that this is an opinion held by many women that do not support OW.

  12. Nobody important says:

    Forgive my bluntness, but another reason I’ve seen for women’s (and men’s) opposition to OW is OW’s own questionable tactics. While I don’t doubt that many of the participants are sincere in their desires, I’ve, for one, lost respect for their leader/spokesperson.

    • Dee says:

      There’s a new FB group organized to attack Ruth Todd because she was the one who spoke to the press when OW attempted to crash the General Priesthood session last week. All she did was point out the obvious–that many LDS women don’t share OW’s views. They’re furious with her for daring to speak the truth.

      If OW were really interested in letting women’s voices be heard, they wouldn’t try to drown out women, like Ruth Todd and Elaine Dalton, who disagree with them.

  13. A says:

    I don’t think it is right to speak for all of the women in the church or try to explain the “why’s”without asking each individual. For me it is not that I am uncomfortable with the idea. Nor am I secretly wanting it but ashamed to admit it. I simply do not feel it is necessary for women to have the priesthood. a) because God has not organized it that way in our time and b) I am so consumed with my duties as an lds woman and feel blessed to be able to support my husband in his priesthood duties. God does not view equality as 50/50 or sharing the same duties. If God decides it is right to give women the priesthood than He will and it sure does not matter the size of the group or amount of women wanting it. So until then I wish the women who want the priesthood would pray for it quietly in their own homes and if they feel it necessary then they should go speak with the first presidency. If I could talk to this group I would ask them to please stop speaking for the entire body of women in the church.

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  15. Neal Cassidy says:

    In the past the LDS church has excommunicated women who have spoken on issues of doctrine that contradict leadership views. Perhaps you have never expressed an opinion on theology that runs counter to established doctrine or had a differering understanding of current practices and policies. Asking the male leadership to pray for guidance and revelation about this matter is not heresay.

    • Dee says:

      Actually, I HAVE disagreed strongly with my male priesthood leaders. I had a difference with several of them which lasted for many years. I was very frank–even blunt–in explaining my disagreement in a variety of settings, including in communication with a General Authority. During this time, I was never threatened with excommunication. The only individual who lost a temple recommend in all this was a male stake leader who, among many other things, misrepresented my character in an effort to silence me.

      In my current callings I work with the very leaders who were involved in my dispute. Some of them have become close personal friends.

      The Church is not running some kind of modern Inquisition here–there’s plenty of room for people who have differing opinions and experiences.

  16. Sarah says:

    First off, let me say I’m a “never say never” type of person. But I do find the Ordain Women movement off putting. I’ve got a couple of anecdotes to explain why.

    My parents divorced when I was 2 in a very public manner. My father became involved with someone in our ward and she got pregnant. Now that I am older and married with my own family, my mother has discussed a few times with me the complete horror of the situation and the shame she felt. She said walking into Church on Sunday to find a place to sit was almost unbearable. Why? Other women in the ward: gossips and judgers who held her responsible (or enjoyed her screwed up marriage for sport) for my dad’s poor choices. Their eyes and whispers were always on her. In hindsight, she realized the only reason she kept going to Church was because our Bishop showed such love to her. In subsequent years, my mom became kind of biased against men in general, except in Church situations. She honors the Priesthood and the men who hold it honorably.

    The second anecdote is in relation to my upbringing. Because I never had a dad in the home, I was/am uncomfortable around men in family situations if I don’t know them very well. I get nervous and feel awkward; I feel uncomfortable carrying on a conversation. How could someone like me ever get married, having such odd social anxieties? How could I ever trust my own spouse? The Priesthood as presently constituted has allowed me to see and understand what kind of Father our Heavenly Father is. My leaders have let me understand Heavenly Father better by proxy through the authority he has given him.

    Many in the OW movement or wear your pants to Church day people see women like my mother and me and say, “See! This is why we need to have women in Priesthood leadership roles! So they can feel more comfortable.” I say, being comfortable would not have allowed me or my mother to find a real relationship with our Heavenly Father.

    When all is said and done are roles as men and women are different. Our Father’s role is centered in his Power and how he gives it to others to officiate as if they were him. And I am grateful for it, because it helps me understand him more.

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  18. jg says:

    I firmly beliieve that after Joseph Smith was murdered (Hyrum Smith too) the leaders who came after J. Smith totally changed the direction of the church from what J. Smith intended it to be, from what it was supposed to be.
    The status quo is comfortable with the way things are and do not see a need to petition God for anything. The LDS church has become like mainstream Christianity, in that it believes we have all that we need and therefore God no longer needs to communicate with anyone about anything. The Heavens are closed.

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