LDS General Conference starts this weekend and the one question is whether Ordain Women will engage in social activism and gather to request admittance into the church’s all-male priesthood conference session. The answer to that is yes.
The second question is, will there be an effort to stop the activism? The answer is no. Can one imagine the media coverage of white males in the LDS Church leadership having women who want to attend an all-male session to worship dragged away?
So, there will be a repeat of the October activism, although this time smart phones will cover the event instead of media cameras.
March was a month in which hostility toward Ordain Women was subtly released by LDS leadership, via a letter in which it was requested that the Ordain Women movement “demonstrate” in “free-speech zones adjacent to Temple Square, which have long been established for those wishing to voice differing viewpoints.” That was a deliberate slap in the face to OW, with its direct comparison of the organization to anti-Mormon groups who congregate in the “free speech zones.”
I have read opinions — in more than one article — that the LDS Church committed a public relations fiasco by issuing the letter. One idea promulgated is that the letter unwittingly spurred more social activism and will prompt more activists to request admission to the priesthood session. I believe church leaders understood perfectly the consequences of the letter’s publication. They understand that active Mormons will see Saturday’s demonstration and realize that OW defied a request from the church’s leadership. That will further marginalize the group, which despite positive media coverage, has abysmal support among active Mormon women.
There’s nothing wrong with a group of Mormon women asking the church hierarchy to pray about women receiving the priesthood, or demonstrate outside all-male priesthood meetings. It’s wrong for the church to ban media cameras this weekend. LDS General Conference is a news event. A demonstration — outside the meeting — by active Mormon women who say they are ready to receive the priesthood is a news event. Cameras should be allowed.
But I understand why there is antagonism toward OW by most active Mormon women, as well as the church hierarchy. From conversations with some active Mormon women, I most often hear that OW’s citing of the failure to ordain women to the priesthood as an example of current gender inequality within the church is wrong. Ordain Women maintains that gender inequality in the LDS Church exists. Most active Mormons, regardless of sex, agree with that, but not on the priesthood exclusion. Some take offense at the implication they enable gender inequality by supporting an all-male priesthood.
To active, faithful Mormons, the priesthood is regarded as the authority to act in God’s name. LDS theology teaches that it was restored as follows: “The priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith by the laying on of hands by those who held it anciently. In May 1829, John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood, and shortly thereafter, Peter, James, and John, three of the Savior’s original Apostles, restored the Melchizedek Priesthood. On April 3, 1836, Moses, Elijah, and Elias restored additional priesthood keys.”
Most active Mormon women I know don’t consider themselves as possessing a lesser status than men because they don’t have the priesthood. They think of the priesthood as a gift from God, and having a priesthood holder in the house as an additional blessing from God. Most active Mormons correctly believe God regards men and women as equals.
How does one tell LDS women that the current priesthood structure makes them lesser church members? A challenge for OW is to convince these sisters that they have their best interests at heart when they demonstrate in favor of changing the priesthood structure. I’m not sure they can.
There are gender issues that need to be addressed, and improved, within the church. One is having women auxiliary leaders be involved in church disciplinary proceedings, so that the wisdom of both sexes can contribute to grave, life-impacting decisions. If OW maintains its stated respect for church leadership and support of faithful church activity it can likely help effect announcements that dictate these type of changes. That may be its positive impact to the LDS Church.