To conclude our series on the Ordain Women project (you can find part 1 here, and part 2 here), we bring together Kate Kelly, Heather Olson Beal, Neylan McBaine and Sara Vraneš for a concluding dialogue.
We’d like to thank all of the participants in this discussion.
Major props to Sara & Neylan for champing this conversation. Really appreciated this opportunity to engage with y’all!
Great Discussion! One distinction I didn’t hear pointed out is that when a man offers a priesthood blessing under the current authority of the church, he phrases the blessing as “I bless you…” Which is not the same as “asking” god for a blessing. That is one of the distinguishing features of a blessing from a prayer. Consider steps 3 & 4 of the ordinance of the blessing of Anointing With Oil.
“3. States that he is acting by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
4. States that he is anointing with oil that has been consecrated for anointing and blessing the sick and afflicted.”
This is not a criticism of the discussion or the points of view presented here. It seemed that there was some ambiguity about the terms discussed. Which is to be expected. The women in the church are not usually taught the procedures of the ordinances or the meaning of the words as intended by the church. It is even something that is often taken for granted by many men who hold the priesthood (in my experience).
I thoroughly enjoyed this third interchange on women’s issues. I admire the tone and respect they exhibited. They are well-spoken women. I’m hoping there will be a fourth installment for the following reasons. There were a couple of dimensions of the issues that were mentioned but not fully developed, i.e. 1) the idea of a separate, female order of the priesthood; and 2) the role of Heavenly Mother in our spiritual and cultural life as Mormons.
In thinking about number one above, I want to participate in organizations that can make a place for women like Heather who declare that the normal divisions of responsibilities for men and women don’t work for her on the personal level. I think we can achieve that. I think we can make a place for her and others like her in our structure, but at the same time acknowledge that, in general, there are distinct differences between the sexes we do well to honor. I teach parent/toddler classes. Many two-year-olds have passed through my care. Generally speaking, they have exhibited marked differences in their behavior because of their gender. Generally speaking, mothers are very different than fathers in the care of their children. That is why I favor a dialog that was touched upon by Maxine Hanks in the second part of this discussion concerning the precedent in Church history of the Relief Society being an order of the priesthood that could have female offices. I realize that the Relief Society did not fully complete the structure that was started by our church foremothers and Joseph Smith. That dialog is greatly in need of being re-entered.
I’m one of those who don’t want ordination to male offices because I think we would serve the Church better through an autonomous and interdependent female organization. I want women to have as much decision making power within the Church. I want women to have full, independent stewardship over areas where women have primary concern, namely, the bearing and rearing of children, especially young children. For instance, I do not believe it is in the highest good of the Church for men to have veto power over the decisions of the Primary leadership. That seems in direct violation to the principles set forth in the Proclamation on the Family.
The second issue, the role of Heavenly Mother, to me is the most important. I don’t believe we can navigate through these confusing waters without the direct petition to and acknowledgement of the feminine half of divinity. The participants in this recent discussion seemed ill at ease when Heavenly Mother was mentioned. I think She should be the ground from which the discussion grows, not a tentative footnote at the end. This is not because God the Father is somehow incapable of speaking for her or inspiring us through Her influence, but because we, as mortals, are limited in our ability to discern spiritual truths about Her and about the role of women because our language, our prayers, and our images exclude Her. This is a mortal limitation.
So John—I’m requesting another installment. I’d love to hear more from Maxine Hanks and any others about the female orders of the priesthood and Heavenly Mother as a divine source of wisdom and revelation to sort through these matters.
Wow, I really appreciated this discussion! Neylan, Kate, Heather, and Sara, I respect you all so much and everyone’s perspective in real time was so fascinating. I have renewed respect for each and every one of you. I’m honored to be a Mormon Feminist with y’all. I happen to be of the Ordain Women variety, but the excellent point was made by someone in the podcast that we’re all approaching the problem of inequality that we all acknowledge from different perspectives, and we can all work together even while coming from different angles. We all want to see LDS women lead a “big life” (so true, Neylan!). One thing I’d love to hear more about sometime is how when something in our church that is currently called doctrine–if it doesn’t sit well with our moral conscience, I’ve heard my fellow members say that we’re going to put it up on a shelf (like why men have the priesthood and women don’t). I feel very strongly that if something doesn’t feel right we can agitate faithfully and hope/pray while doing what we can that our leaders will prayerfully consider the issue, like so many did when Black men could not hold the priesthood and Black women could not receive their endowment. That ban was documented as “doctrine” by prophets and apostles (exact word they used). But another day…right now, I’m content after listening to a very engaging and “real talk” podcast. ;)
Wow, that was illuminating for me. Mostly because after the first two episodes I thought I more closely aligned with group two – but after this I find myself a conglomeration of Maxine/Neylan/Kate’s philosophies and approaches.
I was surprised at the responses to priestess-hood, and that I didn’t understand that priesthood doesn’t equal males. In general when I explain my feminism to others in the Church I bring up that I’m not advocating for priesthood because
1) I’m waiting for further light and knowledge regarding becoming a priestess. This actually goes over fairly well because of our exposure to the words in the temple. I’m not saying that priesthood = men; but when women become priestesses, it will be a separate organization apart from, and not in submission/auxiliary position to the priesthood. That it will be the same priesthood power in gendered organizations, and the fact that I’m a girl makes me a priestess. So basically priesthood for women is named priestess-hood, and we are promised that it will come in the future. It’s there, we have the promise. Can’t wait to see what we learn when revelation comes. It is here I find myself aligning more with Maxine, that RS would morph and grow into an equal partner organization to the PH org.
2) The second reason I don’t support Ordain Women is because – yes, I do believe women should be in decision making roles in the church. Building upon my idea of gendered priesthood organizations, the female leaders (even today) should be given stewardship to have an equal say on decision-making boards. I think those changes could be made via policy and stewardship changes without giving women the priesthood. For example, RS general board members could be called in equal number of men to serve on: Leadership Committee, Missionary, Temple/Genealogy, Planning, Curriculum, Correlation, Welfare, Financial, Primary, Sunday School, etc. Because those are all boards making decisions for both genders. For gendered organizations, of course, their committees/boards would remain gendered. So just take the structure of the new Missionary Councils and institute it church-wide.
I find myself aligning in different ways with Neylan and Kate. I find it interesting that Neylan says Civil Rights parallels don’t apply in the Church (I agree), but her approach for change is a very civil rights approach — that it comes from bottom up movement. So I agree more with Kate here, change comes in this church from the top down. The culture is what it is because of what we hear said from the top level. Culture won’t change until we hear a different message and get organizational changes from the top. I don’t foresee women just being more comfortable with the ideas by us talking about them. This coming from personal experience of coming out of the closet as a Mormon feminist to my family and the public (on my blog this year). Just because I cite the RS minutes and historical documents that women blessed and healed by laying on of hands, doesn’t make any of them more comfortable with the idea. They see it as Sheri Dew cited in her priesthood book, that she believes it was an incorrect practice that has since been corrected and kept to the confines of the temple.
I’m grateful for Kate & Ordain Women and the conversation they started and the study it’s prompted in my own life. And I’m grateful for Neylan and her voice, but find myself parting with her in being able to find peace with the current structure of the church. I’m an accountant and it tore me up when my marketing-non-finance-guy husband came home with a stake auditor calling. When in the church will they quit seeing me as a gender first, and look at me as a Spirit with talents and gifts to be used for building the kingdom, and I think one of those gifts is accounting, that I’m restricted from using.
I’ll also echo Joy’s comment that this conversation isn’t complete without Heavenly Mother.
Anyways, I’ve found my path to be blogging as a ‘Moderate Mormon Feminist’ and having conversations – because I feel my view isn’t well represented or part of the conversation. By in large I’ve had negative interactions – but each time I get a little feedback that what I shared is exactly what someone needed to hear. And so I continue :)
I feel like all of the women were so concerned about being pleasant to each other and it didn’t allow for any rigorous debate. There was much more substance just in the comment section of the last podcast.
I’m also disappointed that Fiona, Margaret and Maxine weren’t part of the discussion. Why didn’t they return?
I was not concerned with being “pleasant”, but this was not a debate, it was a conversation. Those are two very different things to me.
You’re right, they are two different things. But your tone was decidedly different when talking to these women in person than it was with your comments after their podcast.
I am a supporter of ordain women. I just would have liked to see your position defended with a little more passion
@renee, you are right. Kate’s tone here is markedly different from comments on episode 2. For me I’m grateful, because the previous tone had me high tailing it away from her position – whereas this tone drew me closer to it.
Did you listen in to both segments until the bitter end Renee? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t b/c it’s so l-o-n-g, but I think passionate positions were expressed by all in a really fantastic way.
For other listeners… if you have limited time, opt for Part II! :)
I totally get why the tone felt different to you. These conversations can be difficult. So while I was not trying to be “extra nice” on purpose, I do think we owe it to our fellow sisters and fellow church members (male or female) to practice dialoguing about these ideas without being nasty. I feel like we touched on some pretty dicey topics in this podcast, but did it while still taking the high road.
I am really grateful for MormonStories collecting all these stellar women to share their thoughts and experiences! I have learned so much from this entire series of discussions and am so glad there is a venue like this where respectful, deep conversations (not debates, please!) can happen. I really hope these are continued! Thank you so much!!!
Another reason the majority of women in the church might say they don’t favor ordination is that church membership is self-selecting. My experience has been that most women who are feminists simply vote with their feet and leave. Those who stay are more likely to be satisfied with the status quo.
This was a wonderful conversation! I enjoyed hearing these women identify their common ground and articulate their differences.
I guess my biggest frustration with the women in these broadcasts who oppose the Ordain Women position is their continued insistence that they are already ordained. It was stated in the second podcast and Neylan repeated it again here, stating something like, “I have been ordained in the temple with power to act in God’s name.”
With all due respect, ordination is not a feeling. Boyd K. Packer, in 1993, expressly stated:
“Some members of the Church are now teaching that priesthood is some kind of a free-floating authority which can be assumed by anyone who has had the endowment….
“The priesthood is conferred through ordination, not simply through making a covenant or receiving a blessing. It has been so since the beginning. Regardless of what they may assume or imply or infer from anything which has been said or written, past or present, specific ordination to an office in the priesthood is the way, and the only way, it has been or is now conferred.”
So do we just say, well that was 20 years ago and it doesn’t matter any more what he said back then? Packer gave this talk in direct response to the work of feminists who were, at that time, saying what Neylan and some of the prior panelists were saying: That the Endowment imbues women with priesthood. In the face of Packer’s statements, which have never been retracted or officially refuted, as far as I know, I don’t see how these women can continue to say they are “ordained” to any form of meaningful priesthood in the LDS church.
Call me dense, or unenlightened, or simply too uninspired to figure out that as an endowed woman, I already have priesthood, which I can step up and claim and use, but I have to agree with Kate that doing that seems like a far more radical step than asking The Brethren to pray about ordaining women or admit us into the priesthood session. (Yes, I was there.)
If I recall correctly, in the prior broadcast, as well as in this one, there was considerable discussion of the idea of “keys.” Joseph “turned the key” to women. I think it was Fiona who said that Emma had priesthood keys for the female distaff. But Elder Packer has been very explicit in maintaining the women do NOT have keys:
“Because women are not ordained to the priesthood, when sisters are set apart to offices, including the office of president in an auxiliary, they receive authority, responsibility, and blessings connected with the office, but they do not receive keys.”
In this broadcast, Neylan talked about how we can all receive blessings from priesthood, though men hold the keys. Women can have great and wonderful experiences through the men who hold these keys. As I listened to that, my mind’s eye saw a recent photo of a Saudi woman driving a car, in protest of the Saudi restriction on women driving. Saudi women can undoubtedly be driven to wonderful and amazing places, but the’re not allowed to have the keys to the car. This is the ol’ men have the priesthood but women have access to all the blessings argument. All the blessings? Not quite, IMO.
Twenty years ago, women and men who said the things that Neylan, Margaret, Fiona and Maxine are now saying about women’s priesthood were excommunicated for statements, and Packer slammed the door shut on their ideas. Can someone enlighten me on when it came back open to the point where women who have some form of insider track to the hierarchy can now say these things without adverse consequence?
I agree with all of these women that this is an important discussion that needs to continue, and I thank them all for their participation.
Amen Nadine! I’m not satisfied with a back seat. Women need to take the wheel.
Your analogy of the Saudi women is brilliant! I would like to see that further developed and published far and wide.
Amen, again, Nadine. Excellent points. When I listen to Neylan, Margaret, Fiona, and Maxine talk, I often feel they are describing an entirely different church than the Mormon church I attended for 42 years. It’s a beautiful church they describe, just not sure it exists.
Now, the church BKP describes? Pretty sure that church exists.
Excellent conversation between such articulate and thoughtful women. I would like to hear more about Neylan’s belief that a Catholic mother’s prayer for her child is less powerful than a Mormon mother’s.
As an outsider, I’m surprised to hear that even progressive, open-minded Mormons still believe that other religions are less than their own. Or did Neylan misspeak?
Amazing conversation: I believe that this is the beginning of a great outpouring of light and knowledge. May this conversation roll on and on and on with it’s richness and many deep and sincere questions throughout the entire earth.
We know so little and this conversation will help us learn so much. Thank you to all who participated and who continue to talk about these things in a respectful way to all the people they know.
I appreciate your kind comment, DP. Thank you!
Thank you for an amazing (and respectful) conversation. What strikes me most about this conversation is how LDS doctrine is often more vague when it applies to women than when it applies to men. For example, Priesthood is the power of God and is obviously a core part of our doctrine. As a culture, we don’t generally have a hard time explaining men’s relationship with the Priesthood, but (I think this panel demonstrated) how difficult it is to define women’s relationship with the Priesthood. As a church we still have a lot of questions about whether women now hold or will hold the Priesthood in the future, whether that Priesthood is different from what men hold, what powers that entails, etc. etc. The same types of questions just don’t exist for men. I think it is supremely important that we as a church (and as women) understand women’s relationship with the power of God. Thus, I applaud efforts to raise awareness of this oversight in our doctrine and to agitate to receive more answers to these questions both personally and on a church-wide level.
Fascinating discussion! I have a follow-up question for Kate on the statistic that single women are leaving the church at the rate of 70%. Where is that information from? I’m a single, childless woman in my early 30’s and have been drawn to this issue of women’s ordination because of a general feeling of my importance waning in the church the older I get. Perhaps an example of being “compelled to be humble”… Temple worship, church attendance, even my personal relationship to God have been compromised because I don’t fit in to the gospel plan or culture. The idea of claiming power independent from a male hierarchy resonates with me in this stage of my life. And the idea of living my life on the margins of the church waiting for death so I can find my eternal companion does not. I agree with you that this issue of single women leaving the church seems to be unimportant or unrecognized to the general church body which seems to confirm the position that women need a voice and seats at the table.
What I was talking about, and did not articulate well was that 70% of single women who have lost their faith ranked women’s issues as significant.https://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/2012-fair-conference/2012-to-do-the-business-of-the-church-a-cooperative-paradigm
1st point I want to bring up: When I had a meeting with my Bishop about Ordain Women, I told my Bishop that Joseph Smith told the Relief Society that he was to make of them a society of priests he took HIGH offense to that as he said that doesn’t matter, what modern prophets say NOW is what matters, so when people mention Joseph Snith, sometimes they DO get in trouble…I got in more trouble than I will mention here.
2nd point…when it comes to the world changing but not church, in my mind its not about how much the word changes, but what the church is READY for. (I believe one day as a church we WILL be ready for women having the Priesthood, I just hope its in my lifetime…)
Third…I was surprised that no one brought up the inappropriateness of men being in a room with a young girl talking about sexual things. I think it should be men talking to me, and women talking to mem.
Third…I was surprised that no one brought up the inappropriateness of men being in a room with a young girl talking about sexual things. I think it should be men talking to me, and women talking to men.
SOrry…MEN talking to MEN
Men talking to men and women to women..sorry…
Kind of broke my heart to hear Heather say she didn’t feel she could participate with her husband in giving their child a blessing. On page 66 of Daughters of Light I quote President Joseph F. Smith in the “Questions and Answers” section of The Improvement Era, 10 (February 1907), 308. (Quoted also in Selections from Answers to Gospel Questions, A Course of Study for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums, 1972-73, p. 200.)–
“Does a wife hold the priesthood in connection with her husband? and may she lay hands on the sick with him, with authority?
“A wife does not hold the priesthood in connection with her husband, but she enjoys the benefits thereof with him; and if she is requested to lay hands on the sick with him, or with any other officer holding the Melchizedek priesthood, she may do so with perfect propriety. It is no uncommon thing for a man and wife unitedly to administer to their children, and the husband being mouth, he may properly say out of courtesy, ‘by authority of the holy priesthood in us vested.’”
Has that invitation been rescinded?
Carol you are one of my heroes! Respectfully, I think BQP’s quote from 1993’s general conference that Nadine quoted might be seen as rescinding that earlier invitation. And even if that can be done in the privacy of home, why not in public when her son is ordained or babies are blessed? My heart broke too when Heather told her story. And it hits a cord with me personally because I gave a blessing tonight for the first time for my sick daughter. And it was such a precious, empowering, and spiritual moment. And that’s why I feel women need to be ordained, in addition to efforts Neylan and Sara mention re: claiming our power as women on grass-roots levels. I feel the combination of public activism and individual efforts/paradigm-shifting will hopefully turn the tide of women’s marginalization in church culture.
I was a nerdy young man in my teens and was familiar with this Church history and so when I went through the temple for my endowment I always felt that the highest order of the priesthood was between and held by husband and wife. Joseph F. and Joseph Fielding Smith taught this at other times.
However, as to women laying on hands with their husbands… or even a woman laying her hands on children and offering up a prayer of faith… is something I would guess that 99% of Mormon women and men would feel uncomfortable with this. I think they would be worried that they were doing something wrong. Especially now with the way we have responded to so-called activism promoting women’s issues within the Church.
You are right that this was at one time something more acceptable. Just as it was acceptable for women to wash, anoint, and bless women. Just as it was normal for women to go to the temple to seek a blessing of comfort… to be washed and anointed for themselves, and not for their dead.
So much has changed. We are a people concerned with doing what is duly authorized. People would feel okay if an important leader suggested that a wife stand with her husband. But it would be something new and unusual for most LDS people.
I still believe that the view you put forward here and that Neylan and others put forward is quite radical and simply does not reflect the way most men and women view priesthood in the Church.
I view it that way. But when I was younger, and would mention this to friends and even adults I knew… they were all amazed to hear it. I think that is still the case today.
So I am not surprised Heather feels the way she does because I think most women do. Most men would think that this might be somehow inappropriate…. **unless an authority figure were to do it. Then it would be okay.
Thanks, I appreciate the comments. And I agree that most LDS men and women would feel uncomfortable doing what Joseph F. Smith said (and of course almost all have never heard of what he said). Still sad. There were various places of decision along the way where a road less traveled could have been taken to the benefit of us all.
Amen. I think it is going to be hard to change the tide simply by trying to change the rhetoric as Neylan and Sarah suggest.
I think it should be pointed out that already, from the letter writing campaign for women to pray, to OW seeking ordination and seeking to attend priesthood session… so much discussion is happening and changes; re: changes to general relief society meeting, broadcasting general priesthood session, women speaking at Christmas Devotional, and rumors of still more changes to come.
I also think that this specific conversation simply shows that we know very, very little about all of this and therefore, there is a lot of revelation to come.
Only when we ask powerful questions will we receive powerful answers.
Loved this conversation, and thank you to Heather, Neylan, Sara, and Kate. (Heather and Kate, I haven’t joined OW, but I am so grateful for what you are doing!)
I hope I don’t sound clueless here, but I would like more concrete examples from Neylan of how women can claim their power. I recall her discussing in another interview (on athoughtfulfaith.org) about her clear frustration over women in her ward in CA who did not step up to the call to perform community service (or something). I’m confused and would like more examples of what women are supposed to do? And I’m not talking about MoFem women going into their Bishops and Stake Presidents to make changes on the grass roots level.
It seems she is talking to the larger Mormon female population (who aren’t overly–or at all–concerned with these gender issues per se). What more are they to do? I recently served as RS pres in my ward, and it was evident that Mormon women are constantly going above the call of duty.
Also how do we talk about claiming our power on Sunday during RS?
Anyone have any insight about what Neylan is truly getting? Concrete examples? Sorry if the answer seems obvious. But I just would like more description as to what she is getting at for Mormon women as a whole.
Amazing questions. I agree that this is where those on “this side” of the conversation seemed to come short.
How are women supposed to claim their power?
I also believe Neylan speaks from a place of privilege–a safe place. It is not as easy for other women to rise up and claim their power as she suggests. Someone who is very close to me had this to say:
“I feel like Neylan esp. lives in a unique world and grew up in a unique world that is not common to many Mormon women, esp. those like me who live in Utah, in a very homogenous neighborhood and are married to an orthodox member. I think she has a hard time empathizing with us women “out here”. Same with Fiona Givens. We can’t just “claim” things. Folks out here have been taught over and over again to follow the prophet, to follow him above our own feelings and thoughts and ideas. We are still being taught in the temple to “hearken” and in the proclamation to have the husband “preside”. And if there is ever a question at church, we refer to the bishop for final say and help. Or the “priesthood”- esp. the older women. But still many who are my age. “
Can anyone explain to me why women’s issues–or more broadly, gender issues–within the church are not a civil rights issue???
DP I’m not much of a mind reader, but I think perhaps what Neylan was saying is that traditional civil rights movement tactics don’t work in the church. I thought she was talking about how to approach asking for change rather than negating that women’s issues aren’t a civil rights issue. Her concern, I think, was that making public demands for change might set back efforts that are quietly going on in other ways. She didn’t elaborate, but having known a lot of people over decades who wanted to get the church to change, I think there is a feeling that you can only move people so far from where they are, and Mormon leaders are accustomed to not being questioned or lobbied. If you push too hard, they might entrench themselves in positions that they cannot easily retreat from.
I have occasionally heard stories on other issues, like race or the Mountain Meadows Massacre, that church leaders were getting ready to make a change, but then they got public pressure and they ditched their plans so that it would not look like they were bowing to pressure.
While I understand that concern, and I think at times it happens, it’s not like they haven’t been given ample opportunity in the last 40 years to come to grips with changes that they need to make regarding women. I am out of patience with them, and if they are that petty about the needs and desires of women, who comprise at least half of the membership of the church, then that says something really terrible about their abilities as “leaders,” and they need to grow up.
It isn’t just in the best interests of women for the church to move itself into the 21st Century. It is also in the best interests of the institutional church. No organization can optimize its benefits by marginalizing half of its talent. There are LOTS of things besides ordaining women that Mormon leaders could do that would benefit women and maybe help staunch the flow of women out of the church, and they need to get on with doing it because frankly, young women aren’t waiting around for the LDS church to get with it. They are indeed claiming their power as Neylan would suggest, but in so doing they are taking themselves to a place where their contributions are actually appreciated, where they can contribute in the ways they want to contribute rather than from prescribed and limiting roles.
Claim your power? Absolutely! But if the church doesn’t provide an outlet for that power all of that energy will go elsewhere. And that is apparently exactly what it is doing where young women are concerned.
There is, or should be, room for all kind of activism. Those who have the listening ear of the Brethren should be whispering in it. In fact they should be speaking in it as loudly as they dare and insisting to them that the Women’s Movement is here to stay and that if they want to actually be prophetic about it, they should get in front and lead instead of consistently lagging behind. I know that isn’t always easy to do with people who don’t want to hear what you have to say. But maybe now we’ve got their attention.
That’s how I see it anyway. I don’t speak for anyone else and I might be a minority of one.
Actually when it comes to civil rights movements, the genesis group who was a group of maybe 300 African American men and women walked to the church office building to petition for the priestood…THAT is what got the ball really rolling…though it still took a while…so believe it or not civil rights movements do make a difference in the church.I see an incredible parallel between the Genesis group and Ordain Women.
The idea of the church being worried about being seen as bowing to pressure really frustrates me. God forbid the leaders of a large group of people respond to its members concerns. That might show weakness and lead to mass apostasy.
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