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Thoughts about OW Alternatives

Now that I’ve finished my transcript of Part 1 and Part 2 of Alternative Approaches to Ordain Women on Mormon Stories, I thought I’d give a recap of my reactions to them.

Thanks OW!

I was struck that all 4 panelists (Fiona, Margaret, Neylan, Maxine) all appreciated Ordain Women for raising consciousness of the issue.  Maxine Hanks even went so far to say

what I love about Ordain Women is #1 they use the ‘o’ word. They’re acclimating us to the word ordain. That’s the right word. I love they’re doing that.

Yet all four panelists don’t like the tactics that Ordain Women is using, feeling it is divisive.  Well, this “thanks” seems hollow to me.  Ordain Women is successful BECAUSE of the tactics.  No other group has been able to raise the consciousness.  I find this statement of thanks yet questioning tactics as strange.  They like the benefits of OW, but don’t want to be associated with the divisiveness.  With the LDS leaders’ pace of glacial change, I guess they’re fine that the status of changing women’s status won’t happen in their lifetimes.

No problem!

There was an interesting exchange where John Dehlin asked all 4 panelists if women’s issues in the church were a big problem.  Only Maxine Hanks said “Yes, there is a problem.”  I found this particular exchange interesting.

John, “Ok, I’ll ask the question this way. Are there serious problems in the church related to girls and women and priesthood power in your perspective? Fiona, you’re saying no, you don’t see it.”

Fiona, “No, I’m not saying that. I think there are, but there are always serious problems with one aspect of our church or another. Right now the focus seems to be on women. How serious those problems are, I’m not entirely sure. I think it would depend on the group of women you’re asking.”

John, “Ok, ok. But you don’t see some great disparity in the treatment or perceived value of girls and women in the church.”

Fiona, “Nothing that cannot be overcome, let me put it that way.”

John chuckles, “Oh you’re so diplomatic.”

I don’t quite understand why the group felt the need to minimize the problem.

Changing the Subject

Fiona Givens started off the podcast stating that there is a difference between priesthood power and priesthood authority.  She feels that priesthood power is more important than priesthood authority.  Surprisingly, all four women agreed that non-LDS also have priesthood power.  This sounds to me like a thoroughly protestant idea of priesthood.  It also seems to deflect from the issue that women have no representation in LDS leadership.  If anyone has priesthood power, then are LDS priesthood claims at all unique?

Male Hegemony

Fiona wrote a “response” several months before my post about her defending male hegemony (I didn’t know you can pre-emptively respond to a post that wasn’t written), and she says she isn’t for either male hegemony or female hegemony, but in this podcast, she does say that converts in Africa are attracted to the church, and missionary work there would suffer if male hegemony was abolished immediately.  Her son calls this a Trojan Horse approach.  I still view this as extremely problematic.  Now that I have quoted the entire podcast (and referred you to her “response”) I still maintain that I haven’t misquoted or misrepresented Fiona.  I still disagree with her that male hegemony is a wise course of action at this time.


Maxine Hanks claims this is a problem is semantics.  She stated that the Relief Society has similar structure to priesthood organizations.  I found her argument interesting.

When you look at the church, men and women are in mirrored positions from top to bottom of the church. We have a Relief Society presidency and First Presidency. We have Relief Society board of twelve and a Council of Twelve apostles. On the stake level we have the same organization, we have a Relief Society presidency and a stake presidency. We have a Relief Society board and a high council, and on a ward level we have a bishopric and a Relief Society presidency. There’s a Relief Society board on the ward level, and then a bishop’s council. They have mirror image ministerial callings and authority but we aren’t—the policy isn’t fully reflecting that in the ways that they counsel together, make decisions together, which is really improving. Elder Ballard’s talk about counseling with our councils really set that vision of bringing back the fullness of the equality of the council the men and women of the leaders meeting together and counseling together as equals. I really see that unfolding, and particularly as a result of his talk.

The problem that I see is not that women do not have access to priesthood and that they have not been ordained. Women were ordained in a number of ways in early Mormonism, and those ordinations, those accesses, those avenues of authority still exist and they have been practiced all this time, through the gifts of the spirit your membership and confirmation, through the Relief Society, which is a women’s order or quorum, through the temple endowment, and through the missionary calling. Those are four avenues through which women were ordained.

The word ordain was used in the first 20 years of the church, even after they came west to Utah. They used the word ordain. Brigham Young ordained Eliza Barnes Pratt in 1850 to serve a mission and gave her a bottle of consecrated oil to perform blessings with the oil. The word ordain was used, but they also set apart and those two words were interchangeable, and they meant the same thing. We don’t use the word ordain any more. We call it ‘setting apart.’ But I had a spiritual experience when I was set apart to my mission that I was somehow being ordained. I knew it spiritually.

So our problem is not structural, it’s not theological. The problem is not that women have not been ordained, and that’s I think a confusing factor that enters in whenever women are calling for ordination and sending this message that Mormon women have never been ordained, and they need to be ordained, and we’re completely shut out of priesthood. We’ve never had priesthood. You know it miscommunicates something that really the church itself is trying to message. It makes it harder for the church to message women’s authority and women’s ministry.

Look at the church website. Look at Visiting Teaching page. It’s all about ministry. How do you minister as what is women’s ministry? The point is it’s a semantics problem. It’s a language problem, and it’s a policy issue. So we do have a problem in that there’s a conflict or a kind of a disconnect between the authority and the ordination that’s there, implicit in the structure, and the way we talk about it. Our language doesn’t fully express or articulate or acknowledge women’s ordination and women’s authority in Mormonism and their equality. So it’s a language, it’s a semantics problem, and it’s a policy. It’s a policy problem.

Could it really be so simple that we put the Relief Society presidency on the stand with the bishopric, and have them take turns conducting Sacrament Meeting.  Is the General Relief Society President on par with the First Presidency?  Should women be ordained to the Relief Society (because there currently is no laying on of hands to become a member of Relief Society)?  Do you think of the Relief Society as a priesthood quorum?

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