Strands of Priesthood

Many discussions about women and the priesthood get muddled because they don’t pay attention to the fact that “priesthood” involves multiple doctrines and practices, with different rationales, functions, and histories.  I thought it might be helpful if I separated the strands of priesthood and thought about them separately. 

In the home.  Priesthood is frequently mentioned in discussions of husband-wife relationships.  What is perhaps most interesting about this strand is how radically the “priesthood role” has been redefined in recent years.  See this post for an excellent example of this, but note that it isn’t just about two Ensign articles, but a much more broad-based shift.  And this shift means that women have gained significant ground, from “follower” to “co-equal” in their relationship to the priesthood in the home.  What is still a little confusing about “priesthood in the home” is that, presumably, a father without the priesthood should be doing exactly the same things (“provide, preside, protect”), so is there any sense in which we are using “priesthood” in the home as anything other than a synonym for “fatherhood”?  And, if the husband and wife are supposed to be co-equal leaders of the home, what does it mean to say that the father presides and/or provides spiritual leadership?  I don’t feel that I have ever heard a good explanation of this, and without this explanation of what “co-equal but one of you presides” means, we are open to accusations of “chicken patriarchy” or for using Orwellian double-speak.  (My thinking on this is the “co-equal but he presides” line is the bridge between the old paradigm [presiding] and the new paradigm [co-equals], used so we can pretend that the doctrine isn’t changing.)

(Tangent:  One defense of complementarianism [=the idea that men and women have different but equal roles] in the home is that it is necessary to foster the kind of interdependence that makes marriages strong.  But I think we can sustain robust interdependence by focusing instead on the unique bundle of strengths and weaknesses that each partner brings to the table, even if those traits and talents don’t follow stereotypical gender lines.  In fact, we need to do this ASAP if we want to convince anyone that marriage matters in a world where women don’t need protection from mastodons and can fund their own 401Ks.)

Ordinances.  Holding the priesthood is seen as a necessity to perform ordinances (with perhaps a carve-out for the temple; I’d like to delve into this more, but this isn’t the place and I’ll ruthlessly moderate comments on this point).  In this arena, women’s roles have become more circumscribed over time, as this article shows.

Church leadership.  Virtually all church leadership roles are restricted to priesthood holders.  The history here is complicated:  on the one hand, I think correlation has caused women to have less say, since they no longer are independent in their operation of the auxiliaries (in terms of budget, curriculum, program, etc.) but, on the other hand, there is a huge emphasis recently on women being active participants on, for example, ward councils, which means that women have more of a voice.  It is as if we have traded hard-but-limited-to-the-auxiliaries-power for soft-power-in-a-larger-sphere.

As a synonym for “men.”  This one is verboten (see the first paragraph under III), but it happens all the time anyway.  I would think that disliking this practice is not only a feminist issue, but one that would offend traditionalists by its assumption that “priesthood” isn’t anything special, but just, you know, a bunch of males.

As a focal point for male identity and/or shaper of “masculinity.”  This arena is, I think, hard to talk about because it is so subjective and mushy.  But there is no doubt that the priesthood actually performs this function in the church today.  This is a tough one; every feminist worth her salt wants men socialized into a manhood that avoids the worst excesses of modern culture’s take on masculinity, but no one seems too excited about the idea that this only works because men get something women don’t.  One idea that I have been chewing on:  I have heard it argued that the practice of polygamy–even though not everyone did it and even though it was several generations ago–created a Mormon culture of strong, independent women because they had to function without a husband around most of the time.  If you buy that argument, you might also think that we could dispense with male-only priesthood and still enjoy the benefits of male identity that it constructed in LDS culture.

Misc. I wasn’t quite sure where to place these strands:

(1) There are some callings that require the priesthood, but don’t seem like they would need to.  I’m thinking of clerks and Sunday School presidencies.

(2)  A whole grab bag of policies:  Restricting full-time CES employees.  Handling disciplinary councils differently.  The requirement that a man attend all activities of the RS.  Not calling mothers of young children as temple workers.  The tradition of having men speak last in sacrament meetings.  See here for a long list.

(3) Missionary service.  So this one is obviously in flux at the moment.  I’ll be interested to see what happens.  I think that despite the (a) “required” (men) versus “welcome” (women) rhetoric, (b) 18 versus 19 age requirement, and (c) 24 months versus 18 months length of service, we’re going to see slightly more sisters than elders serving.  I suspect this will have a huge effect as these RMs age into church leadership positions.  I have noticed when I teach Gospel Doctrine that men have a lot more to say–more experiences to share, more knowledge of the scriptures, more familiarity with how the church works. I think this disparity shapes how we think about “the priesthood.”  But I don’t expect that disparity to exist 20 years from now.


In thinking about these separate strands, a few things became apparent to me.

(1) It helped me articulate why the “priesthood : men :: motherhood : women” thing doesn’t work for me.  (By the way, if you dig in the archives, you can probably find some posts where I defended this idea.  I think I have changed my mind.)  You may possibly be able to sell me on the analogy if we are talking about the “in the home” sphere only (but even then, you’d seem to be just using “priesthood” as a synonym for “fatherhood,” so what did it really accomplish?), but it seems odd to suggest that the analogy would have anything to say about, for example, ordinances.  So if I ask, “why shouldn’t a sister missionary be able to baptize her own investigators?” and you answer, “because she’ll be a mother someday,” that’s pretty unsatisfying.  Similarly, on the “church leadership” front, if I ask you, “why can’t a never-married 53-year-old woman be the Sunday School President?” and you answer, “Because she’ll be a mother in the next life,” well, I hope you can see how hollow that sounds.

(2) I wonder if changes in some but not all of these areas would be “enough” for feminists (a group that includes me)?  And, would a “separate but equal” thingie be adequate?  For example, if the YW were tasked with managing sacrament meeting music, handing out programs, visiting teaching with their moms, and providing a spiritual thought when the YM take the sacrament to a shut-in, would that work?  What if the RS President had her own office (physical) and could extend callings without going through the bishop–would that be “enough”? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of that approach?

(3) Your standard definition of “priesthood” is “eternal power and authority of God.”  And when you look at the variety of functions listed above (home, ordinances, leadership), it makes a lot of sense to formulate the definition of priesthood this way because it makes sense of all of the strands (except for the male identity one; more on that in a minute.)  The problem is that it raises the obvious question:  Are you saying that women have no authority from God?  (Seriously, if you were a missionary and an investigator asked that, how would you answer? Do you think women have no authority from God?  Do you think women do have authority from God?  Do you think women have a different kind of authority from God?)  And regardless of how you answer, you’ve now got problems on the male identity front, unless you are comfortable with the formulation “to be masculine is to have God’s authority and to be feminine is not to have it.”  On the other hand, think about D & C 121 . . . imagine if your stated goal was to make men as stereotypically feminine as possible.  Could you possibly do better than to tell them that they were allowed to exercise the power of God if and only if they did it “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge . . . showing  . . . love . . . full of charity . . . and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly”? Seriously, people, that sounds like something out of a florid Victorian book called Dr. Vetter’s Guide for Proper Young Ladies:  An Exposition on the Attributes and Habits of Well-Bred Christian Girls or something.

(4) I was interested in the various historical trajectories of the different strands.  “In the home” has been a huge win for feminists; “ordinances” has been a huge loss.  Why are there different trajectories?  Do you think they reflect the vagaries of various policies, or divine intention?  (Tangent:  I think a lot of what we heard about “eternal gender roles” in the 90s and onward had nothing to do with women per se and everything to do with positioning homosexuality as illegitimate.  Feminism was collateral damage.  But I can’t prove that.)


One more thought, although I admit up front that it is tangential to this post.  I frequently see (mostly women) say something to the effect of “if only women truly understood their divine roles, they would not be asking for the priesthood (or any other change).”  Let me tell you why I think the world would be a better place if this line were never, ever used again.

(1) It’s condescending and arrogant.  (The Bad Part of me wants to jab my index finger into the speaker’s shoulder and say, “Well if you understood women’s divine roles as well as I do, you’d be bothered by them as well.”)  And it isn’t even true:  would we ever say, “If only you really understood the Word of Wisdom, you would instantly and permanently never be tempted to violate it again”?  It also substitutes an assertion for an argument.  (That is, what is it about women’s divine roles that actually explains why a sister missionary can’t baptize her own investigators?)

(2) It is precisely what Mormonism teaches about divine roles that makes the role of women in the Mormon Church so vexing.  Think about it this way:  if you took what Mormonism teaches about Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother and mapped that onto a couple on earth, you’d get a stay-at-home dad and a mother who is–I don’t know–a medical resident or deployed to a foreign battlefield or maybe took a job in another country and so she literally never sees her children.  (In fact, the kids can’t even Skype her.)  So you need to explain how we (a) claim that gender roles are eternal and (b) see our Heavenly Parents in roles more or less inverted from what the Church teaches that mortal couples should occupy.  Until this little chestnut is cracked, we need to stop acting as if all women would be content if they just understood better.


There are some days when I think there is probably great wisdom in the current priesthood ban and that it benefits men, women, children, and families.  (I’ve always had this secret desire to write a short story where a group of hippie women are organizing their commune.  They want to stomp out the evils of masculinity by re-imagining male identity, and they start by inverting traditional gender roles by having the teen boys in a role of menial, silent, domestic service, serving food to the weekly consciousness-raising gatherings)  Then there are other days when I think a male-only priesthood is nothing more or less than a false tradition we inherited from a sexist culture.

40 comments for “Strands of Priesthood

  1. A very interesting article. Speaking of co-equals I remember the time during my mission when my companion and I were co-equal. We had each been a senior companion for a time, but then there were no new sisters to replace those going home and the logical result was co-equal companions. What that meant was that we took turns being the leader. We did what all missionary companions did and every other week one of us made the decisions for both of us. It wasn’t perfect. It worked.

    Interestingly enough male missionaries could find themselves in co-equal companionship situations as well. My son told his co-equal companion that it meant they would take turns. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the general leaders of the church consider themselves co-equal to each other.

    I believe Mormon women have more power than the realize. They receive leadership training in the YW program and throughout their lives. There are other forces in our society which have a great influence that do not teach women how to use the power they have.

    It is just my opinion, but it looks to me like a time could come when women do not have many children. How few I dare not say. If that should happen then there would be no need for women to make taking care of them a priority. Then their would be no issues between mothers and fathers. But that might bring about the second coming.:-)

  2. This is a great post. Virtually every paragraph could be a basis for a thorough discussion. I would like to comment on one single point made, because I have been thinkng about it: I believe that allowing women to serve missions at 19 will soon ‘normalize’ missionary work for women. I am about 50 years old. When I was in high school most of the women who were really interested in sports were, generally speaking, outside of the cultural norm. (This was in SLC.) Now, (I live in Massachusetts now so there is a geographical as well as a time-shift) women are expected to participate in sports.
    In a similar way, I think that we are seeing the first step towards having an expectation that women serve missions, rather than having it be optional. Women are marrying later and later (as are men) and so promoting that idea that a woman can be done with her mission before she is 21 will remove the only real barrier to missionary work.
    Men achieve some degree of instant credibility for having served missions: Because they have taught investigators and spent two years with the gospel as their main interest, they often have a higher degree of respect in a ward because of their service. Now women will start to experience both the “burden” of an expectation to serve, but the earned credibility for doing so.
    My hope (not my belief because I truly have no idea) is that this will be an important institutional step towards grooming women towards substantial church calling. In short, grooming them for receving the priesthood.

  3. Great post!

    I loved this clearity; So if I ask, “why shouldn’t a sister missionary be able to baptize her own investigators?” and you answer, “because she’ll be a mother someday,” that’s pretty unsatisfying. Similarly, on the “church leadership” front, if I ask you, “why can’t a never-married 53-year-old woman be the Sunday School President?” and you answer, “Because she’ll be a mother in the next life,” well, I hope you can see how hollow that sounds.

    “priesthood” is “eternal power and authority of God”. I know you linked to the church’s website but this defination conflates to the point of being misleading. Ony authority can be ordained, power comes from one’s personal relationship with God thus accounting for spiritual gifts enjoyed by those who do not hold the priesthood. So the priesthood is the authority to perform certain mortal tasks including ordinances within the LDS community within guidelines set by LDS leaders and it is a formal invitation to step up and engage God’s power and exercise it within those limits.

    Why are there different trajectories? Because everybody including the married brethren know women are incharge of the home!

    The church’s mistake was to disempower women after Joseph empowered them and consolidate that power under the “priesthood” by decree and then ignore them leaving them out of so much as they built a men with families club. They would do well to reverse that soon of face growing activism.

  4. Thanks Julie. I’ve been trying to think through some of this stuff with regards to ecclesiology. I think Oaks’ Priesthood/Personal lines is particularly interesting, more in application than in concept.

    The blanket priesthood == power and authority of God, is clearly overreaching; but it seems to be the thing right now.

  5. I’ve also wondered why women can’t participate in most of what goes on in the temple baptistry. Mostly they just hand out towels to the YW who are perfectly capable of grabbing their own towels. Women could record, check recommends, do the paperwork and maybe even baptize and confirm????? Women could be ward financial clerks, SS presidents, and sit on disciplinary councils. I was the only women there when my X was disciplined for raping me over many years. Horrible. As an older LDS woman, I sometimes long to be ordained a non-denominational minister so I can do some good in this world, beyond what i normally do, and to have a sense of some “authority.”
    I surely hope I live to see the day women are true equals to LDS men. IMO the key is to finally teach and talk of our Mother – then I believe these other things will fall into place – when we acknowledge a woman is a God.

  6. Maybe a little off topic, but I was recently looking through the handbook and could find no hint of any “requirement that a man attend all activities of the RS.” Did such a requirement exist in the past, or am I missing something? Is this progress?

    P.S. – really great post

  7. If I have an “Achilles heel” as a Mormon, it would be that I have been troubled by the status and role of women in our church. I have enjoyed life-long commitment to the church and would identify myself as a Mormon as a primary identifying characteristic. My church callings have included a number of assignments that require an excess of 10 or 20 hours a week. Most would not identify me as an inactive or partially active Mormon, but more likely as a “hyperactive” Mormon. But the role of women in the church has been a trial to me for years, at least dating back to my mission. In the 70s. Yeesh, how old I am.

    Thus, it would be easy for me to just take off on a variety of issues raised by Julie. I will try to keep my opinions related to the opening post.

    Let me say something about Julie’s question: “I wonder if changes in some but not all of these areas would be “enough” for feminists.” Of course the answer to that is this: it depends on what has been changed, and exactly who the feminist is. I would compare it to the attempts in Eastern European countries to loosen up their tirght control over their citiziens. Whenever a country like Poland would give a bit of new freedom to their people, those people would use that freedom mainly to campaign for even more freedom. It became a spiral that led to the collapse of the communistic system. (I am sure that I am over simplifying here, but I think that there is at least a nugget of truth here.) For some women and men, no change is necessary. For others, a few small changes will be enough to pacifiy. For example, if a woman offers a prayer in General Conference next week that might be seen as enough of a change for some people. For me, it won’t be nearly enough. But that’s me. For my wife, I think that she is still trying to come to terms with the fact that a woman hasn’t ever offered a prayer in GC. Thus the fact that some would find a woman praying in GC to be an event to celebrate, for others it may simply point out how far out of the normal range our church can be. For some, no change will be enough until women are integrated into every level of leadership and calling.

    My “rebellious” spirit has threatened at times to become important to me. That is, I have had times during my life-long membership when I have felt great anger about such things. However, my church callings have always proven to ground me, and even to silence me. While I might get worked up over a feminist (or other) issue, I find that when I get involved in a deep way with ward members, that such issues are usually not important to them. Not because they don’t care about equality for women. (Quite the contrary I believe.) But because so many members are trying to keep their lives/marriages/careers/health together and are barely hanging on by their fingernails. They aren’t interested about whether there continued to be plural marriages after the Manifesto, or whether the church supplied a certain level of support for Prop 8 in California. They are beset by finances/bills/part-time employment/kids on drugs or many other problems, and they come to church to try to keep their lives together. Even very active members and apparently strong members are constantly fighting at forces that could result in a collapse of their families or lives. They don’t care about things such as when a woman might speak, or whether a woman could change her role in relationship to how the Priesthood functions. They are just trying to keep their lives together for one more week.

    Therefore, they might worry that distrubing the careful balance of what we experience as Mormons might result in a loss of what is beautiful at church. Another analogy: I am sure that many, maybe most people, in Saudi Arabia are happy with their life there, because it works. (I imagine this to be true. I have never lived there.) That is, a society that doesn’t allow women to drive, or travel independently, in-all a life of what I would find oppresive probably results in happy and content lives, at least for some if not for many. The women there can be “free” to concentrate their efforts on their families, and are not distracted by the need for career, or other things. For me, it would be oppresive because women are not given the choice to select such as life. However, I’ll bet that their culture can be a beautiful thing.

    Will we destroy a “beautiful” thing if we make substantial changes to our culture? Or will we become stronger and better? I believe that the latter would be more likely, but I would not say that it won’t be painful if we make changes.

  8. On Sherry’s point, the temple confirmation is not done under the power of the priesthood, but specifically only says in the name of Jesus Christ…
    Are women not similarly able to call on the name of Jesus Christ?

  9. My view of priesthood looks something like this:

    1. Priesthood is the authority and/or power to act in God’s name.
    2. The most fundamental way we act in God’s name is to fulfill the mission of the church. We participate in His work and His glory, we bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, we proclaim the gospel, redeem the dead, perfect the saints, and assist the poor.
    3. Women are actively involved in all of the above (and as of this fall, have been added to the full time missionary source in numbers never before contemplated).
    4. When we initiate men and women into adulthood in the church, we send them to the temple, where they are endowed with power from on high, clothed in the garments and robes of the Holy Priesthood, and initiated into an order of priests and priestesses unto the Most High God. Temple = priesthood. The two are inseparable. There’s more I won’t say out of respect for my covenants and the sacred nature of the ceremony, but listen with ears to hear next time you do a session and I’ll think you’ll discover some interesting things on this subject.
    5. Armed with this power, many men and women then go out into the world with the goal of bringing souls to Christ, acting in God’s name (in fact, wearing one of His names on their black name tags). There is a reason we endow sister missionaries, and it isn’t because we are worried they will be stabbed and want to make sure they have garments in place to deflect the blade.

    But what about ordinances? You will likely point out that the sisters who succeed in bringing a soul to Christ have to then arrange for a priesthood holder to baptize him. That must mean they don’t have the priesthood, right? Not so fast. Women perform ordinances in the temple (no reasonable dispute on that), but I’m not certain they are limited to the temple sphere. Consider the definition of “ordinance”. What does it mean? In answering the question, consider the original wording of the 4th article of faith. After stating, in #3, that mankind are saved by obedience to the law and ordinances of the gospel, Joseph Smith next wrote: “We believe that these ordinances are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Per Joseph Smith, faith and repentance are ordinances. Thus, the sister missionary who teaches someone to exercise faith in Christ unto repentance is assisting with the performing of an ordinance (of course, the same is true of the mother teaching these concepts to her children).

  10. Perhaps the gender divisions for clerks and sunday school presidencies are to avoid weird and possibly bad situations of married men/women alone together, and segregating it is a convenient way to do that.

  11. Do clerkships actually require priesthood? A while back we sustained a woman as an assistant stake clerk. She is an incredibly talented IT professional who is working on the stake website, but apparently that work falls under the stake clerk title.

  12. @stephenchardy while I appreciate that you admitted you have never lived in Saudi Arabia nor really understand how women view themselves or their lives, I found your assumptions a little off base. I’ve been in Saudi Arabia for over a year now. Even living here, it is challenging to really comprehend how the women feel about their lives because they are so restricted. Perhaps you could speculate on something that you understand better or perhaps have more experience.

  13. Cameron N, in a church where very high status adult men (=bishops) ask teen girls about their sex lives while alone behind a closed door, I’m not sure that the potential for impropriety should be the overriding concern when we decide whether adult women could be clerks.

  14. Struwelpeter – using the original version of AoF4 ignores the statement explaining the change by Joseph Fielding Smith:

    The reason for the adding of the word “principles,” and that is the only change, was because the brethren considered when they were preparing the 1921 edition for publication of the D&C, that the term ordinances did not fully cover the article completely. For instance, “faith” is not an ordinance, neither is “repentance,” but they are principles. Therefore we felt fully justified in making the article so that it would convey clearly just what the Prophet intended. So now it reads: “We believe that the first principles and ordinances are,” and in doing this we were perfectly within the bounds of propriety. Were the Prophet here, he would fully justify our action.

    We have no apology to make for this addition. We have in no sense destroyed the original meaning. (Answers to Gospel Questions 2:92)

    Ordinances require authority. Women who work in the temple are giving specific authority for the ordinances they perform. Anyone, regardless of Priesthood, calling, authority, or even standing in the Church can exercise faith and repentance.

  15. Good point Julie. I see interviews as the only exception to that principle. I’ve known former Bishops that self-imposed very strict rules, like never driving baby-sitters home, etc. Regardless of what gender a ward financial or teaching team is composed of, I think there may be some wisdom in gender segregation within presidencies, even though diversity might suffer a bit.

  16. Cameron, I think Julie’s point is not just that situations where abuse can happen already exist, but that current situations are potentially more problematic than the new situations created by an integrated leadership structure. Right now, we trust bishops (and counselors) to conduct 1-on-1 interviews with RS presidents, YW presidents, Primary presidents, female temple recommend candidates, young women, etc. These situations are much more ripe for abuse than situations where a women is part of a bishopric (usually group meetings), a woman counts tithing as a clerk (the clerk’s office is a hive of activity during sunday meetings), or a woman oversees the sunday school organization (no different than RS, YW, or Primary president)?

    Oh, and Julie, this is a very nice post. Thank you.

  17. Cameron, I failed to mention one other important point. Integrated leadership could significantly decrease problematic situations. For instance, whatever new concern re fidelity would occur by moving to integrated bishoprics, that concern would be more than offset by the benefit of having youth interviewed by someone of their own gender.

  18. So just so I got this straight:
    Potential for infidelity in an 5 min interview with a YW once every 6 months = Potential for infidelity in a mixed gender bishopric working together 5-10 hours a week.

    Seems legit.

  19. Just so I got thus straight:

    You think that the only problem with grown men along adolescent girls candid and frank questions about their sexual lives beyond closed doors on a regular basis is the potential for “infidelity”?

    “…every feminist worth her salt wants men socialized into a manhood that avoids the worst excesses of modern culture’s take on masculinity, but no one seems too excited about the idea that this only works because men get something women don’t.”

    I confess I don’t understand this. In particular, I don’t understand why this claim is treated with such axiomatic certitude. It would make a lot of sense to me to say that Mormon men can be socialized into a different brand of masculinity from their non-Mormon male peers if they get something their non-Mormon peers don’t, but it makes considerably less sense to say that such socialization depends on their having something that Mormon women don’t.

  20. Bryan, interview times can vary wildly. All I can speak to is my ward. For youth, my bishopric aims for 15-20 minutes. PPIs with female leaders can last 30 minutes to an hour. Bishopric meeting only lasts about an hour each week and there is rarely any time when two bishopric members are alone together. Clerks are rarely alone in two-person situations, and even when they are, the office door is routinely and randomly being opened. Seriously, the tithing count is about the least opportune time for an affair I can imagine.

  21. “…do this ASAP if we want to convince anyone that marriage matters in a world where women don’t need protection from mastodons and can fund their own 401Ks.”

    Best line ever.

  22. Brad, I can’t see anything that we disagree on there. Maybe I didn’t phrase it well in the OP.

    Bryan and Dave K, not to mention the power differential between (1) an adult and a teen, in an interview setting versus (2) two adults in callings of similar status.

  23. “Potential for infidelity in an 5 min interview with a YW once every 6 months”

    Nope. Not infidelity. It’s child abuse.

  24. Yeah Julie, the point of disagreement was the last phrase: “every feminist worth her salt wants men socialized into a manhood that avoids the worst excesses of modern culture’s take on masculinity, but no one seems too excited about the idea that this only works because men get something women don’t.” I would change it to read “this only works because Mormon men get something non Mormon men don’t.”

  25. I think gender segregation is very big part of the problem. It’s time to get over the repressed sexual fear of being in the same room with each other unchaperoned! Men and women work well together in the world without segregation. How many Mormon men know a lot of Mormon women other than their wives and relatives and how these women think and feel? Don’t they just tend to echo what you believe and see? How representative can wives and relatives be? Yet you decide for women, all of them! And you don’t know them! If they didn’t blog many Mormon men wouldn’t have a clue. If women didn’t agitate the brethren probably wouldn’t have a clue and likely with their limited knowledge of women see Mormon feminists as oddballs, misfits who ought to quit complaining and act like the women they know!

  26. “You think that the only problem with grown men along adolescent girls candid and frank questions about their sexual lives beyond closed doors on a regular basis is the potential for “infidelity”?”

    As a Bishop, I find this assertion to be somewhat insulting. Not just the part about the potential for infidelity, but the thinking that I am regularly asking the YW “…frank questions about their sexual lives [behind] closed doors…”

  27. Tim,

    Regarding #26. I recently heard a counselor in the bishopric say he had to explain to a girl what masturbation meant in an interview. I think it is clear that sexual questions beyond “do you live the law of chastity” get asked routinely, with the purpose of making sure they understand what the law of chastity means. I would also think it is fairly routine for a bishop to hear sexual confessions from girls. I think in these situations Bishops routinely ask for details to determine how severe, and how much repentance, and what type should take place. Perhaps you live in an exceptionally virtuous or non-repentant ward or perhaps you are an atypical non-probing bishop.

  28. A bishop in our stake was excommunicated in the past couple of years for having an affair with a woman he was counseling through her divorce. Bishops are pulled into very raw emotional experiences with people. That seems much more problematic than having men and women working together in presidencies. Just about anyone who works outside the home deals with that on a daily basis.

  29. “Bishopric meeting only lasts about an hour each week and there is rarely any time when two bishopric members are alone together.”

    I am a counselor in the bishopric of my ward, and it is the opposite. Counselors are alone together frequently. We do weekly visits to ward members. To maximize the amount of visits we do, we split up and usually go in pairs. The Bishop, the two counselors, and executive secretary. Also, we make a run to the bank to do the weekly deposit, and the bishop counselors and/or a clerk do this in a pair.

  30. Perhaps adapting to the capacity of the weakest leaders is grounds for gender segregation within a presidency. It certainly is grounds for a very bare-bones official word of wisdom approach.

  31. Perhaps adapting to the capacity of the weakest member is grounds for marching in place spiritually or maybe it explains the regression since Joseph.

  32. Julie, I absolutely love this post. You raise many important questions in a very well-reasoned way.

    And your tangent refuting the complementarianism argument is so perfectly said that I want to cut and paste it here just because I love it so much:

    “I think we can sustain robust interdependence by focusing instead on the unique bundle of strengths and weaknesses that each partner brings to the table, even if those traits and talents don’t follow stereotypical gender lines. In fact, we need to do this ASAP if we want to convince anyone that marriage matters in a world where women don’t need protection from mastodons and can fund their own 401Ks.”

    Your article just may be the one about priesthood that I actually get around to posting on my Facebook wall.

  33. Saying men and women shouldn’t serve together in a bishopbric because there might be infidelity is like saying men and women shouldn’t work together in an office, or on the police force, or in a hospital, or in combat…. because there might be infidelity. We’re all grown-ups. That’s a bad reason to exclude women.

  34. Sorry I don’t have anything to add, but I do want to say how much I love this post! I especially appreciate your takedown of the “if you only understood your role” argument. Great stuff!

  35. “(Tangent: I think a lot of what we heard about “eternal gender roles” in the 90s and onward had nothing to do with women per se and everything to do with positioning homosexuality as illegitimate. Feminism was collateral damage. But I can’t prove that.)”

    I share this opinion very strongly, and I think this is still going on now. This is the reason for the FamProc that gets used as a bludgeon in these kinds of discussion, and I think this is the reason for a lot of gender-role retrenchment that is going on right now, even as other trajectories, as you put it, are softening somewhat. It’s incredibly frustrating to feel like collateral damage in a crusade, especially one you don’t agree with.

    This post is such an important point, because so many discussions about priesthood seem to, almost inescapably, confuse and conflate all of those different stands, functions, and definitions of priesthood with each other. You start talking about one strand, and apologists justify it by addressing points of a different one that have nothing to do with the one you’re on, and without actually addressing the question at hand. Priesthood gets treated like its this lump thing that self-justifies any element that is currently wrapped up in it as if it always were that way, when even just a cursory reading on the ways it’s treatment has evolved belies that.

  36. Re (2) Having the YW do some (spiritual thought, music, etc) – part of me thinks I would have been thrilled, but wouldn’t I have seen it as a younger version of the man rushing to the hospital to give a blessing and the woman baking a casserole/cleaning the house? Yes, they’re serving, but it’s not the same thing.

  37. Julie, I applaud your courage in tackling the complexity of this issue, and love that everything is there, including the ambivalence.

    I had hesitated to comment on something because it would be a threadjack, but perhaps you will pick this up and do a whole ‘nother post sometime. It has to do with the issue of family size (which is typically larger for LDS) and how that affects women’s lives.

    The line about mastodons and 401ks does not quite ring true for me. I do have a 401k, but it is only 40% of the one in my husband’s name. And even when employed full-time, I only earn half what my husband does. But I contribute in other valuable ways, so much that we decided that we are most comfortable with me employed about 30 hours a week so I have sufficient time for homemaking. And this is all good for us because we have always worked as a co-equal team and share everything.

    Of course the primary reason that my salary and retirement savings are less is that we had five children, spread out over a period of years. And that is not a task that we could split.

    I did not have those children out of a mindless adherence to an outdated notion that big was better. Indeed, since I have far few children than the family in which I was raised, I delight in the ability to focus more on each one. I felt a confirmation of each one, and had my tubes tied when I was sure we were done with that phase of our lives. So I totally believe it when women feel that the Lord wants them to have none, or one, or eight.

    Out in the world, the general answer to keeping women strong and able to fund their own 401ks is that they should not have children, or certainly no more than one, according to The Price of Motherhood (Crittenden) or Get To Work (Hirshman). This strikes me as something of a cop-out because it is giving in to the male-normative idea that only by becoming more like men will women be respected.

    So how do LDS women reconcile such conflicting messages?

  38. It is interesting to me that suddenly within the last 6 months or so, I have seen the male only priesthood referred to as the “current priesthood ban”. The word “ban” might imply intent that doesn’t exist.

    I have 2 thoughts on this: 1) I have met plenty of women who do not seem at all interested in having the priesthood. I think I can safely say that it represents a majority of women in the church. Assuming women are are given the priesthood, would it be optional for them or would it essentially be required? Would only some women be ordained? On an as needed basis? Would home teaching and visiting teaching become essentially the same thing? Would the “Relief Society” be another priesthood quorum? Just curious how people would see that playing out.

    2) While I think there is plenty of room for change in procedural concerns (priesthood at RS activities, etc.) I feel that if we moved in the direction of women having the priesthood then we would lose any real distinction between the sexes. I think that would be a loss. Men and women bring different things to the table and approach gospel issues differently. Having them in separate groups formalizes that disctinction. Whatever the future holds here, I hope that we at least preserve the uniqueness of both men and women.

  39. mike, I think Allison or Julie will be in here shortly, although I share your expectations and concerns.

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