Congratulations, OW: Now It’s A Conversation

A conversation in two senses: First, everyone is talking about Ordain Women (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here; a four-part response here; earlier T&S posts here and here). Second, because, almost without noticing its own success, Ordain Women achieved a significant milestone this week as the LDS Church opened a public conversation with the group by publicly posting an official letter addressed to four of the organization’s “official spokeswomen” (as they are identified on the OW website). The LDS letter responds to earlier private communications from the group and, predictably, elicited a publicly posted response at the OW site. Successfully initiating an official conversation with the Church is no small accomplishment.

The LDS Letter

What does the LDS letter actually say? Here are some positive things from the letter.

  1. The letter states there are ongoing internal conversations about “women in the Church.” This statement invites questions about who is involved in such conversations and what exactly they are talking about. These are important conversations. We need to know more.
  2. The letter refers to recent changes such as LDS women being eligible to serve missions at age 19 and claims these changes occurred in part because of the “input of many extraordinary LDS women.” This seems to invite additional input that may lead to additional changes. Perhaps the next letter will advise extraordinary LDS women how and where to provide such input.
  3. The letter invites those to whom the letter is addressed to “maintain the peaceful environment of Temple Square.” Yes, it would be nice if Conference doesn’t become a media circus. The best way to avoid that outcome is for the Church to maintain the public conversation it has started. You don’t need to “demonstrate” and hold “activist events” on Temple Square (both terms used in the LDS letter) if you have a meeting scheduled in two weeks.

What else is in the letter? It references the upcoming initial General Women’s Meeting on March 29, which will “focus on ennobling and eternal doctrines relating to women.” That’s pretty broad. If it includes discussion of actual issues relating to actual women in the Church, not just the standard menu of doctrines we hear in church each week and at General Conference every six months, it could be a very interesting meeting. Some people I know are very excited about the meeting.

In an odd sentence, the letter declines to grant the women physical access to the priesthood session:

The priesthood session of General Conference is designed to strengthen men and boys as they receive specific instructions about their roles and responsibilities; therefore we are unable to fulfill your request for tickets.

The “therefore” is puzzling because the second clause (you don’t get tickets) does not follow at all from the first clause, particularly now that the session is broadcast live to anyone who wants to watch. The Church should have given them three dozen tickets, and brought in a busload of sister missionaries from the MTC as well. Put them all on the front row and publicly welcome them to the meeting. If you’re going to draw a line that can’t be crossed, draw the line at ordination, not attending a publicly broadcast meeting.

The Real Issue

Then there is this sentence in the letter:

Ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of doctrine that is contrary to the Lord’s revealed organization for His Church.

That word “revealed” is a cognate of “revelation” and may be intended to suggest that “the Lord’s revealed organization” can’t be changed without a revelation, therefore women won’t be ordained until there is a revelation to that effect. [And modern revelation only comes when LDS leaders ask for it. And no LDS leader appears to be asking for it.]

But that’s not really how it works. In fact, LDS doctrine and church organization change all the time without any particular revelation. Local seventies were eliminated. The Council of the Seventy was expanded to a quorum (with 70 members), then to a collection of quorums. The Presiding Patriarch position was eliminated. Brigham Young ran the Church for three years without a First Presidency. The Aaronic Priesthood (deacon, teacher, priest), staffed by adults in the early LDS Church, later became the priesthood for boys and adult converts. If it is something LDS leaders want to do, they just go ahead and do it, no revelation needed. Only if it is something that LDS leaders *don’t* want to do does the need for a revelation enter the discussion. It is a thoroughly conservative doctrine, one used to maintain the status quo, not to effect change. So it is not a revelation that is needed to move forward on women’s issues. OW just needs to win the hearts and minds of LDS leaders. The conversation with OW initiated by the LDS Church is a great way to start.

Two Disclaimers

First, I am not affiliated with Ordain Women. I don’t know any of the women listed as officers at the OW site. I don’t even advocate ordaining women to the LDS priesthood, although if LDS leaders did change the policy I would happily support the change. But, obviously, I support the conversation with OW (and, by extension, with other extraordinary LDS women who care to participate) initiated by the LDS letter of March 17.

Second, I am aware that women affiliated with Ordain Women have received a lot of rather vicious hate mail. Some people might think that publicly posting a letter at the site and at the Deseret News publicly naming the four women who sent private correspondence to the Church requesting tickets for the Priesthood session of Conference was expressly intended to intimidate them (if not incite more hate mail). I reject that idea. But it sure would be nice if the next official letter naming names also included an explicit reminder to the general membership to avoid that sort of unacceptable behavior.

85 comments for “Congratulations, OW: Now It’s A Conversation

  1. Dave, very well said all around.

    “The priesthood session of General Conference is designed to strengthen men and boys as they receive specific instructions about their roles and responsibilities; therefore we are unable to fulfill your request for tickets.”

    The General Women’s Meeting (or whatever our non-conference-session meeting is officially called now) is designed to strengthen women and girls as they receive specific instructions about their roles and responsibilities, too.

    So why isn’t there a “therefore” added to ours? Not only are men allowed in our meeting, they “keynote” it every single time.

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind hearing from the first presidency. But if it serves women to hear from men, why wouldn’t men be served by hearing from women? (Which kind of begs the question, doesn’t it?)

  2. “church organization change all the time without any particular revelation.” This seems like a bit of an overstatement. Reorganizations or restructuring may not be considered major changes, but do you have any evidence Church leaders feel they can reorganize ad infinitum without divine approval?

    I suppose this all hinges on what exactly one means by revelation, and what degree of divine approval/revelation is needed for however major/minor the proposed change. Ordination of women, by any measure, is fairly major. It may parallel President McKay’s situation with the priesthood ban, in which even though he felt it was a policy and not a doctrine (which made some others feel it could be changed at will), it was major enough that he was unwilling to act without clear revelational motivation, which he never received.

    I would welcome hearing from women in Priesthood.

  3. Dave: I suspect that you are wrong about revelation and the desires of the hierarchy. I think that they — like everyone else — thinks about the gospel and the Church in terms of core or foundational beliefs and practices and peripheral beliefs and practices. We’re not always very clear about which is which and we don’t necessarily have any clear rules about differentiating between them. This doesn’t mean, however, that the distinction is specious or a post hoc label for pre-existing preferences, as you seem to suggest. For example, I think that most general authorities would say that they don’t have the authority to dispense with the requirement of baptism by immersion without a special revelation from God. This is not because they like baptism by immersion and are using revelation as an excuse for not doing what they dislike. It’s because they think that baptism by immersion is a fundamental revealed tenant of the gospel. This is an honest judgment about the content of revelation made prior to figuring out one’s preferences regarding the matter. I think that same is true of priesthood ordination. One might believe — as some OW folks seem to suggest — that this is a mistaken interpretation of Mormon revelation. I don’t think, however, that it’s really plausible to suppose that it isn’t a good faith judgement about core and periphery rather than just a naked label for some pre-existing preference for male control, etc.

  4. Thanks for the early comments. Ben (#2) and Nate (#3), drawing distinctions between “major changes” and minor “restructuring,” or between core and peripheral beliefs or practices, is easier in theory than in practice. The ordination of blacks to the LDS priesthood was not a “major change” requiring a revelation when leaders decided to cease the practice in the 19th century, but later it became a “major change” requiring a revelation when the question was to begin ordaining blacks to the LDS priesthood.

    Preaching the gospel seems like a “core” practice tied to the LDS priesthood, with an office in the priesthood (“seventy”) specifically dedicated to missionary work, at least until that office was discontinued and sort of merged into the office of “elder.” Calling and setting apart LDS women as missionaries when previously it was only men who were called and set apart and when that activity was closely tied to an LDS priesthood office sure seems like a change to a core doctrine and practice. But LDS leaders just went ahead and did it. See the July 1980 Ensign article “The First Sister Missionaries,” where the idea that a revelation would be needed to do such a thing is never even mentioned. The major/minor or core/periphery distinction just does not appear to hold up to detailed consideration.

  5. [And modern revelation only comes when LDS leaders ask for it. And no LDS leader appears to be asking for it.] And you know they aren’t asking for it how? As for men at the women’s meeting, these aren’t just any men. They are the First Presidency of the church, prophets, seers and revelators. They preside over the women’s meeting as they preside over all meetings held by the church, especially general meetings such as the Women’s conference. I could see the complaint if the church had a local EQ president on the stand giving a talk to the sisters. But, that certainly isn’t the case.

  6. I agree that the issue boils down to the distinction between correctable cultural practices and core gospel doctrines. However, why are you the one engaging in this analysis? It reminds me of Marbury v. Madison (paraphrasing slightly): It is emphatically the duty of the [General Authorities] to say what the [gospel] is.

    By extension, if the General Authorities know what the core gospel principles are, then they would know what requires a revelation and what does not (deciding as a group – I think back to Hugh B. Brown, David O. McKay, and Harold B. Lee wrestling with this very issue until the group came to a unity of the faith, so to speak. Its surprising they were able to make sense of the issue without the useful help of bloggers).

  7. You say that “In fact, LDS doctrine and church organization change all the time without any particular revelation.”

    And, how, I wonder, do you know? The same way you are “aware” that the leaders of OW have received “a lot of rather vicious hate mail”?

  8. Nate: Dave’s description of when revelation is needed to make a change in the church strikes me as a little glib. But I’m also not convinced that the terms “core” or “foundational” vs. “peripheral” do much to explain whether changing something is easy or hard. As, you point out, we don’t have clear rules for differentiating between the categories. I suspect that if we tried to flesh out what actually makes something hard or easy to change that the outcome preferences of the decision makers would be one of the significant factors.

  9. Attendance clarification, yes the First Presidency isn’t just men, however, in every stake building where the Women’s broadcast is held, men preside. The Stake Presidency as well as the Stake Auxiliary women sit up front.The reverse does not happen in Priesthood Meeting on any level.

    Also, men attend the Women’s session. Not a ton but often a spouse with an ailing wife comes along. No wives every attend Priesthood session to accompany their ailing husband to Priesthood. I have watched.

    The churches statement is inconsistent. Even the BYU Men’s Choral director – a Women – does not get to attend the session and lead the boys she’s trained. Really? What secret is she going to divulge. The entire meeting is printed in the Ensign, according to Russell M. Nelson, wives and daughters wait at home, making donuts, to sit at their husbands knee and hear from him what words were imparted. Darn it the secret is out.

    I am not an OW supporter, but I agree that the best thing would have been to extend the tickets, open the doors graciously and move about their business.

  10. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Thor (#6), if you are responding to my post in the comments, then we are engaging in the analysis together. The problem with your view is that leaders in different generations, and individual leaders within the same generation, view what is core doctrine or peripheral (or what needs a revelation to be changed versus what doesn’t) differently. The principle is not used the way you think it is used.

    Mark B (#7), maybe you need to read some LDS history to appreciate how frequently things change. (Nothing wrong with that, of course.) I suppose you can just make up facts to suit your view of things (that is, you think no change occurs without a revelation, then you just assume there is a revelation to support every change) but it is better to make your theories suit the facts rather than the other way around.

  11. Thank you Dave, for contributing a positive note. Your post is the fresh air that effectively clears some of the smog that has been so polluting this environment.

    Sometimes there are unintended consequences when others respond to our demands.

  12. I think using the term “revealed” in the letter was to temporalize the situation and keep the options open for future revelation as part of the discussion. It does say “You’re wrong”. It says “We decide if and when you are right based on what God tells us.”

    You don’t significantly change the number of females going on missions unless you want change. You just don’t.

  13. Carrrie – maybe it’s because I’m “in the mission field,” but in fact, women have accompanied their husbands to watch priesthood session with their husbands in the chapel. Not many, but a few over the years. No one asked them to leave, and I don’t think any local leader followed up with chastisement. I’m sure everyone assumed they had some scheduling conflict or some other reason for them to be together. I can’t say whether men regularly attend the Women’s broadcast in the conference center, having never been there for a women’s conference. You are right about Stake Presidency/Bishops/Branch Presidents presiding where the woman’s (or young women back in the day) session was broadcast to local chapels. The stake Auxillary leaders did not sit on the stand (they would have had to sit uncomfortably trying to face backwards to watch the video feed) plus there are 11 units in my stake. They can’t be 11 places at one time. Again, I’m back to the concept of presiding. They didn’t give a talk, they didn’t add to whatever was said from the Tabernacle or Conference Center. I understand the position that some women want their meeting to free – 100% — of any male presence if the priesthood session is to free — 100% — of female presence. The only way I can differentiate is to note that all meeting operate under the auspices and oversight of the priesthood, which ultimately means under the ones who have the keys of administration, which is the FP/Q12. It’s not a question of women needing a man’s point of view when a member of the FP speaks. It’s the simple fact that the FP preside and speak at all meetings, whether it’s an all male audience or an all female audience.

  14. IDIAT,

    That’s why ordination is such a big deal because that is what is preventing women from presiding. Those OW people are like Luke Skywalker and the institution is the death star.

  15. Dave, I hardly need tutoring from you on change in the church. But, as long as you’re complaining that I am “making up facts,” perhaps you should simply admit that you don’t have the slightest idea whether those changes you cite (or any others) were made based upon revelation received by the First Presidency. Unless you were there, or heard from men who were there, how would you know?

    I do appreciate your elevating the tone of the discussion. I asked you how you knew that the changes you cited were not based on revelation, and you responded by suggesting that I was ignorant, that I was making up facts to suit my preconceived conclusions and that the better course–the one taken by you, naturally–is to deduce theories from facts rather than the other way around.

  16. Don’t cross Mark B. on cultural issues. It will get ugly fast.

    “Some people I know are very excited about the meeting.”

    Indeed! She has been to Dave’s house twice during our days traveling around the state of Wyoming. Dave knows important people like Geneva. Thought y’all should know. :)

  17. Mark B., how, pray tell, do you know whether OW has received a lot of vicious hate mail or not? Inquiring minds want to know . . .

  18. Either gendered spaces are sacred and important or they are not. The inequitable treatment between both meetings is a problem. If it’s no big deal for men to serve as ushers, techs, reporters, or speakers at the female meeting then vice versa should apply.

    I mean, seriously, the female choir director not allowed in the building during phood? Either we are teaching men to be so distracted by the presence of a female because they are {sexual} or there’s just this weird Augusta National boys club thing going on. If this 100% pure gendered space thing is a true principle, let the women experience it in a large gathering, too.

    This also leads to issues that men are spiritual leaders for everyone but women are only spiritual leaders of women. This is a prevalent attitude – and does little to advance the prophecy of our handmaidens prophesying. Even my husband said he was surprised attendance at the BYUI devotional for Sis. Beck was higher than the next week’s Quorum of the 70 speaker . . .

  19. Mark (#18), if you don’t need tutoring, then you already know there are lots of changes and very few revelations. What exactly do you make of that?

  20. I also agree with mjp #8. I think where their hearts and desires on the matter does have to do with whether it is a “policy” or “doctrinal” change. If I recall in Edward Kimball’s account of the 1978 revelation there were several members of the 12 who consistently believed a revelation wasn’t needed, only a policy change – but consensus could never be reached.

    What about this interpretation? The Doctrine of the Priesthood is the keys, authority, and power of God on the earth. There is nothing inherently male or masculine in the Priesthood, like Elder Anderson said – it’s just someone opening the drapes (or blinds? I forget) to let light in. But the actual sunlight is not men/masculine. How we are currently *applying* that doctrine is through male orders and quorums. It might not take a revelation to change the application of a doctrine on the ground — whether through additional quorums or whatever. Even if it were opened up to women would it really change the ‘doctrine’ of what the priesthood is? Or just our understanding of it?

  21. Nate (#3), the difference is that for baptism there are dozens of scriptures spread throughout the LDS canon explicitly teaching the necessity of the ordinance. The number of scriptures addressing a gender requirement for priesthood ordinantion? Zero. Zip. The Savior never addressed the topic. And that’s the rub. The church PR piece claims the practice of excluding women is based on revelation. But the PR piece fails to cite that revelation. Perhaps that is because church leaders do not feel confident in citing a source. Or perhaps church leaders have received a revelation but for some odd reason refuse to present it to the church body so that the body can consider and vote on it. Either way, the “discussion” is fatally handicapped until all of the participants are presented with the subject of the discussion – i.e., the Savior’s views on the subject.

    Note that in the comparable restriction on blacks, church leaders did point to scriptures which they believed justified and compelled the practice. Those scriptures (or at least the interpretation of them) have now been disavowed, but at least there was something to read and discuss back then. Today we’re in a vaccuum.

    Nate, I’m also curious as to your stance on the underlying issue of female ordination. I get the sense you’re not a fan of OW, but do you still support the idea of female ordination as you did last year?

  22. Perhaps we should define our terms. Your “very few revelations” suggests either that you’re limiting “revelation” to something that is canonized (in which case I’d concede your conclusion (22), but if you’re asserting that the First Presidency has not received revelation (recorded or not, canonized or not) on those matters, then you’re obviously talking about things about which you simply do not and cannot know.

  23. Strike “either” and “about” and add a second close paren after 22, and that last comment will come closer to being English.

  24. “church organization change all the time without any particular revelation.”

    As others have noted, your concept of “revelation” is very limited. For instance, as a missionary, I observed as my mission president received direct and specific revelation on where to assign missionaries. I have observed Bishops and Stake Presidents receive very strong revelations as to members and policy. When President Monson announced the policy change for missionary age, I felt the spirit confirm to me that his announcement was inspired.

    God leads the Church in so many ways without having the Prophet say “thus saith the Lord.” Direct revelation put in place our inspired system which allow for men to lead by inspiration without having to say “thus saith the Lord.”

  25. Kristine A (#21), I can supply some facts regarding the priesthood session that I attended in Oct. 2012. At that meeting, there were women who helped as security and women who helped usher men to their seats. The female ushers even came in during breaks in the meeting (such as the intermediate hymn) to help late-arriving men to their seats. And there were plenty of empty seats even at the end of the meeting. Perhaps things have changed, but as of 18 months ago, women techinically were at the priesthood session.

    As for “gendered spaces,” I believe that most all of the women who desire ordination do not desire for the removal of all gendered spaces. They see value in some meetings/activities being women only; some men only. But that is far different from saying that priesthood is “men only.”

  26. I believe Heavenly Father honors our agency so much, especially the agency of our leaders — too much to impose His will on them. He leads them along with inspiration and promptings; which are all easier received when one is open and seeking for them — or even believes that an answer is possible. Is it possible for us to receive revelation if our hearts and minds aren’t open? If we have already concluded what the answer is? I don’t know. Two prophets spent a lifetime studying the origin of life and came to different conclusions. Perhaps this issue will take decades of pondering and asking before a clear answer is received, just as in 1978. Or not, but I am open to the possibility.

  27. #28 Dave K: I trained with event management at General Conference (tagging along with my husband for his job) last year. They do allow females to take tickets (as we were all given instruction that if a woman attempts to enter Priesthood with a valid ticket that we should say nothing but immediately call security over to handle it). I believe they said when the meeting starts the females are to stay in the hallways at the doors. It is indicative that you noted women only came into the meeting during rest hymns, and then quickly left. It is policy that only male reporters are allowed press passes.

    I wasn’t implying the OW was attempting to break down the gendered spaces, but just a general observation on the differential treatment of the meetings.

  28. The real question is what OW should do to continue the conversation. There is no particular reason OW should take my advice (very few people ever do…) but, for what it’s worth, here is what I would propose:

    1. Agree to the church’s request to move the OW gathering to the free speech zone. This sort of gesture of good will would do a lot to make OW look sincere and accommodating, while actually costing them very little. (The bloggers will keep paying attention to OW regardless, no worries.)

    2. Request that, in return for the OW’s decision to move off temple square, somebody in the church hierarchy schedule a meeting with the OW leadership. But don’t phrase it as a threat or a quid pro quo. Just say, “We understand and have decided to meet your request. Would you be willing to meet one of ours?” and see what they say. Assure them that you will be sensitive to any concerns they have about how the meeting is reported online. Make clear that your aim is to communicate, not to embarrass.

    3. Make the gathering in the free speech zone as upbeat and positive as possible. Bring signs with phrases that highlight your love for men, your appreciation for the leaders, your sense of humor, and your willingness to sacrifice. Examples:

    “I want to count tithing while my HUSBAND takes a nap!”


    “I want to conduct temple recommend interviews while my HUSBAND plays games with the kids!”


    “I want a five year appointment as bishop to permanently derail MY career!”

    Not a word about “institutionalized sexism” or “rape culture” or “calling out unearned male privilege”. You want to show that you are friends of the church, not enemies. The best way to do that is to be friendly.

    4. Show some genuine empathy for the church leaders. The statement “Brigham Young was a great prophet, but his decision to withhold the priesthood from blacks was a mistake due to prejudice.” does not fundamentally threaten our theology. But try replacing “Brigham Young” by “Jesus Christ” and “blacks” by “women” and, well, you see the problem. Of course, the church can adapt based on revelation (what was right for one time could be wrong for another) and of course the term “priestess” has a long history in our church. But do try to be as kind and compassionate as possible in showing that you genuinely understand and appreciate the difficulty of the position our church leaders are in, and the reasons they may feel a need to wait for revelation on this matter. State upfront that you recognize that many women prefer the current system for many valid reasons (they may like the way that it forces men to stay involved, the way it exempts women from certain chores, the resonance with tradition, etc.) Make clear that you absolutely are not trying to dictate or criticize or minimize their opinions. You are just expressing your own.

  29. Symphony (#27) and others — yes I agree on the concept of revelation. There is the sort of revelation that David O. McKay referred to when he said he could not change the policy about not ordaining blacks to the LDS priesthood without a revelation, which he attempted to obtain but could not. This seems to correlate with what is needed to do a “major change” (Ben in #2) or to change a “core doctrine or practice” (Nate in #3). We get very few of these. This is the sense in which continuing revelation is a very conservative doctrine. This is the sense in which I am saying there are a lot of changes in doctrine and practice without any particular revelation on the subject. This is the context of my suggestion that what controls the invocation of the “we need a revelation to change this” position is how leaders feel about the change, not any objective classification of major or core doctrine.

    Then there is what we often term “inspiration,” generalized non-dialogic revelation that we generally attribute to any decision of senior LDS leaders (and local leaders as well). In this sense, all changes to practice and doctrine are the result of revelation. But if this is how you view things, senior leaders could go in a room, decide to ordain departing sister missionaries to the office of elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood, and it would be revelation. Right? If this is your theory of revelation and church governance, then you agree with me that they can just go into a room and decide to change the policy if they want.

    So here’s the rub: You simply can’t claim that every decision LDS leaders make and every action they take is ipso facto supported by revelation, then turn around and tell me leaders are powerless to change the priesthood policy because it is the Lord’s Church and leaders can’t make such a change without “a revelation.” You can’t have it both ways.

  30. Dave K., maybe it was the same revelation that told church leaders that gender is essential characteristic of eternal identity.

  31. Dave (#33), excellent point. Your parents named you well.

    Nate (#3), sorry to pile on, but I’m also curious as to where you draw the line for “core or foundational beliefs and practices.” It’s safe to assume most all members agree that “the priesthood” is a core part of our beliefs. But is the gender restriction “core?” Why? And would you have considered the racial restriction to be “core” when it was in place? It seems that both restrictions would necessarily be viewed the same – core or non-core.

    FWIW, I think the simplest answer is that a “revelation” – the declared word of God put to the church body for sustaining vote – is required when leaders say it is and not required if they don’t say so. For the racial ban, leaders said a revelation was necessary, so it was. For the gender ban, leaders have said a revelation is necessary, so it is. But for other big changes, if nothing is said, the change can happen without a “revelation.”

    A great example of a big change without any formal revelation are the substantive changes to the temple ceremony that were made in 1990. It’s hard to imagine that women’s ordinance is a “core” principle, but alterations to the endownment session are not.

  32. Dave, I’m glad you put that sentence into bold-faced type, so I can be certain that you really, really mean it. Of course, since I have never made either of the two claims that you assert people are not permitted to make, I’m not quite sure why you’re so exercised.

    And hkobeal, I just noticed your comment #20. Since I never asserted anything about the amount of vicious hate mail that OW has received, I’m not sure why you’re asking me how I know how much that is. If you’re curious, though, I believe that one piece of hate mail, whether vicious or not (as Col. Jessup would say, though, “Is there any other kind?”), is one too many.

  33. Thank you, Mark B. (#36). It was a long comment and I didn’t want my main point to get lost in the noise. It was a general comment, not directed at you. I’m not even sure what claims you are making; comment #22 was sort of an invitation to state your claims.

    You comment #7 certainly does seem to be an assertion, namely that I have no basis for knowing what sort of hate mail OW receives, along with the implication that they probably don’t receive any. You are wrong on both counts.

  34. Dave (#27) re: the “Rub”

    Assume with me for a second that Joseph was speaking as Prophet when he spoke of the “key that will never rust – following the majority of the twelve.”

    Does it not then follow that decisions reached by a majority of the Twelve, as The Quorum, are issued under the larger umbrella of revelation, and may be considered such by the rank and file membership? The Quorum decision-making process (ideally) removes individual bias and personal opinion (as we spoke about earlier (#10)), and is therefore the Lord’s will.

    If that is the case, then your bolded statement is slight inaccurate – the leaders are not powerless to change the policy, they just don’t feel inspired to do so, and until they do, its business as usual.

    Unfortunately, many of us are assuming we are expert at understanding a topic with which we have zero experience (i.e. institutional revelation for the Church).

  35. Thor (#38), thanks for the comment. There is the historical record and the recorded, canonized revelations of the Church, along with the historical context in which each revelation was received and canonized, to inform us about “institutional revelation for the Church.” That’s certainly a better basis for understanding revelation in the Church than an uncanonized second-hand (hearsay) statement taken from the December 1906 Young Woman’s Journal.

    By your reasoning, if a majority of the Twelve, as a quorum, approved granting the priesthood to women, that would be the will of the Lord, to be presented to the Church as a revelation? Which runs counter to how the 1890 revelation and the 1978 revelation occurred — they came to the President of the Church individually, who then verbally presented the substance of their revelation to the counselors in the First Presidency and the Twelve to obtain their (sometimes reluctant) approval.

  36. Fair enough Dave, (#39) but irrespective of how they reach their decision, it seems like you want to agree with me: if the Quorum releases a decision as a Quorum, then it can be presented to the Church as a revelation. If the Quorum grants the Priesthood to women in this manner, I would be first in line to ordain my wife!

    And I know the reference is sketchy, but to me it tastes right, what with the 15 apostles holding all the keys and the basic underlying fact that the Prophet is the most senior of the Apostles, etc. Perhaps I should expand my definition to the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.

    Either way, if the House of Israel petitions its prophet(s) long enough, it gets what it asks for, for better or worse. I never quite understood why Uzzah was killed, but the Lord hasn’t asked me to weigh in on it yet either.

  37. Allison (1), TSM is not speaking because he’s a man, he is speaking as *the* prophet and president of the church. So while I don’t disagree with your idea, it’s apples to oranges in terms of reasoning.

  38. Isn’t the will of the Lord for church councils to make decisions and those under them to go along and make the best of those decisions? Otherwise aren’t we slothful and not wise servants? Both the pretense that The Lord makes all of our decisions for us when we’re in high leadership positions and the inability of so many members to be greased cogs rather than squeaky (or entirely seized up) wheels lead to us living far below our priveleges as local organizations staffed by humans.

  39. I just think it’s incredibly historical that women can actually watch priesthood on youtube now. And the Church wrote you a letter! So case closed. No need to complain any more OW.

  40. I don’t mean that to say that people should shut up about the inequality in the church…I was simply thinking of how much bloody work it takes to get recalcitrant members of quorums and such to pull their weight and how that ties in to this discussion of when “revelation” is required to change things.

  41. “Otherwise aren’t we slothful and not wise servants?”

    I think that might be a step up from self-righteous and anal retentive servants which seems to be the Mormon norm.

  42. Carrie, thanks for that insight. I generally watch online and had no clue about what goes on in meetinghouses.

  43. “If it includes discussion of actual issues relating to actual women in the Church, not just the standard menu of doctrines we hear in church each week and at General Conference every six months, it could be a very interesting meeting. Some people I know are very excited about the meeting.”

    Is it just me, or is anyone else nervous about the upcoming meeting? With all of the press surrounding OW and almost every Mormon I know blogging or re-posting blogs about women and the priesthood, there is sure to be some attempt in the meeting to address the issue. I worry that some of the speakers will deliver thinly veiled calls to repentance to OW and other advocates for change. I worry that whatever is said will be more fodder for the sometimes vicious arguments that I keep seeing on the internet. But I also see great potential for this meeting as a way to validate concerns and differences of opinion. It would be a balm to my soul if the speakers somehow find a way to bring people together again. I hope that they communicate that disagreement among saints is okay, and that we can still be united in our faith in Christ and love for each other while we struggle through these issues.

  44. Maybe both sides should just stack up their hate mail next to each other, and whoever has the most gets to lead the Church.

    That seems to be how everything else is run nowadays.

  45. hkobeal: Unfortunately, you have completely misread my comment. My skepticism wasn’t directed at the fact of vicious comments directed at OW; rather, it was directed at Dave K’s assertion as to things that he “knew.”

    How many hateful commenters are there, and do they constitute “a lot,” are questions I cannot answer. (I believe that one hateful comment is one too many.) But I suspect that the numbers are rather small compared to the total membership of the church. They may be small compared to the number in OW.

    It’s a bit like Dave’s assertion that “everybody is talking about” it–maybe everybody in the echo chamber of the Bloggernacle is talking about it, but that hardly adds up to “everybody.”

  46. With all of the press surrounding OW and almost every Mormon I know blogging or re-posting blogs about women and the priesthood, there is sure to be some attempt in the meeting to address the issue. I worry that some of the speakers will deliver thinly veiled calls to repentance to OW and other advocates for change

    I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that at the Priesthood session, the existence of a controversy concerning the ordination of women will be conspicuously ignored. You’ll get some thinly veiled references in other sessions, but not that one.

  47. “LDS doctrine and church organization change all the time without any particular revelation.” So from what I understand from your generalization here is that you sit in with the brethren, and know what they pray about, and seek revelation about? I am pretty sure when changes are made in the church, there is some revelation involved.

  48. Also if you go on to the OW website, the founder of OW claims that she received revelation that women will get the priesthood. I thought that revelation for the church can only come through the prophet…

  49. “Maybe both sides should just stack up their hate mail next to each other….”

    The catch is that “both” implies two, and there are many, many points of view on this issue.

    Many, One of the disservices we do to each other is to quickly make a decision and shove someone into a box that makes us comfortable. Label applied, end of story. We are all so much more complex than that.

  50. Naismith,

    I have learned much from trying to “unlabel” my understanding of your comments and listen to the complexity you describe. Thank you.


    I don’t know about the specific OW founder comment, but there is a difference between having a revelation for the church and having a revelation for yourself about what the church will do.

    If the person says, “the church should change because of my revelation” that seems more like revelation for the church.

    If the person says, “I am calling attention to an issue and pursuing it because of a revelation I have received about what will happen” that is something different.

    Does every revelation God makes about the future come first to the person with the authority to enact it? Maybe, but maybe not. How many missionaries tell stories of people who had a revelation that someone would contact them, before the missionaries knew it.

  51. T (#32)


    The only thing I would add …

    Please drop the “male allies” stuff. If a man agrees with your cause, and would like to participate, just call him by his name and let him join. For example,

    Josh: Hi, my name is Josh, and I’m a gentle agitator who respects the LDS church’s private property interests and would like to calmly express my opinion about gender roles in the LDS community.

    OW: Welcome Josh. Please bring donuts to share in the free speech zone.

    Josh: You bet. See you then.

  52. Happy to say, I do not anticipate that the Church will undergo a sudden dramatic transformation because somebody wrote a few letters. Apparently the dissenting party wished to attract some attention. They got it. Hoping for more would probably be rather overly optimistic, maybe even somewhat presumptuous.

    Please don’t be too disappointed. Have a nice day! :-)

  53. Martin, here is the quote from the ABC news story:

    “SALT LAKE CITY, (ABC 4 Utah) – Nearly 200 women, part of a group seeking the ordination of women into priesthood, were turned away from attending the Priesthood Session at the 183rd General Conference.

    The women are part of the group called “Ordain Women” and many are active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Kate Kelly founded the group in March 2013 after wanting for several years to have women seek ordination to priesthood. The BYU graduate said she had the REVELATION after serving a mission in Barcelona, Spain in 2002”

    I agree with your last paragraph that people can receive personal revelation just as you mentioned that many converts have stated that they have had dreams or visions that one day a missionary would contact them. Everyone is entitled to their own personal revelation, and that is great. It gets scary when people think they receive revelation for anyone but themselves. And just because someone receives “revelation” for themselves doesn’t necessarily mean that it is in fact true revelation. Would you believe me if I told you that I received revelation that I was a prophet? Probably not. (btw I haven’t received that revelation)

    I don’t mean to cause contention, but these women who claim they only want the brethren to ask, I don’t think would be willing to listen unless the answer is yes (think martin harris). And how do we even know that the church leaders haven’t asked?? OW already received an answer from the church to not demonstrate on church property and to not try and get in to the priesthood session, yet they have stated multiple times that they are going to try anyways. It sounds to me like they are unwilling to listen to their church leaders, unless they get their way.

  54. Nick (#58), I am afraid you misquoted the news report (or repeated a misquotation circulated by someone else). Here is the link to the actual story:

    Here is the text for the third paragraph from the actual story:

    Kate Kelly founded the group in March 2013 after wanting for several years to have women seek ordination to priesthood. The BYU graduate said she had an epiphany after serving a mission in Barcelona, Spain in 2002.

    So (at least according to this story) Kate Kelly is not claiming a revelation — she simply came to a dramatic realization that was a course she should pursue. Stating she claims she received a revelation seems like an attempt to discredit her to fellow Mormons. Falsely suggesting she claims she received a revelation just discredits those criticizing her. Nothing like telling lies about someone to generate public sympathy for them.

  55. Just to clarify this issue a bit more, here is a link to an interview with Kate Kelly by The Student Review (an off-campus student publication at BYU).

    Here is the question and answer about what made her get involved.

    Q: Was there a definitive moment in your life when you realized that women should be ordained, and that this was a cause that you should lead?

    A: I was raised in a very egalitarian home. My dad called himself the “Laundry King” and shared equally in all parental duties and my mom worked as an attorney. This model of parity always resonated with me, and in some ways ordination and equality have always made some intuitive sense to me. However, the messages I received in church created some dissonance with what my parents taught me by example. This dissonance became more and more irksome to me over the years.

    Taking my new job and being able to interact with such courageous human rights defenders who risk brutal beatings, imprisonment and total ostracization from their communities for standing up for themselves gave me pause. They helped me see that to be my authentic self I need to speak about what was true to me, even at great cost. Before I kept thinking that ordination was an issue that “somebody needed to do something about” and finally I realized: I am somebody.

    This experience has been an act of faith for me. I have faith in the church, and that the institution can change and improve to be a more inclusive community. I have faith that our message will be respectfully received, even by those who disagree. I have faith that others will join us, and end their silence on the issue of female ordination.

  56. Jim Cobabe,

    Whether you are for them or against them Ordain Women has put forward a slogan that has already suddenly and dramatically changed some church members and therefore changed the church.

    Frankly I don’t think anyone knows what kind of a fire has been started. Whether it is a match, kitchen fire, bonfire or apocalyptic conflagration is anyone’s guess.

  57. Martin, I’m pretty sure the fire started by OW is called the Apocalypse. Either that, or the fire of Mount Doom. Same difference. Luckily, God has already prepared a means to quench the fire – the motion picture NOAH is being released tonight. I’m stoked because Emma Watson is cast for the pivotal role of Egyptus. It is through her line that witches will be preserved alongside the muggles. Just as Dobby O. McKay predicted.

  58. Indeed. The butterfly flaps its wings…

    I am not denying that your view may be changed by letter-writing campaigns. The discussion here and around the Internet gives evidence that it has. On the other hand I have no small confidence that the leadership of the Church of my faith is responding to a bit higher source of instruction.

    Your metaphor may prove to be more apt than you intend.

  59. Dave: I would like to defend both Nate and Mark B.’s distinction regarding core and peripheral matters. It seems fairly easy to me: core doctrines are those that are found in scripture and on which other doctrines hinge. For example, I believe that D&C 107 & 132 and BofAbra. 1 are strong scriptural support for the view that priesthood is not given to females. In addition, the nature of the eternal family based on male priesthood as found in D&C 132 and the temple endowment seem to me to related and inter-supporting doctrines.

    There was no such basis in revelation for blacks and the priesthood (I am aware that some had wild theories about the seed of Cain, but such a view is easily exposed as a mere evangelical trajectory of scriptural eisegesis). Thus, I think that both Nate and Mark — and the Church in its PR statement — are on solid ground in stating that it would take a revelation to change it.

  60. Blake, Google “1949 first presidency statement.” According to President George Albert Smith and his counselors, the curse of cain was a foundational doctrine revealed directly from God. I wish it could be blamed on evangelicals and dismissed as speculation, but such is not our history.

    As for female exclusion, please cite me to the verse where the issue is addressed. That verse doesn’t exist. Otherwise this discussion would be much simpler. I’m glad that our current leaders are not following their predecessors in teaching folklore to justify the exclusion. Rather, they humbly admit that they don’t know why our practice is as it is.

  61. “The major/minor or core/periphery distinction just does not appear to hold up to detailed consideration.”

    Dave: I disagree. You are right that it is very difficult in practice to figure out what sits on one side of the distinction rather than the other. You are wrong to suggest that this means that the distinction is spurious. It is difficult to come up with a list of necessary and sufficient conditions that would allow me to say that a man loves his wife. It doesn’t follow from this that the man doesn’t love his wife, nor that love is somehow a suspect concept having nothing to do with marriage.

  62. Dave: Note carefully this — the practice regarding blacks was not found in scripture. The 1949 statement does not cite any scripture or revelation as support. It does not, contrary to your assertion, state that the practice is foundational. Indeed, the 1949 statement expressly affirmed that at some time in the future the practice would change. There is no such recognition regarding women and the priesthood. Other doctrines did not depend on this faulty interpretation. So the 1949 statement and the doctrine fail the test i elucidated in #64. A doctrine must meet all of the requirements of the test that I elucidated and pointing to the 1949 statement hardly does it..

    Now you are going to have to tell me what test you think applies to requiring a revelation or allowing a change of such a deeply entrenched and scriptural practice as women and the priesthood. As far as I can tell, you deem a doctrine to be up for grabs and can be changed any time a critical mass of disgruntled “saints” want a change. That is not a church or a doctrine; it is a political party and platform. If that is how you see it, fine. But it is a pretty thin straw on which to found the kingdom of God on earth. It seems to me that such earth-bound basis for change would make it a mere political party or club and not God’s church.

  63. sometimes I wonder if people are really listening to the words in the temple; i.e. which gender receives and (prepares to) officiate(s) the priesthood in the temple. {hint=both}

    there are enough questions in ancient scripture and apocrypha (priestesses etc), in church history “RS to become a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day as in Paul’s day”, quotes Bruce R. McConkie about women being amongst the noble and great ones foreordained before the world was that came down and helped create the earth, and in our temple instruction that I don’t consider this so black and white. There is obviously more revelation to come about the relationship between women and the priesthood, I can’t conceive anyone attending the temple and not coming to that conclusion.

    Anyway, I’m not advocating that YES IT WILL HAPPEN, but I see nothing in the doctrine of the priesthood that is inherently masculine/male. If it doesn’t matter who is holding open the drapes to let the sunlight in (a la Elder Andersen) then it doesn’t matter, right? I don’t consider myself disgruntled, but curious enough to ask and to consider it a blessing to question in faith. I’m definitely keeping myself open to the possibility.

  64. Kristine: See my response to your assertion that the temple endowment give women active priesthood power on the “Who Gets a Press Conference” thread.

  65. Blake,

    You’re giving me a headache. Is there any room in your world-view to admit that tradition and culture shape (or influence) each of us, including those who lead?

    In other words, … well, never mind. What do you think about tradition and culture?

  66. Josh,

    I think tradition and culture matter, but what do you think of this logic. If we believe that the church is lead by prophets receiving revelation, wouldn’t we expect the difference between the tradition and culture of those leaders and the tradition and culture those around them that are not receiving that revelation would be a good proxy for what influence God is having?

    Wouldn’t be the first time God was inscrutable but I’m just not seeing feminism and something God is working that hard on.

  67. Blake believes the BofM is a modern expansion of an ancient document, so its obvious he admits tradition and culture shape us. (See, for example, the entry in Wikipedia on him or that old article published in Dialogue.) He just doesn’t seem to like women who aren’t submissive to his ideas or to understand that even if women haven’t had something so far — and it’s him saying that, not me — they might get it if they ask. I stand for OW and suggest that men who do also start standing for it too. I’d start by standing up in priesthood meeting tomorrow until someone asked me if I needed something and then I’d say oh — in other words, OW — and then I’d sit down, but I have to co-teach primary with my daughter. Five-year-olds. :) Anybody else game to stand up for OW?

  68. Wreddyornot,

    This just keeps getting better. We definitely need a reality TV show to keep up with this. This is the most exciting thing that has happened in the church in my lifetime.

    The Hunger for Priesthood games.

  69. wreddyornot – yeah, as if I remotely believed that women needed to be submissive. It is really easy to disembowel a straw man and to caricature another — being honest and charitably stating the position of someone you disagree with takes a lot more work. I avoid blog discussions with folks who as willing to distort my views as you are. Please don’t. Why don’t you stand up for not purposely distorting what others believe?

  70. Martin James (#73):

    difference between the tradition and culture of those leaders and the tradition and culture those around them

    You would have to assume that God was not also revealing truths to others outside of the LDS faith.

    I like the metaphor of revelation as dew distilling from heaven. All can see its influence in the morning, but nobody sees the exact point in time when it came. It’s gentle and mysterious and it doesn’t overly manipulate our ability to use our own minds and judgment.

    Leaders of our faith are sincere, talented individuals who have devoted their lives to the LDS faith when they could be doing something else. I’m of the persuasion that God almost always leaves them to their capable judgment when running the affairs of the church.

    Thus, when I read or listen to the prescient wisdom of church leaders, I start from the default assumption that I’m listening to the sincere thoughts and desires of an individual who takes his stewardship very seriously. Yet, I’m very reluctant to ascribe the “voice of God” to the voice of church leaders. I guess my default is to assume that the person speaking is speaking from his unique life experiences … unless I’m impressed that it’s something more.

    I’m open to persuasion otherwise. The above perspective reflects where I’m currently at, and I’ll probably be at a different place in a few years.

  71. Josh,

    I don’t begrudge you that view. It is sensible.

    But since you are a thoughtful fellow, I will ask doesn’t that view seem bit short of Prophet, Seer and Revelator?

    I mean you name something three times and you expect something a bit more than the prescient wisdom of a hardworking and talented individual speaking from their own experiences.

    But if offered a prescient wisdom stone, I’d take it :)

  72. “He just doesn’t seem to” — is what I said before that and I qualified it to those “who aren’t submissive to his ideas or to understand that even if women haven’t had something so far… they might get it if they ask.” That’s one thing I don’t like about your tack here, Blake; it’s filled with violence (e.g. “disembowel”) and it seems authoritative and defensively angry. (Note I said that it seems that way.) But seriously, so women aren’t and shouldn’t be submissive in your thinking — “as if I remotely believed that women needed to be submissive”. So in that case don’t they have a right to ask? Is it that they just don’t have a right to ask the way they have in this instance? Or is it dumb — futile — for them to ask with such “a deeply entrenched and scriptural practice” — as you argue — in place? Is it that you believe with such a history, there isn’t a prayer for them to be successful in asking? Even if that is the case, can’t we stand to learn more? Now, care to answer, or do you want to continue to call me one of the “folks who as *are?* willing to distort my views”?

  73. Mtnmarty (#79)

    I feel compelled to make a disclosure to you.

    My current calling in the church is Assistant … to the Assistant Scout Master. That tells you something about how my local ecclesiastical leaders view my judgment on faith matters. My stewardship entitles me to make this decision: On our April campout should we cook Dutch oven peach cobbler or sticky buns?


    Now does that sound like a guy who’s going to have something sensible to say about a weighty matter like “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator”?

  74. Yes, but only if you went for the cobbler.

    Really josh, do I come across as a respecter of persons?

  75. Josh,

    Go with the sticky buns. And how your leaders view you means little to nothing in the eternal scheme of things. Bit how you approach this issue probably means a lot.

  76. We’ve derailed the topic a bit.

    Old Man (#83) and Mtnmarty (#82),

    My comment (81) was meant merely as a disclaimer. If some young unsuspecting soul stumbles across this blog comment section, they should know who they’re dealing with. :-)

    Maybe if I restate my opinion it will clarify things: my default (my starting point) is to assume that church leaders are speaking from their life’s experience. If I’m impressed otherwise, then I’m open to their words being more than a product of their life’s experience.

    I realize others go about things in an opposite fashion: Assuming a leader’s counsel is from God unless prompted otherwise. As I sit here today, that type of faith is not part of my constitution. I guess my experience is that God guides very, very little.

    But really how much revelation does it take for someone to be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator? Really, in my book, just a wee bit is sufficient. Seriously, I can sustain an individual who receives revelation as the dews from heaven.

    And, going back to the original post, I can gently advocate for more malleable gender roles in the LDS church, including women having an equal opportunity to contribute and lead from the top down.

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