Open Letter to Kate Kelly, Ordain Women, & Questioning Onlookers

One Mormon Woman’s Thoughts on Women and Priesthood

Four women embracing

Warning: This is long, longer than I intended, so may require breaks for gelato, green smoothies, or other chosen interludes…  For your convenience, you can link-jump to any assumption or back to the top of this page.

Dear Kate,

I’ve considered sharing some thoughts with you for several months, and while I initially construed a possible face-to-face discussion, I decided just recently to post some reflections.

As your sister, I’ve listened to your addresses to others regarding Ordain Women. I care about you, about women, and the destiny of women. I care deeply about women’s voices, women’s fair and equitable treatment, their unhindered potential. And actually because I care, I stand opposed to the agenda of Ordain Women.

I honestly thought that you might rescind your calls for ordination after the letter and response you received from the Church, indicating both the doctrinal stance of The Church of Jesus Christ and the leaders’ disposition in regard to your recent initiatives, actions, and requests.

Since you’re now trying to extend your proposed views on ordination, through online venues rhetorically chosen to follow a set of “missionary discussions,” I felt to offer a personal response, not only for you, Hannah, and others leading your organization, but also and especially for the sake of all those who might be confused by many of your writings, conversations, non-sequiturs, and claims of Ordain Women.

Sidenote to Those Looking Over the OW Shoulders, Questioningly

Dear Questioning Onlookers~

Are you one of those looking over the shoulder of Ordain Women trying to figure it out?  It “sounds like” they have some valid points to you but you are not sure; you just don’t know how to make sense of it all?

After all, they say all are alike unto God and shouldn’t that mean then that women should have the priesthood?  That sounds right in terms of how they use the language, but is it?  If the Brethren and the scriptures teach differently, can it be?  How do you dig deeper?

You get caught up in the ideas that they propose about women being ordained to positions so they can speak in the name of the Lord. Does that sound cool?  Do you already have that power? Are they messing with God’s order or as they claim, just asking that “more of it” be restored?

Are you questioning the semantics?  Sorting through? Wondering about the nature of these OW protests?  Yet realizing there can be cultural improvements? Tangled in those threads?

I hope you’ll read on and that something may shed light on one of your questions, at least.

Okay, so back to all…

Dear Kate & Questioning Onlookers,

I hope to speak respectfully and clearly. Of course, I share my own personal views in light of my understanding and study of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness—however modest that may be. The doctrines of the priesthood continue to distill as I, like many, have attempted to wrap my mind around glorious principles and discuss them.

I’m going to separate out the cultural thread because I think the discussion gets convoluted when we combine both the theological and the cultural strands in the same breath. Offenses of doctrine lived (from the slightest abrasion to the most hideous disregard and abuse) are deplorable, as we know. We stand up against those. That said, those do not make the Savior’s doctrines mutable or ineffective. In other words, we don’t need to throw out the doctrinal seatbelts because some individuals culturally or spiritually jaywalk. I’ll reference this more at the end.

[quote_left]Nothing is limiting our fullest access to all spiritual gifts.[/quote_left]

As a 34-year convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I can say this much—I’m continually awestruck by the doctrine—including the beauty and expansiveness of the conception of women, the power of women, the role of women as disciples—that has been restored to the earth. We rise only as high as our conception of ourselves and our power to act. And nowhere on earth is there a clearer conception of who we are and nowhere is there a signature, divine organization for women in which to operate through God’s power and authority, turned on women’s behalf. I feel I, along with every woman of The Church of Jesus Christ, have a divine prescription for unlimited growth and righteous spiritual power, unavailable anywhere else on earth, giving us full access to God’s highest and most glorious blessings, as we conform to His will and purposes. Nothing is in our way of ultimately being in His presence one day; nothing is limiting our fullest access to all spiritual gifts since the gospel has been restored. There’s just no one I’d rather be than a woman in of The Church of Jesus Christ. (And again, that does not mean that there is not room for growth in terms of how we apply those principles, just as there is for how we live the law of charity, or of tithing, or of humility, collectively and individually, which we can address separately.)
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Assumptions of Ordain Women

So, as I’ve listened to you and those leading the Ordain Women movement with you, I’ve garnered four sets of thoughts/assumptions at the core of your beliefs leading you to seek priesthood ordination. These come from your organization’s remarks. I’ll list them here. Up front, I will say that I believe these are erroneous assumptions, and that they build on one another.

  1. You, as leaders of Ordain Women, speak of wanting to be ordained to the priesthood for it is only through that ordination, you contend, that you and other women can share “its blessings and burdens,” and have the same opportunity for “transformation and sanctification” that brethren have who are ordained to offices within the priesthood.
  2. You reference frequently that Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness, envisioned ‘a kingdom of priests,’ which kingdom doesn’t exist because women are not ordained to the office of a priest.  In that sense, you say, and to use Joanna Brooks’ phrase, that means “there’s been an arrested restoration.”
  3. The Church is a patriarchy wherein women are largely excluded.
  4. You conclude that the only real equality—as a result of 1, 2 and 3—is functional equality; that is, that we not only are of equal value and capacity as men (inherent in us) but that we women must do the things men do, have the things men have, including being ordained, though more recently you have said it’s not about “sameness.”

Common Essential Ground: The Priesthood As the Power and Authority to Act in God’s Name

I would like to go back to and just talk with you about “the priesthood” for a minute and address where I think it might help to clarify points of potential misunderstanding. I think that we’re at the point in time when we need to reclaim the right language as we’re discussing the priesthood because some of us, as lay individuals, have used shortcuts in the past that I think can be inadequate and may do a disservice to us in moving forward in our discourse. I’ll clarify how I’m using the word in each case, and then share more on recommendations for language use when I post this. This first part is just to give us a basis for discussion.

The official definition is this:

The priesthood is the authority of God delegated to men on the earth to act in all things for the salvation of mankind (see Spencer W. Kimball, “The Example of Abraham,” Ensign, June 1975, 3). Priesthood is the means whereby the Lord acts through men to save souls (Bednar, The Powers of Heaven).

So, we know, and I believe we agree on this point of doctrine, that the priesthood is God’s power and authority to act in His name and advance His kingdom. This power and authority has been conferred to us through the restoration through John the Baptist, and by Peter James and John and other subsequent conferrals.

Now, can we just re-look at what “priesthood” is, together—and what the process of becoming a queen and priestess, king and priest is—what it is not, and what flows from what it really is, and is not?

[quote_right]God’s power and authority needs to be conferred upon men and women to execute His work. None of His work can occur without that power and authority.[/quote_right]

If the working definition of the priesthood is as just stated, then we know that God’s power and authority needs to be conferred upon men and women to execute His work.  None, none, of His work can occur, in His name, without that power and authority extended, right? Has it been restored? Yes. To whom? Both to men and to women. How?

When the keys of the priesthood were brought back to the earth by John the Baptist, by Peter, James, and John, and others upon Christ’s request and by personal appearance and conferral, God’s authority returned to the earth with all of its powers.  A man held those keys—the prophet.  But as we know, that wasn’t the end of the story: the prophet turned the keys on behalf of women.

Women were given the power and authority—their appropriation of priesthood power, God’s power to act in His behalf, in His name—for their expansive work in saving souls and bringing forth life and doing unlimited good through exercise of faith and agency. We couldn’t exercise God’s power without the authority to do so. In other words, women are equally vested in priesthood power and authority, and our use of that power and authority is different but EQUAL to man’s as co-partners in the work of salvation and redemption. (See also Beginning of Better Days, Deseret Book, 50.) This power is operative in our conversion, in our redemption, and in our own redemptive work on behalf of those we serve, in concert with and through the atoning power of Christ’s sacrifice.

So with the powers of God restored and His authority to act in our own stewardships in the Sisterhood of Relief Society, the home, community, world and men in Brotherhood, and in the home, community and world, we are both equally vested “in the priesthood or power of God.” This means I can fully operate to save souls and to lift mankind, to fill my callings, to mother, to act on the full gifts of the Spirit, to teach, to prophecy, to engage others by the power of the Spirit, to claim every promise the Savior has issued to any of us through righteous living, just as any man can, and by virtue of the same power and authority vested in us.  I can be directed in my affairs, receive revelation, be transformed and become more like Christ as a result of this power. I can intervene through faith in Christ in others’ lives and pray for the Lord’s intervention through this power. I can eventually, like any man, be exalted.

To be sure we’re on the same page, let me clarify how I’m not using the word “priesthood” in what I just said. I’m not using the word “priesthood” here to mean one who is ordained to a particular office within the priesthood. I’m using it first in its fullest sense—as the power and authority of God to advance His work. (I’ll share another sense of the word “priesthood” as a brotherhood and training ground in just a bit. And I will post an Addendum to this letter with some suggestions about how we use “priesthood phrases.”)

Residual or Real Priesthood Power

With that said, I hear and get the sense that you feel that what you have is residual power only and residual authority—that you benefit from “pure priesthood” only through a male’s exercise of his authority and power by virtue of his ordination. In other words, women get a sprinkling but men get the showering. That comes from a partial misunderstanding of the priesthood, I believe, in the sense in which I’ve just referenced it.

While it’s true that we do receive one magnificent set of blessings as a result of ordinances they administer, there is more said and implied–and I think this is missed by those contending for ordination:  The blessings of the priesthood include BOTH 1) the ability to receive divine gifts through the exercise of others ordained to an office in the priesthood as they serve and 2) our own access to and containment of that power and authority ourselves by virtue of our having been given that as the keys were turned on our behalf as women. Our access to that power is activated only within our spheres just as men activate it within their spheres. All of that power and authority is the power and authority of God to act on His behalf. Men have it. Women have it. Elder Christofferson spoke to this inherent moral authority of women, which spins right out of the Savior’s doctrines, and Elder Oaks addressed this in April Conference. I rejoiced in their better articulation of it than mine, as I’d formulated most of this post before hearing those recent and inspired statements framed in the restored gospel.

[quote_left]The blessings of the priesthood include the ability to receive blessings and ordinances as well as our own access to that power.[/quote_left]

You said recently you wished you could do things “in His name.” You already can. You can pray, prophecy, serve, act, teach, call down powers of heaven, in His name. You don’t need an ordination to do that. You have that moral authority. The keys are turned. You and each of us can act on that in infinite ways.

I think you may be seriously confusing what it means to be ordained to an office with the priesthood with having the power and authority of God, or priesthood power, in our hands.  We have priesthood power, just as men do. We don’t need to be ordained to have that equal amount of God’s power. It operates in us in our spheres just as men’s operates in theirs.

Sitting on the Golden Egg, Living Under Paris

I think that is really important because what that means is–and this gets back to your first assumption: If we are literally vested already, then we realize that the burdens and blessings of it are already ours.

If this is correct, those advocating for priesthood—

Are sitting on the golden egg.

Living under Paris—unknowingly.

Transformation & Sanctification: Application for Men and Women

Let’s go just one step further together, if you will…

I’ve heard you say that you revere your husband and his priesthood power—as if it were something you longed for—and that you desire to have the same transformative power and sanctifying powers.

Following what I’ve said so far, Kate, we have those powers. As I internalize the doctrine, we already do.

[quote_right]The blessings of the oath and covenant of the priesthood are not only for men, but apply to all those under whom the authority and powers of God are operative–men and women.[/quote_right]

When I think of sacred clothing or holy garment, robes, and the oath and covenant, I notice the phrase that often follows: “of the priesthood.” I particularly notice the word “of” meaning “pertaining to,” as well as its additional meaning, “held or owned by.” The blessings of the oath and covenant “of the priesthood,”such as sanctification, are available because of the atonement of Christ and the restoration of His priesthood keys and power, and apply to all those under whom the authority and powers of God are operative—which is men and women. Each of us is in training to reach our divine potential. None of us can do so without ultimately  receiving the fullness of the Melchizedek priesthood, whether in this life or the next. Likewise, none of us can access God’s powers or “priesthood” in that sense, only by its conditions, and both men and women can be sanctified and renewed only inasmuch as either conform to the principles ‘of’ the priesthood—meaning the power and authority of God given in our individual lives and callings as woman or as a man. It doesn’t have to be the same activity type as man to qualify for this power, to access or claim this renewing power, and grace to become as the Savior is.

relief society women at Salt Lake Temple

This means that we, as women, have the same access to the transformative powers as men as we magnify our callings as women; they apply to me as well as you. We only have to listen in the temple to learn that we have those powers. So it’s a false assumption of Ordain Women leaders that this transformative and sanctifying power can only come from being ordained. The power is ours for the claiming, as I mentioned in a thread in the Trib months ago and which has been restated in a few other online venues. As we’ve heard before, the priesthood is the power of God and not the ordination to an office. In the pure sense, priesthood or God’s power is needed for everything done in the work of the Lord in a man and woman’s lives, so when we fulfill anything for the Lord, we are drawing from that power, God’s power and authority, as keys were turned in our behalf.

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Kingdom of Priests

Let’s go to ASSUMPTION 2

Assumption: According to Ordain Women, Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness, envisioned ‘a kingdom of priests’ which kingdom doesn’t exist because women are not ordained to the office of a priest. There’s been, therefore, an arrested restoration.

This is huge. This implication and view is cited repeatedly in writings referring to the need for ordination, as if it is a gift ungiven by virtue of the fact that Joseph said he wanted to make us a  “kingdom of priests.” This has been echoed on the OW website, in presentations, and is the view upheld and positioned this way by JoAnna Brooks:

[When] it comes to questions of gender, I believe the tension between the temple ritual, temple liturgy, and the day-to-day administrative practices of the church is evidence of an arrested restoration within Mormonism on questions of gender and authority.

What do I mean by “arrested restoration”?  Joseph Smith had a revolutionary vision of women and priestly authority.  We can see its outlines in the minutes of the Nauvoo Relief Society, accessible on-line here and in print (in limited form) in The Beginning of Better Days. He ordained his wife Emma Smith (D&C 25:7); he told women in the Relief Society that he intended to make of them “a kingdom of priests.”

I’d like to suggest that the confusion here may stem from the fact that Joseph’s words are inadvertently wrested from the larger context, or at best misunderstood. As I’ve read and re-read the minutes in context of Joseph’s other journal and historical writings, I noticed that he spent a lot of time talking about preparing people to actually enter the presence of God; to receive their calling and election; to go all the way up to the end of sanctification; and that he prepared those ordinances for many.

When He was talking about becoming a kingdom of priests, could he not have been referring to that very same subject of ultimate sanctification when, after one’s calling and election is sure and one becomes not just in training for or set apart to become, but actually becomes, a Queen and Priestess, King and Priest in the ultimate sense? Is this not the kingdom of priests/priestesses which Joseph aspired to for us? Did he not wish everyone to receive their highest blessings?  In this sense, he still does wish that for us. He did then and he does now. From his discourses on this subject, it appears this is exactly what Joseph was alluding to.

Listen to this:

In August, Joseph gave a discourse in which he touched on the fullness of the priesthood ordinance which would make a man a king and priest, and a woman a queen and priestess:

Those holding the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood are kings and priests of the Most High God, holding the keys of power and blessings. In fact, that Priesthood is a perfect law of theocracy, and stands as God to give laws to the people, administering endless lives to the sons and daughters of Adam (Teachings, p. 322, emphasis mine).

Similarly, he emphasized: “You have got to learn how to …. be kings and priests to God.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 346).

Notice that in calling for us to become kings and priests, queens and priestesses, Joseph is referring to our receipt of the highest temple ordinance, by which we become so.

That Joseph was talking much and thinking much about women in his day and ours becoming queens and priestesses through divine call and eventually ordinance is clear and history bears that out. For example, at a meeting in early February 1831, Joseph sealed up several saints. On September 8, 1833, Joseph sealed up members of Church at Bath, Connecticut (Journal of Orson Pratt), and in December of 1833, Joseph blessed his father and mother indicating that they would have eternal life (Teachings, pp. 38-41). Furthermore, according to the journal of Joseph Knight, Sr., all members of the Colesville Branch were sealed up.  These callings were made sure first by divine revelation until after Joseph received the keys from Elijah for the highest temple ordinances in 1836, and the blessings of the fullness of the priesthood were received by ordinance in the temple in the 1840s and after.

Amazing (vs Arrested) Restoration of The Gospel of Jesus Christ

[quote_right]Joseph did say that the Relief Society would be patterned after the priesthood, and it is as we execute our roles through the authority and power of God.[/quote_right]

Truly, this flips the idea of an arrested Restoration on its head. And while Joseph evolved in his understanding of each gospel principle, there is no evidence that he intended to ordain all women in the office of a priest, in the sense that Ordain Women has inferred and perpetuated. Can you see how this can confuse an entire group of people who take your words at face value and jeopardize their entire witness of the Restoration? Joseph did say that the Relief Society organization would be patterned after the priesthood organization, and it is, as we serve, lead, teach, execute our roles through the authority and operative power of the priesthood of God in its full sense. We are able to prophesy, to call down heaven’s powers, to act in the Lord’s name as we minister among His people and with His authority and power, to receive revelation, and to have open access to God and His spirit and prepare for priestesshood.

Isn’t the latter just the most wonderful news in the world?  Both genders have equal processes and patterns and potential for becoming all we desire to become in and through Jesus Christ and His atonement!  Isn’t ‘this’ what we want to off-load to the world?!

So here’s what I think happens to mess things up in our understanding:

When we confuse the word “priest” as a preliminary office and calling in the priesthood with the word “priest” as it relates to our future potential of having that calling and election made sure, we wrest Joseph’s comments, feel pain and disappointment at an illusionary, “missed, Joseph-intended blessing” of ordination now. This kind of pain can be alleviated. (I will speak to pain caused by cultural and human errors in another piece, pain that comes from cultural misunderstanding or marginalization, for example, again to be addressed separately… Enough ink here already.)

Priestesshood and Priesthood

[quote_left]Both genders have equal processes and patterns and potential for becoming all we desire to become in and through Jesus Christ and His atonement![/quote_left]

This brings me to another area of clarification and a related point. There’s another way we use the word “priesthood” that I’d like to refer to here.  We sometimes refer to the organization of men together, the brotherhood, as the “priesthood.”  We’re not referring to their ordination per se but to the men joined together in the organization of men. There is the solidarity of “brotherhood” just as there is the solidarity of “sisterhood,” both of which have important differences in feeling, and have no substitute in the life and health of those included.  But the “sister-hood” commonly referred to when it comes to matters of holiness and all of our womanly callings could also be called, quite accurately, “priestess-hood,” for that is its purpose.  The ‘priestess-hood’ is a group-given authority to create and mold society itself; and through it, the women trying to work together to create a society ready to see the heavens and the glories of Gods become Priestesses, same as men who, by so doing, become Priests.

So if the men are in training to become priests in the sense we spoke of through the highest ordinance (rather than as a priest in office and in training) through the priesthood organization and their divine roles within it and the women are in training—through Relief Society, and through the power and moral authority that we have as women, and through the keys being turned within our sphere—then we have equivalent organization, ability, and process (through temple covenants) through which women can become priestesses.  We don’t need to be ordained to do what we already have the authority to do.

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Oppressive Patriarchy vs. Liberating Patriarchal Order

How about ASSUMPTION 3?:

Assumption: We have a patriarchy in which men make all the decisions and one sex is therefore oppressed.

This assumption comes up in various ways in Ordain Women venues.

First of all, it speaks directly to a point Hannah Wheelright made as she shared her very reasons for becoming part of Ordain Women.  She was concerned when she read in Genesis that men “ruled over” women, and thought that being ordained to the priesthood would be the only way to level the playing field, as I understood her remarks. (I listened to them 3 times, but correct me if I misunderstood.  There were related reasons shared as well, which are addressed here, and some which are not because they fall into the cultural discussion, which I think is a separate and important one.)

This is an unfortunate, blatant misunderstanding of doctrine, and was a significant factor in a leader of OW turning to ordination as the solution for the perceived inequity.

As Bruce C. Hafen, formerly of the Seventy, and his wife, Marie, explained:

Genesis 3:16 states that Adam is to ‘rule over’ Eve; ‘rule over’ uses the Hebrew bet, which means ruling ‘with,’ not ruling ‘over.’ … The concept of interdependent, equal partners is well-grounded in the doctrine of the restored gospel. Eve was Adam’s ‘help meet’ (Genesis 2:18). The original Hebrew for meet means that Eve was adequate for, or equal to, Adam. She wasn’t his servant or his subordinate.

This is also reflected on the OW website FAQ, as follows:

The Church’s Proclamation on the Family declares that men preside over their wives and families, thus preserving an antiquated and unequal model in both the domestic and ecclesiastical realms.

The word, “presiding” here is misunderstood and implies “ruling over.” This misconception allows women to think they need to set things right. Any woman who simply defers to her husband’s every whim because he is male is not exercising the priesthood power she has, nor does she understand the doctrine as a point of order rather than of dominion.  She has the ability to think, consult with, disagree with, and share her every consideration, and to have that be considered fully before a united decision is made.

As Glenn Pace stated, “Unfortunately, however, some look upon the patriarchal order as a monarchal order. The patriarchal order is not an authority of command, but a point of order” (Spiritual Plateaus, 75).

That’s important doctrine and an important distinction.  Patriarchal order isn’t the eclipsing of women, nor is it a carryover from other cultures whose system is hierarchical or oppressive. Our view of the patriarchal order, and of marriage and relationships, is not hierarchical or gender-disequal.  As Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:

In some cultures, tradition places a man in a role to dominate, control, and regulate all family affairs. That is not the way of the Lord. In some places the wife is almost owned by her husband, as if she were another of his personal possessions. That is a cruel, mistaken vision of marriage encouraged by Lucifer that every priesthood holder must reject. It is founded on the false premise that a man is somehow superior to a woman. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

As Elder Earl C. Tingey, formerly of the Presidency of the Seventy, has said:

You must not misunderstand what the Lord meant when Adam was told he was to have a helpmeet. A helpmeet is a companion suited to or equal to [the other]. [They] walk side by side … not one before or behind the other. A helpmeet results in an absolute equal partnership between a husband and a wife. Eve was to be equal to Adam as a husband and wife are to be equal to each other.

If we turn to scripture, we see that the root for helpmeet in Hebrew is ezer.  We read that word in Psalm 30:10, “O Lord be thou my helper.” Sixteen times in the Old Testament it’s used to reference God or Yahweh as the helper of His people.  As Victor Hamilton notes, “Any suggestion that this particular word denotes one who has only an associate or subordinate status to a senior member is refuted by the fact that most frequently this same word describes Yahweh’s relationship to Israel. He is Israel’s help(er)” (The Book of Genesis: The International Commentary on the Old Testament, R.K. Harrison, ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990, 175).

[quote_right]”The patriarchal order is not an authority of command, but a point of order.”[/quote_right]

Do we have an equal voice and should we? Absolutely. Should our contributions be equally valued? Absolutely. And where they may not be, we have to address those voids culturally, as we are not yet perfect, any of us. But I’ll address that, again, in a sequel. I’m speaking to the doctrine so we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and hide behind the need for ordination when in instances following our foreordination as women is all that’s needed. As Elder Perry affirmed: “There is not a president and vice president in a family. We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family” (EnsignMay 2004).  So the matriarch is equal to the patriarch, the woman equal to the man in value and capacity. And similarly, President Kimball noted, “We don’t want our women to be silent partners or limited partners” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, 1982, 315).

Holding an office in the Church organization isn’t tantamount to having greater power and it isn’t the solution to being ruled over, since being ruled over isn’t the doctrine to begin with.  Similarly, the person presiding as a point of order has no more power than the one presided with.  A male presiding in a meeting has no more power than a woman speaking or a man speaking in that meeting. Power comes from doing our job with the Spirit of the Lord under the umbrella of the priesthood power of God which covers us all.

These OW statements and conclusions are based on misperceptions and are non-sequiturs, unless you hold a paradigm of functionally same equality, which if you look at answers to these assumptions, becomes a non-issue.

Again, there are instances where these principles are violated, and those clearly need to be addressed. But we change the culture by living the doctrine; we don’t change the doctrine to undo misunderstandings of the Savior’s teachings.

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The results of Ordain Women’s first three misguided assumptions, as discussed, are that women feel impoverished and as if they have less power, and are unequal to men without ordination.  But as we deconstructed those premises, we undercut, from the theological standpoint, the need for ordination to the priesthood. We are free to do all we can to build the kingdom of God and have all the authority and power necessary to do it, without duplicating male ordination. All of us, men and women alike, are in training to become a kingdom of priests and priestesses, kings and queens. Nothing is missing. Nothing stands in our way.

[quote_left]“There is not a president and vice president in a family. We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family.”[/quote_left]

If the faulty assumptions are overlooked or taken to be true, they lead down a path to clamoring for functional equality. The OW site, for example, indicates that we believe, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ that “all are alike unto God,” quoting the Church document and the Book of Mormon citing this:

The Book of Mormon states, ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God’ (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.

Below that statement, the site reads:

Ordain Women is committed to creating a public space to advocate for women’s ordination in the LDS Church.

The “therefore” in the white space between those two statements suggests that in order to be alike unto God, we must hold the offices of the priesthood. This jump can only be made if the assumption is that alike means “alike in function” and not “alike in value” or “alike in position and privilege.” This assumption is that functional equality is necessary to level the playing field.

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
by Rose Datoc Dall

Again, we’ve seen how the dismantling of those assumptions breaks down the need for ordination and for functional equality; as we’ve discussed, we are alike in value already; alike in privileges of becoming like God; and alike in our equality with men.

The goal is equity and value for men and women.

There are a number of issues, besides, with functional equality:

1.    Functional equality destroys the divine balance to which Elder Packer spoke….

The whole physical universe is organized in order that man and woman might fulfill the full measure of their creation. It is a perfect system where delicate balances and counter-balances govern the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual in making. Men and women have complementary, not competing, responsibilities.

2.     It yanks women away from their respective callings and ultimately, if followed to its extreme or traced back to its original root assumption, will eat away at the family, at motherhood and fatherhood, and exaltation.

The end goal of the arch feminist functional equality proponents is to undo the natural order of the family. Those like Shulamith Firestone and Kate Millet see the biological reproductive order as the oppressive order, and motherhood, therefore, as slavery; marriage as oppressive.  They think God has made a mistake, essentially. They desire to overturn nature, as indicated in this quote:

The biological family is an inherently unequal power distribution… [But] the kingdom of nature does not reign absolute… we must get rid of it. The goal of the feminist revolution…must be not just the end of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself. For unless revolution uproots the basic social organization, the biological family—the vinculum through which the psychology of power can always be smuggledthe tapeworm of exploitation will never be removed (Shualmith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex, Farrar, Straus & Giraux, 1970, 10-11).

While OW is not seeking to break apart families but to empower women, the paradigm of functional equality to which your false assumptions leads, will in time, inevitably lead that direction.

Functional equality makes women mimes before male mirrors.

Functional equality means we need equal numbers of women in the workplace, in the market, in the Congress, and in black suits at Church meetings.  It’s plumb-line is secular and misses the qualitative differences, the complementary differences between men and women.

I’ll speak personally now since each woman is different in circumstance and personal vision. Some of the highlights of my life took place in unlit arenas—teaching my children to hear the voice of God, being there at the crossroads and helping them grasp their divine identities, serving another man or woman, being given timely words to speak, sharing my witness of Christ with the world. I consider two hours holding my grandbaby, lifting a teen, raising a child every whit as significant as teaching men and women in my congregation, speaking before thousands in a church assignment, or being active in the legislature, though I’ve done all of those things. I’ve gone back to school, but not to equal out the numbers of women in my field; and I’m employed, but not to up the stats of women in the workforce. I see those avenues as through streets and not ends in themselves. I think that when we align ourselves with God’s will and plan for ourselves, then the numbers will take care of themselves and we won’t feel a desperate need to even quotas everywhere, but to be where we are needed and called.

That said, this does not diminish the need for women’s voices to be heard in all matters of the kingdom where they should be. But matching number for number isn’t the solution; functional equality isn’t the solution.

Functional equality, in its extreme, asks why men can’t have babies too.

Again, where there are cultural inconsistencies and where women’s voices need to be heard, I am totally in favor of speaking up and out, for absolute inclusion and respect in all areas of counseling together, but what I see is doctrinal misunderstandings leading to want of doctrinal change, and confusing cultural misapplication of doctrine with doctrinal faultlines.

Cultural Gains Not On a Continuum of Revelation

Lastly, when cultural gains are made, Ordain Women often see these as trumpets of their own success, as if cultural gains are on a continuum with changing doctrines of the Savior’s Church. This is untrue and a mirage.  The Savior and His process of receiving revelation is not capricious. Leaders, a living prophet and 12 apostles, do not cower or capitulate to a minority or majority opinion of the people.  Revelation isn’t a popular vote.

Again, I’ve written this because I’m concerned about those engaged in Ordain Women and those who might be drawn into the ideology without recognizing the false premises; this quote comes to mind which I share out of that concern:

But when one’s acceptance of extreme feminist ideology …challenges all priesthood authority and then the Lord himself, one risks saying amen to his or her own religious faith. At that point, radical feminism becomes a new religion—the source of ultimate trust. When the commitment to exclusive female autonomy makes people “intent on defining themselves and their purpose for existing,” they have “made [themselves] the authority over church and God” (Joyce A. Little, “Naming Good and Evil,” in First Things, May 1992, page 28).   



P.S.: Thanks to D. Kuhns, D. Johnson, M. Whinery, B. Watkins, G. Boyd, and J. Hall  for their kind time, feedback, and discussions with me as I worked through this piece.

Karen Trifiletti is a Philadelphia-born, second generation Italian, who describes herself as a “perfectly imperfect but graced follower of Christ.” Karen is a 1980-convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, mother of two, writer, and business professional.

  • Lee Irons

    Your whole argument is based on the premise that women don’t need to be in the priesthood because we already have men, and having women in it would make women functional mimes of men. Did you ever think that a woman might conduct herself in a priesthood office in a different way than a man, and that might bring additional value into the priesthood that was never there before? Also, your argument completely IGNORES the FACT that the temple tells women they will be priestesses in the Celestial Kingdom. If that is true, then having women in the priesthood certainly has eternal value. Finally, there is no direct revelation stating that ONLY men can hold a priesthood office in the Church. The assumption comes in the use of masculine pronouns in scriptures talking about the priesthood, but then masculine pronouns are used everywhere when referring to people in general. The Priesthood and the Church were organized before the revelations on the Temple. If it has been the other way around, women would likely hold priesthood office in the Church. However, existing power structures are very, very difficult to change.

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  • karenrose

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful remarks. It’s so great to hear about the Young Women you speak of and their doctrinal foundations. Equipped for the call of their generation to stand as witnesses. Thanks for sharing that and for the role you have played their in helping to educate them and to steer them to the Source and sources of learning.

    I also share the hope that the traditions of the mothers and the traditions of the fathers that don’t align with doctrine–the cultural imperfections we all have and manifest–and that are sometimes gender-driven, will be sanctified out of us.

    The Lord can certainly designate what authority He chooses to men or women in this sphere, and how that manifests is up to Him. We see some of that in the temple. Beyond that, and what’s stated by the prophets and leaders, I would not claim to know.

    Thanks for engaging and commenting. In appreciation,

  • Kjulee

    First: Thank you so much for taking this on. I cannot even imagine the hours that must have been spent by you in researching and writing, to open this corner of dialogue in such a respectful way. It is greatly appreciated.

    Second: Our Young Women’s lessons this month focus on the priesthood and I have been delightfully surprised at the very thoughtful and doctrinally sound understandings that my 12- and 13-year-olds have of the Lord’s view of women and of the priesthood in their lives. They never cease to amaze me and they give me hope that having this discussion and others like it is always a good thing. I pray that their experiences with men in the church remain positive. I cannot imagine one of them sitting meekly in a corner and not speaking up on issues of importance. They are a marked generation – marked for greatness.

    Third: While I grew up in a particular life situation and have associated with men that never once gave me a diminished sense of my worth or role in the church as a woman, I recognize that this is not the case for everyone. I pray for a future in which all of the culturally unimportant and wrong ideas and traditions that exist and are perpetuated in our church are done away with and we are left with the pure doctrinal truth, that is understood by everyone, man, woman and child.

    Lastly: Going out on a limb here, but I wouldn’t find it all that hard to envision a future where women are ordained to priesthood duties that are held now by men. But in my little vision, it would never happen as a ‘triumph’ for women that we finally became ‘functionally equal’ equal and had just as much ‘power’ as men. These are secular constructs, as you have pointed out, and as such are hardly the point. It would only come about in my imaginary future, when we have collectively reached a point in the church of really understanding the truth about our respective roles in the saving of souls and in the priesthood power of God that we all share, already.

  • calciomom

    Karen, your thoughts are so logical and well-researched. Thanks so much for the time and effort you put into this!

    • karenrose

      Thanks so much for engaging and for taking time to comment, “calciomom’ :). I appreciate your feedback. Please feel free to reach out on FB if you like. Best to you in your daily walk,

  • karenrose

    Dear Melissa,


    Hello and thank you for your thoughts and reflections and response to this post. I’m rejuvenated when I hear through comments like yours and others sent both publicly and privately that some things they hoped to see articulated have been through this very modest and lay piece.

    You raise a great question and make a great statement when you indicate that there are those who have previously had an experience with someone who was perceived as or who actually was insensitive to their need, who listened with one ear to, or who failed in exercising their own righteous leadership in some way. I think you’re right that some among us, not all, will often tend towards what I think is ‘false attribution’–that is, they attribute the human problem to ‘a patriarchal problem’ and end up jumping of the theological bridge rather than realizing that as we travel the divine path, there will be difficulty and imperfection and ways to address those, and mercy learned, and voices to be shared, so we can become, each of us, more pure in heart.

    The scriptures are replete with men and women who were flawed and whom the God used to build His kingdom. The Church exists to perfect all of us, though we have inspired structure and each is called by God to serve in lay capacities. Sometimes we are ‘partakers of Christ’s suffering’ and the atonement compensates for those times, and through revelation, we know both how to be healed and helped heal such rifts through education.

    Mike Otterson addressed this when he said that there is more education and training that can be done so we learn how to work best with each other as we lead. It’s part of the process and those discussions continue to take place. That’s another beauty of The Church of Jesus Christ. The Church is true and living–it’s true in that its doctrines are solid, restored, pure doctrines of Jesus Christ; and living, in that we grow and develop in how we or the organization and revelation dictates that we apply those.

    To your specific questions–Is it our job to set the record straight? And what can we do to help alleviate the concerns of those to allow men to act in the offices in which they’re appointed?… I’m just a lay member so I would definitely take this up in prayer and scripture study. Within your sphere, you will have influence on the existing and next generation of men and women. I think we can teach one another how to be an effective appropriate voice in any setting. I think each of us can also prepare ourselves to address the complementary differences with those around us, and the nature of the priesthood, so they come to appreciate the doctrine that the Lord–through apostles, prophets, Relief Society presidencies, has been teaching–and the beauty of God’s plan and then, most of all, encourage others to develop their own witness of that plan.
    Studying the scriptural accounts, going to the temple, we’re promised that the doctrines will distill on us and as they do, we will know how to live and respond in our sphere.

    I’d be happy to connect with you sometime, Melissa. Feel free to message me on FB. You can also reach me at karen at upcloseandmormon dot com. Thanks so much for taking time to respond.

  • Melissa Muse

    Thank you for putting into words what people have been wanting to say to the sisters of Ordain Women, including myself. I’m also appreciative of the hard work you put in to write this piece.

    I am aware of people who may try to fight your standpoint, and for them I hope someday they will come to accept how the people of the Church operate: that men have the Priesthood and that women are entitled to being Priestesses over their homes and families. Granted, women cannot perform certain ordinances and hold callings such as Bishop or High Councilman. For this is what gives women who are in support of Ordain Women ruffled feathers, and I am glad that you have addressed that in this letter.

    I do have to wonder, though, how convincing can members be to sway those who empathize with Ordain Women to think that it is not okay to oppose what the Prophet, Apostles, and even women leaders of the Church have clearly said about the issue? Is it our job to “set the record straight?” If it is our job, then how can we do this with love and kindness and not shove the truth forcefully into their face?

    Some sisters and brethren who support Ordain Women, I have found, have had bad experiences with men who were in leadership positions and did not exercise their Priesthood duties worthily. What can I share with these brothers and sisters to alleviate their concerns and tentativeness to allow men to do their duties as Priesthood holders and share that women can make as much as an impact in the lives of others?

    I know these are deep questions, but I hope to find these answers somehow, and maybe it is through personal revelation that I can receive them. But if you are open to giving suggestions, I would not be opposed.

    Thank you again for a great letter.

  • CyranoWriter

    Me again. Someone commented earlier that Christopher’s feeling and experiences were discounted by a respondent because they weren’t that person’s experience(s). If Christopher, or anyone else, feels I discounted his feelings, I am truly sorry. I do not discount those experiences. I know they exist. I am sad they happen. I think they are exactly part of the reason there is so much pain and suffering amongst the sisters. And if I came across as not caring, or not believing that happens, or in anyway discounting those experiences, I’m very sorry.
    Those very feelings and experiences are exactly what I hope you will address in “Part 2”. I look forward to sharing those types of experiences, AND in creating a dialogue that might impact the training, direction, discussion, manners, feelings and relationships of the Church members as we seek to become unified in the faith, while still maintaining our unique qualities, characteristics and talents that allow us to support, serve, uplift and strengthen each other.

  • karenrose

    Thank you so much for taking time to read this piece and to thoughtfully respond, adding to it with your own witness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s that individual witness that gives strength to the membership to serve as conduits, as you are, of Christ’s love and teachings. Thank you for also reading my heart’s intent. God bless you in your continued spiritual journey. Thanks again for dropping by and taking time to add to this discussion.

  • hcksaunders

    I have been a member of the LDS Church my entire life but was not truly converted until I was preparing to serve a mission. As I studied, pondered and asked God to answer my prayers about the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints, I received my own personal testimony by the power of the Holy Ghost. I have never questioned the doctrine of this church although I may have questioned the people at times. It is pieces likes this that are written out of an unconditional love for all humans that strengthens my testimony and restores my faith in the goodness of humanity.

    The priesthood is such an amazing blessing for women, men and children. It brings about great comfort in a world that has turned to man to receive answers. I have people I dearly love who may sit on the other side of this issue but my love for them is not shaken, nor is my faith. I respect what others believe but will also never back down from what I have found to be true doctrine.

    Thanks for sharing more then your knowledge in this open letter, thanks for sharing your heart and spirit. I appreciate the honesty by which you approached this very sensitive topic. I hope that people will do more than just read this but ponder what it is saying both in word and in spirit. The world needs more dialogue and heart felt communication and less finger pointing and arguing. Thanks for leading by example.

  • karenrose

    Dear CiVi,
    Thank you so much for your kind response. It means a great deal to hear from other women to whom this matters, and to whom this little effort has made a positive difference. Please feel free to contact me on FB. I’d love to know more about you. And let me know how your friends respond, or have them drop in a comment as well.

    Thanks again, and God bless you in your own walk. It is such a process, isn’t it?

  • CiVi

    This is by far the most well thought-out and spiritually in-tune address on the subject of female ordination I have ever heard. Thank you so much for testimony-building experience of just reading it! I hope every woman who has ever doubted the value of her position in the Church gets a chance to read it (and I’ll make sure of that for all those I know)! Seriously, I can’t thank you enough for this article!

    On a more secular note, you’re quite exceptional at making your point. It’s really nice to see an open-minded yet doctrinally strong argument being forged. Bravo:)

  • karenrose

    Thanks, Val, for this candid response and for your remarks about our existing elevated status. You’re right about the need for each of us to learn to listen and pay attention to one another and to take advice from one another–well male to female or female to male (and even male to male, female to female). It’s true that that issue isn’t gender-specific either. I like the use of the word “influence.” That’s what we all desire and none of us want to see that squelched, but that comes through the uninterrupted influence of the Spirit, as you well said. I know I’ve had to learn how to both listen and receive counsel, and how to effectively share my voice. I’m still learning and so are each of us. We also learn mercy as we bump up against each other’s weaknesses in this area, and as we become more perfect individually in ways that we hope we improve upon collectively. Thanks again for your thoughtful read and take on this. Kindest, K

  • Valerie.5

    Karen, thank you for this well written, well thought out article. I think what it comes down to it, as you said, there is a misunderstanding of the word priesthood and the important roles that both men and women have in the church. Their roles may be different, but their value and contributions are equal. The leaders of the Ordain Women movement, I assume, are motivated by a love for and desire for all LDS women to be elevated to the status as men who hold the keys of the priesthood. But our status not does not to be elevated. It already is. They should not strive to change the doctrine of the church, but rather educate and re-educate the importance of equal status of men and women of the church. Some men, if I may be blunt, have a difficult time receiving advice from women. Maybe it is because or how or where they were raised. They need to ever be guided by the Spirit. On the other hand, some women have a difficult time receiving advice from men. Maybe it is because of how or where they were raised. Maybe they suffered from unrighteous dominion of a man or more than one man. Again, they need to be ever guided by the Spirit of the Lord. But happily, there are many men and women who work well together in the church. Listening to and taking others’ advice, from both men and women. Not putting one gender above another. The prophet and apostles often speak of their wives with love and awe. You know they listen to their wives and take their opinions into account in matters that don’t call for a change of doctrine. Women of the church have and can have a great influence on the men of the church, and vice vs. When everyone works within their sphere, and leads with the Spirit as their guide, then the church moves forward with more love, more efficiency, and more success.

  • Karen, congratulations and thank you for such a clear and precise elocution of this important subject. Your keen insights have helped to provide the much needed clarity in the understanding of often misunderstood, and therefore, misinterpreted doctrinal principles. When those key principles are understood in the light in which you have presented and defined them herein, the wind of false doctrine and erroneous teachings is literally removed from the sails of a boat that has long since been sailing in turbulent waters. It is my sincere prayer as a faithful member of the Priesthood that the members of Ordained Women will allow the Spirit to guide their boat safely back to a harbor of understanding and realization that the power of the Priesthood is not gender specific, but rather is available to all of God’s children. Well done!

    • karenrose

      Thank you so much for your own crisp expressions here and for engaging the discussion as a priesthood-honoring male. I like your wording: “the power of the Priesthood is not gender-specific.” I share your hope that those wanting so much for men and women will find it within the shores of doctrine, and the work of the Spirit. God bless you in your work and journey. Thanks again for visiting, Keith.

  • Robbie


    I love the joy and gratitude you express regarding your experiences enveloped in the restored gospel. My favorite passages include this line: “We change the culture by living the doctrine; we don’t change the doctrine to undo misunderstandings of the Savior’s teachings.” And your thoughts on “ezer” and the connection between helpmeet and our relationship with the Savior gave me something lovely to contemplate. I have been pondering the virtue of meekness lately, specifically this line from Moroni 7:43: “And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart.” It seems that grateful humility is a pre-requisite for the highest blessings of the gospel, and the disatisfied, demanding tone that so often pervades these discussions hinders progress and joy. I recognize that the cultural application of the doctrine often falls short, but you capture the radiant happiness that discipleship can bring very nicely. Your thoughts on “functional equality” paralleled some of my own: Blessings to you and yours.

    • karenrose

      Thanks, Robbie, for your responses. I’m looking forward to reading your post as soon as I post your comment. Thanks for bringing up Moroni 7 as well to contemplate and for capturing my attempt to feature the gift we have in the restored gospel in light of recent claims. You walk the walk. Thanks again.

  • karenrose


    Thanks so much for posting your thoughts. I totally agree with you that there are those policy areas or areas where women might be even more included, that are not pre-existing or doctrinally set. Part of my frustration is that I didn’t want to confuse those issues with these ideological assumptions; I’m not insensitive to those nor blind to those. I wanted to start at one point–if we don’t first get who we are as women in the first place, and what we are doing and have access to, then we will always feel ‘out of the picture’ when a man does something we don’t do. When we are first secure in the doctrine, and of our full inclusion in the divine plan, we then can look at these other issues, and they may not even be the same issues in all cases.

    I’m also not in favor of drawing a line in the sand with motherhood on one side with priesthood on the other, as if motherhood does not exact priesthood power or is somehow alien to it, but parallel. Thanks for mentioning that. I thought about it. I thought about a lot of things.. haha…

    Thanks for joining me in the journey. I am still learning.

  • karenrose

    Thank you, Duke, for visiting and for your generous remarks. I hope it helps in some small way.

  • MisterDog

    I usually don’t bother commenting on what people write in forums, but I can’t walk away without telling you that I appreciate the time, and spiritual, and intellectual investment you’ve obviously made in writing this. This is an issue that can’t be ignored, as it tears at the fabric of everything we hold sacred and true. I’ll be honest, I am a reactionary when it comes to religious and political issues, I resist anything and anyone who tries to change traditional values and practices. I am struck by how sensitively you handled the subject without compromising your stance, OR attacking the opposing viewpoint. You demonstrate tact and diplomacy as they SHOULD be exercised. What a rare gift you have!
    On the subject itself, the OW movement, I really don’t understand why these people can’t extrapolate from history or the scriptures that whenever people have made even small scratches in doctrinal soil, contrary to divine counsel, regardless of intent, the result has always been huge chasms into which people fall headfirst and from which they usually don’t return. It must be a terrible strain to resist social and spiritual pressure to stay on the right path, and away from slippery slopes. I wonder how many of the followers of OW are connected to it out of a sense of obligation to seem in solidarity with anything progressive, and not to appear closed-minded. It’s unfortunate that anyone would allow political or social pressure to direct the use of their God-given free agency, but we live in a world of distractions and temptation, and each person has different pressure points. Thank you for demonstrating a better way to teach than my usual method of pounding and smashing. I appreciate it. Mister Dog

    • karenrose

      Dear “Mister Dog”
      Thanks for so much for taking time to read this post and to share your remarks. I appreciate your sensitivity to the issues and concerns. I think the confusion sometimes comes when there is occasional dissonance between the ideal and the real in all of our lived experience–though the restored gospel closes that gap more than anything else in the world through the atoning grace of Jesus Christ and our willingness to follow His path–and rather than working to bridge the gap, some inadvertently end up jumping off the bridge (or go from making ‘small scratches in doctrinal soil’ to creating those chasms/pits that trip themselves and others up.) I’m just not able to close my eyes and watch those around me who are confused and/or the next gen jump off the bridge or fall into those same dangerous spiritual landmines of doctrinal abandonment in the name of advocacy for women. Advocacy is good, and there is lots of room for that in the world and within our own milieu, but abandonment and apostasy is not. This is a feeble attempt to be a small voice for victory through the gospel rather than around it. I myself have a lot to learn but thank you for walking the journey with me, and for understanding the significance and beauty of the power of the priesthood in all of our lives.

    • CGWH

      Again, just a brief comment about referring to members or supporters or whatever of the OW movement as “these people”. I’m not sure it’s helpful in this discussion to create groups of “others”. It makes them easier to push them away or dismiss their real feelings of pain, hurt, and isolation. I don’t believe this is how Christ would want us to view these brothers and sisters of ours. I love this quote from Chieko Okazaki. She said, “If you experience the pain of exclusion at church from someone who is frightened at your difference, please don’t leave or become inactive. You may think you are voting with your feet, that you are making a statement by leaving. Some may see your diversity as a problem to be fixed, as a flaw to be corrected or erased. if you are gone, they don’t have to deal with you anymore. I want you to know that your diversity is a more valuable statement.” I hope that we can all show more love and grace to our OW sisters and brothers so they don’t choose to vote with their feet. We, as a global church, benefit tremendously from diversity.

  • duke84043

    Amen. This is the most doctrinally sound piece I’ve read on this issue outside of Elder Oaks discourse during general conference. Thanks for taking the time to write it, Karen. I look forward to part 2.

  • Wingnut

    Though it may surprise many who know me, I actually really enjoyed reading this article, and I felt it was well-written, well-articulated, obviously well-thought-out, and I actually agreed with much of it. As a Mormon Feminist who sympathizes (but not empathizes) with members of Ordain Women, I went into reading this article with a sigh, a cynical attitude, and a roll of my eyes. I was surprised to find it actually quite compassionate, and with very few instances of perceived sarcasm or moral superiority.

    I do, however, agree very much with Christopher Cunningham’s remarks above. And while I understand why you have chosen to separate out culture vs. doctrine (besides the long-windedness), I don’t think it’s entirely that black and white. There are official policies and practices that are neither doctrine nor culture, yet are problematic for women (he mentioned bishopric and high counsel, for example). There are also differing perceptions and definitions of words as well. For example, you base all of your remarks on your definition of “patriarchy,” and your points were well-made under that definition. But if it’s not the definition that OW is using, you can’t just tell them they’re wrong because of “x.” There needs to be some amount of “meeting people where they are,” as a former ward Sunday School president used to say. Perhaps seek to understand how OW interprets the word “patriarchy,” and then go from there. There may still be erroneous assumptions.

    There was one thing I wanted to point out, though, as an inconsistency. I went and read the talk you linked to by Elder Perry (I was drawn by the use of the word “fatherhood,” and hoped that he might equate “fatherhood” with “motherhood” instead of “priesthood” with “motherhood,” as so many do). While the quote you referred to isn’t objectionable, I did note that toward the end of Elder Perry’s remarks, he quotes Joseph F. Smith as saying, ” In the home the presiding authority is always vested in the father, and in all home affairs and family matters there is no other authority paramount.” While there are many Church leaders and teachings that are favorable to women and their standing before God, there are others as well that are far less empowering, even outside the sphere of cultural impact.

    All in all, however, I felt good while reading this, and I do look forward to reading part two. Thank you for all the time and effort you put into this letter. 🙂

  • karenrose

    Thank you for posting this. I think the issue is here that I have not yet addressed those who have felt ostracized (see my previous comment perhaps). I feel for any of us who wish to be heard and don’t feel they have been. I’ve also had my own journey and learned so much from it. I’d love to talk with you more if you would like to message me on FB.

  • TracyM

    I appreciate Christopher Cunningham’s comments as I have faced the conundrum of faith in the beautiful doctrines of the LDS church and the frustration of a diminished voice within the leadership even while holding a position of leadership presumably “called of God by prophecy and by revelation.” Having said that, I at once became aware as I have not previously been made aware when pondering the vicissitudes this topic produces, that the family would be forever changed if OW were to prevail. It was this quote,

    “While OW is not seeking to break apart families but to empower women, the paradigm of functional equality to which your false assumptions leads, will in time, inevitably lead that direction. Functional equality makes women mimes before male mirrors.”

    that turned my thoughts to a thought experiment, a “what if” moment. What if I (or any of the wonderful women in my ward or stake that I interact with) were to be called as bishop, and how would that change the dynamic both within the ward and within my family. Within an instant I imagined all the spiritual and temporal duties/responsibilities of that calling and I could see the dissolution of LDS families as a result, not because I or any of the very capable women I’ve served with would not be up to the task, because if we are called and set apart by the priesthood of God we are qualified and able to rise to the task, of that I can bear testimony. Its in the nuances of the differences of the shared equality of men and women that undoubtedly would arise to throw the entire organization out of whack, from our families right up to our stake presidencies and it would tear us apart. From the things I hear from disaffected friends I must chime in with Christopher in remarking that we are not paying attention to the sentiments of many who have given up trying to have a voice, but I’m hopeful that as we get better at appreciating our own journey and the journey of others we will become more sensitive to the need to hear each other and give importance to the words, views, opinions, and feelings of women as it is to those of men.

  • karenrose

    Thank you for your comments. This certainly speaks to and alludes to the need of a cultural discussion, but, as I mentioned, there is a deliberate reason for separating out the threads. Often the fact that women’s voices are not heard as distinctly in some settings (depending on the person leading the council meeting, and not because they are not doctrinally equal) gets confused with a doctrinal point and need for ordination. I’m also paying very close attention to those who feel the need to grow the culture. I am one of those, so your assumption there is incorrect. And I’d be glad to share my experience with you in that direction so you can see how close to home that hits. But often there is confusion generated when we speak to culture issues as doctrinal issues and vice versa. I’ll ring you up for more discussion. Thanks.

  • CyranoWriter

    I posted a piece earlier, which I don’t see … so I can’t add to it. As a result, I feel I need to post yet another piece to discuss a point Christopher brought up (again, I believe this is part of the Cultural discussion, which Karen clearly stated is a different discussion for the future).
    Christopher said: “But the women of the church, do not have that same power within the church leadership. Women don’t have access to bishopric or high council meetings. They are at the mercy of exclusively male leadership to reach out to them….”
    I’m sorry if that is your experience, Christopher. If it is, then clearly, that is training that needs to happen. I can only speak from my experience in bishoprics: Women were NEVER denied access to having their voice heard in those meetings. I cannot tell you how many times changes in ward activities, positions, training, and programs came about exactly BECAUSE sisters made the suggestions, exerted influence, and gave the Bishopric guidance. As the husband of someone in the RS presidency who made certain that the female influence was heard and felt, I can tell you that it didn’t happen because of me!
    And I’m sorry that your experience, and perhaps the experience of others, is that women somehow have to “wait” for male leadership to “reach out to them”. That has NEVER been my experience, at all. The women I’m familiar with — including the Young Women — were perfectly willing to go “pound on the Bishop’s door” and have their opinions heard.
    Perhaps this is the cultural shift training that is necessary … but I do not believe getting ordained will make any difference. If someone who has an idea is afraid to speak up because she (or he) has been shot down in the past, simple ordination will not change that. I’ve had LOTS of ideas shot down, or adjusted, or corrected. Some were accepted… but it was not because of my ordination!
    I’d also like to point out that, “in the real world”, it is not required that people have “access” to the highest executive level meetings in order for their ideas to be heard and accepted. I’ve worked at ATT, T-Mobile, Boeing, and Microsoft. I now work for a much smaller firm in Provo. In each of those, I’ve offered suggestions based on my sphere of influence and experience. They were considered by executive management. Some were accepted. Some were amended. And some were rejected. But that didn’t stop me from making suggestions and having ideas.
    I’ll be interested, as a man, in learning how our cultural differences and practices have created such an imbalance, and what we can do to repair those imbalances in the future through cultural shifts and changes, and by loving and respecting each other more.

    • karenrose


      Thank you for both of these very thoughtful responses. I love what you articulated here about your observations of women you’ve known sharing their voice and your several paragraphs about training, if we don’t now ways we can more effectively do so… Speak up and if we are shot down, we either try again if it’s a result of being mis-heard or under-heard, or we don’t if it’s because our ideas are not valid. We prayerfully consider those possibilities or go where we are directed by the Spirit. I agree, Dave, wholeheartedly, and I do feel that a woman’s voice can be heard in councils of all kinds. I understand that that is what we strive for and what is the ideal and is more and more the case, as each of us learns to live the doctrines of equal-in-value more fully, men ‘and’ women. I’ve personally submitted proposals through High Priests to the Stake that have been approved for all kinds of things from Fam History to Pageant. I’ve recently presented in a ward mission meeting, some suggestions for our ward’s missionary effort, to discuss and brainstorm, with a mixed audience of Bishopric, male and female organization leaders. I can say I’ve personally been heard and I’ve been included in all kinds of callings throughout the past 32 years since I’ve joined the Church. I find the structure miraculous though each of us in it is imperfect. It’s an amazing organization that the Savior has re-established, and we within it are imperfect beings being made perfect!

      That said, there are certainly times when imperfect scenarios play themselves out as in any arena of life–as you remarked on, places where training is needed–and that have nothing to do with ordination. Thank you for making that point explicit. I also think if we compare what happens within our sphere with the larger world venue, we fly sky high ‘because’ we have the pure doctrines of Jesus Christ at hand and are practicing the living of those…. We have the power to operate as He would have us operate from an org and doctrinal vantage point. That power-house of knowledge and arrangement isn’t anywhere else.. So struggles will there be, lessons to learn, yes … and Zion will be perfected.

      I want to acknowledge other scenarios alluded to; there are certainly many who have been hurt or injured because someone has turned a deaf ear to them as they have cried the pain of an abusive husband, or an addicted husband, or something else before a man who may have discounted or made light of their circumstance. It may seem in those circumstances that there is male privilege, and the male’s voice carries the weight. That does cause the heart to be pierced with deep wounds, as Jacob says in the Book of Mormon. That exacerbates the wounds of women who are already wounded. Those are real tears in the cultural package. Those, as Mike addressed, need to be repaired by education. I am an advocate for teaching what these things look like to one and all, including those who lead and counsel of both genders and in all positions. Then, what I think happens, is that many women in this or any number of like scenarios, leave the assembly OR decide that the fault is the patriarchy. It’s not the system of government the Lord ordained. Even the Church must be sanctified; even the leaders must learn and grow though they are called of God. We do suffer at the hands of one another in many ways–men suffer because of women’s mistreatment of them as well. We are partakers in Christ’s suffering. Does that mean we leave or are silenced. No, we stay and we work through the appropriate channels so those inequities unintended are not repeated. But we don’t throw away the whole doctrinal package because of that, I hope. The Church is the vehicle to ‘perfect us’–this is part of that process. And those discussions, as has been repeated much recently, are taking place.

      Thanks again for such thoughtful and humble comments, Dave. I hope to continue the discussion.

    • CGWH

      I just wanted to briefly add my voice to the discussion about Chris’s comments. I recognize that your focus in this piece was to discuss doctrine instead of culture, but I think the problem occurs when leaders use doctrine as a justification for certain actions, even when there is truly no doctrinal rationale, to justify the exclusion or subjugation of women. That’s when I think it gets a bit tricky to try to completely separate the two.

      I also want to add that I think it’s always important to validate an individual’s personal experiences. I’ve read a comment or two dismissing Chris’s own personal experiences because they themselves have never experienced them. That’s like saying that someone’s feelings aren’t valid because we may not feel that way. To use an extreme example, it’s like telling a rape victim she couldn’t have possibly been raped because we don’t know anyone who has or we ourselves have never been raped. Instead of dismissing someone’s experience, I hope that we can work together to do more to uplift them and work as a community to make changes when necessary. We learn from one another by acknowledging that we all have unique experiences.

  • CyranoWriter

    I think this was an amazing piece, from a doctrinal standpoint. I think the admonition to all of us (whether male OR female) to grab onto the spiritual gifts and powers which are inherant in us is a great reminder.
    I also know (as you mentioned in your writing) that cultural differences (including those about the “reality of the patriarchy” mentioned in Christopher’s comments) are very different from doctrinal differences. I look forward to reading your comments on those in “Part 2”.
    I think, in a very real sense, anyone who studies the differences between what leaders of the Church (both male and female) are saying and doing now, versus a decade (or more) ago, recognizes that women are participating more and more in Church councils, and are increasing their influence more and more. More importantly, we, as men, are being put in our place, and told to listen, value, and respect (it’s sad to me that we need to be told that, but … so it is).
    Since moving to Utah 2.5 years ago, I have heard increasingly the lamentations of the women of the Church, how they don’t feel heard, how they don’t feel valued, how they feel ignored, especially culturally. This comes not only in unrighteous dominion in families, but also — as has been discussed by Christopher — in Church councils and by church leaders. A recent open letter from the Church’s Public Affairs group addresses this very point. And I’m hopeful that recognition of the issue is the first step in solving the issue. I believe the Church is trying to train the men (including myself) to STOP IT!
    More importantly, I hope that my sisters in the Gospel, including you, Karen, will continue to call me out when I do something that is inappropriate, incorrect, unkind, or in any way smacks of being misogynistic. I think most people in the Church, including most men, want to be good, kind, worthy followers of the Savior. In that regard, I think that most men are willing and eager to listen to the suggestions and advice of other co-disciples, male and female alike.

  • Christopher D. Cunningham

    Thank you for your beautiful and thoughtful letter. I also struggle with some of the methods of the Ordain Women organization. I prayed that they would heed the request to not demonstrate at the April conference, and felt betrayed when they did.

    As a Mormon feminist, female ordination is an issue that matters a great deal to me. I may not be the most orthodox feminist, but I am familiar enough with the ideas and rhetoric to see that your letter talks past the most important concerns of Ordain Women, and many other feminists.

    Many feminists (a qualifier I’ll try to continue using since we’re a pretty diverse bunch) see the feminist cause as not simply equality in legal or doctrinal issues, but in lived experience.

    This results in one way we are often speaking past each other. Critics of Ordain Women will often wonder, “Can’t they see, don’t they know, men and women both have access to the same eternal blessings, and the same priesthood power.” While many feminists shake their head wondering, “What does that have to do with the here and now?”

    You see, one of the major reasons Mormon feminism has developed so strongly and powerfully is because Latter-day Saint doctrine is very empowering to women. Think for example of our unique Christian doctrine of a Heavenly Mother–the Divine Feminine! But when this doctrinal equality doesn’t exhibit itself in the lived experiences of the women of the church, there is still cause for feminist concern.

    Within the context of these concerns, many Mormon feminists define priesthood as the prerequisite for Church leadership. While there are many women leaders in the church, they are limited in the number of roles, and they are kept from the positions making the most efficacious decisions.

    This is important within the context of your discussion of the patriarchy. You dissect the patriarchy from the point of view of the family. You’re of course correct that if understood correctly, LDS doctrine would lead to egalitarian marriages. And this is one area that LDS women can actually affect the balance of power.

    But the women of the church, do not have that same power within the church leadership. Women don’t have access to bishopric or high council meetings. They are at the mercy of exclusively male leadership to reach out to them. And if that male leadership was perfect they would, which is why your decision to separate the culture and doctrine misses the point of many Mormon feminists’ concerns.

    Imperfect people run the church, and when all of those imperfect people are men, we end up with specific reoccurring problems, often at the expense of women. This exclusively male hierarchy is what many Mormon feminists refer to as the patriarchy, not the structure of their husband-wife relationship.

    You mention in passing that having an office in the Church organization isn’t tantamount to having greater power, but this seems demonstrably untrue. Having an office doesn’t make them more valuable, but it clearly bestows additional power in running the ward, branch, or stake.

    You speak beautifully about the complementary differences between men and women, and on this point we agree completely. Men and women are different, they see the world through unique lenses, they have unique strengths, and they make unique contributions. By ensuring that one half of these points of view and contributions are kept out ward leadership positions, we necessarily have an imbalanced leadership perspective.

    This perspective is what causes so many of the problems and concerns that LDS women cite in dealing with their ward leaders.

    As a completely devout, and entirely faithful Latter-day Saint, I have faith that there is a reason that this structure has been created and maintained in its present form. I don’t know this reason, but trust the leaders of the church.

    Ordain Women’s stated goal is to “sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.” A reflection of deference to the Lord’s will and His prophets. When their behavior reaches beyond this parameter, their methods ought to be called into question, but within these parameters they should be encouraged in their efforts to prayerfully seek a way to improve the lived experiences of women in the Church.

    Recognizing the reality of the patriarchy in church leadership is crucial to understanding this lived reality. Recognizing the reality of the patriarchy is necessary to understand why some Mormon feminists propose female ordination as a way for access to these leadership positions to help balance perspectives, and better serve the needs of women in the church. Recognizing the reality of the patriarchy is necessary to be able to listen and hear each other, rather than constantly speaking past one another.

    Many LDS women feel useful, empowered, and heard. I think this is a testament to the beautiful doctrines of the gospel. But dismissing those who don’t as building on a foundation of wrong assumptions, feels, to me, like we are not paying close enough attention.

  • MRobertson

    Karen, thank you!!! You’ve done an amazing job at articulating the ideas and thoughts that have been running through my head for months. I haven’t had the time to do the research, so I appreciate you providing the doctrinal evidence that I knew was there (but didn’t have time to search for). My heart is also grieved for the men and women who are getting caught up in this “movement”. I hope and pray that they will be touched by what you have shared here and that they will continue to listen to the prophet and his apostles.

    • karenrose

      Thank you so much for responding. I’m so glad it was beneficial to you. My hope was to clarify and to highlight the beauty of the power of the existing message of the Restoration, unravel the OW assumptions, while not diminishing our need for cultural growth. Again, thank you so much for taking time to respond.