Ordain Women: A Husband and Wife Respond

Stouts

My husband, Bryan, shared with me a comment he posted on Kyleigh Ruth’s post titled Ordain Women: thanks for nothing. Which prompted a spirited discussion. Below is my attempt to capture the discussion in less than 2000 words. The 40 minute podcast in the link above represents us talking to one another live, informed by the text below and our original conversation.

We offer this as a window into the kinds of discussion and manner of discussion taking place in at least one Mormon household where we view each other as equal but different.
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Meg: Bryan, would you like to start off responding to some of the issues the Ordain Women movement has brought to the surface?

Bryan: Sure, honey. First, women and the priesthood: What I want is more knowledge on this issue from the Lord. I can see 3 main answers to “Should we ordain women to the priesthood?”: a) No, the way it is now is the way it’s supposed to be ; b) Yes, ordain them to the priesthood as now constituted; c) Yes, but ordain them in a parallel and somewhat different structure. Hopefully there would be more explanation with any answer.

Meg: I think Elder Oak’s talk this past conference made it clear that ordaining women to the priesthood, per se, is not in the cards. However he definitely clarified that women are called and set apart under the authority of the priesthood as they minister. We now use the term set apart, but Joseph originally used the term “ordain” when he blessed Emma Smith in 1830, in D&C 25. So I think it is absolutely possible that we can see women “ordained” or set apart to serve in ways currently performed only by men.

Bryan: That leads into the next concern I see implied by the desire to ordain women to the priesthood, which is making it possible for women to have a greater presence in decision-making councils. I agree with them here. I like how one of my former bishops would include the Relief Society president in weekly Priesthood Executive Committee meetings, not just the monthly Ward Council meetings.

Meg: Elder Ballard has tried to encourage those leading congregations to listen to the women in councils rather than simply tell them what to do. But structurally the emphasis has been on allowing women time to tend to the family concerns so many of them have, rather than demanding they sit in lots of meetings.

Bryan: However I do see the benefit of having women present in ministry to those struggling with personal issues. I see a lot of merit in this.

Meg: I agree. The concern I have here regards the logistics of allowing women to be present. Would you always have a woman present whenever another woman met with the bishop? Would this perhaps be something where a woman would simply confess that she has serious concerns and ask to be assigned a woman to work with her on full confession of these issues? I think there is a way through this, but it isn’t a trivial matter. For example, if a bishop is interviewing a woman, and then opens the door to invite the designated trusted female into the interview, that’s tantamount to screaming “sexual indiscretion about to be discussed!” Besides, it would suck to be the “trusted female” who would have to be on call for the eventuality of a sensitive matter. But it seems some mechanism could be established that serves the needs of all.

Bryan: Yes, the details of how we minister to one another are open to modification. But the Ordain Women movement has made clear their desire that women be allowed organizational autonomy: This can never be fully achieved in any hierarchical organization. There will always be a need for supervision and occasional overruling by the higher-ups. And with it comes the potential for various types of managerial stupidity. This is not a gender issue per se, but one of teaching better leadership and management.

Meg: While this isn’t a gender issue, per se, I’ve seen in my career working in support of the submarine force what happens when women are never allowed to participate in certain activities. The Navy is opening submarine service to women now, but when I was young, I had to prove myself over and over again, because it was clear that, as a woman, I could not have served on a submarine. When I briefly worked at a job where both men and women served together on the military platforms, I was still subject to the rule of my superiors, but I no longer had to prove myself every time I opened by mouth. While I agree the stated desire for autonomy is inappropriate in a hierarchical organization, there also has to be a way to explicitly respect one another as equals.

Bryan: This brings us to the matter of definitions. I think much of this discussion goes astray because people are using different meanings of “equal.” It’s like the way people debating “Are Mormons Christian?” often talk past each other because they are arguing about different meanings of “Christian”. There is no single true meaning of the term, but several valid ones, and it would help to acknowledge which meaning is being used so at least we can agree where we disagree.

Meg: We are equally children of God whether male or female. We who are baptized equally take upon ourselves the name of Christ and the mission to serve Him. But it is patently obvious that men and women aren’t equal in the sense of biological sameness.

Bryan: Yes. There are real differences between the sexes, and it is wrong both to exaggerate them and to minimize them. Despite the fact that I’m the parent that stays home, I will never be the one who gives birth to our children, for example. Aside from reproduction, there are other attributes where men and women differ. What complicates things is that for many human attributes, men and women are not completely distinct but clustered into overlapping bell curves.

Meg: Yes.

Bryan: Some contend that equality requires uniformity. There are gender-based roles in the church that really don’t need distinction, but I think it would be wrong to try to make the church gender-blind in all its operations. For example, one thing I like about the meeting block format is that it has both a time where men and women meet and discuss together (Sunday School), and a time when they meet and discuss separately (Relief Society / Priesthood quorums), allowing them to relate in their own different ways.

Meg: I find it interesting that men and women now study the same lesson during their respective Relief Society and Priesthood meetings. I’m always interested to hear how those lessons were handled in your classes, for example.

Bryan: I do like it when we can discuss the lessons. But of course recently you’ve often been elsewhere, ministering to our daughter.

Meg: I always have an opinion, though, even if I wasn’t in the corresponding lesson.

Bryan: I treasure those discussions. One thing that distresses me about the Ordain Women conversations is the level of discourse. It pains me to see people condemning those they disagree with, whatever side they’re on. It gratifies me to see those who disagree reaching out, apologizing, empathizing, and trying to understand.
The democratic ideal of debate, discussion and reaching agreement is a very high standard that is hard to achieve. The human tendency is to force one’s opinions on others. Earlier in US history public discourse often relied on slanderous mischaracterizations and yellow journalism (worse than what we see today). Nowadays people often skip persuasive discussion and go straight to lobbying, boycotting and intimidation.

Meg: I had an “Aha!” moment when I realized Kate Kelly is an attorney. Her fundamental worldview from her professional experience leads her to see the value of antagonistic confrontation. So while I don’t agree with the methods she has used, at least I understand why she felt those methods were appropriate.

Bryan: As a means to an end, public politicking is poor way to bring about change in the LDS church. On the ecclesiastical level it ignores the doctrines of revelation, avoidance of disputation, and reaching accord through persuasion. On the practical level it leads to resistance in the leadership and resentment in the members, which is counter-productive to the desired goals. A major problem is that there is no institutional means in the church for members to bring concerns to the leadership. In my opinion, even more than the question of ordaining women, I would like the Church President and apostles to plead with the Lord to know how to set up a system for members to share grievances and concerns with their leaders, so they don’t feel the need to follow the model of the world.

Meg: Do you have a suggestion of how members might be able to share grievances and concerns?

Bryan: Not really.

Meg: I know the Church hasn’t been receptive in the past when external organizations attempted to steady the ark. For example, Lavina Fielding Anderson and others formed the non-profit “Mormon Alliance” in 1992, with the intent of investigating ecclesiastical abuse. It appears those involved in the Mormon Alliance intended their work to address grievances and concerns. But fundamentally the Mormon Alliance, as an external entity, put themselves in the role of independent prosecutor. I remember when you asked me to read the issue of Dialogue containing many of those writings. I was disturbed. I thought maybe I was going to have to stop dating you.

Bryan: And then I told you I wanted to have you read it to see if it bothered you as much as it bothered me.

Meg: I was so mad! Here I’d been so upset, and all you’d had to do was indicate the articles had bothered you when you handed me the issue to read.

Bryan: Sorry.

Meg: Love you. Anyway, another model for identifying problems and responding was developed by Stephen Covey, towards the end of his life. His book, The Eighth Habit, and the idea of an execution Quotient (xQ), were focused on businesses. But as Stephen Covey was coming from a Mormon worldview, I think it is interesting to consider how his Eighth Habit and xQ concept could be adapted to improving the Church’s ability to minister to the world, minister to the members, and provide a mechanism for greater involvement of women in guiding the Church’s work.
I’d really like to continue this conversation. Would that be good with you?

Bryan: Sure! I’m sure something will come up we’ll want to discuss.

Meg: Sounds great! Thank you, darling.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the LDS church for over four decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation, and is working on a midrashic treatment of the events in Nauvoo associated with early polygamy.

14 thoughts on “Ordain Women: A Husband and Wife Respond

  1. LOL —

    Simply excommunicating OW folks right now would be bad. The excommunication of several individuals involved in the Mormon Alliance did serious damage to the image of the Church. When I talked about my research into Joseph and his plural wives to random folks in the early 2000s, folks I didn’t even know would be aware of Mormonism would gently ask if I was an active Mormon myself. They all presumed that such inquiries would result in me getting excommunicated myself. The Mormon Alliance excommunications (aka the September Six) were seen as a proclamation by the Church that academic and similar inquisitive freedoms were severely curtailed by those wishing to remain in the Mormon Church.

    With OW I don’t think we will see the coordinated excommunications that appeared to happen with the Mormon Alliance folks. Rather, the rank and file leaders have been given a clear explanation of doctrine. I suspect these leaders (men and women) will be more inclined to now work with the individuals associated with OW to reason with them, and attempt to help the OW advocates understand why their position is inconsistent with the stance of the Church.

    As for me, I see all individuals as being cherished children of God. Excommunication is like invasive surgery – while each has a role in the hands of a healer, they are not always the treatment that is required for the illness at hand.

  2. Michael, mine does the same thing and wonders when and not if it will happen. I also reject the previous excommunications did any serious damage to the image. Rather, it was a reminder of who God called to be leaders of the Church; and it wasn’t academics or self-proclaimed intellectuals. If the OW keep pushing, and I doubt they will stop, there is going to be a backlash with or without official actions. The majority of active Saints I have talked with want to see them gone.

  3. What? I didn’t know the Mormon Alliance was the same people as the September Six. Meg, are you sure those two groups are the same?

  4. I would submit that if excommunicating them gives their cause and movement any ammunition or energy, then obviously, excommunicating them is not the way to go. The Brethren know this. We are in a different era, vastly different than even 1993. Let them keep their membership.

    My guess is that eventually, many of them will leave of their own accord. Especially after they witness the Church’s continued embrace of the Family Proclamation, despite every social and political advantage to repudiate it.

  5. The September Six and those behind the Mormon Alliance weren’t exactly the same set of people. Paul Toscano and Lavina Fielding Anderson of the Mormon Alliance are counted among the September Six. Janice Allred, also with Mormon Alliance, was excommunicated in 1995.

    As for invasive surgery as a means to heal, there are times it is warranted. I have a friend who was hit by a car or truck, injuring his legs. They amputated one, but “saved” the other. Unfortunately, the saved limb was badly damaged. Periodically after that time, he would run a high fever. One day the fever rose to 108. Unconcerned, he planned to simply sleep it off as he had so many times before. He’d recently married, and his pregnant wife insisted he go to the hospital. He died, but at least the cause was documented. He’d had blood poisoning, a slow corruption that had festered in his damaged limb. That final bout of septicemia was too much for his body to handle. So in Mac’s case, it would have been better if they’d cut off the infected limb.

  6. Hi Micheal,

    You write “My guess is that eventually, many of them will leave of their own accord.”

    There is the possibility that they will have an Alma moment. It’s happened to me. Where God comes to you and tells you to stop kicking against the pricks, invites you to climb back on the wagon, reminds you that He is in charge, and your failure to align with Him won’t stop the work. It’s particularly disarming when He embraces you and pleads with you to join Him. He doesn’t even mind if you retain a veneer of doubt for decades. He’s really easy going that way.

    He doesn’t even laugh too hard when you finally realize He was right all along. Very non-triumphalist, in my experience.

  7. Meg, if they come to their senses, or more properly, come to God’s sense, nobody will rejoice– truly rejoice–more than I.

  8. I will make a correction and say those who I have spoken with don’t so much want to see them gone, as get a clue they are not going to get what they want. Either accept that the leadership of the Church are inspired and called of God or leave. Bringing the media into this and protesting has brought some resentment toward them and those who hold sympathy for their cause. Since strong hints haven’t seemed to convince them to back off, perhaps losing their membershp might.

  9. Let us do this, then. Let us pray, as Alma’s father prayed, that these may be brought to an understanding of their errors. Many of their fundamental concerns have a kernel of validity. It is their method that is driving a wedge between them and the Church they claim to love.

    I was reminded of Albert Einstein’s comment:

    Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

  10. I agree with most of the comments above, and don’t think that there will or should be a mass excommunication. I think that individual leaders will have to discern what danger the apostasy of members of their ward pose to the other members of the ward and to the Church generally. I’m not opposed to Church headquarters making suggestions or even directives in this regard, simply because one member may not be causing problems in their own ward, but could be causing problems in other areas through their influence on the internet and otherwise.

    If one or two prominent members of OW did get excommunicated, it would clearly signal to those who might be sitting on the fence exactly what the danger is.

  11. I would like to point out that I think the podcast is much better than the “transcript” above. It may not be clear from what Meg said, but she took my original post and fleshed it out into a back-and-forth dialog, proposing that we read it to make a podcast. I demurred, since although Meg knows me very well the words she put in my mouth didn’t feel natural. I requested we have a genuine spontaneous dialog talking about the issues in the post, and I’m glad she agreed: it was a very enjoyable conversation. We kept her original imaginary dialog because neither of us wanted to take the time to type up what we actually said. :)

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