Discussion Three Critique

Discussion3In this third discussion, we are asked to read a large number of scriptures and several recent talks by leaders of the Church, mainly male but also female. There are no talks from Dialogue or Sunstone in the suggested pre-requisite reading for this discussion. The decision to frame the third discussion solely around official church sources was because the organization publishing these discussions “takes seriously the words of church leaders and holds sacred the scriptures.”

Having read the scriptures and talks, I was then confused at the way the discussion proceeded to wrest those talks and scriptures to suggest that women must necessarily hold priesthood keys because all are alike unto God.

Looking at the end of the discussion, the authors added references to several articles examining women and priesthood that have been published in Dialogue and in books published by Signature Books.

The Historical Background of Women and Priesthood in Mormon Circles

I was curious about the date of the Dialogue article, since “Volume 14, No 4” doesn’t immediately equate to a year in my mind. In learning that V14:4 was the Winter 1981 edition of the journal, I came across an intriguing letter to the editor, written by Terrence L. Day in response to Mary Bradford’s interview of Sonia Johnson published in V14:2:

“[Sonia Johnson’s] case would seem to be an almost classic representation of apostasy. A person begins with a complaint, even a justified complaint, and lets the pursuit of it completely unbalance them. They lose their equilibrium and soon are finding fault where fault does not lie. At some point pride runs away with reason. It is painful to admit–even to one’s self–that one has been wrong, so one begins to lay the blame at the feet of others, turning from one apostasy to another, adding apostasy to apostasy…

“She has become so radical and vehement in her attacks on the presiding brethren that it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for active Latter-day Saints to be members of [Mormons for the Equal Rights Amendment].

“I feel cheated.”

It is useful to realize that the philosophical underpinnings of the current debate regarding women and priesthood lay in the decades-old debate about equal rights, a debate which was marked by the very public defection of Ms. Sonia Johnson from the Church. Having been a mature teen in the DC area when Ms. Johnson’s activities were occurring, I recall being instructed on the nature of Church discipline. Ms. Johnson had called for people everywhere to reject Mormon missionaries, which as a teen was what I was given to understand had been the final straw.

Back in those heady days, I remember my mother bundling us daughters up in our car, which she had plastered with signs questioning the wisdom of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. The one sign I particularly remember was:

What do you do with a pregnant draftee?

Mom proceeded to drive around DC for a couple of hours. I only recall one individual who attempted to engage Mom in discussion. It was a man who noticed the signs from the other side of the street and started yelling and running towards the car. As the individual appeared to be a potential threat, Mom just kept driving.

Case History of Granting Equality: The US Military

Fast forwarding several decades we now have a time when men and women serve together in nearly all aspects of the military. The question of what to do with a pregnant submariner ended up precipitating the end of smoking privileges in submarines, as it turned out those things that would harm a pregnant submariner harm all submariners.

The draft is a distant memory, so concern about a pregnant young woman being forced onto the front lines has been replaced by the reality of tens of thousands of instances of sexual assault per year, the vast majority of which victimize women soldiers, sailors, and airmen. It appears 80-90% of sexual assaults remain unreported. Of those that are reported, only 10% result in conviction of the perpetrator. In 90% of the cases, the victims themselves are involuntarily discharged from the military. 1

I never hear anyone say the instances of sexual assault in the military could have been exacerbated by the presence of men and women working together. Rightly, it is suggested that men and women should keep their hands and lips and bodies off one another (touching is the point at which sexual harrassment becomes sexual assault). Those of us working as members of the military or civilians supporting the military have had the “opportunity” to be trained about our duties and responsibilities when an instance of sexual assault occurs.

In the case of the US Military, equality has also been driven by a recognition that men, alone, will not be able to staff and perform the missions of the military. So even though there are allegedly tens of thousands of victims of sexual assault per year, this accounts for well less than 1% of those in active service during that year.

The benefit of this integration in the military has been the shifted reality where women and men are taken seriously, for the most part, throughout the organization. I remember the days when women such as me were routinely denied opportunities based on being female. Those days are largely over.

And yet, there has been a cost, a cost borne by tens of thousands of sexual assault victims per year.

The Dialogue Within the Church

The talks cited in this discussion show how the Church leadership is laying the groundwork to make it clear that women do exercise priesthood power in the fulfillment of their callings. The cited talks were:

When arranged in chronological order, we see that the first cited expression of identifying priesthood power as available to all was articulated by Linda K. Burton, Relief Society General President.

Those seeking female ordination will note that Sister Burton’s remarks follow the formation of their own organization by several weeks. Reasonably, then, one could see the public dialogue from the Church expressing female access to priesthood power as having been elicited by the activities of their organization.

These recent talks, however, were not the first time Church leaders have discussed that daughters of God have access to “every spiritual gift and blessing that can be obtained by his sons.” Joseph Fielding Smith’s comments during the April 1970 LDS General Conference read:

I think we all know that the blessings of the priesthood are not confined to men alone. These blessings are also poured out upon our wives and daughters and upon all the faithful women of the Church. These good sisters can prepare themselves, by keeping the commandments and by serving in the Church, for the blessings of the house of the Lord. The Lord offers to his daughters every spiritual gift and blessing that can be obtained by his sons, for neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord. 2

[As an aside, in those days Church periodicals contained advertising. I was amused by the spread on pages 50-51.]

And of course Joseph Smith spoke of great privileges for the women during his addresses to the Relief Society in 1842.

The Cost of Agitation

It seems clear that those demanding female ordination have provoked a thoughtful response from Church leaders, both male and female, enriching the understanding of how women already utilize priesthood power in their Church service.

To me it is also clear that the demands for female ordination have provoked a clear delineation between power and keys, with a firm stance on the part of the Church that the keys are not at this time shared with women.

In response to this, will those seeking female ordination say, “Oh. That’s alright then.” Or will then continue to demand a privilege again and again and again that they have been told is not available at this time?

Will those seeking female ordination continue to vehemently insist that priesthood ordination is the only concession that will satisfy them? In so insisting, will they risk losing their equilibrium and finding fault where fault does not lie? Will they allow their pride to run away with reason, as Ms. Johnson so allowed in her day?

Joseph once persisted in asking several times after being told, “No.” His persistence was ultimately “rewarded,” but the concession had dire consequences.

Persistence can be a virtue, but I suggest that the single-minded focus on female ordination may not be an area where persistence is universally beneficial.


  1. “Sexual assault in the United States military” on Wikipedia, available online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_assault_in_the_United_States_military, retrieved 30 June 2014.
  2. Joseph Fielding Smith, Magnifying Our Callings in the Priesthood, Improvement Era, June 1970, 66, available online at https://archive.org/stream/improvementera7306unse#page/n67/mode/2up, retrieved 20 May 2014.
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for 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. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

15 thoughts on “Discussion Three Critique

  1. If a woman voluntarily becomes a member of the military she implicitly accepts the risks. A draftee is forced to take the risks no matter what their personal preference. The Equal Rights Amendment as national law would have required the drafting of women. I had deep education in the consequences of a federal ERA from feminist sources as I sought to reconcile the opposition to its passage by the Church. I recall an interview with a leading feminist who said that equality would be affirmed when pregnant draftees would routinely be required to have abortions. It was the feminists who convinced me that my desire to follow the Prophet was not just obedient but also wise.

  2. The ERA is actually a good case study in good politics. The ERA itself was too broad and thus destructive (interestingly, historian Jennifer Burns points out that it was a battle between women — NOT men vs. women — with different views of how to obtain equality). But the end result of it ‘losing’ was that far better laws were made piecemeal that addressed the issues better.

  3. So would it be potentially analogous to opine that the desired immediate female ordination might be too broad and therefore destructive, where piecemeal changes in Mormon culture could address individual issues better?

  4. In the context of his culture Christ could be viewed as radically pro feminine. His defense of the woman taken in adultery, his rebuke of the disciple who questioned the woman who used costly ointment, his approval of Mary’s participation at the table while Martha carried out the more traditional role, his conversation with the woman at the well, his granting of first witness to his resurrection to a woman, all were signs of his lack of prejudice. As He presides in the Church of the Restoration we can observe this same loving attitude. Although men were chosen to be formal witnesses of the golden plates, an angel appeared privately to Mother Whitmer and showed her the plates. Women are granted spiritual gifts but usually in the service of themselves and their families or stewardships. I have received testimonies from several women that they were visited by the Lord himself. I’ve been privileged to share sacred moments in His temple. As the mother of my priesthood ordained sons I have held authority over them in terms of my household. Humility is a key virtue in doing the will of God, and I see little of it in the demands being made.

  5. Meg, why is it necessary to use the language “at this time” when referring to Priesthood? It makes it sound like there is an option for it in the future (and therefore providing the extreme group OW with ammo). Keeping these phrases in articles makes it seem like there is a door open when it most certainly is closed. As in the Otterson letter, the Savior never organized the Church with the priesthood being conferred on women. May I suggest we all refrain from using the words “at this time” or “not currently” or “at the moment” when referring to the priesthood and ordination? The Brethren have made it crystal clear. The temple is crystal clear in this as well. Just some helpful advice.

    Which brings me to another point: “Ordain Women” is a wrong term anyways, their whole name is incorrect because priesthood is conferred, not ordained.

  6. Hi Globetrecker,

    The memo I got indicated it’s best to avoid actually using the name of particular groups agitating for female ordination. You’ll note no one else on this thread has referred to any specific group requesting female ordination. I’ve lived long enough to know there have been several such individuals and groups over the years.

    I’m pleased to allow God to do anything He might wish to.

    As for “at this time,” we do know that in the 1800s women performed many blessings and exhibited many gifts by their faith in Christ. With the death of those women who had been covenant wives of Joseph Smith, we have seen the decline of these blessings and gifts.

    While I don’t think we’ll necessarily see women receive priesthood power keys, I could imagine a renewed recognition of the validity of those blessings it was formerly the privilege of women to give by the power of their faith in Christ.

    But at this time, we are asked to look to those holding priesthood keys for such blessings.

  7. I think it is completely accurate for Meg to use “at this time”. She noted how women used to give blessings. I also believe that those participating in polygamy would or were surprised at how soon that practice was taken. I am not advocating for women to have the priesthood, and I’m not sure I want to. However, in our defending the church’s position, I personally feel like I need to not get too attached to anything except my relationship with my Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and my resolve to always follow His prophets. Almost anything else is possible to change.

  8. Why is M* giving so much time reviewing these 6 “discussions” of a group so suggestive of apostasy by the Brethren? What good is there to give such an extremist group outside of the boundaries of the Church such attention? I get the sense that the author of this commentary hasn’t quite decided where she stands and who she truly aligns herself with. It seems like a lot of dancing around the issues really at hand i.e. there is only one truth in this: either they are right or the entire First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve is wrong in approving a five page letter outing this group’s actions as “suggestive of apostasy”.

    Most faithful LDS men and women wouldn’t associate with these ideas, why do you give them so much power and accolades?

    The Church won’t touch OW with a ten foot pole. Why are you so keen on trying to play both sides?

  9. Hi Joy,

    I am the individual critiquing these discussions.

    As I have indicated elsewhere, I personally prefer to understand rather than ignore.

    For this particular discussion, those advocating the release of priesthood keys to women have presented us with faithful sources and then provided their own interpretation of what the faithful sources meant. They are clearly influenced by past philosophies.

    On the other hand, the average young Mormon does not know the scope and breadth of priesthood power available to women. For example, I am attending Sunday School with my autistic daughter this year, because she has proven a willingness to be completely inappropriate with her current teachers and classmates. Add Mom, and suddenly she doesn’t touch other people or perseverate or lay across three chairs. And she actually contributes to the conversation.

    Anyway, this month’s theme for the youth is priesthood. And so our fabulous teacher gave the students a mini quiz with the following questions:

    Q. List the offices pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood.

    A. Deacon, Teacher, Priest, Bishop.

    Q. List the offices pertaining to the Melchizedek Priesthood.

    A. Elder, Seventy, High Priest, Patriarch, Apostle.

    Q. List the quorums associated with the Melchizedek Priesthood.

    A. Elders’ Quorum, High Priests’ Quorum, Quorum of the Seventy, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Presiding Bishopric, and the First Presidency.

    Q. What is the correct name for the Melchizedek Priesthood?

    A. The Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God (see D&C 107).

    Q. What is meant by priesthood keys?

    A. The ability to authorize exercise of priesthood power and perform priesthood ordinances (which was followed by a discussion of the need for authorization to administer the sacrament, for example).

    Q. True of False: Women can exercise priesthood authority.

    A. True. (The young women in the room found this confusing, since they haven’t been paying close attention to the recent talks by Elder Oaks, Sister Burton, and others.)

    Q. True or False: In certain circumstances, women can perform priesthood ordinances.

    A. True. (Though as we discussed the fact that women perform priesthood ordinances in the temple, the students suggested the question should have read ‘In some circumstances, women perform priesthood ordinances.’)

    Q. What does the priesthood mean to me, personally?

    A. Each individual’s answer to this varied.

    Those agitating for powers they have not been granted or for doctrines that are not part of the Church must ultimately decide for themselves whether their loyalty is to their own philosophies or to the spirit that once upon a time persuaded them of the truth of the Church.

    I think of those who started this most recent debate as being akin to Alma the Younger. They can still make the choice to abandon those of their teachings that are out of harmony with God’s will. But as Alma found, the fact that he himself had repented did not persuade those he had swayed from the Church during his days of rebellion. This was a cause of great sorrow.

    There are times when it is a virtue to hug the cliff, as the parable goes. But when it comes to exercising the power of God to bless the souls of man, we should want to take advantage of every possible opportunity for service.

    I’ve quite enjoyed seeing the ways others in my ward (e.g., my daughter’s Sunday School teacher) and stake (e.g., a speaker at the Stake Women’s Conference) have used the recent talks, such as from Elder Oaks, to instruct others on priesthood power.

    At the same time, it is important to identify the bright line that separates the appropriate exercise of priesthood power by all who have proper authorization (men and women) from the hopes of a few agitators who request a doctrinal change. My purpose in critiquing these discussions is to illuminate that bright line.

    As always, if I err, I appreciate comments that help improve that delineation.

  10. I can understand why people would think that you are giving time to an apostate group, and then it should be done. That perspective has merit.

    But on the other hand, ordain women is actively recruiting members of the church to their group. I have a friend who is deeply involved in their organization, and she has tried to recruit me through invitations to online and in person discussions. Since flying to Utah in April and going through that galvanizing experience, she is determined to save many women through missionary work for OW.

    OW felt wrong to me from day one. I already knew that I had the priesthood, so that argument did not exert power over me. I did the research I could and read the scriptures OW claims support their demands. I also had a chance to learn a lot about black history in the church, which was great.

    However, and this is my sort of round about point, Meg’s posts and others like them have helped me understand the historical contexts better. Plus, she just says things in a way that make sense without vitriol. I think the logical, patient way she refutes OW’s points could be seen as neutral or supportive of a doctrine that is in opposition to church doctrine. I didn’t take it that way. I just took it as rational.

    Regarding the idea that we should perhaps ignore OW and not give them air time, I think we can’t ignore a cancer that it working hard to spread through the body, even if the cancer is yet small.

    Meg, thank you for this, and I look forward to more posts on OW’s tracting efforts. If nothing else, we are learning more about church history and rational, doctrinally-sound responses to subtle distortions.

  11. As a family, we’re reading the Doctrine and Covenants. Last night we started reading Section 132.

    I was reminded that the power and the keys of the priesthood of the Holy Spirit of promise are never held but by one on the earth at a time.

    In other words, the prophet holds the keys that allow marriages to be sealed and sealings to be cancelled. No one else holds those keys.

    Yet not everyone is actually sealed by the prophet, because he has set apart others to exercise that priesthood power.

    So the relationship between the prophet and those who perform sealings in the temple is analogous to the relationship between the bishop and those who fulfill callings in the congregation.

    I’m sure I’ve read that verse (about only one having the keys and priesthood) dozens of times. I suspect in the past, I thought “silly God, there are lots of folks who have those keys.” But when I thought this, I was wrong.

    There are many who have had the power conferred upon them to perform sealing ordinances, but only the prophet actually holds the keys.

  12. I’ve put out two posts that directly critique that group and I simply don’t see much reason to directly discuss them anymore. What I’ve chosen to do instead is directly address the gospel principles which contradict movements such as those. I’m hoping that’s a more affirmative approach. :-\

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