A conversation in two senses: First, everyone is talking about Ordain Women (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here; a four-part response here; earlier T&S posts here and here). Second, because, almost without noticing its own success, Ordain Women achieved a significant milestone this week as the LDS Church opened a public conversation with the group by publicly posting an official letter addressed to four of the organization’s “official spokeswomen” (as they are identified on the OW website). The LDS letter responds to earlier private communications from the group and, predictably, elicited a publicly posted response at the OW site. Successfully initiating an official conversation with the Church is no small accomplishment.
The LDS Letter
What does the LDS letter actually say? Here are some positive things from the letter.
- The letter states there are ongoing internal conversations about “women in the Church.” This statement invites questions about who is involved in such conversations and what exactly they are talking about. These are important conversations. We need to know more.
- The letter refers to recent changes such as LDS women being eligible to serve missions at age 19 and claims these changes occurred in part because of the “input of many extraordinary LDS women.” This seems to invite additional input that may lead to additional changes. Perhaps the next letter will advise extraordinary LDS women how and where to provide such input.
- The letter invites those to whom the letter is addressed to “maintain the peaceful environment of Temple Square.” Yes, it would be nice if Conference doesn’t become a media circus. The best way to avoid that outcome is for the Church to maintain the public conversation it has started. You don’t need to “demonstrate” and hold “activist events” on Temple Square (both terms used in the LDS letter) if you have a meeting scheduled in two weeks.
What else is in the letter? It references the upcoming initial General Women’s Meeting on March 29, which will “focus on ennobling and eternal doctrines relating to women.” That’s pretty broad. If it includes discussion of actual issues relating to actual women in the Church, not just the standard menu of doctrines we hear in church each week and at General Conference every six months, it could be a very interesting meeting. Some people I know are very excited about the meeting.
In an odd sentence, the letter declines to grant the women physical access to the priesthood session:
The priesthood session of General Conference is designed to strengthen men and boys as they receive specific instructions about their roles and responsibilities; therefore we are unable to fulfill your request for tickets.
The “therefore” is puzzling because the second clause (you don’t get tickets) does not follow at all from the first clause, particularly now that the session is broadcast live to anyone who wants to watch. The Church should have given them three dozen tickets, and brought in a busload of sister missionaries from the MTC as well. Put them all on the front row and publicly welcome them to the meeting. If you’re going to draw a line that can’t be crossed, draw the line at ordination, not attending a publicly broadcast meeting.
The Real Issue
Then there is this sentence in the letter:
Ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of doctrine that is contrary to the Lord’s revealed organization for His Church.
That word “revealed” is a cognate of “revelation” and may be intended to suggest that “the Lord’s revealed organization” can’t be changed without a revelation, therefore women won’t be ordained until there is a revelation to that effect. [And modern revelation only comes when LDS leaders ask for it. And no LDS leader appears to be asking for it.]
But that’s not really how it works. In fact, LDS doctrine and church organization change all the time without any particular revelation. Local seventies were eliminated. The Council of the Seventy was expanded to a quorum (with 70 members), then to a collection of quorums. The Presiding Patriarch position was eliminated. Brigham Young ran the Church for three years without a First Presidency. The Aaronic Priesthood (deacon, teacher, priest), staffed by adults in the early LDS Church, later became the priesthood for boys and adult converts. If it is something LDS leaders want to do, they just go ahead and do it, no revelation needed. Only if it is something that LDS leaders *don’t* want to do does the need for a revelation enter the discussion. It is a thoroughly conservative doctrine, one used to maintain the status quo, not to effect change. So it is not a revelation that is needed to move forward on women’s issues. OW just needs to win the hearts and minds of LDS leaders. The conversation with OW initiated by the LDS Church is a great way to start.
First, I am not affiliated with Ordain Women. I don’t know any of the women listed as officers at the OW site. I don’t even advocate ordaining women to the LDS priesthood, although if LDS leaders did change the policy I would happily support the change. But, obviously, I support the conversation with OW (and, by extension, with other extraordinary LDS women who care to participate) initiated by the LDS letter of March 17.
Second, I am aware that women affiliated with Ordain Women have received a lot of rather vicious hate mail. Some people might think that publicly posting a letter at the LDS.org site and at the Deseret News publicly naming the four women who sent private correspondence to the Church requesting tickets for the Priesthood session of Conference was expressly intended to intimidate them (if not incite more hate mail). I reject that idea. But it sure would be nice if the next official letter naming names also included an explicit reminder to the general membership to avoid that sort of unacceptable behavior.