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Better to Use No Rationales Than Faulty Ones

You would think that at some point we would learn from past experiences with priesthood bans.  Concerning the priesthood and temple ban against people with black African ancestry, President Dallin H. Oaks noted that:

Some people put reasons to the one we’re talking about here, and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong.  There is a lesson in that. …

I’m referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon … by others.  The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking. … Let’s don’t make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation.  The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent.[1]

While I think it’s apparent from my previous post that I don’t agree with President Oaks’s conclusions about the nature of the ban and its relationship to those rationales, I do agree with his point that it is better to use no rationales than it is to use faulty rationales.

Now, our other priesthood ban is the one against women holding the priesthood.  While it’s not entirely analogous (women haven’t been ordained to priesthood offices in the modern Church and there have been no indications given by Church leaders that this will change in the future), I feel like this idea is still relevant.

One of the main rationales I’ve heard is that men are innately less righteous than women, so they need priesthood offices and service to push them further in order to be saved (while women do not). This idea is the one recently stated by Brad Wilcox in his now-infamous talk when he said that:

What else don’t women have? Priesthood ordination. They’re not ordained to the priesthood. “Well, how come they’re not ordained to the priesthood?” Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. Maybe we should be asking, “Why don’t they need to be” … So what is it that sisters are bringing with them from a premortal life that men are trying to learn through ordination? Maybe that’s the question that ought to be keeping us up at night.

This is a way of saying that women are innately superior to men, and therefore don’t require priesthood ordination to be saved, unlike men.  In other words, the idea is that women are on a pedestal while men are worse-off and in need of an extra boost, and it is used to smooth over privileges given to men by making it seem like women are in the better position despite not being allowed access to those privileges.

While I’ve heard this idea repeated many times during my years in the Church, I don’t find it satisfactory for a number of reasons.  First among these is the idea that everyone has a fighting chance to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  As Peter the Apostle explained: “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”[2]  And as Paul put it, we are expected to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”[3]  And, as he added elsewhere, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”[4]  To suggest that men are less likely to be saved and that they need the additional growth opportunities of priesthood service is to suggest that God is partial to daughters over sons, that He doesn’t work as well in enabling men to will and to work for his good pleasure, and that male and female are not one in Christ Jesus.

In addition to this theory, one thing that has been expressed is that women aren’t missing out on that much by not being ordained to the priesthood.  As Wilcox stated at another point in his talk:

Girls, listen closely, because I don’t know that you’ll ever have somebody explain it quite this point blank again. You have access to every priesthood blessing. There is not one priesthood blessing that you are denied. And you serve with priesthood authority. When you are set apart in a class presidency or you’re set apart as a missionary or in any calling in the church, you serve with priesthood authority. You will go to temples where you will be endowed with priesthood power, and you will dress in priesthood robes.

It’s a statement that women have access to basically all the same necessary things as men who can be ordained to the priesthood, something that Church leaders have been discussing over the last decade.  The problem is that combining these two ideas creates a nonsensical situation where women are supposedly not missing out on anything by not being ordained while men need to be ordained because they get something that helps to push them towards salvation (and thus women are missing out on something that men receive through the priesthood).

In any case, the concept is, at its root, a more palatable update to a more overtly misogynistic version of the same idea from earlier times.  As articulated by President Brigham Young on one occasion: “Women … will be more easily saved than men.  They have not sense enough to go far wrong.  Men have more knowledge and more power; therefore they can go more quickly and more certainly to hell.”[5]  Many early Church leaders were raised in a culture where women were seen as having lesser capacities than men but more likely to be saved.  That idea was also tied to the belief that polygamy was necessary because far more women would be saved than men.  The current rendition doesn’t say that women are inherently less intelligent, which is an improvement at least, but it is still rooted in these deeply sexist views.

That same culture that early Church leaders were raised within led some men to argue against giving women the right to vote.  Despite Utah Territory being one of the first areas in the United States to give women the vote, there was some opposition to including that right in the Utah State Constitution, particularly on the part of Elder B. H. Roberts.  He stated that one of his reasons for opposing women’s suffrage was that engaging in politics would ruin the blessed state of women: “It was part of wisdom for women to keep separate and apart from such places and such embroilments, that they might not become the subjects of jest and gibes of low-down characters whose mouths you cannot stop.”  He added that: “She is in danger of sacrificing that which is dearer than the ballot to every sensitive woman—that she is in danger of sacrificing that sensitiveness of soul, in danger of sacrificing the high regard of men, which ever goes with true womanhood.” It’s notable that he held women to a higher standard than men, noting that while quarreling and arguing among men was “degrading and disgraceful to them,” he felt that, “ten times more would we feel the disgrace had women been engaged in it.” He even compared political participation to chewing tobacco, which he believed was “a vice, a hundred times more disgusting in her than in man.”[6]  Roberts believed that women were too good to be involved in politics and used that as an argument in favor of excluding them, which has some parallels to arguments made about women being more likely to be saved from men and therefore too good to be involved in priesthood.

One final, more personal, reasons is that stating that women are superior to men as an excuse to withhold the priesthood from women is a sexist idea that cuts both ways.  It impacts the role that women have in the Church, but it also tells men that they are worth less in the eyes of God (in a backwards sort of way).  I was raised in a feminist household, so hearing about how men are less intelligent than women at home combined with hearing rhetoric like this at Church led me to deeply internalize the idea that I was inferior because of my sex.  While I recognize that I am still in a place of privilege because I’m a man in the Church, my main point here is that teaching that women are more righteous by nature is something that is ultimately harmful to both women and men.

Thus, there are several good reasons to not use the idea that men need priesthood ordination and service to push them through to exaltation while women do not.  First, to state this is to suggest that God does not treat everyone equally.  Second, combining this idea with other defenses of not ordaining women creates a jumble of contradictory ideas.  Third, the idea has roots in extremely sexist ways of viewing things.  Fourth, similar ideas were used to advocate against women’s suffrage, but as was noted by Abby Hansen recently:

Choosing who to vote for was described as a burden that men took on reluctantly, but heroically. Many women believed that was the case for a very long time, until they realized that it wasn’t true at all. Having power and being involved in decision making (not by just influencing the men in their lives, but by actually having a vote themselves) wasn’t a burden – it was a blessing![7]

And fifth, it’s a sexist idea that causes harm to both women and men.  Together, these reasons make me doubt that claiming that women are inherently superior and thus don’t need priesthood ordination while men do need it is a good idea.

Which brings me back to my original point.  We need to stop perpetuating bad ideas in defense of practices in the Church.  I don’t know why women aren’t ordained to the priesthood.  What I do know, though, is that it is better to say that we don’t know why something is the way it is than it is to make up ideas that have no basis in the scriptures or revelations and which end up causing more harm than good.  It is better to use no rationales than it is to use faulty rationales.



[1] Dallin H. Oaks, cited in “Apostles Talk about Reasons for Lifting Ban,” Daily Herald, Provo, Utah [5 June 1988]: 21 [Associated Press]; reproduced with commentary in Dallin H. Oaks, Life’s Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections [Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2011], 68-69

[2] Acts 10:34-35, NRSV.

[3] Philippians 2:12-13, NRSV.

[4] Galatians 3:27-28, NRSV.

[5] Cited in William Hepworth Dixon, New America (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1867), 241.

[6] Official Report of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention Assembled at Salt Lake City on the Fourth Day of March, 1895, to Adopt a Constitution for the State of Utah, Volume I. (Star Printing Company, Salt Lake City, 1898), 587,

[7] Abby Hansen, “What Do You Do When Brad Wilcox and John Bytheway No Longer Have All the Answers?”, 8 February 2022, Exponent II,

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