On the Movement to Ordain Women to the Priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ark-Steadying, and the Lord’s Assurances That He “is Able to Do [His] Own Work”
By Ken K. Gourdin
Author’s Note – The following was posted on the Mormon Dialogue & Discussion Board on April 5, 2013 in response to a movement among a certain segment of the membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which advocates for ordaining women to the Church’s current all-male Priesthood.
Let’s assume, for the sake of discussion for the moment, that these folks are correct and that the time has come to confer the Priesthood upon women. Although I don’t believe the two situations are analogous because there was always a contingent of the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Sants which anticipated a day in which African Blacks would receive the Priesthood, the actual change did not come about until well after the social pressure exerted by those who hoped for such a change had subsided. If such a change were simply a result of, e.g., forces brought to bear by the Civil Rights Movement, the Church of Jesus Christ would have made the change at least ten years earlier, if not even sooner.
Conversely, there is no similar contingent among Church leaders which anticipates the ordaining of women to the Priesthood, and if it were to come about as a result of the social pressure exerted by those who agitate for such a change, it would set a bad precedent. Many would conclude that the Church of Jesus Christ simply is vulnerable to social pressure, and agitation would increase in various quarters for whatever change is the cause du jour among the various subsets of Church membership who are dissatisfied, in one way or another, with some aspect of how the Church is run. I don’t think opening the floodgates to advocating for such change is wise. If-and-when women are ordained to the Priesthood (and/or if any other change favored by some disaffected segment or other happens) it will happen long after the pressure for it has subsided.
It is little wonder, then, that the Lord attempts to reassure those who would steady the ark, “I am able to do mine own work.”
Update – I have not yet had a chance to view the video referenced in this link, but I do find the premise (and the timing) interesting. Hat tip to fellow Mormon Dialogue & Discussion Board poster (and Church News/Deseret News staffer) R. Scott Lloyd for bringing it to my attention by posting about it on the Board. Here’s the link, last accessed today: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/women-leaders-insights-church-leadership.
Update, March 17, 2014: Ordain Women, Blacks and the Priesthood, and Protest and Other Forms of Sociopolitical Pressure
By Ken K. Gourdin
I posted the following today at Mormon Dialogue & Discussion in response to news coverage and a statement from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding the Ordain Women organization and its plans to protest the upcoming General Conference of the Church (as it also did at last October’s Conference).
You’re certainly entitled to your view [that women should be ordained to the Priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], and you’re certainly not alone in holding it: even many people who describe themselves as faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and who say they have fervent testimonies of the Church’s foundational claims hold that view (many members of Ordain Women, no doubt, among them). But here’s the thing: What if God isn’t politically correct? What if His views of “justice and goodness and kindness and morality” are different than yours or mine or those of the members of Ordain Women? What if, even though we’re prone to dismiss “God” as sexist, racist, immoral, and so on (else He would have let women have the Priesthood in the first place, never would have withheld it from blacks of African descent, and so on), we’re actually wrong?
But what if God really is “able to do [His] own work” (see 2 Nephi 27:20) without humans tinkering with it according to the best currently-available theories of political correctness or of social engineering (even if not adhering to those theories makes the Church look … Gasp! [Horror of horrors!] … backward?!!) What if “[His] thoughts” really aren’t “[our] thoughts,” and “[His] ways” really aren’t “[our] ways” (see Isaiah 55:8-9)? What if “the natural man” really doesn’t receive “the things of God, for they are foolishness unto him” (see 1 Cor. 2:14)? What if the Lord really wasn’t kidding when He said that He would use “the weak and the simple” as His instruments (their weakness and simplicity notwithstanding)? Whether one thinks that the Church’s policy of withholding the Priesthood from blacks of African descent was right, was wrong, or that we simply don’t know either way, among the things that that episode of Church history taught us is that: (1) maybe the Lord isn’t politically correct; and (2) He has his own timetable for doing things, since, if lifting the ban was merely a result of sociopolitical pressure, it likely would have happened much sooner.
* * *
If God wills it, I’m certainly no one to stand in the way of His giving His Daughters the Priesthood. But people who posit that sociopolitical pressure had a hand in blacks of African descent receiving the Priesthood (and to use the lifting of the Ban as a parallel between the two situations) are, respectfully, mistaken in my view. They’re off by a few years. While President Kimball and the Brethren actively were discussing the possibility of lifting the ban, general Church membership, it seemed to me, by the late ’60s or early ’70s largely had given up protest and were resigned to the status quo. (As I mentioned in another thread a few weeks ago, the notion of boycotting or protesting BYU athletic teams over the policy seemed largely to be settled by then. The “Black 14” incident in 1969 seems to be the high water mark of active protest. By the time the ban was lifted in 1978, teams that decided to boycott BYU simply weren’t playing the Cougars, and schools/teams that might have protested the policy seem to have concluded that such protests wouldn’t do any good anyway.)
It seems to me that God works by a principle of “minimum ‘force’ necessary”: if it takes the visitation of an angel, or a voice from a burning bush, or some other vocal or dramatic manifestation to accomplish His work, I don’t think God will hesitate. If, on the other hand, the Holy Spirit’s “still, small voice” will do the trick, I don’t think He feels it necessary to resort to more than that. Either way, I think God’s attempts to reassure those who (whether they realize it or whether they want to admit it or not) condescend to Him that “I am able to do mine own work” fall on deaf ears. While, again, I simply want what God wants, I’m puzzled as to why the most vocal proponents of extending the Priesthood to women seem to think that: (1) the only problem is simply that the Brethren haven’t bothered to ask God what He wants; or (2) that if they did, God surely would want the same thing that Ordain Women wants. I think, because of (2), that even if President Monson were to say explicitly that he (and/or the rest of The Fifteen) had petitioned God about giving the Priesthood to women, and that the answer is “No,” Ordain Women still wouldn’t be satisfied.
Now, having said all of this, I certainly don’t oppose any change that doesn’t disturb fundamental doctrine but is designed to ensure that women’s voices are heard and that they participate to the fullest extent possible. I don’t think continuing dialogue on such issues is a bad thing. But that’s also why I think Ordain Women has shot itself in the foot by continuing to insist that nothing less than full ordination will suffice, and by resorting to high-profile protests (that cause many reasonable people [who otherwise might be sympathetic to its aims] to conclude that the organization and its aims are nothing more than a publicity stunt.)
Update, March 22, 2014: More of My Thoughts on the Matter – In response to the assertion that discussion in other sociopolitical quarters served as an impetus for leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to seek further light and knowledge about whether the race-based Priesthood restriction should end (and whether such discussion serves as a model for potentially extending the Priesthood to women), I said:
I think one’s perspective on this issue depends on how he sees the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If it is like many other social, political, and other worldly organizations, then I agree with you: agitation for change from the bottom up can play a vital role in helping an organization evolve, adapt, and survive in a turbulent, ever-changing sociopolitical climate. However, if it really is Jesus Christ’s Church, as the name suggests, then I believe He has the “evolution, survival, and adaptation” angles covered, and He doesn’t need us to help Him with that, however fervently such groups as Ordain Women and those who sympathize with them (or any other group which feels that any other change might be necessary) may be convinced otherwise. As I’ve said elsewhere on the Board, it’s true that God works by the principle of minimum “force” necessary: if the still, small “whisperings of the Spirit” will get the job done, He’s not going to send an angel (or appear Himself). On the other hand, if God really wants a change (and He wants it now), He’s not above using more dramatic, immediate means that will be impossible for even the most recalcitrant of the Brethren to ignore.
In response to the assertion that, just as sociopolitical pressure played a key role in the decision to lift the ban on blacks in the Priesthood, such pressure likewise will play a similar role with respect to the decision to lift the “ban” on women in the Priesthood, I said:
To each, his own, but in a sense, I take a lesson which is diametrically opposed to the one you draw from the Church of Jesus Christ extending the Priesthood to all worthy male members. By the time that revelation finally was received in 1978, although there were exceptions, the public outcry regarding the Church’s stance largely had died down. For example, if BYU athletics largely can serve as a microcosm for what was happening in the Church of Jesus Christ and in society at the time, the “high-water mark” of protest against the Church’s policy of not ordaining Black men of African descent to the Priesthood actually came 8 1/2 or 9 years earlier, with the so-called “Black 14” incident with the University of Wyoming, in which Coach Lloyd Eaton dismissed 14 black University of Wyoming football players from the team when they refused to comply with his order to not turn a game against BYU into a protest by wearing black arm bands. After that, I don’t believe schools which disagreed with the policy bothered protesting it; I think they had simply resigned themselves to the fact that such efforts wouldn’t change the Church’s policy. And those who chose to boycott BYU because of the Church’s policy simply weren’t playing the Cougars.
If you want to see Official Declaration – 2 as an example of how pressure from the bottom up can induce needed change in the Church of Jesus Christ, I suppose we’ll simply have to disagree. Conversely, I believe that if sociopolitical pressure were a primary driving force behind the Priesthood policy change, it would have occurred much earlier. By the time it finally did occur, while there no doubt were rare exceptions who were displeased with it, it was a pleasant surprise to many in the Church. While I’m sure you see it differently, whatever one thinks of the Priesthood ban (that it was ordained of God, that it wasn’t ordained of God, or that one is not sure [doesn’t know whether] it was ordained of God), the way it was lifted does serve as a model for resisting sociopolitical change which God wants nothing to do with. The lesson to be drawn from it is that God doesn’t care if we think He’s racist or sexist or homophobic or politically incorrect. If this really is His Church and Kingdom on the Earth today, He runs it, period.