Update: Issue 171

The force behind Ordain Women: from left, Kate Kelly, Mary Ellen Robertson, Debra Jenson, Margaret Toscano, Lorie Winder Stromberg, Hanna Wheelwright.
The force behind Ordain Women: from left, Kate Kelly, Mary Ellen Robertson, Debra Jenson, Margaret Toscano, Lorie Winder Stromberg, Hanna Wheelwright.

New Wave of LDS Feminists Speak Up, Ask for the Priesthood

With a number of online petitions, a Salt Lake City gathering, and the launching of websites and social networks, a new wave of LDS feminists are raising awareness about women’s issues on a scale unprecedented since the 1970’s.

The Ordain Women movement was launched with a gathering held at the University of Utah on 6 April at 6 p.m.—the same hour as the general conference priesthood session. Some 100 women and men attended the event, which included presentations by Kate Kelly, Lorie Winder Stromberg, Margaret Toscano, Debra Jenson, Hannah Wheelwright, and Mary Ellen Robertson.

“I am convinced that Joseph Smith saw the restoration of female priesthood as part of the restoration of all things,” Toscano told the audience.

Kate Kelly, an active Mormon and human rights attorney from Washington DC, told Religion Dispatches that she helped organize the new group “because women in the church give countless hours of service and still we are severely underutilized.”

“In seeking ordination, we seek a greater role in service to our faith,” Kelly said. “Our movement is an act of faith in the Mormon Church—our leaders, our community—that the institution can be more inclusive.”

The website OrdainWomen.org explains that the movement “aspires to create a space for Mormon women to articulate issues of gender inequality they may be hesitant to raise alone.” The site includes profiles posted by 100 women (and some men) who explain why they support women’s ordination to the priesthood.

Authors such as Margaret Toscano, her husband Paul, and historian D. Michael Quinn have argued that LDS women have held the priesthood since 1843—the year Joseph Smith established the endowment ceremony for both men and women.

According to the recent book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, a solid 48% of LDS men favor women’s ordination, but only 10% of LDS women feel the same way (See Sunstone, March 2011: 70). The Community of Christ, organized in the 1860 by Latter-day Saints who didn’t emigrate west, has been ordaining women to all the offices of the priesthood, including apostleship, since 1984.


Not Just about the Priesthood


Though Women’s ordination is the most controversial, it is not the only issue to which this new wave of LDS feminists wants to bring attention. A growing number of active Latter-day Saints believe that there are many church roles women could serve in that wouldn’t require ordination.

Neylan McBaine, a creative director at Bonneville Communications and founder of The Mormon Women Project (MormonWomen.com) believes that there are many actions stake and ward leaders could take to empower Mormon women in what she calls “a cooperative ministry.” At the 2012 FAIR Conference, she proposed that male leaders could, for instance, appoint a woman as sacrament meeting coordinator, invite the presidencies of the stake auxiliaries to sit on the stand during stake conference, and more frequently invite the ward Relief Society president to the priesthood executive committee (PEC) meeting.

In August 2012, Hannah Wheelwright, a BYU student majoring in political science and minoring in women’s studies, launched Feminist Family Home Evenings in Provo, which attracted as many as 35 people. Her local group evolved into the Young Mormon Feminists project (YoungMormonFeminists.com), with six groups in Utah, Idaho, Colorado, and Washington DC.

One week after Ordain Women was launched, Wheelwright wrote an editorial in the Provo Daily Herald saying,

Imagine if your sister, a professional accountant, was able to serve as ward clerk. Imagine if your teenage daughter was invested in just as much as your teenage son. Imagine if you could feel a deeper connection to your Heavenly Mother. Imagine if that teenage daughter could discuss sexuality issues with her Young Women’s president instead of alone in a room with her older, male bishop. Imagine if your mother’s hands could join with your father’s upon your head to give you a blessing.

Envisioning the Heavenly Mother


Mormon Feminists are also concerned about the implicit and explicit messages in LDS publications, the use of sexist and non-inclusive language, and silence around the LDS doctrine of the Heavenly Mother. According to Salt Lake Tribune religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack, the Mormon belief in a Mother in Heaven “presents a conundrum for the Utah-based faith.”

“While more talk of God the Mother would appeal to some potential converts yearning for more female recognition, it might become entwined in the push to ordain women or in feminist politics,” Stack wrote on 10 May. “Yes, it would underscore Mormonism’s uniqueness, but it also could turn off those who come from traditional Christianity, allowing more outsiders to view Latter-day Saints as non-Christian.”

Sponsored by the Mormon Feminist Action Board, the We Are Daughters Project (HeavenlyParents.
WordPress.com) is challenging Latter-day Saints “to re-imagine the Young Women Theme, which is recited each week by the young women of the LDS church.”

The opening line currently reads, “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love Him.” The We Are Daughters Project would like it changed to “We are daughters of our Heavenly Parents, who love us, and we love Them.”




A historic milestone for LDS women occurred on 6 April, when, for the first time in Church history, a woman was asked to pray in general conference. Jean A. Stevens, first counselor in the Primary General Presidency, offered the benediction at the conclusion of the Saturday morning session. This was interpreted by some observers as a direct response to the petition, “Let Women Pray in General Conference,” which a group of Mormon feminists launched last January (Sunstone, March 2013: 61).

Also during general conference weekend, LDS leaders announced that they will enhance the role of mission presidents’ wives and some sister missionaries with the creation of mission leadership councils, which will replace old zone leader councils and include some women. Sister missionaries have typically worked under district and zone leaders who are always male and frequently younger than they.

However, on 5 April, the Church public relations department posted to the LDS Newsroom a 15-minute interview where the general presidents of the Relief Society, Young Women’s organization, and Primary asserted that LDS women seek the “blessings and power” of the priesthood, but not its authority.

“Most of the women, I think, in the church are happy to have all the blessings,” says Relief Society President Linda K. Burton. “That’s what matters most to them, and it doesn’t matter who holds that umbrella. They’re happy to let someone else hold the umbrella because we have different, complementary roles and are happy with that.”

The Ordain Women movement received national attention and coverage from Utah newspapers and TV channels—with one glaring exception: LDS-owned media outlets. The Desert News and KSL5 covered neither the initiative nor the University of Utah event.


smartChastity Lessons Scrutinized

A statement by rape survivor Elizabeth Smart suggesting that LDS purity lessons discouraged her from escaping her abductors received wide media attention and unleashed a controversy about the way Mormons teach chastity to youth.

Smart, who at age 14 was kidnapped and sexually abused for nine months, attended an event at John Hopkins University on human trafficking where she recalled a “school teacher” who compared losing one’s virginity to being a chewed-up piece of gum.

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum. Nobody re-chews a piece of gum; you throw it away,’” said Smart, now 25 years old and married. “And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” she continued. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

Mormon author Joanna Brooks, who grew up hearing similar object lessons in the Young Women’s program in California, acknowledges that current LDS youth manuals “reflect a steady effort on the part of LDS Church leaders to revise out especially punitive messages about sexuality,” but also notes that “old teachings die hard.”

“Sexual morality object lessons featuring spent chewing gum, or molested flowers, or damaged cupcakes have indeed been taught in Mormon homes, on Sundays, and in Mormon-saturated cultural contexts,” Brooks lamented on Salon.com.

After the story about Smart’s remarks broke, Dialogue editor and blogger Kristine Haglund posted a petition challenging Church leaders to immediately “fix” a youth manual given to all young women.

“The very first scripture girls are required to study in their Personal Progress work on the value of Virtue is Moroni 9:9, which describes young women as having lost their virtue by being raped,” Haglund wrote on ByCommonConsent.com. “That scripture reference needs to go, NOW. And we need to start explicitly teaching that this scripture reflects a cultural mistake among Book of Mormon peoples in their understanding of virtue, one which fails to properly apply the principle of agency and denies the power of the Atonement.”


  1. Pensiuni Caras Severin

    Have you ever considered publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other blogs?
    I have a blog centered on the same topics you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my readers would appreciate
    your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free
    to shoot me an e-mail.

  2. Ben says:

    I love how the church utilizes every ounce of our energy, both men and women, and leaves nothing unused. But I’m saddened that individually many of us choose to spend some of our energy on contrary paths. However sometimes those are the very paths we were meant to pursue just as Pharaoh was chosen by God to oppose Moses for the sake of proving God’s power. What is God’s power then? It’s a weak person and an impossible mission. That’s God’s power. He can take that person and create the greatest nation on earth. Just like He did with America. However, Israel didn’t exist for nearly 2,000 years and America has been destroyed twice before if you don’t count the flood of Noah. The Jaredites and Nephites went down a path that seems contrary. And yet without that we wouldn’t have much of a Book of Mormon now would we? My point is that God can raise up a rock to be a son or daughter of Abraham. As John the Baptist so eloquently screamed from the desert hill tops at the startled civilized persons down below. And that perhaps is the best fitting response when a woman asks me why women don’t hold the priesthood, I say dear sister, God could raise up a rock to be a priesthood holder. What does it matter? And, when all the women leave the LDS church, hopefully the men will also. Because God doesn’t need any of us. Like He said to Moses so long ago, “let me destroy this murmur some people and raise up a mighty nation out of the loins of Moses instead”. We stumble and fall because we don’t trust. By stumble and fall what I mean is that we don’t understand why the church is the way that it is. Or in other words we don’t understand why God is the way that He is. Why is His church like it is? Well, it doesn’t matter, not to us. Because with or without us His work will go on and it matters not unto Pharaoh and the Hebrews and Jaredites and Nephites who were born previous to 1836 and in another century it won’t matter to us either. God doesn’t need us. The real question isn’t whether or not God can give His power to a woman, the question is what can we do to convince God to let us be a part of His work. Perhaps you can convince Him to give you His power. But I reckon it would be more worth your energy to ask Him what He already knows, and that is: What does He want for you. Are you so certain that the priesthood, and these other religious hobbies, are really the endeavor He has set you on, and desires for you? Whether we’re gay, or whatever our differences with the doctrines of the church, is that really where our energy is best spent? What if I want the church to start using real wine for the sacrament? Is that really where my energy would be best spent? Jesus told Joseph Smith that the best way to spend our energy was by preaching the Gospel to those who don’t yet have it. Even members of other religions have been doing this non-stop. The Catholic and all the Protestant churches have spread the Bible to the ends of the earth. Mother Theresa exemplified the Master’s call to feed His sheep. What have we done, aside from doing battle with His church and doctrines? And doubting? And finding things to murmur about? Valiant women. Valiant gay men. Valiant lesbian women. Valiant seekers of the keys of the priesthood. The prophets are not perfect, sometimes they err, but God has promised to kill the prophet if he tries to mislead you. That includes the Apostles. That’s the only reason I trust and fear them. There is no such thing as a fallen prophet; only a dead one, according to the scriptures. There has never been a fallen prophet; only a dead one. And these, who are still alive have never said that you’re not valiant. You are valiant. But to what have you applied your valiance, your energy, your time? God might not need any of us. But He wishes that we’d come to Him and join in this great work. He has said that there is place for you; many are called. Please take it. Before His other promise, to fill your place with another chosen, is the promise that’s fulfilled. When a person is raped, their first realization is of how much gray area there is in life, and how much everybody wants for there to only be black and white. Nobody is ready or willing to accept the grey areas. Sure, the church refuses to change, in some areas. But you’d be surprised how much grey area there is even within the confines of the strict doctrines of the church. It’s the only place you’re going to find a way around justice. A way around cold ruthlessness. This world is truly dark. Don’t cast aside the only light there is. Sure, the church seems harsh and impossible at times. But ultimately it’s the only glove that will ever truly fit. Don’t learn that the hard way by going to all the other gloves first. Why waste all that time, all that energy, all that valiance. You truly have so much to give. You truly are so much more amazing than you realize. Just because the world doesn’t see it, and just because the church fails to utilize it, don’t count yourself short by counting yourself out of the most powerful women’s organization and powerful Kingdom on earth. I’m a man, and I’ve never once felt that I was on the outside of the Relief Society and Women’s organizations that exist in the church. How sad I would be if that was the case. And I’ve never once felt that women were on the outside of the Priesthood and Men’s organizations that exist in the church. On the contrary, they are all one. I wish you’d devote your time instead to discovering how. Instead of devoting your time to holding your ears and eyes shut. Don’t let contrary comments and misguided beliefs and certain bias fool you into not seeing the truth. Because there are many, always another way you can look, many distractions, other gloves, other roads awaiting you. And their food is delicious and their doctrines enticing and they’ll give you what you want to believe and want to hear. But ultimately you’ll discover in the end, the glove doesn’t fit, an emptiness that cannot be filled, confusion that cannot be explained away. Within the light, in the truth, you’ll find fulfillness and all the answers if you follow the principle of patience, long suffering, because nobody ever learned everything overnight. You can only know one thing for sure and that is that you can trust God. And He says that this is His church, His way, His kingdom on earth, and is a great and majestic power, protection, light, fulfillment, success, happiness, and strength unto you, yes even a family. Many people don’t want to be a part of a family in the way that God wants. And God will facilitate that desire. Many don’t want to be a part of a church in the way that God wants. And God will facilitate that desire. Go if you like. God will still bless you. Even those within His church and kingdom don’t receive all blessings, because of their own failings. The sun shines on the righteous and wicked alike. God blessed even Cain after Cain murdered Able. Jesus forgave just about everyone. That’s how marvelous He is. So go where you desire and He will certain still be in the heavens controlling everything that happens to you. I just wanted you to understand a little more about why His church is so imperfect, impossible, horrible. It’s because truly He doesn’t need any of us. That’s why He allows the church to offend the members to the point of having no more members. Because He only needs the rocks. And with those, in the end, He will judge the nations. And all who’ve come to this earth will receive a glorious paradise in the many Kingdoms He has prepared for all His children. You see, the choice isn’t His, which Kingdom we choose, it’s ours. That’s the best part of His plan, is that we choose, which church, which path, which Kingdom. The only thing that doesn’t change are the requirements of each Kingdom. That’s the hard part, if we desire a Kingdom that’s a little beyond our tastes. Beyond our sexual preferences. Beyond our desires for responsibility and keys. Beyond our understanding. Beyond our ability to withstand offense. Jesus was very good at offending everybody. At one point he announced to all His followers, “soon you will need to eat my flesh, and drink my blood”. And I think it’s very humorous that He didn’t bother explaining that what He’d said was figurative/symbolic not literal. Of course, almost all His followers abandoned Him on that day. Constantly it seemed that He didn’t want any followers! Constantly He offended everyone possible. Even His own Apostles were repeatedly worried, scared, and offended. To the point that one of His Apostles betrayed Him unto death! And the others abandoned Him in death. Later, they would understand, but only by the Holy Ghost. And then would join Him in that death. Some men and women were denied the keys, the priesthood, and comforts, such as the Prince who Jesus commanded to sell all that he had, and sexual preference, such as when Jesus told the adulterers to sin no more, and even denied His followers their very lives, telling them directly that many of them would die the same way He did. He promised them violence, wars between brother and sister, Father and son, daughter and Mother, promising a sword, and fire, and death. Which part of His doctrines offends me, and you, and those around us? Surely, Jesus can find something, that will test us to our limits. Will we remain, after all our mistakes, long enough to hear that voice that will come and explain all things to us the Holy Ghost so that we will understand why the church offended us and chased away all the members, the women, the gay men, the lesbian women, and everyone. Why did God want His church to remain the same size as the Jewish faith, only 10 Million strong, roughly. Why? And Joseph Smith promised that barely anyone would remain on the day of Great Tribulation. That most would die or fall away. That only a remnant, like the remnant of the Jews, 200-500 strong, who were carried away into Assyria, and Babylon. In fact, the City of Enoch will return on that day. So truly, none of us need to be here when the end arrives. God doesn’t need any of us! So, we must choose, if we want to be a part of His Kingdom on that day, will we remain or will we fall away. Most of us, if we remain, will none-the-less be slain and will instead of in the flesh will return with Him in the clouds as resurrected beings. For the Bible says, many saints will die on that great and dreadful day, their heads cut off, their white robes prepared for them in the heavens, as they are hunted and destroyed by that great Antichrist and Beast, refusing to take upon themselves the sign of the beast. Joseph Smith didn’t say that the church would barely escape, he said that the members would barely escape. The church is in no danger, there is no threat against the church, the enemy can kill every last one of us. The only thing that matters, is which way we were facing, on the day we died. To which Kingdom did we belong? Unto which endeavor did we spend our energy, our valiance, our great talents, our amazing power, our time.

  3. Ben says:

    Imagine if your sister, a professional accountant, was able to serve as Heavenly Mother. Imagine if your teenage daughter was invested in just as much as Heavenly Mother. Imagine if you could feel a deeper connection to your Heavenly Father. Imagine if that teenage daughter could discuss sexuality issues with well informed parents, God fearing teachers, a bishop educated by the women in his life such as his mother and wife and Relief Society President, instead of alone in a room with somebody who might not have the authority of God to receive divine guidance directly from God for when she’s not able to hear the Holy Ghost’s voice so clearly. Imagine if your Father could put his hands upon your head to give you a blessing. Imagine how proud your mother would be, of her husband, of her daughter. And to be there listening and watching to correct him if he makes any mistakes. And to remind him of anything he might forget or overlook in his one-sided focus. Yes, truly, a woman’s life is truly the greatest of all of God’s children. And without a woman a man could do nothing. Because women have so much that a man doesn’t. Both side of the brain for example. In fact, if women held the priesthood, the man would be completely worthless and useless and eventually become extinct. And only women would exist. Some women believe that would be a better world, a world with only Heavenly Mother. A world without Heavenly Father. Does that sound good to you?

    Envisioning the Perfect Being; A Heavenly Mother

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