American Culture

Without ordination, women can’t contribute equally in decisions on religious dogma

By Whitney Downard

Despite political and social gains elsewhere, women cannot hold many high religious offices because of their gender. By limiting leadership positions to men, churches erode women’s role in defining worship.

The priesthood, a cornerstone of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, grants the holder the power and authority to act in the name of God. Only those who hold the priesthood can administer priesthood blessings, bless the sacrament (the passing of bread and water) or perform baptisms. Most importantly, a majority of leadership positions within the LDS church can only be held by those possessing the priesthood. Only worthy male members, 12 and older, can be priesthood holders.

The LDS church isn’t the only church to limit women. Several major religions in the United States don’t allow women to hold meaningful leadership positions. The authorities in power – men – dictate what, how and if women can contribute to religious dogma. This prevents women from performing important spiritual rituals or practices.

While men can be prophets, apostles or other general religious authorities in the LDS church, women cannot. Of the top 215 positions within the church’s hierarchy, women can hold only nine.

By denying women the priesthood, the LDS church curtails the influence of women to the point of intentionally suppressing that influence. Women have no say in the policies of the church, they are dictated by priesthood holders. Men assume the role as the ultimate authority in spiritual matters. The LDS church explicitly says women cannot.

Other churches constrain women in religious matters. The Roman Catholic Church does not permit women to hold the priesthood. Only men can be priests, cardinals or pope, limiting the influence of women in the Catholic Church.

American Protestant churches remain torn on the issue of ordaining women. The Southern Baptist Convention does not support the ordination of women, though some member churches do. The United Methodist Church supports it. So does the United Church of Christ. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ordains women, but the Presbyterian Church of America does not.

Some religions attempt to pacify women with carefully selected positions in the church hierarchy. In the LDS church, women can hold leadership positions in both the women’s organization and the children’s organization. While still important, these roles don’t come with the same authority or power of influence. The concept of “separate but equal” has not worked in the past and fails to address the inequity of spiritual authority. Yet some churches still lean heavily on this premise, hoping that their female constituents will be satisfied with the limited power left for them.

Without women in positions of authority and power, religions imply that women cannot define what spirituality ought to be. None of these religions explicitly calls women inferior, but by limiting these offices to men they ignore and belittle the contributions of women.

The one-gender narrative of religions that do not ordain women neglects half of their congregations.

Having women leaders would drastically change the dialogue of many churches on important issues such as birth control or abortion. Rather than men solely representing the interests of other men, women and men would be engaging each other to find something to agree upon as religious doctrine.

A church without women sharing power simply becomes a church of men, by men, for men. These churches cut women out of the discussion entirely.

Men should not be the only doctrinal voice for a religion. If religious authority must be given, women need to be included.

Whitney Downard is a senior studying journalism at St. Bonaventure University, a small, private university in western New York. Born and raised in Utah, she loves skiing and fry sauce.

• photo by Scott Catron from Sandy, Utah, via Creative Commons

13 replies »

  1. Everybody has their opinion and it is true how someone can look at something at different angles can write such a one way article as this one. I find it quite interesting as to the absolute conclusions derived from this article that men are supreme and higher than all and women are somehow less than or not as important, or not as influential, or not as “powerful” at least from Whitney Downward’s perspective.

    Just because men are the priesthood holders does not at all suggest or define men superior to women. I could give example after example of the Savior’s teachings about men and women and if Whitney or anyone who share the same sentiments were to actually read a few of the hundreds or thousands of talks, discourses and teaching specifically given by the men as well as the women leaders within The Church of Jesus Christmas of Latter-day saints they would derive a completely different conclusion from the one suggested in this article.

    When Jesus himself established his church during his earthly ministry he called apostles. These were all men. They were to be the bearers of the priesthood. Although the priesthood is solely designated by God for men to bear has zero indication that those men are any better than women. If so then was Jesus discriminating against women? Was he a sexist? Absolutely not. If you truly understand the role and responsibility of the priesthood you would quickly realize that your conclusion is not accurate.

    Go listen to and read through all the talks given every six months to all the priesthood men of the LDS church and listen to what things are said specifically about the sisters and daughters of God and how the boys, men, husband’s and brethren should honor and revere women.

    There are different roles in the church but you abviously have not been part of the meetings where the priesthood along with the women, side by side work to alleviate the needs of those afflicted and struggling.

    Listen to the many stories of the prophets talking about women.

    A man is not above the woman nor is the women above the man but I would say that if you really understand the true power and Devine roles and influence of women you would learn that women are the glue that holds the church and families together and as I believe president Hinckley once said women are the neck that holds the head up.

    I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints when I was 18.

    I’ve never seen such powerful and amazing women like this ever and still do today. In your view you look at the priesthood being some kind of class distinction but in God’s eye the priesthood is something completely different than what you think and what you might have experienced in your life.

    Again, the Savior himself called men as his apostle and God has always delegated his priesthood specifically to the men but not in any way does that limit the power, magnitude and influence of the women of the LDS church. I’m sure if you asked women of the church all over the world you would quickly conclude that there is something more that you are simply not seeing that if you did you might have a different opinion.

    This is probably a bad example but within God’s Plan men and women are to come together as equal partners in directing and leading their family. Part of that is having children. So I as a man, cannot actually bear a child. Should I say God is a sexist and discriminating against men? I can say that. I don’t have the power to bear a child but does that make God and Jesus sexist or discriminators against men? Of course not.

    • Utter hogwash. You have equal rights or you don’t. Advocating for unequal rights is the DEFINITION of sexism.

      I can’t convince you of this, for reasons that are painfully obvious to every reader we have. But no way you walk in here and spout this kind of silliness without getting called on it.

      • If this is directed to my response you have your opinion but it is inacurate. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in no ways advocates inequality.

        Maybe learn and go see for yourself. Don you one of the largest women’s organizations in the world that is a cause of significant influence for good throughout the world is the Relief Society. Solely composed of women. Men are not part of it although do and can support the efforts as directed and requested by the women members of the RS. The Relief Society is found in the LDS church.

        Would it be hogwash to suggest that is a sexist organization since men are not members of it? It’s absolutely not but if using your logic as to what you consider and define as “rights” then you can say that is sexist and discriminating against men.

        What rights are you referring to? How come I don’t have the right to go into and use the women’s bathrooms? Although there are those who seem to want to advocate I should have that “right” I really shouldn’t. It’s not sexist or discriminating in anyway.

        Again, to my last point in my first response is the fact that I as a man I cannot bear and conceive a child so by your logic of rights that be default makes God sexist and a discriminator against men.

        Shouldn’t I have the right to the power to bear and conceive a child?

        • I grew up a racist, sexist working class kid in the South. We used to rationalize shit like this all the time. It was crap then and it’s crap now and I know there is no way you’ll ever get it, but I’ll say it for the benefit of others who might be reading.

          More than anything, this comment reminds me of the one we used to have about how back in the day blacks actually liked being slaves.

        • Honestly Samuel, I can care less what you think. You indicate I’m closed minded.

          The truth is you know nothing about the doctrine and teachings of the LDS church along with the teachings of Christ. You can twist this just like the writer. Since you are reformed sexist and racist from the south then maybe before you spout off as if you also can see past my closed mindedness as you suggest maybe go find out for yourself. But just as you suggest I won’t get it I strongly say the same that you don’t get it but I will say this you don’t know what the heck your talking about. But I’m not here to convince you of anything. If you came to church with us and if you came to my home you would find out just how wrong you are but keep your superior knowledge just like Whitney

        • Grew up working class Southern Baptist in the rural South, and was Christian until I was mid-20s. (By the way, that Christian background was a fabulous incubator for the sexism and racism.) Know lots of Mormons and once played D&D with the bishop and his daughters. (A lot of Mormons like D&D for some reason.) And I wrote a PhD dissertation that was probably 1/3 or more Christian history and theology.

          So it’s possible I know a little bit.

        • Again Samuel, you have your opinions and you are entitled to them. Congratulations on your PHD and your dissertation but it means nothing to the opinion you are trying to make.

          You are still wrong in your assessment.

          I wish you could talk to my wife. In fact why don’t you start interviewing as many LDS women and ask them that specific question.

          Learn about what the “priesthood” actually is.

          If you really want to know and understand the doctrine as restored by the Savior himself you will learn the Lord is no respector of persons…black, brown, purple, white, male or female.

          There are Devine differences between men and women but they are equal in God’s eyes and no less important than the other.

        • And regarding D&D, I have no idea what that is and most likely is completely irrelevant from the suggestion that women are inferior and less then men which is so far from the truth. I always found it interesting on how others were experts on everything about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints but in reality knew nothing other than then what they hear from others rather than finding out for themselves. When I joined my family like you and Whitney had all the knowledge and wisdom and tried to persuade me not not join the LDS church and after listening and hearing all their arguments it became so apparent how wrong they were. So is the case with both of your opinions. You can state all the credentials and dissertations you want but they do not at all change the fact the teachings, beliefs and doctrines do not at all put men or women on unequal ground. This you will most likely never know unless you were to find out yourself. Like my family believed in their opinions so or the opinions of others for so many years until they started to see that the things they originally thought or heard was incorrect.

          Peace be with you my brother. Have a Merry Christmas to you and the dear women in your life.

        • Let me repeat – I have lots of first-hand knowledge of the LDS from PEOPLE I KNOW. Not somebody told me something second or third-hand.

          BTW, is it okay for women to have multiple husbands?

        • “I wish you could talk to my wife. In fact why don’t you start interviewing as many LDS women and ask them that specific question.”

          You could talk to mine. She’s an ex-Mormon for reasons that include the ingrained sexism she grew up with and was deeply affected by. But then, I suppose her thoughts don’t matter because she’s no longer official property of LDS. But then again, you’re never really “not LDS,” are you? I still have LDS in-laws. In their minds and per their church dogma, they own your soul forever, even beyond the grave. Not terribly different from Scientology and other peculiar and psychopathic religious cults whose true motive is parting fools from their money.

  2. Hello Bryan, sorry for the late response.

    I didn’t formally interview any Mormon women because I am one. I grew up Mormon (near Provo, Utah), surrounded by many strong Mormon women, but no longer attend church. That said, I have read hundreds of talks and watched General Conference many times. It has done nothing but solidify my argument and view.

    My argument is that by denying women the priesthood the LDS Church implicitly views women as inferior. If women are the neck, then men are the head. Women do nothing but uphold the priesthood while men, the head, do all of the thinking and speaking (according to this terrible analogy).

    You and I both know that women are a huge part of the LDS Church, but they have little to no actual power. This imbalance of power IS sexist.

    I know that this doesn’t sway you. That you probably see me as someone led astray by the worldly temptations of *gasp* feminism. But I genuinely believe that the LDS Church is sexist because I, as a woman, am told what I can and cannot do in terms of leadership. Being Relief Society president is in no way equal to the power of being a Bishop (especially, contrary to your prior statement, since RS falls under the jurisdiction of the Bishop as well).

    Best of luck to you, Bryan.