Monday, October 7, 2013

Ordain Women

There are a lot of heart-felt opinions on both sides of the issue of whether or not to allow women to hold the priesthood in the LDS church. I think where the primary disconnect happens for a lot of people on both sides of the issue is around one primary thesis: morality can be discovered outside of a religious context.

I remember at one point in my life arguing that atheists cannot be moral because systems of morality can only be divinely inspired. I was completely comfortable with the idea of words of the prophet being my absolute guide as to what is moral and what is not moral. I no longer hold that position. I've become too aware that morality often transcends religion and can come from many sources. The best proof of this for me is the deeply moral lives that people lead outside of Mormonism or even a religious context.

This understanding forced me to reevaluate my entire moral system. It wasn't enough simply to try to find consensus among the leaders of the church on a given issue to know the moral answer to any question. I had to search it out myself. The teachings of church leaders still served as a primary source of instruction on morality, but it was no longer my sole source. Sifting through so many different voices and opinions to try to carve out personal values and moral standards is incredibly messy and often discouraging, but also rewarding at a very fundamental level.

At first, I found very few contradictions between my personally discovered morality and the moral positions of the church. My first big split was gay marriage. I found the moral arguments for gay marriage to be increasingly compelling. As this was at the time of proposition 8, the church was making very clear their opposition to gay marriage. I experienced a deep disquiet  as my personal morality fell seriously out of line with the morality taught by leaders of the church for the first time.

Although I had a consistent impression that things would work out in the end, I could never quiet shake this disquiet and it continued to grow as I further developed a personal morality. I found that all too often my personal morality contradicted the morality taught by the leaders of the church. This divide ended up being the primary reason I have left the church.

I understand that many faithful members of the church cannot understand why women would continue to insist that they want the priesthood when ordained leaders have emphatically asserted that the priesthood is only for men. Members are free to think independently, they assert, but when the prophets reach a consensus on an issue, as they have on the issue ordination of women, the issue should be closed.

For me, at least, although I assume also for many others in the Ordain Women movement, the equality of the sexes is such a fundamentally self-evident moral imperative that no amount of unity among the leaders of the church will make them comfortable with what, for many, is clearly a discriminatory structure. A discussion about whether excluding women from general leadership (not just being leaders of other women and children) is inherently discriminatory is a debate I am willing to have, but for me and many others, the discriminatory nature of a patriarchal leadership is abundantly clear.

I invite those who do not understand the Ordain Women movement to consider how they would respond if the church began teaching something that was directly opposed to their own moral system. I recognize the inherent difficulty of doing so, because, for so many, the morality taught by the church and their own personal morality is so closely aligned that they might not even recognize a separation between the two. I wont suggest what issue might cause difficulty for you, because everyone has their own moral system, but try to think of something quite fundamental, something that you would consider unequivocally wrong, and then imagine that the church started teaching something deeply contradictory to what you believe to be a moral truth. It might be easy to say, "Oh, I would be fine changing my position" or "The church will never teach anything like that." That might be true, but for many faithful members, living with this contradiction of moralities is a daily reality.

It is really difficult to convey the despair of having the church you love teach something that goes against what you consider to be an objective moral truth, and the ensuing crisis of identity and belief that accompanies such a moment, unless you have experienced it personally. But that is the situation that has confronted thousands of faithful members of the church in the past few years (and I imagine for decades before on any number of issues). You can either stay and be a traitor to your morals or you can leave and be a traitor to your faith. I can readily accept that leaders of the church are men, and imperfect, and make mistakes, as President Uchtdorf so lovingly urged on Saturday. What I cannot readily accept is that when real moral contradictions arise, I should simply put away any personal my moral beliefs and fall in line, but no other viable option is offered to those who wish to stay.

I know it hurts when someone you love says "I believe that, on this issue, the leaders of the Church are wrong" especially when you think they are not. It can feel like an attack on your own faith or morality. It is not. It is simply an attempt by honest seekers looking to live a morally responsible life. It can be simple to dismiss these women, and the men who support them, as desiring power or hoping for a religious endorsement of their political opinion. However, the true issue runs much deeper, and stems from the basic spiritual need of having what is taught in your place of sacred worship align with what is taught by your sacred voice of inner conscience. And, as I've learned from personal experience, for many it is not just a matter of feeling comfortable in church on Sunday, but a matter of survival for the very faith they hold dear.

Disclaimer: I'm not in a great position to comment on the issue of ordaining women, because I am fairly removed from the church, and I am also a man. But I think this distance allows me to perhaps to offer a perspective that others who might share this perspective could be hesitant to express for fear of being deemed apostate or at least unfaithful. I do not in any way claim to speak for the movement or anyone but myself.

Photo credit: Stephanie Lauritzen, or whoever her photographer was. If you happen to read our blog, I hope that you feel it was used in good spirit.


  1. "What I cannot readily accept is that when real moral contradictions arise, I should simply put away any personal my moral beliefs and fall in line, but no other viable option is offered to those who wish to stay."

    I don't agree with this premise. I see such diversity among members of the church on a variety of political and social issues that it confuses me when you say you must be a traitor to your morals or a traitor to your faith. Support for Prop 8, for example, was not a litmus test for faithfulness. No one has kicked me out of Primary for talking about Heavenly Mother or veganism or women and the Priesthood. Members of my ward support gay marriage and not, believe in gun control and not, vote Republican and not, and drink green tea and not.

    I guess I'm just frustrated because you seem so defensive about your decision to leave the church. Perhaps there are people who make you feel as if you need to defend yourself. As for me, I will still love you and Caitlin and Atticus and Tallulah and our relationship will not change. Like Elder Uchtdorf said, it's your choice, and we welcome you back anytime. I wish to respectfully ask you to stop trying to change the church from the outside. If you no longer consider yourself part of us, just leave it be. We can still be friends. If you'd like to effect change within our church, come back, get yourself a calling teaching 13-year-olds, and inspire in them the future you'd like to see.

    1. For one, I cannot see how this post is "defensive" about his decision to leave the Church -- maybe "defending" the women and men who are part of the Ordain Women movement (which we, actually, are not particularly involved in).

      And even so, you really think our families are NOT making us feel like we have to defend ourselves? You are sadly disillusioned if I understand what you are saying there correctly. You should hear the vitriol things coming from the mouths of family and friends based on a relatively benign decision to not actively attend a certain church every Sunday. You would think we were participating in some child-slaughtering cult or something.

      And just because we don't attend Church every Sunday, we are still Mormon (for now, and culturally, I suspect we always will be). Do active, temple-recommended Mormons have exclusive access to discussion of Mormon theology and culture now?

    2. Caitlin: Tim said, "...the primary reason I have left the church." That is where I got the idea that he is no longer a part of the church, although I suppose technically you are correct. And I will amend my "defensive" statement to: "you seem to be constantly defending your decision to leave the church."

      I would like to know Tim's thoughts.

    3. My first thought was "Welp, If I've lost Lauren, I've lost everybody." Fortunately for my ego, yours wasn't the only comment.

      On the contents of your comment, I feel the characterization of me "constantly" defending my decision to leave the church is unfair. This is my first Mormon themed topic (except for reports of us attending Mormon run activities) since April, when I wrote that I was taking a break from the church. Six months might not be that long, but before that I was a lot more engaged in church activity. In that time I've composed either in my head or as drafts lots of posts about Mormonism that I haven't published. I have also tried to avoid posting anything on facebook that directly talks about the church, although there were a few exceptions. When there were exceptions, I shared them with a closed group of my friends that I thought would not be offended (a group you were in, which might have been faulty judgement on my part) and excluded people who might be hurt.

      This post broke what, for me, was an extended silence, but I think for an important reason. I have, in the recent past, been much more active in the liberal Mormon movement that makes their home mainly online. I did, however, withdraw from almost all of those conversations and groups in April about the time I wrote my last post. However, when the founder of the Ordain Women movement invited me into a private group about a month ago (because I maintained a profile on, I decided to join, because I knew that they had a very important step (the priesthood session protest) coming up, and I wanted to be supportive as well as informed of what I thought a key moment in the liberal moment movement. It is true that when I see pictures of faithful Mormons streaming into the conference center, I feel very estranged from that group and unable and unwilling to speak as one of them. However, when I saw the pictures of all these faithful and hopeful women lined up outside the conference center, I immediately felt "those are my people." True, I don't know many of them in person, but I've formed friendships with several online.

      So this post was mainly about trying to stand with them, many of whom are very active in the church, and many who would be if they didn't feel they'd be ostracized for their opinions if voiced. I know I didn't do a great job of it, but the only thing I meant this post to say to the general membership of the church was "Please, if you want these women to stay, try to put yourself in their shoes. Don't assume the worst, don't dismiss their opinions as based solely in politics or unfaithfulness." I don’t feel like I’m in a place to try to change the church, but I do feel am in a place to stand with some of those who sincerely wish it would.

    4. Thanks for the explanation. I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings, and I hope you will continue to include me in future posts. I'm not offended as much as confused, and I appreciate your patience with me as I try to understand your point of view. Your reply did help clarify things for me, though. I am also sympathetic to the Ordain Women movement (someone at church recently called me a Mormon feminist sympathizer) and wonder how I can help them and still be true to my own feelings (or morality, as you would call it), even as I'm still figuring myself out. Have you read The Beginning of Better Days?

  2. An excellent post on issues I am dealing with. As always, thank you for your voice.

  3. This is a great post, Tim. Hang in there. It really can be tough to follow your conscience when moral reasoning puts you in opposition to the church, and more importantly a church culture that is so based on the threat of violence (i.e. If you don't "fall in line" you wont' be with your family in the afterlife"). True or not, said out of love or not, it's still coercive, and that's a problem.

    You know, I believe it was Brigham Young who said something like, "I fear for this church when the day comes that its members cease questioning its leadership."

    Really though, if you can't do something, say something. Don't let anyone convince you that you need to stop talking.

  4. Found your blog through Bridget's - and I agree. It's a really difficult dissonance that people often don't recognize as a valid struggle, and it's hard to live with it. But I believe that the position the church currently holds on women (and the structure as a patriarchal church) is not in line with Christ's teachings, nor the eternal will of God. And I'm grateful for those who are willing to voice their feelings and "moral authority" so that a conversation can be had about it.

    1. Thanks Liz. I've been following your comments on Bridget's blog for a long time now. Thanks for you comment.