Between June 2014 and August 2015 I wrote a series of four essays on the Excommunication of Kate Kelly and the Ordination of Women. I thought it would be good to post this anthology as one of the introductory posts to LDSAnarchists.org
The original publications are found in the links below:
- LDS Public Affairs’ commentary on the excommunication proceedings is troubling.
- Ordain Women’s activism is non-threatening to the LDS Church and Mormon Doctrine.
- Kate Kelly’s excommunication does nothing to protect the integrity of Mormon Doctrine, thus making her excommunication about disobedience rather than apostasy.
- My position on the Ordination of Women.
I think this anthology is insightful to LDSA, LDSA curious, or LDSA allies because it tackles issues of agency, authority, order, apostasy, priesthood, doubt, and correction from a theological and doctrinal position. So, without further ado…
LDS Public Affairs’ commentary on the excommunication proceedings is troubling.
The commentary from LDS spokeswomen that I am aware of (and it seems to always be spokeswomen and not spokesmen speaking to this issue directly) are by Ally Isom here, Ally Isom here, and Jessica Moody here.
Of course, the Church is entitled to protecting the integrity of it’s doctrine. If Kate Kelly was teaching apostate doctrine then excommunication is not uncalled for. For further discussion on that, see Kate Kelly’s excommunication does nothing to protect the integrity of Mormon Doctrine. But simply put, Ally Isom was asked repeatedly and directly in Doug Fabrizio’s interview if Ordain Women was an apostate group and to cite Mormon Doctrine on the ordination of Women. Much to my frustration, both questions were dodged. The Church has been given multiple opportunities to close this chapter, but have either been reluctant to speak truth to power, or are unsure of the truth. The only thing I can find is Elder Oaks’ sermon in April Conference where he states twice in an otherwise heavily footnoted sermon that only men are ordained to the Priesthood, with no doctrinal basis. It seems that the Church could do more to clear up the matter than to excommunicate Kate Kelly for something other than apostasy.
Almost as if the First Presidency took this blog post to heart, the Office of the First Presidency has released a 3 paragraph statement hours after I posted.
In God’s plan for the happiness and eternal progression of His children, the blessings of His priesthood are equally available to men and women. Only men are ordained to serve in priesthood offices. All service in the Church has equal merit in the eyes of God. We express profound gratitude for the millions of Latter-day Saint women and men who willingly and effectively serve God and His children. Because of their faith and service, they have discovered that the Church is a place of spiritual nourishment and growth.
We understand that from time to time Church members will have questions about Church doctrine, history, or practice. Members are always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding. We feel special concern, however, for members who distance themselves from Church doctrine or practice and, by advocacy, encourage others to follow them.
Simply asking questions has never constituted apostasy. Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.
The pertinent statement here is that “only men are ordained to serve in priesthood offices.” This declarative sentence clearly states current policy and practice, to which I think there has been no ambiguity and Ordain Women clearly recognizes. It does not clearly indicate the mind of God on the matter, and leaves the door open for the debate to continue; it does not say, for example, that “God has reserved priesthood offices for men only,” or that “it is contrary to the order of heaven to ordain women.”
While I welcome the ambiguity (more on that in future posts), I again point out that Kate Kelly has not been participating in the unauthorized ordination of women, or in building up a new priesthood that is inclusive of women. Her actions are not contrary to the order of the Church (that only men are ordained to serve in priesthood offices), only perhaps contrary to the direction of it’s “faithful leaders.” There is a difference between Kate Kelly’s approach, and that of Douglas A. Wallace or even Byron Marchant.
The last paragraph does try to define Apostasy as opposing faithful leaders by ignoring their counsel. I think this is far removed from the standard definition, “abandonment or renunciation of a religion.” By attempting to define apostasy thus, the Mormon Church would embrace not just the dogma of papal infallibility, but of infallibility of leadership on all levels, at least down to Bishop. Last I checked, Church Presidents typically reject this dogma.
And this really goes to the heart of the commentary surrounding this issue. “Members are always free to ask such questions,” but are they expected to keep silent once given an answer, satisfactory or not? While pondering this, consider the case of Helmuth Hübener.
What’s the difference between Mormons and Catholics?
Catholics teach papal infallibility but no one really believes it;
Mormons teach apostolic fallibility but no one really believes it.
My position on the Ordination of Women.
I do believe that women should function in most if not all roles typically reserved for men within the Church. I have no predisposition to prefer a man over a woman to minister to me. Why should I then believe that women’s roles exclude the priesthood?
I do advocate that women are integral in ecclesiastical organization, though not of necessity through ordination to priesthood. I have no issue with those who do advocate ordination, and will sometimes cheer them on, lifting up the hands which hang down, and strengthening the feeble knees. If I were in a position to consider Church policy, I would have serious discussions and meditation about it; I would approach it with an attitude of “Why not?” But I think that those who do advocate for it as an issue of equality have a different understanding of priesthood authority than I do. Their view of priesthood authority would then be more mainstream in Mormon culture than mine is, so as a matter of practicality perhaps they should continue their advocacy. Perhaps I am more idealistic than practical. I would sooner advocate for a healthier view of authority rather than advocate for wider distribution of a baser authority.
Women can and should be included in priesthood councils at all levels. They do not need to be ordained to have sway in church administration and ecclesiastical decisions. The recent inclusion of Bonnie Oscarson in the Missionary Executive Council, Linda Burton in the Priesthood Executive Council (now renamed Priesthood and Family Executive Council), and Rosemary Wixom in the Temple and Family History Executive Council, three councils previously exclusive to men called as Apostles, sets positive precedence. Priesthood leaders at all levels should take note, take action, and not wait to be commanded in all things. Doctrine and Covenants 58
There are many reasons to include women in ecclesiastical administration. Some are positive, and some are negative. The easiest reasons to talk about in polite circles are the positive ones, but limiting the conversation to these points usually ignores and belittles some very important concerns among many women in the church. The most compelling reasons are negative, those of ecclesiastical abuse. Ecclesiastical abuse is just one head of a wicked dragon, one manifestation of devilish power. This larger power, the darkness of this world, is abuse of authority, overreach (assumed authority), and exercise of illegitimate authority. Ephesians 6
I have listened intently to and recommend the 140 minutes of conversation on Mormon Women and Ecclesiastical Abuse led by Cally Stephens. http://ordainwomen.org/ow_podcast/ I recognize that a Priesthood Leader does not need to be misogynistic to make mistakes that may affect a woman deeply. I do believe that these are examples of abuse, but not all are “cruel and violent treatment or offensive and insulting language.” Most of these are examples of “the improper use of something,” and probably not intentionally in most cases. That being said, perhaps some priesthood leaders are misogynistic, and perhaps some abuse is cruel and insulting.
What is abused most in these situations is the position of authority; either explicitly or implicitly. Explicit abuse of position would include overtly compelling a congregant to some action of which he has no authority to command. More often, position is abused implicitly. At the one extreme, without adequate awareness a leader may be completely unaware of the abuse. At the other, a leader may consciously depend on assumptions implicit to culture to tacitly compel action. Implicit abuse of authority relies on a deep authoritarian ethos in Mormon culture.
I do hope for a more egalitarian church. Whether women are ever ordained to the priesthood or not, these issues must be addressed through training of clergy, conversation of these issues must be free and I open, and women should be empowered within the organization. There is a systemic problem of disempowering women that needs to be addressed. On these points I stand wholeheartedly with Ordain Women.
However, I do perceive a strong ethos from feminist Mormon women that incorporating women into existing structures would drive the resolution of these issues. I do not subscribe to this view. The difference in gender between clergy and congregant in these situations does complicate the matter and increases the potential effect of trauma, but gender heterogeneity is not the root of the abuse. Creating a dual gender bishopric or making some bishops female may lessen the occurrence of abuse and/or make it less traumatic at times, but it will not resolve the issue.
To empower women and to end ecclesiastical abuse we need feminism, and we need advocacy for a healthier understanding of authority.
– the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.
Though I do not favor politicking of any sort, such that a woman politician is equally debased as a man politician in my eyes, I do believe women to be the social and economic equals to men. I do consider myself a feminist.
He created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them; And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship.
Doctrine and Covenants 20
An interaction between myself and a man or a woman is like a synapse firing in a brain. As interactions repeat over time structure takes shape. The human social network is like a body, vastly interconnected with varied interactions, seemingly random and chaotic locally but forming beautiful structure and vast systems at scale. In this biological network, I view women as equals to men. If I am looking for a particular social functionary, such as a minister, an evangelist, a council member, or an administrator, I do not believe men to be superior to women, nor fundamentally different. I will choose to interact with whomever provides me the utility I seek. This is the theory of Autosociopoiesis; it is the theory that social structure is spontaneously created through social interactions, creating a social system capable of reproducing and maintaining itself.
God created both male and female in his image, and all are alike unto God. (2 Nephi 26:33) Why we continue to emphasize the “differences” between men and women is beyond me. Of course there are biological differences between male and female, and brain and body chemistry differences between male and female. Male compliments female. And I do believe young children should be reared in a home with their homemakers’ constant presence, but “all of us—women, men, … single or married—can work at being homemakers.” Most gender differences our conservative culture clings to are cultural, not eternal, or even biological. In this great human social network, women are social equals to men.
A Heavenly Order
¶Seek ye יהוה while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto יהוה, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
¶For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith יהוה. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to יהוה for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
I define two types of authority:
- Lordly Authority, which I like to call Supposed Authority,
- and Proxy Authority.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways.
Supposed Authority is the baser authority of this earth. Those who practice in Supposed Authority, i.e. authoritarians, believe that dominion can be had through compulsory means. Supposed Authority is what people lord over each other; it is the concept of authority of one human over another. Supposed Authority DOES NOT EXIST, it is supposed and illegitimate.
And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship.
Doctrine and Covenants 20
Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king; for thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another; therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king.
Let no man think he is ruler; but let God rule him.
Doctrine and Covenants 58
Mormon theology teaches that God made us free, for what we are free in deed. God does not exercise supposed authority over us, and we need not tolerate it from anyone else less divine (Doctrine and Covenants 98).
I do not subscribe to authoritarianism. It is an unnecessary evil. We are the DNA that creates society, we don’t need rulers to create it for us.
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Doctrine and Covenants 121
Again, it is Mormon theology that teaches that God blesses humanity with Enmity. With that Enmity devils have raised up armies, false priests, and tyrants who have reigned with blood and horror. In this context I define Enmity differently than the dictionary does; it is a sense of self and control within a circle of influence (a dominion). Enmity so defined is a blessing and a curse. It is why a person desires liberty, yet it is also why a person desires power. It is what gives rise to enmity, as defined in the dictionary. Enmity is also what keeps us masters of our Self. God wants you in control of your own life, that is why he blessed you with Enmity.
There are those authoritarians who, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, exercise compulsory dominion. Their sense of self extends beyond self, from lord to servant, master to slave, sovereign to citizen, clergy to congregant. They give edict and require obedience. This is a very human trait, and throughout history we have sculpted mythical gods which share this trait. These are not the god I worship. My God reigns as no mortal has, with an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; with an everlasting dominion, which without compulsory means flows in forever and ever.
Any organization that strays from persuasion and voluntaryism, and relies on supposed authority, is unstable. I believe Jesus’ lordship is more divine than the profane earthly lordships, just as His order, authority, and ways are not the ways of men, but of heaven.
My House is a House of Order
Rule of Law is part of the Gospel; but Rule of Law is not synonymous with Rule by Force. God’s Law is taught and applied through persuasion, patience, kindness, love unfeigned, direct counsel to reprove, and without compulsion. Law, Structure, and Order do exist in the absence of compulsion and guile.
I do believe the Church has a divine charter, a divine mission, and is entitled to divine “tugs at the bit,” to borrow from the late L. Tom Perry. It is, however, an earthly institution attempting to become worthy of God’s presence; just as the City of Enoch, or the Children of Israel.
I think Mormons have a long ways to go to gain God’s presence, but probably no further than the rest of mankind. At least Mormons have the theological grounds to reject authoritarianism if they would choose to do so. I believe the Gospel of Jesus is true. I believe the Church is divinely commissioned. Neither of these beliefs compels me to believe that the Church organization or leadership is infallible nor that it should be as hierarchical and authoritarian as it is today. Joseph revealed a commission from God to “organize [ourselves].” The Church is ours, and it’s structure is mostly human with touches of divine influence.
The Church must be one of three things: decentralized, corporate, or theocratic. I think many Mormons see it as theocratic; I see it as corporate, a corporation striving to work on a divine mission of Preaching the Gospel but falling short of perfect execution. I can, and do, sustain the effort. But when Christ does come to “reign personally on the earth” I do believe His kingdom will be far more decentralized and far less hierarchical than is the current Church. He is, as we say, King of Kings; a sovereign of sovereigns. Organizations are strongest when built on principles of shared rules and emergent order, mimicking biology. While I walk this earth I will strive to move any organization I am a part of toward this “more excellent way.” 1 Corinthians 12
You could take an authoritarian view and believe I am wrong and the Church hierarchy does have lordly authority over you and I. You could believe that it ought to have some sort of lordly authority if it is the true church, and for one reason or another it is now in apostasy, thus lacking that authority. Or you could take the view I do, that all lordly authority in the church structure is supposed.
The authoritarian church is not a divine construct, but entirely a misconstrued execution of God’s plea to “organize yourselves.” We, being imperfect, begin to exercise unrighteous dominion over one another because we do not understand any other way to organize ourselves.
The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel, and He employeth no servant there.
2 Nephi 9:41
When we take part in priesthood ordinances we express outwardly an inner recognition of God’s power. I recognize that God has power to sanctify me, so I participate in ordinances officiated by individuals I believe have been authorized by God to act as His proxy, to assume His name. This lets me outwardly express my inner desire to be sanctified by God. I don’t go to John Mormon to be baptized because I believe John has some endowed power to cleanse me. I go to John Mormon to be baptized because my belief has given John Mormon authority to act in God’s stead, a proxy I have invited into my personal worship service. I don’t believe John Mormon has any authority over me, he only has authority to stand proxy for God in my personal expressions of reverence to God.
Proxy is the only true authority in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. It is not authority to lord over someone, it is the authority to stand as a proxy of God at an individual’s request in their personal worship with God. It is a ministry of service, not in a newspeak sense, but literally. It is not authority to stand between someone and God or to replace God, but rather to augment an individual’s relationship with God by making rituals more “real” to them, at their request.
This is a healthier view of authority.
There is a clear problem with ecclesiastical abuse disempowering at least a few women. As Jesus said, if you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me. As a church, we must address this. Just once is once too many. I believe the best way to address this is to study the Heavenly way, rout the earthly authoritarianism out of our culture, and set our house in higher order. In this journey, women have a voice that must be heeded. As we continue to better organize ourselves we must include women in any roles necessary to affect change. I will advocate for that.
I empathize with Ordain Women’s advocacy for ordination. However, I do not see women’s ordination as necessarily prerequisite to proliferation of empowered women within Church organization. I would like to see the Relief Society empowered to call their own officers, to collect tithes and to distribute offerings to the needy, to preach the Gospel and minister to the whole body of Christ and to the world. I don’t want to hear that the Relief Society is an auxiliary to the Priesthood, that the women’s club is auxiliary to the men’s club. Of course I understand that these things cannot be realized without disagreeing with some priesthood leaders.
Ward and Stake leaders, please empower the women in your congregations. There is so much more organizational latitude you can offer them without breaking any policies and stretching only a few, without any need to ordain women. We can affect change today without a change to any policy. God made man, male and female, in his own likeness, as agents unto themselves, free indeed.
Women, you do not need to wait for ordination to take up the name of Christ and to do his work. I stand with you.
Latest posts by Russ (see all)
- My Commentary on the Excommunication of Kate Kelly - May 4, 2016