Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What if the Prophet Said No? A Response to Opponents of Ordain Women

I recently posted a pro-ordain-women post on my wall:

Well documented, Rick Rampton. May Mormons near and far embrace governance equality sooner than later: the cause is just, and the proposed means (revelation to ordain women) an appropriate one. 


Ordain Women leaders
A good friend of mine, whose opinion I value, replied:

"Brad, as you know I disagree with you on this topic. I find it telling that a willingness to submit to God's will was never mentioned. A desire to fulfill the purposes of the priesthood was never mentioned. Christ was not mentioned once in this video. "God" was mentioned only as one women claimed to be advocating His truth.

What was mentioned often was individuals' feelings. It was about the women's feelings, not the priesthood purposes. And yes, our individual feelings are important, that that's not what the priesthood is about. The priesthood is not inward-looking.

I would love to ask every one of those women this question: "If the prophet announced that he prayed about this topic, and that priesthood service is man's responsibility, what would you do?"

And Brad, I ask you that question. What would you do if the prophet announced that?"

I replied:

"Thanks for the reply, *Jessie. Certainly, a willingness to submit to God's will is a virtue under a mainstream Mormon paradigm. To answer the question directly: also under mainstream Mormon practice (correct me if you perceive otherwise), are we not obligated only to follow a pronouncement made by a prophet that is confirmed to us by the Holy Ghost? Are we not also obligated to follow much other guidance that the prophet doesn't explicitly say, but which the Holy Ghost does confirm to us? Thus, prophetic announcement is insufficient to settle a question, and I would next ask what the Holy Ghost did or did not witness to me in the hypothetical you pose.

However, we need not appeal to a hypothetical, for two reasons. First, we have an actual example we can look to: black men who pushed for ordination of all worthy males. Faithful church members made exactly the same response you just did: "I find it telling that a willingness to submit to God's will was never mentioned... what was mentioned was individuals' feelings... priesthood is not inward-looking... if the prophet announced" etc. You're likely aware that many prophets were bold to declare that they had prayed about the topic, and that priesthood service is non-black man's responsibility. Notwithstanding, that policy changed: and neither you nor I can conclusively say that advocacy or consciousness-raising or direct action were not contributing factors to that shift.

Second, and more fundamentally in my view, the whole priesthood discrimination scheme fails for a rather objective reason: Mormons have not articulated a way to discern between males and females. As the Proclamation declares, the gender we care about is spiritual gender: yet we are not justified in assuming that physical sex maps to spiritual gender. Spiritual gender is an unambiguous binary, but physical sex in the real world is a spectrum. Just as some bishops and stake presidents disagreed about whether a person was "black enough" to merit exclusion, not all LDS decision makers agree about a particular individual's spiritual sex (think SRS or intersex individuals). Any test that can be considered an accurate discernment of spiritual sex must, at the least, be a binary one. I have yet to hear a Mormon decision maker articulate such a test.

Rather than squinting at peoples' anatomy (be it their genitals or their skin pigment), I think it would be reasonable to open the governance eligibility table to all adults, without respect to sex or race. Since in our tradition priesthood is a prerequisite to general governance (e.g. stake presidencies, the Quorum of the 12, the First Presidency, Stake High Councils, etc.), ordaining women to be elders is the most parsimonious path forward, if not also the most pragmatic."


  1. I just had a couple of comments:

    1. On your contention that "prophetic announcement is insufficient to settle a question"
    I don't think that this conclusion follows from your prior statements. Prophetic statements do not become prophetic when the members think and pray about it in the same way that the Book of Mormon does not become scripture when we think and pray about it. Of course we need to think and pray about both, but their truthfulness does not depend on whether or not you or anyone else personally accepts it.

    2. Also, the Proclamation never declares that we only care about spiritual gender:
    "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." Mortality is specifically mentioned, so I'm not sure where you're getting the idea that only spiritual gender matters.

    3. It is not appropriate to compare the blacks and the priesthood issue with gay marriage or women holding the priesthood. God has, at times, denied the Priesthood to certain groups (e.g. only Levites could hold the Aaronic Priesthood). The Savior's ministry was confined to the Jews and the apostles were authorized to preach to gentiles after His death. There is no indication that God has ever permitted women to hold the priesthood (though I wouldn't mind if they did). There is absolutely no indication that God has ever or will ever tolerate homosexual unions. Comparing the priesthood not being extended to blacks is a logical fallacy; the issues are not comparable. Practicing homosexuality is fundamentally wrong but there is nothing wrong in any way about belonging to a particular race, tribe, or lineage.

    1. I think when he talks about "spiritual gender," what he means is the gender of your spirit. This delves into the issues of trans* folk, who belive (regardless of what you believe on the matter) that the gender of their spirit does not match the sex of their bodies. Mormonism has not yet tackled that issue, or the issue of a person who has both male and female genders or neither genders.

      Comparing the push for the priesthood to be given to all men to the female ordination push is not inappropriate. It may be lacking, but as long as we are respectful to that population and their struggles, I do not see it as wrong. Especially since your argument for it being inappropriate is inaccurate. We have had apostles and prophets declare in the past that black people have a different skin color as "the mark of Cain" or because of some sin they committed in the pre-existence. So yes, it has been a part of Mormon doctrine (that was later renounced) that there was something wrong with being a part of a particular race, tribe, and lineage.

      There is also some question that God may have permitted women to have the priesthood. There are mentions of prophetess and female apostles in the Bible. That is up to interpretation, of course.

      Your mention of homosexuality is a non sequitor.

    2. It has never actually been part of LDS doctrine that there was a reason for blacks to not have the priesthood. This "mark of Cain" nonsense has never been officially part of accepted doctrine even though some people (including prominent leaders) may have believed it. If you do a little research in authoritative places, you'll see that the church leaders in their official capacity say that we don't know why blacks were denied the priesthood (e.g. Elder Holland and President Hinckley).

      It has never, ever been a part of our doctrine that there is something wrong with belonging to a particular race. The Book of Mormon makes this perfectly clear in a number of places. By your logic it seems that the Savior Himself thought that there was something wrong with being a Gentile since he told them that He had to confine His mission only to Jews. This, of course, is not true. We don't know why His mission had to be confined to the Jews but we do know that He loves all of us, regardless of where we live or what color our skin happens to be.

      Saying that my mention of homosexuality is a non sequitur doesn't make sense: Non sequitur, "(Latin for "it does not follow"), in formal logic, is an argument in which its conclusion does not follow from its premises." Since no argument was being made about the logical underpinnings of the fact that practicing homosexuality is immoral, it can't really be a non sequitur. It is clear from General Conference and the official church position that we shouldn't practice homosexuality. I wasn't making an argument, just stating a fact about the position of the LDS church (the leaders and those that sustain them).

  2. The above comment is exactly right. God's laws and His gospel are not dependent upon our individual confirmation of their truthfulness, and we in fact are "obligated to follow a pronouncement made by a prophet," even if we have not yet received confirmation from the Holy Ghost of the truthfulness of a specific principle. Especially those who have made covenants to do so.

    Ether 12:6 "Wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith."

    The gospel is not an a la carte menu, although we do invite all to worship and fellowship with us, regardless of their conversion to the whole of it. As those who have taken the name of Christ upon us, we are obligated to follow the counsel of His anointed.

    (Look out...here come some rhetorical questions :D) Should a baptized member only pay tithing once he or she receives a testimony of it? Should our young men and women only obey the law of chastity once they have received a testimony of it? Should I only be honest with my fellow men and obey the word of wisdom once the Holy Ghost has spoken to me verifying they are in fact commandments from God?

    Once we have received a testimony of Jesus Christ, and that He restored His church through the Prophet Joseph Smith, then at once we should endeavor to follow His prophet today, receiving continuing confirmation precept by precept by the power of the Holy Ghost, but obeying immediately nonetheless.

    Harold B. Lee: “You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may conflict with your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life … Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow … Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church.” (Conference Report, October 1970, p. 152–153.)

    Ezra Taft Benson: "How we respond to the words of a living prophet when he tells us what we need to know, but would rather not hear, is a test of our faithfulness." ("14 Fundamentals of Following the Prophet", Ensign, June 1981).

    You and the others who are part of this movement have every legal right to decide to not follow the prophet, but don't pretend that it's some kind of brave, noble act authorized by God that fits within the confines of the gospel. We have the right to question. We have the right to doubt. But we do not have authorization to disobey. Stop steadying the ark, my friend. You have too many talents, you are too smart, and I believe that inside your testimony is too strong, to fight against the Lord's anointed and kick against the pricks. We need you as a soldier moving the work of the Lord forward, as I've seen you do in the past.

    1. I personally believe that members should not have to pay tithing, follow the law of chastity, etc. until they have received a spiritual witness of it. I don't really care if members do follow those rules without a testimony, though.

      The problem I have with your comment is your word "disobey." No one in Ordain Women is disobeying. When they weren't allowed into the Priesthood Session on October 5th, they didn't storm the building and demand to be let in. They waited in line where they were told to, asked nicely, and then left when they were asked to. Asking questions is not disobeying. Making your cause public is not disobeying. Taking a stand on issues that make other members uncomfortable is not disobeying. Believing that one day women will be ordained is not disobeying. I believe even criticizing the church, its policies, and its leadership isn't disobeying (though I would encourage respectful discourse).

      Lets see you stand up for an unpopular opinion against your family, friends, and almost entire religious community and leadership with only a few people who support you. Then you can decide whether or not it's a noble act. (And no, being LDS does not count. I've been LDS all my life, even in areas where most people hadn't heard of Mormons, and it has never been as hard as supporting Mormon feminism.)

      Finally, I find your last comments rude. Who are you to tell someone else what to do?

    2. You really don't think members should be expected to keep the commandments regardless of whether they've received spiritual confirmation of the specific commandment? What of faith? What of Ether 12:6? What of the quotes from prophets I included above? Are you saying they should be able to do that and still be considered "worthy" to participate in ordinances, or be members in good standing if the broken commandment were serious enough to warrant church discipline? "It's okay bishop - I haven't received spiritual confirmation of the law of chastity, so I can still go to the temple." Of course people are free to make choices, but if they've made covenants to keep God's law, then there are consequences for breaking them. Seriously, this train of thought blows my mind. Sorry if that's rude.

      Regarding the word "disobey" - I'm referring to the hypothetical Brad references regarding if the Prophet were to explicitly say that he's received an answer from God that women were not to be ordained to the priesthood. He said his response would be essentially to ignore the proclamation, because "prophetic announcement is insufficient to settle a question," and continue to speak against the Brethren. If that is not disobedience, I don't know what is. And assuming you've received your endowment (not sure if you have), I would be careful saying that criticizing the Lord's anointed isn't disobeying.

      I'm sorry if you disagree with my belief that speaking out against the Church isn't a noble act. It may be difficult to do, but in no way do I find it noble. Lots of people in history have done difficult things that weren't noble.

      Lastly, regarding your assertion that I'm being rude. First of all, I care little if you consider my statement rude. I've been called much worse. Regardless, I consider Brad one of my best friends - a brother even. I've taken tough advice from him in the past, and it's not the first time I've given him tough advice. Sometimes a friend needs to tell his friend that he's got a giant booger hanging out of his nose. I've appreciated him pointing out my boogers, and feel he and I have the relationship where I can point out the boogers I'm seeing hanging out of his nose. But thanks for policing that for us. Admittedly, I do find your rhetorical question ironic considering the topic of discussion.

    3. To exercise faith requires a confirmation - it requires knowledge. Faith isn't blind choosing. Otherwise you could exercise as much 'faith' in your decision that it's God's will for you to pay tithing as you could in deciding that it's His will for you to maximize your sexual partners.

      One should *not* follow someone, anyone, prophet or otherwise, without a confirmation that doing so is the Lord's will, particularly in topics that seem suspect to the you. That's how Satan leads people astray.

      You misunderstand faith.

  3. Hey Brad, you had some great thoughts. But I'm a little disappointed that you didn't really answer the question. What would the supporters and leaders of Ordain Women do if God said the answer was "no"?

    One of the leaders, Hannah, has already answered that question, and I agree with her. Answer, among many others, here: http://www.reddit.com/r/mormon/comments/1nr22n/ama_ordain_women_organizer_hannah_wheelwright/

    Essentially what she said is that she would accept a "no," but then continue to find other ways to achieve full equality within the church (especially as it pertains to leadership). They would continue to look for answers.

    That to me sounds like someone who is following the prophet.

    I'm also wondering what that guy in your OP means when he says "the priesthood isn't inward-looking." Are men never allowed to be introspective regarding the priesthood? If it's not inward-looking, why do men need worthiness interviews before receiving it? I'm always so confused when people make statements like this. It makes me think that the church membership as a whole is confused about the nature of the priesthood, and really only understands its authority.

  4. In regards to the response to what Hannah said. I don't believe that accepting a "no" and continuing to find other ways to achieve full equality within the church is really accepting the prophetic answer which was given. If I recall correctly there is a very commonly used saying or quote in the church that goes something like this, "When the Prophet speaks, the debate is over."

  5. When I think about genders and the priesthood, I think about the Garden of Eden. In our Pearl of Great Price class, we went over the two trees that stand out in the garden. They were compared to the human race, man and woman. Through the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which represented woman, life is given. Through the Tree of Life, represented by man, blessings are given. It is by woman that we have our existence through Eve, and by man, even Christ that we may have the blessing of eternal life. It is my personal belief that the priesthood is gender specific. Just my two cents.


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