|Mary Cassatt, Five O'Clock Tea|
I am not a member of Ordain Women. Though I am open to the possibility of women someday receiving the priesthood, I don't see female ordination as the obvious answer to the inequalities women face in the Church. Moreover, I have serious reservations about some of the tactics used by the Ordain Women organization. Nevertheless, I count myself among those who believe that the roles of women in the Church must continue to evolve in a way that promotes equality. I see real, solvable problems in the institutional church regarding women's authority, autonomy, and leadership.
Over the past several days, I have read many comments from women and men adamantly defending the status quo and criticizing those who advocate change. As I struggle to maintain a sense of unity with members of my church whose views are different than mine, I hear in my mind Christ's admonition, "If ye are not one, ye are not mine." I imagine myself having a conversation over a cup of herbal tea with a conservative Mormon woman, a fictional character representing many of the wonderful women I know. I imagine myself speaking honestly and without fear. Here is what I would say.
I have known you for a long time. You teach my son primary songs, you sing with me in the choir, and you sit next to me in Sunday School. You have reached out with genuine love to my non-member husband. You have been patient with my unanswerable questions. You have mourned with me during the terrible days after my father died. You have helped sustain my faith with your love and testimony. I have seen your great capacity for empathy and understanding.
The sacrament meetings, visiting teaching appointments, Relief Society lessons, and acts of service that we have participated in side-by-side have bound us together with hundreds of ties. We have sung the same songs, read the same scriptures, and felt the same Spirit telling us that this is where we belong. I hope that we will not let our differences divide us.
You have told me how happy and fulfilled you are as a woman in the Church. You feel respected, loved, and listened to. Those feelings are real, and I know that you're capable of deciding for yourself what makes you happy. I have heard you express frustration that church members whose views on women and the church are radically different from yours get so much press. That's a fair point, and I hope that your voice is heard. Above all, you have a strong conviction that we have living prophets on the earth today, and you sustain them without reservation. You cherish the belief that they speak for God, and that faith has blessed your life. I honor that.
As I talk about points of disagreement, my purpose is not to persuade you to adopt my paradigm, but rather to explain it clearly. I want you to see my advocacy for women's equality as coming from a place of thoughtfulness, faithfulness, and hope.
Fallibility of Leaders and Changing Doctrine
Much of our disagreement can be traced to differences in how we see prophets, leaders, and church organization. I believe that leaders of the Church, even members of the first presidency and quorum of the twelve, sometimes make mistakes. I believe that the Church is a work in progress, an imperfect approximation of God's will for His kingdom. Inspired leaders receive revelation and process it through a human filter of cultural baggage, prejudices, and preconceptions. Certain ideas that were once taught as doctrine are now de-emphasized, abandoned, and in some cases refuted.
I want you to make room for members who think like me. No, I need you to do more than that. I plead with you to understand that accepting the reality of prophetic fallibility is the only way I can make peace with church history. Acknowledging that prophets make mistakes is uncomfortable, and it is not something I do carelessly or lightly. But it is the only way that I can see past the mountain of discarded and sometimes disturbing prophetic teachings in our not-so-distant history. Please don't push people like me out of the church or marginalize our voices.
You can imagine how this belief in prophetic fallibility might influence my views on church organization and doctrine. I listen to General Conference, and it nourishes me spiritually. I strive to help and sustain my leaders. I am grateful for their service. But in my worldview, it is possible that a teaching or practice that is in conflict with my own conscience might someday change, because it might not reflect the mind of God.
This belief influences my willingness to speak out about my views, even when I sometimes disagree with church leaders. In a recent response to Ordain Women's request to attend the general priesthood meeting, church spokeswoman Jessica Moody referenced the "wonderful conversations . . . relative to women in the Church," and stated that "recent changes . . . were facilitated by the input of many extraordinary LDS women around the world." If the Church really is sincere about seeking input and encouraging productive conversation, then I want to be a part of that. And I don't see how we can have a conversation that facilitates change without actually talking about the positive changes that we would like to see.
This does not mean that I think all criticism is fair game or that all methods of protest are appropriate. I believe that any discussion of thorny issues must be thoughtful, respectful, and mediated by the Spirit. I hope that every member would follow the dictates of their own conscience in how they advocate for change.
This post is the first of three parts. Parts 2 and 3 will discuss specific issues regarding women in the Church.
I welcome you to turn this imaginary conversation into a real one by sharing your thoughts in the comments sections.