In a well publicized pre-emptive move, the church issued a statement last week that women seeking tickets to the April 5 Priesthood session would be relegated to the “free speech zone,” traditionally the purview of anti-Mormon protesters. Kate Kelly, founder of the group Ordain Women, was characteristically gracious in her reply. From the article:
“We are disappointed that we weren’t granted tickets,” says Kate Kelly, one of the founders of Ordain Women. “But it is a positive step that public affairs is responding to us, indicating that one day maybe the higher authorities will be able to hear our concerns.”
As a faithful life-long member and a returned missionary, she hastened to point out how jarring it was to be grouped with the church’s opponents. The Ordain Women movement seeks ordination as a signal of their faithfulness and commitment.
“We have nothing in common with those people,” says Kelly, who served an 18-month mission for the faith. “They are seeking to destroy the church. We are not against the church — we ARE the church.”
The Tribune article provides PR spokeswoman Jessica Moody’s response:
A “large majority” of Mormon women do not share Ordain Women’s “advocacy for priesthood ordination for women,” church spokeswoman Jessica Moody wrote Monday to the group’s organizers, and such activism “detracts from the helpful discussions” that the LDS Church is having with others on women’s issues.
Sister Moody is doubtless referring to research done by David Campbell and Robert Putnam for the book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (published in 2010). They found that all sects surveyed favored female ordination except for Mormonism. Among Mormons, though, they found a large gender divide: only 10% of women favored female ordination, but 48% of men supported it. It made me wonder what’s driving that gap, but it also made me wonder how many men actually feel called to the Priesthood, called to minister and care for the flock. After all, nobody asked them; the majority were simply ordained at age 12 and have been in the Priesthood ever since. Perhaps the percentages would be around the same as how many women feel “called” to the priesthood. After all, in other faiths that do not have a lay clergy, not everyone becomes a priest or pastor, only those who feel “called” to it.
Perhaps an apt comparison is female missionary service. When it is not compulsory, strongly encouraged or convenient to serve a mission, what percentage of members serve one? What percentage feel “called” to it? Based on the female to male ratio in my mission in the late 1980s, roughly 10% of women heard and answered that call. We weren’t all mustachio’d spinsters. In my and many other sisters’ cases, we felt called to the work despite it being an inconvenience. The idea of serving filled us with enthusiasm. We knew deeply in our bones that we had a work to do, that a mission was where we belonged; we were committed. We weren’t there due to social pressure, to get a car, to become more marriageable upon return, or to avoid disappointing our parents. I left behind a serious relationship to serve as did many of my companions; a mission is not a consolation prize for the lovelorn.
It’s one reason why, although I don’t particularly feel called to the Priesthood in general, I certainly understand those faithful women who say they do and see how it is evidence of their commitment. I know that feeling very well. I also know what it’s like to have people question why you feel called, assuming that this was your Plan B, not something you actually felt compelled to do. Perhaps those who question the motives of those who would volunteer for service simply don’t feel called themselves. And perhaps that is true for some critics of the Ordain Women movement; not having felt their own “calling,” they don’t as easily recognize it in others.
I was having lunch a few months ago with my previous boss, who is not LDS. She and I both left our high ranking executive positions last summer. She was explaining to me that she was going to enter the seminary to get her divinity degree. Although we had both been leaders of thousands of employees for decades, in our different ways, we had also always felt a spiritual calling, something we had often discussed despite our differences in religion. For me, it has been to advise others who struggle, to help people find room in their hearts for spiritual endeavors in addition to taking personal responsibility for their growth when facing doubts, to be a sounding board to those who need one.
When she told me about her plans, I initially assumed she wanted to lead a congregation because leadership comes so naturally to her, and women do lead congregations in her church. She demurred, stating that while she feels called, it’s to write books, to tour and give sermons in India and China, not to serve in a pastoral position; she felt that for whatever reason, female pastors just didn’t “work” as well as male pastors, or at any rate, she didn’t feel it was her calling. While I’m not sure I agree with her about female pastors, I tend to think one’s calling in life differs from person to person.  I’ve seen enough male bishops who were not great at pastoral care to know that while many may be chosen to fill that role, not all are called. And yet, in Mormonism, we don’t generally use the term “calling” to mean something voluntary, an effort driven by an internal compulsion. To us, a calling is a duty, an obligation to serve in whatever capacity we are asked, to the best of our ability.
I have long had a vision (or maybe a fantasy) of myself as a mission president, assisting the elders and sisters in their work the way my own president did for us when I served. Realistically, I see that role is difficult, inconvenient, often unpleasant, putting one’s life on hold, dealing with the gamut of human experience closely day in and out, yet it also plays to my strengths: motivating people, organizational dynamics, making tough decisions, listening and advising. Only in my twilight waking moments when I forget that I’m barred from such service by virtue of my sex does that dream feel possible and real. I have never felt a similar “calling” to be in charge of the YW, the Primary, or even the Relief Society (nor to any of the other male offices such as bishop or Stake President). Missionary work is the thing that charges my soul.
This is similar to what a calling is to other faiths: an internal awareness of one’s desire to serve in a specific capacity that matches internal talents and passions with the needs of the church or the world at large. For many Mormon women, that’s the type of calling we have been mostly taught to ignore and swallow since our youth when we first realized we would not be permitted to fulfill those feelings. Given our “duty” approach to calling, there are doubtless many men who have also learned to suborn such feelings to duty.
What is the result of our current gender-restricted Priesthood? One result is that we must dig deep into the male-only talent pool while ignoring completely the female talent pool. When we dig that deeply, we are not always putting our best people at the helm, particularly at local levels where there are many rotating leadership roles to fill. Some leaders get burned out from their efforts to balance their personal and church commitments and others are simply not suited to pastoral care, lacking the requisite interpersonal skills. I recall one example in my mission when I had an investigator who was ready to be baptized. My companion and I didn’t have the authority to perform the ordinance, so I asked one of the elders if he would do it. His reply was somewhat shocking; he didn’t “feel like getting wet” that day. Why then was he on a mission? Because his stepfather said he would buy him a car if he went.  Making Priesthood compulsory means we get 100% of the men, whether they are suited or not, whether they want to be there or not. If leadership is chosen from the top (excluding at minimum – along with all females and children – those who are unworthy, unwilling, inactive, unstable, or unknown), restricting to adult males only means that we are only considering at best ~30% of our members in filling those roles . To fill all the leadership roles to run a ward and a stake while only considering 30% means we will dig fairly deeply into that spiritual talent pool.
Is it any wonder that nearly half of men in the church would like to share the burden of Priesthood with the sisters? Some male critics of Ordain Women reveal their resentment toward their own gender-restricted duties, in the same way anti-feminists do when they they complain that women shouldn’t have equal rights until they are equally eligible for the draft; these folks would imply that women are weak from their light duty and that men are in fact more oppressed by the church’s requirements of them because more is expected of them. While it’s true that sexism hurts everyone, their ire is misplaced when they attack women who are eager to increase their capacity to serve through ordination. Most men in the church also see the results of digging deep to find leaders among the men; while we are all grateful to those who take up the mantle of leadership even if they fall short (and everyone does), we recognize that some are better suited than others, and a handful are ill-suited indeed.
Increasingly, Mormon men see that there are many intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate, strategic, creative, caring, organized, wise, spiritual leaders who happen to have been born female. This will only increase as more women serve missions, picking up the workload side by side with their brothers in the gospel. While I don’t personally feel called to the Priesthood  (at least not to the version we have now), it’s impossible to listen to amazing women like Kate Kelly and Neylan McBaine and not acknowledge that we have some incredible female talent and spirituality that is systemically underutilized in our current structure.
 A vocational aptitude test I took in high school recommended I become a rabbi. Instead I became a corporate executive with a heart of gold.
 About a year later, this elder did have a fairly amazing conversion experience. Obviously, a mission did him some good, which is one of the main points to a mission: improving the lives of the missionaries themselves. I’m glad there was a happy ending.
 Assuming women, children and teens constitute ~70% of the total membership. This estimate would obviously vary from ward to ward, but I can’t think of a ward in which adult men outnumber adult women and children.
 Aside from my mission president fantasy.