Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 2.

[You can find the whole series here.]
In the last part, I noted some parallels between certain Christian traditions (particularly Catholicism) and Mormonism. I’m not trying to argue anything about whether Mormons are “Christians” in some technical sense and I’m not going to address that here. Last time I mentioned some social factors that play into ordination of women.

During the ERA era (you see what I did there), there were more parallels between Catholics and Mormons. How much, for example has feminism touched the lives of typical Latter-day Saint women or women in Catholic parishes? It’s not at all unusual to see a woman in a Latter-day Saint pulpit (such as they are). But how would it affect the average Catholic wife, say, never mind her husband, if she suddenly saw a woman in the church/cathedral pulpit, playing a truly leading role in the parish? How would this work in a Mormon congregation? “Welcome to our ward, I’m sister Jensen, first counselor in the bishopric. Bishop Huxley has asked that I conduct this meeting.” It was certainly the case that Mormon women were divided over the ERA but it seems like there was a large segment of Mormon women who mobilized to oppose the passage of the ERA in the Mormon Corridor. They didn’t want it, and the scary predictions about a Huxley-future, had some real traction among Mormons and Catholics alike. Today, I think there is still a wide geography-driven difference in the way Mormon women (and men) see a future female priesthood. And would John Smith feel comfortable disclosing his recent sexual peccadillo to a female bishop? What is the, can I say real world, parity here with a women confessing sin to a male bishop? Does a female priest require already some kind of economic and social equality between men and women? And how does this play out in the Global South say, or for that matter perhaps the southeastern US?

Among the social concerns, fears even, about a female priesthood are the background sexual issues. There is a real yet to be processed male identity thing here. Personally, in theory at least, I don’t have any reservations about my bishop being a woman. But I fancy that in practice I might find some situations uncomfortable. Would a typical Mormon women find things like that in her developing mental adjustment to the same thing? What about folks who find such a change shattering? That’s not an empty issue and it has played a large role in the internal construction of LDS policy in the past. “Will this blow a lot of people’s minds if we do this?” Think of the first three verses of the Word of Wisdom. They’re policy, not part of the revelation text until the 1876 edition. Thanks Orson! They’re a kind of retraction of the actual revelation that follows. For Catholics there are other interesting challenges in the same area. One of these is the celibate clergy. This is not going to change anytime soon, at least that is my guess. What do we think of celibate women in this context? What about celibate men and celibate women working closely in parish affairs, I mean really closely—it’s inevitable some would fall in love, right? To say nothing of the internal politics—and of course there are scandals even now.[1] In the Mormon world, we would see married women as counselors to married men and vice versa. With all the current fear-driven male-female segregation in church function (no sorry, we can’t ride together to stake meetings in Memphis without a chaperone–in fact we can’t pile into the car to go down to the McDonalds during the break in the meetings) how is that going to work? Bishoprics all female or all male? I’m just wondering out loud here.

In the next part I want to look at a few more social issues before diving into a little theology.

[1] I’m leaving out the other many Catholic scandals over protection of pedophile priests.


  1. In graduate school someone asked a well respected professor if countries adopting democracy and capitalism were destined to have many of their (presumably anti democratic but still cherished) cultures and traditions erode – his answer was a simple “yes.” Basically we can’t have it both ways.

    Similarly, I believe that with a male and female priesthood we’ll have more sexual mistakes, but as someone famous once said “there is no other way.”

    Also, about confessing sins to a woman – I guess men will finally understand how uncomfortable it is to have someone of the opposite sex sitting in judgement.

  2. I have listened in to too many conversations about Priesthood and men, and women, about parallels and differences, about temple practices, and whether women want priesthood, and on and on. (Child bearing vs priesthood–is one compensatory for the other? What an awfully wrong-footed discussion!) In reaction, I have taken to professing that I want my next bishop to be an African American woman, and since I have the person in mind I can imagine and think through all the correlative adjustments and celebrate the idea without reservation.

  3. “but as someone famous once said “there is no other way.””

    Of course there is. It’s the way we’re doing it now. The people who stress over the topics just don’t understand that.

  4. I know this is a crazy idea….but what if, when men and women are working together (in church or society), or when they are friends, that, I dont know, they act like adults and deal with feelings if/when they come up? Isnt part of maturity managing one’s emotions in a way that is congruent with their values? I’m not saying this is easy, but it’s part of our responsibility, no?

  5. Jennifer, it is. But I think we have been following this trajectory launched by and before the Reformation: sex is the key sin of sins and we can’t trust anybody with it.

  6. Yes, I get it. Sexual sin messes up individuals, families, and faith communities. I know this better than most (google my name if you need details). I’ve got skin in this game. And yet, over reacting to the possibility of sexual sin by never allowing men and women to work side by side is a problem of a different kind because it reinforces the wrong idea that we are destined to act on any random sexual or romantic feeling.

  7. I’m going to agree with everyone. I believe adults dealing with feelings, acknowledging that sex is all the time a present issue, teaching adolescents the same, and promoting mature open consensual relationships, ultimately leads to better sociality and less inappropriate or out of place sex. But less and better is not zero and perfect. I believe the Acquinas-motivated Christian tradition insists on the false promise of zero and perfect and (for example) tries for abstinence-only sex education. And I believe this is something we need to address and grapple with as we think through what fully including women in church administration will mean. Because we have to get there.

  8. Make and female clergy turning to intimacy would be the least concerning, equal footed affair. Much more appropriate than, say, a male bishop and the wife of another man who probes her about sexual conduct.

  9. I remember a story by a then 25 year old Branch President Carlfred Broderick about when he objected during a Q&A in a stake meeting, saying:

    Elder Kimball, could you explain to us how it is that you trust us enough to call us as priesthood leaders and Relief Society presidents but not enough to drive together unchaperoned to a church meeting?

    He looked at me mildly over his glasses “Is it your thought then, President, that we just sit in Salt Lake City and make up these rules?”

    I could sense somehow that I had lost the initiative in the exchange. I replied “Well I guess so, more or less.”

    “Oh no,” he said gravely, “we came to that rule only after we had lost a few bishops and Relief Society presidents.”

    “In the CHURCH?” I blurted.

    He just smiled sadly at me and asked for the next question.

  10. The first female office worker was put in a separate room so the male clarks would not be distracted. Now men and women work together. This was only 140 years ago.
    Could this really be a reason to keep women from having the priesthood? If there is a bishop and 2 councillors, surely that provides a chaprrone?
    This sounds like an excuse to me.

  11. nobody, really says:

    I grew up in a ward where it was the Elder’s Quorum President and the Relief Society President. She was eventually rebaptized, he left his wife and five kids and moved in with an 18-year old employee. I’m not sure it had anything to do with driving to the stake center together, though.

    I can’t even begin to count the number of times we haven’t had both counselors present. I still don’t think it’s a reason – but there is a fundamental distrust of members on the part of upper church leadership. If you ever think leadership trusts you, just think back to your latest “ministering interview”. We’ve been advised in stake leadership meetings to ask trick questions – like ask how the daughters are doing when you know that Sister Never-Attends only has two sons.

  12. it's a series of tubes says:

    We’ve been advised in stake leadership meetings to ask trick questions – like ask how the daughters are doing when you know that Sister Never-Attends only has two sons.


  13. nobody, really says:

    I’ll explain.

    I attended a stake leadership meeting where the entire Ministering program was covered. The training included a little “role-play” routine where an EQP was conducting a ministering interview with a member of the Elder’s Quorum. “So, how are Sister Smith’s daughters doing?” (Oh, they seem to be doing okay.) “Look, Sister Smith doesn’t have daughters. She has two sons who haven’t been active in years. I suspect you aren’t ministering to her at all.” Encouragement to discuss the oath and covenant of the Priesthood was advised, along with the specific instructions “Sometimes you have to ask some trick questions to see if the visits are actually taking place.”

    And yes, I’m feeling rather bitter today. I spent eight hours yesterday traveling to, attending, and returning from a meeting that didn’t need to be held because the entire thing was a video presentation about how to have a video presentation on the new youth program later this month. It’s like they eliminated an hour of Sunday meetings and thought that gave them the right to the entire day.

  14. I am reminded of a story a wife of a former bishop related. Her bishop husband was meeting with a very beautiful divorced woman that evening. Ufraid and unable to stop herself, she snuck outside the window of his office to watch, just to make sure nothing happened.
    Is it a problem just of the bishops or for their spouses as well?

  15. Any church members who ran off together were likely to be lost regardless of church rules. The church should accept that. I refuse to believe that would be the source of the problem. If a little bit of male and female interaction is resulting in such devastating decisions the church should figure what needs to change such that there can be interactions without devastating decisions.
    I think the first step should be removing the requirement of Priesthood from the Sunday School presidency, and let it be mixed gender.

  16. That is zactly right Jennifer. We are here to learn love through the excercise of agency. Loved you June post on touch and the temple, very relevant to this discussion in someways

  17. Nobody really, ah yes the trick question ploy… yes yes very clever (imagine an Inspector Cloussesu voice)
    I hope that was just a misguided eqp and not a curricula thingy

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