Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 6

[You can find the whole series here.]
Continuing from the previous post, I’ll just note that Vatican II had a salutary effect on relations between scholars (at least biblical scholars) and theologians with the Roman Catholic church. Theologians/scholars have some responsibility to see that the Bishops have not opened themselves to theological danger no matter how sensitive the issues. There is a danger to any such covenant however, it arises from the far right and far left. The former see every investigation and study as a threat if it doesn’t conform to their own canonical thought, previous investment, or expression, and from the latter who scorn any serious theology or associated scholarship. Of course, everyone thinks this kind of language names those they oppose.

So back to the main topic. (I’ll admit that I was tempted to follow the tangent of evolution here–but I have resisted.) Let me start with a question: Is it really possible to stop women in the (LDS or other) faith from seeking ordination if they show that there is no divine prohibition against it? There is a factor of initiative here and that has always been vital in change, whether such change acknowledges that initiative or not. Now I am not able to firmly answer the question of divine will. That has to be answered by looking at evidence, and being careful to consider the scholarship on the issue (as I have hopefully communicated above) opening ones mind to prayerfully seeking the counsel of the Holy Spirit—perhaps many times. Past policy in such questions, even doctrinal claims, cannot stand in the way of such things. That path is what led at least in part to the long prohibition against blacks in the temples. My friend’s job of coding and building a retrieval system for First Presidency minutes was useful but in the latter case it may have only served to postpone action since nearly all the references in those minutes just pointed to the policy/doctrine as already settled because so-and-so in a previous generation said it was already settled.

Now I am no scholar of the roles and abilities of women. I don’t know how men should judge things like what a woman should wear to church, though men have been all over such things since Paul. What we really need here are many more women as theologians of Mormonism. Especially women willing to theologize in a framework of cooperation with a strictly male hierarchy. We need, for lack of better term, a women’s quorum of respected advisors who actually are respected and accorded some trust with that respect. For Latter-day Saints, some of this work has been done tangentially in history and documentary editing. The women involved in the Joseph Smith Papers Project have done stellar work there and hopefully that partnership will grow and extend to other venues inside church walls. Outside that project there are many women of credential and ability that might step into the roles I’m describing, if they were asked. That would be a useful quorum.

Next time I want to address some aspects of scripture related to female ordination.

Comments

  1. > What we really need here are many more women as theologians of Mormonism. Especially women willing to theologize in a framework of cooperation with a strictly male hierarchy. We need, for lack of better term, a women’s quorum of respected advisors who actually are respected and accorded some trust with that respect.

    I’m with you on this. But as far as I can tell (granted I have a rather limited perspective) there are not very many women who could truly be called theologians (with all the training in history, languages, and philosophy needed) and who could actually interface effectively with the all male hierarchy. I hope those women are out there, but even the female general authorities don’t fit that description, as far as I can tell. It seems to me that a concentrated effort to raise up such women would be needed. If I’m wrong on this, please tell me because I would be delighted for it not to be true.

  2. On the specific issue of ordaining women, I don’t agree that we need many more women as theologians. To be clear, I do think we need many more women in positions of responsibility and being-listened-to (help me with the right word here?), but I think the case has been made by both men and women on theological, doctrinal, scriptural grounds for ordination, repeatedly, since some time in the 1980s to my personal recollection. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where the arguments and rationales are in some ways distinctive and in some ways the same Hebrew bible and especially New Testament that other Christian traditions follow.

    I think the work that has to be done is two-fold:

    1. A will or interest in change. I think there is genuine doubt–certainly I doubt–whether there is any serious interest or desire to change or move forward on this issue within the highest echelons of the Church and among the majority of members. (Not the members I spend time with with, but the majority who for example vote differently than I do.)

    2. The appropriate ecclesiology–structure and organization for how it would work in the everyday life of the Church. I think that study is sorely absent. I also think it is peculiarly difficult-to-impossible for women to be heard in that conversation, when and if it ever begins. It’s a bootstrapping problem. To work out of a completely male-run power structure, it almost has to be men positing solutions to other men. Awful as it sounds, I think that’s the reality.

  3. I think in the specific case of Mormonism we have a cadre of capable women who could offer important and credible advice—if it was asked for—on the ecclesiology point, I’ll begin to address some issues of ecclesiology next time. Meanwhile, excellent comments.

  4. Capable yes. But asked for and listened to is of course the crux.

    Further, we have severely and artificially restricted the pool of capable people by holding the General Handbook of Instructions close, and by preventing learning by experience. I have been surprised more than once by misunderstandings about the role of a bishop compared to a stake president in practice. For one simple example.

  5. >I think in the specific case of Mormonism we have a cadre of capable women who could offer important and credible advice

    I like how you’re thinking! But the task of the advice-giver is quite a bit different than the task of the theologian. It would feel like an enormous bait-and-switch. The advice-giver is concerned with the practical logistics. Our church has an abundance of women who could fill this role. Throw a stone in any direction and you’ll find 2 dozen of them. This is a wonderful characteristic of the women in our church (in general). But the task of a theologian is to create an internally and externally valid system by which an aspect of faith (in this case women’s ordination) can be placed. The theologian is not concerned with how the results will be plaid out on the ground, but rather the ideas in scripture and history that create a context for an idea to be plaid out. Doing theology is to church life as an architect is to building a home. The foreman (or maybe construction manager) is the advice-giver. 2 very different tasks.

  6. I believe it is only a question of time before the priesthood is extended to all worty members. There is also a cost to credibility for the leaders in delaying. The longer they delay the more of their credibility they spend.
    Revelation or being dragged kicking and screaming.

  7. Roger Terry says:

    As I went to great lengths to explain in a Dialogue article a couple of years ago, if the source of God’s authority over us is, well, us (and it’s hard to argue otherwise, unless we believe he created us out of nothing, which we don’t believe, or that he conducted a hostile takeover of our intelligences and agency, which is unthinkable), then why would God take that authority and share a portion of it (as priesthood) with only half of us? This simply does not compute.

  8. Jennifer Roach, your theologian sounds like a theoretical scientist as opposed to an engineer who applies the science. I am curious about theoretical theology, even the phrase is delicious to say.

  9. It is delicious, isnt it?! But your comment makes me wonder if I am over-romanticizing the role if theologian. Joseph Smith was absolutely a theologian of this type. But he was also a prophet and few theologians have that luxury. But theology has to be at least mostly about theory over logistics….the danger of putting logistics over theory is terrifying.

  10. “I don’t know how men should judge things like what a woman should wear to church, though men have been all over such things since Paul… We need, for lack of better term, a women’s quorum of respected advisors who actually are respected and accorded some trust with that respect.”

    This is true, and yet at the same time, my suspicion is that we already know what such a quorum would by and large look like: not-even-once-club, women-who-know, wrestle-yourself-into-submission, respect-authority, commandments-with-ever-increasing-exactness women. With the occasional Cheiko as a counterpart to the occasional Dieter.

    Moving the focus from patriarchy to internalized issues (whether it’s internalize patriarchy or temperament) may be progress anyway; it may well be freeing for women to have the privilege of discussing the problems of female leadership in the same way men have the privilege of discussing the problems of male leadership.

  11. W, I understand that view but since I’m constructing an ideal, I’ll imagine that a few of those women would be some of my fellow bloggers. The jury model, say.

  12. Roger Terry,

    Asking why God would do anything gets into some real thorny issues. Why would God share the power to create and nurture life with only the other half? To say that priesthood and motherhood are equivalents is, of course, a wildly simplistic view of things, but the only reason we question different roles with respect to priesthood is because it is not an easily observable fact like biology.

  13. I might suggest that we have a goodly number of women who are theologians; they reside largely in academia, or in academia-adjacent professionalized positions. They tend not to be housed within church hierarchy, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there theorizing, contextualizing, poring over the historical record and scriptural texts, and developing rationalized accounts of both the divine and the human.

  14. Our male leaders are not theologians, why do women priesthood leaders need to be?

  15. Geoff, can you name any of them? I’m genuinely curious.

  16. I’m no theologian and I’m not interested in hierarchal power structures or credentials. I’m an intelligent, insightful, hard-working, scripture-reading, Jesus-loving woman disciple. And I’m convinced there are a lot like me – who don’t need to be activists or bloggers or academics – but would answer the call to priesthood office if someone, anyone, in authority had the courage to take this step. Please, God, anyone. Anyone? Bueller? 

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