Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 9

[You can find the whole series here.]
Blueprint ecclesiology is one of the arguments put forward by some denominations (including TCJCoLDS). I want to look at a couple of others that might be useful but are more friendly to possible ordination of women. I’m not trying to be exhaustive, largely because I’m sure I can’t do it or I’ve forgotten stuff that could be said.

First, Quasi-Blueprint ecclesiology. Here, parts of the building (ecclesial structure) are provided in terms of “God has left some instructions but not comprehensive ones.” The criteria for adjustment/existence are “usefulness without harm” and, “the will of God/the Spirit.” What can this mean? More pointedly, what can the will of Christ mean if we aren’t referencing a detailed blueprint left behind by Jesus (or in the case of Mormons, within their larger canon)? It is true that early Mormons were quite sensitive to the notion of blueprint since they were very careful, initially, not to go beyond the Book of Mormon designators in the early Moroni chapters. That went by the board fairly quickly however. Moreover, I don’t believe that LDS have ever lacked for careful even temporary creativity in ecclesiology (think Seventy, First Council of Seventy, Assistants to the Twelve, lone Apostles, Regional Representatives, Executive Administrators, area presidencies, high priest group leaders, traveling bishops, stake bishops, temple presidents, temple matrons, and so on and so forth). History and sociology have played a role in the development of church structures, especially say in the early post apostolic program of bishops and the college of presbyters that emerged at the end of the first century modeled on Jesus and his disciples. This is far more subtle than blueprint ecclesiology.

The strength of quasi-blueprint ecclesiology is that it takes from the strength of blueprint ecclesiology but adds a flexibility to circumstance not present in the latter. On the one hand, the age long custom of ordaining only males might be beyond the pale for some practitioners of quasi-blueprint. But perhaps the breaking of obviously human barriers of origin, race, and rank is only complete when the barrier of sex is broken in priesthood lines. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Maybe.

There is one aspect of this that might give one pause. When Jesus came to earth, he came as a male. Word made male flesh. Priesthood office is often characterized by thinking that the officer stands in for Christ in various acts (in the sacraments, say). Perhaps we can attach the maleness of Christ to humanity in general. Human biology generally (not uniformly, but generally) divides along one sex or the other, not both or neither. If the theology of priest as Christ puts primary stress on SEX then maleness is a tripwire for female ordination. However, if one sees Jesus as continuing mediator for Humanity then possibly a priesthood of both males and females is a better symbol of universal redemption. There is room for reasonable disagreement here if the bludgeon of blueprint ecclesiology is off the table.

I think I’ll stop here and finish up this line of thought in the next post.

Comments

  1. The “will of God” argument is extra slippery in LDS tradition, in my opinion. We have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of “will of God” going forward and “policy for a time” looking backward. I find it hard to believe that anybody with a few decades of experience that includes explaining a new program and forgetting a displaced program can take comfort in any one pattern being the eternal right way.

    On the other hand, I think Mormonism’s embodied gendered fixed place and time Godhead makes the maleness of the Christ figure extraordinarily powerful in LDS imagination about ordination and about women’s role generally. Frankly, as a lifelong male in a lifelong LDS tradition I struggle to see how women find a place for themselves in the vision. Bearing and nurturing children . . . and then what? (This has been a spur to my rejecting most standard Mormon mythology, tbh, so I am a suspect character in this discussion from the beginning.)

    The flip side is that the creative and enlivening theological work some women (especially) have done to carve out a place for women in the Restoration may be the salvation of the whole project. I hardly even know names, so more as a question than answer, my impression is that work generally does not reject a gendered godhead but expands on the model? Perhaps you’re going there (WVS) but at least some of your interlocutors and co-bloggers can probably fill in.

    [Since I’m showing my cards a little, I will add that I think this discussion is absolutely critical. An existential matter. I think without a path to full recognition and participation for women in the present and in the vision of the heavens, the Restoration project started by Joseph Smith fails in the end. I could say this about race and about LGBTQ distinctions as well, but (to riff on President McKay) I do believe that no success in other matters can compensate for failure on the gender front.]

  2. Christian,

    > “Frankly, as a lifelong male in a lifelong LDS tradition I struggle to see how women find a place for themselves in the vision.”

    I get it…but it makes me a little sad. I chose this life for myself. If ordination were something worth clinging to, I never would have given mine up (It took me a decade of work and a Masters in Divinity to obtain!) I’m new enough in all of this to still claim and outsider’s perspective, and to me all the pining for women’s ordination is a bit misplaced. You can ordain me, or not ordain me, it doesn’t matter. Ordination, in and of itself, is unfulfilling. It says nothing about my character or how I minister to the world, or how I repent of my own personality flaws. The same can be said for men’s ordination, by the way. I know priesthood holders that I wouldn’t trust to walk me across the street, And I know others I would trust with my life. The fact of ordination is of no automatic consequence.

  3. Jennifer, I only know the newspaper (and now Facebook!) parts of your story, but it’s obviously remarkable. I’m glad you have found a path that works and you are obviously making your own decisions and choices. I can celebrate you, along with a number of remarkable women I know even better who have found and are finding a way to thrive in the Mormon tradition. The fact that I see and know the individuals tells me there is a way, for some. Nevertheless I struggle to understand.

    For what it’s worth, ordination seems to me a necessary corollary to the work that needs to be done. Not the main show. The main show starts with repairing a model of heaven that at present has room for straight male patriarchs with a coterie of lesser figures. That’s an intentionally offensive way to say it, and might get this comment booted, but it is not far different from the way I hear others talk. There ARE better models and good thinking and writing on the subject, but I haven’t yet seen them enter the imagination of men who speak in General Conference (for example), or who make decisions about who is in the ‘room where it happens’.

    (I apologize for the thread jack, WVS. I can relate it back, I suppose, to earlier installments that speak of needing a theology to support. That is the right place to start, in my opinion. My concern is that the theology exists if someone wants it, but the desire and implementation are lacking.)

  4. WVS – I too apologize for the thread jack! I suppose I got comfortable here :-)
    CK – I appreciate your perspective here, and elsewhere so much. You’re asking the right questions. I don’t know what the answers are, but I’m glad you’re asking them.

  5. Jennifer, While I agree with you for my own life on the relative lack of importance of ordination, and while I know a number of other Mormon men and women who agree with you, I suspect the concern of/for others for ordination of women may be a result of the connections in at least 19th century Mormon “theology” and culture (still persisting in many but not all ways) among ordination, “presiding,” ecclesiastical and familial decision making, wives “belonging” to husbands (but not vice versa), exalted wives being priestesses to their husbands rather than to God, obsession with “ruling and reigning” (over others), the notion of priesthood holder as a mediator between God and others, “spirit of discernment” in bishops, and notions of “entitlement” to revelation. Some are concerned about all those connections, not simply about “[o]rdination, in and of itself.” And its not just 19th century. 19th and early 20th century Mormon women had a great deal of autonomy in their Relief Society organization — fund raising, service, assets — that was taken away in mid-20th century.
    Yes, the fact of ordination is of no automatic consequence with respect to one’s character or, in my view, one’s relationship to God. But it is much easier for some than for others to discount the importance of ordination within the Mormon church, Mormon families, and Mormon “theology”. It is easier for those who have not been subjected to unrighteous dominion of priesthood holders and for those who succeed in rejecting or placing in suspension their uncertainty or lack of conviction as to some of those Mormon speculations (or doctrines — whatever) connected to Mormon priesthood. In my experience, e.g., certainty and entitlement to revelation are vastly overrated and often illusory.
    I doubt I’m saying anything here you didn’t already know — as in “I get it…but it makes me [more than] a little sad.”

  6. JR – Yes, thank you. I sometimes forget how much the 19th century vestiges still exist in corners. It’s the convert’s advantage. That, and the fact that I live in a liberal city, with a ward made up of people who also live in a liberal city. I imagine my experience is very different than that of others.

  7. Having written a whole book about Mormon polygamy revelations, I think their, and its, trajectory and associated teaching/preaching is vitally important to understanding this topic. So no real thread jack going on here.

  8. Having read all parts up to 10, in this series, I think that this post best aligns with my current belief in this subject matter. The Priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God here on Earth. When officiating in a Priesthood ordinance, the officiator is the physical substitute for God, because God is not physically there to perform the ordinance Himself. In other words, the officiator is a proxy for God. When we are performing ordinances for the deceased, we are only allowed to be proxy for members of our gender. It’s possible that this tight role between gender and proxy applies to the officiator as well as the one receiving the ordinance.
    This is where my quasi-blueprint theology has lead me. It seems consistent.

  9. Last Lemming says:

    You can ordain me, or not ordain me, it doesn’t matter. Ordination, in and of itself, is unfulfilling. It says nothing about my character or how I minister to the world, or how I repent of my own personality flaws. The same can be said for men’s ordination, by the way. I know priesthood holders that I wouldn’t trust to walk me across the street, And I know others I would trust with my life. The fact of ordination is of no automatic consequence.

    This is the best distillation of Section 121 I have seen. Thanks for that.

  10. The thing is, we tend to make our stories fit what we want them to. If female ordination comes, people will fall over themselves to declare “of course the scripture says that, it was obvious”. If Christ was a woman, we’d have said “see? She didn’t need to be ordained because She was inherently holy. And She obviously put men in charge when She left, so why change it?”

    Part of the cohesiveness of the Members of tCoJSoLDS is the ability to come up with many, many ideas and rationales for our theology, hopefully the best bubbling to the top. More hopefully, we are working to have our ideas influenced and guided by the Holy Spirit, whatever road they take us on.

  11. Jader, you’re essentially making the ontological argument (God is Male, so his representatives need to be Male) and I think it’s the most powerful argument for a Male only priesthood.

    Now, if only we had a Heavenly Mother too…

  12. Frank, you’ve distilled one of the important points of religious studies. Surviving religions are Living religions.

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