Mormon Prophet Thomas S. Monson could have women stripped naked and burned at the stake in Temple Square and his followers would call it a great advance for the daughters of God.
Well, Jess and I would like to say:
Women have never received the Priesthood and never will.
This week, the LDS Church released more of their controversial Gospel Topics essays, this time about women (the fluffy chromosome-complex help-meets that rolled off the line 6,000 years ago with the help of a talking snake and the ushering in of sin, labor pain, menstruation, and death.)
In the past, the Mormon Hegemony has used this forum to confess to controversial facts in its past like Joseph Smith’s contradicting accounts of how he saw God (though they claim that the accounts do not conflict) and that Smith was a polygamist who married other men’s wives and married teenage girls including one “a few months before her fifteenth birthday” (a crude layperson like you or I might say: “fourteen”.)
This time, they made two non-announcements that change everything: Mormon women are daughters of a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father and they have never received the Priesthood and never will.
While a chorus of unorthodox Mormons say:
poor handmaidens to God who are just grateful to be invited to this eternal party
To catch you up to speed: some Mormons want their Church to ordain women to the Priesthood, a privilege that every Mormon man gets. The Priesthood in Mormonism is considered a mystical power of stewardship over the Church, families and the eternal order of the Gods with special powers and offices (or ranks) and privileges that make men natural leaders over women, who are expected to be subservient in Mormon culture in no small part because they do not “hold the Priesthood”.
Other Mormon women claim to not desire rights to the Priesthood, succumbing to the rhetoric that they are poor handmaidens to God who are just grateful to be invited to this eternal party.
you and I may be born to different “Heavenly Mothers”
In one essay, “Mother In Heaven”, they made the announcement that our Heavenly Father (“Ahman” or “Elohim”) has a wife that he makes spirit-babies with and who is our Heavenly Mother, which most Mormons already know. What else most Mormons know is that Mormon prophets of yesteryear have also taught that God is a polygamist and so you and I may be born to different “Heavenly Mothers” and so spiritual half-siblings more than siblings. The essay does not weigh in on this and when the Church has publicly addressed this question, they try to carefully use verbiage like “each [person] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents” which neither confirms nor denies the “spiritual half-sibling” doctrine.
The essay repeats this ambiguous rhetoric:
“Men and women cannot be exalted without each other. Just as we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said, ‘Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.'”
Notably, the Church still infantalizes the mysterious celestial Matron by inferring in the article that whoever She is, Her identity is sacred enough that her Priesthood-wielding God-Husband protects it from us vile sinners so that we will not “take Her name in vain” like we do to Him.
But let us state what should be obvious, here: if “Heavenly Mother” remains a mystery to everyone – including the Prophets – then there is no reason not to presume some pretty misogynistic shit about Her – like that She can’t be trusted to govern the cosmos “periodically” depending on Kolob’s lunar calendar.
At least blasphemy is taking claims about someone (who is unlikely to exist) at face-value, where claims about the existence and nature of Someone even more mysterious than God is, at worst, just speculation.
What we see a doubling-down on, here, is that if a Heavenly Mother needs safety, then her masculine celestial Counterpart provides protection and that is what this doctrine boils down to: women’s needs only being filled by men and the fact that if a man didn’t give it to her, then she doesn’t need it.
No news there, but that one is only meant to be a distraction, anyway.
the Church man-splains a misunderstood historical anecdote
In the other essay, “Joseph Smith’s Teachings About Priesthood, Temple and Women”, the Church man-splains a misunderstood historical anecdote that is used by Ordain Women, the organization founded by now-Ex-Mormon feminist Kate Kelly to petition God’s vicars for approval to ordain women to the Priesthood.
The historical example in question is a situation in which Joseph Smith is said to have “ordained” women to an order of the Priesthood, including with “keys” to the Priesthood, all of which “keys” are only held by one man at a time.
“Bill Maher would say: “And by men, I mean people with penises.”)
The Church makes easy work of this one:
“During the 19th century, Latter-day Saints used the term keys to refer at various times to authority, knowledge, or temple ordinances. Likewise, Mormons sometimes used the term ordain in a broad sense, often interchangeably with set apart and not always referring to priesthood office. On these points, Joseph’s actions illuminate the meaning of his words: neither Joseph Smith, nor any person acting on his behalf, nor any of his successors conferred the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood on women or ordained women to priesthood office.”
if women serve in the Church it is by temporary assignment from men who give her just enough power to function in a role assigned to her by a man.
The Church addresses other claims about Joseph Smith’s approval of rumors of women reportedly being able to faith-heal without Priesthood ordinations, while reminding readers that a “prayer of faith” is not exclusively a Priesthood function though giving “blessings to administer to the sick and afflicted” is and so is reserved for men who hold office in the Melchizedek or “higher” Priesthood.
Like faith-healing, women who serve in quasi-ecclesiastical functions in the Church (called “Church auxiliaries” inside the Mormon echo chamber) serve at the behest of and in manifestation of the tolerance of men. A woman who is called to function in an official role in the Church is called by a man and “set apart” by the laying on of hands of men, even if she is selected for the role by a personal revelation given to a woman (as in the case of counselors to the women’s and children’s ministries).
And there is no mistaking which “auxiliaries” the women belong to. Technically, the General Sunday School Presidency is also an Auxiliary (as opposed to an all-male Priesthood “quorum” like the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) and yet that Presidency is and to the best of my knowledge has always been made up of men.
But the function of women in the Church is restricted to the Relief Society (the women’s ministry), Primary (the children’s ministry) and the Young Women Program. New roles have recently been made where women can advise men in their rightful roles but again these women are selected for their position and set apart to that position by their male superiors and have no authority to give orders nor to receive official inspiration to give to anyone.
The infantilizing is again hard to mistake here, as the Church repeats again that the Priesthood is only used to serve and that if women serve in the Church it is by temporary assignment from men who give her just enough power to function in a role assigned to her by a man.
priestesses to the Most High God
The one place where “women get the Priesthood” carries heft in the Mormon Church, is in the secret Mormon “Temple Endowment” ceremony, in which men and women covenant to become “kings and queens, priests and priestesses to the Most High God”.
Normally, no public-facing document refers to this ceremony with any level of detail but in this case, the Male Leadership has deemed it worthy to wink at the cone of silence and talk circumstantially about Joseph Smith receiving revelations relevant to the ordinance.
But the revelation does not define what “priestesses to the Most High God” do and the Church essay does not shed more light on the subject, leaving us to the same speculation that we labored under before. The whole thing is reminiscent of the Donald answering questions about important subjects with “we’re going to look at that and it’s going to be great.”
And yet, the Mormons rejoice that the Church has taken its spotlight and shined on the faithful and patient sister-saints.
The Church-owned Deseret News gave their overlords unsurprising rave reviews:
“Approved by the First Presidency, the essays describe the enormous contributions women have made to gospel ministry since the earliest days of the church. Many LDS women and scholars were encouraged by their publication, calling them important contributions and a step forward.”
And the bloggernacle has taken the cue that they are supposed to love the shit out of women being graciously bestowed with attention, like this quote from the blog post by churchistrue.com
“The essay on priesthood and women. Boom! Holy Smokes. I am taking this as a loud and clear message that we will see change in the future.”
The confirmation bias is so strong…
They are battening down the hatches, people!
Look, here’s the skinny: the Mormon Church is experiencing a mass exodus of Ex-Mormons and that necessarily is going to mean a depletion of their former glorious income of nearly US$7 billion annually in tithing money. So they have been buying up real estate and securities and building shopping malls to play their Monopoly-money game because THEY ARE BATTENING DOWN THE HATCHES, PEOPLE!
If they are worried about losing more tithes in the offering plate, this was their moment to make a progressive move and they didn’t. If you’re waiting around for the Mormon Church to decide that they can change their position for your sake, you’ll be waiting until long after these three new apostles are dead and buried.
Joe Rawlins is the author of The Korihor Argument: A Missionary’s Journey Out of Mormonism.