Trouble in MormonLand: marginalization of women threatens Church

July 15, 2014 • 12:05 pm

I knew that in 1978 the Mormon leadership, which had previously barred blacks from being priests (Mormons have a lay priesthood, and blacks were allowed to be members but not priests), did a 180°  theological turn. Blacks were suddenly allowed to be priests because of a convenient “revelation” that was experienced by the elders. It happened when the exclusion of blacks was no longer tenable in a democratic egalitarian society, when the Civil Rights Act was already 14 years old, and when the Church was planning to expand into Brazil, ripe territory  for converts but one with a distressing number of un-priestable blacks. (There were few black Mormons in the U.S. before 1978.)  So God apparently changed his mind.

At any rate, I didn’t know until this morning that Mormons still prohibit women from becoming priests. That, too, is untenable, and it’s causing trouble in the Church. The details are given in an op-ed by Mormon writer Cadence Woodland in yesterday’s New York Times, “The end of the ‘Mormon moment.'”

Woodland details some of the embarrassing moments that caught the church with its pants down, exposing its Magic Underwear. One was its support of Prop 8 in California, banning gay marriage. Another was the excommunication of Kate Kelly, a Mormon lawyer who had called for the church to allow women to be priests. She was excommunicated for—get this—apostasy! Has Utah turned into Saudi Arabia now?

Here’s the Mormon position on women priests, taken from the official website of the Mormon Church (“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”):

Screen shot 2014-07-15 at 8.53.55 AM

How nice that they have a pipeline to God’s will!  Of course this is going to have to change, just as the prohibition of priesthood for blacks changed, and then how will they rationalize that given the statement above? Did God change his mind? All the Sophisticated Theologians™ tell me that god doesn’t do that. He has no emotions (despite the wrathful and jealous God of the Old Testament) and he is steadfast and unchangeable (despite process theology).

Mormon women are demanding more equality and more participation in the church. One of them was Woodland, who signed up with Kelly’s “Ordain Women” movement. According to Woodland:

Like Ms. Kelly, I believe that the fundamental structural, cultural and spiritual inequalities Mormon women face can be rectified only if they are ordained as priests.

Well, that’s a non-negotiable demand, but it’s not going to rectify the inequalities—not as long as Mormon women are treated as breeding stock, as so many of them are.  When I was in high school I went out with a Mormon girl, who immediately tried to convert me (on our second date, she took me to her home and her family showed me movies on how great it was to be a Mormon). About a year ago I looked her up on the internet just for fun (the Mormons, you know, are great believers in genealogy), and found that she had nine children!

Woodland wasn’t excommunicated, but she was shunned:

Though I have not been disciplined, I have lost friends, and my views have strained more than one close relationship. I have been lucky to enjoy the unfailing support of my husband, but friends and some family members have cautioned me against my outspoken unorthodoxy. My faith, not just in the good will of church leadership but in the central message of Mormonism, has crumbled. In December, I stopped attending services. I have no plans to return.

But Woodland realizes something that the Church leadership apparently doesn’t: if they buck the tide of modernity, especially of the established view that women and minorities are not inferior to white men, they will lose members. This is what will kill the Catholic Church eventually, though they’re buying time with incursions into South America and Africa.

The lesson is that, in Western society, morality comes from Englightenment values based on secular reason, and the Church simply trails on behind, like a cat dragged on a leash, tugging against social pressures.  If the Church really were a force for good, they wouldn’t have waited until 1978 to allow blacks to be priests (the prohibition, of course, was based on Scripture), and they’d give women full religious equality—NOW. Woodland sees what will happen, though she doesn’t draw the lesson about where morality and gender equality really come from:

The church will continue to lose members like me until it realizes that messages about diversity and inclusion are hollow when excommunication and censorship are the responses to dissent. While the church invests in missionary work, especially overseas, an unwelcoming posture is likely to hinder its growth.

The true legacy of the Mormon Moment might just be that the church was given the chance that many religious institutions desperately need to stay relevant in the 21st century: the opportunity to open itself to criticism and inquiry. The church has chosen not to. And it has killed its own moment by doing so.

I await the next Convenient Revelation from the elders about women.



82 thoughts on “Trouble in MormonLand: marginalization of women threatens Church

  1. Why in the world are women “demanding more equality and more participation” in an organization that obviously doesn’t want them (at least not as priests)? I know, I know the obvious answer is that their worldview and social structure is tied up with the Mormon church, but it strikes me as being akin to vegans wanting greater participation in the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

        1. I read (and enjoyed) two of his books. Then I found out more about his personal views. I’ve composted the books I had and deleted the un-read / un-listened audiobooks from sunny PB.
          I’ll not be spending more (either money, or time) on him and his works. I hope he starves on his job at McDonalds.

    1. I suspect it is so internalized they can’t see it clearly. It is like if. You work at a crazy job or have a crazy relationship; you don’t realize how nuts it was until you leave.

    2. I find it more amazing that blacks ever wanted to become Mormons! But that’s a whole ‘nother topic.

  2. I am a little more cynical about people leaving any religious institution because of its misogynistic policies. Somehow, people manage to do some magical mental hand-waving to justify why they stay, even if they live in otherwise enlightened modern societies.

    If religious people were truly insulted and troubled by deep-seated misogyny and bigotry of other varieties; then by now the Catholic Church would be bankrupt, and Saudi Arabia would be the one of the most atheist nations on earth.

    You know how they say fish have no word for water? The religious have no word for institutionalized bigotry.

    1. Somehow, people manage to do some magical mental hand-waving to justify why they stay, even if they live in otherwise enlightened modern societies.

      People are allowed to change their minds, particularly when young. The millennia of preventing young people from learning about the actual outside world outside the sand-box of religion is ample testament to the understanding of that point by the religious.

      1. People are always free to change their mind, and some people obviously do. And some times people leave churches not because they don’t think there is a god, but because they find its policies reprehensible. Brian Dalton (Mr Deity) left the Mormon faith because of its teachings on women. Anne Rice (Interview with a Vampire) left the Catholic church very publicly because of its stance on women.

        But in Ireland, despite the fact that the churches have poor attendance figures, despite the fact that most women use contraceptives, despite the fact that most women would be outraged that their work should be worth less than a man’s or that they should be barred from certain posts; they still have their children baptised into the church and continue to observe all the rituals like First Communion and put their religion down on the census as Catholic and don’t see anything contradictory about doing so. And so the Church continues to have ridiculous influence over laws and public policies in this country.

        1. I have a Catholic friend (French-Canadian) who is like that. Hates the way the Church behaves bit is still a Catholic, had her kids baptized as Catholics and sent them to Catholic schools!

    2. I was perusing Catholic Answers today. They were in an uproar over the CoE decision to allow women bishops. One commenter said that soon we’ll have men getting pregnant since it isn’t fair that only women get that right. He even went so far as to say the secular world is bigoted. It “literally” makes my head hurt.

      1. soon we’ll have men getting pregnant

        If it’s good enough for Arnold Schwarzenegger, it should be good enough for the Catholic Church.

      2. LOL womb envy has penis envy beat by a long shot! Funny how a biological constraint is interpreted as a “right”. I think I will give up my right to painful menses, ovulation and menopause when those first two go away.

      3. I always wonder why people who use that as a threat think it is one. If men want to have babies, have at it. 🙂
        Who do they think is going to object?

  3. Did God change his mind? All the Sophisticated Theologians™ tell me that god doesn’t do that.

    I can hear them now: God doesn’t change, but the times, they are a-changin’. And so our perception of God changes, even whilst lily-white He remains the unmoving Rock in the current of time.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me…where did I leave that mouthwash…?


  4. “He has no emotions”

    Is that what the “sophisitcated theologians” say these days? So he doesn’t love us then? He’s unable to. I always had my suspicions…

  5. “They are co-equals in life in a great enterprise.”

    AKA, “separate but ‘equal'”, based on gender. Yeah, that worked out great in the South…

  6. I await the next Convenient Revelation from the elders about women.

    Actually, the “Convenient Revelations” of Mormonism make it far more adaptive than most other revealed religions. Society changes? Well, so does our god’s commands. It’s actually kinda brilliant, and nicely “evolutionary”. (And it seems to make far more theological sense to me than the notion that a god was very chatty with a bunch of Bronze Age sheep herders and then inexplicably shut up.)

  7. if they buck the tide of modernity, especially of the established view that women and minorities are not inferior to white men, they will lose members. This is what will kill the Catholic Church eventually, though they’re buying time with incursions into South America and Africa.

    Well, the RCC has survived 2,000 years of institutional sexism while the LDS has only been at it for 200 years so far. Comparing them makes it sound like you think the LDS church will only be able to get away with institutionalized sexism another 1,800 years!

    The point of this is to say – don’t rely or expect the march of progress to change these institutions. Its not an inevitable force. Liberal civil rights do not suddenly appear in religious institutions, they must be fought for…or they never show up. No matter how the world changes around them. Fortunately, the LDS seems to have outspoken suffragists. If it changes, that change will be because of them and their acts, NOT because the LDS is out of step with enlightenment values.

    1. One small precision: The incursions of the Catholic Church in South America have lasted almost five centuries.

  8. “Did god change his mind?” This question arises frequently with regard to historical shifts in Mormon doctrine (of which there are many). The answer is complicated, and reveals a fascinating dimension of Mormon theology: “truth” is whatever is best for a given people at a given time, judged according to god’s higher vantage point. In this paternalistic theory, “truth” is not an absolute notion; rather it is what “a people” need to believe in order to be flourish. When circumstances change, the “truth” changes to accommodate new needs.

    1. Well isn’t that convenient!

      And yet, it doesn’t stop them from blabbing about god’s eternal precepts/laws/etc, to which I heard references all the time when I was being raised as a Mormon.

      (Doesn’t this state if affairs mean that, essentially, we control god? We create the social circumstances that force god to “alter the truth” for his flock at a given time.)

      1. Well isn’t that convenient!

        It seems more sensible to me than trying to use a 2000-year-old book written down by sheep herders to figure out a god’s will. And I’ve never fully understood how other Christian religions explain why their god had long direct talks with those people, but has remained silent ever since. Ongoing revelation makes much more sense (inasmuch as religion makes “sense”).

        1. Sure, it’s a sensible move in the Procrustean sense Jerry mentioned in an earlier post.

          But it also kind of pulls the curtain back on the man behind the…curtain.

          And he’s playing Calvinball.

      2. “Doesn’t this state if affairs mean that, essentially, we control god?”

        Yes, I think so. I think many people in the mormon church are semi-conscious of the social truth-making that happens in the church hierarchy. The process is embraced by many members, including those who are progressively minded — I’ve met literally hundreds of young people who say “I believe the church is true, and I want to make it better.” That implies an acknowledgement of “god” and “revelation” as abstract social constructs.

        On the other extreme you have the personal revelation enthusiasts who push their own “revealed” or intuitionistic interpretations of church doctrine. It can be interesting to watch the progress of bottom-up theology that is not originated by the church authorities. I think there are many examples of this (but I will be undoubtedly be challenged in my interpretations). I think one example is the idea that there is a predestined number of child-spirits in heaven, already assigned to you and waiting to be born, therefore you must try to have as many kids as possible or else some of your spirit kids will be left behind. I’m pretty sure this doctrine developed socially rather than being a central edict.

        1. Yeah, the bottom-up aspect of Mormon theology is probably a result of having lay leadership.

          Of course, there is some amount of bottom-up theology in any religion. Ask ten Catholics to explain some doctrine and you’ll get ten different explanations. Religious doctrine is sometimes like a Rorschach test.

          1. The “great” thing about Catholicism is that it has the Magisterium, which acts as an authoritarian body. Yes, 10 Catholics may tell you 10 different things, but you can show how they’re each mistaken according to the Church and then go on to show how the Church’s official statements are false. It makes the wack-a-mole game easier, but the Church does have a 2000 year old mountain of bullshit to wade through first.

            1. Oh yes, of course. Many religions have officially codified doctrine and authoritative bodies.

              My point was that, despite this, there’s a non-negligible amount of idiosyncratic interpretation that happens when an individual theist internalizes a doctrine. It doesn’t help that many religious teachings are vague and incomplete, leaving much to the imagination.

  9. This “separate roles” thing always makes me upset.

    I’d like the Mormons (and the Catholics) to please explain something.

    Just what do women lack that men have that enables only men to be priests?

    Or just exactly what is it that women have that men don’t that prevents women from being priests?

  10. That’s right, all you Mormon womenfolk. You’re totally equal, because some wrinkly old white dude told you you’re equal. I mean, you have Relief Society! Sammich-making is a distinguished responsibility!

  11. Also, the internet is killing the LDS church as many members are leaving after discovering the truth about the tawdry beginnings and subsequent misdeeds of church leaders that the church hierarchy have covered up over the years Members are leaving in droves after they have discovered they were lied to by church authorities

  12. Feh! While some of us actually try to keep sexism, homophobia, racism, and other unfair absurdities to the margins, there are some of us who’d prefer to obey some Big Man upstairs. Well, religions are already bunkum. I have no interest in seeing them adapt to secular mores any more than I care if they pretend to be friends with science: they can go that route if they want, but I’m sure as heck not encouraging anyone to help them. I’d rather these irrelevant things were replaced with something more defensible.

    Simplistic and unsympathetic as it may be, my answer to people who want the LDS church to remove its sexist policies is to change tack and ask members to just leave, if they don’t like it. Ideally, make up your own forward-thinking religion, or join a more progressive one. Join a secular community, even. And as soon as you have the means, move. Avoid your community if things are getting awkward. Find somewhere less religious on the map and stick a pin in it.

    I know this is too brash and probably too difficult to be feasible, but what else is there? Let people stew in relative backwaters? It sticks in my craw when I think of this sad little drama societies have somehow sleepwalked into. Surely, we can do better than this?

    Religions. Let ’em fall behind. They all belong in a museum, anyway.

    1. Absolutely, 100% right. There are things in the universe that just aren’t worth the effort. The Church of LDS is one of those things. The most prudent course of action for Ms Kelly would be to intellectually liberate herself and find a group or organization that’s worth her time and effort. Bailing water over the gunwales of the Titanic is a heroic act. But it’s also pointless and kinda silly too.

      1. That’s generally much easier said than done. Especially for Morons, their whole lives are tied up in the Church. Leaving the Church means severing all family ties, abandoning your circle of friends, and very likely quitting your job and severing professional ties. And many women are the “barefoot and pregnant” type, with no marketable job skills to fall back on and several children to care for.

        Add it all up, and just smiling and nodding during sermons that tell you you’re a second-class citizen may well be the least insane thing to do.


        1. Yeah, I know that leaving is easier said than done. But your description of why it is so difficult for LDS women to leave the church just reinforces the parallels between the LDS (& catholic) church and the manner in which it regards its female practitioners and an abusive relationship. Abusers, be they male or female, very frequently try to convince their victim that no matter how bad the abuse is, its better than what the rest of the world has to offer. I know it is tough, but if these LDS women have lots of kids then some of those kids are daughters. Don’t sentence your daughter to a life in which she will have little to no agency and be regarded by her community as a baby factory as that is clearly the primary role of women in LDS society. Reforming an institution from within is difficult, even for someone in a leadership position. There is effectively no real chance that a group, already marginalized within that cohort would ever be able to effect lasting, institutional change. Bigger picture, leaving is the better option. When all the women are driven away, you’ll see one of those convenient revelations from God in a really big hurry.

  13. Some years ago, I was playing piano at a ballet summer school for dancers auditioning for the professional training program. One of the students asked me to accompany her so she could sing in the talent show. I agreed and then was stunned by the music she handed me called “Daddy Aren’t You Glad I’m a Mormon”. I googled it because I remember that there were some hilarious yet horrifying other titles in the book. My favourite has got to be “Grandma and Grandpa are going On a Mission” but had forgotten about the cringe worthy,”I Want to Be a Mother” and “Someday I Will Be A Man”. Here’s a link to the other gems in this collection

    The composer’s bio includes the number of her children, 9; grandchildren, 31; and 2 great grandchildren. It also mentions that when not composing, she fills her days with nurturing her family and church service. The model Mormon woman.

    The indoctrination is certainly all-pervasive and as a bonus helps to ostracize children like the one I met from others who are not Mormon. (She was from Southern Alberta where there is a large Mormon presence. It must have been her first time on the ‘outside’ alone.) This kid should have been singing Disney tripe or whatever pop song but instead she’d been trained to use every opportunity to proselytize. The words of these dreadful songs reinforce all kinds of repressive notions.

    1. Man, get your shit together Alberta! They were in the news recently when a physician refused to prescribe birth control pills. The physicians code is under review in Ontario right now because doctors can’t discriminate on gender or ethnic background etc. but they can on religion, which is against the human rights code. I filled in their survey and gave them an earful.

      Alberta should also review their codes!!

      And stop with the religion or we will give you to to some other country(nah, we don’t want to have to drive around you going east or west)

  14. Why is it that “separate roles” always involves the women-folk doing what the men-folk tell them to do.

  15. Gay Mormons here in Utah are also waiting for a convenient revelation about gays (who the church has only recently acknowledged even exist). Currently gay members (who, of course, are theoretically lovingly accepted) must be completely celibate; marry an opposite-sex partner; or risk excommunication.

    You might find the recent declaration on Race and the Priesthood illuminating, especially as an example of how those sorts of misogynistic pronouncements about women will be handled by the LDS apologist historians once women do get the priesthood. Link here:

    One thing I don’t think you know about Mormons, given your post, is that they do not believe in an immaterial god devoid of passions. They believe that God was once a man (on some other planet somewhere) prior to achieving godhood, and that all men are destined to become “like god” if they worthily follow the LDS path. Their God is definitely a god of passions and “human” (or at least human-like) interests. Plus, they do hold out the idea that the church is continually led by God himself through a living prophet who speaks with God (which makes it all the more boggling that such changes take them so damned long to make).

    Anyway, I’m a gay, atheist, former Mormon, (even served a mission in Brazil), and I’d be happy to fill you in on the peculiarities of Mormonism, if you ever need me. 🙂 Love your site, and follow you, . . .erm . . . “religiously”, even if I don’t comment all that much.


      1. No, if a gay man marries a woman he will see the error of his ways.

        I can just see all the gay man’s Mormon colleagues standing there after the ceremony with stupidly smug faces saying “There, now. See? Isn’t that better? All fixed!”

        1. I can picture a half-dozen Mormen standing around a recently gang-raped lesbian, tucking their dicks back into their pants and saying “Well that has shown her the error of her different ways.”

  16. Jerry’s second date experience calls to mind the Onion story “Apartment Full Of Jesus Stuff Brings Date To Screeching Halt”

  17. You go for it hypocrisy, discrimination, inequality, sexism! show these people and their make believe world for what it is, an illusion and a crock. It seems perverse to want the negative and unseemly side of human nature but I’ll make an exception for a good cause, providing of course the vacuum is filled with reason and the findings of empirical science.
    So, hats off to the dissenter, accentuate the negative.

  18. a 180° theological turn. Blacks were suddenly allowed to be priests because of a convenient “revelation” that was experienced by the elders.

    That would be about a week before an appropriate decision is handed down.

  19. I really don’t understand how the Mormon or Catholic church excommunicating someone for not adhering to the rules of their demented clubs (apostasy) can be compared, even for effect, with the official punishment for apostasy in Saudi Arabia: death.

    Groucho Marx joked that he didn’t care to belong to any club that would have him as a member. I get that excommunication cuts people off from the families and friends, but who wants to belong to a family or have friends who don’t care enough or are too cowardly or too shallow to say, “screw the church, you’re still loved by us”? When your church can’t accept you for who you are at the core of your being, then it is time to excommunicate yourself.

    1. “I get that excommunication cuts people off from the families and friends, but who wants to belong to a family or have friends who don’t care enough or are too cowardly or too shallow to say, “screw the church, you’re still loved by us”?”

      Ah, if only it were that simple. 🙁

      Where else are they going to go? Leaving friends and family is hard because these are people you’ve invested time and emotion towards, and there are still bonds that are hard to break. I railed about it above, but in truth I don’t think most people would have the mindset or the confidence to just join a new community like that. Being surrounded by strangers, even in this day and age, is not an easy thing to adapt to.

    2. The Mormon lady received quote a tongue lashing for being so uppity as to talk to other women in the church about this issue. She needs to take a page out of the books of many a exiled thinker and become an even more powerful dissident.

  20. One thing to note is that in the LDS almost all boys at age 12 are ordained into the lowest level of priesthood (as well as all adult male converts) which is why not ordaining Black men was so obvious (and in Brazil they found that racial categories didn’t follow the US rules so it wasn’t perhaps until quite late in the conversion process that they would discover the male convert was Black by the church’s standards). It is also why not ordaining women is so obvious.

    In addition all positions of power in the church are held by priesthood holders (aka men). Women have a parallel organization (Relief Society) but the leaders within it are chosen by certain priesthood holders (bishop, stakes president, all the way up to the Council of Twelve) and can be dismissed at a whim with no appeal by the same men.

  21. Here’s the Mormon position on women priests,

    That wouldn’t be the Missionary position, would it?

  22. easy-peasy, God is omnipotent. So He can change his mind without changing his mind. Omnipotence rocks!

  23. Elsewhere in Mormonland:
    LDS Church publishes new Web essay on Book of Abraham

    Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-Day Saints bought a book of heiropglyphics and translated it, to discover that it was written by Abraham himself. Later on, archaelogists learned to translate Egyptian heiroglyphics and discovered that the stuff Joseph Smith worked with was a portion of the Egyptian Book of the Dead and had nothing to do with Abraham. The Mormon Church now addresses that controversy in a way that none of you will find convincing.

  24. hmmm, it seems that the LDS also said that it was their god’s will that people of a darker skin color weren’t to be in the priesthood either. Then suddenly, when they wanted to spread to places around the equator, their god changed its mind.

    How conveeeeeenient. 🙂

  25. Well, another argument for separate but equal cause.
    Yeah the lord has put it that way. I wonder what would happen if someone uses that to defend slavery.
    I’m sure the lord will change his mind again once we get rid of those morons.

  26. There’s another reason the LDS position on blacks changed – there was a threat from the Carter administration to remove their tax-free status if they didn’t.

    Elevation of women to the priesthood will be a theological challenge. There’s a hierarchy in the Mormon equivalent, and women aren’t able to reach the best bits. How high a woman can rise depends entirely on the status of her husband and her fecundity.

    It needs to be remembered that the mainstream LDS change to reject plural marriage was also based on a convenient revelation when they were under governmental pressure to change. They have a history of this.

    The stuff you have to believe to be a Mormon becomes more bizarre the more you look into it. I personally don’t get how anyone can.

  27. “The lesson is that, in Western society, morality comes from Enlightenment values based on secular reason”

    As Hume pointed out long ago, it’s impossible for reason to derive values. Reason is a slave of the passions, and moral passions are just a subset of the rest. Morality comes from evolved behavioral predispositions that exist because they happened to increase the probability that individuals with those predispositions would survive and reproduce. That is the “root cause” for the existence of morality, and absent that root cause morality as we know it would cease to exist. Morality is fundamentally emotional, not logical. As an atheist I know of no logical path whereby my moral emotions can jump out of my skull and gain normative power over other individuals. In fact there is none. In that sense, Mormon morality is a great deal more “logical” than most of the atheist versions. At least it’s backed up by a God who can fry you in hell forever if you disagree with him. As for having nine children, the idea that it is morally inferior to having none is truly absurd. It flies in the face of the reason that morality exists to begin with.

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