There is no serious question that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, in some very important senses, a patriarchal organization. Its priesthood is exclusively male, for example, which means that the central leadership positions in local congregations and in the Church as a whole are held entirely, or almost entirely, by men.
But, I’m going to hastily argue, that may not be quite as important or lethal as some on the outside assume.
For example, while the Catholic hierarchy is likewise all-male, there is this crucial difference between the Catholic and LDS churches: The Catholic hierarchs are celibate. Which is to say that, while they obviously all have mothers and may well have sisters, they have no wives and no daughters, and they’re formed in all-male institutions such as seminaries and monasteries and live and work very largely in an all-male and all-celibate world of fathers superior, abbots, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals. By contrast, all Mormon leaders are married, and most have daughters and/or daughters-in-law and/or granddaughters. In fact, Mormonism teaches that the highest degree of heaven is available only to those who are married. (It also makes provision for those who have died unmarried to enter into marriage after death.)
Further, I suspect that many outsiders assume, hearing that Mormons have an all-male “clergy,” that sermons in our worship services are always given by men, and that women are silent in our churches. But such an assumption is entirely baseless. We have no professional clergy, and our bishops don’t give sermons every Sunday, or even most Sundays. Rather, ordinary members of our congregations give the “sermons,” with several such “sermons” being given on just about any typical Sunday. And, in fact, it’s a very rare Sunday when there isn’t at least one woman speaking in our main worship service. Often, in fact, there will be more than one — perhaps, in addition to one or two men, a young woman (a teenager) and an older, married woman. And women routinely teach our Sunday school classes, too. (Even in the worldwide general conferences of the Church that are broadcast globally — today’s, for example — women speak to the entire church from the podium of Salt Lake City’s Conference Center.)
Moreover, women are represented in the ward leadership council of each local congregation, and in councils for the Church as a whole.
And they serve as missionaries for the Church. More of them, in fact, will soon begin serving (I confidently predict) with today’s announcement that they can serve at age nineteen instead of, as previously, at twenty-one.
I was delighted by the announcement. I think it will lead to many more sister missionaries representing the Church to the world — which will help to lessen the Church’s reputation for patriarchal sexism — and to more missionaries overall. I’ve known many young women who wanted to serve missions but who, for various reasons, were worried about beginning their service at a relatively advanced age. (Twenty-one seems really old when you’re really young.) This will, I’m positive, thrill many. It will also tend to make available to the Church a huge reservoir of enthusiasm and spiritual power that will be of enormous assistance in the work of, as we say, “building the Kingdom.”