Some non-arguments against ordaining women to the LDS priesthood

Some non-arguments against ordaining women to the LDS priesthood April 4, 2014

I’m sure all these things have been said before and better, but in order to satisfy my need to respond to some of the assertions presented as self-evident arguments against opening the LDS priesthood to women, I collect my responses here. Here are my top five non-arguments [with a sixth I couldn’t resist]:

1. Men and women are not the same.

2. Women have moral authority.

3. There is no scriptural precedent for ordaining women.

4. There is scriptural precedent for the denial of equal treatment of women.

5. Women have had the priesthood since 1844.

BONUS: Protests and complaints have never resulted in change or revelation.

1. Men and women are not the same.

This has been refuted over and over, and I say it once again. Equality movements are not about erasing existential distinctions between men and women (whatever those might look like), but about equal treatment, equal access, equal decision-making power. Women have access to priesthood power now in the same way that women had access to voting power (through their husbands and their “moral authority”) before the 19th amendment. Which is to say they didn’t (and they don’t). Giving women the right to vote didn’t mean erasing male-female differences, nor will it be the case when women are given the priesthood.

2. Women have moral authority.

And men have…? QED (Until you can articulate specifically what moral authority means and specifically how women’s differs from men’s, this is a non-argument.)

3. There is no scriptural precedent for ordaining women.

This is a non-argument in an LDS context for at least three reasons. First, we don’t need scriptural precedent, though it would probably help. Second, there was no scriptural precedent for the ordination of “every worthy male” to the priesthood either. Priesthood in the Old and New Testaments was an inherited right reserved for certain males in priestly families (descendants of Aaron and maybe Levi). It was unthinkable in biblical times that non-Cohens (let alone goyim!) could act as priests. And before you go citing Melchizedek and the book of Hebrews, let’s remember that the priesthood of Melchizedek, scripturally, was only ever applied to two people: Melchizedek and Jesus. And no one else, ever. Third, to the extent that LDSs see prophet, apostle, and deacon as offices in the priesthood, we do have scriptural precedent for women occupying these roles, and they even have names(!): Deborah, Junia, and Phoebe. (Of course, it is also true that the biblical authors could not have imagined the roles of prophet, apostle, and deacon being at all priesthood offices—these are categories that simply did not go together. But in an LDS context, you can’t separate them for one sex and not for the other.)

4. There is scriptural precedent for the denial of equal treatment.

This is a non-argument because there are scriptural precedents that we ignore all the time. (Anyone want to bring back veiling of women in church? Or women keeping silent? Or Sabbath non-observance (Col 2:16)?) But what about the Garden of Eden, you say? What about Adam ruling over Eve, like it clearly says in Genesis 3:16? Well, if the first argument didn’t work for you, then we might also say that this is clearly an effect of the fall, and not something that will be replicated in celestial worlds. And if we can correct for one of the effects of the fall with the stroke of a pen, we are morally obligated to do so, dontcha think?

5. Women have had the priesthood–since 1844!

This is an argument I saw on Facebook recently, oddly enough from someone who thought that women should clearly not be ordained. With all due respect to D. Michael Quinn’s work, this is clearly not what we mean when we say women should or shouldn’t have the priesthood. It’s not how the General Authorities understand it, and it’s not how feminists understand it. The fact that some duties are ceded to women in the temple (an institution which reasserts the subjection of Genesis 3, btw, as an eternal order), is not what anyone means when they say “priesthood”. So we should stop saying this.

BONUS: Protests and complaints have never resulted in change or revelation.

Anyone who asserts this needs a Mormon History refresher. The LDS church has a long tradition of revelations received in response to protests, complaints, and questioning. The 1978 revelation is the most salient, I think, (and anyone who wants to say this wasn’t because of protests needs a US history refresher). But there are many others, like Emma Smith’s protest about tobacco on her floor apparently leading to the Word of Wisdom. In any case, revelation in our tradition (including in the Hebrew Bible) almost never comes from a prophet sitting by the phone, waiting for God to call. And thank God for that.

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