Push on for Mormon women in the priesthood

Mar 23 2013 - 5:21pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- A campaign is under way by Mormons who want to see women allowed into the priesthood.

A Facebook page, LDS WAVE (Women Advocating for Voice and Equality), and related website, ldswave.org, have been dedicated to the cause, and another website, OrdainWomen.org, supports the cause.

Also, a Salt Lake City-based foundation is holding panel discussions on the topic.

"We are a group of LDS women committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and advancing gender equity within the LDS Church," the Facebook page's mission statement reads.

OrdainWomen.org's mission statement reads: "The fundamental tenets of Mormonism support gender equality: God is male and female, father and mother, and all of us can progress to be like them someday. Priesthood, we are taught, is essential to this process. Ordain Woman believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings."

The site features profiles of men and women backing the cause.

The Sunstone Foundation recently held a discussion in Berkeley, Calif., with Catholic women about how both religions can advocate for the ordination of women. The foundation is an independent Mormon studies organization that publishes a magazine and holds an annual symposium on Mormon culture, theology and history.

Sunstone's executive director, Mary Ellen Robertson, is among the women who would like to serve in a priesthood role in the church.

"I feel that pull toward ministry, toward being able to serve in a large capacity," she said. "It's frustrating. It's not even a glass ceiling, it's a cinderblock wall."

Women can hold many leadership positions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but aren't allowed to be bishops of congregations or presidents of stakes. Stakes are made up of up to a dozen congregations, known as wards. The church's highest leaders, called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, are also all men.

LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy issued a statement saying, "It is the doctrine of the church that men and women are equal."

In regard to why only men serve in the church's lay clergy, he said, "The church follows the pattern set by the Savior when it comes to priesthood ordination."

The campaign is the latest effort by Mormon feminists to draw attention to what they perceive as "gender inequality" within the LDS Church, which has 14 million members worldwide.

In January, a feminist group launched a letter-writing campaign asking church leaders to let women lead the opening and closing prayer at the church's general conference as a symbol of gender equality. It's unknown if that will happen at the April 6-7 conference in Salt Lake City.

In December, a feminist group urged women to wear pants to church in a show of solidarity for women's equality. Hundreds of women heeded the call.

"It's kind of exciting time to be a Mormon feminist," Robertson said. "I think there may become changes in the wind. More people are seeing the requests and activism as reasonable."

But Scott Gordon, president of the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research, or FAIR, a volunteer Mormon anti-defamation group, said granting women priesthood would constitute a change in doctrine. That would have to come through a revelation to the leaders of the church, he said.

"Such changes are virtually never the result of public pressure," Gordon said.

Gordon said he respects the opinions of those pushing for female ordination but that his group stands behind LDS Church leaders' decision about the designated roles for men and women.

He points out that women serve on ward councils where they have equal say as men.

LDS women aren't the only ones advocating for greater roles within religious faiths. People of a wide variety of religions from all over the world are engaged in this ongoing struggle.

In recent years, some religions, including Lutherans, Presbyterians and some Baptists, have begun allowing women into leadership roles. But other religions, such as the Catholic and LDS religions, stick to their traditional doctrine.

It's unclear how many Mormons support the idea of having women in the priesthood. The "LDS WAVE" Facebook page had 1,289 likes as of Saturday afternoon.

Robertson said the time is right to have a real discussion about the issue -- even if some Mormons don't want to.

"Asking the question can be seen as threatening to people if it's something they've never considered before," Robertson said. "But I think it's an important step to having those conversations."

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