Like me, D. Kelly Ogden isn’t advocating for female ordination. Unlike me, he is staunchly opposed to it. He wrote an article for Meridian Magazine, which is not an official church publication but which caters to devout Mormons. The article, titled “Women and the Priesthood,” is quite the read. In my estimation, it is seriously flawed. I encourage you to read it so as to understand what I am responding to. Because I see so many problems in the article, I think the simplest way to respond is to provide quotations and then give my own commentary. Despite my liberal use of quotations, it is only fair that you read Ogden’s article in its entirety so as to understand the context of these quotations. That being said, let’s begin.
“While pondering about the statements and efforts of this sister [Kate Kelly, co-founder of Ordain Women], and other like-minded persons, some impressions came pouring into my head and my heart.”Nothing said here is controversial, but I admit that I am bothered by this. Mormons will recognize the pattern to which Ogden is alluding. Pondering leads to revelation, often spoken of in terms of “impressions” that speak both to the head and to the heart. This is a theme repeated in LDS scripture, and Ogden plays upon it here (I suspect) to lend credence to his remarks. There may be a place for this, but I find it sly and manipulative in an article that otherwise pretends to rational argumentation.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church, and … He is in charge of how it is organized.”So far as I am aware, most (if not all) of those Mormons who support the Ordain Women movement agree that the LDS Church is the Lord’s Church. They also agree that the Lord structured the Church more or less as it stands today. But there is a difference between what offices exist in the Church, what the duties of those various offices are, and how those offices relate to each other (on the one hand), and who is allowed to serve in those offices (on the other hand). It was once supposed that black men were not allowed to serve in certain priesthood offices. It was later decided that they could, and the Church has officially shrugged its shoulders as to why blacks were really denied priesthood opportunities in the past.1 To deny women the priesthood on the basis that God’s will must be manifest in how things are currently done is seriously flawed thinking. An official, doctrinal proclamation against the acceptability of women holding priesthood offices is needed if we are even to begin the discussion of whether or not it is God’s will.
“The Lord asks for our loyalty to Him and to His appointed leaders.”The notion of following Church leaders is one of the most abused in Mormon culture. I ask quite sincerely: in what sense are we supposed to be loyal to the leaders of the Church? The only reason we have for heeding the words of Church leaders is to be loyal to the Lord. That is the goal. The goal is not to be loyal to the Church leaders themselves. This may seem a picky distinction, but it’s an incredibly important one. Consider the situation in which an appointed leader is acting contrary to God’s will. (Don’t think it happens? We’ll come back to that!) Should we do what that leader is telling us to do? If we trust that our loyalty is to the Lord and only to the Lord, then we can answer this question in the negative. If we think we owe loyalty both to the Lord and to His appointed leaders, then perhaps we should answer in the affirmative. Which is correct? The only time it is acceptable to be loyal to a church leader is when you’re not really being loyal to the leader at all. You’re simply being loyal to God. The church leader isn’t part of the equation, except as a messenger.
“I believe [the Lord] when He says, regarding His revealed instructions, ‘Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same’ (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38).”This verse is often cited as evidence that we shouldn’t question our leaders or suppose they are capable of error. There are a few problems here. One, the context of this verse casts doubt on the standard interpretation. In this verse, the Lord is speaking about the Doctrine and Covenants itself. He says that the promises it contains will all be fulfilled, “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” What exactly this means may be up for debate, but it most certainly doesn’t mean that anything uttered by a Church leader automatically reflects the will of God. Two, even if we take the more traditional interpretation of this verse, a person is only a servant of God if that person is truly doing God’s will. If the person isn’t doing God’s will, that person is not a servant of God. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). So, when a leader speaks, we can only take it as “the voice” of the Lord if what’s being said really is inspired of the Lord. And that’s not guaranteed. (Again, we’ll come back to this.) Three, it could be argued that if we’re doing things right, we are all servants of the Lord. If Kate Kelly is doing things right, then she is a servant of the Lord. And so, even if we fall back on the standard interpretation of D&C 1:38, it’s quite possible that Kate Kelly’s voice is the Lord’s voice on the issue of female ordination.
“Each presiding prophet, who holds all priesthood keys, may speak for God on any subject, and, as for each member of the Church, the Lord says: ‘thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments . . . for his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith’ (D&C 21:4-5).”Generalizing the lessons taught in the scriptures can be a good and useful thing to do. But it can also be dangerous if you go overboard. If we try to generalize from the story of Nephi being commanded to slay Laban to the idea that all prophets should kill those who threaten the Lord’s Church, we are making a serious mistake. D&C 21 is specifically about Joseph Smith. It’s not about the office of President of the Church in general. This is made clear even in the scripture headings: “1–3, Joseph Smith is called to be a seer, translator, prophet, apostle, and elder; 4–8, His word will guide the cause of Zion; 9–12, The Saints will believe his words as he speaks by the Comforter.” At best, D&C 21 commits us to be loyal to the teachings and revelations of Joseph Smith. It most certainly does not commit us to follow blindly every President of the Church from Joseph Smith to today. And even if it did, we would have to ask once again if any President of the Church has officially declared that women cannot and will not ever be ordained to the priesthood. I’m not aware that any of them have. On the contrary, Gordon B. Hinckley, in an interview given during his time as Church President, said that female ordination was a genuine possibility. More on that in a moment.
“The Lord’s prophets and apostles in recent years have issued ‘A Proclamation to the World’ that teaches some pointed truths about men and women.”People love to cite the Proclamation to the World. I myself enjoy much of what is contained in the Proclamation, but it isn’t doctrine. The LDS Church has made it clear what counts as official doctrine, and the Proclamation to the World doesn’t foot the bill. As such, it is not binding upon the members of the Church.2 Funny enough, those who insist that the Proclamation to the World is doctrine are themselves going against the official teachings of the Church.
“‘By divine design … fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”Here, Ogden is quoting from the Proclamation to the World. Though I have already rejected the Proclamation as official doctrine, let us entertain the idea presented here. What follows from it? Not much, if we take it seriously. If anything, it seems to imply that women and men really should be treated equally in terms of what responsibilities and roles they undertake. For example, I am a father. According to the Proclamation, it is my job to preside over my family. Also according to the Proclamation, my wife should help me do this. As my partner, she should help me to preside over my family. In what way? In an equal way. She should help preside over my family in a way that is equal to my presiding over the family. In what sense does this suggest that women shouldn’t be ordained to the priesthood???
“‘Why are men ordained to the priesthood offices and not women? . . . When all is said and done, the Lord has not revealed why He has organized His Church as He has.’”Here, Ogden quotes LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard. I may be beating a dead horse, but as I’ve already pointed out, organizational structure and who can serve within that structure are two separate issues. Those who petition for the ordination of women are not asking if the LDS Church truly contains the offices that God wants it to contain. They are asking who can serve within those offices. It’s a different question.
“I would surmise that if any persons in the Church have an issue with women not receiving the priesthood by ordination, then they are not attending the temple. And if they are attending the temple, they do not really understand what they are hearing and experiencing there.”I’m not sure what to say in response to this. It’s a low-blow. It’s also very judgmental. It also seems to miss the point. If women somehow walk away from the temple “endowed with the same [priesthood] power” as men (as Elder Ballard suggests in another quotation from Ogden’s article), then why can’t endowed women (i.e. those who have participated in certain temple rites) serve in the same priesthood offices as men? That is the real issue, anyway, so to suggest that in some implicit way LDS women have just as much priesthood authority as LDS men doesn’t help one bit. If anything, it exacerbates the problem, making it even more ridiculous that women should be excluded from certain priesthood offices.
“My wife said to me, ‘As a woman I don’t need a man’s responsibilities, too. It would water down my efforts in my own sphere. I also suspect that some women just might do a better job than some men as priesthood leaders. Then where would that leave those men? The priesthood expects a lot from a man. Let’s not deprive him of that service (which helps him acquire the Christ-like qualities that many women already possess).’”There are some serious issues here. First off, what makes something “a man’s responsibility” other than our treating it as such? And what happened to women and men being equal partners in their responsibilities, as the Proclamation to the World declared? It’s true that whenever you put effort into one thing, you have less time to devote to other things. But that’s just life! And it’s not as though female ordination will lead to women serving as Relief Society President and bishop at the same time. So I don’t understand the “water down” comment. A woman will invest much more time into being a primary teacher or a Relief Society President than she will into being, say, a counselor in her ward’s Sunday school presidency (a role that currently only men can fill). In what sense, then, does it hinder a woman to open up the possibility of her serving in different roles? Ignoring that question, am I to understand that if a woman is better-suited than a man for a particular priesthood office, that is a reason to disallow her to hold that office!? Should I refuse to serve at Church if I’m confident somebody else could do a worse job than I? Would that be denying someone else the opportunity to serve and to become as Christ-like as I already have the good fortune to be?!? Is that really the argument being presented here????
“It is interesting that Sister Kelly would use the word 'agitating'—that she is 'agitating on the issue' of women being ordained to the priesthood. So, she chooses to be an agitator. By definition, an agitator sows discord and does not seek peace or unity, which is the foundational law of the celestial kingdom (D&C 105:3-5).”This comment is made in ignorance. Kate Kelly uses the word “agitating” because “agitation” is the very word used by President Gordon B. Hinckley when he spoke about women being ordained to the priesthood. And what did he say? First, he admitted that the day may come when women are ordained to the priesthood. He then explained why the issue hadn’t yet been taken seriously: because no women were agitating for it.3 And there we have our explanation for why Kate Kelly refers to “agitating.” This oversight suggests, to me at least, that Ogden hasn’t researched the Ordain Women movement in as much detail as he implies.
“Anyone who agitates, protests, or dissents from important doctrine or practice is making demands of Church authorities (and the Lord) and is not being respectful of their plainly stated pronouncements.”I’m not sure that’s true. A brief glimpse at the D&C reveals that many revelations were received by the prophet because others petitioned him to inquire about something. This pattern also appears regularly in the scriptures. If prophets are spokespeople for the Lord, then it might make a great deal of sense to make demands of them. At the very least, we can have expectations and voice those expectations, and we can have desires and express those desires. So far as I know, nobody in support of Ordain Women is asking that the leaders of the Church ignore God and cater to the whims of the people. They push for female ordination because they believe it ultimately accords with scripture and other teachings of the Church. I suspect that most (if not all) supporters would want (and expect) the leadership to involve God in coming to the decision they hope is eventually reached.
“To enter the house of the Lord, we must be interviewed and recommended, responding positively to a series of questions about our faithfulness in the gospel, our worthiness to enter the holiest place on earth. Included in the interview is a question about whether or not we sustain the president of the Church as the only person on earth who holds all priesthood keys, and whether or not we sustain the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators—accepting their role to lead us, and to reveal the mind and will of the Lord to us in all matters.”Advocating for female ordination doesn’t mean you don’t accept the roles of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Speaking personally, I accept the roles of the First Presidency the Quorum of the Twelve. But what do these roles involve? In my mind, priesthood offices are defined by their duties and responsibilities. (This is the language used in D&C 107, which describes the various offices of the priesthood.) When I sustain someone as the President of the Church, I accept that the person has an obligation to fulfill the duties associated with that office. It doesn’t mean I think the person will invariably succeed in doing this. The Lord seems to agree that failure is a possibility: “Let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence. He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand” (D&C 107:99-100). Whether or not a person fulfills his priesthood responsibilities is largely up to that person.
“President Spencer W. Kimball declared: ‘No one in this Church will ever go far astray who ties himself securely to the Church Authorities whom the Lord has placed in his Church. This Church will never go astray; the Quorum of the Twelve will never lead you astray; it never has and never will.’”Never mind that this quotation is taken from a speech given 20+ years before Spencer W. Kimball became President of the Church. The fact is, the statement simply isn’t true, or at least it isn’t true in the way that it is typically understood. Teachings of the LDS Church have been abandoned and even officially repudiated over the years. Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have been excommunicated for apostasy, for adultery, etc. Brigham Young has declared many things over the pulpit that have since been rejected by the Church. He even implemented certain teachings into the temple ceremony that a subsequent Church President would declare “false doctrine” that must be “cautioned against.” That Church leaders are infallible in their religious teachings is both a dangerous and an unstable position to hold. I would say it’s doomed for failure, but the fact is it has already failed several times over.
“Don’t ever get ahead of the Brethren. When the word of the Lord is to come to us on any issue—social, political, doctrinal—it will come through His constituted Authorities. God’s house is a house of order. If something needs to be revealed, it will come through the priesthood channels He has set in place. Again, this is the Church of Jesus Christ, and He is in charge.”I hope Ogden has just been careless in how he’s expressed things, because that first sentence strikes me as downright blasphemous. A consistent theme in the scriptures is that those who seek wisdom can find it via personal revelation. It’s true that it’s not my place to dispense revelation to the Church as a whole. But God can teach me if I earnestly employ His guidance. And it’s quite possible He’ll open my mind to understanding something that a Church leader doesn’t yet understand. This says nothing about my authority over the Church leader. It may be as simple as my asking a question that the Church leader has never thought to ask. Regardless, it seems preposterous to suppose that nobody will be given insights from God unless Thomas S. Monson, the current President of the LDS Church, has already had those insights. If that were true, then why would God “imparteth his words by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also” (Alma 32:3)? Why would “little children … have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and learned” (Alma 32:3)? Why would the Church teach that “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5)? Ogden’s remark discourages the seeking of personal revelation, which is a red flag if ever I saw one. Supposing we ignore that initial sentence, however, there are still problems. Some important qualifications need to be added to what Ogden is saying in order for it to be acceptable. The LDS Church has been structured in such a way that the Lord can address us collectively. Thus, what Ogden’s comment should say is that when the word of the Lord is to come to us collectively, it will come through His constituted authorities. What Ogden should have said is that if something needs to be revealed to us collectively, it will come through the priesthood channels He has set in place. I could agree with those statements. But I absolutely cannot endorse the view that any new information of a religious nature can come to me only through a Church leader. That smacks in the face of pure Mormonism as I understand it.
1 See the chapter heading to Official Declaration 2.
2 To be considered official and binding, something must be presented to the Church membership as a whole for a sustaining vote. For more information, see these two articles:
3 See here: http://ordainwomen.org/faq/