Are Mormon Women Really “Shut Out” of All-Male Meetings?

The things people complain about.

I’ve spent the better part of my life looking for ways to avoid Priesthood meeting, which is the final hour of the standard 3-hour block of Sunday meeting for Mormons.  I’ve had my reasons from time to time, but usually it is just a matter of having religious “tired head” and not feeling inclined to sit through another lesson.  Besides, there always seems to be somebody moving, and I end up getting guilted into moving a sofa sleeper.  So, sometimes, I don’t exactly make it all the way to the classroom.  Not proud of hiding in plain sight in the foyer, pretending to some dreaded illness, but I’m not denying it, either.

And now women are protesting that they don’t get to attend?  This is obviously a case of not knowing what you are asking for.

Sunday meetings aren’t really the issue here.  Women come into to Sunday Priesthood meetings all of the time…usually to hand a screaming baby and a diaper to their husbands.  During the last hour of Church, they attend the women’s organization, called Relief Society, and the men attend Priesthood.  Both groups are taught out of the same manual, but the emphasis is likely different because of the different perspectives of men and women.  But Relief Society usually smells better, and sometimes they have cookies.  Priesthood almost never has cookies.  We need to reconsider that.

No, the issue is our twice-a-year “General Conference.”  The week before General Conference, there is a “General Relief Society meeting” that the women can attend personally in Salt Lake City or by satellite at the chapels (or, I think, over the Internet, but I’ve never checked).  The meeting is presided over by the First Presidency of the Church, and there are a whole bunch of talks about various gospel topics.

The following weekend is General Conference, held on a Saturday and Sunday.  Saturday has two “general sessions” and one “Priesthood” session.  Sunday has two general sessions.   The general sessions are broadcast on BYU television, by satellite to local meetinghouses, and over the Internet.  The talks later can be accessed on the Internet at any time and by anyone, and all of the talks are printed in the official Church magazine the following month.

Until this year, the Priesthood session was unique in that it was only available, initially, at the local meetinghouses, although the talks were made publicly available after conference.  The men and boys over the age of 12 in the Church actually get up and go to that session.  I never understood why it wasn’t on TV or a live stream, but I’ve recently learned that it was seen as a good bonding experience for fathers and sons and an opportunity for them to share a spiritual experience.  LIke the General Relief Society meeting, they sit for two hours and listen to a whole bunch of talks about various gospel topics.  Usually there is a lot of discussion about the performance of priesthood duties, particularly focused on the young men.  There are usually a bunch of father and son stories shared.  Having five daughters, I usually excuse myself on that meeting on the grounds of relevance.  Again, not bragging about my disobedience.  Just giving full disclosure.  But I have gone to the General Priesthood meeting gobs of times, and I have to say:  It looks like any other session on conference, except nobody pretty is there.  And no cookies.

Well, some women in the Church are protesting that they are “shut out” of this meeting, with the implication that there is something really cool going on in that meeting that they just can’t bear to miss.  (The real reason for the protest is that these women want to be ordained to the priesthood, which isn’t permitted under LDS doctrine.  Apparently they want to get the priesthood so that they can tell other people to follow the priesthood…except when you don’t like what they say.  You would think that Salt Lake City is integrated enough now that they could find (or form) a Church more to their liking, but where’s the fun in that?).  Never mind that there is absolutely nothing secret that happens in these meetings, and that all of the talks are on the Internet and are printed in Church magazines.  If there is a secret, it is the worst kept secret since Paul’s Christianity.

The Church did make the common-sense approach to broadcast the General Priesthood meeting over the Internet beginning with October 2013, giving me one less excuse to miss it.  So, if women in the Church can’t find anything better to do than attend an extra session of General Conference, they are now officially free to knock themselves out.  But that wasn’t enough.  A couple of hundred women showed up at the Conference Center in Salt Lake and demanded that they be allowed to sit through the meeting in person.  Now, that’s just rude.  There are only so many chairs, right?  If you have access to the meeting on the TV, or that phone that is right there in your purse, do you really need to take up the seat of someone for whom the meeting actually is intended?

Again, the issue here isn’t access.  It’s about a group of people who have a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between LDS doctrine and much of the rest of Christianity.  Mormons believe that doctrine is revealed, meaning that when God wants us to do something, he tells us that by giving inspiration or revelation to his appointed authorities.  In many other Christian churches, doctrine is established by committee (or, in the good old days, by killing people who disagree with you).  If you don’t like something, and you throw a big enough fit, and get other people to join in your fit, then you can vote out, or in, whatever new doctrine you like.  Or you break off and form your own branch of that denomination.  That’s why we have so many denominations of Christianity:  A few folks start clamoring for cookies, the local minister is a diabetic, and next thing you know there are two churches in town, one with the lovely scent of Tollhouse cookies wafting gently from the belfry.

If the day comes that women receive the priesthood in the Church (and, in my humble Sunday truant opinion, just about everything in the Temple ceremonies suggests to me that they eventually will), it isn’t going to come because of a bunch of protesters raising a fuss on the sidewalk.  That just isn’t the way the Church is supposed to operate if we really believe in continuing revelation.  The Lord didn’t fire Moses because he was doing poorly in the polls on the “manna” issue.  If you believe in a living prophet, then might I respectfully suggest that you act like it?  I think one’s energy is better spent trying to mold oneself into the image of Christ than insisting that the Church mold itself to fit your particular issues perfectly.




12 Responses to “Are Mormon Women Really “Shut Out” of All-Male Meetings?”

  1. 2 Vance Roper October 7, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    So, have you decided now to go to Priesthood Meeting more? Thanks for your insightful opinion.

  2. 4 Ryan Hawkins October 7, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Martin Harris already proved that if you ask the Lord enough times, he will eventually say yes…even if it isn’t his will. And…this could drastically improve our home teaching numbers.

  3. 6 grandpachet October 7, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Well, I’m sure this will get me in trouble, but I Liked this through Facebook. If I remember correctly, President Hinckley once said that if the Lord calls a woman to be the Prophet, he (President Hinckley) wasn’t gonna argue with Him. (The Lord, just to keep things straight.)

    I find it admirable that most of the women of Ordain Women are firm in their testimonies, even while seeming to question the First Presidency. They aren’t – they’re questioning the Why of a specific doctrine. And as it sounded to me in General Conference, our current answer is “We don’t know.” We obey because the Lord is the one in charge, and He seems to be telling us that we’ll know the whole thing soon – but for us to be patient and to stop arguing.

    C. S. Lewis, a guy who had no use for the Latter-day Saints, had an interesting theory on this, but it remains a theory. It’s not the first time the Lord gave a rule that we didn’t understand, and it won’t be the last. It’s possible that, like some “How come?” rules in the past, knowing why could encourage us to screw things up? Just another speculation.

    Most definitions of priesthood match what your typical Latter-day Saint woman does and has. The only “important” thing, to me, seems that men have to do certain ordinances such as baptism. Said ordinances have to follow checklists, and men do love checklists. Sometimes that’s the only way to get us to do anything: if it’s something a wife says she can’t do AND there’s a checklist so we know we won’t get in trouble.

    One thing’s for sure: if Mormon women were ordained and could do these priesthood jobs, we men would have an excuse to be a lot less active. And that’s no theory, that’s the path of least resistance.

  4. 7 TY October 7, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. Be careful what you ask for. But in this case I think women need to ask themselves, “why do I want/need the Priesthood?” It’s readily available and you have all the privileges and rights; just use them. If you want to be a Bishop, etc. I know several that would gladly give their position up. Yuck!

  5. 9 Michael C October 7, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Millennium, people. Just be patient. All the murmuring in the world isn’t going to change the Lord’s timeline, and may in fact delay the blessing you seek until you repent of your Laman/Lemuel attitude.

  6. 10 Ryan Hawkins October 8, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Interesting tidbit from someone in the movement to get women ordained to the priesthood. It’s some comments from President Hinckley during an interview with David Ranson (ABC ?) on November 9th, 1997:

    DR: At present women are not allowed to be priests in your Church. Why is that?

    Gordon B. Hinckley: That’s right, because the Lord has put it that way. Now women have a very prominent place in this Church. They have there own organisation. Probably the largest women’s organisation in the world of 3.7 million members. And the women of that organisation sit on Boards. Our Board of Education things of that kind. They counsel with us. We counsel together. They bring in insight that we very much appreciate and they have this tremendous organisation of the world where they grow and if you ask them they’ll say we’re happy and we’re satisfied.

    DR: They all say that?

    Gordon B. Hinckley: Yes. All except a oh you’ll find a little handful one or two here and there, but in 10 million members you expect that.

    DR: You say the Lord has put it that way. What do you mean by that?

    Gordon B. Hinckley: I mean that’s a part of His programme. Of course it is, yes.

    DR: Is it possible that the rules could change in the future as the rules are on Blacks ?

    Gordon B. Hinckley: He could change them yes. If He were to change them that’s the only way it would happen.

    DR: So you’d have to get a revelation?

    Gordon B. Hinckley: Yes. But there’s no agitation for that. We don’t find it. Our women are happy. They’re satisfied. These bright, able, wonderful women who administer their own organisation are very happy. Ask them. Ask my wife.

    Gordon B. Hinckley: Are you happy? (to his wife…)

    Mrs. H: Very happy! (laughs)

  7. 11 Ryan Hawkins October 8, 2013 at 10:35 am

    Per that previous comment, my perspective on this could be evolving.

    Bottom line is: We accept a living prophet and we accept modern revelation. That means things can change. It sounds to me like the issue of women being ordained to the priesthood may simply have not been taken up with God to seek his will on the matter.

    That question may not have ever been (or may not ever be) taken up with God. President Hinckley thought there needed to be some “agitation” on the issue at a significant enough level to get the living prophets and apostles to seek the mind and will of God on that particular issue (the same way it unfolded with blacks and the priesthood.) Once that “agitation” happens and once God provides further light and knowledge — everyone needs to be willing to accept the answer that is received — whether it is a yes or a no.

    This hasn’t to date become a significant issue with a significant number of women…but the group creating the “agitation” just might be following the proper protocol to seek the mind and will of God on an issue that is significant to them. They didn’t seem to be protesting in a conflict-filled manner…and they all seem to be active, faithful members of the church.

    • 12 R.S. "Rob" Ghio October 8, 2013 at 10:51 am

      Those are valid points, and certainly it is in response to questions that revelations are given. But things have to be done in wisdom and order, and storming the Bastille isn’t really the way to go. Also, I remember President Hinckley later talking about not looking to his news interviews as statements of doctrine or policy. By “agitation,” he might have been merely been saying that the world is trying to create controversy where there is little controversy in the Church.
      Like I said before, in my mind, women will have the Priesthood at some point, in this life or the next. I think the language in the temple is carefully chosen, and the word “priestess” has to have some meaning. My purpose for the post really was to point out that there is not some secret “men’s only” club in the Church were they hide all of the good cheese and doctrine. Insisting upon attending the Priesthood session in person is a silly protest.

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