Mormonism, Priesthood and Gender

Kate Kelly argues that the roles of women have become more restrictive since the founding of the church, and that women were always meant to have the priesthood. The same thing has been said of Christianity. The reality is that modern culture is heir to ideas developed during the so-called Axial Age. (800 to 500 B.C.) Many of the religious and philosophical ideas developed during that time were aimed at women. Today these ideas remain influential in Mormonism and other modern sects, as well as in the more orthodox churches. If you have a problem with the place of women in religion and society, that’s where you’d have to look for the cause. However, people who are invested in these offshoots often try to correct the immediate problems instead. I understand that. I just wonder how successful they can be if their efforts are not based in reality.

As a former Mormon, I find Kelly’s approach curious for another reason: Abuse of women in the Mormon Church does exist, but not as a stated policy of the church. Unlike the male priesthood, injustice in the Church is more akin to the breaking of promises. It is done behind the scenes and on a personal level, and so its victims have no recourse. You could argue that it is facilitated by a male priesthood, but I think it’s doubtful the priesthood is the source of the problem. It’s more a symptom of the problem.

It’s important to point out that the Church knows how to present an attractive ideal to women. At the same time, the men’s behavior often indicates that they have no intention of adhering to this ideal. The result is that Mormon women are attracted to an ideal that never seems to materialize.

You might be asking which is the real Mormonism? Also, what is the nature and purpose of priesthood? In the process of trying to answer these questions, a third question might arise—about gender.

The website for Ordain Women ((Frequently Asked Questions,, Available: states:

“Many Mormons respond to questions about the inequity of an all-male priesthood by insisting that men and women have distinct but equal roles. Women have motherhood, they argue, and men have priesthood. What they fail to acknowledge is that fatherhood is the appropriate parallel to motherhood. Priesthood power is separate and distinct from parenthood and gender. Rhetoric that uses motherhood to circumscribe women’s lives has been used throughout history to deny women access to the voting booth, political office, education, employment, and spiritual empowerment. Ordain Women does not question the importance of motherhood and fatherhood. Rather, we reject the use of motherhood to justify limitations on women’s authority in the LDS Church.

“Equality is not about sameness; it is about removing obstacles to access and opportunity. We refuse to tolerate inequity in our secular institutions. Ordain Women asserts that we must also reject it in our homes and religious communities.”

I think it’s true that Mormons use rhetoric about motherhood in the wrong way. However, this shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that motherhood is an obstacle to women’s rights. If the assumption of Ordain Women is that women can only be given equal rights in spite of motherhood I think it misses the point. I’ve argued instead that the rights and authority of women should stem from their motherhood.

So what is the nature of priesthood and how does gender come into it? Part of the above quote defines the problem:

“What they fail to acknowledge is that fatherhood is the appropriate parallel to motherhood. Priesthood power is separate and distinct from parenthood and gender.”

I disagree. Claims to religious and political authority are always based on parenthood and gender. Think of the birth of Greek gods from the body of Zeus.

If I’ve failed to make my point, you might think this last statement is another argument for female ordination. Hopefully my position will become clear in future posts.





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