Woman Suffrage and Ordaining Women

We acknowledge no inferiority to men. We claim to have no less ability to perform the duties which God has imposed upon us than they have to perform those imposed upon them.

We believe that God has wisely and well adapted each sex to the proper performance of the duties of each.

We believe our trusts to be as important and sacred as any that exists on earth.

We believe woman suffrage would relatively lessen the influence of the intelligent and true, and increase the influence of the ignorant and vicious.

So said declared the 1886 proclamation, “Woman’s Protest Against Woman Suffrage.” Continuing it reads:

We feel that our present duties fill up the whole measure of our time and ability, and are such as none but ourselves can perform. Our appreciation of their importance requires us to protest against all efforts to infringe upon our rights by imposing upon us those obligations which cannot be separated from suffrage, but which, as we think, cannot be performed by us without the sacrifice of the highest interests of our families and of society.

It is our fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons who represent us at the ballot-box. Our fathers and our brothers love us; our husbands are our choice and one with us; our sons are what we make them. We are content that they represent us in the corn-field, on the battle-field, and in the ballot-box, and we teach them in the school-room, at the fireside, and at the cradle, believing our representation even at the ballot-box to be thus more full and impartial than it would be were the views of the few who wish suffrage adopted, contrary to the judgment of many.

We do therefore respectfully protest against any legislation to establish ‘woman suffrage’ in our land, or in any part of it.

It is interesting how women against suffrage sound like Latter-day Saint women who object to the ordain women movement. In both cases the argument is rooted in the premise that God has appointed women their sphere and in the late 1800’s it did not included women voting, and now it doesn’t include women holding the priesthood. A century or so ago some women were saying, “I don’t want the right to vote,” today we have some Mormon women declaring, “I don’t want the priesthood,” as though the assertion alone puts them on solid theological ground. If nothing else, “Want” has never carried any weight in a Church that sings, “I’ll go where you want me to go Dear Lord, or do what you want me to do.”

The irony is that in the process of speaking out against women holding the priesthood, these women have actually joined steps with the ordain women movement. They have decided to add their voice to the record, rather than letting those authorized to speak for the Lord have the say. They have temporarily forgotten that they really should be home baking cookies and teaching their sons to want to hold the priesthood and to honor it for the precious blessings it brings into the home. Rather than asserting they don’t want the priesthood, or declaring how the Lord doesn’t want women to hold the priesthood, they should be teaching their daughters to honor the men who hold the priesthood and to be worthy to be a priesthood holder’s eternal companion. They need to remember that they should speak only when invited by the priesthood, and then under the direction of the priesthood. To do otherwise, even in protest, is to join ranks with those calling for equality.

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13 Responses

  1. Alan says:

    One thing puts a wrench in your comparison. Utah (1870), Wyoming (1869) and Idaho (1896) were the first states to have women’s suffrage; in fact, Mormons were far more progressive on this subject than rest of the country that didn’t start granting suffrage to women until post-1910….and the real irony is that Mormons also had polygamy. So, in this comparison between suffrage and ordination, we have to consider why it is that the Church, since its formation, has actually wanted women to have the right to vote, but then still maintain this ecclesiastical divide of two genders.

    I’m thinking about all the Mormon women who protested against the ERA. I’m not sure that by simply opening their mouths in protest, they were “joining the side of those pro-ERA.” Given that the Church has been pro-women’s suffrage, and routinely turns toward its women to “speak truth to the world,” my sense is that the “loud” Mormon woman is not a historical oddball — so long as she is loud about certain positions.

    There was/is this idea that something other than equality would be imposed on women through the ERA’s idea of “equality.” The Church has loosely defined this “something” as a blurring of gender roles, roles that I suppose are not disrupted through suffrage, per se. Now, if a Mormon woman took suffrage to mean that women’s participation in the public sphere means she has a much right as a man to become a politician instead of a housewife, then this would be something else. I don’t know…does anyone know why the Church was so pro-women’s suffrage?

  2. Parker says:

    It is a “wrench” only if you assume that Utah woman suffrage was driven by the same “progressive” perspective as elsewhere. When you consider that it was the male leadership who wanted women to vote knowing they would support polygamy it becomes less of a progressive “wrench,” and more or a patriarchal one.

  3. Just Jill says:

    I agree Parker @2
    Women voting in a block according to the dictates of the male patriarchy only strengthened the churches power and position.

    There were Mormon suffragettes who were truly working for women’s rights but I’m sure they were frowned upon. I imagine the situation to be pretty much a mirror of what we see today only in a different era.

  4. Alan says:

    There’s still the fundamental difference that the women were representing themselves at the ballot box rather than being represented by men. Really, how fair is it to say, “Oh, well those votes were practically an extension of men’s votes.”? That kind of rhetorical move is why Mormon women came to distrust “progressive” feminists.

  5. Parker says:

    Well, of course, it is decided unfair to even suggest that women in the LDS Church ever reflect the male point of view, i.e. the official Church view. It is truly amazing how independent in their thinking (and voting) Utah women really are.

  6. Suzanne Neilsen says:

    How rhetorical is it that, unlike Wyoming, in Utah territory women couldn’t run for public office?
    (Can’t help but notice that women in the Church today can raise their hand to sustain males to administrative offices that women are ineligible for. It’s not only who speaks, but who gets to call others to speak.
    And in a side note, in Centennial Park, unlike FLDS, it’s a woman doing the choosing of her husband.)

    The larger powers that were, had no problem disenfranchising all women in Utah, but only disenfranchised Mormon men.

    And what is meant by progressive. Back then, there was the United Order. Nowadays we know that capitalism is the divine order of eternity, even in the Kingdom of SkyDad.
    I wonder how many CEO’s calling and election has been made sure. Are any of them women?
    I wonder in the Great Accommodation what was accommodated and what wasn’t.
    Can’t help put note that Mormonism participation in wider American culture coincided with the emergence of modern heterosexuality. Here’s where I say something about heteronormativity, and blah, blah, blah.
    And how did this affect what was correlated?
    And how fair is it, to ask how many women (independent minded or not) were on the correlation committee?

  7. Molly says:

    What I keep coming back to in this debate is the bottom line that *if* you believe the prophet speaks for God, and *if* you believe the church is true, this campaign is a textbook definition of “steadying the ark.” I have yet to find a faithful perspective argument in favour of Ordain Women that doesn’t collide up against nearly two centuries of LDS doctrine and tradition. Proponents seem to be using contorted logic to try to justify what they are doing when what they are really doing is proposing a radical transformation to the processes of Church governance, revision of official doctrine, and the Mormon concept of the family. Ordain Women is either a heretical sect or an entirely new faction among many in the Mormon movement.

    I don’t believe the church is true, and I don’t believe the prophet speaks for God. (Let’s cut to the chase — I don’t believe in God.) So for me, I think men and women waking up to the utter ridiculousness of patriarchy is brilliant. But I also regret that this movement has only grasped half of the idea. Equality is something to be desired and required by a modern intelligent human being. But it isn’t going to be found in Mormonism, and no amount of petulant queuing outside the Conference Centre is going to change that. In order to have equality, one has to either destroy and remake Mormonism into something that bears little resemblance to the original, or simply walk away from the LDS Church entirely.

  8. chanson says:

    What I keep coming back to in this debate is the bottom line that *if* you believe the prophet speaks for God, and *if* you believe the church is true, this campaign is a textbook definition of “steadying the ark.”

    Of course if you start trying to apply logic to Mormon theology, I think one can show fairly easily that the CoJCoL-dS is in a state of apostasy (by its own definition of what it means for a church to be in a state of apostasy). So you might as well go full-blown heretic rather than trying to fit this radical shift into the corporate hierarchy of LDS Inc.

    Perversely, the one way “Ordain Women” would really fit correctly into Mormon theology would be if they claimed to have a new prophet who was receiving revelation from Heavenly Mother. I say “perversely” because — despite the fact that that would kind of fit with Mormon theological logic — the movement would still be heretical sect and an entirely new faction among many in the Mormon movement.

    Even in that scenario, I think it’s unlikely they’d achieve gender equality, and either way, I still wouldn’t join (since I don’t believe in God either). But it would be awesome. 😉

  9. Molly says:

    “Of course if you start trying to apply logic to Mormon theology, I think one can show fairly easily that the CoJCoL-dS is in a state of apostasy (by its own definition of what it means for a church to be in a state of apostasy).”

    I could not agree more! This was one of the key concerns that caused me a lot of sleepless nights in the early days of my awakening to the intense problems of Mormon teachings. I was physically sickened by the discovery of exactly how far the polygamy rabbit-hole went, but even more sickened when I realised that the FLDS, abuses notwithstanding, are practising a doctrine closer to early Mormonism than the current LDS church is by a mile and then some.

    The idea of a new prophet leading a Heavenly Mother-based sect is intriguing, although I have to wonder if the Protestant sensibilities at the roots of Mormon culture would make that too distasteful to too many Mormons. Wicca already exists for the goddess-inclined.

    I suppose in a sad way it would be nice to see a gender-neutral Mormon church, but it would still be so hopelessly built on historical, scientific, and cultural inaccuracies that it still wouldn’t be worth joining, as you say.

  10. chanson says:

    The idea of a new prophet leading a Heavenly Mother-based sect is intriguing, although I have to wonder if the Protestant sensibilities at the roots of Mormon culture would make that too distasteful to too many Mormons. Wicca already exists for the goddess-inclined.

    Yes, and I think the sexism is such a central component of the modern CoJCoL-dS that it has practically become a selling point. The church didn’t create sexism — some people favor sexism all on their own — and some actually like having a church that tells them that their sexism is a courageous moral stand against adversity. The people who less on that have largely already left. I think that’s the biggest uphill battle faced by “Ordain Women”.

    But I am quite intrigued by your point about how their request contradicts Mormon theology. It’s true.

    But the interesting thing is that in some sense it doesn’t matter. The doctrinal heart of the CoJCoL-dS has been entirely consumed by Correlation, which is essentially the disavowal of all doctrine outside a handful of primary topics. Now there is only policy, and policy can change in any way at any time, depending only on the mysteries that come forth from anonymous halls of the Church Office Building. And the change can be based on the tastes and comfort levels of the members, as we saw when they cut the death oaths from the temple ceremony in 1990. So in a sense, it’s not so crazy to be a believer and believe that one should be able to petition the leaders to change this policy…

  11. Alan says:

    As far as historical and institutional baggage goes, I think the the CoJCoL-dS is more able to change to ordain women than the Catholic Church, even if presently American Mormons are less interested in ordaining women than American Catholics. I think chanson is right that correlation, which keeps everyone in lockstep, has the benefit of introducing significant change over the course of a couple generations. So, Ordain Women is helpful in planting seeds for that change. At the same time, male-only ordination is tied to a bunch of other correlated things, so it’s difficult to see the restructuring — particularly since the go-ahead would come from the Qof12.

  12. Molly says:

    Alan — it would be interesting to compile a list of doctrines and practices that would be broken or changed beyond recognition if women were ordained. Some things, such as local leadership, likely wouldn’t change much. I don’t see how having a female Sunday School president or a female bishopric member would change much structurally. But the structure of the family would be completely altered. Women wouldn’t really be able to swear fealty to their husbands in the temple under the new arrangement; husband and wife would have to jointly swear fealty to God, making neither and both the family leader. “Patriarchal” blessings would have to make way for “matriarchs” participating. The rabbit-hole goes on and on. It would be a reasonable exercise for critics and proponents of Ordain Women to sit down and spell out exactly what the remade, gender-neutral Mormon church would look and behave like. Until then it all seems so theoretical.

  13. Alan says:

    Yes, when I’ve made the critique of “well, if everyone is ordained, it’d be kinda weird,” one response I’ve gotten is that ordination isn’t mandatory. Okay, but boys are ordained as matter of course…so, a switch to only some boys and girls being ordained is very different. What would be the parameters of ordination if not gender? Folks need to begin to articulate what it looks like (and maybe they are, and I just haven’t been paying enough attention) instead of just demanding, no?

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