I wrote this almost exactly a year ago, before I had a blog. Today I learned that a book went unpublished by a Utah-based publisher because one of the co-authors refused to remove a reference to his partner (yes, he is gay) in his bio. It’s a private business, and as a publishing house they have the right to not publish (though they may be subject to legal action–I don’t know).
All that being said, here is my take on the treatment of women in the Mormon Church because if you’re not familiar with what “priesthood” means to the “Saints,” you have no idea how truly sexist the Mormon Church is.
First, a disclaimer. It’s been many years since my last official exposure to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and I am depending on memory for my statements here. Therefore, there may be some dispute as to a few details, but my general point remains true.
I left the Mormon church at the age of 20 in 1969. I had converted when I was 12, but when the peace, love and rock-and-roll (not to mention drugs) movement of my generation beckoned, I may have been late in responding, but I did respond. However, this is not about why I left the church; this is about why I never went back.
When one looks at the Catholic church and its denial of the priesthood to women, one knows that only a limited number of members enters the clergy. It’s unfair that women cannot be ordained priests, but they can participate in the lay priesthood, and many do. So when we hear that the Mormons only ordain males to the priesthood, the model that emerges to our thinking is that of the Catholics–no women as priests but also very few men. This is not the case.
At the age of 12, every Mormon boy is ordained a deacon, and from that moment to the moment of his death, he is part of the hierarchy of the priesthood. If I remember correctly, at 14, he becomes a teacher, and at 16, a priest. At 19, young men become elders, and most Mormon men never go any further than that.
From the church’s founding by Joseph Smith to the late 1970s, black men were denied the priesthood as they were considered to bear the mark of Cain, but that all changed when the leaders of the church had a revelation from God that He’d finally decided they deserved a chance. At that time, they also made it very clear that no such chance would be afforded women ever. I have a quote from a spokesperson for the church to this effect, but it’s in a paper I wrote once which is hidden in some box underneath my bed. However, you need only read From Housewife to Heretic by Sonia Johnson to understand the bullying of women that goes on in the church. She was excommunicated because she dared to stand up to the Mormon Senator Hatch in a Senate hearing.
What I’m trying to say is the denial of the priesthood to women in the Mormon church means that one-half of the church carries all the power over the other half. If you ask them, they will answer that God keeps his wife in heaven (the Mormons’ Mother in heaven) in the background to keep her safe, to protect her. They will tell you that the wife is the queen of her home. But with the priesthood to “guide” them, the men are in charge and forever will be.
And this is why I never went back. I wasn’t about to subjugate myself to some man simply because “Elder” preceded his last name in church.