Few events in the life of a church can match the warmth and hopefulness of a ceremony to welcome a new baby into the community.
Earlier this year, I stood before my Protestant congregation and held my 5-month-old son as two pastors (who both happened to be women) laid their hands on him and prayed for him. We asked that the congregation share in the responsibility of his Christian upbringing and prayed for the day that my son would come to know the Lord as his own. As his mother, my primary role in his Christian nurture was acknowledged by my presence and participation in the ceremony, and tears slipped from my eyes as we finished. To say it was a special moment for me as a mother would be an understatement.
I have to wonder why the LDS Church is so determined to ensure that its own women can never write what I just wrote, that its new mothers only experience such ceremonies as bystanders rather than as participants. Furthermore, my LDS friends tell me that when a father comes under church discipline, he will be barred from participation in ceremonies such as the blessing and naming of his children as part of his punishment. This outsider finds it curious that the church punishes unrighteous fathers by treating them like faithful mothers.
In my time as a student at Brigham Young University, I asked my share of questions about church policies that govern LDS women. Frequently I had my concerns brushed off with magical hand-waving terms such as “separate gender roles” (modern-day codespeak for “women are inferior”) coupled with insistence that the Mormon church really, really does value its women and regard them as equals.
I never hear anything at my own church about how special women are; perhaps we are just too busy giving them important and visible roles to bother? If you have to constantly reassure someone that you really do love them, value them and respect them, it may be because your actions are telling a different story. In any case, there is no such thing as equality without equal access to authority. Therefore, any talk of Mormon women being equal to Mormon men free from ordination to the priesthood is perfect nonsense.
Kate Kelly wanted to change all of this, to usher Mormon women into full spiritual and temporal equality with Mormon men, into full participation in the life of the church. So she came to a men’s meeting and asked for admission. And even though that meeting had empty seats, she was turned away and, ultimately, thrown out of the church for her efforts. What does that mean?
It means that if you believe in and advocate for the equality of men and women, Mormon leaders would rather have an empty seat.
It means that if you believe in the biblical pattern of women as prophets and want to see that realized in this dispensation, Mormon leaders would rather have an empty seat.
It means that if you do not think the punishment of a faithless father should match the regular treatment of a righteous mother, Mormon leaders would rather have an empty seat.
I cannot tell my LDS feminist friends what to do in this difficult time, and now it looks like I won’t have to. The prophets have spoken and the thinking has been done.
Bridget Jack Jeffries is a master’s candidate in church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church. She lives in Palatine, Ill.