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Mormon women seeking middle ground to greater equality
Feminism » Ordination may be a long shot, but activists see a middle ground to greater visibility and involvement in their faith.

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A kind of power » Despite the lack of contemporary role models, Mormonism does teach that women have access to all the same revelatory and healing powers as men, just with their own faith, not priesthood authority.

"Spiritual gifts, which have been a hallmark of this church from its very inception, are given equally to men and women," Bonnie Atkinson, a Mormon writer and blogger in Springville, writes in an email. "That’s the more crucial equality, the eternal equality that supersedes any secular definition of equality."

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Atkinson argues that LDS women are not taking advantage of powers they already possess.

Mormon women need to "step forward and embrace these gifts of the spirit, acknowledge the value of what they are already doing, and ask more of themselves," Atkinson says. Then the outside world "will take notice of their articulateness, skills and worth. It won’t be because a policy or a program changed to bestow that power on them."

Strayer notes that Mormons have "a uniquely feminist doctrine that … could be an example of religious gender equality to every other world religion. However, I don’t see that doctrine being expanded or even pondered in this generation."

Is female ordination, then, an unreasonable hope?

"My own view is that ordination to priesthood office is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition," Haglund writes, "for making the kinds of changes that would allow women to participate fully in the life of the church."

Instead, women can tap the flexibility of being largely "off the chart" in terms of organization, she says, using women’s informal networks to "transmit knowledge in ways that seem better suited to an information age than the formal and sometimes cumbersome ‘priesthood channels.’ "

Other Mormon women see no possibility of equality without ordination.

"I have personally come to believe in a priestesshood that is extended to women when they go through the temple," writes LDS WAVE founder Tresa Edmunds. "But I also believe that … as long as church leadership is contingent upon the priesthood, women will be marginalized in the gospel. … For women to be truly equal in the church, bureaucratic leadership needs to be completely uncoupled from priesthood ordinances, or women need to have access to fulfill those ordinances."

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Hannah Wheelwright, a BYU sophomore majoring in political science who launched the Young Mormon Feminists blog, says the church could do a lot to "decrease gender inequality," such as "allowing women into the governance of the church" or considering the General Relief Society and Primary presidencies to be "general authorities."

With no significant Mormon female spiritual leaders, Wheelwright says, "I fail to see how women are equal. Female ordination is the only ultimate signal of equality."

Jana Riess, a Mormon writer in Cincinnati, reluctantly agrees.

"For the last 90 years, everything has been channeled through the priesthood — all decision-making, rituals, everything that goes on in Mormon life," Riess says. "Women are completely shut out from having input into decision-making that affects their lives and their families."

Riess is reconciled to the idea that she doesn’t need the priesthood to enjoy the rituals, but is deeply troubled that "women are so systematically underutilized."

She sees two paths forward: Women either get the priesthood or the priesthood is expanded to accommodate greater involvement and visibility for women.

That large middle group seems to be pushing for the latter.


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