Restoring the Priesthood | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

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Restoring the Priesthood

Mormon feminists want to have the powerful role in the LDS Church that women had in the days of Joseph Smith

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“One thing I think we suffer from as a church is the way we are using the priesthood as a catch-all bureaucratic force,” Amanda says, adding that the assumption that men will have talent in performing blessings can hurt the faith of male priesthood holders.

“I have gone to men asking for priesthood blessings and you just felt zip, nothing; the poor man feels that and feels the burden ... feels the shame and guilt for not living up to that calling,” she says. “The scripture says not everyone has the gift of healing or revelation, but the way we are currently using the priesthood assumes they do.”

Amanda says she’s helped dozens of women, some who’ve had anxieties over parenting or grief over a divorce. But most of the time, she says, she doesn’t know what the maladies are and tries to leave it between the Lord and the woman seeking help. But every blessing she performs, Amanda says, has only helped strengthen her testimony in the church.

“It’s easy as a woman in this church to get the message that your contributions aren’t as important as that of a man,” Amanda says. “I struggled for a long time to get pregnant, so I wasn’t part of the ‘motherhood.’ But this [calling] has completely nurtured my faith. Every time I do this, I get to see how the Lord sees someone else. It has completely cemented my relationship to Him.”

Refound Faith
For Hannah Wheelwright, a 20-year-old political-science student at Brigham Young University, getting involved in the Ordain Women movement wasn’t just an extracurricular activity; it was a personal calling that helped her keep her faith in God and the LDS Church.

Wheelwright grew up on the East Coast. While adjusting to the BYU lifestyle, she was reading from the Bible when she came across Genesis 3:16, where God tells Eve she was given to Adam to be “ruled over” by him. A crack formed in Wheelwright’s faith. At first, she says, she couldn’t believe in the idea of a sexist God; her doubt then festered to the point that she didn’t know if she could believe in any God at all.

But some events eventually brought her back to the faith. One was getting involved in Ordain Women. The other was a unique spiritual experience she had been searching for in her crisis of faith.

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In 2011, Wheelwright received a blessing from a fellow Mormon woman, a blessing she described as one of the singular most spiritual experiences that she’s ever had. It was powerful enough to bring her back to the faith, she says, and gave her something to fight for.

“I’ll never go back to the same sort of faith I had growing up,” Wheelwright says. “But I’ve come around to realize that there is a God, and I’m planning on staying in the LDS Church.”

A Call for Relief
When Frances Monson, the wife of LDS Church Prophet Thomas S. Monson, passed away, newspaper obituaries told the story of the prophet’s wife trying to sneak into the all-male priesthood session to hear her husband speak after he was called to be an apostle of the church. An usher had to escort her from the meeting, and she instead stood outside the doorway, straining to hear her husband’s words.

While the story was held up to show the adoration of the prophet’s wife, Kelly sees the story as a sad reminder of the barriers set by the priesthood.

The church has made some important gestures recently, such as asking a woman to offer a prayer in LDS General Conference for the first time ever, in April 2013, and televising the Oct. 5 priesthood session for all to see, but the organizers of Ordain Women argue that it’s not just about whether women can hear the deliberations of priesthood holders or not, but the fact that their voices can’t join the discussion.

And though some Mormon feminists argue that inevitable backlash against the Ordain Women movement will set back the more modest efforts of other groups to have women’s voices and needs recognized, Wheelwright says it’s not possible for one to happen without the other.

“Having women’s voices respected and heard more in church, allowing women to be ward clerks, are all good goals,” Wheelwright says. “But I think if women were ordained, they would be able help those changes happen. All that will come after women have a seat at the table.”

Kelly also echoes Wheelwright’s statement and says that church leaders can’t retaliate against the movement without risking the alienation of more LDS women.

“There is no point in advocating for a piecemeal approach that at the same time also reinforces our subordinate status,” Kelly says. 

Ordain Women will be meeting at City Creek Park (110 N. State, Salt Lake City) at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5, and walk to the LDS Conference Center to wait in the standby line to attend Priesthood Session. For more information, visit OrdainWomen.org.

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