“The Role of Women in the Church” by the Courage Editorial Committee

Many years ago in Community of Christ basic things like sermons were ONLY done by members of the priesthood, which at that time was exclusively men. Many people didn’t like that the laity and all women were excluded from religious services like this.

In the early 1970s a magazine was created called “Courage: A Journal of History, Thought, and Action”. This magazine provided a platform for feminists and progressives to speak their mind. There is an article, “The Role of Women in the Church” by the Courage Editorial Committee (vol. 1, no. 2 (1970), page 110) which stuck out to me. This article rather boldly called for their the ordination of women or the elevation of lay members’ role in religious services.

In hind sight, we are lucky enough to see that we got both of these, but in 1970 those rights were still actively being fought for. This provides an interesting glimpse into where our church was at this time.

“The Role of Women in the Church” by the Courage Editorial Committee

“The Role of Women in the Church” by the Courage Editorial Committee

The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has been justly proud of the way in which it has historically refused to be bound by prevailing tradition. The presence of an open canon of scripture, a lay ministry, and a social expression of the Kingdom of God on earth are a few of the indications of our willingness to re-evaluate and transcend existing tradition. Further, we have often recognized that the loss of courage to engage in continuous and rigorous examination of practices and beliefs would be a denial of an important, perhaps even crucial, characteristic of our movement. In a time when churches are struggling to survive, we cannot afford to perpetuate unproductive traditions. At the same time we recognize that change of practice and belief should not be made hastily or casually. There is always danger of throwing away efficacious traditions, of losing practices and beliefs that have great and permanent value in spite of changing times. But we would be less than true to our great heritage if we did not stand ready to consider, to examine, to test, to debate the usefulness of any existing tradition.

The editors of Courage believe that the members of the Reorganized Church ought to look seriously and objectively at the possibility of including women in positions of leadership within the church. In the larger society the extension of equal status to women and their full participation with men is an idea whose time has come. The church must respond to that idea in some way. If its response is to refuse to consider the issue, we are unworthy of our past and we jeopardize our future.

In the hope of initiating a discussion of the role of women in society at large we include in this issue a general statement by a young woman who is concerned about this issue. Further, we would like to direct our thinking to the issue as it relates to the church by raising two problems and suggesting alternative solutions to them. These are not intended as the last word, only the first.

Problem one: Our church assigns a second-class role to women. THe major policy decisions at every level from the Joint Council to branch administration are made by all-male bodies. Women do not hold significant positions of leadership. Further, the special validation of priesthood call which is never available to women regardless of their spiritual qualities and abilities inevitably make the woman a second-class citizen.

Problem two: There is a shortage of priesthood manpower to do the work that is reserved exclusively for those holding priesthood office. Priesthood is withheld from women by our own tradition, not by scripture. The universal plea of leaders at every level is “God send us men.” Translated into operational terms this means that there are often not enough priesthood members to conduct the public and private ministries of the church: administering the districts, preaching the sermons, deliberating the crucial theological issues, working as salaried ministers, counseling the families with problems, supporting the lonely and frightened, etc.

We suggest two possible solutions to these problems. We challenga our readers to think of others. The most obvious solution would be the ordination of women. There is no scriptural basis by which women are excluded from priesthood. The abscence of specific prohibition ought to alert us to the possibility that what we haev inherited is one of those traditions of a strongly patriarchal society. Another solution to the above-mentioned problems would be to maintain male priesthood but to abandon traditions which limit leadership roles to holders of priesthood. A close examination of ministerial functions suggested by scripture might reveal tasks in our modern church organization which could be performed by laiety. Modern life has brought at least twenty years of productive time to women after children are raised. The middle class wife does not need to be gainfully employed during these years. Her abilities could make a tremendous contribution somewhere. At the present time not only our church but most of society is ignoring that potential contribution. There are also single women who have no family responsibility that would prevent full-time church work of effective part-time ministry.

Our intention here is not to suggest definitive answers. We are not raising problems and posing possible solutions in an attempt to stimulate serious examination of the problem. If we ignore the necessity for discussion, if we shout down those who raise the issue, if we refuse to take into account that in the near future we are going to be required to explain to our young women members why they are not permitted to function in significant leadership capacities, we will run the risk of losing the most able of them to institutions and causes that are willing to utilize their abilities. Further, if we refuse to recognize that we have not yet made optimum use of the ability and dedication of at least half of our members, our institution will operate at a disadvantage in a crucial period of its history. A discussion of this issue, however we resolve it, will be of benefit to us all.

Editorial Committee