I Walk Imperfectly

Priesthood and Womanhood

Sun 21 February 2016 |

Today I attended services at the Community of Christ. There were lots of little things I noticed, and a couple bigger things I've been thinking about since.

The Little Things

  • The hymnal is enormous. I think there were 800+ hymns in it.
  • They had a screen and projector up off to the side that told you what was going on in the service at that moment, which hymn was being sung, etc. The use of PowerPoint in a worship service was unfamiliar and a little strange to me, but it also makes a lot of sense. It's an updated version of the little numbers on cards that we put up in LDS chapels to let people know what we're singing that day. Maybe in the future they'll just have a mobile app.
  • The closing hymn was about people of different races, genders, and classes coming together to God. They added a verse, not in the hymnal, about straight and gay people coming together too.

The Bigger Things

Prophets and Priests

In the 1800+ times I have attended LDS services, I have never heard a speaker make a reference to Max Weber. But I heard such a reference at the CofC services today. There is definitely a stronger intellectual streak in CofC thought. The reference was to Weber's distinction between prophets and priests.

A priest, as pastor Seth pointed out, exists to support the institution. Whereas a prophet exists to call the institution to repentance. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Malachi were all in this mold. So was Jesus. So was Joseph Smith.

I hadn't heard this distinction from Weber before, but it strongly echoed thoughts that I have had about the roles of prophets and institutions. The LDS church tends to always frame prophets as institutional authorities. But most of the Old Testament Prophets clearly weren't.

Seth's explanation of Weber's point took my thoughts a step further than I'd taken them before. Who, I wondered, are the prophets calling the LDS church to repentance today?

Obvious candidates are Rock Waterman and Denver Snuffer, who claim that the church has gone astray by deviating from Joseph Smith's teachings.

Less obvious candidates would be John Dehlin, and the host of other podcasters and bloggers calling on the church to be honest about its past. Also Kate Kelley, Ordain Women, and Feminist Mormon Housewives, calling on the church to be less of a boys' club. I'm sure none of the people in this group would call themselves prophets. They do not claim to have revelation or authority from God. But to my mind, they are precisely fulfilling the prophetic role of calling the institution to repentance.


As with the Unitarian services I've attended a couple times, today I was the only person wearing a tie. Most of the women there were wearing pants rather than dresses or skirts.

I'm still working through my thoughts and feelings about this.

Will there ever be a time when I'm comfortable going to church without a tie? Probably.

Why do mormons hold onto this style of dress? I suppose it's just another facet of the church's conservatism.

The offering portion of the service was led by a transgender woman. Those are far more rare at LDS services than ties are at non-LDS services. I do not think I've ever seen someone transgender at LDS church. Or a gay couple. It's not hard to understand why; an LDS ward is not a hospitable place for someone challenging gender norms.

This made me realize how skewed my perceptions may be. LDS wards are inhospitable to LGBT people, so LGBT people don't openly attend LDS wards. If you're an LGBT person living in an area with a strong majority of LDS neighbors, you're unlikely to be open about your sexuality. So LDS people in such places can live their whole lives never seeing an openly gay or transgender person. They miss out on opportunities to have their biases and stereotypes challenged. They can go a lifetime considering LGBT people as a suspicious "other".


The service was conducted by a woman, but that didn't feel unusual. Though I've never seen that happen in an LDS sacrament meeting, I've seen enough Relief Society, Primary, and Young Women's meetings, plus my couple of attendances at the female-led Unitarian church, that a woman up front is now refreshing but not surprising.

Seeing a woman taking part in an ordination was wonderfully different.

My friends Ben and Mel were ordained today. Ben was ordained by the pastor, joined by a female elder. Mel was ordained by the same female elder, joined by Ben.

I marvelled that something so controversial and contentious among LDS people could be so uncontroversial and celebrated in the CofC.

As Mel was being blessed, she began to cry. Her five year old son saw this. He went up, crawled in her lap, and gave her a hug. I hope I'm always able to retain that image of Mel holding her son in her arms as she was ordained to the priesthood. Though I hesitate these days to claim that uplifting feelings are the Spirit, I want to say that I felt it there. It taught me, powerfully, that there is absolutely no conflict between womanhood and priesthood. One does not replace the other. They are beautiful, divinely-inspired complements.