A fight for gender equality in Church of Jesus Christ

Two years ago when Kristy Money was planning a baby-naming ceremony in her Mormon congregation, she asked her bishop if she could hold her newborn during the ceremony.

She knew the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ rule against women participating in such ceremonies, but maybe this time, she thought.

The bishop, however, was unbending. Only men who hold the priesthood could participate, he explained.

“I was heartbroken,” the 30-year-old Athens mother said recently.

The Church of Jesus Christ, whose priests and governing authorities are entirely made up of male leaders, is wrestling with growing discontent among women like Money who believe the congregation’s rules discriminate against them.

They want more participation and visibility in virtually every aspect of Mormon life.

Some women have acquiesced to the Church’s long-held traditions.

Money refuses.

“All I wanted was to hold my baby,” she said.

So Money decided to hold the ceremony in her home instead, and the following month she signed up with Ordain Women, an activist organization for Mormon women seeking equality in their church and ordination to the priesthood.

Since then as many as 650 women have come out in support of the movement, posting their profiles on ordainwomen.org and demanding they be allowed to participate in the all-male leadership sessions in Salt Lake. At one event they stood 500 strong for hours in the cold rain waiting, hoping to be admitted to the all-male priesthood meeting. One by one, they were denied entry.

“It was pretty devastating,” Money said.

Then, in an email sent to her on Father’s Day last month, Money received more bad news. Church officials accused her of having caused contention in recent class by contradicting the teacher and other classmates who argued Prophet Brigham Young wasn’t wrong for opposing interracial marriage.

It started, she said, when the lone black woman in the class suggested ignorance was the underlying reason for these teachings.

When the teacher tried to correct her, Money raised her hand.

No, she’s right. Prophets sometimes make mistakes, Money said, citing the ban lifted in 1978 that prohibited African-American men from being ordained.

That did not go over well.

When church leaders got wind of the exchange, Money was called in to give an account of her action.

Unwilling to repent, church leaders told her she could no longer raise her hand to speak and they strongly encouraged her to stop submitting opinion pieces to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The newspaper had published three of Money’s editorials challenging, among other things, Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelation that he was commanded by God to practice polygamy, which she believes demeans women, and the banning of African-Americans from the priesthood.

“I’m not going to obey that,” she said. “I stand by what I said.”

According to Money, she was told to obey or there would be further consequences. Pray about it, they said, and come back to us with your answer.

Money said she has been praying for years about the Church of Jesus Christ’s exclusionary policies toward women, and she refuses to be silent any longer.

Bill Maycock, chairman of the church’s Metro Atlanta Public Affairs Committee, would not comment on Money’s claims or the Church of Jesus Christ’s church policies.

Small but significant steps have been taken. For instance, church leaders have lowered the age limit for female missionaries to 18, and they recently invited two woman, one African-American, to deliver a prayer at its general conference. Still its unclear how far the all-male central leadership is willing to go in extending authority to women and remaking its rules.

Mica McGriggs, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at Brigham Young University who sits on the board of directors at Feminist Mormon Housewives, a non-profit that raises funds for educating women, acknowledged the church has not yet figured out how to deal with gender and race are issues.

“There are some women in the church who don’t see that they are not benefiting from the current patriarchal system because it delivers benevolent sexism,” McGriggs said. “Women are put on a pedestal and told how wonderful and important they are that they get to be mothers, and yet they have very little power in the structure of the church.”

According to Linda K. Burton, the church’s most senior female official and president of its women’s auxiliary, the Relief Society, said in a statement to the New York Times church leaders “are keenly aware of these cultural issues and of course we are addressing them.”

For boys as young as 12, Mormon ordination is a rite of passage. That gives them rights and privileges to lead the church. They can pass communion. They can collect the offering. Boys as young as 16 can baptize and perform healing blessings for someone who is ill. Men can lead congregations and branches of the church. They can become prophets and apostles and lead baby naming and blessing ceremonies, similar to christenings in Protestant churches.

For women, it’s a different story. They are essentially relegated to traditional female roles. They can teach Sunday school and serve in women’s and children’s organizations, but they are always presided over by men.

“Our primary role is to support the priesthood and be nurturers in the home,” said Money, who’s pregnant with twins. “I love kids, but I don’t think that’s the only thing I’m good at. Restricting us to these 1950s gender roles is not fair and limits our potential.”

But this fight is not just about her, Money said. She isn’t interested in being a bishop. She doesn’t believe she’d be much of a leader. But as a mother of two, she’s pretty sure she can hold her own baby during a naming ceremony. And she doesn’t want the church’s rules to limit her daughters’ potential someday.

The only way women can achieve priesthood is for the prophet to receive a revelation from God. Money believes God wants equality for all his children, and she wants the Mormon prophet to check with the Almighty sooner rather than later.

At a meeting two weeks ago, church leaders stripped Money of her recommend. That means she is unworthy to enter the temple because she is not living up to God’s standards.

“I was heartbroken,” Money said.

Unless church leaders have a change of heart, Money could be in for even more heartache.

She could be excommunicated. If that happens, so could her husband, Rolf.

Money doesn’t want that to happen, but she refuses to be silenced.

“If every woman is silenced in the Church,” she said, “there is no way we’ll ever have change.”