Women and the Priesthood is a Joke

Ordain Women at the Tabernacle Doors on Temple Square, October 2013. (Lots of jokes were made at the expense of these women.)
Ordain Women at the Marriot Center doors at Brigham Young University, October 2014. (I’m the one in this picture with the red shoes, and I overheard people laughing at us many, many times.)

Brad Wilcox’s now infamous Alpine, Utah fireside took the internet by storm two weeks ago, and I wrote my thoughts regarding his take on women and the priesthood RIGHT HERE, but there were so many problematic parts that it was impossible to cover everything in one blog post. Today I want to discuss the way women and girls with priesthood authority and power is too often considered one big hilarious joke by many men in the church. Brad talked about his kids playing church at home with their stuffed animals and joked, “I got a little nervous when my daughter started to bless the Sacrament”. He was clearly expecting a positive reaction from this one-liner, and from the audience’s chuckles you can tell that he got it.

Why though, is it so thoroughly absurd to men in positions of power in the church to imagine girls using priesthood power? The idea that Brad’s daughter would dare to even pretend to perform an ordinance was such a joke to him that he laughed out loud about it. 

Years ago, I heard a podcast interview of a returned sister missionary who shared a story from her mission to a foreign country. This sister had always been a natural leader, good at the language and brave in front of investigators. She knew the gospel and the missionary discussions forward and back, and as such she stood out before long as one of the most effective missionaries in the area. In one particular area of her mission the church was new and fledgling, and missionaries were serving as temporary branch presidents until there was enough strength and experience in the membership to lead themselves. One day the elders in her mission decided to play a friendly prank on her and invited her into a priesthood leadership meeting at the church. With straight faces they told her, “Sister, as you know the branch here has been struggling and we’ve been asked to fill the role of branch president with one of our missionaries. The president has asked that this person be you.”

There was a pause while everyone waited for her response and she was momentarily confused. Then the other missionaries in the room broke out into laughter, letting her in on the joke. The woman on the podcast admitted that she laughed right along with them at the time. They were her friends and she felt like they were her peers, and in a way they were showing how much they respected her by even suggesting the idea. 

The incident stuck with her though, and she thought to herself later, “Why is the idea of putting a woman in a leadership role so laughable that it’s an actual joke?” Hearing her experience struck a major chord in me at the time, because she was right. I understood at the same time why the joke was both funny *and* it was terrible that we as church members thought this way.

On the other hand, there are many churches out there that include women and girls equally at every level of church governance and ordinances, and to them it’s completely normal. In fact, when they see other churches that don’t fully include women it feels very wrong to them (which is probably how the woman at the conference confronting Brad Wilcox about women and the priesthood felt). In 2015 I experienced this firsthand when I spent a few Sundays visiting Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church in Provo, Utah. At the time I was longing for a church experience that ordained women and included them equally at every level. My husband was deployed to the Middle East that year and my calling was in cub scouts, so there was nothing that required I be physically in my ward during Sunday meetings. For the first time in my life (with three young kids in tow), I started taking Sunday field trips to other churches. Saint Mary’s was a small church, but full of lovely people. The Priest there was male, but just knowing that it could have been a woman meant a lot to me. After the services ended I stayed for their social hour and met a friendly woman (I will call her Jennifer) who introduced herself and asked me why I’d come that day.


Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church in Provo, Utah. (The church is even named after a female saint!)


Inside of Saint Mary’s, where congregants receive communion each week.

I told Jennifer that I was Mormon (we were still allowed to say that back then) and usually attended my ward in Lehi, but I’d wanted to experience a church where women were ordained. She was very kind and respectful of my beliefs, but also very open about her experience moving to Utah as a lifelong Episcopalian. She had two daughters, probably in the 8 to 12 year old range, and she told me that once a month they had a “Children’s Communion” (or something like that) where all the young people in the congregation would help administer their version of the Sacrament to the congregation. It was her daughters’ favorite meeting of the month, and they’d always looked forward to being allowed to participate when they were younger.

She said, “I was so surprised when I visited an LDS church for the first time and saw how segregated by gender the Sacrament services are. I can’t imagine telling my girls that they couldn’t give out communion just because they’re girls – but the boys still could. They would be so mad! Do the girls in your ward not complain about it all the time?” I said, “Honestly, no. I don’t think it occurs to most of us that it’s even an option because we’ve never seen it done any other way.”

This is a photo of the room where I sat at a table and talked to Jennifer, which I found online when I searched for images of Saint Mary’s. I also met a friendly man who called himself an “Episco-mormon”, because he’d attend both Elder’s Quorum in his home ward and Saint Mary’s with his Episcopalian wife on alternating Sundays.

Jennifer then shared with me a story from another outsider’s perspective. A Latter-day Saint neighbor had invited her family to their daughter’s baptism and they’d gone to support them, curious what an LDS baptism was like. About a week later Jennifer’s mom came to Utah to visit them, and hearing about their recent experience asked them to explain to her how the ordinance functioned. Jennifer said, “Well, the dad took the girl down into the font and baptized her. The two grandfathers stood on either side as witnesses. (This was before women could serve as witnesses.) The bishop talked to everyone while the little girl changed into dry clothes, and then the dad and a bunch of other men in the room – uncles, grandpas, her older brother, and some male friends – formed a circle around her and gave her a blessing”.

Jennifer’s mom asked, “What are the women doing during all of this? Like, just sitting there and watching?” My friend said, “Yeah, pretty much.” The mom threw her hands in the air and said, “And the women just put up with that?!”

I honestly felt a little embarrassed. Why *had* I always put up with that? Is this how everyone sees us from the outside? Are they pitying the women like me who don’t even know we’re being excluded from important events because we’ve been so sheltered our entire lives that we don’t realize that other women get so much more in their faith communities? 

Brad Wilcox’s words brought back the memory of Jennifer and her mom, two women who (as far as I could tell) were very dedicated women of faith. They’d both experienced the LDS religion on one level or another and found it unappealing. Joining our church would mean walking back their (and their daughters’) participation in church significantly.

I honestly believe many women investigate The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but choose not to pursue it beyond a cursory glance because they aren’t comfortable with the gender inequality, and I know of at least one personally who did that. My Catholic neighbor was investigating the LDS church a few years ago, around the same time that President Nelson became the new prophet. She’d grown up in Utah and her husband was an inactive member, while her in-laws and extended family were all stalwart and faithful. She lived in a neighborhood full of Latter-day Saints, and her kids were already attending church with our ward semi-regularly. I saw the excitement from the ward missionaries and neighbors as she began taking the discussions, but then it mysteriously fizzled out and I never heard anything more about it. Imagine my surprise when I found myself at a McDonald’s Play place a couple years later with my Catholic neighbor and the topic of church came up while our daughters played together. She explained to me, “I was really enjoying the lessons, but… I come from a family with really strong women. My mom and my grandma are incredible matriarchs….” She trailed off, not sure how to explain what turned her off about the church without offending me. I said, “Oh my gosh, no – I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND! I had no idea you had an issue with this, too. I thought you were going to get baptized and think less of *me* because I’m feminist and frustrated with the church’s stance on women. And that’s the reason why you didn’t get baptized?! I thought you’d be fine with it because the Catholic church doesn’t ordain women either!” (It turns out that while Catholic women aren’t specifically ordained as priests, she still felt they had a much bigger role in Catholic worship than LDS women do in our church and home life.)

When Brad Wilcox talked about the non-LDS woman who approached him at a conference and suggested his church should give women the priesthood, he made her sound shrill, unreasonable and uneducated. His mocking tone made me think of Jennifer, her mom, and my Catholic neighbor. All of them would’ve said the exact same thing, and none of them could’ve possibly explained to his satisfaction exactly what the Latter-day priesthood was. That doesn’t make what they have to say invalid. My best guess is that the woman approaching him came from a faith tradition where she’d been fully included since childhood, and knowing that LDS women don’t receive the same experiences was frustrating to her. Well, I’m frustrated now, too! In the words of Jennifer’s mom, how long will the women in our church “just put up with it” before enough of us demand change, too?



  1. Excellent post. As a convert, I found so many of these attitudes/doctrines/policies towards women to be red flags but joined on the strength of my testimony of other things. It’s frustrating to see so little openness on the part of male leaders (and so many of us) even to imagine a different way.

    • And it’s frustrating that the only people in a position to change anything are men with authority in the church – and most of them are married to women who think things are great as they are (or they wouldn’t have got the calling). There’s no democracy or open debate or permissible way to introduce new ideas to the body of the church.

  2. I’m in Utah and Gen X, and my Gen Z sons and their friends are all – seriously, ALL – going inactive due to the inequities demanded of our church. Sexism at church has plagued me since childhood, and I’m basically out because I’m so tired of fighting. But these young adults know better and they will not put up with their church being a place where the girls are held back for their gender, where their LGBTQI+ friends are openly hated, and where POC are regularly insulted. I’m hanging on by my fingernails for the sake of my extended family and local community, but the Millennials and younger crowds have no issues with leaving and no reason to stay.

    • I think a lot of the older generation takes to calling the younger generations lazy or spoiled when the walk away so quickly- but honestly, they just have enough information and know they don’t want to spend the rest of their lives in a system that doesn’t accept everyone equally.

  3. An LDS man who ran for mayor in my town made fun of women who want to be ordained during his political campaign. So funny! A man with the sacred privilege of officiating ordinances in the name of Christ making fun of other people who want to serve God in the same way! Ha ha! He was elected, and went on to be elected to a countywide position.

    • How hilarious! What a jokester, that guy.

      I think those comments will hold up to the test of time about a well as racist jokes about segregation in the 1950s have held up.

    • Yikes, April. I missed Dave’s terrible comments when he first made them, but I just went and found them in a Tribune article. I agree with Abby that he will not be remembered well for those comments.


          ‘David Alvord, running against incumbent Scott Osborne, is taking on Mormon women seeking ordination to the LDS Church’s all-male priesthood.

          “Dear women who want the priesthood,” began a comment Alvord posted on his Facebook page. “While you’re at the negotiating table with God, can you ask him to let us men live as long as women and do something about male pattern baldness? Also, home teaching once a quarter would be cool. Oh, and the Ten Commandments. Can you negotiate them down to eight commandments? Start at five and he’ll counter at nine and then you can settle at seven or eight. The commandment that we have to cross off the list is ‘thou shalt not covet.’ As in thou shalt not covet the priesthood.”‘

  4. I think of Gordon B. Hinckley on Larry King Live in 1998 talking about women not holding the priesthood. “The women of the church are not complaining about it.. . . they are happy.” But he knew otherwise. He personally knew about Mormons for ERA and had met with Sonia Johnson as these women sought for greater equity under the United States constitution and wanted the Church to not interfere with their rights. And Hinckley was the de facto leader of the church during the 1993 September Six excommunications of feminists and intellectuals who were seeking to recognize and extend women’s power and position in the church. But it’s an intentional rhetorical move to cast women seeking equality as “complaining.” It can’t be that women are recognizing and insisting upon their own divine worth, they must just be whining and complaining about what the men have. Either women are “complainers” or are angry and shrill. t’s infantilizing and it’s effective. Women don’t want to be seen that way, so they come to silence themselves. Brad Wilcox was intentional in how he depicted that woman from the conference, and in his laughter at his own daughter. It’s not an accident that these men laugh and mock women and girls. And how many of the young women at the fireside left thinking they never want to be mocked and laughed at in that way, so they better not seek equality?

    • Especially as teenagers, we’re so worried about fitting in and not being made fun of. Getting the entire collective audience to laugh at people who want more authority for women or question their beliefs make those who feel that way go into hiding – and makes them all feel more and more alone.

  5. St. Mary’s in Provo, Utah, which was written about in this article, NOW has a woman priest who gives the Communion to everyone — ALL are invited — and we have had TWO women priests before. We also have women BISHOPS in the Episcopal Church, very high up, and two women are being considered for the next Bishop of the Diocese in 2022.

    • That’s awesome news! I hope St. Mary’s is growing and thriving and offering a refuge for Christians in Utah County. Are you a member of the congregation there?

  6. No surprises here.
    Men find women laughable because the xian religion teaches them women are property.

    I mean, your gods condone misogyny, as well as condones slavery, rape, incest, terrorism, etc ad infinitum.

    I laugh at YOU, xians, for thinking you actually care for others.

    • /mod/: Your comment was fine until you said you were laughing at us. Which is a) not kind, and b) against our commenting policy.

      I can assure that Abby is a person who actually cares for others no matter your stereotypes.

          • My words weren’t meant to represent all xians.
            It was meant for the evangelicals, like the ‘men’ here that laugh at the idea of women.
            I find it ironic, you criticize my usage of the words, “I laugh at you”, when those words were taken right from the article. I guess it is okay to laugh at women, but I cannot laugh at evangelical xians

          • Mark – I wrote this blog post and just wasn’t going to reply to your comment because I honestly have no idea what you are talking about.

  7. I remember years ago when a new Bishop was called in our ward. The Stake President got up and talked about his “inspired” selection for this role. He said he thought of the most spiritual, capable, educated, efficient person in our ward…dun dun dun…and then called *her* husband as Bishop. Chuckle chuckle chuckles from the audience. I did not laugh. It was basically an admission that women are strong, capable, smart leaders, but too bad, you’re not a man.

    I know that a lot of wonderful women are still in the church demanding change. However, for me, I couldn’t stand by and be complicit in patriarchy with my church attendance. The change I demanded was within myself.

    As an aside – Wilcox’s arrogance and painting this woman as shrill and then laughing at her in his talks is not exactly Christ-like.

    • Ha ha- I originally had a paragraph in this blog post where I shared that exact same joke – but I took it out before I published it because it kind of messed up the flow and I couldn’t find a good place to stick it.

      I thought, can you imagine making a joke like this in literally any other place and getting laughs? “We needed a new NASA engineer, so we searched high and low for the most experienced, dedicated, educated and innovative person on staff – and then we promoted her husband.” No one would laugh! People would be mortified and furious!

      Anyway, great minds think alike.

  8. ” I thought you’d be fine with it because the Catholic church doesn’t ordain women either!” (It turns out that while Catholic women aren’t specifically ordained as priests,she still felt they had a much bigger role in Catholic worship than LDS women do in our church and home life.)”

    It’s not a matter of “feeling” they have a much bigger part, Catholic women DO have a much larger role in Catholic worship and at home. Lay Catholic women can perform all the same functions that lay Catholic men can in worship, they can be a reader at mass and lead the responsorial psalm during mass, collect the offering (tithes) distribute the Eucharist. Women can be on and lead parish councils and finance committees, create and direct faith formation programs, run community charities and they can do all this at the parish or diocese level. Women can be canon lawyers and judges, honestly LDS folks could use a bit canon and some lawyers to combat “bishop roulette”. These are all the same act performed by lay Catholic men at mass,and in service to the church, at home Catholic women can bless their children and lead home prayer the same as men, it something requires a priest both Catholic husband and wife must seek out a priest as there is none in the home with a couple of rare exceptions, married converted priests from other denominations granted Catholic priesthood, and married deacons, Catholic deacons have much more stringent requirements, age 35 being just one.

    MOST men in the Catholic church are not ordained so Catholic women do not have a husband with ecclesiastical authority over them in the home like LDS women do. Absent a father middle school boys have ecclesiastical authority in the home over the mother not the case in a Catholic home.

    • Sorry for not replying to this earlier. I read your comment and appreciated it so much! I did not know as much about the role of women in the Catholic church, other than the fact that my Catholic friend wasn’t interested in downgrading to what the LDS church had to offer her.

  9. I agree with the sentiments in this post and appreciate you sharing this. Just to be clear; I’m a white male and serve in leadership positions within the church.
    Brad Wilcox fireside and his illustration of the woman who asked him about the priesthood was completely inappropriate and portrayed her as not only lesser than him but almost as a jovial subject of his ill appointed illustration.
    I try my best in my callings to ensure sisters are not only equal but actually more so to compensate for the inequalities they’ve experienced and in some small way to counter the culture that sometimes prevails.
    I do believe though that leaving the church we believe the doctrines of weakens our position to change. We absolutely need these young people to stay! When they leave they take their views, valuable experience and perspectives of change with them. What better way than to change things from the inside in a constructive and positive way. It won’t be easy or immediate but more people that stand the more emphasis is placed on those in power to change.

  10. Great post, Abby. Wilcox and others who are happy to treat the idea of women’s ordination as a joke clearly can’t even imagine it. As you explain so well, though, once we do imagine it, it’s not a joke at all, and it’s super condescending of him to think it is.

  11. I believe the day will come when the matriarchal priesthood will be fully revealed. But the world as it is–is not prepare to receive it. Or better said–does not have the capacity to receive it.

    “Is this how everyone sees us from the outside?”

    The world has never understood the saints. Why should we be surprised if they don’t understand the priesthood? It is an heritage of the saints to be misunderstood–and even hated by the world. And ironically, the world hates us for not ordaining women while, at the same time, it hates us for believing that women can become goddesses.

    • But it’s not really any sacrifice to promise women “goddess-hood” in the next life. It doesn’t require men to change or to be uncomfortable in this life, as extending the priesthood to women certainly would.

    • When I hear “the world is not ready” I hear an echo of what Church leaders said prior to lifting the ban on Black men receiving the priesthood. The world isn’t ready. The Church isn’t ready. Uhhhh Black members of the Church were ready. So really what it was saying was “racist white people are too precious to risk alienating.”

      Similarly, the argument that “the world isn’t ready” for women to receive the priesthood is really code for “sexist patriarchal men aren’t ready to lose power over others.” Women are spiritually ready. If the prophet announced tomorrow that all women were to be ordained effective immediately, the women of the Church would be ready. “The World” would be ready.

  12. Little men like B-rad are made possible by scriptural illiteracy. His vision of a world where truly equal priesthood authority is just a punchline is not present in our scriptures. From YHWH’s partner God Asherah (AKA “tree of life” by patriarchal revision) to Miriam to Deborah and more it takes a lot of ignorance to entertain the Wilcox vision of our Gospel.

    Given many of us have been forced (by unsafe and inconsiderate ward members) to just attend church virtually it’s a difficult time to have hard interactions with local leaders, but right now it seems impossible to not cast a dissenting vote against Wilcox when we’re asked to sustain church officers.

  13. Late to the game here:

    “I honestly believe many women investigate The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but choose not to pursue it beyond a cursory glance because they aren’t comfortable with the gender inequality…”

    Back when they had Stake Missionaries I taught a wonderful couple who lived just behind us in a different apartment building. Mike was doing a fellowship in cardiac anesthesiology, and Nat was an occupational therapist. We taught them three lessons, all was good, until we went to sacrament meeting. The next time we met she said “I was just surprised. Where were the women?” I had no good answer other than the 1980s answers. She said thanks, but no thanks.

    The good news is that we stayed friends, Mike got a job in New York and I went to grad school in the same city a few months later. They were so generous, and I think we went to their house for dinner almost every Sunday. We are still friends after 38 years and get together as often as living 900 miles away from each other allows.

    P.S. I just found out via 23andme that Bro, Wilcox and I are cousins. I was appalled.

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