In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, Cadence Woodland argued that the Mormon Church should permit the ordination of women to the priesthood. Recently excommunicated advocates for women’s priesthood are lamentable casualties in a fight that reveals the misogynistic bent in the hierarchy.
The elision of gender equality with admission to the ministerial priesthood is no new revelation to the wider Christian community and need not detain us here. Perhaps the more interesting claim is ancillary to her argument. It comes in her identification of a seeming incongruity between widespread missionary efforts and an all-male priesthood: “‘You are entitled to your views, but you are not entitled to promote them,’ her bishop told her in explaining the excommunication—an odd rebuke from an organization with tens of thousands of missionaries.” On her reading, the silencing of dissenting opinions is conspicuously discordant with their missionary impetus.
In truth of fact, the toleration of dissenting voices can lead to manifest confusion, a phenomenon with which the Catholic Church has recent experience—see the reception of Humanae Vitae. Thus a policy of excommunication, while appearing intolerant, is actually essential to maintaining the life of the organism by forestalling the intra-ecclesial promotion of heterodox teaching.
The governing body of the Mormon Church is entrusted with promoting its own internal order. Thus, it is within the ambit of their ecclesial power to repulse threats, a kind of corporate self-defense within their own communion. Excommunication, once the other means of peaceful and charitable means of reconciliation have been exhausted, serves just this purpose.
Now, Woodland has not necessarily contradicted the logic of this claim. Rather she just thinks it incongruous with a broadly conceived missionary base. But, rather than representing an inconsistency, missionary work may, in fact, illustrate just the opposite—that a policy of strict confessional delimitation contributes to a vibrant missionary impetus.
Missionary efforts are the unmistakable reverberation of a vigorous communion. Despite the emphasis placed on the relative youth of Mormon missionaries and the conscriptive quality of its selective service, the mobilization of missionaries bespeaks a life at home which is orderly, vibrant, and animated. It is the confidence of a strong faith. By virtue of having promoted the common good and allowing an equitable partaking thereof, the life imparted at the table of fellowship spills into the streets and far-off lands. The witness is compelling and utterly fascinating.
So what for Woodland appears a manifest incongruity actually represents the two fronts of the common good as shared in the Mormon Church, namely its stalwart defense and consequent mobilization.