30 years ago this week, the RLDS Church canonized D&C section 156, allowing for the ordination of women.  Mormon Heretic asked Rich Brown and Markag to offer their perspectives on the 30th anniversary of this occasion.  Rich offered his insights in our previous post, and Markag, who was formerly RLDS and is now LDS shares his perspective. 

The RLDS Church has had divisive issues throughout its history, but none more so than the subject of the ordination of women to the priesthood (OWP). First, a little background.

Because the RLDS conferences resemble a legislature, several attempts were made through resolutions to authorize OWP as far back as the early 20th century. The last such resolution was at the April 1982 conference (which I was present) and called for an end to all discussion on the matter while waiting on prophetic guidance.

That came at the next conference (April 1984). The document which, in part (verses 7-10), sanctioned OWP, received a majority of delegate votes and was ordered to be included in the RLDS Doctrine and Covenants(D&C) as Section 156. There was an admonition to current priesthood for not taking their calling seriously, and mentioning a system of periodic evaluations; later known as priesthood reviews.

photo of some of the current Community of Christ Apostles from the official website
photo of some of the current Community of Christ Apostles from the official website, cofchrist.org

An immediate backlash of various degrees began. It was rumored that 25% of the total membership were disaffected. Some leaders wouldn’t consider OWP; others couldn’t do it fast enough, and neither viewpoint was heeding the counsel that the process be done “in all deliberateness”.

In my local area reactions were mild in comparison. I was more interested with Section 156 instructing that the Temple in Independence be built (more on that later). By November 1984 our local congregation had 2 female Priests; one was my sister-in-law. We served together visiting homes (I was a Priest also) and made a good team. Some women’s first priesthood office was Elder; not without precedent but a little unusual.

OWP is a common thing now for the Community of Christ. There were 2 resolutions in 1986 attempting to remove Section 156 from the D&C; both were ruled out-of-order and not presented to the conference for a vote. Women have been called to all priesthood offices including Apostle and First Presidency. No Female Prophet yet!

Since 1999 I’ve been an LDS member but my extended family are active members of the COC. They agree that the loss of members was the most obvious negative result of OWP. The church no longer conducts priesthood reviews, and they didn’t know of any female priesthood holder having been dis-fellowshipped.

On the positive side, they say Female Priesthood offer a perspective on ministries that differs from men. I recognized that as I attended and served alongside them. But an important point to realize is that the RLDS chose not to incorporate the Female Relief Society into their church structure. The “Female perspectives” of ministries are accomplished there; the exception being performing of ordinances. Had the Relief Society been a part of the RLDS from 1860 onward, the path that led to OWP might have been very different. We will never know for sure.

Since 1984 the RLDS/COC has had a half-dozen new contentious issues that try the faith of its members. They are to be commended for getting through “The Big One”.

What are your thoughts about women and priesthood as you reflect on the past 30 years and the experience of the Community of Christ?