On April 3, 1984, President Wallace B. Smith presented an inspired document to the World Conference. The ninth paragraph provided for the ordination of women. That document is Doctrine and Covenants 156.
Now ordained women fully and effectively participate in every congregational leadership role. Women also serve in the highest levels of church hierarchy, including women of color.
It was a long journey that in many ways is still unfolding. And while the way has not been easy, a beautiful butterfly is emerging from its chrysalis. You can hear more about that journey in a two-part interview with Becky Savage, the first women in Community of Christ's First Presidency. Part 1. Part 2.
Community of Christ understands the journey of women.
This page is dedicated to the needs and journeys of women just like you. Women helping women find our way as we navigate the path of faith, healing, wholeness, life, love, and peace...together.
Our Journey to Equality in the Church
American women in the early nineteenth century lived lives very similar to the generations of women who lived before. They held second-class status. They could not vote, own property or enter into legal contracts as equals with men. Women bore the children and tended them while laboring in the home, field, and farm. Exceptions to the cultural norm were few and far between. In the founding days of the Restoration the fabric of women’s daily lives continued as before, largely unaffected.
Joseph Smith Jr. demonstrated early a fair-minded openness to the views of others. It was not long before he called for the church to provide for free expression of voice in decision making. Recorded in the summer of 1830, while the church struggled through difficult issues and made important far reaching decisions, Joseph instructed his faithful followers that "all things in the church were to be done by common consent and by the prayer of faith." (Doctrine and Covenants25:1b and 27:4c; [LDS 26:2 and 29:13])
However, by the mid-Nauvoo period (1843–1844) the pre-martyrdom Restoration was characterized by the absolute rule by an ecclesiastical elite. The assassination of Joseph in 1844 resulted in a scattering of the saints. The interim leaders of those who stayed behind and eventually reorganized, chose to structure the life of the struggling band around common consent. Although faithful to inspired instruction given by Joseph Smith Jr., the 1850s approach differed from that of the early church.
Leaders of the Reorganization had learned much from the early church experience with an ecclesiastical elite. They consciously chose to let go of that approach in favor of the give-and-take of common consent which required commitment to the process and the sometimes tedious hard work of insuring voice and respectful listening.
Along with the stance of no polygamy, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) church "embodied a fierce espousal of common consent and a corresponding resistance to one-man rule." (Howard, The Church Through the Years Vol. 1, 343) By 1864, women voted at the local level, and that is where they first began to organize themselves.
The earliest organized women’s group on record was the Society of Gleaners: July 11, 1867, in Sandwich, Illinois. The secretary of the newly founded group, Marietta Faulconer, was a key influence in the later development of the General Church women’s organization. After the Society of Gleaners, the Sisters of Dorcas was organized in St. Louis, Missouri (sometimes called the Sunday School auxiliary). In November 1869 Kewanee Sisters Mite Society was organized in the Kewanee Branch (Illinois), where they recorded that "The object of the society is like that of the Gleaners and Sisters of Dorcas, to help build up the kingdom." (Brunson, Bonds of Sisterhood: A History of the RLDS Women’s Organization, 1842–1983, 28)
They sold their handiwork and needlecrafts and faithfully collected their mites to help support the work and mission of the church. In 1868 women gained the vote at General Conference. Women began to have increased impact on the life of the church. Soon after the Reorganization women played a central role in instituting, shaping, and equipping Sunday schools. In 1869 Marietta Walker produced "Questions on the Holy Scriptures Designed for the Use of Scholars in the Latter Day Saints’ Sunday Schools" followed the same year with Zion’s Hope.
Zion’s Hope endured a century and, by 1892, Marietta functioned as its sole editor. She was also the owner, publisher, and editor of the first paper for youth, Autumn Leaves, and in 1913 she established Stepping Stones for older children.
In 1890–1891, women led the development of the General Sunday School Association. By 1910, five-hundred-fifty schools belonged to the association servicing more than 25,000 teachers and students. Women wrote and edited many of the materials and lessons. They also supported older youth programs through the Zion’s Religio Literary Society, which began in the early 1890s. Women and men worked together as near equals for several decades to lead the society. Eventually this program and others were incorporated into the general departmental structure adopted by the church in the 1920s.
Marietta Walker’s "Women’s Home Column," a regular feature in the Saints’ Herald, built a strong communication network for women across the church. Two generations of women united around pressing issues of common interest and concern. This was of critical importance in a world in which diverse views and opinions regarding women’s proper role in the world at large and in the church began to grow. A significant number of members regarded men and women as equals and saw no reason why they should not function as such in both community and church. Others supported the status quo and saw a change in women’s roles as a threat to women’s true happiness.
Regardless of diverse opinions, women’s role in the church began to grow and impact the church in positive ways. Some women traveled with their husbands functioning unofficially as lay missionary partners. As early as 1920, men like Samuel A. Burgess voiced support for the ordination of women.
In the early 1920s President Frederick M. Smith supported the continued development of the women’s program with the organization of the Women’s Department. He followed in 1934 with the creation of the General Council of Women, even though Smith held the opinion that women’s primary ministry was in the home, and beyond the scope of the home their ministry was with other women.
The General Council of Women, led by women, contributed to a strong bond of community in the church. Mutual networks of support and communication connected hundreds of women’s departments across the church at branch, district, and stake levels. The women functioned with nearly full autonomy running retreats and classes as well as publishing the support resources and materials. They shared common needs, goals, ideas, and dreams. They effectively raised significant funds for the church providing vital resources to fuel the mission of the church.
Beginning at World Conference 1970, women and men advocated for increased women’s participation across the church requesting equal representation of men and women on commissions and committees. Although the motion was tabled without decision, the essence and intention of the motion was passed at the 1972 World Conference. This resolution read: "Resolved, That all those in administrative positions within the church be encouraged to appoint, hire, and nominate more women for positions not scripturally requiring priesthood so that women who constitute over half of the church membership, may be more adequately and equally represented in the administrative decision making of the church." (Howard, The Church Through the Years Vol. 2, 395-397)
Awareness of women’s issues continued to grow. A steady stream of articles and letters to the editor flooded into the Saints Herald and women continued to thrive with the development of the Women’s Ministries Commission. Members worked together to raise the consciousness of both men and women. Key female leaders, like Marjorie Troeh, effectively connected with people and minds began to open.
The 1980 World Conference sustained an objection to a motion that asked for the conference to officially prohibit the ordination of women. In that same conference, a motion passed requesting the First Presidency to establish a task force to determine the position and feelings of church members around the issue of women’s ordination.
The ensuing study and survey reported widespread support for increased utilization of women in the life of the church. The research also revealed that a third of the church supported ordination for women. One half of the church responding to the survey opposed ordination of women. When the First Presidency issued the report they "called the church to see the incongruity of following God’s prophetic message and mission while being entirely comfortable in the ways of the past." (Howard, The Church Through the Years Vol. 2, 401-402)
On April 3, 1984, President Wallace B. Smith presented an inspired document to the World Conference. The ninth paragraph of what would become Section 156 of the Doctrine and Covenants provided for the ordination of women. After significant deliberation, dialogue, debate, consideration, and using the democratic process and the long established principle of common consent and theocratic democracy, the body overwhelmingly ruled in favor of the document.
When I was a little girl it never occurred to me that I would ever hold priesthood. It was on the same list as become a flying trapeze artist, simply not in the realm of possibility for me. My children live in a different paradigm. Women ordained and serving in priesthood is the way things are. It is normal. It is reflective of the nature of the God they know: a God of love fully embracing the giftedness of all.
My children also understand what it looks like to be part of a church willing to do the hard work of valuing the voice of all people, making room for faithful disagreement, and holding one another close as we strain to hear God’s whisper: "That’s it, take one more step. Do not be afraid, I am right here beside you. Come, follow me."
Accepting the ordination of women taught the church to listen more carefully to God’s voice and to each other with greater love. We used all that we learned as we journeyed toward full inclusion of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) sisters and brothers in the United States and other nations of our world. As we deepen our understanding of common consent, in the marrow of our bones we sense the spirit of our Restoration Heritage calling us on… "beyond the horizon to which we are sent" (Doctrine and Covenants 161:1a).
What effect did common consent have on women in the church? It changed our lives, and step by step it changes us still, women near and far, of every color, nation, shape and size, rich and poor, captive and free, gay, straight, married and single, young and old, and everything in between. We have a voice… and, an equal place at the table.
Abridged from: "How has common consent impacted the lives of women in the church? The journey and perspective of Community of Christ" by Robin Kincaid Linkhart. (Restoration Studies, Vol. XV: Theology and Culture in Community of Christ and the Latter Day Saint Movement, Vol. XV, JWHA and Community of Christ Seminary Press, 2014, 67-73.)